Monday, June 29, 2009

Not Me Monday: Not Us Camping

Last week we did not take our first camping trip as a family. In fact, it was not my first camping trip ever. We did not feel like fish out of water because we are so very experienced with all things outdoors.

For instance, we did not have any trouble assembling the tent. Oh no, not us… we're far too experienced for that. In fact, after reading the assembly instructions twice, we did not try to attach the exterior poles to the interior of the tent. We did not flip the tent this way and flop it that way, making it look like a Chinese dragon on parade. The kids were not amused either. They did not watch us and laugh and exclaim, "It's the tent monster. ROAR!!!" They did not take these pictures either.

You do NOT see this. It did NOT happen!

Ignore the woman under the tent. I do NOT know who she is!

After we did not struggle to assemble the tent...

and canopy...

and cooler and storage bin...

and air mattress...

We were not hot and tired. We did not drink nearly a full gallon of water, and if we had, it would not have been the only gallon of water that I brought with us. Of course, I am far too with-it to under prepare like that. Therefore, we did not have to ration the remaining quart of water and four cans of soda. Likewise, after not guzzling all that water, our bladders were not about to explode, and we did not decide to walk, not drive, through the campground to find the restrooms.

While not walking as fast as we could, a group of birds did not zip over our heads and did not startle us. Since we are not avid bird watchers, we do not have an obsessive need to identify anything that does not fly over our heads. We did not observe these non-zippers for nearly ten minutes while hopping up and down with our knees together. After a closer non-examination, Michael did not say, "Dawn, those are not birds. They are bats."

As these non-zippers were not zipping directly over my head, I did not panic. For even if they had been zipping, I would not panic over a group of harmless bats flying within a foot of my head. No way! Not me! I am far too earthy and outdoors-ey for that. And remember, I had not drunk nearly a half gallon of water and was not seeking the facilities either. So, clearly, these non-zipping not-bats were not a problem for me at all.

Since we were not in a hurry, it did not matter that we did not find the restrooms until the sun was setting. I did not mind walking into a dark public restroom and I did not immediately begin patting the wall in search of a light switch. I do not have an overactive imagination and I never panic in such situations. I am far too calm, cool and collected for that. I did not imagine germs flowing from the wall and multiplying exponentially as they covered my hand and arm. I am not paranoid and did not think super-sized bugs were crawling up my shoes and onto my legs. I did not conjure up thoughts of bats flying out of the toilets and attacking me. I did not bolt out of the restroom jumping and shaking and squealing while knocking imaginary bugs from my clothes and hair. I did not rub half a bottle of antibacterial gel onto my hands, arms, face, and feet. I did not use this facility instead….

After a relaxing time under our canopy, singing and reading by lamplight, new neighbors did not arrive. It was not 10:30 p.m., and we had not allowed our children to stay up late to chase fireflies. We would never do that because we are not strict. After we did not finally get around to tucking the kids into their sleeping bags, our new neighbors did not begin to have a loud camping party. They did not yell and laugh and carry on until 3 a.m. We did not have to recite "vengeance is mine saith the Lord" when our alarms sounded at 6:00 a.m.

NOT Family Time under the Canopy

We were not weary from a long, hard night followed by a short night's sleep. We were also not determined to keep our plans and we did not find a hiking trail. We did not see bird, after bird, after bird along the path we did not find, not including two new ones for our life list. We did not enjoy ourselves so much that we lost track of time. We did not return to our camp nearly three hours later, and I did not have blisters on the bottoms of my feet and toes because I had not worn strapless sandals!

The Boys NOT Looking for Birds

We were not sad to pack up and leave. We had not seen sights like this...

Or this…

Or this…

However, as I had packed plenty of provisions, we were not in a hurry to leave. We did not say goodbye to our little home-away-from-home and head straight to Burger King for a big breakfast and an extra-large drink!

If you don't want to read Orville's thoughts on our camping trip, don't click here because it will not take you to his and Wilbur's blog, The Write Brothers.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Have you noticed all my new badges?

I feel kind of like a girl scout with all the new badges I have collected in my sidebar. Just like a girl scout receives her badges for service, each of mine represents a way I intend to serve the homeschool community. So, allow me to take a few minutes to explain each to you.

First, I have been selected to serve on TOS Magazine's Homeschool Crew. We are a group of one-hundred homeschooling, blogging moms. Throughout the 2009-2010 school year, a variety of vendors will send products to me that I will use and review. Being chosen as a member of this group is such an honor and I want to thank Heidi (our captain) and everyone involved with the TOS Crew for choosing me.

My participation in the TOS Crew means far more than being able to place a badge on my blog. I see this as an opportunity to serve the people who hold an extra-special place in my heart... homeschooling families. There is no pay for this work. I will be allowed to keep the products I review which is a huge blessing; however, I will not receive commissions from any of the vendors or a paycheck from TOS. My heart's desire is to see homeschooling families flourish, and helping families find the products they need will be a reward in and of itself.

You can read my first TOS Crew review here.

