GBACH Curriculum Fair

I'm hosting a table at my local homeschool association's annual curriculum fair on March 17, so I spent this morning deciding which resources - from among my six stuffed storage totes and three very full bookshelves (not counting the other shelves, which hold actual literature) - would make it into one of the two carry-on suitcases I'm using for the day. I also spent time creating a simple "brochure" listing the resources I'll be displaying, as well as some I like to recommend but am not bringing.

I hope I've printed enough flyers, but I decided to reproduce that list here, too, in case I run out. And so, if you've come here from the curriculum fair in order to access the list, welcome! However, even if you're not local to me or were not at the fair, you might be interested in what are - in my opinion - some of the most useful resources I've used over the years. This list is not exhaustive - I posted (and regularly update) a much more extensive listing a couple of years ago - but it highlights what I feel is the best of the best.

Note that resources without links are simply individual titles (not "curricula" with dedicated webpages), and are available on Amazon or similar sites.

Parent Helps
Answers for Homeschooling (Wayne, Israel)
Homeschool Made Simple (Seid, Carole Joy)
Math Myth, The (Hacker, Andrew)
Passion-Driven Education (Boyack, Connor)
Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+La (Shelton, Barbara)

Honey for a Child’s Heart (Hunt, Gladys)
Honey for a Teen’s Heart (Hunt, Gladys)
Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Reinke, Tony)

Language Arts

All the Math You’ll Ever Need (Slavin, Steve)


“Social Studies” (History, Geography, Civics)

Artistic Pursuits

66 Books One Story (Reynolds,Paul)
Child’s Story Bible, The (Vos, Catherine)
Egermeier’s Bible Story Book (Egermeier, Elsie)
Training Hearts, Teaching Minds (Meade, Starr)


Parent Helps
8 Great Smarts (Koch, Kathy)
Better Late Than Early (Moore, Raymond S.)
Education: Does God Have an Opinion? (Wayne, Israel)
For the Children’s Sake (Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer)
Joy of Relationship Homeschooling, The (Campbell, Karen)
When You Rise Up (Sproul Jr., R.C.)


Language Arts
Language Lessons (Queen Homeschool)
Winning with Writing (Jack Kris Publishing)

Improve Your Math Fluency series (McMullin, Chris)
Miquon Math (Rainbow Resource Center)
Key to… series
Teaching Textbooks

“Social Studies” (History, Geography, Civics)
All American History (Bright Ideas Press) 
America’s Story (MasterBooks)

Discovering Nature (Queen Homeschool)

Foreign Language

Professor Noggin


I hope this list serves as a helpful introduction to some useful resources. And, as I mentioned in my flyer, if you are interested in personalized consulting on curriculum- or general homeschool-related matters, feel free to get in touch with me HERE.


Five Years Ago...

Five years ago this week I was minding my own business as a busy homeschool mommy blogger and babysitter, oblivious to the fact that I was about to receive an email that would set me on a course I'd never imagined (Proverbs 16.9). But then less than two weeks after getting the email, I'd added "activist" to my job description, formed a group that gained over 1,500 members in a week's time, launched a website, and found myself in the spotlight of the homeschool world, as an object of both praise and disdain.

Today is the five-year anniversary of both the original version of my site, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, and the original advocacy group, now called The Christian Homeschool Oasis. And, as I've mentioned far more often than not in my far-too-limited posts here over that span of time, both have kept me exceedingly busy ever since.

As I noted about six weeks ago, I was finally able to launch an incredibly significant upgrade to The Roadmap - that work was undoubtedly the biggest single project I've ever tackled (aside from parenting, which is, of course, a long series of lifelong "projects!") - and I expected to be able to get back to a more balanced lifestyle going forward. And, even though The Roadmap requires some regular "maintenance" and I need to learn what I can about marketing in order to spread the word about it, I've definitely begun that process.

But I'd be remiss if I failed to mention "my twins'" fifth birthday today. Prior to March 2013, I never dreamed I'd be talking five years later about owning a 3,700+-page website and moderating a 6,800+ member group. I never considered that I'd have spoken to large groups at two national homeschool conventions or been interviewed on radio and podcasts. I never guessed that thousands of homeschooling parents would know my name and appreciate my OCD-like penchant for research or that a handful of business owners and homeschoolers would periodically try dragging my name through the mud. Nonetheless, that - and more - has all happened because of how God used that one email to light a fire in me...five years ago today.


The N.E.W. Scoop

A couple of years ago, I began compiling a list of resources for home educators in my local area. It started small, but I kept adding to it as new ideas came to mind and before I knew it, the document was over 30 pages long! I turned it into a pdf, loaded it onto my Google drive, and started sharing the URL. I kept adding and editing, and every time I made a change I reloaded the file into the drive so those with the link could access the latest version.

Sometime last week, though, I decided that process was getting far too cumbersome. And, because the document was so long, it had actually become quite "user unfriendly." So...I decided to turn the list into a website in order to make the information easier to both update and access.

