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.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Family


Tonight I colored my hair, which got me to thinking about the frugal steps that homeschooling families often take in order to survive on a single household income. Maybe it seems unusual for hair color to bring frugality to mind, but up until a few years ago, I made regular trips to a salon for professional highlights. Then I changed my strategy and decided to color my hair at home in order to save money. That was only one of many small steps that I have taken over the years in an attempt to live more frugally. Below is a list of some of the money saving choices that our family has made at various times. It is by no means an exhaustive list; these are simply some of the items that came to mind.

  • I color my own hair at home as opposed to professional highlights. (see above)
  • My husband and I do not have smart phones, iphones, or any other type of fancy cell phone. We each have a ten dollar tracfone and we buy prepaid cards to obtain minutes for them. We only use our cell phones when we are away from home or in an emergency situation. These bare, basic phones don't have any extras, such as the ability to take pictures or a keypad for easy texting, but they still perform the basic function of allowing us to make a call when we need to. Leaving off all the bells and whistles saves us an awful lot of money, which is a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion.
  • We do not have any television stations whatsoever. Yes, I'm completely serious -- please don't faint! We don't have cable or satellite T.V. We don't even have a 'rabbit ear' antenna on top of our T.V. We only keep our television -- the old, boxy kind that isn't digital and doesn't have a flat screen -- to watch occasional movies together or to play the Wii. Our T.V. technically 'bit the dust' several years ago and we realized that we didn't miss it. I'm so glad we didn't get a new one. I don't have to worry about the content that my children watch and we don't have to pay for cable or satellite T.V. 
  • We rarely eat out and I always utilize a meal plan. I must admit that I have struggled a bit with the meal plan over the years. I have read and followed books about meal planning. At times I have prepared freezer meals. For awhile I used an online meal planning service called e-mealz. Right now I am making my own weekly meal plans from a list that I compiled of about twenty-five of our family's favorite recipes. I have never found a system that is absolutely perfect, but I know that I spend far less money at the grocery store when I use some type of  meal plan. And we only eat out when we have planned ahead to eat out, which also saves a lot of money.
  • I shop at a discount grocery store (Aldi). I find that I spend far less when I shop at Aldi than I do using coupons at a regular grocery store. I will admit, though, that I don't buy everything at Aldi. I am quite a stickler about only purchasing food products that are made with natural ingredients for my children to eat. Also, I am on a strict gluten-free diet. Thus, some of our food is purchased at a health food store. But I still save a lot by purchasing all that I can at Aldi.
  • I prepare my meals with natural ingredients and avoid convenience foods. Not only is this healthier, but avoiding prepared foods saves money too.
  • My children don't have birthday parties every year. This may seem like a small thing, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. We celebrate each of our children's birthdays every year within our own family with a special dinner, cake, and gifts. However, our children take turns having a birthday party that includes their friends as invited guests. Parties cost money and my children's birthdays happen close together. It would be a financial strain to pay for each of them to have a birthday party every single year. 
  • I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. There was a time when I found myself making too many trips to Wal-Mart. I was frequently going in to buy a few items, but it seemed that I couldn't get back out the door without spending at least fifty dollars. Wal-Mart is the type of store that intentionally makes it difficult to run in and get only one or two things. For me, better planning of my necessary Wal-Mart trips helped to ensure that I frequented the discount giant no more than once a month. This plan turned out to be much healthier for my pocketbook.
  • I practice contentment. This is the most effective and important frugal tip that I could ever learn. It is easy to compare ourselves with others, but those comparisons always rob us of true happiness. In our family, we don't drive new cars or have all the latest items. We don't live in a big or fancy house. And guess what? We are happy.  Praying for and practicing contentment is essential for saving money and also for experiencing real joy. 
These are some of the ways that we have attempted to live more frugally. As my husband prepares for a job change and our family faces a possible move, I am looking for new ways to cut corners. How have you been successful at saving money for your family? I would love to know your tips!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Peace and Quiet

This week has been so quiet at my house. My children are enrolled in a music camp for the week. For three days in a row I had no children at home. That is a first for me. As a homeschool mom, I often don't realize that I need a break. Then, when the respite comes, I relish it because I truly did need it. That's how it has been for me this week. I have enjoyed the peace and quiet in my home. I drank my coffee and read my book in silence. I organized closets without interruption. I ran multiple errands alone. Wow.  And God has used this peaceful week at home to refresh my spirit in ways that I didn't even know were needed.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have my children at home and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. The almost constant noise and activity in our home is a testimony to the fullness of life represented here. I would be sad and lonely if my life was always quiet. But this week has reminded me to seek out the quiet moments more often. I need to take the time to be refreshed and rejuvenated -- to allow God to 'fill up my tank', so to speak-- in order to be a more patient and kind mother during the busyness of daily life.

Dear Lord, Thank you for loving me and for calling me to be your child. Thank you for my children and for always providing for our family. Help us to love You more. Help us to glorify You in our daily lives. Help us to make time for quiet moments and to seek YOU during those moments. I know that You long to fill us with your presence and love. Help me to remember that and not to become distracted by my daily activities. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Psalm 46:10a: He says, “Be still, and know that I am God...."

How are you taking time to rejuvenate this summer?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homeschool Co-ops

I have had a rather tepid attitude toward homeschool co-ops over the years. I love some aspects of co-ops even while I dislike other parts. For five of my seven years as a homeschool mom, I did not ultilize a co-op. For two years, I did. In theory, I love the idea of a homeschool co-op. The social interaction, the group learning without jeopardizing flexibility, the fellowship with other moms…sounds perfect. In larger areas, there are even specialized groups for homeschoolers, such as fine arts co-ops. I love that idea! On the surface, it all seems like a win-win situation.  As with everything in life, however, there are some pitfalls.  In my rural area, there are not a lot of co-op opportunities for homeschoolers, but I have tried the ones that are available. Although co-oops have their positives and their negatives, we are excited that we are once again joining a homeschool co-op for the upcoming school year.

