Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Number 1 Reason NOT to Homeschool

Dear prospective homeschooling mum,

I got the comment I knew I would this month- did you?

"Well, I guess I can understand homeschooling better now."

In the wake of tragedy, it seems suddenly a lot more sane to people who always secretly consider us- me, you- kinda crazy.

But if you are reading this, and you're wondering about homeschooling, about whether it might be right for you and your family, please, please- I beg you- bear this in mind:

God does not want you to make decisions out of fear.

Homeschooling, at it's finest, is not a fear-based choice, a knee-jerk reaction to the ugliness and danger of
the world. 

And I've seen families where it was, and it is not a good thing. 

Homeschooling ought to be a choice of freedom, love, joy, and togetherness.  That's the number "1" thing I wish I could share with every prospective homeschooler.  O sure, it's nice to avoid some of the things kids pick up on the playground.  Nice to avoid competition over tennis shoes and Trapper Keepers (or whatever it is that's all the rage these days).  But to choose homeschooling because you are afraid of the alternatives... it's a dangerous thing.

Dangerous?  Yes, dangerous. 

So think about what God wants for you, and remember that he has "thoughts of peace, and not of evil" for you and your family in 2013.

All the best,
Maureen and breadwithhoney

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in.  A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves."  ~Bill Vaughan

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas

We at Growing Your Homeschool want to wish you a very Merry Christmas!  We will be taking a break from blogging for a few weeks so that we can enjoy this blessed time with our families.  Merry Christmas and we look forward to connecting with all of you in January!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making Mid-Year Adjustments

In two weeks, we'll usher in a new year.
With bells, whistles, toasts, and well wishes another year will start.
The new year promises much to many:
a new start
a chance to do things better
a fresh year

But, it isn't really a new school year for most of us. The majority of us will be about half-way through our school year when 2013 begins. However, just because you are half way through a school year, it doesn't mean you can't make any changes or make things better. It doesn't mean you can't have a fresh start in your homeschool.

In the following two weeks, evaluate your school year.
How is it going? Be honest.

Are you and your children in a comfortable routine?
Do they still have an excitement for learning?
Are your children challenged, but progressing well?
- or -
Have the days become laborious?
Is there more stress and strain than joy?
Is your schedule cramped, allowing no time for hobbies or free time?

Aren't sure? Ask your children. They will give you valuable feed back.

Perhaps your days are a combination of good and bad.
Some variation is normal. On the other hand, if you find your school year is slowly (or quickly) crumbling into a monotony of strain with no joy, then might I suggest you make a change?

Find out what is wrong.
Do you need to change your curriculum, approach, or method?
Do you simply need to slow down and find a better rhythm for your days?
Do you just need this Christmas break to refuel and refresh yourselves?

Make a change.
Take that needed break.
Alter your schedule or lesson plans.
Chose a new curriculum, approach or method.

Whether you need to make any changes or not, a mid-year review is always beneficial. After all, how will you know if your homeschool needs adjustments or not, if you don't evaluate it from time to time? A mid-year break offers an ideal time to evaluate and make adjustments.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writing with Your Children at Christmas

I don't know about everybody else, but I am tired.  I imagine a lot of homeschoolers are tired at this time of the year and ready for a little break.  Christmas is a wonderful time to slow down and try to make things more fun at home (if we are not already!) 

Writing with your children can be extra fun at this time of the year.  It doesn't have to be structured, or even just need a little writing prompt to start.  It is a good time to practice.

As I was preparing for writing this post, I did a little brainstorming of my own.  One thing that came to mind was that movie, A Christmas Story. In the movie, Ralphie is asked to write a "theme" about what he wants for Christmas.  This could be a starting point for your little ones too.

To practice writing this month, you and your children could brainstorm a list of ideas or "writing prompts" and write about a new one everyday.  When they are finished, put all the writing together and make a little book.  At the end of the year, you will have a writing sample, something to demonstrate progress from year to year, and maybe a little keepsake.

Ideas for writing prompts:

What I Want For Christmas

Why Christmas is Special to Me

My Favorite Christmas Movie

My Favorite Bible Verse at Christmas

What I Want to Bake with My Mom at Christmas

Before you even get started, you might create a book, so that each day's writing can just be recorded in the book.  One fun idea that comes to mind is to cut out a construction paper Christmas tree.  Cut the front and back of the book out of green construction paper and fill the pages in between with regular writing paper shaped like trees.  It is your child's project.  Let them make it their own.

If you need help with writing prompts, just google "Christmas writing prompts."  Another option for writing ideas is to read Christmas stories and have your child write a response to their favorites.  There are so many things you can do with writing at Christmas.

