Saturday, July 30, 2011

Flowers for a Family

For those of you who heard the rumors, they are true. Somewhat. Yes, we are expecting a boy. No, I am not pregnant. We are adopting a not-so-little (6-year-old) boy from Taiwan. I plan to tell the story at over the next few months because we are only a month into this process and it has already been an amazing journey. This post is not to tell the story, but to ask for your prayers and love. This little boy needs a home and family and we would love to welcome him into ours. To raise funds to cover the many costs associated with his adoption, my daughters and I are making paper flowers like the one below. We can make these 3" beauties into lapel pins or hair clips and the colors are limitless. If you can bless us by praying, ordering flowers, or sending this along to your friends, we would be so grateful!  You can place your order at Thanks so much!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gearing Up for Year 1 of Tapestry of Grace

In the midst of summer travel and fun, I am gearing up for our family's first year of Tapestry of Grace.  The upcoming school year will be completely different from previous years, and not just because of Tapestry of Grace (that's another conversation).  In some ways I'm sure I have gone beyond necessity, but I am an organizer who has gone too long without organizing.  This has been my list of things to accomplish this summer:
Set up record keeping system: I found Homeschool Tracker to keep track of grades, attendance, and other school related information.  It's simple to use and free.  That's a great combination!  
Sort books: I went through all of our school books and divided them into three categories: use this year, use in the future and sell/give away.  While doing this, I also listed all of the books for this year in Homeschool Tracker.
Order books: After reviewing our library, I ordered books that we needed for our upcoming year.  In addition to the Tapestry of Grace curriculum, I ordered math and supplemental language arts materials.
Learn Tapestry of Grace (my favorite step!): I spent a couple of days perusing my new materials and becoming familiar with how the system works.  I wrote out lesson plans and made folders for each week and put the necessary materials in each week for each child.
Assemble supplies: My girls and I made a list of everything they wanted/needed in terms of supplies.  We sorted through what we already had and then went shopping for everything else.  Each child assembled her binders and put the supplies away in her drawer.
Order books (part 2): Today I ordered all of the literature we will use for the first few weeks of TOG.  I had three browsers open - my local library, my almost local library and Amazon.  I searched the libraries first, then ordered the book at Amazon if neither library had it.
Wait: Now that I have everything together, I will enjoy a week off before we start.  We are all eager to begin!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Home Educating Families Giveaway

Here is your chance to win a bundle of products valued at over $70 to get your homeschool year started right! Hurry - contest ends June 30th!
Package includes:
1. "A Journey Home" from Franklin Springs Media
2. "Beside Still Waters" by Tricia Goyer
3. Well Planned Day Planner, 2011-2012
4. 1 year subscription to Home Educating Family Magazine

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homeschooling with Netflix

When listing my top 5 resources for homeschooling, I have to include Netflix.  Several times each week, we turn to Netflix for documentaries, educational videos and sometimes simply entertainment.  I use these movies when I want to work with one child and another needs an activity or the kids have worked really hard on something and need a little down time.  One day a week I go to my office and I am blessed to be able to take the kids with me.  On that day, they are allowed to watch a movie in the afternoon when their book work is complete.  We also use Netflix on our family movie nights by rewarding our kids with the opportunity to choose a movie (from our pre-selected list) if they have completed X, Y and Z.  Although we rarely use it, I have been known to pop a movie into our portable DVD player for a long car ride on occasion.  Something that we began using to replace television has become a valuable resource for our homeschool.

