Saturday, May 30, 2009

Creating a Schedule

Plan-It School Series

I like to begin planning for the upcoming school year by reflecting on the previous year. I ask myself difficult questions. What really worked? What really didn't? In what areas do my boys need extra instruction? In what areas do they need more independence? What did we enjoy? What made us miserable? I pray about these things and answer with brutal honesty… no sacred cows allowed.

For example, my husband and I both love the study of foreign languages. We introduced our boys to Latin when they were in 2nd grade. It was our hope that they would both follow in our footsteps as linguists; however, one son demonstrated a real lack of interest. Latin nearly killed his joy for learning the year he studied it. It's true Latin promotes vocabulary development. It's true that there are tons of very successful classical homeschoolers who teach all of their children Latin. It's true that one day he will have to bite the foreign language bullet and study a foreign language whether he likes it or not. However, in an honest evaluation of that school year, we had to admit that Latin was not profiting him and removed it from his schedule.

After I have evaluated the previous year, my husband and I have what we call our "homeschool conference". This is a specific time we set aside for evaluation and goal setting. First, we pray together for wisdom and direction. Then we discuss many things. I share with him my evaluation of the previous year and I listen to his. We talk about how our children are performing academically. We talk about areas that need more or less attention. We discuss what subjects will be taught and how each subject fits into the overall vision for our homeschool.

Finally, we set goals for the next year. There are spiritual goals. What sin problems do we need to address more consistently? How will we strive to be more consistent in our teaching of the Bible and doctrine? There are academic goals. We decide which subjects each child will study… not what curriculum we will use, but solely what subjects will be studied. We also decide how many days per week each subject will be taught. Some are allotted five days, others only one or two. We make this determination based on how high of a priority that subject has.

After our goals are set, I estimate how much time each week will be given to each subject. I do this before I purchase curriculum so that our goals will guide my purchases. If we have decided that science needs to be given more attention, I will make sure my schedule reflects that. If I decide to teach science every day for thirty minutes per day, I won't buy a curriculum that is intended for two days per week . Or if I have a curriculum that I know I will use year after year, like Tapestry of Grace, I alter it to fit our goals, not vice versa. For example if world view is a priority, I will buy all of TOG's suggested materials. Meanwhile, if we determine that I spend too much time on history, I will buy only the required materials or less. It is not a perfect system and requires adjustments once my materials are acquired but it does set parameters that I find helpful.

Once I have made these decisions, I create a block schedule. The first block of time starts after breakfast and runs until snack time. The second is from snack to lunch, and the third is from lunch to the end of the day. I will list 3-4 subjects that are to be completed during each block. For example, if we have decided to allot about an hour and half for Bible and History and about a half an hour for Science, I put those three together in the two-hour block between breakfast and snack. Some days, Bible and History will only take an hour, so we take a break or do some chores during that block. I try to over-estimate the amount of time I will need so that I will feel ahead of schedule and not constantly behind.

I also think about which subjects one child can do independently while I work one-on-one with the other. For example, Orville can complete his Literature study without assistance which frees me up to teach math and spelling to Wilbur. I color code my schedule, highlighting Orville's activities in blue, Wilbur's in yellow, and those to be completed together in green.

Once I plug everything in, if I feel anxiety just looking at the paper, I re-evaluate and adjust. This means sometimes we decide to postpone teaching a topic or decide to teach it fewer days per week. You can read our schedule for the 2009-2010 school year in the sidebar.

Last but not least, I pray for the wisdom to use my schedule well. A schedule that is not put into practice is worthless. On the flip side, I pray for God to rule over me and my schedule and not for the schedule to rule. I acknowledge that unforeseen events will arise and I will have to adjust as needed. I pray for the grace to trust God when those times come and to be obedient, not frustrated. In the front of my planner I write the reminder, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

I am praying for each of you as you plan for the upcoming year. Let us trust the Lord and acknowledge Him as we plan and praise Him as He directs us in the way we should go.



