Monday, March 23, 2015

Home School High School

It's that time of year when I begin thinking and planning for the coming year of school. At this point in the year, I start to face the inevitable questions of, "Am I doing enough?" and "Is homeschooling the right choice for my children?" This question rarely comes up for my younger children; what could be better for young children than being at home, reading good stories, doing hands on math, painting, drawing and being in nature? It is easy for me to feel very confident about their education, especially as I see my eight year old daughter devouring books such as Indian Captive, by Lois Lenski and the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, her imagination sparked by the sweet stories she reads.

High school is a little more intimidating for me though. True, my oldest three have all graduated or are dually enrolled in the community college and the two without learning difficulties are getting the grades we dream of as parents, but I still end up questioning myself. 

With these insecurities as the driving force, so far this spring I have looked into three charter schools and visited a Classical Conversations campus in an effort to explore other ways of doing high school, ways that might offer more structure to my 12 and 14 year old boys. As I was researching my options, I pulled out some of my favorite homeschool books and was very encouraged by the writing of John Taylor Gatto. 

"Schools train individuals to respond as a mass. Boys and girls are drilled in being bored, frightened, envious, emotionally needy, generally incomplete. A successful mass production economy requires such a clientele. A small business, small farm economy like that of the Amish requires individual competence, thoughtfulness, compassion, and universal participation; our own requires a managed mass of leveled, spiritless, anxious, familyless, friendless, godless, and obedient people who believe the difference between Cheers and Seinfeld is a subject worth arguing about.” ― John Taylor GattoThe Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling

This completely resonated with me. Looking into the charter schools was enlightening. In high school, they load the students up with six hours a day of their compulsory, state standards based schoolbooks. This leaves no time for personal projects, such as the ones my boys have been working on. My boys are writing books, programming games, creating ecosystems, writing blogs, milking goats, raising pigs, building wooden toys, designing solar systems and reading lots of books from our home library. As well, my 14 year old was able to take his first college class last semester online. If we were enrolled in a charter school, none of this would have been possible. Their time would have been completely absorbed in keeping up with recommended classes.

However, there are still subjects which we struggle with and which are necessary for them to learn. Algebra is one of them. With my first three students, we tried several different programs, struggling with each one, and when the two normal learners got into their college algebra class, it finally clicked. What had been painfully obscure with the programs we were using, suddenly became clear. My son, in his first semester of algebra at the community college (as a high school student) was recommended as a math tutor, my daughter was told she should be a math teacher by her professor. Ironic and funny when I reflect on how little I still know about algebra. Thankfully, even the areas that we have real struggles with are not hopeless. 

The best thing about homeschooling high school is that our opportunity to continue influencing these young adults carries on for a little longer. The opportunity to give them classic books to read, and quality history materials, the opportunity to discuss important topics with them, and to let them explore their own interests are all hidden blessings of homeschooling high school.

I don't think I have to be their only teacher, and high school is a good time to outsource some subjects. If your state allows dual enrollment, this is a fabulous way of getting a head start on college credits. Also, there are online schools such as Potter's School and Veritas which offer high school classes. There may even be a local homeschool mom who would teach your child a difficult subject, in exchange for help in a different area. 

Homeschooling high school is an opportunity for our children, who have learned such good basic skills to really take off in independent learning and interest led projects. It is not necessarily the time to suddenly put your freedom educated teen into a social construct that has far reaching, soul killing effects on our country and culture.
“I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic -- it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.” ― John Taylor GattoDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Prepared Environment

Homeschooling often involves keeping multiple aged children constructively occupied. Most of us don't have several children of the same age which we can teach all at once. We must integrate our different aged children into the same learning environment. In our home we do have circle time where all of our children are gathered for learning, with some of the material going right over the heads of the littlest ones, and some of it, such as singing the ABC song, boring to tears the older ones. The ideal then is to have an environment which is conducive to many independent learners of different ages. Why independent? Well, obviously, so that I can drink my coffee in peace (this is a joke)!

Really, the goal is to develop independent learners because when children are directing some aspects of their education, they are going to be more motivated about what they are learning. 

This brings us to the subject of The Prepared Environment. A prepared environment is a Montessori term that means a classroom that is carefully organized for optimum learning. In a homeschool environment, it is completely possible to have a beautiful environment for learning, one which makes independent learning a natural occurrence.

In the above linked article, the author explains that there are several  principles for a prepared environment. This is my adaptation of how these work in a homeschool.

1. Structure and Order- Young children are carefully taught how to do things. How to make their bed, get dressed, brush their teeth and wash their hands are all part of the basic lessons. Children, from a young age are allowed to get their own snack and drinks but they are taught how to do it and how to clean up after themselves as well. A minimum amount of clothes are kept in drawers low enough for children to reach, and toys are also kept to a minimum so that a child can easily pick up after herself. Tools are preferred over toys, tools such as; a small broom and dustpan, child sized table and chairs and even clothes washing supplies such as washboards and clotheslines.

