Losing My Life As a Homeschool Mom

I used to be a singer, evangelist, toured in a band and hung out with musicians. I had a billion friends and lots of time to spend with them. People used to recognize me when we were out: my long blonde big hair stood out and all the times I got to speak and sing in public made people who I didn’t even know, felt they knew me. I loved those days and remember them fondly.

losing
Rehearsing with some of my favorite people
God called me home when my daughter was born almost 15 years ago.

I just realized it’s been about one-third of my life! I always wanted to be a stay at home mom. As a creative extrovert, there has always been a part of me that has wanted to keep relevant and public. During my stay at home years I’ve run an at home business, led worship part time, and participated in various events outside the home. Every single time I try to run back and find myself, God calls me back to the home, and my husband and children, not to make THEM my identity, but to point them to Jesus. And I’m so grateful. 

While I’ve enjoyed managing meal calendars with fun stickers, singing lullabies and hymns to nursing babies, and finding ways to worship while cleaning toilets…it has wiped away all the glamour and accolades from what used to be a kind of public life. When my kids were little, they thought I was a sort of celebrity when I knew people everywhere we went. We now quietly run in and out of stores, without being recognized as the “singer girl and her kids.” 

losing
Proof of the big blonde hair

losing

 

My body has been morphed by eight pregnancies, my blonde hair is now brown (and let’s be honest, a little gray), and someone please bring me to a make up counter to teach me how to do middle aged make up! I’m no longer surrounded by lights and smoke, but little boys and girls growing into men and women. And I realized recently, I’ve lost myself. 

Several years ago, a dear friend challenged me to find my identity outside of music.

I wondered if I could. Subconsciously, I tried finding my identity in other ways. But over the past few years…I’ve found that an identity in and of myself is virtually meaningless. Yes, God has given me gifts. I can (and intend to) use them to bring Him glory and I even intend to enjoy those gifts. (I literally JUST had someone ask me to consider using music in my ministry again…so please don’t think I’m abandoning music altogether. It’s a gift to use, but being the music girl is no longer my identity. This is a GOOD thing.) Losing myself has been one of the greatest gifts of being a homeschool mom. Music, business ventures, even my husband and kids, my home; NONE of it can give me lasting fulfillment.

Recently, going through the routine aspects of my day; making meals, cleaning up, tidying the house, I was listening to some of my old favorite tunes. Watermark came up in the playlist, and this lyric just brought me to grateful tears: 

If I ever find my life, then I’ve lost it
For there is nothing more to life
Than to lose myself while I’m
Running, running, running
Running after You

It was like Matthew 10:39 came to life in my heart. As a homeschool mom I’ve had the gift of no longer running after my own life, but running after Jesus.It’s literally the main reason I’m home with my kids: to run after Jesus with them and to live out His call to me as a parent in Deuteronomy 6:5. He has been a constant, running after me. I’m surrendering to Him, and losing my life for His sake…and I’m finding my life, in Him. 

I’m so thankful for the precious calling on my heart. Giving up my own life for the call He has had on it, has given me the perspective I need to pursue Him more passionately. Losing my life as a homeschool mom for Jesus…and thankful for it.

Six Steps for Starting Your Homeschool Year Right, Putting On the Armor of God

Six Steps for Starting Your Homeschool Year Right, Putting On the Armor of God

new yearA new homeschool year is upon us. No doubt, you have spent countless moments prepping for this time. Confessions of a Homeschooler and Homeschool Creations have been recipients of your many searches as you’ve done your diligent homework for the school year ahead. Budgets have been stretched and your shiny new (or used) curriculum is set up in the book shelves. The kids are signed up for all the church, co-op, and community activities. Meal planning has been done and school rooms have been re-organized. Each child has picked out new crayons, pencils, notebooks, and folders.

Good job mama!

Setting up our homes to educate our children is a serious task that takes wisdom, foresight, organization, and planning. However, if you are anything like us…shortly after beginning a new year of schooling and plans, you hit a snag. Maybe the kids aren’t quite as enthusiastic as mom about the new schedule. Math keeps getting harder and harder to explain. Attitudes are rough, voices raise, wills clash, tears are shed; before you know it, your best laid plans have crumbled around you. The kids sigh with relief as you usher them out to play, and you slump over in a chair asking yourself, “Why do I do this?”

Homeschool mama, please hear my heart…for all the lovely aspects we experience in the calling to homeschool, the reality is…this life we’ve chosen is HARD. There is no scheduling we can do, no curriculum we can choose, no organizational system that will shield us from this reality.

Thankfully, we can plan for all the challenges we WILL face as our new school year unfolds.

Ephesians 6:10-12 tells us to, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

This is the first thing we need to do as we prepare for the school year: recognize that our struggle is not against our CHILDREN…but against an unseen force. The enemy or our souls doesn’t want us to homeschool! And he certainly opposes our efforts to disciple our children in this setting. STAND AGAINST HIS SCHEMES.

What schemes have you faced in your homeschool struggle? Whatever they are, you can know that you have everything you need to face them. So how do you then, stand firm and put on the armor of God in your homeschool?

