Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Peek Into Our Worlds

Sometimes we just want to see how the rest of the world does it.

Everyone is different. So, of course, everyone's homeschool area is different. Some people have a whole room to dedicate to school, others do not and use the kitchen table (some even prefer to), still more trade places depending on the moods of everyone. It's interesting to see what other people come up with for storage space, wall hangings, etc.

And now we're going to share with you!

With 13 windows and 3 doors in our school room, wall space is a luxury. Most of it is filled with book shelves. For the remaining portion, I hung literature themed art.


In my kitchen, I have a small piece of clothesline hung up on the wall with two nails, and clothespins attached to display artwork. :) Displaying their artwork says so many things to your children's little hearts.


We converted our playroom into a classroom last December. It is a wonderful space!

Ralene was going to share her photos, but her homeschool room is currently "under construction" as they just got some new furniture. :)

What about your rooms? If you have a link to share, we want to see it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recipe Day!

The party continues...

One of the best things about a party, second only to the guests, is the food! Today we're sharing some of our favorite recipes with you so we can enjoy them together.


Finger Jell-O
This is the best finger Jell-O recipe I have ever used.  The Jell-O hardens in 1 ½ to 2 hours.  It is very easy to cut with different shaped cookie-cutters.

What you need:

2 Unflavored Gelatins
1-6 oz. Package of Jell-O or 2-3 oz Packages, Your choice of flavor
2 ½ cups of Water

What you do:

Dissolve unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of water.  In separate saucepan, add 1 cup of water and boil.  Add flavored Jell-O to the boiling water and dissolve.  Remove the boiling water and Jell-O from heat.  Add the already dissolved unflavored gelatin to the boiling Jell-O.  Add the final ½ cup of water and stir.  Pour into a 9x13 lightly greased pan.  I use a glass casserole dish.  Put in freezer and let Jell-O harden for 2 hours.  After Jell-O has hardened, you can use your favorite cookie cutters to cut our fun shapes with your kids.  You can use this recipe at special times of the year.  For example at Valentine’s Day, you can use red Jell-O and cut out different sized heart shapes.  Happy jiggling!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

1. Foil inside and over edges of a 8x8x2 pan tightly. Set aside.

2. In large microwavable bowl mix:
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter (I melt it first)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt

3. Microwave uncovered at 70% power (1000 watt microwave) for 1 minute. Remove. Stir.

4. Mircowave uncovered at 70% power (1000 watt microwave) for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove. Stir.

5. Microwave uncovered at 70% power (1000 watt microwave) for 1 1/2 minutes, or until bubbling. Remove. Total cooking time is 4 minutes. Bowl will be hot, handle with care.

6. Quickly add and stir until melted and blended:
1 pkg (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla

7. Spoon into pan. Use back of the spoon to press into an even layer.

8. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. (I like to refrigerate it overnight, and cut the pieces the next day.)

To make the two layered fudge in the photograph...
1. Follow the recipe, but substitute peanut butter chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Spoon into a 9x13x2 pan. Allow to cool in refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Follow the above recipe to make the top layer. Spoon chocolate layer onto the peanut butter layer.
3. Allow fudge to cool completely in the refrigerator over night.
4. Cut into pieces the next day.
*Original source of this recipe is unknown to me.

Uncle Ralph Dip

1 block Velveeta Cheese
1 large block Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 small can of Rotel (spiciness dependent on preference)
1 pkg of sausage (type dependent on preference), hamburger is also okay

1. Cut the Velveeta and cream cheese into blocks and put them in a slow cooker along with the can of Rotel.

2. Brown the sausage, and then add to slow cooker.

3. Heat on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally to keep sides from burning. When all is melted and blended well, it's time to serve with some tortilla chips!

That's all for today. What are you favorite party goods?

Monday, August 29, 2011

End of Summer Par-tay!

So, what to do with that random 5th week. Since we work on a 1st/3rd, 2nd/4th week schedule, every now and again we'll run into an extra week. And what do we like to do almost as much as we like to homeschool?

Party with our readers!


We're celebrating the end of summer!

Lots of fun discussions, excellent goodies, and exciting prizes to behold this week.

What are we doing, you ask?

Monday (that's today...): Contest begins! (See Details Below)

Tuesday: Recipe Day! We'll share some of our favorite recipes with you!

Wednesday: This is how we homeschool! We'll share pictures of our homeschool spaces.

Thursday: (If I can figure out how to do it) Great American Recipe Blog Roll...What would YOU bring to our party?

Friday: Seeds of Wisdom: Kids Say...

Saturday: Winners announced!


The contest starts today and will run until 11:59 pm on Friday night. Winners will be announced in a special post on Saturday.

How do you earn entries?

*Comment on any post through the week (total of 5)

*Follow this blog (1)

*Follow us on Facebook or Twitter (up to 2)

*Tweet/leave a FB status about this party! Make sure to include @GrowingYourHS on Twitter. (2/day)

Now, what would a party be without presents? We have some great giveaways!

*Sam is giving away Story of the World Vol. 2

*Ralene is giving away $30 Amazon gift certificate

*Kerry Beck of Homeschool Super Heroes is giving away one of her ebooks (they are having some great giveaways this week as well, so stop by and register!)

*A Journey Through Learning is giving away a free download of winner's choice.

I can't tell you how excited we are to share this week with you. What other exciting things do you have going on this week...please share so we celebrate with you!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Hardest Subject

It's Friday again! Praise the Lord for the wonders of a weekend to come. Because of God's grace alone, we made it through another week of homeschooling...and to another Seeds of Wisdom post.

Question: What is the hardest subject for you to teach?


Math is usually the hardest for me, but sometimes ends up being the most fun. I had a great teacher in college that taught all my educational mathematics classes. She taught us if we knew the simplicity of any formula, we could take that and solve many problems. I am trying to remember that as I begin this homeschool year, and keep things simple. You can really take that concept and apply that to many subjects.


