Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christ-Centered Christmas

I got another early Christmas present! Hal and Melanie Young sent me a copy of their newest ebook to review, Christ-Centered Christmas. I was afraid I might be a little biased because I love Hal and Melanie - their book Raising Real Men is one of my very favorites - but this book really is just great.
What I appreciate about the Youngs is that they tell you the why and the how. They tell you the history of different traditions and how they've implemented them in their own family. That makes it very easy to adapt the tradition to your family without losing the meaning.
They also make an excellent point about our celebrations being a means to "draw the people around us towards Him." In all the hustle and bustle of cooking and cleaning it's easing to forget the purpose. When I focus on the why of what I'm doing, the how is a pleasure instead of a burden.
Another thing I love about the book is the beautiful artwork they've chosen. The kids and I are using it as an imprompto art unit. Combined with all the hymns they've included (with links to the music), it really is nice unit study for school.
And they deal really nicely with the whole Santa thing and just with gift-giving in general. My favorite quote - "So, don't let gifts rule your season, let your gifts reflect your heart and soul!"
The whole book is excellent and they're offering it for $6 right now. Thanks so much, Hal and Melanie for sharing it with me!

Sister Shoebox Swap

I was so excited to take part in Monica and Carrie's Sister Shoebox Swap this year! It's always so much fun to choose little things you think your "sister" might like and then to get your own goodie box in the mail! Moms like surprises sometimes, too!
The theme this time was Merry and I was feeling very merry when I opened up this box full of gifts from Kendra! I was tickled to have her for a sister because I've been reading her blog forever.

Kendra had wrapped up lots of things so it felt like Christmas morning! She sent beautiful burgandy yarn so I can work on my very amateur knitting skills. I've already started in on the breakfast tea (which I love!) but I'm saving some for Christmas morning to go with the red velvet pancake mix! Oh yum! Red velvet is my very favorite cake - I'm pretty sure it will be my favorite pancakes, too! Precious cupcake liners and picks saved the day for me last weekend when I threw together a children's Christmas party at church. So cute! Adorable ornaments and a pine candle (I love this scent! I'd never tried it before) have it looking and smelling Christmasy around here. And look at those pretty gift tags...they have little jewels! There were yummy little candies (spicy!) to snack on and a pretty little apple candle and a very special necklace (that's it right down front).
Kendra, thank you so much for putting this together for me. It came on a very hard day when I was just wrung out. Knowing I had a present to open when everyone finally went to bed made all the difference in the world!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

And Christian's birthday....

Taking Christian's 4th birthday picture....
take 1
take 2
take 3
take 4
mom, can we just get this over with already?
yeah! we're done!

Luke's birthday

I just realized I hadn't posted pictures of my birthday boys. Luke turned 2 this fall and immediately went into full-fledged toddler mode. Fortunetly he is totally adorable. It's impossible to stay mad with him when he says "sa-weee, mama."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

It is finally fall! This was a long, hard summer and I am so glad to be moving into a new season. School got off to a good start this year, but I'm realizing that I've planned too much. I'm pruning just a bit and making time for the things that are really important to us.
One important thing this fall is going to be spending time with each other and with friends! And spending time outside now that it isn't so incredibly hot! Our field trip yesterday combined those very nicely! We went to a beautiful nature trail with just a few other families. I had intended to plan some activities (and I probably will when we get together with our larger group), but the kids mostly just ran around! They did stumble on several learning opportunities, though. Grasshoppers, different kinds of dirt, flowers, trees, etc. They made leaf and bark rubbings. We all explored a beautiful pre-Civil War home (that was a highlight for me!) and relaxed in the sunshine. Of course, I'm paying for that with a nasty sunburn...I should've been running around in the shade like the kids.
So now I'm making our fall plans - and trying to decide between good and best. There are just so many wonderful things to do this time of year!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Brenna's birthday

My girl turned seven this summer. I don't know why she is insisting on growing up so fast, but the past seven years seem to have flown by.
Since we had just finished our first read-through of all the Little House on the Prairie books, Brenna picked a Little House theme for her party - her gift to her mama. I love Little House on the Prairie:) We had so much fun preparing for the party. I know I will be kicking myself forever that I didn't get pictures!
For initations we printed out copies of this pretty picture and tucked them inside little notecards made from "old-fashioned" scrapbook paper. I still had tons left that I bought to make Brenna's dollhouse last year.

