Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Springtime Activities For Your Homeschool

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from
the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:"
~Genesis 1:14~

The first day of spring this year is on Tuesday, March 20th.  During the season of spring, there is rebirth, regrowth and renewal in the earth.  In this post, I will share a list of fun activities you and your student can do, including a few fun field trips that demonstrate these three concepts related to spring.

1.  Visit the Tulsa Zoo on April 6th-7th for Springfest.  Investigate the zoos in your area.  I am sure many of them have activities or events related to spring.

2.  Visit the Butterfly Jungle at the SanDiego Zoo on April 9th-May 8th.  This is something else you can explore at the local zoo in your area.  I know at one time they had a butterfly exhibit you could walk into in Tulsa.

3.  Visit a local greenhouse to kick-off the spring regrowth activity of gardening. If you don't have a local greenhouse in your area, check out this virtual tour-

4.  Visit a local farmer's market and learn about fresh grown produce.  If you live on Oahu in Hawaii, there are many to choose from. (To combine #3 and #4 of my list, start your own garden.  If your children are small, start off small, teaching them about seeds and just grow one thing.)

5.  Visit a farm.  During the spring many babies are born. Fresh produce is being grown.  One such farm can be found in McBee, South Carolina.  Students can pick their own container of fruit on the field trip.

6.  Grow your own butterflies.  You can buy a butterfly garden at Insect Lore. We have actually done this in my house and it worked out beautifully.  It was very bittersweet releasing them when it was time.

7.  Read children's literature that pertain to the season of spring.  One good choice would be Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. You can discuss seasons, including spring, while reading the book.  There are many, many lesson plans on the internet to go with this book.  Here's one-'s%20lit/sample%20lesson%20plan.pdf

I hope this list has given you some ideas about what you can do to teach your child about spring.  Do your own research.  Find out what is available in your area.  Google "spring activities."  There are so many hands-on activities we can do to teach our children about the beautiful season of spring.  If you cannot go on any field trips, take one in your own backyard.  Get dirty!  Find out what is happening in nature right outside your home.

Have a beautiful spring everyone!

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.” 
― Victor Hugo

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ideas for St. Patrick's Day

Yesterday, we shared ideas for studying presidents, elections, and government. Today, the topic is St. Patrick’s Day.

Before teaching my children about St. Patrick, I knew relatively nothing.  I knew he had something to do with Ireland, lots of people decorated with shamrocks, and some celebrated the day with green drinks.  That about summed up my knowledge. 
Then, a few years ago, I decided to teach my children about the man behind the holiday, St. Patrick.  The Story of Saint Patrick, by James A. Janda, offered us a fascinating introduction to his life.  We were intrigued by his life and experiences. 

This is just one way to incorporate St. Patrick's Day into our homeschools.  Another approach would be to learn about Ireland, its history and culture, or perhaps read about the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle.

Or, perhaps you would rather celebrating the day with a few fun activities, maybe include...

Printable Worksheets
St. Patrick's Day Printables at

Shamrock craft ideas for youngsters
"Tie-dye Shamrocks" from coffee filters at Kaboose
Potato Stamp Shamrocks at Family Fun

Rainbow craft ideas for youngsters
"Handprint Rainbow" at Enchanted Learning (use construction paper or paint)
"Jell-O Scented Rainbow" at Making Learning Fun

Fun food ideas
Irish Soda Bread (traditional)
Irish Soda Bread with raisins
green fruits - kiwi, limes
green vegetables - cucumbers, celery, brocolli, lettuce, peppers
green dessert foods - pistachio pudding, mint flavored ice cream, key lime pie
"Pot o' Gold Cupcakes" at Mega Crafty
Party ideas
"Pot of Gold Party" at

There are numerous ways to learn about and celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and this short list is just a start.  We would love to read about your plans for studying or celebrating the day.  Feel free to include any applicable links in your comment.

Topic for tomorrow: spring

Monday, February 27, 2012

Studying Presidents, Elections, and U.S. Government

This week is party week! planning week! For the next few days, we will share some themed activities and ideas for St. Patrick's Day, Easter, and spring.

Today, I have compiled a few activities and ideas for studying presidents, elections and the U.S.  government.

Every February we recognize, remember, and honor our Presidents. This year with an upcoming presidential election, we may focus a bit more on our past, current, and future Presidents in our homeschools.   Perhaps you will incorporate the election into your studies, or spend some time teaching your children about our government.

Are looking for a few resources?

Here are some of the resources we have used and loved:

Don't Know Much About the Presidents, by Kenneth C. Davis
Presidential Elections, by Syl Sobel
How the U.S. Government Works, by Syl Sobel
The U.S. Constitution and You, by Syl Sobel

The Complete Book of Presidents & States, Grades 4-6, American Education Publishing

Flash Cards/Trivia Game
U.S. Presidents, Trend Enterprises, Inc.
Brain Quest: Presidents (ages 9-12)

Election Day Activity Suggestions
  • Going to vote?  Take your child along.  We prepared our children by discussing what voting is and how the actual process works.  In our area, at the poll, a volunteer sitting alongside the booth announces your name as you enter, "Now voting, Dorie..." The children find this very exciting.  They are allowed in the booth as well, on the right side, where the vote button is NOT located.
  • At home, use a blank USA map, with state outlines, to color each state as the electoral votes and popular votes are tabulated and announced.

