Showing posts with label Homeschool Mom Thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homeschool Mom Thoughts. Show all posts

Things I'm Organizing In 2021 (+Video Chat)

 


Ah, January!  The month when we all suddenly get the urge to organize and plan our lives.

Really though, every January I make a plan to get things organized.  Sometimes my goals work out and I do make improvements, like the year I finally developed a morning routine.  Other times my best laid plans for...well, planning better, fall through.  Whatever happens, I will always love that fresh feeling that January brings.  In fact, I am probably even more motivated to get organized after a roller coaster of a year in 2020.

These are three things I'm planning on organizing better in 2021:

Photos

For the past couple years I have been printing up the year's worth of photos in December, including the best ones of each of my kids to put into a little album for their stockings - and I take a lot of photos each year.  It is a pretty huge project to sort through an entire year's worth of photos, get them printed, and get them into albums.  In fact, I didn't even finish the kid's albums in time this year.  

I'd like to handle photos differently in 2021 - my goal is to print up photos at the end of each month.  This would help spread out the cost, and also keep me on track with only choosing the very best photos to print. (In December, I found myself getting a little lazy in the 2020 photo sorting and selecting too many to print - I was just tired of staring at a screen and wanted it to be over!)


Home Management 

This year in my everlasting quest to find a planning system that actually works for me, I am attempting to organize my own home management binder.  One thing I hate about planners, and that has hindered me from finding a planner that works for me, is that I hate wasted pages.  I hate them so much that if I feel too many pages are being wasted in my planner, I end up throwing the whole system out.  I am hoping in printing up only the types of planning pages I'll actually use, I can create my own planner/organization system that works for me.  I am focusing on these areas:

-Cleaning Routines

-Meal Planning

-Budget Planning

-Address Organizing

-Blog Planning

I particularly wanted to focus on getting more organized with household chores and such, because I think I've been in a "survival mode" when it comes to homemaking for so many years (with all our babies and toddlers) that I have really become dysfunctionally disorganized in some areas.  

My kids are older now, and I'm realizing I don't have to be in survival mode anymore - I actually have the time and energy now to do homemaking well.  I want to do that for my family - I think it will make for a peaceful and more relaxing home environment for Derek and the kids, and it'll help me be a better servant to my family, which is something I feel the Lord is calling me to focus on in this stage of my life.

The Kids' Drawings

All these years I have been putting my kids best drawings in keepsake boxes that I have scattered around the house, but I have had no method of organizing their drawings at all.  I write the name of the child, and the date, on the back, stuff it in a box, and forget about it.  

I didn't even really think about there being another way until Christmas, when my grandmother gave me a keepsake binder with a lot of special papers she had collected over the years. It was a very special and sweet gift, and it also made me realize it doesn't matter if keepsake papers are put into a beautiful scrapbook, with decorations and photos.  They are just as special and beautiful when using a simple organization system like a binder with page protectors.  

So this year I am going to sort the kids' art into binders, and create a separate one where I can keep the notes and pictures they make for me.  It's a more compact way to store things, and this way those papers can be protected better while also creating a better way to actually look at them occasionally!

I am excited to have a plan for becoming a little better organized in these areas in 2021!  We shall see how it goes.  Are you focusing on any areas for improvement this year?

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I also made a chatty video about everything I just wrote about, but I tacked on a little mini book haul at the end if you are interested in watching!



Starting A Nature Study Journal - Why And How


Nature study is something I want to make a more consistent part of our homeschool.  I've been saying that for a while actually, but I've also found nature study and nature journaling a bit intimidating.  What was I actually supposed to be looking at?  What are we supposed to be learning?  How do I nature journal if my drawing skills are limited?

What Is Nature Study (And Why Should We Do It)?

First thing first, for those of you who might be new to homeschooling, nature study and nature journals have been around for a long time, but in this modern homeschool world you'll most often see it associated with the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy.  Simply Charlotte Mason is a good website for a deep-dive into Charlotte Mason and her methods, but for my purposes here, the definition from dictionary.com is: 

n. the practical study of plants, animals, and natural phenomena as a school subject.

I personally love the idea of nature study as a way to introduce scientific skills to kids.  True science is all about observation and experimentation.  As far as observation goes, nature study is a wonderful way to practice that scientific skill in the real world.  Nature journals are a way for kids (and adults) to keep track of their nature observations so they can begin to notice patterns in the natural world.

But How Do I Do Nature Study?

While I know all this with my head, the actual nuts and bolts of doing nature study is the part that becomes intimidating.  If you do a simple online search for nature journals, or if you purchase any nature-journaling books or resources, the level of skill these artists possess is amazing.  No matter how hard I try, my nature journal is not going to look so detailed or impressive.

Thankfully, I've begun to realize this year that a nature journal doesn't have to look like that to be worthwhile.  You don't have to have any art skills at all to keep a nature journal, really.  The point of nature study and keeping a nature journal is to develop the habit of observation.  The point is to be still in creation, and notice things, and then keep some sort of record of it.  

There are a few things that have helped make our nature study and journaling a little easier and a little richer, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on that today.  These small encouragements are coming from me, remember - a very amateur and non-artist homeschool mom.  I'm hoping that means these tips will be actually useful for the average person reading this.  Let's dive in!




Tip #1 - Just get outside a lot.

This tip seems so obvious as to be ridiculous, but what I mean is - try to practice just getting outside regularly before you add nature journaling into it.  If you and your kids are mostly homebodies, getting into the great outdoors more is the first step.  Go outside and enjoy your surroundings without the pressure of studying anything first, especially if your kids are young. Go on a hike, do schoolwork outside more, have a few picnics. Perhaps after you've developed the habit of getting outside as much as possible, taking the jump to actually studying the things around you will be a more natural step.

Tip #2 - Do a botany study.

