Series Review: Planning the Homeschool Year!

School-PlanningWhether you’re still in the stages of planning your school year, just starting, or you’ve been at it for weeks but still need to make some adjustments… Enjoy this fun series designed to help take the stress out of homeschooling planning!

While we don’t have to be on the curb at the crack of dawn or make sure our children have their lunch money, we do need to plan out our year of homeschooling. Just where do we start? When do we start?! How many school days am I required to complete? Should I stick to a routine or plan out a detailed schedule? All these questions and more fill the head when planning out our homeschooling year. Let’s take a look at each mind-boggling area of planning and break it down!

Planning Your Year
Planning Your Day
Building a Family Plan
What Do I Need?
Counting the Cost
Portfolios
Field Trip Fun, Part I
Field Trip Fun, Part II
Finding Friends
Finding Sanity

“But all things should be done decently and in order.”
I Cor. 14:40

Your Turn!: Which part of homeschooling is your least favorite to plan and/or organize?

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Would You Rather Be a Mule?

“A mule is an animal with long, funny ears
He kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny and his brain is weak
He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And, by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule”

~ Swinging On a Star, by Frank Sinatra

Rather_be_a_Mule?Most days, our kids do just fine with their learning. We eagerly race to the table and settle in for a few hours of focused lessons. I wish could say that everyday was like this. However, on occasion, my babies can be quite stubborn. What’s a parent to do?

On mornings when our children just won’t budge, dragging their feet to the table or perhaps making life miserable for themselves while trudging through their work, I have two options: I can get mad or I can figure out what is causing the trouble.

Not Enough Sleep – A frequent cause of stubbornness seems to stem from lack of sleep. They kids stayed up too late the night before and are, therefore, having a harder time focusing on today’s activities. The remedy: Give them a lighter load today, get them to bed on time, and then try again tomorrow. This usually does the trick!

They Have a Need – Rushing through their morning routine, especially when they sleep in later than they should, sometimes the kids choose to skip out on breakfast. (Um… sorry guys, you probably inherited this from me.) My kids are having a hard time because they have a physical need like food, a drink, or even exercise. The remedy: Figuring out what their body needs, giving it to them, and trying again!

They’re Irritated/Frustrated – Sometimes it takes just one thing to set our kids off. It could be harsh words spoken, a shirt that’s too itchy, or pencil being tapped on the table. The remedy: Identify the offending factor and remove it immediately.

They Need Help – Did the work I give them seem too much? Did they not truly understand it? Kids will often dig in their heels when they are really begging for help. The remedy: Sitting down with them and walking through their lessons. Ask them questions and help lead them to the answers.

They’re Intimidated – Similar to needing help, new lessons can often be intimidating. Instead of pushing forward with anticipation, our kids can drag their feet expecting to fail. The remedy: Encouragement. I need to help them see this is a challenge needing to be conquered, not the end of the world.

Too Much Work – I have grand visions for my children’s lessons. Once in a while, my visions are little too grand. My kids balk at the amount of work or time stretching out in front of them. It seems I have overwhelmed their minds and overburdened them. The remedy: Ease up! I need to restructure the lesson, reducing where I can.

Of course, there are times when my kids are just being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn; this is a character issue which needs to be worked out. However, with prayer and a quick evaluation of their needs, I can better help them move on from this obstacle.

“Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.”
~ Psalm 32:9

Your Turn!: I’m sure your children are never stubborn! But, for the sake of argument, if they were to exhibit such a trait… what is your plan of attack?

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A Homeschool Mom’s Favorite STEM Books

AHM_STEAM_ReadsFollowing our list of favorite nature books, we thought it would be fun to share the few books we check out on a regular basis which relate to a STEM or STEAM line of study. As we feel our general course of learning does a great job of covering these areas of education fairly well, the list is not terribly long. But, you know us, we’re constantly looking and continually adding.

We know a multitude of books cover this topic. The list you find below is by no means exhaustive. Give is a look and see what we might be missing:

A moment of truth here… I find the acronym STEM, or STEAM, a bit frustrating. After all, doesn’t STEAM cover pretty much everything our children are supposed to be learning? One or two subjects aside. I’m confused over how this term is at all special. I was under the impression we’d been teaching these things all along. I know our general course of curriculum covers science, basic engineering, mathematics, and art. Even technology is discussed and explored over the course of our learning. I would even argue that literature and history are taught using this model as well, as we read about the history each genre. They are in our household. I’m going on the assumption most other homeschoolers are as well. How is STEM different from what we’re already doing? Something to think upon further.

