Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Other Option

This post could probably lead to some heated debates and please know that is not what I'm trying to do. This is simply a topic that has really challenged me and changed my view of homeschooling my children. Even if you do not agree with me, maybe it will challenge you to thinking about your homeschooling future too.

I've recently attended a homeschool conference in which a speaker, I believe it was Todd Wilson (if you haven't heard of Todd Wilson, I encourage you to read his book "Lies Homeschoolers Believe"- awesome stuff!), encouraged the audience to get rid of your other schooling options. Meaning- make homeschooling the ONLY option for educating your children. Sounds like a simple enough concept, doesn't it. But many of us when asked how long we plan to homeschool say "oh we're just taking it a year at a time". Or how many of us when we have a few bad days in a row just think sending our kids to school outside of the home may be the best option. Or even worse...I'm SO guilty of this, saying to our children "If you don't calm down and concentrate on your schoolwork, you're going to public school." C'mon don't tell me I'm the only person here who has used that line on their children. I admit it and I'm sorry.

But if we remove the other options and don't waste our time entertaining the thoughts jumping ship, what would happen? What if we know deep in our hearts that we are the only ones God intended to educate our children? What if we not only plan for the next year, but the next 12 years? How different would our homeschooling days be if we didn't have thoughts of "the easy way out" haunting the back of our minds fighting harder and harder to be brought to fruition?

So today, I challenge you: Get rid of those other options. Tell yourself that you were meant for this job and it's a permanent job. Instead of threatening your children with public school, tell them that Mommy won't give up and is in this journey with them. And to those who ask you how long you plan to homeschool, tell them it's in God's hands. God has made you to be everything your children need. You can homeschool through highschool. So go ahead...take that other option, give it a nice long look and force it out of your mind. You don't need it anymore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Started & I Didn't Know It!

I tend to over think pretty much every decision that I make. 

I always have.

I also tend to think out loud - and if you are in the vicinity you will most likely be asked your opinion on whatever it is I'm pondering.

When I started thinking about homeschooling the girls it was all I could think about.  I thought about the pros and cons, as well as the reactions that I thought we would get from family and friends.  I thought all the work that would be involved, and wondered if I had enough energy.  Enough knowledge.  Enough time.

It was a process.

During these months my wonderful mother in law was privy to lots of these thoughts and conversations.

A few days ago I was rambling about how to pick a date to officially *start* to homeschool and she said......

"You are already homeschooling.  You have been for over a year.  You just didn't realize it."

I stared at her and I finally got it.
We really have been homeschooling for over a year.

We have been working with letters and numbers and colors.

We cook together - and Sophie can actually make muffins and cupcakes by herself with minimal help from me.

We sing songs and dance and make up silly rhythms.

We read {and read and read}.

We are learning how to share, to talk politely, and to consider other's feelings.

We build bridges and tunnels and miles of track for Thomas and his friends to drive on.

We build castles and roads in the sand box.

We weed and work in the garden together.

We visit the Please Touch Museum and the Zoo and the library.

We pray and talk about Jesus and the world around us.

We color and draw and paint.

We have bubble parties and talk about where bubbles go when they float away.

We run and laugh and play.

I can not tell you how freeing it has been to realize that I'm already teaching my girls lessons and I never even knew it. 


This is awesome.

We will be using the Little Hands to Heaven cirriculum in the fall to help us get a feel for a bit more structured learning, but at the moment we are simply having fun while learning through play, and really - that IS what it's all about. 

Is there something YOU have been pondering?  Have you made a decision yet?

The link to Heart of Dakota's website is if you'd like to see what choices the company has.  I have no afflication with them, and will not receive any compensation if you visit them.  The End.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alphabet Art

One major goal that most parents of preschool children have is for them to learn the letters of the alphabet.  Because I think that learning should be fun, I am using a variety of activities to teach the letter names and letter sounds to Abigail.  My next few posts will focus on letter activities.  One of my favorite things to do is art projects, so naturally, we do one (or several) art projects for each letter.  Here are some fun ideas for alphabet art projects; because Abigail and I love painting, most of them involve paint.  I have included photos of some of my favorite projects.  This list is by no means comprehensive; it is simply meant to give you some ideas.

A - paint with Acorns or Apples (use the objects instead of paintbrushes)
B - glue Beans, paint with Bananas, Bread, or a Ball

C - paint with Carrots or crumble and glue Cookies

D - glue on Dirt

E - paint with Eggs

F - Flower rubbing

G - glue on Grass

H - paint with Hands, make Handprints

I - paint with colored Ice

J - use Jello, Jelly, or Jam instead of paint

K- put on lipstick and Kiss the paper, paint with Kleenex

L - paint with Lemons or Limes, glue on Lettuce or Leaves

M - color with Markers, glue on Macaroni, paint with Mud

N - glue on Noodles or Nuts

O - paint with an Orange

P - Paint, rip and glue on Paper, color with Pencils

Q - paint with a Quarter or Q-tips, color Quietly

R - paint with Radishes

S - use Stamps or Stickers

 T - paint with a toy Truck or Train

U - paint or color Under the table

V - paint with a Volleyball or Vegetables

W - paint with Watermelon or colored Water

X - paint at the eXit to your house

Y - paint with a Yo-yo, glue on Yarn

Z - make Zebra stripes, create a Zoo animal collage, paint with a Zipper

When you have finished all 26 letters, you can make a book for your child with pictures of her artwork alongside a picture of the object used to create the art (ex. - the letter "A" next to an acorn) as a fun way to remind your child of sounds that each letter makes and of the fun she had learning the letters.  For more fun ideas about teaching the letters, please see my next post on July 11.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Defining Your Homeschool Style

The beauty of homeschooling is the freedom to do what fits your family. Rather than an institution with a set schedule and a set curriculum that everyone must follow, a homeschool is essentially tutoring. You are your child's own personal tutor, catering to his needs, his learning style, and your family's lifestyle.

As freeing as that is, it begs a number of questions. What is my style? What are my children's needs? What are my priorities? What do I want my homeschool to look like?

