Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Come Back in January!

I am taking a class this semester and taking another break from the blog.  I will be back in January.  Remember that the 5th annual Assessment Give-away will be held at the beginning of January!

Please sign up for my newsletter to be notified of the contest.

Enjoy December!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Google Maps

I have been learning more about Google lately and their many products.  I wanted to share some ways to incorporate their products into your home education. Over the next few months I will share some.

Google Maps is one of my new favorite resources.  You can travel not only down the streets of of the world, but inside some major landmarks.  

Maybe travel to Machu Pichu.  Explore these ancient ruins by clicking on the Pegman Icon and hovering it over the ruins.  When the areas  shows up in blue when you hover over it drop the Pegman Icon and explore below. 

Explore the Pyramids, Westminster Abby , or maybe the Sea of Galilee. 

My favorite is to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art like Jamie and Claudia did in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.   You can have your students find places they visited in the museum.  Very fun.  Especially in winter. 

Exploring Google Maps can take you places! 
Good Luck!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thankful for Home Education

Somehow it is almost Thanksgiving.  I am not entirely clear how that happened.  I still think it is the beginning of fall when fall is about to end. Thanksgiving tends to make me reflective.  This year with three teenagers I am more reflective than usual.  I keep wondering where time has gone.  How did my babies get to be so big?   What am I thankful for with home education?  Was home education the right choice?

I have come to the conclusion that home education was the right choice for my teens.  I love seeing the people they have become.  I love how we laugh together and have so many shared memories.  I love that we are able to Google how to take apart at coconut at 9:30pm and do not have to worry about being anywhere the next day.  I love how they have the confidence in their own abilities to believe they can open a coconut. They have a confidence in who they are and believe they are able to solve problems.  I am glad I get to spend time with them, and am glad for the time I have spent with them.

When they were little I tended to believe that academics was the most important of all.  Getting through each item on our check-list was so important.  Now, I love the time we laugh together, the jokes we share, the many things about life I am able to share with them.  I love seeing who they are becoming, and wondering what the future holds for them.

I am thankful for home education and the gift of time.  Enjoy the time you have with your children.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Veteran's day has a special place in my heart.  My father by adoption is a veteran, and my birth father was killed in action serving his country.  It is wonderful to celebrate Veteran's day and here are a few resources to help you.

Children's Picture Book Cover Art of The Wall by Eve BuntingAn excellent book is The Wall by Eve Bunting.  There was a Reading Rainbow Special on the book.  I found it on Vimeo and I think it would be wonderful for your kids to watch.  In this episode they visit the War Memorial and the artist who designed it.  It is very moving. 

This is an excellent blog post that includes many printable resources for Veteran's day.  Here is a map with Veteran's Day Community Celebrations.  Lastly, this links to a museum that celebrates those who have won the National Medal of Honor.  It is wonderful to read the various stories of heroism. 

Happy Veteran's Day! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Phonics, Phonics, Phonics. . . .

(originally published in 2011)

In college my reading teacher referred to phonics as clucking and spitting.  My classmates and I  thought that was pretty funny, and having little experience with phonics we did not realize how true that was.  I have spent many years clucking and spitting since then, and I do have more experience with phonics.

There are many phonics programs and most people are very attached to whichever one taught their child(ren) to read.  I heard Cheryl Lowe from Memoria Press share that people tend to keep trying different phonics programs with their kid, and the last one they try is their favorite.  When in reality their child was ready.   There is a great deal of truth in that.  I am going to share a few suggestions and a few programs that I know of.  The list is not all encompassing, and is just a place to start.  If you have one that is working hold on to it and stay with it.    For me it has been helpful to not rush out and buy them.  Almost all of them are available at the public library.  I have borrowed them to see if they were a good fit for my family.    In my opinion a program has to work for your child and also has to be one that you are comfortable with.  The following are some suggestions.  

  Alpha-Phonics: A Primer For Beginning Readers

This is my current favorite program.  It is very easy to follow and is very systematic.  I love the calligraphy print they use in the book.  It is your systematic intensive phonics program.  The front of the book has what your child reads and in the back they explain each lesson.

Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling

I have used this one as well.  I do like this one and it was the final program that helped my daughter learn to read.  Some people find this one hard to follow. Personally, I did not.  I liked the long lists and it was helpful for my daughter from China.  Definitely look at this one at the library before purchasing. 

