Monday, March 28, 2011


I may be overplanning our homeschool adventure. I have been planning what to do for every single year for all three children, from now until high school graduation. Yes, I know Ryan is only 2.  But, well...I'm a planner.

I know we're not supposed to declare our complete and unequivocal plans for the future, making assumptions and ignoring the fact that we don't really control our future. We should always remember that God holds the ultimate plans in His hands. So let me say that, God willing, I've planned out our future as far as homeschooling goes.

I also know that things change. So, my plan isn't set in stone. Computer files are easy to erase. If I find that my first choice isn't working out, I will be willing to change the plan. If I find that my children just absolutely don't enjoy what I've picked out, then I'll be willing to change. I enjoy planning, and I'll enjoy re-planning.

I wanted to plan, though, for several reasons. First, I started researching because I wanted to make sure that there was enough material out there in homeschool-land that I thought would work for us before committing to homeschool in the first place. No worries there - I found more than enough out there! That led me to my next problem - too much out there to choose from!

I continued researching and planning because I believe that continuity is probably a good thing. I wanted to make sure we don't miss anything crucial, and hopping from curriculum to curriculum is not the most effective method: it can make things seem disjointed and out-of-order, and might be hard on the kids. Curriculum B might cover a particular topic only in grades 1-4, for example, and if I started with curriculum A, and only switched to B after grade 4, we might never cover that topic.

Of course, my own schooling was rather disjointed (since my dad was in the military and we moved every 2-3 years), but I ended up fairly well educated, I believe. I didn't take any state history class in high school, and I didn't even take biology, but I think I got around to everything else.

My urge to plan really has more to do with my training in librarianship and scientific research, I have to admit. My doctoral thesis was on planning, after all. Robotic path planning - children's educational planning - what's the difference? Optimum coverage is the goal for both! I have created spreadsheets for every subject, with notes on curriculum choices, websites, ideas about when to teach what, etc. That's what you get when you turn a robotics engineer into a homeschool mom.

I'm also trying to coordinate all 3 kids so I'm not teaching 3 separate grades in every subject every year. There are lots of ways to combine science and history, and since 2 of my kids are so close in age, I may even be able to combine grammar,spelling, etc. for them. I'll have to wait and see what their strengths and interests are, but there are a lot of good possibilities swirling in my mind (and on my spreadsheets).

I am more concerned now that there is so much I want to teach and offer my kids, I may end up overloading them. After the basics of reading, math, science, history, English, Bible, then of course I'll have to add music, art, computers, robotics (of course), and what about foreign languages? High school level only, or start in elementary school?

Time enough for that later. I've got the basics planned out, and I need to just stop planning and see how things go for a while. I'll write about some of my curriculum choices in the next few blogs. I'm just warning you ahead of time - it may be more detail than you want to know! But I promise I won't attach any spreadsheets.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Problem with Science and History, Part 3

One final point that concerns me in this debate is the attitude displayed in these Christian curriculums toward those who believe in an old Earth. Some Christians believe that science, and scientists, are anti-God and anti-Christian, and that the world in general places a higher priority and belief in science than in God.  That is true for some scientists, but not for many, and I don’t believe even for the majority.  I read a complaint that scientists (all of them?) believe that science takes precedence over religion, and that religion and God should take a secondary position in the world - even that God is irrelevant in the modern, science-based world.

I say that, when pursuing science, it is not that science takes precedence over God, but that faith in the consistency and logic of God’s creation is affirmed.  If a scientific theory appears to contradict the Bible, then certainly, hold off on a full-fledged commitment to that scientific theory, but don’t discount it entirely either.  Wait for more evidence, and study your interpretation of that part of the Bible.  Biblical interpretations are wrong more often than we like to admit. Remember Augustine’s admonition I quoted earlier!

I have never had problems combining my beliefs with scientific explanations.  I have always seen science as a description of the mechanism by which God works, while my religious beliefs explain why and for what reason God works. In all the years I have learned about science, physics, astronomy, etc., I have never encountered a theory or fact or explanation which flatly contradicted my beliefs. On the contrary, I have always found that learning something new in science has always opened my eyes to a new facet of God or shown me how even more powerful and grand and awesome our God is.

