My Favorite Helpful Links for Getting Started with Notebooking

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I have been getting so many messages asking me for more information about Notebooking.  I do plan to follow up with more posts about how we implement Notebooking into our homeschool, but I also wanted to share some links that I have found very helpful.  The majority of these links are from because I honestly find the site to be one of the BEST sites for starting with Notebooking, especially if you don't know anything about Notebooking and are interested in learning what it is all about and why you should even consider using it as a tool in your homeschool.

This is the site that truly inspired me and motivated me to really jump into Notebooking as a daily habit over the past year.   Debra is full of wisdom and inspiration!

My Favorite Helpful Links for getting started (and continuing) with Notebooking from

The Doom and Gloom of Homeschooling (Part 1)

Are you experiencing burn-out?  Has homeschooling become more of a chore than something you enjoy with your children?  I love how Debra expresses the transparent truth so many of us live - homeschooling is HARD but there is hope.

3 Homeschooling Myths that Trapped Me (Part 2)

Here Debra talks about the traps that held her - "I just need to find the right homeschool method", "I just need to find the right homeschool curriculum", and "My homeschool just needs better time management."

Can any of you relate to believing these lies?  (I can...)

Victory over Busywork, Boredom, and Burnout (Part 3)

Narrations and Notebooking are a winning combination, this post discusses the whys and hows.

Tutorial #1 - Change Your Mindset

What is busy work and how is it hindering your homeschool?  Identify the busy work and set it aside...

Tutorial #2 - The Glue that Makes it All Stick Together (Narrations)

What are narrations and how do they benefit the homeschool?  This is a super detailed post covering all things narrations.  (This site is seriously so amazing...!)

Tutorial #3 - Time for Notebooking

This is an AWESOME post that covers questions like, "What is Notebooking?" and also shows a typical day with reading, narration, and notebooking.

Copywork and Notebooking

A great post all about how to implement copywork into Notebooking.

Notebooking with a Structured Writing Plan

This article includes tips on how to approach writing within a Notebooking structure.  This is very Charlotte Mason friendly, so, of course, I love it.  This post talks about the importance of Oral Narration, how to approach Copywork and and Artwork.  It also touches on the movement from Oral Narration to Written Narration and how to develop from sentence writing to paragraph writing within the Notebooking method.

Language Arts Notebooks

Ideas for using Notebooking for Language Arts (copywork, poetry, etc.).

"Our Story" Video from Debra Reed

If you are feeling tired, burned out, exhausted of the grind of homeschool curriculums and methods that aren't really working - you need to watch this video.  (Or, rather, listen to it...)  Some super inspiring words from a Mama of 10 here...

I truly hope these links will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.


You can also follow my Notebooking Pinterest Board where I'm always trying to add helpful links:
Follow Cassandra's board Notebooking and Lapbooking on Pinterest.

{This post contains affiliate links.}

Staying Present {a whisper about unplugging to plug in to what matters}

Monday, October 26, 2015

Have you lived the struggle of staying present in your home?   

I sure have.  

I know how so many Moms feel.  I've lived those days when the exhaustion sets in, selfishness wins, and distractions take over.  Especially the distractions.

And don't we live in a world full of time-wasting distractions?

Part of the reason I long so deeply to be more 'unplugged' is so I can 'plug in' to what matters.   

Because our culture urges us to live in fast-forward, blasting through the days.  The laundry, the sports team, the dinner, the play date, the appointments, the cleaning, the this, the that, the phone, the email, the Facebook... always something to do and something to check.

I wonder though, when we're taking our last breaths here on earth, what will we reflect upon?  And we're all going to get there.  We'll all come to the end.

What will be our regrets?  I'm sure we won't wish we'd cleaned more toilets or signed the kids up for more sports teams.  Or checked more text messages, or uploaded more images...

{To read more, will you join me over at Hip Homeschool Moms?}

You might also enjoy this post: Living Hands Free

Why we can't let our Schedule Steal our Joy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's mid-morning when my eldest child begs me to go outside and play in the leaves.

