Monday, June 01, 2015

My Favorite Homeschool Planner

My favorite homeschool planner is not a "homeschool" planner.  It is this one from House of Doolittle, and it costs $5.47 on Amazon right now.  This is very similar to the planner my mom used, so maybe it just feels "right" to me because of that, but there are so many things I love about this planner.  Let me count the ways!

First, I love the Subject column.  There is no list of subjects in the left-hand column, so I can write my own list there, and if one week's subjects are different from the next week, it's okay!  For the most part, my subject list has remained the same, but I did figure out about half way through the year that I could consolidate a couple of subjects, and I use the extra squares for "Life Skills" and "Character Traits." 

Second, I love the space for notes on the right-hand column.  Here is what it looks like up close.

I am very visual, and love to color-code things, so each day of the week has a color, and I mark some things so that I can easily find what needs to be done on which days.  Also, each child of mine has a color.  Griffin is green, Sammy is blue, Oliver is orange and Duncan is red. This color applies to rubber bands that go around their drinking   glasses, any school supplies that are purchased for them, and the little highlighted marks that you see in the planner.  When they see their color, it is their job to do that assignment and mark it off when it is completed.  This way I am not writing the same assignments multiple times.  I think my future self will thank me for simplifying the process once I have 4 children in my planner!

Third, I love this planner because it is simple.  It is about 1/2 inch thick, and doesn't have monthly or weekly planning pages, or tabs, or pretty designs, or Bible verses, or a fancy cover, or any of the other things that drew me to other planners that I have used in the past.  Any fanciness has to come from my hand.

I have used this planner (Well Planned Day) in the past:

At first, I loved the colors and designs, and I happily used this planner for about 3 years.  As the boys got older, and we added more subjects, I began to be irritated by the fact that the subjects were already filled in, and one of them (English) wasn't one that I used (language arts is tough to label sometimes!), so I had to mark it off every week and re-write that one, plus add a few more subjects in the spaces below it.

Next, I purchased this one (A Simple Plan) from Mardel.

I wondered when I purchased A Simple Plan if I would be annoyed by the gray and white lines, but I did like the fact that I could write in my own subjects, even if I did have to write them sideways.  I must be really easily annoyed, because even that bothered me!  And yes, I was right.  I would just about go cross-eyed every week when I would sit down to do my planning, because of those gray and white lines.  They were highly distracting, and made it hard for my eyes to focus on parts of the page.

Fourth, I love that this planner isn't dated.  I love not having blank weeks when we take school off, and having to cross off big sections when we take a month off.  Even after taking time off, I just flip to the next week, write the dates in, and go!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Conference and Catalog Season

Just a reminder (for me as well; I am still learning these lessons!) as we head into Conference and Catalog Season: Trust in the Lord to lead your family in the way that you should go. God has plans for you and your children that no one else might know about yet. Not even you!

Don't fall into the trap of lusting after the curriculum in the pages of those glossy catalogs, with all of the smiling, clean children and ultra-confident, non-yoga-pant-wearing, took-a-shower-this-morning moms. Those catalogs and companies have a product to sell. They may be wonderful products, and they might actually help your family achieve greater things than you ever imagined possible. Or, they might enslave you because you feel like you can't follow the leading of the Holy Spirit because you spent so much good money on all of these great books and curriculum, and they were put together by experts, who clearly have more knowledge than you do. Been there, purchased that, regretted that, re-sold that!

As you walk around at a homeschool conference, you may feel pressured to purchase certain (shiny) books or curriculum that claim that they have figured out the very best way to teach your children, and they can show you how to do it. There are so many wonderful choices out there today, many of which will actually provide your children with an excellent education. But what is driving us to purchase that curriculum? Is it fear? Peer pressure (no matter how positive)? Or is it our desire to follow God's leading? When a newer, "better," shinier curriculum comes along, will we ditch what we are currently using and chase after that one as well? {My husband *might* have just spoken those very words to me last week.}

Jeremiah 17:5-10
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.

For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is in the Lord.

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?

I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings."

Did you catch all of that? You might want to read it again, just to be sure. It's SO good.

Remember, we can lead our children to and through education, but we can't make them learn. That is up to them, and God. And, my Mama taught me that one of the best ways to teach is with consistency. It can be hard for a child to take in new information when he is constantly having to learn new methods and get used to new curriculums with different rules. Gulp. I have had to learn not to let my children's whining and/or complaining affect my decision-making. That's hard!

{{{Story: I had felt strongly led to use a certain math curriculum a few years ago, and after using it for half a school year I let my son's daily whining about the lessons persuade me to start considering other options, even though he had been learning well and progressing at an amazing rate. Now, my husband and I have decided to go back to that curriculum after 2 years of pushing through a different curriculum that is top rated, but that I never felt at peace about. What does my son have to say? "Oh, that's awesome, Mom! I really loved that curriculum, and I was sad when we stopped using it." He tells me 2 years later. Don't be led around by the whims of your children! Let God, in His infinite wisdom, guide you.}}}

Proverbs 3:1-8
"My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.

