Category: Elementary

The Value of the Egg Timer in Parenting and Homeschooling

One of the most simplistic, most used and easiest training tools I used with my kids was the simple egg timer. I bought each of my kids an egg timer and let them color it and decorate it to their hearts content.  To get kids to buy in, a little personalization works beautifully.  My kids each had an egg timer by the time they were two or three.  Egg timers were used in several ways in our home.

Blanket Time, Rest Time and Reading Time

When I wanted my littles to stay put on a blanket, I would put toys, activities and books on the blanket and set their timer.  To start this training, I started with 3 min for a toddler. “Stay on this blanket and play until the timer goes off and you will get a treat.” If they stayed on, they got to pick something from a treasure box. If they didn’t, I put them back on and started the time again.  My boys learned this in one try, my darling little girl learned this in about 30 tries, but eventually the fact that her brothers got a treat irritated her enough to stay.  We gradually increased this time to about 15 min.  You can take a shower, drink some tea or teach a math lesson in 15 minutes.  I know this from experience.

Okay, not the blanket time picture I was looking for, but they were so little and adorable.

My kids had rest time each and every day until they were teenagers.  As a matter of fact, my teenagers still have a tendency to go to their rooms and make themselves scarce during the mid afternoon.  It helps us all.  Again, my introverted boys were more than happy to go to their rooms and play by themselves but my daughter needed extra encouragement. She also needed less sleep so she gave up naps by about 2.5.  I would place the egg timer in her room and she was allowed out after an hour.  Sometimes, she stayed in because she was engrossed in her play and once she learned how to read, she loved to sit and read “her books”, meaning books not mandated and chose specifically by Mom.

We had mandated reading of Classics each day, particularly in the summer, and the egg timer allowed them to set their 30 min and read without any help from me.

15 Minute CleanUp

My kids have cleaned with me since they were little.  Before they were allowed to have screen time (after school, chores, piano, outside time and quiet time), we did a 15 minute cleanup.  Generally, this was right before I had to make dinner and prepare for my husband to come home.  As anyone who has spent more than 10 min with a small child knows, children are messy.  Learning and playing are serious business which apparently requires every toy, book, Lego, doll, tupperware etc to be pulled out and strewn across the house.  I never worried about this too much during the day until 15 min cleanup.  I would set the timer and everyone would quickly put everything away.  I gave each child a zone, Connor pick up all the books, Collin pick up the Legos, Caileigh put the shoes and tupperware away and we would move as quickly as possible to cleanup.  When the timer was up, and if we had finished, the kids got a fun snack and watched something while I made dinner.  Daddy came home to a mostly straightened up house, dinner was on it way, and kids were happy.  It was a win, win, win.  This worked a good 75% of the time.  The other 25%, I met Scott at the door where I took the car keys, left him the kids and told him to text me when they were fed and in bed.


The egg timer was a life saver during school.  We did most of our subjects together but math and LA were done independently.  Each child had an independent folder each day filled with math facts, copywork, handwriting and Bible and poetry memorization. While I worked with one of the kids teaching math and grammar, the other two were to work on their notebooks.  I set a timer for 15 min in which they were to work independently without distracting me while I taught their sibling.  If they worked diligently and well, they received a marble for their jar, at a certain marble number, they received a prize or a date. If they did not, I gave them double the work.  This allowed me to have one on one time with each child.  I always started with the younger children first.  Since I had twins, I traded off who went with Mom first.  Caileigh found the timer harder at first but she quickly got used to it.

Once I had taught them their math or grammar for the day, I would write how much time I thought a certain assignment should take them (I always added a 5 minute bumper), and they would get to work.  Some kids find the timer hard to work with, but as many tests are timed, I felt like this was a good time to train this skill.  Obviously, certain learning challenges might find this impossible, but I think its worth a try.  I think it’s better to train this with younger kids than try to wait until high school tests that really matter.

Here’s the type of Egg Timer I used.  However, look at all the amazing ones they have now! My daughter would have loved this Kitty Timer.  This Star Wars one would have thrilled Collin, and Connor liked anything Streamlined.

Curriculum I recommend – Elementary Math


**this page contains affiliate links – I am trying to get the page to pay for itself.**

We have used several great math programs. I have two main math curriculums going at one time per child which means we have gone through a lot of math.  Each child has a main or spine curriculum and then either a “Fun” math or a review math curriculum going on the side. In elementary, I never scheduled for math with both curriculum to be over 45-60 minutes. We also do math all year long with very little break so we do might do a different math for the summer. As I have twins who had a tendency to compare each other, there were also years that they did different math just to stop the comparisons. In other words, we have done a myriad of different maths but here are my favorites.

