How to Choose Literature for Children

Posted on

Once you decide reading should be an important part of your homeschool, you face the next question: how to choose good literature for children. There are lists of classics for kids online and, of course, the Harry Potter series is among them once you reach middle school. “The Call of the Wild” is another one. Or “Oliver Twist.”

How to Choose Literature for Children

Let’s take each of these titles and look at them closely. The Bible clearly states witchcraft is evil, so why would any Christian read Harry Potter? But even if you decided you wanted to know what the whole world is so crazy about, my biggest problem with the Harry Potter series is that the characters lie, cheat, and steal in order to accomplish their goals. Since readers usually end up sympathizing with the main characters, I do not want to put such role models in front of my children.  Continue reading »

How about “The Call of the Wild?” I have conservative Christian friends who stay away from fiction altogether, but they might consider Jack London’s novel because it’s about a dog. Animal stories tend to always make the list with conservative Christian parents. But wait a minute! If you read the story and have any background in philosophy, you will recognize that London is weaving through a theme of nihilism he learned from Nietzsche.

This story is often classified as a children’s novel, but that is wrong. Children do not get the themes and motifs London put into this book. Besides, the violence described or mentioned in the book should probably not be put in front of impressionable minds. The same goes for “Oliver Twist.” This book is not “kiddie stuff” just because it’s about a boy. Oliver’s journey makes for a great classic, but children should be closer to teens if the read this book at all because of the material presented.

As I have looked around, I found a very good document about how to choose good literature for children. It is on the website of super-conservative Christian curriculum provider, Bob Jones University Press. I don’t get BJU Press curriculum for my homeschool for several reasons, but I think they did well with their article on discernment and literature.

This document first lists great books for children by grade, and then, around page 157, it goes into how to choose literature for children from a Christian perspective. It’s a great article and if you read anything today, you should read those pages about developing discernment.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 3

Posted on

Chapter 3 came with two stories, but they both focused on King James. I know it’s a bit much to read two stories in one sitting, and work through questions and narration, but we do it because, frankly, I find it hard to split history in two days during the week. Plus we have been doing this through the summer and the kids could take it.

When I finish one story, I ask them the comprehension questions. Then, I ask my eight-year-old to narrate the story back to me. As soon as he stops, they say, “Next story! Next story!” So it’s not like I am stressing them out or making them suffer. They love history.  Continue reading »

It was interesting to see they were making connections today. When I mentioned Westminster Abbey, my daughter said, “That’s where Handel is buried!” She has been listening to some CDs about the lives of different composers and obviously she is connecting the dots.

One thing they did differently today was my daughter decided to copy her brother in his coloring. So if you see a cat in the original coloring page, you can also see it in her page, except hers is reversed (she is left-handed).

If you look closely, there’s even a lion on the sails – probably an inspiration from the Dawn Treader – the Narnia book we are reading right now. They have Aslan on their sails. They were impressed with the number of scholars King James got together to translate the Bible (54).

I decided I was not ready to do crafts so we did not do them.

Auditioning for KSYO

Posted on

Today was the day we had been looking forward to since the end of June. It was at the end of June my children attended String Camp in Knoxville, with the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. When we started camp, I did not think we would be interested in joining simply because of the drive.

Boy and girl with violins

Before the second day of String Camp last summer

But by the end of the week, we were hooked. My children were having fun in orchestra and even though I was exhausted I knew it would all be worth it. Plus, I was enjoying seeing they finally had some positive feelings about the violin. Making friends who also like violin helped a lot, I think.  Continue reading »

We signed up for the audition during Camp, but anybody can do it online on the KSYO auditions page. Auditions are held at West Valley Middle School in Knoxville, which is also where they have rehearsals throughout the year.

We had to arrive there 30 minutes prior to their audition times, to get signed in, warmed up, and have the instruments tuned up. There is a large room where parents and children wait, with several smaller rooms nearby where one can warm up a bit.

