York Swirls

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our New School Room

In the last year, we have settled into the new reality of the housing market.  After 10 years in our home, we may actually be able to break even.  Sad, I know.  Rather than sitting around moping, I finally decided to be proactive about this.  I'm tired of setting up my home for some future hypothetical sale.  I want to use my home for my family.  With that motivation and with the addition of 2 more "students" at the homeschool table, I finally decided to move away from the kitchen table and use our dining room for our homeschool room.  Yes, the dining room table is still there, but it is covered by a couple tablecloths to be a buffer against the regular use.  I've been wanting to do this for years.  It's a gigantic statement, "Yes, we're homeschoolers and we love it!"   Hope you like the changes.

The Whole Room

Our Calendar Board

Our Morning Routine is almost entirely contained on this wall.

What's a homeschool room without a cute baby?

Our computer area for typing, math, art, music and downloading pre-K packets.

Our curriculum and binder shelves (unfiled school papers included).

Our Pre-K manipulative corner.  We keep items that we can recycle into craft projects here, too.

Our Pre-K packets, stencils and tangrams.

Our Kid of the Day and Kid of the Month schedule and rules.

Our white board for Sequential Spelling, Sonlight timeline items and Sonlight geography.

Our new wall maps.  Hooray!

Happy Homeschooling this year!

Sweet Blessings,

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why this curriculum?

When I was first introduced to homeschooling, I read up on the homeschool philosphy of Charlotte Mason.  I loved her emphasis on living books and learning through experience.  My husband and I both hated the textbook teaching we got in the public schools.  We got excellent grades, but were bored to death.  The learning moments that I cherish most from my public school years almost always involved classic literature and hands-on teaching.  So, I  knew that was what I wanted for our homeschool. 
I have been aware of Sonlight for years.  Their emphasis on learning history through literature, using read-alouds and plenty of exciting independent reading really appealed to me.  Not only that, they incorporated comprehension questions, timelines, poetry, bible study and geography into their core studies.  All of it was neatly parceled out into an instructors manual that told you what you had to accomplish each day.  I had a horrible case of curriculum-envy, but I couldn't get past that steep price tag. 
I worked my way through several other homeschool curriculums.  We used some Beautiful Feet books, Homeschool in the Woods and Veritas Press.  All had great literature programs, but weren't great fits for us.  Too easy, too hard, too many projects.  Like Goldilocks, we were perpetually in search of a good fit.  So, after a hit and miss start to last year, we started using Sonlight books to enrich our Early American History studies.  We got some of the books from the library and some were 2nd hand, but we pieced together the books shown in the catalog for their grade level.  The kids LOVED the books!  They devoured the readers in half the time I had planned.  I knew this was the curriculum for us.  We just needed to find a way to fit it into our budget. 
Around that time, I signed up to do a used curriculum book sale that was hooked up to a small homeschool convention.  I didn't know what to expect, but I brought several boxes of books, a dish of jellybeans and a bit of optimism to see what I could do.  We walked away with over $300 in sales that day!  It was fantastic!  While I was there, I bought Abeka language arts and science text books.  A few weeks later, we ordered our Sonlight curriculum for this year. 
So, why Abeka?  It is a bit of a step into textbook learning, I'll admit.  First off, science has always been a weak point in our curriculum.  It was hard being consistent when we were constantly piecing together curriculum.  We did a little better with language arts.  However, Abeka workbooks not only covered grammar, but also included sections on using reference materials, doing research and writing reports.  This creative writing momma needed more structure in our writing program.  Second, I knew that we would be adding my 4-year-olds to the homeschool table and I needed help making sure my big kids' curriculum covered all of their learning needs.  The instructor's manual and lesson plans from Sonlight and the Abeka textbooks give us the structure and consistency we need.
So, after the first 3 weeks and 95 hours of school, how's it going?  It's going fantastic.  The hours are, admittedly much longer than last year, but the kids LOVE their curriculum.  They love their science, math, langauge arts, history, reading, writing, bible studies, art, music and so on.  They love it all.  My preschool/kindergartners are loving their pre-K packets and math books, too.  So, even though I'm a little burned out after the first few weeks, we're going to stick to what we've chosen for curriculum this year.  We may only get 3 Sonlight days done each week, instead of 4, but that's okay.  We may not do all of the comprehension questions or do every geography match up.  That's fine.  My kids wake up each morning excited to do school and they're learning.  That's all that matters. 
Today is the first day back to school for the public school kids and we are headed out for our Homeschool Celebration Day!  Every year, on the first day of public school, the kids and I head out to play, go to a museum and go out to lunch.  We love celebrating the blessing of being together!  Today, we'll be headed out to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their free admission day.  Maybe we'll get some Sam's Club hotdogs on the way home.  Our love and prayers are with all those students, parents and teachers that are starting their school year today.  We support you wholeheartedly and wish you happy learning days ahead. 