K and 1st – I actually loved the math in My Father’s World K and 1st as it is practical and hands on.  With Connor, I did traditional math far too early.  The twins ended up in the same place as Connor with a much better attitude and view of math than Connor did.  With the twins, we did MFW k and 1st math which is designed to go directly into Singapore 2a, and they memorized skip counting facts through 18, conquered basic addition and subtraction and learned basic time telling, patterns, calendar’s and had a wonderful time doing it.  The games and playing both grocery store and the “Sunshine Cafe” were great practice and great fun.  All three of mine would play these for hours using the directions in the TM and made wonderful progress in math.  I did put numbers amounts on all of Caileigh’s food in both her play grocery store and play kitchen and got them play money to pay.  I would advise everyone to skip formal curriculum and just play games and make math practical in those younger years.  I have done it both ways, and informal worked so much better.

Singapore Math US Edition – I absolutely love Singapore Math and have had success with all three of mine who were very different learners. For elementary, this was our spine, our main math.  Singapore really teaches kids to think mathematically and teaches several different ways to accomplish a problem.  It was really funny how the twins always chose a different way to do the same math problem. Connor really loved how it gave him the freedom to think of why the math worked the way it did verses just telling him the step by step how to.  I recommend starting with 1b in 2nd grade even if they test in higher as it gives them confidence and 1b introduces multiplication. Connor tested into Singapore later in Elementary and I started him half a book earlier than he tested into which worked well. Connor went up by 10 point in critical thinking the year we changed to Singapore.

A couple things about Singapore-

1. Get the US Edition –  it is NOT common core, it is the version Singapore itself uses with only the money changed. ( Seriously, Common Core wishes it were Singapore. Singapore Math has been around far longer than Common Core, so unless you specifically buy the CC version, and why would you, let’s strop this confusion here. )

2. You might need the Home Instructor’s Guide just to help you teach it.  I found the HIG necessary for 4a and above.

3. Remember the numbers are levels, not grades.  You do at least two levels a year but it maybe 1b/2a in a year or 2a/2b in a year depending on where the child is at.  This allows you to further fit the curriculum to your child’s needs.

Life of Fred – My kids love LOF math.  I used it as our “fun” math until middle school where it became a main math for the boys. I personally don’t find that the elementary curriculum has enough review and practice for elementary but for extra math, it was perfect.  It engaged all three of mine. Connor for the way it presented math, Caileigh for the story and Collin for the silliness.

Beast Academy– I think this could be either a main spine or fun math.  This is a rigorous curriculum designed for high level math thinkers but the fact that all the characters are monsters and the books are really colorful made it fun.  Caileigh did some as review as loved it.  My kids were older before they finished the series but it would have been something I used on a regular basis.

Abeka Speed Drills – Surprised to see this here, aren’t you? Sometimes, you just need your kids to drill in math.  For some kids, you also need a lot of review.  We used these throughout Elementary as a a daily speed drill and review.  Each day, they put on a timer and did the 6 or so problems of approximately whatever math grade year they were in.  It was easy for me to just give them and it was something they could do independently.  There were a few times that I got an Abeka math workbook to help cement some topics.  Caileigh needed this around 5th grade.  Abeka was colorful enough for her and very straightforward and had review.  It wasn’t her spine but it did help cement some of the ideas in Singapore for her during the summer.

Mathtacular by Sonlight – My kids loved these somewhat silly math videos/curriculum.  These were a life saver when I was sick or when they were sick and we couldn’t get to math.  My kids were entertained and learned or reviewed math.  They were also great for when the Grandparents were watching them during the school year.  These would also be a fun summer math to keep the kids learning and moving forward without a lot of hands on by Mom.  I do not think they are enough for a full curriculum but they are a great stand in.  They do have workbooks and the kids work through the math with the video.

More Curriculum Reviews Here –

Curriculum I Recommend – All in One Packages Elementary

Curriculum I Recommend – Foreign Language

Curriculum I Recommend – All in One Packages Elementary

It’s no secret that I have used an all in one curriculum for the majority of my homeschool years.  I have been often asked why I have as I am a curriculum junkie and love planning.  I was once asked by the author and designer of a curriculum why I would ever use one as I could just as easily put one together myself.  The answer is pretty simple, time and priorities.  I did write and put together a year of elementary for Connor and it took me 10-15 hours a week of curriculum design.  Chores didn’t get done, dinner was often cereal or pb&j’s and I didn’t get to do what I actually loved, teaching.  My priority was to teach my three kids and if I found a curriculum that matched about 80% of my goals, then I was happy.  Once I had a base, I could tweak it but it didn’t take me near the amount of time that writing from scratch would have.

