Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gospel Study: The Firm Foundation

Eventually, I'd like to cover all of the subjects we study in our homeschool and show how we do it and make curriculum suggestions, etc.  I am starting with the gospel lessons because that subject reflects what is most important to me and my goals for my children.  I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) so these ideas and book suggestions are going to reflect my beliefs.  Feel free to take them or leave them as suits your needs.

What gospel curricula have I tried?

Over the years I have tried various methods of teaching gospel lessons in our homeschool.  At the beginning, I used the Gospel Art Kit from the LDS church.  It doesn't seem to be available anymore but I think the Gospel Art Book is the same thing only in bound form.  Anyway, we would look at the picture on the front and read the story on the back and then discuss for a few minutes.  For some reason, that never went over very well with my oldest two girls and we've just never gone back to it.  We seem to be a worksheet-style family anyway.  I may try it again sometime or maybe not.

When the kids were little, I subscribed to the Living Scriptures videos and one year I decided to try those for our gospel study.  We would watch the video and then read the story directly from the scriptures and color a page from the coloring book that came with the video.  That was great for the littlest kids but I needed something a little more.

So then I discovered Discover the Scriptures.  This is a program written by a homeschool mom for homeschoolers.  There are two levels of the Book of Mormon lessons so I started with the lower level.  I really wasn't that impressed.  We do our scripture memorization together as a family so we didn't need those pages and my kids tend to be reluctant writers so the copywork was no good for us.  There are a lot of pages where the assignment is to draw a picture of something from the story.  Once again, it didn't work.  My kids love to draw but not when they are told what to draw.  And, the kids found the program boring.  The one thing I liked about the program, however, is that it uses the Book of Mormon Stories book also available online on

What am I using now?

So that led me to what I'm using now for early elementary gospel study.  I'm still using the Book of Mormon Stories book mentioned above but I've made my own activity sheets to go with it.  I realized that the main thing I wanted my five-to-nine-year-olds to get out of gospel study is the stories.  I mostly want them to know the stories.  The deeper meanings and doctrine involved can and will come later.  But the stories are the foundation of an understanding of the gospel.  That simplified things a lot.  My goal became to simply keep the stories in their heads for a few days to give each one a chance to sink in.  Now, don't think we spend 4-5 years doing just the Book of Mormon.  Just because it's the only book of scripture I mentioned above, doesn't mean that it's the only one there is.  Just like in the rest of the Church Educational System, there are four divisions among all of the scriptures.  Besides Book of Mormon Stories, there's also Old Testament Stories (online here), New Testament Stories (online here) and Doctrine and Covenants Stories (online here).

I still do the Living Scriptures videos and coloring pages for Kindergarten but I'm now using the Scripture Stories books and my own activity pages for first through fourth grades.

Well, that's good for early elementary, but what about upper elementary grades?

This image might be a little misleading as the
book is only available as a digital download.
Oddly enough, we are using Discover the Scriptures for fifth through eighth grades.  My complaints about the easier versions just don't apply to this age.  There's still the memory work and the copywork and we do those or not according to our needs.  No more drawing pages so that's not an issue either.  Sometimes there will be a project assigned that the student doesn't want to do and I will let them skip it. For these years, they use the actual scriptures as the main text instead of the Stories readers.

How about high school?

High school should be the easiest level for gospel lessons (at least for Mom) as they can now go to Seminary.  (I say "should be easiest" because I have a daughter that refuses to go.)  We have release-time seminary here so I can either send them over to the seminary building by the high school for a period or we are lucky enough to have a homeschool seminary class in our stake.  So our kids have a choice.  If you live in an area with early-morning (or some-other-time-of-day) seminary, there you go - you can enroll them in that.  There are options for doing home-study seminary but I don't know what the requirements are if you want them to "officially" graduate from seminary.

What does all of this look like put together?

