Friday, September 30, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- What Our Children Like

This week, we answer the question:  "What do your children like about being homeschooled?"

In Sophie's words "I like school because I can play with my trains and make roads with letters and paint." She really likes to paint!!

When I asked my children, they responded with "no homework, spending time at home;" "spending time with our family;" "Mommy is my teacher;" and "learning new things when I want to."
Of course, the child who said such nice things about her teacher got a larger dessert helping after dinner... :-)

Abigail says "I like coloring and Starfall and books."  

Not having to rush around in the morning, eating good food instead if nasty cafeteria, getting to cuddle up on the couch to read, and impromptu days off when we just don't feel like it!

What do your children like about being homeschooled?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elements (Parts) of a Story

I found an activity that I thought would be neat to share with you. I believe I created this activity when I was in college, either for my Reading or Language Arts class. The activity combines art and literature, which will help those visual and tactile learners you have.

What you need:
Construction paper
Copy Paper

What you do:
Choose a picture book that your child really enjoys. First read the book with them. To meet the needs of those auditory learners, you can listen to it on CD.

Then, discuss the different parts of a story. There are five main parts of a story to focus on with young learners. You can include more or less, depending on the age of the learner. The five parts we are going to focus on are: characters, plot, setting, theme, and point of view.

The first thing you will need to do is define each part (element) of the story.

Characters: Characters are people or animals in the story.

Plot: Plot is the order of events involving characters in conflict situations

Setting: Setting is where and when a story takes place.

Theme: Theme is the meaning of the story, or the message the story conveys.

Point of View: Point of view tells whose eyes we are looking through when we hear the story.

After you have gone through the story with your child, you will illustrate each of the elements or parts of the story and create a book. For my project in college, I chose the book, Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber. Below are some photographs of my project. I gave the book a cover and back and illustrated the elements of the story on white paper. I also included a title page within the book. I am not really a great artist, but you get the idea. For some of your little budding artists, this might be a project they want to do again and again. To give more emphasis to what they have learned, your children might define the parts of the story in their created book, and then on the following page, demonstrate by writing and illustrating how that part of the story is found in their book.

Note: Some of the websites I have researched to look up more helpful info for you include only characters, plot and setting as the three main parts of a story. My opinion on that is theme and point of view might be a little too abstract for younger minds. You can always modify this to teach younger children. For example, you might create a book that focus on just characters, plot and setting, or just one to focus on characters only.

To learn more about elements, or parts, of a story, or to get more ideas how to teach elements of a story, visit Teacher Vision/Story Elements.

What are some of your favorite picture books you might choose to use for this activity?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Building a Student Portfolio

"Isn't that something due at the end of the school year?" she hesitantly asks me.

"Yes, it is due at the end of May," I reply, "but I suggest you begin it now.  It is easier to build the portfolio over the course of a year, rather than all at once at year end."

We are sitting together at a long table with several portfolios laid open.  A first meeting between two homeschooling moms.  She embarking on her first year, and I, the one who will review her portfolio and year-end reports. 

She is already nervous and filled with questions.  Gently, I outline a possible procedure.  It is very similar to the one my portfolio leader gave me years ago when we first began homeschooling.  The advice hasn't changed much, withstanding all these years.  She listens intently, as I begin to explain.

Before I share these tips, it is important that I remind each family to check their own state's requirements, as well as the requirements of your local area, umbrella school, or group.  Some states/groups require much more or much less.  You must adhere to their requirements.  However, these basic guidelines can serve to help you create a concise overview of your student's school year.

4 General Guidelines to Building a Portfolio:
  1. Create the frame work of your portfolio at the beginning of the school year.  For our family, we purchase a three inch binder for each child for each school year.  Generally, we decorate the exterior the summer before we start the school year.  Inside, I add a title page and create divisions with either tabbed dividers or colored card stock.  The divisions I need to include are based on what is required for our umbrella school and a few extras we like to include.  Our divisions are Year-End Report, Attendance Record, Lesson Plans, Reading List, Academic Work (grouped by subject or unit), Field Trips, Extra Activities, and Special Days and Holidays. 
  2. Decide how frequently you want to add to the portfolio.  By making this decision now, you will then routinely add to the portfolio as the year progresses rather than going through a year's worth of student work in May.  My first couple of years, I added papers on a monthly basis. 
  3. Determine a criteria for what you want to keep in the portfolio for your family.  This can be difficult to make one rule for all subjects.  Tests aren't always given in every subject.  A few subjects have limited paper work evidence to keep.  For us, the classes in which tests are administered, these get placed in the portfolio.  For subjects without tests, we tend to save a sampling of day to day work.
  4. Periodically check that the work placed in the portfolio reflects the student's progress and abilities.  A portfolio doesn't have to be filled with perfect papers or stellar reports.  It should reflect the student's abilities and class work.  Additionally, I check to make sure I am not saving too much of one subject and not enough of another.  For instance, if the once a week music class papers are more plentiful than his daily math class pages, the portfolio is not reflecting his actual school year.

