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The Early Years - Phonics

>> Thursday, December 10, 2009

Teaching a child to learn to read is, IMHO, one of the most satisfying tasks of homeschooling. Watching understanding dawn on your student's face as they finally are able to read their first sentence, and then their first easy reader book, is beyond description. Especially if it's been a particularly long and arduous road getting there!

There are numerous, wonderful phonics programs out there. Some are quite simple in their approach, while others incorporate bells, whistles, and singing animals. Deciding which to use will depend a great deal on your child's learning style, your teaching methods, and how much money is in your bank account.

While phonics programs are wonderful tools, there are some very practical approaches to teaching reading that don't require any curriculum or packaged resources. The most basic of these is to look for reading opportunities throughout your day. When you're driving down the street, point out street signs and ask your child what letter sounds they see, or if they can sound out the words on their own. In the grocery store, pick up boxes of cereal or crackers and ask your student to identify the letters they are currently learning, or have already learned.

Homemade flash cards are another great way to teach or reinforce phonics. Start with a set of letter flash cards and play letter "Go Fish" with your child. Create a duplicate set of letter flash cards and play a "Concentration" or matching game. Or make up simple "Bingo" grids and using some macaroni or other "markers", play letter Bingo. Once you begin teaching letter blends, make up some blend flash cards and let your child build words with the cards. I remember my youngest child's excitement when he got to the place where he could build simple sentences using his flash cards. The ideas are endless!

Another good idea that used to elicit chuckles from folks who visited our home is to create "label" flash cards for the various items in your house. You can label your "couch", "chair", "bed", "table", "rug", and so on. Hand the cards to your child and let him/her sound out the word and place the label appropriately. Or perhaps mix up the cards and place the "chair" card on the rug, and the "couch" card on the table, etc... Let your student have fun correcting your "mistakes".

Once again, Dr. Beechick's Three R's booklet is full of very creative and practical ways to teach or reinforce basic reading skills. Definitely a "must have" for every homeschooler.

Enjoy the journey!


The Early Years - Math

>> Friday, December 4, 2009

Let's face it, some kids are born with the math gene, and some just aren't. I personally missed out on that valuable piece of genetic material, but fortunately at least one of our children inherited his dad's ease with math.

So what does math learning look like in the elementary grades? Especially if mom isn't all that comfortable with the subject herself! Does 30 minutes of math mean sitting at the table doing a workbook for 30 minutes? Yikes! I sure hope not ...

If you have a workbook-loving student, then spend 15 minutes going over a worksheet together. Then close the book and move on to 15 more minutes with counting blocks, or math games (Mathtacular is a great choice!) on the computer. I remember teaching my younger students about pairs by having them match and fold socks. We learned simple addition and subtraction by setting the table ... counting out the forks, knives and spoons ... discussing how many we needed to take away if dad wasn't going to be home for dinner that evening. And baking is an awesome way to introduce simple fractions (and even get in a little Science at the same time!).

Have *FUN* learning math with your child. It doesn't have to be painful. If you'd like some additional practical ways to teach math without workbooks or textbooks, check out Ruth Beechick's Three R's Series.

More to come! ...


The Early Years - Priorities

>> Thursday, December 3, 2009

I had the opportunity to chat via email with a new homeschooler the other day. She is educating a 6 year old and has a toddler and a newborn as well. Needless to say, she was feeling a bit frazzled!

Some practical thoughts that I shared with her were helpful to me when I walked in her shoes ...

The first thing I would concentrate on is to make a list of priorities. What academic skills do you most wish to focus on with your student? Personally ... phonics was at the top of my list for that age. If they can learn to read well, then all other subjects become that much easier. I would also work on some foundational math concepts. Everything else is "gravy"! Reading and Math ... just two subjects.

Plan to spend 20-30 minutes each day on math and 20-30 minutes each day on reading. A total of one hour of "formal" schooling. You may want to do math in the morning and reading in the afternoon ... you may want to do 15 minutes of math and then take a break and finish the final 15 minutes after the break. There are a multitude of ways to break it up, but these two subjects ... one hour per day ... would be my priority. Now that doesn't sound quite so overwhelming!

More to follow ...


Note Taking - Learned Skill?

>> Thursday, November 19, 2009

I spoke recently with a homeschooling mom who was concerned because her daughter was in sixth grade and didn't have a clue how to take notes. She was looking for a product or formula that she might use to teach this skill. I made the following, cost-effective (nothing to buy!) suggestions:

  • Start off by explaining the purpose of note-taking: to keep a record of your condensed understanding of what you're reading or hearing. In other words ... don't trust your memory!
  • The next step is learning to focus and concentrate while listening. If you are reading a book aloud to your student ... tell them that each time they hear what seems to be an important tidbit of information, they need to write it down. These would be things like an important date, someone's age, or a location where something occurred. This might even include any words or terms they don't understand.
  • In between listening for these types of note-worthy "facts" ... suggest that they make notes that will act as "reminders". Perhaps you're reading a chapter about Washington's winter at Valley Forge. Were there things mentioned in the chapter that helped them understand "why" the army was there? Perhaps something that gave a basic explanation of "what" was going on politically at the time? These all make good reminders.
  • Compare note-taking to being a newspaper reporter. They always need to be answering ... Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
The ultimate goal? To be able to go back and read over their notes and come away with the same knowledge/understanding they gained when they first read or heard the information. Note-taking acts as a "refresher" of sorts.

Keep in mind ... this takes practice. You may need to prod a bit at first ... or even come alongside and take notes that they might copy. Read a few sentences from a book to your students, and then stop and say ... "If it were me, I would make a note of the following ..."

As your student gains proficiency in knowing what they need to make notes of, then help them to develop their own style of note-taking "shorthand".
  • Helpful abbreviations
  • Use incomplete sentences
  • Use bullet points or asterisks to make points stand out on a page
Church sermons, TV or radio news reports, or even a DVD documentary all provide great opportunities for practicing note-taking. And who knows ... working with your student may help your skills to improve as well!!



The Holidays are Coming ...

>> Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For some people that statement brings feelings of excitement and fond memories of childhood holidays ... for others it creates a feeling of dread and the wish to just fast-forward to January.

I suppose there are a multitude of reasons why some folks love the holidays as much as others hate them. In fact, I've had some years where I couldn't wait for Thanksgiving to arrive, and other years when I wished we could just avoid the whole mess. Current family dynamics, age, the economy, and a whole slew of other factors play into how you perceive the holiday season.

So how to avoid the holiday doldrums when they come rushing in? Two simple approaches have helped me immensely in past years. 1) Get my focus off myself, and 2) Do some advanced planning.

Get your focus off yourself
Those years when I've struggled the most, and tried to determine why, I've usually found that I am hyper-focused on my physical struggles, family struggles, or disappointment in others. It has been very helpful for me to name the issue, whatever it might be, and consciously work to leave it with the Lord. If I can daily shift my focus off from me and on to those around me, my attitude improves tremendously. Certainly the holidays are not the time to become a martyr, so I'm not suggesting totally ignoring personal needs. But looking for little things that might work to improve my spirits is much more fruitful than using that time to dwell on life's troubles or injustices.

Do some advanced planning
Most often the stress and hair-tearing of the holiday season can be avoided with a little proactive planning. As much as I'm able, I try to map out the events of November and December well in advance. Around those activities I plan our meal schedule. Based on that schedule I try to plan my grocery shopping so I only have to go once or twice. There's nothing more frustrating to me than being stuck in an over-crowded grocery store during the holidays.

