Good Friday and Our Garden

04.18.2014 | 2:47 pm | Daily Life, Gardening, Homeschooling

It’s a dreary, rainy Good Friday. The boys are busy this morning putting together a Lego scene of the crucifixion. That probably sounds morbid, but it’s really not like that. It’s a hands-on activity where they use their impressive Lego skills to portray everything they’ve learned through our Lenten lessons.

The Crucifixion Scene:

There’s a lot going on in the scene. I took a short video while Gray described all the different things they included.

This portrays the scene later, after noon, when the sky went dark and people started to realize something huge was happening. Everyone is looking skyward, while Caiaphus stands stubbornly:

While they worked on this, I cooked up a pile of italian seasoned ground beef, and half of it is now in the crockpot with lots of tomatoes and sauce, where it will become spaghetti sauce for dinner tonight. The other half is going into the freezer for the next time spaghetti is on the menu. As I was saying in my previous post, unfortunately, that was probably my chore of the day. It used way too many “spoons”, if you’re familiar with that analogy (if you’re not, look up “the spoon theory”).

Also in my last post, I said I’d spent the past weeks doing as much potting, re-potting, and gardening as my body would allow each day.

What exactly was I doing? Well, the first week I spent re-potting all my plants and sprucing them up for the season. Between outdoor and indoor plants, I had 23 in all! After spending a long, cold winter sitting in the garage, the outdoor plants were ragged, tired, and in dire need of pruning and refreshing. The indoor plants were overgrown and tired looking. When I re-pot, I prune the roots first. Then I re-pot with new soil. I always use a mixture of 2/3 potting mix with 1/3 sand from our back yard. It helps immensely with drainage, and my plants thrive in it, so I think it’s perfect. Finally, I prune off all the dead or spindly growth, which usually amounts to over half the plant being pruned away. But that helps them to thrive, because within a couple of weeks of this hard pruning, my plants are putting out all kinds of new growth, and those that flower are popping out their first flowers of the season.

With all the pruning, I end up with piles of cuttings. I used to stick some of my cuttings into more potting soil and start new plants, but at this point I have all I can handle, so I now give the cuttings away. Frustratingly, none of my local friends or neighbors care much for growing things, so after my cuttings being turned down one too many times, I started posting a craigslist ad in the “free” section whenever I prune, and within an hour I have people fighting to come get my free cuttings. The upside is I’ve met some nice local people who do enjoy growing things, and they really appreciate the cuttings, so I know they’re going to a good home. :-) It’s win-win. I do the same thing in the summertime when my herbs are producing way more than we can use or freeze.

While I was doing all this hard work, I had Philip building me a small veggie garden bed off of our back patio. He did a great job doing all the difficult mathematical figuring and getting the brick border level and plumb (who knew building a garden bed requires geometry? Since I don’t acknowledge math beyond a 7th grade level ;-) , I’m very appreciative of his higher math skills!). He then amended our native soil with manure and mushroom compost, and chopped up lots of leaves for the top layer of mulch. I planted a grape tomato plant, two heirloom summer squash plants, and a lot of herbs: basil, oregano (used to season the spaghetti this morning!), two types of thyme, sage, parsley, and chives. My rosemary plant from last year is huge and thriving, and is just outside the bed. The squash and tomato plants have grown in size and are beginning to set flowers, so hopefully healthy fruit will be next. I have a few feet of space left in the bed and am waiting on warmer weather before I plant speckled butter beans. We’re going to use concrete reinforcement mesh as a trellis. I’m going to get two panels and a-frame them, and plant the beans on either side so they can climb up. I also got some heirloom sugar baby watermelon seeds, but because of the way our yard is engineered, I have to plant that off of our lawn area, so I’ve got a spot reserved for it in a lawnless area. I’m going to grow them in a pile of manure & compost…I’m just waiting on warmer weather for that, also. We’ve had an unusually cool spring. Even now, in mid-April at noon, it’s only 58 degrees. Normally we’re in the 80s by now.

In addition to my garden bed herbs, I got a mint plant this year. It’s too aggressive to be planted in the ground or bed, so I planted it in a terra cotta window box. I got it for the boys, because both of them are crazy about peppermints, and I thought they’d enjoy picking a leaf off here & there for a treat. I was right, too. They can’t keep their hands off of it. :-) I also got some ever-bearing strawberry plants, and planted them in a strawberry pot that I got via freecycle. We all love strawberries and can never get enough of them, but they never have local strawberries anymore in our markets, so I’m hoping these work out. So far, so good. They’ve tripled in size and are starting to put out their first flowers.

Lastly, I planned and planted a hummingbird and butterfly garden. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post, and share pictures. Also, while all this craziness was going on, we had a landscaping contractor doing work on our yard (we have serious drainage issues…never build on a hill, folks), planting trees (we got two Live Oaks and two River Birches), and installing raised foundation beds along the front and side of our house. This is a huge project, and the foundation beds are something I’ve been waiting to get ever since we built the house five years ago. I’ll share how that’s going in another post, also (teaser: it’s been a disaster due to their poor setup and workmanship, and we’re still trying to get the contractors to sort it all out).

