Friday, December 16, 2011

Update on NaNoWriMo!

After a month of struggling to get their stories on paper (or on hard drive), my writers have completed their stories.   All four met their word count goals!  During December and January, we are continuing to revise and edit.  Hopefully we will be finished with final copies (or as final as they will get) by the time we're gearing back up to start school next semester.

Now is also a good time to reflect on their accomplishments and on what we've learned through this process:

1.  My second-grader, who always insisted that it was too hard to write more than four or five sentences on any topic, completed a story that exceeded 750 words - and with plenty of time to spare.  A couple of paragraphs will never seem unachievable again.  My goal for her first revision is to extend the story so that the ending seems more of a natural conclusion and reveals a purpose (or message) for the story.

2.  My perfectionist fifth-grader, who cannot leave something unfinished or partially complete, powered through to complete a 1200+ word first draft that still had some holes in the plot and character development.  I know this seems a strange thing to celebrate, but if you've dealt with the kind of perfectionism that brings the writing process to a screeching halt if the perfect solution to a writing process doesn't present itself right at that moment, you understand why I'm celebrating.  Sometimes you just have to trust that the solution to a writing problem can wait until time to revise and move on.   My goal for her first revision is to give a multisensory appeal to the story - telling the story through action and description as well as through dialogue.

3.  My ninth-grader with a million ideas and not enough attention span actually completed a full draft of her novella.  Exceeding 10,000 words (by a long shot), she showed herself that she can maintain focus and interest long enough to complete a lengthy project.  My goal for her first revision is to maintain a distinct voice for each of her characters.

4.  My eleventh-grader is not new to the novel-writing process; he has been working on a novel for close to three years.  For him, the goal was to complete a cohesive story from beginning to end without stopping and rewriting large sections before reaching the revision stage.  Perfectionism again is the enemy of the process.  He can rewrite all he wants now that we have a complete draft to work with, although I doubt he will need to do such hefty rewrites on this story.  My goal for his first revision is to weave the beautiful mastery of language he exhibited in the descriptive passages in the first few pages of the story throughout the rest of the story, to maintain the tone and style.

What a wonderful adventure we have been on the last two months!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's National Novel Writing Month!

Making lesson plans for English in November got a lot easier when I discovered the National Novel Writing Month Young Writer's Program.  This is the month to get your student writing!  Go to and sign up your student.  Have them set a word goal for the month, and get them started writing.  There are lots of resources to help your child get started, and you can track your growing word count  as the month progresses.  Students can share their book title and synopsis with others, as well as author information.  Students who reach their word count goal at the end of the month receive a certificate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Favorite Homeschooling Find #2

I had actually planned to choose a different website as my second-favorite homeschooling find, but the need to occupy my four-year-old, hopefully in a vaguely educational way, prodded me to rediscover this little gem.  When Mr. D. was begging me to let him play a game on the computer, I quickly looked up "preschool games" and came up with  Starfall is a free phonics resource emphasizing phonics skills and early reading skills.  Mr. D. played happily on their website for over an hour, reviewing the alphabet and letter sounds.  They do have other resources for sale at the Starfall store and a full kindergarten curriculum available for purchase at, something I may explore for next year.  But for reinforcing basic preschool skills while keeping a little boy happy, I'm planning to keep this site on my list of favorites.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Favorite Homeschooling Find #1

The first resource that I am grateful to have for homeschooling is not free, but it enables me to access many free items.  I love my Kindle!  I can access many classic books for free, and it is easier to read them on the Kindle than on my ipod.  This summer I read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,which was free on the Kindle, to my girls as our bedtime reading.  I have downloaded Herodotus for a taste of early histories and the New Oxford American Dictionary for vocabulary study, as well as numberous classic books.

Yes, the Kindle is pricey, but you can purchase the wi-fi Kindle with Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers for $114 or the 3G + wi-fi Kindle with Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers for $139.  If you can put up with the advertising that comes with the price break, this seems to be the way to go.  I wish they'd had this offer available when I paid full price for mine.  If you just can't bring yourself to pay for another electronic device, many other devices (like the ipod, iphone, ipad, and other tablets) have a Kindle app available for download. 

If your taste runs more to contemporary novels or a packaged curriculum, this device may not help you tremendously in your homeschooling, but if you are integrating classics into your high school curriculum or just want to expose your younger ones to books like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, or The Five Little Peppers, the Kindle is as much fun as a trip to the library.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buried in (Fun) Projects

I was putting off posting until I had time to go through some new lists of free resources for homeschooling, but I had to stop and write about my creative project consultant.  Miss J. has never met a project idea that she can't improve.  When I ask for a poster, she asks if she can create a 3-d display.  When I wanted Miss C. to write a story about an event that happened and she insisted she couldn't, Miss J. cut up some paper to make a little book that Miss C. could fill far more easily than the piece of paper I had given her.  Today, after considering the model of Mount Olympus that she was already making, Miss J. decided that she could better depict the complexities of Greek mythology by creating a video game.  So this afternoon, she spent an hour and a half using Gamemaker (which Mr. B. had taught her to use this summer) to create a computer game. 