I've spent most of the last several days on data-entry, uploading and re-organizing the lists - I even added some new topics! - and now I'm ready to share the results with my local home-educating friends.  So, if you're in my area, check it out here:

Feel free to share the URL with any other area homeschoolers; it's totally free. And if you know of resources in any of the relevant counties and communities, comment on The Scoop here. I would like to make the site as comprehensive as possible for the whole region.

If you're not local to me, may I challenge you to begin compiling something similar for homeschoolers in your area? If you've been homeschooling for even a little while, you already know of a number of local resources, so why not share your knowledge with others? And if you're at all like me, once you get the ball rolling, you'll realize you know of even more than you originally thought. Feel free to use The Scoop as a template to further spur your thought process, too; there's no need to reinvent the wheel on this!

Most of us who've made a commitment to homeschool for the long haul also want to encourage those around us to take the wonderful leap into home learning. And more and more are actually curious. But the thought of starting scares a lot of them. After all, choosing home education goes very much against the current cultural grain and overcoming inertia to get started can feel overwhelming. Yet, if prospective and "newbie" homeschoolers could have a rather comprehensive listing of local resources and other helps, that could be just the nudge a lot of them need to get going and stick with it.

Can you be the person to make that happen in your area?


The Long and the Short of It - #1

I often tell my daughters, fellow homeschooling parents wanting to encourage their kids to write, and wannabe writers of all ages that the best way to get better at writing is to...write. Similarly, of course, the best way to get back to regular writing is to...write regularly!

With that in mind, I'm launching this new series for myself, with an eye toward making it a regular feature, similar to "weekly wrap-up" series a lot of us "mommy bloggers" like to do but without the self-imposed pressure to produce something every week on the same day. I've done this sort of thing several times over the years - calling it by different names along the way - and it works well for encouraging consistency in between "more important" posts inspired by particular events or specific topics.

I could take (a lot of) time to agonize over a complete summary of all of 2017 - or all of the last two or three years, really - since I've been so hit-and-miss with posts. But I've learned to give myself grace and so I'm just going to start where I am right now by mentioning a few fairly recent highlights.

A little over a year ago, he actually got a new job - as a corporate trainer within the company where he's worked for a long time, and it's been a wonderful change for him. He's had to travel a bit more for work than in the past, but not too much. When he's not teaching locally at the corporate office or elsewhere for the company, he spends his days researching and studying and comes home to us in a "happy tired" (but not too tired) mood.

Our weekly schedule changed a bit early last fall when Rachel got her first official job - as a lifeguard with our local YMCA. She works two or three shifts a week, usually in the late afternoon/early evening, right over the dinner hour. That's not ideal, but the job itself is a really good fit for her. We joke that it's because she likes to tell people what to do, but in reality it's her strong sense of responsibility and keen observational skills that make her a great guard. To date, she's not had to do a rescue, but she has been puked on and had more than one occasion to "shock" the pool for one reason or another. And she's been able to bless others! Last fall, she regularly came home describing how she was able to calm a young autistic boy each week during his swim lesson, which also helped the instructor as she wrangled all the other kids and brought relief to the boy's anxious mom.

As for Abbie, she is chomping at the bit to get a job herself. However, she wants to work in the childcare room at the Y, a job for which she must be 16. We suggested she consider a job open to 15-year olds for a few months, but she didn't want to leave a business in a bind by quitting after a short time, so she's biding her time and practicing patience. In the meantime, she's been babysitting for various families and Bible studies as often as she can. And I've been practicing the principles of "life learning" - and making way for career development since she wants to become a certified nanny after high school - by permitting her to accept morning jobs as an occasional substitute for her regular bookwork.

As I mentioned last month, I feel "human again" now that my major upgrade of The Homeschool Resource Roadmap is complete. I've gotten back into working out - an activity I quite enjoy - and spent this past weekend catching up on the girls' 2017 homeschool records. Next up is tackling the two years' worth of scrapbooking that fell by the wayside during the Roadmap upgrade - I'm all set up to get going! - and finally getting started with the chemistry activities through which I want to lead the girls. It's also a relief to feel that I can put my feet up and read a book or simply "do nothing" at times; I lost that sense of intentional resting during the upgrade because I felt a responsibility to get it launched as quickly as possible. I'm grateful for the return of balance!

Our four kitties remain "fat and happy." Two of them actually are physically fat, which is probably not ideal. But...well, they're cats. They know they're safe and loved - and their "cat style" reciprocation of that love makes us happy in return.

So that's the long and short of it for now. We'll see going forward where this series takes me. I'll aim for a weekly update, but sometimes it'll be more frequently, sometimes less. I'm thinking about other types of regular posts too. It feels good to be planning how to actually be back!


The Homeschool Resource Roadmap: Why Subscribe?

As you know, I own The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, a database of information about homeschool-oriented resources. The Roadmap's Common Core Project has always been free - and remains so - but the site now offers extensive subscription-based content as well.

Since the Common Core Project lists and links to each one of the site's 3,200+ researched providers, some wonder why paying for a subscription would be beneficial. I've answered that question on The Roadmap's new blog feature HERE


"Human Again!"