1. Keep the belt of truth buckled around your waist:

Resist being tossed around by all the philosophies of the world and keep our minds set on truth. Be in God’s word! I know this sounds like another thing to “check off” your list. But it doesn’t need to be a burden! Be creative. You don’t need to do it like everyone else. Here are some ideas:
Have a daily quiet time and read the Bible on our own.
Read the Bible before/during/after breakfast or lunch with your children.
Join a Bible study.
Purchase a devotional book.
It doesn’t matter HOW you do this, what time of day, or how quiet it is around you…just DO it. Read God’s word!

2. Keep the breastplate of righteousness in place:

Recognize that YOUR righteousness will never be enough to please God. Realize that if you are God’s child, it is HIS righteousness that cleanses you from all sin. Submit to the cross..and know that your purity comes from Jesus’ blood. When God convicts you of sin, turn from it, acknowledge your need for God and obey Him. He will change your heart. (Hint…you will mess up in your parenting as you homeschool. A lot. Be quick to see your need for the gospel and confess your sin, not only to Jesus, but to your children.)

3. Make sure your feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

When you mess up in your home and confess and apologize, turn away from self condemnation. Ask for a Do-Over. But even better, use your mess ups, your kid’s mess ups, and life’s heart aches to continually point your kids to the cross and the gospel. When my kids sin, when I sin, when we butt heads, or argue, I have the opportunity to talk about our need for Jesus, and how He is enough for us. There are opportunities to be ready with the gospel of peace EVERY DAY in our homeschools. Keep going back to the cross, over and over again.

4. Take up the shield of faith: Faith is a gift from God.

If your faith is small or weak, ask God to increase your measure. When lies come into your head that cause you to doubt your calling, you need to replace those attacks with truth from God’s word.  Remember what He has called you to and why. Recognize the lies that seep in (i.e., Can I really do this? Will my kids be OK? Did I pick the right curriculum? Is it worth it to homeschool and live on one income? It feels like we are missing out! Fill in your most common lie), and ask God to help you to resist believing the lies, and believe He will be faithful.

5. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit:

Our kids put on helmets when they ride their bikes to protect their brains. We need our brains protected by continually renewing our mind. We need to hear the story of salvation often. Let’s renew our minds with the truth of what it means to be in Christ. Remember it is HIS goodness that keeps us and changes us, not our own. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He responded by quoting scripture. Scripture is our greatest tool in facing everything we face as moms educating our kids at home. I’ve said it a few times in this post already…but Ephesians 6 seems to make it a recurring theme, so I will too; read it, quote it to combat lies, memorize it, sing it, just let it be your guide. 

6. Pray!

Pray for your children, your homeschool, your home life, yourself as teacher, your husband. Pray, pray, pray as you shower, exercise, make meals, and clean toilets. Pray when you are fighting with your kids (even better, pray together!). Bring ALL your prayers and requests to God. Be alert and pray for your homeschool friends. Pray WITH your homeschool friends. Start a prayer co-op. Two school years ago, my kids and I invited three families to pray with us, two times a month. The boys prayed together (my oldest son lead), the girls prayed together (my oldest daughter led), and the moms prayed together (I lead).

I can not promise you a year filled with ease by following these steps. You can count on various trials as you face your days: sick kids, messy houses, bad moods, confusing studies, bad diagnoses, family problems. I CAN promise you that when you put on the armor of God you will be guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. You will come to a fuller, more mature faith; growing in Christ. Your Savior will face each challenge with you, keeping you strong, helping you stand firm, until you see Him face to face.

Here’s some extra credit for you:

One of my kids and I have had regular face offs for awhile now. Both of us have had some less than exemplary behavior. Tonight, we went together and hung out, just the two of us. We talked about some things God is teaching us, we played cards, we ate junk food. Right before we left to go home I said something really simple. “I’m REALLY excited for this school year with you. I love you so much. We’ve had some hard times. We will probably have more hard times this year. But, I’m committed to you. And I want to work on communicating better and showing you love and patience.” I wish you could have seen the smile on my kiddo’s face. If you need to do this with any of your kids, do it! You will both be so glad you did.

Homeschool on! These days are precious and fleeting! Enjoy…and put on your armor!

When Children and Big Families Become Idols In Our Lives

When Children and Big Families Become Idols In Our Lives

Sitting around the picnic table at my in-laws’ cabin, my mother in law laughed and said, “Could we get any more people around this table?” I looked at the nine of us sitting there and said, “Well, we tried.” There was a little bit of uncomfortable laughter, because of course, we lost our last baby. Later, this conversation caused me to reflect on the idea of having lots of kids.

How we got to our number of kids is an entirely different post. However, I remember when we decided that our home was not complete after having the “perfect” one girl and one boy…I began to think about large families. I read the “large family” message boards on Baby Center. There was a lot of complaining on those boards about comments people made about numbers of children or how people would stare and count heads as a mama and her many ducklings walked by.

large family

I remember being slightly nervous when we announced baby number four. How would people react? Would we get the stares and weird comments? It turns out, we did. I was accosted by a grandmother in a grocery store who lectured me on being more responsible to the planet as my 6, 4, 2, year olds and newborns sat blinking wide eyed at her. This was the first of a long line of comments we received. I had joined the offended group of mothers of many.

