Archive for March, 2012

March 31, 2012

Homeschooling Kindergarten Math

Note:  Below is my column as it appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.  Scroll down to find some other helpful links and ways that I’ve tried to teach math.

When I was a young girl, I was gently reprimanded for using my fingers to do math.  I had to do it in my head.  Throughout school, I never liked math, and I never did well in it.  I sat in the back of the room during high school geometry, and I barely listened to the teacher.  For algebra, the teacher was my high school’s football coach, and I remember him bellowing out instructions like he was on the football field.

In college I majored in English, and one of my professors said, “English majors are notorious for hating math.”  I was only required to take one math class in college, and I waited until my senior year to take it.  The teacher was excellent, and my study skills had improved remarkably by that year. I got an A in the class.

Even now, math is not my forte.  If I have to figure out how much to tip someone, it will take me much longer than most people.

But just because it takes me longer to figure out simple math, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it.  While reading Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, I discovered that I’m a very strong visual learner.  Though I knew I was visual, it surprised me at how much this learning style was dominant for me.

I started thinking about how I add, and although I don’t count on my fingers anymore, I actually visualize them in my head when I’m adding simple numbers.  So, I guess I showed those teachers!

I’m not sure how math is taught in school now, but I’m aware that several math curriculums available to homeschoolers use manipulatives for learning addition and subtraction.  Using beads or small blocks, a student is allowed to move the pieces around and actually see that two beads plus two beads equal four beads.  I don’t ever remember getting to use something like that as a child.

I don’t know if you can make someone like math if they aren’t good at it, but as I think about how I want to teach my boys math at home, I know I’m going to do everything I can so that it’s engaging.  I want to show them how we use math everyday, and if they want to use their fingers, you can bet I’ll let them.

My five-year-old is very creative and loves stories, so I purchased the first two books in a series called Life of Fred.  They aren’t too expensive, and the books are comprehensive through college-level math.

Life of Fred teaches math through a story about a character named Fred.  It’s funny and quirky, and my five-year-old loves it, and he even asks to do more.  It’s easy to do one chapter in less than an hour, and I like that there are only a few problems to work out at the end of each chapter.

The second book has proven to be a little beyond my son’s ability at this time, so I’ve decided to wait awhile before we work through it.  In the meantime, I’m doing a few other things to teach him math.

At the library, we found the shelf with all the preschool and kindergarten level math books, and I’ve been checking them out and reading them at a leisurely pace. Some of the books are easier for him than others, but he seems to like learning about numbers through story.  I try to get him to work out some of the equations, but I help him when needed.

He is an auditory and visual learner, so I downloaded some math songs to play on my iPod in the car, and we’ve watched several YouTube videos about math.  I also try to teach him math while we’re cooking or baking together.

Before I started doing these things, I thought I was losing him because one bad day he told me that math wasn’t fun.  After stopping the formal lessons and instead trying the story books and music, he delighted me one day by writing several equations on a piece of paper.  He drew smiley faces:  two smiley faces + three smiley faces = five smiley faces.

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised and it confirmed my opinion that children learn best when they aren’t forced to learn.  Introduce them to ideas, books, educational television, and most importantly, show them how this stuff is used in everyday life.  They will catch on and learn it at their own pace.

Note:  So that was my column as it appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.  Below are some helpful links and other ways I’ve tried to teach math.

