Focusing on Your Priorities

Homeschooling has became possible for so many families thanks to the abundance of educational products and curricula that have become available, but I’ve also noticed how the overwhelming amount of “must-haves” can become a pitfall for many of us. Chances are, if you’re taking on the task of homeschooling, you don’t take your children’s education lightly and are very aware that a lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders. While carrying that burden, we can start to believe that we must do it all or else we will fail. If our friends find a good product, we convince ourselves we need to use it too. I’m often tempted to add “one more thing” to our routine that I think will take their education to the next level. More often than not, it adds little value and is just another thing to check off our list. So I decided to put together a list of the things we value the most so that when I’m tempted to add things, I can ask myself if I would be investing wisely to meet our family’s educational goals. While there are certainly things we do outside of what I’ve listed, these would be considered our top priorities. Here is what made the list of things we view as critical in our homeschool:

1. Building Godly Character and a Biblical Worldview

Not surprisingly, this is the top reason why we homeschool. Public schools don’t teach this. We want our kids’ daily lives saturated in it.

2. Nurturing Strong Readers and a Love of Reading

This is a fairly obvious one, but I truly believe that once a child is a strong reader and enjoys it, his/her potential to learn new things goes through the roof. It’s been a priority for us in the early years and has paid off now that we have two students who very much delight in reading.

3. Familiarizing Them with Classic Literature

This is just a personal value of mine and may not be as important to others. For me, a good education has to include having read or been read to from lots of the classic works. We invested in a large collection of the Puffin unabridged classics and we hope to get through the majority of them by the time we’re done homeschooling.

4. Inspiring Creativity and “Outside of the Box” Thinking

Creativity is huge in our house. I will gladly invest in something if it inspires my children to create something of their own. It’s my personal opinion that there’s a lot of creative potential being lost in schools because of the focus on test scores. It’s a shame because this world needs creative thinkers!

Homemade Board Game

5. Building Excellent Communication Skills- Both Verbal and Written

We live in a world where kids appear to have the inability to have intelligent conversations with anyone outside of their age-group (despite the fact that school supposedly “socializes” them). Our family finds it so important for our kids to be able to share their ideas by speaking articulately and writing well.

6. Giving an Understanding of the Big Picture Through the Study of History

I would have never guessed that this would be on my list, as a former history-hater. I never appreciated history or saw the value in it because of the way it was taught to me. Now I see how important it is that we understand our roots and learn from the mistakes made in the past. In our homeschool, we build so much around our history studies and I try to make it all as interesting as possible by using a variety of materials that enhance our learning.

7. Allowing Time for Pursuing Their Own Passions
This is another huge one in our house. My husband, Josh, would not have his own, successful, software development business if it wasn’t for the fact that he was homeschooled and was allowed plenty of time to pursue his interest in programming. It’s highly unlikely that he would have ever had much time for that if he had been public-schooled. If our kids show a special interest, we plan to build a lot of time for it into the school schedule.

8. Passing on “Real World” Life Skills

Cooking, cleaning, fixing stuff, finances, etc. If they’re going to need it to live on their own, we want to make sure that we’ve done our job to show them how it’s done. I don’t feel like a semester of Home Economics or Shop class in high school could even begin to teach kids what they’ll need to know in the “real world”. It should be a continuing thing that you build on throughout the years of their childhood.

Our kids enjoy adding the tip and “signing” the bill (customer copy) at the end of a meal. We figure it’s good practice for them.

9. Equipping Them to Continue a Healthy Lifestyle

It’s pretty simple. I want my kids to appreciate and respect the bodies God gave them. I’d like to see them making healthy food and lifestyle choices as they grow into adults. It’s an important part of our life now and we hope that they carry that with them after they leave home.

10. Laying a Solid and Complete Math Foundation

This is one of the core subjects that is on the top of my list, simply because of the way it builds on itself over the years. If you get behind, it’s hard to catch up. It’s also crucial if your student ends up going into a science field. I’m definitely not a math enthusiast, but for those reasons, math would not be something we’d let slide unless we were in a very dire circumstance.

*Bonus* Providing Opportunities to Travel and See New Places

This last point isn’t essential but it reflects who we are and what we enjoy doing together. If we had it our way, we’d travel the country in an R.V. and see all the points of interest and then we’d hop on a plane and see other interesting parts of the world. We aspire to provide plenty of opportunities for our kids to actually experience some of the different places that we’ve learned about. Obviously, this kind of thing takes a lot more long-term planning (and money) so we’ll just have to see what opportunities come our way in the future, but we hope it can be an integral component of their education. The great thing about homeschooling and having our own business is that it gives us a lot of flexibility for traveling.

