Monday, October 31, 2011

Creative Organization

I will admit it. Lately I've become a Pinterest-aholic. I can totally lose myself in the overabundance of ideas and creativity--from food to school to home decor, and so much more. Perusing the site the other day is actually what inspired this post. So, I thought I would share some of the fun ideas for some creative organization, not just for our homeschools, but for our home as well. 

Idea #1: A Chalkboard/Whiteboard Wall

I am so doing this when we get our house. Pick a space on the wall...or the whole wall, and turn it into an all purpose instrument for education and hours of fun. Man, with all the chalkboard ideas I've seen lately, my whole house could be a chalkboard. My other two favorites were the refrigerator door and the coffee table. 

Idea #2: Use Common Items to Separate and Store Art Supplies (and whatever you might find useful)

I keep seeing all these cute decorated sorters. People use soup cans, cheap plastic cups, flower pots, etc to store their crayons, markers, pencils, beads, buttons... You get the picture. I liked the idea I saw where they posted the cans on a painted strip of wood and attached it to the wall above the child's desk.

Idea #3: Creative Jewelry Organizer

Ever since the hanging heart my grandmother made me broke about a year ago, I've been searching for the perfect item to store my jewelry...and I finally found one to make! First, head to the hardware store and pick out a variety of hooks, knobs, and pulls, along with whatever size light-weight board you would like. At home, cover the board with any sort of decorative cloth you like, and then start screwing in the the hooks, knobs, and pulls in a fun arrangement. The knobs are for necklaces, the hooks for necklaces or rings, and the pulls for dangling earrings. Fun, right?

Idea #4: Fun Calendars

Every family needs a schedule, right? Especially busy homeschool families! I've seen a host of different ideas, from the typical wall/refrigerator calendars to large wall calendars. I like the fun ones that tend to be decorative as well as functional. I saw neat idea of buying some cheap picture frames and printing out a page for each day of the week. Then you use whiteboard markers and keep your schedule up for the week in a fun picture pattern. Don't forget the fun of picture/scrapbook calendars.

Idea #5: Flylady Steps

If you've never visited the Flylady site, you need to hop over for some great ideas. Two concepts that have been lifesaving for me: It doesn't have to be perfect (what!?) and you can do anything in 15 mins. One of my favorite exercises to do is to take three boxes into a messy area for TRASH, GIVEAWAY, or KEEP (but it goes in a different room). Then I spend 10 mins cleaning, and use the last 5 mins to put the boxes away. Trash goes out to the trash, Giveaway goes out to the garage, and I put all the stuff in the Keep box back where it belongs. Voila!

What fun tips and tricks do you have to share?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Read Alouds

Reading aloud is critical for helping children learn to read, so today, we share with you our favorite read-loud stories and activities that we use when we read them.

Sophie loves all Thomas the Train books. She knows all the words, so she can finish the sentences and knows when I skip a word! Bella likes Goodnight Gorilla - which is so fun since there aren't any words to the story!

Goodnight Moon-The text is very poetic and children enjoy the way the words rhyme. If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff is also one we enjoy. You can use the "If You Give" books to teach alliteration, the repetition of consonants at the beginning of the words. A fun activity that you can do with elementary and even as a creative writing activity for middle schoolers is to rewrite one of the stories and choose their own words using alliteration. For example, "If you give a penguin a popsicle, he'll want to share it with the polar bears. You'll have to take him to the market to buy more. While he is there he will see a new scarf for his mom..." And so on. You can even throw in some art and illustrate the rewritten story!

Over the years, we have read many great books, including some of the titles already mentioned. We like a variety of books, including classics, poetry, biographies, and historical fiction. Somehow, whatever book we are currently reading becomes our favorite for that time. However, my favorite books to read to them (so far) have been The Wheel on the School and The Wind in the Willows.

I enjoy very lyrical books, like "The Big Red Barn" by Margaret Wise Brown and "Stellaluna" by Jannell Cannon. My favorite thing to read out loud to my children include poetry or non-fiction books, like "The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems" by Mary Ann Hoberman, and the Usborn book "World Of Animals." Our favorite activity always seems to be discussion - my children are still talking about "Jabberwocky," the poem by Lewis Carrol that we read our first year of homeschooling together. I also like to have the children make a drawing of poems or animals from the books, and often their copy work is taken from something we are reading. My daughter recited the poem "Hippopatomus" from Mary Ann Hoberman's book for the party at the end of her kindergarten year - we had read it so many times, she just knew it by heart!

We LOVE read-alouds!  We read a variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction.  Our favorites are the Bible, the Brown Bear series books, the If You Give a Mouse series books, and the Berenstain Bears.  We like to color or paint pictures related to the stories.  We also do sequencing activities with the events from the stories.

We love choosing chapter books to read each evening. We vary between classics and more recent books. We also read Bible stories. One of our favorite non chapter books is "The Little House" by Virginia Lee Burton.

