What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part One

boundaries, fence, homeschooling

When I was preparing to begin homeschooling, I knew that I would need some kind of curriculum, school supplies, a plan and a method.  However, once I was in the thick of it, I realized there was one area where I was desperately unprepared:  setting boundaries.

Years ago, a Christian counselor recommended a book to me, “Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, How to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life.”  I purchased it, but shortly after, began dating my husband and got distracted.  It sat on my bookshelf for a decade before God confronted me with the fact that I still had issues in this area that needed to be addressed.  Once I began reading it, I was surprised to realize how much of my life was being affected by my lack of boundaries.  Having grown up with a mother who struggled with addiction, I was often placed in the position of being the mother instead of the child.  I never learned to say “no” to responsibilities that were not my own or to set limits with others.

This caused me to grow into a parent who did not know how to set the appropriate limits with my children, either.  As a result, the biggest struggle that I have faced while trying to teach my children is simply having them cooperate and obey.  In the summer edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, there was an article by Deborah Wuehler, entitled “The Importance of Obedience and How to Get Your Kids on Board” that outlined some of the steps that she uses to teach her children obedience.  She instills in them as toddlers that she expects them to obey immediately, completely and cheerfully.  That was mind-blowing to me, as my children never respond to any request that I make the first time, which is my biggest pet peeve.

If I would have realized my own weakness in this area sooner, I would have addressed it in counseling long ago and been prepared to lay the groundwork of teaching obedience to my children when they were very young.  Of course, later is better than never.  The challenge of doing it when my children are several years into homeschooling is that habits have been formed that need to be corrected.

If you are having trouble setting limits with your children and find yourself repeating requests ad nauseam before they obey you, I highly recommend reading Deborah’s article and the book, “Boundaries” or “Boundaries with Kids”  by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Cooperative children are so much easier to teach!  Most importantly, we are not only teaching them reading and writing, but responsibility – understanding what they are responsible for and what they aren’t responsible for, knowing how to say “no” and how to accept a “no.”  By setting external boundaries for them now, our children will eventually develop internal boundaries, which will be invaluable to them in adulthood and ultimately, in parenting their own children one day.

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Garden Update: Jarrahdale Pumpkin

Jarrahdale Pumpkin

Last October, we took a vacation right before Halloween.  When we returned and went to the store in search of a pumpkin to carve, we were dismayed to discover that all of our local grocery stores were out of large pumpkins!  We stopped at a small farmstand nearby instead, where my son found this beauty:

kids with jarrahdale pumpkin

It was quite heavy and a bluish-green color.  I balked at first, when I saw the $30 price tag.  However, the woman who was working there assured me that it was very good for cooking, hence the price.  I ended up with a freezer that was full of beautiful, dark orange pumpkin flesh that I used to make lots of pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie.

I also saved some of the seeds by fermenting them.

fermenting pumpkins seeds

You can read about the process to do that here.  When they float on the surface of the water like this, it means they are viable seeds.

saving pumpkin seeds

In the spring, we started some of the seeds indoors and transplanted them to the garden when the plants were big enough.  I searched online to figure out what kind of pumpkin it was, and it appears to be a Jarrahdale pumpkin.

pumpkin plant

I also started some regular pumpkin seeds that I bought, but the Jarrahdale seeds that I saved grew much more robust plants.  Unfortunately, we had an unusually hot and rainy summer.  While we were camping for a week in July, the above plants succumbed to what appeared to be powdery mildew.  I planted some more seeds, outdoors this time, and grew several more plants.  Then, one day, I discovered this:

jarrahdale pumpkin flower

I have my doubts as to whether it will have time to fully develop before it gets too cold, as we are in October now.  The pumpkin plants seem happier than they did in the oppressive heat, though.  I’ve tried not to meddle with these plants too much, although I did break the remaining flowers off this plant today, in the hopes that it will put its energy into the baby pumpkin instead.

In any event, this has been a fun project.  I may have to visit that farmstand again this year, so I can make more pumpkin soup soon!

Fall Nature Study: Saving Seeds

Fall Nature Study_ Saving Seeds

Each spring, my children and I start seeds for nature study.  Eventually, we transplant them to the garden, care for the plants and harvest the fruit.  A few years ago, we decided to allow the process to come full circle by learning how to save the seeds as well.  There are a few different ways to save seeds for your plants and it depends on the type of seed.

