3 Steps to Transitioning Back to School

We had a wonderful holiday. We didn’t travel, we played, rested and watched many movies. It was a great break but alas, it’s time to step back into the real world. Coming back to school or going back to work is never easy, but here are some things I have found that ease the transition.

Three steps in going back to school that might help you not lose your mind –

1. Start Slow! We are only doing two subjects this week for three days. Just a gentle, rolling start. Next week we will add a couple more subjects and by January 15th we will be fully back. Seriously, do everyone a favor, and start back slowly.

2. Get Back Into Your Routine! The first thing I do to get back into our routine, before attempting a full school week, is to get our sleeping schedule back into some kind of semblance of order. My teens like to go to bed late and sleep in even later, but as of today, bedtime and wake up time will be enforced. Getting bedtime routines in place also help us to get eating habits back in place. I started tossing all the extra pies and cookies in the trash this morning to help get off the sugar for the start of school. Once bedtime routines are back, the kids slip back into eating at regular times. I find having scheduled meal and snack times to be really helpful. Our cleaning routine will also go back into place as of tomorrow. Getting sleeping, eating, exercise, and screen times back into place will also help with the next item – attitudes.

3. Doing Attitude Checks! Seriously, nothing will torpedo a positive start back into school like bad attitudes, both mine and theirs. I remind myself that homeschooling is a privilege and getting my attitude in place is always the first step. I usually call a, “Come to Jesus Meeting”, with my kids at the beginning of the transition time to go over rules, expectations, discipline and rewards that are standard at our house. Somehow during the holidays, these seem to disappear and be forgotten by them and by me. Having an official meeting to set these back into place helps me to outline my expectations and give them a place to start. I am not a fan of just expecting the kids to know what I want without me clearly explaining and teaching the behaviors and attitudes I expect. This needs to be deliberate.

Remember to plan something fun, too! It’s hard to have all the fun in the holidays and then the pretty lights are taken down, treats are thrown away and we have to start school. It makes me sad (good thing my birthday is two weeks after Christmas) and I know it makes my kids sad. Planning a fun craft, watching a fun movie, or even a drive to a special park will help.

Prepping to Step Into the World

This week we had a lot firsts. First time the twins had a real, actual job, first time they drove to their job, first time Caileigh volunteered at a secular conference ( it was a super cool Space Symposium) by herself. All of these firsts make me a little nervous and I find myself praying over them a lot. Especially for Caileigh. She’s the only female at the Robotics company (her brothers both work there so it’s fine) and she was walking in to Volunteer in a place where I don’t know anyone. As a Mom of a beautiful 16 year old, this gives me a pause. Letting them go into the world means some anxious moments, but there are some things I felt really good about.

1. Talking honestly about the world. We have tried to be honest about the world in age appropriate conversations. It is a scary place and our kids need to know that and be prepared.

2. Teach them respect for themselves. We have had conversations from when they were young about appropriate behavior of others and how they were “the bosses” of their body and their hearts. No one should be allowed to infringe upon that. No one. And if anyone tried, they should speak up and tell.

3. Pay attention to their surroundings. As a daughter of a law officer, I was always told to pay attention to my surroundings. Know where the exits are, keep an eye on anyone acting oddly, and know where the authorities in the room were. I still sit where I can see the doors and scope out all the exits in every movie theatre and mall.

4. Be with them. I never left my kids with anyone, including church, sports, clubs or camps unless I either sat with them or I knew the people in charge until they were old enough to handle themselves. Don’t be cowed by the fact that none of the other parents do that, it’s your responsibility to know that your kids are in good hands. There were times that my kids were not, and I bustled them out of there and then got supervisors involved.