An attendant comes by to tune up the violins and to check on us regularly. Everything happened very smoothly. At the right time, the time we received for our children, somebody came and took them to the room where the judging panel was.

My son went first. When he came back, he told us all about it. He said he did fine and because his song was really long they actually did not even let him finish it. The sight reading part was one line and he called it “easy.”

It helped him to see Erin Archer among the five judges, because she was his conductor during the summer String Camp. He was happy and relieved it was over. He told us he had definitely been nervous.

Our daughter’s turn came and she disappeared for five minutes. When she came back, she was all smiles and relieved. She gave me a lot of details about it but then I had to ask some other questions. It turns out that she could not do the sight reading exercise.

Well, even if she does not get in, it will all be worth it. It’s an experience she can build on and now she knows what to expect. But it’s not over till it’s over. We will get the results by next Friday and I will keep you posted.

Wordly Wise 3000 Review

Posted on

The only vocabulary curriculum on the market, Worldly Wise 3000 has been around for decades and only gets better with each new edition. We are working out of the latest edition, which is the third.

Wordly Wise 3000, 3rd edition

Vocabulary curriculum, available for grades K-12

Even though it is clearly written for classroom use, Wordly Wise 3000 can be easily adapted for homeschooling. We started out with the volumes for Kindergarten and First Grade, which require you buy the Teacher’s Manual, as well. After that, grades 2-12 do not require the Teacher’s Manual. So you only need to spend about $9 for a consumable student workbook per child. Rainbow Resource Center seems to have the best prices though you can find these everywhere else. Continue reading »

My children love this curriculum. Each lesson has a story, which I read out loud while they listen and look at the right picture in their student workbook. Each paragraph I read corresponds to a picture in their book. Then, they have to number the pictures in the order they happened in the story. There is a coloring page, a journaling page, and one or two other pages with words they must choose to match a picture.

It is a systematic way of teaching vocabulary and vocabulary is a strong indicator of future success. So yes, it is very important. Reading a lot is key also, but do you stop and look new words in the dictionary while reading? No, you don’t; nor should you.

That is why you need a systematic way to teach vocabulary and Wordly Wise 3000 will be your friend for life. Or, at least, until your last one graduates from high school.

What I found is that my children like this curriculum so much, they ask for more than one story per day. There are 15 lessons and you are supposed to spend two weeks on each lesson. But when you only have two children in the classroom, it all gets very efficient. One day, we did four lessons. They were still asking for more. I know the vocabulary itself was not that new or challenging to them, but I had to put a stop to it myself.

Imagine that. “Tomorrow is another day” used in a positive context. So the next day we did two lessons. And we always do at least two. As a result, we will finish this curriculum in two weeks. I just ordered the next three levels for them because I don’t want to hold them back. It will be interesting to see at what point they level off.

Learning vocabulary is supposed to happen through repetition: seeing words in different contexts and pictures, using them in their own sentences, maybe even drawing the concept. For Kindergarten and First Grade, Wordly Wise 3000 give you all sorts of exercises in the Teacher’s Manuals, but we don’t do them all. I have read so much to my children, they know 99% of these words already. To them, it’s more about the stories and the colorful exercises at this point.

Now and then, they don’t know what a word means but they get it from the context. Or, they have an idea about the meaning but it’s fuzzy. I asked them what “tropical” meant. They said, “tropical island.” Aha! I explained with a world map where tropical countries are found but that they are not all islands. It’s a lot of fun but then I love words.

National Park Service Centennial

Posted on

Yesterday, the US National Park Service turned 100 years old. There were celebrations all over, I am sure. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park had their own celebration, complete with a visit from our Congressman Phil Roe and Senator Lamar Alexander.

Boy and girl taking a break from hiking

Taking a short break on the trail

I took the kids on a hike in the late afternoon and stayed away from the morning ceremonies. We avoid crowds, as people who live in a tourist area. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike.  Continue reading »

We did the Gatlinburg Trail, which stretches for about 2.1 miles one way. We obviously have to return, so we get a good four mile hike. It takes us two hours – just about the parking limit at the trailhead.

