When There are Tears in Homeschool

I love being a homeschool mom. I have dreamt of teaching my own children since I was a child myself. I would love to tell you this means our homeschool days are always happy.

They aren’t.

Much as I love our simple homeschool days, they are far from perfect. My kids are not angels, and they certainly don’t have an angel for a teacher. Some days we battle bad moods all morning. Other days, everything is running at least an hour late and everyone suffers the tension it causes. Sometimes the material just seems way too difficult. Every once in a while, someone ends up in tears.

Learning should be fun, but a few tears don’t necessarily make the whole homeschool adventure a horrible failure. In any good pursuit, there are likely to be a few tears spilt along the way. What I want to do as a homeschool mom is understand the reason behind the tears so that I can seek wisdom to help us overcome them.

My oldest is in third grade. As my children grow and face harder concepts than trying to distinguish between an adjective and adverb, I’m sure we’ll face new challenges. But at this young stage, the tears seem to fall for one of three reasons: exhaustion, concepts that are too hard, and unclear expectations.

Dealing with tears in homeschool (without throwing in the towel!)

Tears in homeschool

When the tears fall because of exhaustion

Have you ever started a Monday morning with high hopes of a productive day only to have one child after another break down in tears over the most trivial things? And then you remember that they stayed up way too late all weekend because of family activities? And that at their ages they probably need a nap even more urgently than they need to finish their math lesson?

Though I don’t like the idea of postponing school because we are worn out from playing too hard, some days plowing through is an all-around terrible idea. One of the beauties of homeschooling is getting to be flexible. For us, it mean keeping a good pace most days so we can slack off a little without falling behind when naps are urgently required.

When the tears fall because expectations aren’t clear enough

I have pretty clear expectations of how our school day should go. The trouble is, I’m not always great at making my expectations clear to the kiddos.

Ever since we formally started school, we begin our day by reciting the Apostles Creed and singing a song together. It only takes about two and a half minutes, and I thought it would be such a great way to start our day on a happy note. But my goodness the wiggles and whines! Usually at least one person was heart-broken about being pulled away from the Legos to start school. Not even five minutes into our day, we were off to a bad start already!

Then I realized it wasn’t really my children’s fault. The blame rested squarely with me, because I hadn’t made the expectations clear. Once I clearly laid out expectations (and added an incentive), everyone was happier! It’s amazing the difference clear expectations and a chocolate chip make.

When the tears fall because the subject is too hard

Children’s minds are simply amazing. Just because they are young, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of learning a lot. We are part of a vibrant weekly classical academy that constantly challenges and inspires the kids. They have explored hands-on science, learned dozens of poems by heart, and are blossoming little bookworms.

Sometimes though, one of them bangs up against a concept or problem that seems impossible to them. Try as they might, they just cannot figure it out. Their eyes glaze over as a little tear drips down their face. Or, they loudly wail, “I CANNOT do this! It’s WAY TOO HARD!”

My mind is really torn when it comes to things that are “too hard.” On the one hand, I want my children to love school. Charlotte Mason had a lot of wisdom when she encouraged homeschool parents, “If your child gets bored or overwhelmed with a subject, move on to something else as quickly as possible. Come back to it when they are ready.” (paraphrased)

On the other hand, Tiger Mom makes an excellent point, “nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.” Usually we learn to love something once we are good at it.

I had a firsthand experience with this a few months ago. Rose was supposed to write a very simple “article” from an outline. When I told her it was time to write, she sat at the table with her basic outline in front of her, twirling her pencil in her hand. “Mama, I just can’t do this!” she said, frustration heavy in her voice.

I was really torn. Part of me wondered if she was right. Maybe I was expecting too much. But I also didn’t want to encourage her to quit, so I said she needed to write the first two sentences and that I could giver her some prompts if she needed them.

A few tears trickled down her face as she put pencil to paper. Once the first sentence was finished her mood brightened a little and she set to work on the second.

Then I got busy tending to the other children. An hour or so later, she came up to me with her face beaming. “Mama, guess what! I can do it. Want me to read my story to you?”

It wasn’t Shakespeare, but in my totally biased opinion, it was pretty good. Plus, facing the challenge and working past it boosted her confidence and proved that sometimes even hard things can be conquered sentence by sentence.

So, Charlotte Mason or Tiger Mom? I think it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes when something is “too hard” it’s best to back away for the moment and approach it again later. Other times, by breaking the impossible into bite-sized pieces the impossible not only becomes possible, but an excellent character-building experience.

