Category: Homeschooling

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.

Child Training Part 3 – No Whining and Complaining

No Whining or Complaining

Nothing will make a homeschool day go down more quickly than whining and complaining.  If everytime you pull out a subject your children say, “Mooommm, we don’t want to do math.” or “Mooommmm, we hate history.” then you will probably begin to despise homeschooling.  We don’t want to continually fight or coerce our children into wanting to do school.  We all do things that we don’t want to do.  Think cleaning the toilet or the chore I like the least – folding laundry, it is so pointless.  I know there have been points where we have all needed a refresher in this, including me.  I really do dislike folding laundry and have at times been very whiny, at which point my kids quote this verse to me.

Bible Verse – Phil 2:14 – 15 says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky  as you hold firmly to the word of life.”

I modify this verse to “Do everything without whining or complaining so that you may shine like a star in the heavens”.  I have found star stickers and star charts for my younger kids and every time they obeyed or asked for something without whining or complaining then they receive a star.  We have taken our kids out to look at the night sky with blankets and talked about how the stars light  up the night sky and the Bible talks about how we can light up the world around us if we do everything without whining or complaining.

Bible Verse for the second or third day – Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

The Bible talks a lot about our tones and how we say things.  As an object lesson for my kids, I got some honey out and told them that the Bible says that pleasant words and tones are sweet.  I gave them a demonstration of pleasant words, like “Yes, Mom, I am coming”, or “No, thank you” and then gave them a taste of the honey.  I then pulled out the Apple Cider Vinegar and told them that whining, complaining and arguing are vinegar words and tones and had them take a taste of the vinegar.  I still use this today.  If my kids are using honey words, I will put out the honey and if my kids are using vinegar words or tones I give a warning by pulling both the honey and vinegar and asking which they would rather have.  

To encourage younger children, I used a star chart with stickers for every time they asked for something without whining and when they get to 10, give them a prize.  For extensive whining, that doesn’t break with positive reinforcement,I would pull out the Apple Cider Vinegar and give them a taste.  Remind them that we would rather use pleasant words versus vinegar words.  (If you think I am being mean, check out the health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar – it’s really good for the digestion.)

For older kids, especially those who are whining and complaining every time you ask them to do something or you ask them to get our their math, spelling or any subject they dislike, I would use a marble jar for every time they do something without whining or complaining. You could also let them them grab a honey stick or a M&M to give them a treat for obeying right away and saying, “Yes, Mom!”.  For a reminder, I would pull out the Apple Cider Vinegar for every time they whined or complained.


“10 Practical Things” Extended Pt 2 – Child Training

After you have mostly mastered parent training, ( let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no), move onto to child training.  Remember, you must be consistent or your children will never understand as the expectations are too moveable.  Consistency is the key. 

Week 2 – Child Training

When I was in the training stages with my kids, I would pick one trait to work on that week.  The pattern of the week was usually the same.

Day One – Introduce what we were going to work on.  Have them start memorizing a corresponding Bible verse.  Remind them what positive reinforcements would happen if I caught them showing this behavior.  I would also take time to remind them that they were not allowed to tell me when they showed this behavior, I must catch them at it.

Day Two – Introduce a game or activity that reinforced the behavior and practiced saying the Bible verse.

Days Three through Six- Play the game or activity, if appropriate.  Pay special attention to children and give them much praise and positive reinforcement of the behavior shown.  Make sure that you praise the kids, in front of Dad, of the times that day when they showed the behavior. Continue to practice Bible verse.

Day Seven – Have the kids recite their Bible verses. I always like to give kids a small treat, each and every time they could recite the verse for me.  Like an m&m or a jelly bean or a fruit chewie. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Earlier on, I wanted this to resonate with my kids, that the Words of the Bible are sweet to our soul and to our mouth.  Years later, they now run for the jelly bean jar when they recite verses for me and any kids who come to my house know that if they can recite a verse, I will give them candy. On the last day, I also remind them that I will still be watching for them to show this behavior but now that I know that they know what they are supposed to do, I expect that from them.  I also warn them that there will be discipline if they fail to do what they know they are supposed to.

Now, that you have the basic pattern you put any behaviors into this.

There are several behaviors that I would recommend putting into place for a smoother home and school time.

