Thursday, August 24, 2006

So long, Pluto

Well, we're a little sad this morning. Pluto's no longer considered a planet! I guess we'll have to learn a new jingle to memorize the planets,replacing "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas." For now the kids have decided to change "Nine" to "Nerds." No Pizza. Hmph. One of the articles I read said that Pluto will have to be effectively "airbrushed" out of textbooks now. There are officially only eight planets in our solar system. What was agreed upon in the scientific world and taught as "fact" to generations... is out. Every science textbook in every school at this very moment... has some wrong information in it.

We still love ya, Pluto.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Finding the Junk Drawer

Remember when you moved into your current house or apartment? All of the boxes labeled "kitchen" were stacked in the kitchen and it was time to decide where everything belonged. I remember standing in the middle of my empty kitchen deciding where it "felt" like the potholders should go. Where do I want my plates to be? Which drawer should be the silverware drawer? (Most importantly, which drawer will be the junk drawer?? In my current house I gave myself two!) If you're like me, there was just a certain "feel" to it. There are usually some commonalities (like putting silverware in a drawer rather than in a cabinet), but pretty much when you moved in you put things where it felt best for them to go, and where they would be accessible to you in your daily "kitchen life." Maybe you put things where they were in the house where you grew up (or maybe your mom was with you helping you unpack and she put them there!) just out of habit, but since all kitchens are different you had to make changes to fit your style and your available space.

It occurred to me this week that setting up a homeschool schedule (or "routine" if "schedule" is the other "s" word for you!) is much like moving into a new kitchen. As we've moved into a new year of homeschooling and have begun "unpacking" our new curriculum, I've been getting a "feel" for where certain subjects should "go." Math in the morning? History after lunch? Science twice a week? When should we read aloud? Does art have to go on Fridays? Wouldn't it be fun to start Monday morning with an art project? There's no right or wrong time to do those subjects, so it's simply what "feels" best and works in your daily "school life." And, just like in your kitchen when you put things out of reach or hidden away, they don't get used. (I have certain platters I haven't seen in years!) Poorly timed subjects simply don't get done most of the time at our house. If I tuck something away for Friday afternoon, I may be so tired by then I decide it's not that important after all. That subject becomes a poor, forgotten Christmas platter...

I've gotten other family's schedules before and tried to implement them in our home, and they just haven't worked. Some of them I haven't even had to try to know they wouldn't work! (Starting school at 7:00 AM? Notgonnahappen.) Sometimes I have loosely based our routine on how I used to schedule my public school classroom. Other times I would try out schedules I saw on the Well-Trained Mind boards (this is prime season for schedule-sharing!) But I've always ended up either altering them beyond recognition or simply abandoning them and coming up with something completely new. Do a Google search on "homeschool scheduling" and see what comes up! You can find as many sample schedules and suggestions as there are homeschool families out there. But, our families are as different as our kitchens. For you to replicate my routine would be like me telling you your potholders should go in that drawer under your oven. (What? You don't have a drawer under your oven? Exactly!) Additionally, while it is true that as a homeschooler I have the same kids every year, I also have different kids every year. Each year they are different ages, have different abilities, growing maturity levels and changing preferences. It's practically a new kitchen every year!

So... this week we have begun moving in. We started math, language, reading, writing and history. We'll add foreign languages and science next week. God-willing, we'll be cooking on all burners by the week of Labor Day. I'm praying God's direction for you as you begin unpacking your year and stirring up school!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Back to School!

It's "Back to School" day at our house! We've been doing a little bit this summer (though not for the past three weeks or so) but today each of them begins their new grade level. Fun! I made a back-to-school basket for each of their desks, which they will find waiting for them when they go into the school room. I thought they turned out pretty cute. And it's all stuff I picked up at Dollar Tree!