Dealing with tears in home school (without throwing in the towel!)

When there are tears in homeschool

There are few things that have shown me my need of wisdom more than the every day act of teaching my children. Much as I love the privilege of getting to teach them, in the nitty-gritty reality of daily life, some days we do have tears.

Though sometimes they make me want to throw in the towel, I’ve realized that occasional tears don’t make me a bad homeschool mom, they make me a human in pursuit of a worthwhile goal: joyful, diligent students.

Sometimes the answer to the tears is as simple as an early nap, sometimes the answer demands clearer expectations, and sometimes the answer is a more delicate balance of Tiger Mom and child-led schooling.

Abstract Art Drawing for Kids

Sometimes I wish I was a more crafty mom. I wish I enjoyed making a ginormous mess while we created fun memories together. Truth of the matter is though, the simpler an art project is, the better. At this stage in motherhood, I don’t need help with extra messes. Messes multiply fast enough without my help
Practice patterns with this fun and simple abstract art project! This simple abstract art drawing has entertained Rose and Will for hours since their Nonnie taught them how to do it last fall. (Thanks Nonnie!) They have made it over and over again using varying colors and shapes.

The best part? All you need is paper, something to trace, and three crayons.

Abstract Art Drawing for Kids

Abstract Art First trace three vertical and two horizontal lines, using a ruler or book.
Circles on abstract art Then, using a cup or other round object, trace circles onto the page.

Coloring abstract art patternsPick three colors to use for the drawing. Starting in a corner, color in the first section. Color the next section a different color. Continue filling in the sections, alternating colors so that two touching sections aren’t the same color.

Abstract-Art-kidsOnce you’ve followed the basic pattern a few times, branch out. Make extra lines, trace squares or triangles instead of circles, or try adding a color.

Entertain your child for hours with this fun and simple abstract art project.

Because there are so many options for colors and patterns, Rose and Will regularly pull out paper and crayons to make more abstract art drawings. It is simple enough that with just a bit of help tracing, they can finish independently… though it’s a fun project to do together. So pull out some paper and crayons and have fun making this simple abstract art drawings with your kids!

Teaching Poetry to Children

In our technology-driven age, teaching poetry to children may seem as unimportant as teaching them morse code. I believe it is just as important as ever.

Rose, Will, and the other students in their weekly classical academy can recite dozens of poems. Some are as short as four lines. Others over twenty.

Why spend time memorizing poetry? Partly because children’s minds are incredible. The amount of information they soak up puts us adults to shame. As a classical homeschooler, one of my goals in this early (grammar) stage is to fill their minds. Not just with facts and information, but with the good, the true, and the beautiful.**  Good poems help me do that.

Poetry touches the mind, emotions, and spirit in ways that prose often can’t. It also expands vocabulary and improves syntax, while burning beautiful word images, hilarious stories, and inspiring examples into the soul.

I knew I wanted poetry to be a fundamental part of our homeschool days, so last summer I spent weeks cozied up with poetry collections and started compiling my favorite poems for children. Some are sacred, some are silly, and some are simply beautiful.

One of my goals this year is to finish compiling them into a robust poetry program for grammar-stage students. At my friend Brooke’s request, here is a sneak peak.

Christina Rossetti’s The Caterpillar is rich with color and imagery, but simple enough for children to connect with and enjoy.

Teach your children the good, the true, and the beautiful by filling their minds with excellent poems.

The Caterpillar by Christina Rossetti

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk.

May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.

Teaching poetry to children

(Many thanks to our friends AK and Keiah for their example and encouragement in teaching poetry.)

Although poetry is an important part of our homeschool days, we only work on in for a short time each day. Just by devoting fifteen or so minutes to poetry daily, you can give your children the gift of a treasury of fun and beautiful poetry for the rest of their lives. Here’s how I teach poetry to my children (and the sweet students at school.)

Read the poem aloud

Usually I make the students close their eyes while I read, so that they can focus on simply enjoying the poem. Read it slowly, and let them soak in the beauty of the poem. (Or its humor, depending on the poem!)

Talk about the poem

Explain any words they may not understand and ask questions to help them understand the poem, like “Why is the caterpillar in a hurry?” “Is the caterpillar in danger?” “Why does it have to die?”

Have them repeat the poem after you

Read the poem again, but this time have them repeat each line after you.

Have them illustrate the poem

Poetry paints pictures with words. Once you’ve read the poem and discussed it, have them draw or paint an illustration. (This is optional, but the kids love it!)

