Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Must-Have's for Homeschoolers: Top Curriculum Picks for 2017/18





It's the middle of August. If you don't know whether to do a happy-dance or sit on the couch and cry, you are probably a homeschool mom about to start your school year. So many emotions. So many decisions. So many choices. 

If choosing your curriculum is one of the biggest stressors on your plate right now, you're not alone. Choosing curriculum is overwhelming. I have spent years (as a classroom teacher and now as a homeschool mom) navigating through the curriculum fog. This year I've zeroed in on some exciting picks. I hope I can offer you some thoughtful insight and take out some of the guesswork when researching curriculum.


My word for the year is: independence. I have five boys and two of them are not even school age yet. You'll notice I chose much of my curriculum based on what my kids can do independently. When you are teaching multiple grade levels and have several other kids underfoot it helps to have curriculum that does most of the work for you. This year I'll be teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. 

It might look like I'm cherry-picking my favorites (and I am), but there is a method to my madness. I base my curriculum choices on the classical education model. This helps narrow it down for me a bit and guides me towards choices that already fit my teaching personality. 


So here they are. My top picks for the 2017-2018 school year. Enjoy! 

Bible

“Big Truths for Little Kids” by Susan Hunt


I am and all-in-one person. Give me a recipe for a one-pot dinner and my life is complete. Susan Hunt’s "Big Truths for Little Kids" is an excellent all-in-one Bible resource for homeschooling. It includes catechism, scripture memory, and practical application stories. Hunt’s strength, and what sets her apart from other authors, is her Christ-centered approach to character building. For example, Hunt guides the discussion on the ten commandments to our need for a savior rather than to how well we measure up. I have confidence that this book will point my kids to Christ over and over again. (If you enjoy this book be sure to check out Hunt’s "ABC Bible Verses.")

“The Ology” by Marty Machowski, New Growth Press

Since “Big Truths for Little Kids” will only get us part way through the year, we will alternate with lessons from "The Ology." This book has been the backbone of our Bible time ever since we discovered it three years ago. It covers every part of Christian theology in 71 short lessons. It answers the questions: What do we believe and why? The illustrations are beautiful and the content is simple yet thought-provoking. This book has sparked some amazing discussions with our kids. It is easy to level the discussions to different ages. Each lesson offers additional scripture references to look up if you want to dive in deeper. It also makes a wonderful companion to catechism memory, further developing the pillars of our faith. This is a resource worth going through every single year.          

Math

Saxon


Last week a package arrived and when I saw what it was I screamed. That’s how excited I was to get my hands on good math curriculum. This is our third year doing Saxon Math and I absolutely love it. Saxon is a teacher’s (and mom’s) best friend. My favorite part about Saxon is that it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The lessons are straightforward, clear, and repetitive. Isn’t that how math should be? The goal of Saxon is mastery. It lays one brick at a time and builds a firm foundation before moving on to the next concept. This allows my kids to feel successful during every lesson instead of constantly “stuck.” There is built-in extra practice which gives us flexibility. We can slow down and practice more if I feel like the kids need it. If they grasp the concepts quickly, we can move faster and skip some of the extra practice. What a blessing to see my kids truly enjoy math. The teacher's manual is practically a word-for-word script. If you are at all intimidated about teaching math, Saxon has your back. You can read straight from the manual and your kids won't skip a beat. 

Language Arts

Abeka


As a classroom teacher for four years I knew for sure I would take Abeka language with me when I transitioned to homeschool mom. I saw firsthand how Abeka adapted well to all different learning personalities. Abeka language follows a logical progression for students to build on. It contains daily review to reinforce every concept. Students learn technical skills such as capitalizing, parts of speech, and punctuation. But this is where Abeka kicks it up a notch: it prepares kids to be great writers. The transition from individual concepts to actual writing is seamless. Kids learn to write and speak well throughout each lesson. They get frequent opportunities to apply what they learn through creative writing prompts. Abeka also encourages independent work. I love that I can get my kids started on a lesson and they are off and running on their own.  

Reading

Sing, Spell, Read, Write 
I have a nostalgic connection with SSRW because it is how I myself learned to read. It's a phonics-based curriculum that spans from K-3rd grade. The curriculum contains everything you need, but if you don't want to purchase the entire curriculum I recommend at least getting the SSRW readers. I love their progression of vowels all the way to digraphs and special sounds. "BOB Books" are another good choice, but they are not as thorough as SSRW. I always start my little ones with "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and then transition to the SSRW readers around lesson 20. I do this because the SSRW books are more colorful and interesting and my kids like the feeling of actually finishing the little booklets. The SSRW offers workbooks that are wonderful if you are looking for a handwriting and spelling curriculum. 