I've posted so sporadically the last couple of years, I wouldn't be surprised if I don't actually have any followers anymore. And, truly, who could blame them? So I realize I could be writing to no one today...but I'm writing nonetheless!

The fact is that, though I've not been able to write regularly for a long while, Being Made New has remained close to my heart, and I've been anxious to return. Now I can...finally.

Thankfully, my absence was not due to illness or another traumatic event. In fact, I was "gone" for a very good reason: the huge upgrade to my database, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap.

Any of my remaining followers may remember that I began the research which eventually birthed The Roadmap in March 2013. And then I launched "Phase 2," the original version of the site's Subject Area Project, in early 2015. But I knew all along I wanted to do more - that homeschoolers should have a "one-stop shop" for getting a detailed, thorough overview of every resource available to them.

So, even as I continued to send out hundreds of queries to new companies of interest, I devoted a lot of mental energy in 2015 to developing a vision for how to accomplish that goal. In 2016, I devised a system for implementing the vision and re-organized the files I'd already developed. As 2017 dawned, I began the process of revisiting the websites for the companies I'd previously contacted - over 3,100 to date! - in order to document all the additional information I intended to gather.

Needless to say, it was a daunting task. And, though I didn't track my hours, I know - as I explained earlier today on my joint-venture blog, Ditto, She Wrote - that in 2017 I basically "sat behind my laptop nearly every waking hour I was home and not needed by my kids for their educational endeavors. Blessedly," my husband is very gracious and patient, and "my daughters both like to cook, and...volunteered to make a good many dinners while I toiled away. But we ate a whole lot of take-out, my preferred housekeeping routine became a joke, the front desk people at my gym probably thought I had died...and blogging disappeared from my radar screen."

Yet now - as of January 21, when I "pulled the trigger" on all the newly expanded and improved features - The Homeschool Resource Roadmap upgrade is finished! Of course, I'll have to add information for new resources going forward, and now I have to learn all about marketing. But the heavy lifting is done, and I'm really proud of the results. In fact, if you're a homeschooler - or an otherwise interested party - and choose to subscribe, I know you'll agree that it's a very good investment.

But - as I arranged the last few images and descriptions and then made the official announcement about "the new Roadmap" - I couldn't help but think of the "Human Again" song from Beauty and the Beast. And the fact is that, though I actually did enjoy the project - I said on many occasions that my commitment to finishing is a sign that God uses even OCD-like personalities for good! - that's kind of how I feel. I'm like Lumiere, who made the best of his life as a candlestick but still longed to be human again. And so I truly love what I've been able to do with The Roadmap - I don't regret the time and I feel sure the Lord will redeem it for me now - but I have admittedly been longing recently for a return to a more normal, well-rounded daily life, including time to return to Being Made New.

So here I am, planning to start once again sharing reflections as I used to do...


Spring Formal Time

The girls attended their first-ever spring formal last night.

Our homeschool association has been sponsoring this dance for about 15 years, and the girls have been looking forward to it since they first heard about it. We splurged a bit on fancy hairstyles and wrist corsages, though we'd been able to get beautiful, modest dresses from a friend who was selling her older daughters' gowns for a very modest price. It was fun to revisit the girls' childhood love of playing dress-up in a new way.
About 50 teens attended, including several of the girls' friends and acquaintances. In fact, we went down to our city's river deck to take pre-dance pictures with a couple of their best friends.
And then they enjoyed dancing and talking with everyone else in a wholesome, safe environment late into the night.
I still find it hard to believe that "my babies" are old enough for formal dances; as mindful as I aimed to be throughout their childhoods, the time really has raced by. But I continue to try enjoying each day and season of life with them as it comes, and I'm so incredibly thankful for the privilege God has given my husband and me in raising them for Him.


May It Ever Be So

My husband and daughters had a "date" at the local waterfowl preserve on Saturday. I could have gone along, but I like to facilitate daddy-daughter time...and I've been rather feverishly working on the super-deluxe upgrade to my resource website so staying back with a few windows open and my cats for companionship was a good call.

Among the photos he snapped was this one - which just melts my heart and instantly became my brand new (current) favorite.

This picture honestly does speak to the girls' relationship with each other. They have different interests, talents, and opinions - in fact, they delight in debating each other (sometimes all.day.long!) while mutually assuring me that their discussions really are good-natured banter and not argument - and they have other good friends. But throughout their lives and to this day, each instantly names the other when asked to identify her best friend.

That is not by accident...and it's not really of my doing so I'm not bragging. Their friendship is honestly and truly a big, fat "yes" from God to my earnest, daily prayers from before either was ever born. Yes, I prayed. And I've done what I can to facilitate their bond. But the work is ultimately His. So my expression of joy over their relationship is simply that...and a nod to 1 Corinthians 1.31:

Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

And to that end, I will continue to pray as David did - so that these precious girls of mine will always and forever have in each other a very best friend their whole lives long:

"...[W]ith Your blessing may the house of Your servant be blessed forever."
(2 Samuel 7.29b)


Dad's "Bible Class"

My husband is a blessing. Of course, his hard work supports us financially so I can stay home and focus my time and energy on our daughters - and so they can take music and dance lessons and participate in musical productions and choirs and other activities of interest. And - despite working at his full-time job as a corporate trainer, running his own missions ministry on the side, and regularly sharing his time and insight within our church and the community at large - he has been an incredibly involved dad from the very beginning...in too many ways to delineate.