Math has been, but so far we are all enjoying Life of Fred. Our oldest son has read through the elementary book just for fun at bedtime. I am sure he learned something new!


Bible study. I love teaching Abigail about God and am constantly amazed by her love of God. However, when it comes to teaching her about God, I always feel inadequate. I always feel like I don't really know what I am doing and that I am doing a poor job of teaching her. I don't feel that way with any other subject, but teaching Abigail about God makes me doubt my teaching abilities.


Writing. I am right handed, and Sophie is left handed. I never thought it would be a challange until I tried showing her how to hold a crayon/pencil and how to write. Wow!!


Math is definitely the hardest. It's not my strong point, so I lack the confidence to make the adjustments I would readily make in other subjects. I'm often afraid that if I wander too far off the beaten path, I'll miss teaching something important. So slowing down, changing approach, or switching curriculum are all very intimidating decisions.


For me, music (performance) is the hardest subject. I cannot clap on beat, even when shown. Nor can I sing on key. Thankfully, my husband, a drummer, can teach our children rhythm and how to keep a beat. The singing, well, we are blessed with a some musically gifted moms in our local area who graciously teach our children to sing.


So far, the hardest has been phonics. While the girls learned their letters and the various sounds quickly, the rest of it has been a challenge on different points. I think it'll just take a lot of patience on my part to understand they may not get everything right away.

What about you? Which subject do you find the most difficult to teach?

Be sure to join us next week. It's the 5th week of the month, and we're going to party! We've got some great giveaways, so exciting posts, and all around good fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When People Don't Understand

"..'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord...."
-Jeremiah 29:11

What do you do when your family members and other people don't understand what you are doing? How do you handle all the questions? How do you handle the criticism?

I don't know if I have all the right answers to these questions. I know that in general it takes people a while to get accustomed to the idea of homeschooling, even those who want to do it. (See Dorie's post yesterday.)

I will share what we have done. My husband and I have talked about homeschooling from the very beginning. We always wanted to do this, even before we had kids. Maybe God put this in our hearts long ago, because He knows everything, and He knows what is to come.

When our children started showing signs of developmental delay, we thought it would be better for them to be around other children; we thought that would help the speech improve, social skills advance, etc. But several incidents caused us to revisit homeschooling, and we decided this was the best thing. Thankfully we had people to encourage us in this endeavor. But that was not the case with everybody.

I encounter questions regularly, from grandparents, doctors, friends, you name it, especially because of the diagnosis of Pervasive Devolopmental Disorder. I explain myself a lot. I tell them things I know about school and how I think it will benefit my children to be homeschooled and how I feel it will not benefit them to be in a classroom setting. I have tried to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible.(My Bachelor's Degree is in Education, but to some people even that is not enough for me to do an adequate job homeschooling my children.)

As for the criticisms, I have tried to battle the same way, with knowledge. I have armed myself with research, and education, and information about how children learn. Do you know what I have learned? People have to come to their own realizations about this. People have been so conditioned to see public school as being the perfect setting for children. It may not be right,that perspective, but it is just so.

It all comes down to this. What is best for your child? What is God leading you to do for your family?

If you are struggling with this decision, let me arm you with a little knowledge. There are many successful people in history that were homeschooled and you just might recognize a few of their names: Leonardo DaVinci, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Louisa May Alcott, Alexander Graham Bell, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Albert Einstein. Contemporary examples of homeschoolers include The Jonas Brothers and Venus and Serena Williams.

At some point, I am going to stop explaining and let people see the fruit. I have tried to be kind but after a while questions and criticism can wear on you. That is when I revisit why we are doing what we are doing. We have to do what is right in our own hearts for our own family, and what we believe is God's plan for our children.

What productive ways do you deal with encounters with people who don't understand?


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Our Homeschool Journey Began

“Dinner time!”  Momma’s voice echoed down the hallway.  I sighed.  I didn’t want to leave.  I was having too much fun.   I was a teacher, giving my first reading lesson.  My students were amazingly perfect.  They shared incredibly well.  The one piece of paper and pencil was passed with my help from student to student.  They waited patiently, too.  Listening skills were optimal.  Silently they looked on, fully attentive as I outlined their tasks.  Amazingly, my students never made a mistake, or at least one that I caught.  They did everything exactly as I asked. 

“Dorie, dinner is ready!”  I heard her call again.  Time to go.  Climbing over the circle of stuffed animals, I descended the ladder from my top bunk and made my way to the kitchen.

“What were you doing?” she asked.

“Playing school,” I answered, and quickly added, “Maybe I’ll be a teacher when I grow up.”

Years would pass and I would dabble in teaching as a reading tutor in high school and a calculus tutor in college.  However, by then the dream to teach was replaced several times by various aspirations.  Eventually, I would graduate college and work as a therapist for elderly who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  I worked in this field for several years before the birth of our first child.  Then, when he was four months old, I took a part time office job.  A year later, our daughter was born.  With two children under 16 months of age, I stopped working outside of the home. 

It was then, two months into my new role as a full time, stay at home mom that I first heard about homeschooling.  “Is that really legal?” “Why would anyone want to do that?” and “Aren’t schools better equipped to educate a child?” were among my first thoughts.  I was speaking to a friend from high school who had just told me she was currently homeschooling her two oldest children.  At the time, her children were in second and first grade.  I remember bombarding her with questions that bordered on accusations.  She was exceedingly patient, answering all me with truth and kindness.  Still, I was unconvinced.

We moved, and began a new phase of our life in a new state.  When our oldest was two, it occurred to us that we needed to start looking into preschools.  We searched the area for a ‘good Christian preschool’ that we could afford.  We found several possibilities, but did not commit.  We started to ask if the benefits outweighed the costs for us.  Was it really necessary to do two years of preschool?  Could we replicate schooling at home for less money and time?  We decided to try it for one year, the first year of preschool.  Mind you, we had no intention of homeschooling.  We were no longer opposed to the idea for others, but had still deemed it ‘not for us.’  We had every intention of sending our children to a school starting in Kindergarten. 

