Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Co-op Becomes A Reality

It seems that while the summer drifted by in intense heat waves, I never wrote a single blog post! I have little excuse aside from the typical busyness of  motherhood. My daughters and I spent the first half of summer involved in a community theater project, which we enjoyed immensely. There were additional activities and commitments as well, including our church’s annual music camp, VBS, swim lessons, and a couple of very brief getaways. I never did get around to my plan of helping my kids get ahead in math. Somehow, I truly needed the break from academic work that summertime provided. Often I think that I require breaks more than the kids do and I have truly enjoyed the summer respite. As I prepare to get back into the swing of our school schedule, I wanted to write about something I have been working on this summer. Something that I feel particularly excited about.

My previous blog entry was about my dream of a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool co-op. I am delighted to report that such a co-op, the “Living and Learning Homeschool Co-op”, will become a reality this fall! After writing my blog entry in May, a friend and I discussed offering a small co-op to our local Charlotte Mason support group. There seemed to be sufficient interest from within the group, so we decided to forge ahead with the plan. We are starting out small; around thirty children in kindergarten through eighth grades will be participating this fall. We are offering music, art, and monthly nature field trips. Music class will consist of classical music/composer study, hymns, patriotic songs, and basic music theory concepts. During the Fall 2011 semester, the children will study Bach as well as hymns with lyrics written by Fanny Crosby. Art class will consist of artist/picture study as well as hands-on techniques. The artist for the Fall 2011 semester will be Claude Monet. My friend is teaching the art classes and I am teaching the music classes and directing the co-op as well. I am especially excited about the monthly field trips because the lady organizing them is passionate about nature and has so many wonderful ideas for our group. She is even bringing in some experts from outside our area to teach the children about nature journaling!

I really wanted to share this happy news! My children are so looking forward to making new friends and to learning more about art and music via the gentle methods of Charlotte Mason. I am covering this effort with prayer and I am hopeful that the co-op will be a blessing to all who participate. As the director, I fear that my administrative abilities may be weak. At the same time, I acknowledge that God has placed me in a leadership position so that I might depend upon Him solely as my source of strength. I prayerfully anticipate the beginning of the new school year and the start of “Living and Learning Homeschool Co-op” with hope and expectation. I pray that you are also looking forward to the year ahead and that you experience God’s blessings as you nurture your children.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Charlotte Mason Homeschool Co-op

I have been contemplating homeschool co-ops quite a bit lately. A Classical Conversations program is starting up in my area and I am thinking and praying about enrolling my children in it. However, it is very pricey. Also, Classical Conversations is obviously a classical program and I prefer using CM methods to educate my children. I have a slight fear that a strictly classical program would overwhelm them. For a year my children and I were involved in a traditional homeschool co-op. It had its pros and cons and someday I might write a blog post about the pros and cons of co-oping in general. For now, it will suffice to say that I have been weighing those pros and cons a lot lately and dreaming about my “ideal” homeschool co-op. Specifically, as a Charlotte Mason enthusiast, I am envisioning a co-op that incorporates her wisdom and unique educational philosophy.

My ideal Charlotte Mason co-op would meet for 2-4 hours weekly. Depending on the class or topic, each lesson or class would range from 20 minutes to one hour. Rather than tackling the core subjects, I would leave those classes at home because we all have different preferences for curriculum and methods, as well as children with unique learning styles. I believe that a mother is the perfect person to make those decisions for her children and to be the primary teacher for core subjects. Instead, I would like a co-op to address those “extras” that make a CM education so rich. To clarify, I know that Charlotte Mason did not consider these said topics to be extras at all and she fully included them in her core curriculum. I am labeling them as extras because so many of us have a difficult time including them in our daily lessons. We are able to finish math, spelling, language arts, reading, history, and science without much of a struggle, but when it comes to picture study, composer study, hymn study, or nature study, we often fall short. In order to avoid the exclusion of those wonderful subjects, many CM-focused mothers would benefit from implementing them within a supportive, like-minded group.

All moms involved in a CM co-op should concur in at least one respect: All should be attempting to include some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas in the education of their children. Perhaps each mom should be required to attend a Charlotte Mason support group or to verify that she has read at least one book about a Charlotte Mason education to ensure that she is familiar with the philosophy.

Now for a few more logistics. Mostly, a CM-inspired co-op would not need to have classes segregated by age. Families could participate in the majority of these activities together in one group.  All moms would be required to participate in the teaching and organizing of the co-op, whether it be as the director or as a teacher, assistant teacher, field trip organizer, or snack coordinator. If classes were held in the morning, everyone could bring a sack lunch and eat together at the end. For an afternoon co-op, ending with a snack and fellowship time would also serve the purpose of allowing the children to get to know each other and build friendships.

Following are the results of my brainstorming session for co-op class ideas using a Charlotte Mason model:

1. Circle Time - I really like the idea of beginning together as a group and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing a hymn together. Perhaps pre-designated children or families could then recite a poem, present something learned during the week at home, or prepare another type of “show and tell” to present during circle time.