Kindergarten - Living Scriptures videos and coloring pages
1st Grade - Old Testament Stories and Mom's Activity Pages
2nd Grade - New Testament Stories and Mom's Activity Pages
3rd Grade - Book of Mormon Stories and Mom's Activity Pages
4th Grade - Doctrine and Covenants Stories and Mom's Activity Pages
5th Grade - Discover the Old Testament
6th Grade - Discover the Life of Christ and Discover the Acts of the Apostles*
7th Grade - Discover the Book of Mormon for Grades 4-7
8th Grade - Discover the Latter-Day Prophets**
9th through 12th Grades - Seminary

*We do these faster so we can get through the entire New Testament in one year.
**This constitutes our Doctrine and Covenants/Church History year.

So now if I put all of this together, this is what our gospel curriculum will look like this coming year:

Kjeri - 11th Grade - Seminary either at the high school or the homeschool group
Emmy - 9th Grade - Seminary either at the high school or the homeschool group
Eli - 6th Grade - Discover the Life of Christ and Discover the Acts of the Apostles
Miri - 4th Grade - Doctrine and Covenants Stories and Mom's Activity Pages
Josie - 1st Grade - Old Testament Stories and Mom's Activity Pages

Is that all?

That's not even close to all there is to learning the gospel.  Don't forget:

  • Family and personal prayers
  • Family and personal scripture reading
  • Scripture memory work (Pres. Hinkley challenged us to memorize one per week)
  • Hymn/Primary song practice
  • Family Home Evening
  • Ward and Stake Youth Activities
  • Sunday Meetings
  • Primary Activities
  • Scout Activities
  • Impromptu discussions of gospel teachings
  • Parent/Child Interviews
  • Discussions of history and science topics in which gospel doctrine is incorporated

I'm sure I've missed some things but you get the idea.  Now, don't get me wrong, we aren't nearly perfect at doing all of these things but we can all pick and choose the things that are important to our families.

How do I schedule gospel lessons?

Well, I'm a believer in lots of short lessons rather than fewer longer ones so we do all of our subjects every day - including gospel.  The resources listed above are easy to schedule; I just figure out the number of days we are going to have school and the number of pages there are in the book and divide accordingly.  In almost all cases, it works out to one page per day.  The main exception to that is the sixth grade in which they do two of the Discover... books.  I want New Testament to only last a year at a time and they've divided it into "Life of Christ" and "Acts of the Apostles," so that year will be two pages per day.

How do I grade gospel lessons?

They either did the lesson or they didn't so these lessons get a 100% or a 0%.  Easy peasy.

Keep in mind that this is just one family's way of doing gospel lessons and may not work for you.  The key is to figure out your teaching style(s) as well as your children's learning styles and go from there.  Hopefully this information will help get you going in the right direction.  If I missed anything, let me know in the comments and I will get back to you.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Beef Enchiladas with Green Sauce

I really should stop calling these "Recipe of the Week" as I don't post them nearly that often but I guess it's too late to change it now.

Anyway,  we love these enchiladas!  I use what my local grocer calls "taco beef."  It's coarser than ground beef but finer than stew meat.  I really like it for my Mexican dishes.  If you can't find "taco beef," ground beef will do just as well.

Beef Enchiladas with Green Sauce

2 lbs taco beef or ground beef
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
9 large flour tortillas
1 can black olives, sliced
28 ounces mild green enchilada sauce
1 lb shredded cheddar cheese
optional: salsa and sour cream for serving
Brown your meat in a large skillet.  Drain if needed and add seasonings and about 1/2 cup of the sauce.  Roll up a couple of heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture in each tortilla and place in 9x13 inch baking dish.  When they are all in there, scatter the olives on top, pour the rest of the sauce over and cover everything with cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes and serve with salsa and sour cream (or without).


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homeschool Grade Sheet

I know a lot of homeschoolers don't believe in grades.  Honestly, I don't really either.  My state doesn't require them and in the elementary years they don't really mean anything.  I make the kids redo their work until they get it right anyway so they all get straight A's, right?  Actually, I have a couple of reasons for doing grades, even though I don't really believe in them.

1. Motivation:  Some of my kids are motivated by those big letter "A"s at the top of their work.  And once in a while I will offer a reward for good grades, which in our house mostly mean they worked hard to learn the stuff we are studying.

2. High school transcripts:  In high school we need to keep track of grades for their transcripts.  Colleges will want to see them.