Despite living in the mountains for most of my life, before this year I knew surprisingly little about plants.  I've never had a green thumb, and any botany knowledge I gained when I was in school had long ago faded from my brain.  I wasn't even very excited to do a botany program with my kids for homeschool science this year, but it turns out knowing more about plants makes nature journaling a whole lot easier!  

If you think about it, the main category of living things that you will see ever time you step outside are plants.  They are also the best thing to draw and observe for nature study because they don't move much.  I don't know why we didn't do a plant study sooner - it would have helped us so much with nature study from the beginning. 

Knowing more about the plant kingdom has made me feel more equipped for nature study - now instead of just staring at my surroundings, wondering what things are worth writing down, I have some specific things to look for when I'm looking at plants.  And because I feel a bit more knowledgable about plants,  I'll be able to help my kids with remembering what we learned and developing their skills on a part of creation that is easy to observe and draw.

(We used Apologia's Young Explorers Botany curriculum - it is a good level for mid elementary aged kids, I think.)

Tip #3 - Don't judge your own drawings (and don't let your kids judge theirs either).

We just finished our botany curriculum yesterday, and the last chapter in Apologia's Botany was on nature study. I found everything in that chapter really helpful and encouraging, and some of the following tips are things I gleaned from there. 

The book made a point that I thought was well worth remembering, and it is this - no one starts out nature journaling as an expert.  You start wherever you are, and as you get in the habit of observing and writing things out in your journal on a regular basis, your skills will grow.  

Consistency is something I want to work on with nature study, because consistently practicing observing and recording nature is what will lead to really useful learning.  But I'm also applying it to my rather simple drawings - no one starts out drawing as a developed artist, we hope to grow with practice.  

I think it's also important to realize that our drawing skills may never improve to level we would hope, but that doesn't mean nature journaling isn't worthwhile.  It's okay if your drawings are never impressive. The point is to learn how to observe and document accurately.  Drawing is just one way to do that.  Which leads to the next thought I had...

Tip #4 - Don't draw at all.

If drawing is what is holding you (or me) up from enjoying nature journaling - well, who says we actually need to draw at all?  We could just write out descriptions of what we see instead.  We could paste an actual specimen from a plant into the pages of our nature journal.  We could even take a picture and slap that in!  This is a very fresh realization for me, so I'm going to have to think about different ways we could do nature journaling aside from just drawing.



Tip #5 - It doesn't just have to be about the observation.

This is something else that I read in Apologia's Botany that I never thought about before - nature journaling doesn't have to be just dry scientific observations about living things.  We want to write down what we observe, but this is a nature journal.  It's okay to include poems or Bible verses that come to mind, to write out something fun that happened while you were outside, to play around with different ways to describe with written language the beauty that we see.  I've always come at nature journaling from a scientific bent, but the thought that I could include...anything I want, really...makes it a little more exciting.

Tip #6 - Help your kids write what they see.

This tip is more about making nature study something that your kids can enjoy.  If you have really little kids, don't make nature study turn into a frustrating writing practice session.  Let them draw a picture, ask them what they would like you to write in their journal, and then write it for them.  Our family is at a stage when most of my kids don't have the endurance to write out a bunch of information, and I want us all to enjoy getting outside and recording what we see. I want it to be a sweet memory.  Helping my kids with the writing is one way to make the experience less frustrating while we are developing the habits of nature study.

Tip #7 - Find some resources that inspire you at your family's stage.

When I first started trying to find resources for nature study, all I could find was this really intimidating book about nature journaling.  Since I'm not an artist, I couldn't imagine myself ever being good enough at nature study for that book - much less my young elementary kids!  I searched a little more, and these are a few resources that have made nature journaling seem more doable for my limited artistic abilities and young family.

Apologia Exploring Creation With Botany - The same book I mentioned above, this is a great curriculum for gaining meaningful knowledge to use in a nature study.  It'll help you know what to look for when it comes to observing plants.  Comes from a creationist Christian perspective.  I'd say 2nd Grade and up! 

Note:  I'm hoping to do their Flying Creatures book this spring to add more bird knowledge to our nature study attempts.  I'll update once we get through that book.

Exploring Nature With Children - If you need some inspiration for how to integrate nature study into more homeschool subjects, this is a great resource!  It has a different nature study topic for each day of the year, and includes poems, nature walk ideas, book lists, and other activity ideas.  Could be adapted for any grade.

100 Easy And Fun Creative Nature Walks - I love this ebook for ideas on how to involve younger kids in nature study!  It'll get you looking for different types of things each time you go out.  Good for preschool through elementary at least.

Raising Up Wild Things Nature Journals - Raising Wild Things is a blog and shop with many nature study resources - I just bought her winter nature journal and I'm excited to use it with the kids.  She includes basic information that would be useful for winter nature study, along with journal pages and worksheets to get you started, and website and book lists for further learning.  And all beautifully illustrated in a. non-intimidating way! Good for elementary ages.

The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie - If you are not sure what to record when attempting nature study, this book has a bunch of information and ideas of what kinds of things you may want to write down.  I think this book has a lot of great inspiration.  I forgot I had it until I was writing this post, and I am going to pull it out much more this spring.  Comes from an evolutionary and environmentalist perspective, so be aware of that.  Good for elementary school and up.

Nature Anatomy and Ocean Anatomy by Julia Rothman - If you are excited to jump into the artistic side of nature journaling, these books would be good inspiration!  They are basically a published nature journal, with lots of good information included!  Some mentions of evolution and millions of years. Good for elementary and up.



That's all I have, friends.  I'm still figuring out nature study as I go, but I hope some of this was helpful!

Okay, all my homeschool nature study experts (I know there are some of you reading), what tips would you include?  And if you've never done nature study with your kids, have you found it as intimidating to start as I have?  


An Unscheduled Non-Break


Homeschooling this year started out so very well.  I was surprised how well it was going actually.  The kids were excited to learn, we were flying through our work each day, and we even got ahead in a few subjects.  