2. Art Appreciation - Picture study in a group could be just as simple as it is when completed at home. Charlotte’s desire was to familiarize her students with at least six works by the same artist in order for the children to become familiar with that artist’s style. The easiest way to acquire art prints for your group would be to use those that moms in the group already own and are willing to share. Copies of famous art works can be printed online and oversized art books can often be found in the “bargain books” section of large bookstores. For example, I once purchased an oversized book of art by Georgia O’Keefe for $12 at Barnes and Noble. For picture study, the teacher would show the art print being studied to the group and then the class would discuss (narrate) it. Also, the teacher might ask the students to write or draw their impressions of the picture (this is also narration). These simple steps could completely encompass a Charlotte Mason art appreciation class. Of course, it would be great to include skill-based art lessons in the class as well. As a person with no creative art skills, I love the idea of my children learning drawing or painting from a  mom who possesses those skills. Although this obviously would not be a necessity, it would certainly be a nice addition. If an actual art curriculum is desired, look at Artistic Pursuits for a curriculum that includes the technical and expressive aspects of art as well as picture study. Visit http://www.artisticpursuits.com/index.html for more information.

3. Music Appreciation - A co-op music class could be taught in so many different and effective ways that it would be challenging to decide on only one. Charlotte Mason’s students studied classical music, so this should be an integral part of a CM music class. The music of the studied composer could be played for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class while the children quietly drew in their sketchbooks or completed another quiet assignment. An appropriate selection from the wonderful Classics for Kids composer story CDs could also be played during this time. Following this, group singing with piano or guitar accompaniment would be enjoyable for the kids and allow them to learn hymns, folk songs, or patriotic songs together. Singing is an activity that is naturally enjoyed in a group setting. If those in the group desired more structured musical instruction, basic music theory or simple recorder lessons could easily be incorporated into the class.

4. Literature discussion groups/book clubs - These groups could be divided by age or interest and could be quite informal. For preschool non-readers, it could be as simple as story time with a quality picture book or two. There could also be a group of younger beginning readers that would read picture books for their book club discussions. Additional groups would be designated that read chapter books and increasingly mature literature. Essentially, the kids in each group would read the same book at home and then discuss it together weekly in their literature group or book club. Remember, dialogue and discussion (i.e., narration) yield relationships and retention. An adult facilitator could be available to keep the kids on track and to ask open-ended questions when there was a lull in the conversation. Discussion questions are available online for many literature selections and published guides can be purchased inexpensively. One very important rule for these groups: NO TWADDLE ALLOWED!

5. Memory work - If the families involved wanted to include memory work in the co-op, scripture, poetry, and the history timeline, among other topics, could be utilized. There are many music CDs available to help us memorize scripture or other materials more easily and it might be fun for a group of children to listen and memorize together. My personal goal for group memorization would be to prevent the children from experiencing any pressure from it. Such stress would squelch the desire to learn faster than almost anything, I think. To me, this is one huge difference between a CM education and a classical education. Followers of Charlotte Mason believe that education is “a science of relations” and that a large amount of rote memorization is not the factor that best maximizes learning potential. Also, in keeping with Charlotte’s philosophy, competitions and rewards should not be part of memorization. Memory work, especially in a co-op setting, should be low-key, non-competitive, and fun. That does not mean that memorization should not be utilized at all; Charlotte Mason’s own students certainly memorized information. But the amount and scope of memory work should be left at the discretion of the parents without putting unnecessary pressure on the kids. Charlotte Mason believed that education is a gentle art of learning.  Memory work might have a place in a CM homeschool co-op, but it must be done in a gentle way.

6. Shakespeare - There are so many Shakespeare enthusiasts in the world, and for good reason. Why not find out if there is a mom in your group who loves Shakespeare? If there is, ask if she is willing to tackle the job of teaching and inspiring the children to understand, enjoy, and even perform Shakespeare!

7. Handicrafts - Charlotte Mason differentiated handicrafts from “futilities”, which would include the mindless cutting and gluing crafts that are often seen in classrooms and Sunday schools. Charlotte was advocating that children learn crafts that take time, patience, and concentration. Essentially, she wanted them to learn life skills. Examples of handicrafts would include sewing, knitting, beadwork, needlepoint, woodworking, and basket weaving, among many others. Most modern women do not possess a lot of “handicraft skills”, but often we each have skills in one or two areas. Moms in the co-op could take turns teaching the handicrafts that they know to the group, allowing the children to learn and experience a few throughout the year. Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity for moms to learn these skills right along with their children?

8. Nature Study - I can think of two primary ways to effectively incorporate nature study into a CM homeschool co-op:

  •  Physical co-op classes could occur three times per month, with the fourth week  of each  month set aside for nature walks and excursions. After all, Charlotte believed that children needed to regularly and actively experience nature. This would also be a nice opportunity for a once-a-month group picnic! Of course, alternate field trips or activities  could be planned as back-ups for inclement weather.

9. Latin - Charlotte Mason felt that Latin is easier for children to learn than is English grammar. Indeed, she believed that Latin helped children to better understand English grammar. This is another example of a subject that might be beneficial for group study.

10. Hero Admiration - Charlotte Mason believed that education should encompass all that is good, noble, lovely, and worthy of admiration. While we all know that children crave heroes to look up to, most of us also know that the roles models provided by our culture (i.e., Hollywood) are not good, noble, lovely, and worthy of admiration. Instead, historical biographies and literature provide our children with examples of people who have demonstrated character worth looking up to. Our children can learn courage, for example, from many throughout history who have faced and overcome nearly impossible circumstances. Reading biographies about various historical figures, from Pocahontas to Harriet Tubman, has been very beneficial for my oldest daughter. I believe that such biographies have strengthened her sense of empathy toward others and have caused her to feel more grateful for her own life as well. But how can hero admiration be made into a “class” for a homeschool co-op? Here are a couple of ideas:
  •  A simple book club that reads and discusses historical biographies.

