Library Story Time

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For several reasons, we have been inconsistent with our library visits. Back in January, we bought a lot of books because our house got damaged by wind and water the night of the Gatlinburg wildfire and we lost 40 books from our collection. So I took them to Barnes and Noble and let them choose lots of new books.

Andy Armadillo visits the library

Andy Armadillo from Texas Roadhouse came over to Story Time at our local library.

In retrospect, I wish I had been more careful with our choices, but that’s another story and hindsight is 20/20. I must focus on the fact that they are reading, learning new vocabulary and seeing how stories are put together. All this to say, we have been busy reading books we own, too busy to go borrow books from the local library.

Continue reading »

The other reason is that we found more of the books from the list I wanted them to read at the Pigeon Forge Library. And, get this, if they did not have them, they bought them for us. Since January, we have listened to unabridged classics like The Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte’s Web, Heidi, and Little House on the Prairie series (all seven volumes of it) – from the Pigeon Forge Library.

So yes, we have neglected Story Time at the Gatlinburg Library. It is more for preschool age anyway, I thought. We are transitioning toward chapter books and away from picture books and it is a weird little dance we are doing between longer books we read over a week or picture books we finish in two minutes.

This summer, I have come to the conclusion that one of my goals for the upcoming school year is that the kids read one book a day. My son is capable of reading a 150-page book on his own in one day. It takes him 4-6 hours but he loves it and he is learning a lot. For instance, he read The Terrestria Chronicles in a week. I have yet to read that series for myself. It came recommended by a mom I know and trust (and who is more Conservative than I am when it comes to reading standards) and so I purchased it for him.

I like the Charlotte Mason approach, but I am not a purist. Ms. Mason spoke against books that she called “twaddle.” Several people have tried to explain what that means. I bought the Boxcar Children series only to find out afterwards that Charlotte Mason devotees do not approve of it. Oh well.

Come to think of it, my own children got tired of it in volume 2. We set it aside. I plan to dust it off and pull it back out soon. They are older and maybe can handle the stories better, who knows? Or maybe it is not worth it, after all. You never know until you try it. If they reject it again, then maybe there is something wrong with these stories, although I love the values espoused by the children in this series.

My thing is, let the kids read what they like. Sure, they need guidance and there should be a standard in place as to the subject matter and how appropriate it is for a Christian child. But as long as a child is reading and you are praying for him to learn and grow and get wisdom from the books he reads, I have to count my blessings and move on in confidence that we are doing a good thing.

I still follow suggestions from Susan Wise Bauer’s classic “Well Trained Mind” as well as Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. I have a couple other books with book lists by ages, stages, and topics. Sometimes I Google “book lists for children” and find interesting ideas.

Back to my reading goals for the next school year: one book a day – picture book or small chapter book. If it is a longer chapter book, even a week is fine. But they need to read at least 20 pages per day in it. I usually end up reading to them these longer books because, frankly, I have not read them, and I want to know what is in them for my own benefit. But I don’t have time for all the chapter books they read. Only for the ones that end up on “classics for children” lists.

In order for us to be more consistent with this goal of “one book a day,” I have decided we shall attend Library Story Time every week. It is called “preschool and early elementary.” The librarian makes an effort to choose a longer book besides a shorter book which is “young” in its theme. There is a craft, but she does not mind if my children do not want to do it. Usually, they do not.

They sit in these great armchairs and read to themselves. Sometimes my daughter asks me to read to her. So we end up spending a great hour at the library, picking out books and reading to ourselves. Story Time is just an excuse to make it there weekly. Besides, everybody likes a story read to them.

I pick books for them, too. I gravitate towards nonfiction and make sure I choose from several categories: history, biographies, animals, space, math, science, geography etc. This will broaden their horizons beyond their normal realm of interests. So while they read, I walk around the shelves and pick things that catch my eye. I also have several lists I pick from, as I mentioned above. Looking forward to a year of great reading!

Homeschooling As A Group

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While I am not ready to join a co-op any time soon because we have tried it and it does not fit our family, I know many homeschooling families love the idea. If you do not have a co-op nearby or if you want to start your own, here are some tips to help you in that endeavor.

A homeschooling co-op is made up of families choosing to team up with other local homeschooling parents and teaching their kids together as a unit, taking it in turns to run lessons.

There are many benefits that come with this kind of small group teaching, such as that different parents with different skills can focus on different areas of education. For instance, parents with a strong mathematical knowledge can teach math, while parents with good grammar skills can teach English. Moms who love sports can teach sports education, while dads with a passion for travel can teach geography. Continue reading »

There’s no getting away from the fact that homeschooling as a group can be highly beneficial for parents and children alike. However, there can be some teething problems to begin with. That being said, if you take note of these tips, hacks, and pieces of advice, you can make the process of adapting to homeschooling as a group much easier and less stressful.


