Category: Middle and High School

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.

Advanced Placement Courses at Home

***this page contains affiliate links. I only endorse programs that I actually use in our actual lives and homeschool journey***
APs or Advanced Placement Courses can seem daunting.  They can also seem like something that a homeschooler can’t accomplish but we have found that not only can the class be taught at home, our most successful courses have been designed by me instead of through an outside class.

There are several things that must be understood about APs.  All courses that are called AP must be approved through the College Board.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to go through an AP class to take an AP Exam.  Anyone can take an AP Exam as long as they can find a local high school to allow them access to take the test and that they are willing to pay the fee (usually its around $100). AP or Honors (I call AP classes that I design Honors Classes on my kids transcripts) Classes are worth more for GPA’s.  An A on an Honors or AP course is woth 5 pts instead of the usual 4.  B’s are 4, C’s are 3 and so forth.

Why AP’s?

I get asked fairly often why we do APs rather than Dual Enrollment or Cleps? Dual Enrollment means that I am no longer in charge of picking their curriculum or their teacher as I do with online courses which makes me uncomfortable .  I want a firm Biblical Worldview for my kids and Dual Enrollment classes are generally secular.  I am still working on their Biblical foundation during these ever important formation years.  If I choose something like  Thinkwell, which is secular, I balance it with a resource with a Biblical foundation.  Not to mention, I am still actively involved and can have discussions about Worldview with my kids when it is needed. There can also be a downside to Dual Enrollment when enrolling your kids into College.  If they have more than about 20 credits (this number varies by school), then they are no longer eligible for the ever important freshman scholarships. Let’s say that my son had 20 DE credits going into school and that made him a Sophomore.  Okay, we saved, with room and board, about $26,000. My son received freshman scholarships totaling over $54,000.  That’s enough to pay for the majority of his tuition.  That means that instead of saving money, we would have lost money. He had 12-15 AP Credits but they didn’t count towards his freshmen status.  So why did we choose APs rather than Cleps? For the rather simple reason that the Selective Schools, Programs and Scholarships that my oldest applied to didn’t accept the Cleps that he did have.  Fortunately, we had done both APs and a few Cleps so it wasn’t a total loss.  After talking to a lot of College registrars for Selective Schools and Programs, we came to the realization that Cleps weren’t worth our time and money.  The twins are looking at the same level of Schools and programs so we chose APs as the best option to help prepare them for College.

There are several way you can teach and prepare for an AP Exam-

The Online Class

There are several online schools that offer AP classes.  Their courses are approved by the College Board and they have designed the class to teach and prepare for AP Exams.

PA Homeschoolers – They are by far the largest provider of online AP homeschool exams.  Many of the classes are hard to find elsewhere.

HSLDA Academy – Newer to the AP online courses, I haven’t used them or know of anyone who has.  Still, it’s HSLDA and they probably have a very Biblical Worldview. I think the Social Studies Courses (Government, Economics and History) would be excellent and would have a point of view that many of us agree with.

Thinkwell Homeschool – Thinkwell isn’t a live class, it is a video lecture with online homework.  This makes it much less expensive.  We use Thinkwell for math and will be using them for several APs. However, they are a secular organization so tread carefully, I usually combine Thinkwell with books that are from a distinctly Christian point of view for balance.

The Non- College Board Approved Online Class

We have taken several classes that haven’t been approved as an AP class but are clearly designed to prep kids for those classes or are just so advanced that they work beautifully.  Generally, you will need to add AP review books from Amazon.

Art of Problem Solving – AOPS is an extremely rigorous math curriculum and online school.  Their Calculus course covers most of the topics in Calc AB and Calc BC.  By looking at their scope and sequence and the AP Exam, we realized that this course was more than what we needed.  It also taught math in a way that two of my kids respond to.  Connor did very well on his AP Exam after taking this course.

Well Trained Mind Academy – We have taken courses from WTM and they are excellent.  I use much of their materials to design our AP English Lit and Composition Course.  They do have an AP test prep course for Advanced US History.

