More Writing, Less Blogging

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It occurs to me that it is almost the end of September and I have not finished the two books I told myself I would publish before the end of the year. So I will slow down the blog posts and focus on writing. One book is the second volume in the Izzy Adventures Series (bilingual books) and the other one is the fourth volume in my How To Homeschool Series, i.e. 101 Tips for Second Grade Homeschooling.

English-Russian cover of Kitten in the Storm

English-Russian cover of Kitten in the Storm

At this point, just in case you are wondering, I should probably mention that, through it all, I am not motivated by money. Here’s a financial tip: if you want to get rich quick, do not take up blogging or writing. I am doing both simply because I enjoy myself in the process. I have the publishing bug, what can I say? Continue reading »

Pushing the Publish button after typing my heart out gives me more thrills than a chocolate eclair. OK, so many not as many, but it’s right up there with vegan banana split topped with locally produced honey or watching the sunrise over the ocean or strolling through the Champs-Élysées. You get the picture.

The second volume of the language series is pretty much written, I just have to review it. The other book is just a little past the planning phase. Nevertheless, I have great hopes to be finished with both by the end of this week, which is our first fall break of the school year. What else am I going to do with my newly acquired vast chasms of time? (Sorry, Thomas Jefferson!)

One of these days I will plop myself on my therapist’s armchair and ask her why I cannot just walk outside my front door and smell the roses. Well, besides living in the mosquito capital of the American South East. Until then, I will be here typing while my children play, still bewildered that they got a whole week off from school.

Expect two blog posts a week for the next foreseeable future until I place the books into the capable hands of my designer. And thanks for reading.

Homeschooling Is Parenting

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I know, I know. Blanket statements do not stand the test of real life. Let me explain my title. “Homeschooling is parenting” means one cannot homeschool without being really good at parenting. You don’t have to be a certified teacher to teach your own children at home, but you do need to be a good parent to homeschool. Academics, believe it or not, are not as important in homeschooling as parenting skills.

Girl with lion statue in Gatlinburg

My daughter in The Village, downtown Gatlinburg

That does not mean your child will suffer academically if they are homeschooled. On the contrary, most homeschoolers score higher on standardized tests than their peers who attend public or private schools. But it does mean that unless you have some parenting skills, you will never even get to the table to teach junior how to read.  Continue reading »

I have had several moms tell me, “I would have liked to have homeschooled my children, but I know my daughter and I would have killed each other if I had gone that route.” Hmmm… Yes, mother-daughter relationships can be tricky, but you just told me you never really got the hang of it. I have a daughter and want to get the hang of it. Not just for homeschooling, but for life in general.

The good news is that parenting skills can be learned. None of us were raised by perfect parents and some of us have some serious learning to do in that department. I know I do.

Which is why, besides praying for wisdom, I have been reading parenting books. Since I started homeschooling though, it has been so easy to focus on how-to-homeschool books, that I have neglected parenting books altogether. The result was that I allowed some bad habits in my parenting and, over time, this affected our homeschool. You see how the two are connected?

Recently, I reached a point where I was desperate to have a better grip on my children’s attitude and behavior. I finally opened up to a good friend who homeschooled two children successfully. She gave me wonderful advice and then the title of a book by James Dobson: Parenting Isn’t For Cowards. I will be forever grateful to my friend for steering me in the right direction.

I will be blogging about this book in a future Tuesday Tome post, but I can tell you right now it is exactly what I needed to understand parenting as a whole, to have a big picture of what to expect, how to cope, and to learn how some Bible passages about child-rearing can be misinterpreted even by pastors. This book is an answer to my prayer for wisdom.

It also reminded me to check out other resources from Focus on the Family. How could anybody go wrong with these books and seminars? If you are feeling tired or discouraged as a parent, you should definitely reach out for help to a friend or a website or a support group. Don’t wait until it is too late and your burnout will cause you physical distress or worse.

Leave your pride aside and open up to somebody you trust, a spiritual leader in your life, a book somebody once mentioned, or a Google search at the very least. Take care of yourself so that you can take good care of your children.

Our Fourth Homeschool Year Begins

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The other day I took the kids to the pool and an acquaintance asked if they start school soon. I knew that question implied that she thought they attend the local public school system. So I replied, “We homeschool, so we start whenever we want. But yes, we started Monday.”

