Schooling Update ~ Reflections on the Year

I recently connected with a couple of Canadian homesteading and homeschooling bloggers and we decided to link up to our end of the year reflections on how schooling went this last year. I love connecting with other people and learning from them. And since I really enjoy other cultures and people from different countries, it’s even more fun for me to connect with Cheryl and Savannah.

Cheryl writes at On the Old Path about her homesteading and homeschooling adventures with 6 children and many chickens, and tells about her son, a brain cancer survivor. She also shares fun tutorials and delicious looking recipes, like this pectin-free strawberry jam.

Savannah writes about her family’s adventures at Ramblings of a Christian Mom while homeschooling her 4 children and homemaking in Eastern Ontario, leaning on Jesus along the way. Savannah also has some fabulous recipes and fun tutorials, like this chunky crochet baby blanket.

But this post is really about our school year. So here goes!


Anna is 9 and will be in 4th grade next year. She went to public school for the first time this past year. I was both excited and apprehensive, but she loved it and excelled. She was quite nervous initially, but made great friends and had a fun time. Her handwriting improved as did her repetition of basic math facts. She has been reading since she was 5 and continues to love reading. I was pleased to learn that I prepared her quite well for public school. Homeschooling’s a scary thing sometimes, but she did not struggle at school and was chosen to attend College for Kids this summer, a two week summer school for bright kids.

There were many things I liked about her year at school and a few things I didn’t like that much. For instance, I didn’t really enjoy packing her lunch every day. Luckily, she’s surprisingly not picky at all about her lunch and it turned out that I was able give her many leftovers that she ate! Without griping! It turned out to be a great way to use up leftovers… And having to be home by 3 pm when she got out of school was quite challenging for me. Many of our homeschooling activities are in the afternoon and it definitely complicated my day to have to worry about getting back to town in time. That was hard and some of our fun homeschooling activities, like a park day in the Quad Cities, just didn’t happen that often. Overall, though, I am pleased with her year. She brought home some really wonderful art projects and a great class book that her teacher had them put together. And most importantly, she likes it and is excited to go back to 4th grade.

Anna continues to play piano, and she added Girl Scouts and Tae Kwan Do to her list of activities this year and has been playing ball this spring.

benBen is 7 and finished 1st grade. He is usually a cheerful and loving child, interested in nature, riding his bike, and making weapons and duck tape creations. My approach to homeschooling so far for the younger children has been pretty hands off, bordering on unschooling. I let them explore, take them out into nature often, and read books. Anna learned to read on her own when she was 5 and I kept thinking Ben would learn too, in his own time. Around Christmas it became obvious to me that he wasn’t learning like she did and I started to get a little concerned. We stared working through Explode the Code books and the Spelling Workout: Level A from Modern Curriculum Press. Ben also worked quite a lot on Reading Eggs for something different. I shared more about our First Grade Curriculum in this post, if you’re curious.

Basically, since Christmas, we have been working on reading. It’s slow going with him and frustrating for me. He learns so differently than Anna did and I really have to work hard to remain patient as he is frustrated with all the words that break the rules. I can’t blame him for that, but it’s been hard on both of us. We are continuing to work with him this summer and we’re taking a new approach – just having him memorize words. I didn’t do that much with him, see disclosure above about me being bad about drilling basic facts. I often think reading will click for him when he’s ready and I need to stop pushing him. And then I think I have to do more. Help him figure it out. I don’t know what the right answer is. For the time being, he is working with his supervisory teacher a bit, and I am trying really, really, really hard to be patient and not lose my temper. It’s tough.

Ben played flag football and started taking Tae Kwan Do lessons this past fall, and is currently playing ball. He’s really quite good at sports. And I’m thinking about starting him on piano in the fall.

coraCora is 5 1/2 and finished up pre-school. She’s also been working through Reading Eggs and she worked through a few get ready for Kindergarten books from Kumon last year. She’s knows all of her letters and numbers and is really close to reading. She’s a master egg cracker and loves to help me bake bread. And she’s the only kid who will willingly clean the toilet! She really wants to go to public school kindergarten this fall and we are thinking of sending her.

