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!

pinkk flowers

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Growing Things

So, this happened on Monday. . .

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. . .and so did this.

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This avocado pit has been sitting in a jar of water since the fall.  I grew an avocado plant a couple of summers ago that got big enough to transplant to a pot, until my daughter’s cat got to it and ate it.  All it takes is a few toothpicks, a jar and some water, so (after making some guacamole) I decided to try again.  The pointy end of the pit goes in the water.  This took until March to get a root, and I’ve been watching it get bigger and bigger, anxiously waiting for that stem to emerge at the top.

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Another kitchen experiment that I’m trying is garlic.  I had a store-bought clove that sprouted, so I planted it, along with a couple of others from the same bulb.  My son and I put potting soil in the pot, moistened it, and gently pushed the cloves (sprout side up) down into the dirt.  These came up quickly!  Garlic doesn’t do well in our garden, so I’m trying the container method this year.  After opening these bulbs up tonight, it looks like we’ll be planting some more.

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We also started some lily seeds.  I had some lilies come up in my yard last spring whose bulbs had been given to me by a friend and planted a couple of years before.  I saved seeds from them, but didn’t know what type they were.  We also gathered seed from some lilies around town, so they could possibly be from different types.  It turns out that lilies are kind of complicated to grow.  Some types are epigeal and some are hypogeal.  I guessed that these were hypogeal and the kids followed these directions, to put the seeds in moist peat moss in sandwich bags.  I’ve been keeping them on a seed heating pad.  So far, nothing has happened.  However, looking at photos of lilies this week, I realized that the ones in my yard are Asiatic, meaning that they are epigeal.  So, we planted some in a seed-starting greenhouse today, along with some vegetables and other flowers.  We’ll see which method works!

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My daughter’s sweet potato is crazy with slips!  My son’s half finally got roots, but we discovered today that it was rotting, so we tossed it in the compost bucket.  Luckily, the second sweet potato that we started is progressing nicely.  Both halves have nice roots and a little slip is beginning to emerge on one half.  He recently figured out how to download photos that I take and insert them into a Word document, so he has been using them to create his own report on the progress.  He calls it his “homesteading book.”

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It snowed again this morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and it warmed up, so we took advantage of that to plant the seeds that I’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks.  Here’s hoping that we are officially done with snow and it will finally begin to feel like spring!

 

“To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

Starting Sweet Potato Slips as Nature Study

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Now that spring is here, my children and I are spending a lot of time studying nature.  We are classical homeschoolers, but we incorporate some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas about education into our homeschool, especially her emphasis on nature study.

The first thing we decided to grow this year was sweet potatoes.  My son came home from Cub Scouts last spring with a sweet potato in a cup of water, and we patiently waited for something to happen.  It took quite a while, and I was on the verge of throwing it out, when it finally got roots.  Eventually, we transplanted the slips to the garden.  It was a bit late in the growing season, so the sweet potatoes that were produced were pretty small, but still tasty.  This year, we figured we’d get a head start, and hopefully, end up with a larger harvest.

washing sweet potato

To start your own, follow these steps:

  1. Buy some organic sweet potatoes from the store.
    1. Technically, you should be able to use any sweet potato, but most conventional potatoes are treated with chemicals that prevent slips from growing.
  2. Wash your sweet potato.
  3. Cut it in half.
  4. Stick 3-4 toothpicks in, across from each other, about halfway down your potato.
  5. Balance the toothpicks on the edge of a wide-mouth jar. We’re using salsa jars.
  6. Add enough water so that half of the potato is submerged.
  7. Keep them in a warm, dark spot for the first week. We placed ours in a cabinet above the refrigerator.
  8. Check the water level and refill as needed. Change the water if it becomes cloudy.

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Keeping them in a cabinet for the first week is a trick I just learned, and roots appeared much quicker this year than they did for us last year.  After that, you can move your jars to a warm, sunny spot.

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We’ve been making official observations on their progress every Monday.  I ask my children what changes they notice, we discuss it, and they update a nature journal page.  We’ve been using a template that we used to chart tomato seed progress last year and it’s worked really well for us.  I found it on Notebookingpages.com.  They are very compatible with a Charlotte Mason approach to education.

Here are some of the ways that we have used these pages over time:

nature study pages

Eventually, your sweet potatoes will grow little plants on top called “slips.”

