Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homeschool Series: Kindergarten

We are continuing on in our homeschool series - the nuts and bolts of how we home educate.  You can read about our reasons for homeschooling here.  Last time I wrote about the toddler and preschool years and today I'm moving on to what we're doing now - Kindergarten.

Joshua (5.5 years old) and Hannah (4 years old) are both in kindergarten right now.  Their abilities range from kindergarten level to above grade level.  One great thing about home education is that we can gauge what the children are capable of and go from there.  All of that said, let's dig into what we're doing now in kindergarten.

*A note about Preschool: You will notice that I have skipped schooling for 4-year-olds.  This is partly because I can never really find the dividing line between toddlers and preschoolers.  Much of what we posted here is applicable to 4-year-olds.  But the other reason I don't have anything specific for the preschool years is that we haven't homeschooled a 4-year-old until this year (Joshua went to a Christian preschool when he was 4 and Hannah is already doing Kindergarten level work so we kind of skipped the preschool thing for her).

Goals for Kindergarten
Primary Goals (to be accomplished by the end of the Kindergarten year)
1. Reading - able to read independently at or above first grade reading level.
2. Handwriting - correct letter formation, able to dictate spelling lists and other copy work with ease.
3. Math - complete Kindergarten math curriculum.

Other Goals
1. Bible memory verses.
2. Memory work (with weekly activities) - science and geography/history.
3. Music - piano and violin, introduction to music theory and ear training.

Preschool Thrown In
1. Calendar - days of the week, months of the year.
2. Weather - daily weather chart.
3. Art - various crafts and time to practice with scissors, glue, etc.

How We're Reaching Our Goals
When we started on the kindergarten journey, my main goal for Joshua was that he learn how to read.  To that end, I found a reading program that has shaped our school time and even, to some extent, how we approach other subjects.  There were a few things I considered when choosing a reading program, and in the end we have been extremely happy with the results of the one we are using.  Here's what we chose and how we decided on this particular program.

"Spell to Write and Read" by Wanda Sanseri
I wanted something that taught reading through phonics and did not use whole-word recognition or sight words, something that was thorough, and that was also logical in its approach.  The kids started teaching themselves to read by spelling things out (they had already learned the alphabet phonetically) so I tried to find a program that would work with how they were already starting to read.  I found this and I couldn't give it a higher recommendation!  According to their latest diagnostic spelling tests, Joshua is spelling at a third grade level and Hannah at a first grade level.  It's pretty in-depth, which makes for some interesting moments when I'm teaching something that I'm also learning, but it has been fantastic and the kids soak it all up like sponges!  They are definitely better than I am at remember all of the spelling rules.

I thought we could just work on handwriting during spelling time, doing copy work, and just generally writing.  That hasn't really happened and we have several issues of letter reversals (these are working themselves out with a lot of practice) and a number of formation errors.  Because my original plan didn't work, in a few weeks (once the workbooks arrive) we will start a Christian handwriting program called "A Reason for Handwriting"I looked at two other very popular handwriting programs but I wanted something simple (no frills, no nonsense, and very little lesson preparation).  Since they are both writing and can dictate lengthy spelling lists, they don't need any introductions.  They do need to go back to basics to make sure each letter is properly formed.  This program looks simple and easy to use.  We'll see how it works out once we start get started with it.

A friend recommended the A Beka homeschool curriculum to usHer children have graduated high school and gone on to college and medical school so we figured that it must be pretty good.  It is also very well-tested, having been used in private schools and homeschools for quite a long time.  We have been working through the K5 Numbers Skills Curriculum and have found it to provide a very solid foundation.  Hannah loves the colorful worksheets and I like that the lessons are pre-planned, easy to read, and even have a script for introducing new concepts.  We don't use any of the manipulatives or visuals.  We don't even use the flashcards that they recommend, but the kids are learning the material very well sans teddy bear.  :)

Bible Memory Verses
Each day we practice reciting our newest memory verse, complete with hand motions.  It has been fun to see just how much the kids can keep in their heads!  We started with some review verses and have worked our way up to a couple of longer passages.  We don't have a rhyme or reason to the specific verses we choose, but have used some ideas from this blog to guide us in our memorization.  We are currently memorizing Psalm 19 and, even though it's been a rough week and the passage is long, this morning Joshua and Hannah were able to recite the first seven verses on their own.  It's been great for me, too!  I wouldn't be committing scripture to memory like this if I didn't do it with the kids!

Memory Work - Science and Geography/History
When we began homeschooling last fall I wasn't sure how we would cover everything from reading to social studies to physical education.  It was actually overwhelming to me to think of more than reading and math lessons each day.  I'm glad that we started when Jeremiah was only a few weeks old because it forced me to keep things simple and establish a routine before adding on secondary subjects.  We started out with some calendar time, a Bible lesson, and Joshua did phonics.  Then we added a math lesson.  Now we have added a bit of science and geography/history, and Hannah is now in full-fledged school.

We are moving in the direction of a classical education.  I'll probably talk more about why we like the method in the next homeschool series post, but for now it's important to know that we are loosely following the memory work outlined in Classical Conversations.

We work each week on a new memorization for science (The Five Kingdoms of Living Things, The Classifications of Living Things, Parts of a Plant Cell, etc.) and also for geography (The Fertile Crescent, The Assyrian Empire, The Babylonian Empire, etc.).  Each week we also do an activity related to the week's memorization.  This helps the kids put what they are learning into an appropriate context.  I also mix in a bit of history with our weekly geography activities.

For now I'm not fussed about how much science and geography we cover this year.  My main goal is to familiarize the kids with some terminology and a few concepts, but mostly my aim is to build the subjects into our daily and weekly schedules.  So far we are succeeding on both fronts and having fun while we're at it.  You can't beat that!  :)

Finally, I am putting my music background to work in our home!  Joshua and Hannah have started piano and violin lessons in earnest this winter and they are both loving it.  We have chosen to use the Sassmannshaus method for violin and on piano they are working through the Bastien Primer A book.