Getting my kids involved with the planning is also tremendously helpful. With my focus on others instead of myself, it becomes less important that every event is planned "correctly" than working on the project as a family. We schedule hospitality times in our home, create a menu, and brainstorm decoration ideas.

I also take a serious, realistic look at our budget, and plan our gift giving based on what is possible. 61% of Americans list lack of money as being their greatest holiday stress point. Shifting our focus to relationships and creativity can go a long way toward relieving this issue.

Not creative? Need a jump-start for holiday meal planning and gift-giving? Here are some great resources to check out as we head into November.

(Standard caveat - I cannot vouch for all the content on each of these sites, so browse with care).

I'd love to hear your ideas for a stress-free, enjoyable holiday season. Feel free to share! And most of all ... I wish you a relaxing, family and Christ-centered holiday season.

Blessings ...


Famous Homeschoolers

>> Thursday, October 15, 2009

I've always found it fascinating each time I learn of some other well-known individual who was homeschooled. Part of me thinks that if that person did so well in life "despite" being homeschooled, there is hope for my kids!

If you've never read about any famous homeschoolers, take a few minutes to do so with your kids. You may be surprised ... they may be encouraged. It's an exercise worth pursuing.

Now we can add another prestigious name to that list ... Willard S. Boyle was recently awarded 1/4 of the Nobel prize for physics. How exciting to learn that he was homeschooled! His mama (if she is still living) is surely proud of him.

Who knows what potential sits around your kitchen table today ... sleepily working their way through their spelling words or the intricacies of chemistry.

Blessings ...



>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yep ... it's that time of year. In the next few days my house is going to smell the best it will smell all year. The odor of cooking apples, cinnamon and cloves ... in addition to the smell of fall leaves each time the door opens, should really be bottled and sold!

This is a tremendous time of year to get your kids involved in something besides academics. Here's where science and math and practical life skills all merge together in your kitchen.

Find a local orchard where you can pick apples ... do a bit of research ahead of time so you can chat like an old pro about the different types of apples and their many uses. Here are some hints to get you started:

  • Cortlands - this "workhorse" apple is phenomenal for cooking just about anything ... pies, sauce, apple butter, crisps, etc... They are often a large apple which gives you more bang for your peeling!
  • Honeycrisp - This apple has exceptionally crisp, juicy, sweet-as-honey flesh with just a hint of tartness, making it a tasty treat any time of the day. You can also use this apple for baking. This has become a family favorite for an eating apple.
  • Idared - This rosy, brightly colored apple is a cross between two New York apples, Jonathan and Wagener. I love to add these to my sauce because of their bright pink color.
  • McIntosh - The tender white flesh is crisp when freshly harvested, but soon adopts a softer consistency, making it perfect for cooking into pies or sauce. Macs are sweet and juicy with a pleasant tanginess. I mix Macs, Cortlands and Idareds for an awesome applesauce and apple butter.
  • Granny Smith - Lime-green speckled skin that resists bruising and very firm, crisp flesh characterize this popular apple. Its sharp, tart flavor holds up well in recipes with spicy notes, and the flesh is firm enough to retain its shape when cooked. If you like to make baked apples, this variety is perfect!
Then go spend a chilly afternoon in your local orchard picking apples and enjoying the sights and smells of autumn. If you aren't lucky enough to live in the northeast (a little local pride there), then make a field trip out of visiting your local store and choosing apples. Head back to your kitchen to create some applesauce, apple butter, apple crisp, apple crumble, or any number of delicious apple creations.

Even better ... create some applesauce ornaments to hang around your home. This keeps that wonderful apple and cinnamon scent around that much longer. These are easy to make ... combine 3 cups of applesauce with 3 cups of cinnamon. Mix well until you have a thick mixture. Carefully roll the mixture out on a very lightly cinnamon-dusted surface to about 1/4" thick. Find your favorite cookie cutter and cut away! Use a drinking straw to create a small hole at the top of each ornament. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 2 1/2 hours at 150 degrees. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Once cooled, thread a slender ribbon through the hole and hang! These make great Christmas gifts as well.

Have fun!!


Going Home

>> Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A homeschool icon left this earth for a better place yesterday. HSLDA's Chris Klicka fought a 15 year battle with MS and "won" ... though not in the way that many might define winning. I have alternated between rejoicing and weeping with his wife, Tracy, as she documented Chris's final struggle with MS on their CaringBridge page. Being close in age to someone who graduates to heaven can bring the realities of life into sharp focus. I can only hope that I finish my life's journey as well as Chris has.

Bits and pieces of Sara Grove's song, Going Home, have been invading my thoughts over the past 24 hours. I have it playing in the background as I write this ...

Of going home, I'll meet you at the table
Going home, I'll meet you in the air
And you are never too young to think about it
Oh, I cannot wait to be home.

I'm confined by my senses
To really know what you are like
You are more than I can fathom
And more than I can guess
And more than I can see with you in sight.

But I have felt you with my spirit
I have felt you fill this room
And this is just an invitation
Just a sample of the whole
And I cannot wait to be going home.

Going home, I'll meet you at the table
Going home, I'll meet you in the air
And you are never too young to think about it
Oh, I cannot wait to be going, to be going home.

May we all be looking forward to going home ...

Blessings ...


But mom, the sun is shining!

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This is, hands down, my most favorite time of year. Spring is a wonderful promise of things to come, summer is great with its balmy breezes ... we won't even mention winter ... but autumn is, in my opinion, when God lets loose with his creativity!

So it's no wonder that beginning school in September has always seemed wrong to me somehow. I remember sitting in a classroom, listening to the teacher drone on, while my eyes constantly wandered to the window and the sunshine. My kids have been no different.

What a blessing homeschooling is ... to be able to flex your school schedule in order to maximize outdoor time. Are your kids antsy to be outside? Are you finding that concentration is sorely lacking? Then work the great outdoors into your school schedule! Pack up a tote bag of books and head to the local park. Sit on a park bench or under a tree and read together. Call an impromptu science field trip and hunt for leaves or cocoons or evidence of squirrels preparing for winter.

Time enough for indoor "table" work and serious studies when the temperatures are frigid and the snow is blowing. Autumn is the perfect time for breaking away from the schedule to relish God's creativity. Don't waste it!

Blessings ...


What Happens if it Doesn't Work?

>> Thursday, September 10, 2009

I was chatting with a new homeschooler via phone this morning. She's about two weeks into her school year and her son is just whizzing through the math and history products she chose. Her greatest concern was that she had chosen the "wrong" materials ... and what should she do about it?

I suspect this is a perennial question for many homeschoolers ... both new and veteran. And I don't know that there's any "right" answer to the question. But as I shared with this mom today, I do think there are a couple things to consider.

One ... are you concerned about the choice you made because your student doesn't like the material? While I'm always willing to listen to feedback from my kids, and will certainly consider any "legitimate" concerns ... "liking" your math or science curriculum is not a prerequisite for using it. I do agree that products that are boring or not well written are worth re-evaluation ... but I've also come to the conclusion that bells, whistles and making you "feel happy" are not necessary when it comes to learning.

Two ... are you concerned about the choice you made because the material doesn't seem to be a good fit for your student? This is an entirely different issue from your student not liking their school work. Now "not liking" your math or language arts may indeed be a symptom of a "poor fit", but if your student is whizzing through 3 or 4 math lessons each day and is acting bored ... or if you're utilizing a workbook based language arts program and your child is just not "getting it" ... then you may want to consider a different approach. Not all children learn the same ... some do better with hands-on tools, others excel with textbooks and workbooks. Sometimes there is some trial and error involved in figuring out which approach works best for your student. The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias is a great resource for discovering your child's learning style (and your teaching style!).

