All posts by samantha

Easing into School

Remembering back to my elementary, middle, and high school years, the first days of school were always an exciting time when I met my teachers and found out who shared my classes. Then the teachers went through the school handbook and discussed all the rules. Though we may have had a homework assignment or two, it was a good way of “easing” into the new school year.

Well, my kids already know their teacher and classmates, and the rules of the house are still the same. Because of this, I tend to want to jump back into school “full steam ahead.” I have to remind myself that we haven’t been on a regular schedule for a while, and it might take a few days to get into a regular routine again.

But there are things we can do to make the change easier for us all to adjust to:

  • We’ll spend time talking about the subjects they’ll be learning, and how and when I can help them individually. We’ve had the problem in the past of one student interrupting me while I was trying to help another. This time, they’ll know just what to expect.
  • I’m not assigning them work in every subject…yet. We’ll tackle a few of the basics first, especially reading and writing. I’ll introduce the other subjects as the week goes on and they’ve had time to readjust.
  • Although the kids are going to wake up at the same time and eat breakfast together, they’re going to go through the day at their own pace.  Some of my students will get right to it and get things done, while others will work in a much more leisurely manner. I’ve found it only frustrates all of us when I try to keep everyone on task together.
  • We’ll play some educational games together.
  • We’ll plan an outing with friends towards the end of the week, giving them something special to look forward to.

Even if you homeschool, or rather, especially if you homeschool, those first days can still be an exciting fresh start!

 

Photo by earl53

 

Last Week of Summer Break

This week is our last week of summer break. On the 15th, when the schools in our area begin their first day, we’ll start off on our first “official” day too. While I had great intentions on finishing up my lesson plans early in the season, we are now just a week away, and I still have to make those plans. I have almost all of the books we’re going to use — just not the plans to go with them.

But, I reassured myself, that’s okay — I still have this week to pull everything together.But, like many plans, mine is in need of some revisions, as it’s  turning out to be a week busy with activities.

Monday: A few necessary errands in the morning.  In the afternoon, my daughter Cassie will join a homeschool middle school volleyball team for practice, her first team sport since she was  eight years old. After I drop her off, I’ll then take my oldest son John to his first piano lesson — as the teacher! He’ll be working with two young students who haven’t played much before. Maybe I can do some planning in the evening.

Tuesday: Planning in the morning; violin lessons for the girls around noon; community service for John in the afternoon.

Wednesday: Monthly visit to the nursing home in the morning; piano lessons for John and Luke in the afternoon; Lesson planning?

Thursday: Meeting with friends in the morning – afternoon at a state park to swim and picnic; Lesson planning…?

Friday: Last opportunity to use our tickets from the library reading program for a local water park. The park is about an hour away, so we want to make a day of it. Hmmm….lesson planning…

I have to admit, I am not a homeschooling mom who has it all together. As I look at this schedule, I’m really glad to have at least some time on Monday and Tuesday to put our first few weeks of school in writing.

But while homeschooling works well for those who are organized, structured, and totally prepared, it also works well for those of us who aren’t.  Even if I don’t have the whole year planned, I can still mix my teaching style with my children’s learning styles and create an educational atmosphere where they continue to grow. And isn’t that one of the reasons we homeschool in the first place?

 

Photo by mensatic

A Pig Parade and a Cupcake

This summer, my children participated in our library’s summer reading program. To win all of the prizes, younger kids had to read 80 picture books (that was a lot of books!). Needless to say, we made multiple trips to the library looking for new books to read. Some we read were pretty good, and some were not so good. And two of the books that we read really surprised me. They were A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Micahel Ian Black and Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper.

While I figured A Pig Parade would have be one that the kids would enjoy, it actually turned out to be so much fun for me to read aloud. While it doesn’t tell a story, it does tell you why you shouldn’t try to have a pig parade. Discussing everything from the majorette uniforms to the music  to the floats and balloons, the book offers convincing arguments for avoiding a piggy production. It has some bigger vocabulary words, making it a very entertaining book for older children and adults.

The second book that surprised me was Cupcake. This one features a cupcake that thinks he is very plain. All of his decorated brothers and sisters are quickly chosen (and eaten!), while he is left behind. As I’m reading  along with my kids, I was thinking this was one of those books that was going to be very hard to get through. It was obvious what the moral was going to be, and it seemed so “cheesy” (or rather, “sugar-coated?”), that I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the book. However, we needed to read 80 books, so we kept going.