Now, I have to admit, my first thought when J. spins my assignment in a new direction is usually, "Wait a minute..."  However, I'm slowly learning that giving her choices puts her in charge of her learning.  And isn't this what we want?  Children who are self-motivated, curious, and creative?  Now I just need to convince her to create the rubrics for grading the projects, too. ;-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Things I've Learned (or Relearned) in Our First Couple of Weeks of Homeschooling

In reflecting on our start to this year's homeschooling adventure, I've learned (or been reminded of) several important things.

1.  Life happens.  Be flexible.
     If the computer is acting up or you get an unexpected call from a relative who needs taste-testers for her snow cones, it's okay to change gears for a little while.  After all, learning about the role of preservatives in snow cone syrup is science, even if it isn't about ocean currents and tides.  Just try to get back on track as soon as is reasonable.

2.  My kids feel better when they know up front what they need to accomplish for the day.
     Knowing that after handwriting she'll be able to take a break before history and science (which finish up the day) helps Miss C. power through those handwriting exercises.  Miss J., my perfectionist, likes to know exactly where she is in her plan for the day.  Since Miss N. and Mr. B. are old enough to be given deadlines and plan for how to meet those deadlines on their own, we all feel better having a clear plan for everyone.

3.  It's okay to change plans if you see a problem with the plan or an unanticipated need. 
     I abandoned two different sets of plans for math because they required more practice than I considered appropriate for the attention span of my second grader.  I also jettisoned a couple of units that I considered redundant for my fifth grader.  I added an additional grammar resource for my ninth grader for review purposes.  All of those changes were made to address specific educational needs of my children.

4.  Have fun.
     How do I keep my children motivated if I don't appear to be enjoying the lessons?  Homeschooling is a joint discovery process, and my involvement and excitement about the journey are essential.

5.  Read to them.  Read things you loved as a child.  Share your love of books.
     I have been reading to my girls at bedtime for over a month now.  I found The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew on my Kindle, and I introduced to them the poor family who lived in the little brown house.  Now we're reading about a very bored and improper princess who takes matters into her own hands in Dealing with Dragons.  I love sharing these stories with my children and hearing them say, "Just one more chapter, please."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing (and Rewriting) Curriculum

One of the things I've learned during the past two weeks is that it's easy to overcommit.  After planning a scope and sequence for my daughter's high school English and history classes and making lesson plans for the first half of the semester, reality finally caught up with me.  I was trying to cover all of the things that had made us decide to homeschool these two subjects as well as most of the things she would have been covering if she had taken them at school.  After trying to cram just one more "classic" into her already full semester, I finally saw what I was doing.  What is the point of crafting a course for a single student if I'm not designing it to meet her specific needs?

It's a good thing I really like planning.  I have a feeling this won't be the only time I wind up redesigning a course at the last minute.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Homeschooling on a Budget

One of the challenges that comes with any kind of teaching is managing the cost.  With so many great books and resources available, it would be easy to spend the equivalent of school tuition on fun materials.  While there are some things I did splurge on, many of the materials I will be using are available at little or no cost.
The first place I looked when I started preparing my scope and sequence was in my bookshelves.  In addition to owning a frighteningly large collection of children’s and young adult books, I also have the textbooks from Miss N’s and Mr. B’s year at home as well as some other textbooks that have found their way into my library.  In addition, my Kindle provides access to many free books (particularly classics). These resources provided a starting point for planning my curriculum.
The second place I looked for needed books and resources was the public library.  Knowing that there were certain books that they would have read this year if they had continued in their old school, I decided to include some of those books in our plan for the year at home.  A few minutes on the city library’s website confirmed that these books are in circulation, and I need only make sure that I check on a regular basis to ensure that the books are available when needed.
My next resource for finding teaching materials was the internet.  Teaching and planning aids are readily available from many websites devoted to teachers and homeschoolers alike. is one resource that provides a full curriculum for elementary grades.  I prefer to develop my own scope and sequence, but with so many pathways (or thematic units) available, I have found this site to be a treasure.  There are also great interactive programs that provide practice and assessment for skills.  PeakSmart is a math program that I intend to use for skills practice for Miss C. and Mr. D.  Currently, they only offer Pre-K through third grade, but they plan to add additional grades in the future.
So, what have I bought?  I bought a large world map for the wall of the schoolroom, a handwriting worktext for Miss C., and some activities for Mr. D., who will need to be occupied while we are working.  I will purchase a subscription to Looney Tunes Phonics for Miss C. to reinforce her phonics skills and to SmartTutor Reading and Math for skills practice for Miss J.  I’m sure there will be other purchases, but for now, I’m grateful to have such a wealth of educational resources available at little cost.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homeschooling Again!

