Homeschooling, Organization

My love/hate relationship

Okay.  I admit it.  There are things that leave me so conflicted, I can’t seem to decide how I truly feel.  My latest hair-pulling is found when I am at my copier.  I LOVE the ease of copying when the masters are spiral-bound rather than the typical glued binding, but then I often forget which reproducibles I have when they are bound that way and miss opportunities to use things that could add just the right thing to our studies.  OR I don’t spiral-bind my books, and copies come out lop-sided, messy, or missing a few letters on one margin or the other.

I think I may have to go to using three-ring notebooks and page protectors, but that gets pricey.  And I will need more shelf space….

What drives you crazy?

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Let’s read!

Every child ought to know the pleasure of words so well chosen that they awaken sensibility, great emotions and understanding of truth.  This is the magic of words- a touch of the supernatural, communication that minister to the spirit, a true gift.                                  

                                                       Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

Summer is almost here.  The season for gardening, outdoor activities, and (my personal favorite) time to read just for the sheer pleasure of it. As you head off to the library or book store, remember to choose literature which feeds the mind and heart of each family member.  One of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes reads, “We owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.”  Not all available reading material is created equal. Much is inspirational, educational, and worthy of emulation; some is depressing, dark and without morals or direction.  Some uses the intricacies of the English language will skill and precision; some caters to a desire to read quickly, think minimally, and finish hurriedly.  Don’t give in to desire to feed on junk food for the mind!

Mom, be aware of those books that introduce twaddle to you and your family. Twaddle encourages the habits of limited attention to reading, small vocabulary development and a need for short sentence structure; these habits will be very difficult to supplant and precious learning time can be lost.  (Not sure what twaddle is?  If the language talks down to your children, feels more like mental drivel than food for the soul, or is just dull, it is most likely twaddle.) My eldest became hooked on twaddle as a child.  She read voraciously, and I thought she was fine as long as she was reading.  WRONG!  Weaning her off twaddle as a tween, and introducing better choices was painful!  She got there, but the transition was so hard.  Now she watches her own children like a hawk!

Allowing questionable content in the name of a child’s freedom of choice can come back to haunt you later.  As parents, we have the opportunity to teach and protect.  Sometimes that means we are the bad guy.  Look for those books which encourage belief in a higher law, individualism, logical thinking, hard work, optimism; loyalty to family, God and country; respect for life.  Books that contain relativism, negativity, false principles, or focus on dark topics are generally to be avoided.

It is also good to keep in mind no book is loved by everyone. There is no magic list of MUST reads, simply lists of good places to begin. If you are reading something as a family and no one is enjoying it, put it away.  The timing may be wrong or it may simply be a book in which your family is not going to take pleasure.  That’s alright.  There is more wonderful literature in this world than any of us could read in our lifetime.  Move on; try something else.

This summer read something you always meant to get around to reading.  Or read a favorite piece again and joy in the pleasure of familiar language and images.  Introduce your children to those “friends” you loved as a child.  Go find some new ones.  See you at the library!

Home and Family

Today’s library adventure

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We had such fun at the library today.  In our county there are branches of the library which all connect to the same system.  On our library day, we can walk to the branch nearest our home, or we load up my daughter’s van and try a different branch which is what we did this morning.  Such a good idea!

We discovered that a recently opened branch has a great children’s librarian, and attended one of the best story times in the valley.  So fun!  There were puppets, stories, songs, and handouts.  We also found a pile of picture books in the book sale area to supplement our home libraries for $1 each.  There is a large children’s section which has bean bag chairs, benches, a couch, and other fun places to sit, and- best of all- a children’s restroom entrance in the children’s section of the library.  No more running across the building to make a quick “potty stop” with the potty-training three-year-old. When I asked for help locating a specific section, one of the librarians smiled, and gave me quick tour of the entire area. And they placed over-sized cubes with beads and mirrors in the check-out area to keep the children busy while you get your books ready to take home.

The boys had a great time.  We had time to relax and enjoy being with them. A good day for everyone!  Next time, we’ll have to take a picnic lunch and enjoy the tables just outside the building!  WIN!


Love my lit. cubes!

Reading classic literature is so important to a good homeschool program. Education needs to include learning how to understand and dig a little deeper into what you’ve read.  How can you do that?  Here is a method that has worked for me and others.  It is called a lit. cube (literature cube).

