Thursday, August 1, 2013

A new school year means new adventures in learning!

It's been awhile and I meant to blog about and reflect on our first year of homeschooling at the end of the year.  Well, we've been busy this summer and I never got around to it.  I can say that it was a year full of challenges, new things, new experiences, new friends, discovering gifts, uncovering weaknesses, and learning each other's strengths.  We learned what works and what doesn't.  We decided what we like and certainly what we don't like.  We laughed and we cried.  It was fun and it was difficult.  I think we learned a lot and we definitely grew!  Of all these accomplishments, the one that I am most proud of is that we saw it through. I will admit, it was very tempting to give up on several occasions when that yellow bus passed by the house in the afternoon and we were still sitting at our school table in tears over math.  I had to pray my way through more than a few days, but I know the One who brought us through it.  He called us to this life of living and learning together as a family.

As we move forward into our second year of home-centered education, I am encouraged, excited, and full of anticipation.  I know God has many adventures in store.  We are adding one more to our daily school routine.  This year we have a brand new kindergartner.  I think Aiden is the most excited of us all.  I'm praying that God will remind me to focus more on the joy of learning and all the fun stuff that comes with that with Aiden this year.  I have never homeschooled a kindergartner.  My homeschoolers came to me already reading, so I am a little intimidated by the task of teaching a little one to read.  I know he will do well.  He has had a wonderful preschool foundation and is an eager learner.

Over the course of last school year, we did discover that the curriculum we where using was not working for us.  I guess you could say that we had not discovered our "homeschool style" yet.  Throughout the year, we changed up a few things until we were virtually not using much of anything we started with.

In the early stages of our discussions about homeschooling the kids, we met a family that was using Classical Conversations.  We looked into it and liked what we saw, but we did not start with it for a variety of reasons.  In January of this year, I felt that God was prompting us to take another look.  We decided to be obedient, even though we knew it would mean a homeschool group change.  The kids and I were loving GRACE Co-op and had made a lot of new friends, but I just knew that we had to explore this option one more time.  We reached out to the director in Murphy, NC.  As it turned out, the drive to weekly CC meetings would not be any further than to it was to co-op.  We decided to go and observe a typical CC day. With in a matter of an hour, I was sold.  It completely exceeded all of my expectations.  The icing on the cake was how open, warm, and helpful every single mom and child was there. The kids jumped right in there to welcome Ashlyn and Aaron.  They connected instantly.  The moms were a wealth of information and encouragement.

One of the things that I discovered about myself was that I really had no desire to recreate "school" at home. I thought for sure that I would be a "school at home" homeschool mom.  I was quite surprised when that just did not work for us.  The classical education model is a bit different that the traditional model. It is way too complex for me to explain on this blog and I am sure that I would totally botch it, but I will try to give you some basics. I am using the Classical Conversations catalog as a reference.

The classical model can also be referred to as "Teaching the Trivium."  We know that there are three stages of learning that we all go through in order to learn something new.  The three stages are the grammar stage (memorizing the facts), the dialectic stage (discovering how the facts relate), and the rhetoric stage (applying the facts).  The Bible even refers to these stages in Proverbs 24:3-4 as knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.  How cool its that? God intentionally designed us to learn this way.

We have already made some new CC friends and now there are 3 families from Hiawassee, including us, who will be using this curriculum this school year.  Sam and I hope to become very involved in CC at large. We attended a parent practicum in May and are very encouraged by all the support offered to CC parents and students.  This movement is growing rapidly within the homeschooling community as parents begin to discover that the method works and that in the process of educating their children, they are also redeeming their own education. The best thing about Classical Conversations is their mission statement which happens to be our family's passion.  "To know God and to make Him known."  What a blessing!

Anna will be attending preschool at the Baptist church again this year.  She will be in the 3 day 3's class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It is a great fit for her and she loves it there.  It keeps her busy while we work at home.  I am excited that she will be able to attend CC with us on Tuesdays. My plan is to bring her into Aiden's class for as long as her attention span can take it.  Once she has had enough, I will just take her out to play in the nursery.  I do believe that she will pick up a lot by just being around when we are working. CC is fun with all kinds of songs to help the kids engage and memorize the information.  I have a feeling that she will have a hard time staying away when we are singing our history timeline songs.

Avery has become more mobile since we started homeschooling last year.  He sometimes presents a challenge on our school days.  I guess I will have to be a little more creative this year with ways to keep him busy.  Thankfully he is becoming more interested in things like coloring and story time. I will continue to rely on the veteran homeschool moms in my life for tips on homeschooling with a toddler under foot.