Boy Starts Third Grade

Our son starts third grade.

She said, “Oh, cool. You homeschool. Is this your first year?” I said, “No, it is our fourth.” She said something positive about it again.  Continue reading »

I never know with people if they are positive just to be nice or if they really mean it. And I am aware that homeschooling can be done poorly. Teachers in public and private schools have shared with me that some homeschooling parents do not do anything with their children. After a few years, they put them in the school system and the teachers have to deal with the results of a bad homeschool.

Homeschooling can be done in many ways. There’s a homeschool flavor for everyone. But not teaching your children how to read, write, and do basic math is not acceptable. And money should not even factor in. Public schools ask for money at every turn of the semester, but they fail to produce results.

I have shared here several times about free homeschooling curriculum or inexpensive homeschool curriculum. The library is a treasure trove of living books which homeschoolers should prefer anyway over dry textbooks.

Girl Starts First Grade

Our daughter starts first grade.

Homeschooling does not have to take all your energy and time, either. When children are small, they can only do phonics for 10-15 minutes at a time. As they get older, they require less and less supervision from mom. Sure, it’s a commitment, but it does not have to overwhelm you because it is so efficient.

Homeschool schedules are flexible because you don’t depend on a committee to make changes. Also, because you want to give your children the power to make decisions to an extent, especially as they grow older and develop preferences.

So I encourage you to start your new homeschooling year with courage. Set your goals and write them down. Research shows written goals get accomplished more often than those we only think about.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 39 – Organize

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A few weeks ago, on the bleachers next to a soccer field in Tennessee, parents were chatting about this new experience. Most of them had a child in kindergarten. Most of them were there for the very first soccer practice in the life of their kindergarten student. I felt like a veteran, as this was my third year on those bleachers.

They knew each other because their children attended this private school. They did not know me.

Thoughtful Thursday - Organize

I homeschool and bring my children to the soccer practice at this private school because the coach welcomes homeschoolers. Plus it works out with the rest of the things we do in Knoxville, one hour away from home, on a particular day of the week. My husband, as the principal of our homeschool, had asked me to look around for an opportunity for our children to be involved in a team sport. This was the perfect fit for us.

So these parents who knew each other turned toward me and asked if I had a child on the field. I told them I had two, one in second grade and the other in kindergarten. Oh, they wanted to know, “Which kindergarten class is your child in?” “We homeschool.” They were very positive in their responses. They thought homeschooling was admirable.  Continue reading »

One of the ladies said she looked into homeschooling, but she was afraid she might mess up her child for life when it came to the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic. She wanted a teacher to get him “set up” and then, maybe, she would homeschool him starting in grade 4. I nodded like I understood.

Later on, as I thought about it, I wondered if she thought a fourth grader with established friendships would embrace homeschooling. I think not, unless he had a traumatic experience in school, whether with bullying or competitive academics.

Another lady told me that she would love to homeschool, but she was not organized at all. She could not do it. She just knew it. I replied that yes, a homeschooling mom must be organized, otherwise it would be a recipe for disaster. The silence that followed was awkward.

She just realized she had put herself down. Maybe she was not as disorganized as she thought she was. Maybe my line was a bit too strong.

She added that she was a pediatric nurse, but when she came home from the hospital with her newborn, she called her mom and asked her, “What do I DO?”

I nodded like I understood again. When it comes to their own children, many people lose their professional skills. I gave her the example of a friend of mine who works with an ambulance service. He sees blood and gore every day. People die in front of him almost every day. And yet, when his children cough or skin a knee, he can’t handle it. He calls 911 or his ambulance service friends to come take care of his children.

All things being equal, I still stand by my line. Lack of organization will get a homeschooling mom in trouble. Stop reading this blog right now and organize your paperwork, school room, closet or whatever corner is full of clutter in your home.

101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home – FREE Kindle Book

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It’s finally here! 101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home, the second volume in my How to Homeschool series, is available now on Amazon, on Kindle and in paperback. During this season of giving, I am making it available for free. Please read on.

101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home welcomes parents into the official world of homeschooling their children.

101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home

Ten chapters share ten tips each. The eleventh chapter shares tip #101. It’s an easy-to-read format, quick and to the point. Who has time to read hundreds of pages while taking care of children and keeping house?  Continue reading »

Please let your homeschooling friends know about this offer. December 23-27, 101 Tips for Kindergarten at Home is available for free. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still get this book for free. Amazon will let you download the Kindle app for free and then you can read Kindle books on your computer.