There is another side of this club however. Once you have a “larger than most” family…you begin to meet large families. Homeschoolers often have large families (again, the reason for this could be another entire post). When you are surrounded by people who don’t judge you for having children…another problem sometimes occurs. You are judged because you don’t have enough of them.

I’ve talked to SO MANY women who feel the number of children they have is inadequate. They feel sorrow for having ended their fertility because their family just didn’t fit the mold. Some women feel they have to explain repeatedly that they longed for another child(ren) but their biology or their spouse or some other reason stood in the way. Other women have felt left out of conversations or belittled because they possibly had one less child than the other women in the room. Believe me when I say, I’ve been on both sides of this equation.

When we lost our last baby, I was sorrowful for the loss. I was also sad because I wanted to have another baby so much. As some time went by and I was processing my feelings, my good friend asked me a question, “Are you idolizing the idea of having another child?” The question shocked me. Was this possible? Children are a blessing! I quickly realized however, that many blessings in life can become an idol. I stopped and took stock.

Had I ever thought I was “better than” someone else because of the number of children I have been given? Ouch, that hurt. I was guilty.
Was I trusting that God had a plan or was I trying to force my plan on Him? Uh-oh, guilty again.
The reality is that, while large families can often be insulted by others…there are also many comments made to us that puff us up. I can’t tell you how often I’m lauded and praised simply because of the number of children I’ve given birth to. I’m sure I’m not the only mom who has let a few of these comments go to her head.
Having brought a certain number of children in the world doesn’t make you an amazing mom. Raising them well, caring for them diligently, and giving them every opportunity to know Jesus Christ…that’s much more impressive.

One day my kids were watching the Bate’s family reality show and one of the adult children was asked the question, “How many kids do you want to have?” This young mom of three had had difficulty conceiving and suffered several miscarriages and answered the question like this, “Well, that’s kind of a silly question isn’t it? It’s not really about the number of children I want, but what God wants.” If you really have a heart submitted to God’s plan, than you can be satisfied with fewer children if that is what God provides as well, right?

I remember standing in the kitchen hearing this woman answer with faith about her number of babies, and I realized that I may have had a subtle picture of children not simply as blessings from God, but as trophies to show off. I felt a familiar feeling of conviction. Pride.

I thanked God for rebuking my heart and I completely surrendered my family size into His hands. You see, surrendering to Him doesn’t always mean having 19 kids. It can also mean, you will have five (or whatever number He has blessed you with). Jesus knew in His wisdom that this time of adding babies into our family had come to a close and I thanked Jesus for the beautiful blessings He has given our family.

I am not “more” than a woman who has zero, one, two, three, or four children. I am not “less” than a woman who has six or more children. My “quiver” size has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s. The amount of “blessing” that children are, aren’t in the number of them we receive. They are in living out God’s beautiful plan for each of our families. You are not defined by the size of your family. If you are in Christ, you are defined by who God says you are, and that alone.

Dear moms of many…I encourage you to untangle yourself from any subtle lies that you may be believing. Your children are a sweet blessing, but they don’t define you. Be free from numbers, competition and letting your family size go to your head. Enjoy each blessing He gives you but do so with humility as you interact with other moms around you.

Dear mama friends…especially homeschool mama friends who feel the burden of being left out of the “moms of many club,” please be free. Delight in the gifts He’s given you…not the number, but the individuals in your home. Let go of the pressures around you that say you aren’t good enough because of your family size. Embrace the unique, beautiful plan God has laid before you.

Homeschool room 2018-2019

Homeschool room 2018-2019

Instead of tulips popping up this April, we had a massive snow storm. Shut in due to weather, I decided to re-organize our school room and prepare it for the next year. I thought I would share our space with a picture tour. Enjoy!

school room

These are the big four’s desks.

school room

Looking from the other side of the homeschool room.

school room My desk. The white storage cart at the end is where they turn in finished work. I correct it, slap some Michael’s stickers on it (stickers are in the white bin hanging off the homework hand in cart) and hand it back.

school room

The top shelf of the Expedit shelf holds school supplies and things I might need at my desk but don’t want sitting out in the open.