Read the original documents online
Declaration of Independence
Constitution of the United States
Bill of Rights

Places to visit
Washington, DC (White House, National Archives, and much, much more)
Philadelphia, PA (Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Constitution Center)
Mt. Vernon, VA (home of our first president, George Washington)

Can't visit in person?  Perhaps an online tour like this one for Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, IL would be possible.

A few resources that I stumbled upon recently

Online worksheets and printables:
President's Day Theme Unit at ABC Teach
Online computer game:
Name that President and others at Primary Games

As I know this list is not exhaustive, what activity or resource would you recommend using to study presidents, elections, and government?
Feel free to include any applicable links in your comment.

Topic for tomorrow: St. Patrick's Day

Friday, February 24, 2012

Evaluating Progress

This week at Growing Your Homeschool, we asked our bloggers,

"While testing is one way to determine skill level or mastery in a subject area, it is not the only way. What are some other methods or creative ways you have chosen to use to evaluate your child's progress?"

MARLA-"I observe Abigail to determine her skill levels and levels of mastery. I give her independent work and watch her complete it. If she feels confident and is able to do it on her own, I know that she has mastered the skill. If not, I know that we need to keep working on it. I also observe her in play and free time as I have noticed that she rehearses a lot of the skills that we are learning during her play time."

DORIE- "We do use some testing methods, but we also implement some other ways of checking our children's progress. Observations and listening to them reiterate a lesson or material they have learned are two ways. Another way is to have them 'teach' someone else the same material."

TRACY- "Observing my kids in "out of school" moments really gives me a terrific idea of what they are learning—conversations in the car and at the dinner table, playtime activities, etc. I have also loved using narration this year, having the kids tell me what they learned as I write down their answers. For records, however, I do depend a lot on worksheets (graded or non-graded) to give me an accurate assessment."

DELENA-"I ask my 5 year-old to "teach" what he learned to his younger brother--he loves it, and he really does a good job of covering the subject. I will also have him tell Dad about what he learned at school when Dad gets home from work. Our fav...orite way is to just ask questions around the dinner table in kind of a game show-type way. We're Catholic, so our questions might consist of, "What does the fourth commandment say?" or "Which saint was roasted over a gridiron because he loved God?" or "Why did Jesus turn over the tables in the temple?" We use silly voices and sound effects if he gets the answer right or wrong--which generally causes a good case of the giggles."

JESSICA- "Like Tracy, observing my children talk to others about what they have learned is a wonderful way to see what is sticking with them, especially in history and social studies. I encourage them to discuss what they are learning during dinners... with Dad, grandparents and friends, and they enjoy "showing off." As far as 'paper work' sort of learning, I've found the best way of measuring how they are doing is whether or not they want to work independently and how many of those tasks worked correctly without help indicate their grasp. If they have questions, want to talk it out or even want me to sit with them, I feel they probably need more time and practice. If they disappear and come back with correct work, I know they have mastery and it's time to move on."

MAUREEN-"I always feel a bit confused on this topic, as a home educator. For me, my children's learning is such an intimate affair that to me it's like asking- how do I know how much I know about something... I just do. It's natural. We are TOGETHER and talking all day long. I consider it one of the main benefits of our chosen homeschooling style that I always know right where my son and daughter are in different areas."

How do you evaluate your child's progress?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Learning Centers: Preparing the Banquet

Thou shalt prepare a banquet for me
Amidst them that trouble me...
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
-Psalm 23

This week I am going to take you through my main living area (no, I did not clean it first)
and show you how our learning materials are set up. I am an extremely visual person; if it's outta sight, then it's outta my mind. My children seem to be pretty visual, too. They rarely get bored, and I think the way our toys and materials are set up helps with that. I keep things where we can all see them, which makes things get used a lot more than they would otherwise.

I spread the banquet, but each child fills his or her plate.
(Math shelves: Miquon math workbooks and cuisenaire rods, origami and tangram supplies, rulers and measuring tape, subtraction machine, cuties box of fill-able geometric solids, teaching clock, number balance, pattern blocks. Shelf below holds loops for fingerweaving- yep, that's a math activity! We also have tons of math-ish games like SET, Quirkle, Farkle, Connect 4, etc.)

They way I set up, operate, and record-keep in our homeschool reflects my basic philosophies about education:

"What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child."
~George Bernard Shaw


"Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves."
~Abbé Dimnet, Art of Thinking, 1928 (Have you not read this book? It is fantastic!)

and the quotation I intended to put here in the first place:

"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."
~William Butler Yeats

(Math shelves on right, history and geography shelves on left. Atlases, history and geography story books/ fun facts books, unbreakable stuffed globe- finest $19 you'll ever spend, unceremonious stacks of random books we've read recently. The Infant of Prague, in appropriate colored vestments, watches over from above.)

Perhaps the most pervasive influence on how we do things around here is Mari Montessori. She was my original inspiration to homeschool. Although I find that many things about a Montessori classroom do not translate well into a home setting (at least not my home), much of her philosophy can be applied to whatever material or situation is at hand.