Several years ago I taught violin to three children (ages 14, 10, and 6) from Germany.  All of them had an excellent start, especially the 6-year-old who could play a two octave G-Major scale as fast as lightning.  Well...he really needed to slow down and think about what he was doing, but the fact that he had the coordination to play like that really was something!  I discovered that they started with the Sassmannshaus method, so when our kids were getting ready to start learning violin, I bought the first book.  We're only a few weeks in, so we'll see how it works out in the long run.  I am also using a series of posts from this blog to help me sort out the most efficient way to teach the basics of violin.  Abby (2 years old) is also tagging along and although her progress is much slower than the others, she is having fun and learning as she goes.

As for piano, I'm in uncharted territory (not unlike teaching Silent Final E's in the phonics program), but the kids are doing well despite my lack of piano playing expertise.  I like that the Bastien books have simple practice tips and routines that are easy to follow.  I think I can take them through a couple of the books before they will need an actual piano teacher.  In the mean time, I'm having fun and feeling thankful for those two years of class piano in college - thank you Dr. Williamson!

The kids are also learning to read music.  This is new for them, and it's actually the first time I've taught anyone (besides teaching myself as an 11-year-old) how to read music.  I'm teaching it just like they have learned phonics and so far they can read two notes.  Not bad for a bunch of novices!  I incorporate some ear training by playing on the piano the pitch we are learning to read.  I always add the triad and we sing all three pitches in Fixed Do.  I do this several times throughout the day.

So, that's what we're doing in our homeschool this year.  I'm excited about what's in the works for next school year, so be on the look out for another post with our plans for first grade.

What curriculum choices, methods, and resources have you found helpful in educating your children?


Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Random Reflections on our move to Texas thus far...

Hi Everyone, 

This is a random post from Claude with some random reflections on our move to Texas.

Firstly, I am super thankful to Jesus for leading us here!  It's been hard to describe and put into words to people what this has been like, but basically it has meant that our family now has a lot more room to grow on every front, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, somehow being here has meant that we have the resources to continue to grow, not simply from a material standpoint but somehow there's something about the Lord's plan that has meant that we can fluorish here down south and for that we are so thankful to Jesus!

Secondly, I love the fact that there is really good Pho noodle soup 2 mins down the road!  That's something I've missed from Melbourne and how growing up we used to have this regularly.  

Thirdly, I love the fact that it is so diverse here, this was an unexpected surprise and both around where we live and in my workplace sometimes I look around and wonder where in the world we are when in some of my meetings at work we have people from the UK, Japan, Iran, Turkey, New Zealand, Scotland, China, France, Australia, India, and of course the US all in one meeting!  It's crazy and it just blows my mind but at the same time is really refreshing to me, because I remember my days in Melbourne being similarly diverse in interactions with people.  What's need is that the nations have come to us and so in some ways the Lord has made it really easy to witness and make disciples of all nations right here in our own backyard!

Fourthly, I love the fact that we have connected with some young families and are in a growing Bible study on marriage.  That has been really refreshing to us and the Lord is already using it to transform how we live and interact and become one in our marriage on a day to day basis and also on an "airy-fairy" spiritual basis.  We are super thankful for these people!

Fifthly, we are also super thankful that we have connected with homeschoolers and homeschooling families who are like minded in our approach to character building and training to be like Jesus Christ and also rigorous academics.  As Becca has settled and grown in her rhythm in teaching and training these guys during the days, I've been really encouraged at the possibility of what is possible with homeschooling for Joshua, Hannah and Abby.  They are only 5, 4 and 2.5 years old and they are memorizing God's Word, learning math, learning how to read, spell, learning about the 5 Kingdoms of living things, the Assyrian Empire, violin, piano and that's just the formal part of things!  

It's been so encouraging to see how the Lord has brought us truly into a spacious place on so many levels and how He's growing our family!

Anyway, that's my random post, for now...

Oh yes, and I love the fact that you can get spicy food in a lot of places here, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Tex-Mex, BBQ, I love that spice and chilli are just a natural part of the culture here!  As a kid, I never liked spicy food but as I grew up, I started to really like it and now we're in a place where all different kinds of spice come together and it's just wonderful!  You can even get really spicy things at Walmart like chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, probably the best 80 cents I've ever spent!

Anyway that's it for now, end random post.

God Bless y'all!

Claude (posting on the Chew family Blog)

Noah and the Ark - Toddler Bible Lesson and Craft

Abby wasn't feeling well this morning so we stayed at home while the rest of the family went to church.  Being the third child, it's not often that she has my full attention, and it's especially rare to sit down together to work on a lesson and craft.  This morning I was glad to have that opportunity with her.  She chose the story of Noah and the Ark.  Here's what we did:

Noah and the Ark
Genesis 6:5-9:17

Memory Verse
"God remembered Noah and all the animals with him on the ark...and the waters went down."  -Genesis 8:1-2 (simplified)

Lesson Focus--The Rainbow
The rainbow is a sign of God's promise to never again flood the whole earth with water.

Readiness Skills
-Using scissors
-Color identification
-Following directions

We read the story from Abby's picture Bible.  We said and sang the memory verse together (it was a review for her) and then we got to work on our craft.

 I drew an arc on each piece of colored construction paper.  Then I helped Abby use the scissors to cut along the lines.

Abby identified each color as we went along.  She also practiced following directions as I told her the order in which she needed to glue the arcs on the paper.

 Proud of her work.  :)

What's your favorite Bible lesson and craft for little people?


If a Tree Falls...

Q: So, if a toddler throws up in the night and no parental unit is awake to hear it, does it still make a mess?