The year progressed and our son was an ideal student.  It was during this time period that the Lord began to change our objections and opposition to personally homeschooling our children.  He placed more families in our lives who homeschooled.  We asked them questions and did research.  Finally, after much prayer and time, we made the decision to homeschool our children.  It is a decision that we have made each spring ever since.  Every year, we reevaluate our educational choices, and each time, so far, we have found ourselves making the same decision to homeschool for another year.

Monday began another ‘official’ year of school for our family.  This year, I’m guiding our four children ranging from preschool to seventh grade through their lessons.  The days aren't at all like my childhood teaching dreams.  It isn’t always exciting or fun.  My students don’t always share incredibly well, wait patiently, listen attentively, or do everything exactly as I ask.  As their teacher, I’m OK with that.  For I know, from experience, my students aren’t perfect, but they are amazing!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Breaking the Cycle

I'm going to be honest here.

I am not a perfect mom.

At all.  {are you suprised?}

Sophie and I have the same personality.  Some days it's a good thing.  Other days I struggled to keep my cool.

Some days we both got sent for some Quiet Time.

I quickly realized that we were feeding off of each other.  She was frustrated, so I was frustrated.  She raised her voice, so I raised my voice.  She cried, so I cried. 

Not good.

I was reading though the Duggar's book when a short sentence from Michelle caught my eye.  She was talking about getting her children's attention by talking quietly and getting down on their level.

I decided that the next time Sophie was having a tough time I'd try it.

A few days later Sophie didn't want to get her shoes on to go outside.  I went over, knelt in front of her and spoke in a quiet voice.  She actually stopped crying and whining and listened to what I was saying. 

By getting down on her level and not raising my voice, I broke the cycle and she calmed down super fast.  I also requested that she look in my eyes while I spoke with her.

The change has been amazing.

We've been doing this for about 3 months now.  She no longer flips out, and has learned to use a quiet voice instead of a yelling voice.

It's been wonderful!

Had you heard of this technique?  What do you do when your child is having a tough time?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feeling Left Out

This time of year, children are preparing to head back to school and parents are busy getting them ready.  Every time that we attend playgroup or playdates, the other moms are talking about preschool.  They are discussing which preschool their children will be attending, where to find the best nap mats, and making plans to meet up once a week while the kids are in school.  Throughout these conversations, I sit silent and feel left out.  Don't get me wrong; I love homeschooling Abigail and believe that it is the right choice for my family at this time.  However, since we homeschool year-round, there is not a start to our school year.  I don't get to go on special shopping trips to find new clothes, backpacks, and crayons for the girls.  I don't get to attend Meet the Teacher nights or think about what fun things I will do for myself while the girls are in school.  Life just goes on as normal for us.  I am beginning to realize how different we are from our friends.  Choosing to homeschool makes us different in more ways than just how we are educating our children; it is a lifestyle choice.  It means that our family will not be able to relate to many of the experiences of our friends and they won't be able to relate to our schooling.  I won't be the PTA president or the room mother.  Instead, I will be my children's teacher.  While this is a wonderful thing, it was not my vision for my future and I am having a hard time with the realization that I will sometimes feel left out of the "typical" parenting experiences.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Favorite Subjects to Teach

I can't believe it's Friday already! This week just flew by in a whirl of math, phonics, and moon madness (our unit study was on the moon). We had a lot of great posts this week, if you missed one, check it out! Now it's time for some more seeds of wisdom.

Question: What is your favorite subject to teach?


I always have the most fun teaching my kids about God. From devos to Scripture memorization to studies on godly characteristics, I enjoy seeing them understand (and demonstrate) what we learn. If nothing else gets done in a day, this subject is always covered.


History! I never liked it in public school, but now I am learning so much. I love the addition of our wall timeline this year. I just may be a visual learner after all. Our kids love it too...


Science. I never really enjoyed Science as a student, but I am loving it now! We have recently been doing short unit studies on animals and I am learning so much! We have also planted flowers, made ice cubes, observed the weather, etc. and we are looking forward to having our own butterfly farm next month. Abigail and I are both having a great time with our Science units!


Believe it or not, cooking! I am having SO much fun teaching Sophie and Bella how to mix ingredients, break eggs, measure flour and butter - it's a lot of fun. It also helps that they enjoy it as well!


My kids are young, so we haven't tackled much more than phonics and math, a little nature study, and a little art/music. But, in general, I love teaching them about God—in every subject, not just in Bible. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to show the connections between God and all the rest of His universe, every aspect of it.


My favorite subject to teach is reading. Reading is such an important skill. It opens up a whole world of learning and adventure for the child. That is actually our focus for the year, to make reading a priority. (P.S. It was a little hard for me to decide.....I like what Tracy said too!)

Aw, the memories we create! What subjects do you like to teach?

Remember, if you have any questions you'd like us to answer, just leave them in the comments section!

Letting Go

I am a firm believer in not sticking with a certain curriculum just because you spent money on it. In the three short years I have been homeschooling, I have purchased more curriculum than I could have possibly imagined. Most of it was because everyone else was raving about it, the other half was because the publisher was raving about their own product.

If I could give new homeschoolers one piece of advice, it would be that you should let go of all of the things that you think you should be using {what your friends use, what “they” say is the best curriculum} and follow your heart.

I know what seemed to be the best fit for my family was an eclectic Charlotte Mason approach. I ignored that however, because it seemed too easy, as the lessons were shorter. Living books? Nah, I have these here worksheets to grade!

I came to the end of two homeschooling years and realized that we were just a public school sitting in the middle of my home, and no one liked it. So I started looking back into the Charlotte Mason approach. It seemed perfect, but still I was hesitant-my children couldn’t possibly get an education with short lessons and lots of book reading.

Or could they?