If that's where you are right now, then take a moment to draw a picture, complete a vision worksheet, or in some other way get a concrete idea of what you envision.
  • Is it a tidy school room with textbooks and workbooks for every subject? Is it nature walks and messy crafts, a kitchen converted into a laboratory?
  • Is it fun at every turn, or character-building studies? Is it structured with tests and quizzes, or embellished with library books and notebooking pages?
  • Is it an 8:00 to 3:00 schedule, or whenever life happens?
Next, think through your priorities. Who do you want your child to be at the end of the journey? What will be your emphasis?
  • Is it Biblical knowledge and character training?
  • Is it pursuing your child's passions and interests?
  • Is it critical thinking and depth of expression?
These questions help to define your style and purpose. They serve to narrow your search for curriculum and materials. But homeschooling is life in action.

In other words, your vision and purpose statement will probably be changing and evolving along the way. Child #3 may not follow your vision nearly as well as Child #1 and #2 did. That's okay. Go through the process once more for that particular child. Remember for each child, you are their own one-on-one tutor. Resist the urge to institutionalize your family and enjoy the journey of discovery at each bend in the road.

Need a little extra help finding your style?
  • Find explanations for several common homeschooling styles.
  • Check out these free ebooks on choosing curriculum.
  • Try this free ecourse for more info on different homeschooling styles and find recommendations for the curriculum to match your style.
Tracy's style is rather eclectic right now but gearing up for a classical twist. You can read more about her homeschool journey at Growing In Grace.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Paper Organization

It's Friday! That means it's time for another Q&A with our esteemed panel. This week's question:

How do you keep all of your subjects/papers/etc organized? (short answer)

MARLA: I put every activity/game that I create into a file folder. The file folders are sorted into groups (such as "counting to 10" or "Letter A") and put into hanging file folders. Finally, the hanging file folders are placed alphabetically into file boxes (each box labeled with a different subject). In order to keep completed paperwork organized, I put it into dated file folders and store it in a file box. I also photograph some of Abigail's completed work and file it in a special folder on my computer; this saves space in my house because I am then able to recycle the papers. In order to keep my weekly lessons organized, I put the activities/materials for each day into baskets (one basket for each day of the week). Then, I just have to grab the correct basket each morning and we are ready to go. I also keep daily lesson planning notes on the calendar on my phone.

JESSICAI do things a week at a time. On the weekend, I bring out everything for the next week (our whole school year is planned by the week) and I keep it in my own binder, which is tabbed by child and/or subject. Each day that goes by, I can access what I need from the binder, and I keep a pocketed folder in it for finished work. At the end of the week, I file the completed work under each child's name. 

 I also have a "best of the week" system, where each child's best work goes on display for the following week. Then, when I'm filing, I take the 'best' work and file it in a separate file. At the end of the year, I bring out the 36 'best of the week' projects for each child and have a terrific display for grandparents and visitors to see how much they've progressed over the 36 weeks. When we are finished with the entire school year, I move all the files to a cardboard file box, labeled with the dates and grades. 

 Another tip - I file children's magazines, seasonal books and activities according to month. At the beginning of each month, I put away last month's items and bring out the new things. I lay them out on the coffee table and watch the magic happen. It's taken a few years to find a system I'm happy with (for now), but I made a lot of changes to get here. I am not afraid to change again if I find something I think might work for our family!

SHAMBERLYWe have a book shelf in our living room, and the bottom shelf on it is designated as the kids' school shelf. All of their school books, flash cards, Bible lessons/books, etc... are all on that shelf, so they are accessible, they have a clea...r place that the kids can easily access to bring their school books out as well as learn to put them away in the same place every time. We also have an Arts & Crafts drawer in the kitchen which holds crayons, pencils, stamps, etc... 

I don't really have to organize any lessons/subjects at this point because, except for Bible lessons, we are doing everything out of one book - a 'complete' preschool curriculum.

TRACYI have my lesson plans in an editable pdf planner. Each week as a part of my prep, I pull any worksheet papers for the week and organize them in sheet protectors by subject and date. So, in one sheet protector, I'll have all my phonics work...sheets with Monday on top. I'll have other sheet protectors for numbers, handwriting, coloring/skills, etc. That way, as I set up our workboxes for the next school day, I can pull the sheets out of my notebook and place them right in the appropriate workbox with all the supplies they will need to complete that worksheet (pencil, crayons, scissors, whatever). And I love our workbox system!

SAMEvery week I file them away in the kid's binders. Each child has a permanent file they will go in at the end of the year, and I am getting crates to keep them organized by year.

BETH: I am just starting so my organizational system is still developing. I organize seasonal activities into file folders in a crate to include any ideas, papers, and books that go along with that particular time of the year. I also store everything in the same place, on a 5-tiered shelf and chest of drawers to keep all materials in the same place for easy access.

NESSA: This will be my first formal go at organizing....I am going to do all of my planning on a homeschool planning app on my Mac (LOVE THIS!) and will be keeping all worksheets, work done, etc in a closet maid filing system, just for school stuff. I am planning on making portfolios at the end of year to showcase all of the work they have done

AURIE: Since this is my first go-round with paper, I have a file for each day of the week with the days work planned out. I'm planning on keeping a monthy folder of all the busy work which will help me record each week/month.

What do you use? 

Also, remember, if you have any questions you'd like us to explore, send an email to raleneburke at yahoo dot com and we'll get you it answered!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making Time

People often ask me, "How do you have time to get anything done?!"

They seem to be impressed with all the work they imagine homeschooling requires, and tell me "Well, I could never do that." Maybe they are thinking "Jessica is just so awesome and different than me."

I am hereby publicly announcing that, although I do LOVE people thinking I am awesome, I am actually no more awesome than you. Also, really not so different. Sometimes I lose my temper. Frequently I find ways to avoid folding laundry (my most dreaded chore). Often my house is messy or maybe I let something go so I can get something else done. I'm better than I used to be at saying "no" but I still tend to get overwhelmed from time to time.

