Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's the mo-o-o-ost wond-er-ful t-i-i-i-me of the y-e-e-e-a-r!

When doorbells are ringing and UPS men are bringing new books for our school ye-e-e-a-r!

These are what came yesterday. Over the next few days, more goodies will be arriving. I'm so happy to see that big brown truck stop in front of my house every few days!

Here's some of what I've ordered, and what I'm currently "piecing together" for our upcoming schoolyear. (I've put a complete list of links by grade in my sidebar.)

Besides some of the novel studies he'll be doing this year, I've decided to incorporate some more "fun" things for literature for my sixth grade son this year. When I was in China in the spring, he stayed with a friend and made a wonderful Lewis and Clark lapbook. I could tell by the way he showed it to me (and in fact, he wanted to get it out yesterday and look through it again) that he really enjoyed making it and learned a lot from doing it. We've done similar projects before, but when he was really young, like first grade. And he doesn't even remember doing it! So, why not do more things like that now, when he's got even greater dexterity and art skills,can do more of it on his own, and will remember more? Veritas Press recommends History Pockets: Moving West book for a history supplement. Since it seems sort of "lapbooky" I decided to pick it up. While I was shopping on Amazon for that, I looked through a few of the Literature Pockets, which I thought looked like fun. I picked up the Non-fiction one, as well as Fiction, Tall Tales, and I already had Caldecott Winners in my filing cabinet. So, for literature this year, in addition to the novel studies he's going to do, I'll incorporate some of the Literature Pockets. The Veritas novel studies he's doing include: Fahrenheit 451, Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. We will also be reading aloud as many of the other Veritas Press grade 6 literature and history selections as we can. They are all so good! My daughter will be reading the secondary books for Omnibus I (semester 1 and semester 2). If we begin to get bogged down, I'm planning to bring in some of these Sonlight titles, too. So many books, so little time!!

For history, we're coming to America this year! We are continuing with the Story of the World series because my son really loves not only the way it's written, but the mapwork and activities as well. (I found a chart which combines SOTW 4 with the History of US books here. With my added focus on American History, I decided to order the Drive-Through History: America DVD's which I thought looked like fun, and I like that they focus on character. I decided, since he loved the lapbook so much, that I'd do some of those this year with both of them. I figured if my son liked it, then my scrapbook-happy daughter might get a lot out that type of project, too! I ordered the Colonial Life project pack from Homeschool in the Woods to get us started. As soon as the Revolutionary War Pack is available, I plan to order that as well. I also want to do lapbooks for the Civil War and World Wars I & II, too, but I'm deciding if I want to order those or make them up myself... Bethany (my textbook lover) has chosen Holt's Call to Freedom as her main history text, which I will be supplementing with Hakim's books and Veritas if I feel it's called for, and of course the lapbook/unit studies will help to get the textbooky taste out of my mouth!

I know. It's a lot. That's how it is for me every year. "Oh THAT looks like fun, and wouldn't we enjoy that? And, we've always done this, so I want to continue with it..." It's fun to get it all out and see how it all fits together! So far I've done our school calendar, deciding when our days/weeks off will be (that I know of!) and dividing the main books/spines out evenly over the 36 weeks. Now I'm looking specifically at when we'll try to do certain units and I'll begin writing lesson plans after that. But more on that later. Today was my link-fest. :)

Enjoy the season!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oh, yeah...

It worked!

What a fun, sticky, mess!

The kids all wore swim suits, while my white-shorts-wearin' self stood a safe distance away and used my zoom to snap pictures:

Afterward, everyone ran through the sprinklers and rinsed off. It was great afternoon of silliness stickiness summer fun science!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cool, carbonated...

explosive! Diet Coke and Mentos!

We're on our way to a friend's house to do this:

(If you can't see the video click here.) Doesn't that look like way too much fun??

I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Recently we were visiting the Alamo in San Antonio when I had one of those moments. If you are a homeschooler (particularly if you are the one who does most of the teaching) you'll be able to relate to the type of moment I'm talking about. It's the moment when you're somewhere hearing information pertaining to one of your child's subjects and you think to yourself, "Oops! I didn't teach them that!" I have those moments all the time. Sometimes it's at church when the Bible Study teacher asks all of the kids a question and my kids don't raise their hands. Other times it's been in a co-op situation, when there's some background information with which the other kids are familiar and my child isn't. It's even happened a few times while watching "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" as a family! "Oh, no! I haven't taught them that! What kind of homeschooler am I??" Two weekends ago, we were standing in the Alamo looking at the exhibits, flags, and timelines and I had that "I-didn't-do-a-good-job-of-teaching-Texas-History-this-year" feeling. I even said as much to my daughter. "Oh, yes you did!" was her reply (partly to reassure me and partly because she was probably afraid I'd want a "do-over" this year!)

