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ADVICE & COUNSEL FROM A HOMESCHOOL EXPERT
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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!



~Judy

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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 . . .
~Judy

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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 ...
~Judy

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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 ...
~Judy

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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 ...
~Judy

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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!!!



~Judy

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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 ...
~Judy

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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!
~Judy

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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 ...
~Judy

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Musings on a Merry Christmas

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas holiday ... no matter how, or with whom, you spent it! Our Christmas was somewhat bittersweet this year ... life changes so quickly. I was reading a thread over on the Sonlight Forums that was talking about expectations, and how Christmas is a time of year when they are most often not met. It struck me that often my expectations for the "perfect" Christmas holiday are based on my rose-colored childhood memories. Or even my memories of earlier holidays when my children were toddlers, and we all got caught up in the magic of the season as we saw it through their eyes.


Time marches on ... my parents are aging ... our oldest is off to college and brings friends home with her when she comes ... the economy manages to "intrude" on any holiday plans we might have ... friends come and go ... etc ... As I lay in bed last night thinking over this year's Christmas "experience" and expectations, I was reminded that there is at least one constant in my life that time does not affect ... the love of God that sent His Son for me. A fairly new Christmas song (by Faith Hill) that I heard last night summed it up well ... A Baby Changes Everything ... may that baby provide a life-impacting change for you this season.



Blessings ...
~Judy

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Cookie Makin' Day

Today is our annual cookie (and other treats) making day. We start off with a list of our favorites and everyone pitches in, making those items that they enjoy the most. Our kitchen is small, and we're often tripping over one another, but with the Christmas music cranked up and the laughter floating around, no one seems to mind. This year is especially fun because our oldest is home from college on Christmas break. If I close my eyes and listen (and smell) it's "almost" like years past, but not quiet the same. Bittersweet indeed.



When we're all finished we'll have a large tray of assorted cookies that we'll enjoy through the rest of the week. We'll also have goody "gift" bags made up for friends that we'll see on Christmas Eve, and some baked goods that we'll enjoy on Christmas day.


Here's another perennial (and easy) favorite recipe.


MINTY RITZ



This is one of those recipes for which I never had a recipe. Just buy as much as you think you'll enjoy (which will never be enough), and have at it!



Ritz crackers
Milk (or dark) chocolate melting wafers
Mint or Peppermint extract
Cookie sheets lined with wax paper



In the microwave, melt 1 or 2 cups of melting wafers at a time. Once melted, stir in 3 or 4 drops of the extract (to taste). Using a fork, dip Ritz crackers, one at a time, into the melted chocolate mixture. Drop gently onto lined cookie sheet. Cool until hardened (my front porch works great for this).


Enjoy!
~Judy

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Church Christmas programs

Our 2008 church Christmas program is now a thing of the past. I'm heaving an extra sigh of relief this year since I was the director. I have always loved this annual chance for kids to dress up in shepherd costumes, and memorize lines, and sing like angels. And what an awesome opportunity for homeschoolers who may not have the benefit of a local drama group. Here's their chance to experience and overcome stage fright, and to perform for family and friends, all wrapped up in the ultimate opportunity to share the story of Christ's birth. It's an exhausting process ... but so very worth it when you watch the toddlers singing a song about baby Jesus at the top of their lungs, complete with hand motions. Or when you listen to that 16 year old young man (who I'm sure was one of those toddlers just yesterday!) recite Luke chapter 2 in his deep, grown-up voice. Somehow it serves to re-focus my mind and my heart on the true message of the Christmas season ... the love of God all wrapped up in swaddling cloths.



Following our church service, and the treacherous ride home in blustery, blowing, snowy weather, we enjoyed some yummy homemade soup by our woodstove. Here are a couple of recipes for our all-time favorite soups ... perfect for making ahead and having available during the crazy, busy holiday.



SHRIMP AND CORN CHOWDER



2 teaspoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced ham or kielbasa
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
3 cups milk
1 - 16 oz package frozen corn
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup brown minute rice
1 can tiny shrimp (can substitute frozen shrimp defrosted and diced)



Heat oil in 4 quart saucepan. Add onion and meat. Cook and stir until tender. Stir in flour and Thyme. Add milk, corn and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in rice and shrimp. Return to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Serve piping hot.



