Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homeschool Memoirs: the When and Where

I have the unique opportunity to be a homeschooled homeschooler. And though I still have many of the same questions as other new homeschool moms, there's no doubt my memories (and my Mom) play a huge role in answering some of those questions. So, I'm going to try writing a series of homeschool memoirs, in hopes that maybe some of your questions might get answered, too.

My earliest homeschool memories are of doing school at the kitchen table, with a blue dish tub full of A Beka homeschool books, and my mom trying her best to mirror the experience we'd had in our private school setting. My younger sister schooled at the table with me, and my brother (six years older) did his work in his bedroom, away from our elementary noise. Kindergarten, second grade, and eighth grade was what my mother began with, back when homeschooling was much less defined and understood.

We said our pledge, sang choruses, memorized Bible verses, and practiced math speed drills with the same regularity I'd known in the classroom. And any time there was any deviation, I would remind my mother, "That's not how Mrs. Bell did it."

But we grew and learned together. We turned from strictly A Beka to a mix of curriculum, and I welcomed Mom's changes more graciously.

When I was twelve, we sold our house, moved to some acreage, and began living in a 40 ft. RV while Dad worked on building a new house. For two years, we did homeschool at the small table or back bedroom mattress of our RV. It was a true testament that learning can take place absolutely anywhere.

And while other children assumed homeschooling meant that I had the privilege of going to school at 10 a.m. in my pajamas, it was far from our reality. At 5:30 every morning we were dressed and outside bottle-feeding our calves. I was finishing up with my other chores and heading inside for school as the local school bus flew down our dirt road with the other school-aged kids. We were done with school when our work was done.

We took our school on the road to dentist appointments, grocery trips, dance lessons, and homeschool co-op meetings. I learned to concentrate on an assignment through an assortment of chaos and learned to memorize a list of spelling words through any number of distractions.

When I was about fourteen, our house was finished enough to move in. Bare cement floors and walls without sheet rock were a very welcome change to our tiny home in the RV. My school space moved around through out a day from kitchen table, to bedroom vanity, to a desk inside a large walk-in book closet. Our curriculum changed yearly as well. For one, there were more options now. And, too, we knew when to identify when something just wasn't working. My sister studied from one curriculum, I learned from a couple of others, and we made changes as necessary.

Overall, the greatest lesson I took from this experience was the fact that education is not a one-size fits all. Different lifestyles, patterns of life, and personalities all factor into the decisions of when, where, and even how of homeschooling. Now, as I launch out on my own journey, I'm more free with curriculum and confident that I do know my children best. And although I thoroughly enjoy our school room space, I know it really doesn't matter where we pull out the books.

Learning is not a place or a textbook; it's a process—a glorious, stressful, fun, terrifying, fabulous experience that teaches a family much more than math and history. It teaches us to make every memory a learning moment.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Novel Writing and Homeschooling

by Suzanne Hartmann

Homeschooling and writing a book are both time-consuming activities. Yet that’s what God has called me to do. I’ve questioned Him over and over, but He leads me to the same conclusion every time. Why would He ask me to add a second all-consuming project to my already busy schedule? I still don’t know the answer; I just know I need to obey.

The next question becomes, “How do I do it all, Lord?” The simple answer is that I don’t. I’ve had to learn to relax my standards and let go of some of the tasks that I think are important. Although I still make lists (I love lists!), I seek God’s guidance each morning, and pray, “Lord, what is it that You know I need to get done today? Direct my thoughts to those activities and chores.” I’m far from perfect at sensing God’s guidance, but I have found that when I actively listen for Him instead of worrying about how I’m going to do it all, things seem to get done. I’m not sure how, but they do.

I thought my plate was already heaping with homeschooling, writing, blogging, networking (it is necessary for authors to have an on-line presence), then a publishing house offered me a contract on my first book, PERIL: A Fast Track Thriller. That added a third time-consuming activity to my schedule: marketing. I tried to do it all, but it only led to frustrations and tears. 

I finally went to the Lord (which I should have done from the beginning). This time I didn’t ask how I could do it all; I confessed that I couldn’t do it all. God reminded me that His timing is perfect. My children are older now. They don’t need my constant involvement or supervision. There’s no way I could have accomplished writing and homeschooling, much less networking and marketing when my children needed me almost every single moment during schooltime.

Once I finally realized I couldn’t do it all myself, God directed my attention to Matthew West’s song, Strong Enough. I now think of it as my theme song, especially when it comes to marketing. The first few lines really say it all.