Return soon for Part Two: Selecting Materials
and visit Raising Olives for great tips for moms... Tuesday’s Tip for Mom is a blog carnival hosted at Raising Olives to allow moms to share what they have learned along the path of motherhood. Join us every Tuesday as we learn and share tips and ideas for spending time with, encouraging, training or relating to our children.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Read My Lips...Um....

Plan-It School Series

I have a huge personality defect. I have real trouble accomplishing anything without a very detailed plan. Allow me to illustrate….

In high school, I was a member of the forensics team. I competed in several events and was most successful in original oratory. At the beginning of the school year, I composed a ten minute speech, memorized it, and delivered it at various competitions. I brought home a first place trophy from almost every tournament. I excelled at O.O. because it afforded me think-time. I planned what I would say in detail and memorized it word-for-word which gave me the confidence to stand before my judges and speak with ease.

After a few months of wins in O.O., my coach decided I should try a new event. Since I had been successful as an orator and because I stayed on top of current events, she encouraged me to try extemporaneous speaking. I agreed to give it a try. Boy, was that a mistake!

Exactly thirty minutes before I was to deliver a 3-5 minute speech before a judge, I had to draw the topic for the speech from a hat. I will never forget the first topic I drew. This was during George H. W. Bush's first campaign for president. (I just dated myself, didn't I?!) I was given the task of explaining his plans for education reform. The rules allowed me to use any source I had brought with me (which was none) or any that was available in the library of the host school. I found no sources pertaining to the topic... absolutely nothing!

I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I was a Young Republican and had closely followed Bush's campaign but being put under a time constraint made me forget anything I may have previously known about him. The longer I unsuccessfully looked for a source, the more jumbled my thinking became. I stood before the judge with nothing, seriously, nothing to say. However, determined not to give up, I started my "speech" anyway.

"Vice President… George… Herbert… Walker… Bush (at least I remembered his full name)… is being hailed… the education… um… candidate. Should George… Herbert… Walker… Bush… be elected… he will (Think, Dawn, think! What will he do?)… he will need to tackle… the issue of… um… education reform. George… Herbert… Walker… Bush (Whew! I'm glad his name is long. This is adding at least a minute to my speech) could be the president… to lead us … to better… um… schools. George… Herbert… Walker… Bush…. um… um… um…."

That's where the judge stopped me.

"You have no idea what you're talking about, do you?" he asked.

"Not a clue," I replied.

"Yeah, " he continued. "I'm going to have to stop you because if you say 'George Herbert Walker Bush' one more time, I may have to scream."

I thanked him for his patience and quickly exited the room, making a beeline for my coach. I told her what had happened and declared that I would never, ever participate in extemporaneous speaking again! Later in the day, after I had time to think, I realized many things I could have said in that speech.

I learned from that experience that I require think-time. I cannot do things off-the-cuff. Over the years, I have also learned this applies to my teaching as well. Without a well-laid plan, I crash and burn. I take pains with my pre-planning because I really must. As a result, people are often curious about how I prepare for school. In fact, I have recently received e-mails asking for advice in this area.

As not to disappoint my loyal readers, this is the first entry in my Plan-It School Series. I complete most of my school plans over the summer and intend to write about each step of my process as I complete it for the '09-'10 school year. I hope many of you will join me and will feel free to share some of your planning tips as well.

However, as you read about my system, keep in mind that I tend to over-plan. Please, feel free to take from this series what will work for you but feel equally free to leave behind what won't. In return, I will give myself plenty of time to think before I write so that I won't start rattling off any long presidential names. :-)

Return soon for Step One: Creating a Schedule.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nathan Clark George DVD Giveaway

Molly at Counter-cultural School is giving away one copy of Nathan Clark George's DVD, Pull up a Chair. This DVD includes a concert and a documentary on Nathan Clark George and his family. You can read more about the DVD and how to enter here.