The four other new badges are not related to my participation in the TOS Crew. These are companies for which I have become an affiliate. First is If you plan to make a purchase from them, search for your item from the widget in my sidebar. You will be redirected to, and I will receive a commission on any purchase you make. Any money I earn from this affiliation will be used to purchase our school books.

I am also an affiliate for All About Spelling (AAS) and SpellQuizzer. These are two wonderful products, and I am happy to be their affiliate because they have done so much for us. I am currently using AAS with my son who is a reluctant speller. It is a fabulous, multi-sensory program and has worked wonders for him. SpellQuizzer has also been highly effective with my son. It has complimented AAS, and I think the combination of the two has been just what he needed. You can read my review of SpellQuizzer here. If you purchase either product, I will receive a commission that will be used to fund our homeschool.

Finally, I am Vision Forum affiliate. Their mission is to "communicate a vision of victory to Christian families". You will be challenged by their teaching. I have been and continue to be. If you appreciate Vision Forum as much as I do, consider purchasing through my link. If I have just introduced you to them, let me encourage you to buy one item from them. I will appreciate the commission but will consider it a greater blessing to see this ministry grow.

Thank you for taking the time to visit Olive Plants and read my thoughts. I pray that my blog is a blessing to you. I pray that my service on the TOS Crew will be a blessing to many. I pray also that each of you will be blessed through my affiliations with these great businesses and ministries.

Blessings to you all!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-up

I just read a few Spring Reading Thing participating blogs and had an epiphany... it's summer. I'm not sure exactly how that happened or how it came so quickly. But, ready or not, it is here, and I need to share my Spring reading efforts.

Here is what I read (or in some cases didn't):

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (D. Martyn Lloyd Jones)- I managed to read three chapters. I think I have five more to go. Hopefully, I will have this one finished by fall.

Passionate Housewives, Desperate for God (Chancey and McDonald)- Excellent, Super, Fabulous... if you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it.

The Ministry of Motherhood (Clarkson)- Another must-read for Christian moms... loved it! Encouraging and convicting.

The Love Dare (Kendrick)- I read about half of this one. Though the intent is good (putting your spouse's needs before your own), it a little too focused on human efforts. It spends a lot of time building up to repentance when that should, imho, be the starting place.

Bible reading- 1 & 2 Samuel and Kings - We have finished about 3/4 of this reading. We should have it done by the end of the summer.

Twenty-four Hours Is All You Get (Bradrick)- I suppose for reasons the title suggests I did not get to this one! I have bumped it to my summer list.

Beloved Bride (Potter)- I read about 2/3 of this one. Beautiful. The Jacksons are a model of a husband who loved his wife, and a wife who respected her husband. Love it!

Over the summer, I have many projects, including planning and writing, so I will not be able to do much reading. I intend to finish our study of the Kings of Israel and finish Beloved Bride. I hope to find some time to listen to Twenty-four Hours, too. A dear friend of mine gave me To Have and to Hold (Johnston) for my birthday. I intend to begin it but doubt that I will finish it by fall. I also plan to read a few more chapters of Lloyd-Jones. Maybe, I'll finally finish it!

We also just bought Vision Forum's How to Disciple Your Family. Michael and I plan to watch these videos in the evenings together... not reading, I know. I am looking forward to it and wanted to share it nonetheless.

Blessings and Happy Reading!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Not Me Monday: Just Not Me

I have not been reading Not Me Monday segments on other mom's blogs. I have not found them encouraging… not at all. I do not find it helpful to know that other moms are not perfect. I do not feel a little better about myself after learning that some other moms out there are fallible and limited and are forgetful sometimes because that is just not me… not me at all.

For instance, I do not sometimes fill my crock pot with the ingredients for a yummy dinner at 8 a.m. and then return to it at 5 p.m. to serve my meal only to find that I had never turned on the crock pot. I did not leave my meal to sit for 8 hours and go bad. That's just not me. I also have not filled the crock pot, turned it on, and realized 8 hours later that I never plugged it in. No, not me either. I would never do that.
While on the subject of cooking, which is obviously not a problem area for me, I do not put food in the oven to bake and return later to find it ice cold because I never turned the oven on. I do not have problems remembering to turn on appliances. That is just not me… not me at all.
I also do not enjoy reading about the children of the "Not Me" families. It is not a relief that there are other kids out there who make messes, try to keep outlandish pets, or commit other blog-worthy acts. Hearing about the imperfections of others' children is not helpful at all because my children are not rambunctious, not in the least.
Just to help you understand how not rambunctious my boys are, let me share a hypothetical situation. This is merely conjecture because my boys, remember, are not rambunctious. While I was painting the living room, Wilbur did not come to me and ask if he and Orville could hold a fire drill. After I didn't tell him "no", he and his brother did not disobey me. They would never do that… like I said, they are not rambunctious.
I did not later go to their room to find Wilbur leaning out the window yelling, "Go to the back door, Orville." Orville had not fallen out of his window during the fire drill that they did not have. Orville was not afraid to go to the back door because he did not think that I would not notice him not coming in and knew that I would not realize what he had not done. He did not fear the discipline that was not to come. He was not trying to climb up the side of the house and come back in through the window.
When he did not finally come in through the back door, I did not see his little, sweet face and suddenly think of a thousand different injuries that he could not have incurred from not falling out the window. I did not grab him and cry and thank God for his protection. I did not hug Orville for the next two hours. That's just not me either.
Also, hypothetically speaking, I did not one day send the boys to their beds for a quiet time because the noise had not become unbearable. I did not return to my painting, enjoy the quiet and get so involved in my work that I forgot about the boys not being on their beds. I did not leave them there for 2 hours before realizing that they were still not there. I have not told you before that I am not forgetful, have I?
I did not run to their room and I did not find Wilbur on his bunk crying. I did not assume that he was crying because he thought I had forgotten about him and I did not feel like a horrible mother. I was not surprised when he did not exclaim, "Mommy, I need to confess." I did not nearly burst into laughter when he did not say next, "I sinned like David." His grievous sin had not been breaking the rod you twist on a blind to open it while he had not been in his room for 2 hours because I had not forgotten about him. I was not touched by his sensitive conscience and I did not hug him for 2 hours afterward. Nope, that's just not me.
So, you see, Not Me Mondays really are just not for me. I do not have a wealth of material to draw upon for these spots and will not be writing them as often as I can.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Organizing Materials, Part Two