I might have gotten a little over-confident, because the last few weeks have been a bit of a disaster when it comes to our school.  Between a few family items (purchasing a new car because our old one broke down, flying out of state and coming home more exhausted than I thought, dealing with a cold), we have been running to catch up to normal all month.  We are still managing to get our essential work done, but it's taking all day, peppered a generous amount of exhaustion, with a sprinkling of bad attitudes (from me and the kids).  It just hasn't been great.

(Derek and the kids in the corn maze we visited a couple weeks ago!)

This got me thinking a bit about my homeschool scheduling.  There are a couple scheduling systems that I am aware of for homeschooling.


Year-round homeschooling - This is where you do school all year round, with pre-planned breaks sprinkled in.  The breaks can be anytime you want really, but one method I've heard of is the "sabbath" or term model (every seventh week you take off).  I think some people also do two months on, one month off, or they just take random breaks throughout the year for vacations or trips.

Traditional school schedule - This is where you follow the traditional schedule of school in the fall, winter, and spring, with the summer off.  There may be short breaks sprinkled in, but the more breaks you take during the year, the longer your school calendar goes into the summer, so days off are usually kept to a minimum.


We have always done a traditional school schedule in our homeschool, with one big break taken every summer.  I prefer it this way, because where we live the weather is the nicest in the summer, and I want us to be able to enjoy it.  I also enjoy having a long break in the summer to really get my plans settled for the next year.

The problem with following a traditional schedule is that over the summer, you can sometimes get out of "school mode", and you may need a little time to gear back up to a full load once the fall starts.  Then once you are into full-on school mode, it can become a little monotonous and feel like the breaks are so far away.  It's easy to start getting discouraged, or to get in a rut.

That's about where we are right now.  The novelty of a new school year has worn off, some of our good habits are slipping a little, and we're all just...tired of school.

Because our state requires a certain amount of days completed each year, and because I don't want to not take a break in the summer, our option to take a week off is limited.  But, I have found an alternative.

We are taking a term break without really taking a term break.

And what I mean by that is that every 8-10 weeks this year, I think I will plan to have a light week of school.  Instead of taking an entire week off school and losing those days, we are going to take a week off of just certain subjects.

During our semi-break week we are taking off math and reading instruction while I reevaluate our daily schedule a little bit.  We are continuing history and science (our "fun" subjects) - so we are still doing school each day, just not all our usual subjects.  I am hoping this slight break from our usual school routine will give me some space to figure out what I need to change to keep our school days fresh. It will also give us a rest from parts of our work so we can refresh our attitudes when we get back to our full days in November.

This plan will also be a benefit to our school schedule because it allows us to catch back up in some of the subjects where we fell behind (science and history are the subjects that get dropped when we have a rough day).  We had a little wiggle room in our yearly schedule with math and reading, so we should still be able to finish those subjects "on time" as well.  

A great thing about homeschooling is the flexibility to play with our schedule like this.  I love that when we are all getting in a school rut, I can schedule a small, desperately needed break (non-break?) to give us some breathing room.  I love that I don't have to stress about falling behind in certain subjects, because I can switch some things around and it will all even out in the end.  Homeschooling equals so much freedom for our family when we are going through a rough patch, freedom we wouldn't have if we were attached to an external school schedule.  It's truly a blessing.

If you homeschool, do you follow a traditional schedule?  Or do you change it up?


My Favorite "5 Senses" Learning Resources


The lady was dressed in a floor-length floral dress and a bonnet.  She stood by an ancient-looking hunk of iron in the corner of a dirt-floor cabin.  I stood with my siblings in tennis shoes and a sweatshirt, watching her move little metal doors and plates around, exposing the fire inside the iron stove.  

"Today we're going to make butter!" she announced.  "Have you done your arm workouts lately?"  She put some fresh cream and salt in a mason jar, and one by one we took turns shaking it until we heard a thumping inside the jar.  The bonnet-clad lady twisted the lid, and there it was - fresh butter.

She opened a couple more doors on the oven, and slid out a pan of hot gingerbread, and I still remember how good it smelled, and how satisfying it was with a little of our butter spread on top.  

And that was my first memory of learning about the pioneers.



I think what made me remember that field trip so well was, in fact, the yummy gingerbread.  There is nothing that can bring a historical period to life like experiencing a little piece of it through your five senses.  I think taste is an especially good sense to include!

I am trying to think of ways I can give my kids the same effect for our school subjects this year, ways that I can help a topic stick in their minds using taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing.  I have a whole post about including the five senses in learning on the Rooted Family blog this week, with really SIMPLE ideas, because I am all about simple homeschool activities.  If a learning activity isn't easy for me to do with my kids, it probably won't happen.  I hope the post can get your wheels turning and your creative juices flowing on how you can include all five senses in your homeschool day!  

I also wanted to link a few of my favorite resources and products that I referred to in that post over here!  So these are a few things that I'm trying to include this year.

(Some affiliate links below.)


Historical Figure Toys - Rainbow Resource sells these little toy sets that can correspond with different historical periods, and I have to admit I got pretty excited when I discovered this!  I bought my kids the Revolutionary War soldiers, British and Continental troops, and I am going to break them out as we read more about our nation's founding this year!

Rush Revere Series on Audio - As we wind down our school day in the afternoons, I've been trying to remember to put on an audiobook while the kids color or finish up their copywork.  Our favorite right now is the Rush Revere series!  We are currently listening to Rush Revere And The Presidency which is a great one for an election year.  We've also been working through the Little House series on audio.  There is something about novels that makes history stick in the mind so much better, and it's also a great opportunity to give my kids practice at listening well.

Background Music - I love Kristi Hill's resources on teaching music appreciation for kids.  If you aren't signed up for her emails, I'd recommend it - she sends out "Music Monday" emails with links and activity suggestions for different pieces of music.  She also has playlists on Spotify which make great background music for a homeschool day!

