Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday.  (Today for those of you who receive my posts via email.)
In celebration of the gift of another year of life, I want to launch my much talked about (at least by me) new blog. 

It is called The Thorn and the Flesh.

I took the name from 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul writes about the thorn in his flesh.  In part, my new blog will be about my battle with my personal "thorn", chronic pain.  However, I will also write about my journey toward better health.

I chose to include the "and" in the title because I acknowledge that the pursuit of good health is hindered by two things.  My thorn is a huge obstacle.  However, when it comes to diet and excercise, my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. 

There will be temptations to resist and hurdles to jump along the way, and I cannot reach deep within myself and find the power to accomplish these goals alone.  I need God.  I need His grace and enablement.  I need His Holy Word.  I need His sanctifying work.

I need to die daily in order to live for Him.

At The Thorn and the Flesh, I will chronical my journey into healthier living.  Will you join me as I battle, by God's grace,  The Thorn and the Flesh?


Friday, April 23, 2010

We're birdin' in the rain...

Just birdin' in the rain
What a glorious feeling,
And I'm happy again.
We're laughing at clouds,
So dark, up above.
Cause God's in our hearts,
We've no reason to pout.

Let the stormy clouds chase.
Sin from this place,
Come on with the rain
Wash away doubt, leave not a trace.
I´ll walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just birdin', birdin' in the rain.

The birding competition starts tonight (Friday), and it seems that each year, there is a lesson to be learned that has nothing to do with bird watching.  The weather reports for tomorrow are not favorable.  Looks like there will be storms all day, all across the state, but our team will be singing this song all the while, remembering that God moves the winds and the rains and we cannot just give Him praise in the sunshine.  I have rewritten Arthur Freed's little diddy, Singin' in the Rain*, to fit the occasion.  Feel free to sing along with us.  Your prayers are appreciated, too. 

I will report back on Monday.  For now, I am off...

birdin' in the rain!
*performed by various artists, most famously by Gene Kelley in the 1952 movie of the same title.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Sonlight Year

This is the next post in my Considering Homeschooling? series.  Click the links below if you missed any of the previous post.

Part I
Part II, Intro
The Early Years
Singapore Math

Because using literature as a basis for learning served us so well in The Early Years, I searched for a curriculum that would allow the boys to learn similarly during their grade school years.  That is why I chose Sonlight.

There were several resources I found through Sonlight that I loved and still do.  Some we even still use, like Geography Songs (Troxel), Window on the World (Spraggett), and Sing the Bible A to Z (Harrow).  Sonlight pulls together a number of interesting resources and reading material.  We did a lot of reading, singing, and discussing that year.  All of which the boys and I thoroughly enjoyed.

However, I did not like the teacher's guide and found myself often reworking things, feeling like I was doing my own lessons and most of the planning.  I think there is one main reason this was true for me.  I like hands-on learning.  Sonlight does not include much, if any, and seems to consider it "fluff". 

However, for me and mine, hands-on is wanted and needed.  After reading and discussing, I wanted the boys to do something with the information.  I found myself constantly reworking the teacher's guide.  I added in several activities each week, reorganized the teaching schedule, pre-read books in order to prepare activities to accompany, etc. 

By the end of the year, I decided to continue to look to Sonlight for ideas but I would not purchase the teacher's guides since they were not helping me.  The next school year I "built my own" curriculum using resources from Sonlight and others I found at the library or online.

The summer after our DIY year, I found Veritas Press....

Happy Curriculum Hunting!
I am an affiliate.  I will receive a commission off any sales made through the links below.

Monday, April 19, 2010

They're Here!: News from All About Spelling

If you have not heard the great news from All About Spelling, please allow me to be the first to share!

All About Spelling, Level 6 is now available for purchase.  Here is what AAS has to say about their new level:

In All About Spelling Level 6 , your child will learn:

- Clues for when to use -ible or -able
- Easy ways to remember the exceptions to the I-Before-E Generalization
- Tips for spelling words ending in -il , -el , -al , and -le
- Strategies for tackling longer words with ease
- and much more!

This popular series is designed to take the struggle out of spelling for your child and for you. If your child has difficulty with spelling, be sure to check out the entire All About Spelling series. This 100% guaranteed program will provide the help you need.

