Friday, December 30, 2011

Organization: Implementing a New Routine

I've discovered our priorities and passions, I've planned out a workable's time to dump it on the kids, right? Surprise them one Monday morning after a relaxing Christmas break or summer holiday? No! That's the fast-road to burn-out for me and my children!

Kids like warnings just like adults do--it helps them to get ready for what's coming. A day or two before we start back up, I let my kids know how our first day will go. I like to start school gradually. We don't do every subject the first day. Instead, I like to start with something old and something new. The "old" thing is the easy part--something the child can do independently while the other child and I figure out a new curriculum--how is it organized, how long does it really take (versus how long I think it will take), and so on. I give us time to warm up to new books and new ways of doing things, and alternate that with something that's familiar. This year I started with math, reading, and history. Math and reading were familiar, history was different.

After a couple of days I add on one or two more subjects, again something old and something new if possible. When they kids were young, I took up to 4 weeks to get into our full schedule. Now I might only take a week or two.

I also start back gradually after Christmas, spring break, or other shorter vacations. I might take only 1-2 days or even up to a week to get back to full speed. Judge your own and your children's needs as you see what needs to be done. (Sometimes what we need is a day to unpack and get the house in order, instead of jumping into school.)

New schedules will need to be tweaked. Maybe the order I've scheduled things just won't work. Maybe my daughter can't work on a certain subject while I work with her brother, because she needs my help too often. Maybe my son needs things divided up differently--I found that to be the case this year.

My pattern is to start with the things that require my attention and work towards the independent subjects, but my son needs the longer, independent subjects divided up more. So he does history on his own, and then spends one on one time with me. Then he works on math--sometimes with my help, sometimes without; and then science on his own. After lunch he might go for a walk, and then do spelling with me, then do some more independent work, then finish up with guitar. Each year we have ordered things a bit differently, depending on the kids' and my needs.

Starting slowly allows me to see what order works best for all of us; gradually adding in subjects helps us all to get the flow of our day. I ask the kids for lots of feedback here, and we restructure until we hit on a good routine for all of us. So...when you start back after Christmas break, expect to take a day or two to ease into things, especially if you are making changes.

Lots of people have asked for our "typical day," so next time I'll write: Organization--A Typical Day

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Organization: Creating a Workable Routine

Last time I discussed Organization: Priorities and Passions.

Once I have prayed over and planned our priorities and passions and made a list of these, I next look at:

What other subjects would I like to cover?


Where is my time needed? What subjects can my child do independently or with minimal guidance, and which subjects require a lot of my one on one attention?


How long do I want my child to spend on each subject? If a curriculum lays out a "daily plan" I consider that, but I don't take this plan as etched in stone. Sometimes a child can get through several lessons in a short time. Sometimes they need more than a day to really absorb one lesson. I like to come up with time limits and reasonable goals to structure my day, as well as taking into account natural breaking points in a text or book.

Subject times grow and change over the years. When they were little, 10-15 minutes was plenty for many subjects, and all their attention spans could handle. By high school, an hour is more appropriate for many subjects, though there may still be shorter times for some things.

I list out all of the subjects we'll do, and decide how long to spend on each of them. Then I evaluate: Is that reasonable? Is it a slight step up from the previous year...or a huge leap? Is it all realistic? I pray through this process as well. Maybe some subjects don't need to be done daily. This year my daughter is doing both writing and grammar, but only one of those two each day. In the early years I sometimes alternated history and science, rather than doing both subjects daily. I allowed 1-year curricula to last for 2 years (and loved the flexibility that afforded us to pursue field trips, areas of interest, days off to bake around the holidays, and so on).

Do you have too much planned? You may need to pray through it all again and scale back. Ask the Lord to guide you; He will. When my kids were little I thought we'd do composer studies and nature walks and art and spanish and music and... whew! The list I created was very long and not very realistic! I culled back, started with the basics, and got creative with the others. Maybe we could do art one quarter and composer studies another, and then only once or twice per week. Nature walks could take the place of science sometimes. Not every subject has to be done daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly. Over the years my kids have tried many, many things, but not all at once; life is a marathon, not a sprint!

Once I have my list of subjects and activities and the time they'll take, I start to put it together into a schedule. First I plug in the priority subjects, then the passions, then the rest. I take into consideration when I need to be working one on one with a student, and what our style is. Some moms like to teach math to everyone at the same time. My kids need quiet to concentrate, and since I can't be in two places at one time, this approach doesn't work for us. So, I think about what subject the other child can do while I work with one.

If a child struggles with math, that's not a good subject to schedule during one on one time with another, even if math can be done independently. The likelihood of my being interrupted is high. Instead, a subject that rarely requires my help is a better choice. My 7th grader reads while I work one on one with her brother. My 9th grader reads history while I work one on one with his sister. In earlier years, sometimes the independent subject was playing with manipulatives or puzzles, independent reading (even if it was just looking at picture books), play dough or another easy craft, a chore they knew well, or even a quiet play-time in their rooms.

My rule has always been, don't interrupt Mom's one on one time with a child unless there is blood, broken bones, fire, or other serious harm to person or property! We've used workboxes for several years, and these make it easy for a child to go on to the next box and then ask me when that one on one tutoring time with the other is finished.

In the early years, I read to or did an activity with my little one first, then set her up on something to do while I worked with my older one. has lots of great ideas for toddlers and preschoolers. One of my daughter's favorite activities when she was 3 was to stand on a chair at the kitchen sink and play with a sink full of water, some bowls, spoons, and measuring cups.

Once I have my schedule outlined--I know what one child can do while I work with another, I have a general flow to my day...then I put the kids' workboxes together.

So, if you're changing things up, play around with your schedule and routine this week. Feel free to email me with questions too, I'm always happy to help. Coming up Friday: Organization: Implementing a New Routine

Monday, December 26, 2011

Organization: Priorities and Passions

Are you looking to change things up in the new year?