That being said....

I am very excited this year to be starting my 3 1/2yr old on a brand new self-paced phonics program. More on that to come in the next blog post. (How's that for a teaser?)

History

Veritas Press



Veritas Press is known for excellence in classical education and their history curriculum is the star of the show. I love how intentional VP is. Rather than throwing a bunch of isolated historical events at kids, VP strives for long-term retention and understanding. VP knows how children actually think and learn. This curriculum takes advantage of how easy it is for kids to memorize facts and dates. Their brains store this information for later so they have something to build on when they get to history in the older grades. My favorite part about VP is that it teaches history in the most logical way: chronologically. It starts at the beginning of creation and weaves together a beautiful timeline all the way to the present day. To illustrate this timeline, VP offers 160 timeline cards with information and classic artwork to reinforce the information. This year my third grader will begin his first self-paced Veritas history course: Old Testament and Ancient Egypt. This online program contains everything he needs: teaching, video footage, games, memory songs, and follow-up assessments. This is my chance to step back and let VP do the work. If you are teaching multiple grade levels this year like I am, these self-paced courses will be your life-saver. There is just one thing you must prepare yourself for that might be a little shocking: your child will know more about history than you do. VP is so engaging and thorough in its approach, your child is guaranteed to become a walking encyclopedia of historical information. 

Story of the World

One of the most effective teaching methods of all time is story-telling. It’s one of those sneaky ways we get kids to learn without them knowing it. Susan Wise Bauer’s "Story of the World" truly reads like a story. It even has the look and feel of a novel rather than a textbook. SOTW is an investment you will make once and use throughout your child's entire elementary education. These books can be read over and over again, each time building a stronger understanding of history. Bauer's masterful story-telling draws kids in so they will want to hear it just for fun. It follows the same chronological approach as VP, so I will use these books in tandem with our self-paced VP course. There are three ways to use SOTW: You can read it aloud to your kids, they can read it to themselves (starting at about a 5th grade reading level), or you can do what I chose to do this year which is use the audio version. My kids love audio books. I enjoy the flexibility of playing them in the car or even at bedtime to wind down the day. Each chapter takes about 12 minutes to read/listen to and each volume has 42 chapters. You can use SOTW as a stand-alone history curriculum if you purchase the workbooks to go with it. The workbooks include maps, coloring, crafts, and literature suggestions.  

Science

Apologia
For a long time science intimidated me. I knew it should be hands-on, but I dreaded turning my kitchen into a lab every day and running all over town looking for materials. But what was the alternative? A dry textbook? I wanted a way to marry together simple hands-on experiments and easy-to-understand text. Apologia was my happy ending to a long, weary search. The text is crammed with colorful illustrations, fascinating information, and, yes - experiments! The experiments are integrated into the text and they almost always use things we already have on hand. I am pairing the text with the Jr. Notebooking Journal. The journal offers additional activities, projects, copy work, and coloring. I love this all-in-one place for kids to keep track of what they are learning. The best part about Apologia is that I can confidently stick with it all the way through high school and know my kids are getting a thorough, complete science education. (Huge sigh of relief.) No more intimidation for me. 

Fun Stuff

Hot Dots


Every year I like to include a couple hands-on learning games to keep our school days fresh and interesting. This year I chose Hot Dots. The kids are already hooked. I will definitely be adding more card sets to the game. Hot Dots is a set of large, colorful, multiple-choice flashcards that comes with a talking pen. When the kids choose an answer the pen lights up and tells them if they are right or wrong. This game hits all my favorite homeschool criteria: quiet, sit-down, self-directed, interactive, educational, and fun. I like to have two kids play with it together, pairing a reader with a non-reader so someone can read the directions. There are many sets to choose from. This particular set covers a little bit of every subject and is perfect for my first grader. But my older kids are drawn to it as well and it's a good opportunity for them to practice what they've already learned. I can't wait to try some of the sets for older kids. The science sets look particularly fascinating. The best part about Hot Dots is you can keep adding cards to your collection and the same pen works for all of them. I plan to add a few more pens so more kids can play at the same time. Get yourself started with a basic set and add more card sets for Christmas and birthdays! 

Kanoodle

If you have puzzle-kids like I do, you need to keep a Kanoodle in your bag of tricks. Two of my sons in particular love puzzles and this one keeps them in puzzle heaven. It comes with a set of challenges that go from easy to advanced. My 4yr-old can do the simple challenges and the older kids can do the more advanced ones. Even Daddy whisked it away for awhile and completed a few advanced challenges. This is another quiet activity that kids can do in between their regular subjects. It keeps with minds active and their hands quiet. 