If All of the Raindrops

If all the raindrops
Were lemon drops and gumdrops
Oh, what a rain that would be!

I'd stand outside
With my mouth open wide
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah….

Can you picture it? Four-year-old Orville and three-year-old Wilbur dancing around the living room, singing this song, and sticking out their tongues in hopes of a real lemon-drop rain! If you’re a mom, you've probably witnessed it yourself. Kids love this song and the idea of candy falling from the sky, don't they?

One day while I watched them sing and dance, pretending to catch candy with their tongues, I wondered if it really would be great to have candy fall from the sky. As I imagined being pelted by rapidly falling lemon drops and having to wade through mounds of sticky gum drops, I realized that this song might be giving my kids a few wrong ideas and I had an idea for a science experiment.

We planted five seedlings in separate cups and measured each plant's height. I explained that one plant would be watered with water and the other four plants would be "watered" each day with one of the following: lemon juice, sugar water, chocolate syrup, or milk. Each plant was assigned one of the four liquids and watered only with it for the next two weeks. Each liquid represented an element of the song… lemon juice for lemon drops, sugar water for gum drops, chocolate syrup for the candy bars mentioned in the second verse, and milk for the milkshakes (also in the second verse).

On the first day, we recorded information about each plant's health and size in a journal, made a note as to which plant would receive which liquid, and stated a hypothesis. Because the boys were little, they proposed some very interesting hypotheses. There were thoughts of plants growing candy or turning sugary like a gum drop, so we read about plant growth and photosynthesis. They decided that the more sugary the liquid, the better the growth would be since the result of photosynthesis is the production of sugar.

Each day we sang the song, "watered" the flowers, drew pictures of the plants and took measurements. We recorded this information in the journal. After a couple of weeks, as you can imagine, we had to end this experiment because the results were becoming unbearable to the eyes and the nose. The plant watered with lemon juice grew a little but eventually turned brown and began to shrivel. The sugar water plant did better, but not as well as the control plant (the one watered with pure water). The milk and chocolate syrup plants were disgusting! They were shriveled, smelly, and covered in mold. YUCK!!!

The conclusion?

Plants need water… plain and simple.

The life lesson?

God is infinitely wise and a mighty Creator and He gives us exactly what we need. Instead of singing "rain, rain, go away", we should praise him for replenishing the earth. Instead of wishing for a world of lemon drops and gum drops, we should trust Him for all that we need and be content with what He supplies.

Let us take every opportunity to teach our children to praise the Lord for "he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt 5:45b

Friday, May 22, 2009

Apologia Notebooking Journals Giveaway

Apologia is now producing notebooking journals that accompany each of the elementary science books. Both Botany and Astronomy are now available.

These journals are beautiful spiral bound notebooks that will save you time and money. You won't have to print and keep up with your child's notebook pages, buy and maintain page protectors, or purchase and compile binders...everything that makes notebooking time-consuming and labor intensive for mom. Also, your child will adore having their own notebooking journal.

Each of the notebooking journals include:

  • A daily schedule for those who like to have a plan or would like their children to complete the book on their own
  • Templates for written narrations, the notebooking activities and experiments
  • Review Questions
  • Scripture Copywork, with both print and cursive practice
  • Reading lists and additional activities, projects, experiments for each lesson
  • An appendix with beautiful, full-color, lapbook-style Miniature Books
  • Field Trip Sheets to keep a record field trips
  • A Final Review with fifty questions the students can answer either orally or in writing to show off all they remember and know at the end of the course.

See the sample pages for Botonay here and sample pages for Astronomy here.

Jeannie is giving away four Astronomy Notebooking Journals and four Botany Notebooking Journals to bloggers who post about this on their site. Visit her blog to learn more about this contest.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fourteen Years

Fourteen years ago, my dh and I held hands and took our vows. It was such a memorable day. The church was filled with peach and blue flowers, my favorites. However, when the doors to the sanctuary opened, I didn't really notice them. All I could see was him. Likewise, his eyes were fixed on me. My dad placed my hand in Michael's, and we stood before God and our witnesses and promised to love, honor, cherish, and I, to obey.

