school stations

In February I swapped our school days around so that most of our core subject work on formal instruction days is done at stations. The most basic version of the plan is that the four kids work individually and rotate among four stations at 30-minute intervals. I do have to read to Brennan (and sometimes Annie, if she’s being serious) and am available to assist anyone at any time, but the majority of the work is self-managed. This has simplified our school routine so much that I almost feel guilty, but I’m working to channel that guilt into plans to add in a little bit more intentional work for next school year.

A note because after I got through science talk I feel like it looks like all we do is try to read a bunch of different books and make notes: we do a lot of projects and illustrating and documentary-watching and such, but most of that happens OUTSIDE of stations time. Because my cover-school-imposed guideline is to accumulate 175 days of school work, we do formal instruction on a certain number of days (actually, the number of history chapters plus the number of individual history sections, because that’s what helps motivate me) and leave the rest of the days open for projects and experiments and field trips and finalizing our formal work. At one point I called many of those other days Overflow days, because we were doing what little “testing” I do, and focusing on arts, and filling in gaps, and all that stuff that sloshes out when you’re trying to maintain routine.

So, what are we doing for stations and why is it working okay for us???

First up: history!

We use The Story of the World as our base curriculum. That provides us with a storybook-ish textbook, maps, review questions, coloring sheets, and some projects. There are also recommedations for further reading and notes about which page numbers in additional recommended resources line up.

What has worked the best for us with SotW is that each formal instruction day we:
a) cover one reading section OR the chapter test,
b) fill in the chapter’s map and/or a coloring sheet and/or an activity sheet, and
c)  make notes or answer aloud some review questions about important details.

We’re having some trouble that I am going to work around by beginning our school day with this as our read-aloud, and then during stations the boys will be responsible for those coloring sheets/maps and more in-depth responses (using the book as a guide) while Brennan will still be working directly with me for narration/review. Annie is doing a half-baked year of unenrolled kindergarten but LOVES to have her own station set up so that she can color the pictures and the maps, so she gets included as far as her attention span will allow.


In addition to our base SotW text, I keep our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History available for the younger kids to look at and for Quinn to read and outline. [Please note: I am an independent consultant for Usborne Books and More, so if you happen to order from any of the links to that particular online UBAM shop, I receive monetary compensation.] Last week I snagged this cool green Short History of the World  as an order add-on and the boys have both really liked it, so into the pile it’s gone. If I have an issue of National Geographic or a library book or whatnot that meets our theme for the chapter, it goes into the pile also. If the kids get stuck and I’m busy with another kid or if they finish ahead of the timer, then they’ve got great picture-heavy resources to engage to stay at least medium-well on task.



This year our sciences are Earth science and astronomy. I started out with a really gorgeous list of the topics available in the resource books we have, and my idea was to rotate through all of those topics while also trying to dig deeper right outside our house for some general nature study. It has not gone at all as I had hoped it would, but oh well.

Right now we’re going back over ecosystems (based on continents) because we’re covering a lot of different places back-to-back-to-back for history before ending up fairly Eurocentric with talk about exploration and colonization. I found this pretty cool printable biomes map and we’re filling it in as we hit each geographic region, and the kids are also going to draw their own similar maps (because next school year we’re going to do way more map drawing and I need them to stop gaping at me in horror when I mention drawing maps).

Also, one of our pumpkins from last fall has finally gotten mushy, so we cut it open and now we’re watching it while it does its thing in this close plastic baggy.


These are some of our science resources that go with what we’re doing this school year and will be doing next school year. I’ve been working to load the new shelves but I still haven’t managed to pull all of the science books out of general rotation. I’m mostly okay with that, because I’d rather the kids look at them than the books be tidy and together and on a shelf. Except that it would be nice to live in a world where those options don’t feel mutually exclusive.



We use Khan Academy for most of our formal math instruction. The lesson videos are great, the practice sessions are quick and easy to feel good about, and the boys are able to manage their experience with very minimal interference by me. I’m able to log in (either on their accounts or on my own) to see what they’re doing, if they’re struggling, where they’ve managed to leave gaps, and how the lessons tie in together. If they’re having trouble, we rewatch videos and I work with them to see which steps or bits of concepts they’re missing.

