Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Homeschool When You Can't Get Off the Couch: Recommended Refreshment

Here are some of my favorite reminders that perfect schedules, curriculums and best laid plans are not necessary to successfully teach our children, nor should they be the goal. These articles, books and audio messages have lifted the weight off my shoulders; reminding me of the importance and beauty of just learning and growing daily together as we wend our ways through the twists and turns of life. We need to be mothers with a twinkle in an eye that is focused on Christ and leading the hearts of our children to Him, instead of stressed out drill sergeants, keeping everyone in a miserable quick march to the impossible dream of perfection.

If you, like me, need a breath of fresh air and some encouragement to relax and enjoy the journey, I hope you will be blessed by these as much as I have. It is a short, sweet list and nowhere near complete.

Think Outside the Classroom by Kelly Crawford
It’s hard to think outside of schedules and calendars and school years when we’ve been so ingrained in that lingo. But if we can ever just stop and look past our time tables and the way everyone else is doing it and just peel back all the stuff and remember what learning is, it gets easier.
And whether it’s Saturday night or Monday morning, we learn. We learn without deadlines to make us grumpy or timelines that compare us to others who aren’t us.
Teaching from Rest by Sara Mackenzie
 We homeschooling mamas are anxious. We’re used to working dawn till dusk to make sure our children have everything they need. We create lesson plans, make booklists, and sign our kids up for endless activities, frantically checking off our lists and plans in an effort to make sure our children know everything they need to know before they fly our coop.
We worry. We fret. We know, deep down in the core of our being, that we are not enough. That what we offer is a pittance compared to the task before us.
We feel small and insignificant because we are small and insignificant.
In the midst of all the doing, we forget the needful thing. We may sit as His feet, we may begin our day with prayer, Bible reading and supplication- but is our teaching and mothering transformed by it? Do we really trust Him? Do we live each day from a state of rest?
Ten Things to Do With Your Child Before Age Ten Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn One of my all time very favorite articles on homeschooling. Just so happens that it is excerpted from one of my all time very favorite books on homeschooling, Teaching the Trivium.

 Live your life. Invite children to join in! Education is a continuum of everyday life.
Read together.
Pray together.
Sing together.
Work, bake, garden, chore, clean, sew, fix, build together.
Don’t fabricate artificial demarcation lines between schooling and living.
Curriculum Advice Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Victoria Botkin So excellent. Packed with wisdom from a successful homeschooling mother of 7 children - now grown and all walking with the Lord. I think I lost about 50 lbs of self-induced stress after listening to these messages. (I am blessed to know Mrs. Botkin in Real Life and she is the Real Deal. She definitely has a joyful twinkle in her eye.)

How to Teach Your Children to Love Learning Victoria Botkin - Free! More words of wisdom.

Top Teaching Tips Victoria Botkin  I actually haven't listened to this newly released message yet, but I'm including it here because I know it will be excellent.

That's all for now, but I'll add more as they come to mind. (Brain fog is so not helpful).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quote of the Week ~ September 14, 2014

"But Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her." —Mark 1:30

"Into Simon's house sickness had entered, fever in a deadly form had prostrated his mother-in-law, and as soon as Jesus came they told Him of the sad affliction, and He hastened to the patient's bed. Have you any sickness in the house this morning? You will find Jesus by far the best physician, go to Him at once and tell Him all about the matter. Immediately lay the case before Him. It concerns one of His people, and therefore will not be trivial to Him. Observe, that at once the Saviour restored the sick woman; none can heal as He does.

We may not make sure that the Lord will at once remove all disease from those we love, but we may know that believing prayer for the sick is far more likely to be followed by restoration than anything else in the world; and where this avails not, we must meekly bow to His will by whom life and death are determined. The tender heart of Jesus waits to hear our griefs, let us pour them into His patient ear"

~ Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Homeschool When You Can't Get Off the Couch: Recommended Resources

Having struggled with chronic illness for most of my children's school age lives I am always on the lookout for excellent materials that fit within my educational philosophies, but can also be done by the children independently or with minimal help or oversight by me. Video, audio and computer resources especially have been a huge help - very much like having tutors on tap.

Below, I have listed resources that we have used in the past - or are currently using - that have helped make it possible to continue to give our children an excellent education at home, in spite of challenging circumstances. I've also included some materials that we haven't used yet, but may at some point. It is not a complete list, but these are our favorites, most relied upon, or hope-to-use.

Online Lessons This is a great, free online reading program. Very well done and I have only come across one or two mildly objectionable things. You can upgrade to even more features (including math games) for an inexpensive yearly subscription fee.

