Saturday, May 31, 2008


I was explaining socratic discussions to our 11 year old, telling her that this type of discussion is named after someone who lived a long time ago (socrates) and the way in which he asked questions of his students to help them think through their answers. She quipped, "We'll be having Pamatic discussions I guess!"

5 year old C, who will be 6 in 3 weeks, "I'm 5 and 3 quarters and 12 pennies!"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How do you occupy the younger children while schooling the older ones? (part 5)

This is the number one question I get asked most often, by homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike. The short answer, for those who don't really want to know the details and are just trying to make conversation, is "oh, we find ways to include them in our activities throughout the day." Spoken with a big smile. :-)

The long answer, for those who DO wish to know the details, follows.

Before sharing the details of what we do with our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I want to share my personal feelings on this topic in general. Children are a blessing from the Lord. All children, at every age. Blessings are just that. Blessings! Not interruptions. Not annoyances. Think of other blessings in your life. Don't you rejoice over each blessing, big and little, that God allows into your life or your day? I know we all love our children, but when we have a plan in place to school older children, and curriculum that we are trying to get through in a specified amount of time, the temptation is very great at times to see our younger ones as interrupting the great things we are trying to do with our olders. At the very least, we can feel pulled in a hundred different directions. Distracted. Ask me how I know. :-) I still struggle with this at times!

It is so important to remember that even when the baby starts crying right in the middle of a really good reading lesson, or needs to be nursed at the same time your 2 year old just pee'd on the carpet, your 4 and 5 year olds are getting into a fist fight in the toyroom, and your 7 year old is crying over her math lesson, that THEY are the lesson. The curriculum you just researched and prayerfully purchased is not the real lesson. The stack of fantastic books waiting to be read is not the lesson. Your children are the lesson. And they are teaching you plenty while they themselves are learning from your response to them. And yes, the first sentence in this paragraph is a real life example. What did I do you ask? I laid the baby carefully on the floor, closed the math book and told the 7 year old she could take a break, ran downstairs to the toyroom and stopped the fight, popped in a video, threw a towel on the wet spot on the carpet, put a pullup on the 2 year old, and then sat down to nurse and enjoy the baby. I probably also either laughed or cried, I don't remember which!

You all know how fast your children are growing! Babies are babies for such a short time. Don't let the pressure of having to "perform" as a homeschooler rob you of the joy you should fully experience each time the Lord blesses your family with a new little person. Each child in the family needs to know that they are an integral part of the family, that you delight in them, that they bring you joy simply by being their little self, and that you are not looking for ways to get rid of them for a while, or shuffling them off to play by themselves while you do the important work of grammar and math and history. THEY ARE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT WORK!!!!!!

Okay, now that we have that settled I'll move on to the nitty gritty. :-)

We have had many different daily routines, depending on the ages of our children. I will gladly share what has worked for us at different stages, but there is no magic "formula" (oh, how I have often wished there were!). You will have to pray and adjust your routine for the ages and unique personalities of each of your children.

In my part 2 post I shared quite a bit about how we managed our day when we first started homeschooling for kindergarten. At that time we had a 5 year old, 3 year old, 2 year old, and infant. Let me just add here that someone gave me a great piece of advice way back then that I have always kept in mind, and that is to spend some time early in the day with the youngest of your children so that their little "emotional tanks" are full and they can more easily share you with their older siblings. When we had babies, they naturally got my full attention first thing in the morning during their morning nursing. I treasured these times with each of my babies! Not only did I love nursing, it also gave me a chance to pray over the day. After everyone else had eaten breakfast, we started our day with booktime. I would read books to all the kids who couldn't read for themselves (yes, even little tiny babies), while those who could read on their own or were interested in looking at pictures of other books were free to do so. In fact, we still start our school day this way!

At that time everyone still napped except the kindergartner. So we would have book time altogether, nature walks outside altogether, fun Laura Ingalls hands on type things altogether, our oldest would do math while the boys were doing table time (explained further down). And then when the younger ones were napping, the K'er and I would work on reading and phonics. This still gave her time for a rest period in her room, while I usually napped on the couch for 30 minutes.

All of our babies, from birth until about 18 or 20 months old, had what we called "playpen time". This was time that they spent in the playpen, with age appropriate toys. They were within earshot of me, but had to learn to entertain themselves with what was in the playpen. As they grew older and learned to throw things out of the playpen, that was to their detriment because then there was nothing to play with for the rest of playpen time! I did not play that game with our kids. So later, when we had 2 or 3 that were school age, the current baby would have playpen time while the older kids and I moved to the table for school.

Generally speaking, I moved our babies from my lap, to the playpen, to the swing, to the bouncy seat, back to my lap, to the floor, etc, in roughly 30 minute increments, with naps and eating in between. I tried to always give them tummy time on the floor so they could develop upper body strength. They also had time on their back. I vividly remember our now 5 year old, when he was a baby, lying on the family room floor mesmerized by the ceiling fan! Somewhere between 6 and 12 months it was fun to put the baby in the high chair and move them right to the table where we were schooling. They could try to grasp cheerios or play with a few teething toys and feel like they were a part of everything we were doing. All in all it was exceedingly easy to homeschool with a young baby. It got more challenging when the baby became mobile.

From 18-20 months on, we would graduate the babies from play pen time to room time. This was essentially the same thing only with a bigger space to play in. I made sure their room was baby proofed and entirely safe for them (furniture bolted to the wall, etc) and would rotate toys about once a week to keep it interesting. This was not something we did to "get rid of" the toddler for awhile so we could do school. This was an important part of the toddler's development, learning how to keep himself entertained without needing constant input from others. I would put on a music CD for them to listen to during roomtime, and tell them that "when the music stops mommy will come to get you." When I returned to their room I made sure to stay in there for a few minutes and ask what they did during roomtime, what they built or what they played with ("show me the line of cars you made....can you show me the red one?") so that I wasn't just "rescuing" them but showing interest in what they had done during my absence.