  • As I mentioned in the column, we love Life of Fred.  We have worked through Life of Fred: Apples, and we’re going to save Life of Fred: Butterflies for next year.  (For those of you who are secular homeschoolers, you may want to know that a Christian company publishes these.  I have not seen many references to Christianity in the books, and so far what I have seen has not bothered me.  If you order the books, you will receive some advertisements for other, Christian publications they offer.)
  • Last year I purchased an inexpensive poster (less than $3) of the numbers 1-100 at a local teacher’s store. My son really enjoyed looking at it when we first purchased it, and it’s been helpful along the way too.  Counting by 5s is a challenge for him at this point, but I’m glad I have the chart to refer to when trying to explain these concepts.
  • I’ve had some success with the math books we’ve found at the library.  Some of the titles we found were:
      • Patterns by Hammersmith, Craig.
      • Patterns by Pistoia, Sara.
      • My two book by Moncure, Jane Belk. – There’s a series of these books, and while they are preschoolish, there was enough simple math in them to make it worthwhile for my five-year-old, I thought.
      • My five book by Moncure , Jane Belk.
      • Give me half! by Murphy, Stuart J. – Excellent book.  My five-year-old loved it.
      • The Hershey’s Kisses subtraction book by  Pallotta, Jerry.
      • Springtime addition by Fuller, Jill
      • Making change at the fair by Dalton, Julie
      • Measurement by Pistoia, Sara. – After this book, my five-year-old wanted to use the measuring tape to measure things around the house.
      • Math for all seasons : mind-stretching math riddles by Tang, Greg. – Challenging and worthwhile for my five-year-old.
      • There are many other math books, and I hope to make use of many of them!  You can find several on Amazon.
  • Audio Memory Math Songs (I purchased only the songs on Amazon.)
  • Some YouTube videos the boys enjoy:
  • We received Inchimals for a Christmas gift, and my five-year-old loves them!  Unfortunately we haven’t made using them a habit.
  • I have purchased Eat Your Math Homeworkbut we haven’t used it yet.  However, whenever I cook with my five-year-old, I try to emphasize how we measure and count the ingredients.
  • As you can see in the photo, we have a bucket of little vehicles that have been invaluable to me as I teach my son math skills.  We have used them while working through the Life of Fred math books, and I even used them the other day when I incorporated math into one of our puppet shows.  (More about that in a future post!)  These were a gift and also purchased at a local teacher’s supply store.
  • When my son was younger, we used some preschool workbooks, and I’ve also used some inexpensive flash cards, but not very often.
  • We also have several computer programs and apps that teach math, but since there are so many out there, I’m sure you’re already aware of this.  I pretty much let my son play with these on his own, though I think they would be more helpful if I sat with him while he was working through the problems.
  • Other than this, I try to catch the teachable moments and make him figure out simple, everyday math in his head.

Similar to how I have taught beginning reading, I have used resources that were available to me or inexpensive.  I consider it all a work in progress, and as he gets older, I’ll try to find other resources to fill in the gaps.

What recommendations do you have for teaching early math skills?

March 28, 2012

Blog Business & E-book Winner

I have a few pieces of blog business to announce, but I’m sure you are most interested in knowing the winner of the e-book “Nuturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms” by Renee Tougas. If you didn’t win or didn’t notice the drawing, I highly recommend that you buy the e-book from Renee.  It’s only $3.00, and Renee offers a lot of practical advice for busy moms on how they can work creative pursuits into their everyday lives while rearing children.  She gave me a lot of food for thought, and I plan to go back through her book at some point because it’s very inspiring, and I don’t want to forget her advice.  (Click here to purchase the e-book.)

I’m also going to write a little more on exactly how I organize and make time for my writing and other projects in a future blog post, and if you scroll down, I’m listing some other “blog post goals” too!

Without further ado:

  • Okay, so I know you have already seen the winner of the drawing in the photo.  This afternoon my son volunteered to cut out all your names from the paper I typed them on.  He meticulously folded them and put them into a basket (the two-year-old added a few bits of his own paper too), and then he drew one name:  sherilynorton!  Congratulations, Sherilyn!  Renee will be sending you your copy shortly.
  • My second order of business is to let you know that I created a Mama of Letters Facebook page, and I have also been adding my blog posts to my Google+ account.  I had been reluctant to create the Facebook page or do anything with Google+ for a long time because I just don’t have time for more social networking.  I know a lot of people don’t like it if you’re not “social” or join in conversations.  The only place I post regularly is Twitter, and even there I’m off and on because as a busy mom, I have to sort my priorities – I’m sure you understand.  Though I love connecting with other people – in real life and online, I have to tip the scale to my family and my personal pursuits.  Having said that, I know an enormous amount of people use Facebook and Google+, and it’s really no trouble for me to simply add my posts to it.   At this time I can’t commit to more than that, but in the future who knows?  If you use one of these mediums and don’t mind someone who is “anti-social” I will appreciate you liking my Facebook page or adding me to your group on Google+.
  • When you write regularly like I do, it’s amazing to notice that new ideas keep surfacing.  This is a blessing, yet it can also overwhelm me if I start to think I have to do it all right now.  I stopped thinking in terms of right nowa while back and instead, I make lists, lists, lists.  Since I have a good working list of what I want to write for my columns and blog, I thought I’d share some of them with you.  I hope some of this will interest you and you’ll come back to read it:
  • Finally, despite the ideas spinning in my head that I want to get down on paper, I am considering taking a blog vacation in May. We’ll have family visiting us at that time, and I have other writing and photography projects that I need to work on, so I may take 2 or even 4 weeks off this blog.  I find that sometimes it helps to just focus on something in a planned period of time instead of trying to do everything at once.  I’m sure blog advisors might tell me this isn’t good for my blog, but as I mentioned before, I have to sort my priorities, and I’m sure those who already enjoy my blog (I hope you do) will understand.

