Welcome to A Small Town Homeschool

Come along as I share personal experiences from my homeschool, as well as devotions, kid-friendly recipes, favorite books, and curriculum reviews. Let's face it: Parenting and homeschooling are far from easy. In fact, these two activities challenge my abilities and intellect more than anything else I have ever attempted. My goal is to be as real as possible with readers and my hope is that we might encourage one another along the way. Thank you for joining me on the journey.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Favorite Resources For Teaching The Bible To Young Children

Deuteronomy 6:6-9

New International Version (NIV)
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When you, as a Christian homeschooler, are asked about your primary reasons for choosing this path, how do you respond? There are many valid and wonderful reasons to commit to homeschooling, but most Christian home educators put faith and discipleship at the top of that list. My desire is to raise children who will grow to love and serve Christ. I pray daily that their hearts will remain soft and tender toward the Lord and that they will never become desensitized to the sin and evil in this world. There is nothing more important than that. Christian homeschoolers long to fulfill the command given to parents in Deuteronomy 6 and this command inspires us to continue doing what we do every day. I have certainly not been the perfect mother in this area -- or in any area for that matter -- but I always do my best. I believe that the most important way to fulfill the command of Deuteronomy 6 is do so within the context of every situation that arises in daily life, but I also believe that we must purposefully give our children a biblical foundation, beginning at a young age. I have some favorite resources to share when it comes to teaching the Bible to young children. Of course, the scriptures themselves are all that is really needed, but sometimes I find it helpful to use Bible studies, devotions, and other resources written especially for children. We have utilized various books and resources in our home, but my favorites are listed and discussed below.

1. My Favorite Resource: Leading Little Ones To God by Marian M. Schoolland

Other than the Bible itself, this one is my favorite Bible resource of all for young children. This book consists of short devotions geared toward ages 4 to 10. Each lesson includes a story, scripture, prayer, and song. The book is written in an engaging, conversational way. I like how the author didn't use a lot of fluff and frills in her book, but instead presented the basics of a life of faith in a concise, meaningful way that can be easily understood by young children. I have read this book with both of my daughters and I am currently going through it again with my son. I highly recommend it.

2. Three books by authors Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt: Big Truths For Little Kids, Discovering Jesus in Gensis, and Discovering Jesus In Exodus

I recommend these three books by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt. All three are written from a Presbyterian perspective, but the books mostly cover basic principles and truths that would be applicable to Christians of various denominations. As someone who is not Presbyterian, the only chapter in any of the three books that I skipped over was the chapter about infant baptism in Big Truths For Little Kids. All of these books follow a fictional brother and sister named Caleb and Cassie. In Big Truths For Little Kids, Cassie and Caleb learn the catechism. Each chapter contains a few catechism questions and answers, an application story, discussion questions, and a scripture. Discovering Jesus in Genesis and Discovering Jesus in Exodus are a two-book series entitled Covenant Promises For Covenant Kids. In these books, Cassie and Caleb explore scriptural truths and learn about how every page of the Bible points to Jesus Christ. Each chapter contains a scripture, story, discussion questions, and a prayer.

3. A Good Children's Bible

Having a high-quality, well-written children's Bible has been essential in our home. My favorites are Egermeier's Bible Storybook and The Golden Children's Bible.

4. A Bible Memorization Plan

I believe in the power and usefulness of hiding God's Word in our hearts. We have used three different plans for doing this in our home. 

My favorite resource for scripture memorization is the Bible Fact Pak, which is part of the Assemblies of God Junior Bible Quiz program. I do not belong to an Assemblies of God church, but the questions in this set are designed to teach basic Bible facts and most are not theologically-specific to the Assemblies of God. The direct quotation cards each have a scripture to memorize. The remaining cards ask a Bible fact question on one side and provide the answer on the other side. Memorizing these questions and answers, in addition to the direct quotation scriptures, gives children a very good foundation of "pegs" in their minds to add more information to as they go through life. My children have been involved in a homeschool co-op class that uses this resource, but it would be great to use exclusively at home too. The whole family would benefit from memorizing the information and scriptures on these cards.