I thought I'd do a series of posts on organization since this topic comes up a lot. This week I'll focus on how I come up with each year's routine, because I often re-evaluate during Christmas break!

I say "routine" because while I do make up a schedule, I use it loosely, as a guideline. I'm not a strict clock-watcher--I like to follow a general routine instead.

Over the years I've re-evaluated our schedule. What works well one year doesn't always work well the next, so I find that each year I do just a bit of fine-tuning. Some things stay the same: We always start with Bible, and we always do literature read-alouds before bedtime. These habits I started when the kids were very little, and they still enjoy read-alouds at 12 and 14. It sets the right beginning and ending tone to our day.

When I think about how schedule everything else, I look at a few things:

1, What's my focus for the next year? What subject for each child needs to be the highest priority? Where do they need the most work? I make sure that I focus my time and energy here first, and give these subjects priority in the schedule. (But priority doesn't mean "first" necessarily--it just means that if other things need to be dropped for that day, the top priority subject still happens almost every day). In different years, the priority has been reading, writing, math, grammar, or spelling.

2, What is each child's passion? Or, what topic would each child really like to study? My daughter loves the science fair, so I always make sure we can work that in. One year my son wanted to study sharks, and a local children's museum was actually going to have a class and disect sharks--yes I'm serious! The timing was incredible! So I made sure to work that in. My son always enjoys history, and I look to capture his interest there (Sonlight curriculum has really helped with this).

If you make sure the priority subject happens, and you make sure your child has time for their passion--then on those crazy days when something has to give, you can let go of the guilt. You know you are getting to the things that are most important.

As a side note, I like to say that sometimes God's curriculum isn't my curriculum. Pray over the priorities, and ask your children about what they are interested in. Be a student of them and discover their passions. But if God has different plans for a day than you do, that's ok. Sometimes life is the lesson. Sometimes learning to help someone in need, care for someone who's sick, character training with your kids, or answering a question that has nothing to do with school but your child really needs to discuss--sometimes these things are just more important than our plans. So...I try to hold plans lightly.

So, if you are looking to reorganize this week, spend a few days praying over your kids' subjects and activities, decide your priorities and their passions for this spring. On Wednesday I'll post: Organization: Creating a Workable Routine

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the AAR 1 Giveaway Winner is...

Anya! Congratulations! Please email me at merry at hopeismyanchor dot com.

The winning entry was chosen by

Thank you to all who participated, and thank you Marie Rippel for sponsoring this giveaway!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All About Reading Level 1 Giveaway!

In honor of the release of All About Reading Level 1, I'm hosting a Level 1 giveaway!

The giveaway will include the Level 1 Kit (Teacher's manual, Student Materials Packet, and 3 readers: Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat). This link also has links to samples of each of these items


AND the Deluxe Interactive Reading Kit, which includes the Letter Tiles, Magnets, Phonogram CD-ROM, Reading Divider Cards, AAR Tote Bag, Review Box for holding the cards, and Star Stickers.


My 12 year-old was looking at the materials today, and said, "I wish I was a kid again!" (Ha! That made me chuckle, she feels so "old!") "Mom, don't you wish we had these when we were little? Let's read a story." We opened up Run, Bug, Run, and she kept saying, "just one more!" and she read about 6 of them, LOL!

The pictures really are adorable, and she's right, I DO wish I'd had this when my kids were little. We struggled a lot with finding materials that would really help develop fluency, would give us good decoding tips, and would make the process a little less painful. I think this really would have helped them AND me!


You can have up to 5 entries in the contest. Each time you do something, comment on the blog here--your comments serve as your contest entry.

1) Check out the video The Story Behind All About Reading and post a comment on my blog about one of the aspects that interests you in AAR.

2) Follow this blog (link in the right-hand side-bar); if possible, suggest a question or topic you would like me to address in a future blog post when you post that you subscribed. (If you are already subscribed, you can still post.)

4) Post on the AAR Facebook page that Hope for Homeschool sent you (that's my new blog)

5) Click to get a free download of In the Kitchen with the Zigzag Zebra or Safari Stories with the Zigzag Zebra

Not sure if your student is ready to learn to read? See this checklist to help you decide.

The winner will receive a Level 1 Set and a Deluxe Interactive Kit.

Entries must be submitted by Midnight on Sunday, December 11th. The winner will be announced on or before Tuesday, December 13th.

Feel free to post a link to this giveaway to your friends! Enjoy! Merry :-)

Advent Chain - The Names of Jesus

A couple of days late, but this one looks fun, easy to do, and meaningful, so I had to post about it (with thanks to the friend in my homeschool email loop who told us about it!) You can make a paper chain with the names of Jesus (found on this page), and either take a link off each day (to count down to Christmas) or add a link each day (which I think we might do). Each link has a related verse so you can read and discuss the name a bit. I know my 12 year-old will have fun doing this as an activity and even my 14 year-old will enjoy the discussion.

There's also a template for ornaments that goes right along with the links, and there is a short set of lesson plans, or a longer, 149 page set that you can do! I think we'll mainly focus on the links and reading the verses. We also like to use The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman, which is absolutely beautiful. Each day you open a richly ornamented door to reveal a beautiful picture of the Christmas story and read a short sentence or two about it.

For the last two years we've read Arnold Ytreeide's advent books--first we read Jotham's Journey, then we read Bartholomew's passage. These are exciting adventure books with a reading for each day, along with a discussion note or verse to ponder. From Amazon, "Arnold Ytreeide is a fine storyteller who cares deeply about spiritual growth in families." There is another called Tabitha's Travels that we haven't read yet, but this year we're going to do his Easter book, Amon's Adventures.

What do you like to do for Advent?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All About Reading 1 SALE and Astronaut Ice Cream!

All About Reading Level 1 is here!


And it's on sale, with a bonus this week: Order by midnight on December 6, and it's 10% off, plus a fun supplement, A Taste of Outer Space is added to your order FREE!


