Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Christmas ABC Book

the christmas abc book

I should probably start out by saying that this is not an unbiased review of The Christmas ABC Book. After all, the book was written and illustrated by my darling husband, and there are little jokes added to the illustrations throughout the book that only our family would know about.

Now that that is out of the way: this is just a sweet little ABC book. If you have (or know) little ones who are starting to learn their letters, this would be a great seasonal treat for them. Each page has a simple sentence (you know how little ones love those -- they can "read it themselves!" after you've read it to them once or twice) along with a brightly-colored illustration. This light-hearted take on Christmas is sure to help keep younger kids interested -- and we could all use a few moments of quiet at this time of year, right?

The Christmas ABC Book is currently available for the Kindle (best viewed on a Kindle Fire or via the free Kindle Reader software for your computer so you can see all of those bright colors.) And, if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the book for free through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

I also want to say, on a personal note, that I was able to see first-hand the work that went into this book. My husband's dedication to making sure that the drawings were perfect, that the tone of the book was light and fun --- it is something special to be able to witness the creation of a book like this, from the brainstorming phase to the writing and drawing, and right through to the moment it appears for sale on Amazon. 

We hope you enjoy it!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Research Curriculum Options

Photo credit: mazwebs

This is one of those homeschooling issues that can drive you crazy, if you let it.

There are SO MANY options out there for homeschool curricula. You can choose an all-in-one, complete curriculum, packaged up and shipped right to your door. You can pick different curricula by subject matter, using one company's offerings for one subject, and another company's for something else. Or maybe you'll custom design your curriculum every year.

The awesome thing about this, is that you get to choose exactly how your children are educated.

The bad thing --- it can make you crazy (as noted above) and it can hit you hard in the wallet, especially if you buy something only to find out that it's not working out for you and your kids.

With that in mind, here are my tips for researching curriculum options for your homeschool:

  • If you read homeschooling blogs, pay attention to bloggers who have similar philosophies to yours. Which curriculum do they use? What books do they rave about? 
  • If you can attend a homeschooling conference, that's a great way to hear from different companies about their offerings.
  • Take your preferences into account. Are you more comfortable with a full, packaged, pre-planned curriculum? Or are you more of a "let's just try it and see how it goes?" type? If you are leaning toward packaged curricula, check out the following companies:

A few considerations about packaged curricula:
  1. Many of them are Christian-based. If you are a Christian homeschooler, then, likely that is fine with you! But if you are a secular or non-Christian homeschooler, you'll have to judge whether you'll be turned off by the Christian leanings of these curricula or not. 
  2. Packaged curricula are expensive -- the above packaged deals range from $500 to $2,000 per year, depending on company and grade level!
  3. Packaged curricula are fairly regimented. If this appeals to you, then that's great! If not, you may find yourself working against the very curriculum you spent all of that money on...

A couple of my favorite resources:

The Well-Trained Mind (this is the curriculum we follow. You are responsible for pulling all of the materials together for your kids, but if you like a hands-on, challenging curriculum, this is the one.

Curriculum Choice -- this blog has detailed posts about how to choose the right curriculum for your kids

A final note: a lot of this process trial and error. Some things just won't work for your kids. It's frustrating, but the great thing about homeschooling is that we can be flexible and ensure that our curriculum really works for our kids. Don't get discouraged -- just try, try again!

This post is part of my 31 Days of Tips for New Homeschoolers series!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Research Your State's Homeschool Laws

 Photo credit: creationc

One of the first steps any family should take in their homeschooling journey is to research their state's laws regarding homeschooling. This does two big things:
  • It ensures that you don't get into trouble -- who needs the hassle?
  • It gives you peace of mind going forward. You know exactly what is expected of you and your family, and you can plan accordingly.
Luckily, learning about your state's homeschool requirements is pretty straightforward. You can either go to your state government website and search "homeschool" (or just Google "state" + "homeschool laws.")

An even easier way is to go to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) site. At the bottom of the page, click "my state", then "laws." Click on your state on the map, and another page will come up. Each state has a very useful link named "A Legal Analysis." This explains, in plain English, what your state homeschool laws mean for you.

