Games keep learning fun!

Every now and then in your homeschool you will have one of “those” days.  Everyone is edgy, or nothing seems to be going right, or there is stress elsewhere in the family and it is affecting everyone.  Every now and then it can be helpful to keep the books and programmed curriculum on the shelf, and take a day to play.  Don’t think I am necessarily advocating a day off academics completely (although that can have a place too).  I am talking about having a day to remind everyone-including Mom- how much we love being together as a family, and why we chose to homeschool in the first place.  One of the highest goals in our home was to love learning, and have joy in our time together.  That is not possible if we are so busy being “school-marms” that we forget that we are teaching our children whether or not we are “teaching” them.  It is so important that we show them how to have fun as well as how to work!

Here are some of our favorite games for various academic subjects.

Language Arts:

Scrabble by Milton Bradley

UpWords by Milton Bradley


Password by Milton Bradley

Whiz Kids by Discovery Toys

ABSeas by Discovery Toys

Brainy Daze by The Learning Cottage



puzzles- both tabletop jigsaw and 3D

Social Studies:

Five-State Rummy by School Zone Publishing Corp.

USA Bingo by Trend Enterprises


Dem Bones by The Learning Cottage

Go to the park, have a picnic, and draw.  (Okay.  Not really a game, but a great way to decompress!)


Made for Trade by Astroplay

Risk by Hasbro Games

Constitution IQ by National Center for Constitutional Studies

Blokus by Educational Insights

Labrynth by Ravensburger

Labyrinth by Ravensburger

Q-Bitz by MindWare



Just about anything from ThinkFun

Just for fun:

Apples to Apples or Apples to Apples, Jr.  by Out of the Box

Blink by Out of the Box

Twister by Hasbro

Leverage by Milton Bradley

What is your favorite way to let your hair down as a family?

Cooking, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

The right tools for the job

This evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and happened to look around at the beehive of activity at my house.  I had both ovens going with food for dinner.  I was using various pans and Pyrex dishes for meal prep.  There was the immersion blender for mixing milk, and the spoons made of various materials for stainless steel and non-stick pans.  After we eat, the dishes will go into the dishwasher to get clean.

My husband and son-in-law were outside with the weed-whacker, mower, and tiller in use as they cleaned up the lawn, and prepped three grow-boxes for the corn and beans to be planted tonight.  Three loads of laundry are on the clothesline drying.

Downstairs were the washer and dryer helping me complete the days laundry.  (I don’t hang underwear, socks, towels, or wash cloths on the line.)  My daughter is teaching her five boys.  Some academics.  Some cleaning skills.  And sorting as she goes.

None of this would be possible without the correct tools for the job.  No tiller would mean a full day of amending and mixing soils before we can plant.  No immersion blender could result in lumpy milk.  Doing laundry with modern appliances just doesn’t bear thinking about at all.  And without the ability to plan and the correct supplies, raising and teaching children is tough!

We don’t have the “ideal” world of years gone by in which to rear a family, but we don’t have to go plow the “back forty” with a horse and plow either.  I will take the 21st century anytime!  I will use my curriculum, my scriptures, and lots of time talking with the young ones as I use the wonderful tools at my disposal!  We are so blessed!



One of the skills I insist my children learn as they become teenagers is outlining.  The ability to pick out main ideas from their studies, organize those on paper, and then create a composition from their outline has proven to be invaluable (so they tell me).

Here’s where it all began:

I first learned to outline at Roosevelt Jr. High School in the ’70s.  The man who taught the honors history block required a number of things if you were going to pass his class.  Neat handwriting, a research paper and a book report each quarter, and a neatly outlined notebook (to be reviewed by him at a moment’s notice!).  Each day upon reporting to class, the chalkboard would be covered with the outline for that day.  Proper form, all information written neatly in a clear cursive hand, ready to be copied.  And so we copied-each word properly spaced, neatly taken down so that we could refer to it later as we studied.  While I dispute some of the conclusions he drew in regards to history, I will be forever grateful to him for the gift of outlining he gave us.  As I progressed through school, I used outlining as a tool over and over again.  Sometimes it was required as part of an assignment; sometimes I used it simply to organize my thoughts as I started to work on a paper.  Because it was so vital to me, I determined my children would learn it too.