While many are already returning to school, we still have a little bit of summer left.  Our CC group starts on September 10th, but I plan on pulling the math and reading books out and dusting off the cobwebs in a week or two.  It will probably take us at least a week of "practice" to get going.  We did not accomplish as much as I would have liked this summer, but I am learning to not be so tough on my students and myself.

I've decided that each year I need to focus on a few areas for growth.  Last school year, it was patience with my children, confidence in my abilities, and to just make it through the year.  This year I want to learn to be more flexible, to be more free-spirited, and to reach out to moms just beginning the homeschooling journey.

I am very proud of my kids, my husband, and myself!

One year down and 17 more to go!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Defeated Mom Syndrome

It's only Tuesday and I can tell it is going to be one of those weeks. I don't intend for this to be a whiny post, but to encourage other moms.  Even the most veteran, experienced, and patient mom can suffer from defeated mom syndrome from time to time.

I woke up late again this morning.  It's a viscous cycle in our home. Our days are full of the busy routine of preschool drop off and pick up, school work, laundry, meal times, kitchen clean up, toy pick up, and bedtime rituals.  Usually by the time the last little head hits the pillow, we both collapse on to the couch for the next several hours.  It's our only down time.  Before we know it, it's 11:00 or 12:00 and we should have been in bed hours ago.  This is usually what leads to our late start mornings.  We always have good intentions of going to bed early and getting up early.  It just doesn't seem to happen as often as we would like it to.  

Today has been an exceptionally frustrating day for me.  My mind is flooded with all of the things I am failing at.  I yelled at Ashlyn for not understanding a math problem quickly enough.  This causes me to doubt my abilities to teach my children.  Avery would not stop crying while I was trying to explain the lesson to Ashlyn, so I put him on the couch with a Preschool Prep DVD.  This causes me to doubt my ability to balance the babies and the older kid's schooling.  Aaron would not focus on his Language Arts lesson.  I felt like I was nagging him all morning.  This causes me to doubt my patience.  When the kids finished lunch, all of them but Ashlyn, got up and left all their dishes on the table and headed downstairs to play.  This causes me to doubt the effectiveness of all the training I have invested in them to be considerate helpers to others in all situations even at home.   This afternoon, we opened up our history timeline to discover that it has been closed up before the glue dried. The last 10 figures we made had bled all over and had to be scraped off and redone.  That caused me to want to cry!

The children are not my only insecurity at the moment.  Sam and I have had some misunderstandings and disagreements this week that have lead to frustration for us both.  That causes me to doubt how I am fulfilling my role as a supportive and loving wife.  I'm also not meeting some expectations at church.  This is always a tough one for me because it causes me to doubt my role in my husband's   ministry.  It often involves someone's interpretation of my character based on their understand of the situation only.  

The point of telling you all this is not to complain, but to be real and to encourage!  I admit, my wick is very short today.  It seems like everything is getting under my skin.  The slightest infraction from the kids causes me to come down hard on them.  The problem is that they are not the problem at all.  They are acting like normal active children.  The problem is me and the expectations I have for myself and maybe even the little lies being whispered into my ear by the evil one.  

So this causes me to think about what God's expectations of me are.  After all, His expectations are the ones that I should be the most concerned with.  Not necessarily my children's, my husbands, or even my own, and certainly not parishioner's.  So, what does God expect from me?  I believe it is actually a lot less complicated than I make it.  I'm pretty sure that He does not expect every page in the Language Arts workbook to be completed, or every math lesson to be understood on the first try.  Through His grace, He has introduced me to more seasoned homeschooling "moms to many" that can help me with ideas to occupy the baby and my preschooler during lessons and even advice on running my household.  I'm also pretty sure that He is not frowning on my decision to pop in a video from time to time.   He also reminds me that with perseverance and consistency, they will learn their manners. Of course, God is concerned with my children's education.  I believe He wants me to do the very best I can in teaching them.  To work and plan hard, but ultimately even that is not my most important mothering responsibility.  

Our greatest command is to "love God with all our heart, all our soul and, all our strength."  (Deut. 6:5)   I think the same could be said about how we are to love our children.  That may seem like a no brainer and it should be easy right? Most of the time it is, but then there are those days like today.  Those days where the doubt, the lies, and maybe even the selfishness that we all possess starts to creep in. What do we do then?  I think we have to lean on God.  The one that loves our children more than even we can imagine.  I think we have to look to Him to understand what this kind of love looks like.  When I think about love, I am always reminded of the verse that has been the theme for our family from the very beginning.  Even before Sam and I were engaged, this verse brought us together during a time when we were on the brink of parting ways.  I believe because I truly believed it and it penetrated his heart, that it sealed our future together.  