So make a change if a change is needed. Invest a bit of time now figuring out how your child learns best ... and make adjustments to fit that need. This is not a failure of your curriculum choosing abilities, but rather a great opportunity to tailor your homeschooling to your child's strengths. A momentary "glitch" in your school year that will reap years of benefit is not a bad thing!

Blessings ...


Mom is my teacher?

>> Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This is the time of year when veteran homeschoolers are getting back in the routine, and those who have chosen to move their students from public or private school to homeschooling are facing the unavoidable transition time.

There have been times in our 15+ years of homeschooling that my kids have given me the look that says "who says you get to be our teacher?" Or when we've faced a particularly difficult math or science concept, they seem to be thinking "are you sure that's right? I mean, it's not like you're a teacher or anything!" If these "doubts" come from students who have known nothing but homeschooling, imagine the leap of faith it takes for kids who are used to "real" teachers.

The fact of the matter is, we are "real" teachers. From the day we brought those wee ones home from the hospital we have been teaching them ... how to speak, how to eat, how to dress themselves, how to avoid the dangers in life, and so on ... In fact, I would argue that I am my child's best teacher.

So if you've made the leap to homeschooling this year, and your children are doubting your credentials for teaching ... loving persistence is the best response. If *you* believe in yourself as teacher, you will be better able to present a confident front as you begin each school day. In those areas where you doubt or struggle with your ability to teach, be transparent with your kids and tell them you'll be learning together. But never let them doubt your "right" to be their teacher. Give them space to adjust to this "new" role you've undertaken, but remain firm in your expectations of their respect.

Blessings on your new school year!!


How do others view homeschoolers?

>> Monday, August 24, 2009

One of the regulars over on the Sonlight Forums shared a thought-provoking, well written article today. It is titled College Professor Critiques Homeschoolers by Greg Landry M.S. I'll copy the article in its entirety at the end of my comments ... but I wanted to highlight a few of the things he noted about homeschool students that I think are "right on".

They are independent learners and do a great job of taking initiative and being responsible for learning.

I have found that most homeschool students I've encountered, including my own, are independent learners. I spent a few years teaching science labs in a homeschool co-op and for the most part, my students were motivated and didn't need me hanging over their shoulder every moment giving direction.

They handle classroom social situations (interactions with their peers and professors) very well. In general, my homeschooled students are a pleasure to have in class.

This is, to me, an especially significant observation. For all the dire warnings and fears that folks have about homeschool students not being "socialized", this statement seems to imply just the opposite. Homeschool students seem to do very well in "mixed" age groups ... equally comfortable with peers as with those who are older.

They come to college without sufficient test-taking experience, particularly with timed tests. Many homeschooled students have a high level of anxiety when it comes to taking
timed tests.

My kids have never seemed to have test taking anxiety, so this one surprised me a bit. Though it certainly doesn't sound unreasonable. Anything that is unfamiliar in life has the potential to create anxiety ... and many homeschoolers are "anti-testing". The good news is that this one is easy to remedy! It wouldn't be terribly difficult to add some "timed" testing to your high schooler's educational experience.

Many homeschooled students have problems meeting deadlines and have to adjust to that in college. That adjustment time in their freshman year can be costly in terms of the way it affects their grades.

I have, for years, encouraged folks to add "organization and time management" as a required skill to their academic schedules. It's always nice when you see the goals you set for your students pay off. This is one area that my daughter brought up soon after she entered her freshman year of college. She was amazed at all the kids who could not seem to manage their time and get assignments and projects in on time. As she was heading off to bed at night she would smile at all her suite mates burning the midnight oil to get the next day's work done in time!

Overall, a very encouraging article ... but offering challenges as well. I enjoyed the balance in the author's presentation, which can be difficult to find when reading through articles on homeschooling or about homeschoolers.

Article copied in its entirety below:

College Professor Critiques Homeschoolers
copyright 2009 by Greg Landry, M.S.

I teach sophomore through senior level college
students - most of them are "pre-professional"
students. They are preparing to go to medical
school, dental school, physical therapy school,

As a generalization, I've noticed certain
characteristics common in my students who were
homeschooled. Some of these are desirable,
some not.

Desirable characteristics:

1. They are independent learners and do a great
job of taking initiative and being responsible
for learning. They don't have to be "spoon fed"
as many students do. This gives them an advantage
at two specific points in their education;
early in college and in graduate education.

2. They handle classroom social situations
(interactions with their peers and professors)
very well. In general, my homeschooled students
are a pleasure to have in class. They greet me
when the enter the class, initiate conversations
when appropriate, and they don't hesitate to
ask good questions. Most of my students do
none of these.

3. They are serious about their education and
that's very obvious in their attitude, preparedness,
and grades.

Areas where homeschooled students can improve:

1. They come to college less prepared in the
sciences than their schooled counterparts -
sometimes far less prepared. This can be
especially troublesome for pre-professional
students who need to maintain a high grade
point average from the very beginning.

2. They come to college without sufficient
test-taking experience, particularly with
timed tests. Many homeschooled students have a
high level of anxiety when it comes to taking
timed tests.

3. Many homeschooled students have problems
meeting deadlines and have to adjust to that in
college. That adjustment time in their freshman
year can be costly in terms of the way it affects
their grades.

My advice to homeschooling parents:

1. If your child is even possibly college
bound and interested in the sciences, make
sure that they have a solid foundation of
science in the high school years.

2. Begin giving timed tests by 7th or 8th grade.
I'm referring to all tests that students take, not
just national, standardized tests.

I think it is a disservice to not give students
timed tests. They tend to focus better and score
higher on timed tests, and, they are far better
prepared for college and graduate education if
they've taken timed tests throughout the high
school years.

In the earlier years the timed tests should allow
ample time to complete the test as long as the
student is working steadily. The objective is for
them to know it's timed yet not to feel a time
pressure. This helps students to be comfortable
taking timed tests and develops confidence in
their test-taking abilities.

3. Give your students real deadlines to meet in
the high school years. If it's difficult for students
to meet these deadlines because they're
coming from mom or dad, have them take
"outside" classes; online, co-op, or community

Greg Landry is a 14 year veteran homeschool dad
and college professor. He also teaches one and
two semester online science classes, and offers
free 45 minute online seminars..


I love new pencils

>> Monday, August 10, 2009

One by one, homeschools are gearing up and beginning a new school year. A friend recently Facebooked a picture of her elementary aged kids on their first day of school. The picture shows brother and sister sitting at the dining room table with eager smiles on their faces. On the table are folders and notebooks and of course ... new pencils.

I always made a special day out of our first day of school ... some years it was a special breakfast ... other years the day included a picnic at a local park. But every year included new school "treats" that I had purchased in the weeks prior to beginning. My kids always anticipated that first day ... excited to see what fun folders I had purchased or if I had found special shaped erasers or pencils with their names on them.

These days I have one in college and two in high school. Nobody gets excited about folders and pencils any longer. But I have decided it's still important to "celebrate" in some fashion ... despite the moans and groans that I will hear when I present them with their planning notebooks and pile of books and computer software. This year we'll take a day and drive a couple hours to a favorite amusement park. We'll eat junk food, get sunburned, and end the day at the local burger joint. While we won't have new pencils to admire, we'll have some new memories and peeling skin to kick off another year of learning and growing.

What do you do to kick off the new school year?


Graduated ... now what?

>> Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This is a topic that comes up periodically when I chat with parents of high school homeschoolers. I was encouraged to see an article in the May/June issue of HSLDA's Court Report dealing with this very topic! I think that Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer have provided some excellent ideas in their suggestions for that first post-high school year.

