Homeschooling 2014-2015

Friday, August 29, 2014


I can't believe we are starting our fifth year of homeschooling this year.   

It has been a wild, crazy, fun, blessed time and I'm excited for what is still to come.  I share our yearly plans, programs, and curriculum on this blog for a couple reasons.  The first is for my own records, believe it or not!  Documenting everything here helps me stay focused and keeps a good photographic record of what we plan to study throughout the year.  The second is to encourage and inspire (hopefully!) other home educators.  I pray that as I humbly share my thoughts and plans, your heart might be stirred by even some small tidbit found here!  I also know how tough it can be to find quality resources and curriculums, so I pray this might bless other families with some ideas!

We don't really follow 'grades' in our home, but for information sake, our children are, Simon (age 9), Audrey (age 7), and Alex (turns 6 September 5th).

So, in light of those thoughts, let's get started. 

This year, we're doing something quite different in our homeschool.  We are following much more closely a Charlotte Mason schedule with short lessons on a variety of interesting topics.  This gives that wonderful 'smorgasbord' of information and inspiration that Mason spoke of so often.  

Each child has their own large binder with dividers for individual subjects: Social Studies, History (this will also be in a separate binder for Mystery of History), Geography, Art and Art History, Music Studies, Poetry, and French.  The children also have their Math books as well as separate Language Arts binders, which I talk about later in this post.

This is different from our typical unit study based set-up that we have followed in previous years.

The binders for the kids' core subjects.

For my planning, I use a large binder of my own with several dividers and sections.   These include: Year at a Glance, Weekly Plans and Schedule, Canada Studies, Reading and Book Lists, Lesson Plans and Ideas, Co-op and Field Trip Plans, Charlotte Mason, and Five in a Row.

Our Weekly Schedule is a double page layout that I created, because, well... I'm the type of person who likes laminating and making spread sheets and writing in little printed boxes with a really sharp new pencil.  *wink*

In all honesty though, I've never found a purchased 'schedule' or teacher's planner that worked for me.  After using Sonlight last year, I created our own layout that works with Charlotte Mason-style learning.  The left sheet gives an individual schedule for each child.  It includes their Language Arts, Copywork, Phonics, Reading, Spelling, Dictation and Math and is split up daily.  These are all considered "individual work" in the Charlotte Mason method.

The right sheet has our Family/Group Work.  Across the top are the days of the week and in each box is a different subject of "class".  The subjects change depending on what day it is, making it easy to fill in as I plan.  I can look at the schedule and know that every day we have all our individual courses, our Bible and devotionals and Literature.  Then on Monday we will have Science, Social Studies, and Poetry, on Tuesday we will have Geography, Art and Picture Study, and French, etc.

Individual plans for one week.

A snap of the Group Work page for one week.

Language Arts

This year, I am really excited to have found some wonderful Language Arts programs for Audrey and Alex.  They are both using the Language Lessons series from Queen Homeschool.  These are beautiful, Charlotte Mason-inspired language books.  They include language development (phonics, grammar), poetry memorization, narration, comprehension, dictation, as well as picture study and journaling.  Love these books!

Simon is using First Language Lessons for the Well-trained Mind Level 3.  This series follows a more classical approach to language.  Classical isn't far off Charlotte Mason, and I see a lot of similarities between the two styles of curriculum.  I chose Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind for Simon because he is a more logical learner and doesn't really enjoy picture study and imaginative writing right now.  This series has been great for him.

Alex is learning to read using the simple but proven Alpha-Phonics along with his language lessons, reading with Mom and working through the I Can Read It books from Sonlight's Language Arts program.


I really love the All About Spelling program.  We are working through Volume 1 and 2 this year.  The books, the lessons, the manipulatives,  they're all great.  Not only is it a spelling program, it also really helps children improve their reading and writing skills.  It's also pretty fun and engaging.

The program comes with the Teacher's Manual, the magnetic letters, blends, and vowel teams, as well as the work cards.

The All About Spelling magnetic letters are fantastic.  We bought a simple magnetic white board to use for lessons, which is recommended by the program.

Language Arts Binders

The children have Language Arts binders with these dividers.  It works well at keeping them organized.

Additional Language Arts curriculum we've used and continue to use.  We really enjoy the First Language Lessons series and will continue to use them as a resource.  This year, I plan to work through Simply Grammar with Audrey as well.