Every couple of weeks, I visit the Netflix website and add movies to our queues.  We have two queues, one for instant movies streamed to our computer or wii and the other for DVDs mailed to our home.  We can watch the movies in the instant queue in any order so this one is easy to maintain.  Any movie that offers the choice for instant queue, that is what I choose.  As for the DVD queue, the movies are listed in the order they will be shipped.  I am careful to rotate movies to please everyone in the family, so sometimes I have to adjust the order of these movies.  There are a few types of movies that make their way into our queue.  We watch a lot of documentaries about topics we are discussing, especially in social studies and science (Drive Thru History).    When we have read a book and there is a movie version available, we watch those (most recently The Hiding Place and Chronicles of Narnia).  Our youngest daughter likes to watch the cartoons that have a little lesson in them (her favorite is Sid the Science Kid).  As for entertainment, we use Netflix rather than the theater or most other rental places.  We sometimes wait longer for movies, but we don't mind.  Our recent favorites have been The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and The Ultimate Gift.  We definitely get our money's worth each month.

Tips before adding movies to your queue:

  • Check the source of the movie before showing it to your kids.  You don't want to be caught off guard when a science video states something as fact that is simply theory or a history video promotes a point of view that disagrees with your beliefs.  I'm not saying don't show the video because sometimes these are great discussion starters, just be prepared. 
  • Know that it's OK to only show parts of a movie.  You pay a flat fee for Netflix, regardless of how many movies you watch.  Take advantage of this and share clips with your kids.  There have been several occasions when we have used bits and pieces of movies to emphasize a specific something and known that we never would watch the entire movie.
  • As with anything, take caution in what you introduce. There have been occasions when we have told our kids before watching a show that we are watching a specific portion for a specific purpose and this will not be a regular part of our queue.  This has helped us avoid heartache with some particular series that have a good portion here and there but are not generally on our approved list.
  • This may be a no-brainer, but talk to your kids about what they have watched and train them to be discerning.  We have an on-going dialogue about what is and isn't appropriate for our family.  Our kids (even the young ones) are great critics and have decided without prompting to turn some things off.  This is success to me because I want to raise people who can make responsible decisions for themselves, not just do what I tell them to do.
Disclaimer: In no way do I want to promote an idea that movies replace one-on-one instruction.  We use a variety of teaching methods and tools, primarily hands-on learning supplemented with books and other resources.  This is just one of those other resources.  Also, we are grateful that our children have a deep love for reading.  If this was not the case, I would probably be more reluctant to use movies as much as we do (which isn't much).  I encourage you to use the resources in the best way to meet your family's needs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

What do you do when one child finishes her work before the others?  Not just on a daily basis but also for the school year?  We have one child who gets up before everyone else and starts immediately on her work and we have another who drags her feet out of bed and works slowly through the day.  It's no surprise that the early riser is also finished with her work for the year and the other is still trudging through.  Our family has scheduled a time in our homeschool day called "Choose Your Own Adventure." During that time, the kids get to choose from a list of activities that changes according to our needs.  For example, two of the girls are in a play and so rehearsal time has been added into CYOA for now.  The list is always posted on the white board.  It is a typed list inside a page protector.  Seasonal activities are added using a dry erase marker so they can be removed when necessary. The kids who need to finish school work do it during the morning CYOA time.  In the afternoon, everyone gets CYOA time.  There are a few guidelines for CYOA.  Because I strictly limit screen time, each child only gets 30 minutes total each day between the wii and computer.  Also, I ask that if they chose a sedentary activity in the morning, the they choose something more active for the afternoon and vice versa.  So far, the kids have been responsible in their choices and greatly enjoyed choosing their own adventures.

Here are some items that have been on our list: card-making, sewing, baking, reading, correspondence, art projects, music, board games, outdoor play, playing on the wii fit, playing educational games on the computer, pottery, scrapbooking, rearranging bedrooms, science experiments, water play, play-dough, dress up, dog training, coloring pages, crafts, foreign language, drama practice, sudoko, word searches, crossword puzzles, and Bible study.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doorposts Giveaway

Earlier I blogged about one of my new favorite publishers, Doorposts.  Today I came across Happily Domestic, a blog that is giving away a $50 gift certificate for Doorposts!  Click here to check it out because the contest ends Thursday, May 12.