Bean plants are easy to save seed from.  You simply leave some of the pods on the plant until the fall, when the skin of the bean in completely dry and papery.  Then, you pick them, remove the beans from the skin and label an envelope to save them in for planting in the spring.

Many other seeds can be saved by fermenting.  The fermentation process can help control seed-borne diseases from affecting your future plants.  We have saved tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and pumpkins/squash this way.  Make sure the fruit is completely ripe first.  Remove some seeds, rinse any pulp off of them, and place them in a jar of water.  Stir the seeds carefully with a spoon once a day for about three days.  You will notice that some of the seeds float to the top and some sink to the bottom of the jar.  The floaters are not viable and can be discarded at the end of the third day.  Next, strain the contents of the jar, saving the seeds that sunk to the bottom.  I pour mine into a tea sock.  Then, I spread them on a plate until they are completely dry, at which point I seal them in a labeled envelope.

You may want to write the year that you saved the seeds along with the name of the plant, in case you do not plant all of them and have some leftover the next year.  I have successfully used seeds a couple of years after saving them, but they do decrease in viability with age.  Another trick for keeping them is to place the envelopes of saved seeds in a container in the back of the refrigerator.  The cold temperature keeps them fresh longer.

Interestingly, I found that the seeds that we planted this year that had been saved from our own garden actually grew much more robust plants than our store-bought seeds.  I am not sure if they were more acclimated to our particular soil, but I think it will make an interesting nature study experiment next spring, to compare our own seeds to the purchased ones and chart their progress.

Another fun activity that my children did was to set up a stand in our front yard and sell packets of saved seeds, sort of like a lemonade stand.

There’s something really special about planting seeds that you’ve saved from your own plants.  It gives children a visual of the way God provides for us and helps them to see the whole circle happening first-hand.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24

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FREE Michelangelo Study Resources

artist sutdy

In this post, I explained how we did our Renaissance artist study last spring.  It turns out that one of the resources that we used to study the life of Michelangelo is currently available as a free download here.  There is also a free supplement available about two of his masterpieces – The Pieta and The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  You will see the price reduce to $0.00 after you add them to your cart.

If you are planning to do more art history study in the future, you may also be interested in a bundle by the same publisher that is on sale right now, called The Masters and Their Masterpieces.  Do yourself a favor and download the two free items first.  It will give you credit towards your purchase, bringing your total purchase price down to $8.58 for 24 separate lessons, including Da Vinci, Cassatt, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and more!  Since I already own several of the titles that are included, I ended up only paying $4.

Back-to-school sales are awesome, aren’t they?

pinkk flowers

Growing Your Child’s Vocabulary Organically

vocabulary

Recently, as we were en route to a camping trip, my six-year-old wondered how much longer the ride would take.  Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” she said, “How much more time until we reach our destination?”

My husband and I chuckled at her choice of words but we weren’t surprised.  My eight-year-old son was recently evaluated by a speech language pathologist.  We discovered that the stroke that he suffered at birth has impacted how his mind processes the written word.  However, she was surprised to find that his vocabulary and grammar skills, and his ability to understand language and express it verbally, was very advanced for his age.

I have no question how this came about.  My husband and I followed two steps, which set the stage so this process could happen organically – no vocab tests or drills needed.

  1. We make a point to fill our children’s bookshelves with books that have withstood the test of time. There may be new releases that will become classics one day.  However, the books that are generally considered as classics are looked upon that way for a reason.  We didn’t assume that our children couldn’t understand something that was written in old-fashioned or challenging language, either.  If we weren’t sure that the child would understand a word, we’d simply pause and explain what it meant.  Most of the time, we found that they could intuit the meaning through context.
  2. My husband and I read aloud daily to our children. In “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” Jim Trelease encourages parents to read aloud daily to their children, even past the age that they are able to read independently.  He states, “Kids can usually listen on a higher level than that on which they read.  Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than anything they could read on their own.”  He also explains how words that are attained by the “listening vocabulary” then get transmitted to the speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary and writing vocabulary.  Reading aloud is a bedtime ritual in our home.  As our six-year-old’s attention span isn’t the same as her brother’s, they each get to choose their own story.  This is a precious bonding time for our family, where we can share our love of reading and introduce stories to our children that were beloved from our own childhoods.
    1. Another thing that we’ve found to be helpful is putting audio books on in the car for our children to listen to. They can usually be borrowed from your local library.

