Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Homeschooling? Here Are Six Things You Should Know

If you're just starting out in homeschooling, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. This is my attempt to set your mind at ease.

I've noticed a common theme among questions asked by those new to homeschooling. For lack of a better title, I'll call them "should I" questions. Should I use this curriculum? Should I do notebooking or stick with workbooks? Do you think my seven year old should be reading by now? What should I do when my kid won't sit still?

I find it puzzling that someone would ask me what is best for their child. Now, I'm not saying it's wrong to ask for advice. Advice can be very useful. However, I think a lot of these questions come from mothers who are feeling a bit unsure of their ability to carry out this undertaking now that they have committed themselves to it.

So, since you asked, here is my advice: No one knows your kids better than you do.

The Best Educational Philosophy Is Your Own 

Maybe it's mother's intuition, maybe its just because you are living in close proximity, but you know those kids much better than I do. I can tell you what works with my kids, but I'm pretty sure your kids aren't any more like my kids than they are like the thirty or so kids that would be in the same class with them if they were to go to a public school. Isn't that part of the reason you are homeschooling them -so you could teach them in a way that was best for them?

There is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from the writings of vetran homeschoolers such as Charlotte Mason and Ruth Beechick, and from systems like the Principal Approach or Classical Education. But if your effort to mimic these philosophies and ideas is interfering with your ability to teach your child, you are defeating your purpose.

Relax, you can do this! If you think about it, homeschooling really isn't much different than the rest of life. All those birds, flowers, trees, and animals you pointed out to them were an introduction to science. And they were learning math every time you said, "You may have two pieces of cheese, but only one cookie." If you taught your child to talk, teaching them to read is just the next step. And since you've been reading to them since they were little, you must know what books they would enjoy. So, pick out a few that will double as a history lesson. Every parent is a home educator. Some of us just do it more often.

Curriculum Is A Tool 

Just as there are many great homeschool philsophies to choose from, there are also many wonderful curriculums. However, even the "best" curriculum is no good if it doesn't work for you. Remember, curriculum is just a tool, and like any other tool, it should make your life easier.

There is nothing wrong with using only part of a program or mixing two programs together. There is also nothing wrong with getting rid of a program entirely and trying something new. If money is an issue, find someplace to sell it second hand. It isn't worth your time or sanity to struggle along with a curriculum that doesn't fit. You and your childen will both end up dreading your learning time.

When choosing your curriculum, don't confine yourself to the whole "grade level" thing. Children are often ready to learn things before -or even after- the recommended grade. As I said before, no one knows your child better than you do, so teach them what you know they are ready to learn, not what everyone else says you should.

Placing children in different grade levels is an artificial system set up for organizational purposes in the institutional schools. However, in homeschooling it often makes more sense to teach a subject to all the children at the same time. There are many excellent science, history, and geography programs which are intended to be taught to multi-age levels. If you are teaching several children at the same time, this method is a great time saver.

There's More to Education Than Bookwork 

It is easy for a homeschool mother to get overwhelmed by all the responsibilities of educating the children and keeping up the home, even if she only has one or two children. However, when the household contains a large number of children, it becomes absolutely necessary that every member do their part to keep things running smoothly. All the children, from youngest to oldest, should be required to help with the daily cleaning and maintenance of the home as soon as they are able.

This, however, should not be seen as a hardship. It is not a "downside" to homeschooling or having a large family, but rather a benefit. It is not something which we should view as secondary to our childrens' education, or as getting in the way of their education, but rather as an important part of their education.

Book learning is important and should not be neglected. However, our children will also require a variety of skills throughout life, and doing chores is the perfect way to learn those skills. This type of learning should be a part of all childrens' education and you should never feel guilty for requiring it of yours.

Some of the Best Resources Are Found In Unexpected Places 

I always encourage my children to take advantage of their opportunities, because we never know if that opportunity will present itself again. It is much easier for a single young man or woman to aquire skills and knowledge that will help them later in life than it is for a married man or woman with family commiments and financial obligations to pick up those same skills when they become necessary. It is often much cheaper too.

As homeschool parents, we should always be aware of the learning opportunities that arise around us. If your hot water heater goes out, have the children watch as it is replaced (from a safe and out of the way location). If the local farmer asks your boys to spend an afternoon helping him put up hay, let them. Look for opportunities for your child to volunteer. Look for friends and relatives with special skills who are willing to pass them on to your children, then create the time and opportunity for that to happen. Take advantage of local events: ethnic festivals, library programs, VBS, concerts, plays. Visit parks or craftsmen in your area and encourage the children to ask questions.

