"It's just because you think Robin Hood can do no wrong!"
Everyone laughed. We were teasing Victoria who was hotly defending Robin Hood's behavior in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. In answer that Robin Hood was a thief, Victoria defending him saying, "He was returned money the government stole from people to the people who were stolen from."
There was more laughter and we started discussing some of the other characters. We were enjoying our bimonthly book club, as part of our American Literature and Research class.
Our book clubs had included lots of laughter and some emotional moments where tangents took us to emotional issues of our lives or what was going on in the world around us. We compared characters to people we knew, talked about characters we loved, and how we wanted to the ending to be different.
As we talk about what we liked and didn't like, plot, tone, mood, setting, worldview, and theme, we found ourselves digging deeper into books than we ever had before. There was just something about talking together that often led to deep analysis. We always had fun together even if we didn't like the book a lot. Book clubs, after all, are friendship builders.
Best of all, book clubs actually motivated students to hurry and finish the book so we could all discuss it together. I embraced book clubs over book reports because I wanted to build an enjoyable lifetime habit in my children's lives. I wanted them to read because reading is fun, interesting, entertaining, and a privilege.
How Book Clubs Work
Homeschooling is an all-encompassing adventure. It takes over your whole life, especially if you choose to pursue a lifestyle of learning instead of trying to bring traditional school-style learning into the home.
We like living books, hands-on-fun, and mentoring our children in the context of close relationships.
Sometimes, Homeschool Moms can wonder what on earth they were thinking when they took the homeschool plunge.
Not because it isn't wonderful? And fun! And exciting!
But, there is that nagging fear! "Am I doing everything right? Are my children missing something they need in their education? Am I teaching effectively?"
When I start to nervous about those things, I have to stop and ask myself, "Who is driving our homeschool bus?" Is it me? Or is it the Lord?
You see, I can do an okay job educating my children, but if I want excellence in my home school, I need the Master Teacher to take charge.
He is perfect in all His ways and knows everything about everything! Best of all, He wants me to surrender to Him and allow Him to take control of my heart, life, family, home, children, and home school.
Once you surrender to Him, the pressure is off. The focus becomes honoring Jesus, praying, digging into His Word, and letting Him lead. Homeschooling becomes an adventure with Jesus!
And so today, I ask you: Who is driving your homeschool bus? If you are driving, you might want to surrender to Jesus. He is an amazing driver! Jesus promises to lead us beside still waters, to nourish our souls, to give us wisdom, to lift our burdens, to fill our heart with joy, to answer our prayers, and work in us to will and to act according to His good purpose. He will never leave us. And don't forget: Jesus said in John 15 that apart from Him, we can do nothing.
We are up and running. It’s a brand-new year. So much to be excited about. It’s hard to believe that soon this school year will just be a memory.
My Missing Photos
I have been homeschooling since 1991 and as I look back at our photo albums—yes, I used to get photos printed and put them in albums before digital—I find one set of photos missing. The photos of my children reading, working on a math problem, reading to a sibling, or doing chores.
I have lots of photos of birthdays, holidays, field trips, and special days, but I wish I had more photos of ordinary school days.
Maybe you do take lots of photos of school and chores, posting them on Instagram for the world to see. Good for you! You will treasure those memories one day.
Storing My Photos
As you go through the school year, don’t forget to snap photos and save mementos. Maybe you don’t scrapbook or print photos and put them in leather albums, but you can label and save them in folders.
I don’t print up photos much anymore, unless I am framing them, but I do label photos with the date and list the people in the photo. Sometimes I just use initials like this: “Christmas Day 2016 JR JA Dad Jim KB Rusty.”
My photos are organized on my computer, too. There is one folder for every year: 2000, 2001, 2002, etc. Then, I also have all twelve months in separate folders: Jan 2015, Feb 2015, March 2015, etc. Inside these folders are all kinds of folders: Beach 6 6 15, Road Rally 6 17 15, Mom’s BD 6 2 15, etc. These folders are descriptive, so I can easily remember the day by looking at the title.
Our hero and heroine receive a treasure map. With great bravery, they set out to cross raging rivers, climb high mountains, slay fierce dragons, and keep their fellow adventurers committed to their noble task. Forsaking comfort, sleep, and disposable income, they live the adventure to seek the treasure of a lifetime.
Who are these heroes? Why you and your spouse, of course.
While you are battling a fire-breathing dragon after a sleepless night awake with a sick child, you can wonder if the treasure is worth it.
Our own adventure began in the late 1980s when home education was still thought of as quirky. We were unlikely treasure hunters with Mike in seminary, barely two nickels to rub together, living in student housing.