It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones."

Also, I need to remember to not neglect the Scriptures as the very best curriculum there is, or ever will be.

2 Timothy 3:17-18
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Thursday, March 05, 2015


Pictures.  Because I have been facebooking my life and not blogging it!  Shame on me!

Life Dirt

As I swept the floor this morning, and my dirt (Lego, mud clot, dart-gun bullet) pile quickly accumulated, the thought came once again (as it often does lately during these days of Young Man Restlessness and Deep Masculine Thoughts from my oldest) -- one day soon, my dirt pile won't be quite so interesting as it is now.  I am excited at the possibility of only sweeping once a week instead of every day or two, don't get me wrong.  But my little brood of... well, I guess I can't call these hens, as we are a house full of Little Roosters, with one Mother Hen trying to tame them all... The Rooster Crew won't be here forever, and one day there will just be Mama and Papa Dirt to clean up.  I sure hope it is half as interesting as my Rooster Crew dirt pile is!  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2 Thessalonians 3:10

Adventures in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 living! We have been implementing this verse for the past month, and it has been working beautifully. The boys have had many good days, when they get their school work done before lunch easily, and just a couple of bad days, when they didn't eat anything but breakfast and water until 8 or 9pm.

Side note: Keep in mind that their school work is all independent, and takes them 1-2 hours to complete, if they are focused. We have chosen independent curriculum for a reason! I have four little people to care for, and a house to take care of, and laundry, and dishes, and food to prepare... I can not do all of my jobs well if I have to stand beside them and hold their hand while they learn. We are raising independent learners!

So, back to the update: I still love it. I don't have to nag, remind, cajole, bribe, anything. If they want to eat, they have to do the work. And they really like to eat.

As a reminder, here is our daily routine. When one task is completed, they may begin the next task.
Morning Hygiene

This week, I discovered that I need to begin Phase 2. Kitchen open/closed times. The reason for this is that if the kitchen is open (food is available) all day, at any time, then they have no reason to want to finish by a certain time. They just grab a sandwich at 2pm, which then leaves a mess for me to clean up. They try, but we have ants right now, so every crumb needs to be off of the counters, and they are boys... you get the idea. But if I say that lunch is from 12-1, and the kitchen closes at 1 and doesn't re-open until snack time at 4, then they whip themselves into shape and get busy! Or at least, that is the plan.

Today, they chose to play a game at breakfast time. I just watched, not saying anything, letting them enjoy their time together. I figured they would end the game and get busy. Nope. They messed around until 11:45, when I started talking out loud, to myself (ha!) about what I would make for lunch. Uh-oh.

There was much whining, crying, cajoling, bribing, nagging (all on their part), but The Mama didn't budge. A light bulb blinked on over my red head (isn't that how all genius happens?), and I decided to implement the "closed kitchen" idea. They had an hour to get their school work done before the kitchen closed. They could get it done if they worked hard. Did they make good choices? Did they use their time wisely?

They pulled out the watercolors. (I am editing this post to add that anyone who knows me knows that my eye started twitching at this point. One, rules were being broken. Two, paint. Enough said.)

So, lunchtime rolled around, and no one was done with their school. Hmmm...

I heated up my food, and my 3-year-old's food, and we sat down to eat, at which point all of the school work leaves the table for the day and has to be taken to the basement to be worked on. After all, we wouldn't want a drink to spill and ruin a school book, right? Oh, dear. The noises I heard! I sat down and calmly ate my lunch.

No one had finished their school work by the time the kitchen closed at 1pm. So, I gently reminded them that when the kitchen re-opened at 4pm for snack time, they needed to have their school work AND chores done in order to get a snack.

I have never seen my children work harder or faster than they did today. They finished up their last subjects of school work, and get this! They *helped each other* get their chores done so that they could both eat snack. Holy textbooks! I about fell over. Yes, I know, that's not proper grammar. But I did.

Rules and consistency work! It has taken me 9 years to figure that out, but it is beginning to sink in.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Planning Day

Sundays are Planning Day for me.  My process has become fairly streamlined over the years, and I can pull everything out, plan for the coming week, and put everything away in around an hour.  I took a bunch of pictures today for those who, like me, love to see how other people do things.

First, I need to clean up my work space.

Done cleaning, now on to the fun stuff.
This is everything I need to do my weekly school planning.  I put it all on the table before I start, because if I get up to get anything, I almost always get distracted.

The inside of my planner.  I used my 3-hole punch to punch holes in my EZ-Grader, because I had trouble keeping track of it.  Behind that is what is left of our Pizza Hut Book It certificates.  Then there is a sheet protector full of stickers.  When the boys get an A on their math, or do exceptionally well on one of the subjects I don't grade, they get to pick a sticker. 