First Time Obedience

One of the first times I presented this topic at a convention a woman stood up in the middle of the workshop and asked me what I meant by ‘first time obedience’.  I was a little taken aback but since it then happened at successive conventions, I try to define what I mean by that.  By first time, I mean, if you ask your child to sit down at the table, will they sit down the very first time you ask?  If you ask them to pick up their toys will they pick up their toys the very first time you ask?  If you ask them to come to you, will they come the very first time you call?  If your child will obey consistently ( say 80% of the time) then I would say that they are obedient the first time.

The Bible verse I use to teach this is Ephesians 6:1 “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  I would use this verse for children 2-5 years old, but for older kids I would add verses 2 and 3, “Honor your mother and father – for this is the first commandment with a promise – so that it may go well with you and you may enjoy a long life upon the earth.

I play a modified game of hide and go seek with my kids to introduce first time obedience.  I go and hide and then call my kids.  They have to yell, “Yes, Mom” and then run to find me.  When they find me, if they have said, “Yes, Mom” then I give them a treat.  I play this several times the first time and perhaps have my husband do it too and then throughout the week, I would hide unexpectedly and call to them.  Little kids really love this but your older kids will get into it if you challenge them with your hiding places.  Teaching is so much more effective if we can think of fun ways to introduce and reinforce topics.


“10 Practical Things” Extended – Child and Parent Training Pt 1

The seminar and article I get the most questions on is from, “Ten Practical Things Every Homeschooler Should Know” so I thought I would start with that.

Today we are going to talk about Parent Training.

“The reasonableness of the command to obey parents is clear to children, even when quite young.”  – Noah Webster

One of the very first things I ask Moms who are stressed and overwrought and clearly at their wits end with this crazy homeschooling thing is, “ If you ask your child to please go to the table and sit down, what happens?”  and the second thing I ask is, “How many times would it take of you asking before your child would do it?”.  More often than not, the answer comes with a pause and a stammer or even an answer that it depends on the child’s mood that day.  Children that do not obey right away make homeschooling 10 times harder than it has to be and if you have more than one child, that can make it almost impossible.  Consider this scenario –

“Johnnny and Susie, please come to the table and sit down.  We are ready to start school.”  Mom asks.  Johnny and Susie keep playing with the legos with no acknowledgement or sign of movement.

“ Kids, it is time for school.  Come over.  I have fun activities planned for today.”  The two briefly raise their heads from their toys at the mention of fun but quickly go back to playing.

“I said, it is time for school, don’t make me count to 3!”  Mom’s voice starts getting louder.  Finally, Mom comes over and takes their hands and puts the toys down and makes them come to table all the while the two have begun to wail which then wakes up little brother who has been taking a nap.  Mom struggles to get them to table and hopes the baby goes back to sleep so she can do school.  Mom is stressed, the kids are whining and crying and it is only the beginning of the day.

The calm, wonderful school day Mom has meticulously planned is now shot to pieces and she just does the best she can to teach the have-to’s in the remaining time.  Anyone would have a hard time teaching phonics and math to children who won’t even come sit down at the table.  It becomes more about just getting it done than really teaching and educating. One of the interesting and more difficult parts of homeschooling is the fact that we are educating and parenting.  We are training their minds and their hearts at the same time.  You don’t stop being the Mom when school starts, you just add the Teacher hat to the mix.

 Now, before we go any further, I know that some of you are thinking, “Dawn must have compliant children.  She clearly doesn’t have any strong-willed children.”  Not true, AT ALL.  We are blessed with three children, Connor, and the twins, Caileigh and Collin.  My husband often says that if we would have just had Connor we would have thought we were the best parents ever.  We said, “No”, and he stopped.  We could look sternly at him and he would apologize.  Then we had the twins.  Caileigh, bless her sweet heart, is definitely my child and that is both a blessing and a curse.  I often heard growing up,  “ I hope you have a child just like you!” and I did.  Caileigh does her own thing, in her own time and is willing to let you know when she doesn’t like something.  Her twin, Collin, sees everything in black and white and while mostly obedient, if you do something that he sees as wrong ( like turning the cartoon off while he was watching), he will hold a grudge all day long. I understand, really, I do.  That’s also why I know this works.  I read all the books, went to the seminars, talked to the leaders and gathered all the information I could.

So what is a mom to do?  Plan to spend the summer training your children in first time obedience, no whining and complaining and cleaning up after themselves.  What if you are in the middle of the school year?  Then start where you are.  You can schedule homeschooling light for the next few weeks, take a week or two off or pare down on activities for the next several weeks.  It can be done in the school year, it just might take more of your time, emotions and energy than usual.