Homeschool Spanish Academy – Connor went through all 4 levels of HSA and during his Senior year and we debated long and hard whether to have him take the AP Spanish test.  In the end, he just didn’t want to as he was already taking 3, but after having looked at their scope and sequence and talking to his teacher and customer service, I think he could have taken it successfully.  HSA doesn’t claim to prep for the AP, but their curriculum is thorough and rigorous and if your student is interested in the AP Spanish, I would talk to their teacher and see if your student could be prepared to take it. 
Designing Your Own Class –

We have done this several times and while it is the most work on the homeschool teacher’s part, it also gives you the most control over curriculum. The trick to this is to know what’s needed on the AP Exam.  The College Board will have the course descriptions on its website but I find it easier to just get the AP Exam review books from Amazon. I usually get the Review book and then I find the curriculum to fit our needs.

Here’s a few examples – 

AP Psychology – We used Sonlight’s Psychology Course this year and we thought it was good.  I liked how it had a Christian perspective to read right along side the secular textbook.  I think my twins gained a lot from taking this course besides being able to take the AP.  They learned more about people.  They learned about brain function, personalities, and a basic understanding of mental diseases.  I have found my twins using this information in their daily lives in an effort to better understand the people and situations in their life which I think has been well worth it.

AP English Lit. – For both Connor and the twins, we have used a combination of Sonlight’s British Literature and Well Trained Mind Press’ Writing With Skill 3, to put together an AP English Lit class.  This one requires me to look through the review book carefully to make sure we cover everything but I really like both of these curriculum’s so it is worth the extra work to me.  I am still trying to teach my kids what they need to learn and not just teach to a test which is why  I often choose a curriculum or program that I love and then use an AP Review book to cover all the bases.

AP Biology/Chemistry/Physics – I like to design my kids AP Science courses as I still want my kids to learn from a distinctly Biblical Worldview alongside the AP Science.  For these my kids do both the basic and advanced Apologia books (for example Biology and Advanced Biology) and then have them do a secular AP book/program alongside.  We are using Thinkwell to go alongside Advanced Biology for Caileigh and Advanced Chemistry for Collin. Connor used MIT’s OpenCourseware alongside Advanced Physics in his senior year. 

Regardless of what you choose to use for APs make sure your child has ample time to get through ALL the material and then review, review, review! We like Varsity Tutor’s online practice tests.  They are free and immediately show your kids where they need to study more. 

Finding a School to take the Exam –

The AP tests are given the first two weeks in May but you will need to find a school that will allow your student to take the test.  You should start this process in January. I call all the high schools in our school district starting in January to find a school and get my kids signed up.  I found it easier to just skip calling the College Board and just call the schools directly.  The fee may vary but they are usually around $100. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories:

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, Multiplication.com, 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.

Picking the Best Curricula for Your Student – our 11th grade plans

I have a confession.  Last weekend, I bought a Bible/History Core that wasn’t My Father’s World.  To some, that may not be a big confession but what you have to understand is that in my 15+ years of homeschooling, that’s a first.  I have piloted programs for MFW, spoke at conventions for them, answered phones in their office, wrote many of their FAQ’s and managed their Customer Service Reps at 8-10 conventions a year for about 5 years.  I have graduated one who used MFW his entire school career and did so very successfully.  Needless to say, I love MFW’s curricula.  However, as I often say, curriculum is only the tool you use to homeschool and, homeschooling at its best is about choosing what is best for your family and for your kids. For my twin high achievers, who want to get into highly selective programs and schools, there were better options this time.  Much of the decision to change at this point was because I have been adding, changing and supplementing a lot for my twins these last two years. I needed to give them more opportunities to take APs and give them time to study for those APs.  I love the Bible so much in those two first high school MFW years that I was willing to spend the time making the programs fit their needs to make sure they got that amazing Biblical foundation. The other reason I haven’t done a straight MFW high school plan this time around is that these two are my youngest so I have the time and energy to do crazy things like change the history spine, combine three years into 2 and plan to do 5-6 APs. Time is a big factor. There are also new programs that have been developed in the past 4 years that weren’t available for my oldest, that look really great and fit our needs better.

