Thursday, November 13, 2014

Our Curriculum Choices for the 2014-2015 Year

When I start talking about homeschooling, inevitably somebody will ask the question:  "So what curriculum do you use?"

And I find myself faced with a dilemma.  Do I..

          A.  Answer their question fully, which may require them to stand there for 10 minutes while I               ramble on and throw out more names and recommendations than they could ever remember               without taking notes,


          B.  Respond with something vague and mostly pointless like, "We use a mix of things," which I             know tells them precisely nothing about our homeschool.

Neither seem like good options.  But after I finish this blog post, maybe I can answer with, "We're eclectic homeschoolers.  See my blog for details."

A couple of weeks ago I shared what our homeschool day looks like, without offering many specifics about our curriculum choices.  Today I thought I could give you a little more detail about the curricula we use and/or some of the methods we implement.

*But let me first offer my disclaimer and say that no curriculum or approach will work perfectly for everybody.  The things that work great for our family may not work so great for you, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt, do your own research, and then learn by trial and error if need be to find what works best for you and your family.  Having the freedom to tweak things as necessary is one of the beauties of homeschooling! 

I debated lining our curriculum out for you child-by-child, but that didn't seem practical considering I do several of their subjects combined.  I also knew that a lot of people might be looking for me to list out very distinctive grade levels for each of my kids, in spite of the fact the distinctions are blurred quite a bit in our homeschool, primarily among my younger kids.  Honestly, for me the question, "What grade are your kids in?" is almost as difficult to answer as, "What curriculum do you use?"  so it seemed easier to list out our curricula subject-by-subject.

So here goes...


Our Bible reading and study is an important part of our school day, and yet I choose not to use a formal Bible curriculum.  I realize there are some wonderful Bible programs out there and there may come a time when I choose to use one of them, but I also enjoy and appreciate a more informal approach to studying the Bible together as a family.

As I explained in my last post, we usually read the Bible together--sometimes a chapter, sometimes a passage, sometimes just a verse or two, depending on what kind of discussion it generates--and we talk about any people or places we've encountered in what we've read and how to apply the scripture to our own lives.  We also work every day on scripture memorization and review things like the books of the Bible and basic Christian doctrines.

**And a theology degree is not necessary when it comes to teaching your kids the Bible!  I've heard women talk like teaching Bible intimidates them in ways math and science never could!  But you don't need to be a great theologian; just have a love for God and His word and then eagerly plant those little seeds.  A concordance, a Bible dictionary, and sometimes a good commentary can help, too.  Download e-Sword and you can have all of those things in one place!

I also mentioned before that Adventures in Odyssey is a great asset to our homeschool.  AIO is a staple in our home all the time, but on Fridays we have what I call "Odyssey Friday" and my kids get to listen to one episode as part of their Bible for the day.  I usually try to choose an episode that relates to something we've been talking about or a character issue we've been dealing with.  There are free episodes available at, but I really do recommend investing in the CD or MP3 albums.  We've built our library slowly over time, often purchasing used CD albums on eBay or Amazon for less that $10.

Another resource I have to mention is the What's in the Bible? DVD series created by Phil Vischer.  It provides a simple, book-by-book overview of the Bible presented in a way that is perfect for children.  (And pretty hilarious for adults, too!)  I love that it does more than just tell Bible stories; it also teaches kids about things like the trinity, the sinfulness of man, the sovereignty of God, the inspiration of scripture, and the atonement, all in a fun, easy-to-understand way.  And just a personal side note:  Volume 10 is AMAZING.  I would never have dreamed puppets could present the gospel in such a powerful way.


We are definitely a Math-U-See family!

We've been so happy with this math curriculum that over time we have moved all four of our children into MUS.  The short DVD demonstrations at the beginning of each lesson are clear and easy to follow and the math manipulatives have been a Godsend, particularly for my dyslexic child who struggles so much to visualize math concepts.  Though the worksheets are a dull black-and-white and they're not particularly fun, (which is obviously more of an issue with my younger ones than with my high schooler,) they are also brief and very doable, so my kids never feel overwhelmed with the load of math problems they have to do.  And word problems are inserted into every single lesson, which I love, since that is really the way math is useful to us in our everyday lives.

In the lower grades, Math-U-See books are labeled with letters of the Greek alphabet rather than stamped with clear grade levels.  At age 6, Peanut uses Alpha while Little Man and Doodle are in Gamma.  Math-U-See offers placement tests to help you determine just where to begin your child, and I can tell I have been very, very pleased with the customer service.  I had a lot of questions when I first moved my oldest to the program and the live chat was very helpful.  And what a shock it was to receive long, detailed responses to the questions I sent via email!  It proved to me that Math-U-See was very interested in customer satisfaction.

Last year was Polly Wolly's first with MUS.  I felt like the curricula she had used in the past had allowed her to move forward without fully understanding some basic concepts so I actually pulled her back and had her work through both the Epsilon and Zeta books last year, just to give her a more solid footing before we moved into higher math.  As a high school freshman she is taking Pre-Algebra.  And, no, I don't regret that she isn't beginning Algebra 1 in 9th grade.  She needs the extra review and her Pre-Algebra credit will count as an elective toward her graduation requirements, besides helping her be better prepared for Algebra 1 later this year or next.  (Another joy of homeschooling:  If she finishes Pre-Algebra, I can move her on into Algebra 1.  There's no need to keep her in step with the rest of her classmates!)