You can create your own cube by writing the following terms onto a cube of wood: plot, setting, theme, character, compare, a drawn heart.  (I have cubes that are 3/4″ and 1″.)

Pass (or toss) the cube from person to person as you begin a discussion of the completed work of literature.  Have each person roll the cube and address the subject showing.  Always allow time for each person to think as well as talk.  Sometimes hearing crickets in the background is a good thing.  Allow for quiet.  It can facilitate deeper thinking.  Learning to do this may take practice so be patient (with yourself and your students).  Some students can become frustrated or embarrassed as they look for the “one correct answer”.   Help them understand there isn’t one.  There can be many.  Given time, the discussions will become longer and more varied.  Do not require this of children in the Discovery Stage of learning. (Not sure what this means? See blog posted on 02/26/2013.)

Here are some ways to prompt thought and discussion for each topic:


Ask: Can you summarize the plot in two minutes?  Which events in the story seemed most important to the message of the book?  Least important?  Why?

Ask: What would have happened if…?  Would you feel differently about this book if it had ended differently? etc.  (Example:  How would the plot in Treasure Island have changed if Jim had teamed up with Long John Silver?)


Ask: Why did the author choose ___________ for the setting of the story?   How might things have been different if …? etc.  (Example:  If Animal Farm had been set in the forest rather than on a homestead, would the story have the same impact?)


Ask: What was the point the author was trying to make?  This could be discussed in light of characters, conflicts and resolutions, the overall story line, etc.  (Example:  The Hiding Place is ultimately a story of triumph, yet the people involved endured an horrendous circumstance.  How do you think someone else experiencing the same things might have reacted to it?)


Ask: Who was your favorite character in the story?  Why?  Is there a character to whom you related?  Which character did you find the most troubling? etc.  (Example:  The parents in Swiss Family Robinson took adversity and created a home for their boys.  What kind if things did they do to grow in spite of their circumstances?)


Compare decisions made by various characters in the book, compare two characters from the same book or different works of literature, compare different books from the same time period or genre, etc. You could also compare books to the screen or stage productions of the same work.  (Example:  How do the sisters, Elizabeth and Jane Bennett, view their parents?  OR William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies to express his view of the world following WWII.  C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters.  In spite of similar experiences, what differences do the two authors display in the themes of their books?)

Heart (drawn)-What did you love about the book?  What emotion did reading this work invoke?

Writing is a challenge for most of us.  If you take time to explore the various facets of literature orally before asking your children to write about what they read, you will be giving them a chance to process and internalize the lessons in literature that are sometimes not appreciated and often missed.

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After teaching a class on using the lit. cube method above, the group of ladies in the class began to ask questions regarding younger children and tips for  extracting a narration from them on material they were reading.  Some children talk and talk but never quite manage to hit on the salient points of a story, and others simply have nothing to say.  The following topics for a discovery level lit. cube were the result of this conversation:

Plot (picture of a book)

What happened in the story?  Sometimes humor can help encourage responses.  Was it about a pig that went to the moon?  Okay.  What did happen? use whatever can help elicit a more thoughtful response from your child.  (Example: What did David do when the House of Israel was challenged by Goliath?)

ABC (new vocabulary)

Were there new or unfamiliar words in the story which confused you?  What new vocabulary did you learn?  (Example:  If they can’t come up with something, you can ask something like, “In Kate Greenaway’s book A Apple Pie, what did it mean to “quarter” the pie?”)

People (a smiley face)

Can you tell me about the people in the story?  What were they doing?  Did they have problems?  How did they solve them?  (Example: What happened to the Sneetches?  Some of them were unhappy.  Can you tell me why?)

Setting (a house)

Where was the story?  How did help things make sense?  Was it a real place or make-believe?  Would you want to visit there?  (Example: Where did Laura Ingall’s family live?  Would you like to live in a cabin?)

Choices (?)

What choices did the characters in the story make?  Were they smart choices?  Would you have chosen something else?  How might things have been different? (Example: How did Charlotte help Wilbur?  What changed for him as a result of what she chose to do?)


What did you like about the story or illustrations from the book?  Did you have a favorite part or character?

Learning to take time to think about what we read and the messages interwoven in the stories can help us as we make choices about what we bring into our home and hearts.  It can also give us great ideas and amazing heroes from which to draw when things are tough.  What a great gift to give your family!