For Math this year, we are sticking with Teaching Textbooks for both Simon and Audrey.  I started this curriculum three years ago and I really love it for our kids.  Alex is still working through is K Math from Horizons.  I used Horizons for the younger grades with Simon as well.  We have also used some of the Charlotte Mason style Math from Queen Homeschool.


Our Science curriculum this year is Apologia's Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. We are continuing with Zoology 1 from last year, as we started in the Spring.  This is the whole reason we hatched chicks.  And a duckling.  And I spent 4 months of my life losing sleep while tending to tiny birds of various shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.  Oh, homeschooling...

This program truly makes the children think and they have learned so much.  I almost didn't give it a chance - it is, after all a text book. (Insert scary music...)  And for me 'text book' is like a bad word.  The nice things about *this* text, however, is that it is written in a wonderful, conversation, living-book tone.  We've really enjoyed the learning and the projects, experiments, and the notebooks have been invaluable as learning tools!

Completely creation-based, young-earth, biblically sound Science curriculum.  Love it.

Social Studies

We are using Donna Ward's Canada, My Country along with a myriad of other Canada-related resources this year.  Our goal is to study Canadian geography, basic Canadian History, and Canada themed activities and lots of great Canada-inspired living books.

Bible, Prayer, Scripture Memory and Devotionals

We love spending time in God's word every day.  Many of our subjects are biblically based, but we also try to enjoy devotions, reading scripture, and scripture memorization.  We are using The NIV Adventure Bible along with the NIV Adventure Bible Book of Devotions for daily readings.  I also purchased a wonderful children's bible (to add to our many!).  The Complete Illustrated Children's Bible by Harvest House Publishers is wonderful.  Very detailed with double page color illustration on every page.  Audrey is using the I Can Read Beginners Bible for her reading as well. 

This year I am introducing the children to Apologetics as well.  We will work together with our home church through Lee Strobel's Case for a Creator for Kids as well as research and look into many of the topics more in depth at home.  We are also working through Cracking the Covenant Code for Kids.  The Big Bible Guide will act as a supplement to our Science Curriculum, offering further creation-based information and research about God's world.

Hero Studies - we try hard to always be reading about worthy heroes.  This is also an element of a Charlotte Mason education.  I believe in giving our children real stories of real people of faith whom God has used in wonderful ways!  We have been reading through Dave and Neta Jackson's Hero Tales.  I highly recommend this series!  They have been a huge blessing to our family.  We plan to read through all of Volume 2 and 3 this year.   Volume 1 was finished over the Summer.

Prayer- This year we hope to read from Window on the World, as well as work through "We Ask for India".  'Even Donkeys Speak' is a book about how God is moving in Asia from Gospel for Asia, this can be used as an inspiring tool for prayer as well.

Our prayer basket has been a wonderful part of many family meals.  We write the names of people, places, needs on small pieces of paper and place them in the basket.  The children draw the papers from the basket, giving us a focus for our meal-time prayer.

We got the idea for our Scripture Memory Verse Box from Simply Charlotte Mason.  It took some time to put together, but it is a wonderful tool and a great way to keep learning and memorizing new scripture.  Details on how to create one are here.


This is our first year using Mystery of History, which is a well-known biblically based History curriculum.  It is a very in depth study of the early church through the middle ages.  I'm pretty sure this program will take us longer than the year and I might spread it across two years, depending on how much we add to it and pull from it.  The book is HUGE and so full of stories, ideas, and history that I was quite overwhelmed when I first opened it!

One thing we learned from Sonlight and from the Charlotte Mason philosophy is to invest in a Book of Time, or a historical timeline.  We place stickers of the people we study and the historical events we discuss in the appropriate place on the time line as we work.  This really helps the children understand a more chronological history of the world.


This year we are working through Charlotte Mason's Elementary Geography, which is available free online through Ambleside Online.

Art, Art History and Music Studies

This is our first year working through Artistic Pursuits.  We are starting, naturally, with book 1.  I'm excited to do an actual art program, and this one is highly recommended by homeschoolers.

As part of our Art studies, we also do Picture Study (through our Language Arts as well) along with studying famous paintings, artists, and art history.  These three books by Usborne will be used as resources for these topics

I was blessed to find this very rare copy of "Beautiful Music" from the Tree of Life publishing company.  This book covers topics like 'why music?', understanding music, the orchestra, and various famous composers.  It is from a biblical perspective, which is very lovely.  Many Psalms and Hymns are used as topics of study and discussion.  We will also study various composers and read through Lives of Musicians.

