Monthly Archives: August 2010

Our Homeschooling Basics

My friend Sarah recently sent me the following note about homeschooling, and my response turned into a bloggy post (imagine that!)!

This year we are “officially” going to start school. We’ve had soooo many transitions in the last couple of years (moving 5 times in 2 years, and having a baby), it’s just been too crazy. But I feel like this year, I have it a little bit more together. So, I’m going to pick your brain a bit (hope you don’t mind!): What’s you method? How do you do it? Do you use curriculum? Do you do school in the morning? Or split it up throughout the day? Do you do any school online with the kiddos? At what age do you “officially” start? Questions, questions… =)

Soooo many questions… I’m just starting out so I’m trying to figure it all out myself!

First off, what every book I’ve read about teaching your kids has told me is that reading aloud to your kids is THE most important thing you can do for them. So that’s where I’ve started. I try to make a weekly trip to the library and make a big deal of checking out special picture books for the kids and carve out time each day to read to them. At night, we read chapter books, although getting through a whole chapter every night is a challenge with short attention spans. So far, we’ve read “The Magician’s Nephew“, “Little House in the Big Woods“, “Little House on the Prairie”, and we’re reading the first Harry Potter book now. They like the picture books better, of course, but I always try to read a little above their level to stretch them. When I was in school, I would often read my homework assignments out loud to them, so they were exposed to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and all those guys early on. So far, they aren’t prodigies or anything, but I have hope! =P

I bought a quarter’s worth of preschool curriculum from The School of Tomorrow, but after we got through it, I just ended up jumping to the Kindergarten curriculum instead of buying the rest of the preschool program. I think the preschool stuff was kind of a joke (at least the workbooks were), but I really like the Kindergarten curriculum. It teaches phonics using an animal (Arby Armadillo, Sandy Sunfish, etc.) accompanied by a story that highlights the sound and character trait. After the first week, they start learning how to blend the phonics sounds, so Jonathan is already reading simple words! It’s pretty cool. You can find their website at I do it totally independently, because it’s pretty simple. School of Tomorrow does offer a membership thing to mentor homeschool families, but I don’t know much about it. =-/ Their stuff is really expensive, IMO, but eBay has good deals on their curriculum packages sometimes.

(I forgot to mention this in my original reply to Sarah, but we also have the old classic McGuffey Readers [like they used in Little House!] and I use those to work on Jonathan’s penmanship and reading skills once or twice a week, too.)

As I’m QUITE sure you know, no two days are exactly alike in our house. Some days, we wake up, do breakfast and chores and do a solid hour or so of learning. Other days, I’ll work with Jonathan while Hannah and Josh are napping in the afternoons. I don’t make a whole lot of goals or anything, but I try to get 3 solid lessons in each week. If I only get to the phonics and we don’t do math, that’s fine with me. Honestly, we pushed Jonathan so hard since he was 2 to LEARN (because he had been diagnosed with learning delays) that I’m worried that he won’t enjoy learning. So I try to make everything as fun and lighthearted as possible. Sometimes, with his reading/spelling page, I’ll just leave it on the table and make him do one word each hour… so that by dinner time the page will be done. =P

One of the coolest websites that we’ve found and has really helped with the phonics is It has lots of games the kids can play, and, if I’m having “one of those days”, I just let them play on Starfall for an hour and call it school. =D

When do you start? Well, technically, Kindergarten starts at age 5. But we’ve been doing homeschooling with Jonathan since January (he’s 5) and Hannah is absorbing a lot of what he is doing because… well, she’s here with him! Some people don’t start doing anything formal with her kids until they are older, and they seem to be doing OK, too. So I think it’s up to you and your boys. Are they ready to learn? Are they showing an interest in reading?

Anyways, Anthony’s laughing at me that I’ve been writing so long. My last advice would be to see if you can go to a homeschooling conference. Arizona’s homeschooling group, Arizona Families for Home Education, had one last month that was awesome, and because we were new homeschoolers, we were able to go for free! See if your state has something like that, it was totally worth it for us!

Homeschool veterans, newbies, and homeschool-curious, please let me know your thoughts, questions, ideas, favorite sites, etc. in the comments section!  I’ve only worked with the School of Tomorrow curriculum, but what else works for the early years?