One thing I really like about the activity book are the fluency exercises. Kids get lots of practice reading individual words, and then they read phrases that gradually build into sentences. Breaking the work down in this way would have really helped my kids when they were learning to read. An early example:

had a nap
Dan had a nap.

And a later one:

Set the dishcloth
Set the dishcloth in the dishpan
"Set the dishcloth in the dishpan," said Mom.

Here are samples for the Activity book and Teacher's Manual.

Like all of their materials, it comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.


Hope this will help some of you! Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

AAS Letter Tiles Mini Office

If you have ever made a lapbook or mini office, you use All About Spelling, and you have trouble finding room for a full sized magnet board, you might like this idea! Another mom on an email loop made a letter tiles mini office, and I thought it was so clever I decided to make my own. Here are pictures:

Fully open:

Instead of regular file-folders, I used folder-pouches that had velcro-closures, and cut them open. I used 3 folders, and cut the closure-flap off 2 of them. There are 2 folders displayed in the picture; the third folder is glued on the back, joining the two folders together. Here's a close-up of the left side:

I adhered peel and stick magnet strips (spent $3 at stuff-mart) to the folder for the tiles to stick to. Here's a close-up of the right side:

Lay it flat on a table to work, and simply fold it up for easy storage when you are done:

I was concerned about how thick it might be with all of the magnet strips and tiles in there, but it's barely thicker than my hand:

It fits easily into my kids' workboxes:

Or into my Teacher File Box:

Or the rubbermade tote I use to hold our other AAS supplies:

I've opened and closed it several times to see how the tiles hold up. They rarely fall off. The first three pages always stay intact; the last page I open does sometimes drop a tile or two as I open it, I think because it's not a reinforced page. I'll probably try gluing another folder to the outside to add stability.

This would also work great for people who want to take AAS or the new All About Reading on the go--pack up the tiles too! Enjoy!

After using this for about a year, here's an update.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

$100 Giveaway for All About Spelling!

All About Spelling is having a $100 Giveaway this week. Enter to win a $100 gift certificate good toward any purchase of All About Spelling materials!

All About Spelling program

Full details on the AALP Forums.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Helping Kids Recognize Syllables

Knowing the syllable rules can help students avoid a lot of spelling errors, but some kids struggle with even understanding what a syllable is. The article on Syllable Types has some great information on how to explain syllables to your child. But if your child is still having trouble with this concept, here are some game-like approaches you might enjoy.
First, make sure your child understands what a syllable is. A syllable has only one vowel sound. It can have zero, one, or more consonant sounds, but must have only one vowel sound. (There can be more than one vowel in a syllable, as with vowel teams like the ‘ee’ in meet, when two vowels stand for one sound.). Sometimes just clarifying this can help a child understand what a syllable is.
Here are some activities that might help your child identify syllables:
  • For each syllable, jump in place. "Di-no-saur" would be three hops. "Happy" would be two hops. Model this for your child several times per day: first you do it and then he does it. Or make it a game: you say a word for him to hop, and then he says a word for you to hop.
  • Compare syllables to beats in music. Let your child clap hands, snap fingers, or beat a drum with every syllable.
  • Sing simple songs with a STRONG BEAT that your child knows. For example, Yankee Doodle. For each beat in the song, clap. "Yank – ee - Doo- dle - went - to -town -a -ri - ding - on- a -po -ny." Each of you could also beat out the rhythm on a homemade drum (box and spoon, or oatmeal container and chopsticks). Call it music class, and work on it a little each day. Make sure you pick songs where only one syllable is sung per beat.
  • Play “going to the zoo.” Each person takes turns calling out animal names and then you can all hop, beat, or clap to the syllables.
  • Tape written syllables onto blocks and have them build the word with the blocks. Then they can “see” how many syllables are in the word by counting the blocks. Make sure they also say each syllable as they place the blocks, because the goal is for your child to hear the syllables.
  • Use compound words. Clap once for “hot,” then once for “dog,” and then put it together and clap “hotdog.”
  • Try clapping this rhyme with your children. Tell them ahead of time, “On some of the beats, there is more than one syllable. Some of those syllables snuck in without permission! Listen carefully for the sneakers and see if you can ‘catch’ them, and tell me how many there are.”
Clap the four beats as you say, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.” Stop at the end of this phrase and ask your children if they caught any sneakers. If they guess part or all of them, praise them & see if they can tell you how many. You could say, “That’s right, “buckle,” and “my” too! I said all of that during only one clap! How many syllables is that? You count two? Let me try…’buc-kle-my…’ I count THREE! Those sneakers! Let’s try the next line!”
Three, four, shut the door (“shut the” has two syllables on one beat)
Five, six, pick up sticks (“pick up” has two syllables on one beat)
Seven, eight, lay them straight (“seven” and “lay them” both have two syllables on one beat).
Nine, ten, a big fat hen. (“a big fat” has three syllables on one beat)
Some children confuse the idea of “sounds” with “syllables,” and will tell you how many sounds a word has. If that happens, say, “You’re right, ‘cat’ has 3 sounds. A syllable is different from the sounds though. A syllable is a group of sounds put together in one beat.” Then demonstrate by clapping with the Yankee Doodle song slowly to show them the chunks.
This is a hard concept for some children, so don’t lose heart, your child will get it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

About Socialization...

"I'm homeschooled, that's why I'm so social!" --Hazel, from the movie Dolphin Tail. Love that line!