Group snack, play time outside, something fine motor, and more reading of books, with afternoon naps or rest times for everyone were also important elements of our daily routine.

Other things that have worked well:

The buddy system. Having older children spend time with younger ones, also in roughly 30 minute increments. This helps develop strong sibling bonds, and lets each child develop their "own" relationship with the baby or toddler. It also frees mom to work with one of the other children individually for a few minutes on reading or phonics.

Table time. Put 3 or 4 preschool-ish type activities in the middle of the table, start a 30 minute classical music CD, and tell everyone they have to stay at the table and do one of the activities as long as the music is playing. This helps develop the ability to focus on one thing at a time, even with distractions in the room. What kindergarten teacher wouldn't love to have incoming students who all had that ability!

I did and do utilize videos, but my personal rule for when they were all toddlers/preschoolers was no more than 30 minutes a day of screen time. Our current preschooler can go for days without any screen time, since he has 4 older siblings to entertain him! We did lots of pbs shows (Bob the Builder, Mr. Rogers neighborhood), VeggieTales videos, and educational videos such as The Letter Factory and The Word Factory by LeapFrog. In fact, I credit the Letter Factory with FINALLY teaching our third child his letter sounds!

Our routine has changed considerably since we don't have any babies or toddlers in the family any longer. Our youngest is 3 and is solidly a preschooler. He calls himself a "big boy" all the time. He spends his day right with us, doing age appropriate activities, or enjoying the buddy system with an older sibling. So the rest of this very long post will describe activities that a preschooler can do mostly independently.

PLEASE keep in mind that I have had years to make or acquire preschool activities. I often asked for specific things as Christmas or birthday gifts, and I made alot of our early activities for very little money. I would encourage those of you with young ones to spend time during the summers preparing activities for them to do during the school year. Start with things you know they would enjoy, but don't be afraid to stretch a little and try something "out there" too.

Here is my preschool cupboard. It's the end of the school year so it's just about time for its annual summer clean out. I pull one activity out of this cupboard every day for our Little Man to do at his very own school table (Little Tikes) next to our kitchen table where the rest of us are doing schoolwork. He does this for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

One of his favorites is beading. We have several sizes of beads for various ages and abilites. The large chunky beads are great when you still have younger babies and are concerned about choking hazards. I found that stringing them onto string was often frustrating as the string wouldn't always "push" through the entire bead. So we also use plastic straws and pipe cleaners as "string" for these beads.

For older children, pony beads on coffee stir sticks work well. I don't know why pony beads are called pony beads, but you can find a big tub of them at Michael's for cheap. I put masking tape on one end so the beads don't fall off. For 4's and 5's learning to recognize patterns is an important skill, so I made a few permanent patterns on some of the stir sticks and put masking tape on both ends. Our 3 year old cannot copy these patterns yet, he just has fun putting pony beads on the sticks. And that's a great strength building exercise for his little fingers!

Our third kind of bead is a jug of alphabet beads. These are super fun for older preschoolers or school aged children to practice making actual words on their necklaces.
I made a couple of beginning consonant sound games using file folders as game boards. We have one game that is for the sounds G, B, D, and L, and another game for the sounds S, F, T, M. There are several cards with pictures on them of things that begin with one of these sounds. The child draws a card and then moves his place holder to a square that has that letter sound on it. I made sure to draw both upper case and lower case letters on the game board, so the child would learn to recognize both. This is a great activity for an older sibling to do with a younger one! Our Little Man does not do this one yet, but our 5 year old played them last year in preschool and this year in kindergarten.

We have a few dozen puzzles, for various ages and abilites. The wooden ones with chunky handles on each piece are great for little hands. This is the puzzle shelf in my preschool cupboard.
I was very happy when our Little Man learned to do the foam Laurie puzzles on his own ~ I learned through trial and error that our children needed to be about 3 or 4 before they could do these with a minimum of frustration, but our Little Man loves these now! They are great for him to do while I am reading our history and literature outloud because they are completely quiet.
Last summer one of the school districts near us was throwing out a bunch of stuff that I was able to nab for our own use. One of the things they were throwing out was a large book full of laminated real life pictures of food. We punched all the food shapes out of the book, made 2 large "plates" out of posterboard, and have enjoyed building nutritious (or not) meals! During this same public school garbage day we were able to retrieve a working microscope. It's not super good quality, but it works and it came with a bunch of prepared slides and some blank slides. We couldn't figure out why the public school was getting rid of some of this stuff, but their loss is our gain! (my hubby said finally we get something for our tax dollars!)

Another favorite activity of ALL the kiddos is pegs and pegboards. This can keep them busy for hours. I purchased these from Discount School Supply. The pegboards came in a pack of 10, so a friend and I split the cost and we each got 5. Perfect!

Sorting is another great preschool activity. You can do this very easily by just using empty egg cartons as sorting trays and almost any small object can be sorted. Some of our choices are, from left to right, cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, and plastic fish. Our Little Man is not a great sorter yet, he just has fun putting things into the egg receptacles and then pouring them out again!

I love Discovery Toys, and one of my favorite products that has seen years of use already in our home is "Playful Patterns". These are 6 different colored foam pieces that can be placed on top of cards with various pictures on them. Some are quite easy to cover, while others are hard. Even our older children still love this activity! I am happy to say that Discovery Toys still sells this product. You can find it here.

A lap sized white board with a variety of colored markers is also a happy activity for our Little Man. I only let him do this one when the rest of us are using the other lapboards too, so that I can easily monitor his use of the markers. :-) We have 3 of these small whiteboards and we use them ALL the time ~ great for spelling and dictation!

Feltboard and felt shapes are pretty self-explanatory.

We love wrap ups! These are neat little self correcting cards, where you match various things on the top and bottom of cards by wrapping a string around them. The string fits into little notches above or below each picture or word or letter. They are made for a variety of skills and levels. You can find them at most teacher supply stores or online such as here.

