Schooling two this year!

New school books are so much fun!  It’s hard to believe I’ll have Mattie and Jacob to school this year.  Mattie is very excited about being an official kindergartner, though Jacob wishes he could retire all together.  How much changes in a few years!  I am choosing several things to do just like I did them with Jacob and several things to do differently.  It’s so nice to have experience!  We’ll start our new year in the second week of August when my three summer two-day-a-week charges go back to public school.

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Mattie – Kindergarten
Mattie will be doing Five in a Row with me this year!  We’ll just start back at the beginning.  She’s certainly sat in on a lot of the reading with us, but I’m excited to get to do our favorites all over again with her.  I’ll do it a bit differently than I did with Jacob, as Mattie is much more of a hands on learner.  I also want to do the FIAR notebook that I never did with Jacob.  (He was too young to do it at first and then it seemed awkward to start it in the middle.)
Mattie will also be continuing her reading progress with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Bob Books and other early readers, and Explode the Code workbooks.  (With 100 EZ Lessons, I don’t do it as formally as they suggest.  I think it’s a bit too scripted, but I had training on it when I was teaching so I can do it without having to read every word.  I used it with Jacob and I like the way it moves the kids through the skills, especially if they’re ready to soak it up and move quickly.) She’s doing well already and begs to practice “every day like when we do our chores, Mama.”
For Math she’ll be doing Critical Thinking Company’s Mathematical Reasoning.  She already spends a lot of time playing math games on the iPod, so much of this won’t be new material, but I really like the thinking this program includes as opposed to just concrete problem solving.
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 Jacob – Fifth Grade
Jacob and I are moving in a new direction this year.  He seems to have outgrown Five in a Row (earlier than I expected) and is needing a curriculum that has longer, more connected studies.  (They do offer this for the older ages, but I know I won’t plan well for two kids that way, I can’t keep them together anymore, and he wants to do something different.)  I’m finding a bit of a groove for Jacob… finally!  I’m learning he likes to know what to expect, he likes to have a list to check off, he likes to have tangible, measurable assignments, and as much as I hate to say it, he likes workbooks.  And if you notice those things, very little of those fit in with literature based weekly unit studies.  Soooo, we’re switching it up for him.
For History we’re doing American History from Truthquest.  I’m not sure how quickly we’ll move through these guides, but I think I’m planning on doing three guides over two years.  These guides are set up so I read the commentary on a time period or person, then I choose whichever of the suggested titles we’d like to read.  There is no schedule and I can do it however it fits us best.  I’ll probably choose several of the picture book titles and a more challenging book for Jacob to read on his own.  I have to say, I am very excited to do this!  I have a major fear of commitment to a curriculum that gives me a schedule b/c I can’t handle not doing it the way they suggest. I also don’t know what I don’t know, so I’d never pick all the right stuff if I just checked out random books from the library.  Plus I don’t want to pay for something I know I won’t use!  With the Truthquest guides, they suggest that I do it however I’d like to, highlight the most important info in the conservative, Christian worldview commentary and I choose the books and printable activities I want to do.  Perfect.  🙂
For Math we’re continuing on with Teaching Textbooks 6 and adding some supplementary things from Critical Thinking Company.  I wasn’t very happy with his progress with TT, but I’ve started requiring him to read the lecture for himself before he listens to the computer lecture and his memory of the concepts has greatly improved.  Basically I’ve learned I just have a boy who does not learn well through auditory channels!  I also feel like TT does not include enough critical thinking and spoon feeds the student a bit too much, so the supplementary things should help with that.  (The reason I’m sticking with it is because the lecture is written out word for word and I’ve learned Jacob has to have that to read.  The other curricula that require me to orally explain the concepts just won’t work.)
For science we’re doing Apologia’s Astronomy!  I’m really excited about this one and Jacob got to pick it out himself!  I’ve heard great things about their products, and we’re going to be doing the activities with two families we love.  The journal looks perfect for Jacob too… some – but not too many – lapbook components balanced with a good amount of review questions, crosswords and copywork too.  (Mattie will tag along with the Junior Journal too.)
 For writing he’ll be doing Writing Tales.We’ve not done much formal language arts thus far, but he enjoys writing and I feel like it’s time to focus on it.  It’s actually written by a lady who goes to church with my sister!
Small tangent here… I’ve been trying to figure out what Jacob loves… what makes his heart beat, but I can’t pick a subject.  He likes science stuff but isn’t crazy about it.  He kind of likes history, but doesn’t seek anything out to learn something new.  He’s good at math but not motivated to do anything on his own.  He loves Legos, but I’ve already done that unit study!  So I’ve felt stuck as I’ve wanted to allow some delight directed learning but can’t find that which brings him delight!  Kind of a problem.   I’ve been asking the Lord for wisdom and He showed me what’s been staring me in the face for about nine years: words.  Jacob loves words!  He loves to read them, think about them, know where they come from, what they mean and how they’re spelled.  He loves to use them in writing and (constant) speech.  So I finally think I have figured out what he will love this year! 
For enrichment for him he’s going to do Vocabulary from Classical Roots, Unlocking Analogies, and Balance Math and More.  He won’t do each of these every day, rather he’ll work through one book, then do a unit of the other and then the other.  Each of these is based on thinking about words or processes and that is what he (and his mother) enjoys.  I’ve looked for the right vocabulary program for a while and this one is finally what I want.  It teaches English word families based on their Latin and Greek roots, so it’s all applicable (where Prima Latina wasn’t). They are all also workbooks, so Jacob will like them for their predictability and measurability.  I’ve had these for a week and am having to restrain myself from starting them with him… and doing them myself.  🙂  What can I say?  He is his mother’s child!
Finally, we’ll all be casually going through La Clase Divertida and learning Spanish together.  🙂
I’m really excited about this year and what I have for the kids.  It’s going to be a change to be sure Mattie gets some school attention too, but I don’t typically spend that long each day in the early grades, so I’m sure we can get it done.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Can one be "too" social for cooperative learning??