I’m side-tracking from the young-earth debate, but I’ve heard quite a few Christians say that the Big Bang theory is also very anti-God, and doesn’t really answer any questions anyway. The Big Bang theory says that the universe came from an extremely dense, extremely high-energy singularity. It does not explain what happened before the bang, or where the energy came from - but it’s not attempting to do so. Scientists know the limits of their theories. Scientists, contrary to some believers’ accusations, are not trying to explain God, or get rid of Him, or explain Him away, or prove that He does not exist.  They are not theologians. They are trying to explain what we see in our world and gain insight into how the world works.  Nothing in the Big Bang theory claims that God didn’t exist before the Big Bang, or that God didn’t initiate the Big Bang Himself.

I read in a Christian science textbook sample that cosmologists theorize about how the universe began, and if they don’t say that God created everything, then they must put their faith in an untestable or unworkable theory.  I find that statement extremely antagonistic and negative toward scientists.  A person can believe that God created everything and still be interested in figuring out how He did it! (God is outside of time, remember, and outside of our universe. The origin of the universe is not the origin of God.) A scientist isn’t putting his faith in a theory - he’s just postulating a theory in an attempt to learn something. You have to start somewhere! Just because God created the world doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want to let us see anything about how He did it. God gave us minds and made the universe comprehensible, logical, and consistent, just so we can study it and learn about it - and learn about God in the process.

The same textbook continues to say, “It is actually blasphemy to say that the intricate handiwork of God we see all around us is nothing more than fallout from a cosmic explosion.”  Perhaps this is true if you really say the “nothing more” part, but there is no blasphemy in saying that you think God used a cosmic explosion to create the universe. The textbook continues, “The theory diminishes the personal work of a Creator ‘who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span.’”  Why does pondering how God created the world diminish His work? Does it not exalt Him even more that His creation of man is able to ponder His work? That a Creator who works with such enormous power and energy still created us to have such intricate bodies and perfectly-detailed workings, and still speaks to us as a personal Father to His child?

The last bit in this textbook about the Big Bang theory talks about evolutionary scientists who are trying to improve upon the Big Bang theory (though evolution and cosmology are quite different scientific fields) and figure out why parts of it don’t make sense. That’s fine - a theory is a theory - scientists know theories aren’t perfect, and their job is to try and fine-tune them or change them when they prove to be inconsistent or incorrect. But then the textbook goes on to say that these theory tweaks “are desperate attempts by unregenerate men to explain the universe without acknowledging the Creator.” Seriously? There are plenty of Big Bang theorists and even evolutionists (men and women alike) who acknowledge God as the Creator!

Science is a means for understanding God's works even better. Nothing science can prove can discredit God, since science is just our physical "paraphrase," so to speak, of God's laws and activity. Science can solidify a portion of our knowledge of God into something concrete - something small enough, or straightforward enough, that our minds can grasp it. Science is never meant to explain the "whys" of the world, and no scientist I know has ever assumed that. Out of all the years I studied in college and graduate school, the only time I ever heard a professor say something that sounded anti-God was in a humanities & literature class, talking about morality and good and evil.

Evolution is another related, but definitely distinct issue from the young-earth/old-earth controversy. Even someone who believes in an old earth does not necessarily believe humans evolved from apes, and I am certainly less certain of evolution than I am of an old earth, but still, even evolution could have been used by God. (I believe the Catholics allow for the possibility of evolution more so than Protestants tend to.) I had expected to find Creationism throughout the Christian texts (which is a good thing), and a fair amount of anti-evolution discussions, bringing up all the issues and problems with dating techniques and the lack of a fossil record and other hard evidence, but I really hadn’t thought that the “young earth” concept would be so prevalent, or that so much antagonism toward other scientific theories (and scientists, and science in general) would be voiced.

Since it is, however, most of the science courses offered by Christian curriculum providers, and some of the ancient history courses, are not ones I want to use to teach my children. It’s a shame, really, since I would love to have a science course that credits and praises God for His creation and creativity throughout the universe. (I am fully able to fill in my own thoughts and comments in this area - maybe I’ll have to write my own course material!) I would love to have a history course that fits in Biblical history with secular history, showing God’s hand at work (and may still use such a course, once we get past the more ancient time period). As it is, I will make my children aware of the controversies and the different theories, but I will use secular texts as the core for ancient history and biology and geology and astronomy, and add my own thoughts and other supplemental readings about the wonder and majesty of God’s work.

