Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Christmas School

Between Thanksgiving and Epiphany, we don't do any "real" school. Instead we work at what I have termed "Christmas School". I've been asked to post some of the activities we have been working on the past couple of weeks and what we plan for the coming weeks as well.

First off, I'd like to list a few of the reasons why I've chosen to do Christmas School. First, since we do school more or less year-round, I don't have any problem taking off 6 weeks or so at this time of year. Second, I found that I never had enough time to do all the fun Christmas-y activities I wanted to do with my kids when we did regular schoolwork. Another reason is that I found that this time of year is a great time for a break; otherwise I get totally burned out trying to accomplish everything and by February I am ready for it to all be over. (This is something I learned while teaching at a Christian school years ago.) When I take a break for Christmas School, I am ready to dive back into our regular schoolwork in the second week of January. There are more reasons, but that's a good part of it.

I should also state that we are continuing on with our math studies during our Christmas School respite. Last year we did NOT do Math, and I regretted it in January. :-)

So, what do we do? I choose some appropriate Bible study. Last year we did a Jesse Tree. Here is a good example of that: http://www.rca.org/worship/material/advent/makingtree.html I used the patterns on this page to print out for the kids to color and make a Jesse tree out of paper.

This year, our Bible study is Color the Christmas Classics. (http://www.colortheclassics.com/) This study comes with an audio cassette or CD and information and coloring sheets for 13 Christmas carols that describe the history of the carol - both lyrics and music. We are enjoying this and it is very different from the Jesse tree study.

We also just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, mainly in preparation for the movie that was just released. I took David (almost age 11) and Emily (age 8) to see the movie on Friday night. They've already demanded that I read another book, and so we will continue with Prince Caspian, because that is the next book that features the 4 children. (I do NOT like the renumbering of the series, and much prefer the old way of numbering that I remember from my childhood.)

We also have tickets for a live performance of A Christmas Carol, so I decided the children should have the book read to them beforehand. Quite unknown to me, the edition of the book I had on my shelf had a read-along CD included in it! So the kids have been listening to that when I am not here. Something that Bob can have them do for school, ye ken? (That's Scottish for "kwim". -g-) They will finish that this week, as our tickets are for this Wednesday.

All the children have created art projects as gifts for their aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Suzy, James, and Emily had fun foam ornaments in varying degrees of difficulty. Suzy did a snowman star, James did a Christmas tree with jeweled ornaments, and Emily did a more complicated sequined snowman. All of them added their photographs to the ornaments. It took several days for them to complete these ornaments which made for a nice relaxed pace.

David, instead of making a craft, learned how to use Windows Movie Maker, which came free with my computer (although apparently not with all computers that have Windows XP). He created a 3 minute movie/slideshow of family photographs accompanied by music. He burned 7 of them to CD's and decorated the paper CD envelopes as gifts for his grandparents and aunts and uncles on my side of the family.For David, I am encouraging every practical use of the computer possible.

OK, let's see. Still to come? Handmade Christmas cards, Decorated Christmas PJ's, Writing a Christmas letter, addressing Christmas cards and mailing them. Baking Christmas cookies, making gingerbread houses, making Christmas candies. Wrapping Christmas gifts, finishing up the last bits of Christmas shopping. Instead of me doing all this stuff late at night after the kids are in bed, we will do it together. Ye ken?

Hope this helps! I will try to post more. Questions? Ask 'em!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Spelling Power

My first rebellion against the traditional spelling curriculums came when I was teaching in a Christian school back in the early 90's. I could see that the traditional spelling books weren't effective in actually teaching the children the word spellings. They could get A's on the tests and then spell the same words wrong in their writing the next week.

At that time, I decided to use a individualized spelling program, but the board of the school vetoed my plan. (None of them were even teachers, but using the A Beka curriculum was a selling point of the school. Sigh.)

So, when it came time to teach my own kids, I decided to forego spelling instruction during the early elementary years. I didn't want to do the traditional weekly plan of a new list every Monday and a test every Friday, with meaningless practice in between. I wanted my children to be able to internalize the spellings of words, instead of memorizing them for the tests and then forgetting them immediately.

I decided to focus on phonics instruction and allow my children the freedom to write without spelling instruction during their early years. David was not ready, by my estimation, for spelling instruction until the fourth grade. Emily was ready at the same time, however, and she was in the second grade.

So, I had heard such good things about Spelling Power and it fit my requirements. I wanted something non-consumable that I could use with all my kids. I wanted it to be personalized. I wanted it to be comprehensive. I wanted it to be easy to use. The research included by the author, Beverly Adams-Gordon, was very impressive to me as well.

So we began.

My children haven't loved it, but what children love learning to spell? Not many, in my experience. I, however, have loved it. Once I learned the method, it was very easy to use. (There was a steep learning curve, which frustrated me at first. I highly suggest finding someone who has used it and ask for their help in deciphering the instructions. I also watched the video, borrowed from a friend, and that helped some.)

