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9.27.2021: Google very recently changed drive links for security reasons, so you may find that when you click on a link for one of my printables that you need to submit a share request. PLEASE only submit one share request per item! These have to be manually confirmed and I will get to them when I get to them. I promise you that sending me 12 requests in rapid succession will not make that happen faster, lol! I do not sit on my computer waiting around to send people instant shares of freebies. Thank you so much for your patience as I try to sort out this latest Google mess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Outsourcing High School Math on a Shoe String

high school math-001I admit it.  My 9th grader has switched Algebra 1 programs twice this school year.  Why, oh why, is it so hard to find a solid math program that I can teach well?  If I were a mathematician, maybe that would help?  Or if he was particularly mathy (he’s definitely not), that would help. 

But alas, I am who I am and he is who he is.

David started in September using Discovering Algebra, because it had been recommended to me for its exploratory qualities (he is a creative soul).  This text proved to be:

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Art of Organization… or How Clutter Almost Ruined My Homeschool!

Welcome to week 4 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair!  Today we are talking about:

Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

How Clutter Almost RUINED My Homeschool @Homeschooling Hearts & MindsMy co-host this week is Lisa @ Golden Grasses and we have 13 other homeschool bloggers joining us.  If you’d like to join the conversation, use the linky at the bottom of this post to link up your own posts pertaining to Seeking Beauty in your homeschool.

When I invented week 4 of the VCF as a way for families to talk about the beautiful things, whether that be the fine arts, religious studies, or really whatever brings beauty and joy into their homeschools, I made it open-ended and flexible for a reason.

Real life doesn’t fit in a box. 

Right now, what is bringing beauty, joy, and PEACE into my homeschool is the lack of clutter.

It is freeing my mind and spirit of a lot of unnecessary conflict.

At the beginning of this school year, we set up a “school room” for the first time in our home.

I had resisted that for a long time because I didn’t want to recreate school at home. 

But school was exploding all over my house.  And while learning everywhere is a good thing, having to clear books and art projects off the counter every time I wanted to prepare a meal was a drag.   Tripping over projects and books was not pleasant, either.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Virtual Curriculum Fair is Coming to a Close…

The topic for our final week of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF) will be:

2015 week 3 button-001Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

I hope you’ll join me and my blogger friends as we talk about the beauty of learning on Monday, January 26th.

You can see previous editions of week 4 here:

2014 VCF:  44 Awesome Free Resources to Study Art & Music

2013 VCF:  37 Free Online Art and Music Resources

2012 VCF:  The Art of Exploration

The past 4 years have been great, but this is the last year that I’ll be hosting the VCF at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds. 

If you are a blogger and may be interested in hosting this month-long event next year, please message me through my FB page.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When Making School “Fun” Backfires…

I frequently hear homeschool moms lamenting:  I plan all this fun stuff, but my kids still hate school.

When Making School "Fun" Backfires....@Homeschooling Hearts & MindsWhat can I do about it?  How can I get them to enjoy learning?  I’m trying hard here, but my effort seems to be wasted.

There could be a number of things going on.

Maybe they don’t like the “fun” stuff.  Not everyone likes paper crafts, for instance.  If that’s the case, you may need to revisit what gets your kids excited about things and plan different activities.

Or could  it be that the fun stuff is not integral enough to the learning that is expected?  So the kids enjoy the crafty bits, but the actual stuff you want them to retain (the main event) is a bore and something they would rather not do.

I posted a funny the other day on my private wall on Facebook:

Homeschool PSA: Never ever do "edible maps" as a project with your kids. They won't learn anything from it other than the fact that they like to make edible maps. And then they will beg to make edible maps. every. single. time. you do anything related to history, geography, etc. etc. etc. It has been 2-3 years since we did that project.

That’s hyperbole, of course, but it does seem like every time we have a social studies lesson/reading/activity, my kids beg me if we can do edible maps. 

Why are all my friends (even the moms who don’t homeschool) liking this status update?

Because it’s true.  We have all experienced something similar.

The first edible map we did was a couple of years ago for a geography program (the program was Mapping the World with Art).

Obviously they enjoyed that activity.  The problem is:  they don’t remember anything about that lesson except how fun and yummy it was to make maps out of cookie dough and bake them.

They do remember the part gives them such a warm, fuzzy feeling that makes them want to do it again.  And again.  And again.  But they don’t remember the thing I wanted them to learn. 


Crafts and baking projects are fun! 