Latin for Children This is one we have not done yet, but I have my eye on it. We love Song School Latin and other products from Classical Academic Press (see below) so I plan to use this or the DVD version soon. CAP also offers online teacher led courses.

Classics for Kids This is a wonderful resource for composer study! I need to use this more.

Veritas Press Self - Paced Online History We love these! We completed the Old Testament and Ancient Egypt course and are part way through  Explorers to 1815. They also now offer Bible courses and courses for older students. These are packed with information and taught classically with lots of memory work accomplished by games, review and timeline songs. They are also full of pictures of places, people and things from the lessons.

The courses we have done have only had two real negatives. One, I do not care for the way the history guides treat each other, especially in the Old Testament course. It is meant to be funny, but is just plain old disrespectful. Lots of eye rolling, belittling comments etc. between husbands and wives. I point this out to the children as not being acceptable.

The other issue was just with the OT course. We purchased the timeline cards (pictured above!) and I was quite horrified at some of the art that was used. Let's just say that some people in the pictures were lacking clothing. I worked around these few cards by printing out my own pictures and gluing them over the top of the picture on the card. Worked great! The cards were shown on the lessons online but were smaller and these issues weren't as noticeable.

Other than these two drawbacks, I highly recommend these lessons. They work wonderfully as a spine or outline to work from if you are able to add in other books. You can see sample lessons here and they are currently on sale!

Bob Jones Distance Learning Although it doesn't line up with my Charlotte Mason mindset, the distance learning program from Bob Jones is really quite excellent. It was a wonderful solution for us early on and my oldest even learned to read through their lessons. Some of the lessons are a bit long, but they are well done with teachers who are just exactly what you would hope your school teacher would be. They are similar to children's television programs with puppets, themes and props, but are Christian , even more educational and come with plenty of printed materials to go along with the programs (much of the paper stuff is optional and we only used a few workbooks).

We have only used the lower elementary levels, so I'm not sure what lessons are like for older children. The biggest drawback is the price. They aren't cheap, but they do have a payment plan option. The other drawback is Mr. Nice Guy on the Kindergarten program. He is quite babyish and rather disturbing. In real life, I wouldn't let him near my kids. In the lessons he just pops in once in awhile, thankfully. You can view sample lessons here.

    Computer Based

Sequential Spelling came highly recommended to me and I was delighted when they came out with the DVD. Short, simple lessons the children can do on their own on the computer. We also have the companion workbooks

Teaching Textbooks We haven't actually used these, but the reviews are excellent. We are already using Math U See, but if we weren't, I would go this route.


Math U See I am very happy with Math U See. Short, well taught video lessons that the children enjoy and work books and math blocks to go along with the lessons.

Netflix Not something I recommend, per say, but a very useful tool that has gotten us through many difficult days when I truly haven't been able to do more than lay on the couch or in bed. I appreciate the fact that they allow you to have different users on the same account, so the children have their own which goes directly to the "Kids" section and avoids any unpleasant stuff on the home page. Some of our favorite programs are Curious George, Busy Town Mysteries, Leap Frog, Blues Clues, Country Mouse City Mouse, Fireman Sam and How it's Made. Daniel Tiger gets watched too, but he is only favored by a few, short minority. A couple of those shows aren't currently on Netflix, but I'm hoping they will be again. Again, these aren't necessarily recommendations - more just a list of the best options we have found when I need the children to be able to just sit and watch stuff, while I keep an eye or an ear close by. There are also a ton of educational movies and documentaries, but some of those you might need to preview first or watch with your children.

Liberty's Kids This is an excellent, very well done series that we just discovered. The children love it and I am impressed. I'd say it is the video equivalent of a living book. The children laugh and talk about Lafayette and what a cheerful undaunted fellow he was, they speak with awe and respect of George Washington and they were horrified at the betrayal of Benedict Arnold. (They did not know his story and the series does a masterful job of leading up to his treachery. The children were shocked when he turned out to be a traitor and it made quite an impression.) This series has spurred lots of interest and reading now on the American War for Independence .The DVD is currently on sale at Amazon for only $5.00 for the entire series! Definitely a great deal. Highly recommended!

I Can Do All Things Art Lessons We have only done the first few lessons, but they were a hit. This is a set of 4 DVDs for beginning drawing and painting. These set off a drawing frenzy in our house!


Audio resources are some of our favorite. My children love to listen to audio books and have learned so much this way. Each child has an inexpensive MP3 player (one of my favorite homeschool tools that I plan to write more on later) and I can load it with exactly what I want them to listen to. Latin songs, catechism songs, music from a composer we are studying and lots of audio books. The possibilities are almost endless. More and more curriculum publishers are offering an audio book version of their materials and I look for those specifically. Listed below are just a few

Song School Latin  Highly recommended! The book and CD are excellent as is the DVD. The workbook is very nicely laid out, the songs are well done and pleasant to listen to and the DVD gives even more information. All gently, but effectively, taught. I have been very happy with anything I have purchased from Classical Academic Press. I also highly recommend Song School Latin Vol. 2 Book, CD and DVD.

