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The Fall Homeschool

 


As we look ahead to fall, there are so many things to consider: formal schooling, school supplies, cooler weather, and, for many, some form of harvesting or preserving.  This is always an exciting time of year, full of happy and idealistic plans.  Such enthusiasm is good, as long as we pair it with realism.  I find it so easy to forget that there are only 24 hours in the day, that my children really do need breaks, and that the basics of life—cooking, laundry, and yard care—don’t miraculously disappear just because I forget to plan them in.

That is what I wrote as an introduction to a collection of autumn inspiration from the homeschooling moms at The Curriculum Choice.  Here is a sampling of their ideas:

  • Shirley Ann shares pictures of her family’s nature table. We used to have a nature table when we lived in the Netherlands, and it was a special treat to decorate a bit of space to celebrate the season.
  • Heather discusses her nature calendar and September activities.
  • Tricia’s family has always taken first day of school photos, something we have never done. I wish we had, though. If you are near the beginning of your homeschool journey, do make an effort to do this.
  • How many colors are there in a leaf? Cindy’s leaf chromatography experiments will show your children. Chromatography is a very powerful and important technique in chemistry, but this experiment is easy to set up at home. She also discusses a nature study club that looks like it would be easy to set up.
  • Heidi shows how she and her children made a fall pumpkin art project using oil pastels, chalk, and acrylic paints.

(To read more of these moms’ suggestions, check out “The Fall Homeschool.”)

And here is my contribution:

August involves delightful things like back to school shopping, making sure we swim every possible chance we get, and eating sweet corn and summer apples.  It also is a month of happy dreams about the upcoming school year and hopeful resolutions for making it a good one.

Here are 33 Reminders for Homeschoolers and 6 Tips for a Successful School Year.  I also need to remember How to Have More Good Homeschooling Days and build or rebuild helpful habits before we begin formal learning again.

I am always inspired by lessons from older homeschoolers and have shared some of them in Notes on Things We Wish We’d Known:  50 Veteran Homeschoolers Share.

But it is important to remember that Each Homeschooling Mom and Family is Unique.  What works for others may not work in our situation.  There’s one thing that is always true, though, and that is this:  God Works Through Who We Are and How We Live.

I wish you an enjoyable end of summer and happy dreams of fall.

If you have any great traditions or ideas, please share them in the comments.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: We received free access to this online course for the purpose of this review.  We are not compensated for our honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy


When Deborah Harkness and her sister Gwen took three-year-old Maddie and noisy little Ronnie for a bathroom trip early one morning, they little expected this simple duty would save their lives.  But while they were in the tall grass, a band of outlaws attacked their wagon train, killed everyone, and made off with the loot. The young women and their charges were left alive but alone, and it was almost winter.

On his way back to his ranch after selling cattle, Trace Riley noticed the smell of the burning wagon train.  Even though every fibre of his being wanted to follow the familiar outlaws and destroy them, he instead took the girls and children under his wing.

A wagon train in Nevada in 1867, criminals, an escape, and a rescuer….  Mary Connealy’s Accidental Guardian promises to be a gripping story of life in the Sierras.  It delivers, too.  The main characters are realistic but idealized just enough, there is drama, romance, danger, and humor, and the plot has both predicable and unexpected elements.

Accidental Guardian was fun, silly, and exciting, and a pleasant refreshment.  I enjoyed it and wondered, as I often do about such stories, at the resiliency of its heroines who casually take terror in stride.  They expect trouble in life, as we all should, and as such they are great role models to counter the unrealistic expectations of many nowadays.  On the other hand, such novels usually set up very high expectations for men and a reader who devours them regularly may be setting herself up for disappointment in real life relationships.  As Elisabeth Eliot used to remind women, “You married a sinner (this idea would lead to excited nodding of heads) … and so did he.”

Yet, as an occasional treat such novels are a wholesome and refreshing diversion, bringing joy, wonder, humor, and little bits of the gospel into our relaxing hours.  Accidental Guardian does all of this very well and I recommend it.  It also happens to be the first in a series, High Sierra Sweethearts, and I’m already guessing the plot of the next novel.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: Homeschool High School by Design

 

We have been homeschooling high school at home for over a decade.  At the beginning I worried that I might destroy my teens’ chances for their future dreams, but now we have learned that homeschooling is an ideal way to investigate and work toward dreams even if life’s difficulties get in the way.

There are many ways to homeschool high school, and we have always taken bits and pieces from different approaches.  This often led to uncertainty and stress with regards to planning as well as documenting the work done, and I would have liked a helping hand.

Recently I reviewed Heather Woodie’s online course, “Homeschool High School by Design”, on The Curriculum Choice.  This online course, the first of two for the high school years, helps parents and teens create high school programs with strong academics as well as self-initiated projects.  It also discusses documenting the learning that teens do.