Thanks to everyone who have subscribed to my blog.  You really inspire me to keep going, and I hope you find some of the information I post here helpful.

March 24, 2012

How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading


I’ve written a lot about how I haven’t pressed too much formal learning on my five-year-old.  I believe playing, fostering his imagination, and letting him acquire a love of stories and books is the most important part of Kindergarten.

I tried short, formal lessons though, and it worked for a while, but now I’ve stopped.  This is partly because my two-year-old has stopped taking naps and we’re having an early, beautiful spring, but mostly because he was struggling to stayed focused, and I feared he would start to hate reading (math too).  Since he’s above his grade level anyway (his birthday is late August, and he would begin Kindergarten this coming fall, if I were enrolling him in public school), I’m certainly not going to worry about letting him go at his own pace.

To give you an idea of where we’re at, he is a master at the ABCs & phonics.  He can sound out many simple words, though he is often reluctant to do so.  He knows several sight words.  He still struggles when reading early readers, though.  He is good at reading the online books at

This is what I’ve done to get him this far.  Click on the links to learn more:

  • My five-year-old learned the ABCs very early, around 21~22 months.  It was part of our everyday fun.  (Don’t worry if your child didn’t learn the ABCs this fast. My two-year-old still doesn’t know them. He’s a completely different kind of learner.)
  • To be honest, I don’t remember how he learned the phonics.  I think he taught himself!
  • We worked through Lesson 70 of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  (That’s the longest and most formal of all the reading lessons I’ve done with him.)
  • Sometimes we play the sight word game that I made up.
  • He has watched Meet the Sight Words 1 from Preschool Prep Company several times.  (This was a gift, and he likes it.  I haven’t bought the others in the series though.)  If you have an auditory/visual learner like my son, these may be worth looking into.
  • I’ve sat with him and had him try to read early readers.  We’ve got many books, but I especially like the We Both Read books.  Since he struggles to focus, I only make him read 2~3 pages at a time.
  • We used Progressive Phonics for a while, and I really like it, but we’ve gotten out of the habit. (PP is FREE!) (Thanks to For Love of Education for telling me about PP!)
  • Recently I went back to In the past I’ve let him play with Starfall on his own, but now I sit with him and do one line at a time (if you go to this page, you’ll see how each line is numbered.)  He can do the quizzes and read the books well, and I think it’s a good review/practice for him.  As we have time, I’ll keep doing this.  He likes it as long as I don’t push him too hard. (SF is FREE, but they’ve added more to it that is accessible via subscription, but it’s reasonably priced.  I’ve considered signing up for it, and I may in the future, since my son likes the site.)

None of this includes the exposure he gets to reading and phonics through other means, such as books I read to him, computer/iPod games, and television shows he watches.  Though he hasn’t asked to play on the computer/iPod in a long time, he does love educational television shows.  Right now he’s on a Super Why! kick, which has to be one of the best shows that teaches reading.  Another good one in regards to sounding out and building words is Word World.  He has watched that quite a bit.

As you can see, if you want a solid, how-to teach my child to read, I’m not the blogger you should read.  I have tried different things because 1) I had them or I could afford them, and 2) my son liked them.  I watch my son closely to see what he likes and doesn’t like, and I ask him too.

For now, this works for me, although I have great respect for those who need a curriculum plan laid out for them.  I completely understand how we need that sometimes, and we each have different personalities, organizational and learning styles.  As we teach our children, we have to find what works best for them and us.  Otherwise, we’ll get over-anxious, frustrated, and that will not help the learning process for sure!

What are your favorite resources for beginning reading?

Stay tuned!  Next week I’m writing a column about math!

March 22, 2012

Nurturing Creativity and A Free Give-Away

Notes: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on March 21, 2012.  To read the details of this give-away, please scroll to the bottom of the page.  (UPDATE:  GIVE-AWAY IS NOW CLOSED.)

I was flattered recently when my favorite blogger, Renee Tougas, asked me to contribute a few words to her first mini e-book titled, “Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms.”  The book is “part philosophy and part practical – with ideas for how busy moms can make time for creativity in their lives.”