They are easy to add in to your already scheduled program.  They can help round out your studies by including some creative art and practical skills (like cooking). 

They also make happy memories.

But they are not an necessarily the ideal way to learn about the topic at hand. 

Cognitive science backs up my observations.   In Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel T. Willingham (a cognitive scientist, y’all!) writes:

“We can’t store everything we experience in memory.  Too much happens…How can the memory system know what you’ll need to remember later?  Your memory system lays its bets this way:  if you think about something carefully, you’ll probably have to think about it again, so it should be stored.  Thus your memory is not a product of what you want to remember or what you try to remember; it’s a product of what you think about.  A teacher once told me that for a fourth-grade unit on the Underground Railroad he had his students bake biscuits, because this was a staple food for runaway slaves.  He asked what I though about the assignment.  I pointed out that his students probably thought for forty seconds about the relationship of biscuits to the Underground Railroad, and for forty minutes about measuring flour, mixing shortening, and so on.  Whatever students think about is what they will remember.”

In other words, the craft actually distracts them from the main event (in this case, the Underground Railroad).

IMG_0294This is exactly what I experienced with my own children when we did the edible maps.

Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t do those fun crafts or bake in your homeschool---if y’all like doing those things, then do them!  Just be mindful of what you are accomplishing with those projects.

An elaborate paper model of a Chinese pagoda, for instance, is not likely to help your child remember anything about Chinese history, but it probably will help him to learn about paper crafting and 3-D forms, improve his ability to manipulate finicky bits, and teach him the relative merits of using glue, a glue stick, or clear tape.

Those are all worthwhile skills that will serve him well in life, they just have nothing to do with the history lesson. 

There is a place for that project (or something like it) in your homeschool, but consider making it the main event when you do it, so it doesn’t distract your child from other things you want him to remember.  It’s worthwhile in it’s own right, not because it happens to tie in with a history lesson.

But what about all this talk about Project-Based Learning I keep hearing?  Are you saying we can’t learn history and other subjects through projects?

Of course you can, but here’s the thing:  Crafts ≠ Project-Based Learning

IMG_5862That’s not to say that they can’t be---it depends upon what it is that you’re trying to learn.  For instance, if you want to learn the finer points of the best ratio of leavening to overall volume for baking bread, baking bread might be the way to do it. 

Or suppose you want to understand how to design clothes so that they fit the human figure correctly---the best way to do that may well be to drape cloth on a human figure, pin darts, stitch, etc.

But do you see how in both of those cases the thing being learned is contained within the project itself?  You’re not adding a project onto the thing being learned---it is the project.

I think this is really what project-based learning is. 

It’s something that we’ve all done at some point in our lives, whether it be the kid who learns Java by creating a mod for Minecraft or the mom teaches herself html by fixing her homeschool group’s website.

I’ve seen it happen spontaneously in my homeschool and it’s a wonderful thing.

IMG_6397Because of the thought and problem-solving the learner puts into the project, and because the project itself is an integral part of what is being learned, it’s much more likely that the important bits will be remembered.  The learner is an actor in his own learning, not someone waiting for you to teach it to him.

The trouble is, it’s not really something that you can make happen.  You can’t orchestrate it or plan it out.  You allow to happen by opening up opportunities and possibilities.

So one way to make school more “fun” might be to plan less, pull together the framework for learning and get the basics done without filling up the whole day, but then allowing your children more free time in which to explore the world. 

Give them a rich environment with materials in it.  Make frequent trips to the library. 

Go places.  Do.  Be.  Talk about all that is in the world.

IMG_0241And then wait for them to formulate their own questions, pursue their own research, and invent their own projects. 

Because curiosity wakes up the mind.

Thinking about something tells the brain that it’s important (not having Mom or a textbook say that it’s important).

You do not have to fill up all the minutes with stuff you have planned.  You can’t possibly cover all the stuff anyway.  Give them a chance to own their knowledge by pursuing it on their own.

Of course, they may still hate school.

Hey, that’s ok.  We can’t force people to like what they don’t like.  Yet another reason that school needn’t fill every minute of the day.


But School ≠ Learning.

Learning is bigger than that.  Let’s let it come out of its school box.

What projects have your kids been working on?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Exploring World History Through the Eyes of Scientists, or…

How to put together a non-traditional social studies course for your high schooler without breaking the bank or losing your mind…

This is the 3rd week of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair!  My co-host is Stacie @Super Mommy to the Rescue and we are…

Exploring world history through the eyes of scientists---putting together a unique high school history course at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsExploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science---includes history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.