The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading

Well, I will admit that I have this one as well.  I talked to Jessie Wise (the author) at a homeschooling convention, and she told me she wrote this for parents who have little or no experience in phonics.  She shared that she likes Phonics Pathways, but wanted something easier for parents to use.  This program also incorporates sight words nicely into the program.  This is a scripted program. 

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

I do not own this book, but know many people who like it.  Cathy Duffy has a nice review here. It is not an expensive book and has a serious following.  It is also a scripted program.

I believe magnetic letters are helpful with any of these programs.  For some children moving around the letters and building the words helps them to connect to the text.  For example, you are working on the word family "am."  Below you have the letters "h, s, r, and p."  Have the child move each letter up to "build" the word and then pronounce it.  This is especially helpful with tactile kids.

This is my short list of what is out there.  I know different curriculum programs like Memoria Press, ABEKA , The  Phonics Museum (Veritas Press) , and Sonlight have phonics incorporated into their kindergarten programs.   So there are many options.

My last thought on any phonics program you choose is to work on it consistently.  It can be painful to sit with a child to which this is not an easy task.   I would recommend taking 10-15 minutes every morning working on a phonics program with them.  When the time is up stop, and move on to something else.  I think short consistent times are better than longer inconsistent ones.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Callie Grant: An author worth taking note of.

Over the last year I have learned about the author Callie Grant.  It has been a wonderful discovery.  Callie Grant writes board books for children up to seven years old.  Her company is called Graham Blanchard books.  Her website is filled with parenting trips, reading ideas, and ways to support parents.

Her books combine beautiful pictures with Biblical concepts. I appreciate their quality and how much my children enjoy reading them with me.  They are engaging and enjoyable.  If you have not checked them out I would highly recommend them.  Here is a collection of her books.  She also has a collection of Grown-up Tips that go along with them.

I just finished reading All of Me That You Can't See.  It is a sweet story that introduces the concept of our inner self that grows along with our outer self.  It talks to children about their heart and soul and how they nourish them through seeking truth and their faith.  The pictures and quality of the book are amazing.  I love that this book has a good story, a good message, and is visually engaging.  I highly recommend this book.
I got this book free through for my honest review.


This post contains affiliate links

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Spelling:Hands on Strategies

Sometimes it helps kids if they can use some hands-on strategies to learn their spelling words.  There is something powerful about moving your hands, engaging your brain, and visually taking in a word.  Here are a couple of ideas I have had good luck with. 

Magnetic letters. They just work well.  You can have your kids spell the words on the refrigerator, a cookie sheet, or some other type of metal board.  

Stamping the words with alphabet stamps also works well.  I think it is powerful to see the word, find the letter stamp, stamp it, and then have to put the stamp back in the correct place.  

If you have Montessori letters they are a good resource.

Another fun way to learn is to use American Sign Language to spell out your spelling words.
Some other ways:
writing them in shaving cream,
writing them in sand, or 
writing them 5 times each on paper. 

Happy spelling!

Monday, September 21, 2015

"The Notebook" that changed my life.

The above is a picture of the white binder that has changed my life.  Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, but I love this binder.  Even my teens agree this is a good thing. We call it the notebook of honesty.  I will tell you more.  

Last year, I felt like I never had a good grasp on what my high school students had accomplished or where they were.  I would ask, they would tell me, the phone would ring, something happened to another child, they were vague. . . you get the picture.

This year I got "The Notebook."  It may look like an ordinary white binder, but it is much, much, more.  "The Notebook" contains tabs of subjects.  

In each subject is a copy of the table of contents or syllabuses for each of their subjects.  I also keep grades there.  I had my son make the special sheet below for their  Notgrass history program. 

My notebook stays on the counter.  I ask each day: What did you do?  What you do have left?  Can I please see that?  My students say they like it, because they know I will ask and they like checking it off.  I realize this is very very basic, but it has worked for us.  I think you could do this on your phone or digitally, but I like paper and my pink highlighter.  Having it in the middle of my counter reminds me to check.  I consider it a success.  The question: will it work after Christmas?

Monday, September 07, 2015

FIIRST Lego League--Why you should join!

Some of my kids had an incredible time last year participating in First Lego League (FLL). I helped mentor a team called Guardians of the Brick.  The team did a great job and made it to District level.  During their first year as a team they learned to make presentations, work as a group, compromise, basic programming, and made great friends!

My other son was on the amazing team Lego Legion!  They placed third in state and went on to place at an international competition in Arkansas!  My son made great friends and really enjoyed being a part of the team! 

