Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1,000 and Counting

Count your blessings;
Name them one by one. Count your blessings;
See what God hath done.
Count your blessings;
Name them one by one. Count your many blessings; See what God hath done.
   (Chorus of "Count Your Blessings")
"I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth."     Psalm 34:1

On my third reading of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, I finally took her dare to record the blessings in my life. This week I reached 1,000. The simple act of writing down God's gifts helps me notice the small things, remember the big things, reflect on His kindness, and focus on gratefulness rather than complaining.

Here are 16 of the 1,000. If you want to see the full collection, you'll have to outlive me and come to my funeral. My journal will be displayed by my photos. : )

Ongoing opportunities for the girls to earn money
ew friends to pray for
ncouragement from a friend

he alto line to "Behold Our God"
Having a plan for supper before 4:00
pen windows
sing my whole board [in Scrabble] and getting a 50-point bonus
full pantry
ot running out of gas on the turnpike
ough rising

oing to the gym with Janessa
ce cream
resh chocolate chip flaxseed muffins for breakfast
he squeeze of trials which makes me exercise faith and cling to Christ
eeing the Holy Spirit's activity in a meeting with a friend
Onward to 2,000!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dear Homeschooling Mom

If you're anything like me, you're on the lookout for perfect people. Well, in your head you know there has been no one perfect but Jesus to walk this earth, but your heart tells you that some people, particularly women, get awfully close. You read their books, or hear them speak, or observe them from afar at church.  And what you see doesn't look anything at all like what you live.

Look at her. She glows when her husband speaks. With her children she is patient and creative. She is fashionable and beautiful and never seems to have a hair out of place. God has given her purpose, He's even given her a platform to share her wisdom, and she is serving Him with joy.

Then you look at yourself. You see the ring around the toilet. You remember wanting to ring your kid's neck this morning. Your head rings with more doubt and insecurities than you think you can bear. As you think of her, your head bows lower.

I don't know about you, but it's dangerous for me to read too many books or blogs because what begins as an attempt to collect ideas can end up throwing me into a pit of condemnation. Because I can't see the full picture of these women's lives, I assume they are doing everything (or nearly everything) right.  Me?  Not even close.

You've probably already figured it out, but Mrs. Perfect is not writing the posts on this site.  I have convictions and ideas to share--as do you--because God has been a faithful teacher.  He has generously given me gifts for the good of His people--as He has you. These convictions, ideas, and gifts are what ooze through each post. But if they show anything about me, it's only one-dimensional. They don't announce the other dimensions that are just as true--like that I'm hesitant to cook for people outside my family and that sometimes my kids are hesitant to eat what I cook, that I can't think fast, that I am ignorant about many things.

I still wrestle with insecurities. I hear the critic squawking in my head, telling me I can't. I write a post, only to wonder if I'm telling readers what they already know. I mean, if I know it, everyone else does, too, right? I grapple with the irony that I am a writing teacher who isn't much of a writer.

If this site encourages you to truly enjoy learning with your kids, I will be most happy. If, as more women stumble onto the posts here, a conversation develops and we can learn together as peers, I will be ecstatic. Never do I want you to leave this site feeling discouraged or condemned.

Our strengths and weaknesses are different, but we all have something in common: we need God to lead us to tomorrow and beyond, for without Him we can do nothing.

May God bless you as you follow Him.


A blog is not a proper medium
For a heart splayed here
But I feel it still
This insidious beast
Strangling my voice
Stammering my speech
Holstering what little reserve left
And carelessly shooting my will to the stars


I see others superior
And me beneath them
So very very far below
A submarine me looks up
Through warbled waters
At their staid massiveness
Their casual assurance
Their wit and intelligence

You stoop, dear Lord, to earth
Not once
But twice
Once to fit my shoes to your sacred feet
Twice to lift me from the dust
And set my feet on a rock
The kind of rock making
Us all the same

So when I cower beneath
Another’s magnificence
I’m forgetting the stoop,
The shoes,
The lifting,
The rock my toes wiggle upon
And I’m forgetting all You’ve done
To set me free
From my own insecurity
And the tyranny of others’ betterness.

Forgive me.
Yes, forgive me.

Monday, July 29, 2013

For Me, My Friend Laura, and Other Reluctant Writers

Writing is scary. According to Denise J. Hughes, we can overcome our fear with one word. Find out what it is here.

