Monthly Archives: May 2011

Facing Opposition

This is something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with lately. A lot of our family’s choices, though made thoughtfully and intentionally, are very much outside of the mainstream. Whether it be our decision to educate our children at home, our views on natural health, our goal to parent and discipline based on the Bible, or our desire to keep the focus of certain holidays on what they are truly about, these things are often met with opposition because they are so…different. Though I’ve grown passionate about all these things, the fact that they are so foreign in the world we live in is still so hard for me sometimes and goes against every single people-pleasing, approval-seeking bone in my body. Sometimes it’s hard not to see these things as hardships that make my life more difficult. At my core, I want to be liked and I want people to believe that I am a good mother and know that I love my children, but I know very well that some of our choices aren’t popular and I may have to accept that I can’t control what people are going to think of me. One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that God has made this family who we are. He has led us in all these different directions, almost always against my very own will, starting with my conversion ten years ago! I was not at all seeking after Jesus, but He sought after me and softened my heart towards Him. A life that was previously all about me was quickly transformed into a life driven by a desire to follow Jesus. I also didn’t really have any interest in nutrition or alternative health. Quite honestly, I was pretty apathetic, while at the same time I was prideful that I was doing everything just right. God turned my apathy into a quest for the healthiest lifestyle for my family and He humbled me to see that I did not have all the answers like I’d originally thought. And I certainly had no intentions of homeschooling. ”It’s just not for me!”, I’d say. I was actually quite excited about the idea of having some more time to myself when the kids were finally in school. I went from detesting the idea of giving up my own freedom to falling in love with the idea of spending my days learning with my children, literally overnight. And though I loved my children dearly and believed in the truths of the Bible with all my heart, for some reason there still wasn’t an urgency in me to impress it upon them in daily life….yet. God made changes as He saw fit and gave me a strong desire to make His Word the focus of our schooling. With each change of heart, I see God taking me on an amazing journey where He is never willing to let my stubbornness stand in the way of His plans for us. When I look at it that way, I can’t allow myself to believe that our differences are thorns in my life that threaten to rip the approval of others, that I so desperately seek, away from me. They are gifts that were given to me that have made my life so rich and beautiful. I am striving to see the trials of being different from the rest of the world with new eyes. They are a joy and an opportunity to stand out and glorify Him with the unique life we’re living. And the wonderful thing is that He is not finished with this family yet. I can’t wait to see what changes He makes for us in the future, even if they don’t win me any popularity contests. His opinion of me is the ONLY one that matters, and if I am allowing him to lead me, I can be sure that He is well-pleased.

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American Sign Language

One of the things I’m adding to our school routine next year is ASL. Being that Deaf Education is what I studied in college and I know quite a bit of it, I’ve always wanted to teach some to the kids but I’ve done a pretty lousy job of actually doing it. All these years later, I still find myself signing and fingerspelling to myself when I’m deep in thought and the kids have noticed it occasionally, so they know what it is, I just haven’t taken the time to teach them much. I plan on changing that this year. With the letter of each week for Caroline’s preschool, we’ll be learning the sign language letter along with a few words that start with that letter. We may expand it to even more words if they really take to it. I’m really excited to share something that is special to me with them!

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Our Growing Book Collection

If you haven’t already noticed, our homeschool is very literature-based. We love books! Caroline has watched Elliot enjoy all these great books all year long and it’s pretty clear she’s envious. It’s so interesting how she has caught on to the specialness of Elliot’s “Five in a Row books” and knows that they are not just any ordinary books….they are especially exciting and for learning all sorts of wonderful things! So with that in mind, I wanted to create something for Caroline next year that would give her her own special books for what she’s learning. My focus with her this year is really emphasizing the sounds of the letters so that by the end of the year she will be able to start putting sounds together to read simple words. She knows all the letters already, a word to go with each one, and for a lot of them she knows the sound they make, so we’re just going to keep perfecting that skill. Each week we’ll focus on that letter/sound of the week by doing various crafts, games, and activities and of course, we’ll read a special book! I made my selection of books for each sound and over the past six months or so, I’ve been collecting them and saving them away in a bin (I have about 75% of them and will work on getting the last few throughout the year.). Each week of school I’ll surprise her with the next book and we’ll have our own special time to read it, just the two of us, several times each week. Then she gets to keep it in her own collection of books. She’s going to love it!

