The Three R’s

The_Three_RsWithin the world of homeschooling, there are many different ways to approach our children’s learning. Should we go with a classical method or perhaps a more unschooled approach? Do we use only textbooks or do we use unit studies? There are so many decisions to be made and so many areas to choose from, it can sometimes be overwhelming and daunting to even think about it.

When we first began to homeschool, I made sure I had a long talk with my husband about what he expected to see in our children’s education. I knew if we were together on what they were learning and if the Lord was at the center of it all, I couldn’t go wrong. I would have the peace of knowing the two most important men in my life were behind me 100%. When we talked about what we wanted from our children’s education is came down to three basic things:

Reading – If our children could read well, there was no end to the possibilities of what they could learn. Now when I say reading, it is not as simple as reading words on a page. Reading well, meant they would not only be able to pronounce the words on the page, but understand them. In order to do this, we started our children reading at a very young age, about 3 years old. We would sit daily, for short periods of time, teaching them to read basic words and then advancing them at their own pace. As they began to read on their own, we made sure they knew where the Dictionary and Thesaurus were. They were taught to look up words for themselves and learn their meanings. We also steered them toward books that would increase their vocabulary and advance them in their comprehension. After a book was read, would we talk about it. Did they understand the book? Did they understand the message the author was trying to get across?

‘Riting- Good writing skills go far beyond penmanship and the ability to write several paragraphs. We wanted our children to be able to write in such a way, that they not only could get their point across but make it interesting and compelling while doing so. In order to help them learn to write better, we not only give them lessons in grammar and penmanship, we also have creative writing exercises which force them to look at common, every objects in a new light. Previous topics have included trees, cats, birds, the art of cards, and more. Our children have been encouraged to take these basic topics and find a way to make them interesting. They are free to explore all topics at any angle they choose. Cats have been explained not only as household pets with factual information about them, but instead as emotional creatures seeking to give comfort and perhaps at times being snobbish and aloof. Trees are not simply deciduous or evergreen, but as symbols of life and death. If they can learn to make even the most common items appealing and interesting, writing more in-depth papers will be much easier.

I am sure she is thinking she should have picked a smaller pumpkin.

Reasoning –  I am sure you were all thinking that I was going to write, ‘Rithmetic; weren’t you? Nope! To us, reasoning is the other – and perhaps the most important – skill we wanted our children to learn. All of their education would be for naught, if they didn’t know how to use their minds to think things through and come to logical conclusions about life. Our worldview is not only important to us, but is essential. It is why we do what we do! Our children need to know why they believe what they believe. They need to understand other people’s worldviews and how to break down arguments to their basic principles. They need to be able to assess a situation, make a wise decision, and then know how to act upon it. There are many ways to teach our children how to reason well. We have chosen to teach our children logic, apologetics, and, yes, arithmetic. Logic will teach them to think well, Apologetics to know why they believe what they believe, and Arithmetic to work through basic day-to-day life. Each has a functional purpose and is a necessity. Think logic and apologetics need to wait until high school? Think again! There are great ways to start teaching these now! A couple of great resources are Kids4Truth and Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door. These resources can be used for kids as young as six and seven.

The truth is every education will have “gaps”. There is always going to be a subject that wasn’t covered perfectly or thoroughly. While I am sure there are a number of ways to approach home education, we felt that if these basic areas were taught and taught well, our children would be prepared for life. If our children can read, write and think well; they would be fully capable of doing whatever the Lord called them to. The rest is just details.

“Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.”
~ Proverbs 4:13

Your Turn!: What is your family’s main focus in learning?

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Review: High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing

High_School-Essay_IntensiveOur oldest daughter will be a junior this coming month! With scholarships, grants, college SAT’s and ACT’s right around the corner, we can’t think of a better time to review High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing. Read on as we share this new resource to hit A Homeschool Mom’s shelf!