Lunch time is often our read-aloud time, and I love choosing classics or children's abridged classics. We loved Charlotte's Web and Around the World in 80 Days. One of my children's favorite books (that I have memorized) is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. We have a Chicka Boom tree in our school room and add letters as we learn them. My favorite childhood memories are of my Mom reading to me. I hope to pass that to my children.

What are your family's favorite read-aloud stories?

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Many, LORD my God,
   are the wonders you have done,
   the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
   were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
   they would be too many to declare. (Psalm 40:5)

I had a lot of ideas for this post.  I thought about sharing with you an idea for a game that will teach your children about electricity. And I never did finish my post about Making Good Memories.  So, this is going to be kind of a combo post, as well as my final post.  I have really enjoyed working with the ladies who contribute to Growing Your Homeschool.  I know they have been a blessing to me as well as many others.
I have learned so much in the last six months.  I have a degree in education and taught at a public school for two years, but homeschooling is a whole other can of beans.  When you are teaching in a classroom setting everyone automatically assumes you know what you are doing. (Well, for the most part anway.)  When you homeschool, everybody automatically assumes you don’t.  It can wear on you after a bit, especially when people close to you don’t get it. 
I want to encourage anybody that is new to homeschooling this year.  It is the end of October, almost November, and I am just now starting to feel like I am gaining momentum and pulling it together.  It takes time to work things out and figure out who you are as a homeschooling teacher, and also who your children are as learners.
Today I received Life of Fred, a math curriculum that combines literature with mathematics principles.  I had been really struggling with how to teach my son math.  I know what I would do in a classroom setting, but that was not going to work with him, so I had to find something new.  I am really excited about this new adventure, and I hope he will be too! 
I want to at least mention what was potentially going to be my third installment of Making Good Memories.  If you didn’t get a chance to read Part 1 and Part 2, just click on the highlighted links.  Morning and bedtime are really important times of the day.  I am still learning to be good at this, because usually I wake up dragging, and go to bed dragging.  But I endeavor every morning to tell each one of my children “Good Morning!” with cheer in my voice.  And before they go to bed at night, I pray, and sing them a song, and make sure they know I love them with a word, a hug, a kiss, and a big ASL “I love you.”
I have enjoyed so much writing for this blog.  We are moving soon, so I felt compelled to quit at this time to focus on my family.  I am very thankful for the opportunity to share with you some things I have learned along the way.
Many blessings to you all as you travel on this homeschool journey with your family.  I know God has great things planned for you!
In Christ's Love,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Co-ops

Silently, I watch them. The whole room erupts with laughter and conversation. Children run about the room, sliding into chairs. Moms throw arms about each other greeting friends. Smiles abound. I feel overwhelmed and left out; a stranger in a room full of happy people.

It is our very first day of co-op and I know only one other family. There are at least twenty other families and multitudes of children. I wait as the morning opening commences. There is a welcome, worship, prayer, and announcements. Led by teenagers, the worship music softens my apprehension. Room assignments are reviewed during the announcements. I listen intently. I don’t want to be lost on my very first day. The assembly begins to break up as each teacher and student make their way to first classes. I inhale deeply, gather my supplies, and join them.

Five years later, I still remember this initial apprehension and anxiety I felt on that very first day of co-op.

Today, we belong to two co-ops. The first one meets two Fridays a month and offers classes like physical education, art, creative writing, and music. This is the co-op setting described above. It is our fifth year participating in the Friday co-op group. The second co-op we participate in is a science co-op. We meet Wednesday afternoons each week. Parents teach, assist, or gather supply materials for the classes. This fall, we began our second year of science co-op.

Co-ops vary greatly in size, organization, and purposes. Therefore, joining a co-op is an individual decision. Each family must weigh the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to a particular co-op.

Five questions to consider before joining any co-op are:
  1. What do you hope to get out of a co-op experience? And, does this particular co-op offer you these benefits?
  2. Does the co-op offer classes of interest and benefit for your family?
  3. Does your family have the time available? Include not only the time of actual co-op meetings, but driving time and any prep work or homework / out of class projects that parents and students must complete.
  4. What will your family be required to contribute to the co-op? Is this something you are willing to do?
  5. What is the financial cost to join?

For the first two years of ‘official’ homeschooling, we did not belong to any co-ops. For us, at that time, the benefits of a co-op were not as great as the cost to our family. We waited until the benefits outweighed the costs. When we finally decided to join a co-op, I wanted to get the most out of our time.

