Friday, August 23, 2013

It's interesting how life changes when you try your hardest to grasp each day as if it won't last.  Don't we all instinctively know this truth?  Nothing lasts?  We know it but we don't live it.   I didn't.  I rushed my babies through the newborn stage, through their toddler years, through the 3-year-old bliss, I was in a hurry to see them grow.  I was tired, worn out, stressed.  I hadn't yet realized deep in my soul the truth that it wouldn't last.  Now those baby days are distant memories, and I'm awed at how fast that time really does go, despite the clichés.

Today I'm sitting on a sandy beach watching three big kids play.  They're digging sand castles and jumping waves.  Squeals of excitement meet the sound of crashing waves.  Daddy scoops buckets while the kids give architectural advice.

The sun is warm on our faces and I'm blessed and I'm rich in warmth but am I fully here?  I ask myself the question as I gaze at the scene in front of me.  How can I be sure to stop long enough to realize the gift before me?  It's intentional, that's for sure.  'Stop.  Breathe.  Look around you.'   All this, the beach, the sun, the sand, the children giggling all out glee.  It's moments like these I wish I could stop all time and freeze us here.  Right here.

The little girl with her golden braid, the youngest with his sound effects, and the eldest with his droopy swim shirt and heartfelt analysis of the granola bar nutrition label.  I smile so wide to myself that I wonder if I look weird.  Like those people that walk down the street all happy for no reason.

But this moment, happy as it is - it won't last.  It is so temporary.  My moments are temporary and your moments are temporary and the whole of our lives is made up of little, tiny, temporary and fleeting frames of time.  Each memory making up the story of us.

How do we fully embrace the now?
I learned this truth from a wise friend - if we want to stop time, we need to enter in.  Because when we fully enter into the moment with the full weight of us all there, the clock slows just a little.  It really, truly does. 

I remember and I stop to crouch low.  I hear the sound of little hands patting the tops of sand filled buckets and our littlest one's voice saying, "Daddy?  Is that gonna be the bottom of the castle?"  I bend lower, closer to the ground than the kids even, tummy to sand.  This is their perspective.  This is their world.  And it's fleeting.

Alex whispers it to me: "Play with me, Mama..."

He hands me two knights.  I get two and he only gets one because one of my guys has a chewed up sword.  Apparently, according the a sweet four-year-old imagination, it wasn't chewed but actually teleported.  I laugh out loud.  I could have missed this moment.  I could have been lost in my phone or my book or my notepad or some other place.

I touch his head.  My heart flips.  They won't want to build castles with me forever.  This just can't possibly last.  There will be no second chances at entering into this very moment.  This season is gone in a heartbeat, and I better choose to enter into it wholeheartedly.  Not tomorrow.  Not later this afternoon.  Right NOW.

Though these realizations seem solemn, they are powerful and profound.  We know it instinctively, but we need to know it soulfully - now won't last.

Later we jump more waves and I get the chance to hold little hands and gaze at smiling faces.  Sandy bums waddle to the shore and giggles are heard soft and sweet.  I'm reminded of the song that speaks of our lives being a wave, tossed in the ocean... a whisper in the wind.  Like this moments... whispers.  Whispers of God's love, whispers of grace.  And that overwhelming whisper to stop everything and enter in...

Crouch low.
Play in the sand.
Get a little dirty - get in the moment and weigh it down... slow the clock and make it last as long as you possibly can.

Our time may be temporary, but we lean towards the eternal.  All is gain if all is invested in eternal things - love, relationship, truth.  When we fully embrace this moment, we enter in to something so much bigger than ourselves...


Written for Five Minute Friday.

Minding our Media- teaching wisdom in media choices (for The Homeschool Village)

Monday, August 19, 2013

One of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling is the simple fact that our children are, well, home. 

However, because they are home so much more than traditionally schooled children, I believe homeschool parents need to be that much more proactive about their relationship with the Media.  With children home, the temptation can be to allow more, less supervised screen time.