Here’s the complete list of books we’re using for preschool next year:

The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack

“Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze.” by Patricia Thomas

Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert

Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

Peanut Butter and Jelly by Nadine Bernard Wescott

Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too? by Eric Carle

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven

The Mitten by Jan Brett

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

My Very Own Octopus by Bernard Most

The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven

The Quilt Story by Tomie Depaola

A Rainbow of my Own by Don Freeman

White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert

The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins

Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox

Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni

Zoo by Gail Gibbons

Acorn by Don Freeman (Long A)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (Long E)

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown (Long I)

Over in the Ocean by Marianne Berkes (Long O)

Unique Monique by Maria Rousaki (Long U)

Along with each one of these, I have a list of “book basket” books, either ones we already own or will get from the library, that we’ll keep out that also go with the sound of the week, so we’ll be doing a lot of reading.

And then of course I have our volume two collection for Five in a Row, with the exception of about one or two that we’re leaving out, mostly due to time constraints (As it is we’re already doing a thirty-six week school year and rowing seventeen titles!) and because there are a few out of print books that are nearly impossible to find. I’ve LOVED hunting down these books and adding them to the special shelf that is just for Five in a Row books. Some of them that were out of print were a challenge to find, but I sort of enjoyed the aspect of finding a rare treasure.

On our list for 2011-2012:

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Three Names by Patricia Maclachlan

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car by John Burningham

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

All Those Secrets of the World by Jane Yolen

A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert

When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Down, Down the Mountain by Ellis Credle

Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf

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Compulsive Planner

This has been my first week at home without having a structured school schedule and you’d think I’d enjoy taking some time off of thinking about school, but no, I’ve been spending my time planning out next year and loving every minute of it! Let me say this though, it’s not necessary to be this strictly organized to be successful at homeschooling, this is just me and what makes me happy. I’m an extremely organized person. Order and planning bring peace and joy to my heart. I like to be able to see that it’s all going to work out the way I hope. I have to be certain that everything will get finished when it’s supposed to. Other people who are more relaxed may prefer to just grab the curriculum on Monday morning and wing it. I’d be a wreck if I did that, especially considering I’m going to be juggling pre-school with Caroline and first grade with Elliot. The less thinking I have to do the better. I want to have it all laid out there for me and ready to go!

In my quest for the perfect way to plan out my year, I thought I’d need some kind of planner. First I considered buying one of the Five in a Row planners, but I decided against it because the days we spend on each book and how we break up the lessons are a little bit different than they suggest, so I didn’t know if it would work well for us. Then, while at the homeschool fair, I spotted “The Well-Planned Day” and I came very close to getting it but I just didn’t feel confident that it would be $25 well-spent. I came home and thought about it and decided I should be able to make my own and that’s what I did. I got a nice durable plastic folder with brads, printed out calendars of each month in the school year from this site, and got to work filling in the days (in pencil of course, because you never know what’s going to change!).

My Planner

In the front I have an overview of the year. I’ve been working on this for several months actually. I tried hard to combine what the kids are doing together, whenever possible. For example, when Caroline is working on the sound of the letter D and reading Angus and the Ducks, Elliot will be reading Make Way for Ducklings and we’ll take a field-trip to feed the ducks. When Caroline is working on the sound for the letter G and learning about gardens, Elliot and I will be reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and so on.

Here’s an example of a calendar page. One thing that was most important to me was being able to remind myself when to request library books for each unit so that we’d have them on time. That was always a struggle for me this past year. And yes, Elliot and Josh are taking a trip to Boston after reading Make Way for Ducklings!

In the front pocket I’m keeping a detailed outline of each week for Caroline’s stuff.

And in the back pocket, a detailed outline of what Elliot is doing (each month, broken up into individual weeks).

Each will get placed here on my fridge and get switched out each week/month so that it’s right there where I can see it and know exactly what needs to get done.

Also, tucked in the back is my handy list of all the extras, including library books, that I will need for each unit.

And if that’s not crazy enough, I’ve also made a schedule for how our week goes, since some things are done certain days but not others. But hey, I’m not totally nuts…..notice it’s just a casual list of things we do each day. It’s not like I assigned times to each one. I’ve already learned this year that that only creates stress and makes you feel like a failure when you can’t keep up with the schedule, so I decided to relax a little bit on timing and I’ve been a lot happier ever since!