For now, I’ll leave you with my wishes for a blessed and meaningful Good Friday and upcoming Resurrection Sunday!

Spring! Resurrection Day is approaching!

04.17.2014 | 1:57 pm | Daily Life, Gardening, Homeschooling

Here I sit catching my breath. It’s what I have to do often throughout the day, in order to be able to do anything at all. I feel indescribably sick all the time, but the feeling is at its mildest in the mornings (usually. Sometimes I get an unpleasant surprise and it’s actually worse in the mornings), so mornings are when I try to get as much done as I can. If there’s a chore that requires a good bit of energy, it zaps me completely, leaving me weak and feeling very ill. So I only have the strength for one big chore each day. For instance, if I’m going to be the one to cook dinner that night (Philip usually has to cook, but he can only do simple things), I have to choose that as my “thing I’ll get done today”, and I do all the prep in the morning.

This morning, Philip had a meeting in Pensacola (big new client! Great news!), and while there he got some important errands done, so I was alone with the boys through lunch. The first thing we did was go outside and I got them started on a Good Friday nature walk. I know today isn’t Good Friday, but I have something else planned for that tomorrow, so I decided to have them do the nature walk today. They had to find six nature items relating to the days leading up to Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, and then draw them. The items were: A palm leaf (entry into Jerusalem), thorns (the crown of thorns), sweet or spicy scented plant (spices used to cover his body), large rock (the stone at his tomb), and an example of new life (resurrection). They also had to choose & identify a tree and do a bark rubbing of a cross. They enjoyed it and both of them actually said it helped them to reflect on these different aspects of Jesus’ last days & resurrection, so…mission accomplished!

So as I mentioned, I got them outside with their clipboards and started them off by making sure Des knew how to do a bark rubbing. Then I set them off to do the rest of the “hunt” on their own. Not surprisingly, they went into the woods to find most of the items. While they were doing that, I gathered clothes to wash and got that started, and then I started working on cooking. Eventually, the boys came back and we went over their findings, and then they had a snack while I finished my recipe. Gray helped me clean the kitchen counters and put things up, and then he swept the floors for me because when I was refilling the sugar canister, a huge clump came out and shattered, spraying sugar all over the place. He knew I was at the end of my morning strength, so he came to my rescue, as he always does. :-) He also helped get his and Des’ lunch ready, which is something he does for me whenever Philip isn’t home or is too busy to help. He’s learning to be a good man!

Now Philip is back, and I collapsed onto the couch, where I’ll stay until I feel well enough to get up and do something else. And so go all of my days, for the past year or so. It sounds bad, and it is in many ways, but after the year before last, which I spent completely bedridden, I can’t complain too much. I’m thankful I can be up and do anything at all!

The boys are still on their Spring break, since the weather is still so nice. I have G doing math and Des doing Phonics each day still, to make sure we don’t fall behind in those crucial subjects. During this break, I worked very hard each day to get my planting and gardening done for the spring. I can only work in short bursts- maybe an hour or two outside, tops, and then I have to go inside, guzzle water, and rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Then I can go back outside and work for another hour or so, then back inside. Lather, rinse, repeat. I did this each day until it got dark. And I’m finally (mostly) finished.

What exactly was I doing outside? Well, I’ll do a separate post about that.

School Update and a Few Thoughts

02.18.2014 | 11:02 pm | Homeschooling

It’s February and the boys and I are working hard at lessons. We took way too much time off during the fall and also during Christmas & right afterward. When we hit the books again, I balked when I realized we weren’t even halfway through Gray’s 5th grade math curriculum yet. We school year-round, but I like to finish up his grade year by June, so we can take off for a few weeks before starting a new grade in July. I did some quick calculating, and if we work hard and if he takes his tests on the weekend (they’re pretty quick), we can get one extra lesson in each week. That will get us finished up by early June, and we can even still take 2 weeks off in March for a Spring break, once the weather gets nice and warm (but before it gets hot). So that’s the plan!

Des’ grade level is a little more complicated. If he were in public school, he’d be in kindergarten this year. However, I started him on kindergarten math back in the fall of 2012, and then I started him in kindergarten phonics in January 2013. He was way more ready for math than he was for phonics and reading at the time…he’s slightly dyslexic and has had some struggles with early reading. We’ve moved through both subjects at his pace, which means we’ve stopped here and there and worked on things a bit longer.

Because of this staggering, slowing down, and occasionally stopping, we finished kindergarten math last month— at halfway through the year. We took a short break to focus on addition facts (he has been slower to catch on to those, but is doing really well now!), and then started 1st grade math last week. And a year into kindergarten phonics, we’re about 4 weeks from finishing up, at which time we’ll go right to 1st grade phonics.