Cora is playing ball this spring and really wants to take Tae Kwan Do with Anna and Ben in the fall! And sometimes, Anna tries to teach her how to play the piano.

saraAnd last but not least, here is Sara. Sara is quite the stinker at 3 years old. She’s often found hiding in the bathroom playing Angry Birds on the ipad! But she also love puzzles and building and reading books. Her favorite books right now are Alona Frankel’s Once Upon a Potty and I Want My Mother. It was a huge year for her. Sara potty trained all on her own and she weaned right before her third birthday. She’s also sleeping half the night in her own bed in her own room. Huge accomplishments this year! She’s definitely a mama’s girl, but she has been warming up to her dad quite a lot and she now loves her babysitter and hanging out with grandma too!

And that was our homeschooling year. Pop over to read about Savannah’s year with her 4 kids and Cheryl’s year with her 6 kids, if you are interested in seeing what other families were up to as well!

I hope you also had a good school year with your children!

Last Minute Handmade Mother’s Day Gift ~ Painted Flower Pot

last minute homemade mother's day giftOne of the things I learned at my recent blogger’s conference was to be authentic. Being authentic is something I have tried to do since I first started blogging, but sometimes I think I let it get in the way of my posts.

Take Mother’s Day for instance. If I were on top of things, I would have had a great post up weeks ago with some cute ideas for things you could make for Mother’s Day. But I didn’t get to it because planning ahead has never been my strong suit. ;-) I have always been a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal. And quite honestly, I’m pretty darn lucky some days just to get things done on time.

In the past, I simply have not shared what I feel are decent ideas, just because I thought it would too late. But I’m I’m not the only person out there who waits until the last minute, right??? So, I decided to share this post with you anyway {you can always pin it for later, right?}. If you are looking for a quick, {cheap,} and cute homemade idea for Mother’s Day, here ya go!

Have your kids paint a pot, add a nice flower, and viola. Cute, {cheap,} last minute handmade Mother’s Day Gift. Check.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Acrylic Paint {I recently decided that I would ONLY buy my kids the primary colors. They should be able to make any color they want out of those three colors, right? Okay…I’ll also buy black and white. But that’s it.} I like this Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint
  • Acrylic Coating Varnish Spray ~ Essential to protect the paint on the pot so it doesn’t wear off. We use one like this, Krylon Clear Acrylic Coating Spray.
  • Paint Brushes ~ we like the foam brushes like this, Value-Pack 10-Pc Foam Paint Brush Set – Wood Handles
  • Terra Cotta Pot & Plate ~ This costs around $5 at the local hardware store.
  • Plant ~ For this post, I bought really cute violets. They also cost just over $5 at the local hardware store.
  • Potting Soil ~ A bag of potting soil is also very cheap at your local hardware store.
  • Sharpie ~ to write Happy Mother’s Day on the pot, if you don’t want to paint it on.

To make the pot:

Give your kids some paint and set them loose!

acrylic paint I put paint on a paper plate and let them go crazy.

foam paint brushWe tried to get a rainbow from swiping all 3 of the primary colors at once. It didn’t quite work out. But it did make a pretty pot!

ainbow terra cotta flower potNot quite a rainbow.

painting a flower potMy almost 3 year old spent the longest time out of all the kids painting her pot! She stayed at it for almost an hour and painted the entire pot – inside and out!

nted mother's day flower pot They all got messy and had a lot of fun.

homemade mother's day pot

painted terra cotta pot
Your kids can get as creative as they like! I think hand prints would be very cute on these pots, but we didn’t do it. We actually painted these for Easter baskets…but they served double duty and became a mother’s day gift for grandma!

After the pots are finished, let them dry for as long as you can, ideally overnight, but they dry in several hours in a pinch. Write or paint Happy Mother’s Day 2013 and add your kids’ names, if you’d like.  They spray with a protective coat of acrylic spray paint and let it dry too. It dries enough to handle in about 2 hours. Plant your flower, and voila ~ {cheap,} easy, cute homemade Mother’s Day gift that will be fun to look at for many years!

mother's day plant

ade mother's day flower pot
Do you have any ideas for easy {and cheap} yet meaningful Mother’s Day gifts? I’d love to hear!

Our Eclectic 1st Grade Homeschool Curriculum

Earlier I shared some of the reasons we homeschool and in this post I’m sharing what we’re doing in our first grade homeschool and some of my favorite resources. I’m always curious how other people homeschool, so I will share our method!

We just finished the first half of our homeschool year and I am pleased with our progress. I have an eclectic and relaxed homeschool style. I try not to stress about much. Some days we do a lot of formal schooling and some days we do none. My son turned 7 in November and is now starting to read. I’m not worried about that because I firmly believe it will click for him when he’s ready. And recently he’s been telling me he’s ready to learn so we’ve stepped up the pace and it is clicking!!