  •  Youth With a Mission (YWAM) publishes numerous biographies of “Christian  Heroes” and “Heroes in History”; unit study curriculum guides are available to  accompany each of these books. These unit study guides contain ideas for some of the  following activities and assignments related to each biography: Essay writing, creative  writing, hands-on projects, critical thinking, devotional application, meaningful field  trips, service projects, current events, life skills, project displays, oral presentations, and  more! Unit studies typically have a vast array of ideas to pick and choose from. A unit  study based on a Christian hero or historical figure would be a lot of fun for a group of  children to complete together. For more information, go to http://www.ywampublishing.com/c-39-hero-biographies.aspx.
Although I have never seen or attended a Charlotte Mason homeschool co-op, I would truly love to be a member of one. Perhaps I will take the initiative to start one in my area some day! For now, I simply wanted to share my ideas with others who may be thinking about this very thing. I hope you have a blessed week!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Frugal Tip for Kid-Friendly Food

This is going to be very basic, but sometimes I find myself needing to be reminded of the essentials. What are two foods that are notorious favorites for children? Yes, pizza and chicken nuggets! How often do we buy these favorites at restaurants, fast food windows, or in the frozen food section of the grocery store? The truth is, we can make our own pizza and chicken nuggets at home and save our weekly food budget from hitting the roof in the process. My kids actually like the pizza and chicken nuggets that I make at home better than they like them anywhere else. I do understand the convenience of fast food and pizza delivery on nights when the kids have soccer practice or some other activity that makes it difficult to cook dinner. I have been there and done that many times. It is better to plan ahead for such evenings, however, rather than to spontaneously eat out when we find ourselves unable to “get it together” in time for dinner. Eating out or purchasing convenience foods on impulse will destroy the food budget faster than almost anything else. It might be wise to use the slow cooker on days that are especially busy or to double a recipe each week to freeze for later use on busy nights (more on this in future posts). To save money by providing our children with home-cooked pizza and chicken nuggets, read on!

Fried Chicken Fingers

I have tried several different recipes and methods for making chicken nuggets or chicken fingers at home and this is my family's favorite. Deep frying has a bad reputation for obvious reasons and I don’t do it often. When I do, I use healthier oils such as olive oil and grape seed oil. My daughters like these chicken fingers better than those they have eaten anywhere else!
1 - 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Oil for frying
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
2 cups flour (use unbleached white flour; whole wheat flour does not work well for this)
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Cut the chicken into “fingers” or “nuggets”, depending on your preference. Heat about 4 inches of cooking oil in an electric deep fryer or deep pot on the stove to 375 F (use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature if you’re not using an electric fryer).
Beat the eggs and milk together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a 9 x 9 baking dish or gallon-sized zipper bag, combine dry ingredients.
Dip the chicken pieces completely into the egg mixture and then transfer to the flour mixture. Roll each piece (or shake if using a zipper bag) to coat completely.
Carefully place each piece into the hot oil and fry for approximately 10 minutes until bubbling slows and chicken is golden-brown. (The number of chicken pieces you can cook at one time will depend on the size of your fryer or pot. Do not crowd the fryer).
Remove cooked chicken from oil and drain on paper towels.

*It will be necessary to double the dry ingredient amounts if you use a larger amount of chicken.

The World’s Easiest Pizza Crust
I have attempted many pizza crust recipes and this is the one that my children like the best. Thankfully, it also happens to be the easiest one! Homemade pizza, using this crust recipe, is far from difficult. In fact, pizza is one of the “easy” meals that I save for busy days. Many children prefer cheese pizza or pepperoni pizza. If this is true at your house, be happy because you won’t need to cook or chop any additional toppings!
Preheat oven to 425 F. Dissolve 2 packets of yeast in 1 ½ cups very warm water. In a large bowl, stir 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and yeast mixture until blended. Knead a few times, cover bowl, and let dough rest for 5 minutes. Brush two 12-inch pizza pans or baking stones with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cornmeal. Pat or roll dough onto bottom of pizza pans, creating rims at edges. Pre-bake for 5 - 10 minutes, then remove, spread with pizza sauce, and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and desired toppings. Return to oven until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

Tip:  Although the above crust preparation is extremely easy, it will not result in a particularly crispy crust in most home ovens. For a crispier crust, preheat pizza pans or stones in the oven prior to greasing them. Roll out the dough on a separate, floured surface, then carefully transfer to the preheated pans.

For an easy pizza sauce, combine one small can tomato sauce, one can tomato paste, 2 minced or crushed garlic cloves, a pinch of sugar, and Italian seasoning to taste (I like to use an Italian seasoning grinder for this).

Enjoy these recipes and be inspired to make foods at home that you typically buy elsewhere. It will save you money, it will be healthier for your family, and your children will think you are a fabulous cook!  Have a great week!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Favorite Homeschool Freebies Part 1

Those of us who homeschool our children are typically living on one income, which is never an easy feat in our modern world. Homeschool curriculum can cost a pretty penny too, making quality free resources highly valuable to us. Below is a list of some of my favorite free resources that are currently available to homeschoolers.

1.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing/
free online typing program from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Targeted for ages 7 - 11, your kids will learn to type while playing games that feature entertaining animation.

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/websites/4_11/site/languages.shtml
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website also offers free online foreign language courses for children up to age 11. Online instruction features lots of games, cool animation, and FUN! Choose from Spanish, French, or Mandarin

3. http://www.c-spanclassroom.org/
C-Span offers free online resources and links for social studies teachers (homeschool teachers included). In addition, if you register with this website, you will receive notification of periodic special offers. For example, I received a free, full-color timeline poster of American presidents from C-Span. This high-quality poster was mailed directly to me at no cost just for registering on the website. Although the poster offer has expired, more special deals are sure to follow. Register now so you will know about them when they become available.

