Friday, March 30, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

WFMW: "Mom! That's not trash!"

A few weeks ago, I made a tragic mistake. I opened the lid of the trash can in our kitchen and dropped something in, only to hear an audible gasp from my son across the room. I had done the unthinkable: mindlessly thrown away a perfectly good paper towel roll!

Beginning when my kids were big enough to rummage, stack, play, and create I have kept a plastic bin in the garage full of what would've been trash, you know, B.C. ("Before Children") I always put oatmeal containers, egg cartons, cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper, the last remnant of aluminum foil that's not enough to cover anything, margarine tubs, small boxes, bits of bubble wrap, Kool-Aid containers, etc. Toss in a couple of rolls of duct or masking tape, and it is always a box of instant fun!

They have created robots, cities, creatures, vehicles, and a myriad of other creations over the years... all from what would've been trash! My daughter (now a teenager) doesn't make creations out of trash anymore, but the contents of the box still come in handy for school projects. My son is about to be 11, and he still goes out to the garage to rummage through the "art box" and think of fun projects. I'm not sure when he'll outgrow it, but as long as it keeps his imagination going and is cheap fun... it works for me!

For more tips, visit Rocks In My Dryer. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Because I Can

That's sometimes my answer to people when they ask why I homeschool. Simply put, that's it in a nutshell. Love it!

That's also why I'm calling off school at our house for the next two weeks. :)

I need t-i-m-e to work on our house (which we're getting ready to put on the market), prepare our end-of-the-year Awana awards ceremonies and leader dinner, and plan for our upcoming mission trip to China. There is NO room in my brain at the moment for grammar sheets and math problems, and I need all hands on deck to help out. I'm LOVING the fact that we've "stuck with it" this year in our weekly school schedule, because it has really given us the margin to take a couple of weeks off and tend to life. (We didn't take "spring break" a couple of weeks ago when everyone else did, so we've got major spring fever!)

Oh, and I haven't told the kids yet. They're gonna flip. Breakfast will be fun this morning... :)

Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Our homeschool association had our "Curriculum Night" last night. I always enjoy this particular meeting. Everyone comes to discuss what has worked (and NOT worked) for them, curriculum-wise. It's great, because the curriculum sales and book fairs start up next month and it's fun to get ideas about what to use next year.

Last night's meeting went by subject, with the beginning of each subject discussion being what had not worked for a family in that particular subject area. Of course, we allowed for the fact that different kids learn differently, some moms like a particular style and some moms don't, etc. But I like to hear what doesn't work for someone for any certain reason, because it's possible that I would have those same issues in my home with my kids (kinesthetic learners, too much repetition, etc.)

There was a LOT shared, most of which I didn't write down, but here's some of what I remember:

Math: What didn't work for some was Saxon. This is pretty much a staple curriculum for homeschoolers, but some kids just find it too repetitious, too bland, too... much. Many of the moms there spoke in support of it as well, so really this is a learning style issue. What I thought as I sat there was that we are free in Christ to not make them do every problem, sheet or lesson. We used Saxon briefly when my daughter was in third grade, and she was quickly sorry she had begged for that instead of her Math U See. (All the friends used Saxon at the time... I suppose that's the homeschooler's version of having to have what everyone else has, LOL.)

One mom recommended something I'd never heard of before, but something that she has had great success in (because she does not like the "spiral approach," reviewing concepts throughout each year) and it was Mastering Mathematics. It seems to be a different approach than I've seen before, with books by skill area (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.) and you master the whole of addition up through the eighth grade level before continuing to the subtraction book. She said her kids have really thrived using it. It might be worth checking into if you're looking for math curriculum.

Someone brought up the subject of Everyday Math, as her kids are coming out of the public school system and that's what they were using. I'm not sure how readily available that program is in the homeschool market, but I must say that I have very mixed feelings about it based on what I've read online (both from those whose kids are using it and educators reviewing it.) If that's a program you're considering, I'd encourage you to watch this video, Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth. I thought it was very interesting. There is also a "rebuttal" of sorts at Youtube, but I didn't find it very compelling against the original video. At the very least, it seems to me like Everyday Math is to math education what "whole language" was to reading education when I was in college. But I'm not here to start a debate, LOL...

