I am thrilled to be sharing a new interview series with you each and every week: #realmothersdiversevoices. In this series my intention is to reveal the endless ways our family values can inform our Daily Rhythm. The mothers I have interviewed lead diverse lives but they each have a huge sense of clarity about what their Family Values are (even if they change over time) and consciously and creatively strive to create a Daily Rhythm in alignment with those values.
It is my hope that through these stories more Mothers feel inspired to explore what their own family values are, to question them and bring them to life in their everyday experience. I know that seeing the world through another Mother’s lens will develop more empathy, understanding and compassion between us.
Today I am honoured to welcome Elsie Iudicello to Whole Family Rhythms community. Elsie is a writer and homeschool mentor from South Florida. She and her husband homeschool their four boys on their small farm. Elsie is a Classical Conversations Director and writes for Wild + Free magazine. You can find more of her work on IG @farmhouse_schoolhouse or at www.farmhouseschoolhouse.com
Who are you? Can you introduce yourself, your work and your family?
My name is Elsie. I am originally from Miami, Florida. As a young girl I loved chasing boys, reading, writing, singing, climbing trees, getting dirty, telling stories, catching bugs, eating Cuban food, and playing with my family. Not much has changed, I would only add “total anglophile, night owl, drinker of much tea and head over heels in love with my guy” to that list. I met my husband Jeff in Chicago while working with a missions group bringing clean water to rural villages in Honduras. He ended up in Honduras during my junior year of college and we fell in love writing letters back and forth to one another. My old lady soul relishes the letter writing part of our love story and that ribbon-tied stack of handwritten letters still makes my heart skip everytime I see it. Right now my husband and I are raising our four boys on a farm in South Florida and it is a joyful messy mess mess. Unplanned pregnancies were our jam for awhile there, at one point we had 4 kids aged 4 and under, but we are thankful for each and every one of those lives! I am quite possibly the world’s most ungraceful pregnant lady of all time, so pregnancy was never fun for me, but I still love having babies and raising children. Honestly, I don’t think my home will ever be without children. I often dream of adopting children no one else wants and giving them a home and a place to belong. I’ll probably still be raising children when I am in my seventies. Nothing pierces me more than the thought of a child walking this world alone, thinking they are unloved, this is probably because I have been blessed to never know a single day without love so the thought of living without it is unbearable. My work consists of mothering and teaching our four boys here at home, while creating and writing stories at night. I have an overly active imagination and an almost fiendish tendency to not read or follow instructions, so in many ways, homeschooling by day and writing by night is an ideal job for me. My passion for encouraging other mothers on their homeschool journeys started about 4 years ago. I love watching people redeem their own educations while teaching their children. What a beautiful process that is!
What is one of the greatest joys you experience as a Mother?
I love bearing witness to each day of their lives as they grow and change and refine their personalities and dreams. Even in the womb, each soul had a different personality and way of interacting with the family and it a joy to watch that develop. I also love that I get to foster my children’s love of learning according to their personal learning styles. Personalized learning! What a gift that is! I don’t obsess over what we are learning, I focus on who we are becoming, and that bring a big smile to my face.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face daily as a Mother?
I suffered an accident 7 years ago that left me with PTSD and anxiety. Mothering with mental illness is no walk in the park. It is difficult, often dark, stuff. But at the same time I can recognize that God’s work through my PTSD has made me exactly the mother my children need. I see the awareness it has brought to them. I see how homeschooling through hard personal struggle has refined us all. On really bad days, we know that mom needs a timeout (or a time IN as we call it) to care for herself. Later we collect ourselves and move forward together. I try to extend the same grace to my children when they are struggling with something. While it is a difficult struggle, it has brought us all closer together because we know we have eachother’s backs, whether you are a 33 year old having a panic attack or a 4 year old having a sensory needs meltdown, grace is practiced here.
What does having “Rhythm in your Home” mean to you?
As a musician, I associate all musical words with the idea of practice. So when I hear the phrase “rhythm in the home,” I think of a family practicing life together within the safety and love of their home. I think of small children learning how to make breakfast for themselves, I think of slightly older children carrying out chores and learning how to do hard things. I think of moms that still can’t quite believe they are old enough to have all these responsibilities, learning how to care for tiny people while also learning to do things they were never taught in their own childhood homes. Everyone is always learning something new, therefore everyone is always practicing. I think of a space where it is safe to make mistakes, real big mistakes, the kind you learn hard lessons from. I think of people repeatedly saying “I am sorry, will you forgive me?” and forgiveness repeatedly being given. I think of all those people practicing together like a series of colorful balls being tossed up and juggled high in the air. Inevitably, they fall, but they are soon scooped up and thrown into the mix again. All this practice gives people purpose and purpose anchors us in beautiful, life-giving ways.
Can you give an example of some of your most cherished ‘Family Values’?