(Science shelves: my resource books on top shelf, next shelf has picture books, flash cards, bug catcher, leaf press, rock and bark specimens, flashlight, nature journals, next has more books, nature guides, experiment kits- storebought and homemade, next shelf holds fish box- books, models, shells, puzzle, books, magnetic rod with fish magnets, etc, sink or float experiment, lacing cards, next shelf dinosaur and rock collection box, rice play box for toddler.)

My children are not required to work with their 'school things.' They choose them. If Isaiah wants to play math games for days on end, fine. If he wants to draw for a whole week, fine. Over the course of a month or two, like a toddler with his food, I find him to be balanced in his choices.

It's been a long process to let go of the mental picture of more traditional schooling, and it's been quite an effort. But the joy and self-motivation I see in my oldest, at the time when many of his peers are losing these very qualities, is satisfying.

The little booklet I used as an inspiration to gather all our materials together is "How to Set Up Learning Centers in your Home" by Mary Hood, author of "The Relaxed Homeschool." It's available from Rainbow Resource for about $5 and $1.50 shipping. It has checklists of items you could include in your centers.

We also have an art center and a music center, but those are ever changing and never, um, presentable. I am blessed right now to have room for all these centers in my home, but for less visual families with limited space, a (well-organized) tub holding the same sorts of materials could be just as fun and effective.

"Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife - what's the answer to that?"
~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Standardized Testing for Homeschoolers?

In recent years, standardized testing has become a measuring stick for schools. The results of these tests help administrators plan and alter their school's future. It can also be used for measuring and comparing individual student's performances.

For homeschoolers, not affiliated with the public school system, a standardized test may be an option or it may be required. Either way, parents often have a lot of questions regarding the test, the process, and the value of testing. I know I have had many questions over the years.

{The questions I have asked and the responses I have received mixed with our family's experience follow.  I am not an expert.  I am just sharing my family's personal experiences.} 

Should I have my child take a standardized test?
First, you must determine what your state's requirements are by reading the law for yourself. Do not rely on another to interpret the law for you. Second, if you belong to an umbrella school, then check their requirements. For instance, for our family, technically, our state has no requirements for testing, but the umbrella school we belong to does. It requires students to test in 3rd grade, 6th grade, 8th grade, and 10th grade. For the grades that testing is not required, it is optional.

How do I decide which test my child should take?
If the test is not mandated (by state or school) then it depends on the individual test and what you want measured. Some tests reveal areas of academic weaknesses, either due to the student's individual abilities or the schooling experience. Some tests simply compare the student's academic ability to other students in the same grade. Explore the variety of tests available to you in your state that test what you want to measure.

How do we prepare for the test?
Begin to prepare your child by telling him what the test will be like. Be sure to emphasize that the test will measure what they know as well as ask questions that they don't know.

Review test taking strategies with your child. There are resources such as testing booklets that familiarize your student with the format of a standardized test. Some of these are more valuable than others. For instance, if your child will be taking the TerraNova test, then search for the TerraNova test practice workbooks. These follow the same format as the actual test, and will be more beneficial in that case.

The night before the test, help your child pack their bag. Each time our children have tested, they needed three sharpened number two pencils, a book or drawing paper to occupy them after the test, and a snack/bottle of water. Be sure your child is able to get a good night's rest.

How do we read the results?
Be sure to read all the pages entirely. There is usually a section that tells you how to interpret the results. Some tests explain what was measured, how it was measured, and how it was compared.

If you still do not understand the results, contact the administrator of the test or seek information from other parents and online sources. These sources should be able to answer the specific questions you have.

What if my child scores low?
First do not panic. Keep in mind that some children do not test well, especially if this is their first standardized testing. However, do not prematurely conclude this is the case.

Explore why the test score was low. Did the test use different terms than what your child has learned? For instance, did the test use the term base word instead of root word, and your child didn't know the unfamiliar term? Did the test cover material your curriculum/homeschool approach has yet to cover? Was the format of the questions foreign to your child?

Or, do the results show a problem? Perhaps the low scores do indicate a learning disability or deficit that needs addressed. Find out first, then seek appropriate help and make adjustments as needed.

This year, in our homeschool, only one of our children requires testing.  My husband and I will determine if the other two will test or not. 

So, today, I am asking...what do you think:
is there value in standardized testing for homeschoolers?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thinking and Pondering

This is our first year of homeschooling, and it's been months of fun as well as figuring out what is working and what is not.

What is working? Interest led schooling is awesome for Sophie. She responds so well when she is picking the topics.

What didn't work? Trying to do way too many topics during the day. I figured out early on that I needed to relax and just let Sophie learn. {which is easier said than done!}

Since I'm pondering all things homeschool, I have a question for you....

WHY are YOU homeschooling?  When it comes right down to it, what is the absolute reason that you chose to homeschool?

I'll go first.....we decided to homeschool because I wasn't ready to send Sophie out the door to be molded by someone else.

Who's next??

Monday, February 20, 2012

We Don't Need Fancy Materials

Every time that I go to the store, I find some expensive materials that I would love to have for our homeschool.  There are so many cool curriculums, math manipulatives, computer programs, books, etc.  I would love to have them all!  However, purchasing every cool homeschooling material I see is just not practical!