2. Freedom- Within the framework of order, there is great freedom. A child may choose to color first or to do a pouring exercise. They may choose to wash some dishes or sew a button on a cloth. They may choose to diagram a sentence or do a counting exercise. However, a child is not allowed the freedom to stay in their pajamas all day watching cartoons. So, although freedom is highly prized in a Montessori environment, and can be a great motivator for young children, it is not freedom from all restraints, it is more simply, the freedom to choose activities which are available within the prepared structure.

3. Beauty- A Montessori environment should be beautiful, but so should be your home. Beauty doesn't have to require a lot of money. It can involve simple things such as getting rid of broken toys, and excess furniture. It can involve putting fresh paint on a tired and chipped wall, or finding a thrifted basket to keep blankets and toys in, instead of strewing them across the floor. Life with children involves lots of messes, but putting in the effort to keep your home an inspiring place does have a big impact. Also, keeping the T.V. off and instead having a variety of lovely books, and music in addition to Bibles and musical instruments will make a major difference in the atmosphere of your home.

4. Nature and Reality- When children have an opportunity to interact with nature it can be both inspiring and calming for them. This is why it is important to keep your environment as natural as possible. If you have outdoor space, let them have time daily to enjoy it. Keep your indoor space tuned towards creation as well by using natural materials such as wood and glass in your kitchen and workspaces and avoiding plastic toys and tools (we make an exception for a variety of items, such as Legos and toy animals.)

Although, these are some examples of basic things we have done to create an environment which accommodates learning, it is all grace if things go as hoped for. There are mornings where I fail to follow through on good habits and my kitchen ends up a disaster because the children have all freely helped themselves to breakfast (good), using up all the sugar, and smearing jam across the counter in the process(bad)!

Ultimately, the best thing I have done to create a prepared environment, is to prepare my heart by seeking God first. Only He can give me the self discipline needed to follow through on good habits, both for myself and for my children, and only He can give me the power to forgive, both myself and my children when we fail.

However, it is better to put in the effort, and through baby steps move towards a learning environment  that makes it easier for children to learn, than to not even try. It is better to receive forgiveness when you miss the mark, than to shoot for nothing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Westward Expansion

We have been having such an interesting year, studying
Early American History. It is hard to believe that we are in the last three months of the school year already! It is flying by. I often wonder if I am doing enough schoolwork, but seeing my children excited about what they are learning, reassures me that we are on the right track.

We recently got together with friends to celebrate our studies of the pioneers and westward expansion. These get togethers are one of the highlights of our history studies. While at home, I read lots of great books to the children, we do map work, and also journaling, but the monthly co-op meetings are when we can delve into hands on projects that require more preparation.

At this months get together we made butter! This was actually incredibly easy and group friendly. We simply poured cream into clean mason jars, screwed the lids on tight and let the kids go crazy shaking them until a nice lump of butter had formed. I took a picture of our butter after we made it, but then when I was going back through the photos, I couldn't figure out what it was and deleted. It was yummy, if not photogenic. 

The butter was spread on fresh baked bread, the best of pioneer treats, and eaten along with tortillas, and cattail tubers which we had harvested from our pond. A good study of the pioneers and westward expansion wouldn't be complete without talking about some of the foraged foods that they ate to survive.

We also drank tea made from nettles. Not the tastiest of drinks, but super healthy and according to research, a good traditional remedy for all manner of illnesses, including allergies and anemia.

Another thing we do at our co-op meetings are oral presentations. I feel that being able to give a report is an important part of homeschooling. It is also a helpful motivator for my children to do well on their journaling projects so that they have something good to share with the group. We have been alternating Draw Write Now books with fine art postcards from Mommy It's A Renoir for art journaling prompts. These go nicely with narration exercises, and if we are not feeling creative enough to come up with an original narration, we simply copy the sentences from Draw Write Now as well. These journaling pages then become oral reports for the younger students.

Draw Write Now, Book 5: The United States, from Sea to Sea, Moving Forward (Draw-Write-Now) Mommy, It's a Renoir!

The oldest of my four students still in my homeschool prepared a report on health care, or the lack thereof, during the time period we were studying. My 12 year old created a stop motion Lego movie about Civil War Sea Battles. I love seeing them use various technologies and mediums to prepare their presentations.

For map work, we looked at where the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled, as well as what area the Louisiana Purchase encompassed. Later, we traced U.S. maps and labeled them with the route which the Lewis and Clark Expedition took, so many years ago.