Literary Unit Studies - Five in a Row Volume 4

This year, I hope to cover one Five in a Row book from Volume 4 every month or so.  This is in combination with all our other work but will take the place of (for a week or two) many of the other studies.  If we are studying a Five in a Row book, for instance, we will not do our Canada studies, Mystery of History, Artistic Pursuits that week.  Instead, the FIAR study will cover different topics related to Art, History, and Geography.

We absolutely love Five in a Row, and although a completely unit study based schedule was becoming challenging for us, I couldn't resist continuing with the FIAR curriculum.  It is just so rich in living books and wonderful learning.  To read my review of FIAR, click here.

As requested, here is a snap of our 'schedule' of sorts.  Usually most of this can be accomplished in the morning hours, given we stay focused.  I move through the lessons depending on the day, what the children are busy with, and what fits in with other commitments.  Hope this helps, slightly?

So, there it is... our year at a glance...  Lord willing, it should be a wonderful, exciting, BUSY year!

Be blessed, friends!


Growing Joy (The Story of the Old Farmer)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I recently read a modern-day parable that shook me out of a grumpy morning state. 

The story goes like this:

Once, there was an old farmer.  His skin was rough and creased with years of the hard work in the sun.  He wore brown overalls and a worn out straw hat as his daily uniform.  One morning, he looked out over his land and stood weary.  Wide golden fields stretched endlessly on the left and the hills to the right rolled into the horizon.  "So much property to worry about," he mumbled. 
The sounds of the clucking chickens and groaning cows started to frustrate him.  So much work.  The field needing tending, tormented him.  He grew annoyed with the gurgling pond and the noisy geese and wild ducks that gathered there.  Glancing at the old farm house, he breathed a heavy sigh.  The siding was worn and the cobblestone drive needed fixing.  He found that as he grew in weariness, his joy faded.

Exasperated, he grumbled to his wife, "Time to sell this place... " 
He contacted an agent and expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the farming life.  They decided on a price, took photos, and the agent composed a description of the property for sale.
"Read it to me," instructed the old farmer.  

So, the agent began:
"Beautiful farm land for sale in an ideal location.  Charming, turn of the century farm house with breath taking views.  Wide windows, sun streaked original floors and spacious rooms.  Cozy and comfortable family home.  Cobble stone drive, vast wild flower gardens, and back yard swing reminds us of yesteryear.  Rolling hills with ancient weeping willows and endless room to wander and enjoy creation.   This property also boasts a glistening natural pond where seasonal birds gather to raise young.  Wild life abounds!  Don't miss this rare opportunity to own a piece of paradise!"

The farmer's eye brows raised and his wife gently touched his rough hand.

"Read it again," he commanded.

After the agent had finished, he smiled a weak smile and whispered, "Never mind sir.  I've decided not to sell.  We've been looking for a place like that all our lives."


I love that story. 

 Because so it goes with us. We grow weary. We lose our thankfulness and soon after, we start to lose our joy. I have a little wooden crate in our kitchen that reads: “Gratitude Grows Joy”. It sits where I see it all day long. Why? Because I need to remind myself of this truth daily –

lose my gratitude, forfeit my joy.

Refuse to acknowledge all the ways God has blessed and refuse to be gifted with deep joy and contentment in all that surrounds me. Sure, the old farmer's life wasn't perfect. There was noise and work and fixing to be done and repairs to be paid for – but still, it was the life he always wanted. He just forgot. And in the forgetting, he lost his gratitude, and his joy.
And maybe you're not living your dream life. Maybe things are crazy hard and when you look around, you don't have what you thought you'd have. Maybe things are pretty broken. Even then, we need to give thanks anyways. We need to seek and find things to be grateful for and plant seeds of thankfulness deep in our souls.

Because in the planting of gratitude, grows the joy. 

Unplugging, time, and who is my Master?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

After six months unplugged... here we go...

It's 8:36 am on a cool August morning and the kids are making a fleet of paper airplanes to ambush Daddy.  I glance out the back window - a small row of golden sunflowers sways in the breeze and the quiet cluck-cluck of five hens warms my heart right up. The leaves are already falling, we're picking tomoatoes, and the pumpkins swell.  I'm reminded to smile, to breathe, to give thanks.  I jot the gifts down in my journal, usually open somewhere in the kitchen.