[Side note:  Upon further research, Sonlight ( offers a wonderful history program that is one of the few Christian ones I am happy with, and the more I research it, the more I’m thinking I will use them for at least some years. They do use some secular material that discusses different viewpoints, including an old Earth, and including evolution - usually these sections are not scheduled in their daily plans, but I can always add it in myself, allowing me to teach my children the full story.]

The Problem with Science and History, Part 2

I strongly believe that there is nothing we can prove in science that will be contrary to a belief in God and the Bible.  If there are discrepancies, then either our interpretation of science is wrong, or our interpretation of the Bible is wrong.  God created the world and gave the universe consistent, logical laws.  Science is a detailed, logical, experimental study of the world.  The two cannot be inconsistent.

God created the world to show us more about Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” And Psalm 19:1-4 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Add to this the fact that God does not lie or deceive us (this should be obvious, but some Biblical references are Titus 1:2, Numbers 23:19, and Hebrews 6:18), and you should be able to draw the conclusion that God did not create the natural world in a manner that would teach us false or misleading information. If more and more scientific evidence is pointing toward an ancient universe, then we should learn from this, and not say that the evidence is misleading us or has been put there as a test to make it seem like the world is ancient even when it is not (which I have heard some young-earth theorists suggest).

What I have been reading in more and more curriculums is a strong belief that our interpretation of the Bible cannot ever be wrong, and this disturbs me greatly.  It brings up the whole sun-orbits-the-earth debate which got Galileo in trouble with the Catholic church and caused all sorts of theological crises in many people’s minds.

Galileo quoted Augustine:  “If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation; not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.”

I read in one young-earth discussion, talking about ideas that try to harmonize the Bible with an old-earth or evolutionary theory:  “They are compromises that have destroyed the credibility of the Bible in the eyes of nonbelievers, so that the Bible’s authority even in moral matters is called into question.  Christians who struggle in their faith in the basic doctrines of the Bible think that if the Bible’s account of Creation, the Fall and Curse, and the Flood are merely myths or symbolic stories, then the doctrines of salvation, separation, and future judgment are probably myths or symbolic stories as well.”

This has not been my experience. My experience has instead been that disagreement about the scientific utility of Genesis has a minor effect on wavering believers, but the insistence on a young earth and absolutely no type of evolution has a major effect on non-believers and on scientifically-minded believers as well.  I have definitely heard non-believers in my scientific career circles dismiss Christianity solely because of the insistence of some believers in the young-earth theory.  The young-earth theory sounds so anti-science and so unbelievable to those who have studied geology or astronomy or several other sciences, that it is an immediate turn-off to many non-believers.  They say that if Christians can believe that, then there’s no way that anything else they believe can be right!

I had a classmate who was raised in a Christian home, who claims he was once a Christian, who turned into an atheist when he realized that evolution could be true. He did not believe that the Christian worldview could be reconciled with evolution, due to so many Christians who say they are irreconcilable.  He did not understand that even evolution, even the Big Bang, requires a Creator. So he kept his faith in his intellect and his logic, and disdained his faith in God.  If he had only been shown that both could be true, despite any apparent surface inconsistencies, he might not have fallen away from God!

As I mentioned earlier, whether the earth is young or old is a disputable matter. It may be a critical point to some people, and it may be a stumbling block, but it really should not affect our salvation. A person does not need to believe one way or the other in this matter to believe and trust in Jesus. The fact that Jesus is the sole way to God is not disputable. The age of the Earth is.

See Part 3.

The Problem with Science and History, Part 1

I consider myself a conservative Christian. I've been a Southern Baptist all my life, usually attend church 2-3 times a week, have been a church pianist in some form or another since high school, pray and read the Bible at home, and have always told people of my beliefs when the subject or opportunity arises. I believe God sent His only son Jesus to Earth to reveal Himself and to pay the penalty for our disobedience, providing a way for us to be with God forever. I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and that no other belief or religion or being leads to the true God, or to truth in general. I do not believe in universalism, or that everyone will eventually go to heaven just because God is love. I believe the Bible is inspired by God, and even though written by men, I believe every word was given them by God to write down. I believe Noah actually lived and built an ark, and that the Flood did happen. I believe that Adam and Eve were two actual, real, individual people, from whom the rest of humanity came.