Whether mothers work, stay-at-home, homeschool or not, many of us find little time to nurture ourselves.  For those of us who are creative (who isn’t creative?), it’s very hard to find time for artistic pursuits or other hobbies.  This can be draining, and it doesn’t always make us happy mothers.

She asked me what my favorite creative activity was and how do I make time for it during this busy season of my life?

If you read my column every week (thank you!), you can probably guess that I love to write.  I have been writing in one form or another since I was ten years old.  That’s right, in the fourth grade, I said I wanted to be writer, and unfortunately, I never changed my mind.

I say unfortunately only because I never had the right guidance, discipline or foresight to know what to do with my passion.  I believe everyone should go after what they want to do, but you can’t be too picky about your options within that field, and you have to work your butt off to get anywhere.  I never worked my butt off until now, which means I don’t make much money with my chosen vocation.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  If you told me 20 years ago that I would find the creative life I was yearning for in being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, I would have been horrified.  But here I am – loving every minute of it.

And I learned a few years ago that neither failure nor having children could keep me from putting pen to paper.  Just when I gave up on writing, the Barrow Journal landed in my mailbox.  I let the idea of a column float around in my head for a few months, and now you know the rest. I don’t know if many people read my corner of the paper, but I appreciate the few people who have stopped me in some local store or sent an e-mail to tell me they like my column.

So no matter what, I’m going to write because it’s just something I do, and I have no idea why I feel the need to tell strangers my story, but I do.  It’s as essential to me as breathing.   I credit this column for keeping my sanity during these last few years.  Even when I want to throw in the towel, I know I can’t because if I didn’t have some kind of creative outlet, I might start to resent motherhood.  I dare not let that happen.

So when I do I get a chance to write?  Sometimes I write in the afternoon when my boys are watching T.V., but mostly I write at night after they go to bed.  I make sure I start early in the week because I never know what kind of interruptions I might get or how tired I might be on any given night.

But it can’t go without saying that in order to do this there’s also a lot I don’t do.  My house is not very clean, and (here my husband will stand up and nod vigorously) I rarely cook.  I do clean once a week to keep the house livable, and I make sure everyone eats, but my abilities in homemaking are lackluster.

I appreciate my husband’s support in my attempts to keep up with this column and my blog and all my other creative attempts.  Though he may grumble from time to time, I think he knows (because he is similar) that without being able to do something for myself and without being able to be creative, I wouldn’t be happy.  And you know what they say, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

AND HERE’S THE BEST PART:  Renee is offering one free e-book to one of my readers.  I had the pleasure of reading “Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Mothers,” and I assure you it’s worth the time to do so.  I found much inspiration and encouragement in her words.  In addition, Renee wrote with busy moms in mind – it’s short, under 50 pages.  So, you have no excuse not to read it.

To enter this give-away, all you need to do is leave a comment before midnight on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 and tell me why you’d like a copy of this inspirational e-book.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I will let my five-year-old draw one of your names from a hat on Wednesday, and I’ll contact the winner by e-mail that day.  I’ll also post your name on my blog unless you tell me not to.  You have nothing to lose and much creative inspiration to gain.

One More NoteThe wonderful artwork on this page was created by Erika Hastings of Mud Spice: Mucking about in Art and Motherhood.

March 20, 2012

Free Give-Away This Week for Creative Moms

Just a quick note to give y’all a heads-up!  Later this week I’ll be offering a free give-away for creative moms who need a little inspiration and practical advice on how to make time for creative pursuits.  I’m able to offer this because one of my favorite bloggers is giving me something special to share with you.  So please come back and participate!  I’ll post it sometime Thursday….I can’t promise an exact time because, well, you know how it is with little kids.

I’d love for you to sign up for my RSS feed or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail in the left margin…..>

Thank you for your support.

March 17, 2012

Intentional Reading Using Georgia’s PINES Online Library Catalog

This is a follow-up to my previous post Fostering a Book Time Ritual.


I love the library.  What homeschooler does not like the library!?  However, I noticed over the past year that we were not going to the library as much as I had imagined we would when I started to have children.  Play dates, errands, chores…everything piles up, and it’s hard to find time for something extra.  On top of that, we have plenty of books at home.

But then one day I overheard a homeschooling mom say that she would bring a small wagon to the library to carry the books that she and her children checked out.   That image stuck with me, and I asked myself, “Why am I not using our library more?”