It takes just 15 minutes to complete the lesson each day, and about 5-10 minutes of that is direct instruction time. The remainder of the time is for the student to complete the 10 step practice and write the sentences.

The ten step practice is the strength of the program, in my opinion. And the practice steps could be used with any spelling program. The tactile step is the most important (and the easiest to skip) and it has made a big difference for David.

Spelling has been hard for David and extremely easy for Emily. She is ahead of him in spelling, but he doesn't seem to be aware of the fact. He does ask her for help in spelling sometimes, so he does recognize her abilities. Spelling Power works great for both of them. I intend to use it through high school.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I resisted Math-U-See for years. Too expensive, I said. Too exclusive; why, it's only sold through distributers! I am sure it must be trendy and have no substance.

So, first I used Miquon because it was cheap, but still manipulative-based. Then I flip-flopped over to A Beka, because although the Miquon was non-traditional, I also found that it wasn't very effective or very well-organized. But I missed the hands-on and hated the busy work of A Beka. Then I looked at Saxon - eww! I must have done some other things in there too, including some Walmart-type workbooks.

Then my friend Barb gave a short presentation on MUS during our homeschool support meeting. I was enthralled. It made sense! It was hands-on! It was mastery-based! She had been using it for years with her four kids and still liked it! I was sold.

I went to place my order only to find that they were coming out with new books in the next few weeks, so I breathlessly waited for the new editions.

Oh when I finally got them, I was so excited, but also intimidated! I had to make something called Decimal Street. Man, I was a little overwhelmed by that, but I finally buckled down and got to it. It was AWESOME!!

The lessons all come on DVD. I use the DVD's to teach the kids. I sit with them and watch their new lessons and then they do the pages pretty much independently, unless they have a problems. Mr. Demme explains things very thoroughly and clearly, using the blocks to illustrate. I often learn to look at math in a new way myself! The nice thing about the DVD is, no matter how many times you replay it, Mr. Demme is always just as sweet and patient as he was the first time. Unlike Mom. LOL

I like the fact that there are 6 pages per lesson and you can do them all or just 1, depending on the mastery the child has of the information.

I love the blocks! A friend just told me she was trying to do MUS and it wasn't working out well. In the course of the conversation, she told me she hadn't bought the blocks! What? You're teaching MUS to a 1st grader without the blocks? I don't think I'd attempt that! I think I've convinced her to order them! LOL

This will be our second full year with Math-U-See and I don't foresee us ever needing to change curriculums!

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Mystery of History

Thanks to my good friend Maryann, I found the perfect History curriculum. In my humble opinion, of course. :-)

HERE IT IS!! The Mystery of History: Volume 1 by Linda Lacour Hobar.

As soon as I picked it up and started paging through it, I knew it was perfect for us.
Short lessons written in a conversational manner
Starts at Creation and has a Biblical point of view
Includes Biblical events mixed in with other historical events
Can be done with all age students
Not a traditional "textbook" or a workbook
Has cool hands-on activities for each lesson
Organized chronologically and includes history from all over the world, not just western civilization
Includes timeline work
Includes map work

Hobar has written Volume 2 and is working on Volume 3. There will be 5 volumes when it is all completed. When I get to the end of Volume 5, I plan to start over again with Volume 1.

I planned my lessons out by writing down the pages we plan to cover each day and by choosing the activities we plan to do. I noted the items needed for each activity, so I am not surprised on the day that we need a white sheet cake and colored frosting.

Several of the homeschooling moms I know have also decided to use Mystery of History. I am excited that other people will be doing it alongside of us, because that only can mean more support!

If you are still looking for a history curriculum you can really enjoy, give this one a try! (Will post more later in the year, after I've had a chance to try it.)

Alphabet Island Phonics

I used Alphabet Island Phonics to teach Emily to read and it worked very well. Now it is entirely possible that Emily would have learned to read easily with ANY program. I didn't discover this program until David had tried A Beka phonics, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and probably some other things that have thankfully faded into the depths of my memory. David had a much harder time learning to read than Emily did, but I have a feeling that is just their different learning styles and not the curriculum. HOWEVER, I was very pleased with Alphabet Island Phonics and plan to use it with James and Suzy.

Eagles Wings Products - Alphabet Island Phonics

I am going to start using Alphabet Island Level 1 with James next week. He is 5-3/4. We will start with the kindergarten level curriculum, even though he is going into "first grade". There are 2 sections in the first level.

Each lesson is supposed to take 15 minutes, but in my experience with Emily, they took longer. Songs, games, stories, and more are all included to make the phonics rules memorable. There are workbook pages too to reinforce the concepts, and since we are doing phonics and it is important to see the letters and to write them, I will likely have him do all of the workbook.