In case you haven't had time to read the article, please allow me to summarize here and offer some thoughts of my own ...

  • Take time to mature ... a very valid point which discusses the differences between those kids who are "born old" and those who may be "late bloomers" when it comes to deciding what to do in life after high school is ended.
  • Gain a year's job experience ... another good option for kids whose financial status requires them to bulk up their bank account a bit before heading off to college or pursuing a different life's goal. College debt can be a huge burden, so this may be a valid choice for kids seeking increased financial stability from the very beginning.
  • Explore the globe - this is one I wish I had thought of as a high school senior! Let's face it, most of us won't have this kind of opportunity again once we are married, or begin a full-time job. So if your student has dreamed of travel and is financially able to swing it, this may be a great time to fulfill that dream.
  • Find ministry opportunities - short-term missions is a wonderful avenue for gaining personal experience and exploring possibilities for future ministry. Our daughter took part in a 6 week ministry opportunity the summer between graduation and college. It was a tremendous experience that gained her valuable people skills and increased maturity.
  • Pursue special interests - perhaps you have a student who excels in music, or a specialized trade or even a foreign language. A year of additional exposure may give them a leg-up when applying to college or seeking a job in their field of interest.
But are there any downsides to taking a year off between high school and college? A couple come to mind. Having spoken to some who have done so, it can be difficult to get back into the "swing" of academia once you've experienced a year away from the demands of a schedule. There may also be some scholarship opportunities that are only available if you are entering college immediately following high school.

Ultimately, it will depend entirely on your student's circumstances and goals, but it is nice to know that there are a world of options available to choose from!

Blessings ...


School Year in Review

>> Thursday, July 9, 2009

Yesterday I was putting the finishing touches on the final reports I needed to send to my school district. Included in those reports were the results of my students' assessment tests. We happen to use Iowa tests ... but have tried various assessments in the many years we've homeschooled.

As I compared the test results with those from previous years, I once again noted a pattern of strengths and weaknesses for each of my kids. It's always good to keep current with areas that my kids excel in and areas where they struggle. I find this especially helpful as I plan for the coming school year. Test results are often part of my decision making process when I purchase curriculum materials.

I also enjoyed looking back over material studied, books read, and projects completed. I allowed myself a few moments of proud reflection as I noted areas where my kids did very well. I also struggled for a bit with that always present homeschool mom "guilt" over areas where my kids didn't do as well. But all in all, I'm once again thankful for the opportunity and privilege to educate our children at home.

Feel free to share some of the highlights of your school year!



Time Management - Meal Planning

>> Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer is upon us and with it comes the freedom to travel, take long walks, visit the beach, and grill almost every meal. But before you know it the school year will arrive once again and it will be time to put a schedule in place. Next to getting laundry done, one of the hardest things to schedule seems to be meal preparation. How many times have you looked at the clock only to realize it's 4:30 pm and you have nothing defrosted for dinner?!

Here's a simple approach to meal planning that has worked well for me for years.

Divide up the week into 7 categories ... something like this:

  • Monday - Chicken dish
  • Tuesday - Pasta
  • Wednesday - Beef dish
  • Thursday - Casserole
  • Friday - Pizza Night
  • Saturday - Left-Overs
  • Sunday - Crockpot Meal
Next, purchase an index card file or box to hold a series of 3x5" cards. Divide them into six categories:
  • Chicken Recipes
  • Pasta Recipes
  • Beef Recipes
  • Casserole Recipes
  • Pizza Recipes
  • Crockpot Recipes
Copy your favorite recipes for each category onto a 3x5" card. Then file appropriately.

Each time you prepare to go grocery shopping (I happen to shop twice a month), pull out one recipe per day from the appropriate category. Then base your grocery shopping list on what you know you will be cooking.

Your categories will vary based on your family needs. As our children got old enough to work in the kitchen, they became responsible for meal planning and preparation and this plan was helpful as they took on this new responsibility.

Take some time this summer to create your own meal planning recipe box. Check out my recipe blog for some new meal ideas. Share some of your favorites here!



The Rise of Homeschooling

>> Sunday, June 21, 2009

A recent article in USA Today cites a profound shift in those who are homeschooling their children. In brief, the article states that there is now a higher percentage of girls, than boys, being homeschooled, and that a greater number of those homeschooling are white, wealthy, and well-educated.

While I am no statistician or expert on homeschooling trends, I must admit my first impression was to doubt some of the conclusions drawn. Apparently someone else has doubts as well. Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute has responded to the USA Today article with some statistics of his own.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts as you interact with the homeschooling community. Do you really think that more girls than boys are being homeschooled? If yes, why? How about the claim that homeschoolers are increasingly more white, wealthy and higher educated?

I recently had the opportunity to join a radio interview with the president of the New York state homeschool organization (LEAH). The topic of the interview was the USA Today article. Take a few moments to listen to our conversation and decide if our thoughts are any more accurate than the article. (Click when the floating headline reads "The Rise of Homeschooling").

We've been home educating for over 14 years now and the face of homeschooling has definitely changed over time. What changes have you observed? What will the homeschool climate be like when our children begin homeschooling?




>> Monday, June 15, 2009

Every now and again I see something that sticks with me and leaves a lasting impression. I had one of those experiences last weekend. I was at a homeschool convention, enjoying the worship session at the beginning of the day. We enjoyed the awesome sounds of a homeschool family that had more talent than I knew existed in one household. Dad, Mom, and four kids (ages 7-16) ... singing, playing flute, bass, percussion, keyboard ... and the harmony was perfect. In the midst of the worship experience, I noticed something that perhaps no one else saw. Every one of those kids had their eyes focused on their dad. He led their music without saying a word. He never had to stop to get anyone's attention ... never had to wave or shout or give any direction. Each child regularly looked to their dad for the "next thing". They didn't question or disagree ... right down to the youngest member of the group they simply watched dad.

Each time we met together for worship, I watched this scenario play out. And while the worship music spoke to my heart, the lasting impression was that of the trust the kids had in their dad. They believed he would always be there to give them direction ... and he was. Might I always keep my eyes on my Father ... always believing He will be there to give me direction. (Ps 25:2)



Homeschool Graduations

>> Friday, May 29, 2009

They come in all shapes and sizes ... big and small, in a living room, in a church ... but they all have one thing in common ... their uniqueness! I think this is one of the things I most love about homeschool graduations and graduation parties. They very often are a demonstration of the talents and strengths of the graduate(s).

Tonight we will be attending a graduation "recital" and reception for a friend's daughter. She has been homeschooled all her life and her greatest love has been, and still is, music. She will be putting on a piano recital for us all to enjoy, and then we will share refreshments and an opportunity to encourage her as she heads into a new leg of her life journey.

Another friend will be enjoying the graduation of his son this weekend. 18 homeschooled friends and families will gather together to celebrate and acknowledge their shared accomplishments.

A favorite memory of mine is the homeschool graduation of my daughter's piano teacher. While it took place many years ago, it still sticks with me. The celebration was held in her home with a group of close friends and family watching on. She and her parents had put together a meaningful ceremony of homeschool recollections and a charge from her parents for the life ahead of her. What a special memory for her (and us)!

Our oldest daughter graduated from our homeschool last year. She chose to participate in our state homeschool support group graduation ceremony. She and 120+ other graduates marched into the hall together as friends and family watched. When it came her turn to receive her diploma, her dad and I met her mid-stage to share together in her special moment. We presented her diploma, which seemed very fitting to me since we helped her obtain it!