Keep reading, listening to, and repeating the poem

Every day, read the poem aloud and have them repeat it after you until they are able to recite it fluently on their own. (I’m working on audio recordings, games, and other teaching tools as part of the poetry collection.)

Recite the poem

Once they have mastered the poem, have them recite it at home, for grandparents, and/or in front of friends. Although they might be a bit nervous at first, getting used to speaking clearly and confidently in front of others will help them a lot down the road!

Review, review, review!

Learning a poem is great, but unless you review it, you’re almost certain to forget it. After they learn a poem, review it daily for several weeks, then at least once a week. (I’m working on tools to make review fun and easy too.)

Poetry is not only fun, it's a wonderful way to teach beautiful writing, vocabulary and syntax, while inspiring our children's souls.

Make poetry part of your children’s education

Poetry engages the mind and soul, expands vocabulary, increases memory, and is just plain fun! Make poetry part of your child’s education.

P.S. If you’d like me to let you know when the compilation is ready, sign up for my [almost] weekly highlights.

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** In the classical model of education, the early (grammar) stage focuses on memorizing core facts and concepts of history, science, language, etc. As the child matures to the logic stage, they begin to compare, analyze, and “argue”. Then, in the the rhetoric stage, they learn to take what they have learned and present it in a beautiful and compelling way. Memorizing poetry in the grammar stage sets them up to excel later on. 

photo credit/ photo credit 

A Lesson Learned from My “Martha” Project

Anticipation soared as we prepared for the children’s Ancient Egyptian party. We studied Creation through the Middle Kingdom in Egypt during their first term of history. Now it was time for a hands-on look at life in Ancient Egypt.

As one of the history teachers at their weekly classical academy, I’d been brainstorming ideas for weeks. But, the day before the party, the list of things left to prepare continued to grow.

Egyptian Party

There were books to pick up from the library, authentic snacks to gather, “apprentice” stations to prepare, activities to run through, and hours of reading left to be done. Plus, I still needed to finalize our costumes.

The hours ticked by as I hurried through my list. Midnight struck. I took a book on Ancient Egypt to bed and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

The next morning we were up bright and early. I rushed everyone to get ready, double-checked supplies, and made it to school just in the nick of time.

Daddy’s white t-shirts, white sheets, ribbon, and eye shadow transformed fifteen adorable students into fifteen adorable ancient Egyptians. Brightly painted collars, headbands & “gold” armbands (that we’d made in previous weeks) completed our costumes.

After “mummifying” apples with their awesome science teacher, the students trooped outside to eat snacks, just like the ancient Egyptians would have.

The weather was perfectly gorgeous, but getting the students to sit still was like trying to keep a toddler’s play area tidied. Their seemingly endless energy fed off one another, as my energy reserves started slipping. To preserve strength, I narrowed in on the projects to get through.

I still wore a smile, but my focus had shifted from blessing the students with a fun-filled “first-hand” look into life in ancient Egypt (and how that knowledge helps put stories from the Bible into their historical context) to just making it through the day without crashing.

The smile was there. The delight and enthusiasm were gone.

Hands-On Ancient Egyptian Activities

Instead of responding to hiccups in my plans with grace, I silently wished can’t they just sit still in a circle for five minutes? 

I lost sight of the fact that they’re still little. We’ll be traveling through ancient Egypt several more times before they graduate. If all they remember from our day is that ancient Egyptians wore white and that learning about them is fun, it’ll be all right.

I forgot and I was frustrated.

As the morning wore on and my weariness grew, the real lesson of the day crystalized: instead of bustling around “distracted with much serving” like Martha, I need to pause “to sit at the feet of Jesus”, like Mary. (Luke 10:38-42)

The busier the day, the more I need to lean on Him. When my strength fails, He has promised to give His, if I’ll just look to Jesus and ask.

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(Once I remembered to look up, the day ended joyfully, full of fun–and funny–memories.) 

Use Responsive Sayings to Enhance Your Homeschool

Children have incredible memories. They soak up new information like fresh sponges. As a homeschool mom, one of my goals is to channel that valuable ability toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.

One very simple way to do this is to use responsive sayings to easily learn Proverbs, short Scripture verses, helpful life lessons, and beautiful similes.

Tap into your children's incredible memory by using responsive sayings to easily learn Proverbs, helpful sayings, and good manners.