I struggle every day to keep organized. In fact, just last week I totally flaked out on a tutoring session for my son (who is dyslexic and is enrolled in a special program for that). Even when the tutor called me to ask if we were okay, I still had no idea why she was calling. FAIL.

I am just an average mom who, like everyone else, is doing the best I can. When we decided to try homeschooling, we were terrified. What things on my very full plate were going to shift to make it work for us? What did I need to give up? How were we going to adjust? And could I even do a very good job at it? If you are familiar with farmer's hours, then you know that My Farmer and I never even considered the idea that he could help with lessons.

As it turns out, homeschooling is not something I make time for. It seems to make time for itself. The time I had been spending on committees, as a room parent, and volunteering at the school we had been attending went away. All of a sudden, I didn't have backpacks to go through, forms to sign, homework to check or papers to send back. And, glorious freedom, I was not driving to-and-from our farm to the school every day, which alone saved me over an hour every weekday.

I needed that time to learn the ropes of how we were going to grow into a homeschooling family. We stayed just as busy, but our days are backward from the way our life used to be. We have slow, lovely beginnings to our school mornings. The children wake up on their own, usually around seven, and thirty minutes later we are eating breakfast and beginning our first lessons at the table. It only takes four hours, with plenty of breaks, for us to finish an entire day's schoolwork.

And we front-load our week, so we have very little work on Friday's.

Instead of busy, hurried mornings, our evening calendar began to fill. With so much free time in the afternoon for the kind of self-directed play and creative opportunities we wanted for our children, as well as the ability to sleep in after a late night if needed, there was much less pressure to avoid evening activities. Suddenly we were doing the things I'd always wished there was time for: year-round swimming lessons, rock climbing, water polo, taekwondo, dance, gymnastics, 4-H, nature club, homeschool groups. We tried all kinds of new things. Some we stuck with, others didn't end up fitting the bill - but it was wonderful to feel we had the time to do so.

My Farmer and I began to make more time for each other. Any time it rained, I found a sitter and we had a date. We had never done that before - my schedule had been so wrapped up in making sure the children were asleep by 8:00 so they could be ready to face the alarm at 6:30 - if he was free on a school night, I was still unavailable. Besides, I hadn't seen the children for EIGHT HOURS each school day and I was loath to give up a single moment of the time I did have.

All at once it made sense to make more time for myself. It no longer seemed an extravagance, now that the kids and I were together all the time, for me to carve out some moments just for me. I took up running. We also got a family membership to our local YMCA and scheduled the children's activities at the same times so that I could work out or run on the track while they were having fun.

We began noticing how much more time the children were spending with their father. It was okay to stay out on the combine with Dad until harvest shut down. If he was headed to the cattle sale at 9:00 on Tuesday morning, we could all go along if we wanted. I had time to drop off and pick up kids from the field. When Dad needed help or was working on something especially interesting, some or all of us could take part. And if it happened on a weekday morning - well school could just be moved to afternoons, evenings or weekends for that one time. If Dad got to come home for lunch, we were all there to tell him about the learning we'd been doing.

Don't get me wrong - I'm always juggling and forever wishing there were more hours in a day. But our schedule is finally lining up with our priorities.

The best part about the time homeschooling makes for our family is the fun we have doing it. Reading together, discussing what we are learning, watching the lights come on when they master a new concept- that is precious time I will never regret spending.

Monday, June 20, 2011

“Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow”?

