First Day of School 2015

Today (on the first day of my fifth second trimester!) we started school.  Normally, I like to start earlier in August, but this year (due to being in my fifth first trimester) I just was not ready any earlier.  Thankfully, flexibility is the name of the game in homeschooling.  We roll with life’s seasons.

First Day of School

This year, we have a third grader, a second grader, and two preschoolers… with the new addition arriving in February to give us a little something to look forward to mid-year.

First Day of School Kids

The day started with Bible and singing (our modern hymn, Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery) where I had the two older kids help read the Bible passage.  It is exciting to have them in this reading stage!  There has been so much growth in that area over the last year; it has been exhilerating to witness it.

After the “First Day of School Photos” we all sat down on the couch and I read the first chapter of Winnie the Pooh as our preschool readaloud.  The older kids were not required to be a part of this, but they were drawn by the tale and so we enjoyed some time together.  Princess K was seriously anxious to start school, but the pregnant mommy needed 10 minutes to doze on the couch while all the kids played with blocks and legos on the floor.

Funny First Day of School

When I woke up, Princess K eagerly ran to the schoolroom and I followed her in, letting X-man continue his fun with his little brothers.  K took inventory of her new school supplies and found a letter in her little mailbox.  This letter was written by mommy last night because the Princess could not stop talking about how excited she was to get a letter in her mailbox again, after such a long time of not getting one.  She got the idea that she would get a letter on the first day of school because she got one last year and she is just like her mommy: one single occurence of an activity that is liked is enough to make a tradition.

Anyway, then she and I worked on her math and when X-man wandered in to figure out what we were doing, I sat him down and started him on math as well.  The preschool boys were happily building large constructions out of blocks.

Preschooler's Block Construction

After math, it was snack time.  While their mouths were happily occupied, I read their history lesson (out of Story of the Romans) and we had a truly excellent conversation about plebians and patricians.  They completed a notebooking page and gave wonderful narrations and then it was time for phonics.

X-man's notebook page


We had a great time with phonics- we discovered a pattern with the sounds of the letter C.  It is always a delightful part of my day when the kids discover a pattern or idea on their own.  They cried all the way through 7 minutes of cursive handwriting practice since it has been 2  months since their last practice.

K's notebook page

During lunch, I read Mystery of the Roman Ransom, our current literature selection and they loved it.  They begged and begged me to read another chapter.  I resisted and so they will be very motivated for handwriting tomorrow!

Lunchtime at the counter

After quiet time (and another nap for the pregnant woman), we pulled out our chalk pastels and Hodgepodge’s A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels and had a wonderful time exploring the chalk pastel medium.  Princess K had specifically requested “more crafts” when asked what she wanted out of her second grade year (X-man specifically requested “no school”) and I’m so glad I went to effort to make sure we did something craft/artsy on our first day of school.  It was relaxing and fun, a time to be together while working independently.  It was a perfect homeschool moment.

Chalk Pastel Fun

Our Masterpieces

Our Masterpieces

And this was a few weeks ago, when we told the kids the gender of the new baby (blood test to determine gender- among other things- at 11 weeks? Wow!)- X-man was so incredibly happy for his sister getting herself her first and very longed for sister.  And I love the love.

True Sibling Love- shared joy over K finding out she will finally get the sister she's been wanting

True Sibling Love- shared joy over K finding out she will finally get the sister she’s been wanting

Fun in Ancient Greece

Greek 0

For the past few months, our history studies have focused on Ancient Greece.  We read some great books and tales and had some fun along the way.

Greek E

Books We Read:

Story of the Greeks by Guerber, published by Nothing New Press

Usborne’s Ancient World

A City Through Time by Philip Steele

Pegasus by Marianna Mayer

D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths

Trojan Horse by Warwick Hutton

Hour of the Olympians by Mary Pope Osborne

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Greek Athlete

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Damon Pythias and the Test of Friendship

Mary Pope Osborne’s Tales from the Odyssey  (and they are making their own personal comic books based on this book)Greek 1

Activities We Did:

1. We ate fig newtons (that’s totally authentic, what are you talking about?), grapes, bread & cheese

2. We held a Family Olympic Games with a Torch Run, a Rock Throwing Contest, a Long Jump Contest, and a Ball Toss.

Olympics Torch Run

Olympic Games3.  After looking through Usborne’s Ancient World at the examples of pottery we saw, we created our own Greek inspired pottery using clay planting pots and black acrylic paint.

Greek B

Greek 2

Greek C

Greek D

4.  We made Greek costumes with thrift store pillow cases, scissors, saftey pins, ribbons, and scarfs or strips of cloth.  I thought Z-urchin looked especially stately.  Like a Greek politician.  And my little princess like Helen of Troy.