4. http://www.yourstoryhour.org/article.php?id=17
Clubhouse, a free online magazine for children available from Your Story Hour, can either be read online or printed from their website. This magazine is full of stories, jokes, and puzzles for kids.

5. http://www.yourstoryhour.org/article.php?id=16
“Adventures in the Holy Bible” is a free series of Bible lessons for children available from Your Story Hour. Currently, you must sign up online or via telephone to receive the lessons, which arrive a few at a time in the mail (lessons might be available online in the future). The quizzes at the end of each Bible lesson must be completed and mailed back to Your Story Hour in order to receive the next group of lessons. This series also includes a set of 13 free CDs containing audio dramas about the life of Jesus that are mailed out along with the Bible lessons. The materials and CDs are yours to keep.

6. http://www.donnayoung.org/
Donna Young’s website offers free homeschool planners and numerous printable resources based on many academic subjects and topics. Her handwriting pages are especially popular among homeschoolers!

7. http://home.pct.edu/~evavra/KISS.htm
KISS Grammar is an online grammar program that is very comprehensive. All materials are free and printable for your use. This program is a bit complicated to use at first, but becomes easier to understand and is quite feasible after a thorough reading of all of the information and instructions on the website.

8. http://children.cccm.com/site/curriculum.htm
A series of 325 children’s Bible lessons from the old and new testaments are available for free from Calvary Chapel. These online lessons are printable or you may send for a free CD-ROM containing all of the lessons. Each lesson contains Bible verses, a coloring page, puzzles, games, and comprehension questions.

9. http://www.aboverubies.org/
Above Rubies magazine has been a ministry of Nancy Campbell and her family for over 33 years. Subscriptions to this magazine are free and she also offers a newsletter and many additional resources on her website. I personally receive this magazine and find the articles to be encouraging and uplifting. I was even pleasantly surprised to receive a personal, hand-written note from Nancy along with my first issue. Please be aware that this magazine unabashedly promotes a large family size. I do not have a large family, however, and still find lots of encouragement and information in the pages of Above Rubies.

10. http://www.homeschoolshare.com/
Homeschool Share offers LOTS of free lapbooking templates and unit studies! When I used Five In a Row curriculum with my kids a few years ago, this site was invaluable to me. Free lapbooks and notebooking pages are available to go with almost every FIAR story!

11. http://www.abcteach.com/
An educational site offering 5000+ free printable theme units, word puzzles, writing forms, book report forms, grammar lessons, math lessons and more.

12. http://gardenofpraise.com/
Garden of Praise offers free online art appreciation lessons, Bible lessons, biographies, downloadable songs to assist with the memorization of facts, and much more!

13. http://www.handsofachild.com/
In the Hands of a Child is the premiere company for lapbooks, in my opinion. Their website always has a link for a free lapbook and they also offer a $5.00 e-book that changes weekly.

14. http://www.amblesideonline.org/index.shtml
Ambleside Online is one of my favorite homeschool websites. This Charlotte Mason-inspired website features a free curriculum guide that is very comprehensive and utilizes living books. Their other free resources, information, and links are too numerous to mention! One of my favorite resources on this site is the free, downloadable art prints. Ambleside Online has inspired and enabled me to teach art appreciation in my home.

15. http://bringinguplearners.com/mosaic-myths-maps-and-marvels/
Mosaic History is an absolutely free history curriculum and guide. This site includes many other free educational resources as well.

16. http://www.enature.com/birding/audio.asp
This is ideal for nature study! E-Nature features audios of the songs and calls of more than 550 North American birds. Listen online or download.

17. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/bbimages/PDFs/ColoringBook.pdf
Another great resource for studying birds! I know that most people recommend drawing (rather than coloring) birds for nature study, but this free Feeder Birds Printable Coloring Book has been perfect for one of my children who LOVES to color.

18. http://thehomeschoolmagazine.com/Digital-Supplement/Homeschool101.html
Homeschool 101 is a lengthy, comprehensive, AMAZING digital supplement available from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Who needs to buy a book about the basics of home education when this is available for free?

19. http://www.oklahomahomeschool.com/unitstudies.html#free
Free unit studies based on history, science, and other various topics.

20. http://www.aesopfables.com/
Aesop’s Fables online for free! 655+ fables are on this site. Some include the text only, while others have an audio option.

21. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/t/text/text-idx?c=nietz;page=browse;id=navbarbrowselink;cginame=text-idx;cc=nietz;key=title;value=m
19th century McGuffey readers are available digitally for free!

22. http://filefolderfun.com/
If you like to supplement your curriculum with independent activities such as file folder games, this is a great site for you! You’ll find numerous printable templates here for making your own file folder games.

23. http://www.bookitprogram.com/enrollment/homeschool.asp
Yes, homeschoolers are eligible for Pizza Hut’s famous Book-It program! Every month, the teacher (i.e., mom) sets reading goals for each child. When those monthly goals are accomplished, the child is given a coupon for a free personal pan pizza. Book-It offers suggestions for goals based on grade level, but those objectives are ultimately determined by you. Example goals would include the child reading a certain number of pages each week or for a certain amount of time every night. My personal disclaimer: As a follower of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, I am not a huge fan of this type of reward system. I feel that children (and adults) ought to read simply for the joy of it. However, rewards do have their place and I am glad that well-known programs such as Book-It are available to homeschoolers. We signed up for Book-It for the first time this year, and although we didn’t do it every month, the kids liked going out for pizza when we did!

