Real-life is school too.

This week has involved (thus far) a zoo trip, library day, two unrelated doctor visits, lots of phone calls to various doctors and pharmacies, unscheduled but necessary errands, as well as efforts to keep life moving along in a good direction.  When things like this happen, keeping on track with academics can be a challenge.  What’s to be done?

Take a deep breath and prioritize.  While alphabet games for the three-year-old may fall by the wayside for a few days, math for the older children should not.  It helps to take advantage of where ever you find yourself and identify ways to tie things into your academic plan (or re-write it slightly to encompass them).  Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • At the zoo, reading the signs and maps assists with creating a mental picture of who lives where, and how life in each biome works together.  Take advantage of any activities or animal shows to increase not just a knowledge base about God’s creations, but appreciation for the myriad of questions they may not have thought to ask.  Sketching the animals and their habitats encourages focus and study.  Look for the differences in textures, colors, size, etc.  If you can find out when the animals are fed, follow the zoo-keepers around and observe how and what each animal eats.  What precautions, if any, the zoo-keepers need to take for the various species.  Why or why not?  The zoo is a unit study just waiting to happen.
  • When dealing with medical surprises, ask your doctor for any child-friendly information sheets they may have concerning the issue at hand.  Our pediatric cardiologist gave us coloring and game pages, information sheets, and allowed my children to examine heart models and ask questions.  Often you can find child friendly information online to supplement whatever you are handed.  Chicken pox can be a days’ detour from the goals for the month.  (And then a few days off for baths and naps.)  If you are dealing with more serious issues, it may become it’s own unit study for a week or more.
  • Our children’s librarian is transferring and this week is the last story time he will be doing for us.  This gives us the opportunity to make thank-you cards, and to discuss accepting life’s changes.  And to look forward to the good that will come.
  • Unseasonably hot summer weather has hit, and the garden is suffering a bit.  Here comes a botany lesson.  Peas don’t take 100 degree weather well; the tomatoes love it.  Time to pull the peas and any weeds taking advantage of the warm weather, water the tomatoes and melons, and thin the corn that is beginning to form tassels.  Look for signs of seed pods forming, fruit and flower formation, and learn to spot pests and disease.  Summer is here!

Some things require flexibility in the academic plan for a bit.  Other things are simply a bump in the road.  Whichever you run up against, find ways to smile and keep moving.  As our children see us take on the unexpected with composure, they will learn to do the same.


A question about helping Dad

I tripped across this file as I was working on my computer.  This is a question emailed to me a little while ago.  Thought is was worth another look.

How can I convince my husband that school doesn’t always have to be on paper?

Okay.  What is his greatest concern?  Does he worry that you aren’t doing anything with them?  That they aren’t learning?  That you’ll miss something?  Or does school on paper fit better with his learning style?  What is he perhaps seeing that you aren’t?  Or does he need a better understanding of the ways children learn?

Perhaps taking pictures of activities or having a written record, just for a while, so that he can see what things are happening would help.  Or have the kids narrate for him, in person or on tape, so that he can hear what they are learning.  Is it an option for him to “do school” with you for a day to get a feel for what you are accomplishing?  Does he understand learning styles and stages?  If not, becoming familiar with that information may help him understand what is most effective for each of your children.

Then again, do you need to do a bit more on paper?  Things don’t ALWAYS need to be on paper; but, even for young ones, you could have copy work, science charts, art work, maps, a group time-line, etc. so that he can see what a great variety of things you are covering.  Children love to have something to show what they have done, and to have the adults in their lives ooh and aah over it.

Have you involved him in your academic planning?  Perhaps seeing what you are currently putting together would allow him input and help the two of you have the same vision of where you are going.  Having a plan allows you to plan a course of action for your family.  It doesn’t have to look like “school-at-home” all day.  You can put together a curriculum full of great literature, hands-on activities, field trips as well as copy work and such.

I would HIGHLY recommend attending classes or talking with other veteran homeschooling parents together.  Sometimes talking things through with a presenter or chatting father-to-father can really help things come into focus in a new way.

