Our Classical Homeschool 2016-2017 Curriculum Review and Improvements

full curriculum review

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Choosing curriculum is really just making a good guess at what *will* work. We read reviews, we look at samples, but there’s no way to actually know if it is “for us” until we try it. I don’t want to get discouraged when we have to make changes mid-year. When I find that something isn’t for us I either try to sell it, find a creative way to use parts of it that will work for us, or I just chalk it up as a loss (donate it) and move on to something better. This year I’ve done a little bit of all the above.

I shared our curriculum choices for 2016-2017 school year back in September. We used all of the materials listed there; some we loved and some we didn’t really care for. I’m going to give a full review of each of them, and share a few improvements we have made since then.

Curriculum Review

Bible: Polished Cornerstones by Doorposts for our Biblical Womanhood character training, Truth and Grace Memory Book (This is what we use for a Children’s Catechism), daily Bible reading alone and out loud.

Review: I have enjoyed this choice. We just now found our rhythm with Polished Cornerstones, and are working through one to two projects a month. This book is the type of thing that we will still be working through in high school. It has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Biblical womanhood, so much that it can seem a bit overwhelming, but the author suggests not trying to complete everything there, but simply selecting something and doing it well. That’s what we are doing. The Truth and Grace book is still a favorite. We use it daily and my older girls almost have the whole children’s catechism memorized, my younger girls (ages 3 and 2) have a third of it memorized. It’s a wonderful tool for parents to teach Scripture and truth to their children and give them a solid foundation; I highly recommend it. We have continued to read the Bible out loud and I have them read alone. As far as their reading the Scriptures alone, it is very student led, but I help them set goals and ask them what they are reading on their own and what they are learning from the Word. This often prompts amazing discussions. I love just randomly asking my girls at breakfast, “What have you been reading in God’s Word lately? What is He teaching you through it?” And other questions like that. I have added in some Scripture copy work (I have them write whatever we are currently memorizing and paint or draw a picture to go along with it) and Children’s Catechism copy work from Classical Copy work. (aff. link) I’m really liking the Children’s Catechism addition because it is independent and reinforces what we are already learning, not to mention that copywork has many benefits from a Language Arts perspective. It helps them learn proper sentence structure, spelling, and works their handwriting skills. You can take time to ask questions such as: “Can you point to the nouns?”, “Can you point to the pronouns?”, the verbs, adverbs, etc…Which really helps solidify all that Grammar memory work we are doing in Classical Conversations. It only take a few minutes to have a quick impromptu LA lesson with copywork.

All About Spelling, Writing with Ease, First Language Lessons curriculum review

Language Arts: Classical Conversations, First Language Lessons, and Writing with Ease

Review: Hold on to your hats ladies, this could get long. I’ll try not to be too wordy, but I have quite a few thoughts because First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease were just not for us, and I want to share why. In general they are a solid LA curriculum. They teach from a classical style (which I liked and enjoyed) and they are very simple to use.

However here were some of my qualms with these picks.

First Language Lessons is a curriculum that builds upon itself and you pretty much have to start at the beginning, but starting at the beginning was below the level of learning and capability of my 7 and 8 year old. We did most of book one and then just gave it up because it was too easy and therefore getting boring and redundant. I think that if we had started in kindergarten or first grade (at the latest) then First Language Lessons would have been a better fit.

Also, Classical Conversations covers what is taught from a classical grammar stand-point in FLL. My girls are already memorizing the parts of speech, the full list of prepositions, definitions of pronouns and adverbs, etc… We have a more Charlotte Mason approach to narrations and poetry, we just enjoy them together and read books that we like or that correlate with our Classical Conversations. So this made the book a bit redundant as well. We were already doing all of those things. Even in book 3 it starts sentence diagramming; well my oldest will be starting that in our CLE workbooks this year, and digging in more in Classical Conversations Essentials class next year. I just don’t feel like we need to double-dip. I don’t have time for that.

Another issue I had with FLL is that it can only be done with me. It is not something I can assign as independent work, and that simply doesn’t work for me. In “Large Family Logistics” (one of my favorite homemaking books ever), it suggests that large family mamas choose main subjects that can be done as independent work (for the most part). I didn’t really heed that advice until lately, and it makes a huge difference in what we can accomplish in a day! If you are having a hard time “getting it all done”, then I suggest finding curriculum that can be done independently. For kinder through second you will still need to be a good bit hands on in lessons, but by third grade they should be able to do a lot by themselves.

I am keeping my FLL set (I have levels 1-3), and I may use them when my younger crew starts working through kindergarten. If I do end up using them, I will alter the memory work portions to match CC memory work so as to not confuse them, but I will just cross that bridge when I get there. I also may use parts of them to teach certain concepts such as sentence diagramming or the poems or narration practice alone. They are a good tool in general. I always have to remind myself that I’m the one in charge of the curriculum and I don’t have to use it as the author suggests, I can use it in a way that best suits our trajectory and vision. (add that to the long list of reasons why I love homeschooling! )

Writing with Ease: I did not care for this curriculum at all! It is classical and would teach the child well from an academic stand-point, but from a spiritual stand-point I was not okay with what was being presented to my children in the material. Many of the authors and stories selected will only be things I will place before my children in later years, not for the purpose of enjoyment, but instead to search the Scriptures and discern through the writings. Another issue I had even with the selections I would approve of is that they were only bits and pieces of them. I want my children to be exposed to the whole story if I’m going to read them something. The only good thing I can say about the curriculum is that it taught me a good system for reading a passage, having my student narrate by using questions to draw out what is important, and helping them write narrations correctly. I like the concept of scribing for younger students so they can copy it until they learn to write for themselves. This allows even the youngest little readers (or listeners) to write narrations. I am now using this concept to do narrations on our own in the Charlotte Mason style mentioned above. I hope to share my narration system in a future blog post because my children practically beg to do it, and it’s a really wonderful addition to our homeschool. Below is a photo of them working on some narrations from “Black Beauty”, “The Courage of Sarah Noble”, and “The Green Ember”. We loved all of those books by the way if you’re looking for some good reads for your kiddos. The things I love most about our new method are: I get to pick the material, we read the material from beginning to end, we enjoy the benefits of the WWE method, and we add art which always makes school work fun for us!

Narrations and art.

Classical Conversations:  Still love it! It’s such a good system, and I am continuing to press into the grammar memory work for CC because I know it will be of vital importance in essentials class, much of what they memorize in CC will be memorized even more in chart form later. (Mama’s been looking ahead, prepping for next year.) They truly learn so much through this program. I use the science and history memory work to guide our science and history lessons at home. I hope to share my simple system for doing this in a later post.

Improvements/ Changes: I purchased Christian Light Education Language Arts. It is a workbook format that can be done independently (for the most part). It is classical in format because it teaches from phonograms, spelling rules, grammar rules, etc… and then it has the student work through the concepts dealing with those rules. Each lesson has a grammar, spelling, and handwriting section. Some of that is a bit redundant because we do copywork, CC, and All About Spelling, but I find it to be good reinforcement in those areas that overlap because of the independent nature of it and the way it expands on it and brings it down to the age appropriate level. As a whole, I love it!!!! I may even need to do a whole separate blog post on CLE because this curriculum has won my heart. LA was our first switch, and then I started changing our other subjects to it as well. Their format really jives with me and my girls. It’s simple to use, independent, yet rigorous. Every homeschool mom knows that is a winning combination!

We love Christian Light Education!

Reading: Both of my girls are reading well so no formal reading curriculum is needed anymore. Woohoo! We used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons“, and loved it for both! One of my children had to go through it a few times, but it did the job! For reading, we will practice reading aloud, reading alone, and narration from living books, classics, and biographies for children. I also have them participate in reading the Scripture out loud. My 3rd grader will be reading through the New Testament for the second time independently. I may start my 2nd grader reading through the New Testament the second half of the year depending on her progress, we will just play it by ear and see if she is ready then.

Review: I changed my mind on this, for now. I still have them read the above mentioned things, but I decided to add in a formal reading curriculum, and I chose to go with Christian Light Education for this as well. The Reading is a workbook format and comes with a hard back reader..The stories are all Gospel and  Biblical character centered, they include a Scripture that each one is based on, and they are written on the grade level of the child. The stories are not twaddle, they use good age appropriate language and sentence structure. The lessons have vocabulary and dictionary practice as well as reading and answering questions about the stories. I love them! All of the stories in the reader have been so good, one even made me cry. (or perhaps that was end of pregnancy hormones, but either way, the stories are good.) I love that they inspire children to share the Gospel and demonstrate many different ways that children can serve in their homes and churches and be kind to one another. The workbooks also have the students memorize the verse for each story; the Scriptures are all in King James version and while we tend to use NASB or ESV as a family I really appreciate how this curriculum works through the vocabulary in the King James and helps students understand what it is saying. I think this is very valuable since many of the best Christian authors from the past use and quote King James Scriptures. So although we aren’t a KJV preferred family, I do really like that this is a part of the curriculum because in a few years I hope my girls are able to pick up John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, and John Owen and soak them up.

