Saturday, August 31, 2013

Homeschooling Kindergarten: What I'm Learning (Day 10)

Yesterday marked day 10 of our homeschool adventure. {My goal is to give periodic updates on our progress.}

I went into homeschooling with an open mind (If you know me, then you know that's totally a God thing). Our oldest is not quite 5 and kindergarten is not mandatory in our state, so we don't have to start her this year or even the next. So, in one sense I've been laid back regarding what we accomplish in a given day.

However, I don't want to set a precedent that school time isn't important and allow other activities to interfere. Routine and consistency are so important for children and for Mamas, and if we are going to really give this our best effort, we have to be committed.

Still, my lofty plans for a full-fledged kindergarten program with everything from art to geography have not quite come to fruition. 

But you know what?

I'm okay with that.

Rather than force my daughter to sit and "do school" for hours at a time, I've opted for a gentler approach--a mix between letting her lead and being firm in areas where she really needs to persevere. Yes, even kindergarteners need to learn the value of hard work and not giving up.

So, what does our home school look like right now?

This . . .

And this . . .

And this . . .

We're capitalizing on the 3 R's and letting everything else--the science, history, music, art, etc.--work its way in when we feel like it.

And you know what? 

We're having fun :)

What about you? How is your homeschooling going thus far?

Blessings to you,

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why I've Been MIA Lately

Lest you think I've fallen off the planet and am floating in outer space somewhere, I assure you I have not. Rather we are adjusting to a new routine with some brand new activities (i.e. homeschooling & American Heritage Girls) and responsibilities (i.e. leading a new moms group in our CBS Bible study). Each of these are wonderful but time-consuming in their own beautiful ways; however, they do not allow much time for blogging right now.

I will continue my series on "Creating a Library of Good Books for Children" each week, but I can't promise any other posts right now. My social media time is also limited. But I hope you know, sweet reader, that I am thinking of you and praying for you as you grow in God's glory.

I hope you will stick around while I adjust to our new schedule and find a little time to carve out for blogging. Right now, I simply don't have any. You know how that is, right? 

Thanks for extending me a little grace. 

Praying God's richest blessings on you,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Creating a Library of Good Children's Books: #1 Establish Your Criteria

A sweet friend of mine, who knows how much my girls love to read, recently asked me for a list of books she should buy to start a library for her newborn. The bookworm that I am jumped at the opportunity to compile such a list.

As I set to work, though, I realized that a good library--one free of twaddle (i.e., character books, politically correct books, "forced" morality, etc.)--does not happen overnight. It's a process that requires serious thought, some research, and a little money (or some generous friends and family). 

The FIRST step in creating a library of good books for your children is to ESTABLISH YOUR CRITERIA. Decide for yourself what does and does not belong in a child's library.

Criteria for Selecting Good Books for Children

When our first child was born, we knew we wanted to instill a love of reading at an early age, so I registered for books instead of fancy baby gadgets and bought classics in lieu of toys for her first birthday and Christmas

Yet as I read a wide range of children's books, I discovered--not too surprisingly--that not all books are created equal. You really have to read through each book and determine if it's something your child should or should not read. Sure the book may be "popular" or have won an award, but that doesn't always translate into "good." That's why having a set of criteria for the children's books you buy is so important.  

Here are the qualities I look for in selecting books for our children's library. 

The book must . . .

(1) Be a classic
This book has stood the test of time and is still popular today. Although the times may have changed, this book is still cherished and relevant even 50 years later. There's a reason The Cat in the Hat is considered a classic.

Some helpful links:

(2) Have excellent illustrations
This is especially important for small children who need pictures to aid their imaginations. As children mature, pictures aren't as important because they can conjure images in their minds, but when they're little, make sure there are lots of good illustrations. 

And if you'd like to see what books have been awarded for their illustrations, check out the Caldecott Award winners from 1938 to today.

(3) Uphold Christian morals & values
There aren't a lot of specifically "Christian books" on my list, but what my girls read must be in keeping with God's Word. That means no books that demean parents or uphold or condone sin of any kind even grumbling and whining. Instead, we want books that model Godly character and morals and encourage integrity.