Well, about half-way through the book, the cupcake meets a candle that is also plain. The candle has the idea of putting different things on the cupcake to dress him up a little.  The things he chooses are so funny — pickles, smelly cheese, even a squirrel! By this time, we are all laughing, and then my daughter guesses what the ending will be — the candle will hop onto the cupcake. But she has guessed incorrectly, and the surprise ending brings even more laughs. No lesson — just fun.

So, if you’re looking for an afternoon read to enjoy with your kids, give a pig and a cupcake a try!

Are You a Rule Follower – Part 2

I walked the long way back from the car, now hot and sweaty, and the ink on my arm had run so much you couldn’t see what it said. I looked at the employee checking people through and said, “Please let me back in.” The security guard laughed, but he stopped when the beeper went off.

“Do you have anything metal on you?” he asked. “Maybe your keys?”

I handed him my keys, then went through the scanner again. And it went off again. I could feel my already-sweaty palms begin to sweat even more.

“It’s probably just not working right,” said the employee. He was going to let me through.

“Anything else?” the guard asked. I gave him my watch and went through again. It beeped again.

“It’s just not working right,” the employee said again. I liked him.

But the guard said, “Anything else?” I gave him the two rings I was wearing. And it beeped again.

The guard looked at me funny. “Do you have anything else on you that’s metal?” My hand moved towards my pocket, and I pulled out…two packages of tuna.

Now, two packages of tuna aren’t much of  a threat to anyone, unless you’re throwing them in frustration.  But I wasn’t throwing them. I was SO embarrassed, all I could do was turn around, drop them in the nearest garbage can, and move quickly through the detector — again. No beep.

“No outside food allowed,” reminded the guard in a pleasant voice. I gave him a little smile, then scooted away as quickly as I could. I knew my face had to be bright red. It sure felt like all the blood had rushed to it.

As I made my way back to the rest of the group, all I could think of was my sister’s words, “I’m a rule-follower.” My, she could really rub it in if she wanted to! And though I’m usually a rule-follower, to save some money I tried to break the rule…and I was caught.

I debated for a while if I should share the story with anyone, particularly my children. But I did, as it was a good lesson for them too.

There are a lot of rules that are easy to “bend”. Driving a little faster than the speed limit, smuggling snacks into a movie theater, and copying songs from someone else’s CD are all “small” infractions that shouldn’t seem to matter. But they do. They are a reflection of character and integrity, two things we want to hang on to.

It was also a good lesson in kindness, as my sister never did gloat. 🙂

 

Photo by sideshowmom

Are You A Rule-Follower? – Part 1

Last month, we met with my sister and her family for a fun day at a nearby theme park. We had gone to the same park last year and had such a good time,  and this time my kids were excited about sharing the experience with their cousins. I felt confident about navigating through the park and handling the high food prices — that is, until we went through the main gate.

As with many theme parks, the drinks, snacks, and meal deals weren’t deals at all, but we knew that ahead of time. Last year, we took some snacks along with us to save some money, and no one working at the gates commented on them at all (we did buy our drinks there). Because the park had such a family-friendly policy of allowing snacks into the park, I assured my sister we could do it this year as well.

So, before we headed off to the park, we each packed a bag with snacks and a few extra waters. We were ready for a great day.

That is, until we lined up to go through the turnstile. This summer, as the workers  looked through the bags,  if you had any extra drinks or snacks, they told you to throw them away or take them back to your car, at least a thirty minute walk there and back.

“Really?” I said, incredulous. “Take them back?”

“Yes,” the worker repeated. “You can take your water through this time, but the snacks have to go back.”

My sister went through in a different line. The worker there told her she could keep her snacks just this once, but she had to throw her drinks away. We watched as others had to throw away some of their stuff, too.

Shocked and angry about the randomness of it all, we put a few of our snacks in my sister’s bag, and I headed out with the rest. I wanted to put all of my snacks in her bag, but she insisted that she was a rule-follower, and said that we shouldn’t do it. So we’d eat her snacks, drink my water, and make it through the day without having to spend too much on extra food.

Back in the parking lot, I unlocked the car and put the backpack in the van. I stood there a moment, thinking about all of the snacks in there. Included in the stack of snacks were two tuna packs in foil, the kind you would take if you were camping. I had bought them for my husband, as he’s a big guy and granola bars just don’t fill him up. I thought of him, thought of my sister, then put the packs in the pocket of my shorts. No one would even notice.