Depending on how quickly he picks it up, we may supplement with Phonics Pathways and the Pyramid book that goes along with it. If he needs more practice, I will add those in.

Looking forward to introducing James to the world of reading!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Art Curriculum

I posted a few weeks ago about my art curriculum, or really about the importance of it. But since I planned out art for the year today, I thought I would at least mention it again and give a few details.

I use 2 main books to teach art.

How to Teach Art to Children - Evan-Moor Publishers (for grades 1-6)


Meet the Masterpieces: Strategies, Activities, and Posters to Explore Great Works of Art - Scholastic (for grades 2-5)
(I cannot find an online pic I can show you, but here is the amazon page - Amazon.com book page (It's apparently out of print now, but well worth finding if you can.)

Last year, we studied Line, Shape, and Color from the Evan-Moor book and Pieter Bruegel, Diego Velasquez, and Hokusai from the Scholastic book.

This year we will study Value, Texture, Form, and Space, as well as study the following artists: Winslow Homer, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Pablo Picasso, and Romare Bearden.

I planned 83 art lessons. We do art nearly every day, but since we are adding history this year, I think there will be days when we do art in history or science and won't do it separately too. I schedule Art right after Bible, so it is our second subject of the day. I find that it helps the kids get "into" school and gets their creativity flowing, which in turn helps them academically. Also I can get the "together" work out of the way first and then they can do their independent work later, rather than me trying to gather everyone back at a later time, when someone might be in the middle of an important assignment.

The Evan-Moor book has two parts. Part 1 is the main section of the book. It includes the art lessons that are about Value, Texture, Form, and Space all are introducing an art concept to the children. Each lesson has either an art project or a small group experience to reinforce the concept. The art projects in this book are particularly eye-catching and attractive, in my opinion.

Part 2 is all art projects based on a famous artist, such as Edward Degas, or a famous art technique, such as Anasazi pottery. I have sprinkled these 24 lessons throughout the year, so we get a break from the normal routine. I also found examples of each of these famous works or techniques online and saved them to my hard drive, so I can show the children some examples when it's time for that lesson. No more jumping online while they wait, colored pencils in hand.

After every section from the Evan-Moor book, I have scheduled a section from Meet the Masterpieces. This book has a short section on the artist's life, which will be our Day 1 of that section. We will add the artist to our main timeline and find out more about him/her if we so desire. On Day 2, we take a close look at one of the artist's works. The book gives some excellent questions to ask the students about the work, and even gives you the answers, which is great for those of us who did not study much great art. (Apparently this book originally came with posters of these works, but I do not have those. Therefore, I searched the internet for copies of the works and printed them out. I put them in my lesson plan binder, along with my lesson sheets for art and I'm all set!)

For Days 3-5 of these lessons, the book has differing activities that build on the concepts learned about the artist and/or the time period. Some of these I like, and some I don't, but I have chosen the ones I want to do and listed them on my plan sheet.

Something else I did to make all this easier was to list out all the supplies needed for each lesson, so I can quickly look ahead and make sure I have the 12x18 white paper that is needed, or stop at the store for dried beans.

I think Suzy and James will be doing art with us most days this year and I am looking forward to something else that we can all do together!

If you do not schedule art regularly, I encourage you to do it. It has made a big difference in our homeschooling!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Homeschool Camping

One of the leadership team members of my homeschool group had a great idea this summer - how about a week of homeschool camping?! FUN, I thought! So she planned out the week and we just returned from it yesterday. It was a LOVELY time.

Here are some of the details.

We chose the dates to coincide with the start of school here, so the campground would be emptier. We chose to camp Monday-Friday, so as to avoid weekend campground congestion. We chose a state park in our county, so it would be close enough to most people's homes that they could go home if they needed to - for sports practice, feeding animals, etc...

State parks in Michigan allow site-specific reservations, so we chose a section of the campground and each family made its own reservations in whatever site they wanted to have. We ended up with 4 families spending all 4 nights and 8-9 more families spending 2 or 3 nights.

We planned activities each day, such as face painting, rock painting, night hike, fishing, swimming, etc... We invited families from our group to come out and join us for the daytime activities if they couldn't camp with us. We had several more families join us for those activities. We tried very hard to have something each day, but not so many activities that we felt overscheduled.

We shared some meals - sometimes intentionally, and sometimes it just happened. We gathered around one or two main fire pits. The kids had a lot of freedom to run around because there were only a few other campers on our end of the campground.
I think everyone enjoyed it a lot and we plan to schedule another camping week next year!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bible Curriculum

I am going to do a series of posts on the different curricula, resources, and books I will be using this year for each subject.

Today I will address the subject of Bible because it is the most important and also because it is one of the few curriculum resources that I didn't have a single question regarding if I planned to continue using it or not. I have the first 105 lessons of Bible planned out already.