Back at home, I read to the children from "Sacajawea" by Della Rowland, while they made a tent and pretend fire which they roasted pretend marshmallows over. Or maybe it was bear meat on a stick?
Stories are great at providing prompts for imaginative play. They also do so much to expand your children's vocabulary, these are a few of many reasons why we make a high priority of reading aloud. I also have a basket of books based on the period we are studying, which my children are encouraged to read from as we work our way through the year. If possible, I give my older children books which include source documents. I want them to be aware of what the thought process of historical figures was, and not just hear their stories through a modernist filter. 

The Story of Sacajawea: Guide to Lewis and Clark (Dell Yearling Biography) The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Lewis & Clark Expedition)
Little House Nine-Book Box Set

American History is full of fascinating people, and I am studying it again, with some of the most fascinating people that I know. I hope that your children, and your studies, bring much joy and inspiration to your life as well.

This post contains affiliate links (Amazon)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Unveiled Wife, A Book Review

Through a happy turn of events, I was able to get on a team to review the book, The Unveiled Wife. I was excited about doing this because my husband and I had recently been to the marriage conference, Love After Marriage, which had completely transformed our life and our marriage. One of the interesting aspects of Love After Marriage is how the leaders emphasize honesty and vulnerability; the principle of not hiding things from your spouse.

After this conference, my perspective on marriage ministry was changed. It was no longer just about following some nice rules- wives respect, husbands love, but it was about letting the Holy Spirit lead us into a deeper level of intimacy and reconciliation.

Enter the book, The Unveiled Wife. It was beautifully written in the same vein as the marriage conference we had attended. Here was an author, Jennifer Smith, who was willing to expose the deepest levels of shame and pain that she had experienced in her marriage so that other marriages could be helped. She addressed some of the very tough issues that marriages face; issues such as sexual intimacy, pornography, and financial stresses. Not only does she address these issues, but in an achingly vulnerable way, she addresses them by sharing her own experience with these various crisis.

Some of the issues that she talked about were issues that we had battled with first hand in our own marriage; finally there was an author who could understand the trauma that happens in a marriage when communication breaks down and when our own methods of numbing our pain, inevitably dump salt in these already tender wounds.  Not only could she understand, but the hope and healing that she and her husband had experienced, confirmed my belief that with God, all things are possible.

Another aspect of the book that was so similar to Love After Marriage, was Jennifer's realization that her childhood wounds had affected her marriage. In The Unveiled Wife, she comes to realize that the events that had happened while she was a little girl, had affected her adult life in profound ways. This is a principal that I believe God is revealing to His worldwide body so that we as Christians can enter into greater levels of freedom as believers.

The Unveiled Wife, by Jennifer Smith, is a lovingly transparent story that is filled with hope, as well as being an incredibly helpful resource for marriages everywhere.

Click here to read the first chapter for free. 

About The Book:

Discover the deeper, closer connection your heart has been longing for!
As a young bride, Jennifer Smith dreamed of closeness with her husband—of being fully known and loved. But their early years together were marked by disappointment and pain. What am I doing wrong? Jennifer cried out to God. Why is this happening to us? It was as if a veil divided Jennifer from her husband, and from God—a barrier that kept her from seeing clearly and experiencing the fullness of love.
How did Jennifer’s marriage survive? What did she and her husband do when they were tempted to call it quits? And how did God step in during their darkest hour to tear down the veil once and for all?
The Unveiled Wife is a real-life love story, one touching the deep places in a marriage that only God can reach. If you are feeling disappointment or even despair in your marriage, the heart-cry of this book is: You are not alone. Join Jennifer to learn how God can remove your own veil and lovingly guide you to a place of spiritual transformation, true intimacy, and lasting joy.
“Whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away….” 2 Cor. 3:16

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Homegrown With Children

I have always loved gardening. It could stem from spending my early childhood on a farm, where my siblings and I would race through acres of peas, harvesting a few for a snack, or, crouched together in the weeds, watch our mother gather in wispy stalks of dillweed.

Even as a young wife, we had a garden. My strong husband gathered chunks of broken concrete from the side of the road that we proceeded to fashion into a patio, complete with a beautiful slab of harvested granite that we used for a bench. Soon, baby tears and moss filled the cracks and a lovely plum tree grew in the corner of the small, fenced in yard.

Whether we lived in a condo, a suburb or on sprawling country acreage, we grew a garden. It might have been simply a few pots on a terrace, but always we have grown a little patch of food and flowers.

It has been natural to involve my children in the process. Sometimes it is a chore in exchange for a reward; "You fill up this bucket with weeds, and then you can swim", are words I have uttered many times. Sometimes though, their excitement about the process takes over and they stake a claim on a spot of land in order to plant some of their own seeds.

Seed planting time is upon us again. For a fraction of the cost of buying plants at a nursery, I can start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants from seed, so that when the days get long and warm, the plants are ready to put in the ground. My two youngest children saw the box of seed packets come out of the cupboard and eagerly joined in the fun.

