The Season of Advent

I love the season of advent. Last year my children enjoyed working on a Jesse Tree my good friend Rowena had shared. This year Rowena has just announced an advent ebook available! Rowena is one of the most creative people I have ever met, and I can not wait to enjoy her book over the next four weeks.

Here are some other favorite ways to count down to Christmas:

  • The Advent Wreath. Three purple (traditionally catholic) or blue (traditionally protestant) candles and a single rose candle with an evergreen wreath around them. Light a purple for the first week of advent and add a candle for each week. The rose candle is lit on the third week. 
  • Paper Chains. My children love making them and ripping off a link for each day. We made ours last night. I love how they festively drape around their rooms at the beginning only to disappear as their excitement grows. 
  • The Jesse Tree. Twenty-five bible verses that tell the story of the bible through the resurrection. Each verse is accompanied by a simple symbolic craft to be hung on a tree branch. There are many variations on this. 



If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.
~W. Clement Stone

This year has been full of miracles big and small. 
I am thankful. Simple as that. 

My sister's blog on her family's experience with pediatric liver transplant. The beginning of her story starts here

Screen Time

Recently, we've been fighting a nasty cold virus so our routine is off. As my kids draped themselves over couches and complained of boredom, they began to ask for movies or video games to help pass the time. I tend to cave easily to sick, pleading, stuffy-nosed, little voices. Unfortunately, increasing their screen time has never been a good idea no matter what the circumstances. After a couple of days of relaxing our no screen-time until 4:00pm rule, the bickering started. Arguments of what to watch, leads to general crankiness over anything. Soon I was getting nothing but whine. They wanted to do nothing but watch shows and play video games. The problem is that even though they are getting better, their taste for video games and movies has only increased. After a really bad day of tantrums we've decided to ban all leisure screen time for one month. They can have an occasional nature or history documentary and can use the computer for education and research, but no more shows, movies, or video games. Yes, mom and dad are doing this too. I've already been busted too. I was just checking my messages on Facebook when I saw a video my friend had posted. I clicked. I laughed. I got busted by my son. He is still gloating. I have no idea if we will really make it an entire month, but cutting back will definitely be a good thing for us all.

How do you do screen time in your home? How do your kids change after too much screen time?


Well we'll be off very soon on a trip that has been twisting me in knots for months. My daughter's violin group will be playing Downtown Disney and Sea World as well as a couple of highly prestigious events here in Nashville. Check out this link!
Local news clip about Nashville Suzuki Players.


Me Too!

Last but not least, I am going to talk about what it takes to school a preschooler. Preschool is a silly word for a homeschooling family, but I use it because everyone knows what I mean. My soon to be 4yo is not one to sit quietly on the sidelines while her older siblings have all of mommy's attention. She Loves to be in the thick of things. When we do book work, I make sure she has her own stack of activity and coloring books. When she sits down I make sure I assign her a page and give her complete instructions even if it is, "You should color these however you want." I make sure to read books with her often and have a set of BOB books she is working with on sounding out words. It doesn't take long. Once she realizes I am not ignoring her she is usually content to go get a toy to play with. Sculpting clay or paint is another favorite for her. The most important thing for me is to NOT resort to screen time if I can help it. A house rule is that screens (unless used for learning) stay off until 4:00pm daily. Everyone here is at some level of learning (even mom and dad!) and meeting those needs daily is what homeschooling is all about.


Making a List and Checking it Off!

Yesterday, I wrote about what it takes to school my oldest.  Today, I am going to focus on my son. My middle child is my only boy and my only type A. He wants to know what he has to do ahead of time so he can get it done and get on with life. I really think I could give him a list a mile long and he'd shrug his shoulders and start at number one. He plugs along until he's done and then sit by his Lego pile to play.