I have been using the Bible Study Guide for All Ages by Donald and Mary Baker for several years now. We are finishing up Volume 2. There are 4 volumes. We will finish the last lessons of Volume 2 and get started on Volume 3 before Christmas.
I have been debating on whether or not to use the activity pages that you can order to go along with BSG. We used them a couple years ago and they were OK, but a little over David's head at that time and I thought Emily's were too simple. He could do the intermediate pages easily now, as could Emily, but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend the extra money.

While at the website, I noticed that the company has REDONE the activity pages and they are WONDERFUL!! Such an improvement! And just as I was really getting all geeked about it, I realized that the pages are only redone for Volume 1, which we won't get back to for quite some time! Hopefully, they will have these redone in time for us to be able to use some for Volume 3. I may still order the "classic" pages for the rest of volume 2 and see how it goes.

This past year, I just printed out coloring pages to go with each lesson from Calvary Chapel Children's Ministry Curriculum. The coloring sheets are very high quality, are free, and come in .pdf format, which means they print out perfectly. The kids color while I read the Bible passages for the day. I could certainly do that again, and I may.

I like the BSG because during the 4 year cycle, the students cover the ENTIRE Bible, not just Creation, Noah's Ark, The Loaves and the Fishes, etc... Map work, timeline work, memory work, and life application are also included. It really is a curriculum for ALL ages because you can do as much or as little as you like, or do more with the older kids while the younger ones do their activity page. (We take longer than a year to do a volume, both because we don't always do Bible every day, and also because of the things I add to my Bible curriculum.)

Between units of BSG, I am interspersing units from Character Building for Families by Lee Ann Rubsam. The 4 topics we will cover during those first 100 lessons are: Loyalty, Deference, Cheerfulness, Gentleness (Kindness). We will continue later in the year with Contentment, Gratitude, Truthfulness, Servanthood, and Hospitality. We may not get all those topics finished before next school year, however.

We used CBF this past year and I was impressed with how thorough and user-friendly the curriculum is. It is nothing fancy to look at - simply a black and white teacher manual that is comb-bound. But the content is excellent.

As I blogged about earlier, we will also be learning a hymn a month, and we will also do a long scripture passage each month. I am still choosing the Scripture passages, but the hymns are all chosen.

If the kids have any Scripture memory from the Pioneer Club they attend on Wednesday nights, we will add that in as well. This past year they didn't have much memory work, at least not compared to the AWANA program they attended for 2 years before that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I thought it would be fun to post the classes my children will be taking at our homeschool co-op this fall. (I am the co-op coordinator.)

David - age 10-1/2
Computer Hardware Isn't So Hard
Physical Education
Chess Club

Emily - age 8-1/2
Kids' Concoctions
Physical Education
Art Concepts

James - age 5-1/2
Pet Friends
Little Signers (American Sign Language)
Show & Tell Storytime OR Open Gym

Suzy - age 3
Active Adventures
Baby Ballet - 25 min
Open Gym - 25 min
Fun with Playdough

We are very much looking forward to co-op! We meet 8 times in the fall and 8 times in the spring. Some of the classes will change in the spring.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Support Meeting Last Night

As the coordinator of a homeschool group, I strive to provide a welcoming and interesting forum for all kinds of moms at our support group meetings. Last night was our first group meeting since May.

Our topic was "Starting the Homeschool Year" and we asked people to bring something new (to them) that they were EXCITED about using during the upcoming year. We had about twenty women attend the meeting! Lots of people shared things they were excited about. Here is the list posted on our group website.
Meeting Resource List

I have been in leadership in this group for about 7 years and was one of the founding members. Our monthly attendance has been averaging 6-12 women most of that time. Now and then we would have a large meeting, but the average meeting was under 10 moms. Last May we had 19 moms, so maybe this is a hint that our meetings are going to be larger this year. Makes sense because we have a co-op now that has 59 families enrolled.

I do enjoy facilitating the group discussions. My training as a La Leche League Leader comes in handy in this role. Sometimes we have an informal discussion, as we did last night, and sometimes we invite a speaker to come in. Sometimes I prepare something to share. We will have speakers at our next 3 meetings and then we will have a Christmas social.

Do you attend a homeschool support group? If you do, what do you like most about it? If you don't, why not?

Friday, July 29, 2005

I was conversing with my friend Jen the other day (:::waves at Jen:::) and we got to talking about art. She said she feels people are either born with artistic talent or they aren't.

While I do agree with that to some extent, I also feel that everyone can attain a certain level of competency in art. I think the main problem is not a general lack of talent, but a deficiency in the education process.

Most of us started school loving to create things, to draw, to express ourselves with color. Somewhere along the line, we realized we "weren't good at it". We may have even had teachers or other adults denigrate our abilities and make us afraid to try. But what this really boils down to is that most of us were not given the basic tools that we needed to succeed at art.