Put a plan in place

The first step is to put a plan in place. What you need to do is sit down as a group and talk through how it will work teaching your children together. Will you separate the week into different parents for different days or will you choose to separate up the subjects with different parents teaching different topics depending on their skills and knowledge?

You need to think about this and work out what you want to do. Say, you opt to give each parent a different topic to teach, consider suggesting that each parent undergoes some training for their topic. Say, for instance, you are assigned the role of guidance counselor, you might want to look into doing a master of education school counseling online. Ambitious, I know, but many parents already have the desire to go back to school for themselves. It’s just a matter of finding the right man for the job.

Or, say you are going to be teaching English, you may want to do a course on the English language. Your kids deserve the best education possible, so taking some courses could be worthwhile. It doesn’t matter how you choose to work things out in terms of who teaches what, just as long as everyone is happy and your children are getting the high-quality education that they deserve.


Create a curriculum everyone is happy with

As for the curriculum, it’s important to put together a plan that everyone is happy with. As a group, discuss the important aspects that everyone would like included in the curriculum, as well as what the law says you must include. If there’s anything that an individual parent wants their children to learn but no other parents are keen for their kids to learn about it, then they can teach them that separately. The key is to create a plan that ensures each of your children will learn everything that they need to know to keep them on track with other children their age in terms of their knowledge and skills.  


Focus on the children

It’s important to remember that when it comes to homeschooling your children as part of a group, that it’s the kids who are most important. Make sure that you ask them what they want, such as if there are any subjects that they would like to learn, for instance. It’s also important to talk to them about teaching methods, to ensure that the ones being used they find effective and are able to learn with them in use. Don’t forget to find ways to reward them, such as by planning group trips to local attractions, for instance.

Homeschooling as part of a group could help to make the process of home educating your children easier, as you will give you the help and support that you may need.


Simple Ways To Make Moving Home Easier

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I have a friend who is moving this summer. She told me how stressful it was and we talked briefly about it. Homeschoolers are people and people move around. So maybe we should touch on moving a bit.

Luggage on top of car

Make moving day less stressful with these tips

Moving is one of those life situations which everyone has to go through from time to time, a kind of rite of passage. Yet, it is often also one of the more stressful things which we have to do in our modern lives. Continue reading »

If you are about to move home, it is possible that you are already experiencing some stress in relation to it, and you might be wondering how you can deal with the situation in a way which will reduce that stress. In this post, we are going to take a look through some of the best things you can do to make moving home a little easier on yourself and your family as a whole.


Start Packing Early (But Be Careful About The Order)

It is usually the case that we leave packing until it is almost too late. Everyone is guilty of this, and yet it is the most common reason that the move itself is so stressful. If you are looking to have a less stressful time of it, then you will probably want to consider packing your things up a little earlier.

At the very least, you can start to pack up, and this will surely make it easier on moving day itself. But when you are starting to pack up early, be careful about what you pack. You don’t want to make living in the current home more difficult by packing away essentials, after all.

Start with those things which don’t matter so much, the things you don’t need to live from day to day. Keep essentials until last, and this alone will make a huge difference to how stressed out you get.


Get Professional Help

On the day itself, it is likely that you will want to find some kind of help. There are a number of places you can look for this. Most people will go to their family and close friends for help. This is certainly a good start, and it might prove to be an essential way to get the day moving in a much faster fashion.

But you will also want to keep an eye out for any professional help which you might be able to benefit from. Having some local movers on board on the day can mean that everything is just that little bit easier – and it will probably be much faster too. This is worth thinking about if you want the moving day itself to go off without a hitch.

Move On A Weekend

It might be a good idea to keep moving day for a weekend (that’s what my friend did). This will enable you to spend as much time as you need to on the move, which can really make a world of difference when it comes to wanting everything to be as easy as possible.

You might even find that it is worth taking a few days off work after the weekend too. This gives you the chance to unpack and spend some time in your new home, which can be really useful for starting to feel at home in it.

First Family Hike After Fire

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It has taken us more than eight months to get back on the Gatlinburg trail for a family hike after the November wildfires. It was therapeutic to be out in nature again.

