Tag Archives: homeschool

Making a family tree with preschoolers

Tracking my family’s genealogy and making a family tree is a project I have been interested in for many years. I find it fascinating to learn about my history, where we come from, and where the rest of my family is.

Creating a family tree was destined to become a homeschool project down the road, like, way down the road, but then I started thinking, why can’t I start now? We don’t have to find out who our ancestors were 200 years ago, but I can demonstrate my interest in my family line and show the kids how our immediate family is connected by starting with the family we know.

So I took a piece of poster board and drew the outline of a tree, along with 2”x3” boxes for all of our biological family and their spouses (minus aunts, uncles, and cousins) in the past four generations. The kids colored in the tree, and as time goes on we’ll print and tape wallet-sized family photos in the correct boxes.

I’m really excited about this tree because it will show the kids how they fit into our family, give respect to past generations, and is personally teaching me admiration for the gift I am able to give our family – growing the next generation by more than the 2.1 children needed to replace their parents. Four kids look beautiful under two parents in a family tree. Don’t you think?

Learning skills, homeschool style

I had a teacher in high school who always said that the greatest thing she could ever teach us was how to learn. Although I had other teachers, she and my mom did a wonderful job (if I may say so) of giving me a foundation of lifelong learning by teaching me how to figure things out.

So recently, I re-taught myself how to knit. It has been maybe 10 years since I knit anything, but I wanted to keep the skill. I used a 1940’s how-to book my grandmother gave me, along with her pattern for a kitchen hand towel, and I jumped in.

Okay, big deal, so I can knit. Why am I telling you this? Because it is confirmation to parents who are trying to share the love of learning with their children – one of my own parenting goals. To recognize the actual effect of my teachers’ efforts in my life is pretty cool, and inspires me to share the same love of learning with my own young ones.

What do you remember of facts learned during school? Probably very little of what you memorized is now part of your normal life, but the one thing you did learn that you undoubtedly still know, is how to learn.

I want to teach my kids, not only how to learn, but to enjoy learning. It is a lifelong process that gives joy, meaning, and adventure to life; a gift that lasts a lifetime.

On a daily basis, I am sharing my love of learning with my kids by giving them freedom to explore, investigating their ideas with them, giving them books and materials to inspire them, and exposing them to things I enjoy learning about.

For us this also means relaxing about early curriculums and instead pursuing skills, and doing productive and creative work. Not that I have achieved anything special. I still struggle with letting my kids use certain tools, make certain messes, or slow down my work, but with the goal in mind of training and inspiring young minds to greatness, little sacrifices become easier to make.

And all because, one day, I will take pleasure in watching my grown children enjoy learning new things and creating a satisfying life for themselves.

the last of preschool for Buddy (and a drawing!)

To give our kids credit for all the educational things they do throughout the year, we have chosen to start filling out the portfolios June 1st and continue until May 31st the following year. We are now seven months into our first year of homeschooling with our kids, primarily five year old Buddy.

(writing a thank you letter for a gift)

In the past seven months I have not only checked off every accomplishment teachers say preschoolers should know (which I’m really not all that concerned about, just so you know), but he has also taken advantage of our laid-back approach to schooling (as any child would do) to explore interests and grow his knowledge. With all the narrations he has drawn of observations, field trips, experiments, artwork, my observations, and beginning penmanship papers, Buddy’s preschool portfolio is overflowing!

