14 Sept-0153_WEBOne night Zac and I took a walk at sunset and were treated to such a pretty show.

Sometimes only one of the boys walks with me. They feel really special to have a little outing with mama all to themselves. They chatter and tell me their deep thoughts.

These pictures were taken in October, but I loved the golden sunset so much, I still wanted to post them.

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Walking up the street from our house toward the park:14 Sept-0136_WEB

At the top of the bridge we cross, we can see the skyline to the left. To the right we watch trains coming and going. MARTA runs every fifteen minutes and the freight trains go through several times a day.

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The sunset cast a golden glow on the city–absolutely beautiful!   14 Sept-0171_WEB


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We crossed the bridge and walked to the park. It was warm, but cool, so we just sat and looked at the sky. 14 Sept-0185_WEB  A few bats came out for the night (look closely and you can see tiny black dots close to the lights). Bats are Ian’s favorite animal, so now we’re excited whenever we spot them. 14 Sept-0192_WEB

Recommendations: Homeschool Edition

After so many, many words (Homeschooling Methods Part I and Part II) I need a minute to catch my breath.

Today I’ll share inspiration from others.

1) In the get-it-right-frenzy that homeschooling posts can be, this is an invitation to take a seat: Homeschooling from a Place of Peace and Rest


2) A cute craft.  (Mrs. Tiggy Winkle?) It would be nice if there were instructions, but the website is unresponsive. Making this hedgehog looks simple, though–like a paper plate folded in half and shaped just a little for the face. Great scissors practice for little ones.

(Edit: We just made a hedgehog with a coffee filter. It was fun, but Ian had a hard time cutting the filter.  Our scissors were pretty dull,  but maybe a paper might be a better material to cut.)

paper hedgehog for scissor practice -- too cute


3) Listening to stories is a great diversion for winter days. The boys like listening to audio books while we’re traveling and while they’re building or drawing. Books Should be Free is a  website that offers free audio books. I linked to a classic that we’ve listened to several times.

4) The Biggest Bear is a delightful read–both because of the story and the illustrations. Enjoyed by ages two to adult.  If you haven’t read it, add it to your library list.

5) It’s Christmas vacation, so you might need extra activities to keep everyone busy. Here’s a chart to help children create their own fun if they run out of ideas on their own.

Free printable - no more, "Mom, I'm bored!"... This is going up on our wall ASAP!

[Get the free printable copy here]

Girlfriend’s Guide to Homeschooling Methods, Part II

This series of posts on homeschooling is a conversation about homeschooling methods. When I started homeschooling three years ago, my former teacher skills and thoughts heavily influenced our choices. Some of them have been helpful, but I'm learning that homeschooling takes it's own form.
Three Factors That Influence Your Method:

1. Your student(s): The first thing to consider in making decisions about homeschooling is your child–his personality, interests, strengths and learning style. Sometimes we look at the material in front of us and think about needing to teach multiplication and third grade language and this whole book of reading. The bigger picture is that, as we school our children, we’re nurturing them as they are on their way to adulthood. We’re helping them grow into mature, responsible, self-motivated learners. When you think of schooling a person instead of simply teaching material you’ll be more intentional, but the teaching process also becomes more natural because it’s simply an extension of parenting.

Parenting has already taught you how uniquely each of your children has been designed. Each child is a whole new discovery, it’s so much fun to learn to know each person and help them grow and develop their abilities and character.

Just like in parenting, in homeschooling you learn to understand your children individually which helps you find unique ways to help them grow to their potential.  All of our children love verbal affirmation, but I’ve noticed lately that Ian really wants to grow when he gets affirmation. Like one day he spilled a drink and cleaned it up without me reminding him. I always try to encourage this kind of habit, so I said, “Hey, Ian, I’ve noticed that you’re growing up. Just now when you spilled that drink you cleaned it up without me even telling you to do it. That shows me you’re becoming more responsible.”

He was really happy with the praise and since then has been trying even harder to clean up after himself. Today I heard a bowl clatter on the floor and soon he was telling Steve, “Mama said I’m becoming more responsible. Did you hear something falling down? But do you see it on the floor? Do you know why? Because I picked it up!”