We have 20 bloggers sharing this week.  I hope you enjoy the Fair and feel free to join in---there’s a linky near the bottom where you can link up your social studies or science related homeschool posts.

This week I’m going to talk about putting together a unique high school course for your out-of-the-box thinker…

Or what to do when your social studies plans fall apart and you have to cobble something together on the fly. Sarcastic smile

This year my 9th grader is studying studying world history through the eyes of scientists.  We are not using a traditional textbook or a published course, but a schedule that I put together using resources I already had on hand plus a few extras that were available for free online.

I chose this approach because I happened have a good spine (thank goodness I’m a bibliophile and have more books than I know what to do with) and it’s a topic that interests my son.  There’s no rule that says you have to study world history the usual way, so we decided to try something a little different.  There is a little more work involved initially, but it’s really not too difficult to create your own course from scratch.

How to Create Your Own History Course for your out-of-the-box thinker.

1.  Find out what floats your kid’s boat.  What part of history does he want to study?  Is there a unique angle you can approach it from?  For instance, you might do a survey of world history tracing the development of weapons and warfare, or tracing the development of artisan skills, or tracing the development of religions…

We decided to trace the development of scientific ideas and research throughout history, beginning with Thales...we will finish with Stephen Hawking.

2.  Decide what type of source material you wish to use.  You you want  to use primarily books, video, audio, etc.  Different kids will thrive better with different types of source material.  One might learn best by watching documentaries.  Another might prefer lectures.  And so on.

My son doesn’t really like video lectures (they get on his nerves because he doesn’t have much control over the pacing), so it would have been a calamity for me to base his course on a series of video lectures from the Teaching Company even if they do happen to be first rate, so there are no video lectures in his course.  That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t throw in a documentary or “life of” movie is one happens to come up on Netflix, but I won’t make video the main event in his course.  He prefers to learn by reading.

3.  Choose a spine for your course, while keeping in mind your child’s preferred format for his resource materials. 

Your spine is a resource that can function as a framework for the overall course.  It could be a textbook.  It could be series of lectures.  It could be a series of books.  It could be even be a series of podcasts---whatever main thing you want to build your course around.  This will give you a framework to build on.

Now, a little aside---I don’t remember having anything BUT a spine when I took history in high school.  Teacher lectures added to it (though some teachers did just repeat the material in the book), but the textbook was generally the course. 

Your spine is the meat of the course.  It’s the thing that if you get it done, even if life throws you some crazy curveballs, your child has gotten the important part of the course done and can move on.  The other things you might choose to add are extras.  They add more depth and it would be a shame to miss them, but if the unthinkable happens and you have to cut back to basics, if you’ve chosen a good, solid spine…it’s going to be ok.

4.  Add some extras.  This might be extra reading, biographies, a video series you find at your library, activities, interactive websites, field trips, etc. 

What you come up with is going to depend a lot upon what you are studying, what’s available to you  and so on…we happen to live 10 minutes from the Gettysburg battlefield, so you can bet that will play a big part when my son studies American history.  Experiences that come from what is uniquely available to you will have a big impact on making your child’s education uniquely his.

We are adding additional reading from other resources to add information on scientists not covered in our spine as well as other points of view (all history has bias and the best way to counteract that is to read about events from different angles).

5.  Decide how you will assess what (if?) your child is learning.  Are you going to have writing assignments?  Tests?  Projects?  Make sure that it is something that you feel confident about assessing. 

I’m a writer, so I prefer to have my son write.  He is writing mini-biographies of some of the scientists he is learning about.

6.  Schedule it. 

The easiest way for me to do this is to create a table in my word processing program (you could use a spreadsheet).  It’s easier for me than writing it out because I can insert a new row at any time without having to erase and recopy anything. 

Grab ALL your resources (make sure you have a list of any websites, moves, etc.)

First I take my spine and divide it up into reasonable to digest chunks.

Let me pause here a second, because I want to be clear here.  I do not divide the spine up into the number of school weeks.  I divide it up into chunks that I’m confident that my son can handle. 

Every child is different.  Some are speed readers.  Some remember every word.  Some will need to reread every word to remember what they read. 

It may be that your spine is too big for your particular child to finish in a year. 

That’s ok---once you’ve divided up and can see how many days of reading it will take your child to complete it, you may decide that you want to cut part out of it.  Or you may decide that you don’t care if it takes more than a year to finish this particular course.