1 Corinthians 13 says........

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This chapter says so much, but what always sticks out to me are the parts that say "Love never fails." and "But the greatest of these is Love."  If we love our kids, we won't fail them and loving them is the most important thing of all.  My own personal challenge is to remember to love them in the midst of the chaos. It's easy to snap or to blow up.  The challenge is to learn to put that childish reasoning and those childish actions behind us.  It's tough, but we can lean on our Lord to help us.  It's really the only way since we can not do it under our own strength.  At least I know I can't!!!!

We also have to remember that we must let go of the expectations we have of ourselves and those that others have of us.  We will never be able to meet either of them every time. I also know from experience that children are quick to forgive.  Adults often have a hard time forgiving and letting go.  Whenever I have had to say I'm sorry to the kids for my behavior, they usually not only forgive, but totally forget within minutes that I was ever ugly or hateful to them.  

So it's simple!  Love God! Make sure your kids know that you love them.  When you mess up, be quick to ask for forgiveness.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  Remember, they totally forgot what you did when you said, "I'm sorry."  Be confident in who God says you are.  You are His beloved!  Listen to His voice and not the voice of others.  Press on mamas!!!! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Making it home

Christmas has come and gone and it is a new year.  We just got all of the Christmas decorations put away.  They were so beautiful and I truly enjoyed them this year.  It has been nice for the house to return to normal though.  I suspect that I will be vacuuming up glitter for the next 3 months.

Our family has experienced many ups and downs and certainly many major life adjustments.  This June we moved into a new home!  We quickly unpacked and set everything up.  Now that we have been here for six months, it is time to start adding those personal little touches that make it home.

I have been on pintrest for the last several weeks trying to come up with ideas on how to get more organized and make our space work better for us, while at the same time making it look good too.  My first project came this morning.  Our coat closet was a mess and the hooks for the back packs were in a terrible location and not working for us at all.  So I attacked that first.  I forgot to take a before picture, but the closet was a wreck and the entry way was empty after we took the tree out.

I hope I can keep it like this, but I doubt it.  I hung the coats in order from shortest person to tallest person.  The shoe shelf was already in there.  I just straightened them.  I also took a ton of stuff out for basement storage.  The brown basket at the top is for hats, gloves, and mittens.  Sam installed a hook on the left side for my diaper bag.  This project cost me nothing.  

The entry way.  I was hesitant to put the book bags here, but this is where we come into the house from the basement/garage.  This project so far has also cost me nothing.  I dug an old night stand/cabinet that we are not using out of the basement, moved the hooks for the book bags, took a basket that was not being used out of the boys' bathroom, and hung a wreath.   I usually hang that wreath on the outside of the front door, but I figured since no one will be out there this winter, it would be nice for us to be able to enjoy it from the inside.  This is still a work in progress.  I am going to be looking for a small lamp for the night stand/cabinet and I'm also still brainstorming about what to hang on the wall over it.

My next project is this drab empty wall and pantry door. The pantry door will be receiving a few coats of chalk board paint and the wall will serve as our family command and chore chart center.

This will be the before picture.

Kitchen Command Center

Chore charts

These are the pins that have inspired my ideas for this area.

I have also been busy in the school room.  I cleaned out some toys and freed up a bin, so I moved it into the school room to house the preschool toys, puzzles, lacing beads, and other activities.  We ordered some preschool curriculum and I have started researching "tot trays" to keep Anna busy on the mornings that she is home with us. Screen time is a little out of control right now.

Sam really wanted the kids to have some sort of cubies for their workbooks and such.  For now we are using these plastic drawers.  I am going to dress them up with some pretty paper and my Aunt Dean is making name labels for them.


I have a big dream for the school room that would include several of the Trofast storage combinations from Ikea.  This is an expensive project so it will have to wait.

TROFAST Storage combination IKEA Several grooves allow you to place boxes/shelves where you want them. Fits in TROFAST frames.

For the kids with January birthdays, we are planning to work on a few projects instead of gifts.  Here is one of the ideas we plan to create in our home soon.

These are the 3.99 spice racks at Ikea

And another one.

AWESOME idea for Lego storage and table.

These are all little and very inexpensive projects that I know will make this house a little more of a home for our family.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The oh so complicated sibling relationship

Recently this picture was posted on the Parent's Magazine Facebook page.   At first I thought, "this is great!  I need one of those!"  