5. Teach them self-defense. I was never so glad of the 6 years Caileigh had in karate until this week when I watched her walk into a conference by herself in her professional clothes and high heels. I took great peace knowing that if anyone tried anything, she has the skills to flip them over her head or take them to the ground. I know that sounds violent and a little unloving towards others, but I want her to be able to defend herself. I had to when I was young, and it gave me great confidence. Our boys also know how to defend themselves and others. You would never know to look at my computer loving, engineer geeks but a bully once tried to push Connor and found himself on the ground with Connor over him telling him, “I warned you not to try it.” We had a great sensei who always instructed them to try words first and taught them to be fierce with their words and tone long before they resorted to force, which we appreciated. He once said that Caileigh was the scariest little thing he had ever encountered, she could go from adorable little blonde to frightening little monster in 2 seconds flat. I have to say that I found that reassuring as I watched her walk into a conference room with all adults by herself.

Just as I prep them for college and career academically so that they can step in confidently, I think we need to prepare them for the reality of the world. We will not be able to walk beside our kids forever and we need to be wise enough to teach them the skills they need.

12 Days of Christmas Study

This is an older blog on a Christmas Unit Study that we did in 2012.  We decorated our tree last night and pulled these decorations out and even 5 years later, the kids laughed and reminisced at how much fun we had during this study.  Our ornaments are hysterical and very rarely exactly match the song, but man are they funny!

Here is a very quick overview of our study this season.

Main Book – The 12 Days of Christmas by Haidle

Coloring Book – 12 Days of Christmas Coloring Book

Activity Book – Christmas Activity Book

I loved the main book as it explained that the original song was used to explain Biblcal concepts to children and how Jesus was our greatest gift.  Every day it explained a new concept and tied it to the classic song.  The coloring and activity books were great to give my girl something to color and my boys something to figure out and do.

We started our countdown on the 13th, but traditionally it starts on the 25th and goes through Jan. 6th which is Epiphany. It was a great study to do before Christmas as well, and as an added bonus, I didn’t have to get my act together until the 13th of December instead of the traditional advent.

We went on a 12 Days of Christmas Ornament Hunt on the 12th of December which was amazingly fun. We went to at least 7 or 8 different stores to find an ornament that represents each day.  Some are traditional, and some are hysterical.  Some of my favorites are the Dancing Hippo Lady that represents 9 Dancing Ladies or the western dressed cow that represents Maids a Milking.  We giggled and laughed and joked through the evening and made some wonderful memories.  When we got home we took gold and silver pens and labelled each ornament and then each day as we read the day, we colored the sheet (mostly) and put the ornament up.  We also did a small St. Nicholas celebration and a fun St. Lucia Day celebration.

These are a few of my favorite things – Christmas Edition

My poor kids.  I like to give presents that are fun but that have some educational quality to them. When Connor was 12 or 13 he started asking before opening his presents was whether they were fun or were they School? I usually answered with a, “yes”. I still like giving presents that are both.

I thought I would share some of our greatest hits for fun, educational presents.

For Toddlers –

Lauri Travel Tote
We actually had two of these, one for the car and one for the classroom which only came out for blanket time for the twins. My twins loved this toy and we used it for years.

Rainbow Blocks
These blocks weren’t around for my kids but I bought them for my niece and nephew and they loved them.  I always think blocks are a good idea.
Pre-School and Early Elementary

Play Grocery Store
For K and 1st, the twins only played math games and didn’t do any formal math until they tested into 2a in Singapore (although I had them start in 1b).  They thought math was fantastic and the best thing ever.  We used a grocery store similar to this.  I put “prices” on all the food, gave them real coins and fake dollars, and printed out simple forms for them to write the prices of the food out to add and let them play.  The twins and I would play together for about 20 minutes and then they would spend 30-40 minutes playing with it on their own. They learned money, adding and subtracting and how to give change all through play.  It was great.

Coloring Playhouse
There are several versions of this.  We have had the Playhouse and the Castle.  This is the toy I would buy when I needed for the kids to be occupied for long periods of time.  Last year, I bought this for my niece and nephew for Advent and then had new markers, stickers, gingerbread men crafts every other day for all of December.  My sister told me it was a complete hit and kept her kids busy during a sick spell at their house.
Upper Elementary

Snap Circuits
If you don’t have Snap Circuits, don’t wait any longer.  We still pull these out for Elementary kids who are visiting.  We have had several different kits throughout the years.  There’s even an Arcade Game kit.