While our normal course of study does a wonderful job of covering STEAM to a good degree, it is fun gathering additional reading materials which bolster these topics for our children. The few books we check out on a regular basis are favorites, and ones we’ll continue to enjoy again and again.

“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.”
~ Psalm 111:2

Your Turn!: Share your favorite STEM/STEAM books! Which would you recommend we read?

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A Homeschool Mom’s Favorite Nature Books

AHM_Favorite_Nature_BooksNine times out of ten, my children would rather be learning in the field. There is something about being out-of-doors which opens the mind and heart to learning. Unfortunately, as this post is being written in the last days of summer and we’re generally a good hour and a half from any decent nature center, this isn’t much of an option. Thus, we turn to our second best option – and always a viable one – books! Today, we’re exploring our favorite nature books and asking you to help us add to our growing list.

We’re sure an abundance of nature books exist. An entire section at our library can quickly attest to this. But there are a few which rise above the rest, making them invaluable to our learning and inspiring to the soul. These few either currently grace our home shelves or are begging to be added:

Whew! Quite the list, isn’t it? We’re sure we haven’t even come close to being finished with adding to it. There are just so many lovely reads waiting for us to bring them home.

Learning in the field might currently be on hold, but plans are underway to get us back into the wild outdoors and explore God’s creation. For now, we will content ourselves with admiring the pages within these magnificent books and dreaming of all the outdoor adventures to be had once cool weather comes our way. Well, cooler, anyhow.

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.”
~ Job 12:7

Your Turn!: Share your favorite nature books! Which would you recommend we read?

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I Just Don’t Want To

I_Just_Don't_Want_ToIt happens from time to time. It’s becoming more common as my children grow older, and begin to express personal desires and opinions. We’re getting ready to walk out the door and someone announces they are no longer interested in participating in our planned activity. No reason, no rhyme. Only a curt, “I just don’t want to!” What’s a mom to do?

I’ll be honest, these situations are hard for me. I dislike changes in plans as it is. Then we heap on a desire to not participate? This is not good! Before the problem escalates, I need to pray for wisdom and then ask myself the following questions:

What is really going on? Who knows what’s going on in their heads? I don’t! And I won’t until I ask. This might be rebellion or simply a genuine lack of interest. Before I can determine a course of action, I need to communicate with my children and seek out truth.

What’s the most important thing? Yes, the field trip would be fun, but is it worth the kicking and screaming to get out the door? On the other hand, while it might be easier to not make my children get out of bed, we understand church is non-negotiable and like-minded fellowship is vital. Each situation will be different, but the end goal the same. We ask the Lord what is most important and act upon it.

Is there a lesson to be learned? Whether by me, or my child, perhaps the Lord has something to show us. Maybe need to learn how to pick my battles. Perhaps my child needs to learn the disadvantage and consequence of missing out, or the benefit of being made to participate. First, I need to identify the lesson and then move forward.

While I’m never excited to hear my children announce they suddenly do not wish to participate, I’m learning to no longer take these decisions personally. Often these circumstances are opportunities for growth and lessons we all needed to learn. Through the Lord’s leading I am learning to listen, understand, and lead my children with grace. It’s not always easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

Your Turn!: One of your several children adamantly decides they do not wish to participate in a given outside activity, how would you handle this situation when both parents had planned on attending and no babysitter is available?

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A Homeschool Mom’s Wish List

Our_Wish_ListFor us the school year has already begun. Curriculum was purchased ages go, new supplies grace our shelves, and activities are on the calendar. While we might have everything we need to get the year started right, it’s always fun to dream of items we wish we had. We’re not talking our run of the mill crayons, paper, or scissors. No, these homeschool wishes require a little more space or money or thought.

To somewhat reign in this dreamfest – because who wouldn’t like a massive home library at their disposal or a room addition for learning – we will restrict this list to simply learning supplies. Things I could buy at any given time should the budget allow, but for one reason or another I have yet to make the investment. Here are a few tools which would be grand to have at my disposal for the current homeschooling year:

A Black Chalkboard – I don’t exactly know where I’d put one of these babies, but I really want one. I see so many lovely photos of homeschoolers using them to assist with their learning or displaying diagrams of nature studies. They look handy, and neat.