So, what are we doing?

11th Grade

Bible-

What Good is Christianity? (.5) This is a semester long program from Sonlight that talks about the history of Christianity as well as beginning apologetics and will help my kids think critically about the role of Christianity in society. Since my kids are also in Bible Bowl which requires that they learn and memorize 1-2 Bible chapters a week, I could branch out and work more on preparing their Worldview and give them an answer for the questions they might face in a Secular University. I like being able to have these discussions with my kids while they are home and can examine these issues in a safe environment. 

History

American Government and AP Economics (1) – We decided to use Sonlight’s Civics and Econ for two reasons. One, because I combined MFW’s WHL and US History to 1850. Notgrass isn’t our favorite so I just moved them over to BJU when we hit the time frame of Exploration in WHL.  So instead of doing the US History in both Notgrass and BJU, I just moved them over to BJU.  It actually felt more like how MFW did American History in the younger 5 year cycle. At the end of this year, in 10th, they will be right up to the Civil War so next year, we wanted a more standalone Civics. Secondly, I chose Sonlight’s Economics because it includes Thinkwell Economics which has the option to use for the AP Economics test. We like Thinkwell and could have done it as a standalone but still wanted the Christian worldview and the Sonlight package gives us both.

Honor’s English III –

English (1) really is a mishmash this year.  We will use the American Literature from MFW combined with Sonlight’s AP British Lit which we have used for the past year as well, to prep for the AP English Literature test.  We will finish Writing With Skill 3, which is such a great writing program and prepped my oldest for the AP writing portions.  We will use Easy Grammar 11 for grammar review for the ACT/SATs. We also add a vocab book each and every year for extra practice.

Spanish III –

Homeschool Spanish Academy (1).  We absolutely love HSA and the kids love their teacher.  Not only do my kids learn to actually speak Spanish instead of just learning vocabulary, they have to practice speaking Spanish with native Spanish speakers and they also have the added benefit of having to manage an outside class.  They learn bonus skills like following a syllabus, keeping on top of homework, turning it in, and learning from someone else.  This program allowed my oldest to not have to take a foreign language in college and has enabled him to feel confident to travel outside the US knowing  that he has two languages to rely on.

Math

The twins need and like different programs for math.  As we are homeschoolers, I have the freedom to use different programs for each.

Caileigh – Art of Problem Solving/Life of Fred Trig and Pre-Calc(1). Caileigh needs someone to work through math with her so I have done it with her the past couple of years.  I am undecided if I will continue to do work through it with her or if she takes an AOPS online class. We love AOPS classes but they are usually in the evening as just as many high performing traditional students take these classes as homeschoolers do, but that may conflict with her other commitments. It might also depend on how much I am willing to stretch my math skills. I can do it but I don’t like to, it might be a growth opportunity for me. (Yuck!) I do really like the AOPS online books as they are online, have video teaching and are self grading. 

Collin- Thinkwell and Life of Fred Trigonometry and Pre-Calc (1). Collin is a bit ahead of Caileigh in math and likes the freedom of Thinkwell.  He doesn’t want to have to wait for his sister or I, wants everything well planned and laid out which is why Thinkwell is a beautiful program for him.  It is very rigorous, well thought out, independent and is all on the computer.  

Khan Academy – after taking the PSAT, students can link their College Board profile  with Khan and it will design a personalized SAT prep program. The twins do atleast 15-20 min a day on Khan systematically working on their weaker skills. 

Science 

This is again a subject that the twins differ in interest. If Collin never has to dissect a thing again, he will be quite happy and Caileigh loves all things to do with Biology.

Caileigh – AP Biology with Thinkwell and Advanced Biology from Apologia (1).  Since Caileigh wants to take the AP Biology test, we needed to add Thinkwell to fill in some of the materials (like Evolution) that Apologia lacks.  I don’t want her to take just Thinkwell because I still want her grounded in a Biblical Worldview.  

