Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reading Together: How We Do It

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Not the best picture, but it's still one of my favorites, from a couple years ago.
Few things can beat a good book in hand and a good dog at your feet!

When reflecting on our parenting skills, it's easy for Marc and I to see our weaknesses, but one thing I feel like we've done pretty well with is reading to our kids. From the time they've been able to focus their eyes on a book, we've read to them. Well before we were a homeschool family, we were a reading family. Our couches are literally falling apart from the hours we've spent cuddled up together around a book. Therefore, our homeschooling has reflected our love for reading.

This year we read about 150 books to supplement our curriculum. About 130 of those books were for our history studies; the others covered a variety of topics including science, grammar, math, etc. Our total number of books read was much lower this year due to two factors: 1) Our kids are getting older so we read more chapter books and less picture books, and 2) This is our second time through this portion of history, so using our reading list I was able to refine our selections based on what we enjoyed last time. We don't read all of those 150 books together. Now that they are older I often have them read the picture books on their own (it's a great thing to keep them occupied if they are waiting for my help while I'm assisting another kid), and they are usually working on a chapter book or two on their own in addition to the designated read-aloud books we are working on.

Certainly we're not the only homeschoolers who read a lot. I think that's why my SOTW 2 reading list continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog. Homeschoolers in general love to read. Nevertheless, I often get comments or questions on how we fit it all in. One of my favorites was when I posted a link to the list on The Well-Trained Mind forums:

Love it! Seriously though, how do we do it? I'll share a few things that have worked for us, and then I'd love to hear ideas from you.

Make it a Priority 

If you have a set time for reading, you will develop a rhythm to your day that prioritizes reading. For homeschooling we generally do our read-aloud sessions after lunch and we devote anywhere from half an hour to an hour to reading together (sometimes longer if we can't put the book down!). Our second read-aloud session is just before bedtime.

Have a Plan

I go a little crazy with our history reading lists. I just finished our history plan for the 2013-2014 school year and it took me hours to put together. But that's because I'm crazy. I come up with my list from a variety of sources and I like to have it in one place. You can see my plan here, but it's still a work in progress. My next step is to check the library to see what books can be reserved online, but my library system's catalog has been under construction for a few weeks, preventing me from doing further editing our reading list.

But you don't have to go crazy like me. You can just use the suggested reading list from the Story of the World Activity Guide or whatever curriculum you use and it will be wonderful. Or you can search the web for reading lists other homeschoolers have put together.

Daddy Saves the Day

Some homeschool dads are very involved in the day-to-day teaching of their kids, and I think that's awesome. I think for most homeschool dads, however, it is very difficult for them to get that involved due to demanding work schedules. Having Daddy read to the kids is a great way to still have him involved.

When our kids were young Marc and I used to take turns reading to the kids at bedtime or many times we'd do it together. Once we got into homeschooling Marc gradually took over the bedtime reading routine. Anna (15 yrs.) typically doesn't participate in these read-aloud sessions anymore because she's busy finishing homework or reading on her own, but Ryne and Grace still look forward to this time with Daddy. {Oh, and I'm the only one who calls him Daddy anymore (sniff!), but their switching to the more mature Dad is another topic.}

There's no set plan for their nighttime reading. They've read through a number of series together: I read through the Chronicles of Narnia books with them several years ago, then Marc took them through Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings books. They've read some of the Borrower's books, Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book, and many more that I'm too lazy to look up right now. : ) When we need ideas for new books to read, my favorite resource is Honey for a Child's Heart (affiliate link).

This year, however, Marc has been a lifesaver in helping me tackle our history reading list. Together they read Adam of the Road, The Red Keep, and several of our Reformation books. It worked out nicely too because many of those books I had read with Anna and instead of reading them again with the younger two kids, Marc got to experience some of the wonderful stories that make our studies come alive.

We Don't Do Projects

If you love getting out the glue and scissors on a regular basis, you will not be able to read as much. There are only so many hours in a day. And that's okay! I have great respect for the moms who make chicken mummies or catapults every week with their kids. I'm not that mom, however, so I focus on my strengths. We do very few projects around here and it works for us. In past years, I've also been known to neglect science in favor of our history reading too, but that doesn't work so well for us. : ) Thankfully, this year I managed to finally get a year where history and science were both finished by the end of May.

We Don't Finish School at Noon

If you're one of those families who likes to be done with school by lunchtime, my schedule won't work for you. We typically finish up between 2:00 and 4:00, depending on what day of the week it is. We go longer on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I don't have to pick up Anna from school. My kids never complain about this schedule; again, it's what works for us. I will say, however, that it's also probably why I can never keep up with housework and projects, but at this stage in our life I will always pick reading to my kids over mopping the floor!

