Friday, October 21, 2011

Nature's Classroom

It's nice to take a break now and then and get outdoors for some one-on-one with nature. This fall, we drove to a nearby state park for some "outdoor" education. We had time to...
do some fishing,
climb a tree,
see wildlife in their natural habitat,
see wildlife outside their natural habitat...
appreciate nature's beauty all around us,
observe seasonal changes, and
remember Him who created it all.

Friday, October 7, 2011


We had a field trip opportunity to visit a traveling glass-blowing show by Corning at a local museum. It was very interesting. The kids were captivated, as I was. Looks a lot easier than it actually is!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New School Year

We started our new school year off with a new and improved school room. It is amazing what fresh paint, new shelving, a roomy desk and a wall-mounted TV have done to transform our basement space from crowded to spacious. We love it. Here's a peek.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Homeschool PE

Since I started my home school journey, one of my biggest dilemmas has been to provide a sound fitness program.  Oh, I had good intentions. I bought a homeschool fitness book, which still sits on the shelf, crisp and unused. I told myself that the kids would get plenty of exercise riding their bikes or taking a swim class.  I attempted a few “get outside and get some exercise” decrees but that didn’t fool any of us, either. I knew I had to come up with something better, but what? Working out has never been a strength of mine, and planning a PE program was no less a challenge.  On top of that, we live in Wisconsin, where the frozen winters often inspire me to drink hot chocolate and curl up in front of the fire, but don’t do much for my apathy enthusiasm for exercise.

Enter Fitness 4 Homeschool, my hero! An entire physical education curriculum created by  professionals (a PhD in Kinesiology,  a certified Trainer, and a certified Nutritionist).  Designed especially for homeschoolers ages K-8, this program does it all:

·         Little preparation (they email the PDF lesson plans to you each month!)

·         Easy to do

·         Requires only basic equipment ( i.e., balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, bean bags)

·         Provides “how to” video links for ALL the activities and exercises.

·         Geared for all ages and abilities

Fitness 4 Homeschool is for the whole family---not just the kids. The lessons (260 of them) are loaded with great games and activities that will have everyone moving and having fun together. Because it is geared for ages K-8 (most adults will work up a sweat, too), the whole family can enjoy moving and interacting.  Each lesson provides a warm up, activities/games,  and a cool down routine at the end.  These are not merely boring calisthenics, like I had when I was in school. They include fun and creative things, like the crab walk, the ankle alphabet exercise, jump the river, and the plank, to name just a few.  AND, it can be done indoors or out---so you’re covered no matter what the weather! Each lesson takes anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to complete---fits into our school day perfectly.

You also get cool, downloadable tools like an assessment test,  a tracking calendar, and more.  You get all this for a one-time cost of $99, less than what it costs to sign up two kids for YMCA swim lessons for one semester.  Remember, this is for the entire family and you can use it year after year. They will even send you a one week  FREE trial, to see if it’s right for your family. Now how nice is that? The curriculum is reusable, but the company does plan to offer a more advanced course for those who may want to add a higher level later on. I am so thankful  I came across this company. I definitely encourage you to check it out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gearing Up for a New School Year

It's almost August---our local Target and Walmart have had back-to-school supplies out on their shelves for a month, reminding us that summer is fleeting. We are in the process of getting ready for another school year, too. Our Sonlight curriculum arrived, we finished painting the school room, hubby has drawn up plans for a wall of bookshelves and a custom computer desk, we are shopping for laptops and a wall-mounted flatscreen TV (so glad to get rid of the current space-hogging tv and aquarium!), I have scheduled 9 or 10 field trips with our local homeschool support group, and I have finished writing in language arts into our years' lesson plans. The kids are very excited about getting laptops this year---we are switching to a new math program called Teaching Textbooks which includes CDs and books used concurrently. Will post pics of remodeled school room once we've finished! Am so looking forward to the bookshelves which we so badly need...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chess Anyone?