Especially because the girls are still developing number sense and getting comfortable with basic arithmetic, they do a lot of work with manipulatives, shapes, blocks, matching, and puzzles during their math stations.

We also do some math journaling, defining concepts and making notes about lessons.

This week we had history material about the Mayan numeral system, so the boys filled in a cool chart about that and then did a worksheet. If we ever have an opportunity to directly link math to another subject, I take it.


Language arts is the station that is the hardest for me to explain and the easiest for me to feel bad about. Right now, because we had hit a harsh patch of refusal to cooperate, we’re using language arts station to work on reading journals or do half-baked grammar lessons or work through handwriting workbooks or practice phonics or play with bananagram tiles or just whatever vaguely English-language based thing I decide to pile up. I’m using the other stations to get a lot of the boys’ reading and writing practice in and using THIS station to reinforce the basics and work on developing cursive and stuff like that.


Right, well, 90 minutes and 1200 words later, there you have it. Partly. Sort of.


[school] ancient americas

This week for school we’re talking about ANCIENT American cultures. We’re zeroing in hard on the Nazcas for some art projects – about Nazca lines and pottery. We’ve watched videos and I have a National Geographic with some EXCELLENT photos. But. It gets kinda tricky. Even after studying this five or six different ways, I get the timeline confused.

One of the projects we did was to draw on white paper with white crayons. Then we used watercolors on the paper.

Annie got so mad about not being able to see the white-on-white that she completely quit participating… but she found a map and knew it was a world map so she was doing more learning practice than she thought she was. But. We went from an inset at the top corner to Australia for Chick-fil-A.

almost alone on Valentine’s Day

As I write, it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s almost normal bedtime. I’ve been cleaning up the pile of stuff to clean up later… I decided it might as well be later. Annie is asleep on the couch (she’s got a pillow tucked next to her to keep her from rolling off!) and Jonathan is at my mother’s house with the kids.

MomMom needed a break.

It seems pretty weird now that I’m writing about it, but it’s been really nice. We’re about 6 hours in. I’ve played with Annie, fed her, snuggled with her while she slept, read some in my Bible, made notes about some projects I keep stalling on (uuuggghhh), and started working my way through the piles (multiple) of that stuff that needs a home but doesn’t really have one and just keeps being in the way no matter where it is, then isn’t easy to get to when you need it. I’ve got Pride and Prejudice (Hi Colin Firth!!) playing in the living room and a fresh iTunes playlist in the bedroom.

Dirty dishes are piled up on the counters. I hope I don’t trip over that bag of I-don’t-know-what when I need to go feed Annie in the middle of the night. I keep thinking about friends who are in the hospital (or who got to go home today, yay babyZeph!), and friends who are going through some heavy, heavy stuff, and how loving people – deliberately loving people the way they need to be loved – is so difficult but so amazingly rewarding.

I’m all over the place. It doesn’t seem quite like my house with Jonathan AND the big kids gone. I think as much time as I spend with Annie, we still haven’t really gotten to know each other yet. Well. Part of that’s because she’s expanding as fast as she’s growing. All of the kids are. Every day brings with it the possibility of so much growth, so much change. The bigs are pretty good at communicating what they want, and I’ve got a fairly solid handle on what they need that they don’t know how to ask for. Annie doesn’t know what she needs or wants, yet. Except food, a fresh diaper, a scenery adjustment… She’s so sweet.

Quinn is finally really reading. Um. No. He’s finally catching on to that thing where I’m not a total lunatic about letter sounds matching letters in books and in environmental print. It was a HUGE wall to break through, but we’ve done it. He’s done it. All I did was keep ambushing him with every tip I’ve ever heard. None of them worked. Or maybe, eventually, all of them worked.

He still says he can’t read.

But that’s because he’d rather play with his Legos.