We have five children, so sibling fights and disagreements are a daily occurrence at our house.  As a tired and sometimes overwhelmed mom, it is very difficult to find a solution that works, a technique that convinces my children to love one another at all times, play nicely, share, and to think of their brother or sister first.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

After giving it some thought and reflecting on my own adult sibling relationship, I started to wonder if this technique is such a good idea after all.   I have one brother that is 3 years younger than me.  We grew up pretty close and did not fight too much.  Well, at least from our prospective.  I'm not sure what our mother's thoughts on that would be.  I think we played well together and usually had fun and enjoyed each other's company.  However, we were not perfect and we did have disagreements at times.  For example, I could not stand listening to him chew his food at the breakfast table.  It drove me nuts!  I used to yell at him from across the table to chew with his mouth closed.  However, I am pretty sure he did not appreciate being cast as the family dog when my friend and I would play house!

Our biggest challenge as brother and sister came about in our adult life.  Several years ago my brother revealed to our family that he is gay.  I can share this because he is now open about it with our family and friends.  It was a very difficult time for him and us as a family.   We had to and are still working through a lot of our differing feelings, thoughts, and view points on the issue.  Things have been said from both parties that have been misunderstood and at times very hurtful.  I tell you this to demonstrate a messy and REAL life issue.  This goes far beyond fighting over a toy, a turn on the Wii, or in our day the Nintendo, or a he touched me argument.   This is one that you can not possibly prepare for.  How do we relate to one another in this situation?  How do we argue, make our points, work it out together, find common ground, agree to disagree, and in the end still love unconditionally and preserve our relationship while holding on to who we are and what we believe individually. It's tough!

I believe the skills to do just that come from our childhood disagreements.  We were never stuck in a shirt and forced to tolerate each other after a disagreement.  Yes, we had to say, "I am sorry."  I am sure sometimes it was done begrudgingly, but it was still a practice that we had to learn.  The practice of apology takes work.  It is hard, embarrassing, and sometimes painful to say I am sorry and to admit that I was wrong.  Even as adults, we hate to have to do that.   Once we get into the practice of recognizing our wrongs and quickly responding it becomes easier and we begin to do it with sincerity.  I will be the first to admit that in this real life situation, I have not always responded in the right way.

I have to wonder if our parents had simply put us together in a shirt titled "The we will get along shirt"  if we would have learned the skills of apology and forgiveness.  We are now having to call on those skills to hold our fragile and struggling relationship together in a very difficult time.  We aren't totally there yet.  We both have struggled and are still struggling.  Now, I am not saying this technique is wrong, I'm just questioning how effective it is in the long run.  Someone else may argue that it is highly effective because of things I have not considered.

I teach my children that the most valuable friendships they hold are the ones with their siblings.  After all, they are truly the only people on earth that have the same history, that share similar DNA, that have the same childhood experiences and memories.  In a lot of ways, the only ones that really "get" you.  Some even have a secret language that only they understand. Even in the midst of trials, I still believe and hold on to this as truth in my own life and sibling relationship with my one and only brother.  I do love him no matter what and without condition!

I am grateful for parents that taught us how to apologize, how to forgive, and how to love.  I hope and pray that I am doing what it takes to equip my children with the skills they need to relate to the people of the world and most especially to each other as they become adults.   I truly do believe in making brothers and sisters best friends!

What scripture tells us about resolving conflict.

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love."  Mathew 18: 15-17  The Message

"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it."   Colossians 3:13  The Message

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Halloween! To celebrate or not?

The weather is getting cooler.  The leaves are changing color and falling to the ground.  This is my most favorite time of year.  I even chose October for my wedding month because this time of year just makes me happy.  For me it marks the beginning of the holiday season.  My mind starts to shift and I begin planning for all kinds of family fun and memories.

The first holiday up is Halloween!  Halloween sometimes sparks a dilemma in the church.  To celebrate or not?!?!  Some feel that it is the devil's holiday and centers around evil.  Some feel that it is just good hearted fun for the kids.  They get to dress up and gather candy from neighbors and friends.

It's important to look at the history and origins of Halloween.  The source of all of my historical information here is from Wikipedia. Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of it's original title "All Hallow's Evening"), is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31.  Halloween is commonly thought to have pagan roots.  All Hallow's Eve or Halloween initially incorporated traditions from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honoring the dead.

Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints Day (also known as Hallowmans, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Soul's Day.  They were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven.  It was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until "All Saint's Day, and All Hallows Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving into the next world.  To avoid being recognized by a soul, Christians would wear masks and costumes to disguise themselves.  The Vatican has now strongly condemned these traditions as being "pagan" and "anti-Christian."