A person who is intrinsically good at art may discover some principles of art on his own, or he may have people around who notice his special aptitude for art and who then provides him with specialized instruction that nurtures his gift.

In contrast, the student with an average art ability probably doesn't discover many art techniques on his own. The art classes provided in most schools don't have a K-12 scope and sequence. In my experience, most art teachers love art and do what they like or what they find interesting. Most school districts do not have a cohesive plan for allowing each student to reach a basic level of competency in art. The basic attitude seems to be "Let the students explore all kinds of art and learn to appreciate art and that's good enough."

An analogy may help me explain this better. We all know that there are some students who are mathematically inclined. I have a friend who is studying higher mathematics at the graduate school level and I am completely lost whenever she describes the things she is studying. She is obviously gifted mathematically and I would never dream of achieving the mathematical understanding that she has mastered.

However, does that mean that because I am not "mathematically inclined" that I should not expect to achieve a basic level of competency in math? No. We expect that all students will become competent enough to balance a checkbook, understand taxes, and other common life skills that involve math. When people achieve these skills, do we say that they are "so mathematical!"? No, we expect that. It is a basic level of competency and when someone doesn't achieve it, we are often shocked.

Art should be thought of the same way. The unplanned method of teaching art ISN'T good enough. We must provide incremental art instruction for students so they can achieve basic skills in art. Everyone can learn to draw, as well as master other basic art skills.

Case in point. I have NEVER been artistic. I cannot draw. Really. I have never been considered creative artistically. However, in the spring of 2003, after reading about nature study and nature journalling, I was inspired to learn a little about watercolors. So, I did some reading about it and tried it out.

Here are my attempts at watercolor painting. (May 2003)
(Images have been removed)

Now, when my friend saw these, she said something about how "artistic" I am! LOL I am certainly NOT artistic. My point in showing you these is that if *I* can learn to do this, then ANYONE can. I don't expect to be Monet, but I would like to be able to draw or paint something recognizable.

How do I work this instruction out in my homeschool? Last year, I watched a video by Barry Stebbing that stressed the importance of art instruction. It only solidified my resolve. We do art nearly every school day. I find it important enough to do right after Bible most days. Getting the creative juices flowing really helps my children to concentrate on their academic work afterward. It does take a little longer, but I find that the payoff is worth it.

I have been using Evan-Moor's How to Teach Art to Children, which offers instruction on the seven elements of art: line, shape, color, value, texture, form, and space. The book is easy to use and includes lots of fun art projects and instruction. It's a great way to begin planned art instruction. After this, we will probably do some basic drawing lessons. Mom will be learning right along with her children!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Classical Kids

Long ago I was a schoolteacher. A multigrade classroom in a Christian school was my work environment for five years. I worked at a teacher supply store for a couple years during that time and spent just about all of my salary on teacher supplies.

One thing I bought back then was Classical Kids audio cassettes. Hopefully you've heard of these, but if you haven't, I do highly recommend them. Fascinating stories featuring music by famous composers familiarize the listeners with either lives of the composers or, as in the case of Mozart's Magic Flute, the plot of the opera.

The four cassettes I have are:
Mr. Bach Comes to Call: The great composer tells his story to a little girl
Mozart's Magic Fantasy: A journey through The Magic Flute
Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery: A tale of Venice and violins
Beethoven Lives Upstairs: A tale of genius and childhood

I dug these out and introduced them to my children last week, and these cassettes have been the only thing we have listened to in the car since! They particularly like the Vivaldi and Mozart selections. The stories are professionally recorded and the acting is beautifully done. Excerpts from the composer's most famous works are included, sometimes as background to the story and sometimes as short snippets just for listening pleasure, but always integrated with the plot.

There are several more Classical Kids selections that I do not yet own, but they are on my wish list! These are the titles I am hoping to get eventually:
Classical Kids Christmas: A telling of the Christmas story children's choirs singing your favorite carols
Hallelujah Handel!: Angels in the opera house
Mozart's Magnificent Voyage: A symphony of stories for all ages
Song of the Unicorn: A Classical Kids story with medieval music
Tchaikovsky Discovers America: A tale of courage and adventure
Daydreams and Lullabies:
a celebration of poetry, song and classical music.

One note of caution. If yours is a family that avoids any mention of magic or spookiness, you will probably want to skip Mozart's Magic Fantasy and Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery. There is a lot of magic in the Mozart story and some slight spookiness in the Vivaldi story. I don't think it would offend most people, but amongst Christian homeschoolers, I do believe there are some who would find it unacceptable. I didn't use those two in my Christian school classroom because I felt that some parents could possibly have objections. However, I think that many families will find these stories both enchanting and enriching. You likely would have no objection to the stories about Bach and Beethoven. We personally have learned a lot and had our hearts touched by all of these stories.