We saw this last night...what an inspiring movie. Winter (the dolphin who had to have her tail amputated) inspires Sawyer to overcome his educational and social struggles, and gives hope to people with physical disabilities. Based on a true story--here's a bit of background information and a "behind the scenes" peek. Thumbs up from both of our kids!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

6 Writing Mistakes—Reluctant Writers Part 2

I promised I’d write about some of my failed attempts to teach writing. I’m probably my own worst enemy in this area! When I was 7, I wrote a story that my mom liked so well, she submitted it to Cricket magazine for publication. Yes, I received my first rejection letter in second grade! But that memory lingered with me and gave me a false impression of what’s “normal” for second grade!
Mistake #1—expecting too much too soon. If you have young children who love to write, great! Let them write to their heart’s content. If you don’t, then don’t sweat it. If you have older children who really struggle with grammar and mechanics—don’t overload them with excessive editing requirements. (I love IEW’s focus on giving kids as much help as they need.)
Mistake #2—copywork. Now, I love copywork as a tool for gently teaching all kinds of things, from grammar and mechanics to literary styles and that ineffable quality of “voice.” It’s also great for helping a child who struggles with writing to build up stamina. You can start with short segments and gradually lengthen them. So, what’s the problem? The problem was in my execution. I chose passages from books without realizing that the passage could be too difficult. My reasoning—all of the words are right there, the child copies them, what could be easier?
Then I took a copywork and dictation class from and learned why my children could leave letters out, leave words out, misspell words and so-on in their copywork.
One of the first exercises we did in the class involved doing copywork in 4 different languages: Dutch, German, French, and English. The passage in Dutch was the most difficult—the spellings were not at all phonetic in the way that our language works. I found myself trying to make up phonetic strategies to copy it but most often having to simply memorize the letters in order, the way one might memorize numbers in a phone number. This is what copywork is like for children who don’t understand how the phonograms work and actually undermines learning for them—it encourages them to rely on strategies that are not helpful.
German was a bit easier, and that process compares to children who do “fair” with copywork but still make many mistakes. French was still easier, and compares to the child who does well with copywork but doesn’t really enjoy it. English of course compares to the child who enjoys copywork and does well at it.
For a bonus, we also tried copywork in Greek. Now, I have seen Greek letters before but never studied them. I found that in order to copy Greek, I had to stop mid-character and look at the original again to see how to form the character. This would compare to the young student or one who isn’t sure how to form the letters, struggles with handwriting, and so on.
My kids were typically in the Greek-Dutch-German phases, and I was giving them a copywork length and difficulty comparable to what a child in the “English” phase would do! One of the reasons I so appreciate All About Spelling is that it enabled us to go back to the beginning—focus on writing letters and segmenting, then simple words, then 2-word phrases, short sentences, and so on. It gave them the incremental steps that they needed to be successful.
Mistake #3—doing things out of order! It seems so obvious to me now to work on things in an orderly fashion—first phonics and reading, then handwriting, then add in spelling, and then finally, when they are ready, work on formal grammar and writing. (Early on, I do like to work on grammar informally as it relates to reading and speaking). But I was so excited to get to writing that I pushed my kids to write something—anything, before they were really ready. They needed to have a fairly large number of words successfully under their spelling “belts” before they could be successful with communicating thoughts in writing. I did do a lot of narration and oral writing early on (they spoke, I scribed), and that was a good choice. But if I had it to do over again, I would have worked on spelling more before trying to get them to do their own writing. Narration develops creative and organizational skills at a pace that fits the child, without stressing them out with writing before they are equipped with the skills.
Mistake #4—I love the idea of natural methods, but that teaching style didn’t work for my oldest. Some kids love discovery-oriented programs and learning processes, while others don’t do well with them. And some, like my son, may even feel betrayed by them. In my son’s mind, to teach in that fashion is to purposefully hold back the information that will help a person be successful—to set them up for failure. Wow! It took me a few failed curriculum choices, some tentative forays into the dreaded workbooks, and then stumbling across incremental, mastery-based materials to help me see the type of approach that would work best for this child.
Mistake #5—worry. And the partner to worry is mistake #1, pushing. Many of us start out with the mistaken impression that all homeschooled kids are “ahead.” Then we have a child who struggles, and fear sets in. Pretty soon we just want our kids to be “on grade level” to help us feel like we are not inadequate, not failures, that we didn’t make some huge mistake by homeschooling. Maybe friends and relatives add to our doubts by quizzing our children and exposing their struggles, or telling us they wouldn’t have trouble if we would just put them in school. Worry is detrimental to the teacher and shakes a student’s confidence, as does too much pushing. And it was all for nothing, because the skills do come together when the children are ready. The best thing I did for myself in this situation was give myself the freedom to say, "If my kids have to take a remedial writing class in college, it's not the end of the world." That took the monkey off my back, and gave me such a sense of freedom—I could focus on helping my kids learn the next thing instead of worrying about failure.
Mistake #6—mistaking a learning disability for laziness, and being too afraid of learning disabilities to learn about them. But I think this deserves a separate post, and I’ll write more about that another time.
What mistakes have you learned to overcome?

You might also like:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Algebra, Writing, Thinking, Living...

"YES!!! A sentence that makes sense!" my son yelled when I read him the first dictation sentence in All About Spelling Level 6, Step 2: "My algebra homework makes me pull my hair out." I think he punctuated it with an exclamation point when he wrote it though! We often laugh at the fun dictation sentences, but my son felt he was understood (and perhaps vindicated?!) when I read this one.

Secretly I've been musing how useful algebra really is. It forces one to think logically and sequentially, as well as creatively (sometimes there is more than one way to approach a problem). Skills that are also very essential to writing, whether one is writing fiction or non-fiction. I'm not sure I could convince my son of its usefulness when he is knee-deep in variables, but I see applications abound to many areas of life from the discipline of showing one's work and having to follow a task beginning to end, step by step, in some orderly fashion.

But as I said...that's my secret!

Merry :-)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And the Winner is....

elilillie! Congratulations! Please email me at: merry at hopeismyanchor dot com.

Thank you to all who participated. And a big thankyou to Marie Rippel at All About Learning Press for sponsoring this giveaway, thanks Marie!

I will be hosting two more giveaways this fall, one for All About Reading Pre-1 and another for All About Spelling, stay tuned!