Hidden Gems in Polished Cornerstones

I didn't realize that I wanted my daughters to be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace until I came across Doorposts.  They are some awesome people who have a multitude of publications dealing with character to help the rest of us raise our children to honor God inwardly and outwardly.

Polished Cornerstones is the first of their publications that we have implemented in our homeschool curriculum.  We discovered it at a conference and began using it the following Monday.  The book takes the girls (and their mother) through a variety of activities as they study qualities found in a Godly woman.  For each quality, there is a list of Bible verses and suggested activities for younger and older girls.  Families may choose as many activities as they like before moving on to the next section.

Although I have two beginners and one intermediate, I have chosen to do intermediate activities with all of them so far.  We do the discussions and activities together and greatly enjoy doing so.  For example, the girls and I read Proverbs 31 together and then categorized the woman's traits according to a worksheet in the book.  The next week, we read the book of Ruth.  I planned to only read one chapter a day for a week, but the girls were so upset when I closed my Bible on the first day that we finished the story in one day.  A couple of days later we used another worksheet to compare Ruth to the Proverbs 31 woman.  Between activities, we discuss what we read and process through it a little more.  Each evening, the girls are eager to tell their dad about what they learned that day and he asks questions to further their understanding.

Anything that gets my girls excited about becoming a more Godly woman is great with me (and my husband). Polished Cornerstones is a crowd pleaser in our house and I look forward to using more of Doorposts' resources in the future.

By the way, to learn about plants and polished cornerstones, read Psalm 144:12-15.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Mean Mom

The Mean Mom.  I wear the title proudly.  Prouder than Superman wears his "S."  I think I may even have a T-shirt made with that on the front.  It didn't happen overnight, but there have been glimmers of it as long as I have been a mom.  My husband and I agreed early on that our daughters wouldn't wear things as toddlers that we would say no to when they were older.  No tops that show your belly, one-piece swimsuits only, no short shorts, and on and on.  So far it has worked.  We have been consistent with our expectations and the girls have made responsible choices.  Our daughters have chosen to wear shorts over their swimsuits because just a swimsuit wasn't enough for their taste.

The Mean Mom doesn't stop at clothing choices.  Television, movies, activities, how they spend their allowance, and now even friends are subject to scrutiny.  We don't usually just say no.  We ask questions and encourage our children to make choices.  Is that (show/movie/activity/friend) building your character?  Are the characters in that show demonstrating the values you want to have?  Is this really how you want to spend your money knowing that it will take you time to earn more?  Is that friend encouraging you to make good choices or influencing you to make bad choices?  Is this a place where people will be making choices that you want to make or a place that would be better to avoid.  I am happy to say that most of the time, our girls make choices that we are happy with.  Sometimes, we discuss their choices and guide them to a better choice.  This often happens with activities they share with friends.  Occasionally, we let them go down a wrong path and experience the consequences.  Once when we were driving, the girls didn't want to drink the water we had in the car.  Instead they bought sodas at the gas station.  Later, we stopped for ice cream and the girls didn't have money to buy any.  Cruel?  Not really.  Did they drink the free water next time?  Yes, and they had money for ice cream at the end of the trip.  Lesson learned.  You must live within a budget and that means making choices.  I didn't care if they used their money to buy the soda or the ice cream, I just don't want them blindly spending money as if there is no limit.

I recently overheard my oldest daughter telling the younger two that I'm not really a mean mommy.  I love them and I'm teaching them to make good choices.  She also said, "the neighbor's mom is nice, but those girls don't make very good choices because she lets them do things they shouldn't do."  Occasionally, my daughter even tells me that she is glad that I take the time to help her make good choices.  Once she asked me to help her find the perfect husband when she is ready to get married.  I think by then she won't need my help as much as she thinks she does now.  I also think that one day she will earn a T-shirt with "Mean Mom" written across the front.