My husband and I had three main goals in the education of our kids.

1. It had to have the Bible integrated.

2. It had to be engaging and needed to help our kids to love to learn.

3.  It needed to be academically rigorous.

After that, I wanted it to follow a Classical philosophy of education.  I wasn’t a strict Classical Educator, nor am I now, but I most closely identify with that philosophy of education.

At the time, there weren’t as many options that fit these goals as there are now, but I think I probably would choose the same now as I did then.

My Father’s World – We have loved My Father’s World and it has more than met all of our goals for our kid’s education, particularly in Elementary and Middle School.  I still think the Biblical foundation and the missions outreach focus is second to none.  It helped my kids to love God and to not merely be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word.  We also loved all the hands on projects, family meals and games that it brought into our lives.  It was thorough without being over kill and had a short enough day that I could add other things in if I wanted to, while still allowing my kids to explore, play and have a fun childhood.  My kids were reading by the time we hit MFW K and 1st but we did them all the same while adding in other reading because of the amazing Biblical foundation that they provided.  They were also a gentle, fun and engaging way to step into education.  We often ( me included) try to push our oldest kids too far, too fast and this ends in burned out 2nd and 3rd graders who hate school.  MFW taught me how to allow my kids to enjoy school and not to push them beyond what they can emotionally handle even if they can academically.  We loved the family learning cycle, and all the hands on projects/meals/festivals allowed us to learn as a family and made connections for my kids that just academics wouldn’t have. They remember Roman culture because we made the togas, ate the food and learned about the weapons. It is still my number one recommendation for Elementary.

However, there are others that have come out or been revamped since my kids were in Elementary that I would be remiss in not mentioning.

Sonlight – Had I just been educating Connor and not the twins, who were movers and shakers, I think we might have ended up with Sonlight.  Both Connor and I love to read and loved nothing better than a pile of books to read together.  Sonlight is a solid choice but it is not for kids who need to move, do a project or can’t sit still.  I do and have used Sonlight readers and Sonlight’s Summer Reading Packages through out the years.  They have also revamped some of their Cores to better combine kids and would be on my top list if I was choosing Elementary curriculum today.

Heart of Dakota – This curriculum wasn’t available when my kids were younger but had it been, I think it would have been a very strong contender.  The Bible is excellent, it has more of a personal relationship bent than MFW which isn’t bad, just different.  Much like a church that is more relationship oriented than missions oriented.  Both Biblical but with slightly different priorities.  You can combine children, although they follow the youngest child rather than the oldest as MFW does.  It is also far more Charlotte Mason than Classical.  This might have been a deal breaker for me, although the really pretty notebooking pages and TM might have swayed me.

I think any of these choices are good, solid, Biblical choices.  It may be more about the personality of both the teacher and the students as to what would be the best choice but I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.

Curriculum I Recommend – Foreign Language

I get asked these questions so often that I decided it would be better just to write a series of posts about curriculum that I have actually used and recommend.  Just to be above board, there are affiliate links on these pages.  As many of you are, we are a one income family and it costs money to pay for this page and I need to at least try to recoup the costs.  Thus far, I haven’t even made enough to pay for the start up costs over a year ago, much to my husband’s chagrin.  So, if you are interested in the things I share, please use the links provided as it will help me to keep this blog going.

Spanish – 

Foreign Languages are the one subject that I have spent the most money on and have had the biggest fails.  I have bought more than one curriculum and found it did nothing for my kids.  We started our kids on Spanish while they were in pre-school and bought several programs designed to help them get an ear for the language.  Then in Elementary we bought several more for multiple years and faithfully did them daily.  While they taught my kids the vocabulary, none of them taught my kids to actually converse in Spanish until Homeschool Spanish Academy.