POTATO SOUP



3 Tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, diced
4 cups potatoes, diced
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cups milk
4 cups chicken broth
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 teaspoons Basil



Melt butter in pan. Add onions and cook until tender. Add chicken broth, potatoes, carrots and seasonings. Cover and cook gently until potatoes and carrots are tender. Stir in milk and crumbled bacon; bring back to a simmer. Thicken, if desired, with potato flakes or flour/milk paste.



Note: Additional veggies can be added as desired. This is a great soup for emptying out the refrigerator left-overs!



Enjoy!
~Judy

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Christmas Eve Traditions


Christmas Eve is all about food in our house (is there any part of Christmas that isn't about food?). We generally attend the Christmas Eve service at church (candlelight and beautiful music), then head home for an evening of Christmas movies and a buffet of delicious foodstuffs.


We're all suckers for a good Christmas movie. And what a fun family tradition that we share with Grandpa & Grandma (who live with us). I'm certain that for years to come we will have fond memories of our Christmas Eves together. On our list of favories:



  • White Christmas - with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Our number one, all-time, hands down favorite.
  • The Homecoming - the original Walton movie. One of my favorites. Not so favorite among the teen set.
  • The Santa Clause - with Tim Allen. No matter how many times we watch these, they make us laugh.
  • It's a Wonderful Life - a favorite of only my husband, but one to which we are all subjected at some point during the holiday season.

One of the favorites that will appear on our buffet table, along with the traditional egg nog, will be our "beanless" version of Mexican dip.



MEXICAN DIP



1 - 8 oz brick of cream cheese
1 - 15 oz can of Hormel Chili without Beans
Favorite shredded cheese
Bag of tortilla chips



Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Using a rubber spatula, spread in the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Spread chili over top of cream cheese. Sprinkle shredded cheese over top of all. Pop into the microwave for 5 minutes, or until cheese topping melts and dip begins to bubble. Serve with tortilla chips.



Enjoy!
~Judy

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Another holiday tradition

Since our kids were little, we've had a fun tradition of making "goody bags" to share with friends and family. This primarily involves decorating some sort of container/bag and filling it with baked and hand-made creations from our kitchen. Some years I've purchased a package of brown paper lunch bags and my kids have used rubber stamps or stencils to decorate the outsides. Other years I've visited our local WalMart or other craft store and found brown paper gift bags (with handles) which we've decorated with stamps, stencils or glitter and cut-outs. Whatever the outside decoration might be, it's the stuff inside that's always a huge hit!



Here's a perennial favorite ... easy (and inexpensive) to make.



Toffee Chocolate Crunch Bars



Line a greased cookie sheet (jelly-roll style, with sides) with one layer of saltine crackers. Set aside.



In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt 1 cup of butter and whisk in 1 cup of brown sugar. Bring to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour sugar mixture evenly over layer of saltine crackers. Bake for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with a 12 oz package of chocolate chips. Using a rubber spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the top once the chips have melted. Cool and break apart into irregular pieces.


Enjoy!
~Judy

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Holiday Enticements


I love this time of year, and I love sharing the traditions we share as a family, and those I hear about from others. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to post more regularly (notice how I didn't commit to anything?!) with some quick ideas for holiday gifts, treats and traditions.



When my kids were little, we loved to express our creativity every Christmas by making paper snowflakes. A friend recently shared this phenomenal paper snowflake project which I can't wait to try. Definitely a grown-up version of paper cutting! I'll try to snap some photos and post here once we get them done.



Earlier this week another friend asked for a good recipe to use in a cookie press. Here's my grandmother's recipe ... an all-time favorite:



SPRITZ


3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract



Stir together flour and baking powder. Beat butter for 30 seconds, add sugar and beat till fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and almost extract; beat well. Gradually add dry mixture to beaten mix. Beat till well combined. Do NOT chill. Force dough through a cookie press onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 7-8 minutes.



I usually do a couple of recipes and add different food coloring to each of them. This makes a gorgeous platter of cookies to take to your next holiday gathering.



Enjoy!
~Judy

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Why is teaching writing so hard?

Beyond the infamous "January burn-out", the second most common complaint I hear from homeschool moms is how difficult it is to teach good creative writing. Either they struggled with writing themselves as a student, and have no idea how to teach it so their children will have a better experience ... or writing comes naturally to them, but they have no idea how to teach it to their children because they just "do it".