We are indeed eclectic, and although we have not jumped in with two feet to everything that Charlotte fans might be doing out there, we are definitely leaning that direction, replacing one thing at a time as we go along.

Long boring math lessons? Gone.

Repetitive grammar that induces tears? No more.

Dry History from one person’s perspective? Soon to be out the door.

It isn’t about what works for everyone else. It is about what works for YOU. Let the rest go.
When you do let go of all the things that “they” say you should be doing, and go with your gut and what lights up the eyes of your children-then you have found the secret to homeschooling success.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Schooling Amidst A Crisis

The past month, my mother-in-law has been hospitalized. This stressful situation is further complicated by the fact that my husband and I are in partnership with his parents as farmers, so her workload is passed around among us, along with our worry over her. There are also her personal things (bills, cleaning, rescheduling) to be tended to. We also like to have one of us at the hospital when the doctors come around (there are six of them, and they come at random times). So our life has been a little messy and everything that can give, has gone.

We started fall harvest (THE busiest time of year on our farm) and my husband had an emergency appendectomy.

We had intended to begin school on August 1st this year, but that was not a possibility. I decided to wait until my mother-in-law was out of the hospital, but as the weeks stretched on and the pressure from other responsibilities increased, I began to have concern as to whether there would EVER be a "good time," so after discussion with my husband and children we started school this past Monday.

Did we finish *everything?* No. But we were so happy to be back around the kitchen table together. The next morning, I was needed at the hospital very early, so a sitter watched the kids and we fit the rest of school from the previous day's plans into the afternoon. It took two days to complete what would normally be fit into a morning, but we are able to be flexible about when and where we can work on it.

While my dyslexic middle child was in tutoring sessions yesterday afternoon, I worked on phonics with my first grader while my fifth grader did his math lesson. We listened to a song based on our memory work on a CD in the van going to and from the tutoring session. My oldest child read out loud to us from one of our literature study novels.

Is it perfect? No. But it was fun and satisfying. My daughter (six next month) took a lot more from the Native American Indians lesson for the older children than I imagined she would. Her journal entry was about it. Was I able to do everything according to the plans I had laid out? (Laughing) No, but does anything ever work that way?

The most enjoyable part for me was the undivided attention and time I was able to give each child separately. I have felt pulled in so many directions and had so many hats to wear lately, my connected relationship with each of them has been put to the test. It was so wonderful for me to have conversation with, lap time for, and intense interest from each of them without having to worry about what I should be working on instead.

I was doing exactly what I am meant to. The most important work I will ever do is raising these children, and I'm so thankful that homeschooling is a part of that for my family right now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking Writing by Storm

For a few years, I had the opportunity to teach college-level English and writing classes, and one of my favorite classes to teach was creative writing. It was an elective class required for English and Writing majors as well as English minors. I had pre-law students, engineers, and history majors mixed in with the others, students who by no means considered themselves to be writers.

The first day of class was always exciting. To walk into that room of intimidated and bug-eyed students who had been forced to take a college level creative writing class and convince them that they could have a good time was always a highlight of my year. Breaking through the barriers they had set up in their minds was my favorite challenge. They were not all talented, and they didn't all leave my class as burgeoning writers. But they left with capability and an appreciation.

Over my next several posts, I want to share a few tips and ideas that might help you break through the barriers your child might have set up in his mind, to help him become capable and appreciative.

Taking Writing by Storm: the Brainstorm
The brainstorm stage is the first step to writing, but many students get stuck before they've even begun. Staring at that blank sheet of paper is absolute torture and makes writing a paper or a story that much more miserable. But brainstorming can take several different forms. Choosing the right form for your child, or experimenting with all of them, could be the first step in knocking down the walls of resistance.

1. The list of ideas. This is the traditional take on the brainstorm, but here's what I always recommended to my students. Write down anything that comes to mind, even if it's off-topic or a bad idea. There is no such thing as a bad idea on a brainstorm. Even bad ideas can inspire good ideas. Set a timer, turn off the inner-censors, and storm. Let your mind belch ideas on paper. Don't worry about organization or connections or anything besides just ideas at this point. Don't worry about parallelism: the ideas can be adjectives, nouns, verbs, or adverbs; they can be complete thoughts or fragments; and they might even be doodles in the margins.

2. The sketch. Some of us think best in pictures, not lists of words. Another great brainstorm tactic, especially for a story brainstorm, is to draw a picture. Let your child sketch what he sees in his mind about his story. He may be able to develop the character only after he's drawn that character. He may be able to describe the setting only after he's sketched it. Let him doodle and draw and sketch as part of his brainstorm process. Then, after the drawings are complete, let him make his list of words from the drawing he has created. Keep in mind, your child doesn't have to be an artist for this to work; he only has to be a visual learner.

3. The cloud. If you see that your child has only five words on his brainstorm, you might see if your child thinks best in the form of relationships. In other words, sketch five clouds and put one of his words in each cloud. Then, have him brainstorm for each word. He may be able to fill out his brainstorm by thinking of ideas related to those five keywords. Or, the process of writing something—anything—might lead him to a totally different and unrelated but absolutely brilliant idea.

4. The narration. Do you have an auditory learner? Or a child who just loves to talk? Try narrating the brainstorm. This could take a number of forms. Your child could do the talking while you write down his ideas; your child could do the talking and then pause to write down his own ideas; or you could get your child a mini-recorder to talk into, then have him listen and write down what he said. Have him talk to the character. Have him talk as the character. Have him talk to the character's best friend. Have him ask questions to the general of the army on which he is doing his report, and then write down those questions as leads for his research. And you don't have to sit silent. Ask your own questions to lead him and inspire more conversation. A few things to be careful about here: don't do the storming for him, don't feed him ideas, don't tell him what he's "thinking." Remember that you are giving him cues only. Think of the prompter during a play, whispering key lines and first words to get the stunned actor back into the script.