For Des, learning to blend consonants and vowels was very stressful and difficult for him at first (last year), but once he got that down, and once we started learning “special sounds” (Abeka’s word for phonograms), he started “getting” reading…finally! He’s made amazing progress over these past weeks especially. For instance, just a couple of months ago, he would only read very simple words if he was asked to do so. He would never attempt to read on his own, and also wouldn’t write anything at all unless he was told to do it. But just in the past two weeks or so, he’s started reading everything. He’ll surprise me by suddenly reading out loud to me when he sees things that interest him in his magazines and books, or something on the television screen. He’s noticing words and is enjoying the fact that he can decode and read them now! During these same couple of weeks, he’s begun writing things all on his own. He’s been writing little notes and journal type entries, and though his spelling needs work, he’s actually writing things on his own accord, so I’m thrilled!

For all the struggles Des has had, Gray has never struggled a bit with any academic work. He just picks things up naturally, like Philip and myself always did (no one taught any of us three to read, for example; we just started reading on our own around age four). Gray even taught himself to tell time when he was three to four years old, which still amazes me when I think about it. But Des…he’s had to be taught. To read, to add, to tell time, and probably, I’m guessing, he’ll need to be taught to spell well. Overall, I believe he is a smart boy, but in my opinion he’s not “gifted”, which is characterized by a natural inclination or “gift” of understanding things like these with little to no formal teaching. I sure do love him, though! :-)

Gray, however, for all his intelligence and ability, struggles with what I feel are serious attention issues. I have no doubt he would be diagnosed with ADD if we were to have him evaluated. I believe he has some other issues as well. He has stayed in much trouble for not doing his work in a timely manner. He’s lost all privileges on many occasions, but nothing ever seems to get him to simply sit down and do his schoolwork assignments like he’s supposed to. We finally made some adjustments to his workspace recently, gave him a few new incentives, and that —along with losing every privilege he’s ever known— seems to have gotten him motivated to do his schoolwork properly, because he’s done really well for the past few weeks. I am so thankful for that, because struggling with him on this for a couple of years now has been extremely frustrating and stressful! I’m praying he sticks with his newfound diligence when it comes to his schoolwork.

Weekly Wrap-Up – 1/27/12 – Catch-up!

01.27.2012 | 11:40 pm | Homeschooling

We’ve finished up another week of schooling, and I thought I’d update for once. We had a short week this week, because I was at the doctor’s office again on Monday (don’t ask).

Since it’s been a while, I’ll just condense a few weeks’ worth of fun into one update.

In math, G just finished up a thorough section on converting measures. We’ve also begun some very basic algebra, solving basic equations for “n” or “x”. There’s always lots of daily multiplication & long division review, and he’s up to the “nine” family in multiplication/division.

His language studies have involved studying capitalization, punctuation, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and how to write a friendly letter and thank-you notes. The latter was very timely, as we were just getting around to writing our thank-you notes for all the Christmas gifts from relatives and friends.

Recent writing lessons have been narration & dictation from biographies about Paul Bunyan and Harry Houdini. As a bonus, we learned some magic tricks. G’s writing skills are continually evolving.

History is always our favorite time of the morning. I’m especially enjoying the new volume of The Mystery of History, as we’re now into the Dark Ages/Early Middle Ages, and this period in history has always been fascinating to me.
Since Christmas we’ve studied the fall of the Western Roman Empire (very depressing, since our country is facing a very similar decline— and the effects on those who lived through it were devastating. It ushered in the Dark Ages, after all). We’ve studied daily life in the Dark Ages, including things like baking birds into pies, and how barbers got their striped poles…there are just so many fascinating things! We learned about the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (did you know “England” got its name because it was known as “the land of the Angles”? You’re welcome. ;-) ). We covered the legend of King Arthur (which was possibly based upon a real warrior), and various early Christian saints. We’ve both been learning lots.

Cursive…oh, I remember last time I updated back in the fall, G was having a very difficult time with the introduction of cursive. We worked for weeks on the letter “a”, which was the first letter. Well, persistence pays off, because I kept making him practice, practice, practice, and eventually he just “got it”. Something clicked, and now he’s officially learned all the vowels, plus all the other letters up to “j”, and has figured out on his own how to do all the rest of the letters (but we’ll continue going through each one formally). His cursive is really quite beautiful, especially for a boy, and the crazy thing is, he loves doing it. He made the statement to me today, “Cursive writing is like reading: once you start, you just don’t want to stop!”. So funny.

Speaking of which, G is a reading machine lately; he’s been going well beyond his 30 minutes of required reading most days. I added a new shelf to my Goodreads account for his books; it’s a great way to keep track of his reading both for my records (and his!) and for the various reading incentive programs he takes part in. If you’re on Goodreads, look me up.

As for little D, he’s been doing very well at his schoolwork. At last update, he, also, was having a very difficult time learning to write. I didn’t expect much from him, and had decided not to sweat it— my concern right now is formally teaching him each letter’s sound, and writing can wait. But, he surprised me, too, when he suddenly began to master the basic concept of writing. He’s getting better at it every week.

