The Busy Toddler: Learns Preschool Skills!

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Now that we have a week of school under our belts, I’m working on figuring out just what preschool skills I want Daisy (AKA The Busy Toddler) to learn!

After this many years of homeschooling with little children underfoot and “helping” I’ve finally learned that I need to have lesson plans for my littlest ones if they aren’t going to derail the older children’s lessons. Of course, when I say “lesson plans” I’m not necessarily talking about academics as much as I am thinking of an order and rhythm to her morning and something pre-planned so that I don’t have to stop the lesson I am teaching to think about what she should do next.

It’s lovely if she learns and since she spends a good bit of the five-year old, Jack’s, lesson time doing this:


I am sure she is going to absorb quite a bit!

I’m mostly talking about her learning to play by herself (hard when you are number five and there is always someone around for entertainment), and do some of the fine motor, pre-math, and pre-reading exercises that will make things easier for her in a year or two.

I also want her to feel included since we spend about half our day on lessons, and that shouldn’t mean that her age appropriate need for attention and interaction gets pushed aside.

Her morning looks something like this:


She sits at the dining room table with the rest of us for prayers and then moves with Jack and I to the child sized table in the living room, where we have lessons. She has her own workbox, which I restock with printables every week or so, and I try to give her the same kind of things in the same order every day.

He does reading and phonics while she does a dot marker page (all I’m concerned with right now is building the hand/eye coordination to accurately “hit the target”) and she joins us in figuring out which pictures start with whatever sound we are working on in his lesson. She doesn’t really know her sounds or even her letters (except for her first initial and those of the rest of the family) but she loves to throw away the pictures that we don’t need! Listening in like this will help her to build an understanding of letters and sounds going together.

If she gets bored she can move to her blanket- which is a prepared environment with books and toys that she enjoys and can play with on her own. Often she has her baby dolls and reads to them or some other small toy (animals, little people etc.) that we rotate every week or so. ?Blanket time usually lasts until we are done with phonics and reading and she joins us again for Science (Christian Light Publications First Grade Science) which I read aloud and ask Jack to answer questions. If there are questions that I think she can answer I will ask her (colors, shapes, what she can see in the room etc.) as this helps her to build observation and listening skills.

Then it’s break time and we get the first of her snacks!

When break is over, I try to do some specific lessons with her- matching of colors, counting, or color a picture while Jack does his handwriting or handwork. The ten minutes or so of my (mostly) full attention means she is willing to move to a less “mom attention” activity after a little bit.

So alternate among these kinds of activities throughout the morning. I may sit on the floor and do puzzles while giving a spelling test (as I did this morning) or she may just go from one activity to the other as her curiosity leads her.

One thing that has really helped with my ability to guide her mornings is learning to prepare a space that leads her into learning, and then step back and let her go from one thing to the next as long as she is using the materials appropriately. ?If I leave her alone (and she is well rested) she will generally work on her stuff with my input being limited to taking things out as she requests them (I don’t have space for access to everything), and reminding her of things like how to hold scissors, or the rules for what she may and may not cut! After about 40 minutes she needs a snack and a drink and then can work and/or play with Jack when he finishes for another 30-40 minutes. Then another snack and drink, some snuggles while I work with someone else and she is usually ready for one more bit of work before she is done and needs lunch and a nap.

I am trying hard this year to keep the Montessori concept of the “three hour work cycle” in my head and to remember that her will cycling through her works does not mean that she is bored with them, but rather that she is responding to her curiosity as it leads her to discover and attempt to relate various skills or bits of knowledge.

Her six top skills to master this year are:

  1. Using an inside voice instead of yelling, and being quiet when someone else is talking
  2. Using scissors
  3. Improving hand-eye coordination
  4. Knowing her colors and sorting things by color
  5. Counting objects to ten
  6. Waiting her turn when she wants what someone else has

Her daily rhythm should gently lead her in those directions.

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The Sweetness of Leisure

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leisure is the reward of virtue

I am attempting to have an “office day” today. I have some work and planning I need to catch up on, the toddler slept badly last night, and spring allergies are kicking my butt! As long as the children can play nicely they can have a holiday from lessons this morning.

Since it’s summer I’ve been trying to implement a few changes to chores and projects around the house. I find it easier to do that when we aren’t doing full on school and school year activities and by fall the routines should be established.

A few months ago Lynna Sutherland over at Homeschooling Without Training Wheels??mentioned a chore app she was using with her family?. I messaged back and forth with her about it and it sounded like a great thing for teaching the kids to be self- motivated about getting their routine work done.