Picture Books With Recipes - I'm trying to make note of the picture books we come across that include recipes, so we can make them together!  "Thundercake" is on our list of recipes to try right now, at the back of the book by the same name.  (If you know of any other picture books that include recipes, please tell me! Still trying to gather a list.)

Picnic Blanket - Getting outside is the perfect way to create sensory memories of our homeschool days, and I am finding our waterproof picnic blanket (that my friend actually got me for my wedding!) really useful this year - we are trying to do more of our school reading outside, and spreading a blanket amidst the grass and flowers makes it that much more enjoyable.

Five Senses Learning Ebook - If you decide you really want to get serious about including all five senses in your learning, I wanted to also point you to my friend Elizabeth's ebook on the subject!  She has put together a "Five Senses Letter-A-Week Activity Guide" for the younger homeschool crowd. I haven't read the ebook, but I have read Elizabeth's blog for a while and she has a ton of interesting activity ideas.  If you have preschool kids and want to make their learning more sensory and fun, I think her book would be a great place to start!  I also asked Elizabeth if she had any encouragement to offer on this subject, and here's what she wanted to say:

What better way to learn than by captivating the five senses? By incorporating opportunities for your child to HEAR - SEE - TOUCH - SMELL - and TASTE as they learn, they're able to experience the world around them in a way that would not be possible with a textbook alone. 




Just from my own educational experiences as a kid, I can say that she's right - I think including all five senses wherever possible is the most effective way to draw your children into the learning process in a way that will make an lasting impression on them.   

If you have any favorite activities, products, or resources that incorporate learning through the five senses, I'd love it if you'd add them in the comments!  

What memories do you have of a time when something you were learning really came alive for you?


P.S. Don't forget to check out my post on Rooted Family - I'm serious when I say including the five senses can be really easy, and I hope that post can encourage you that providing memorable homeschool experiences doesn't have to be overwhelming.






A Case For Choosing A Personal Study Project




In January, my husband and I went on a rare date night.  Even though we rarely go out, most of the time we do the cliche thing and go see a movie.  We enjoy watching movies together and talking about them afterwards, and many movies we have seen sparked some great conversations.

Anyway, in January we saw 1917, and I came to a shocking realization.

I didn't really know what World War One was about.

I had a basic set of knowledge about it - I remembered when it was, which countries were involved, who won.  I remembered an assassination kicked things off, but I didn't remember who was assasinated, or why, or how exactly that led to a World War.

After watching a whole movie based off of one soldier's experience in World War One, I felt a sudden conviction that I should know these things.  And so my 2020 World War One personal project was born.

I've been casually picking "themes" for some of my historical reading the past several years, but this is the first year that I decided to formally pick an area of study and give it a strong effort.  It ended up being a really timely topic choice for this year.  Those men in WW1 truly suffered.  As much as 2020 has been hard for so many people, with stressful moments for me too - having that perspective of the intensity with which some of our forebears suffered has helped keep things in perspective.  People often say "things have never been this bad" - well, probably somewhere in history, they have.  

Anyway, I've been enjoying my WW1 project so much, that I am now going to take it upon myself to convince you that you need a personal study project for 2021!  Here are the reasons why.


You have educational gaps.

Oh, the dreaded educational gap.  We are embarrassed when we realize we have them.  We do everything in our power to help our kids avoid them.  We tremble at the mere thought of them...yes, I"m exaggerating.  But guess what, guys.  Everyone has gaps in their education.  I guarantee you do, and if you don't think you do, you probably just don't realize what you don't know.  It doesn’t matter how great your  education was. It doesn’t matter if you are the smartest person in the world - there will always be things that you don’t know.  I love Sarah McKenzie’s mindset that gaps are really just gifts.  For our kids, and ourselves, gaps mean that we will always have to learn something new, to pause and marvel over something that we never realized before. The gap itself isn’t the gift, but the exploration of a new subject is. Don’t leave the gift unopened! (Okay, sorry, that was a little cheesy...)

Choosing a personal study project is modeling lifelong learning for our kids.

How many times do we moms opine about wanting our kids to have a “love of learning”, to cultivate “lifelong learners”? I figure if we truly want that, it’s a good idea to model it! Just like it’s a good thing for our kids to see their parents reading if we want them to read, seeing us get interested and excited over something new we learned has a similar effect, I’m convinced.  

There are alot of ways we can do this - and your personal study project doesn't have to look like mine.  I've been focusing on history, but you also could pick a science subject, classic literature you never read, a skill you want to learn.  There are so many options!


A personal study project makes you a more interesting person. 

I think learning more about a variety of subjects, or deep-diving into one subject, will obviously make you a more interesting person to talk to. When the subject of what ACTUALLY caused WW1 comes up at a party, as it inevitably will, you’ll have something to say and can dazzle your listeners with your knowledge! 

I’m kidding, guys.

The truth is, the causes of WW1, or the name of that one kind of orchid that looks like a bee, or the biochemistry of gut flora, or how to make the perfect lemon meringue - those subjects are not going to come up at any party ever (well, probably not). But learning new skills or diving into new subjects does give you a wider perspective on the world, gives you more topics and experiences on which to draw in a conversation, adds to who you are as a person - and yes, it makes you more interesting.

Diving deep into a subject can help you to understand the world better. 

This is a Captain Obvious sort of statement, but I’m speaking from my experience diving into WW1 this year. I didn’t realize, before I started looking into it, just how much World War 1 affected everything that came after it. I’m convinced if you don’t understand WW1, you don’t have the full picture of anything else that happened in the 20th century. This could probably be said of everything.  as human beings, we aren’t even capable of understanding it all, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to learn what we can. Which leads me to my next point...

We will never know it all - and realizing that can draw us closer to the One who knows everything.