The ladies who stood beside me that day were my dearest sisters in the Lord. Their dresses were navy blue with lace trim, and each of them looked so beautiful. While Michael and I lit our unity candle, they sang a song one of them had composed, blessing us with the words of Ruth 1:16. That song has played in my mind so many times over the years.

Afterward, there were friends and family, a cake covered in peach flowers, blue Kool Aid (Michael's favorite), and bird seed being tossed by the handfuls as we ran for the car (if only we had known the irony of that at the time). We exited the scene in Michael's Toyota which his groomsmen had filled with balloons and decorated to the hilt. We drove off into married life with the sounds of tin cans rattling behind us and our loved ones clapping and cheering us on to happiness.

However, the road ahead of us was a bumpy one. You could take me literally on this since we traveled to Arkansas for our honeymoon. Any of you who have ever driven I-40 from Memphis to Little Rock understand what I mean. However, I am really referring to the road of life.

While in college, I started experiencing bouts of chronic pain. A couple times each year I would have severe pain in my lower back and abdomen and shooting pains that would run up and down my legs. This pain grew more and more intense and frequent each year after we married and, at times, completely incapacitated me. My dear Michael could have decided this was more than he had bargained for. But he didn't. Instead, he carried me when I could not walk.

For almost five years, we contended with infertility and miscarriages. The stress of trying to have a baby could have divided us. He could have blamed me as it was my womb that would not hold a baby. He could have distanced himself from me or perhaps looked for another, more fertile mate. But he didn't. He held me close. He shared my pain. He reminded me of God's goodness and sovereignty.

When he lost his job due to budget constraints, he could have sent me out to work. He could have complained about working five jobs to support me and our babies and letting us stay at home together while he faced the world. But he didn't. He recognized his responsibilities as the head of the home and protected my place as its keeper.

When Orville was colicky and never stopped crying, he could have found diversions to keep him away from home and the noise. When Wilbur had severe jaundice and had to spend a week in the NICU, he could have buried himself in his work and left this burden to me. When life got too hard and circumstances too difficult, if he were like many men in America today, he could have forgotten his vows. He could have bailed. He could have left me standing alone and broken hearted. But he didn't. He kept his vows.

Today, as we celebrate fourteen years together, I can't help but reflect on our first day as husband and wife. It was beautiful and sweet. I had all of my favorite people and all of my favorite things around me. It was a perfect day, and I was so happy.

Yet it is the imperfect times since that hold even more meaning. There have been many good times and sharing them with the man I love has only doubled the joy. However, through the times of sorrow, I have come to realize how much my husband truly loves me. The sorrows have always been halved by his loving care and protection. His love has extended beyond day-to-day niceties as he has borne the weight of trying times and difficult circumstances, loving me as Christ has loved the church.

I praise the Lord for our fourteen years as husband and wife. I know that all of the good things I have listed about my husband are the result of God's presence and sanctifying work. It is He who has been with us and kept us and how grateful I am. As I look to the years ahead, I trust that God will continue to be faithful and through him we will keep our vows until death do us part.

Monday, May 18, 2009


How do you spell the word for "finding time each day to drill as many different sets of spelling words as you have children"?


How do you spell the word for "spending the few free moments of the evening not filled with sports or extra-curricular activities drilling spelling words for tomorrow's test"?


How do spell the word for "coaching your reluctant speller toward success"?


How do you spell the word for "every parent's solution to these dilemmas"?