For favors, we made little aprons for all the girls and giant popcorn balls for everyone. The aprons were so cute, thanks to my sweet mother who sent me tons of adorable fabric. Enough so that I was also able to start a throw-sized quilt for Brenna and make a banner, both of which will go in her newly redecorated pioneer girl bedroom. The quilt wasn't finished in time for the party, but the top made a very cute tablecloth.

We had lemonade in little jelly jars and used Brenna's pink dreppression glass for the cake plate. It was just lovely.

Monday, July 25, 2011

First Day of School

Today was our first day of school so we took our traditional first day of school pictures in the corner of the kitchen. This year I opted not to wait until everyone was dressed neatly with hair done and smiling sweetly. Since that might take until January. This is real life, 1st day of lessons....

This is the best picture I could get of Christian. The kids insisted he had to have a picture made, too, since he is "sort of" a preschooler this year. I went with it, but seeing how Christian did convinced me Luke was definitely too little.

Levi is a fourth grader this year and waaay to cool for all this.

Brenna is a very young third grader - she just turned 7 - but grades are just numbers so I let her say what she likes. She is doing 3rd grade math so that should count for something. She also lost a tooth at bedtime last night and wanted to show it off.

Jack is a kindergartener! He did really well today - stuck with us through all the reading and everything.

I'm excited about this year. Lots of plans for the charming side of homeschool - nature clubs, fun projects, some of my favorite history topics, and soooo many wonderful books to read!

Friday, June 10, 2011

School Plans, part 3

Still working a little at a time to get everything planned out. I like to be flexible, but I really need to have a detailed plan in place this year. Flexible was not my friend last year.

Most of our work will be done together, but some things just need to be worked on one on one.
Levi will be working through Saxon Math 54 this year. I found a good deal here for the kit with the DIVE cd-rom. He's very excited about getting to do some math on the computer and I'm very excited about avoiding the 9 year old boy power struggle. He's also ready for Spelling Workout D. We didn't do C last year, but he's a natural speller and it just looked much to easy for him. Last year he chose his own spelling/vocabulary words everyweek and looked them up in the dictionary. It worked well for him and we'll probably do it again in the future, but this year I opted to simplify. And Spelling Workout teaches the actual spelling rules, which I think will be good for him to know. For handwriting he's working through the Classically Cursive books.

Along with academic subjects, we're going to work on practical skills this year, too. I mentioned before that I love Doorposts. Their Plants Grown Up book is going to be perfect for us this year (and for many years, I think!). I already have lots of projects marked for Levi to choose from and the extensive scripture references will be perfect for copywork.
Brenna is going to use the Polished Cornerstones book from Doorposts. Actually she and I have already worked on a few projects - I've had this book for awhile since finding it at a used booksale. For math she'll be using Saxon, too, Math 3. She really enjoys Math which leads me to think she may have been switched at birth. If it weren't for the millions of lists written in crayon that I find, I'd really be concerned. For spelling she's going to work through the Spelling Workout B and for handwriting (in addition to copywork) I really like Reason for Handwriting. She and I are also exited about the Homestead Blessings videos. So far we're planning projects from the sewing, gardening, and dairy delights dvds. She wants to start with making ice cream, but I might have to insist on trying out the mozzarella cheese!
For Jack, I keep reminding myself that he's only 5. I plan on encouraging him to stay with us while we're all studying together, and then working with him by himself just a little each day. I'll probably work through some of the Saxon Math K book with him and we'll start Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons this year. He has several Kumon Workbooks to work through, too. I also printed out the Blinky Bill Alphabet Coloring Book for him and that will take care of handwriting. But his favorite part is the animal study he helped me plan. We're going to study two animals every week using mostly information from National Geographic and Answers in Genesis. They each have kid-friendly animal websites. Jack loves animals - especially the scary ones...alligators, dinosaurs, lions, komodo dragons. I also got the the first volume of Jonathan Park cds for him to listen to when he's not up to "big kid" school. I'm sure we'll all listen to them during car rides or quiet rest time, but I knew Jack would especially enjoy them.
I even found a few new things for the little guys. Some lacing and building toys will fascinate Christian. Signing Time and Baby Einstein dvds usually hold their attention and teach something. Kumon also makes First Steps workbooks that we might get later in the year. For now Christian is very content to color on whatever.
Again, I need to remind myself that this is a whole year's worth of work! It seems like such a lot when I write it all down in one place. This will be very handy for that mid-year review, though, when I think oh yeah, I wanted to do so-and-so this year....
Hopefully I can still write out a post about history sometime soon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

School Planning, part 2

As I'm thinking about school this next year I have no idea what our daily routine is going to look like. I've always planned four days a week and left Friday open for fun school or field trips, what my friend Lori calls the charming side of homeschool. But I'm considering sticking to a shorter schedule for 6 days a week, with the freedom to take a day off whenever we need to. The benefit of that would be that I think we would have an easier time getting back in the swing on Monday mornings with only one day off. And we would be less rushed through the week if we expected to have some work left over for Saturday.