I've never expected him to be involved in the girls' formal academic studies; I've always happily taken that on as part of my role on our family "team." But because he's a lifelong learner himself and loves the girls so much, he's wanted to participate in their educational endeavors. When they were first learning to read, he patiently listened each evening as one or the other read him a story from the day's lesson. And when they gained fluency and started doing readers' workshop, he actively participated in discussions about the projects they shared. He also taught art on a regular basis for quite some time and wants to join us for the weekly chemistry lessons we'll soon start. In addition, he has read aloud to them each evening nearly every night of their lives; even now, though they are teens, he still does it because we both know how incredibly valuable reading aloud is at all ages, both relationally and cognitively.

Yet because he's usually too hard on himself, he's always felt that what he does "isn't enough." And especially since he stopped teaching art, he's wanted to do "something" in terms of direct instruction. I've continued to remind him that it's not necessary, but the other day we were all talking about this and mutually decided that - in addition to the informal discipling he does daily by virtue of his relationship with them - he will now take on the material the girls will use to earn one or more credits in "Bible."

Tonight was their first official "Bible lesson" toward that end - using UnveilingGLORY's Year 1: Cat and Dog Theology material. They'll aim to work on this twice a week, and I know it's going to be a wonderful fit. Honestly, the girls adore their dad, so they simply enjoy spending time with him regardless of the activity. But he is such a gifted teacher - he instinctively knows how to engage a learner - that he'll undoubtedly "hook" them with the material, too. In fact, he was told that a class he teaches at work on the history of cheese-making (!) was "the most interesting" class one woman had taken in 15 years at the company! And he's regularly asked where he went to seminary, though he "only" has a bachelor's degree...and from a secular college at that.

I could join in, of course. But - as with the art lessons and read-aloud time - I've decided to let it be his special time with his girls. And I just feel incredibly blessed because my husband is right there with me when it comes to what has always been my bottom-line heart's desire for my children - what I want for them at root regardless of any other particulars in their lives. Namely, that each of them will "love the Lord [her] God with all [her] heart and with all [her] soul and with all [her] strength and with all [her] mind." (Luke 10.27)


A Live-Action Civics Lesson

Today was, of course, Inauguration Day for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And I read social media posts from some home educators saying they were "taking off" for it.

The girls accomplished a bit of bookwork early in the morning before the ceremony. But then - as we set aside our typical routine when the then-president-elect arrived at the Capitol - I never considered that we were "stopping school." Instead, we simply changed gears and spent the rest of the morning watching civics in action.

We didn't watch it eight and four years ago - for personal reasons on my part but mostly because at six and seven in 2009 and 10 and 11 in 2013, the girls were probably too young then to appreciate its significance. But four years from now, each will be old enough to vote so I've helped them to follow this whole campaign season more closely, and I knew that watching the swearing-in ceremony was really important.

I didn't make a whole "unit study" of it. Perhaps I would have if the girls were younger, but maybe not, as I've become more and more inclined toward what can be called "life learning." Thus, we simply watched together and talked about it as it unfolded. I pointed out interesting tidbits and answered their questions as we went. I know they were engaged in the process because we were engaged together; I don't need a test or worksheets to prove that we watched or that they "got something out of it."

I did ask each to journal a short summary or reaction. And true to each one's typical writing style, one chose the former, the other the latter:
On January 20th, 2017, Donald John Trump was elected 45th president of the United States of America. At about 8:45AM, Donald and his wife Melania arrived at the White House for tea with President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. At 10:00AM, they arrived at the Capitol building where a few short speeches were followed by the swearing in of Mike Pence as the vice president. Then the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang and Donald J. Trump took the oath of office. Jackie Evancho then sang the National Anthem and Barack and Michelle Obama departed on a plane, where he then gave a farewell speech at 12:10PM. Trump then signed an executive order that extended security to his family.
For civics today we watched the swearing in of president-elect, now president, Donald Trump. I have never watched a swearing in before, but I'm glad I watched it. The whole race for president was very brutal and it was a slug-fest the whole way, but now that Trump is sworn in, everything has calmed down. The swearing in began with the welcoming and seating of all the Washington diplomats, such as Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and all the Congress and senators. Then one by one the Trumps were escorted and cheered on as they walked through the double doors to be present at this monumental occasion. Donald Trump was walked in under fanfare and cheering from the huge crowd before he proceeded to shake the hands of Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama. Many people gave speeches and read prayers before all rose to witness the swearing in of President Donald Trump. Trump then gave a speech. There were many words, all of which were great, but the words that stand out and I hope Mr. Trump will live by are, "When America is united, America is unstoppable." The sun now dawns on a new day, a new president, and a new America. God bless!
I remember rather clearly that I was the girls' age when I first started to pay any amount of attention to politics and "government." It took another 15 years before I began to more fully appreciate the amazing nature of our country, and my engagement became much deeper after I became a mom and then again eight years ago. And the girls may travel a similar path, though one is a bit more interested than the other just now. But I anticipate that this election and inauguration - as the first they'll truly remember - will serve as an important marker in their lives. Thus, it was without a doubt time well-spent - a real lesson and not just something we "took off" for. 