He’s up to letter “J”; we just finished it up this week. He’s doing great. He already knows all the letter sounds, but we’re going week-by-week, one at a time, and really drilling the sound in with lots of activities & repetition.

We just finished featuring number 10 this week. I guess we’re just doing this for fun, because he can count to 100 and understands counting quite well. But he loves doing it, so we work on counting every day, after we do our letter work.

D loves schoolwork, which makes me happy! G loves his lessons every day, but doesn’t care much for the actual work he has to do after the lessons are over. Except for his daily cursive sheet, of course!

I really need to write out some posts on things I’ve learned about schooling these boys. Maybe I’ll have time to do it soon, but probably not. I stay pretty busy lately. One thing I’ve definitely proved over and over is that even when you (and they!) think they aren’t ready or able to do something, they really are. It just takes diligence, repetition, and lots of practice.

Weekly Wrap-Up — Or in this Case, Our First Four Weeks in Review

09.2.2011 | 4:02 pm | Homeschooling

Welcome to my first “Weekly Wrap Up” of the year! We’ve been back to schoolwork for about four weeks now, so this is going to be more like a wrap-up of our first month so far. First, I’ll cover G’s studies, as he’s the student covering the most subjects right now.

In Math we’ve been doing lots of review work (a big reason I’m changing to year-round schooling; more on that later). I double up on lessons when possible, so we’ve already gotten through 30 lessons, or 6 weeks’ worth of math done. I love being ahead so that we can take weeks off when the whim (or the need) arises.

Grammar has been all about adjectives, verbs, and identifying the subject of a paragraph. We found some cute, funny books at the library that cover each part of speech. Wish I could remember the name of some of them now— I’ll check next time we’re there. They made verbs, nouns, and pronouns very fun for him!

In history we’ve studied Hannibal, Spartacus, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and Augustus Caesar. The Roman Empire makes for a very interesting study! When we studied Julius Caesar, we used army men to re-enact his infamous “Crossing of the Rubicon”. Then when we studied Cleopatra, we decided to re-enact her crazy stunt of having herself rolled up in a carpet and delivered to Julius Caesar. Gray was Caesar, sitting in his palace, and Des got to be Cleopatra, all wrapped up in a carpet (well, a quilt in our version!).

He’s back into writing, where he reads a passage of good literature and then summarizes it into his own words. This is such a great way of improving writing skills! The last few passages have been from biographies on Paul Revere, so he also got a little history and learned about the beginnings of the American Revolution.

We’ve just cracked open our first Apologia Science book- we’re starting with “Exploring Creation with Botany”. He’s going to be keeping a notebook for the first time as we study science.

Moving on to Little D, we’ve mainly practiced learning the very beginning stages of handwriting (tracing dotted lines), practiced counting to 20, and we’ve also introduced and covered the letter “A a” and its sound. I have him trying to learn to write the letter “A a”, and it’s definitely an exercise in patience. :D Which reminds me…

G is starting to learn cursive, and his first letter has been cursive “A a”. Wow, is he having the hardest time learning this skill! I just have him continuously practice until I see a line that has mostly perfect “A a”s. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll move on to the next letter next week.

For reading, G has gotten into reading the wonderful works of Roald Dahl. He’s gone through “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “The BFG” (which he absolutely loved), “The Magic Finger”, and “The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me”. He’s currently reading “The Witches”. It’s the last Dahl book we own; I’ve managed to find all those for less than a dollar each at thrift & consignment stores. Hopefully I’ll find “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and its sequel someday soon, because he wants to read those and any other Dahl books out there. He really enjoys Dahl’s dark (very dark) humor and writing style.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve decided to move to schooling year round. I’ll explain it in more detail in future post, but it boils down to the fact that taking 2-3 months off in a big block is really counter-productive where learning is concerned. It’s also silly to take all our time off in one block, during the hottest months of the year! It was an inferno out there this summer (still is!), and I think their time off will be much better spent and enjoyed when it’s taken when the weather is more pleasant. We’re going to be schooling for 5-6 weeks at a time, then taking off 1-2 weeks at a time. Year-round. And I’m looking forward to it!

Check out other Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Ups this week at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

It’s Student Week!

08.15.2011 | 2:06 pm | Homeschooling

The HOTM (Not) Back to School Blog Hop is still going. Last week was Schoolroom Week (thanks to all who stopped by to look and leave a comment for us!), and now this week is Student Photo Week! Here are my students and a little about them.

I’ll start with the youngest, D (on the right, up front).

D is three years old but will turn four next month. He’s a complete mess, as you can probably tell. He has a silly streak that’s fairly new, as he’s always been our serious fellow. And he still is very “old soul” most of the time. He’s all boy, rough and fearless in all his play. He’s strong-willed like no child I’ve ever known— we’ve had some power battles with him you probably wouldn’t believe! But oh, how I love him. We had a rought start, he & I, as I had a hard time bonding with him until he was much older (long story). Now, it’s as if all the love has come flowing out of me for him at full volume, overflowing and spilling out daily. I’m crazy about this boy, I cherish his place as my “baby”, and I find it very hard to tell him “no” (but I do when necessary). He gets a lot of spoiling as the baby of the family, by all of us.