I would like to include two additional resources in this list even though they are not true freebies.

24. The “teacher toolbox” feature of The Old Schoolhouse website is free for paid magazine subscribers only. The Old Schoolhouse is the best homeschool magazine available, in my opinion, and the online “teacher toolbox” feature includes a monthly menu/meal plan with recipes, e-books, unit studies, crafts, printables, and more! The regular price for a one-year subscription to The Old Schoolhouse magazine is $29.95, but they frequently offer special deals. Check online at http://thehomeschoolmagazine.com/.

25. This is a discount rather than a freebie, but I am including it on the list because it is highly valuable for homeschoolers. Homeschool teachers are eligible for the Educator Discount Program at Barnes and Noble. If you have not taken advantage of this “perk”, ask to enroll the next time you are in the store. You will receive a card that entitles you to 20% off the regular price of all purchases for classroom use. It’s a fabulous deal, especially if you use a lot of literature in your homeschool.

Enjoy these freebies and feel free to post YOUR personal favorites that are not included on the list. We all love finding great resources to help make our homeschooling experience a little bit more affordable!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: A Child's History of the World by Virgil Hillyer

Ever since my homeschooling career began , I have seen A Child’s History of the World  (ACHOW) listed in catalogs and I have read numerous reviews of the book online. As a Charlotte Mason enthusiast, I was intrigued because so many proponents of living books recommend this “textbook” as part of a Charlotte Mason program. I recently decided to check it out for myself. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical because I knew that Hillyer’s text was regarded as a secular book. I feel strongly that ALL of the facts of history should be taught. The influence of Christianity, for example, should not be ignored, excluded, or continually presented with a negative bias. On the flip side, Christian texts should never gloss over past atrocities committed by so-called Christian individuals or groups (this happens too). The good, the bad, and the ugly should all be included in a history curriculum. We need to understand ALL of history in order to learn from it and prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated. Revising history to suit the perspective of the textbook author is just plain wrong. As a Christian, I also have concerns with secular history books because of the interpretation of events that occurred prior to recorded history contained in such books. Obviously, there is very little evidence to explain definitively the people and events of that time and “pre-history” is open to interpretation. Such interpretations are usually made in accordance with one’s worldview.  My hesitation about these history texts, even if they are not overtly revisionist books, is that the authors’ interpretations of “pre-history” and prehistoric man do not line up with scripture. Because I believe in the absolute authority and inerrancy of the Holy Bible, it is important for the teaching of “pre-history” in my home to be interpreted through the lens of scripture. These concerns characterized my initial uncertainty regarding ACHOW.

Let’s begin with the facts. ACHOW is a survey of world history published by Calvert School for fourth grade students. Other companies, such as Sonlight, sell the book as part of a curriculum package for students as young as first or second grade. ACHOW was originally published in 1924 by Virgil Hillyer, Calvert School’s first headmaster. Reprinted in 1951 with some updates and revisions, the book consists of 603 pages contained in 91 chapters. Although Hillyer stated in his Introduction that he grew up in the Christian faith, the first four chapters present a secular interpretation of prehistoric man with evolutionary content.  Chapter 5 is entitled “Real History Begins” and from this point on, the chapters move chronologically through history, highlighting key people and events from all major societies and cultures. As would be expected, the book begins with ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Babylon, Mesopotamia, Israel, Greece, and the Roman empire, including the mythology and beliefs of those cultures. ACHOW discusses the beginnings of both Christianity and Islam in great detail. This book also discusses the history of ancient Africa, Phonecia and Arabia. We are then transitioned into the Middle Ages and presented with plentiful information about castles, knights, pirates, lords and ladies, and servants of the feudal system. The rise of Islam and the Crusades are also highlighted. Some details about West Africa and Asia during this time period are covered, although Europe receives much greater emphasis. Modern history through the twentieth century encompasses a broad range of topics, including Columbus, explorers and conquerors, Native Americans, the Elizabethan age, the Tudors and Stuarts of England, the Protestant Reformation, slavery and the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the rise of the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. China, South America and the Caribbean Islands are given considerable coverage too. Because this book is meant as a basic survey for children, some topics are given a general overview and the intention is not to "cover everything". Rather, the focus is on the captivating stories of history. Notably, illustrations are limited to a few black and white line drawings.

Now to offer my humble opinion about this book. Truthfully, ACHOW is the most engaging history text I have ever read. It clearly qualifies as a living book! From the moment I began reading, I found it nearly impossible to put down. I devoured it more readily than I would a novel (and that’s saying something) and completed all 601 pages within a matter of a few days. It is no exaggeration to say that I learned more world history in those three days than I did during my twelve years of public school. Hillyer’s delightful style of storytelling brings the past to life and presents history in a way that is fascinating for children and adults alike. Because history is so often presented in a rather tedious manner, we are inclined to forget how engaging and interesting it really is. We tend to get lost in a sea of names and dates while learning little about the personalities, conflicts, and triumphs of the human spirit that have shaped our world. Not so with this book. Your children (and you) will be drawn into the lives of real people from the past, gaining insight and understanding that goes far beyond anything trivial or rote. Regarding my concerns about the secular nature of the book, it was honestly a non-issue. Excepting the interpretation of prehistoric man in the first few chapters, ACHOW covers history factually, without noticeable slant or bias.  ACHOW would be an interesting and age-appropriate book to use with any child in the elementary grades or even junior high. Perhaps this text could even provide a high school student with a light refresher during short breaks from the regular curriculum. I believe that my own experience and testimony provide living proof that college-educated adults can learn a lot from this book!