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

So many things have kept us from hiking. In the winter right after the fire, the last place we wanted to visit was the park – even though not much actual burning actually happened on this particular trail. The sheer nature of a busy spring schedule precluded us from going there while school was in session. Then summer rolled around with its whirlwind of camps and tourist traffic. Continue reading »

We have also had some health challenges for the past six months. My husband had a mowing accident last month and he has had to be in bed with his leg propped up for weeks. I have had an upper respiratory infection for weeks. Our daughter has been struggling with a mild form of asthma. It seems that only our son has been healthy and fully operational lately, but even he struggles with the occasional growing pain in his legs or wrists.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

The humidity here in the South can be forbidding to outdoor exercise, not to mention the mosquitoes and ticks. So yes, plenty of reasons to avoid hiking. Until today. All of the sudden, I found myself proposing to the family that we go on a hike. The children protested, but we ignored them. We know what they said after every hike: “That was fun!”

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

And off we went. I took some random pictures of a few burned trees – for those of you who want to see some of the damage. I know it’s in the back of everybody’s mind: “What actually burned?”

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

I have mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, I want to show non-residents the devastation, on the other hand, well, this is our hometown. People died. People lost their homes. This was a national disaster. Can we please stop treating it like it is a tourist attraction?

It has been sad to hear people ask for directions to the burned down cabins. “We just want to show our kids. Can you direct us to the streets where the most devastation happened?” Seriously, folks. Is there any sensitivity left in the world?

Math Camp At Home

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The other day I found an announcement about a math camp for homeschoolers taking place in Knoxville. I was ready to take my kids there and then reality set in: driving daily for two hours both ways, trying to entertain one while the other is taking the class, and for what? “Fun math activities.” I think we can do that at home.

Grape geometry - edible math craft

Grape geometry – edible math craft

So… I did what everybody does in such a situation – I Googled “math camp at home.” Thank God for generous bloggers who share their ideas with us… I found some wonderful ideas for math games and crafts and unleashed Operation Stealthy Learning.  Continue reading »

My children loved the concept of Math Camp at Home. In fact, they started adding their own touch on everything we did and then asked me if we could organize this for other children. My daughter wants to be a Junior Assistant. My son just wants to be “one of the kids.” Are you smiling like I am? Their personalities shine through in everything, including this.

Subtracting game

Subtracting game – they learned quickly how to avoid being stuck with the last yellow tile

I started a Word Document with five days of camp and copied and pasted different ideas and links from the web. I came up with at least one link to a short but fun math video, a math craft (preferably edible), one game and one activity on paper. They love snacks at camp time – probably because we do not snack around my house, so that is one compromise I have had to make in order to make Math Camp at Home more palatable (get it?).

Shake and add with pom poms

Pom poms are a hit, especially when used as counters in a shake and add game

In all honesty, I have begun to think and pray about organizing a Math Camp or STEM Camp or STEAM Camp here in Gatlinburg. I will open it up to all students, homeschoolers or not. As such, it will have to happen during the summer, which gives me an entire year to plan and organize. My husband has given me some interesting ideas of linking with some of the business owners around Zoder’s Inn so that we could take the campers to an alpine coaster or mini-golf courses. There, we can calculate angles and the speed of the river and the length of the coaster course etc besides having fun playing on the rides.

My husband’s hotel has a conference room and a pavilion with picnic tables so we could do all sorts of activities regardless of the weather and there is plenty of parking. Plus I have several friends who put their children in public school and who have shown a lot of interest in this idea. They will be my marketing team in that sector of the population.

Anyhow, until then, we have been playing with math concepts to ease them into the new school year and my children love it. They ask for more every day. More math camp. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air as opposed to frowns and groaning at the mention of math on paper?

App Attack Camp

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The University of Tennessee in Knoxville organizes a summer program for children called Kids U. I suppose “U” stands for university. This program is comprised of many different individual classes which can be taken separately or together, depending on your goals, budget, and schedule. The youngest children involved are rising third graders. A rising third grader is a child who just finished second grade and who will attend third grade when school starts again.

Boy attending App Attack

Our son on Day 1 of App Attack, at the UT Conference Center

Our son chose a class called App Attack. As a rising fourth grader, he qualified for this class. As a rising second grader, our daughter was too young to attend Kids U, so I took her to different other places while we waited for him to be finished with his class every day. Continue reading »

App Attack seemed like a great fit for our budding computer programmer. He was very happy every time I picked him up, because he was learning new things on the computer. He worked with a partner but midway through the class his partner quit the class altogether, and so they gave him a new partner – a young lady. Apparently, she called the shots, which is funny, because this is how the real world works. Girls call the shots, right?

They built an app together and he suggested a couple of ninjas in there. She did not even want one. He also suggested some other things related to war and fighting and she would have none of that. It is funny to me to see how he had to work with this girl to please her. He is learning teamwork.