This approach to education often calls for a sacrifice from us as parents. We must be willing to work out the details to make these experiences possible. Sometimes we must sacrifice our time to drive them to and from an event and sometimes we must sacrifice their time and the plans that we have already made for them. But these small "opportunity costs" are greatly outweighed by the benefits gained. And these opportunities don't always come more than once.

At the same time, make sure you keep a balance. Remember, you can't do it all. But do try to do what you can.

But Don't Forget To Be A Mom! 

As a second generation homeschooler, I sometimes cringe when I hear other homeschool moms talk about their "educational opportunities." I hear comments like, "We took a walk today. Mark it down for phys ed!" or "We're taking a cross country trip to visit relatives. How can I make it educational?"

While I loved being homeschooled, and I think my mom did a great job overall, I occasionally felt as if I was stuck in a perpetual classroom. Somewhere along the way I had lost my mother, and she had been replaced by SUPER TEACHER! In her enthusiasm to give me the best possible education, she sometimes forgot that it's also important to have a "life outside of school."

It's true that all of life is educational, but that's true even for those who DON'T homeschool. It's OK for your children to experience some things as nothing more than a normal part of family life. (That doesn't mean they won't learn from them.) Some things should be less about making grades and more about making memories. This is especially important in a large family where "mom time" is somewhat limited.

And One Last Thing . . . 

Don't forget that learning isn't just for kids. Mothers too often use their busy schedules to excuse themselves from any mental exercise. But just as muscles atrophy without use, so a mind that is not exercised soon turns to mush. Continuing to learn new things will not only benefit your family by making you better equipped to fulfil your duties, but it will also send a message to your children that learning is not just something one is forced to do until they are old enough to do more important things. As your child sees your enthusiasm for learning, they will become excited about learning too.

Here are three ways you can use "mother culture" to nuture your child's love of learning:

1. Set educational goals for yourself.

Think of something you want to learn and then make time to learn it. Your goals could include learning new skills or increasing your head knowledge. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

* Learn a foreign language.

* Build a web page using trial and error.

* Do a research project on that topic from the kids lessons that you wanted to know more about.

* Make a lapbook (use a kit or design your own)

* Learn how to sew, knit, or do another handcraft.

* Take a photography class.

2. Read something besides fluffy fiction or the kids school books.

Read books on homemaking, homeschooling, motherhood, or marriage. Consider these your "textbooks” which can be read and reread for insight and encouragement.  Or, read something that will help you to reach the educational goals you have set for yourself. But also read great literature- books which will stretch you and fill your mind with beautiful pictures and ideas to ponder. 

3. Nuture your own curiosity.

No trivia is trivial when it provides the opportunity for a great educational experience. Children will naturally ask questions, but they will not always know how to get the answers unless you show them. A great way to do this, is by keeping track of those times when you say "I wonder . . ." and making the effort to actually find the answer. 

Remember, learning is a lifetime experience. Enjoy the adventure!

Monday, July 19, 2021

How To Make Continent Boxes

Creating Geography Treasure Boxes

While creating a geography unit study, I stumbled across a blog post at LaPaz Home Learning telling about the Continent Boxes she had just completed. Finally, I knew what to do with all the "artifacts" we create during our studies of different countries.
Continent Boxes are sort of like treasure boxes- one for each continent- which contain maps, books, and artifacts from the countries on that continent. You can buy or create things specifically for your continent boxes, or you can do a "scavenger hunt" around the house to see what objects you can come up with.
The boxes can be plain shoe boxes or plastic totes, or you can decorate them with maps, pictures, and flags from each continent.
Here are some ideas of what you can include.


If you're going to study geography, it is only sensible that your study should include maps. The physical geography of a country is important, not only because it tells us where a country is located, but also because it gives us a glimpse into the cultures of the area. Cultures are influenced in many ways by the physical geography of the place where they live.
An example of this is the Inuit people of the Arctic regions. As we were preparing to study them the other day, I asked my children if they knew where the Inuit lived. Two of my children answered "Mexico" and "South America." If you know anything about the Inuit, you can see how ridiculous these answers are. The cultures of the Arctic peoples are vastly different from those of Central and South America.
Each box ought to include a map of the continent and maps of individual countries on that continent. You might also want to include puzzles or games featuring the physical geography of that continent.


A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure you include several in each box. These pictures should include things like people, buildings, food, animals, plants, and landmarks.
Photos can be cut from old copies of National Geographic and pasted with a label onto cardstock or made into a collage. Travel brochures would also be a great addition. Or, you could just include a few nice picture books. If you can find some copies of the local art, add those in too.