Learning doesn’t have a deadline, after all.

Or maybe the spine is too light for you child---you might add additional reading to beef it up.

Once you have your spine divided up into reasonable chunks, start adding in your additional resources between or alongside those readings as they fit in.

Easy, right?

Winking smile

I know.  It seems daunting.  It IS daunting when you look at that mile high pile of resources to schedule, but it will feel so good when you are done and you can hand your schedule to your child.

David pretending to read part of his course in the History of Science

Here’s a list of the resources I am using for my son’s history course…

(Yes, there are some affiliate links in there, but used or from your library is also good. )

World History:  Makers of Science

Spine:  Makers of Science: 5-Volume Set from Oxford University Press---this set covers the lives of 40 different scientists, from Aristotle to Stephen Hawking.  It includes information on what else was happening in the world when these men and women were living and timelines of contemporary events.

Extras:  Philosophy Adventure---we used this to begin the course, so it’s a supplemental spine that covers ancient natural scientists (we think of them more as philosophers today, but the lines between the disciplines were a little less clear then)

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion edited by Ronald Numbers---we are using this as a counterpoint for many of the articles in Maker of Science to present a different point-of-view.

Breakthroughs in Science by Isaac Asimov---I wouldn’t ordinarily assign this for high school, but it covers many scientists who are not in the Makers of Science set and covers some that are from a different point-of-view.

Several of the How do we know about… series by Isaac Asimov (you can download many of them for free from this site, click the “English” link under books for a list.)  These books are GEMS.  Think of them as historical overviews of various scientific topics and how advancements were made in that field of study through man’s history.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking---because, why not?


What unique courses have you designed for your kids?

Now, please visit my lovely friends as they Explore the World in their homeschools:

Exploring Our World With Social Studies by Stacie @ Super Mommy to the Rescue

Relaxed Homeschooling: Science and Social Studies in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Living History by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Classically Influenced, Project Strong, Adaptable Middle School History by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Primary Sources for Delight-Directed History by Susan @ The Every Day of Education

Exploring our World: High School Studies of Ancient History, American Government and Economics by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

History, Geography, and Worldview Lessons in Our Homeschool by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Our Curriculum Choices 2015 ~ Science, History & Geography by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

Our Favorites for History, Geography, and Science by Becky @ Milo & Oats

Globe Trotting by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Around The World by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Bible-Based History Curriculum and Resources by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

13 Living Book History Series for a Charlotte Mason Based Homeschool by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Social Studies and Science in Our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

The Science Life by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

History, Geography Science for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

History Social Studies and Science...VCF Week 3 by Denise @ Fullnest

Learning About our World and History by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Taking the Mystery Out of History and Other Subjects Too With Our Favorite History Curriculum by Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Credits:  Clipart by StoryRock.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link, you will incur no additional cost, but Homeschooling Hearts & Minds may earn a commission. Thank you for your support.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Free Printable Triangle Multiplication Cards

In honor of the 2nd week of the Virtual Curriculum Fair I’ve got a special treat for you!  Free, full-color printable triangle cards for practicing the 6x6 to 12x12 multiplication facts.

triangle x-001I recommend printing these on cardstock. Laminate if you wish. I detest printables that require me to cut all the way around each individual object---it's messy, time consuming, and paper wasting---so these are designed to minimize cutting. The lines are a medium gray to make it a little less obvious if you are little off the line, too. ;) Each card covers one fact family, so you can use the 6, 7, 42 card to practice 6x7=42, 7x6=42, 42/6=7, 42/7=6. Each factor has its own color and products are a combination of the two factors on that card (the product is the color of one factor outlined by the other factor). Hopefully this will help your visual kiddos.

Recommended uses: 

Have your child cover one number with a thumb or clothespin to test herself (self-checking).

Have her copy out the four math sentences for each card.

Match up like products.

I’m sure that you can think of some other ideas.

Note:  This is a doc file (for some reason it didn’t want to convert well to pdf, but it converted pretty well to doc)---you should be able to print directly from google docs.  Let me know if you have any trouble with it.


You might also like:

Free Volume Measurement Flashcards

Free Math U See Compatible Addition/Subtraction Flashcards

Monday, January 12, 2015

Discovering Patterns---Week 2 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair

This is week 2 of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF) and our theme is Discovering Patterns:  Mathematics, Logic, and Science, which includes anything to do with mathematics, mathematical thinking, numbers, arithmetic, symbolic logic, critical thinking, and math-y sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.).  My co-host is Laura @ Day by Day in Our world.