SpellQuizzer is a new downloadable software that acts as the teacher's assistant in the area of spelling. It allows its users to create custom spelling lists, or select from a variety of free downloadable lists, and does the spelling-drill work for them. It was not designed with any one spelling curriculum in mind and can be used in conjunction with any spelling program. It also gives users a lot of freedom and flexibility. My sons are on opposite ends of the spelling spectrum. One is a natural speller, and the other is a reluctant one. I used SpellQuizzer with both boys and had great results each time.

For my reluctant speller, I created custom lists to match the spelling curriculum he is completing. Creating each list was really simple to do. It was a matter of pointing and clicking while reading the words and a defining sentence into a PC microphone. I used a headphone-microphone set that I purchased for $10, and the sound quality of my recordings was very good. I was able to save my lists and choose whether the words would be presented to my children sequentially or randomly.

SpellQuizzer was so easy to navigate that my son, 8-years-old, was able to open it and start his quiz sessions without assistance. I even felt comfortable allowing him to record one of his spelling lists independently since the program alerts its user if the word is misspelled before allowing it to be saved to a list. This saved me even more time and gave him complete ownership of his learning which further motivated him.

As each recorded word was played for him, a line appeared on the screen and prompted him to type the given spelling word. He was provided as much time as he needed to type the word and was not rushed to navigate the keyboard. To submit the word, he simply had to press the "enter" key. There was also a button to click to replay the word if he did not hear clearly the first time. After submitting his spelling, he received immediate feedback and was rewarded with applause for correct words or heard "oh no" for misspellings. The program also kept track of the words he misspelled and provided an opportunity to spell those words again.

Spelling drill with this son was always one of the worst times of day for him and me. If I called the words for him, it seemed to take forever to get through the list. He was restless and had trouble focusing. I also had to keep track of his progress. If he studied alone, he never accomplished enough. With SpellQuizzer, he was no longer reluctant, and his focus improved. He asked daily to be allowed to practice spelling, even outside of our regular school hours. He enjoyed working on the computer, hearing the sound effects, and even hearing my voice through the headphones. When he missed words, instead of feeling discouraged, he felt as though he was being challenged and wanted to try again until he got it right. Most importantly, it was obvious that he was engaged in learning.

SpellQuizzer also met the needs of my natural speller. He is not completing a traditional spelling class; however, I have tried to help him study for the National Spelling Bee for two years and have never found a study system that works. I don't have time to drill him on the number of words he needs to know in order to be competitive in the Bee. With SpellQuizzer, I was able to record a list of 65 words for him in about 15 minutes. This was enough to keep him productive for several hours, and it provided accountability and feedback, something he would not have received otherwise.

SpellQuizzer users are not limited to creating lists solely from their spelling curricula. Words can be pulled from Social Studies, Science, or any other subjects from across the curriculum. Another really great feature is the option to import and export spelling lists. Once a custom list is saved, it can be exported which allows other SpellQuizzer users to access and use it. Likewise, you can import lists created by fellow SpellQuizzer users. This creates the potential to link with others who use the same curriculum and share the responsibility of creating the custom lists with them. Since SpellQuizzer costs $29.95 with no shipping, you can feel good about recommending it to friends you would like to partner with.

SpellQuizzer recognizes US and UK English spellings. It is easy to download, install, and use; however, it comes with a thorough help menu if further assistance is needed. The four video demonstrations on their website are an excellent tutorial and were all the information I needed to use the program successfully. There is also a page specifically for homeschoolers with links to free downloadable word lists, including Dolch sight words. However, SpellQuizzer is not intended solely for homeschoolers and would benefit public and private school children as well.

To get started with SpellQuizzer, click here to access their free 30-day trial. You will be G-L-A-D you did!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Birding Competition 2009

This is a list of the birds my boys and their teammates identified in the birding competition last weekend. I have marked each bird as to whether it was identified by sight (S), sound (H), or both (B). As you read the list, notice how many birds were identified by sound. Learning bird calls/songs has made bird "watching" more enjoyable for my boys. Finding birds in tree tops is really difficult; however, birds love to sing and can be heard and recognized much more easily. Also, Orville is amblioptic and wears progressive bifocals. Using binoculars is difficult for him. Birding by ear is a nice accommodation for his special need.