Sweet Blessings,

P.S. - We've submitted the photos from my last post to Sonlight.  We're hoping to be featured in their next catalog.  It's one of my favorite features of their catalog.  I love reading all the comments from other Sonlight families and seeing their lovely pictures.  Crossing my fingers! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our Curriculum for 2011-2012

There are those cynics out there who say that the age of miracles has passed.  Not so.  Among the many miracles I've witnessed this Summer: we replaced all of our kitchen appliances with stainless steel appliances, I've slimmed down into a size 4 and XS (a size I could only dream of in my pre-baby years), after 10 years we cleaned up the basement to make a craft area and playroom and, though my oldest 2 children had admission into an excellent charter school this Fall, we have decided to homeschool for yet another year.  Not only that but, because my hubby and I both LOATHED our middle school years (only a year off for my oldest child), we have just committed to homeschooling for the next 5 years.  Not that we wouldn't have otherwise, but we are locked in until my 2nd oldest child is through those dreaded middle school years.  Gone are those homeschool years where we just "took it a year at a time."  This is huge.  I can tell you, candidly, that it was more than a little painful when I dropped that notice in the mail, informing the charter school that we were turning down their generous invitation.  In the same day's mail, I also sent our registration to the local homeschool group.  A little odd?  Sure, but after a few bi-polar months, I make a massive first step into whatever decision I've finally arrived at.  I hear it is an ADD trait, but I'm going to call it bravery, in total self-interest.   

I'll be honest.  Last year was hard.  My oldest child, my son, would certainly be labeled ADD if he were in the public schools.  If I dared to walk away from the school table to change the laundry, give the little guys a snack or use the bathroom, my son would wander off from his work, mentally and physically.  Even when I was at the table, I would struggle to keep him focused.  So for 5 hours a day and with three little ones (ages 3 and under) underfoot, I was stuck at the school table weighing carefully if I could take a 2 minute bathroom break or if I could just wait until lunchtime.  I am not a mother who is gifted with tremendous patience and, for all my calm entreaties to keep him in line, it would usually take me raising my voice to get him focused again.  My oldest daughter also struggled with school.  The damage they physically suffered before we were able to adopt them also hurt them mentally.  Though I wouldn't say they have learning disabilities, learning takes longer with them.  I've had to adjust my expectations.  With all that, I was worried that homeschooling was hurting my relationship with my kids.  Sure, we were plowing through the books, but it was stressful for all of us.  I felt like too many of my words were loud or critical.  I had my days where I had to go to my room for a few minutes to cry it out.  I tried it all, too.  I tried reward systems, more prayer, more focus on our devotionals, planning out positive things I could say to them, planning down-time for me, and more prayer.  Ultimately, all of those things worked and didn't work.  I had to come to a place of acceptance with this process.  I had to accept that I was going to have to keep praying for help everyday, teaching my kids the gospel, make the effort to say kind things, smile when I didn't feel like it, make sure I got the rest and rejuvenation that I needed (especially in scripture study and prayer) and keep praying more...EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I either had faith that God wanted me to do this for my kids or not.  That calling didn't disappear just because homeschool was hard or because I wanted to do something different.  God's expectations for me, as a mom and as a homeschool mom, don't ever change.  He will continue to put high standards in front of me and it is my job to meet them.  End of story.