Here’s what we’ve done so far this year:

explode the code

For reading ~ We’ve been working through the Explode the Code series. We finished the first book and are moving on to the next one. He mostly enjoyed the book. I liked that it was really repetitive which is what he needs right now. Book 1 just works on three letter, short vowel words. We also are reading through the Bob Books as well as the Starfall Learn to Read books. The Bob books are my favorite. The Starfall books are also nice, but I prefer the Bob books for really beginning readers. And we started using ReadingEggs a few months ago and they love that! I am convinced it’s really helping Ben learn to read.

For math ~ I have not yet started a formal curriculum. We practice basic math facts around the table every night during supper. I know…exciting! But the kids enjoy working through basic math facts in a round robin format. My husband does this with them and they are eager to please. We also are learning how to tell time and work in the kitchen with measuring cups a lot. We count a lot of things {by 2s, 3s, 5,s and 10s} and are working through the days of the weeks, months of the year, etc. All of this is early math! I am going to hold off on a formal curriculum but when I do start, I think I have decided to stick with the Singapore Math I used for my daughter. I’ve also heard a lot of positives about Miquon Math, too, though. I’m trying to decide between those two curricula. A lot of people have suggested Saxon, but I tried that with my daughter and we did not like it that much. I also want to add some music to our collection – CD with basic facts, so if you can recommend anything, please let me know!

For history ~ I have heard rumors that a lot of people hate history??? WHAAA? I can’t for the life of me understand why. History was always one of my very favorite subjects, but I lived in Germany during elementary and middle school and traveled to see where the kings lived and slept. It was very exciting! I have always loved history and want my children to love it, too. We just finished reading Volume 1 of The Story of the World and are moving along in The Story of the World Volume 2. I bought the entire Volume 1 set a while back including the textbook, activity book, and test book. To do over again, I would just get the textbook {and probably the CDs}. The kids love the stories and I do too! I didn’t know half the stuff we’re reading and the kids are always enthralled. Ancient history is so fascinating and something I never learned that much about in public school and my kids have already been exposed to The Odyssey and Beowulf is coming! I am very excited to move on to the Middle Ages in Volume 2. And we travel! No better way to learn history than by traveling.

For science ~ I don’t have a formal curriculum here either. Instead, we go outside. We garden. We cook. The kids build things with their father. We look at the stars and talk about the planets, dinosaurs, and aliens. We read lots of books.

IMG_3639This activity {which I was not aware of and did not approve of…} provided an awesome opportunity for a discussion of levers, stability, and better safety practices. My hubs was all over that discussion!!

And finally, for handwriting ~ This is one area that I feel I failed in with my daughter. When she was quite little I didn’t really care that she was writing on her own. I let her do whatever she wanted without thinking about the consequences. Well…that made for some really awful handwriting and bad habits that she is just now starting to break. We have been using Handwriting Without Tears to try to encourage proper letter formation and they seem to like it. Ben finished My Printing Book already, and we will move on to the next book soon. We also listen the the The ABC CD: Rock, Rap, Tap, and Learn Readiness to Printing (Handwriting Without Tears) CD a lot which has catchy little tunes about starting your letters at the top and so on.

Other things we love:

GeoSafari Laptop~ I read about this is one of the first books I read when I was considering homeschooling, Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days: Share a Day With 30 Homeschooling Families. The author’s family had one of these laptops and I was intrigued. My daughter got one for her 5th birthday and it has been a big hit. It reinforces a lot of basic skills: math, phonics, social studies. The kids enjoy playing on it.

MindWare Pattern Play Puzzle ~ My mom got this puzzle for my son a while back and it has provided hours of entertainment. I love the brightly colored wooden pieces and watching my kids study the pattern as they try to recreate it. I have also been entertained by the puzzle… :-) It’s lots of fun!

Draw Write Now, Books 1-8 ~ We borrowed this boxed set from our local homeschool assistance program and my kids love it! They have a lot of fun and actually produce some really nice drawings.

Electronic Snap Circuit Kit ~ Another gift that Ben got from my sister last year that teaches science. This kit helps him complete circuits and understand how electricity works – which is great because I don’t understand it myself.

Super Science Magnet Set ~ More science! When I first starting writing this post, I thought perhaps we were too lax in the science department. But we do a lot. It’s just in the name of playing – best way to learn in my opinion.

Legos! Gotta have legos. ‘Nuff said. :-)