Collin -AP Chemistry with Thinkwell and Advanced Chemistry from Apologia (1). Collin is doing both for the same reason as Caileigh – Biblical Worldview but Thinkwell provides more helps as well as consistent review for the AP test.

AP Computer Science (1)

I am still looking into our options for this class, actually, I am waiting for Connor (my Computer Genius) to look into the options.  I think every kid needs a background in programming and as they both want to go into Engineering, it’s a smart idea to have a foundation in it.  It will also help with Robotics.

Why AP’s?

I get asked fairly often why we do AP’s rather than Dual Enrollment or Cleps? Dual Enrollment means that I am no longer in charge of picking their curriculum or their teacher as I do with online courses which makes me uncomfortable .  I want a firm Biblical Worldview for my kids and Dual Enrollment classes are generally secular.  I am still working on their Biblical foundation during these ever important formation years.  If I choose something like a Thinkwell which is secular, I balance it with a resource with a Biblical foundation.  Not to mention, I am still actively involved and can have discussions about Worldview with my kids when it is needed. There can also be a downside to Dual Enrollment when enrolling your kids into College.  If they have more than about 20 credits (this number varies by school), then they are no longer eligible for the ever important freshman scholarships. Let’s say that my son had 20 DE credits going into school and that made him a Sophmore.  Okay, we saved, with room and board, about $26,000. My son received freshman scholarships totaling over $54,000.  That’s enough to pay for the majority of his tuition.  That means that instead of saving money, we would have lost money. He had 12-15 AP Credits but they didn’t count towards his freshmen status.  So why did we choose AP’s rather than Cleps? For the rather simple reason that the Selective Schools, Programs and Scholarships that my oldest applied to didn’t accept the Cleps that he did have.  Fortunately, we had done both AP’s and a few Cleps so it wasn’t a total loss.  After talking to a lot of College registrars for Selective Schools and Programs, we came to the realization that Cleps weren’t worth our time and money.  The twins are looking at the same level of Schools and programs so we chose AP’s as the best option to help prepare them for College.

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.

Our High School Homeschool Plan

I am hoping that by this point you have read Why Homeschool High SchoolPassion led High SchoolStructuring High School and Middle School Vision Casting.  Those posts are the philosophy of why we have chosen what we have.  They are also the reason that we have a different high school journey for each of our kids.  We start with what our kids and ourselves think is possible for their future.  We start with the assumption that our kids are going to go to college.  Why?  We believe that our kids should be prepared to go to college because it is much harder to change the assumption from not going to college to going to college mid stream.  I have heard far too many stories of kids who changed their mind in their Junior year and have had to play serious catch up which is very difficult. Even if our kids don’t go to college, they will be very well educated which will hold them in good stead for whatever God has planned for them.  After that assumption,  we start talking details.  What kind of school are they looking at?  What are their passions?  Where do they see themselves in 10 years?

We start with a basic structure with all of ours.  This is the foundation and the absolute credits that have to be completed by our kids to graduate from our homeschool.  These are not state minimums, these are our homeschool minimums based on our kids goals.

I want to give a quick caution, my kids are looking at selective Colleges and Programs and are going for some high level scholarships.  I am not saying that every student should follow this path. I don’t think that would be a good plan at all.  Homeschooling is all about meeting your kids where they are at.  One size does not fit all.

We use My Father’s World for our base curriculum and then we change or modify it as needed.  MFW is a good, solid, college prep curriculum for History, Bible and English.

Bible4 credits  We feel very strongly about MFW’s Bible integration and the Bible scope and sequence.  MFW has students read the entire Old Testament in 9th grade and the entire New Testament in 10th.  They then study Worldview and Apologetics in 11th as they should have the Biblical understanding and foundation from the first two years and then finally, in their Senior year, they learn the 5 habits of a strong faith.  It is well planned out and goes into a lot of depth.  Our kids know their Bible and have a good working knowledge of theology, worldview, and apologetics.

