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In every case, the remedy is to take action. Get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it.
– Miguel de Cervantes

When I first stumbled into homeschooling, my dear friend Amy introduced me to Handwriting Without Tears’ products and songs, something she had used for years working as an OT in local elementary schools. I’m forever grateful as it has provided a common thread for all of my children to share and has taught me how to teach my children handwriting. Naturally, I now want to pass on these tools we’ve loved so much to help other young homeschooling families on their own journeys. That said,  I know the HWT website can be difficult to sort through. So instead of just referencing the sources, I’ve shown the real products we’ve used (and enjoyed) in our home the last five years with the appropriate links for the website. In our home, I store all of the non-jarred items in the top section of the photo in that clear plastic bin (from IKEA); this makes for quick access during our mornings and easy storage when we put it away. The bin also helps make the tools more portable to grab if we’re heading out-of-town or more likely — to the backyard.

{things to note}

+ I forgot to include the I Know my Numbers booklet Blythe is coloring in the first picture. This give kids extra work with writing and understanding numbers.

+ The HWT crayons and chalk bits are not necessary, as you could use alternative ones from a store. Their tiny size and the double-sided crayon is what makes those products unique.

+ They also make Touch & Flip alphabet cards (not pictured or linked because I already had sandpaper letters).

+ The teacher’s guide has changed since I purchased my own, so the picture in the link won’t match the image above.

+ If you can’t afford to buy everything at once, start with the wood pieces, laminated wood piece cards, chalkboard, Mat Man book, and the student book. I often make copies of the student book, so they can work on a letter more than one day.

+ Pay attention to the videos on the product pages. Each one will give you a sample lesson using that particular product — so helpful if you have no experience using this curriculum.

Good luck!

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swing | paper craneschalkboard wall | water colors

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we sold our home. What I didn’t mention is we are moving in with my sister (Kristen), brother-in-law (Tim), and their two children, Shepherd and Brighten. Let’s refer to it as a cohabitation experiment. In the past, we’ve had young singles live with us, but this will be a first for combining entire families. Stick around — things may get really interesting here. (Wink.)

To prepare for the move, the four adults have been busy rearranging, tearing out, building, and preparing spaces. Currently, Kristen and I are recreating what will be the play + school room for our combined six children. We began this last week with a fresh coat of white paint and a chalkboard wall. Here’s a few things inspiring our design. Happy Monday!

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It is raining this evening. Our windows are open allowing the delicate chimes and water and air to sing to us. April has come: a welcomed relief from our own March madness. Arriving with birthday dust and ending with hikes into greening woods (and selling our home somewhere in between), March has been quite the tumultuous divergence, and we’re ragged.  At this point, I’ve almost forgotten February entirely, but I’ve found myself longing for its quieter days of bed jumping and school work. But now, April has come.

reading

Bethany  // The Glass Castle // Pilgrim Heart // Love Medicine // New and Selected Poems

Liam // The Mysterious Benedict Society series // Warriors // Through My Eyes // Garfield  // several smaller books

Burke // Through My Eyes // Calvin and Hobbes // Rudyard Kipling Just So Stories // The Fellowship of the Ring // several smaller books

Blythe // early readers (she’s loving Fancy Nancy right now)

Olive // picture books (our current favorites are This is Not My Hat, Gossie and Friends, and Alexander and the Dragon)

read alouds // Alice in Wonderland // Hamlet (adapted) // John (the Bible) // the Jesus Storybook Bible // Story of the World: Medieval Ages // many picture books, poems, and nursery rhymes

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Normally, we spend our Spring Breaks visiting friends or family out-of-town and filling our days with fun, atypical activities. Not this year. This year, we cleaned out and organized (most of) our home to list on the housing market. Mark spent several of his days off from teaching buried in research for a paper he’s trying to have published this semester, and by Thursday of last week, all I could manage to say was, “this goes down as the worst Spring Break ever.” Sorry kids.