I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy a homeschool graduation this year. If you've attended one in the past, I'd love to hear some of your favorite memories.



Thoughts about the Internet ...

>> Thursday, May 28, 2009

A friend pointed me to a blog post yesterday that is discussing the effects of the Internet on individuals and society. It was an intriguing, and sometimes guilt-producing read! (I'm real good at the homeschool mom guilt thing)

The author discusses the "sins" of narcissism and waste generated by Internet use and the effect it can have on family relationships.

I need some time to digest what he's written. My first read left me feeling both guilt at what I recognized as myself in some of his statements, and strong disagreement at many other statements. But it did make me wonder what effect the Internet has on *homeschool* families ... particularly moms who are often tied at home 24/7 raising and teaching children. Is it a legitimate resource for "reaching out" when one is primarily at home?

So what are your thoughts? I'd be interested in your reaction to Internetmonk's ideas.



How do I plan for high school?!

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Homeschooling elementary age children is a huge decision. Many of us couldn't imagine teaching someone to read when we started out. But homeschool a high schooler?! No way I'm up to that task!!

When I talk with folks about homeschooling a teenager, two concerns seem to rise to the surface. The first is a perceived inability to teach such hefty subjects as Chemistry and Geometry. The second is a fear of planning and keeping records that will satisfy a future college.

While the first may be "easily" satisfied with all the on-line and computer-based science and math products available, the second seems to be more intimidating. I'd like to offer a couple of thoughts that might make it less so.

For any high school course of study, it is very helpful to create a syllabus. This is as simple as establishing your expectations for your student. Here are a couple of examples ...

  • Read daily assignments from Core text
  • Maintain a Word document of answers to all questions based on reading assignments
  • Complete one research paper on an individual of your choosing from your American History studies (Length = 2-5 pages dbl spaced, complete bibliography with no fewer than three sources)
Satisfactory completion of these requirements will result in a passing grade.

  • Choose 10 titles from the provided book list
  • Complete the associated writing assignment for each literature piece
Satisfactory completion of these requirements will result in a passing grade.

Much like a college course, a syllabus provides a clear understanding between instructor and student as to what is needed to receive a passing grade. Creating a written copy of a syllabus for each course for your student's high school folder/portfolio presents a clear picture of your child's education. It also becomes easy source material for creating your high school transcript.

My final thought is simply this ... yes, *you* are qualified to create the syllabus for each high school course your student undertakes. You are the teacher ... you know your student's abilities ... and you are best able to set reasonable goals for your child's education. A syllabus goes a long way toward removing any subjectivity in the high school record keeping process. If your student completes the expectations outlined in the syllabus to *your* satisfaction, then a 4.0 or A or A+ is automatically entered on their transcript.

Trust your instincts ... just as you were the best one to teach your child to read, you are also the best one to guide that child through the high school process!



Space Shuttle Atlantis

>> Saturday, May 16, 2009

I've been enjoying watching the folks at Atlantis repair the Hubble telescope this week. It's just awe-inspiring to me to watch (in real time) the astronauts leave the relative safety of the shuttle and float, climb and wander around the docked telescope to replace cameras and other technology. Fox has a great Shuttle live feed that I've had playing on my computer this week.

As I watched two of the guys wrestle with a particularly ornery piece of equipment yesterday, it struck me that in my lifetime I watched Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon ... and now I'm watching live video and audio feed of a floating "service station" in the sky.

I'm choosing not to allow this to make me feel old.



Homeschool Mom Guilt

>> Friday, May 15, 2009

So you want to homeschool your children? OK ... first let's see if you "qualify". Please check all that apply from the following list:

  • You use cloth diapers only
  • You grow all your vegetables (and then can or freeze them for the winter)
  • You bake all your bread (after you've hand-ground the wheat)
  • You sew all your clothes and your husband's and children's too
  • You bake cookies only from scratch, with some of that hand-ground wheat and honey from the bees you keep out back
  • You feed your children only whole milk, straight from the Guernsey you keep out back
  • You play the piano beautifully, sing like an angel, and whistle while you work, in the garden out back
  • You knit beautiful blankets from the wool you spin from the sheep you raise out back
I suspect you know where I'm going with this! A friend recently shared a blog post she read over on and it got me to thinking about this topic. I suspect that WorldMag article does carry some truth to it. We moms can indeed be cruel to one another. But I wonder where that judgmental attitude really comes from? Maybe because we're not terribly confident in our own choices?

I find myself often guilty of the same behavior ... comparing myself to others and finding myself coming up short. Or I compare myself to my own self-imposed expectations, and once again come up short. Sort of like those Corinthians that Paul had to remind ...
2Cr 10:12

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

2Cr 10:13

We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.

One of the great lessons that God continues to teach me in both my parenting and my homeschooling is that He and He alone sets the standards for my life. I can certainly admire the efforts and accomplishments of others, but ultimately the only plan that matters for my life is the one my Father has assigned.

So what does this mean on a daily basis? Huge boatloads of grace! Grace towards myself, when I fail to reach the expectations *I've* set for myself (or for my spouse or children). Grace towards friends and acquaintances who make different choices from mine. Or put more plainly ... cut myself (and others) a break!

Keep on keeping on ...


Homeschooling and the Economy ...

>> Thursday, May 14, 2009

Having recently spent a weekend at a large homeschool convention, and trying to discern if attendance was up, down or stable, I decided to do a bit of surfing to see what the Web had to say about the effect of the economy on homeschooling today.

I came across an interesting article titled "Number of homeschoolers continues to rise despite the economy". According to the author's research, homeschooling continues to grow at the rate of about 8% per year. Yet another article discusses how the high price of private schooling is forcing some to turn to homeschooling when they can no longer afford tuition.

While I am not an expert on economic or social trends, I am certain that the change in our economy will affect homeschooling as much as it does anything else. Creeping closer and closer to the half-century mark, my experience has been that folks spend their money on their priorities. While homeschooling may require more of a sacrifice this year than it has in the past, I do believe that parents will find creative ways to make this type of education possible if it is a priority. That is certainly *not* to say that those who choose not to homeschool do not see their childrens' education as being important.

Feel free to share your comments about how the economy will affect your homeschooling this year. Perhaps you've come up with some creative ways to make it more affordable ... or perhaps the quality and value of your curriculum materials far outweighs cost and you've chosen to cut back in other areas. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Teaching Science ... Remember HENSA?

>> Wednesday, May 13, 2009

H.E.N.S.A. = Home Educators Neglecting Science Activities. A group that was birthed some time ago on the Sonlight Forums, and continues to exist ... HENSA is reflective of many a homeschool. By the time you get Math and Reading and Language Arts and Writing and History out of the way, who has time for Science?! Especially if you also have to make time for piano lessons, and baseball, and flute lessons, and basketball, and ... well, you get the picture.

When my children were in the K-4 or 5 years, I came up with a solution to my HENSA woes that worked out pretty well in our homeschool. Each quarter of our school year (every 9 weeks), we would take a "week off" from all other subjects (except math!) and enjoy a science week. That science week would focus on a single topic ... perhaps weather, or astronomy, or electricity, etc...

As I planned my school year each summer, I would choose four science topics to enjoy for the coming year. I would then make certain to collect anything I needed for each of these weeks as they drew closer. I usually spent some time on-line during the summer, checking for special Science books or supplies that might round out our topical studies. Then a couple weeks prior to each Science week, I would visit our local library to add to our stack of books for study.