**For the record, we have amended the dress code.  Who knew that our 10-year-old would have legs so long that the only thing long enough to be modest would be Bermuda shorts?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Our New Curriculum

When we started homeschooling, it was simpler.  I only taught one of our children and we used a program through the local school district so everything was provided.  By year three, we chose to homeschool all three of our girls and new challenges came up.  I chose a thematic curriculum based on the recommendation of friends.  I loved the idea of teaching the same lesson to all of my children and having the science, social studies, Bible, music, and art all connected.  It wasn't until I was knee-deep into this particular curriculum that I realized what I didn't like about it.  My younger girls struggled when I pulled out the main science book which was written over their heads.  Conversely, my older daughter groaned when we did social studies because she knew that she would be receiving a pile of worksheets to complete in addition to what we did as a group.  I knew there had to be something better for us.  In preparing for next year, I came across a curriculum offered by the publishers whom we use for math and language arts.  From the sample I received, it seemed that someone took great pains to make the each lesson appropriate for each grade level.  I just wanted to look at it in a little more depth before committing.  When I arrived at the homeschool conference, I was disappointed that the publisher chose not to bring this program with them.  I wasn't disappointed for long.  Only a couple of booths over, we found something that I ended up liking so much more.  At first I was overwhelmed by Tapestry of Grace.  I thought it would be too much for my young children.  However, the more I looked at it, the more I liked it.  It is based in history, beginning at creation.  The main thread is God's story and the history of the church.  Social studies, history, art, music, and language arts are woven through the curriculum that is taught primarily using literature.  The CDs I mentioned in a prior post, are for the dads to listen to so they can be a part of discussions about lessons and know what is being taught each week.  I liked the idea of an intelligent curriculum that teaches kids to think things through.  I took home a sample of the curriculum and it didn't take long for me to be sold on it.  If you'd like to find out more about Tapestry of Grace, take a look here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our First Homeschool Conference

My husband and I recently attended our first homeschool conference. I don't know what I expected, but this was more than I bargained for.  I planned ahead by preparing a shopping list and marking the schedule with the sessions I wanted to attend.  We did OK the first day with the schedule, but the shopping list didn't fare as well. My husband found many books that he wanted to share with the kids, so we got them.  The curriculum that I was eagerly looking forward to perusing was not available at the conference to my dismay (I could write a whole entry about that disappointment).  The second day was a big day for us.  One of the speakers we listened to on Day 1 spoke of CDs he created for dads.  We went to his booth so we could check out these CDs for my husband who is always looking for something good to listen to while driving. We had no idea what we were in for.  While talking to one of the ladies at the booth, she asked if we had looked at their curriculum.  Not only had we not looked at their curriculum, I crossed all of their sessions off on my schedule.  I had chosen my curriculum, or so I thought.  Since my #1 choice let me down, I decided to take a look at what this program had to offer.  My husband and I spent three hours at this booth, looking through their materials and talking to the people who have used it with their families.  We brought friends over who looked at it with us so we could discuss it with them later. You'll have to read tomorrow about our curriculum choice. Then we encountered surprise #2 of the weekend.  As I walked away from the booth, a woman came over to me.  As soon as I saw her, I realized that she was a friend we hadn't seen for ten years.  She was at the conference with her husband and four children.  It was such a blessing to see this family whom we were so disappointed to lose contact with.  All in all, we were so glad that we attended the conference.  My husband felt reassured about homeschooling, we found an excellent curriculum and our family reunited with old friends.  Who could ask for more?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wishing for a Whiteboard