Also hot-off-the-presses are two new readers to coordinate with AAS, level 2, What Am I? and Queen Bee!

If you have been waiting for level 6 or the level 2 readers, now is the time to buy.  AAS is offering a 20% discount on all three new releases until Monday, April 26!

For more information or to purchase your copies of these great products, follow the links provided in this post.  As an AAS affiliate, and very satisfied AAS mom, I will receive a commission on any purchases made from those links and will happily assist you as needed.  However, AAS has not compensated me for this post.   

Singapore Math

This is the next post in my Considering Homeschooling? series.  You can click your way over to Part I, Part II Intro, and the Early Years if you like.

When Orville began 1st grade, I selected Sonlight Curriculum for him.  I will write more about how that worked for us in my next post.  Per Sonlight's suggestion, I started him in Singapore Math that year.  Wilbur began Singapore's level 1 the following year, and we have never looked back.

We chose Singapore because of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science study.  Singapore students took the top scores on this study for three years.  The features of Singapore Math were exactly what I was looking for, too. 

Singapore begins instruction with concrete examples and builds to the abstract.  This means that the students don't just learn how but also why and are moved along the ladder of learning in such a way that all skills are put into practice.  Some do not like this approach, citing that there is not enough rote practice for the students to master the skills.  It has been our experience that developing a deeper understanding of the math concepts and putting them into real applications has led to high retention.  Also, Singapore stresses mental math and algebraic thinking.  We have not begun Algebra yet, but this type of thinking in the early years is supposed to make the transition easier.  You can read more about the benefits of Singapore Math here.

I will admit that I supplement Singapore with flash cards, computer games, memory songs, and free worksheets found online for those things that must be memorized (like times tables).  I have always felt like these types of supplements are available in abundance, making it easy to add this component to our Singapore studies.  However, programs that stretch children's mathematical thinking, like Singapore, are difficult to find and not as easy to supplement. 

Also, one of my sons does struggle with memorization.  His ability to problem solve and reason is very high.  I firmly believe that he has been able to memorize as well as he has (which is not perfect but better than could be) because of the way Singapore "exercises his brain", so to speak.  I also believe that if he were completing a program that stresses memorization and drill work, his math frustration level would be high and he would not enjoy math.  Instead, he says that math is his favorite subject.

Another great feature about Singapore is that the lessons are short and to-the-point.  I use the textbook to teach from.  When the boys were younger, I provided manipulatives that are similar to the pictorial representations in the text and we worked through the first few problems together.  Then I allowed them to work the next set while I watched, having them explain the concept to me.  The next day they worked independently and sans manipulatives in the workbook.  Each lesson takes about 30 minutes to complete.  Some days it takes a little more or a little less.  And upkeep is continual. 

My boys will continue with Singapore until they have completed the primary level 6B (there are 2 levels per year).  Primary is their "elementary" program.  Then 6 "elementary" (which is their middle school/high school) levels are available.  However, the elementary books are not written to be course specific, as we are accustomed to in the U.S.  Algebra, Geometry, Trig, etc. are integrated.  Solely because I do not want the process of keeping transcripts to be confusing, I will switch the boys to another math curriculum when they are ready for Algebra.  (Though many public schools in the U.S. are adopting Singapore which should make it more familiar and recognized by college admissions boards).  I am considering Transitions Math and higher math course books from The University of Chicago's Math Project.  I have seen excellent results from this program as well.  Their elementary program would be my second choice to Singapore.

I am listing links to Singapore books available at Amazon below.  I am an affiliate and will receive a commission from any purchases made from these links.

I also have a link in my side bar to Sonlight Curriculum's website where they offer free placement tests and great advice on how to determine the level of Singapore Math that will best suit your child.  Please note that Singapore's scope and sequence runs about one year ahead of most American math programs.  If your child is finishing 3rd grade math this year and tests out as needing to start a level 3 book next year, that means he/she is on track.  Please do not be discouraged by this.

Any other questions about Singapore?  Please feel free to ask.

Happy Curriculum Hunting!

p.s.  I am not an affiliate for Singapore Math or for Sonlight Curriculum. I have not been compensated for this post and have offered my unbiased opinion.

Product Review: Family Mint


Family Mint is a free website where you can create an individual "bank account" for each of your children.

