Tag Archives: community service

Late for Christmas?

I envisioned this December much differently. We would finish up with schoolwork early in the month, then sit back and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the holiday season. We’d spend a day baking cookies for a friend’s cookie swap party, work on Christmas crafts together, look at the  various holiday light shows, and make some handmade gifts. And I would actually get my Christmas cards out on time this year.

But like everything else lately, Christmas hasn’t come like I thought it would. Our tree still isn’t up. The house isn’t decorated. We haven’t been out to look at the lights. I didn’t make any gifts. And I can’t even seem to locate our advent calendar.

Just days after we arrived home from a Thanksgiving visit with family, my oldest daughter had to go into the hospital with a ruptured appendix. Though my husband was able to get time off so we could take turns sitting with her, things at home fell further behind. It’s as if I’ve spent the last week or so just trying to catch up — trying not to be late for Christmas.

But it’s never too late to consider the real meaning of Christmas. That amid the hustle and bustle of holiday “have-tos”, the reason for the celebration is still there — the birth of Jesus, God’s Son come to earth.

And while we can remind ourselves, we can remind our children, too. Snuggle on the couch and read a Christmas story book. Set up (and even play with) a nativity scene together. Help them wrap a gift for a needy child in your church or neighborhood.  Talk about what it must have been like for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men as your driving in the car.

So even if the mistletoe isn’t up, the stockings aren’t hung, and the lights aren’t blinking on the lawn, you’re not late for Christmas; any time we think about God’s wondrous gift is the right time.


Even with all of my good intentions, this school year has not been an easy one. Come to think of it, I don’t know that any of them could be classified as “easy.” But as we celebrate the holidays, I am reminded of how thankful I am that we are able to homeschool and educate our children in the way we believe benefits them the most. So even on our “off” days, when things aren’t going as I would like them to, I am so thankful that:

  • I know my children’s academic strengths and weaknesses; while I applaud their strengths, we can focus together on the areas that need improvement.
  • I know their character strengths and weaknesses, and I’m around to help guide them through various situations.
  • I know their friends, their friends’ parents, and their friends’ siblings, and I know what they do when they’re just “hanging out”.
  • They’re learning (albeit slowly some days!) how to accept and get along with one another, as well as how to encourage and support one another.
  • They’re learning practical skills as they help out around the home.
  • We have time to deal with “life” as a family, helping each other when the need arises.
  • We have time to reach out to others in need — to friends, family, and people in the community.
  • We are learning and growing together.
Though many of our friends’ children now attend school, homeschooling has definitely proven to still be the best option for our family. So this season, instead of becoming discouraged by the inevitable “bad” days, I’m going to continue reflecting on all the positives we’ve experienced. And I am so very thankful.
How has homeschooling benefited your family? What are you most thankful for?
Photo by ensignmedia

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

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


Rice Bowls

This week was an exciting one in our extended family as a new addition finally arrived. My niece and her husband brought their new addition home — all the way from Africa!

While I waited nine months for each of my children to “arrive”, my niece had a much longer wait for her new daughter. As we followed the updates online, the new baby was always in our thoughts. And at the homeschooling convention we attended this spring, I came across a program that helped us do a little more.

The program is Rice Bowls, and it’s so easy. All you have to do is receive a “rice bowl”, a hollow plastic bowl of “rice” with a slit in the top. Then, as you come across extra change, drop it in the bowl. Once the bowl is filled, break it, count the change, and send a check or make a donation online to RiceBowls.org for that amount (one bowl holds about $30 in change). The money you send goes directly to the food budgets of the orphanages partnering with the program, which are located in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, India, the Philippines, India, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, my new niece’s homeland.

And it really is so easy. The plastic bowls are free — all you have to do is contact the organization and tell them how many you need. You could order just one for your family, or you could order 10, 20, 50, or more so your church or co-op could participate. They also provide downloadable posters and promotional tools online.

And for the homeschooling family, the website offers lessons for elementary and middle school students. Under the tab marked “Resources”, you’ll find lessons in language arts, math, and history.

