Sunday, February 28, 2010

Verse (and song) of the week - John 11:40

Doubt blurs our vision, at times blinding us.

Doubt and fear stand united challenging the depth of our faith, stripping it away. Stirring up more questions than convictions.

Doubt arrives with the storm as our eyes capture the waves instead of their Master.

Doubt swirls in the desert as the sand distorts our direction and makes past slavery look more appealing than the present uncertainty, or even the promised future victory.

Doubt festers and grows. Never good. Like a mold, a fungus, an infection that must be washed out and completely sterilized.

Why do I so still find myself sucked in to its deluding grip?

On the other side is faith.

Focus on God -- Rock solid. Firm to the end. Faithful. Gentle. Sovereign. Omniscient.

How often I miss His working because I doubted and wasn't even looking. John 11:40 says, "Jesus said to her, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” Martha looked through human eyes and at first missed the power of God.

She looked at "reality" and saw only her dead brother and a silent God.

My eyes often attach themselves to the present day challenges rather than God's vitality and plan. What if I instead trusted? What if I chose to believe Him? How visible His glory when we look the right direction!

Often when I hear a new song in church it takes me a little while to warm up to it. This past week we sang a song that I immediately jotted down to look up when I got home. Then, I find out it is not even released yet! According to the post on one of the worship leader's blogs, I have to wait until April to really have access to it. But, here are some of the lyrics that I treasured as I sang:
The Greatness Of Our God
by Reuben Morgan, Stu Garrard, Jason Ingram

Give me eyes to see more of who You are
May what I behold still my anxious heart
Take what I have known and break it all apart
You my God are greater still

No sky contains
No doubt restrains
All You are
The greatness of our God
I spend my life to know
And I'm far from close
To all You are
The greatness of our God

Give me grace to see beyond this moment here
To believe that there is nothing left to fear
That You alone are high above it all
You my God are greater still.
{For a little audio blurb, you can catch an intro to it here, and the song is quietly playing in the background.}

Lord, you are more powerful than my doubt. Your promises hold true even when I do not. Continue to change my unbelief that I may see more of You! ~Amen

Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that
if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

~John 11:40~

See and hear more Songs for Sunday at Fenced in Family.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


We have five young Lego enthusiasts in our family.

We have endured our share of late night barefoot episodes of pain from left-out Legos.

Now and then my husband would look around for used Legos and never came up with much. Well, he had the clever idea of putting a "want ad" on Craigslist for Legos.

A few worth-while offers filtered in. Our kids bought some, and we bought some for the group of them, and then we got to work scrubbing and sorting.

We pulled out all the Megablocks since we have found they don't mix well. We will resell those at a clothing sale in the near future.

While discussing the difference between Legos and Megablocks, we found this video that pretty well sums up my kids' feelings about Megablocks now (more of these are available on Youtube as well):

And, then for the creating. . . Our kids have come up with some amazing stuff, and my husband has helped the younger ones with some of their desired creations. Because we don't have many acutal sets, just bins and bins of pieces, they come up with their own designs and masterpieces.

I love this soccer set that allows them to actually play a game after assembled:

My husband and older son also spent quite a bit of time putting a video together. My son would especially appreciate if you jump over to YouTube and take a look.

A lot of work, but also a learning experience. The wheels are already turning for another movie as well.

Legos have provided an entertaining and affordable way to spend time together as a family. Even the cleaning was a group project. Lots of Lego-induced smiles all around.

Mentoring Moments -- Chapter 1


Last week I started by sharing the introduction to a "book" I am starting to compile made up of the devotionals that I use with my daughters. For the intro and thoughts on this project, see that earlier post on "Of Cowgirls and Princesses: God's Design for Young Girls."

But, without further ado, here is chapter one. I would love to hear if you used this with your daughter(s) and if you have found it helpful.


God's Unique Creation: YOU!

Little girls can look very different on the outside. Yet, they have many things in common. When they talk with their friends they realize that many of them know how it feels to struggle to get along with a brother or sister, to not feel like doing chores, to have scary dreams, to like some parts of schoolwork better than others, to feel sad after getting in trouble at home, and to really want a good friend.

Most of us at one time or another have found ourselves in each one of those situations. Fortunately, we have two very special friends to help us through those challenging times.

The first one is not a person we can see, but one who has loved us since before the world began. God created you and loves you. He knows what is best, even if it is not always the easiest. He will always walk beside His children, protecting and teaching gently.

The second person God placed right in the home to love and guide. Mothers were once little girls, and know all those same feelings. Friends will often move on or apart, but mothers and daughters have a special relationship that will last a lifetime.

In their mothers, daughters find one who knows them and wants to help them as they grow into bigger girls and then into young ladies and eventually into women with homes to care for and other adult responsibilities.

Daughters may have similarities with other girls, yet they each have their own special touches that they bring to their home. Different gifts and skills, different personalities, different tastes, different preferences, and different relationships keep life exciting and show the need for each person to look for their special part in their family, classroom, church, and neighborhood.

Activity (be aware that your daughter might want to turn the table occasionally and lead the activity):

"What’s missing?"

Fill a tray with essential items for personal hygiene (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, washcloth, soap, shampoo, brush, comb, nail clippers, etc.)

Let your daughter study the tray for 30 seconds and then take the tray out of the room. Remove one item from the tray and then return.

  • Can she tell what is missing?
  • Could we still take care of our bodies the same way without this object?
  • What if all we had was a toothbrush and nothing else, could we still keep our bodies clean and well cared for?
  • What if the objects came to life and complained about their jobs. What if the deodorant wanted to be used to brush teeth, or the nail clippers wanted to be a hairbrush? Would they be able to complete those tasks that they were not designed for?

Talk about how we each have a role for which God has created us and is growing us for. We need to fill that role and live for Him the way He created us to. Express to your daughter some of the unique ways she makes your family complete, some of the characteristics that she brings to your home and family.

