Trying to Start School

“I hear you started school Full Blast today.”

Hmmmm. Since she was sitting at the airport in Chicago, I had to wonder where my mother got that little school update. Surely CNN isn’t running stats on local homeschoolers. I can almost picture it:

“This just in, summer is now officially over as Washington homeschooling family of five begins school, full blast.”

I don’t know. Full blast sounds more like something relating to fire hydrants and stereo systems, not homeschooling. We do have our share of fights over music during the day –

“Mom! He changed my song.” “He’s heard this one 20 million, zillion times, it’s my turn to pick the play list.”

– but that happens all year round, not just during school time. And, of course, doing dishes always brings the temptation to squirt a sibling with the new faucet. Again, this is completely unrelated to homeschooling.

what grade am I?

Our First Day of School signs definitely count as art and computer graphics studies.

It turns out there is a Full Blast Family Entertainment Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. 85000 square feet of swimming, computer games, and dancing. Impressive. There’s also a Full Blast Fitness Club in downtown Toronto.

Neither of these things sound particularly academic but then, despite reports to the contrary, we didn’t get a huge amount of schooling done ourselves. It was more like Half Blast, at which point we ended the day with a full regimen of entertainment.

Joshua picked up a friend and went to a beach outing with middle school, promising to bring a group of guys home with him (he’s considerate that way). Rachel scooted off to spend the night with the girls (anything to avoid Joshua’s sleepover). Sarah snagged the little sister of Rachel’s friends and brought her home for a visit. Daniel called up a neighbor boy and asked him over to play.

It’s obviously very important to balance a hard day of school with plenty of fun and games.

joshua is in what grade???

Joshua made an awesome sign, as did the rest of the crew. Sarah wants me to take a picture of her and then print it out. A print of a printed page. Cool.

Of course, even amidst a busy school day, you never know when some celebrities will drop by for a visit.

david, tarah and sarah out on the town

Autographs anyone?

Tomorrow, after we return all the children to their proper homes, we will attempt to get back to school.

Full Blast!!

Project 365 – Day 248

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WFMW–Homeschool Faves

WFMW School is back in session so what better topic for this week’s Works for Me Wednesday than a collection of a few of our favorite homeschooling books, programs, and curricula.

Homeschooling Tried and True Favorites

Horizons Math — this is a math that we have loved and used it for years with all of the children. It’s colorful, advanced paced, and published by a Christian company.

Start Write — this is a great handwriting computer program that lets you create custom handwriting sheets using a wide variety of styles including cursive, manuscript, Italic, D’Nealian, Handwriting Without Tears, Palmer, New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), and Victorian (VIC). I use this for thank you notes, letters, general practice sheets, and more.

dear daddy...

A six year old’s letter is more colorful than your average note.

Sonlight — Sonlight has been the core of our homeschooling curriculum for seven years. It is a literature based program that brings history to life and makes learning a true adventure. Sonlight’s packages include all the books needed for a year’s worth of history, Bible and literature, as well as detailed instruction guides. We are very loyal Sonlight fans.

CQLA — Character Quality Language Arts is a relatively new homeschooling discovery. We have used many different language arts programs over the years. This is the first one that we have found that integrates copying, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, composition, creative writing, poetry, and dictation all in one consumable workbook. I love the way each week’s study centers around a godly character trait.

art time

Art AND letter recognition!

Rainbow Science — this is a serious, two-year, total science curriculum for junior high students. Joshua loves the conversational tone and humor that are interspersed among the science lessons. As he said to me today, “It’s not every science book that opens up with the word ‘Yowie!’” The first year covers physics and chemistry, and the second year covers biology and applications of science. The curriculum and the Home Laboratories are completely self-contained. It has been an excellent fit for Joshua.