At one time or another we've either had that feeling, or we've worried about "gaps" in their learning. We look for curriculum which doesn't leave any gaps. We don't switch curriculum publishers for certain subjects because we don't want gaps. We teach material we've never heard of in our lives because of the gaps in our own educations, and we certainly don't want those gaps for our kids, no sir! A gap-free education. That's what we want for our kids, right?

Well, there's no such thing! First of all, there isn't a Complete Body Of Knowledge with which every child needs to leave home at age 18. It would be great if it were that easy, but it would take more time than we have available to teach! It makes me think of the Yeats quote, "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire." There is no bucket full o' facts with which we can fill their minds. No curriculum is "gap free." There are high points in history, key concepts in math and reading, certain scientific techniques and facts, and grammatical correctness. But, every curriculum has its slant, every book reflects that author's particular leaning. Everyone has to leave out something. The key is, rather than worrying about our kids having gaps,we must work to help them become lifelong learners who can fill in their own gaps. Everytime I watch the History channel, read a good book, or prepare their lessons, I'm filling in my own gaps. Hopefully I'll be filling in gaps the rest of my life, and I'll still never know it all!

I am reminded of one of my favorite acronyms for GAP- God Answers Prayer. Isn't this so applicable to teaching our children? I can pray that I've taught them well. I can pray for forgiveness for times I've blown it. I can pray that just as He did for Daniel and his three friends, He would give my children "learning and skill in all literature and wisdom" (Daniel 1:17). I can pray that God will bring to their minds what He needs them to know when He needs them to know it. I can pray that in my planning for our upcoming year I will choose curriculum which reflects excellence and glorifies God most of all. Everytime I'm tempted to "remember the Alamo" and feel inadequate and defeated, I can pray.

Pray, teach them diligently, and leave the gaps to Him. We can do that because God answers prayer!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Confessions of a Yahoo Group Junkie

Hi, my name's Cyndi and I'm addicted to Yahoo Groups.

There, I've said it. BUT- I'm not admitting it's a problem so I guess I'm not at step one. In fact, I'm here to encourage you to do it too! I just joined another one today. (And no, it's not a Texas thing... that would be a "Yeehaw" group. Ha ha.)

Ya'll. There are Yahoo Groups for everything. And everyday my email box has wonderful email (in digest form) of some of the most wonderful knowlege on the world-wide-interweb from some of the smartest and most resourceful people on earth- homeschoolers. (But you don't have to have it emailed to you... you can choose the " no email" option and just go there and read the posts.) Every time I buy new curriculum, I search to see if there's a Yahoo group for it... and guess what? There usually is. Some sweet soul out there has committed to be a moderator and set it up, and we all discuss it! So far I've joined: my local homeschool group, Story of the World vol. 4, Math-U-See, Teaching Textbooks, Latina Christiana, Homeschool Form Share, Well-Trained Mind Discussion, IEW Families, Organize-to-Homeschool, Latin Classical Ed., The Well-Educated Mind, Omnibus I, and as of today, Lapbooking.

So... have you discovered Yahoo groups yet? Are there any that I need to know about? :::rubbing my hands together:::::

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Are you a highly-organized planner? A loosely-organized one? Or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants planner? I've been all of the above, and everything in between! My homeschooling friends run the planning-gamut as well, and I've seen it work- however it's done. Some years being highly-planned works for me. Other years it drives me nuts. It depends on the season, the ages of my children, our family mission and ministry opportunities, and quite frankly, my energy level!

Now that it's July, my mind has turned to planning. I usually spend April and May wrapping things up for the current school year and solidifying and purchasing some of my curriculum choices for the next year. If we're not on a mission trip, I spend June facedown in a deckchair by the pool taking some time to record what we did, weeding through their work and deciding what to keep, and researching/ buying for the next year. I've learned in recent years to focus as much as I can on the "year at hand," since I tend to prefer living in the future (planning, buying, and strategizing) to the exclusion of actually doing what I had planned, bought, and strategized for current day. So, I reserve time in July and August for heavy-duty long range planning and buying, and during the school year I try to focus on the current week and only about two weeks ahead. As I begin my month of planning, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and experience in this area.

Buying a Planbook vs. Making Your Own: For years I used a premade planbook. Actually, I was so "stuck" on the way I had planned when I had taught public school that I wanted my plan book to be exactly the same. Exactly. So, my mom,who still taught for the district, would snag me a district-issued plan book each year. (Shhhhh. Don't tell. Actually she would give me the one they gave her, as she was a renegade who did her own planning forms.) So, there I was with my one little Pre-K/Kindergarten homeschooled child, clutching my forest green " ______ Independent School District" planner like a security blanket. But, hey, it worked! And eventually I moved on. I bought this one, mainly because I thought it was cute. I taped the word "Mom's" over the word "Preschool" at the top because apparently I had time on my hands and had learned how to do cute fonts on my computer. One that I used once both my kids were school-aged was this one. With its 11x9 size (which meant oodles of slots) I could use one side to plan our combined subjects for each week, and the other side for their individual subjects. (With only two kids, this works.) Eventually, I was comfortable enough with planning to do my own sheets and made my own plan book (pictured here) with a section for each child, and a section for our combined subjects. Two years ago I began doing all of my planning on my computer, which has been revolutionary for me. Now I use the binder I created, but I simply print out the "final version" of the current week and put it in the proper section of my binder.