In my last post, Tilling the Soil, I shared briefly that one of the biggest influences and encouragements in our homeschooling journey has been that of new friends God has brought into our lives who have and/or are currently homeschooling. In small windows of time, I have had the opportunity to question, discuss, and observe these families in their ways of schooling and life, and have, in turn, learned a great deal from them. I have learned about things ranging from cooking from scratch (did you know that using Pillsbury is not necessarily the only way to get good biscuits?!) to teaching my (at the time) 3 year old his ABC’s to how to discipline creatively and effectively when everything I know to do is not working. The resources of these amazing, yet vastly different people in our lives has been immensely rewarding, informative, and helpful, not to mention fun!
As I continued to learn and grow in knowledge (and hopefully, a bit of wisdom) as I watched these families work, learn, play, and live together, I began to implement the things I was learning into my family’s day to day life.
Soccer Mom Sally over here was constantly on the go, actively engaging her children in activities that would strengthen them physically and engage them mentally. Her family stayed busy doing activities, together and apart, most days of the week, studying on the go, learning geometry as they played sports and studied music, etc…
Then, there was Homemaker Helen. She mainly stayed at home with her children, teaching them about what it means to be the keeper of the home, applying practical lessons on how to wash dishes, cook, and do laundry, and using things like making her own super duper laundry detergent, shampoo, and bathroom cleaning solutions from scratch. Her house is immaculate. Meals are started hours early because everything is made from scratch, and it’s always divinely delicious. Her 6 year old washes, folds, and puts away his/her own laundry, and the garden out back is where they get all of their fruits and veggies.
Then there’s Bible Teaching Brenda… Every morning, she arises an hour before anyone else to do her devotions and still have time to get breakfast on the table before the kids awake… They begin their day in prayer, and have Bible lessons, devotions, Praise & Worship time all before lunch. Her kids have memorized more scripture than the Pope and know where to find it and what it means as well. All of their studies, in every subject, are centered somehow around scripture and Biblical truth is the heart of every lesson taught.
Then we have Wonder Mom Wanda. She does it all and she does it well. She manages the house, eight kids, keeps her hubby happy, clips coupons so she can get 27 pounds of ground turkey for $1.25 total. She’s taught each of her kids to play musical instruments and how to speak in 3 different languages by age 5. She coaches the little league team, volunteers in the community, and has a home cooked meal on the table every night by 6:00. There’s no stopping this mamma!
The list goes on and on. Each family had their own way of making it work, and there were/are wonderful things about each family's ways of doing things. I’ve recently figured out that my big problem was that rather than figuring out what worked best for OUR family, I had been spending all my time trying to mimic these other families. Of course, in trying to run around pretending to be all of these things, trying to do all of these things, trying to make my family work, ideally, like so-and-so’s family, I wound up wearing myself out and only bringing stress and frustration to both myself and my family when we fell short of my unrealistic expectations.
You see, I am NOT a morning person by any means, so getting up at the crack of dawn to start my day when, really, I could spend an hour or two more sleeping peacefully in the wonderful comfort of my bed, is just not a practical or beneficial thing for me. I know because I’ve tried it. By 3 p.m. I am exhausted and in dire need of a nap, and I am CRANKY. I am a total grouch when I get up early, so not only do I feel exhausted (YES, this even happens when I go to bed early), so I don’t have as much energy to play with/school my kids during the day, I am also grouchy to boot, so it’s a double negative.
In addition to that, while teaching my kids scripture and doing Bible lessons with them is extremely important to me, at this point, I am just not quite knowledgeable enough to turn every single thing in our every day life into a Bible lesson. Maybe one day, I will be able to figure out how to use “Don’t pick your nose” and “That’s why we don’t put matchbox cars down the garbage disposal” into life altering lessons of hope and faith and back them up with scripture references, but right now, I’m just getting through the day, trying to remind myself that “I can do ALL things [even homeschooling] through Christ who strengthens me.”
And as for staying crazy busy with activities, I just don’t WANT to do that! I can’t imagine constantly being on the go, driving from one thing to another. I love the idea of my kids being involved with other kids/people, engaged in sports, music, dance, art, etc… but for us, sticking with one thing at a time is much more feasible, not to mention manageable…
In regards to that whole keeper of the home thing… Well… I’ll just be honest and tell you now that personally, I stink at it. In fact, I’m still just trying to figure out how to get a load of laundry or dishes done without any disasters happening elsewhere in the house LoL I am slowly learning to let my kids help me in ways that they are able, like putting close in the washer or dryer; or putting away the silverware once it’s been through the dishwasher. The OCD Control Freak in me has to work really hard to let go and realize that it’s not the end of the world of every spoon in the drawer does not face the same direction, but the Mamma in me knows that they will never learn to do it correctly, if I allow my controlling nature to take over and just constantly do it myself in order for it to be done “right”…
My point is this: There is no picture perfect home school or family. While one thing might work for one family, it might be total disaster for another ~ even though both families have similar goals, beliefs, principles, desires, etc… It is so easy to get caught up in holding yourself to a standard that is not yours – and often, not your child’s (or spouse’s) - to meet, trying to fill a mold in which you simply do not fit. And, I speak from experience when I say that when you try so hard at trying to pull off that which just might not be your “thing”, you can be left feeling like such a failure or wondering what you’ve done wrong, or what is wrong with you… or why your kids can’t/don’t do this or that… I don’t know if there is much else that is more discouraging than the overwhelming sense of failure…
But it doesn’t have to end there. You don’t have to go down that road.
Yes, ask, discuss, observe those families around you who seem to have found a way to make it work – for them. If something sounds good and it’s a REASONABLE FIT FOR YOUR FAMILY, give it a try. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, try something else. Don’t try to force it just because so-and-so’s family does it this way or that way and it works for them so it should work for you. No. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY TO THOSE AROUND YOU. Homeschooling is not a cookie-cutter thing. Nothing in life is. In fact, if you are looking for a cookie cutter education for your children, maybe you should send them to school ~ because then they can be taught the exact same thing in the exact same way as hundreds of other kids (nothing against traditional schooling either; I am not criticizing the school system – there are some very good schools and some absolutely excellent teachers out there who are doing a wonderful job… I’m just making a general statement based on my very personal and limited experience with the school system on average today). Find what works for YOU. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s life or experience, because it’s just impossible to do so and will only set you up for failure and disappointment. Cater to the needs and preferences of YOUR family. And do NOT feel guilty or ashamed that you are not or cannot or simply don’t want to do all of the things other families are doing. Forget fitting into the mold. Throw the mold out ~ this is about growing your own successful home school, not taking root in someone else’s.
So, how does YOUR garden grow?

School is Where the Home Is

I was absolutely thrilled when I saw that Anita Mellott was looking for reviewers for her new devotion book, School is Where the Home Is: 180 Devotions for Parents. I was even more excited when I got a spot on the list!

As a mama who is new to homeschool, there is still so much that I don’t know, haven’t experienced, or that causes me anxiety. It is one of the reasons I am so glad that today’s homeschool isn’t “out mother’s homeschool”. Today there are so many more options, so much more support.

Still, there’s something about having that extra bit of encouragement first thing in the morning (or right before I go to bed at night). Anita Mellott is a homeschool mama herself—and her compassion and desire to raise her kids in the Lord’s way while educating them from home shows in each and every devotion. From light-hearted stories to advice for the hard times, her devotions link her experiences with God’s Word.

Each devotion is relatively short, easily read in 5 minutes or so…which is great for a SAHM trying to balance life and the snags it throws our way. I enjoyed the way she divided up the devotions into separate categories, which gives me a quick glance at what I can expect for the day. It will also come in handy when I refer to this book over and over when I am struggling in my daily walk with my kids on this journey of home education.

At the end of each day, Anita challenges us to reflect on the devotion in different ways—from personal questions to reading in the Bible to taking our own steps to influence positive change in our lives. Personalizing each devotion gives us something to go to the Lord about in our prayers.

I would recommend School is Where the Home Is for any homeschool parent, old or new. It comes with great advice and relatable stories. It’s easy to read and the short devos make it convenient, as well as useful. So, if you’re looking for a little extra encouragement, you can find our more information at:

Never underestimate the power of encouragement!

Do you have any recommendations for a good devo or even just an encouraging book for homeschooling parents?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Study Struggles

I apologize for the late post today. My children are sick and my husband was gone...and well, you can imagine the fun. Our Friday Seeds of Wisdom post just completely slipped my mind. But, here it is, and I'm excited to get your opinions on this, although the panel has offered some fantastic advice.

Remember, if you have a question you'd like our opinions on, email me at raleneburke at yahoo dot com, and we'll get you on the list!

Question: How do you deal with a concept that your child is struggling to comprehend?