Homeschooling Part II

In July, my cousin invited us to the Arizona Families for Home Education’s convention in Phoenix, and we tagged along.  This was really where God got both Anthony and I to pay attention.  Through the speakers and our discussions between sessions, we realized that God had a bigger plan for our children than we did.  One of the speakers brought up the verse in Deuteronomy 6 that really convicted us:

4Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord [the only Lord].

5And you shall love the Lord your God with all your [mind and] heart and with your entire being and with all your might.

6And these words which I am commanding you this day shall be [first] in your [own] minds and hearts; [then]

7You shall whet and sharpen them so as to make them penetrate, and teach and impress them diligently upon the [minds and] hearts of your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

8And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets (forehead bands) between your eyes.

9And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The conviction, for us, came from the fact that of all the things on this earth, all that we get to bring with us to heaven are our children’s souls.  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter if we never get out of debt.  It doesn’t matter if we never “get” anywhere with our lives or our goals.  If we get to heaven and our children don’t, we have not done our job properly.  Like Pastor Chan says, doing stuff out of fear is never a good thing, but that was really a wake up call for us.  (I realize this is sounding preachy… you don’t have to agree with me, this is just what we have been convicted of, you know?)  If we were to allow someone else to educate our children and have them for a huge portion of their day, are we going to have the appropriate influence on their lives that would make a difference for eternity?  I don’t know.  I realize that there are plenty of Christian schools that could do that job just fine, but we really felt like God gave us our children and we shouldn’t delegate the responsibility for raising them to anyone else.

The thing that I really love about homeschooling Jonathan right now is how I can weave eternal things into all our lessons.  When he gets frustrated about writing, we stop and pray.  We’re doing side-by-side history, so we can study Joseph and the pyramids at the same time!  I can see him growing both mentally and spiritually as I teach him, and the added benefit is that Hannah is learning right along with him.  I’m not doing anything formal with her, but she sits with us for phonics and even sounded out a few words the other day.  It’s really neat.  There aren’t strict grade divisions!  We’re all going to learn together!

Anthony’s favorite thing about homeschooling is that we are free to be a family on our schedule.  Like last night’s spontaneous sleepover: it wouldn’t have happened if Jonathan or the cousins had to be at school the next morning.  And because Jonathan was there during their school time this morning, he learned with them and it was no big deal.  Tomorrow morning is Saturday, but we’re going to do a bit of school anyways, because… why not?  A family from California that we’re really close to is planning a trip out here in September and Jonathan won’t have to miss a second of his best friend’s visit because he’s in school: we’ll just catch up another week.  We aren’t slaves to a school district’s calendar.  We are free to plan school around our family.

As far as how long we’re planning on homeschooling, I don’t know.  I loved finishing high school at home.  I had plenty of time to do normal teenage things and be with friends and I don’t regret not going to prom or any of that (Anthony reminds me that our huge wedding was way better than any prom!).  For my brothers, they really wanted to play sports, so they went to public school as freshmen and they did really well socially, academically, theatrically and athletically.  My youngest siblings have done a mosaic of independent study and charter school education for the last few years.   For this year, this is what we’re called to.  We’re going to pay close attention to what the Lord has planned for our kids in the years to come, because we figure He’s got it planned out a lot better than we do!

Homeschooling Part I

Suddenly the new, overwhelming dynamic of my life is the fact that I am teaching our kids at home.  A friend wrote and asked me why we had decided to homeschool and I had to think about it for a few days before I responded to her.  It was interesting to realize that this journey started long before the 2010 school year…

I always thought I would homeschool because it just seemed like that was the right thing to do.  I was homeschooled through high school and had a very positive experience.  I finished high school at 16 and started community college and was very prepared academically for college (although it still took several years to determine WHAT I wanted to do).  When we were first married, Anthony was in school to be a PE teacher, so we often argued about public school vs. private school vs. home school, but I don’t think we ever really decided what we wanted to do for our kids then.