If you have already read half a dozen books on high school at home, enjoy making your own forms, and feel confident about the high school years, you will not need “Homeschool High School by Design” except perhaps for the inspiration.

On the other hand, if you want a quick yet thorough and practical discussion of homeschooling high school that covers all the bases and provides helpful handouts, you might want to check out my review of “Homeschool High School by Design” to see if it will benefit you.

Related Posts:

Documenting Interest-Driven Learning as a High School Course

Review:  How to Be a High School Superstar without Burning Out

Homeschool Mommy Marks and Universities

The Comprehensive Record Solution

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: We received free access to this online course for the purpose of this review.  We are not compensated for our honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Searching for the Positive


As I was outlining the possible outcomes of a dreaded medical appointment to Miss 18, she said, “There, now you’ve said something positive about each possibility.”

And I responded, “Well, since God is in charge and loves us there is something positive in everything.  We may as well focus on finding what that is rather than complaining.”

To my own surprise, I had finally summed up something I’ve been vaguely trying to live and understand for a long time.  Not that I was no longer nervous, but because God is good I was determined to find the positive….

And that effort is based on some very good theology.

Of course, so is honestly acknowledging and lamenting the negative, as the Psalms show us.  This world is broken, full of sadness, pain, evil, and our own sin, and all these things are such a disaster that God sent his only Son to restore what we humans have destroyed.

Yet, even in the saddest Psalms (except for Psalm 88*) there is hope.

This hope is not an empty positivity that refuses to see sadness or pain.  Nor is it a lift-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps positive thinking philosophy, or the new age idea that you attract what you think.

Instead it’s an acknowledgement of who God is.  It’s same realization that made righteous Job put his hand on his mouth.  It’s the comfort that David had when he said,

“You, O God, are strong, and …you, O Lord, are loving.” (Psalm 62:12)

It’s the biblical conviction that,

“The Lord is upright; he is my rock and there is no wickedness in him, (Psalm 92:15)

a conviction that leads to the amazing conclusion,

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)

So, yes, let’s weep when necessary.  Let’s not whitewash terrible brokenness.

But at the same time, let’s always remember our good, strong, loving heavenly Shepherd and, knowing him, let’s actively look for this goodness and mercy that follow us.  Let’s search for the positive in all situations, focusing on what (and Who) is honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise.

After all, that only makes sense, given that we know that God loves us and that he can do everything.  He has already given the greatest sacrifice for us; won’t he take care of the other things, too?  Even if we can’t imagine how certain things could possibly have any good in them, we can be confident that God works for our good in all things, and thus we can obey the command to thank him always and for everything.

And then we can also reach out to others with the comfort God has given us.*  We can try to help each other carry the load, even as we realize how inadequate we are for this delicate task of caring, listening, and encouraging.  What’s more, we can accept comfort from those who weep with us, giving them the grace of thanks even though our smile may be wobbly and our eyes full of tears.

I pray that all of you will be given confidence in who God is and a deep understanding of his love for you so that you, too, will be encouraged to look for God’s caring hand in your situation, whatever it is.

May God bless us all.  Amen.


*Psalm 88 discusses the relationship between a person and God, but it also hints at the desperate loneliness of sufferers who are deprived of human companionship.  Let’s be there for each other!

Related articles:

The Best is Yet to Come

It’s All Good…Because God is with Us

Review: Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

What God Has Done for Me

This is part of a series of occasional meditations about daily life, Bible readings, and our pastor’s sermons, and is based on passages from Job, Psalms, the gospels, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and more.

If this article encouraged you, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

This article may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: How to be a High School Superstar…Without Burning Out


High school students can have a life.  Even if they want to get into top colleges or universities.  In fact, based on his research of high school students admitted to top US universities, Cal Newport suggests that having a relaxed, interesting life (along with excellent marks) makes one more likely to get into a top university.  Of course there are some caveats to that, and in his book How to Be a High School Superstar, he explains exactly what he means.

Even though most homeschooled teens are not obsessed with getting into ‘top’ colleges as this book’s intended audience is, How to Be a High School Superstar is full of excellent advice for homeschoolers. In many ways this book is about how to be interested in things and to succeed at them, guidance that is desperately needed these days by homeschoolers, too.  We all know that many homeschoolers of the past were motivated by their interests and learned unusual material at an adult level almost naturally, but that is changing since the advent of cell phones.*

So, what does Newport tell teens who want to do very well in high school and maybe even become superstars? And how does that apply to ordinary homeschooled teens?

Obviously they need to excel academically and do well on standardized tests.  Yet, they do not need to be overly busy, burnt out, extremely stressed, or facing mental illness because of their zeal to be impressive enough for college admission.

Instead, by carefully evaluating their lives and learning more effective study techniques, teens can free up a great deal of time.  By learning how to use all this time to develop deep interests, they will stand out so much that colleges will be eager to accept them.  What is more important, they will be happier, healthier, and more balanced, serving and learning in the real world.