Sam: We usually only have this trouble with math, which is also my struggle. We slow down, and backtrack if needed. If they still don't get the concept, I usually try a different curriculum. Math U See has been working well for us the last few months, and has produced no tears.

Marla: First, I make sure that she has the prerequisite skills for what I am trying to teach . If she does, I find a new way to present the material. Also, I try to make the learning fun so that she wants to learn. I create lessons using her favorite learning materials and her favorite animals or cartoon/book characters. If I am still unable to teach her the concept, I have somebody else (usually my husband) try. Sometimes, a different teacher is the trick.

Beth: Find a new way to communicate the information to them. For example, if you are teaching a math concept like addition, let them visually see and experience 2 + 2. Give them some manipulatives, (something they can touch), and let them add 2 blue M&M's to 2 more and then eat them for fun! When you make learning fun, their retention will increase!

Heather: When we are struggling with a particular topic and I feel like I've done all I can do (and frustration is setting in), we will usually move on to another subject and revisit the troublesome topic the next day. 9 times out of 10, they get it the next day!

Tracy: I always try to end with success. I don't want any subject or concept to end with a feeling of frustration and failure. Sometimes that means breaking the concept down to the bare bones, sometimes that means offering quite a bit of help, some...times that may mean switching gears and playing a game or pulling out a manipulative. He doesn't have to get it perfectly or even understand it all the way. But I want my son to be ready to try again tomorrow and not be filled with a sense of dread when he sees me pull out a particular lesson. A sense of accomplishment feeds determination.

Nessa: Math is a daily struggle for my oldest daughter. I always try to put it in terms she can understand and us manipulatives whenever possible. As the saying goes 'practice makes perfect'...

Shamberly: Because I'm so new to this homeschooling thing, we haven't hit TOO many rough spots in this area, but when we have, I first try to come up with a different way to explain the subject... If he still can't seem to grasp it, then I start branc...hing out to other homeschooling friends who might have some ideas on better ways to teach/explain it. If I can't seem to do it, then I might ask a friend to try explaining it ~ sometimes, kids do learn better from different people, and if you have someone you trust who is knowledgeable on a subject, and willing to help your child learn it, that friend can be a very valuable resource!

Also, sometimes, when I'm trying to teach a concept that my son is just not getting, if it gets to the point where we are both frustrated and worn out on the subject, then in my opinion, it's just not the right time to be teaching it. YES, there are some things that are more "time sensitive" and you just can't quit on, but not everything is that way. Sometimes, you just need to step back, give it a rest for a while - be it a few days, a few weeks, a few months, etc..., and come back to it at another point in time when your child may be more ready to tackle that particular subject. This can be hard - especially if it is a subject that you see other children around the same age as your's mastering, but we have to keep in mind not to compare, #1, and #2, remember that all kids are different, and while your child might be struggling with long division, Suzy Soccer Mom's child might have trouble with writing. Don't stress over it. Try to keep learning fun and enjoyable and interesting, and eventually, they'll catch on!

That's some excellent advice, ladies! What about the rest of you? Any advice? Opinions?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Biggest Struggle

Homeschooling is a journey that I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be taking. In fact, just a few short years ago my best friend who was trying to conceive her first child, told me she planned to homeschool her children and my response was "why would you do that to your child?!" I planned to send my children to public school. I mean, I was a public school child and I turned out fine, right? Wait, don't answer that.

My, my how things have changed. I realize more and more each day that God has a plan that is not our own, and His plan is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever fathom. But first, we must let go of our plans. Looking back, I can pinpoint the time that God planted the homeschooling seed into my heart. It was 3 years ago and both of my daughters were in preschool. Times were rough. We could no longer afford to pay $200 a month for preschool. So I thought, I'll preschool them at home, and I did. Never once did it cross my mind that I was homeschooling. We continued "preschooling" them for the remainder of that year.

The next year, our circumstances had changed. Our oldest started Pre-K and our youngest(who is only 11 months younger, but couldn't attend pre-k because she missed the age requirement by 11 days) went to daycare. My oldest cried every single day of pre-k. She hated going..luckily my husband was the one who dropped her off. At the end of the day, she was fine and she said she had fun, but she wasn't learning anything. Everything they were attempting to teach her, we taught her the year before. About halfway through the year homeschooling started creeping into my thoughts. I checked out a book from the library, read a few chapters and returned it. I convinced myself there was absolutely no way I could homeschool. I had to work full-time. My husband had to work full-time. Sadly enough, I was going to send them to public school because I needed a babysitter. Typing that hurts.

A couple of months later, we found out my husband would be laid off and would be going back to school. That's when the light bulb came on. He could plan his class schedule around my work schedule and we COULD homeschool. Isn't God awesome? The girls finished out the year at their pre-K/daycare in May and we began homeschooling both of them in Kindergarten in July.

We've just finished our Kindergarten year and our entire family loves homeschooling. It has worked out so well for us. I can no longer imagine waking the girls up at 6:00 a.m. to catch a bus to school by 7:00 a.m. We love the flexibility that homeschooling provides.

One of the biggest struggles I've had during our first year has had absolutely nothing to do with teaching my children. My biggest problem has involved me comparing myself and our homeschooling family to others. Ladies and gentlemen, hear me out: reading blogs and speaking with other homeschooling parents is a great way to find new ideas and get advice, but please let it stop there. Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself or your children. Trust me, if you do this, your homeschool will fail. It's a natural tendency (especially among women) to compare yourself to others who seem to have it all together. Let me share a secret with you. They don't. Their life is just as chaotic and disorganized as yours. Their children are no smarter than yours. Their husbands/wives don't love them anymore than yours. We all have issues. We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. There are two possible outcomes of comparing ourselves. 1.) We look at others and *think* we're much better off than they are. I mean we've done x,y,z this week. We must have something right. Then we fill ourselves with self-righteous thoughts and pride. Or, 2.) We look at others and see all the ways that they are better than us and doubt begins to creep in. We think we aren't meant for this job of being a homeschooling parent. We think we are ruining our kids and they aren't learning anything. And these are lies. God has equipped each of us with all the skills necessary to educate our children. He doesn't call us to do a job and not give us the needed equipment to complete the task. Really Moms and Dads, look at everything your children have learned from birth to age 5. You taught them everything they know. You did that and you did an awesome job. Why stop there?