It is now time for our feature presentation….
At School with the Olive Plants
The scene begins with Homeschool Dawn, Orville, and Wilbur seated at the kitchen table.
Homeschool Dawn: Orville, it is time for math. Please, get out your textbook.
Orville: Is that the yellow book?
HSD: No, Orville, that is the phone book. Your math textbook is green. Where is it?
O: I'm not sure. I think I put it in my bedroom.
Orville leaves the kitchen and searches his room for the elusive math textbook.
HSD: Wilbur, let's work on your spelling while Orville finds his math book. Please get out your spelling book.
Wilbur (after looking through a mound of assorted workbooks, Lego magazines, and drawings of birds): I don't see it anywhere.
HSD: Well, where did you last have it?
W: I don't know.
HSD: Wilbur, please go look for your spelling workbook.
Wilbur leaves the table, and Orville returns.
O: Mom, I'm not sure if I found it. Is it one of these?
Orville sets a pile of objects in front of HSD. She examines each, one at a time.
HSD: (after looking at the first object) No, this is your math workbook. You need the text today. (while holding the second object) No, this is your brother's math textbook. Wilbur, come get your math book, please.
Wilbur enters the kitchen with Legos in hand.
HSD: Wilbur, are you looking for your spelling book?
W: Yes.
HSD: Why do you have the Legos then?
W: I built a book-finding machine. It's helping me.
Wilbur takes his math book and he and the machine resume their search. HSD holds up the next item in Orville's stack.
HSD: No, this is The Chicken Sisters.
W (from the next room): The Chicken Sisters? I love that book. Will you read it to us, pleeeeaaase?!
HSD: No, keep looking for your book.
HSD looks through the remaining items in Orville's stack. There is a Taco Bell receipt, a sock, two crayons, a potato, and the Holy Grail, but no math textbook.
HSD: Orville, what did you do with your book?
O: Mom, I just can't find it. Maybe Maggie (the dog) ate it.
Wilbur returns to the kitchen with an even larger Legos construct in hand.
W: Mom, I couldn't find my spelling book so I built an even bigger machine. Look, it has a scope on top, wheels for bumpy terrain, and a super word sensor. The best part is the spy button. When I press it, Word Girl will fly through my bedroom window and spell my words for me.
HSD looks at the clock. It is four o'clock and time to start dinner.
HSD: I guess we'll have Saturday school again this week.
O: But Mom… it is Saturday.
HSD: *sigh*
Okay, so my little drama is a bit over-the-top; however, it is truer-to-life than I would like to admit. I found early on that I could not keep a shared-space school arrangement organized. To eliminate some of the confusion, each boy now has his own desk with a built-in storage cubby. Any of their current books or workbooks is kept in it. They also have three-ring folders for several subjects. Before each nine-week unit begins, I photocopy all worksheets and notebooking pages that they will need and organize them in these folders. These folders also stay in this cubby.
On our bookshelf, I organize the books not currently in use but that will be needed later in the unit. In previous years, I have taught thematically which required several books per student. This year I am switching to Tapestry of Grace which also requires several resources per child. Previously, I stored the books on these shelves in alphabetical order. I picked up a tip from my friend, Molly at Counter-cultural School, that I like even better.
She suggested using color coding labels (you know, the little multi-colored dots). I am starting with Year 3 and chose green dots as my label for all Year 3 books. I then wrote in the center of each dot "UG" for upper grammar or "D" for dialectic. I do not have lower grammar or rhetoric students, but obviously, those could be labeled "LG" and "R". I also wrote "4" on each label for the unit number. I attached these to the side of each book and placed a piece of scotch tape over each label to ensure it stays put. When my Year 4 books arrive, I will label them with blue dots. When we restart the history cycle in two years, I will label the Year 1 and Year 2 books with two different colors.
I finished by placing the books on the shelves in the order they will be needed. I have one shelf for upper grammar and one shelf for dialectic. Wilbur knows that his books are on the "UG" shelf, and Orville knows that his are on the "D" shelf. When each has completed a book, he is to place it on his shelf, remove the next book, and place it in his cubby. No more book-finding machines or Holy Grails. Everything is easy to track. As I mentioned in Organizing Materials, Part One, I keep a log of books in my school library using the "Homeschool Book Inventory" found in the 2009 Schoolhouse Planner.
Here is my classroom now….