2015 vcf week 2 button-001We have 20 bloggers this week who are sharing how math and science really get done in their homeschools:

Learning about Patterns in Our World Through Math and Science by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Relaxed Homeschooling: Mathematics in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Using a Bible-Based Math Curriculum by Tauna M @ Proverbial Homemaker

Math, Science and Logic for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Playing with Numbers by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Unschooling Science by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

Logically Speaking: Math, Science, and Logic for 7th Grade  by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Numbers and Molecules! by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Math and Science in Our Homeschool by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

5 Math & Logic Resources We Love by Becky @ Milo & Oats

Giving Your Kids The Right Start With Math by Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Math in Our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

Classical STEM by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Math, Science and Logic - How do we Tackle Them? by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

The Physics of Delight-Directed Learning by Susan @ The Every Day of Education

Tackling High School Science by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter

Choosing Math Curriculum for Special Learners by Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

Math for all ages by Denise @ Fullnest

Middle School Monday - Math With Fred by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Learning With Math and Science Resources  by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

Would you like to join us?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Free Multimedia Units and Lesson Plans on Polar Bears (grades 4-8)…plus a few bonuses for younger kids

It’s snowing this morning and for some reason that brought back fond memories of a polar bear unit I did way-back-when with my oldest when he was about 9. 

Free Multimedia Units on Polar Bears for grades 4-8, plus bonus freebies for the younger crowd @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds(warning:  ramble ahead, if you hate rambles, skip down to the bolded heading to find the thing you came for)

That unit was put together by Gwen Nicodemus for her own kids and is a little dated (I had to do some hunting to find it, because the old site I had previously downloaded it from is now defunct), but still usable.  You can find it, as well as units on several other topics, here---read it before you use it as it was originally offered as a “shareware” requesting $5 remittance to the author if you used it, but the payment info is out of date and she’s uploaded it to this newer site without updating that, so it would seem it is free to use now.

But, after hunting up Gwen’s unit (which was an excellent and rare find several years ago), I wondered, hmmm….what good stuff is available now?  So I did some digging and I found a truly great resource aimed at grades 4-8 for studying polar bears that deserves a post all on its own, but I did want to include something for younger kids…because so many of us have kids from multiple age groups, so there’s a little bonus a the bottom. 

Great Free Resource to Learn about Polar Bears (grades 4-8)

Polar Bears International has put together a page full of free downloadable lesson plans with overlapping multimedia unit plans to teach your kids about these arctic mammals.

Honestly---the amount of material here is incredible. 

There are 6 different downloadable lesson plans that include activities, teaching materials, and links to support materials such as powerpoints and videos linked right in the pdf. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the online unit plan pages (many of which are designed to coordinate with one or more lesson plan(s))are packed with links to online resources including:  archived webcasts, videos, maps, informational webpages, links to scientists’ articles, powerpoints, etc.

If you have a child in the middle grades who is wild for polar bears, you might spend a week (or more on this site).

I promised a bonus---

If you have some younger kids who would like to join your polar bear studies, you might pick up a few books from the library, including:

The Magic School Bus #13:  Polar Bear Patrol

Magic Tree House #12:  Polar Bears Past Bedtime

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #16:  Polar Bears and Arctic (companion for MTH #12)

Pair these free printables with them:

Polar Bear Patrol Lapbook

Polar Bear Past Bedtime Chapter Questions

Free Polar Bear Lapbook

Lapbook elements for Polar Bears and the Arctic (scroll down a little)

You might also like these other free learning resources at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds.


What topics are you studying in your homeschool right now?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Building a Foundation of Words

Welcome to week 1 of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF)!  Chareen at Every Bed of Roses is joining me from the other side of the world to co-host Playing with Words:  the Language Arts.  The VCF is a month-long blog carnival and we have a great crew of homeschool bloggers joining us---you will find links to their word play at the bottom of this post.  If you’d like to join us, share a post in the linky.

2015 vcf wk1 tall_2-001Our language arts are a bit of a mixed bag this year, which will happen when you’re teaching everything from beginning reading to high school literature and composition.  But there is one important thread that runs through our language studies, a fundamental ingredient that without which it would all just fall apart…

It isn’t a particular phonics program or method of teaching grammar.

It isn’t a particular schedule of skills or list of objectives.

It isn’t Latin (although Latin is groovy and I highly recommend it).

It isn’t a daily routine, drill, or practice.

