Thursday, August 30, 2007

Math Is Not Neutral

As a Christian homeschooler, I've found that there is so much to consider when planning my kids' education. It didn't take long once I started browsing curriculum fairs, attending conferences, talking with other homeschoolers or reading blogs before I found myself caught up in the young earth/old earth and creationist/evolutionist debates, wondering which account of American History is accurate, and how much should I really focus on America that much at all in the whole scheme of world history, anyway? And for goodness sakes, is it okay to read Greek myths with my children??? Whew! By the time I wrestled with all of that, frankly I didn't have time to consider math. It just... is, right? How can you argue with it? How can it be secular vs. Christian? Is just is what it is. Numbers.

Or is it more?

Last week I came across an interesting e-book called "Beyond Numbers," written by Katherine Loop. I really enjoyed it. I hadn't realized it, but I needed to look at math in a new way! Did you know that the very existence of math is a testimony of God's faithfulness, and is a testimony to His character? Math is not neutral! Nor is math curriculum which simply has Bible verses on the bottom of the page a "Christian Math Curriculum." You can download the e-book or order the book here.

She and her family also have a blog that I just found and it looks great!

I just wanted to pass this along to you today and encourage you to start your new school year with a fresh perspective on math. It's all for His glory!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where Does It All Go??

Papers, projects, old curriculum, new curriculum, books-to-be-read, books-that-have-been read.

Reference materials, manipulatives, curriculum we're never going to use but is just waiting for me to admit it...

Whew! That's a lot of stuff! "Stuff management" is definitely something to consider as a homeschooler, no matter how simple you keep your school and how organized your home. Kids and "stuff" seem to go together!

Here are some solutions I've found. They may not work for everyone, but they, well, "work for me!"

Filing Cabinets

Early on in our homeschooling career, my husband came home from work one day and mentioned that his office was getting rid of some old filing cabinets, and asked me if I thought we could use one. From underneath a pile of books, behind a tower of papers and folders I managed to squeak out, "Yes!"

He brought home two, and it changed my life! We put them in the garage since they were, well, old and metal, and there it started. I arranged one cabinet into drawers according to time period (the same time periods in The Well-Trained Mind):

Ancients (5000B.C.-A.D. 400)
Medieval - Early Renaissance (400-1600)
Late Renaissance - Early Modern (1600-1850)
Modern (1850-Present)

Since TWTM organizes science to correspond with history periods, I store science materials in the corresponding drawers as well:

Ancients-- Life Science (people and animals), Biology
Medieval/ Early Ren.-- Earth Science and Astronomy
Late Ren./Early Modern-- chemistry
Modern-- physical science/ physics

I was amazed at how just that step really helped get my books, materials, files and ideas where I could find them when I needed them each year! It took a bit of thinking as I sorted them ("When were the Vikings? The colonists? Texas History?) but once I got it all categorized according to those time periods it became very, very handy!

Since that was a 5 drawer filing cabinet, I used the bottom four drawers for my time periods and the top drawer for my monthly files. I made a file folder for each month of the year and put holiday activities, art books, etc. according to the season or month. At the back of that drawer I keep my plan books for each year.

The other cabinet I arranged according to subject areas:

English/Language Arts (all grammar and reading materials/workbooks)
Foreign Language
Art/Music/ Bible
Completed Work

I've been able to use those file drawers to store not only curriculum and files, but also books and manipulatives as well. I can't believe how much will fit in those drawers! A couple of years ago, my husband was able to snag another old file cabinet, expanding my storage even further! This one was a four drawer one, so I moved my time period files to that one. Now Bible has a drawer of it's own and I have three more drawers of our completed binders and work. I'll be culling through those over the next year, deciding what to keep.

Art Portfolios

When we began our current art curriculum a few years ago, we began having really nice paintings and sketches that I wanted to be sure to preserve. So I went to our local craft store and purchased two 21"x 26" portfolios. I store these behind the shelf (pictured) between the shelf and the wall. It's a great, out of the way space to keep their (flat) art, and easy to get to when we need to store something new. If you don't want the expense of these types of portfolios or don't have access to them, you could use two poster boards stapled together. I used to store bulletin board materials that way when I taught school.

Rubbermaid (Plastic) Drawers

I did a WFMW post almost a year ago on my love of Rubbermaid drawers. All sizes. (And not necessarily "Rubbermaid" but whatever happens to be a Walmart and the dollar store!) In my post last year I mentioned the various ways I use them around the house, but for school I use them by the kid's school desks. We covered them in chalkboard Contact paper so we can label what's inside. The kids have fun decorating the front and updating them.