4 FAQs concerning portfolios:

How much of one subject should I place in the portfolio?
This depends on the frequency of the class and the amount and type of work required of the student.  Major subjects like math and English generally require a larger sampling than music and art.  Personally, a guideline I use is one student work sample per week per major subject, and one student work sample per month per minor subject.  This generally works out to 36-40 samples for each major subject and 10-12 samples for each minor subject.

How do I document field trips?
There are several possibilities.  One way is to keep a child's ticket, brochure, or paper activity completed while on the field trip.  Take a few photographs during the field trip of your child engaged in a learning activity, in front of a monument, or something memorable from the trip.  Add these to a summary activity like a narration, worksheet, or extension activity, and place them in your child's portfolio.

What about large projects that don't fit into the portfolio?
Over the past years, we have had many of these projects.  Some we kept alongside of the binder.  For instance, when my son created a spiral bound biology notebook, we simply stored it alongside the portfolio.  However, this is impractical for some projects, like the solar system model.  For this, we took a picture of the child with the project and mounted the photograph to a piece of paper containing a summary paragraph about the project.

How can I personalize the portfolio even further?
One idea is to include personal photographs beyond academic work.  An annual 'school' photograph is a nice addition.  We like to add a few pages of pictures showcasing special days and holidays celebrated during that school year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What I've Learned so far.....

 The Top Ten Homeschooling Things That I've Learned {so far}...

10. Never leave a 3.5 year old alone with open glue.  Ever.

9.   I don't have to teach the alphabet from A to Z.

8.   Going to a play date is a perfect opportunity for gym class.

7.   Follow your child's interests.

6.   Whatever space you cover for finger painting...double it.

5.   Giving a 23 month old crayons and a coloring book does not guarantee that she will color inside the book.

4.   Mud, sand, and water can provide hours of school fun.

3.   Stick to a schedule.

2.   Play dough and carpet are not a good combination.  At all.

1.   A Day out with Thomas was a fantastic field trip on trains, switches and tracks.  And, my daughter knew more about switches than I did!

What would YOUR top ten list be?

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Reason for Homeschooling Daily

Last week, we had a very crazy week.  I got up on Monday morning with a very long to-do list; I really wanted to take the week off from school and just focus on other things.  And I almost did.  Then, I looked at my girls and remembered my goals for them.  In order to help them become the people that God intends for them to be, I must make them a priority.  They are the reason that I left my career and chose to become a stay-at-home mom.  The laundry, vacuuming, dissertation work, etc. are all part of my job, but my primary job is raising my girls.  So, I put my to-do list down and we did preschool.  And, as soon as we got started on our work, I was glad that we did.  Abigail made some amazing mental connections that morning; she learned the basics of addition!  If I had chosen to take a day off, that might not have happened.  While I do think that children and parents do need occasional breaks from school, I was reminded of the importance of planning the breaks and not succumbing to the desire to skip homeschooling.  I can always find a reason to take a day off from teaching my girls, but I am now focusing instead on the reason to homeschool every day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Socialization