What are responsive sayings? They’re sayings where the parent (or teacher) says the first part, and the children answer back with the second part. For example,

Parent/teacher: Encourage one another,
Students: and build each other up!

We were first introduced to the idea of using responsive sayings from our friends who started the weekly academy the children attend.

Although responsive sayings are even more fun in a group [any local friends looking for a wonderful weekly academy, let me know!], my kids love them so much that they’ve begged me to start using them at home too.

If you’re looking for a simple way to incorporate more memory into your school day, try using responsive sayings. Here are a few to get you started.

(The teacher/parent part is in bold.)

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: Proverbs

“Be not wise
in thine own eyes:
fear the Lord
and depart from evil.”

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit…
is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”

Go to the ant, thou sluggard…
consider her ways, and be wise.”

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: other Scriptures

Obedience….
is better than sacrifice!

Encourage one another
and build each other up!

“His candle shineth on my head...
and by his light I go through darkness.”

Love… God!
Love… your neighbor!
Who is your neighbor?… all other people!

Our help is in the name of Yahweh
who made heaven and earth!

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: Life Lessons

Leave it
better than you found it.

Loose lips
sink ships.

Gentlemen…
ladies first!
Ladies…
don’t keep the gentlemen waiting!

Listen first…
Then answer.

Looking for a fun & simple way to teach your children Proverbs, short Scriptures, and helpful life lessons? Try these responsive sayings for homeschool:

Use Responsive Sayings to Enhance YOUR Homeschool

Not only do little children love belting out their answers, responsive sayings take advantage of your children’s ability to memorize quickly and help fill their minds with good things.

The sayings above are just a small sampling. Start with one or two at a time and keep adding. The children learn them so quickly you’ll have to dig up more of your own soon!

Do you use responsive sayings with your children? What are some other good ones? 

photo credit

11 Books Worth Reading (Summer Reading Recap)

“Reading more” was one of my goals for this summer. When life gets busy, reading is usually one of the first things I drop. But there are just too many wonderful books out there to not devote a few minutes each day to reading.

Though I’ll likely never zoom through four books a week like some amazing folks do, I did make it through eleven books this summer that were worth the effort.

Books Worth Reading

  1. I’m No Angel: Winsome and humble. That’s the spirit of this beautiful autobiographic tale of a young Christian wife who made it to one of the most coveted runways ever as a Victoria Secret Angel model… and gave it all up to be a Proverbs 31 wife.
  2. The Five Love LanguagesI don’t like books that put people in boxes or encourage us to make excuses for sinful behavior. The Five Love Languages did neither. If we don’t speak the love language of our spouse (or child, sibling, friend, etc) it is easy to think that we’re obeying the command to “love one another”, but not demonstrating it in ways that are as meaningful as we think.
  3. Little Princes: This is the gripping autobiography of a young man who decided he was going to spend his life savings on a trip round the world. In order to ease his conscience (and stop his friends from shaking their heads in disapproval) he started his trek with a short stint at an orphanage in Nepal. Little did he know he would come to care about these children and battle greedy child-traffickers, overwhelmed officials, war-ravaged cities, and a dangerous trip along goat paths for their sakes.
  4. Lessons at Blackberry Inn: With the clear goal of inspiring readers to imitation, Karen Andreola paints a beautiful image of a homeschool family. It’s set in the country during the Great Depression. At times it was overly sentimental, but laid a compelling case for the art of gentle learning. (Plus, I love books that honor happy marriages!)
  5. Mara: Daughter of the Nile & The Golden Goblet*: This year, we’re studying Creation to the Fall of the Roman Empire. I thought these novels might be fun read-alouds to highlight life in ancient Egypt, but were too complex. I sure loved them though! Nothing like getting your history lesson in the form of a fast-paced novel!
  6. Toward a Truly Free Market: Joshua read this book with some guys from church, and highly recommended it. I was a bit leery about beginning a dense book on economics, but found it totally worth the effort. The author offers a fresh and compelling view of economic theory. If you’re worried about the direction our economy is headed, I highly recommend Toward a Truly Free Market.
  7. Fresh Eggs Daily: A fun and simple read, this beautifully illustrated book is a great guide to caring for chickens naturally. It’s filled with great facts like “planting mint near the coop helps repel mice” and what weeds and table scraps are good for chickens.
  8. The Art of War: One of those classics I had never got around to reading. Which is silly since it’s super short and so universally loved (and Librivox has a great free audio recording of it.)
  9. Fat Chance: Beathing the Odds against Suger, Processed Foods, Obsity, and Disease: Obesity is an ever growing problem in the modern world and we must stop saying it’s just a self-discipline issue, because it isn’t. This book is an excellent look at how our bodies deal with extra fat, the biochemical causes of obesity, why diets rarely work, and how to increase our (and our children’s) chances for healthy lifestyles.
  10. Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: ‘m blessed with a very happy marriage, but there’s always room to make it even better, right? This book is filled with simple “secrets” that highly happy couple practice, and all marriages can incorporate.
  11. The Eagle of the Ninth*: Another historically-based novel that was a bit too mature for the kids, but was a fascinating tale about life in Roman Britain. It’s amazing how a story gives feeling and life to the dry facts of ancient times.