It isn’t a book list.

It is something that weaves its way through all that we learn, do, and say…

It affects what we know and understand about the world we live in, our ability to connect with and communicate with others, our ability to make decisions, and our ability to be all we can be.

It’s all about quality content.

Content really is king when it comes to learning.

The single thing that most keeps kids from acquiring new knowledge is not having the necessary background knowledge to make sense of it.  Skills are important, but they don’t work in a vacuum.  They need to be mastered around a strong base. 

Content gives us context and foundational information from which to draw when we are learning new things.  It gives us pegs to hang new information on and purpose for our skills as we practice them.

Imagine a child trying to learn to read who has a cognitive vocabulary of about 100 words.  When kids learn to read, they are making an important connection between the symbols on the page and the fact that they represent words and ideas---if they are unfamiliar with the words and ideas that are represented there, they may (may) be able to sound out the words as you point to them, but they won’t understand what it is that they are reading.

If you’ve ever taught a child to read, you know this. 

She will start by sounding out the letters, she’ll blend them together, and it will sound stilted at first…a little like a computer generated voice reading a word.  But then there’s an “a-ha” moment when she recognizes the word.  She remembers it, it is something she can retrieve from her long-term memory banks. 

And at that moment, she understands.  If there are words in the sentence that she’s never heard before, she will stumble over them.  She might be able to pick up their meaning from the context, but really it is enough for her brain to handle learning the skill at this moment.  Being able to recognize those words is a gateway to improving her skill in reading.

So the child with a very limited vocabulary will not only be taxed by the hard work of decoding in the first place, but also by the challenge of trying to make sense of it once he has.  He has the chips stacked against him.

IMG_6131We’re not reading for reading’s sake, right?

Ultimately it is the understanding that we are going for here, reading is just a tool we use to get there.  If we read without understanding, we are only decoding the symbols on the page without transferring the knowledge and ideas that are being shared there into our own minds.

But beyond the information contained within those words, as we expose our children to more and more articles, books, literature, poetry, and other written bits, we are giving them more and more familiarity with how writing works, how arguments are formed, and how ideas are communicated---we are giving them powerful models that they can imitate and assimilate into their own work.

We’re giving them a familiarity with complex grammar, a feel for poetic devices, and an appreciation for the meaning that lies underneath the words that appear on the page.

So a key part of our family’s language arts “curriculum” isn’t a program that you buy from a homeschool publisher.

We make it a priority to give our children an environment filled with the written and spoken word. 

We read good books together.  We talk about them. 

That’s it.

It’s not a magical formula, certainly, but it works. 

Through our read alouds, my children have been exposed to new vocabulary and ideas that wouldn’t normally come up in everyday conversation.  The younger children have acquired knowledge that they cannot acquire on their own by reading simple texts. 

As their own reading ability advances and they read about those things on their own, they already have a familiarity with the content that allows them to dig deeper and make even more connections.

It’s a endless cycle that continues on into adulthood---the research I’ve seen shows that a child will get the most out of book if the words they don’t already know are few and far between and they have some familiarity with the topic they are reading about---the more familiar it is, the easier it will be for them to acquire the new things that they haven’t learned yet. 

This is perhaps even more important if your child has learning issues---audiobooks and read alouds will keep him from being limited by his ability to decode.

So we read a lot.  We listen to books on cd.  And we do this from the beginning.


Not only are we sharing knowledge with our children, but we are sharing warm, fuzzy experiences.  Can’t get enough of them. Winking smile

In practical terms, keep a basket of books to read to your children. 

Add books from your childhood.  Pick up books from your library with beautiful pictures.  Read and talk and learn together.

Gosh, I’m boring.  You know what inspired me to talk about this today?

My 14-year-old.  He just finished writing his first draft of his first completed novel.  And he’s ready to edit.

His current passion is writing. 

And when I look at his writing, I know that I did not teach him this---he learned it by being exposed to all manner of writing.  He incorporated knowledge he acquired from reading, knowledge that I myself don’t have (yes, in some areas he does know more than me).  He assimilated various turns of phrase from other authors. 

Good grammar and complex structures became automatic for him from constant exposure---he doesn’t even think about it.  He knows that comma goes there.  Which means that in his formal grammar studies all he needs to focus on is the why of that comma…and say, “Ah!  Now I know.”

And I see evidence of this in my younger children.  I may not have taught them Latin (yet), but they already have a strong knowledge base and mastery of language that no one can take away from them.