We often hear that homeschooled children lack social skills. This week, our seeds of wisdom panel answers the question "How do you refute this claim and ensure that your children receive the opportunity to interact with other children on a regular basis."
I really feel that early on, we are working to establish a close family relationship. The social skills that I would primarily like for my children to develop I believe should come from me and my husband, and the way they interact in a family unit. I really think it is poor logic to say children learn social skills by just putting them together with other children. What kind of social skills? You don't want to teach a child to swim by just throwing them in deep water.
We were actually very concerned about socialization when we first started homeschooling. Over the years, we've come to realize this is really not an issue for us. As we go about our life, we are presented with many opportunities to socialize with others. Besides the everyday interactions, our children are involved in Sunday school, co-op classes, choir, AWANAs, Upward sports, and play groups at a local park. Additionally, we make a purposeful effort to have the children socialize with people who are not necessarily 'just like them.' We want them to develop a heart for the world.
My favorite non-threatening response is "Well, we were very concerned about that as well when we began homeschooling. As it turns out, we shouldn't have been worried. They have so many opportunities to interact with so many people - it's really been a non-issue." What I am thinking to myself, however, also includes "Now they get to share activities and interests with people of all ages instead of 16 people whose only commonality is the year in which they were born. And there are so many homeschool groups and activities out there we just can't fit them all in! Turns out they are much better socialized now then they were when we were in school because their largest influences are not their same-age peers."
To be honest, this is one of my biggest concerns about homeschooling and an area where I want to look at the research.  Since my girls are still young (ages 1 and 3), this is not really an issue for us yet.  I make sure that the girls have the opportunity to interact with other children in an unstructured environment almost daily.  Even their friends who attend preschool only go to school a few mornings a week, so this is currently easy to do.  We are actively involved in two playgroups, have frequent playdates, and participate in some organized activities. 
Studies show that kids don't need as much "socialization" as some people may thing. My kids have Sunday School, Tuesday morning class, and sports-type activities to keep their skills on the up and up. Not to mention playdates when Mommy gets socialization as well.
As a parent, it is my responsibility to nurture growth in all areas: spiritual, physical, educational, and social growth. And I do feel the need to facilitate opportunities for my children to be with others. They must learn to interact with others before they can share their faith. On the other hand, I do not feel the need for them to become like others (i.e. like the world). So, I guess it would depend a little bit on a person's definition of "socialization."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Growing Into Homeschooling

When you start out with homeschooling, one of the best tips I wish I had listened to was to start slowly. I had four students my first year, with one I needed to teach how to read. Things would have gone much more smoothly if I had only allowed us to grow into homeschooling.

What do I mean by that?

Don’t jump into all of the subjects at once and stress everyone out!

If you are a few weeks into your school year, and are feeling overwhelmed already, you may need to take a deep breath, and get back to basics.

Maybe strip away Latin and stick with the 3 R’s, or perhaps you need to go even further and begin with only character training.

Some moms do only certain subjects on certain days, rotating the schedule so that there isn’t a heavy load on any one day.

Do you really need creative writing every day each week?

Take a look at your schedule and your curriculum. How many lessons are in each book? How many days will you have instruction? You may find that you can finish all of your lessons if you only do science for example, three days each week.

Most importantly-we are homeschooling to instill a love of learning in our children-that happens even when the school books are closed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Top Ten Homeschooling Drawbacks

1. When on earth will I schedule my pap smear and mammogram?

2. Same goes for eye and dental exams.

3. There is nobody to complain to when the teacher isn't living up to expectations.

4. Need to work on something without interruption for more than 20 minutes? Hire. a. sitter.

5. If one of my children asks me a question, I feel it is absolutely necessary that I find the answer.

6. There is no such thing as time to myself. Unless I hire a sitter.

7. When my children were in school somewhere else, I could clean the house and it would stay that way until they came home again. Less time in the house for them to make a mess. Now that we are homeschooling, I've brought the mess of glue, paperclips, binders, etc to the house, plus added eight hours of active time. Triple the mess, none of the cleaning time.

8. Want a private conversation with your spouse? Or on the phone? Head to the bathroom and lock the door. Or hire a sitter.

9. No school lunches.

10. Money spent on sitters.

Watch for my Top Ten Homeschooling Perks in my next post!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Write

Teaching writing can be one of the most challenging subjects for many homeschooling families, particularly if you don't feel that writing is your strength. And though, in my past posts, I've discussed a few ways to take away a little bit of the dread for the student, I wanted to tackle the question "why write" to alleviate a little bit of the dread that you as the teacher might feel.

The Word

Probably the most convicting sense of purpose for me personally, as a writer, is the fact that God places such a huge emphasis on it in the Bible. God created language, He describes himself as the Word, and He promises that His words will outlast time itself. If my Creator places such purpose and significance on words and communication, than I, as His creation, have a responsibility to imitate that purpose in my own meager way.

Words communicate. They help us to communicate experiences and thus bond with others. They help us to communicate beliefs and thus strengthen or persuade others. They help us to communicate emotions and images to inspire others. They help us to communicate truth in every realm (history, science, even math) to bring others to an understanding of that truth.

This sense of purpose may not make writing any easier, but it makes it worth attempting and worth doing well.

The Challenge

Even writers find writing difficult, a discipline of practiced skill. That doesn't exclude natural ability, but that does give hope to someone who might feel inept. There are certain elements to writing that must be learned and practiced. In other words, it's not a matter of "you're either born with it or you're not." And it is this discipline of choosing the right words and choosing the right order and structure for those words that makes writing challenging, even for "writers."