Parent Training

First things first, we need to do some parent training.  I would suggest you take a week before you start on child training to train and prepare yourself and possibly your spouse.

In my experience, one of the most powerful and helpful parenting Bible verses is Matthew 5:37 which says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

When my children were little, I was challenged to really put this into practice in my home.  It meant that I had to take a moment and think about what they were asking and what my response would be.  It meant that if I said,’Yes’, I was committed to doing what I said I would do.  If I said I would make cookies, then I did.  If I said they could play with playdough I needed to be prepared to help get out all the playdough toys and set them up outside on the patio.  (I can not deal with playdough in the house.  It makes me crazy)  If I said that as soon I was done folding the laundry then I would take them to the park, then I did.  Sure life can get crazy and sometimes things happen but I tried to be very careful to keep my word.  I wanted my kids to know that I when I said I would do something then I would.  I didn’t need to promise because my kids knew that if I said ‘Yes’, I meant, ‘Yes’.

This took me a little time to adjust to as I really needed to think about it before I said, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.  I had to weigh out all that I had to do, what other expectations I had on my time and what was most important that day.  Had I spent enough time with the kids or had I been too focused on other matters.  Did I have company coming and messy kids what the last thing I needed?  Was there a moral or Biblical reason to say ‘No’, or was it just because it might annoy me.  This last statement was one I was also challenged on, did I just say ‘No’ to things because I just didn’t really want to deal with it or did I have a valid reason to say, ‘No’? Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I said, ‘No’ and then I told them, “ Mom, really isn’t up to it today.  Can we do it later in the week?’.  I really tried to limit the ‘Nos’ that had more to do with what I felt like then really whether it was a bad idea.

Saying, ‘Yes’ is far easier than the concept of saying, ‘No’ and meaning it.  Your ‘No’ as parent must hold weight.  If I tell my kids, ‘No’ they understand that I am willing to follow up on the ‘No’.  I do try and give them a why with the ‘No’ so they can learn the whys behind my ‘Nos’ and hopefully begin to see the wisdom and pattern in my ‘No’.

“No, you may not take the toy away from your sister because that is rude and the Bible says that love is not rude”.

“No, you may not play with your brother’s toys as it is not yours.  We must love and respect your brother enough to ask before we touch his things.”  I said this a lot to the twins who wanted to play with their older brothers cool toys.  Actually, they still want to play with his cool toys, but they now ask before they touch.

When I said ‘No’ to my kids, I had to be willing to follow up on whatever the consequences might be.  My ‘Yes’ meant ‘Yes’ and my ‘No’ meant ‘No’.  I didn’t count to three, I didn’t ask several times because they needed to know that I meant what I said and I was willing to follow through.  Was this fun?  Absolutely not.  There were days when I met my husband at the door and said, “The kids are sitting and reading on the couch, dinner is on the table and I won’t be back until they are all in bed”.  Saying ‘No’ and meaning it means that your children will test you on your ‘No’ and you have to have to have the fortitude to follow through.  It will be worth it though.  I don’t get angry and I don’t raise my voice but my kids know when Mom says ‘No’ she means it and they very rarely challenge that anymore.  It makes our home and much more peaceful and pleasant place.

I think that this is very first step in having your children listen to you both as a parent and a teacher and it is up to the parent to determine in their heart and mind to follow the Bible’s advice.


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


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. 


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.


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. 


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.

You Can Do This!

Do you remember when you had your first baby?  The first moment you had with that sweet, little person? I had a long, hard labour with my oldest, over 36 hours of labour and hadn’t slept in 48 hours and neither had anyone else in my general vicinity.  After Connor’s birth and he had been bathed and fed and the 500 pictures taken with both sets of new grandparents, everyone left to go take showers and get food and sleep.  Finally, I was left with my little man.  I placed him on the bed and looked at him eye to eye and introduced myself, “Hi, I’m your Mom and I am going to try my very best not to mess up your life. ”  Some may laugh and ask if I really made that little speech, but I really did.  I needed to verbalize my commitment.

When my twins were born, I merely promised them that somehow we were all going to survive this and prayerfully, thrive.  Thriving seemed like a reach with two newborns and a three year old but I was going to put all my efforts into making it happen.