Several of us recommended Math U See for kinesthetic (hands on) and visual learners, and a couple of us had also had really positive experiences with Teaching Textbooks this year as well. The main problem with Teaching Textbooks is for those who have used grade 7. Apparently it is filled with errors, but the word from TT is that they are fixing those and sending out new discs to TT users this summer.

Someone also shared this Pizza Fraction Fun game that has really helped her kids learn their fractions this year. Apparently this game was a real hit at her house.

Spelling: What didn't work for a couple of folks was Spelling Power, as it is intended for use. The pretests seem to make some kids (including mine) feel like "failures" before they ever get started. It was agreed, though, that it is an excellent resource for the money, since it is for all levels of spelling up through high school, and that you don't have to follow the program the way it is laid out, but rather do traditional spelling lists. I have enjoyed the activity task cards that go with the program as well. Others liked Spelling Workout, Sequential Spelling, and one mom recommended the website

Language Arts: There didn't seem to be a big discussion of Language Arts. Everyone was pleased with what they used, whether it was Abeka, Bob Jones, workbooks, etc. One mom wholeheartedly recommended Learning Language Arts Through Literature, which I've looked at before and think looks excellent. Another mom said her child had enjoyed Switched on Schoolhouse Language Arts, but that after three years of it her son was getting bored with it. We have it for grade 6, and that is what I'm planning to use with my son next year. He did it for grade 4 and enjoyed it as well. We are "beefing up" grammar this year with Abeka, but are switching back to SOS for grade 6 for something different.

History: Many of us in the room shared that we are enjoying Story of the World. One mom shared that, while she and her children really liked SOTW, she was concerned that it didn't weave in Bible as well, so she said she had been supplementing with Mystery of History and that has been very enriching for them.

As a supplement to American history this year, one mom shared that her kids are really loving the book Yo Millard Fillmore for memorizing the presidents.

A couple of the moms have had great success using My Father's World and Learning Adventures, both of which are a unit study approaches using history as the spine.

Science: The hands-down favorite was Apologia, for all levels including elementary. I've always heard wonderful things about this curriculum, and most of my friends use it. When we decided to try a text, however, my kids really liked the BJU Science, so we have stuck with that for the past two years. Another recommendation was Rainbow Science.

Bible and Worldview: Of course, a favorite for Bible curriculum among homeschoolers is Awana material. Another favorite was BSF as well as the Precepts Inductive Bible Study Materials for kids. One mom recommended Picture This, which we have and use periodically. My son in particular likes this program. For worldview curriculum, someone recommended Thinking Like A Christian.

Whew! I'm sure there was more, but my fingers (and my brain!) are tired. I always enjoy getting together with other homeschoolers to share what's working/not working. However, I sat there last night thinking, "Be content. If it ain't broke, don't fix it." While the recommendations of others are helpful, if what you are using is working for you... stick with it! But hopefully, if you're shopping around, some of these recommendations might help.

Hope you're having a super week!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Different Kids, Different Approaches

This year has been a bit of an experiment for me. I posted almost a year ago that my about-to-be-seventh grader had asked for textbooks. The actual title of the original post was :::Gasp!::: Textbooks in which I conveyed some of my misgivings in employing what I had come to believe was mediocre means of learning. She originally "discovered" textbooks one afternoon at our public library, where there is a large shelf containing all of the state-adopted texts by grade level. She found all of the grade 7 selections and brought the big stack over to our table. I remember watching her as she grew more and more interested. "Oh, I like this one!" "Wow, this is the history??" "Hey, Mom, can we use this for grammar next year?" I sat there next to my crate o' living books, my library clipboard in hand (and still clutching my somewhat superior attitude, I must admit) and said through a forced smile, "We'll see, honey..."

I remember thinking, "How can this be?" Since kindergarten I had been sifting through the "twaddle," making sure we read excellent books and following the Well-Trained Mind method as closely as I could manage without going insane. To me, the classical method of education represented "excellence" and the textbook model represented "mediocrity" or perhaps, "settling." I looked at that stack of books and thought about it for a few moments, then I began going through them, one by one. Each week when we returned to the library, I looked through them again and again.