I'm reminded of the truth that has shaped the past several months, if not years, of my life.  Time is precious.  Yes, Cass, remember the truth revealed over and over,   I think about it now - we are all gifted with time as long as we breathe in and out.   I gaze out on a country backyard and breathe deep sighs and sip warm coffee only because God Almighty lends me the time to do so.  I am not my own.  I hold no control about how much time I have left.  Only what I do with it.

This idea of 'cherishing the moments' isn't a new or earth-shattering concept, but how many of us hold fast to it?

It was this thought and this challenge that caused me to pull the plug on blogging and all social media six months ago.  I was wildly burdened in my soul about how I spent my time.  I knew Christ Jesus was speaking to me in the whispers to unplug it all and surrender what I held so tight.  So much prayer and many tears brought me to write my 'farewell' post where I said I didn't know when I'd return.

Over the past six months, I've spent whole evenings writing love letters to God and bowing low and listening hard.  I've spent hours in the late night, curled on a couch with my husband, reading the Word and sharing hearts.  I've seen the joy and freedom that comes from never needing to turn on the screen.  From sharing my soul with the Lord rather than every body else.

And over the past six months we've seen God work.  I mean really, really work.  I've seen and experienced precious wonders, gifts from Him.

We've seen all kinds of miracles:
Ugandan miracles.
Kenyan miracles.
Reuniting miracles.
Home Church miracles.
Soil miracles.
Wood miracles.
Passover miracles.
Chick miracles.
Duckling miracles.
(Yes we have chickens, and we had ducks... that's for another post...)
Heart miracles.
Camp miracles.
French miracles.
Grandma miracles.

I hope, Lord willing, to share many, many of these stories with you here on these pages.  I want to shout out loud how awesome God is and how He draws so near to those who draw near to Him. No matter how imperfect and messed up that person is. How much He cares for every aspect of our lives, even the tiny, seemingly insignificant.  How he covers us with His never ending grace and leads us.  How he answers the simple prayers of children and works in mysterious ways.

I click on the computer screen and stare blankly.

It's like there are two universes for me.  The Literal Universe, and The Spiritual Universe.  It's easy to feel spiritual when I'm belting out love songs to Jesus, reading His word and feeling Him close, hearing Him speak, and pressing in during those quiet, divine moments.

But what about now?  When the boys are arguing over who owns which Lego piece and I'm scrolling through Facebook? 

One thing I've learned over the past six months is this - everything is spiritual.  If we believe the bible is true, we have to embrace this reality.  There is no distinction between my spiritual self and my mortal, literal, physical self.  They are one in the same.  That means everything I do has spiritual implications.  Yes, even scrolling through Facebook.  Or posting an image to Pinterest.  Or if I even choose to be on Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter or ... well whatever other social medias are out there.

Sometimes, the spiritual implication is this - when I'm consumed with the screen, I'm missing something better God had for me in that moment.  Sometimes, it's what I post will touch a heart who needs encouragement at the right time.  It's up to us to seek and find that guidance.

If we view all as spiritual then it drastically changes the way we view our time. It's kind of like the truth about our treasure and our wallets.  Track my time, see my heart. (Matthew 6:21-24) 

How am I investing my heartAm I distracted?  Or am I living purposefully?

How am I spending my 'time currency'?  Is it well spent in light of eternity?  Do I listen to the Holy Spirit's guiding about how I invest my moments? Am I spending more time on Facebook than I am with my face in His precious Holy Book?  Am I wasting more time watching TV than I am investing in relationships with people who need love?  Does my cell phone distract me so much that I forget the people (the little people too...) who are right by my side, in the flesh?

Because if we view our time as sacred, then how we spend it is sacred business.  And if all things are spiritual and all experiences are to be spiritual ones with eternal value, then how does this shape my attitude on a daily basis?  If where my treasure is, there also is my soul - then just where is my treasure?  What does the time-trail tell?

Yes, I've had six months and more to pray and ponder these truths and to learn that this computer, the only screen in our life, can either own me or be owned. 

 It says it right there in Matthew, no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other.  I was reluctant to call a computer or a blog or Facebook a "Master".   I mean, really?  I know most people see it as extreme but when you desperately want to follow Jesus, you are desperate for the truth.  Even if the truth seems completely weird.  Because I've come to realize that the Lord's truth WILL look weird to the world.