Once each Science week arrived, we would pull out our stacks of books and science materials, each student would grab their Science "notebook" (3-ring binder with lined and unlined paper), and we would begin our adventure. This might involve some reading about the topic on their own, some reading that I would do aloud, and any activities or experiments that might relate to the topic at hand. I usually tried to include one or two Science videos related to the topic as well. I would make sure that we wrote down any new Science "words" in their notebooks, being certain they understood what they meant. We also sketched (or you could take photos of) the experiments we tried. These all made for a wonderful Science notebook.

My primary goal was to ignite an excitement in my children for learning about Science. Since I viewed these weeks as being "discovery" oriented, I wasn't terribly concerned about mastery of the material. At a time when our major focus was on learning to read well and establishing the fundamentals of math, this approach to Science was enjoyable for all of us.

So don't obsess about Science ... and proudly wear your HENSA badge year-round, with the exception of four weeks when you enjoy exploring God's creation with your children!


'Tis the Season for Testing

>> Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Next to socialization, testing is probably the second most "hot topic" for homeschoolers. Should I or shouldn't I? Do I have to? What am I required to do?

I'm certain most of us realize that not all children test well. There are also students who do better with an "oral" exam as opposed to something on paper. Still others do great with essays, but really suffer when it comes to True/False or multiple choice tests.

Much like anything else in homeschooling, your first step is to decide what works best for your family, and for each student within your family. Your next stop should be your local support group or perhaps the HSLDA web site to find out what your area's homeschool regulations require in the area of testing. Once you have answered both of these questions, you can move on to make decisions about the values of testing, types of testing, and what is available in your area.

A couple of things to consider when deciding whether or not to test your children. Testing sometimes provides an unbiased review for you as the teacher. It helps to point out areas of need and highlights areas where your child excels. I remember one of my kids consistently scored low a couple of years in the area of punctuation and capitalization. I had not seen it during the school year, but the testing showed me an area where we needed a bit of remediation. Seeing areas where your student excels may provide a jumping-off point for extra-curricular activities. Finally, testing may also be good "practice" for your students. If higher education is in your child's future, it's worth having them experience testing while still at home, than to have it be totally unfamiliar when they reach college.

Where to go for testing services? One of the most frequently used options I'm familiar with is the Bob Jones University Testing Service. They primarily provide the Stanford and IOWA tests, and your ability to administer some of their tests will be based on your having a college degree (Bachelors). Seton provides the CAT-E standardized tests for homeschoolers. While I have no experience with these, I know many homeschoolers who use them and are pleased with the results. Their pricing is very reasonable. From the Family Learning Organization you can obtain the California Achievement Tests. Again, I am not personally familiar with this organization, but they are another option.

Whether to test or not is a personal decision ... what is "right" for one family may not be for another. There are many alternatives to testing as well ... probably as many as there are homeschooling families! But we'll leave that to another post.



Convention Shoes

>> Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's that time of year. Convention fever has hit, and being the incredibly contagious bug that it is, it is spreading. So what are your plans for visiting a homeschool convention this year?

I bought new convention shoes this year. Good footwear is vital to a pleasant convention experience and I just couldn't resist these when I saw them. I'm sure there are a number of other things that make for a good convention experience. So sure in fact, that some of my friends and I put together a short podcast on how to get the most out of your convention experience. I hope you find it helpful!

Over on the Sonlight Conventions forum folks are busily making plans for visiting their favorite conventions. Others are holding a very interesting conversation about high pressure sales tactics on the convention floor.

I particularly enjoyed one thread discussing the merits of attending homeschool conventions. The following seem to be common reasons for making the time and effort to attend:

  • I felt very refreshed after hearing the speakers. I'd come home excited about starting school again in the fall.
  • I love going and looking at the curriculum. Also the seminars are very helpful.
  • Worth every minute of driving and every penny of gas!
  • ... it was life changing for my husband. He had always supported me in homeschooling but never participated. After the convention he had opinions on curriculum, and he now teaches a class ....
  • It always refreshes/encourages/inspires me right when I need a shot in the arm.
  • Normally this life is so isolating - I love seeing all those hsers in one place.
  • The convention was what I needed - encouragement to stay the course. It's encouraging to me to see all the other moms in the same sessions as I, realizing that we all have the same struggles.
They had lots more to say ... but perhaps you'll find just the "boost" you need to make it to a homeschooling convention this year. And hey ... let me know about your favorite convention shoes!

Maybe I'll see you there!!


My children ARE a blessing!

>> Friday, March 27, 2009

I've recently had the blessing of being involved in a small Bible study with two other homeschool moms. We are working our way through Carolyn Mahaney's excellent book Feminine Appeal. The chapter for this week was a much needed reminder and very convicting!

Titus 2:4 is the verse around which this chapter centers ... the mandate to women to love not only their husbands, but also their children. The idea here being that "love" actually means to delight. Mrs. Mahaney makes what was for me a very eye-opening statement ... Although many mothers are committed to caring sacrificially for their children, they sometimes neglect to enjoy them (emphasis mine). How often do I get so caught up in the details of being wife, mom, taxi driver, homeschool teacher, etc... that I miss out on the pleasures of a relationship with my kids?

But my plate is so full! Where do I find time to do more than I already am? Oh sure, one more thing to feel guilty about! Questions I regularly ask myself ... especially after reading this week's chapter. Fortunately, the author goes on to point out that our only genuine source of refreshment ... to be able to delight in our children, as well as serve them ... is from God. Daily time alone with Him is the only way to acquire the strength needed to carry out this task of mothering.

I can say without exception that this one discipline ... of carving out quiet time alone with God each day ... has had the greatest impact on my ability to hold it all together as a homeschooling mom. It has never come easy ... and I am rarely 100% successful in a given week ... but it is well worth the effort.

One of the closing statements in this chapter has stayed with me this week ... I am convinced that no one has more potential to influence our children to receive and reflect the gospel than we do as mothers. And in spite of how huge this task may appear to be, I can be encouraged that God's grace is greater (2 Cor. 12:9).

Keep on Keeping on . . .


Learning Assembly Line

>> Sunday, March 22, 2009

As I sat waiting in the doctor's office last week, I read a fascinating article in an issue of Forbes magazine. In short, the article was discussing the problems associated with group learning as opposed to individual instruction. The author related the story of a fairly well educated friend who took a job on an auto plant assembly line. His job was to create a section of the auto body. The first day on the job he was provided step-by-step instructions and then set loose on the line to do the work. By the end of the day he was amazed to discover that a very small percentage of the parts he worked on were done correctly. The "quality control" at the end of the line found a multitude of mistakes. Fast forward to yet another job on a different auto plant assembly line. This time the author's friend received the same step-by-step instruction as he had on his last job. Only this time the instructor didn't allow the friend to move on to the second step until he had mastered the first. And he wasn't allowed out on the assembly line until he had mastered each and every step. His first day out on the line found him working without a mistake.

It didn't surprise me at all that the purpose of the article had nothing to do with homeschooling. Instead, it was discussing technology that could help overcome poor test scores by enabling teachers to do regular "quick checks" on a student's knowledge and mastery of concepts. I'm certain that I don't have all the details exact since I wasn't able to take the magazine home with me ... but the gist of the article struck me as a wonderful word picture. The opportunity to set your own pace, to await a student's mastery of step one before moving on to step two, has always been a powerful argument for homeschooling.



You want me to teach Algebra?!!

>> Friday, March 20, 2009

I believe I've blogged about my inbred lack of any semblance of math skills ... so when my oldest reached high school age, you can imagine my fear and trembling! No way was I going to be able to teach her Algebra ... let alone all those other high school courses. I was recalling those fears today as I had the opportunity to respond to a mom who is considering homeschooling her up and coming high school freshman.