For bookwork, he has memorized the first 11 questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, worked through 44 lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and quickly finished a preschool math book that emphasized comfort with, and penmanship of numerals 0-20. I do have to brag though, that he can comfortably count to 100 and backwards from 10. :::smile:::

Considering the arrival of our fourth baby sometime in March, and regularly reviewing and adjusting our goals for the early years of homeschooling, here is what I have on my goal list for the remaining four and a half months of Buddy’s preschool –

  • Finish Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
  • Continue Charlotte Mason habits, narration of reading and life experiences, math games, and Bible study
  • Delve into maps, directions, and use of a compass
  • Begin a family tree back to his great-grandparents using pictures and interviewing grandparents to discuss their childhoods
  • Research worms and grow our worm farm
  • Learn about classical music instruments, and possibly attend a local school performance
  • Learn to tell time confidently
  • Learn the worth of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters
  • Study of a balanced diet – plan meals together
  • More access to craft materials in our craft cupboard
  • Look for ways to develop a healthy self-image – explore recognition of things he enjoys, things he likes about himself, things he wants to improve about himself

We may not accomplish all the things on this list, but it is helpful to have a direction we want to move in. Emphasis in the last few months (and on into the next year) for Buddy, and Girlie who will begin preschool, will be on learning skills for personal care, application of ideas and concepts, and getting his hands messy.

Our philosophy of homeschooling remains the same, including our long term goals, but I have been doing a lot of reading this year of homeschooling books; books on the Montessori and Charlotte Mason methods, books with ideas about education through conversation and games, books with ideas about what kids should learn and resources for getting started.

Based on these books I have created an idea binder, which I will soon share with you, that will help me through each year and stage of homeschooling.

One of the books I have found very useful is The Fundamentals of Home-Schooling by Ann Lahrson-Fisher. Because I love taking notes to help me process thoughts and ideas, I have taken so many from this book that I’m not sure I will need to reference this book again, at least until high school. So I’m offering it here in a drawing!

The Fundamentals of Home-Schooling has so many helpful resources. It really connected with me on the concept of learning through family life, and hands-on learning opportunities found around the home. At the same time, Lahrson-Fisher manages to design the content so it is helpful to parents designing a curriculum around their own style, whatever that may be. A great read! And if you aren’t a note-taker like myself, it is one you will want to keep on your shelf for many years.

How do you enter for your chance to win? Simply comment below and share what you have planned for upcoming homeschool projects – I really want to know! Have you written a blog post on the topic? Share the link here!

I will draw a winner on January 23rd, giving you just over a week to participate. At that time I will also share with you my homeschool idea binder, with tips on how you can create your own.

getting back into the swing of things

Managing two blogs on just 2-3 hours of internet time on my laptop each week is not an easy task, but it is something I’ve grown accustomed to. I have a system of jotting down notes for a post, writing it out on paper, typing it up when the generator is running (my battery is shot), saving pictures on the desktop at the same time, and then finally taking the finished product to my WiFi spot all by my lonesome self each Friday (or Saturday) evening.


(“I want to be a ballerina!”)

This system has made scheduling posts on a weekly basis essential, because one, I dislike typing posts and managing the blogs on Papa’s phone (our daily internet access), and two, having the ability to access the internet with my laptop more frequently is not practical for our family.

While being off-grid is a joy, it also poses its challenges, and this would be one of them. Since moving off-grid we have had many interesting topics to write about, but in the process, it has become more challenging to write about the day-to-day stuff. So much is happening every week that it is hard to squish it all together in my weekly posts with all the other things we do.

So, four paragraphs later, I want to recap the last three weeks for you as best I can, to give you an idea of what life on our little homestead has been like recently.


(“let me take a picture of you!”)

At the same time Papa was replacing frozen pipes (which we’ll be sharing a video on soon) and toilet, I was coming down with a very strange virus that left me all but immobile for the week between Christmas and New Years. Thanks to Papa and my mom I was only alone with the kids for three days, but by the end of it I was so anxious to be feeling normal again, able to be there for my kids and take care of our home.

The first week of January, Papa and Pal both came down with the bug, and while it didn’t hit them quite as hard, I was back in my prime and able to help them feel more comfortable. There is nothing like being stuck to the couch for a week to make you thankful for daily duties to give you satisfaction in life!

That same week, the kids and I worked on homeschool projects, did some extra cleaning around the home, and otherwise enjoyed quality time together after the busy (but lovely) holiday visits to family.