I think I’ve determined that when we are together with other children, Jacob just can’t learn a blessed thing. He gets so focused on the playtime he can’t focus AT. ALL. on the task at hand. He does this with a structured lesson (interesting or not) or a field trip… and a “museum” field trip is just sheer torture! 

This past week we went to the zoo and I thought for two weeks about who we should invite to go with us. We have a lot of families we could ask. But I decided to go just us so that the kids and I could make a memory (instead of my kids playing with friends and the other mom and I talking the whole time, thus making no memory at all with my children). We had a delightful time! Jacob was a big help with the almost 2 year old we babysit, he stayed much nearer to me and was not class clown-ish or disrespectful at all, and he and I got to experience the zoo together. It was so nice!

But I wonder, will he outgrow this or always struggle in these situations? Mattie is not this way at all… she can totally calm it down to focus and wait until playtime.  I’d like to think a coop may fit our family at some point in the future, but I just end up stressing about his behavior and lack of interest the entire time.  I guess we’re just going to go solo for a while… I think it will be a relief to just let that be okay!

We Made Snowflakes!

As a part of our Snowflake Bentley, Winter Wonders DNG, and The Snowy Day units where we learned about crystals, we made Borax crystal snowflakes.  This was a great activity that gave us great results!
We poured boiling water (that had cooled for about 10 minutes) in these glasses and added Borax by the tablespoonful until the water was saturated.  We added 1 drop of blue food coloring just to make them pretty.  Then we took pipe cleaners that we had fashioned into the shape of snowflakes and hung them on pencils so we could easily get them out.  Within hours we had some crystals and within 24 hours ours were complete!

This snowflake is on the snow in our front yard.

Review: Winter Wonders!

DNGs are digital units complete with everything you need for a week of school for your K-4th grader.  They include links to videos, vocabulary words and their definitions, printable worksheets and lapbook components, suggestions for books to enjoy and so much more!  Click here to check out all that’s available. 
Winter Wonders
We have been blessed with snow this winter!  Where we live, we typically have some dustings, but not often more than once or twice for the kids to get outside and play.  This year we’ve had 4 or 5 enough-to-play-in-snows already!  The best part is that some has come right while we were enjoying Winter Wonders, a DownloadNGo unit study.

This week we’ve made snowflake crystals (photo above), snowflake cookies, learned the history of hot chocolate, looked specifically for an individual snowflake and its shape, and learned about specific characteristics of winter.  And that’s just some of it!