My children have belonged to Awana clubs during most of their childhoods. I love the choice of scriptures used in Awana and the fact that the handbooks are self-paced. However, my preference is to memorize scriptures together as a family, as opposed to having each child memorizing different scriptures in different handbooks. For this reason, I have learned to view Awana as "the icing on the cake" and an addition to the scripture memory work that we do together at home. Awana is a terrific program, though, and many families use it as their primary scripture memory program. 

The other family scripture memorization plan that we have used is the card file system recommended by the Simply Charlotte Mason website. The instructions for this system are found at http://simplycharlottemason.com/timesavers/memorysys/

The key is to find a system that works for your family and then to implement that plan. There are many ways to memorize scripture; I have only shared the methods that our family has used.

5. Betty Lukens Flannel Board Set

When my children were younger (preschool and kindergarten), they loved it when I used my Betty Lukens felt set for Bible lessons. It was so fun and engaging! For around $20.00, the home worship set includes the figures and stories for 22 Bible lessons, as well as a tabletop flannel board. However, I must address the following hesitation that I have in recommending this item: Each of these figures must be cut out individually, which is both time-consuming and tedious. Although I wish that this set came with pre-cut figures, it was worth the time and effort for our family. My children have many fond memories of our flannel board Bible stories. If you are willing to spend the time cutting out the figures, this is a great and worthwhile item to have.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Weekly Kinder Craft Idea #2

Easy Origami

I am amazed by intricate origami designs, but even the most gifted origami artists surely have to start at the beginning. While your youngest children probably won't be able to sit down and immediately make a flower garden out of paper, they can begin with these very easy and fun origami projects. Below are pictures of each finished product, along with instructions or links to the instructions for these beginner origami designs. You will need square origami paper to make the dog face, sailboat, and envelope. A rectangular sheet of paper or index card is required to make the frog.

Dog Face

Below are the instructions for the very simplest of origami designs, the dog face.

Here is our finished dog face:


Next is the origami sailboat, which is also very easy and will stand up by itself when finished. The instructions for this sailboat can be found at http://www.fpbcrafts.com/origami/origami-sailboat.html#Pattern. Below is our finished sailboat:


This one is the most fun of all because the frog actually hops! Rectangular paper is needed to make this frog. We actually made two frogs: We used notebook paper for one frog and an index card for the other. The notebook paper frog hops along very slowly, so my children decided to call him Grandpa Frog. The index card frog ("the baby") not only hops...it FLIPS! How delightful! Instructions for making the frog can be found at http://www.origamiway.com/easy-origami-frog.shtml. Below, our frogs are pictured...both Baby and Grandpa:


The final origami project is this cute envelope. The kids loved the idea of writing a letter and then folding it directly into an envelope shape! Directions for making this envelope are found at http://www.wikihow.com/Fold-an-Origami-Envelope. Below are two envelopes that my children made:

I hope you and your children have fun with these beginning origami designs!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Weekly Kinder Craft Idea #1

I am currently leading simple craft projects with a group of children ages four to seven each week at our homeschool co-op. I thought I would try to post one of our crafts on the blog every week (the operative word here is try). So far, these crafts have been both enjoyable and easy for the group, with minimal adult assistance needed. I just wanted the projects to be creative and fun for the kids, and inexpensive too.

Nighttime Snowman Picture

A snowman picture made by my daughter, Grace, is shown above. I already had almost everything I needed for these pictures on hand at home. I only had to buy the eyes.

white chalk
colored chalk or pastels
black or dark blue construction paper
cotton balls
googly eyes
brown pipe cleaner (for arms and mouth)
small piece of orange pipe cleaner or yarn (for nose)
odds and ends (i.e., fabric scraps, sequins, jewels, small buttons, small pom poms, snowflake stickers, etc.)