High School Essay Intensive is a writing program, including a case containing five DVD’s which comprise the course and a Portable Walls for the Essayist folder. Printed on the folder are helpful tips for becoming a better writer: Types of Essays, Transitional Words & Phrases, Essay Models, and more. Included in the Portable Walls for the Essayist folder is the High School Essay Intensive course work. This course work is to be completed as the student watches the DVD’s and Mr. Pudewa teaches lessons. Topics covered in High School Essay Intensive are “General Strategies for Essay Writing”, “Understanding and Preparing for the New ACT Essay”, “Understanding and Preparing for the Redesigned SAT Essay”, and “Strategies for the ‘Personal Essay'”. In addition to the DVD’s, we also received a code to video stream these same lessons. This is an especially helpful resource for students using computers which no longer have disc drives or prefer this medium.

While there are many ways in which High School Essay Intensive could be completed, we chose to do a “crash course” and finish the entire set in a two-week period of time. Normally I would not recommend this course of action, but I was a little impatient to finishMr. Pudewa Teaching the material. The main reason for our hurry was an IEW conference being held by our homeschool group. What better way to fully immerse ourselves than to have completed the curriculum and then attend the conference as a review? Our second reason for the rush was a desire to fully train our oldest daughter for the college and scholarship essays she is currently filling out by the stack.

Having no prior experience with IEW, we went into our review with open minds. Our focus during our review was on “General Strategies for Essay Writing” and “Strategies for the ‘Personal Essay'”, as these have the greatest application for our family at this point in time. We found the DVD/Stream lessons to be easy to follow and entertaining. Mr. Pudewa has a comfortable manner in his teaching, addressing his filmed audience by name and offering funny anecdotes to keep the viewer interested. Course work allowed students to take careful notes while following along with lessons, using a fill-in-the-blank method of note taking. While the title of the course, High School Essay Intensive, and the nature of the topic might seem heavy, we were pleased to find the lessons manageable and even fun. There were several new skills we learned; ones we will be implementing from this point forward. We especially appreciated Mr. Pudewa’s explanation of introductory sentences and a TRIAC method of writing paragraphs.

As we have written essays during our lessons for years, and are new to Institute for Excellence in Writing, I was extremely interested in reviewing High School Essay Intensive. I was pleased to find we are on the right track with our writing, yet we’ve learned new skills we can apply to future papers! While we chose to move quickly through the curriculum, we will be re-visiting it at a slower pace at various points to keep the information fresh in our minds.

If you’d like to learn more about Institute for Excellence in Writing, along with High School Essay Intensive, please visit them at their website. You can also find Institute for Excellence in Writing on social media sites such as FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.

To read additional helpful reviews like this one, and gain more insight into High School Essay Intensive please visit The Homeschool Review Crew!

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Your Turn!: Do your children stress when an essay is assigned?

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Curriculum 101: Writing

Curriculum101One of the biggest struggles homeschooling families battle is which curriculum is best for their children. We become overwhelmed by the amount of curriculum available, struggle to find the right fit for each of our children, proceed to doubt each choice made for at least the first several weeks, and continue to search for new ways of teaching well after we’ve already begun our year.

To this end, we thought we’d spend the month of September launching discussions on all things curriculum.

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The written word is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, many children do not see it in that light. To them, writing is a form of punishment hoisted upon them by teachers and parents who wish to see them languish for hours writing pointless sentences.

Being both teacher and parent, how we do ensure our children not only complete a thorough course in writing, but learn to appreciate the art?

Make Writing Fun – Especially while they’re little, choose topics of interest to your children. Have them write about My Little Pony, Transformers, or their favorite pet. The subject matter isn’t important at this point, but developing a habit of writing and the learning of good sentence structure. Here are a few ways to keep writing fun:

  • Games
  • Story Stones
  • Creative Writing Exercises

Make It Part of Another Subject – Instead of making writing its own subject, include writing in other areas of study. Write about what you learned in history or science. Write about your field trip fun.

Allow Your Child to Choose – Give your children the freedom to pick their own writing assignments. After giving guidelines as to how many papers need to be done per week, allow the kids to choose their own projects.