What do you think? How have you begun, or what is your plan to begin?

  free clip art  

Picture Book Recommendations

If you have young children who are learning to read and write stories, share these books about Rocket, a curious dog, and his teacher, a little yellow bird.  Very sweet!

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Learning to Read

Teaching my girls to read is a highlight of our homeschooling years. I didn't officially know what I was doing, but I figured it couldn't be that hard. Long before thousands of curricula were written, people learned how to read. I assumed we could handle the process without the experts and, happily, I was right. (Of course, I know that children, for various reasons, need intervention and curricula. I don't mean to heap any condemnation on anyone but rather share what worked for us, in case it will work for you, too.)

My strategies were simple.

  • I made our home a literate environment, with books and print in nearly every room of the house. We spent hours reading together.
  • I made sure they interacted with the alphabet often, with puzzles, magnetic letters, pictures, books, etc.
  • As soon as they could hold a pencil, they began writing. When they needed to know how to spell a word, I sometimes dictated the letters, sometimes told them the letters' sounds. I taught them suffixes: for instance, I'd say "ing," and they would know what letters to write.
  • I wrote words on index cards and posted them on the objects they represented.
  • I helped them see patterns in words, again with index cards.  I wrote on a 4 x 6 card.  I cut the rest of the cards in half. On one, I wrote a , on another an , on another an , etc., stacking them into a book held together with two brads. They flipped the pages as they read each word.
  • I wrote sight words, one per index card. I lined them up one after another on the carpet to make a sentence for them to read aloud. Often I made them goofy. Of course, it was then their turn to put the cards into a sentence for me to read and, of course, their sentence was goofier than mine.
  • The MagnaDoodle was our best tool. I would write a simple note to them with words they could easily read.  They would erase my note, writing a response with words they knew. After erasing their message, I would respond with a simple message, adding in a new word that would push them to use phonics.
  •  When I read aloud, I would periodically stop and point to a word I knew they knew. They would read it, and I would continue.
  •  Super Easy Readers (Bob books) and easy readers (Green Eggs and Ham) as well as sites, such as, gave them more tastes of success and practice.
  • Reading for a beginner is exhausting. I propped my little readers with support, sharing the reading load with them.

Most of these strategies focus on decoding rather than comprehension. I found that, because we read (and reread...and reread), enjoyed, and talked about so many books together, comprehension was absorbed rather than taught.

That's what I can recall after more than ten years.  As you can see, I did nothing magical or profound. But the results were both. Reading gave them the key that has unlocked an endless world of learning.  Teaching it to them is one of the best gifts I could give them.

Note: This post contains an affiliate link.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mercy from an Officer

The house is empty of everyone but me. My husband is in Virginia for work; my girls are on a mission trip to Boston.

So little time, so much to do before they return.

I helped friends in the morning and afternoon. In between I wanted to visit two libraries. On my way to the first one, I too-late-to-do-anything-about-it zipped past a police officer. A glance at my rearview mirror confirmed what I assumed: he pulled out behind me with his lights on.

When I imagined this moment countless times before, I thought I would tremble and cry. I didn't. I slowed to the side of the road, opened my window, and reached for my license. Calm and cool.  Oh yeah, and I whispered, "Please, God, help him to be merciful."

The police officer approached my van, my hand already poised out  the window with my ID. I said sheepishly, "This is the first time I've ever been pulled over."

He needed to know that. I've been driving for thirty years, after all.

He took my license and addressed me sternly: "In the winter, the speed limit through here is 25. In the summer, it is 15.  You were going 43. Whatever season it is, 43 is way too fast. You know why it's 15 in the summer, right?"

Yes, I know. A park is on the right side of the road, a public pool on the left.  "Children," I replied.

He continued: "Because it's your first time to be pulled over, I am going to give you a verbal warning--not even a written warning--but you need to slow down.  Have a good day." 

Thank you, Mr. Police Officer, for showing me mercy today. You saved me time and money and kept my record clean. I'll try to remember not to forget to drive slower next time. If not, at least I'll remember I was warned.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Using Photos to Inspire Writing


Who: Elementary-aged students (The publisher recommends the books for children in grades 3-6.)