Whenever you're at WalMart, Target, children's consignment stores, or perhaps a more specialized store such as a teacher supply store, look for preschool activities that may be on sale. I always look for things that are colorful, self correcting, easy to manipulate, and look like they will last. We really like this "things that go together" activity. Little Man can do this all by himself!

Another activity from the Laurie company. Love their products!

One of my new acquisitions for this coming fall was a package of large buttons. We will use these for sorting, counting, and perhaps stringing.

I also really like these dot to dot lace ups because instead of numbers, they have the letters of the alphabet on them. You start at A, find B, then C, and so on.

Other activities we do regularly that are not pictured:

Paint with water books
Magnets on cookie sheets
Sidewalk chalk on the patio
Dominos (we have a set that has different colored dots for each number ~ we use these for color matching, number matching, lining up, and just generally playing with!)
Play Dough (we do this with everyone ~ when the older kids are having a break)
Alphabet Bingo

Small stickers inside a circle that I draw on a piece of paper. I tell the child to fill up the whole circle with stickers. I draw small circles for younger children and large circles for older ones.

Cutting practice ~ draw zig zag lines on a piece of paper and have your preschooler practice cutting on the lines.

I hope something here can stimulate your own ideas and encourage you that it IS possible to include your younger ones in your homeschooling experience in a way that is positive for your whole family!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

We had such a wonderful, fun weekend! It was warm enough to fill up the kiddie pool, and even the big kids had fun jumping through it. L got to try out the new super soakers he got for his birthday ~ this provided MUCH fun and changing of wet clothes. We had friends over for a barbeque on Monday evening. Our big project that took the whole weekend and still isn't quite finished was assembling our new wooden play structure! I have been praying for and dreaming of this for several years, but the money always had to be earmarked for something else. I am so thankful that this was the year to get it!! Thank you Lord, for a large federal income tax refund!

First we had to disassemble the old metal one that had died long ago. We were able to bless a young couple just starting their family with our baby swing, and we blessed the scrap metal collector with all the metal parts, so only the few plastic pieces went in the garbage (sorry, earth).
Our neighbor graciously let us use her truck to go pick up the new swing.

Whew! That was such a big purchase, it was time for cooling off.

Then began the caravan ~ the boxes were too heavy to carry to the backyard, so we opened them on our driveway and carried all the pieces to the backyard a few at a time. Fortunately we had lots of helpers for this!

Step one ~ sort and count all the parts. This took, oh, about 5 hours (not kidding!).

The children were pretty impatient for actual construction to begin, but it finally did.

About 28 man hours later....... no swings up yet, but at least they can play in the fort!

Another day, and the swings are up!!!!! Still left to assemble, the rock wall, the little cafe table and counter and stools underneath the fort, and the slide.

Later this summer we plan to add a tire swing to this. It was cheaper to buy a tire swing kit online and add it ourselves than buy a whole swing set kit that included the tire swing. This will be fun for all the children, but especially for our son who lives with SPD. He loves to spin!
And I just have to share what a meaningful Memorial Day this was for me, personally. I have always been grateful for the freedoms we enjoy, and for the sacrifices made by others in order to grant and protect those freedoms. But our current study of the founding of America and my own reading of the book John Adams, conspired to make this Memorial Day especially significant. I sortof embarrassed myself at church on Sunday. We had lovely older ladies and gents from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars with us during the service, and afterwards I went up to them to thank them for their service to our country. I wasn't able to stop the tears, so those poor souls had to greet a stranger who was practically sobbing. They were very gracious. :-)
Do you know any vets?? THANK THEM!! I have made a personal commitment to thank every single person who I learn is a veteran. At any time of the year. We owe them so much.

Another lost tooth!!!!

Son C is developing quite the gaping hole!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Some of our Family's Curriculum Choices and the "why" behind them (part 4)

If you've read part 3, then you know that we use Tapestry of Grace as the main framework for our studies. This incorporates history, literature, geography, vocabulary, writing, and Bible/worldview. It is fabulous, fabulous, fabulous ~ can't say enough good things about Tapestry! Here are some of our other choices and why we chose them. I frequently get asked about curriculum, and I do think it is helpful sometimes to hear exactly what others use, what they like/don't like, and why it works for them.

Math ~ We began using Miquon math at the beginning of our homeschool journey, and really loved it. It was non-traditional, utilized manipulatives for the early years, and used a discovery approach. That is, the student would work with the manipulatives and work through each page and usually "discover" on their own the math principles being taught without needing a lecture or lots of examples. It was also very inexpensive, about $10 per workbook. Miquon only goes through third grade, so we knew we would have to switch curriculum in fourth grade.

At the end of our daughter's third grade year I began researching other math options. I felt it would be good for her to have exposure to a more "traditional" approach since she had used a non traditional approach for 4 years. At our annual homeschool book fair I was able to lay out the fourth grade Horizons book, Saxon math book, and Abeka book side by side and look them all over in depth. I was very impressed with Abeka, and after having my hubby look it over also, and praying for direction, we purchased all the fourth grade Abeka math materials for a total of about $90. Meanwhile our younger boys were all still using Miquon.

Well, Abeka is a great curriculum for some, but it did not work for our daughter. She had a very difficult transition to the traditional "spiral" approach to math, which does not teach for mastery because it spirals around to the same concept over and over throughout the year. A new concept was introduced every couple of pages, and then a small amount of practice was done on the new concept along with review problems from many different previous lessons. On any given page our daughter was doing about 5 different operations plus story problems. The effort it took to switch gears so many times during one lesson was extremely frustrating. There were many tears and many compromises (okay, do only the even numbered problems) and our daughter went from loving math to hating it. I knew I had to do something.

At our homeschool book fair in March of that year, I went straight to the Math U See booth. I had heard good things about this curriculum for years, and I knew it taught for mastery. Generally speaking, an entire year is spent on addition and subtraction, another year on multiplication and division, another year on fractions, and so on. Is it founded on the belief that it is as important to know which operation to perform on any given problem as it is to know how to do that operation. For instance, in this story problem, "There were 4 children and 12 cookies. How many cookies does each child get?", even if the student knows *how* to divide, if he doesn't know *when* to divide he is stuck.