Spelling: All About Spelling and Spelling Power (aff links)

Review: I love All About Spelling even though it is teacher led and can’t be done independently. I have All About Spelling levels 1 and 2 which in my estimation would work best as a first and second grade curriculum (although level 1 could definitely be kindergarten as well). My oldest daughter flew through level 1, but she is a third grader. This is another building type curriculum that you pretty much have to start at the beginning. Since the phonograms and spelling rules memorization were all new to her this wasn’t redundant or boring. The words were all small and she already knew how to spell them without “knowing the rules”, but it still helped solidify everything and allowed us to move on to the next level. I want to do a more full review on AAS one day, but for now just know we love it and we’re keeping it. Spelling Power I have looked through and watched youtube tutorials on how to use it, but have not started yet. I plan to move from AAS level 2 to Spelling Power. It was recommended by Classical Conversations and is designed to be used from third grade through high school. It’s a pretty huge book and definitely not cheap, but it’s a one time purchase you can use with all your children. I’m looking forward to digging into that soon.  I don’t do spelling with my girls every day which is why I love that Spelling practice and testing is included every day in their CLE Language Arts. I aim to do spelling lessons in All About Spelling once or twice a week.

Handwriting: Classical Conversations prescripts cursive workbooks, Writing with Ease. We currently write in print, but will hopefully move to cursive this year with my third grader for notebooking and Writing With Ease. We are wrapping up Simply Charlotte Mason Print to Cursive Write the Proverbs with my 3rd grader; she has worked on it all summer, and it was great!

Review:  The CC prescripts was a good purchase, we are still working through those. I have my girls practice the cursive and color the pictures while listening to Story of the World. I already shared thoughts on WWE. In it’s place I’ve added the catechism copywork (aff link) mentioned above in Bible, as well as our narrations writing, and CLE handwriting portions.

History: Classical Conversations, Story of the World (aff link), and other biographies and books on our CC topics (here’s one of my favorites, actually all from this series are great!) We do CC related reading from the Story of the World books as well as listen through the audio books straight through.

Review: I am loving everything about these choices! They are a wonderful fit for us! Some people may object to exposing their children to all of the dirty parts of history and legends of false gods that SOTW does, and since I’m very picky about these types of things it may come as a surprise that I like these books so much, but my perspective is that history is very different than fantasy. Humans are evil apart from the saving work of the Holy Spirit; they set up false gods and start wars that kill thousands and thousands of people. It is a sad truth, but I don’t think our children need to be shielded from this. I believe we as parents/ educators must guide them through it and help them understand it. And it isn’t for entertainment purposes that I expose them to these things, it’s to educate them. That to me makes all the difference in the world.

Science: Classical Conversations, reference books, nature journaling and classification guides (like this one). We will also be drawing a labeling drawings from the beautiful book Nature Anatomy. (go look inside, it’s gorgeous!) Eventually we will add in a formal science, I’m leaning toward apologia, but that will be 5th or 6th grade and it will be done independently.

Review: Still loving this approach as well. I purchased the CLE science thinking I might use something more formal, but it was too much on top of all we are already doing. I may use the CLE science in the summer when we aren’t working through our CC science.

Latin: Classical Conversations and Sing Song Latin DVDs and Text with CD

Review: I really like this curriculum for a beginner Latin. The DVDs are great, even my 3 year old likes to watch them. The text is a workbook and is more appropriate for my third grader. I plan to use the DVDs for grades K-2 and have my 3rd graders and up use the workbooks. I will likely start a more rigorous Latin program in 5th grade. I’m not sure our family will be doing the Challenge program at CC so I’m not concerned with meeting a certain deadline with Latin; we will go at our own pace with it. I also want to teach my children Spanish and Greek, but we haven’t started those endeavors yet. Feel free to message me some good curriculum picks for those if you know of any.

Math: Classical Conversations and Teaching Textbooks (for my 3rd grader), Splash Math, and math practice worksheets (from workbooks like this one), math fact flash cards, and working with manipulatives (this is the set we have by Saxon and we love it).

Review: I worked through many workbooks and taught some basic concepts to my second grader, and I knew I wanted to find her a formal curriculum eventually. I really enjoyed Teaching Textbooks and so did my daughter. We are still using it actually. However, it wasn’t as rigorous a math as I would like. Also, I want them to work math on paper; I feel like that is a very valuable skill set. It will probably be no surprise (after all my CLE praise) that I purchased CLE as our math. I absolutely LOVE it! The format is similar to Saxon, but it is WAY better for me because it is much more independent than Saxon, and the layout is much more clear and user friendly in my opinion. I still have my daughter working through the Teaching Textbooks 3rd grade since she was almost finished. Some days I have her do a TT lesson in the morning and her CLE lesson in the afternoon. I definitely think there may be value in both approaches. We also really love Khan Academy! When CLE introduces a new concept, I often find the videos on Khan and have my children watch them. It just helps to reinforce.

Classical Conversations Geography

Geography: Classical Conversations and we will use the method described in the geography chapter in The Core.

Review: This has worked great for us thus far! :) A whole blog posts could be spent on geography, but basically we do map tracing, labeling of the weekly memory work, and singing memory songs using hand motions and trying to visualize it in our heads. (I say “we” because I am very much learning geography for the first time along with my girls, it has never been a strong subject for me.)

Art: Classical Conversations, Drawing with Children, and See the Light. We will also play around on Art Hub a little bit for fun.

Review: I love that CC does little art things with the children because honestly, we haven’t used the other choices from above as much as I had planned. I am planning to do See the Light over the summer when CC ends. We do have a lot of art in our lives though because my children are naturally drawn to it, and I just let them paint or create on their own initiative. We also use art in our narratives, Scripture copywork, map tracing, and nature journals so although it’s quite informal right now, they are getting a lot of it.

Working on a "Black Beauty" narration.

Music: Classical Conversations, hymn singing/memorization, they are both learning to play the ukulele, and we may add piano lessons (not sure yet though). I also use Faber Music flash cards to teach music symbols, note names, rhythms, and basic theory.

Review: CC has some basic music theory during the six weeks of tin whistle and they also spend six weeks learning about the orchestra and classical composers. I really like this as a basic elementary age introduction. I ended up giving my girls piano lessons myself once a week. Eventually I will put them in lessons because there is value in learning from someone besides mom. I think the accountability serves them well when learning music. The ukulele is still a fun addition. I don’t give them formal lessons, just teach them chords and print them tabs and chords to songs and hymns that we know. They love to sit around and pluck on them learning to play and sing along to their favorite songs. I think this is the best way to learn an instrument like ukulele or guitar. They will mostly teach themselves because of the thrill of being able to play and enjoy it. That’s how I learned, so I believe in the method.

All in All a Good Year So Far. 

I have really enjoyed the year so far. The changes and improvements haven’t even felt like bumps in the road really. I know they were learning even when using the materials that didn’t work for us, and it feels good to be in the thick of working through our new selections. Each year at Classical Conversations causes me to love it more and to catch more and more of the vision. It definitely helps to shape our homeschool and to give me direction in my teaching.

So that pretty much wraps up this review, except that I ditched the planner as well and have now started bullet journaling for all of my planning, and I love it!!! That is also a blog post to come another day.

I hope you enjoyed the review and, if you found this helpful I would love for you to pin the photo below to save and share with your friends. Thanks.

Classical Homeschool Review : First Language Lessons, Writing with Ease, All About Spelling, Story of the World, Classical Conversations, and more.

Nature Pal Exchange

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

I have always loved being out in nature. Even as a child I have such fond memories of camping trips with my family, climbing a particularly wonderful climbing tree in my yard, and exploring the woods that bordered our neighorhood. I’m thankful that I have an outdoorsy hubby who is totally on board with camping and hiking and all the fun stuff. It’s truly just a part of our family culture. I knew that I also wanted it to be a fundamental part of our homeschool because God’s creation truly teaches us so much. Even Psalm 19 tells us how nature/creation itself teaches us about God. I love that! Nature also teaches us how to recognize true beauty. Screens and the chase for the latest and greatest thing can too often crowd out appetites for what is good and lovely; I feel like exposure to nature helps to teach our minds to appreciate life in a more authentic way. Not to mention there are tremendous health benefits to being outdoors. Because of this I decided that it would be a huge part of our study of science in our homeschool. There’s something that imprints the mind so well when something is experienced and not just read or taught about.