With our eyes on the prize, we plunged in. The creator of Sing, Spell, Read, and Write was a professor at Mike’s graduate school so I went to her workshop and purchased the kit. Copying, coloring, and laminating the letter pages, I made a border in our small dining area so that Katie Beth could see them while she ate her breakfast each morning, waiting for her to show interest in those letters.
Meanwhile, we read beautifully illustrated, well-written picture books by the ton, played at the playground, planted a garden, went strawberry picking, made jam, and explored the nearby woods all with baby Julianna in tow. We loved to sing in the car, talk to cows through the window, and make silly animal sounds while we did their peculiar walks.
“Maybe I should read, Mommy,” Katie-Beth urged as I struggled to keep my eyes awake. I was pregnant again and oh so very sleepy. Could I teach Katie-Beth to read and potty train Julianna with a brand new baby?
We faced other challenges like blending the letter sounds while we were learning to read. It just didn’t come quickly for any of my children. Patience was the answer to that dilemma.
We faced the raging river of teaching something I didn’t understand myself. After praying for an idea, I went to the children’s section of the library and checked out books on the topic. After some quick reading, I understood enough to confidently teach a third grader. That came up over and over, until I learned to relax and learn with my children. After all, learning is a grand adventure!
There was a time when learning math involved memorization. Today we tend to shy away from memorization or never get around to it. I’m here to tell you that, even with calculators and computers, we still need to memorize certain facts in math.
This is always the number one thing math teachers tell students to memorize. It is also the number one thing that math students claim they can use their calculator for instead of memorizing them. Here’s the truth. Calculators are slower than your brain. On any given day it will take longer to enter 7x6= into a calculator than it will for you to remember that the answer is 42. This may seem like a sacrifice your students are willing to make but let’s put it into perspective. Most good math programs have students doing 30 or more problems per day. If every problem takes longer because of typing into a calculator math class can get extended much longer than it needs to be. Further, when students take college entrance exams, they are timed. Test takers need every single second they can get.
Human error is another problem with calculators. I call it “fat fingers”. It’s amazing how easy it is to hit the wrong key on your calculator. If you are not carefully watching every digit entered, you won’t even know you made the mistake. If you are watching every digit, you’re taking a lot more time.
Being able to quickly do your multiplication portion of math problems will improve retention of concepts. If students are fumbling through punching multiplication factors into a calculator, they are being distracted from the concept they are learning. This distraction makes it more difficult to learn and remember.
There are many different methods for memorizing multiplication facts. The simplest way to do it is to just start writing them. Flashcards and memorization charts are also very useful. I took an idea from my mother’s school days, back in the 1940’s and created a great little mini-book called Multiplication Memorization Circles. If you get our newsletter, this is the March newsletter Freebie. (You can sign up for our newsletter here)
Memorizing multiplication facts can be started as early as second to third grade. If your students are older and haven’t done it yet, do it now. It’s never too late.
People often ask me how I teach English in high school. Maybe it's because three of my five children pursued writing careers after graduation and all five of my children love to read.
First of all, I don't teach grammar or spelling in high school. Instead I use Daily Grams so my high school students won't forget what they already know. They just do one page a week or so throughout high school. It only takes us one copy of the workbook for all four years.
Oh, speaking of four years, I teach five years of high school English, so one of the five courses is taught in eighth grade.
I don't teach anything in any particular order in high school. Often I had a senior taking the same course as a sophomore or freshman. It's more fun to learn together.
In each course, I teach specific skills. We also read classic literature, essays, and short stories.
Each time I teach these courses, they are a little different because they target specific needs and interests of the one or two of my teens taking the course.
Essays, Speeches, Thesis Statements
Tough times hit every family!
For most families, there never seems to be enough money to cover all the unexpected expenses that arise. When hard times come, it makes it even harder to make ends meet and deal with surprise financial blows.
As I have taught economics in high school and counseling couples having financial difficulties, I have come to this conclusion: the economic cycle affects families, too. Every family I know has times where income is growing moving into prosperity, as well as times of financial trials where income recesses. If you see this cycle of growth--prosperity--decline--recession--recovery. Think about it. Sam loses his job and times are really tough for awhile, even after God provides a new one. It takes about six months for the family to get back on their feet.
Can we make it through hard times and come out stronger in the end?
Having had the privilege of many years of financial hard times some short and some extending for years, our family has learned a few lessons along the way that make life easier. Would you like some financial wisdom for hard times?
Use Secret Weapons
Western Culture (European, Australian, and American music, art, literature, architecture, and religion) is our heritage in America. It is wonderful to pass on our heritage through enjoying great artists like Monet and Rembrandt, classical music like Beethoven and Shubert, and cathedrals and castles.
In addition, in our family, we love enjoy a large selection of Western literature.
