Archive for the ‘The School House’ Category

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We had a great time at the LA Zoo yesterday with Nana; we spent the better part of four hours exploring the grounds and meeting all sorts of interesting creatures. Although you wouldn’t know it from my pictures, we did see animals far more exotic (although not necessarily cuter) than meerkats and prairie dogs.

The littlest mastered saying “zoo” just in time and proclaimed this three-letter word with great inflection throughout our day. She also fell deeply in love with the paper map and was passionately opposed to her big sister borrowing it for even a moment; thankfully, we had two.

I’ve found that the day after field trips I often have a less than motivated student on my hands. Mostly, I’ve concluded that this is a result of the aforementioned pupil running her legs off the day before. Still, I struggle to not take this behavior personally at times – believing that somehow my seven year-old’s appreciation ought to translate into direct enthusiasm for mastering grammar the following morning.

Regardless, we made it through and as always found happiness in several good books (once the subtraction part was over). My parenting conclusions of the day are as follows:

1. I need to expect that some days Hannah will complain about her school work. While I would love to believe that my child would be forever grateful for all my efforts, that is of course not reality. Accepting this keeps me from being internally shocked and undone when we face one of those days.

Having said this, I’d also add that accepting this doesn’t mean I need to tolerate the heavy sighs, eye rolling or flopping one’s body on the ground. Today she had the opportunity to spend a bit more time on her own, considering whether or not such outward expressions move her any closer to having her work completed.

2. I have a people-pleasing perfectionist on my hands. This poses some interesting challenges within our educational and behavioral environments. This past weekend Phil and I were able to attend a screening of A Race to Nowhere. This only further solidified my desire to help equip Hannah to set realistic standards for herself and to learn how to work through those inevitable bumps she’ll hit along the way. 

Today we spent a fair amount of time talking through the idea that in life we will make mistakes and we will at times intentionally make a bad choice. We talked about there being a fork in this road – how some people choose to let these moments swallow them up. 

Then we talked about another route – the one that involves both remorse and grace. Here one owns up to the mistake or choice and then decidedly moves toward the best resolve possible, because often there is something that can be done to at least partially rectify the situation. I used smaller words of course; I also used Crocs as props to demonstrate the proverbial fork.

There were tears, some fidgeting and several quiet declarations of just how hot she was feeling; that’s all part of these discussions, at least in our house. Still, I think this day – zoo hangover and all – left us a bit more educated not only in the realm of pronouns and word problems but also in the area of  life.



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We’ve been on the homeschooling path for nearly five months now. We took our winter break last week and are back at it. I intended to write my first term summary last week. Instead I spent my best blogging hours coughing. So now, in no particular order, here are my thoughts for this evening.

1. Color coded spreadsheets designed to order your entire life as a homeschooling family look really, really great! I made one, put it in a sheet protector in my master binder and referred to it for approximately four days.  My littlest rapidly set me straight on this one.

2. Having said this, I would add that a well-defined plan is in fact critical for a person like me. I just have to add a large dose of flexibility to the mix each day as well.

3. As parents our natural inclinations and giftedness lead us in how and what we teach our children. I do best when I lean into this truth and work literature and words into every subject possible. I can also rapidly lose sight of this outlook and panic when I stare down the pages of  third grade math and realize that I will be educating myself as I teach my daughter…at least the first one.


4. I have a new love for Friends of the Library bookstores. They are an amazing resource for good quality used books. I’ve procured spotless Usborne titles, some great classics that I’ve identified in my books about books and a good showing of the American Girl series. I’ve never spent more than $2.00 on a single item. This can still add up if you walk off with 18 books. Next time I’ll take a ten-dollar bill and leave my checkbook in the car.

5. Snacks continue to be a very important part of our school day – the fancier the presentation, the happier the child.

6. Like so many aspects of life, the homeschooling crowd can tend to be an internally polarized bunch. It reminds me of my first years of motherhood when I dabbled in the various camps  – the natural vs medicated birth folks, breast-feeding verses bottle feeding ladies, stay-at-home vs working mothers – you get the idea. These topics are difficult and can in their worst moments start feeling like a bad religion. 

Now, enter the land of the proverbial jean jumper connoisseurs. There are those of us who are fiercely opposed to charter programs and others of us who see great value in them. One group thinks it is close to a crime to teach your child to read before they are at least seven or eight. The other side, encourages early exposure and swears by their results. There are those who live by boxed curriculum and others who abhor it. There are those who lead very traditional and conservative lives and others who seem better suited for life in a VW Vanagon.

I’m still finding my place. Another time I plan to explore the seemingly unrelated topic of being a vegetarian who is  coming to terms with the fact that I love bacon. Somehow I think my own journey of  living within such paradoxes could help me to forge positive relationships with the various subsets. We’ll see.