Yesterday was tough in terms of their attitude in school. We did have some disruptions, like international Skype calls I had to take during our school hours because of time differences etc. So once they got into play mode, it was virtually impossible to bring them back to formal learning mode.

The hike helped give us time to talk about what happened. Nothing like walking and talking, you know? Sure, we looked at nature and saw insects and fungus and flowers and birds. We noticed the word “neotropical” at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and decided to look it up. My son also stumped me with the question, “Is there any type of grass that has flowers?” – another one I promised to look up when we got back home. So yes, nature observation or nature study did happen.

Boy and girl playing on the Gatlinburg Trail

At the half way point, on the dirt hill – that’s why we do laundry

But the main goal of the expedition was to calm down together, move muscles so they sleep better, and talk. Talk we did. My daughter wanted to hold hands with me on the trail, which she usually does not. It told me she knew she was in trouble and wanted to make sure she still had my love even though she misbehaved.

There’s the challenge for all parents: when you love your child and hate her behavior, how do you communicate it? Because you certainly want to let your child know that you love her even when she misbehaves. Love is not conditional. Love is indifferent to circumstances and behavior. Love just is.

But then something must be done about the behavior. Nothing really of substance came of the discussion during the walk, but it removed some of the outer layers of the motivation behind her behavior. It was later in the evening, when I was tucking her into bed, that the tears started coming and she explained some of her fears – of which I knew nothing.

As a girl, she has layers and layers of consciousness. At her age, it is difficult for her to peel them off and describe them to me. But loving efforts on my part, even though sprinkled with parenting mistakes, pay off.

So this centennial will be memorable to me for as long as I still have a brain. My daughter taught me a huge lesson in parenting and hopefully she learned the importance of obedience even more.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 2

Posted on

The second chapter of volume three had two stories about Protestant Rebellions: first in the Netherlands, then in Scotland. We got introduced to the many times over great-grandfather of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who reigns today with his lovely Argentinian wife, Maxima. The royal couple have three cute daughters and he is the second youngest reigning European monarch.

William The Silent Coloring Page

William The Silent Coloring Page

But let me not get carried away with modern-day monarchs. Back to their ancestors. So William of Orange or William I, or William the Silent, or William the Taciturn are one and the same person – the ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands. He was a Protestant who lived in a Catholic world until he could not take it anymore and he lead some serious rebellions against the Catholic king of his country.  Continue reading »

From the Netherlands, we moved to Scotland, where we got introduced to the parents of King James I, of KJV Bible translation fame. Queen Mary of Scotland returned a widow from France, where she had been sent to grow up and get educated. She got remarried to Lord Darnley and they had Baby James who was destined to become King James I of Great Britain and Ireland.

I could talk about monarchy all day but this is not a history encyclopedia. It’s a blog post about how our children interacted with this history lesson. First off, there were beheadings in both stories; mentioned, not described. Even so, it was shocking to the six-year-old, who was coloring Queen Mary. She asked several times if she was coloring the lady who got beheaded in the story. She was very sad for her.

Secondly, they enjoyed the story but it was rather hard to keep all the details straight. I don’t expect them to, at their age. Again, we are simply introducing an approximate timeline, names, places, concepts – history gives everybody a foundation. I even gave up on narration for this chapter.

History repeats itself and if we don’t know it, we are bound the repeat the mistakes of the past. Homeschooling allows us to not repeat the mistakes of our educational past, for instance, right? We remember what it was like going to school and being bullied or misunderstood. I remember how traumatic sixth grade was for me socially – and I was one of the good students in the class.

I showed them pictures of the kilt-making craft but we did not make one. I don’t have Scottish ancestry and I do not want my son to wear a kilt any time soon. To make one for my daughter seemed bizarre, so no kilt craft for us. But it sure explained a lot about the way the clans chose their colors and patterns.