Yesterday I let Aiden use a real knife to prep strawberries. He got tired of standing in front of the fridge with the door open biting into the strawberries… so he grabbed a table knife and eventually mashed one in half. I had no clue what he was doing – I was 10 feet away feeding Annie. Facing him. But apparently not with the program. He piped up “I DID IT!” and when I realized what he did, I decided to have a serious knife safety lesson. We especially practiced the part about not using knives without MomMom. AAANNNDDD the part about keeping your left-hand fingers out of the way. He wanted to cut something today and I told him he couldn’t, and he grabbed my chin and looked at me very seriously and said, slowly, “Yes, I can. I can be slow and steady and take it easy and don’t hurt me.” The answer was still a no. But I was glad he remembered some of the directions.

Earlier today, Brennan marched up to me, leaned against my legs, and ordered, “Wook UPT.” which I did, startled. She had to reach way up to wipe my face with a wet baby wipe (turns out she found them in the clean-it-up-later pile in my bedroom), then smirk-beamed at me, hopped down, and wandered away. I don’t know what happened to the wipe. But I wondered how many times a day I say, “Look up!” and then wipe her face. Doesn’t seem like often, from the pictures I take. ha!

I’ve been working on projects this week that I’m so excited to share, but I can’t yet. Teaser, for accountability. Since every time I mention wanting to write about something, I follow through. (Never. Almost never.)

Colin Firth just got shot down (his proposal was lousy, so it was well-deserved) and Annie said something. I don’t see her stretching, but if she made noise then it’s almost snack time. I guess I’ll go change discs and get ready to feed the pitiful creature.

I’ve set this to post Sunday because I know Jonathan will be home by then. Seems like solid internet safety.

pretty much

Lately, we have had many unusual things go on. I’m pregnant, for example, and the boys are both old enough to get that this means weirdness is afoot. (Brennan is impressed with how much alike our bellies are and gets mad when she’s trying to cuddle and Ann gets all wiggly.) At our house, weirdness afoot = entrenchment, and entrenchment leads to some hard-core arguing.

The boys are all like, “No. I don’t want to. I hate that. That’s stupid. YOU WANT ME KILLED?!?! Your directions are stupid. I hate your task-es!” (Quinn says “task-es” and I laugh every time. In his face. Which doesn’t help the situation; imagine that.)

I like to respond with something along the lines of, “That does not honor. Go sit in your room until you are ready to make good choices and have good attitude.” which is AWESOME. Especially in my head, where they (submissively) go (quietly) to the bedroom and (gently) close the door and (remorsefully) wait a minute or two before (humbly) apologizing and (wisely) explaining what a good choice would have been. (And we don’t eat high fructose corn syrup and everybody lurves vegetables.)




I’m just keepin’ it real, here, folks.

You know, having to yell, “DO IT NOW OR I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU DO IT, AND YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE IT AAATTTT ALLLLLL.” is the parent equivalent of, like, “You’re a jerk.” against “No, you are.”

It’s SO TOTALLY arguing with my kids. Even though I’m determined to not argue with my kids. And OF COURSE there’s a whole lot of that “Do it. NOW.” business going on, when I won’t enforce what I say by, quite literally, taking the kids by the hand and leading them through the process of doing what I said to do. I want so desperately for them to just OBEY ME that I end up making myself look ridiculous. And ridiculous authority figures are just not worth it. (That’s a discussion for another day.)

Please don’t hear me say that I want my kids to be scared of me, or that I yell at my kids all the time, or that I think all kids should obey every command immediately without question.

What I DO want you to hear me say is that I’m committed to gentle but firm, deliberate, on-purpose NOT-ARGUING. Because I’m tired of my emotional state hinging on whether my kids happen to feel like listening on any given day. And I’m tired of yelling (I mean, sometimes it’s loud and yelling is necessary at first, but not all the time).