All this is just to explain why I think I have a right to consider myself a conservative Christian.

With that as background, I now want to say that as I started researching homeschool science and history curriculum, I found myself shocked to discover that nearly every Christian curriculum firmly espoused a "young Earth" belief - the belief that the Earth is only 6000-some-odd years old. Before, I had heard of this belief, but thought it was only held by a small fringe group. As you may surmise, I cannot agree with any certainty that the Earth is so young, due to the overwhelming amount of evidence from multiple fields of science (geology and astronomy especially) that the Earth is millions of years old (and the universe even older).

I do not find that an old Earth conflicts with my belief that God created the world and everything in it. I do not find that an old Earth conflicts with my belief that the book of Genesis is 100% accurate. Apparent inconsistencies, whether between different verses in the Bible or between the Bible and scientific theories, only lead us to improve on our interpretations, both of the Bible and of scientific observations. They go hand-in-hand.

I will not say with 100% certainty that the Earth is indeed millions of years old - God can do anything He wants to do, and scientific theories are just theories. But I will not say with any certainty that the Earth is only 6000+ years old. I don't believe the Bible is specific enough to make that claim. I think it is a “disputable matter” (see Romans 14). There are all sorts of arguments as to why the Bible "clearly requires" the Earth to be young, and there are all sorts of arguments as to why the Bible requires no such thing, and even some arguments as to how the Bible shows that the Earth is old! All of that with Genesis still being completely accurate.

I started writing out some of my thoughts, but it got to be really long (plus it needs a lot of editing), so I won't put it all in this blog. Someday, I may finish writing it up, and link to it from here, but for now, I found another website that has a lot of the same thoughts as me (though not all), so I'll just point you there if you're interested in reading more:  I'm sure not all of the reasoning there is valid either, but perhaps much of it is. There are also dozens of links to other discussions on that site as well. Another really good article, written specifically to homeschoolers, can be found at the Sonlight website:

A friend also gave me some references to a couple of books that discuss the controversy. Links to them are here:
This is turning out to be a very long blog, so I’ve decided to split it into 3 parts. I’ll post them all soon, though, in case you’re eager to read my conclusions!

See Part 2.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I sometimes get tired of my kids. Like when the 2-year-old cries unless I'm holding him, while the 3-year-old keeps trying to climb up my leg. Or when I'm holding and hugging my 3-year-old, but she keeps whining and trying to get closer, strangling me with her efforts. Or when the 5-year-old acts like my tail, hiding behind me when we meet someone new, refusing to make eye contact or say "hello," sticking so close to me that I trip over her whenever I turn around. Or when I'm tired or hungry or busy or sick, and all 3 of them insist that they just want to be with mommy, and no one else will do. It makes me want to yell at them, and sometimes I do.

I remembered the other day what my life had been like in college - before marriage, before kids. When I found myself home alone, with no one else around. When I felt sad because it seemed, at times, like no one else really wanted to be with me, or ever put me first, or even remembered I existed. I was single. A quiet weekend got to be lonely at times, not a restful break. (It would be a vacation, nowadays!)

Don't get me wrong - I've always been an introvert and I appreciate, even crave, having plenty of alone time, both back in college and today. I have always been rather self-sufficient, getting along just fine by myself, finding plenty to keep me occupied. But there were always moments of sadness (or perhaps self-pity?), when I felt friendless, or forgotten. Sitting there by myself, wondering what everyone else was doing, and why they hadn't invited me.

I remembered those times the other day, and it made me think.

I never have to feel sad about not being needed or wanted anymore. When I feel like the kids are being too needy, I just need to remember those lonely feelings I used to have when I was single, and I will remember the blessings of having a family and having children. I will smile a bit, sit down and hold them all, let them get their fill - and feel needed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saxon Math

Rebekah finished all of her kindergarten-level math early this week. When I told her we would take a short break from math now, she was really sad!  She said math was her favorite.  That makes me happy, since math was my favorite subject too. The list of math topics she should know for kindergarten (using Lesson Pathways -see my blog "New Vocabulary") was the shortest of all the lists I made, since she already knew most of it. Her preschool helped out a lot with that, since she knew her numbers up to 100 before she even started kindergarten.