A New Venture

I've started a new blog!

Actually, one of my dearest homeschool friends and I have started it together.

Nikki and I met online in a large national homeschool group back in early 2009, and we quickly realized we have far more than our "Irish Twin" kids in common. We're both passionate about homeschooling - about educating our own kids well, advocating for complete freedom for all private, independent homeschoolers, and encouraging others who are on the home education journey with us - and we see eye-to-eye about many other social/political issues as well. In fact, we've often found ourselves "dittoing" each other as we offer advice to fellow moms in the group we co-admin along with a handful of wonderful helpers, and I find great comfort in having such a kindred spirit just a few keystrokes away. So we've decided to take things a step further by collaborating on Ditto, She Wrote, where we plan to share ideas and insight from our combined 30+ years of parenting/home learning experience.

I'll still continue to blog here at Being Made New as well. In fact, I feel reinvigorated to begin posting more regularly. But I'll get back to using this space for personal reflection and save the more "instructive" material - the how-to's and whys about home education - for Ditto. As such, I'm in the process of migrating a few dozen previous posts over to Ditto, where I'm re-sharing them - often in slightly edited form - in hopes of encouraging more home educators. Nikki and I are alternating days as we populate Ditto, and we'll aim to write quite regularly going forward.

I hope you'll continue following me here and also join Nikki and me over there!


Trust and Relax - Even with High School

Today I saw yet again that "alternative" resources - along with trusting one's child, choosing to relax, and prayer - work...even for high school!

My very smart but "science-hating" 14-year old asked several months ago if she could take a hiatus from science. She is not a rebel, and - starting when she was just four years old - she has repeatedly demonstrated that she "knows" herself as a learner. She had thoroughly thought through her position and articulated it very clearly. So despite some trepidation on the part of my still-somewhat-school-indoctrinated brain - mostly because I wondered what others (even other homeschoolers) would think of me for daring (gasp!) to honor my child's wishes in terms of her education - I chose to listen and trust her, not knowing (gulp!) if or when she'd ever do more formal science.

And I started praying. Not asking God to change her mind and not from a place of anxiety - in fact, any time I felt anxiety rearing its very ugly head, I prayed for strength to smash it down! - but, rather, simply seeking guidance and direction about how best to proceed.

I have not been frantically searching for science curriculum; God has been doing such good work with me in terms of freeing me from institutional-style thinking that I really did have peace about just trusting my girl. But a couple weeks ago, a member of the Facebook group I moderate mentioned the science resources from Queen Homeschool Supplies. I'd used and enjoyed Queen in the past - for gentle language arts when the girls were young - but hadn't really considered it for anything else. Yet after looking through sample pages online, I felt led to order Every Herb Bearing Seed, a "course focusing on natural...medicine and anatomy."

Despite thinking it would be an enjoyable book, I actually thought my daughter would politely decline on principle - and I would have been okay with that. But, much to my surprise, her reaction was just the opposite. The book's emphasis on natural health piqued her interest, and then when she looked inside and saw the story-based lessons and research-oriented approach, her face actually lit up, and she said she'd be more than happy to give it a shot.

I still thought she might not like it much once she started. But she did the first lesson today and was actually excited to tell me about it. She also looked with interest at the other high school books on the site, quite open to considering them.

My purpose in sharing is not to promote Queen - though I have appreciated the company since we first used it for language arts. Rather, I was struck yet again by the beauty of giving my children choice and trusting each one's ability to know herself as a learner. I could have insisted my daughter do traditional science "like everyone else," dismissing her request for an indefinite hiatus as rebelliousness or the foolishness of youth. In fact, I could have forced both the girls to follow (sad) suit with so many other homeschoolers and insist we set aside the engaging, creative, holistic approach we'd employed when they were young in favor of mimicking the factory-style, "traditional" high school experience.

But I've learned that the girls deserve better than me forcing them to slog through boring textbooks just to say they've "covered" certain material (regardless of true interest or real learning) - even at the high school level. In fact, God expects me to continue honoring how He has uniquely designed each of them according to His purposes, and to listen to them and to His leading instead of going with the cultural default. If that had meant never using a "science curriculum" again - if, instead, she would have had "only" her previously-completed General Science course and then whatever (if anything) I might have compiled towards an additional credit or two from informal/"unschooling"-based activities - that would quite literally have been just fine. My responsibility is to my girls and to God - not to status quo - and I have to trust that listening to them and to Him will bear fruit. In fact, it already has.


Symbols of a Father's Love

Four or five years ago, the girls began mentioning wanting dollhouses - real dollhouses, not the plastic Barbie or generic particleboard variety. The kind of dollhouse that would require real construction and real interior decoration. Heirlooms.