Many blessings to you and Merry Christmas!


"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”-Luke 1:31-33

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Looking for Guest Bloggers

Today, we would like to extend a special opportunity to our readers.  We are looking for some guest bloggers for this spring.  We welcome posts on homeschooling, parenting, and homemaking.

We ask that you follow these guidelines with your submissions:

*Articles must be original submissions and not posted anywhere else (including your own blog/website).  We would love for you to include a teaser for the post on your own blog, but the entire article may only be published on Growing Your Homeschool.*Please be sure to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
*If you submit photos with your article, they must be your own photos and you must allow us copyright permission to use them.
*Include a short bio, with a link to your own blog/website, at the end of the post.

We reserve the right to decline to publish any submission and to edit accepted submissions.

All submissions can be emailed to with Growing Your Homeschool Guest Post in the subject line.  We will respond as soon as possible.  However, since it is now the holiday season, responses may take longer than normal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Cooking with Children

I love cooking with my girls and cooking for them.  Christmas is a fabulous time for special cooking activities.  Today, I would like to share a few fun Christmas cooking ideas with you.  I have provided photos of the food I have cooked and links to blog posts for other fun ideas.

Christmas Tree Cupcake Cake

Christmas Pizza

Rudolph Pancake

Peppermint Playdough

What fun things are you cooking with (or for) your children this Christmas?

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Homeschool Christmas Ideas & Link-Up

Christmas is quickly approaching and its time to delve into all those great ideas we have found on the internet. Whether it was through a website, blog, or Pinterest, the ideas themselves range from doable-for-any-normal-mom to must-be-super-hero-homeschooling-mom-to-pull-this-off. Personally, I try the doable ideas and simply admire the others. Today, we've pulled together some of the Homeschool Christmas ideas and put them into one post. There is space for your own great ideas, too. Please link them below.

Homeschool Lessons and Reference Materials
Christmas Across the Curriculum
The Origin of Different Symbols of Christmas
Feliz Navidad: A Mexican Christmas Unit
Christmas Unit Study Resources
Christmas Around the World Coloring Book, by Joan O'Brien
Christmas Around the World, by Mary D. Lankford

Thoughts and Resources
Meditation on Gentleness, at Christmastime
Giving Begins at Home
Preserving Memories
Homeschooling on Vacation
Gifts for Homeschooling Families

Christmas Music in Books
We Three Kings, illustrated by Gennady Spirin
The Little Drummer Boy, illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats
The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol, Tomie dePaola
The 12 Days of Christmas: The Story Behind a Favorite Christmas Song, written by Helen Haidle and illustrated by Laura Knorr
Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart, by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada
Silent Night: The Song and Its Story, by Margaret Hodges
Good King Wenceslas, illustrated by Christopher Manson

Christmas Past in Books
O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions, written by Jacqueline Farmer
Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, by Douglas Wood
When Washington Crossed the Delaware, by Lynne Cheney

Ideas for Advent
Jesse Tree
Truth in the Tinsel
Advent Activities File Folder
Shepherd's Pouches
Tubular Advent Wreath
Making Advent Wreaths for Kids
Traditional Advent Calendar

Craft Ideas
Simple Christmas Crafts for Preschoolers
Recycle and Repurpose Old Greeting Cards {12 ideas}
Yarn Christmas Ornaments
Christmas Banner Craft
Rubber Stamped Wrapping Paper

Heart Warming Stories to Share
Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story, by Cynthia Rylant
An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco
Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco
Just in Time For Christmas, by Louise Borden
Coal Country Christmas, written by Elizabeth Ferguson Brown

For After Your Christmas Break
Getting Back in the Swing
Beginning Again After a Holiday Break

Other Great Ideas:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Homeschooling During the Christmas Season

It is no doubt, Christmas can be a very busy season. With decorating, baking, shopping, visiting, and parties, just how do you ensure you get 'everything,' including homeschooling, done?

Aurie ~ We have a light school schedule during December on purpose. We are using the Nativity Story as a basis for homeschool and building around that. We'll bake cookies as part of school, and plan field trips for light displays, angel tree gifts and Sesame Place during our regular school days. Our goal this season is to savor the moments instead of rushing from one thing to the next.

Marla ~ We do "fun school" in December and mostly do Bible lessons and art projects. I also consider helping me with Christmas shopping and making homemade gifts as "schooling" for my girls.

Beth ~ I am like the other girls, and everything we do will be related to Christmas and making the celebration one to remember. We will incorporate activities such as Christmas recipes into our homeschool. Books, movies, and music included in homeschool will be related to Christmas. The Nativity is set up for the kids to play with. Education is always taking place, even if "scheduled" learning is not.