We currently use only Apologia science in our homeschool.  The books are written in a way that is interesting and engaging for younger kids and there are directions included for lots of simple and interesting projects.  The course website gives additional information on each lesson and includes links to other websites for even deeper study.  I'm using the Exploring Creation with Astronomy book for my three younger children and they have been fascinated.  And so have I!  Space has never really interested me before, but Apologia has forever changed that.

Meanwhile, my high schooler is taking Exploring Creation with Biology and, I will confess, we've both been a little less than thrilled with it, though we have no intention of switching to anything else as of yet.  This book is incredibly heavy on vocabulary and sometimes the test questions are obscure and very difficult to grade.  A little research has shown me I'm not alone in that thinking.  For now, however, we'll continue with Apologia, though I've decided to abandon the lesson plans and do things at our own pace, perhaps with alternative tests.

Language Arts

"Language Arts" is really just a generic, all-inclusive term for any kind of study involving language, so it encompasses a lot.  Here we use a strange mix of materials along with some of the Charlotte Mason approach.  In fact, if there is any part of our homeschool where we use a fair amount of CM, it is in the area of language arts.

As far as grammar, composition, and literature goes, I don't use a formal curriculum for my younger children.  I will confess to hating formal grammar and doing everything within my power to avoid things like diagramming sentences.  I'm just not convinced it makes for better writing.  But we journal and do writing to tie in with other subjects and make corrections where necessary, although I feel like nothing teaches grammar and composition skills better than exposure to good quality writing found in good books.

Phonics -- My little guy is still learning to read, so he needs phonics and we had heard and read wonderful things about Reading Eggs.  It's an online program that uses games and songs to teach kids to read and Peanut really enjoys it.  I've been happy with it overall, although I've noticed my son can pretty easily move ahead in the program without having really learned what he was supposed to learn.  While you can pull your child back to earlier lessons, it's also very easy for them to skip ahead again when you're not looking.  (But maybe your little angel would never try that...)

And in spite of the fact Reading Eggs is supposed to be PC compatible, many of the games are designed for a touch screen and are very difficult to do with my laptop's touch pad.  We tried using it instead on our tablet and ran into even more issues, so I just have to help Peanut with those particular games.

Now be warned, trying to actually reach someone via the customer service number is next to impossible.  I have not had good experiences in that department.  But I do have to say that my son really likes Reading Eggs and of course using something fun as well as educational definitely has its benefits.  Incidentally, my dyslexic also uses Reading Eggs on occasion for some phonics review.

There's no curriculum required, but a good ol'-fashioned white board comes in very handy for more phonics review when I feel like we need it, which is relatively often.

Handwriting -- Honestly, handwriting was something I never emphasized before this year, but Little Man, my lefty, had some pretty atrocious handwriting and it didn't seem to be improving.  And Doodle's dyslexia evaluation also pointed out how labored her handwriting sometimes is, in spite of the fact it is usually very neat and easy to read.  Obviously some instruction in proper letter formation was in order.

Photo courtesy

So having heard wonderful things about Handwriting Without Tears, I decided to give it a try with all three of my younger kids.

And let me just say...I'm a little stunned by it!   Little Man, who DESPISED handwriting in any form or fashion before does not complain about doing his handwriting any more.  That makes Handwriting Without Tears a winner in my book all by itself!  But the pages are short and sweet and never overwhelming and Little Man's handwriting seems to be improving.  Doodle is also doing much better, begin more careful to write her letters correctly and not just beautifully.  It seems to be helping Peanut as well, so we've been very pleased with HWT.

Spelling -- Having a dyslexic child for whom spelling is NIGHTMARISH, I have searched high and low for the perfect spelling program for her and her brother.  I'm finally beginning to realize it doesn't exist.  We've used some tremendous programs which focused on spelling rules, but the rules became overwhelming and confusing for Doodle and did absolutely nothing to improve her spelling.  Sequential Spelling, though not without its faults, has worked better for her by focusing on letter sequences in words rather than on spelling rules.  And she insists she likes her spelling, in spite of the fact it's one of the most challenging subjects for her.  I'm looking into other possible options, but for now we're continuing with Sequential Spelling and are mostly satisfied with it.

Personal Reading -- I read to my youngest often and Doodle and Little Man must spend time each day reading to me from a book of my choosing.  The practice is good for them and it also helps me identify any problems either of them may be having with their reading or phonics.

Read Aloud and Narration -- I read aloud to my children daily and consider it one of the most essential parts of our homeschool day.  While I read picture books on occasion in addition to the others, I always read from good fiction books, even those that may seem above-level, particularly for my youngest.  We've worked our way to the fifth book in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and have also read books like The Wind in the Willows, The Indian in the Cupboard, Johnny Tremain, and Ben and Me.  For some time we've also been reading every day from a nonfiction book as well, with titles like Daniel Boone's Own Story and, currently, Steve Sheinkin's King George: What was His Problem?

Here I like to implement some of the Charlotte Mason method by having my kids narrate back to me the things I've read.  I honestly think it's one of the most valuable teaching/learning methods I use in our homeschool because it requires my children to listen, comprehend, and then tell back what they've heard in a way that is clear and understandable.  When they can tell it back to me, in detail, then I know they've learned it and understood it.  And as they've grown accustomed to using narration in language arts, I'm amazed at the way they apply those same good listening and retension skills to every other subject as well.