His struggles are of a different sort. He needs a quiet atmosphere to think and focus. It's lucky that he has his own room with a desk so he can retreat whenever things get too chaotic. He's an introvert in the Meyers-Briggs kind of way. He loves to get together with his friends, but NEEDS quiet time to recharge. When his brain can't engage, we just have to take a minute (or thirty) until he can focus. All the pushing and insisting will only frustrate him.  My son went to public kindergarten and did quite well. His only complaint was a "bully" and the noise. (I must say the little girl he deemed a bully was terribly annoying and not at all nice, but I don't think she was a bully.) He is absolute in his love of homeschooling and never wants to go back.  The hardest part of his school day is getting away from his sisters and getting me all to himself for one-on-one lessons. 

I sometimes worry about getting my little introvert out more and making sure he has time with other boys his own age. I worry that I don't have him involved in enough outside activities. I shouldn't worry though. He doesn't want to be involved in formal groups; he likes field trips in small groups. When we do go places, he's well behaved and polite, and he's never had a problem making friends.


End Points

Things have been hopping here!  We've started the year out and are trying to find our groove. One of the problems I have is trying to school three different ages at once. My biggest struggle is my oldest. Not because she is any more difficult than the others, it is because I am new to parenting this age and have to start finding out what works from scratch. I have a soon to be 11yo who is blossoming into a new stage of life that is filled with push/pull moments. She wants more independence and responsibility yet feels affronted at the work that often accompanies this. She is entering the logic stage of the classical method. She is excited to be switching gears, but feels paralyzed at what appears to be loads of more work. I am frustrated by the fact that the only thing that is holding her back is her fear of the volume of work. When she really tries and doesn't panic, she had no difficulty and completes everything quickly. After a month of this struggle, I saw progress in her education but a substantial drop in her joy of learning. So, for September we have decided to change our approach. We've divided her subjects into timed segments. She has to work steadily for the set time and may stop as soon as her time is up. The results: She is working for far less time and completing at least twice the amount as before. What this shows me is that a defined end point is vital to her being able to focus. If she feels that she has a never ending hill to climb, she can't even begin. She's happy for the moment and is a huge relief to me. More on the other two kids' stages in the days ahead.


Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies!

My son went to his first day of summer camp today! Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies at Belmont University is a fantastic summer camp. Dr. Murphree is funny and engaging and my son couldn't believe it was time to go home when I picked him up. 

Hey, Mom! Did you know that lightning bugs aren't even bugs? They're beetles! Why on earth did someone call them bugs?

Photo from BackyardNature. net 
Hey Mom! Can we plant morning glories? There is this BEAUTIFUL beetle that loves morning glories. It's a golden tortoise beetle. I'd love to see it!

photo from what's that bug. 
When looking for camps earlier this spring, (which was almost too late!) this is what I was searching for:
  •  A drop off program. I can teach my children a lot of things, but I can't teach them how to be away from me. I need to give them practice at being on their own. They need to have confidence that they can do things on their own, and I need to know that they can behave themselves around other adults and in group settings. 
  • Cheap! Not made of money here, and camps can range from free to over the top. This program was surprisingly reasonable!
  • Educational. I do not need an alternative to daycare that will provide safe entertainment for my children while I am busy doing something else. I want their experience to help them grow either intellectually, physically, or spiritually. 
Many universities and small colleges have programs throughout the summer. Many of these programs are offered by the school's professors in their areas of expertise. These programs tend to fill quickly but if you missed the early enrollment and have your heart set on a particular program, call their office a week before to see if they have had any cancellations or last minute openings.  So, what great programs have you found in the past or are looking forward to this summer?


Japan and a daughter who loves it.

My 10yo is my sensitive and emotional child. She is passionate and stubborn, and a lot like I was at her age. She loves to dabble in anything new and exciting. When she sees something she likes, her first response is "I want to DO that!" Her interests are as varying as the weather. Yet over time, there have been a couple of passions that have never waned. She has loved ancient Egypt since she was four, and her love of the violin has only grown over time.
Lately, her passions have branched to another culture, Japan. This is partly because one of her best friends is from Japan. Their friendship was one of those rare, good rivalries where they encouraged each other to do their best. They even handled the boy/girl teasing they often received with grace.  The first time they had her at their house to eat, she came home beaming because her friend's mother teased her son that she had used chopsticks better than he did! When we brought her home from school, this friend was the one we were most concerned with loosing touch. The feeling was mutual and his family asked if we'd be interested in taking kendo lessons with them to make sure the kids saw each other regularly.