6a. I say all of this and would also immediately add that homeschooling families are incredibly creative, gracious and resourceful people. I have been given invaluable counsel, practical tools and even an inside view into several families’ homes as I put my own school house together. There is tremendous opportunity to collaborate and for that I am incredibly grateful.

7. The littlest is very industrious these days! She continually seeks out jobs and wants so much to be a part of things – big girl things, please! As she continues to nudge her way into the school house by way of exploring math manipulatives, coloring and looking at books, I want to welcome her with thought, patience and grace. While eating the crayons she was just moments ago drawing with or tossing the counting beans across the table feels disruptive and annoying, I am trying to remind myself that she is a real, live toddler – not a seven year-old. 

8. Outsourcing is a fabulous strategy. Most recently, I signed Hannah up for an art class taught by a woman who is herself an artist with a background in the Social Sciences. She is clearly gifted and passionate about what she does. My talents happen to fall in different areas. How thankful I am for these outside opportunities. I’m keeping my eyes out for a fun and brilliant math-inclined individual. The person I have in mind happens to be out of the country for the next four years.

9. It is okay to turn your kids loose on some school work while you attend other matters – like retrieving your toddler from the kitchen island or even grabbing a cup of tea. In our case independent work has built confidence, creativity and internal drive and oftentimes produces work beyond what would have occurred had I been standing over her. 

10. I have fallen in love with children’s chapter books and I’m also pretty sure I could never write one. Recent favorites include Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Tall, Addy: American Girl Series,  George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans and Little House on Rocky Ridge.

10. By stepping outside of the norm, I need to accept that I get to explain myself and my daughter a lot. Presently, I’m working on refining my 5 second, 5 minute and more lengthy conversation points for why we decided to do this. On good days I see the encounters with our pastor, the mailman, the Trader Joes clerk, the acupuncturist as opportunities to share one of the many options available to our children. On my not so great days my emotional posture exudes something entirely different. 

11. As I look back over the past five months, I’m mostly encouraged and also pretty tired. I’ve learned a bit more about what I can and can’t do. I’d be toast without grandparents. We’ve relaxed into a flexible routine and our plan is to wrap things up by late June. I’ve come to see the value of taking time off through our not-long-enough winter break. I have since revised our schedule and our content so that we can enjoy a traditionally long summer. We all need it and I see this now. I would have never imagined this is where I’d be and yet it somehow feels entirely right for this season.

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I love books. Anyone who knows me for more than two hours will know this too. When I find a good one, which is about every third day, I love sharing it with anyone who will listen. Turns out, there’s a market for this – books about books. And, it turns out I really like these.

So, without further ramblings about my devotion to the written word, I’m going to share four titles that are presently on my shelf. If you have any other suggestions in this arena that you’d like to pass along, I have one more fifteen dollar plastic card from Barnes and Noble that is just waiting for this sort of transaction.


100 Best Books for Children

This is my most recently acquired title of this sort and has fast become my favorite in the kid department. Author Anita Silvey certainly has the publishing credentials to be taken seriously within this genre. Still, even more impressive to me is her clear passion for literature that inspires and ignites a child’s imagination – from their earliest years forward. The grouping is organized by age (from two to twelve) with a one to two page essay for each title; here Silvey shares interesting background information as well as substantial context and storyline details.

If you happen to be goal oriented, this resource is also one you could literally move through until seeing it to completion. Likewise, if you are just not sure where to turn with your elementary or junior high child when you head to the library or bookstore, this would be an invaluable guide.

Honey for a Child’s Heart

I was given this title as a gift when Hannah was born from a woman who’d spent her entire career teaching elementary school. The first one hundred pages are devoted to casting a vision in both inspirational and practical terms as to how you can help foster a love of literature in your children. For me, this was certainly foundational as I started down the road of parenting and I still find myself referring to it often with new eyes depending on my present vantage point.

The back half (another 100 pages or so) provides you with lists (again by age) starting at 0 and working all the way through to 12. The descriptions for each title are concise but also give you enough of a picture to know whether or not it would be something you’d like to pursue. This resource and I have spent many late evenings together at the computer as I’ve poured over it in order to reserve titles from our local library online.

Books Children Love

I’ve spent the least amount of time with this final resource. Still, the moments I have glanced through it have left me impressed and wanting for more. In its introduction, author Elizabeth Wilson sums up her purpose and intention quite well. “It is a book that was written with love: love for children with their wonderful questing minds, their lives of yet-undreamed, unshaped possibilities; love for language, for ideas, for imagination, for knowledge, for all that is a part of the inexhaustible richness of the world of books; and, above all, with a love for God, and for all He has made and done and given – truth, beauty, love, infinite diversity – for He called it very good.”



Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture

I first came across this one on Donald Miller’s blog. He began featuring essays from this resource and I was immediately taken – both by the words themselves and the titles they were calling upon. This list is more diverse than one might imagine (ranging from The Rule of Benedict to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies) and frankly will keep me busy for several years I’m sure.

Each book is introduced through a short essay penned by an impressive collection of authors. These provide both background and insights that may even lead readers to revisit old friends. Most recently I’ve been inspired to take a second look at Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird since the last time I mistakenly assumed that the yellow and black version told me everything I needed to know. The authors behind these essays tend toward dry humor and wit which is fine by me. In all, a great guide to move you through familiar and new titles with fresh and engaging commentary along the way.



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Last week Hannah and I spent some time learning about a handful of children’s authors. We had a great time exploring  picture books about Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I then had her write a letter to one of her favorite authors, Ms. Betty Birney, in order to tell her how much she appreciated her Humphrey book series. We enclosed this picture and sent it on its way.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she hears back from Ms. Birney. Regardless, I think we both walked away from the week knowing a bit more about some beloved writers and appreciating their craft and their lives in new ways.

“Leadsmen on steamboats measured the depth of the river by lowering a rope into the water. They called back their measurements, or ‘marks,’ to the pilot. Twelve feet deep was ‘mark twain.’ Any shallower and the steamboat was in danger of getting stuck. Sam later started signing his stories ‘Mark Twain.’ With his fondness for stirring up trouble and for river life, it seemed like just the right name for him.” 

– William AndersonRiver Boy; The Story of Mark Twain

 “When Beatrix was in her twenties, she painted the mushrooms she had collected in Scotland during her summer vacations. She had learned a great deal about them. She noted in her diary that rotted mushrooms might be used in cancer research. Beatrix wanted to publish a report and sell the 300 paintings of mushrooms she had completed. Sadly, her research was not taken seriously. Because she lived at a time when men considered themselves the experts in the study of science, her work was not accepted.”

-Alexandra Wallner, Beatrix Potter


“In 1932, when Laura was sixty-five, her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published. Readers loved it. They wanted to know what happened next. Laura wrote seven more books about her family. She was pleased that many people enjoyed her stories. Laura was as good at writing stories as Pa had been at telling them.”

– Alexandra Wallner, Laura Ingalls Wilder

“He was born in 1904 and lived in the best of all possible places – 74 Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. The gray three-story house was exactly three blocks from the public library. And it was just six blocks from the zoo.”

Kathleen Krull, The Boy on Fairfield Street

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PAWS for Reading

I have a post that’s been swirling in my mind for weeks now. It has to do with beauty and depravity and learning to walk between the two each day.  But to be honest, I’m too tired to sit here long enough for the thoughts to take shape. The introvert in me has been trying to keep my head above water in what feels like a world dominated by extroverts. While I love the external processors of the world a lot (I happened to live with three) they wear me out, especially considering that solo time is more of a commodity than ever. 

So, for now I’ll leave you with a few pictures from today’s out loud reading time at the library. I love this program – it suits just about every type of child (and dog for that matter). Everyone walks away feeling warm inside – the reader, the parent, the dog owner and we must assume the canines as well.

Hannah and Promise getting acquainted

Settling in by chapter six

Hailey listening in while also making quiet animal noises throughout the session

The littlest two having a moment

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Bake Sale

Compassion has created a children’s publication that’s now inserted into their quarterly magazine. It’s called Compassion Explorer and they do a really great job of revealing  issues of poverty around the globe in tangible and realistic terms for young kids. They’ve also recently created a website called Quest For Compassion to help kids do more of the same.

A few print issues back they highlighted a young girl who had a bake sale in order to raise money for her sponsored kids. Hannah quickly decided she wanted to do the same, so this past month we weaved this project into school for a week.

First, she designed a poster that we then tacked up throughout the neighborhood while pulling Hailey along in the wagon (language arts and physical education). We created a budget, bought ingredients and then went about baking for the back half of the week (math meets home economics). When Saturday morning finally arrived, she loaded up her cash register and hit the curb for our annual neighborhood garage sale.

In the end, she sold out of all baked goods (less five packs of popcorn). She made sixty dollars which we then divided equally between our four sponsored girls in Africa. Being her father’s daughter, she’s already plotting how she will be revising and expanding next year’s sale (popcorn is out).

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School Pictures

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Recently I came across an article on Simple Homeschool that encouraged readers to still take part in the tradition of school pictures, but with a bit of a twist. The advice and images were inspiring. So, last Friday Hannah, Maddie and I headed to the beach with the hope of capturing a bit of what her little life looks like as a first grader.

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