I downloaded it and set it up for the three big kids. They did really like it and were motivated to do their jobs without my having to tell them, but with only one Kindle I found that interacting with the app was tricky (they can’t access the Kindle unless I log them in). Plus I was experimenting to see if I could use it help with some behavior modification (having kids check off as a “job” whether or not they had made a smooth transition from one part of the day to another- a place where we often have difficulties) and that wasn’t working at all.

But the kids really liked it and kept begging to use it.

After thinking about it for some time, I decided that the thing to do was to simplify and only use Chore Monster?for ?daily jobs for each child. ?At the same time I updated our daily job roster since Jack is now five and has regular chores rather than being an assistant to me or an older child or playing during job time.

I decided to give each child a number of daily jobs corresponding to their age:


  1. load dishwasher
  2. unload dishwasher
  3. clear/wipe counters
  4. set out breakfast (I list on the whiteboard what he is to put out)
  5. clear away breakfast and get out the stuff for Morning Time
  6. sweep bathrooms
  7. make bed
  8. tidy room
  9. take out recycling
  10. wash 3 big dishes/6 smaller ones/ or all the silverware (basically the stuff that doesn’t fit in the dishwasher)


  1. clean the living room
  2. clear table from lessons
  3. set out lunch (and often choose what we’re having, I’m planning to work with her on meal planning this summer)
  4. tidy/sweep the shoe closet
  5. set-up and put away the chairs, songbooks and papers from Morning Prayer
  6. make bed
  7. tidy bedroom
  8. wipe the bathroom sinks
  9. clear the supper table (the big three clear their own places plus one other so she just has to get what’s left)


  1. laundry- collect/run/bring up for me to fold
  2. sweep the two sets of stairs in the house
  3. make bed
  4. tidy room
  5. clear/wipe lunch table
  6. pick up outside toys and bikes
  7. tidy the “library” ( a section of the basement where we keep the children’s books)


  1. clean up the shoes/boots/rollerblades etc.
  2. take out the compost
  3. take out the bathroom trash and any other full cans
  4. set the table for supper (an important job for pre-reading skills)
  5. tidy his room after nap time

These jobs are all assigned points in the app and the children can check them off for me to inspect and approve. They receive points for jobs well done and jobs that don’t pass go back into their queue. Points can be used to redeem rewards like staying up until 8 pm etc.

In order to get around the “only one device” problem, I’ve made little lists for each child to use for reference if the app isn’t available.

I try not to say much beyond a casual “Have you done your chores?” hoping that the lesson of doing good work resulting in leisure time will develop naturally.

There is a great deal of learning to be done in this area. The children don’t easily see the connection between doing their lessons and chores well and having time to read, or follow their own pursuits. It’s normal to miss that connection (I miss it frequently myself) but I want them to see it and to pursue the rewards of diligence and application. We are raising adults here and the skills and habits of character I want them to have as adults are being built now. Self-discipline is hard but the fruits are sweet.

Want to learn more about teaching children? Enter the giveaway to win a Family Pass to the 2017 HEAV Convention.



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Some Days Just Are

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These words may have escaped my lips this morning.

Actually one child was already in his room for the third time- banished for an excessive lack of courtesy towards the other students who didn’t really appreciate him waving his hands in their faces and singing loud nonsense songs as he reached for a sharper pencil.

With five children ages 10-2 I expect a certain amount of noise and confusion. New things, changes in routine, or new topics of interest do (and to some extent should) elicit lots of questions, requests for clarification and so on.

But today was a typical day. No deviations from the established routine, and yet every (it seemed) interaction between the children either started or ended with bickering or someone minding someone else’s business!

My attention was divided too- the toddler is getting molars and weaning simultaneously and IS NOT A HAPPY CAMPER. Various attempts to distract her with snacks and a new sensory bin had failed miserably (although the five year old was happy to ditch his lessons in favor of the sensory bin!) and she just wanted to sit on my lap and howl; “Papa is at his office with purple chairs! I want to go with him!”

The final huffy exchange between the biggest kids over whether one of them had touched the other one’s work was the last straw! It was either send everyone to solitary confinement or really lose my cool (which had been slipping all morning).

OK. Everyone gets some cool down time. I comfort (but do not nurse ) the toddler. Call the big three down one at a time for a discussion of how each individually is contributing to the chaos and strife today and what they each need to change.

Clean up the school stuff. Move on to housecleaning rotations?paying particular attention to children working at their own tasks without commenting or otherwise minding someone else’s job. Step in quickly to stop the bossiness before it gets off the ground (I think I’m retraining a bad habit right now, so I’m redirecting but not giving consequences for the next couple of days, until they learn to recognize what they are doing.)