BUT then Friday came, and friends invited me and the kids out for a day trip to a state park (complete with a living farm). Of course, we gratefully joined them. I needed to leave my home and to be outdoors with friends. We all did for that matter. So thank you, friends, for taking us with you on your visit to the pioneer’s life, for softening the blow of hard circumstances, and for ending our Spring Break on a bright note — an afternoon filled with washboards and gardens and animals and handmade wooden tools and laughter and sun.  I’m so thankful for you.

 

learning at home toddlers

For a while now I’ve had other moms ask, “how do you do it? I want to homeschool, but I don’t know where to begin! Help.”  In great effort to do just that, over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring a series of “learning at home” posts. Each post will focus on a different age, including a my favorite age-appropriate resources and a few tips that I’ve learned along our [brief] way.

But first I need to say, one of the greatest lessons I have learned in homeschooling is that it, just like parenting, will take on the personalities in your family, so even if you’re using the same exact tools/resources as your friend, they will still appear different in your home. And that’s okay. So if you are interested in home-education, think less about what is the right or wrong curriculum or way to educate and more about what will fit your parenting/family style and the way your kids learn. This will help save you worry, time, and money.

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Now, on to toddlerhood.

Toddlers can be one of the most fun ages! They’re newly walking, running, jumping, talking, and of course, experimenting. When Liam, my oldest, was a busy two, I remember thinking, “Will I ever stop telling him ‘no’ or redirecting him?” The answer is no, but fortunately I tell him ‘no’ much, much less now. (Wink.) Learning at home in these years doesn’t have to be an elaborate project. They are learning so much through their environment without you even planning it! In terms of structured learning, these years are more about exposure and experimenting. Here’s a few tips and resources:

KEEP STRUCTURED LEARNING TIME SIMPLE.  Short attention spans and high energy require easy, quick activities. Think:

+  homemade play-dough (make or play)

+ simple blocks to build together while listening to music

+ daily walks hunting for a ___ (rock, leaf, bug, … etc)

+ simple art activity from one of my favorites — First Art

READ TOGETHER DAILY. Read-a-loud time during these years truly does cultivate a love of reading and learning through books as they get older.

+  To create a habit, try to pick a time of the day when you can be consistent, like bedtime or nap time.

+  Read a variety of stories, but also use this time to introduce letters and numbers. I love this set of board books from the Metropolitan Museum in New York — an introduction to letters, shapes, and numbers and also great works of art.

+  Try local story-times at the library or a book or coffee shop. This can also be a great place to meet other young mothers and homeschoolers.

BEGIN YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Use these years to inform yourself about the various homeschooling methods and learning styles.

+ Talk with other homeschooling moms if you know any.

+ Read The Homeschooling Option. This is my favorite intro to homeschooling book. Lisa Rivero is a homeschooling mom and professor at the University of Wisconsin. She tells a bit of her story while informing the reader of various ways homeschooling can look. It’s also full of additional resources from organizations to more specific books.

DON’T DESPISE SMALL BEGINNINGS.  Starting small will help you build consistency. For toddlers, one activity a week — or even a month depending on your family circumstance — might be enough. That’s okay. Blessings to you and your family.

homeschooling

Have I mentioned I’m a daydreamer? I know, a daydreaming homeschooler is such a cliche, but truly, words, pictures, ideas — they stir regularly in the space between my ears in such a way that I often have to will myself to be present, to be all here. And I do, only sometimes better than others. I see how this rich inner-life complements and enriches our home-education journey with the kids, dousing it with spontaneity and creativity and the love of learning, but often I find myself losing blocks of time, unprepared to succinctly move from one location to another. Sigh. When we have to be somewhere, it’s as though twenty minutes seems to vanish altogether — have I not learned anything about how long it takes to load kids [with shoes on and teeth brushed and water bottles or snacks on hand] into a car in almost a decade of parenting? Sigh.