We googled kendo and watched a few videos. (This video is of two of her teachers). I wasn't sold on these crazy masked figures running around whacking each other on the head. My daughter wanted to try though.


Homeschool Lite



Summer is here and so many friends and family are asking me if we are through with the school year. The answer is YES! and No. We've completed our number of school days with lots of room to spare. The grades are submitted and technically we are done. The problem is that we still haven't completed everything that we set out to do this year. Call me an overachiever. We could just move on next fall, after all, there is no rush to finish, but then, there is no reason to just laze the summer away either. My solution is homeschool lite! Each day my kids have a couple of lessons to do before the regular summer fun starts. We steadily chip away at the remainder of their books until they are ready to begin their new ones in the fall. I am considering letting them start their new curriculum early when the other books are done. My daughter's idea of F.U.N. is anything new. She looks to those shiny new books with eagerness. My son isn't concerned with the new books; he is all too aware of the work packed between their covers. He does like the idea of getting a head start on next year though.

This summer is already packed with great music performances, summer camps (a first for us), outdoor grilling, and lots and lots of pool time! A couple of lessons a day will hardly be noticed. Oh, sure, there is grumbling some days, a beach bag with towels by the door can be distracting! But, when they realize that the pool isn't even open yet and they can't go until the lesson is done, it is amazing how focused they become on completing their work.



I know my limits. I am not an art teacher.
I am creative, artistic, and resourceful, 
but I am not good at teaching art. 
Thankfully, Juli is. I found these classes at ARTLIFE at the beginning of the semester and I enrolled my seven-year-old son and my ten-year-old daughter. It was money well spent. They discussed line, shade, variety, texture, balance, harmony, and color. They worked with lithography, clay, paint, and paper. I got lots of ideas about what worked for them and what didn't. Now I know when stocking up on supplies, paint and clay are at the top of the list while I can save money on other items that are only mildly interesting to my kids. 

Nor am I a physical education teacher. 
I enjoy walking, swimming, and going to the parks,
but know nothing about introducing my kids to sports. 
Thankfully, Jennifer and Tiffany do. I happened on the Road Runners, a kids marathon and triathlon training running club for homeschoolers, this spring also. Neither of my kids were getting enough exercise and I did not know where to begin with helping keep fit. This club offered goal setting, instruction on correct form, and tons of encouragement. Even though neither of my kids are going to do the triathlon this year, my kids have gained strength and endurance since they began. Because it is for homeschoolers, they expect the toddlers, mommies, and kids of all ages. My three-year-old daughter runs along or gets some piggy-back rides. Now that they are focusing on bike riding, she hops on her tricycle and zooms along.

After these great experiences, I will never hesitate to call upon others to help my children when I don't feel quite up to the task.


Homeschool Advantages: Freedom of Time

It isn't the reason I decided to homeschool, but I love to be master of my own time. I still get the same 24 hours as everyone else, but by homeschooling, I can rearrange our time as our life demands. For homeschoolers, the daily tempo is set by each member of the family rather than the rigid schedule put forth by the teacher. Here, if the three year old is feeling out of sorts, we adjust to meet her needs. She may only need a lap and a story but that may require us all to shift things a bit. Projects may be placed on hold while I tend to an unexpected crisis. The key to making this work is to rearrange the things I need to get done and not to put them off indefinitely.


The Cicadas have Emerged! (run for your lives!!!!)

Here in Nashville, it is the 13 year invasion of the highly annoying cicada. You can't go outside without getting them in your hair or crunching them underfoot. Of course, you won't hear them crunch too much over their noise. Click on this link to hear the chorus and imagine stepping outside and having that surround you. Or, you can go here to hear some individuals.
My daughter is fascinated with their castoff shells. She has jars of them. She insists on keeping them in her room.  I am less than thrilled.