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God calls each of us to do things that are beyond our abilities. My call is to write Christian fiction, but there are as many calls as there are people. What is God calling you to do? He promises that He will equip those whom he calls, and I have seen that time and again throughout my writing journey. The fact that I am now published is a testament to His faithfulness, not my ability. Whatever the call on your life, say yes to God. It may seem insurmountable to you, but only in your own strength. When we lean on Him, we can truly claim the promise in Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Thank you for hosting me today and letting me share my story. I hope it has been an inspiration for your readers. For those who are interested in reading PERIL, I challenge you to find the name I gave a minor character which most homeschoolers will recognize (although I changed the spelling). I also hope you enjoy reading about a main character who homeschools and homeschooling being presented in a light where it is a normal, natural part of the character’s life.

One last thing. Please join me in celebrating the release of  my debut novel, PERIL: Fast Track Thriller #1 by entering in my KINDLE GIVE-AWAY from Nov. 18 – Dec. 16 To enter, click here: WIN A KINDLE (http://fasttrackthrillers.blogspot.com/2007/01/kindle-give-away_01.html)

            Suzanne Hartmann is a homeschool mom of three and lives in the St. Louis area. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Composition & Linguistics from Western Illinois University. When not homeschooling or writing, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and Bible study. PERIL: Fast Track Thriller Bk. #1 is her debut novel.
            On the editorial side, Suzanne is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service. Through her blog, Write This Way, she has become known as an author who can explain writing rules and techniques in easy-to-understand terms. Her popular Top 10 series of articles formed the basis for her e-book on the craft of writing, Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level

PERIL: A Fast Track Thriller:
A top secret agent with enhanced strength must use her extraordinary abilities during several high-profile assignments when she escorts the first Muslim king to convert to Christianity to the White House and a NASCAR track. When unwanted publicity and the attention of a NASCAR champion threaten to expose her, she herself becomes a terrorist target, with danger surrounding her on all sides.
“Plenty of action and unexpected twists.”
Foreword by Jimmy Makar, GM of Joe Gibbs Racing

Seeds of Wisdom --- We Are Thankful

This week, we are focusing on how truly blessed we are.  Today, we would like to share with you the 5 things for which we are the most thankful.

Ralene -God, my family, great friends, the opportunity to stay at home and raise/homeschool my kids, chocolate. :)

Sam -Christ's blood that covers my sin, God, the most wonderful husband ever, six blessings, and the freedom to homeschool

Maureen -Time for what matters; seeing everything in the world new again with growing children; the smell of a damp forest; a hard-working, story-telling husband; the grace to let go of the past

Dorie -God's grace, my husband, our children, love, and laughter

Jessica -A committed marriage with a person who is brave enough to support my (sometimes crazy) ideas, the opportunity to raise these three amazing children, our farm and the hard work we do as a family to support our homeschooling lifestyle, as well as enough comfort and convenience in my life to feel embarrassed about my excess

Tracy -Books and the ability to read, my children and the blessing of watching them learn, my amazing husband and the opportunity to minister beside him, my God and the privilege of His presence, the fellowship and support of other moms in this same journey

Aurie -My amazing husband and my miracle girls; the knowledge that I will be reunited with all my loved ones in heaven; the freedom to blog and homeschool without fear; my wonderful friends who are such a blessing to me; and my faith that by believing that He sent His Son to die for me - what an amazing promise

For what are you most thankful this year?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hi, from the newbie

Hello, new friends! I hope this special day finds you all surrounded with the warmth and comfort of friends and family. I couldn’t think of a better day to join “Growing Your Homeschool.” I am thankful to be a part of this blog, thankful for the gift of home education. And most thankful for the awe-inpiring gift of motherhood. My name is Maureen
and I am a homeschooling mother of 3 delightful little people. (Isaiah almost 8, Rosemary almost 5, And John Paul just-turned-2.)

We live, at least for now, in the wild mountains of northern New Mexico.

When you read what I write, there are a couple things you’ll probably want to keep in mind.

I am not your typical homeschooling mama. I do not promote the use of curricula. I believe that children should be self-motivated, and I really, truly mean that. I mean it NOW, not ten years from now, when they turn 18. I believe that a nurturing environment is an education in itself. I believe academics prepare children for life in one way, but that education for living is a much broader thing, and that is what so many children, even many homeschooled children, are missing today.

I believe that if you don’t like it, change it!

I am always seeking a gentle path, a joyful path. I take education seriously, and I seriously consider the way children *feel* about their learning to be important. I want you to take everything I say with a grain of salt. No, TWO grains of salt. Because I am not the expert on your children.