I do know, though, that we'll be doing some studies together and some individually. It just would be crazy for me to try to do history three times, science three times, etc. So this is a list of the basic materials we'll be using for those group subjects.

Like I mentioned the other day, we'll still be using Story of the World, volume 4 (Modern History) but in a very piecemeal way. I started with the table of contents and subtracted a lot of material and then added in a lot of other material... Now that I think of it, history may be a whole separate post:)

Again, I broke with the "original plan," which was to do elementary physics. Beautiful Feet Publishing puts out a wonderful book - the History of Science Study Guide. A literary approach to science (with some experiments thrown in for the kids) - just what I always wanted! I was already leaning towards it when I discovered one of the primary books it covers is The New Way Things Work by David MacCaulay. We checked this out from the library last year and Levi had put it on my must buy list with exclamation points. Even I am impressed, and I could usually care less about the way things work. It's a good book.

Boy, I looked at a lot of books. In the past we've used a lot of really good stuff, but I've been too hit or miss with it. For this year I wanted something...more intentional. I wanted to actually study the Bible instead of doing a devotional or reading stories. Those are great and I look forward to doing them again with Jack and Christian and Luke. But for this year I'm really excited about Foundations by Anne Elliot. We're going to do the first book, Preparation for Christ, which studies the Old Testament. I'm still checking it out, we may actually take two years to go through it. But it is jam packed with memory work and actual reading of the actual Bible. I'm excited.

Brenna and Jack still love Draw Write Now, which is great because I already have the first four books from a library sale when Levi was a toddler. Very nice for my $1 investment. And Levi requested book 3 from the Complete a Sketch series. It's more technical drawing, perfect for a 9 year old boy. We're also going to borrow lots of fun stuff from National Gallery of Art. I plan to mainly focus on American artists this year, especially Audubon, but really I'll probably go with whatever looks appealing to me.

Hymns for a Child's Heart and Christmas Carols for a Child's Heart. I love these. We can sing along around the computer and learn a little about the composer. And the big bonus is that the kids can sing a long in church. We're also going to be just listening a lot. This is a wonderful cd - 25 Classical Favorites - to have on in the background, in the car. And we're talking about music lessons, piano/guitar/harp/drums (NOT drums!), so we'll see where that leads.

Levi did pretty well with Rod and Staff last year and I liked it a lot. I feel like he got a very good foundation and my first instinct was to go straight into the next book. But it's really a lot of time and a lot of pencil pushing to cover stuff he already knows pretty well. I try to be conservative with the amount of pencil work he has to do because he loves to write, but hates to copy sentences from a book. But we have to do something for grammar...

And then there's precious Brenna who does very well with oral grammar, but is still reading very slowly. She and I have worked through the 1st grade section of First Language Lessons. But it would be really nice to make grammar a combined subject and have Jack follow along this year. Ruth Heller's World of Language books look perfect. A nice, easy living books approach that we can all work on together. And for Levi there's also grammar check on the computer. He loves to type what he's written into a word doc and then I can let grammar and spell check be the bad guy that points out any errors.

We're studying the Brother Offended Checklist from Doorposts right now...it couldn't wait till school starts back. I really love Doorposts. As school starts up I think we'll work through
The Original 21 Rules of This House and maybe Rules for Young Friends. I've had the Original Rules for quite awhile, but I guess I assumed that it was more of a manners type study. It is exactly what I want for this year, though. The rules cover honesty, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, hard work, good stewardship and much more.

I'm excited about doing a real study of logic as the kids get older, but for this year we're going with MindBenders. The kids actually think I give them these for fun.

When I type it all out, this seems like a lot. And I haven't even gotten to the individual subjects yet. The nice thing is that they each work on their own level and we won't be doing every thing every day, so I don't have to panic.

Even more school planning tomorrow...