Greek A

Greek 3

Greek 5

Greek 4

Greek 65.  We played a more modern version of an Ancient Greek version of hockey.  That is to say, I read that they used to play a hockey like game, hitting a ball with sticks.  So that’s what we did.

Greek 7

6.  Finally, we learned the Greek alphabet using two YouTube videos (a Song and a Lesson) and wrote our names with Greek letters.

The Song

The Lesson (really impressive- teaching the Greek alphabet using a story- my kids were totally into it)

Greek F

Then they watched Hercules on Netflix (totally inaccurate, but fun anyway- and they were excited about the red pots painting with black that were all over the movie!) and we played Seven Wonders.






Homeschooling is Awesome

Because you can totally declare your oldest son’s birthday as a holiday.

8 Years Old

X-man turned 8 and we declared a day off of our regular school schedule.  We celebrated and made fun memories instead.  He went out to breakfast with his dad.

Fierce 8 Year Old

Then we went, at his request, to our local Children’s Discovery Museum.  The kids played with the water tables, caught and released (plastic) fish in the creek, had snack under a tree, painted and built structures.  And did a lot of exploring and wandering.  It was a nice morning and then we left just as it was getting hot.

X's Birthday

X's Birthday2

Xander's Birthday1

Xander's Birthday3Art Room

Xander's Birthday4

With all of these awesome activities, I’m totally counting this as a field trip.

Then we went to Grandma’s house for a lunch birthday party.  Daddy came too!

X's Birthday6



8 Candles on his Cupcakes

And because it is what you do on your birthday (or on your brother’s birthday), they all made sure they exited the vehicle via the window.

X's Birthday5

Happy X-man Day!

Me & my oldest baby 8 years from the minute he was born

Me & my oldest baby 8 years from the minute he was born

Getting Started with Narration

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered…

Charlotte Mason,  Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1


Along with short lessons, living books, habit training, narration will be included in any list of Charlotte Mason method basics.  Before I started homeschooling, when I was researching curriculum, methods, ideas, and styles, I was drawn by the description of homeschools that followed Charlotte Mason’s principles.  The more I read of her methods, the more convinced I became that this style would be the best fit for our home.

As school began, however, I discovered that I did not really know how to get the kids started doing narrations.  I hadn’t done this as a kid.  How could I get them to do more than shrug and mumble, “I don’t know,” when I asked them to tell me what they read?  So I went back to Miss Mason’s Volume 1 and looked for some instruction, scoured the internet for insight and then just tried some things.

So here are a few tips on getting started with narration for younger elementary aged kids.

1.  Narration is something children do naturally.  They are absolutely bursting to tell you all about what they are interested in.  Notice and appreciate the raw material you already have to work with.  So start when they are young at the dinner table or at bedtime.  Ask them to tell you about their day.  A few questions can help: “What was your favorite thing we did today?”  “Where did we go today?”  “Who did we see today?”

2.  Don’t require narration until the children are 6.  Let them narrate what they are excited about and don’t push them if they are not interested.  This was extremely helpful for me when my kids were in Kindergarten.  We read plenty of great books, and sometimes they were totally excited to tell me what they read.  Other times they were not interested and at that age, I didn’t worry about it.  I let narration just be a choice and thus, a joy.

3.  Begin by modeling it.  During that Kindergarten year, if they were not interested in narrating to me, I would narrate the story back to them.  This gives them an idea of what narration should be.  I would give a brief summary of the story with a few choice details that particularly interested me.

4.  Start small.  When I started reading chapter books to the kids, they were lost when I asked them to narrate back the entire chapter.  So I realized I needed to pause more often in the chapter to let them narrate.  Miss Mason herself, when describing how to begin in narration says, “read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that… call upon the children to narrate.”  So for a few months, I paused several times in the chapter to elicit a brief narration.  This helped the children’s memory, comprehension, and narration skills.  Now that we have been doing this for awhile, they can listen for longer periods and still give quality narrations.



Princess K’s Comic Book

5.  Introduce the Lesson.  When I was in college as an Education Major, I took several classes that taught me how to prepare a lesson.  Always at the beginning of the lesson was to be an introduction, where you give the students an idea of what the goal of the lesson is (what will be learned), why it is important, how it relates to what they have learned before, and a hook that will capture their interest.

Charlotte Mason agrees with this idea of the lesson introduction.  She says, “Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation…”

So whether it is Bible, history, science, or literature, I ask my children what they remember from the previous reading (and then add in any information that was left out that would be relevant), and give a little hook about what is to come.  Often in Bible and sometimes in history, I will give them something specific to look out for: “Listen for a man who is given a second chance,” or “Pay attention to why this king was such a terrible king.”  In science, I often read the section title and thus give the kids a little taste of what’s to come: “We are going to read about how birds find their way home today!” or “We are going to learn about how seeds scatter and spread so they can grow.”  Often in literature, after we talk about what has gone on before, I will read the next chapter title and ask them to predict what will happen next.  Students are often very interested in paying close attention to see if their predictions were right.