It is vitally important that as parents, we're very aware of how much and what kind of media our children are consuming.  The media has the power to influence our children's hearts, minds, and spirits.  The media has the ability to negatively affect our children's ability to think, imagine, and learn.  The media has the ability to shape our children's view of their value, their purpose, and what life is really about.

To read more and see my tips for encouraging wisdom in media choices, please visit me at The Homeschool Village!

A little tour of our Home(school) ...

Friday, August 16, 2013

 I thought it'd be fun, in the spirit of "back to school", to give a little tour of our homeschool.  Although our learning takes place everywhere, here are the spaces I've tried to organize in hopes of maintaining some structure and order(ish) to our home.
We live in a really small 900 square foot, 100-year old country home.  I actually love the small spaces in our house and have grown to really enjoy the cozy feeling of our day to day.   The main area we use for storage and organization is a mud room we transformed into what we call our 'Discovery Room'.  It gives us a sunny, sweet place to organize the majority of our homeschool supplies and books.

The "Discovery Room"

It's amazing what you can do with a (very) tiny room.  We call it our Discovery Room because the idea of having a 'school room' didn't appeal to us.  I don't really want the children to think learning happens in one place at one time.  It is, however, a room we use to explore and discover, so the name is fitting!

Our "Discovery Room" in the bright midday sun.

Our Discovery Room book shelf with our Core books, research books, other curriculum, and living books for this year's studies.
Our shelf of Sonlight Core B books.

Art and Music Appreciation shelf.  (Yes, we love Usborne...)
Resource books and Encyclopedias.  The folders on the far right are divided into Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, and Medieval Times for our study of Core B (World History).

The other side of the Discovery Room.

Language Arts shelf.
Our Letter Drawers and Word Boxes.

LOVE this reading program, Very First Reading from Usborne.
Organization a la Ikea.  Very easy, cheap storage boxes.  These won't last forever, but they are very affective in organizing smaller items.  We've got boxes for Phonics and Reading Manipulatives, Strings and Ribbons, Art Supplies (x2), Math, Five in a Row, Science Stuff, etc.

Our Science shelf and box.

It's really important to me that the children have easy access to lots of different types of writing tools and a good supply of paper.  I try really hard to keep these writing tools well organized. This encourages them to engage with writing, drawing, and creating.  They do this ALL the time and very independently.
More writing tools.  I like having little notebooks and small pads of paper available for them to grab quickly and create projects.
Another writing/creating basket I put on the back table.
Our really simplified version of Workboxes.  Each child has their own row of bins (once again, thank you, Ikea).  Top bin is Math, middle bin is Language Arts, and bottom bin is their own little storage area for drawings, papers, etc.
What I really love about our Discovery Room is the peaceful, engaging place it provides for the children to just be.  They will go to that room to draw, to build Lego, to pull out Science experiments, to complete their assignments, and to just explore with their own creations.
Here's a peak at the kids, from 6:30am this morning... I woke up to them happily engaged in their drawings...  looking in through our old window on the back deck -

Early (VERY early) morning quiet creative time...

The Kitchen/Dining Room Area

Alright, so... this is our kitchen... it's slightly odd to photograph it for this, but it does make sense to include this space.  So much of our messy work is done in the kitchen - arts, crafts, Science experiments, cooking, baking, creating, you name it.  We use this space constantly.  (It also happens to be the biggest room in the house, so we gravitate here, I suppose!)

We do loads of reading at the kitchen table.  I organize all the day's reading on the country hutch in the background and we filter through the books as the day progresses.  There are also more markers, pencils, and art materials in the hutch available for the kids to use.

Our little country kitchen... so many memories are made here!


Our Reading and Rest Room (AKA Living Room)

And once again, sooo... this is our living room.  This is a part of our 'homeschool' because it is where our children land when they are looking for a time of rest.  Often times throughout the day, I'll glance in the living room and find one (or more!) of our children curled up with a book, enjoying a moment to themselves.

We have a LOT of books.  I've tried my best to organize them in a way that makes sense but is also engaging and appealing for the children.  Below I've shown two of our shelves that include fiction, bibles/bible story books, and poetry books.


