Back-to-School 2016-2017

Things Pondered

I haven’t written in quite some time.  During my “silence,” I have read so many books & listened to an abundance of podcasts.  My thoughts on education are ever-changing, and I am so thankful for the many resources now available to homeschooling families as we navigate this sometimes bumpy terrain!

As a former public school teacher, it is difficult for me to not just recreate school at home.  As I have studied more about education in general and specifically how children learn at different stages in their lives, I have happily settled on the idea that a blend of Classical and Charlotte Mason  philosophies are best suited for my children and myself, neither of which is very well represented in public schools.  In fact, in all my years of preparation to be a teacher (a bachelor’s plus a Master’s degree), I never once heard of either of these frameworks.  It was all modern education, with an enormous emphasis on learning styles.

We are continuing with our Classical Conversations community this year, and have already completed Week 1.  Neither of my sons are in my class this year, but had so much fun last week!  I am happy for them that they are making friends and getting to enjoy a “school” experience.  I am happy for me that I am not totally missing out on that!  My favorite moments with my children are when I see their eyes light up with the realization of a new concept; I can’t imagine handing over that enormous privilege to anyone else full time just yet.

Our boys are 4 and 2 years old (turning 5 and 3 in November).  Our older son is starting pre-k this year, and I am so relieved that I am not sending him off all day, every day.


Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Here is the routine that we followed our first week, and amazingly it worked very well!  I don’t know that I will have to do any tweaking, at least for now!  I do not do well when I have a schedule, as in a specific time for certain activities, but thrive on a routine.  So, the times listed are general guidelines; we sometimes vary by as much as an hour on our start time, may take a longer break, etc.  The blocks of school time remain the same.

9:00 – Morning Basket
9:30 – Morning Break (boys play outside or in the playroom while I do chores)
10:00 – Table Time (Math, Religion, Pre-Reading/Reading, Handwriting)
11:30 – Finished for the day!

I’m going to list our resources/curriculum here, but this is more for my own reference to look back at later.  There are so many wonderful resources available, both online and in print.  Do your research and choose one that fits your educational philosophy and your & your children’s personalities.  🙂

Morning Basket:
At this time, we include the following in our Morning Basket: calendar time, prayer book, Bible stories, CC Memory Work (Geography, Presidents, Science), The Children’s Treasury of Virtues, and readers that align with our memory work.

We are using Kindergarten Saxon Math.  So far, we love it!  It starts out really easy though, and my little one is ready for more of a challenge.

We are finishing up the All About Reading Pre-Reading curriculum.  This has been a huge hit with my son!  As much as we loved it though, I just felt like it made learning to read drag on and on, so we are going to switch to The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading after we finish up AAR.
For sight words, we are going to use Carisa’s (from the 1+1+1=1 blog) You Can Read! sight words program.  I am not a big fan of sight words in general.  I plan on focusing more on phonics, but realize there are some words that do not follow phonics rules well and/or are such high frequency words that being able to automatically read those words would be beneficial to young readers.  We will start this program some time during the Fall semester.

Handwriting Without Tears kind of fell into my lap, and I am so glad it did.  I had looked at the student book at Mardel, and was honestly not that impressed with it.  Certain it was not the fit for us, I had scoured the web trying to find another program.  When the teachers manual came my way, I was blown away by the attention to detail the creators of the program include.  The activities are so hands-on and fun!  My boys are BOTH loving it so far!

Friends & Favorites

Okay, so I alluded to the fact that Handwriting Without Tears kind of fell into my lap.  You guys, I have the best friends ever.  They are always looking out for each other.  One friend found my Math manipulatives kit on a Facebook homeschool swap group and grabbed it for me.  Another friend found the Saxon Math teachers manuals for me at a book swap, and still another found the Handwriting Without Tears manual for me at the same book swap.  If you are trying to homeschool alone, stop!  Right now!  Go find some friends!  Even if you don’t formally join a group or co-op, having like-minded friends to visit with & pray for is a blessing!

Here are some favorite resources of mine that I devoured over the summer as I tried to become more educated about education.  😉

Homeschool books:
Teaching in Your Tiara (wonderful overview of homeschool and the different philosophies)
The Well-Trained Mind (fabulous Classical education resource)
For the Children’s Sake (life-changing read on Charlotte Mason education)
Teaching from Rest (words to live by!)

Your Morning Basket (great podcast on the practice of Morning Basket)
Read Aloud Revival (all things reading aloud)
Scholé Sisters (fun, charming conversation between homeschooling mamas)


Well, I think that catches us up!  Until next time, Happy Schooling!