Here's what goes on in my head in the span of about 3 seconds:

(Insert heaving sigh along with a deep groan.)  Really?  Honestly?  He wants to play outside?  We haven't even STARTED our work (again)... why, oh why is it taking us so long to get anything that looks remotely like 'school work' done these days?  We are so behind in writing... oh my goodness.  No, we absolutely cannot go outside... seriously.  We have so much do to- our schedule is FULL today... maybe later but not in the morning.  No.

Here's what actually comes out:

I heave that sigh and murmur a barely audible, "Ummm", followed by a look of exasperation as my son begins to get his shoes on at the back door.  The kids gaze at me, waiting for a definitive answer that is somewhat better than "Um".

I react too quickly.

"No,"  I shake my head, reluctantly glancing at the beautiful morning sunlight out the back window.  "No.  Guys, really?  We have so much to do.  It's the time of day we do our work.  We haven't even started... we can go outside later, once we're done our stuff."

The kids wilt.  
The eldest pouts. 
And something inside of me doesn't like my own answer.  That 'no' sits sour.

It takes me a few more minutes to finally surrender to what I know is the Holy Spirit leading me to exchange my no with a great big YES.  To put on my muddy old moccasins and run outside right along with the kids and play in the morning sunshine in those glorious Autumn leaves.

To forget about the schedule.

And so (though it isn't easy) - I surrender and say the YES.

Well, it was more like:

"Actually, you know what?"

They all turn and look with cocked heads and raised eye brows.

"Fine.  Let's go outside."

"Really?"  My daughter is wondering if I really mean it or am just waving the surrender to a strong-willed brother.

"Yes, really."  I smile, though at first, its somewhat forced.  (I'm still thinking about that schedule we're messing up...)  "Look at it outside... it's so beautiful.  Let's go."

The kids are up, dressed, and tearing their way through the backyard in mere seconds.  I can see it in them as they fly, kicking leaves up behind them.  

Pure, glorious, freedom - the feeling of cool air on the cheeks and breeze in the hair.  

Ah, yes... now I remember why I needed this just as much as they did.

As I follow them with a rake in hand, I shake my head and whisper a sheepish:  

Thank you, Lord.

I grab the camera, as I always do when beauty overwhelms me, and snap photos as we play.

The world on our street is a blaze of oranges, deep reds, and golden yellow.  It's more breath-taking than and picture can capture.  The sun is the perfect warmth.  The trees are raining down twirling leaves.  The crunch-crunch Fall sound is beneath our feet.

It is literally the most perfect Autumn morning the Lord could have created.

And I almost missed it.  We almost missed it.

We almost missed this perfect morning gift waiting just outside our back door -
Because I was obsessed with my schedule.
The do-this, do-that, and put the checkmarks beside the boxes, schedule.

We walk up the lane under a canopy of Autumn colours.  My son is convinced he can make the biggest pile of leaves possible with the use of the shovel and brute strength.  So, looking silly to any onlooking neighbours I'm sure, there we were - hauling leaves with a rake and a heavy duty snow plow.

And I guess it worked, because, boy did we collect quite the pile.

Somewhere between surrendering and saying 'yes' and snapping photos of the kids throwing handfuls of leaves in the air and laughing wildly, I hear it deep within.  It's like I'm asking myself a gut-wrenching question but I already know the answer:

How many times have I let our schedule steal our joy?

Too many.

I think I have these clear ideas of why we homeschool and what I truly long for my days to look like and how much time I will spend in pure enjoyment of the journey - and then?  Then life happens.

All of a sudden, I'm choosing some silly schedule over the most perfect, blissful Autumn morning.  Forgetting the freedom we embraced when we said yes to home education.  Forgetting that the Still Small Voice of our Heavenly Father always (always) knows best.  And He's always whispering, if I would just stop and listen.

Forgetting the pure joy of letting go and saying, 'let's do it', to an unexpected morning leaf fight.