Although ACHOW is an excellent book, I would like to mention a few minor concerns. For Christians who are concerned about the book’s presentation of prehistoric man, I would recommend skipping chapters one through four and beginning with chapter five. The Bible, along with other books written from a Christian perspective, can be substituted. Also, a wise parent will skim each chapter ahead of time to make note of anything found to be objectionable. For example, some parents have complained about political correctness and minor inaccuracies in the updated version. I did not notice a lot of this, but we each have our own standards and should be aware that some parents are apprehensive about ACHOW for this reason. I only noticed one inaccuracy, which was when Hillyer referenced the biblical account of David and Michal and stated that they “fell in love”. Anyone who has read this story from the Bible knows that Michal was offered to David as a prize for defeating the Philistines. There is more to the story, but “falling in love“ had little to do with it. I noticed this single inaccuracy, but other aspects of this book are undeniably superior to anything else I have read, making it worthwhile in spite of it.

ACHOW could be used multiple ways in a homeschool setting and it would be impossible to adequately expound on all of them in this post. This book would be ideal as a multi-age, family read-aloud or it could be read independently by a child of appropriate age and reading level. It could easily stand alone for a history survey course or it could be used as a spine along with age-appropriate literature, including biographies, historical fiction, and Usborne-style picture books. Lapbooking or notebooking could be worked in nicely or the study of history could even be expanded into several multi-subject unit studies based on each time period. Charlotte Mason’s narration technique would work well with this book, but Calvert School sells a workbook with comprehension exercises and other activities if you prefer a more structured approach. Regardless of whether nothing, a little, or a lot is added to ACHOW, it has great potential as an ideal fit for many families. Although marketed as a one-year course through Calvert School, it could easily be expanded into a two-year course (or possibly even longer) by adding in literature, map work, a time line, and hands-on activities or research projects. In addition, ACHOW should have broad appeal to both Christian and secular homeschoolers.

 I believe that world history can and should be taught in the elementary grades and that ACHOW is a wonderful resource to help us accomplish this. In Hillyer‘s introduction, he stated that most American children inadvertently believe that time began in 1492. They have very little knowledge of the world prior to the discovery of America. This is truly a shame and should inspire us to teach world history regardless of whether or not it is included in our more traditional curricula. As a Christian parent, I have thought about the following questions regarding the teaching of history as it relates to our faith. How can our children comprehend the Bible without understanding the histories and cultures of the nations that existed during Bible times? How can they nurture a desire to fulfill the great commission without knowing about other nations, including the people, events, and beliefs that shaped them? How can they possibly understand current events without the ability to view them through the lens of the past? We must remember that history really is His Story and that Christian parents have a responsibility to share that story with our children. A Child’s History of the World  is a great resource to help us do just that. May God use the teaching of history to plant seeds in the lives our children that inspire them to share His story, His love, and His Son with others around the world.

To purchase A Child's History of the World, click here:


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two Fabulous Desserts For a Rainy Day (Or Any Day)

Lots of rain means less time outside, but more time to experiment in the kitchen. The following dessert recipes are some that I made recently and loved. My husband and kids loved them too! In fact, my husband now wants carrot cake on his next birthday. Enjoy!

Carrot Cake

This dessert is time-consuming because of the large amount of grated carrots, but oh-so-worth-it! It is a perfect dessert for special occasions.

4 eggs
1 ¼ Cups vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots **
1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

2. In large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack (I leave mine in the pan instead) and cool completely.

4. To make frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

**While grating the 3 cups of carrots, take time to count your blessings. Trust me, you will have plenty of time to come up with a very long list! Also, be careful with your hands during the grating. In other words, no grated fingernails allowed!!

Heavenly Chocolate Mousse

Hello, chocolate lovers! Have you ever heard of “heaven on a spoon”? Trust me, this is it!

8 squares  (1 oz each) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips)
½ cup water, divided
2 tablespoons butter (no substitutes)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp. sugar
1 ¼ cups whipping cream, whipped and unsweetened**
Sweetened whipped cream ** and grated chocolate for topping

In a double boiler, heat chocolate, ¼ cup water, and butter until melted. Cool 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, whisk egg yolks, sugar, and remaining water. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees F (use a candy thermometer). Remove from heat; whisk in chocolate mixture. Set saucepan in ice and stir until cooled, about 5-10 minutes. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon into dessert dishes. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream and grated chocolate.

** If you are wondering if you must use real whipped cream, I would have to answer in the affirmative since eating Cool Whip probably isn’t much better for you than eating plastic. Yes, whipping cream is high in fat, but at least it’s real food! Much has already been written about the Cool Whip atrocity, but if you want to see what resulted when one father left it out for several days, here’s a link for you:


Hopefully, the rain will soon stop and we will see lots of sun. Until then, look on the bright side...at least we can have dessert!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Personal Reflections on the Resurrection

Easter is now officially over. You may have attended an Easter worship service that included special music and a meaningful sermon, followed by a nice lunch. Maybe you attended special events during the past week, including a passion play or an Easter egg hunt. Perhaps you enjoyed family traditions with your children, such as coloring eggs or baking cookies. But now it is all over. Or is it? How much of a difference does Christ’s resurrection really make in our daily lives? Does it determine our purpose throughout the entire year or do we forget to contemplate its significance after the Easter holiday is over?