None of these tips are particularly earth-shattering, I know. Perhaps the main theme here is that enjoying good books doesn't have to be such an effort. With the right routines in place it really becomes more of a lifestyle than something to check off a list, and it is a lifestyle that has richly blessed our family over the years.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Studying the Reformation

I've mentioned a number of times on this blog that I love history, and thankfully my kids have adopted my love for history too.

I've also mentioned before that my favorite part of homeschooling is reading to my kids, and thankfully they enjoy it just as much as I do.

So when we got to one of my favorite periods in history, the Reformation, we went a little crazy.

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We actually are still working on the list -- we still have the bottom three books to read, but with ballet performances, travel schedules, and the general lack of structure to our summer days, we haven't made too much time for reading together lately.  But it's still quite the stack of books we tackled. We started our Reformation studies in March or April and just stayed there for a couple months. Then we finished out the rest of The Story of the World 2 while continuing to read our Reformation books.

We happen to go to a Reformed church, so I might spend more time on the topic than others would, but I do think it's important for all Christians to be familiar with this period in history. We need to understand what it was like to not have immediate access to God's Word and why people were willing to risk their lives for that opportunity. We need to understand that the Church is made of sinners and therefore the need to be vigilant about upholding the truth of the gospel will never go away. We need to understand what sacrifice really looks like by hearing the stories of those who faced great persecution. 

That is why we devoted so much time to this period of history. And it has certainly been worth it. What a treasure these stories have been!

Here is a list of the chapter books we've read (and are still reading):

The Beggar's Bible, Vernon (John Wycliffe)
The Man Who Layed the Egg, Vernon (Erasmus) - this is the only book we didn't enjoy as much
Luther the Leader, Robinson
The Carpenter of Zerbst, de Zeeuw (Luther)
The River of Grace, McPherson (John Calvin)
The Bible Smuggler, Vernon (William Tyndale)
Ink on His Fingers, Vernon (Gutenberg press)
The King's Book, Vernon (King James Bible)
My Escape from the Auto De Fe, Timms (Spanish Inquisition)
Three Men Came to Heidelberg and Glorious Herritic, Van Halsema (The Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession; two books in one)
William of Orange: The Silent Prince, Van de Hulst
When the Morning Came, Prins (Holland)
Dispelling the Tyranny, Prins
The Beggar's Victory, Prins
For the Heart of Holland, Prins
Huguenot Garden, Jones (France)
The Escape, Van der Jagt (Huguenots)
The Secret Mission, Van der Jagt

I'm not providing links for these titles, because I can't decide who to link to! My main sources for finding these books are Veritas Press, Rainbow Resource, and Inheritance Publications (which has been a vendor at my local homeschool convention the last couple of years), although some of the titles can be found on Amazon as well. I'm grateful especially to VP and Inheritance for their dedication to helping others understand Reformation history. I'll let you decide who to support! If you do go the Amazon route though you can find a few of the titles through the BHA Amazon store, which helps support our book addiction. : )

Picture books on the Reformation are a little harder to find, but we have a few in our personal library. (These are affiliate links.)

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We also have The Church History ABC's (Nichols) which is not limited to the Reformation. I've flipped through Reformation Heroes (Kleyn) several times and it is lovely, but I felt the books we already owned covered the same information.

Finally, to complete our Reformation studies I had the kids memorize some basic facts. I recorded their recitation on the last day of school. For whatever reason it was hard to get them reciting at the same time for this unless they spoke very slowly, so I apologize in advance if it seems to drag a little. : )

Of course, that's not all we read for history this year! The first time we went through Story of the World 2, I made a list of all the books we used and even rated each book. I'm so glad I took the time to do that because it made planning for this year so easy -- we mostly chose books from that list that earned 4 stars or higher and then added some new books.

In my next post I'll tell you how we manage to find time to read all these books!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Need Your Help: Desk Mess!

Last year we undertook a three-way room switch-a-roo, moving our school room to one of the bedrooms, and then I was so kind to never show the after pictures. The reason for that was that it never completely got done, although the room was quite functional. My time for projects during the school year is non-existent, so this summer I'm wrapping up what I started last year. One benefit to this is I now have a good idea of what worked in the space and what didn't. Today I'm going to show you the main area that didn't work.

Meet Grace's desk.

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Lovely, eh? Trust me, it's been worse than this. God blessed me with creative children. All three love to draw. But Grace also loves to make things out of paper, cardboard, duct tape, fabric -- you name it! She also loves to write -- letters to her friends, poems, novels -- you name it!