There was this gift just waiting to be unwrapped and savoured with thankful, giggling, joy-filled children - and I almost missed it. I almost let my schedule steal the crazy joy God had for us all in that special moment.  And friends we just can't do it - we can't let our schedule steal our joy - whether its a printed schedule or the one in our head.

I mean, the work got done.

Later.  When it clouded over and we all sighed deep and whispered how glad we were that we drank in all that morning sunlight.

That's just it.  There is always a later for that crazy schedule and there will always be things that are left undone and there will always be more we wished we had of done.  But these children?  They won't stay young forever.  They won't want to run wild and crazy in leaves forever.  And it won't be like this forever - Mama and my young ones, begging me to just say YES and play with them.

Just say YES and build a deep rooted relationship with them.

Just say YES to how the Lord longs to bless us this sunny morning.

Just say YES to the trails of blazing leaves dumped in our back room.

Just say YES to unexpected, unscheduled joy.

Because, the best things in life, you just can't schedule.  

I'm convinced that much is true.

Snapshots of Nature Study -Jewelweed {Charlotte Mason Monday}

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alright -  because so many of you lovely ladies have been asking for more posts on Nature Study, I decided to start sharing more Nature Study ideas on Charlotte Mason Monday.  I will call these posts "Snapshots of Nature Study", because I like cute alliterations, but also because they really will be more like snapshots - not lengthly posts, just some photos and captions that will hopefully inspire some more ideas for how to implement simple Nature Study into your home!

Our Jewelweed Nature Study was done a couple weeks ago now, but I really wanted to share it because we had so much fun studying this interesting plant!

The best time to study Jewelweed in Southern Ontario and in the Northern States is August and September.

We became interested in these plants when good friends of ours came over and showed us how the seed pods POP when you touch them!  That was it, the kids were intrigued.  And that is exactly how a great Nature Study is started - simply from a natural interest in something found in God's amazing world.

Snapshots of Nature Study (what we did):

First, we looked at the Jewelweed we had in our backyard (behind the chicken coop) and observed everything we could about the plant.

Then, we spent a couple days reading through the pages about Jewelweed in The Handbook of Nature Study.  We use this book for most every Nature Study we do - it is a well-written living book for all things Nature.

After we read about the ideal locations to find Jewelweed (moist soil or near streams and ponds), we went on Nature Walks near our home on a mission to find Jewelweed.

We also studied how the Jewelweed leaves react when they are placed in water.  This is really interesting because many Naturalists believe this is where the name "Jewelweed" derives from - the leaves sparkle in the water.  Just like beautiful jewels, the leaves glisten and shine.  It is truly beautiful!

As we do for most of our Nature Studies, we also did some close-up observations and added sketches and information to our Nature Notebooks.  

The children also did an oral narration with the prompt being: "Tell me everything you know about Jewelweed". 

The Jewelweed Nature Study pages are from  LOVE that site!!!

Thanks for reading!

Happy Monday!

All About Reading Level 1 {A Full Homeschool Review}

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Alright, here we go, my heartfelt full review of All About Reading Level 1.

The very first thing I want to mention is that I absolutely love the people behind All About Learning Press.  They are authentic, kind-hearted, wonderful to speak with, and they truly care about children and parents.  They really, seriously, are in this to help kids read and spell well and the help parents help their kids succeed in literacy and in life.  And that is a very good starting point for the kind of products I want to use in our home every day.

As for All about Reading - our family absolutely LOVES this program.  Our son (who was 6 when he started Level 1 and is age 7 now) did remarkably well with All about Reading.

When we started in the Spring, Alex was struggling with reading.  Although, I hate to word it this way, this is the way most of the world would look at it.  Considering his age, he wasn't reading quite at the level many of his peers would be reading.  He had learned his letter sounds and various very simple vowel sounds but was not reading fluently and did not have a very large amount of sight words he knew.  However, he did have the desire to learn, so I knew it was time to get a bit more focused on reading skills.