If you are interested in the first volume, 101 Tips for Preschool at Home, please know that it is also available in both formats.

3 Activities for Earth Day 2014

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In our homeschool, we celebrated Earth Day this year with three activities:

1. Trash pick-up around our neighborhood.

It rained on April 22, so we could not pick up trash in our neighborhood. We did it today, two days later, after the ditches dried up. The kids love to get into the ditches to pick up trash and I would prefer not to have to clean up muddy boots. Boy and girl pick up trash in a ditch

We filled up five shopping bags or 13 gallons worth of bottles, cans, plastic pieces, Styrofoam cups, Subway sandwich wrappers, candy bags and bits of papers. Some paper was pink, which delighted my daughter, who loves all things pink. Pink trash!

Boy and girl with 13 gallons of trash they picked up for Earth Day

One would think we live in a trashy neighborhood, but we don’t. Most trash was around overnight rentals, which are about six homes down from our house.

2. Coloring a Crayola page with an Earth Day theme.

We talked about the Earth being a gift from God, its Creator. I gave them envelops with their names on them, which contained a picture of the Earth. I told them God gave the Earth to them and all of us as a gift, so we can enjoy the plants and animals and air and mountains and seas. As such, we should take good care of it. It’s called stewardship.

The envelop idea came from Horizons Preschool, a curriculum I am loosely working through with my daughter. The whole thing went along nicely with our Apologia worldview curriculum called “What On Earth Can I Do?” – review coming up in May, by the way.

3. Planting an AeroGarden.

Somebody gave us this amazing contraption about a year ago. I kept it in the garage, thinking I would start this indoor water garden during the long winter months. Well, I never got around to it. I almost gave it away at one point.

We finally put it together and it’s looking good. Some of the seeds are already germinating. We can see them through the domes. It turns itself on for 16 hours and it shuts off for eight hours. A light comes on when I need to add water. Another light comes on when I need to add nutrients. For city girls like me, this is the perfect garden.

Speaking of gardens, we need to re-plant our small veggie patch. Two days after we planted our tomatoes and peppers, we got hail and snow. Even though I covered them, they shriveled up and died. If that’s not a metaphor for putting children out of their homes at an early age, when they are not yet prepared to face cold shoulders, teasing, competition, bullies and all the other harsh realities of a school setting.

Pepper plant shriveled up because of snow

Yes, everything brings me back to homeschooling.

By the way, my kids loved picking up trash and my son said he would like to do it every day. That’s probably because I told them that every day is Earth Day. Every day is our birthday. Being alive is a privilege worth celebrating. I told him we could plan on a weekly trash pick up around our neighborhood.

Isn’t homeschooling wonderful? We get to change events based on the weather without having to fill out paper work.

Thanksgiving Unit Study, PreK-K

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Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you will leave me a comment below about the things you are most thankful for. Among other things, I am thankful for the United States of America – this greatest experiment in the history of human civilization. Without this country, we would not know what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean. In our homeschool, we took three days to study about Thanksgiving.

First, we did some crafts, coloring pages, math unit studies and other activities from this list:

Children doing Thanksgiving crafts at the table

My children doing crafts at the table

Girl cuts a turkey craft for Thanksgiving

My daughter enjoyed the crafts, which gives me energy to bring craft time back more often

Boy cuts a Thanksgiving turkey craft

My son cut lots of feathers, and even helped his sister a bit

Little girl with Thanksgiving turkey crafts

Brother did not have the patience to sit through a photo shoot with the paper roll turkeys, but he made one of these

  • Cute Turkey Buttoning and Matching Color Activity (Preschool) – This will have to wait until next week when I can get supplies. I was going to buy them the day before Thanksgiving, but we got snowed in.
Girl playing with snow

My daughter taking advantage of a snow day

Enjoying our first snow day of the year

My son enjoying our first snow day

  • Even Cuter Turkey Buttoning and Color Matching Activity (Preschool)
  • Cardboard Turkey – This website inspired me to make my own turkey craft. Homeschooling moms are allowed to make their own crafts, aren’t they?
Turkey Craft I made just because I felt inspired. But then, I realized it inspired the kids to see their mom cut and paint.