(playing a homemade tamborine)

This week I had another prenatal, followed by a play date with my sister-in-law and her four month old daughter. I had also scheduled an additional two play dates, which I don’t normally do all at once, but the snow/sleet storm we had kept us home. Instead of being out and about almost every afternoon we’ve been working on our January rhythm; making muffins, musical instruments, reading books, and playing in the snow.

Every day we begin leisurely around 8:00 or 8:30am (Papa leaves for work at 6:30am), eat breakfast and do our Bible study at the table. The kids then play independently a bit while I help individual ones get dressed and drink my coffee, we settle down to a half hour or so of “school” activities, usually followed by more play and straightening up together. Lunch, quick clean up, and outdoor time for the older two while Pal naps. Craft projects, reading together, dishes to wash, and more independent play make up the afternoon. Papa arrives around 4:30pm, supper at 5:00pm, visiting until 6:00pm and kids’ bedtime follows. Papa and I work on joint or individual projects, sometimes watch TV, and shut off the lights anywhere between 10:30 and 11:30pm.

Our days are rarely quiet, usually busy, but they have a rhythm which I have learned to recognize and appreciate.

As a side note, with Christmas gift-making over, Papa and I are now working on a really exciting project in the evenings which I can’t wait to share with you! There have been some really neat things going on behind the scene here at American Family Now and we are brewing up something super big in response, which I hinted at a couple weeks ago and I can hardly wait to tell you about in full! Let’s just say, we have some courageous and awesome readers, and because of you, American Family Now will soon be changing in a big and cool way! Stay tuned for full disclosure!

2012, a year for growing roots

I love the New Year. It is fresh. It is new. It is full of opportunity. You start the year with a clean slate, except you get to build on the past; lessons learned, accomplishments made. I know creating goals are a tradition often kept at this time of year, even though these same goals are often broken before the year has gotten well under way, but I still like to create an outline of sorts that helps me to figure out what I want to do with myself for the year. As our family grows, this has also become a convenient time of year to review where our family is at and where we want to see ourselves this time next year. Without creating unrealistic goals, this has been a helpful way to guide us as we move forward.

For starters, I updated our Who We Are, Q&A, Favorite Reads, First Time Here pages, and even our welcome note. No longer are we in the middle of a move, or unemployment, and our progressive changes in lifestyle ought to be reflected in the background we have provided for you, so please check them out!

It has been a while since I gave you an update on where we are with the foreclosure process. Not intentional, I assure you; there are just too many things to write about! So, in a nutshell, this is what’s going on. While Papa’s new job has enabled us to bring home a little more mula, it is still far too little to pay our mortgage as well as take care of our family, so we cannot pick up the mortgage payments and attempt to get back to where we were in May 2011 when we stopped paying them. We are, however, still paying on the home equity loan we had, at least until our mortgage company and bank decide this is not necessary.

Foreclosure, we’ve discovered, is not as simple as handing in the keys and avoiding the payments. Papa has filled out countless forms, mostly repeating the same information over and over, as to why we are unable to make the payments, etc. In early December we were finally handed a notice of foreclosure by the local court house, saying that the mortgage company is threatening to repossess the house. We have not been issued an eviction notice, but because we told the mortgage company we’re not living there, they have winterized the house.

In the meantime, the mortgage company, and the bank who owns our home equity loan are arguing over whether or not the lien on the property for the secondary loan can be dropped in order to make the house available for short sale. At this point that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Politics.

However, with all that said, a relative of one of our neighbors, as the property used to be in the ownership of their family, has recently made an offer of $25,000 to buy the place. Our realtor agrees with us that it would be stupid for the mortgage company not to accept the offer, but again, it will be mountains of paperwork and countless phone calls, and who knows how many weeks before it is decided whether they can purchase the place for that little or not. We don’t know exactly how a sale would impact the foreclosure process or our relationship with the mortgage company or the bank, but it appears that one way or the other, the house will no longer be in our possession by the end of 2012. Time will tell.