Merry :-)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grass is Greener Syndrome

Whether you've been homeschooling for awhile, or you are just starting out...sometime this is likely to hit. You'll know when it does. Maybe one subject is hard for your child, and it sounds so easy for someone else. Maybe there's a new curriculum that people are raving about and you wonder if you should have purchased that instead. Maybe you just like to window shop...and before you know it, some bear put that curriculum into your virtual cart and made you bring it home! (My husband always says a bear made him buy something at the store if snacks sneak home with the groceries).

But before you switch gears and end up trying out multiple curricula for the same subject, there are some things to consider. Here are my personal rules for switching curriculum, especially mid-year:

1-Don't fix what's not broken. If something worked and we enjoyed it reasonably, no need to change it.

2-There is no "perfect" curriculum. There are LOTS of excellent curricula. If what I am using is excellent, then there is no need to change it.

3-The curriculum grass is not necessarily greener on the other side! What may be LOVED by someone else may or may not be loved by me and my kids. Don't change just because something else SOUNDS like it might be better, if what I have is already working.

4-I am teaching children, not curriculum, not state-guidelines, not someone else's goals...children I know well, *my* children. What someone else is teaching and how early their children knew XYZ really has no bearing on what I am teaching and how early my children know something--therefore it is not a reason to change curriculum. When my kids are grown, no one will care if they knew what nouns were in 2nd grade or did algebra in 6th grade or....

I DO change if something isn't working. I judge that by how stressed it makes me to use it, if it takes an over-abundance of my time or produces underwhelming results, or by how much my kids hate it. If they just don't like a subject, that's one thing--but if it's overwhelmingly frustrating them, that's definitely worth changing.

WHEN I change....I look at as many samples as possible. In person if I can--if not, I look for samples on many suppliers websites as well as the publisher's website. Often the samples will be different on Amazon vs. CBD vs. Rainbow and so on. If I can't see enough, or if I have questions, I email or call the company. Their response sometimes dictates whether or not I'll use their curriculum. If my kids are struggling in a subject or if a curriculum isn't working for some reason, then it's definitely an area I'll need support. Support on message boards is helpful, but sometimes I also want support from the company. Last year I emailed one company and didn't get a response for over 2 months! I was surprised they finally emailed me! I had already moved on in my search long before they responded. I know companies can’t always get back in a day or two--but 2 months is ridiculous!

AFTER viewing samples myself, I show my child. We discuss pros and cons. We discuss what is not helpful in the current curriculum and talk about changes that they think would help. Sometimes looking at samples helps them to see what would help (I found this true as early as 7 years old, which is the first time I tried this strategy.) I want my kids to take ownership of their education, and this helps them in that process. And their ownership helps a lot with not needing to skip around as much. If they have "bought in" to a curriculum by helping to choose it, they are less likely to balk at it.

Reviews can be very helpful, and I use those to help me in my search. But I look particularly for people whose teaching style seems similar to mine, or whose children seem to have some of the same strengths and weaknesses. I also like to look for what people hate, and why they hate it. Sometimes I find things that work well for us by looking for someone who either schools the opposite of how I do, or has children with opposite needs. Evaluate curricula from many angles.

I hope you find some good products you can stick with. Not perfect--perfect isn't out there! But good is.

One more day!

If you haven't already signed up for the All About Spelling Giveaway, today is the last day! See details in this post. I'll be announcing the winner later this week. I hope someone who really needs this wins!

Merry :-)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reluctant Writers

You know if you have one. You can't coax 'em out of the closet when it's writing time. They'd rather eat fried worms than put pencil to paper. And why is it that there are few things we moms worry about more (academically speaking) than this little thing we call writing? Somehow we think if they hate writing at age 10, they'll never get into college, and pretty soon we've got a shelf full of curriculum, a bald head from tearing our hair out, and one very confused and frustrated child.


Time for a break!

As I look back at our journey, I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and some cracks in the proverbial writer's block wall. There's hope! But it does take time (and work!) for these skills to come together. Give your kids time, and lots of encouragement. Here are some steps that have helped us along the way.

One thing I've found is that writing becomes easier for a student who struggles after All About Spelling Level 3 or so. AAS includes a nice progression for writing, starting with sounds and individual words, then short 2-word dictations, then longer phrases and sentences. By Level 3, children are writing twelve dictation sentences per step (not all in one day). (For more information on using dictation to improve spelling skills, read here). Half-way through that level, an exercise called The Writing Station is introduced, where students make up some of their own sentences from a list of spelling words. Now the fun begins!

Truthfully, when I first saw The Writing Station coming up, I cringed. I just knew my kids were going to hate it, and that this was going to be a very bad experience, judging by our past forays into writing. But my children and the exercises surprised me! The kids not only enjoyed it...sometimes they wrote things that were downright funny! The given words often relate to each other in a way that lends to making up a little story, or in some humorous way. And instead of seeing The Writing Station as something to dread--my kids started looking forward to the exercises and saw them as a time to have fun and play with language.

So, slowly over time kids are building up their stamina in writing, they develop some fluency through doing the dictations and by mastering a lot of basic words, and then they get to spread their wings a bit with writing and editing skills through The Writing Station. Because of this, I find that after Level 3 is a good time to introduce a writing program.

Before that you might want to focus on informal writing such as journaling or free-writing. You can take note of their spelling errors that are in words they know from AAS, but don't focus on that in their writing. Focus on those during spelling time instead by putting them back in daily review. Don't worry about words and patterns they haven't learned yet. For a very reluctant writer, I would focus simply on handwriting and AAS along with narration (which is oral writing to some extent--organizing thoughts, being creative and so on). You can even write down their stories or narrations they tell, to show them that their words are worth being saved and savored. Read them to Dad or send them to Grandparents to encourage children to try to share their words more. Email with friends or relatives can be a good way to encourage writing also. Older children can blog on a subject they are interested in.