It is nice to begin this activity with a story time, using a fun picture book about snow. I used Snowmen At Christmas by Caralyn Buehner for inspiration because of the delightful illustrations depicting snowmen at night. I know what you're thinking: Christmas is over (and you're correct), but my kids truly enjoy reading this book any time. The kids in the co-op really liked it as well. Another great book would be Snow by P.D. Eastman, but any book about snow or snowmen would make a great intro for this little project.

Start with black or dark blue construction paper. Create a snowy scene on the paper with chalk. Then spread 3 cotton balls out to desired size and shape and arrange them in descending size order (largest to smallest) from bottom to top to create a snowman. Use googly eyes and yarn or pipe cleaner pieces for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Use pipe cleaners to make arms. Additional 'odds and ends' (i.e., fabric scraps, jewels, sequins, buttons, etc.) can be used as accessories to personalize your snowman. Snowflake stickers and glitter would be fun to include in the snow scene too! Use whatever you can find at home to make this picture. It's so simple and your kids will have a great time doing it! Optional: Aerosol hairspray can be sprayed lightly on these pictures to help prevent the chalk from smearing. 

Below is Justin's snow picture. He made a "snow cheetah" instead of a snowman just because he wanted to be different.

Have fun and enjoy spending time with your precious children!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Our Version of a Homespun Christmas

I am not a creative person. I am neither crafty nor cutesy. I have tried, but creativity continues to be a struggle because it is not something that comes naturally for me. So when my sister-in-law suggested that our kids make homemade gifts for one another rather than buying presents for each other's kids at Christmas, my initial feeling was one of panic. The sister-in-law who made this suggestion happens to be one of the most creative people I know. She sews, crafts, turns various items from trash into treasure; and she is one of those people who makes it all look easy. I didn't think it would be easy at all for me to help my children make gifts for their five cousins.

But after giving it some thought, I decided that I liked the idea. I didn't want to be the one doing all the work and I really didn't have any special talent to offer to my children. However, I did want my kids to have the experience of being more personally invested in the giving. After all, it's easy and convenient to pick out a toy or video game from a list, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make gifts and to try to make those gifts special. I knew it would require my children to put more of themselves into the process and that it would be something memorable and worthwhile.

When I told my children, they immediately hopped on board with enthusiasm! They were truly excited about it and they kept that excitement throughout the gift-making process. We made very simple gifts; gifts that my kids could mostly make by themselves. We made gifts that didn't require any special or hard-to-learn skills (I don't possess any such skills). Homemade gifts did require a greater measure of time and effort, and it was a bit difficult to get it all finished in time. But it isn't an experience that I would trade. My children and I spent quality time together planning and making these projects, and I truly believe that the cousins were as thrilled as ever to receive gifts that were obviously so full of love and planning. Again, our gifts were simple, but in the end we made quite a variety of items, including beaded bracelets, homemade finger paints, slime, paper bag coloring books, multicolored shapes made from recycled crayons, framed drawings, clothespin dolls, pencil holders, and edible gifts too! My children received wonderful gifts from their cousins in return that they will cherish for years to come.

I hope that this was the beginning of an annual tradition. Maybe the kids and I will even learn some new skills  before next Christmas that we can use. My daughters are currently learning to sew, so who knows what we might be able to accomplish by next year? I wish that I would have taken pictures of  every gift that we made, but I didn't. However, I did take a few pictures, which are shown below.

These first two pictures are the clothespin dolls that my daughter, Grace, made, along with the American Girl box that she decorated to store them in. The first two clothespin dolls are supposed to be Grace and her cousin, Kaitlyn. The next pair is supposed to be the American Girl characters, Molly and Emily, followed by two more American Girls, Kit and Ruthie.

Next is a picture of my two nephews and one of my nieces with a cartoon picture of Fred Bird, the St. Louis Cardinals mascot, drawn by my daughter, Anna.