Lunch with a strict injunction against speaking during lunch since children who quarrel with each other about everything need to learn to ignore or accept their siblings table manners without yelling at them or correcting them- this is what we call a “Trappist Monk Lunch”.

Put the toddler to bed, lie down for twenty minutes myself after I eat my own lunch and catch up on Instagram.

In a few minutes we’ll get up from naps and see if everyone is ready to work together to get us out the door to the library for chess and new books…..

Some days are just this way. Too many sinners in a house all busy sinning as hard as we can. We hurt each other. We quarrel, we say rude things, we yell, and we pout. But grace leans in and brings us the chance to make amends. The chance to really forgive, to really overlook that super annoying sibling, to bless instead of curse.

To, slowly, so very slowly, climb the mountain to holiness.

These days encourage me. Not because of the progress we’ve made but because of the grace we receive.


Don’t forget to go here and enter the contest for a Family Pass to the HEAV Convention in just a few short weeks!



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The British Are Coming! (Win a Pass to the HEAV Convention!)

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We took a trip to Boston, this past week. ?Since we’re on our summer schedule (two hours of schoolwork, two hours of household work and projects, and free time and expeditions for the rest of the day), I’m trying to do some of the field trips for next year’s History studies. ?We don’t really like to go anywhere when the weather is crummy in the winter, so summer is the time to gather experiences.

Anyway, taking five children to the big city is a bit daunting, so S took a day off of work to come with us since he had been to Boston and seen many of the sites.

The big three have read about Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty so they were all excited to see some of the place where their books had taken place.

This is pretty typical of an expedition that includes Bull! Everyone else stands around in a boring manner and he brings the excitement!

This is pretty typical of an expedition that includes Bull! Everyone else stands around in a boring manner and he brings the excitement!

Jack and Daisy were thrilled to be going to the Public Gardens to see the Mallards and the Swan Boats. Since this was the week between their birthdays, we took a ride on the Swan Boat.

Asking the driver how she steers and propels the boat.

Asking the driver how she steers and propels the boat.



There were plenty of mallards, a pair of swans, and a nesting Canada Goose on the pond.

There were plenty of mallards, a pair of swans, and a nesting Canada Goose on the pond.


We spent about five hours tramping around the city, although we did take the metro at one point in order to save Jack’s legs which were getting tired. His siblings were pretty willing to carry him for a bit too.


This trip was not only a chance to see Boston but also a bit of a dry run for the field trips I’m planning when we travel to Virginia for the HEAV Homeschool Convention in just a few weeks. Since we’ll be in an area where so much Revolutionary and Civil War history is preserved I’m planning several days of visits to historical sites.

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


Here’s how to enter:

1. Comment on this post with an idea for a field trip near Richmond or Williamsburg.
2. Like the Facebook page for Sticks, Stones, and Chicken Bones and comment there with a field trip idea.
3. Join the Facebook Group for Sticks, Stones, and Chicken Bones and leave a field trip idea in the group

I’ll keep track of the likes etc. and Daisy will pull a name out of a hat on May 25th! Good luck!

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Co-ops: An Important Piece of Your Homeschool Puzzle! Interview with Pat Wesolowski

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Pat Wesolowski is an author, speaker, and homeschooling mother of nine who is now the homeschool specialist at Bryan College in Dayton, TN. Pat is the host of a podcast entitled ?Homeschooling Co-op Style.? She has homeschooled her nine children for the past 30+ years (with one left to graduate from high school). Pat has a heart for helping parents prepare their teens for life after high school and, for that reason, loves teaching workshops in order to encourage and equip homeschooling parents and students for a fun and successful homeschool experience. ?(from the HEAV Convention Speakers Page)

She is an expert on co-ops and is going to be speaking about them at convention. We “spoke” via email.








Sticks, Stones, and Chicken Bones (SSCB): Why did you decide to get involved in co-ops? ?

Right after I decided to homeschool a friend invited our family to join a co-op on native Americans. ?This was a unit-study style co-op and one that included children of various ages, studying together, and the moms all stayed to take part in the co-op. ?We loved, loved, loved it for many reasons. ?For one thing, the children were assigned to give a presentation each week. ?They learned how to speak well in front of a safe and friendly audience, enabling them to never develop a fear of public speaking! ?The moms shared the workload and we enjoyed socializing just as much as our children did. ?After that wonderful experience we were sold on homeschooling co-op style and I ended up organizing many, many co-ops over the next 30 + years of homeschooling.