RiceBowls.org feeds around 1500 orphans, and they’ve created a way of helping them that anyone can do. Even small children can put change in the bowl, and older children have fun breaking it when it’s filled. And in the process, your family will be learning lessons in giving and compassion that will last a lifetime.

An Unusual Lesson in Gratefulness

My oldest son, John, is a First Class boy scout working toward his Star rank.  One of the requirements he has to fulfill before earning that rank is that he must complete six hours of community service. Although we already participate in a few community service activities on a regular basis, I began looking for some other opportunities for him to get involved. One such opportunity presented itself at my mother-in-law’s church.

For over two years, this local church has been sponsoring a free “clothes closet” and food pantry for families in the community. They have a room full of household goods, including pillows, blankets, videos, books, dishes, and more. They have three rooms full of clothes, another room with toys of all sorts, and two more rooms that are always overflowing with groceries. All the rooms  are open once a week, and anyone can stop by; we often go to see what’s new (the kids loved the toy room), and we usually bring a bag or two of clothes and other items with us.

Because we’re here so often, the director of the clothes closet put me on the list to help out. And because John needed the community service hours, I volunteered him too. 🙂

I worked at a couple of jobs — hanging up donated clothing and helping to pack groceries into bags. John loaded the groceries onto a cart and wheeled them out to the  parking lot. There he would unload the groceries for the individual, then bring the cart back inside for the next load.

After we had finished for the day, I asked him what he thought of the job. I was expecting him to say that it was fine, and I was planning on prompting him regarding how helping someone else in that way made him feel good. But he gave me an answer I just didn’t expect.

“It was really hard,” he said. “Some of the people who got food were mean. One man kept calling me ‘boy, ‘ saying, ‘Put the groceries in here, boy.’ Then, when I did, he just grunted, got in his car, and drove away.”

I thought a lot about what John said. I had wanted him to see how much good he was doing by helping those less-fortunate than himself. And while that lesson didn’t really come across as I had anticipated, he did learn a lesson in gratefulness. He learned what it was like to help someone who is not grateful — someone who takes advantage of a situation and shows no appreciation. He learned how not to behave, and I think he understood it a lot better than if I had given him one of my lectures.

So, will he go again to help at the food pantry? Sure — because no matter how someone responds, we aren’t to grow weary of doing good. And maybe next time, someone will appreciate his efforts so he’ll get to experience that too.


Photo by Alvimann

The Least of These

When my daughter Lillie was about a year old, we decided to “adopt” a grandparent at a nearby nursing home. For the next nine months or so, we visited Mr. Roy, and then he passed away. We waited about a year, then started visiting another resident of the home, Mrs. McCall. We saw her once a week or so for about two and a half years, until she, too, passed away. Though sometimes the visits were hard, I still felt as if it was a good experience for the children.

Since then, we’ve continued to visit the nursing home, though only once a month. Now we go more to entertain the residents, filling a 30-minute activity slot with the children singing and playing musical instruments. Sometimes it’s just my four children and myself; other times, friends are able to join us, and we have quite a large group. After everyone has finished, we spend a few moments going around and greeting and hugging the residents who are there.

Though I know visiting the nursing home is a good service opportunity for our family, I often wonder what sort of impact our visits really have. After all, it’s just 30 minutes out of our month. This week, I’ve been reflecting on it even more.

A close friend of my family in another state has been in a nursing home since early this year. Over the years, her family has drained her finances, leaving her penniless, and though she could function at home with only minimal assistance, they aren’t willing to take her in. They won’t even come to visit her. When my mom, sister, and I went to visit her after Easter, she told all the nurses that we were “her people.”

Yesterday she went into the hospital, and again, no family members came to see this 94-year-old great-great-grandmother. Fortunately, my mother was able to go, as was another close friend.

Though I wish we could go to see her too, I’m glad we are at least able to do what we do. While some residents have family that care, others have no one. So even if it’s just a short program or a visit once a week, time spent with the residents is meaningful. It does make a difference.

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.  Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Organizing a Nursing Home Program

a-nursing-homeThis past Wednesday, we met together with a few other homeschooling families and put on a program at a local nursing home. We had a 30 – 45 minute time slot, so the children took turns playing instruments, singing, dancing, and reading scripture. When they had finished, they had about ten minutes to walk around and talk to the residents. The residents really seemed to enjoy it.