When we brought home our children, each time seemed like a Herculean effort.  With Connor, everything was so new.  How did we know that the fresh salad and broccoli I was eating would cause terrible tummy aches in our newest little member?  When was he actually going to sleep the entire night?  We put a schedule into place, read all the books, talked to older, wiser people and made it work.  With the twins, we took a deep breath, read all the twin books, brought in a friend who had twins a year earlier and made it work, albeit with very little sleep.  With all of them we did survive and indeed, thrive.  I hold my memories of that time close to my heart and with much love.

When we start thinking about Homeschooling we often get a similar level of fear and nervousness.  Are we going to totally mess up our children?  Can we really teach them to read, to do long division, to diagram sentences?  Can we do this without losing our mind, killing our children, and still make dinner?  Is it just hubris to think we can do this better than the experts?  What will everyone say?  Are our in-laws or parents going to completely freak out?  Will our kids become unsocialized, social misfits?

That level of fear and questioning reminds me of the fear I felt when I brought my first child home from the hospital.  “Are you seriously going to let me go out if here with a child?  Do you really think I am capable of this?  What will I do if they cry or get sick or…”.  With our twins, it was more of a, ” Please don’t make me go home!  There are not near enough adults at our house to deal with all of these children.”

Homeschooling is much the same.  It’s gonna possibly be the hardest, most draining, challenging, most rewarding and blessed thing you have done since bringing home your first baby.  I have found that now, 12 years into Homeschooling, I wouldn’t give up even one moment of it.  I have put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and many a tear into three of the most amazing people I have ever met, and it has been well worth it.

So just like the little pamphlet that they gave me at the hospital on, “How to Take Care off Your Baby” here’s your, “How to Homeschool and Thrive”.  It won’t be nearly enough information, just like that pamphlet from the hospital, but hopefully, it will give you some help along the path.

(Keep it Simple Sweetheart)
The temptation the first time you homeschool is to buy everything and more that first year.  One of your friends says that Sonlight teaches your children to love to read and someone else says that My Father’s World has better Bible so it makes total sense to buy both and try to combine them.  You can’t decide whether a spiral math or a mastery based math is better so let’s do a little of both.  You’ve heard that homeschoolers are unsocialized so one of the first things you do is sign up for a Co-op two days a week as well as piano, soccer and choir.  Some of us, me included, buy twice as much curricula than we need each year and find it would take us 22 hours a day to get it all done.

I am here to tell you a little secret, homeschooling is less about the curriculum you choose than the way you put it into practice.  The best homeschool curriculum is the curriculum you get done.  Your child is going to have gaps in their education, they just are.  You cannot teach them every possible thing but you can teach them how to love to learn.  You can teach them how to find information, how to be diligent in their work and to persevere until they do understand and to keep searching until they find out the answer to that problem.  More curricula is never going to give you a child like that but you can.  You can encourage your child to ask questions and if you don’t know the answer to say, ” I don’t know.  Let’s go find out together” and then do it.  Not knowing something isn’t a failure, it’s just a stage of the process.  If we don’t know something, then we just need to find out that information and not to stop until we do know.

We often feel that choosing our curriculum is the biggest factor in having a successful homeschool.  I would agree that it is important but it is no where near the most important decision.  We need to think of our curricula as the vehicle that gets us to where we need to go.  Our destination is our homeschool goals, we are the drivers (in high school our children may be the drivers) and our curriculum is merely the car we use to get there.  It may be luxurious with all the bells and whistles or it may be a Pinto which a badly needs a paint job. You can still get where you are going with either vehicle, the ride may feel differently but ultimately it is up to the driver as to whether we are going to make it to our destination.  We should never let the vehicle determine where we are going, we are the driver and it is merely a tool we use.

Especially the first year or two or in years that life is happening at the speed of light, you need to just keep it simple.  Figure out your goals, make a list of your “have – to’s” and work on those.  I always recommend starting the year slowly.  I start at the beginning of August and add a subject or two a week and by week 5 or 6 we have added everything in.  I also recommend buying just the absolutes and start on those and only add in things as they are needed.  Do not start the year with an overflowing schedule, start slowly and make it successful.  Having everyone hate school (including you) at the beginning of the year isn’t going to do anyone any good.  When you brought that first baby home you didn’t over schedule.  You made things as simple as possible, homeschooling is going to be similar.  I will also tell you that the first 6 – 8 weeks in a school year are hard.  It takes everyone a while to get in a groove.  Don’t change too many things in those first weeks, just start slowly and keep it simple.

Just DO It.