  1. When the slips reach 5-6 inches high, you can carefully pull them off and place the roots in a glass of water with the leaves above the liquid.
  2. Put them in a sunny spot and allow them to keep growing. Your sweet potato should continue to produce new slips.

At this point, you can take your study even further, if you like, and plant the slips.  When the ground is warm enough (at least two weeks after your last frost date), they can be planted in the garden.  You can plant them directly in the ground or in a container.  We used a large 10-gallon bucket last year.

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To plant your slips in a container:

  1. Drill holes in the bottom of the bucket.
  2. Find a spot next to a fence or trellis for the plant to climb.
  3. Prop the bucket up on something to allow for drainage underneath.
  4. Add a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and manure to the bucket.
  5. Moisten your soil well, keep it loose, and shape it into a slope.
  6. Plant your slips on their side, with the top end toward the fence.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil moist.
  8. When the leaves have dried out and turned yellow in the fall, dig up your sweet potatoes.
  9. Cure them in a cardboard box, unwashed, in a cool place (55 to 60°) for about 6-8 weeks for maximum sweetness.

One of the things we liked about growing them was that they were low maintenance.  The plants are a pretty addition to the garden as well.  I hope you enjoy growing sweet potatoes as much as we do!

pinkk flowers

It’s Time to Start Seeds!

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As spring approaches, I am looking forward to what has become a homeschool ritual for us at this time of year – starting seeds.  When my son was in kindergarten, I decided that would be a good science lesson for him.  However, it became a learning process for me as well.

After growing seedlings indoors, we ended up transplanting them outdoors after the ground thawed.  We learned about caring for the garden, when to harvest the fruit and vegetables, and finally, how to save seeds for the next year.  Each spring, we begin the process again and try new things.  We experimented with starting the seeds in different types of containers, growing various types of plants, and planting them in the garden in new ways.  We have tried a raised pallet garden, container planting, and a hugelkultur.  We learned how to compost.  We fought with powdery mildew, blight, pests, and made homemade sprays to deal with some of these issues.  We learned about pollination and even hand-pollinated some squash.  We expanded our garden last summer and let the area that comprised the original garden lay fallow.  This summer, we will test whether that has a positive impact on our plants.

If you would like to try seed-starting with your children:

  1. Find out your plant hardiness zone to figure out what seeds to plant and when.
  2. Gather supplies.
    1. Pick a container. You can order a seed-starting kit, use egg cartons, Styrofoam cups, peat pots, etc.
    2. Pick seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and some flowers are often started inside.
    3. Pick up some seed-starting soil. You can make your own or buy it, but it is different than regular potting soil.
    4. Download one of the free plant life cycle worksheets or seed journals that are available online to teach your children about the process.
  3. Place some soil in your chosen containers, water well and add a seed to each. Push carefully into soil.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Prick small holes in the plastic wrap as well as the bottom of your containers for drainage.  Keep in a warm spot or place on a seed heating mat.
    1. Label each seed! We write on plain popsicle sticks that we insert in the soil.
    2. Water often, but use something with a gentle flow, to avoid displacing seeds. We’ve used a spray bottle or a water bottle with a small hole made in the cap.
  4. Once the plants emerge, remove plastic wrap and move into a sunny spot.
  5. When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, move to larger pots with plenty of compost.
  6. If you are going to transplant to the garden, harden them off about a week before planting.

Of course, not everyone has a backyard that is large enough for a vegetable garden.  One friend of mine starts seeds with her children indoors and they watch the seedling grow, but the process ends there.  Another grows her plants in containers.  There are many ways to incorporate it into your homeschool, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area.

I have found it to be such a rich learning experience.  Not only is it hands-on, but it inspires awe in the perfection of God’s creation and His provision for us.

 

How to Make a Homemade Shamrock Shake

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Each March, as we prepare to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I remember those yummy, bright green Shamrock Shakes that I used to look forward to as a child.  The thing is, now that I eat a much more natural diet, they just don’t taste quite so good to me anymore.  Also, since my children have food sensitivities, they would bounce off the walls if they drank something that was so obviously artificially colored.  So, a couple of years ago, I started looking for a recipe to make my own.