A Letter Board – Again, probably not a practical supply. But this is a wish list after all. My wish list. Thus, I’d like a letter board. I’d enjoy being able to display Bible verses using this medium or edifying quotes to uplift our spirits.

A Shadow Box – We still don’t have a perfect spot to display our nature finds. I think it would be fun to have a central location for the children to show their latest acquisitions and gain inspiration for continued learning.

Another Stack of Books – Yes, our library cards still work. However, I have an increasing list of books which I would prefer grace my home library instead of sitting in our library basket. Some books are keepers, no matter how great a library you have access to.

More Bookshelves – If I’m going to get more books, I’m going to need more bookshelf space. It’s a never-ending problem. One I have no intention of fixing.

Subscriptions – There are a few companies to which I would like a subscription. Amongst them would be Wild+Free, Wild Explorers Club, MEL Science, Kiwi Crate or Tinker Crate, Lit Box, and a few others. There are different reasons for each, but all of them would be of benefit and tons of fun.

A Good Walking Stick – I once saw a picture of a family which had a walking stick. On the stick they would carve tiny images of their hikes/nature walks to remember them by. Ever since then, I’ve been looking for a walking stick. Nothing fancy, just something tall enough for me to use and sturdy enough to make the journey. It is more likely I will need to find such a walking stick, rather than buy one, but I’d like one all the same. I’m keeping my eyes open.

An Instant Pot – Did I say that right? While not strictly a homeschool tool, I would find this exceedingly helpful in making home life easier and assisting with meals during our learning day. That and it just looks fun.

In truth, none of these items are essential for learning. Each are mere wishes, something to think upon and possibly invest in the future. The Lord has always provided for our learning year and given everything we need. I know this will always be so. But, on occasion, it’s fun to peruse learning tools other families find of benefit or discover new tools for learning.

As we’re launching into the coming year, may we remember to be thankful for what He provides daily. May we give thanks for our ability to homeschool and disciple our children. We might not have everything we want, but we have everything we need.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
~ Philippians 4:19

Your Turn!: What’s on your homeschool wish list? Share with us the top three tools you’d enjoy in your learning corner.

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He’s Building a Cathedral

Building_a_CathedralThe waking of children, cleaning of the house, cooking of food, running of errands, character building, discipling and homeschooling keep me tied to the moment. I can get bogged down in my day-to-day experiences to the point I lose sight of my overall goal. It’s as if they are walls surrounding me, preventing me from seeing beyond the day’s activities. I can become overwhelmed, disheartened by thinking I am not making progress but instead spinning my wheels. Then the Lord gently reminds me these daily responsibilities are important and necessary. I might not see the end picture, but He does. He is building a cathedral, and no cathedral was built in a day.

The Lord has great plans for my children. I know this because God’s Word speaks to this truth. But what about those times it feels as though nothing is being accomplished? We are still facing the same issues we were last week, or last month. We get frustrated with one another. Even when we conquer one area of concern, another is soon to follow. What can we do? How can I to realign myself with God’s Word and once again focus on the Lord’s purpose for our family?

Prayer – Whether it’s lies from the enemy, hard truths which need to be faced, or just a difficult day needing to be dealt with. I am going to fail if I do this on my own. Before I turn anywhere else, I need to fall on my knees and seek the Lord. With Him all things are possible.

Encouragement –  The Lord has given us friends and family to edify us during these moments of discouragement. They pray for us, perhaps show us where we have deviated from the plan, and come alongside us to work together toward the end goal. When I become overwhelmed by the cares of today and lose sight of the bigger picture, it’s these like-minded Christians I need surrounding me.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – While this seems discouraging, in truth we are still making progress! What might seem like a setback could in fact be additional lessons the Lord feels we need in order to perfect the lives He is building. The goal is righteousness, which often means practice, practice, practice. We need to think positive! Progress is progress, no matter how slow or tedious it might seem at the time.

This is Only Phase One – The building up of these children does not end with us parents, though we ought to be the ones laying a solid foundation for the work which will continue throughout their lifetimes. When I become overwhelmed that my children are not perfected today, He reminds me the job is not done. He is still working in each of us, myself included.