Read: I Corinthians 12: 4-7, 14-27 (This passage may seem a bit lengthy depending on the age of your daughter. Feel free to shorten, break up, or summarize this passage).
  1. Are we all created the same?
  2. Why do we each have gifts (verse 7)?
  3. Should our gifts draw us together or make us stand out individually (verse 12)?
  4. What are your gifts, skills, abilities, and how are you using them to unite and encourage the body of Christ as a whole and even just within your home?
  5. Should we look down on others, or ourselves, because we do not have a certain role?

Read: Hebrew 2:3b, 4
  1. Where do our gifts come from, who decides what gifts we will receive?

Read: Romans 12:3-8
  1. Do you see any gifts in your own life? Some of these may not appear until you are older, but be on the lookout for God’s gifts in your life.
  2. How can you use your skills, gifts and interests to serve God and others?

Action points:
Point out to your daughter some of her unique traits. Discuss how she can use those in your home and in other settings she finds herself in throughout the week. Encourage her to choose and write down one or two specific ways to shine for God this week.

If you do not already do so, find an area of ministry that you can do with your family members. Maybe serving in your church, baking for those who may be experiencing a difficult time physically, or writing notes of encouragement.

Pray and thank God for the unique gift He gave you in each other

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Who can map out the various forces at play in one soul? Man is a great depth, O Lord. The hairs of his head are easier by far to count than his feeling, the movements of his heart."
~Augustine, St.

Further reading:
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
By: Francis Chan

A Little Girl After God's Own Heart: Learning God's Ways in My Early Days
By: Elizabeth George, Judy Luenebrink

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Beehive Reader

One of my absolute favorite products so far this year came from All About Spelling. My daughters have thoroughly enjoyed their spelling program, so another package from this company could only be a good thing.

The Beehive Reader complements the spelling curriculum that we already love. It reinforces the sounds they have learned accompanied by beautiful pencil sketches and short stories.

Product: The Beehive Reader
Details: A 160 page beautiful early reader that can be used with or without the All About Spelling system. Any child that knows their basic letter sounds can read these delightful stories. Illustrated with beautiful pencil sketch-type illustrations.
Price: $19.95

What we loved . . .
  • Beautiful! I love this book, just to look at even. The cutest pictures, sturdy hardback cover. An all around top quality product. My daughter kept thumbing through it on the first day, enjoying the pictures.
  • Perfect for the early reader. So many early readers are either too long, too dull, or too narrowly focused on a certain sound. Because this book waits until after the basic sounds are all introduced, your child is ready to read some real stories. I have tired of early readers that don't really make sense because they are stuck using all short 'a' sounds to create a story.
  • Perfect length. The other issue I have found in some early readers is that the stories are too long. The poor kids get tired of reading the story even if it is fairly well put together. These are almost too short, but are perfect for putting the phonics skills into practice at the end of the spelling lesson.

Some considerations . . .

  • The Price. As much as I love this book, $20 seems a bit steep for a reading book. It is durable and beautiful, and I'm sure worth that price, but it still is a lot of money.
  • Not a long use product. This is a great little book, and one that will last an early reader for a couple months, and one they will likely enjoy reading even longer than that. But, for school purposes this is a book that your child will read and use for only a relatively short time.

We really love All About Spelling. And, I love how this reader easily reinforces and works into the curriculum. The stories are wonderful, the product is top quality, and my daughter definitely enjoyed using it.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This reading book was provided to me free of charge from All About Spelling as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Giveaway -- Children's book about prayer

Recently I received a package in the mail with a children's picture book on prayer. This book is not for me to keep, it is just for one of you! The author contacted me and graciously offered a book to giveaway to one of my readers.

this little prayer of mine book cover

To see more images or to order this book just released on February 16, check out Anthony DeStefano's website.

This is a beautiful book that helps teach children about prayer by walking them through a child's prayer. Anthony DeStefano along with illustrator Mark Elliott have created a pictorial and linguistic image of praying to God with humility, thankfulness, and requests.

There are an abundance of good picture books to read with your kids, but not enough of them contain a spiritual message that we would like to pass along to them. This book is a great addition to your home bookshelves.

Of course, it also caught my eye and my kids noticed that the picture hanging on the wall is Raphael's Sistene Madonna that we were just studying in history. Nice when learning crosses real life . . .

Anyway, if you would like to enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post. And you can earn an extra entry by sharing about this giveaway with some of your friends. Either blog, tweet, post, or email about this giveaway somewhere, and come back and leave a second comment saying you did so and you will receive a second entry.

You want another entry? Well, because I appreciate all my followers and subscribers so much, if you are a follower or a subscriber to this site leave another comment for yet another entry. New followers and subscribers are welcome to take advantage of this extra entry as well.

That's a total of three possible entries (one just for telling me you are reading this, one for telling others about it, and one for subscribing or following).

The contest will continue through Friday, March 5, at 10:00 p.m. CST

Even if you don't win you can order this online from Amazon or other websites, or keep your eye out for it in your local bookstore as well.

Monday, February 22, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Math Mammoth

Math, math, math. Lots of math options. The challenge is to figure what makes one stand out above the next. When Maria Miller created Math Mammoth she saw a need for curriculum that genuinely teaches the child and that parents could buy at a reasonable price.

Her programs seem to accomplish that. She offers the material in a variety of formats -- complete curriculums by grade, teaching textbooks combined with work sheets by topic, separate worksheets by grade, and separate worksheets by topic (the books of worksheets do not offer explanations or teaching, just problems for student practice or reinforcement).

I appreciated that versatility in choosing what would fit our homeschool needs. Since we already have a complete curriculum that we are pretty happy with, I chose to check out her Green series that offers basic worksheets on various topics.

One book covers Fractions -- everything a student in grades 3-6 would ever need to know about fractions. Everything from recognizing fractions to dividing fractions by fractions. Another covers Ratios, Proportions and Percents, and I also received the book on Statistics (graphs, charts, etc.) Each of these were well done and offered a thorough practice of each of the topics through the grade levels specified (and even beyond in some cases). They even offer some extension exercises to help kids make broader application of the principles learned.