“Kids, when your technology fails, you’ll be happy you know how to use a real map.”

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A New Year Begins

We began our 2014-2015 school year a few weeks ago and things have been going smoothly. I’ve said that this seems to be our “happiest” new year yet, and maybe that’s just because we’re really into our groove now and we know what works for us. Here are a few highlights from our first few weeks:

Sleepy Students’ Special First Day Breakfast

Official First Day Photos

We’ve got TWO piano students this year.

Elliot will also be attempting to master a different type of keys this year, the computer keyboard. He does typing lessons a few times a week.

He’s also being challenged a bit more with writing this year. He’s learning about different types of essays and will be writing a few on topics he chooses throughout this year. Is it any surprise that his first one is about the history of a baseball team, the San Francisco Giants?

Caroline keeps churning out her own stories for her creative writing journal.She got that passion for writing stories from watching her brother write with enthusiasm these past few years.

I’ve always enjoyed including the occasional random surprise when I can tie it into school. I found these great little Jamestown Setters and Powhatan Indian figures from Hobby Lobby and the kids have been playing with them all the time.

I present to you, “Thinking Putty”, the greatest way to keep hands busy and brains focused during read-aloud time. They say if their hands are moving that it’s easier for their brains to stay engaged on what’s being read, and it has worked like a charm for us. Even Caroline, my more distractible student, can retell me everything she’s heard me read with incredible accuracy as long as she’s been messing with this stuff. My warning would be that it does get stuck on carpet, so take care to keep it off the floor!

I’m trying to be more intentional about having the kids give frequent narrations (verbally telling me in their own words what they have heard after I read to them), so I’ve got a little chart where they earn stars for each good narration they give after I read a chapter of something to them. When we reach 100 stars, we’ll go to the bookstore where they can each choose a new book for being such awesome listeners and narrators.

I often assign them reading of their own or have them read something together. This week we’re doing a little unit on Shakespeare so they’ve been reading together about that, while we’ve been reading children’s versions of Shakespeare’s plays together each day.

This book is an absolute gem if you want to introduce Shakespeare to young children. It gives them a good understanding of the plot of each of the play, while keeping it “child friendly”. The kids are now familiar with The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet and we’ll read a few more before the week is done.

Curriculum: Old Standbys and New Friends

As with every other passing year, we’ve kept some of our old favorites, while tweaking and changing other things as I become more aware of my own personal philosophy as well as what works best for my children. Our Math and Language Arts programs fall under the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” category. With several things I’m beginning “round two” with Caroline, as she is using much of the same things that I used with Elliot at this age. In other areas, like science and history, I’m taking different approaches, but also coming full circle in a sense. We started out with an approach that was heavily literature based, with Five in a Row, and last year, though I still did Five in a Row with Caroline, I also steered us down the textbook path thinking that was what should be next, especially for Elliot. While I’m not absolutely “anti-textbook”, I decided reading through a textbook of dry scientific or historical facts wasn’t the most effective way to engage my kids’ minds and I didn’t want to begin teaching them what so many schools do, which is that learning is boring and a chore. My opinion is they have plenty of years ahead of them for textbook learning. Now is the time to “light the fire”, so to speak, instead of extinguishing it.

Elliot and Caroline are both doing Math-U-See this year, which has worked exceptionally well for us so far.

Pathway Readers have been a “staple” on our bookshelf from the very beginning. These are just fabulous. I’m convinced both of my kids are the strong readers that they are because we’ve used these as a part of our reading program.

Instead of one history book, we’ll be using lots of different books, especially biographies and historical fiction books. This year we’re beginning what will be a two-year study of modern history and focusing quite a bit on American History. We’ll cover up to 1850 this year and everything after that next year.

We’ll be keeping a timeline and history notebooks as we learn about different people and events.

We have loved this simple way to keep a timeline. I was able to download, print, and laminate these history event cards and we simply stick them into the page protectors in our mini-binder as we learn about them. It makes reviewing what we’ve learned super easy.

They have a notebook page about once a week that goes with what we’ve read about.

For geography, it seemed fitting to also focus on the United States, so we’ll be learning about each of the states in the order that they were added to the union, memorizing capitals, and learning about different geographical features such as mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes in the America. These are two resources I’ve found to be be really helpful, along with a good wall map, of course.