8 April 20156

Thank you !

 6.  Try Notebooking.  One of the best tools I found in encouraging good narrations from my children was notebooking.  I found, used the free pages for awhile, liked it so much that I became a lifetime member.  Basically, these notebooking pages are pages with cool (and often thematic) borders and illustrations filled with lines and empty boxes for the students to draw their own illustrations from their lessons and write down what they have learned.

The notebooking pages have been a huge asset in our homeschool and for narration.  They draw as I read the lesson to them.  These drawings help them retain what they are hearing.  Then they narrate orally to me, often using their illustration as a starting point, and I write what they say on the lines.  This gives us a record of what we’ve read, and they thoroughly enjoy selecting a scene from the reading to illustrate.  It also helps keep my active young elementary students engaged in the lesson- it gives their hands something to do.

It was very important to the success of narration in our homeschool that I did not require my children to write their own words on the blank lines.  If I had done that, I would have had very short narrations indeed.  Their ability to narrate a story far exceeded their ability to form letters and words on paper.  I am very glad I encouraged oral composition without requiring written composition, for now I have kids who are incredibly eager to tell and write stories.  And I have students who are pretty good at telling back what they’ve heard using some of the same words and language of the author.



X-man’s Comic Book

7.  Be Creative.  Other ideas for narration in the younger elementary years include acting the story out, or using flannelgraph, puppets, or action figures to retell the story.  Currently, we are reading Tales of the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne.  I have given them a few sheets of heavy paper divided into 6 boxes.  In each box, they illustrate one scene from the chapter I am reading.  Then they give me a relatively brief summary of what they illustrated or heard and in the end, we will have a comic book of their own creation.  X-man and Princess K are very excited about their comic books and have me read all that they have written so far each day.  This works well as an introductory review and they are so very motivated.  There are tons of other ideas for creative narrations: making movies, creating art, recording a radio show, use clay, blocks or legos, draw a diagram, make a map.


Acting out their Bible Story

The Handicraft that Got My Kids Excited about Books

HandicraftEver since I saw an idea like this for rain gutter bookshelves, I’ve wanted them.  I thought it would be awesome to have each child have their own little bookshelf space for their favorite books.  We have plenty of bookshelves around the house, but it is dificult to see all the books that are there.  So I thought having a little shelf of their own, to put the books they got for Christmas or their birthdays, in a place that was easy to reach and easy to see might encourage my kids to enjoy books more.

I mean, they love books.  They love it when I read them stories.  But I would like to encourage some independent reading and some independent book perusing (for the non-readers in the home).

However, I will just admit to you that the DIY Pinterest Project Magic does not reside in me.  For both my husband and I, our talents lie elsewhere, far outside the region of handiness or craftiness in home projects.  So I knew better than to really make any effort toward the rain gutter bookshelf idea.

Along those lines, I am not a particularly crafty person (I love scrapbooking, but that’s about it).  So although, as a Charlotte-Mason-style-of-homeschooling fan, I think Handicrafts are a good idea, I’m not all that great at doing handicrafts with my kids.  (I found this blog post recently and am newly inspired in this area, though!)

Anyway, the other day, I was at my friend’s house.  She had these little Ikea wall shelves– spice racks, as they are called on Ikea’s website.  She had them all over her home, several of them holding books.  These are just what I was looking for!  They are the perfect size for each child to have their own personal bookshelf. So I went home and ordered ten of them.  One for each child, and several for our living room and school room.

Two days ago, they arrived.  They came in little packages of 11 pieces: a base shelf, a stick, two side pieces, four screws, two wooden pegs, and an allen wrench.  In my excitement, I looked at the instructions and immediately put one together.  What?  A DIY project even I could do!  And if I could do it, my kids could do it.  Handicrafts are supposed to be useful and add beauty to our lives.  And learning to put together a shelf from a kit with instructions is totally a useful life skill.  Time for a Spontaneous Handicraft Class! 8 April 20151 I called all the kids- from my almost 8 year old down to the 2 year old- to gather in the living room.  I gave a package to each kid and took one for myself.  I demonstrated how to put together the shelf as they watched and then I helped the 2 year old assemble his (though I was pretty impressed with how far he could get on his own) as the 4 year old, 6 year old, and almost 8 year old got to work.

They assembled these shelves with great ease and enthusiasm and then were so excited that they had made a shelf of their very own.  They proceeded to go to the bookshelf and rifle through the books to find their favorites to put on their very own bookshelf.  The next hour they spent looking through books!  Success! X-man's Shelf

My Three Step Process for Tackling the Tough Stuff

Messy Room

I hate cleaning my house.  I wish I could have Mary Poppins’ snap cleaning powers.  That would be awesome.