This is the next section in my planner.  The past weeks' assignment sheets, plus blank ones for upcoming weeks.  I mark the week numbers in a the beginning of the year so that we make sure we get 36-40 weeks done, but I don't write the dates down until I am writing assignments down for that week.  The week numbers are important, as you will see later.

I pull out a blank sheet for this week.  It happens to be week 34.  We're almost done with the required number of weeks of school for this year!  Yippee!!
Next, I fill in the students' names and their "independent work" subjects, and the "Subjects We Do Together."  This planning page is located at  It works great for two students, and I'll probably keep using it once kiddos 3 and 4 join us for school, I'll just use two sheets for each week, and print back and front (I love duplex printing!) so that I can see both pages at the same time when my binder is open.
I have all of the information I need to fill in the blanks, right in the back of my binder.  I'll show you that next.  I fill in the independent subjects (math, language arts, reading and penmanship) first...
and then the subjects we do together (Bible, science and character studies)
This is my creation, and the reason why I only need one binder to fill in my planner every week.  No more hauling all of the books out to my desk every week!  I made this in Excel, and it has a box for every week we do school (usually 36-40 weeks).  I can send you the file if you want to use it.  I made one of these sheets for every book we have used in school this year.  I slide it into a sheet protector, and use a wet erase marker to mark off each week after I write it on the assignment sheet.  Each box is numbered, and that is why my week numbers on my planning sheets are so important.  I know where we should be in each book because of the week number.  Griffin's Saxon 5/4 math book is shown here.  I can easily see that at the end of this week, he will have completed 28 weeks, and have 6 weeks of work left in this book.  I have a divider for Griffin, one for Sammy, and one for Together.  Griffin's books get marked off in green, Sammy's in blue, and Together in red.
We don't use every book for a full year.  This was one of our Bible books, and it only took us about 9 or 10 weeks to finish this book, because the lessons were short and easy to read, and we ended up doing several in a week, instead of just one per week like I had planned.  Then we got to pick a new book to go through.

We use the Eclectic Education Series, which includes the McGuffey Readers.  We are using the Original books this year, but I believe that next year we will use the revised versions.  The wording is a bit more up-to-date, as is the content, but it still is full of godly, moral lessons.

Sammy's lesson for next week.  This is in the First Reader.  Each week, they do oral reading on Monday, spelling with me on Tuesday, copywork (I choose which paragraph) on Wednesday, spelling with their brother on Thursday, and either more copywork (Sammy) or answering questions about the lesson (Griffin) on Friday.  If there are no questions at the end of the lesson, Griffin does more copywork on Friday as well.  I just love the pictures in these books, and each lesson is just so wonderful for helping us pass on our faith to our children!
This is the Second Reader.  There are 4 Readers, and the content in the Readers takes a child through high school, and into college level reading.  The lessons are not very long, but they really make the child think.  Here was Griffin's list of spelling words for last week.  They do spelling orally for now, and they are both superb spellers.  If they spell a word incorrectly, we talk about its meaning, break it down into syllables, and sometimes talk about phonics as well.

Our penmanship binder.  I wrote out character traits, each with its definition and a Bible verse, once in print and once in cursive, and then laminated them together, one on one side, one on the other.  The boys take that week's penmanship down to the school room for the week, and they have to turn in 5 copies in their best penmanship (Sammy in print, Griffin in cursive) every Friday.  If they have written carelessly, they rewrite the sloppy ones.  I pick out their best page, they get to pick a sticker for it, and we put those in the binder behind the laminated sheet for the week.  We'll go through them at the end of the year and see how much they have improved over the year.

From Boyhood and Beyond, by Bob Schultz -- one of the books I read aloud with the boys during "Mom School" in the afternoons.  Griffin, Sammy and I spend about an hour every afternoon on the couch doing school together while the littles take their naps.  It is one of my favorite times of the day. 
This one is God's Names, by Sally Michael.  I am learning right along with my children as we read through it.  There are 3 more in this series; God's Promises, God's Providence, and God's Provisions.  I can't wait to read them all!  So fantastic.

This is Griffin's science/health book for the year.  It is all about taking care of your body.  We read it aloud during Mom School, and then Griffin takes a quiz at the end of each chapter.  Sammy won't get quizzed on it until he studies it when he's in 4th grade.

In every book we use for school, even if it wasn't intended for school use, I divide the book into sections and write the section numbers in, so that I can easily find where we need to be every day. 

We go over the questions every day after I finish reading aloud.  I ask the question, they think about it, and then they repeat the answer after me.  These are the same questions Griffin has on his Quizzes.
Griffin's book list for this year.  I spent a total of $67 on his books this year, and $30 of that was a critical thinking book that we won't be using any longer.  He finished it for the year, and we're not continuing that subject next year.  Homeschooling can be very inexpensive and still include good quality materials!  Most of our curriculum is in the Eclectic Education Series, which we purchased last year from  All of the books in the series are available for free online at public domain sites, but they are often not formatted, and some have pages missing... it can be time-consuming to piece together on your own.  For $159, we purchased 5 CDs that have all of the books we need for a wonderful, thorough 1st - 12th grade education.  If they finish all of the books in the series, they have completed 1st-3rd year college level work.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

I don't think I have posted this recipe here. If I have, forgive my memory (or the lack thereof). It is a family favorite!