My seven-year-old son, Justin, decorated a colorful martial arts box for one of his cousins.

Two of my children worked together to make pencil holders out of recycled glass jars, twine, and small seashells.

We used broken crayons to make multicolored star and wreath shapes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Son Is Reading

I wanted to write a quick post to share that my second grade son is finally catching on to phonics and reading. I mean, he's really, truly catching on! He has been a bit of a late bloomer with his reading abilities and I was beginning to feel uncertain about his lack of progress. I have many types of phonics and reading curricula to choose from in our home, mostly because one of my other children struggled to read early on as well. I have utilized all of these with Justin over the past few years: AlphaPhonics, Hooked on Phonics, portions of Happy Phonics, Explode the Code workbooks, various readers, and homemade flash cards. None of them seemed to work and he made limited gains in his reading abilities.

This year, I bought a new book entitled At Last! A Reading Method For Every Child! by Mary  Pecci. Guess what? It is working! I am so happy to see my son's progress and to report that he no longer dreads learning to read. In fact, he is enjoying it! At some point, I would like to write a review of At Last! A Reading Method For Every Child! For now, it will suffice to say that although it is not nearly as user-friendly as it could be, I really do like it because it works! For me, it has been worth the extra effort because we have been successful using it.

That said, I'm not sure if it is only the change in curriculum that has made a difference for my son. In fact, I really don't think that is the case. Instead, I believe that our success also stems from my son's growth in development and maturity over the past several months. I have found that the old saying about 'leading a horse to water' really is true in many facets of life, homeschooling included. In other words, my son needed to develop the readiness learn to read in his own time. Prior to this year, he really wasn't ready; thus, we saw limited progress. Now that he is developmentally able to meet the challenge, he is absolutely taking off! And isn't that part of the great satisfaction of homeschooling? I love the fact that we can work according to the timetable that works best for our individual families and not the timetable imposed on students in public schools. What a blessing that is!

I hope you are having a great and fruitful school year. God bless you!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gearing Up For School

It's that time again. Time to plan, time to organize, and time to prepare for the beginning of school. In years past I have found myself more prepared than I am this year. I do not have any lesson plans ready, for example, and I am still waffling on the issue of scheduling. But I have made my curriculum choices and I feel really good about those choices. I am using more traditional curricula than I usually do, but I don't plan to always use that curricula in a typical way. In other words, I plan to make it work for me and to make changes when necessary rather than become a slave to it. I will always consider myself to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler because that is where my heart is, but I felt that it was best for our family to do some things differently this year. Aren't you thankful that we have the freedom to do that? Below is a list of subjects and curriculum choices for each of my children. As you will see, it is a very eclectic mix.

For My Seventh Grader
The Holy Bible
Life of Fred Math
Bob Jones Grammar and Composition
Christian Light Education Reading (I will use living books for additional literature studies)
Mystery of History Volume I
Getting Started With Latin
*Apologia What We Believe Series (worldview studies)
*Apologia General Science

For My Third Grader
The Holy Bible
A Beka Language Arts
Handwriting Without Tears Cursive
A Beka Spelling
Christian Light Education Reading
Mystery of History Volume I
*Apologia What We Believe Series (worldview studies)
*Apologia Astronomy

For My Second Grader
The Holy Bible
At Last! A Reading Method For Every Child! By Mary Pecci
Super Spelling by Mary Pecci
A Reason For Handwriting
Mystery of History Volume I
*Gospel House Publishing  Junior Bible Quiz Fact Pack
*Apologia Astronomy

*Denotes subjects that will be completed under the direction of a weekly homeschool co-op.

I am excited about the year ahead and I am trying not to feel the least bit overwhelmed as I gear up for it. Even though homeschooling is a monumental undertaking, it is also a privilege that should be readily embraced. I am looking forward with anticipation to the start of school. May God bless us with his wisdom and peace as we plan, prepare, and get organized. 2012-2013 is going to be a terrific school year!