I'm not saying homeschooling is for everyone. I'll be honest, for some people homeschooling would be a detriment to their children. But if you WANT to homeschool your children, you CAN do it.

We are a year into this incredible journey and I have so much to learn. Every day I discover something new about myself, my children, or life in general. It's fascinating. Not only am I educating my children, they are educating me. Seeing your child truly grasp a new concept is a feeling nothing else can compare to. I can't imagine missing those opportunities.

I'm here to tell you that there are good days and bad days. There are days when I feel like super mom and days when I feel like I should've stayed in bed. I'm going to share those days and all the days in between with you. I will be transparent and real. You may not agree with everything I say and by all means, call me out. I look forward to your comments and suggestions. I can't wait to learn from you guys, like I said I have SO much to learn. So come along, buckle up and hold on tight, it's going to be a wild adventure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

That was THEN...This is NOW...

When I sent my oldest daughter, who is now nine, off to preschool, I felt I was doing what all parents do. Preschool was a breeze. Only two hours a day and I felt she really was learning a lot. Kindergarten went smoothly albeit it was a couple of hours longer, but we still got to eat lunch and spend the majority of the day together. Going to first grade, all day, was when I really started to feel that public school just wasn't what it used to be. At this point it was just a feeling, nothing to act on. Even though it seemed a struggle for her to go that full day, she was learning.

I didn't start to feel real doubt about public school until it was time for my second child, my son, to go to Kindergarten. My son has had heart disease since birth, in order to give him an extra year of protection he didn't go to preschool. Kindergarten at this point was a full day, not half a day anymore. That was THEN...this is NOW. This is where the research for my homeschool journey began. Having a B.A. in English and History with quite a bit of education classes mixed in, I knew I had the ability to teach my children at home.

With many reservations this past fall I sent my son to Kindergarten, my oldest to fourth grade and was doing homeschool preschool for my youngest daughter. It was quite a 'testy' three quarters of a year for all of us as I continued to research and feel the pull to homeschool all three children. My fourth grader was being bullied for most of the year and nothing was being done about one was taking it seriously. My son was exhausted from being at school all day and still having to do most of his learning with me at home. In March, my husband and I decided that public school was of the past and homeschool was of our future. We pulled both kids out of school and immediately I began to homeschool them.

Our journey for the past few months has not been an easy one, but definitely has proven that we have made the right choice to give our children a new path to learn in an environment where they are loved, secure, and can be themselves. I plan to share all of our ups and downs, experiments and laughter as we plunge into our first full year of homeschooling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reasons NOT to Homeschool

There are a lot of things that I wanted to be when I grew up - but being a wife, a mother, and teacher were not in my plans.
I did not intend to get married.
After meeting the man of my dreams, I did.

I did not intend to become a momma.
After struggling with infertility & miscarriages, I did.

I did not intend to homeschool my girls.
I am.

I have no problems with public education.  Both my parents were teachers.  I have friends who are teachers.  We knew private schools were not an option for us, so we planned on sending the girls to the quaint little school across the street from our house.  It's a good, solid school system. The student to teacher ratio is excellent.  The test scores are good.

I am not good at math or science. I love music and literature, but can't stand art.  At all.  The thought of teaching Algebra makes me shiver.  Let's not even talk about biology.  

It would be nice to have a few hours to myself.  To have a clean house and be caught up on laundry.  To be able to run out and meet a friend for lunch without kids.  To sit and knit, or scrapbook or sew without interruption.  To shower on a daily basis.

Why do I homeschool?
The answer is simple.  I love our girls.  I love watching their faces light up when they finally understand a concept.  I love watching them bond over play dough and trains.  I love listening to Sophie sing the ABC song with Bella doing her best to keep up. 
THIS is what I was meant to do when I grew up.  To train up my girls in the ways they should go.  To teach them to follow the paths laid before them, especially when we are walking by faith.

Will you walk this path with me?  What made you decide to homeschool?

I am a pastor's wife and momma to our 2 miracle girls Sophie & Isabelle.  We are a licensed foster home for medically fragile infants and are hoping to add one or more of these precious children to our forever family.  I love talking about God's grace and love with people of all ages!  I blog about our crazy blessed life at OurGoodLife and would love to have you stop by and visit.  You can also find me on Twitter @AurieGood.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Individualizing your Homeschooling Program

And the winner of the Signing Time video is .... Eileen.  Please contact Beth at to claim your prize.  Congratulations!  

As a parent, you know that your child is an individual.  She has abilities, needs, and interests that are unique to her.  One of the primary benefits to homeschooling is that you can individualize the instruction to the specific needs and interests of your child/children.  You can choose a curriculum that is appropriate for your child's learning style.  You can teach unit studies and teaching materials based on your child's interests.  

As you are planning your instruction, remember that your curriculum is just an instructional guide.  You do not have to follow the curriculum exactly as it is written.  Saxon/Horizons/Math-U-See/A Beka are all good programs.  However, not one of them is the "math bible" for teaching math to your child.  You know your child better than any curriculum writer every will.

You may know that your daughter is having a hard time with long division, so you can (and should) seek out additional practice beyond what the curriculum provides.  Your kindergartner may have mastered counting to 10 months ago.  The fact that your curriculum spends multiple lessons on counting does not mean that you have to teach those lessons.  Your son may love dinosaurs.  In order to make reading more fun for him, you can choose reading materials about dinosaurs (or write your own books) and make his sight word flashcards in the shape of dinosaurs.  In addition, you can do a Science unit study on dinosaurs.

In my house, we are currently using alphabet flashcards that are in the shapes of zoo animals, counting farm animals, and learning about George Washington by reading two stories I have written and books we checked out at the library.  Some of my friends laugh at me because my daughter may be one of the only preschoolers who knows about George Washington, but I love that she is learning based on her interests and she can't wait to learn more about "George" and his friends!