D is just starting out as an official student this year. He knows his alphabet, can count to 20, and knows all the basic colors and shapes. I’ve done a little work with him, but he learned most of it from just living life or from his big brother.
We’re going to be doing preschool work, learning all the letter sounds and how to write them, as well as all the other typical preschool things— but letter sounds and writing are at the top of my priority list for him.

My oldest student is G (on the left). You’ll have to look past the ham who stuck his face in front of the camera at the last second. ;)

G is seven & a half years old and is doing 3rd grade this year. He’s my sensitive, sweet boy. There’s not a mean or even a rough bone in his body. He’s insatiably curious and intellectual, and prefers academia to any kind of sport or roughhousing. He loves nature (particularly birds) and being outside exploring. I kind of regret not going the Charlotte Mason route with him, because it fits him perfectly. But it’s not too late to start, and he’s already led us in a CM direction on his own, anyway. I’m researching and considering how to do CM, while still giving him a rock-solid traditional education in math & grammar.
This year we’re doing math (Abeka), language (R&S), history (MOH), science (Apologia), writing (WWE), and learning cursive (ARFH). He’s a pleasure to teach because he loves learning and picks everything up very easily.

We’ve been doing school “lite” for a couple of weeks now, and this week we’re diving into a fulltime load. I’m looking forward to having them both at the table with me this year— with bare feet, of course! ;)

Check out all the other students on showcase this week at The Heart of the Matter Online’s (Not) Back-To-School Blog Hop’s Student Photo Week:

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Our Schoolroom

08.12.2011 | 10:20 pm | Homeschooling

Once again, we’re participating in the annual (Not) Back-To-School Blog Hop: Schoolroom Week over at Heart of the Matter Online. It’s my favorite week of the year in HS blog world, the week everyone posts pictures and descriptions of their schoolroom! I got so many storage, organization, and setup ideas this way when I was first dreaming up our homeschool space, and now I’m happy to share what I’ve done with ours, as well as keep looking at everyone else’s spaces— I usually spend several weeks checking these out during my downtime, eventually hitting every single post so I can see each schoolroom.

Without further ado, here is our schoolroom, aka our dining area, which we use for both functions daily. We’ve been in this house for two years and I’m still tweaking how I store things and how we use the space we’ve been blessed with. I’ll share all the details as the pics progress. :) And please, keep in mind that all my spaces are freshly cleaned out and organized for the new school year; they don’t represent the chaos of everyday life yet at this point. Not by any means. That should be a given, but last year I was actually criticized on a homeschool page on Facebook where we were sharing our schoolroom pics— for having too neat a space. True story! Thankfully, most of my fellow HS moms were quick to defend me by saying that we’re all starting out fresh and neat and presenting our spaces in their best form— sharing ideas and solutions with each other.

Here is a shot of the table, where all the action happens, both during school time and at breakfast, lunch, snack time, and dinner:

Those are, of course, my students, whom I’ll be showcasing next week. This was taken just after I’d finished giving them both their lessons and they were doing their work. “Work” for the little one consists of tracing dots I made on the lapboard. He loves doing that!

This is the room as you walk into it from our foyer/living area. The kitchen is to the right.

I panned around the room. The cabinets in the corner I had added to our house plans with the specific intent of having a homeschool supply cabinet. I love having it more than words can express.

This is with my back to the kitchen. We love the view out of our windows— nothing but trees in our yard and across the street.

Facing into the living area. G is making faces, because…that’s just what he does.

Now to the organization & storage breakdown.
I use the countertop of the school cabinets to store all the books we use daily. My teacher manuals, answer keys, their workbooks, and all the various texts and supplementary materials we need to get our hands on easily, most every day. I bought a simple plastic vertical file sorter to hold them all up neatly. I love this setup. It really does stay mostly this neat all year, because as long as we put the books back up, they stay orderly and neat.

We also keep our printer/scanner up there, and of course our pencils & sharpener. All used daily.

This is one of the top cabinet shelves. Way up top, I keep all the books/manuals/materials from G’s previous grades, to use in the future with D. On the lower shelves I have various supplies like stickers & dominoes, and that bin holds D’s magnetic letters. I have a space made there for a bucket of counting bears, which I hope to be able to buy soon.

These are the other top shelves. Way up top are boxes of G’s previous years’ work and extra school supplies. Middle shelf is all art supplies and other supplies that the boys know are off limits unless they ask and someone gets it down for them (basically, the messy stuff I don’t want them getting into on their own.) The bottom shelf is not school-related but is just our medicine/vitamin shelf. Didn’t know how to not include it, but please just ignore. ;)

Here is a view of all the bottom cabinets. Left side I keep those file shelves for filing finished worksheets & papers, each boys’ folders of artwork for the year, notebook paper, and handwriting paper. In the middle is a box of used paper, printed on one side, that my dad gave the boys for drawing & writing on. Above that I have file shelves with printer paper. Right side is paper and materials I save for them to paint on. I save all cardboard scraps, fancy white paper (like, for instance, when you buy a picture frame, the glossy sheet you get that’s plain white on the back? Perfect for little ones to paint on!), newsprint from packages…I keep anything they can paint on, that I don’t have to pay for.
The shelves way in the back I just use for storing containers and things we may use in the future. Those shelves are extremely hard to get to…or maybe I’m just getting old.