Not entirely a nutshell I guess…

On the home front, our addition to the camper is closed in. Papa has installed windows, a temporary door, and closed in the edges of the exposed side above and to the sides of the camper so that it is protected from the elements. When we are able to save up enough money, insulating the porch will be the next project. We may begin heating with the woodstove anyway, to help thaw out the 50 gallon barrels of filtered and bleached well water, but we’re taking it one day at a time.

While we intend to have the porch complete in preparation for winter next year, Papa and I have been toying with the idea of (once summer comes) attempting to move the camper out from the porch, selling it, and using the income to build an additional room on the opposite side of the porch (where the camper was) to basically create a small home. The sale of the camper would more than cover the cost, and it would give us more freedom to create a furniture layout that works while we save up for our forever home. The downside: having to figure out a new water system if we aren’t using what’s in the camper. However, this is all in the talk stage right now. It may or may not happen.

Sometime before Chickie/Chap arrives, we also need to purchase a family car. Right now we are still using Papa’s truck and a borrowed car. I was hoping to cover the expense of a car with my herbal remedy sales, but the transition from unemployment to employment left us with no income for three weeks and the herbal money was pretty much what we lived off during that time. Now, we hope that the income tax return we get in February will cover not only our midwife expenses, but a used car as well. Something will work out.

I do want to stop here and point out something I know I’ve mentioned before, that while each of the difficulties we’ve faced are disappointing, there have been blessings throughout: we may be without a car of our own, but we have family who have lent us one to use in the meantime; we weren’t able to use the herbal sales as a jump start for a car fund, but it bought our groceries when we didn’t have an income; we weren’t able to finish the addition before winter, but we have a place to store water and we’re staying warm. There are just so many ways that God has provided for us and we are so thankful, because we know we don’t deserve it.

Moving on into the year – sometime in March we will welcome our fourth baby into the world, here at home with our midwife team. During and after this time we’ll be taking a break from homeschooling. I suppose that may sound funny to be thinking about considering Buddy is only in PreK, but I do like to keep track of all our projects and activities, and I don’t want to commit to that during my babymoon. I am also working on scheduling about eight weeks worth of guest posts during that time frame. This part I’m really excited about because there are so many bloggers who I know would be able to make a wonderful contribution to this blog. More info on this will be coming soon I expect.

Our homeschool year begins June 1st and ends May 31st. This year Buddy will begin Kindergarten and Girlie will begin PreK. Their education is largely based on experience – applying early reading, math, science, and social studies to family conversation, farm work, home duties, baby care, art and craft projects, etc. I have a few ideas for basic “book work”, but will be avoiding textbooks, fill-in-the-blank or rote work pages, and tests for a few years at least. I have ideas for posts on our homeschooling practices, which I expect to be sharing in the next month or two, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I’m very excited about our early education plans!

In 2011 I took my five years of backyard herbal growing and home remedy making to selling them. It was on a very small scale, using herbal parties among family as our platform. Based on the performance of the sales, I do believe it is worth pursuing this as a home business. However, it is a lot of work, for which I am not entirely prepared to do with a new baby this year. Instead I want to focus on preparing more tea to sell to past customers, and researching business development for herbal sales in 2013.

Papa and I do want to expand our vegetable and flower gardens this year. Last year we produced enough food to have more than we needed to eat fresh veggies for the summer, but not quite enough to make preserving them worthwhile. This year we want to produce enough to can for winter eating. We also found a more local heritage seed company that we want to support when we’re ready to begin.

As for the chickens, we are pleased with the production we’ve had this year. On a good day we collect 10 eggs and a duck egg, on a bad day we find 5 or 6 eggs and no duck eggs. What we don’t use we sell to family and friends for $2 a dozen (with donated egg cartons). We have had to keep the birds in the coop for a couple days at a time to ensure they are laying the eggs where we want them, but they are mostly free ranging. This year we are planning to experiment with raising chickens – incubating a small number of eggs and seeing if we can get them to hatch. If we can, raising chickens for meat and eggs will probably become a long term project for us. And, believe it or not, meat rabbits have also been discussed around here.