Turkey Craft I made just because I felt inspired. But then, I realized it inspired the kids to see their mom cut and paint.

Boy making Thanksgiving Craft

This particular Thanksgiving craft personalized the holiday when we wrote what they were thankful for on every feather of the turkey

Small girl cutting paper with pink scissors

More than anything, my daughter loved cutting paper in small bits

Little girl with Thanksgiving turkey craft

She is thankful for Jesus, good food, birthday cakes, her brother, snow and the Titanic

Boy with Thanksgiving turkey craft

Thankful for snow, sun, sister, parents, God’s power, and evergreens

We learned/sang some Thanksgiving songs:

Then, we read these books:

            • Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
            • Turkey Trouble
            • One Tough Turkey
            • Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit (still to get)

Finally, the children watched some videos:

  • A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – 25 minutes. It’s such a classic piece of Americana. They liked the silly parts and how Snoopy set the table. Later that day, when daddy came home, they set a Thanksgiving table with their toy kitchen set, complete with a tablecloth (daddy’s coat) and referenced how Snoopy tied the corners of the tablecloth. One of the characters uses bad language once and I had to explain to the kids we don’t talk that way. Also, that they will meet people who talk that way and we should love them as Jesus does and pray for them and respect them.
  • Plimoth Plantation and Scholastic Virtual Field Trip – 5 minutes of skipping around the video, to see different characters present their lives. It’s a longer documentary, for upper elementary grades, too boring for my kids. The Google Earth presentation of the Mayflower itinerary fascinated them and reminded them of the Titanic’s attempt at crossing the Atlantic. I would have never put the two together. It seems our Titanic visit and its wall map showing the intended itinerary over the ocean is still fresh in their minds.
  • Mayflower movie trailer – 1 minute.
Little girl sweeps the floor

She made most of the mess and was willing to clean it up.

Teaching a Thanksgiving unit study inspires me because I know from experience what it is like to move countries. While growing up in Communist Romania, I used to listen to The Voice of America – a forbidden activity. Their broadcast about Thanksgiving has stayed with me ever since. Who would have thought I would end up in the USA, homeschooling my American children and teaching them about Thanksgiving?

5 Quick Points on Socialization and Homeschooling

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The other day I took my son to his science class, organized by our local aquarium specifically for homeschoolers. As I sat there looking at PowerPoint slides of bones and muscles, I also glanced occasionally at the students sitting on the carpet. They interacted well with each other and looked oh, so socialized.

And yet, public/private school parents still believe homeschooling produces social misfits. Mainstream parents also equate schooling with socialization. Generations of parents have been lead to believe that children belong together in age-segregated classrooms. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are 5 thoughts that hit me that afternoon during my son’s science class:

1. Introverts will be introverts. My Myers-Briggs profile is INTJ – Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgment. I attended public school and, before that, I was in day care. I have friends and I enjoy public speaking, but I will always be an introvert. Personality does not change. Shy children will be shy no matter where they went to school.

2. Public school is not the real world. When I was deciding on educational choices for my children, some people encouraged me to send them to public school because “public school is the real world.” Nonsense. Where else in your post-college world will you spend seven hours a day with 25 other people your age?

The best way to socialize a child is by exposing her to different age groups and different social situations – and homeschooling affords that as we take our children to different co-op classes, orchestra events, 4-H groups, mission trips, nursing homes etc. That’s the real world.

My extended family dining together

My extended family having breakfast together

3. Do not underestimate the mommy factor. Dr. James Dobson talks and writes frequently about the importance of the mother in the lives of her children. Research shows that children who grow up in the care of somebody else other than their mother show more aggressive behavior and disobedience than those raised at home by their own mom.

4. Socialization is a non-issue. If anybody asks you “What about socialization,” they simply show their ignorance about all the research on the matter. By the way, here are 7 ways to answer the socialization question. Sure, there are some homeschoolers who de-cry their parents’ way of socializing them, but we all know social misfits who attended public school. Homeschoolers will have some bad experiences just as public/private school students will have bad experiences.

5. Spending long periods of time with peers does not lead to higher intelligence. Madeline’s eleven peers wanted their appendix out, too. They saw Madeline, a popular kid, show off a scar as a badge of honor. They also saw the dollhouse and gifts Madeline’s papa sent while she was in the hospital. They did not think about Madeline’s pain. They wanted surgery because Madeline had surgery and she got all that. It’s called peer pressure and not thinking things through – the modus operandi of traditionally-schooled children.