Each bird was identified by at least two members of the team. I have marked them according to how they were given credit. Occasionally, two boys would hear and identify a bird, be given credit, and then see and identify the bird later in the day. They could only be given credit once. Similarly, some birds were identified by sight by one boy and confirmed by a second who heard it and recognized the sound, leading to a "both" situation.

I have listed the birds in the order they were identified.

Purple Martin B
Canada Goose S
Barn Swallow S
American Crow H
Mallard S
Great Blue Heron S
Double Crested Cormorant S
Tree Swallow S
Red-winged Blackbird B
Killdeer B
Prothonotary Warbler H
Mourning Dove B
Pine Warbler B
Northern Cardinal B
Eastern Meadowlark H
Carolina Chickadee H
Red-bellied Woodpecker H
Blue Jay H
Red-eyed Vireo H
Tufted Titmouse H
Northern Parula H
American Goldfinch S
White-breasted Nuthatch B
Brown-headed Nuthatch B
Catbird H
Bank Swallow S
Palm Warbler H
Yellow Warbler H
Blue-winged Warbler H
Easter Towhee H
Brown Thrasher H
Chestnut-sided Warbler H
Black-crown Night Heron H
Eastern Screech Owl H
Carolina Wren H
Common Grackle B
Eastern Kingbird S
Chimney Swift S
Belted Kingfisher H
White-eyed Vireo S
Indigo Bunting H
Eastern Phoebe H
Pileated Woodpecker H
Scarlet Tanager B
Cedar Waxwing H
Prairie Warbler H
Cape May Warbler H
Downy Woodpecker H
Chipping Sparrow S
Wild Turkey S
Turkey Vulture S
Black Vulture S
Field Sparrow H
Norther Mockingbird S
American Robin H
House Finch H
American Redstart H
Black-throated Green Warbler H
Common Yellowthroat H
Great-crested Flycatcher H
Red-cockaded Woodpecker H
Northern Rough-winged Swallow S
Black and White Warbler H
Eastern-wood Pewee H
Blackburnian Warbler H
Bay-breasted Warbler H
Orange-crowned Warbler H
Cerulean Warbler H
Black-throated Blue Warbler H
Worm-eating Warbler H
Tennessee Warbler H
Pine Siskin H

Reclaiming the Culture Give-away

Molly @ Counter-cultural School will be giving away one DVD from Vision Forum's Reclaiming the Culture DVD collection, Top Ten Questions about Genesis and Creation. I have not yet seen this DVD but anticipate it will be top-notch. In this video lecture, Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, answers a number of tough questions that Christians holding to creationism face....

What about carbon dating?

How did Noah get all the animals on the ark?

Where did Cain get his wife? (Orville asked me this question just yesterday!)

The Vision Forum, as well as Answers in Genesis, is dedicated to equipping believers "to give an account to every man of the hope that is within us with meekness and fear" (1 Pet 3:15) and to raise godly seed who will not be ashamed to speak with the enemy (Ps 127:5). I love all their products as they teach me how to articulate my worldview and prepare my children for the time that they will have to articulate theirs as well. Be sure to check out both of these great ministries and the Reclaiming the Culture collection.

To enter the give-away, visit Counter-cultural School and leave a comment. Remember, this give-away is for one of the five videos, Top Ten Questions DVD; however, the entire collection is on sale this week at Vision Forum.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Creating a Birding Journal

In Not to Us, I mentioned that my boys had created birding journals for this year's Youth Birding Competition. If you would like to read more about their award-winning journals, visit their blog, The Write Brothers.

Orville explains the process we used in creating the journals and shares pictures and pages from his.

Wilbur shares about the fun he had creating his journal and displays some of his best pictures.