I have wanted a whiteboard almost as long as we have been homeschooling.  I could never justify getting one because we used other items instead.  The girls have small whiteboards that we would use for lessons and we have a magnetic calendar that we hang on the wall.  Nevertheless, I wanted a whiteboard.  That great expanse of white, begging for words to fill its blank space, called out to me as I passed it in the school supply aisle.  Recently, I decided that I would get a white board to fill the drab beige space on our school wall.  It would go under the alphabet cards and above the magnetic calendar.  To my utter disappointment, the space at the store where my white board once waited patiently for me to claim it was vacant.  Hoping a store employee could locate it, I waited patiently as she scanned the shelf tag.  Her news was beyond disappointing: they were out of stock and would not be in for 2 weeks.  I drug myself to the next aisle, hoping it wsa just a bad dream.  As I looked up, I quickly forgot about the whiteboard because what I saw was breath-taking.  Before me was a Crayola Dry Erase Poster.  It had colorful lines (also begging to be filled with words), was 17 x 24" big and cost half the price of my white board.  I quickly checked out and brought home my newest friend.  We have kept the poster busy with discussions around the poster, all of us taking turns writing on it.  The girls enjoy copying things from it, adding to it, and participating in group activities again.  My wish came true!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Attentiveness and April Fool's Day

When choosing the character quality to cover this week, I settled on attentiveness.  It didn't take more than a few minutes for me to realize the irony of teaching attentiveness during the week that ends with April Fool's Day. Today we copied Deuteronomy 12:28 and discussed what it means to observe and hear.  These go hand in hand with obedience.  If you are truly observing and hearing, you will naturally make right choices and be obedient.  We have a white board where we normally write the date and character quality.  The rest of the space is usually blank for discussions and notes throughout the day.  Last night I erased everything and wrote a letter to the girls. It said:
Dear family,
Today is Monday, March 28, 2011.  Our character quality this week is attentiveness.  I am excited about the audition today at the theater.  If we get our work finished early, we will go to the museum on the way to the theater.
It didn't take the girls long to realize that the homeschool board was different.  They were excited about the prospect of a special trip.  I warned them to be attentive this week because other surprises will be showing up.  I'm not sure what the surprises will be, but April Fool's Day will definitely be fun this year.

As usual, I referred to The Character Journal for Bible verses, songs, and more.  I also went to Character First! for more activities and ideas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Making Change

As with most parents, there are certain things we would prefer that our children learn sooner than later.  One of the skills we want our kids to learn young is being responsible with their money.  From the day our kids began getting an allowance (which we now call commission), they were taught how to spend it.  The first portion is for giving (or tithes), the second portion is save and the third portion is spend.  Our middle daughter always puts additional money into her save jar and spends the remainder sparingly.  Our youngest doesn't earn enough to be concerned with yet.  Our oldest always has a plan for spending her money.  Enter Dave Ramsey.  My husband and I recently attended Total Money Makeover Live to revive our passion for living like no one else.  While at the conference, we found a program for young people called Generation Change.  We brought it home to our daughter, not realizing the fire we would light.  After a week of watching the videos and completing the workbook, we had some amazing conversations with our daughter.  She decided that she wanted to invest her money rather than just spend it frivolously, even asking me to check several banks for the best interest rate.  She also signed up for a babysitting class at the community center so she can earn some money this summer.  Our house isn't just making a small change, our girls will be living like no one else.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Relay for Life Family Competition

Last April my grandmother found out she had cancer.  My girls and I packed up and headed to California at the end of May, intending to help my grandpa take care of my grandma and household tasks until she recovered.  Eight days after we arrived, she quietly passed away in the hospital.  This was not our first encounter with cancer, my husband's mother died of breast cancer when we were teens.  In honor of both of these wonderful ladies, our family is walking in the Relay for Life in June.  To make it fun, our family is having a contest amongst ourselves to see who can raise the most money.  The winner gets to choose dinners for a whole week AND not have to do chores for a whole week!  Please help us out by donating here.  This is our team page and the competition is among the Nourse sisters (and mom).  Better yet, join our team and walk with us!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Science, Bargains, and Flowers