Aware of all of my logistical “blind-spots,” I lean heavily on weekly planning during the weekend, doing my best to prepare for our many daily transitions and pitfalls, but I still have not successfully mastered the exit strategy. Double sigh. And yet, as the kids are getting older, we’re leaving the house more often, taking our work with us on the road, to the park, to the gym, etc. In effort to make our homeschooling more flexible in this way, I’ve reverted to diaper bag mentality. You know, everything you always need waiting for you in a bag neatly by the door so you don’t have to run through a list in the exact moment you try to exit. Only this time, I don’t have to think about diapers or pacifiers or bibs (success!). I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, I thought I would share some of  the essentials in our homeschooling non-diaper bags:

1. tote or backback for each child ( I love the modern assortment from bagged + loaded) with the below inside

2. giant envelope to insert math or handwriting worksheets or coloring/cutting pages for Olive

3. stickers (non-essential, just fun and inexpensive)

4. water bottle (after it’s cleaned it gets returned to the bag, waiting for the next outing)

5. pencil pouch with pencils

6. colored pencils with sharpener (They won’t melt in the car like crayons or dry up like markers)

7. large sketchbook to double for coloring/sketching or a hard surface for writing. (There’s also a large pocket inside to hold stickers or papers.

Good luck, and happy outings to you!

januaryjanuary 2013

It seems winter went on strike at some point this month, but we didn’t mind. Instead we did what all of you with real winters will do several months from now while we’re profusely sweating and mosquito-ridden — we moved life outdoors. After the new year, Mark of course went back to work and began another semester of graduate school, and we slowly slipped back into our own school routine again, only often taking our books and snacks to the backyard. I’ve realized, some subjects work a little better than others in the outdoors. Since we use a lot of manipulatives for math and a large magnetic board for spelling, I now know they just manage easier indoors. Otherwise, most of our days fill up with reading and writing and playing (and cleaning), and that we can take anywhere. And we do.

We spent our weekends at home (locally, I mean) this month, hanging out with friends gathered around our large table, eating a weekly Sunday brunch at our friends’ house, or even out in the backyard (it was that warm!). As for family time, we went hiking, ate meals together around the firepit taking turns telling stories, and of course simply played (tag, catch, board games). Our housemate, Kenny, often joins us or helps by playing with the kids in the backyard.

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Because I have several people ask what we’re doing or reading at home school-wise, I’m hoping to include a monthly educational synopsis with our outtakes each month. Here’s a start:

memory work (with Classical Conversations)

  • facts each week in history, science, math, English grammar, Latin, geography
  • 21/160 major points in our historical timeline (this month between 1400-1800)
  • Exodus 20:1-17 (v. 13-15 this month)

I have almost altogether stopped poetry memorization with the kids (something eventually gives), but because it’s so valuable for complex language learning and patterns, I’m hoping to re-prioritize it this next month. Sigh.

the kids

Liam (age 9) read Hatchet, The Mysterious Benedict Society, several short stories by Rudyard Kipling and other small books on plant life, rocks, and ancient history. He also wrote one paragraph on the Greek Olympics and is working on a mini-research paper on the Roman Empire (Institute for Excellence in Writing).

Burke (age 7) read the Adventures of Tom Bombadil (a collection of poetry written by Tolkein), Who Was Abraham Lincoln?, Who was Ferdinand Magellan? , Who were the Beatles? (We love this series of biographies!), along with several shorter books on plant life, rocks, and ancient history.

Blythe (age 6) completed level 1 of the All About Reading program and is reading several small stories and readers each day. I’m currently reading Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland to her and Olive (age 3) each night. We also read a variety of picture books we have collected in our home or that we can borrow from the library.

Olive (age 3) is still learning her letters and sounds. Since she is a very busy little person, I’m mostly trying to teach her how to be still and listen for 10-15 minutes at a time. (Smile.) It’s harder for her than you would think. Ollie the Stomper is still Olive’s favorite book, naturally. She hunts for it every time we’re at the library. I’m still not formally doing anything with Oli, mostly because she’s just not ready. So she spent most days this month playing dress-up, building puzzles, reading books, or practicing letters and numbers on the iPad.

myself (we’ll leave age out of it – wink.)