Five ways to get the most out of a co-op experience are:
  1. Mingle - Get to know the other moms. Spend some time asking questions and advice. Some of the moms in our co-ops have been homeschooling for many years and are a wealth of information and wisdom.
  2. Don’t double teach - If a child is taking an art class with appreciation and instruction, then the child probably doesn’t need a full blown art class at home, too. Sounds like common sense, but there were some years I actually did double teach!
  3. Volunteer - Co-ops don’t just happen. Lots of work goes into making a co-op run smoothly. Try to help in the areas you are good at, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
  4. Attend extra activities if possible - Generally, a family in our co-op hosts a get together or organizes a field trip in addition to co-op at least once a school year. Attending these extra events helped us strengthen our co-op friendships.
  5. Commit to the co-op - Arrive on time. Be fully there, participating in the events, classes, and fellowship that the co-op offers. This may sound silly, but there were years when I was only partially committed to the co-op. I wasn’t fully invested, and I missed out on some of the greatest benefits to a co-op.

Each year, we reevaluate our family's co-op participation, measuring the benefits against the cost, 
and plan accordingly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fall Craftiness!!

We have been totally enjoying fall.  We've played in the leaves, cleaned out the flower beds and started to put outside toys away.  We've run on the towpath, enjoyed our first bonfire, climbed hay bales, joined a hay ride and just generally have been spending as much time as we can outside.

There are some amazingly crafty posts that I've been stumbling on and book marking for us to create.  I thought I'd share some of my favorite fall crafts that we've found and made{so far!!}

* I love this hand print wreath - it was so easy to create!!

* Have you every made waxed leaves?  Super fun for the girls! We then used string and made a garland!

* This site has some really fun fall printable color sheets!

* Sophie LOVES to paint, so this finger paint tree was perfect for her.

* As a child I loved to make apple turkeys!  We will be making these next week, complete with a hand print for the turkey's feet.

What fun fall crafts are you doing?  Leave us a link in the comments!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

She Is Paying Attention!

I spend a lot of time preparing lessons and teaching Abigail, but I often don't know if she is absorbing any of it.  There are a lot of days when I think she might have learned nothing.  And then, she will surprise me.  It turns out that she really is paying attention, even when she does not show it.  Recently, she has demonstrated her knowledge of concepts outside of our homeschool.  

When we went to the aquarium last month, she yelled "Mommy, it's a school of fish!".  (Yes, my 3-year-old does know that a group of fish is called a "school"!)

At the zoo last month, she saw the bald eagle and told my husband that it was a "United States eagle."

She opened her bible the other day and began "reading" about John the Baptist baptizing Jesus.

She wanted to spell "octopus" with the refrigerator letter magnets and we overheard her sounding out the word.  She quickly figured out that it starts with the letter "o".

A few days after we concluded our unit on bears, she told my husband that bears do not like to be around people.

I have witnessed her counting and making patterns with her toys,

Last week, I overheard her reciting John 3:16 while she played.

It seems like every day, Abigail surprises me by demonstrating her knowledge.  It is so wonderful to know that (even when she does not act like it) she is paying attention in preschool! 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Sick Days

It is cold and flu season - the time of year when children and parents get sick.  Sickness can be a challenge for homeschooling.  Today, we answer the question, "How do you homeschool when you, one of your children, or all of your children are sick? If you homeschool when some (but not all) of your children are sick, how do you meet the needs of the sick children and the children you are teaching?"
It depends on the sickness. (And I haven't had to really address this yet. All of my children are very young.) So, I will share what I would do. We would have a really layed-back day. That might be the day we do science in the kitchen while making chicken soup and read a good book out loud.
It depends on the sickness. Generally, because they usually only get mild colds, we still school, or do partial days. For the more severe illness, we school the well ones, and I split time tending the ill child and schooling the other children. Only twice in the past years have I called a sick day for everyone (no school) due to everyone being sick (stomach flu and strep throat).
My children are a bit older (first, third and fifth grades) so when they are sick, they don't usually require my constant attention. Also, because they are used to sharing my attention during lessons, it feels natural to the children who are not sick to work without me or wait while I'm helping the sick child. We also have no time pressure (being as we miss any activities when someone is sick) so we take our time and have breaks whenever necessary. We may leave a few things for the next day if the child isn't up to it, but most of us complete most of our work. Usually when my children are sick, they like me to sit with and read to them, so we do this with school materials. We've yet to lose a day to sickness in three years. Even if we did, it would be easy to make up over a weekend. If I am sick, I am usually able to handle the few hours of lessons - it's not too taxing to sit and read with a cup of hot tea. But it's so nice to know there is always tomorrow and our schedule is so flexible if I need a day off.

We do best with routine, so even when we are sick, we still do preschool.  However, I generally plan for easier, more fun activities.  We do puzzles, board games, and fun-themed units.  I also keep a stash of ready-made lessons so that when I am sick, I don't have to plan for the next day.  Additionally, we shorten our school day a little as necessary when any of us are sick. 


Because none of my children are really old enough for "independent study", we often do alternate activities like reading a book or watching an educational show like the Leap Frog shows or some of the PBS shows like Super Why! or Word Girl.