On the Bookshelf this Fall

What’s on your bookshelf? 

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[Full disclosure: Links to products in this post are my referral links.]

(Another reason I didn’t think these were appropriate for my children is that I want to wait to introduce false gods to them till they are mature enough to appreciate the wonderful truth that these false gods were conquered by Christ.)

 photo credit

Our Simple Homeschool Days

Our fourth week of homeschool is underway. School days have fallen into a nice rhythm and I’ve been constantly reminded how blessed I am to get to stay home with my children and teach them.

I’ve looked forward to homeschooling since I was a teenager roaming the halls of curriculum conferences and making mental lists of curriculum to revisit when I had kids someday. Now I get to do it.

Homeschooling is more challenging, more fun, more patience-demanding, and more rewarding than I ever dreamt.

We’re following a mostly classical approach, with a strong emphasis on stories (aka Charlotte Mason) with plenty of time to develop their imaginations and “just be kids”.

Here’s a peek into our incredibly simple, but fun, homeschool days.

Painting a map of ancient EgyptMy online search for a large Bible map was futile, so we painted one. (I was going to paint it myself, but this post inspired me to include the kiddos in *my* projects. The map turned out incredible!) 

While the children finish their breakfast, I read aloud to them, straight from the Bible. My goal is to read through the majority of the stories each year, roughly following the church calendar.

Once a week, they attend a Classical Academy and get to learn things that I’m not at all good at (like music, art, and Latin) and do things that are extra fun in a group, like science experiments and history activities.

The other days, the kids line up to recite the Apostle’s Creed and sing a song or two.

After all of five minutes, everyone is dying of thirst, so we take a water break. Parched mouths sated, we sit down around the little school room table to start our “memory hour”.

Memory Hour: 

  • Scripture Memory:  Last year at the Academy, Rose was challenged to learn two verses from Psalms a week. I didn’t think it was possible. It is! Rose and Will can both recite Psalm 1-7, plus many other verses. It’s amazing what a child can learn if you just work on it a few minutes a day! Each day, we review the Psalms and other Scripture passages we’ve already learned using a memory jar, then work on the next passage. We’re continuing through the Psalms this year, though adding in a few additional Scripture passages.
  • Latin: With the resurgence in classical education, Latin-learning has regained popularity. I know all the arguments in favor of Latin, like “English is based on Latin” (around 90% of words with more than two syllables stem from it) and “What English is now, Latin was for almost two millennia”, but what convinced me most of it’s worthwhileness was something Joshua said on a lovely ice cream date in the park (and I paraphrase) “How many children in America actually master a second language well enough to use it? Often it just fades into the back of their brains. Of all the languages to ‘be in the back of a child’s brain’ what better language than Latin?” My good friend Peggy teaches Latin at the Academy and is working on the best Latin curriculum* for kids ever. It’s complete with picture flashcards and engaging Latin stories. During our “memory hour” at home, we review a set or two of flashcards and occasionally listen to Mater Anserina, a beautifully translated collection of Mother Goose rhymes.
  • Poetry:  Still seated around our little school room table, we review and work on poetry. Just like with Scripture memory, I’ve been utterly surprised and pleased with how quickly children can master poems if you just work a little each day. Currently, they’re memorizing Little Things and The Swing.  (I’m almost done compiling an elementary poetry curriculum for my kiddos….more on that soon!)
  • History: This year we’re studying Creation through the Fall of Rome, roughly following Veritas Press’ Ancient Egypt & Old Testament and New Testament, Greece, and Rome outlines. At the Academy, I get to help tell history stories and do history-themed activities. During our memory hour at home, we just listen to the timeline song (with optional worksheets and activities after lunch).
  • Other memory: We usually use up all our time, but if there’s extra, the kids love listening to “memory songs”, like these.