The two bottom-right shelves hold our TOG books. The others hold other subjects, manipulatives, and other teaching materials.

Aaaaah! Order has been restored!
Return soon for the next article in the Plan-It School series: Writing Objectives.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Organizing Materials, Part One

Okay, so the books have all arrived, and now my house looks like this….

And this….

But I want it to look like this….*

Well, at least like this…

The first year we homeschooled, I nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to organize and keep track of books. First, finding shelf space for everything was tough. Then, it seemed like almost every day I could not find the books I needed when I needed them. I was an organizational train wreck. Over the years, I have learned to tackle these issues early and stay on top of them throughout the school year.

I begin by tackling the most difficult task of the year, imho… clearing out the previous year's books, materials, paper work, etc. My state requires that I create a year-end report for each of my children. I am not a strong record-keeper so I have to make this simple for myself.

During the school year, I place finished, graded assignments in my filing cabinet. I have one folder for each boy. I also take pictures of art work or larger projects that cannot be filed. At the end of each six weeks, I remove their papers from the file, and the boys and I sort through them. We keep samples of work from each subject. I let them help me decide what stays and what goes. I guide them through this process so that the best work stays but, at the same time, I value their input because it ensures I keep assignments that were meaningful to them. The "keep-it" work goes back into the file, and the rest goes to a grandma or to the garbage.

At the end of the school year, we place the work they decided to keep each six weeks into an expandable file. I also print pictures of projects and art and place them in the file. The filing cabinet is clean and ready for the next school year.

To complete my state's requirements, I also type a report on each boy. I write a short paragraph describing each of the following:

  • Subjects studied (I use the TOS 2009 Schoolhouse Planner's "End-of-Year Evaluation" form)
  • Grades earned (I use the TOS 2009 Schoolhouse Planner's "End-of-Year Report Card" form)
  • Mastered content
  • Areas of weakness
  • Strategies I intend to implement the next school year to address weaknesses
  • Extra-curricular work (TOS 2009 Schoolhouse Planner's "Extra-curricular Activities Log"
  • Special achievements

The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner has several forms that could be used for this record. I highly recommend it. I also include a copy of each boy's attendance report (the Schoolhouse Planner has a form for this too) and achievement test results. In my home state, homeschooled children are required to take a standardized achievement test every three years. I try to test mine every year as I think it is a helpful tool. I use the results to guide my planning for the next school year.

After this is complete, I remove books that we have completed from the shelves. I sort through these books and decide which ones will be needed again in the future. Of the ones I know will never be used again, I decide if I want to sell them or store them. I log the ones that I will be keeping, especially those that will be used again in a later school year, using the Schoolhouse Planner's "Homeschool Book Inventory". I store the books in numbered boxes. I write the box number where I will find each book beside its title on the inventory form. I try to sell the others at my local homeschool association's book sale. I list the ones that do not sell there on ebay.

Now, my shelves are clear and ready for next year's curricula. Return soon for Organizing Your Materials, Part Two in which I will share my system for labeling, logging, and shelving our books.

*image from

A Blessed Birding Day

Michael, the boys, and I spent the morning bird watching. We live near a large lake and have a few spots that we frequent. Today we decided to be adventurous and visit a few new water-front parks. As we pulled into the first park on our itinerary, two birds were chasing each other only a few feet from our parking spot. When we opened the car doors, we could clearly hear they were an Eastern-wood Pewee and a Chipping Sparrow. We were able to get a good view of them (and six other Pewees) through our binoculars.

While at this park we also heard an Eastern Towhee, Downy Woodpecker, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. We saw several crows. There were both Fish and American species. We also saw a large group of Turkey Vultures and another bird of prey that we could not identify. It flew by us too quickly for a good view. I also saw a bird diving but could not identify it either.

Cliff Swallows

At our next stop, we walked onto a boat dock where we had an excellent view of a bridge. There were hundreds of swallows flying to and from the underside of this bridge. We could not get a good enough view (we left the scope at home, of course) to identify the species, so we walked to it. There was a line of about fifty Cliff Swallows perched on the power lines above. Many more flew over our heads and under the bridge. We had seen these once before but not with an up-close view like this. Beautiful!

Cliff Swallows Perched on Power Lines
These pictures do give you as clear of a view as what we saw in person. We could see their red necks and rust-colored rumps so clearly.

When we arrived home, there were about ten different birds singing in our backyard. We were able to identify all but one. We are still working on it. As we were walking in the back door, a Great Blue Heron flew through the trees and over our house. It circled for about two minutes and then flew back in the direction it had come. We have seen ths bird many, many times before but never at our house. We live in downtown! Unbelievable! What a blessed birding day!
I have promised a few readers that I will write an introduction to bird watching series. I have an outline and some plans in place. I intend to begin that series when I complete the Plan-It School series... by August, Lord willing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Purchasing Materials

Once you have your goals in place and have selected your curricula, it is time for the daunting task of purchasing your materials. The two most daunting aspects of this task for me are keeping accurate records of my purchases and staying on budget.