In FLL each team participates in Core Values, solves a problem through a Project, designs a robot and runs it through the Robot Game.  FLL is very open to homeschoolers.  Our teams are based at our co-op.  You can form a team with a minimum of two or three kids.  You can run a team in your neighborhood in your basement.  I found a great graphic that describes the program.  

 This is a great organization.  It is not too late to join.  

~ Becky 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Giving myself grace at the beginning of the year.

I remember going home exhausted when I taught in a brick and mortar school all through the month of August and into September.  I truly thought we would never get a routine, never get anything done, and I always seemed to forget something.  Dixie and Mitzi, who I taught with, reminded me that the beginning of the year is always bad, you just forget how bad at the beginning of each year.

It has been a hard week as we have started back on the path of more formal school around here.  I keep thinking, "Was this really a good idea?  Did I forget to get that book too?  You need what for that lesson?   How many of you are there again?"  But the good news is that soon the newness of the year will stop, I will find the correct book, and we will get into a routine.  This is what I have been reminding myself the last few days.

1.  Taking time to set up good routines and procedures is never a waste of time.  Having procedures in place on where things go, printing tests for the year, teaching a child how to be more independent with his/her lessons, and gently reminding them now will benefit all of us in the long run.

2. Beginnings always become the middle and then become the end.  I remember this when it seems like the beginning of the year will last forever.

3.  Changing routines takes consistency and time.   I have to be patient with my students as they adjust, and give myself some slack as we establish school routines.

4.  My students are wonderful people and they will not be here forever.  It really is privilege to spend my days with my kids.  After all, this is why I started homeschooling in the first place.  My three oldest are in high school, and they will be gone in a blink. I do not want to have any regrets.

5. Taking care of myself is a must.  Trying to sleep, eat right, have devotions, and exercise makes the days much better.  Getting lost in Facebook or other things. . . not so much. 

So I am giving myself grace as I start the year.  I hope you do too.  I am trying to remember that soon it will be time to put away the books and another year will have gone by.  I am making a commitment to enjoy this one. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

State History!

Ohio Historical Society
First, a random tour of my state history growing up.  I grew up mostly in Ohio except for the three years I lived in Kansas during which Kansas history was in the curriculum.   Kansas history includes  Wyatt Erp, western towns, outlaws like Jesse James, and wagon trains.  There is rarely a dull moment in Kansas history.
Wyatt Erp
When I started teaching grade school I was in Georgia and was required to teach Georgia State history.  I had been in Georgia a year, had learned about Kansas history growing up, and had spent most of my life in Ohio.  Needless to say, I quickly learned about the Cherokee Indians, the Trail of Tears, the importance of the Fort Pulaski in Savannah and the history of the state flag.
Cannon demonstrations inside fort
Fort Pulaski

 Now I am teaching my children Ohio history which honestly, I know little of as you can see.  But, luckily I am a creative home educator and am plowing ahead. This is what I have learned along the way.

I discovered the Ohio Historical Society. which is a great site to visit to locate historical places in Ohio to visit. I also found the book  A Guide to Historic Houses in Ohio.  I checked the book out from the library.

I bought these simple coloring books with many facts about Ohio.   They are for grades PK-7.  They are very simple, but I think they cover a great deal for the price. 

The option for learning Ohio history is a lap book.  Hands of a Child has one.  Here is a review with pictures of that lap book.  When I had less children, I completed this one, and the kids really enjoyed it.

Front of book

Inside of Ohio Ebook

Lastly, I found this little Ohio ebook for $1.  I downloaded it to see what it was about before posting.  It is about 10 pages long including a cover page and the last page that discusses other items on their site.  It is a nice little book for the price.  You can print it multiple time for many kids.  You put together a simple lap book on card-stock with it.  It includes places of interest, symbols, a map, and flag information.

If you have any ideas for Ohio history please put them in the comments.  Since I don't believe Wyatt Erp has much connection here, I would love to learn some more.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Learning the top 50 words!

A balanced reading program consists of phonics and sight words.  I have found it helpful to review sight words with my beginning readers.  I have included a file that has the 50 most used  words in the English language.  By teaching your student these words you will help them to be successful readers.

You can also use this list to track progress.  Use a different color pen and see how many words your student knows every 5-8 weeks.  It is exciting to track the progress of your student.  This is a great work sample to keep throughout the year. 

Hope this is helpful!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Guest Post: Travels with Charlie: A Geography Series by Lisa McAfee

Here is a guest post by Lisa McAfee.  Lisa blogs regularly at Schoolmarm Ohio.  She has graduated two boys through homeschooling. 