What: Learn about different types of writing--non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and drama--and the specific elements required for each type. Get practice by studying photos, considering the authors' questions about them, and doing exercises and assignments inspired by them.

Let me give you the flavor of these books which are written by different women but follow the same structure.

Each two-page spread has a focus. In Picture Yourself Writing Non-Fiction, for example, the author focuses on Detailing the Facts, Sensory Details, Unique Comparisons (similes and metaphors), Characters, Dialogue, Plot, Setting, Scene, Purpose and Audience, Point of View, and Bias. She explains, defines, and gives examples on the first page. On the second, she includes a photo with a "Write about It!" prompt.

These books include everything students need for independent study. Concentrating on one two-page spread a day will get them through one book every two weeks. If they do this for all four books, they will  know the elements of four types of writing and have a collection of their own pieces two months later.

If your students do an exercise or assignment they would like to share, post them in the comments.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fanning the Flame

This afternoon I uncovered notes from a presentation I made at a local homeschooling  fair in 2005.  Maybe they will be helpful here. (If you make it to the end, there will be a treat!)
Fanning the Flame: Teaching Writing to Your Elementary-Aged Child
"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."
~ W. B. Yeats
Extinguisher #1
Replace real writing with a list of things to do (penmanship, spelling, vocabulary, grammar exercises).

Fanning the Flame
Encourage your child to write, write, and write some more.

Extinguisher #2
Limit children to certain types of writing.

Fanning the Flame
Allow your child to show her personality, to develop her writer's voice, to write about subjects which interest her.

Extinguisher #3
Make writing a separate subject.

Fanning the Flame
Integrate writing with other disciplines.

Extinguisher #4
Expect a piece to be immediately perfect.

Fanning the Flame
Encourage your child to use the writing process.

Extinguisher #5
Assume that every piece must be a finished piece.

Fanning the Flame

Allow some pieces to remain in the drafting stage.

Extinguisher #6
Insist that a child complete the entire process without assistance.

Fanning the Flame
Encourage, brainstorm, take dictation, helpful.

Extinguisher #7
Bring the school mentality home and grade or red mark the child's work.

Fanning the Flame
Appreciate the child's accomplishments. Take note of errors for future instruction.

Extinguisher #8
Ignore writing because you feel incapable.

Fanning the Flame
Be a learner.

Ah, you made it...or you cheated and skipped here for the treat. Whatever the case, here it is, the story of a boy-turned-author whose early teachers were "extinguishers" and whose later teachers were "fans." Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mr. Twit's Beard

Note: This assignment is adapted from Writing Fix and written directly to the student.
Read an excellent example of showing vs. telling in Roald Dahl's The Twits.  It's called "Dirty Beards."  (Warning:  I expect you will squint your eyes, wrinkle your nose, stick out your tongue, and say, "Yuck" as you read this.  I can picture this beautiful face in my mind!)

It begins like this:
"As you know, an ordinary unhairy face like yours or mine simply gets a bit smudgy if it is not washed often enough, and there's nothing so awful about that.
But a hairy face is a very different matter.  Things cling to hairs, especially food.  Things like gravy go right in among the hairs and stay there.  You and I can wipe our smooth faces with a washcloth and we quickly look more or less all right again, but the hairy man cannot do that.

And ends like this:
What I am trying to tell you is that Mr. Twit was a foul and smelly old man."
Now, Mr. Dahl could have just written "Mr. Twit was a foul and smelly old man" and gone on with his story, but he created a very vivid picture in our minds of exactly what he meant by foul and smelly.  Which one do you think is better?

I would like you to do something similar.  Think of a basic sentence, using a similar pattern. Maybe you want to include two or three adjectives like he did.  Then see if you can create a vivid picture for your audience by showing us what those words really mean.  You can follow Dahl's pattern here, too, tacking your original sentence on the end.

Actually, there is one more sentence to the chapter, which I didn't include.  It says:
He was also an extremely horrid old man as you will find out in a moment.
I wonder what he means.  I really don't know, since I haven't read the rest of the book.  Maybe you can write your own description before reading Dahl's.

If your students complete this assignment, please leave a sample in the comments.

Note: This post contains an affiliate link. 

Grammar Handbook for Kids

Some might call me an English geek, but I love to read grammar handbooks.  Last week I found one written just for kids: Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O'Connor. (She also wrote Woe Is I for adults, which I haven't read.)

