Growing Your Child’s Vocabulary Organically

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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

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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?

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  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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Fine Art Study – The Renaissance

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I have been hoarding artist study materials for a while, as this is something I really want to go over with my children, but often find that it gets put on the back burner.  They really enjoy it when we are able to make time for it, though, so I was glad to find an opportunity to utilize them recently.

We use The Story of the World as our history curriculum for our homeschool.  We are currently on Volume 2:  The Middle Ages.  When we reached the chapter about the Renaissance, I decided this would be the perfect time to incorporate some fine art study into our school year.

First, I pulled out our set of Memoria Press art cards, and picked out the ones that were appropriate for the time period.  We looked at the cards, read the information about the pieces, and discussed which we liked best and why.

Next, I chose some prominent Renaissance artists to focus on – Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt and Raphael.  I used this timeline to help me narrow the choices down.  I have biographies from the Great Artists Series by homeschool bits for each one, which also include links to online videos and activities about the artist.  We focused on one artist per class.  We read the biography together, answered the review questions, watched some of the links, and viewed examples of the artist’s work.  We used some of our art cards for this, as well as Enrichment Studies art pages (you can receive free art pages from them each month if you become a subscriber).  We also visited the Google Arts & Culture page.  One caution about the Google page – many of the pieces of art on it contain nudity.  My son is not a fan of Michelangelo as a result.  He said, “I understand him painting Adam and Eve naked, but King David wore clothes!”  Oh, well.

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Another source that we used was a series on YouTube called Art with Mati and Dada.  We discovered it a while ago and my children really enjoy it.  We found the episode that went along with the artist we were reviewing that day and I let them finish the lesson by watching it.

When we finished studying all of the artists that I 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 had fun doing it.  We hung the matched sets up in our classroom afterward so they can continue to observe them.

I found that tying the study of art into our history lessons worked well.  I didn’t feel like I was taking time away another subject, but was enhancing it instead.

Edited to add:  If you will be studying Renaissance artists with your children next year, I just found out that Enrichment Studies will have a new study on that time period that will be available.  Each week will focus on one artist, and each day there will be a video about the artist and/or their work sent by email.  There will be coordinating Fine Art Pages to have on display in your home during that week as well.  It will give a short, daily dose of art appreciation that’s easy to find time for.

 

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Back in May, I wrote this post for the Homeschooling with Heart blog.   I almost didn’t get it written, because a tornado hit our state, and we lost power for almost a week.

The first two days, my children kept asking when they’d be able to watch TV or use the computer again.  I’ve made a point to limit their screen time, and because there was less availability and dependence on these things when I was raising my two adult children, having a device always on hand to entertain them just didn’t seem natural to me.  Even so, my kids still went through a withdrawal of the screen time that they are allowed to have.

They began to wander outside frequently to entertain themselves and joined with some neighborhood children to build a shelter in the woods behind our house.  I ended up having to coax them indoors for meals.  They managed to find something to engage them that also created an opportunity for teamwork and socialization.  It was almost a blessing in disguise.

Meanwhile, I was going through the withdrawal of having running water and access to information about what was going on, without phone or internet service.  I attempted to model patience for my children, along with gratitude that our home was not damaged in the storm and none of us was injured, although it became more difficult to do as the week wore on.

My reflection on this experience is that you never know when a situation like this will happen.  Many things are out of our control, and it is easier for you and your children to deal with when the virtue of patience has been developed.  It is these moments when it is really put to the test that you begin to realize just what an important life skill it is and how much you are actually lacking it versus what you would normally give yourself credit for.

In my opinion, the real long-term benefit of learning to wait until later for what you want now is the ability to wait on God.  It took many years of waiting and praying before I met my husband.  It might be a spouse, a job, the birth of a child, or any number of things that you or your child needs to wait on God for.

One thing that I have found helpful for my own children is making it the default that they wait in public (at a sibling’s extracurricular activity; at the DMV) without devices to entertain them.  If they’ve had practice stretching and developing those muscles during these short periods of waiting, I believe it will help them to be better prepared for the marathon when it inevitably comes.

My goals for the future are to be a better example of patient waiting in times of stress, to pray that God strengthens both my patience and that of my children, and to trust that He can do this work in us.

 

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him by heaven.” – John 4:27

“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” – Luke 8:15

The Importance of Outdoor Education in a Digital World

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I grew up in a large city.  Swapping childhood stories with my husband, he was appalled when I explained that recess at the schools that I attended meant being released to an enclosed, asphalt yard.  I counted myself lucky that I actually had a backyard at home with trees and flowers.  Most of my friends only had a small square of grass in front of their house.  Needless to say, our exposure to nature was a bit limited.

Luckily, the private school that I went to recognized this need.  We had an environmental education program in grades 4 through 6, where we got to stay at a campground for a few days in the fall and the spring.  I recently asked some old schoolmates about it, and found that they have as many treasured memories of the experience as I do.

Unlike me, my children are growing up in a more rural area.  They have much more experience with nature than I did.  Even so, when we went camping for our family vacation this year, and completely disconnected from electronics (no TV, cell phones, or other devices), my children were even more engaged with the world around them than normal.  Some of the things that we did were:

  • Identified leaves and plants that we found
  • Learned about wildlife that was native to the area
    • Learned the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
    • Learned how to identify raptors in flight
  • Collected leaves, ferns, etc. and made charcoal rubbings and sketches in nature journals
  • Observed and felt moss growing
  • Found a bird’s nest
  • Saw the natural growth and decay of the forest
  • Learned how to build a fire and cook over it
  • Practiced carving wood
  • Collected pine resin and learned some uses for it

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My son actually remarked that he thought life was better without TV!  Being outside without the distractions of modern society allows for more intimacy with nature and with each other.  We interact more fully with each other.  It inspires awe.  It demands use of all of the senses and strengthens observation skills.  Navigating on uneven terrain helps to develop core strength and a sense of balance.  Self-directed learning occurs naturally in the outdoors, as children ask questions about the world around them.

In my son’s case, I’ve watched his confidence grow as he is now able to answer some of his younger sister’s questions.  Sometimes, he can even answer mine, when he shares a tidbit that he has learned from his father.

Of course, we can’t camp all the time, but now that it is spring, we often finish up our school day with a walk.  I ask them to point out any signs of spring that they notice and it is fun to witness the progression from day to day.  The exercise, fresh air, and connection with nature is calming and has pretty much the opposite effect on them that screen time does.  Screens have their place in our lives, but they cannot replace time spent outdoors, which meets a need that seems to be instilled in us from our Creator, to recognize our part in His creation.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?”  – Job 12:7-10

 

Free Classical & Charlotte Mason Homeschool Guide

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Since September, I’ve been contributing to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart blog.  I received an email from them the other day letting me know that they are offering this free resource based on classical Christian and Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods and encouraging me to share it with my readers.

Since I am a classical homeschooler who tries to incorporate a lot of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, this is right up my alley.  I downloaded it right away, but it’s taken me a few days to begin reading it, because we adopted an 8-week-old puppy and he has kept us busy!

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Anyway, I’ve begun going through it and I’m really enjoying it.  You can download your copy for free here.

Happy reading!

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