Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekends are for restoration...

...or at least a break from normal. 

The kids all took turns with a virus the week before last.  It brought with it fevers, sore throats, aches, and thankfully, a rapid recovery.  The sick child would go to bed sick and wake up all better.  The problem was... it went through all five kids one. by. one. during a week when Brian worked late almost every night and put in hours on Saturday, too. Last weekend was neither restorative nor a break from the monotony of thermometers, chicken soup, and cool sips of water. 

Just when we thought all was well, Brian got sick.  It took him a little longer to recover (possibly because he worked through some of it), but by this weekend, we were ready to get out of the house for some fresh air and fun.

Maddie had her last swim class of the session yesterday morning.  We had given her the option of continuing (with another session) or letting this be it.  She deliberated for a few days and decided she had met all her goals and was content to stop attending swimming class.  Then on her last day, she made great strides and had the best class of the whole 6-week session...and decided maybe she wants to continue after all. 

On the way home, we stopped a couple of yard sales.   Gavin said, "I love yard sales.  Going to yard sales is going to be the very best part of this whole day!"  (Can you tell he's my son?) We found  several pairs of jeans that should fit Benjamin next year, a pair of Toy Story pajamas and a dress for Alaine that matched a pair of leggings she already had.  Score! 

When we got home, I spent the afternoon cleaning and airing things out.  Why is it that when there are sick people in the house, it tends to get more cluttered than ever? 

After dinner, Maddie and I left for a local production of Annie.  We met up with my mom and sisters and made it a girls' night.

getting "Miss Hannigan's" autograph
Maddie's favorite characters were Annie and her dog, Sandy, who was played by an 11-year-old yellow lab.  While it was a thrill for Maddie to be able to stay out way past her bedtime, but after such a full day, she was exhausted when we got home (though not too exhausted to tell her daddy all about the show). 

posing with Annie

Sunday was more of a boys' day.  Brian and Gavin went to a minor league baseball double-header.  They've been planning this for over a month, but were a little nervous about the forecast.  It rained buckets last night (as we were driving home from Annie), but we awoke to a beautiful, sunny warm day-- perfect for the games!

The rest of us spent the afternoon at my parents' house, eating lunch, swapping stories, laughing, climbing trees, making tents, perusing Netflix, and chasing Alaine from one act of mischief to another.  (Not all of us participated in all activities.  Grin.)

It was Maddie's weekend to shine because while the kids were outside enjoying the sunshine, she learned to ride a bike without training wheels.

It's a lot easier to welcome Monday after a  restorative weekend like this.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pre-school in an Elementary School Home

When my older kids were little, we were a preschool home.  We sang nursery rhymes, read toddler books and did preschool crafts.  But now that I have elementary school children who do things like figure improper fractions and narrate and sound out sentences, my preschool-aged children get lost in the shuffle.  Sure, they're there with us every step of the way, crawling across my lap while I teach spelling and read history books aloud, but all those fun activities I did with my older kids when they were this age are harder to get to this time around. 

As our school year is winding down, I've purposed to be more intentional with my littlest ones.  I began by pinning a few fun ideas on my Pinterest "Kid Crafts" board.  About once a week, I set aside time for Preschool Hour.  Our first project was puffy paint.   Benjamin (3) claimed the yellow paint and filled his paper with dots. 

It looked so intriguing that Owen (5) asked if it could also be Kindergarten Hour-- his words, not mine.  Apparently Maddie (7) thought it was good enough for Second Grade Hour, too. 

Alaine (19 months), however, did not care for the selected preschool activity and cringed every time the paint bags came near her. Her favorite phrase right now is, "I sceered." which she uses for anything she wants to avoid.   Instead, we switched to watercolors.    Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. 

The following week was beautiful outside so cloud dough was the activity of choice.  Despite the serious faces, it was a huge hit!  It was easy to make and easy to clean up (unlike sand!).   Made with flour and oil, I expected it to feel greasy, but it was surprisingly light and fluffy and easy to brush off.  (The dog licked up anything we missed.)  Any oil would work, but I used baby oil so it would also smell good.

I had planned to try sidewalk paint next, but the weather turned cool and puddle-y so we got out cookie sheets and magnetic letters this week.  

The elementary school kids couldn't stay away for this one either.

Our next Preschool Hour activity will be fizzy fun (as long as I can figure out where to get a couple of medicine droppers).

Linking to...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How Do You...Know What to Teach?