A: Yes.

And boy is it ever a surprise to wake up to a cheerful toddler in your bed and a pile of dirty sheets on hers. Not that we would know about this or anything... ;)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter in Texas

Yes, it is the Northern Hemisphere. I think the temperature is supposed to be near 80-degrees Fahrenheit today. And we are trying to make the most of it. Come July we may not be riding bikes at this time of the afternoon.

Friday Funnies: Conversations at the Dinner Table

After reading from the Bible about our lives producing good fruit, Claude asked Joshua to pray.  Here's his petition to the Lord...
 "Dear Lord, please help us to eat good fruit.  In Jesus' Name, Amen."

I'm not sure how this came about, but the conversation went like this...
Claude: That's why I can't count past 3 in music.
Joshua: 1-2-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.  That's how you count past 3, Daddy!

You know your kids are becoming Texan when...
Claude: In the garden, what did God give to Adam and Eve to eat?
Joshua: Fruit.  Not ribs.

Joshua: I can eat that because I'm as tall as a skyscraper.
Hannah: No, you're not!
Joshua: Well, I'm as tall as an onion!

What conversations have you had around your dinner table this week?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Character Crack Down

Tantrums.  Defiance.  A fight at every turn.  It's no wonder I was frazzled, frustrated, and angry.  It had been months since I could remember a good day with the kids.  They argued with each other, with me, and with their father.  They wouldn't eat the food we gave them without complaining, wouldn't give obedience a try without talking back, and were generally whiny and discontent.

What had happened?  I thought we were doing the right thing as parents.  I thought we were staying on top of the discipline and keeping the expectations high while still being reasonable.  Was it the move?  Surely being transplanted to a new place, meeting new people, and settling into a new routine were the cause for such a decline in behavior and attitudes.  But it had been 3 months since we moved and the kids seemed well-adjusted.  No.  It must not be the move.

I tried to find reasons for the bad attitudes - something to blame for the troubles we were facing day in and day out.  And then one day I just had enough.  I didn't care why the attitudes were bad, I just wanted to be rid of them.  Claude reached that point much sooner than I, but since I'm the one at home if I let things slide then they slide most of the time.  I decided that I wasn't going to tolerate the attitudes any longer.  Starting the next morning I would be cracking down on the defiance and disrespect.

My crack down list looked something like this:
-No choices.
-No complaining or whining.
-No nagging or badgering.  If you nag the answer is "No".
-Obey Daddy and Mommy.
-Be respectful to Daddy and Mommy.
-Honor your brothers and sisters.
-No tantrums, screaming, or yelling.
-No talking back.
-No fighting over chairs, toys, books, etc.
-No excuses.
-No TV/Movies.
-More responsibilities around the house.

When D-Day rolled around I was far from excited.  I knew the endeavor would be tough.  I knew to expect complaints, nagging, disobedience, disrespect, tantrums, screaming, talking back, fighting, and excuses galore.  And the kids certainly did not disappoint.

That first morning it took us nearly 2 hours to get ready for the day.  Those 2 hours were probably the longest of my week...not to mention how it must have been for the kids.  All three kids showed some pretty nasty attitudes.  All of the attitudes were corrected, all three kids appropriately disciplined, and all of us had worked up an appetite by the time we went out to the kitchen for breakfast.

Of course, the fun didn't stop there.  During the next couple of days our school time took twice as long as I anticipated.  After rounds of discipline, time outs, and other corrective measures, we still had to find time for phonics, math, and music.  I felt like all I was doing was correcting...and yelling.  I know...I broke my own rule by raising my voice more than once or twice.  We're all in the learning process over here!  ;)

I wasn't sure if the work was paying off until this week.  After tomorrow we will have been chasing out disobedience and disrespect from our household for three weeks.  And the changes are night and day!

The crack down has paid off like this:
-Virtually no complaining or whining.
-No more nagging or badgering.
-Many opportunities to praise the kids for their quick and cheerful obedience.
-Respectful attitudes most of the time.
-Sincere apologies when they have dishonored a sibling.  Better play time together.
-Virtually no talking back.
-Quicker resolutions and greater amounts of self-control shown during sharing conflicts.
-Very few excuses.  When excuses do arise, they are given over to obedience rather quickly.
-Two weeks without watching a movie or TV show.  More time spent reading, playing piano, riding on boats and building camps outside, and riding bikes.
-Kids taking initiative to clean up and do chores even when they are not asked, or going above and beyond the expectations of their chores.

We're still far from the goal, but I am so encouraged!  All around everyone is happier, more productive, and I know that I'm not trying to hide under my covers every morning.

And I think we finally figured out how things got so bad in the first place.  We started thinking that we could and should relax our parenting style.  The culture around us is saying that kids should be kids.  They shouldn't have to carry a work load around the house.  It's okay if they don't like what we make them for dinner - we can just offer them something else.  We should cater to our kids and seek their comfort.

That was the clincher...comfort.  I found myself saying to our 5-year-old son last week, "Daddy and I are not concerned about your comfort.  We are concerned about your character."  I don't want to raise a child who has everything he needs and more but who baulks at taking out the garbage or speaks disrespectfully to his boss.  I'd rather that our kids feel the pinch now while they are young and have a godly character later on.

We have seen several displays of blossoming character over the past several days, but there is just one that sticks out to me.  Last night Claude insisted that the kids eat all of the raw onions on their plates.  And he didn't just give them a tiny bite but several slices.  Hannah, our 4-year-old, nearly cried and started to throw a tantrum when Claude laid out the expectation:  Eat all of your onions then as a reward you will be able to enjoy some ice cream.  (Some may call this bribery...I like to think of it as motivation.) ;)

Hannah's first win was conquering the tantrum that welled up inside of her.  I was waiting for the wail and it never came.  She just sat up and started eating.  The onions, of course, were the last things left on her plate, but she sat quietly and ate each one.  Two weeks ago that scene would have been WWIII, but not last night.  Last night Hannah received more than a scoop of strawberry ice cream for her efforts.  She learned what it feels like to practice self-control and to persevere through an uncomfortable circumstance.  Her comfort in not having to eat onions would have lasted a few moments, but the character that she developed over last night's dinner will stick with her for the rest of her life.