Homeschool Spanish Academy – I was introduced to HSA by a review on The Well Trained Mind Forum and since they offer a free introductory class and after 5 years of another program in which Connor still couldn’t carry on a conversation in Spanish, we tried it.  What’s to lose?  A free introductory class with a native Spanish speaker over the internet?  We didn’t even have to leave home or get out of our pj’s – perfect!  After one class, we were sold.  Connor had the same teacher for the majority of his classes over the next four years of high school whom he loved.  (No, I won’t tell you her name, because she is hard enough to book and the twins love her too.)  Connor went through all four levels of their rigorous high school curriculum and it allowed him to travel to Spain and be able to navigate the language and the city. It also allowed him to skip having to take a foreign language in College.  As a bonus, I love that the teachers get to know our kids.  They are engaged in our kid’s lives and get to know who are kids are, what they are interested in, and become a real part of their high school career.  This also allowed us to have an outside teacher who was able to give Connor an academic recommendation to both Colleges and Scholarships, which was huge.  I have only ever used their High School Program but had it been around when my kids were younger, I would have used it starting in Elementary.  I threw a lot of money at programs that didn’t work and Homeschool Spanish Academy would have been less money in the long run than buying the three other programs that I did try. One tip, if you have a teacher you love, book early.  I booked the twins classes at the end of May for the next school year.  All the teachers are equally good but if you find one that your child connects with, it’s worth trying to get that teacher.  We have had substitutes and they are all great teachers but my kids definitely connect with one over the others.

Click Here for Free HSA Intro Class

Latin – 

We have our kids start taking Latin in later Elementary and Middle School.  My husband took and spoke both Spanish and Latin and felt it was very helpful to him and studies show how much learning Latin can help Vocabulary, Critical Thinking and as a base for other Languages.  Here too, I have spent and gone through several curriculums to get it right.  Remember that Latin a dead language and a curriculum that doesn’t teach your child to conjugate and read the language isn’t going to work, which I learned after two different disastrous attempts.  What did work? Here’s my favorites.

Lively Latin – All three of mine really liked the Big Book of Latin 1 and 2.  We did the both of them over about 4 years, 3rd though 6th.  They were engaging, had fun history lessons, were anything but boring and gave my kids a firm basis in Latin and in Roman History.  They also liked the online games and classes available to them on the website. We did the books together as much as possible and the twins did fine hanging with Connor.  They do have CD’s of pronunciations, both Classical and Ecclesiastical depending on your preference. I bought the hard copies of the books because I really didn’t want to have to copy and prepare the books for all the kids.

First Form Latin – After we finished Lively Latin, we moved into First Form Latin from Memoria Press.  We watched the videos together, and did the workbooks during the week.  Latin isn’t always the most fun and I would say that this wasn’t necessarily fun but it still kept their attention and gave them a firm foundation in Latin.  I would say that the Instructional Videos are pretty important to have and go through.  This is a solid, efficient curriculum that will give them a full credit of Latin in high school.  If you had kids who were still interested in going further in Latin, then the series goes on to Second through Fourth Form Latin.  Our kids had a pretty firm foundation in it and we needed to focus more on Spanish as not all Colleges will accept Latin as a Foreign Language and we wanted the practicality of being able to speak another language.

The Joy of Read Alouds


Lately I have been reading much of C.S. Lewis. I just finished “Surprised by Joy” which is an account of Lewis’ early life and his conversion to Christianity. One paragraph particularly caught my attention:

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading Mac Donald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere- ” Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, ” fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

As parents we must also be unscrupulous in managing what goes into our children . We need to make sure and provide them with books and thoughts that lead them to God. We never know what will grab our children’s attention and may be used later for God’s pleasure. In Psalms it says “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” We must be sure to help our children hide the word of God in their heart but also provide them with other materials that peak their interest towards God.

I personally think we should be reading a great book or a fun book to our kids all the time.  Even in summer, holidays or vacations, having a good book to read aloud or a good audio book to listen to encourages our children to have a love of reading but also to teach them think bigger thoughts, to have a bigger worldview and to teach them important life lessons.  The great thing about read alouds is that you can read chapter books to kids who can’t even read yet.  We started all of ours with shorter chapter books by age 3.

Links to some of my favorite books to read aloud –

Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny – for a younger crowd.  We read and loved this book.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Treasury – Great summer reading.  A chapter is a full story so it keeps littles attention.  We found this a great, funny intro into talking to our kids about behavior and consequences of behavior.  The consequences of bad behavior are a little magical and very far fetched but great fun.


Chronicles of Narnia – If you haven’t read these book outloud ( even if kids have read them themselves), then you have missed out on some really meaningful discussion.  We went through them one summer with this family discussion guide,  Roar, and really had some amazing family talks.

The Princess and the Goblin and Princess and Curdie – George MacDonald is one of my favorite authors.  I don’t always understand his books and have to reread but these books are written for children.  They are a little intense, but so full of wisdom that we have read, and reread them.