Join the Fun – Don’t let the kids have all the fun! Purchase a writing journal for yourself and encourage them by setting an example. You might even consider allowing your children to assign you a project just for the fun of it!

Cursive vs. Printing – The great debate. Honestly, there is no right or wrong choice. However, I will say, we prefer cursive and practice this in our home; it encourages patience, neatness, and hand-eye coordination. Once our children had a thorough knowledge of cursive, we allowed them the freedom of choice and the ability to be creative with their cursive. My oldest daughter has quite a flair for it. (It’s like creating your own font!)

What about Computers? – For those who just can’t stand writing… why not try a computer. Generally speaking, it isn’t sentence formation children despise, but the actually writing. By removing this obstacle, the writing process becomes less of a burden.

Three Positives & A Negative – This is a great principle when grading your children’s work. For every negative remark made, make three positive. Sure they missed a few punctuation marks, but their penmanship is beautiful, their sentences are well thought out, and they did a great job sticking to the main point. Correct their work, by all means, but do so in a way which encourages them to continue.

Reading is tons of fun. But without writers, what would we read? Writing can be tons of fun if only we put a little effort and a lot of encouragement into the lesson. Let’s inspire the next generation of poets, novelists, and speakers! Write on!

🔔Now, it’s your turn!! Share your tips for developing a love of writing. What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?

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5 Ways to Incorporate Creative Writing

5_Ways_To_Incorporate_Creative_WritingYou’d think, really you would, with all the books I read, I would enjoy writing. Well, truth be told, I like sharing; that’s why I blog. But, writing, writing for the sake of writing; writing to tell a story? Yeah… that’s a little more intimidating.

The mere idea of sitting down to flesh out an entire novel scares me. I can usually come up with a basic plot, that’s fairly simple. Fleshing it out? Not so much. All those details, plot twists, and unearthing a satisfying ending? (sigh) I’m tired just thinking about it.

As I’ve started to encourage creative writing in my children, I’ve come to realize perhaps I am thinking a little too hard. I need to start off with something small and work my way up to ‘bigger’ projects. Take one moment at a time and simply enjoy the process.

Our family has begun to incorporate a few creative ideas to encourage a love of writing in our home. Some you’ve already heard of; some you might already be doing; and others will be fun to explore!

Family Mailboxes

Who doesn’t like to receive mail? Each of our children has their own ‘mailbox’. We’ve taught our kids how to write letters, post mail, and to respond within a reasonable amount of time to keep the fun going.
As a bonus, we’ve helped each of our children create their own letterhead, bought them rubber postage stamp sets (to use in place of real stamps), and boxes of envelopes. Seeing our children become excited to both give and receive letters has been such a blessing. It’s great to see them look for ways to bless the other members of the family.

Letters to Friends

Pen pals are fun, too! In the past, we’ve written letters to family members, friends, and online acquaintances. There are even websites you can work through to help your children get connected with others who are looking for a pen pal.

Dante’s Wardrobe

A few years back we ran a series on this fun, creative writing technique. Dante’s Wardrobe consisted of having our children create an ‘alternate’ personality for themselves; each person in our family picked a character they wanted to be. For the next learning year, we wrote to each other, left clues for each other, and made presents for each other, based on the character we had chosen.
This helped our children think outside the box and find imaginative ways to tell about themselves. Each year we did this, we picked an entirely new character and explored new options.

Journaling

Journaling allows my children to write down their personal stories, poems, and thoughts without the fear of anyone else reading. We usually have scads of notebooks strewn about the house for them to use. However, we’ve also begun to have dedicated writing journals.
One creative way we’re encouraging our kids to journal is by setting them up with their own blog! We coax them into posting several times a week, on whatever topic they like. Writing in this manner is especially fun for our kids and they love the feedback from the few readers they have, besides mom and pop.