"Three fingers hold the pen, but the whole body toils."—Medieval Scribe

"The ultimate confrontation is with that blank sheet of paper. When you're faced with that blank paper, all excuses are gone. The thing has to be written. I pace, I drink tea, I stare out the window and feel generally miserable....Sometimes I go to that office and nothing happens all day, nothing, for 12 hours."—John McPhee
The Reason

Different people write for different reasons. Some people blog as an outlet for remembering and reliving experiences. Others write to find out answers to questions that puzzle them, or to analyze their own feelings on a topic. The key is to help your child discover what writing does for him.

"We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospective."—Anais Nin

"We do not write what we know; we write what we want to find out."—Wallace Stegner

"Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."—Joan Didion

"We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand."—C. Day Lewis

"An experience isn't finished until it's written."—Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Writing is not easy. But what I have tried to communicate to my students is that writing is worth the effort; and though not everyone will be a talented writer, anyone can become a capable writer.

Quotations taken from Shoptalk by Donald Murray and were chosen for relevance. Neither the author of this post nor this blog is necessarily commending the writer's themselves or their works.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Without Ideas

So, it's late Sunday night, and I'm finally getting around to writing up the post for this blog. And you know what? I haven't the faintest clue what to write about. Normally, I'm bubbling with ideas that I want to share. Those who know me can vouch for the fact that once you get me started on something I'm passionate about, it's hard to get me to be quiet!

What's the deal this week?

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I've been preoccupied with preparing for a conference this week. Before you get all excited--it's the American Christian Fiction Writer's Annual Conference. So, no, I won't be coming home inspired and spilling over with ideas. Well, I will, but I'm sure most won't have anything to do with homeschooling.

What do you do when your well runs dry? What happens when you're spent?

As homeschool teachers, I'm sure that happens to all of us at one time or another. We're with these adorable kids all day--every day. We're in charge of every aspect of their life. They don't leave to go somewhere for eight hours. Learning doesn't fit into a nice neat box.

We are called to teach them, to train them...but sometimes that pulls more out of us than we have to offer. What do we do?

The only thing we can do--

Take a break. Pray.

The Lord is on our side. He's rooting for us. He WANTS us to succeed. He has not called us to this huge endeavor only to watch us get sucked in to the point of utter exhaustion or failure.

How often have we watched a child determined to do something? Putting a puzzle together for example. Some children are so stubborn, and then they get so frustrated they start to cry or get angry. Finally, they turn to us, tears in their eyes. "Can you help me?"

God is the same way. He pours into us what we need WHEN WE ASK FOR IT. Like any good parent does.

So, right now, I'm praying that God would fill me with the inspiration to touch another's heart. To reach out to someone and offer that bit of hope, a pinch of inspiration.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- A Little Inspiration

Sometimes, we need a little inspiration to stay focused on our mission as homeschooling parents.  Today, the Seeds of Wisdom panel shares the words that best guide their homeschools.

‎"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children."-Isaiah 54:13

All of Psalm 121, especially verses 1-2: "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."
"I did it my way." -Frank Sinatra
Deuteronomy 11, verses 18-19 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Col. 2:3 In [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

What bible verses/songs/quotes help to inspire you as a homeschooling parent?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Good Memories-Part 2

As I write for this blog, I am not writing out of my expertise. I am by no means an expert in parenting or in homeschooling. I write to you about what I have learned or am learning. One day you will pass along what you are learning as a mom or dad and homeschooling parent to somebody else that needs encouragement.

In an earlier post, I started talking about making good memories. It is so important to make good memories with your children. I don’t remember everything from when I was a little. I think I started remembering more the older I got. I am not sure why that is. It would make an interesting study to find out why our memories became more detailed the older we get. In my last post I talked about the importance of making good memories since we, as homeschooling parents, are with our children all day long, and have the greatest potential for impact.

In the first post about making good memories, I talked about: 1) Don’t sweat the small stuff. 2) Laugh a lot. 3) Hug and Kiss your children. The next three ways I believe you can ensure you make good memories are:

4. Discipline them
This is a very touchy subject. Everybody has an opinion about this and about how to effectively discipline your children. I believe that discipline does not mean so much punishment as to “train” or “disciple.” The Bible commends us to train our children. There has to be an element of correction in the training, because children don’t always do or even know to do the right thing. I believe the response to negative behavior in children should be appropriate for their age, and we should teach them what God says for us to do, because training in Godliness is profitable. I am careful to be ever-conscious that every thing I do in training my children must be done in love. Recently I read a super post about anger vs. grace. This article would actual fall under my point #1 about not sweating the small stuff, but I think it fits here too.