Helping your husband find ways to be involved in the important work you do each day with your children can help build a stronger family, and a closer bond between the two of you.  Both of those things are worth the work!





Homeschooling, Parenting

“Felt is soft.”

Learned an interesting lesson this last week.  My instructor was my five-year-old grandson, J.  (Children are often the best teachers!)  As I attended the vendor fair for our state convention, I found myself in the Story Time Felts booth…again.  They are a company which makes and sells felt activities for children.  Some kits are literature-based.  Some are for preschoolers; some for older children.  All of them are brightly colored, soft, and have multiple uses.  (I love their product, but have always wished it were cheaper, and that I could justify the expense and the work to assemble everything.)

I have purchased from Joy, the consultant at the convention, in years past.  We have fun as she shows me what is new, and asks thoughtful questions.  Last year I purchased a few different kits, uncut, and set off to put things together.  Some got finished; some did not.  As we visited, I confessed that there were things still waiting to be done at my house.  So she told me to bring them the following day, and she would finish them for me.  YEAH!  Now everything is usable.  (You can find them at

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Now, what was the lesson I learned that relates to this wonderful company?  I went home that evening and asked my grandsons for their thoughts on the felt activities we had used.  M, the seven-year-old, was chatty but not overly helpful.  T, who is three, had lots to say- some of it even applied to the question at hand.  Then J, who has Sensory Processing Disorder which causes him to under-react and miss much of what is happening around him physically, quietly said, “Felt is soft.”  He later confided to me that he was fond of the pictures with bright colors that were fun to look at as he worked with the activities.  That’s all it took.

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I made a fairly significant purchase from Joy this year, fully cut and ready-to-go.  I went to the local second-hand store and bought a number of 3 inch 3-ring binders in which to store the lesson plans and pieces.  All the grandchildren love them.  And J is grinning.  As a twice-exceptional child, he has a new medium with which to explore.  The felt acts as great therapy as he fingers it.  And I feel like the hero of the hour.  I am so glad I took the time to talk to the boys before assuming that I needn’t bother this year.

We can learn so much if we simply ask questions and then pay attention to the answers.


Handcart list- odds and ends

We live in pioneer country; this list is the 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. This list focuses on items not listed anywhere else which I used as part of the backbone of my children’s studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-282013.)

Discovery level-

  • One Smart Cookie and Cookies:Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer.  These books are wonderful introductions to terms and ideas for character education discussion.  We would read 2-4 pages at a time and then talk about the traits listed, how to develop them, and situations where they are used.  Cute illustrations.  Great read!
  • Manners books by Munro Leaf-  This series of 5 books originally printed in the 1950’s uses simple text, quirky illustrations, and straight-forward language to teach the rules of civility to children.  Another book to read in snippets and discuss.

Analysis level-

  • Vocabulary From Classical Roots by Nancy Flowers and Norma Fifer- I used this series to teach Greek and Latin roots to my children.  We would work through a lesson or two, make a 3×5 card for each root taught, and then drill the cards before moving on to the next lesson.  (As you create cards, add them to the pile you have already learned; drill all of them.)  The card pile got taller and my children learned became more and more comfortable with each root and its meaning.   As you complete the series, you will have learned hundreds of root words.  Great for vocabulary development and comprehension.

I am sure this list will be ever-expanding as I discover new resources.  I am always on the look-out for quality, user-friendly curriculum.  Sometimes what I find helps me love what I already have even more; sometimes I fall in love with something I had never seen before.  Who knows what wonderful things I will find next.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Why are you heading in that direction?

My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.                                                                                                     John 14:27

My family and I have chosen to live life a little bit differently than many around us.  We live on one income.  We homeschool.  We garden, make do, and plan for the future.  We have learned to be somewhat self-sufficient, and have learned some basic skills to help us if we ever need to take care of ourselves, and possibly those around us, for a period of time.  (We live in earthquake country.)  We are heavily involved in our religious beliefs and community.  Political causes get our time and money.  And we live with peace and purpose.