Keva Planks Contraptions
Connor rolled his eyes as he opened this toy one Christmas but within an hour the entire house, including grandparents, were playing with them.  Then I was asked why I only bought one set.  We used this to build Roman buildings, Jamestown, The Taj Mahal, the Egyptian Pyramids and a marble run that started on the kitchen counter to the kitchen table, chair and then floor. This became the toy they played with while I read Story of the World and they would build something from our reading.

Art Paper Dispenser
For my little artist, Caileigh, this art dispenser was pure gold.  Along with art supplies all in a basket, she was thrilled.  It saved some of the muss and fuss and we actually used it to make some history timelines as well.
Middle School
Little Bits
For those techie kids, Little Bits is a wonderful thing.  Connor loves these.

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction
I took the supply list in the beginning of this book and made an “Awesome Box”, as the kids call it.  We have several of these books and all the kids, their friends, their Dad, his friends and all of the men in the family love them.  They are addictive and fun.  Be warned that building can get messy and normal looking pens may explode ( just enough to startle you).
**** check out my blog on Making Christmas Memorable!

Becoming a Student of Your Child

When I was young and before I got married, I worked at Focus in the Family.  I worked there for five years and one of my responsibilities was to listen to the broadcast and write a summary for our phone staff.  I also read all of Dr. Dobson’s books and articles to make sure our phone staff had all the info they needed to be able to answer the phones. That’s a lot of Dr. Dobson.  Sometimes, I tease that I don’t know if I have an original thought regarding parenting or marriage or it’s just that Dr. Dobson is fully programmed in my head.  One of the things Dr. Dobson always said was, “Be a student of your spouse and your children.”. What he meant was that we are to study and know those loved ones.  Not just spend time with them or even spend time teaching them, but to spend time watching them, learning their nuances, their love languages, their personalities, their likes and dislikes.  In studying them we begin to know them at a deeper level, we are able to help them, support them and even do a better job teaching them.  

We have had a fall break and drove to Seattle, WA for a family wedding.  I personally think a road trip is one of the better times for this type of study. Musical tastes, topics of conversation, how they handle stress or exhaustion are all telling.  Even a morning at a beach reveals traits. Collin looks for the perfect skipping rock and analyzes and rejects stones until he finds one that is suitable.  After he throws the rock, he analyzes his throw, the trajectory and determines how to make the next throw better.  He is continually thinking strategically and is planning on how to makes things, schedules and situations better. Caileigh is infinitely curious. She looks for new and interesting things and then wants to show someone her findings.  She and her Dad zigzag slowly across the beach stopping frequently for something noteworthy or beautiful. She searches continually and then wants to know why or how it works.  She is the one who also has facts about almost anything biological at her fingertips.  

I usually fall back and watch my kids.  I note their interests, what grabs their attention, and I file the info to think about later.  I use this information to help tailor curriculum, to help direct them into activities and ultimately to help my kids as they chose colleges, majors and careers.  It’s funny how often I still help Connor in some of these.  He wants me to talk through some of the tracks and internship opportunities he has. Generally, I just repeat the things he has told me about his classes or how certain things he enjoyed and others he hasn’t.  We talk through his God given personality traits and where he needs to stretch a bit. None of what I say is earth shattering, it’s just that I have studied, noted and spent time analyzing my kids and then I can use that to help better support them.

Even with little ones this is effective.  It’s how we decided what to buy for Christmas.  Scott and I would take them to a toy store and let them play and watch what they gravitated to. We didn’t necessarily buy anything but we spent time watching. They may say they want that ‘cool’ new toy but if they spend only a minute or two looking at it and then they spent 20 minutes rebuilding the wooden train set, there was no way I was going to buy the ‘cool’ toy.  