5. Make your children feel safe.
I always want my children to feel safe. I always want them to feel like I will always be there for them to protect them and not let harm come to them. One example of how I might protect them is from EACH OTHER! OYE! In a household where you have a lot of children, there are lots of opportunities for fighting. I don’t ever want one child to feel as though it okay for another to hurt them, so I try to solve issues that arrive in such a way that the injured child feels safe. In the Bible, there are many stories of sibling rivalry. One story that stands out is in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob favored Joseph above his brothers A LOT. This created great strife in their family so much that the brothers threw Joseph in a well, then sold him to slave traders, and told his father he was dead. Now, I know this account ends in the favor of the Hebrews, but it was horrible for Joseph and his brothers while it was taking place. What could God have done had the strife not been present?

6. Do things your children like.
As adults, we have many interests and desires. We like to go shopping, and to the movies, and maybe hiking, or to a museum. But what does your child want to do? One great way to communicate love and make wonderful memories is do something fun that your children like to do. Maybe they like video games so you can take them to Chuck E. Cheese. If you go to the movies, let them choose, age appropriate of course. Take them to Toy’s R Us once in a while. One night for dinner I gave my kids chocolate mint ice cream in a cone! Now, I know that is not highly nutritious, but I am hoping that fun night is etched in their memory as the great night mom gave us some ice cream. Another family outing that takes place frequently is going out for pizza. My children love pizza! Now, my husband and I have lost our taste for pizza at this point, but because it is something they love, we still do it.

Making good memories is so important to your children. I believe it will make them more secure people, confident in who they are, and secure in your love which will help them as adults fulfill their purpose in history, God’s great story.

So, I have given you a small list of how you can memories with your children. What are some of other ways to make memories you can think of?

Please make sure to check back because there will be more upcoming posts on making memories as part of our early morning routine and at bedtime. Later on I will discuss what to do with all these memories once you have made them!

Many Blessings,


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ways to Include Extended Family

It happens every September: Grandparent's Day.  At many schools, private and public, grandparents will be asked to visit or notes of appreciation will be written.  Family bonds will be strengthened, and grandparents will feel a part of their grandchildren's school experiences.  For homeschoolers, we aren't limited to a specific day, celebration, or occasion to include grandparents.  In many ways, as often as possible, grandparents and extended family members can be involved in our homeschooling journeys.

Of all the benefits to homeschooling, regular multi-generational interactions must rank fairly high.  It is one benefit that we seek to draw upon as often as possible.  Over the years, our family has tried to include grandparents and other family members in our homeschooling days.  Of course, not everyone agrees with our decision to homeschool, and some aren't able to participate regularly due to schedules or living far away.  However, for those family members who are willing and able, it is a tremendous blessing and source of encouragement.

Some of the ways we, and other homeschooling families we know, include extended family are:
  1. Sharing Special Skills and Hobbies - Making jelly or applesauce, creating model railroad scenes, and shooting bow and arrows or BB guns have been some of the skills my parents have taught our children. 
  2. Field Trips - We've shared trips to heritage museums, orchards, railroad museums, public gardens and zoos.
  3. Scholastic Fairs and Co-op Presentations - When the children participated in a geography fair, extended family attended the presentation.  Similarly, hand bell performances and science demonstrations have been ideal places for ideal family to observe home education in action.
  4. Volunteer Opportunities at Co-op or Teach a Subject at Home - Extended family is always welcome to help teach/assist or share an experience as a guest speaker in our co-op classes.  Also, we know a few retired teachers who teach their homeschooled grandchildren one or two specific classes a week.
  5. Musical Presentations and Sporting Events - For this year, whether our daughter's first upcoming piano recital, the choir concert, or flag football game, we'll be inviting extended family.  During concerts or game time, sitting in the audience or on the sidelines cheering on a participant make for special memories for both the child and grandparent.
  6. Special Projects - We have had extended family share in the making or presenting of special projects throughout the years.  Other times, extended family has served as an audience for our budding presenters.
  7. Pen Pals - For extended family who live far away, correspondence in letters and cards help include them in our everyday lives and improve our children's writing skills.
  8. History Information - Oral histories, personal experiences, and one on one interviews with family members who have lived through the times we are studying have been invaluable. 
What are some more ways to include grandparents or extended family in your homeschool?  I look forward to reading your ideas and hopefully including them into our days as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apples, Alligators, and Aardvarks

Sophie and I have been reading the creation story and working on the letter A and the number 1.  

She loves the creation story and giggles when we talk about Adam's job {to name all the animals} because he picked some silly names. {aardvark and crocodile seem to really make her laugh!}
 We colored with white crayons on white paper and then painted over it with black paint to make the white lines show up - we had a blast with that!  We've also painted the letter A red {like apples} and worked with cutting and pasting.