God's Great Covenant Also from Classical Academic Press. This is a great Bible study program, nicely laid out in workbook form. It could be done by a child individually or as a family. It also comes with the Bible stories from the book in downloadable MP3 format.

My Audio School This website is full of public domain books in audio format. Each book is laid out chapter by chapter or as a complete download , along with lots of illustrations that correspond with the book. Some of the content is free and the rest is available for a very low yearly subscription.

Exploring Creation from Apologia I love this series so far. Only one book is available on audio at the moment, but others are in the works and I am very much looking forward to that!

Mystery of History  We are not currently using this, but now that Volumes 1-3 are available in audio format I am hoping to incorporate it.

Introduction to the Classics This is a great series on composers that we are slowly working our way through

Jonathan Park Our children love these and have learned so much science through these exciting, but highly educational, adventures. Highly recommended!

What in the World? Ancient history, taught with enthusiasm by Diana Waring  Audible is a treasure trove of well-recorded audio children's books and classical literature. They offer multiple download options, or you can listen right from the computer. You can join for a free, month long trial.

Jim Hodges Audio Books A wonderful collection of classic literature, beautifully read! I especially recommend Stories of the Pilgrims, one of our family favorites.

Audio Memory My siblings and I listened to the songs from Audio Memory back when we were being homeschooled and I can still sing the states and countries! We also carried them in our family's homeschool bookstore and they were customer favorites. Planning to use these this year with my own children.


Language Lessons  This wonderful workbook series by Sandi Queen teaches phonics, grammar, copywork, poetry, picture study (with full color paintings) and narration in simple, short  lessons. The older ones can easily do them on their own and for the little ones the lessons are so short and easy that I can manage them on a day where I am feeling better.

Kumon Workbooks A wonderful series of workbooks for the little ones with plenty of cutting, drawing, tracing, writing and more

That's all for now! Again, this is not a complete list, and what works for me, might not work for you. If you are in crisis mode, see my Netflix-Non-Recommendations and ignore the rest! We have definitely never accomplished all of this at once. These are truly just resources that have been hugely helpful to keep us on track when I am well enough to set them in motion. There have been plenty of days where Real Life Learning has taken precedence or Netflix and Amazon Prime have proven their educational merit. Pray and seek out the best for your family and your situation. I'll leave you with some sage advice from Mystie Winckler:
You are the mother. You are the teacher. You might not know the subject as well as the author of the material, but you do know your child much better. You are not teaching a generic classroom of averages, but your own house of individuals. Your job isn’t to pull them through the gauntlet laid out by the curriculum, but to determine your curriculum – the path you take – and use the materials as means to get there, always being the one in the driver’s seat.
What are some resources you have found helpful in your own homeschool?

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Homeschool When You Can't Get Off the Couch: Why I Love the Deuteronomy 6 Method of Home Education

One of the greatest lessons the Lord has been teaching me in my long struggle with chronic illness is Letting Go of Perfectionism 101. I am afraid I am a very slow learner.

I am a researcher. I research, I pray and I seek out the best I can find. The best homeschool philosophy for our family and the best resources within that philosophy. When my older children were toddlers I discovered the Charlotte Mason and Christian Classical homeschooling methods. I was delighted. I had been praying for guidance in how I should teach them and I was thrilled with how the Lord had answered. I still am.

I have spent many happy hours devouring articles and books on both philosophies (which have many similarities and can be beautifully blended). I love how these practical, gentle, yet powerful methods merge perfectly into daily family life. Short lessons, lots of read alouds, nature study and living books. I could do this.


Seven years ago, my two eldest were finally old enough to "do school" and I was eagerly looking forward to our first real school year. The Lord had other plans for us though and I hit a crisis point with my health from which I have never fully recovered. Instead of cuddling on the couch reading books or heading off on adventurous nature walks of delight and discovery I was focusing on things like breathing and staring at the ceiling. The most effort I was able to put into anything was playing Tetris on my phone since I only had to move my thumb - and that was on a good day.  (I did get really good at Tetris.)

School was put on the back burner for awhile (and thankfully the children were still young enough that this really was OK) and focused on survival. I recovered from that crisis point, but for two years I was still sick enough that my sister lived with us.We managed school with video school from Bob Jones - much to the horror of my Charlotte Mason loving heart. (More on Bob Jones later! He really is actually a pretty decent guy.)

