Category Archives: Homeschooling

Book Review: The Lifegiving Home, by Sally and Sarah Clarkson


The Lifegiving Home is a practical and inspiring collection, arranged month-by-month, of ideas which will help you to “creat[e] a place of belonging and becoming” for yourself, your family, your friends, and others with whom you share your home.

Sally Clarkson is so amazing in this book, and her other books, about helping women solidify their ideals and work toward establishing an atmosphere of safety and love where people can learn, grow, create, and build strong relationships. I am always encouraged after reading or listening to Sally (check out her “At Home With Sally” podcast; it’s great, too!).


Book Review: George Müller, by Janet and Geoff Benge


I read this book with my kids as part of our Sonlight homeschool curriculum. It is well-done overall, and I am looking forward to reading other books in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series (our curriculum for next year includes another book from the series about the missionary, Gladys Aylward).

It’s amazing to read how God took a dishonest, selfish rascal like George Müller, changed his heart, and used him so powerfully. Müller is, of course, best known for founding and running the orphanages which were home to more than 10,000 children, but he was also active in supporting education and missions work. He lived by faith, bringing every request to God in prayer, never asking anyone for money, and over and over, God met the needs of George and “his” orphans.

I will note that, when I read this book aloud to my kids, I did have to heavily edit a couple of disturbingly overly-descriptive scenes involving the use of corporal punishment on young George.

As far as interest level goes, my 7-year-old and 9-year-old tracked along well with this book. My 5-year-old needed frequent explanations and summaries of what was going on, but she liked the “answered prayer” stories about how God provided for the orphans.

I am marking this book off as “A biography” for the #VTReadingChallenge.

Book Review: Teaching from Rest, by Sarah Mackenzie


This little book is a practical, encouraging, and motivating guide for homeschooling parents. I appreciated Sarah Mackenzie’s tips and ideas for getting school done with older kids when you have infants or toddlers in the home. I also liked how she interspersed inspiring quotes, Bible verses, poems, and prayers throughout the book.

A lot of what Sarah writes in this book is simple, but it’s not necessarily common sense until you hear someone else say it! I had a few moments where I found myself thinking–oh! that makes so much sense! I should have thought of that (but I didn’t). For example, she talks about the importance of considering not only your children’s learning styles and preferences, but also your own, when selecting resources and activities.

This is definitely a re-readable book! I don’t buy many books for myself (I’m an avid library user!), but I am planning to buy a copy of this book, because it is so valuable. I can see myself reading it at least once a year.

I am marking this book off as “A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title” (the subtitle contains the word “peace,” so that’s good enough for me!) for the #VTReadingChallenge.



Book Review: Begin (Growly #1), by Philip and Erin Ulrich


This is a fun adventure story for kids. There is nothing at all inappropriate in the book, and it is full of positive values (friendship, courage, loyalty, and kindness, to name a few) without being preachy. Family ties are important, and the characters all treat each other very respectfully.

I read this book to my 8- and 6-year-olds. They are in the perfect age range to experience this book as a read-aloud, and they really enjoyed it. My 4-year-old listened in about half the time, and was somewhat interested, although some of the plot and words went over her head.

Overall, I personally enjoyed the book, although I felt that the narrative occasionally became excessively, tediously descriptive. The kids didn’t seem to mind, though, and remained attentive even through long passages about the landscape.

This book, the first in the Growly series, is definitely not a stand-alone. Growly’s quest remains unresolved at the end of this book, so the kids and I are looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Our 2015-2016 Homeschool Plans!

I just placed orders for all (or almost all) of our homeschool supplies for 2015-2016! It feels so good to have the decisions made and to have everything ordered early. My personality is such that, when I have a decision to make, I research the heck out of my options and am very anxious and unsettled until I make the final decision, and then I feel relieved and can finally rest and not have a million thoughts constantly swirling around in my brain. I’m generally not a procrastinator and like to get things done way ahead of time, for my own peace of mind.