These are the drawers. Nothing exciting, just various supplies, but maybe someone will get an idea or two, like the baskets for drawer dividers. Love having those!

Another pic of the students, obviously hard at work. ;-)

You can see a white cabinet over there in the corner; I use that for more storage. On top is our globe, clock, flag, and I have a tray that we use to store change for money counting practice (and currently, it’s holding G’s stuffed bird collection). And inside…

Top shelf is extra workbooks, books, and materials that are not our daily-use things, but that I use from time to time. On the right I have magazine files with coloring and activity books; most of these are just for-fun things and not school-related.
2nd shelf holds the only art supplies they have free range with: their markers, crayons, and colored pencils. And I see there are some flash cards there, too.
3rd shelf holds flash cards and normally there are learning games and manipulatives there in the empty space, but I guess they were out being used on picture day.
Bottom shelf is where I store extra binders, schoolbooks we’re going to use this year but aren’t using yet (his Apologia science set is down there…yay!), and the binders in which I keep G’s state portfolio, in the event it’s ever requested.

That’s an exhaustive tour of our schoolroom. Thanks for stopping by! I love comments. :) Be sure to stop by and check out all the other schoolrooms on display this week at The Heart of the Matter Online:

2011-12 Curriculum, with Cost Analysis (just for fun!)

07.8.2011 | 9:42 am | Homeschooling

It’s almost time to gear up for school again! I made my curriculum decisions in early June and then I set to work buying everything we need—quite a task, because I buy everything I possibly can used, via homeschool curriculum boards online and also from our local homeschool consignment store. This allows me to buy books for half the retail price, sometimes much less. The only thing I buy new is consumable workbooks, and I even find those “used” sometimes, but with only a couple of pages filled out.
It’s hard mental work scouring the listings, and scoring an item can be very competitive. When I find something I want for the price I want, I have to jump on it quickly. Still, often, by the time my inquiry email reaches the seller, the book in question is already spoken for by someone whose email got there first. It can be very frustrating! But I stuck with it, kept emailing vigilantly, and within a week’s time I scored an entire curriculum for G at half the price of new. The items I buy are used, but in like-new condition (I ignore items listed in lesser condition).
So what did I choose? Let me share. :) I’m also going to list the retail price of each item, followed by the price I actually paid. Because I’m all thrifty like that, and seeing the difference makes me feel good.

Math- Abeka Arithmetic 3 I’ll be sticking with Abeka for math through elementary math, for sure. It’s hands down the most thorough, advanced, and traditional math program out there. Any curriculum that helps my 7 yr old score 99th percentile nationwide in math, is a keeper in my book. And it’s easy to teach: the lessons contain word-for-word dialogue for me to use to explain new concepts. I just can’t say enough good things about Abeka’s math program.
Materials Purchased: Teacher manual, Answer keys, Student Books- Retail Cost: $113. My Cost: $61.

Language- For the first semester, we’re going to finish up our Rod & Staff Building Christian English book. Then we’ll start Abeka Language 3. Both very strong, traditional language programs.
Materials Purchased: Teacher Manual, Answer key, Student Book- Retail Cost: $76.50. My Cost: $35.

Writing- Again, sticking with what has worked wonderfully for us: Writing With Ease 3. We used book 2 last year, and I saw G’s writing improve by leaps and bounds. He scored above 99th percentile nationwide on the writing fluency section of his testing in June. WWE uses the simple approach of listening, narrating, and dictating to create strong writing skills. It works.
Retail Cost: $34.95. My Cost: $20.

Handwriting- I didn’t do cursive handwriting with G last year. I decided to let him work more on perfecting his manuscript. This year, we’ll do cursive. He’s using A Reason For Handwriting. Cursive practice will focus on writing meaningful verses. At the end of each week, a special page is given to write out the verse in his best handwriting, decorate & color the pictures, and then give to someone who might need a blessing. I can’t wait to use this!

Spelling- Can you believe I didn’t do a spelling program with G at all last year? I decided he didn’t need one, since he’s such a gifted speller (he gets that from both his parents. It’s our claim to fame. Spelling masters, we are! ;-)). On his yearly evaluation test last month, he scored 99.9th percentile nationwide in spelling. That’s the highest score possible. Out of 1000 children his age, he would be one of the top two scorers. Spelling is just his thing.
All that said, he needs to learn to spell harder words and to nail down all the rules and exceptions. Enter Spelling Power. For grades 3-12, this is the only spelling book my boys will need. We’ll never do those weekly spelling lists that contain words he already knows how to spell (I hated this part of my school career—what a waste of time!). With SP, 15 minutes a day (on the days we choose to do it) helps identify words he doesn’t know how to spell, and he works on those words until he masters them. Over the years, he’ll master the 5,000 most misspelled words in the English language, and so will his brother, and this is the only book I’ll have to buy. Looking forward to this.
Retail Cost: $64.95. My Cost: $18. On this one I saved big by buying the previous edition, used but in good condition.
This is a one-time buy and will be both boys’ spelling curriculum for their entire school career.