Winter Wonders had enough information that we could choose what fit best for us each day.  Some content is perfect for Mattie and some is perfect for Jacob. 

Here’s what you’ll learn when you jump in to Winter Wonders:


Day 1: What is Winter?
Day 2: Science Secrets of Winter
Day 3: People and Places of Winter
Day 4: Time for Tips and Treasures of Winter
Day 5: Goodies and Gadgets of Winter 

Click right over here to purchase so you’re ready to get started!  And then click on the thumbnails below to check out how other homeschool home schooling families are using Winter Wonders. 

I received this product for at no charge in exchange for my honest review.


I often struggle with Jacob and how much to help him.  He does not have an “I can do it myself” bone in his body (Mattie, on the other hand has an entire skeleton of them!), so I often wonder if he really needs help or if he doesn’t want to try to do it himself.  Couple this with him being a perfectionist who seems to be afraid of failure, and I end up most often at the second conclusion: he doesn’t want to try.  And that makes me expect too much of him, because I don’t trust his requests.
I went to the CHAP conference recently and surprisingly, this was one of the topics that was addressed in an essay writing seminar (not even one I really needed to attend!). Well, not surprising that it was addressed with writing… surprising that how much to help was the main nugget I left with.  I was so thankful, as this was a question I’d been wondering about for some time!  Andrew Pudewa was the speaker, and his conclusion was that one cannot help a child too much.  He said that children will inevitably say so when he or she can do it by themselves.  A child will not want help when he feels confident.  (Not sure I agree with that if the child is just lazy, but in this context it made sense.)  He also made the point that insisting a child do something on his own will delay independence!
So how does this translate into our life – cleaning a room, using the dustpan after sweeping the kitchen, math, a comprehension question, folding a shirt, etc.  Those are the areas in which Jacob consistently asks for help.
So I came home and decided to test this theory of Mr. Pudewa’s.  I sure wasn’t convinced I was handling it the right way before, so I was open to something new!  It’s been three weeks now, I think, and I’ve been consistently offering more help in these areas.  I didn’t badger or abandon him before, but I would tend to help verbally or ask him more than once if he really needed help.  Now I’m just offering it.
Jacob seems to be much happier while doing these things.  He is complaining less about them, and actually said about himself the other day, “I can’t believe how many I’m getting right!”  (As an aside, he’s actually not getting a higher percentage right, he’s just seeing it differently.)  He was playing with Legos the other day and was stumped as to what to build.  After offering 10 ideas and him still being negative, I went and sat next to him and offered to help.  He had a great penguin built in 5 minutes and didn’t let me help him once.
As for now, this seems to be the right path.  I’m so thankful for the three or four minutes in the seminar.  This is one of those I want to be sure I don’t forget. I know the Lord will always give me the help I need as well, and I think this is one of the ways I can share His grace with Jacob.

How did you teach writing?

A doctor had eight children and his wife died tragically.  She had been homeschooling them, and he intended to continue.  He said he had the kids do these things each day while he was at work:
1) A math lesson
2) Reading out loud
3) Write something (any topic they chose, non-fiction or fiction)
When he came home, he corrected their math and talked through their story with them.  They corrected their grammar and writing issues appropriate for their age.
That’s all he did.

I was one of three home schooling moms who were picking strawberries on Monday, another of whom is a veteran.  She has successfully home schooled 5 children, all of whom are very good writers, independent thinkers, and excellent public speakers.  So we asked her what she did for writing.  She told us that story and decided to follow the writing plan.

How easy is that?!  I’ve been looking for the right curriculum for Jacob for a long time.  I’d like it to integrate writing and grammar in one curriculum, but so far that has eluded me.  So I decided right when I heard my friend tell me this simple story to jump right on it!

Jacob has written few stories, poems, etc in his three years of schooling, I’m ashamed to say.  I just put it on the back burner until he matured more.  The ones he has written have been good enough to know he wasn’t totally clueless, so I just let it go.  I had decided  already to start grammar this coming year and found a program I’m happy with, but the writing still remained to be figured out, though I have a few recommendations.

But now I have a plan, and a free and simple one at that!  (Why do we make things so hard on ourselves?)