How to Memorize the Fruit of the Spirit

Posted on

If you are a Christian, you might be familiar with Galatians 5:22-23, also known as the Fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The Fruit of the Spirit

I recently learned how to memorize this text. It works in the Bible version you see above, which is the New Living Translation. It’s very close to the New King James Version, actually. Continue reading »

First, let me tell you where I found this, so that I give the source proper due: in my daily devotional, called “Help! I’m a Parent!” On page 275, which corresponds to the day of September 19 (I like to read ahead), Verna Reinbold shares that she noticed the fruit of the Spirit could be split into three categories by syllables.

Now, here’s the trick. The first three words have one syllable each. The next three have two syllables each. The last three words contain – you guessed it – three syllables. How cool is that? It made it so much easier to remember the verse. Also, it made it so much easier to mutter it through the day when small irritations threaten to become big irritations unless I get a hold of “love, joy, peace, patience etc.” all over again.

So there you have it. I hope you put this one to memory if you have not already. Your homeschool experience will be smoother as you recite it when you feel your temperature rise. I know I have wanted to memorize this verse a long time ago and I just could not do it. Now I have no excuse.

Tuesday Tome Week 34 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Posted on

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second volume of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and, probably, the best-known and the most read. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy spend their summer in the country because of the war (this was World War II England – a chance to discuss some history with the kids), in the home of an old professor. There, Lucy walks into a wardrobe and, from there, into Narnia, a magical land.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C. S. Lewis wrote about Narnia and you could just enjoy the story as it is, of course. But the writer meant it all as an allegory of the Christian walk and a human’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Aslan, the lion in the title, represents Jesus. The Witch represents Satan and, at times, our fallen nature. The Wardrobe is the actual “door” used to go between our world and Narnia.  Continue reading »

There are so many double meanings to what the characters say and do. Every time I read this book or listen to its radio theater version, which I highly recommend, I see something new. It’s the mark of a good writer and somebody who understands the Christian walk through his own experience.

The most memorable quote for me from volume 2 is when Mr. Beaver talks to the kids about Aslan, the lion. They have never met him so they are wondering what he is like. Is he safe? Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about being safe? But he is good.”

I tear up every time I read or hear that quote because I have experienced this with the lion, Jesus, in my own Christian walk. Aslan will take you places where you will hurt. He will make you meet people who will hurt you. You will feel unsafe in places and relationships where you know He placed you. But it’s all part of His good plan for your life. He knows what you need to get ready for the “big journey” as He calls it.

After I read the book out loud to the kids, one chapter a day, sometimes two, we listened to the Focus on the Family radio theater version of it (as mentioned above). Then and only then, did I allow the kids to watch the BBC production of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I pointed out to the kids how the movie just cannot give you all the details you find in the book and why they should always read the book first.

It’s not that hard to finish the book in 10 days actually. If you read one chapter in the morning, right after breakfast and devotional, as a way to usher in your Language Arts for the day, and then another chapter in the evening, after dinner, you can get it done. It has 17 chapters. You can definitely read it in two weeks if you should slow down a bit here and there.

Back-to-School Walmart Commercial and Socialization

Posted on

During the Olympics, Walmart ran a back-to-school commercial using “Here I Go Again” – a song from the 80s by hard rock band Whitesnake. As I listened to the lyrics, I could not believe my ears. Walmart was making my point for me: going to school is a lonely road. You are alone even though you may be surrounded by a group of children. What ABOUT socialization?

Walmart back-to-school campaign

School socialization is focused on clothes, loneliness and pairing up.

Socialization is used as an excuse by many parents who send their children to school. In fact, I heard it put this way: “For the rest of their life, they will live surrounded by people. So we must send them to spend several hours a day in a place where they are surrounded by people.” The French go as far as sending their babies to daycare at three months in the name of “living in a collective.”  Continue reading »

This song perfectly explains how lonely it feels to go back to school and, apparently, cool clothes from Walmart will help you deal with that issue. Seriously?