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

Because of this we have a very eclectic mix for our science this year. We have been using a variety of living books and field guides, we have observed and been immersed in the great outdoors on nature walks and camping trips, and observed and participated in Classical Conversations science experiments on our community day. We’ve memorized and learned about a variety of science facts through Classical Conversations, and we’ve been working through the Christian Light Education science workbooks. The variety certainly makes science a favorite around here.

Nature Pal Exchange

One of our science activities that we have particularly enjoyed this year was participating in Nature Pal Exchange. I discovered this organization through instagram. Last spring when I noticed many homeschool mamas that I follow posting what they sent and received. I knew we had to jump on board the next time around! When fall sign ups finally came, we didn’t hesitate.

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

How it works.

Nature Pal Exchange collects a small donation to support a specially chosen charity for each exchange. You submit your donation along with your address and some general information about your children and their ages. Then Nature Pal Exchange pairs you with a family from a different area than you, and they also try to match families with similar age ranges of children. These are only families in the U.S. and Canada for now. They send an email with your trading family’s information, give a send off date, and some general guidelines for mailing nature items.

Then the fun begins.
You take nature walks to collect nature goodies, label if you can, wrap and send off. You can also include nature related gifts, books, and brochures or print outs about your state or area. Coloring sheets or a nature craft would be a fun idea also! I’ve been brainstorming a bit for our next package. Get it all gathered and packed up, then send it off to your exchange family by the due date. It’s a lot of fun!

My girls loved the whole process. They even loved going to the post office together to mail it off. It was truly a great way to get us looking more closely outdoors and learning how to identify things in nature. The girls were always coming in from playing in the yard with little treasures to send.

When our package arrived they were so excited! (I was too!) We are still getting out our nature gift from the family in Minnesota. All of the photos in this post are of the lovely package this family sent us. They even sent a wonderful book called “North Woods Girl” that had beautiful pictures. We felt very blessed by them!
.

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

Nature Pal Exchange - abidingwoman.com

So whether you are a homeschool family or not, I highly recommend joining in on this fun! Just follow the Nature Pal instagram feed and when sign ups open they let everyone know there.

Happy nature studying!

-S

Enjoy this post? Pin the photo below to remember and share with friends. Thanks!

Nature Pal Exchange, a wonderful nature study activity!

 

The Nina and Pinta Tour : Field Trip Review

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We recently had the pleasure of touring two Columbus replica ships with our local Classical Conversations community. This was such a wonderful experience for us! Also, it was a great way to bring a bit more life to the age of exploration which is a part of the CC timeline and Cycle 2 memory work sentences.

The Nina and Pinta Tour

The ships are actually the most historically accurate replicas of the Columbus ships. More information about these ships and their schedule can be found here at thenina.com. They travel for about 10 months out of the year, and visit 30 to 40 locations around the U.S. You can check their schedule here to see if they will be in or close to your area. It was so cool to step on board and get a more real sense of what it must have been like to be on one of those ships sailing across the ocean.

We had a great tour guide who explained how many of the ships parts worked, how they navigated at that time, and many other interesting details. Below are some highlights of this adventure.

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We had a great time and we will be looking for these ships to come back through our area again!

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Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria Learning Activities

This is the Columbus book we have been reading and enjoying. (aff link, click pic below) It’s a paperback childrens’ chapter book with many great pictures and tid-bits of information.

And here are a few fun artistic ideas to further expand on this field trip.  One for my bigs and one for my littles. 

(These images belong to the sites linked below, they are not my own.)

Mayflower-650

Learn to draw this May Flower Ship here at Art Projects for Kids. This website is very cool by the way, so many great art ideas!

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For the younger kiddos this hand print ship is adorable! I actually did this with my bigger girls when they were 4 and 5 and they loved it! So I’m planning to do it again with my littles. This amazing idea is from The Fryman Family blog.

nina and pinta

When Homeschooling is Hard

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Maybe it’s just me, but when the kids are asleep at night or I’m away from them for one reason or another, I begin to think about homeschooling in a very romanticized way. I start planning these wonderful times we will have together, or exciting activities that I just know we will all do so joyfully and peacefully. It will be wonderfully picturesque just like an instagram feed or a pinterest board! And then I go home or they wake up: I try said activity or plans and it turns out to be more like pulling teeth. A baby starts crying, a toddler gets into the art supplies and writes on the walls, an older child is asserting that she would much rather listen to an audio book or play outside. And I am once again reminded of our current reality, what a huge gap there is between the way things often are and the way I wish they would be. I must once again humbly submit my heart to the Lord to embrace this current season and cultivate what He is giving me right now.

Take morning time for example; I have heard other homeschool moms share about their lovely and lengthy morning times with their children. I try it, and well, it’s not so lovely. I do sometimes dream of the days when our morning time is peaceful, conversational, and even worshipful as we sing hymns together and read through Scripture and chapter books and discuss deep things together. And those days will (hopefully) come when these children are older and the fruit of my efforts in these early years will (Lord willing, by His grace) come to bear…. But the reality is in this season we have three children 3 and under, a baby on the way (which equals a pretty tired mama), and a 7 and 8 year old who both still have lots of childhood energy. In all honesty morning time is one of our most difficult times of the day. We sing our hymn of the month, I ask each person a few catechism questions from the Truth and Grace children’s catechism, we recite our current Scripture memory, we recite some older Scripture memory. I sometimes read from a devotional type picture book that all ages can enjoy. I ask some CC memory work review questions. We sing through memory work songs for the current week. The littlest ones are dismissed to go play; by this time they are super antsy! I read through our First Language Lessons and sometimes a picture book or two that correlates with our CC work. We may read through an acts and facts card if we have time. I usually have to stop and discipline a child or two, sometimes a few times throughout the course of all I’ve planned to do. I have given up half way through many times and just sent everyone out to play.  Some days, morning time absolutely isn’t what they want to be doing, and honestly it isn’t always what I want to be doing either. But we do it anyway, and I believe it has much value for all of us! The fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean that I’m failing, it means we have to keep working on it.

Homeschooling can be hard.

I share all of this to say, homeschooling isn’t always the romantic thing we dream it up to be. There are certainly beautiful moments of life questions, aha moments when the light bulb turns on and it just clicks, exploring, excitement, and curiosity, but this is never constant. I believe this is true in traditional classroom settings as well as home settings, and I think this happens no matter what educational philosophy or curriculum you follow or how many children you have. We are training children how to work, how to think, it’s a discipline and it doesn’t always come easy…. in fact most of the time it’s something we have fight for. We can’t let ourselves believe we are failing or that the problem is homeschool or curriculum, too many children, or our current teaching style. We must understand that this takes day in and day out perseverance, and it is so good for all of us. It is certainly teaching and growing me as I seek to diligently teach my little ones. Don’t lose heart mamas, just keep on keeping on!

Progress is often being made even when we can’t see it. Just think back two or three years ago, how did your children act? What were their struggles? What were the daily battles then? I bet many of those problems and struggles from then are no longer even an issue, and some of them may be struggles still but there is obvious growth. From day to day in the homeschool mama world it feels like nothing is changing, but when you look back and realize everything is so different then you realize how important it is to keep pushing through the difficulties. Progress for beautiful and magnificent things take time. Beautiful paintings are made one stroke at a time. Buildings and homes are made brick by brick, day by day. Great musicians are made from days and day of diligent practice. We can expect that the careful cultivating and nourishing of a human mind and heart for God’s glory is a lengthy process, and that helps us to be patient with the early stages when that gap of where we wish they were and where they actually are is quite wide.

Whether your homeschool battle is morning time (like me), or read-aloud time, or math lessons, or handwriting, or chore time…. or all of it! Keep putting one foot in front of the other and prayerfully doing the next thing. Trust in the Lord and do not lean on your own understanding. Hold your children to a reasonable but right standard and do your best to see it through with love, patience, diligence, and authority. Let’s teach and demonstrate the beauty of doing things with diligence and perseverance even when we as mamas don’t particularly feel like doing them, even when those things are hard, even when some or many days feel like failure. Let’s be an example to our children by not giving up on homeschool because it’s hard. Little by little progress, growth, and learning are happening. Don’t give up mamas!