"Artifacts" and Souvenirs

The best things you can put in your boxes are real items from the countries you want to learn about. If you haven't been blessed with the ability to travel the world to collect your own souvenirs and don't know anyone who can do it for you, try looking around your house to see what "foreign" items may be hiding there. Check out the ethnic food shelves at your local grocery store or go shopping at a store which specializes in selling exotic merchandise. There are also many online stores where you can purchase items from overseas.
You can also add all the projects your children complete as they study different countries. Or, include craft items and instructions in your continent boxes so your children can complete these projects at another time.


You can learn a lot about a country's history and what its people value by seeing what they put on their money. Kids especially love to examine foreign coins. Both coins and bank notes are available for sale on Ebay. You might also ask your local bank if they can get them for you or ask friends and relatives to bring some back from their travels.
If you can't get the real thing, you can still print off some pictures of foreign money to add to your continent boxes.

Stamps and Postcards

Stamps and postcards are like tiny windows through which we can glimpse small amounts of a countries culture. These can be collected through exchanges or from a friend who like to travel. Sometimes you can find them in shops which sell collectibles. If you can't get them anywhere else, try looking on Ebay.


Your boxes ought to contain as many real "treasures" as possible. But some items are obviously going to be too big to put in a box. This is where miniature replicas fit in.
Miniatures can be things like toy animals, tiny models of famous landmarks, or dioramas of native landscapes. Many items which are intended for dollhouses would be perfect for your continent boxes. Or, you could even get some modeling compound and have your children create some miniatures of their own.

Weeds, Abundance, and Looking Back


Gardening provides many opportunities to experience the blessings and creativity of God on an intimate level. Recently I was struck by the abundance He pours out on us in the weeds He causes to grow. As I was cleaning out an overgrown flower bed, I noticed that almost every weed I was removing was one that could be eaten, and which provided health benefits superior to the vegetables which He had caused to grow by means of my planting. 

I did not come to this revelation through my time spent in the garden, looking at the broad picture and striving to maintain control in the face of daily trials. Rather, I was able to see the value of these “invaders” because of time I spent in study later, when the day’s gardening was done. And, because I had taken the time to learn more about the abundance God brought to my little plot of land, I was able to recognize the blessings in the weeds.

God’s abundance extends to other areas of our lives as well. There are so many experiences coming at us- so many lessons He is trying to teach us. Sometimes the lessons are hard. And sometimes the lessons are good, but their memory leaves the sadness of things past. The abundance of these experiences can overwhelm us. Often we see these like we see the weeds- as something simply to be dealt with- and go past them without ever really understanding why they were given to us. 

It is tempting to move on to the next thing without looking back- to yank the “weeds” and focus on the “vegetables”. But I don’t want to just experience the lessons, I want to learn from them as well. I want to be nourished by all of the abundance with which God fills my life. And that often involves time spent in reflection, studying the things that have taken place in my life, and asking God to reveal what He wants me to learn from those things. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Using Narration in Your Homeschool

I didn’t set out to be a "Charlotte Mason Homeschooler." I’m not one of those moms who researched all the various methods before choosing the perfect one. In fact, following someone else’s method of teaching goes against what I believe is one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling- education which is tailored to the needs and styles of the learners. But over time I discovered that many of the things which I began doing simply because they worked, were things which Charlotte Mason also used. One of these things was narration.

When I first started homeschooling our large family, it was easier to teach the children as a group whenever possible. Science, geography, and history were, until the older children began to work on their own, done together. Even the toddlers sat in on these lessons. The young ones were often fidgety and it was hard to know whether they were actually listening. In order to make sure they paid attention, I stopped often to ask questions. Thus, my children ended up narrating throughout the lesson. When we finished our reading, I asked one or two of the older children to tell me what we just learned. This gave the little ones a chance to hear the material one more time (they usually listened better to brother or sister) and they often wanted to add their own narrations as well. Having the children do narrations offered them an opportunity for friendly competition, as everyone wanted to be able to mention that one important fact that everyone else forgot.

I think the problem with using the term "narration" is that it takes something that is really very simple and makes it seem more complex. To me narration is nothing more than having a discussion about something you have learned. It is a tool for measuring learning, not a permanent record of that learning. It is a memory shared between two people, not something that must be recorded for all posterity. Most of the time I don’t require a written narration, especially if the child is still learning to read and write. However, when my children are old enough to begin working on their own, they do more written narrations. I still feel it is my duty to respond to these narrations, to guide them with more questions if necessary. That way we can still have that "discussion", even though it is on paper rather than being spoken.

Oral narration is one of the most effective methods of education, and yet one of the simplest. In the past it has been referred to as the Socratic method. In the Church, it is known as catechising. It basically involves asking questions and listening to the answers. When you are reading to your child or speaking to them about something, stop often to ask questions. Ask them to tell you what you have just said. Ask them their opinion of it. Ask them to apply it to their lives.