Western Literature has its roots in Ancient Hebrew, Roman, and Greek writings. The Holy Bible, The Aeneid, Aesop's Fables, The Odyssey, The Iliad, and other classic works have been repeated over and over in future literary works.
The roots of Western Literature are Hebrew, Christian, and pagan as far as religion goes. Classics such as The Iliad and The Odyssey are filled with idolatry and all the sin that occupies the worship of demons. Hebrew and Christian literature, including The Holy Bible, reveal the One True God and the worship of Him.
I share this because you need to know that just because a book is super-old doesn't mean it's wholesome. I find that when we read certain books like The Iliad or The Odyssey, we read abridged versions to avoid the sexual content. This is hard for me because I HATE abridged! However, I found some wonderful authors like A.J. Church from the 1800s who write with advanced vocabulary and vivid description, retelling these stories with clarity and accuracy, except avoiding the smut.
Whirlwind Tour of Classic Literature
"What do you cover in English during high school?" I am often asked by homeschool moms.
"What curriculum did you use for English?" is another question that I hear often.
I wrote my own curriculum for the high school years based on lists of books I wanted my children to read and writing projects I wanted them to enjoy.
Yes, I did say 'enjoy'. I wanted my teens to read classic literature that was fun to read and has stood the test of time. I wanted my young adults to learn certain writing skills like using original sources, writing a research paper, creating an excellent essay, dabbling a bit in poetry, and writing a novel. I also wanted them to give speeches. Wow! That's a lot of stuff!
You can put together your own high school English courses, too. More on that in another blog. But for right now, I'll just tell you what I taught in each English course.
First of all, I should add that I gave my children five years of high school English, starting in eighth grade. These courses were all self-contained and didn't have to go in a specific order. That way, siblings could take courses together.
Are you ready? Here's what I taught in each English course. Keep in mind that all of these course have been taught in a homeschool co-op and individually at home.
Essays & Speeches & Literature
The purpose my Communications 101 course is to read classic essays and write excellent essays, as well as listen to excellent speeches and give speeches in a positive environment.
Each month we read a classic essay, look up vocabulary words from that essay, and discuss it together. We also read one book a month.
The classic essays we read were written by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, Charles Lamb, Sir Frances Bacon, Cal Thomas, and William F. Buckley.
We read God in the Dock, Ivanhoe, The Screwtape Letters, The Prince and the Pauper, Around the World in 80 Days, The Mysterious Island, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Time Machine.
Note: We need an audience for speeches when we do this course individually so we invite another family over. Between the two families, there is a decent-sized audience.
We work on thesis statements and learn to use the thesis statement to guide an essay. Then we write the following essays: Descriptive, Narrative, Article, Letter to the Editor, Persuasive, Comparative, and Book Review.
We listen to excellent speeches by Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Douglas MacArthur, and speeches from movies on YouTube. This is great for noticing what good speakers do. We discuss what we watch.
My teens give the following speeches: Reading Aloud, Introduction of Self, Demonstration, Personal Testimony, Persuasive, Commercial, Interview, and Extemporaneous. We also do two weeks of debate to just get a taste of it. We create a safe and positive environment for giving speeches to build confidence in speaking in front of a group.
It started when my oldest son was in fourth grade. He needed to study geography, but I had never studied geography before. He was only in fourth grade, so I wasn’t too afraid. I found a LIFEPAC® set by Alpha Omega Publications® which cover the geography of the world at a fourth-grade level. We read all the lessons and studied the globe together.
But what do we do when they are in High School? What do we do when the classes we teach them can affect the rest of their lives? The short answer is that we do the same thing that I did when Zack was in fourth grade. We learn.
No matter what grade you are teaching, it is always best for you to understand what you are teaching before you begin. Sometimes that is easy. Most adults already know how to read, write basic sentences, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Sometimes it is not as easy. You might not have done well in math, so you struggle with algebra. Many schools make students pick between history and geography at some point, so you might have holes in your learning of one or the other. Your student may be very interested in forensic science, which you never studied.
As with all decisions about our families and our homeschooling, we need to begin by seeking the Lord. You want to teach from God’s plan, not just make your plan and ask God to bless it. Pray about what classes your student should take. Pray for wisdom in selecting material to teach these subjects. Spend some time listening for the Lord to speak about these classes. Don’t forget to pray that the Lord would bless your time preparing and your learning as well as your student’s.
My mouth went dry, my heart pounded. I slunk down in my seat, praying I would not be seen by my freshman English teacher. I was a horrible speaker in high school and I dreaded every time I had to get up in front of my peers and speak. Oh, the torture.
Flash forward. High school English time for my own children. How will I help them do those high school speeches: demonstration, persuasive, or extemporaneous speeches. I didn't want them to experience speech in high school like I did.