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. -Galatians 6:9

And now it’s time for a Giveaway

Homemakers and Homeschoolers I have something special to share, I’m joining with all the other fantastic admins at Domestically Challenged Divinely Equipped to bring you a giveaway. Domestically Challenged Divinely Equipped is a facebook group where women can find encouragement in their roles as wife, mother, homemaker, homeschool teacher, and more. It’s truly one of the best places to hang out on facebook, so if you aren’t a member there, you should be!

Enter the Homemaker’s Holiday Giveaway!

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Celebrating Reformation Day

Celebrating Reformation Day

I have shared a Biblical perspective post on Halloween which I recently republished, but today I want to share something wonderful that we as Christians can celebrate on October 31st!

Reformation Day! A day worth celebrating.

I love how my friend Lindsey from Road to 31 put it:

We celebrate Reformation Day because it represents the reclaiming of the one true gospel that had been lost in the Catholic church and replaced with the traditions and teachings of men. We celebrate that there were men who were willing to face the wrath and judgment of man rather than violate conscience according to the Holy Spirit and Scripture. We celebrate the boldness to proclaim the truth of God in the face of very real and present danger. We celebrate the movement that placed the Word of God in the hands of believers, to study for themselves so they could be taught by God Himself, rather than having to take the priests word as gospel. We celebrate Reformation Day because it is yet one more testament to the faithfulness of God.

I so agree with her, there are real and true reasons for celebration here.

How our Family Celebrates:

Each year our family looks forward to attending a Reformation Celebration put on by a local ministry in our area. If you live in the East Tennessee area it’s Castle Ministry, and you can find out more information about them in the link.

The celebration could be done on a smaller scale by a family or on a larger scale by a church or ministry. The event we attend begins with Reformation Themed games and activities on the lawn. Here are a few of the games and activities my girls enjoyed.

Building a Mighty Fortress : block building for the little ones

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Coloring on the Wartberg Castle: another huge hit with my little crew.

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5 Solas Toss: basically it’s a bean bag toss with 5 chances; the children are told about and quizzed on what the 5 solas are as they toss their bean bags

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Sword fighting: Some good old fashioned foam sword fighting. My big girls loved this!

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Pin the 95 Thesis on the door: It’s similar to “pin the tale on the donkey”, blind fold and spin then send them off to the door

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Hide the Heretic: finding the Reformers (called “heretics” by the Catholic Church) in a haystack

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Here’s a little look around at the Castle. There was also facepainting and people dressed up as the Reformers telling their stories. The children could go up into the tower to meet Martin Luther and his wife and hear their story.

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There is also a pot luck meal, family dance, bonfire, smores, and hymn singing. Castle Ministry does a wonderful job putting all of this together!

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At home we teach our children about the Reformation with these books and others:

(affiliate links)

This is a great story by RC Sproul, written from the perspective of a barber who learns to pray by asking Martin Luther questions about prayer. It’s great in two ways: first it gives great historical content about Martin Luther and what he did, and secondly it gives sound Biblical teaching on prayer in a way that a child can understand.

Little Lights books are great for young children and bigger children. I love that they have small bold sentences on one side for new readers to try, and then a paragraph for an adult to read to them. We have all of the Little Lights books except the CS Lewis book because we didn’t care for their spin on him, but they are all wonderful! 

Biographies for Young Readers books are probably my favorite! We are still working on our collection because they are a little pricey (about $18 a book, but so worth it!). They are beginner chapter picture books; perfect for about second grade and up. We have 5 of them and love each one, I have the rest of them on our family library wish list. They are very thorough and encouraging even to my own heart.

Luther3DWe’ve also greatly enjoyed this Martin Luther DVD (it’s free to watch for amazon prime members!) You can purchase them on amazon (aff. link) or through Torchlighters (They also have coloring and activity sheets to go with the dvds on their site). We love all of their DVDs in this series. They are a breath a fresh air for our family because finding edifying children’s shows is quite the challenge, but these definitely make the cut. They say for older children, but my children enjoy them from about 3 years old and up. I do recommend watching with your child and explaining what is happening the first time through. They make for wonderful discussions!

I may come back to this post and add to this list because I have more to share, but I’m short on time.

Happy Reformation Day! 

Our Classical Homeschool 2016

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Quite a few things have changed since I shared our homeschool journey a little over a year ago. It’s amazing how a year of trying something new can change your mind. I mentioned in that post a love I had for Classical Education and Charlotte Mason, and to put it in a nutshell, I sorta fell in love with the classical model in a new and fresh way, and discovered in the process that it is the best fit for our family. If you are unsure what classical education is then read this for a general overview it is written by Classical Conversations, there are many other articles and books out there as well. I originally thought classical education would be too much work for me to implement with our ever-growing family, but actually we joined Classical Conversations this past year and it really served our needs and gave me some clear direction. My children learned so much and grew as students through the Classical Conversations materials and community. As we moved along in the year I began trying out classical approaches to various subjects and I just liked it a lot, and so did my kids! I have also been doing some reading and research on Classical education, and I’ve been able to catch a more long-term vision.  At this point, I’m totally sold! The more we do, the more fruit I see, the more I believe in the model and what it can do for the minds of my children (and me for that matter since I’m learning many things along with them). As I experience classical education first hand I honestly begin to wish I had been taught this way. I feel like I am learning more than I ever knew before, and I have my masters in education so that’s saying something! I genuinely enjoy our material, and of course if mama likes it that encourages my children to view it as exciting and interesting as well. I once also thought classical education would be boring and intense, but as it turns out we have never enjoyed our school more than we do now that we are on this classical education path. It’s interesting, challenging, and fun! And surprisingly, it’s restful and relational. I find that we spend more time having conversations about our subjects. Impromptu research projects come up all the time. Memory work songs can be sung while folding laundry or jumping on the trampoline. Everyone is having fun with it! Even my child who previously disliked school enjoys most of our subjects now. My children actually enjoy the work more because it is more suited for the way that the child’s brain works and for their capability levels. It feels like a breath of fresh air from some of the more traditional things we were using. I could go on and on, but I think you get where I am coming from. I love that I know where we are headed.

Now, what I really want to do with this post is share our curriculum for this year, and in future posts I plan to break apart exactly how we are approaching each subject with these materials. I want to do this because classical education can be done in so many different ways. It’s fun to get to peek into another family’s homeschool from time to time and see how they are accomplishing their educational goals. I know posts like this by other bloggers have really helped me shape our homeschool; they’ve also introduced me to curriculum that fit our family well. Overall, I’ve learned that there are SO many ways to do this homeschool thing. I love how many of us who may even carry the same education philosophies and Christian vision for our families can do it so differently. We are not in a competition! We are raising up arrows side by side, it’s hard work, and we should be helping and encouraging and praying for one-another. We can share our curriculum choices and at the same time be excited about the curriculum choices of others. A curriculum or philosophy or method that is a great fit for one family, may not fit another at all,;and that’s okay! I just want you to know that I’m not putting this out here to say, “look how great our curriculum choices are” or anything like that. I am still learning and growing with each year that I homeschool. I am excited about the year ahead; and we’ve already started many things I list below and have found them to be wonderful for us. Maybe this can give you an idea or two, or maybe not and that’s okay too because you will find the curriculum and style that works for you and your kids. So without further ado, here it is.

Our Classical Curriculum for the 2016-2017 School Year for a 2nd and a 3rd grader

Bible: Polished Cornerstones by Doorposts for our Biblical Womanhood character training, Truth and Grace Memory Book (This is what we use for a Children’s Catechism), daily Bible reading alone and out loud.

Language Arts: Classical Conversations, First Language Lessons, and Writing with Ease

Reading: Both of my girls are reading well so no formal reading curriculum is needed anymore. Woohoo! We used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons“, and loved it for both! One of my children had to go through it a few times, but it did the job! For reading, we will practice reading aloud, reading alone, and narration from living books, classics, and biographies for children. I also have them participate in reading the Scripture out loud. My 3rd grader will be reading through the New Testament for the second time independently. I may start my 2nd grader reading through the New Testament the second half of the year depending on her progress, we will just play it by ear and see if she is ready then.

Spelling: All About Spelling and Spelling Power

Handwriting: Classical Conversations prescripts cursive workbooks, Writing with Ease. We currently write in print, but will hopefully move to cursive this year with my third grader for notebooking and Writing With Ease. We are wrapping up Simply Charlotte Mason Print to Cursive Write the Proverbs with my 3rd grader; she has worked on it all summer, and it was great!

History: Classical Conversations, Story of the World, and other biographies and books on our CC topics (here’s one of my favorites, actually all from this series are great!) We do CC related reading from the Story of the World books as well as listen through the audio books straight through.