SSCB: What benefits did you see for your children?

?So many benefits. ?As mentioned above, they grew up giving public presentations so they did not develop a fear of speaking in public. ?They enjoyed getting together with friends and they were motivated to do their work well. ?Learning alongside children of various ages was also very beneficial. ?The older children came alongside and helped the younger children. ?Once the older children were old enough to teach and lead, they did!

SSCB: What benefits did you find for yourself? ?

Sharing the workload was huge! ?Being a part of my children?s presentations and watching them learn was always such a blessing. ?Planning for co-op, because my children loved the experience, made my job easier! ?They were motivated to get their work done and to do it well. ?The students usually ?raised the bar? which relieved the parents of having to nag our students to do their work well. ?

SSCB: I think people are often nervous or afraid that participating in a co-op will make them look like bad parents or educators because of the ways their children behave or because they are ?behind? in some area: how can co-op organizers and leaders address those fears? ?

I could respond to this and write pages and pages. ?One of the huge concerns I see among homeschooling moms is the fear of getting behind. ?I would love to snap my fingers and dispel that fear. ?In our home we were determined to help our children love learning and then equip them with the skills necessary to be independent learners. ?That way, should we leave anything out that they needed, they could find it themselves. ?We taught them to memorize this answer when they were asked for information they did not know, ?I haven?t needed that information up until now. ?I know how to find the answer. ?Would you like me to look that up and get back with you?? ?Besides, if your child was ?behind? in one area or another, it does not take long to be intentional about pursuing a solution to that situation so they can ?catch up? if that is a concern.

SSCB: Sometimes another parent or a teacher will observe an area of concern with a student. Do you have suggestions on how this should be handled? ?

??I would suggest the parent making the observation pray about the situation and then come to the student?s parent privately to express those concerns. ?After that, unless the student?s behavior is disruptive to the co-op, I would leave it there. ?If behavior is disruptive to the co-op, then the parents should meet together to discuss a solution.

SSCB:?One of the ?problems? at our organizing meetings (parent taught, co-operative, academic style co-op) is all of the good ideas that we inspire in each other. We could easily have fifty classes a year if we implemented all of them! What are some ways to keep a co-op on vision when the ideas start to fly? ?

We limit our ideas to a unit of study per co-op and then let the creative ideas fly when planning the classes. ?The unit is chosen by the one organizing or by a consensus of the families involved. ?We have done co-ops on a myriad of studies including the following: ?American Girl, Magic School Bus, The Civil War, Top Ten Wars, Geography, The Scopes Trial, A Search for Truth, Inventions and Inventors, Missions, Vocations and Callings, The Medieval Period, Persuasive Speech, Famous People, Top Ten Lists, Cross Cultural Cruise, Worldviews, and more!

SSCB: Often homeschooling organizations are wonderful in the first generation, but fail or peter out once the original founders grow weary or move on. How can leaders help new members find their place in building the group/co-op? ?

Have them come and observe or take part in a co-op. ?It?s easy to fall in love with homeschooling co-op style once you give it a try. ?We have a guide for starting a successful co-op. ?It used to be called ?Co-oping for Cowards? because we found so many moms were afraid to give co-oping a try. ?Now it?s called ?Better Together.? ?There are so many different types of co-ops and hybrid opportunities available these days that a parent can usually visit, observe, and decide which situation best fits their family?s needs. ?I hosted a podcast for a year and the talks have been archived and are free to listen to on-line. ?They are found at this link: ? ?I also have a Facebook page for homeschooling co-op style: ?


My own question ?. So, if you homeschool co-op style, using unit studies, how do you put together a transcript for high school students? ?My children were always surprised to see the subjects I included on their transcripts because we did not segregate and separate most subjects (math being an exception). ?However, because we did study unit study style, these classes were almost always included in our co-op studies: ?English, research, public speaking, writing, history, geography, science, debate, Bible, character, logic, character, and current events. ?Many co-ops included different subjects, also integrated into the unit study (leadership, conflict resolution, etc.) ?I have put together a free resource for parents of high school students in order to help parents prepare their students for life after high school. ?It can be downloaded at this link: ? ???When doing research for this publication I discovered that parents are free to design their student?s high school years according to what best prepares them for their future plans (whether college, career, vocation, etc.). ?There are no set ?laws? regarding what subjects we are to teach. ?This frees a parent to help plan their student?s high school years in a way that best prepares for his/her future!
I love to teach workshops on co-oping (and more) and would be glad to send a bio and list of workshops to those interested in getting together. ?I will be at several homeschool conventions this year. ?Email me for a list if interested. ?Thanks so much! ??

