Let’s DO school!

It’s that time again.  Homeschool conventions, curriculum fairs, and planning.  Lots of planning.  I remember worrying as a young homeschool mom that I wasn’t doing the right thing, or enough (or too much?), or that I didn’t have everything I needed in order to truly teach my children the things that would best serve them for their future.  Now I watch as my daughters and friends do the same thing.  When I began our homeschooling journey in 1991, there were few resources available.  Scraping curriculum together took time and hunting.  Fast forward 24 years. There are so many options available now, it is enough to make your head spin!  Two thoughts I have had in the last few weeks as I watch this dance happening around me:

First-There is no such thing as a perfect curriculum.  Often we think we have failed, when the failure is in the book…or box…or file.  There are very few prepackaged kits that I would regard as safe bets for just about anyone, and often those will still need tweaking a bit depending on the child.  Stop looking for perfection; consistency is what can make the difference!

As plans are made for the upcoming year, take time to DO things.  Math often makes more sense with manipulative use.  Grammar seems plainer with diagramming if you have a visual learner.  Science is more easily remembered, and more enjoyable, if you get out there and experience it rather than expecting facts to be absorbed by simply reading a book. Go to the zoo.  Dig for rocks.  Lie on the ground and observe the night sky.  Experiment in the kitchen.  Go on field trips to make your studies come alive.  Take regular breaks and get the whole gang moving.  Run up and down the stairs as you drill math facts.  Take a walk and practice observational skills.  OUr children need to learn to cook and do laundry as well as diving into academic studies. Jump on a mini-tramp between subjects for a quick brain break. Role-play or act out history lessons. Duck walk as you review spelling lists or phonics rules.    Doing wakes up the brain, increases retention, and the ensuing giggles aren’t bad either.

As you spend time exploring the world and all its wonders, remember to keep active verbs in the mix.  Do. Try. Experiment. Observe. Move. Fail. Laugh. Create things: messes, meals, and memories for a lifetime.  And cut yourself some slack.  It’s not up to you to find the perfect books, or be the perfect parent, or have the perfect family.  The only perfection we will ever attain will not come from us.  It comes from He who wants us to succeed.  Lean on Him, and go DO something!

Homemaking, Homeschooling

Sometimes school doesn’t look like school…

I had a discussion with a young homeschooling mom this week about curriculum planning and development.  After exploring her daughter’s interests, strengths, struggles, and individual quirks, it became apparent that traditional seat work was not the best method for her.  She is active, personable, bright, obsessed with animals and art, and generally delightful!  Spelling, language, and science worksheets are of no interest to her, and cause the family school time to be uninspiring and, ultimately, discouraging.  She needs art, geography that is associated with the natural world, spelling that involves her whole body, and tons of experiential learning.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when Mom looked at me, and expressed that what she was looking for (without realizing it) was permission to allow her daughter to be herself, and throw away the mold!

While I am NOT a fan of allowing children to lead out in their education, nor do I advocate beginning the school year without a plan, I do wonder how much more we would all learn if we accepted who we (and our children) are, how we learn, and focused on our strengths rather than the areas which need work.  Math, science, language arts, geography, manners, etc. need to be taught, and even the least favorite subjects are required, but if we spent a bit more time looking around for methods that effectively teach, reinforce, and encourage our children, their love for learning would increase, and they would retain more!

Here are just a few ideas to keep it fun!

  • Allow them to make lists, diagrams, or charts rather than writing a paper with complete paragraphs if they are inclined to do so.
  • Use role play, games, and field trips more often, in order to make connections that might otherwise be missed.
  • Use music or art media to express and explore what you are learning.  Memorize or write a song, or create a logo which applies to the unit you just finished.  Construct a game or map.  If they can recreate it, they have learned it.
  • Use more manipulatives, and oral answers for math time-especially for the young ones.
  • Allow more movement.  Finger-spell.  Run laps while you drill. Get out the Legos or crayons for quiet activity while someone else reads aloud.  Our magnificent bodies were created to MOVE.  Don’t just read or write about things…DO them.
  • Collections are wonderful.  Learn to classify, organize, label, display, and enjoy things.
  • Find things to write that matter.  Family newsletters, journals, research papers,  interviews with those who have experience in what you are studying, etc.
  • Volunteer.  Get involved.  Make a difference.  Connect with those around you.

Remember, we don’t generally live in “model homes” or have a “model schoolroom.”  That’s okay.  Fill your homes with other models…love, activity and exploration, creative expression, lively discussion, and laughter.  Focus on the gifts your children have and are.  They will surprise you with what they can become.



Treasure hunting

While I taught a workshop last Saturday, I was asked a question that has had me thinking ever since.  We were discussing curriculum, and they were looking over a few books I had pulled off my shelves, and writing down titles.  Then they asked if I preferred to order books online or purchase at second-hand stores.  Really made me think!  The answer: second-hand stores.  Why?  While they are generally cheaper, that is not the main reason.  I often find such treasures I didn’t know existed that it is worth my time to sort through the piles.  It is easy to order titles with which you are familiar from an online source (and I do from time to time), but there are books I have found while looking for something else which I now love and yet would never have known to purchase before I held them in my hand!