So, if there are days that all you do is read to your children (and there may be some days like that, because life happens), those are never wasted days.  You can’t give them everything they need that way…I’m not advocating throwing out the math books or  tossing the science kits…but what you are giving them is integral to a strong educational foundation.

What should you read?

Well, everything, of course!

But since that’s impossible…there are oodles of great reading lists out there and a lot of overlap between them.  I didn’t have a particular reading list when my children were young, so my husband and I started with some books we had fond memories of and learned about some other books.

IMG_6205Here are some suggestions to start with (note:  There are affiliate links here.  Thank you for your support):

Andrew Lang's Fairy books

Winnie the Pooh by Milne

Thornton Burgess' Animal Stories

Aesop's Fables for Children There are many different versions with different illustrations---preview a few to see what you like (we have a few different ones on our own shelves).

A Child's History of the World

E. Nesbit's various stories of magic

Chronicles of Narnia---but you simply must start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Little House on the Prairie series

There's no way I can list all the books that our family would put on our suggested reading list...well, I could, but I’d forget to include many and it would take me all day!  So I’m going to direct you to the reading lists that Kathy Jo Devore at Barefoot Meandering has put together.  They are free lists, downloadable, and have many of the books we have read and still plan to read:

Reading Pathways for pre-K to K (includes a suggested schedule)

Reading Lists has suggested lists for all ages (scrolls down, it will be on the right side)

Please visit these other lovely homeschool bloggers who are Playing with Words this week for the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair:

Language Arts for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Bible-Based Language Arts Resources by Tauna M @ Proverbial Homemaker

Relaxed Homeschooling: Language Arts in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Loving Books and Words by Sarah@Delivering Grace

5 Language Arts Resources We Love by Becky @ Milo & Oats

Teaching Reading at Home: A Tale of 5 Readers by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

A More Simplistic Approach to 7th Grade Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Language Arts Reading for Delight-Directed Learning by Susan @ The Every Day of Education

How To: Spelling Dictation by Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

The World of Words in our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Unschooling and Words, Words, Words by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Learning With Literature and Language Arts Resources by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

Words and More Words! by Michele @ FamilyFaithandFridays

Language Arts in Our Homeschool (2014 – 2015) by Laura O @ Day by Day in Our World

Our curriculum choices ~ Language Arts by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

The 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Loaded Pistols: Virtual Curriculum Fair Playing with Words by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

A Renewed Focus on Reading Aloud by Debra @Footprints in the Butter

Language Arts in our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

Logic of English Foundations: The Grand Prize Winner of Phonics by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

A Sentence a Day Teaches Grammar the Fun Way by Amy A @ One Blessed Mamma

Tackling Language Arts by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Middle School Monday - Lightning Literature and Composition by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

The Great Grammar Discovery by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links. When you purchase or browse through an affiliate link, there is no cost to you, but Homeschooling Hearts & Minds may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Plans? Plans?! What Plans?

Or, “Let’s just throw those plans out the window, shall we?”

I am in the midst of completely re-planning my school  year.  I seem to recall doing this last year at about this time…except it was just for my oldest who had decided that his independent work was not structured enough for him to actually get it done.

Try as I might---a daydreamer doesn’t magically become an driven achiever overnight, ya know?

Here’s a tip:  teach the kids you have, not the ones you think you want to have.

throwing plans-001

But this year it seems that I’m re-planning for everybody. Rolling on the floor laughing

It has been a weird year.  It’s been hard for me to get into a groove and every week it seems like something needs to be changed.

First I had to completely dump a math program that I thought was going to be the perfect thing for all my elementary children.

The replacement for the 5th grader still leaves a lot to be desired, but we are limping along.

The K-er finishes every math program I throw at her---I think I finally found my overachiever.

I keep overthinking the younger son’s math, because it just seems too simple.  I need to learn not to fix what aint broke.

Then I had to dump the oldest child’s Algebra book.  Because it taught precious little actual math. 

We switched to an old classic (Dolciani, which he doesn’t really like, because it’s hard, but hey, at least it actually teaches math).

Math.  Bah!

Then I dumped the geo program I was going to use for oldest.  Because in spite of the publisher assuring me that it’s appropriate for high school…well, we’ll just say that I disagree. 

And so does my son, which is saying something (remember, he’s not the overachiever type?  If he says something is too easy, it is!).

Winking smile

I had originally planned to beef it up anyway, but after realizing it was inadequate, I decided that if I’m going to reinvent the wheel anyway…well, why not invent my own wheel instead of reinventing someone else’s pitiful wheel?