I decided that we would go with the state adopted Texas history and grammar books. She insisted that she also wanted a [gulp] literature book, but I didn't want the state textbook for that, as it really didn't line up with our family's philosophical or theological beliefs. We ended up picking up an Abeka literature book as it had varied selections of classics from solid authors. I refuse to "curriculum hop" in math, so we didn't consider the state math book. She had asked for BJU science in sixth grade, which we'd used and enjoyed, so we stuck with BJU for seventh. For French, I found the newly-adopted French 1 text (high school) which we are taking two years to work through. By summer's end she had her textbooks all lined up in her locker, wrapped in cute book covers, ready to go. She was thrilled. (For links to all of her books, you may click "Grade 7" under "Our Curriculum" in the sidebar.)

She has spent seventh grade faithfully plugging through her beloved textbooks while her brother has been more "classically" taught. So, how has the year gone for her? (As Dr. Phil would say, "How'zat workin' out for ya?") Actually, splendidly! She has flourished! She told me the other day that grammar is now her favorite subject. She told me recently that her Texas history book is the only reason she likes history. She has read all of the assigned selections in her literature book and has responded with wonderfully well-written paragraphs. She is "faison le bon progres" in her French text. It's really been one of her best years ever! She has always been a strong student, obediently doing whatever is assigned and participating in any and all activities I have planned, but this year has been unusually... pleasant. And I'm seeing evidence that she's actually retaining what she is learning.

So, what am I to make of this? Is it an either/or proposition? Either classical education OR textbooks? I don't think so. Back to what I said earlier that the classical method represented "excellence" to me. I believe one can pursue a textbook-y education with excellence. I have been pleased that we are concurrently working through logic books, so she is able to reason through and "argue with" some of what she is reading, particularly in history. (There is no reason to argue with adjectival clauses in grammar, really.) She is fully aware that what is in her texts is in no way the exhaustive knowledge of the subject, and that the texts (including the Christian ones) are written according to the bias of the authors/committees who wrote them. Overall, it's been a very positive year for her, and for me as her teacher. We have continued Latin and, as I mentioned, logic. I have also been assigning her novels out of the Sonlight list, so that she reads entire books, not just selections/snippets of books. We have great discussions about what she is learning.

What I have discovered is that the classical education I wanted for my kids was putting an emphasis on what I wanted. How I wanted to teach, what I wanted them to have. I believe it laid a great foundation for her in the grammar stage, and it continues to be the way my son learns best. He loves the piles of books, the Socratic discussions, the never-ending amount of information through which to plow each day. Don't get me wrong- he loves his "assignment sheet" and he loves to be DONE at the end of the day, but the continual stream of books into this house energizes him, whereas it seemed to overwhelm her.

I am continuing to learn. Not just the subject matter (which I now have to study ahead of them!) but how they learn, and how to adapt according to their changing needs. I am learning that it's okay to do things differently for each of them. I am learning that it's okay to do what works. I am still thankful for the classical model, and how it continues to shape our homeschool, even in our "textbook phase!"

"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." ~Socrates

"Never discourage anyone... who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." ~Plato

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~Aristotle

I didn't take a "before" picture...

... but here's the "after." The school closet is finally cleaned out! And, y'all. It took me all. week. My sweet family patiently stepped over boxes and files and books in the hall all week long while I moved things around. Looking at this picture, and looking at it in real life I think, "SO... what's the big deal?" Well, the big deal was why I didn't even take a before picture. Oh, my word. It had gotten completely out of hand.

And in the interest of being honest, I might as well tell you where this closet is. You might be imagining it in a school room or off of a hallway. Maybe in your mind's eye I have a wonderfully spacious home fraught with closet space and this is perhaps one of the closets in a spare room. No. This is the linen closet (I suppose that's what the floor plan meant for it to be) in our small powder bathroom downstairs. The "study" (our school room) is in the next room, and this space made the most sense for me. We keep towels and sheets, well, elsewhere. I actually had a homeschool friend use our powder room once while she was here, and she counted the Delta Science kits (in the top of the closet) while she was in there! LOL That's more interesting for a homeschooler than going through someone's medicine cabinet, I suppose. Now that I know my friends do this (and I don't mind.. I'd probably do the same!) it'll be easier now that it's all organized. (I'm here to serve...) Oh, and since I'm being so honest, need I tell you where I had to, um, perch while taking this picture? I'll let you guess. :)

So, there you have it. Last week's project. And, since order in one place creates disorder in another, I've got boxes of "stuff" out in the garage to file (I've got filing cabinets in the garage) and sell in our homeschool group's used book sale. More projects!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Guilt-Free Zone

I did something for myself yesterday that was a first. I don't know why it was a first, really, but it was.