There is no need to be legalistic about this approach.  When we go to the library, my daughter often picks picture books that are aesthetically appealing to her but are not very challenging.  That’s fine; I simply add some classic books that I know she’ll like as well.  In the end, she usually prefers what I picked for her.

Although we began this process with our children when they were very young, I think it would be beneficial to begin family read-aloud time with good books at any age.  I believe that the learning challenges that my son may face will be offset by the advantages that his exposure to quality literature has given him.  Most importantly, my children have learned that reading is a pleasurable experience, one that you never outgrow.

 

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Grow an Avocado Tree from a Pit

pit in avocado

Last fall, after making some guacamole, I decided to grow an avocado tree from the pit that I’d removed from the avocado.  I mentioned in this post that it took until March to get a root.  I also mistakenly told you that the pointy end of the pit gets submerged in water.  Maybe that’s why it took so long to root!

There are a couple of ways to grow a tree from an avocado pit, but the one I’ve used is the toothpick method.  The steps are:

  • After carefully removing your pit from a ripe avocado, rinse it off and figure out which end of the pit is the top and which is the bottom.  The narrower end is the top and the broader end is the bottom.

pit

  • Insert 3 to 4 toothpicks into the seed, preferably on an angle.  Fill a jar with water and suspend the toothpicks on the mouth of the jar, with the bottom half of the pit submerged.

toothpicks

  • Place the jar in a sunny spot and refill as needed to keep the bottom half under water.  You can see the plant beginning to emerge from the top of the pit in this photo.

early april

  • As your tap root grows, you may need to move your pit to a taller jar or vase to allow it more room.  Mine had a huge tap root.

late april

  • When the roots have emerged and are well established, plant the pit in a pot with soil.  The top half of the seed should be exposed above the dirt.  I used a large enough pot to allow room for growth, so I would not have to re-pot it later.

May

  • Keep the pot in a sunny spot.  You can keep it outside, but if temperatures will drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you should bring your avocado tree indoors.  Also, keep in mind that they do not like to become too moist.  I only water mine about once a week, unless the leaves look droopy and the soil seems too dry.

One mistake that I made was not to trim my plant back.  I read the recommendation to do this after it was way over 6 inches tall, and I as afraid to do it at that point.  This page has information on trimming your plant, which will encourage your tree to be bushy, rather than leggy, like mine.  It also explains how to plant your tree outdoors if you live in a warm enough climate.  We do not, so I am going to keep mine as a houseplant.

June

I keep mine in the front window of my house next to the front door and people are often curious about it, since you can clearly see the pit sitting above the soil at the base of the plant.  I’ve read that if an avocado houseplant bears fruit, it will take about 20 years.  My 22-year-old son joked that he is going to eat the first avocado that it produces, when he is 42!

August avocado

So, the next time you slice open an avocado, consider growing your own avocado tree.

 

5 Ways to Save on Back-to-Homeschool (and a Freebie!)

Ways to Save on Back to Homeschool

I can’t believe that summer is almost over.  However, everywhere I turn, the back-to-school sales have begun.  The notifications for start dates of co-ops and extracurricular activities are pouring in . . . including the invoices.  It can be a bit overwhelming.

To make your back-to-homeschool a little smoother, I want to share some suggestions for how I gather the curriculum that I need without spending an arm and a leg.

pinkk flowers

1. Keep your eye out for what you will need in the future

Throughout the school year, I keep notes (mental or otherwise) for what I will need when I finish with the curriculum that I’m currently using.  That way, if I see what I will need later at a great price somewhere, I take advantage of the opportunity and put it away for the future.

2. Sales & Comparison Shopping

There are always great sales at the end of the summer.  However, I really like to comparison shop, especially online.  Sometimes, you can find something at a better price on a different site, especially if you factor in shipping costs.  For instance, my son’s speech teacher recommended a book that would help me work with him on his reading.  Every online bookstore that I checked was selling it for around $30.  I kept looking and found a used copy in great condition on Thriftbooks.com for $4.00!