Writing Prompts

Occasionally, I have been known to throw out a writing prompt as part of our homeschool lessons. I try to make the topics something our children will want to write about.
During this coming school year (and here I’m going to spoil the fun for my own kiddos, who didn’t know this yet, and read my blog), we are going to be doing a lot more writing prompts. Our prompts will be based on our history lessons. Each of us, mom included, will have a personalized journal to write in. The idea is to use the prompt given (which are planned to be silly, yet thoughtful) and write for only three minutes; no more! Then, we will each take a moment to read our prompt and see whose is the funniest, cutest, or most heartfelt. Perhaps we will even do an occasional exercise of ‘Round Robin’, finishing off each others work.

Using these five, easy writing ideas, we are trying to encourage a love of writing in our home. It’s important to point out, while doing these activities, we parents aren’t checking for errors. The purpose of these exercises is to increase their love of writing, not to make sure they are writing correctly; that is where formal practice comes in. Enjoy the ideas and go with the flow, this should be fun!

“And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs…”
Exodus 35:31-32

🔔Time to Chime In: Which of the five ideas above would your family use most and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

We’d love to see your creative writing projects! Instagram your homeschool inspired ideas & projects with the hashtag #A_HomeschoolMom & you might find your picture featured on AHM’s Instagram!

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10 Great Resources for Budding Authors

“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.”

– Margaret Atwood

10_Great_Resources_for_Budding_AuthorsAre some people born with a gift for words; able to take even the most mundane of tasks and re-form them into magical adventures? Perhaps some have a more innate ability to weave a tale, but there is still hope for the rest of us! With a few good resources, even the most inexperienced writer may soon become a budding author.

If you have children interested in becoming authors, or perhaps have children you would like to be enthusiastic about writing, here are a few resources your family might find helpful to the writing process. You’ll find a great mix of everything; websites, books, and more!

10 Great Resources for Budding Authors

1. Writing Your Way, Don Fry
2. What’s Your Story, Marion Dane Bauer
3. On Writing Well, William Zinsser
4. The Writer’s Way, Jack Ralins and Stephen Metzger
5. Dramatica Pro Application
6. One Year Adventure Novel
7. Young Writers Online
8. Eight Writing Contests for Kids
9. Cash Contests for Kids
10. HSLDA

Nab, bookmark, and peruse a few of the resources above and explore the art of writing. Stock up on paper, pencils, erasers, and/or a computer. Sit yourself down and have some fun. Writing doesn’t have to be hard; just take one word at a time!

“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book.” – Jeremiah 30:2

🔔 Time to Chime In: Calling all authors!! Share your story with our homeschooling audience. What led you to becoming an author, what have you learned along the way; and what are you currently working on;

Doing the Write Thing

Doing_the_Write_ThingI can already hear it coming. First, it will start with a shocked expression taking over her face. This will be followed up by a glare; then a deep breath; and then she will proceed to talk me out of the assignment. If nothing else, talk me down.

My oldest daughter loves to write; really, she does! Furthermore, she’s good at it. She has a way with words; is able to paint a vivid picture using just a few short sentences and lots of heart. Give her free time to write and she’s a happy camper. Ask her to write a report and… well, just see the paragraph above.

While I would love to toss those pesky reports into the circulatory file (trash bin), she’s really at an age where it cannot be avoided. High school is looming on the horizon and reports seem to be the thing. Sure, I could let her off, but would that really benefit her? If she plans to continue her writing career, she might want to expand her horizons beyond story telling. If she plans to attend college (which she does), she needs to be able to write a research paper.

Whether or not our children plan to be writers or attend college – not all children do – teaching our children to write is an important life skill. Why, you ask? Aren’t we living in the age of technology where everyone and their grandmother owns a computer? Haven’t you ever heard of spell check?

While using our computers is most helpful (obviously I use one as a blogger) and spell check is nice, technology is not to be depended upon entirely. Spell check can only do so much, as can grammar check. At some point, our children need to learn the fine art of language. They need to learn how to construct a great sentence, put thoughts together to form paragraphs, and connect those paragraphs to form arguments.

Have a reluctant writer or are unsure of where to start in the writing process? Here are a few tips and hints to inspire your little author:

Start Small – Don’t start the writing process off with a five-page research paper. Well, unless you want to kill the love of writing altogether that is. Then, proceed. (laughing) Seriously though, start off with little assignments. Ask your student to construct just a few great sentences and build from there.