Set up is incredibly easy. It's a matter of filling in some basic information and clicking a few tabs. We set our boys account up to automatically pay an allowance, set aside amounts toward savings goals, and pay interest.

Family Mint is private and safe. You are password protected. It also does not deal in real money. It is simply a place for you to keep track of your child's money. It is up to the parent to exchange the amounts saved in Family Mint for real currency.

Family Mint has its merits. It has a nice visual appeal and was user-friendly. It was nice to have certain payments, like allowances, deposited automatically and not have to keep cash on hand to pay our children each week. I also liked that it calculated interest. That is not something we have done with our boys before, and it was a good learning experience.

Overall, my boys were not as interested in it as they are their piggy bank. They like handling real money. Electronic banking is just not their cup of tea right now. We also could not find a way to automatically set up a tithe or investment deduction. We created savings goals for those item, and it worked. It just would have been nice to set up an automatic 10% deduction.

Overall, I give Family Mint two thumbs up and invite you to visit their site.

I have received no compensation for writing this review and have offered my unbiased opinion.

Please visit the TOS Crew blog for more reviews of this site.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Product Review: Beehive Reader


Recently my dh and I stumbled upon video we recorded of our sons reading their first decodable books. We laughed until our sides split! They were such cuties working through the words one sound at a time until at last they read every word and exclaimed "I did it! I can read!"

It was so much fun to watch the recordings of days gone by, but as I watched, I recalled the agony I felt at the time. It took them so long to decode all the words on the page. The passages were too long in my opinion. And the stories… oh! There is just so much that can be said about Pat and his cat, rat, and hat.

Soon after watching that video, I received Beehive Reader 1 from All About Spelling. Oh how I would have loved to have had this book when teaching my boys to read. It correlates 100% with All About Spelling level 1 by following the same instructional sequence and incorporating the same words.

The Beehive Reader has many great qualities, all designed with the young reader in mind.

The book is hardcover and sturdy. Not only does the quality binding have a nice feel to it, but it looks like a chapter book or something one of your older children would read. I remember our paperback readers did not hold up well, either. This book seems durable enough to be the first reader for all your children.

The paper is non-glare and easy on the eyes. The font is customized and is clear. Care was taken to distinguish between b's, p's, d's, and q's to help young readers and students with dyslexia.


Have you noticed the subtle underlining? This is faint enough to go unnoticed but serves to help children with tracking problems.

The illustrations are beautifully done and add to the reading experience. However, they have been done in a way to prevent students from using them as clues for predicting words in lieu of actual reading.


Most important to me is that the stories are story-like. They are not just a stream of words that include the same rhyming sounds, like Pat is a cat with a hat. The stories incorporate the words introduced in AAS level 1, using natural language in real story lines. This is much better for the young reader who needs exposure to good literature and for mom who must listen to her dear child's accomplishment 50 times over.


Well, I cannot go back in time to use this wonderful reader with my sons but I will tuck in safely away for the day I can sit with my grandbabies and listen to them read about The Pet Duck and The Bat and King Sam. I can also encourage you to check out this great book for your immerging reader by giving it two thumbs up!

Beehive Reader 1 is available from All About Spelling for $19.95.

Please Note: I am an AAS affiliate and will receive a commission on any purchases made from AAS using the links I provided in this review or elsewhere on my blog. I also received one copy of Beehive Reader 1 for free in order to complete this review. I have received no other compensation and have provided my honest evaluation of this book and AAS.

For more reviews, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Product Review: Math Mammoth


I received Math Mammoth Gold Version for 3rd grade. This is a supplemental series, filled with pages of extra practice in addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

For each skill, there are visual representations of the math. Almost every page includes pictures, number lines, or other visual aides. This program shows students the concepts behind math, and does not just have them drill numbers.

Math Mammoth Gold has a nice blend of skill practice and application work. There was just enough drill work for my taste and there are a number of word problems. Some of the more basic math is done in a way to exercise mental math and higher order thinking, too.

What We Thought

The problem I have with most math curriculum is that they either stress memory work and skill and drill and rarely touch on problem solving and application or they stress problem solving and application at the expense of memorization.

I think Math Mammoth offers a middle ground. There was plenty of practice work and a number of strategies to aide with memorization. However, there were also many word problems and higher order activities.

