Finishing Strong! Individual Student Strengths and Struggles (Free Checklist Download)

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Today’s installment of the Finishing Strong! Series?is all about looking at a particular child’s strengths and struggles and using those to inform curriculum choices and plans for the next year. Strengths can make lessons easy – even too easy at times- and struggles can make every lesson a wrestling match between a child and the material to be mastered or between our children and ourselves! In order to accurately determine what kinds of work we should be asking our children to do, we need to identify their strengths and weaknesses from the physical (motor skills, sensory perceptions) to the purely mental (executive function, language processing ). Some struggles may require professional help, while others simply need a healthy dose of time, patience, and creative instruction.

Home Evaluation

As mother-teachers we often have a sense of our children’s abilities, but it is important to sit down and list them. For one thing, their struggles often loom larger in our minds than reality would indicate and for another many times strengths can be used to offset weaknesses.? We need to the reality check and the guideance to be able to meet each child at his level and come alongside them as they grow.

Homeschooling gives us the freedom to give a child an exercise ball to sit on, spend time reviewing harder concepts, or offer work beyond their “level” in order to meet their interests and motivation in a particular subject.

Professional Services

I spend a good bit of time talking to parents about diagnosable learning struggles and many times I hear that the child has had an issue in an area for years while the parents hoped they would “grow out of it” or where unsure where to look for help. The availability of help varies a good bit from state to state, but state level homeschool organizations will know the law for their state and often have some resources themselves. HSLDA also has special needs councilors and is able to advise on state law.

My general rule for deciding to look for educational services or evaluations is: If the child has struggled in a particular area for 1-2 years and changes in instructional method or curriculum have made little to no difference, then it is time to seek an outside evaluation.

Here are a couple of resources that may be helpful:

The Testing Lady/Sarah Olbris?offers testing and evaluation as well as portfolio review (in Virginia)

Dr. Judi Munday? Testing and evaluation, help with writing individualized student education plans

Using the Student Strengths and Struggles Form

Download the? Student-Strengths-and-Weaknesses-1.pdf (186 downloads) and answer each question as quickly as possible. When marking a “Yes-No-Sometimes” form like this it is important not to overthink the answers. Simply put the answer that comes to mind first even if it makes you or your child “look bad”. We aren’t trying to impress anyone here but to get an accurate snapshot of a student’s typical interactions with their lessons and learning environment. You don’t have to show these to anyone. They are for your information and planning process.

Once you have filled out the form, make a few additional notes:

My child prefers crayons to pencils when coloring.

My child does fine when I read aloud while he is coloring

These kinds of notes may well become the accommodations that you provide in the next school year.

This afternoon I’ll be doing a Facebook Live video at 2 pm. I’ll post the video here afterwards.

Tomorrow we’ll start talking about what all of this means to the plan for the new year!


Don’t forget to enter the Giveaway for the Family Pass to the 2018 HEAV Convention

Simply post a comment about how you evaluate your children’s strengths and weaknesses!




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Finishing Strong! Evaluate Before You Plan (Free Evaluation Form Download)

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Before we can begin to plan for the next academic year, we first need to know how the current year went. Evaluation is an important part of any project and homeschooling is no exception. In this context, evaluation takes several forms:

  • Whatever form of evaluation needed to satisfy state homeschooling laws- this make take the form of standardized testing, a portfolio review, or a written progress report or report card. These forms of evaluation are important because they keep us in compliance with state laws, but they often are not that helpful as guides for future planning. They can even be misleading. Children don’t always test well even when they know the material and sometimes they test so well that the test can give an inflated idea of abilities (as when an 8 year old tests as reading at an 11th grade, 5th month level).
  • Some evaluation is informal- the child in question learned to read and completed their phonics curriculum. Good information to have and probably all that needs to be communicated to a grandparent or other concerned person, but not necessarily enough information to indicate what level the child should work at the following year, or where he or she might need additional practice.
  • Written evaluation of each child, for each subject as well as for behavioral or character goals (another post). I use this form? School-Year-Evaluation-Form.pdf (166 downloads) which you can download for your own use. I use one form for each child, briefly listing as points what went well and what was more difficult, or failed utterly!



Subjects are listed on the side and I write in my thoughts for each one.






A pattern emerges-

  • anything that requires holding a pencil in hand is harder for this student.
  • Math is going really well and should continue as is
  • I need to build time for lessons with me into the schedule for writing intensive subjects

I’ll do this four more times, then gather those results and start putting together a plan for 2018-2019!

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a Family Pass to the?2018 HEAV Convention!

