Category Archives: Education at Home

Interruption – A Tribute

This week marks 3 huge events in my elder son’s life:  high school graduation, his 18th birthday, and his receipt of Eagle Scout.  I had to stop the progress of my little series on parenting to honor one of my own.


As you might know, years ago I chose to homeschool my kids; therefore, I can speak from first-hand knowledge that this son was a fantastic student.  He is one of those students that never rolled his eyes in complaint about a subject assigned, he didn’t negotiate to get out of school early, he always had a good attitude, and he was very smart.  His main fault when it came to his education process is that he had such a full sense of humor that he was forever making us all laugh.  I can’t imagine school without him interjecting his humor and laughter to our process.


Today this amazing young man turns 18.  He has been one of those kids that makes their parents look amazing.  He converses well with adults, being respectful and articulate.  He is inclusive of younger kids, being willing to step away from the grown-up conversations to help little ones feel special.  He is self-controlled and well-grounded when it comes to his peers, always making the thoughtful, responsible choices.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

On top of all of that, he has recently earned his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts.  Some of you may know how difficult and rare this achievement is; but very few of you know how incredibly difficult his journey to this achievement was.  Remembering that we just made a cross-country move, what that meant to his Boy Scout career was that the hours and hours of work that he’d invested towards getting his Eagle project completed in Connecticut was lost. He had to start over in Texas, not just on developing a new project and the myriads of paperwork and decisions necessary to see it through to completion, but also relationally, building respect and trust amongst his peers and their leaders.  Add to all of this that the troop that he joined rarely awards Eagles, and has never, ever awarded one to a transfer scout.  He has had to work and work to get things accomplished, he has had to swallow his pride when he was misunderstood, and has had to stretch himself well-beyond his comfort level to navigate complicated relationships.





With the help of one exceptional scout/friend that committed his time and effort to seeing Josiah succeed, the contributions of those who believed in him and were willing to help fund his project, and his siblings who relentlessly cheered him on, he got all of the requirements necessary checked off yesterday.  His Court of Honor, where he will receive his award, is a few months off, but we in the family are celebrating this accomplishment.

So today, I stop to honor my son as he graduates high school, turns 18, and accomplishes his Eagle Scout rank.  Quite a bit for a day’s work!



Filed under Education at Home, Family and faith, Parenting

Maneuvering Net-less Flight – The Beginning of our Homeschool Journey

It seems that in so many areas of my life, I am flying without a net.  What I mean by that is being in situations where you make a choice to go against the traditional route of society, often times resulting in no one to blame your failure on but yourself.  Some of those flying-without-a-net areas were chosen for me, and some of them I chose myself.

Educating my children at home is one of those areas.  While homeschooling is much more accepted these days, it is still an arena in which the success or failure of the children rests heavily on the shoulders of the parents.  And then there is the conversation about what success or failure really is…but that is a topic for another day.

When my oldest was 4/5 and getting ready to enter her educational journey, I could tell that she would have a little difficulty with learning if we chose a traditional education path.   She is an artist who gathers her information more from her senses than from linear, academic thought.  She is a really smart girl, but I had a hunch that she might struggle in a traditional setting where the main way to source information is visually.  I knew that I wanted to give her as much a head start as I could.  I didn’t intend to homeschool past the earliest of grades, but just long enough to make sure that she knew the basic math skills and knew how to read.

The first couple of years I spent as much time researching homeschooling as I did actually educating my daughter.  I interviewed everyone I knew that home schooled, and spent much time researching on the internet.  I answered some of the big questions of homeschooling (like socialization and salt/light), realized that I really loved teaching, and developed my philosophy around home education.  By the end of those first years, I was committed to home education, not only for the entirety of my daughter’s educational journey, but also for each of the kids that I would continue to have.

Along the way, I have collected scores of curriculum opinions, have tried many varieties of schedules, worked on various methods of chores, started and ended many subjects, had many character discussions with my kids, learned a ton about learning styles and methods, had many stellar moments, and had many collosal failures.

I have gone through the journey of helping my eldest graduate from high school, take SAT tests, and get accepted into colleges.  And presently I am continuing to educate my three remaining kids, as well as lend as much support as needed to my college daughter.

Flying without a net isn’t the most comfortable position to take.  There is risk, there is the fear of failure, and there is loneliness.  However, if it works, there is also great satisfaction and growth.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” — David Lloyd George (Prime Minister of England 1916 – 1922)

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Back to School

We start school on Wednesday (tomorrow).  I recognize that we’re behind the public schools around the country, but I also wanted to take two weeks off to gather what crumbs of entertainment the tourists left after they returned to work and school.

The kids and I spent our summer inside my husband’s business doing construction work, and I felt that they needed a little extended playtime on beaches that weren’t crowded, and catching up on the relaxing that they didn’t get to do this summer.  One of the many perks of homeschooling; and while I haven’t taken advantage of this perk in the past, I am playing that card this year.