Some sales that I’m aware of right now are:

  • Christianbook is having a big sale with free shipping on orders placed through August 13th of $35 or more.
  • Schoolhouseteachers is having a buy-one-get-one sale on memberships until August 31st..  New members will receive TWO full years of access to 380 Schoolhouse Teachers classes for $139 (regularly $179/year) with a guaranteed annual renewal rate of $139/year as long as they remain a member.
  • BJU Press is offering 10% off everything until August 14th.
  • CurrClick has a back-to-homeschool sale going on.

3. Group Buy Sites

Homeschool Buyers Co-op – With over 190,000 families who have joined for free, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op is able to use their purchasing power to get members deals on homeschool curriculum.  They also offer freebies.  I’ve taken advantage of several free trials on online classes during the summer months through this site.

4. Used Curriculum

I love used curriculum.  I usually have to order workbooks new, but textbooks and teacher’s guides are fine second-hand.  Here’s where I purchase mine:

  • Used homeschool curriculum fairs
  • Used book fairs
  • Free shelf at the library (ours has one in the entryway where people can leave books that they no longer want and where books that the library is removing from circulation get placed)
  • Co-ops
  • Homeschooling friends/family with older children
  • Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace on Facebook

5. Freebies, Freebies, Freebies

There are lots of places where you can download curriculum or organizational files for free.  Some of these sites will send you freebies on a regular basis if you subscribe to their newsletters:

That freebie I promised . . .

Last school year, I decided to create my own homeschool organizational forms.  I’ve seem some beautifully designed offerings from other moms online, but none of them were what I wanted – something simple that maximizes the usable space on the page and minimizes the amount of ink needed to print them.

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I created these for my personal use, but I figured someone else might find them useful as well.  I am offering these Homeschool Organizational Forms as a FREE download here.  This packet includes:

  • Weekly Lesson Log & Attendance Sheet
  • Curriculum List (to keep track of what you have on hand)
  • Reading Log
  • Resource Planner (to note what you need or want to purchase in the future)
  • Field Trip Form

Happy back-to-homeschool!

 

 

 

Homeschool Organizational Forms – Download

IMG_20180809_230453

Here are the Homeschool Organizational Forms that I promised you.  They include:

  • Weekly Lesson Log & Attendance Sheet
  • Field Trip Form
  • Resource Planner
  • Reading Log
  • Curriculum List

These are designed simply because I wanted to maximize usable space on the page and minimize the amount of ink that is needed to print them.

If you have any feedback on these after using them, I’d love to hear it.  I hope you find them useful.

 

Finding Time for Art

finding time for art 3.png

Did you ever begin your homeschool year with grandiose plans for all of the art enrichment that you were going to include on top of your basic subjects?  I have, only to become overwhelmed and then discouraged, feeling that there was no way to fit it all in.  In the early elementary years, you are laying the foundation for skills in reading, math, etc. that you will build upon later.  Taking time away from those areas can make you feel guilty at times.  How can you find time for one without sacrificing the other?

pinkk flowers

  1. Farm it out. My children have taken inexpensive (and free) art classes at co-op, museums and our local library.  Some of these activities fall outside of school hours.  The ones that interfere with our typical school day don’t feel like interference when I know that there is the added benefit of getting my kids out of the house to spend time with other children.  If you don’t want to sign up for a long-term commitment where you will be obligated to be there every week, consider classes at your library, which can often be signed up for one session at a time, when it fits into your schedule that week.
  2. Link it to another subject that you are studying. The history curriculum that we use suggests art projects to go along with the chapter that we are studying that week.  This year, we reached a chapter on the Renaissance, and decided it was the perfect time to pause in our book and dedicate some time to learning about some great Renaissance-period artists.  I have some artist biographies, art cards and fine art pages that I have been hoarding for the day that I had time to use them, and I went through and found what was applicable to the time period.  We chose one artist per week, read a biography, viewed examples of their art, and watched YouTube videos about the artist.  When we finished studying all of the artists that we had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and enjoyed doing it.
  3. Take a field trip to a museum. Field trips are a great way to add fine art appreciation to your homeschool.  I feel this works best if you have already learned something about the artist whose work you are viewing or the subject matter of the art.  On the other hand, it can also be the jumping off point to spend some time studying the artist when you return home from your trip.
  4. Take advantage of weeks that tend to be less productive. A great time for fine art study is the week before a major holiday or the last week of school, when your children tend to be distracted or you have a lot of your plate.  One year, I found a free Kindle download of a picture study curriculum.  Paintings were provided to observe, discuss and answer questions about.  It kept them engaged while I did some holiday preparations and rounded out what otherwise would have been a short school day.