Do you have any tips for homeschooling during the Christmas season? We'd love to hear them.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Treasures: Good King Wenceslas

I'm to the point where I hesitate.   Majorly.   Before any given homeschool purchase.  Even if said purchase is something as innocuous and non-space-guzzling as a book.  And the longer I homeschool the more wary I become of recommending "things"- any  "things"- to any one.  I'm a minimalist, to be sure.  Plus there are only so many slots in any homeschooler's library!  And I think we all hold our wallets just a little tighter these days. 

So when I call something a treasure, I don't do it lightly.  Let alone a book!  Books.  Books.  Books.  There are so many.  Good ones.  Bad ones.  Sometimes I think I'll write one but then every time I go to Barnes and Noble I get sort of sick looking at the sea of books... only a small fraction of which are worth anybody's time.  Too many books.

We have a treasury of Tomie de Paola'sw Christmas books which we lovingly display and read each Advent.  We don't need any more Christmas books!  But I couldn't walk by this one.  I had to stop and look.  Then I had to read it.  Then, well, I had to have it for our collection; despite all my misgivings, I just couldn't pass this beauty up.

The book tells the story of St. Wenceslas with exquisite illustrations.  And his story couldn'y be more apropo  for the children of our time.  I don't want to tell you the story in case you've never heard it.  But King Wenceslas embodies the spirit of giving in a concrete way that really sinks in for children.  So if you only buy one Christmas book this year, may I be so bold as to say, this should be it! 

God bless, and happy reading.

Good King Wenceslas

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers.  My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.  There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." 
~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Working and Homeschooling

I am one of thus lucky moms who found jobs working part-time from home so that I can still be here for my children every single day.  I am completing the work for my doctorate in Special Education, writing curriculum for a NGO here in Zambia, teaching a course at the local university (which does actually require me to leave the house for a few hours each week), and writing articles for education journals with some colleagues back in the US.  In total, I work about 25-30 hours a week.  I am still learning how to make it all work for my family, but I have found a few tips that I would like to share:

1. Plan your day. Schedule in time for homeschooling, housework/cooking, and working.  Then, stick to the schedule (as much as dirty diapers and children refusing naps will allow).  To account for the unpredictable, plan in more work time than you actually need.

2. Do some of your work while your children are doing independent work activities.  Then, you can all work together.  It can be beneficial for children to see that grown-ups have to sit down and work too.

3. Be willing to work nights and weekends if necessary sometimes.  I am lucky that my girls go to bed very early (about 7 pm) and I work for a few hours each evening and often work several hours on the weekends.  I consider my jobs (which I LOVE) as my "free time activities".

4. Be honest with yourself and say "no" when necessary.  There are countless cool projects that I have turned down so that I can focus on what is most important - my family.  It can be hard to know your limits, but trying to do too much will be harmful to you, your family, and your employer.

5. Reevaluate the decision to work and your job on a regular basis.  If working and homeschooling is not working for you, change what you are doing!

While I am still figuring things out, these tips have worked for me.  Do any of you have other tips for working from home?

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Changes in Our Homeschools

It is the season of change. Autumn leaves change and fall. Trees begin to lay barren to the chilling air, and no one can deny, another season will soon be upon us. The same may be true of our homeschools. There may be change in the air there as well.

Depending on when you started your year, your family may have already completed 1/4 to 1/3 of your school year. Is there anything that you had to change or adjust in that time? How did you know a change was necessary?

AurieWe haven't changed too much since we started in September. We have a basic schedule that we follow {bible, language arts, math} and then fit in other areas as needed. Since we are interest led, I only plan 2 weeks ahead, which has really helped me not feel bound to a schedule or plan.

BethYes, we have had to change since the beginning of the school year. Having children with special needs, I have to look for creative ways to teach them because in our house, traditional methods won't always do. And, I am okay with that. We are focusing less on seat work and more on hands on learning. Because ultimately, everything we are teaching them is preparing them to DO something.

JessicaWe took a day for student-teacher conferences after the first quarter of the year. Based on our discussions, we changed several things. Two children are now using different math and language arts programs. We also devised a new way to organize materials for my sixth grader so he can have more autonomy in managing his own work. It's been several weeks since those changes and they feel like good decisions. One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling has been the ability to change what isn't working. I can't imagine all the learning that could have been lost if my child were suffering through a year of poor fit in a classroom setting.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Growing Independent Learners

In parenting, it seems like you almost immediately begin working yourself out of a job.
First there is potty training, independent eating, and simple chores.  Then, soon enough, your child is bathing on his own, making sandwiches, and completing helpful tasks around the house.  Each of these successfully learned lessons leads to increased responsibility and independence for your child. 