We have a wonderful, little library less than a ten-minute drive from our house.  NOTHING ELSE is that close to use!  I have to drive twenty minutes to the grocery store and close to thirty minutes for everything else.  Sometimes I complain about that, but I have no excuses when it comes to the library.

Even though this library is very small (probably no bigger than the downstairs of my house), it has a great selection of children’s books.  But even better, it’s connected to the PINES Online Library Catalog, and libraries throughout Georgia are part of the Pines System.

If you live in Georgia, you need to learn more about this wonderful service.  You can place books on hold through the PINES website, and they will be delivered to your home library at no expense.  You can return them to any library in the PINES system.  This means you get to browse books at more than 275 libraries!  Waiting for the books to arrive may take some time, but I have not had a problem with that.

I also learned that I can checked out up to 50 books on one card! I’m sure systems like this are available in other places, so be sure to ask at your local library!

There are other, larger libraries that we visit too.  We call the Athens-Clarke Library the “big library,” and my boys love to go there.  This is what I have decided when it comes to using the libraries:

  • If you are searching for books on a specific topic, such as “planets” or “weather” or “math” then go to the library and search for the shelf with those books.
  • However, if you are searching for a specific title, go to the Internet and order it through the PINES catalog.  Because I have trouble finding specific titles when I’m at the library.  One of the books the librarian searched for me had been missing from their shelf for over a year.

Intentional Reading/Generating Reading Lists for Your Children

So what books am I checking out for my five-year-old who is a homeschooled kindergartener?  I already explained how he loves non-fiction books in my last post, and I’m using book time to cover certain “kindergarten” topics such as the solar system and the weather/water cycle, etc.

But I’ve decided I wanted to be more proactive about what kind of literature I’m going to chose for him too.  Don’t get me wrong – the best way to start using the library is to go there and let your children pick whatever books they want!  I’m just adding to that.

To get me started, I found two resources that I love:

  • DAWCL or Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature – Lisa R. Bartle is a librarian who came up with the idea for this wonderful database.  The best part about it is the search parameters.   You can search by age, setting, historical period, ethnicity of protagonist or tale, languages, genre and more!  If you are studying a specific topic, this is a wonderful resource!  I generated a list of multicultural early readers for my son because one of my goals is teaching international education.
  • The second resource is something I had been wishing for: 75 Books That Build Character was put together by Allison McDonald on No Time for Flash Cards(I thank Ahimsa Mama for tipping me off to this list….Click on her link for other good reading resources.)  Not only have I been wanting to be more selective about the books I pick for my son, I had also been wanting to find a resource for character building – teaching him how to be good, humble, honest, etc.  So I’ve started ordering a few of these books through the interlibrary loan.  We already read the first title, Shelia Rae, The Brave, by Kevin Henkes, and my son loved it.

I’m sure I could accomplish the same goals just by reading as many books to him as I can get my hands on, and I’ll continue to do that.  But I am a planner/organizer, and as I think about our homeschool mission, it feels good to have goals and lists to work through.

Do you have any resources to share on generating great reading lists for children? 

(And psssst…..There will be a free give-away later next week on my blog for mothers who want to nurture their creativity! So stay tuned!)

March 15, 2012

Fostering a Book Time Ritual

You may also be interested in these posts:

How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading  and  Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten/1st Grade

I think the most important part of an education is allowing children to develop a love of books.  Through books children will learn.  This is why it’s one of my main priorities, and even when we can’t follow through on the other homeschool priorities I have for them, I always find time for book time.

Making Books Accessible

My husband and I have been reading to both boys since they were about 1½, mostly at night before bed, but also during the day.  When my first-born was about two years old, I cleared a low shelf in my bookcase and made that the shelf for the children’s books.  This way, my son could easily look at the books whenever he wanted.

Later we converted our dining room into the “activity room,” and we bought some used bookshelves and painted them.  We have accumulated quite a few children’s books through gifts from relatives each birthday and Christmas, and I am a big fan of library book sales and used books bins.  Occasionally I have bought a book full price when I had a specific need.

Making books easily accessible has been key to allowing my sons to develop a natural love of them.  They seek out the books just like they do toys. 

I don’t think you need a lot of books to do this.  I just think you need to keep them accessible.  Lately I have been making good use of our local library system, and I keep a big stack of library books on a small, separate bookshelf so that I don’t lose track of them.  I’ll write more about how I use the library in my next post.