My kids (ages 6 and 10) both learned to play chess quickly and easily with two great products. One is called No Stress Chess, a two-sided chess game with a deck of action cards. The first side shows them where to place the pieces to start the game. The action cards depict each chess piece and how it moves.  The child moves only this piece on his turn. This eliminates the need to memorize all the pieces and their moves in advance, which is what overwhelms most beginners. After a few turns, the child begins to instinctively know how to move and capture with the various pieces. Once the children become comfortable with the moves and powers of each chess piece, they can flip the board over and put aside the deck of action cards and play chess unaided---the second side is a standard chess board!  The second product my kids really enjoy is a computer software game called Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster. Kids play 7 arcade-style games to learn chess basics, then put what they've learned to the test in the Intelligym, a training ground for future chess pros. Finally they can play in a tournament and try to defeat King Black. This is one of their first choices of games to play when they are allowed free-choice for computer time. They have learned some great strategies with this that I've never seen. It's awesome!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Join a Homeschool Support Group

If you are homeschooling and have not joined a homeschool support group, I urge you to find one. Even if you are confident in your own abilites, there are so many benefits from belonging to a group of like-minded parents and kids: organized field trips, holiday parties, curriculum fairs, fun and educational classes, used book sales and swaps, educational seminars, clubs such as Lego Club, Chess Club, Sewing Club, etc., group discount tickets to amusement parks, zoos, museums, etc., group discounts on skating lessons, twirling lessons, hockey lessons, etc., monthly gatherings for moms to swap ideas, service projects for the kids to do, and the list goes on...  Here are some pics from some of our homeschool group's outings and classes.
                                         Observing a bat during a field trip to some local caves.
                                                             Group shot in the caves.
                                                  Construction class using various materials.
                                                            More construction class.
                                                      Cooking class at local church kitchen.
                                                            Making ice cream in a bag.
                                       Making ice cream in a bag (notice the gloves---it's cold!)
                                                             Construction creation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grand Prix Results!

I promised to update the post regarding my daughter's AWANA Grand Prix race. Her teardrop design proved worthy of all her efforts---she took 2nd place for speed! Congragulations, Cricket!  Here's a pic:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I was stunned when I stumbled upon a child prodigy named Akiane. I read about her in an excerpt from a book titled, Heaven is for Real. Akiane started sketching her "visions" when she was 4 and began painting in color at age 6. She did this remarkable painting of Jesus called "Prince of Peace" at the tender age of 8. What is also amazing is that she was homeschooled by an atheist mother and her father was a non-practicing Catholic. Then, at age four, she began to talk about "meeting Jesus" in her dreams and seeing "visions" of God, angels and heaven and having conversations with God.  This, of course, got her parents' attention.  At some point later, they became Christians. Many of Akiane's paintings recreate her visions. Take a look at her website gallery and you'll understand why I am fascinated. Here it is:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Critical Thinking Activities

While I am working with one child on science, I have my other child do a critical thinking activity. Here are some critical thinking activities we use. Please feel free to post your ideas, too.
  • Logic Links
  • Deducibles (sequence puzzles)
  • Noodlers (spatial reasoning puzzles)
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • Extreme Mazes book
  • Extreme Dot-to-Dot book
  • Critical Thinking Activities books (patterns, imagery, logic)
  • Color Sudoku cards with Unifex Cubes
  • Blik-Blok
  • 4-D Animal Puzzles
  • Q-bitz
  • Tangrams and Patterns
  • Multiplication Mosaics
  • Squzzle Puzzles
  • Banana Grams or Scrabble (make as many words as you can)
  • construction materials
    • Legos
    • Q-Ba-Maze
    • Lincoln Logs
    • Tinker Toys
    • Marble Run
    • Magna Tiles
    • Magnetix
Here are some things on my wish list for our Critical Thinking time:
  • Lab Mice Puzzles
  • Grid Perplexors
  • Code Breakers
  • Analogy Croswords
  • Math Path Puzzles

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do You Have a High Achiever? Consider the NUMATS! (If you live in the Midwest)

This morning, my daughter (4th grade) took the EXPLORE test, as part of the NUMATS (Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search). NUMATS also offers the ACT and SAT tests, but for this age level, the test given is the EXPLORE. The EXPLORE tests were developed for 8th grade students to measure educational achievement in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Participating in above-level testing is a challenge that will help us better identify her abilities.

Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search has been in place since 1981. It is not aimed just at students in traditional schools, but is a great tool for homeschool educators as well. It is a way to identify gifted/talented students in grades 3 through 9 so that parents can make wise educational decisions as they homeschool. It gives us, as homeschooling parents, a roadmap of which academic studies, extracurricular activities, distance learning, and enrichment programs will benefit our children the most. It not only gives us insight into what our children are capable of, but also empowers us to provide our homeschooled students with more resources than just the basics so that their talents can flourish.

"NUMATS combines above-grade testing---using the EXPLORE, ACT and SAT, tests usually given to much older students---with guidance as to the appropriate academic follow-up for individual students based on their test scores."

Students who participate in the NUMATS get valuable practice taking the same tests used for high school placement and college admissions, which can boost self-confidence when they take placement tests for college later on. Parents whose children participate in the program will receive:

  • a Statistical Summary of their child's scores,
  • a Long-Range Academic Plan which will help families plan their homeschool students' coursework through the end of high school,
  • a Planning and Resource Guide with suggestions for choosing coursework and extracurricular activities in math, science, social science and the humanities matched to students' scores
  • an Educational Program Guide, which has a listing of schools and programs for academically talented students throughout the U.S.
  • an opportunity to apply for  summer programs and online learning programs through the Center for Talent Development 
  • a newletter that contains articles and research geared toward gifted students and their parents
  • The College Guide, which is for participants in 10th grade and features articles on college admissions to help them get started with college planning
  • mailings from summer programs
  • invitation to participate in future talent searches
  • access to Center for Talent Development (CTD), an onsite and distance learning program
If interested, here is the website:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shoebox Diorama

As an AWANA project, my daughter had to make a shoebox diorama for some verses of scripture and then tell the story in her own words. She chose to illustrate Acts 16:  25-34, the story of Paul and Silas in prison when God sent an earthquake which opened the prison doors and made the prisoners' chains fall loose. The jailer was about to kill himself because he feared he would be punished since all the prisoners were gone, or so he thought. Just in time, Paul shouts out for the guard not to harm himself and that they (the prisoners) are all still there. The jailer falls down in front of Paul and Silas and ends up accepting Christ as Saviour. Not only that, but Paul and Silas are taken to the jailer's home where he washes their wounds and serves them a meal. Paul and Silas talk to his entire household, and as a result, his whole family became believers and were baptized that night! Here's her finished project:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Galactic Bowling Party?

If you are able to join a local homeschool support group, I urge you to do so. The main reason we joined one was to be able to have parties, outings, fields trips and various social gatherings with other families like us. Today, our homeschool group had a Valentine party at a local bowling alley, where we exchanged valentines, had refreshments and went "galactic" bowling (they dim the lights, turn on strobe lights,  activate colored disco balls, and pump dry ice smoke into the area. The kids loved it---we bowled 10 games! I expect to be sore tomorrow...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tweaking My Methods