Three years ago - when the girls were 11 and 12 - Jeff and I decided to make the financial investment, buying the dollhouse kits for Christmas. The girls were outgrowing toys by that point, but that's why we knew they'd truly care for the houses - that they were mature enough to treat the houses as treasured "art projects."

Of course, purchasing the kits was merely the beginning. Jeff got right to work, simultaneously building both in our basement and endeavoring to make sure he didn't finish one before the other. And he worked patiently and diligently - sanding, painting each individual piece, sanding again, painting again, carefully cutting, gluing, staining - all in between faithfully supporting my ability to be home and home-educating via his full-time job (which this past fall included a rigorous interview process for a promotion to a position as a corporate trainer within his company), running MissionGuides, leading several missions trips, volunteering at church, diving into on-going maintenance projects for one thing or another in our beloved-but-aging-home, and purposing all along to be present with the girls and me first and foremost. He never gave up; doing so never even crossed his mind.

So now this Christmas - after three years of devoted perseverance - he presented the girls with their houses. They had, of course, seen his progress over time. And they knew he was close to finishing even though he purposely avoided telling them how close so that the final unveiling would be somewhat of a surprise. Yet they were still duly amazed this morning when they found these beautiful masterpieces waiting for them.

And now their fun - which I will, of course, "count" in some way as part of our homeschooling - begins. They had saved their own money and asked for gift cards to Hobby Lobby as birthday and Christmas presents in order to purchase people and furniture, all of which has been kept in careful storage while they waited. So now - once we get the houses situated in their rooms - each will decide on the interior design for her house and get to work on wall colors (paint and/or wallpaper), flooring, and accessories so the doll families can "move in." Once they're done, the artwork on the inside will match what Jeff has given them externally.

I know lots of men passionately love their wives and children - and that each demonstrates his love in different ways. And, of course, Jeff's love for the girls and me has been evident in so many different ways all through the years; he certainly didn't need to build the houses to prove it. But he did choose to build them - he poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into them and prepared and positioned each tiny piece as an act of love - and they stand as beautiful, concrete testaments to his devotion. Devotion to his precious daughters and devotion even to me as the mother of his girls. We are so blessed to have him!


The (Very Simple) Five-Finger Rule

I very regularly address questions from home-educating moms wondering about tools for determining the "reading level" of books they're considering for their children. Now in truth, my thoughts about "reading level" are similar to my views about the overall notion of "grade level" - i.e., "reading level" labels on books are largely arbitrary and irrelevant, and we should devote our energy to finding great (non-twaddle) books for our kids rather than worrying about their "level" as determined by some educrat who has never met our children. However, since our overall goal is (should be) to grow bibliophiles who seek to be lifelong learners, we want to appropriately challenge our kids without overwhelming them; thus, finding a method for determining the appropriateness of a particular book at a specific period of time in a child's life does have value...not so we can document what "level" a child is reading, but simply to properly respect and value each child's individual learning process.

We do not, however, need complicated algorithms, expensive materials, or even the latest app for that endeavor. In fact, we each carry with us every day a most effective tool - the five fingers on one hand - which can be used at any moment to employ the Five-Finger Rule for Text Readability. When a child chooses a book, just follow this procedure:
  1. Direct the child to read (aloud) the first full page of the book's text; 
  2. As he reads, subtly (so as not to intimidate him) keep note with one finger each time he cannot decode a word at all or struggles quite a bit to get it.
You'll know the suitability of the overall book based on how many fingers you use by the time the child reaches the bottom of the page:
  • 0-1 Finger: The child's reading ability is above the level of the book. That doesn't mean he shouldn't read it - there is intellectual and emotional value in reading even "easy" books - but it won't stretch his abilities;
  • 2-3 Fingers: The book is at the child's "instructional level." In other words, this book will be an appropriate challenge without being overwhelming; 
  • 4-5 Fingers: The child is not ready to read this book independently, as it is above his current reading ability. You might save it for a later time, or if the child is really interested, simply use it as a parent-led read-aloud or (perhaps) try tackling it in "buddy reading" format with the parent.
And that's all there is to it - a "diagnostic test" accomplished in a matter of minutes in a very low-key manner using something you always have with you!


Guided Self-Directed High School: Learning Logs

Though we will undoubtedly do quite a few informal yet "documentable" learning activities over the next few weeks, the girls and I have officially begun our winter/Christmas hiatus from formal bookwork, which also marks the end of their "first year of high school." I put that in quotes because we aim to view learning and education in as holistic a way as my school-indoctrinated brain can muster - I will likely be deschooling myself for the rest of my life! - so, other than thinking in terms of when we expect the girls to "graduate," we try to avoid paying too much attention to starts and finishes. We've simply been doing our best to be diligent with multi-faceted learning throughout the year, and we're taking our long, year-end break now; in January, we'll just continue where we've left off.

Of course, we've got our own "eclectic" way of doing things - it's what I described this past February as a "'guided, delight-directed' approach" - and I've been keeping track of everything the girls have been doing all year with an eye toward arranging an "official" record-keeping system once I had a year's worth of "data." So designing forms that work for us - and compiling them in a way that makes sense - is one of my tasks over the next few weeks. And I'll refer to the girls' Learning Logs - six each for the year, counting the Logs for our "trial run" during the Fall of 2015 - in that process.