Sometimes it is easy to become desensitized to the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection because we have heard it so many times before. Once a year we reflect on these events and then we push them into the background of our thoughts. We do not allow the truth of Christ’s resurrection to infiltrate every area of our lives, including our struggles, trials, and triumphs both great and small. But that is not how Christ wants us to live! It would be different if we worshiped mere idols that had no power, but that is not the case for us at all. Our Lord is RISEN and thus He is ALIVE! Accordingly, Jesus is personal, loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is more than enough for meeting our every need and fulfilling all of His promises to us. In reality, the resurrection should make an incredible difference to us every moment of our lives. Our thoughts, words, and actions should be a continual reflection of His life, love, and mercy in us.

Has anyone ever told you not to “sweat the small stuff”? Mothers are often notorious for sweating the small stuff. In order to avoid this, it is essential for us to develop a better grasp of who exactly it is that we serve. Jesus is the ruler of everything and is quite capable of handling all that comes our way, including the small stuff, the massive stuff, and all of the in-between stuff too. Giving all of our concerns to God becomes less difficult when we remember to meditate on all that He has done for us. His promises are available to us only because he is alive today. Because He lives, He knows us and loves us. Because He lives, we can know and love Him. Because He lives, He offers us grace and mercy that could never be earned. Because He lives, we have hope for the future. Because He lives, our place in eternity with Him is secure. Because He lives, we are able to love one another, including our families, our friends, and even those who detest us. Because He lives, we will experience peace that passes all understanding. Because He lives, His perfect love will cast away all of our fears. Because He lives, our sins are forgiven as far as the east is from the west. Because He lives, His power is made perfect in our weakness. Because He lives, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Because He lives, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE! So often I forget to live as though I believe those promises, but God’s Word is truth and His promises are applicable to our lives every single day!

 As women, we often feel overburdened by the unrealistic expectations of others. Please remember that we are not obligated to please anyone other than God. When we are serving Jesus and following His lead, our burdens are lighter and it becomes much easier to keep our priorities in line. We must let go of our anxiety regarding what others think of us or expect from us. God will always gives us the strength to do the things He has called us to do. Although we often stumble, He always loves us, always forgives us, and He will always sustain us. God already knows our insecurities and weaknesses; He has the power to work in our lives in spite of them. He is helping us to persevere and is continually covering us with His grace, even when we are unaware of it. The things we do to please or impress others lose their importance when we rest in God’s care, trust Him to supply our every need, and recognize that the most imperative battle of all has already been won!

As we begin our week, let’s be encouraged because we serve a risen Lord! Do not lose sight of the big picture. Allow it to define your purpose and give you a fresh perspective every day. It will make all of the difference in the world. Christ lives! Because He lives, He offers us new life and He even walks beside us through every step of the journey. Let us be thankful today and every day for all that Jesus has done for us!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Extracurricular Activities: How Much Is Too Much?

I drive my children to extracurricular activities every day of the week except Tuesday and Saturday. During seasonal soccer and baseball, Tuesday is the only day that we spend entirely at home. And I’ll be painfully honest: I’m a bit weary of  it. The struggle just to cook dinner or eat together because we are not home bothers me. And I don’t like the feeling that I am always in a hurry to get somewhere. Even more telling is that my children are complaining about it. It isn’t that they dislike extracurricular activities; the opposite is true. I am simply realizing more and more that my children WANT to be at home. And like me, they don’t enjoy the continual hurry from one place to another. Admittedly, one of the benefits of home education is that kids have more time to pursue their favorite interests. But how many supplementary activities can they be involved in before it becomes too stressful for the entire family? Where should we draw the line?

Following is a list of activities that one or more of my children has been involved in weekly throughout this school year:

Piano lessons
Art class
Drama class
Children’s choir
Awana clubs
Soccer (seasonally)
Baseball (seasonally)

Much has been written about “overscheduled children” and the psychological problems that can develop from too much activity. I would be bold enough to assert that most American children AND their parents are experiencing the effects of chronic overscheduling. And my children are living proof that homeschool families are not exempt. While it is true that such children spend a lot more time at home than their traditionally schooled peers, the principle still applies. After all, our lifestyle is called homeschooling, but there are days when many of us feel like we are "car schooling". At a meeting last fall, I listened to a speaker discuss this very topic. She suggested that parents purposefully leave “margins” in their family schedules, which simply means to make sure that plenty of time is set aside when no one in the family has to do anything or be anywhere outside the home. I thought it made a lot of sense, but apparently it is easier said than done. How well did I accomplish the goal of protecting margins of time this year? Two words: Epic failure. Please don’t misunderstand: I really don’t think that my children are particularly sad or overstressed. I simply feel that we would all be happier and function better if we were home more, particularly in the evenings.

A general rule that I have and do not plan to change is that my kids are required to follow through with something once they have committed to it. So even if my kids become bored with choir, they must persist until the upcoming performance is over because others are depending on them to participate. If they grow tired of soccer, they must tough it out for the remainder of the season because their teams and coaches are counting on them. This is a valid rule because personal responsibility and accountability are important throughout all of life and it is never too early to learn these principles. I do not allow my children to quit something whenever they want to, but I must have some rules in place before I ever begin scheduling their activities. I believe that such rules will protect them from becoming overtired and also help them to enjoy the activities that they are participating in all the more. The difficulty is that my children are interested in doing and learning a lot of different things and it is easy to get carried away! As the mother, I must set limits ahead of time and help them to prioritize their interests.