As Beethoven believed (and we learned in the Beethoven Lives Upstairs story), "Music can change the world."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Language Arts

My unschooling side is showing. David is entering 5th grade this year and has never done a formal study of language (grammar, composition). We have done journal writing for years and last year we did some short assignments. Last year we also began Spelling Power. But he hasn't studied grammar, written poetry, written a book report, etc... He hasn't been ready until now.

So, this year we will begin. I had intended to use Shurley English, but I had a bad experience purchasing it used (never shipped) and I begin to think that it is God's way of saying, "Find something else, Lisa!"

So, I am on the hunt now. I may just end up putting together my own study, which I am comfortable doing. After all, I do have a BA degree in English, as well as teacher certification, also in English. However, I am after what is both easy and thorough.

I can tell you what I do not want to use. I do not want to use LLATL or Easy Grammar. I don't want to use Alpha Omega, Bob Jones, A Beka, Switched-on Schoolhouse or any of the other myriad textbook language arts programs. I don't particularly care for First Language Lessons or Primary Language Lessons or English for the Thoughtful Child. (Apologies to those of you who use one of the above curriculums. I don't care to alienate any of you, but I know my child and I also have some very definite ideas about teaching grammar. One of these days I should write them down.)

Here is something I am considering for composition. Opinions from anyone who has used it or even seen it would be welcome.

Comprehensive Composition
by Kathryn L. Stout, B.S. Ed., M. Ed.
Grade level: K -12 Just one volume covers grades K-12. The outlined teaching strategy encourages better writing through editing, allowing students to develop at their own pace, improving with each practice. Boredom is eliminated by choosing the type of composition and an appealing topic from among those suggested to suit the student's needs and interests. Topics include: paragraphs, essays, reports, outlines, biographies, narratives, letters, and short stories; persuasive, descriptive, expository and creative writing; choosing and narrowing a topic; content and structure skills; mechanics; and sample lessons. Use alone (it has everything you need) or as a reference. Recommended by reviewer Cathy Duffy as "one of the most concise yet comprehensive books for teaching the writing process available to home educators."

Design A Study

What does that leave? LOL

I might consider Winston Grammar. I like Wordsmith but not Wordsmith Editor. Am I hard to please, or what?

Another program I have considered in the past but never made the jump to actually ordering is from Lovetolearn.net.

Teach your children English from their own daily writing experiences in this "school journal" that I use in my own homeschool. Everyday my children write their journal entry on special lined paper that promotes good penmanship. The top of the page is left unlined for illustrating their writing. As they fix their mistakes with Mom's help, misspelled words are transferred to the spelling section for a custom-made spelling list to be practiced everyday and tested once a week. The teacher's section includes lessons to teach on creative writing, poetry, prefixes and suffixes, antonyms, abbreviations, punctuation, contractions, letter writing, and more.. Dictation is a very beneficial way to teach children to write well, so I've included selections and instructions for dictation: inspirational quotes, patriotic quotes, character building poems and scriptures. Comes in a 3 ring binder, which becomes your child's ongoing school journal year after year. At the end of the year, we take the journal pages out of the notebook and have them bound at the printer into a treasured childhood book. (The printer commented that these were so precious that he couldn't help reading a few pages!) I developed this program for my own children after years of trying different writing and language workbooks and think you'll find it works very well.

K-6 Journal and Language Arts Program

Sounds good, eh? Maybe I should just order it already!!

I did buy English from the Roots Up for vocabulary and we will be working through that slowly. I also would like to get Rummy Roots.

Ideas welcomed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wondering about schedules

Oh, I'd really like to be one of those homeschool moms who are up at 5:30 and have the house cleaned, a homemade breakfast cooked, devotions and exercising completed, and makeup and hair done before 8. But I'm not. And I probably never will be. In fact, I rarely do any of those things, except the makeup and hair. Sometimes. LOL I have been doing devotions this week more regularly.

However, I do often come to the end of the day and find that I still have things undone I wanted to accomplish. The kids sometimes wander during "school". Meals aren't always done when they should be. Some enrichment classes never get done, like nature study.

So, I guess I need a routine. Been thinking about it. Used to have a lovely one all typed out. But it wasn't realistic enough and it went by the wayside long ago. And I went the opposite direction. I don't want to be TIED to a schedule, but a routine would be nice. Some daily & weekly goals would help.

I've been thinking about making a "schedule" similar to the one I made with MOTH (Managers of Their Homes). It involves cutting apart colored papers for each activity and arranging and rearranging them until you get a workable schedule. I don't have MOTH anymore, but I can still try to make a schedule this way. Anyway, this is something I am thinking about because I do want to exercise and spend time with God and do nature study and have meals ready on time.

What works for you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Mom Just Like Me?