I’m sure you notice the same kind of patterns in your children.  You see when you explain something,  and it just clicks with your child. You notice how interested he is in patterns or night skies. You might see that his brain seems to freeze if he has to sit still for too long, that he likes for life to be extremely predictable and orderly, he remembers his chores better when he has a visual reminder of what he still needs to do, or if he memorizes words put to music super quickly.  These are clues to your child’s makeup, and you simply use them as a guide in teaching your children in a method that makes learning natural for them. You can use what you already know about your child to help you understand how he might learn best. So far I’ve mostly been working with Zachary, so we could customize everything for him. As we add more students to the mix then we’ll need to adjust a little, I’m sure.

Each person’s personality will influence how they study best, and most people generally have a preferred learning style (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic–just do a google search if you’re unfamiliar.)

Some students can’t concentrate when there is other noise in the room. Some students might not understand a math concept until they can see a drawing or graph(visual) or they might not be able to think of the answer to the math fact on a flash card until they hear you verbalize the fact (auditory). Some students might need to form letters with clay or draw it in the sad to help them remember the how to write it (kinesthetic). They won’t know to tell you this, though. You get to uncover the mystery. :) A kinesthetic learner (not as common as the other two) would learn much better with a homeschool method that is hands on and explorative such as Montessori. Incorporating all the learning styles into school is helpful no matter which method you choose. Some methods incorporate a variety of learning styles more easily than others.

Even though a curriculum or teaching style is excellent, it may not work for your child.  That’s okay. Even if other moms are raving about this amazing program, it doesn’t mean it is the right fit for your student. This makes homeschooling confusing at first (because you can’t expect the exact formula to work for you as works for another mom), but it’s freeing once you learn to know your student(it takes time–sometimes more than a school year, so give yourselves lots of grace), put together your own collection of ideas and teach in ways that work for your students.  One of the advantages of homeschooling is that it is extremely customizable.

If school is a daily struggle or frustration, it is less likely to be a behavior problem and much, much more likely to be a disconnect between the teaching style and the student.  If school is frustrating or difficult most of the time, maybe you could find someone to help you understand what you could change.  The hardest, best choice I’ve made so far was scrapping curriculum I’d spent $$$ on less than halfway through the school year because it was not working.

"If a Child Can't Learn the Way We Teach..."

2. Your Personality and Abilities: Some of the teaching styles appeal to my ideals and some to my reality. I’m learning that I need to be realistic about the strengths and limitations I’ve been given. One of my strengths is that I’m flexible and don’t need things clearly defined to feel successful. One of my limitations is that I do not have much physical stamina and sometimes need to teach from the couch. Also, I am a terrible record keeper.  

Although I love the structure and discipline a school style or classical education style of teaching would give, I am finally realizing that while I could teach in that way, it would always be a struggle. It would always feel hard for me to put that much organization into school while also running a house and being a mom to children who aren’t in school, yet.  For a person who loves order and schedules, having that much structure might be the key to keeping her sanity, er, thriving. Looking at your parenting style might give you a clue about what kind of homeschool style would work best for you. 


Your level of comfort with teaching will be a factor in whether you use a method that is super-teacher involved where you put together your own materials or if you choose a method with a curriculum that spells out some to all the instructions the teacher should give, or even virtual schooling where you mostly monitor your students. Even if you don’t feel confident in your ability to homeschool, if you want to teach and are willing to learn you definitely can teach your children.

A  factor we needed to consider, of course, was my health. I still have days where I am teaching from the couch. I needed to look at a method of teaching that gave me the flexibility for those days–where it didn’t matter if we couldn’t get through five pages of a lesson every single day. Leaning more toward a Charlotte Mason style means that we spend more time with all three of the boys and I cuddled on the couch reading together which is perfect for us.

Sometimes I still feel so lost in how best to teach and sometimes I worry a lot that we’re missing something important either educationally or with  character development. Homeschooling really  stretches you and shows up your inadequacy. It takes more patience than you have stored, more wisdom, more love, more studying and hard work  than you feel you have strength to give. You sweat, you cry, you rant–sometimes. But it comes back to this–God chose you to be your children’s parent and He’s equipped and prepared you for this step. Just like in parenting He can use our inadequacies to help us realize how much we need Him and to make us more like Him. He is also so gentle and will lead us through each stage and each question and guide us to find the answers we need.

3. Your Circumstances:  So you’re considering your child’s needs and your own abilities then there are a few other things to throw into the mix–your location, your family size and stage, your state requirements, and whether you’re homeschooling for a year or two then integrating back into a school or if you’re likely homeschooling long term.