The Book Time Ritual

We read books everyday right after breakfast.  I call out, “Let’s do book time!  Everybody pick a book!”  Letting everyone pick a book (or books) is essential:

  • The two-year-old gets to pick his favorite books – those same books over and over and over again.  Sigh.  Yet I know this is normal and healthy, and it’s creating a love of books for him.
  • The five-year-old gets to pick something he’s excited about.  Thankfully he is past the stage of always picking the same book.  He usually picks the library books that he chose when we were at the library.  He likes non-fiction.  This week he wanted books about the solar system and also Native Americans.
  • I get to pick 1) something different, which is key to keeping me awake and enthusiastic about book time, and 2) something educational (yet fun) that I’m trying to work on with the five-year-old.  Though my son is picking really cool, educational stuff, I have some “goals” I’m working on, which I’ll talk more about in a minute.

Many of the picture books I pick can keep both of my boy’s attention, but frequently while I’m reading the two-year-old’s choices, the five-year-old gets bored and starts playing on his own.  It also happens the other way around.  This is okay with me.  What is tricky is that the books I read to the five-year-old are longer, and the two-year-old doesn’t always go off to play nicely by himself.  He makes noise or goes into the refrigerator and brings back food he wants to eat — My five-year-old and I have to endure a lot of interruptions.  I simply do the best I can with this.  Sometimes we put a bookmark in the longer books and go back to it later.  

Meeting Educational Goals Through Book Time

I have said many times that I don’t think formal lessons are necessary at this age (my boys are 5 and 2), but through books I find that I can cover a lot of educational goals that the five-year-old would be learning if he were in Kindergarten.  (Note: I wouldn’t start him in Kindergarten until this coming fall, if he were attending public school.)  Curling up on the sofa with some good books is a very no-pressure way of teaching, and so far my five-year-old son is very interested in all the non-fiction books we’ve read.  By seeking these out at the library, we’ve been covering these subjects this past year.  (All of these subjects will eventually get their own blog post.  I’ll add links as I write them.)

  • The solar system: As you might imagine, there are plenty of books about the solar system and different planets at the library.
  • The weather: I also found a lot of good books about the weather at the library, particularly about the water cycle, which was fun and easy for my five-year-old to understand.  He also picked out books about hurricanes and tornadoes, which interested him very much.
  • Math: I have pulled back on formal lessons with math, and I’m just reading math picture books to the five-year-old.  There are many of them to choose from.  There’s even a series about each number that includes some simple addition.  My son enjoys them, and I think it’s helping him realize that math can be fun.
  • Literature: This is my favorite and easiest to take care of!  The library is brimming with storybooks!  Any book will do!  But I have taken a more intentional role with choosing which books I’ll read, and I’ve found some resources to help me.  I’ll write about that in my very next post. 

Please stay tuned! You can sign up for my RSS feed or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail in the right hand margin.  

How do foster a love of reading in your home?

March 11, 2012

Blog Business & Worthy Reads

Just a bit of blog business:

  • First, I’d like to say a big thank you to Simple Homeschool who included my post, In Response to a Teacher’s Questions About Homeschooling, in their weekend links.
  • Second, I’m happy to say that I finally bit the bullet and paid WordPress so that this can be an AD-FREE blog.  I knew those sneaky ads (which they cleverly never let me see) were there, and I despised them, but I have to watch the money I spend, and I appreciated the opportunity to get started with a free blog.  Perhaps someday I will research how to put ads of my own choosing that I can fully endorse, but for now Mama of Letters will be sans ads.

And here are my Worthy Reads in no particular order…


Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher by William Johnson in The New York Times Sunday Review.

Workforce Preparedness: Is Your Grad Ready for the Real World?  – Houston Chronicle Blog – A little dense and specific to Houston, but I thought it posed a good question.  Students need to think in terms of getting the skills they need to be prepared to compete in the workforce.

Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School – I love learning about different educational philosophies, so I was happy to come across this post on Moon Child.

UN Produced Atlas shows Girls Still Falling behind Boys in Education – SOS Children’s Villages: Canada – I talk a lot about boys and homeschooling, but this is a reminder that all children around the world are still struggling to get a decent education.

Afraid of Your Child’s Math Textbook? You Should Annie Keeghan on her blog, Chronic Sense.

Educating  and Raising Boys (I will add the following to my page Worthy Reads About Raising and Educating Boys.)