Give them a week and we will be sweeping piles of them off our decks. As we regain our sense of hearing, we'll all take a deep breath and boast about our trials and tribulations for another 13 years until once again the little beasts come out to

Not my video, but it is exactly what we are dealing with. 


The Dark Days of History

A doctor's clothing
I knew it was coming. It was inevitable. The dark stuff of history had to be discussed at some point. As we worked chronologically we had already seen some things that were bad: wars, religious intolerance, and even some rulers that were just plain mean. Yet, I knew the bubonic plague would be different. We use The The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages  by Susan Bauer and I think it did a very good job at introducing this topic with enough seriousness so they can feel the reality of it while minimizing the gruesomeness. The stories of entire towns being lost and people dying in a matter of a day or two, stunned my wide-eyed, vaccinated innocents.

It wasn't long before my kids began to put some facts together. Call it bad timing, but the pets were due their flea and tick medicine about that time and my kids saw me giving them their doses. That night, my oldest asked me if she could get the plague from the cats who tend to sleep in her bed.


The Math We Love

This was the very first curriculum we looked into as beginning homeschoolers. It was my husband's recommendation. My husband's picks should always be taken seriously. He will research something to death, logically compile the information, and then say "I like XYZ. What do you think?" I've learned over the years, what on the surface appears to be an off-handed remark, is actually the result of a lot of thought. And, again, he was spot on. (Yes, it's here in print for the whole world to see! I will never live it down!)



My oldest had a violin audition last night. I think I was more nervous than she. This wasn't her first audition but it was her biggest one so far. She is a current member of the Nashville Suzuki Players (NSP), a nonprofit organization that travels to events and schools to spread the joy of music. The group has played all over the southeast and the list of people and places they have preformed for is impressive and growing.


Five (plus 1) Free Field Trips in Nashville

Field trips don't need to be expensive. Here in Nashville there are several great places to go and things to do for FREE. Some of these require registration while others are pleased to see you just walk in. There is even one that will provide T-shirts all for free.


How to Go to a Curriculum Fair... and Survive!

I think one of the most memorable moments of a homeschooler's  journey is the first time you venture into the almighty curriculum fair (insert horror film music here).   I was fortunate enough to have a good friend baby step me through my first one, but some of you may not be so lucky. So, I decided to point out a few things that really helped and a few things that I wish I had known on my first trip.


Breaking out of Boredom: 4 ways to shake up the learning

1. Board Game Day
Gather up your board games and play them one by one for a day. Are you missing any pieces? Can you make them yourself? Was the game fun? With as many educational games we homeschoolers collect, the day will be full of learning and fun! If the kids didn't like any of the games (complete games only!) then pass them on or consign them. No use letting them take up valuable shelf or closet space!
2. Chefs for a Day
We all know that a kitchen is the heart of the home. It can be the heart of home learning too! Start the day with each child coming up with something they would like to bake or cook for the day. You may have to help them with this so you don't end up with three or four desserts and no meal after cooking all day! Have them look up recipes and ingredients. Make a list of what you need and head to the grocery. Looking for labels, fresh produce, and bargains will be more fun when they know that they are doing this for their own dishes. I have found that it is better to have one main chef with a sous chef on standby if needed. If the smallest of my crew gets bored, I let her play with Play Doh (her favorite) at the table  while I focus on the chef. Lots of learning goes on in a day like this. If you have the time to plan a bit more, check out some cooking themed books for the kids to look through during the down times.
3. Go for a Walk
I know, it's cold. I know, it's rainy, snowy, windy, gray.... it's February for goodness sake! Go outside anyway! Unless it is storming, dress for it and head out! Take a camera. Look for signs of spring. It doesn't have to be all day and it doesn't have to be a power walk, just stroll. Keep pace with your slowest child and enjoy the moment.
4. Be the Student
Tell the child that they will teach you for a day. For my oldest, this means I usually get a lesson in Ancient Egypt or Japanese culture. I enjoy trying to stump her throughout the day with my questions for the teacher. My middle child enjoys setting up school and playing and my youngest enjoys being a student with mom. With some creative questioning, we usually learn a lot.  This game helps my children be more empathetic to how much effort goes into a day of learning.