But now we're done with kindergarten math, so I've decided we'll jump right in and start Saxon Math 1 next Monday. In choosing a curriculum, math was the easiest subject for me. There are a lot of math programs out there, and many have good reviews and strong adherents. But whenever I looked at Saxon math, it just seemed the best fit to me. Many of the favorable reviews were written by people who excelled in math and had math-related jobs. Many different nearly-complete curriculums suggested using Saxon math to round out their programs, and many stated that Saxon can be done independently by older students.

One of my pickiest criteria was choosing a curriculum that went all the way through calculus (not just pre-calculus, but real calculus). I am again assuming that my children might be similar to me, and since math was my favorite subject in school, I ended up being ready for calculus when I was a junior in high school. I was very fortunate in the high school I attended for 9th and 10th grade (an American school in Germany), in that they let me do math as an independent study. I sat in the back of a math classroom, they gave me textbooks, and I just worked my way through them by myself. I made it all the way through trigonometry by the end of my sophomore year.

We moved before my junior year, and my next high school (in Oklahoma) was not as great. They did not even offer calculus, but sent seniors who wanted to take the class off to a neighboring high school for one period.  Unfortunately, they did not allow juniors to leave campus, so I ended up not taking any math at all in 11th grade. We moved again before my senior year, and that school (in Issaquah, Washington) was better. I sat in a regular calculus class, but the teacher knew I could go faster, so he let me and one or two others sit at the back of the class and proceed at our own pace, playing extra math games among ourselves when we got too bored.

So, I am hoping that my children will love math as much as I did. I am hoping that they will be able to learn math independently, but if they have problems, I am sure I'll be able to help them.

I have read in a few reviews of Saxon that, even though the program ends up being advanced, it starts out rather slowly. I read that level K is more like preschool math, and that level 1 is more like kindergarten math. So it should be a good fit to go ahead and start level 1 with Rebekah now. We'll probably finish it by November or December of this year, and then start level 2 then. I'm planning on starting my next child, Reanna, on level K this fall, which will be her preschool year.

Looking over the material (I already have levels K, 1, and 2 - buying the first 2 levels at, and buying level 2 used from a lady in my homeschool group), it does look like a good fit for both of them, and it looks like a lot of fun too - lots of hands-on activities and manipulatives, even if it is short on colorful workbook pages. I like that it is scripted for these lower levels too (I think all the way through level 3). I may be good at math, but I think it might be difficult for me to know how much (or little) to teach at this level, and the Saxon books pace everything out very well, telling the teacher exactly what to say to get the point across to these lower grades. By the time the kids get to level 5/4, it is more independent.

So we are excited to be starting with Saxon on Monday!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Busywork for Toddlers and Preschoolers

My 3-year-old daughter is very eager to "do school" like her big sister, and likes to do worksheets at her desk. Not for very long, however. My 2-year-old son has even less of an attention span, and can't be trusted to color only on paper, or to keep crayons (and everything else) out of his mouth (though he is getting better). Thus, I knew I needed something to keep them busy while I tried to teach my oldest. Something that kept them busy as well as helped teach them would be even better.

Fortunately, there are a lot of vendors who make just such toys and activities. I found a lot of them at Timberdoodle's website, and they even have kits full of educational toys specifically for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. That's how I found their website, actually, when I searched for home-school curriculum kits for toddlers. I didn't buy one of their kits, but I did buy quite a few individual items from them.

One thing I bought was the bambinoLuk. It took me a while to understand what it was, but basically, it's a puzzle for matching or correlating one thing to another - like a generic shape to a specific object with the same shape, or a piece of a vehicle with the entire vehicle, or one view of an object with a different view of the same object. The game has 6 tiles which you have to place in the right position to form the correct pattern on the back of the tiles. Once they get the hang of it, the child can check by themselves and see if their "solution" is correct. It's for 3-5 or 6 year olds (there's another version with 12 tiles for older kids), so my 2-year-old doesn't get it yet, but my 3-year-old really likes it, as does my 5-year-old. The 3-year-old I have to help from time to time, but she knows how to do most of it herself. My 5-year-old gets very excited when she gets it right, and gets very focused when she's playing with it (teaching focus and concentration is good!.

I also got some Lauri puzzles - upper-case alphabet, lower-case alphabet, and cars. My 2-year-old absolutely loves the cars puzzle, and that keeps him happy for a good 20 minutes or so at least! It teaches better discrimination too, as the cars are very similar and have to be observed carefully to make sure they get put in the right place. The alphabet ones have some smaller pieces which the 2-year-old has tried to eat, but the 3-year-old loves those puzzles.