It is the goal.  Each child needs to become responsible and independent of you, because eventually your child will be launched into adulthood.

The same can be said of homeschooling.

From the first few months of homeschooling onward, you are working yourself out of a job. 
  • Teaching a child to read and comprehend leads to individual pursuits of books and processing of ideas.
  • Teaching a child to add and subtract leads to life skills necessary for budgeting, handling money, and business.
  • Teaching a child how to write letters and words leads to creating reports, resumes, business letters, and essays.

So, why, when it comes to homeschooling, do many of us cringe at the idea of giving our children more responsibility for their own education?  Is it the regulations which clearly outline what has to be done and sometimes when?  Is it our own educational backgrounds which deemed the teacher responsible until graduation?  Is it fear of failure on our child's part?

Moving Children Toward Independent Learning

Teacher Led or Directed Learning -  In the very early stages of education, all learning is teacher led or directed.  You provide the lessons, materials, time, or experiences for your child to learn.  Maybe your child has some say over when he does math, or which books you read to him, but ultimately, you are still in charge of all his learning.  Lower elementary grades are filled with a lot of this type of learning. 

Teacher Facilitated Learning - After the child matures and learns to read, the teacher's role, while still important, lessens slightly.  The child is now able to read and understand increasingly harder works.  However, the child still needs you to facilitate his path.  You are still in charge of all his learning, but he is beginning to work on some of it by himself.  Maybe he reads a few of his lessons on his own and you help him through the troublesome areas.  You, his teacher, are facilitating his lessons, making sure he remains on task, and helping him progress.  Typically, the upper elementary grades are when a child starts to slowly take more responsibility for his own learning.

Student Led and Teacher Supported Learning - Once the student is able to begin directing his own learning, he should start.  He will still need guidance and accountability.  There will still be times when he has questions and needs taught.  You are not giving up your role as teacher.  You are simply allowing him to navigate through his lessons with your support.  Middle school is a perfect time to start transferring responsibility to your child.  Perhaps your child will begin using a syllabus for a course.  He begins to check his own listing daily, instead of relying on you to lay out his work.  Maybe he will transfer to weekly assignments where he must decide what is done on a specific day to meet these weekly deadlines.  Maybe instead of walking him through every step of a research paper, you simply assign the paper with a due date.  There are many different ways your child can begin to take the lead in his own learning.  However, your role is still vital.  You will need to hold him accountable, and when necessary help him get back on track. 

Independent Student - Eventually, this is the goal for all individuals.  An independent student is able to look over an assignment or course, break it down into smaller tasks, schedule the tasks, and complete them.  He can study for a test on his own.  He can research the answers to his own questions, checking various sources, navigating through propaganda, and discerning author's intentions and motives.  He can analyze statistics and studies, recognize when a publication is simply promoting an agenda, and realize which sources are dependable.

These stages of independent learning can be progressed through at different paces depending on the student, style of learning, method of homeschooling, etc.  Regardless of when or how your child becomes an independent student, who is able to learn on their own, it should be the goal of every homeschooling parent.  Someday, they will no longer be in your school.  Someday, they will need to teach themselves.  Helping them learn to become independent students now, while in your homeschool, will help them greatly.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Favorite Field Trips

Field trips add something special to well crafted lesson plans.  For history, they can help a child recognize that the people or event really happened.  For science, a field trip may help a student understand a concept or apply a theory better.

So, today, we are asking: What was your favorite field trip?

Jessica ~ Our favorite field trip was to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. We were studying the same time period in history so the children were even more interested than they would have been otherwise. We have never had a field trip we didn't love, but those that are closest to things we are working on are always the "meatiest" in terms of take-away value.

Beth ~ At the time, I didn't really consider this a field trip per se. But it was! We were in a transitional time and so we did a lot of education on the go! When we first moved to Hawaii, we got to visit the Waikiki Aquarium. This is a link to my post which has pics and info about our visit, but is actually a science experiment post!

Dorie ~ Our field trips are always a highlight of our school year. We look forward to the planned time of hands on learning and personal observations. Even just seeing a historical location in person puts a more personal spin on what we are learning. However, one of the best for all of us was an unplanned day. In September, we went camping for a weekend and ended up with a surprise field trip as we covered history, geography, and science in one day. The children navigated our hike, we observed flora and fauna, elevation, rock formation and erosion, evidence of glaciers, and even learned about the CCC.

Now we are wondering, what was your favorite field trip?