I am very interested in their full curriculum, and if I did not love our current math curriculum, would consider switching to Math Mammoth next year.

I give Math Mammoth two thumbs up and recommend you give the Gold Version a try. It did serve as an excellent supplement to my existing math curriculum, allowing me to get a feel for the program without having to fully commit to it, which I also love.

You can purchase Math Mammoth from their website.  The Gold series, available by grade level, costs $65 as a download or $70 on cd.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Crew blog.

I received the products mentioned in this review for free in order to use them and offer my honest opinion. I have received no other compensation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We took the boys bird watching Saturday.  It was our last weekend of spring break, and we wanted to do something fun with them since Michael and I had a chance to take a little retreat without them. (THANK YOU MOM AND DAD!  THANK YOU!!)

There is a state park not too far from our hometown where the bird watching is excellent, and we decided to start our day with the boys there.  As we were driving through the small town just before the park entrance, I realized we had not brought cash for parking.  All Georgia State Parks charge a $5 per day parking fee.  We turned into a gas station which, to our joy, had an ATM.

The boys and I stood in the parking lot and began the bird watching while Michael withdrew cash from the ATM, with a fee of course, which I was not happy about because I am really, really cheap frugal.  I knew we didn't have a choice in the matter so I resisted the urge to complain.

A few minutes later, Michael exited the store with cash and 2 rolls of mints (not sugar free).  He bought the mints to ensure we had a $5 bill because we needed the exact amount for the parking fee.  The smallest denomination the ATM would give was 10's, and we would not be able to make change at the park.  I wondered to myself why he had bought mints, particularly ones that were not sugar free.  He does not like sugary things, and if he buys candy, it is usually sugar-free gum. 

As soon as we turned back onto the road, I had an epiphany.  We did not need to withdraw cash.  We could have gone to the ranger station and bought a parking pass, good for an entire year, with our credit card.  We plan to do birding there this summer anyway, so why pay to park each time?   I shared my idea with Michael adding, "Oh well!  Too late now." 

Well, he did not think it was too late.  He decided to keep the cash for later and buy the parking pass with our credit card.  While he went into the ranger station, the boys and I did a little more bird watching.  There were several birds on the grounds around the station, perched on wires, in trees, and even a large group of vultures that swooped over our heads, giving us a perfect view of them.  We also met a fellow bird watcher who knows of the birding competition the boys compete in each year.  She was so excited to meet participants that she doled out pointers and directed us to the best birding spots in the park.

About 45 minutes later, Michael finally came out of the ranger station.  He had been delayed because our credit card was declined and he had to call the issuing bank.  There was a charge on our card for an MP3 download from itunes, obviously purchased by a hacker and not one of us since, one, we had not been to itunes recently, and two, it had taken multiple tries to get our passcode correct.  He was able to immediately close our account and have new cards issued.  Our account was already protected, but the stop in the ranger's station saved us a lot of trouble later in the day.

From there we went to a few spots that the experienced birder had suggested.  She told us exactly what she had identified in each spot, making the job of identifying incredibly easy for the boys.  Their team work was excellent, an answered prayer for us, and knowing what to look and listen for helped cement a few new birds in their memories.

We left the park around noon to head to another favorite spot about two hours away.  We stopped in a small town for lunch.  The menu was limited, prices high, and portions small.  But we knew to keep our total within the cash we had from the ATM since we only carry one credit card and they would not accept our ATM/debit card as payment. 

When we finished lunch, we were still hungry.  We had to make another stop for food and headache meds (Wilbur was getting a headache and wanting to call it quits).   We found another gas station, one that accepts debit cards, and filled up on carbos and Tylenol. 

We got to the next spot WAY later than intended but decided to give them a couple hours because the birding was really good.  This put us finishing up at 8 p.m.  Wilbur, who got over his headache and became the most improved birder of the day, was allowed to pick the place for dinner, and boy, did he pick a doosey.

We headed to a local metro area to get his favorite, KFC, and were ravenous because the carbs had not stuck with us.  The day had gone much longer than we had intended, and I was starting to ache.  Wilbur was getting another headache.  Michael was being more patient with the very slow KFC employees than they deserved.  And Orville...

He began to shake.

And feel dizzy.

And nauseated.