This type of study is also useful is discipline and correction.  Personally, I think a negative consequence is far more useful if it’s meaningful to the child.  Losing technology was brutal for Connor, Caileigh hated isolation and Collin dislike losing the freedom to do what he wanted. I also used this strategy in developing positive consequences for each child.  If Caileigh stayed focused during school and worked hard, we would do an art project. Connor could have an equal amount of computer time each day as the amount of time he spent in piano practice and foreign language. Collin could watch Stars Wars or play video games with Daddy on Friday if he did all of his chores. One size does not fit all. Our expectations and rules were all the same but how we achieved them were not, they were tailored to meet each child’s needs. 

Dr. Dobson is completely right.  To be the parents ( and spouses) that God wants us to be we must be students of our loved ones. 

Keeping Connection in High School -Morning Meeting

When my kids were in Elementary and Middle School we always started the day together.  We talked through prayer requests, prayed together, did Bible together, and started our day together.  When Connor hit high school, his curriculum was designed to be independent and I had only planned to meet with him once a week.  It took me three days into the new school year to decide that I really dissliked that and we changed the structure before the next week started.

Since that time, we have a corporate Morning meeting and then I touch base with each of my kids through out the morning.  Obviously, that was more difficult when Connor was in high school and the twins were not, but it was so much better. 

During the corporate Morning meeting we –

  • Talk through prayer requests
  • Pray together
  • Read poetry – we read the Children’s Book of Poetry and/or the poetry books included in high school
  • Talk about current events- my kids are supposed to read at least 3 news article a week and be able to summarize them. We then discuss. 
  • Go through our daily schedule and events
  • Read aloud. We have read everything from Lord of the Rings, Susan Wise Bauer’s, ” The Story of Western Science” to “A Christmas Carol”. 

Daily Individual Meetings-

I have tried to read at least one to two books in my high schoolers curriculum so that I can have a thorough discussion with them and maintain a connection with their learning.  I also do all the Bible questions out loud instead of  having them write them so that I can make sure they are thinking through the Bible and keeping the Bible verses in context. We go over all their daily lessons and look ahead in their week so that I can help them begin to help them to prioritize their time.  I ask my kids to take thorough notes in math and science and at least once a week  I ask to see these notes to make sure they are thorough.

Does this take more time? Absolutely.  Was it difficult when I had a kid in high school, two in middle school and a pre-school niece at my house? Yes, yes and yes. 

To be able to do all of this and still be able to work with the pre-schooler and then do the twins history and science together, I had to have daily independent lesson plans made for each child.  Each child also had to be trained to keep going on the next task, even when they got stuck, to stay on task and had to learn not to interrupt Mom while she was with someone else.  Generally, individual meetings took less than 20 minutes and I would take questions between meetings. This also meant I needed to train my niece in blanket time.  If my kids were in Elementary, each child had a folder with their daily independent work in it.  Similar to workboxes, but took way less room. Folders had copywork, handwriting, spelling, daily math facts, and math ( if I didn’t need to teach anything).  If my kids finished with their folder, they were directed to read out of the book basket, practice the piano, or read their literature book from the General Reading List which they picked weekly or bi-weekly. 

I found that High Schoolers need more connection and help than the weekly meeting.  They also miss the being together (even if they refuse to admit it), and I find a lot of value in praying together.  I found that the daily accountability was really useful to my freshmen as they couldn’t quite handle that level freedom and needed my help in priotizing and keeping a schedule which included all their extra curricular activities. Training in keeping and following a schedule, making to do lists and looking over an entire weeks schedule has been really vital for my busy college student and my twins who are crazy busy all the time.  They get all their school work done, do their chores, study for Bible Bowl, maintain their social lives, and spend massive amounts of time in leadership at Robotics and have time to sleep because spent time in those early high school years teaching them how-to manage and maintain a schedule and much of that training happened in morning meetings. 