I am really pleased and humbled to be here, sharing with you, walking with you. Thanks for having me! I can’t wait for us to get to know one another.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
~Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Comparing to Cooperating

Fair or not, when homeschoolers encounter other homeschoolers, we sometimes begin to compare.  She does better at {fill in the blank}, and I am worse at {fill in the blank}.  And, even if we avoid using the 'than' comparisons, we may evaluate in another way.  "Her daughter is reading unabridged classics in second grade!"  "Wow, their child speaks four foreign languages and is beginning college level courses at age 14!"  As a result, we may begin to find our value in the comparison, ranking ourselves, our homeschools, and our children.

While it is incredible to learn about, celebrate, and be inspired by the successes of others, it is important to not find our own worth in a comparison.  Each family's homeschool is unique and gifted differently.  Where our homeschool excels, another may be challenged.  Where our homeschool stumbles and falls flat on its face, another excels.  Instead of constantly comparing and evaluating, might we try another way?  A way of cooperation inspired by the timely example of Thanksgiving.

The Lesson of Thanksgiving
When the Pilgrims first came to the New World, it was autumn.  They faced incredible difficulties and unimaginable hardships that first winter.  By spring, they were fewer in number and strength.  They had to succeed or face another winter starving.  The local experts, Native Americans, taught the Pilgrims survival skills specific to the New World.  By harvest time, the Pilgrims enjoyed a time of plenty, and celebrated with the Native Americans.  They gave thanks for the bountiful harvest.

As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities to do something similar for one another by stopping the comparisons, finding value in our differences, learning from one another, enjoying the blessings of sharing, and giving thanks. 

This is something that I find here in our cooperative blog and many other helpful sites around the web.  However, the internet isn't the only place to find cooperative encouragement.  Many of us are also blessed with outstanding local support groups or fellow homeschool friends.  Each day, encouragement and cooperation may just be a click, phone call, or visit away, as we all work toward growing our homeschools

And for this I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude from a 3 year old's Perspective

This month we are concentrating on gratitude.

I think it's a big concept for an almost four year old and a two year old to grasp, so we've been learning what gratitude means.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling, emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. {thank you google!!}

In Sophie's four year old words....

Gratitude means that I say thank you when someone does something nice for me/to me.

Admittedly I was glad that she didn't say "I have to say thanks because my mom makes me." 

To help with the concept of being thankful we have each started saying one thing that we are grateful for at the beginning of lunch and dinner.  The girls used to say "cheese. milk. cookies...." but now are starting to think about what they are grateful for - which has been awesome to watch! 

We are setting up a gratitude tree in our dining room that will hold the blessings that we are thankful for, ornaments/decorations that we make, and letters from and to our sponsor children.

After a month of talking daily about being thankful....

On Sunday, during the Children's sermon the children were asked what they were thankful for.  Without prompting Sophie raised her hand and said "I'm thankful for Mommy!" - which made me cry.  She is shy in church and this is the first time she has voluntarily answered a question.  She is also asking Daddy to pray before meals, and saying "thank you" without prompting.

I would encourage you to help your kids count their blessings, or make a gratitude jar or tree.....anything that will help them see how very blessed they are!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful for their Love of Learning

With Thanksgiving only being a few days away, I have been focusing on the many blessings in my life.  I have so much to be thankful for this year (my faith, an amazing family, great friends, my health, food, a home, the chance to further my education, being a stay-at-home mom, etc.).  One thing that I thank God for each day, though, is that both of my girls LOVE learning.  Abigail (age 3) gets up in the mornings and asks to "do school".  Sometimes, before she goes to bed at night, she asks me what we will be learning in school the next day.  She even wants to have preschool on the weekends!  Charlotte (age 14 months) runs to the table each morning when she overhears me telling Abigail that it is almost time for preschool.  Even at a very young age, Charlotte can't wait to learn.  I constantly marvel at my girls' passion for learning.  When I was a public school teacher, I worked with numerous students who hated school and could not wait for the bell to ring at the end of each day.  My girls are the complete opposite and I am so thankful for that.  I only hope that this passion for learning and knowledge continues for the rest of their lives!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Thanksgiving Traditions

It is less than one week until Thanksgiving.  This week, we would like to share our Thanksgiving traditions with you.

We are breaking from tradition this year, since it will be first big holiday since my Father in Law passed away. We will be gathering at my sister in law's house for a quiet family dinner. This year we are being intentional about being thankful and we {my husband and I} will include all the items that we have listed throughout the month during dinner.