When Michael brought the food to the table, Orville could not bear to look at it.  I had to leave my food uneaten and walk to our car with him where I tried every mommy trick in my book to make him better. 

But he only got worse and worse.  He groaned and trembled, and I began to panic.

Meanwhile, Michael and Wilbur finished eating and packed up Orville's and my food, and we began the two hour trip home. We were completely unsure what to do for Orville except to get home as quickly as possible and give him nausea meds.

I prayed.

Michael navigated Atlanta traffic as quickly as he could without endangering us.

Wilbur asked for a mint.

Those silly, sugary mints that Michael had bought at the start of the day at the stop we didn't really need to make except that we needed the cash afterall for lunch because our credit card was cancelled which we wouldn't have realized until it was too late if we hadn't tried to buy the parking pass where we met the encouraging birder who helped make our morning lovely....  See where I'm going with this?

When Wilbur asked for the mint, Orville mumbled, "That sounds good.  May I have one, too?"

Of course he could.

He licked the mint a few times.  Then put it in his mouth.  Within a few minutes,  the shaking stopped.

The color returned to his face.

The nausea subsided.

And he was ready to eat.

One word struck my mind like a bolt of lightning.


Images of other times he had gotten the "sugar shakes" when I had thought he was suffering the effects of a stomach virus flashed in mind, and many concerns I have had about his health suddenly all made sense.

Yesterday I took Orville to the doctor, and sure enough, he is hypoglycemic.

And even though that is not great news, it is good news.

Because it is manageable.

Because he may "outgrow" it.

Because he does not have diabetes.

Because I have a new peace of mind and better understanding of my son's needs.

Another word hit my mind like a bolt of lightning today.


Saturday was a strand of seemingly odd events, but if one thing had not led to the next, we might have continued to brush these incidents off as recurring stomach viruses.

God works in mysterious ways, and how thankful I am that He is sovereign, and like a shepherd, he leads us day by day, moment by moment.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
Psalm 23:1.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Early Years

This is the next post in my Considering Homeschooling? Answering Your Questions series.  If you missed Part I, or Part II Intro, you might want to go back and read those before proceeding.

The question I get asked most often by those considering homeschooling is "What curriculum do you recommend?"

This is a question that I find difficult to answer because I am not loyal to any one homeschooling philosophy or curriculum. As mentioned in Part II Intro, I like to build our instructional program by picking and choosing from a variety of resources to allow us room to "do our own thing" should the spirit hit me/us.

Because I have never pitched my philosophical tent firmly in any pedagogical camp or found a curriculum that fits us to a tee, I have a hard time giving advice in this area.  I want to say "Curriculum X is great.  I highly recommend it. I would start it in K and stay with it through graduation." 

However, that has not been my experience and so I cannot make that type of recommendation.  What I can do is tell you about the myriad of programs we have tried and what I liked and didn't like about them.  For that reason, I really think the best way for me to recommend a curriculum is to tell our homeschooling story and share what has worked and what has not.

Let's start at the very beginning.  It is a very good place to start.

I started schooling the boys at age three. I am a believer in early learning but not the rigid, drilling of flash cards, worksheets galore, check-list-of-skills-to-master type of early learning. Until Orville reached 1st grade, we did very relaxed unit studies based on the learning kits we received monthly from Bright Ideas. Don't confuse this with Bright Ideas Press, the publisher of grade school curriculum like The Mystery of History.

Bright Ideas used to offer a membership which, at the time, was very reasonably priced. Each month there was a different theme, like The Farm, and they sent us a quality trade book that fit the topic. The package also included a workbook, an audio cassette, stickers, and a toy/puppet/etc., all of which were theme-based as well. I have searched the world wide web over, however, and cannot find them anywhere.  If you know what happened to this fabulous business, please let me know.

I coupled this with two great resources, The Christian Mother Goose and Teaching Language Arts through Nursery Rhymes.

I used the trade book from Bright Ideas as the spine of our thematic unit. One of my favorite units was one based on the book, Am I Big or Little?.

The story is about a little girl who asks her mom if she is big or little. The mom begins to explain that she is big enough to do certain things, like make her bed, but little enough to do others, like snuggle with Mom. Keeping to the concept of Big/Little, I chose Hickory, Dickory Dock as the nursery rhyme.