The process of creating an outline is simple.  The form is straight-forward and easy to follow.  It should look like this (each new idea is indented five spaces from the earlier one until you get to the next main idea.):

I.  First main idea

A. Subheading for main idea

1. Detail supporting subheading for main idea

a. more specific detail for main idea

b. more specific detail for main idea

2.Detail supporting subheading for main idea

B. Subheading for main idea

II. Second main idea

And so forth.

There are a few basic rules when creating an outline.  You can use either phrases (called a phrase outline) or complete sentences (called a sentence outline).  You must choose one or the other.  The numbering system is standard and does not vary.  Roman numerals for the main ideas; capitol letters for the subheadings; Arabic numerals for details; lower case letters for more specific details; Arabic numerals in a parentheses next; lower case letters in a parentheses after that.  Indent 5 spaces for each notation after a main idea.  If you have a 1, you must have a 2.  If you put in an A, you must also include a B.  When including an outline in a report, the pages are numbers with lower case Roman numerals.

When working on a research paper, a basic precursor to an outline is keeping note cards.  One thought per card.  Only one.  When you have your ideas written down, line the cards up on table (or on the floor, if you need that kind of room) in outline form.  I., A., B., 1., 2., a., b., II., etc.  Number or label them in the order you want to use them, and then transfer this information onto paper.  If you find a few more facts you want to use when it is written, go ahead and add them to your outline.

I am aware that an outline can be generated with most basic word processing systems.  Whatever.  Our children need to know how to generate one using the oldest “processing system” we have- paper, pencil, and their brain.  If they want to learn how to use the computer later, fine.  Just ensure they know how to create one themselves first.  Being able to write a well thought out, articulate paper will serve them well for the rest of their lives.


Handcart list- Mom’s box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners.  Here is my list for Mom’s supplies.  (A portion of this list will be posted each Friday until it is complete.)

  • The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer- A fascinating look at implementing classical education in your home.  While I do not teach in the same way, the book offers reliable resource lists, and is a great opportunity to think about how your home school is going to function.   (Do not allow the size to overwhelm you.  Read it in snippets, and use whatever works for you!)
  • A library card -You do not have to own every book you intend to use.  Many wonderful books, cds, dvds, etc. are available at your local library.  Also under-appreciated, and under-utilized are the librarians that work there.   Our experience has been that if you are a regular face at the library, and your children are well-behaved and respectful, if you ask, most librarians are more than happy to assist you in finding resources, and looking into options.
  • The Core  by Leigh Bortins- A fun read that outlines the “whys” of classical and home education.  Her “how-tos” are thought-provoking, and easy to follow.  I loved reading this book!
  • The Children’s Story  by James Clavell- One of the most haunting books I have ever read.  Ever.  A most effective read-aloud.  I first heard it as a third-grader in Mrs. Sehr’s  class.  (What was she thinking?)  It stayed with me for decades, so that when I heard it again in a class, I recognized it immediately.  If anyone asks why it mattered so much that I teach my own children, and why I spent so much time on critical thinking and the ability to express their thoughts, I read it to them.  (I would not read this book with anyone under the age of 10-12.  A great read for youth when you follow it with discussion!)
  • Scriptures and other religious literature- The most important education you can give your children is an understanding of Christ, and laws of God.  Knowing how much He loves them will serve them well throughout their lives!  Discuss them.  Teach from them.  Live them.  Help your children learn to love them!
  • Critical thinking materials- Teaching your children to think clearly and logically will help them as they grow, and throughout adulthood.  Leaving home without this ability leaves them open to the whims and vagaries of life.  I would rather my children assist those around them than be led by others.
  • American flag-Teach them to respect the flag.  Learn its history, symbolism, and the place it holds in our Nation’s history.  Pledge the flag in your home.
  • A dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus- Find books that are user-friendly, and detailed enough to have the information you actually have to look up.  I have owned a myriad of thesaurus’; Roget’s is head-and-shoulders above the others in my experience.  I also have both a contemporary dictionary, and an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.  Research on the internet is possible, but nothing takes the place of learning how to open the books and search.
  • One or two good quote books- We used them for penmanship as my children grew older.  They could choose what they wanted to write; it just needed to be in their best hand.  (The one stipulation I made was that if they were repeatedly choosing markedly short quotes, that was adjusted.)  Reviewing them gave me an opportunity to see what they found interesting and often mirrored their mood.
  • One or more good poetry anthologies (or a shelf of poetry books)- Poetry study should not be a stress.  Just open up a book or two, and read a bit each day.  Mix humor, and non-sense with more serious, themed poetry.
  • A plan- I never found a schedule to be effective, but it was vital that we had a routine and stuck to it.  Chores, breakfast, group time, individual studies- that is what worked for us.  I wasn’t too concerned about being dressed for the day before we started, but beds were made and everyone was fed.  (Some of my best work is done on the days I get showered and dressed around 3 p.m.)  Other families get up, dress, and clean up first.  Some start with academics, and do chores later.  Whatever you choose, consistency will serve you well!
  • A curriculum plan- Know where you want to go.  Academics require a plan, and the ability to guide your students.  The thought that goes into creating goals, and sifting through resources helps to focus you and your students.  It can also assist you in making the best use of your school budget.