Math

My friend Kathryn introduced us to the Life of Fred math books. We are hooked! The tagline of the series is Math: as serious as it needs to be. Instead of tears and endless hours of copy work, we’re reading stories of Fred, a five-year-old Math professor, and the myriad of ridiculous ways he uses math every day.

We started with the very first book, Apples. In the first three weeks, we’ve laughed and giggled our way through sets, basic algebra terminology, geometric shapes, cardinal numbers, and time-telling, plus basic addition and subtraction.

So far, the concepts have been simple enough that the short drills (aka Your Turn to Play sections) have been sufficient practice. If we ever need more, I’ll use worksheets from Math-U-See or Kahn Academy.

Reading James Herriot's Treasury for Children My cheesy students, reading James Herriot’s Treasury for Children—a sweet and highly recommended collection of veterinary stories

Until this point in our day, we do the schoolwork together. Even Meg enjoys sitting in on the memory and math time, and has picked up so much just by listening and trying to follow along. (Edmund’s attempts at participation are cute, but admittedly distracting. Thankfully he still takes an nice morning nap!) Not until we hit English Arts do we have to split up.

English Arts:

  • Literature: There are few things as fun as getting read to by your child, especially when the stories are enjoyable for adults too! Rose is currently reading James Herriott’s Treasure for Children (and loving it). Also on the literature list are The Cabin Faced WestBeatrice Potter’s CollectionLittle House on the Prairie; The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe….
  • Writing: Last year, at the Academy, Rose amazed me with how well she was able to write stories, but I think I pushed her too hard. This year we’re taking it slowly. Our goal is to have children that can craft good stories like the children in Lewis’ Calormen . We’re using the traditional classical method of retelling, loosely following ideas from IEW.
  • Spelling and Handwriting: While Will works on phonics, Rose pulls out handwriting paper and practices handwriting and spelling. Since Phonics Pathways laid such a good spelling foundation, we’re just using lists like the days of the week to practice spelling while she works on handwriting (a skill that needs some work!)

Phonics Pathways Fun

Will learning to read with Phonics Pathways. Since he’s not quite ready to write yet, he “spells” words with letter tiles. 

Phonics: This spring Will asked me to teach him how to read. I wasn’t sure he was up for it yet, but he kept begging and begging. It seemed cruel to say “no” to that! So we began our reading adventure, cuddled on the couch together. At first it was slow going, but he kept pulling out Phonics Pathways day after day, just as chipper as could be. Now he’s reading three letter words well and cannot wait for each day’s new lesson.

One of the things I love about Phonics Pathways is that it incorporates spelling right into the curriculum. Since he’s working on getting the hang of writing, we made little letter tiles and he gets to “spell” the words with them.

Homeschool Never Stops:  Although our official homeschool day wraps up around lunchtime, one of the things I love most about homeschooling is that the learning never really ends. Bedtime literature with Joshua, nature walks, random map-making projects, and practical home economics blend school and “life” beautifully.

And that’s our homeschool day in a nutshell.

Homeschooling Mamas? What are your days like? 

  May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWorks for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

5 Ways to Foster Your Child’s Imagination

The average American parent spends hundreds of dollars on toys for their children each year, but the grandest of all “toys” is simply a well-developed imagination. Imagination turns sticks into swords, or spoons, or paddles, or a fire to warm your hands in the deep forest under the picnic table.

From my limited experience, imagination comes pretty naturally to children. My desire as a mom is to foster it and channel it toward what is good and true and beautiful.

Drawing from the excellent tongue-in-cheek advice in Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, I’m seeking to help my children’s imagination blossom. How? By reading them good stories, limiting their screen time, sending them into the great outdoors, not micro-managing every moment, and even letting them get bored occasionally.

Of all the gifts we can give our children, a well-developed imagination is one of the best. Here are five ways to foster it.

One of the highlights of Will’s summer was catching and playing with frogs

How to Develop a Child’s Imagination

Read good stories

Stories ignite our imagination and shape our affections.

Sometimes imaginative play is lackluster. Sometimes it borders on depressive or mean or ugly.

Make time to pour in more good stories: stories where good conquers evil, true beauty is magnified, and truth is vindicated. Read stories that aspire to the noble and embrace the adventure in common things. (Here is a growing list of our favorite picture storybooks.)

Turn off the electronics

In his poetic rant against the television Roald Dahl claimed the TV

… ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND…

Sometimes a movie is just the sanity-saving “babysitter” I need. With few exceptions though, electronics promote passive reception, not active imagination.