(4) Be enjoyable for multiple age levels

My girls are now 4.5 years, 2.5 years, and 15 months old, so books that can entertain all three at different ages and stages are keepers for us. These books have layers to them. That's why we like books by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle.

(5) Present a positive and/or educational message in a natural, not forced, way
The world is full of trouble but I don't want my children being inundated by it at a young age. Instead, I prefer they read books at times that . . .
  • are light & fun
  • are thoughtful and challenging,
  • provide opportunities for discussion
  • encourage a love of reading
  • promote creativity
  • stimulate their minds
  • teach them empathy or sensitivity to others 
  • fuel their budding imaginations
 Good children's books should present a message, but it shouldn't be contrived. No one wants a mean narrator beating them over the head with a lesson. Instead, a good book will show how a character learned from his mistakes.

Those are my primary criteria for the books I buy for our children. As you create your own library of good books, you'll need to determine your own priorities. 

Here are some questions you might ask:

  1. What kinds of literature do you/do you not want your children to read? (i.e., fairy tales, books with magic/sorcery)
  2. Are there certain books, authors, topics you know you want to expose your children to?
  3. What about books, authors, or topics you do not want them exposed to?
  4. Do you want to broaden your child's understanding of diversity or help them develop sensitivity to others through books? 
  5. Are their books you enjoyed as a child that you want to pass on to your children? 
 Consider your personal views on literature for children and create your own set of criteria for selecting books for your child's library.

All that being said, we do have books that do not fit this criteria. My girls love Dora and Fancy Nancy. They like Disney-related books and anything princess. So, we do not have a twaddle-free library. For now, though, I'm okay with that.

My goal right now is to encourage a love of reading and that means reading basically anything my children want to read. So if my daughter will only sit and listen to a Dora book, then by golly I'm going to read Dora books. For right now.

Ultimately, though, my goal is for my children to discern good versus bad literature so they will stop asking for Dora and reach for Winnie-the-Pooh instead. 

What criteria do YOU use in selecting good books for your child's library?  

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Meet Our Homeschoolers!

Yesterday marked our first "official" day of homeschool. You can only plan for so long before inevitably you have to start :) 

Here are our little learners . . . 

Kate (age 4.5)  Kindergarten

Technically, she should be in Pre-K, but since we did that last year and she's ready for Kindergarten work, that's what we'll be doing. 

Kate is our little Mommy: She's always mothering her baby sisters and carrying them around, so it's not surprising that her favorite thing to play is "Mama & Little Girls" with her sisters. 

Favorite Colors ("Mama, can I pick 3?" she asked): red, pink, & purple

Favorite Movie: Cinderella 

Favorite Food: Macaroni & Cheese

When Kate grows up, she wants to be a Mama.

She really likes flowers and really does not like uncooked rice (not sure about that one :) )

Her favorite thing about herself is her hair.

She's very excited about school!

Cora (age 2.5) Preschool

This spunky little girl wants to do whatever big sissy is doing, so I have some fun Sing, Spell, Read, & Write activities planned for her as well as some hands-on math. Plus, she'll be sitting with us as we do all the other subjects.

Cora is our crazy kid. She's always cracking us up with her zany sense of humor, and she loves being the center of attention, except when she's pretending to be shy. Cora loves to "read" her books, which is about the only thing that keeps her sitting still.

Favorite Color: Blue

Favorite Book: Cinderella

Favorite Food: Mac & Cheese 

When Cora grows up, she wants to be a Mama.

She really likes note pads and really does not like "mean chairs." (huh?)

Her favorite thing about herself is her hair (as she runs her through her fingers). [Note to self: Work on vanity character issues with my kids :)]

Cora, too, is excited about school.

Annabeth (age 15 months) Tot School

Technically not in school of any kind, Annabeth is learning each and every day how to survive and makes animal sounds and grunts to get our undivided attention.

Annabeth loves food. She could and would eat all day if I let her.

Her favorite book is Goodnight, Moon.

She really likes food and really does not like those few minutes when there is no food to eat.

Annabeth is excited about school because she knows she'll probably be bribed to silence with her favorite thing: food. 