My girls love science.  I love bargains.  We all love flowers.  How could these three be related?  Post-Valentine's Day science experiment!  We happened to be shopping the day after Valentine's Day and popped into a store that had their bouquets marked down 50%.  Having always wanted to try to color flowers with food coloring, we purchased a mostly-white arrangement.  Each of the girls chose two colors and two flowers for each color.  We placed the flowers in cups of water and food coloring.  The results were varied, but overall, we found that the blue was best-absorbed and the carnations absorbed better than the other flowers.  Several of our flowers showed color on one side but not the other.  We plan to try this again with fresher flowers and split the stems so one flower absorbs two colors.  For more tips and the chemistry behind this activity, take a look here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

Our family recently began formally studying character qualitiesas part of our homeschool day.  When looking for lessons, I had two main criteria:1. I wanted something that all of my children would benefit from
2. I wanted something that went beyond the basics and incorporated scripture.

I started with comprehensive lists of character qualities found at Character First and the Duggar Family's website.  I used these lists to create a list for our family. Here is the entry on our list for humility:
Humility vs. Pride
Recognizing that it is actually God and others who are responsible for the achievements in
my life
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6
Generally, we begin a new quality on Wednesday.  Each child receives a worksheet and writes the quality at the top of the page.  On Wednesday, we talk about the word, the dictionary definition, its synonyms and antonyms, and the operational definition.  We go through the operational definition word by word, taking it down to simple terms.  Then each child tells me what it means to her.  Lastly, we discuss other character qualities that work with this quality.  On Thursday, we review the meaning of the word and relate it to the Bible.  We discuss several verses relating to the quality.  We then talk about a few key Bible figures who do and do not live this quality.  We also talk about how Jesus shows this quality in his life.  Over the weekend, I look for ways to remind the kids about the quality in every day life.  On Monday, we review what we learned the prior week and move on to the application.  We talk about how we can live out this quality as individuals and as a family.  This is the best part, because the kids make connections to their life choices.  On Tuesday, we again review what we learned over the past few days and the kids draw pictures of themselves displaying this quality.  We wrap up the quality by putting the worksheets in a book the kids are each creating. 
A few tips: I found it works well to begin the quality on Wednesdays for two reasons.  Wednesday is the day that we are most consistently home so I can expect to have a good chunk of time to allocate for this.  Also, it works well to be in the middle of a lesson on the weekend. The kids are still focused on what we are learning rather than in between lessons.  Rather than being a gap, the weekends have become an extension of our learning time.  Secondly, I naturally expect our older children to do more writing and thinking in these lessons that what I expect from our younger children.  As with anything, don't allow your children to burn out.  When I see that my younger ones have had enough, I help with the writing or change gears.  Thirdly,  with all of the language lessons built into these activities, you must count this time for language arts hours or you will be cheating yourself!
To study the character qualities, I pieced several things together for our family.  In addition to the lists I mentioned above, I found a good start at Home Life Ministries.  In their Character Journals, you will find a wealth of information including stories, Bible verses, and my favorite, a list of five "I Wills" for each quality.  We work those into each week. 
Do you have another great resource for character studies?  Please comment and share them here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

No Labels For My Girls

My younger two daughters hate the labels in their clothes.  They have me cut the tags out as soon as we get home with them.  For some reason, they do like another kind of labels.  The kind that don't fit. 

DD: Am I a tomboy? Me: Well, not exactly because you like to wear fancy dresses. DD:  Am I a girly-girl? Me: Not exactly because you like to climb, play rough, load your pockets with rocks, and collect frogs. DD: So what am I? Me: You are you, just the way God made you.

My girls love helping their Daddy in the garage and can identify types of wrenches or screwdrivers.  They have taken dance classes and played softball and basketball.  They make cards with me, play piano, sew, knit, and act in plays.  They like to ride in their dad's tow truck, ride quads, and help their grandpa take care of his calves and piglets. They watch NASCAR and football with their grandma and our whole family bakes cookies together at Christmas.  Torn up jeans and stained shirts fill their drawers but poufy dresses fill their closets.  Toy boxes hold Legos, baby dolls, dress up clothes, Tech Decks, Barbies, and science kits.

Me (to DD): Do you still want a label? It would be "just right."