One of the first things that I did in preparation for homeschooling a high schooler was to read an excellent (IMHO) book recommended by a friend. The Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook by Cafi Cohen is an excellent resource that covers doing high school at home, creating credits and granting a diploma, writing a transcript, application essays, and much, much more. Her book is full of wonderful testimonies and practical suggestions from other homeschool moms. I spent many hours poring over the book and highlighting sections that were especially helpful.

Another thing I would highly recommend is to find someone that has already begun, or even completed, the high school portion of their homeschool journey. There is great value in taking the time to "sit at the feet" of someone who can share first-hand what worked for them and what did not. If you lack this kind of "skin-on" resource ... find your local homeschool support group or get in touch with your state support group to find out what regulations apply for educating a student in high school.

Get your student involved! Talk with your high schooler about where their interests lay and what types of things they might wish to study. One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling a teen is the chance to provide them with opportunities to learn and grow in their area(s) of interest. Beginning with excellent curriculum material is only part of the equation ... there are all sorts of opportunities for internships, job-shadowing, field trips, and other hands-on experiences that will greatly enrich your student's high school years.

More on homeschooling through high school in another post. For now ... order the book I recommended and begin talking with your student about the possibilities of a high school career at home!



I found my desk!

I don't know about anyone else, but February and March tend to be the hardest months of the year ... for homeschooling or just life in general! My desk is always a good indicator of this mid-winter slump. Instructor's Guides pile up, assorted notes and papers litter my desktop, and somewhere under all of the "stuff" are bills and important notifications.

Each year at this time I see my life reflected in the clutter on my desk. My priorities go out the window and I have little motivation to put away the "IGs" and sort through the "papers".

So what's the remedy? Well ... cleaning off my desk is always a good place to begin! The point being that often just identifying one small task, and choosing to get it done, is a good start towards climbing out of my mid-winter slump. Another good idea is to get OUT! Out of the house, out of your office, out of the kitchen ... whatever applies. Even if it's just for a brisk, 15 minute walk around the block, the change of scenery and fresh air is always a good slump-reliever.

Or maybe you need to give yourself the "gift" of a few moments alone. After your kids are settled in for the evening, pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage and spend some time browsing through Sonlight's Podcast library. The series on How to Organize Your Homeschool is always a good motivator this time of year.

Send me some of your "slump-busters" ... I'd love to hear them! And as my mother used to tell me, spring is always just around the corner.

Keep on . . .


The stuff that curriculum doesn't cover . . .

I had the opportunity to be away from home for about 5 days this past week. As I talked with my kids over the phone and then returned home, it occurred to me that I've had to teach my children far more than reading, writing and arithmetic all these years. And in some cases, I suspect those "non-curriculum" subjects were far more important than the academics ever were.

I may never know if the Algebra stuck or if the Chemistry made sense, but it is truly a blessing to see the fruits of hours invested in teaching a son how to cook, or a daughter how to do laundry. And beyond the tangible fruits of completed chores without mom's nagging, there's the sense of accomplishment that comes from returning home to a house still standing and family members smiling and at peace with one another.

Lest you think I've somehow reached the end of the journey in teaching my children the practical aspects of life ... I did find some rather interesting left-overs in the 'fridge and a rather suspicious-looking new stain on the living room carpet. So I'm obviously not done with this part of the trip. But let me encourage you to look for the fruit ... though it may seem few and far between sometimes. When the math and science skills seem long in coming, don't despair. Realize that homeschooling is far more than just academics.

Keep on keeping on ...


Who's in charge here anyway?!

I had the privilege to spend some time with a young homeschool mom not long ago. She has one school-age child (8) and two toddlers (2 and 4). As we discussed how her homeschooling was going, she shared what I've come to realize is a common frustration with many homeschoolers. In fact, it is an issue that sometimes keeps folks from homeschooling. It pretty much boils down to ... who's the parent/teacher/boss in your household?

I will be the first to admit that homeschooling is not for everyone. I would never presume to make that decision for another family. However, it distresses me greatly when young moms tell me they could never homeschool because Junior would never listen to me, or Junior would never accept me as his teacher, or My kids aren't disciplined enough to homeschool. May I respectfully submit that I don't believe homeschooling is really the issue here?

The mom I was talking to described how her child breaks into tears whenever asked to do something he/she prefers not to do (like math or spelling!). She also spoke of how much time was consumed each day in "convincing" this child to follow through on instructions given. It immediately brought back a vivid memory of when I first began homeschooling my oldest. My mom was visiting for the day, and witnessed a similar display from her granddaughter. At which point my mom looked at me and said "well that was quite the Academy Award winning performance!"

My point is this ... homeschooling already comes with its own set of challenges ... please don't add a lack of discipline to them! I'm not referring to your approach or method of discipline, but rather of the concept itself. The Latin root of this words means instruction ... with the idea of providing instruction to a disciple. I love this definition ... methods of modeling character and of teaching self-control and acceptable behavior. Whether we homeschool or not, we are called to "disciple" our children. I remember my mother telling me that her one over-riding goal in raising her children was not to set loose adults on society who had no self-control and were unable to have a positive impact on those around them.

So if you are considering homeschooling ... be sure that the issue of discipline in your household is regularly addressed (not conquered ... but addressed). And if you are currently homeschooling ... be sure that in your list of academic priorities, teaching self-control and acceptable behavior are at the top of the list!

Keep on keeping on ...


Who am I anyway?

Continuing my reading through Calm My Anxious Heart the other day, I came across a chapter on being content with the role that God has given me. It occurred to me that homeschooling moms probably struggle tremendously with the whole idea of who they are. Am I a mom? A wife? A teacher? The Principal? A Curriculum Designer? Taxi driver, nurse, peace-maker, counselor, and so on and so on. I'm sure you get my point. If anyone should be wrestling with a split personality disorder, a homeschool mom is the perfect candidate!

I distinctly recall times in our homeschool journey when I did battle with the Lord over the many hats He required me to wear ... and how "unfair" it all seemed some days. And which role was supposed to be the priority? And, by the way, I didn't like some of the roles I was being asked to fill, and I didn't ask for them either!

So this chapter on being content with my God-given roles was good for my heart, and a gentle reminder of who I am. Here are a couple of thoughts the author shared that really hit home ...

All the roles I play will, at some point in time, be difficult. BUT ... each of those roles comes with tremendous opportunity. Jesus came to the world to play the role of servant (Matthew 20:28), not to be served. What better example is there for fulfilling the roles I am called to fill? I can choose to minister or manipulate. What wonderful blessings come my way when I choose to minister.

And what does God really ask of me in those roles, anyway? Is He expecting perfection in all that I do? Or is that my expectation? I Corinthians 4:2 tells me that God requires faithfulness, not perfection. God has entrusted me with the roles of mom and teacher and discipler and so on ... and He simply requires me to be faithful in carrying them out. It is in being faithful that I best glorify Him.

Do not become weary in well-doing ...


The cost of homeschooling

To continue the conversation I began last month in my blog post titled Does January = time for educational change? ... I thought I would talk a bit about the true "costs" of homeschooling.

Now if you're like my husband, you would, at this point, be pulling out your calculator and notepad to begin tallying up the financial cost of homeschooling. However, I believe there are some "costs" related to homeschooling that must be considered before we talk dollars and cents.