Product: Math Mammoth Green series
Details: An affordable downloadable math curriculum. They offer complete curriculums as well as worksheets for supplementing or reteaching. I reviewed a few of the books from the Green series which offers worksheets and answer keys on various topics. One book will have practice for grades 3-6, typically, covering one topic, like fractions, decimals, multiplication, statistics, etc.
Price: The ebook prices vary depending on length. The shorter one (covering Ratios) is 48 pages and costs $4.50, a longer one (covering Geometry) is 91 pages and costs $9.00.

What we loved . . .

  • Affordable Prices. Since you can pick and choose you don't pay for content you don't need, and each downloadable book is quite affordable, many of them under $5.
  • Perfect Length. Each exercise is just one page long. Perfect length for review, reteaching, or extra practice without the overkill of busy work.
  • Thorough. At the top of each page is a section of starter problems. Even in the series that I reviewed, which was not intended for teaching a new topic, the student gets eased into the activity. The top few problems were great for working through together, and then they could continue on their own, confident that they could complete each type of problem presented on the page.
  • Variety. When a student receives their worksheet, they don't see an endless string of problems. Different formats, various approaches, and often an activity or some word problems to finish the page. These were well designed to help kids master the topic from a variety of angles.
  • Attractive. Each page is quite colorful without being distracting. Pictures and graphs as appropriate. Enough color to be eye catching, but not so much as to detract from the quality content presented.
  • Created by a homeschool mom. She saw parents struggling to teach their kids math and she knew they needed another option. She put her math background to work in a great way.

Some considerations . . .
  • Even little prices add up. If you decide you can use quite a number of their products, it could still get expensive. It is great for picking and choosing.
  • Most economical in ebook. Part of the reason they come so affordably is because they are downloads. You can purchase the print versions, but they will cost you quite a bit more than the prices that I have mentioned (plus shipping). If you prefer having a book in hand this might not be for you. However, the advantage, is that you can print and reprint, and rereprint to your heart's content. For each child, for the child needing to complete a sheet a second time, whatever your reason (within your family), you can make more than one copy from the ebook.

If you would like a chance to check out Math Mammoth for yourself, and see if it might be a good fit for your family, go to their home page and scroll down to the bottom. You will find two options there, one for an email course and the other for a 7 day tour via email. Both of these options will give you a variety of samples and articles that will likely be of help to you in your math endeavors whether you end up choosing Math Mammoth or not.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This math curriculum was provided to me free of charge from Math Mammoth as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Homeschool Showcase is up

Every couple weeks I have the privilege of diverting your attention away from my blog to the Homeschool Showcase hosted by Kris over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Like other weeks you will find a host of information and ideas for your homeschooling endeavors. Birds, lapbooks, musical instruments, writing activities, and more. Some are practical, some fall more in the realm of encouragement for the homeschool mom.

Take a few minutes and see if any of the ideas catch your eye. Homeschoolers are such a creative bunch, and we can all benefit from someone else's great ideas.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Verse of the Week -- Proverbs 3:3

"Truth is within all of us."

"Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it."
~Andre Gide (French author and winner of the Nobel Prize)

"We know the truth, not only by the reason, but by the heart."
~Blaise Pascal

Truth in some form or another has long caught man's attention. Nowadays people seek after the truth "within," or "their" truth. If truth were simply buried deep within us waiting to be uncovered, I doubt the writer of Proverbs would have penned these words:

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart ~Proverbs 3:3

I am reminded of the Jewish practice of physically binding Scripture to their bodies. Not a bad idea. Often just carrying a tract of Scripture portion around with me keeps my mind focused on more eternal matters.

Mercy and truth. I like that summary of our faith. Mercy, love, kindness. That others-focused outlook. Mix that with truth, the firm unwavering foundation of what and Who we believe in.

We need both of those for balance and right thinking. Just truth could leave us studying and learning, not applying, because we will never come to the end of all the truth we need to learn. Just love and we forget the harsh reality of sin and judgment.

They both need to find their place inscribed on my heart and etched into my thinking. Driving my actions and keeping each other balanced.

Lord, Help the truth to drive me to greater love. And help my love to speak the truth without fear or compromise. Keep my life bound up in You, all of You. ~Amen

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee:
bind them about thy neck;
write them upon the table of thine heart

~Proverbs 3:3~

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let's make 10 -- Preschool Math

After reviewing Ray's Arithmetic I was inspired to focus on one thing and do it well.

Both my four and six year old are fairly proficient at counting to 100, counting by 10s, and some addition facts. I decided we would focus on a topic that they both needed to work on since I could work with them together, which I always find more fun and engaging.

So, we picked "10." For the last couple weeks, and at least one more to come we have focused on 10. What numbers add up to 10 specifically. Keep in mind the activities that follow were not all from one lesson or even one day. We have varied the application, and gradually moved into different activities over the course of a couple weeks now.

We started by counting to 10. Lining up 10 rocks or shells (taken from our bucket we keep on hand just for math, or maybe art projects if we don't use too many). You can of course use whatever you have around -- coins, dry beans, counting bears, erasers, paperclips, etc.

We counted and rearranged and counted again.

We put them in rows of 2 and then rows of 5.

I counted by twos with my six year old, and then we moved on to adding and subtracting.

To start with, they each received a set of 10 objects. They would separate them into groups.

We showed all the fact families for 10:

0+ 10 and 10+0
1+9 and 9+1
2+8 and 8+2 (you get the idea) on through

No questions yet, just exploring. Remembering the numbers that go together, learning to recognize which pairs of numbers add up to 10. Memorizing, without really working at it.

While they used the stones, I then wrote the problems on a dry erase board and we said them all together. By this time my six year old had the pairs down pretty consistently and my 4 year old knew about half of them quickly, and could figure the rest out if given a little time. Enough mastery that we moved on to the next step.