Math U See — I have found, over the years, that there occasionally comes a time in children’s education when they need a different approach in their math studies. Perhaps they are stuck on a difficult concept or frustrated and bored with the current curriculum. At that point it has been tremendously helpful to take a break from Horizons math and try something new. Most often this has meant spending some time using Math U See. This hands on, manipulative based curriculum, complete with DVD teaching, is wonderful. The three older children have all worked through various Math U See levels, brushing up on old concepts, polishing existing skills and learning new strategies for understanding math concepts.. Even Sarah and David enjoy playing with the manipulatives (we don’t tell them they’re doing school). :)

Teaching Textbooks — Horizons math is an elementary program (meaning it ends after the 6th grade – sniff, sniff) so at that point it’s necessary we select another math curriculum. I have decided on Teaching Textbooks for the more advanced math levels. Joshua worked his way rapidly through pre-Algebra and is now part-way through Algebra 1. The lectures are featured in the textbook as well as on DVD. The wonderful part about Teaching Textbooks is that every single problem is worked out on DVD (step by step).

school cubbies

These school cubbies hold some of our current workbooks. It’s taking me a while to finish kindergarten but I hope to be done soon.:)

Explode the Code — these are HUGE favorites in our family. They are simple phonics workbooks containing exercises on reading, writing, matching and copying. My children love them and are always sad when they come to the end of the series.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of our homeschooling favorites. I didn’t see the note about this week’s Works for Me Wednesday theme being “Brand Loyalty” until 9 pm this evening. Up until that point I was working on a great WFMW blog on marriage and some specific ways to show respect to your husband. You’ll have to come back next week for that helpful post. :)

Hopefully I will have time to write further about the different Bible study and devotional books we have devoured over the years as well as reading programs, geography studies, art and more that have been family treasures.

Please leave a comment and share your favorite homeschooling programs or books. I LOVE hearing what other families are using and enjoying.

Project 365 – Day 247

Head on over to Rocks in My Dryer for further Works for Me Wednesday links.

Some other Duckabush WFMW Posts

Laundry Organizer
Giant Whiteboard
Travel Outfits

Join us for our Tuesday Tips for Parenting

Calling Your Child
Creative Use for the Timer
First Time Obedience
Sermon Notes
Thorough Job

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Tuesday Tips for Parenting — Doing a Thorough Job

As is the case with many parents of large families, Kathy and I are engaged in an elaborate and diabolical conspiracy to live a life of ease and luxury by extracting the maximum amount of work out of our children. Or so some of them they seem to think, based on the complaints we hear.

“I have to do the dishes again?” wails Weasel, my middle boy.

“Do you ever want to eat again?” snips Latte, my wife, in response. She gets a little tetchy about the dishes, I’ve noticed.

As it turned out, he did want to eat, and began clearing the table in a desultory fashion, scuffing his feet and doing his best to imitate the downtrodden masses. “Say, what’s with Weasel and the downtrodden masses?” quipped my daughter Nettle, as she bounded through the room.

Clearing the table
It is sometimes hard to rally the troops once dinner is over.

One of the things that irks me about the work my children do, is that it seems to involve a lot of checking up on them, which significantly detracts from my life of ease and luxury. No sooner do I take my eyes off Weasel and his dish-duty, and he is out the door and halfway to Montana. Dirty dishes slouch sullenly on every available surface, mute testimony to the fact that Weasel has ‘washed the dishes’ only for very low values of the words ‘wash’ and ‘dishes’.

I call him back, and explain that I wanted a thorough job of dish-washing. He looks at me blankly. “This means,” I expound patiently, “that all the counters should be clean and washed, and all dishes washed and either put away or in the dishwasher.” Weasel sighs deeply, and returns to his task, as I regale him with lively discourse on the meaning of the words ‘clean’ and ‘put away’.

Sarah uses her head
Even David and Sarah are sometimes pressed into service.

Sometimes I work through three or four iterations of this, and the lesson doesn’t always ‘stick’. I often feel that I am simply repeating myself, ad infinitum. It is hard to keep your cool when you think you’re not getting through at all.