For more information on using narration in your homeschool, check out Simply Charlotte Mason.

Literature -- After desperately searching for a high school literature program that suited my fancy, I finally gave up and created my own.  And, believe me, doing so is much easier than people may realize!  Of course you should look into English/Language Arts requirements in your own state, but I love the liberty of directing my daughter's reading and assignments and being able to schedule them to coincide with the things she's learning in other subjects when I want to do so.

With the exception of some poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, we've focused so far this year on Shakespearean plays and have read and analyzed a comedy, a tragedy, and a history in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, and Henry V.  Next she'll read some things to coincide with what she's currently studying in American history.

Sometimes I come up with writing assignments on my own, (summaries, author biographies, and character analyses are always an option,) but there are plenty of unique and creative ideas to be found online as well.  PW had to write her own puppet script related to A Midsummer Night's Dream and she had to compose several entries from Gertrude's diary after reading Hamlet.  A Google search also yielded a great list of questions for analyzing Poe's The Raven.

American History 

As far as my younger kids are concerned, while science is something we've been doing daily since the beginning of the school year, we're only doing American history 1-3 times per week.  The way we've been zooming through their science book, that may very well be reversed sometime after Christmas.  But really American history is something we tend to talk about a lot even when we aren't officially "doing our history".  I ADORE it, so my read aloud choices often lean that direction and we try to tie it into the conversation when we're discussing current events as well.

American history is another subject I do without a formal curriculum and making use of some great Charlotte Mason ideas.  We often add events to our Book of Centuries, which I think is a great tool for helping kids grasp a little better the chronology of historical events.  We're also putting together a simple lapbook with Famous Faces of the American Revolution using a basic template and pictures I find on the internet.  We use the library a plenty, too, and pick up books related to whatever event or historical person or place we're discussing.

Our Book of Centuries:  Always a work in progress

I also use the Liberty's Kids series where I can and my kids love it.  Most of the episodes can be found on YouTube, but I purchased a complete DVD set on Amazon for just $6.  I also love the Drive Thru History series, but most of the episodes are still a little advanced for my younger kiddos.  There's a lot of information thrown out in some of them and I've found it can be a little overwhelming for them.  But I'll bring Drive Thru History around again in a couple of years.

American History for High School -- I can't tell you how many American history curricula I poured over trying to find something I felt would do justice to my favorite subject in all the world.  Most of what I found, honestly, looked pretty dull and reminiscent of my worst public school textbooks.  Regrettably, I even purchased one of these sad-looking curricula and thought I would have to make it work.

Yes, Polly Wolly has to take notes from Mr. Raymond's lectures.  

But wouldn't you know it?  The very next day I came across a sale for Dave Raymond's American History and something about it just intrigued me.  I read about it on sites like Cathy Duffy Reviews where it got some pretty high marks as an interesting and very thorough history curricula and I was nagged by the thought THIS was the curriculum I should have bought!  So, in spite of the fact I had already purchased something else, I took advantage of the sale and bought Dave Raymond's American History, too.

And I do not regret it.  I LOVE this curriculum.  Every lesson includes five video lectures, each about 10 minutes long, and then a daily assignment with an exam following the final lecture.  My daughter has to keep a portfolio and then complete three projects, including a colonial map, a costumed speech, and a thesis paper, in the course of the year.

I find the lectures pretty fascinating and I love the Christian perspective.  Now don't assume from that that Mr. Raymond's history is all one-sided -- the Christians were always the good guys and everybody else was always the bad guys.  He gives a wonderfully balanced view of history and points out clearly the inconsistencies and outright sins of Christians throughout history.

But I find the Christian perspective so refreshing.  Looking at history through the scope of a Biblical worldview makes it all the more fascinating to me.  I only wish I could have learned American history this way.

High School Health

Health is a required 1/2 credit for high school in the state of Kentucky, so I went in search of a health curriculum, in spite of the fact I look back on high school health as one of the greatest wastes of a semester credit in all my school years.  

But that was public school and my football coach teacher was far more interested in football than in teaching health.  Total Health, however, has been surprisingly interesting for my daughter and I love the fact it is written from a Christian perspective.  Polly Wolly has actually learned a lot and she tells me she enjoys health, so I have zero complaints.  It's not the "candy class" my health class was -- she has to know her stuff to do well on the tests -- but the book has kept her interest and I'm delighted she's doing more than just snagging a necessary 1/2 credit for graduation.  

Incidentally, a 1/2 credit of P. E. is required as well, so we'll switch to that second semester, although I already log hours we spend in P. E., which may include playing sports together or taking a nature hike.  


I know, I know.  It's not called typing anymore.  It's keyboarding.  But whatever you call it, I still think it's useful and my daughter was eager to take it, so she'll be earning a 1/2 credit doing so.  We just use Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, which has been around since I was in high school!  It's easy to navigate and the lessons are simple and include lots of practice games.  PW enjoys it and she's learning to type...excuse me...keyboard quite well, so we're satisfied.