Fortunately we don't get sick often with homeschooling. We have had a minor cold, and a stomach bug last year. The stomach bug came during the holidays, so it didn't affect schooling. The plan is to play it by ear, if we have a bad bug to deal with. That is the beauty of homeschooling-flexibility!
With sick little ones, I have to be especially flexible. Some independent school activities might be in order for the one was not sick. Most of the time with my two, they're both sick at the same time anyway. So it hasn't been an issue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Try Something New

You decided to homeschool, studied up on all of the methods, chose one and went running with it. You should be at least a few weeks into school by now.

How is it going?

Is it everything you dreamed homeschool would be? Or do you need to make some adjustments?

For us, we are not using a single curriculum we started with. We aren’t even using the same schedule! I went into this homeschooling journey 3 years ago believing we were traditional homeschoolers, with workbooks and all of that jazz, with an eclectic method for choosing that curriculum.

What I have discovered however, is that we are very much Ruth Beechick-Charlotte Mason type learners, and we adore living books.

I knew we were not going to be happy with the curriculum we were using for the year, we would learn of course, but we wouldn’t enjoy it. I am convinced that when you find the method for you, homeschool will be enjoyable!

We dropped everything, and started Trail Guide to Learning by Geography Matters, which I was blessed to be able to review. {Just ask, it never hurts!}

The fit for us is perfect!

This literature-based curriculum covers everything except math.

Oh yeah, we threw the math out the window as well!

We are using Life of Fred now, and I can’t believe the kids now love math! It is so different from anything I have ever seen in a math curriculum, which is a great thing!

These changes were not even on my radar, but they work for us!

If you don’t have new books in the budget, ask around. What isn’t working with a friend may be just what you need, see if you can borrow curriculum someone else isn’t using right now.

Are you are struggling through school? Maybe you need to take a step back and try something completely different. You never know what might work for you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Something Is Not Working

We all have bad days every once in a while. Heck, sometimes we have bad weeks, or tough months. But usually that is just us complaining; the entire day, week or month wasn't that bad. There were just difficult parts that became magnified, and perhaps put us in a position to behave in a way we aren't proud of.

Homeschooling can be like this. There can be other pressures in our lives that cause distraction or a break-up of our usual routines. There can be something new and frustrating to learn or teach that causes a bump in the road. There can be a misunderstanding or disorganization that becomes a problem.

But how can you know if what you are doing is really not working? You loved this curriculum so much! The artwork is so _________, the stories so _________, and the messages perfectly _________! It is all put together so professionally, in a logical manner, with practice and reviewing!

It can be a very hard thing to face when learning is not going well. Sometimes, because you are the parent, you just know it's not going well. You feel it in your bones and you won't hesitate to change what you are doing. But sometimes, it's hard to face those changes because it could mean one of several things: You spent money on something you aren't going to be using, you need to go looking around again for something else to use in its place (and spend MORE money), or there is something going on inside your child that needs addressing.

For my family, it was the latter of these in the end. We were very committed to a curriculum that I loved. As it turned out, I loved all of it except for the phonics portion because it was the bane of our exsistense for my first grader and I. I stuck with it for 18 miserable weeks. (I was new to homeschooling then. Please learn from my mistakes.) During that time, it occurred to me that he might have a learning difference but I was unwilling to address it. I'm still not sure why.

We finished first grade with my own cobbled together ideas for phonics/reading, which I feel was a good thing looking back. There was far less pressure and the structure was very flexible. We began second grade with another phonics program, and once again, by the time we were six weeks in, dyslexia kept finding it's way into the search box of my browser and there were far too many bad feelings in my house during lessons. Through those internet searches I changed phonics curriculum again. We followed the new curriculum until March, when the official diagnosis came through (yep. dyslexia & mild dysgraphia). Since then we have been working with a specialized tutoring program.

The lesson I take from this? Follow your instincts. None of the reasons listed above are more important than your child learning - and especially loving to learn! One of the reasons many parents are committed to homeschooling is the opportunity for tailoring their child's education around their needs and interests. Homeschooling parents have so many ways to keep learning fun and exciting.

You are learning together, and things are going to change and develop. Things you find attractive may not fit the learning style of one of your children. The math program may have, in theory, been just what everyone wanted - but in practice it's torture. If you've given it a good go (in my opinion that means going through a few weeks of lessons) then put it away. Incorporate fun activities that apply to that subject in its place. If in a week or two it makes everyone moan to consider going back to it again, put it in a box labeled "sell" and find your family something else.

If you are concerned that your child may have a special need or learning difference, I would encourage you to look into their symptoms and what would be required for a thorough screening. If you feel a diagnosis would be helpful, find a qualified professional who specializes in children dealing with whatever you suspect is the trouble for your child.

And there is an incredible wealth of material out there. Talk to other homeschool families. Peruse used curriculum sales. Read reviews and research materials online. There will be something that is a good fit for your children, and learning will be fun again - for all of you!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Room for Improvement

Our start to homeschooling last year began with a rocky start, a long break for re-evaluation, and then a much more successful second attempt.