SSCB: As a co-op organizer myself, I am really looking forward to your workshop at the convention- provided the toddler cooperates! Thank you so much for “speaking” with me.

To learn more about the Home Educators Association of Virginia and the Annual Convention please visit ?



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Short Lessons or Why We Do Almost Everything Twice!

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Short Lessons Charlotte Mason


This past summer I did a bunch of reading on various educational approaches. Partly because I find that kind of thing interesting, and partly because I am ALWAYS having to tweak my approach to allow for bigger kids, noisier toddlers, more extra-curricular activities or less patience or something on my part.

One of the educators I read was Charlotte Mason and (while I think that like most of the educational theorists of her time she was rather optimistic in her understanding of how children acquire knowledge) I did find her idea of the “short lesson” rather intriguing.

I have a short attention span and find working at the same subject for forty minutes quite tiring and when I realized that in a forty minute “math” period we were actually only getting thirty minutes of work done due to the afore-mentioned toddlers etc. it seemed logical to give “short lessons” a shot.

This is what our morning is supposed to look like:

Morning Schedule / Rhythm

Time Minutes Task T W T F J and M
7:30 10 Rosary
7:40 10 1 page copywork Stickers/Cutting
7:50 20 Maps for one chapter SOTW Color /Spelling
8:10 20 French (Big 2) W Reading and Spelling With Me
8:30 30 Math Sensorial
9:00 10 Break – snack and five minutes of movement Break
9:10 20 Latin one worksheet ?(or Memory) Sensorial
9:30 20 Science- work on outline ?(W Spelling/Call) With Me
9:50 20 History -oral review or outline Provocation
10:10 20 Break: Snack and ten- fifteen minutes of movement Break
10:30 30 Math Sensorial
11:00 20 Science Outline Math
11:20 20 History Maps or Outline Snack
11:40 20 Clean -up and Jobs Clean-up

I have checkboxes for each day we do school and scheduled activities for the younger two, so that they aren’t lost and wandering around causing chaos (they do anyway but pre-planning helps quite a bit).

I print one copy of this for each of the big three with their weekly assignments on the other side. Buggle and Mouse’s look like this:

Assignments for the Week March 27-31, ?2017

Subject Mon ?27 Tues ??28 Wednesday ?29 Thursday ?30 Friday ??31
Morning Time
Latin Chant CD

Review Chapter 10

Chant CD

Review Chapter 10

Chant CD


Chant CD
Science Notebook/


At Nap time

Perch Dissection Write-Up Perch Dissection Write-up Go over and correct Falcon and Perch Papers Paper corrections
Flashcards everyday
Chant CD

Chapitre 8 and 9

Chant CD

Chapitre 10 and 11

Chant CD

Chapitre 12 and 13

Chant CD

Chapitre 14 and 15

Math As marked As marked As marked
Essay Maps and Outline Maps and Outline Maps and Outline
History Notebook/


SOTW 31-33 History from the library History from the library Finish Maps during Naptime

And Bull’s looks like this:

Assignments for the week of March 27-31, 2017

Subject Mon ?27 Tues ??28 Wednesday 29 Thursday ?30 Friday ??31
Morning Time

Memory, Copywork,

Science Notebook/


Review Latin w/Mom through Chap 15 Latin Vocabulary and CD, Homework


Latin Vocabulary and CD, Homework


Latin Vocabulary and CD


Nature Study




R 16, 17

P 16,17

C 5

R 18,19

P 18,19

C 5

R 20,21

P 20,21

C 5

R 22,23

P 22,23

C 5

History Notebook Update your notebook Update your notebook Update your notebook
History Reading SOTW 31,32,33 History books from the library History books from the library
Math Khan Academy Khan Academy Life of Fred


Khan Academy

I also print a full set for myself so I have place to keep track of what went well, what didn’t, who had meltdowns over what, and so on.

Then I make liberal use of the timer on my phone, setting it for the length of the lesson, and giving everyone a minute or two to finish their thought or current problem at the end of the period. ?I announce the lesson, tell the children who I’m working with, and try hard not to answer questions from anyone else. They work on lessons with me or independently and simply pick up where they last left off.

I’ve had to tweak things a bit as we often don’t really get started until 7:45 (fifteen minutes “late”) and it took me a bit to figure out how long was really reasonable for certain subjects (which determines whether or not they get two periods or one).