I’m also organizing all my print-outs and activities for each child in folders.

You would think that I’d be close to being done, but I still have so much more to prepare before I consider myself ready for next year. Luckily I really enjoy doing it and I have a lot of time…two and a half months to be exact.

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One of my big purchases at the Homeschool Book Fair was Math-U-See. I had spent some time researching and deciding whether we were going to continue using the math curriculum we used last year or if we would try something new, and after hearing rave reviews from so many people, I decided on switching to Math-U-See. It seems perfect for Elliot who is very visual and can easily understand things upon seeing how they work.

What’s unique about this curriculum is that the instruction is on DVD. At the beginning of each week we’ll watch Mr. Demme (author and creator) teach the new lesson and then for the remainder of the week (or however long it takes to achieve mastery of the skill) he’ll practice what he’s learned. Mr. Demme teaches each lesson using special manipulatives and then we work through problems using our own set of the manipulatives. These manipulatives are used from Kindergarten all the way up through Algebra. Assuming we like it and use it for several years, I like that the vocabulary used, the way things are taught, and the manipulatives will all be the same. There won’t be any flip-flopping around or new ways of thinking about a concept from year to year. It’s simply building upon the concepts that have already been learned, taught in the same style. I have high hopes for it! Both of my kids are already in love with the idea. They adore their “Math-U-See blocks” and Elliot keeps asking when the math lessons are going to start. Caroline is already memorizing the colors of each number of block. She’s quite excited that the three blocks (her age) are pink! I think she’ll be soaking this up as she watches Elliot this year, so I’m thinking we’ll probably start her on the Primer the following year when she’s four.

Not only is it a great product but I also enjoy knowing the people behind it are great too. I heard Steve Demme speak at the Homeschool Book fair and he is an incredible Christian father of four boys and former homeschooling Dad himself. He had some great thoughts on strengthening the homeschooling family (and surprisingly very little to say about math!) so I really like the idea of buying his products, knowing that he values exactly what we do. Even though he sells a math curriculum, he would tell you that other things (like reading the Bible together) are more important to the homeschooling family than the math curriculum. How cool is that?

We’ve been playing with the manipulatives a bit lately…..because it helps familiarize him with them and it’s just fun!

“It’s a Math-U-See sandwich.”

Here I demonstrated to Elliot how we can put the addition facts for ten on the one-hundred block. Pretty neato! He’s definitely getting a feel for “seeing the math”.

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Just FYI

Though we’ve finished our school year, I still plan to update the blog pretty frequently throughout the summer to share about our plans for the upcoming year, so definitely check in often. I’m back to furiously planning, making shopping lists and checking things off as I get everything prepared for teaching TWO students full-time! It’s bringing back lots of memories of last summer, when out of nowhere we decided we were going to homeschool and I had so much to do in so little time. I feel like I’ve learned so much from this past year and I am definitely perfecting the way I go about getting ready. I can clearly see what helped me last year and what ended up being a big waste of time. I’m thinking that in a few years I’ll have this down to an art. But then again, I hear things aren’t quite as simple as they get a little older, so maybe not.

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Kindergarten-What We Learned This Year!

We’ve done so much this year and Elliot has learned more than I could have imagined, so I thought I’d try my best to summarize some of the big things we’ve accomplished.


To put it simply, Elliot is now a fluent reader. At the beginning of the year, he completed all five sets of BOB books, and then we moved on to Pathway Readers and he completed the entire three-book set of first grade readers. He has also completed up to book four in the Explode the Code series. In addition, he has enjoyed reading many of the “I Can Read” books for fun.


This year Elliot completed the “A Reason For Handwriting” workbook for Kindergarten. Though he was easily writing all the letters before he started it, this book really helped him to learn how to form them correctly and neatly on the line. He’s also been writing in a journal several times each week, which has given him lots of practice and opportunity for improvement.


Elliot completed book one of the Rod and Staff First Grade Arithmetic curriculum this year. From it he has really solidified a lot of skills such as addition and subtraction, which he had a basic understanding of at the beginning of the year. He has memorized many of the addition and subtraction facts. Additionally, he and I have worked on several other math concepts. He can tell time precisely, to the minute. He can count money in any combination of coins. He can count by two, five, and ten (obviously, since he can count money!), he understands the meaning of even and odd numbers, understands “more than” and “less than”, can gather and record information on graphs and has a basic understanding of symmetry.