I talk to a lot of homeschoolers in the course of a year, hundreds on a slow convention year and thousands in a busy year.  One constant refrain I hear is that everyday life gets in the way of homeschooling.  I agree it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that we just have to do it. When my twins were a year, I herniated two discs in my lower back.  I was trying to sit down on the ground at a Church picnic with both babies in my arms and wearing a backpack.  I tried to sit down without using my hands and as I hit the ground I felt a pop and severe pain.  Over the next year, I spent ten months in Chiropractic Offices, torture sessions with Physical Therapists and finally in a Surgeons office.  Needless to say it was a crazy painful year with 3 hospitalizations and a major surgery.  It was also my first year to Homeschool.  There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t in pain nor was there a day when I felt like it was the perfect day to homeschool but it was something I committed to and I was determined to do a good job of it.  Connor and I spent many an afternoon doing school while the twins napped and I laid in bed.  It was hard but we did it.  So like the Nike slogan says, “Just DO It”.

I find it helpful to think of homeschooling as my job.  If I was in an office, I might take an occasional sick day but I would have to be really sick.  I wouldn’t plan on Bible Studies or take personal phone calls or spend time checking my Facebook page.  I would give my time to do the job that I was being paid to do.  I think homeschooling requires the same level of commitment.  It doesn’t matter what we feel like or how tired we are, we have to just do it.  Homeschooling is hard, it is demanding, it requires us to give patiently of our time, our energy and every ounce of creativity we have but it is worth every ounce of sweat, every tear and worth the determination to do it everyday no matter what life throws at us.



“Change Your Face” and Other Questionable Parenting Moments

For the many that only know me from the blog or from the MFW FB page, what you might not know is that I have a deep well of snark. I try to keep it under control when I am writing as sarcasm and snark don’t always play well in writing.  You have to be able to see my face, hear my tone and be able to judge my relative sincerity.  Those that have heard me speak at conventions have been able to see this in me.  Sarcasm, irony and snark are my love languages.  Okay, not meanly.  Being mean is never going to be right. As my kids became pre-teens and teens this also became one of my best tools to both keep situations light and funny but also able to get my point across to my kids. I find funny is a powerful tool to keep tempers and emotions in check in both the kids and in myself.  Now, I only have to start these phrases and my kids finish them for me and check and change their attitudes.  Occasionally, they spout them back at me and I have to check my attitude.

1. “Change your face!” This gem was given to me by a Pastor at our church.  His Mom used to say it to him whenever his attitude started showing in his face.  Kid disgusted by the dinner served at Grandma’s house? A quick, ” Change your face” is highly effective.  Your teen rolling their eyes at you?  Give them a warning to change their face. Someone saying something dumb about homeschooling? Your kids remind you to change YOUR face.  

2. “ Really? That’s what you want to go with?” This phrase became almost a daily occurrence when Caileigh was struggling in later elementary with telling the truth. We had laid down the consequences, lying got you 4x the punishment of the original infraction.  It also meant you went nowhere and spent ALL your time right next to Mom.  If I couldn’t trust you to be away from me, then you got to be right by me and do everything I did.  All the dishes, cleaning, chores that I did plus outside activities were cancelled until you proved that you were trustworthy.  Caileigh needed a little grace and a little helpful reminder when it was obvious that she wasn’t telling the complete truth.  I would say this once and only once to give her a chance to do the right thing. Now, it’s used in our home as a funny way to say, “You are digging yourselves a pretty deep hole that you never are going to get out of”.  This was especially helpful with younger teen boys during puberty because they said the dumbest things and needed to think through what they were actually saying.

3. “Life is tough. Life is tougher when you’re stupid.” – John Wayne.  When I first came across this quote, I absolutely howled.  It was funny and so very true. My beloved Grandpa watched all the John Wayne movies with me and in my mind was John Wayne.  He even looked liked John Wayne and spoke like John Wayne and I could just hear him saying it to me. I read it to my kids and gave them some personal examples of when I made my life so much harder because I was making poor choices. The Bible has several examples.  Samson is a perfect example of this.  He knew the right thing to do and did the exact opposite and it made his life sooooo much harder. So whenever I see my kids headed down a path that is going to cause them trouble I just say, “Life is tough. Life is tougher…” and they generally fill in the rest of the phrase and my adorable 5 year old niece says, ” We don’t say stupid!”.  It is the perfect way to remind them that they are making their own life so much harder because of a unwise choice.  