I like to pray through Stormie Omartian's The Power of a Praying Parent, praying one prayer each day corresponding to the day of the month. Well, today's prayer (chapter 14) was "Instilling the Desire to Learn" which couldn't be more appropriate as we begin our school year. (It's written for an individual child, so I have rewritten it to include both my kids):

Lord, I pray that my children will have a deep reverence for You and Your ways. May they hide Your Word in their hearts like a treasure, and seek after understanding like silver or gold. Give them good minds, teachable spirits, and an ability to learn. Instill in them a desire to attain knowledge and skill, and may they have joy in the process. Above all I pray that they will be taught by You, for Your Word says that when our children are taught by You they are guaranteed peace. You have also said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). May they never be fools and turn away from learning, but rather may they turn to You for the knowlege they need.

I pray they will respect the wisdom of their parents and be willing to be taught by them. May they also have the desire to be taught by the teachers You bring into their lives. Handpick each one, Lord, and may they be godly people from whom they can easily learn. Take out of their lives any teacher who would be an ungodly influence or create a bad learning experience. Let them find favor with their teachers and have good communication with them. Help them to excel in school and do well in any classes they may take. Make the pathways of learning smooth and not something with which they must strain and struggle. Connect everything in their brains the way they are supposed to be so that they have clarity of thought, organization, good memory, and strong learning ability.

I say to them according to Your Word, "Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge" (Proverbs 23:12. "May the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:7). Lord, enable them to experience the joy of learning more about You and Your world.

Now I'm off to make chocolate chip muffins for my class. Have a great back-to-school... whenever you begin!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Grade 5

EDIT: When I originally posted this, I left off Handwriting Without Tears. For both our sakes, I hope it lives up to its name... ;)

I've put together Kyle's grade 5 work to fit the year using a spreadsheet like I did for Bethany's. Here's what he's got coming this year:

Math: Math-U-See Epsilon (possibly transitioning to Teaching Textbooks if grade 6 is released mid-year)
Science: BJU Science 5
Critical Thinking/ Logic:
The Fallacy Detective (fall semester) read aloud
The Thinking Toolbox(fall semester) read aloud
Revenge of the Riddle Spiders cd rom
Mind Benders cd rom
ELA (English/Language Arts):
Spelling: Abeka- Spelling, Vocabulary and Poetry 5 (fall)
Grammar: God's Gift of Language B (spring)
Writing: IEW- Student Writing Intensive A
Literature: BJU Pages in My Head, Selections from Veritas 5
Foreign Language:
Switched On Schoolhouse Elementary French
Latin: Latina Christiana
History: Story of the World 3 (Late Renaissance, Early Modern)
Money Matters For Kids (fall semester)
Greater Health God’s Way (spring semester) read aloud

While he is going through the IEW course this fall, I have only scheduled spelling during that time. We will be going through the Abeka spelling course, doing two lists per week in the fall, simply going through the book together doing some of the activities orally and spelling them aloud as well. Andrew Pudewa (of IEW) suggests doing spelling orally if possible since it is a sequential skill. I never realized that was why Kyle has wanted to spell his words aloud for years, and I just realized that was why! I am sort of adapting Pudewa's spelling approach using the Abeka book, since we already had it. (Kyle is a very strong speller anyway, and I've always liked Abeka's challenging words.) Depending on how the IEW course goes, and given the intense English grammar that is covered in the Latina Christiana courses, we may drop the Abeka grammar altogether. As it stands, I have scheduled Language B for spring, to be completed mostly orally.

We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Homeschooling works for us. It just does. It has made our life easier. It just has. I was the biggest skeptic about homeschooling (in general) and my own ability to do so (in particular). I would've never thought I would (or could, or even should) homeschool. We live in a great district with top-notch schools and wonderful teachers. But for us, educating our kids at home isn't about what the schools aren't, it's about what homeschooling is. There is plenty out there on the internet (and on this blog) to read about what, specifically, homeschooling is, or can be for your family. I just wanted to post on WFMW, as we enter our 8th year of it... that homeschooling works! When I first began praying about school choices for my daughter, all of a sudden homeschooling (which I'd never even heard of, muchless considered before) popped up everywhere for me- articles, TV, people I met, blurbs in the newspaper, online... Maybe, just maybe, you clicked this post today because you should at least consider it, too. :)

It may not work for everyone, but it works for me!