Friday, November 2, 2012

What I Wish I Knew

Earlier this week, Dorie posted about the 5 things she wishes she had known before she started homeschooling.  Today, I am excited to share my 5 things.

1. You can never be fully prepared (but that is ok).  Before I started teaching my girls at home, I assumed that I was completely ready for the challenge.  After all, I use to be a teacher.  My career was teaching children!  As it has turned out, I don't know everything that I thought I knew, but that is fine.  I am learning as we go.

2. It is ok to ask for help.  You don't have to be Supermom (as much as I want to be, I can't!).  You can ask for teaching/parenting ideas from others and doing so does not make you a bad mom!  

3. Homeschooling is popular!  Before we started homeschooling, I thought only weird people did it.  I have since learned that a lot of really cool people homeschool their children!

4. Homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing decision.  You can homeschool for part of a child's education and do public/private schools other years.  You can enroll your child in a private school that allows partial homeschooling.  Currently, my daughter attends Pre-K in the mornings (primarily for social development) and we do academics at home in the afternoons.  Even though she goes to a school, I still consider us to be homeschoolers.

5.  And, lastly (and most importantly), homeschooling is fun!  It is really fun to watch your children learn every day.  I knew that I would like teaching my girls, but I had no idea how much I would like it.  Seeing them learn new things is so cool!  I feel so blessed that I get to teach my girls!  

What do you wish you had known before you started homeschooling?

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Nature Table

Creating a nature table (or any other small space you set aside) is a wonderful activity to mark the passing seasons and treasure the changes that come each year.

It can also be a tool for learning about the flora and fauna of your area, for appreciating nature in general, and a way to encourage noticing what is happening outside.

A nature table is seasonal decorating at its best!

Here are some simple steps you can take to create your own:

1) Declare a space to be set aside just for this purpose.  Some ideas could include the entry table near your front door, a fireplace hearth, a coffee table, a bookshelf or desk.  A special placemat, tray, vase or box of some sort can be added.

2) Find or purchase a few starter items.  In the spring, you could purchase a potted bulb getting ready to bloom,  in the summer you could fill a glass or vase with seasonal flowers, in the fall you could begin with a small pumpkin, in the winter a paper snowflake or an empty branch.

3) Get outside!  Dress for the weather and explore your area.  Encourage your children to bring home appropriate items from appropriate places (don't pick your neighbor's flowers, but collecting autumn leaves in the park is fine) and talk about what sort of plant they came from and how that plant looks during this season.

4) Keep your hands off.  Let the children be in charge of placing, arranging and adding to your nature table.  Let your job be informing them in more detail about anything they have found, or answering questions they might have.

Here is a picture of our fall table:

How do you mark the changing seasons in your home?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Five Things I Wish I Had Known

...before I started homeschooling.

We have been a homeschool family for almost a decade.  Over these years, our children and I have learned a lot!  As their primary teacher, I have made mistakes and grown because of them.  Now, when a new homeschooling mom asks for tips or advice, I pause and think about what I would have liked to have known before I started homeschooling.  Today, I'm sharing my top five.

Struggles will happen, and it is OK.  These struggles help teach my children perseverance, persistence, and diligence.  Additionally, they help stretch my teaching abilities and allow me to become more patient.

There are many, many choices.  Pick and choose what is important to you and your family.  You can't possibly do everything.  If you later find out you made the wrong choice, then make a change. 

Homeschooling days will change as your child ages.  This is natural and logical.  You are helping your child grow and mature.  Their needs at age 15 are different from their needs at age 5.  Make adjustments to your schedule, plan, or days to meet their current needs.

It won't always look pretty and good.  Some days are hard and some are down right ugly.  Bad days happen in life, and they will happen in your homeschool, too.  Learn to evaluate.  Determine what went wrong and why.  Make changes if possible.

Your relationship with your child and your child's heart are of primary importance.  All other items, even academics, are secondary.  You will always be your child's parent.  Eventually, you will stop being their primary teacher.  No matter how long the days seem, the years will go by quickly.  Soon enough your little elementary student will be graduating from high school.  What kind of relationship do you want with your child in the future?  Start cultivating it now.  What kind of heart attitudes would you like to see in the future?  Start planting those seeds now.

As I glance over this listing, I wonder, what will my top five be in another decade?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Using Picture Books To Teach Science and Other Subjects

For this post today, I thought I would share with you how you can use picture books to science and other subject areas.  I chose a few picture books that are currently on the shelf at my home.  Some of what I might share is obvious, but in other books, you might have to engage your child by using questions about the story to lead to learning in other areas.  What I really hope you take away from this are ideas about how to use picture books for activities other than just to teach your child to read.  Depending on the child, you could potentially use picture books as a supplement all the way up through middle school.  Let's get started!