The first, and I believe most important, cost to homeschooling is that of COMMITMENT. Homeschooling is not just a 9 to noon chunk of your day or a different approach to educating your child, it is a change in lifestyle. Both parents and children must be willing to persevere through the change in family routines and relationships. No longer will you be just "mom" (aka doctor mom, taxi driver mom, peace-maker mom, etc...), but you will also be school teacher mom. Dads must be willing to recognize the extra burden on mom and be willing to step in whenever possible. As homeschooling becomes part of your life, you will begin to see learning "opportunities" in everyday activities. But you must be willing to take advantage of those opportunities ... even if it means setting aside those things on your "to do" list for the day to engage in the joy and privilege of helping your children grow and learn.

Another cost may be SOCIAL PRESSURE. As you may already realize (if you've begun discussing this change with your extended family), not everyone is excited about the prospect of your homeschooling their grandchild, nephew, etc... Concerned, well-meaning family and friends will have varying ideas and attitudes about your decision to educate your children at home. You must be convinced and convicted about your commitment to homeschooling ... despite what others may say.

Yet another cost may be in the area of TIME AND ENERGY. To add teaching to your schedule, you will need to organize your home, divide the chores, delegate, and plan ahead. For those who are born with the organization gene, this may not be as large a "cost" as it might be for those who are not. Keep in mind that as your children will be learning math, science and reading in your homeschool, you will be learning right along with them. And it could be that *your* greatest area of learning will be in wisely spending your time and energy each day.

Finally, there is the actual financial EXPENSE of homeschooling. The investment of home education varies widely from family to family. Usually you spend what you have and creativity supplies the rest. We all tend to spend our money on our greatest priorities. So be sure to establish an education budget, right along with your grocery, and maintenance, and vacation budgets. Then research, research, research. Find curriculum materials that fit your teaching and learning styles but also fit your pocketbook. And when it appears that homeschooling might be a strain on your budget, consider the life-long investment you're making in your children. Look at the cost of homeschooling vs. other forms of education such as private or charter schools. Weigh all your options and pray about your final decision. It's an important one!!!



Calm My Anxious Heart

So I finished Piper's Future Grace in 2008 and have begun a new study titled Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow. How was I to know it would be so timely for my life's circumstances?! Obviously God knew.

Contentment is an issue that at least one of my kids struggles with. While I don't believe I struggle with this as much as I used to, I can certainly say my child comes by this trait honestly. Thinking back to my younger years as a believer, contentment was one of my biggest "beefs" with God. Why can't you answer/fix this today? was my most frequent prayer. Homeschooling was probably (and still is) one of the areas in my life that God uses to stretch me in this thing called contentment.

Being a lover of lists and bullet points, this "prescription for contentment" jumped out at me this week as I began Dillow's book:

  • Never allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather (ouch - how does she know where I live?!)
  • Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
  • Never compare your lot with another's.
  • Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
  • Never dwell on tomorrow - remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours.

OK ... so maybe I don't have as much of a handle on contentment as I thought. Let me just close this meditation nanosecond with one last thought from the book ... Make it a goal to possess a soul sufficiency, a peace separate from your circumstances.

Philippians 4:11-13

Keep on keeping on ...


Homeschooling Resolutions

I suppose resolutions are a good thing ... though I will admit that I shudder whenever someone asks if I've made my New Year's resolutions yet. As I was thinking about resolutions today, the thought crossed my mind that homeschool resolutions might be very helpful to make. Especially if it helps me to be more efficient or to gain a better sense of accomplishment throughout the year.

Just recently I encountered a homeschool mom who was asking how she could be certain that she's covering enough material in any given school day. If you share the same concern, please know that you're not alone! The "is it ever enough?" battle is one that most homeschool moms fight ... whether veteran or newbie.

So here's a "planner" of sorts that I've found helpful for myself and those who ask me how to know how much is enough. Perhaps a "resolution" to set these goals for your homeschool in 2009 will be helpful.

ULTIMATE GOAL: 5 "credits" per day

  • 1 Math credit
  • 2 Language Arts credits
  • 1 History OR Science credit
  • 1 Music, Art or Physical Education credit

Well, you might ask ... that's all good, but how much is a credit? I'm glad you asked!

Math (1 choice = 1 credit)

  • One math lesson
  • One math test
  • Math review session
  • 1/2 hour math game or software

Language Arts/English (3 choices = 2 credits)

  • One grammar lesson (3rd grade and up)
  • One phonics lesson (age appropriate)
  • One writing exercise (i.e. a letter, creative writing, history or science paper, etc...)
  • One handwriting lesson
  • Minimum of 30 minutes of reading (books approved by mom)

History (1 choice = 1 credit)

  • Minimum 30 minutes of reading related to topic (mom approved)
  • Field trip (may count as 2 credits or more depending on quality)
  • Educational program or video (mom approved)

Science (1 choice = 1 credit)

  • A science experiment (to include observation and conclusions)
  • A science journal entry
  • A 30-minute science-related TV program or video (mom approved)
  • Minimum of 30 minutes of reading related to science (mom approved)
  • A 30-minute discussion with mom on the science topic

Music or Art (1 choice = 1 credit)

  • 15 minutes of uninterrupted instrument practice
  • An instrumental lesson
  • Faithful work on a craft
  • Music practice for a church program
  • Minimum of 30 minutes of music listening and discussion
  • Field trip (see history)

Physical Education (1 choice = 1 credit)

  • 15 minutes of games at AWANA or a scout meeting
  • 1 hour of roller skating, ice skating, in-line skating, swimming, etc...
  • Combination of running, jumping jacks, sledding, etc... (mom's judgment)

DISCLAIMER: This is my usual, standard disclaimer on any thoughts I share. These are suggestions only, not to be taken as legal advice. Requirements in your state may be very different than in mine. Also ... keep in mind that these are to be used as a tool, not a slave-master! I'm sure that you can come up with many additional "choices" for credits in the various subject areas.

Maybe this will give an encouraging boost and fresh start for your 2009 school year.

Enjoy the journey!


Does January = time for educational change?

Once the busyness of the holidays diminishes, many parents begin to listen to their children complain about returning to school. Some of it is simply the weeping and wailing about education in general that kids are required to do because ... well, because they're kids! But some of it comes from legitimate concerns and complaints and the obvious need for a change.

Here are the top 3 reasons I hear when parents are considering a change to homeschooling mid-year ...

  • 1. Academic remediation - Johnny or Susie just isn't "getting it" in one or more of their classes. They are slowly falling behind the rest of their classmates, and for various reasons, their teacher is unable to provide the individualized attention needed to get them "up to speed". Or perhaps Johnny or Susie is miles ahead of their classmates and terribly bored. On the younger end of the spectrum, perhaps a child hasn't yet learned to read confidently, so his/her other subjects are suffering until their reading abilities catch up.
  • 2. Control over social issues - Peer pressure is a huge issue for many kids. It could be that your student is succumbing more and more to pressure to become like his/her peers at school. Perhaps you are seeing attitudes or hearing conversation that is concerning to you. Then there are those kids who just never seem to fit in. In my day we would have said they "marched to the beat of a different drummer". And in some cases, bullying and school violence are real concerns.
  • 3. Family relationship building - Often the Christmas school break will make it obvious that your child values their peer relationships over those with their siblings. Perhaps it becomes very clear that your child no longer views you as an authority in their life. Or maybe you are wishing for stronger family ties and an opportunity to instill your values and worldview in your child.

I'm sure there are many, many other reasons for a change in venue when it comes to your educational choice for your child. Whatever those reasons may be, let me encourage you to consider homeschooling as a valid educational choice. In the days ahead I plan to share some very practical things to think on when researching homeschooling, but for now, let me simply say that You Can Do It!!

Blessings ...


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