So, here we are again.  With bold determination (read: a smidge of trepidation), we started our school year on August 1st.  It makes me smile to think that I knew what I was getting into.  After all, I have been homeschooling for 6 years.  I've never had a 5th grader, 4th grader, 2 preschoolers and a toddler, though.  A long homeschool day, last year, was 5 hours.  I felt pretty accomplished if we pulled off a day like that.  With our new curriculum and my oldest kids being ready for more work, our days are running about 6.5 to 7 hours this year.  Amazingly, we could do an 8 hour day, but I have to cut the day off at some point for play and chores.  As I sit typing this, we have already finished 5 hours for the day and I'm sure we could do a couple more.  I am so, so tired.  I haven't found anything non-essential in our day, though.  So, I'm hoping we'll keep getting up at a consistently early time and push forward. 

Now for the good stuff.  Here is our curriculum for the 2011-2012 school year:

Group Time
Bible: Discover 4 Yourself How To Study Your Bible and Discover 4 Yourself Jesus in the Spotlight, Sonlight Core E scripture reading and memorization
History: Sonlight Core E
Read-Aloud and Readers: Sonlight Core E
Geography: Sonlight Core E and Homeschool In the Woods World Maps and U.S. Maps
Spanish: Professor Toto DVD, The Complete Book of Spanish
Art Appreciation: Harmony Fine Arts Degas Unit and Confessions of a Homeschooler The World's Greatest Artists
Art Application: Usborne drawing books, activities from HFA Degas Unit and Confessions The World's Greatest Artists series, Sewing School, Sewing Machine Fun for Kids, art kits
Music Appreciation: Harmony Fine Arts Prokofiev Unit, Classics for Kids and History in the Woods Composer Activity-Pak
Music Application: Alfred Basic Piano Course A, Recorder Fun!
Physical Education: swimming, basketball, soccer, Confessions of a Homeschooler P.E. cards
Other: Webelos Scout goals, Keepers of the Home goals, American Girl class

5th Grade
Math: Saxon 6/5 and D.I.V.E cd
Science: Abeka Understanding God's World 4 and Abeka Developing Good Health 4
Typing: Jump Start Typing
Spelling: Sequential Spelling 1
Grammar: Abeka Language B
Writing: Just Write 2, creative writing prompts and Evan-Moor Writing Poetry with Children
Logic: Building Thinking Skills, Level 1 cd

4th Grade
Math: Saxon 5/4 and D.I.V.E. cd
Science: Abeka Understanding God's World 4 and Abeka Developing Good Health 4
Handwriting: A Reason for Handwriting, Cursive D
Typing: Jump Start Typing
Spelling: Sequential Spelling 1
Grammar: Abeka Language A
Writing: Just Write 2, creative writing prompts and Evan-Moor Writing Poetry for Children
Logic: Building Thinking Skills, Level 1 cd

Reading: Sonlight Core 3/4 and Core 4/5 books
Phonics: Happy Phonics and Get Ready for the Code A, B and C
Handwriting: Dot-to-Dot and Maze books
Math: Singapore 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B Early Kindergarten books
Fine Motor Skills: Kumon cutting and pasting workbooks
Science: Your Big Backyard magazines and Usborne Complete First Book of Nature
History: I Love America
Language Arts: Evan-Moor Literature Pockets Nursery Rhymes and Evan-Moor Literature Pockets Folktales & Fairytales; 1+1+1=1 Preschool Packs
Art: The Complete Book of Arts & Crafts
Physical Education: Confessions of a Homeschooler P.E. cards, YogaKids and ballet DVD

Posts on our new curriculum choices and new school room to follow!  Hope to see you again!

Sweet Blessings,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Educating The Wholehearted Child Give-Away

I have thoroughly enjoyed Sally Clarkson's, "The Ministry of Motherhood," this Summer.  It has been such a blessing to have a fresh perspective on parenting.  I love seeing how the Savior taught and loved those around him and how to apply that to my everyday parenting. 
Right now, Sally is hosting a giveaway of her homeschool book, "Educating the Wholehearted Child."  If this book is anything like her others, I know it will be a tremendous encouragement to homeschooling mommas.  Check out the giveaway here: http://www.itakejoy.com/educating-the-wholehearted-child-a-giveaway-for-the-best-book-ever/#more-3603