Last year we got tired of learning about the same science topic all year long with the textbook approach. This year we’ll be touching on all sorts of topics with some really interesting books, using our microscope, and doing experiments that interest us (as opposed to experiments a textbook tells us we need to do). This gives us so much more freedom to take time with the things that interest us and go off on those “rabbit trails” on certain topics if we feel like it.

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Week 25

Memory Verse: He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. -Zephaniah 3:17

Poetry: Love Between Brothers and Sisters by Isaac Watts

Hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

History: The compass, gunpowder, Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc

Science: Uranus and Neptune

Five in a Row: break

Read Aloud: The The Last Little Cat by Meindert Jegong

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Composer: Johannes Brahms

A Few Photos From Last Week:

Johannes Brahms

We learned about Venn diagrams last week when we were comparing Jupiter and Saturn in science. We decided to make one comparing Elliot and Caroline. Turns out they have a lot of differences, with a few similarities such as brown hair, freckles, liking books, and being born on a Wednesday.

We had a wonderful Valentine’s Day lunch with a friend of my family, whose house I used to play at as a little girl.

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Creating a Free-Reading Book Catalog

I had an idea come to me sometime last year which has been really helpful that I thought I’d share. Since the time that Elliot became a reader, I wanted to make sure to keep him well stocked with reading material and I was doing a lot of research on books that he might like. At first, I would just keep a mental note of new ones I came across, thinking that I’d remember the next time we were at the library, but then we’d get there and I’d be trying to remember what that book was that I wanted to find for him. I’m not a big fan of just picking books at random at the library, because you just never know what you’re going to find in there and I’m uncomfortable with that for when my kids are reading on their own. But at the same time, I don’t want to be a complete control-freak-mom who choses each and every book and when they’ll read it. So I’ve been working on creating a massive “catalog” of books that, as far as I can tell by reading reviews, are of good quality with content I approve of. The entire thing is thirteen pages long, separated into three groups: beginning readers (around K-2nd), established readers (3rd-8th), and mature readers (9th and up). I’ve got three copies of our catalog, one for at home, one for our library bag, and one for the car (in case we stop in at a book store and I don’t have our library bag). Now, no matter where we are, Elliot can choose from lots of options for his next book and I can rest assured that it’ll be something I’ve already looked into and approve of. It’s a win for both of us.

Right now I’m up to thirteen pages of books/ series that I would guess add up to around 1,500-2,000 total books. It would appear that we’re pretty much set with ideas for free-reading through all of high school.

This is Elliot’s most recent choice, a book about a dog and cat’s adventures in the time of Noah. He absolutely loved it and flew through all 432 pages in less than a week.

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Week 23

Memory Verse: He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. -Zephaniah 3:17

Poetry: Love Between Brothers and Sisters by Isaac Watts

Hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

History: West Africa in the Middle Ages, Churches in the Middle Ages

Science: Saturn

Five in a Row: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Read Aloud: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Composer: Johannes Brahms

A few photos from last week:

Mapping the Crusaders’ Journey to Israel

We made a hurricane in a bottle after learning about Jupiter’s “great red spot” storm.

Josh and I saw Saving Mr. Banks a few weeks ago and it inspired an interest in P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins so we decided we’d read it together as a family in the evening so we can compare it to the Disney movie.

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A Reflection on Raising Daughters

We’ve all heard the admonition that the best thing we can do for our daughters is to raise them up to be “strong, independent women”. Thanks to the intensity of the feminist movement, the world’s echoing message to young girls is, “You don’t need a man. You can do ANYTHING a man can do.” While I’m all for encouraging girls to develop skills and follow their interests, I suspect this mindset is going to end up being harmful to them and destructive to their future marriages and families. That may seem like an extreme statement, not to mention absurdly politically incorrect, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ll try to explain my position.

Men and women were created with unique abilities and gifts. We were created to NEED and compliment each other. It would be an outright lie to say that women do not need men. I’m not saying a woman cannot survive without getting married, but there will most certainly come a day when that woman needs a man’s unique abilities and strengths in some way. This world needs men! To say that a man is not any more physically able than a woman is nonsensical. Case in point, more than fifty percent of female marines fail their strength and fitness test. I’m not saying this to criticize those women. They’re trying to achieve something they were not built for. It’s a fact that men are better equipped for physically and mentally demanding tasks such as combat. Likewise, men need women. Women have many remarkable talents and capabilities that most men do not possess. We influence the next generation and enrich a home and family in a way most men cannot do on their own. This world needs women!