For example, here in Michigan, we have things pretty easy. We do not have to notify anyone about our intent to homeschool. We do not have to submit lesson plans, attendance records, or test scores to anyone. How we educate our children is entirely up to us. This gives us a wonderful amount of freedom in choosing a yearly school calendar and curriculum.

No matter which state you live in, though, learning how to comply with the homeschool laws is absolutely necessary. It's much easier to jump through any necessary hoops now than dig yourself out of possible trouble later on!

Links: HSLDA Michigan Homeschooling Page

This post is part of my 31 Days of Tips for New Homeschoolers series!

Monday, October 1, 2012

31 Days of Tips for New Homeschoolers

Every day this month I'll be posting a helpful tip for new homeschoolers. The posts will all be collected right here as I work my way through the month, so it will be easy to find a post if you want to read it again later. I hope new (and prospective!) homeschoolers find this information helpful.

  • Day One: Research Homeschool Laws
  • Day Two: Research Curriculum
  • Day Three: Planning the School Year
  • Day Four: How Much Time Per Subject?
  • Day Five: Planning Your School Day
  • Day Six: How to Save Money on Books and Supplies
  • Day Seven: Make Use of Your Local Library
  • Day Eight: Organizing the Homeschool Day
  • Day Nine: Weekly Planning for Homeschoolers
  • Day Ten: Spelling Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Eleven: Grammar Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Twelve: Math Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Thirteen: History Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Fourteen: Science Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Fifteen: Artist Study Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Sixteen: Alphabet & Phonics Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Seventeen: Music Study for Homeschoolers
  • Day Eighteen: Foreign Language Resources for Homeschoolers
  • Day Nineteen: Recommended Reading Lists
  • Day Twenty: Organizing Paperwork
  • Day Twenty-One: Keeping Grades and Records
  • Day Twenty-Two: Work with Your Child's Learning Style
  • Day Twenty-Three: Benefits of Copywork
  • Day Twenty-Four: Take a Break When You Need One
  • Day Twenty-Five: Field Trip Ideas for Homeschoolers
  • Day Twenty-Six: Homeschool Co-Ops
  • Day Twenty-Seven: Explaining Homeschooling to Family and Friends
  • Day Twenty-Eight: The Socialization Question
  • Day Twenty-Nine: The World is Your Classroom
  • Day Thirty: Favorite Homeschooling Blogs
  • Day Thirty-One: You Can Do It!
Find more 31 dayers over at Nesting Place!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Our 2012 - 2013 Homeschool Curriculum (3rd Grader, 2nd Grader, and 2 Preschoolers!)

I love planning. I think part of the reason homeschooling appealed to me so much (in addition to the obvious reasons!) was that I get to do a whole lot of planning and list-making. Most of our books are here, and we are just about ready to go: two weeks until school starts! Here's what we're using this year:

For the Older Kids (3rd and 2nd Grade)

I can't believe I have a third grader. When did that happen?

Yes, curriculum. Here's what we're using. For the most part, Pooks and Sauce do the same things for history, science, French, grammar, and math. Spelling, reading, and writing are all subjects they do at their own pace.

Language Arts:

Grammar: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind 2

Spelling: Spelling Workout B (Sauce) and C (Pooks) {I fully expect to have to buy the next level of each for both girls at some point during the school year. They enjoy spelling and absorb it very quickly.}

Writing: Writing Strands 2 and 3

Reading: I've said before that we generally follow the Classical education model outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. However, reading is one of the areas in which we deviate from a strictly Classical approach. I may mix in some readings that tie into our history study, but for the most part, I've come up with a reading list for each of my older girls based on quality children's literature. Pooks' reading list is mostly comprised of novels, such as Trumpet of the Swan, Black Beauty, Through the Looking Glass, etc.

{Tip: Look in the dollar section at Target -- seriously. They have a decent selection of Junior Classics for Young Readers in right now, and though they are abridged editions of classic novels, I think they're a great way to familiarize my girls with these well-loved books. In a year or two, we'll read the full edition of each, and I think it will be interesting to compare the abridged and unabridged editions as a lesson all its own.}

Sauce is starting out with some quality picture books (Frog and Toad are Friends, Swamp Angel, Strega Nona, etc., and then transitioning into some of those Junior Classics once she's ready.)


The Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times -- This is our first year using Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World series, and I'm looking forward to it. Many of the topics in Bauer's book will be supplemented by books from the library as well.


Elemental Science: Earth Science and Astronomy for the Grammar Stage


Math is something that I want them to become fully comfortable with, so it doesn't become as stressful as it was for me throughout school. I am letting them work through it at their own pace, and at this point, we're using a combination of workbooks and Khan Academy, as well as games and activities to reinforce math concepts (I found several good ideas in the book Family Math that we will be using this year -- definitely worth a look if you want to work more math into your day-to-day life!).

Dorling Kindersley's Math Made Easy 2nd and 3rd Grade
Khan Academy Math


Muzzy French


Art: we're doing regular picture study, and the kids will be learning to create with chalk pastels this year, with help from their dad (I decided to have them work in chalk pastels after reading the tutorials over on HodgePodge.)

Music Appreciation: We'll be listening to a different composer each week.

Nature Study: Sometimes, this will be worked into our formal science study, but in general I want to make nature study something we do more regularly.

For the Preschoolers:

I'm making each Little a binder full of practice sheets in page protectors (I'll pull together a list of what I'm including) to be their quiet work, since they want to "do school" now, too. They can work in the binders while I'm busy with the older girls. The bulk of our activity will be reading, reading, reading! We'll also be playing games, doing experiments from Mudpies to Magnets, and covering the main topics in What Your Preschooler Needs to Know. At this age, I really believe that they should be engaged in free, creative play.

So, that's the plan! I am ready to go, and the kids are excited to start school as well.

I'm linking up to the NOT Back to School blog hop over at iHomeschool Network!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Vacation Plans

It's been quiet here on the blog for the past few weeks. Between a few big work projects I've got going, and summer vacation starting (yay!) there hasn't been a whole lot to write about on the homeschooling front.  However, the end of the homeschooling year does not mean the end of using our brains around here! So, with that in mind, here's what I'm planning for this summer.

Keeping Skills Sharp

One of the things I like most about homeschooling is how efficient it is. I don't have to spend four weeks on something if my kids understand it in one. And I would rather spend time once school starts up again in August learning new things than reviewing things we've already learned.

To keep skills sharp, and prevent "summer brain," my kids will still be doing spelling and math over summer vacation. We're not going crazy with it, but I don't want them to totally lose touch with what we learned this past year, so they'll do a few activities and drills every week to keep those skills sharp.

In addition to doing reviews from our spelling book, we'll also be playing board games such as Scrabble and Boggle to keep our spelling skills sharp. And I'll be encouraging as much writing as I can. Pooks (our oldest) happily writes nearly every day anyway, but Sauce is less enthusiastic. We'll work it out.

For math, I'm giving them a break from their math workbooks. They'll mostly use the computer for drills this year. Khan Academy is great, and Tux Math (we have Ubuntu installed on the kids' computer) is a lot of fun as well.

Reading, Reading, Reading

The most important thing is to keep them reading over the summer. We've already made a trip to our local resale shop, and the kids stocked up on books. Pooks has discovered Nancy Drew, and bought a few books, which she's already happily devouring. I'm reading a few classics aloud (right now, we're working our way through Redwall) but we're also sticking with our daily silent reading hour, which we started last fall.

As a little extra motivation, my kids also participate in our library's summer reading program every year. This is a lot of fun for them, and I find that Sauce reads more when there's some kind of prize involved. :-)

Aside from those few things, we're going to spend the summer playing outside, swimming, hanging out with family, and eating lots of barbecue. Oh, and planning for next school year!

What are you doing over summer vacation?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moments to Remember: May 12th - May 19th

It was a busy week around here! We've been working hard, playing a bit of catch-up so we finish everything I have planned before summer vacation (which starts at the end of June!) But it was a fun week, and the weather was perfect. Here are some of the highlights:

We had plenty of outside time this week. The Littles enjoyed watching the bees and hoverflies that were all over our viburnum:

We had school outside almost every day. The picnic table is officially our favorite place to work:

On Thursday, Pooks and Sauce went to the Detroit Tigers game with Dad and Grandpa. The Tigers lost, but they got to see three home runs and had a blast!

And while the big girls were at the game, the Littles and I played outside. This tub of water with measuring cups and rubber ducks kept them busy for a long time!