Science: Classical Conversations, reference books, nature journaling and classification guides (like this one). We will also be drawing a labeling drawings from the beautiful book Nature Anatomy. (go look inside, it’s gorgeous!) Eventually we will add in a formal science, I’m leaning toward apologia, but that will be 5th or 6th grade and it will be done independently.

Latin: Classical Conversations and Sing Song Latin DVDs and Text with CD

Math: Classical Conversations and Teaching Textbooks (for my 3rd grader), Splash Math, and math practice worksheets (from workbooks like this one), math fact flash cards, and working with manipulatives (this is the set we have by Saxon and we love it).

Geography: Classical Conversations and we will use the method described in the geography chapter in The Core.

Art: Classical Conversations, Drawing with Children, and See the Light. We will also play around on Art Hub a little bit for fun.

Music: Classical Conversations, hymn singing/memorization, they are both learning to play the ukulele, and we may add piano lessons (not sure yet though). I also use Faber Music flash cards to teach music symbols, note names, rhythms, and basic theory.

Some things that are shaping my year:

This is my homeschool planner, it may be a little pricey, but it literally has everything I need to plan and track the homeschool and the home in one place. It includes meal planning, budgeting, lesson planning, grade keeping, attendance tracking (for up to 4 children), and more. Also, there is a printable insert on CC connect where you can place all the memory work in a spot in the planner on your CC day to be able to quickly access and plan accordingly.

I’m on CC connected (I mentioned it above) which is a great resource! If you participate in Classical Conversations it is really affordable and worth it to me (currently $6 a month for foundations), this is a great place to ask questions on the forums and to find CC related printables and add-ons. These add-ons aren’t necessary at all, but they can be fun! There are history coloring pages that correlate with the history sentences which my girls loved last year. There are many practice worksheets and things that expound on the core information. There are presentation planning sheets. There are songs and mp3s to help with memory work. The list goes on, but a quick word of warning….don’t get too ambitious over there. With so many ideas and printables it can be easy to over-plan and create busy work instead of productive work which usually leads to burnout for the kiddos. Unless you have one who loves busy work, then hey, go for it!

These are the two books I read over the summer which sharpened my vision for the coming year: The Core by Leigh Bortins and Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. Both very different books, but super helpful!

If you are looking for a book to help you understand the Classical Education model as a whole as well as in each phase of education then I recommend The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer.  I often pull that out and give it a good look-over because it’s almost a “how-to” guide. I don’t do everything the way she says it, but it definitely gives me good ideas to draw from.

My Heart on this Journey

The Lord has been so good to me this year, in many many ways. I feel like I have grown and matured in the skill of homeschooling, which I believe is a grace and help from the Lord. It probably has much to do with gaining a greater vision for the path we are on. I am also growing in my understanding of who He is and loving Him in deeper ways. Knowing Him on a deeper level through His Word has been the thing that has encouraged my heart to press on in homeschooling and in the vision He has given us for our family when things were hard this past year. The reality is my strength and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my life and my portion. He will sustain me through the hard days, through the times I have doubts, through the days when it feels like there is no way to get everything done that we need to get done, through sick days or weeks or months, through welcoming another sweet baby, through another postpartum period. He will lift my head and keep me putting one foot in front of the other, seeking to do His will by diligently teaching and training these little ones which He has entrusted to me.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
-Psalm 73:26

Happy homeschooling to all you homeschool mamas out there!

,Stacey

Homeschooling with Little Ones Underfoot

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I have lots of little ones, currently we have three little ones: 3 years, 2 years, and 10 months old with another little blessing on the way. We also have a second and third grader, and that requires a good bit of teaching and interaction with me since they are still in very formative years. So inevitably, one question people often ask me is “how do you homeschool with all these little ones around?” The general answer is that it’s not easy, but it is doable. And I have found some methods for getting it done, but it is often less than picturesque. The thing we homeschool moms of many eventually come to understand (otherwise we’d lose our sanity) is that we are running a HOME-school…. major emphasis on the home. We are a family in a home environment, and we happen to do school here, among many other things. It will not, and should not (if our priorities are in check) look like a traditional classroom.

Now mamas these are just methods, but we are talking about real-living, active, and energetic babies, toddlers,  and preschoolers….. so you know what that’s like right? There are interruptions, and often times those interruptions are put there for a very important reason. How we view those interruptions and respond to them is often times more important than what we need to accomplish with school that day. So with that little bit of encouragement, here are some methods for occupying little ones that do work for us most of the time so that we can get our schooling done.

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Methods for Occupying Little Ones:

big sister time/ one on one time : Often times I will have one of my older girls play with the little girls in the next room (babysitter style) while I have one-on-one lesson time with the other. This is usually in 15 to 30 minute increments, it works great for working in a quick reading or language arts lesson. Sometimes a snack time is needed to break up the switching of sisters, and sometimes if things are going well the switch can be made pretty easily.

play-pen, high chair,  gated independent bedroom play: This has worked for almost all of my babies, toddlers, and preschool age. I will say this is my primary go-to method that I use all throughout my day. It may take the child a few days in a row to get use to it, but they usually catch on and will learn how to play in the contained place with the assigned toy(s) that they are given. I put babies in a play pen with a few toys. Toddlers and preschoolers I put them alone in a gated child-safe bedroom (the gate is more of a reminder because they can get out if they want, but they are trained not to unless they need to go “potty”). I don’t give them full access to all their toys (this keeps the mess down), they usually only have one or two sets; sometimes I choose the toys for them and sometimes I let them choose. I don’t let my 2 and 3 year old play together in the room alone, that is a recipe for a melt down or for mischief. They do much better separated! High chair play is usually with things like coloring, puzzles, water painting, or play-doh. All of these can usually work for 30 minutes, and sometimes up to an hour unless it is at nap or meal time.

a learning dvd in a high chair: I’m not a big fan of media for kids, but one way that I do use media to my advantage is this. I put my preschool/ toddler children into their high chairs, buckle them up, and show them a carefully selected learning or Bible memory DVD. I use a small portable DVD player at our kitchen table for this since we do not have an actual TV. I like this method for many reasons: First because it forces them to actually watch the show instead of playing and having it as background noise to glance up at every now and then. I also like that it limits their time to that one 30 minute long DVD,  and when it is over it is over, and that is our “show” for the day. I like that I have full control of it, I’m very picky about what my kids watch and with the portable DVD player there is no opportunity to switch channels or click on another option.

My thoughts on “blanket time”: Some people swear by “blanket time”, but honestly I’ve never been able to have tons of success with that. “Blanket time” for those who don’t know is training your child to stay on a blanket and play with a specific set of toys. You train them to do it, and increase the time. I have trained my 2 and 3 year old girls to do it, and they can for a time, but it’s more trouble to me than it is worth, and it’s definitely not my ‘go to’ during the homeschool day. It works great at the park or at someone’s house if I’m talking with another mom and want my child to stay close, but it doesn’t buy me as much time as these above mentioned options, and it requires pretty close supervision and pausing to discipline when they eventually get distracted and climb off the blanket. I could possibly invest more training time in this and see more success, but for now I definitely prefer the other methods because for me they bring about less interruptions.

“Together time” (also referred to as “morning time”, “basket time”, and other names) : This is also a popular method that many of my friends and mentors love to do with their homeschool. I do this for a short time in the mornings for Bible, hymns, and memory work. This time also doubles as church training time for my younger ones. I require them to sit still and quiet just as they will be expected to do in church. This training time for the littles is so valuable! We use this time in the morning and our family devotions in the evening as our set aside time to “church train” the smaller ones, but it also gives us time to teach. I dream of one day adding read aloud books to this, but the variety of age range and abilities to sit still make adding anything extra too much for us. I like to do Bible, hymns, and catechism because I want all of my children biggest to the smallest to hear these things each day. Memory work is also great because those little ones sing along with history sentences and Latin songs so easily. They are learning even if they have no clue what they are memorizing!

outside or inside free play : On nice days we will all go outside, I bring a few lesson books so the big girls and I can sit on the deck and work through lessons while the little ones play in the yard. Other days when it’s not as nice out, I let the littles have free play time in the living room while I do lessons with the big girls. Sure it brings a few extra distractions, but sometimes I think that’s good training for my older girls since real-life is not typically “library quiet” every time you need to use your brain.