In addition to using Songlight curriculum with Sue Patrick's Workbox System, I have now decided to incorporate Charlotte Mason's approach into how I teach my children. I began studying various books about Charlotte Mason's thoughts on education, and I was drawn to her philosophy because it makes sense to me and mirrors what I know to be true about my own children. I not only want them to have a great home education, but I want them to develop a life-long love for learning, to keep the curiosity God put inside their beautiful minds, and to be motiviated by self-respect and good will. I don't want to just have "school" at home, with dry, uninteresting textbooks, long lessons, lectures from the teacher and rigid daily schedules. After pondering all this, I realized that Sonlight lends itself very well to Mason's methods. We are already using many "living books" for history and science; we already use dictation (a limited amount), meaningful copywork, and some forms of what she calls "narration."  In addition, I would like to add in weekly hymns, a weekly picture study of great artworks, classical music appreciation, Shakespeare (for children) more handicrafts/life skills projects, and weekly nature journaling. Now that I am in love with the idea of putting some of the CM ideas into our routine, my mind is opening up to the possibilities of "what" can go "where" and how to change our routine for next year. I've joined, and am getting some great ideas from my Sonlight-Workbox group and Charlotte Mason-Sonlight group, both on Yahoo. If you, reader, are interested in exploring Charlotte Mason further, I highly advise the book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bringing Up Avid Readers

You gotta love Sonlight curriculum. It's so rich with great literature that my kids have really become engrossed in reading, even when it's not required! We have just finished two reading programs which sort of overlapped each other. One was sponsored by Six Flags and Discovery Education, and the other was sponsored by Noah's Ark Water Park. Of course, they were both eager to earn the Six Flags and Noah's Ark tickets, but with the great books we have to choose from, they were actually eager to do the reading regardless of the rewards. Here's a pic of our son at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. I saw his light on under his door, and discovered him reading Little Pear, a Sonlight book. What a great feeling to see your kids doing this instead of plopped in front of the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Answers in Genesis Conference for Homeschoolers!

We had a blast on our field trip to  the Answers in Genesis Outreach Conference for homeschoolers entitled  Dinosaurs for Kids - The 6 Biblical Ages of History. The morning session was geared toward grades  K-6 and the afternoon session was for middle and high school students. It was great! Ken Ham, the speaker and founder of Answers in Genesis really engaged the kids, and his presentation was outstanding. We had great seats, and even got a quick photo of Mr. Ham before it began.  Afterwards, we browsed the materials and decided to buy Answers for Kids Bible Curriculum for next year. We were truly blessed to be able to go. Here's a couple of pics from our trip:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Science Project - AWANA Grand Prix Race Car

Our children both belong to our church's AWANA club, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help "churches and parents worldwide raise children and youth to know, love and serve Christ."

Each year, they participate in the Awana Grand Prix, a Pinewood Derby-style racing event. It's a family-oriented affair that allows clubbers to express their ingenuity by creating and racing their own wooden Grand Prix cars while enabling clubs to share God's plan of salvation with attendees. Weeks before the race, the children purchase small pine blocks of wood and plastic wheels from which they construct their cars, usually with the help of a parent or leader. Our church also offers a “Grand Prix Construction Workshop” to help beginners and those not mechanically gifted. The cars race on a wooden four-lane track, and awards are given for both design and speed. Children’s parents and relatives come to watch and cheer. The Awana Grand Prix is not only a fun activity but a powerful tool for reaching unsaved parents or other relatives.

My daughter is putting into use a few science concepts like drag, force, balance, and kinetic energy. My husband has been eagerly helping her out with the design she came up with. Here are a few pics of their work in progress:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chores and Scheduling

I'm a fan of the Maxwell system of scheduling and assigning chores. If you order their books/kits, you'll have tons of ideas, and all the items you need to set up the system. It was well-worth the investment to us. The website is:

The system employs chore cards which can be rotated depending on the time of day and the type of chores you want the children to accomplish. Here's some pics of our schedule chart and chore cards. Each child has a lanyard with the assigned chores. They are to get these first thing in the morning and begin.

We do not pay for chores. We expect their help in running our home. We do, however, give an unconditional weekly allowance based on age. Each child gets half his/her age. My 10-year-old gets $5 per week and my 6-year-old gets $3. Seventy percent goes into their SPEND jars, ten percent goes into their CHURCH jars, and twenty percent goes into their SAVE jars.

