Monday, April 29, 2013

Planning for Next Year

{This post, like most of my posts that mention books, contains affiliate links.}

I'm one of those homeschool moms who starts thinking of the next year before the current one is finished.  I get a certain thrill from perusing the catalogs and making lists, searching Amazon and brainstorming, double-checking the library website and asking my kids questions

We have 3 weeks left in our school year before we take a 11-week summer break.  The final decisions won't be made until sometime in the middle of those 11 weeks, but that hasn't stopped me from going into full planning and dreaming mode.

My big dilemma this year will be what direction to take for history.  This year we used The Mystery of History Volume I: Creation to the Resurrection.  We loved it.  One day we sat down to read and Maddie said, "I love this book.  I love how she [the author] tells a story."  It would be the natural step to move on to Volume 2: The Early Church and the Middle Ages next year except that there is so much good literature available about the medieval time period that I don't want to miss out on.

I have seriously considered using the Beautiful Feet study guide, Medieval History: A Literature Approach (Intermediate: Grades 5-8) but I'm afraid this will alienate my youngest students.  While I know Maddie, who will be in fourth grade could keep up, I can't say the same for Owen (2nd grade) or Ben (kindergarten), and what would Alaine (pre-pre-school) do while we're engrossed in lengthy chapters about King Richard or Joan of Arc?

I've also toyed with the idea of taking a year off from history to concentrate solely on geography, but I've not found a text or guide that fits my style and I don't know what direction to take on my own. 

It's another case of Good versus Good

Currently, I'm leaning toward beginning with a slow read through Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster which will review ancient history and be a bridge into medieval history, and then compiling my own book list that will include my wide range of students, similar to what I did for American history

Have you begun to think about what you will do next in school?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A (Rescheduled) April Saturday

Okay, so it's not Saturday anymore, but Saturday was one of those days that was so full, there wasn't time to write about it! I had intended to write this post on a January Saturday, but we had a couple of inches of snow.  Then we rescheduled for a February Saturday and it rained.  March?  Same story-- torrential rain.  We had almost given up when we tentatively made plans for this late April Saturday, but we awoke to brilliant blue skies, near-perfect temperatures, and a light breeze. 

On this rescheduled April Saturday, we got a new swing set!

When we moved into our house (almost 2 years ago to the day), a friend gave us a wooden swing set that was sitting unused in her backyard.  There were a few rotten boards and it needed a roof, but we got a lot of mileage out of that set.  One of Brian's winter projects was to fix it up so we could eke a few more years out of it.  That is, until other friends who live a few miles down the road called and offered their kids' outgrown swing set to us if we could find a way to transfer it to our house.  Mission accepted! 

Right before that January Saturday, Brian and the kids took the other swing set apart to make room in our yard for the new one, but since plans changed, our yard sat empty all winter and early spring. 

But like I said, on this rescheduled April Saturday, the weather was just right. 

It's not hard for me to come up with an excuse to try a new dessert so while the men were hauling and dragging and nailing, I baked a batch of coconut chocolate chip cookies to accompany the lunch we served the hungry workers.  I love a chewy cookie and these were exactly that!

More construction in the afternoon...

I even took advantage of the sunny afternoon and went for a 5-mile run.  I earned my first sunburn, too.

By this point, we could have called it a day, but evening was still to come and Maddie and I had plans to go to a musical put on by a local Christian school.  Last year they performed Annie and this year it was The Music Man

We met a group of other ladies there, but it was so well-attended that we ended up sitting in pairs all around the room.  After the show there was time for autographs and few pictures.

posing with "Professor Hill"
"Marion Paroo" signing autographs

How did you fill your weekend? 

Friday, April 26, 2013


Reflecting on my week...
Smelled Fresh-cut grass; it was much needed.  Even though Brian cut it two weeks ago, it was a jungle out there! Gavin's allergies flared up.  He had itchy swollen eyes and a packed stuffy nose.  It happens every spring.  Maddie has been battling allergies for the first time this year, too.  I used to get allergies every year, until the year that I was pregnant with Gavin.  I haven't had them since.  

Saw: Tent caterpillars; in the middle of grass cutting, Brian came in the house to get a jacket and asked me to come out and see the tent caterpillars that had just hatched from their silk tent.  More signs of spring. I was fascinated and totally creeped at the same time. Thankfully, they hatched in the woods at the back of our property!

Felt: A wild swing of weather; it was cold and breezy last weekend, then cloudy, damp, and cool to start the week, in the 70s by Wednesday, then sunny and more seasonable today.  Welcome to spring, I guess.  