4. “Know where you are going or you’ll end up somewhere else” – Yogi Berra. My StepMom used to say this to me all the time and it made me crazy but it’s so true.  If you don’t have a goal and a plan then you are never going to get where you want to go. The Bible says that, ” The noble make noble plans and by noble deeds they stand” Isaiah 32:8. If God has led you to homeschool, then make goals, plans and get it done.  In our home we encourage our kids to pray big, dream big and once you think God has said yes, then you step in, make a plan with achievable goals and get it done.  I have been floored by the things my kids have accomplished, they are scary big. They prayed about them, stepped in and we made a plan with achieveable goals and they have done everything from raising a large amount of money to feed kids in Ethiopia, to speaking at a MIT convention in Barcelona, Amsterdam and Boston, become the Rising Stars for their Robotics team, do two years of math in a year to catch up,  have our entire block donate food for a food drive at church or raise enough money for our family to go on a missions trip – twice. They don’t think that its impossible, they know that God wants them to make the world a better place and they make a plan and make it happen.  They humble and challenge me. 

5. “Your maid doesn’t live here.” We keep a pretty clean house with daily chores, daily 15 minute clean ups but everyone is supposed to clean up after themselves.  If you grab a snack, fine, but clean the kitchen after yourself.  Don’t leave your stuff lying around period end of discussion.  For some strange reason my kids forget these rules and occasionally I have to pull out this phrase.  I say it and point to the mess.  If it isn’t cleaned up immediately, then we have an obedience issue and no one wants that.  There have been times when this got bad enough that I started charging them, because a maid should be paid. Then they had to do chores like scooping poop, pulling weeds etc to make extra money so that you could pay me.  This generally stopped that behavior for 3 mos or so and then we had to retrain. 

I didn’t ever use these phrases with younger kids as they need black and white, yes or no’s.  They need to know the rules and follow the rules in those younger years.  Towards those middle school and high school years, I moved to more of a coaching role versus an absolute monarchy.  These are also most effective with kids who know the right thing to do and have been trained in obedience.  They just need reminders not training. 

Tea Party Manners 

****We took the twins to The Melting Pot for dinner tonight to refresh some of their manners.  I noticed that their best manners were a little rusty, and as we had a gift card ( Thanks, sis!) we decided it was a perfect opportunity to do some re- training.  I was reminded of this post as we left. It is a great idea to teach manners BEFORE you need them at a family reunion or wedding or something like that.  They don’t come naturally but if we train our kids ahead of time, we can all go into situations with a lot more confidence.***

Earlier in the spring, Scott (the wonderful man he is), bought tickets for all of us to see the “Little Mermaid” musical in a pre-Broadway engagement here in Denver. Last night we made a night of it and saw the delightful new musical and had dinner at a restaurant in downtown Denver. We dressed up and headed for a fun family evening. When we arrived at the restaurant, I mentioned to the kids that I expected “Tea Party Manners”. At various times through out the year, I plan a “tea party” complete with tea, sandwiches and the ever important scones, boys too. These parties have a dual role, one to have fun and the second to teach manners. The boys learn how to seat a lady, Caileigh how to be seated, how to place a napkin on our laps, eat with the proper utensil, keep our elbows off the table and to sit up straight in our chairs. “Tea Party Manners” are the extra special manners we need on special occasions. Then when we go into a situation that requires those manners, I just tell them I expect tea party manners and they know what is required of them. It’s so much easier to teach those manners before they are needed at a wedding, Thanksgiving or dining out before a show. They best thing is that they are confident and secure in what they know and go into those situations with ease.

Last night was no exception, they behaved like young gentlemen and lady (or a Princess according to Caileigh) and shined like the stars they are. Speaking as a very proud Mommy, several restaurant guests made a special point of coming over to remark how well mannered and beautiful our children were. The show was amazing and I loved watching the faces of my enthralled children as they watched the magic unfold on stage. It was a memory making evening for all. Oh, and the kids got 5 marbles each in their reward jars for exceptional behavior. Maybe you should have a tea party soon!


Mom and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Homeschool Day

It’s one of “those” days. You know the one. The one where it’s only 10am and everyone has been in tears at least once, the science experiment blew-up, math is taking four times as long as it should, when you asked your child write a brief summary of what you just read they look at you like you asked them to pluck out their eyebrows one hair at a time and you, of course, are out of chocolate. Yeah, that day. 