On the long walk back into the park, I had a lot of time to think about that tuna. Was it the right thing to do? Was it right to break this rule that just didn’t seem fair? What did it say about my character and integrity?  Could we afford $10.00+ hamburgers for everyone? Did my husband really need that tuna?

I decided he did. After all, it was a bad rule. It was not family-friendly, and I had a family to look after.

On the way out of the park, I had my arm stamped, so to return, I had to go through a special entrance. When I approached the gate, I saw one of the workers and a security guard. I held out my arm to show him the stamp. Then I had to pass through the metal detector.

A metal detector…

Read, Write, and Learn…With DevoKids!

About a year ago, I first found out about DevoKids.com, a fun and safe site for students. Part of Christian Devotions Ministries, DevoKids’ mission is to entertain children while sharing with them the love of Christ. There’s so much for kids to read and learn about — and they can even contribute, too!

Devotionals are posted weekly on the site, and each one is based on a particular scripture or passage. The link “Music Dudes and Divas” contains articles about different types of music and various musicians.  In “DaVinci’s Playground,” kids will find ideas for crafts and experiments. There are also links for puzzles and games, cooking ideas, nature and history articles, and money tips.

And there’s more! You’ll find two writing sections to the website, “The Write Buzz” and “Write Now!” In “The Write Buzz”, award-winning author and teacher Christopher Maselli answers questions about writing, while the “Write Now!” column features tips for kids by published authors such as Margot Finke, Carol Baldwin, Donna Shepherd, and Patti Shene.

One of my favorite features of DevoKids is that the site is open to submissions from students, too! What can kids send in? They may choose to write devotions, or they can give directions for making their favorite recipes. If they’ve found a good way to earn money, they can send that in, too. DevoKids is also looking for students with stories about saving, tithing, investing, and giving. Or, if your child has an idea that would fit in the music column, he can submit that as well.

DevoKids is constantly adding new articles, so it’s a site to return to again and again. And because it has so many opportunities for children to learn, create, and grow, you’ll want to do just that.

Celebrating America…with Books!

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. When I was growing up, it meant picnics with family and friends, swimming in the lake,  and lighting fireworks. And for my kids, it’s still a special time for eating watermelon and setting off firecrackers. But even more importantly, it’s a time to remember our heritage, a time to treasure our freedom, a time to reflect as a family on all that it means to be an American.

There are a lot of great books about the 4th. If you’re looking for some to share with your children, check these out:

 

For Kids:

America the Beautiful by Katherine Bates and Wendell Minor

America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney and Robin Preiss Glasser

A is for America by Devin Scillian and Pam Carroll

Fireworks, Picnics, and Flags: The Story of the Fourth of July Symbols by James Giblin and Ursula Arndt.

Looking for Uncle Louie On the Fourth of July by Kathy Whitehead and Pablo Torrecilla.

Fourth of July Mice! by Bethany Roberts

Independence Day by Trudi Strain Trueit

Happy 4th of July, Jenny Sweeney! by Leslie Kimmelman and Nancy Cote

Fourth of July Fireworks (Our Holiday Symbols) by Patrick Merrick

A Fourth of July on the Plains by Jean Van Leeuwen

Fireworks and Freedom: A Fourth of July Story and Activity Book by Carol Amato and Ann Koffsky

Hurray for the 4th of July by Wendy Watson

America Is…by Louise Borden and Stacey Shuett

American Patriotism by Kerry Patton, Kathleen Hawkins,  Rachel Simmons and Paul Vallely

Patriotism (Character Education) by Lucia Raatma

 

For Parents:

The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America by William Bennett and John Cribb

How to Raise and American Patriot: Making it Okay for Our Kids to Be Proud to Be American by Marijo Tinlin

How to Raise an American: 1776 Fun and Easy Tools, Tips, and Activities to Help Your Child Love This Country by Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston.

 

Photo by wintersixfour

Around the World

This summer, we have a lot of friends traveling all over the world. My niece and her husband came back last month from Rwanda, our neighbor just returned from a trip to Turkey, another friend is on her way to Australia to finish school, and another niece is set to go as a missionary to Uganda for a year. We also have friends who are long-term missionaries in Paraguay. What amazing adventures! Not only do these trips make the world seem much smaller, but they offer great opportunities for learning!

When someone we know travels to another country, it provides a more personal reason to study that country. We can study the culture, language, people, cities, government, religion, landscape, flora and fauna, and cuisine of a particular nation with our friends and family in mind. We’ll discover what they’ll see and experience while they are there.