Simply comment here on a success or a struggle from this past year to enter the giveaway. It ends next Tuesday, May 15th at midnight!

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Finishing Strong to Begin Again Strong!

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This kid is almost “done” for the summer! He has about ten pages of geography left and he took the book upstairs during quiet time so I’m thinking he’ll be done this week.

The others aren’t far behind him. Some subjects are done, others only have a tiny bit more to do. We’ve basically moved to our summer schedule of Morning Time, a few lessons, and household and yard projects in the morning and (hopefully) more “fun” stuff the rest of the day.

Next week I hope to give the house a good cleaning, put away most of the books and finish my evaluation of the past year.

In order to do that evaluation I’m spending some time with our assignment sheets from the past year, my bullet journals with their notes and ideas, my list of needed books ,and the websites of the vendors for the HEAV Convention!

With five children in varying levels from preschool to middle school (and one high school anatomy course) I want to be sure I’m not only covering the basics but setting my students up for high school and college.

Over the next weeks I’ll be posting a series (with helpful downloads) on how to evaluate and plan for a new homeschool year!


And as I usually do, I’m giving away a Family Pass to the 2018 HEAV Convention!

Simply comment here on what finishing strong means to you to enter the giveaway. It ends next Tuesday, May 15th at midnight!

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And It Was Summer (or at least time for a summer schedule)

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One of the things that I have learned about myself in eleven years of parenting, is that I am easily distracted and driven off on wild rabbit trails! Any time we have the opportunity to just let things go, I will take it, and I always regret the long term results. Summer is a prime example of this: my heart and mind say ” oh let everything ease up” and the result is chaos. Projects are started and abandoned, children forget the most basic rules, and September is a cruel wrench to everyone’s system.

A couple of years ago I was talking to my mother and discovered that she had the same problem when we were growing up. Anytime she just let things go how they would even the essentials were neglected and she was left feeling like she had done nothing because the dreams of accomplishment she had never turned into executable plans. She said, ” I found I had to schedule the “time off” because otherwise I couldn’t figure out which of the things I wanted to do, I should start with.”

Yup. Me too.

Each year since then, I’ve tried a bit harder to devise a “loose but productive” schedule for our “non-academically focused seasons”.

In Advent, we use the regular lesson hours for hand crafts and gift making. We create special memories as we enjoy the freedom to create within the structure of set hours for that kind of work.

Summer is similar.

I want to spend time enjoying the outdoors during the brief New England summer, yet we also have household projects and some lessons that need to continue lest skills grow rusty. These aims combined with the daily tasks that keep a busy household functioning are the functions that drive our schedule.

Recently I changed our major chore time from the end to the beginning of the day. This simple switch has made lessons and supper prep time more peaceful, so I’m going to keep that in place.

Morning Time is a good pause in our morning to gather, and learn together. We keep it simple: the children color or do a simple craft of their choosing while I read from a book of saints and a chapter of Proverbs. Let’s keep that too, but add in some singing practice and learning of hymns.

Everyone needs to keep up their math skills, so that will come next along with reading practice for the little boys, Anatomy for Mouse since she is enjoying the course so much, and art or a music lesson for those who are ready to learn and willing to practice. Perhaps an hour and a half of lessons on most days.

After that we are free to go visit friends, go to the creek where we like to swim, or go farther afield, perhaps returning in time for a nap for the toddler or staying out until supper time. Other days, we will work on household projects ( I have some bedrooms to paint and there is always yardwork) or do creative stuff at home.

I’m hoping to hire a mother’s helper one morning a week, so I can focus on some much needed office work, but otherwise our days should flow about like this for the most part. A related form to that of our school days but more relaxed and hopefully rejuvenating and refreshing to all.


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Finally! Nearing the End!

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Spring has sprung right into summer here in New England! Freezing weather last week and now the children are running around barefoot.

Lessons are nearly over for the “school year” and most days somebody is finished with a subject or two until fall.
I’m in the thick of my yearly wrap-up proceedures- making notes, filing finished work, pulling together the report card I send to the city, and best of all planning what we will do this summer and next year.

I’m making lists of books I need to purchase and books I can probably borrow from the library. I’m trying to remember to update my various computer files so that the next time I need a list of memory work for a 3rd grader I won’t have to hunt down poems! I’m sorting through my bins in the basement to see what I want to sell or give away to make room for new materials, and I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to do some important stuff like uodate this blog!

At this point I think we will be done with everything but math (and reading for the little boys) by the end of next week. I plan to continue math through the summer anyway- the boys are all on a roll with it, so I want to keep that momentum and Mouse is a bit behind where I’d like her to be do to my not realizing that she needed some attention training until a couple of months ago (she can do the work without much trouble but has a hard time staying focused).