Obviously there are a wide variety of resources and curriculum materials available for purchase for teaching this difficult subject. Homeschool publishers did their research well and pounced on this potential money maker years ago. In a moment I'll list a few with which I have experience, but I thought I would share just a few of the tips that I have found to be helpful over the years.



**The simplest, yet most difficult advice I can offer is that the best way to teach writing is to have your kids write and write and write and write. The more they write and re-write, the better (and more confident) they will become at it. Have them write letters to grandma, journal their thoughts, write newspaper articles, write stories, interview a friend and write an article, and on and on the list goes. And to make this approach even more effective, you need to write with your kids. Don't worry that your kids will be discouraged when comparing their written work to your masterpieces ... instead, look at it as a joint venture. Point out the areas where their ideas were "different" from yours and praise their original thinking. Let them read your writing and pick up some good ideas.



**Second ... look for a set of simple writing rubrics and use them consistently. You can find some online, or create your own. Bottom line, a simple set of grading guidelines, used consistently, will greatly benefit your student (who will know what your expectations are) and you as the teacher (who won't have to re-create the wheel with every assignment).



**Finally ... before your student begins any formal writing, teach them to "map" their thoughts. One of the most difficult concepts for a young writer to conquer is the ability to brainstorm ideas, and then put them in some sort of coherent, logical order. You can bypass this frustration by utilizing specialized software such as Inspiration, or give them your own visual format to work within. For example, a friend of mine used to use a "dresser" visualization with her kids. The dresser was the topic at hand (maybe baseball). Each of the five drawers in the dresser were the five main points the student wished to address in their paper. Maybe the top drawer was "history of baseball", second drawer was "rules of the game", third drawer was "legendary baseballs players", and so on. You get the idea. Finally, each drawer contained a variety of items. Just like the top drawer of the dresser in their bedroom might contain socks, t-shirts and shorts ... the top drawer of their outline might contain three "sub-topics". Once they were finished "outlining" their dresser, they were set to move on to writing their first draft. Either approach works ... one simply has more "bells and whistles" than the other!


As promised ... here are a few products I've found helpful in our homeschool:

  • Diamond Notes - an inexpensive, easy approach for teaching young writers. This worked well with our youngest.
  • Writing Strands was very popular when our oldest was learning to write. We had some limited success with this workbook approach (our oldest loved workbooks).
  • Bravewriter has received lots of great press over the years. We used them for one year with good success, but they are pricey.
  • WriteatHome is my current favorite. This is our second year and I have found that having a writing coach for each of my students has been a great idea. Their feedback is always chock full of good pointers, but they're also incredibly encouraging. A real winner in our household and now we can integrate with our Sonlight-based writing assignments.


So don't delay ... today is as good a time as any to begin! Have your kids write that dreaded annual Christmas letter ... or better yet, have them create what could become an annual Christmas newsletter.


Blessings ...
~Judy

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Giving Thanks . . .

Unlike my friend Luke, who is enjoying the holiday in an undisclosed location (how much will you pay folks to keep your location a secret?!) ... I'm giving thanks from chilly, snowy upstate NY today. Our college student is home with friend in tow, we're enjoying the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade in front of a toasty fire, and goodies are lined up on the counter in the kitchen. As we enjoy today with family and friends, I've purposed to stop periodically and appreciate what God has provided and to thank Him for all He has done.

Speaking of those goodies out in the kitchen, here's our fresh pumpkin pie recipe ... a real favorite with a dollop of real whipped cream.


FRESH PUMPKIN PIE


Pie pumpkin(s) (cook and puree to produce 3 cups pumpkin)
1 cup sugar
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 eggs
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
10-11" pie crust



Mix all ingredients well and pour into pie crust (mixture will be very runny). Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 45 - 60 minutes longer until a clean knife inserted in the center comes out clean.



May you be blessed today with whatever goodies and traditions your family usually enjoys.



Blessings ...
~Judy

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Meditation second

This one is a little longer than a nano-second, but really encouraged me this morning. And yes, I'm still reading Piper's Future Grace. Some books take me longer to "digest".



Today's topic was the strength and grace that God supplies to carry out our spiritual gifts and ministries. I immediately thought of my ministry of homeschooling to my children. And I suppose you could even say that homeschooling is a spiritual "gift" that God provides (though there are many days when I don't feel gifted in this task at all).