I also have found them indispensable in the school closet (which by the way, is the linen closet in the half bath by our schoolroom).

In the bottom of this closet, I have a large one to store clay projects, larger papers, and miscellaneous work. It usually takes a couple of years to fill one up, at which point I put it in the attic. Like the file drawers of their work, I will be going through these in the next year to see what we will want to keep. I'll be armed with my digital camera so I can take photos of what we're getting rid of. But... that's another post for another day!

I also use them to store their assigned reading books for the year, to make sure they don't get mixed in with the other books on our shelves and so I can readily check and see if we have the ones we need.

Book Shelves

My camera battery ran out before I could snap a picture this morning, and that's too bad because I wanted to show you my bookshelves! Most of the homeschoolers I know have as many bookshelves as they can, and we are no different. But, I wanted to show you that they don't have to cost a lot of money! My dad rescued a couple of sets of shelves from someone's trash awhile back and was kind enough to give them to us. The kids painted them black, and with a clear coat on top they look gorgeous and totally match our "Africa room." We have those two sets of shelves, along with a large (relatively) inexpensive bookcase from Sam's Club. This summer I worked to categorize and alphabetize our books. I thought that sounded kind of nutty when I started, but after the shelves were painted it just felt wrong to just pile books on them without any sort of order. I can't tell you how helpful it's been for me to run upstairs and look to see if we have a certain book and not have to dig and dig. For instance, last week I was seeing if we have Red Badge of Courage, and I simply had to go look for "Crane." Oh, my word! Hard back picture books are all together, paper back picture books are another category (there were too many to alphabetize these, though.) History, Science, Biography, and missionary books are in categories. Everyone else but me may already have their books this way but this is new to us and it is really helping me know (and USE) what we already have and know what I need to buy or check out from the library. Love it, love it.

Well, I certainly haven't cornered the market on organization, and it's certainly a work in progress day by day, but these are a few things that work for me!

To read more of what works for other moms, be sure to stop by Rocks In My Dryer.

Have a wonderful Wednesday and a super school year!

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Annual Pep Talk

This week I had my pep rally. It was time for my yearly back-to-school pep talk, so I turned to my well-worn, highlighted, written-in, coffee-stained copy of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Sally Clarkson (did you know she has an awesome blog?!) I flipped the book open to page one, and reread words that have ministered to and motivated me for the past 9 years. I thought I'd share them with you today:

"Home schooling is the right thing to do. No matter what mulititude of reasons may have initially influenced your decision to bring your children home, in the end the only reason that really matters is that it is the right thing to do. In your heart, God moved you toward the decision, confirming through a variety of sources that you were doing the right thing. And in your heart, you made the step of faith to do what you knew was right- to bring your children home to disciple and educate them as a family.

That decision, though, was not an uninformed or blind leap of faith. It was guided by conviction, born out of much consideration and research, and shaped in your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit. You have good reasons why home schooling is the right thing to do. You home school because it is right to guard your children against the aggressive secular, humanisitic worldview of the public school. You home school because it is right to shield your children from the immorality that permeates the public school, both the student body and the faculty. You home school because it is right to protect your children from the violence and wickedness that inflicts so many public schools. You home school because it is right to want your children to receive a better education under your loving guidance than the average public school is providing. You home school because it is right for parents to control what their children are studying and are being exposed to without being labeled intolerant and narrow-minded. You home school because it is right to decide that learning at home is better stewardship than spending thousands of dollars for a private school. You home school because it is right to follow God's design for family not just in living, but in learning as well. You home school because it is right to guide your children's Christian character development at home rather than allow them to be "socialized" by secular, untrained, unsupervised schoolmates. You home school because it is right to keep your children under your authority until they are grown, rather than place them under other unknown authorities at a school. You home school because it is right to love your children and want to be with them every day of their lives until they are grown- that is what God intended."

Whether you are embarking on your first year of homeschooling or your ninth year... doesn't it feel great to have someone cheer you on? To tell you that what you are doing, how you are feeling, and the choice you have made for your family is right? This was so affirming to me when we first started, when I was doubting my abilities, thinking I might be crazy or perhaps overprotective for not simply enrolling my daughter in the nice school down the street. All these years later, it still feels good to be told, "it is right."