This month I finished or am still reading

Our kids love to dig! Anyone relate? We used to have a sandbox, where they could unleash their shovel-skills, but we had to remove that space when it became the neighborhood cats’ community litter box. Argh. “No, son, that is not a left-over tootsie roll.” After shutting that operation down (much to the cats’ dismay, I’m sure), our backyard slowly morphed into a series of “I didn’t mean to make the hole that big” potholes, leaving our yard looking like a grassy slice of swiss cheese and us (the parents) quite unhappy. We needed to find a solution, but how could we encourage their daily exploration while also salvaging our lawn and whatever landscape remained? Option #1: Plant a garden. I don’t know what it is, but shoveling piles of compost is an euphoric experience for children who love to dig. (This is not necessarily true for the adults, often left with aching and blisters. Our euphoria comes more with the harvest.)  Thus far, we’ve only planted spring gardens, so this only solves digging/planting for a few weeks of the year, not helping our yard for the long-term. Experience #2: Give them digging grounds. Roughly a year ago, Mark and I decided to donate a small plot of our back yard to our kids’digging. This area is close to their playground and doesn’t have any sprinkler lines. Perfect. The rules: 1. Starting a fire is still NOT allowed. and 2. Make sure all the “tools” (usually dad’s) are put away at the end of the day. 3. Share and enjoy!

Since then, we’ve dubbed the space, “the trench” because that’s what it looked like after days and weeks of digging. At one point it was almost as deep as they are high, and wide enough for 5-6 kids to climb in there. (I lost many of the pictures last summer along with my phone.) Many of their friends have experienced the trench, enjoying the thrill of digging, while we’re left commenting, “if only we could channel this energy and enthusiasm into other areas of their lives.” The kids have reenacted the World Wars, built forts, “tents,” and barricades using the other materials in our yard. We recently had to fill in the trench when we put our house on the market; not everyone esteems child-directed building experiments, I suppose. (I can’t imagine why.) So this year during Spring Break, we’re finding other digging spots in parks and natural science museums. Below I linked to some of family’s favorite books about digging to hopefully inspire your little diggers. Click the picture to link to Amazon, but you should find all of them at your library!

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When friends who don’t homeschool first hear that I do, if they don’t immediately respond with the socialization question (which is merely a polite way of saying, “aren’t you afraid your kids are going to be weird/not fit in when they’re older?”), then they usually respond something like,  “Wow, I could never do that; you’re so much [braver, more patient, more creative, etc] than I am.”  Although the latter comments do boost my ego, I figured it’s time for me to deflate the mythos they’re cultivating and tell the truth: I’m really not. I’ve written before how I unexpectedly stumbled into this uncharted world (uncharted for me anyway), but as with most things, the longer I do something, the more I realize how little I actually know about this something — a trend in my DIY parenting style for sure. But “homeschooling” really is such a deceiving term, leading most of us to believe it’s simply school work done at home. But that’s only a part. For our family, it’s better described as an extension of our parenting; thus, education becomes a broader word touching all parts of our lives and the ways the Lord speaks to us through them, whether it’s by spelling, gardening, Latin, learning how to clean up after ourselves, tie our shoes, or love others.  And we are still in the wee stages of learning all these things.

Classical Conversations

“Sure, but what is it that you actually do everyday?” Much like our children, no two days look exactly the same (although at some point I will record one or two of our days to give an example), but there are some constants in all of our flexibility.  I follow a classical model of education doused with inspiration from the Waldorf and Montessori approaches. For the last three years, we have met with a local Classical Conversations community once a week. There, our kids meet in classrooms of 8 kids with a tutor who introduces them to their memory work for the week, mostly through singing or a fun rhyme. The parents stay in the classrooms and participate with their kids and tutor, where we also learn new things much of the time (wink).  CC really has been such a wonderful constant for our family; in addition to the kids’ weekly presentations in front of their classes, science experiments, and fine art projects, they are learning other practical skills like walking in a line and raising their hand when they need to share something with the larger group (things we don’t do at home). So part of our mornings at home or in the car, we review our CC memory work: facts in history, English grammar,math, Latin, geography, Bible passages, and a historical timeline.