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

I cannot live without my books!

I live in the land of the American pioneer.  Those hearty souls who loaded up all their worldly goods and took themselves and their families westward to establish a new home.  I often think of them driving the oxen or pushing their handcart across the plains and mountain ranges of this great land.  The fortitude required to press on in the face of all opposition is fascinating to me.  Some came as adventurers.  Some wanted a new life and something to call their own.  Many came for religious reasons to settle in a land of their own choosing to live their beliefs.

In the city where we live, there are museums and displays recounting the trails and trials of their journeys.  Many have reproductions of the wagons and handcarts they used for transporting all they brought to begin a new life.  I sometimes think I could simplify my life enough to fit in a wagon until I look at my books.  I would need a box car on a train! In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without my books!”

I love the public library.  I really love a good book store (new or used).  I can lose myself in them for hours.  One of my greatest joys, though, is to pull a stack of books off the shelves in our home and be transported to another time and place, or to simply find what I need to research the latest idea or challenge.  Yes, the internet has some good information, but I relish the feel of the pages in my hand.  I am definitely hard copy girl!  We currently own over 3,500 volumes, both fiction and non-fiction.  My academic texts are organized by subject. They range from the three R’s to pedagogy tomes.  We have classic literature, comic books, household and gardening reference, books dealing with health and wellness, religious commentaries, and a copy of The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary that has over a dozen volumes and makes me smile when I see it on my shelf.  My kitchen has over 70 cook books. There are books in every room.  You will even find a volume or two on the back of the commode in my bathroom.  (And my amazon wish list has a good dozen or two on it at any given time.)  Can we possibly use them all?  Yes!

Just yesterday, one of my daughters came home with a question about writing goals and curriculum for young children.  Within minutes we had a pile of around  half a dozen books to look through for ideas and inspiration.  I was reminded yet again how much joy and empowerment there is between the covers of a good book.

What books did we use?  Here is a list of what I found (and I am still making a longer mental list for her next visit):

The Educated Mind by William Bennett

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick

Catherine Levison’s books A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education

Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez

She is currently reading The Core by Leigh Bortins.  During her next visit I may hand her Unit Studies Make Easy by Valerie Berndt, Homeschooling by Samuel Blumenfeldt, or books from E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Series.

While I don’t swear by any one of those books, I reference them regularly.  They are all written by articulate, inspiring authors with their own ideas that worked for children who are not the same as my own, but I find great ideas in each, and encouragement in all.  My job, as I see it, is to glean the best from the various methods and texts and create something for my own family which meets our needs and interests.  Without books, I would have a very limited access to these and other minds.  So much would be missed!

So I could probably pare down my clothes, furniture, and even my kitchen equipment to fit into a wagon, but my books?  I don’t think so.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

We love the library!

We attended story time at our local library yesterday morning.  The librarian read three Easter books to the children.  We sang songs, and even got a take-home craft.  Then we chose some books to bring home to enjoy at our leisure.  Some of my best tax dollars at work!

The public library is one of my “happy places!”  I can go and sit quietly in a corner and plan a meal from the wall of cookbooks, work on curriculum in the non-fiction section, find new ways to get organized, or even find a book to read just for fun.  Where else can you get a CD of your favorite music to play as you clean house, pick up a book on CD for the car ride this weekend, and get travel ideas from the internet, newspapers, or magazines?  When I go by myself, I can spend hours just exploring.

They also offer book lists for reading ideas, family programs for free, town hall meetings, and you can look for something new for your family library at the book sale.  You may find a reading program which awards prizes for reading.  Often sponsored by businesses, you can possibly earn fast food, small amounts of cash, books, or other things as an incentive for reading.  This can be especially helpful for reluctant readers, or to simply keep things fun.  Sign up as a family!

Librarians are a gold-mine of information.  They can help you or your children search out favorite topics or find a new fascination.  You can get help locating a much desired book locally or through inter-library loan.  (Not sure what that is?  They can tell you.)  They are well-read, and often more than happy to work with children who are well-mannered.  *True story-when my eldest got her driver’s license, the next person she wanted to show after Grandma was the local librarian, Rosemarie.  When Rosemarie retired, we were all sad.