At the Back of the North Wind Audio Drama – I love the Audio Drama from Focus on the Family.  We have listened to this on several road trips and it has led to wonderful talks with my kids.

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkein wrote this as a read aloud for his kids and it is so much better read aloud or listened to on an Audio Book.  For my 5th grade and up kids, we read this and used the Progeny Press Lit Guide for an added level of understanding.

The Lord of the Rings – We read this outloud the first time and it completely had my kids engaged.  These are also great to use a Literature Guide.

Honey for a Child’s Heart – This is a book of book lists.  One of my favorite things ever.  I will caution you not to just hand a child any book without pre-reading.  The great things about read alouds is that you can stop and have a discussion of anything you need to with a read aloud.  You can also change words, soften a sentence or skip anything you feel is inappropriate.  I did this a lot.  This allowed me to read great books to my kids without some of the downsides.

Honey for a Teen’s Heart – While we don’t do read alouds as often now, I try to do several a year just as a connection point with my teenagers.  Again, this often provides a great opportunity for discussion.










These are a Few of my Favorite Summer Things…

School is about to be done, (woohoo, can’t wait for the pool to open) but to keep the kids learning something and to keep at least a semblance of a schedule, I always have math, reading and some language arts activities to be done 2-3 times a week as well as some fun boredom busters on hand.

For all ages

I like to have good books to read for the summer and there are a couple of resources I like to use. I usually read every book before I give it to my kids so I can know what my kids are reading.  My family likes Fantasy and Science Fiction so, again, I would recommend you read any books before handing it to your kids.  We also do many books as read-alouds so I can monitor and teach my kids about discernment and worldview.

I like Honey for a Child’s Heart. It is a great book of lists.  We have enjoyed the majority of books listed but there have been a few that I am glad I pre-read before I handed them to the kids.

I also like to get Sonlight Summer Readers.

For those who use My Father’s World, in the back of the manual from Adventures through 1850 to Modern Times, is a General Reading List of great, classic books by grade level.  My kids chose one of those books every two weeks or so and then put their initials by them when they finished.  All of them finished the entire list by High School and had a wonderful classic book list to their credit.

Jim Weiss Audio Stories – Nothing is better on a road trip than Jim Weiss stories or to give the kids something worthwhile to listen to during your daily afternoon quiet time.  (In my house, everyone, regardless of age, have quiet time.  It helps me maintain sanity) We also enjoy the Story of the World Audio Books and have used them as review over the summer or on long road trips. Jim Weiss Audio Stories

For preschool and younger elementary students

Summer is a great time to work on basic manners and I used  A Little Book of Manners for Boys and A Little Book of Manners for Girls.  We would read through a small section every day and then practice them while play acting a scenario and then try to work through them throughout the day.

I always like to have more “fun” math for summer and with younger kids, we enjoyed Mathtacular by Sonlight.  Although I have never had my kids use them, we love the older Life of Fred Books so I would recommend the younger Life of Fred books.  They start with Apples.

Lots and lots of arts and crafts that can be done outside.  Play-Doh, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, sidewalk paint etc.  I make a bin of outside crafts and activities that can be easily accessed.

Elementary kids

I have somewhat odd children who get very excited to have a workbook to fill in.  I think it’s because we don’t do workbook style learning in our school year so they enjoy them for summer.  The Critical Thinking Company has a ton of great workbooks.  We like their logic and Editor in Chief series’.  They are an easy way to keep the kids from regressing during summer without a lot if work on my part.  My kids actually liked the books better than the software programs.

Mathtacular,, Life of Fred, Art of Problem Solving’s Beast Academy (for mathy kids) and Khan Academy are fantastic math programs that we have used over the summer to keep our kids occupied and their skills sharp.

One summer, I bought a huge cardboard castle to color and it not only kept my kids very busy, it kept my best friends kids busy.  So 7 kids were happy and busy for several hours a day for at least two weeks.  If it was nice, they played on the patio but when it was yucky, they played on the wood floor.  For hours, for days, 7 kids were happy and busy.  Well worth the initial outlay.

I like to have my kids do a Bible Study during the summer and we really like the Kids Inductive Bible Studies.  I usually start with the one about How to Study Your Bible but then let them choose what they are interested in after that.

Older Kids

If you haven’t discovered Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction, get it immediately.  Not only did it keep the younger kids busy, it kept the teens, my best friends kids, my cousins graduated kids and the husbands busy for almost the entire summer.  I made a list at the beginning of the summer of the needed supplies for the majority of activities in the book, took a trip to Wal-Mart and placed it all in a plastic container which the kids named, the “Awesome Box”.  They build mini working trebuchets, catapults, bow and arrows out of pencils and pens, awesome rubber band guns, exploding pens, you name it.  I also relegated this work to the patio.

