For Kids Who Love Space

astronaut-11050_1280My daughter Louisa wanted to study astronomy for science in homeschool. She is 12 years old and has her definite preferences, so I began a search for some resources to help. I discovered Apologia Science books for grades K-6 grade. The chapters are fun to read aloud together, and they have experiments at the end that we had a good time doing. The experiments didn’t use any odd ingredients, so I could really pull them together quickly—I love that!

As part of the course, the student develops a Science Notebook that contains their writing “narrations” of the things they have learned and also illustrations, vocabulary, etc.Louisa is excited about the cool science notebook that she is involved making. With Apologia Astronomy, Louisa is learning fast, is very interested and is having fun!

One of the things I really love about Apologia science books is that I don’t have to always be running interference, and trying to explain our faith in a God who created the universe. That seems to be a dominant problem when using secular science resources. I am always faced with the Big Bang theory, the “trillions of years old” stuff, and trying to keep faith strong in the face of scientific “proof” that we are all evolved creatures living in an accidental universe. This book is fabulous for giving reasons to support faith in God while teaching science! One of the things we recently learned together was that Venus spins the opposite direction than the other planets in our solar system. The Big Bang theory says a big explosion set the planets all spinning, whirling out the same direction from a central “bang”. If this was so, Venus should also be rotating the same direction. I love learning facts that make Christians not feel so stupid scientifically!

My only regret is that I didn’t discover the Apologia science books in time to teach them all in my homeschool. Each book is very specific to one field of science:  Botany, Zoology, Astronomy, Human Body, Chemistry and Physics…which is unusual for children’s science books. Most other elementary science textbooks cover a little bit in each area of science. But, I like them much better this way as we can really delve into each subject deeply and satisfy our curiosity thoroughly! There are enough books to do one each year from kindergarten through 6th grade, covering in depth all the fields of science! We loved our “Botany year”. We even dissected tulips, learning each part of the flower…fascinating for me too! These elementary Apologia science books are meant to be used an a family unit study, for kids ages K-6th grade, which I really appreciate. It is so much easier to teach all the kids at once on the same topic, and do the experiments together.

Another wonderful feature of these books is that they can be easily adapted depending on the age you are teaching. You can buy “notebooking journals” which are companion write-in study notebooks in two different levels of difficulty: normal and  “junior” (for K to 2nd grade). These books can replace the notebook made during each school year and have fun activities to reinforce learning.

Excellent science from a Christian perspective!

Click on any book to learn more:

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Saturday Lists

My husband, Rick

My husband, Rick

All week long, little mishaps such as a broken pan handle or a burned-out light bulb can cause some frustration that dampens our joy a bit. They are little things, but they can be very annoying and inconvenient. I know I’m not the only mom who has lived with a broken drawer handle for months (or years) just because there is never time to fix it. And when it is finally fixed in 5 minutes, I find myself moaning, “Is that all it took?”, as I had fumbled with it constantly while doing my homemaking.

We found a solution that works at our house. Every time some little irritating household repair or need comes up, I jot it onto our Saturday List. This is just a piece of paper stuck on the front of the fridge. Just writing it on there gives me relief. I rest my mind, knowing it will be taken care of and I don’t have to feel frustrated with it. It will have its day!

Then, Saturday morning at breakfast, we assign names to the tasks. If the list is long, we star the top priorities, choose a reasonable amount and save the rest for next Saturday. Don’t burn out by working all day. Just a couple of morning hours is enough to get a lot done!



We ask the kids what jobs they want, and it is amazing how they will volunteer with eagerness. Perhaps it is to avoid being assigned something they like less, but I am happy for volunteers nevertheless! I jot their initial along with a parent’s name (if needed). After breakfast, it is time for family work time.

Dad and Mom do most of the work when kids are young, obviously, but the jobs do double duty. They not only get the chore done, but they give some precious one-on-one time, training at a parent’s side.


My son, Ammon

Dad and Ammon fixed the bathroom sink plug together this past Saturday, and Ammon learned something about how to be a man, as well as how to fix the sink. He finished the job feeling more capable, having spent some quality time with his Dad. Louisa and I baked the week’s whole wheat bread supply that afternoon. She did most of the measuring and mixing and will soon be baking it herself, I am sure. As kids grow, the parent becomes more of an overseer, watching as the child learns by doing it under his experienced eye.

Don’t get annoyed by the constant supply of irritating broken things. They are a unique educational opportunity, if we just see them for what they are!


May I recommend:

Kids to the Rescue!