If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Right!

Homeschooling is difficult.  It is a constant balance of doing the have to and the want to, it is balancing being the Mom and the teacher.  It means we balance several full-time jobs that all require our constant attention and still strive to have a well-ordered, happy home that our hard-working husbands can come home to each night.  It is a constant balancing act of plates that could all drop on our heads at any moment.  I live this constant high wire act every day and I understand the strain but I want to add two more plates to the act.  The balance of character training and that of academic excellence.

Often we hear that we must choose our priority in homeschooling, whether we are going to strive for character development in our children or that of academic excellence.  I think this is a faulty premise.  Character training and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive.  They are not an either/or proposition, they can be different sides of the same coin – a great homeschool environment.

One of the goals in our homeschool has been to train and prepare our children for whatever God has for them.  In Jeremiah 29:11 it says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  He has plans for our children and whether they are to be a wife and a mom or a Pastor or a Professor of Mathematics, I want them as prepared as possible to walk the path that God has set them on.  To do that, I believe that we need to focus on character development, spiritual disciplines and academic excellence.

Perhaps we are simply not asking the right question.  Perhaps the question isn’t whether we should focus on character or academics.  Perhaps we need to simplify the choice by focusing on excellence.  The philosopher Aristotle said this, ” We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.”  Perhaps this is what we need to focus on, striving for  excellence in whatever we do and making it a habit. If we are training our children in character, with patience and diligence, we refuse to accept unkindness or dishonesty.  If we are teaching our children, we refuse to accept a paper that is less than their best.  We need to calmly, lovingly and consistently ask for our child’s best whether we are dealing with sibling rivalry, their bed not made or a math paper that is not done correctly.

Excellence should not be confused perfection.  I love what the actor Micheal J Fox says, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”  We are not asking our children or indeed ourselves to be perfect, we are asking for diligence and the perseverance to strive to do better.  We are not asking a child to get the answer the right the very first time but to promise them that we will keep going until they have it mastered.  We need to promise our children that they are not alone in this process but that we will be there to stand beside them encouraging and mentoring them.

At the beginning of each year, my husband and I set goals for our children in three areas, spiritual, personal and academic.  We recognize that our children need all three areas to be properly prepared to do what God has for them.  They need to know and love God, they need to be able to get to a class on time with all of their books and be able to to have the education they need to succeed.  We want to stand beside them and say, “You have some wonderful gifts that God has given you.  Let’s work on your strengths to make them stronger and strengthen these areas of weakness”.  Let us not limit our children by failing to recognize that we need to ask for excellence in whatever they do, whatever they say and how they act.


Free Spanish E-Books

**this page contains affiliate links**

As most of you know, we love Homeschool Spanish Academy.  Connor used them for all 4 years of high school and it gave him the foreign language he needed for credits in college.  It also gave him the confidence to go to several foreign countries knowing that if they didn’t speak English, he could at least try another language.  This actually works pretty well in Europe.  Generally, if someone doesn’t speak English in Europe they will at least speak French or Spanish.  Knowing 2 out of the 3 helped give him the confidence to step out of his comfort zone and do some traveling to Barcelona and to Amsterdam. 

The twins are in their third year with HSA.  One of the things I appreciate about HSA is that the twins are speaking and conversing in Spanish with a native Spanish speaker twice a week.  By lesson 3 or 4, the majority of the conversations were in Spanish with very little English.  This gives me the faith that not only can they read and understand Spanish, but they can converse in the real world.  As a matter of fact, they might be mentoring kids in Peru in Engineering and Robotics over Skype who speak no English. They can reach outside their comfort zone and really bless some kids lives because they can converse in Spanish.  

HSA is offering free Spanish e-books of their curriculum for elementary, middle and high school. Even if you don’t use HSA, you can download the free e-books to use with your Spanish curriculum or even just begin to teach your kids a second language.  To download, click on the links below. 