I prayed and started to see the spiritual reality.  If we allow our screen time and our use of technology to master us, than doesn't it become our Master by default?  I needed to really, truly know the answer: Who was my Master?

Was my go-to the Holy Word of God or the computer screen?  Was I viewing my time and my habits as holy experiences?  (I finally fully understand the title of Ann's blog...)

I really entered in to the truth and realized what God was whispering.  Yes, everything is spiritual, everything is connected to Him because we are His earthen vessels.  He is in us and works through us and we are to offer our bodies, minds, souls, hands, and feet for Him.  For His worship and service and by grace, He fills us with light and we share that light with others.  And when we miss this, others will miss His light.  Ah, the wonder of the Christ-life.  I'm brought to my knees.

So, wait... how I respond when my daughter beckons me has eternal value?  Yep.  And how I speak to and reach out to that Mom who is desperate for help matters?  Of course. 
And how I choose to speak to a stranger really has an affect on him? 
And whether I ignore that man on the corner?
And how I start each day?
And how I teach and guide our children?
And how I speak to my husband?
And how I view that sunflower out the window?
And how I speak of the gloomy, rainy morning? (Did you know in Job, God calls himself the Father of Rain?)

These things have eternal value?

Yes and yes and yes.  When it comes to the Lord and His word and Truth and our time, everything matters.

What I watch matters.
What I read matters.
What I write matters.
How I speak matters.
What I 'share' matters.
What I 'like' matters.
How I view blogging and Facebook and all the rest of those potential distractions matters.
Screen time matters.
How my children view screen time matters.
Endless texting on a cell phone matters.
How many beeps and bings I allow to pull me from my family really, really matters.

Because all these things pile up and up and form the mountains of how we spend our time and where we invest our hearts.

Taking time away from blogging and being online was a gift.  So much truth was revealed to me, by the complete grace of Jesus.  I was reminded what writing was supposed to be about for me.  What God has called me to do through this little space.  To write truth and to share the journey of walking with a personal, loving God.   To share how He challenges and embraces me, no matter how unconventional or weird. 

And also, a surprising discovery - how social media can be used for so much good.  Yes, it can be a huge distraction, but it can also be a gift.  A way of connecting with family, friends, and so many of those precious souls you never would normally never meet. 

Just last week, I got together with a beautiful Mom and her children - solely because we knew each other through blogging and Facebook.  We are kindred spirits, no doubt.  My kids are begging to get together again.

I'm brought to tears reading messages and love notes from all the cherished readers of this blog who whisper encouragement to me. Thank you.  I'm honestly so humbled and blessed that my words touch your hearts.  That when I share God's whispers about home education and our journey and faith, others are deeply moved!  What?  I'm just on my knees, friends.  Only through God's grace. All glory to Him.  And, might I suggest this truth?  The inspiration you feel is not from me or by me by through the Holy Spirit and His whispers.  And I pray He would continue to use me in this way, my hands are His.

And the very day I logged back onto Facebook (reluctantly, I'll add), I was (I believe) supernaturally connected to a post about hosting French students and we ended up hosting a beautiful young girl for most of July - which was an answer to prayer in the craziest of ways.  My parents also had the chance to host a student and we knew that it wasn't by chance they were with our families. What a gift.

See, I've learned that what can be a distraction can also be a blessing.  It's all in how we allow our time to be used.  We own media or it will own us. We choose how much time we spend online and we chose how we spend it.  We pray and we listen to God's leading and we cling to the eternal and the love-centered and the honest, pure, and true.  We fight the temptation of distraction and turn off the screens and shut down everything that needs to be shut down when He calls us.  When we see ourselves slipping into the place where media becomes a Master - we shut it down and refocus.

We refuse to miss God.  To miss the point.  To miss our very purpose.  To lose our chance to really live and love because our life what spent pointing and clicking aimlessly.  We choose what we do with this gift of time and we must, in light of all eternity, choose wisely.

Praying we will all seek and find this wisdom every single day and walk then in the freedom of Christ's unending love and grace.

Big hugs.  *breath*

You are loved.

So yes, I'm back to writing this little blog and sharing my heart here and there on Facebook, but I'm walking on tip-toe.  Carefully, prayerfully moving forward and trying hard to be intentional about how and when I log on, write, and do all other screen-related things.  Because God's whispers, His Word, His purpose, and these precious ones around me mean too much to me to miss.  (smile)

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