Travels with Charlie: A Geography Series
books"Who is Charlie?!" Charlie is the name of a cartoon character dog after which this series, written by Miles Backer, is named. I first saw this book on the internet and thought it would be a great resource for teaching younger students geography. Each page has some facts about the state and some questions to research, plus children must look at each page to locate Charlie somewhere on the page. It would be beneficial to have a map or atlas for your student as you discuss each state. Take your time with these books; I would suggest that you only do one state at a time and not rush through. I am going to spotlight some states by giving you activities and a craft to accompany your reading. If you are interested in purchasing the books or seeing more information, click on the individual titles listed below.
Our first stop is Alaska! How about printing a map of Alaska so your student(s) can color and label it? Here is a website with a collection of various maps of Alaska to color. CLICK HERE
Alaska is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. And we thought Texas was big! You will find more interesting facts to read by clicking here
Time for Kids has information on the area, the people, and the animals of Alaska.
Tennessee, the home of Ruby Falls Cavern, is sure to be a springboard for a study on caves and caverns.  Have you ever heard of cave popcorn, soda straws, or cave bacon? Here are pictures and facts for the various formations found in caves. CLICK HERE
How about making a cave in a cup? Sometimes it is hard to explain how water can eat away at rock, but this activity is perfect for showing the effects of acidic water on limestone. CLICK HERE
The beautiful state of Maryland is one of the states featured in this book. Did you know there is a Miss Crustacean Beauty Pageant held there? In honor of this event, your student can make a crab craft.
As you can see, there are all kinds of activities and lessons you can do with your child when going  on an adventure with Charlie. Have a good time, and don't get lost! :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Guest Post Kendra Barrow: Part 2-The Post-it System and Tracking Your Progress

Homeschooling can be quite daunting. Where to start? What material to use?

My first few years of homeschooling were spent using various curriculums that came in a box put together by an expert. These “experts” knew what they were doing and had figured out all the age appropriate mental stimulus for my children. Right? The problem was that I was so. Stressed. Out. And this was only preschool! How in the world could I check off all the boxes on the expert’s list? Every day was a chore, and I kept falling further and further behind. Every week made me more anxious: I felt like a failure – already! – at homeschooling.

Thankfully, I connected with a parents’ support meeting where a wise homeschooling mom almost 10 years ahead of me said 6 little words that changed my life. “Throw out the Notebook of Doom!”

She told me to put the good books on a shelf and read them when we wanted. Not in any order. Not according to a checklist. That sage wisdom changed everything for me. For the first time, I just enjoyed reading good books to my children for the pleasure of it. We were happy and relaxed. Perfect.

Fast forward several years: I became more confident in my ability to homeschool. I started using other people’s booklists as scaffolding to guide me but created my own curriculum plan (see Part 1). Enter Problem #2 and #3! By throwing out the Notebook of Doom, I had no way of holding myself accountable (thus Math became the subject that happened once in a while) and I had no way of tracking what I HAD accomplished. That spontaneity might work for preschool, but I needed more structure once I had grade school children that needed portfolios of their schoolwork. 

Introducing: the Post-it System! I took an idea from a friend and re-shaped it to work for me. Each subject I hoped to cover IN A WEEK’S TIME was written on a post-it note. I put our main subjects on green and our enrichment/short projects on blue. Let’s say I planned on 3 home days (2 were spent outside the home at co-op and field trips). I created 3 green post-its and 3 for handwriting because those were subjects I wanted to cover every day we were home. I made a post-it for spelling, poetry, science, writing, literature, and history/geography because those were subjects I wanted to cover every week.

The subjects that are enrichment work better as short projects for me so I put them on blue post-its. As the years have gone by, I try to limit myself to 10 of these short-term projects. At some point in the year, I want to study an artist, a composer, some health, and etc.

Each school day I would tell my children to pick out 4-5 green post-its (main subjects) and 1 blue post-it. My children choose what they want to do and in what order. I found that they really enjoy the independence and freedom of choice. I found that I have peace of mind know that the important things will be covered sometime that week. Who cares whether science happens on Tuesday or Friday?! I also found that as long I keep my post-its to a reasonable amount for a week, it is wonderful to have the flexibility to crank through 8 subjects on a good day and 2 on a “bad” school day. 

I reuse the same post-its all term long. On Mondays, every post-it goes back to the starting area. As the school days progress through the week, the post-its get moved to the week’s planning grid. I bought mine from Post-it, but you could easily make your own.