5. The rant. Many of us think better when we are writing complete sentences in paragraph form. I think this is why so many students are tempted to write the brainstorm after they've written the first draft: they just can't think in lists. So let your child write, similar to a brainstorm, but in a flow of thought rather than a list. The ideas don't have to make sense, don't have to be in the right order, and don't have to be complete sentences. Don't worry about grammar or mechanics. Just write. It might even start with, "I have absolutely nothing to write about. I hate writing. I hate writing this paper," which is why I called this "the rant." The only rule is that your child cannot stop writing until he's reached a certain length or a certain time limit. There is something about writing itself that sometimes frees up the ideas. Even if it starts as a rant, at the end of five minutes or a full page (front and back) he's probably thought of something. Then, take that "something" and repeat the process, using the "something" as his cue.

There are so many methods or mix of methods we could discuss, but I hope that I've provided a few "cues" for you to use. Brainstorming, is in essence, whatever it takes to get your ideas flowing. And if you can help your child discover what way works best for him, you haven't just taught him how to write; you've helped him learn how to think.

Monday, August 15, 2011

GYHS Welcomes Susan Hollaway!

It is my joy and pleasure to introduce a good friend of mine. I met her through the American Christian Fiction Writers, a writing group that we both belong to. Not only is she a wonderful writer, but she's also been homeschooling for years! I'd like you to welcome our first guest, Susan Hollaway. 

I can’t believe my daughter’s in her second year of high school already.  Aaaack!   Time sure does fly when you’re having fun! 

I love to talk about homeschooling.  I’m just going to share some thoughts I have and hope that a tidbit tucked in among them might encourage or bless someone. 

 I’m so glad that we were called to home school.  I can’t imagine missing even one experience over the last ten years of home educating our daughter.  In case you’re wondering – no, they’ve not all been perfect, but I have learned from every single experience.  If you’re reading this and thinking about homeschooling and wondering if you can do it —let me just say—why yes, yes you can.  If you feel led to home school, there’s a good reason.  The Lord never asks you to go somewhere without Him.  You can do it!   

There are as many ways to home school as there are homeschoolers.  That’s one of the many advantages of home education.  Some school year round with breaks throughout the year, while others do the traditional school year.  Some may have their school hours in the mornings and afternoons, while others who have a dad working second shift, might school in the afternoons and evenings so they can spend more time with him. 

The rules are the ones you set for your family.  Most importantly, do what works for you. Just because you’re doing it differently than someone else doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.  For me, some structure is important.  But on the other hand, don’t be so set that you can’t recognize the unexpected “teachable moments” that pop up, because life is the best classroom of all.  So, it doesn’t really matter what the calendar says or where you happen to be, learning never truly ceases.  Whether you’re super-structured or a relaxed homeschooler, what matters is how your children learn best and it’s up to you and the Lord to determine how to make it all work.  

Got curriculum?  There’s a plethora of choices out there.  We are eclectic.  I don’t use a boxed or canned curriculum.  I know there are some great ones out there, but we’ve always preferred to choose each subject curriculum individually according to the learning style of our daughter and how we think it’ll work best for our family. We use a lot of living (whole) books and we love it.  But you certainly need to choose what works best for your child(ren).   

Whew! Ten years of homeschooling under my belt.  I think I’m supposed to be one of those veteran homeschoolers now.  Believe me, you’ll always have questions.  I still do.  That’s what makes homeschool groups, co-ops, and blogs like this so invaluable.  It’s sort of like being a Titus 2 woman and for everything there is a season.  They’ll be someone to mentor you, and someday it’ll be your turn to mentor or at least a chance to bless someone else.  And often, you don’t even know you’re doing the blessing.  It’s just a small conversation or comment that leaves a lasting impression.  That’s so cool and so God!  

Last year when I uttered the words “my daughter is starting high school”, I was momentarily speechless.  A rarity for me, I must admit.   Memories flit through my brain of sitting snuggled on the couch reading books from FIVE-IN-A-ROW and doing the super cool activities that go along with that literature-based unit study.  I remember we built a light house and then went into the bathroom with a flashlight to light it up.  That rocked!

My daughter remembers so many books, lessons, and special memories from those times, and it warms my heart that we re-share them together through precious discussions. Not long ago, she told me that she loves homeschooling and that I’ve been a great teacher.  Aw.  While I must most certainly admit, if there’s anything good in me – it’s Jesus Christ, it still made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  But for the grace of God I am able to complete the tasks He sets before me. 

Now that I’ve survived the 4-H County Fair, it’s time to get geared up for the new year.  So as another summer begins to come to an end and the start of a new school year is about to begin, excitement builds.  We get out the new stuff we purchased.  I plan, organize, and then we shop for any last minute needed supplies.  I feel almost giddy.  

My thoughts were to share a little about our homeschooling, but mostly to show you that everyone does homeschooling a little differently.   Instill a love of learning in your child and the possibilities are endless.  Make it interesting and fun when you can, and when the lessons come that are boring or tedious (and you will eventually have some of those)….well, that’s a life lesson. There’s times in life that we all have to do things that aren’t always fun.  If you have your child’s best interest at heart, it’ll all work out. Maybe not always in the way you expect, but some of the biggest blessings are unexpected.

I could go on, but I’m supposed to keep it at around 500 words.  I guess I need to wrap this up as I’m at 899.  That’s not too bad, I told you I LOVE to talk about homeschooling. 

About me: 
I am a Christian, wife, homeschooling mom, and writer.  I live in Kansas with my husband, teenage daughter, and my daughter's two dogs. I love people, but come to think of it, I’ve rarely met a carbohydrate that I didn’t like either. I write inspirational romance and freelance. You can visit me at my blog at

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interest-Led Learning (and a Winner!)

I (Ralene) think that one of the most fabulous perks to homeschooling is the ability to cater to our children's interests in a way that public school just can't. So, this week's question is definitely one I want to see other people answer as well!

What creative ways do you incorporate your child's interests into their learning?