I Peter 4:11b states Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. Piper notes that the word in this verse is "supplies", not "supplied." God goes on, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, supplying the "strength" in which we minister. The ability to exercise our spiritual gifts in the ministries to which we are called (including homeschooling and parenting) is by the power of future grace, not in any power we might muster up as we think about God's past grace.


Piper then goes on to note that as we rely on this grace for tomorrow, our gifts and ministry becomes grace for others. Ephesians 4:29 says Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. At some point today, or tomorrow, I will be in a position to meet someone's need through the words that I speak or the actions I take. If I am trusting in God's future grace for that coming moment, I will have the privilege to become a channel for God's grace in that person's life. I will experience the satisfaction that comes in knowing that God called me and used me in someone's life.



What an awesome perspective to have on homeschooling my children. God's future grace will always be available to me as I mentor and disciple my children. I will be in the perfect position to offer them an edifying word and become a channel through which God's grace is bestowed upon them.



Blessings ...
~Judy

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Reading and Good Writing - Any Connection?

One of the frequent posters over on the Sonlight Forums recently shared an article that caught my eye. It was a piece titled The sad, sad state of college English from a recent edition of the Baltimore Examiner. Take a few moments to read this short essay written about a college English professor, now retired, who relates some of the horrific writing he experienced from his students.


What especially struck me was this statement ... Most students make it clear that they don't like to read, and they don't want to read. Many struggled tremendously with their reading. So they just wouldn't do it. And yet it's so important. When you read, you get to see the language used correctly, and you're exposed to a range of vocabulary far beyond your own. I listen to students today, and the number of words they use is limited to slang and colloquialisms.



I remember as a young mother, cherishing the time spent reading to my children, little realizing what a great impact that special time was to have on them later in life. While I do suspect that good writing benefits from solid training, I am convinced that the ability to verbalize and then write well thought out responses is impacted tremendously by a lifetime of reading quality literature. That love for reading begins early, and if my children are any indication, never leaves!


~Judy

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Homeschool Holiday Traditions

My childhood memories of holidays are so sweet that for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to create long-lasting holiday traditions for my own children. I was reminded the other day that some of our holiday traditions have always centered around good books. During a recent chemistry lab at our house, one of the moms was gazing at a couple of our many bookshelves (I too love checking out peoples' books) and remarked on a group of obviously older books on one of the lower shelves. I explained that this was a well-loved collection of holiday books with which I refuse to part. It is a group of books that I someday hope will become as much a part of my grandchildren's holiday traditions as they were of ours.


I thought I would share a short list of some of our holiday titles. These aren't necessarily award winners or what I would classify as "classics", but we have enjoyed them over and over as our children grew ...

  • Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin
  • Jotham's Journey: A Story for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide - This advent favorite was used over and over in our home.
  • The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - which was made into a movie not long ago, but the kids and I agree that the book is still better!
  • Becky's Christmas by Tasha Tudor
  • An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon
  • Winter Poems selected by Barbara Rogasky and published by Scholastic
  • A Story a Day Til Christmas published by Current - this was a series published by Current in the late '80s and early '90s. We owned Volumes 1 and 3.

Each year as our kids were growing I would create holiday "units" that included some of these books as well as two or three craft projects and some yummy baking. One craft project I remember in particular involved creating paper snowflakes. The Internet has some wonderful pattern ideas which combined with a little creativity of our own, resulted in some gorgeous snowflakes decorating our home one year. Check out the free patterns at Craft Ideas, Paper Snowflakes.com , and Dave's Snowflake Patterns (these are quite intricate). Use some colorful origami paper and glitter to spice up your designs.



Maybe I'll share some of our favorite holiday recipes in my next few blog entries. There are some phenomenal holiday recipes changing hands over on the Holiday Forum on the Sonlight Forums site. A one-month subscription is definitely worth the $4.99 (if you don't qualify for a free subscription) for all the great recipes and holiday ideas.



I hope you enjoy the holiday season with your family!
~Judy

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The Process

Depending on which direction your politics lean, you're either smiling or shaking your head this morning. But either way, this is certainly an important time in our nation.



I was thinking, last night as my kids and I were watching news reporting on the election results, that this is another one of those HUGE teachable moments. As important as your political convictions are (and yes, this is a great time to share them with your kids), I've been thinking about what an awesome opportunity this is to discuss the process. I must admit that though I can mutter and sputter with the best of them about the economy and government, I live in a country that has a pretty amazing process in place when it comes to electing government officials.