We started a new Thanksgiving tradition last year. Because we are a military family, and move around, we thought it would be fun to add dishes specific to the area we live in to our traditional Thanksgiving selections. Because we currently live in a community that is mostly Hispanic, we made bolillos, which are Mexican rolls. We also watch the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." That is a fun way to transition to the Christmas season!

We tend to alternate each year which side of the family we visit. Last year, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my parents' house, and this year we will visit my husband's side. Each extended family has their own traditions. On my side, there is always turkey and trimmings, lots of desserts most involving pumpkin or chocolate, football - watching and playing, and Bingo. When we visit my husband's side, there is turkey and trimmings, with additional Italian dishes, and playing cards. For our immediate family, the younger children dress up as Pilgrims or Native Americans and we watch the Macy parade.

I used to want to be in control of our Thanksgiving celebration. You know, plan the menu, decide on the day's schedule, etc. But in reality, I realize that just surrendering to the wild whirl of family and food is what makes the day for my children. They love the busy time of being with cousins and eating Grandma's food. I usually 'prepare' for the holiday by reading our collection of Thanksgiving and colonial America picture books.

Oddly, we don't really have very many Thanksgiving traditions. It seems we celebrate different every year. Sometimes we celebrate with extended family, sometimes with friends, and sometimes by ourselves. About the only thing that is ever guaranteed is the fried turkey. If we're at home, then the Christmas tree goes up on Black Friday after I'm done shopping.

We stay at home, and dress up after making our dinner together. We don't like turkey, so we usually do ham. This year we are looking at other options, but will keep all of the usual side dishes. Perhaps a chicken? Not sure! Our favorite part is always making our pies from scratch. I always take a hundred pictures of that process. Many hands always make it taste better!  At dinner, we always take turns sharing what we are thankful for. We write our thanks on construction paper leaves.

We are counting down to thanksgiving with an advent calendar, writing our thanksgivings on a slip of paper each day. On Thanksgiving, we will read them all. We love a big turkey dinner as well. And since we live far away from family, we love to open our home to others who are away from their families. Sharing our home at Thanksgiving is a tradition that our kids, even at 4 and 3 years of age, already expect and look forward to.

What thanksgiving traditions do you have?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Homeschooling Young Toddlers

Like many homeschooling moms, I have a small child (Charlotte is 14 months old) in addition to my homeschooled preschooler.  Because she wants to be just like her older sister, she also wants to "do school".   Most mornings, when I tell Abigail that it is time for preschool, Charlotte also heads to the table.  Because she is so excited about learning, I plan activities for her.  I started my career as a toddler teacher and have found that experience very beneficial in knowing how to "teach" Charlotte! 

I include Charlotte in our circle time, so she listens to stories, songs, and the bible lesson.  We also use several materials that I have purchased, such as 3-piece puzzles, stacking toys, a bead maze, and toddler crayons.  Additionally, I have created a few tasks for Charlotte to work on and would like to share them with you.  All of these activities work on improving her fine motor and motor planning skills and were created with items that I already had around the house.  Because she is small, Charlotte needs to be supervised when doing any of these tasks.

Task One:
I have given her this bucket of plastic Easter eggs and she puts them in and takes them back out.  This week, I made this task even harder by giving her two containers and having her move the eggs back and forth between the two.  When doing this activity, Charlotte often also spends time opening up the eggs and then trying to close them.

Task Two:
I placed some of Charlotte's favorite small toys inside an old wipes container.  She pulls them out and puts them back in.  This is one of her favorite activities and it is now permanently in her playroom; she does this during free play time multiple times each day!

Task Three:
I give Charlotte a handful of dry beans and a paint cup.  She drops the beans into the top of the cup.  When she does this game, Charlotte often giggles at the sound the beans make as they drop into the cup.

Task Four:
Charlotte drops unsharpened pencils into a water bottle (I have also used an empty milk jug for this task).  Then, she turns the bottle over to get them out.  This is the hardest of the four tasks, but she has quickly figured out how to do it.

In addition to her special tasks during our preschool time, I also do several sensory activities (jello, playdough, cool whip, cooked noodles, paint, etc.) with Charlotte each week.

Because she is very young, I never force Charlotte to participate in preschool and always let her decide which (if any) of the activities I have planned she wants to do.  Charlotte's learning is completely child-led.  I have been very impressed by her progress in her fine motor skills and her desire to learn.  I hope that by including Charlotte in our homeschool and creating specialized activities for her, I am helping to develop her love of learning and her desire to be a lifelong learner!