A few years ago, my children and I spent a year as part of the only co-op in our area, which consisted of two churches of the same denomination that had joined together for cooperative classes.  Although we did not attend either of those churches, they allowed our family to join. Overall it was a great year with many valuable learning experiences. The best parts were that my children made some new friends that they got to see regularly, they were able to participate in group activities that they would not have been able to be involved with otherwise (i.e., PE, group discussions with their peers), and they gained the experience of accepting instruction from an adult other than me. The negative aspects involved the issues that commonly occur among group situations with children: Someone feels left out or is picked on, some children don't get along, etc. It is important to remember that the same issues that affect kids when they are herded together in school will also occur in a homeschool co-op setting, albeit on a smaller scale usually. The silver lining is that many caring mothers are present to help the children deal with such issues as they occur. The timing wasn't right for our family to continue with the co-op, so we left after only one year. For the upcoming year, we are enrolling in this co-op once again and we are excited about it. This particular co-op includes a mothers support group, which I am definitely looking forward to.

Last year, I started a new co-op in my area for only one year.  I approached the women in a Charlotte Mason support group that I attended about beginning a co-op based on Charlotte’s educational methods. The women were interested and the Living and Learning Homeschool Co-op began with just two classes. I was the director and I taught the music class; a woman from the support group who is also a good friend taught the art class. It was a great year and I think everyone enjoyed it, but we decided not to continue it for next year. My friend who taught the art class is relocating to another state, so we needed a new art teacher. Also, I needed to lessen my responsibilities within the co-op due to a possible job change for my husband as well as some health issues in our family.  The other women in the group were unable to take on those responsibilities due to their own family circumstances (i.e., new babies, too many other commitments, etc.), so the co-op has ended. God may have plans to begin it again in the future, but it isn’t meant to be for the present time.

Although it isn’t a co-op, I want to mention that my children were involved in a homeschool drama troupe for the past two years. It was a wonderful group that brought so many rich experiences into their lives!  This drama class was honestly the best group learning experience that my children have ever had. Although I wish the ‘Encore Players’ group could continue forever, it appears that it may not. The teacher and founder has decided to enroll her children in a Christian school full-time. At this writing, the future of the Encore Players is uncertain.

It is amazing to see how God has always provided for the needs of my family, including my children's need for social interaction. At various times, God has used cooperative learning experiences as part of his divine provision and I am thankful that such opportunities are available to homeschoolers. Although it hasn’t always been perfect, my family has gained much from the co-op experience.  

Have you been a member of a homeschool co-op? Has your experience been a positive one? Please comment below…I would love to read your story!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rowing and Beyond

I absolutely love the Five In A Row curriculum by Jane Claire Lambert. I used volumes one and two with each of my daughters when they were in kindergarten and first grade. If you are unfamiliar with Five In A Row, it is a miniature unit study for children ages 5-8 that uses high-quality children's literature as the starting point for lessons in social studies, science, language arts, fine arts, and math. At the time I was using it, I worried that Five In A Row didn't provide enough educational "meat" for my daughters, even though I used separate curricula for reading, language arts, and math. Looking back, however, I realize that Five In A Row lacked nothing academically. In actuality, it was the catalyst that encouraged a love for literature in my daughters. Also, the interactive lessons stimulated a desire to learn that no other curriculum has replicated in my children.

During my oldest daughter's fifth grade year, she liked almost nothing about school; every academic subject seemed to be a battleground. At the end of the year, I asked her to tell me something she had liked about school in the past so that I could use that information to help make positive changes for the following school year. She thought about it carefully before replying that she had loved school when we used Five In A Row. Her comment was poignant because I hold those memories of reading and learning together with her very close to my heart. Not only did she learn through our Five In A Row lessons, but we created memories together in the process that will never be forgotten. Based on my daughter's comment, I purchased the third volume of Beyond Five In A Row to use with her in sixth grade. Beyond Five In A Row was written by Jane Claire Lambert's daugher, Becky Jane Lambert, and is recommended for ages 8-12. I did not use Beyond Five In A Row as a core curriculum, but it provided stimulating supplemental lessons that gave me the precious gift of quality time with my daughter. There have been aspects of sixth grade that my oldest has not liked or have proven difficult, but Beyond Five In A Row lessons were always something that she looked forward to. That alone makes this curriculum worth its weight in gold in my estimation. The literature that we used in Beyond Five In A Row Volume 3 included The Saturdays and A Cricket In Times Square, as well as biographies about Neil Armstrong and Marie Curie. These quality books provided starting points for lessons on various topics from world history, science, fine arts, geography, language arts, and issues of human relationships.

I attended a homeschool conference this spring and Jane Claire Lambert happened to be a featured speaker at the convention. I was happy to have the opportunity to stop by her table and tell her how much her books have meant to me; not only from an academic perspective, but for fostering family relationships, which is really what homeschooling is all about.

I created a chart for each book used in Beyond Five In A Row Volume 3 to help me stay organized with the lessons I chose. Although I made these for my personal use, they are available below to use in your homeschool.

To access the chart for The Childhood of Famous Americans Neil Armstrong:

To access the chart for A Cricket In Times Square:

To access the chart for Marie Curie and the Discovery of Radium:

To access the chart for The Saturdays:

To purchase Five In A Row or Beyond Five In A Row, please click the link below:

To look at literature lists for each volume of Five In A Row and Beyond Five In A Row, go to