I start by making a list. In fact, the "All-Purpose Wish List" from The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner is perfect. The three columns on this form provide a place for me to write in the names of the books I need as well as where I purchased them and the price I paid for each. I list my core items first like math texts and the Tapestry of Grace year plan I need. Then I look through TOG's book list and other supplemental lists and add anything I think I will need to complete our program. I know I will not be able to afford every item on this list so I write the necessities in red and the others in blue.

Once my list is in order, I purchase those items which must be bought new. For example, I have found it is very difficult to find good, used copies of Singapore Math, and they only cost about $7 each new from Sonlight. I strongly suggest that if you can buy something new for only a small percentage more than it would cost used, buy it new. The amount you would save buying used is not worth the headache you will incur seeking out a quality used book. Once I purchase these books, I write on my spreadsheet where I bought them and the price I paid for each.

Also consider if you can buy any of your curricula through a promotional sale. Check vendors' websites frequently. Put yourself on their mailing lists or subscribe to their newsletters. Find out if they offer discounts to new customers or to loyal ones. For instance, I bought my Tapestry of Grace year plan at a discounted price through a Tapestry Tea hosted by one of my friends for families new to TOG.

Next, I visit my library's website and search for books I need. I have to admit that I do not use the library often. First, many of the books found in our libraries do not support a Biblical worldview. It is difficult to find books, particularly non-fiction, that do not promote evolution, revisionist history, etc. Secondly, I am forgetful (Have I mentioned this before? I can't remember.) and end up paying as much in library fines as if I had purchased the book to begin with. Third, my local library is not large and does not always have the number of copies of a book needed to support the demand. I have found myself in a jam having to wait for ILL arrivals or for another dear mother to return the book I need. By the time it is available, we have moved on to a new topic.

Therefore, I consider a few things before I make the decision to borrow a book from the library. One, how many copies of this book does my library offer? If it seems that I will be able to get the book easily when I need it, I write an "L" on my spreadsheet under the "where to buy it" column. I make sure to note in my lessons plans when I will need to borrow it, too. Sometimes I make an exception and go for an inter-library loan or place holds on items if it will save me a substantial amount of money. Once again, I make a note in my lesson planner to reserve these books two to four weeks in advance.

I also consider the book's content. If I am searching for a specific title, like The Jungle Book, which will read the same from the library as it would from a Christian book seller, I borrow it from the library. If I am looking for a general book to support a content area, I am more careful. For instance, one year I needed a book on Jupiter for a science unit. All of the books on planets available at my library were written by an astronomer who promotes Darwinian evolution and panspermia. I do not want my children adopting his worldview so I purchased a more acceptable book elsewhere.

After I have made my library decisions and marked my spreadsheet accordingly, I shop at any local book sales available to me. My local homeschool association hosts a book sale each spring. It is not large, but each year I find a few things that I need at good prices. I bought two teacher's manuals this year for half of what I would have paid for them new. If you are just getting started on your homeschooling adventure, I suggest you join a local association and seek out your state's home education association. Ours hosts a large used book sale every year.

I follow up the book sales by purchasing the remaining books online. With my list beside me, I open three internet tabs, one for Ebay, one for Amazon, and one for a Google search. I search for my remaining red items first and then for blues as my budget allows. Comparison shopping is easy since I only have to click to move from store to store. I pay for all of my items after I have completed all of my shopping. If I have bought multiple items from a single seller, often shipping can be combined. As I shop, I fill in the information for where my purchases were made and the prices I paid on my spreadsheet.

Next I create an e-mail folder and name it "curriculum". I store all confirmations, receipts, shipping notices, etc. in this folder. I keep these records until all of my items have arrived. I place my spreadsheets with my purchase records in my planning folder. When an item arrives, I write an "R" in the margin of my spreadsheet beside its title if the book meets my expectations. If it does not, I review the listing information to make sure I am not at fault and then contact the seller immediately. When all items have arrived to my satisfaction, I go to the appropriate online markets and leave feedback. Then I delete all e-mails in my curriculum folder.

If there are items on my list that I could not find or could not afford, I turn to my homeschooling friends. The Lord has provided a number of times through a generous friend who was willing to loan us a book. However, we must exercise good manners when choosing to borrow from others. Books must not be kept too long and must be returned in the same condition as when they were loaned. I think one must be willing to loan as often as she borrows, too. Each time you receive a book, consider how blessed you feel and seek opportunities to bless others in return.

I have one final tip. I do not try to organize my books as they arrive because I have found this is too much to do at once. Instead I stack them in my classroom until I receive the last item on my list. Then I organize them accordingly. In case any of you may be getting the impression that I have it all together, here is a picture of what my classroom looks like when the books start pouring in. I hope you have a good chuckle, and it brightens your day.

Remember this lovely, organized, freshly-remodeled room?