Maybe my kids are just weird, but even a short video dramatically decreases their ability to entertain themselves. So, in order to foster their imagination, usually I say “no” to more screen time.

Send them outside

Sometimes my kids drag their feet when I tell them it’s time to go outside to play. The funny thing is, it usually only takes five minutes in the great outdoors to become totally engrossed in play.

So, when they don’t want to play outdoors, I tell them to play for ten minutes and then I’ll let them come back inside. I can count on one hand the amount of times they’ve wanted to.

There’s something almost magical about being outside in the fresh air and sunshine. It helps clear a clouded brain and opens up a bright clear world of wonder.

Let them get bored

Don’t fill your schedule with so many structured activities and planned play dates that they don’t have time to just be kids. Kids need down time, just like moms. Let them run out of planned activities and be forced to think of ways to entertain themselves. (If they are stumped, here are some great non-electronic ideas to get their imaginative juices going!)

Don’t always micromanage everything

Have you ever read a kid’s book from decades ago and been shocked at the free-reign children were given (and how maturely they often handled it)?

My tendency is to be a mother-hen type mom. Joshua wisely encouraged me that it’s okay to let them learn to play together without my constant interaction.

Let them figure out their own games. Let them make up their own stories. Let them practice working together. Let them learn to say “please” and “sorry” without needing your reminder. By practicing managing themselves (with your presence nearby), they not only have a chance to gain maturity, they learn to let their imagination take wings.

A good imagination is an incredible gift we can help foster in our children. (Sadly, good imaginations seem to be on the decline in much of the modern world.) Here are five strategies to help make sure your child doesn't lose this precious gift.

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Develop Your Child’s Imagination

Imagination turns a normal day into an adventure. It leads to discoveries and the loveliest of stories.

As parents, we should foster our children’s imagination through reading good stories, turning off the electronics (at least most of the time), sending them outdoors to play, letting them get bored (and discovering their own interests), and not always micro-managing their lives.

How do you foster your child’s imagination? 

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Four Frugal Ways to Build Your Library

Last week, I shared a growing list of our favorite picture storybooks. Stories that are worth reading and re-reading. Stories that I think are worth owning.

Because I’m a frugal minimalist and terribly picky about what books I want to read aloud 157 times, I usually borrow books from a friend, check them out from the library, or take advantage of Amazon’s awesome preview feature before adding them to my wish list.

Once a book is on the wish list though, here are four frugal ways to add them to your personal collection.

Four frugal ways to build your family library

Paperback Swap

Paperback Swap is a huge, online book-trading hub. You list books you no longer want, or you have duplicates of, or you picked up at a yard sale but don’t need, etc…. When another member requests one of your books, mail it, and earn a credit for a book to be mailed to you.

Books we received include Make Way for Ducklings, Chanticleer & the Fox and hardback copies of the Winnie the Pooh series. (I’ve mailed out a lot of good ones too!)

Click here to joinOnce you list ten books to trade, you’ll receive two free book credits to start building your library immediately! (Plus, I’ll get a credit too, so we BOTH get to build our libraries. Win-win, right?) Thanks Bekah

Shop Yard Sales or Thrift Stores

You really never know the treasures you might uncover by glancing through the books when you’re at yard sales or thrift stores.

Even if you don’t find books you want personally, you can often pick up like-new books to list on Paperback Swap to trade for books you do want!

Shop Your Library’s Used Sales

My friend Abigail, who is a queen of children’s books, has scored many great finds at our local library’s bi-annual used sale. When the library receives duplicate books as donations or retires older copies from its system, they get put in the used library sale. The prices are great and the selection is often overwhelming.

Plus, many of the older classics (the books I want my children reading!) end up here.

Give Books as Gifts

As I find books I love, I add them to a running children’s book wish list for birthday and Christmas gift ideas for myself or grandparents. Normally we give each child at least one new book for each holiday. With multiple children, it’s a slow but sure way to build the stock of good books in the home.

What are your favorite ways to build your library? 

  May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeHealthy 2Day ,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Picture Storybooks Worth Re-Reading

Looking for children's stories that are worth reading over and over. Here's a growing list of favorites.

There is one point that parents, researchers, and teachers universally agree on: reading to your children is incredibly important.

Reading enhances your child’s imagination, increases his vocabulary, introduces him to unknown lands, and provides a wonderful excuse to cuddle on the couch together.