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A New Adventure

In the last couple months, I found the most delightful blogs.  The first is http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com/.  This fantastic lady is talking about how to create a biblical marriage and family.  From her blog, I found Good Morning Girls at http://www.goodmorninggirls.org/.  Good Morning Girls is a couple of ladies that have established an on-line bible study for women across the world.  This summer, there are over 150 small groups and over 1400 women participating.  The summer session began on Monday, but I think you can still join a group, if you are interested.  I have been blessed to be a part of one of the small groups called GMG Summer 2011, on Facebook and at this blog, http://gmgsummer2011.blogspot.com/.  We are studying about 3 Psalms each week in a topical study and we are studying Sally Clarkson's book, The Ministry of Motherhood.  Each morning, we have our quiet time to study God's word.  We all study the same passage of scripture and apply the following study method:

1. S- Write out the scripture passage for the day.

2. O- Write down 1 or 2 observations from the passage.

3. A- Write down 1-2 applications from the passage.

4. P- Pray over what you learned from today’s passage.

We then post some of the details of our study for our group.  Our moderator has a few study questions for us to think about and answer, as well. 
This morning, I was invited to lead the book study in our group.  Starting Monday, I will be posting reading assignments and the scriptures that we'll study each week to enhance our reading.  There are also activities in the study and discussion sections of this book that I will be posting for those who want to participate.  Good Morning Girls will post a video from Sally Clarkson each Monday.  On Wednesday, participants are encouraged to post in with comments or links to their blogs where they are posting about their experiences.  On Friday, the moderators of Good Morning Girls will be commenting on the weekly reading, usually in video format. 
I will be posting my book club and, possibly, my psalms studies here, as well as in the GMG Summer 2011 blog and our Facebook group. 
I am so excited to be a part of this fantastic group of ladies and this powerful ministry.  Thank you, Jenny, for inviting me to help with our small group. 
Can't wait to share this fantastic experience with all of you!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Little Things and The Big Debt

There has been some developments since my last post.  I started getting that writing resume out, just like I said I would.  Unfortunately, I haven't found anything that has been a good fit yet.  I actually got offered a job, but the writing would have cost me so many hours in research that I would have been making less than minimum wage.  I'll keep looking, but it's slow going.  Thinking ahead, I'd like to write some articles for family magazines, maybe work on that novel.  Slow, but rewarding, work.
What I have come to realize, is that I can do a lot more to help our budget from home than away from home.  Already, I know with a freelance income, I'm going to lose around 40% to taxes.  It might be even more than that because of the tax bracket we are in.  So, while I'm not giving up the writing, I'm not giving it the same amount of time that I was a few weeks ago. 
So, here we come to my next venture.  I have been working to reduce the household budget.  All those changes that look like little things really add up.  Here's a few examples:

Finally getting the twins out of nighttime disposable diapers: $135.41/year ($0.186 each diaper)

Dropping Netflix and using Redbox and Library Movies: about $240/year (Netflix $25.93/mo)

Making bread at home: about $174.72/year (2 loaves at Sams/wk = $3.86; 2 homemade loaves/wk = about $0.50)

Making homemade cleaners: at least $116/year ($10.47/mo vs. $0.75/mo)  That's a fairly conservative guess at how much I spend in cleaners monthly, so I'm sure the savings will be higher. 

Just those few things give me $666.13 each year to tackle my debts.   That still leaves a lot of work for me. 

Worth Every Saved Penny!

Here's some of the other things I've done to drop our expenses:
1.  Make a budget.  Know what my limits are and discover how creative I can be.
2.  Get the kids to hang up the towels and only wash them once a week.
3.  Pajamas get worn 2-3 times before washing.
4.  Turn down the thermostat to 62 degrees during the day and 68 degrees at night.  Lots of cuddling going on around here!
5.  Research vegetarian meals and work towards 3 vegetarian suppers each week.
6.  Starting a ebay or half account to resell homeschool books.  Must get more books somehow!
7.  Selling baby gear at the Second Hand Kids store.
8.  Stockpiling.  I'm big into couponing now.  I use http://www.couponmom.com/ and http://www.moneysavingmom.com/.  I'm getting lots of free and super cheap deals using coupons, coupon clipping services and free/cheap deal alerts.
9.  Switching to ink cartridge refills. 
10.  Try to get showers (for Mom) at the gym (which also means I have to go 5-6 days/week.  See how I'm tricking myself into being good!).  I'm paying them well enough that I'm pretty sure they can take the hit to their water bill!
11.  Switching to digital scrapbooking once my paper pile/supplies are exhausted.  Not the easiest change for me, but I know I'll save on paper, glue, photo printing, etc.  I can get a 12x12 printed for $1.99 and it's great quality printing.  There's lots of digital freebies for the takers.
12.  Set a food budget ceiling of $500 for our family of 7.  I'm hoping to drop it lower than that.  Yes, we still eat fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. in abundance! 