My kids (12 and 14) are now in levels 5 and 6, and they are much nore confident about writing than they were 3 years ago when we started AAS. My daughter actually chooses to notebook about her science now, and my son freely chose to do an additional rewrite of a paper last week--I was shocked!

So, it really does come in time. Give children time to put all of these skills together--handwriting, spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage issues, organizing ideas, creativity, trying to form ideas into words, etc... When you think about it, there are a lot of complex skills that go into "just" writing, and it's not as easy as it appears to us.

Some students seem to catch on easily and write reams--while others stall out before they even start, overwhelmed with the task in front of them. Walk them through the skills step by step, and they'll get there. (Spoken as a mom who spent too many years freaking out about this, only to realize that the skills really do come together when kids are ready!)

I'll write about some of my failed attempts at teaching writing next time! What things have helped your kids on the journey to becoming more fluent writers?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Day of School Traditions

It's that time of year again!  We have two first-day traditions.  The first one is to fill out a First Day Questionaire. It’s fun to look back on these and see previous favorite movies, colors, subjects, meals, holidays, and so on. Here's a form I like to use. There's room at the bottom to write a favorite memory or draw a picture.

The other tradition is to make Monkey Break for breakfast. Here's a great recipe from All Recipes. I wake the kids up and then come downstairs to cut up the biscuits, roll them in cinnamon sugar, poor the gooey sweet sauce over them and pop them in the oven. They’re usually done about the time the kids amble down the stairs in their pj’s, and we read Bible while the cinnamony-sweet goodness cools.

The caramelized sauce dribbles down the sides and between all the sections, and we don’t even bother with plates. We just each dig in with a fork and savor every bite. Anna grins and says, “I wonder why they call it Monkey Bread?” Zach just smiles and says he doesn’t care! Some day I’m sure I’ll have to look that up. We are homeschoolers after all!

What are your first-day traditions?

Monday, August 22, 2011

All About Spelling Deluxe Level 1 Giveaway!

To celebrate my new blog, I've decided to host a giveaway! All About Learning Press has generously offered an All About Spelling Level 1 Deluxe Set to one of my readers, an $80 value!

All About Spelling is a program that has turned not only spelling, but also reading and writing around for my kids. We started over 3 years ago when my kids were 9 & 11, and you can read my original review here. We had tried several programs previously, but nothing seemed to work--and one left my son more confused than when we started.

I thought through what worked in teaching spelling, and what didn't work for us, and spent nearly a hundred hours trying to create my own program. I scoured books and looked for the most effective spelling strategies. Finally an online friend told me that All About Spelling had already done all of this work for me: if I wanted, I could have an open and go program that had done all the research, had mastery-based lessons, customizable review, multi-sensory lessons to help my kids remember, and was based on the Orton Gillingham phonograms.

The All About Spelling Program

I was scared to try it after so many other failed programs and money down the drain, but their 1-year, 100% money-back guarantee convinced me to give one more program a try. Besides, I was burning out on doing my own thing.

After the first year, not only did my kids' spelling improve, but their reading levels went up two full grade levels. I was shocked. We did Levels 1, 2, and part of 3 that year, and they could read harder things than they were covering in spelling, but AAS filled in some gaps for them, helped them develop fluency and made reading easier.

I'll write more about the other ways it has impacted them later this week. For now, if you want to enter the give-away, here's what to do: 1) Check out the All About Spelling Overview and post a comment on my blog about one of the aspects that makes AAS a complete, comprehensive program.

You can enter up to 4 additional times (5 times total) by posting here after you:

2) Post on the AAS Facebook page that Hope for Homeschool sent you (that's my new blog)

3) Follow this blog; if possible, suggest a question or topic you would like me to address in a future blog post when you post that you subscribed.

5) Click to get a free download of Unlocking the Key to Silent E or the 20 Best Tips for Teaching Spelling

The 5 Jobs of Silent E

Be sure to post a comment at the end of this blog for each item to enter your name in the drawing--each comment is an individual entry, so comment multiple times if you do multiple things.

If you already have AAS, you can enter anyway, and if you win, give it away to a friend!

Not sure if your student would start at Level 1? See this FAQ file to help you decide.

The winner will receive a Level 1 Set and a Deluxe Interactive Kit.

Entries must be submitted by Midnight on Monday, September 5th. The winner will be announced on or before Wednesday, September 7th.

Feel free to post a link to this giveaway to your friends! Thanks, Merry :-)

Dear Son...

Dear Son, Please don't burp your spelling words. You can say the letters, whisper the letters, write them in pencil, marker, or sidewalk chalk...but please don't burp them. And to my loving daughter...thanks for the heart-attack when you used your art supplies to make the fake blood dripping off your hand. That was a unique experience for me. Bedtime's at 6 tonight, kids. Me I mean. You can stay up and scare your father now. Love, Mom

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Homeschool?

“I could never homeschool!” Many of us have heard this—and maybe we’ve even thought it. I did.

My son went to a Christian Preschool. We had talked about homeschooling, but I always envisioned that my husband Dave would pick out the curriculum--I had a mental block and thought I couldn't do that! Then Dave became disabled and had to leave work; I doubted myself and decided to put Zach in school. It was a good year mostly, & he had a wonderful teacher, but I realized, "I could have done this." So I brought him home for K. Anna has never been to school.

Slowly I learned that homeschooling is a way of life--you start when they are babies, and keep teaching them the next logical thing. Walking and talking lead into reading and writing, learning about money, learning about our world and learning about God etc...

I enjoyed the book, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson, and also The Homeschool Journey by Michael and Susan Card. Many authors quote from Deuteronomy 6, and express that homeschooling is basically talking to your children "along the way" (see verses at end). I find this is true--no matter what struggles we have gone through, it always comes back to walking together through this life.