I’ll go ahead and tell you some things things that DO work around here: the literal hand-holding I mentioned earlier :: eye-level “Repeat after me.” with multi-step directions (to avoid anger over confusion) :: a calm “That does not honor. Go sit in your room until you are ready to make good choices and have good attitude.” (REALLY. Calm is key.) :: talking about some specific Bible verses :: a firm but gentle “What you want is NOT always more important than what anyone else wants. We need to pay attention to what other people say.” … … … Of course, consistency and responding instead of reacting are key.

As I mention in about every other blog post, we’re some highly emotional people around here. We all get that we look goofy (even Brennan is starting to look sheepish after a fit, and will hug to apologize… or bribe. Whatevs.) and WANT to NOT be so emotional. BUT IT IS SO HARD. It’s still hard for me, most especially when I’m tired or sick or disappointed-about-something-else, and I’ve been told for over 20 years to just get a grip. (That’s not helpful, by the way.) I’ve had to string together “God will fight for me, I just have to be still. BE STILL and know that He is God. Trust in the Lord with all my heart, and don’t lean on my own understanding.” and I’ve been using that to help talk Quinn down when he’s infuriated.

I would love some feedback about not-yelling obedience-encouragement. (Except… I don’t want to hear about sticker charts or, really, any actual rewards, because those don’t get implemented consistently across the board here, and they actually cause more arguing. So. We’ll revisit those later, with another topic that’s on deck.) What does or doesn’t work at your house? Even if you don’t have kids or they’re still so young some of this just does not apply yet, what are your thoughts?

Let’s keep it productive, please!


planning, shrunken brain, scheduling, and a reminder


Who remembers that I had made a neato planner to test out in March and I really liked it but then I was so sick for so much of March that the only real plan was to not get dehydrated enough to go to the hospital??? Well, I adjusted it a very little and ordered a bigger one.
I set it up so that I can use THIS copy from next Monday until the start of September… or something like that. (It was about half of the weeks left in this year or something – it made sense at the time.) I’m excited because I’ve set it up to use as much for accountability as for planning. There are spots for me to jot down what Scripture and such I’ve studied, and where I made notes about it, since I use so many different journals/notebooks.
I hope it helps me keep up with our new schedule. I cling to that study about how your brain shrinks while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding. I don’t remember all the details (GO FIGURE, ha!!) but I do remember feeling like a lot of the things I struggle with anyway (time management, task initiation, prioritizing) would OBVIOUSLY be harder. So I’m technically off the hook.

Except that the hormones help me feel more guilty and overwhelmed. Or apathetic.

It comes in waves.

Speaking of being off the hook, we’ve decided to try NOT having a home phone or DSL, which means no internet for the laptop unless I go somewhere I can get internet. I’m using my phone to write this blog post.

On a good note, we’ve been without home phone and DSL since Thursday and I’ve survived. It’s sort of like surviving Facebook deletion. Well, FB delete was easier. But I’ve survived no DSL/ wifi/ Netflix. I don’t think I’ve stayed on task any better, but I’m hoping that builds with time.
I’ve been working on outlines for blog posts about homeschool prep, and I’ve been taking pictures to share!

Don’t forget that you can see my Instagram posts – even if you don’t use Instagram!! – by visiting or

“unstoppable learning”

The boys spent the night with Granma and Papa Saturday night. I drove in Sunday at lunchtime with Sister, planning to spend the night and bring the kids home Monday. Aiden decided it was way past time to go home, so after dinner we went back to MomMom’s house. When we got in the car, the TED Radio Hour had started on one of our local NPR affiliates.

I was sucked in and AMAZED before I even realized what we were listening to… Sugata Mitra was talking about how children in rural India had taught themselves how to use a computer (without a keyboard, and set up to run in English) and in less than a year had developed the computer skills of an office assistant in the West (I think that’s what he said, I need to listen again, haha.). He talked about how he thinks our brains figure out how to teach us things if we work hard enough toward finding information. In a less roundabout sort of way: “It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen.”

I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I think the concept is very important. And his explanation of current “normal” schooling across the world definitely made me think. I feel like I should listen again and explain more, but I would rather post this link now and encourage y’all to check it out as you can. That way when I post again, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and can give me some feedback about some of the ideas.