And.... our outside learning space... the deck!  Love this...

I don't think there's anything better than doing our work and reading on a sunny, breezy deck... especially when we've been inside for 7 months of Winter!

Organization - the Weekly File Box

Alright... so, once again, I feel a little silly sharing this kind of thing, but I know how helpful it could potentially be for those of us that struggle with organization.  Here is an idea I got from somewhere at some point in time from some other blogger out there... vague enough

This is my 'Weekly File Box' that I use to organize all our print-outs, lapbook work, unit study-related work, and any other copywork that isn't in our Language Arts binders.  This would include our Five in a Row work as well. 

I have found this system SO helpful in keeping me organized.  At the beginning of the month/year I make most of the photocopies I'll need of reproducibles, etc.  For the month, I will pull the needed material and put it in this file box in the 'print outs' section.  Then, I can filter through the days as I go on a weekly rotation.  I know exactly what we will be doing Monday-Friday because all the copies are already separated by day.  It's so easy!

I know Wednesday we will be working on the "This is the Life" page in relation to our study of Charlotte's Web.  I write in in our schedule and on the Wednesday, I pull it from the file, ready to go.  Easy peasy!

Well, I think that's about it!  Thanks for coming along on the little 'tour'.  
Can't wait to share more memories with you this year, friends!

Linked In:


A review of Sonlight (Core and Language Arts)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Alright,  I originally had a lot of this information tied into my post about our 2013/2014 year, but I decided to give my review of Sonlight its on post.

This is our second year of using Sonlight.  It is a Christ-centered Core Curriculum, offering a full schedule (4 day or 5 day, we use the 5 day) which, when done as-is, is planned out for you.  (Cue the chorus!)  

Sonlight is unique in that they label their years by 'Core' levels.  These Cores are given different content/subject headings based on History.   For example, Core A is Introduction to World Cultures, and Core F is Eastern Hemispheres.

 The Sonlight day to day schedule includes:  Bible Reading, Memory Verses, Apologetics, Simple Read-alouds (Poetry, Mother Goose, etc.), Literature (also read-alouds, such as chapter books and short stories), History, Geography, and Cultural Studies. 
The basic Sonlight Core Programs do NOT include Math, Phonics, or Science.  One level of Language Arts IS included in the price of the Core and also includes several books (I photographed an example below.) 
Every week of Sonlight is clearly laid out in the Teacher's Guide.  Having done a lot of the year last year on my own, I've QUICKLY realized what a gift this is!  There's is still more to organize and prepare even while following a planned guide like this.  Why make life harder on yourself?  I open the Guide, review the plan for the week, add extra work, extra crafts, etc. and add my page of Math, Language Arts, Science, Art, Music, and Handywork and Home Skills and we're set.

A lot of people are familiar with Sonlight as one of the absolute best Christ-centered home curriculums.  It is presented in a Charlotte Mason-based learning style which is void of text books and rich in living books.  (Yippee!)  The younger level programs are about $500 but come with a PILE of books for that price!  It also includes one level of Language Arts and many books along with that program.  (This year, I ordered LA 3 with our core, which you can see below).

Some have said Sonlight is expensive, but I think it's worth every penny.  I actually think it's a fantastic deal.  I get a pile of fantastic books to read with the kids, loads of beautiful non-fiction resources, plus a fully organized, planned program that I can open and use immediately.  This program is non-consumable, so I can use it over and over with different children at various levels.  It you divide $500 by three kids by 9 months, that's not so bad...

This year we're studying Core B - Intro to World History, Creation to the Fall of Rome.

All the Core B books.

I'm also a huge believer in the old saying, "You get what you pay for".  Although Sonlight is on the more 'expensive' side of things when it comes to homeschooling curriculum, they really offer a lot of punch with what you purchase.  You're really getting your money's worth here.
There is also the option of buying the grade level packages, which include Math, Science, etc.  (Check their website).  I've never done this option, but for those looking for a comprehensive program, it could be very useful.