History- We have about 6 weeks left to cover in The Mystery of History I. Then we’re moving on to The Mystery of History II. We both enjoyed MOH I so much, so of course we’re continuing. It’s history given in chronological order, including Biblical history. It’s nothing short of amazing. G declared history to be his favorite subject thanks to this incredible curriculum.
Retail Cost: $49.95. My Cost: $25.
These are pricey, but once I buy all four volumes (and I’m halfway there!), I’ll have both boys’ complete history curriculum for their entire school career. This curriculum is made to be done 2-3 times over, with more research and questioning each time as the student progresses in age and knowledge.

Science- I’m diving into an official science program this year. I chose the gold standard, the curriculum that gets raves from every Christian homeschooler: Apologia Elementary Science. There are six volumes: Astronomy, Botany, Anatomy, Zoology I (Birds), Zoology II (Fish), Zoology III (Land Animals). All from a Christian, creationist POV. All six books cover the entire elementary science years, up until about 7th grade. Each book can be used by students of all ages, so they’ll be both G and D’s science curriculum. It hurt to buy them all at once, but we’ll be using them for years to come, and they’ll have a high resale value—IF the boys will even want to give them up. The material is presented in a very easy to understand fashion, and there are lots of projects and experiments, but they’re simple ones that use materials that every household has on hand. I’m very excited about them and can’t wait to start, and neither can G. He wants to do the Birds volume first, so I guess I’ll start with that one.
I bought all six volumes.
Retail Cost: $234, at $39 per volume.
My Cost: $126, at an average of $21 per volume. They were all used, in excellent condition.
This was a major purchase, but it will cover both boys’ science up through 7th grade.

Bible- I think we’re going to read through the Gospels this year, chapter by chapter. And discuss each chapter daily. Linked with Bible teaching, I’m going to do a Character-Building curriculum as well. I’m going to use Kids of Integrity, a free resource from Focus on the Family. There is so much material there! A week’s worth of activities, lesson plans, discussion ideas, and more, for each of 22 featured character traits. Looking forward to this.

Art- I’ve never felt the need to do a formal art curriculum, because we’re all artists in this house and we create art all the time…I figured formal study of artists could wait until later years. But I stumbled upon this free download recently, and can’t resist adding it to the docket for this year. A unit study on the World’s Greatest Artists. We may not have time every week, but we can do this when we have time. And if we don’t get to do it this year, then I have it for next year, or whenever we get around to it.

And for Little D, well, he’s joining us at the school table this year! He’ll be doing preschool work. Learning letter sounds and numbers, and to write. He knows his alphabet and can count to 30. I’ll be doing a letter and number per week until we get through the alphabet, with him learning each sound and each number value. He’ll also be learning to write those letters and numbers. There’s a world of free material online for preschool, so I won’t have to buy anything.

I added up the total retail cost for everything, as well as my total cost buying most everything used. Here are those totals:
Retail Cost for everything: $573.35
My Cost for everything: $285
That’s almost exactly half price! And everything I buy is in either new or like-new condition. Postage for anything I don’t buy locally is included in the prices. This, my friends, is an example of a frugal mama at work. Now if I could just get all our tax money back that goes to the local schools we don’t use, and use that to pay for all this…maybe someday homeschoolers will be able to do that! As it is, we rely on a generous scholarship from Philip’s parents to buy all this. Without them, we’d have to starve in order to pay for it all (that’s not much of an exaggeration).

And that concludes my long, exhaustive post on our 20011-12 curriculum! I’m chomping at the bit to get started, so we may start up here in the next couple of weeks. :)

If you end up liking and deciding to buy any of these materials new, will you consider using my Amazon link in my sidebar? :D

Displaying Children’s Art

06.21.2011 | 11:12 am | Homeschooling

I’ve always struggled with how to display my boys’ works of art. I’ve gone the usual fridge route, but as a homeschooling family, we tend to have lots of artwork and school papers to display—way more than my fridge could possibly hold. And I have to admit, I love the look of a clean, tidy stainless steel fridge, not covered with anything.

For the two years we’ve been living and homeschooling in this house, I’ve used a white cabinet with doors to hold school supplies and books. It sits in our dining area, which is also our homeschool area. I’ve used this cabinet as our artwork/schoolwork display area by taping each work of art or special schoolwork paper up on the doors of the cabinet. It’s worked, but I’ve never loved having a cabinet with taped-up papers all over it, and it also only holds so many papers in just that one spot. I considered the typical string with clothespins idea, but it’s too cluttery for me and doesn’t look very nice from a design standpoint—at least not in my dining area. I also considered putting up lots of frames on the wall and displaying them that way. That would look very nice, but it’s a little pricey for me and switch-out is a bit difficult, especially because I like to frequently rotate what’s displayed.