Sweet and Sour Meatball Simmer

¾ pound frozen prepared Italian meatballs
1 medium each red and yellow peppers, cut into chunks (or substitute 1 bag frozen mixed veggies)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/2 cup Catalina dressing
4 tablespoons soy sauce
¾ teaspoon each ground ginger and garlic powder
2 cups Minute white rice, cooked

Combine all ingredients except rice in large skillet. Cover. Cook on medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to medium-high; uncover. Cook 10-20 minutes or until sauce is thickened and meatballs are heated through, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot rice.

Finishing Well, Part 2

After my last post about where our homeschool motivation comes from, a friend of mine asked me what led me to say what I had.  I had mentioned that I wrote it all down without even editing, and anyone who knows me knows that the likelihood of me not editing something I have written is next to nothing!  I went back to the post after getting up and tending to my children, and when I read what I had written, I couldn't believe my eyes.  I wrote that?  I need to hear those words just as much as anyone who reads them.  I struggle daily with comparison, and people-pleasing, and pride.  Not a fun combination when, as a Christian, I should be striving to please my Lord most of all, but with a humble heart, not just so that I will look good to others.  

I wanted to write out my response to her here, where the likelihood of walking away from my computer and losing everything I had written is much less.

So, sweet friend, here is my response.  :)

1) Those words, most of all, come from being involved in the homeschool community for the past 23 years, and noticing what different families choose to focus their time and attention on, and then paying attention to the results of those choices.  This holds true for any family, whether or not they homeschool, as we are all ultimately responsible for how our children are raised.  The removal of any reverence for God (they didn't remove God; He is still there, whether they acknowledge Him or not) in the public school system of the United States is appalling.  Our country was founded on the belief that there were moral absolutes that were found in the Bible.  These absolutes were assumed, understood by everyone.  There was no need to be redundant and mention that it was God who was being glorified by the people following these moral, biblical laws.  Everyone already knew that.  Today, children in public schools are taught to believe that all law comes from the government, and can be changed on a whim, and that there are no moral truths.  God doesn't even factor into the equation. 

2) My words also come from watching so many sweet homeschool -- and even some public school -- moms and dads struggle under a heavy burden that they have created for themselves based on comparison to others' perceived homeschool successes.  My question has always been, "But in whose eyes are those children successful?  God's eyes, or the world's eyes?"  I admit, I have been guilty many times of judging other families for the way I see them raising their children, or what they are or aren't teaching them.  I'm human too!  I don't have God's vision for every family, and I have had to learn, slowly and over time, that He has different purposes and direction for each family, all for His glory!

By the way, I'm not talking about sinful living, for that IS to be judged, so long as it is one believer to another and not a believer judging an unbeliever, as Paul tells the church in 1 Corinthians 5.  We do need to hold each other accountable.  Someone once suggested to me that I was being prideful in a certain area, and it really caused me to examine my heart, and I could see it in every aspect of my life.  We are all sinners, saved by grace, but sometimes we just need a kick in the pants.  :)

Where was I?  Oh yes...  

Accolades (even from other believers) are empty and unsatisfying in the long run, but the praise of others here on earth really does make us feel good just for today.  Are we giving up the eternal for the temporal when it comes to homeschooling, as we so often do in other areas of life?  Families sacrifice relationships with their children or with their Lord, all in the name of "keeping up with the local homeschool group," or "making sure we're using curriculum that is the best/ most expensive/ least expensive/ well-rounded/ tailored to each of my children's learning styles/ prettiest/ newest and shiniest/ oldest and time-tested/ most thorough/ laid-back/ relevant/ mentally stimulating curriculum out there.  I have been there.  I *am* there.  I'm too concerned with all of those things.

3) What I write comes from my own upbringing.  I was homeschooled by parents who were willing to make choices as they felt led by God, and stick with those choices through constant questioning by family members and friends who felt that my parents were depriving my sister, brother and I of what we "deserved"... the same education as everyone else.  But we are not called to give our children the same education as everyone else.  Ephesians 6:4 tells us, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."  I wasn't always happy about my parents' decisions in regard to how we were raised, at least not while I was young, but I see the wisdom in those choices now.  Do I do some things differently than they did?  You bet!  I have different children than they did.  :)

So those are my main reasons for posting what I did yesterday.  My words come from my heart!  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Homeschool Ponderings

Children throughout the centuries before the mid-1800's received an individualized education (either at home or from tutors) that was full of Biblical values, morals and character by the methods of:

1) Copying (copy what you see),
2) Dictation (write what you hear),
3) Memorization (remember what you read),
4) Recitation and narration (say what you know), and
5) Composition (write about what you know). 