nap time/rest time : This is definitely some prime time for homeschooling, but it’s also prime time for other restful and refreshing activities which is why I really try to do our schooling with the little ones awake. Sometimes we use naps for special lessons, crafts, science experiments, or read aloud time, but for the most part I have all of my children have a quiet hour right after lunch (even the older ones, they color and draw and listen to an audio book). This is when I get a chance to really dig into the Word, journal, and pray. Morning devotions are much more rushed and groggy for me and often times include morning snuggles with a baby or toddler which is lovely, but can be a bit distracting. I really enjoy having this scheduled time with the Lord in the middle of the day when I’m alert and when I really need a refresh the most. My kiddos do often sleep longer than an hour in the day, so after my set aside time in the Word, I often use that extra time for schooling or for chore training (teaching my big girls how to do a new chore, always time well spent!) And sometimes I use it that last half of naptime to get my own nap or a shower when it’s needed.

baby sitter/ mother’s helper : This is something we are pursuing this year for the first time (Lord willing! But we are still praying about who to hire for this.) Disclaimer: I haven’t tried it yet, so I’m only imagining how I think it will work, but I can’t wait to find out first hand. After discussing it and praying about it with my husband, we really feel like it will be a good investment for us to have a Christian young lady come to be a mother’s helper two mornings a week. I’m planning for her to watch my three younger children in my home while I teach my older two in the homeschool room. Really this is such a win for everyone! This girl will get valuable experience learning about caring for children, homemaking, and homeschooling, as well as an opportunity to make money in a safe work environment.  And I will have a very needed extra set of hands to help with the little ones so that I can focus more time on teaching the older two, because like I said above, schooling with lots of little ones is not easy. There are ways to do it, but it requires a lot of intentionality, focus, and energy…. and let’s face it, some days we mamas just don’t have that in us and school has to take the back seat. It will be so nice to know that two days out of the week are truly set aside for teaching my older children. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s certainly worth praying about and considering. I mean, isn’t this kind of help all year long way better than a vacation? It is for me! One thing that helped us decide to pursue this was weighing out other potentially helpful options: I looked up some information on a few local co-ops where homeschool students would be taught core subjects in a classroom setting two days a week and have home school assignments for the others. We decided this was not a good fit for our family for three reasons: They cost WAY more than hiring a mother’s helper for those two days. And I would not be able to choose the curriculum I want. I also could not choose the teachers or the kind of students that would be influencing my children for those two days each week. We already have Classical Conversations one day a week and our church community at least two days a week, and I feel like that is all of the peer time that I want my children to have at this stage of life. That will likely change as they get older, but for now I see good fruit by keeping that time with peers and other influences limited.

***(((updating)))***

I wanted to update this to share how the mother’s helper thing is going. In three words: I LOVE IT. We were able to hire a sweet 16 year old young lady who is also homeschooled. She is on the older end of a very large family, so she works well with little ones and is very capable of handling all the various situations that come up with three children who are 3 and under. To be honest, I’m learning a thing or two from her as I watch her interact with my littles through the glass doors of our school room. She comes from 9am to 1pm. I use the morning hours up until 11:30 to homeschool the big girls. I try to get through all my “with mom” lesson loops for each of my girls. (I’ll share more about this in the next section because it has also helped tremendously with juggling homeschool and littles). At 11:30 I send my bigs outside because they need to get some energy out, and that’s when I make lunch for all the crew. We all eat lunch together. I like this because I get to chat with my mother’s helper about how the kids are doing and about things in her life; I like getting to know her. After lunch my bigs get some time with her because they love older girls, they usually play a board or card game together or go outside and play tag or do tricks on the trampoline for about thirty minutes before she heads out; while they do that I lay the smaller ones down for afternoon naps. It is a perfect fit for us. We get so much done on those mornings, and I love that she is such a good example and someone my bigger girls can get to know and look up to. So I will say this, choose your mother’s helper wisely. This was something we prayed about quite a bit, and the Lord has really answered by giving us a great one who has been raised and trained well in a Christian family with very similar convictions and ideas to our family. I’m so thankful!

Independent Work list and “With Mom” Lesson Loops:

I’m adding this in as well because this was actually something I tweaked and added in a week or two into our school year; and it has worked extremely well! I’ll do a detailed post on this soon, but the short version is this. My girls have a list of things they can and are expected to accomplish on their own each day. Things like Bible reading alone for 30 minutes (or Bible listening for they younger who is not quite ready to read it on her own), Scripture copy work, cursive practice, memory work practice, geography practice, Teaching Textbooks, math review worksheets, and music practice. They are expected to get through this list every single day without me having to help direct very much. I might sound like a mean old mama, but I discipline if they are off task; they can play when they are done. I interrupt them when I get little ones settled into something for a few minutes giving me a chance to do a “with mom” lesson. The littles might be playing contently or watching a learning DVD and I make good use of that time by grabbing up one of the bigs to do a 15 to 20 minute lesson. With Mom lessons are exactly what they sound like: they are one on one lessons with me and my child. I have created a loop list of lessons I do with my girls. On my loop I have: First Language lessons, Writing with Ease, reading/narration with history/science/biographies (CC matchups or -whatever I choose- They read out loud to me to work on reading skills, I read to them a bit, they narrate and sometimes do some notebooking), math lessons (with my younger), All About Spelling, and Polished Cornerstones (our Bible character study). On the mother’s helper days we do lots of “with mom” lessons, but on the other days I have my bigs work through their independent work and we usually only get to two with mom lessons a day with each child. I just work through a loop, when I get them all done then I start back at the top. The loop helps so much because I found that if I started with Language Arts every day then we never got around to history or science reading or Polished Cornerstones. The loop ensures we get to everything I want to get to. I also have a rest time loop for my girls each day they do a different thing during the quiet hours so that I can get some quiet time alone with the Lord each day to study, pray, and journal. Their loop is currently: Story of the World audio books and map tracing, audio book and free art or coloring, and Sing Song Latin DVDs. They just do one a day for an hour to an hour and half.  This whole system has been working extremely well for us. Balancing our homeschool and little ones finally doesn’t feel so impossible for me. There’s definitely a learning curve to all of this so my best advice is to dive in and tweak as needed. The thing that is working for me now is working only after much tweaking and many rough days where I thought, “this isn’t working!” So if that is you, don’t lose heart…. you WILL find what works for you. Pray and ask for wisdom and start trying different methods. Give yourself lots of grace!!! You can do this mama!

Hopefully you got an idea or two for homeschooling with little ones. Feel free to share some of your own methods in the comments. I’m still learning too and I love to hear what works for you!

Happy Homeschooling!

-S

Preschool & Kindergarten Creation Unit

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The very first official homeschooling unit that I ever taught to my girls was on the 7 days of God creating the world. This was a part of our My Father’s World Kindergarten curriculum. It was such a sweet memory for us, and I remember thinking as we did it that this was so simple and fun and really, any mom could do this with things she has around the house! So I wanted to share some of our activities so that you too could do a creation unit of your own.

Color Creation Numbers and Put them in Order

These came with our My Father’s World curriculum, but you can print and make your own like this lady here (FYI: I do not endorse the beliefs of the linked blog, just sharing for the free printables).

creation unit creation unit 2creation numbers activity

Make a Creation Book

Each day have your child make a page with construction paper, craft supplies, and free printables online. Type a sentence or the verse which describes what happens in each day and have them glue it on their page.  At the end of the week punch holes and tie their book together. We loved this activity and these books are still a little treasure to me!

creation unit 3creation-collage

 Take the Creation Book outdoors and Find things from Each Page.

Use the creation book and go exploring outdoors with it. We simply took a walk around our neighborhood to do this. Not everything will be there, but it’s fun to get out and get them looking and thinking about the things God made, and in what order He made them.

creation outdoor hunt

Playdough Numbers and Creation Day Quizzing

This was not part of the curriculum, but we had the supplies on hand so it inspired a little addition to our unit. The girls enjoyed the sensory activity creating their numbers. As they displayed them and put them in order, I would ask them what God made on each day, and they would tell me. I was surprised at how much they were able to retain! It’s a great way to “test” without them even knowing it.

creation unit collage

Creation Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

Take a trip to a park or lake with some letters from either a puzzle, magnet letters, flash cards, or make your own. We had a little alphabet foam puzzle and we used the letters from it. I let each of my girls draw a letter out of a bag and look for something God created that started with the letter they chose. It was big fun! Some letters were more challenging than others and we really had to get creative! 
creation unit letter collage

Sweet memories!