I know there are plenty of people out there who enjoy cleaning.  Or who find the result of a clean house so motivating that they are willing to put forth the energy frequently enough to keep up with the housekeeping.

I am not one of those people.

I do have a level of cleanliness need- I absolutely hate crumbs under the table.  That is sufficiently motivating for me to sweep once, maybe twice a week.

Another highly motivating strategy is to invite someone over.  I definitely find myself in panic mode the night before company is due.  I’ll whip this house in shape then.  But other than that, I have a hard time getting up the energy and motivation to clean, de-clutter, pick up, and do all those household things I really should do.  I’d rather plan out my scope and sequence for my children’s schooling for the next 12 years.  Again.

Part of the problem is that three years ago, I birthed child number 4 and then I moved that summer and every summer since.  Around that same time, I began this homeschooling journey as my oldest entered Kindergarten.  Trying to clean and go through things to get rid of excess stuff when under time constraints with moving (while trying to manage four children and trying to stop them unpacking every box you pack and writing on every surface with the black permanent markers), and with homeschooling, and settling into to a new church and a new area is extremely challenging!

Another part of the problem is me.  I get overwhelmed by the mess and the clutter and then I berate myself and hate myself for my laziness and absolute failure to keep things tidy.  Not all that surprisingly, this does not lead to a more joyful, hard-working approach to my household tasks.  It ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I tell myself I’m lazy and a failure, that is just what I become.  I know I need to have grace for myself (“Cleaning the house while the kids are growing is like shoveling snow while it’s snowing,” after all), but I also know I need to be faithful and hard-working in my God-given tasks.

In my ponderings on how to solve this motivation problem, I’ve been thinking about something Charlotte Mason quoted in her Original Homeschooling Series (Volume 2), “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

It starts with sowing a thought.  That’s all I can handle right now.

So here is my three step process to sow a thought (well, three thoughts I guess) to motivate myself to tackle my housekeeping.

#1:  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:1  I quote that to myself first, to remind myself that I do not do dishes to save myself.  God does not condemn me for my laziness or discouragement.  There is no condemnation.  I am free.

#2:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13    I admit to myself that I cannot do this.  I cannot face my dishes, my sweeping, the toys and the clutter.  But Christ, who lives in me, can.

#3:  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”  

With these thoughts ringing through my mind, I find the strength to get up and get to work.

I Call That Spring!

Kite Days

A kite, a sky, and a good firm breeze,
And acres of ground away from trees,
And one hundred yards of clean, strong string —
O boy, O boy! I call that Spring!

 Mark Sawyer

OHC Spring 1

We introduced our kids to the movie Mary Poppins a few weeks ago, and ever since they’ve been going around the house singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” which is a very appropriate song for the beginning of spring.  We’ve been watching our yard and neighborhood for signs of spring this month and we have not been disappointed.

As March began, the branches of trees all over the neighborhood blossomed in bright white flowers.  The breeze rushing through the trees caught white petals in its breath and all month we’ve seen white petals floating down to the ground.  My California born and bred kids exclaim, “Snow!”

OHC Spring 2

With the warmer weather (and the returned health after a few months of flu season ravaging through the household), Terrace Hill Academy students can be seen riding bikes, taking walks, climbing the apple tree, drawing with chalk, searching for flowers, and painting outside.

OHC Spring 3

The second week of March we found a few poppies in our yard and observed first hand nyctinasty (new word for us!)- the blooms fold up (“like a carrot,” my kids say) at night and open up to the sun in the morning.  Princess K was pretty fascinated by this as we observed the flowers day and evening after day and evening.  This was also the week we started seeing a few leaves on our grape vine.  The kids found a little ladybug, decided to keep it as a pet and called it Curly, drew it in their nature journals and then lost it.   (It reminded me of A.A. Milne’s poem Forgiven.)

OHC Spring 3b

OHC Spring Collage 1

OHC Spring 3c

 At the beginning of March, all that could be seen of our apple tree (we’ve been observing all year) was dry brown branches.  Today, March 25th, when we went to examine our tree, we found a few buds and a blossom!  It was exciting.

OHC Spring 4a

OHC Spring 4

OHC Spring 5

OHC Spring Collage 2

Our roses are in bloom again, the breezes are fragrant, the rain is sporadic, the kids are barefoot, all the world is in color.  Oh boy, oh boy, I call that spring!

OHC Spring 6

A Sure Sign

 Evaleen Stein

When you see upon the walk
Circles newly made of chalk,
And around them all the day
Little boys in eager play
Rolling marbles, agates fine,
Banded, polished, red as wine,
Marbles crystal as the dew,
Each with rainbows twisted through,
Marbles gay in painted clay,
Flashing, twinkling in your way,
When the walk has blossomed so,
Surely every one must know
None need wonder who has heard
Robin, wren, or Peter-bird;
Sure the sign as song or wing,
          It is spring!