3. Practice:  When they get to college, they will be graded on their work.  They might as well get used to it now.  It's also given me a chance to practice keeping records for their high school transcripts.

Ultimately, it's up to you (and possibly your state) whether you record grades for your homeschool or not.  If you do and you want a form for record keeping, this is what I use.  Hopefully it will help you:

You can download the editable Excel version here.  It's in the same file as the planner pages so if you downloaded those, you already have these.

You can download the write-in pdf version here.

The font used in the downloads is Space Woozies and can be found here.

The font used in the image above is called Sunshine Poppy and can be found here.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Sweet and Sour Meatballs

My family loves this recipe.  I usually make it with pineapple tidbits instead of the crushed so I can pick it out...  I know, I know.  But if I made only what I like and won't pick stuff out of, my family would suffer greatly!

Sweet and Sour Meatballs
1 can of crushed pineapple
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
24 meatballs
 Mix all ingredients except meatballs in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until well blended.  Add meatballs. Simmer for 10 min. Serve over cooked rice.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homeschool Calendars

I keep two kinds of homeschool calendars.  The first is my yearly at-a-glance calendar.  Here is what it looks like along with a few notes on how I use it:

I also keep a monthly calendar to which I can add field trips, birthdays, vacations, and other important dates.

When planning my year, I usually start with Christmas or Thanksgiving and work my way out.  We do 4-6 weeks on and 1 week off except at Christmas and in summer.  I usually start the first Monday in September.

Actually, this year we really won't have a stopping and starting point.  I plan on just continuing what we are doing, and when we finish a book, we move on to the next one.  We've had way more breaks this year than planned because of the new baby and some personal issues so I plan on schooling right through the summer (knowing that we will probably have lots of breaks in there for fun stuff - camping, day trips, etc).  So our school year will "begin" in September but really it will mostly mean new school supplies and decorations in the schoolroom (also known as the living room - that's the price you pay for homeschooling 5 kids in a very small house).

You can download both of these calendars here.
The font used in the Excel version is called Space Woozies and can be found here.
The font used in the images above is called Sunshine Poppy and can be found here.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kids' Homeschool Planners

My kids haven't always had planners for their work.  Some years they've just done the same thing every day (moving on to the next page or chapter or whatever) and some years they've come to me and asked what they needed to do.  In the early years, I sat down and did everything with them.  We really don't do any independent work for the first couple of years so they didn't need planners then.  The last few years, however, the kids' planners have been invaluable.  I know it looks like a lot of stuff to fill out every day but really, it only takes a minute or two for each one.  In fact, the older kids will fill out their own pages most days.

Here is a tour of my older son's planner pages:

You can find the editable Excel version of my kids' planner here.

The write-in PDF version is here.

The font used in the Excel version is called Space Woozies and can be downloaded here.
The font used in the example above is called Gilligans Island and can be downloaded here.

To read more about my Teacher's planner, click here.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Loaded Baked Potato Soup

This is another one of those recipes I found online and tweaked to suit my own needs.  Rich and creamy, this soup is a wonderful winter comfort food.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
4 cups frozen hashbrowns
2/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 green onions, chopped
12 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup sour cream
 ~ Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk. Add hashbrowns.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and bubbly and hashbrowns are cooked, 5 or 6 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, green onions, bacon, and cheese. Cook until cheese is melted and soup is heated through. Stir in sour cream. Serve.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

How I Plan My Homeschool Year

This may seem like a funny time of year to be blogging about planning the homeschool year but I really do start thinking about next year in the middle of the current one.  We are far enough along in our “classes” that I usually have a pretty good idea of whether this or that method or book is working for us and I can start thinking about whether or not we will continue it next year.  This is also a good time to start planning the financial side of the homeschooling experience, in case you need to buy one or two books at a time to help spread out the expense – plus, the suppliers aren’t as busy this time of year and you can get your books faster.  If you wait until July or August they tend to be swamped and you may not get your books in time for the first day of school, let alone in time to plan out the class.

So, down to business.
The first thing I like to do is design my planner pages for the year.  There are several things I need to know before I can do this, however:  1) who I am teaching, 2) what subjects I am teaching, 3) what order I am teaching them in, 4) what books I am using, and 5) what information I need to write down for each assignment.