I have had years where I have been better and years where I have been worse, but every year has been a struggle. The children have continued to learn and grow in spite of this and I am so thankful. Yet, one of my greatest sorrows is not that my children are not learning - it's that they are not learning in the way I long to teach them.

I still firmly believe that my beloved methods fit perfectly with Scriptural principles, are conducive to a happy childhood and would produce excellent results in the children both short and long term. But , in spite of the fact that these are simple methods, I still can't fully apply them exactly how I have always dreamed.

This is why I am so thankful that undergirding every other homeschool method that I love is one that I can attain to. The Deuteronomy 6 Method:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
These verses not only tell us the most important part of education and what needs to be the foundation of everything else we teach - they teach us how to educate.

Many times I have wondered why the Lord called me to homeschool and then allowed me to be crippled in a way that has made it so difficult. When I read these verses though, I am reminded that I am  equipped to teach my children. Maybe not in the way my perfectionistic little mind would prefer, but capable none the less.

I so love that the Lord's commandments are not burdensome. He gives us plenty of options in what education can look like. He doesn't say " Teach your children between these particular hours with this particular curriculum, in this particular way. At a desk."  Nope. Life is learning and learning is life. We can teach them as we live.

As Kelly Crawford says:
 School doesn’t begin at our house. But it doesn’t end either. I don’t have any opposition to starting school or new notebooks and new curriculum. But for us, learning is too intertwined in our lives to mark it with stops and starts...
And whether it’s Saturday night or Monday morning, we learn. We learn without deadlines to make us grumpy or timelines that compare us to others who aren’t us...
Not that we don’t have order or schedules or times set aside for learning specific things, but I’ve learned that life is too precious to be crowded out by the expectations of others. Time is too fleeting to let “school” elbow our relationships aside.
I don’t want to be ruled by charts and clocks and tests and grades. That’s not real life. Life is learning about anything and everything all the time, beside the ones you love. 
The more I realize this, the more my burden is lifted. I might do a lot more sitting and lying down than rising up and walking, but I can teach my children just the same. This has been such an encouragement to me as I face another school year that will be a challenge and will not fit neatly into all the lovely charts, booklists, schedules and detailed plans I still insist for some reason on making.

I do feel true grief at the time I have missed with my children and the memories we have not been able to make. It is one of my greatest heartaches. Because I do believe that life is intertwined with learning my goal is not to just have them "do school". Although I certainly want to have them be independent learners (something we are accomplishing!) I also want to learn and grow together and we have not been able to do this nearly enough. For this, I have to swallow very hard and trust that the Lord's ways might not be our ways, but they are the best.

God knows my heart for my children. He knows the greatest prayer and desire that my husband and I have is not only to see them well educated, it is to see them walking with Him all their days. He is the one that laid this on our hearts and these trials have also come through His hands. I would not have chosen them. I would have made life as easy as possible for our family if it were up to me. Yet, I have a hunch that left to my own devices, my children would not have the character that is being forged in them as the Lord has faithfully afflicted us.

As Mystie Winckler sums it up in her excellent article "Virtue is the Goal of Education"
"To be virtuous, however, we must be diligent, persevering in the midst of adversity. Virtue isn’t a magic trait that smooths paths and makes life soft and easy. Rather, the opposite is more true. Virtue is forged in the furnace of trial, temptation, and difficulty. You can’t have courage without fear. You can’t have patience without irritation. You can’t have self-control without warring desires. Virtue is a fruit God grows in us through adversity."
I still believe that the Lord led me to the educational philosophies that I so believe in. They mesh beautifully with the principles of Deuteronomy 6 and still influence and shape our days - even when I am only able to loosely apply them. I still look forward to and pray for the time when our school days might have more of a pattern and steady rhythm and I will be able to better implement the methods I hold dear. I still love to read the many excellent Charlotte Mason and Classical blogs out there and tuck away ideas.

However, I am learning ("learning" being the keyword there) to loosen my death grip on my plans. Not that I don't still do the best I can in whatever our current circumstances are, but that I accept that this is my best and then leave it with the Lord. I am finally beginning to rest in  the fact that school for our family needs to fit our family, our circumstances and our season - and that although it might not remotely resemble perfect (which doesn't exist, after all), it is good. 

If you are in a difficult season of life that makes educating your children at home a challenge, I hope you will be encouraged. Take heart and a deep breath. Remember,"Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (1 Thess. 5:24) Hang in there. Or rather,  maybe stop hanging and let go. Rest in Him (I'm writing this to myself too). We and our children are in His hands and His strength is made perfect in weakness.