I can't tell you how many needles and pins I've picked up off the floor. It's a miracle we haven't stepped on one yet. I also keep a razor blade in our school room so I can routinely scrape the glue and paint that's hardened onto her desk.

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Markers and pens are always falling off the desk...

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...even though I bought this nifty organizer at Ikea for her to store all her supplies.

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The inside of the desk is always a mess. It's supposed to hold her notebooks for school, but she can rarely fit them in there because it's holding all sorts of other stuff, including a carved tree branch!?

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The desk has two chairs, but one of them ends up just holding more stuff.

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This organizer was supposed to hold some of her books, but it's crammed with more stuff. Anytime I open a box where things are packed with cardboard I panic because I just know Grace is going to beg to keep the cardboard for another project. The piece of white cardboard behind the organizer is waiting for her next wave of inspiration. She was crushed when I wanted to recycle her empty Math U See Gamma workbook because she thought it would make a great folder for her American Girl dolls' school work. {Sigh}

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Moving to the floor area, we have a basket of her overflow stuff, a guitar made out of a tissue box and paper towel holder, and on the window ledge is a darling little house she created. To her credit, the papers on the floor are mine -- I was filing papers yesterday and they fell off the arm of the couch.

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So there you have it. Clearly this isn't just an organizational issue; we have a discipline problem too. But I'm at my wits end trying to figure out how to make this space work. How do you encourage your child's creativity without wanting to scream every time you enter the room? Here are some of the things I'm pondering:

  • Do I make this a school only zone and move her creative activities elsewhere? I'm not sure where that would be, but I might be able to set up an area in her room. We've already moved her sewing supplies there (which begs the question why are there still pins on the desk?!), but she doesn't really have a workspace up there. 
  • The desk stays for another year or two. Last summer we bought Anna a new desk, this summer it was Ryne, so we have to make this desk work for now. It's a great desk, but things tend to get lost in the little cubbies. I could take away one of the chairs and put some storage under there. Drawers maybe?
  • I could really use some ideas on how to motivate her to keep this area clean. She's perfectly happy to work with it like it is. We've tried having a rule that it has to be picked up before she goes to bed, but something always happens like I call her for dinner while she's in the middle of something and then we all forget about it until it's past bedtime. 

So here's the deal. If you ever want to see pictures of our finished school room, you need to help me figure out what to do with this space. Pretty, please? 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Colorful Colorado

Oh, summertime, will you please slow down? We are enjoying you so much, but it seems like every time we blink we're just a moment away from buying school supplies and filling up our calendar.

Our latest adventure has been a trip to the lovely state of Colorado. Now most families, when taking a trip to Colorado, do normal things like packing up the family wagon and driving there together or if the budget allows they fly there. Apparently we're not your average family. We practically need a spreadsheet to chart each family member's arrival and departure dates. I drove out there on a Sunday with three kids and a dog. Marc arrived by plane on Wednesday. On Friday I left with one kid and a dog. Monday through Wednesday, this week, Marc is attending business meetings in Denver. On Wednesday Marc will leave by plane to go to St. Louis for more business meetings. Sometime this week my brother-in-law will drive to Denver. On Sunday he will return, with my other two children. Got that?! Such is the life we lead.

Oh, and did I mention that a stomach bug has knocked us down, one by one, the last couple weeks? First the girls got sick, so we delayed our trip by a day, hoping we wouldn't get anyone else sick. Once we got to Denver, however, I got sick. The day after I left, Ryne (still in Denver) got sick. Now it's my sister's turn. Everyone who has been in contact with us in the last week is just waiting for it to hit them next. My sincere apologies to our families -- had I any idea, we would have just stayed home! 

Nevertheless, we squeezed in some wonderful family time and soaked in all that beautiful Colorado weather and scenery.  

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That's me climbing the rock wall below. Oh, wait. My bad! I'm actually the one sitting at the bottom of the mountain recovering from a stomach bug while my kids, dad, and sister go on a hike. But it totally could have been me! ; )

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My sister, dad, and all our dogs. I come from a die-hard dog-loving family.

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Our Fourth of July celebration included a trip to Georgetown, an old mining town, for a parade and a train ride through the mountains. In the evening we hung out at Marc's mom's house, grilling burgers and brats, swimming in the neighborhood pool, and playing cards. Everyone was having too much fun to go out for fireworks.

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I need to trade in my minivan for one of these turquoise beauties.

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My favorite boys: Marc, Ryne, and Dad

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Hope you're having a wonderful summer!