What subjects are you excited about teaching this year? What are your must-have's? Comment below and share your ideas!



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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why do We Obey? Three Reasons to Give Your Kids


If you asked me what the hardest part of parenting is I wouldn’t have to think twice. (Unless I’m in the middle of potty-training. Then I can’t think at all.) For me the hardest part is discipline. Discipline is exhausting and emotional. It calls upon every ounce of our love, patience, and diligence. But perhaps the most frustrating part of discipline is not knowing if our kids really understand it. The ultimate goal of discipline is to point our kids to the gospel. Do they get it? How can we help them make that connection? What reasons can we give our kids to obey? “Because I said so,” might be the easiest answer, but here are three reasons that point our kids to the gospel.

1. We Obey Because God is Holy

Discipline is the perfect opportunity to teach our kids about God’s character. We tell them we obey to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). But how exactly is obedience connected to the character of God? The Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer number three gives us the answer:

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.

Our belief about God is directly connected to our duties to God. We know who God is through his law. Our kids must learn to obey as the first step toward knowing God. If we don’t teach them to obey we cannot teach them about God’s holiness, power, mercy, and love. His whole character is communicated to us through the righteousness he requires of his people. When we require our kids to obey we show that God is worthy of our obedience. We also show them how far short we all fall from that worthiness. That brings us to the second reason.

2. We Obey Because of What Jesus Did

Discipline points our kids to their need of a savior. This takes work because kids are naturally legalistic. They are wired to hyper-focus on themselves and their own good works. Earning God’s favor through their own merit makes more sense to them than receiving free grace.

The greatest joy of gospel-centered parenting is pointing our kids away from themselves to Christ. We don’t obey to earn God’s favor, but because it has already been earned for us by another. When our kids disobey we can say, “What you did was wrong. Do you know who never did anything wrong? Jesus! He lived a perfect life for us because he knew we could never do that. If we trust in him his perfect life takes the place of our sin. Now we obey to thank him for everything he has done for us.”

The Christian life can be summed up by the three sections of the Heidelberg Catechism: Guilt, grace, gratitude. We show our kids that the only response to what Jesus did is a life of thankful obedience.

3. We Obey to Receive Blessing

Repeatedly in scripture we see a connection between obedience and blessing. God told his people, “If you keep my commandments you will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 11:28)
Exodus 20:12 says if children obey they will “live long in the land.”

Does this mean if we obey we will always have worldly wealth and success? We can see from examples such as Job and the martyrs in Hebrews 11 that that is not the case. So what blessings can we promise our children? I love the way my pastor, David Graves, puts it:

“As opposed to health and wealth, this promise is along pragmatic grounds. If you obey your parents, then you will learn the wisdom of how to make it through this fallen world with as few scrapes as possible. The child who habitually disobeys does not learn the necessity of hard work and the prudence of how not to be taken advantage of. It is not a promise of wealth, rather it is a promise of learning how to navigate.”

We can assure our kids that God’s laws provide protection and peace – sometimes in a physical way, sometimes only spiritual. Recently my six-year-old told me, “When I tell the truth I feel happy inside.” Obedience brings us joy because it keeps us in fellowship with our creator.

Worth the Effort

Discipline is not something we do to our children, but for them. When we teach them to obey we equip them to live lives full of blessing. It takes time to help their hearts understand what discipline is all about. In 1887 hymn writer John H. Sammis put it best when he wrote the beloved words:

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”







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"I thought her best chapters were on how to discipline pointing to the grace of God instead of just disciplining to get desired behavior." - Jane
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

How to Shepherd Your Over-Reactor


Last week I heard the howls from the backyard. My precious 4yr-old was running up to the door, wailing. A brother had bumped him and his life was over.

I knew that scream. He wasn’t really hurt. He was mostly just angry. One little bump or bruise derails him. He can no longer handle life. 

I have an over-reactor.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Summer Schedule with Little Ones

Summer can be intimidating for moms. The comforts of routine suddenly evaporate and life becomes unpredictable. It’s like when the raptors are set lose in Jurassic World. Okay, I have five boys so my analogies might be a little intense. Either way, things can get crazy.

But there is hope.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Moms: Let's Stop Drinking the Kool-Aid


“Okay, I’m just going to ask it.” The young mom took a deep breath. A group of us stood around, babies on hips, watching the older kids run around the park. “What do you moms think about…vaccines?” Her last word was spoken in a hush, like an inappropriate word. This new mom was seeking wisdom and advice, but she was afraid of stepping on a landmine. And she did. There were as many different opinions as there were moms – and each held to her opinion with a polite smile and white knuckles.