After they knew how to make 10, we started playing some games with it to reinforce the concepts and stretch their thinking.

Now we went down to just one group of 10 items. I would split this into two groups and hand each child one of the groups.

For example, I would give Nathan 2 and Brooke 8, or Nathan 4 and Brooke 6, or give them both 5, etc.

Then, they had to count how many they had and tell me how many the other person had received. This was a great activity and worked very well. It worked with the two of them because they could both shout out the answer without ruining it for the other person, since they each usually had a different answer that was right, unless they each had five.

If I gave Nathan 2 stones he had to tell me Brooke had 8, while Brooke had to figure out that he had only 2. Make sense? They love this game, and it keeps them on their toes.

This could easily be played with one child as well, and I have with Nathan many times since then. With one child you simply grab a handful of rocks, leaving some (or none) on the table. They must then figure out how many you hold in your hand by counting the rocks left behind on the table.

Of course, you can probably come up with your own variations, and it becomes a new challenge when you move into changing the number of manipulatives you have to begin with.

Giving them something in their hands, and an activity to learn through keeps them engaged in what might otherwise involve boring drill. They have loved this, and have really cemented their math facts this way.

Update: We played another game today that I made up with a deck of cards. I removed the queens and kings and dealt all the cards out. The first person played a card and the second person had to play a card that would add up to 10. Jacks were zero (a carryover from a "Golf" game that we play).

We continued around making combinations of 10 with the cards. Then my kids started getting sneaky and playing more than one card. If I put down a '5' they would put down a 2 and a 3. It is great to see their minds at work!

More Preschool Corner ideas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Balancing the age range

A blog carnival of fellow crew members is posted over at the TOS Crew's blog. This is a fairly new weekly feature that will cover topics of importance to homeschoolers each Tuesday. This week's topic is focused on helping you school multiple ages at the same time and managing babies and toddlers while homeschooling.

Need some encouragement or tips in this area? Whether you have two or a dozen you will likely find some ideas to help your focus.

Mentoring Moments

About a year and a half ago now I started taking a specific time and setting it aside to spend with my oldest daughter. This past summer I continued the tradition with my second daughter.

Now, Tuesday nights from 8 to 8:30 I spend alone with Faith and Sunday morning from about 8:30-9:00 I spend with Paige. We do miss here and there, but for the most part these are set weekly events.

When I started meeting with Faith I ran into a little hiccup. I could not find a book that I liked and wanted to use for our time together. So, after a few months of reading and discussing Scripture passages, I decided to start writing my own.

Don't get me wrong. Scripture does not lack the foundation that our children need, but I wanted something that helped us look at Scripture from a young person's eyes and gave us topics to work through as well.

I recently finished Beautiful Girlhood with Paige and wanted something else to jump into. The first couple chapters of my slowly progressing "book" have given us a great new start.

I thought others might be in the same boat, so I figured I would share here what I have put together so far. For today, here is a bit of an introduction to what is to come and I will post the first few chapters one at a time over the next few weeks if people are interested in using them.

In honor of my girls I have titled this compilation:

Of Cowgirls and Princesses: God's design for young girls


Whispered good nights,
Dim night lights,
Kisses and hugs and bedtime prayers.
As the world fades to sleep, dreams awake.
What does a young girl discover in her dream world?
Fairies or puppies, ballerinas or balloons, animals and secrets, pilots and painters, cowgirls and princesses.

Each in their own bed, in their own bedroom, with their own family, in their own house, each unique, yet each sharing similar thoughts and dreams. God created each one in their surroundings to grow and learn and to discover a relationship with Him.

From birth or adoption, daughters have a special friend, one who loves them more than they realize. God created mothers with a special role to love their daughters and live out right in front of her what it takes to follow Him as a woman, a wife, a mom.

It is my prayer that this book will encourage both daughters and mothers in this special relationship with one another.

How to use this book

This book is not intended to be read straight through, but rather to be shared, discussed, and used as a backdrop for creating special memories with your daughter. I wrote this with my daughters in mind, in the 7-11 age range.

After my daughters turn eight we choose a time each week to enjoy our “tea time” together. We read from the Bible and other good books, discuss life, pray, and just enjoy each other’s company for about half an hour. I really enjoyed the book Beautiful Girlhood, but it was a little too old for my 8 year olds to jump into.

After searching for a book that would fill the need and coming up empty, I decided to write my own. So, each week I sit and write out our discussion topic for the week ahead. Sometimes we spend two weeks covering a chapter, but mostly we covered a chapter each week.

The extra reading ideas come from books that we enjoyed throughout that year or at other times. Some are just for the adult to read, some intended more for the child. Don’t feel you need to read them all. They are merely there if you find yourself looking for more in any given topic.

Use this as a tool, a tool to grow the precious relationship that God has given between mother and daughter. Use it as a springboard. The conversations prompted with each daughter progressed very differently based on their thoughts, interests, questions, and observations. More than likely, your times will not match either of mine. If she raises a question that you don’t know the answer to, find the answer. Search the Scripture and discuss God’s perspective together, always pointing her to Him. These days move too quickly. We must intentionally lay a foundation and start building before the teenage era and then adulthood moved us apart.

These became treasured times for us, and I pray the same for you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Algebra and diapers

Now, normally, algebra has very little to do with diapers. But, when you homeschool all kinds of bizarre connections are made.

We have only a mid-sized family as far as homeschoolers go, but with a spread of ages, we have enjoyed our share of spit up on essays and diaper changes in the midst of pre-algebra class. It's just par for the course. New life is part of life.

I still have much to learn in the area of balance and scheduling, and each new season brings unique challenges that require creative solutions. However, we have discovered some secrets, some tricks of the trade that have helped all of us keep our sanity and find joy in the midst of a diversity of ages and schedules.

Start in God's Word. A number of years ago I wrote "Bible time" in permanent marker at the top of our daily schedule. Regardless of how the morning went before school started, we settle into the Scriptures and refocus our vision for the day ahead. My human nature still takes over at times throughout the day, but with my mind rightly grounded, He has an easier time pulling me back on track.