I shared a few of our favorite picture storybooks here and here but thought it would be fun to compile a growing list of picture books we’ve read again and again… and will read countless more times.

My criteria are simple: the books must be consistent with a Christian world-view (though not necessarily written by Christian authors) and be well-written and illustrated.

Books that explore our rich heritage or introduce other cultures are extra-beneficial. Occasionally there is a line or two that I disagree with, but that opens up the door for great discussions, right?

Children’s Stories Worth Reading Over and Over

  • 15 Animals: I never thought such a short story could produce so many giggles!
  • Aesop’s Fables: the timeless tales masterfully retold and beautifully illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
  • All Because a Little Bug Went Kachoo: a silly Suess story about unintended consequences.
  • All the Ways I Love You: a short but darling expression of love.
  • Are You My Mother? my all-time favorite Suess story about a baby bird looking for his mother.
  • Baby Dear: such a sweet story of a little girl caring for her doll, just like Mommy!
  • The Apple and the Arrow: although it’s a longer picture book, the story of William Tell captivated my children’s attention. (Thanks, Aneysa!)
  • The Bear that Heard Crying: an amazing true story set in the wild frontier about a bear who protects a lost 3-year-old.   
  • Can Brown Eyes be Made Blue? from a series on Christian heroes [Though not as well-written as I’d like.]
  • Chanticleer and the Fox: this classic story from the Canterbury Tales comes to life with simple medieval-esque drawings.
  • Cookies: Bite-Sized Life Lessons: the meaning of words life pessimistic and courageous are cleverly explained using cookies. (Great to read before a tea party!)
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses: Robert Louis Stevenson’s delightful poems for children whimsically illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa.
  • Fancy Nancy: I totally empathize with the plain mother in this story, but in the midst of the glamor and sparkles this story emphasizes the importance of love.
  • The Greatest Treasure: sprinkled with Chinese proverbs, this fun story highlights the beauty of contentment.
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… oh the giggles you’ll garner.
  • It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny: the grass may look greener on the other side, but as P.J. Funnybunny learns, all animals have problems to face.
  • The Kitchen Knight: this Arthurian tale highlights the need for kindness, not just bravery.
  • Little Bear tales: Simple, humorous stories about a little bear.
  • The Little House: a city grows up around this little country house.
  • Little Lips Shall Praise Thee: sweet simple stories and poems celebrating life in God’s world.
  • Make Way for Ducklings: for some reason, the thought of traffic in Boston being brought to a standstill for a family of ducks makes me smile.
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel: Mike was pretty sure that he and his steam shovel could dig more than 100 men could in a week…but would he ever have a chance to prove it?
  • Mr. Bell’s Fix-it Shop: a favorite from my childhood about a fix-it man who can fix everything except broken hearts. [Though the out-of-print prices are outrageous!]
  • One Grain of Rice: set in India, this incredible mathematical tales shows the power of doubling.
  • Otis: a charming tale of a tractor and his friend calf.
  • St. George and the Dragon: the thrilling legend of fierce dragons and brave knights comes alive in this beautiful retelling.
  • The Seven Silly Eaters: This has got to be the most-read story in our house. Hilarious rhymes tell the story of a large family of picky eaters. (Thanks, Pritchetts!)
  • Snowflake Bentley: a true story about the man who “discovered” the beauty of snowflakes and spent his life sharing that discovery with the world.
  • The Ugly Duckling: another classic tale told and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
  • What Can You Do With a Tail Like This? close-ups of animals tails, noses or ears get children guessing what animal they belong to and the following page gives fascinating ways different animals use them.
  • When Jessie Came Across the Sea: a touching story of a poor immigrant girl’s coming to America and her enduring love for her Grandma.
You may notice that I don’t have any Bible story books. The Bible is the most important book to read aloud with our children, but after flipping through multiple children’s Bible storybooks, we came to the simple conclusion that reading the Bible, just the Bible, is enough for our family. (I’ve been pleasantly shocked at just how much little children can understand! The greatest theologians will never fully plunge the wealth of mystery and paradox in the grand story, but even a child can worship its Hero.)
There is no frigate like a book, wrote Emily Dickinson. Whisk your child away to foreign lands with these picture storybooks that are worth reading over and over!

Grab a book and read together

Reading aloud to your children is important and it’s fun. So pull out your favorite books and cuddle up for an adventure to faraway lands!

What picture books get worn out through countless re-readings at your home?

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

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