 

school room

The 3-ring binder row. The box on the left holds our discipleship folders we use in a class we call, “What’s Up?” The next box over holds our “Picture Smart” Bible pages. The third box has my kid’s color coded binders. I put all of the finished work I want to keep in those binders. It’s really nice to have them accessible. I put in their papers, paintings and drawings, and anything cute the smaller kids create during their days.

school room

These are my leveled reader shelves. Most of the kids are finished or nearly finished with these shelves, but the concept worked really well, so I’m going to keep them there for Cupcake when Catty finishes up. I altered the organization just a wee bit from my original post.

school room  This is Mommy’s shelf. I placed my favorite parenting/homeschool books here, just to feel like I have some adult friends with me, holding me accountable during the day.

school room

Sticky notes, head phones for computer use, and smelly markers. A bit eclectic, but we needed a spot for these much used items.

school room

The clear bins hold puzzles, special “school time” learning toys and activities for Cupcake. The canvas bins on the bottom shelves hold our Heart of Dakota curriculum years which are not in use at the moment.

https://www.heartofdakota.com/

The book shelf on the left of this photo holds our Shutterfly year books and most beloved book sets. Cupcake’s desk is full of notebooks and coloring books and sticker projects and whatever she wants to keep there.

https://www.shutterfly.com/

Moving on to the cupboards! The top to shelves hold glue/gluesticks, extra crayons and markers, mod podge, gel pens, duct tape, trays and smocks for painting, etc. The bottom shelf holds all of my pre school materials: Before Five in a Row, Pre-AAR, and several beginning readers.

https://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/all-about-reading/

I didn’t do anything to this messy cupboard. It holds batteries, a laminator, more gel pens, old crayons, notecards, and a label maker. It’s a small out of the way cupboard and I fill it with things we need only occasionally.

school room

Here we have Bible and devotional books, art books, poetry and sensory supplies. If I need an activity for a bored kid, this is my go-to spot.

school room

This shelf holds Ancient History, a little bit of Geography, Early American History (currently in use), and several science texts and books. The bottom shelf has a smattering of modern history and an open spot for my big plans to continue adding Sassafras Science to our work load.

school room

This cupboard holds our Math and early reading and spelling curriculum. We use CLE math for grades K and 1, and switch to Teaching Textbooks as soon as we pass into level 3. I’m not using All About Reading or Spelling at the moment, but hanging onto it, just in case I need to use it for Cupcake. My guess is we will use the readers, but I don’t know if I will be needing that rigorous of a program for her. The bottom shelf holds my oldest son’s work he needs to finish for grade 6.

school room

The last hanging cabinet is reserved for English and Spanish. It holds a few more spelling pieces, Rod and Staff grammar, Analytical Grammar for future use (of which I am a BIG fan…but that’s another post), Logic of English (which I probably won’t use anymore, does anyone want it?), and Spanish text books and plans. The bottom shelf holds most of the 9th grade work my oldest will be starting soon, along with a couple of books she will be finishing up in the next week or so.

school room

Just thought I’d share my daughter’s master piece “cheat sheet” for sentence diagramming. Seriously, I BARELY understand this stuff. She’s a whiz.

school room

We don’t have much in this room that isn’t directly related to schooling choices. But we do have a cupboard full of some favorite games.

school room school room

These last two pictures are “bonus pics” :). The top one is a shelf in my kitchen I use for our “morning time” together. It also houses the group work I do with the middle kids. It’s just too noisy to do much group work in the actual schooling area. We reserve the “school room” for a quiet study space and one on one instruction with mom. Group work is done at the kitchen table, in the play room, or on a couch somewhere. The bottom picture is our music area. That Hobby Lobby locker stores their music books, and I think it is just the cutest.

I hope you enjoyed my picture tour! It was fun sharing it with you. It really helps to have a “home” for all of the supplies we use in our homeschool. Of course, you don’t NEED this kind of space, but I find it a huge blessing. One of my favorite things is to look at pictures and videos of other homeschoolers schooling spaces. If you have a space you’d like to share, link it up in the comments. I’d love to join your tour!

 

 

The Sand Dollar that Taught Us to Love, Even When it Hurts

The Sand Dollar that Taught Us to Love, Even When it Hurts

One morning the kids and I discussed Festo Kivengere’s book, “I Love Idi Amin.” Festo had been persecuted and treated horribly, yet chose in the power of God’s love to forgive his evil enemy. I gave a writing assignment for each of the kids to share a time when they had been hurt by someone else’s actions. They could choose to share a time when they responded in love, or a time they didn’t respond in love and how they could learn from their response.

Jules gave me permission to share her paper with you (slightly altered to protect a sibling’s identity).

My sibling broke a gift I got from Hailey. It was a magnet sand dollar with a painting of dolphins jumping out of the water. The background of orange, yellow and red made it look like a sunset over the ocean.
I was so excited about the sand dollar. It was the first gift I had ever received from a penpal. I put the magnet on the fridge next to a friendship magnet I had gotten from another friend awhile ago.
One day, my sibling was reaching for something above the refrigerator and knocked the dolphin magnet. A large piece of the sand dollar broke off. As I watched it happen, I had a pang in me that wanted to yell out at my sibling, exclaiming how much that magnet meant to me.
Instead, I was able by the power of the Holy Spirit, to calm down inside and pleasantly say, “It’s OK. It’s just stuff. Stuff that will eventually burn. It won’t last.”
I kept that broken magnet as a reminder to me to be patient and loving, even when I feel like exploding. I kept it to remember it is just stuff that will burn.

sand dollar

How about you? Has someone broken your sand dollar? Your trust? Your heart? Are you living in the bondage and bitterness of an unforgiving spirit? I have stand out times in my life history when I’ve suffered the wounds of beloved friends. I carried onto my wounds and tended to them with great care. Over time, my bitterness hurt more than the memory of the offense. When God re-awoke my heart to His grace, I was able to pray for my enemies. I lifted them up to Jesus and He gave me the power to forgive. I became free.

