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

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?