Any Mom that has home schooled for more than a week knows that day. The day when you look longingly at the school bus as it passes your house and you think, “I could put them all on that happy yellow bus and go get a latte, all by myself.” On one of those days several years ago, I met my hard-working husband at the door as he got home and said, “That’s it. I’m out. I started looking at schools today and maybe I can find one that will work…” Wisely, my dear husband gave me a hug, sighed and replied, “ Okay, I’ll take the homeschooling over. What are you going to do to support us?” Wait, what did he just say? He then went on to remind me, “We have goals for our kids and we decided that homeschooling was the best way to meet those goals. If you really can’t handle it, then I guess I’ll have to.” His reaction hit me like a ton of bricks. We had spent time and energy planning goals for our family and our kids. We felt strongly that homeschooling was our best option. Since there was no way I could compete with his software industry salary, nor did I want to, I had to figure out how to make those horrible days have minimal and short-term impact.
1. Have written goals and display them.
The first thing I figured out was to write down our goals and the reasons that we home school and prominently display them in our home. For years, our goals were on the side of the fridge where I would see them daily. One of my friends placed their goals on the inside of the pantry door. I needed to remember that homeschooling was not a spur of the moment decision and that there was a purpose and reason to all of this. When I focus on why we home school, I am able to see the big picture and stay calm and think through the emotions on those bad days.
2. “Can I fry you an egg?”
When I was growing up, my Dad would offer to “fry us an egg” when life seemed too hard or our emotions were getting ahead of us. He was a short order cook in his teens and apparently never got past that “feed people” gene. My mother-in-law asks if she can make a cup of tea when those around her are stressed. Either way, egg or tea, the intent is the same. Sometimes, we all may be cranky because of a physical need and we just need to take a break. When I find myself getting stressed or my kids are starting to fall apart, one of the first things the kids and I do is to take a break; have a snack, take a walk or sometimes if it’s absolutely necessary, take a nap. When my oldest son is struggling with a concept he’ll ask if he can take a jog to clear his head. My daughter usually needs a snack and her twin brother finds relief in kicking a ball around the yard. These can be day savers, costing only a few minutes with long-term benefits.  
3. Come at the Problem Another Way
There are times when I am teaching a new concept and no matter what I say, the kids just don’t seem to get it. Clearly, I seem to be speaking a different language. When that happens, I usually run to that old favorite: hands-on activities. I look around my house quickly to see if there is something I can use to make this concept more tangible. I recently explained a geometry concept to my high school son using pre-school toys. He was horrified when I pulled out the pre-school box but he got the concept! If I absolutely cannot figure out how to explain a concept, I send them for a snack and jump on the internet. A quick search can almost always help me find another way to explain a concept.
4. Know What You Absolutely Have to Have Done that Day
When everything fails, when you and the kids have had a snack, taken a walk, marched to the Nutcracker Suite, and nothing seems to be working, know what your absolutes are for that day. I make a mental note of our absolute, must get done items. When one of “those” days hits, and I know that it will, I minimize our workload and try to hit the “musts”. We do math and language arts almost year round so I know that we are generally fine on those subjects. I’ll have the kids watch a math video or play a math game instead of hammering out the entire lesson. Instead of having my kids write a full summary of our history, I’ll just have them tell me the most important point. To compensate, I’ll read an extra chapter of our read aloud to make time for the harder things we missed today and need to do tomorrow. We address the absolutes and call it a day. I do try and keep a note of how often we do this so that we don’t get behind. This option should be only used in extreme cases when nothing else works!
Every homeschooler has rough days. They are normal; not fun, but normal. Homeschooling can take a lot of personal energy and patience but the rewards are great and well worth the occasional bad day. We need to be realistic and pro-active in knowing how to handle these days. When we set up a plan of action, we can rescue our home school from the terrible, horrible, no good day.

Going to a Homeschool Convention?

I am going to tell you that if you don’t regularly go to a convention, you should.  Think of it as in-service training.  Actually, at a convention I spoke at last weekend, I had to sign papers for people who came to my sessions so that they got credit for on going training. I thought that was a brilliant idea and I think we need to consider the convention in that same light – on going training! Convention is your time to ask questions, pick people’s brains, get your hands on that cool, new curriculum and get inspired.   You also never know what conversations with a  perfect stranger in some  booth will change your life or your children’s life.  It is important.  In the words of Shakespeare, ” Get thee to a convention!” Okay, lecture over.

For all of you home schooling Moms, you know what’s coming? Convention season. 

For some of us, it’s an exciting thought, for others it’s a dreaded thought. I think we, as home school parents, should go to the convention every year, whether we like it or not. Why? Because it helps us to be better educated and if we don’t need the education surely some newbie does and they could use a veteran’s advice.