But even better, we’ll also be able to learn more than we ever would from books or online. We’ll be able to take what we’ve learned from reading and ask them about it. They’ll be able to give us details that would be hard to find in a typical report. For example, we learned that many Australians are very laid back, and use the phrase “No worries!” quite often, even in situations when the average American would be stressing out.

If you have a friend of family member who will be traveling soon, try creating your own unit study about the country they will be visiting. Start off with basic maps and facts about the country. Then tap into your friend’s experiences. If your friend has  a blog or Facebook page, visit it often with your children to see where he is and what’s he’s doing.  Find the cities where he’s been and have the kids mark them on a map. If he posts photos, include those in their notebooks as well.  If he’s staying a while, have them write letters, and add any they receive in return.

So even if you’re not traveling around the world this summer — no worries! Your children will have a great learning experience anyway!

 

Photo by xandert

Homeschool Reporting Online

 

As it is with traditional school teachers, record-keeping is a necessary part of the homeschooling parent’s job. But, if you’re like me, keeping detailed and accurate records (especially for my high school student and all his extra activities) may be something you have to work at. Fortunately, there’s now website available to make record-keeping much easier. It’s HomeschoolReportingOnline, and it’s just the tool I was looking for.

HomeschoolReportingOnline can be used by umbrella groups, co-ops, and individual families. There is a small annual fee for the service ($20 per year), but the services the site offers are well-worth the price. Through the site you can record grades, standardized test scores, and lesson plans, as well as keep track of attendance for the year. You can also maintain a detailed account of extracurricular activities for a student portfolio, such as scout awards, music performances, athletic events, and community service. And for those in high school, the site will even generate transcripts as they begin to apply to various colleges.

And the site is so easy to use! After logging in, you’ll be directed to a page featuring a quick overview of all of your students.  At the top of the page you’ll find links for editing your information, including your family and student information. You’ll also find a link for setting up the school years; I used this to pre-plan what courses my children will be taking in the years ahead, especially for my high school student.

Under each student’s name are more links for keeping track of their individual records. And there are how-to videos for everything you need to do, including setting up the school year, adding students, adding grades, and using the forms.

If you’re looking to reorganize/regroup your records for the new school year, check out this site. It might just be what you’ve been looking for too!

 

Photo by Jane Sawyer

 

Wild Cats!

Well, already this is turning out to be the summer of animal adventures. Last week it was a beaver, and this week, wild cats! Or, to be more exact, wild kittens!

My son Luke has a female cat named “Splat” that attracted several males this spring. And while my husband wasn’t too happy, the kids were overjoyed at the prospect of raising kittens. Splat, however, had other plans. She likes to wander the neighborhood, and one day she came back, skinny as could be.

We knew she had had her kittens, and after many attempts at following her, we discovered she had them in our neighbor’s barn. The 100-year-old barn sits in the middle of a pen with a barbed wire fence, so it’s not only quite rickety, but also hard to get to. When we finally found the kittens (after about four weeks of trying), they dashed away so fast that we soon gave up. That is, until yesterday.

As I was going out to feed the animals in the morning, I opened the back door. And there, right at my feet on the back stoop, was Splat and a pile of kittens. I was startled as one stared at me, and by the time I realized what was going on, they were gone — under the back porch, up to the top of three cinder blocks stacked on each other, and down into the holes they created. The floor beams of the porch were only about eight inches from the top of the cinder blocks, so there was no way of reaching in to get cats.

Two? Three? We weren’t sure, but within thirty-minutes they had all come out again and were playing in the grass beside the porch. Five! There were now five wild kittens living under our porch!

What’s a houseful of kids to do? Why, catch them, of course! Over the past two days we’ve caught four of the five kittens. We’ve set up a nice spot for them in our spare bathroom (the one that used to house baby chicks), and the kids have been going in and out throughout the day, talking to them, petting them, and even holding them. Splat comes in occasionally for a visit, but she spends most of her time outside with the last one. Hopefully we’ll catch that one tomorrow.

Like our other animal incidents, this whole adventure has stirred the curious minds of my younger two children. They are thinking of questions about kittens to look up on the Internet, and we’ve got some great kitten books from the library. I sense some truly “hands-on” lessons coming soon.

My goal? To tame these wild kitties so we can find some nice homes for them. The kids’  goal: to talk their dad into keeping one. His goal: to get Splat fixed. 🙂

 

Photo by Gracey