Keep it Simple – Once your student has the concept of great sentences down, consider having them write small papers. Teach them how to construct an opening statement, the body of their paper, and then a closing statement. It doesn’t need to be long, it just needs to have all the essential components and focus on one main point.

Shake Things Up – Don’t have your student write the same type of report each time; this can quickly become boring. What kind of reports might we look for?

  • Cause and Effect
  • Descriptive
  • Argumentative
  • Definition
  • Narrative
  • Critical
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Process

Topsy Turvy – Doesn’t that sound fun? If your child balks at the notion of writing a two page report or even a 1,000 word report, consider making it a challenge. Turn your child’s perspective around and have them look at the assignment from an entirely new angle. Inform you student they cannot use more than 1,000 words to make their point. One word over and they start losing points. It changes things, doesn’t it?

Make a Point – While all papers should have a main point, not all papers mean something to your student. However, they should! Pick the type of paper your child should write for this assignment, but let them choose the topic. They might want to argue for why Legos are better than MegaBlocks. They might wish to explain what Minecraft is. It doesn’t matter what the subject of the paper is, only that they learn to write well. As they mature, the topics will also and so will the assignments.

Join the Fun – One year, my daughter was having a particularly hard time gaining inspiration for a paper. To help her out, my husband and I joined the fun. Each of us turned in a paper on the same topic! It was fun and a great learning experience. We didn’t do this each time she had an assignment, but it helped.

For whatever reason, speech and writing seem to be the two least favorite assignments of most students. Perhaps, with a little effort and enthusiasm on our behalf, our children will learn to not only appreciate the art of writing, but enjoy it. Writing can be lots of fun!

“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.”  – Galatians 6:11

🔔Time to Chime In: Are you a writer? Share your tips with our homeschooling families on how to encourage a love of writing!

Friendly Competition

My oldest daughter loves to write, it’s just a part of who she is. In light of this, we are constantly looking for competitions for her to participate in, hoping this will help expand her repertoire and develop her writing. This week, a writing competition came to us!

Philadelphia Homeschool was kind enough to send us a link to her newest writing phbwritinglogocompetition and we thought you might all like to join in the fun. You’ll find all the rules, regulations, and essay details over on her site. Make sure to take a look and join in the fun!

Philadelphia Homeschool Writing Competition

If you do decide to join in, let us know! We’d like to keep an eye out for your entry and read your incredible story. The more the merrier!

Time to Chime In: How often do your children participate in friendly competition?

Work Hard, Play Harder: Tell Me a Story

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecc. 3:1) Join us as we explore a season of fun and family! Help us discover new ways to enjoy family time and build lasting memories.

……

Summer_work-playWe are story tellers. I’m not sure how this started. I suppose it all came about over bedtime stories. Instead of simply reading a book, we felt the need to tear it apart and reinvent the story for ourselves. Telling a good yarn, is a huge part of our family fun time.

When our kiddos were little, my husband started instituting a bedtime game. Name three objects, any three objects, and he could weave a story for you. He would ask the same of all four of our kids and, in turn, make up a story based on their items of choice. Some of them became so popular, he was asked to tell them again and again.

One day on Pinterest, I saw the neatest idea: story stones! A bag is filled with stones, painted with various objects. The child is to then pull three stones out of the bag and tell a story using these items.

While our kids were doing just fine with their own ideas at bedtime, I thought it might be fun to put a spin on the story stone idea and make a few ourselves. It would be neat to have visual prompts, as well as verbal.

Stones are quite heavy, in my opinion, and hard for kids to craft with. Instead, I opted to use wooden discs. We dug out our stamps, a black ink pad, and our wooden discs; then, we got busy!

I didn’t realize this was going to be a bit more of a challenge than originally thought. You don’t notice how small those discs are, until you need to stamp an image on them! Then, several of the discs were not perfectly flat; which meant that the center of our stamped image did not always transfer.