Moms, it’s time to loosen our grips. It’s time to admit that perhaps we’ve boarded the wrong train – a train we thought would take us to better discernment, but has actually led to fear, anxiety, and judging one another. I’m talking about the mania surrounding our kids’ health. Whether it’s vaccines, essential oils, gluten, GMO’s, or epidurals, we’ve made ourselves susceptible to a very sneaky lie. Not a lie that these things are important and worth researching. (They are.) But it’s the lie that our number one priority as moms is our kids’ physical well-being, and that the physical elements of this world are our greatest enemy.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Moms: It's not Time to Reap Yet


My second labor experience was my worst. My son was 11 pounds and he was sunny-side up. Going on hour 25 I remember thinking, “This will never end. I will be in labor forever.” That was, of course, a ridiculous thought. But the pain made me lose perspective. I wanted to hold that sweet baby in my arms, but I couldn’t see past the painful work in front of me. I wanted to reap, but I didn’t want to sow.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"God, Save My Child" - 10 Salvation Verses to Pray for Your Kids





Moms, there are so many wonderful things we could (and should) pray for our kids. But nothing compares to praying for their salvation. And, since "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16)," we mamas have some WORK to do! Our kids are too young to even know what their greatest need is. We need to cry out to God on their behalf. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Clever Dragons: A Review




Technology is making homeschooling very exciting - and also intimidating. The internet is a jungle of educational games, videos, and resources. And it’s mixed in with all kinds of things we don’t want our kids exposed to. I have been wanting to incorporate technology into our daily homeschool routine, but I had no idea where to start.

Until….

Clever Dragons to the rescue!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Why Christians Can Calm Down


On March 1st my newsfeed exploded with angry moms. Our beloved Beauty and the Beast is GAY.

Well, not exactly. And perhaps that’s where we should start. Is this a “Gay” movie? Or is this just another worldly movie made by worldly people with worldly agendas? Believe me, I'm upset, too. But there is an important difference here worthy of a second look. 

Al Mohler, at the recent Shepherd’s Conference, summarized this distinction well. He said there’s a difference between culture being infused into a movie and a movie glorifying a particular sin. Gay characters will be the norm in movies from now on. That's the agenda. The question we should ask is: Does it glorify the sin, or does it discuss/portray an aspect of culture?

This is the culture God has appointed for us to raise our children in. We need to know how to live in it and interact with it. Our kids are watching us. Our response to this issue will shape how they live within this culture. As we respond to Beauty and the Beast there are two words that should not characterize us as Christian parents.

Naive

If we expect the world to act Christian we will always be let down. Many are crying out, “How could Disney do this!?” Maybe instead our question should be, “What took them so long?” Disney is not a Christian company. Disney is acting exactly the way it is supposed to act.

I think deep down we hope the evil in this world will spare our kids. But evil is no respecter of persons. When we see Disney peddling homosexuality as normal it’s like watching someone pass out candy-covered cyanide to children. We gasp in horror and say, “What’s this world coming to?” But we already have the answer. God tells us that “the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17) For the Christian there are no surprises - only evidences of God’s promises coming true. 

We should be angry at sin, but never shocked. Shock means we got too comfortable here. It means we made ourselves at home in the enemy camp and we were offended when the enemy tried to kill us in our sleep. It means we have forgotten that we are “aliens and strangers.” (1 Peter 2:11) 

Fearful

Have you heard about the gay character in Bambi? How about in The Lion King, Pinocchio, or The Jungle Book? These are just a few of the movies I have heard Christians crossing off their lists this week because of suspicious homosexual undertones.

We can train ourselves to see evil everywhere, but that is not the mark of a discerning Christian. It taints our joy and makes us fearful. This is still God’s world. He created music. He created color. As discerning Christians we want to teach our kids how to take the good and leave the bad.   

So What Do We Do? 

Christians can take comfort in the fact that a gay Disney character doesn’t change anything. Thousands of years before Walt Disney was born King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Sin has always been sin. Mankind’s basic need for a savior is still the same. The hope of the gospel is still the same. And as God’s people, our job is still the same as well. 

Yes, Hollywood has an agenda - but so do we. If Hollywood is trying to indoctrinate our kids then we must indoctrinate them first. You must speak of God’s word to your children “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) 


We must raise alien children - children who are not surprised by or afraid of this culture, but know how to impact it for the gospel. We have the beautiful privilege of praying for our kids what Jesus prays for us: “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)



"Sara Wallace does a wonderful job of taking the practicals of motherhood and relating them to the gospel. I highly recommend this for moms who don't have a lot of time to sit down and do a big Bible study." - Jennifer
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