Make a schedule. This may not hold true for everyone, but I at least need a starting point, a tangible goal for each day to keep us headed in the right direction. Probably only two out of the five days a week do we stick closely to the schedule. But, we do know at least what needs to get done each day that we have school.

Build in flex time. This has made a world of difference. I put in a half hour of "fluff" before lunch each day and we can generally accomplish all of our morning subjects taking advantage of more or less of that cushion each day. If we have extra time we watch a video, read, head outside, or just have free time until lunch time.

Limber up. I will often find myself saying at 10:30, "You should be on your 10:00 time now." That urgent phone call, sick children, lessons that required extra explanation, conversations sparked by Bible time that you didn't want to squelch, or other alterations to the regular schedule will happen. The more kids you have, the more complicated your living situation, the more often you will face the need for flexibility.

Don't compare. My homeschool looks like no one else's because no one else has kids exactly the ages of mine using exactly the same curriculum with exactly the same academic abilities and interests with exactly the same teacher. Yet, somehow I still have to keep digging myself out of this hole. If you need a standard, turn to God's Word. You might never arrive, but you will also find the grace to accept your shortcomings as well. He created you just right to homeschool your kids and gave you all the time He wanted you to use today. I need to constantly remind myself to rest in Him and His expectations for my home. He knows.

Life lessons need recognition, too. It is relatively easy to measure academic achievement, but more challenging (and more important) to evaluate growth in character, ripening of the fruit of the Spirit, and development of manners. Often those "disruptions" really present us with time to teach about the things that really matter. Inside math and English books you will probably not find the value of life, reasons to serve others, need for compassion, or a greater understanding of living the Christian life. Jump on those moments to take knowledge into real situations.

"Don't wish away the season you are in." Marilyn Boyer said this recently at a one-day conference I attended and I have clung to that. Each stage brings challenges and demands our energy on many different fronts. Yet, each brings experiences we will never see again. That little boy will never be four again. That little girl will tire of helping wash dishes. That young one won't need your help reading too much longer. I need to intentionally grab hold of the moment I find myself in and find joy in that child, challenges and all.

Combine as much as possible. I cannot teach my seventh grader algebra while teaching my four year old how to count by 2s. I also cannot teach my fifth grader how to analyze the rhythm of poetry while teaching my kindergartener to read. But, we do enjoy history, science, Bible, and read alouds together on a daily basis. They all take away from the material and conversation at their own level, but we do it together. We also enjoy nature walks, learning basic Spanish, art, lapbooks, and various other odds and ends together. If I had to teach all those subjects at 5 separate levels they would be fortunate to get one class a week outside of their core subjects.

Teaching multiple ages from baby through middle school has brought various challenges, but so many joys as well. I need to be somewhat organized to make the most of this stage, and I need to check my attitude when I am tempted to envy my friends that homeschool "just" one or two children, as if my life would somehow be easier if I were in their shoes. God has placed me here and calls me to trust Him through the busyness of these days.

Yes, the days are full, and sometimes the nights are fuller, but we continue to seek God's design in our everyday lives. It is always a beautiful thing, when I take the time to find it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Homeschool Library Builder


Feeling that mid-year slump? Need a little boost in your homeschooling? What does a homeschooling mom enjoy more than new books? I'm sure there's something, but it isn't coming to mind right now.

Well, this may be just the thing. The Homeschool Library Builder wants to help you find good books for you and your kids at reasonable prices. So, pull out your wish lists, and give their site a look see.

Product: Homeschool Library Builder
Details: An online site that offers various books of special interest to homeschoolers (although many others would enjoy this site as well for quality books).
Price: Membership to the site is free! And, if you join and order books through their site you earn rewards as well.

What we loved . . .

  • Reasonable Prices. As unusual as some of their titles are and as comprehensive as their listing is, their prices are very reasonable. Not garage sale prices, but very competitive when compared to other online sources, or even local homeschool book sale prices.
  • Membership perks. For no cost you can join their site as a member. Then, every dollar you spend earns you a book point. Fifteen book points earns you one dollar toward a future purchase.
  • Referral program. If you are a member and refer your friends to their program you earn 15 books points for each new member's purchase that mentions you as their referral. They will even send you business cards to share around.
  • Variety. They offer quite a few books from early readers to adult, covering a wide variety of topics.

Some considerations . . .
  • They do sell some used books. These are clearly marked in the condition of the book which they rate from "New" to "Poor"
  • The don't have everything. ;-) They do have a decent selection and I came across many books that we have enjoyed or would like to own. They also have an impressive selection of books that are out of print or otherwise difficult to find
  • Shipping. Of course, the more you buy, the better the shipping figures into the overall price. Starting at $4.50 for US media mail, you probably won't want to buy just one book from them. But, don't worry, I'm sure you can find more than that.

Special deal going on right now:
- For the month of February you can get 20% off all of your orders

Definitely a site to keep in mind when you need to make a book purchase. They could save you quite a bit of money if they have what you are looking for. And, if you know of anything you need at the moment, definitely go take advantage of the extra 20 percent off through the end of February!

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This web based program was provided to me free of charge from Homeschool Library Builder as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Weekly Wrap up -- February 12

It always amazes me how much life we manage to fit in around homeschooling, and vice-versa.

This week between my husband and myself we spent over 8 hours in outpatient waiting rooms. I got a lot of reading done, and when I needed to be gone I was able to assign enough work to keep my kids on track as well.

The good news is all that waiting also brought lots of good news. First, I spent a few hours Wednesday morning getting the three hour glucose test to see if I had gestational diabetes. The great news -- all my numbers came back normal. Praise God! Second, my husband managed to get in for surgery at the last minute on Friday. He has had a ganglion cyst and was finally able to get it removed very successfully and is recovering well even in the first 24 hours post-op. Lots of therapy ahead, but still good news that the surgeon was happy with the results, and now we just have some recovery time ahead of us.