I feel like I must say at this point that if you are reading this and are not a homeschooler, the flipside of this is not "you are wrong." That's not my intent at all, nor the intent of the author I am sure. But those who are going the more traditional route already have society as a whole directly and indirectly affirming that decision (as well as directly and indirectly questioning the validity of homeschooling). What is right for one family may not be right for another. For us, homeschooling is right.

And I'm pepped up for another year.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Home School Musical

So, last night the kids and I joined some friends for a "High School Musical 2" party, of sorts. The girls dressed in their red and white and we all be-bopped along with Troy, Gabriella and Sharpay as they danced their way into summer and we boogie our way into another school year.

Which gave me an idea....

Come join me at "The Well Drained Mind" where I share my idea for a blockbuster new musical, "Home School Musical."

I just know it would be a hit!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Wise Woman Once Said...

"To those who wonder if they could possibly teach their children at home, I want to say, 'The Lord God will help me; therefore I shall not be confounded: therefore I have set my face like a flint and I know that I shall not be ashamed.' (Isaiah 50:7) "
~Elisabeth Elliot in the foreword to The Heart of Homeschooling

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Fun Parts:

Shopping, and planning it all out! Where it gets sticky is actually implementing all of my wonderful plans, but I'm not going to burden myself worrying about that just now... ;)

Yesterday we finished buying all of our school supplies. We started with a trip to our new Supertarget a couple of weeks ago, which I posted about on my other blog. Yesterday we went to Officemax and back to Supertarget to get everything else we "needed."

You'll see below why I put the word "needed" in quotations:

I mean, does anyone really need a ruler that bends up like an accordion? Or big, bubbly calculators? (Which are, by the way, color-coded by child.) Or lots of pens in funky colors? Well... hyeah!

In case you're interested in what's what, my son's stuff is on the right, mine is in the middle, and my daughter's is on the left. (And if you're really interested, you can click on the picture to make it larger!) She got a cute, striped clipboard at Target because she likes to doodle, draw, take notes, etc. while I'm reading and notebooks can be floppy. She also chose a cute planner (which I'm going to insist that both of them write in daily/weekly this year) from Target, while my son found a digital camo/army one with a pocket on the front at Officemax. He also had to have those Crayola Total Tools, which I have to admit are pretty cool!

The kids both alerted me to the fact that they wish I would refrain from grading/marking up their papers with plain, red pen, which apparently hurts their ::cough::: self esteem. I will henceforth be using fun, neon colored pens. (Which, in my defense, I've been using pretty frequently because I've usually got a highlighter within arm's reach even when I can't find a pen to save my life.) But, apparently I've been pretty free with the red ink.

As you can see, I'm a fan of Post-it Notes. I restocked my supply of various sizes, and I'm not sure if you can tell how HUGE those pink ones are, but I'm pumped about those. Sometimes I need to write a note that CANNOT! BE! MISSED! and I think those might fill the bill.
You can also see my son's new Trapper Keeper, which he is excited about not only because it will hold all of his "stuff" but because they are outlawed at the local public school (according to their supply list) so it feels like contraband. That's the way to rebel. With a Trapper Keeper.

Oh, and check out his new backpack! He found it in the Cabela's catalog, which he reads with great anticipation each time a new one arrives. It's a Surplus German Military Rucksack. It fits his contraband Trapper Keeper just fine. ("Mom! It'll hold more than 25 kilos!") That's a lot of sixth grade work!

As for the planning, I'm doing as I described last year and putting the puzzle together at the moment. I've got my spreadsheets for the year made and am plugging our subjects/curricula in to see how to best spread it out. We may not stick to it as specifically as I'm listing it, but it does help to know what months we'll be in which time period, or when we'll be hitting certain projects for geography, etc. I like to see it all laid out together so I can move things around if I see that certain subjects will be heavier than others at certain times.

One resource I'm having fun planning is the Colonial Life unit from Homeschool In The Woods. It's a cd rom that is just packed with resources. I ordered it a few weeks ago and had no idea how pleased I would be with it. I would encourage you to check it out if you're in Colonial period this year in history.

Another resource I just received is The Cambridge Music Guide. I don't use a music "curriculum" but we have been going through the Usborne Internet-Linked Music book together slowly over the past couple of years (when I think about it, frankly!). I wanted to more coherently focus on American composers and modern era music this year, and I find that this book has such comprehensive biographies and wonderful listening notes, I wish I would have been using it all along! I probably won't read it aloud to them straight from the text, but will use it as a guide for myself and pull selections from it, using the listening notes for pieces I get from iTunes (another invaluable resource!)