Here it is now. What's that noise? Do I hear giggling coming through my computer?

To read about how I organize our books and return order to our classroom, return soon for the next article in the Plan-It School series, Organizing Your School Materials.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Product Review: The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner

They say that curiosity killed the cat. I know that at times it has killed my budget. The latest, greatest homeschool product hits the shelves, and I, being the school-supply addict that I am, just have to buy it. I want to see if it is as great as everyone says.

When TOS Magazine's Schoolhouse Store released The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner, my curiosity was once again piqued. Every time one of their ads or newsletters hit my inbox, I wanted to click and buy. I kept telling myself not to do it. I had determined not to spend money this year on anything other than curricula.

However, when I was given the opportunity to review this product as a member of the 2009-2010 TOS Homeschool Crew, curiosity won out. I just could not resist the opportunity and had to see the planner for myself.

WOW! Really, that is all that needs to be said. Nonetheless, I have given my word that I will write thorough and helpful reviews, so allow me to elaborate.

The first 145 pages contain a wealth of helpful information. This first third (approximately) of the book is divided into twelve sections, one for each month. Each section begins with a month-at-a-glance calendar, and there are easy-to-follow instructions on printing these pages and binding them.

Each month's section also offers information on a different theme. This information is presented in short, easy-to-read essays and charts. Some could be used as the basis for thematic units. Others provide mentoring. The sections are written by some of the most trusted names in homeschooling, such as Dr. Jay L. Wile, Amanda Bennett, and Molly Green. Themes covered range from "Weather" to "What's So Great about Dead Languages?". There is even a section on "Getting into College" with a month-by-month checklist for tackling this process. What I found most helpful was the page full of links to other resources that ended each of these sections.

If that weren't enough, there is a recipe for each month. These are not "theme-based" recipes, like cloud-shaped cookies for "Weather". These are melt-in-your-mouth, fill-up-your-crew recipes like "Ginny's Crockpot Beef Stew". If that doesn't have your mouth watering, keep reading. The best is yet to come.

As I flipped (clicked) through pages 146-374, I could not believe my eyes. What I saw was page after page after page of forms that I need, forms that I dread having to make myself, forms that I know I will use time and time again. There is a form for annual planning, goal setting, logging hours, evaluations, reading lists, menu planning…. If there is a form that a homeschool parent needs to stay organized, it is there.

Best of all, The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner is a downloadable e-book, easy to save to your hard drive, disk or flash drive. Everything you need to keep your schoolhouse running can be contained in one file and in an easy-to-print format. For those you who like to keep hard copies, you can print the entire book and easily organize it into a three-ring binder. When you need a form, pull it and photocopy. However, you can also print just the page you need in the quantity you need.

Priced at $39, The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner is quite a bargain. Some of the forms contained in it are ones that I have spent hours finding and compiling from other sources or making myself. Some are ones I know I will need in the future. Some are forms I wish I had found when I was starting out as a new homeschool mom. I would pay $39 just for these forms and the saved time. The additional charts, links, calendars, recipes and wealth of information simply make it a deal that should not be passed up.

I have to say that this time curiosity did not kill but instead saved the cat. If you are curious as to how the planner can help you, click here for more information or to purchase a copy of your own.

Check back soon as I continue the "Plan-It School" series. I will share more with you on how I am putting my new BFF (a.k.a. The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner) to use.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The End Is Here!

The end of my house remodeling series, that is. With a few strokes of my paint brush, everything, even the touch-up work, was finished yesterday. The last room I have to show you is our kitchen. This is the room that wasn't just remodeled... it was RE-remodeled. If you have read Not to Us or Back on Track, you know the story, so without further ado...


We have a portable dishwasher and could never find a place for it to stay when not in use. The built-in table in the forground of this picture took up a lot of room and generally served as a catch-all.

This was the last window to be replaced. It had to be special ordered and took a few months to get. Once again you can see how the built-in and dishwasher take up too much space.

Our laundry area is in the kitchen. The shelving over the washer was falling apart.


The built-in is gone, and there is so much more room!

The cabinets are now solid white, and we redid the back splash in peach. I added a decorative border with peach flowers and nuthatches... a true birders kitchen.

We have a new back door and added new cabinets above the washer. We moved the washing machine to make room for the dishwasher. It is still portable but has a good, out-of-the-way spot for when it is not in use.

My father-in-law installed this new window and molding between the cabinets. You can see my honeysuckle bushes and tall pines outside... also a birders delight.

I am thankful for everyone who helped us with this HUGE undertaking.  I am thankful for all of you who prayed for us, too. Thank you. We ask for your prayers again as we intend to sell this house and will be listing it on Monday. We thank the Lord for how he has provided for this remodel and trust him to bring a buyer in his time.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Selecting Curricula

Choosing curricula can be one of the most exciting times of the year. I love when the packages arrive on my front stoop. It feels like Christmas with something new to open almost everyday. However, selecting from the wealth of options available can be overwhelming. How do we pick what is best for our families? I choose my curriculum similarly to how I choose a car.