So, that was our week! I can feel the lazy days of summer coming on, and we are all ready for them!

I am linking up to Moments to Remember over at 1+1+1=1 -- it's a great way to remember each week -- both the ups and the downs. :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Encouraging Creativity: Craft Supplies to Keep On Hand

Flickr Creative Commons photo by laffy4k.

 I always swore that I would not be one of those parents. That I would keep plenty of craft supplies around for my kids, to encourage their creativity, and not complain about the mess or clutter that resulted.

Mostly, that has worked out. Though a side effect of this philosophy has been that my kids make an enormous amount of arts and crafts. I have been known (ahem...) to lose my cool when I walk into my daughters' room and accidentally bump a pile -- resulting in an avalanche of homemade books, paintings, drawings, sculptures....we are working on that.

But the clutter is worth it. 

Hardly a day goes by in which my kids don't create something. And they create more than "just" art. They make things to solve a problem. They make furniture and accessories for Barbies (one of them just made a Barbie hang glider. I didn't even realize they knew what hang gliders were), toys for our cats, and even come up with board games that they all play together.

So having all of these materials on hand for them helps them do several things related to creativity: they solve problems, design and redesign if something doesn't work the way they want, and figure out new ways to do things. Critical thinking -- which is a huge part of creativity.

Here are some of our favorite craft supplies to have on hand. I don't spend a lot: we buy at "back to school" sales in summer, in the dollar section at Target, and on clearance. And many of these items, as you'll see, are free.


  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Markers
  • Chalk
  • Watercolor paints
  • Poster paints
  • Acrylic paints
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Hole punches


  • Construction paper
  • Newsprint
  • Pompoms
  • Googly eyes
  • Glitter
  • Yarn
  • Sequins
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Glue
  • Glue sticks
  • Tape (different types, but we go through tons of Scotch tape)
  • Craft sticks
  • Fabric/felt scraps
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Stickers
  • Beads
  • Buttons

Recycled Items:

  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Oatmeal containers
  • Shoe boxes
  • Plastic lids
  • Egg cartons
  • Small jars and clear containers

It looks like a lot. Actually, it kind of is a lot. We have an area in our coat closet dedicated to craft supplies, and the older girls also keep a plastic tool box full of craft supplies in their room.

At this point in time, they like drawing, painting, and constructing things they can use. My oldest has started writing books (we order blank paperback books from Amazon for her) and creating her own comic books. I'm hoping she continues with that. They've also showed interest in learning to crochet along with me, and, who knows? Maybe they'll take up painting or sculpture, or pottery somewhere along the way -- and maybe I'll learn it along with them! The important thing to us right now is to encourage their creativity, and help keep that spark alive.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Artist Study: Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Public Domain Image
I am an art history nerd. I am. It was very nearly my major in college, but then I decided to major in something practical, like English. (That was sarcasm, by the way...)

So, of course, one of my favorite parts of teaching my children is delving into art history every once in a while. Last year, we did a whole quarter studying Vincent Van Gogh. It was heaven for me, and the kids liked it, too.

This year, we're using The World's Greatest Artists Unit Study, Volume 1, which was created by Erica over at Confessions of a Homeschooler. The first artist we're studying is Pablo Picasso. The unit studies are built around Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series. So we're using Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists: Picasso for the lessons that Erica came up with.

But, as I've mentioned before, I like multimedia! We'll do a lot of reading from the Venezia book, as well as from What Makes a Picasso a Picasso?  by Richard Muhlberger (we used the book from this series during last year's Van Gogh study, and loved it.) And we'll do the projects and lapbook from Erica's World's Greatest Artists program. But I came across a few additional resources that we'll be using as well.

Picasso Coloring Pages

Picasso-Themed Art Projects

Video About Pablo Picasso

This video is perfect to watch with your kids. It was made and narrated by a child, and the information it provides give kids a good overview of Picasso and his art. It was actually rather difficult to find an age-appropriate video about him. Picasso did not exactly live a G-rated life.