No matter! We did our best with what we had and most of the discs turned out beautifully. So far, we have almost half of our discs done. We ran out of small stamps! (lol) However, that is no worry. We have already mentioned our project to Tia Nene, who graciously offered to let us raid her mass of stamps to further our progress. On our next visit, we’ll ask her to help us out and she can join in the fun, too!

Story Discs

Click on the image above to be taken to the appropriate Pinterest link.

The kids really liked this project. The challenge for Mommy was to keep her nose out of it. I wanted the kids to stamp items of interest to them, not me. I might see a leaf and think it is not worth stamping, but the kids see a world of possibility.

Think this sounds like fun, but don’t have any stamps at home? There are several ways to do this project. Consider using cutouts from magazines and decoupage the pictures onto discs. Use permanent marker and draw images on wooden discs. It doesn’t matter how you tackle this project, this is definitely a fun activity you won’t want to miss.

Plus, think of all the fun writing prompts you can now use in your learning routine!

Time to Chime In: How often does your family sit around and tell stories? Do you have a favorite?

Let Your ‘Voice’ Be Heard

My oldest daughter wants to be a writer. No, allow me to correct that, she IS a writer. What I mean to say, is that she wants to become a professional and eventually make a living in this field.

Wanting to be supportive and further her education in this field as much as possible, we have supplied her with many books and resources to help her along. She soaks it all up like the sponge she is and increases her scope as she progresses. I am very proud of her accomplishments.

Writing Her Speech

One area which seems to be a struggle for me is the constant reference to ‘your voice’ when writing. What does this mean?

My husband is an artist. He has a library filled with numerous books on the subject, in all its various forms; history, anatomy, study, color, style, and more. If you were to ask who he paints like (style wise), he would say, “All of them!” He enjoys so many different styles, he chooses not to be bound by one definitive mode.

So… when it comes to writing, how important is your ‘voice’? Are you free to choose amongst a variety of styles, like my guy does with art, or is there a need to be particular?

I will not argue that some people don’t have a ‘voice’. I’ve read several authors which are very recognizable and set a particular tone in their writing. What confuses me is whether or not one must have a ‘voice’ to be a good writer. Are there no authors who simply write and have no cares for a consistency of ‘sound’?

This prompts me to question my own meager writings. Do have a ‘voice’? I’ve never thought about it! I write as I would think and feel. I am particular about how I say things, but usually this is out of concern of offending, not because I am trying to be consistent with a form or style.

To better help us understand the purpose and means of acquiring said ‘voice’, I did a little online research as well. I found a great article HERE which helped explain this topic a little more.

I think “T” and I have a better understanding of what it means now. While we both still have a ways to go before becoming proficient in this skill (I’m not even sure that is one of my personal goals), we are enjoying the journey and having fun along the way.

Do you have a particular ‘voice’ when writing? What helped you establish your writing?

Homeschool Writing Contest

My oldest gal is a writer. I don’t just mean she likes to write; I mean she is gifted in it. This girl can spin a story out of thin air better than Rumpelstiltskin can weave gold out of straw. So, naturally, when a competition comes her way, she jumps at the chance to stretch her imagination and go for it!

Just yesterday, another homeschool mommy contacted me and let us know about THIS exciting writing opportunity. Philadelphia Homeschool is hosting her second annual writing competition and it looks to be exciting.

Writing Prompt

The contest is open to all United States homeschool children from 3rd to 8th grade. All details regarding the competition can be found on the Philadelphia Homeschool website. The writing contest is very well-organized and thought out; judges, prizes, certificates, and more await you.

I am sure my daughter will be thrilled to join in. Not only does she enjoy writing, she really enjoys reading others stories. It fascinates her to learn how they took the same prompt and went in a completely different direction.

Tomorrow I will hand her the prompt and watch her creativity take over. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with this time. I’m sure it will be a good one!

Best wishes for all the competitors; we look forward to congratulating the well-earned winners.

Are your children interested in writing? Consider having them enter as well.