And this year—well, it hasn't been without it's own adjustments. It seems that everyday, I'm tweaking our schedule, our system, and our material. And everyday, I'm closer to where I'd like to be. Of course, there are those days when success comes to a screeching halt and triumph throws a tantrum in my school room floor. But then, I call it a day, re-evalutate (again), and tweak a little bit more.

It's been in the midst of all that tweaking that I've come to appreciate a few of the opportunities that come from the fine-tuning:

1. Involving others in the solution. Sometimes a situation is more than I can handle on my own. That's a tough reality to accept. But I can't educate my children by myself. And yet that humbling reality leads to a much richer discovery in the help I receive from others.

My husband has been one of those heros, coming in to save my day. Discussing the school day with my husband and including any frustrations or challenges I've faced allows him to stay connected with the family. And his objective advice on those situations has, on many occasions, been exactly what we all needed.

My mom has also been a huge contributor. Having homeschooled me and my two siblings, she has the perspective and retrospection that I often lack. From her, I get to hear what she found helpful and what she would have done differently.

Other homeschoolers also offer a wealth of wisdom. I interact with internet homeschool groups and even occasionally send questions to my favorite bloggers. Their perspectives and advice have often been revolutionary for me. And the beauty of the internet is that it doesn't matter that they are homeschooling all the way across the country; they can instantly become my cyber-neighbors.

2. Realizing my own short-comings. I'm not perfect. And facing that fact, that I could be the one at fault and not my student, is extremely helpful in a couple of ways. First, it allows me to be more patient with my children's short-comings (especially when I see that they've inherited those faults from me). Second, it forces me to depend on a Strength outside of myself. For when I am weak, then is God's strength most evident. Both my children and myself are able to see the Lord answer prayer and become a vital part of our homeschooling day.

3. Learning and understanding more than ever before. I've heard many times that you learn a subject best when you begin to teach it. Whether that subject is phonics and reading or modern art and poetry, teaching forces you to learn. Like the mother bird digesting the food for her chicks, I must digest every fact before I present it. And that is one thing I want my children to see: that you never outgrow learning.

4. Discovering who my children really are. I've learned more about my children and their personalities in the last several months of schooling them than ever before, in spite of hours of playing blocks and capturing imaginary bad guys. I see how they react to challenges. I see their response to success. I see what does and does not motivate them. And I see every time their eyes light up with understanding. I'm a part of nearly every moment of discovery, and that does more than just create a special bond. It also prepares me for my role as a parent.

Taking my lessons from the school room, I better understand what will provoke my child to wrath and frustration. I have keener understanding of what motivates and inspires my child. And with that knowledge comes a higher accountability to make the most of the opportunities I have with each child to nurture and admonish in the Lord.

5. Recognizing that homeschooling is not a place or state of being but a process and a journey. It's not about where we are educating; it's about how we are educating. It's about having the opportunity to make those adjustments rather than to helplessly look on while a child stumbles through learning. It's about the privilege of taking a breather together and facing the challenge once more, united rather than at odds. It's about having the means to administer the changes that are necessary.

Heading into our second year now, I'm certain we will constantly be making adjustments. But I want to see those adjustments as more than just rescheduling recess or pulling out a new activity. The changes do help my child to learn better, but they also provide an opportunity for me to learn as well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Fall Activities

Fall is here!  It's the time for cooler weather, pumpkins, scarecrows, and hay rack rides.  Today, we answer the question "What fall activities do you have planned to do with your children (either as part of your homeschool curriculum or just as a family activity)?"

We will be taking a train ride to visit a pumkin patch, making apple turkeys, painting handprint trees and dipping acorns in glitter to make some fun fall decorations!

We do a lot of stuff with Pumpkins! For the last couple of years, we have gone to this outdoor market that has a huge pumpkin patch behind it, and we choose a giant pumpkin. I actually carved one this morning and we roasted the seeds. We read books about Pumpkins and I talk about Jesus, making the connection between what He does in our hearts and what happens when a pumpkin is carved and all the yucky stuff is removed.
We love fall activities, especially apple picking, camp fires, hiking, jumping in leaves, corn mazes, decorating pumpkins, and eating fall treats made from fresh apples or pumpkin.

We will visit a pumpkin patch and made a fall bulletin board. I have several crafts planned as well, including baking pumpkin bread and cookies. We are farmers, so we also help with fall harvest!

We have a lot of fall fun planned!  We are visiting three pumpkin patches, dissecting pumpkins, counting pumpkin seeds and acorns, doing fall-themed alphabet activities, and reading books about pumpkins.  We are also baking pumpkin muffins and pumpkin pie and doing numerous fall-themed art projects.

We usually try to find a pumpkin patch, and I take photos of the kids and our family. The colors of this season are too beautiful not to capture. We will also bake, as anything pumpkin is delicious. We also invite our church family over for a chili dinner, where everyone brings their own, and they all get mixed into a giant pot that heats on a fire outside. We also use the fire for hot dogs and marshmallows. The house and yard are filled with love and smiles.

What fall-themed activities are you planning?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When You're Ready to Give Up....