Biographical Information About Picasso

The sites below provide biographical information about Picasso, as well as examples of his artwork:

I hope these resources help make your own Picasso artist study fun for both you and your children!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. By clicking the links and making a purchase, I earn a small commission. These are products that we use and find useful, and I am not being otherwise compensated for mentioning them. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Homeschooling Book Review: The Imperfect Homeschoolers Guide to Homeschooling

The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling
by Barbara Frank
Published: 2008, Cardamom Publishers
192 pages

Imperfect. It's one of those words that we know applies to all of us (nobody's perfect, right?) but it still carries that connotation of just not quite measuring up. So to see it there on the cover of a book, as if to recognize that yes, we are all in the same boat -- that was what made me want to read this book in the first place.

And it delivered. Barbara Frank is a veteran homeschooler. With over 20 years of experience, she provides a treasure-trove of advice for those of us who are still novices (though I imagine that I will still look back at this book a few years from now, and say "Oh, that's right. I don't have to be "perfect.") She tells about how, in her family, school was sometimes difficult because of pregnancies or new babies, or other family issues, but that kids learn anyway -- just TRY to make them not learn. It's not possible!

Aside from general inspiration and virtual hand-patting (it feels like there's someone by your side saying "it's OK, dear. This too shall pass...") Frank provides a lot of specific advice for homeschoolers, including:

  • Developing a homeschool schedule to fit your family
  • Tools for homeschoolers
  • Attending homeschool conventions
  • Tips for teaching specific subjects
  • Testing
  • Choosing a curriculum
  • Meeting state-mandated requirements
  • Record-keeping
  • Developing a scope and sequence
  • Dealing with homeschool burnout
  • Organizing your home 
  • Taking care of yourself

It's amazing that she fits so much into a book that doesn't weigh five tons, but she did. Each section is short and to the point, and she provides plenty of resources to check out for further information.

A side note: Frank writes from an obviously Christian perspective. This does not bother me, but I thought I should mention it so there are no surprises for anyone who decides to pick this book up.

This is a book that just about any new homeschooling parent could benefit from -- check it out from your library, get a hold of a copy, download it for your Kindle -- whatever. And when you need to be reminded that imperfection is just a way of life, this is the perfect book to reach for.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. By clicking the links and making a purchase, I earn a small commission. These are products that we use and find useful, and I am not being otherwise compensated for mentioning them. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Learning About Space: Mercury

 This year, we're studying space as part of our science curriculum. We've generally been following the plan of study outlined in The Well-Trained Mind (though, as I mentioned a while back, I have decided to be a bit less stringent in how we do things at this point. I think we'll still follow the same general schedule, but with more experimenting, reading, and project time.)

The first planet up: Mercury!

The base text we're using this year is Visual Factfinders Stars and Planets. It's great for providing structure and at-a-glance information. We usually augment the information in the text with books from our library visits, as well as web sites and videos that add another dimension to what we're learning. (Note: this is one of the ways I don't strictly follow the tenets of Classical education. We watch videos and look at websites to enforce what we've already learned. Words (reading and writing) are wonderful, and are the basis of our learning, but I think you miss out when you don't make use of everything available -- including video and interactive web sites.)

With that in mind, here are a few things we've enjoyed using!

Websites about the Planet Mercury

Online Video About Mercury

Books About Mercury

There are tons of books about there about the planets, and honestly, they're all great for the photos and drawings alone -- getting a visual of the planet is great for helping your kids really be able to picture what it is that they're learning about. With that in mind, here are three that we've really liked:

Mercury (Scholastic News Nonfiction Readers: Space Science)

Mercury (True Books: Space)

While it's not technically a children's book, we also like looking through our Peterson Field Guide to Stars and Planets.  There are plenty of pictures to look at, and we always learn a new fact or two when we leaf through it.

Putting it All Together

So, what do we do with all of this information? Generally, we just read and discuss. But for each planet, we're also putting together a notebooking page. Then, at the end of our study of all of the planets, we'll put our notebooking pages together into a book, and the kids can make a great cover for it.

I didn't like any of the available notebooking pages, so I made my own (and I'll make a matching one for each of the planets). If you'd like to download a .pdf of my Mercury notebooking page, you can do so here: Mercury Notebooking Page

Learning about space was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. It is a lot of fun to see my kids just as intrigued about "what's out there" as I was.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. By clicking the links and making a purchase, I earn a small commission. These are products that we use and find useful, and I am not being otherwise compensated for mentioning them.