 The ability to individualize the curriculum is the reason that we are currently homeschooling our almost 3-year-old daughter.  Like a few of the other ladies here, I was a reluctant homeschooler.  Before having children, I had a career in education - first as an early childhood teacher and later as a special education teacher (for students with autism, severe cognitive delays, and behavior problems).  The year before Abigail was born, I went back to school full time to get my doctorate in Special Education.  Having worked in public schools, I just assumed that my children would one day attend public school.  Whenever anyone mentioned to me the idea of homeschooling my children, I told them that they were crazy and that I would never do that.  However, when Abigail became old enough to attend a preschool program, I knew that it would not be the best place for her.  Deep down in my heart, I could not imagine allowing someone else to teach my child during the most critical learning period of her life!  Last September, when Abigail was 27 months old (one month after Charlotte was born), we began "doing school" each day.  Because I was so adamant that I would not homeschool, I did not call it homeschooling - just "doing school".  Initially, our school time lasted 20-30 minutes and was mostly reading and games.  However, over the course of the school year, our school time has lengthened and become more structured.  Most days, we work for about two hours on activities that I have created; we do math, language arts, science, social studies, fine motor, and various other preschool skills.  We are getting ready to start Spanish in the next few weeks. Everything that I teach is tailored to Abigail's needs and interests.  Abigail and I both love our preschool time together.  When she awakens each morning (even on the weekends), one of the first things she asks is "We do school now?".  Her enthusiasm has led to great results and I have been amazed at how quickly Abigail has learned; she challenges me each day to create lessons that will increase knowledge.  Next fall, when Abigail is three, we will be starting a kindergarten math program and will likely start a kindergarten language arts program at the same time.  I know that had I sent her to a traditional preschool program, she would not have progressed so quickly in her knowledge and skills.  I have just recently begun to feel comfortable telling people that I am homeschooling my daughter.  At this point, my husband and I are still not sure if homeschooling is going to last past preschool, but for now it is the right choice for Abigail.

I am excited to share my homeschooling journey with all of you.  My posts will look at my experiences as a mom, as well as things I learned teaching young children and children with disabilities.  Additionally, I may share some of what I discover as I work on my dissertation.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

False Starts and Failures

I began our homeschool journey last fall with lots of enthusiasm and a lot of confidence. After all, I'd been homeschooled from the end of first grade all the way through to graduation. I'd even written and edited for a Christian textbook company. I knew the ins and outs and ups and downs.

What I didn't count on was a four-year-old attention span and a two-year-old distraction. My beautiful school room, shiny new workbooks, carefully laid out teaching plans, and creative displays could not prevent our homeschool days from crumbling into disarray. After four grueling weeks, we took a breather--and Mommy regrouped.

The research, that should have started my journey, suddenly took priority. I read a number of books and searched blogs like crazy to get ideas. Then, a few months after our first failure, we took another stab at it--with much greater success. Homeschooling became all I had ever hoped it would be. After we finished off K4 (just this last week), my son came to me with this announcement: "Mom, I've got a great idea. Let's do school through the summer." And so we are.

We are in our groove now, but I learned a very valuable lesson from our rough start. It takes the failures to find success. And there might be a few false starts along the way to the finish line.

For us, everyday is an experiment, and even when the experiment goes awry--I've learned something. Like the great inventor Thomas Edison, I've simply discovered one more way it can't be done.

My encouragement to you would be this: don't be afraid of the mistakes you might make. It's a natural part of the process.

As you do your research and cruise those beautiful blogs with all those wonderful ideas, keep in mind many of them started with the same fears (and perhaps even failures) that you are facing. Learn from their wisdom, but remember--we're all on a journey of discovery.

You can follow along on our journey of discover at Growing in Grace.

Care to read a few more "rocky start" stories? Here are a few links to my favorites:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Favorite Tools

Welcome, everyone! This is our first Seeds of Wisdom post, and I am so excited to share the question/answers with you all. Seeds of Wisdom is an opportunity for YOU to ask US questions. We choose one question for each Friday post, and a handful of us will answer it the best we can.

It is wise to take council of more than one person as no one person has all the answers, and some questions have no wrong answers only different solutions. This is a chance for open discussion where we want to hear from you as much as we want to offer our own advice.

Being that this is the first week, of course, we have no questions from the readers yet. If you would like to submit a question, please send an email to me at raleneburke at yahoo dot com. I'll let you know when your question is chosen (most likely in the order that it was received). For this week, I proposed my own question to our panel of esteemed mothers!

What is your favorite tool you use on a consistent basis for education in the home?

My favorite homeschool tool is my planner. I have been using "The Well-Planned Day" since a few months into our first year of homeschooling, and I really love it. It is well laid out, and very visually appealing. You can see a full preview of the planner

The windows on my French doors and Crayola Window markers =) Since we mostly do school at our dining room table, I use the windows as my white board! They are in the perfect spot, are big and the kids LOVE it

Signing Time Video Series. I have been using them for over two years and my children know 200+ signs in ASL.

Honestly, I'd have to say Google! I can find the answer to any question I have, find any supplement that I need, locate any Youtube video or educational website. And many times, I find what I need for free. I have no idea what I'd do without Google and the internet.

My favorite tool has been the Usborne Books. They are wonderful for social studies and history. They are so kid-friendly, with interesting illustrations and factual information that promotes discussion and learning. I also love the libra...ry. It is a treasure-trove of homeschool tools, not only the books but the activities and other people there as well. My favorite motivational tool is location - it's a wonderful gift to be able to move around while you are learning. My children use this often when they are frustrated and find a new location (coffee table? kitchen table? on the floor? in a box?) often helps get them over a difficult hump. I love to move lessons outside when the weather is nice.

My computer - I love creating new activities that are tailored to the specific needs/interests of my daughter and searching the internet for printable supplements to my instruction! There are so many wonderful websites for finding free learning activities (,,,,,, Plus, I use online games and videos to supplement instruction. These days, we are using every single day for additional support in early reading skills.