These methods are so simple that any parent can do them with their children, right?  All we need are a Bible and some great books -- McGuffey's Readers, Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary, character-building biographies of heroes throughout history, intriguing books to spark an interest in all things scientific, some arithmetic books, etc.  After all, life is so full just doing the labor that God has given us to do that we can't spend all day sitting at desks doing bookwork.  Right?

Then came Horace Mann and the Common School Movement, Jean Piaget's theories of cognitive development,  John Dewey's Humanist Manifesto, and B.F. Skinner's Humanist Manifesto II and behavioral psychology.  They all sounded so educated!  So intelligent!  Surely they knew more than we simpleminded parents ever could.  We need to put our children into these schools so that these highly educated people can teach them!  They should all be taught the same thing at the same time.  And it would be easier to do that if they were divided into grades with other children their same age.  There were some who questioned it, even fought tooth and nail against these changes, in the beginning.

But now?  We can't remember when everyone did not go to school.  This is our new normal.  Functional literacy is lower than ever.  Children do not know their siblings.  Fathers are not respected.  Mothers have too much time on their hands, and have been told that they are not necessary in the home, so they are seeking fulfillment with jobs.  It is left up to churches to teach all things spiritual, because there is not time when the children are gone at school all week long.

What has happened?

We (even those of us who homeschool) believe that our children aren't getting a full education unless they can learn (and spit back out on a test) every fact that the textbook publishers throw at them.  This schooling philosophy, and the idea that textbooks and boxed curricula are the only way to make sure that our children get a "complete" education, without the dreaded "gaps," takes away so much of our freedom as homeschool parents!  We rely on "experts" to teach our children because we believe that we are inadequate.

I am beginning to come around to the idea that teaching our children is like cooking.  If I can read, I can do it... or at least learn how to do it effectively with practice and patience.  It is not something that should only be left up to the "experts."  I am capable!  It might take me a while to work up to making something as complicated as foie gras, and I might even decide that foie gras is not something that suits me, so I might not even try.

Sorry for the food analogy.  I must be hungry.  My point is, every family will homeschool differently!  Sure, I will use textbooks for arithmetic.  Math is not my strongest subject, and my math-loving husband isn't available to answer questions all day long.  However, I am freeing myself from the idea that someone else knows better than I what my children need to learn.  I am learning to rely on God to guide me to the resources He wants me to use to teach my children.

It is not an easy process, and believe me, I like easy!  I want to use that shiny new curriculum that comes in a box and promises to teach my children everything their little brain needs to know without any gaps.  And I found great comfort in those boxes of curriculum in the beginning of our homeschool journey.  That might be the path that God has for some people!  Who am I to say that God wants every family to do things the way I feel He is telling me to do them?  *This is not a salvation issue.*  I just want to have time to teach my children everything that I feel is most important for them to learn.  I want them to develop the kind of strong character that can withstand Satan's attacks.  I want them to put on the full armor of God, and I just don't have time to teach my children what my husband and I have decided that we want them to know when they are spending all of their "school" hours answering questions that are only important to someone else.  I believe that it should be every homeschool family's highest priority to define the goals they have for their children and their education.  Even if those change over time, just figure out what is important to you and why!  If you shoot for nothing, you'll hit it every time.  

Will I never ever pick up another textbook to use to teach my children?  I am not saying that at all (see math comment above!).  And I have a very faithful husband who keeps me accountable to fully utilize the resources I have been led to.  (Have I mentioned that I am highly distractible?) We also consult the World Book Typical Course of Study to determine many of the topics we feel are important to cover during our homeschooling years. 

Here is where I ask my questions and then stand on my soapbox for a bit.  When we decide that our children's education will not be complete until our children learn certain things (or do certain things), are we leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work?  Certainly, my husband and I have taken the time to pray and to ask God to lay on our hearts what is important for us to teach our children.  We have agreed and decided on what we believe is important for our children to know.   But beyond the things that God leads us to, are there any further requirements?  And why do we all (read: why do *I*) stress out so much about meeting standards that have been decided by atheist, socialist men who do not believe that our children have eternal souls?  Men who believe that our children should be taken away from us for the majority of their day early in their lives so that our influence on them can be limited as much as possible?

When you read that these people (who, may I remind you and myself, are the ones who decided what the current standards of education should be) do not believe in a Holy God, and feel strongly that parents do not have the right to decide what is best for the children that God has entrusted to us, how does that make you feel?  It makes me feel like shouting from the rooftops that these heathens are trying to take away the most important part of my children's education!  They want to fill my little ones' minds with humanistic philosophies, knowledge of a world that God had no part in creating and doesn't care about today -- actually, how could He care, if He doesn't even exist?  I don't want my children learning about that world.  NO!  I will fight against those teachings with every breath.  Or I should.  I fail often. 