I don't really do this with my children yet, but I will. All children like to watch their favorite movies. One way to encourage dialogue about the movie so they are not just sitting there being entertained, is to incorporate a little Language Arts into the viewing. You can talk to them about different elements of the story including characters, plot, theme, and setting. That way they are actively thinking about what they are watching and they are learning important skills to use when reading. For example if my kids are watching Toy Story, I could identify the characters of Woody, Buzz, Ham, Little Bo Peep, and Mr. Potato Head. We could talk about the different settings like Andy's room, and Pizza Planet. One of the themes is friendship. You can make this activity as develped as you want depending upon the age and skill level of the child.

I ask the kids what they are interested in studying, and I try to find a unit study to do through the year that fits that theme.


I hope to do this more as my children get older, but the one instance I can think of is last year when my son heard about x-ray fish as he was listening to an alphabet song. He was so enthralled with the idea that we did cover it for the letter "x" even though it wasn't in my curriculum. I googled information and coloring pages, and we had a very memorable week learning the letter and learning about the fish. Google is a mom's best friend when it comes to tailoring to a child's interest.


It has really not required creativity on my part - homeschooling naturally lends itself to a child being able to follow his or her own interests. I try to leave plenty of time and opportunity for self-directed learning and it requires very little effort from me to facilitate the children learning from following their own noses. (For instance, I keep a list of what sort of subjects they might want to investigate at the library or supervised online, and I give them opportunities to apply what they are learning with their real-life obsessions.) I'm sure parents could do an incredible job of designing curriculum around a specific child's passions, it just hasn't felt necessary for us at this point.


I plan our Science and Social Studies unit studies based on Abigail's current interests or things that are going on in our lives (ex. - she is fascinated by firemen right now, so we have been talking about firemen and fire safety in Social Studies for the past few weeks; also, we are preparing for a vacation and have been studying the animals that we will see for our Science units). I also create learning materials based on her interests. We have alphabet flashcards in the shape of a variety of animals, we count objects of her choice, we make patterns using her favorite snacks. It can be a lot of work to create materials based on interests instead of using a purchased curriculum or materials, but it is worth it!

I love letting the girls explore their interests. That doesn't really work into our homeschool at the moment since they are so young--it mostly comes in the books we choose to read. However, I definitely look forward to working in stuff like field trips, internships, community service, and whatever else I can cook up when they're old enough to really explore their interests. I also know letting them use their interests for projects like papers and book reports will help them learn the techniques the assignment intends while keeping it interesting enough for them.

How do YOU help your child explore their interests?

Remember, if you have a question or subject you'd like to see us address, leave a comment below!

And now...

THE WINNER of the $30 Amazon Gift Card is..............


Melanie, if you could shoot me an email at raleneburke [at] yahoo [dot] com and I'll get that gift card out to you ASAP! Congratulations!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making Good Memories-Part 1

I have been thinking about this so much lately, making memories. Every morning I awake to the smiling beautiful faces of my children. God has blessed us so much with them. They are so smart and each has their own distinct personalities and gifts. I want their childhood to be a beautiful thing, full of great memories that they created with each other and with us.

Recently I wrote about beginning with the end in mind. Making good memories is just one more aspect of that. Why should we make good memories with our children?

Well, a lot of adults have issues that result from bad experiences in childhood. Many people have things that they have to overcome as they get older in life stemming from bad memories. I believe that if we as parents can make sure we are doing our part to create good memories, it will give our children an anchor in life, to family, home, and love. Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Practicing this scripture will be so much easier for our children if we help them create good memories.

So what are some practical ways that we can make good memories with our children?

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t make a big issue out of little things. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t cry over spilt milk?” Well that is a good one. Don’t let all the little mistakes your kids make, overshadow the big picture.

2. Laugh a lot. The Bible says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” (Proverbs 17:22), and “A happy heart makes the face cheerful,” (Proverbs 15:13). I did a little research and read in different places that children laugh between 200- 400 times per day, whereas adults only laugh about 15 times. Laughter distributes oxygen to cells in all parts of the body, which is also conducive to learning. (I think I am going to do an experiment one day and see how true this information is….)

3. Hug and kiss them. Let them hug and kiss you! I am reading a book right now called The Blessing by John Trent and Gary Smalley and one of the things they talk about in the book is that part of blessing our children comes through physical touch. Both boys and girls need physical touch in order to grow into healthy adults. I know if I sit in the floor with my children, they are all over me. They just want to touch me and hang on my neck, and hug and kiss me.

So what does this have to do with homeschool you ask? Well, as homeschoolers we are with our children all the time. We are the people who have the greatest and most direct impact. We are making memories all day long. So, I just wanted to write about how we can make some good memories, in the midst of our homeschool experience. And...when I started writing this, I didn’t know how long it was going to become. I didn’t realize how much I would have to say about making good memories, and what a huge topic it could become. There is a part 2,3,and maybe even a part 4 to this blog post, so please come back and check it out!

What are some good memories you have from your childhood? What are some good memories you are creating with your children now?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

So, Should I Start Now?

I had the perfect homeschool post ready to go.

It was brimming with tips to do with your preschooler.

It wasn't me.

I am not an organized homeschooler.  At all.

I am organized in pretty much every area of my life - but when it comes to homeschooling, I seem to be all over.

I've been reading about all the amazing women who have already started their school year.  I've looked at cool crafts and ideas and suddenly I have a sinking feeling that I should not be trying to teach my daughters. 

Thankfully I am surrounded by lots of supportive friends and family who assure me that everything will be fine.

At the moment:

*I still haven't ordered our curriculum.  The flyer has been on my desk for at least 4 weeks

*I have basic art supplies and that's it - I don't have a closet/cupboard filled with construction paper, glue sticks & markers.  Paint & glitter?  Nope.

*We don't have a school room.  We'll working at our dining room table which sits on brand new carpet. {hence the lack of paint & glitter!}

*No maps.  No posters.  No school type decorations.

*I have no idea how I'll structure my day.  None. 