Art Appreciation

We do art often during our read aloud time, but Art Appreciation is something we generally do on Mondays using Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason.  I love these as a simple way to introduce my kids to famous artists and their works.  I own two of the portfolios myself, but some friends and I were careful to purchase different sets so we can trade among ourselves. 


This post has been quite long enough without me sharing every single supplemental material I use or every website I visit regularly as part of our homeschool.  I love the eclectic homeschooling style because it's open to every kind of curriculum and approach and resource you can imagine, and the variety helps keep things interesting and fun.

"Doesn't that drive you crazy," I've had people say, "using all those different materials from all those different companies?"

Actually, no.  I love it.  And I can't imagine being happy trying to homeschool any other way.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

6 Things that DON'T Make Me a Bad Mom

I'm pretty sure most of us would agree:  You don't have to look very hard to find examples of bad parenting.

But what I find frustrating sometimes is that often really, really bad parenting is overlooked or somehow excused provided there's some social or economic injustice to blame it on, even while good, decent parents are nit-picked to death over every single choice they make for their kids, from the way they schedule their every free moment to the ingredients present in every snack they serve.

Why does that happen?  Because everybody knows the bad parents aren't listening to anyone else anyway.  It's the good parents, those who actually want to make good decisions for their children, who read the parenting books, take every study about child-rearing to heart, and heed every possible criticism in the hopes they won't "mess up" their children.  Their good, albeit imperfect intentions make them easy prey for every "expert"out there who wants to dictate the way children are taught, disciplined, and fed.

Now I whole-heartedly seek and accept the advice of others.  I read parenting books and articles and blogs and, above all, I search the scriptures for guidance in the training of my children.

But I also refuse to drive myself insane trying to match up to every mortal's opinion of what a good parent should be.

Some things would indeed make me a bad mom:  Abuse.  Neglect.  Indulgence.

But other things DO NOT.  And I'm learning to quit feeling bad over those things.

  • Occasionally feeding my kids fast food does NOT make me a bad mom.

I know it's not good for you.  I know a diet of french fries and cheeseburgers will pack on the pounds quicker than you can say two all-beef patties.  I know fast food is generally laden with fat, calories, and preservatives, but sometimes life gets busy and a quick run through a drive-through can save a ton of time and stress.  I cook at home three meals a day the overwhelming majority of the time, so I refuse to feel guilty over the occasional fast food meal.

  • Letting my kids play video games does NOT make me a bad mom.

Okay, I will concede that allowing my children to play violent or sexually explicit video games would, indeed, make me a bad mom.  Letting them play video games all day every day would probably make me a pretty neglectful mom, too.  But video games in general are not evil.  Period.

No, I don't want my children in front of a screen at all times.  Yes, I want them to experience nature and personal relationships and using their imagination.

But occasionally playing a video game does not have to interfere with that.  In fact, I've been a little surprised at the kind of bond a good video game can build between my children when they're playing it together!  And I laugh that they often don't even play some games the way they're supposed to, but instead use the characters like digital action figures as they make up their own stories and adventures.

When my children play video games they are spending time together and using their imagination in some amazing ways.  Sorry, but it's hard to find a lot of fault with that.

  • Not always eating at the table does NOT make me a bad mom.  

I know you've read the statistics, too:  Kids who regularly eat dinner with parents around the table are far more likely to avoid risky behaviors or commit crime.

I take that seriously.  Just ask my husband.  He actually pokes fun at me for acting like our children are going to wind up as ax murderers because I didn't get the table cleared off in time for supper while in his home growing up, the family rarely sat together for meals.  Their house just didn't allow the space for it for one, and yet he and his siblings all managed to turn out to be well-adjusted, law-abiding citizens and devoted followers of Christ.  Go figure!

I have to keep in mind we also homeschool, so we are at the table together a lot already and often my tabletop is covered in books and binders and papers and crayons that just don't always get put away in time for supper.  Sometimes the table is also the only safe place to store projects or supplies.  Add to all of that that my kitchen table sits just inches outside my laundry "room" and often becomes a temporary resting place for piles of clean laundry.

I try to keep it clear for dinner, but it doesn't always happen.  Regardless of where we eat, we are almost always eating dinner together, so I won't beat myself up too much if we don't always make it to the table.

  • Serving non-organic and processed foods does NOT make me a bad mom.

I'm all about clean eating.  I love the concept of taking foods down to their most natural state, eating things fresh, and cooking from scratch.

But can we please be realistic here?  I can't cook like that all the time.

Sometimes I have to be able to pull out a quick food lest I spend every non-homeschooling moment of my life in my kitchen.  Homemade bread almost never happens and every once in a while I have to break out a box of mac and cheese or hand my kid a conventional granola bar.  (Although I can't do Pop-Tarts.  Have you looked at the ingredient list for those things?  Yikes!  Presidents have given inauguration addresses that were shorter than that!  But I digress...)

I buy organic foods as often as I can, but I don't always have access to them or have money enough to buy them when I do.  But that's okay.  I'm very much convinced no one in the family is going to suffer irreparably for it.

And, hey, I'm cooking, aren't I?  And if I'm cooking, then I'm not committing the cardinal sin of buying fast food, so it's all good.

  • Not keeping a perfect home does NOT make me a bad mom.

Kudos to the clean freak whose favorite hobby is cleaning their house!  That is so not me. 