In general, the system works pretty smoothly. The children usually feel like they are making forward progress and this helps them want to make more progress. Even in rough weeks, I don’t worry too much as I know that we can simply pick up and do a bit more at the next period and get back on track.

I’ve also found that presenting material in one period, and then practicing it a few periods later helps with retention as the facts have gotten the chance to move out of short term memory while the children were thinking about something else.

It’s not a perfect system, but it works fairly well for us, and has definitely made our school days more pleasant and more effective.


Charlotte Mason short lessons



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I’m Glad Convention Season is Coming!

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Finishing strong



The last few weeks have been rough! Time change, sick littles, a major reorganization project in order to give the biggest boy his own room (which meant turning the schoolroom into the master bedroom, moving school to the main floor (where we mostly did school anyway since the toddler and schoolroom weren’t very compatible)). Change and perceived uncertainty nearly always produce a behavioral response and we’ve been battling bad attitudes and dawdling every day.

I’m tired. And I’m counting the days left for co-op meetings and our swim and gym class as I want to be done with school and know that having the day and half that those (good) activities take will do much towards moving us along to the finish line! Understand that I love those activities. I love the opportunity to teach youngsters who aren’t my own. I love watching the dynamics of a class come together and seeing kids turn into a team. But I am tired and I want to be finished. Some days I want to be finished with homeschooling altogether.

Thankfully convention season is coming and along with the anticipated event itself come the blog posts promoting different speakers and products.

Now, I’m not terribly fond of promoting things on blogs or reading blogs that do a bunch of sales and promotions. I think that doing a lot of salesmanship and promotion tends to makes recommendations unreliable. Personally I do one bit of promotion every year – for the Home Educators Association of Virginia’s Convention because I have been attending that convention for many years and find it extremely helpful and encouraging.


I’m glad to see at least some of the promotional stuff filling my newsfeed- because it helps to keep me going in this last bit of winter school. I keep a running list during the year of my ideas for next year or things that I think would be fun if we could fit them in. ?As new curricula pop up I read reviews and try to figure out if they would fill a hole or enable us to do more learning across the whole family. Seeing other people excited about what’s coming up helps me to also be encouraged and excited about finishing this year’s main work, doing some fun things over the summer, and jumping back in in the fall.

Here are some things I’m thinking about:

Summer 2017

Typing for the three eldest using Typing Without Tears Online over the summer. Typing is a skill that they will use all their lives and getting it into their muscle memory will make them faster and more accurate over the long run. I am also seeing some places where typing instead of handwriting things would remove a level of frustration for at least one of my students, but we don’t really have time for typing lessons during the school year.

Math Everyone continues with about 30 minutes of math over the summer- either with MEP or with Khan Academy. The children get rusty otherwise and it is a good mental discipline.

Art I bought the full set of See the Light??Art Lessons a few years ago and while we’ve done some of them on sick days, I haven’t been able to work them into our daily routine. I’m working out a schedule to complete the series this summer as some basic drawing skills will really help the children with their science and history studies in the fall.

Nature Study Winter in New England isn’t the best time for nature study and journaling so I’ll be adding that into our daily/weekly routines as well. We have some wonderful nature journals and coloring books that can be used as field guides if colored properly and I’m thinking to put together a “naturalist’s field bag” to carry in the car, along with our extra clothes (because you never know where you’ll find a creek to wade in) and other summer gear.

I’m also working on lining up crafting and other making opportunities (treehouse in the backyard finally!) and a couple of day camps for each of the children. My aim is to put together a fun and stimulating summer that will have us ready to jump back into academics in the fall!


Finish Strong Pinterest


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Easy, Gentle Writing Lessons For Young Students

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Gentle easy writing lessons

The two subjects that seem to strike the most fear in the hearts of homeschool parents are math and writing! There is tremendous pressure to have students perform well in these two subjects and parents often feel that they, themselves are inadequate mathematicians and writers. How are they supposed to teach what they don’t actually know?

There are numerous approaches to both subjects but I would like to look particularly at the teaching of writing skills in the next several weeks (and will perhaps look at math skills at a later date).


Writing is Communication

Every time a student puts pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard they are preparing to communicate something. It may be simple math facts or a complex argument about world economies but the purpose of written language is to enable different people to read, comprehend, and internalize (learn) information. Even imaginative fiction communicates information as authors seek to explore the human spirit and discover whether the setting or shared human nature determines the actions of the characters. This communicative nature of the written word means that we should first look at how children verbally communicate before asking them to add the skills of writing, spelling, and composition to the process.