Don’t give up on those special subjects that you’d like to include in your day.  Be creative about it and you can make it happen!

 

Experiencing a Tornado

storm 3

Our spring was kind of crazy this year.  Just as our school year and extracurricular activities were winding down, our town was hit by a tornado.  The funny thing is, we studied earth science last year, and when we learned about tornadoes, my children asked if one would ever happen where we live.  I responded that it was unlikely.  I guess I was wrong!

We were in the parking lot at the supermarket when it hit.  My cell phone had just announced “Tornado warning in your area.  Seek shelter immediately.”

Rain started pelting our car harder than I have ever seen, and the wind was out of control.  In retrospect, we should have just gone back in the supermarket until it was over.  Because we were only 10 to 15 minutes from home, though, we tried to get home as quickly as possible.  However, we live in a very wooded area, so we found that every street that we tried to go down was blocked by fallen trees, with tall trees waving threateningly everywhere around us.  We ended up having to turn back and find another road to go down.  At one point, we reached a road that was blocked, but several cars were trying to get past, so my husband and the other drivers hopped out and were able to pull the tree out of the way so that we could pass.

storm 4

We finally got to the entrance of our neighborhood and found that we couldn’t go in, because a large tree was blocking it, along with the power lines that it had taken down with it.  The storm had ended.  We briefly considered finding a hotel for the night, but our two-month-old puppy was at home, alone, in his crate.  We had to get to the house.  So, we parked our car, and my husband, two little ones and I got out and started for home on foot.  We had to hike through our neighbors’ yards because the whole length of the street was covered in downed trees and power lines.  There was so much destruction that we were afraid to see what our house looked like.

storm 14

When we finally arrived home, we were shocked to see that we only had some branches down, but not one tree had fallen.  There was no damage to our house.  The only real concern was three very large trees had been partially uprooted and were now sitting on an angle.  We ended up having two of them taken down shortly after, as they would have come down on their own in the next big storm, possibly killing someone.  The largest of the three was 96 feet tall.

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We were grateful to have made it home safely and that our home was not damaged in the storm.  There were at least two deaths in the area that day and extensive property damage.  This house, that is down the street from us, had a tree fall through the second story, landing just 5 to 10 feet away from where someone was sleeping.

storm 17

During the storm, the twister was yanking trees right out of the ground, roots and all, and then slamming them back down to the earth.  We live in a lakeside community, and as the twister traveled down the lake, it even ripped the porch right off of a house along the water.

Because of all the downed power lines, we were without power for almost a week.  Since most people in town have well water, that meant we were without running water also.

telephone pole

During this adventure, my eldest son wondered why nature was so destructive at times.  I wasn’t really sure how to answer that.  As life began to return to normal and roads were opened up again, there were some very noticeable changes in the landscape, though.  A pine forest around the corner had lost so many tall trees and tops of trees that a previously dark road was now bathed in sunlight.  Our vegetable and flower gardens receive much more light as a result of the 96-footer that was taken down.

Our yard is covered in heavy, dead branches that loom threateningly and that were scheduled to be taken down in the spring but that had to be put on hold because the tree-trimmers are too busy with emergency clean-up work (our leaners fell under that category).    If left to their own devices, those dead areas aren’t going anywhere until nature sees fit to bring them down in some catastrophic way.  In the meantime, they prevent the light from nourishing the new life that is trying to emerge underneath.

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Perhaps these storms are a metaphor for our own spiritual walks.  When God comes along and tears down our strongholds, it is painful at the time and can appear to us to be destructive.  In the long run, though, we discover that it was necessary for the new growth that He wanted to work in our lives.  As long as we were clinging to those old, dead areas, the light was unable to get through and shine where it needed to.

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17