But even if my greatest joy in life could be found in spotless floors and sparkling countertops, I cannot attain perfection in this department.  CANNOT.  

I have four children and a delightful, but less-than-tidy husband.  We live in a sweet little home that I love, but its 1100 square feet of space just barely contains us all.  I also homeschool.  Under the circumstances, it's a wonder my home is even livable, let alone perfect!  

And while I love to decorate and long to have a home that is both pretty and clean, finding both the time and the money to do all the things I want to do just seems an impossibility right now.  My house is tolerably pretty, but of course there are more things I want to do and it seems there are projects in the works almost constantly.  When I will ever have it exactly the way I want it, I don't really know. 

But I have a feeling my kids are going to remember a lot more about the time I spent with them than the dishes I left in the sink or the burlap wreath for the door I never finished.  (Although I really do want to hang that wreath!)  

The fact my house will never be anybody's favorite decorating Pin really doesn't make me feel like too much of a failure.

  • Not allowing my children to participate in every activity that interests them does NOT make me a bad mom.

Sometimes there are good things, even very worthwhile things my children want to be a part of, and I have to say NO.  As much as I adore them and want them to experience new things and meet new people and reach for new horizons, sometimes those precious children of mine are pretty fickle creatures;  the extracurricular activities that thrill them one day might bore them to tears three weeks later, so a little parental discernment is in perfect order here.  

And, oh, the time that's consumed when poor parents try to cater to every whim of their children and sign each one up for this sport and that club and these lessons and that volunteer opportunity!  There aren't enough hours in the day and a mom is liable to lose her ever-lovin' mind trying to tote every child around to every function they feel the need to be a part of.  Not to mention the fact the family is spending no quality time together.  

Granted, my stubbornness on this issue may mean my son never makes Eagle Scout and never becomes a professional guitarist and my daughter never perfects her backstroke or masters her sculpting techniques.  

Oh well.  I can live with that. 


So what things don't make YOU a bad mom?  A nightly, uninterrupted bath?  An occasional candy bar consumed behind a locked door?  (Not that I would know anything about that.)  
What things have you been made to feel guilty for as a mom and then come to realize, with time, that they really don't make you such a bad mom after all?

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

What an Eclectic Homeschool Day Looks Like

I began my homeschooling journey with a very traditional, (and, honestly, pretty boring,) approach.

Now I don't regret that entirely.  Okay, the boring part I'm not really proud of, but as a public school grad, the traditional, workbook/textbook approach provided a safe, familiar starting place for a mom like me who had never really intended to homeschool.  And it gave me time to do my research and find out what direction I wanted to take from there.

The more I read, the more I LOVED the idea of homeschooling using a mix of curricula and approaches.  But while I loved the concept, I had no idea how to implement it!  I didn't know how it was possible to homeschool multiple children using multiple methods and curricula and do it all at the same time.

I scoured homeschooling books and websites looking for an instruction book or planner that would lay out a perfect schedule for me and my kids.  Of course such a thing doesn't exist, simply because every family is different and every learner is different and no one system is going to work perfectly for every homeschooling mom.  Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is...well...wrong.

But though no one could offer me a perfect homeschool schedule, I at least managed to stumble across a blog or two where moms had shared rough itineraries of their homeschooling day.  I couldn't begin to find those blogs now and I'm pretty sure I don't use any of the curricula those moms used, but their posts gave me some ideas, (and, I think, some courage,) to start mixing things up on my own.

I know how much I wanted, (and NEEDED,) a glimpse into somebody else's homeschool, so let me give you a glimpse into ours.  But please keep these things in mind as you read:

  • I didn't want this to be the eternal blog post, so I didn't include much information about my specific curriculum choices.  We'll save that for next week. so check back if you're curious.

  • Not every day looks exactly like this, but if you could somehow draw each individual homeschooling day on a sheet of glass and then stack them together, this is pretty much what it would look like in the end.  Call it a "composite picture" of our homeschool

  • The times I offer here are very, VERY approximate.  In fact, I didn't even want to put a time on anything because it can vary so much, but I know it might be helpful for some.  There are days when the first part of our school day takes 20 minutes.  The next day it may take over an hour!  There are days we finish school as early as 1:30.  Other days we aren't finished until after 4:00.

But this is generally how a day goes in our homeschool...

(More or less)

6:30 a.m.  The alarm goes off and I get up.  I would LOVE to be able to get up earlier than this, but until I learn how to go to bed earlier at night, it just ain't happenin'.  I strive for at least 6 hours of sleep, but I'm not always good at that either and I'm not a daytime napper.  If there's any area where I feel my lifestyle leans in an unhealthy direction, it's probably in my lack of sleep.

But I am not trying to imply a homeschooling mom has to survive on limited sleep!  In fact, I think homeschooling provides the opportunity for more sleep for most moms.  If I was willing to cut writing out of my life, I could no doubt sleep much more than I do, but I think I'd rather give up eating than do that, and since that wouldn't be very healthy either, I just choose to give up some sleep instead.  But I do realize this is an area where I need some improvement.

Anyway, my boys rarely sleep past 7:30, but I usually have time for devotions before they get up and then I'm trying to fold laundry, check news and social media, blog a little or answer emails, and then get a load of dirty clothes in the washer before I start breakfast.