So I put him in short program that is only a couple of months long (Philosophy Adventure) and then tried to wrap my head around creating a full history program (working title---World History:  Makers of Science).  I’ve got all my resources together and I’m trying to fit them all together into a coherent schedule.

Oi!  I wish I had a few months to read every single one so I could magically fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle…but life is short y’all…

I won’t go into the intricacies of that here---if I ever end up with something other than my hastily scribbled notes, maybe I will post it here.

While all this was going on…

My oldest daughter decided that she had been mistaken when she thought that she wanted her studies to be completely removed from those of her siblings.

Turns out that she misses learning with them.

And that she thought their Five in a Row learning was cool.  Who knew that cork is a type of tree bark?

She thought she wanted to learn from textbooks instead of the living book we’ve taken in the past.  She was wrong.

So after driving myself crazy trying to put together a completely-for-her course of study this year…which meant lots of extra preparation in the science, history, and lit departments…well, I really do have to throw those plans out the window.


Things have gone pretty well keeping the two youngest together, in spite of their age gap (5 and 9), with Five in a Row.  In fact, our Five in a Row studies have been the best part of the school year.  I really wish I had used this with my older kids earlier in my homeschooling career, but I thought it wasn’t “rigorous” enough. 

Live and learn.

Peter (the 9-year-old) has matured academically in the past few months, though, and I just know that he’s ready for Beyond Five in a Row in a way that he wasn’t in September---this kid has consistently fallen right between 2 grade levels at the beginning of each school year, which kind of makes me wish that we started our calendar in January instead of September (sticking the local school year does make it easier for portfolio reviews and my husband’s university schedule). 

He has a late summer birthday, which means that he does not make the local cut-off and would be in 3rd grade this year if enrolled in PS.  He wasn’t quite ready for 4th grade materials in many areas due to maturity and math abilities, but now, almost halfway through the year, he is more like a 4th grader.

I would have loved to have set him at grade 3-1/2.  Ninja 

Instead I waffle between grade 3 and grade 4---it may not matter to me, but it seems everyone wants to know, from the homeschool monitor to the random adult who meets us at church. 

Can’t he just be Peter who doesn’t fit into a particular box?

But I digress.

So, the current plan  is to put him and his older sister (11 in a few days) into vol. 1 of Beyond Five in a Row, but continue to do Five in a Row with their younger sister (on a slower schedule than we had been), which the older kids will likely sit in on.

And that’s what I’m working on now, getting it all together so we can restart on Monday.  Here’s hoping I can pull it off.

Are you at midyear or beginning a new homeschool year?  What changes have you made in your plans?

Friday, January 2, 2015

The 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair Starts Monday!

For the past few years, Homeschooling Hearts & Minds has started the New Year with the Virtual Curriculum Fair.  I’m so excited---we have over 2 dozen homeschool bloggers participating this year, many of whom have joined us previous years, but some new participants as well.

2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair starts Monday, Jan. 5 at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsYou can read all about what the Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF) is here and visit posts from the past 3 years. 

In a nutshell:  The VCF is a month-long blog Fair/Carnival where homeschool bloggers share what really works for them when it comes to teaching their kids.  We do talk about published programs that we use, but, more importantly, we also talk about the other bits and pieces that all come to together to form an individual course of study for life.  Our goal is to keep it real  while providing you with encouragement and inspiration.

Here is our schedule this year (I will add links to this intro post as each week goes live):

  1. January 5th---Playing with Words: the Language Arts---includes phonics, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, speech, literature, etc., etc., etc. Latin and foreign language studies could also go here.
  2. January 12th---Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science---includes anything to do with mathematics, mathematical thinking, numbers, arithmetic, symbolic logic, critical thinking, and math-y sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.).
  3. January 19th---Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science---includes history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.
  4. January 26th---Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

Don’t miss a single week---join the Homeschooling Hearts & Minds mailing list to get the VCF delivered to your inbox. 

I’m so happy to have co-hosts this year:

Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Stacie @ Super Mommy to the Rescue

Lisa @ Golden Grasses

We are being joined each week by these lovely bloggers:

Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

Becky @ Milo & Oats

Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Kristi @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Hillary @ Walking Fruitfully

Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

Susan @ The Every Day of Education

Debra @Footprints in the Butter

Jennifer @ a Glimpse of our life

Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Denise @ Fullnest

Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Laura @ Four Little Penguins