We made a grandfather clock from boxes covered with wood-print contact paper and read the rhyme (the version from The Christian Mother Goose- this book contains much less morbid and God-honoring versions than the originals). As we said the rhyme, the boys would move a finger puppet mouse along the clock.

I used the workbook from Bright Ideas to make an interactive bulletin board on the back of a small book shelf. I laminated pictures from the work book and attached them to the board, made word labels, and attached them with Velcro. The boys could match words to pictures, or initial consonants to pictures, etc. I made the activities in the workbook hands-on by putting them on the board. I am so sorry that I do not have pictures!

I used the Teaching Language Arts book for other language ideas that matched the rhyme. It also contained some hands-on science and other fun theme-based lessons and snack ideas.

To introduce phonics, I chose an initial consonant that worked with the unit.  For the Big/Little unit I chose B for big. I also selected five words that begin with that letter, each one having a different vowel as the second letter. For instance, for B I chose bag, bed, big, body, and bug. These served as the sight words for the week as well as a basis for phonetic instruction. 

On Mondays, the boys colored picture representations of each word and learned to read the sight words.  I also taught them the initial consonant sound.  On Tuesdays, they matched the printed words to the pictures and we chanted the intial consonant and vowel blend- ba, be, bi, bo, bu.  On Wednesdays, they continued to match the words and pictures and found more words with the same consonant-vowel blends.  On Thursdays, they would read the words in isolation as well as in printed texts.  They would also form the words with letter tiles. On Fridays, I assessed them through word play.

For math, sometimes the Bright Ideas workbook included math work that I would incorporate. Mostly, they counted objects that matched the theme. Then I taught them how to add using manipulatives, stressing the concept over the memorized skill. I tried to pick a math skill or two that matched the theme for the month, like telling time and measuring for Hickory Dickory Dock/Am I Big or Little. I considered these supplemental skills and taught them through real world experience and did not stress mastery, merely exposure.

For Bible lessons, we simply read through our children's Bible. I spent 3-4 days on each "story", reading to them on the first day and discussing, allowing them to act out the story on the 2nd day (usually with plush toys as the characters), doing something hands-on the 3rd day (making a poster, model, etc.), and "quizzing" on the 4th day. My quiz was very simple and basically just a discussion of what was learned.

I also read, read, read, and read some more. I let them "read" as much as they wanted and kept books available throughout the house. Making our house print-rich was a priority at that stage of the game. I even used index cards to label household items. I wanted them reading anything and everything possible.

Bright Ideas and Teaching Language Arts through Nursery Rhymes fit us like a glove. My boys were early readers and continue to be strong readers. We had tons of fun, and they gained a LOVE for learning, something I consider of utmost importance for littles. Though not a traditional homeschool curricula, I highly recommend both... if you can find Bright Ideas! 

Return soon for the scoop on Singapore Math.

Happy Curriculum Hunting!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Break

We are leaving tomorrow for our spring break vacation. 

Michael and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary in May and decided to take a little trip to celebrate.  Because the off-season rates are still in effect, we found a lovely place to stay, where we will be secluded for four days, for a price so low we could not pass it up.  So we are taking our anniversary trip a little early and intend to sit on our cabin's deck, which will basically be in the tree tops, and bird watch.

Cool mountain air. Singing birds.  Ahh... I feel relaxed just thinking about it!

I had hoped to finish up my Considering Homeschooling? series before today and have everything in my queue, set to publish while we are gone.  Alas, it did not happen.  The holiday brought extra responsibilities and fun, and I did not want to neglect or miss out on either. 

I will resume the series next weekend, Lord willing.  I also plan to publish my final TOS reviews by the end of next week, too. 

But for now... I am off for my little birding getaway with the man I am blessed to call husband.

Happy Easter and spring break (for those taking this week off, too)!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Considering Homeschooing? Answering Your Questions, Part II Intro

I have a few friends who are considering homeschooling their children next year, and they have asked me a bunch of questions.  I started this mini-series as a result of those conversations.  If you missed Part I about the pros and cons of homeschooling, click the link to read. 

The other main question I am asked relates to curriculum suggestions.