Visit Olive Plants often this summer for more on birding with children.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pull Up a Chair Give-away

Molly of Counter-cultural Mom is hosting a give-away on the Mentoring Moments blog. You can enter to win Nathan Clark George's CD Pull Up a Chair by leaving a comment on the MMCW blog, posting about the give-away on your blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter. To read more about Nathan Clark George and this great give-away, click here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Online Used Booksale

Heart of the Matter Online will be hosting a used book/curriculum sale online May 11th-15th. You can list books that you want to sell on your blog and link back to Heart of the Matter to be listed as a seller. If you want to list books for sale on your blog, follow this link for instructions. Whether you decide to sell or not, if you want to search other blogs for what you need for next year, visit Heart of the Matter that week for a list of links to sellers.

Free Phonemic Awareness/Phonics Toolkit from CurrClick

If you do not subscribe to CurrClick's weekly newsletter, click here to check out their freebie of the week. It is the Phonemic Awareness/Phonics Toolkit which provides five phonemic awareness and two phonics diagnostic assessments. It regularly sells for $39.95. This week it is completely free... not even shipping to pay as it is downloadable. If you want to subscribe to CurrClick's newsletter, click here to sign up and you will receive notice each week of their sales and freebies.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Not to Us

As I mentioned in previous posts, my boys and their teammates participated in a birding competition last weekend. This was their third year to compete, and though they were the champions in their age division last year, it seemed as though the cards were stacked against them this year.

I usually begin training my boys in January. By the end of the month, they have memorized or refreshed their memory on at least 50 bird calls. They have been outside and observed birds every day the weather conditions allow. But not this year! Instead, we fought the croup and respiratory infections while I packed everything we own in preparation for our house remodel.
Here is our house in the beginning stages of the packing process. A few weeks later, this room was filled with boxes and furniture, from floor to ceiling.

In February, we always participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Last year, we traveled around our county all four days of the count and tallied over 1,000 birds by the end. But not this year! Instead, our house got flipped inside out and upside down as practically every part of it was renovated. Our days were filled with buying materials (I think we helped keep Home Depot afloat during the economic crisis), solving unexpected problems that arose (almost everyday!), and struggling to finish the basic skills elements of our schooling.

You can see what was the first round of remodeling supplies stacked on either side of this room. There was much more to be bought.

March is usually team-building time. We always set aside several days to bird watch with their teammates. These days are so important because they must communicate well as a team. For a bird to be counted on their tally, two members of the team must identify the bird in question. During our team building sessions, Molly and I dedicate a lot of time honing their communication skills so they can explain to their teammates quickly and quietly where a bird they see is located. If they do not direct their teammates well, the bird can be scared off or just decide on its own to fly away before another teammate sees it and can confirm the sighting. But not this year! Instead, I spent the month, painting, cleaning and clearing messes, and restoring order to my home.

April is crunch time. By then, my boys have memorized over 100 bird calls. Their spotting skills and communication skills are well honed. They can flip through their field guides with ease and even recognize a large number of birds visually without the aid of a guide. The month is dedicated to fine tuning the skills in place, spending huge amounts of time outdoors, getting them excited about the competition and ready for the fast-pace and long-haul of a twenty-four hour trek with only a few hours sleep in the middle. But not this year! Instead, we battled another round of croup. Then the hot water heater developed a leak and destroyed a third of our brand-new flooring in the kitchen. In the midst of re-doing the kitchen… again, I coordinated our local homeschool association's Spotlight Night (another post about this is in the works). There was barely time, once again, for covering basic skills, and we found ourselves heading to the competition with very little preparation.

You can see the edge of the new flooring in the top right corner of this picture. The flooring in the foreground is what was two flooring layers beneath. It is covered in sticky residue that I have tried to remove for three weeks now. We put the towels down as a walking path so our feet won't stick to the floor!