Our Workbox System

We use Sue Patrick's Workbox System, which is a simple way of organizing one's homeschool curriculum and/or extracurricular activities into manageable chunks. It not only streamlines the day so that the children know exactly what they are to do at any give time, they also become more independent in their work. We use rolling drawer carts by Sterlite which we found at a reasonable price online at Walmart. Each cart has seven drawers of varying sizes, a bonus if you want the children's workbooks and papers to lay flat and if you want to include games, craft projects, etc. in your child's boxes. I bought four carts so each of my two children could have 14 boxes each. Each box is see-through so the children can see how much they've completed and how much still needs to be done. Each box is numbered 1-14; they must do the boxes in order unless otherwise instructed. The boxes contain all materials and directions for completing the work. Some boxes, of course, require lessons to be taught, or material to be read by me aloud, and these are labeled with a "work with mom" card on the outside (attached by velcro). We use Sonlight curriculum, and it works quite well using the workbox system. Here is a sample of what we put in  our workboxes:
(To see pics of our workboxes, see the post titled "Classroom Pics.")

Box 1 - Bible curriculum
Box 2 - Math
Box 3 - History & Geography
Box 4 - Computer Time (a picture card of computer is placed in box.)
Box 5 - Handwriting
Box 6 - Vocabulary
Box 7 -  Piano practice (a picture card of a piano)
Box 8 - Reader
Box 9 - Read Aloud (by mom)
Box 10 - Critical Thinking Activity or Art or Construction Project
Box 11 - Language (includes grammar and writing)
Box 12 - Swimming Lesson
Box 13 - Spelling
Box 14 - Science

Monday, January 17, 2011

Answers in Genesis Conference | Answers Outreach

Answers in Genesis Conference Answers Outreach

On Monday, January 31, Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) is offering a morning session of his Answers in Genesis Conference for homeschool kids and it is FREE! It's within driving distance for us, so we are definitely going. The first portion, titled  Dinosaurs for Kids - The 6 Biblical Ages of History is geared towards K-6. The second portion is Defending the Christian Faith Biblically and Scientifically and is for Grades 7-12. If you are in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, you should check it out. I can hardly wait to hear Ken Ham. We have many of the materials from his website for our homeschool and I thank God for his ministry. Click on the title of this blog to link to his website for more information.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why We (Now) Homeschool

My background is in education; I taught in public schools for 11 years before I retired when my first baby was born. I had already decided I did not want to send our children to public schools after seeing the state of education first hand. When my two children were old enough, we enrolled them in a local private Christian school and  things were great for a while.  I began to notice, though, that we had no "family time" to speak of. Loads of homework for my older child kept her up until bedtime. I often found myself re-teaching what she didn't understand in the classroom. Soccer games and practices required time commitments each week. School expectations for parents to donate their time and money also cut into our schedule. Even in a "Christian" school, I noticed my daughter was very wrapped up in the values of her peers. Then I discovered that my son's kindergarten teacher fell far below my expectations. To make a long story longer, things did not improve and I was heartbroken that my little boy's first year at school was going to be a klunker! He is very bright, and it killed me to see him sitting in all that chaos around him and wondering if he was going to learn anything besides how to act inappropriately and play with blocks. Taking a step back and seeing all this in a new light, I decided to pull them both from the school and homeschool them. Afterall, no one loves them more and understands them more than God,  my husband and me, and we will always have their best interests at heart. I have been called to give my children the gift of a home education, and to the best of my ability, will see to it that they are brought up they way God intended. I am teaching them more than they will ever get in a traditional school setting, whether public or private. I was a bit nervous at first (last year being our first year to homeschool), but now well into our second year, I think it's wonderful to have them around all day. Plus, I am SO grateful that they will be learning their values from us and not their peers. Here are my darling little charges:
Cricket (she chirps a lot)

Crash (runs and falls frequently)

Classroom Pics

I'm always interested in how others have put their homeschool classrooms together, so I've posted some photos of ours in case anyone is curious. We use our basement.