We had previously ordered the free demo dvd, and when we were about 5 minutes into it my hubby was completely sold! He said let's switch all the children right now (one of the beautiful things about homeschooling!). So in the middle of March we put away our $90 worth of Abeka and our Miquon workbooks and started everyone on MathUSee at their appropriate levels. In the 15 months since then, it has been WONDERFUL to see the love of Math return and to see concepts really clicking with not only our daughter but our boys as well. Each lesson is taught by the Math U See founder by way of dvd, and our children really enjoy listening to him! There are 3 pages of practice for each new lesson, as well as 3 pages of cumulative review, so the students are free to do as many or as few of these as they need for total mastery.

We love, love, love Math U See! And this experience was a good lesson for me that even though we had carefully researched and prayed over our Abeka decision, we didn't really know if it was going to work out until our daughter actually start using it. And since it wasn't working, how thankful I am that we were free to switch gears!

Grammar ~ I have had a very eclectic approach to teaching grammar. In other words, we've tried a lot of different things! We used Rod and Staff English with our daughter for 2nd and 3rd grade, and were mostly happy with it. It did give her a pretty solid foundation, but since the student text was non-consumable she had to write her answers in a separate notebook, and the action of moving her eyes back and forth, finding her place in the textbook again after writing a word in her notebook, was sometimes quite frustrating. We did large portions of it orally, but that required my direct involvement. By fourth grade I was looking for something that she could do a little more independently.

Tapestry recommends the use of Easy Grammar, and so I decided to give that a try. This curriculum is very appropriately named! It was easy! It uses the prepositional approach to teaching grammar, first teaching prepositions and teaching students how to recognize a prepositional phrase. Usually, the subject, verb and object are NOT found within the prepositional phrase, so if the student crosses this out then right off the bat they have an easier time finding the other things they are looking for. Our daughter has used this for fourth and fifth grade.

Meanwhile, I used a more "natural" approach with the boys. When L and G were in 1st and 2nd grades respectively, we made word banks out of 3 by 5 cards and recipes boxes. We put color coded dots on each card to specify what part of speech it was, and we made dividers for their recipe boxes. This suggestion was straight out of our Tapestry curriculum! And what a hit it was! On the first day of school that year, when hubby came home from work, our then 6 year old L went running to the front door clutching his recipe box to his chest and said excitedly, "Daddy! I made a word bank today!!". :-)

We added to the word bank all fall, eventually covering all 8 parts of speech. Then I made a little stand up tray out of a cut piece of posterboard, and we made sentences with our 3x5 cards. I labeled the first part of the posterboard tray "subject" and the last part "predicate" and would just talk about those words while the boys built their sentences so they became familiar with the language of grammar. We talked about capitalization and punctuation. This past year we did dictation on little lap white boards, where I said a sentence outloud and they each had to write it, attempting to spell each word correctly, start the sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period.

And that is all the grammar they have ever had! This coming fall our fourth grade son G will start Easy Grammar as his sister did before him, while our third grade son L will help his younger first grade brother C make his own word bank.

Foreign Language/Grammar ~ Our daughter, who will be starting 6th grade this fall, will begin a (Lord willing) 3 year study of latin. Why study latin? There are several reasons. My friend Laurie has written a wonderful post on "why study latin?" on her blog. You can find that here. For us there are 4 primary reasons. First of all, about 60% of the english language has latin roots, and even words that we have borrowed from other languages had *their* roots in latin, so an understanding of latin will give us a better understanding of english. Secondly, since latin is no longer spoken and therefore does not change over time (some refer to it as a "dead language") it is used heavily in the sciences, for instance in animal classification. It is also used heavily in the medical field. An understanding of latin now will prepare our children better for high school and college level sciences, and may be something they utilize in their work environment later. Thirdly, when we come upon latin phrases/verses in our history studies, or in Bible study, we will know what they mean! And we can better understand the men and women who shaped history, particularly our founding fathers, who all had a strong foundation in latin. And lastly, since many latin words were also borrowed by several European languages, a foundation in latin will better prepare our children to study a foreign language of their choice in high school.

So I set out this spring to decide on a latin curriculum. Come to find out, there is a huge "how to teach latin" industry within the homeschool community!! Who knew??? I kid you not when I say there are at least a dozen different latin curriculums to choose from. After much research, prayer, discussion with hubby, more research, bugging my friends who use various things, more prayer, and more research, we finally decided on The Latin Road to English Grammar. We wanted a curriculum that had a heavy emphasis on latin grammar and didn't just teach a few vocabulary words each week, and we wanted something that wasn't tied to a lot of ancient history since that is not where we are right now in our history cycle. I also wanted something that came with teaching dvd's so that I could learn proper pronunciation, since I have never studied latin before. We have a lot of peace about our choice, and I am really hoping it is the right one for us! I was able to purchase the entire volume 1 set used, so it was not a huge expense. Another blessing! I have been told by several others who use LRTEG that the learning of latin grammar so solidifies and enhances the understanding of english grammar that a separate english grammar program is not needed. So we do not have plans at this point for any other grammar for our 6th grader except LRTEG.

Writing ~ I have already mentioned our writing program several times, Institute for Excellence in Writing, or IEW. I just wanted to add here that God is so good to lead us to a program that we can use with ALL our children for the REST of their school careers! No more writing purchases that end up sitting on the bookshelf unused!

Science ~ I will freely admit right here that I dropped the ball on formal science this year. I purchased "Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day" from this publisher to use, but we only did chapter 1. Awful, I know. We do so much informal science that I decided to let the guilt go. I am correcting this problem this upcoming year however, by teaching this class myself at our homeschool co-op! We will use the notebooking method while working through this book, which I will address later.