While deciding to homeschool, I struggled with many questions, but socialization was not one of them because I had read the Smithsonian Institution’s recipe for genius and leadership from “The Childhood Pattern of Genius” by  H. McCurdy:

a. Children should spend a great deal of time with loving, educationally minded parents;

b. Children should be allowed a lot of free exploration; and

c. Children should have little to no association with peers outside of family and relatives.

Far from producing loners, homeschooling provides a platform for raising leaders and thinkers. Quod erat demonstrandum.

French Friday, Colors

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Are you ready for another French lesson in your homeschool? Let’s learn the colors in French.

Colors are an important part of vocabulary in any new language. One can use colors to express so much beyond their literal meaning. For instance, our moods. One can be green with envy, red with anger, yellow with sickness, and white with fear. The ultimate color collection, the rainbow, spells hope and a new beginning.

French Friday Colors Flash Cards

I made flash cards for learning the colors in French. Please click below for a PDF file you can save and print.

French Colors

For more French lessons from Homeschool Ways, please click here. Happy homeschooling!

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Review

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When it became clear that I would homeschool my children, toward the end of February 2012, I looked for the best homeschool magazine. I found three and could not pick one, so I subscribed to all of them: “Practical Homeschooling Magazine,” “Homeschool Enrichment Magazine” and “The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.”

After almost two years of trying them out, I decided that they all have great content, but:

1. I don’t want to take the time to read three homeschool magazines,

2. Paper magazines clutter my house, and

3. Free is better than paid.

And the winner is – drum roll please – “The Old Schoolhouse Magazine” or TOS for short. Here’s the vendor website where you can sign up for it.

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You see, the other two, as great as they are, come in a paper format – like, one must walk to one’s mailbox to get them. Also, one pays for them. So 20th century.

“The Old Schoolhouse Magazine,” on the other hand, is free, digital, and contains 177 pages, chock-full of homeschooling tips (as opposed to 50 pages in the aforementioned paid, paper magazines). I read TOS on my laptop, or on my tablet, or on my smartphone. I get an email when the latest issue is available. I click on the link and voilà: magazine. Did I mention it is free?

Let’s look at “The Old Schoolhouse Magazine” November-December 2013 issue and you will see how many benefits one receives from being subscribed to a free digital homeschooling magazine. For the TOS app, click here.

For starters, the cover of every issue shows an old school building (the old schoolhouse… get it?) from somewhere in the United States. The first page tells the story behind the picture, which a homeschooling mom could easily use for a quick geography and history lesson with the kids.

Different sections of the magazine clearly spell out what each article tackles, which is helpful. “The Informed Homeschooler” covers current events which can affect our homeschooling rights and methods. “The Unit Study Homeschooler” will attract those homeschooling moms who have made unit studies work for them.

“The Classical Homeschooler” caters to those who feel inclined towards a classical education at home. “The Tech Homeschooler” reviews the latest gadgets or educational software. “The Littlest Homeschooler” dishes out advice on how to homeschool with preschoolers underfoot. You get the idea.

Another section of the magazine, peppered throughout for variety, is “Academic Spotlight.” In the November/December 2013 issue of “The Old Schoolhouse Magazine,” they focused on music and phonics/reading.

Personally, I find that I read most of the magazine, but not all of it. For instance, I am not much of a unit study homeschooler, so I will probably not read an article about unit studies. However, I will read about classical education, art, music, legal issues, current events, organizing, and college prep.

I also read most ads. If they made this magazine, those products must be good. Ads also contain hyperlinks which take you straight to their website for more information. How convenient!

Reading the TOS magazine takes me several evenings. After putting the kids to bed, I curl up with my laptop and read whatever fits best. Do I need a little spiritual perspective? I turn to “His Joyful Homeschooler” – a devotional section – or to the Editorial. Do I want a little inspiration from others? “Show and Tell” will do the trick.

I love how interactive reading “The Old Schoolhouse Magazine” feels. Some of the writers are bloggers and one can leave a comment on their blog with a mouse click. Now that’s the 21st century.

For more fun, exciting and, oh yes, useful reviews, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew website.

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