I've felt a range of emotions this week, too:  excitement, laziness, frustration, contentment, fear...  Between adjusting to Brian's crazy loooong spring working hours and big decisions and losing Alaine for a full 5-10 minutes and calling and calling and not knowing where she was, it was a roller coaster week, I tell you.  

Tasted: Homemade breadsticks and oatmeal chocolate chip bread; it was a busy week, but not too busy for a few taste treats. Plus my mom gave us a loaf of homemade cinnamon bread that I ate for breakfast all week. We ate our first spring strawberries, too. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Are You a Quitter?

{This post, like most of my posts that discuss books, contains affiliate links.}

We've been doing a bit of discussing our book habits here lately.  We talked about our reading quirks and whether we prefer fiction or non-fiction and how we choose the books we read aloud to our kids.  Today I have another question:

Do you feel compelled to finish every book you start or do you quit if you are not enjoying a book? 

I tend to be picky about what I pick up to begin with.  I read authors I know or books that come highly recommended from people I trust. That ensures that I'll mostly love... or at least like...what I pick up to read. 

That being said, I've quit two books so far this year.  

The first was The Great Gatsby.  I'd been feeling guilty that I don't read enough of the classics.  Since this is short and there is a movie version coming out this year, I thought it would be a good one to start with. I got two pages in and decided there were many other books I'd rather read so I quit.  (I'm reading The Wizard of Oz to the kids now to get my classics fix.) 

The second was Signs of Life: A Memoir by Natalie Taylor. It was written by a young woman in her 20s who lost her husband while pregnant with their first child.  It had the potential to be a heartrending and inspirational story, but instead the narrative came across as angry and bitter, and as the author spouted off numerous "f" words in the first chapter, I quit. 

Have you quit any books recently? 

Monday, April 22, 2013

(No-Mess) Preschool Fun

It's been just about a year now since we instituted Preschool Hour in our house.  In case you don't know, it's where we set aside our math books and elementary-level history lessons during morning school time and give our two preschoolers a special activity.  I aim for once a week, but it varies.  Sometimes it lasts an hour.  Often it's a lot less. 

Two weeks ago, we tried Mess-Free Finger Painting.  There really was no mess, just as promised.  We used acrylic paint and regular gallon-sized bags.  There was a learning curve in figuring out how to move the paint under the surface, which explains Ben's huge frown. Another great thing about this activity?  There was nothing to save.  Once it was done, it all went in the trash can. 

Last week we did a three little pigs story activity.   I printed this simple template of three line-drawn houses, but you could draw your own.  Then I gave my preschoolers a pile of toothpicks, a pile of hay-colored embroidery floss (you could use yarn or ribbon or raffia), and a pile of Lego bricks and told them to "build" the little pigs' houses. 

I want to point out what happens every time I give my two preschoolers a special project.  Watch the progression of photos. 

1 preschooler
(and the toes of another preschooler)

1 preschooler + an older sibling,
1 preschooler + 2 older siblings!

Have you done anything special with your young children recently? Any ideas for what we can do at our next Preschool Hour? 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

a Double-Decker April Saturday

Today was the day-- the day I have been working toward for six months.  Today I ran my 1st 5K. 

With 2/3 of my cheering section
(Brian was taking the photo and my 3 littlest stayed at home in the warmth with my sister)

This was quite momentous for me because when I decided to start running 6 months ago, I couldn't run for 60 seconds before I was out of breath.

My goal for today was 2-fold.  I wanted to run the entire 3.1 miles without stopping to walk and I wanted to complete the course in 31 minutes (a 10 minute per mile pace). 

The halfway point-- still smiling!
Having never run in a large race before, I didn't account for the congestion at the beginning of the race.  With over 200 racers, after the shout of GO!, it was 10-15 seconds before I moved at all and 3-4 minutes before I could begin to run at my pace. Once I got going, though, running with other people was far more exhilarating than running alone. 

Approaching the finish line-- the smile was fading and I was tired!

I completed the race with a time of 31 minutes, 16 seconds and I did not start walking until after I crossed the finish line.  Having always been an indoor girl who would rather read a book than do any sort of exercise, I am surprising myself by saying that I've already started to look for another race in an attempt to better my time. 

So we could call it a day, right? 

Well, no, we were home by lunchtime and ready to move on to the next event on this special Saturday.  In the late afternoon, Brian's sister and her family came over for an early dinner and a night of games. 