I wasn't sure whether to place him in Level 1 or Level 2 of All About Reading.  When I looked through some of the content of Level 2, I thought he may be able to do it, but upon ordering Level 2, I realized Alex really should have started in the first level.

I want to chat about his placement.  As I stated above, when I first looked at the Placement Tests, I made the wrong choice for Alex.  I thought he would fit best into Level 2.  I made this decision based on my own ideas of what he 'knew' and how he could read through readers as well as a look at the Placement Tests for both Level 1 and 2.  What I found is that he could read some of the words and understood some of the concepts but he did not have a very strong base for his ability.  Much of his ability came from sight word recognition and memory.

I strongly encourage you, if you are starting All About Reading with a young student - consider starting with Level 1.  Alex was reading simple single vowel words a year ago, but I am so glad I started back at the basics with him because the program progresses quite quickly.  In Level 1 - Lesson 1, children are reading words like map, Sam, sap, map.  By lesson 18 they are reading:  fish, rash, dish, shut.  By lesson 33 they are reading: stick, trick, check, clock, snack.  By the end they are learning several alternate sounds for vowels.  It starts off simple, but children are reading quite well by the end of Level 1.  

All About Reading is very in-depth.  When you work through this program, you cover ALL your bases.  All About Reading starts with the Pre-reading Program, then comes Level 1.  If your child is just at the beginning reading stages, I'd encourage you to look through the placement tests and if you have questions, don't hesitate to email the amazing people at All About Learning Press.

In hind sight, boy, am I ever glad I bumped him back a bit to Level 1.  Although the first few weeks were a bit of a review, he learned quickly and easily and was introduced to a more detailed approach to reading instruction.  His success encouraged him and gave him the confidence to move forward with enthusiasm.

Alex completed the entire program in about  3 months.  He went from barely reading to reading fluently in this time!  Hooray, Alex!

Our pile of All About Reading Level 1 stuff...

Some snapshots of the children enjoying the program.

Alex hanging out with his buddy, enjoying one of the Level 1 readers.

Alex's completed progress chart, Yippee Alex!  He was so proud to put that last star on there!

Let's take a closer look at All About Reading Level 1 and how we used it in our home:

One of the things I love about the All About Reading program is that it is very self-paced.  You work through it at the speed you need or want to.  We chose to move through Level 1 quite quickly because we could and Alex was ready.  

There are may families and children who will take an entire school year or longer to work through Level 1... and that's perfectly fine!  You can go at the pace that works for you and your child, which is lovely.

This program is multi-sensory.  This means that it engages many different senses and will appeal to many learning styles.  Our children both loved all the elements of the lessons.  They were motivated and excited to work through All About Reading.  It was their go-to when they started their day, always wanting to 'do' their All about Reading work.

Getting Started:

When we first received our package in the mail, I opened it with Alex and got excited along with him.  The materials are so beautiful, so colourful, so high-quality...  we were both drawn to them and wanted to use them!  (Let's just say, this is not the case for all reading programs!)

I'm pretty sure I actually started the day after I received my box.  This program is so 'open and go', that it was quite easy to do this.  I just read the material in the first few pages and got the manipulatives ready (mostly, I had to take apart the Phonogram and Word Cards and put magnet stickers on the back of the letter tiles - which came with the materials in the Student Packet).

I decided to store all our pages from the Student Packet in a plastic folder, as this was what my good friend had done and it seemed to work well!  Taking out the pages and cutting the activities ahead of time is helpful, but not necessary.  There are many days I did it on the fly.  *smile*

It was so simple to start, literally, just open up the Teacher's Manual and go.  This is so helpful for a busy homeschool Mom, isn't it?  No long prep time, no confusing teacher's guide.

I love how the Teacher's Manual is set up.  It makes it so incredibly easy to follow along.  They use icons to show what to do next and the print is large, bolded in parts, and simple to read as you teach.  

At the top of each first page of a new lesson, the items you will need for that day are clearly listed.  There will be a step-by-step lesson plan that follows.  You can read it ahead of time or just open and go.