A Huge Gender Gap Persists In College Degrees, Do We Need A White House Council On Boys And Men? by Mark Perry

Boys falling behind girls in education, experts look for solutions by Bruce Lindsay for

All-boys’ classes grow confidence, leadership by Tamara Shephard on

Who says raising boys is easier?  by LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor

Learning to live with ‘boy energy’ by Stephen Bede Scharper


The Moral Status of Homeschooling and Public Schooling Motivations by Pamela J. Stubbart, Huffington Post – another response to Dana Goldstein’s article in Slate.

In ‘Class’ – at Home – Ted Landphair’s AMERICA

The Best Homeschooling Resources Online – By Jamie Martin for

Why I Could Never Have Homeschooled My Children – A Response – by Sharon Greethal for – Scroll down to see a comment I left here.  I don’t believe homeschoolers should ever question a non-homeschooler’s parenting skills or commitment to their children.

I am too negative about homeschooling – From the blog, Skipping School, which is written by Kate Fridkis.  She was homeschooled Pre-K through 12th grade and then went on to college at Rutgers and Columbia.  Now she’s a freelance writer.  And obviously, I recommend her blog as well.

Should Home-schoolers Play for High School Teams? in Room for Debate on the The New York Times.

March 8, 2012

Just for Fun: The Five-year-old’s Hot Picks

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on March 7, 2012.

Writing a weekly column can be challenging because I have to come up with a new topic every week.  Sometimes the ideas keep flowing and other times I come up empty.  It’s then that I turn to my family and ask, “What should I write about this week?” Sometimes just asking the question out loud will ignite my imagination.

Last week, however, I asked my five-year-old.  In the late afternoon I let him watch a couple of T.V. shows, and between the shows I posed the question.  Usually he answers, “I don’t know.”  But today he said, “I’ll think about it after my show.”  I nodded and then forgot about it.

But he didn’t.  Later in the evening he came to me.  “I know what you can write about for your newspaper column,” he said very seriously.  I was all ears.  He said, “You can write about what I like… I like riding my bike. I like watching T.V.”

I took the evening to consider his suggestion, and then I thought, why not?  I’m sure my readers will want to know what the Hot Picks are for a five-year-old.  Well, maybe some of you with grandchildren?  Anyway, I interviewed my son, and here’s the scoop:

Me: “So you like riding your bike?  Why?”

The five-year-old:  “Because it’s fun.”

Me: “Why is it fun?”

The five-year-old: “Because it’s like riding in a car, but it has no steering wheel and no cover, and it has pedals that go up and down.”

Me: “And it has handlebars.”

The five-year-old: “Yes, it has handlebars.”

Me: “So what else do you like?”

The five-year-old: “I like riding my motorcycle [big wheel] because it’s fun, and it’s just like riding my bicycle. I can pretend I’m driving a car.”

He also told me that he likes playing with this little brother.  When I asked why, he said, “Because he’s cute.  And he helps me when I fall down. He helps me get up.”

“I like building my skyscraper too,” he told me.  The skyscraper consists of two big boxes I taped together for him. One afternoon, however, he spent a lot of time “building it,” and he used tape, glue and string in the process.

I asked him, “Do you play in the skyscraper a lot?”

“Not much,” he said, “I have fun out here.”  (In the living room, that is.)

He also volunteered that he likes to play outside with his Frisbee, and his favorite toy is his cobra snake.  After that he said, “That’s enough.”

“But I need more for my column,” I pleaded.  “I know you like hiking and lots of other things, right?”

“Yes,” he said, “But that’s all I feel like telling now.”

So there you have it.  It was probably the most unsuccessful interview I have ever done.  Usually people like to talk about themselves, but the five-year-old only had time for a brief interview because he had other important matters to tend to.  He had dinosaurs to feed and kill.

When’s the last time you interviewed your child? ;)

March 5, 2012

Homeschooling a Kindergartener with a Toddler in the House

a follow-up to my series Homeschooling a Preschooler with a Baby in the House

Note:  * denotes that I’ll follow-up on that topic in a future post. If it’s underlined, click it – that means I’ve followed-up!

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that every family has to find what works best for them, and in fact, I’m in the process of trying to figure that out for myself.  As children grow, and with life’s ebb and flow, I think our schedule will naturally evolve to fit the needs of my family at any given time.  What I offer here is what I’ve been doing thus far.

However, to understand how I homeschool, you must take a look at my series on my mission / priorities.  Sorting out my priorities for my boys at this age (5 and 2) was invaluable for me, and as you’ll see much of what I do for my boys’ “homeschool” is simply life experience with a little bit of guidance and influence from me and my husband. 