I am 3 months into "officially" homeschooling Sophie and last week I was ready to quit.
I was sick for a week, we were leaving on vacation, I had NOTHING ready for school...and Sophie refused to sit and work on her letters.

I was at a loss.

At the same time the Homeschool Blogging awards were popping up all over my twitter feed and every link that I clicked on made me feel more and more like a failure.

I went on vacation determined that in January I'd send Sophie to preschool across the street.

I was clearly not made to teach my child.  I couldn't get her sit and practice her letters and she had NO interest in doing anything that was not directly related to paint. None.


On the beach we were sitting playing in the sand and we found some seaweed, some shells, coral and a few pebbles.  We talked about how the waves make the pebbles smooth and the animals that used to live in the shells.  She was enthralled and sat for over an hour drawing in the sand and learning about the beach.


As I reflected on our first few months, I realized that while I am a planner and like everything in order, she does not.  She had a wonderful doing school when we visited Thomas and learned about trains.  She loved watching the Bob on-site DVD and learning how to build a road.

She learns best when I let her interests lead us....not when I decide that we are going to learn about scarecrows and pumpkins.  She wants to learn about concrete and fish.

For the next few months we are going to be doing interest led schooling {or unschooling} and see how that works for us.  It should be an interesting ride.

But I'm not ready to give up.  Not yet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Simple Science Observations

Hi, my name is Dorie. I am married to a man who works in the scientific field, and I dislike science.

OK, that is not entirely true...I don't dislike all of science, just the messy experiments.
You know, the ones that completely destroy the kitchen, living room, back patio...
the ones with a thousand minute supplies that we may or may not have on hand...
the ones with many bottles or pots or containers that clutter my table for days, weeks...
the ones that we have to lay down all our printed newspapers to protect the tables and counter tops...
Those are the ones I dislike.

Oh, and anything involving a slug. Unless it is how to use salt to clear up a slug problem...just kidding, that makes a terrible mess, and I don't like those kind of messes either.

However, over the years, I have grown to have a keen appreciation for observation.

We have grown accustomed to taking nature walks with nature journals, classification guides, and cameras in hand. On these walks we have witnessed amazing sights, including cicadas emerging, bees eating, turtles traveling, and snakes slithering. We even learned how to measure the height of a tree.

Closer to home, we have completed a few observation projects. We collected butterflies and bugs, set out a rain gauge and thermometer, hung a bird feeder and bird house, planted and tended a garden, hatched chicks in an incubator, and watched caterpillars change into butterflies.

And, of course, some of our favorite observations 'just happen' because we are out and about. Like when we witnessed cloud to cloud lightning after a trip to the pool, or the pelting rain shower that resulted in a double bow rainbow after a trip to the beach. Amazing sights we were blessed to observe!

All in all, messy science experiments will probably never top my favorite homeschool activity list, but science observations are steadily rising.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pumpkin Reading List

Pumpkin season is here! What a wonderful time of the year! There are so many fun things to do during this time of the year. Last year we did a unit on pumpkins, and I thought we would do the same again this year. Below are a few of the books we have used during our pumpkin unit. My own personal belief is that it is always an excellent idea, when possible, to reinforce what we are doing with children's literature.

Oh My, Pumpkin Pie! is a book that would most likely be on the level with 1st grade students. It is a great book to use for science and math activities. Children can compare and contrast, explore a pumpkin patch, do some baking, and make art connections with pumpkin carving while using this early reader. (Note: There are some references to Halloween and a few of the pumpkins have scary faces.)

Seed, Sprout, Pumkin, Pie is a great book for teaching the concept of life cycles. This trade book chronicles a pumpkin's life from a seed to sprout to leaves to flowers to the knobs and then to pumpkins! Children will find out some of the things you can do with your pumpkin once it is fully ripened including baking pumpkin pie, roasting the seeds, and carving jack-o-lanterns. The book also explores how the pumpkin returns to the soil or is used to feed cattle. (Note: There are references to jack-o-lanterns in this book as well as some references to Halloween.)

P is for Pumpkin is an alphabet book that uses all the letters of the alphabet to describe what happens in Autumn, or Fall. The book also shares with children about God and how he "made the Earth-he made everything! He makes all the wonders each season will bring." The illustrations are very warm and it is a great book to reinforce the alphabet, teach children some new vocabulary, and help them make connections to God as our creator. (Note: There is a reference in this book to dressing up.)

The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs is my favorite of all the picture books during this time of the year. It is also about the life cycle of the pumpkin. But every page contains scripture describing the wonder of God's creation. The story also is a visual demonstration of what happens to us when we become a new creation in Christ. The farmer grows his pumpkin and then selects one to carve. He cleans out all the yucky stuff on the inside and replaces it with a light. Jesus is the light of the world and when we become a new creature through His sacrifice, that light comes to live on the inside of us by His Spirit.