Starting Points

Starting on the path to homeschooling can be horribly confusing. When you first begin thinking about it you don't know where to begin looking for just the very basic information. Most often you'll find that although many out there will tell you what they think the best path is, ultimately the choice is yours. And this is a very good thing! No one knows your children like you.  I got a call from a friend about a friend who wants to maybe start thinking about homeschooling her soon to be kindergarten twins. That's pretty vague but the advice I offer is usually the same no matter who is asking.

1. I tell them to define why they want to homeschool. 
There is a multitude of reasons why any one family begins homeschooling but there is usually one main reason. For us it was a better tailored education. For some it may be religious reasons, and yet others may only want to keep their family closer. Once you've decided why homeschooling appeals to you, you can move on.

2. I next recommend Cathy Duffy's book 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. 
 This book lists lots of material and does a good job at explaining their methods. This usually helps the person decide what style of teaching they want to start with. I let them know we use TWTM classical approach in case they want to discuss that in more detail later.
3. I tell them that they should take it slowly. 
The best advice I ever received was that you will not harm you kids in one year. If you don't teach one thing that first year, they will still progress because they are growing children and that is just what they do!

4. After that, consider the details.  
Other things I mention, if their head isn't spinning by this point, is to consider a curriculum fair, know their legal rights, and start learning the lingo. Study the vendors and speakers of a curriculum fair before setting foot in one. The first time homeschooler can become completely overwhelmed at one of those. I tell them to get a copy of their state's homeschooling law and READ it. It may appear incomprehensible, but every homeschooler should know their rights. And lastly I give them a few code words that will help them separate the creation based curriculum from the rest. No matter which side of the debate you are on, you should know what to look for.


Recipe for Disaster

3 kids eager to make valentines
1 pile of paper
3 bottles of glue
1 bottle of red paint
3 paint brushes
1 white cat

Allow the first ingredients to work with the paper, glue, red paint, and brushes until valentines are partially done. Add cat. Mix well.

For a variation, try adding glitter. 


Spring Fever

There was a lovely warm snap a few days ago. We all got outside and cleaned up the yard a bit, played a bit, and planned a garden a bit. The kids are old enough to be a real help with this project. My yard is not huge and some trees that I love have eliminated any hope of tilling the soil; their roots are just everywhere! I hope to build a raised bed. The only sunny spot I have will be just large enough to try a few things. I wanted to make sure I got my seeds from a farm that takes care to preserve heirloom species. I chose several interesting varieties from New Hope Seed Company. I then found a great website on organic gardening that showed how to make seed pots from newspaper. I lined some old cereal boxes with foil to water proof them and now have 40 pepper plants in my kitchen window.  I may not have room for them all in my little backyard garden, but I'll have fun finding homes for any extras.



When I was first setting out on our homeschooling journey, one area that worried me greatly was how homeschool is perceived by my family and friends. I've heard more than once from a friend, family member, co-worker, or complete stranger that the only kids they knew who homeschooled were "weird" or "odd" but they quickly follow by saying we could be the exception because both parents are educated and "qualified" to do it right.


As a new homeschooler these statements gave me courage, not because I thought I was better qualified, but because I felt that people around me would be more accepting of us. Now that we've been doing this for almost two years I look at these comments differently when they inevitably come up. 

Looking at the first part of the comment, I wonder if this person is saying my child is or is not weird. Because I personally could go either way at different times. I prefer the term unique or individual because any kid when looked at closely will show some differences from their peers. No one I've met yet has ever been average. Secondly, have you met some of my kids' old classmates? There were some very individualistic kids in there!
Now, in all fairness, there is a significant percentage of homeschooled kids who have come home because the schools did not meet their needs. These outlier kids have differences based on everything from physical disabilities to mental abilities that fall above and below the norm. But if this is weird then so be it. Any kid out there could have been dealt those cards and if homeschooling is a safer and better alternative then who can fault them for taking that path?