For more great tips from some really smart moms, visit: Rocks In my Dryer. Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Academic Aroma

Back in the day, when I taught school, we could burn candles in our classrooms. I understand that's not allowed now (for good reason, I'm sure!) but I enjoyed it at the time. Third graders, especially after recess in the Texas heat, have a certain... aroma. I had a specific candle that I ALWAYS burned: Yankee brand "Spiced Apple." Once I came home to be a fulltime mom I would burn it once in awhile, and it always made me think of school. Well, when I began homeschooling, a Spiced Apple candle was as essential to me as a planbook and a cup of coffee. Each school day I would light our "school candle" in the schoolroom. Last year I went to Linens n' Things to pick up another candle and found out that that particular scent had been :::gasp!::: discontinued. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't imagine. I supposed I would just have to put the kids in school and be done with it, for I didn't think I could actually teach without the aroma of "Spiced Apple" filling the air. Not just any old spiced apple, either. Yankee. It had to be Yankee. I looked a couple of other places and couldn't find them, so I ordered the three I could afford off of Ebay and decided I would just make them last by burning them v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Maybe only one day per month until the kids graduate.

I happened to mention it one day to my sweet friend, Debbie. If there's anything hard-to-find shoppingwise, she can find it. And at a good price. We all tell her our homeschool curriculum needs and she'll sniff them out. (Most recently she found me my Rosetta Stone French at a ridiculously bon prix!) One night at Awana, a couple of weeks after I had mentioned my candle conundrum to her, she handed me a small gift bag. In it was... a Yankee Spiced Apple candle! I was so excited, I actually jumped up and down. Well, she told me, there was more... In the back of her van, she had sack after sack of them. She had gone to the Yankee store and a few Hallmark stores and had bought all that they had. Big and small jars, votives, tarts... I was in heaven! I have enough to last until the kids graduate and go to college, and Bethany told me she wants me to save her a tart, so she can always remember the "smell of school."

So each day during our school year, I light our candle for awhile in the morning and the scent lingers the rest of the day. Today is a major day of planning for me, so I've lit my school candle in the room where I'm working, just to get myself in "school mode." However, the candle now holds added significance for me because it is the scent of school as well as the fragrance of friendship.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tax-free Shopping, TAKS-free Teaching

"It's the m-o-o-o-st wonderful time of the ye-e-ear!" I remember that Staples commercial a couple of years ago, where the parent danced through the aisles buying school supplies while the glum-faced kids stood looking on... Well, to me this is one of the most wonderful times of the year. Ecclesiastes says there's a "time to gather." Well, this is it! Tax-free weekend! Back-to-school sales! ::::sigh:::: Folders! Paper! Jeans! Socks! Fun!

As we're preparing for an afternoon of gathering certain items tax-free, I've been thinking of the other spelling of the word: TAKS. For those of you not in Texas, the TAKS are the state-wide achievement tests, which have (unfortunately) increasingly begun to govern what teachers are able to teach. I haven't been in the classroom for some time now, but how well I remember that feeling of having a great teaching idea, or coming across a fun activity I'd love to do, only to realize that I really shouldn't because it didn't have test objective tied to it (especially in the spring). Every spring, CPA's have their "tax season," well Texas Public Educators have their "TAKS season" at the same time. (I never noticed the correlation until today!) It took me several years after I quit teaching to not have the test dates firmly implanted in my mind. (In our state, homeschools and private schools do not take the TAKS.) Ahhhh, freedom!