1) Who am I teaching? 
This seems like kind of a no-brainer, huh?  I’m teaching my kids!  Actually, it’s not so simple – for our family anyway.  Every couple or three years we add a kindergartener to the list so I have to decide whether I will be starting formal lessons with them and in a year or two I will have older kids starting college, so I obviously won’t be teaching them anymore.  Anyway, it’s still a simple question but an important one.  I need to know for whom I am keeping records.

2) What subjects am I teaching?
This question is a little more complicated.  There is always a million more things I’d like to teach than I have time/resources for so I have a system for weeding them out.  Start by brainstorming a list of things you’d like your children to learn this year.  Include things you’d like to teach, things they’d like to learn and things that you think they need to learn.  Make it as long as you want.  You obviously won’t be using all of them.  Include outside classes they are taking, are going to take, or might take this year.  Now, step away from that list for a while and make a list of educational goals for your children for the year.  Once again, include needs and wants.  Try to make them realistic and achievable.  Compare your two lists.  Are there subjects on your first list that will help achieve some of the goals on the second list?  Are some of your subjects seeming a little less important now that you know what your goals are?  See if you can narrow your list of “classes” down a bit.  I keep mine at 10 classes but I break down some of the subjects into sub-subjects (language arts usually covers several).  Keep in mind here that most of my “classes” are only 10-20 minutes long, depending on the subject and the age of the student. 

3) What order am I teaching them in?
Okay, this may not be important to you but I like my planner pages to have the subjects listed in the order I am teaching them.  This is purely a convenience thing for me.  I start with the subjects we all do together.  We try to have short together time first thing that includes singing a hymn, a prayer, reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, memorizing a scripture or house rule, and a fun song practice.  When we’re short on time (which is often), this gets skipped.  Thinking about it now, I realize that I need to make this time more of a priority.  Anyway, then we do history, as we are all working out of the same book but a different level of narration is expected of each of them.  (More on that later.)  Then we do grammar.  My oldest three are working on this together.  After that, I fill out my oldest’s planner so she can go off and do her own thing.  Then I do my second oldest’s planner so she can do her stuff as well.  Next I do science with the next three kids (the youngest two aren’t “in” school yet).  After that’s done, I can fill out their planners and send them on their way to do the rest of their school work independently.  I try to stay available for help on individual lessons.

4) What books am I using?
At this point in my homeschooling career I usually know, for the most part, what books I will be using.  My oldest is still the biggest question mark because she’s learning stuff that no one in our house has and so I usually have to come up with new resources for her.  For most of the other stuff, I can just dig up things I’ve used in previous years.  (I could go into how to choose curriculum here but that is a whole ‘nother set of information that I couldn’t even begin to cover in one blog post.)

5) What other information do I want to include in my planner pages?
Okay, so I have a column for each student and rows for each subject, with spaces for the titles of the books and spaces to write daily assignments.  I also like to include a row or two for “other” stuff that comes up that I may not have thought of at the beginning of the year.  I also want to include a place for the date, as well as the term we’re in and the week number within that term (not terribly important information but it helps me know when there’s a break coming up).  I also need a place to record grades and notes for the day.  You may not need a place for grades (especially for the younger kids) but I have a highschooler and one in junior high and they will need records for college.  The younger kids get them because they feel left out if I don’t do it – and it helps all of us see how well everyone is staying on track.  I keep notes on the back of the previous day’s planner page.  Last but not least, I like to have an idea of what information I will be writing down for each assignment.  Will it be just a page or lesson number? A series of page numbers? A chapter title?  Some sort of instructions?  I need to know these things so I can size my boxes accordingly.

Whew, that’s a lot of information!  Sorry, I tend to err on the side of too much information...  Anyway, hopefully this will help you in getting started with your planning.  The next image gives you an idea of how my pages work (this year anyway).

You can download the editable spreadsheet version of my planner page here.  It includes some of my other pages which I will talk about in a future post.  You can edit any part of the pages but the stuff that I recommend editing is in red.  