Now my kids have learned American history over and over again, and we've discussed the process of a presidential election myriads of times. But I was reminded again last evening that often those facts don't stick until you see them in action (i.e. the teenager who asked what's the electoral college again mom?).


So now is a great time to put some shoes on those facts. Help your kids to see the process (if you haven't already) that led to last night's election results. Talk with them about what happens now? We had a rather interesting discussion last evening about how "powerful" President Bush will be for the next two months or so. Can he really accomplish anything now that the next president has been elected? How does the transition between this administration and the next take place?



I've found the Internet to be a wealth of resources for presidential election education. Here and there I've seen people refer to sites that helped them better understand the process. A few that impressed me:

  • History Central has a phenomenal site that provides information on every presidential election back to the late 1700s. Find out who the candidates were, how the electoral votes played out, and what the major issues were.
  • Wikipedia has a great explanation of how the electoral college works, and some interesting links and maps to back up the information.
  • There's a nifty interactive electoral votes map found at 270 to win

.So whether your candidate of choice won or lost last night, don't miss this tremendous opportunity to help your kids understand the process, and how it came to be.



Keep on keeping on ...
~Judy

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Choosing Curriculum

After so many years of homeschooling, I often have the privilege of talking with folks who are just considering or researching the possibility of educating their children at home. One of the first choices they evaluate is which homeschool curriculum to use. They've either spent some time researching homeschool curriculum on the Internet or they've attended a homeschool convention ... and it's at that point that I end up talking with them ... the glazed "deer in the headlights" look still in their eyes. The choices out there seem endless.



I usually try to simplify the task just a bit by asking them to look at curriculum products based on teaching style. I'm sure there are more categories, but I usually break it down to five:


  • Traditional - This style relies heavily on the textbook/workbook approach to education. Similar to the classroom experience many of us are familiar with from our own childhoods. Some publishers: Bob Jones, ABeka, Alpha & Omega.
  • Unschooling - Essentially the opposite end of the spectrum from traditional homeschooling. This style recommends providing a variety of experiences and resources to stimulate a child's in-bred desire to learn. Delight driven learning is a common phrase heard among unschoolers. John Holt is a name often associated with the unschooling approach.
  • Unit Studies - are topic driven units that intermesh history, literature, writing, science and other subjects around a common theme. These can be accomplished by purchasing pre-packaged units or designing your own by making liberal use of your library. Some publishers: KONOS, Amanda Bennett's Unit Studies.
  • Classical - is a term synonymous with The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. The premise is that children move through different stages of learning, each requiring a slightly different approach. There is a heavy emphasis on the use of living books, study of logic and a chronologic look at history. Some publishers: Veritas Press, Peace Hill Press.
  • Literature Based - falls somewhere between unit studies and a classical approach. Relying heavily on the writings of Dr. Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason, this teaching style relies on exposing children to great ideas found in classic literature with a goal toward developing a love for learning. Some publishers: Sonlight Curriculum, Tapestry of Grace.


While this isn't an exhaustive list, it does help to narrow down the choices a bit. There are a couple other resources which I think are very helpful in making choices about homeschooling (though I admit to being somewhat biased about these!):



Hopefully this brief "Homeschooling 101" will give you somewhere concrete to begin as you consider homeschooling.



Best wishes on the journey ...
~Judy

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Science co-ops


I was reminded last week why I have always found homeschool co-ops to be so valuable. In a word: CHEMISTRY. There's no way you can possibly hear the distaste in my voice/mind as I type that word, but it's there nonetheless.



Let's face it, no homeschool mom is an expert in every field she has to teach. Over the years I've seriously doubted that I'm an expert in any, but some are certainly easier to teach than others. One of my favorite subjects has always been Biology. I love studying and investigating the intricacies of the human body which the Creator has so marvelously designed. And even more, I get excited over passing that love on to students. Even the most squeamish come away from dissecting frogs and earthworms with a new appreciation for how amazing the creation truly is.



I'm afraid, however, that my love and excitement for Biology does not extend to Chemistry, which relies so heavily on math (another subject that has the ability to make me squirm). As I watched and listened to our small chemistry co-op (just 4 students) puzzle over measuring the specific heat of a chunk of metal last week, I patted myself on the back for once again expending the energy to seek out moms of other high school sophomores who needed a chem lab. None of us is really an expert in the field, but there is one among us who has an innate sense of how chemistry works, and is a whiz at math. So she leads our little group, and the rest of us help and cheer her on.