There are different things I did before high school to help them overcome fear of speaking in front of people. We did some family "oral book reports" in elementary and middle school. In other words we just talked about a book we had read, but when we shared, we stood up in front of the family. That wasn't scary. My children also took some speech classes with 4H at our local country extension office. I made sure they did that before puberty hit. Why before puberty? Well, all those hormones can make children more self-conscious in front of their peers.
Finally, I put together a speech and essay class for our homeschool co-op. In that class of about ten to fifteen teens each time, we eased into speeches slowly. First they just stood in front of the group and introduced themselves. Then we moved on to the easier speeches like demonstration.
We love history in our house. We to love to read historical fiction, dress up, cook up old recipes, and sing historical songs.
We also like to study art as we move through time in our history studies.
One year we got a collection American Art posters from the National Gallery of Art to review. This was a wonderful combination of artists. And not just paintings. There was a poster of Native American baskets and another of architecture.
My favorite painting was of Paul Revere with his silver creations. I love that painting! We passed out silver pieces that I had inherited from my grandmother and talked about Paul Revere as an artist.
As time went on, we wanted to dig a little deeper into certain artists. We decided to choose a few like Gilbert Stuart, John James Audubon, and Norman Rockwell.
Elements of Art & Principles of Design
The 20th Century is an exciting time in history to study! As a family, we decided to dig in and learn about this fabulous century and we had a blast doing it!
At the Turn of the Century, the automobile was brand-new and man was learning to fly a simple plane. By the end of the century man had stepped on the moon and had stations in space.
So many new inventions changed life as we know it: insulin, rockets, radar, lasers, GPS, computers, plastic, and vaccinations are just a few. Can you imagine life with out plastic?
Most people lived on farms in the early 1900s, but by the end of the century, most people lived in cities and there were hundreds of cities around the world with over 1 million people in them.
At the beginning of the century, vast empires ruled over large portions of the world including the Ottoman Empire, Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Russia, British Empire, and the Dutch Empire. After World War I, two of those empires fell and many new nations were created like Poland, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Estonia, and Finland. The Middle East, once part of the Ottoman Empire, was divided into territories and later into nations: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine (later divided into Jordan and Israel). So many changes.
There are so many exciting people to learn about from political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill to authors like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, from missionaries like Gladys Aylward and Jim Elliot to heroes like Douglas MacArthur and Edith Cavell, and from businessmen like Henry Ford and Sam Walton to athletes like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
When we decided to study 20th Century World History, I went searching for the stories. You can read those stories all together in HIS Story of the 20th Century. But, we didn't want to stop with the stories, we wanted to dig into the culture of the 20th Century.
History Labs & Movies
Drama! Acting is a wonderful way for the dramatic teen to unleash emotion. It's also a great way for the shy teen to come out of their shell.
My oldest daughter had a drama class in our homeschool co-op with a actress and drama major. She learned so much about acting and loved the class.
When the other children got to high school, the amazing teacher was gone.
"Can we do drama?" they asked.
"There's no one to teach it," I replied.
"You could teach us," they replied confidently.
I talked to my friend Laura about it and we decided we could do something simple.
"Let's learn some simple drama techniques in the beginning of the year, do a short Christmas play, create a radio drama after the holidays, and then record some YouTube videos to close the year out," I suggested.
"Let's start every class with an icebreaker," Laura enthused. She researched and came up with a different ice breaker for every class. We decided to open the class up to other teens, meeting three times a month.
Tons of Fun!
How We Did It
"I can't wait to move out on my own. I'll eat out every day and keep my apartment as cold as I want to," teenager Tom declared.
I laughed as i overheard a group of teens talking about how fun it would be to move out. I wanted to interject: "Don't you realize how expensive it is to live on your own?"
Maybe it would be better to show them.
And that is why I added the apartment project to my economics class.
It is one of the most popular assignments we do! The children have to choose an apartment to move into. They must find out how much rent is and what down payment is required. In addition students have to figure out the average electricity and water/sewage bills for the average renter. This will require research and phone calls.
Of course, if you move out there are moving expenses. Oh, and you have to furnish your new place. The sky of course, is the limit! Buy whatever you want. Just keep track of everything you spend.
Students loved shopping online or in store, taking photos or downloading pictures to print.
Each apartment was furnished and decorated just the way the students liked.
In addition, they made a monthly budget and from that budget, figured out how much money they would have to make each month to pay for their dream apartment.
It was so fun to see how everyone decorated. It was more fun to see their faces as they totaled up all their expenses and figured out how much money they would need a month to support their hearts' desires and how much money they would need to move into their dream apartment. No words required on my part about how expensive life is.