I was cleaning out our school closet, which was a HUGE mess. (No, that's the "first" I was talking about, but it looked like perhaps it was!) I knew even before I got started what I would find. I knew I would find what I always find: good intentions. Yes, my school shelves and filing cabinets are filled with them. I have such good intentions when I make plans, coordinate units, buy materials, print out ideas, make files. So, yesterday (and it has spilled into today as well!) the hall outside my school closet was lined with boxes of materials, binders of resources, plastic bins of supplies... all abounding with potential. But amid all of the "stuff" of which a homeschool is made, I found what I knew I would find: the unfinished. The never-done. The not-gonna-happen. Half-finished workbooks, abandoned science projects, books we never got to but now they are too old for.

But I was so glad I had done what I did ahead of time. I had strung up imaginary crime scene tape, cordoning off the area in my mind's eye: "The Guilt-Free Zone."

Conviction, yes. Guilt, no. As always, am I convicted that I need to be a better steward of the resources with which we've been blessed? Absolutely! Going through all of our materials is energizing me toward using more of what we have and giving me some ideas of how to do that. Guilt does just the opposite as conviction. Guilt weighs me down. Guilt says, "Who are you kidding? You can't do this!" "You know, I bet so-and-so did this project with her kids." "You're not doing as good a job homeschooling your kids as you should." Each one of those guilt-messages pushes me further and further down. In the past I have nodded my head in agreement. In the past I have absorbed the messages and believed them. But you know what? No amount of guilt has ever put the money back into our bank account. Guilt hasn't fueled well-taught lessons or energized me, the teacher. In facts, I daresay that the paralyzing drain of guilt is actually what has led to some of the unfinished work. Sometimes I don't even feel motivated to try. And that's how you know it's from the enemy. God convicts and pulls you up. The enemy heaps guilt and pulls you down.

I know it was a simple mindset that changed it all for me yesterday. Sort of a spiritual Teflon coating which made the guilt slide right off and not stick. It was the first time I had really tried it, and it was so freeing. My kids don't need a weighed down, self-condemning teacher who focuses on her own inadequacy. They need a confident, self-assured teacher who walks in victory. For me, the Teflon was focusing on what we have accomplished. Thinking of the areas in which my children are flourishing and ways that I am being consistent. Instead of focusing on the defeat of the past couple of years, I shifted my gaze to the victories (even the little ones) of the past few months. God was so faithful to bring them into my mind, and I was just as careful to give Him the glory.

So, this spring as you're tempted to take on the guilt of what you didn't get done with your kids this year, I encourage you to establish a "Guilt-Free Zone." Don't give guilt a foothold in your homeschool!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Fine Art Friday

To me, nothing is as effective for art appreciation as visiting an art museum or lingering in a beautiful art book while listening to classical music, discussing beautiful works of art. But there are some seasons when that just doesn't happen around here! Here's where my kids will be exploring art today:

Harcourt Art Express

You might want to check it out for your kids, too.

Appreciate something beautiful today!


That's fast! Around here it's the square root of 400. :)

Have a fun Friday!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why We Study Latin

If you have reached this post via an internet search, looking for a scholarly article on the virtues and advantages of incorporating Latin into your homeschool, there are WAY better sites for you to read. (Such as here and here.) I have read and heartily agree with them! I don't completely follow what they suggest, but they are compelling nonetheless.

What I'm writing about today is not why you should study Latin, buy why we do.

I suppose I might as well start at the beginning... My first year of homeschooling, I happened upon a newly-published book called The Well-Trained Mind. I read this wonderful resource through the eyes of an enthusiastic, new homeschooler-- the years stretched before me as a blank canvas ready to be painted. From the first chapter I was drawn in. I was captivated. I was completely excited about this form of education referred to as "classical" and all that it entailed. What depth! What quality! I was pumped.

Beginning with my daughter's first grade year I did it just as the book outlined- every binder, every section of every binder, every book suggestion. It really worked well for us, I must say. It was really an approach to education that I agreed with (and still do!) and really "clicked" for us. Dutifully following the recommendations of the first edition of The Well-Trained Mind, we began Latin in grade 3. I didn't go along with her suggested curriculum, though, I chose to use Barbara Bell's Minimus series. I loved Minimus, the cartoon stories (which really drew in my son, only in first grade at the time) and the classical pronunciation. We s-l-o-w-l-y worked our way through Minimus. We switched two years ago to the Latina Christiana series. I purchased the dvd course, as I have no background in Latin and it helps for Leigh Lowe to direct the recitations and teach the lessons. We have worked through LC just as slowly. Partly because I really want them to "get" it, not just skim through it. Partly because it's not the main focus of our curriculum and we don't do it every day.