My family is currently preparing to move to Africa for two years.  Due to the high cost of shipping items overseas, we can only take what we can fit in our suitcases.  That means that I get one suitcase for homeschooling materials for the next year (until we return for Christmas and I can stock up again).  Initially, the thought of having such limited space for teaching materials terrified me.  How could I possibly adequately teach my children without a ton of materials?

Then, I realized that I don't need much to teach.  In fact, on a daily basis, we don't use many materials.  Most days, we use construction paper, markers, a dry erase board, books, and math manipulatives (which are often snack foods or small toys).  

While the thought of having a lot of cool materials is appealing, great homeschooling does not require it.  A quality homeschool is created through hard work, dedication, and love.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Incorporating the Presidential Election Into Our Homeschool Curriculum

This week we asked the bloggers here at Growing Your Homeschool,

February 20th is President's Day. We elect a new president this year. We are hearing about it on the news. There are debates going on. Will you include this historic occasion in your homeschool curriculum? If so, how?

Marla-Since Abigail is only three, I am not sure that she is old enough to really understand the concept of electing a president. She does know that Obama is our current president and that George Washington was our first president. For now, that is all that I am planning to teach her.

Aurie-We have talked about the concept of President and what he does for our country. Sophie knows that Obama is our current president. I don't think she will really understand elections, so for now we're focusing on what a President's job is and why that is important.

Dorie-Yes, we will include the presidental election in our homeschool. This year we are studying the exploration, colonization, and formation of our country. We will also include lessons on the government and elections. During the election, we will probably do a color coded map of the country to see representation and popular voting in action.

Ralene- We don't plan to. The girls aren't quite to that level yet. If they were a few years older, I would definitely want to include them.

Delena-I have a five year-old who refers to our President as "Jobama." I've got a feeling he might not understand the whole process. :-) I still plan on talking to him about our President, why we elect a new President, and how it's important to elect a President who doesn't support things that are intrinsically evil.

Jessica-We frequently discuss politics right now, especially because we are studying early American History. The children are learning (depending on their age level) how our government was formed and how officials are elected. We are reading books (like "VOTE" by DK readers) and watching School House Rock "I'm gonna send your vote to college" to learn about the way our electoral system works. My husband and I will be voting, and our children will come along to watch us participate.

Will you incorporate this year's election into your homeschool curriculum?  If so, how?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Successful Lesson in Failure

I actually confronted the issue of failure recently with my kindergartener. In our second year of homeschooling, failure just hadn't come up before.

Then, we started to struggle with addition, and my default-plan of letting my son choose his best papers to show his father wasn't giving my husband a complete picture of how we were really doing. As I talked over our struggles with my husband, he was a little confused; after all, he saw only success and mastery. I decided I'd better make some changes to my default-plan. And that's what led to my discovery that I was failing to truly teach about failure.

The next day, my son worked a math sheet and missed several addition problems. Together we talked through the right answers to the problems that I had checked. He reworked the problems with me and then I broke the news to him: "We're going to show Daddy this page, because he needs to know what we have trouble with as well as what we're doing well in." Immediately my son burst into tears. Suddenly, I understood the unintentional lesson I was teaching my son.

Inadvertently, I was teaching him that only success brought reward, that only perfection brought the attention that he wanted. I wasn't giving my husband the opportunity to praise my son for determination or perseverance; my son was only receiving his daddy's praise for perfect papers. It wasn't a lesson either my husband or I had planned to teach, and it definitely wasn't our view of success. But regardless, my son had already shaped the idea in his head that approval was gained through perfection.

Daddy came home that day, and my son sheepishly showed him the marked-up paper. And the most beautiful lesson unfolded: a lesson of love despite imperfection, a lesson of approval for a best effort, and a lesson of praise for character rather than performance. As I watched my husband and my son interact, I couldn't help but wonder at how close I came to missing out on this moment.

What if I had chosen to show the paper to my husband without my son's knowledge? What if I had caved to my son's tears and decided not to show that paper at all? What if I had continued with our trend of only showing off the best?

My son would probably not have been scarred for life had we not addressed the issue of failure in this way; but then again, he might very well have developed an attitude of success vs. failure that would begin to shape his future.

By allowing my child to fail, I was teaching him about success. (<Tweet This)

It was a valuable lesson for all of us, and not one I would have ever thought to pencil into the curriculum or schedule into my lesson planner. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Simpler is fitting us better

When we began homeschooling (when my children were seven, five and three) I had grand visions for the complex and exciting ways in which our lives would change. I envisioned planning and executing numerous heavy field trips, I imagined parties for holidays planned by the children where friends and family of all ages participate, I expected to push my children to advance quickly in their work and include difficult, enriching, non-required subjects.

The reality has been that none of these things happen in the way I imagined. It has turned out that my priorities came into sharper focus once we began homeschooling, and high-pressure academics, too much travel, or intense preparations don't fit well with those things we find most important.

My focus has become so much more about how large a moment can be and the potential to seize it.

Our learning is better absorbed in bite-sized, minimized routines and I am satisfied so long as we are staying generally on track with state assessments in case the children ever decide to mainstream back into school.

Our field trips are immediate and centered around the needs or interests of a person in our family at the time they occur.