How do you know you're covering all that you need to cover? {That's probably my biggest fear!}
submitted by Jenna

My answer is two-fold.  First of all, I try to step away from the idea that I have to teach what the public schools are teaching.  I don't mean the obvious no-nos like evolution or secular humanism.  I'm referring to the more benign pressures to teach this subject in this grade.  If I take a step back, I realize that it really will be alright if my child doesn't learn to read until second grade or write cursive until fifth grade or if she doesn't learn about simple machines until she is older.  If my son gets to third grade and we realize he never learned the days of the week, we'll take a minute to learn them then.  I need to remind myself that the world is not my standard, whether it be academics or something else. 

That being said, all homeschooling mothers have a fear that they will somehow do their child a disservice and forget to teach something important.  I have this fear multiple times a year when I evaluate what we're learning and thinking of all the things we haven't gotten to yet. 

If I find a gaping hole in our education, I do try to fill it.  For example, I did not plan to teach spelling at all because I figured if we were reading good literature and doing regular copywork, it would come naturally.  That theory has proven true for two of my children, while one of them struggles horribly with spelling.  When I realized that there was a deficiency in that area, I panicked and called myself a bad teacher for not having realized it before.  Then I stopped having a pity party for myself and began tackling spelling mid-year.  We should never feel we're set on a path that we can't change. 

My ultimate goal for my children is that learning will become a life habit.  With that mindset, I can rest easy knowing that they have a lifetime to learn what I forget to cover. 


How do you decide what to teach your children?  Let us know in the comments.

If you have a question for a future "How Do You...?" post, share that in the comments, too, or send me an e-mail   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This and That

It's been awhile since I shared much of what we've been up to.  Life has been plodding along as usual with no big changes or happenings, but perhaps I do have a few nuggets to share. 

1) When we brought our tiny puppy home in February, we named him Finn, but we nicknamed him Little Brother. We still think of him as one of the gang, but he's earned a new nickname-- Big Puppy.  Our Big Puppy is four months old, but he weighs 34 pounds-- more than either of our two youngest children.

2) Maddie is taking swimming lessons at the Y.  It is a 6-week beginners course and we can't beat the price ($35 for 6 lessons).  I offered the opportunity to all the older kids, but Gavin and Owen have no interest whatsoever.  One week I had to bring the younger kids with me while Brian and Gavin took Finn to the vet for a check-up.  Benjamin cried the whole time we sat by the pool because he wanted to have swimming lessons, too.  (He expected me to let him jump right in.)

3) Over the winter, we focused on indoor projects.  With the warmer weather, we have moved outside.  We have three lamp posts along the driveway that were desperately in need of a coat of paint.  Plus they didn't work.  With a little fiddling, Brian got them working one evening, but we still haven't found the light switch.  For now, we turn them on and off via the breaker box.  Last Saturday, I had the honor of painting them while Brian moved on to a bigger project.  Along one side of our property is a line of Leyland Cypress trees, some of which died and fell over and some of which were hopelessly tangled in vines. 

Between the chainsaw, a hand saw, a pair of trimmers, a rake, and five sets of hands, we've managed to clear some of it.  Three down...about ten to go. 

4)We only have three weeks of school left after this one!  We finished history two weeks ago and we'll finish up the rest of our subjects one by one until we put the school books away for the summer.  Field Day is sandwiched in there somewhere, too.  We start back to school at the beginning of August so I think I figured we'll have an eleven week break this year.  (Of course, we never stop learning.  I have a few plans to sneak in learning over the summer, and I'm already planning next year.) 

5) Brian is working six days a week and some evenings.  On top of the regular spring grass cutting, he is also working to finish a big commercial landscaping job.  He should finish up just in time for our just-the-two-of-us weekend trip away. 

What has your family been up to? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Master Book List

Since I began this little blog four years ago, I've shared various book lists on a wide range of topics.  I took a bit of time last week to pull them all together into one categorized list for easy reference.

Monday, April 23, 2012


For you...
My Conversion by Charles Spurgeon

For the kids...

Queen Victoria's Request by Charles Spurgeon

For other
Duet suggestions, click

Friday, April 20, 2012

Up where the air is clear...

: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :

Linking to...


{this moment} by Soulemama - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How Do You...Interact With Other Homeschool Familes?

How do you interact with other homeschool families?

One of the most beneficial ways we've joined together with other homeschoolers is through our small co-op group.  Ours is not the typical large gathering of classes and activities.  Our is a four-family monthly event that is small enough and simple enough to be held in our homes. (And yes, my kids make up 5/8 of the group!)  We've chosen to have ours be a Charlotte Mason-style co-op so every month we take a nature walk, read a selection of literature, recite poetry, have tea time, have show-and-tell, and do a craft. 

October 2011 co-op meeting

My kids love it because they get to hang out with their friends all day.  I love it because we get a full day of school in and there is time left over to fellowship with the other moms, gleaning encouragement and ideas. 