Language Arts

Elliot has learned so much from our Five in a Row Curriculum this year. He understands terms such as setting, characters, conflict, point of view, and plot. He has also learned a ton of new vocabulary from each of the books. He has also really become interested in learning about authors and their writing styles.


Though we haven’t started a formal grammar curriculum and won’t for a while still, Elliot has learned a lot just from all the reading and writing he’s done this year. He understands capitalization for words that begin a sentence, and other things such as names or titles. He can use punctuation, such as a period and a question mark, correctly. He is even recognizing commas and apostrophes and has a basic understanding of when they’re used.

Social Studies and Geography

Elliot is familiar with so many new geographical locations and cultures because of Five in a Row. This year we studied New England and Appalachia in the United States, as well as China, Japan, Russia, France, Italy, England, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and Canada. He understands cardinal direction (N, E, S, W) and can read a map. He’s familiar with rivers, oceans, islands, etc.


Elliot has learned lots of new science concepts this year such as male/female, predator/prey, vertebrate/ invertebrate, floating/sinking, the five senses, the four tastes, organs in the human body, bacteria and viruses, hibernation, nocturnal animals, weather, temperature, the water cycle, ocean life and tidal pools. He’s been introduced to the idea of invention and has learned about some pretty significant ones, such as the airplane. He’s also studied animals such as ducks, bears, birds, cats and sea creatures.

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We’re Done!

Yesterday Elliot and I spent the day re-reading all our favorite FIAR books from the year. This took us quite a while since we consider almost all of them “favorites”. It was really fun to remember back to the beginning of the year when we read a lot of them. We have lots of good memories tied to these books!

Today we completed all the review that I wanted to do, as well as finished our read-aloud. We are DONE for Kindergarten year.

As far as summer goes, we definitely don’t plan to stop learning but it will be less structured. I told Elliot he could come up with anything he’d like to learn about this summer and we’d find plenty of books about it at the library. He’s already mentioned that he’d like to learn about volcanos. His interest in those began when he learned about Mount Vesuvius during our Italy unit and he’s always wanted to dig a little deeper. He’s also going to get plenty of reading practice, as I plan on keeping him supplied with lots of “I Can Read” books. We may also do a Kumon math workbook or two, so that he doesn’t forget what he’s learned this year, but that is probably about it. We’ll pick back up for FIRST GRADE on August 15.

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Homeschool Lunchtime

One of the things I’ve loved about homeschooling is that we get to spend lunchtime together everyday. Of course, one the reasons I like that so much is that I have more options regarding food since it doesn’t have to be packed and that I have more control over what the kids are eating. I admit to being a bit of control freak…..but when it comes to what my kids eat, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. One thing I do to make sure they are eating what I want them to eat is I give them what they will be least excited to eat first, and only upon finishing that do they get the rest of their lunch. We do lots of vegetables for lunch, which my kids are great about eating, but I know if I’d give them the option, they’d fill up on other stuff first and wouldn’t leave room for the good stuff. They know that they are expected to eat what I serve them without complaining, and they’ve even learned to enjoy most of it.

We also try to make the most of lunchtime in other ways. Before we get started on eating, we do a daily devotional reading together and have a little discussion. They are very short and sweet so that even Caroline can listen and participate. Sometimes if I am asking Elliot a lot of questions, she’ll say, “Can you ask me a question too, Mommy?” It’s so sweet. We’ve also been known to enjoy praise music together during and after lunch, especially if we think of a song that goes along with the devotional we just read. And if we have some free time afterwards, we’ve listened to an episode of Adventures in Odyssey. It’s just plain great to have this kind of time to spend together.

They love to be goofy together during lunch. Sometimes they have a “race” to see who can finish their veggies first.

This is the devotional we are using right now.

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Bible for Storm in the Night

We did our last reading of Storm in the Night today! For our Bible lesson, we talked once again about fear and what the Bible says about it. We also read Mark 4:35-40, about the big storm that came while the disciples were on the boat, even though Jesus, the Son of God, was on there with them! We talked about how Jesus is with us too and how we can rest in that when we are scared.

So, that’s it! We’re done with Five in a Row for the year! We’ve got a big notebook full of fun projects we’ve done with these incredible books and we can’t wait to start up again with Volume two next year! Thanks so much for following our journey!

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