Our family loves to cultivate wisdom by pursuing truth, goodness and beauty. We do this because we believe that God is both the author and source of all knowledge. Each day is an offering of worship to God and we see education as a way to worship Him with our minds. This is the foundation of our family culture. We are a family that loves to learn together as created, creative souls.
How do you hope to pass these values on to your children?
Or in other words, how do you manifest these family values into your daily rhythm? One obvious manifestation is our daily Morning Time together. The children make breakfast and set the table. We light a candle and sing the Gloria Patri, we recite the Apostles Creed or one of the Psalms, we meditate on a passage of scripture, then we pour the tea and pass our plates around and serve each other. We use a loop of material that we cycle through every two days or so: Shakespeare, poetry, architecture, a biography, conversational Spanish, art appreciation, music appreciation, folk songs, hymn study, history read, and geography. None of these are subjected to testing because these are not subjects to pass, these are ideas to feast upon and enjoy. This is the work of inclining children’s hearts towards truth, goodness and beauty. We began this practice when they were quite young and they now have a thirst for these things. Shakespeare cravings and a longing for tea and poetry are routine around here, not because we are exceptional scholars, but because we love each other and this is how we spend time together. The pursuit of wisdom grows not only our individual hearts and minds but our collective heart and mind as well. This in turn manifests throughout our entire day, by setting a tone of appreciation and curiosity. We start with our eyes fixed on what matters to us and it informs everything else we do.
Can you outline a typical ‘Weekday Rhythm’ for you and your children. Specifically when/where/how do you and your little ones eat, sleep/rest, play inside/outside, work/learn and make time for selfcare?
I’ll start out by saying that I firmly believe in plenty of unstructured play for children for as long as possible. Therefore, we use a block schedule for our homeschool. We begin each subject on the hour and once the children complete their tasks they are free for the rest of the hour to play or read or relax however they choose until the next subject begins on the new hour. Keep this in mind when reading our schedule. From the hours of 9-3pm my children collect spare time, ranging from 10 minutes-35 minutes, to do the hard work of play! This is made possible by our short, focused lessons using the Charlotte Mason approach and Classical Education methodology. By the time 4pm rolls around they have usually amassed between 1-2 hours of play!
7AM(ish) People that are not me start waking up. Morning chores are done, breakfast is made by children.
7:30AM I stumble out of bed. Kids do their morning stretches and exercises. I chide myself for not going to bed earlier.
7:45AM Morning Time commences. We start the day out slowly, feeding our bodies and nourishing our souls through prayer, scripture meditation, stories, poetry and music. It’s our favorite time of the day.
9:00AM Morning Time ends and we clean up, get dressed for the day, practice our instruments and work on music theory. I take the last twenty minutes before class to read my Bible and prepare my heart for the day.
10:00AM Team A: Math and Latin daily work. Team B: Math and Sensory therapies.
11:00AM Team A: History. Team B: Reading and Speech therapy.
12:00PM Lit Lunch- eldest children prepare lunch, youngest clean up. We enjoy a family read aloud by candlelight
1:00PM Team A: 1st born son does IEW work, 2nd born does his independent loop work.
Team B: 3rd born does Art or science, 4th born listens to an audiobook in bed.
2:00PM Silent Reading Hour
3:00PM Family Science study
3:30-4:30PM The Blessing hour. This is when my children clean our home in order to bless our family and free up time for us in the evening to spend time together playing and relaxing instead of cleaning. I usually cook while they clean.
Evening hours: extracurricular activities, family dinner, family read aloud, music, impromptu dance party etc.
9:00PM Children go to bed.
10:00PM My brain wakes up and I write ( my personal self care) then I read for a bit before bed.
Our community day looks quite different from this schedule and on Fridays we have a nature walk, Friday Exam and Symposium. You can find more information about those things on my blog.
When does your family rhythm get thrown off kilter?
When I stop practicing and start expecting perfection.
Do you consciously re-evaluate and change your family rhythm with the seasons and ages and stages of your kids?
Always. Humans are never not in transition, especially children. Schedules and plans must always be flexible enough to grow alongside children, otherwise they are instruments of frustration and sadness. I try to keep my schedule flexible and I only schedule 75% of my available time. Whenever I am planning for our homeschool I try to ask myself if each academic goal being set has a supporting character goal that has been met. In other words, I make sure that I am not asking my children to take on a task I have not equipped them for. When I evaluate our academic life, I cannot help but evaluate all areas of life because it is all intertwined.
When you’re feeling stuck, tired, frustrated with your role as Mother, what do you need most to shift your energy and perception?
My true love to kiss, a glass of wine to drink, a song to sing, a story to write, a joke to tell, a chicken to hug, a walk to take, a plant to put in the ground and a huge ball of yarn and a crochet hook to play with. These things remind me that while I am a mom, I am also Elsie. I remember that my worth is not based in my everyday successes or failures. I remember to have grace for myself. I remember that I am a child of God and ultimately, my identity is found in Him.
If you could recommend one book to the Mothers out there what would it be?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.