Kids’ Gardening

Home Economics Course

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Knowing Your Way Around Time

the-yearIt is a tricky for little children to understand the idea that the year rotates around, and starts again with a new numbered year. My “year chart” can help. Print it off and post it on your schoolroom wall, and go over it often with your 4-8 year olds. Asking them questions and talking about the months of the year will help them practice and gain understanding of the passage of time. Put the birthdays of each family member in your year, too, as that is a big event for young ones. And any recurring annual events.

I teach that the year begins at the top of the chart with the division line between December and January. Then it advances one year forward in number (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 . . . ) every time we pass that mark again, like a spiraling circle. A slinky toy or other coil or spring makes a good hands-on object lesson to help them see how each circle (year) connects to the next.

I also point out that the seasons divide the circle evenly. December, January, February are the 3 months that make winter; March, April and May are the spring months; June, July, August are summertime months and September, October and November make up the autumn season.

Here are some of the kinds of questions that I ask:
*What month is your birthday in? Point to it.
*When do we go swimming? (summer)
*What month do the leaves begin to turn red? (September)
*How many months are there in spring? Name them (March, April, May)
*In what month do we send valentines? (February)
*How many months are there in the year? Count them. (12)
*What month are we in now? (November)
image*How many more months until Christmas? (one)

Singing the “Months of the Year” song (found in Musical Notebooks)  as you point to each month’s name and picture helps a lot. This is basically the names of the months put to music.

A great trick for older children who have mastered the names of the months is to hold their fists side-by-side and say the names of the months as they touch the knuckle bones, or the “valleys” between the knuckles. The “knuckle months” have 31 days. As an adult, I still use this trick to figure out how many days in a month.

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

Thirty-one the others date,

Except in February, twenty-eight;

But in leap year we assign

February, twenty-nine.


Children can catch on quickly with this visual explanation of the year. It makes a child feel capable and smart to know where he is in time!


May I recommend:

Kids’ Gardening

Imagination Magnets

Fabric Calendar Pocket Chart

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Kids Can’t Spell?


Ammon shows off a big beet he grew

It is an all-too-common problem. Kids can’t spell, teenagers can’t spell, even many adults can’t spell. Thank goodness for spell-check on the computer. It has helped the problem enormously!

Learning to write is pretty important, as we use if daily in our communication. Nothing blows “lookin’ smart” faster than misspelling a common word. It’s like saying “ain’t”—only on paper!

Spelling the English language is very tricky! Just consider the ee sound. There are eight ways to spell the ee sound: chief, seat, beet, receive, key, he, Judy, ski. Now you can see why English is a bear to spell.

Should you teach your children all those long spelling rules? Generally, I say no. By the time a person can understand those detailed rules, they are usually old enough to have figured out how to spell. Who can remember or make sense of such a rule as this: “Double the final consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel if the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and the word ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel”!  Not me!

image-1There are some rules that I teach when a child is good and ready (meaning that he is regularly misspelling these words in his own writing and could remember and benefit from a rule to go by). Teaching commonly misspelled words will help your writing tremendously, and many are simple to remember with memory clues.

Some very common spelling mistakes (below) can each be learned in 5 minutes. They are worth memorizing.  I make a flashcard with the word on the front and the clues on the back.  I read the clue to my child, then expose the front of the card when he has spelled the word, so he can self-correct. It doesn’t take long until these are mastered.

To, Two, Too

Two is the number 2, that’s easy enough. So eliminate that one by learning it first!

Too has two o’s; it has more than enough, which is the meaning of the word too, as in too much fun, too many cookies, etc. Too means “also,” too!

To is the word that we see most commonly. It only has one o, and it means “in the direction of,” as in “to the store,” we also use it with verbs, such as “to dance.”

It is, It’s, Who’s, Whose

It’s and who’s are contractions of the words it is and who is .

It is = it’s

Who is = who’s

The apostrophe shows that some letters have been squeezed out by the contraction. (That’s my way of explaining it to my kids. They have been through enough pregnancies with me to know what a contraction is!)

Its and whose show ownership. Its paws, for example, when talking about your cat. These words don’t need an apostrophe any more than the word his, which also shows ownership. Ask yourself, “Whose coat? Who’s there?” If you can separate the words into who is, then you want the word with the apostrophe (who’s).

Watch Out for the Schwa!