I have been prepping this year a little differently.  First of all, I have one fewer student to prep for (sigh…) so the time will be dispersed a little differently.

Second of all, I am planning with college in mind.  After walking through this last year with my eldest being bound for college, I’ve learned some academic lessons. While I believe that we’ve done a good job with home education, I also have seen that there is more that we could be doing – more that I could be doing to get the kids ready for college.

Therefore, this year I am introducing homework to the kids.  I am introducing the use of a syllabus to them.  I am giving them some self-paced materials for them to complete.  I am having them take notes on what they’re reading.  All skills that should help make their transition into college easier.

I am also using their input as to what subjects that they’d like to study.  One picked graphic arts.  One picked linguistics.  One picked spelling and handwriting.  I found high school curriculum to guide them (including iTunesU – a great resource) and will give them time to study these subjects.

I also will be leading them in developing their worldview.  In an effort to be intentional (see my post Passing It Down – 9/11 Reflections), I am having discussions about values that I have, in the past, assumed were being caught by my  kids.

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”  – C.S. Lewis

In whatever way education flows through your life this school year, I hope that it fills your minds and your souls.

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Filed under Education at Home, General thoughts

OK – But What About Socialization?

I have been homeschooling my kids for 13 years.  As each child has come along and reached school age, I have added them to my classroom.  I have four children that I educate, and I am about to graduate my first (sigh…).

Having sited those statistics, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about socialization.  The conversation typically goes something like this:

“Where do your kids go to school?”
“I homeschool them.”
– insert various responses, such as:
* I wish I had the education/time/patience to do that.
* Are you with a religious organization?
* Do you have a degree in education?
* What resources do you use?

Regardless of what direction the conversation takes, it inevitably leads to the next question –
* “OK.  But what about socialization?”

At this point, I want to express that I certainly don’t believe that I have all the answers, or that I believe that my choice to homeschool is going to make my children moral or more socially superior than someone else’s kids.   Simply being homeschooled doesn’t scrape all of the sin off of my family – only our trust in Jesus can do that.  But I do feel very comfortable both with my philosophy about homeschooling and socialization and I felt it would be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts on this topic.

First of all, I do want my kids socialized; however, my definition of what socialization is might be different from others.  To me, socialization of a child is not merely having a social life.  Socialization is developing social skills that will enable the child to interact appropriately in different real life situations.

I believe that life is much more like the grocery store than school.  What I mean is that the situation set up by a typical public school is that kids are only with others of their same age.   And yet in society, school is the only place that this scenario plays out. Life is much more like the grocery store, where people from all ages mingle and interact. Regardless of what they chose to do in life, kids will have to interact with a wide variety of ages.

I want my kids to be able to relate to someone of their peer group, someone 50 years older than themselves, and someone 10 years younger than themselves with equal grace, dignity, articulation, and respect.

Second of all, I want my kids to learn how to socialize from someone other than their peers.  Why would I want a 5 year old to learn how to be 5 from other 5 year olds?  Why would I want a 15 year old to learn how to be his/her age from other 15 year olds?  I want my kids to learn how to be human, social, and good citizens from others with more experience and perspective.  I want my kids to have deeper character than the stereotypical teenager, and I want them to have more varied interests than simply what pop culture suggests.

While there is plenty of pop culture in our home (we all sing with gusto the top 10 music songs and can converse fluently in Survivor, American Idol, and The Mentalist), I also hope that my kids are getting a heavier amount of influence from their father and me than from the latest The Apprentice cast-off.   I hope that they learn more about how to handle themselves in diverse situations from me than from the Disney Channel TV stars, from Lady Gaga, or from the kids in the innercity neighborhood in which we live.

Thirdly, there are numerous activities in which my kids participate that provide them interaction with their non-homeschooled counterparts.  They participate in them for reasons other than socialization, but spending time observing and interacting with their peers is a side benefit.  Both of my daughters are heavily involved in dance, and my sons are avid Boy Scouters.  They all also go to youth groups at a local church, and some volunteer with various non-profits in town (WyldLife and Love 146).

I believe that school is a socially artificial environment, and that I am able, as a homeschool parent, to provide real life experiences for my kids.

I believe that, if we want our children to learn how to interact with others, we have to train them.

They must be taught that they should sometimes take the lead and sometimes give others the opportunity.  They have to be exposed to all different kinds of personalities and learn how to gracefully work with each.

And I believe that I have the greatest opportunity to educate my kids in these issues  – right alongside History, English, Math, etc.

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A Typical Day

The title of this post seems a little silly, because we rarely have a “typical” day; however, we do have a schedule, we do have a routine, and I do have it as a goal to accomplish certain things within the school year.  While I have absolutely no problem with unschooling (the philosophy of eduation that believes that there is more to be captured by living a full, creative, exploring lifestyle with learning happening through natural life experiences, child directed play, and household/work experience rather than a more traditional school curriculum), we use textbooks and have a syllabus for each subject. 