Valentine's Day 2012 co-op meeting
You could recreate this kind of interaction in a variety of ways.  It could be as basic as having a monthly get-together with one other family to do an art project together or you could invite two or three families into your home to do a few unit study activities. 

One other way we meet up with fellow homeschoolers is through local one-time events.  We don't take on many long-term commitments right now because of having multiple little ones, but we try to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can.  Field Day, Talent Show, Art Fair, field trips...all are great ways to meet other homeschool families!

Field Day


How do you interact with other homeschoolers?  Let us know in the comments.

If you have a question for a future "How Do You...?" post, share that in the comments, too, or send me an e-mail

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More Notes on Nature Study

Michelle said, "Do you use this as your only science curriculum or do you use it alongside something else? To be honest, science is not a favorite of mine and I tend to want to spend much more time on history so this seems like a very fun and creative way to study nature." 

I'm right there with you, Michelle!  I am not the science type so I tend to shy away from it.  When I was planning this school year, I had considered beginning the Apologia Young Explorers series since the kids are getting older and I thought perhaps they needed something meatier. After looking through a couple of the books, though, I decided not to start them just yet, but to beef up our studies on our own by focusing on one topic through the year and learning all we could through reading and observation.  It was so successful that we are doing the same next school year, too. 

Allyson said that she plans to begin nature study with her children this summer while their family is working in the garden.  I think that's a great idea.  In fact, you could even fulfill your whole year's worth of science in the summer if you wanted to.  If you read a little bit about your topic or spend some time outside 3-4 days of the week for 10-12 weeks this summer, you will have accomplished as much as you would doing nature study once a week throughout the traditional school year.  We did something similar to fulfill our health requirements last summer.  By the time we went back to (home)school in the fall, we could cross an entire subject off of our list!

  When I shared my tree book list last week,
I mentioned that Anna's book list was my jumping off point for our nature study this year.
Anna has shared a few other nature study book lists on her site that may be of interest: 



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TIPsters: Spring Cleaning

Maybe you are like me.  Maybe to be inspired to clean, you need a source of motivation.  My biggest motivation to clean is knowing guests are coming over.  This spring we've had friends or family into our home about once a week so I've been motivated to go beyond the normal swishing toilets and sweeping the crumbs from under the table. 

my mother-in-law's birthday party

It's not that I think my house must be perfect to welcome guests or that I keep a dirty house when I'm not expecting guests.  It's just that I see my house through different eyes when I know someone is coming over.  I notice the pile of mail that has been sitting on the counter for a week.  I notice the fingerprints (and dog nose prints) on the sliding glass door.  I see the dirt that has accumulated on the windowsill and the dust that is gathered around the edges of the TV screen. 

our homeschool co-op group during Show and Tell

Another thing that motivates me is the cleaning itself.  When I begin to clean, I get inspired to keep cleaning.  Once I clean one area, I see another area that needs to be cleaned.  While I'm sweeping the laundry room, I notice the cobwebs in the corners and then I see the grit that has accumulated under the front edge of the hamper.  I've even been known to vacuum out the crevices of my dryer vent even though  (I hope) my company will never open my dryer door!  Sometimes all I need to do to motivate myself is simply push to take the first step. 
crafting with friends

I try not to let clutter accumulate during the year so my spring cleaning does not include major re-organizing or clean-out projects, but sprucing up my home for guests usually inspires me to do things like straighten the silverware drawer or wash and put away the winter coats or soak the build-up off of the soap dishes.  A little cleaning here and there prevents spring cleaning from being overwhelming or defeating. 

visiting with the granddog

But what if you've gotten to the point where there is a lot of clutter or dirt build-up and cleaning is overwhelming?    Start small.  Pick the most lived-in area and pick up everything off of the floor.  Having a clear space to walk can also clear the mind and help you concentrate on your task.  Now do a quick dusting of the furniture.  Then sweep or vacuum the floor.  This may be enough...or maybe you will be inspired to keep moving.  Maybe you can wash the windows or clean out the magazine basket or vacuum between the sofa cushions.  Tackle each room in your house in the same methodical way and don't get discouraged if it takes awhile to see results.  As you finish each room, light a candle.  For me, the pleasant scent signals clean.

two cousins, two dolls
I think it is important to note that there is a time and season for everything.  The first few weeks or months postpartum is not the time to do a deep clean (though you can still welcome guests in your home).  Sometimes a  particularly busy season of life makes doing anything beyond the basics impossible...and there is not need or benefit to beat yourself up about it.  So what if the laundry sits in the basket for a week?  There are more important things to be concerned with, and do you think your guests really care if your coffee table is dusty?   They are in your home to be with you, not admire your housekeeping skills! 

pizza and conversation
Are you up for the challenge of inviting someone into your home?  Whether it be for dinner or dessert or simply to play...whether it be a large Bible study group or another family or one friend...try opening your home to others and see if it motivates you to spring clean with company eyes.