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 5.59.30 PMWhat is a schwa? That is the upside down and backward “e” that you see in dictionary spellings. This is the symbol for the uh sound you hear when you say the word A-mer-i-ca. A schwa comes about in a language simply because people talk fast and get sloppy about articulating every syllable and vowel sound. Usually we hear the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) turn into a schwa on the unaccented syllable. This is okay for reading because you can quickly figure out that the word has a softened to a shwa sound in such words as America, above, other, etc. But it makes spelling a nightmare! Which letter should you use when all you hear is uh? Most people will use a u since it makes an uh sound. But that guess is usually wrong.

I teach my children to spell words with schwas by pronouncing them clearly and phonetically. Instead of saying other, I enunciate clearly: “AW-ther.” Become is pronounced “bee-cAWm.” They learn to spell the exaggerated pronunciation and can remember it even when the word is spoken with the schwa.

Memory tricks are also a great way to help children remember spelling. I was taught to spell together by remembering to get her so we can be together. I still remember that clue. Tomorrow can be confusing . . . how many m’s? You won’t misspell it once you remember that it means to (or on the) morrow. I still say aloud NECK-e-sary when I want to spell necessary. The neck helps me remember that there is a c in it, even though it doesn’t sound like it.

Keep at it, they’ll get it! (So will we moms.)


May I recommend:

Natural Speller versus Has-to-be-Taught

Writing in My Homeschool

Better Spelling in 30 Minutes a Day

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A Library Card and a Willing Heart


A Library Card and a Willing Heart

It seems when a parent considers homeschooling their child, their first concern is books.

“What am I supposed to use?”

“How do I afford schoolbooks?” 

“I don’t have a teaching degree…how could I ever qualify to each my child?”

Looking back on my 27 years of homeschooling, I remember my own panic.  It didn’t seem like I would be legal or official or something if I didn’t “do it right”.  Now, I see that a library card and a willing heart is plenty to homeschool your child.  Yes, it is handy to have your own books, but it isn’t essential.  A teaching degree might be nice, but it might also get in the way—you want this school to be catered to your own child.  You love your child. That qualifies you much more than any teaching certificate.

For starters, focus on your child. What are his interests? What does he get enthusiastic about? If it is outer space, you have your science curriculum! There are plenty of library books and online videos and children’s space documentaries to get the information your student is craving.  How do you make it into school?  Real school, meaning real education and learning?

Here’s how I would do it!

Science topic:  Outer Space

English: research and write reports on the planets, asteroid belt, black holes, magnitude of the sun, etc. etc.

Art: make a model of the solar system, paint a beautiful watercolor cover for each of your planet reports, draw illustrations on your reports.

History: Study the space race, astronauts, photos from the Hubble, etc.

Computer:  Make a Power Point of your space studies for a final presentation  (you will learn Power Point as a sidelight!)  A YouTube video would be fun too!

Field trips: Cape Canaveral?

You get the idea!  Harness the power of your child’s interest!  They will LOVE school!  You will teach them to read and write and study and research without them even knowing it!

Add a Phonics program (if your child is learning to read) and a math program, and you’ll have a complete curriculum.  Next year, when your child is totally thrilled with homeschooling, you can add in the things you think he needs to know, such as US history, or Life Skills such as keyboarding.  On second thought, you probably already taught him keyboarding while writing his planet reports!

Now, you might ask, since I sell homeschool supplies, how I could suggest that a library card and a willing heart are all that is necessary.  Well, I do believe it.  I also love books, and find homeschooling is much easier with wonderful resources. I have my recommendations, and I am glad to share my opinion about what resources I love the most.  But please remember, that comes second.  Interest comes first!


May I recommend:

How do I choose Resources?

Singapore Math

Happy Phonics

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A Delicious Read, Indeed

I want to tell you about my favorite book: Laddie, A True Blue Story. It’s not very often that you find such a warm, family-value-oriented book. It is a treasure! The best part of it was reading it out-loud to my children. I found it taught just as much as a sermon . . . with my family chuckling along the way and begging for more. And there is lots more—416 pages of it. 

From the eyes of Little Sister (the youngest child living in a big family on a farm in the newly settled Midwest in the 1900’s), we get a tantalizing taste of strong family values and faith in God. . . full of adventures and scrapes—love stories too—with a kind and devoted mother, a protective wise father, and a loving older brother, Laddie, as superb role models that I want to follow!

Leon, a young brother, provides lots of humor, just being a boy. Little Sister, through whose eyes the story unfolds, finds school squelching to her free spirit, and it is hard not to commiserate with her as she explains her reasons for loathing the classroom. The mother and father are remarkable Christians in spite of the many challenges of taming a new land. Such a sweet story of wholesome, decent, loving family life!