 How that Translates to OUR Home

Reading really is the backdrop of our home-school. We read everything from the comics to novels to biographies to picture books to news articles to history and science encyclopedias. We read aloud. We read silently, sometimes alone and other times side-by-side. We try to discuss some elements of at least one, usually brief, narrative each day (characters, setting, conflict/problem, climax, resolution, and something the story might be trying to teach us), which is actually much simpler than it sounds: “Who’s in the story?Where does it take place? What problem does this character(s) have? Is there a surprise in the story? A place where the story/character changes? How is the problemeventually resolved; is it resolved? What is this story saying to us? Is it trying to teach us something?” Even Olive can participate in this activity. And now that the boys are reading larger chapter books on their own, I try to have the same sort of discussion with them after they’ve finished. This way I can check their comprehension of the story, and they can practice narration skills and identifying the “skeleton” of a story (although they don’t yet recognize that’s what they’re doing). Plus, sharing in their enjoyment of a book just makes me giddy.

I structure very few “lessons” for the kids: only spelling, handwriting, and math, for the most part. It’s seems too stressful otherwise, especially with little Olive’s limited attention span and longing to create her own activity. We begin each morning all together (with my cup of coffee) reading the Bible, sharing what we’re thankful for on that morning, and of course, prayer. Because you know, I need it: prayer coupled with thanksgiving. Then we fill the rest of our day with poetry memorization, history and science readings (usually while building Legos or creating play-dough sculptures), spelling lessons, dress-up, reading & reading games, drawing or painting, math, plenty of outdoor play, hand/writing, eating, emailing, and eventually having to clean it all up again. It feels about like that, only louder and messier, as each of these things overlaps the other.

The “Prepared Environment”

I repurposed one of our bedrooms two years ago to design a “prepared environment,” as Maria Montessori refers to it, the place where each of the kids can initiate their own activities and learning, the place where we spend most of our mornings now.

Early Childhood Resources I Recommend

I could go on about the logistics of our day, but that may be as boring for you to read as it is to write. Besides, if you’re still reading, I’m quite impressed. I never have been one for monotony. But I did want to share a few of my favorite resources for teaching young children. Resources that are valuable for ALL families with young children, not just home-schoolers. (And just to clarify, I’m not receiving anything for suggesting these to you.)

Nurturing Competent Communicators (1 hour long audio by Andrew Pudewa)

Reading Comprehension from Seuss to Socrates (1 hour long audio by Adam Andrews)

Teaching the Classics (by Adam Andrews) A more expanded seminar than the audio above. He teaches you how to discuss literature with your kids, regardless of their age. If you’re at all intimidated about discussing literature, this is worth looking into, even for your own enjoyment and education!

Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization –(by Andrew Pudewa; these are the sample pages at the beginning of the book. To purchase or listen to sample audio, go here.)

Handwriting Without Tears (K-5) / Get Set For School (3-4 year olds) : I LOVE this program! It’s a multi-sensory approach to learning handwriting and early math skills. They have several demo videos on their website to help you use their products, too. The workbooks have plenty of repetition with pictures to color along the way; older levels include more copy-work and dictation.

All About Spelling Another multi-sensory approach, with tons of repetition; I LOVE it! She’s recently developed a complimentary reading program, but I haven’t tried it out. I’m sure it’s also wonderful.

Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer Here she explains the value and know-how to building a confident young writer. If you are homeschooling, she has workbooks that compliment if you don’t feel comfortable selecting your own texts.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons There are several wonderful reading programs out there. My kids enjoyed this one the most and it had some of the least amount of preparation for me — that I can always get behind.

Take It To Your Seat Phonics Centers This book comes with pre-made folder games, you cut out and glue to a manilla folder. All the games are self-check. These games are very helpful when you have multiple little ones at the same time, plus they reinforce the skills their already learning through reading and spelling.

Montessori for Everyone A website full of beautiful, colorful printables in all sorts of subjects.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: Preschool Years (by Elizabeth Hainstock) She gives you some very practical, easy-to-follow ways to apply Montessori theory at home with little ones.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions (or comments), please feel free to leave them in the comments section! I