Newport claims that what top colleges are looking for in their students is ‘interestingness’ and he states that genuinely interesting accomplishments come from living genuinely interesting lives, not from special abilities or careful planning.  His aim is to help students build sustainable lifestyles that yield rewards beyond college admission as well as for college admission.  With that in mind, he discusses incredible teen accomplishments and deconstructs them to show how they are based on small steps and on following certain ideas.  He substantiates his claims with interesting research.  Finally he emphasizes that ordinary students who follow his steps can stand out in similar ways.

To that end, Newport gives three laws for high school students:

  1. Under schedule and use free time to explore.
  2. Focus on and master one serious interest.
  3. Pursue accomplishments that are hard to explain, not to do.

He divides his book into thirds, one section for each of his laws.  There is a lot of inspiration here, but the most useful parts of the book are three Playbook chapters that are based on how real high school superstars function. These ideas are a practical treasure trove for all teens and I summarize them below.

Find and use free time

First of all, in order to be able to pursue interests and opportunities, one needs to have enough spare time.  Newport shows, in detail, where to find that time. And, no, it does not involve sleep deprivation or using up all of one’s free time to study.   He also explains helpful study skills and shows teens how to be purposeful in their use of study time and how to get to know their own most effective habits.  Then, because many students with spare time waste it, Newport gives them a structure for using it wisely to explore and to reflect.  He shows them how to learn quickly from experts, how to make connections with interesting people, and how to find time for a ‘wow!’ project.

Focus and master one serious interest

Once a person begins to find interests, there seem to be so many.  Newport shows teens how to focus on a meaningful one or two.  Of course, one must become good at whatever one chooses, and Newport shows what that means and how to do it.

Pursue ‘wow!’ accomplishments

A master of efficiency, Newport also shows teens what characteristics of an interest turn it into a ‘wow!’ achievement.  His discussion of innovation is fascinating and full of insight.  It turns out that diligence and meeting expectations are enormously important qualities.  Of course that is obvious to anyone who has ever pondered the biblical injunction, “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men,” but these qualities do not seem to be common in the society around us.  This section also outlines the innovation mapping technique that deconstructs the paths of superstars by analyzing what precipitated their ‘wow!’ project, what their accomplishment was, and what actual work they did.

As mentioned before, all of this excellent advice is written from the point of view of getting into competitive colleges without burning out.  Such an emphasis is irrelevant to many teens, including many homeschoolers and most students in Canada where there is less frenzy about university admission.  Centering one’s entire life around such a goal is not even a temptation for many.  Thus, in order to benefit from this book, most students will need to read past the hype about impressing college admissions officers and learn to see the value of Newport’s practical advice for their own goals.

Furthermore, once the college admissions focus is removed, pursuing the ‘wow!’ effect could become a bit narcissistic.  However, learning about innovation and accomplishments is always helpful, as is learning to focus, to excel, to study, and to use time wisely.

Another benefit to having deep interests and knowing how to succeed at them, rather than overworking or wasting time, is that it could make a student more resilient and less vulnerable to the current epidemic of teen depression and anxiety.

So, how could homeschoolers use this book?

Our two youngest teens have missed significant amounts of high school time due to illness. I’m assigning them this book with the hope that they will learn skills to maximize their effectiveness in their remaining high school years, and will also learn how to discover and develop interests.  I will need to emphasize and, probably, reemphasize that its insights are valuable to them even though they have absolutely no interest in getting into an Ivy League university.

At times homeschoolers may want to document their ‘wow!’ experiences as high school courses.  On the other hand, many great learning experiences would better be listed as activities; a similar under-reporting of accomplishments is discussed by Newport.

Also, for teens to use this approach, parents also have to buy into it.  Thus this is a book for parents as well as students, and both can benefit.  In fact, I found a few thoughts that could relate to my own future, and I think other homeschooling moms will also find personal inspiration as they face life after homeschooling.

If you and your teen can get past the college admissions and superstar focus of this book, you will find it to be very helpful.  My older teens enjoyed Gary North’s study skills course (link to my review), but it does not cover the breadth of topics that this book does.  In fact, I have found no better high school advice than that contained in How to Be a High School Superstar, provided one ignores the focus on getting into a top college.

In conclusion, living the way Newport suggests, concerned more with learning and contributing than with obsessing about university admissions, will help students be happier and healthier.  It may also help for university admission as well as SAT scores, as the old but useful book 1600 Perfect Score emphasized (link to my review). Excellent academics are vital, good test scores are crucial, and interesting activities are important, but no student, whether homeschooled or not, should spend his or her high school years in a state of anguished frenzy.  Idols are never worth it.

*I think it’s relevant that Newport now writes about digital minimalism, both at work and in personal life.  Effective and interesting lives do not seem to be compatible with excessive use of technology.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: We borrowed this book from the library via interlibrary loan and then immediately bought our own copy.  We are not compensated for our honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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