Verbal communication sets the stage for later written communication

Long before a child puts pencil to paper they are already assembling the tools needed to be a successful writer! When the excited toddler runs up crying ” Baby, fall!” she is telling a story and communicating a narrative although she needs to add to her vocabulary and understanding of grammar. When parents respond to this “story” with their own communication, “What happened? Did you bump your head?” they are helping her begin to understand how to assemble a narrative.

Similarly when preschool aged children begin the (often wearying) series of “why” questions, the way that parents answer can help them begin to understand how to logically explain something. Not only do parents need to ask “Why do you think …..?” but they also need to ask questions of their child in order to encourage them to move logically from the facts they know to the facts they can infer.

Throughout the early years children not only need to be exposed to good verbal communication in many forms- read aloud books, stories told aloud, conversation, and answered questions they also need to be encouraged to make their own narratives with such questions as “Tell me about your day.” “What game are you playing?” and so on.

Parents should also note that they are modeling communication when they speak with their children directly and when the children are listening to adult conversation and many of the strengths and weaknesses they observe will be imitated.

Formal Narration For Five to Seven Year Olds

Once the children have started learning to read and write the question of getting them to write down their answers and learn how to construct paragraphs and coherent narratives naturally arises in the parent’s mind. Writing is clearly a good partner to reading and the child is given many opportunities to record his or her answers to questions, or to record experiences in written form. Often times tears and frustration on the parts of all parties are the result and the parent is led to conclude “my child can’t write”.

You are correct. ?Your child probably can’t write. They can tell you a narrative of some kind but they have not yet become comfortable with all that goes into writing down their narrative and they are not ?ready to be set before a blank piece of paper and bidden “Write.”

As with all other subjects the place to begin is with what the child already knows and can do. Formalizing and strengthening existing skills will lead naturally to their growth in new areas. Formal narration is the first step to strong writing.

In the beginning I like to include some action with the narration. I find that providing the child with pieces to help the story along and “jog” his memory leads naturally to drawing parts of the story and then writing them down. As you can see I write all along and gradually hand off more and more of the writing to the child.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff


I like to begin with a familiar story. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is ideal since it contains both a clear flow from beginning to end, and is repetitive enough to allow the child to practice getting all the details into a story without having to learn multiple sets of details.

I give the child (this is Bull at five years old) a tray with some props for the story- green felt for grass, blue felt for the stream, a block bridge, Lego figure for the troll, and three goats from our collection of animals.

I then tell the story, marching the goats across the bridge and bringing the troll up at the appropriate times.

Afterwards I restore all the figures to original position and ask the student to tell the story. Sometimes he needs some prompting, but other times the action of marching the figures to and fro helps to remind him of the important actions and flow of the narrative.

Then we put the tray away.

The next day, I ask him to tell me the story again, but this time I write down the first part of the story. We repeat the story telling with my writing until the whole story has been written down for him to read. ?I like to do this in a “story writing” journal that has space for the student to draw pictures.

We may repeat this step with several stories, until he is comfortable with telling a story with several parts, or if this has gone smoothly we may move on.

Writing Things Down On Their Own

Once the narrate back to Mom, Mom writes things down, and the student reads it back and illustrates it has become a smooth process, we are ready to introduce the idea of doing the writing himself.

As additional preparation for this step, I have the student spend time practicing handwriting and will often take oral answers to questions in other subjects, write the answers in highlighter in his book and have the student trace the answer.

Now when he listens to me tell a story or read something simple aloud I will ask him to write down one thing that he thinks is important or remembers. I don’t worry if he comes up with something that isn’t actually that important (learning to listen well is a related but different skill), I just want him to give me something that he heard and remembers, even if it is only one word.

At this point I either don’t worry too much about spelling, or simply spell the words for him. I’ll start asking for sentences instead of words and model the kinds of answers that are complete sentences by repeating and elaborating on what he has said:

“Who was Daniel Boone?”

“A trapper.”

“What else did he do? Why do we remember him?”

“He explored the wilderness.”

“So put those things into a sentence. Daniel Boone….”

“Daniel Boone was a trapper who explored the wilderness.”

“Now let’s write that in your notebook, do you need me to spell anything?”

By the end of the early elementary years, the student has usually gotten impatient with waiting for me to spell things and will take the pencil and attempt the work himself. This is satisfactory for an early elementary grade student and we will build on it in the next few years until he is comfortably composing and writing several paragraphs at a time.

A Note on Corrections and Grading

In the early years, I only give a grade or keep a record of completion of assignments. I don’t take points for bad spelling, or grammar mistakes (capitalization, punctuation etc.). I will erase and have students correct the mistakes.