Here’s a link to the episode page at NPR!

a project: Advent calendar

I want to apologize for the crazy lack of pictures that actually show you something. I got the bright idea (ha. ha. ha.) to use my phone and snap photos of the stuff nestled in strand lights. Yeah. No. So tomorrow, when there’s some natural light available, I’ll use the real camera and plug in the twinklies and replace these images. For now, you can click on this collage to see a much larger version… but the images are so grainy you can see them about as well this way. Uuuurrrrgggghhhh.


Advent calendar.

For the last three years I’ve said, “I’m gonna do an Advent calendar with the kids!” and every year I end up … just not really doing it. A couple of years ago I saw an image that was basically twine across a wall, with notes about fun projects clipped to it, and I wanted desperately to do something like THAT with our Christmas projects.

THIS YEAR I’m actually doing it.

So. Advent calendar. Pretty much the concept is that for each day in December leading up to Christmas, your kiddos (Or grown ups. Whatever. This is sincerely as much for me as for the kids.) get or do something small-ish but fun. This is to build anticipation, to provide a learning tool for the reason for the season, to keep them off your back about Santa… I could go on and on about why.

My reasoning is that I need a good way to plan treats and Christmas crafts and sharing Scripture that explains why Jesus’ birth is important. I think this is a great way of introducing the idea that what’s so important about this time of year is the love of God, the birth of His Son, and our hope in Him. I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty much flying by the seat of my pants this year. That’s because as I’ve been researching, most of what I see is denomination-specific (and different for each group that observes Advent) or extremely vague. I’ll post more information throughout the month as I figure out (decide) what’s going on and why… but for now… here’s the short start-up version.

ADVENT is the time from the beginning of the liturgical year to Christmas Eve. This technically begins on the fourth Sunday BEFORE Christmas. This year Advent Sunday is December 2nd. To keep things simply complicated, we’re doing this Advent calendar to intentionally and memorably count down from December 1st to Christmas – 25 days. Our first “project” will be on December 1st, and we’ll be reading Scripture from Zechariah (9:9-10). We’re keeping it pretty simple, because my cousin is getting married that day, and we’ll be sort of leading up to starting our Advent wreath. (That’s a whole other blog post.) Our second project will be reading Matthew 21:1-9, and after dark we’ll light the first candle in our wreath.

My general plan for the rest of the month is to have some craft/cooking days (different phases of Christmas card decorating, prepping/cooking/decorating treats, making ornaments), some days when we focus on Scripture that explains what we’re celebrating, some days where we just do something sort of random (probably junk food or Christmas movies)… Some of the days will be set for sure (introducing new themes/candles each Sunday), but I’ll be free to shift around the other stuff somewhat.

I know, I know, what you’re really wondering about is the deal with the envelopes and how I decorated those. They have turned out really awesome, and it’s okay to think I’m great (I threw that in because today I feel like I’m not so great, just sayin’.) Here’s the collage again, since this post is twice as long as I wanted it to be and this is the only picture so far:

Pretty much what I did was get a pack of assorted blank, flat cards with envelopes from Target (there are… 80??? in the pack… I guess 10 each of 8 colors) and decorate 25 of them with foam stickers, holiday stamps, glitter glue, and decorative paper tape. My color scheme (because I couldn’t find what I actually wanted and had to improvise) sort of matches the colored strand lights. I went with [trees and ornaments and presents] because I want to emphasize the richness of the gift-giving symbolism, hope, and joy. I used the deco tape because it went with my colors and kept me from putting the exact same thing on each envelope, ha. I used stamps and dotted and smeared some glitter glue because I don’t know how to do a crafty project without glitter glue and stamp ink.

MY GOAL is to post about our calendar envelope and project/whatnot each day on Instagram (which goes to my Facebook profile), then do a sort of weekly round-up here, and hopefully create an album on TheBarn page at Facebook. It’s very important to me to understand the significance of Advent teachings and practices, so I’ll be sharing those as I figure them out, too (probably with the images).