The Different Elements of All About Reading Level 1

If you are ordering All About Reading Level 1 for the very first time and you have no other All about Reading Resources, you will need to buy the following:

-All about Reading Level 1 Materials (includes the Teacher's Manual, Student Packet, and the 3 Readers)
-A Reading Interactive Kit (you choose if you want the Deluxe or the Basic, we got the Deluxe)

The lessons flow in a very natural and fun format.  Generally, you work through a concept in one lesson, then in the next lesson, the child will read one or two of the stories from the readers which uses and applies that reading concept.

Of course, the stories get harder as the child moves through the level - by the end they are reading pretty challenging stuff!

The Blast Off to Reading! Activity Book (you really do need this), along with the Student Packet for Level 1 before I took all the cards apart.

Love this little Viewfinder Bookmark!  It helped our kids focus on the word they were reading, rather than being distracted by a page of words.

The Phonogram and Word Cards found in the Level 1 Student Packet before you take them apart and organize them.

Teacher's Manual, Student Packet, stickers, and Readers.  These are all used consistently in All About Reading.

Don't you love how colorful and inviting these materials are?  Makes you want to do the program, doesn't it?!  

Word Cards with the All About Reading Review Box.  I love having this box, it is such a tidy, colorful way to store our cards which we use daily. The kids recognize it as their 'word box' and they know where to find it.

The three Readers that come with Level 1.  We loved these.

Phonogram Cards - the back of the cards have printed prompts and give the sounds for each letter.

Divider Cards for the Phonogram and Word Cards.

Some of the Word Cards from a later lesson.

Once we took the pages out of our Student Activity Book, we kept our sheets in a plastic folder.  We also did this for Level 2.  This was an easy way to store all our games, fluency charts, print-outs, and progress charts and stickers.

Fluency Practice is a part of every reading lesson.

How we store our extra Word Tiles - just a simple crafting bin from a dollar store.  

All About Reading uses Letter Tiles in almost every lesson.  You don't need to purchase a large magnetic board, but it is suggested.  We decided to buy one at a local office store for about $40.  Make sure if you buy a white board, that it actually is magnetic and that it is the recommended size listed in the All About Reading information.  (4ft by 2ft, I think!)

More Fluency Practices.  There are several sections - New Words, Mixed Review, Phrases and Sentences and then the progressive sentences.  Many families take days or even weeks to work through these Fluency pages.  It depends on the child's readiness.

One of the activities/games for a lesson and some of the Word Flippers.  Our children loved all the extras that came along with All About Reading (in the Student Activity Packet).

Fluency and activities from much later lessons.

Another fun game we enjoyed from one of the earlier lessons.

How the Lessons Work

Here is an overview of a typical lesson flow for All About Reading Level 1:

First we do our Review
We start with a review of the Phonogram Cards and Word Cards we had in our "review" sections in our word box.  These are cards that have previously been taught but that the children still need to practice until they are mastered.   All the Phonogram Cards are yellow, and the word cards are green.  This 'review/mastered' pattern follows for Level 1 to 4 of All About Reading.

Then we do our New Teaching - Here we are presenting the new concepts.  This often includes new letter sounds (here we use the Phonogram Cards), new reading concepts, new rules, etc.  This starts very simple and gets progressively more difficult.

Here are some examples of what the New Teaching looks like in the lessons:

Lesson 1 -  New Phonogram Cards for M, S, P, and A (ah).  Children are taught the sounds for these letters and use the Letter Tiles to make simple words like MAP.  We practice sounding out each letter in the word M-A-P.  Then we do SAM and PAM and SAP and MAP again. We then learn about the difference between vowels and consonants.

Lesson 12 - New Phonogram Card for the letter E.  We learn the two most common sounds the E makes.  We use Letter Tiles to blend sounds with E.  So, BED, SET, JET, MET, HEN, PEN, PET, BET, YET, YES...

Lesson 22 - Here we are practicing and learning how to blend the sounds we know with final blends.  We are using letter tiles to build words like, LAND, BEST, LUNCH, TENTH.