In addition to the previous items, I would stock:

  • Arts and craft supplies i.e. paper of various weights and usage, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, scissors, watercolors; clay, and clay-working tools; glitter, glue, glue sticks, pipe cleaners- some art activities can be free play; some guided.  It can make a mess, but helping your children see the world through different mediums is such a gift.
  • Science gadgets i.e. magnets, binoculars, string, a magnifying glass;  shovels and buckets for playing and planting;  a balancing scale and weights-look for these at school supply shops, dollar stores, yard sales, or anywhere else you find yourself.  I have found great working binoculars in the toy section, a scale with weights at a second-hand store, and magnets in a variety of places.
  • Puzzles- large, small, floor or table-sized; four pieces or hundreds. Puzzles assist in visual acuity and spatial awareness.  Encouraging our children to slow down, and study things carefully is a good thing.
  • Board games-some are just time wasters; some are great learning tools.  Look for games built around a theme or academic subject.  Many games focus on strategy, critical thinking, or problems-solving skills.   Remember-fun is still important.   Not sure where to start?  Ask around.  Try a game night where everyone brings a favorite or two.
  • A set of geoboards with rubber bands, pegboard, tangrams and pentominoes,  soma cubes, etc.-whether 2-D, or3-d, these can teach many of the same skills as puzzles, as well as basic mathematical concepts.
  • Building materials i.e. Legos/Duplos, Lincoln Logs, K’nex/Kid K’nex, Erector sets, etc.-fun for creating or keeping little fingers busy as you read aloud.  You can also recreate famous architecture, build a fantasy house, or use them to role play.  They are great!
  • Music CDs- listen to a variety of genres, artists, and ethnic groups.  Familiarize yourself with the music of America, other countries, and cultures.  Learn some pop, country, Broadway, and comedic pieces.  Classical music, and it’s history often parallels interesting changes in that history.
  • Musical instruments and recordings to play, experiment with, and enjoy.  Be sure the instruments are age appropriate, but allow your children to discover the difference between strings, percussion, and wind instruments.  Can you pick out different tunes?  Recreate specific rhythms?  As your children grow, have them learn to play an instrument.  Music reading, tempo, and rhythm, the act of creating the correct sound-all of these help with brain development, and attention span.  It can also open an entirely new world of friends, experiences, and boost self-esteem.
Finances, Home and Family, Organization

Look at things differently!

“The true economy of housekeeping is gathering up the fragments so nothing is lost.”  Mrs. Lydia Childs  The American Frugal Housewife

One of the challenges of the 21st century is the seeming need for two incomes and the ever-increasing need for there to be a full-time parent in the home. This challenge can be met; it just requires some careful budgeting and a willingness to look at things a bit differently.

One strategy we used to stretch what we had was to live by the adage:

Use it up. Wear it out.
Make it do or do without.