The options for activities that can be made at home for toddlers are limitless.  Almost every day, I see something in my house that gives me an idea for another task to make for Charlotte (but I never seem to have time to make them all).  How do you incorporate your toddler into your homeschool?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Crafts

Thanksgiving can be celebrated all through November! Here are some fun suggestions of crafts and activities you can incorporate into your lessons:

This great book, The Very First Thanksgiving Day, has rich text and pictures that are interesting for all age groups.

My older children have learned from The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh. It personifies 'the pilgrims' in a more personal way.

I also love reading the book Thanks For Thanksgiving to my children. The text is simple but the pictures are so lovely - we enjoy pointing out things happening on each page (which leads us to discover more about what each character in the story is thankful for).

Another great way of helping children to discover the meaning of this holiday is to make a Thankful Tree. This is a fun activity the whole family can participate in, and it can last the whole month of November. You can either create a paper tree to hang on a wall or bulletin board, or secure a branch with several twigs to stand in a decorative pot. Then, have your children make paper leaves (these can be drawn free-hand, stenciled, or a traced hand print) and cut them out. Keep the leaves and a marker by the tree, so each person can write something they are thankful for on a leaf and place it on the tree. The leaves are attached to the tree with tape if it is a paper tree, or hung with ornament hangers if the tree is represented by a stick. This is a fun activity to add to your lessons once a day or once a week until Thanksgiving.

Handprint turkeys are always fun for children! Here is a fun twist on a paper turkey, or you can create this sweet painted turkey.

My children would not want me to forget to mention coloring pages. They LOVE themed coloring pages! Here are some great Thanksgiving ones.

Have a great time teaching your children about Thanksgiving - and thank you for reading our blog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Geography Ideas

Geography was not a 'living' subject to me when I was in school. However, I've found it to be critically important as an adult. I wanted my children to have the opportunity for geography to be a regular and interesting part of their lives. Here are some of the ways that work for our family:

Display Geography Tools
We keep a map of the world (self-sticking, laminated) where it is easily accessible. I keep US maps and a state map in my lessons plans binder. We have two globes.

Incorporate Geography Into Other Subjects
When we are studying history, we find the places mentioned in the lessons on our maps or globe. During science, we find the location of the animal's habitats or natural formations we are learning about.

Utilize Other Geography Tools
My kids love the geography sing-along CD we own, as well as geography coloring books. There are a wealth of great products on the internet. I often print out free coloring sheets that have been recent topics of geography discussion for my kids to work on while we are reading out loud together. I encourage my kids to draw maps 'for fun' of the area we live in.

Look for "Geographical" Opportunities
Any time we talk about where someone else lives, someone else going on a vacation, or something happening in the world, we find it on a map. When we talk about going somewhere ourselves, we find it on a map if it is farther away, or we discuss street names and directions if it is nearby. When we are traveling, we frequently mention which direction we are going and the differences in the landscape and basic geology of the places we move along.

Like most things in homeschooling, learning and understanding geography happens slowly over time, based on your child's interest. I've never given a 'formal' lesson on maps to my children, but I occasionally mention finding the compass. I like to let the kids sing their favorite geography songs to find things on the map when we are looking for something new, and we'll use hints to help find it (I will name the continent first, then the country, then a nearby city or landmark). My kids all have different levels of interest in geography, but it will be a tool they can use with confidence any time they need to.

This post is linked up at The Hip Homeschool Hop.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Developing a Thankful Heart

I'll be honest, my kids are not the most grateful people I know. Granted, they are 4 and 5, so they have quite a bit of learning to do. Still, lately, as I see how wasteful they can be, I feel burdened to somehow instill a better since of gratitude for what God has blessed us with.

"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Col. 3:17, NKJV, bold emphasis mine)

Children aren't born with the ability to be thankful, it is something taught one way or another. If they are deprived of something and then receive it, they understand the appreciation of having something they didn't before--especially if it's something important like food, shelter, even love.

Outside of those more extreme circumstances, though. How do we teach our children to be grateful? How do we get them to see how fortunate they are and appreciate that? I don't pretend to have all the answers, in fact,  I'm just beginning to explore this more in depth as I realize just "telling" them isn't working. (Hey, I had to give it a try!)

Here on some ideas I'm working on, some in light of Thanksgiving being right around the corner:

1. Pray. It's amazing what God will help instill in our children when we ask. Pray together. Pray on your own for your children. Work WITH God and it'll be that much easier.