When I had the opportunity to homeschool my oldest children two years ago, I was nervous, excited, and well...nervous.  How could I put together full curricula for a junior high student and a high school student in all subjects in such a short time?  So, with my husband's encouragement, I checked into TTUISD and enrolled them both for the year.  It was a good program; it was structured, provided all of the materials that we needed, and gave them their introduction to final exams (which I believe should be experienced at least once before college).  But I was a little disappointed to not have a say in which books they read, and there was so much to do that providing significant enrichment was difficult to fit into the schedule.

In the end, both kids missed being with friends, and so our local university model school was a good option for them when their year at home ended.  I still got them two days a week, and they were involved in whatever activities the school provided.  It was a good solution for our younger daughters, too, who got to spend three days a week with me.

But this summer has brought changes in priorities and interests.  My oldest wants to take an online math course, and stay at school for the rest of the day.  My other teenager wants me to teach her history and English classes, but will attend the morning classes and science class at school.  Our youngest will attend pre-K for half a day.  We signed up the little girls for half day as well.

Then the younger of the two asked if I could homeschool her all day.  I asked her if she could try half days for a week or two and see if she liked it.  She asked again.  I reminded her that she only had to try it.  Then her older sister asked if she could homeschool.  I wavered.  After all, it would save a lot of money.  I could spend a lot more time with the girls, who often didn't see much of me when the older kids had football games, basketball games, or track meets.  And I would get to design my own curriculum.

I love curriculum.  I love diving into a book and pulling concepts, words, and ideas for activities out of it.  I love looking for ways to take facts and make them relevant.  This is something that a homemaker isn't often called on to do.  When I thought about it, I really wanted to homeschool.  After all, that is why I had a scope and sequence for the history and English class I was preparing to teach all three girls (modifying for each child so that the material is on the appropriate level, of course) pretty much done by the end of June.  I'm excited about reading books with them, doing hands-on-math, and guiding their learning. 

And that's why, two days after we made the decision, I already have the first three weeks of school planned.  I can hardly wait to get started!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writing again!

Story ideas are tossed around at our house like some families throw footballs or baseballs.  Someone is always testing his or her newest plotline on the audience gathered around our dinner table.  Unfortunately, I am rarely that someone.  In fact, my last great story idea was about five years ago, and I am just now in the final stages of completing that story.  Most of the time I serve as the family reader/editor, someone who challenges everyone else to justify their characters' actions with clear motivations, to clarify plotlines that have gotten muddled or too complicated, and to clean up their language usage and grammatical errors.

Sometimes you have to leave a piece of writing for awhile in order to see it with fresh eyes.  I tend to take this concept to the extreme.  Gregg and I have just resurrected a story we worked on together from 1992 - 1995.  We actually abandoned it to pursue other things, like having children, careers, more kids, graduate work, more kids... you get the idea.  Broken Toys was the first writing project that we worked on together, and it is the first one that we have completed.  I hope that our persistence in our own writing will encourage our children to continue working toward completing their goals, even when life intervenes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


My son and I had an interesting conversation tonight.  I know how hard it is to know what to say when a friend is telling an inappropriate joke or using language that makes us uncomfortable, so I asked if he would like some ideas for how to respond in those situations.  He told me that sometimes it does happen, but that he doesn't encourage it.  As we talked about it, I realized that he needed to know that unless he is actively discouraging it, he is encouraging it.  Silence is a language few of us understand well.

One example of this is a time early in our marriage when I was talking to Gregg about an idea I had, something I wanted to do.  I talked to him about making plans, discussed different options, and explored how things might turn out.  After about a week of this, Gregg finally told me that he didn't think it was a good idea.  I was floored.  When I asked him why he was backing out on me, he said, "I never said we should do this."  I quickly pointed out that he had never said that he didn't want to, either.  After that, he worked harder to let me know how he was feeling about the things we discussed, and I made sure to ask what he was thinking along the way.  Silence had meant completely opposite things to each of us.