The first night of the competition, we took the boys to one of our favorite birding locations. It is a prime birding spot in our state, and there are always so many birds there. But not this year! Not the night we were there! It was a real struggle for the boys, and we all felt discouraged. After four hours, we left the prime spot and headed toward our lodging.

Team Birds of a Feather Working Hard to Find Birds

(from left to right) Wilbur, Orville, K, and C

We normally spend the night at a really nice lodge located at the finish line site. The accommodations are excellent… a bed for everyone with linens provided, a private bath, and air conditioning. Plus, it is so quiet and peaceful and there are always night birds in abundance. But not this year! Because of our state's budget crisis, we were not able to get the room for the normal, affordable price. We found a "yurt" at another state park for a good price. It fit our budget but there were not enough beds for everyone and no linens and the not-so-clean, public bathroom was across the street. There was no going to the potty in the middle of the night! Plus, it was very close to a highway and a "honky tonk". The music was so loud as was the traffic that there were no birds around.

Yurt Camping

The next day was much of the same. The weather was clear but hot, so the birds were not very active. The boys really had to work to find anything to identify. It was tough and at times discouraging. There were good moments… finding swallows under a bridge, a great devotion on 1 Cor 13 in which the Lord convicted and encouraged us all, the cows, and a short birthday party at Dairy Queen. But overall, we thought this was going to be our year to lose, and we were ready for it.

The boys had just identified swallows which had nested under this bridge and were enjoying a break in a shady, cool spot.

As we headed to the finish line, I talked with my boys about how winning is not the goal. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We believe in His sovereignty and providence. A loss for us is not really a loss. When the Lord is pleased to bless others, even if it seems as though He is withholding from us, we rejoice in His will, knowing that He is to be praised.

We turned in our tally with 73 birds, nine less than last year's total (I will post this list later), and enjoyed a lovely banquet. For me, it was a relief that it was over. I was prepared for them to lose, thinking it might actually be in their best interest. This year they had to move to the next age bracket. The competition was more intense, and I thought they needed a year to"get their feet wet". After a great birds of prey show, it was time for the awards.

Orville and Wilbur pose in front of the championship trophy. Their team's name is engraved on the 2008 plaque for having won the Primary Division that year.

First, the event coordinator announced the winners of the birding journal competition. In the midst of all the remodeling, I had managed to get my boys to complete one each to submit. To my absolute shock, Wilbur won in the Primary Division. Orville won in the Elementary Division. Unbelievable! (yet another post in the works)

Wilbur with 1st Place Journal and Prize

Orville and His 1st Place Journal and Prize of New Binoculars

Then it was time for the team awards. For fundraising, they received first place, not just in their age division but among all teams, K-12. The coordinator then began to announce the winners in their age division for the most species spotted. I sat back in my seat and said a quick prayer… not that they would win, but that the Lord would enable them to give Him glory either way. The coordinator announced the 3rd place team. Their total… 62 birds. My eye brows raised. "They got second?" I thought. 2nd place was announced… 71 birds. My jaw hit the floor. By two little birds, found very late in the day, one just steps before the finish line, they had won.

Team Birds of a Feather Receiving New Binoculars for 1st Place in the Elementary Division
(from left to right) K, C, Wilbur, and Orville

The day before the competition began, I taught my boys Psalm 115:1. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory." This verse became the theme for the weekend and sums up our experience. There was no "super mom" residing at the Olive Plants house this year. Most days, I was covered in paint and dirt, struggling to get through the basic requirements of home life and school. Though I believe in the value of hard work, there is no glory due to men. It is the Lord who blesses the work. I have shared so many details in this post because I want you to know just how unremarkable I am, how very normal and human my boys are, and how very great our God is.

I like what Orville had to say after the banquet. He approached me and said, "Mom, I used to say Birds of a Feather (their team name) win together, but I think we have a new team motto. Birds of a Feather praise God together." Glory to God for He alone is worthy to be praised.

Birds of a Feather... Praise God Together!