This weekend we have the freedom of shopping for clothes without the added burden of state sales tax. It's not that we don't have to pay for what we're buying, or that we don't have to pay taxes on anything, but eliminating the extra cost of the tax on certain items is... nice. As a homeschooler, I have enormous responsibility in teaching my kids, but eliminating the extra requirement of state testing is... nice. In fact, it's wonderful. Now, the TAKS isn't all bad, just like taxes aren't all bad, both accomplish a measure of common good. Extreme taxation, though, is stifling (just ask our founding fathers!) and many schools suffer from extreme TAKSation. I'm glad to be free from both. Just like our nation still seeks a way to balance taxation, there are many schools and teachers, I'm sure, who have found a way preserve the joy of learning amid the test requirements.

This isn't an "in-your-face" nya-nya to anyone, but just the observation of one lil' ole homeschooler from "deep in the heart," who's gearing up for another year of TAKS-free teaching and heading out for an afternoon of tax-free shopping.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Missing Pieces

Oops! I left some key pieces out of the 7th grade planning puzzle!

For Bible we will be using her Awana Trek 27-7 curriculum. It's new this year and looks great! We will also be incorporating the Sonlight Bible 7 books for 7th and 8th grade.

For Art, which they do together, we have loved Atelier. It is video-based, which helps me, and it is a very thorough sampling of the various branches of art. The kids have done some wonderful projects the past two years that we used it. I highly recommend this program for those who need some structure and "oomph" in this area like I do.

Last year she really enjoyed taking violin lessons, but this year she's interested in guitar. There is a guitar class starting at our church this fall which I think we'll put her in for music. The three of us are still working through some recorder curriculum my mom-the-awesome-music-teacher put together for us. I also have been reading through Usborne Introduction to Music with them. It's been a good overview of the types of music, along with internet links to go to and listen.

She takes gymnastics and also helps teach tots gymnastics one day per week as part of her P.E. but I also require them to do at least 30 minutes of something physical each day. I have a bucket of jump ropes, balls, etc. if they aren't sure what to do, but they usually ride bikes, walk/run on the treadmill, do an exercise video or do something with our little set of hand/ankle weights. I'm thinking we may start taking a walk first thing in the morning 3 days a week this year. I want to be sure we all get outside more each day.

Good grief, all of this seems like a lot. But I think homeschooling is wonderful because it has given us the gift of time. There is time to do what we need to do, and it gets done if I am diligent and disciplined with our time. But, that's another post for another day... ;)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sleepover Logic

As I've posted recently, we're reading through The Fallacy Detective and we're really enjoying it. This week we've been discussing "red herrings," introducing an irrelevant point and avoiding the question.
Kyle was invited to spend the night with a friend tonight. This particular boy is a really sweet boy of a family who goes to our church. He's never spent the night at this boy's house, and really hasn't spent much time at all with him in the last few months (the boy goes to public school and they don't see each other all that much) but he was excited to go spend the night. I was giving him my usual before-sleepover speech about manners and acceptable movies, and I mentioned that he needed to be sure not to get involved in any inappropriate conversations (since I haven't been around this boy in awhile, and since 10-year-old-boys will be 10-year-old-boys...) I said, "So, if something inappropriate comes up, you know to change the subject, right?" to which he replied, "Don't worry, Mom. I'll call it, 'Operation: Red Herring!' "

The Planning Puzzle

Time to put it all together and see if it fits! I'm currently working on Bethany's (grade 7) plans. I have all of the teacher editions, worktexts, etc. spread out and I'm deciding how to divide it up for the year. (Remember "::::Gasp!:::: Textbooks" ? Well, here they are!)