I wrote a little on this topic last year and compared buying a curriculum to purchasing a new car.  It helps to have an idea of what you want before you start looking, and asking friends for suggestions is a great place to start.  However, it is good to keep in mind that one size does not fit all, and different seasons of life create different needs.  What works for your friend or favorite blogger, may not necessarily be the best fit for your family.  What suits you well this year simply may not the next. 

Finding a curricular fit for your family can be tricky.  Have you ever seen a dress on the rack at the department store and thought it was lovely... until you tried it on?  Just like some styles flatter us, and others don't, certain curricula will work wonders in some families and flop in others. 

This does not mean the curriculum is poor, or one family is right and the other wrong.  It is a matter of style and needs, and homeschooling gives you the freedom to be flexible.  If you buy a dress that does not fit well, it will not look good on you, no matter how beautiful it was on the rack or how lovely it looks on another woman.  A poor-fitting curriculum can have the same effect and make schooling uncomfortable.

With that said, do not feel the pressure to get it right the first time.  You will make adjustments each year that you homeschool.  In fact, I am seven years into the process and have not found a "perfect" curriculum for us.  I am an eclectic homeschooler who likes to build a versatile program that combines a number of resources and teaching/learning styles. 

I will share about what we have used since we started this journey and some of my feelings about each program over the course of the next few posts.  Some of the programs we have chosen have fit as if tailored for us.  Others have needed some adjustments to work, and some have just been a really bad fit. 

Whatever the case, the work of God's grace has been what has carried us through.  So, I will end by reminding you to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."  (Matt 6:33)

The Lord will provide, and by His grace, you can homeschool your children.   

Happy Curriculum Hunting!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Considering Homeschooling? Answering Your Questions, Part I

It is the time of year when many parents are making decisions for the next school year. I have a number of friends who are considering homeschooling and have asked me two main questions.

  1. What are the pros and cons of homeschooling?
  2. What curriculum do you suggest?

Since I have been giving so much thought to these questions lately, I thought it appropriate to share my answers here. I will start with a list of pros and cons, which could be quite lengthy. I will try to condense it to those things I consider most important.

I will write about curriculum choices in an upcoming post but will start this post by listing the CONS of homeschooling.

  • It's a lot of work.

    I would like to water this one down a little and tell you that the work is always enjoyable or not very taxing. But that just wouldn't be truthful. Sometimes the work is fun. At times it is lighter than others. But, there are things that must be done, want to or not, and sometimes they are a headache. Even if you find a program where your children basically self-teach, there are still papers to grade, input to give, schedules to supervise….

    BUT, before you let that deter you, please consider this. Have you EVER done anything worthwhile that has not required effort on your part? Can you think of any cause more worthy of your best effort than the discipleship of your children?

  • If I do not keep a proper perspective, the weight of the responsibility can overwhelm me.

    Any time my child struggles to "get" something or does not measure up to my expectations, I am tempted with feelings of failure. I also face the temptation to measure my success as a homeschooler against other homeschoolers as well as public and private schools and to wonder if my children would be doing better if in the care of a teaching professional. I have had these thoughts and I am a teaching professional.

    Grace is the only answer for this. Homeschooling is an exercise in faith. It requires trusting the Lord with these things moment by moment in order to resist these temptations. Otherwise, they can suck the life out of me, my children, and our homeschool. Pride is the problem, and the Lord is using homeschooling to rid me of it.

    I have to be gracious with myself, too, and understand that my children will have trouble areas as they learn and that I am not always to blame. I must be gracious with my children and create an atmosphere where mistakes are okay and where if at first we don't succeed, we will try, try again.

  • At times, I feel the homeschool stigma.

    Many people don't understand homeschooling, and sometimes it wears me down or just plain hurts. Some people are very nice and encouraging, but some people act uncomfortable around me. I have to find ways to break the ice and build bridges with these folks, which is not something I do naturally. Others can be down right rude or hostile. Again, the answer is grace. God always provides His grace abundantly in these situations and uses them for my sanctification. Similarly, these situations can open the door for talking about the Lord and sharing the Gospel.

  • There is a cost, and it should be counted.
    I do, in part, mean a literal cost. There are books and supplies to buy; however, we spend much less money educating at home than we would on private school tuition and believe the cost difference over public school is worth every penny.