Maybe this is a continuation of point number one, but isn’t it kind of amazing to think that you can never know everything there is to know? The only Person who knows everything is God, and we are not Him. We weren’t made to know everything, but we were made to bring glory to Him. I think one way we, as believers, can do that is to study His power in His creation, the story He is creating through history, or a creative skill that we know in our heart pales in comparison to the creative power of our awesome God - all while recognizing and thanking Him for all the ways He is greater than us. Learning more about this world, and realizing all the more how little we really truly know - if we are doing it all to the glory of God, we can’t help but be a little more amazed at Him. That’s what truly makes learning a worthwhile pursuit.



Did I convince you?

Over the last year, I've become invested in the idea of periodically choosing a personal area of study as an adult, and diving in deep.  It doesn't have to be a forever project - figure out something you want to learn more about, and dig in until you feel you've accomplished what you set out to learn.  Then see if a new subject piques your interest!  I've been really enjoying my World War One project, and I'm already thinking ahead to what subjects could be possibilities for 2021!

Have you ever started a personal study project as an adult?

How To Teach Young Kids About Elections : Resources

 

This is the first election year that my kids are old enough to really understand what's going on.  

Four years ago my oldest understood the concept of voting, and was rooting for our candidate.  What he was thankfully spared from was all the nastiness that happened both before and after the election.  I wish our children were growing up in a more civil time. So often the political vitriol becomes the focus and we forget there is beauty in this election process too.


Beauty, you may ask?  In an election year?  Yes, I think so.  The more I review the electoral process in preparation for teaching it to my kids, the more I'm reminded of how brilliant our system of government is.  Those Founding Fathers, despite all the flack they get when people look back on some of their flaws and sins now, really knew what they were doing when it comes to government.

Despite the usual angst that election years bring, I'm actually really enjoying the part where I get to teach my kids how it all works!  We've started digging into a few resources, and I want to share the ones that I've found so far for teaching civics to young children.  Alot of civics curricula for homeschoolers are aimed at middle and high school, but you can still find some good resources for the younger set too.

Our Spine

Before I start, I have to say that a "spine" resource that I've been using is actually a civics curriculum for K-12 grade that is put out by my state's homeschool organization.  I was skeptical when I saw that it was supposed to cover such a big age range, but it really is written in an understandable way for young kids, and is also adaptable for different ages.  One chapter is specifically geared toward our state, but most of the information is about the federal government and good citizenship, including a very thorough chapter on the electoral process. And the best part to me is that it is written from a Christian perspective, which can sometimes be hard to find in civics resources for younger kids.  I haven't read through the whole thing, but the electoral process chapter is great so far!  If you are interested, I do think it is worth the money.  Just skip the state history chapter if you aren't in my corner of the country!

One More Thing...

I will say that doing a review of the electoral process yourself is so helpful and important before attempting to teach it to your kids.  If you are a little fuzzy on some aspects of our elections (who isn't, really?), I'd say do a little research yourself first.  I am reading through the chapter in our civics book before I go over it with my kids, and I also picked up The Everything American Government Book for myself. Not only is it a nice refresher for me on certain election aspects, but I think it will be a great resource to have on hand as my kids grow. The pages I've read so far seem mostly bipartisan.  Though let's be honest, it's hard to have a purely bipartisan book about government - every person will always find something to disagree with.  But I think it's doing pretty well so far.

On to the kids' resources!


Picture Books

Today On Election Day - This book is written from the perspective of an elementary school boy that is excited to see people coming to vote at his school on Election Day.  I explained some of the terms further to my kids as we read.  This is a good resource for younger elementary kids in my opinion.  It doesn't tell about the whole electoral process, but it explains the experience of Election Day itself.  I'd say it's bipartisan.

America Votes: How Our President Is Elected - This book looks like it will be a quick read, but it is actually very dense.  There is alot of information packed into these pages.  It includes some topics, such as the history of voting, detailed explanations about different aspects of campaigning, etc., that might be more interesting to older kids, but I think you could easily pick and choose which pages to read to keep it simpler for younger kids.  So far it seems to be bipartisan.

Woodrow For President: A Tail Of Voting, Campaigns, And Elections - This is the story of a kind-hearted mouse that runs for office in mouse-world.  In the process, this book teaches about how elections, campaigns, political parties, conventions, and debates work.  It covers a surprising amount of information for a storybook format!

Duck For President - This book is purely for fun.  Hardly anything is covered about the political process, but Duck's antics in running for leader of the farm, then mayor, then governor, then President, are amusing.  I also used this as a springboard to talk about how complicated it is to be the leader of an entire nation.



Videos

History For Kids: How We Elect The President - My kids loved the format of this DVD - it tells about the electoral process, including a summary of the electoral college, with game-show type questions as it goes. My kids loved shouting out their answers to the questions!  Mostly bipartisan, but all the real-life video clips that were inserted were of Democrats, so make of that what you will.

History For Kids: Running For President - Some of the same information as the video I listed above, but goes a little more in detail about the electoral college and campaigns.

Note: Couldn't find the two videos above online (weird), but I'd recommend checking your library!  My library has the whole series.

Prager U "Do You Understand The Electoral College" - This video explains what the electoral college is, and the advantages in using this method of electing our President.  If you think we should eliminate the electoral college, you should watch this video to fully understand why the electoral college is a good thing.  Like I said, the Founders knew what they were doing!  We watched it all together, even though alot of it was over my kids' heads, and then afterward I explained the main points in more accessible language to them.  Dare I say, I think my little 4th-grade-and-under crowd got it?

Learn Our History: Election Day, Choosing Our President - This is put out by Mike Huccabee, so it's coming from a conservative perspective - which is a good thing for our family but you may want to know that ahead of time.  The bully of the school is running for class president so he can take away the grading system that he claims is "not fair".  The kids travel through history to learn about how elections were established, how debates work, and by the end one of them decides to run against the bully, and the common-sense candidate wins.  I was a little worried this would be over my kids' heads, but they seemed to enjoy it - they watched it twice!  Older-style animation, but we don't mind that in our house.