In this homeschooling journey, I find it helpful to review the reasons why we are doing this from time to time. For us, they can be summed up in 7 main points (not in any particular order--most of these permeate all of life, not just school):

1) Relationships. God created families, and it seems natural that the family be the place where especially young children be taught. Our kids can be with Dave and me instead of being away from us all day. We've developed a strong relationship because of this. And we enjoy it--most days! We all have our days. But I love the books, reading to my kids, seeing their light bulbs go on, and talking about their questions. Sometimes their questions and concerns become the curriculum for the day—it’s a beautiful thing.

2) Academics. Our kids love history and science! I hated history in school. When I first read the Sonlight catalog, I said, “I wish I had learned history this way, I might have liked it!” Our kids might not love every subject, but they have a better chance of enjoying and being inquisitive and engaged in subjects if we Homeschool. Where else can they get one-on-one personalized education?

3) Flexibility. We have the freedom to teach at each child’s pace, whether advanced or remedial, and according to his or her interests. God made individuals. If we want to take a break from our overview of World History and learn more about Rome, we can do that. I listen to my children’s questions and pursue the answers with them—and teach them how to pursue answers.

When my son was hating math in 2nd grade, I asked him questions, listened, discovered why, and helped him to learn methods of self-control (throwing tantrums over subtraction is not helpful!). I also worked with him to find a curriculum that better suited his needs. Together we looked at online samples, evaluated, and then made the switch. I told him my main goal for him that year was to learn self-control—to learn to do math with a good attitude even if he didn’t enjoy it (though I hoped he could also learn to enjoy it sometimes!). He could not have had that kind of attention, training, direction, goal, in public school. He had an “I believe you can do this, and I’m going to walk with you through it” kind of experience—and excelled!

The schedule is mine to determine—I’m not following someone else’s schedule. If we want to play monopoly for math and reading some days in the elementary ages, we can! We have the flexibility of doing work orally when they are younger too.

4) Life Skills! One day Dave had the kids help fill up the car fluids and check the oil. That’s homeschooling too in my book. Too many kids grow up with few life skills—not knowing how to cook, clean, do laundry, weed a garden, paint a wall, do basic maintenance, make a budget, FOLLOW a budget, manage their money, make investments… There’s not much time for all that when you’re in school all day, then come home to activities and homework. This is a real handicap for lots of people.

5) Health. It’s easier for kids to get enough sleep and not eat junk with homeschooling. And there’s no getting beat up on the playground or bus, no fear for your life, no being publically humiliated in class.

6) Character. I don’t think character issues can be dealt with in a large classroom, and especially not on a playground with a few supervising teachers. Peers won’t teach biblical conflict resolution—it takes time and patience and training to walk through the steps of how to deal with others.

7) Spiritual. God is the director of history, the creator of science, the author of language. One time Dave was concerned about a science book we had—generally a good book with great illustrations, but the first 2-page spread showed man evolving from monkeys, and he worried what the kids would think. I handed the book to Zach (then 6.5) and asked him to tell Daddy what he knew. He said, “These people believe we came from monkeys, but God made us out of dust and breathed His breath into us so that’s not true.”

I think this is the essence of homeschooling: 1Thes 2:8 "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." Relationship.

We want to share our faith with our children, and encourage them to teach their children as well. If we only teach the things of God to our children, but don't teach them to pass it down, then our family is only a generation away from leaving the Lord.

Consider Psalm 78:1-8: "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old-- what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers-- a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.

Deut. 6:4-9 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

I pray we have many more years to walk along the road together.

(Originally posted on my chatterbee blog on April 19, 2009)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Help With Writing

How can we get kids to use their spelling skills in their writing? I hear this question a lot. For some kids, it's hard enough to translate thoughts into the written word on paper. Add to that the need to think about spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, neatness, how to form their letters, organization, clarity, creativity...well, something has to give! What's a mom to do? Enter the COPS.

COPS is a catchy acronym for editing that I first learned from a copywork and dictation class I took on It stands for:

Organization (includes neatness)

So how do we use our spelling police?
One, if spelling is really tough for your child, you don't have to edit everything they write. Start with editing copywork and dictation exercises. Teach them what to look for in writing that is not their own. Sometimes it's hard enough for a child to put together their thoughts and write them down, and getting a paper marked up with needed changes can make them feel like their ideas were not good, or that it's all simply too much effort. Professional writers don't revise everything they write--some writing is just for fun. Let kids have some "fun" writing too. (I'll have to write more on this another time!).

Two, once you have decided that something is going to be edited, then have them read through their piece with the COPS acronym in mind. I used to write it out for my kids all the time, until they learned it. If the piece is more than a sentence or two, let them work on editing the next day. Some kids might be able to do it quickly, while others may need their whole language arts time just to do this. So gauge whether having an assignment on top of editing is appropriate for your child.

Three, if your child thinks something is wrong but isn't sure, have them circle or underline it in pencil. You can go over that one together. Praise them for any errors they find, and for any they find and are able to correct. NOTE: If a spelling error is because of a rule or pattern they haven't learned yet, you can choose whether to simply show your child the correct spelling, or focus on the other errors and "skip" this one for now. Some kids get discouraged when too many things are pointed out to them at one time, so don't feel you need to make a paper "perfect" if there are lots of errors; focus on the ones that they are ready to figure out now, and know the rest will come in time. If you do point out an error in a word they wouldn’t know, you can say, “We haven’t studied this one yet, so you wouldn’t know it…”

Four, if your child misses some errors that are concepts or patterns that they have learned in All About Spelling, or they are grammatical items they have learned in their LA, put a light pencil X next to the line for each mistake. Don't tell them right away what the mistake is, see if they can find it on their own. This gets them to take responsibility for thinking about the editing process and not just relying on mom to tell them what's right or wrong. Sometimes I'll let them know if they are looking for a spelling, capitalization, or punctuation error.