Fortunately, I had written up a number of posts last weekend otherwise my blog would have probably been empty all week this week. Although we did also fit in a game of cards that I had to share about.

But, we still did get all our school done, including more phonics fun, and even squeezed in an hour of ice skating before the season ends next week.

Read alouds . . .
  • We started listening to Cheaper by the Dozen (closely based on a true story) during our car rides this week and have really enjoyed it. Quite an entertaining book, although I was surprised at the profanity in at least one section. It was viewed as wrong by the author, but was still in the text none the less. We enjoy the father's sense of humor and the many humorous adventures and misadventures in this family of 14.
  • Continuing in To the Edge of the World we have made it to the Philippines, and know Magellan's death must be just around the corner as we see tribal warfare heating up and we already know that is how he lost his life. Overall we have enjoyed the deeper look into Magellan's journey. If you do decide to read this book, I would warn you that the main character has a relationship with a mostly naked female native in South America. I edited out all references to that as I read. They aren't explicit, but I felt they were unnecessary and skipped over them.
  • Pilgrim's Progress continues to lead our Bible time. It brings many conversations about the Christian life and taking Biblical living into every day reality.
Wanted to share some posts and sites I have enjoyed recently . . .
  • I like the idea for using triangles to make your own flashcards, and another mom with "house-trained" kids shares how to make these into heart shaped cards perfect for Valentine's Day!
  • The Christian Arsenal has numerous articles to help in defending and strengthening your faith. My pastor recommended this a while back and I have found the information interesting and helpful.
  • This summer I plan to use the core knowledge books, and possibly some of the information off their website, Core Knowledge, to make sure we aren't "missing" anything, and to brush up on possible weak areas. It is nice to have a standard to measure up to that is not produced by the local public school.
  • And, the book that I spent much time reading this week - The Educated Child by William Bennett. Not written to homeschoolers, but containing a lot of helpful information anyway, this book kept my mind busy in the waiting room this week. I don't agree with everything he has to say, but he makes a lot of good points and helped re-inspire me to educate my children to the best of their ability. Just the pick me up I needed mid-year. Not light reading (and over 600 pages long), but definitely information packed.
So, how was your week? Balancing life and school is always interesting, and often life in itself is a lesson, and often the most important one.

Check out other Weekly Wrap Ups.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Poker Face

Poker Face? Yeah . . . right!

TOS Crew Review -- Ray's Arithmetic

Dollar Homeschool

"Teach one thing at a time and teach it thoroughly."
~Ray's Primary Arithmetic 1877

Math is one of those core subjects that our children must master to the best of their ability. And, it is also a subject that has changed over the years, not necessarily for the better. Many new math curriculums have moved away from the basics no longer requiring students to learn their basic facts (after all, this is the computer age -- cash registers and calculators can do that for them, right?)

When I chose a math curriculum for my kids I wanted something a little old fashioned. Something traditional. Something that expected them to master the basics and then apply them to real life.

Recently I had the opportunity to use Ray's Arithmetic, and have found myself quite impressed with what they have to offer.

Ray's Arithmetic

Product: Dollar Homeschool -- Ray's Arithmetic
Details: A complete math curriculum (K-12) that was used as the standard text in many United States schools from 1865-1915
Price: $59 for the complete set on CD. This includes 38 books (including answer keys and teacher texts) Click over to this complete listing of each of the books along with a brief description. Everything from Primary Math to Physics!

What we loved . . .
  • Complete. You could easily buy this set and educate your child(ren) from preschool through high school.
  • Focus on the basics. The first year focuses almost solely on counting and basic addition and subtraction facts up to 100. At the same time, it encourages hands on math with manipulatives and visuals. They definitely teach a topic thoroughly before moving on.
  • Designed to progress toward independence. If you picture the original backdrop these texts found themselves in, you would recognize the need for independent study. With many children living in frontiers or small towns, parents did not have much time for teaching because just living took so much of their day. Once a child can grasp the basics and reads well, they could work through these books with little adult assistance if desired.
  • Time tested. For 150 years these texts have taught "Johnny" how to do math. Many great leaders used these exact books to learn arithmetic.
  • Flexible. They aren't marked with hard and fast grades, but progress gradually, so you can plug your child in wherever they fit best and move from there, at their pace.
  • Affordable. Fifty-nine dollars for all the math you ever need to buy? It doesn't get much better than that.
  • Yahoo! There is a Yahoo group of Ray's users. It is not a very active group, but if you have a question or want to get another Ray's Arithmetic family's opinion, you can get in touch with people there.
  • Intense focus on one topic at a time. While there is debate in the education community about the better approach to math, I like that Ray's lays a foundation one rock at a time. Focus on one group of math facts until they have them down, then move on. It starts out slow moving, but that makes for a strong foundation for later years.

Things to consider . . .
  • This is a CD. You can print whatever you would like from the CD, but it is not as convenient as having a text that you simply open and get to work.
  • May seem too dry for some. If you or your child is used to a program with all the bells and whistles and colorful pictures, this may not meet your expectation. There are graphics, but everything is in black and white.
  • Higher level books don't have many problems to solve. As you approach the higher level books (geometry, calculus, etc.) the books are more a teaching tool and do not offer exercises for the student to solve for additional practice.
If you need a solid, affordable math curriculum and don't mind working from a CD or self-printing as needed, Ray's may be a great fit for your family. Even though we already have a core math program, I appreciate having this on hand for ideas, extra work as needed, and some of the unique extras that come with it (surveying, book keeping, physics, logic, and astronomy to name a few). I look forward to putting this curriculum to good use for many years to come.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This math curriculum was provided to me free of charge from Dollar Homeschool as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Reading fun with my little ones

My four and six year old have worked diligently at learning to read this school year. They have definitely shown greater interest than any of my older kids did at this point.

But, that doesn't mean we still can't mix it up now and then with some fun.