When Jonathan was 2, I bought a quarter‘s worth of preschool curriculum from the same Christian company that my mom had used to teach us.  However, I thought it was too simplistic, so I then bought the whole Kindergarten program and proceeded to attempt to homeschool my two-year-old son who could barely hold a crayon!  Needless to say, it was a dismal failure, and after two days, we gave up.  Being an all-or-nothing person, I decided I could NEVER teach my child and boxed up both programs and sent them to my cousin to see if she could sell it for me. Dramatic much? =D

Our journey towards educating our children really started when Jonathan was diagnosed with learning delays.  At the time, I was a full-time college student and Jonathan and Hannah were enrolled at the Children’s Center on campus, which was a preschool/kindergarten.  After a few months there, Jonathan’s teacher approached us with major concerns about his behavior and she called in a specialist.  The specialist gave a very intense evaluation and her report included scary words like “autism”.  Obviously, we were panicked and began calling educational resource specialists, speech and language therapists, and occupational therapists.  It was crazy.  We had never thought anything was wrong with Jonathan and suddenly he had all these problems we had to fix right away! At that point, I thought I could never homeschool him, because I knew NOTHING compared to all the specialists with their fancy words and equipment.

However, we had him re-evaluated by another school that was specifically geared towards young kids with speech and learning delays.  Whereas the first specialist had tested Jonathan in the classroom (with the 20 or so other kids running around), the second evaluation was done in a quiet room, with just Jonathan and the teacher.  He scored much higher with that exam, and the diagnoses was that he did have some learning and speech delays, but it was nothing like autism, it was more like highly-distractible-three-year-old-boy stuff. In addition to his 3-days-a-week on the campus preschool, we also brought him to the special preschool twice a week to work on his speech, learning, and focus issues.

Anthony and I quickly educated ourselves on the teaching methods used by the therapists at the special preschool and worked with Jonathan every day at home with different activities and word games.  Within 9 months, Jonathan was back up to speed with other boys in his age group.  He continued to have problems with some things, but they were very impressed with our work with him at home.  Before we moved to Arizona, they encouraged us that we could continue working with Jonathan at home (since we were moving in the middle of the school year) and he would be just fine for starting kindergarten when he turned 5.

When we got here in February, we were not able to get him into the preschool program right away, but we had worked so hard to get Jonathan to where he was and I was worried that he would lose it all by the Fall.  My cousin reminded me that I had sent her that box of curriculum and she had never been able to sell it.  I had completely forgotten and I was amazed that she had kept it!  Since we couldn’t get Jonathan into the school, I figured this would be the next best thing.  I started homeschooling him without thinking much about it, and after the first two totally successful weeks, I was really excited by his progress!  While I was a total idiot for trying to teach him this stuff as a 2-year-old, he was rocking it at 4-years-old.  The amazing thing was, I could teach 5 subjects to him and be done by lunch time!  He learned huge portions of scripture, blending phonics, counting, memorizing Bible stories, and he wasn’t struggling!  I couldn’t believe how easy and fast it was.

When the local special preschool finally had space for Jonathan, it was May, so he only went to one more month of public school.  When we left California, Jonathan had 7 items on his IEP: educational goals he needed to achieve to bring him up to his age level.  By the time they re-evaluated him in May, he had all but 2 completed.  That was also very encouraging to me; even without a specialized degree in education, I am a specialist where Jonathan is concerned, and I was able to help him hit those educational goals.

I still enrolled him in the local school for kindergarten this fall, did some more research, and then changed his enrollment to a charter school nearby.  I figured I had done a good job, but I didn’t have to keep doing it, especially since school is free!

Free is good, right?  Usually.  But God had a different plan for our family.  Watch for Part II of our God story on Friday.  =D

From 1 kid to 2: Tips and Advice

The transition from 1 child to 2 children is really hard. If/When you go from 2 to 3, you’ll realize it’s not that bad at all! I think that keeping the older child as involved in the prenatal baby care as possible will really help. Invite her to “read” to the baby while you rest in bed, or talk to him. Jonathan really loved coming to the midwife appointments and being the special helper. He could measure my belly and use the doppler to hear Hannah’s heart beat. It was so sweet when we got pregnant with Joshua and Jonathan showed Hannah how to do all the hands-on things that he had learned when she was in my belly!

Does your first born have a special doll or stuffed animal they like to care for? We got Jonathan a stuffed monkey and used it as Jonathan’s baby. Before Hannah was born, we would play like it was really a baby and put a diaper on it, give it a bottle, and I made a special sling out of cloth so Jonathan could carry it around. We did this for Hannah, too, when Josh was coming. Do this when you are still pregnant, so that once you need to focus on the baby, you can encourage the first born to get her “baby” and take care of it while you take care of your baby. We have hilarious pictures of Jonathan and Hannah “nursing” their “babies” while the real baby was getting fed, too! Encourage her to help you as much as possible, and she will feel important to Mamma.