We plan one party a year, when we are finished with our curriculum. The children create displays and presentations, lay out some of their best work, make refreshments. I put together a slide show of our year and play it on the laptop. We set out every book we read during the school year. Then, we invite family and friends over for our year-end party. It's wonderful for the children to see all that they have accomplished, how much they have grown, the knowledge and learning they have amassed and savored.

The rest of the year I am so satisfied with the experience our children are having when they all stop working to watch a giant flock of geese pass by, when they come in from an afternoon outside with rosy cheeked and breathless exclamations about their game or discovery. I love it when they say "I wish we could see a..." or "Could we stop and look at..." and "I wonder if we could..." and we can.

Their learning centers around reading good literature together, play-acting what they have read or heard, applying their bite-sized lessons without realizing. When we are reading one of those excellent pieces of literature and it is so moving that I have to stop reading for the lump in my throat, we can take as much time as we want to discuss what is happening in the story.

And when they beg me "Pleeeeeeease can we read a little more?" I can answer by smiling and opening the book again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Adding ingredients to our Homeschool Recipe...

Ah, the world of homeschooling!

So big!  So vast!  So...monotonous?

This is our first year to homeschool, and my son is five years-old.

I kind of figured Kindergarten would be full of paint and play-dough with a little reading and counting thrown in the mix.  Instead I often find myself dreading the coming week, knowing the repetition of every subject is going to drive me crazy.

So, I did what I told myself I wasn't going to do:  I started incorporating my own ideas into the lesson plans.

Nothing mind-blowing or anything--just enough of something different each week to keep my son (and me) engaged.

The first week I did this I asked my son to pick one thing he wanted to learn about.  You know, like, animals...or...animals.

He chose volcanoes. 

So, we learned about volcanoes together, and the week seemed to fly by along with the rest of his regular schoolwork.

At the end of the week, we built and erupted a volcano.  It was entertainment for the whole family!

One week he said he wanted to learn about tigers.  We researched facts together (tigers have 30 teeth--did you know that?) and made a book of facts (complete with clip art of a tiger for him to color).  One of my friends stopped by one morning, and P grabbed his Tiger book and showed it to her, beaming.

He also learned the first stanza of "The Tyger" by William Blake (a poem I had to learn in high school!), and we went on a "Tiger Hunt."  I hid a rubber tiger figurine around the house, and we all had to go around the house looking for the tiger while saying the first stanza of "The Tyger" as we marched around.  P and his 3 year-old brother REALLY liked this activity.  At the end of the week they got to watch a documentary on tigers while eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate.

I know homeschooling isn't all play-dough and making things explode.  I've signed myself up for years of listening to small children sound out words and struggle to grasp the concept of addition.

But homeschooling isn't about ME.
It's not FOR me.

It's about the kids, and even when I'm getting burned out I have to remind myself that THIS is what is best for our children--rain or shine.

I better go--we're leaning about the "Giant Squid" this week, and I don't think Mom saying, "Uh, they're big!"  is going to cut it when my son asks for information about it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Did I Fail?

Most people who have known me for any length of time would say that I am an optimist. I've always made a point to see the silver lining, always purposed to stay positive, avoided wallowing for too long. On my blogs and such, I've also tried to maintain that positivity, no only for myself, but for others as well.

Today, though, something is weighing heavy on my heart, and I want to share it with you.

I think I failed my daughter.

First, a little background:

I got pregnant with Alana (my oldest) when my husband came home for his vacation from an overseas deployment. I was SO excited--we both were--when I found out. The first part of my pregnancy was pretty normal. At about six months, we discovered I had gestational diabetes--pretty common, no big deal, easily handled. Throw in a big move at seven and a half months, and staying in the Texas heat on the third floor of old barracks (temporary housing on Ft. Hood when the hotel is full)--no elevator, no AC--and things just got worse. I ended up with eclampsia and was induced five weeks early.

Alana was born 5 weeks early. Not quite mature.

So, fast forward over the next few years. Alana developed much like any child in most areas. She was a little slow in others--mostly in speech . At two, she was far enough behind that it was kind of noticable. I pointed it out to the doc who said it really wasn't a big deal, children develop at different speeds, and Alana was premature. I pointed it out again the following year to a different doctor, who said pretty much the same thing, but if I was concerned I could talk to a developmental specialist.

Well, the doctor didn't seem overly concerned, and Alana was premature--surely, she'd come along in time. Finally, though, I just had to admit that she wasn't progressing and I wasn't able to help her. So, I started trying to pursue therapy--which ended up being like jumping through hoops, and finally was able to get her tested right before we moved to Hawaii.

The results said something about her speech being equivalent to that of a 2 1/2-3 year old (she was 4 1/2 at the time). However, we had to wait until we got over to Hawaii and settled in before we could pursue actual therapy.

We arrived here and it took longer than we'd hoped to get settled. We started officially homeschooling and I just kept putting the therapy off. After much prompting from my husband and listening to her trying to communicate with random strangers at the grocery store, at the doctor's office, and even her friends, I finally called the doctor.

Alana starts therapy next week. She's not as behind as she was a year ago. She'll be six next month and her issues are mostly with starting/finishing sounds, which get more incoherent the longer she talks.