Another change that I will try not to spill too much about because I want to devote it to another post has to do with a sudden jump in readership here at AFN. As I will share with you soon, it has been a surprise and a joy to see that not only are we attracting readers with similar views, but they are actively pursuing similar lifestyles, and apparently, we are helping them to accomplish their goals! I had a vision for this blog, but I honestly did not expect for it to take root as quickly as it has. Because of this, Papa and I are researching development of this blog to keep up with the growing needs of our readers. I am absolutely in over my head here, but excited all the same! Stay tuned to hear how you can help, and to learn what ideas we have in mind for the future of American Family Now.

why we teach American government to our kids

Early elementary students are taught very little about the government. Perhaps one of the first things they learn is how policemen help their community. Then they learn that their government has a president. After that they may learn a bit about their state, but very little important information is taught to kids until they are in middle school, or perhaps not even then.

For example, the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress[i] concluded that fewer than half of American eighth-graders could identify the purpose of the Bill of Rights, and most high-schoolers couldn’t give even one example of a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

The highest civic scores were earned by fourth-graders who were given a 27% proficiency grade.

National surveys suggest that fewer than half of U.S. adults can name the three branches of government, which means that the lack of civic education is not made up for in adulthood.

The anecdote involving Benjamin Franklin leaving the Constitutional Convention is oft stated, where a woman on the street asked him what kind of government had been created, and Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it” (not the democracy we have been led to believe we have). Yet how are we to protect our republic if we don’t even teach our children how it works? How can we expect our children to defend the Constitution if they don’t know what it says? How can they become the next police officer, mayor, congressman, or president, if they don’t know what the purpose of their office is, or what they are aspiring to?

This is why, as our children become school-age, we will place importance on learning civics. They have been exposed to, and involved in, conversation about the purpose of government since they were born, but we believe purposeful education about government and the Constitution is foundational to their education, preparing them to be well-functioning adults.

At one time, this was considered a no-brainer. When the Constitution was created, all young people were expected to learn about their country as a natural part of being a citizen of it. Unless you believe in changing our country from a republic to a socialist one, it is necessary for every person to learn about their place in the role of citizenship in a republic, and by its nature, no one can have an inactive role.

Conversation is a natural place to begin in teaching children about government, asking and answering questions, hearing opinions and discussing them, but as they get older we plan to introduce a basic foundation of what our country is founded on, upon which knowledge can build over the years. I don’t know that we will use the catechism format, but I purchased a copy of “A Catechism on the U.S. Constitution: 332 Questions and Basic Answers Every Citizen Should Know”, from the original 1828 edition by Arthur J. Stansbury, edited by W. Cleon Skousen. The material offers a good place from which to form a curriculum for any age child.

Do you teach civics to your children? Share with us!

[i] All statistics in this post were published by www.leavitt.com July 2011.

A Charlotte Mason Review

Homeschooling is a popular topic among the moms group I occasionally attend. So when I found A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola on the interstate library catalog, I recognized the name and picked it up. But I was surprised to find that the Charlotte Mason method was not what I thought it was.

For some reason, I was under the impression that Charlotte Mason believed good education was based on good books alone, but that’s not the whole story. Andreola described Mason’s priorities and emphasis in her Companion book, which included living books instead of textbooks, narrations instead of testing, exploration in nature instead o long lessons, delayed schooling until age 6, and developing an atmosphere in the home that inspires kids to think, create, and experiment.

In the end, the Mason method is similar to the style of homeschooling that has begun to bloom in our elementary homeschool.

Instead of trying to explain in this short post what I like about Mason’s concepts, I recommend that you read Andreola’s book for yourself, and I’ll leave you with a few of the quotes that left an impression on me.