My mind, often prone to wander, takes a side trip to the early 1970′s, when my parents had the onerous duty of teaching me to wash the dishes. “Never mind,” they concluded, after only a few dozen attempts. “Let’s have your brother wash the dishes, and you can dry ‘em. Even if you do a crummy job, they will eventually dry on their own.” It was heartwarming to have my parents believe in me so firmly.

Sarah washes Mom's van
It is amazing how much dirt can be found on a car, when you only wash once or twice a year.

My mind returned from its journey, tongue lolling out unrepentantly like a runaway dog, and I collared it firmly and dragged it back inside my head. Not wanting to give up as easily as my parents, I pondered long and hard about a way to teach this important lesson of diligence in a job, and then, one day, I happened upon the answer by accident.

My lovely wife was away, probably attending a Starbucks Grand Opening in Spokane. “It’s less than five hours away, and the grande mocha frappuccinos are half price!” she pleaded.

For some reason I wanted to make a good impression when she returned, perhaps to prepare the ground for my “We need to buy a new computer” offensive, craftily scheduled to coincide with my upcoming birthday. I was busy working on something (probably field-testing a new hammock design), so I told the kids that I wanted them to clean the kitchen. “When you finish,” I promised, “I’ll take you to Baskin Robbins!”

As they cheered, I dropped the bombshell: “I want you to do a thorough job,” I told them firmly. “Pretend you’re mom, about to leave on a long trip.”

David hoses
The temptation to misuse the hose is very strong, but David is (usually) pretty careful …

As with many wives, Latte does much of her house-cleaning just before we leave on an extended journey, preferably while I am waiting in the car. “Just four more loads of laundry, dear!” she shouts encouragingly while grabbing a paint brush to fix a spot of trim she missed on a child’s bedroom ceiling. “Once I rearrange all the china and itemize everything in the garage, I’ll be ready to go,” she promises. I do a lot of my reading in the car.

Slug, my oldest son and a devoted fan of Baskin Robbins, immediately took charge. Marshalling the troops, he made sure that the kitchen was scoured from top to bottom, until it gleamed. Astounded at their ability, but true to my word, I rushed them off and bought them ice cream cones … it wasn’t until later that they discovered the true cost of those cones.

Now, whenever they ask me what kind of a job to do, I grin evilly and say, “Just pretend I am waiting to take you to Baskin Robbins. That’s the kind of job I want you to do.”

My son Slug read a draft of this post, and shook his head. “You don’t really make your point very clearly,” he opined. “Whoop-de-do, the kids washed the dishes and you took ‘em out to Baskin Robbins. What kind of tip is that?” I guess he’s right — I’ll take this opportunity to clarify. Some would-be writers have to go through all the tedium and expense of mailing their drafts off to distant editors, and often wait days or even weeks for criticism and fiendish rejection letters. Happily, I am spared all that effort and can rely on merciless nitpicking at the drop of a hat, by members of my own family.

Daniel scrubs
I’ve often noticed that the cleanliness of our cars corresponds closely to the height of our children.

Whether you’re a child or a grown-up, you rarely know what you can accomplish until you are sufficiently motivated. I hope I’ll never forget one of the lessons I learned in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Our drill sergeants, each one striving to surpass the others as a maniacal fiend, marched us out to the ‘confidence course’ one dark morning. Chuckling cruelly, Sergeant Thumbscrew walked us through the course once before turning us loose with these ominous words: “The squad with the slowest time has to repeat the course.”

That was the day I discovered that I could ascend a 50-foot ladder of logs in about 10 seconds, and that the fear of falling to my death was as nothing compared to my dread of Sergeant Guillotine. I never would have thought that I could complete that grueling obstacle course at all, let alone at a dead run. Staff Sergeant Gibbet wrung every last drop of energy out of us as we completed the course four times that day, and greatly expanded my confidence in the capabilities of my physical body.