In his book Rediscovering Catechism, Donald Van Dyken explains it this way:

"To germinate the idea we can imagine ourselves on a ship looking for a submarine. The submarine hides below the surface of the ocean.Our ship is equiped with sonar, and our operator sends out sharp sounds into the dark waters. Those sound waves travel down through the water until they hit something. Sometimes they strike a school of fish, or the bottom, or the sub we are searching for. When those sound waves bounce off the hull of that sub, the sonar device picks up the echo. From that the operator can get a fix on the submarine’s position.

"That illustration introduces us to the teaching concept known as catechizing- sending out questions and listening for the echo, the answer that fixes the depth of knowledge and understanding."

The modern definition of teaching involves very little interaction between the student and the teacher. But as Van Dyken points out "Teaching is not only telling the truth but also making someone know the truth. . . We fall short of fulfilling the role of teacher if our students fail to know what we have presented." And how will we know whether we have failed without that "echo"?

The benefit of narration is that it gives almost instant feedback. There is no need to review months of material after a poor test score. If the student doesn’t understand, the echo will reveal it and more probes can be sent out until he is gently led to understanding. Narration also forces the child to internalize the lesson as he takes the information and puts it into his own words.

Narration doesn’t take a lot of time, and it isn’t complicated. It does, however, require a teacher who is willing to spend time listening to and interacting with her students. But that describes most home educators anyway, doesn’t it?

Creating a Geography Notebook (free printables}

What Should You Include?
Have you ever wondered what to put in a geography notebook? While the *exact* contents are totally up to you, perhaps you'd enjoy taking a peek inside some notebooks created by another family. Here are some of item we have included in our notebooks. I've included some pictures, as well as links to printables we used or printables that could be used instead of what we used.  

Our binders are divided into eight sections, one for general geography information and one for each continent. This is what you'll find in that first section:

*This post contains affiliate links.

Maps, Globes, & Explorers

  • World Explorer Biography Pages (If you are looking for info on explorers, you can find biographies of notable explorers at the Fact Monster website.)

  • Geography Terms and Definitions: Our list was actually a page copied from a library book, but I think it would be much more educational to have the children create their own list. As my younger children study geography this year, I will have them use Geography Terms Notebook Pages to make their own glossary.

  • Landforms Ready Reference: I picked up this card at Walmart during their back-to-school sales. I could probably have had the kids do some Landform Notebook Pages, but I liked this one-page handy reference guide. It looks nice, and it was inexpensive.

  • Notebook Atlas: Also purchased at Walmart (for a lot less than the Amazon price). Although it is small and details are sometimes hard to see, it can be used for most things that need to be looked up.

  • Compass Rose Worksheet

  • Latitude & Longitude Worksheets

  • Continents Map and List

  • Oceans of the World Map and List

  • World Map (drawn using Draw Right Now)

  • Map showing Plant Life on our Planet (pg. 76 of Considering God's Creation by Susan Mortimer)

  • Columbus pages (drawn using Draw Right Now)

  • Notebook pages and lapbook from Amy Pak's New World Explorer's study

Maps, Globes, & Explorers Freebies on Other Sites

Scroll down to the geography section for Geography Terms Tab Books and Geography Terms Notebook pages with Primary Lines or Basic Lines. (There are also some State Study Notebooking Pages and Country Study pages.)

Printable games and worksheets to teach students about landforms, such as plains, plateaus, mountains, and hills. There are two freebies, as well as many that come with membership to the site.

Montessori learning activity with free printable for learning about the compass rose. Includes cardinal points, half cardinal points, and false points.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Notgrass (Revised American History) Literature Selections In the Public Domain

In addition to revising their World History texts last year, the Notgrass company also revised their American History textbooks and brought them up to date. 

Even though the text has been updated, only one of the literature selections has been changed. This means, if you already own this program and decide to update, you will only need to buy one additional literature books in addition to the new textbooks. The new list substitutes Miracle In the Hills by Mary Sloop for Christy
1 new book and 1 removed

990695: Exploring America, Updated Edition -- Curriculum Package Exploring America, Updated Edition -- Curriculum Package
By Ray Notgrass / Notgrass Company
Updated Literature Titles:

  • The Scarlet Letter   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Narrative of the Life of Davy Crockett   Kindle   EPUB 
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Co. Aytch  Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Little Women   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Humorous Stories & Sketches (not available for free online)
  • Up From Slavery  Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • In His Steps   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Mama's Bank Account  (not available for free online)
  • Miracle In the Hills (not available for free online)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird  (not available for free online)
  • The Giver (not available for free online)

*This post contains affiliate links.

Remember to check your local library for print or audio versions of the books not available in the public domain. You can also purchase used versions of the literature books through sites like Amazon, Ebay, or Paperback Swap.

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