Operation "Character Crack Down" = Success!

So, are you seeking comfort over character in your own life or your children's lives?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How To Make Your Own Baby Food Using the Microwave

Jeremiah, 6 months old, is eating solids like a champ these days, so I'm stocking up on homemade baby food (and some jars, too).  He started with bananas and applesauce.  Now he is enjoying butternut squash and sweet potatoes.  While I was making up some trays of baby food yesterday I thought I would put up a tutorial on how to make baby food in your microwave.  It's easy, inexpensive, and actually tastes good - I know because I've tried it!

Following are the steps to make butternut squash, but you can apply the method to pretty much any food that requires cooking.  I'll put some suggestions of other fruits and veggies at the end.  So, here goes:

You'll need:
-A butternut squash
-A microwave-safe baking dish
-Plastic wrap
-A spoon
-A big, sharp knife
-1/4 cup water

1. Wash the squash, then cut in half from top to bottom.  Butternut squash is hard, so be prepared to use some muscle.

2. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

3.  Place the squash into a microwave-safe baking dish and pour 1/4 cup water into the bottom of the dish.

4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Poke holes in the plastic wrap using your really big knife or a fork.

5. Microwave the squash on high for 15-20 minutes.  Check the squash every 5 minutes to make sure the bottom is not burning.  The squash is cooked when it is soft throughout.  The bottom portion (where the seeds were) will cook faster than the neck.

When it is thoroughly cooked you should be able to easily scrape the inside with a fork and have it look like this:

 6. Scoop the squash out of the skin and place it into your handy dandy food processor and add 1/4 cup water (a blender or mixer could also work but may not produce the same texture as a food processor).

7. Puree the squash until it reaches your desired consistency.  It can be a bit stringy, so don't hesitate to puree it for a few minutes.  Mine took about 2 or 3 minutes on high.

8. For Easy Storage: Spread the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze for at least 2 hours.

9. Remove tray from freezer and run the bottom under lukewarm water.  Empty the cubes into a freezer bag.  Don't forget to label the bag and include the date.

10. To Prepare for Your Little One: Remove desired number of ice cubes to a microwave-safe bowl.  Defrost for 10-30 seconds on high.  I usually check it every 10 seconds to make sure it doesn't get too hot.  Different foods defrost at different temperatures, so checking is important.  Mix with baby cereal or serve as is.  The above photo is the equivalent of 1 cube of squash.

Some other ideas for baby food using the microwave:
-Applesauce: quarter and core, leave skins, microwave on high 10-15 min., check and stir every 3-5 min.
-Pears: quarter and core, leave skins, microwave on high 10-15 min., check and stir every 3-5 min.
-Sweet Potatoes: wash, leave skins, poke several holes in potato, microwave on high 15-20 min., check and rotate every 5 min.
-Broccoli: try using frozen florets, microwave on high for approx. 10 min., check and stir after 5 min.
-Carrots: wash, may take a while to be soft enough to puree, microwave on high 15-20 min., check and stir every 5 min.
-Peas: try using frozen peas, microwave on high for 5-10 min., check and stir every 3-5 min.

So, what baby food making tips do you have?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Friday Funnies: That Weird Family

So, I've instituted recess in our daily schedule. Somehow, even with a yard, the kids weren't getting outside enough and had way too much extra energy by the end of the day. Anyone with kids knows that extra energy is bad news for bed time. the kids are required to go outside and play at certain times of day. Exceptions to recess may include rain or hurricanes.

The first day of required outdoor play time was pretty rough. The kids liked getting bundled up in hats, scarves, gloves, and coats because it seemed like a novelty. Then they set up their camping chairs, brought out a few bins of indoor toys, and settled down for a relaxing recess. Seeing the lack of energy expenditure, I made them bring the chairs and toys inside. Imagine with me, the tantrums that ensued. Wait...I don't have to imagine. I was there to witness every second of the kicking and screaming.

By the second day they had the hang of outdoor play and begged me for extra time at recess, which of course made me thankful for enduring the tantrums and insisting that actual play happen during outdoor play time. And this is where the fun began for Joshua and Hannah...I'm not so sure if Abby enjoyed her week of recess quite as much as the others.

Most of the kids' time was spent riding a boat (aka-the back patio). This meant that Joshua drove and Hannah manned the door which worked much like a subway door. In fact, it worked exactly like our sliding glass door (that's because it was our sliding glass door). Now, this door was key in their boat play. It allowed them to pick up and drop off passengers, namely Abby. Poor Abby was shuffled on and off that boat countless times this week. Most of the time she was shut inside the house waiting for the boat to come back to her stop. She waited patiently, hands clasped behind her back. I wish she waited for other things with such long-suffering...

Now, today, the play time really heated up. Joshua was using his loudest voice during their recesses today. I guess he wanted to give the neighbors something to talk about.  First they rode their boat, but then they hunted bears. I'm sure that anyone on our street who was home today heard his shouts, "Quick, Abby!  Go attack the bear!" Abby dutifully obeyed...every time.

This is the game I thought the kids were playing late in the afternoon when, through the din of their bear hunting, I heard Joshua's voice ring out, "Abby, COME! You're under arrest!"  My thought, based solely on his tone and not at all on what he said was, "Uh-oh.  Someone's getting a little carried away in his pretend play."  But Abby didn't protest, so it must not be too bad.  And then Joshua continued, "We're going to [dramatic pause] CRUCIFY YOU!!!" He couldn't have been louder if he tried.