Unfortunately, when this generation of little girls grows up, they will have become fully convinced that they do not need men. When their marriages hit a rough patch, what idea will ultimately rise to the forefront of their minds? “They told me I didn’t need you. They were right. I’ll be better off without you.” And as their daughters watch this “self-sufficiency” being asserted, the seed will be planted once again and the dangerous cycle will continue to dismantle families instead of strengthening them. The independent woman mantra is so cleverly disguised as a huge breakthrough for women, but I truly believe it’s toxic for families. So I will not set out to raise a “strong and independent woman”. There are so many other dreams I have for my beloved daughter. Will I teach her to be helpless? Of course not. One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is having even more opportunities to teach both of my children life-skills, and I’m sure she’ll be right there with her brother when Josh is teaching him about changing the oil in the car. But I will not lie to her and tell her that she will be able to do everything any man can do and in doing so, declare that men are useless. I love that each day my daughter witnesses me needing my husband…and him needing me. It’s a beautiful thing to need each other.

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Week 22

Memory Verse: In Everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Poetry: Trees by Sara Coleridge

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy

History: The Crusades

Science: Jupiter

Five in a Row: The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl

Read Aloud: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Composer: Johannes Brahms

A few photos from last week:

It’s hard to get this girl to sit “normally”. I’m pretty sure she’d drive a school teacher crazy. Luckily in our classroom she’s only a minor distraction to one other student.

Every once in a while there comes a project that I pass on to Josh to do with the kids. The construction of our medieval castle, with all it’s meticulous cutting and pasting was one of those.

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Week 21

Memory Verse: In Everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Poetry: Trees by Sara Coleridge

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy

History: The Middle Ages, Battle of Hastings

Science: Jupiter

Five in a Row: The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl

Read Aloud: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Composer: Johannes Brahms

A few photos from the last few weeks:

At Their Weekly Art Class

They’ve also been doing some art with Daddy. On this particular evening, they were learning about shading, hence the giant spotlight.

We learned that Elliot needs glasses and should be receiving them sometime this week. This is a pair of frames he chose.

History Notebook- Charlemagne

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Week 19

We’re back after taking off two weeks for the holidays. Prior to that we were busy, busy busy! We went to Walt Disney World in early November and then during Thanksgiving break we went on a road trip to see various family, going through Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. We were able to observe the very divergent terrain from place to place and kids were excited to add on to their list of states they’ve visited. Shortly after returning home we got to “enjoy” some winter weather (lucky for us, there are no snow days in homeschool so we didn’t have to get behind) and then had a wonderful Christmas.

Here’s what we’re up to this week:

Memory Verse: But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. – Romans 8:20-21

Poetry: Trees by Sara Coleridge

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy

History: Muhammed and the beginning of Islam

Science: Space Rocks

Five in a Row: Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

Read Aloud: Aesop’s Fables

Artist: Norman Rockwell

Composer: Johannes Brahms

Photos from Thankgiving Break and Beyond:

We stopped by Lehman Park in Berne, Indiana, where Elliot and Caroline’s Grandpa grew up.

Painting Field Trip

This book was one of our gifts to the kids for Christmas. Josh came across it and thought it would be something they’d be interested in. It’s a story with a mystery to solve, with lots of searching for clues, note-taking, and de-coding. There’s a section that’s sealed at the back to open only when you think you’ve solved it all.

The three of them spent at least an hour and a half looking for clues (sometimes with the help of a magnifying glass) and jotting down notes.

Elliot also spent a lot of time cracking a secret code the next day until we were finally ready to open the sealed pages to reveal if they got it all right.

We also got them a microscope for Christmas, which we’ve been experimenting with lately.

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Week 14

Memory Verse: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. – 2 Corinthians 13:14

Poetry: break

Hymn: Away in a Manger

History: Julius Caesar, Virgil, Imperial Rome

Science: Mars

Five in a Row: Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley

Read Aloud: The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Composer: Frederic Chopin

Last Week’s Photos:

Roman Gladiators Notebook Page

Frederic Chopin

Josh captured this sweet little photo from just outside the schoolroom as he was passing by. Elliot was attempting to teach Caroline how to do multiplication. (She was listening earnestly, as one of her goals is to catch up with him someday.)

How do you even attempt to explain something like this face? She is an absolute riot and cracks us up all day long. I’m thankful to have her sitting next to me, making me smile during all three meals a day.

We totally had to take a Middle-of-the-Day-Mother-Daughter “selfie” in the schoolroom after conquering some phonics together. (This one was sent to Daddy who works just around the corner and down the hall. We like to keep in touch during the day.)

We’re on vacation next week and after that things will begin to get pretty busy as the holidays approach. This may be my last update for quite a while!

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