Five, for any spelling errors they don't find (but do know how to "fix"), get them to analyze the word. If the mistake is phonetic, have them sound it out. Let's say they wrote "firt" instead of "first." If they say the sounds they wrote, they can see what's missing and fix the mistake. Similarly if they use the wrong phonogram. If they can't identify what's wrong, sound it out for them and then ask if they know how to correct it. ie, "This says 'firt.' We want 'first.' Do you know how to change it to first?"

If the spelling error is covered by a rule they have learned, ask them if they know of any rules that might apply to this word. Maybe they write "kat" instead of "cat." Or "kichen" instead of "kitchen." If they know to try C fist, they can correct cat. If they know that we usually use tch after a short vowel, they can correct kitchen. See if you can get your child to think of the rule on his or her own--but if not, then give them more information. ie, "What do we try first, C or K?" or, "How do we usually spell the /ch/ sound after a short vowel?"

Six, if the spelling error is visual, have them use the scratch-paper spelling they learned in level 3, and see if they can identify the correct word. Sometimes I'll tell them they've used a homophone, and ask them if they know what that homophone means. Then I ask if they know how to spell the word they meant to use.

Seven, put any words or patterns that they don't identify as mistakes on their own back in the child's daily review tab. Include the related phonogram, sound, and/or key cards as needed. Something I like to do is to keep several blank word cards in the back of each child's review set. I can usually find a word that I want in just a minute or two--but if I can't, I don't sweat it, I just write it on one of my blank cards with a black marker. These are also handy for putting any new words into their review stack. Marie posted a template for blank cards.

Finally, be patient. You may not see results overnight, but over time you will. After 2 years with All About Spelling, I remember being impressed by my then 7th grade son's lab report. It was neat--no scribbling over mistaken words. It had few spelling errors; he even got some words correct that we hadn't studied yet. If you had told me two years prior that we'd be this far, I'd never have guessed it. Around that same time, he told me long words with prefixes were "easy" to spell. I had to ask him if he heard what just came out of his mouth! Truly--the differences were night and day. He still made some errors (firt vs. first was on his report), but he could often find and fix them, and they continue to lessen as time goes on.

Have fun with your friendly neighborhood editing police!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Being Watchful

Last night I noticed that the kitchen garbage was empty. And I smiled to myself, because I knew my son had taken it out without being told. Duly noted, I hadn't mentioned it to my son, but he made sure to bring it up today. And it gave me such a great opportunity to affirm him. "I know you don't like me calling you a 'young man,' but it's a mark of becoming a man to see a need and take the initiative to take care of it without being told." He said, "thanks," in a way that let me know, maybe he didn't mind the "young man" status so much.

"The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." Proverbs 14:1.

I think as mothers that we have to be watchful for opportunities like these. It's so easy to focus on the times kids don't do what they're told or that they have to be told...that we can miss the fact that they are young, growing persons who need to be affirmed, who need to see what it is to be a man or a woman, who need to be respected for their growth and not torn down for their failures. They need to know they can make us smile and make us proud.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marie Rippel appeared on The Balancing Act television show on June 14, 2011, speaking about pre-reading skills and the new All About Reading Level Pre-1 program.

Here's a replay of the segment:

"As we all know, learning to read doesn’t just magically happen once a child learns his ABC’s. In fact, more than a third of children struggle with learning to read," Marie Rippel said. "So you can imagine how excited I am about this opportunity to talk to parents across the country about the importance of reading, and how teaching their child five important pre-reading skills—which we call the Big Five Skills—can have a positive impact on their child’s reading success."

Congratulations Marie, loved getting to see this segment! My kids were among the 34% who struggle with learning to read, I believe this will help a lot of parents and their children. We would have loved all of the games and activities in Pre-1 (and even my 12 yo dd thinks Ziggy is adorable!).

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End of the Year Evaluations

"The writers of this book don't want kids to understand math!" my then seven year-old said to me. That proclaimation came up in a series of conversations about math that started with one of our year-end evaluations. My son told me that he hated math--which I knew already, but I started asking what made it hard, and then I began to realize that the program I had chosen used a discovery-oriented approach when he wanted to be shown how to do something (by the book--not by mom!) instead.

This became crystal-clear one day when I showed him a different book. He looked through it, and then came to me with his old book and made the statement that still makes me laugh today. I feel confident that the writers DID want kids to understand math--it was just the wrong approach for this child. As we talked, I did have to tell him, "No, sadly, we can't get rid of math as a subject--but we can work together to find a better curriculum and a style that makes more sense to you." The result was that his very negative reaction turned into a positive journey that we took together to find something that would work better. That's actually one of my favorite homeschooling memories, and it set me on a new path. Instead of feeling defensive and adversarial, I joined him on his team and together we found solutions.

We often think about evaluating our kids--but do you also have your kids evaluate themselves and their school year? I started doing this because of my son's math struggles early on, and I learn so much from my kids through this! When they were little, we would do this orally. We'd snuggle up on the couch with a snack and just start talking. What did they like about school? What was hard this year? What made it hard? What was their favorite subject? and so on. My kids have given me valuable information that has helped me improve my teaching style, learn more about their learning styles, helped me make simple changes that meant a lot to them, helped me in choosing curriculum, and improved our relationship with each other. They know that I really care about what's important to them and that I want to help them and walk alongside them. I have often told them, "This is YOUR education," because I really want them to take ownership of it.

One year my son wanted to learn about sharks, and the local children's museum just happened to be holding classes where they would disect a 2' shark! Amazing! But had I never asked my son what he wanted to learn, I might never have known about that fleeting interest (fleeting because of the smell I think...!)

Now that my kids are older, I have a written form that includes these questions:

What subjects are your favorites, and what do you like about them?

What subjects are not favorites, and why not?

What area did you improve in the most this year?

What area are you struggling with or would like to improve in?

If you could change something in how we do things, what would you change?

What would you most like me to understand about you?

What is one goal you hope to achieve next year?

How about you, do you have your kids fill out an end of the year evaluation? What questions do they answer?