Jack and Bull will finish their reading curricula this summer too. Bull because he’s about done with 3rd grade and I don’t typically do a reading curriculum in 4th grade so I want him to be finished, and Jack because he’s just about to really hit the “I can read everything” point and I want him to get there before starting 2nd grade. At this point it’s just a matter of learning a few more blends and phonograms and practicing every day. Doing a lesson a day in his book will get us there so, why not?

I’m planning for my annual trip to Virginia and the Home Educator’s Association Convention?as well as speaking at the Connecticut Homeschool Convention?on the topic of Managing Behavioral and Relationship Challenges with Neurotypical and Non-neurotypical Siblings.

All in all it looks like an exciting? (and busy) summer!

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Of Yearning and Discontent

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discontentThis first week of Lent has hit me hard.? I’m short tempered, discouraged and fairly certain that we are going to be going around in the same old circles for the next million years.

Rationally I know that’s really not the case, but between Lenten sacrifices, the tease of warm weather followed by snow and sleet, children who are ready to be done with every kind of work or responsibility and all the other stuff, I feel done and maybe even overdone.


Today, I’m sitting here drinking my tea (with no sugar because somehow I thought that would be a better Lenten family practice than giving up meat which makes my psoriasis flare) and realizing that somehow I picked Lenten sacrifices this year that all effect the little bits of space I give myself throughout the days. Not real smart.

My pot of tea morning and afternoon is still drinkable but sugar makes it a pleasure that relaxes for a sip or too. Choosing not to read fiction is something I’ve done before and find useful but at the end of the day when my mind is tired non-fiction can be more than I’m equipped to understand and requires attention and effort when I want to rest.

My soul is filled with longing for ease and tranquility, and when I look around I see clutter, quarreling and general discontent. I’m the captain of this ship called “Homelife” and I feel like we are in a fog on a rocky lee shore!

How to save it?

I’m trying lots of things that pull me towards the cure for discontent. As I tell the children “we get to make choices and we can decide what our reaction to circumstances is.”

Those choices aren’t always easy and sometimes (like today) I have to purpose to make the same choice again and again and again and again……..

Play some music

Speak kindly

Give a consequence for quarreling calmly and sweetly every time

Be consistent

Set an example

Give hugs

Stick to the plan


Say something funny to break the mood

Wrestle with the eight year old (he thinks its better than hugs)

Meal plan so the load of decision making doesn’t break your brain

Insist that jobs be done well

Call kids back to do jobs until they are done well

Have impromptu movie nights or lunch at Costco (lunch for 6 people for $11!)

Keep praying

Read Scripture

Pray some more- even without words

Remember that self-care is important

Be kind to myself and others

Refuse to accept a verdict on a day of “I didn’t get anything done”

Loving these people is DOING something

Try again tomorrow and the next minute and hour

Recognize and remind myself that discontent that leads to striving for godliness is a GOOD thing

Write things on the whiteboards and blackboards to remind us all of how we want to be

Yearn for spring.

It’s coming….

Even better Easter!

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In The Midst of Life…

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” In the midst of life, we are in death” says the Prayer Book.

About twice a month, S has a late night activity and I put the children to bed and indulge in watching a show. As you can imagine, I get through series very, very slowly, and I try to pick them carefully so I can savour them between episodes.

The past few months, I’ve been watching Poldark, the story of an eighteenth century gentleman in Cornwall. It is based on a series of novels and like many of the historical series from Masterpiece it does a good job of portraying life at that time in addition to telling a particular story.

A good series must involve a good bit of tragedy and Poldark is no exception. Cousins feud, people are arrested and jailed or hanged for what seem to us petty crimes, the poor are always on the brink of starvation. Diphtheria breaks out in the neighborhood and several people including Ross Poldark’s toddler daughter die. It would seem that life is hard and short and cold in 18th century England.

Yet this show affirms life again and again. People long for and work towards reconciliation. Poldark claims that he does not want another child, given his financial circumstances and the likelihood of some disease or fever killing his child. But listen to what he says when his wife tells him that they are expecting a new baby:




I wonder watching this whether the easiness of twenty-first century life hasn’t made life less precious to our perceptions. If our expectation that life will just sort of flow along hasn’t made us unwilling to do or affirm those things that might cause us to suffer or grieve.

The thing I think we have to do is accept that life is likely to knock us down at some point and prepare for those moments. Not in a fatalistic way, but in building up our hearts to live strongly whether we grieve or laugh.