I got 2 jumbo floor puzzles too (35 pieces each), which the kids like looking at when they're done, but they need help until at least half of the puzzle is put together. But they were on sale!

Several years ago, I got a set of large, interlocking, foam floor letters (and numbers), which are like a second carpet in whatever room we've put them. These have been great for teaching. They can try and put them in alphabetical order, or when they're out of order, the kids jump from letter to letter, in order. A new game we just tried out is calling out a sound or letter and having the other person find and jump on that letter. All 3 kids like playing that together, with one doing the "calling" and the others finding the right letter. Even my 2-year-old is pretty good at it.

Speaking of letters, I also got a magnetic letter tracing toy which is really quite cool. A magnetic pen is used to trace the capital letters drawn on the front, snapping up the little metal balls behind the front panel. The noise and motion and feeling make it a very hands-on, kinesthetic toy, and it seems to be good for teaching them how to write their letters. I don't know yet how well it teaches that, since we just got it, but I would think it will help.

Finally, I got a shape sorting, color matching game, called Beleduc Rondo Vario. I wasn't sure if it would be entertaining to the kids or not, but it has turned out to be quite popular with them. It has 4 "caterpillar heads" with string "tails" on which you are supposed to string beads of a specific shape and color. You can do it however you want, or you can roll the 2 dice and take turns picking out the matching colored and shaped piece. My 2-year-old still is a little young for it, as he tries to eat the caterpillars and tosses the beads every which way when he gets bored. My 3-year-old likes it quite a bit though, especially when her big sister plays with her.

I think my 3-year-old will be ready for more structured school pretty soon. She is eager to do "work" and knows all her letters and sounds and can count up to 25. I've started doing some phonics/reading work with her, and I'm not sure she's ready yet, but she will be soon. Since her birthday is in November, she wouldn't be allowed to start kindergarten until fall of 2013, but I'm sure she'll be ready by at least late fall of 2012. That's one great thing about homeschooling - I can start our school year any time I want, and can start my kids at whatever grade they are ready for!

My 2-year-old also has a November birthday, but I'm not sure he'll be ready as young as my 3-year-old. He is a boy, and I've heard they mature more slowly.... I'll wait and see, though. He also knows all his letters already, and a few numbers. He just can be very rambunctious, and doesn't like to listen very much! Maybe some of these activity-based learning toys will help him along the way, without causing too much distress!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cut and Paste

I have not used scissors so much since I was in elementary school myself. My husband got me a paper cutter for Christmas - the kind for cutting straight lines on letter-sized paper or smaller. I have gotten an incredible amount of use out of it in just the past few months! But I have also had to get out my orange-handled, left-handed scissors that I've had forever, and cut out dozens of tiny, intricate pictures of apples, candles, meatballs, kites, flowers, and many other highly-detailed images.

The reason why:  I got my 2 preschoolers a bunch of "I Can..." books, such as "I Can Paste." This book is to teach preschoolers how to paste paper objects, and it has pages of colorful designs that the kids love, teaching them first to paste things anywhere they want on the page, then in specific places, like candles on a cake. Both my 2 youngest love doing it, and even my oldest likes to do it when I let her. The preschool I used to send my kids to uses the same books. The only difficulty is that the parent or teacher has to cut out all the objects to be pasted - like the little candles, flowers, meatballs, etc., and some of them are incredibly detailed! My hands get sore after an evening of preparing for a few activities! But the books are great, and you can get them at many stores - Amazon has them, or you can get a bundle of all 6 books at Timberdoodle.

They do have a toddler version of the books, with simpler activities, but I've only used the original older-age books. My 2-year-old can do the pasting, and some of the coloring, tracing, and drawing books, but I'm not quite ready to give him the cutting book. He's not too good with the folding book yet either, so I'll probably wait a while on that. My 3-year-old is good with all of them - at least the earlier pages of the books. I only got one of each book, and am splitting the pages between my 2 youngest kids, as they are rather expensive.