This is how we make ours:

  • 4 cups of all natural vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1½ cups whole milk (you could substitute any milk that you prefer)
  • Optional:
    • For green color, add 1 cup of spinach, kale, or peppermint leaves
    • For a sweeter shake, add 1 tablespoon of sugar

Blend well and top with whipped cream.  Serves: 3-4

The original recipe that I found calls for a tablespoon of sugar, but I didn’t add any sugar this time.  My family’s feedback was that it wasn’t necessary.  I also used some peppermint leaves that I had saved from my peppermint plant and frozen last summer, but I ended up adding spinach, too, in order to get the light, mint green color that I was looking for.  You honestly cannot taste the spinach and the benefit of using it is that it adds some nutrition.

This milkshake is dye free and Feingold friendly, although the use of peppermint and spinach make this a Stage 2 recipe.

I hope you enjoy making and drinking your own Shamrock Shake as much as we do.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our Experience with Pediatric Stroke

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Pediatric Stroke Warriors, a group that I follow on Facebook, shared this video recently to heighten awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke in a child:

 

Unfortunately, for our family, this is not new information.  My eight-year-old son, Jude*, was a full-term baby, delivered with the umbilical cord around his neck.  He was lethargic and his face was gray.  After a few deep breaths, he regained his color and appeared fine, but a few hours later, began experiencing focal seizures.  He was jerking his right arm, from the shoulder down, in a rhythmic manner which I recognized was not normal for a newborn.  I called the nurse, who rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they performed both a spinal tap and an MRI before he was twenty-four hours old.  The MRI found the cause of the seizures – he had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain.

At the time, we did not know what his prognosis would be.  The doctors told us that newborn stroke patients fare better than adults because their brain is still developing, and other areas of the brain might take over functions of the part that was damaged.  As it turns out, he has been very blessed.  Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, he has monoparesis (a type of Cerebral Palsy, muscle weakness caused by damage to the brain) in his right leg from the ankle down.  However, unlike many stroke survivors, he does not have speech difficulties or muscle weakness in his face, hand or arm.  He does not have any cognitive impairment, either.

He goes to physical therapy once a week, wears an AFO (ankle foot orthotic), and a device called a WalkAide.  He had a gait analysis done last year, and I had to answer a ton of questions about what he is able to do, whether he requires assistance to do it, how far he can walk, etc.  I was feeling a bit sorry for him, because we had come to the point where the brace was no longer enough, and his physiatrist felt that he needed more aggressive intervention.  Filling out that questionnaire was humbling, though.  I kept answering “yes” to almost every question, “no” to his needing assistance, and admitted that he can hike for a few miles.  The only thing I couldn’t say that he can do is play sports.  As my husband pointed out, it is unlikely that he would have been athletic, anyway, because neither of us are.

I will write a follow-up post about the more recent interventions that we have utilized, but I thought it was important to share this video and information about pediatric stroke for those who are not aware of it.  Until it happened to my son, I had no idea that a baby could have a stroke.  The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner the patient can receive the care that they need.

 

*I have decided to use pseudonyms for my children, to protect their privacy.

Don’t Marry Your Method!

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As I was preparing to embark on my homeschooling journey, I read books, consulted veteran homeschooling moms, and gathered materials.  One of those items was a set of vintage readers that was recommended for practicing oral reading.

I purchased another book to teach phonics, so we focused on that first.  My son hated it, though!  For a while, we tried practicing small passages in the reading primer instead, which he preferred.  Eventually, I resorted to splitting our time equally between the two books.  After all, the phonics curriculum had come highly recommended and I’d spent money on it.  I should use it; right?

This school year, we finally abandoned that phonics book in favor of the preferred vintage readers, and he is making significant progress.  I toyed with the idea of ditching his spelling curriculum, too, and just focusing on the new words introduced at the beginning of each lesson in his reader.  Again, though, I thought, “But I spent money on that spelling book,” and he didn’t dislike it.  As our year wore on, though, I didn’t think that he was making connections between the words in the spelling lessons when he would encounter them in other reading material, so I decided to revisit the idea of using the readers for that purpose.

As I searched for direction on how to do that, I discovered the original teacher’s manual online.  I discovered that the series was designed not only for teaching reading, but also spelling, grammar, vocabulary and composition and it seemed to me that the publisher’s intent in how they were to be utilized made perfect sense.  I believed it would be more helpful to him than what we’ve been doing so far, so I began the new year with this method.