Learning happens all the time, and I don’t feel like I need to “teach” much at all.  My boys absorb almost everything on their own.  At this age, I don’t believe there’s any need for a curriculum or a lot of planned, formal lessons.  Though I’m not there yet, I bet this will hold true for the future too.

However, I do some formal lessons with my five-year-old.  Why?

  • Because my five-year-old is ready and wants to do them.
  • Because I want to give him those first links in the long fence of learning.
  • Because it helps me find out what he’s interested in and what he’s ready for….If I don’t try something, I won’t know whether he’s ready for it or not.  If he doesn’t try something, he won’t know whether he likes it or not!
  • I consider this a time to experiment with different approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.  I am trying to ascertain what his learning style* and needs are.
  • I want to get him used to having some kind of schedule and goals to accomplish.  Just like cleaning the house, I feel that a little schedule and a little accountability now can set the stage for when he’s older and doing more on his own.
  • Honestly, I’m not completely comfortable with a pure “unschooling” approach at this time.  If I did that, I would probably come up against some strong opposition anyway, so I feel like by stating my priorities, keeping track of what they do on a daily basis, and by doing short lessons, I’m finding a balance and an approach I like.

As I said, learning happens all day, especially when the boys are playing by themselves, watching educational television, or playing a game like Simon Says with their parents just before bedtime.  Many of our days are spent running errands, going on play dates or playing outside if the weather is nice.  But for the purpose of this post, I’m writing about when we’re home and inside most of the day. On those days, our formal “homeschool” happens at two points during the day:

1. Between breakfast and lunch ~ This is when both boys are awake, so I do things they can both participate in.

  • We do a long book time. I call out, “It’s book time! Everyone get a book!”  The boys go the bookshelves and pick one or two books, and I do the same.  This gives me a chance to read something new or educational to them.  They often pick the same books over and over.
  • We do puppet shows. I don’t force the puppet shows, but if the boys don’t initiate some other activity, I say, “Let’s do puppet shows!”  We’ve accumulated a basket of puppets, and we each take turns getting behind the love seat and putting on a show. Puppet shows have all the educational benefits as storytelling, which you can read about by clicking here.
  • We may or may not do another activity.  My five-year-old is quick to initiate all kinds of projects.  He wants to build, make paper animals, or he wants to watch a video of something on the computer after we read about it.  I usually go with the flow here.  If the boys begin to play on their own, more power to them. (I do chores or take a break.)  If they want me to play with them, I do it.

For me, our morning rituals are about making learning fun, igniting their imaginations, and letting me spend concentrated, quality time with them.  This sets a good tone for the rest of day, and no matter what else happens, I feel good because I’ve accomplished my most important priority.

2. When the two-year-old is napping ~ This is when I do more formal lessons with my five-year-old. I only do one kind of lesson each day, and I keep it short.  There’s no way I could do it any other way.  He’s five.  He’s a boy.  This is not the time for longer lessons.

Note: As I write this, my two-year-old is transitioning out of naptime. (Yikes!)  This is what I’ve done for the last several months:

On our white board, I write our goals for the week and check off each time we finish a lesson.  It doesn’t always happen, but my goals are two reading lessons, two math lessons, and one day to work on our project.  This is what it might look like at the end of a good week:

2x Reading ✓✓

2x Math ✓

1x Project ✓

I should also note that I feel like we’ve hit a plateau with the reading and math.  While my son really moved quickly at the beginning of 100 Lessons, I haven’t seen a lot of progress lately.  However, that’s okay with me.  I have to consider these things:

  • He’s only five, and if I were putting him into school, he would be entering Kindergarten this coming fall.  He’s way ahead of the game already.
  • Children all learn at a different pace, and there’s a lot of evidence that boys (and some girls) learn to read slower. This has no bearing on their level of intelligence.
  • It’s not my priority to make him learn how to do anything right now.  I believe that the most important thing a teacher can do to teach any child how to read or do math is to read to them frequently and show them how math is used in an everyday context.
  • I believe that developing his imagination and showing him the wonders of this earth will lead him to want to learn how to do all these basic skills on his own time.

In addition to all this, my son gets a good dose of science, social studies and art through the classes we attend, books we read, crafts we do, television we watch and conversations that I have with him.

Please stay tuned for my follow-up posts on this and more!  And to find resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

Do you have a blog post about how you manage your daily homeschooling?  Feel free to link to it in the comments section.


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