Jacob wrote his first story today.  I’m going to have him write for a week or so before I start editing anything.  (Andrew Pudewa said the word “edit” evokes much less resistance than “correct,” and it make a lot of sense!)

Here’s what he had for starters:

Jacob  May 19 2010

Hot wheels     Hot wheels are super fast cars with very cool gadgets, some have spike tires!  Some have chainsaw blades.  Some can even drive on lava!  I think Hot Wheels are really cool.

I have to say, not like he’s some awesome author, but I was excited to see a topic sentence (though punctuated incorrectly), three supporting statements and a conclusion!  Lol!!  🙂  I liked just seeing what was on his mind!  I’ve also been trying really hard to find a passion or high interest in him (another result of the homeschooling conference), and I’m hoping this helps that surface.  So we’ll do this for the rest of this week and we’ll start editing next week.  I intend to let him write about anything… retelling a favorite story, a favorite toy, an original story, why he’s angry about something, something we did the day before, etc.  I hope this goes well.

Website to Share

I’ve heard of this website before, MathisFun, but have never used anything from it thus far.  We’ve found it very useful lately!  We’ve been using it for the Math Trainer, a timed drill and practice opportunity for addition, subtraction, and multiplication.  It divides the table up into 4 chunks so he can focus on one chunk at a time.  It’s been very helpful for Jacob!  The characteristic that is best for Jacob is that the “timed” part works so he only has to do 5 minutes worth, it’s not a race sort of timed activity.  He gets so stressed out with timed tests he can hardly focus on the task at hand, and he inevitably ends up moping or crying that he made a mistake… definitely not what I’m looking for every day!  I’m thankful this is FREE and seems to be fun for him!  Just thought I’d share.

Around the World Books

As you know, we’ve been traveling Around the World with our unit studies this year.  I have so enjoyed this, as it’s allowed me to learn much I did not know about the world outside our country’s borders.
For many of our units, we’ve referred to the same basic books or series, so I thought I’d share them here in one post for reference.  You can click on any book to go to a page about it specifically.
Most of our information has been gathered from books by Bobbie Kalman.  Our two favorite series are The Lands, Peoples and Cultures Series and Spotlight on My Country, with the latter having the perfect amount of text for Jacob’s level.  After we read the book, I’ll make Jacob a list of questions or activities to complete, giving page number hints if needed, and he’s learning how to research a little bit.
The “Look What Came From” series has a been an enjoyable one as well.  It offers facts Jacob can relate to about the origins of many of our favorite things.
This is one of my favorite resources for a general overview.  I usually forget I have it and end up getting a book from the library, but I’m always happy when I pull it out!
This is a great book that gives snippets of what a child’s life is like in their country.
In addition to non-fiction books, we’ve read a lot of picture books that illustrate the culture in them as well.  These give us some snuggle on the couch time.  They also give me a way to connect Mattie to 
This book in general is a bit over Jacob’s head for sure, but it does have some useful information to show him.  It’s a great coffee table book that provides a quick reality check about how good we have it here in our wealthy country.  Once I sit down to look at it, my nose is  buried in it for an hour.  There is another book authored by the same people called What the World Eats.
This one we used only during our study of the Middle East and Holy Lands (is that redundant?), but it proved to be invaluable.  I have looked for it several times since then during my own personal Bible study! Honestly, I understand the nightly news a whole lot better after using this book as a resource!  Rose Publishing has a lot of great resources.  (I think I’m about to buy this timeline, because I’m doing such a poor job of keeping mine up.)
And last but certainly not least, this is a book we just added recently, and I’m sad I didn’t order it in the beginning.  It has a one page spread on many countries or people groups which shares cultural information about them.  The neatest part is that it includes religious information from a Christian world view, most importantly, how we can pray for them.  If you chose only one book to order, this is the one you want.  One of the main focuses of mine in doing this Around the World study was to help Jacob see how big the world there really is around us.  It’s really hard to imagine for me even, so I know it’s hard for him too.  But this book has helped us pray and focus on the most important needs of the people God created that seem so far away because they live in different lands.
If you decide to do an Around the World journey via books, these books should certainly get you started!  If you know of any others I’d enjoy, let me know!  We still have 3 more continents before we land!