If I'm honest with myself, I didn't want to put Alana in therapy. As weird as it sounds, and as much as I know it's not necessarily true, getting her into therapy felt like a big, fat F on my forehead. I did this to her. It's my fault. I couldn't carry her and keep her safe in my womb, and I can't train her up or help her now. I am a failure.

There are days when those thoughts sneak up on me and smack me upside the head. I break down into tears because I just know that I did something wrong. I feel those feelings welling up inside and I think I'm going to suffocate. There are even times when I wonder what God saw in me that He thought I would make a good mother.

But I know those thoughts are wrong.

I know that those thoughts are NOT from God.

God is not the author of doubt, worry, and fear.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy..." (John 10:10)

"He (Satan) was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

I am done believeing Satan's lies. I am not a bad mother--I love my children more than my own breath. I would do anything for them. I may not be perfect, but God doesn't expect to me. Sure, I may have let Satan get a foothold and slow my decision to get my daughter the help she needs, but the point is that I conquered that fear, I did what was right.

He can only have a foothold if I let him. "Get behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23)

Friday, February 10, 2012

How We Are Growing

This week we asked the bloggers here at Growing Your Homeschool,

Depending on when you started and when you finish, we are about halfway through our 2011-2012 school year. What have you learned this year that you didn't know before that has impacted the way you do homeschooling? You can list several things if you like.

Jessica- GREAT question. I have learned the impact routine planning can have. Previously in my journey as a homeschooling parent, I found myself a slave to planning (and making everyone stay with it!). I have learned this year that the lesson plans are less important than the time structure. When we have a loose schedule that allows me to spend time focused on helping each child learn, we all accomplish more. I have been able to be more flexible (You already know how to do this, let's skip it) and more helpful (this is still giving you trouble, let's work on it some more instead of moving on to the next lesson). I have applied the same 'flexible routine' to teaching my children to help manage the household. Instead of daily/weekly chore lists that are already made, I assign each child tasks each day. This way, the tasks can change to meet the needs of the household at the time as well as the interests of the child performing them (I had one begging to learn to iron so it became her chore to press napkins one day - NO I don't press napkins, this was an invented chore!) It also helps keep things interesting and helps me feel free to change assignments or portions of the routine. Everyone continues to feel fresh and excited about most of their learning this way.

Aurie- I have learned to relax and go with the flow. I've learned that Sophie is an interest led learner, which has been eye opening for me. I've learned that I don't need to teach Sophie everything right now. I've learned that it's okay to ask questions when I have no idea what I am doing. It's been an amazing journey so far :)

Dorie Kay-  One of our biggest changes this year was implementing a more structured routine. It has made a tremendous difference in the flow of our days. Another thing I am learning is to prioritize better. There was a time when I tried to do everything. It isn't possible for me, and it was way too taxing on the children. This year, there are actually good things we said no to, so we can focus on the better and best things. I am hoping to sharpen this skill as I begin to plan for next year.

Marla-  The biggest thing that I have learned this year is that I don't have to do it all myself. I LOVE creating my own curriculum and making all of my own activities. It is a lot of fun for me! However, sometimes, I simply do not have the time to do that and everything else that I need to do. I have learned to balance the activities that I create with activities that others have made (there are some fabulous bloggers who share preschool activities for free). Not creating everything myself has greatly improved homeschooling for me and for my girls!

Tracy- Our biggest change has been a much less structured routine. Homeschooling while pregnant has been quite the challenge, but I've loved to see just how much my kids can learn from 1 to 1 1/2 hours of relaxed learning time.

Delena- This is our first year to homeschool, and I quickly realized that it doesn't matter if I'm tired or not feeling like doing school, I still NEED to do it for the sake of my son. I have also learned to watch for signs of fatigue (he's only 5) so that we don't let him get burned out on something too quickly. I've learned that if I make it funny he is able to remember it better--which is how his Mom learns, too. :-)

What have you learned so far in your homeschool year?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Montessori-style Activities

Today I'm going to show you some of our Montessori-style activities. I keep a big tub in a closet and when I come across interesting boottles, boxes, jars, corks, boucy balls, beads, spools... you get the idea- I toss them in there. Then, when I have a chance, maybe once or twice a year, I go through and put together a few new activities.

Most of my ideas are pirated directly from Montessori catalogs/ websites. My favorites are Montessori Services, For Small Hands, and Montessori-n-Such. A good book of super-easy, super-fun ideas is Do Touch: Instant, Easy, Hands-On Learning Experiences for Young Children, and another is Preschooler's Busy BookCrafts for Children Books).

There are many books about Montessori and the Montessori method. Many are stuffy and want to make sure that you walk away feeling that only a professionally trained individual can successfully teach Montessori-style. But many are good. I can't really begin to make recommendations here, though, or this post would never end.

Here's what's important with these activities:
-the child can do them on her own after being shown how;
-the activity has natural control-of-error (i.e. yellow botton in red basket: child sees mistake, or, circle lid doesn't fit on heart box, etc.)
-easily set up and put away by child.

Here's what's important with mom:
-DO NOT interrupt child to point out her mistakes, let her find them herself;
-be willing to help clean up.