I have asked myself why I fought these changes.  I know that I was afraid of steering away from curriculum with the teaching steps explicitly provided for me as well as overlooking the recommendations of other moms that I respect.  While reading the manual, this comment leapt out at me, “…we wish to warn the young teacher especially of the danger that the method will become a hobby unless he is careful, and that thus the end will be lost sight of in attention to the means.” 1  Consistency is important, but if what you are doing isn’t working, maybe you are putting too much faith in your curriculum, your teaching philosophy, someone’s advice, or valuing the money that you spent on that book a bit too much.   Depending on where your heart is, any of those excuses could actually be idolatry in disguise.  In the end, as I prayed for direction, God just steered me back to where I needed to be.

Maybe you have less of a tendency to get stuck in one way of thinking than I do.  If you’re like me, though, beware of marrying your method (or curriculum)!  In the end, consider what works for your individual child, pray on it and trust the leading that you receive.  Don’t be afraid to make changes.  It may be exactly what you and your child need.

 

1 The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers.  Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., 1885.

Trusting God’s Plans for My Children

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This is my daughter’s third year studying classical ballet, and she loves it.  After her first year, her teacher decided to keep her in level one.  I agreed that if she hadn’t mastered the basics, it made sense for her to remain there until she was ready to move on.  After all, as a homeschool parent, I understand how important mastery is in any subject.

At the end of her second year, her teacher decided to hold her back again.  Most of her friends had moved on without her after the first year, and now, this year’s classmates would do the same, including her best friend.  I was afraid that watching her peers move ahead without her would damage her self-esteem and wondered if she should try a different activity.  Maybe she would be more successful at something else.

My husband was the voice of reason.  He said, “She loves dance.  As long as she wants to do it, who cares what level she’s at?”

So, she began her third year in level one, while taking some private lessons in addition to help her catch up.  She also wanted to try scouting, like her brother, but I had a lot of trouble finding a local troop for her.  Her best friend’s mom told me about a group that her daughter was attending that was similar to scouts, but Bible-focused instead, so we decided to try that.  However, it turned out that the time of her friend’s level two dance class conflicted with the other activity, so she couldn’t participate this year.  I briefly wondered if we should forget about it, but decided to let my daughter try it out, anyway.

She absolutely loved the new club and was very motivated to bring her book home to read the lessons with me and practice memorizing Bible verses.  Before I knew it, she was earning rewards almost every week and feeling proud of her accomplishments.  She also enjoys the time each week with her new friends.

This past week, I overheard her dance teacher compliment her during class and the thought crossed my mind that maybe she was getting ready to move up, which could happen at any time during the year.  I was initially pleased, until it occurred to me that attending the level two classes would prevent her from going to her other club.  I know that would disappoint her.

This made me reflect on how God has assigned each of us individual gifts and has a plan for us to use them.  While I was concerned about her lack of success in one area, He knew that he had another place for her, one in which she not only would excel but would do so while being immersed in His Word and learning to write the words of it on her heart.

As we enter a new year, I want to learn to trust His plans for my children more and worry less.  I know that I am leaving them in the best possible hands.

 

Wineberries and Trust

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My little one, picking black raspberries in our yard.

A few years ago, I began picking berries to make jam.  My children have some food sensitivities, particularly to artificial ingredients.  We had some raspberries growing in our yard, and on a walk around the block, discovered an undeveloped property brimming with wineberries, a variety of wild raspberry.  My mission seemed clear – learn how to make homemade jam for my peanut butter and jelly-loving but ingredient-sensitive children.

The funny thing is, when we moved in to our home a decade ago, my husband discovered that one of our flower gardens was full of thorny red raspberry bushes.  He asked me whether I wanted to use the berries or whether he could tear them out and plant flowers instead.  I said that I wasn’t partial to raspberries, so do whatever you like.  I never dreamed that six years later, I would be braving thorns and poison ivy at the park and the property around the corner to collect as many raspberries as I could each summer.  I had a few stragglers left in my garden, but not enough to produce a jar of jam.