Handwriting/Penmanship ~ We have used 3 different handwriting programs so far, and one year we used all 3 of them at the same time, with different children! Our daughter has only used A Reason for Handwriting, and it has worked for her beautifully. She used their cursive book in third grade and has been writing in cursive ever since. Our next 2 boys had more of a problem with fine motor skills and a weak pincher grasp, so for them I used Handwriting Without Tears. It has been PERFECT for them. I use it this year with C also, and he and L will continue with it next year. Last year I used Draw Write Now with our son G because his printing was so neat and he had no trouble staying within the lines. This fall in fourth grade he will learn cursive with A Reason for Handwriting. Our daughter practiced her cursive penmanship this year by copying famous quotes of Benjamin Franklin.

As I look back at the last 7 years, all the different tools for learning we have used, the different styles that fit us for different reasons at different times, and what God has led us to for this upcoming year, I am so humbled and GRATEFUL that He is in charge of our little home school! If nothing else, I am learning that I truly can depend on Him, for all our choices, for each of the children, as we progress through each grade. He is so good. Thank you Lord!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Determining the Homeschool Style that fit our Family (part 3)

After 7 years of homeschooling, I have noticed that many new homeschoolers have a tendency to immediately begin worrying about curriculum, what to use with their children and how to make sure they are keeping in step with all their children would learn in certain grades if they were in public school. While this is somewhat natural, and I have had to guard against this myself, I believe it is putting the cart before the horse. There are at least as many different ways to homeschool as there are people reading this, so before worrying about specific curriculum choices it would be well to READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON ABOUT DIFFERENT HOMESCHOOLING STYLES (no, I'm not really shouting, just capitalizing for emphasis!!).

What people may not realize is that every single textbook, every single curriculum ~ yes, even math ~ is written from either a particular worldview or the viewpoint that their approach is the "right" way to teach that particular subject. Sometimes the approach is subtle and seemingly hidden, but often it is very identifiable if you know what to look for. When you go to a homeschool conference or bookfair it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices! Which is something I'm grateful for, as our predecessors had very little choice when it came to homeschool curriculum. But if you know what style of homeschooling you're aiming for, and what your goals are ahead of time, you can confidently walk past those vendors that offer materials not in line with your style and goals, and focus only on those that do.

So what are the major homeschooling styles?

This has been ably addressed by those much more expert than I, so I will only briefly highlight a few here. An excellent resource that describes all the homeschooling styles in great detail and even gives you a checklist to know if this is the style for you, is the book 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. Love, love, love this book!

The traditional style includes using textbooks and/or workbooks, and will use a distinct book for each subject area. These books are usually written for use in regular school classrooms. This approach enables a home school to function much like a regular public or private classroom. Some people find this method easier for record keeping, scheduling, and accountability.

The Charlotte Mason approach is named for its founder, a British school teacher who lived during the late 1800's, early 1900's. After years of experience, she determined that there were better ways of teaching children than traditional methods. To quote Cathy Duffy, "she believed in a child's innate ability and desire to learn and the need for teachers to restrain themselves from controlling all learning. She was not an advocate of unschooling, but of directed learning as well as teaching a child self discipline and good habits." This approach is characterized by lots of outdoor nature study, the use of narration (telling back) after reading/learning, and the reading of quality literature. An excellent resource for learning more about this homeschooling style is The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

The classical style is based on models that go all the way back to the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Every subject area is taught in three stages that coincide with a child's development. The grammar stage involves the basic structure, skills and knowledge of any subject (for math that would include learning basic math facts, for grammar learning parts of speech, for history learning the names of major events and people, etc). The logic or dialectic stage builds on this foundation, and students begin analyzing information and making connections. The rhetoric stage builds on this even further, the students have assimilated knowledge, thought about what they have learned, and can now express their own ideas through speech and writing at what would likely be considered adult levels. This style is characterized by the reading of "real books" and by socratic discussions. A wonderful book that details this approach is Teaching the Trivium, Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style.

The Unit Study approach is based on a theme that is used across subject areas. Rather than studying each subject separately, information is integrated and taught within the unifying theme. This style is characterized by the use of "real books" as well as hands on activities, and a high degree of direct parent involvement.

There are several other styles as well, including relaxed homeschooling, unschooling, literature based, and the eclectic approach, which is a combination of two or more of the above philosophies. Many homeschoolers I know, including myself, would fall into this category!

When we began homeschooling with only younger children, my two primary goals were to have lots of time to be outside, and to read lots of good books. So the Charlotte Mason style really appealed to me. We would read, and talk about what we were reading. We would go on a walk in the neighborhood and talk about what we saw. I consciously steered clear of many workbooks in the early years, and also tried to pick classic children's books to read to the kids that had stood the test of time. If it was published before 1960 we probably read it!

The unit study approach also appealed to me, and as I did more reading and studying about learning styles, the classical style also resonated with me. Over the years this has merged into the mostly classical but eclectic style that our family has today. Because we are first learning foundational skills in all subject areas and then building on them as our children grow (the classical model), our children may not know all the same things at the same time as their institutionally schooled counterparts, and vice versa. And this is okay! There are no curriculum police that are going to come to our door and demand to know why we didn't study a certain thing at a certain time. We are free to chart our own course. How I thank God for that!

I think the main reason that the classical model has come to fit us so well, is that my hubby and I are not as concerned with which FACTS our children remember from their school experience, as that they be able to THINK for themselves. That they will be able to take in information, recognize whether it is truth or falsehood, process it, think creatively about it, and articulate its truth or error in an effective way that edifies or persuades others. This is our number one educational/life goal.

We were thrilled to find Tapestry of Grace about this time two years ago. Tapestry is a Biblically based classical curriculum, that allows all our children to study the same time period of history together, each at their own level or stage of learning. Our 5 year old and just turned 8 year old are at the lower grammar level, our 9 year old is at the upper grammar level, and our 11 year old is just entering the dialectic stage. It has been thrilling this past school year to see the progression of stages as each of our children has read (or been read to), discussed, and written or narrated about the same material. Marcia Somerville, author of Tapestry, always says "read, think, write." We try to do this every day!