Curious George in the Snow by Margaret & H.A. Rey: 

In this story, George and the man with the yellow hat are visiting a winter sports competition.  As usual, George and his curious ways leads to some interesting activities.  In this book, it is sledding down the hill on different contraptions, including a giant pizza pan!  From this story, you could develop a variety of science activities.  You and your child could investigate snow, or winter sports, or even how an inclined plane works.  Based on the age and ability of the child, you choose how technical you get.

God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren

God Gave Us You is a sweet picture book about a conversation between a polar bear mama and cub.  This book could be used as part of your Bible lesson curriculum.  The story includes a repetition of the phrase, "God Gave Us You," with the polar bear mama teaching the cub that God was the reason she was part of their family.  That is really the message of the book.  But you could also use it to teach about life in the arctic.  There are many animals in the book including polar bears, seals, foxes, whales, penguins, and caribou.  The illustrations are beautiful and this book would be great if you wanted to study different biomes or climates and the wildlife that live there.

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Laura Joffe Numeroff has written a series of "If You Give" books and they are a great tool to teach reading.  But there are many other wonderful things hidden within the stories too.  If You Give a Moose a Muffin lends itself to teaching about baking, making homemade jam, gardening, sewing, and painting.  There are so many fun and creative activities you can create with this particular picture book.  I once used of her other books in the series, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, as a springboard for a writing activity.  I read the book to my sixth graders, then had them rewrite the story about something that was interesting to them.  They had to follow the "If You Give" format, and bring the story full circle, like the author does in the book.  That was probably the most fun writing assignment I worked on with my students ever.

 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day is a very simple story about a little boy going out in the snow to play, the adventures he finds and what happens to a snowball he brings home with him.  This story would be a great tool to teach about different types of matter and what happens when something changes from a solid to a liquid.  You might even perform a science experiment with this book during the wintertime if you live in a snowy area.

There are so many fun ideas and activities and lessons you can draw from picture books.  It also works the other way around.  If you want to teach a certain subject area, google whatever your lesson is about and the term picture books.  This will work for many subject areas.  There are even picture books that will help children with mathematical concepts!

I hope this simple little post has sparked your imagination with different ways to include picture books in your lessons and make learning fun, yet simple for kids.  Blessings to you on your homeschool journey and happy reading!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Work with What You Have, Because What You Have, Works

Even before I started homeschooling, and especially after I started, I had a dream.  The dream was a house... with an eat-in kitchen... and a playroom/ schoolroom off that eat-in kitchen... all separated from the 'formal' living area....

And the walls would be lined with IKEA Trofast shelving... and book displays... and a door would lead from this wondrous room into the back yard, per Maria Montessori's recommendation.... 

I didn't feel sorry for myself (most days), just a little frustrated, by the materials stuck here and there, but never where I needed them, when I wanted them.  Aggravated by the sticky door on my jumbled supply closet.  Piqued by our meticulously de-cluttered toy collection that never got picked up, despite its manageable size and scope.  And I dreamed of that room... wood floors, hopefully... a fireplace even?

Well, ladies and gentlemoms, here it is:

this year I got that room.

Oh, I paid for it I think, with a stressful move during a wicked-hot drought, a messy third trimester with a messier house... and the room doesn't have any windows except that door into the backyard (forgot to add windows into the dream...).

And add to that, my  husband had to go to Minneapolis on business a few weeks ago, and guess what?  Trofast shelves hitchhiked home in his trunk.  And guess what else?  Ruined carpet meant ripping out the carpet and laying wood down (well, actually faux wood plank tiles, but good enough for me).

So go on, ask me- is it heaven?  Has our homeschool achieved new heights; has the play in this hallowed space been more soulful, more perfect?  Has my dream layout brought true happiness?

O friends, you know the answer by now, don't you?  You do.

It's just a room.  Right now, those wood planks are covered with toys and the art table looks like Picasso's studio recently vomited all over, spilling down onto the floor.  And several projects are still in progress on my dining table.  The more school-ish math and phonics books still sit in a stack on my bookcase in the living room because hey, I like to nurse where it's quiet and little people apparently like to do math where it's quiet, too. 

Last week, I'll admit, I felt a little let down.  All my great ideas weren't magic.  Things work just like they always have, and frankly, it robs the sweetness of achieving my dream set-up.  My books are organized, well, a little bit- but I still have to use them. 