Those are our homeschoolers! Aren't they a cute bunch?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Homeschooling Kindergarten: What School Looks Like in a Little House

When we first decided to homeschool, I firmly believed we would be living in a different, much larger house. I even tailored my house hunting to homes with bonus rooms or an office space so we could have a designated school room. 

Well, we all know what happens when we try to tell God our plans. Needless to say, we are still here in our cozy little house, and like many homeschoolers we know, we are good at maximizing minimal space: baskets & tall, narrow shelves are our best friends. 

So, here's where we homeschool . . . 

Our dining room table performs 2 functions: school + place to eat.

Our homeschool area is primarily in our Kitchen/Dining Room. Because I spend the vast majority of the day in the kitchen, it only makes sense for us to do school there. Plus, the kitchen is the site of our one and only table :)

As you will see, though, homeschooling "stuff" doesn't just live in one space, nor does learning occur only at the kitchen table. 

Here are the other areas where our homeschool stuff resides . . . 

The Laundry Room houses all the curriculum, materials, art supplies, binders--basically everything necessary to run our school. Originally, all of this was in our master bedroom, but it was stressing me out at night so I had to move it :)

This really tall, narrow shelf from Target houses
the majority of our homeschooling materials (minus books).
It's the perfect space saver  :)

These $1 containers from the Dollar Tree neatly house all our craft supplies.

This big tub holds ALL our curriculum.
On top are books we're currently using & our mobile art basket.

We also have Baskets of Books scattered around for easy access for little hands. 

Our school-related library books

Our Read-Aloud basket

The children's bookshelf

Mama's books: Homeschooling & otherwise

Obviously, there is no "right" way to set up your homeschool work area. It all depends on your space, personal goals & priorities, the ages of your children, etc. 

But no matter the size, learning can happen anywhere. Right now this space works just right for us.


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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homeschooling Kindergarten: Our Frugal 2013-2014 Curriculum, Resources, & Materials

Earlier this week I posted on 4 resources that have been pivotal in planning our first year of kindergarten. If you have a kindergartener or will in the future, you should check out this post.

As I mentioned in the prior post, I am creating my own curriculum for this first year of kindergarten because . . .

(1) I can't justify the exorbitant curriculum costs,

(2) I can't find anything I really like, &
(3) I'm a nerd.

So, I made a lot of missteps as I created our kindergarten curriculum, and I want to share with you what I've learned as well as what we plan to do this school year.

First of all, you have to Determine Your Goals.

  • What do you hope to accomplish this school year? 
  • What subjects do you want/need to teach?
  • What information do you think your child needs to know?
  • What are your priorities (Bible & character issues? academics? service?)

Pray about your goals. Seek seasoned homeschool moms for advice. Do some research. I used these resources to help me. Even if you aim way too high, create some goals!

Next, you need to 
Establish Your School Year.

In Tennessee, kindergarten is not mandatory, so we do not have to report grades or anything to the State. {Note: You will have to find out the homeschool laws where you live and if there's a set number of days you're required to have school.}

We're following a 6-weeks on, 1-week off schedule just for my sanity. That means we'll have 5 weeks of learning followed by 1 week of review, and then a 1-week break where we'll do Five in a Row (FIAR), vacation, whatever. 

Find Your Resources, Material, &/or Curriculum.

With the exception of handwriting, I have chosen not to purchase curriculum this go-round. Instead, I've bought books, printed free work sheets and projects off the internet, and made library book lists. 

Here's a glimpse at the curriculum, resources, and materials we're using this year in the following subjects*:


We're 3/4 of the way through Leading Little Ones to GodIf you're looking for a well-written, very thorough devotional for children, I HIGHLY recommend this book. It includes a lesson (all leading to salvation) with questions, scripture passage to read, memory verse, a hymn, and prayer. 

Next, we'll work through Hands-On Character Building by the Boyers. 


In my lovely resources on kindergarten planning, I found references to the above books: Family Math for Young Children and Janice VanCleave's Play & Find Out about Math: Easy Activities for Young Children. Both are full of great real-world math activities that are fun and hands-on. 