There are so many items we regularly toss into the garbage/recycling which could meet some of our needs if we look more closely at them.  Consider the following:

  • Cereal bag liners are made from restaurant grade wax paper.  Anything you would use wax paper (or sometimes plastic wrap) is free in your cereal box.
  • The bottom 2 inches of a milk jug makes a handy plunger saucer.  When it needs replacing, you can easily find another one!
  • Old calendars often have artwork that can be framed (second-hand frames, of course) and mounted in your home.
  • Shoe boxes make great storage for pictures, and your children’s treasures.
  • Old cotton t-shirts make some of the best cleaning rags you will ever find.
  • You can make magazine holders from cereal boxes.
  • Yard sale season is almost upon us.  Start your list, pray about it, and off you go!
  • Second hand sweaters can be unraveled for yarn if you knit.
  • Save a nice pair of jeans or two and a couple shirts for each child to wear in public.  They don’t need a closet full of new clothes.  Just a few to look presentable in as you are out and about.  They can wear their favorite, old, possibly holey clothes at home.. Change out of public wear when you get back from errands, etc.
  • Cheap shampoo makes some of the best bathroom cleaner.  It is made to cut through the oil in our hair, so bathtub rings, tacky sinks, and even ring-around-the-collar is no match!  Add baking or washing soda if you want something a tad more abrasive.
  • Want to redecorate?  Remove everything from a room or two.  Reintroduce things to new places.  Group like items as you decorate to make focal points.  You can get a new room or two without spending a dime.
  • Open-ended toys are often the best.  Wooden blocks (look for a shop or cabinet maker locally.  They make have scraps you can use to create your own set).  Legos.  Dolls (make your own clothes, furniture, etc.).  Balls and other sports equipment.  Child-friendly cleaning and cooking tools.
  • Apple and orange boxes from your local grocery make great storage boxed for your children clothes that are too small (and waiting for the next child), or too big (and waiting for them to grow).
  • Go to the park, or local nature walk area for lunch.  Take a picnic you all helped create.  Have a great day as a family without entrance fees, or expensive souvenirs.  Take lots of pictures!
  • Visit a second-hand store to purchase board games and puzzles.  Use them for fun family nights.  Pop some popcorn, make a batch of cookies, or some hot chocolate, and enjoy time with each other.  Invite your children’s friends, and get to know them as well.  No electronics needed!
  • Books are great things to find second-hand.  Great information, stories, and craft ideas for pennies on the dollar.  Cook books for your scratch cooking adventures.  Enjoy!
  • Gather perennials starts from friends to landscape your yard.  If you offer to help with yard work, you can often glean great plants for free.
  • Use cardboard egg cartons for planting your tender vegetable starts.  Each cup hold one of two seeds.  By the time they are big enough to plant outside, the egg carton cups come apart easily.
  • Plant those things which give back.  Fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines, etc. are fun to use for landscaping, change with each season, and feed your family.  Win!
  • Reuse old headboards, ladders, and such for decorative trellising.  They are sturdy, add visual interest, and it keeps them out of the landfill.
  • Keep things clean.  Order and organization helps you make better use of what you have, and can make staying home a more pleasant alternative to shopping.  If your kitchen is clean, you are more likely to be able to cook in it.  If your family room is orderly, it invites people to use it.  This is a co-operative effort for the entire family.
  • Learning about interior decorating, the up-coming fashions, make-up and hair, and other creative outlets gives you the ability to save money without feeling as though you are decades behind everyone else.  Find what you love, and use it!

There are thousands of ways to reuse things, or find them at a discount so that you don’t need to go purchase new at high prices.  Second-hand shopping and yard sales can provide great finds for cheap.  Google thrift, tightwad, reuse, or cheap for a lifetime of ideas of ways to save money, and still provide what your family needs.  Make saving money a family adventure rather than feeling deprived because of your budget.  Attitude and creativity make all the difference!