What I do have is excitement and enthusiasm.  I believe that teaching my girls is what I am supposed to be doing.  I have a plan {really!!} and I'm trusting that the rest of this will fall into place. 

It will, right?

Any encouraging words?  Pretty please?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Creating an Independent Problem Solver

Last week, I planned to work with Abigail on a 45-piece alphabet puzzle as part of our language arts work.  We have done this puzzle once before, about two months ago.  At that time, she needed a lot of help and I had to tell her where to put most of the pieces.  I expected this time to be similar, but I was wrong.  I opened up the puzzle and began laying out the pieces (I always lay all on the pieces on the side of the table, facing the correct direction, before we begin).  Before I finished putting all of the pieces on the table, Abigail started picking them up and putting them together.  I stepped back and watched her.  It was amazing!  I could almost see the wheels turning in her little head as she figured out where the pieces went.  She did not start with the edge pieces (as I would have done), but instead just looked for pieces that fit together.  I really wanted to stop Abigail and tell her how to do it my way.  Just as I was about to do that, though, I realized that she was thinking outside the box; she was problem solving and figuring out a way to do the puzzle on her own.  So, I stopped myself and continued watching.  Twenty minutes later, she had completed the entire puzzle with almost no assistance from me (she needed a little help with one or two pieces when she got frustrated).  As she put the last piece into the puzzle, Abigail got the biggest grin on her face.  She was so proud of herself.  I am so glad that I stopped myself from "helping" her; she learned so much more by doing it on her own!

We are excited that our blog now has over 100 followers!  Thank you to everyone who reads and follows us!  To celebrate, we will be hosting a giveaway this week.  The winner will receive a $30 gift card for Amazon that can be used to purchase a few small items for homeschooling.  To enter, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday evening and tell us how you will spend the gift certificate.  The winner will be announced in this Friday's Seeds of Wisdom post.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Blessings

Welcome to another Seeds of Wisdom post. This week we're discussing the blessings we receive as homeschooling parents.

Question: What do you value most about your homeschool experience?

The closeness between all of us! One of the reasons we wanted to homeschool was to grow closer as a family while we learned together.

The scheduled, focused time with my kids. Our lives get so busy that I love having a blocked out time of my day where I focus on them, and they know that nothing interrupts this time with them.

Seeing Abigail learn. I love when the little lightbulbs go off in her head and she understands a new concept! It is so amazing to watch!


Homeschooling has given me the opportunity to maintain the connected relationship I worked so hard to foster with my children when they were little. It has given each person in our family the chance to have more time (and truly quality time, at that) with each other. I also love the freedom it gives them to follow their own interests and the time it allows for long, complicated questions, which help them form their own opinions and character as they mature.

It is such a blessing to spend this time with my kids. We always hear that the kids grow up so fast--homeschooling gives me an opportunity to both enjoy that time and to guide them to the people God wants them to be.

Having the God given opportunity to watch my little girls learn something new each and every day. Sometimes it just takes my breath away!

I love being with my kids all day. I love being the person who God uses to shape their lives. It is very humbling and I am honored to be their mom. I am so thankful for my children.

What a joy to be our children's teachers! If you have any questions you would like us to answer, leave a comment and we'll get to them in the coming weeks.


As you can see, we have reached 100 followers! Look for information about a giveaway on Monday's post. Eek!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Letter of Intent

A new school year has either already begun, or is soon to get started for home educators. For those who are brand new to homeschooling, I hope you have done your homework and know what the laws are for your state regarding notification. We live in Kentucky, where it is fairly stress-free to homeschool. The one thing we are required to do each year is submit a letter of intent.
Every state is different, and you can easily see what your state requires by visiting HSLDA, where you will find a map and all of the info you need to keep your homeschool legal.
Our letter of intent looks like this:
XXXX County Board of Education                                                             July 27, 2011

123 Your Street

Your City, Your State 12345

ATTN: Director of Pupil Personnel

Director of Pupil Personnel,

This letter is to inform you that as of July 5th 2011, we will be home educating our children for the 2011-2012 academic school year, pursuant to all Kentucky revised statutes. Below are the names and ages of the children we will be educating, as well as information about our school.

Child #1  Kelley (13)

Child #2 Kelley (11)

Child #3 Kelley (8)

Child #4 Kelley (7)

Child #5 Kelley (5)

Our school, Kelley Christian Academy, will take place in our home at 123 Street, Our Town, KY 12345.

Phone: 555.555.5555

Names of Parents/Teachers:

Richard and Samantha Kelley


Rick Kelley

Samantha  Kelley

We are required to send this in every year, within two weeks of the start of the public school calendar.

It is not required, but I would highly advise that you send your letter of intent certified mail. This ensures that there is proof that you sent it, should a question ever arise. Just be sure to keep the stub the post office gives you. We keep ours in our homeschool binder, along with a signed copy of the letter intent that we mailed.

Homeschooling is such a wonderful freedom, but we do have rules that we need to follow to keep our school running legally.

If you have yet to check your laws out, head on over now to HSLDA, and make sure you have all of your papers that are required.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to identify homeschool families

It used to be a lesser-practiced means of education, but homeschooling is growing in popularity. More and more families are choosing to teach their children at home, even though they "appear" to be normal. Here are ways you can spot them:

Go to children's hot spots (the library, the pool, the museum) during the least-busy times. The families there are probably homeschooling.

Notice a family vacationing in September? Yep. Homeschoolers.

That mom who is shopping with a whole troop of children at one in the afternoon? She teaches them at home.

The child who is articulate and polite with adults, and who seems happy and willing to play with other children regardless of their age? Homeschooling allowed them to escape the age-ism that is an accidental bi-product of institutional schools.

The family at the cattle auction at eleven a.m. on a Wednesday? They homeschool as well, not that you wouldn't have guessed it anyway when you saw the nine-year-old was taking notes.