2. Show your kids the difference between what is necessary (food, water, shelter) and what is a privilege (video games, TV, toys). While I don't know that I would go so far as to show them pictures of starving children if they are as young as mine, you can brainstorm ways of showing this. Maybe have them choose a favorite toy to put in a box for a week.

3. Read stories about people who were without, Bible stories especially. Like when God took care of Hannah in the wilderness after she ran from Sarah. Or when David was on the run from Saul. There are many examples in the Bible.

4. Now, my kids are young, so having them help in soup kitchen or something like that makes me a little uncomfortable, but I think volunteering like that is a great opportunity for age-appropriate children. However, there are some other ways to encourage other people. Make Thanksgiving tins (similar to Christmas plates) filled with some yummy treats to drop off with friends and family.

Last week, my girls and I discussed gratitude and started our Thankful Tree. Each day, we write down on a construction paper leaf something we are thankful for (I do it, too!). Then we pray about it. This week we are going to continue the Thankful Tree, but we're discussing the wastefulness. One thing we'll be doing is going around the house to see what ways we can be less wasteful. I'm also thinking a game of store might help them understand that stuff costs money, and you can only spend what you have.

They may not get it right away, but I know I'm planting the seeds. Seeds take time to grow. Hopefully, I'll see the fruit soon. What about you? Any ideas?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Teaching About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away; many homeschooling moms are beginning to teach about this national holiday.  Today, we share with you what Thanksgiving activities we are doing in our homeschools.

We start lunch and dinner asking the girls what they are thankful for. This month I'll be recording their answers each time. In the past we've had a thanks jar {where we put slips of paper in} but this year we are going to have a thankful tree that the girls can actually put their "thanks" on.

We are still working on the basic stuff, the letter T, what turkeys are, and reading children's literature about Thanksgiving. We will learn the ASL signs for turkey, Happy Thanksgiving, thank you, and the sign for the letter t. This week the kids made turkeys creating the feather plumage with finger paint and thumprints.

We are studying the history of the holiday with books and hands on activities. However, our main focus is on giving thanks to the Lord for all His blessings. In the past we have used a tree with each leaf naming a blessing. I loved the visual reminder of our abundance of blessings! This year we are using a Thanks jar, writing on slips of paper the names of our blessings.  

Our curriculum is focused on American history especially this year, and we started studying the pilgrims just two weeks ago. I also keep a system of books and magazines to lay out monthy, so November included all our Thanksgiving-themed bo...oks. Several of the children's individual reading assignments are Thanksgiving-focused books, as well. I did the same thing for Halloween, and will do so for Advent and Christmas.

We will be starting our Thanksgiving lessons next week.  Each day, we are going to read several books about Thanksgiving (fiction and non-fiction books).  We are making a Thankful tree; each day, we add one or two things that Abigail is thankful for and then we pray a prayer of thanks for those things.  We are also making turkey handprint thank-you cards and giving them to various people who have had an impact on the girls' lives.  Additionally, I downloaded Thanksgiving preschool packs from a few of my favorite bloggers, as well as activities from DLTK Kids and ABCTeach; we will be working through those.

We're doing a Thankful tree (every morning we hang new leaves with stuff we're thankful for), and we're discussing thankfulness, wastefulness, and Thanksgiving traditions/history over the next three weeks.

We are studying Jamestown right now, and we also have picked up several books at the library. We will be sticking with our regular lessons, and reading the other books during our reading time outside of school.

How are you teaching about Thanksgiving in your homeschool?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"When You Thought I Wasn't Looking"

(Beth's attempt at a Toy Story cake)

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I learned that little things can be the special things in life.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a God I could always talk, to, and I learned to trust God.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal. And take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight and I felt loved and safe.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it, and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

*When I found this poem, there was no author. It simply says, “by a Child.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Altering Lesson Plans

During the second time I made apple bread this autumn season, I altered the recipe. I was confident in the recipe and my ability to follow it successfully. I was also equipped with the knowledge that I could alter the recipe by decreasing the amount of sugar. With the sweetness of the apples and the other ingredients, I knew a little sugar would never be missed. So, I altered the amount and made the bread. NO ONE noticed. It still tasted great.

Lesson plans are a lot like recipes. They tell you what you need (ingredients) and how to put them all together (method). But just like the apple bread recipe, you can alter lesson plans to suit your family.

I confess, initially, I would never alter a lesson plan, ever. Even if it was not working, we still trudged through it. However, once I gave myself permission to change the lesson plans, I felt a little more free to try changing some of the elements to suit our needs.