I devised the Logs - using LibreOffice (though Microsoft Word would work just as well) - to help me keep track of what the girls do, but also as a means of helping them monitor their own daily progress, and I've tweaked them through the year as we've seen what does and doesn't work for us. So what I've designed is very specific to our approach - not something another family could necessarily adopt wholesale as its own. But I've nevertheless been asked to share what we've done, and I'm happy to oblige.

We've figured out that a rough 6/1, 7/1, or 8/1 schedule works well for us right now - i.e., we divide up the year into "units" of approximately six, seven, or eight weeks each (give or take, depending on our overall family calendar) and then take about a week off in between each "unit." We also take a "long" summer break (roughly four weeks) in July and a "long" winter break (three to four weeks) at this time of year, so our schedule allows for about 185 formal "academic" days per year. Of course, we consider ourselves to be learning on weekends and "days off," too - in fact, I explained my real position on "required hours" here - and we actively "count" activities we do during our days and weeks "off." But in regards to the girls' Logs, each one is set up to cover one 30- to 40-day "unit" during our times of formal bookwork.

Each Log has three main sections: Goals, an Action Plan, and a Record of Daily Learning. And a Log for each unit is individualized to each of the girls, keeping in mind each one's learning needs and her progress from the previous unit. I simply print out the pages I want from among those I've designed, along with a colored cover sheet for each section; collate them; and take them to my local FedEx Office for binding. I prefer a coil binding with a colored plastic back cover and a clear plastic front cover, and binding one book costs about $6.00. Just for fun, the girls custom illustrate the paper cover at the start of each unit.

Goals section is usually about two pages long. It's where I delineate what I've determined each girl should work on during that unit. Of course, I've previously collaborated with each of them to determine what they'll be studying at any given time, and they have a great deal of input about the resources they use - for example, one of the girls uses Notgrass materials for Civics while the other has chosen the In the Constitution series. Thus, the Goals pages are simply my way of helping them to break down each area into manageable "chunks" for each unit (keeping in mind that we don't necessarily aim to finish a book or "subject" in a school-style length of time). Of course, not every goal is completed as suggested - but as long as the girls work diligently during our learning times (and they both do), we simply adjust any unfinished goals when we start a new unit.

An Action Plan is two or three pages long. It consists of a series of check-off boxes for each area included in the Goals section; it's a place where the girls can quickly mark off what they accomplish each day and visualize their progress. Some tasks - Reader's Workshop and music practice - are daily assignments, and a couple - math and Work with Mom (specific language arts instruction) - are assigned four days a week. But for other areas, each of the girls has the freedom to determine for herself what to do each day. Because they are diligent and can clearly see the goals before them, I trust them to determine their own daily plans.

The bulk of a Log - a little more than 100 sheets of paper - is made up of the Record of Daily Learning sheets, one set for each day of the unit. Each day's section starts with a one-page table that the girls fill in with details of what they accomplish in the various areas - i.e., which math lesson is completed, what literature chapter is read, etc. When they don't work on a subject, they leave the space for it blank.

The daily table is followed by four to five pages of blank lines for journaling, with designated space for each subject area. I ask the girls to journal in certain areas - Bible, World History, American History, Civics, science - and they know they should aim to fill most of the lines (roughly half a page) any time they write. Again, not every journaling section is filled every day - that depends on which lessons each girl chooses to do each day - but I include the same pages every day (in the same order) so I can see at a glance what each has done. I copy the daily table and journaling pages back-to-back to save paper so each day's Record of Daily Learning consists of three to four pieces of paper. I just move a small post-it flag forward each day after I check the journals.

As an aside, I embrace journaling as an authentic means of documenting and monitoring a child's learning - and I reject school-style assessments ("comprehension" questions, tests) even when a resource we use offers them. I know from my time as a classroom teacher that school-style methods of evaluation serve the record-keeping needs of teachers - i.e., so they can document everything in numerical form in order to rank and categorize students against each other. But real learning - as opposed to performance for the benefit of teachers - comes from reflecting upon, talking, and writing about what a person has read and/or watched or listened to. I saw that when I secretly but happily played the rebel in my classroom teaching days by utilizing journals instead of school-style evaluations - so, of course, I promote such real learning now at home.

For some subjects now - history in particular - the girls actually use their journal entries as rough-draft summaries which they revise and edit to create history scrapbooks; thus, their journaling kills two birds with one stone by becoming meaningful composition practice, too. But rough-draft journaling is enough in other areas - I simply have the girls summarize and evaluate what they've learned, knowing that taking the time to write will cause the important information to "stick" - without requiring any sort of final project. And in still other areas - especially literature - they don't journal at all because doing so would be too much of a distraction from the main task; instead with their literature, they're currently keeping a book review blog and will later practice other responsive writing forms and genres.

The point is that journaling - which could be accomplished using Dragon software for a child who struggles with written composition - is the main method I use to document my children's learning. And organizing our year into "units," each with its own Learning Log customized to each child, has been a great way for my girls to enjoy and benefit from their first year of guided self-directed high school.