Activities

(Affiliate link below.)

Election Activities For Voters Of All Ages - This is a case of impeccable timing - my blog buddy Elizabeth just released an Election Activities pack, and I jumped at the chance to check it out!  There are three different levels of activities, spanning from preschool/kindergarten age, to grade school, to middle school.  There are copyworb pages, word searches, mazes, and other worksheets, along with printable to hold a "favorite dessert" election, and pages to track the results of the electoral college on election night.  I am so glad to have found this.  Everything I could think of to bring an election year alive for my kids is in this pack, and I love how so many of the activities are applicable for elementary school.  This activity pack goes beyond the "holding a faux election" idea, and gives a lot of other activities to work with.  It's also totally bipartisan. Highly recommend it!  I am definitely going to take advantage of the election night trackers and have my biggest kiddos watch on election night with my husband and me.  



I'll add more resources to this post as I find more, but these are the things I am using so far this year to teach my kids about the electoral process!  I think we all have been enjoying it and making fun memories surrounding the election this year - and that's a big blessing to me.  I love that even when elections can get so contentious, we can still have some fun appreciating the process.








Narrowing It Down - Tips For Picking Curriculum



So let’s say you’ve decided to homeschool in the upcoming school year, and you have started looking into curriculum.  How do you not get overwhelmed with the endless curriculum options out there?  Because seriously guys, there is so much.  I’ve heard from so many new homeschool moms that all the different curricula is overwhelming.  How do you start to narrow it down, how do you figure out what will work for you family?  I have a few thoughts and tips on where to start.



Figure Out Your Homeschooling Style (As Much As Possible Anyway)

Before you start to wade through curriculum, I think it’s helpful to think ahead to what you are hoping to get out of homeschooling, for yourself and your kids.  What exactly do you want your homeschool to look like?  What are your main goals for your kids?  How do you want to evaluate their learning? Do you want it to look like textbooks and quizzes? Do you want opportunities for learning through doing?  Do you want them to develop any particular skill really well?  

One thing that really helped me was doing a little research into different homeschooling educational philosophies - learning more about the possibilities really helped me figure out the specific things I wanted for my kids out of different subjects, and out of our homeschooling journey as a whole.  I wrote a summary of some popular homeschooling styles here, and I also highly recommend watching this video to give you an idea of the different homeschooling styles.  

Don’t get too bogged down in research, but once you know the types, I think you should think carefully about which style (or which aspects of different styles) appeal to you.  If you really like the idea of learning through interesting books (as opposed to textbooks) that will affect the curricula you pick. If you want your kids to have more input into what they learn (as in unschooling), that will guide your whole year.  If you love the idea of the trivium in classical homeschooling, you’ll want to look for a curriculum that incorporates some of that.

And if you look at all the different styles and you still have no idea where to go with it - don’t worry.  I’ve got more tips.

Attend A Curriculum Sale 

If there are any homeschool conferences or curriculum sales in your area, I highly recommend you attend (though I do realize that this may be hard to accomplish in 2020).  If you can’t find a curriculum sale, see if there are any physical bookstores in your area that carry homeschool curriculum (Mardel’s is one), or you can ask friends who are already homeschooling if you can come over to look through their curriculum.  It is so much easier to get an idea of what you like and don’t like in a curriculum if you have a chance to look through it.  

Even if it’s a curriculum you aren’t initially considering, take a look at it anyway.  Read through the parent notes at the beginning of the book and start thinking through what you agree or don’t agree with.  Look at a curriculum that has a lot of moving pieces, and see if you like that or not.  I think just looking through different curricula of different styles will help you start to decide which direction you want to go.

Choose A Curriculum That Appeals To YOU

I think it’s tempting to try to choose a curriculum that’s going to be perfect for your specific kid and their learning style.  But…as Pam Barnhill says in Plan Your Year, “the best homeschool curriculum is the one that will get done.”  And especially if your kids are young, the person who is driving the curriculum is you, as the mom.  You want to work with a curriculum that you are excited about, that you want to open up and start with your kids.  If you open up a book and feel excited to teach the subject to your kids, then your kids are most likely going to become more excited to learn it.

Consider Your Child’s Dislikes

As you are looking at curriculum, I think considering what your child hates to do may be more important than considering what they like.  One of my goals for homeschooling is that my children learn to love learning, so I don't want to make it harder on them than necessary, especially in the younger years.

If you kid really hates writing, you’re going to want to avoid a curriculum that’s mostly writing-based.  If they are still getting a handle on their reading, don’t choose a curriculum that expects the child to read huge chunks of text (unless you know you have time to read it to them).  If you know your child loves learning in a certain way, by all means incorporate those things!  But pay attention to the things that are difficult for them, or that they dislike, and find a curriculum that you can adapt to work around those things until their skills develop more.



Other Things To Consider:

Worldview

One of the most important things to me in picking curriculum is making sure that I choose a curriculum with a biblical worldview.  A major reason why I homeschool is so I can impart a knowledge and love for the Lord to my kids as an integral part of their education, so I try as much as possible to pick curriculum that fits with that (especially with subjects like science and history).  Before you pick curriculum, make sure you are okay with the worldview it has as its foundation, and also make sure you agree with how it presents differing worldviews.  Since this is such an important aspect to me, I've eliminated a lot of curricula on this point alone!


All-In-One Or Piecing It Together

Is it really important to you to choose an all-in-one curriculum, or are you okay with piecing together different curricula for different subjects?  A lot of moms like the ease of an all-in-one curriculum, and the fact that a lot of the subjects can be integrated and connected in an all-in-one, because someone else already thought it out for you.  Other moms (like me) have specific ideas about how they want to teach different subjects, and it’s easier to choose curriculum for subjects individually in order to get exactly what they want.  