Sometimes a parent can be fooled or distracted by the smoke screens and excuses that children love to offer:

  • “I don’t know how!”
  • “It’s too hard!”
  • “Nobody told me that was part of this job!”
  • “I can’t find a (sponge, broom, insert critical equipment here), so I can’t do it!”

On about the same frequency as full solar eclipses, the excuses are true; more often, though, it is simply a matter of motivation. Ever since the Baskin Robbins incident, I find myself asking my children this question: “If I promised to take you out for ice cream as soon as you did a good job on that chore, would you be able to do it, quickly and thoroughly?” Now that they have a tangible picture of a job done well through strong motivation, their confidence in attempting difficult chores is substantially improved.

Blue-tongued skinks
I’ll admit, sugar in its varied forms is a key weapon in my parenting arsenal.

As my children grow in grace and maturity, I hope to teach them to be motivated by a passion to please and glorify God, rather than by a double scoop of Chocolate Chunk Royale. Ultimately, I suspect that God’s rewards go considerably beyond 31 flavors; but that is, perhaps, a discussion for another day. In the meantime, I can’t say I mind the occasional trip to Baskin Robbins, myself. :)

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Birthday Surprises & Babysitters

It turns out the way to REALLY surprise someone on their 40th birthday is to throw them a party four months ahead of time. Who would suspect anything??

happy b-day nancy

A Happy Birthday sign covered the entire drive way.

Nancy, my wonderful friend who cheerfully allows me to invite myself to her lake home, has a January birthday. January is a fine month for birthdays. There are many famous people born in January including Paul Revere, J.R.R. Tolkien, Elvis, and Cary Grant. It is, however, a difficult time to throw a beach party. When you invite people to a lake affair in January only a few hardy souls (ice swimming anyone?) show up. It can be very discouraging. This is difficult for someone who is a summer/lake girl at heart. Sure you can have people over to visit and even throw a little gathering here or there, but it’s not your birthday party.

family shot

The surprised birthday girl and her family.

Enter Dave, Nancy husband, undeterred by the date and determined to throw the birthday (okay, future birthday) girl a grand, 40th surprise party. The gala she has always wanted — a summer gathering where it’s warm and sunny, where you can sit out on the dock or beach and swim. Dave, along with several friends and helpful family members, planned and orchestrated an amazing party. Invitations were sent out, decorations beautifully placed around the lake front, and a special gift purchased. Nancy was completely and totally surprised (after all, who suspects a surprise birthday party FOUR MONTHS before the actual date?).

What a kind husband to take the desire of his wife’s heart and labor to make it a reality.

Happy (almost) 40th, Nancy!!

hannah, rachel and bethany

These gorgeous girls have nothing to do with the birthday party but they deserve a place in today’s blog. Every week they care for the littlest members of our home fellowship group. They play games, entertain and comfort the younger children so the grown ups can study, learn and share in relative peace and quiet. It’s a HUGE gift and they do it for only a small pittance. Thanks girls!!

Project 365 – Day 245

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Here We Go A’Camping

We had a lovely time camping this weekend. Can I call it “the weekend’ if we were only gone for one night? Tim is still easing me into the whole ‘sleep in a tent’ thing. The children need no easing or convincing. They love every minute of the entire camping experience.

I’m too tired to write much. It’s only 9:50 pm and I’m falling asleep while I blog. That’s pretty early for this night owl so I’m going to post a few pictures, enjoy a hot shower and then climb in my own bed. Hooray! You know how it is being away from home (night after, uh, night).


We are now officially hikers. Even Sarah handled most of the trail in good spirits.

camp site

All of the children took turns caring for the fire.

david and Sarah

Our campsite was close to the river. We did a great deal of exploring up and down the river bank.

We had a great time. It felt like we were gone for days and yet we still have the rest of the holiday weekend stretching ahead of us.

We did come home to quite an unpleasant mystery. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Project 365 – Day 244

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