But what about the tracking problem? If I keep reusing my Post-it notes, how do I ever know what I did two weeks ago? Or back in April? Here’s the trick: on Fridays, I write down what I did that week. Originally, I used a Teacher’s Weekly Planner from Staples. Now, I’ve graduated to a handy dandy form that I made in the computer. But there is no need for it to be complicated. Just write down what you did: this history picture book, those math worksheets, a few poems, etc. I also save all of my children’s paperwork in a binder. OK, honestly, sometimes I store the papers on TOP of the binder and stick it IN the notebook at the end of the year!

After 7 years of homeschooling, these are the tools that have helped me avoid pain at the end of the school year and keep my joy during it.

Kendra Lane Barrow spent her childhood years in beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she cultivated a love for solitude, books, and nature.  She is the author of a devotional book of prayer-poems and several Sunday School series written for children. As a graduate from Ohio State University with a B.A. in English Literature, Kendra’s excited to report that she is finally using that degree while home educating her children for the last seven years, and teaching literature and language arts for middle school and high school. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two children.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Homeschool Planning Tools Part 1: Guest post by Kendra Barrow

Kendra has worked with me for many years.  She has always sent me a wonderful planning tool that she uses to plan her year.  I asked her if she would be willing to share her wonderful tool.   She graciously agreed and her thoughts are below.  Next week she will have more planning thoughts!  Stay tuned!  

It is that dreaded time for homeschoolers: the planning of next school year! Parents break out in a cold sweat. Sometimes the pain is put off until the beginning of September and then there’s a mad scramble to find the perfect curriculum. Or you are like me… If books are like food for the brain, I keep “overeating” when I try to make a new plan for the year. I tend to be unrealistic as to how much can actually be done in a day, week, or school year.

I’ve created a planning tool that has been helping me be more realistic.  Perhaps it would help you too?  I start by printing off a blank copy of this planning tool “All Year Plan – At a Glance”. It contains blank boxes for all of the subjects my school district requires, in addition to topics such as Bible, Character, and Life Skills that are important to me in educating my children. The school year is divided into three terms of 11 or 12 weeks each, but the plan is such that you can see the entire year at one glance. For sanity’s sake, I ALWAYS take the summer off!

Step 1 – I look over my book shelves and start filling in the plan with what I already have! Hopefully that prevents me from buying another grammar book or math curriculum when I have a perfectly good one sitting on the shelf.

Step 2 – I concentrate on the “biggies” first. History, Math, Science, Language Arts, etc. If I’m using the same book more than one term, I write it in each term’s box.

Step 3 – For “enrichment” subjects, I try to space them out throughout the year, rather than feeling an internal obligation to do every subject every term.  I have found that we get bored doing a little bit of three books all year.  Instead, I might study a composer one term, an artist one term, and Shakespeare another term.  The whole family enjoys a fresh start at the beginning of each term, and I find that I am “finishing” more subjects.

Step 4 – Lastly, in order to complete any blank spots, I look over notes (okay, more like a bunch of post-it notes) where I wrote down names of books my friends recommended that I’ve been wanting to try.  If I have seven suggestions for science for the new school year, I pick one title and save the rest of post-its for decision time next year!

                I find that looking at the whole year helps me to get perspective and be more objective about what is realistic.  The goal is that someday I would use everything I’ve already bought!

                An additional note about enrichment subjects: I am trying something new this year where I’ve picked 8 enrichment subjects or books I’d like to do and numbered them in my plan. When the school year starts, I’ll pick one to include with my other “Biggie” subjects. It might take 4 weeks to complete, or 12 weeks. When I finish one enrichment topic, I will start on the next.  Again, I’m doing this to help myself be more realistic about how much we can accomplish.

                Also, at the end of the year, I re-type up the plan using what we actually did (not what I hoped to do) and put it on the cover of the notebook I use to store all the paperwork from that year. I have found that this “At at Glance” summary of my year helps me when filling out the portfolio assessments for Becky Boerner to review.

                I hope this is helpful and wish you the best as you embark on a new school year!

Kendra Lane Barrow spent her childhood years in beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she cultivated a love for solitude, books, and nature.  She is the author of a devotional book of prayer-poems and several Sunday School series written for children. As a graduate from Ohio State University with a B.A. in English Literature, Kendra’s excited to report that she is finally using that degree while home educating her children for the last seven years, and teaching literature and language arts for middle school and high school. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two children.