Thoughts on Halloween throughout today's Christian community are diverse.  In the Anglican Church, some have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions associated with All Hallow's Eve.  Some of these practices include praying, fasting, and attending worship services.  Other protestant Christians celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a way of celebrating the Protestant Reformation.  Harvest festivals are held and children dress up as Bible characters or Reformers.

Some Christians reject the holiday because they feel that it celebrates paganism, the occult, or other practices that are incompatible with their beliefs.  Many fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals use "Judgement Houses" and other Christian literature such as "tracts" to take advantage of Halloween's popularity as an opportunity to evangelize.  Some considered Halloween to be completely incompatible with  Christian faith and believing that it originated as a pagan "Festival of the Dead."

Okay, so how does our family handle Halloween?  As a result of our position as Christian leaders, people often look to us for understanding of how they should handle certain issues in life.  This makes me anxious most of the time because I simply do not feel qualified.  However, it is part of the job, so I try to do the best I can and follow how the Lord convicts me on issues.  That in no way means I expect people to share my thoughts and beliefs on all matters.   People are convicted on many different levels.  You have to deal with the Lord in your own time on your own level!  It's not one size fits all.

 First I will say that I know there are many, some even within our own church that would disagree with me, but the Hamby's do participate in Halloween activities.  Usually in the middle of September my kids are begging me to bring out the Fall/Halloween decorations.  It marks the beginning of a time in our home when our surroundings are not the norm.  I put away all of my treasured Willow Tree figures, pack up some of my pictures and other everyday decor and things look quite festive until the New Year.

 I use a combination of Autumn and Halloween decor.  Much of it was passed down to me from my mom and are items from my childhood.  Some were even made by my grandparents, so they carry lots of memories.  Yes, some are jack-o-lanterns and ghosts.  For us it is not about celebrating jack-o-lanterns and ghosts, but simply setting a mood, making memories, and warming up our home.  The joy on my middle child's (Aiden) face when those bins come out of the basement is priceless.  By the way, he gets this excited about the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations too.  I have wonderful Halloween memories from my childhood.  Like the book Five Little Jack -O- Lanterns my mom used to read to my brother and I that I now read to my children.  Growing up, our yard was the best decorated yard in the neighborhood.   Our house was at the top of a steep hill, so my dad built a coffin and tombstones with all the neighbors last names on them and placed them at the bottom of the hill.   All the new neighbors that moved in heard about it and made sure that my dad made a tombstone for their family.  One year we even had a haunted house with dry ice for fog,  peeled grapes, and cold spaghetti to stick our hands in while blind folded.  It was all in good fun and fellowship for the neighborhood.  Let me be very clear, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, costumes and Trick or Treating simply mean childish fun for our kids.  That is all.  They have no meaning and hold no religious importance in our home.  We celebrate and worship Christ alone in this home.

In the years since we have had children old enough to Trick or Treat, we have participated in that as well.  The past several years we have hosted our friends and their families in our home for chili and treats after Trick or Treating.  This year will be different since we no longer live in a neighborhood and our location is not well suited for Trick or Treating.  We are excited that our church has decided to hold a Trunk or Treat event.  This is when people park their themed, decorated cars in the church parking lot and pass out candy, church information, and share the Gospel with the children and families in the community.

Halloween 2010 (Community Helpers and Lady Bugs)

Halloween 2011 (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad)

Now, I guess we could take the stand that Halloween is incompatible with the Christian faith.  The truth is, it's roots most certainly are.  I am not denying that.  We do not condone any of the historical pagan traditions and do not celebrate Halloween in that way.  But, how would turning out our lights and locking our doors or condemning the children and families who are participating do anything to reach people for Jesus.   People are GOING to head out with their candy bags on October 31st. Why not seize the opportunity to tell them about how much God loves them and about the sacrifice He made on their behalf.   I don't really support the "Judgement House" type events.  I feel like people have to be brought to the Lord through brokenness and love, not fear.  The Church must be relevant in  today's society in order to reach people!  We must meet people where they are!  We must reach into their lives!  And we MUST MUST MUST reach the children!  A local church that fails to reach the people and the children, faces a certain death.  Isn't this what Christ did?

When I think about those people that turn off their porch lights and condemn Halloween and those who participate in it, a chorus in the Casting Crowns song Jesus Friend of Sinners comes to mind.  It goes, "Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded."  Don't you want people to know WHO you are for?  Isn't that more important than what you are against?  I respect your right to have that opinion, but I challenge you to search yourself and ask "what  AM I doing to reach the children and families in my community.  What is my church doing?"  If not in this way, then how?  There are many ways to do that.  Be a voice in your church for the children and the lost!  God will honor that!