As for other preschool workbooks, I got a few back when my oldest was just a toddler, and I never finished them with her, since I was still working some then, and she was in preschool. I'm using more of them now with my 2 youngest, though they're not really my favorites. The colors/shapes/numbers book has just a few worksheets (which you have to copy since they involve cutting out parts and are printed back-to-back). Most of the book has suggestions for other activities - songs, rhymes, recipes, crafts - which I'm not really using because they're too messy, too time-consuming, or designed for a larger group. I recently got a preschool activity book from Mead (bought it at Walmart!) which looks pretty good and easy to use with the younger ones while I'm trying to teach my oldest, keeping them busy.

I wanted to have some workbook-type activities for preschool, but that age has such a short attention span, educational toys and games are often a better choice for the majority of the time. I gave in and purchased a bunch of cool stuff for my 2 youngest kids, to help keep them busy during "school" and I will talk about them in my next blog post.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reviewing reviews

I am thankful that so many people have written reviews of, well, pretty much everything. I always read user reviews, whether I'm buying a bookcase or a book. You can't always believe everything you read, and I know that people have different tastes and what works for one person won't necessarily work for me. But reviews still are useful, especially when you read a lot of them and try to get a consensus. I've written a few reviews myself, but I should probably write more, since I find them so useful myself.

Anyway, I found quite a few reviews about homeschool curriculum. One site which is particularly useful is This site has reviews of all sorts of curriculum, some dating back years ago, which you have to be aware of since curriculum companies change things over time, sometimes in response to reviews. You can browse by subject category or search for a brand, but the search engine doesn't always work as well as I would like (not finding everything applicable, for instance). Anyway, I've read a lot of their reviews.

Another big site is  Cathy Duffy also has a book about her top 100 picks of curriculum. I do find that her website is always rather slow, but maybe it's my connection.

Another site is which I haven't used quite as much.  And has some reviews of homeschooling methods, such as Charlotte Mason, Classical, etc.

The other main source of reviews for me is retailer websites, such as Amazon and Christian Book ( Just search for the curriculum or book you're interested in and usually there are quite a few reviews. I like Amazon in particular since you get reviews from a more diverse group of people usually (not always just Christian homeschoolers - other points of view sometimes give you different insights and more info).

The Christian Book website is really nice, by the way, since they usually have really good prices, plus sample pages of a lot of things. Another homeschool retailer I've ended up buying lots of stuff from is Timberdoodle ( They have lots of great suggestions for toddlers and preschoolers (things to keep them busy and learning at the same time), and they have great prices too. Almost all the reviews they have are positive ones - maybe those who don't like their stuff don't write reviews? But quite a few of the reviews have good suggestions as to appropriate ages and ways to use the products. The owners of the website have produced quite a few videos they put on the site too, showing how to use a game or toy, for example.

Going directly to the website for a certain curriculum can be helpful too, even if they don't have user reviews, as you can find sample pages or video clips to give you a feel for their material. Many times they will have a table of contents or scope for each course or book too.

The plethora of reviews and samples in the homeschooling world is one reason why I have spent so many hours researching curriculum! There is just so much to review, and so much material to use in reviewing! And you have to sort through conflicting reviews at times and reviews that go against your own beliefs. But it's worth it, in the end, to have a greater certainty that you are picking the right things and not wasting money and time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Vocabulary

I learned a whole new set of vocabulary words after delving into homeschooling curriculum. What kind of curriculum to use, and what approach to take? Spiral learning, mastery learning, the Charlotte Mason method, literature-based studies, the Well-Trained Mind approach, classical education, university model schools, co-ops, unit-studies, notebooking, computer-based, online public school, textbook-based, workbook-based, student-led, self-learning, teacher-led, unschooling - I'm sure I've forgotten more than a few.

Since I took my daughter out of public school halfway through kindergarten, I didn't want to invest in a year-long curriculum right away and end up only using half of it, or risk boring my daughter to death by repeating what she'd already learned. Kindergarten skills are pretty basic, and there is actually tons of free material online you can use and print out or just use on the computer. I found one site, Lesson Pathways ( that had an extensive listing of what to teach in kindergarten, organized by subject in a weekly lesson format. So I used that as my framework, going through each lesson, discarding items I knew she'd already learned, and picking and choosing among the activities listed for each week, until I had an approximately 20-week long course of study in math, language, science, and history. The lessons have a combination of hands-on activities, suggested books, and website links. It took me a long time to develop my plan, since I went to each website that sounded interesting and made sure it was good. Quite a few were out of date, so I had to search around to find alternates if I really wanted to use that particular concept. But by early January, I had a pretty good plan worked out, so I was ready to take her out of school.