There is certainly a time to remain silent.  I don't do very well at remembering that.  But there are times when silence can signal an acceptance of the unacceptable, or a withdrawal of much-needed support, or a lack of interest and concern for others.  During those times, we need to understand that the only way we can send a clear message is with our words.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Freedom Writers

We showed my parents Freedom Writers last night.  Let me say up front that this movie is rated PG-13 for language and some violence, and it is rough in places.  But the things that Freedom Writers says about education and the influence that an exceptional, caring teacher can have on students for me outweighed the concerns.  I even let Jessica watch it, which I typically don't do with PG-13 movies.

Freedom Writers was required viewing for EDUC 688, which I facilitated earlier this semester, primarily because the school-level, teacher-level, and student-level factors that we had been studying were so evident in this movie.  It is based on the real-life story of Erin Gruwell, a first year teacher in Long Beach, California in 1994.  Erin chooses to teach at Woodrow Wilson High School, a recently integrated school that is struggling to adjust to the academic and social needs of a suddenly diverse group of students.  As Erin tries to find ways to relate to her students and make the curriculum relevant to the lives of her students, she is faced with either indifference or direct opposition by the faculty and administration of her school. 

Erin's students segregate themselves within her classroom, and she finds that trust is difficult to build with this group.  As Erin invests more time, energy, and money in her students, she finds ways to not only win their trust, but also to expand their minds and their worlds.  Exposing her students to writers that tell stories that they can relate to, she helps them give voice to their own stories and helps them learn to have hope in the future.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald

A Resilient Life was one of the texts for the Education course I facilitated this spring.  We  used it to reflect on qualities that build resilience, both in teachers and students.  I think reading my students' faith reflections on this book was one of my favorite parts of the course. 

MacDonald introduces the topic of resilience as something he began learning from his high school track coach, and he revisits the running analogy and the influence of this coach throughout the book.  In this book he addresses the importance of "finishing strong", seeing the big picture, "repairing" the past, training to "go the distance", and developing and maintaining deep Christian relationships. 

The topic I found most challenging was that of repairing the past.  Often we go through life burdened by the weight of broken relationships, mistakes, and damaging experiences that we haven't quite put behind us.  MacDonald stresses the importance of repentance, forgiveness, gratitude, and learning from mistakes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Although entertaining and easy to read, it contained challenging concepts that brought me back to reread the sections I found most difficult.  I recommend this book to anyone who sees life as a marathon.


A piece of writing

I started writing this reflection about 6 years ago, and never really finished it.  I tacked on a few sentences and thought I'd throw this out here.

Pulling Weeds

            I recently began weeding the yard of the house we bought last fall.  Because we were busy getting our old house ready to sell when we moved into this house, we didn’t do much more in the yard than try to rake up some of the thousands of leaves that covered the lawn.  (For people who had never owned a house with one full-grown tree, much less six, this was a daunting task.)  So when spring rolled around, we found ourselves fighting weeds and a variety of grasses that had decided to compete for space with our St. Augustine grass.
            When I began weeding, I started in a section that was primarily weed-infested, with little good grass in the area.  Pulling weeds in this area was fairly simple; the roots occasionally put up a good fight, but most of the time they came pretty easily.  Often the weeds were spaced far enough apart to prevent any entanglement which might make it harder to pull the roots from the ground.
            Then I moved on to areas where the weeds were encroaching upon areas already occupied by the grass.  As I tried to pull the weeds in this area, I met with resistance; the weeds were intertwined with the good grass.  Pulling on those weeds resulted in coming away without the roots or pulling out some of the good grass which had put down roots in the same place.
            As I was alternately pulling the tops off of the weeds without the roots and pulling up pieces of St. Augustine with the weeds whose roots I succeeded in wrestling from the ground, I realized how much this weeding process resembled my life.  Often the sin in my life is isolated or located in clumps of bad habits.  This sin responds fairly well to occasional weeding, yielding most of its roots with a continued application of pressure to pull the sin from my life.  Some sin, however, entangles itself with the good things I want to grow in my life.  These “weeds” are difficult, often yielding only the visible parts but leaving the roots when I attempt to disentangle them from the good qualities I am working to cultivate.  This sin reappears quickly and with more strength than before. 
Pride is one such weed.  It threads itself around the good deeds that I do and ties itself to the roots of those kind acts until they are imperceptibly but completely enmeshed.  When friends at the Crestview church suggested that I talk to the people in the worship ministry about signing up to be on the rotation of the “miked singers” at our worship services, I had to decline.  Putting a microphone in my hand during worship service makes it extremely difficult for me to focus on the message and the meaning of the song; I struggle with putting aside thoughts of how I sound and what others are thinking.  I still have much to learn about giving and serving, but for now I have to choose carefully and guard my thoughts to ensure that those acts come from the heart of a servant.


This blog will eventually include an assortment of photos, brief book and movie reviews, and ideas for enhancing learning at home or in the classroom.  Hope you enjoy!