I quickly checked on Abby to make sure all was well (and it was, thankfully), and then proceeded to think to myself, "Wow...we are those weird neighbors everyone else seems to have."  At least we live in the Bible belt now...

So what weird and/or embarrassing things have your kids done this week?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Toddler School: Teaching Your 2- to 3-year-old (No Curriculum Needed)

A few days ago, I started a series on our homeschool. The first installment explained why we choose to home educate our children and the next several posts will outline what we've done in the past, what we're doing now, and what we plan to do in the near future in terms of goals and curriculum choices. This is not the only blog where you can find similar information, so just take this as the way one family has and is doing school at home. Hopefully something here will be helpful or encouraging to you and your family.

That said, today I'll be sharing with you our "Toddler School". As I have mentioned previously, we started homeschooling because we discovered that preschool tuition fees were too expensive for us. We opted to try and find ways to teach our oldest child at home and found a mountain (and more) of information through books and online searches. I wish that I had kept a log of everything that I read and the blogs I found, but I didn't. Oh, well...

Anyway...let's jump in, shall we?

Philosophy of Education
I'm not really sure what a true philosophy of education sounds like, but my basic premise for teaching kids (and specifically toddlers) is that a lot - and by that I mean almost everything - that they see and hear is "going in". Don't underestimate what a child can start to process if given the pieces of the puzzle. You'll see that I've taught memory verses and basic theological concepts to our toddlers. When Hannah was 18 months old I read a poster we had on our dining room wall that said, "Jesus is the Son of God". Hannah jumped in to say "Christ!"...that was the other poster we had made and I didn't even know she had ever heard me read it. If stuff is "going in" then don't worry about when or how it will "come back out". Just fill your toddler's mind with the things you know he needs for a solid foundation in school. Your child will blow you away with what he learns...and you thought he was aimlessly wandering the room!

We always start with Bible. In the beginning it was unintentional, but now we intentionally put Bible as the core of what we do in "school". Our goal with toddlers is to familiarize them with stories and characters from the Bible. Our favorite Bible is the Beginner's Bible by ZonderKidz, but there are many different picture Bibles suitable for young children. Find one that you feel is appropriate for your child but that also tells the stories like they are - it's important that toddlers are learning stories that are true, not so watered down that they only resemble the real accounts based on the names of main characters.

Once you find a children's Bible you like, start reading with your toddler as often and for as long as you can each day. Try reading before meals and before naps/bedtime. Our children have the Beginner's Bible stories memorized, especially their favorites which have been read hundreds of times.  This isn't because our kids are smart but because they heard the stories over and over again.

You can supplement stories you read to your toddler with coloring pages from a site like this or this, crafts or lesson activities (some of our favorite Bible lessons for toddlers will be in an upcoming blog post). For some ideas check out this site.  Anything that reinforces the lesson is good.

In the past we have put baby Moses in a basket down the Nile River (really, a tiny baby doll in a bucket in our bathtub). We have also set up a nativity scene with our stuffed animals, dressed as shepherds, and ran from across the apartment to see the baby Jesus. We have gathered Cheerios off of the floor to remind us of the manna God provided for His people in the desert, and we have also experienced the parting of the Red Sea in a number of interactive ways.  Take a look at our old blog for some of what we did with Joshua (2 years old) and Hannah (11 months old).

Just get creative, use what you have in your house (don't worry about finding special supplies for these activities), and remember to snap a few photos while you're at it!

In addition to reading Bible stories, we put memory verses to music (we either make up our own or use a CD like this). As a Sunday School teacher to toddlers, I also started singing the main lesson point to the children. My older two kids can still be found, on occasion, singing "Jesus is the Son of God, Hallelujah!" or "Jesus saves us from our sins, Hallelujah!".

What You'll Need for Bible
-Children's Picture Bible

Language Arts
Reading is one of the most important skills a child needs to succeed in school and throughout life. I've done a lot of reading about the subject of reading. Again, I wish I had the names of books, but if you're really interested just search your local library system. The best thing you can do for reading preparedness is to read to your child. Read all throughout the day and make books accessible to your child. One thing we did was to make our kids' Bible available to them from before they were even walking.  We have replaced it more than a dozen times in the last several years, but it's been worth it. Not only do our kids know their Bible stories but they also have been quick to read on their own.

And you don't have to break the bank reading a truck load of books! Get a library card and start perusing the shelves for picture books. I made a point to start on the A shelf and make my way down to Z, so that after almost a year I had looked at nearly every title our local library had on the shelf in the children's picture book section. Then I scowered the toddler books shelves and the non-fiction shelves. Don't be afraid to check out 10 or 20 or even more books each time (unless your library has a limit, of course). And make an effort to go to the library at least 1-2 times per month (so you don't incur any late fees). Most libraries have a system of keeping track of library loans and renewals via the internet - take advantage of this free resource!

A fun reading and alphabet awareness program I found is called "Read to Me and ABC". I didn't always find the books at our local library, but I did find some good substitutes. It expanded our usual scope of books on trucks and other transportation and it gave us some ideas for fun and simple activities to do together.

In addition to reading to your child, go ahead and teach them the ABC's...phonetically! I didn't know what I was doing when I taught Joshua the alphabet this way, but let me say that it is one of the best ignorant choices I've ever made. We used an alphabet puzzle and with each letter I would say the sound (to keep things simple, I chose only the short sound for vowels and didn't include any secondary sounds for consonants).

In terms of writing, I made pencils, washable crayons and markers, and other writing utensils readily available to our children. Just let your toddler color and scribble to their heart's content. Abby's favorite is to draw on a dry-erase board. You can find them in the $1 bins at places like Target. Be sure to get washable dry-erase markers - they are a bit hard to wipe off, but they are truly washable.