Before I list out our schedule, I should also begin by saying that we made a commitment this year to nanny for our neighbor’s kids.  That involves before/after school transportation and care for their 6 year old, and fulltime care for their infant son.  He was 2 months when we began, and is now 9 months.  Therefore, this year we’ve altered our beginning and ending times of our school schedule to facilitate their schedules and care.

At the beginning of each school year, I map out a daily subject schedule, complete with the amount of time to be spent on each subject.  For the first few weeks, we follow it quite religiously.  Then adjustments are made based on the actual time it takes for some subjects to be completed.  Also, considerations are heavily made based on whether a child needs teacher direction on a subject.  For example, if my eldest needs help with  math, then I schedule subjects for the other kids that don’t need teacher direction, like typing or handwriting. 

Our day, for the kids, begins at 9:30.  We follow half hour individual school subjects until 11:00, at which time we switch to “couch subjects”.  Couch subjects are Bible, history, and geography that we all do together.  Typically, these subjects are read to them, or in the case of geography, we break into groups of 2 and work together.   This year, we have been studying the westward expansion period of early US History. 

At 12:00, two of the kids go to the kitchen and prepare lunch for us, while the other two continue in their studies for another half hour.  The kids trade off cooking, every other day.  Most of the time, I am in the kitchen with them giving direction and guidance to the meal. 

After lunch, we continue with half hour individual subjects, wrapping up school time at 2:30.

The rest of the afternoon is spent with the little girl that we watch, doing activities with her.  Their parents pick them up at 5:00, at which time we either run errands or get supper ready.  

One evening a week, my sons are tutored in Spanish.  Every other week, my kids meet with mentors who are coaching them in specific areas (innovation, computer graphics, life skills), mostly through the kind-heartedness of people in my husband’s business.  And, of course, the girls are heavily involved in dance, and the boys are equally invested in Boy Scouts and Young Life. 

With my eldest making decisions regarding college, every minute is precious, every minute holds the potential of future, and every minute reminds me that this time is slipping away.  I am thoroughly loving my kids, who they are, and where we are in their educational process.  There are definitely things I would’ve changed along the way, but as we stand right now, the future looks amazing.


Filed under Education at Home

Reading to Kids – For Vocabulary Building

I believe that reading to kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  This act facilitates many opportunities for growth in your kids and in your relationship with them.  While I’ll discuss in a later post several of the other advantages gained by reading to children, in this post I’ll discuss the vocabulary benefits. 

According to Jim Trelease in his book, The Read Aloud Handbook,
There is one skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure:  the child’s vocabulary upon entering school.  Yes, the child goes to school to learn new words, but the words he or she already knows determine how much of what the teacher says will be understood.  And since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who already has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary grasps the least.

Before kids have the ability to speak, they have the ability to understand words.  This is called receptive language

* The receptive language is what allows your toddler to perform tasks and understand questions that they would never be able to communicate themselves. 
“Go get the diaper for mommy.”
“Would you like more milk?”
* And the receptive language is what allows us to understand a foreign language before we feel comfortable speaking it. 

It is this receptive language that allows a baby/toddler/early reader to comprehend books that are well above their reading level.  And it is for this reason that I recommend books that are way more challenging for an age level that you might think possible.  While children are listening, they are learning new vocabulary.  Every time a new word is introduced, they are filling their reservoir for use at a later time.  The more words introduced, the better understanding, and the better understaning, the better their reading comprehension will be.  Listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension. 

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am a bit of a snob when it comes to children’s literature.  If one of my goals for reading to my kids is to develop their vocabulary, then I certainly don’t want to read to them books that either have a limited vocabulary or are poorly written.  For the most part, there are a limited number of plots – after that, books are all about how the author used and crafted words. 

I have attached a suggested book list.  (I will also post it under the “Favorite Things” section of my home page so that you can access it without having to find this post.)  I’m sure I’ve left some of my favorites out, but it is a good start.   I’ve listed books under general age groups, all of the way up to Senior High.  I believe that the longer that you read to your kids, the more words they are introduced to, and the bigger their vocabulary will be. 

I hope this gets you started reading! 

Preschool/Kindergarten/First Grade

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban
Billy and Blaze, by C.W. Anderson
Curious George, by H.A. Rey
Frog and Toad All Year, by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Little Bear, by Else Homelund Minarik
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
The Ox-Cart Man, Donald Hall
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown
Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams
Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, House on Pooh Corner, and When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

Early Elementary

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith)
The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh
Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit
The Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, etc, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter
Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, by Clyde Robert Bulla
Story of Dr. Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting
Stuart Little, by E.B. White
Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Middle Elementary

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
The Secret Garden, by F. H Burnett
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Where the Red Fern Grows, by L. Rawls

Late Elementary

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter
Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy), by J.R.R. Tolkien

Junior High

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
Christy, by Catherine Marshall
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Emma, by Jane Austen
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
1984, by George Orwell

Senior High

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Guilliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Silas Marner, by George Eliot
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee


Filed under Education at Home, Parenting

For the Love of Children’s Literature

Can you tell me from which book these quotes originated?