What I used to have- rubbermaid totes for sorting the toys, stacks of books here and there, art supplies stuffed in the dining room cabinet- worked for us just fine.  And what I've designed and done in our new home works, too.  But it's US who work, really, isn't it- myself and my little people!  Not the storage furniture.  And by the way, IKEA Trofast shelves do look nice, but someone still has to put the toys away in them....

Do you ever do this?  Dream of how you wish you had more space, better shelves, enough baskets for all the toys, an organized supply closet, and so on and so forth?  Are you waiting to carve out that art nook/ reading nook/ nature table till you move to a bigger house/ declutter/ organize your supplies/ have a weekend to yourself?

I wouldn't.  Because it's pretty rare and pretty miraculous for some dreams to come true.  I know I never really expected to have my daydream come true.  That's why I always forced myself to make an art nook when there wasn't really room for one.  And now I realize that the real secret is:

Work with what you have, because what you have, works.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite.  Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.  Everyone is just waiting.  ~Dr. Seuss

Enjoy yourself.  It's later than you think.  ~Chinese Proverb
As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do.  ~Zachary Scott
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way.  Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  ~Fr. Alfred D'Souza

Monday, October 22, 2012

Are We Still Homeschoolers?

A few months ago, our family made a decision.  When we moved here to Zambia, we had planned to continue homeschooling.  However, over the summer, we realized that full-time homeschooling was not meeting the social needs of our eldest daughter (age 4).  So, we enrolled her in Pre-K at one of the international schools here.  

Because she is ahead of her peers academically (and because I LOVE teaching her), we still do academics at home every afternoon.  We are working through the Horizons Kindergarten Math curriculum and working on early reading books.  Plus, we do Bible, ScienceSocial Studies, and Writing lessons.  

Abigail has blossomed socially since starting school.  I had no idea how badly she needed more opportunities for social interactions with peers until she had them every day.  At this point, I am so thankful that we made the choice to send Abigail to Pre-K.

However, I often wonder what that means for Abigail's education.  Abigail goes to school and we teach at home.  Is that solution sustainable over the long-term?  How will things change when the curriculum gets harder at school or at home?  Are we still homeschoolers?  

Do any of you do a hybrid of formal schooling and homeschooling?  Any thoughts or ideas you can share would be greatly appreciated!

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Concerns about Homeschooling

Most of us, before we start something new, have a concern or two.  Maybe we worry about a specific task which will be required of us.  Maybe we are afraid of failure.  Before we started homeschooling, there were some concerns, worries, or fears we had.  Today, we are sharing a few of these.

Today's question: Before you began homeschooling, what concerns or worries did you have?
AurieI was worried that I wouldn't be able to teach the girls everything they needed. Now, I know that I only need to teach one thing at a time, they don't need to know everything at once. I also realized that as they get into subjects that I'm not comfortable with, I can find someone who is and partner with them.

BethI worried would I be enough for my child? Would I be able to meet all his needs? What if I left something out? Occasionally it still bothers me; but usually this only happens when I start comparing our homeschool experience with somebody else's.

Dorie - Before we began homeschooling, we researched and planned, but I was still concerned about socialization.  Would my child(ren) be like other kids their age?  Now, I don't give it a second thought!  I am quite happy each of my children are not like kids their age.  Instead, my children are individuals who are developing their God given interests and talents which are being expressed in their own unique ways. 

Sam - I was terrified of math. I knew I would have to find a solution that would not include me knowing math, and I am thankful for Teaching Textbooks. I am good with the lower grades, but Algebra still scares me.

Did the idea of homeschooling scare you a little?  What were some of your concerns before you began?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time Management Helps for Homeschool Students

Does your child seem to take forever to finish a day of school?  Does he/she get frustrated looking at a pile of work to be done each morning?  Instead of stacking the books beside or on the table, why not try a few of these organizational helps.

~ OR ~

Are you having a hard time keeping track of the work accomplished each day?  Does your state require you to journal each day, recording specifically what was accomplished when?  Perhaps one of these systems would help you.

1. Folder System or Box System - The work for each subject of the day is divided into separate folders or boxes.  The child progresses through them one at a time until all the folders or boxes are completed.  This works well for younger children and those children who are motivated by seeing a box or folder emptied.

2. Assignment Books or Check Lists - Older students may prefer a planning book of their own which lists what assignments are to be worked on each day.  The child can simply cross off what work they complete.  These work wonderfully for older elementary to middle school aged students.

3. Weekly Schedules or Monthly Schedules - Depending on your homeschool method or style, a weekly or monthly calendar may suffice for your student.  We have used these for chores, family events, field trips, and co-op days.