9:00 a.m.  We begin school every day over breakfast at the kitchen table, usually somewhere between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.  Granted, that's a late breakfast for a lot of people, but with my husband's work schedule, we rarely eat supper before 7:00 p.m., so a later breakfast and lunch works very well for us.  None of us are usually interested in eating early anyway.

We read the Bible and discuss it and we pray together.  I like memorizing passages of scripture rather than individual verses, so we spend some time working on our current passage, (it's Romans 5 at the moment,) and also reviewing those we've already memorized, as well as occasionally going over the books of the Old and New Testaments.  On Fridays the kids have what I call "Odyssey Friday", where we listen to an Adventures in Odyssey for our devotion.

Before we leave the table we usually look at a calendar and review the date, the months of the year, and the days of the week for the benefit of my youngest child.  This is also where we discuss our "Of the Week" subjects.  I vary those to include other things from time to time, but we're currently doing a weekly state, country, and painting/artist.  We look over both a U. S. and a world map every day, often reviewing details like the continents or the oceans.  You can read how I do "Of the Week" here.

First break:  At this point we break for breakfast clean-up and morning chores.  (We have evening chores that are a little more extensive than these, which helps out a lot because we can begin our day with a relatively clean house.  Notice I said relatively.  My house is never, ever perfect.)  My oldest daughter empties the dishwasher, #2 sweeps the kitchen floor, #3 dusts a room, and #4 helps me transfer the load of laundry I washed earlier into the dryer.

10:30 a.m. After chores are done and teeth are brushed, we gather back at the table for Read Aloud.  This is probably my favorite part of our homeschool day together.  My kids may color, crochet, do any of the activities mentioned here, or work on whatever new project I come up with while I read from both a fiction and a nonfiction book, sometimes even throwing in a picture book as well.

We're currently reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis and King George: What Was His Problem? by Steve Sheinkin.  When we're done reading, we implement a little Charlotte Mason and do some old-fashioned narration as part of our language arts, starting with my youngest and working our way up to my oldest.  And here let me encourage you never to underestimate a small child's ability to narrate even from a book that seems years beyond his level.  My youngest struggled to remember details early on, but I've been amazed at the way his memory and his comprehension have improved as we've gone along.  I'll read entire chapters and though obviously he can't remember as much as my teen, he always picks up on key points in the story and he recounts enough to me to assure me he is hearing and comprehending what I'm reading.

Second break:  We take a few minutes to clean up from whatever activity we've done during Read Aloud.  From this point on in our day, the dynamics of our homeschool changes and kiddos move in separate directions more.

11:15 a.m.  While I love doing school together as a group, (and the more subjects you can do with all your children combined, the easier,) Polly Wolly is a freshman this year.  There are high school credits to consider, so she has far more individual work to do than in the past.  I usually scribble her assignments for the day on an index card and she takes her books to her room to start her work.

*And just a note here... I'm planning PW's lessons for the day as I write them out.  No major advanced planning for me.  I know a lot of homeschooling moms don't feel like they can function without having everything written out 6 months in advance, but that only confuses me and leaves me frustrated if we get off schedule.  I totally understand those who feel like they need lots of pre-planning, but I'm not one of them.  I guess I just look at it like this:  You did that yesterday.  You do the next thing today.  For me, it isn't complicated, but I realize not everyone thinks that way.  I do, by the way, keep very meticulous records in my homeschooling planner of everything we do in the course of every day.  (Lest you think I'm careless in my record keeping.)

Regardless, during this time PW usually completes her math, science, and health.

While Polly Wolly gets started, I take Peanut to the quiet of my bedroom so he can do his phonics and reading using an online program.  He can work independently on that, (mostly,) while I do some dyslexia therapy with Doodle.  If Peanut finishes, he usually plays some of the extra games included in his program or just enjoys a little free time until I call for him again.

After a little one-on-one time with Doodle, Little Man joins us at the table for their math and they immediately do some handwriting practice as soon as that is completed.  Two to three times a week we also do spelling.  Both of them must also spend time reading aloud to me each and every day.  Doodle is usually finished with her written work before her brother, so I can get reading done with her while we're waiting on him to finish his other work.

At this point I call Peanut into the kitchen for his math and handwriting.  I have to work very much one-on-one with him on these, but I'm still close at hand if Little Man needs help.  Sometimes Doodle now gets some extra practice on her phonics and reading using the same online program Peanut uses.

12:45 p.m.  I usually break around this time to fix lunch and we eat around 1:00 or 1:15.  Like I said before, I realize that's a late lunch for some, but we eat dinner late anyway, so it works fine for us.

1:45 p.m.  While Polly Wolly goes back to work on her language arts, I do science with the younger three combined, usually in the family room.  Sometimes I trade off doing science and American history, but lately they've been so interested in their science I've been doing it daily and then doing history a couple of times a week as well.  When we've finished that I usually do one-on-one reading with Little Man and then my younger kids are done for the day, usually no later than 3:00 p.m.

PW, meanwhile, finishes her language arts and then does a keyboarding lesson on my laptop.  (We called it typing in my day, but I understand that's an outdated term.  Some don't consider keyboarding a necessity anymore, but as boring as high school typing was for me, it was probably one of the most useful courses I took in high school.  Oh, the time I save by being able to type without staring at the keys!)