Hannah, "feeding" her "baby" in a sling

Hannah, "feeding" her "baby" in a sling

I could say “don’t feel guilty”, but there are going to be times when you just will. The older child needs to learn that the baby’s needs will have to come first for a while. What works for me is that I’ll take care of the baby until he’s asleep, and then go have special snuggle time with the older ones, talking to them about how much I love them and how they are special to me. Also, communicate to your spouse and the people around you how important it is for them to focus on your older child when they come to see the new baby. I so appreciated some of our friends who came over with gifts for both the baby and the older kids, so that EVERYONE felt special. Your husband especially can help with giving the older child lots of Daddy time while you focus on the baby.

One of the crazy things I did that I think really helped was NOT weaning Jonathan when Hannah was born (he was only 25 months old). After I would nurse Hannah to sleep, I would nurse Jonathan and talk to him about how much I loved my big boy. I know that sounds totally crazy, but it helped a lot, since his love language is touch. It was initially hard to tell him that Hannah had to have milk first, but he would lay quietly until it was his turn, even waking me up sometimes to tell me Hannah was all done and it was his turn. =D (I’m getting teary thinking about this… he’s FIVE now!!!)

I think the greatest thing about having kids close together is how they pretty much grow up together. When Jonathan finally finished potty training, Hannah was old enough to start, and he encouraged her. When Joshua was born, they both were the proud older siblings, and could go play together while I took care of the baby. It’s so precious and sweet to see them growing and learning and loving together. I really would not have it any other way. When God called us to do something crazy like TRUST HIM with our fertility (and then me getting instantly pregnant), we were panicky. 3 kids in 4 years? That’s insane! But the blessings are so great, and we are so glad that we didn’t take matters into our own hands and prevent the conception of any of these little wonders!

I hope that you are encouraged!  If you have any advice you’d like to share or questions to ask, please do it!

Q&A: Nap time?

This question is from one of my friends who has a 17-month-old daughter with a new baby coming soon!  Her daughter is starting to transition from two naps a day to just one nap a day.  I gave her my advice, but feel free to add your nap time tips in the comments section!

How exciting that your little girl is growing up! I bet you are looking forward to seeing how your new little guy changes her little life, huh? =)

As far as naps go, you are the mamma, so make sure you get your little breaks. Jonathan no longer naps every day (he’s 5, though), but I NEED my afternoon break, so from 2-4, he has quiet time, while Hannah and Josh are actually napping. He can “read” or play quietly, and I usually have some classical music or Bible stories playing quietly for him. Hannah still naps at least once a day, but usually she takes it in the afternoon.

For me personally, I like the afternoon nap and would work on transitioning out of the morning nap, just because that way they are fresh and cheerful when Daddy comes home. I think that a slow transition, pushing the morning nap later is a great idea. The trick is to plan fun activities and outings so she WANTS to stay awake, but then be sensitive to her time needs. So, if she usually goes down at 10am, aim for 10:30 and maybe take a walk starting 9:45 so she’s DOING something that will keep her up. The library was big for us back in Paso Robles because it was right down the street. We could walk there, play and read for a while, and then walk home. Anyways, don’t rush it. Stick with 10:30 for several days until she seems used to it and then go for 11 and stay there for a few days, etc. Also, realize that this will tweak your lunch schedule for a bit, so maybe make the morning snack a little bigger so she doesn’t wake up starving. =) I do remember when Hannah started transitioning to one nap that the afternoon nap had to come RIGHT after lunch, so it was more like 1-3, but that was still OK.

You also might like to start training her to lay down when Mamma does, because when your new baby comes, you are going to need as much rest as possible! I honestly think the transition from one child to two children was harder than going from two kids to three! One thing that really helped me is that I had trained Jonathan from infancy to nap when I lay down. When Hannah came along, all I had to do was tuck Jonathan on one side of the bed and then nurse Hannah on the other side and then we’d all go to sleep together! Lots of rest for a new mamma means the family is still happy!!

Remember that when your new baby comes, your daughter may go through a little regression; realizing that she’s not the baby anymore may bring up baby-like behaviors. If you just remain sensitive to her feelings, and stay very aware of her needs, you’ll be able to tell if she’s having a rough day and maybe NEEDS her two naps, or if you need to call Grandma for some special granddaughter time while you focus on the baby. =)

Do YOU have any nap time tips that have worked well with your kids?  Post them!  😀

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