I used empty egg cartons as planters for them. The type made from paper are ideal, as they will simply dissolve when planted, leaving the roots of the small plant undisturbed. The foam carton is fine also though, it will just take a bit more finesse to transplant.

I had some extra seeds which I gave them to plant. Some years, I will let my children start a variety of seeds, but with the time we had available I simply gave them each one type. They may have shared a little which will make the sprouting a fun mystery. I think I can tell cilantro and chamomile apart. I hope.

We typically plant open-pollinated seeds. This means they are not GMO. This also means that I can save my seeds and replant next year. I often have squash and tomatoes volunteer from previous years,  and my poolside becomes a small jungle of cherry tomatoes which have volunteered from previous years.

The only caution on using open pollinated seeds is that my squashes seem to be cross breeding. I started the year with zucchinis and pumpkins and by the next year I had a strange monster of a cross that we nicknamed pumpkini and promptly shredded for zucchini bread. We also planted melons and cucumbers but then ended up with some strange, sweet vegetable that looked like an oversized armenian cuke.

Aside from the discovery of new breeds of vegetables, there are so many benefits to be gained while gardening as a family. My children love vegetables. They love tiny carrots fresh from the dirt, and home dug potatoes, discovered like buried treasure. We learn to work as a team, and we see the wonder of Creation on display in so many lovely details.

Gardening can be hard work, but it is work that is so rewarding, and the rewards multiply when you have a few small friends to work with.

Our favorite seed companies;
Bountiful Gardens

Peaceful Valley Farms

A Great Book on Gardening With Children-
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children 

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hearts and Pom-Poms

I love holidays, but I am no Pinterest mom. I like the idea of crafting with my kids and enjoying celebrations, but I am honestly not interested in adding the work of elaborate preparations, nor the expense of elaborate decorations, to my already full life.


This year, we have tried to make Valentine's day special with a few small celebrations. A pink drink party with cookies and popcorn, a crafting time, and a special story are all small ways that we have made this grey month a little, well, pinker.


The funny thing about crafting is that even the big kids, and the grandma, when faced with a table full of glitter glue, pom-poms and doily hearts, got excited about joining in. Crafting and creating is a sweet, media free way to spend quality time with the ones you love. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Just put out the supplies and let imagination take over.


Or Pinterest. I did let my little girl look up Valentine's cards on Pinterest and the one that got her really excited was the buggy crown. After she was finished, she gave it to her little brother, who promptly declared that he was ant-man. I don't know what cute little ladybugs and bees have to do with a super hero, but it made sense to him.


Celebrations don't have to be hard. This year was pretty simple. Dollar Store craft supplies and Trader Joe's heart shaped cookies with pink grapefruit soda were the high points of our celebration, but it was indeed a very fine celebration.

How do you celebrate Valentine's Day?
This is how one of my favorite writers celebrates. Simple and Fun, Flower Patch Farmgirl

Sharing with Casey Leigh's link up

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fun With Early American History

In our homeschool this year we have been studying Early American History. We have created bows and arrows while learning about Native Americans and cooked over an open fire. We sculpted clay maps of the United States and made tiny walnut shell boats. 

We studied about the Revolutionary War and the children learned how to sing The Shot Heard Round The World. We have also read some wonderful books. These are a few of our favorite books this year.

               In 1492



There are many other Early American History books that we love, such as Carry On Mr Bowditch and the Little House on the Prairie series but we are skipping those this year to read a few books that we haven't read in a while.

We have also been working on our timeline, both our hallway wall timeline and the book that my 3rd grade daughter is keeping. We love the Homeschool in the Woods timeline figures. They are well done black and white line drawings which are easy to color. Timeline work is a great task to keep kids listening while I read aloud. I also have the children color or draw pictures for their narration sheets.

For our project day we joined with a few other families to create tin can lanterns in honor of Paul Revere. Unfortunately, I didn't read the instructions very well. After our project day, I read the above post which suggested emptying your tin can of the contents, filling it with water and then freezing it so that when you go to poke the holes the can doesn't collapse like ours did. 


We also drew silhouettes of the children, which was also a bit harder than I had imagined! Try keeping a 6 year old boy still while you draw their profile. Not easy. This is a good project with girls. Older girls. Oh, and make sure you buy 11X17 paper because fitting a child's entire head onto a regular size sheet of construction paper is also a bit difficult.

One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is reading to my children and talking about books. I get to sit and sip coffee and we all get to learn about new people and places. On the flip side, projects are not my favorite aspect, which is why I try really hard to find people to co-op with so my children can learn from other mothers who are hopefully more creative than myself.


History is my favorite subject to teach, I love learning about the past with my children and through the use of maps and timelines, connect people and stories with their place in time. There are many things to love about homeschooling, and learning history with my children is one of them.

This post contains affiliate links.

What are your favorite resources for teaching history?