Lesson 33 - New Phonogram Card for the consonant team 'CK'.  Children are learning the sound of the blend CK and building words like, PICK, NECK, SNACK, SACK, SICK, PICK, LUCK, etc.

The Letter Board!  Our children love playing with the Letter Tiles on our big magnetic white board.  These boards are not required for All About Reading, but I highly recommend making the investment!  

We use the letter tiles usually in the 'New Teaching' section of the lesson.  This is used to build words and practice what we've learned in previous lessons as well as new concepts.  The kids use the tiles to sound out the consonants and vowel sounds in words and eventually, to build their own words.    

We also play "Change the Word", which our children love.  Here we simply swap out beginning and ending consonants to create new words.  It works like this, imagine each new bullet is the new word:
  • mob
  • mom
  • mop
  • top
  • hop
  • hot
  • rot
  • pot
  • got
I will say, "Ok, change 'mob' to 'mom',  now change 'mom' to 'mop'!  (And so on.)  This is a fun, easy way to play with words and practice reading.  The hands-on, tactile process works so well with my children, as I'm sure it would with most children.

Next there is usually some kind of Activity or Game to complete The games and activities vary in difficulty, length of time, and style or learning.

Some examples of activities/games include:

  • Feed the Monster (photographed below).  The child reads words on the back of the bones and after reading them correctly he/she feeds the monster by feeding them through his mouth
  • Letter Sounds Bingo
  • Monkeys and Bananas (photographed below).  The child finds the bananas that rhyme with the monkey's name and reads each of the rhyming words.
  • Over Easy.  The child uses a spatula to flip over paper 'eggs' one at a time and read the words on the back of the eggs.

Now - We Practice our Reading Words!  This is the part of the lesson where we apply what we've learned.  I took out the required Word Cards and we flipped through them together, having Alex read each word as it came to the top of the pile.  If the child is able to read the word, it moves to the 'Mastered' section of the Word Box, if not, it is placed in the 'Review' section.

On to Fluency Practice!  The Fluency Practice sheets are found in the All About Reading Blast Off Activity Book which comes in the Level 1 Materials Pack.

There are various parts to these sheets including, New Words, Mixed Review, and Phrases and Sentences.  These sheets will combine what children have learned in previous lessons to build on their reading skills.  These sheets can seem a bit daunting to some children.  There is quite a bit to read though and practice.  We often didn't read through every single word.  These are meant as a tool to practice what you've learned. They are a great resource!

Hooray, if your child has completed their lesson, it is time for a sticker on the All About Reading Level 1  Progress Chart!   This is a cherished and favourite part of the program for our children!  They love the feeling of putting that star on that chart and seeing their progress!

And... that's what a typical Lesson looks like!

Sometimes, it would take us a couple days to finish one lesson, just for reference.

The 'Reading' Lesson

Some lessons are what I call,  Reading Lessons.  These lessons are ones where the child applies what they've learned by reading one or two stories from their All About Reading Reader.  No new concepts are taught during the Reading Lesson.  The child simply focuses on reading the story or stories assigned.

The main idea is to snuggle up and read together, having your child read his best through the assigned stories.  Once they have successfully read the stories for that lesson, they earn another sticker for their Progress Chart!

I love the readers from All about Reading.  They are beautifully made with hard covers, gorgeous hand-sketched illustrations, and stories that actually make sense and are engaging.  I think All About Reading did a great job on their readers. These are readers I actually want to read and keep!

After we completed the program, the phonogram and word box looked like this - all the cards in the "Mastered"!  (The green cards you see in front are for Level 2, which we are working through with our daughter and now Alex!)

We also love using the All About Reading Read-Aloud Record to keep track of what books the children are now reading.  They have grown SO much in their ability!

I truly hope this post is helpful to those of you trying to decide on a great reading program for your child.  I give a whole-hearted 'two thumbs up' for All About Reading.  It worked wonders for us and I hope and trust it can and will do the same for many other Homeschool families!

Some of my other All About Reading posts:

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