So here is my encouragement to you today: be free! Don’t wait any longer. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the kind of power to love with His love so that you can look at your “sand dollar” as a reminder that the only thing that lasts are the eternal souls that God has set in His people. Let’s help each other value those souls and love…even when it hurts.

First Day of School

First Day of School

There’s very little that’s authentic about our family’s First Day of School posts. It’s really not our “first day.” We have a very fluid homeschool and we are always learning. We don’t put a high emphasis on what “grade” our kids are in. Mainly, this helps us know where to categorize them in events outside of our homeschool.

But we love doing “first day” pictures when the rest of our area goes back to school. It breaks my heart whenever I see pictures of children looking downcast as their mom celebrates her children going back to school. As a homeschool mom who feels grateful for every day home with her kids, it’s very difficult to understand.

We are having a party over here at our house today… a party that celebrates our freedom and gratitude to homeschool.

Happy First Day of School everyone! We pray you have a blessed school year, with hearts turned toward God and turned toward home.

Malachi 4:6 y’all!

 

Ten Ways to Invest in Your Small Children During the Homeschool Day

Ten Ways to Invest in Your Small Children During the Homeschool Day

One question I hear all.the.time: What do you do with your little kids when you are trying to homeschool?  Homeschool moms love to plan, purchase curriculum, and dream about crossing off all our check lists.

But…babies, toddlers, preschoolers! They are a reality in many of our homes. I’ve found that pre-school aged children don’t care about our carefully laid plans.

Here are ten ideas for investing in your pre-school aged children during the homeschool day:

1. Buy a good baby carrier:

When your hands are free, you can nurse that baby, while teaching a math lesson. You can keep your little crawler out of dangerous cupboards as you listen to narrations and dictate spelling lists. With a toddler on your back, you can stay engaged and sing and talk together as you make pb&j in the kitchen.

2. Use play-dough during concentrated school time only:

Toddlers and preschoolers LOVE play dough, magic sand, and all things messy. Keep it for special occasions when you want them to stay engaged for just a few minutes longer. Let them make letters in salt or shaving cream. If messy makes you anxious when you already have so much to deal with as far as clean up, get some trays! Teach your toddler to keep materials on the tray as they play. It won’t be perfect, but I’ve found trays to help minimize the mess.

preschool

3. Give the older kids “assignments” to play with the little one for a short while:

Little siblings usually adore older brothers and sisters. Special one-on-one time where older siblings read books or play puppets or build towers with blocks is not only helpful, but so good for their relationships. When Cupcake was a small infant, Jules used to bring the baby and her science textbook to a rocking chair. She would use a British accent (for fun) and read her science assignments aloud to the baby. It made a boring subject more fun for Jules and was a blessing to everyone.

preschool

4. Make sensory bins:

Grab an empty bin or tray, fill it with rice/perler beads/popcorn/rocks/water/beans and top it off with small toys. If you want, get “fancy,” make themed bins (I was able to do that this year and it was so fun! I included one of my big kids and he had a blast finding little toys to put in the bins). Little hands love to pour items from cup to cup and to make discoveries under the layers. (Notice the tray under the bin? I use those trays all the time!) *Supervise your little ones to keep them safe and your house from becoming a rice field.

preschool

5. Make a light table:

I took a white trofast storage bin, put left over lights underneath it and gave my preschooler opaque toys: letters, window clings, reusable ice cubes, neon letter templates, dollar tree plastic shot glasses. She loves to build on the light table. It has a calming effect. Bonus, you can turn the bin over and fill it with all the toys and the lights…easy clean-up.

preschool

6. Dramatic play:

Dramatic play is our FAVORITE around here. We have a closet right outside our school room. It was nearly empty, so I made it into a cute little nook where my little girls have home-base for dramatic play during school time. I hang up dress-up clothes and rotate them out. The dramatic play toys are small and fit on the top shelf of the closet. No one can reach them but mommy and they only come out when I’m doing concentrated school time with big kids. We have a camping set, specialty food items, a tiny kitchen, doctor kits, and a cash register. I set up the rug outside of the closet with a “theme” and give them different props on different days and set them free with their imagination.

preschool

7. Do school together:

My little Cupcake takes her “school” so seriously. One of her frequent prayer requests is that she can “get her school done.” My favorite “school” ideas for littles over the years have been:

~”Before Five in a Row.” The book list from this gentle curriculum is precious. Even if you don’t purchase the teacher’s guide, your preschooler will enjoy sweet time on your lap with classic books that teach many beautiful concepts.

~Chocolate Chip School: We do have Counting Bears…but, nothing made my Cupcake happier last year then when I announced it was, “Chocolate Chip School time.” We got out chocolate chips and counted them. Simple addition and subtraction is fun when you get to eat your manipulative. Siblings came running when they heard us subtracting and everyone enjoyed a little chocolate break in the day.