Anyway, this is what I decided on:

Main Program:

Sonlight Core B (1st year of a 2-year World History program) with Grade 3 Language Arts/Readers


I think that this program should appeal to both my 4th grader and my 2nd grader, and the Kindergartner can listen in as much as she desires. I love that there are so many fun and informative “real” books, not just boring textbooks. This Grade 3 language arts program covers paragraph writing, which is a skill that I’ve not yet worked on with the kids. The Grade 3 readers are probably the right level for my 2nd grader. They will be a little simple for my 4th grader, but he will probably enjoy some of them.

Additional Grammar:

Easy Grammar: Grade 3


I really like this program, since it covers all the basics, but it only takes a few minutes a day. It is easy to use and easy for kids to understand. My son has been using an older 2nd/3rd grade version of this program this year.


A Reason for Handwriting


The kids will be using books K, A, and T of this program.


Singapore Math


I love Singapore Math. It really teaches kids to look at math problems in a variety of different ways and to solve problems creatively, but accurately. The workbooks are easy-to-use and kid-friendly, with lots of graphics and some “fun” puzzles, and not oppressive like a giant, black-and-white, picture-less, heavy textbook (Saxon, I’m looking at you. Oh, man, I hate Saxon. Don’t even get me started). My son has been blowing through this program. Currently, he is just about done with his 4B book, so I expect he’ll get through the Level 5 books and into Level 6 next year. Well, maybe, because, I also want him to go through the math workbook that comes with…

Additional Math:

Complete Mathtacular Bundle


The older kids have been begging me to buy the Mathtacular 3 and 4 DVDs. We already own 1 and 2, but it was a good deal to just buy this whole kit, which happens to come with all four Mathtacular DVDs and a bunch of other stuff, including manipulatives that my Kindergartner will find useful. The workbook that comes with this kit looks to be on my son’s level. I think he will think it is fun to have a workbook that goes along with Mathtacular 4.


Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten


My currently-4 1/2-year-old is pining to know how to read, but she really needs a step-by-step program to get her there. I researched probably close to two dozen phonics programs and decided that this would be the best fit for her, despite my memories of making fun of the cheesy “Hooked on Phonics worked for me!” commercials in the 1990’s.

Thinking Skills:

Developing the Early Learner, 4-book set


The reviews I’ve read for the four books in this series have all been really positive. I think they will be right on my Kindergartner’s level.

Well, those are the materials we’re planning to use next year. We might even start using them this year, since, as I mentioned in this post, we are probably going to be cutting our current American history course a little short, since I don’t think the kids are emotionally ready to study the World Wars yet.

I didn’t mention science, because that is the one thing I’m not sure about yet. Soon, we are going to begin (well, continue, since we did get through about one unit) the Apologia Botany course that we already own. When we’re done with that, I’ll get something else, probably a different Apologia course. I’m not at all concerned about my currently-3rd-grader’s science education, since he constantly checks out piles of nonfiction science books from the library and devours them. I’m pretty sure he already knows more about most scientific subjects than I do.

A Thought About WinterPromise American Story 2

The kids and I have been working our way through WinterPromise’s American Story 2 program. Well, more accurately, we’ve been working our way through the awesome booklist without actually owning the guide/schedule. I thought about buying the guide at the beginning of the year, but that was the only thing I wanted from them, and shipping for that one item was, like, $15! So I decided I could put the books in chronological order myself and obtain supplemental resources online and from the library as needed. We don’t have a huge homeschool budget, and I would much rather use our resources to buy “real” books than spend $95 ($80 for the guide and $15 to ship it) on a guide that I might not get much use out of, anyway. I did buy the guide when we were doing American Story 1, but I definitely don’t feel that it was worth the price. Mostly, I just glanced at it occasionally to see which new books were coming up.

So far this year, we have made it from the Civil War period to right around the year 1900. Currently, we’re reading about the Klondike/Yukon/Alaskan Gold Rush, which is really an interesting subject that is somewhat near and dear to my heart, as I did a big school research project on it when I was in eighth grade (including writing and illustrating a fictional short story). Also, I used to really love playing a computer game called The Yukon Trail, created by the same company (MECC) that made The Oregon Trail game. I was able to find The Yukon Trail game for my kids, and they are now enjoying playing it as well, and I love that it is enhancing their studies.