This first week of homeschooling was so special to me! At first as my friends were posting pictures of their adorable little ones with backbacks as big as they were heading off to the first day school, I wasn’t sure how to emotionally process. It provoked so many questions as I surveyed the masses doing what I had always envisioned I would do, you know… sending your kid off to school, except I wasn’t. My girls were sitting at home eating their cheerios and still hanging out in their pjs just like any other day at 7:30am. I wondered if my kids were going to miss out on something. I wondered if I could really give them the education they needed. I wondered if I could be disciplined enough to really do it each day. I wondered how I would manage it through pregnancies and babies and toddlers to come.  I wondered if I could be patient enough, kind enough, thorough enough…. so many things to wonder. But the week we did this unit, our first official homeschool week; I will never forget how the Lord opened my eyes! It wasn’t about me being enough, God was enough! And He would supply me with all I needed for the journey ahead! And I saw in this sweet week with my girls that the time spent with them each day building stronger relationships, learning and exploring together, watching them grow in wisdom and knowledge under my guidance and love would actually bless me immensely!

creation unit field trip daySo thankful to be on this journey called homeschooling. It is truly a joy and a privilege!

-S

Our Homeschooling Journey Thus Far

Homeschooling-Journey

As we are rounding out the end of our second year of homeschooling, I can’t help but reflect on the things I’ve learned thus far. I very much still consider myself to be “new” to homeschooling, we have done kindergarten and first grade for my oldest,  also pre-k and kindergarten with my second oldest.

The Short Story of our Homeschooling Journey Thus Far

I am so thankful that the Lord called us to homeschooling and opened my heart to this journey, it has been both very challenging and very rewarding! It is so worth it! Here is why we homeschool from my other blog Abiding Woman if you would like to know more about that. I began with a great love for Charlotte Mason and Classical Education, but most importantly for me was that my children would have Bible centered education. I chose my curriculum based from that. I felt like I needed help, needed a plan, needed someone else to map it all out for me. I didn’t quite trust myself to piece it all together and cover all the bases, which is funny because I have my Masters in Elementary Education.  I think my knowledge of the education system was what steered me in this direction initially, because I knew what went into meeting the standards, planning the lessons with clear and measurable objectives, and to be honest….. I had done enough of that in college and grad school. I wanted someone else to do it for me, and I could just enjoy the kids. I knew from the beginning that we would year-round school and I had many reasons for that which I shared in a guest post here on My Joyfilled Life.

Our First Year (kindgergarten and pre-k)

My Father's World Kindergarten

So I went with My Father’s World which included all the subjects, books, worksheets, and everything was mapped out and planned for me. It was Charlotte Mason with a little bit of Classical style. And very Bible centered!  I also used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” because I really wanted to get my girls reading as soon as possible.  We bought a Classical Conversations book and audio CD and used the parts from it that I wanted to use at the time which were the history sentences,  the timeline song, the math memory, and the books of the Bible memory song. We participated in a Classical Conversations community for pre-K, but opted not to do it for Kindergarten.

We loved My Father’s World Kindergarten!!!! It was so much fun! We had the deluxe package so we also got the read-aloud books, and they were all great! We still grab that old material and those books and do some of the activities just for fun! My oldest did amazingly well with MFW Kindergarten! She loved it! She also flew through “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons“, often doing two or three lessons in a day and begging for more. She was reading from her ESV Bible and could read any of our children’s books she wanted by the end of the year. For my pre-Ker, things were different: I had to make many accommodations with the material, she wasn’t quite ready for the handwriting and reading lessons. I used high-lighter and allowed her to trace the letters to gain muscle memory and practice correctly holding her pencil and forming letters.  I only went to lesson 50 in “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”, and we ended up having to repeat those again this year for kindergarten. She had a very hard time sitting still and completing even the coloring and fun assignments at times, but other times she loved it… it was really hit or miss. I think it was a combination of her age and personality: just turning four in October, so she was three when we started her pre-k and her personality which is a very”get up and move”/ hands-on/ want to be outside jumping and running/ and wanting to socialize and talk kind of personality. Verses my older daughter who is much more of a sit and draw/ do a craft/ clean the house/ read a book and sip some tea kind of girl, although she does love to be outside too and definitely can have her moments where school is not what she wants to do. It amazes me how very different they are though, and the beauty of homeschooling is that I can try to find ways to teach to both of their personalities and learning styles, and they probably would not get that in a classroom setting as much.

All in all, I would say My Father’s World kindergarten is awesome. The only negatives would be that it does require a good bit of time with mom and has very little independent work.  I felt like the math could be more, but that’s just a personal opinion because it does meet all the kindergarten math standards easily. The crafts and extra activities are what make the curriculum so sweet and memorable, but as any mom knows… these things are a little more time consuming to deal with than a workbook activity that may be able to teach the same concept. It’s definitely all in what you want and what your schedule will allow.

Our Second Year (first grade and kindergarten)

My Father's World First Collage

We loved My Father’s World Kindergarten so much that I went with it for our first grade curriculum as well. I also planned on accommodating and using it for kindergarten with my second oldest because she had just done the MFW kindergarten (as preK) and I didn’t want her to have to repeat it. Our year started off so crazy…. I had our fourth child in June (so a new baby and a toddler to schedule around), we were in Canada on a road trip in August and September when school started, and then we moved in with my husband’s parents a few months after our return from there and have been remodeling our house so we can eventually move in (this is still in progress currently), and I got pregnant again so I had about 5 weeks of morning sickness to contend with.  Needless to say schooling through all of that was (and still is) a huge challenge when it comes to our scheduling and the girls’ ability to stay focused.  But that’s why we year round homeschool though! So we will just keep plugging away until we reach the end of our material. (Probably some time in June) My Father’s World First curriculum is wonderful, but I had to cut many of the more fun activities and use the materials in a way that would meet our needs best during this crazy time. I also had to change things up a bit and buy some extra curriculum. I do plan on revisiting some of those special activities at a later date though because many of them look so good…. perhaps as I’m working through it again next year with my next first grader.

I found that MFW first was just way too much for my young kindergartner, even with accommodations.  Again, it is partially an age and maturity thing (so I know I have to be gracious about it), she had just turned 5 in October and in a public or private school settings would have been made to wait another year to start kindergarten. I know there is a reason they do that, however as her mother I know what she is capable of academically and our umbrella was okay with letting her try it). She could and did do the material from MFW first which to me meant she definitely could do kindergarten, but again it was the sitting still and processing for long lengths of time that she really had a difficult time with.  The reading and phonics passed her pretty quickly,  after about a month it became a struggle of tears and sadness each day. So I changed everything and made her a simple kindergarten curriculum. It turned out to be a much better fit for her and us (ah the beauty of homeschooling!). What I did with her is what I will probably do with every kindergartner I have from this point on. I simplified it down to the basics!  Bible, reading, writing, math. And reading her stories. I bought simple handwriting practice and phonics workbooks, here’s an example of one (you can find them in grocery stores, target, office supply stores, amazon, and they are pretty cheap). We started “100 Easy Lessons” all over and I made sure she mastered each lesson before we moved on, sometimes this meant repeating. I also got a Spectrum Kindergarten Math Workbook.   I downloaded two apps on our ipad that worked so well with her personality. Splash Math kindergarten and Touch and Write. Most days I tear out a handwriting page, a phonics page, and math page, and place those in her work boxes. She also starts off her morning with reading and tracing over a Scripture (I write it with highlighter on student paper) in her best handwriting. Then we do her reading lesson, piano practice, and we are done for the day. Usually takes us about an hour and a half to two hours depending on how well she works and if she takes breaks.  The ipad I use on the more difficult days and not every day. I’ve come to realize that kindergartners needs can be met pretty easily. They need to learn to read, write, and have an understanding of numbers and very beginner math concepts, and obviously Scripture and Biblical understanding is very important to us, so I would add that to the necessary requirements as well.

With my actual first grader, the MFW phonics/language arts was a bit too easy at first,but this actually really worked in our favor because we missed so much school time with all our craziness. In order to catch up, she doubled and sometimes tripled up daily assignments. The Bible reader is very neat I love the Bible reader and journal and I love the Proverbs writing, and instead of doing it once a week, we do that every day and repeat verses to work memory.  We also add the Truth and Grace Memory book to our Bible memory which teaches Scripture memory and a children’s catechism. I was not impressed with the math for us, and I didn’t have time for all the little math activities, so I purchased Bob Jones 1st grade Distance Learning Math. I love it! and so does she! It was costly, but so worth the money! The expense is mostly with the fact that it is the distance learning which means, it has dvd’s with a full lessons and assignments each day. The teacher on the dvd’s is great! They bring fun characters and puppets in, have the student use manipulatives and work along with the dvd, and they bring the math back to Scripture and use Biblical stories in the lessons to teach concepts. (which remember is one of my main goals in our homeschool, to have Biblically centered teaching). I chose to do the dvd’s because I needed something she could do more independently during this busy and chaotic season our our lives. I feel like these will really be building a good math foundation for her, and with our current circumstances it’s the perfect fit for us.  She has read through the science books from My Father’s World , but I (sadly) skipped most of the science experiments, which is the primary way they learn science concepts in this curriculum. As I said before, we will probably revisit these next year and actually get the chance to do them, and since we did so much last year hands on for science and currently have a garden and goats that they were very much a part of, I feel like we will be okay on putting those off.