"If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new!"-2 Corinthians 5:17

There are so many fun and exciting things to do to educate children during this time of the year while combining subject areas! There are many ways to incorporate art, science, math, and language arts, while learning about pumpkins! For more ideas on what to do with pumpkins check out the following links!

NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Blog

National Science Teachers Association Journal Archives:

Science and Children

Life Cycle of a Pumpkin

For further exploration of the books I have mentioned, visit either or

Monday, October 10, 2011

Connecting Our Homeschool to Our "Real Life"

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I can individualize the instruction to meet the needs, interests, and experiences of our family.  I plan instruction based on the things that Abigail enjoys, as well as things we do.  Over the summer, we took a vacation to Costa Rica.  To prepare Abigail, I created units on animals that we would see.  We studied frogs, sea turtles, monkeys, and crabs.  

We have also recently made trips to the aquarium, the zoo, and a pumpkin patch and followed up our trips with lessons and units based on things that we saw. 

Because I create my own curriculum, I can create learning based on our experiences.  Being able to connect our learning units to her daily experiences helps solidify Abigail's learning and makes her more excited about "doing school".  I am so glad that I have the freedom to teach Abigail about the things that are meaningful to her!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- What Our Children Don't Like

While we believe that homeschooling is wonderful, one of our goals is to be completely honest about homeschooling.  We do not want to avoid the negatives or let people believe that it is wonderful all of the time.  This week, we share with you the things that our children dislike about being homeschooled.

This was apparently a hard question for my children to answer... The oldest asked 'Can I get back to you on that one?' He has yet to really respond. The youngest asked 'What does that mean?' To which I went through an explanation of homeschooling. He laughed, and said, 'I know the word homeschool, but what's the other word mean?' 'Dislike?' I asked. 'Yeah,' he answered. 'Not liking something. So, what do you not like about being homeschooled?' I asked again. He said, 'Nothing, I like it all!' Our daughters simply gave me a funny look and said there was nothing they disliked. For me, these responses were sweet to hear.

Sometimes one of my sons will make mention of missing the playground equipment at recess...quickly followed by explaining that they don't miss it enough to trade back. There are some thing about the institutional experience that I can never duplicate, and I'm sorry they won't experience - but not enough to change what we are doing at the moment.

Abigail has never been to school, but she knows that almost all of her friends go to preschool.  She dislikes being different and does not want to miss out on something that her friends are doing.  She also dislikes that her preschool work sometimes prevents her from playing when she would rather be playing than working (especially when she has to do challenging tasks that are not fun).  Yesterday, she told me that she wants to go to preschool so that she can "play outside" on the playground.

There are a few friends my daughter made that she misses. She also misses lice checks. (She found it!) No one else seems to miss anything. Score one for mom!

What do your children dislike about being homeschooled?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When Homeschooling Gets Stressful

Even though I truly believe that homeschooling s the most natural, and effective way for children to learn, doesn’t mean that every day {or every week for that matter} goes smoothly. One of the best benefits of homeschooling is that when everyone gets stressed out, you can take a day, even a week off to unwind.

We had been going strong with school from July 5th, up until September 7th or so. We barely had a break from the previous year, and we hit a wall. We were all just not feeling it anymore. The kids were stressed, I was stressed, and the thought of trudging up the classroom stairs made even my eyes glaze over.

What was my solution?

We took a break. An unplanned, glorious break. We all felt much better, and I came to realize that as much as we love homeschooling, I needed to make some adjustments to our schedule. You see, as much as I loved taking Mondays off, the time it was taking for time for breaks throughout the year was minimal. I still will do year-round homeschooling, but we are going to move to 5 day weeks, with more frequent mini-breaks. Homeschooling is flexible. I am so very thankful for that.

What about you? What do you do when things get rough?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Top Ten Homeschooling Perks

1. Kids need a well-child check? A dental or eye exam? Easy! I schedule them for the best slots and we miss no class time and have no homework to make up afterwards.

2. Family needs a vacation? We can go! Even if it is the middle of the week and school is in session. The best places for families won't be crowded and we can pick up where we left off in our lessons whenever we get back.

3. When the teaching method or curriculum aren't fitting my child well, I just change them.

4. Including the children in our lives (the good and bad, difficult and easy, happy and trying times) is helpful to them and to us. They learn as they see us handle life and we have an easier time remembering that we are always modeling and therefore need to do our best.

5. Finding answers to their questions, learning alongside them, and watching them discover the world is absolute magic.

6. Savoring the time I have with them, building our relationships, enjoying knowing them a little better each day. I have eight extra hours with them that I missed out on when we were in regular school!

7. If there is unexpected company coming, I have three great helpers who will roll their sleeves up and whip the house into shape with me.

8. I enjoy far more frequent and guilt-free dates with my spouse. After all, sometimes we would like to have a private conversation.

9. No school lunches. My children eat healthy, balanced meals at my own table - often ones they helped prepare.

10. People think I'm special, awesome and different because I homeschool. Really, I'm just a regular mom who tried something different and it turned out to be awesome for our family.