Monday, March 4, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Spinach Quiche

This recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  You know, the iconic red-and-white checkered one.  My mom has had a copy of it for longer than I can remember.  Then my younger sister got a copy and it got wet and some of the pages got ruined so she gave it to me and got a new copy.  I don't use the book nearly as often as my mom did (she didn't have Pinterest, after all) but it's still my go-to cookbook when I know what I want to make but don't already have a favorite recipe for it.

Anyway,  Rock had never had quiche when we got married and so I made this for him.  Actually, when I said this is the recipe from the book, well, it's not quite the same.  Over the years I've made some changes to make it cheaper/more convenient for me.  I made it right out of the book that first time.  Now he gets this version and he's never noticed the difference.  The kids really like it too.

Spinach Quiche
1 pie crust
1/2 chopped onion
6 slices bacon, chopped
8 eggs
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c milk
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper
dash ground nutmeg
3 c lightly packed chopped fresh spinach (in a pinch, I'll use 2 cups frozen)
1 c shredded mozzarella
Line crusts with foil and bake in 450 oven for 8 min. Remove foil and bake 4-5 min longer.  Reduce oven  to 325.  Cook onion and bacon in skillet.  Drain.  Beat eggs in bowl.  Add next 6 ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake at 325 about 45 min or until knife comes out clean.  Let stand 10 min before serving.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Greek Pasta Salad

I have miserable pregnancies.  When I got to the last trimester of my most recent one, my second daughter, Emmy (13), decided she could help me out by taking over the cooking - and boy did she take over.  She planned the menus, helped me with the shopping (which I did from one of those electric scooters), and cooked for all eight of us - every day for three months!  This kid was awesome!  She even made her dad's lunches for work and (along with her older sister) helped me get the younger kids to do their chores.  I would not have survived this last pregnancy without my two teenage girls.

Anyway, that really has nothing to do with the recipe this week, except to explain why I haven't gotten it up sooner.  Since I wasn't cooking, it was a little hard to blog my recipes - Emmy cooked things that I've already blogged or are so simple that there really seemed no point in sharing the recipes.

On to the recipe... 

My mom always made her macaroni salad the same way.  You know, mayo, relish, olives, tuna fish, etc.  A few years into our marriage, Rock and I discovered a pasta salad mix at the local Sam's Club (or was it Costco?)  and fell in love.  Unfortunately, they only carried it for a few months.  I had to come up with a substitute and this is it.  I call it Greek Pasta Salad as opposed to the American Pasta Salad from my mom (which I make as often as this one).  

Greek Pasta Salad
-1 lb pasta, cooked (I usually use the colored veggie pasta)
-1 can black olives, coarsely chopped
-4-6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
-Sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
-Balsamic Vinaigrette salad dressing

Toss the pasta, olives, cheese and tomatoes together in a bowl.  Add a cup or so of the dressing and toss again.  Add more dressing if needed.

(My family can eat the entire batch in one sitting.)


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Homeschool Journey

I started this post with the intention of sharing our planning methods for our homeschool after first providing a little background into our history and homeschool experience.  Well, it turned out a little longer than planned and I think now I'd like to let new (and not-so-new) homeschoolers know that no one starts out doing it all perfectly.  I've tried a lot of things in our homeschool and more than half of them didn't work.  But in the process of finding out what didn't work, I now have a much better idea of what does.
We started homeschooling our two oldest daughters in 2002.  Kjeri was 5, Emmy was 3, and Eli was about 3 months old.  I had decided to homeschool my kids long before they were born so the decision to start was easy.  It was how to do it that I had to figure out.  I found a website with a free curriculum guide (no longer free) that sounded good, so I ordered some books and got started.  Let me just say, if you are new to homeschooling, there is a huge learning curve for Mom.  I learned a lot that first year; I don't know if I can say the same for my girls.  The only things we are still using from that first year are Explode the Code, The 21 Rules of This House and Diane Hopkins' Language Arts program.
The second year I decided to try what they call a "canned" curriculum.  That means that you buy everything in one big package, all planned out for you.  I spent way more money than hubby thought I should and bought all of our books from Sonlight.  We didn't like some of the books and I didn't have enough experience to adapt the program to fit our needs.  I did, however, learn a lot about how I wanted to set up and plan our lessons.
Kjeri, Miri, and Emmy 2004