It occurred to me, today, though, that we are approaching the World War era, and I just don’t think my kids, at ages 6 and 8, are ready to learn about the harsh realities and tragedies of modern warfare. Besides, there really are not many good books (like, pretty close to zero, it seems) for young children about World War 1. Even the WW1 book WinterPromise includes in this program is not written at an elementary level at all (I skimmed it this morning and realized it would bore the kids to tears). So I think my new plan is to finish up the program books about the Klondike Gold Rush, immigration, and inventions, and then save the war stuff for a while, maybe inserting our leftover books into a more advanced American history course in a few years.

Maybe when we’re done with our history studies this year, I’ll actually get around to doing the Apologia Botany course that I’ve been avoiding (ugh…experiments! I even have a ready-made experiment kit, so I really have no excuse). Actually, doing the course in spring and summer makes a lot of sense, due to nicer weather and more growing things to observe.

Decisions, Decisions…A Homeschooling Ramble

The time has come for me to be looking at homeschool curricula for 2015-2016. Since I have a baby due in July, it would be ideal to have one main, open-and-go “core” curriculum that I can use with the three older kids, who will be in kindergarten, second grade, and fourth grade. I also need to figure out the best way to teach my kindergartner to learn how to read. I had it so easy with the big kids. They both taught themselves to read at age three, through no real instruction from me (other than reading lots of books with them). But my littlest one has an extroverted, happy-go-lucky, social butterfly personality, and she’s not necessarily as focused or determined about “book learning” as the older kids. So I have to figure out how to actually, for the first time, teach phonics and all that jazz.

For the past two years, the older kids and I have been doing WinterPromise’s American Story 1 and 2. It’s been great, and they and I have learned a lot, but some of the reading has been fairly academic and somewhat mature-themed, and I don’t think my youngest is ready for a similarly intense, history-focused program. Besides, WinterPromise doesn’t offer any history-based programs that are appropriate for the grade range I will be teaching next year. They do have an Animals and Their Worlds study which is supposedly appropriate for Pre-K through 4th grades, but it doesn’t look as academically rigorous as the history programs (which may be a good thing, considering the new baby factor and the kindergartner’s interest level). I’ve also been perusing My Father’s World’s programs. We’ve used Sonlight in the past, and I like it a lot, but they don’t seem to have any programs that would be appropriate for a kindergartner, second grader, and fourth grader to participate in at the same time. I am very interested in Homeschool in the Woods’ Middle Ages and Renaissance and Reformation studies in their Project Passport series, but because they feature a ton of crafts and projects, I think that, realistically,  they would be too much to handle when I have a new baby. Generally, I tend to prefer literature-heavy programs, which is why I like Sonlight and WinterPromise so much.

We’ve been really happy with Singapore Math, so we’ll stick with that for now. It’s sooooo much better than Saxon, which is what I grew up with and absolutely hated. I would never inflict that boring, horrible, dry, miserable, tedious program on my children. I do like the concept of Teaching Textbooks, but the grade levels seem way off from Singapore Math. Teaching Textbooks seems to be at least two or three grades below Singapore Math! But the video instruction would be nice for upper level math courses, so I’ll keep the company in mind for later. We also supplement with Mathtacular DVDs. Right now we have the first and second in the series, but the older kids are ready for the next two and really want me to buy them! Just today, my son came to a new concept in his Singapore Math book, and I was all ready to explain to him how he should do the problems, and he said, “You don’t have to tell me; I already know!” I was surprised and asked him where he had learned the concept, and he said he learned it from Mathtacular. Awesome!

We use A Reason for Handwriting for penmanship. It’s fine for the older kids. I’m going to try using it for my youngest, and then, if it really doesn’t work for her, I’ll look into other programs. I’ve thought about Handwriting Without Tears for her, but the reviews are very mixed, so I’m kind of leery of that program.

I’m planning to get Kathy Troxel’s Audio Memory Geography songs (along with the corresponding workbook). The program has very good reviews and seems to be very effective for teaching US and world geography.

Well, these have been my rambling thoughts and ideas about what to use next year. I really enjoy the process of researching different options and figuring out what will best suit my children.