Obviously science is not the only subject which lends itself to sharing teaching and learning, but the lab sciences do seem especially perfect for such a setting. And it's really not terribly difficult to establish a co-op. You certainly don't need a large group of students, nor do you need a special location, or experts on any given topic to make it work. What's really necessary is a common desire to share the burdens of teaching and the excitement of learning. Sprinkle in a little bit of motivation and commitment to make it work, and you have a made to order "no frills" co-op. And you know, we've come us with some pretty amazing co-op classes and teachers in the past. One year we held a speech class and invited a homeschool mom who was an English teacher in her "past life" and had a passion for public speaking and drama. A friend of mine once hijacked an acquaintance who is a meteorologist to come and speak to her middle-school co-op science class. We've also invited "guest lecturers" by way of DVD and field trips. The sky truly is the limit.



So if one of the subjects in your homeschool seems to be lacking some excitement or "punch" ... and you just can't find the motivation to make it more interesting ... why not consider a homeschool co-op to spice things up!



Keep on keeping on ...
~Judy



PS ... a couple of very practical "helps" I've found in my struggles with chemistry: Sonlight's Chemistry Supplies Kit and a nifty web site called the Periodic Table of Videos which a friend recently shared. See, I really *do* look for ways to make Chemistry more palatable!

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Milestones

My husband and I got away for a couple of days to celebrate our 24th anniversary this week. We love to hike, so we escaped to a wonderful Bed & Breakfast on one of the Finger Lakes here in upstate NY. Across the road from the B&B was the entrance to an awesome gorge which was just ablaze with color.

Autumn colors in the Finger Lakes
Autumn colors in the Finger Lakes
Down the gorge out to the lake
Down the gorge out to the lake
Perfect for hiking!
Perfect for hiking!
Sunset over the lake
Sunset over the lake

People tend to make more of someone's 25th anniversary than they do the 24th. But for us, it's a milestone ... because this year we also survived the launching of our first homeschool graduate. Anyone who doesn't believe homeschooling puts some strain on a marriage isn't dealing in reality. While parenting in and of itself can be brutal on a relationship, tossing homeschooling into the mix brings its own unique stressors. While we both are extremely proud of the first one we've launched, we are also acutely aware that any success is entirely due to God's grace and His daily provision of wisdom.


So if you're new to homeschooling, or just considering the option, do be realistic enough to recognize the stresses and strains it will put on your marriage. Then establish some relationship "builders" to help shore up the foundation and strengthen the ties. Perhaps you'll set a goal to have a date night every other week or once a month. Maybe a night away can be scheduled a couple times a year. For the short-term, consider a 2-hour break for mom or dad (whomever carries the bulk of the teaching load) once a week. Even an uninterrupted time for devotions or a chapter from a favorite book each day goes a long way toward maintaining sanity and a good attitude. Whatever you choose, just making the effort demonstrates to both parties that your relationship is worth the effort. And let me assure you, it is well worth the effort!


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Meditation nano-second

"Meditation Moment" is a title that's been overused (IMHO) ... and a moment can be quite a long time, if time is at a premium. So I have just a little tidbit to share (a nano-second?) ... gleaned from my quiet time this morning.


From John Piper's book Future Grace.


Patience is the capacity to "wait and to endure" without murmuring and disillusionment - to wait in the unplanned place, and endure the unplanned pace. ... Impatient people are weak, and therefore dependent on external supports - like schedules that go just right and circumstances that support their fragile hearts. ... The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.



Whew ... tough (but good) to hear at 7:30 AM.



~Judy

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How do I get it all done?


The homeschooling mom's perennial question. You know that kid's "song that never ends"? Well this is the question that never gets answered. It is one of the most-often asked questions I hear from both new and veteran homeschoolers. It has also been on my mind of late since we recorded the goal-setting podcast I mentioned in my last blog entry.


I've read many of the time management books, done some speaking on the topic, and designed multiple Excel spreadsheets and chore charts ... all in the name of getting it all done. But it occurred to me the other day that perhaps we're asking the wrong question. Not that the "how" question isn't a good one ... but I think there's a question we should ask before we ask how. I think first we should ask ourselves to define what ALL is.