A few things that have weighed into our decisions–we live in a city,  we have not yet developed a local homeschool support network, Steve and I both have teaching experience, we have long term health issues, Steve works Tuesday-Saturday, our state laws require we have 180 days of school lasting at least 4 1/2 hrs. per day (not a problem! I’m not sure how people finish by noon).

Having access to a great library system is significant in making living books an affordable option.  Some homeschool methods rely heavily on whole books vs. textbooks, and we can more easily use that kind of method than if we didn’t have access to good books. Living in the city also makes it more difficult to do extensive nature studies, but we have access to great museums of historical locations. 

When I taught Zachary kindergarten, I had a fussy newborn, I wasn’t feeling great, and I was potty training. hahahahha.  Yeah, I would not do that again. If I knew then what I know now, I’d know that there is no rush to get through the books. (And, I’d do my best to be okay with lots of people suggesting that I should have started officially schooling even earlier) I’d do a lot more learning through play, keep reading books, and wait until things settled down to start doing workbooks. If I had another baby, even if it was in the middle of the school year, I’d take off a whole month at least, and school later into the summer.

This advice from a friend was perfect for me when I was trying so hard to make school-at-home work:

It took me a few years to find what works for us. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to explore and get out of your comfort zone.

The teacher in me had a really tough time being okay with some methods not testing each subject every 1-4 weeks.  I gulped hearing that textbooks might not educate as sufficiently as well-written biographies and non-fiction books. These were the kinds of things that took me out of my comfort zone, but now I’m so glad for the nudge to probe options beyond the obvious.

The next post will begin exploring the methods.  Stay tuned.

Girlfriend’s Guide to Homeschooling Methods, Part I

When first venturing into the whole homeschool world, the huge choice of curriculum can be completely overwhelming.  I think there must be hundreds of curriculums and nearly as many opinions about what will work the best for educating children.

I was really glad that I had gotten to try a few different curriculums at several schools while teaching, so I had an idea for what might be good choices for us when we started homeschooling. In first grade we wanted colorful, interesting books; phonetically based reading programs;  and math with enough review to make concepts stick.

A good jump into our first year after I’d given us time to adjust, I felt like things were not working as smoothly as they should.  Zachary was learning, but he didn’t enjoy school very much and neither did I. Some of the materials that worked well in a classroom did not work so well for us now. Some of my ideals, though good, were impossible to reach with our circumstances.

Researching and listening to  veteran homeschool moms brought up more questions than answers for awhile.  I heard things like, “You can skip a few lessons when he knows the material,” and, “What subjects interest him? Have you thought of trying unit studies?” and, “Spend time reading good books/spend time in nature,” and “Just do what works for you; that’s the beauty of homeschooling.”

The problem was I didn’t know what worked for us.  Also, I didn’t know how we could spend hours reading because that would take time from our lessons and it would simply make our school day longer.


Then I learned something super helpful: There are several different methods of homeschooling. What I was doing–daily lessons in workbooks, reading from textbooks, and regular testing is called school at home It works great for classrooms. It works at home, too, but for some people (us) it can be tedious.

Since then I’ve explored the methods–school at home, classical education, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Unschooling, Cyber school, Montessori, Waldorf, and there are more, to find what method of schooling will work well for our family.  (Here is a brief overview of some of the most common methods of schooling.)

A curriculum may be designed for a particular method of schooling or may be compatible with more than one method.  Discovering my home school philosophy helped me better understand what to look for in educational resources.

I wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned with anyone who might be interested in looking at homeschooling a little less traditionally school-like. I am still so new to this, but I’ll just pretend we were sitting here in my living room talking. In an article I would respect ;) there would be references to sources, but this is just a chat. Okay?

Unfortunately because I can’t see you yawning or growing a little bored, I also might get a little long winded.  To keep this long, long, long chat from making you drink too much coffee, I’ve broken it up into several posts.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss three factors to consider when choosing a method. I’ll chat a little more about a few of the strengths in my favorite methods later.  Then if I manage to finish the series before getting distracted by school and the rest of life, I’ll tell you about some of the curriculum we’ve tried, what we’re using now, and which methods are working for us.

I’d also love to hear what questions you might have about homeschool methods and curriculum.