Modifications – We send our kids to Summit Ministries for an intensive two week camp on Worldview and Apologetics.  We sent Connor twice although the second time was much more worthwhile as it was right before he went to a Secular University.  He more than held his own in classes like Astronomy and Psychology and his faith was only strengthened.

History3-4 Credits (including Economics and Government) We like MFW’s base of History and like the way it is integrated into both Bible and that it is Classical in nature and teaches it Chronologically. Connor used MFW’s History pretty much as written and did well and was well prepared for College.  However, we don’t really like Notgrass as a spine and needed to schedule some more time for test prep.

Modifications – I substituted Susan Wise Bauer’s, History of the Ancient World and its Study Guide for the twins instead of Notgrass.  The twins really like History so they liked the more difficult text.  Make no mistake, this was a lot more work for them and for me.  Had I other kids to homeschool, I probably would have just had them do MFW as written.  I also will substitute other texts for World History and then just move to BJU when we hit Exploration and make the class more of a “American History in a World Context” similar to what MFW does in its earlier cycle years.  This gives me some space to schedule some test prep into their Junior year.

I will also probably substitute Sonlight’s Government and Economics program as it contains Thinkwell Economics which will help us prep for the AP Economics Test.

English – 4 Credits We use MFW as the base for our English program.  I love the way it ties Bible, History and English together.  My kids have had some amazing, thought provoking papers because of this integration and I believe that integration produces a lot of critical thinking in my kids.  However, my kids are serious readers and want more to read than what MFW provides and I like mine to take the AP English test their Junior or Senior year and while MFW is college prep, it is not enough for the AP test.

Modifications – We use Susan Wise Bauer’s, Writing With Skill 1, 2, and 3, through Middle School and High School, half a book a year.  I have them do the majority of MFW’s writing projects (because I like the integration) but add in WWS every other week.  We also add more Grammar review with, Easy Grammar or Editor in Chief but sometimes these are only done during the summer as review or skill maintenance.

We also add Sonlight’s reader packages.  We like to read and although there is some overlap for the most part, my kids have enjoyed the extra readers.  This is not necessary and should only be used for serious readers.  Caileigh reads all of the books but neither Connor nor Collin read every one but pick and choose accordingly.

Science – 4 credits – My kids are serious science geeks and are all destined to go into STEM fields so they need 4 years of Science.  We like Apologia for the most part but switched Chemistry to Discovering Design with Chemistry.  It is Jay Wile’s new Chemistry book and has more experiments and I think, better flow than Apologia’s.  All of my kids do at least one AP Science and that depends on passion and likes.  Caileigh is also doing Apologia’s Marine Biology this year because she loves Biology but needs another year of math until she can do AP Biology.

Foreign Language – 4- 5 credits – We have our kids do at least 1 year of Latin for the vocab and for the foreign language foundation.  We then do Spanish with Homeschool Spanish Academy.  We love HSA!  HSA has both one on one classes and semi-private classes.  Students have a Skype class with a native speaker in Guatemala.  Connor did 4 years with the same teacher and learned how to speak, read and write in Spanish.  He also formed a great relationship with his teacher which also helped with outside recommendations for both scholarships and college.  HSA is accredited and has its own rigorous curriculum so you won’t need to get any other materials.  It’s also nice to have a subject that I don’t have to be involved with at all.  They even provide an online report card which is great.

Math – 4 credits – As my kids are looking into STEM careers, they need 4 years of math which should go through Calculus.  I have 3 different kinds of math kids.  Connor basically reads it and understands it but cant be bothered with the little details like, you know adding.  He can easily do Calculus but can’t remember how to multiply fractions.  Collin is detailed and methodical and is just naturally good at math.  Caileigh struggles with math but because she has goals that require math, works really hard at it.  When she doesn’t get something, she buckles down and keeps at it until she does.  I believe that we should always have two math curriculums going at all times as they help cement, review,  and introduce  topics differently and I find great value in that.  So, depending on the child we use a combination of Life of FredThinkwell and Art of Problem Solving.  I will honestly say that math is one subject that I am more than willing to hand over to either the video course of Thinkwell or Art of Problem Solving or the online classes of Art of Problem Solving.  However, I am currently doing LOF Geometry with Caileigh.  When I say doing, I mean doing every single problem and comparing notes as Caileigh needs someone to do it with her.  I will either be stronger for this or dead.  It’s still a toss up.