After tweaking a few lesson plans, I still felt shy about making large changes.
Until I was reminded by others that:

"Lesson plans are a fabulous tool, but not a wise master."

For you see, I was using the lesson plans incorrectly. They were dictating our lessons, not serving as guides. Today, after years of tweaking, changing, and adding to lesson plans, it has become second nature. I am no longer afraid to not do every single step outlined in the lesson plan.

Lesson plans sometimes call for too much of one thing and not enough of another for your child or your family. Don't be afraid, like I was, to alter them here and there to make them better for your situation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

HSBA Post 7th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards

We are excited that the voting for the HSBA Post 7th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards has begun!  And, we are extremely honored to have been nominated for "Best NEW Homeschool Blog."  Thank you so much!

Additionally, we are excited that three of our bloggers had their blogs nominated in various categories:
Sam's blog was nominated in 7 categories (Favorite Homeschool Mom Blog, Best Photos Blog, Best Encourager, Best Homeschool Variety Blog, Best SUPER Homeschooler, Best Homeschooling Nature/Field Trip Blog, and Best Nitty-Gritty Homeschool Blog)! 
Dorie's blog was nominated for Best Photos Blog.
Marla's blog was nominated for Best Crafts, Plans, & Projects Blog.

To see all of the nominees and vote,  go to the Homeschool Post. 
Voting is open until 11:59 Pacific time on November 18, 2011.

Creating Your Own Curriculum: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Currently, I create my own curriculum for teaching preschool to my 3-year-old daughter.  
There are fabulous preschool curriculums available, but the best choice for us right now is 
to create our own.  However, creating your own curriculum is not for everyone!  Today, 
I would like to share the top two good and bad consequences of deciding to make your own curriculum, as well as the ugliest problem.

The Good

1. The curriculum meets your child's educational needs:  When you create your own curriculum, you can spend as much time as you need to teaching any concept.  If Abigail quickly grasps a concept, we can move on to something new the next day.  However, if she had a hard time with the concept, we can spend several days working on it.  We can also work on skills from a variety of grade levels.  Currently, we are doing late kindergarten/early first grade math and preschool language arts.

2. The curriculum can be designed around your child's interests:  When you create your own curriculum, you can teach your child about his interests of using his interests.  We have recently done Science unit studies about the animals that interest Abigail and learned about the continents because she received a globe for her birthday.  We also count her favorite toys, spell words that interest her, and use flashcards in fun shapes.

The Bad

1. It is very time-consuming:  When you create your own curriculum, you spend a LOT of time working on lesson planning.  Because you have to locate (or make) all of the resources and activities, you will spend hours lesson planning.  Just to teach preschool, I spend a minimum of five hours a week doing lesson planning.  I can only imagine how long it would take to create a high school curriculum!

2. There is a greater chance that your child will have holes in his/her learning:  When you create your own curriculum, there is a chance that you will neglect to teach particular skills.  Your child may end up with spotty knowledge.  You must work hard to ensure that you teach all the skills that he/she needs to learn.

The Ugly

If life gets busy, you might not have lessons to teach:  When you create your own curriculum, you do not get a break from lesson planning.  Even when you are sick or have a busy schedule, you still have to find resources and activities.  You are completely responsible!  In order to address this issue, I have several one-day and two-day units that are ready to use whenever life happens and I don't have things planned.

Despite the  downsides, creating our own curriculum is the best choice for us.  I love creating Abigail's lesson and firmly believe that she is learning more from her individualized curriculum than she would be if I used a curriculum that I had purchased.

Do you create your own curriculum?  If so, what do you view as the biggest benefits and drawbacks?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Co-ops

Today, a few of us answer the question: "Do you participate in a co-op? If so, what is the 1 biggest benefit and 1 biggest drawback to being a co-op?"

We belong to two co-ops. For our experience, the biggest benefit is the sense of community it offers us. Though our co-ops are comprised of homeschoolers, there is a wide variety and individuality within each co-op group. However, since we are all on a homeschooling path, I find much encouragement from the other moms. The biggest draw back for us, is time. This is something we struggle with this year in particular because we have more out of the house classes than ever before. So, it may not be an exclusive co-op problem, but rather an issue across the boards for us this year. Either way, it is something we are evaluating for next year.

There is not a homeschool cooperative in my immediate area yet, although the first year we were homeschooling we did participate in two different homeschooling groups. Our participation was originally based on our concerns about socialization. After the first year, we were no longer worried about that, and started choosing our activities based on our needs and likes. Homeschoolers are as varied in purpose, beliefs and methods as everyone else on earth, so sometimes it is hard to find where you 'fit.' I am still open to a homeschool cooperative and love the idea of one, but am not feeling it is something we need enough for me to begin one myself at this point.