As always...
take a moment to visit my fellow T.I.P.sters,
and Christy

Coming Soon:

May 1: Reflecting on the Past School Year
May 15: Summer Learning Plans
June 5: Feeding Picky Eaters
June 19: Television Viewing (What to Watch and How Often)
July 3: Quick and Easy Summer Meals
July 17: Taking Family Photos
August 7: Schooling Kids of Different Ages
August 21: Teaching Kids to Read

Want to write a guest post on one of these topics? 
Leave a comment or e-mail me and I'll tell you how to get started. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Simple Nature Study

Allyson and Jenna had a few questions about nature study:

"What age did you start nature study? I'm thinking of starting next year, but just with the younger books and maybe pick a new nature topic every 3 months."
"How does [nature study] work for your younger ones?  Neither of my boys are much into drawing and/or all trees they draw would pretty much look alike.  I LOVE the
concept, but I guess I'm not sure how to bring it all together."  

Gavin began keeping a nature notebook when he started kindergarten.  He loved to draw so he had no trouble sketching birds, trees, flowers, ants, or whatever caught his eye.  Not all of his drawings were what someone would consider works of art, but they represented what he saw.  Just as his penmanship improved as he grew older, so did his sketching.  Maddie and Owen have been more reluctant sketchers so, even though they began nature notebooks in kindergarten, too, they did more tracing or pasting specimens at first. If either of them had been the oldest child (and not been eager to "do school" like their big brother), I would have held off on nature notebooks until they were older. 

Of course, you can study nature without the nature notebook aspect at all (though it is a wonderful record and keepsake).  My little guys have learned along with us this year without ever picking up a pencil.  Here are some ideas for incorporating nature into your school studies:
  • Take a sensory walk.  Search for things to touch (bark, mud), smell (flowers, grass), hear (birds, crickets), taste (honeydew, raindrops), and see (clouds, moss). 
  • Do bark rubbings on a variety of trees and notice how the different textures look on paper. 
  • Collect leaves of all shapes and sizes.  Sketch or trace or photocopy the favorites and then toss them back outside. 
  • Instead of keeping a sketch book, keep a photo book of your nature finds.
  • Read about flowers or mammals or trees or reptiles or clouds.  
  • Plant a tree or buy an ant farm and commit to long-term observation.   
  • Press flowers between napkins in the pages of a heavy book.   
  • Go to the zoo or to a farm.
  • Take a walk for pleasure with no expectations!
  • Observe a tree or area of your yard in all 4 seasons.
  • Purchase a nature coloring book (like these by Rod and Staff or these by Dover.)
  • Take a walk and try to find something for every color on the color wheel. 
  • Count all the trees or birds or squirrels you see out the window. 

How often a week do you do nature study?"  

We've chosen to devote only one day a week to nature study.  Typically it does not take more than 30 minutes to read a short book or passage and take a walk or sketch.  If we take a longer nature walk, or if one of the kids gets enthused about their drawing, it may go on longer, but 30 minutes (or less) is our normal.  Until this year, we've not had a focus to our nature study.  We've read on a variety of topics and drawn a variety of objects, but this year we decided to narrow our study and go more in depth on one topic. 

Perhaps you'd want to do more, though.  I've heard of families who focus on science and only spend a day per week on history or social studies instead.  It's really depends on your family's priorities and what you and your kids enjoy. 

"How do you find your books?  I mean, do you just go check out a bunch of books randomly or do you have some guidelines?"  

That's tricky.  When we studied trees,  I had Anna's tree list as a jumping off point.  Then I was able to see what my library had or could order.  Then I was able to pull a book or two straight from the library shelf that looked interesting...and borrow a book from a friend...and order one from Amazon. There were certainly books that I brought home and thumbed through and returned without reading to the kids.  Maybe they were too wordy or not detailed enough or evolution-based or just plain boring, but either way, we didn't waste time with it if it didn't fit our needs. 

One of my biggest aids is the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon.  I will have one window open to my library's website and another window open to Amazon. When I find a book on my topic that looks intriguing, I'll check first to see if my library has it and then I'll look it up on Amazon so I can take a peek inside the book.  If it doesn't look something that fits our family, I cross it off my list.  My library's website has a feature that allows you to look up a  book you've loved and "Find Similar Items."  That has helped me discover a few hidden treasures. 

(Click here for specific ways we've implemented nature study in our home.)

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