Being a somewhat hyper-motivated individual in my younger years (I got over it), I remember well the struggle to say "no" to things. Every opportunity presented to me seemed to be a good thing, so I would think of course I should say yes to this! And before I knew it my plate was overflowing and I was asking that perennial question ... how was I ever going to get it all done?


Though it has been a painful lesson learned by hard experience, I regularly have to be reminded that not every opportunity, as good as each one may seem, is the best for me. And the process of determining what is best can be as simple as setting some well-defined goals. Decide what you're aiming for in life ... both short-term and long-term. Then as each opportunity presents itself, weigh it against your list of goals. Will this opportunity push you closer to any of those goals, or will it slow down your progress? A very practical way of practicing the Biblical mandate to redeem my time.


It's a well-known fact (probably someone somewhere has done a study) that homeschool moms suffer from we're not doing enough syndrome. Surely we need more sports, more music lessons, more field trips, etc... Perhaps what we really need is a prayed-over and well thought out list of goals!

~Judy
Galatians 6:9

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Of squirrels and hoarding

It's that time of year again when I inevitably slip into my winter hoarding mode. Here in the infamous snow belt region of upstate NY, I face each winter wondering how many months it will be again before we see green grass and warmer temperatures. And while we're waiting for that first snowfall (which I love, by the way), we spend our days hiking hills through the multi-colored leaves that are falling, and harvesting vegetables from our garden to can or freeze for the coming cold months. Autumn is my favorite season of the year ... hands down.



I also find myself cleaning out bookshelves, storing or giving away books and curriculum we no longer need, sorting through summer clothes that have seen better days, and just organizing overall. I think I know the dreaded months of January and February are coming (this homeschool mom's most hated months!), and I'm subconsciously attempting to prepare for them in advance.



All of this canning, sorting and organizing definitely put me in the mood for recording one of our latest Podcasts over at Sonlight.com. Jill, Kelly and I put together a fairly extensive series on goal setting, homeschool time management, conquering the clutter in your household, and overall organization. We had a great time sharing practical ideas and swapping stories from our homeschooling and child-rearing memories. If you find this time of year inspiring you to sort, clean and organize, take a few moments to listen to some of our tips and suggestions. I think you'll enjoy them!



And just to share some of the great "smells" floating around our household, here's my time-tested spaghetti sauce recipe. I canned 42 quarts of this delicious sauce which we will enjoy over all sorts of pasta throughout the cold winter months to come.


Judy's Spaghetti Sauce



(I use a combination of whatever canning tomatoes are available and Romas)

4 quarts (16 cups) of processed tomatoes (I remove the stem end and puree them in my blender, skin and all)
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
3 Tablespoons Parsley Flakes
1 teaspoon Basil
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Pepper
6 teaspoons Salt
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1 chopped Onion

Combine in a large stock pot. Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes. Stir in 1 - 12 oz can of Tomato Paste. Cook 30 minutes more (or longer) until sauce thickens to your liking.

Yields 7 pints of spaghetti sauce

ENJOY!!

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Mom's aren't supposed to get sick

Well ... almost a month later I'm finally back to blog again! A rather nasty case of the flu which morphed into strep throat knocked me off my feet for longer than I liked. Why is it that I can't bounce back as quickly as my kids do?



So you might be wondering how homeschooling is affected when the main teacher (aka mom) is sick in bed. While some creative souls may use it as a learning opportunity (picture a field trip to the doctor, kids lining up to peer down mom's throat, book reports on the history of modern medicine) I'm just not of that caliber. I want people to serve me cold milkshakes or warm soup, cover me with a warm blanket and rub my feet. And then leave me alone! I suspect reality is somewhere in the middle.



I do find that whenever I'm out of commission, we see both the best and worst come out in our family. I'm always surprised by, and incredibly grateful for, how caring and available my kids and husband are. I'm also very aware of just how little dirt and clutter bothers everyone in this family but me! So yes, mom's illness definitely becomes a learning experience for all of us. I especially learn patience and a dependence on God like no other experience can generate. My kids get to put to use those cooking and cleaning skills we've worked on all year long. And I suspect my husband is reminded how much he appreciates going "off" to work somewhere!



And you know ... homeschooling goes on. Even mom's sickness is a time for education. Not of the academic kind necessarily, but definitely in practical life skills. It's also an opportunity to see just how well kids can work and learn independently. So when life "happens" ... even if it means that mom is side-lined for a bit, don't despair that your chldren will fall behind. See it as an opportunity for a different kind of "school".

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