I happen to love convention season. I love going to conventions whether I am working the convention or attending the convention. I love all the books, all the new curriculums and the science kits, oh and the history add-ons and did I mention the books. (Seriously, where else can you buy owl pellets, a how-to knit book, a Bible and Historical comparison timeline, an Adventures in Odyssey CD, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet? That’s awesome – I’m just sayin’) I love that I could learn about how to teach reading and how to teach Calculus within a two hour time span. I love all the possibilities. It just makes me happy.

I am aware that the convention can also be an overwhelming, scary place full of too many options. So I have decided to give to you my list of convention prep. I have been going to conventions since I was 15. For those of you counting, that’s a long, long, LONG time. First as a student and now as a Mom, so I have some well used practical hints.

1. Make time with your husband to pray and write out your goals for your home school and your kids. Bring these goals with you to the convention to help you narrow down the choices.  This is a vital step in deciding to homeschool, picking curriculum and being deliberate in parenting and educating your children.

2. Read Debra Bell’s “The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling” before you go. It will help you get an understanding of the types of curriculum out there. Veterens and speakers will toss arounds words like, “classical, Charlotte Mason, literature based, unit studies and lap books” and it will give you some understanding of what in the world they are talking about.

3. Go with a friend who has been homeschooling longer than you. Bring your husband. Pay a babysitter, bribe your mother or do whatever you need to do to have your husband come with you. My husband is a life saver at the convention. He sees the bigger picture and helps me to pick curriculum that meets our goals and he carries all the heavy stuff. I love that.

4. Make a list before you go of what you need. Don’t go in blind, do the research, visit web-sites, message boards, e-mail me, talk to the lady at church that home schools to figure out what you need.

5. Make a budget – be realistic. I spend at least $1000 a year total on all three kids curriculum although with high school looming that number is about to jump, I fear. That $1000 looks a lot but check out what a private school costs. Some people do it with less, some more. I buy what we think is best for our kids. Sometimes that’s the most expensive curriculum, sometimes it’s not. Keep your husband out of your budget money. We have more books on the Roman Empire than I know what to do with.  As an update, with kids in online classes for high school and the cost of high school subjects, I spend closer to $1750 per child in high school.

6. Plan to go for more than one day. I find I need the first day for looking around and the second or third day for buying.

7. Our cardinal rule – NEVER BUY MAJOR CURRICULUM ON THE FIRST DAY. No matter what that amazing speaker says, go home( or the hotel room) think about it, talk to your husband, look at your goals and sleep on it. This has saved me a world of trouble. I can’t count the number of times I have changed my mind after some thought and prayer and sleep. Trust me.

8. Wear really comfortable shoes and bring a sweater, notebook , pens, caffeine and chocolate. You can thank me later.

9. Plan time to shop. It’s tempting to go to all the speakers but you need time to get hands-on with the curriculum. Ask questions of the vendors. Ask the vendors if their curriculum fits your goals. ( I love doing this – it saves me so much time) Don’t be afraid to spend major time at a booth, especially if it’s going to be your main curriculum ( think MFW, Sonlight, TOG etc). Ask me how much time I spent at the MFW booth before we decided it was the “one”. David Hazell knew me by name and sight while choosing Kindergarten. It’s also okay to just say that you need time with the Teacher’s Manual looking at the curriculum. Do what you need to do. I always sit at the back toward the end of a row because if a speaker is not talking about things I need to hear, I leave.  As a speaker myself, I don’t find this rude, you are there to learn about how to homeschool your children and your time is valuable. (Okay, I was thrown off when my name was announced and half the room left.  Usually, I don’t offend people quite that fast.  Later I found out that they moved the Susan Wise Bauer talk from that room.  I would leave my own talk to hear SWB speak so that seemed fair.) 

10. Buy fun things to bring home to your kids. Buy a bonnet, a rubber Bowie knife, a game, a new Adventure in Odyssey and a new book to read. They will think conventions are great.

If you are not a home schooler and you just want great, God honoring books, CD’s, games, devotionals, parenting books, how-to’s on grinding your own wheat, whatever, the home school convention is a great place to go as well.
Hope this helps and hope to see you there!

In February of 2017, I am going to the Fort Worth Great Homeschool Convention and am planning a get together on Friday, the 24th from 2:00-4:00. If you want more info, leave a comment on the Shining Examples FB page and I will keep you updated.