Making Christmas Memorable

yum... a log...
Yule Log from our Dickens Christmas Study

I love Christmas.  I love everything about it: the decorations, the baking, the eating, the Christmas choirs, the family meals, the parties, the crafts, wrapping the presents – everything.  It is my favorite time of the year.  I love to spend time doing all of those things but what I treasure most is delving into the spirit and meaning of Christmas with my family.  We love to do service projects, reach out to neighbors and study advent. I really want my kids to carry all of our traditions and memories of our Christmas celebrations into adulthood.

The Christmas season, however, is one of the busiest of all seasons; add homeschooling and you have a recipe for becoming certifiably crazy! Several years ago, after talking it through with my husband, we decided we would take the entire month of December off.  We start school early enough in August to allow us the time to do that while still finishing in mid to late May. I wanted to make sure our days were still somewhat scheduled but I wanted the freedom to really enjoy the season of giving so we decided to do a yearly Christmas Unit Study.  

We use an open and go curriculum that includes Bible, history, science, art and music for the school year.  Using this style of curriculum for the rest of the year allows me the time and energy to plan a great Christmas unit study.  I usually have three main elements to our Christmas Unit Study: Bible, read-alouds and crafts and goodies.

What should our Christmas Unit Study Teach?

I like to plan our unit study to tie into the history timeline we are studying.  For instance, while studying ancient times we do a unit study of Hanukkah to go with our study of Jewish Feasts and Festivals.  When studying Rome, we focus deeply into the events and times surrounding the birth of Christ.  In studying the Renaissance, we like to study the 12 days of Christmas and their meanings.  We once did a great study of Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol” while learning about the 1800 and 1900’s.  For years that we study Geography we learn how other cultures celebrate Christmas.  I find it to be a great addition to our regular studies and the kids look forward to and enjoy our Christmas studies each year.  

There are many topics of Christmas Unit studies that you could do, just look at your current school subjects to find inspiration!  You could find inspiration from a read-aloud such as a “Little House on the Prairie” Christmas study or from your families heritage.  

Bible and Read-Alouds

After I have an idea for the subject matter I start to look for the meat of our study.  What are we going to learn?  I love to look at daily advent studies for kids for our Bible studies. There are many on the market.  Everything from Bible-based ornaments that you hang on the tree to a daily advent story book.   I also have several Christmas story compilations that I choose to read from based on our topic.  You can add a musical element to your unit study by studying and learning traditional Christmas Carols.

Living What You Learn

While I am researching our Bible study, I also try to plan an outreach of some kind.  Going to serve at a feeding center, working at a distribution center for Operation Christmas Child, singing or playing at retirement homes, or looking for someone who has been forgotten and needs to know that Jesus loves them.  I find that our outreach project is what my kids have remembered most and truly expresses the reason for the season.

Crafts and Goodies

This is clearly the easiest to plan.  A quick search on the internet reveals many books on Christmas crafts and goodies.  I narrow the books down based on the topic that we are studying and try to plan two crafts and/or baking activities a week.  While studying Christmas around the world, we made several nativities in the style of different countries.  My favorite had to be the origami nativity, which was very colorful and very different from the nativities that we are accustomed to.

Invite Others

I like to involve and invite others to join us in our craziness.  We invite family, friends and even the neighbors!  Last year, we celebrated a traditional Las Posada and my neighbors agreed to be the “unkind” innkeepers.  Having others involved is, of course, more fun and also has a side benefit of sharing the workload! If you are studying Dickens’ time, have everyone bring a traditional food for the time period and have a potluck.  We have had quite the variety of meals from cookies from around the world, to foods that Jesus might have eaten to traditional Christmas meals from the Renaissance times.  This is also a great way to witness to neighbors and friends in a very nonthreatening manner. We want to teach our kids to reach out to the whole world to and share their faith.

Often times in our busy homeschooling days we forget to take time to enjoy our children and focus on the true significance of the season. If your house is anything like mine, by Christmas we need the break from our normal curricula. A Christmas unit study is a perfect way to learn something in a fun and engaging way. Your kids might not even know they are still home schooling!

Here are a few of my favorite resources depending on topic.  These are affiliate links which help to fund this blog.