Let’s see what the song says first:

I don’t know where I’m goin’
But I sure know where I’ve been
Hanging on the promises in songs of yesterday
An’ I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time
Here I go again, here I go again

Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone
An’ I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time…

The Walmart commercial does not go any further than this in the song, but if you read the rest of it, you would know it is a song about heartbreak. Singer-songwriter David Coverdale wrote this song as he was dealing with his divorce from his first wife. I feel for the man.

One of the things I don’t appreciate about socialization in schools is the peer pressure to pair up and have crushes. It starts early, folks. Really early. This summer, my son attended soccer camp with some public school kids and the girls teased him mercilessly about having a crush on a particular girl. The thing is, he did not.

Boy starts third grade

My son wore a gray T-shirt on his first day of school this year.

The girl did and she asked her girlfriends to tease him in order to find out how he felt about her. My poor innocent eight-year-old son was so confused and even angry. Not fun. It only reminded me why we stay away from these buildings called schools. So yes, Walmart, you got school socialization pegged: it’s all about pairing up and breaking up, just like the song you chose for your back-to-school campaign.

“I don’t know where I’m going” starts the song. Well, what can I say? Nobody knows the future. But it sure would be less scary for a child if he knew where he was going and if he did not have to face new teachers and classmates every fall. It would be so much easier on a child to know that he is at home with people who love him and his teacher is his mother (or father) – a person who loves him infinitely.

The commercial’s theme is “Own the first day.” It’s all about clothes. Yeah, some school supplies get two seconds of face time, but everything else is about clothes. You know children compare each other’s clothes and feel the pressure to wear specific brands, right?

Thanks, socialization in schools, for transforming us into robots programmed to keep up with the latest fashion trends and for making us feel that our bulging-at-the-seams closets do not contain anything worthy to wear unless we have what is deemed hot by the fashion experts. That’s why Walmart is trying to break that (otherwise bad) concept and market their merchandise as cool (even though it is not).

“On my own,” “like a drifter” and “alone” clearly paint a sad picture: going to school is a lonely endeavor which requires closing oneself up. God forbid that you should show your true self and expose yourself to merciless teasing and bullying. At the end of the day, a child who goes to school faces life’s challenges alone. Thanks again, Walmart, for making my points for me.

Last but not least, the grammar in this song reminds me that going to school is not a guarantee my children will learn better English than if they were homeschooled. Great choice of song, Walmart! Homeschoolers around the world thank you for telling it like it is. Going to school is not socialization. It is over-socialization which stresses out the kids and confuses them and their parents, sometimes for life.

Oven Fries

Posted on

French fries are not exactly the healthiest thing you could eat. In case you did not know, they were invented in Belgium. Want more trivia? McDonald’s fries are not vegetarian. Nope. They are not.

Oven fries taste just as good and, because they are baked, they will not load you with fat your body cannot process.

Oven fries

Oven fries are healthier than their fat-laden country cousins known as French fries.

Besides, oven fries are very quickly washed, cut up, and tossed with oil and condiments, while the oven is pre-heating. It is an easy food to make and a healthy side dish to any entree.



6 medium potatoes

3 Tbsp olive oil (more if desired)  Continue reading »

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp parsley flakes

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt to taste



Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Scrub potatoes and remove any dark brown spots. Do not peel the potatoes. The skin gives them a nice texture and it keeps the nutrients in.

Oven fries

You do not have to cut them really thin unless you want to.

Cut each potato lengthwise into 16 or more pieces. Put them in a medium size bowl. In a small cup, mix the oil with the condiments. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and toss them with a spatula until they are thoroughly coated.

Oven fries

Leave some room in the pan so you can turn them over easily if you like them crispy.

Spread them on a baking sheet in one layer. Bake at 375 F for 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Enjoy with veggie burgers or any other entree of your choice.