Just a few things to keep in mind when you go:

  • Learn and practice library etiquette.  Soft voices, no running or chasing, keep the books off the floor, return books to their appropriate places, etc.  It is habit that will help your children for years to come.
  • Leave technology at home.  No need for anything requiring earplugs.  Turn your phone off (or at least put it on vibrate), and take conversations outside.  Enjoy the world of hard copies!
  • The library is not a museum.  If there is a book you really like or refer to regularly, buy it.  The inventory will change according to public demand.  If you are the only person who checks that item out, it may be weeded out to make room for more popular titles.
  • Pay your fines!  Everyone has them from time to time.  I hear librarians often have them too.  Think of it as a donation to the library.
  • If you check out an item and find that it is damaged, bring it to their attention as soon as you can or the next time you are there.  They will appreciate it, and it will save future frustration for someone else.
  • If it is a nice day, take snacks.  Eat them OUTSIDE the library.  Children are generally better behaved when fed.
  • If you use the computers, remember you are in a public place.  Keep any passwords or account numbers hidden and fully exit any browsers you use.
  • We would often try to visit the library when it was fairly empty.  If you avoid story time and go when school is in session, you will often have the children’s section almost to yourself.

When my children were school-aged, we established a routine for the library.
Everyone helped return books coming back, then they could look for what they were interested in finding IF they told me where they were headed.  I required the following: a chapter book (if they were 8 or older), a science book, and a history book they had not read before, and a book just for fun.  If they wanted to check out more beyond that, they could.  I always checked the piles before we left for anything I was unwilling to take home or allow them to read.  The librarians aren’t meant to be censors; you need to be.

The public library can be a wonderful place to spend time as a family, or on your own. If you haven’t been there in a while, go see what you are missing.  If you attend frequently, good for you.  There is always something new to discover!

Homeschooling, Parenting

Our favorite read-aloud books

Once upon a time, there was a Dad who was working full-time and going to school full-time.  His wife was a stay-at-home mom who had four young children, a house to keep, a garden to tend, and a fuse that was getting shorter and shorter.

One day after a long day at work and class, Dad came home to find Mom trying to bury herself in the nine loads of unfolded laundry.  The remains of the evening meal were still on the table; the paper piles were taking over the computer table, the coffee table, and every other flat surface in the living room; and the children were slowly preparing themselves for bed.

“How do I help?  Where do I start?”, asked the bewildered and worried father.

“Can you take over story time this evening?   I’ll work in the kitchen while you read.”  was the reply.

Thus began a family tradition that lasted for a number of years…and definitely helped with living happily ever after.

Over the years, Richard (Becca’s husband) read dozens of books with the children.  The rule was: everyone had to be in dressed for bed, prayers were said, and the children had to stay in bed.  He would position himself with a large pillow in the hall where everyone could hear him read and he would read from a chapter book for about 15-30 minutes-always stopping just before some exciting moment in the story. When the boys were small (2 and 4 years old) he would read a picture book to them and then ensconce himself in the hallway to read to the older girls.  While he read, Becca would clean the kitchen, do laundry, tidy up, take a bubble bath or play Solitaire on the computer…whatever she needed  to do so that she could take over again while he did homework and life asserted itself again.

This list is what we read for fun!  These are not the books we read for literature (or any other) study during our academic day.  We worked to avoid “twaddle” and choose moral takes or books that would simply expand their horizons.

In no particular order, what follows is a list of most of the books he read.  (The list is as complete as we could get it working from memory.)  Some books  he read more than once.  Others (not listed) were started but never finished.  (If both the parents and children were bored beyond the third chapter, we moved on to something else!)  No one was allowed to sneak a preview or read ahead in the current book.  They could, however, reread books that had been finished!  It might also be interesting to note that many of the titles on this list were requested by my children for their personal libraries!

Nightly stories with Dad continued until our 16 year-olds got jobs, and it was too hard to keep everyone up to speed in the current book.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Rudolf Wyss

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Indian Captive by Lois Lenski

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis  (All but the last.  He wanted them to read that one privately.  Good move.)

The Arabian Nights  Reader’s Digest Edition

The Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander (All but the last.)

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Cricket in Times Square series by George Seldon

The Great Brain Series

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

The Hobbit by J. R.R. Tolkien

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Black Arrow by  Robert Louis Stevenson

TheWestmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander

Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

The Fighting Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens