Friday, November 25, 2011

Five on Friday: A Week to Give Thanks

Psalm 100 

A psalm for giving thanks.
 1 Shout to the Lord with joy, everyone on earth. 
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness. 
      Come to him with songs of joy. 
 3 I want you to realize that the Lord is God. 
      He made us, and we belong to him. 
   We are his people. 
      We are the sheep belonging to his flock. 
 4 Give thanks as you enter the gates of his temple. 
      Give praise as you enter its courtyards. 
      Give thanks to him and praise his name. 
 5 The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever. 
      It will last for all time to come.

We spent a significant amount of time this week slowing down, learning through history books, Scripture, and stories what it means to "give thanks". We considered what we have, what others need, and how we might be called to respond to those needs. It was a true blessing for me - the Mama Bear - to hear my girls' hearts on what they're thankful for through their Gratitude Journals, and hearing them thanking God through prayerful praise. We also prepared for some very special guests: Grandma and Papa arrived Wednesday night to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. It was a great week!

Five Snapshots

Ellie weaving a placemat for Grandma. She was hard-focused on designing her pattern : ) 

We enjoyed several activities this week where we read multiple Thanksgiving stories, books about how the pilgrims and Indians worked together and built community together, and stories from the Mayflower. I must admit even I learned (ach-hem... I mean "re-learned") some things! 

Ben's happiness is often found in pounding with his hammer and having some alone time. Those ... and maybe also wearing his favorite "Melmo" shirt.

Abbie sharing her Gratitude Journal with us after dinner. We truly have so much to be thankful for. Aron and I are reading and studying the book "Radical" by David Platt this fall and have been transformed in how we think about our possessions, about what the rest of the world lives with and without, and how we might be used to better serve and love others for God's glory. Today was a good day to truly consider all that God has blessed us with ... so that we may be a blessing to others. 

And of course, an annual tradition for Husker fans is to cheer our football team the day after Thanksgiving. What a treat to be able to do it with Grandma and Papa this year : )  GO BIG RED!

And finally, I want to share two fun activities to use as you and your family prepare for Advent and the Christmas season: 

Christmas Countdown Fun Family Activities from Life As Mom - 24 fun Christmas activities to do together such as Christmas caroling, make a gingerbread house, go look at Christmas lights, enjoy classic Christmas movies. One fun activity per day ... and all FREE activities! I'll go for that. 

Jesse Tree Ornaments from Life Your Way - simple and kid-friendly approach to Scripture reading of the family line of Jesus as you prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We're using these for the first time this year!

Blessings to you all,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five on Friday

Happy Friday to you all!

We've had a pretty good week here at GPE, sans a bump in the road in the form of a fever on Thursday. But we're bouncing back and (hopefully) going to dodge a full-on household of sickness. YAH!

"Five on Friday" is intended to help me from writing such looooong posts once a month, and instead capture five highlights from our week to share with our friends and family! So here it goes ... a little about what's been going on here this week.

In the past 2 weeks I've been on the hunt for new hands-on activities that the girls would enjoy, and even Ben can use. So as a result of my searching and shopping, I've added some additional fun to our schoolroom. We got some lacing buttons and beads, some pom-poms and ice trays, geo-boards with rubberbands, poetry books with CDs, new puzzles to add to the collection, and more to come (some on our Christmas wish-list : ).

The kids working on the lacing buttons. 

Ellie is on lesson 53 of her "100 Reading Lessons" and is doing very well! It's such a huge blessing to teach my own child how to read. She loves to get up early each morning, find a book, and see how many words she can read on her own. Makes my heart smile!

Abbie's working on a 2-point paragraph. This week's topic was "My Favorite Places" which turn out to be the swimming pool and her friend Kody's house : ) 

And this is how we ended our week ... a high fever and lunch in bed (per her request)! Sweet girl. 

My last post highlighted 5 of my favorite sites for homeschooling ideas, toddler activities, and crafts. I'll add to that list here:

And one last thing ... although I'm quite certain I've exceeded my "five" for Friday!  I stumbled across this amazing Advent calendar idea called "Jesse Tree Ornaments" for kids and families as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. It comes with a daily Scripture reading and coloring squares to be colored and hung where they can be seen throughout the Advent season. We're eager to do this starting in only 13 days!

May blessings abound,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My 5 Favorite Homeschool Blogs

To ensure my own sanity, I often peruse other homeschool blogs and articles for fresh ideas, find comfort from identifying with their own horror and success stories, and frankly - to help me not feel so isolated as 'the teacher' in this adventure. When I taught in the classroom and then worked as a staff developer, I was surrounded by incredible professionals; people who I admired and respected deeply, and whose ideas and help I often depended on. At home now, it's still possible to have those conversations, but they're fewer and far between. I miss them. Thus, insert my new addiction to reading other homeschool blogs! Here are a few of my absolute favorites (all also have pages on Facebook): 

Confessions of a Homeschooler - this is my absolute favorite site. The blogger (Erica) even responds to my email questions! I dare you to limit yourself to only 5 minutes on her site (it's impossible). She is literally Wonder Woman in the flesh. UH-MAZ-ING. Writes her own geography and phonics curriculums, teaches 4 kids including a toddler, she loves Jesus, and did I tell you that she responds to my emails? I'm sure she considers me her long lost friend by now. ; )

1+1+1=1 - This mom is incredibly intentional, structured, creative, flexible and resourceful. I can only hope to be such a teacher-mom! And her kids are close to my kids' ages, so her site has been very helpful.

Toddler Approved - This site just flat ministers to me! And Ben. : )

Mama Jenn - I've seriously stolen at least 5 different ideas from her site. Literally!  Because she uses the same History/Bible/Science curriculum we use for each of the girls, and has created supplemental activities and resources for it, I love visiting her site each week to see what fun & crafty things we could do along side our studies. 

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers - I love the title itself, and her site is very resourceful.

So there you have it! My top 5 homeschool blogs that make me smile. Hurry and go check them out! Even if you don't homeschool ... there's something for everyone on these sites (parenting, cooking/recipes, crafts/art, preschool activities, etc)!

In light of my recent sharing on here about this homeschooling learning curve, I wanted to share this particular blog post I recently read, and the sound wisdom she shared. The article was from Simple Homeschool entitled "3 Things To Do When Things Don't Follow The Plan" (you can read it here). The writer is a former public school teacher, like me, and her perspective is one I can understand! She starts her article with: 

I'm a fairly academically-minded homeschooler. It could be the former public school teacher in me. But I like to know that my kids are making progress through their curriculum. I like to know that they score at or above grade level on standardized tests. I like to know that “the experiement is working” — at least from an academic perspective. But I’m also learning to be a realist: things don’t always go according to plan.

Rather than expecting things to be perfect and always progressing, or just flat know when to be more flexible from moment to moment, she sets three goals for herself: 

  1. Remember what's important. "Make peace the goal. It does our kids no good if they become brilliant, but crabby and unkind people because Mom stressed too much or pushed too hard." 
  2. Remember that no educational system is perfect. No argument here.
  3. Ask yourself, "Is learning happening?"  Rather than marry myself to a curriculum guide or a beautifully designed and structured schedule, ensure that my children are learning, and enjoying that process. 
Now this mindset I can get behind! 

Blessings and love,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What He Will Do Through You

Roy Lessin says, “Grace enables you to do all God calls you to do today. Success is not based today upon what you can accomplish, but upon what He will do through you.”

I love this quote. It completely contradicts what most of the world (and to be honest, even myself at times) would define or evidence as "success". We often base success on what we can accomplish, achieve, get done, conquer, resolve, create. We're even rewarded financially or in positional status for a job well done, given accolades, or gain others' appreciation and respect. But God defines success differently. He doesn't look at the outward appearance, but God knows my heart. By God's grace we accomplish the unnatural - patience. understanding. forgiveness. perseverance. humility. selflessness. All by the grace of God that enables us to do all he calls us to do. I want to be refined through the challenges I face. I want to be more Spirit-filled rather than discouraged, frustrated, angry, or harsh. In light of the struggles I faced this last month with homeschooling (see previous post here), God's grace enabled me to do what he called me to do - each day. 

Take a look for yourselves. Below is a photo gallery of the fun and meaningful learning we've enjoyed last month (it wasn't a complete wash with my frustration!). These pictures make me smile, remind me that we have a good thing going here, and help me remember why we do what we do here at GPE.

Math & Science

 N is for Nest! Ellie focused on the stages of nest building and eggs hatching. 

We discovered how water is absorbed in different cloths, and here we see how water also is absorbed through colors (marker ink on a coffee filter).  

After reading "The Leaf Man", we collected twigs, leaves, and berries during a walk and made our own leaf man. This was lots of fun!

Abbie loves reading to Ben. Here's she's reading one of her books on stars.

Ellie's working hard at calendar math! 

She's mastered 1-10!

Geometry rods ... family favorite around here.

Literature & Composition

Library program! One hour a week with the amazing Ms. Rita. 
Note Ben checking out his neighbor friend's costume! He loved the Jeff Gordon get-up! 

We read "The Rag Coat" about a little girl who didn't have a winter coat, and was too poor to buy one. The community ladies decided to quilt her a coat using their scraps from their quilting projects. This is such a beautiful story! We used scraps from our friend Ms. Dana to create our own "rag coat" design. 

D is for Dinosaur! After making a paper-model of the T-Rex, they searched an illustrated book on dinos for all the T-Rex's they could find. 

This is perhaps my favorite picture. Oh I do hope she becomes an avid, life-long reader!

After using sentence strips to write her letter (pink strips are to "pink it up" - add more detail), she's writing her letter to her grandmothers! Thanks for the letters in response, by the way! She loved them. 

Abbie started piano lessons this fall and one of her assignments is to write her own music. I love it!

History & Social Studies

 Abbie spent a few weeks reading "Squanto" and learning about the Native American Indians. Here she's making a wigwam (house/shelter for one tribe).

Painting tee pees!

Our focus this month is on Thanksgiving, so we are making gratitude books. What treasures these will be to look back on! 

We're reading and talking a lot about how America became an independent country, so we've talked about the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

We're writing our "John Hancock" with a quill pen and ink, just like on the Declaration of Independence.  Well ... just craft feathers and strawberry juice : )  But it was fun! 

Field Trips & Other Fun

Did you know that if you could travel as fast as light, it would take you one second to get from earth to the moon?  Guess how long it would take you to get from the earth to the sun? We set out from our house and walked 8 minutes, turned around to see our house and tried to imagine our house as earth and our destination after 8 minutes as the sun. Quite a lesson!

Visiting and riding horses has become an area of huge interest with the girls. 

Fire safety week and a trip to the local fire station with our neighbor friends! 

We drove to Bismarck for an afternoon at the Heritage Center, learning more about the Natives and other settlers in North Dakota. 

Spontaneous picnic at the park, and Daddy even joined us!

They are the crackiest cracked-pots I know! We were playing with bean bags (balance, coordination, and just plain fun!), and here they were supposed to wiggle the bean bag off their belly buttons. Quite the opportune time for much laughter : )

A dragon, a unicorn, and Lady Guinevere  

So there you have it: the month of October! God truly has worked through each of us, and for that we are thankful. I hope you enjoyed the photo tour, sharing in our fun through these pics. : )

Hugs and loves,

Clear Vision

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened..." (Ephesians 1:18a)

Greetings from Great Plains Elementary! I'll bet you thought we had dropped off the North Pole?! Not so ... not so. In spite of my multiple considerations of admitting myself into the Funny Farm, I'm here to report that we're still here and pressing onward. But it's been "a month", if you knowhatimean! A few weeks ago, the ever-so wise Donna D told me that my last few blogs have only told the good side of homeschooling, and she wanted to know how it was really going. Yep. She knows me well. 

So I won't hide it. The last 10 weeks of homeschooling have indeed had their fair share of incredible blessing and sweet memories that will last me for years and years. If a child's love language is indeed quality-time, then our time together is truly filling their cups ... or at least I pray so. What we're learning (and yes, I'm including myself on this too!), questions the girls are asking, the relationships and history the kids are building together, opportunities for me to coach my kids through the trials and inquiries of life, provide for each of them the "just right" learning environment and process they each need ... I'm not sure I could ever trade this for the world! It's truly amazing. 

And yet ... 

There have been a few weeks here last month where I was starting to feel myself unravel. And watching my kids do the same. Out of a failed, overly-rigid schedule at the beginning of the year I swung to the opposite side of the pendulum to "let's just get our assignments done no matter what mentality. I was trying to follow only the book rather than allow for explorations to occur naturally. And thus, no fun was had by anyone, emotional barometers were bursting, and I dare admit that I had lost my vision and purpose.  Add to this a lack of structure and toddler-fun activities for Ben, trying to do too much with the girls, fearing what others would think if we were done with school by 12 noon (I seriously don't go to the store with school-age children until after 3:30pm!) - all of these thoughts and struggles led to images appearing in my mind and heart such as a white flag of surrender or the yellow school bus in front of our house each morning. 

So I had to step back and "get a grip", as my brother would say. Why was this so hard? And believe me ... with 14 years of teaching experience under my belt with some fairly challenging dynamics, homeschooling is by far the hardest "teaching assignment" I've ever had. 

Needless to say, we took 2 days off (unpaid absence, of course) followed by a weekend, and I had to think. And pray. And call a couple respected and experienced homeschool moms in similar situations. And pray some more. And maybe cry. But then I started to see more clearly ... the pieces that were missing, and the pieces that had to go. 

Vision makes all the difference. 

So what changed? LOTS. Here's just a glimpse of the "external" changes that needed revamping (and don't you dare laugh if something below here seems so obvious!): 

  • I had to be out of bed by 6am without fail. I MUST have time to shower, drink coffee, and have some quiet time with God before I can enter each day with a happy heart! 
  • The resurrection of a schedule ... not the rigid, colorful beauty I started with, but a schedule nonetheless. It functions mostly as a guideline; a map. I'm not attached to the clock, but I also don't ignore it.
  • Unclear rules, a loose schedule and no set consequences was a BAD idea - especially for kids who had already attended public school and had an idea of what it "should" look like. We now have a grand set of "house/school rules" that we implemented this week. They've helped bring alignment to the universe. 
  • I seriously gave my girls each an assigned seat during some parts of our school time. Flopping around all over the house like wet noodles wasn't getting (or keeping!) their engagement with learning. Body posture and position matter. 
  • I got rid of some curriculum because quite frankly, we had too much. Be faithful with a little ... focus on a few things and do them well ... allow them to explore their world.  Sound words of wisdom, yes?  I think so. 
  • I'm trying to implement more movement, art, literature, and music into our days. I see more smiling and engagement as a result. (This seems obvious, right?! Remember, no laughing!) 
  • More games. Who doesn't enjoy games?! Especially for learning. 
  • I combined History and Science for Abbie and Ellie. Consolidation, if you will, into one curriculum. So we now use the same content and activities, but with different responses and outcomes based on their abilities. They love it. Ellie actually bounded out of bed the first day "she got to do history with Abbie". 
  • We committed to weekly Library Hour! This was seriously the stupidest thing I omitted from the start. We looove our library and what an important part of any child's education.  
This is a huge learning curve, and I for one am (still) a willing student. It's not uncommon at all for a teacher to adjust, revise, step back to assess and approach with a new plan. That's what teaching and learning is all about. And we're all in this process, whether you're a "teacher" or not.  Each of us is constantly evaluating and revising. Reframing. Questioning. Seeking vision. And I pray that process only continues for all of us ... but good grief, let's not make the same mistakes again! ; )

Coming soon will be some fun snapshots of what we've actually accomplished in the past month; some sweet moments together, cool projects, a field trip or two, and just an honest glimpse at our days together. 

Keep me sane, people ... stay in touch! 

Much love,