We don't do co-ops, and we won't do them in the future. I really enjoy the "home" in homeschooling, so we prefer it that way. I seem to be the exception with this one in my circle of homeschooling friends, but I guess we are just unique We do participate in a support group, where the moms and kids get to hang out, but no teaching happens.

Do you participate in a co-op?  What do you see as the benefits/drawbacks of your participation?

Here are links to a few of our recent, related posts:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


If there is one things all families wish for, it is more time. Here are some parts of my routine that are 'must do' items. They save time and (more importantly, sanity) on my part each day.

1) Look over lesson plans the night before. I often do this while the children are falling asleep - sometimes one of my kids would like me to sit with them while they drop off, so I can be present for them as well as accomplish something.

2) Set out tomorrow's items. After I've skimmed the lesson plans, I make a stack for each child that contains all the necessary books, papers and assignments for the day. I also set out my teaching materials and read-out-loud books.

3) Pack sack lunches. Even if we end up being home, I have one cold meal prepared ahead of time during the day. But if we need or want to go somewhere, we don't even have to think about food. There are already sandwiches and cut apples ready to go!

4) Think about supper. What is the plan for the one hot meal I'm going to serve tomorrow? I can gather ingredients or take things from the freezer. When four o'clock arrives the next day, I won't have to wonder what I'm doing.

4b) I know I already talked about a hot meal, but I often like to make our hot meal over lunch time (we frequently participate in evening activities). It can save a lot of time to enjoy a hot meal over the noon-hour, clean your kitchen, and then it is basically closed until the next morning since you have already completed #3.

5) Read during meals. We enjoy many of the sessions where I read to the children during breakfast and lunch. It keeps me at a slow pace, allows everyone time to enjoy their meal, and stimulates discussion. Plus, you are doing two things at once. I love that.

6) Keep your materials organized. Looking for something you need but can't find is one of life's greatest time-suckers. I am not a very neat person, but I have found that what I lack in neatness I can make up for in being consistent. I keep my school items in the same place, forever and ever, amen. There may be some skewed looking stacks, but I know somewhere in that stack is the 'great science discoveries' book. You know why? Because those are the school shelves and that is the science section. I would never put the book anywhere else.

6b) Take time to put your school things away when you are finished for the day. We used to have a dedicated area (desks, chalk board, etc) for schooling, but we never really used it. So we use our kitchen table and it's been a great choice for us. Instead we have a designated bookshelf that has sections for everyone/thing. We put everything away when it's time for lunch. This helps encourage the kids to pick up (they want to eat!) and facilitates #6.

7) Schedule breaks. It really helps everyone to take ten or fifteen minutes off before they start to suffer brain-drain. I like to include chores in our breaks - Everyone make their beds and pick up ten items in their room! On your marks, get set, GO!

8) When the dishwasher is clean, unload it right away. When the dryer buzzes, fold and put away those clothes. Then they will be empty when you need them. It's so simple to toss the dirty lunch dishes right into the washer. It's discouraging when they are piled all over the counter because the dishwasher is full of clean dishes. These are also more fun when you do them all together.

9) Delegate. You are schooling at home. Your children need to learn practical skills as well as feel good about contributing to their family. Your child is only three? I bet you can teach them how to fold washcloths, knead dough and wipe things down. It takes longer, but it is worth the time investment.

10) Keep an accurate and current calendar. I keep mine on the computer, but cell phone or paper is fine too. And check it every day. You would hate to be that person that the pediatric dentist calls wondering why you aren't there with your children for their appointments (not that it's every happened to me)...

What do you feel costs you the most time in your day? What saves you the most?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Snacktime Basic Math

I try to make learning fun for Abigail and also try to build learning opportunities into our daily routines.  I have found that snacktime is a wonderful way to work on math skills.  Here are a few fun ways that we do math at snacktime.  

We use food to make patterns.

I write numbers on plastic cups and Abigail counts the correct number of snacks and puts them into the cups.

I write numbers in the holes of egg cartons and Abigail counts snacks into the holes.

I put snacks into Easter eggs and Abigail counts them before eating them.

We use snacks as counters for addition

and for measuring tools.

There are countless ways to work on basic math skills at snacktime.  How do you play with your food to enhance learning for your children?

This week, we have linked up with the Hip Homeschool Hop.
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