A couple of years into this, a friend pointed out that the berries in the park could have pesticides sprayed near them, which made them less appealing to me.  I still had some red raspberries in my garden, which were beginning to spread, and I discovered some black raspberries and blackberries in an overgrown area of my yard that my husband had partially cleared.  For wineberries, I still had my spot around the corner.  One day, though, as we took a walk, we discovered that the lot had been sold and was being cleared, so a house could be built there.  Our berry bushes were being dug up!  I suggested to my husband that we transplant one to our yard, which we did – a small one.  Eventually, that bush finally produced fruit and this year it has grown quite a bit, although it would never provide as much as we had been collecting from its original home.

Two summers ago, however, as I was collecting black raspberries on the outskirts of my property, I noticed a distinctive, fuzzy fruit developing nearby.  It was a wineberry bush!  It was not the one planted by me, nor close to it.  It was a new plant that had never been there before.  We speculated that a bird had spread the seeds there after eating some berries from our bush.  This particular bush now dwarfs the one that we planted, by far.  It is well on its way to replacing the place around the corner.  It produced so much fruit this past summer that I could barely keep up with picking it.

It amuses me to think about the time that I wasted worrying about my supply being cut off and tried to rectify it in my own way with my transplant, when God knew all along that He was going to bless me with this plant one day.  In my experience, that’s how it usually is when we rely on our own strength, instead of depending on God.  Our efforts will always be imperfect and pale in comparison to His perfect will and timing.

More importantly, that time spent waiting on Him to provide is usually the most productive in our own spiritual growth.  Learning to trust Him in a way that we never could with an earthly father (or any other human being, for that matter) stretches us in unimaginable ways.  When we stop striving to be our own God, making an idol of our own self-sufficiency, we can finally experience the peace that passes understanding.  We can focus on hearing His voice and being open to direction, which was once crowded out by our worries. .

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose hope is in the LORD.  For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

Maintaining a School Routine before Christmas

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The homeschool community is a diverse group.  With all of the possible approaches, from classical education to unschooling, and the freedom to make your own schedule, school often looks very different for one family than it does for another.  The beauty of that is the ability to find what works for you, and that flexibility can come in handy at times.  For instance, when my husband was too busy to take time off from work this summer, we simply postponed our family vacation until October.  Homeschool families can do that!

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I have found that what works best for us is having a set routine.  What that routine is can change from year to year and be adjusted as needed, but it is much less stressful for me and my children if we have a plan for each day.   Usually, this means getting up at pretty much the same time, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and beginning our school day at a set time.  The main reasons this works for us are:

  1. My children tend to cooperate more and offer less resistance to transitions when they can anticipate the next step. Knowing that there is an order to their day gives them a sense of security.  Leaving things too flexible makes them behave in an aimless manner – wanting to do one thing one moment and something completely different the next, while leaving a trail of toys behind them!  They’ll also fight requests to sit down and do seatwork, because they think that they can talk me into something else.
  2. Unexpected obstacles WILL happen sometimes. When we returned from our vacation on a Sunday evening, I tried to start school up again on Monday morning.  However, because we’d been away for a week, there was hardly any food in the house, so a supermarket trip interrupted our school day.  The next day was a holiday.  We still did school, but there were some preparations that needed to be done for that.  Next, my little one tripped and smashed her face into the kitchen floor.  A visit to the pediatrician and the ear, nose and throat doctor rounded out my week.  Then, both of my children caught a cold.  Some weeks are just like that, and if we hadn’t been productive in the weeks leading up to that crisis week, I would have been even more stressed.  Knowing that we are sticking to a schedule the rest of the time helps me ride out the crazy weeks a little better.

With the holiday season approaching, I know that there will be days that sticking to the regular schedule will be difficult.  Generally, the week before Christmas, we follow an adjusted schedule that looks something like this:

  • We continue to get up, get dressed and start school at the same time, although we usually make this week “half days.”
  • We have a lovely K – 3 Christmas learning packet that incorporates language arts, math, copywork, art and the Christmas story. I place whatever pages are grade-appropriate for the child in a binder and they take out their binders in the morning and we do a little from each subject area.  They enjoy the change from their regular curriculum, but they are still learning.
  • We spend time reading about the birth of Jesus and discussing it.

The goal is to keep things as normal as possible, so the transition after the holidays is smoother.

How do you handle the busy week before Christmas?  Do you stick to your regular schedule or do something completely different?