These first are from "Do Touch," referred to earlier:
Jumbo craft sticks. Pics 1 & 2 are just matching 2 sticks with same patterns. Pic 3 is a simple puzzle.

Also from "Do Touch," sponge sey cut up. One left whole as a control. These are actually quite difficult to put back together!

Button sorting. 3 peanut butter lids with colored paper glued in, heart container with lid to store buttons in the activity's bag.

Flower beads to sort. Three sizes of flower beads (found these on ebay for $1 and knew Rose would love them), 3 peanut lids, tweezers to pick up the beads for fun, pouch to store beads, all in a baby shoe box.
John Paul at work!

These little number puzzles are part of a huge, overwhelming set and were a gift. I rotate a few at a time into a bag with "jewels" to place on the completed puzzles. The jewels make the puzzles much more fun to do.

Letter puzzles. Were also a gift. 26 puzzles are too much for most preschoolers all at once. So a few with objects to match get rotated for this bag. I love that tiny ball of yarn!

Fruit bead sorting, tweezers missing. Sigh. This idea was stolen from the Montessori-n-Such catalog. Fabric covered cardboard, Cezanne picture glued on, jar lids glued on. I like these beads but this tray isn't used very often. I'd really like to replace it with the M-n-S set, but it's definitely a want and not a need!

Lauri crepe rubber toys. Top pic is puzzles that go in a bag together. Bottom is a sorting toy I found for $1 at a thrift store. Lauri toys are great! They are safe, non-toxic, and your toddler can hurl one across the room and it sticks together! They make some cool, inexpensive puzzles for older kids, too. Most of their toys are available on Amazon.

Feel 'n find. A traditional Montssori game. There are 10 objects in bag 1 and their matches in bag 2. Birthday candles, big screws, marbles, thimbles, small spoons, plastic flowers, you get the idea. Make sure the blindfold is easy to get on and off. I actually did buy this one from Montessori services beacause it was cheap and I was feeling lazy, and it is a really nice blindfold!

More bead sorting. We're kinda heavy on bead sorting these days!

Butterfly toss. Just a target and some plastic butterflies. Less dangerous to your breakables than a bean-bag toss.

Bendaroos shape making. I need a laminator, see my bent control card? This is much tougher than it looks.

Boxes and lids. Really fun for 2 year olds. These boxes are usually $1 each, but stock up when Hobby Lobby puts them 50% off.

Hands down favorite! Opening and closing activity. Random assortment of containers, each requiring a different skill to open. Usually each one has a frog or lizard who lives inside, but I'm down to 2 frogs at the moment. JP gets this out at least 3 times a week, and so did my older kids from about ages 14 months to 3 years. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT put child=proof pill bottles in here. They will figure them out quickly and then you'll have a serious problem on your hands.

Transferring activity. Jars of different objects (with tight screw-on lid!), variety of tongs and spoons to use, 2 pails to transfer to and fro. John Paul likes to pour, which is ok, too.

Some of Rosie's activities in a deep basket which sits on a shelf in the dining room.

OK, friends, I am too tired to photograph my science kits. But you can see them at either catalog website mentioned above. We have a sink or float set and a magnetic/ non-magnetic set, plus a rice play box.

I hope this peek into a selection of our Montessori-style activities inspires you!

"It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself."
~Joyce Maynard

"Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."
~Robert Fulghum

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One of those days.

I admit it. 
We were totally not having a good homeschool day. 

Sophie was whiny and not interested in anything.

Bella wanted to be held and screamed if I either put her down or left the room.
I was about ready to come undone.

We grabbed coats, boots and hats and out the door we went.

I let them run down the driveway to the towpath.

It was instant fun. Smiles and giggles and laughter.
We talked about God and how did He know how to make dirt? And why did He make ticks and biting flies? {personally, I'd like to know the answer to that one}

We looked at the sky and counted tree branches and marveled that some green plants were poking through the muddy leaves.

We chased a squirrel {the girls *let* him win} and watched a baby deer pick her way through the woods.
It was awesome.

Letting go of my plans and exploring God's creation?  I am so glad that we did.

Oh - and you know you want one of those hats! {grin}

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Combatting Mid-Year Discouragement

Homeschooling is wonderful, most of the time. But, let's face it, some days are tough. Some parts of the year are harder than others. Such is the case with the winter days midway through the school year.

This is when the mid-year blues start to rear an ugly head. When, sometimes, we homeschooling moms get discouraged and even start to second guess ourselves or our decision to homeschool.

You know the signs of discouragement.  It may look different for each one of us.  For me, there are three tell tale signs... looking longingly at the school down the street, wanting to call it quits when we've only started the day, and a loss of creativity.

What is a discouraged homeschooling mom to do?

Some successful ways I combat the mid-year blues...
  • prayer
  • have a heart to heart discussion with my husband
  • refocus on why we homeschool
  • realize the journey won't be perfect nor will it always be fun
  • pinpoint the source of my discouragement and make changes to alleviate it
  • seek encouragement and advice from other homeschoolers

Maybe you aren't feeling discouragement right now. Then, perhaps, you could encourage another homeschooling mom.

Whether with family and friends, in a formal or informal support group, on a blog, or in social media you can be a source of encouragement.