Learning Styles

What about learning styles, you may ask?  How do you figure out if your kid is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, and how do you find a curriculum that fits with that?

This is just my opinion about learning styles in my experience so far, so take it with a grain of salt…but I don’t think kids’ learning styles are quite as important as people sometimes think.  Learning styles are still being researched, but it's my understanding that there is no hard evidence to support the learning styles theory, or the idea that we must teach to specific learning styles.

In my very unprofessional opinion, I suspect that most people probably work within a combination of learning styles - some people may lean more toward one style than another, but most people are served well through a combination of hearing, sight, doing, etc.  

And if your child really does appear to lean heavily toward one learning style, you can probably adapt most curricula to fit within that.  For example, if your child retains more by hearing, consider the audio version of a textbook if it’s available, or just plan to read it aloud to them (or have them read aloud to themselves).  But where a curriculum doesn’t quite fit, your child can also get practice in other learning skills too.  Maybe your child is a big visual learner, but practicing listening skills through audiobooks would also be a good thing for them, for example.  You don’t necessarily have to pick a curriculum that focuses on one learning style just because your child might lean that way.  

However, I do think it’s important to consider your child’s skill areas and areas of struggle when choosing a curricula - this is less about an innate "learning style", and more about being aware of where they are excelling or still growing. To me, it’s more important to consider my child’s current skill level in order to not overwhelm them in that area too quickly, as I explained under “Consider Your Child’s Dislikes”.  If my child is a weak writer, I want to gradually stretch them in that area, but I don’t want to make them drink from a fire hose by choosing a really writing-heavy curriculum either.  That would just be a recipe for a miserable year for everyone.

Subjects To Do Together

If you have multiple kids it is very easy to combine different age groups for certain subjects.  You don’t have to do this - you can choose grade-specific curriculum for each child in your house if you would like.  But if you have a bunch of kids (like I do) doing some subjects all together will make for an easier and shorter homeschool day, so that may be something to consider when you are looking at curriculum.  

For example, we do history, science, and Bible all together as much as possible in our house.  I read the book to all my kids, and then I might give my older kids a couple extra tasks to reinforce the lesson.  We are able to do subjects that way because I chose a history and science curriculum in which we could all participate together.  If I had chosen a curriculum that was more grade-specific, or an all-in-one that had different books for different grades, this might be harder to do.



So to sum up, here are some questions to ask yourself, and these will help inform what kind of curricula you should be looking at:

-What is my preferred homeschooling philosophy and teaching style?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum I’m looking at fit with that?
-Does the curriculum I'm looking at support or undermine the worldview I am trying to pass on to my children?
-Do I want an all-in-one curriculum, or do I want to hand-pick each subject?
-Do I want to combine multiple age levels for certain subjects?  Is the curriculum I’m looking at conducive to that?
-Have I looked inside the curriculum and read the teacher’s notes?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum make sense to me?
-Am I excited about this curriculum?  Would I have liked it as a kid?
-Is this curriculum a good fit for my child’s current skills and abilities?  Will it stretch them without overwhelming them?  Does it include too much of any elements my child struggles with? 

I hope this post has been a little helpful if you are still struggling with choosing amongst the sea of curricula!  And if you have any questions or additional tips, please add them in the comments!

My Homeschool Bible Recommendations



I didn't want to finish my curriculum series without including Bible, but to be honest, it's hard to sum up our Bible "curriculum" in one post.  We don't use just one resource to teach our kids the Bible, and we don't do it at one time of the day and then check it off our list.  My goal in teaching my children the Bible is that we will talk about biblical truths often, throughout our day, in formal and informal settings, and that it will be embedded into every part of our homeschool curriculum.  Do I always succeed at this?  No, there are alot of days where I drop the ball and our Bible study doesn't look like that, but it's what I want to strive for.

At the same time, I think it can be really useful for kids to have some sort of resource to guide them in Bible study and help them think about what they are reading, especially as they get older.  My oldest son is getting to that age where he has been working on reading through the Bible on his own, and he could handle a more structured study, so I've been mulling that over and thinking through different resources.  Here are some of the resources that we've used, or that we plan to use.  Some of them are actual "curricula", and some are other types of resources I've used.  This isn't even a comprehensive list, but these are the things that have stood out so far.

The Bible (Like, The Real Bible)

I think sometimes we forget that the most important way we can teach our kids is just to read it with them!  Alot.  Derek is really good at reading them a chapter each night, and I'd like to do better at bookending that with reading a chapter to the kids at breakfast as well.

I firmly believe in reading the actual Bible even to little kids, but I do think for the younger ones it's nice to add in a Bible storybook too, so the next couple are my favorite Bible storybooks.

Egermeier's Bible Story Book

I've collected quite alot of storybooks in my day, and this is one of my favorites.  I like how this storybook is so thorough - no part of a Bible story is skipped, not even the hard parts, but it presents it in a kid-friendly way, with beautiful illustrations to accompany each story.

I Am: 40 Reasons To Trust God 

This is another Bible storybook that I really like - each story is connected to a different name and attribute of God, and a short devotion and prayer is included at the end of each chapter to get the kids thinking further.  I think the illustrations in this are just gorgeous, and it's a great bedtime storybook.  Our copy is actually falling apart, so I'm going to have to purchase another one.

Answers Bible Curriculum

This was our main Bible curriculum last year!  We picked this up at the homeschool conference, and we got about halfway through, so we'll continue it this year.  The book comes with pdf files for slides to show on your computer while you teach, memory verse posters, and coloring pages.