As well as being a classical curriculum, Tapestry also incorporates the unit study approach. There are hands on activities listed as options for each week, as well as vocabulary words that relate to the history and literature being read, and map work that coincides with history. Of course, the parent/teacher is free to pick and choose which of these things to utilize, and what to ignore. Something else I have to repeat to myself frequently is that "I am the master of the curriculum, not its slave." New homeschoolers, or those considering homeschooling, repeat after me......"I do not have to do it all."

We switched from Sonlight to Tapestry two years ago, and it has definitely been the right fit for us! But just because something works for us doesn't mean it will work well for you. Each family is so unique and has their own goals and dynamic. So please do read and think and pray, and then decide with God's help on your own special style!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Happy 8th Birthday!!!!!!

To our sweet second son, what a blessing you are to us! You came as a great big huge surprise (literally! You weighed 10# 8oz at birth!) but oh what a happy surprise you were! From the beginning you were a very happy baby, and you made going from 2 to 3 a piece of cake! I have always loved your great sense of humor, your enthusiasm, and your zest for life. You make our lives so much fun. You have challenged us to see life from a different perspective, and that has been good for us. What would we ever do without you?

During this past year we have delighted to see the ways in which you have grown and matured. We pray that you will always love Jesus with all your heart, and grow to deeply love His word. I love you as far as the universe. And I will always love you, no matter what.


~~ Now~~

Our new 8 year old, with his "horn of Prince Caspian" necklace.

Excitedly opening his new lego set!

With his siblings and the set of super soakers they gave him.

With Grandma and Grandpa, his middle name sake (Grandpa had cataract surgery this morning).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


We saw the most amazing thing in our yard today. A hawk swooped down and sat in our crabapple tree for quite a while while we were eating dinner! Such a lovely bird of prey! This led to a discussion of the differences between "birds" and "birds of prey" and what types of little creatures birds of prey usually eat. This led in turn to a discussion of mammals and reptiles and amphibians. After the older children and I had been discussing for several minutes, Little Man inserted himself into the conversation:

Little Man: "I saw a toad that was a kind of mammal."

Me: "Oh, really?"

Little Man: "Yes, at co-op." (nodding emphatically)

Me: "What did it look like?"

Little Man: "It was green."

And as proof that small people really are listening to the conversations (and teaching that is going on) around them......

Little Man, while carrying his older brother's long and heavy toy rifle: "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!" (a reference to the Battle of Bunker Hill!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How we started the actual "school" part of homeschooling (part 2)

Despite knowing since college that I wanted to home educate our children, once our children were born I didn't really give the academic part of homeschooling much thought until our daughter was 4. I just enjoyed being a mom and enjoyed my little babies! Our first 3 children were born in 3 years, so they were understandably very busy but very sweet years. We went on walks every day (loved, loved, loved my side by side double stroller!!) around the neighborhood, went to parks, played with playdough, went to the zoo, played in the sand, listened to lots of music, read lots of books. Those were great years!

The spring that our oldest turned 4, and I knew that we would "officially" begin homeschooling her for preschool in the fall, I began to read everything I could find about homeschooling. I began at the public library, and I think I read their entire shelf of homeschooling books. One of my favorites was Homeschooling: The Early Years by Linda Dobson. That book made homeschooling young ones sound so doable, so natural. It was merely an extension of what we were already doing. Other books that God used to greatly encourage me that summer were A Survivor's Guide to HomeSchooling by Luanne Shackelford and Susan White, Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson, and Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease ~ I often took these last two with me to the library for help in choosing excellent literature to read outloud.

We had such a great year that year! We "did preschool" two days a week, one at home and one at a small preschool co-op that me and two of my friends had that year. One of us would be the designated teacher for the day, one would watch the younger siblings, and the third mom got the morning off! We rotated like this, each week focusing on a different letter of the alphabet. For the letter "A" we learned about apples, learned how to write the letter A, and read a book about apples, all while sitting in an apple orchard! For "D" we visited a dairy and got to milk a cow, for the letter "H" we learned about hygiene, saw a dental hygienist at work, and received new toothbrushes! It was so fun! In fact, I have had moments where I regretted not being able to do this with the boys as they came up through the ranks, but they have each had fun preschool years too. They just looked a lot different.

The following summer, when our daughter was about to enter kindergarten, I was very pregnant with our number four child. I ended up on bedrest for the last 5 weeks of the pregnancy, and a c-section was scheduled due to placenta previa. While I was lounging in the easy chair all day eating bonbons ;-) I had a chance to once again read, think, and pray alot. When September came, and our baby was 2 months old, I felt totally prepared for homeschooling our kindergartner! In looking back, I realize that that was simply God's grace. In abundance. It was a wonderful, joy filled year, and I am so thankful that our daughter got to be at home that year to enjoy her new baby brother. She didn't have to miss any of his "firsts". They developed a very special bond, which they still have.

There were some hard days and some struggles, of course. I wrestled with the difference between classroom teaching (which I had done for years) and teaching at home. How to teach while still getting the laundry done, and dinner on the table, and the bills paid. When to clean the house. How to fit in time with each of the younger 3 boys. I learned so much that year, about my own inadequacy and my utter dependence on the Lord, about His goodness and His grace. And which standards were okay to lower (house keeping) and which standards were not (expectation of obedience).

Academically it was another really fun and good year (let's face it, kindergarten isn't that hard!!). I chose a Laura Ingalls theme for the entire year, and we had fun reading the chapter books, cooking pioneer era food, visiting a one room schoolhouse (dressed in pioneer clothes of course!) and even hand dipping candles. We worked on phonics and blending. We used lots of math manipulatives. I read a lot of books to the children while nursing the baby. I started something that year that I called "table time". I would put 2 or 3 fun preschool-ish activities on the kitchen table, turn on a 30 minute classical music CD, and tell the 3 older children that as long as the music was playing we had to stay at the table and do one of those activities. When the music stopped we would clean up and usually go outdoors for gross motor play.