Read the Bookshelf Challenge!

We are loving our All About Reading curriculum and I will post about that soon, but I wanted to share an idea that popped into my head yesterday and I am excited to start with my little one soon.

We go to the library twice a week and easily go through 20+ library books a week.  Don’t misunderstand me; I am beyond thankful for this resource and have found so many treasures there!  However, while cleaning up the toy room yesterday, it dawned on me that we have only read about half of the books we own.

Enter “Read the Bookshelf Challenge!”  We are going to attempt to read every book on our bookshelf over the next couple of months.  I think it will be a good way to purge unwanted books as well, and make room for new ones!  My children are only 4 and 2 and we are already running out of room for our books.

As we read, I will make a list of our favorites to share!  Who wants to join me?

2016 Curriculum

I am so excited about the new year!  The super cool thing about homeschooling is that you can decide when your “year” begins and ends.  You can follow your child’s lead instead of sticking to a calendar.  Love that!

The Observer is ready to begin letters and their sounds in earnest.  He has been able to identify 95% of his letters for some time now, and is starting to ask “What letter does {insert object of interest} start with?” about anything and everything.  I hadn’t planned on starting a reading program until next year, but ordered All About Reading’s Pre-Reading program this month and plan to start it after Christmas & the New Year.

I am very closely following Lacy’s (from the blog Catholic Icing) plan using AAR (All About Reading).  We will do one letter per week, doing the capital letter one day, the lowercase another, and the sound the letter makes another day.  Since The Observer loves animals, we are also using the same animal encyclopedia to learn more about each animal featured with each letter.  We are also going to tie in Geography here since my son loves maps so much.  We will identify what kind of habitat the animal prefers and locate it on our maps.

The Observer has started adding numbers on his own, so in addition to the AAR/science/geography lesson, we are going to begin a gentle approach to math using the MathStart series by Stuart J. Murphy.  We happened to check out one of these books from the library purely based on the cover.  I had no idea what a treasure I was finding!  These are a leveled series of books covering a variety of mathematical concepts.  The books are well-written that simply reinforce math through a story format.  The website even has a resource page of activities to do along with the books!  We will start reading our way through the Level 1 series when we resume school in January.

Looking forward to implementing our new plan and will keep you posted on how it goes!

Parts of a Flower Cut & Paste Activity

Hello all!  After perusing the Internet for a specific flower cut & paste activity, I made my own, based on this activity on the University of Hawaii’s website, found through a Google search.

This cut & paste activity is perfect for pre-writers in the Classical Conversations curriculum, for the Science Activity and Memory Work during Weeks 10 and/or 11.  However, it can be used by anyone!

Template (leave this page as is, paste other parts onto this template):

parts of a flower

Petals (print on colored paper – I used purple):


Stamens, Pistils, & Anthers (print on yellow paper):

stamens, pistils, and anthers

Sepals & Stems (print on green paper):

sepal and stem

To speed along the activity (especially for the younger crowd), pre-cut the pieces so your little ones are merely pasting the parts onto the template.  Enjoy!

Wild Kratts Themed Birthday Party + a FREEBIE!

My boys’ birthdays are fast approaching at the end of this month, and they are currently very into the PBS show The Wild Kratts.  And a brother duo theme for a brother birthday party?  Perfect!

Birthday party preparations have begun in earnest and I have spent more than a few evenings watching Netflix and working on projects.  Here are a couple of my favorites from around the web:

Wild Kratts Creature Pods

Using the idea behind this awesome craft from Reading Confetti, I made “creature pods” for the birthday boys and their guests by painting toilet paper tubes black, then cutting a slit up the back and rounding the corners.  I printed pictures of the Wild Kratt characters and modge podged them onto the tubes.  The boys can “push” the buttons and “call” whichever character they want to during their creature adventures.  After a couple of times of putting them on and taking them off, the tubes were stretching a bit, so we hole punched them and laced them up with yarn for a better fit.




I saw these neat little party favors floating around on Pinterest and decided to make my own.  I actually used paper towel tubes cut in half for this craft rather than toilet paper tubes.  The tubes are a little longer and a little sturdier.  Also, using toilet paper tubes was the perfect size for using 8.5 x 11 scrapbook paper to cover the tubes.  I got one pair of binoculars per scrapbooking page.  I bought camo paper when it was half price at Hobby Lobby, wrapped the tubes, then covered the ends with black electrical tape.  I hot glued two tubes together, hole punched the outsides, and tied yarn on for the kids to hang them around their necks.