For most of our daily lessons I use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. All of my kids have successfully learned to read with this book, and I cannot recommend it enough.

We do like to supplement with other fun pre-reading, phonics, and reading activities. One of our favorites involves letters on the floor.

First, write out all the letters that they know on separate pieces of paper and spread those papers around the floor (once you have written them, the kids can spread them out):

Then, you call out letter sounds and the kids hurry to put their foot on the paper with the corresponding letter. I say, "b, b" and they both hurry to the "Bb" paper. Then "Sh, sh" and off they rush to that one.

Perfect for just one or two children. With two kids they encourage each other and often one remembers a sound that another forgets and vice versa. In the process, they both learn a little bit and have a lot of fun.

In the summer this works great with chalk letters on the sidewalk. If it was not below freezing, we would definitely take this outside.

After we finish, the kids pick up all the papers and they store neatly in a folder until the next time we play. And, you can easily add new sounds as you learn them.

Some other simple variations:
- Instead of saying just a sound say a complete word and have the child stand on a certain part of the word. This way you can work on beginning sounds, ending sounds, and vowel sounds.
- Say a letter name and they have to say the sound as they find it.
- Have the child say a sound and you have to go to the paper. Obviously this doesn't help them too much, but they usually get a kick out of seeing you run around, too.
- For more activity, have the child hop or crawl or baby step to the letter they need to find. The letters can be more spread out around the room or multiple rooms for this if you would like as well.

Be creative. I often find myself improvising on the fly with activities like this. Once you have a simple idea to work from, it can have a variety of uses and applications.

Phonics fun . . . definitely works for me!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Homeschool Showcase!

Another great episode of the Homeschool Showcase is up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers. You'll find lots of great hands on activities to help spruce up your homeschool day whether you have preschoolers or much older kids. Check it out.

TOS Crew Review -- The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling


Apologia has gained a significant reputation in the homeschool community for their top-notch science books and resources.

However, Apologia offers more than just science for the homeschooler. They also offer great books and general homeschool helps as well as online classes each school year.

Newer homeschoolers as well as those looking for a boost of encouragement and vision can benefit from hearing from those that have gone before them on the homeschool journey and have now taken the time to record their experiences, both their mistakes and their successes.


Product: Apologia's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling (newly revised and updated) by Debra Bell
Details: A comprehensive guide for homeschoolers with over 500 pages of information, advice, resources, and tips from a seasoned veteran in the homeschool community.
Price: $20.00

What we loved . . .

  • Definitely "ultimate" -- This book covers just about everything:
  1. Is homeschooling for you
  2. Choosing curriculum
  3. Organization
  4. Preventing Burnout
  5. What to teach (when and how)
  6. Homeschooling teens
  7. Computers in the homeschool
  8. Creative solution
  9. Measuring success
  10. An encouraging pep talk
  11. A 60 page collection of resources
  • Experience -- This book has already shown its usefulness as its popularity has brought it up for revision and a renewed application for another round of homeschoolers.
  • Personal -- Full of personal experiences to give you real life illustrations about how to face challenges and capitalize on strengths. You will hear about what has worked in real life, not just hypothetical situations.
  • Variety -- Author Debra Bell has a lot to share about homeschooling her four children, but she also shares information that she gleaned through research (and where she did her research) because she recognizes that no two families are identical, and many kids will not respond in the same way her children did.
  • Encouraging -- While I could easily skip over some sections, having homeschooled for a few years already, I found great encouragement in her ideas and personal insight.
  • Resource rich -- Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the lists she includes of favorite books, websites, curriculums, ideas, etc. My reading list has grown significantly after reading this book. She summarizes some of what she has learned and points you to where you can dig into more if a certain topic grabs you.
  • An easy read -- Although long, the book is easy to read and navigate if you choose to skip around. I would recommend reading it through for the most part to begin with. Then, this is a book you will want to keep on hand to refer to in the years ahead.
Some considerations . . .
  • Long -- A comprehensive guide is going to be big, and this is no exception.Information packed, but not something you can read through in one sitting.
  • One perspective -- Homeschooling is a very individualized journey and as much as this book tries to share different perspectives and approaches it is still written largely from one person's perspective. Your experience will vary, but likely you will still benefit greatly from all that Debra Bell has to share.

Kind of like a homeschool convention on paper. This book can bring encouragement, knowledge, information, and help for those considering homeschooling as well as those heading into the high school years. You can definitely find answers to your most pressing homeschool questions in the pages of this fantastic book.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me free of charge from Apologia as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Verse of the week -- Luke 22:42

Do I dare pray the Lord's prayer? "Thy will be done."

Of course, whether I pray it or not, His will will be done. But, in praying that I indicate agreement with it, and am I really ready for that?

I want God's will when it involves blessing in my life. Spiritual growth through meaningful quiet times, healthy babies, a wonderful marriage, financial provision, children walking in His steps, all that we consider good from our finite, human perspective.

However, as we sang a version of "I surrender all" this weekend it struck me anew that I need to surrender on His terms, not mine. As I talked with my husband about this later he pointed out that surrender is never a "good" thing for the one surrendering. It is giving up, laying down, losing one's identity and control. It's not just what I want to give up or receive.

Incidentally, it is interesting how many versions of "I surrender all" are floating around by contemporary artists. So eager to sing these often emotionally driven words, but how willing are we to really mean them on a daily basis?

In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays, "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." It wasn't about what he wanted, it was about God's will. He lived a life of complete surrender.

I want to be there. Even if I don't want to surrender my future to God, I make that conscious choice. He might choose to use suffering in my life to bring Him glory. He might choose heartache to better equip me. He might choose pain to keep me humble. He might choose to bless someone else. My will might not be willing, but I truly do want His will done in and through my life.

Not just at the altar call, but in response to His daily call.

Saying, Father, if thou be willing,
remove this cup from me:
nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

~Luke 22:42~

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Presidential Penmanship by Zeezok

A few years ago I realized that my handwriting method just wasn't cutting it. I have never had great handwriting, but when I take my time I can still model it properly. Well, I wish I had had this product in my hands back then.