  • “I am a bear of very little brain.”
  •  “Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
  •  “Oh no…I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
  • “Is he—quite safe?”
    “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

If you were able to correctly identify Winnie the Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, then you and I have a shared experience in these classics of children’s literature.  I am passionate about children’s books.  I believe deeply in reading to your kids.  In fact, if we sat down one-on-one to talk, I might overwhelm you with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.  (There are a few topics that, when I get started talking about them, I can send such a force of information and enthusiasm that it can be like trying to get a drink from a fire hydrant.  I’m working on that.)

My personal goal is to create lifetime readers – kids who continue to read and educate themselves throughout their adult lives.  Readers who enjoy reading, both for pleasure as well as gathering information.  Reading is the heart of education, as all other subjects hinge on whether or not a student can process information from written sources.  More than most other educational goals for my children, I hope for their reading ability to be above average and to be able to communicate expertly, both written and verbally.   

In 1995, a governmental committee was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education to study why our educational system wasn’t improving.  They determined that, since nearly everything in the curriculum of school rested upon reading, that they must study what works, what might work, and what doesn’t work in teaching children how to be readers.  Among its primary findings, two seemed worth note. 

#1  “The single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”  More important than worksheets, homework, flashcards, etc.    

  #2  The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud, not only in the home, but also in the clasroom.  They said, “It is a practice that should continue throughout all the grades.”

I read aloud to my kids every day.  In fact, I read to them quite a bit, every day.  We always have some book going.  A great deal of our school day is spent reading to them.  My kids have been at the age that they can easily read by themselves for a while – and they do read by themselves daily; however, I still read aloud to them.  Until the day they skip off to college, walk down the aisle, or pack their bags to join the employed population, I’ll still be reading to them.


I believe there are a few books that no child should leave childhood without reading.  Over the next few posts about education, I’ll put together a suggested reading list.  I must say in advance that I am quite a snob about books.  I don’t believe that just any book should be read – with all of the excellent and quality books that have been published, time should not be wasted on poorly written, plot-less, inspiration-less books.    

I hope that you grab a kid (hopefully one that you know!), pick up a book, and spend a few minutes reading to them today.  Regardless of their age.  Both you and they will be the better for it.

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Praying Incessantly

The public schools having a snow day doesn’t really have an effect on a homeschooling family.  At least, that is what you would typically think.

On the contrary, it has a HUGE impact on the homeschool day.  The announcement sends waves of expectation, excitement, energy, and ultimately, dissatisfaction through the walls of our untraditional schoolhouse.  The dissatisfaction comes when they realize that they don’t qualify for a snow day.

There are no slick roads to contend with.  There is no extreme temperature to take into consideration.  There are no buses to factor in.  There is simply a warm, cozy house, a teacher who was able to make it to work easily, and students that didn’t have to factor in a commute.

How that translates is frustration, no attention span, and lots of negotiating over subjects.   “Why do we have to do school today?”  “How many subjects are we going to do?”  “Surely we’re not going to do a full day?”  “Can I go sledding with my friends?  They just called!”  “How long are we going to go?”  “I finished a chapter.  Can I stop now?  Please?  Please?”

The requests and questions press on me, actually causing a visual of arrows flying towards me.  As I feel my temperature rise, only equal to the volume of my speech, I am reminded that I don’t have what it takes to parent these kids.  My patience isn’t enough.  My judgement isn’t enough.  My creativity isn’t enough.

And I pray.

“I always feel it well just to put a few words of prayer between everything I do.”  Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon, the British Baptist preacher from the 1800s known as the “Prince of Preachers” who left a legacy of sermons, as well as a legacy of lives transformed, could very rarely be found on his knees – not what you’d expect from a man of God.  And that isn’t because he didn’t pray, but rather, that he prayed incessantly.

I am working on finding a rhythm, based on complete submission,  to prayer in my life.  Breathing a word of rescue, a recognition of need, a verbal representation of hands thrown in the air, can be effective and relational as a continual supplement to time set aside and dedicated conversation with God.

“Father, these are your kids, and I am your daughter.  Would you help us all work together in love, as a family?  Give me patience to handle their present emotions, and give me wisdom to balance play and studies.  Thank you for always, always being there for me.”

Perspective is changed and new life is breathed into my reserves.   Circumstances don’t change, but internally, I am changed.


Filed under Education at Home, Family and faith