The adults enjoyed a round of Dutch Blitz, our standard game every time we get together. Then we laughed our way through several rounds of Apples to Apples.  The kids played a highly competitive version of  Disney Scene It where the boys' team won twice in a row, much to the girls' dismay!   

How did you spend your Saturday?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Planner

We went to a birthday party last weekend for my youngest sister who turned twelve. 

Owen won a Birthday BINGO game.  From among the prizes which included kid-friendly items such as a card game, sidewalk chalk, and a coloring pad, he chose this: 

I think he has a little bit of his mama in him. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts at the End of a School Year

We're at the point in our school year where we are starting to count the days until we're finished.  We've already wrapped up a few subjects and are working to finish a few others. 

This is also the point in our school year where the doubts creep in.  Did we read enough?  Did I teach them what they need to know for their ages?  Did we leave out anything important?  Was I too lenient?  Was I too demanding? Will they remember what they learned? 

I have to give myself a pep talk and remind myself of a few things:

  • We do not have to "keep up" or "slow down" or be on pace with anyone!  Who is really to say what is typical or required for 1st or 3rd or 5th grade anyway? 
  • Almost anything we spent time reading, listening to, or attempting "counts."  So halfway through the year we decided it wasn't working and we started something else instead?  It doesn't make the first half of the year meaningless.  It just means we took a new direction.
  • If we left something out, there is always next year.  (True story: When Gavin was nine, I realized to my embarrassment that he could not name the days of the week in order.  It took about five minutes to set that right!  Another true story: Last week I asked my kids, "Can you name a state that begins with the letter 'M'?" and someone answered, "Mexico."  Learning the states is something we'll be working on!)
  • Learning will continue for a lifetime.  If someone forgets something I deem important, they'll learn it again when the need arises or it becomes interesting to them personally.  I didn't learn everything I know in my thirteen years of school and then stop learning.  My kids won't either.  

After I calm myself down and remember these truths, I take time to write down all the things we did do. Including the extras life activities that I don't always consider "school," it's always more than I think. We went to the zoo 3 times-- science!  We dyed Easter eggs-- art!  We went to a performance of The Nutcracker-- music!  We read books while we were sick-- literature!  We made lists and wrote penpal letters and traced our names in the sand-- English!  We made muffins-- home ec!  We learned to count by 5s-- math! 

Life is learning! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to Catch Up on What You Never Read as a Kid

"My fiction reading now consists of mostly children's novels that I read to the kids."

Reading to my kids is my favorite way to read the books I never got around to reading when I was young! It's also my way to share with my kids my favorite books growing up and to have an excuse to revisit them myself.

I vividly remember reading my very first chapter book in the summer between kindergarten and first grade.  It was Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary and that's one of the main reasons I decided to read the whole 8-book series of Ramona books to my kids a few summers ago.  Owen has asked to read them again this summer because he loved them so much. 

Another book I loved as a child was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.  I think I was particularly fond of Pippi because we both have red hair. My kids loved Pippi, too.  Maddie, Owen, and Ben "play" Pippi now and take turns being the various characters from Pippi to Annika to Mr. Nilsson, the monkey! A few weeks after we completed the chapter book, we found a picture book at the library called Do You Know Pippi Longstocking? that appealed to all the kids, right on down to Alaine. 

I haven't had as much success with new material lately.  I thought Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald looked cute and we all did enjoy the first book, but when we moved on to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic, I could barely get through it. 

The first book had short chapters.  Each one presented a child with a problem that needed curing, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle provided the solution.  When one child picked at his food and took too long to eat his dinner, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle told his mother to serve his food on tiny dishes until he got hungry.  When a group of siblings complained of bedtime, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle told their parents to let them stay up all night and have them realize they were too tired to play the next day.  It was witty and clever.  The second book was much longer. The chapters were tedious and contained excessive detail, plus the cures consisted of magic powders and the like.  The magic element was lighthearted and not offensive, but it zapped the cures of their cleverness. 

When we finished, we again found a fun  picture book at the library, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure.

We're currently reading The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and I'm counting the pages until we finish.  It's not a bad book, but it's leans a little too far into the fantasy genre which is not my style.  I think the only one of us who is enjoying it is Maddie who would happily listen to me read the dictionary if I asked. 

Next up is a beautifully illustrated but unabridged version of  The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum.  I really want to enjoy our read aloud time again and I hope this is the key!  

How do you choose books to read to your kids?  Do you share favorites from your childhood or do you look for new material?

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