Here are a few of my discoveries:

  • Exploring Your World: the Adventure of Geography published by National Geographic Society.  This encyclopedic volume of geographical terms and pictures is beautiful and easy-to-use.  A must for geography study.
  • Mommy, It’s a Renoir published by Parent Child Press.  This paperback is full of ideas and activities to enhance your family’s art study- ways to study the Masters, and activities to help you appreciate what they accomplished.
  • If You’re Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank.  While this book was definitely written for use by a traditional classroom teacher, the hints, ideas, and other great information helped me approach the writing process from an entirely different angle!  Need help thinking outside the box?  This book does that!
  • We Had Everything But Money published by Reminisce Books.  This collection of stories and pictures from the Great Depression in America speaks to the greatness and resiliency of the American spirit.  While the Depression was a difficult and trying time, it allowed people to come together, work with what they had, and still manage to often build a happy life.
  • Milestones to American Liberty: the Foundations of the Republic by Milton Meltzer.  This volume contains beautiful artwork, copies of original documents, and the stories behind some of the most important writings in our nation’s history dealing with equality and freedom.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.  I love the study of grammar and syntax; words are captivating for me, so this little book makes me smile every time I see the title on my shelf!  Truss picks apart the history and usage of punctuation for the English language.  While published initially in Britain, she has added information that applies to American punctuation as well. (Yes, they differ.)  Quite tongue-in-cheek, quoting classic and more contemporary pieces of the written word, and with obvious affection for the nuances of punctuation, this book is fun to read and always makes me think!

I am sure there are dozens more titles on my shelf that could be added to my list.  Maybe I will later!  But this sampling helps me recognize how much I gain when I take the time to explore the possibilities around me.

Happy hunting!


Begin the school day together

As a family, we began our school day as a group.  It didn’t always begin at the same time, and sometimes we were still in our jammies, but we began our studies together in the front room.  I called it group time.  It became the signal that it was time to focus and take care of the academics for that day (both the children and the mom needed a reminder sometimes).   I miss having group time sometimes.  The opportunity to  be together to share and discuss things which mattered developed into one of my favorite times of day as my family grew.  This time can be especially effective for auditory learners, or social children.  What did we do when we were together?

Devotional study– scriptures, prayer, and pledging the flag were the beginning of group time.

Poetry-I would take a book off the shelf and randomly choose a poem or two to read aloud.  The goal was exposure, not serious study.  We did a poetry unit together when they were teens that did require some analysis, but this was simply to hear the beauty of the language and learn to become a bit more comfortable with poetry in general.  We read classic, religious, and non-sense poetry.

History reading– I would read a chapter or two from the current volume of history we were studying (often from a book by Genevieve Foster, or Albert Marrin).  Discussion would follow.  Writing and further study took place on an individual basis.

Character or ethics study– We would discuss manners, courtesy, positive character traits, hero study, and ethics (as they grew older).  It became a time to answer questions, share experiences, role play, and explore correct ways to handle the challenge of dealing with people around us.

Drill– time for the 3×5 cards!  Greek and Latin roots, facts about the US Presidents, geography facts, times tables, anything you would find on a flashcard can be drilled as a group.  Often the younger children memorize more easily than the older ones, so it can become fun for everyone to get involved!

Memorization work– quotes, scriptures, poetry, parts of significant documents can be fun to memorize as a group.  We would work on memorizing things such as Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain when we studied the end of the Civil War, scriptures they needed to memorize for church, or just a wonderful quote we found.  Having uplifting, inspired words in their minds and hearts provided them with a well from which to draw good things when they found they needed it!

Literature reading– We would generally all read the same literature book at one time.  I would then assign writing or other work that was appropriate for the age of each child.

Hands-on activities– If it was going to create a mess or was a particularly interesting activity, everyone wanted to be involved so we added it into our time together.  That often gave me time to clear things away before lunchtime, and everyone went to their individual studies with a smile.

Whatever Mom wants to throw into the mix– I would often find something I wanted to share or introduce to the whole gang, so I would simply add it to the days’ group time agenda.   Upcoming scheduling changes, discussion about learning styles or personality types, music and art study, and a rare video were some of the things we added as needed.  (I also found that any academics we could accomplish as a family made their lists seem shorter, and was like magic for everyone’s mood.)

When my children were young, group time took 10-20 minutes.  It grew as they did.  We had some epic times when they were all teenagers; sometimes we went for hours.  The opportunity it provided us to share and understand each other and the world around them was a favorite for everyone!  We are not all the same, but we learned to work together, talk to one another, and appreciate our differences.

Sometimes I really miss group time…


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!






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.