Like me? Vickie Farris? Her husband is a lawyer for HSLDA. She has 10 kids. She even had a NANNY! How could she be like me? I wondered this for a long while before I was convinced by the women at MOMYS to give the book a try. So glad I did!

Vickie and her adult daughter Jayme co-wrote the book because Vickie says, "Ordinary moms don't have time to write books." (I hope to prove her wrong later this summer! lol) The ideas are Vickie's and the execution is mostly Jayme's, apparently.

I will admit right now that I skipped chapters 3 and 4 - A Matter of Surrender: Learning to Trust God with My Family Size and Miscarriage, Menopause, and the Rest of My Story. I was of the Quiver-Full mentality for a while and no longer follow that philosophy. I figured I knew what she was going to say and I didn't really feel like spending time to read something that I knew I was going to disagree with.

Other than those chapters, I found the book to be extremely practical and highly motivational. Vickie is candid about her difficulties and her accomplishments. She describes situations with her children that I am sure many of us could identify with, such as talking to her eleven-year-old daughter about courtship or feeling overwhelmed with children ages 8, 6, and 3 and being pregnant with the 4th.

Vickie and her husband Mike make it a priority to lead godly lives and to pass that attitude on to their children. This book encourages all Christian homeschooling families to allow God to be in control. If you are looking for a motivational read that will remind you why you are homeschooling and renew your zeal, this book can do it! And it turns out that, yes, Vickie Farris IS a lot like me! And probably a lot like YOU too!

A Mom Just Like You (2000)
Vickie Farris and Jayme Farris Metzgar

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I have decided that we will sing hymns! Yes. We will learn a hymn every month for the next year. I think it is terribly sad that such beautiful hymns are becoming obsolete.

I started talking about hymns with David and he told me that Fanny Crosby wrote 8000 hymns. "That can't be right," says I. He says, "But I heard it on Adventures in Odyssey, Mom!"

Well. Then it must be right! LOL So, he brought me the cassette and PLAYED it for me. Yep! He was right. It says that Fanny Crosby wrote 8000 hymns. AND he knew her married name, which I had never heard! Then he told me lots more about her.

I love Adventures in Odyssey!!

So, anyway. I have an audio cassette from Cedarmont Kids called, amazingly enough, "Hymns". Most of the hymns I have chosen, although not all, are on that cassette. I figure I can find the others somewhere around here. I am really looking forward to this and the kids already know some hymns because of the Adventures in Odyssey story. (In case you want to look for that, it's called "Hymn Writers" and it was copyrighted in 1993.)

So here's my list of 12 hymns for the next year. We will learn the entire hymn and learn a little about the hymn writer, if possible.

July - To God Be The Glory
August - This is My Father's World
September - A Mighty Fortress is Our God
October - Bringing in the Sheaves
November - The Doxology
December - Angels from the Realms of Glory
January - Amazing Grace
February - Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee
March - Rescue the Perishing (I don't know this one, but David REALLY wanted it. It's on the Odyssey tape. Natch.)
April - Christ the Lord is Risen Today
May - Standing on the Promises
June - What a Friend We Have in Jesus

If you know of any great resources for learning hymns, please let me know about them. I do have an old hymnbook and a One Year Book of Hymns that has a hymn and a short devotional for each day (365! yes!).

Btw, I was raised in a church that sang mostly praise choruses, so I don't know where my love for hymns came from. I do have a couple of hymn cassettes by Second Chapter of Acts that I just ADORE, though.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

What I've Really Liked

Every year I try some new homeschool items. Some I like and some I don't! Today is a day for listing some of the things I have really enjoyed adding to our homeschooling this year.

This year we started Great Science Adventures: Space. This curriculum by Dinah Zike is just what I needed to get on an even keel with Science. There are 16 titles in the GSA series. They are suggested for all grades K-8. However, my kindergartener is not ready for this, although he does do some of the activities with us.

There are sample lessons and a FAQ at the website, as well as a ton more info.

As far as time involved, I spent several hours before we started the study copying everything and this has really saved me as far as planning time. I also made a short list of the items needed for each lesson, so I could look
ahead and have those things gathered up. Most of the things are found around the house (ex: mirror, lotion, flashlight, rock), but sometimes you need things like plaster of paris or red cellophane.

There are little books for each lesson that you copy for them. (see examples on the website) Each lesson then has several kinds of graphic organizers as well as experiments. On the days we do science, we spend
15-30 minutes completing the work. Each book has 24 lessons. She suggests completing 2-3 lessons per week. We are going more slowly and complete more like 1 lesson every 1 or 2 weeks.

I am keeping all their graphic organizers in a ziploc bag and at the end of the study, we will put them into a lapbook or notebook.

I like it so well that I have already purchased and copied all the papers for another volume - Tools and Technology - which we will do this coming year.

2 - MATH
I don't know why I resisted Math U See for so long. I thought it was over-priced, gimmicky, and, since it is sold only through distributers, too hard to find.