~Ziggy school: All About Reading has a sweet way of introducing letters to your preschooler with their pre-reader program. Make sure you purchase the activity sheets. They are darling. All of my littles have LOVED Ziggy the Zebra. He says such silly things. Sometimes he helped Cupcake listen to instructions that have nothing to do with the “AAR” program. Taking instruction from a puppet is more exciting than following mommy some days.

preschool

~Letter Search: Cupcake and I got some squishy bath-toy letters. After Ziggy introduces a letter to us, we take out the bath-toy letter and put it in our “hunting box.” Then we go around the house and try to find things in the house that start with our letter to put in the box. THIS IS SO FUN. Do it!

preschool

~Include them in the “big kids” school projects: Whenever my kids are assigned an active, hands on, messy, or fun project, we make sure the little ones are front and center. Does it sometimes lengthen the project? Yes. Have there been times when it frustrated the situation? Certainly! We just look at those as character building moments for all of us and move on.

preschool

8. Make a “can-do” list:

Sometimes it’s overwhelming for everybody to think of all the things preschoolers “can’t do.” I used to have a “Catty Can” list. I laminated little cards and hung them on an o-ring. Each card had something “Catty Can” do; sing the alphabet, roll a ball, color a picture, read books, play dolls, blow bubbles,” The list can be as long and creative as you want it to be. When Catty was a tiny little thing and she felt frustrated with being told “no,” we got out our “Catty Can” list and picked an activity.

9. Don’t forget your baby:

Homeschool moms…you have so much to do. I get it! Math, handwriting, history, read alouds, science labs, spelling, grammar, art, breakfast, lunch, clean up, dinner, Bible, memory, character issues. Being a teacher to our big kids is important. If God has blessed us with little ones who aren’t in school, they need us, just as much as our big kids did when they were pre-schoolers. Make sure you are hugging, laughing, tickling, reading to, coloring with, pushing on the swing, chasing, being goofy, dancing, singing silly songs and spending time with your little ones. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of hard play to help them feel remembered, loved, and valued.

10. Hold your plans loosely:

You know I love a well thought out plan. Please remember, that plans should not trump people. Our little ones will be fussy, sick, and overwhelmingly needy at times. It will be tempting to feel like they are getting in the way of our plans. Sometimes, God has a curriculum for us that doesn’t match our beautiful planners. Pay attention when He puts something in our path that pulls us away from what we thought was the “perfect day.” Especially if that “something” is one of our little ones. Don’t look back on the preschool years of your children with regret because you pushed them away to check off a list. Gently guide, love, embrace, and include them as much as you can!

Oh…and one more tip:

Don’t do school when they nap! Really. Don’t do it. Use that time for all of you bigger people to refresh and rest. You can thank me in January for that one.

Planning Your Homeschool Year, Part 2, Weekly and Daily Plans

Planning Your Homeschool Year, Part 2, Weekly and Daily Plans

After planning the Big Picture of your homeschool year, it’s time to begin focusing on specific plans.

I’m using The Simple Plan, by Mardel for my planner. But any planner will have daily pages that should work for your homeschool.

Steps to a Detailed Plan:

On Sunday evening, I sit down and look at my family weekly view calendar and I fill in appointments and anything that may compete with “at home” time for our school days.

detailed plan

Every afternoon, when the kids finish their school work, I correct their work and assign the next day’s assignment. I section my planner by subjects and each kid gets a line on that subject (in birth order).

detailed plans

I go through Jule’s work first, checking off what she has done and writing down the next day’s tasks in her planner. This pattern continues for each kid until I’m done; correct assignments, check off that they are complete in my planner, add next day’s assignment. All turned in assignments are returned to the kid’s desk and I start with the next kid.
Jules and Peebs have The Simple Plan student planners, by Mardel. I make sections for each subject and give more detailed assignments than what I actually record in my own planner. It guides them through the day. I tell them what they need to do on their own and what they need to do with me.
The beauty of giving daily assignments is I can adjust what we do from day to day to keep us flexible. This way the kids don’t ever feel “behind” or “ahead” and frankly it is giving them much less stress than when they used to have an entire guide in their hands. I simply need to look at my “year-at-a-glance plan” for each subject to make sure we are making good progress through each subject area.

detailed plansdetailed plansdetailed plans

Odes and Catty didn’t get fancy planners. It really wasn’t necessary as most of their work is done directly with me. I write down their plans in a plain notebook: I love adding little love notes and words of encouragement in their books. This may look slightly overwhelming, but it honestly only takes a few minutes each afternoon.

detailed plansdetailed plans

As the kids go through their school day and complete their work, they turn in completed assignments in this dish-drying rack (placed inside of an Ikea Raskog). If the book doesn’t fit the drying-rack, they place it on the next shelf down. When their day’s work is complete, they add their planners to the completed work bin and I begin my work of correcting and assigning:

detailed plans

I pull out each finished piece of work and put on a sticker or write a note. I keep stickers in the front of the dish-drying rack. If appropriate, I write directly in the book. If I don’t want my handwriting to be permanent, I add it to a sticky note. The kids LOVE getting these notes from me. It makes them feel their work is important. I’ve noticed they do their work more carefully as a result. I also take this time to look at any errors or things that need attention. Words that are consistently mis-spelled are placed on a sticky note outside the notebook they turn in. We work on those errors throughout the week.

detailed plansdetailed plansdetailed plans

The method of handing in assignments for me to look at during the day has cut down on a lot of interruptions. Before implementing this method, kids were nearly constantly bombarding me with questions while I was doing lessons with siblings. That has almost completely come to a stop.