This is what we, as parents who are under God's authority, have been commanded to do.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9  "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."  Do these sound like the words of a God who doesn't care if we make Him a priority in our children's education?  Where in the Bible does it say, "You shall teach your children arithmetic, phonics, grammar, science, and history.  Oh, and if you have time after that, and everyone is still in a good mood, read a Bible story so that God can have a place in your day."

Do we really and truly believe in the God we say we believe in?  Then we need to teach our children about Him!  Before we do anything else!  Better yet, while we are doing everything else.  God should not be an addendum to our curriculum.  God is a jealous God.  He should be the most important part of our children's education.  We need to reach our children's hearts!!

Do we truly believe that God is all knowing?  All powerful?  Then why do we think that we have failed if we don't teach our children every bit of knowledge that is in the world today, during the 13 years of their "formal education?"  (Yes, I am over-exaggerating to make my point.)  How many times does a girl go all the way through school, college, graduate school... and then realize that her most fulfilling role is as a loving, humble wife and mother serving her family and helping and uplifting her husband as God intended for married women to do?  How many times does a boy go through school, college, etc. and end up doing something completely different from what he has spent decades being trained to do? 

As a Christian, it is my duty to develop in my children a love for God, a fear of His Almighty Power, and an ability to be still and listen to the Holy Spirit's leading in their lives!!  What could possibly be more important than that?  Yes, the grammar will be taught.  Yes, they will be required to know their math facts.  I am not arguing with the fact that those things are important.  However, I am realizing that my priorities have shifted from emphasizing academics above all else (who doesn't want their kids to excel?) to making sure that following God is our family's top priority.

This post may seem disjointed and all over the place!  I realize that there are many topics here.  I will try to answer my own questions along my homeschool journey for the benefit of others.  I have been pondering many questions over the past few years.  Some of them I have answered for myself, and some of them I am still seeking answers to.  I have been reading Educating the Wholehearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson, and it is challenging and encouraging me, and is opening up a whole new perspective on homeschooling for me.  I have also been introduced over the past couple of years to the Eclectic Education Series and Sherry Hayes at Large Family Mothering.  These people, and their wonderful resources that have been birthed from decades of teaching their own children, have helped this searching mama find some truths that I needed to hear. 

Finishing Well

I wonder what Christians, even just 50-100 years ago, or perhaps the English who originally settled and fought and died for religious freedom (particularly Christian freedom) in this country, would have to say if they saw what the public school system in the United States has become. Is the system to blame? I don't believe so. I really believe that it is the fault of millions of individual Christian families who are not willing to be different from the people stuck in that system. We as homeschoolers put so much pressure on each other to measure up to the public school system -- to score as high or higher on their tests, to do better in their sports, to be the best in everything *they* do -- when we shouldn't even be using the same measuring stick they are.

Are our children good at volunteering their time to help others who are in need in some area? Are they good at showing love to others? What have they done for others lately, not because their parents told them to, but because they truly wanted to help others, out of a heart of compassion? I ask myself these questions daily. I want my children to notice things that need to be done, not so that I can have an immaculate house, but because when they go out into the world, I want them to see needs and run to meet them with whatever skills they have. These are skills we are developing through homeschooling them.

How can their time being homeschooled influence them to be more like Christ? Mike and I want that to be the focus of our homeschool. Academic skills are important, but for the purpose of using those skills for the glory of God alone, not so that they can take tests well.

As Christians, we need to have different priorities for our kids than the teachers in the public schools do. Yes, we want our children to be brilliant, but why? Most homeschooled students do turn out to be particularly capable and intelligent individuals. But is this because of our rigorous academics, or is this because we are showing them God's standards, and measuring them against those standards rather than the world's?

I think what people forget sometimes is that the idea of public school is not an old idea, and homeschooling a new one, but the exact opposite is true. Homeschooling today looks quite a bit different than it did in the past, in part because of technology and innovation, but also because the world's mentality has also seeped into our Christian homeschools. What is our motivation for schooling our own? Is multiplication and spelling more important than a heart that seeks after God?

Let's all try to remember to keep our priorities in line as we finish up our school year, or continue into the next year for those of us who school year-round. How have your children become more like Jesus this year?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Curriculum

This post was written before we had begun to use the Eclectic Education Series.  We are now a year in, and we love it!  I'll post more about it soon.

We realized this year that since our desire is to teach and train our boys up to be godly men, and since the vast majority of our curriculum so far had not been Bible-centered, one of our main priorities was being shoved to the side and ignored.  We began using Rod & Staff textbooks, which are thorough, simple, Biblically based, and still allow for the independent work that I need with my active toddler and a preschooler in the house.  The curriculum isn't an awesome fit for us, but we are finding that we can tweak it as needed to make it work for each child.      