One of the things I loved about Ms. Lowe's Latina Christiana course was something she said at the very beginning. "There is no reason to rush through Latin." There! That's great! That, I can do. Work slowly! We have taken two years (yes, two. years.) to go through Latina Christiana I. I own LC II. It's in my filing cabinet ready to go, but we are not there yet. And I am not rushing it.
So... the original point of my post today. Why do we study Latin? My reasons for continuing it are different from my reasons for starting it. I started it because, well, the book said to. It's what you do in "classical education." But, as the past seven years have gone by, I have drifted further and further from TWTM's suggestions and incorporated what works for our specific (nutty, sometimes jet-lagged, not-always-consistent, striving-for-structure) family learning style. Lots of recommended books have gone by the wayside, but Latin remains. Why?

It's not because my kids enjoy it, because they don't. In fact, I've asked them before if they could choose one subject to drop and never see again what would it be? They both responded with a resounding, "LATIN!" Why would I continue to inflict it on teach it to them?

  • It's something we are truly learning together. In a way, it's fun to be on "equal footing" in a subject. They each have their strengths and their "grade-specific" materials in which one of them might excel where the other one struggles, but Latin is equally challenging for all of us.

  • They are truly seeing the connection between Latin and English. When we first started out, I had a marble jar and each time they saw a Latin derivative while we were out and about, or found one in their reading, they would name it and the Latin word and we'd put a marble in the jar. We treated ourselves to ice cream out or other rewards for recognizing Latin all around us.

  • As we've continued in our other language studies (Spanish early on and now French) they are understanding new vocabulary as a result of the Latin meaning as well.

  • The aforementioned other languages are comparatively easier for them as a result of studying Latin. After wrestling with Latin declensions, French isn't quite so hard!

  • It has made me feel like we are truly doing something of a higher caliber. I'm not sure if that is superficial or not, but there. I've said it. As their teacher I like hearing my kids recite Latin.

  • It's reinforced the fact that things don't have to be fun to be beneficial.

  • I believe it is pursuing excellence.

Again, this is far from an exhaustive list of reasons why anyone should study Latin with their children, and now that I read back over what I've written I'm not sure it really reflects all of my own reasons. We've been on a break from Latin since Christmas, actually, as some of our other subjects needed more focus, but we're getting back to it next week. For those of you who are going great guns through difficult Latin curriculum with your logic stage kids, my hat's off to you! I think it truly trains the mind. For those of you thinking, "Latin? Are you kidding me? I'm just trying to get through the day and hopefully teach my kids a language someone actually speaks!" maybe my family could inspire you in this area. We may not be Latin sholars here, but the study of Latin has enriched our curriculum. My kids don't love it, and aren't necessarily retaining every vocabulary word or declension, but I'm seeing tangible benefits for all of us.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Building a Biome

Spring was in the air this week! Earlier in the week, as part of our fifth grade science, my son built a biome. It's hard to see in the picture, but he chose to build a wetland biome, complete with a beaver dam. I need to take a better picture of the completed one, which is now living on his desk in the school room!

Providentially (as I believe God always weaves together our studies) he was assigned to do a research report for his writing this week, so he is researching two wetland animals for his report.

We also enjoyed a wonderful field trip to the zoo with our homeschool group this week, as I posted below. It was "homeschool day" at one of our major area zoos, which meant that they had special presentations spread throughout the zoo at various stations, with hands-on activities and demonstrations. It was a perfect compliment to both our study of biomes, as well as our 7th grade life science, which finally got to the animal section a couple of weeks ago. (We have had quite enough of plants and protozoa, thank-you-very-much. My apologies to all of you life-science-lovers out there. This has been a stretch for me!)

I hope your "February funk" has been blown hither by the March winds, as mine has. It's time to "spring" into action and finish what we can before we splash into summer! I pray you had a wonderful week of school and will enjoy a refreshing weekend with those you love.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Day at the Zoo

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle."
Psalm 103: 2-5

"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world." 1 Peter 5:8-9

"Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

Birds of a feather....

flock together!



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