Kjeri was now in second grade and Emmy was ready to start kindergarten and I decided to try public school online for our third year.  I signed the girls up for the Utah virtual school using the K-12 curriculum.  I know a lot of people like it but it was way too structured and inflexible for us.  That was the year our fourth child, Miri, was born.
Miri and Kjeri 2005

For our fourth year of homeschooling, I had discovered that I really liked the Charlotte Mason method of teaching and in my research found a website called Ambleside Online.  It's a free curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason methods and a ton of public domain books that can all be found online.  I combined some of the stuff from that website and some of the things that I had liked from what we did in previous years.

During our fifth year, our fifth child, Josie, was born.

In our sixth year, Eli started kindergarten and I discovered Homeschool Tracker and Math-U-See.  Homeschool Tracker is a planning software.  It's a great program but it didn't work for us; I discovered I like to keep my records on paper.  Math-U-See, however, is awesome!

In our eighth year, Miri started kindergarten (now 4 kids in school), our sixth child, Sarah, was born.  I put just my oldest daughter back in K-12 (in Idaho this time).  It still didn't work for us.  

Sarah and Miri 2010

While planning for our ninth year of homeschooling, I got fed up with doing a halfway job of teaching history and science and that's when I decided to give in and fork over the money for two programs I had considered  in the past and decided we couldn't afford - Story of the World and Apologia Science.  I should have taken that leap years sooner.

Last year (number ten), Kjeri went to public school part-time and we kept using all of the curricula I had (finally) decided was going to work for us. We used the workbox method of organization.  And I found yet another method that wasn't a good fit for us.

This year, our eleventh(!) year of homeschooling, Josie started kindergarten (that makes 5 school-aged kids!) and child number seven, Will, was born.  I'm still struggling with finding a language arts program/method for the older girls but I spent a ton of time during the summer making planner pages, subject schedules, worksheets and activities.  I wanted the entire year planned out with as little paperwork required of me as possible while still keeping detailed records.
Eli and Josie 2012 - Yeah huh, the state fair is too educational!
So, that's where we are now.  I've created and collected a ton of resources, forms, schedules, and notes over the years and my intent is to share them here on this blog.  Hopefully, they will be of use to you in your own homeschool journey.

Next time I'll start sharing our planner pages...

Enjoy your journey!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Homeschooling Hard?

***Originally published on September 28, 2010 on KaelMijoy***

Okay, a couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for something in the car in the parking lot at the grocery store ("there's a frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea...") and I started writing this blog post.  I'm typing it here without editing because I was feeling very passionate about homeschooling at that moment and I'm afraid it will lose something if I edit it. So keep in mind that it is probably not great writing but it most certainly comes from the heart...

Today at the checkout stand at the grocery store I mentioned to the cashier that I homeschool my kids.  She asked me, "Is homeschooling hard?"  I said, "It depends on the day..." and we went on to chat a little more about homeschooling in general as she went on ringing up my groceries.

Later, I got to thinking about that question -- Is homeschooling hard?  And my answer is, "Heck, yeah!  It's the hardest thing I've ever done."  Does that mean it's not worthwhile?  No way!  It's also the most rewarding thing I've every done.

I'm sure you can imagine all of the hard parts about homeschooling -- hours of planning, choosing just the right curricula, coaxing reluctant scholars into being enthusiastic scholars, wondering if they are learning enough, wondering if they are learning at all, convincing loving but skeptical family members and friends that you haven't completely lost your mind (and wondering if they're right)... the list goes on and on.

But the rewards are immensely greater than the sacrifices.

I have six children, four of whom are school-aged.  I have never experienced the teary goodbye with my 5-year-old on the first day of school.  The only bullies my kids have had to deal with were neighborhood ones.  None of them have ever been "behind" or "ahead" of the class -- each of them is the class.  No school lunches, long bus rides, cranky teachers (except Mom), or separation of church and school.