Griffin (8 - 3rd) -
We introduced Teaching Textbooks for Griffin this year.  He loves the auditory part of it, and has taken to doing most of his math mentally.  He definitely needs to memorize his multiplication facts, and we'll be working on that when he finishes TT for the year, from about April through July.  I'd like for him to have them memorized by the time he begins his 4th grade work.  He is struggling with mentally doing the problems in TT toward the end of the book as they begin to expect them to have the tables memorized, but we will finish the course anyway so that we can sell it (it was expensive!) and spend the summer in memorizing mode.  Planning to have a party when he has his multiplication facts memorized, just for fun.  And for motivation!

He does well with oral work in both Reading and English, but when he is required to sit and do written work, he grumbles a lot and doesn't do his best.  He thinks that after he reads something once, he should be able to answer all of the workbook questions without going back to the book for reference.  This could be concerning, as he will need to develop this skill for Bible study, but I'm not worried yet.  We definitely need to work on perseverance and diligence in his work.  He also needs to work on neatness with his printing.  He writes beautifully in cursive, probably because he is forced to slow down while writing.  He is not enjoying Social Studies, and doesn't seem to be learning a lot from it.  Much of it is hard for him to relate to, most likely because it was written for Amish and Mennonite schools, and revolves around that kind of lifestyle.  He still loves Critical Thinking, and I know he would enjoy doing the smaller, more focused books such as Logic Puzzles and Dr. DooRiddles rather than the large book that seems to be focused on preparing the student to take standardized tests.  We will be testing him for the first time in just a few weeks, and I am looking forward to finding out what areas we need to focus more time and attention in.
*Language Arts - Rod & Staff Bible & Reading 3; English 3
*Math - Teaching Textbooks 3
*Social Studies - Rod & Staff Social Studies 3
*Penmanship - A Reason For Handwriting 3
*Critical Thinking - Building Thinking Skills 1

Sammy (6 - 1st) -
Still quite the perfectionist, Sammy will tackle whatever work is on his assignment sheet and work on it until it is finished to his satisfaction.  He is easily frustrated if the work he thought was completed needs to be corrected.  He does not enjoy reading a story or poem and then answering workbook questions about that story.  He wants to do the hands-on work first.  Reading is not his favorite thing to do.  He will do it so that he can check off the box, though.  He really enjoys read-aloud time, and one-on-one time with Mom or Dad.  He does very well with printing, and takes pride in his work.  Math and Critical Thinking are still his favorite subjects.  He also loves the smaller Logic Puzzles book, Dr. DooRiddles book, etc. and doesn't see the point in the main CT book, but he likes doing it anyway.  
*Language Arts - Rod & Staff Bible & Reading 1; Phonics 1
*Math - Horizons Math 1
*Penmanship - Rod & Staff Printing Practice 1
*Critical Thinking - Building Thinking Skills Primary

Future Plans


We will be using the Eclectic Education Series next year.  I received an e-mail a few years ago titled "How Would Laura Ingalls Wilder Homeschool?"  It intrigued me, but I was not at a place in life where I could pay it any attention.  I had just had Oliver, and we had just gone to the annual homeschool conference and purchased all of our curriculum for the next year.  No way was I going to change it up!  But I kept the e-mail, because something in it spoke to me.  The books in this series have been used since the 1800's by established families and schools in the Eastern US and also by "Wild West Pioneer" families who lived lives full of hard work and uncertainty.  The Wilder family was one of those pioneer families, and the children probably used these books, or something very similar, for their education.  The Eclectic books sold over a  million copies when they were published, and they still provide an excellent education, far exceeding the standards of today's schools.

The Series is meant to be tailored to each child's needs, and in both McGuffey's Readers and Ray's Arithmetics the child begins by using the book they are comfortable with (but still challenged and learning), instead of relying on grade levels to determine their learning.  They can even start in the middle of a book if the teacher decides that is the best place for them to begin.  The lessons (especially in McGuffey's and Ray's) progress and become more challenging quickly, and there is much knowledge, both moral and mental, to glean from each lesson.  It is not unusual for a child to spend days to weeks on each lesson, rather than having a new lesson every day.  That is how this set of books:

can be turned into a complete K-12 language arts education, containing phonics, reading, grammar (with the addition of some grammar and spelling reference books because I know I will need help!), and literature.  The selections are widely varied and incorporate almost every genre, style, and content subject available, giving much opportunity to discuss and do extra research on the topics that the child reads about.

I am excited to begin using this curriculum, and I will begin switching one subject at a time to the EES, slowly but surely, until by the start of August/September 2013 we are using it entirely.