Free High School E-Book
Free Middle School E-Book
Free Elementary E-Book

Happy Birthday, Love!

Today is my wonderful husband’s Birthday. One of the things I most love about Scott is how he is our kid’s biggest fan. No matter what they are doing, he is interested. I so admire that in him. I am not naturally that way so have had to learn to be interested in what other’s are interested in. He is the first to help them pursue their interests and passions. 

I also love how he loves to share his passions with our kids. They love Astronomy, NASA, Star Trek, Star Wars, basically all things geek and space ? related because he took the time to share them. My kids love Disney, not only because I love Disney, but because he loves me and has made my interests a priority. He inspires me to do the same but I am not nearly as good at it. 

I am so thankful for his joy and delight in sharing not only what he loves but in sharing what each of his loves. I think it’s this in him that has caused our dinner table talk to be more about Space than philosophy, more about Star Wars than Jane Austen, more about the latest Doctor Who actor – wait, no, that is about me. He also encourages all of us to not just talk about our passions and interests but to step in and do something about it. He’s the one to take Connor to Barcelona and Boston to talk about Scratch, he’s the one who’s taken the kids to Space Camp, he’s the one who works extra so that the twins can do all the Robotics trips. He makes me want to be more interested and more engaged. I am so blessed to be his wife.

Teaching that ideas have consequences.

While the twins were at Space Camp, Scott, Connor and I had a mini vacation.  Apparently, being a homeschooled student never ends,  so we drug our poor college student to historical sites in the south.  

One of the things that I say a lot while teaching is that ideas have consequences.  Consequence is defined as, “a result or effect of an action”. Consequences can be either good or bad, they are the result of an action.  We can see in history that an idea, even a little, seemingly innocent idea when brought to its fullness can have dire consequences or can make the world a better place. 

As we have been touring battlefields in the Civil War, we have noticed that there were several ideas that were in conflict.  The idea of a state’s right to dictate their future versus the idea that a strong, united union was a better path for the future.  The idea that all men are created equal versus that only some men are equal.  The idea that home should be sacred and regardless of other ideas, an army marching on my home  should be protected against. Ideas that come to fruition have consequences. 

I use this in two ways in our homeschool. 

1.  When we study history, science or even the Bible, I have my kids try to pinpoint the idea that caused the conflict or that propelled a major breakthrough.  Why did the Romans decide to conquer the known world?  What was the idea that spurred that on? What were the consequences?  One of the positive consequences was that the gospel spread much faster because there were safe travel ways. The little idea that perhaps animals evolved and changed over long periods of time had giant, world shaking consequences. These are questions I asked even when mine were little and doing history narrations. “Why did Columbus want to explore?  What was the idea that made him so insistent?  What happened (consequences) because of his idea?  Okay, now write that down.” 
2. As my kids got older, I started challenging them to not only notice the ideas and consequences of others but to start taking stock of their ideas and start thinking through those consequences, for good or evil.  

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬ says,

5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I memorized this verse as a teenager and it has been one of my life verses.  I say it so often that not only do my kids know it, but their friends do too.  We need to take our thoughts and ideas and think through the consequences and determine whether those ideas and consequences are God honoring.  This is how we take our thoughts and ideas and make them obedient to Christ. Teaching Logic as a subject has really helped with this level of critical thinking. I start teaching Logic and Philosophy in 6th grade and teach several levels through early high school.  They help to continue this thought process.  We also read, “How Then Should We Live” by Francis Schaffer to further illustrate that ideas have consequences. 

Resources I recommend- 

Thinking Toolbox
Fallacy Detective
Art of Argument

Philosophy for Kids
The Examined Life
How Then Should We Live
The Story of Western Science
I need to note that I never just handed these to my kids.  We either did them in a co-op or I used them in our morning meeting and discussion time.  We have a morning meeting and prayer time each day and I usually have a book or two we are going through for discussion and critical thinking.  I think this is a vital part of the homeschooling day in middle and high school, training our kids to think.