In history, we learn where the Native Americans really came from, the scriptures are history books, not just a collection of stories with a moral.  We learn that God created us, we are his children, and not one person on this earth ever descended from apes.  We learn about the Mormon migration right along with the California gold rush and we know that the pilgrims were thanking God, not the Indians, at the first Thanksgiving feast.  We are able to add eternal truths to all of the other subjects we study (particularly science), and gospel study is a school subject for us -- not just something for Sunday meetings.

But the rewards don't all belong to the children. (Although I benefit from the above as much as they.)  Do your remember the joy and excitement you felt when your child took his first step?  Imagine experiencing that feeling when he realizes that all of those letters on the page combine to make words, which make sentences and paragraphs and stories, which open whole new worlds!  There is one moment, you know, when it clicks in their minds and if you watch carefully, you might see it.

It's not just reading either -- how about that math concept she's been struggling with and all of a sudden -- "Oh my gosh, Mom, I get it now!"  And it's not just in academics.  What about when their pretend play is based on stories (not textbook chapters) they've read in history?  They're not playing "war," but "American Revolution."  Mummies are no longer scary Halloween creatures but the ultimate dissection project!

There's nothing that fills my heart more than looking out the back window and seeing my 13-year-old daughter sitting on the trampoline with her 1-year-old sister on her lap and all of the other kids jumping around them... or watching them all playing board games or building with legos together (while trying to keep the baby occupied enough to not make a mess of things).

Instead of worrying about my kids being overscheduled with sports, homework, music and dance lessons, and other activities, I sometimes wonder if they are underscheduled.  After all, they only have their church activities once a week and have friends over once in a while.  We eat dinner together every day and (oh, my gosh!) lunch and breakfast too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, yes, homeschooling is hard (though not impossible) but isn't everything really worth doing difficult?  I've often told people, "I can't send my kids to public school -- I'd miss them too much!"  In my mind, that would be harder than homeschooling.

(I'm not trying to convince anyone else with this post to start homeschooling.  My hope is that others can better understand why I chose this method of education for my children.)


How to Teach History (my way)

***Originally published on August 25, 2011 on KaelMijoy***

We are starting our homeschool on Monday.  (My oldest is going to public school part time this year and that starts tomorrow, but that's really beside the point.)

I know I haven't shared much about homeschooling on this blog.  It really hasn't been as high a priority as it should have been the last several months. (It's amazing how much kids learn even when there isn't much formal education going on... also beside the point.)

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share some of my thoughts and ideas about how I homeschool.  I'm not trying to convince anyone to do it themselves; I've just found that a lot of people are curious about how it works.  I've been homeschooling for going on 10 years now (wow, really?) and if I'm not an expert on the subject... well, I probably never will be.

So, I thought I'd start with my favorite subject- history.  I know, I know, for most people that's near the bottom of the list.  It's a miracle I don't hate it.  I probably had the worst high school history teachers in- well, history.  Except one, I can't remember his name but he was the football coach at New Plymouth High School.  I loved his history class.

Anyway, I digress (again).  History is one of the easiest subjects to teach.  Why?  Well, because all it is is a bunch of true stories all strung together.  It's the textbooks and the teachers that make it boring.  Be honest with me, is it really that important to know the exact date Columbus reached the Americas or would it be better to know why he was out there wandering around in the ocean.  Of course, it's important to know a general timeline for major events- it's probably a good idea to be aware that he sailed in 1492 and not 1942.  But isn't it the adventure, the excitement, the wonder of the event that a child will remember?  They can learn the dates later, when they've got the stories down pat.

Have you figured out where I'm going with this?  The best way to learn history is to read about it.  And get this:  The books you read don't even have to be non-fiction!  Of course, you have to be aware that the historical fiction is not completely factual but in most cases, the people, places, and events give a pretty good picture of what that time was like.

The first of the Tennis Shoes books.
  I read this for the first time when
I was about 12.
Most of you have probably never heard of my favorite historical fiction writers because they are both LDS (Mormons, which I am).  One is Chris Heimerdinger and he wrote a series of books called the "Tennis Shoes" series in which characters travel back in time to various Book of Mormon and Bible locations and times.  They meet incredible people from history and witness events that we can only dream about.  The first book is for 11-12 year olds and each book in the series is a little more advanced reading than the previous. By the 11th one (so far), they get pretty deep.  I understand many of the scripture stories way better than I ever would have had I not read those books.