Girl feeds giraffe at the zoo

Our daughter fed the giraffe at Zoo Knoxville

One other good thing that came out of it is that he saw children who mocked the teacher and messed with the teacher by intentionally acting stupid. Our son said one particular boy kept asking the same question, claiming he did not get the answer. Finally, our son asked the boy, “Are you trying to create trouble?” The boy nonchalantly replied, “Yes, that is exactly what I am trying to do.”

Oh, and on day 2, the teacher gave them a lecture, a stern lecture, about their behavior. Apparently, too many of them were horsing around and not paying attention. I listened to his description of this situations and I emphasized to him that this is what regular school would be like. There would be 25 other kids in the class, each with their personalities and issues and the learning would be very slow because of discipline issues.

He understands. He knows homeschooling gives him more time for the things he really likes. I don’t think I have to worry about him asking to go to regular school any time soon, if ever.

Update on Our Garden

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This year, we planted a small garden rather late in the season. Better late than never, right? We looked at it every day and plucked little weeds out before they ate up precious nutrients from the soil. We watered it and rejoiced when we got rain, because that meant we did not have to haul out the hose.

Small garden

Our harvested lettuce has almost gone to seed.

Then, the greatest moment came: harvesting lettuce leaves. For the first time, we had lettuce to harvest. Such a treat! We just walked out onto the patio with a bowl and plucked some leaves. We were having company, so we needed a lot of it. I read somewhere that you can actually harvest lettuce three times before it goes to seed, but I do not know if I am that lucky. We did plant a little late in the season. Continue reading »

For sure, we will be able to harvest one more time. It’s just a neat experience to be able to harvest lettuce from the patio pots and I thought I would share it with you. I do not have a green thumb and do not find gardening relaxing. A lot of people do and they do it for pleasure. I do it because I know it is good for us.

We just have so many mosquitoes, they make it really tough for us to be outside for long periods of time. No matter how much I hide under long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat, I still get bitten at least once while I am out gardening. Not fun.

But here’s the connection with homeschooling. Somebody once said that gardening is the ABC of education. Just think about the parallels between gardening and bringing knowledge to children. Let’s start with the soil preparation. The mind of children is a ready ground for learning. But if you crowd it with rapidly moving TV programs or video games, they will not be able to slow down and pick up new information from a book or a workbook.

Then, weeds are always at the ready. In the same way, worthless information, shows, and books abound. They crowd out the precious plants of true knowledge, realistic scenarios, and worthwhile lessons. I am still learning how to weed out certain activities which do not align with the overall goals of our homeschool.

Just as you can never say you are done weeding, you can never put your vigilance aside about your children’s education and recreational choices. Personally, I know I have to come up higher in our choices and am constantly praying for wisdom.

2017 Adventure Camp

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This year, we sent both children to Adventure Camp in Georgia, at Cohutta Springs Conference Center. It was strange to be without children for five days and five nights, but we were so busy that we almost did not miss them. Almost.

Cohutta Springs Youth Camp

Our daughter (second from the left) with some of her new friends

Adventure Camp is for boys and girls who are 7-9. Our daughter is seven and our son is nine, so this was the first year they were together at camp. He has been there twice before. This was her first time. They missed us and got homesick, but they did not cry. Continue reading »

They had a blast. This camp is on the side of a lake and they have a lot of water activities. Also, they have a gym for rainy days, where they play dodgeball and other games. There is an indoor climbing wall, too. They have horses to ride and a swimming pool. They do archery, BMX, and arts and crafts. Lots and lots of fun.

Boys doing crafts

Our son (in the foreground) working on a craft at camp

With four activities in a day, three vegetarian meals, one hour of afternoon quiet time, morning roll call and evening camp fire, it was a full schedule. They really enjoyed it. Although my heart broke thinking about how independent my children have become, I was glad to hear they missed us and looked forward to coming home.

In fact, the night before their departure, my daughter cried a bit thinking about being without me for five days. I told her missing home is a great thing. It means you have a loving home, which many people do not. She is a blessed little girl for having a loving home to miss. I am not sure she got it, but at least I left that thought with her.

While at camp, she made a friend who was interested in becoming a pen pal. They exchanged mailing addresses with the help of their counselor, who has access to their files. And they look forward to seeing each other again next year. This is the kind of pen pal friendships with which I grew up and I like it.