The following year we began using Sonlight, which is a literature based curriculum incorporating history, reading, literature (what I read outloud), and Bible. We loved all the great book selections, and it added some structure and focus to our studies. We continued with phonics workbooks and math workbooks (Miquon math, for any of you wondering). We went on lots of field trips! Our next child was 4 that year, so that was his preschool year.

At the beginning of our daughter's second grade year I was pregnant with our fifth child. We had a kindergartner again, a 4 year old preschooler, and a 2 year old. It was a very busy year, and I often felt that something was slipping through the cracks, but I wasn't sure what it was! I prayed constantly that God would allow me to miss only inconsequentials and help me notice and discern what was truly important in the training of our children. In December we welcomed Little Man into our family. We took most of January off, and then started back to school. Again, I was so very thankful for the flexibility of homeschooling. I was SO thankful not to have to get everyone in their carseats and go pick up kids from school, or interrupt their naps. I was so grateful for the freedom to dictate our own schedule, and to go at our own pace. We continued using Sonlight that year, as well as the usual phonics and math, and we added grammar for our oldest.

As I look back on those years, I am so very grateful. It was a lovely, gentle way to begin our homeschool journey, and for the most part felt completely natural. Parenting and homeschooling flowed together like two branches of the same river. In fact, it still feels that way, though both are more challenging now!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Beginning of our Home School Journey (part 1)

I thought I'd share a little about how we got started homeschooling, and in future posts share about some of our curriculum choices and our own family's homeschooling "style". Since I know it so well (!) I forget that others don't (don't you all know everything I know???).

We are sortof unusual in the sense that I knew way back in my post-college days that if God ever blessed my future husband and I with children, we would home educate them. In my home state, the homeschooling law at that time (about 25 years ago ~ yikes!) required homeschoolers to have their children evaluated annually, either privately by a certified teacher, or through a standardized test. Many homeschoolers preferred the private evaluation option, and since I was sympathetic toward homeschooling and was a state certified teacher, I began a part time job of going into people's homes and evaluating their homeschooled children. I was free to come up with my own evaluation tools, and to write my report in whatever fashion I chose.

This was a fascinating venture, and one that impacted me strongly toward homeschooling my own children. I saw a variety of different styles and methods: some families had desks for each of their children and started and ended their day at specific times. Some had "kitchen math" and "farmyard science". Some emphasized art and music, some emphasized life skills, some were very structured, and some were what I would later come to know as unschoolers. The one thing all these families had in common was that their children were thriving!

I witnessed first hand the incredible value of one on one tutoring, and grew to be a strong supporter of parental rights, though I had as yet no children of my own. There are always exceptions, of course, but the bottom line is that most parents really do know what is best for their child! No-one loves their children as much as they do, and no-one else is as committed to seeing them succeed. I strongly believe that God has given the right to train and educate children to their parents ~ not to the state and not to the church. Scripture is pretty clear on this. Parents who choose institutional school for their children are still directing their education. They are enlisting the help of others, but the final choices and responsibility are theirs alone.

When I began visiting home educators, I was at first intrigued. Then fascinated. Then convinced. I was completely hooked.

Years later, when I finally met my future hubby (that's a long but very romantic story for another time!) and we were preparing for marriage, this was something we talked about. He was also completely sold on the idea of educating and discipling our own children, and in fact has become perhaps an even stronger supporter of homeschooling than I am! When I have those occasional really bad days and feel completely overwhelmed and think that I cannot continue to do this, all I have to say is, "I don't think I can keep doing this" and he is asking what he can do to help, and how can he give me a planning break, and what do I need in order to stay the course? He is my number one cheerleader.

Meanwhile, both of my sisters married and had children and began homeschooling.....and as they say, the proof was in the pudding! I couldn't wait to join them! On my hubby's side of the family, however, no-one else homeschooled and it was seen as a pretty radical idea. We began casually dropping hints about our intentions while our daughter was still a baby. They have completely warmed up to the notion (it helps that we've been doing it for 7 years now and our children aren't too weird!) and are very supportive. I am so thankful that I don't face opposition from anyone close to me, which many of my homeschooling colleagues do experience.

It took us longer than we planned to start our family (which is another long story for another time), but once the babies began coming I was overjoyed that now I would be able to be first a stay-at-home mom, and then a homeschooling mom. God had given me that dream so many years before, and it has been humbling and exhilarating to see it come to fruition! God is good!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Today's little daily things

I went to a bridal shower today. After joining my family, who were all at G's soccer game, Little Man commented on my clothing. He said, "this is a really nice shirt mommy. Where did you get it?" Apparently he doesn't see me or notice me dressing up very often! Hopefully he will someday tell his wife that her shirt is really nice too. :-)

Son G LOVES soccer, and I love watching him play!

My daughter and I did a big Sam's Club run. We were in and out in under an hour! Miracle! I had $300 of grocery money in my purse, and G carried a calculator through the store and added everything up as we went along to make sure we didn't go over. I am hoping that a few more times of doing this will give her an appreciation for what different food items cost, how to negotiate with your pocketbook (we put an expensive item back that we didn't really *need*), and how to stay within budget. She has also begun making desserts or muffins for us from boxed mixes. She can do everything herself except put them in the oven ~ she is a little afraid of the oven still. I marvel at how tall and beautiful she is becoming! She is really growing up.

We grilled 3 different kinds of meat for dinner tonight, and ate at our kitchen table while watching part of the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof". The kids really enjoyed it! We had the opportunity to go to a live presentation of this musical this evening, but needed to do the free version. I think it was the right decision. We had to stop the movie several times to answer questions and explain what was happening. I sure love that musical!

I have been busy the last several weeks, researching and ordering curriculum for next year. Most of the main things were already set, but we have been prayerfully considering some changes and additions. I love when we get a box of books delivered to our door! I am having to restrain myself from jumping in to plan for next year in earnest, as we still have 3 weeks of school left in order to finish out this school year. I so want to finish strong.