My Funniest Holiday Mistake

Do you have a holiday memory that makes you laugh whenever you think of it?

This article on avoiding disappointment at Christmas had me mulling about expectations and how we confine our enjoyment when our definition for a good Christmas is too narrow.  Point 7–on memories being made by mistakes reminded me of a funny story that happened nearly twenty years ago. (How can it be that long??)

We were having a jolly family gathering with my dad’s extended family.  The dining room and kitchen were crammed to the gills with thirty or more parents and grandparents and children, toddlers and teens. We’d stuffed ourselves with mashed potatoes and turkey, glasses had been filled and refilled, stories told, and please-pass-the-pecan-pie for just another sliver.

With bellies full we pushed back from the table–the men stretching and heading toward the comfort of couches and armchairs in the living room. The aunts scraped out serving dishes and discussed how tender the meat turned out and that there had been just the right amount of sweet potatoes. We girls stacked plates and collected silverware and glasses.

At my aunt Esther’s house they often poured the leftover tea, water and coffee into an empty pitcher then carried six or eight empty glasses to the kitchen in one trip. I guess having six children in one family makes you efficient with clean up. I emptied the glasses that day. On my way to the kitchen I passed my cousin Phil and asked him jokingly, “Aren’t you thirsty for a drink?” He laughed obligingly at my joke.

We washed the dishes quickly,  but really it was fun working together since we had so many cousins to work beside and talk with while we banished an enormous mound of dirty dishes through a pre-rinse, sudsy water, a quick rinse, a swish of a dish towel and finally placing them into the cupboards.

The afternoon was always fun with the whole gang of cousins. Most of us were teenagers and we often played board games, laughed uproariously until even the adults came by to see what was so funny, then got into some seriously fun debates. Dorcas snapped pictures for her photo albums, we all took turns holding the newest baby, and Aunt Esther set out clementines and nuts and mints to snack on during the afternoon.

In the evening there was more food, more talking, more laughing and game playing. We stayed up much later than the adults because it was a holiday.  After people started drifting to bed the girls would  group up by ages and settle in for slumber parties.

This night my cousins Julia, Barb, and I were sleeping on a floor bed in a tiny office–we would much rather improvise than spend the night apart. Before we settled in for late night talks we stocked up on snacks and drinks from the kitchen.

Jul crunched on a chips as she described the latest shocking tragedy. We unwrapped more chocolates–who was counting?  The tea was  so good. “Mmm,” I remember saying, “this tea is even better than it was at lunchtime. I thought it was a little weak then (I had made it, so I could call it), but it’s delicious now.” The others agreed and we went back to commiserating with poor Jul– her stories were so descriptive we were often laughing until we cried. We did our best to keep the noise down because as Barb reminded us, Grandpa was sleeping in the next room and had trouble enough sleeping through the night.

The next day always started a little groggily after our late nights, although my cousins always seemed a little unnaturally cheerful in the mornings. (I don’t know their secret, or I would share it.)

While discussing the plans for the day and assigning cooking duties to us girls, Aunt Esther mentioned that I could make tea again. “But make an extra gallon or two this time because we ran out yesterday.”

“Oh, but there was still half a pitcher left;” said one of my cousins, “we drank some of it last night.”

“No, we ran out.” more people chimed in. “I wanted a refill, but there was none left.”

“Then what….” Realization washed over us and Jul, Barb, and I stared at each other with mouths hanging open.  “No. No. No…..We didn’t.  Please don’t tell me….”

“We must have…”


“What???!” everyone in the kitchen wanted to know.  With horror we told them that we must have been drinking the tea from the pitcher that had collected all the leftover beverages from the table. Apparently, since both sinks were filled with dishwater, I had set the pitcher on the kitchen table to be emptied later, and while I was drying dishes someone else came by assuming it was tea and placed it in the refrigerator. That night we girls looked for something to drink and pulled out the same pitcher to fill our glasses.

Everyone shrieked with laughter at both our mistake and our dismay.  Between laughter and gasping for breath I managed to eek out, “And I said it tasted better than the tea we had a lunch! Remember that?”

“I know!” gasped Barb and Julia. There really was nothing we could do but laugh. Well, that, and make sure the pitcher of leftover liquids got dumped immediately after the next meal.

An Atlanta family's story: learning to love God and others


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