Griffin (9 - 4th) -
(E) means it came with the Eclectic Education Series
*Bible - copywork (this will also be where I grade for penmanship), memorization, recitation, discussion
*Readers - McGuffey's 2nd Reader (E), McGuffey's Alternate 2nd Reader (E), McGuffey's Living Creatures (E), McGuffey's Familiar Animals (E), plus selections from William Bennett's  The Book of Virtues and The Book of Man, and from Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.  Methods: copywork, memorization, recitation, dictation (for spelling and grammar correction and instruction), narration (for comprehension), composition and journaling (for writing practice), cartoon-writing, etc.  He will also learn how to write book reports this year, and begin keeping a Commonplace Book (a book where he can copy quotes from books he reads that mean something special to him) this year.
*Math - Ray's Rudiments of Arithmetic (E) and Ray's New Intellectual Arithmetic (E), or Saxon 5/4.
*History -50 Famous People (E), 50 Famous Stories Retold (E), Story Book of Knowledge (E)
*Science - The House I Live In (E)
*Grammar - Longs Language 1st and 2nd (E)

Sammy (7-8 - 2nd) -
*Bible - copywork, memorization, recitation, narration, discussion
*Readers - Resources: McGuffey's Primer (E), McGuffey's 1st Reader (E), Progressive Course in Reading Book 1 (E). Methods: copywork, memorization, recitation, dictation (spelling/grammar), narration (comprehension)
*Math - Ray's New Primary Arithmetic (E)
*History - Wonderful Stories of Old (E), The Kindergarten Home and School Culture (E)

Homeschool Priorities

Cathy Duffy, in her book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, guides new homeschool families (and those who just need some direction and perspective) through the process of identifying their priorities for their children.  One of her questions is, "What do I think is most important for my children to learn?"  Here is the list that Mike and I have come up with during several conversations over the last few years.  Our answers have remained the same, although we have fleshed them out a bit over the years.

*Love for God and others.  This is our top priority.  We have many goals for our children, but this is the one that trumps all of the others.  Luke 2:52  "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."  Luke 10:27 (originally commanded in Deuteronomy 6), "... "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"  Wisdom = mindStature = strengthFavor with God = soulFavor with man = heart.   

*Strong moral character.  Webster's 1828 dictionary defines "Moral" as "Relating to the practice, manners or conduct of men as social beings in relation to each other, and with reference to right and wrong.  The word moral is applicable to actions that are good or evil, virtuous or vicious, and has reference to the law of God as the standard by which their character is to be determined."

*Valuable life skills.  We want to give our children useful, practical, applicable knowledge -- spiritual, mental and physical -- that they can carry with them throughout their lives.  "Skill," in Webster's 1828 dictionary, is "the familiar knowledge of any art or science, united with readiness and dexterity in execution or performance, or in the application of the art or science to practical purposes."  We have seen the devastating effects on families when men are not fully trained in a profession and are left floundering with no solid purpose or skills, wondering what they should do with their lives.  It is a scary process for a family to go through, and it makes submission and respect a very hard thing for a wife to accomplish if she is married to a man like this.  While we can not guarantee their lifelong security in their chosen profession, we feel that it is our job to identify their strengths and train them thoroughly in at least one (if not more than one) useful, constructive skill that they can, God willing, use for a lifetime. 

*Preparation for college-level studies.  If any one of our boys needs a degree in order to further prepare themselves for their chosen line of work, we want them to be able to master those higher-level courses without apprehension.  This planning and preparation begins in the elementary years, as it is hard to undo habits that have gone on for years.  We want scrupulous study and research, reading for comprehension and application, critical thinking in every subject, an understanding and appreciation for our country's founders and the Constitution, a deep appreciation for how God has worked throughout the history of the world's events and inhabitants, and the practical yet rigorous use of mathematics, to all be a part of our children's education.  In order to accomplish all of these lofty goals, we must set short-term goals early on, or we will fall far short of where we are aiming!  This doesn't mean that we start drilling our children in rocket science when they are 5.  Far from it!  But identifying our education goals early in our teaching years is a big step in recognizing the step-by-step actions we need to take to achieve our long-term goals.  It also limits our curriculum choices, and makes it a lot easier for this indecisive, highly distractible mama to be able to put down a new, glossy, shiny, beautifully illustrated book that isn't in line with our priorities.   

*How to use their talents for God's glory.  I differentiate between skills and talents when it comes to educating my children and looking to their futures.  They are born talented in certain abilities.  One of my boys is a talented storyteller.  He loves to give elaborate, detailed descriptions -- orally.  However, he does not enjoy writing.  Writing his thoughts is a skill that we can help him to develop so that he will be able to more fully apply, and put into God's service, the oral talent he has been given.  The skill of writing will help him to organize his thoughts so that he can use his speaking talents more effectively.  With this said, I must note that it is also important to me that my children know that when we use our talents for His glory, we will often go unrecognized for those actions.  (How many times has the church janitor been paraded across the front of the sanctuary for everyone to appreciate and admire?)  Many times, God will require something of us in an area that we are not naturally gifted in (Moses and public speaking!), so I will not limit my children's educational experience to only those things they are good at or want to do.  We are committed to helping our children develop their talents, but not to the exclusion of disciplines that will stretch them and grow them and help them to discover new and valuable things about themselves, and in doing, will produce strong character.