I have been praying earnestly about our co-op involvement for next school year. This past week I received a phone call from one of the directors of a different co-op. We have been on their waiting list for 2 years, and now there is room for us! We have to be "accepted" first, however, and the children and I have an interview with the directors on Monday morning. I was very upfront with her and told her that I wasn't sure we were ready to make a decision, and that whatever outside activities we are involved in have to mesh well with our overall homeschooling goals. I will be interviewing them as much as they will be interviewing me. :-) But it may be God's answer for us. They have IEW classes, which is the writing curriculum we use at home, and they have two different elementary Apologia science tracks, which is the science curriculum we have been using (not very consistently). So, something else to pray about!

My vegetable garden is still not completely weeded out. :-(

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Awana Awards Night

Last night we had Awana awards night at our church. Our 5 year old son and 7 year old son have been in Awana Sparks this past year. The 7 year old will be moving on to Stockade next fall, so this was his last year in Sparks. He worked very hard this year, as he had to finish book 2 from last year AND learn all of book 3 for this year. He did it! We are so proud of him. I love all the bible memorization they do for Sparks, and regret that our church stops this wonderful program at the end of second grade. All of our children learned the books of the bible while in Awana, as well as large passages of Scripture, and dozens of individual verses. Congratulations C and L!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sharing some written work

Once again I'd like to share a story written by our 11 year old daughter. For you fellow homeschoolers, this was from IEW's unit 3, summarizing narrative stories. Her work that I shared previously was a fable that she'd re-written from her summary of The Fox and the Crow. This time, after summarizing The Tortoise and the Hare, her assignment was to substitute the main characters with revolutionary war characters, and substitute the conflict with a revolutionary war era conflict, in essence creating an entirely new story. Her story was quite a bit longer than the original, illustrating in perfect stereotypical fashion the difference between boys who "just want to build forts all day" and girls who "love to write" (quotes frequently spoken by the IEW author, Andrew Pudewa). Here is her story:

One night, King George III was going to bed when he started thinking about his colonies, which were all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. They called themselves Patriots and declared war against him. Well! He would show them! Because he was like a father to his colonies, he could punish them any way he chose for dumping his tea overboard into Boston Harbor. "If they want war, well then, I'll give them one! I'll make sure a squad of regulars is on every common in America!" he yelled. Finally, he drifted off into a deep, deep sleep.

When he woke up the next morning, which seemed like only a few seconds to him, he decided he had everything worked out in America so he went out for a stroll. What he didn't know was that he was having a dream, but while he was dreaming some surprising things were happening over in America. In his dream while George III walked, he thought about George Washington, who was badly losing the war. He was so sure he and his enormous army were going to win this war and show those americans that he was boss.

Just then he heard bullet shots. "Whoa! What was that? I can't get to a peaceful place wheresoever I am!" he said. Then some British regulars ran past him. "Where do you think you are going?" King George exclaimed. "King! What are you doing over here in America? And we cou....." Just then George Washington stepped out of the forest with a group of ruffians wearing blue coats and holding muskets. The redcoats started running again but King George stopped them. Slowly the American militia surrounded the King and British troops. "Get them, men!" yelled the king. The regulars did as the King commanded, but the Americans fought back in such a way that surprised the British, and the British troops were slowly pushed back.

Now, in American, something like this was really happening just like in King George's dream. Back in his dream the king scolded, "What? Come on troops, we're much better than those scoundrels, those rebels!" But the British still were pushed back. Now the British were badly losing! They started to run.

All of a sudden some french men came out of the trees, blocking the British troops from escaping! They were trapped! King George surrendered, and over in America the British surrendered at Yorktown. King George walked home humiliated, and dreamt he fell into a deep sleep.

When King George III woke up for real he slumped into a chair. The war was over. He had lost America. Over in America, George Washington was being praised for acting so wisely and winning the long war. So King George learned that being slow and patient can usually win a war.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The baby bunnies all died during the night

Our children are in mourning, but handling it well. Even though they were not pets, we have decided to bury them rather than throwing them in the garbage (primarily because garbage day was yesterday and we don't want them sitting in our garbage for 6 more days!).

Our children have learned a valuable lesson about the tension between their own human compassion and allowing nature to operate as it was designed to. I *am* very grateful that each of our children got to hold a newborn baby bunny, and also grateful that we did not have to find baby bunny parts strewn about our yard and porch and driveway, courtesy of our cat.

Sometimes life is hard......

Monday, May 12, 2008

Four Bunnies are still alive!

And it looks like we have become their caregivers. My hubby sat at the dining room window for about an hour late last night, in the dark, watching for the mama bunny to return. She came. Found the umbrella and the lighted jar (our makeshift incubator) and took off. It appears that we have messed with the delicate balance of nature a little too much.

By this morning 3 of the 7 babies had died of exposure and dehydration. We brought the remaining 4 indoors and put them back in the glass aquarium, on top of a heating pad. While they warmed up I read up on what to feed baby bunnies. We started with warm pedialyte, which they all SCARFED down. It was obvious they were terribly hungry. It was so cute to watch their teeny tiny mouths working on that pedialyte!

Our plan at this point is to try and stabilize them for a couple more days and then take them to a bunny rehabilitator who is equipped to raise them until they can be released back into the wild.
About this time last year we successfully rescued a baby possum that was found back by our shed. She was also pretty young, but her eyes were already open. We had her for a week. The children fell in love with her and named her Isabelle. We found a possum rehabilitator near us, and took Isabelle there to continue being raised until she was able to be released. We got to see many other possums of varying ages, and even a baby racoon. So I'm sure we can find a bunny rehaber too.
In the meantime I hope we can figure out the special bunny formula that these bunnies are supposed to have, and I hope they thrive while in our care! The four older children have each adopted one to be "theirs", and are in the process of naming them. :-)
That's the latest on our bunny adventure!