What You'll Need for Language Arts
-Books, lots and lots of books!
-Library card (so you can access more books)
-Alphabet puzzle or refrigerator magnets
-Paper (scrap or construction), washable crayons and markers
-Dry-erase board with washable dry-erase markers (optional)

Numbers and Things
To prepare your toddler for math, start counting with them in every day life. I used to count the buttons on my kids' onesies even before they could talk. When Joshua was around 12 months old I began to count while he was on the changing table. I said, "One. Two." And he said, "Threeeee!" Babies are pretty smart, if you ask me!

This year I'm focusing on teaching Abby shapes and colors. We do this by picking one color and one shape per month. I had a lot of fun crafts and activities planned to go along with these colors and shapes, but so far we've only managed a couple of color collages and our daily color/shape identification. We also use some shape flash cards that we found somewhere for $1. Shape sorters are a great toy to familiarize toddlers and babies with different shapes. Puzzles are also a good option. Check out our Toddler School post [coming soon] for the overview of our year and the weekly lesson plans.

With Joshua I had a lot more time to focus on toddler skills, so we did bigger projects. Painting, triangle biscuits, color lunches (yellow mac and cheese, yellow squash, and a banana), and even a few color scavenger hunts (we took photos of our village, printed them, and made a big color collage that hung in our entryway for a while). Those things were fun, but Abby is learning her colors just fine with a quick review a few times a week.

What You'll Need for Numbers and Things
-Craft Supplies

A Final Note
And, last but not least, try not to put your toddler in front of TV and movies as much as you are able. We have never had a TV, but we still found it easy to find Sesame Street clips for Joshua to watch. He was glued to the laptop and we thought he was absorbing all kinds of good information. Instead, we found that he was grumpy after watching. So, we stopped putting it on for him. At the time we didn't really know all of the benefits of limiting media input, but I'm glad we made the habit when we did.

I recently read "The Well-Trained Mind" which encouraged parents to think of what you are giving up by turning on the TV. Would your toddler sit down and read a book, build a puzzle, listen to some music, or make some coffee in their kitchen set instead? Try for the use of TV to be an intentional choice, one that will enhance what your toddler is learning at home.

Toddler School in a Nutshell
Don't buy a curriculum for 2 and 3 year olds. Start reading, take out some basic drawing supplies, and build a few towers. In fact, don't even wait until your child is 2 years old to start some of the suggestions above. Read books to your baby - when Joshua was only a few months old I started sitting him in the bouncy seat and reading to him. Talking to your child is one of the best things you can do for him/her. I told my kids everything I was doing (now I try not to answer when they ask me, "What are you doing, Mom???"). Count to them, talk about the color of their shirt, and sing a lot of songs. Everything that your child sees and hears is "going in" and in just a short time it'll all start to come out - you'll be amazed at what your child has picked up along the way.

 Our Favorite Toddler Toys
*Family Favorites
-*Blocks (wooden, Duplo, MegaBlocks, even empty pasta boxes)
-*Cars, trucks, trains, and anything else that can be pushed around the house
-*Mixing bowl and spoons, measuring cups are optional
-Shape sorter
-Stacking cups, rings, etc.
-Musical/Rhythm instruments
-Train tracks
-Kitchen and accessories, food optional
-Dolls and stuffed animals
-Dress Up: hats, purses, shoes, gloves, anything that you or your spouse would wear

Our Favorite School/Craft Supplies
*Family Favorites
-*Play dough and utensils
-*Construction paper and scrap paper (ours has flow cytometry data on the back)
-*Washable crayons and markers (Crayola brand is really the best, find them here for the best price)
-*Dry-erase board and washable dry-erase markers
-Child-Safe scissors
-Washable glue (sticks and white school glue)
-Pom-poms, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, craft foam, felt, and anything else that can be poured, glued, or manipulated in one way or another

So, what "toddler school" activities have you tried with your kids?  What are your favorite resources for ideas and inspiration?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homeschool: How and Why We Choose to Home Educate

Before we jump in we want to make sure that everyone reading knows that we are not trying to convince or condemn anyone on the decision of education.  We know that each family has convictions that will guide their decisions and also a host of circumstances that will shape the working out of those decisions.  We recognize that there are many ways to live out convictions and can see that another family, with the same goals could easily make decisions that look very different from our own.  We are certainly not here to say that public school is terrible or that homeschool is the way for everyone.  This is simply part of our journey as a family - a big part - and so, we invite you to take a look at our reasons for home education and are always interested to hear what works for you and your family.

How We Started Homeschooling
When our oldest child was 18 months old his pediatrician asked us if we were enrolling him in preschool.  We weren't sure that an 18-month-old needed to be in school, but without thinking we began looking into some local programs.  What we discovered was that the programs were very expensive and not at all an option on our income.  So we started thinking, "Why don't we just teach him ourselves?".  Thus began our homeschool journey.  We didn't think about it much at the time, but since then we have spent a lot of time talking and reading about homeschooling and turning our decision over to the Lord.

In the process of learning about home education we have discovered three main reasons why we feel homeschooling is the best choice for our family.  I say "discovered" because, like I mentioned above, we really didn't think much of it.  We started teaching colors and shapes, letters and numbers, along with a lot of reading and Bible, and before we knew it we were finding out all of the benefits of home education.

Our primary reasons that we choose to home educate are... provide a strong Biblical foundation on which our children can build their growing faith. promote healthy and strong relationships and a place of belonging in our family. give our children the tools, both academic and practical, that they need to succeed in life.
Joshua, 1.5 years old, telling us about Jesus on the cross, "Cross, cross, done."
Our Faith and Our Homeschool
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He came to live, die, and be raised to life that we may be saved from our sins and have a relationship with God.  This is the cornerstone of our faith, our family, and our homeschool.  For this reason, our first and most important reason for homeschooling is to provide our children with a strong Biblical foundation on which to build their growing faith.  You will read in our upcoming posts that Bible is the first subject we teach our children.  We spend time reading the Bible every day, we listen to audio Bibles, kids' Bibles, Bible songs, and anything else that will get the Word of God into our hearts and minds. 