I think that some parents feel concerned about their children having too much free time. I have heard people say that it is good for their kids to stay very busy in order to “keep them out of trouble”. While I understand that there might be a bit of truth in this, I do not agree with it. Unstructured time for children does sometimes result in discipline issues.  I deal with this in my home in the forms of disobedience, sibling rivalry, and general rowdiness. Although it is never pleasant, my duty is to help the children learn to deal with conflict and frustration when such situations arise. They need to understand why it is  important to love one another and how to respond when angry or when they do not get their own way. I do not think it is good to keep our children overly busy with the purpose of avoiding conflict with them. These are teachable moments that are necessary and good. And think of the benefits of freeing up some of their time. They might enjoy spending the extra time in imaginative play or interacting with siblings and friends. Maybe they would be open to meaningful discourse with parents as a result of additional time spent together. Perhaps they would read more books or develop a new hobby. There might be time to play family board games or have movie and popcorn nights. Yes, these are some of the benefits of having more free time! A few naughty behaviors pale in comparison!

Next year I plan to allow each of my children to choose one evening activity at church and one evening activity outside of church that occur weekly. In addition, I will continue to allow both daughters to participate in homeschool drama because they love it, they can do it together, and best of all, regular rehearsals are always during the day! My oldest daughter might be allowed to participate in one additional activity because she has shown a fervent interest in the arts and I believe that it is appropriate to allow extra time for her to develop her abilities. My younger children, on the other hand, are still “testing the waters” to find the things that they like to do best. Most significantly, I will have a predetermined schedule that lists the evenings that we will stay home and the evenings that extracurricular activities will be allowed. If the children’s desired endeavors do not fit into that schedule, they will need to choose something else to be involved in for the year.

I know that I am not alone in my struggle with this. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I am prayerfully seeking the best for my family. Extracurricular activities serve a useful purpose for us, but it is not healthy for children to experience the stress of becoming involved in too many of them. I would honestly love to hear your tips on how to successfully manage family schedules. Please comment below because this is an area in which I need to learn from others. Perhaps we will benefit from supporting each other as we attempt to do a better job of protecting our margins!

Below are links to helpful articles about the harmful effects of overscheduling our children:



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Choose Homeschooling

Why Choose Homeschooling?

Because this is the first post on my new homeschool blog, it made sense to begin with the question of why I chose homeschooling in the first place. Homeschooling is unconventional, and I am too in many ways, but I don’t exactly fit the stereotype of a homeschool mom. For example, I don’t have goats, regularly bake bread for my family, tend an enormous garden, or even own a denim jumper. And most notably, I only have three children.  Even though there are families who are closer to fitting that image, and I actually admire those families very much, homeschoolers have broken away from the archetype, particularly in recent years.

There are many reasons to homeschool. For some, it is a choice that allows them to provide a religious education or moral instruction. Some wish to protect their children from the potential dangers of the public school environment. Others desire to customize an educational program to fit the academic abilities and learning styles of their children. Homeschooling allows families who travel a lot or who have an unusual work schedule to spend more time together. Many children with special needs benefit from the one-on-one interaction that homeschooling allows. There are additional reasons why people educate their children at home and the above list is a mere sampling of them. Regardless of the motivation, there are more than a few parents choosing to home educate. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 1.5 million American children were homeschooled in 2007. Although the reasons for homeschooling may be vastly different among those of us doing it, we all agree that the right of parents to teach their children at home should be vehemently defended and preserved. But I digress…that is another post for another day.

As I reflect on my personal reasons for homeschooling, I realize that God opened my heart to it very early on. Rewind to the year 2000, which was when I first experienced the love, thrill, delight, and yes, extreme fatigue, of motherhood. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to stay at home to raise my children. I have attempted to enter the workforce on a part-time basis a few times since my first child was born, but every time I went off to work, my heart remained at home. I eventually ended up leaving each position in order to be where my heart was. So from the beginning, I felt an overwhelming desire to care for my child full-time. I believe that homeschooling was born in my heart as a natural extension of that desire.

As my daughter grew a bit older, my nephew reached kindergarten age and his parents decided to homeschool him. I was so intrigued and happy about their decision. Never once did I worry that my nephew wouldn’t be properly socialized or that he would fail to make it in life in some other way. In fact, my innermost thoughts were, “I wish I could do that too.” My husband and I had already discussed our plans for our daughter’s schooling and we completely agreed that we wanted her to have a Christian education. Our plan, even though I was inwardly nurturing a desire to homeschool, was for me to return to work when she went to kindergarten in order to help pay for private school. It seemed like a reasonable plan. However, in 2003, along came our second baby girl! Thus, we would still have a child at home needing my care when it was time to send our oldest to kindergarten. We began to contemplate and discuss our options and I prayed fervently that the Lord would open my husband’s heart to homeschooling.

Meanwhile, as our older daughter was growing into a little girl that would soon be old enough to attend school, we had some concerns about her development and maturity level. Those concerns turned out to be the catalyst that opened my husband’s heart to homeschooling. He was afraid that she would not do well in a traditional classroom setting. Thankfully, we no longer have concerns over our daughter’s development and I know that God used our worries to bring Greg and I to a place of agreement.  In 2005, when our third child was born, our decision had already been made. The following month I began my life as a homeschool mom.

Over five years have passed since then and I have absolutely no regrets. I am still doing what I believe to be best for my children. My husband is now completely sold on homeschooling and he encourages me every day. For me, it is important to look back at where I began and to take notice of how far God has brought me. He has been with me through every step of the homeschooling journey and I know that He will continue to offer me help, hope, and encouragement throughout its entirety.

I would be delighted to hear about how and why YOU began homeschooling. Please feel free to post in the comments section below or to e-mail me because I would love to read your story.