Want to read my top ten drawbacks to homeschooling? Here's the link.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Roughing a First Draft

An important part of making writing fun is getting rid of the dread, making the activity unexpected and engaging and opening a world of expression for your child. We've discussed a great deal about brainstorming, and now it's time to head into the first draft.

Really, the first draft is just a method to organize the brainstorm, nothing more. It should never be graded or slaughtered with that red pen. Typos, grammar errors, misspellings—they should all be safe in a first draft because nothing silences an idea like premature criticism.

A first draft is your child's opportunity to flesh out the skeleton of ideas he has accumulated through sketching and brainstorming. And it's supposed to be rough; thus, the name "rough draft."

A Writer's Vulnerability
The best writing happens when we open ourselves to others and become vulnerable. For a child approaching this scary moment of transparency for the first time, we have to create an atmosphere of safety. Your child may refuse to write because, bottom-line, he's afraid. Allow the rough draft to be his private laboratory for experimentation. Assure him that you will not read it, and provide him with the opportunity to think and feel and imagine with complete freedom, even from the grammar and spelling (those will come later).

Most likely, as your child becomes more comfortable with the process, he'll also become more confident and less protective. But even professional writers guard those initial rough starts and only share their earliest drafts with the most intense caution. Respect the vulnerability that comes with writing and, within reason, allow your child to embellish and perfect his final product before the big reveal.

If there is an instance when you must inspect an early draft, be most respectful and supportive.

A Teacher's Place
Critique is an essential part of teaching any subject or skill, and the time for the grading pen will come. The moment for circling the misspellings and grammar errors will arrive and most definitely has a leading role in the final stages. But for now, keep the criticism very light, even to the point of avoiding it all together. What do you look for in a rough draft?
  1. Check for completion. Depending on the grade level or ability of the student, this could be a required length or minimum, or it could be just a checkmark that a page with written text does exist.
  2. Check for main ideas. For more advanced students, you could require the child to underline for you the key idea for the future paper—the thesis. Even then, assure the student that you are only reading the sentence that is underlined (and it should be just one sentence). Then, you could offer suggestions on that one sentence. Is it concise? What challenges will he face with this topic and this approach? What advice can you offer to make either the sentence or the concept better? But remember, your critique should only go as far as that one sentence; the rough draft is really no more than an enlarged brainstorm.
  3. Check for structure. In most cases, it's too early to pay much attention to structure. But not every genre is constructed around a written thesis. For an advanced student writing a fiction story or narrative, you could require to have your student label his rough draft with the structure you are teaching. Have him write those labels in the margin of his draft, and assure him that you are only looking at those labels and the proportions of the paper—not reading every word. As with the thesis, you can offer suggestions for future adjustments to the proportion: climax seems to be a little late in the paper or too early; denouement is lengthy; etc.
In most cases, you could limit your involvement to merely checking for completion. Limiting your input at the rough draft stage will do a couple of things for you as the teacher, too. For one, it will save you a considerable amount of grading time; you'll only have to devote your full energy to one final draft. Also, limiting your critique at the early stages will prevent you from feeling like you are writing your child's paper for him.

The key to making writing less of a drudgery is minimizing the dread and the fear that comes with bearing your soul to the world. Allowing rough drafts to be a safe place for your child to learn the process of writing will, hopefully, free up some of those beautiful, timid ideas. And eliminating your dread of grading will give you both the freedom to enjoy the creative journey.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Time for Mommy

Over the last two weeks, I've come to two realizations. Or rather, one was a realization and the other was emphasized.

1. My husband gets time away from his "job", but I very rarely do. And if I do, it's only a couple of hours (like going to the store or Bible study).

2. Mommy needs time away, too.

This past week, I joined many of my writing friends at the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in St. Louis, MO. I left late Tuesday afternoon, spent four days at the conference, and returned home late Sunday night. The last time I was away from my family like this was when I went to my first conference two years ago.

While I was away, I absorbed each and every moment spend learning, talking, worshiping, etc. It was a total immersion experience, and it was fun!

One of the biggest realizations was that, as a homeschooling mama, I need to make sure I get time away. Now, a five day vacation every year is not possible. But a few hours a couple times a month is definitely not impossible.

Also, this time needs to be personal. Grocery shopping does not count. Running errands does not count. Taking a long bath counts. Meeting a friend for lunch and shopping counts. Kicking back with the latest season of a favorite TV show and having a marathon counts.

Take the time to indulge in our own likes, our own hobbies, gives us something else to focus on. It helps to renew our minds and hearts. If we don't, if we let the homeschool life suck us so far in that we lose ourselves, we'll end up resenting the lifestyle that was meant to bring life and closeness to our family.

So, what do you do to indulge?

(In case you're wondering who that beautiful woman is next to me in the picture, that's fellow writer, blogger, and homeschool mama, Susan Hollaway, one of my roommates at the conference!)
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