Get it at your library, borrow it from a friend, get if from my bookstore . . . but read it! It will definitely enrich your life.  Read it aloud to your children.  It is as good as taking a vacation!


May I recommend:

homeschooling-Uncle Arthur's Bedtime stories
Best Character Building Stories!

Does Harry Potter, Twilight Help Reading?

Big Red

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Natural Speller versus Has-to-Be-Taught

My children: Ammon, Julianna and Mark
Will the “natural speller” please stand up?

Having homeschooled 7 children, I eventually figured out that either kids come as “natural spellers” or they don’t. And if they don’t, you have to teach them to spell.

The natural speller can see the word in their head. You might see them writing it with their finger in the air when they are figuring out the spelling of a word. Spelling comes pretty easily to this child.

The “has-to-be-taught” speller is just as intelligent. In fact, spelling doesn’t have much to do with intelligence. As soon as the “has-to-be-taught” speller gets some memory clues or rules to go by, they can spell just as well as anyone. Of my 7 children, a few of them are natural spellers.

Ammon's journal

Ammon’s journal

For the natural spellers, it is pretty much a waste of time to give them spelling lists, spelling tests, workbooks, or spelling activities. They will get it eventually, no matter what you inflict upon them. They can see the word in their mind’s eye and the more times they see it, read it or write it, the easier it gets. For a natural speller, I have found the best exercise is to correct their daily journal writing, and help them analyze a misspelled word. Once it is pointed out, they can practice that word—write it a few times each day perhaps. A memory clue is big help, such as pointing out the word end in the word friend (a friend is a friend to the end). Once they can see the right spelling, they generally do great at self-correction in the future.

Here are a few spelling memory clues to get you thinking:

here, hear
hear–you hear with your ear. See the word ear in hear.
here and there are places. You can see here in there.

Separate the word into syllables: to-get-her
If you are going somewhere together, you have “to get her” first.

Separate the word into syllables: to-morrow
The meaning is “on the morrow, or the next day”. Remembering that helps you not put an extra “m” in the word.

How long will a friend stick with you?  to the end!  If you can see the word end in your friend, you spelled it correctly!

The main thing is to talk through the misspelled word with your child the first time you spot it. Just dissecting it is often enough to help a natural speller see and correct his mistake. When my son spelled rock as roc, I asked him to spell sock, clock, block, lock, etc. As he put the ck on the end of each word, he quickly recognized the pattern and fixed rock without another word from me.

You never know for sure which kids will be natural spellers, so I start all children off writing with a Spelling Dictionary by their side from about age 6 and up.  If they get in the habit of looking up words they are stumped on, instead of puzzling (and misspelling them), it seems to get them off to a better start.

homeschooling-how to spell it-1171From there, we advance to using How to Spell it, which is a unique dictionary in which children can look up misspelled words (rather than the other way around).  Words are spelled as they sound, with the correct spelling highlighted.

From day one of homeschool, I have my children keep a school journal.  This is an easy way to teach spelling, as they learn to spell right along with learning to write, and the spelling words are the words they use in their everyday conversation.
1171When it is time for some formal rules, I reach for Better Spelling in 30 Minutes a Day.  This book is great for older children who need some spelling help, or as a guidebook for you, as a teacher, to get the rules down so you can teach better. Workbook contains exercises that allow you to identify weak spelling areas and practice to improve them, tricks for spelling those commonly misspelled words, proofreading practice so you can learn to spot an error, and an answer key in the back of the book so you can check your answers as you go. Of course, you don’t have to spend 30 minutes a day, but I’m certain this book will improve your spelling even if you only spend a few minutes!

Good spelling is just about as important as brushed hair or a washed face. It is often the first impression we will make. In a day when email or texting is a common form of communication, spelling matters. Believe me, I have seen my share of misspelled job applications—and they are not very impressive. It’s worth it to teach our kids to spell!


May I recommend:

Spelling Those Tricky Words

Spelling Clues

Teach Any Child to Spell

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Teaching Your Kids to Appreciate Art

mona-lisa-67506_1280Why teach art appreciation? Just as a young writer can gain experience and style by studying and copying the masterpieces of great literature, a fledging artist will learn an amazing amount by examining and experimenting with the styles and mediums of great artists. Studying great art is a refining experience. Being culturally literate includes being able to identify great works of art. If you don’t know what the Mona Lisa looks like, you miss out on many references and innuendos in reading, writing and conversation.