This of course requires much grace and determination but if we are to live as people of hope then we must purpose to choose hope even in our hopelessness.


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,?we[a]?have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.?2?Through him we have also?obtained access by faith[b]?into this grace?in which we stand, and?we[c]?rejoice[d]?in hope of the glory of God.?3?Not only that, but we?rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering?produces endurance,?4?and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,?5?and?hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love?has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

?Romans 5:1-5
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Tot School and Kindergarten/First Grade

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Here we are, halfway through the school year and I’m just now writing? posts about what we are doing at the various levels!

I guess it’s been that kind of year- tremendous busyness with lessons at home, co-op, activities, and church responsibilities. I keep thinking I’ll get some writing done when things are quieter, but they don’t get quieter, so I’m just putting time aside to write.

Now that we’ve been here for a few years, I’ve finally gotten a good sense of how to use the spaces, and done some judicious discarding of furniture and so on and I feel like we are able to really have a learning environment that meets each child at their level.

For Daisy and Jack this means a corner in the living room, with alphabet cards and a low table where we can work together. The big world map is there too, and each of them has a set of six cubbies which I keep stocked with Montessori style work trays. Daisy’s are pretty standard toddler trays with an emphasis on hand-eye coordination, practical skills, and number work since she’s fascinated by that right now. She also has some little workbooks, and a tray for cutting and gluing. I print some materials for her as well, mostly things that look enough like what Jack is doing that she feels like she has “schoolwork”.


The workbooks she uses are from an Amish publisher and can be purchased from Rainbow Resource and are very simple, and designed to get her thinking about things like what colors objects should be and how to color in the lines and count. I’ve used them with all the older children and find they are both inexpensive and easy to use or set aside as the mood takes her.

Jack’s work is a little more complex since he is almost 6 and is in what I call his “learn to read year”.? As I’ve done with the other children, I’m using Rod and Staff’s excellent Bible Nurture and Reader Series for reading and phonics and he is coming along fairly well. I expect him to be reading independently by the end of the school year. The program uses a mixture of traditional phonics and sight words to get the children reading interesting stories (all drawn from the Bible) fairly quickly, which eliminates the trouble many new readers have of not being able to read anything that they? would actually LIKE to read!


For math we are finishing up the Reception Year of the Mathematics Enhancement Program (MEP)?and in another seven lessons we will move on to Book 1 of MEP.? He is super excited about moving into Book 1 since I had the pdf files printed and coil bound and his math book matches Bull’s (MEP Year 2).? We have also been doing some traywork with the Montessori Golden Bead materials which has been very helpful in his understanding of how numbers fit together and how to make teens and larger number from groups of tens and ones. I’ve given him two other math related trays this quarter: one with a number puzzle to cut and reassemble for the number families to 100, and one with a set of pattern blocks and cards with activities and pictures to make with them.

We are using a few of the Christian Light Education science units??partly for extra reading practice and partly because he is quite interested in nature (especially insects) and these books make it easy for me to feed his curiosity without having to assemble a bunch of resources on my own.

Handwriting is Handwriting Without Tears which is easy enough for him to do on his own and clear enough? that he can easily see how he should form his letters.

In addition, he does Memory work with the rest of the children- but shorter pieces, and listens and participates in our Catechism and Saints session at the start of the day.


Jack also takes four classes at our weekly co-op: Art, Gym, Science,and Music and Movement. He enjoys these and is clearly learning and can tell me about them.




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The Busy Toddler: Learns Math Skills

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Lately Daisy (AKA The Busy Toddler) has been fascinated by counting. She can say her numbers in order up to ten, but only has a concept of the amounts represented by the numbers up to about six.? Anything above that simply gets assigned a large sounding number (the current favorite is eleven thirty-two for some reason). She can count the fingers on one hand, but then begins again at one in order to count the other hand.

Pretty typical for this age, but I thought I’d add some pre-math learning into her day, in order to capitalize on her interest.



Here are her current works:

Domino matching: This is a great tactile and math exercise at this age. Our dominoes are porcelain so they are heavy and smooth, and make a satisfying click against each other.? They are color coded as well as patterned for the various numbers. At this point Daisy matches the colors to make her pattern, but her natural curiosity about counting will lead her to count the dots and she will begin to learn the number patterns as well.

This activity requires a good bid of concentration. She first has to set up her work space, then work with the dominoes, and then clean things up.

She does this work on her purple blanket which stays folded in a cabinet when not in use. In order to work, she first takes it out, and spreads it flat which takes some time as she is particular about it being flat and does not usually want any assistance.