It's worked pretty well so far, though some items have proven to be too simple, or too complicated. I'm learning a lot about what level of learning works for a 5-year-old! Sid the Science Kid online videos are actually really good for science lectures, for instance.  I've also used resources from her old school - I had gotten quite a few website references from them over the first half of the year, mostly to reading sites with free printable booklets, like Hubbard's Cupboard ( I also had the list of sight words her school uses for each 9-week period, and some leftover workbook pages they sent home with her.

For first grade, and later grades, I had originally thought I would use an online distance-learning program, such as A Beka Academy. I was still coming to terms with not having much time to pursue my own interests, and this seemed like a perfect compromise - set her in front of the computer for a few hours a day and we'd be all set! We were also still considering private school, and the one we were interested in used A Beka curriculum, so it seemed wise to have her study the same material at home so that when or if we enrolled her in private school, she would be on the same page as the school. Also, I got pretty tired of developing our kindergarten lesson plans, and knew I really wanted a more developed lesson plan purchased ready-to-go in the future.

Things continued to change however. We decided we really couldn't afford private school, especially not with 3 kids. And I continued to research curriculum and ask others for advice, and came to the conclusion that A Beka Academy probably wouldn't be best in the long term, and probably not even the parent-led A Beka textbook/workbook material.

There are several reasons why (more about that in later blogs), but one turning point was when I read about the Robinson Curriculum, which emphasizes teaching the student to teach themselves, using classic literature. Having the kids teach themselves sounds good to me! It's probably quite useful for them too. ;-)  And the list of literature suggested by Robinson included so many books that I want to read myself! Being an avid reader and an aspiring author, anything related to literature will probably grab my attention. Anyway, I'm not planning on using the Robinson Curriculum as is, but the concepts helped change my thinking a bit more, and I've decided on a more eclectic approach, picking and choosing from a variety of sources. I am leaning toward more literature-based study in science and history, with workbooks and online resources for language arts, Saxon texts for math, and a few other odds and ends.

After all my research, I'm tempted to go out and buy everything I want for the next 12 years right away, but I know I shouldn't - not quite yet!  What seems good right now may not turn out to be so good in the future. It's not just about what I think sounds good, but about what works well with my children. So, I've limited myself to buying only 1st grade material so far (mostly), and we'll see how it works!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Starting around last November, I began to decide I should homeschool my oldest child and kindergartner, Rebekah. Many thoughts and events conspired to form this opinion. For one, she was beginning to dislike school. She loved her teacher, and had made new friends, and didn't have any specific problems, but as we live at the end of the bus line, she had to catch the bus at 7:20am, and didn't get home until 4:30pm, or even later some days. She was exhausted, and what with fixing dinner, doing homework (yes, in kindergarten), and an early bedtime so she could get enough sleep, we hardly interacted at all during the week. Wednesdays, with church activities in the evening, were a real strain.

Many other thoughts played a role too: thoughts of future peer pressure (not too much of a worry in kindergarten), school safety, bus and travel safety, scheduling issues for when all 3 kids were in school, exposure to disrespectful peers, lack of individualized attention, lack of adequate intellectual challenge (I'm assuming all my kids will be extremely gifted, of course! ;-), testing pressures, undesirable or untimely subject matter.

Of course, I had thought of all those things before, when I was of the mindset that I'd never be able to homeschool my kids, and couldn't handle having all of them home with me all the time.

But I changed. Or God changed me. It was such a dramatic change in my mindset and desires that I know God had a hand in it. Now, I can't imagine not homeschooling them. I have found such a freedom in having my children home with me, and such enjoyment in figuring out what and how to teach them! At this point, there is no going back.

Like most new homeschoolers, I spent a considerable amount of time researching curriculum. I think I have spent over 100 hours during the months of January and February researching curriculum. I am not too worried about kindergarten, since she already knew pretty much everything on the kindergarten checklist, with the exception of reading skills. We're focusing on that (and she's already reached a first grade level in that in just a few months), and I'm preparing for 1st grade.

In the next few posts, I'll talk more about my curriculum thoughts and choices.  For now, it's time for bed!  Tomorrow's a school day!