The curriculum was written by the folks over at Answers In Genesis, and uses their method of breaking biblical history up into "the seven C's" - Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, and Consumation (and my kids can recite those now, so that's a plus!).  While a lot of time is spent in the Old Testament, the curriculum is an overview of the whole Bible, and I think it lays a great foundation for understanding why Christ had to come and die on the cross to save us!  That is the most important thing for my kids to know, and I love the focus on the gospel through this curriculum so far.

Since we are stretching the curriculum out over two years, I've looked ahead to see what is coming, and the second half of the curriculum seems to focus on answering different questions about God and the Bible.  It has more of an apologetics focus, and I think it'll fit nicely with another resource we are using.

The Answers Book For Kids

There are eight volumes of these little books, and they are completely full of questions kids may be wondering about the Bible, along with the answers of course!  We use these in our morning time right now - I'll read a question and the answer, and then we'll look up the Bible verses that are listed and read them together.  I think this is a really convenient little resource to start some good conversations, and it's really easy to add into a morning routine or read over lunch.

Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers

These books are really similar to the Answers Books For Kids, but each page has cute illustrations and a different truth about God to talk about with your kids  Once again, I usually read the thought on the page, and then we look up the Bible verses and talk about it more if needed.  I really like this for all the kids - the thoughts are deep enough to bring up some good topics with the older kids, and simple enough for young kids to learn and remember.

God Is Really, Really Real

This resource goes a little more in-depth on some of the main concepts that we learn in Scripture about God, man, sin and death, Jesus, and salvation, etc.  I think it could easily be used as the core for a more formal curriculum as well.

As it says on the front, there are 30 Bible doctrines covered in this book.  The first part of the book has colorful illustrations and a poem-story that relates to the lessons, and the second half guides parents through teaching different biblical doctrines to their kids, along with "tuck-in questions" to remind your kids what they learned during the day.  There are also more in-depth explanations and Bible references for parents in the back of the book.

I think the book is geared toward younger children, but with the more in-depth information in the back, it would be easy to use this to teach older kids who already have something of a grounding in these doctrines too!  I honestly forgot I had this resource until late in our school year, and we used it in morning time, but going forward I am thinking I might add this one to our bedtime routine instead.

Bible Survey For Kids

This is one of the new resources I purchased for the upcoming school year, put out by Mike Fabarez's ministry.  This curriculum is super simple and straightforward, a way to give your kids an overall view of each of the books of the Bible.  Each lesson covers one book, and the main things that are included in that book, and then Bible book cards are tacked onto the wall in chronological order, or in genre groups.  I really like this idea for giving the kids a "big picture" of the Bible as we continue reading it and studying it with our other resources.  I'm thinking we'll do one of these lessons a week for the upcoming school year.

Explorer's Bible Study

This is the other new resource I bought for Wyatt, because I think he is big enough to find this sort of book helpful.  The Explorer's Bible Study books go through different eras of Bible history through a simple fill-in-the-blank format.  Just flipping through this book, it is really similar to the Community Bible Study workbooks we did a couple years ago.  Since we aren't ready to re-start CBS this year, I think having a similar book will be helpful.  Each lesson is broken up into five segments, one for each day of the week.  The text of the Bible passage is included in the book, and then the student can answer questions.

Depending on the day, I might sit down and do each lesson with Wyatt, (and possibly write his answers for him), or I might have him work on it independently once he gets the hang of it.  However, if he works on it independently, it's important to me to still sit down with him and talk about what he wrote.  I think this will be a great guide through different biblical books, and a great chance to get Wyatt used to more in-depth Bible lessons.

Devotional Books

One more quick little note - I am a fan of devotional books for kids.  When I was about Wyatt's age, I found a devotional book I liked at the Christian book store.  I ended up buying it, and it helped me get into the habit of reading a chapter of the Bible and a devotional every day.

I really would love if my kids developed that habit as well, and so I bribe them with devotional books!

Actually, I picked up a couple kids devotion books here and there a few years ago, and just put them on the bookshelf and forgot about them. My kids discovered them this summer, and my big kids have been reading through them on their own, along with their Bibles. These are some of the ones I've found:

My Big Book Of Five-Minute Devotions - This book includes animal facts along with lessons about God, the Bible, good character qualities, etc.  Each devotion has a Bible verse and prayer to go with it.
God's Amazing Creatures And Me - This is another book that includes animal facts tied in with a lesson about the God who created these animals.  Can you tell that I have a kid who loves animals?

One warning about devotional books - often they can be rather superficial, especially when written for kids, so I think it's important to not use them as your child's only Bible-related  resource.  Devotion books aren't a substitute for true Bible study and biblical instruction, and they often do an inadequate job of presenting the gospel, so I try to be aware of that and do some extra explanations where necessary.  But I do think they can be a fun addition to Bible reading.  What I like about devotion books for kids is how they can emphasize the ways that biblical knowledge relates to anything they could encounter in their day or life.  So that's the value I think they can add here, when read in addition to the Bible itself and regular Bible instruction in other areas (and not just reading a devotion alone, because they aren't enough by themselves).



In case you didn't notice, I am all over the board with Bible instruction.  I told you that I wouldn't say we do one Bible "curriculum" - the curriculum is all these things put together and done regularly (or for some of them, sporadically) over the course of many years - my kids' whole childhood really.  I hope we are always in the middle of this or that Bible resource, and in the middle of some book of the Bible itself, throughout my kids' childhoods, until they no longer live in this house.  I want them to be saturated in it, so they can soak it up constantly, and take it all with them when they go.

For a Christian homeschool family, I don't think Bible should be just another homeschool subject.  Bible instruction will never be done.  If I want my kids to learn anything in this homeschooling journey, I hope it's that - to never stop seeking after the Lord through His Word, to love Christ, and never be done learning about the One who created them and died to save them.  If I succeed in that, I will have succeeded in everything.

And maybe that's also why I have way too many Bible-related resources to choose from, ha!

What do you use for Bible instruction in your home? (Aside from THE BIBLE, of course!)



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