The last time we bought a car, I was nine months pregnant. We knew that very soon our car would need to hold two car seats and other baby paraphernalia. Also, we lived in a rural area, far from work and shopping. We drove a lot which put finding a van that would get good gas mileage (at least good mileage for a van) at the top of our list. Our budget was limited, so affordability was extremely important. Given the hot summers we experience in the South, we considered air conditioning essential, and because I cannot drive a stick-shift, automatic transmission was non-negotiable. Last on my list was the color. I really like blue and green and wanted a van in a shade of one of those colors.

After we had listed what we wanted, we began to research. We talked to friends about their vans. We read Consumer Reports. We took a few models for a test drive. We found the van that was just right for us, with one exception. To get the price we needed, we had to buy the model on the lot… a RED one. I am not fond of red cars, but I had to admit that of all of our criteria, color was of least importance. We decided to concede on color preference and became the owners of a bright red mini-van.

We choose our curriculum in a similar fashion. Curriculum is a our educational vehicle, and it must get our children where we want them to go. That is why we set educational goals before purchasing curricula. If a curriculum does not meet certain expectations, it will not yield the results we want. If we do not know what our expectations are then we are bound to buy haphazardly and find ourselves dissatisfied in the end. During our "homeschool conference", we set these goals and use them to guide our choices.

After our goals are set, we research. That involves reading reviews and talking to homeschooling friends. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Homeschool Crew is a great review panel and offers free reviews on a number of homeschool products. The Homeschool Lounge is good place to chat with other homeschoolers. They even have a group called "curriculum" that serves as a forum for posting questions and discussing experiences. HomeSchool Reviews allows you to post your own reviews and read reviews written by other members. Membership is required but is free. Cathy Duffy also offers a number of product reviews. The Curriculum Choice is another great site. Not only do the contributing authors review products, they explain different schooling philosophies and provide links to sites where you can find more information on each approach.

However, my most valued reviewers are my homeschooling friends. Because they know me so well, they can offer me more insight. Frequently, a friend has said something to me like, "You would love this program. It fits your personality." or "I don't think you would be happy with ____. It just isn't your style." They are often right, too!

Next, we take a few test drives by ordering samples. Most suppliers offer a sample lesson that you can download for free . Others will send you freebies via snail mail or allow you a sneak peek online. Once again, I involve my friends in this process whenever it is appropriate. I am not shy about asking homeschoolers in my local association for their opinions. Most homeschoolers are happy to help each other and to discuss their favorite curriculum. Some have even loaned me materials long enough for me to peruse them and determine if they fit my needs.

In the end, we have to make some concessions. When we set our car-buying goals, we did not know that the only model available would be red. As fallible people, we cannot claim to have the wisdom to get everything right the first time… or ever, for that matter. Likewise, a perfect curriculum just does not exist. However, to help us exercise wisdom in making concessions, we have divided our goals into two categories, essential and non-essential goals. We have selected three essential goals and try our best never to compromise on them. They are providing a distinctly Christian education, developing a Biblical worldview, and promoting a strong work ethic. Non-essential goals can range from wanting a rubric for scoring writing to wanting lessons that are broken into small chunks.

I intend to write more on our goals later in a series on "socialization". As you read our goals, they may differ from yours. That is to be expected. Each family has different needs and must follow God's leading in meeting them. However, each of us has the same command… to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4) Educating our children is a huge leg of our life's race. In 1 Corinthians 9, we are admonished not to run this race aimlessly but to run as one who wants to win with the self-control and training of an athlete. Ladies, I encourage you to take time this summer to reexamine your goals and I will reexamine mine. Let's seek the wisdom to set them well so that we might finish well, too.

Return soon for Part Three: Purchasing Materials

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Back on Track

For those of you who have been reading about the house remodel and wondered why the before and after pictures suddenly stopped, it was because we had a set back. If you read my post Not to Us, then you know the hot water heater leaked and ruined about a third of our kitchen flooring. When this happened, I had to turn my attention back to house work and had to put the blog series on the back burner.

Two weeks ago, my parents-in-law visited, and my FIL fixed the flooring and put in one last special-order window we had been waiting on. Now the re-remodeling is finished, and I have two more rooms to share with you.

This is the living room before.
I had already begun packing, so it's pretty much a mess. Orville was fighting croup so he's still in his p.j.'s camped out on the couch. The vacuum cleaner did not normally sit in the fireplace. I guess I was so busy that I didn't notice it was there. :)

Wilbur was fighting croup, too. He didn't have the strength to get up on the couch but opted for the floor. It was movie day, obviously, and this shot lets you see our sad little t.v. stand and old, worn carpet.

Our old front door was heavy and hard to open. It was also hard to keep clean.

This is a close-up of the old wall paint and wallpaper border. This was the one thing I was reluctant to change, but since part of the exterior wall had to be replaced, the entire room had to be painted.

The space in the background of this picture is intended to be a formal dining room. We use it as our office. You can also see the stack of new doors since our living room was serving as a storage area for the remodel.

Are you ready for the results?

This is our new living room. Notice the new front door, the refinished hardwoods, new windows, and new ceiling fan.