As they grow, each of our children will have many opportunities to choose to follow Jesus or go their own way.  Our prayer is that they will follow Him all the days of their lives.  We know this to be the best decision we have made for ourselves, and so we want it for these important little people God has entrusted in our care. Their foundation must be firm, without cracks, holes, or weak spots. We choose to home educate so that we can give our children this foundation while limiting unnecessary and destructive influences.

That said, our children hardly live in a bubble. We simply wake up in the morning and are confronted with all manner of ungodly attitudes and behaviors. And that's before we walk out the door and into the grocery store or other public place. Our kids, like everyone else, are influenced by the world around them. While they are in our care, we want to make sure that the primary influence is a Biblical one and we choose to intentionally limit other influences.

Our Family and Our Homeschool
Our second reason for choosing to home educate is to provide more opportunities to build strong, healthy relationships with one another. In today's society, busyness can take over and our time together can become very limited. Additionally, if our children were in a traditional classroom setting they would be separated from one another for the majority of each day and that would limit even more the time they have to spend together developing friendships with one another.

Don't get us wrong here, we want for our kids to have strong friendships outside of our family. But we also don't want to be pulled in several different directions as our kids get older. We want to grow together as a family, working as a whole unit to move in one direction. For us, sending our kids away to school would hinder this endeavor. Home education not only gives us a lot of time to spend together, but it also gives us a common goal to be working toward which strengthens our family in and of itself.

Our Kids' Future and Our Homeschool

While academics were certainly not a driving factor in our decision to homeschool, we have come to see the very great benefits of home education in this regard.  We are able to tailor our academic program to fit each of our children, we have time for outside pursuits (music lessons, drawing, practical life skills, etc), and we get to be a part of the entire process.  It's a lot of work and a lot of fun!

Both Joshua and Hannah are working above their grade level at the moment.  If I waited for her to start school, Hannah would still be in preschool learning shapes and colors and possibly writing her name.  As it stands now, she is reading, dictating spelling lists each week, and doing kindergarten level arithmetic.  Joshua is also excelling.  He is technically in kindergarten but is reading and spelling at a much higher level.  At 5 1/2 years old he reads his NIV Bible fluently and is comprehending much of it as well.  These stories are not to brag (although we are excited about their progress thus far) but to share how home education is working for our kids academically.

A Year of Traditional Education
I, Becca, find homeschooling to make life both fuller and at the same time much easier.  Last year we were encouraged to send Joshua, then 4 years old, to preschool.  Because the recommendation came from a trusted friend, we decided to go ahead and send him.  The preschool was a great environment with caring teachers.  He did well there and learned some basic skills of relating with others.  I think he learned more academically (if you can call preschool education "academic" at all) at home, but the experience was generally positive for him.

However, Joshua's preschool year was probably the most stressful of my life!  Getting everyone ready for preschool drop off was a nightmare.  I did have it worked out to a science.  I was prepared in advance, even setting out the night before all of the clothes, diapers, etc. that each child would need in the morning.  I tried to make the most of the time with the girls while Joshua was in school but it interrupted Abby's nap time which meant she was overtired and that in turn contributed to a bed time that was never really what she needed as a 1-year-old.  Overall it was disruptive to the management of our household and the needs of our children.

There were also other related stresses, so that even with all of the preparedness, it was such a relief when non-school days came and I could just focus on the kids and our home without dragging everyone in and out of car seats multiple times a day.  Needless to say, home education has certainly simplified our schedule because it keeps our focus at home.  Very few outside commitments are added to our schedule and that makes keeping up with a handful of littles much more manageable for this mama!

The Proof is in the Pudding
We are only in the very first stages of our homeschooling journey.  In 10 to 15 years we will be able to see even more how our choice to home educate has impacted our children in terms of providing a firm Biblical foundation, a strong family connection, and the academic and practical skills our children need to succeed in their futures.  For now, it looks like it's working - the kids know the Word of God and many basics of the faith, they are tell us that they are best friends with one another, and we are surprised on a weekly basis at how well they are progressing academically.  And we're enjoying the ride!

So, how do your convictions direct your family's decisions?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Funnies: Fungi or Fun Guy?

It's Friday again, and as promised, I have a Friday Funnies post.  I'm still trying to get the hang of writing things down with pencil and paper (instead of as Facebook posts) so I missed a bunch, but short and sweet sounds pretty good to me...I would like to retain some readers after these installments.  :)

So, without further ado...

Abby is an exceptional communicator...for a 2-year-old.  Generally I understand what she says, but today I was a little confused.
Abby:  I want a "dool".
Me:  A what?
Abby:  A "dool".
Me:  A tool?
Abby:  No, a "dool".
Me:  Do you want a stool?
Abby:  No, a "dool".
Me:  I'm not sure what you're saying.  Do you want a tool or a stool?
Abby:  I want a "dool".
Me, taking a deep breath:  Abby, do you want a tool?
Abby:  Yeah...a "dool".
Me, thinking to myself:  Well, why didn't she just say that in the first place?
Abby, thinking to herself:  Well, why was that so hard to understand? 

Pretend play gone too far...
Joshua, speaking very nonchalantly to Hannah:  Then I'm going to build you a house and you're going to move out.
Hannah, in tears:  But I love you, Joshua!  Please don't make me move out!

After discovering the demo on the keyboard...
Joshua:  Wow!  Mommy, I didn't know the piano could sing all by itself!  Now it's singing a song about Jesus dieing on the cross for our sins.  [listens]  Now the enemy is coming but Jesus is chasing him away. 