This is going to sound crazy at first..but hear me out ;) Facebook is one of my greatest tools. Since we have virtually no homeschoolers in our area, I rely on the advice, suggestions and ideas of my fellow homeschooling mothers on FB. Seriously- I don't know what I would do without them.

I've been thinking about it, and I will say that one of my favorite tools is called Learn Your Letters, Learn To Serve, from the Heavenly Homemakers website... . I like it because it helps my kids learn their letters, scripture verses, etc... all while helping them creatively think of ways to serve the people in our lives. My heart is for my kids to really love people and love to serve people for th...e sake of being a blessing to them - not having the mindset of doing something to get something back out of it - this incorporates school lessons into practical character building lessons that we can do in our every day lives.

My favorite tool is definitely our new homeschool room. I'm so excited that we have the extra space in this house to dedicate specifically to homeschooling. I mean, some of the other kids stuff is in there--books, art supplies, games--but it's all stuff that we also use for homeschool. Anyway, hubby just finished sanding and refinishing a table that's just the perfect size for us. Small enough not to overwhelm the kids, big enough for us all to have our own work space. We put up a small white board and I have 2 books shelves dedicated to homeschool related books and a set of bins for art/school supplies. We also have a little reading/song time area. Can you tell I'm just so excited by this new development? The kids love it, too!

What about you? What's your favorite tool? Leave a comment today, and Beth is giving away one of the Singing Time videos! Giveaway will be open until midnight Sunday, and we'll announce the winner with Monday's post!

Tomorrow, we'll get a chance to hear from Tracy, so stick around. Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trusting The Experts

Thank you for visiting our site. We are all growing a homeschool with our own families and wish you the best in doing so. This is a place to share ideas and experiences, but also friendship and camaraderie. I'm Jessica, and we recently finished our second full year of homeschool (I've been married for 13 years and have three kids). I try to keep sane by writing at closeenoughblog and would love for you to stop by if you want to hear more. I'm a farmer's daughter who, to her great surprise, became a farmer's wife. I'm a public school kid who, to her absolute shock, became a homeschooling mother.

For me and my family, homeschooling began as a seed planted when we weren't even aware of it. I became close friends with a mother dedicated to homeschooling her children when they became old enough. My own had already started (what they refer to as) "regular school." But I suddenly had a front-row seat to a beginner's homeschooling experience, and someone to talk to about all the things I had read and wondered about homeschooling.

Educating my own children started to sprout and grow in my heart, and the perceptions - and prejudices - I had of homeschooling began to realign with reality. The more experience we had in school and the more I saw of homeschooling, the more I could see the drawbacks of one and the positives of the other.

Suddenly, I was alive inside with ideas blooming everywhere. New concepts and invisible doors were opening in my mind and heart.

Just as with any new experience, I started noticing things. Remember when you were pregnant and suddenly everywhere you went there were people with babies and toddlers? I bumped into homeschooling families all the time. Suddenly I began realizing that people I had known for years were (gasp) homeschoolers!

The deeper I looked into homeschooling, the more fertile the concept became. The more adjusted I became to the idea that, just like so many other things about the way we wanted to parent - birthing, breastfeeding, gentle discipline, loving guidance - this was something we could learn to do together as a family and expert advice may or may not apply to us. I understood that it would be different for us, just like it is different and special for everyone. I began to borrow ideas and inspiration from other homeschooling families, listening to what worked and didn't for them, evaluating what the specific needs of my own children were.

Parenting has been like this for me since the beginning. Each time I went against my instincts and did what the 'experts' said, I realized afterwards that I had been right. I was bolstered each time I was brave enough to go against 'expert' advice and saw positive results with my children. When we decided to try homeschooling, it was the biggest parenting risk we had ever taken.

But we had realized something, you see. By this time our oldest child was eight and in second grade at a school we dearly loved, with wonderful teachers and a caring, exciting learning atmosphere. It took all those years until we finally realized that we, his parents, were the experts. Not as someone who has written a book or received a prestigious degree or authored scientific studies is an expert. But we were experts of this child. We had spent the previous eight years studying and experimenting with him and no one understood him like we, the parents, did.

I did not need a degree in teaching. I did not need to know about classroom management. The more I read and saw, the sooner I came to the realization that everything I needed to know was right at my fingertips. Of course I could choose an appropriate curriculum. Of course I could teach them how to read/write/do long division. Of course I was going to make mistakes and wish there were some things I had done differently. Of course it is the same for the lovely people who had been my children's teachers up to this point: They made mistakes, had bad days, sometimes didn't like certain children and wished there were some things they could do differently.

But they could not adapt to the needs of my particular child. They had to take care of the needs of everyone in the class. They could not change curriculum when it was obviously a poor fit for my child. They could not let them skip ahead when they already knew something or spend extra time when something wasn't clicking. They couldn't teach them 3d grade math and 1st grade reading in second grade. Here was my advantage. I started paying attention to the statistics of homeschooling. There were so many more homeschooling families than I realized, and their children were doing so well academically and emotionally.

We pulled the boys out of school for the last quarter of that year (we had a second grader and kindergartner at the time, along with our three-year-old daughter still at home). Our thought at the time was to "give it a try" before summer time in case we needed to evaluate our options again before autumn.

We have never looked back.

Homeschooling may not be something we do forever. We try to look at how well every one's needs are being met on a six-month basis and remain open, because as they grow, they may have different needs. We have certainly proven ourselves to be brave enough to take the road less traveled and may end up doing that again at some point. But homeschooling is something we have enjoyed so much for the last two-plus years.

You are the expert on your children. Teachers and administrators are experts on children in general. They are also usually terrific and caring people. They still may not be able to meet the needs of your child along with all the others under their care. There are things about the "regular" school experience that I cannot replicate for my children, however we are still convinced that the pros outweigh the cons at this time for our family.

We trusted our instincts and it's been one of the very best parenting decisions we have ever made. I encourage you to have confidence in your family and in your abilities to parent. You know your children best. You are the expert. Good luck!
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