Whew!  I think I will have to write another day on electives.

***full disclosure*** there are affiliate links and reward programs on this page.  All of these are items that we actually use. I am trying to make this blog pay for itself or even pay for a portion of the cost.

Structuring High School

Spend some time with your teen dreaming and talking about their dreams and plans for life after high school. We need to be realistic but we also need to make sure we are planning for whatever plans God has planned for our kids. We need to spend some time with our teens talking about their goals and aspirations and helping them to see what is possible.

I personally think that we should plan for college. Even if your kids don’t end up going to college, the academic foundation that you can give them now will hold them in good stead all their lives. Not to mention that I am seeing and consulting with far too many parents and students who didn’t plan for college and in the student’s Junior or Senior year they changed their mind and end up desperately scrambling. It is much harder to play catch up than to plan for it in the first place. I also believe that we, as parents, need to be vision casting for our kids that all things are possible with God and we need to be planning for as many eventualities as possible. I hope my kids get married but if that’s not something that God has for them, my boys need to know how to cook, clean and do their own laundry. If my daughter doesn’t get married, she needs to be able to maintain a car, mow the lawn and have a job that can support her. I work hard at preparing my kids for whatever God may have them so that when that day comes that God asks them to follow Him, they can feel as confident as possible in their abilities. My job is to prepare them as well as I can and that includes planning for the possibility of college. Far better to be over prepared than to be under prepared.

Start planning by finding out what your child needs to get into college.  

Most colleges want to see at least –

3 years of Math (Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry) STEM majors need 4 years, if possible through Calculus.

4 years of English

2 Lab Sciences (Biology and Chemistry) STEM majors need at least 3, if not 4. Physics if possible and and Advanced or AP class.

2-3 years of Foreign Language. Colleges generally like to see all the years in the same language.

2 years of History. 1 needs to be US History

1 Semester of Government

1 Semester of Economics

 

If my child is going to be a STEM major, they need 4 years years of math and preferably, Calculus. Working backwards looks like this:

STEM Majors need 4 years, preferably Calculus.

12th – Calculus

11th- Trig and Pre- Calc

10th- Geometry

9th – Alg 2

8th – Alg 1

7th – Pre- Algebra

By working from what they need in College, you can easily figure out what courses they need in high school.

Carnegie Credit

Per its original definition, the Carnegie Unit is 120 hours of class or contact time with an instructor over the course of a year at the secondary (American high school) level. Strictly speaking, this breaks down into a single one-hour meeting, on each of five days per week for a total of 24 weeks per year. However, knowing that classes usually meet for 50 minutes yields a value of 30 weeks per year. A semester (one-half of a full year) earns 1/2 a Carnegie Unit.[1]

To graduate, most students need between 20 – 22 credits

To have a General College Prep High school students need 24- 28 credit

For a Rigorous College Prep High School students should have 26 – 30 credits

***For a good breakdown on this you can goto the HSLDA website to print out their brochure on Homeschooling Through High School

http://www.hslda.org/highschool/brochures.asp

I can give you a general idea of what colleges want but I highly recommend that you visit different colleges websites to see what each college wants to see in a high school graduate and then what they want for scholarship applicants. I had quite the spreadsheet when my kids were in 7th and 8th grade which helped me prep for high school. As Yogi Berra said, “Know where you are going so you don’t end up somewhere else.”  

Picking Electives

My kids usually have 6 main credits a year (Bible, History, English, Math, Science and Foreign Language) and then 2-3 electives and 2 extra credits.

We have our kids take atleast 2 years of Physical Education, in our case Karate because I feel much better with all of my kids well versed in self-defense.  We also have them take atleast 2 years of music or music theory and atleast 1 of art or art appreciation.  It is important to us that our kids be well rounded and have a foundational knowledge of the fine arts.  We believe that they bring much joy and beauty into life and want to encourage our kids in those outlets. 