I'm a fan. How couldn't I be?  O'Connor explains grammatical principles all kids need, in a way they can understand. I can't wait to use it; I just need to find my first victim, I mean, student. Don't be surprised if I work the book into lessons here, but until that happens, I wanted to be sure you know about it.

One bummer: Unfortunately, you'll have to tolerate occasional mentions of poop and vomit, belches and boogers. Otherwise, O'Connor does well with writing conversationally, using examples and jokes which keep the content from becoming dense and dry.

This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Research Reports

If your elementary-aged students are ready to write a research report, here are two resources to help them.

Just the Facts walks students through a basic overview of each of the tools they will use in their report, from starting with a topic to making a bibliography.
Don't Be a Copycat!  is intended for the older elementary crowd, its content going deeper, including more detailed information about plagiarizing, assessing sources, taking notes, and citing sources. As the title indicates, the goal is to teach students how to avoid plagiarism.
Writing a research report need not be daunting. With their step-by-step instructions and conversational tone, both of these books will ground your children for the challenge before them.

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  •  After resting from the chase, work through the three learning activities included at the end of the book.
  • Next, see if students can identify the prepositions and prepositional phrases in Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse by Lindsay Barrett George.
  • Now students are ready to write an adventure of their own with prepositions. Give them list.
  • Submit adventures in the comments for others to enjoy! 
Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Learning with Legos

If you have a boy who loves Legos and needs encouragement to write, check out this download which links the two.

There is also one that links Legos and language arts here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Learning from Other Teachers

When students transition to junior high and high school and begin taking classes with teachers outside the home, Moms transition, too. No longer do we decide the curriculum or set  the expectations. We relinquish that control, so our children can learn from experts passionate about their subjects.

Initially, it seems glorious. We don’t need to plan any lessons, grade any assignments, or coerce our child to meet any deadlines. We happily place that responsibility in the lap of another.

But we soon realize that the teacher is not a clone of us. "Wait a minute," we might say, "her standard is higher than we’re used to."  Or we might think: “I expected him to be more creative.”  Or “Hey, she isn’t encouraging my son enough.” Or. Or. Or.

I’ve experienced both sides: I’ve been the mom and the teacher.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Expect a learning curve the first month or two. It takes time to adjust to a new teacher’s expectations and style. Don’t panic. It’s okay for students to experience some hiccups as they adjust.
  • When someone else is shouldering the responsibility of teaching, you can stand on the sidelines to encourage when necessary and help when asked.
  • If an expectation is unclear, encourage your student to ask questions, communicating directly with the teacher. It is not your class; it’s your child’s.
  •  When a teacher grades a paper, accept the grade. Even if it is lower than you like, it is a growing opportunity for your child.  If it needs more discussion with the teacher, allow your child to initiate the conversation.
  •  Trials are part of life. When we face difficult circumstances, we can grow. Don’t rob your child of this chance to mature by stepping in prematurely or inappropriately.
  •  Don’t expect teachers to encourage your child as you do. They are serving more kids than yours.
  •  The class may not look exactly as you want it to look. That’s okay. It’s beneficial for your child to experience something different from what he gets at home. 
  •  Don’t offer excuses for your child. It’s good for her to take responsibility for her actions and choices.
  • Trust the teacher.

If you tend to be a helicopter mom who hovers over your children or a fire fighter mom who wants to rescue them from the flames of trial, recognize your tendency. Resist writing that e-mail or making that phone call. Wait. Watch. Encourage. At the end of the class, you’ll likely have a student who has adapted to another person’s style, learning despite that person’s weaknesses, stirred by his/her strengths, and prepared for the next challenge in line.

free clip art

Monday, July 1, 2013

Going on a Verb Hunt

1. Find a sofa and a little person, sit down with your arm around him or her, and read A Sick Day for Amos McGee, the 2011 Caldecott Medal winner. Such a sweet book with a precious main character.

2. If you want to use this book as a teaching tool, find another young one, if the first one is too young, who wants to go on a verb hunt. Philip C. Stead includes many worth noticing.

How many active verbs are there?
    (Some examples: clanged, swung, swapped, curled, worried, yawned)

If you simply want to delight in strong verbs, stop here.  If you want to search for different forms of verbs, continue.