Today we are making an alligator  out of an A - complete with google eyes :)  Can't wait to see her giggle about those!!
Now, I have a question for YOU:

Sophie has colored, drawn, painted, and eaten with her left hand for over a year.  This week, when we started working on letter writing - she's trying to use her right hand....and now she's not holding crayons or paintbrushes correctly??!

Do I push her to use her left hand, or wait and see what she does?  I don't want it to become an issue, and I'm a little confused as to the switch?  Any thoughts?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pushing too Hard?

Last spring, I read the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.  Based on what I had read about the book, I expected to be appalled by the mother's actions and the way that she pushing her children.  However, as I read the book, I realized that I can connect with her.  One of the main reasons that we have chosen to homeschool is to ensure that Abigail receives the best possible preschool education.  We want her to constantly be challenged with activities that are at her learning level.  We don't want her educational lessons to be based upon her age, but instead be based on her abilities.  The desire to challenge her often means that we push Abigail to learn things that are hard and that other children don't learn until kindergarten or first grade.   We expect her to work hard every day and don't tolerate laziness or silliness during preschool.  It means that I drill her on her letters and on counting and that I include "learning activities" in almost every aspect of our day.  It means that sometimes she misses out on playtime because we are doing her "preschool work".  It also means that when she fails at something that I think she should be able to do, I get frustrated with myself and sometimes with her.  While I fully believe that the world is a child's classroom, I also believe that structured learning activities and frequent challenging "assignments" are very important in helping a child reach her potential.  So far, Abigail has not seemed to mind her "work" and often gets up in the morning asking to "do school".  However, part of me wonders if that will soon change.  Will she one day resent me for making her "miss out on childhood" or will she thank me for teaching her and helping her to become a smart, hard-working woman?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom --- Priorizing Our Time

Yesterday, Sam posted about the myth of "doing it all". She noted that it is impossible for her to do everything that she wants to do or that is asked of her.  The rest of the Seeds of Wisdom members have a little secret - it is impossible for us too.  We have to make choices and focus our time on our priorities.  Today, the panel members discuss how we each address our desires to be SuperWoman.

I am a schedule girl, which is how I get things done around the house. Now that we have added homechool to our daily routine I've had to tweak it a bit. I've let the laundry and the dusting go - but I make sure to have the dishes and kitchen cleaned and our living areas picked up before I go to bed. That way, when I get up in the morning I can have my quiet time before everyone gets up!

This is constantly a work in progress for me. I am always re-evaluating what works for us as a family, and what doesn't. Sometimes I have to let things go, laundry, dishes, etc., in order to take care of something more important. I want my children to have great memories, and that takes priority over the dishes.

There is no way I can 'do it all,' and nor do I try.  Homeschooling in general takes a good chunk of my time, and other things have to either wait or be eliminated from my days. I want my family to feel and know they are a priority, and this takes time. If that means a little less time for other things, then I have to be willing to do that.  Sometimes it is hard to say no though as there are so many 'good' things available. And, sometimes I do feel like I am missing out on other 'good' things, but it always comes down to a choice in how I spend my time. As someone else once said, I have to choose between 'the good things, better things, or best things.'

I really struggle with my desire to do too much and am trying to focus more on what is important.  I have realized that when I don't put the important things (God, my family) first, I run out of time in the day for the activities that really matter.  I now put the most important activities (homeschooling, essential housework, family fun time, bible study) on my calendar so those activities are intentional parts of my day.  I utilize apps on my phone for my calendar and to-do list so that I have them wherever I go.  I also keep a list of my top 5 priorities on my phone and look at it often.  Thinking frequently about what is most important helps me to focus on those things.  Finally, it also really helps that I believe that it is important to teach my girls about homemaking, so they are involved in making dinner most nights and help with the housework - this means that even when I am doing housework, I am teaching my girls.

From my post yesterday, it is easy for me to now see that I CAN NOT do it all. I must follow the important things first- God, Family, Others, and then IF I have time left, do "it all".
Schedules are a must here, as well as two pick-up times a day.

There is no way to "do it all." For me, systems and routines help. If I can get a working routine going for cooking and cleaning and blogging, life runs much more smoothly. I try to get most of my blogging done early morning, and I have my meals planned in a month long rotation (repeating the month's worth of meals for about 5-6 months through a season). This cuts way down on my time spent on menus and grocery lists. Beyond that, remembering WHY I'm at home helps me to choose my priorities throughout any given day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Doing It All

With home and school, as well as blogging, reviewing, church, and mentoring other homeschool moms, I hear the question often-How do you do it all??