Health is an elective we take, generally only .5 credits and includes nutrition and good habits.  Many of the electives we have our kids take are less about the academics and more about training our kids the best we can for adulthood.  We also have them take atleast 1.5 years of Logic and a year of Philosophy as we are training them to think and to be prepared for the world around them.

We have our kids also pick electives that they are passionate about, things like computer programming, art history, psychology, C.S.  Lewis Literature,  Guitar, Piano Composition etc. 

Since our kids were young, they were allowed to pick 2 extra curricular activities.  They have been everything from Bible Bowl, Robotics, Irish Dance, to Soccer, and Baseball. As these are extra curricular, if they don’t have all of their school work done by a certain time, they don’t go.  School is their priority and everything else is dependent on their school work.

This year, the twins 9th grade year looked like this –

Old Testament Survey – 1 credit

Honors Ancient History – 1 credit

Honors English 1 – 1 credit

Algebra II (Collin) – 1 credit

Geometry (Caileigh) – 1 credit

Honors Chemistry – 1 credit

Spanish 1 -1 credit

Intermediate Music Theory – 1 credit 

Formal Logic – .5 credits

Karate – .5 credits

That gives them a total of 8 credits for their Freshman year.  If they continue with 8 credits a year, they will have 32 credits which puts them in range for Highly Selective Colleges. 

***Just a note, not all kids can or should take this hefty of a load.  You must meet your kids where they are at, and as I have said many times, each student should have an individualized path based on their goals, abilities and strengths.  My kids are strong academically but have weaknesses in other areas.  God creates each child and has a wonderful plan for each of them and they should be encouraged in that path and not made to fit in to a one size fits all mode. I can’t sew, knit, crochet or embroider but what I can do is teach, speak and plan curriculum. I would love to do all those beautiful crafts and I so appreciate those who can, but I am going to be content with who God made me to be. We must help our kids be who God made them to be, we strengthen their strengths and help them to overcome their weaknesses not try to fit them into a mold they weren’t created to fit into.  Someone once tried to fit me into a crafty, domestic mold because they thought that’s what Godly young women should be and I managed to break a very expensive sewing machine, horribly burn myself, made me question my entire existence and the apron that took me 40 hours to make, remake and remake again fell apart in the first washing. Many were very concerned (including me) that I would not make a very good wife and mother.  After 20 years of marriage, 3 kids and a house that is mostly clean, I realize that there is no one size fits all.  Don’t do that to yourself or your kids. Train up a child in the way THEY should go…

Weighted and Unweighted GPAs

I know many are going to ask how I define Honors classes and what does that mean? According to the College Board, Honors courses are tailored for high achieving students, covering additional topics and are in greater depth. They are not necessarily AP courses which must be approved by the College Board, although many of our Honors courses are designed to prepare for the AP test.  I plan an Honors course by take the average credit worthy class of 120-150 hours to take 30 hours longer and adds more books and workload. For instance, to take our curriculum’s English course and make it an Honors English class, I doubled the writing projects and added 10 more books to their readings.

Weighted Transcripts and Unweighted Transcripts

When determining a student’s GPA ( Grade Point Average) each letter grade is given a corresponding number. A= 4, B=3, C= 2, D=1 and F=0. If my student had  4 As, 3 Bs and 1 C (this pains me to type as if my student got a C, they would be redoing the course for mastery) which is a total of 8 credits.  I would add the numerical values of the letters which is 27 and divide by the 8 courses to get an average, or GPA of 3.38. This is an unweighted GPA.

Honors or AP courses are weighted differently. A = 5, B = 4, C = 3, D = 2 and F = 1.  Using the previous example the weighted GPA would be 4.38. You must know both and probably have a transcript reflecting both as some schools want unweighted and some want weighted.  Connor got an extra $10,000 in scholarships because I could easily send the school his weighted transcript.

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.