How many helping verbs are there?
    (Some examples: would wind, could use, will share)     
Note: Don't miss all of the ones where the "would" is mentioned with the first verb but implied with the verbs in the rest in the sentence.)

How many participles are there?
    (Some examples: scratching, keeping, knowing)

How many infinitives are there?
    (Two examples: to visit, to feel)

3. You've enjoyed the book; you've hunted for verbs; now join the Amos fan club. Isn't he adorable?!

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Preparing the Ground

...I will never be able to teach anything to anyone as well as they will be able to teach it to themselves if given the opportunity. So maybe that's what the definition of teacher should be: someone who makes learning possible, which often means simply preparing the ground for you to teach yourself" (Mali, What Teachers Make, 88).

Teachers have a real temptation to resist. At least I do. With kids, I like to be on stage, in charge, needed. I want to be the one who asks all of the questions, who already knows the answers, and who initiates the assignments. I like to play school. And I kind of, sort of like to be in control. So the temptation is to insert myself into the hub of the learning circle.

Can you relate?

The problem with the teacher being at the center is that the students aren't, and they are the ones who should be.  We need to purposely get out of the way, staying on the periphery to coach and encourage, and allow students to be their own teachers.

What are some ways to do this at home, to "prepare the ground," particularly when students are in elementary school?

Create a rich learning environment.
Books, instruments, paper, art supplies, maps, dry erase boards, manipulatives, games, craft and sewing supplies, balls, creative toys (i.e. Legos, K'nex, Zome Tools), puzzles...make sure they're available and accessible. Your home may never be featured on the cover of a  magazine, but at least your children will have plenty to keep their minds and hands busy.

View the world as your student's classroom.
Your students don't have to read and write to have a valid learning experience. You can encourage learning by visiting museums, historical re-enactments, concerts, performances, demonstrations, parks, and exhibits. Even a trip to the grocery store or bank can be educational. Be a willing taxi driver, and remember to talk (and listen) to your passengers. The trip is valuable learning time as you enjoy conversation together. Who knows what learning trail will be forged as a result of the trip!

Focus on the process.
Every product may not be all you hoped, but valuable learning occurs throughout the process. Value it; don't short-circuit it, especially if you're glued to an agenda. Realize that mistakes are part of the process, and we all know that mistakes can be our best opportunities for learning.

Visit the library regularly.
Let students explore the library, finding what interests them. If they migrate to the same series every time, nudge them toward something new. Or send them on a scavenger hunt of the library, so they can see the broader collection. Or host a book club, inviting each participant to advertise a favorite book in a particular genre.

Out of sight can be out of mind, so pull out a book or a game or a creative toy and place it strategically on the coffee table, on the arm of the couch, on the back of the toilet, somewhere it will be noticed, picked up, and enjoyed.  I used to be a shameless strewer, getting even my husband to read something I purposely littered in the living room. (Okay, maybe it's a bit manipulative, but librarians do it, too, you know.)

Get out of the way.
Remember that your kids aren't you. One of the ways I learned this lesson was in sewing. If I need to sew an article of clothing, I buy a pattern and follow it meticulously. When two of my daughters decide to sew, they envision in their heads what they want and work to unveil the vision.  I can marvel quietly at their skill now, but on their first attempts, admonitions longed to bust out of my mouth: "You can't do that; you need a pattern." I had to muzzle my mouth as I reminded myself that just because I need a pattern doesn't mean they need one. They aren't me!

Make suggestions.
I like to cast my line of suggestions or ideas and see which daughter takes my bait. I must admit, though, it worked tons better when my girls were in elementary school. My ideas don't generate the same level of enthusiasm anymore. (But I can still try. : D)

Allow for stewing.
You can contort yourself in multiple ways to explain a concept, but if the student isn't ready, she'll end up in tears, and you'll be hopelessly tangled. More often than not,  if you leave it and revisit it later, mysterious brain linkages will form, causing the longed-for light bulb to shine. Sometimes all students need is time.

Be a learner.
Whether you're on an errand or an adventure, with a book or a craft project, be open to learning and growing alongside your kids. You may already have your diploma and degree(s), but you've only dipped your toe in the ocean of knowledge. Learning something new will give you empathy when you're tempted to push, and a hobby when you crave control.

What other ways do you "prepare the ground" in your home?
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