The truth is, I don’t. If I tried to do all that I am supposed to do/want to do in a day, something gets put on the back burner. 
I realized that and yet still tried to keep going with everything.
I ignored the laundry piling higher than normal. {The pile that once was not even a pile…} 
I failed to see that my children didn’t see me much other than school, unless it was over the top of my laptop. 
Home cooked meals were suffering from lack of attention, 
and too many pizzas were picked up. 
Clutter was overlooked. 
I told my husband I wasn’t really unplugged from him.

And then one day I finally got it.

I may enjoy helping other moms, and connecting with those who are so much like myself, but I was missing the important part.

The part that kept me home in the first place.

So how do I do it all? By redefining “ALL”.

The laptop is off limits until 1:00. 
The phone can be used briefly to filter emails {I do have online responsibilities}. 
I have stopped saying yes to things online. 
I have stopped saying no to my family
I keep the meals and homemaking on my mind at all times, and I thank Him for giving me the time to come to my senses.
“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”
Tenneva Jordan
I am still far from perfect, far from doing it all, but I am on the path I need to be.

{This post is also on my site, Sam's Noggin.}

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Gift of Time

One of the heaviest burdens and greatest rewards of homeschooling is the knowledge that you are independently and willingly taking 100% of the responsibility for educating your child. It can be like the first time you are alone at home with your baby - awe-inspiring at the same time as making your pits bead up with sweat.

One of the strange and lovely side-effects of this, for my family, is the desire to seize any learning opportunity that presents itself. Gone are the days when there were "too many questions" of any kind. "I don't have time" has been nearly eliminated from my vocabulary when it comes to learning, showing or explaining something. I never wonder what they learn at school - I know exactly what they are learning! And if they want to learn something before grade level they can just go right on ahead and do so, thank you very much.

The picture at the beginning of this post is my son in second grade. The project he is working on was not a part of our lesson plans. He designed and performed the experiment himself; charting the growth of the plants each day.

The first weeks (at the end of a school year) when we brought the kids home included finding the chrysalis of a silk moth, watching it 'hatch' out, releasing it and dissecting the cocoon. I took it as a good sign that homeschooling was the right choice for us!

My daughter planted, tended and harvested her own crop of sunflowers over the hottest months last summer. She saved the seeds and replanted them again this year.

When my children ask my husband "how does this work?" he takes the time to make sure they understand his answers. When they ask me "how do you make that?" I take the time to involve them in the process. My sons know how to knit and crochet.

The bottom line is: Some of the best lessons to be had are not outlined in your curriculum. Enjoy your children and watching them learn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Creating Creativity in Writing

It's so easy to stumble into ruts and routines, to do things the same way every time, to do things the way we've always done them. Especially in writing, a subject that can be very intimidating for student and instructor, it's easy to slip into the ruts, the ways it's always been done or always been taught. In my previous post, I wrote about different ways to tackle the brainstorm. Today, I want to help you step out of the box, climb out of your rut, and discover different places for your student to brainstorm.

Creativity happens in different places for all of us. Think about where you are when you get your best ideas. Is it in bed at night? Is it in the shower in the morning? Is it in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee? Children are no different, and sometimes a breath of something (anything) fresh can help a child exhale creativity.

Here are some fresh ideas to get you started:

1. Have a designated spot for "storming." Let your creative child make a sign and add embellishments to a corner of a room or wherever you have space. We recently moved our "corner" to a space underneath a built-in desk space—our cozy corner became our hidey hole. But it works, and the kids love it for reviewing flashcards and playing with their lapbooks. Eventually, my thought is to upgrade this to our "storm center."
Pinterest has some brilliant ideas for kid's nooks and spaces. Your designated spot could come with a designated pen and special paper, a favorite pillow, or whatever else will get your child excited about the process. Nothing squelches creativity like dread.

2. Change up the surroundings. This is easy, but it takes a little out-of-the-ordinary thinking. If you see your child stumped at the kitchen table, let him brainstorm under the table. Try under the bed, in an empty bathtub, in a closet, or under a shelf in your pantry. If it fits the writing theme—fantastic! But keep in mind that it doesn't have to; it can be wacky just for wacky-sake.

3. Go outside. Oh, how inspiring nature can be—the sounds, the smells, the cool breeze, the warm sunshine! Just make an announcement: "We're doing our writing assignment outside today." And you'll see creativity (and relief) just gushing in your child's exuberance.