Here's a peek at the Teacher's Guide:

Weekly Schedule

After the weekly schedule, there are several pages of notes for parents to use with each task and reading assignment.  For read-alouds there is vocabulary, comprehension questions, suggested activities, conversation starters, resources, etc.
I find this part of the Teacher's Guide to be super helpful and I'm referring to it daily.

For me, while using Sonlight, every week has a two page spread like this:

This is a really effective way to organize the week so it's easy to follow on a daily basis.

On the left, is my own simple schedule I made up to include the other subjects not included in the Sonlight Teacher's Guide:


Language Arts Reviews


 Sonlight Language Arts K-

 I chose to go with Sonlight's Language Arts K program because it was inexpensive and simple. It will work  just fine for us as a basic pre-reading/reading program. 

If you are looking for a flashy, exciting, manipulative-heavy program, this IS NOT it.  This is a very quiet, calm, discussion-based program.

Every week a new letter sound is introduced, with the children learning to read basic words within a few weeks.  All the copy work pages are included with the program.  I didn't purchase the K readers Sonlight offers because we have a lot of readers already and I didn't read the best reviews about them.

Along with the LA K, I'll need to include a lot of fun activities with letters and letter sounds.  There are countless ideas online and in books.  Tactile fun, crafts, games, rhymes, etc. will be included as we go.  I'm not a fan of paying big money for what I can do myself easily with a little google searching.
I want to add that I'm not crazy about the Language and Thinking for Young Children book.  It is alright but there are just some stories in it that are strange...

Language Arts K Teacher's Guide: 

Copywork pages from LA K.

Language Arts 1-

LA 1 comes with more books than I've photographed, so if you're looking at it for your child, be sure to check the Sonlight website.  I really like this program.   This is for Audrey and she has been thriving with it.  The readers are easy to follow and are scheduled into the program to encourage daily progress.  At the beginning of every week there is a new list of words the children learn along with their sight words.  The copy work pages are fun and easy to follow and included with the program.  Everything is ready and there for you, which is SO LOVELY!

Just a note: I did not purchase any of the 'optional' choices from Sonlight.  I felt we had enough with the LA program on it's own, along with many other language building activities we do.

LA 1 Teacher's Guide:

Audrey's LA 1 Copywork pages.

The "I Can Read It!" books included with LA 1.

This is a page from near the end of Book 1.


Language Arts 3-

This year, Simon (age 8) is working through Sonlight's Language Arts 3.  I love the collection of readers included in this program.  Simon seems pretty excited about the titles, which is always a good sign.  I've realized that a lot of the reading is a bit simple for him, but the language arts/writing portion of the program is challenging.  LA 2 was way too easy, and LA 3 offered the language and writing I know he needs.  We compromised a bit with the ease of the reading.  As the program progresses throughout the year, however, the books do get more challenging, which is good. 

Luckily, we do a lot more reading beyond what is given to us through Sonlight, so, everything works out quite well in the end!

Here's a peak at the program (all these books were included as part of that $500 package with the Sonlight Core Curriculum) -

LA 3 Teacher's Guide: 

LA 3 Copywork pages.

Can I just say, Simon ASKS me to do Language Arts every morning.  He enjoys the time with just him and Mom and we have a nice time engaging with the material.

The first book of the year.  WAY too easy for Simon, but he enjoyed the simplicity or it and read through it very easily.  Sometimes, it's nice to breeze through something, especially at the beginning!

Organizing Sonlight...

This year, I've organized our Sonlight curriculum and plans in a huge binder along with all three Language Arts.  So far, it's been the best thing I've done for organizing our year.  Last year, I had my stuff everywhere and felt scattered.

It seems cheesy and kind of silly for me to write about putting tabs in a binder, but I could have really benefited from reading about this last year, so here goes.

What I did is this - I used separators with the months of the year and blocked out the weeks so they fit into the months.  So, for August, we will be doing Weeks 1-5.  September is Weeks 6-10, and so on.  What this instantly did is gave me a visual time-line for the year.  Because Sonlight is done in week numbers, I was always confused as to which week number would fall when in the year. 