They seem just like every other family you know, but they sure do keep a weird schedule! You will see them everywhere: stores, offices, parks, recreation centers, restaurants, banks, post meetings, on hikes, in volunteer positions, on committees. Before you know it, you realize they *are* completely normal. And maybe a lot like you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Combatting Self-Criticism

On some occasions, the harsh criticism of others can be crippling, but most often the criticism that does the most damage in our lives is our own. Self-criticism is a more deadly poison because we often don't set up any guards against it; we have no defenses.
It happens when I compare myself to others, or when I'm embarrassed that my child didn't perform up to par in public. It happens when I feel defeated after a bad day rather than determined to find a better solution. And it happens subtly, when I mutter "we homeschool" under my breath and feel as though I might ought to offer an apology for that fact.

Self-criticism is sneaky and subtle, yet overpowering. And the best way to defend against it is to stay alert to its tactics and to prepare for it.

Recognizing Self-Criticism.
The first step to guarding against self-criticism is recognizing its tactics, knowing where it's likely to attack, and the verbal assault that it is about to launch. It could happen at your local homeschool group, or at your favorite blog. It could happen on Facebook or while you are chatting with your friend. Instead of rejoicing in someone else's success, we immediately notice the differences. And the self-criticism begins its attack: "We don't do it that way." "I never would have thought of that." "I couldn't possibly do more than we're doing already." And then, from noticing the differences, suddenly those differences make us feel inferior: "No wonder we struggle." "I'm just not cut out for this." "I could never be that kind of a homeschool parent." We resort to absolute statements of "always" and the even more common "never." Then, we resign ourselves to defeat and discouragement.

Defending with Realism.
Ironically, many of us who struggle the most with self-criticism claim to be realists. We're just "facing the facts," we say. And yet, it's probably more true that we are omitting certain facts.
For instance, I only occasionally post about our bad days on my blog. Every now and then I will have caught it on camera or will have learned something valuable enough from the experience to warrant publishing it to the world. But everyone's natural tendency is to present only our best for the world to scrutinize. Remember that as you drool over someone's curriculum, school room, or craft-filled lesson plans; remember that their children throw tantrums and color on walls, too.
Another dose of realism is to recount your own successes: the things your children have learned, the days that were highlights of education, the moments when the light went on for your children. If you find yourself a frequent victim of self-criticism, keep a journal of your high moments and refer back to this often. Bottom-line: remind yourself of the reality that everyone has lows and that you, too, have some highs worth remembering.

Personally, I find myself most susceptible to self-criticism when I feel that I have something to prove. I put more pressure on my children to succeed in public, and I put more pressure on myself to do things perfectly. And the result is that I'm destined for defeat. It's the fear of man, and it's a guaranteed snare.
One of the most powerful quotes in my life, one that I come back to over and over again says:
"I live before an Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to prove, nothing to lose." --Os Guinness
When self-criticism fingers its way into your day, recognize its tactics, be prepared to face it off with reality, and then remember to whom you are accountable. There's only One opinion worth worrying about.

To read all of Tracy's posts on "Combatting Criticism," click here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Books,Paper, and Supplies, Oh My!

It's that time of the year again! Back-to-School Savings abound as schools (both public and homeschools) prepare for the new year. Hopefully, you've been out taking advantage of some of the savings. If not (or even if you have), here are a few tips for getting through the hectic time of thrifty organization!

--First things first, you can't bring in the new without getting rid of the old. Go through all your supplies, books, etc to decide what you need to throw away or get rid of. The key to staying organized is to avoid clutter. So, get rid of things first to avoid the "I'll go through it all later" syndrome. Besides you can't know what you need if you don't know what you have.

--Now that you know what you need--make a list. A thorough list. It helps to go over the YEARLY plan for your curriculum. You need to buy supplies now before the prices skyrocket again. For instance: Crayola crayons now: 25 cents/box of 24; same crayons later: $1.49. Yep. That's a huge difference. Crayons alone I bought 20. I know my girls can each go through a box of crayons in 4-6 weeks depending on how much they get used.

--Sign up for the teacher's rewards cards. Places like Staples, Office Max, Office Depot have rewards cards which give you a percentage off of your purchases. Plus they host special teacher appreciation days with extra discounts! In case you are wondering--YES, you are a teacher!

--Hold out for good deals. Most places offer different deals on different weeks. Notebooks might seem like a good deal at 1 dollar this week, but next week they may be 50 cents. Also, some places have extreme deals during certain weeks (used to draw you in and buy THEIR stuff). For instance, at Office Max last week, you could get a 24-pk of the pencil top erasers for ONE CENT; this week you can get rulers and 16-pks of crayons for ONE CENT. If you miss the deals this year, see if you can keep track so you'll know what to be on the look out for for next year.

--Although it can be tempting to buy enough 50 cent notebooks to last until your child graduates from college because they're a good deal--don't. Trust me, the sales will be back next year. If you overload now, you'll only add unnecessary clutter, not to mention they extra money could be used to go toward something else.

--Plan ahead to save for bigger purchases. One of the things we bought this year was a new computer tower. The desktop that we had is like 10 years old (hubby and I have moved on to the more portable laptops now that we have kids and can't "sit in the office"). So, we decided we needed a desktop specifically for homeschool use (well, ok, and my pictures too). We knew there would be some good back-to-school deals, so we started saving a few months ago. Today, we found our treasure!

Most of all, relax and enjoy the experience. I had so much fun the last three times I went out shopping for school supplies. Walmart was a little crazy, but Office Max and Toys-R-Us were a blast for the whole family! The girls were excited to help pick out stuff like what kind of stickers to put at the tops of their papers and their charts. I had to drag hubby out of the science department at Toys-R-us before he decided to buy out the section with experiments/toys that were way above the girls' heads. We even headed to Borders (which is going out of business in case you hadn't heard), and stocked up on some of their workbooks--just for fun, or for days when I'm too sick to teach. Review is always good on days like that.

Enjoy your back-to-school deals!
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