Each kid has color-coded folders where they turn in assignments done on loose leaf paper. Finished work is placed on the right side of the folder. I send it back with a note and sticker on the left side of the folder for them to see. The next time the folder comes back to me, I either throw away the paper on the left, or put it in a color-coded three ring “better binder.” Guess what this means? No crazy paper work at the end of the year! And a portfolio of work is at my finger tips to store away for posterity (or a burning party when they graduate, if so desired). detailed plansdetailed plansdetailed plansdetailed plans

So right now, you are likely thinking one of two things: “That girl is CRAZY!” Or “Get me to Staples for better binders, now!” Either way, I’d love to hear if any of these ideas are a help for you. What do you do to plan the details of your days?

 

Planning Your Homeschool Year, Part 1…Big Picture

Planning Your Homeschool Year, Part 1…Big Picture

I recently shared our homeschool year plan for 2017-2018, and promised I would share some of my planning process. Planning a season of homeschool can seem daunting. It does take some time and thought. I’m going to break this down into different posts and show how I’ve done this step by step in my home. I hope it is helpful.

Steps for Big Picture Planning:

1. Pray:Big Picture Planning

Take time to pray alone, with your kids, with your spouse. Ask God to give you wisdom on what will be the best fit for your particular life season. Trust Him to lead you.

2. Evaluate:

What is going on in the life of your family? Are you pregnant? Will you be giving birth soon? Do you have a newborn or toddler who will require significant attention this school year? Is there a move in your future? Are you, your children, or loved ones struggling with on-going or significant illness? Will you be traveling? Do your children have any learning disabilities or challenges that need to be addressed? Be realistic about all you can accomplish within different life seasons.

3. Think about your kids:

What are their interests right now? What do you like doing together? Ask your kids for input. Is there an area of growth you would like to explore? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Is there a character quality or spiritual discipline that are important to your children’s development? What books have you been wanting to read? How old are your kids and what is reasonable to expect from them? How do you want your days to look? What is your educational philosophy? Do you want your home to look like school-at-home? Are you taking a relaxed approach? Will you use textbooks and workbooks? Do you enjoy reading aloud and lap books?

4. Research:

Ask your friends and more experienced moms things that have and haven’t worked for them. Look at various box curriculum to see suggestions for areas of study for different age groups. (I get ideas for history and book lists based on suggestions from box curriculum such as Sonlight, Heart of Dakota, My Father’s World, etc. Go to a homeschool conference and look at material. Contact different publishers to discuss what might be best for your situation. Go to a seminar. In our area, there is a homeschool bookstore that services homeschoolers and offers feedback to fit your situation.

Big Picture Planning Carol Joy Seid offers seminars all over the country or you can buy her DVDs. Diana Waring gives incredible suggestions. Books such as, “Teaching from Rest,” by Sarah MacKenzie, “Educating the WholeHearted Child,” by Clay and Sally Clarkson, “The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling,” by Karen Allen Campbell, offer encouragement and ideas (there are LOTS of good, encouraging homeschool books). Visit co-ops and see if that is a fit for your family.

 

(Note: It’s OK not to do a Co-op, but could be a great thing for your family.)

Consider how you can get a full education from the library. Will you combine all or some of your children on some subjects? Which subjects will need to be one-on-one? What can they do independently? (Note: Most children are not ready for independence until around age 10, though even then, it’s not automatic. Realize that if you are going to do heavy school work with young children, you are responsible to sit with them and give instruction.)

As I go through the research step, I make notes in an empty Word document for each child. I keep websites I want to re-visit in those notes. As I go along, I delete items and ideas that aren’t a fit and by the end I have a good working list of what I’ll be using.

5. Research a planner:

This could keep you busy for several long nights of youtubing. I can’t give any advice about online planners. My expertise lies in pen-to-paper planners. I will link a few here, starting with the one I’m using this year:

Big Picture Planning

A Simple Plan (the planner I used last school year and am using again. I like it because it is dated, gives space for long term planning, monthly goals, a place to record purchases, two pockets (where I keep receipts) and individual planning spaces for up to six kids. The guts are all gray and white, which I don’t care for, but I can fix with a little bit of washi. I’m in love with colorful fun planners. However, keeping this design simpler does cut down the cost.)

Well Planned Day

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Erin Condren Teacher Planner: (this is not a homeschool planner, but I’ve adapted it to use it as such in the past. It is over-the-top expensive…but, Oh.So.Beautiful.)

Limelife Homeschool Planner: (this is also spendy, beautiful, and it is a homeschool planner to boot!)