As crazy as it sounds, it works for all of us. Some of my writing friends in college had the most bizarre spots for their inspiration. One of them loved to nestle into a small space next to the ice machine in the vending room of her residence hall. Another had her spot at the topmost level of the stairwell next to a window. Some of my classmates and, later on, some of my students couldn't think without typing into a computer, while others preferred the traditional scratch of pen on paper. In every case, there was always something out of the ordinary that helped break the bonds of writer's block.

Inspire creativity by helping your child create it. It really is silly, when you think about it, that we give a child a blank page, an ordinary pen, a straight-back chair, a flat table-top, and then tell them to create. That's the only option in some places of learning, but it doesn't have to be that way at home. Enjoy your own possibilities! And by all means, let's make "creating" a fun assignment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Favorite Planner (and the WINNERS!)

I have just found my new favorite planner!

The Well Planned Day Yearly Calendar is perfect for a homeschooling parent trying to keep it all together. By all, I mean: homeschool, menu, shopping list, appointments, budgets, even reading lists, goals, and inspirational articles. Yes, it also has a holiday organizer!

Seriously, this is my new best friend!

I also bought the binder they provide to put the calendar in. The binder is big enough to keep my entire household management system in (i.e. my Flylady cleaning schedules, medical stuff, blog/writing/editing schedules). I mean, this thing is Ralene in a Binder. Or Ralene's Brain on Paper. Or...well, you get the picture.

If you haven't had a chance to explore the wonderful products that Home Educating Family Publishing have to offer, check out their website. In addition to planners for homeschooling parents, they have student planners (esp for high school), binders, and a magazine!

I've been looking for a way to keep it ALL together. I think I've finally found it. Now if I could just keep it in one spot. Where'd it go now?

This is Ralene, the spaz-brained, homeschooling mama signing out for now!

Oh wait!

A huge thank you to all the ladies that joined us in a fabulous party last week. We had a blast sharing with you and seeing what you all had to say.


The winner of Story of the World Vol. 2 from Sam is: BETHERINA

The winner of a $30 Amazon Gift Certificate from Ralene is: SARA

The winner of an ebook from Kerry Beck is: NELLIE BAGGETT

The winner of a free download from A Journey Through Learning is: MIRIAM


Please send an email to raleneburke [at] yahoo [dot] com with either your email or your physical address (depending on what you won).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Seeds of Wisdom--Kids Say!

We all know that kids say some of the cutest, rudest, crudest, funniest (and many other -ests) things. They process life differently than we do, and they don't understand the constraints yet. So, there are bound to be some hysterical moments to share. And so--we shall.


We were trying to raise a litter of just-born, orphan kittens. As can happen with farm life, it didn't go as we had hoped. When the first kitten died, I told my five-year-old daughter. She squatted next to it's tiny, furry body and examined it for several minutes. Then she hugged me and said, "I named the kitten George Washington. Because he's dead too. Did you know he was our country's first president?"


While teaching my daughter to diagram compound subjects for grammar, I said, "You draw a fork." Our preschooler was apparently listening because later as my daughter practiced sentence diagramming on a chalkboard, he wandered over to her, and asked, "Where do you put the spoon?"


My husband is a minister. A few Sundays ago our 5th child, Evan (5), asked me- "Why does daddy always go up front to preach?" my reply- "It's his job." Evan's response- "Really?"


About a year ago, I was sitting on my bed, typing away on the laptop, while Alana and Kyra were watching cartoons.

Kyra stood up and walked across the bed to stand by my side. She was quiet for a few moments before asking, "Mommy, do you have any nipples?"

Not wanting to get into a discussion about nipples or have Kyra trying to lift my shirt to look, I told her no.

She laughed. "Yes, you do, Mommy. You have one right here!" She pointed to this mole I have on the back of my neck (you know the ones that are big and stick out).

My eyes widened. Where do kids get this stuff? "No, honey, that's not a nipple."

"Yes, it is!"

"No, it's a mole."

"What's a mole?"

Here we go again...

Needless to say, I couldn't even answer because I was laughing so hard.

Now, you're turn to share!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Great American Recipe Blogroll!

...or not.

I tried to research how to do a blogroll in a post that people could add their links to, and, well...I failed miserably. I could only find info for the sidebar blogroll. Great, huh? Obviously, my (Ralene) research skills stink. lol... I know it's probably an HTML thing and I'm just not as tech savvy as I used to be. Oh the days when I was the smart one...

Still, we'd love to see what YOU would bring to our party. So link it up in the comments! You still get entries for the prizes and we get some recipes to try out! I'm salivating just thinking about it all! :)
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