HOWEVER, a year or so ago, a friend brought her MUS to our annual curriculum review meeting at my homeschool support group. She had been using MUS for 5 years with her 4 kids and still LOVED it. As she demonstrated it, we were all just in awe. So, I bit the bullet and ordered it.

Man, I love it! The DVD's with Mr. Demme teaching the concepts are awesome. I love the mastery concept. My second grade daughter who has a hard time grasping math concepts is LEARNING. And my fourth grade son who LOVES math also is learning! He has completed 1-1/2 levels this year, while my daughter is still finishing her first level. It's fine with me, because they are actually learning it! And understanding WHY math works. Wonderful.

I plan to use MUS for a long long time.

Spelling Power is my third "find" of the year. I like that there is only one book to buy for all my children. I like that it builds incrementally. I like that my children work at their instructional level instead of just doing the "fourth grade spelling lists". I love the research that went into the way the method was designed. I love the 10 step spelling study procedure.

There were other things I liked this year, but those were three that were new to us this year. I am planning to use all three of those again.

Friday, July 1, 2005


My house is over-run!

With what?


Ah, I can see you nodding your head in kinship. It is nearly certain that, if you have been homeschooling for a while, you too have experienced the avalanche of readers, workbooks, posters, textbooks, inspirational books, hands-on projects, science kits, and math manipulatives.

I have Cuisenaire rods taking over my back room, stacks of books for next year all over the piano, books for sale under the sewing machine cabinet, filing cabinets filled with stuff I "might need", art projects on every wall.... And again, I see you nodding! In fact, your head might slip from your shoulders as it nods so forcefully!

Then again, maybe you are looking at me in horror! You wonder how and why I let our learning take over our house
so thoroughly? Your homeschool supplies are all neatly organized in your schoolroom? You only buy exactly what
you need each year? You'd never affix an art project to your carefully cleaned walls?

There's nothing wrong with organization. I aspire to it myself. Someday. But, I am actually glad for the signs of the learning that goes on here each day. Anyone that enters can see that we make learning a priority. It's obvious that kids (homeschooled kids!) live here! And I'm glad for it!

And when I am tearing my hair out because of the mess the learning causes? Remind me that I LIKE IT! OK?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Who Needs Manners

Who needs manners? Evidently, my children do!

A good friend showed me a book on manners she had recently purchased and I was very impressed. It is called Manners Made Easy by June Hines Moore. Why was I so excited about it? Hines has combined learning etiquette with fun object lessons, hands-on activities, and Bible study. Doesn't that sound awesome?

My kids didn't think so.


C'mon, kids! Who needs manners? "No one!" they chorused. Heavier sigh on my part. OK, time to pull out the big guns. "Kids, if you don't pay attention and at least TRY to learn from this manners study, you'll be taking the SAME study at co-op this fall." There! I told them!

OK, now that they're sitting up in their seats politely, we can try to learn some MANNERS. On to the cute object lesson about porcupines, which had them listening intently. I think they even got the point!

Later this week, we'll take the quiz (orally, not written) and do the Bible study. There are 6 lessons in this book, and I figure we can complete one each week for the next few weeks. By Labor Day, I should have four sweet well-mannered children. Right?


Oh well, at least I can try!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Are You Schooling Through the Summer?

Are you schooling through the summer?

That's a question that my friends are asking each other right about now. Some of them look horrified and vehemently state that they ended school back in May! Others are trying to play catchup for things that didn't get done through the school year. But some, like me, just keep doing the learning thing all year 'round.

This is the first year we've made a concerted effort to "do school" through the summer. We are quite relaxed homeschoolers anyway. When we need to take off a day (or a week), we just go right ahead. I don't feel pressure (at least not very often) to keep up with any one else's ideas of where my kids should be in their schoolwork.

But last summer I felt like we were not making the most of our days. Summer in Michigan is a hit-or-miss proposition, and last summer, we missed it. It was just plain COLD. We never made it to the beach at all. So we sat around a lot, pretending summer was just fine. This year I determined that, on days when we had nothing better to do, we'd just go right ahead and "do some school".

For us, this means mostly a math lesson and some time spent reading something that I choose. We are also working towards completion of the Great Science Adventures Space unit we worked on this year. I found a great book at the library called Child Survival Skills that consists of lessons on how to avoid unsafe situations and people. So part of our "summer school" is working through this great resource together. Other "school-ish" things will undoubtedly make their way into our days as we progress through the summer.

We will begin our NEW school year in September, after Labor Day. Unlike some of my friends in southern states, public schools in Michigan begin relatively late, so I am very comfortable keeping to our relaxed "summer school" schedule through the end of August. After Labor Day, my kids will progress to their new "grades", we'll unwrap our new school supplies (can't wait for those SALES!), and we'll get back to schooling in earnest.