Product: Presidential Penmanship from Zeezok Publishing
Details: A handwriting program for all ages. You pick the style, and they send you a CD with pages of handwriting practice that incorporate quotes from Presidents and quotes on character.
Price: $39.99 for a complete handwriting program on CD. First Grade through high school.

Presidential Penmanship BJ Style Complete Program CD

What we loved . . .

  • Complete -- This one CD contains all you need for your kids' handwriting program. Print as many copies as you need, and just keep one little CD around with everything you need right on it.
  • Quality content -- Kids will not just copy meaningless sentences or phrases. They will spend their time reading and copying quotes of great Americans and other quotes that reinforce quality character traits.
  • Sample pages -- try before you buy with the sample pages for each of the styles.
  • Instant download -- The CD will come in the mail, but while you wait, at checkout you receive a code to download the pages so you can get started right away. Talk about convenient!
  • Need more work? Print the page again -- Sometimes my kids would rush through a page in their book. I could always have them rewrite it on another sheet, but having it all on CD I simply print a new page for them to redo the work if necessary.

Some considerations . . .
  • Decide carefully which style of writing you will choose. I didn't get a choice and was sent one that I am not particularly fond of (after the style that Bob Jones' uses). I love the program itself, just not necessarily the style I received.
  • For kids just learning to write they may need a little extra help learning how to write the letters. The program does come with pages perfect for first graders with letters to trace over and large lines to write on. But, for a very new writer they might need some extra direction to form their letters correctly and establish good writing habits.
All in all, I really liked this product. Especially if you have quite a few children, this is a very cost effective way to purchase handwriting materials. I probably spend over $15 each year on handwriting books for my five kids. In a little over two years this product will have paid for itself with a lot of years of usefulness yet ahead of it.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This web based program was provided to me free of charge from Zeezok Publishing as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

WFMW -- Unique living room furniture

Definitely not conventional. Even a bit in the way.

However, we decided to put function over beauty and put one of these in our living room at least for the time being:

Why? Well, let me tell you . . .

We bought this handy piece of equipment a number of years ago and it has gone through periods of use and disuse. And, for the last year it has sat neglected in a mostly empty room.

My husband decided that needed to change. Especially as our physical activity often finds itself a bit lacking this time of year, he decided to move our exercise bike into the living room. We spend quite a bit of time in the living room either reading, talking, playing, or watching a movie together.

Now, when we gather in the living room someone jumps on the bike and peddles away for 20 minutes or so and then the next person gets a turn. Even our four and six year olds take their turns on it, with a little adaptation.

My husband also made a little chart with each person's name and each day of the month. We write down how many minutes we rode and how far we went and try to get an entry of at least 20 minutes each day.

I cannot believe how easy it has been to add some exercise into my daily routine just by putting it in the middle of everything.

Unusual living room furniture? Absolutely, but it works for me!

Monday, February 1, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Math Tutor


Word problems. Just the phrase makes many grade school kids shudder. However, they really show us where math hits the real world. Kids need to have the ability to apply their math skills to real life situations.


Since many, many kids struggle with word problems it only makes sense that a good math program would come along to address just that problem.


But, there's more. A great company like this wouldn't stop there, right? Nope, they have lots of other great products including a DVD geared toward preschoolers to help them in their counting skills with the help of some beautiful photography.

Product: Math Tutor DVD
Details: Basic Math Word Problem Tutor offers 8 hours of teaching sessions on DVD that address specific aspects of word problem solving starting with addition of whole numbers and continuing through ratios and proportions. The Young Minds Numbers and Counting DVD offers a perfect way for preschoolers to learn and reinforce their counting skills and color recognition all while listening to classical music.
Price: $26.99 for the Word Problem DVD (you could hardly get one hour with a tutor for that price, let alone 8 hours!) and $19.99 for the Young Minds DVD

What we loved . . .
about Basic Word Problems:
  • Focused Teaching time. Each approximately half hour lesson focuses on one concept through teaching, illustration, and then problems worked together. Students should definitely have paper and pencil while watching the video.
  • Lots of examples. If your child is struggling to grasp a topic, they most likely will not still be at the end of the teaching time. He takes you step by step through the process and then walks through numerous illustrations to make sure the concept and methods are cemented in the student's learning.
  • Professional presentation. Easy to follow, easy to watch, easy to understand.
  • Thorough. With 15 lessons on word problems of various types, they pretty well hit the main types of word problems the typical student will encounter.

about Young Minds:
  • Focused on one main concept. While kids enjoy the pictures of nature and transportation, they learn to count and recognize the numbers 1-10. The basic starting point of math.
  • Kids enjoy watching and participating. Although my four and six year old are well beyond counting to ten, they enjoyed watching the video and counting along.
  • Great music. The background music is all wonderful classical music that enhances the video presentation.

Some considerations . . .

  • Repetitious. For students that do grasp things quickly, they might not enjoy the many examples shown to make sure the concept is clear. But, you could easily pause the DVD after the first example or two and let them try a few on their own to be sure they have really grasped it.
  • Video taped teaching. This is just a DVD of a teacher up front, writing on a marker board. Obviously, a DVD is not a hands on math tool. It is a good teacher and very engaging, so for kids that need to stay involved a simple pencil and paper should do the trick.
  • As far as the Young Minds DVD goes, it does focus mainly on counting. Many kids grow through that age quickly, so this DVD may not have a very long life of usefulness in your home.

These DVDs can be very useful tools. They meet a definite need in many young people's educations and they may be just what you are looking for in your house. Especially if you like to pull together your own curriculum and are looking for something to help out with those sometimes troublesome word problems or something to keep your preschooler educationally engaged for a few minutes while you attend to someone else. The DVDs are definitely well done and thorough.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: These DVDs were provided to me free of charge from Math Tutor DVD as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.