Forms and Charts: One resource I have enjoyed over the years for any type of planning I'm into is Donna Young's site. She has many, many downloadable forms that you can customize to fit your family. I enjoy clicking around over there and downloading charts, then seeing if I can tweak them to fit my family's needs. In the past I've downloaded some, printed them out, and started a binder just to see if it would work for me or if I would be working for it. Summer is a great time to check out some different planning strategies. Since then I have adapted her forms and use my own in Excel. My plans for the year are 40 weekly "sheets" within one Excel "book," so I just fill in the dates each summer for the upcoming year and plan for each child week-by-week that way. Each week I cut and paste whatever didn't get done and move it to the next week. I wrote more about that strategy here.

Logging Rather Than Planning: When my kids were very young (Pre-K through and K) and when I was incorporating the File Box System (below) I would use a planbook more as a log rather than a planner. I kept it open for the current week with the subject area headings filled in, and simply jotted down activities we had done that fit certain categories. A cooking activity might count for math if they helped me count or measure, books we read were logged under "Reading", and I recorded workbook pages we completed. Every couple of weeks I would note which squares in my logbook seemed to be empty and then make an effort in the weeks ahead to do more things in whatever area needed a boost. (The early years, though, are mainly times to have lots of experiences, not just book work, so I would give more weight to an outdoor outing or field trip, or watching the construction workers build something down the street than sitting at the table working on a "community helpers" worksheet!) The two main areas, in my opinion, are reading and math at that age. In fact, there were weeks I pared it down to "Reading," "Math," and "Life" and my kids fared just fine!

List-making: I came across this great post over at Faithlifts, in which Carrie describes her system of list-making, which I think is very helpful. There are weeks, even in my planned-out and scheduled years, where I simply go through my plans and make lists of what needs to be accomplished. I've done this when we travel and it throws our school schedule off, or when I need to be more flexible due to unexpected situations. The kids like it, and our work still gets done. I love the way Carrie outlines how she does her lists. Very informative!

The File Box System: I came across this system, posted here on the Well-Trained Mind website back in 2001 and LOVED it. I adapted it to fit our needs and used this for a couple of years. I found that it was similar to making lists, in that it allowed us to move at a more doable pace, eliminated the circles and arrows in my plan book, and gave us flexibility when the flu hit. I found it especially helpful to figure out how to print notecards on my printer, so I created a notecard-sized template in Word, which I would use every few weeks and quickly plug in page numbers/assignments by subject. I would print the cards for their individual subjects and keep them on our school table, one box per child, divided by subject. They knew each day they were to pull a Reading card, a Math card, a Spelling card, etc. I had a separate box for our "together subjects"- Bible,Science, History, Latin, Spanish, and Art. They loved this system. In fact, one year at Wal Mart I found a roll of achievement stickers that had a little bell on top, and when they finished a card, they would put a sticker on it and ring the bell. Corny, but fun! And, it motivated them!

Color Coding: Early on, I gave each of my kids a color. I may have let them pick, I'm not sure. My daughter is blue, my son is green. They've been those colors for years, they are permanent from year-to-year. I've found various ways over the years to color code them. For instance: When I printed the notecards, I printed them according to their color so I'd know at a glance whose they were. Their lesson plan pages are the same way (or at least the headings are). Before I did them on the computer, I would write their subject headings in colored pencil in my plan book. The tabs in my plan book are color-coded by child as well. As much as possible, I use their colors so I can quickly file things where they go. I utilize accordion-file folders for loose papers, and purchase those according to their colors, so I can tell when I'm digging through old files whose they are. When I make name stickers for their workbooks or folders, I print them in their colors as well. Anything that helps me sort through a pile! In fact, right now I have next year's curriculum divided into two color-coded crates so I can see who still needs what (and I even found a basket last year at Walmart that had both colors combined, for the books they're doing together. How did Walmart know I needed that color combo? :) Here are some pictures of our school room and the back-to-school baskets, which show how I've used their colors. If I had more than two children, I would certainly color code. If I had more than three or four, I might even assign numbers! ( Just kidding.) Since I'm so visual, I have found it particularly helpful.

Well, these are some of my thoughts on planning. Since I do things a little differently each year, it'll be interesting to see what this year brings. And I'd love to know what works for you. Happy planning!


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