A few ways to encourage discouraged moms...
  • prayer
  • honestly sharing your own experiences and struggles
  • meeting her for coffee or tea, or a social visit (without the kids)
  • offering to help in an area of struggle or discouragement

Discouragement isn't confined to the winter days midway through a school year. No, discouragement rears its ugly head anywhere, anytime for anyone of us.

If you are in a season of discouragement, know that you are not alone. Probably every homeschooling mom has felt it at one point or another.  I have been there. And, today, I want you to know, you can do this homeschooling thing. You are capable, and you will succeed!

If you are not in a season of discouragement, look around you. Is there a mom you can encourage today? Reach out using one of the ideas listed above, or add another way to encourage in the comment section.  Then, we will all benefit from your ideas.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Feeling Inadequate

We all have it - that one subject that just makes us cringe.  The one subject that we hate to teach.  The one subject that almost makes us want to have someone else teach our children.   For me that subject is Bible Study.  Math, Reading, Science, and Social Studies all excite me.  I love figuring out new and fun ways to teach Abigail the academic skills!  I am never at a loss for fun ideas to teach those skills.  However, when it comes to teaching about the Bible,  I freeze.  

It makes no sense, but whenever it is time to plan our bible lessons, I don't know what to do.  It is almost like I have never taught before.  I am clueless.  I feel so inadequate.  Most weeks, I don't even know where to begin to plan those lessons.  So, sometimes I don't.  Sometimes, we don't do a bible lesson because I am too scared to create it and never get it done.  On those weeks, we just read the toddler bible from beginning to end over the course of the week.  I know that reading the bible is not the same as a planned, structured lesson, but fear keeps me from doing more - the fear of failing as my girls' teacher.

In my mind, anything that I create to teach Abigail and Charlotte about God is not good enough.  It is all inadequate.  I have tried using curriculums that I have purchased, but quickly gave up.  They weren't good enough either.  Nothing meets the standards that I have set in my mind for a quality bible lesson.

Deep down, I know that my lessons and the lessons I have purchased are good enough (and are much better than nothing).  So, despite my fear of failing, I have resolved to try harder - to try harder to ensure that we have a bible lesson each day and to try harder to have faith in my own abilities.  Doing so will only benefit my girls and me.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homeschool P.E.

This week we asked the bloggers here at Growing Your Homeschool,

Can you share with our readers a little about your homeschool physical education program? One of the beautiful things about homeschool is that you can gear it to your child's strengths or interests. How do you do that in your home? Do you include health/nutrition as part of your physical education curriculum? (Answer as much or as little as you want since it is a lengthy, multi-part question.)

Samantha-We don't do anything really organized. Our home sits in the church parking lot (my husband is a preacher) and our children ride their bikes almost all year long. We also have a trampoline and basketball goal that they use almost daily. Since we homeschool and believe in shorter lessons they get a lot of time to run about and be kids. They also like to join in with me during my evening workouts. We also talk a lot about good nutrition casually, and the kids are very knowledgeable about food choices.

Aurie- Since the girls are little, we run circles around the dining room and dance in the living room when we can't go outside. We are lucky to have parks within walking distance, so when the weather is nice we are outside a lot :) We don't talk a lot about food right now, the girls are both good eaters and very active so they actually eat and drink quite a bit!

Marla- We talk a lot about eating "growing foods". We discuss healthy and unhealthy eating when we cook and when we go grocery shopping. Abigail understands that most of the food we eats needs to be "growing food", but that we can eat other foods sometimes. As for physical education, Abigail participates in soccer and swimming classes. At home, we dance, play t-ball, ride tricycles, go to the park, play in our yard, and spend time at nearby indoor play areas.

Dorie- We strongly believe children should be active and encourage this in a variety of ways. Our children play outside almost everyday. About once a week, we take a nature walk. The children are also involved in seasonal sports like soccer, gymnastics, and football. During the summer, they swim recreationally several times a week.  For food choices, we strive to eat well, but allow treats. We serve lots of fruits and vegetables. Growing a garden in the warmer seasons provides a fabulous learning experience for our family. Also, I have started teaching the children to read the ingredient listings of foods we purchase and those we won't.

Ralene- We don't really have an organized program or anything, but we do discuss good foods and what we need to grow and stay healthy. The kids play outside most days, and when they can't, we dance around or they try to do Mommy's workouts (lol...). Once we move, we plan to enroll the girls in some sports programs to encourage more activity and learning teamwork.

JessicaWe do not have a specific plan or curriculum for physical education. Our lifestyle is active and we encourage discussion and participation in all things, including this! Our children spend time outside every day, as well as having a weekly sporting activity. It was important to us that our children become comfortable swimmers, so for a long time our weekly activity was swimming lessons. Now we incorporate other interests the children have when our schedule permits. Mostly, we continue to encourage them to spend time outside. I am very interested in eating a large variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible, so this interest often sparks conversations about foods and wellness. We also have science units about the human body each year, which lends itself to discussion about physical activity, nutrition and keeping fit. So much of education takes place in simply including your children in your life, talking about what you are doing and why, sharing with them as you are doing. This is how P.E. and nutrition has worked into our homeschool.

How do you tailor your homeschool P.E. program?
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