The couch, loveseat, and entertainment center are "new". My parents bought a new living room suit and passed their old furniture to us. I think it fits perfectly in the room. I love that the entertainment center hides cords, has bookshelves and drawers, and the t.v. cubby closes so that the television is not always in view. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

You can see in this picture how the new door and windows let in so much light. Even though I did not want to paint, the new color (Glidden's Barrister White) reflects the light and makes the room seem much larger.

This is the remodeled office space. I think the hardwood looks awesome. I turned the desks outward which made room for a music corner. You can see my boxes and stacks of new school supplies in the back. It is that time of year when there is much to organize. If I wait for this room to be perfectly clean to post, you would probably never see it! :)

Here's a close-up of my music corner. In my dreams, I am a concert cellist. I studied during high school but have since not had the time to practice and progress. Michael and I joke that I'm no Yo-Yo Ma, but am more of a Yo Ma-Ma! I am hoping that with the nice place to practice, I will do so more often.

Here you can see the great job the men did on the hardwood floors. I really love how they look, and they are so easy to clean. I bought this runner at Dollar General for $6! What a great deal!! I posted it in honor of my DG friends... you know who you are.

I have one more room to share in my final remodeling post... my kitchen. It is getting some touch-up paint and a few other finishing touches on Monday. Look for before and after shots of it soon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Creating a Schedule, Part II

Plan-It School Series

When I outlined this series, I intended to dedicate one post only to the topic of creating a schedule but realized I failed to write about an important aspect of school scheduling. Establishing your school calendar is an essential part of the process.

Michael and I decided early on to follow a year-round approach. Since he is a teacher and has two months vacation each summer, we take one full month off so we can enjoy time together as a family. That break also provides me time to gather and organize school materials. Our school year usually starts in July.

For the past three school years, I have organized our school content into six-week units followed by a two-week break following each unit. During the break, I solidify my plans for the next six weeks. However, this year we are switching to Tapestry of Grace which is comprised of four nine-week units, so we will break every nine weeks.

To determine next year's start date, I looked at December in my calendar. I decided which week would be our first week of Christmas break and I penciled in "18" on the week before. I then counted backwards labeling the preceding weeks until I reached 10. I labeled the two weeks that precede the "10" week as "off" then picked up the backwards count until I reached 1. I also labeled the week of Thanksgiving as an "off" week. I purposefully plan to take that week off to allow time for holiday preparations and to make a place for two make-up days if needed. On other holidays, like Labor Day, we complete an abbreviated school day.

Next, I looked back at December and into January and marked three weeks for Christmas break. I allow myself a little extra time then because the holidays are so busy and I know I will need a longer break in order to have time for all the celebrations and to get plans for the next unit in order. Then I marked weeks 19-27 and the next two weeks off, then weeks 28-36. I also penciled in any holidays and spring break. After week 36, I usually have 6 weeks before school must begin again.

This is the only system I have ever followed because it has worked so well for us. There are several pros. The breaks really help. It is nice to be able to take a slower pace and to get planning done in between units. These breaks also provide a buffer for the unexpected. Last year, I needed surgery and was able to schedule it during one of our breaks. This year, I needed four weeks off in the spring to prepare and clean up from the remodeling. The year-round school schedule gave me the freedom to do this without falling too far behind. (We did still fall a little behind... but not too far.) There are cons too. We do not get a full summer break. We have to do school a few weeks each year when friends are on their breaks. Conversely, several of our breaks take place while our friends are in school. In my opinion, the pros of this schedule do outweigh the cons.

However, there are many different ways to schedule your school year, and I suggest you do some research before you commit to a particular calendar. Talk to other homeschool friends and find out what they do. Read online about other's experiences. Remember that as a homeschooler you are not bound to the traditional school calendar. Just be sure to know the laws in your state governing homeschool and create a schedule that complies. Once you find a schedule that meets your needs, commit to it for one year. Know that you can change it if it doesn't work out for you.

After my calendar is marked, I prepare for keeping an attendance record. My state's laws require me to send a monthly attendance report to my local board of education at the end of each month. Since I am forgetful, I prepare in advance for this so I will be sure to send my reports in on time.

I use an attendance record available through my state's home education association's website. I print 11 copies of this form, one for each month I have school. The form has spaces at the top for personal information and a spread sheet beneath for marking the days each child completes school. I fill in all the information on the form, except for marking the days, in one sitting. I pin the form for the first month to a cork board in my classroom and put the other 10 forms in my filing cabinet. This puts the form I need daily at my fingertips and the others in a place I can find easily later.

I also address and stamp 11 envelopes and put them in my filing cabinet with the forms. At the end of the month, I remove an envelope and the next attendance form from the file and place the new attendance form on the cork board. Then I sign, photo copy and mail the completed attendance form. This keeps me from having to look for stamps, envelopes, the board of education address, etc. every month. I mark the copy "home record" and keep it in my file as a permanent record.

I have placed our 2009-2010 school calendar in my sidebar. Take a look and let me know what you think. Feel free to comment and share about the school schedule you follow, too. I look forward to hearing from you.

Return soon for Part Two: Selecting Materials
I mean it this time! :-)