In February, I was very discouraged because of how many breaks we had to take and because I felt like my girls were getting behind and felt like I was totally failing them as their mother and homeschool teacher. It was like I woke up from a slumber of morning sickness and moving craziness and felt like all hope was lost. But that was really not accurate, and recently as I looked over the girls’ school work to organize it into their portfolios, I realized how far they had come even through this chaotic season of our lives.  I realized my kindergartner is actually way advanced from where she would be if in public or private school because she wouldn’t even be allowed to start until next year! and yet she is in lesson 70 of the 100 Easy Lessons book and is reading and writing very well for her age. She is almost complete with her spectrum math book, and has made tons of progress in her handwriting. In reality, she’s doing great! My First grader was who I was really worried about and feeling a lot of mommy guilt over, not that she was behind, but that I had done her a disservice because she could be so advanced when given the challenge to rise to.  But as I looked over her MFW portfolio and have been watching her work through this first grade math and language arts….. and as I look at the stack of chapter books she has read through this year, and I see her maturity in helping me with more practical things around the house; I know we are doing fine. I feel like we are building a foundation with her, and that is really good and right. What a sigh of relief it was for me to see that! It’s far too often that we buy into the lie that things have to be “just so” for us to be successful, and even if my girls weren’t where they are now, that still wouldn’t necessarily mean I failed. Homeschooling is way more about honoring Christ with my children than it is about academics anyway, but  on the flip side, I believe one way we honor the Lord is with our minds and that makes education a noble pursuit (love Him with all of your mind…), I want to equip my children to be able to do that well if/when He saves them and directs their hearts to that end.

A few things I learned so far that have surprised me.

-I’m way less Charlotte Mason than I originally thought. Although I love Charlotte Mason, I have found that I really like just working through a text in a very traditional way and then adding in Charlotte Mason style activities that correspond and reinforce what we are learning as time allows. I also still love Classical style, but we aren’t fully classical either.

-I was afraid of not using a boxed curriculum, but I’ve seen that it’s actually easier without one in many ways.  While I loved many things in the MFW boxed curriculum, there were some things I didn’t care for. I am glad I did it for a while as it helped me establish the kinds of things I like, but I’m glad to move on to handpicking those things for myself now so that our school can be a perfect fit for us.

-Choosing some work they can do independently such as worksheets, questions and answers, and copy work is so important for a busy mom with younger children. It adds to their structured learning time without taking from my work time. Usually I do chores while they do their workboxes with their independent work.

-I thought because they were close in age that they could do the same material and I could modify. I was dead wrong. There are so many reasons why it works better for them to be doing two different things, but the top two are: it eliminates comparison (I saw it facilitate pride in the older one and discouragement in the younger, and I didn’t want either of those) and they simply have different needs and I want to meet them both at the appropriate time, I don’t want to make one wait when she is ready to move on or make school a constant battle and struggle for the younger one who is trying to do work she isn’t quite ready for.

-I have learned to trust the Lord more through this. He has called me to do this, and He will give me what I need to accomplish it. I don’t need to entertain thoughts of failure, failure would be not doing what He has called us to, and we are doing it, so we’re not failing…. it may not always look perfect, but I will do my best and I will trust that where I am weak, He will be strong.

Walking in His Grace

-S

Must Have Tot School Supplies

Must Have Tot School Supplies

 

My daughter just turned two in March, and these are the things we are currently using in our Tot School. “Tot School” at our home is pretty informal and lots of fun! It usually happens in the morning after breakfast. My oldest daughter who is 6 has really taken initiative with this endeavor and loves to “teach” tot school to our little tot. This usually takes place while I am washing up breakfast dishes or setting up for the kindergarten and first grade homeschool day. My oldest daughter will choose a few of these toys and work with her on colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. I used to do tot school the same way with my big girls when they were little. I also do a little mom and daughter tot school with her sporadically throughout the day when I can tell she is needing her efforts and energy to be refocused to something good. It’s a great way to reset a tot who is getting a little out of hand; when they are aimlessly making messes and getting into things they shouldn’t… bust out a tot school toy and sit down to play with them for about 5 minutes. Then leave them with it in a pack n play or a buckled high chair and (usually) I find they become interested in the toy and will play contently for a while.

tot school favs 3

Learning and Play Together Time

The best way I have found is to sit down and play with them. Always remember that playing is their learning. Let them play and explore with a select few items (do not give them everything at once!), and as you “play” with them, ask questions and teach. You will simply say things like: “let’s count the pegs, one, two, three, four, five. Look there are five. Can you do it?” And then let them try, and count along if they need help. Or you may say, “Can you hand me the red heart?” and let them try, if they can’t find it, then point and say “there it is, the red heart”.  Look at their baby doll and ask: “where are her arms?” “can you point to her mouth?” Take a puzzled apart and put it back together for them, let them try a piece or two on their own. Pretty soon, they will be able to do it all alone.

Use a cheerful and fun tone. Don’t be forceful. Learning at this age should be play and should be fun.

It is so much fun to do as a mom, and it’s a great way to get older children involved and bodning with younger siblings too. With just a little training an older sibling can easily jump in and do it.  My oldest adores that she is “the tot school teacher”, she even “lesson plans” for her tot school. It’s precious!

If you don’t have an older child and you are just now starting tot school with your little one, just make it a point to pick out a time (usually after breakfast and morning chores is best) and spend 15 to 20 minutes. It’s a small amount of time that makes a huge impact. Not only is there great learning happening, but also bonding!

PreSchool Prep DVD’s

tot school favs 4

And then there’s these DVD’s…… I can not say enough how much I love the Pre School Prep DVD’s! We are very selective with what our children watch. We don’t watch typical things on TV because while they may teach some good things, they often also teach and instill things that we do not desire for our children to learn. I have tried to incorporate various ones many times, but often run into some type of problem in the end, and then we end up getting rid of the dvd’s. The PreSchool Prep DVD’s on the otherhand have not disappointed at all! They stick to the material that they say, and they don’t teach the extras that may be on a hidden agenda. (explaining this further may involved a different blog post for a different day, but all this to say, I like them, I really do!)

They aren’t meant to be a substitute for interactive learning with a real person. I typically put her buckled in a high chair or in her pack in play with one or two of the tot school items while she watches one of the videos. We do two a day, and I use that time to do homeschool with my older children or to accomplish my to do list items that must be done without a toddler underfoot.

{{post edit}}

I’m adding this in a few years later (October 2016), we actually ended up getting rid of a few of the PreSchool Prep DVDs: “Meet the Colors”, “Meet the Letters”, “Meet the Phonics”, and “Meet the Diagraphs” ,here is why: They contain magic and sorcery, and that is something our family has chosen not to put before our children as entertainment. It’s very slight and not the main focus at all. I will describe a few of the instances and you can be the judge of whether or not this would be okay for you; I know we are all different in this regard. In “Meet the Colors” the black does magic (get it “black magic”), pulls a rabbit out of a hat and puts on a magic show with a wand doing various tricks. In “Meet the Letters” and “Meet the Phonics” the F is a fairy who flies around and waves her wand shift-shaping various things and people. In “Meet the Diagraphs” the “gh” sound is a ghost that goes around casting spells, changing various things, and flying through walls. It is a small thing, but I thought it was worth sharing in case there are others who have similar convictions as we do.

tot school favs 2

Our Tot School Must-Haves

(mom, big sister, and toddler approved!)

Pegs and Foam Shape Puzzles from the Lauri Toddler Tote
ABC textured foam puzzle, shape puzzles, and lacing set from Lauri Primer Pak
Pink Snuggle Doll
Shape Puzzle (mine was a garage sale find, similar one here)
Hook and Latch Puzzle
Animal Pet Sounds Puzzle
Cup stack set (mine was in a gift set, similar ones here)
PreSchool Prep Preschool DVD Set

tot school collage

If you are a mom of a tot then I hope you were inspired in some way and got a few fun ideas.Enjoy that little one, they are so precious in these little years!

-S