Hanukkah – for those using MFW these are great for Creation to the Greeks

Jewish Holidays All Year Round

Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays

The Story of Hanukkah

The Everything Kids Hanukkah

The First Christmas – Great for those who are studying Rome or who want to get back to basics.

Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook Advent

Nativity Coloring Book ( my daughter really liked to have something to color while we read)

Make Your Own Nativity

Hands On Nativity Craft Book

Adventures in Odyssey Follow the Star

Christmas Around the World – for those studying Geography.  This is also the easiest of the Unit Studies to use to involve other families.

Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Christmas Crafts Around the World

Christmas Cookies Around the World

A Dickens Christmas – I have done this several times, when studying this time frame and with older kids.

A Christmas Carol – Great Christmas read aloud with older elementary and up kids.

Progeny Press Study Guide – To make it even better!  A study Guide!

Victorian Christmas Crafts

Victorian Christmas Coloring Book

Here are a few of my very favorite Christmas Books

Family Celebration of Christmas – we have used this since my kids were little.  Make an advent wreath, make the felt tree and you will use them for years.

Best of Christmas in My Heart V 1 – I have read these stories every year since I was single.  They help get me in a Christmas mood.

Christmas in My Heart V2 – Oh and you should have your favorite hot drink and a cookie and have a Mom Time Out with these stories.





Musings on Testing

****My twins are taking the PSAT this week and I am looking at tips and strategies for them.  It’s only practice for them as they are only Sophmores, but we are starting to look at SAT/ACT/AP Test prep so it’s starting to loom again.  This post helps to remind me that my kids are not defined by a test and neither am I. And while these tests can provide scholarships and college acceptances, God is still in charge and has a plan for my kids lives that aren’t dependent on a test score.  We will teach them, train them and encourage them to do their best but we’ll leave it in God’s capable hands. *****

A Word About Testing

For the umpteenth year, I am sitting in the coffee shop drinking my tea waiting for my kids who are taking the standardized test.  In our state, we have to take tests every other year starting with 3rd grade.  We do testing every year as we want our kids to be comfortable with the process long before it really matters in high school.

When my kids were younger, testing time was incredibly stressful for me.  When they were testing, it felt like I was being tested and I didn’t have any control over the outcome.  I didn’t sleep, I stress ate and I was a general mess.  It felt like my entire worth and job outcome was in the balance.  Now, however, I look forward to it.  I get to sit and drink tea, read a book, and relax.  Yes, relax.  You heard me say it, relax.

I think there were a couple of realizations and events that changed my attitude about testing.

– It’s just a momentary snapshot  in time.
When the twins were in third grade, we got the test prep book, like I do every year, learned how to fill in the bubbles (because we don’t ever do that in our homeschool), got the feel of reading the test book, made sure to read all the directions twice and check every math problem.  The day of the test arrived and I hugged and prayed over my kids and went and proceeded to bite my nails for the next several hours.  When I picked up my kids, they were ready for the after test ice cream and I asked how it went.  Connor and Collin said they the thought they did fine and I asked Caileigh about her math test and she said in her little cute voice, ” It was easy peasy, Mommy!”  We happily went for our ice cream and I impatiently waited for the results.  I got the results back and found that the boys did really well and I was very pleased.  I opened Caileigh’s test and all her LA and reading tests were very high and most of her math tests were great but then there was one at 18%.  18%? How in the world could that happen?  I took a deep breath and called Caileigh.  She bopped down the stairs with a smile on her face and then I asked in a non-smiling, irritated voice, “Caileigh what happened in your test?” Her sweet smile faded and she took a breath and replied, ” I was bored with the test so I filled in the dots to make a pretty flower.”  Horrified, I asked, ” Did you even read the questions?” “No, Mommy, I just made a flower.” “A flower? You made a flower?” Her big brown eyes filled with tears and I was stunned by both the fact my daughter scored a 18% by just filling in the dots and that I had handled this all completely wrong.  I had no words and I sent her to her room. I have had to spend many years undoing the damage I did in that moment.  I had to come to realization that a test is just a small moment in time and the results can be changed by a whim (like making a pretty flower pattern), an upset stomach, a headache or even just uneasiness in the surroundings.  That’s all it is, a moment in time.  It doesn’t really test what they know, it tests how they test and regurgitate information.  It has its place, but very little real weight should be placed on the results.