4. Syllabus - Sometimes, a semester or full year can be outlined in a syllabus form.  This is similar to a check list, but is for specific class.  Our oldest child uses a syllabus for his science co-op class.  It works wonderfully to guide him.  With it, he easily keeps up to date with his work.  A syllabus can be a great guide for middle school aged to high school students.

5. Time Records - For those homeschoolers who must know exactly how much time was spent on which subject, a time record is an easy way to keep this vital information.  Some people work within a spread sheet, listing the date, subject, what was accomplished, and time spent doing the work.  Other people use a planner and write the times within the individual blocks. 

What time management or organizational tools do you use in your homeschool?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Five Reasons To Try Notebooking

Notebooking, or (or lapbooks, as they are often called) can be a great addition to your homeschool.  Here are five reasons we tried to (and will continue to) notebook in ours.

1)  Notebooking is a great tool for retention, as well as encouragement toward further learning on a topic.  Notebooking is a way of retelling what has been learned in a way that appeals to a specific child's learning style.

2)  Notebooking has no rules.  Whatever your child likes best (coloring, writing, drawing, painting, cutting, pasting) can be included.  However creative or utilitarian they desire their work to be is just fine.

3)  Having control is inspiring.  The less direction I have given my children, the more elaborate and detailed their notebooks have become.  I have also been shocked at the amount of work they will do without being assigned.  My dyslexic/dysgraphic child is writing up a storm.

4)  There are endless ways to add to a notebook.  One of my favorite resources has been this list of suggestions from the Notebooking Fairy.  There are also reams of Pinterest boards and web sites dedicated to notebooking ideas.

5)  Notebooking is fun.  So much fun, that my children have been working on their notebooks in their free time.  Notebooking is fun because it, like homeschooling itself, can be tailored to the needs, desires and talents of the individual child.

Have you tried notebooking as a part of your homeschool?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pumpkin Painting Ideas

Who says you can't incorporate a little pumpkin decorating into your academic work?

A few ideas for combining pumpkin fun and learning -----

  • Literary Pumpkins (literature) - Create characters from a story, like Humpty Dumpty, or this familiar set of friends.

  • Planets (science) - Do you have quite a few pumpkins? A whole solar system could be made with them.  Want to be even more technical, try to coordinate sizes.  Make the largest pumpkin Jupiter and a smaller one Mercury.
  • Globe (geography) - Just want to paint one planet?  Why not try to draw the rough outlines of the continents and paint one pumpkin to resemble the earth.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe style flowers (art) - Are you currently studying a particular artist?  Earlier this year, we learned about Georgia O'Keeffe and her large scale paintings.  When it came time to paint pumpkins this year, we simply turned a pumpkin over and painted one large scale flower similar to her painting style.

  • Flags (geography) - Are you studying a particular country?  Perhaps you could paint a landmark or the country's flag on your pumpkin.
  • People, Events, or Inventions from the Past (history) - Studying the American Civil War this year could lead to a painting or carving of Abe Lincoln on your pumpkin.
  • Animals (science) - Does your child have a favorite animal?  Perhaps he would like to use his pumpkin to make one.  My youngest son is planning how to make a bat out of a pumpkin.  He has decided he will add black construction paper wings to the pumpkin.
  • Patterns and Shapes (math) - Perhaps you would rather try something more basic.  How about painting a pattern of stripes or simple shapes?

Two Preschool Pumpkin Painting Tips -----

  1. Encourage your preschooler to coat an entire pumpkin with glue using a foam brush.  Then, sprinkle glitter over the wet glue.  Allow it to dry completely. 
  2. Securely tape a simple stencil or shape, i.e. a leaf shape, onto the pumpkin.  Ask your preschooler to paint over it all.  Allow the paint to dry and remove the shape to reveal the design.


Ideas for Before and After Painting Pumpkins ------

Before you paint, decorate, or carve your pumpkin, use it in your math and science lessons.  Measure the weight and girth of each pumpkin.  Conduct comparisons.  Observe your pumpkins in their natural state.  Are their many differences?

After, when the pumpkin starts to waste away, because they will, try using them for further lessons.  Cut them open and see what was inside them.  Or host your own "Pumpkin Chunkin" contest.  Encourage your children to build their own catapults or pumpkin launchers and hold a contest to see which machine can launch the pumpkins the farthest.

Looking for other ways to incorporate pumpkins into your homeschool days?  Perhaps a look through In a Pumpkin Shell, by Jennifer Storey Gillis, will offer you a few ideas.

Or, perhaps you'd rather just cuddle up with your child and enjoy reading a few pumpkin books?  Then this listing compiled last autumn by Beth will help you find a few good ones to share.

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