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Charlotte Mason Music Class

Last year I started a small, Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool co-op. I played the role of music teacher within the group and we sought to included the aspects of music appreciation that were endorsed by Charlotte Mason in her writings. These included composer study, hymn study, and folk music. Following is a synopsis of the music classes that were held in our Charlotte Mason co-op.

Composer study was allotted for the first portion of each class. One composer was studied per semester, and our composers last year were Bach and Mozart. We began each class session with a narration time, where the children were asked to tell me something that they remembered from previous weeks about the composer. After that, new information was presented, which involved reading aloud from one of Opal Wheeler’s composer biographies. These books are very engaging and informative -- perfect to use for composer study. I also conducted some additional research about the composers so that I could present interesting facts about their lives that may not have been included in the Opal Wheeler books. In addition, I used the corresponding Opal Wheeler CDs and played the short selections that corresponded with each chapter in the book.

I then played one or more musical selections by our featured composer that lasted a maximum of ten minutes. During this time of listening, the children were given something to do with their hands. For the younger class, (K- 3rd) this usually involved a coloring page. The Opal Wheeler CD-ROMs contain coloring pages that correspond with the chapters in her books. Also, I found some free coloring pages of musical instruments and musical symbols online. The older group (4th - 8th) were given notebooking pages to draw and write on. Sometimes the children simply used plain paper to draw or write on while listening to the music. After the listening time was over, we talked about the music a bit. I asked the children to tell me the instruments that they heard in each piece, whether the tempo was fast or slow, what the music made them think of, and how it made them feel. This created an opportunity to use group discussion to strengthen the connection with the music.

We studied hymns in our Charlotte Mason music class, mostly focusing on hymns with lyrics that were written by Fanny Crosby. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I read a biography about Fanny Crosby in preparation for the class. I presented a fact or two about Fanny’s life and held up her picture each week. We learned a different hymn by Fanny Crosby every month. For the younger class, I came up with hand motions for the some of the hymns to help keep their attention. Also, I used a jazzed-up version of “To God Be the Glory” a couple of times that the younger group really enjoyed.

For the folk song portion of the class, we learned American patriotic songs and American folk music because many homeschooled children may not have had as much exposure to these as their public school counterparts. It seemed like a good opportunity to present them. During the first semester, we sang traditional songs, such as “America the Beautiful” and “America”. During the second semester, we sang the more ‘fun’ variety of American songs, including “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Turkey In the Straw”, and “The Erie Canal”.

For the final portion of class, I took a few minutes to introduce or review a musical concept. These topics were diverse and included the families of instruments in the orchestra; music notes, signs, and symbols; note values and rhythm; melody, harmony, and learning to sing in a round; posture and breathing while singing; and some basic musical terms.

I love the richness that a Charlotte Mason education brings to the homeschool experience. I appreciate her view of art and music as integral parts of education. I must admit, though, that I have found it difficult at times to include them in my home school regularly. They tend to get buried underneath the subjects that we traditionally view as core. That is why the Charlotte Mason co-op was so valuable for my children and for me. Although this may sound terrible, the co-op literally forced me to include composer study and picture study consistently in my children’s education. Every time I hear one of my children make a reference to Mozart or to Bach, I know that the classes were worthwhile. When we are singing a hymn in church and one of my kids excitedly says, “That’s a Fanny Crosby song,”  I can’t help but smile. Something that was very gratifying for me about teaching the music class was the way that many of the families continued the learning at home. Almost every week, a child would come to class almost bursting to tell me something they had learned about Bach or Mozart from a book they read at home or a documentary their family watched together. This made the class especially meaningful for me. 

I truly hope that you will  find a way to gently incorporate the arts into your children‘s education, whether that occurs in a group situation or among your family at home. I can tell you that it is so worth it. Our children need not only to be instructed; they also need to feel inspired.