Last weekend was the state homeschool convention and curriculum fair.  I love attending, teaching, spending money for wonderful supplies from caring people, and talking to others who have chosen to teach their own.  I am not as excited by the high-pitched, frantic, and inflammatory tones from some of those I met.  Whether they are desperate to have their point of view understood, or they “have their knickers in a twist” due to one political situation or another, I am disturbed by the frenzy I saw.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am well-aware of problems in the economy, politics, and the world.  I have concerns about how well we take care of this beautiful earth given to us by the Creator.  And the latest statistics on the family are alarming!  All of these things give me pause and entice me to find ways to get involved and try to make a difference.  But what I cannot do is lose hope, or allow fear to guide my footsteps.

One woman with whom I spoke was just beginning her homeschool journey.  She had pulled her children from the public schools due to fear of the current curriculum controversy.  While I hope she and her family find this decision to be full of joy and wonderful surprises, I wish her motivations were moving her towards something, rather than away from something else.  Those who take life on from a different angle need to believe in the correctness of their course and not just the problems of the more commonly traveled road.

There is a concerned, involved, and All-powerful God in Heaven.  He is in charge.  He has made amazing promises to those who love and follow Him.  If I truly have those promises in my heart, I cannot give in to panic or fear.  If we move forward, trusting in His goodness and His timing, we have all that we need.  Including peace.


Handcart list- critical thinking box

We live in pioneer country; this list is the 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. This list focuses on critical thinking and various ways to include it in your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-282013.)

Discovery level-

  • Household cleaning/sorting items to learn order, pattern, and classification.  Whether your young children are helping you put away their toys or scrub the bathroom, they will be learning how to create order and follow through on a multi-step process.  Consistency and effort are both requirements of thinking with clarity and purpose.  (Who knew having a clean bathroom or loaded dishwasher had so many benefits?)
  • Facts and vocabulary dealing with the world around them.  Without clear and correct information and verbiage, children cannot learn to draw valid conclusions and articulate them.  Give them data with which to work.
  • Word games i.e. Mad-libs, word searches,  crosswords- Early exposure to the fun side of language allows children to experiment with words and enjoy playing with them.  Vocabulary is more easily expanded when learning new word is enjoyable.
  • Math games i.e. tangrams, pentominoes, etc.- Visual and spacial skills are developed as children examine parts of the whole.  Learning to visualize how things go together to create an object helps with science and math studies, and can make the wonders of our Creator even more amazing.
  • Puzzles- Spacial skills again.  And developing the habit of close examination.
  • Picture books without words- When children have the opportunity to tell the story in their own words, they learn to find the words they need.  Watching the pictures closely can encourage them to express not just plot, but also emotional content, and can give them the opportunity to discern positive and negative behaviors.  Besides, they’re just good fun!
  • ThinkFun and Smart Games products- We have a number of critical thinking activities from these two companies.  They make great gifts, and it is not uncommon for the adults in the house to want to “help” the children work through them.  I find them from Timberdoodle and on  They are also sold by toys stores and educational supply companies.

Analysis level-

  • Conversation that requires thought and clarity.  Teach your children to speak clearly and articulately.  One of the most effective tools for critical thinking is exposure to contrasting points of view followed by discussion of the merits of each argument.  While this may not be helpful during the discovery phase, it becomes vital as youth grow and prepare for adulthood.
  • Logic problems- sometimes called quizzles or mind benders.  I learned to love these puzzles-on-a-grid as a child.  You can find them for every learning level from The Critical Thinking Company.  If you have an advanced or gifted learner, I would begin them in mid-late discovery level.  Others will do better waiting until they’re 10-12 or so.  Start slowly.  They require inference skills which have to be nurtured.  But be warned.  They can be addictive!
  • Crossword, sudoku, and other brain teasers- Much critical thinking ability is developed through looking at the world in different ways.  That requires thought and concentration.  Brain teaser puzzles help keep us mentally nimble.  These games are great to introduce when children are young, but have great impact as they enter the teen years.
  • Editorial section of the newspaper- Current events can be disturbing, but having only partial information makes things worse.  Teaching your older children what is happening, and helping them learn to think through the challenges of the modern world can allow them to process what is happening.  We read editorials (those from syndicated columnists and those from the local populace)  each morning as part of group time and then dissected them.  Do you agree or disagree? What is the premise of the article?  Is there a flaw or uninformed statement?  What words are the most persuasive?  The most inflammatory? Makes for some focused, in-depth discussion.  We also love editorial cartoons!
  • Games which encourage multi-step and/or logical thinking (ThinkFun and other companies) keep learning fun and low-key.  Rush Hour, Cool Moves, Q-Bitz, Labyrinth and other such games are favorites for our family.  There are always new fun things to find.  Have fun!