Freebie! North American Animal Sack Puppets Template

Also found on Pinterest, was this fun idea for a Wild Kratts themed birthday party: making animal sack puppets!  This idea is found on the PBS website, but there are no templates included!  I made one for the buffalo and eagle, the two animals my son requested, and have uploaded them here for you!  Enjoy!

Buffalo body parts

Buffalo face pieces & hooves

Eagle face pieces

Eagle feathers

Eagle left wing

Eagle right wing

Buffalo Lesson Ideas & Book List

We watch a lot of animal documentaries in our house.  In fact, my son (turning four years old next month) once told me, “Mom, I don’t really like kids’ TV shows.  I just like documentaries.”  We stumbled upon an excellent buffalo documentary on YouTube, titled Thunderbeast.  It has played an unnamed number of times in our home over the past couple of months.

My son has really developed a fascination with these impressive animals, probably as a result from one of our summer outings to the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.  He had quite literally begged me for “buffalo school” for nearly a month before I finally caved and put together a unit for him.  My hesitation did not come from a particular objection to the buffalo, but rather from the fact that I had been unable to find many resources online for a print-n-go buffalo unit.

I began brainstorming.  I knew I wanted to use many of the items we had on hand, my son’s buffalo toys for example, and I remembered that he really enjoyed the Johnny Appleseed lapbook we did back in August, so I thought another lapbook would be a neat way to collect everything we learned.

Math: Following the idea behind this lego & dice counting game, we made a long, curvy path out of legos.  Our game pieces were two tiny buffalo, babies who had lost their mommy!  The mommy was waiting at the end of the trail, and pacing on the sidelines was the wolf.  My son was very excited to reunite the buffalo calves with their mommy and triumph over the wolf!  We used only one die, although you could easily use two for counting to higher numbers; just be sure to make your trail longer if you go that route!

Lapbook: I quickly realized that my inhibitions about making my own lapbook from scratch were unwarranted.  In fact, I am feeling an unexpected sense of freedom.  The sky is the limit and I am breaking free of printables!  (Our budget is going to thank me for that one… that ink costs an arm and a leg!)  After looking over many different animal lapbooks from homeschoolshare, I decided to make my own mini-books, based on buffalo facts that would interest my son.


We had a map showing where the Great Plains are located, a coloring page of the prairie, and several lift-a-flap books: buffalo diet, buffalo predators, and uses of the buffalo.   I also printed out blank black-and-white buffalo templates and I wrote fun facts about the buffalo as we read.   Creating my own mini-books had one distinct advantage: my son is a pre-reader, so whenever possible, I used pictures rather than words.  For example, in the buffalo diet booklet, I used a picture of grass and water; in the predator booklet, I used pictures of wolves, mountain lions, and bears.  He was so excited to be able to show his daddy his lapbook each night and narrate it without any
help from me.
DSCN5011DSCN5008I found a lot of information for the scientific portion of our lessons from these websites: and

Buffalo Book List

We had a lot of fun reading books about buffalo in addition to the hands-on activities above.  Here are some of our favorites:

Grandfather Buffalo, by Jim Arnosky
This is a sweet tale about an old buffalo who trails behind the herd.  The illustrations are delightful and the story has a poignant lesson regarding multi generational relationships.  Grandfather Buffalo was hands-down my favorite out of our stack of buffalo books.

The Buffalo are Back, by Jean Craighead George
Breathtaking illustrations accompany the enchanting history of the buffalo and how its rise and fall affected the Prairie and its People.  I learned quite a bit while reading this to my son, which is always a plus for me!  The words to picture ratio is a bit high for younger children; my son is four, but is particularly interested in this subject, so he was hanging on every word.

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick
A whimsical addition to our buffalo unit, this quirky book make my son chuckle a bit.  He is my little scientist though, and wasn’t as interested in this book as the others.  Check this book out for a lighthearted take on the buffalo.  (Think the buffalo version of Jane Yolen’s How Does a Dinosaur Books.)

Buffalo Before Breakfast, by Mary Pope Osborne
Our first attempt at a read-aloud chapter book was a smashing success thanks to this engaging tale.  I was a bit hesitant to try a read-aloud with such few illustrations – half-page and full-page illustrations are scattered throughout the book – but my son loved it!  A word of caution: there are references to some of the Lakota practices and belief systems.  If those passages contradict what you are trying to instill in your child at home and that is something you would want to guard your child from until he/she is old enough to understand it better, it is quite easy to omit those sections as you are reading aloud.