I do make students do work over if it is deliberately messily done. I also don’t accept papers that have doodles on them as I feel like part of the point of the assignment is to learn to do work that is pleasing to the eye as well as expressing the thought.


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Kitchen Kids: Bull Makes Pasta Sauce

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Since Bull is only seven he’s not quite as adept in the kitchen as the older children. He still loves to cook though, so Tuesday nights have been designated as the time for the little boys to assist with making dinner while the big kids are at choir practice.

I try to concentrate on having them each prepare one dish: Bull usually does some component of the main dish while Jack is working on perfecting his salad making and roll shaping skills.

The Menu:

  • Pasta with Tomato Sauce
  • Salad
  • Rolls

The Recipes:

Pasta Sauce:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 T parsley
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

Fry the meat until brown, drain fat (I usually do this as I’m not sure he has the dexterity to handle a hot pan and a spoonful of hot fat), and stir in the spices. Add the can of tomato and turn to low heat and let simmer until ready to serve. Makes enough for a pound to a pound and half of pasta.


1 head of iceberg or romaine (I prefer iceberg for a new salad maker as it’s easier to break)

1 cucumber (he peels it with the potato peeler, I cut it in half longways so it won’t roll, and he slices it)


We add other vegetables (in the winter usually radishes and carrots) as we have them, my grocery list usually just says “salad stuff” and I buy whatever is on sale that week.


The children just form the rolls from the dough that S or I have made up ahead of time.?I will probably teach one of the big children how to do this step sometime this spring.

The Results:

Bull is able to cook the sauce by himself, with me in the kitchen to make sure he is observing safety rules. I’m trying to teach him to pay attention to things like where his pot handle is while he’s frying meat, and to work on measuring accurately and clean up after himself by putting his spices away as he uses them. He is starting a notebook with recipes that he can make written down in them, which he thinks is really neat.

Pasta with tomato sauce is always popular here so I’m looking forward to having another cook who can make it!





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Kitchen Kids: Mouse Cooks Honey Mustard Chicken

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This January when I sat down to do some planning for the next semester I decided that I needed to just schedule some things that I kept aspiring to but never accomplishing!

One of these was to have the children help in the kitchen more and particularly to get the older actually cooking a meal on a regular basis. ?When I made my menus, I planned with that goal in mind scheduling one big kid to cook supper each Wednesday.

In the past I’ve tried to have someone help every night and have quickly stopped having anyone help due to the quarreling over whose night was whose etc. This new schedule of having the little boys help on Tuesdays when the bigger two are at choir practice and one big kid cook on Wednesday has worked much better. I get one day to cook myself (Monday), Thursday is for leftovers, and S cooks Friday (he’s better at fish and vegetarian cooking than I am) and on the weekends (as has been our practice since marriage).

I’m trying to have the older children cook the same two meals for several months and build up a repertoire of meals they can prepare from start to finish. Their birthdays are coming and I am planning to give them special notebooks to use for recording their recipes.

Two weeks ago Mouse had the chance to cook Honey Mustard Chicken…


The Menu:

  • Honey Mustard Chicken
  • Green Beans
  • Rice
  • Salad

The Recipes:

Honey Mustard Chicken:


  • Four Chicken Leg Quarters- thawed
  • Spicy Homemade Honey Mustard (basically something on the heat level of Grey Poupon, mixed about half and half with brown sugar or honey)
  • Brown Sugar
  • White Vinegar
  • Salt

Mix together 1/4 cup mustard, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3 tsp salt, and 2 T white vinegar. Place the chicken in a glass baking dish. Pour the mixture over and turn the pieces of chicken several times to coat them well. ?Bake at 375? F for 35-45 minutes or until browned outside and fork tender.

Green Beans:


  • 2 Pounds frozen cut green beans
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pour olive oil into a heavy skillet and heat over medium heat, add slivers of pealed garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant. Add the frozen green beans and stir until they are well coated with oil and garlic. Add a 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water, cover and turn down to low heat. Cook until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Results:



Mouse fixed the whole meal, with very little input from me. I checked in with her from time to time, to make sure she was keeping the project moving along, and stood by to assist while she made the green beans as it was a new technique for her. She took a good bit longer than I would have but supper was only about 15 minutes late so that wasn’t too bad.

This is always a popular meal round here. The children make “sushi” by wrapping bits of chicken skin around rice and vegetables. ?All of the chicken, rice and salad was eaten and enough green beans were left to make a nice snack for Daisy the next day.

I will have her make this meal again to improve her speed and technique.






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