I encourage you to find a church that is hosting a trunk or treat or fall festival event.  They are a safe place to let your kids have fun, collect Halloween candy, and learn about the Lord at the same time.  This year our family will have 4 pirates and a baby sea turtle.  Our van will be the ship and our slogan will be "Jesus is our buried and risen treasure."  Trunk or Treat is right up my alley because I LOVE to theme my kid's Halloween costumes.

Have fun, be safe. and don't forget to brush your teeth!   Happy Halloween!

This is the closest to the original rhyme from when I was little that I could find!  Enjoy!

Five Little Jack-O-Lanterns
Five little jack-o-lanterns sitting on a gate. 
The 1st one said, "It's getting late."
The 2nd one said, "I hear a noise."
The 3rd one said, "It's only some boys."
The 4th one said, "Let's run, let's run."
The 5th one said, "It's Halloween fun."
Then oooooooo went the wind, and out went the light.
And away ran the jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night. 

                                                 Our 2013 Halloween Announcement

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our first year's curriculum and the school room

I thought it would be fun to share with you the curriculum that we have chosen for our first year of homeschool.  I never thought I would ever get as excited about curriculum as I have been.  Every time a book arrived in the mail it was like Christmas.

First up is Aaron.  Aaron is a very hands-on learner so we may have to find some more creative ways to teach him, but since I am new at this I am sticking to more traditional methods and we will throw in some hands-on stuff as we see fit.  I bought a book called "175 Science Experiments" to work on together.  Aaron has to have breaks frequently.  He works well for about 30 minutes and then he needs to walk outside for a bit to get some air, shoot some baskets, or look at some birds.  He comes back refreshed and ready to get back to work.  So here are our choices for him.

At the top are Dick and Jane readers.  He has breezed through one of them so we will look for something a little more challenging when he finishes these.  They were recommended by a woman whose workshop we attended at the homeschool expo.  They are well written and always encouraging to boys.

Next, is The 175 Science Experiments book that I mentioned earlier.

Under that are some used Spectrum spelling and reading books that Sam got free off of Paperback Swap.  I'm not sure if these will get used for actual school work, but maybe for supplements in his down time.

We are using a Spectrum Math book.  So far this is all we have for him for math.  I'm not so sure this will be enough and it does not have a teacher's guide.  Since I an not great at teaching math, that would be helpful.  We are just going to work through this for now and then reevaluate in January when we have more under our belts.

For handwriting, we are using "Hand Writing Without Tears."  We have not started this yet, but it comes highly recommended by many homeschoolers and teachers.

At the bottom of the stack is a 2nd grade Alpha Omega LifePac.  I am very excited about this because it is a complete Language Arts curriculum.  It teaches phonics, vocabulary, spelling, reading comprehension and grammar all at once.  It has a very helpful teacher's guide.  To top it off there is scripture ALL throughout it.  It teaches the basics of Language Arts while at the same time immersing the child in God's Word.   I love it!

Aaron will also be taking a science class at Grace Co-op in Blairsville.  The teacher has selected "Patterns of Nature" by Rod and Staff.  I know he will enjoy that.  He will also be taking a US History/Geography class, an art class, a music, and a PE class at co-op.

Now onto Ashlyn.  Ashlyn is a more traditional learner.  She likes hands on activities, but does very well in a classroom setting.  She is a strong reader and works well independently.

We chose Switched on Schoolhouse by Alpha Omega for her main curriculum.  It is a 5 subject computer software which includes bible, science, math, history, and language arts.   We had some trouble getting it installed and our computers synced, but now that we are up and running, we are learning the program together.

It is a really cool program because you can pretty much customize the whole thing.  She logs in each day and the computer has assigned her work for the day based on the school calendar that I created in the system.  It tells her what she is expected to do that day and when it is due.  I can also send her messages and she can send them to me.  Once she completes a lesson she moves on to the assignment.  It's great because she gets immediate feed back as she answers the questions.  All of her assignments are graded and then submitted for me to see.  There are sometimes questions that have to be submitted for me to grade.  For now I am sitting with her and we are walking through the lessons together.  Once we get better at this, she will be able to work on her own a bit more.  However, this is not meant to be a hands off tool for the parent.  It still takes instruction and supervision from me.  

Here is a sample Language Arts lesson.  As you scroll down the lesson continues.  There are learning games throughout as well as audio instruction and tutoring.  This program requires that your child have good reading skills.  Our biggest challenge will be her typing skills since it does require some.  I plan to go over some basic typing with her and maybe add a typing curriculum next year.  

For handwriting we have chosen "Handwriting Without Tears" for her as well. 