I always try to have the younger kids done with school in time for Polly Wolly to do American history so I can join in!  I love her history curriculum, which includes a quick daily DVD lecture and a reading and/or writing assignment.  History is my favorite, so I find the lectures pretty fascinating and try to watch with her.

3:30 p.m.  School is done for the day about this time.  (Usually.)  I jot down anything I may have left out of my planner, stack papers to be graded and filed, and put away any books, binders, or supplies that have been left out.

Though there are sometimes exceptions, I reserve most grading for Friday afternoons and I separate worksheets and papers into individual folders then as well.  I've tried different systems of organizing and filing my kids' work and using pocket folders for each child for each subject has just been the one that seems to work best for me.


The school year is a little bumpy for the first couple of weeks, just while we get in the groove of things and work out all the kinks to find a daily schedule that's doable.   Flexibility is key here and letting go of the rigidity we so often associate with education is important so real learning can occur.

Is it a perfect system?  No, but trial and error is an amazing teacher.  I understand that some people can't bear the thought of delving into homeschooling with anything less than a perfect plan and perfect order and everything clearly laid out for them from the very beginning.  Homeschooling with an eclectic approach just doesn't offer that, but I feel like the benefits of it far outweigh any drawbacks.

Our homeschool isn't perfect, but I know the eclectic approach is perfect for us.  I love the personal contact I have with my kids, the control I have over what they learn and how they learn it, and the variety in our day that helps keep things from becoming so monotonous.

Now that I have a few years of this system under my belt, I wouldn't want to homeschool any other way.  

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

To the Kind Stranger Who Praised My Little Family

Dear Sir:

I'm afraid I'm a little slow to say thank you, but that doesn't mean I haven't been incredibly grateful for your kind words from the day you spoke them!  What a blessing you were to me, and to all of us! And what a blessing your words have been every time I've thought of them since.

We didn't have a chance to explain, but maybe you noticed our license plate.  We were far from home, over 800 miles from it, in fact, and just passing through Arlington on our way from Fort Worth to Shreveport visiting family.

We hadn't even intended to stop in Arlington.  We were just looking for an In-N-Out Burger, because  we had heard the burgers were amazing, (and they were,) and that the company is Christian-owned, (which is always a plus.)  We actually missed our intended exit, a mistake I think must have been God-directed, and from there our GPS led us to Arlington where our tired little family tumbled out of an over-stuffed minivan to take in a little lunch.

We ordered, taking advantage of the "secret menu", of course, and we got everyone's drinks and found a table.  I think it was one of the kids who first noticed the scripture references on the cups, and when we got our food they spotted them on the fry boxes and even the hamburger wrappers.

It became a bit of a game, I suppose.  The kids found the references and my husband looked them up on his phone and read them and then we talked and laughed and enjoyed a little break in a yearly trip that is always long and wearying.

But I didn't feel like our family did anything especially beautiful.  We were all very tired and a little disheveled and if the kids seemed particularly well-behaved, (and I'm not sure that they did,) it was really only because they were so drained and so happy for a brief reprieve from the confines of the minivan.

But you took the time to stop by our table on your way out.  You smiled approvingly and spoke cheerfully, complimenting my bedraggled, in-every-way-imperfect little family, even calling us "Family of the Year", and I think we were all a little stunned by your kindness and your praise.

So stunned, in fact, that we didn't even ask your name.  A gray-haired woman who had been in your party approached us after you had gone and told us how impressed you had been.  She said you were a pastor and also her son, and yet it still never occurred to us to ask your name or the name of your church.  She, too, walked away and we were left touched and humbled by the kindness of perfect strangers who, sadly, we will likely never meet again in this life.

Such a simple gesture, to stop and speak kind and encouraging words to people you didn't even know, but what a tremendous blessing to me.

You see, I am overwhelmed sometimes with the knowledge of my own inadequacies.  I know I need to be a better wife.  I struggle with self-doubt in my efforts as a mom and I constantly battle the fear that, whether we're talking about setting a good Christian example, homeschooling, or just parenting in general, I'm not good enough at any of it.

Sometimes I struggle to keep our family as the priority it should be.  I never mean to, of course, but our lives are busy, often too busy, and it's easy to get distracted from the things that matter most.  Sometimes I lose my temper.  Sometimes I say the wrong things or I handle conflict the wrong way or I realize I've simply erred through neglect.

And while I wish I could find my validation in the virtue of my own children, I'm afraid I can't always do that.  I have good kids and I love them dearly, but they're just as faulty and mistake-prone as their mother and, whether it's completely fair or not, it's easy to see their mistakes as further evidence of my own woeful inadequacy as a mom and Christian.

And though I don't look to society to help me raise my children, (I believe that's mine and my husband's responsibility alone; there will be no "village" in the raising of my kids,) it would nonetheless be nice if the culture could at least offer some support.  It doesn't.  More often it bombards my children with filth that is destined to wreck their lives if they follow after it, at the same time telling me my faith and my morals and my completely respectable, but "small-minded, judgmental Judeo-Christian views" are detrimental to their healthy growth and development.

I don't look to the world for affirmation, but I don't need its discouragement either.  I get tired of the way it demeans stay-at-home moms, frowns on anything larger than a family of four, and seems suspicious of anyone so crazy as to educate their children at home.  I get frustrated with the sentiment that says children are a bother.  And I find it all the more discouraging when I encounter those same attitudes even among other believers, which happens very, very frequently.