The second part refers to my husband's and my degrees. We both have masters degrees in chemistry. We have both taught chemistry at the university level. We have both been given teaching awards. How does this make me better qualified to teach 4th grade language arts than a parent with a high school education? Seriously, there are so many curriculum choices that any parent dedicated to educating their kids at home can find something that will light the way. When that fails, there are plenty of resources. I am outsourcing art. And let's not forget unschooling. Although this isn't our chosen method, time and again it has been proven a valid method to prepare a child for adulthood. 

I am convinced that these comments often come from well meaning people that just haven't given homeschooling enough thought. They haven't explored the differences in educating large groups of children verses tutoring an individual child. They are only reacting in shock to our newly discovered wierdness.


Nashville Suzuki Players

 My daughter plays with the Nashville Suzuki Players (she's the one in braids). They have played in lots of great places over the last couple of years but this latest performance has been my favorite.  This past week they were an opening act for the Oak Ridge Boys.

William Golden's son also plays in the group and I really appreciate them giving the NSP the opportunity to open for them. There are some great pictures of the evening on the Oaks' web page here.  They can really put on a show!  And when I finally get our copy of the publicity picture the kids took with the group, I'll make sure to put it on here too.


Making an Almoner

Ever hear the term "cut purse"? It means a pickpocket. Apparently, clothing from early medieval times had no pockets so everyone carried a purse or an almoner tied to their belt. Not the almoner whose duties it was to collect alms, but a bag with which to carry the alms or money. The cut purse would literally cut the purse from the belt in order to steal a person's money.

My kids learned how to make a simple bag to hold their treasures. I'm certain a few adjustments could produce a rather nice large bag too.
Using a plate for a pattern,

cut a circle out of cloth.

Cut holes along the edge and lace a ribbon through.

Draw together and tuck the raw edges inside.

Add treasures.

Wear proudly... but beware the cut purse.



I just purchased a wonderful book:  The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. This book is essentially a guide to reading, completing, and actually getting something out of the classical writings we all know but haven't read. Apparently I am not alone when I say I cannot understand what is so great about the "greats" because I have already talked to several friends who have had the same experience. I have several classics on my shelves and have even attempted many of them, I just don't enjoy them nor understand their importance. And yet, I want to read them! I want to be able to draw my own conclusions as to whether they are good or not. So, here I go.

Susan Wise Bauer is also the author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition) from which I base most of our curriculum. Reading through the classics will not only improve my own education, but better prepare me for teaching them when the time comes to introduce them to the kids. At least, that is my hope.

Speaking of books, I just added a page to the blog that shows what my kids are currently reading. I'd love it if you'd check it out. I'm always looking for good stories for the kids so feel free to post any of your favorites.


Back in the Swing of Things

School is in again! Routines are back up and the kids are reading, writing, and 'rithmatickin' away! I've made up daily sheets for my kids and hung them on the refrigerator to help us all to remain focused. I really like getting all core bookwork done before lunch with science, history, and languages left for the afternoon. They seem to take direction better from a preset schedule than a mother who could be just making it up to keep them busy. They like a plan and perhaps more importantly, an end. I've also discovered that the earlier I get the daily chores and violin practice out of the way, the happier my oldest is for the remainder of the day. For a child who vows to love playing violin, she sure gives tons of grief over practicing it! My youngest has surprised me too. No longer will she be content to play or color while the others do their schoolwork. She wants in on this mommy monopolizing activity called school! And she is being quite specific in her demands. If the others are doing language arts she wants to work on her letters. Math means it is time to bring out her own numbers book and counting games. Although she still plays quietly while we are reading from our history book, she insists on having her own coloring pages and doing a project too. I love it!


One Word

Happy New Year!
I keep running into stories about choosing one word to describe something. I enjoy this exercise in stretching the vocabulary. Each word has a unique meaning and flavor or it wouldn't exist. Sometimes the sound of a word or appearance surprises me when I look at it isolated. This year, rather than rattle off a list of resolutions, I have decided to choose a word that will be my guiding theme for the year. 


A simple routine.
Simple foods for my family.
Renewed enjoyment of the simple pleasures we find every day. 

What are your resolutions? What word would you choose?