Which brings me to socialization. The only reason I was OK with sending my children away for five days so others can take care of them and entertain and nurture them is because I know they screen their staff carefully. Also, this camp is through our church conference. Their social interactions are monitored carefully and no bad languages is allowed. They are to keep their hands to themselves at all times. There are rules about boys and girls interacting with each other. Especially for homeschooled children, camp is a great opportunity to flex the socialization muscle and learn how to be in a group setting.

Our children are growing fast and we are growing with them. Hopefully.

2017 String Camp

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For the second year in a row, I took the kids to String Camp in Knoxville. The youth symphony has four levels of orchestras during camp time and it is a wonderful time for the kids to grow, learn, and have fun while making friends and enjoying themselves.

Boy and girl at String Camp

My kids on day 2 of camp

This year, they were in two separate orchestras, as opposed to last summer, when they were both in the beginning orchestra. My son has gone to the next level, called Overture, while my daughter is still in the beginning orchestra, called Prelude. She has only studied violin for two years now and will need another year before she could go to the next level.  Continue reading »

Her orchestra learned two songs and my son’s orchestra learned four songs. Here’s a YouTube link to the Overture concert and here’s another link to the Prelude orchestra. At the end, all orchestras came together for Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 – a camp tradition.

String Camp is this magical time of the year, when we drive to Knoxville early in the morning, rehearse, do a workshop, then drive back. After lunch, I let them play and do whatever they want, but they still have to practice one hour before dinner.

We listen to the recordings during meals so they get used to the new music faster. It is so strange to know nothing about this music the week before, only to fall in love with it in seven short days.

It is a week of exponential growth for the kids. They also have fun because of the workshops which include some stretches and light physical activity, music theory, and sight reading. Then, there are the snacks. On Friday, they have a pizza lunch and a movie right before the concert. Since we don’t watch a full movie at one time at home, this is a special treat for them. This year, they watched “Happy Feet 2.”

We already look forward to next year’s camp. Until then, we will be preparing to audition for the 2017-2018 youth orchestra season, which starts in September.

SMHEA Homeschool Expo

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Every June, my local homeschool support organization, the Smoky Mountain Home Educators Association, puts on a free mini-convention. There are vendors and local organizations who cater to homeschoolers, like the Knoxville Zoo, the Titanic Museum, and Ripley’s Aquarium. There are seminars, too. I am one of the speakers.

Adriana Zoder, Claiborne and Lana Thornton

With THEA President, Claiborne Thornton, and his wife Lana

This year, I spoke about Preschool and Kindergarten in one seminar. The other one was about different homeschool approaches. Education can be done in a myriad of ways. By the way, you can find the slides of my PowerPoint presentations under the tab called Workshops on this blog. Continue reading »

Every homeschooling family should attend a homeschool convention at least once a year. It is a time to come together with like-minded parents and to connect. No man is an island. I know many of us are fiercely independent. If you are like me, you do not want to get involved with a co-op. I get it. But there is something to be said about renewing your strength as you gather together with other homeschooling parents.

Your vision may get a bit blurry and a convention will help you wipe your homeschooling lens so you can see clearly again. Or you may be so happy with your homeschooling effort, you just burst to share your enthusiasm and help those who are struggling. You don’t have to wait until you are in crisis mode or burned out to attend. Just put it on your calendar ahead of time and make it a priority.


This year’s Expo happened in a Methodist church in Powell.

SMHEA makes an effort to have the event free. You may not be as blessed where you live. Whatever the price of your convention, I promise you it will be worth it. And you don’t have to buy anything in the vendor hall – though their special convention sales may be worth a second thought. Just gather information and look at the books and products they have. I got my questions answered about Saxon math, for instance.

SMHEA Expo Vendor Hall

My husband and children looking around in the vendor hall.

The internet can help a lot with research, but there is nothing like thumbing through a book and talking to a mom who has actually used a certain curriculum. You can fill in the informational gaps that way and make a more intelligent decision.

Rich Melton, Todd Sparrow

Former SMHEA President speaks and current president Todd Sparrow looks on

One neat feature this year was a scavenger hunt for the children. They loved it as they walked around the building, picking up different odds and ends from the list provided. It was also a chance to listen to the previous SMHEA director, Rich Melton, and to THEA president, Claiborne Thornton and his wife. THEA is the Tennessee Home Educators Association and the parent organization of SMHEA, which only covers 18 counties in East Tennessee.

Their stories of how homeschooling became legal in Tennessee in the 80s brought tears to my eyes. We have forgotten how precious this privilege is and how much others sacrificed to pave the way for our freedom to educate our own children. For that alone, the $28 SMHEA annual membership fee is totally worth it, especially as some of the money goes to THEA to help with lobbying.