Happy Planner Teacher Planner: (Not specific to homeschool, but…Happy Planner! I LOVE this line. They are SO adorbs! You can adapt them beautifully to your needs. Plus, Michael’s regularly has 50 and even 60% off coupons!)
If you don’t like any of these suggestions there are billions of planners on Etsy. Start with Plum Paper and after that you will get plenty of suggestions.

*You will spend a good amount of your days/years as a homeschool mom researching. You will make changes and often. Try not to get stuck in the research mode for too long. At some point you will have to make decisions.

6. Decide:

I advise discussing your decisions with your spouse. Once you have decided the route you want to take, entrust those decisions to Jesus and move forward. If you need to make some purchases, now is the time. This is fun! It’s mom’s Christmas when those packages get dropped off:

7. Sort and plan an overview of your year:

I divide my kid’s books onto their own personal shelves. I have a mom shelf where I keep all of the teacher manuals I will use during the year.
Next, I open my planner and plan the Big Picture: I look at each subject and divide it into a year’s worth of general lessons. Then I plot out an ideal “routine” day for each day of the week. This took me about six hours to pull together. It’s a lot of time up-front, however having the big picture mapped out, makes weekly and daily lesson planning extremely easy. It’s worth the up-front effort.

Here are some picture examples of Big Picture planning I did for one of my older kids:

Big Picture Planning
This is NOT a schedule, but a rough idea of how we can structure our days to fit things in. I don’t give this plan to my kids. It’s simply an idea of flow and routine for my own planning.

I left space at the end of the year as I’m not sure how we will space out these subjects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of plans for my preschooler. (I didn’t make plans for the rest of the kids when they were three years old. It certainly isn’t necessary! I simply recorded ideas so little Cupcake will not feel cast aside when everyone else hits the books. If I keep her engaged, we will ALL have better days.)

Big Picture Planning

Big Picture Planning

Stay tuned for Part 2 and how I turn the Big Picture into a daily plan!

 

It’s OK Not to Do a Co-Op Moms, I Promise

It’s OK Not to Do a Co-Op Moms, I Promise

I’ve been a stay at home mom since my oldest was born nearly 14 years ago, when I consider our “homeschool” began. Homeschooling wasn’t as popular or accepted as it is today. It was sometimes scary to have your six year old at the store with you during school hours, or let your kids play outside before the buses got home.

Most of the more experienced mamas I knew would say, “all you need is a Bible, math curriculum, a library card, a ton of love, and your child will get a great education.”

We were encouraged to keep things simple. Desks and formal schooling areas weren’t necessary. The all so often socialization fear was met with “your kids are socialized when interacting with the plumber, they’ll be fine.” These hippie homeschool moms assured me that my kids didn’t need to be with 30 other kids their own age all day to become well rounded individuals.

Most of us moms loved Carole Joy Seid, and Charlotte Mason; nature walks and read alouds; interest led schooling on the couch in the morning and Little House On the Prairie in the afternoon. Ah, the good old days of homeschool.

 

co-op

Over the past several years, the culture among us has changed. Influential dominionist homeschool leaders have been called to task and taken out of the arena (hurrah!). New curricula publishers pop up every day. Mommy blogs (like this one) are everywhere. The choices for a homeschool family are overwhelmingly abundant. In our area we have an endless pick of co-ops. Families can choose co-ops for select classes; all required classes; field trips; groups where moms teach kids and encourage one another; groups where moms drop kids for entire days and kids are taught material and assigned homework the rest of the week. On-line schools exist. Special groups for fine arts abound. Phy-Ed classes are provided. Some co-ops provide year books, proms, student council, study hall. A family could easily spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on various classes, groups, and activities.

co-op

I’m not here to judge any family for making choices to participate in any of these groups. Sometimes, it is absolutely the right thing to do for your family. It may be the right thing for my family down the road as well. I’m not picking on you if you’re called to a co-op.

I do want to say however, the hippie homeschooler’s advice is still legitimate. While homeschooling is becoming more and more accepted, we are still constantly asked, “How can you teach every subject?” or “How will your children be properly socialized?” and now the popular, “But, you’re in a co-op, right?” The pressure to give in to other people’s views of schooling can be strong. When I’m asked these questions, I confidently say, “There are plenty of lovely co-ops available. We choose not to participate. We are thriving.”

You CAN homeschool WITHOUT all of the available options today.

It’s still true that your children don’t NEED be socialized by same aged peers. Rich, living books, God’s word, and a math curriculum is still a legitimate education. Starting late, rather than early, is still a legitimate theory in educating. Working hard at keeping your home from becoming “school at home” is still an acceptable value. If you want to stay at home with your kids, and teach them all by yourself, it is OK!

I know you all don’t need my permission. But, maybe you need to hear that other moms are still trying to hang on to the legacy of the families who went before us? I recently walked with a friend through her process of feeling that she SHOULD do a co-op, even though she didn’t want to. God wasn’t calling her and her kids to one in this season of life and it was a relief for her to know she wasn’t alone. No matter how much the culture of homeschool changes, the simple values which started the homeschool movement do remain the same.