Not-Back-to-School Photos

A local friend and fellow homeschool mom who also happens to be a professional photographer offered to do Not-Back-to-School pictures, so we took some time away from the books one morning last week to meet her at the local wildlife sanctuary. She took dozens of photos, and they all turned out beautifully. Here's just a glimpse:


It’s Time for a Cease-Fire

I wrote the following piece for today's issue of the Celebrate Kids' email newsletter...and I mean every word. 
Education is a hot-button issue.
In fact, it’s exceedingly rare to find a person who doesn’t have an opinion about what’s “best” in terms of kids’ learning. Some insist that public school offers the best opportunities and should be mandatory for all, and others maintain that homeschooling is the only way to go. Still others assert that private school provides the best of both worlds. And when we add the voices supporting each of the vast, almost infinite, variety of options within “the big three” – charter, virtual, voucher, Charlotte Mason, unit studies, classical, unschooling, Christian, Montessori, alternative…just to name a few – we find ourselves surrounded by an ear-splitting cacophony of aggressive activism.
That said, opinions in and of themselves are not bad. And children’s education is so important that the existence of strong opinions is understandable. In fact, anyone who knows me personally is familiar with my background as a classroom teacher in “at-risk” schools, the pride I now take in being a homeschool mom, and my particular, deeply held convictions about educational theory and practice. 
 But it’s time to poke our heads up out of the trenches and get some perspective.  
First, we must each realize that we don't have a right to an opinion about what's best for anyone else's child. My husband and I fully considered every educational option, have taken into account the ramifications of each, and have come to a conclusion about what's best for our children. We cannot be swayed...and we shouldn't have to endure unsolicited lectures - or "helpful suggestions" - from proponents of other options. But neither do we have a right to push our views onto parents who have chosen differently. In fact, unless we’re asked, we have no standing from which to state an opinion. Out of respect for parental authority, we must assume that all parents have fully researched the matter for their own children and have come to their conclusions in good faith. We might not agree, but it's simply not our place to butt in.
Conversely, we must also decide to stop being offended by others’ choices. My friend’s decision to enroll her children in the local private school is not an indictment of my homeschooling. My meme celebrating homeschooling is not an attack on a fellow church member’s decision to send her children to the public school down the street. And my relative’s announcement that his daughter made all-state for the public school’s volleyball team is not a jab at schooling options that offer different benefits. It’s possible that a rude, immature person might actually intend to offend in such a way, but why do we let ourselves assume the worst? 
The “school wars” have grown tiresome. And no one will ever win if we insist on continuing to usurp others’ parental authority over their own children. But if we can choose to agree that the widest possible variety of options should always be available and that each child’s parents have the right to decide for their own kids, we can reach d├ętente. It's time for a cease-fire.

Some people will have a hard time believing I mean these words because I am such an unflinching apologist for home education. In fact, I am fully convinced that any diligent parent - regardless of educational background or current circumstances - really can successfully homeschool, and I am profoundly and deeply troubled by much of what occurs within institutional schools of any stripe. And if I'm being completely transparent, I'll admit that I wish every school - public or private - would close tomorrow because every parent had withdrawn every child in favor of parent-led, home-based education. Of course, I don't go around saying that (despite admitting it here in this post!), but my strong advocacy in favor of home education is certainly not a secret. So I can understand why some would assume I don't really believe in parental choice.

And, though I cannot now recall specific circumstances, I'm quite sure I've crossed the line and "pushed" in regards to homeschooling. I'll probably do it again at some point...because I'm human. I'm not making excuses - when I've disrespected a parent's authority over her own children in the past and if I do it again - I have been - and will be - wrong. Without question. I should endeavor to prevent it from happening again...because I'm serious about what I say in the article about parental authority.

That doesn't mean I'll stop celebrating the joys of homeschooling. It's a wonderful endeavor - even in its unavoidable travails and struggles - and I feel the need to defend it because it is too often vilified by ill-informed blowhards who jump to conclusions and make ridiculous overgeneralizations. Because it's not at all mainstream - despite its long, successful history in the U.S. and around the world - it needs vocal support, and I'm happy to speak up for it. But, as I suggest in the article, my advocacy for home education should be seen as just that - support in favor of one particular thing in which I believe. And even when I write or talk about concerns with the system of institutional schooling - which I do on a limited basis and only with a matter of especially grave concern - I absolutely do not do so with a hidden agenda of seeking to shame parents who've chosen to use such schools. I cannot speak for anyone else who promotes homeschooling, and you'll have to choose to take me at my word, but that is the God's honest truth. 

At root, I stand deeply and profoundly in favor of home education and just as deeply and profoundly for parental authority. One does not trump the other...which means - from the bottom of my heart - that as much as I beg you to honor the decision of parents who home-educate - please stop trying to convince us that we're wrong! - I do fully and completely respect your choice to choose another option. I would not choose it, but your kids are not my kids and I know my place.

Bottom line: I desperately wish we could all agree on that cease-fire, and I hope I live to see it.

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