I adore my little family.  With all its imperfections, I think it's beautiful.  But sometimes it's easy to get discouraged.  It's easy to doubt my impact for good and be fearful for the future success of these little people I'm trying so hard to nurture in faith and in character.

But that's why your words that day were such a blessing.  A stranger thought my family was beautiful, too.  A man I'd never met and will probably never meet again affirmed my feeble efforts and reassured me in all my labors.

You don't know how you helped me that day.  You didn't have to say much.  It just confirmed to me once again that I'm doing the right thing, that pouring myself into my little family is the right thing to do, no matter how many distractions there are or how many people may be telling me I should look for fulfillment elsewhere.  You lightened my heart a little and encouraged me to keep trying.  To keep praying.  To keep teaching.  To keep plodding on to fulfill my calling as a mother to the very best of my ability, knowing, of course, that God in His grace is able to fill in every gap this oh-so-imperfect mother is sure to leave behind.

We're not the perfect family.  But you talked to us that day as if we were.  It was kind.  And flattering.  And a little overwhelming.

And I needed to hear it.  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us that day.


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

What Coupons Cost You

Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like there's a lot more talk about coupons than there used to be.   I listen to folks brag about their coupon deals and sometimes I'm left in utter disbelief, not necessarily at the size of their savings, but at the thought of them using coupons at all!  People who wouldn't have bothered with a coupon 10 years ago, (let alone bragged about it!) are suddenly all wrapped up in the magic of couponing.

Chalk it up to the bad economy.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and I'm sure a nation short on jobs and long on debt has proven fertile ground for the growth of couponing/money saving websites and some of these "extreme couponing" shows I've heard so much about.

Coupons are nothing new.  It took me about two minutes' worth of research to learn that one of my favorite companies in all the world produced the first known coupon. In 1888 Coca Cola launched what for its day was an innovative, (and pretty risky,) marketing technique--coupons for a free Coca Cola!  Soda fountains across the U.S. were supplied with the syrup and within the first 20 years Coca Cola gave away around 8,500,000 free beverages.   It was promotion of a product on an epic scale. And it was a gamble.

But I think it's safe to say it worked.  Worldwide, Coca Cola now delivers 1.7 BILLION servings per day.  (And just to show my appreciation, I'm doing my part to up that number as much as possible. ;))

Here's my issue: While the benefits of coupons are talked about a lot, the drawbacks of them aren't. Granted, the money saved at times can be pretty impressive.  Once on a trip to Walgreens, for example, I purchased $80 worth of merchandise for $43.  Not too shabby, eh?  And while that kind of savings isn't exactly typical for me, with coupons I can usually save at least $10 every time I make a trip to the grocery and, hey...ten bucks is ten bucks!

Saving money is awesome!

But blowing time isn't.

And to be a committed and successful coupon shopper, you have to blow a lot of it!

Now I've learned some organizational tips that can save a few minutes here or there and I've heard about and even tried some of the websites designed to make couponing easier and less time-intensive, but none of these things negate the sad fact that couponing takes a lot of time!  The clipping takes time.  Matching the coupons with the sales ads takes time.  Organizing the coupons you plan to use right away and saving the ones you'll use later-- all of it takes time!

Now no doubt the dedicated, even obsessive coupon shopper will read this and shout at me, "But think of the money you save!"  Yes, but think of the time you lose!  And you know what they say; Time is money!  Especially when you consider that, let's be honest, a lot of the stuff we're buying with coupons are things we probably wouldn't buy otherwise and don't necessarily need.  Around our house, we're trying to eat healthier and 95% of the coupons I find are for processed foods I don't buy anymore.  That gives me even less reason to coupon!

Now I'm not saying couponing is a bad thing.  I know for some people clipping coupons and keeping it all organized is a hobby they enjoy just as much as I enjoy writing or reading.  And saving money is a wonderful, often needful thing.  But the savings is really only beneficial if it's not at the expense of my time.  That's exactly why, though I was an ardent coupon shopper when I was newly married, couponing went down the tubes as child 3 and 4 came along.  It's not that I didn't want or need to save money, but I struggled to find time to bathe and brush my hair, let alone sit down to clip $.25 coupons out of the Sunday paper!  Even now I only use the most basic coupons and only when it's convenient and usually only when they offer a fairly substantial savings.

So I think it's important to weigh the pluses against the minuses and then make the decision which is more valuable to me--my time or my money?  And when shopping with children in tow, the question is often more like--my SANITY or my money?  Sometimes I'd rather pay more money if doing so would save me some time and some wear-and-tear on my nerves!

In the days before price-matching, I remember my mother driving all over town to take advantage of the sales at various stores.  Looking back now I can't imagine that!  My mom meant well, but she probably burned more gas running from place to place than she ever saved!

To me, sometimes the extreme couponing mentality is much the same.  Save money, but burn time. Of the two, generally I find my time to be far more valuable.  I'll coupon happily, but only so long as the savings aren't costing me more than they're actually saving me.

That's just my never-to-be-humble opinion. You die-hard coupon junkies just clip to your little hearts' content and if you find yourself with leftover time, feel free to come on over and organize some coupons for me.  And maybe you can do a load of laundry while you're here.  Believe me, that would be appreciated!

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