This way is so much easier and makes it clear what is needed to accomplish in each month to get everything done by May.

Another big  help was adding the Language Arts to the binder.  So now, I have all the Core plans along with all the Language Arts all in one place. Oh, happy day.  I've blocked four weeks of Language Arts into the planner and will trade those blocks out monthly (so that everything actually fits).  I'm pretty sure Sonlight actually suggests doing this, but I just got with the program this year. 
It's so much faster and more efficient throughout the day!


More Review-type Info:


About the style of learning...

 Sonlight does not claim to be a hands-on program.  It is heavily based on the reading of high quality literature.  If you are looking for something very hands-on, and activity based, this probably isn't it.
Having said that, you CAN add and mix in your own activities with the program to add elements of hands-on exploration, crafts, Lapbooks, etc.  But, you will have to come up with this on your own, as the Sonlight program is not heavily loaded with activities.  There are a few more options now than there were 4-5 years ago, since they've updated their Teacher's Guides and added the bonus CD Rom to go with the program.  These help, but they still don't make the program super active.
The style of learning for Sonlight is very much based on reading and discussion studies which works wonderfully with our eldest who is a very analytical, pensive, auditory learner.  This style of learning doesn't work as well with our middle child who is much more creative and artistic (which is why we use Five in a Row with her).
We are all enjoying our study of Charlotte's Web (in Core B) but I have added many elements to make it appealing to all our learning styles.  I've included a Lapbook, art pages, Science, and various other activities to make it more engaging and to help the learning 'pop'.  This isn't always necessary for many children, but for us, I feel it really enriches our learning.

About the age recommendations for Cores...

Sonlight is serious when they give their suggested ages for the Core programs.  When we started Sonlight, our children were only 2, 3, and 5.  I ordered CORE A (which at the time was called Core K, which confused me into thinking it was a basic K program, which it isn't).  I now realize, I was way off.  I should have ordered Core P4/5 or MAYBE even P3/4.
Once you get to Core A, the reading is advanced.  The topics are complex.  You're really best to stick to the higher end of the age spectrum.  For example, Core B is recommended for ages 6-8.  Although our 6 year old can grasp some of the content (like, Charlotte's Web), there is much of the content that will be too difficult for her or too complicated (ie: understanding the fall of Rome and discussing tribal conflicts in Africa after Colonization...).  Our 8 year old, however, is in his glory with Core B.  Our 5 year old?  He's pretty much lost and only listens in.  He does pick up some of it but it isn't ideally at his level at all.
So, don't jump the gun - stick to the suggested age categories and even go lower if you think your kids are on the lower end of the spectrum.  I recently interrupted someone at a conference - she was suggesting Core A for a four year old, and I jumped in and expressed my concern with the idea.  (Annoying, I know...ha).  The Mom was so happy that I took the time to explain to her why P4/5 would be a way better option if she was choosing to go with Sonlight.

Top Reasons I Use Sonlight:

  • It is literature rich and full of Living Books.  Our children LOVE to read and this is hugely because of our studies using Five in a Row and Sonlight.  Programs like this that use beautiful, classic, living books are priceless.  Children not only fall in love with READING, they fall in love with LEARNING.  And, hey, they actually remember what they learn!  Amazing!
  • It is very Christ-centered.  So much of this program is tied to faith issues and to our belief in God as the supreme authority.  The kids learn about missionaries, about God's omnipotence, they read challenging literature that inspires them to really think about their faith.  It isn't fluffy stuff, it's often advanced, real-life faith topics.
  • It is such a great way to spend lots of time together as a family.   LOTS of reading, LOTS of discussion studies. Lots of inspiring and lively chats about meaningful subjects.
  • It is Charlotte Mason-friendly and void of grades, marking, tests, and textbooks.  This program is based on real learning through reading lively content and discussing engaging topics.  The comprehension comes through natural means.  Enough said!
I truly hope this is a helpful review for you.
The Sonlight website is full of great information, so don't forget to check it out.  I'd also really suggest ordering a free catalog.

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