Organizing a program like that may seem like a lot of work, but it didn’t take much time at all. This is all I did:

1. First, I called the nursing home to set up a time. Wednesday was their best day, and the morning worked well for us.

2. I then sent out an email to homeschooling families we know and asked if any of their children would like to participate. If so, what would they be interested in doing? Would they want to do a solo performance or sing with the group? The children could also recite a poem or read a story they wrote.

3. Next I compiled the responses into a list of who would be doing what. I decided to have our group perform in age order, as it’s harder for little ones to wait for their turn. We started off with Luke, age 5, singing “I Had a Little Turtle” and ended with Andrew, age 16, singing “Puttin’ On the Ritz”.

4. I included a group song (“Jesus Loves Me”) at the beginning and another at the end (“This Little Light of Mine”). I had a few other group songs planned, just in case we had more time to fill.

5. That’s it!  I printed out my list a few times and gave it to the other moms when we met at the nursing home. Some of the performers were a little nervous, but they did a good job. All in all, it was an easy activity to plan, a good experience for the children, and a blessing for the residents.

Photo by Bill in Ash Vegas

Our friend, Mrs. McCall

For more than two years, my children and I made weekly visits to an area nursing home to see our friend, Virginia McCall.

We didn’t know Mrs. McCall before starting our visits. I had wanted the children to be involved in a service activity, so I called the activities director of the nursing home and asked if there was someone we could “adopt” – someone who needed extra company. And then we met Mrs. McCall.

At first, I thought this would just be an opportunity for the children to do a good deed, and in the process learn how to communicate to older adults, especially those in poor health. What I didn’t realize when we started, though, was how much Mrs. McCall would bless us.

Often when we visited, the children would tell her about their week and what they’d been doing. Sometimes they would show her a new toy or photos from our latest trip. But when we started asking about her childhood, we discovered something new, as she shared with us a history rich in hard work and strong values.

One day this past fall, when we went for our usual visit, the receptionist at the front desk told us Mrs. McCall was in the hospital – she had suffered a stroke. She was doing well for a few days, then took a turn for the worst, so I loaded up the children and we headed out to see her. When we arrived, she wasn’t responding. I talked to her a little, and each of the children held her hand and said “hello.” It was actually good-bye, because about an hour after we left, she passed away. I believe she was waiting to hear from the children, and then she was ready to go.

Mrs. McCall lived a good, full life to the age of 92.  While my original intention for visiting had been to enrich her life, I discovered through our visits that she had greatly enriched ours. By being with her, my children learned compassion, friendship, and generosity; by talking with her, they learned thankfulness, diligence, and contentment. Thank you, Mrs. McCall.


This is the first year in many years that we haven’t been part of a 4-H club, and I do miss it. But I liked it better when someone else was in charge.

Last year, our 4-H clubs met once a month at a local church. The girls were all set to join a sewing club, so we needed another topic that the boys would be interested in.  One of the dads worked second shift, and since our club met in the morning, he would be available to teach them about small motors. My oldest son was so excited.

But the dad’s work schedule changed, and we soon found out he wouldn’t be able to teach after all. Because many of the boys were also in scouts, a couple of us moms decided to pick an activity they could use towards a merit badge. Woodworking sounded ideal – that is, until I became the leader. I didn’t know anything about woodworking.

To make things even tougher, our club of boys ranged in ages from 5 – 14. So once a month, I had to come up a do-able project for all, the supply list, and the instructions.

We had an hour and a half to put each project together. And we did!  Before each meeting, I made a prototype of the project, getting help from my husband or neighbor. Most of the projects worked out, and I think many of the boys learned some things. I know I learned a lot – and I’m much more confident using power tools!

We’ll probably look into 4-H again next year, though if I’m a leader, I’m going to pick a subject I know.  4-H offers so many different areas of learning, that I’m sure I can find one. It’s not just about woodworking or farming or raising cows; it’s about entomology, photography, fashion design, biology, painting, baking, leadership, citizenship, community service, public speaking, pet care,  and so much more.