My point here is not necessarily to sell you on Chris' books (although I highly recommend them) but to illustrate just how great an impact good historical novels can have on one's understanding of history.  Of course, reading some of the non-fiction is a good idea as well, just to clear up any question about whether certain events really happened.

Now, all of this isn't to say that I just pick up school books that take place in another time at random.  There actually is a series, written for homeschoolers that we use that took me 8 years to find.  It's called "Story of the World."  The history of the entire world has been broken down into 4 years worth of lessons.  Each year is broken down further into major events, and those are broken down into individual stories.

We are studying Ancient Times this year...
A couple of times a week we read aloud one of the stories together.  They are easy enough for the youngest kids to understand but have enough "meat" to keep the older ones' attention.  I check out books from the library for more about the time period/place we are studying. (Everyone reads those on their own time.)  We have activities for the little kids, supplemental (required) reading for the middle ones, and research assignments for the older ones.

Of course, my enthusiasm for the subject probably helps a lot with being able to keep their interest but all in all, I think we've finally found what works for us in history.  Now, if I could just learn to love science...

I hope this wasn't too long-winded and that you were able to get something out of it.


There's a Budding Novelist in My House!

***Originally published on September 20, 2011 on KaelMijoy***

When I got up this morning and sat at the computer as usual, the word document that was open on the screen caught my eye and I started to read.  I realized at once what it was, and as I read, my mouth fell open in wonder.
My oldest daughter, Kjerstin, who is 14 years old, has been making up stories her whole life.  When she was 4, I remember going to the grocery store and having to stand next to the car with the door open for several minutes so her imaginary ducklings could all (it varied, but there were usually about 20 of them) get out of the car.  If we closed the door too soon she would get upset because it wasn't safe to leave ducklings alone in the car.  At about the same age, she started telling us her dreams.  Okay, so we weren't dumb enough to believe that she could remember hour-long dreams in minute detail- but we did realize that for her it was a good excuse to tell stories.  I admit, I got sick of hearing about them before she was done, but I just let her keep talking.

A couple of years ago, she started writing her stories down.  She now has 5 (I think) notebooks entirely full of stories.  There are several short stories and 2 novels.  I've never read any of them.  She says she wants me to wait until she has them typed because I won't be able to read her handwriting.  She has, however, read them aloud to her siblings and they absolutely love her stories.

I've read bits and pieces of her work now and then so I knew she was good.  But I didn't realize how good she was until I read the document on the computer screen this morning.

In her last drama class, the students were assigned an essay.  They were to write about their personal experience on the stage.  I imagined the assignment to be a lot different than what she came up with, but maybe I missed something when she told me about it.

Anyway, as you've probably guessed, the word document I read this morning was her drama essay.  I haven't edited anything here- just copied and pasted and added the title.  I think it's safe to say that, if she continues writing, someday you'll all have heard of the the famous author, Kjerstin Robinson.
Kjeri's Drama Essay

On stage the lights shimmer in white brilliance. It is empty for now. A soft murmur of voices came from the rows of seats lining below the anxious actors. The soft music starts and the velvet curtains slide open with a heavy swish. As my fellow actors and actresses step on stage I can smell their fear, see them with shaky hands as they step up to take their place. Not me. I hear my queue so I gently walk onto center stage. With confidence that only I could produce I delivered my lines perfectly. No fear came through my voice and that confidence permeated the air around me, influencing my fellow performers into a sense of comfort. My acting partner and I swept off the stage. I was born to act, nothing could stop me. I quickly changed into my next costume. I stood behind the red curtain and peeked into the crowd. They all laughed at a joke from on stage. “Our turn.” My actor whispered in my ear then we marched on stage. I felt happy and content up there on stage. I could do this forever. I fall onto the ground, but not before being caught by an actor and carried off the stage. I leapt from his arms and turned to watch some more of the play. “Go on Ian, get out there.” our play director said, pushing him back out. The performance was finished with much applause and cheering as all the actors and actresses stood in a line and bowed gracefully. It was over and I was tired but I could not wait for the next time I was in the spotlight.