This is Not My Project – Though this was just mentioned, it’s worth repeating. I am not in charge. God is. The Master Builder has given me – a poor layman – instructions and objectives. My job is to carry those out to the best of my meager ability, understanding He is not only working through me, but cleaning up after my messes, laying groundwork for future accomplishment, and perfecting these little people. If this is His work, I need only be faithful and trust in Him.

My prayer is that the Lord continues to help me see as He sees. To no longer be bogged down by day-to-day responsibility, but rather be invigorated by each act of service knowing there is a greater purpose. His purpose. I may not see the bigger picture; the final plan. But I can rest in knowing the One who does.

No matter where today finds each of us. May we seek Him wholeheartedly. May He fill us with His presence, renew our minds for the task at hand, give us strength beyond our ability and peace which surpasses all understanding. When we stumble and fall, may He lift us higher than we could imagine. And when we lose sight of His vision, may we move forward in faith. These children are not our own, but His. May we embrace the blessing of assisting in His building of their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
~ Jeremiah 29:11

Your Turn!: If you could give up one daily household task, which would it be?

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Review: Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart (Young Readers Edition)

Wicked_Bugs_ReviewBetween all our nature walks and exploring of the great outdoors we come across some very interesting creatures. I wish I was better at identifying all of them, knowing details on their structure and tidbits of fun facts my children might enjoy. So when Algonquin Young Readers contacted us and offered a copy of their young readers edition of Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth we were overjoyed. Today, we’d love to share this incredibly fun and educational resource with you!

In the young readers edition of Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth, Amy Stewart’s information-packed, impeccably researched New York Times bestselling book for adults has been adapted for middle grade readers, bringing to life weird and dangerous creatures with full-color illustrations by the talented Briony Morrow-Cribbs. Organized into thematic categories (“Everyday Dangers”, “Unwelcome Invaders”, “Destructive Pests”, and “Terrible Threats”), Wicked Bugs entertains as much as it informs, delving into the extraordinary powers of many-legged creatures.

Algonquin Young Readers graciously sent us an early release copy of Wicked Bugs. When our book arrived, included in our package was an illustrated leaflet advertising the book’s release on August 8th of this year and an oddly adorable stuffed bookworm by Giant Microbes.

Before turning our attention to Wicked Bugs, we took a moment or two to giggle over our newest stuffed animal. I confess I have never actually seen a live bookworm, much less one which is stuffed. This was a special treat! We then took a moment to peruse the included leaflet to get a preview of what was to come in our new book. Wicked Bugs isGiantMicrobes_Bookworm
filled with chapter after chapter of intriguing creepy, crawly creatures. The book is incredibly thorough, giving fun details children of all ages will appreciate. The full-color illustrations are liberally peppered throughout the read, adding an up close look at our nature friends.

Wicked Bugs is an incredible resource. We very much enjoyed reading about each intriguing insect. One of our favorite chapters included “Zombies”, a truly chilling selection of insects which inhabit other creatures and force them to do harm on their behalf. The “Death Watch Beetle”, referred to by Edgar Allan Poe in his frightful story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was fun as well. Many such educational factoids may be found following the colorful descriptions of each bug.

While I shudder at the thought of running into any of these mean, deadly, gross bugs in real life, we truly enjoy this read. The illustrations are wonderful and add to the charm of the book. The book itself is a simple read. While intended for middle grade readers, we believe young readers would appreciate having selections read to them; removing the barrier of hard to pronounce scientific names.

Before setting Wicked Bugs on the bookshelf and adding it to our nature section for continual referral, we definitely wished to take a moment to visit the Wicked Bugs website. Who knew what exciting adventures, resources, and activities might be available? We were not disappointed. We found a downloadable lesson plan for Wicked Bugs, discovered where Wicked Bugs have been viewed as part of a national traveling exhibit, read a special Q&A session with Amy Stewart, and viewed the Wicked Bugs trailer. The trailer is definitely a highlight of the site!

While I certainly hope we never run into any of these “Wicked Bugs” while on our nature walks or outdoor explorations, it has been tons of fun learning about God’s creatures and adding tidbits of knowledge to our homeschool adventure. We’re very pleased to add Wicked Bugs to our growing nature studies resource shelf!

In addition to Wicked Bugs, Amy Stewart has written several other fascinating reads including The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. To learn more about Amy Stewart, Algonquin Young Readers, and Wicked Bugs, please visit their websites or follow on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, and more!

FTC Disclaimer

Your Turn!: What’s the “meanest” bug you’ve discovered in your learning adventure?