Application level-

  • Introductory Logic published by Mars Hill Press- Written from a traditional Christian perspective, this course is well-thought-out and teaches the basics of formal logic.  It will make you think! Purchase both the student and teacher texts.
  • Anything in the analysis level list- just keep them thinking!

For more ideas on critical thinking, see my blog post on April 17, 2013.


Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary

When prepping a room that needs to be painted, you clear the walls, patch the holes, sand if needed, and then you can apply the primer and paint.  If you skip any preliminary steps, you will have an inferior job at the end.  There is no way around that.  Learning to read, write, and speak well requires certain steps be followed too.

First thing to tackle with your child is phonics.  There are 70 basic phonograms in the English language.  You can purchase a set of phonogram flashcards online for under $20, or you can make one.  Simply search the internet for phonogram rules. Look for a complete list of the phonograms, the sounds they make, and the rules to know which sound it will have.  Example: “G” is generally soft when followed by e, i, and y. If you and your children memorize the rules and sounds, reading becomes much easier, spelling is less mysterious, and frustration levels drop.  (Words which we have borrowed from other languages have their own rules.)


When phonics are solid and reading is becoming smoother, spelling can be introduced with less stress.  Why we ask a child who isn’t comfortable putting words together to begin taking them apart, I will never understand.  If you need to put the speller away until second grade or so, that’s okay.  Once the foundation is intact, your child may just surprise you with how quickly they learn their spelling words.  Which brings me to another quandary.  Why assign lists of words your children already know?  I found my children were much less resistant when I tested the list orally first.  If they knew them, I tested the next list the next day.  If there were only a few which were unfamiliar, they wrote them out on paper for penmanship, and we tested just those words the following day.  If a majority of the words were misspelled orally then we used that as the assigned list for study.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to accelerate or slow down as needed.  If your child needs to split the lesson into smaller chunks, go for it.  If it takes more than one week to learn the words, take the time needed.  In the end, they will be learned.  No pressure.  No failure.


As my children entered their “tweens,” I moved them from spelling lists to vocabulary pages.  At this point I became a bit of a ogre about their assignments.  Each list of ten words was to be completed by the end of the week neatly typed in the proper format.  The following were required:

  • Each word numbered 1-10
  • The correct spelling of each word
  • Part of speech labeled
  • Definition of the word
  • Following the numbered portion of the assignment on the lower part of the page, they were required to use each word correctly in a sentence.  If they could group some of the words into fewer than ten sentences, that was fine so long as there were no run-on sentences and everything made sense.  (I think the current record is three sentences for all ten words.)

You could assign fewer words if that suits your situation better, but I found that a list of more than ten became cumbersome for everyone involved.

Which words to assign?  That’s up to you.  You can continue using a text such as McGuffey’s Speller, or you can begin to extract words from the course of study you are using.  Unfamiliar words from their literature studies, science unit, or history assignments create a pertinent and user-friendly list.   If you notice words which are consistently misspelled in their writing, they are great candidates as well.  Mom can even participate in the vocabulary exercises with them!

Language development is such an important part of preparing our children for adulthood.  Take the time needed on each step so that the foundation you build is without cracks.  Then the sky is the limit!