It should not be ‘How much has a child covered’, but ‘How much does the child care?’

We can’t teach them everything. What can we do? We can expand their horizons with a wider range of interests and then practice the fine art of education – that art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him. It is needless to worry about the “holes” if we believe that ‘education consists in the establishment of relations [with God, man, ourselves, and the universe]‘.

Put the ‘little minds’ of children out of your thoughts. Children have just as big minds as we have.

The best work is not visible: it does not employ the reasoning here, the imagination there. It employs the whole mind, for the mind is a whole, not a parcel of faculties.

Charlotte Mason spoke of three ways to motivate children to learn without grading them: the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of ideas. Her motto was “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life”. It feels so good to finally hear someone point out that education is not a certain number of years worth of schooling, but a lifelong process to be enjoyed. I will be incorporating more of her ideas in my homeschool for sure!

How to make a weather chart for kids

The kids and I are on a weather kick. After we made the weather vane, the wheels started turning and I remembered an activity one of my first teachers came up with in elementary school.

It was a daily project that gave us opportunity to remember days of the week, observe weather patterns, and recognize how they apply to us.

Buddy and I made a similar weather chart complete with various weather symbols attached to Velcro. Every morning he looks out the window and then sticks the appropriate symbol on that day’s box on the chart.

To make your own, one sheet of poster board will do the trick, along with a couple of permanent markers, crayons, scissors, Velcro dots (2 for each day of one kind and enough of the other side to put on the back of the symbols), and tacks to hold it to the wall.

How have you been teaching your kids about weather? Have any project ideas or books you can recommend?

How to make a weather vane, littles style

Weather is a vast source of curiosity for a young child. Where does the wind come from? What are clouds made of? Why does it rain? How far away is the sun? Answering a preschooler’s questions about the weather could make up a whole year’s worth of science, or more!

This summer I wanted to make a weather vane with Buddy. I had no idea how, or if I actually could, but after just a bit of research I stumbled over the perfect project. All you need is a straw, a straight pin, an index card, a pencil with an erasor, and scotch tape. Cut a triangle out of one end of the index card, tape each piece to the ends of the straw to create an arrow, and then push the pin down through the middle of the straw into the erasor of the pencil. The straw should be able to spin freely.

Buddy planted his weather van among the tomatoes, and we talked about why the arrow always points into the wind.

Credit for this idea goes to www.galaxy.net/~k12/weather/makevane.shtml. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the link to work unless I clicked on it directly from Google. Search for this link via “how to make a weather vane” and it will show up near the top of the search results.

Preschool Portfolio

Last year I wrote about my first steps in documenting our budding home school. It consisted of three binders in which I kept all of the kids’ paper projects and my personal goals for the early years. After doing yet more reading on getting a home preschool started, I came up with a more professional looking portfolio for our oldest child, “Buddy”, who is 4½ years old.

Now, don’t start thinking I’m going back on my word to keep their education interest-led! While my organization has improved, I have not created a set-in-stone schedule. To the contrary, this portfolio contains just a few basic elements.

  • A list of goals for the school year. This list is based on what teachers generally expect kindergarteners to know when they begin the school year. Most of Buddy’s list is already checked off. He is a pretty intelligent kid!
  • Next I have a blank calendar page for each month, which I fill in as we do something educational. This is a journaling method of documenting how his school time is spent, and I feel that suits his needs as an explorer and creator, rather than scheduling his days far in advance (at least right now anyway).
  • Last are a set of dividers for different subjects based on what we are currently learning about. He has sections for values and character (this month he’s learning about cleanliness), reading, math, art, science, social studies, health and safety, and educations games and field trips.


As I use this portfolio it may develop a bit more, but I felt it was important at this point to have something professional looking for memory’s sake and in case I needed to prove ourselves sufficient to the local school district.

So what do you think? Will this do for a portfolio? How have you recorded the early years of homeschooling for your kids?