We're writing off this sugar as a purely educational expense!

Things we cut out of our budget:
1.  Store oatmeal packets
2.  Fruit Snacks (Not REALLY food people!  LOL)
3.  Bacon  (sniffle, sniffle)
4.  Meat over $1.68/lb.
5.  Store pizza
6.  Store bread
7.  Store granola bars
8.  Drawing paper (Backs of computer paper mis-prints and the backs of junk mail work great for coloring!)
9.  Cereal over $1.50/box.  I've been finding ways to get it at $1/box with coupons. 

Things I'm learning how to make or am already making:
1.  cloth diaper liners
2.  re-usable Swiffer pads (I'm not giving up my Swiffer.  You'll have to pry it from my dead broke hands.)
3.  Floor cleaner that I can put into a spray bottle to mimic my $$$ Swiffer cleaner.  (Sad, I know.)
4.  Fruits and Veggies from my own backyard.
5.  Water for my garden with rain collection and bath water repurposing.
6.  Bread, granola bars, healthy pizza pockets, healthy pop tarts, homemade oatmeal packets, etc.
7.  Anything that we can wash to reuse: table napkins, baby wipes, hankies, etc.

That's just a few of the things we are trying out.  I hope it inspires you in your homemaking budget.  I hope to get some of those budget friendly/health friendly recipes posted for you soon.  I'm off to the gym for an awesome workout and a long, hot shower.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Goals

I have to say, I'm not a big fan of resolutions.  It just seems like a lazy way to put off something that you should be doing already.  Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but I think it stings with a little truth, too.  Let's think about it.  What are the top resolutions that people make?  Lose the weight, stop smoking and get organized.  All things that we should have been working towards on December 31, 2010, right? 
Instead, I choose to make different goals for the year.  I'm already going to the gym and cutting calories here and there.  I'm always thinking of ways to be more organized with my crazy life.  Don't smoke and never will.  So, I think I've got those covered.  No, I want to create tangible goals that I know will push me.  Things that fall under my radar with the busy-ness of life.  Here it is folks:

1.  Resume my professional writing career (translation: get paid to write).  Some ways I can work toward that goal are: blog regularly (lucky you!), submit writing and resumes for freelance gigs, set aside regular writing time in my week, research writing opportunities.

2.  Pay down (at least) $10K in debt.  It takes a little guts to put that out there on a blog, but it's truthful.  Due to the down economy and stagnant home values, we are still struggling with a school debt, car payments, etc.  Are we paying our bills every month?  Yes, absolutely.  However, we aren't making the progress we'd like to make towards becoming debt-free.  So, I'm trying to return to professional writing (see above), I'm making a lot of new from-scratch items, we're turning down the thermostat during the day and researching ways to cut more out of our monthly expenses. 

3.  Have a great homeschool year.  That means, we need our 3rd grader to be prepared for her standardized testing in April, we need to get through those Saxon Math programs, we need to transition the twins into a regular, challenging phonics program and I want to make sure we're fitting in our music, art, typing, Spanish and geography. 

4.  Increase my faith in Jesus Christ.  For me, that means a variety of things.  I need to regularly do some of the things I haven't been so great about.  I need to be better about fasting.  It has been a long time since I've been pregnant or nursing.  It's time to get back to the fasting habit.  I need to hold regular Family Home Evening.  I want to get my Sunday School lessons read and studied ahead of time.  Most importantly, I want to incorporate more service opportunities into my family's daily life.  I had an experience in December that taught me very clearly that I could read the scriptures and pray all I wanted to, but, if I really wanted to know the Savior, I would need to do the things He would do. 

5.  Finally, I need to work on refining my character.  I need to put aside anger/frustration/irritation and put on kindness.  I need to smile and be grateful.  I need to stop complaining.  Life is so very good. 

Okay, so that sound of resolution-ish.  That's okay.  I'm happy with where I've been and where I'm headed.  I think it's going to be a great year.