You can easily teach appreciation of fine art once a week with an enjoyable lesson and activity.  There are a few programs I really like and use (discussed below), but you can also find plenty to teach from by using the library for resource books. I look at the library for those oversized books with large, color reproductions of the masterpieces of each artist. Other nonfiction documentary type books to help you teach can be found in the biography section of the children’s library. These contain a history of the artist plus some of his most famous works. Simple biographies done in a chapter book or story form are fun for my upper elementary children to read. I also look for any videos or documentaries we can find. We look up the artist we are studying in our encyclopedia or on the internet for a brief overview.

In our homeschool, I don’t put in very much preparation time before I teach our art appreciation lesson. If I can find a picture book at the library the summarizes the artist’s life, we love that! I read this to the children or retell what I’ve read in an encyclopedia, using pictures to enhance the lesson. Then we look at sisters-74069_1280their masterpieces in library books or online and learn together. We try to look for each artist’s unique style in each painting.

After we have our lesson about the artist’s life and his style, we try out one of his notable art styles. This has been great fun! When we studied Renoir, we were amazed at how in his old age, due to arthritis, he was no longer able to hold a brush and so he had the brushes strapped to his hand. We decided to try it! I used wide rubber bands to bind the brushes onto my children’s palms. Then we tried water color painting. After much trial and laughter, we soberly decided Renoir was incredible! How did he ever paint faces with a brush strapped to his hand?

Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry Night"

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

When we studied Van Gogh, we were saddened at how his mental instability caused him to cut off his own ear. Van Gogh painted several self-portraits, including one of him with his damaged ear. We decided that we would create a self-portrait. We took pencil, paper and a mirror and studied our own faces very objectively. Then we began. Very unique images emerged. When we were all done, we stuck them up on our school room wall, where someone remarked that one of us looked like a devil, another like a robot, and one like a clown. Well, that is probably about right!

You can come up with your own creative ideas for an art experience to reinforce each artist you study. Both the ideas for Renoir and Van Gogh came to me while I was teaching about these artists. For Van Gogh, for example, we have each created a “starry night” picture using poster paints, or chalk pastels on dark paper in vivid colors like Van Gogh’s masterpiece. You could use rulers and learn to draw perspective lines after viewing his strange perspective in his famous painting of his bedroom. As I taught about Renoir, several ideas presented themselves. You could challenge your students to use dappled light in their painting by dabbing white spots on the finished product to get the same effect that Renoir did in his paintings. You could discuss how Renoir drew women (round and realistic rather than slender and fashion model-ish). Then each student could draw a realistic woman, maybe their own mother?

image-3There are a few programs which I have used and loved. Discovering the Great Artists is my favorite.  I can’t imagine a better way to really learn about the great artists than to try out their styles and methods! This ingenious book introduces 110 unique art activities to lead your child into experiencing the techniques of the great masters, from the Renaissance to the present. A brief biography of each artist is followed by a fully illustrated encounter with sculpting, drawing, architecture and more. What could be more memorable after learning about Michelangelo than to try painting while lying on your back, Sistine-chapel-style? These art appreciation lessons will not be soon forgotten! Geared for children ages 4-12. Paperback, 160 pages, black-and-white Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 9.52.59 PMillustrations.

Another excellent program is How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation. This teacher/parent guidebook will help you teach hands-on art appreciation at every level, using inexpensive color postcards . The program is unique in that you can know absolutely nothing about art and learn right along with your children. Being able to handle the masterpieces is a far cry from the hands-off feeling of museums. This book will take you through the basic steps of developing art appreciation, beginning with preschoolers and advancing through high school skills:

imageStep 1-Match identical paintings (purchase 2 identical volumes of postcards below).
Step 2-Pair two similar paintings by the same artist.
Step 3-Be able to recognize and group four paintings by several artists.
Step 4-Learn the names of famous artists.
Step 5-Learn the names of famous paintings.
Step 6-Learn the movements or “schools” of art: Impressionism, Modern, etc.
Step 7-Learn to sort paintings by schools of art.
Step 8-Place paintings on a time line.
Paperback, 95 pages, black-and-white illustrations.

image-1All my children’s finished projects are collected in their personal art portfolios. This makes them strive to do neat, thoughtful work and also serves as a good review lesson about each artist as we look back through them. Besides, they are proud of these portfolios! My son Ammon (6 years old) snags every visitor who comes into our house and shows them his drawings!

Real success comes when your children are able to identify an artist’s style in some unknown painting and declare, “I’ll bet this is by Monet!” Then you know that you truly have created an appreciation and a skill in your children. That is the goal.


May I recommend:

Feed Creativity!

Great American Artists

Famous Artists Placemat

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