-A test or a grade doesn’t define who you are.
My best friend tells a fantastic story about her mom and her brother.  When the son was little, he struggled with reading and learning problems and came home with a failing report card.  He was so sad and felt so dumb.  Taking a look at her son’s face, she took the report card and set it on fire out on the grill and looked at her son and told him, “A grade doesn’t define who you are.”  That boy is now a Professor at a University in Arizona.  I love that story, and those words have been what I have used to help undo the damage I did with Caileigh.  I used those words with Connor when he had a panic attack right before the SAT’s because he forgot his Scientific Calculator and we had to rush to get him a new one and it left him so flustered that he bombed the test.  “This does not define who you are. This is a snapshot in time.  You are a beloved child of God who is a genius with Computers, writes amazing piano compositions, a great teacher to underprivileged kids and well loved by your family. Not to mention you can take this test two more times. No sweat.”  Those tests also don’t define who I am as a teacher.  I am a beloved child of God, a well loved wife and mom and a hard working teacher who wants the best for her kids and my kids scores do not define who I am or even a good reflection on he job I am doing with my kids.  They don’t show my kids character, they don’t show what great writers my kids are, they don’t show the diligence my kids have when facing a hard math problem.  They don’t show how well my kids understand the cause and effect of history, or how deeply they understand their reading. They show how well and how quickly they can regurgitate information, just like Google or Siri can.

So why test at all then?

We test every year for several reasons. One, it trains my kids in how to take a test which is an important skill for high school and college.  Two, it gives me a guide in picking curriculum and spotting weaknesses.  If all of my kids were all lower in mental math then I can work on that.  Sometimes, it shows that I need to spend a little more time focusing on punctuation.  We realized with Connor that while he scored really high overall in everything, his pre-algebra  skills were his weakest test.  He passed AP Calc with flying colors but his lowest score was on fractions.  So, we reviewed those before he went to college and have the twins doing more daily review of past topics. I use it as a tool to help me figure out their weak spots.  That’s all they are, a tool.

We have found that having academic goals each year and then working on tracking those goals each year are a much better litmus of how they actually are doing.  It’s also a much better litmus test on how I am doing as a teacher.  Am I meeting their needs, shoring up their weaknesses and helping them soar in their strengths?  Is my relationship with them strong?  Can they take constructive criticism, am I teaching them diligence and perseverance?  Am I helping them to meet their goals?  Am I pointing them back to Christ? All of those questions are a far better test of my teaching ability than whether they picked out all the wrongly spelled words.

Character and Academics Matter

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 developement 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 propsition, they can be different sides of the same coin – a great homeschool enviornment.

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 developement, 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 except 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 perseverence 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.

I obey right away! 

Throwback post! 
Our family went tent camping this weekend which is always an adventure with three children. It’s also one of those areas which can show you if your children have a heart of obedience. There are many times while camping that demand absolute first time obedience. For instance… “Don’t touch the fire, actually don’t go near the fire, no don’t throw anything in the fire. No you may not slide down the giant rock face first. You must stay where Mommy can see you, no, you may not feed the wild animal.” Scott and I are very grateful that this weekend showed that for the most part our children had a heart of obedience. It was a little wet (okay, a lot wet) and we may need to work on doing everything without whining and complaining but nobody’s perfect!

Here’s some ideas to start your obedience training with your little ones- 
Idea one: Read the story of Jonah to your children, or you can also watch a children’s video on Jonah. Ask your children if Jonah obeyed right away. He didn’t, so what happened to him then? He was swallowed by a whale! God put him in time out in a whale! Point out to you children that God gave Jonah time to think about what he did and that Jonah needed to ask for forgiveness for not obeying right away. When we refuse to obey right away, usually bad things happen, things like time out or getting hurt. Perhaps you can remind your children of times that bad things happened when they didn’t obey right away.

Play the obedience game. This is basically hide and go seek where the parent hides and the child seeks you. The rules: You must come right away . Your child must say “Yes, Mommy or Daddy” before they reach you. Oh, and one rule we added after our kids ran over each other, no pushing or shoving. When they reach you can simply give them praise and a hug or reward them with a treat. I think that bad behavior brings bad consequences and good behavior should bring good consequences.

Help your children memorize Eph 6:1 by singing it to the tune of Happy Birthday.
“ Children obey your parents,
Children obey your parents,
children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” 
Ephesians 6:1
(By the way, this song was not my original idea, I got it from a book teaching scripture memorization)

Make a badge that says “I Obey Right Away” to wear. This is both a good reminder for them and something fun to wear!

Once you’ve done these things and your children have the concept make sure and follow up every month or so with one of these as reminders. I also have my children recite our rules before we go into a store or a public place and “I obey right away!” is one we repeat often.