She then takes the dominoes out of their drawer, opens the tin and dumps them on the mat to arrange and rearrange as long as she finds the work satisfying. Sometimes she will call me to see what she has done, but at other times she goes through the whole process from taking the blanket out; to putting the dominoes away and stuffing the blanket back in its cabinet (she can’t quite fold it yet) without any interaction with someone else. I try to leave her to work and to keep the other children from breaking her focus.

Skills learned: Following a process, matching of colors and eventually patterns, hand-eye coordination in placing the dominoes, attention to detail


Shape sorting: Working with representations of shaped objects (pictures of boxes, blocks, and balls for example) as well as with actual three dimensional shapes helps children to develop spatial relationship skills. Daisy loves to do puzzles and her shape ball and is now working with a tray of shape sorting pictures. Here she divides a pile of smaller images by sorting them according to the basic shape they show.

I made this tray with a printable file and am slowly introducing the concept by giving her just two shapes to sort by. Eventually I will give her the whole set of ten shapes and all the sorting pieces, but that would be overwhelming at this point.

You can find the printable file here at Mama’s Learning Corner

Skills learned:?visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination, sorting and categorizing


Pattern Block Puzzles:

These were a Christmas gift. I had seen them at a friend’s house a year or so ago, and found them on sale on Amazon. She loves them and when she has conquered them I have more advanced ones (currently on Jack’s shelves) for her to continue to learn with. I will probably also do some extension work with them by having her trace the shapes and so on as her writing abilities develop.



You can find them on Amazon:

Skills learned:?visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination, shape recognition



One-to-one Correspondence:?This tray is designed to help Daisy learn to associate the name of a number, a numeral, and an actual amount of something. I took me about five minutes to set up (Sharpie marker and post-its on a tray!) and she uses the counting chips to cover the dots while counting them aloud. I thought this one would be short lived but she comes back to is over and over, so it (or some version of it) will stay in the rotation for a while.

Skills learned:?counting objects, concepts of numbers, numeral recognition, hand-eye coordination

We will stick with these activities for a while, until it becomes clear that she is ready to move on to more complex concepts such as counting about five! I expect too that she will glean a good bit from Jack’s tray work as she loves to watch him work!

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The Busy Toddler: Cutting and Gluing Tray

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Daisy has discovered scissors and glue. ?In some ways this is my worst nightmare. Some of the children took a very long time to learn what they could and couldn’t cut and glue. In fact some of the older ones are still not very clear on this point. Still, it’s developmentally appropriate for Daisy to be learning to use scissors at 2.5 years so it’s up to me to figure out the best way to give her opportunities to learn not only how to use the tools in terms of technique but also the proper etiquette.


This year, we are doing lessons all over the downstairs ( which has made our days so much more peaceful!), and the younger two and I have a designated space for lessons. We have a low table and a set of cubbies for books and work trays. What could fit into this space better than a tray for cutting and gluing?

I had a drawer organizing tray that just wasn’t working in the drawer I had it in, so I cleaned it out and pressed it into service.


One thing I have learned after five toddlers using scissors is that it is much easier for them to cut if what they are cutting is a fairly small sheet. Therefore I stocked Daisy’s cutting tray with 1/3 sized sheets cut from printer paper, strips of cardstock, and circles,squares, and triangles cut from colored paper. There is paper for her to cut, or if she just wants to glue there are some loose parts ready for her.

Of course, the drawer organizer is too wide to fit in the cubbies (aargh!) so it has to sit on top of them. The scissors and glue stay in her school box for now and I put them in her tray when we begin lessons. I expect in a week or two, I’ll be able to leave them in the tray for her to use as she pleases. She is doing quite well with remembering to only cut and glue the things in the tray, and to sit while she has scissors in her hand.

Basic tray:

  • strips of cardstock
  • 1/3 sized sheets of printer paper (cut by folding a stack of paper into thirds and cutting it)
  • purple triangles and squares
  • brown circles
  • safety scissors
  • one glue stick (the kind that goes on purple and dries clear)


  • cut the larger pieces into smaller ones
  • glue colored paper pieces onto larger white pieces
  • cut the glued on papers back into bits
  • pick up and throw away scraps

Extensions: (Things I’ll add as she learns)

  • gluing shapes in particular places
  • cutting on lines and then gluing things
  • making patterns with shapes
  • making pictures with shapes

Daisy finds this tray to be very absorbing right now and will spend as much as 30 minutes cutting, gluing and throwing away scraps! This is a huge help when I am trying to teach something tricky to the other children as her level of attention to her own work means she is quiet and much less distracting! I love to watch her work and really appreciate the concept of trays helping her learn to keep her work space tidy.


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