I racked my brain for ideas on how to tastefully display their artwork & schoolwork, in a way that blends with our design and decor. Then one day I was in T.J. Maxx, and I saw a plaque made for displaying kids’ works of art; it had three metal clips attached to it for gripping papers. It was $15. After balking at that ridiculous price, I realized if I were to go that route, I’d have to buy at least four of those plaques to display the amount of artwork we usually had up at any given time—that would be $60. Not doable for our budget. And I didn’t even particularly like the design of these plaques; they had multi-colored lettering in a “cutesy” kids’ handwriting font. It just wasn’t my thing. But it got my gears turning, and I wondered, could I make my own clip system somehow, and at a much lower cost? Yes. Yes, I could!

I measured our dining area’s wall between the two main windows, which is where I’d always envisioned hanging the boys’ artwork. Then I went to Lowe’s and had strips of wooden trim cut to size (cost was less than $10 for four strips). I stained them the same color as our kitchen cabinets (puritan pine). Then we used finish nails to nail them up on the wall between the windows (we nailed into studs), and I filled the nail holes. Lastly, I bought some metal bulldog clips. You can buy these at office supply stores, but they’re kind of pricey there for the amount I needed, so I ordered a box of 30 clips from for around $10. I screwed the clips directly into the wooden strips, at intervals spaced far enough to hold the usual size of their schoolwork papers. The result? Awesome, in my opinion!


A closer look:

Closer still, view of the bulldog clip I used:


Since it’s our summer break, there’s no schoolwork on display, just artwork. Normally we have a lot of special school papers on display, and the clips are set up to do that when we’re back to school. The boys have been doing lots of painting during these past few weeks, and now those paintings can be tastfully displayed with my new system. The best part is how easy it is to switch out pictures and papers- just clip or unclip! They’ll be in use for years.

I had a couple of extra strips of wood, so I used one to go on our other dining area wall, the one I use to display our calendar and any semi-permanent posters. I used to have to tape those things directly on the wall, which not only looked tacky, but would take paint off every time I removed something. Now I have a dedicated display strip! I chose to paint this strip the same color as the wall, to make it blend in. I think it turned out great.


Right now, our only displayed item is the Ten Commandments and G’s model of a red pileated woodpecker. During our school year, I have unit posters and other things I like to display, and I can’t wait to use my new clip strip. I also found a way to better hang that calendar: I bought velcro strips! I put a small strip of velcro on each corner and in the middle, and stuck the backing to the wall in each corresponding spot. Now the calendar doesn’t fall down constantly anymore when tape wears out! I did the same for our month plaque; it’s also attached via velcro strip.

One more close-up of a bulldog clip and how it’s attached:


This was one of the projects I wanted to finish up during our summer break. It was really easy, just somewhat time-consuming on the day I stained/painted the strips and had to wait for them to dry between coats. And the total cost was less than $20! I’m so pleased with how they turned out. I still have an extra strip left over and plan to put that up in G’s room, for hanging all the posters and things he likes to have on his walls.
I recommend considering this system if you have lots of things to display, and want to do so in a way that integrates into your decor, yet makes switch-out quick and easy.

Announcing my NEW Blog!

06.10.2011 | 9:45 am | Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Ms. Understood…Homeschools! has moved to a new URL! Make the appropriate changes in your links or whatever you use to get here. All three of you. :D If you use a feed reader, you’ll want to change the address. The new address is .

I’m also sporting a brand-new look, thanks to my designer subjecting himself to hours of technical misery working tirelessly over several nights, so check it out if you have the chance. I know in this age of feed readers, readers rarely click over and never actually see anyone’s blog design (I know I rarely do, because I rarely ever comment on anyone’s blog, because I always have issues with the commenting software and can rarely ever successfully leave a comment!), but since he worked so hard, give it a quick looky-loo if you have time and are feeling wild. ;-)  It’s not completely finished; there are still a good many tweaks to be made, but it’s working overall and has a few new features…for instance, I actually updated my pages. My “About” page actually has current info now, rather than info from five years ago (yes, my old one actually said I had only one child—who was two, and that I’d been happily married for 8 years. lol).

In addition to my new “About” page, I added a page on “My Students“, featuring and highlighting each of my little students, and also a page for “Our Curriculum”, which highlights what we use (to be updated very soon with our new 3rd grade curriculum choices!).

Speaking of the few tweaks we need to make, we’re trying to fix my blogroll & links so that they’re in some kind of order that makes sense (it drives me crazy to have homeschool, political, humor, and family/mothering blogs and links all mixed up together), but so far we haven’t found the right plugin. If anyone has a suggestion on how to change link order, please let me know.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy summering! We’re enjoying our time off!

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