Math : Teaching Textbooks Pre Algebra
Science :BJU Life Science 7
Critical Thinking/ Logic:
The Fallacy Detective (Fall Semester)
The Thinking Toolbox(Fall Semester)
Critical Thinking Book 1 (Spring Semester)
ELA (English/Language Arts):
Grammar- Prentice Hall Writing and Grammar
IEW- Student Writing Intensive B
Literature – Abeka Of People, Selections from Sonlight 7
Foreign Language:
French 1- Allez Viens (Holt) 1/2 this year, 1/2 in 8th grade, Rosetta Stone
Latin- Latina Christiana , The Book of Roots Book 1
History :
Texas- Celebrating Texas: Honoring the Past, Building the Future (McDougal Littell) -ch. 1-15, ch. 16-30 next year in 8th grade since she'll be studying world history concurrently
World- Story of the World 3
Money Matters For Teens (Fall Semester)
Greater Health God’s Way (Spring Semester)

I created a spreadsheet in Excel, with the "week of" down the left side and the subjects across the top. (It's still "in-progress", so that's why much of it's blank.) I blocked off the main subject areas in different colors so as I'm planning the days I can make sure they are evenly distributed throughout the week. It helps me to visually differentiate between the main subject areas. (I'm very visual!) The light blue are the ELA courses, green are the math and science. I didn't create a separate column for Critical Thinking because we just read through the books together with no set schedule. (The same applies to the Health and Economics books we'll be reading together.)

I'm planning a total of 39 weeks, although we'll take time for travel (God-willing!) when we can and I may have to bump some things into next summer. If we don't travel and actually stay on schedule we'll be finished at the end of May. As I posted a few months ago, one of her goals this year is to finish her work, to have a clear-cut beginning and end to the year so I'm making sure she's able to see where she needs to be in each book in order to finish in May. It looks like a lot, but it's very doable the way I've got it laid out.

Last year I began doing all of my planning on the computer, which I loved. My previous plan books had been full of circles and arrows as the inevitable adjustments were made throughout the year. It was much easier last year to simply copy/paste/delete/move things, then print out the week and put it in my binder. I made my own plan book last year, 3-ring style, so I could customize it the way I wanted. I don't scrapbook, but I had a bunch of the "stuff" so I made a bright cover sheet for one of those view-through notebooks. This was partly so it would be cute and fun, and partly so I could find it in a pile, LOL. I looked up all of the scriptures I could find with the word "plan" in them, then designed it on the computer with all of the scriptures in different fonts. I added a few stickers and, voila! The main verse in the center is kind of my little joke to myself. Obviously, that's the Lord talking, but I had to chuckle at how many times I have written in my plan book thinking that to myself. Yeah, right.

Inside the notebook there is a section for each child individually, plus a separate section for what we do together. Each section will have a yearly overview (above) as well as a hard copy of our weekly plans. At the front I have our weekly schedule (another Excel creation) and the local public school schedule printed out from the internet so I'll know what weeks the rest of the world is out of school. (Sometimes that helps me plan when/ when not to schedule field trips, LOL.) I downloaded some planning forms from Donna Young's site, tweaked them to my liking, and that's what I use on my laptop for my weekly planning. I usually print the plans out for the upcoming week sometime on Friday the week before, or on the weekend if I work on them then. I'll post more about my weekly planning another time... I'm looking at the "big picture" at the moment. :)

Well, this is the part of the "puzzle" I'm working on at the moment. I guess these would be the edges and corner pieces. Once I get the "framework" done and begin my weekly planning, I suppose those would be like the middle pieces of the puzzle. Hopefully at the end of the year it will look at least a little like the picture on the box (what I've envisioned in my head!).

But I'm not "gluing anything down" just yet, though...

I'm sure I sounded like an idiot...

...but what else is new? We were at Wal Mart the other day and they had the big cardboard display thingy where you could pick up your school supply list for your specific school. We always grab a couple just out of curiosity (or so that we can feel like we're really getting away with something buying a rolling backpack in a no-rolling-backpack-school-zone, LOL). Anyway, our district assigns your school based on where you live. In the sea of people grabbing lists, and with rows and rows of school sheets on the display I was trying to get the kids to hurry up and get out of everyone's way. So, amid the moms and kids I said to my kids, "Oh, it doesn't matter guys, just pick any school. You can just pick any school you want!" A couple of the moms looked at me as if to say, "Um, you can't do that..."


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