    There are also the costs of the previously named cons that I would advise parents to consider. At the Olive Plants Academy, we homeschool in the name of Christ and face a spiritual battle as well. Many people enter homeschooling with the notion that it will be perfect and lovely and that it will be a cure-all for the problems faced at school. Do not wear rose-colored glasses while making this decision. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at Christian homeschoolers, and we must be equipped with the full armor of God when entering into this battle.

Now for the PROS….

  • I have been present for moments I would have missed if my children were in school.

    This is huge for me. If my children were taught by someone else, I would be jealous of their teacher. I LOVE that I have hundreds of memories of my boys having "a-ha" moments. I have had a front-row seat to one of the most beautiful events ever, watching them grow in grace, maturity, and ability.

  • I am developing a deep relationship with my children and enjoy the fruit of it a little more each year.

    It is rocky at times. Hysterical at others. Frustrating. Enjoyable. And wonderful. But good or bad, happy or sad, we are together, and they are learning commitment, respect, trust, and the importance of family. Each day with my children, causes me to reflect on Jesus' relationship with His disciples. Homeschooling gives me the opportunity to follow the Master Teacher and teach my children like Jesus did His disciples.

  • Homeschooling opens the door to a myriad of educational opportunities.

    I have been able to pick curriculum to fit the individual needs of my children. I have accelerated their studies when needed and have slowed down and re-taught a number of times. We take as many field trips as we like, work on projects, take on educational hobbies, and basically, allow the boys ample opportunities for discovery.

  • We have never been asked to leave our faith at the schoolhouse door.

    I am involved in the public schools and know that there are Christian teachers who love and nurture the children in their care. I know they are cautious about what they teach and try to be a witness to those who are not in Christ and build the faith of those who are Christians. I know this because my husband is one of those teachers. I used to have that job, too, and took my responsibilities very seriously. I also know families who navigate the murky public school waters well and train their children to be "salt and light" through that journey.

    We decided to homeschool, however, because we did not want to navigate those waters at all. We believe that job is much more difficult than the work of educating at home.

    We believe the homeschooling process should serve to make salt saltier. We worship together each morning. We read our Bible as often as we want. We study all subjects from a Christian perspective and learn to defend our worldview. We make mistakes along the way and learn to confess and to forgive. We seek God's grace in all these things. Basically, we spend the day in fellowship with each other and the Lord in our home so that when the time is right our children will be prepared to be a Christian influence in the world.

There is much more that could be said, but these are the biggies as I see them. If you are considering homeschooling and have questions, please feel free to email me or leave your questions as a comment.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Product Review: Sue Gregg Cookbooks


I received Sue Gregg's Introducing Whole Foods Cooking for this review.

This is a very thorough book for newcomers to whole foods cooking. It contains useful information from getting started and organizing your kitchen to nutritional information and sample menus. And of course, it contains recipes.

Of the 26 recipes included, we tried 17. I asked every one in the family to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 10 immediately after eating it. All of the recipes averaged an 8 from our family. With the picky bunch that lives at my house, that is a really high score.

I also give the recipes an average of 8 out of 10 for ease of preparation. I only had difficulty finding one ingredient. The rest I either had on hand or was able to find at my local supermarket for a reasonable price. My grocery budget did not suffer as a result of cooking from this book.

Although I am not completely sold on whole foods, some of the recipes from this book have become family favorites. My boys ask for Taco Chips Ole on a weekly basis. My husband loves Tuna Bunsteads, and I am a fan of Fruit Cole Slaw, Orange Tossed Salad, and Sweet Lite Dressing. The dressing is fabulous and only has 22 calories per Tbsp. Seeing how it only takes about 1 minute to whip up a batch of it, I have not bought pre-made salad dressing since receiving this book.

If you are an experienced whole foods cook, this is not the book for you. The majority of it focuses on the how's and why's behind whole food. If you are a whole foods newbie, you will find everything you need to make a whole foods transition in this great book.

Sue Gregg offers a number of other cookbooks, including Breakfasts, Lunches and Snacks, and Meals in Minutes. All of her cookbooks are reasonably priced, and except for the introductory book I received, offer a good number of recipes. Introducing Whole Foods is available at the Sue Gregg Cookbooks site for $17.  You can find more information on whole food cooking and Sue Gregg Cookbooks by clicking here.

I received the product mentioned in this review for free in order to provide an honest review. I have received no other compensation.