In the first few weeks, we'll practice counting with beans and we'll bake cookies to understand what one-half means. No fancy manipulatives necessary! 

We're also using some awesome resources from Confessions of a Homeschooler and Mama's Learning Corner.

Language Arts

Sing Spell Read & Write Kindergarten/1st Grade Combo Kit is the primary program we plan to use for phonics, reading, spelling and writing. It does it all! We've used the preschool home kit and LOVED it, so I'm excited to see how my daughter responds to this one.

We will also continue using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for a while at least. This book has really been the catalyst for teaching Kate how to read, but it's boring and tedious and very repetitive. So, we don't do it daily anymore. 

Instead, we're supplementing more with Reading Eggs and BOB Books. Plus, every 6th week when we review, I will be doing Five in A Row (FIAR). The girls love it. 

Handwriting/Copy Work

I really hadn't planned to purchase a handwriting curriculum, but I feel like we need some "professional help" in this area :) So, I bought A Reason for Handwriting: Manuscript A only to discover that we probably need to back up and start with the Kindergarten version first. I really like the Creation theme.

We'll also be using this excellent copy work from Kirsten Joy Awake that she offered for free recently revolving around Old Testament scriptures about who God is.

Read-Aloud Books

Reading will be the main focus of our schooling. I've accumulated loads of books from the booklists at Simply Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online. I have pulled these and other "living books" from our bookshelves and now they're in a basket in the living room for easier access.

I also recently purchased The Miller Family Series, which we will read aloud throughout the year. These books were recommended by several readers, so I'm eager to jump into them with my girls.

I have several hands-on science books for children, but I plan to start with Apples, Bubbles, & Crystals: Your Science ABCs because the experiments are simple and fun and the illustrations are too cute! Plus, each activity--beginning with "A is for Apples"-- offers scientific explanations for each experiment. I think this will be a gentle way to introduce my kindergartener to science.

We'll also use Science in the Kitchen (Usborne Science Activities) and Janice VanCleave's Play & Find Out About Science: Easy Experiments for Young Children.


For history, we're going to begin with early American history and try to cover the major events (Indians, early settlers, Pilgrims, Revolutionary War, etc.) as well as famous figures. We'll also discuss national symbols (flag, pledge of allegiance, national anthem, the White House, etc.) and learn about various holidays and traditions.

To learn more about these events, we'll be checking out books from the library. We'll be reading lots from David Adler's picture book biography series. I want my daughter to have a basic understanding of our nation's history. Then, next year, we'll go more in-depth.


My goals for geography are as follows:

(1) to familiarize my child with the use of maps and globes, 
(2) to learn to write her address and telephone number, 
(3) to draw simple maps of known areas, and 
(4) to know the names and locations of the 7 continents. 

We'll be using our globethis amazing atlas, free worksheets online, and our library. 

Art Expression/Appreciation
Confessions of a Homeschooler has an amazing artist study called "World's Greatest Artists 1." This first volume, which includes Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and others, is FREE. The activities are a bit advanced for a kindergartener, but, to me, it's the exposure that counts. 

We'll also be doing some fun art projects each week based on the artists in the study. I've started an "Art for Kids" Pinterest board specifically for such art work if you're looking for fun ideas.

Music Appreciation
I want to use SQUILT by Mary Prather @ Home Grown Learners but have decided to wait until next year. Instead, I am choosing a composer a week to "study." Basically that means we will:
  • Listen to his/her music
  • Read a library book about him/her (I love this composer series.)
  • Draw/write about how the music makes us feel

We will be working on memorizing and reciting 1-2 poems per month. The poems I'm choosing come from this source. The goal is exposure to great literature, which helps with grammar, writing, and so many other wonderful things. 

Tailor-making a curriculum for my kindergartener has been a lot of work but really fun. Ask me if I'll do it again next year when I have a pre-Kinder on my hands too, and my answer may be vastly different. 

But isn't that the beauty of homeschooling? We can tweak, revise, and edit any time we need to! I know that each child is unique, so my approach to kindergarten with our eldest reflects her personality and interests. At this very early stage in the game, the key is to make learning fun. 

That's our frugal kindergarten curriculum for the upcoming school year. What do you recommend?

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