As extras we are using Wordly Wise for vocabulary and reading comprehension which she is finding very challenging, but that is good. We are also using a Spectrum Math workbook to strengthen her math skills.

At Co-op she will be taking a science class.  The teacher has chosen "Considering God's Creation."  It is a GREAT book.  It talks about many different aspects of science starting with creation and then moving through all the days of creation in order.  

Ashlyn will also be taking a cross cultural/social studies class, an art class, and a girls life skills class at co-op.

We are excited about our choices.  We know that we will have to keep an open mind and realize that some of it may not be a good fit for us.  As we get more experience, I'm sure we will branch out and try many different types of curriculum.

For read alouds and family story time we are using several different books by Lamp Lighter Publishing.  We absolutely LOVE these books.  They are a collection of very old stories that are well written and FULL of Christian character qualities.  They all point to Christ.  We just can't say enough about them!

And just for fun for the little ones I bought some new preschool toys.  Here are some lacing beads and activities, shape and color sorters, and a wooden dress the bear set.  

I also ordered some really cute alphabet cards from My Father's World.  They have all sorts of activity ideas to help the little ones learn their letters.

Here is a tour of where it all happens.  We turned the formal dining room into the school room.

All the school supplies are in the chest and the hutch.  

We have decided to use the green, yellow, red card system for behavior.  I felt like it was easy enough for even the little ones to understand and I only wanted one system to keep up with.   We didn't do it this week, but next week, we will begin our day with prayer and the pledge.

We use the chalk board for our character qualities each week.  We plan on getting a large white board to go on the empty wall there.  For now Avery has a play yard in the corner, but when we get the white board, I will have to move it to have room to write.  

We keep all the curriculum on the top shelf.  The board is our prayer request board.

So that is the run down if you were interested.  We started school this week.  I had not planned on doing that, but thought we should start practicing with some trial runs.  Boy, am I glad we did!  It was a rough week for all 3 of us.  There were tears from all of us.  Getting used to the routine will be hard.  After all, we are learning a new way of life.  I'm trying not to focus so much on content this year, especially in the first semester.  We mostly need to learn together how to do this.   Right now we are doing a lot of review of concepts from last year, which I am thankful for.  It would be tough to be learning brand new material while adjusting to homeschool.  I know that once we get the hang of it, they will by far surpass what they would have gotten in public school.  That is mainly because we will be able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.  I still have to keep praying because the fear and doubt continues to creep in.  Thankfully we are all committed to making this work.  Next week is a new week!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why we have decided to homeschool

After four years of sending our two older children to public school, I have finally surrendered to the call of homeschooling.  I remember discussing the idea with Sam as Ashlyn approached kindergarten age.  Just like all moms sending their first baby to school, I just figured it was first time jitters.  Little did I know that the Lord had started a work in my husband's heart.  We actually had a wonderful experience with public school.  Our kids attended a small elementary school in North Cherokee County.  For the first two years, we had the BEST principle a parent could ever ask for.  He was a Christian and without getting himself in trouble, he used his faith to encourage the kids.  Every single teacher we had was wonderful.  I always knew that they loved my babies and were very concerned with their success. Other than a few bullies and an issue with Aaron being placed in an EIP class that he really did not need, we had no issues at all.   As you can see, our decision to not send them back to public school and to school them at home had nothing to do with bad experiences with the school system.   I am actually glad that we did send them.  It helps me to feel like I am making a very well informed decision about homeschool.  If I had never put them in public school I feel I would not really have a clear picture of why I am doing this.

For a long time I would entertain the idea and then quickly say, "no way!"  I used to actually get very annoyed with Sam for even bringing it up.  I would wonder, "Is he crazy?"  I hated school growing up.  It was always hard for me.  I was a "good" student, but I had to work hard.  It did not just come easily to me.  I hated my homework and I hated my kid's homework even more.  Even in college, I could not wait for graduation.  So, why in the world would I want to homeschool my kids?  However, Sam was persistent.  He has this kind of annoying quiet persistence and patience.

 I am kind of ashamed to admit it, but the thing that concerned me about it the most was that I just could not even seem to get excited about public school.  I did not go up to the school as much as I should and was not as involved as I felt I should have been.  I used the younger kids as an excuse, but really it was something inside of me.  Yes, I was having babies, we were in a difficult situation in our church, and we were both battling depression, but something was just not connecting.   I felt incredibly guilty.  For the most part the kids were doing well and when we did run into some academic problems with Aaron, I was there doing whatever I could to help, but it was just not enough in my opinion.  If I could not get excited with my kids in public school, how could I get excited about homeschooling them myself.