We've started some memorization in school.  We're tackling some basics of biology at the moment.  This week we started learning the five kingdoms of living things (I'm not sure I ever memorized that as a kid!).  Anyway...the kids love it and hearing them recite at the school table is really a kick.  Here's why...
Me:  Okay, what are the five kingdoms of living things?
Joshua and Hannah with Abby piping in from the other end of the room:  Animalia.  Plantae.  [smiling]  Fungi.  [big smiles, holding back some giggles]  Protista.  [laughing]  Monera.  [nearly falling off chairs laughing].
Who knew that bacteria was hilarious?

Even Abby is learning the science memorization.  Here's how she's applying her new found knowledge to every day life...
Abby to Jeremiah: Hi, my little fungi!  [big hug]
Fungi or Fun Guy???

So, what funny things have you seen and heard around your house this week?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Coda: What Else Happens While I'm Blogging...Yikes!

Here's the damage from today's post, the one that ended with "I just overheard the following from the bedroom, 'Abby, hold still so I can cut your pony tail!'"

I'm not a hairdresser by any stretch of the imagination, but at least my skills surpass those of a certain 4-year-old who shall remain nameless.

So, does your family have a DIY haircut story?

What Happens While I'm Blogging

I like to think that I'm in control of things around this house.  I like to keep things in order and I don't like it when unexpected "messes" happen.  This morning, however, I have been faced with yet another opportunity to practice love, joy, peace, and patience in the parenting journey.

This morning I was slow to get out of bed when my kids were quick to do the same, and I've also been attempting to write a blog post.  The combination of these things meant that the kids served themselves breakfast (thankfully, they have experience getting breakfast ready and did not leave the floor covered in cereal) and are now working hard on a "project".

Here's a look at what happens while I'm writing (or attempting to write):

Yes, that's right, folks.  Under Joshua's fearless leadership, the kids are making a mess practicing their fine motor skills by very carefully cutting out scraps of construction paper.

I'm glad for the creativity.  I'm glad for their communal effort and teamwork.  I'm glad that they are having good attitudes.  And I'm glad that they are practicing some fine motor skills.  But can I be really honest, here?  This stresses me out!!!

It's just a big mess of paper!  Oh...and a pile of books and school supplies that are now out of place.  At least that's how I saw it at first, but upon further inspection I have come to find out that the pile of paper is really a tomb.  Yep...the kids are teaching their own hands-on Bible lesson, because of course this tomb is from the story of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.  They are even cutting out crosses to go along with it...and that is taking care of Abby's toddler school lesson about shapes.  Even as I type, Joshua has shown me the angel, cross, and tomb he drew and cut out to use as props for his Bible lesson to Hannah and Abby.  They are now assembling in Joshua's bedroom to sit under his teaching about Jesus' death and resurrection.  Maybe it's not just a big mess after all!

Normally I would just react to a situation like this.  And the reaction would be far from pretty.  Today I'm thankful to have taken a step back, learned the kids' true intentions, and taken time to decide how and with what attitude I will respond.  I may, however, leave blogging for nap/rest time from now on, especially since I just overheard the following from the bedroom, "Abby, hold still so I can cut your pony tail!"  Ummm...apparently lots of practice in a patient response is needed today!!!

What messes projects have your kids initiated this week?  How did you respond?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Funnies - First Installment

Welcome to Friday Funnies, where I post some of those funny things said/done by the kids throughout the week.  This week I only bothered to get the pencil and paper out (a new concept for me) mid-week.  Here's what I heard and saw.  Hope you enjoy!

All three kids at some point or another during the week were singing,
"Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.
Merry, merry, merry, merry life is quite a dream."

During Bible reading, Hannah leans over to Claude, looks intently at his face, and then declares, "Daddy, there's hair growing out of your nose. [pause] And look! There's boogers growing out of my nose!"

A conversation:
Me: Abby, did you go poo-poo?
Abby: Yep.  And I'm hiding my legs in my poo-poo.
Me: Really?
Abby: Yeah.  Sometimes I just do dat.

A very honest observation from Hannah: I like to call Joshua "Boshua" because he likes to boss me around.  [laughs]
And then later we overheard her singing the following: Good night my Boss Man, good night my love.  [giggles]  Sleep tight my Boss Man, sleep tight my love.  [more giggles]

Abby: Dat's my bike helmet to keep my head safed so it doesn't fall off.

Hannah: Mmmm!  Wet Cheerios!  [bends down and picks up Cheerios from floor, puts in mouth, smiles]

Claude and I were trying to figure out some challenges in Jeremiah's feeding.  Jeremiah is nursing, so some of the conversation had to do with me - his primary source of food.
Claude, to me: Maybe you're body is just changing.
Joshua, to me: Mommy, when you're body changes that means you're getting old.
Thanks, buddy!

Joshua: Hey, I have an idea.  How 'bout after I finish my chili I could have some...ICE CREAM!  [laughs]

Joshua: How come there are no steam trains?  Are they extinct?

Joshua doesn't like being left alone at the kitchen table, so this morning when he found himself alone he called out to Hannah, "Hannah!  COME BACK HERE!!!"
Hannah, being as gracious as she is quickly stood up and said, "Oh, I'd better go out there.  He needs me."

And, last but not least...
Abby is currently infatuated with tools.  This may be inspired in part by Joshua receiving a tool bench with some pretty cool battery operated tools for Christmas.  Since he has new ones, Abby has inherited the old tools.  However, she doesn't have enough hands to carry around a drill, hammer, screwdriver, and saw, and neither does she have a tool belt.  So, she does what any sensible girl without a tool belt (or pockets, for that matter) would do - she stuffs them down her pants.

So, what funny things have your kids said or done this week?