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Do YOU Say The Pledge of Allegiance?

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Do YOU Say The Pledge of Allegiance?When setting up our children’s learning routine, there were several areas of study on our list which we felt could not be overlooked. We carefully planned each course, knew the direction we wanted to move in, and proceeded with an open mind. It wasn’t until we joined a formal learning group for activities and socializing that it became obvious we had entirely skipped one particular point of learning. Our kids did not know the Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s funny how things like this seem to have skipped my mind entirely. While I am sure we said The Pledge in my younger years of education, I cannot for the life of me remember ever saying The Pledge in high school. (This is not to say we didn’t, but that I certainly do not recall having done so.) Therefore, when I went about setting up our own learning routine, saying The Pledge each morning did not even occur to me; not once.

It took several weeks of attending a homeschool co-op for our kids to finally get it down, but eventually we got it. In addition to the American Flag salute, we also learned the Christian Flag salute. By now, they have become second nature and the kids could say them front, back, and probably put them to song.

What’s interesting is that while we’ve learned this for group events, we still do not say The Pledge each morning. Frankly, it just doesn’t occur to me. It’s not that I am opposed to saying it. I suppose I’ve just never found it necessary. Please, don’t think us unpatriotic. We love being American; we love living in the United States. I believe it should to be said for public events and before particular celebrations. I just don’t know if this is something which my family needs to have as the starting point of each day. This is generally reserved for devotion.

I might also add I find it interesting that younger grades are encouraged to say The Pledge of Allegiance and yet higher learning establishments do not have this tradition, nor is this something done at the beginning of everyone’s day. It seems to be only an elementary learning practice. I feel a research project coming on…

Am I the odd man out? I’d love to know how other families tackle this sticky issue.

“If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
~ Numbers 30:2

Your Turn!: Is saying a pledge to the nation’s flag only traditional for American citizens, or do other countries require this as well? Do you say The Pledge each day? Share with us why you do this and what importance you believe it plays in your home.

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What If Life Was a Formula?

What_If_Life_Was_a_Formula?I just don’t get it. I did the research. I planned appropriately. I was so excited to make this event happen. Yet here I sit with my day in shambles and confusion filling my mind. Some days, no matter how hard I try, things go awry. It’s enough to make me wish life were a formula and all I needed to do was plug in the right building blocks. Then I’d always get the results I’m looking for. Wouldn’t I?

Instead of a geometry formula – one which never changes and can be depended upon – I am often faced with daily problems which rival any algebra equation. There are a multitude of operations, the order of which is important, and unseen variables which keep popping up. To make matters more confusing, even when I think I might have solved things correctly, something pops up which throws me right back into the thick of things. It doesn’t help that some of those factors in my equation have freewill. They bounce around my equation at whim, constantly causing me to re-evaluate where I stand and what my final outcome might be. Sometimes they clump together, making my eyes cross. Other times, they hide until the last-minute. Just when I think I’ve gotten it figured out, they jump out and like to watch me scramble. Other times, other times, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t figure it out.

Yet even as I sit here thinking on life’s uncertainty and wondering where I keep going wrong, I have to wonder.

What if those pesky variables are really a blessing in disguise? It’s those little unexpected surprises which often lead to something beautiful. Things I never would have planned and yet they fill me with goodness as I marvel at God’s work. The bouncing variables keep me flexible and growing. Through these circumstances I am forced to grow and become more than I would have if left with a rigid formula.

What if this equation called today is God’s mercy and grace? The Father knows in His infinite wisdom that I have a tendency toward a desire to be in control. If left to my own devices and my rigid formula, I might grow to depend upon my own strength and work. Perhaps forgetting God’s goodness all together. As He carefully places these changes in my perfect plan, He is reminding me He is boss and not me. He gently causes me to remember that without Him this is not possible and I need Him. He forces me to abandon my plan and gaze upon His own. His plan is always far better than mine.

Looking back on the day, I still shake my head. No, it’s not what I had in mind. I am tired and a little empty. My idea of what the day should have looked like is in shambles. But I am no longer confused. No matter how hard I try, life is not a formula. I do not have the ability to rearrange variables nor adjust freewill to fit my desires. Instead, I rejoice in what the Lord gave us and trust He is in control.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~ Isaiah 41:10

Your Turn!: What helps you refocus and relax after an unplanned, crazy day?

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