I am not sure exactly when God started to work and change my heart.  Over time I just started to hear that voice that can only be the Lord's.  I would try to suppress it and just remind myself that I am not qualified to do that and that my kids would end up stupid if I tried.  I was even critical of other homeschoolers.  I feel kind of like Saul persecuting the Christians before his conversion!  There were times over the past year that I could not go anywhere without the topic of homeschooling coming up or meeting other homeschooling moms.  They were everywhere and God kept presenting them to me.  This is when it became a flashing sign for me.

During the year after the "irruption" at our church, we learned a lot about who we are, what we believe and the direction we desire to go in as a family.  Part of that was to be more intentional about sharing our faith with our kids.  As we read scripture and talked to other families, we learned that God's intention is for the parent's to be the major influencers in the life of a child.   We are told to "Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6  We began to realize that we have our children in our home for a short 18 years and by the time they are 5 years old, we are sending them away for 7 to 8 hours a day.  They are receiving the majority of their instruction from people that may have belief systems that are very different from our own. Then, when they return home, we spend a significant amount of time trying to undo some of the "bad lessons" learned from school.  When in the world do we have time to train our children biblically with that kind of routine?  Why not weave the two together?

However, our faith is not the only reason we decided to homeschool.  Let's face it, we all know that there are issues with the public school system as a whole.  Teachers know it, parents know it, and even students know it.  It is designed to move bulk people through a system and often times does not create an environment that promotes a love for learning.  Many of the books children read today are poorly written and full of negativity.  Have you ever read "A Dairy of a Wimpy Kid?"  I had no idea how terrible and negative it was until an excerpt was read to us at a homeschool convention.  Our daughter had one that she purchased at the school book fair.  I will admit it was my fault for not knowing the content of what she was reading.  I won't make that mistake again, but with that kind of literature out there for our children, no wonder kids today hate reading.  It doesn't motivate or inspire them.  Also, the class can only move as fast as the slowest student, leaving children that are excelling bored and frustrated.

We also believe that anytime you get one on one with a child, they will do better.  We believe that we can give our kids a broader educational experience as well.  With state mandated curriculum we feel that our children are limited by what the state wants them to learn as opposed to the opportunities we can provide being wide open.   With all of the state testing requirements, our children are taught throughout the year based on one test given in April.  In Georgia, it is called the GCRCT. All of the state curriculum is built around this test.  Students as well as teachers are assessed based on the test.  Therefore, the material the teachers can teach is very regulated.  Often times teachers are not able to be creative and use their gifts and talents in the way they would have envisioned.  I know this is frustrating to them as well.

With homeschooling, we will be able to learn the basics and add in things that we are passionate about and interested in.  We can study math, science, people, and places while also experimenting or going to those places.  We will not be bound to a classroom or text book.  Some of the things we learn about can actually come alive for the kids.

One of the arguments against homeschooling that is out there is that the children are not socialized.  This is a huge misconception that I believe is slowly starting to change.  There are many social opportunities for homeschooled children these days.  We have joined a co-op in Blairsville.  The children will be taking a variety of courses taught by other Christian adults from a biblical worldview in a classroom setting with other children in their grade level.   We will attend once a week and they will be required to complete assignments that are due back the next week.  This will continue to teach them how to interact with other authority figures and other children.  Being part of this group will also reinforce obligations and responsibility.  Much of the social interaction in public school is negative anyway.  When you consider all of the popularity games, mean girls, and bullies, how much wholesome social interaction are our children really getting?  Homeschool will allow us to be more proactive about choosing the families and children that are part of our family's social network. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says,"Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character."

I have had to ask God to change my heart, to give me peace, and to give me confidence.  There are still days when I wonder, "What am I thinking?  I just want to send them to school.  They are driving me nuts."  Often times I was the first in my circle of friends to start whining during school breaks saying, "I cannot wait for these kids to get back in school." In those moments I ask the Lord to show me the bigger picture and help me not be led by my feelings, but by what I know is right, what is true, and what we want the end result to be, which are well educated, self disciplined, grace-filled, spirit-filled, independent, healthy adult children who love the Lord above all!

I am thankful for a praying and persistent husband.  God gave him a dream for our family and he did not give up on it even when it seemed like it would never happen.    As our new adventure in education begins, I pray for myself and my children.  I pray that we will work together as a team, that we will follow the Lord together as we learn and grow, that we will be patient with one another, extend grace to one another, enjoy each other, have fun, learn more than we could ever imagine  and above all grow closer to each other and to our Creator, the one who created everything and designed us to be curious, to love learning, and who gave us so many beautiful and wonderful things to learn about!