One thing that is HUGE that I gave myself, which incidentally is not available at Target, Officemax, or on any online catalog... is T-I-M-E. I found myself getting bogged down with planning school as well as orchestrating the beginning of our Awana club year (which my husband and I coordinate together). One day I was feeling particularly burdened trying to get it all done and I felt a gentle nudge in my spirit asking me, "Why?" So I asked myself, "Why am I trying to start school on the 13th? Or even the 20th or the 27th? Just because those days work best for other homeschoolers or school districts? They aren't me!" So, I sat down with our calendar and adjusted our start date to the day after Labor Day (which just happens to be the day after I turn the big 4-0) and it's all falling together. We can still be done by the end of May/ first of June. Life is good. I have more time. And the kids have 2+ more weeks to squeeze all the fun they can out of summer.

I hope your school planning and starting is exciting as well!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Yes. Through high school.

One of the most common questions I'm asked about homeschooling, second only to the "socialization" question (which, ironically, is usually asked at an event where my kids are, well, socializing) is "Are you planning to homeschool all the way through high school?" To which I used to reply: "I don't know. We're taking it year by year."

But that's not my answer anymore.

When I used to have my "year-by-year" state of mind, I questioned homeschooling every summer, like clockwork. In February I would have my regularly scheduled breakdown, stuff my feelings, plow through spring, and then in the summer I would revisit my February freakout and wonder if I should homeschool the next year. In the back of my mind, I knew I would, or at least knew I wanted to. At least I wanted to want to. I would allow myself to imagine what a better experience they would have at school. I would imagine the perfect teacher, always well-dressed and friendly, daily challenging them with imaginative and thought-provoking lessons. Then I would imagine myself in my cute tennis outfit, cheerfully picking them up from school. (No, I don't play tennis. But I might, right?)

One summer, I settled it. With myself, and with God. I prayed, "God if you mean for me to quit homeschooling, I will expect You to reveal it to me through your Word and through my husband. Not my feelings of inadequacy, not my kids' attitudes, not the world's standards of what's "normal," and not my desire to do something easier. I commit to homeschooling all the way through high school, and fully rely on You to enable me to do so. I believe that You called me to this, and that you will equip me for it. Thank You that I have reached the end of myself so quickly so that I will more readily rely on Your strength and wisdom." I told my husband, "I'm in." (Bless his heart! I don't think he ever knew I was "out!") I said, "If we are ever to stop homeschooling, I will expect you to be the one to tell me, knowing full well that you are the one most accountable to God for how we raise these children." (He's been 100% in favor of homeschooling since the beginning, and has never entertained one thought of doing otherwise.)

I wish I could say that since I "settled it" I've never had one bad day of homeschooling or one moment of feeling overwhelmed. But I can't. What I can say is that since I "settled it" and committed to homeschool through high school, I haven't had my semiannual moments of thinking homeschooling isn't for us. I may wonder what I can change, or how to do things better, but I don't entertain ideas of quitting homeschooling altogether. Because I firmly believe this is what we are supposed to do, for many, many reasons (which are a whole 'nother post!) God has graciously given me JOY in homeschooling, even on the toughest days. Not the "holy jollies" but the deep abiding joy and peace that comes from doing what He's asked me to do. I love it.

Yesterday at the library, while the kids were perusing books, I sat with my laptop and typed up our high school checklist. I adapted it from our state's graduation requirements. (For my daughter's upcoming 8th grade year, we are doing a few credits that will count for her high school transcript and I want to be sure I begin my documentation now.) I found that as I typed words like "chemistry" and "physics," I was amazingly calm! I didn't flinch! I even felt a sense of excitement. And I KNOW it's not coming from my own self-assuredness in those subjects. I know it will be challenging, but not for God. He can do anything. And through Him, I can, too. "By my God, I can leap over a wall" (Psalm 18:29) even if that "wall" is helping my kids through a difficult school subject, or all of high school! He can give my children (and me) "learning and skill in all literature and wisdom." (Daniel 1:17) Including calculus! My confidence is in Him, and that's where it should stay! The glory's all His.

It's with confidence in my calling and in my God- NOT in myself, that I can boldly answer:

"Yes. Through high school."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tax-Free Shopping, TAKS-Free Teaching

***I originally posted this one year ago this weekend. Since it is once again approaching "tax-free weekend" I thought I'd repost it today because it was on my mind again.


"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.


Friday, August 03, 2007


Don't think this hasn't crossed my mind...

Taken from the Official Book of Homeschooling Cartoons


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