School planning, part 1

I have been slowly working on our school plans for ages now, squeezing in a little here and there. It's quite a project because I felt like I needed to do a lot more customizing this year. Before I've stuck closely to the Well Trained Mind plans, adjusting just a little bit here and there. Well trained, but laid back, is what I would call it.
This year, though, several things are different. We have a "new" student. Jack is officially starting kindergarten. And Double Trouble (that's Christian and Luke) will be 4 and 2. If I learned anything this past year, it's that these two seriously affect our homeschool, whether they're official students or not:)
I also re-evaluated our goals. Along with a strong academic foundation, I'm planning to focus on character and some practical skills this year. Levi has thrown me for a loop with this whole 9 year old thing. I'm suddenly realizing how very fast he is growing up and how little time I really have with any of them.
One more difference for this year is that I was less happy with Story of the World. I have loved this series for history - it's been a perfect fit for us. But this year as I started reading through the book, I just felt like it was too focused on the negatives of modern history. Of course, to be fair, there are a lot of wars to cover in a short amount of time. But with a kindergartner, 3rd grader, and 4th grader all doing history together, I really wanted to focus on the good things and good people of the last two centuries. So we will read some of the stories from Story of the World, vol 4, but I've drawn up a scope and sequence of my own for this year. And we will be reading A LOT of good books. It also gives me a chance to focus more on the civil war and local history - something I'm excited about.
After all this background info, I think I'll share the actual curriculum (word used loosely, of course) we're using tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It has been so long since I posted anything...

Life here has seemed very chaotic and twirly and not in a good way. Last year I was prepared for things to be a little nuts with a toddler and a preschooler and two "big" kids (who were only 8 and 5), but this year with two toddlers?!? Or maybe it's just these two toddlers? Whatever, it's been crazy. I'm totally off my A game. B game and C game are also shot. I am starting to see some progress though, I think. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I'll take whatever I can get:)
We've finished up school for a bit so I'm making lists of all the projects around the house that I've neglected for the last nine months. And planning our next school year. It's hard to plan when you can't find your desk so deep cleaning my office came first. And then I really must clean out files, write end of the year reports, organize the bookshelves and help the kids straighten their notebooks. But now they are "staaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrvvvviiiiiiiing!" Hmmm, I wonder if I have a clean pot to cook lunch in?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I'm thinking of joining in Monica's Making Your Home a Haven, even though the week is nearly half over!, just to give myself a little additional motivation to make some improvements around here. But in the meantime I had to share these two pretty coloring books. The kids, Brenna especially, are always begging me to sit down and color with them. Not only do I never have time, I don't try real hard to make time because it's....well, it's a little boring. That's right, I said it.
But Brenna got this beautiful coloring book for Christmas. It's full of beautiful family pictures - sweet reminders for the days when I really need a sweet reminder. And I found another lovely nature coloring book at the Mennonite grocery store. So now coloring is my new destressor - I'm amazed at the zen-like state it leaves me in.
I did have to buy myself the $3 box of 64 crayons. Not a bad splurge, though, for a calorie-free afternoon pick me up!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Just trying to keep my head above water

Every so often it seems like we need a major overhaul around here. Littles grow fast and schedules change - overnight it seems! All this time I've been so frustrated because I would make up a schedule and we would stick with it for a month or two, but then it would all start to fall apart! What made it so bad was that I blamed myself for not having enough self-discipline to stick with it.
The truth is though, all the self-discipline in the world (not that I would know, mind you) is not going to make a 17 month old stick to a schedule you made for 12 month old. And much is going on...school to do (adding Jack in more and more), a tiny garden to plan, pottytraining to begin (is there still no one I can hire to do this?) so some kind of routine is highly necessary.

So I'm working on a new routine with a lot more flexibility built in - taking into account that Christian has given up naps (waaaa!) and that Casey's work schedule is as crazy as ever. It's hard to think while the kids are with me, though. I can't maintain a train of thought while also cheering, answering, refereeing, teaching, admiring and shhhing. Hmmm, this may call for an all-nighter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My birthday boys

Levi and Jack each had birthdays over the last month. Since it's a party year (we have parties for odd birthdays and experiences for even birthdays), we put together one party just before and one party just after Christmas.

Levi turned 9 and had a Survival Party. I hope to get some pictures soon off of Casey's camera. We had a big tent in the back yard, a campfire complete with extra large campfire marshmallows, and lots of great friends!

My little Jack turned five. He considers himself one of the big kids...not one of the little boys. Even though he and Christian are the same size.

Jack had an Animal Party ("with real animals, mom, not cartoons!")

I ran out of cake baking time and bought a simple undecorated cake from Walmart. A little blue and green frosting and a bunch of Jack's plastic animals made the cake fun.

And now to take a little time off from the birthday party circus until Brenna's birthday this summer!