Some of my favorite books on this subject are:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn

Living More With Less by Doris Longacre

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker

A Simple Choice by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

Educational goals

I seem to be spending quite a bit of time lately helping moms talk through the goals they have for their individual children.  They are generally concerned about helping their children receive a “good education” at home.  That begs the question- what is a “good education?”  As someone who endeavors to work within a classical education framework, the most obvious concern would seem to be growth in the core academic subjects.  Is their understanding of history, science, etc. deepening?  Are they seeing connections between the subjects and learning to think?  While these are important, there are so many other ways to develop and expand your mind.  Have we added to our moral understanding?  Is our appreciation of beauty expanding?  There is so much more than the core subjects involved in a “good education!” As the parents of homeschooled parents, we are responsible for so much more than the three Rs.

Academic education is the most obvious training when discussing homeschooling.  Literature, vocabulary and writing, science, math, and history are a great base for academic studies.  Building a solid understanding of these subjects will pay large dividends in the future, but all this is simply the beginning of education.

Character and ethics education helps build character as they grow, and critical thinking plays a large part of that.  If my children leave home having read 100 classics, are able to do calculus, and can write like a professor, but are unable to discern bias or hidden motives in the world around them, I have sent well-educated patsies into the world for someone else to manipulate. They need to know how to think.  Life is full of absolutes, in spite of opinions to the contrary.  We must teach our children what those absolutes are!

As we build minds and characters, we also are building souls.  A study of music, the Masters of the art world, poetry, and religion can give them something to which they can cling when life gets hard.  And life will.  All of these things feed the soul.  It is important to me that my children have amassed an internal repertoire so that when they watch the sunset over the mountains, or sit on a beach as the sun rises, or as a new-born baby is placed in their arms, they have a song in their heart for that moment.  Allowing them the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, paint, draw, or delve into spiritual things can increase what they have to share with the rest of the world.  Giving them a respect for the sacred, and a love of God can anchor them “on the rock” when the storms blow.

Emotional education comes as we teach them to communicate and interpret life’s events with a belief that life is good. Teach them conflict resolution, positive attitudes, and a sense of their inherent worth. Inner strength and the ability to respond appropriately to the unexpected comes as they see these traits modeled, and are encouraged and reassured as they work to refine their own emotional maturity.  Being “well-educated” is not generally helpful if you can’t handle what life throws your way!

No parent will teach all these things perfectly. However, we must do our best, and then remember their education will continue as they move through life.  We are simply building foundations.

Home and Family

Networks aren’t just for computers

It has been a crazy few months at the cottage. We’ve gotten through a surgery, a move, wild weather, a leaking roof, more than a few fibromyalgia flares, teething toddlers, potty training, and other unexpected events.  As I look back, I notice that one of the things that makes life do-able is my network.  Not one on the computer.  This is the one that consists of friends and family who make a wonderful difference in my life.

I have daughters who let me play with their little ones while they edit what I am writing, and help me with all of the oddities of computers that leave me wanting to pull out my hair.  My sons and daughter-in-law come and help with the physical stuff I can’t do so that life keeps moving.  My husband is patient, and does whatever he can (even as he is convalescing). And I can always count on all of them to make me laugh- at myself, at life, and at the unexpected.

There are women who come to talk about home schooling or cooking or preparedness and end up talking about everything under the sun.  Classical Education Group is great for my morale, and the “class after the class” when one or a few of the ladies plant on my couch to chat is often my favorite part of the night.  In my network there are RNs who are more than willing to let me pick their brains, women who have the ability to make me smile just because they are there, and some of the hardest workers I have ever known!  They let me try and help them as they work to raise and teach their children, and they help me with the crazy projects I get myself into regularly.  Bottling 400 lbs of apples as sauce, and cubing beef for three hours comes to mind.  Or trying to clean and touch up paint for workshops held in my home.  They are the best!  I have other friends who are farther away but are always willing to be there via a phone call or facebook chat.

Everyone needs a network.  Parents with children at home, empty nesters, grandparents, those who are still waiting for a family, and everyone else.  We are here to serve and grow together.  The good Lord put us here to form networks of real people who build each other.  Friends, family, and community.  A wise man, Spencer W. Kimball, once said, “The Lord does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other…”  I am grateful for those in my life who are willing to be His Hands.

Who have you invited into your network?