Monthly Archives: October 2014

Being Neighborly: a Writing Prompt

NeighborsWrite about one of your neighbors, only with a twist. If it’s a friendly neighbor, think of a way to make them sinister, plotting evil things, people that are only nice on the surface. Surely they have ulterior motives. If it’s a neighbor you can’t stand, write about the trials of their life, what made them become that way, and how they are soft-hearted underneath and just waiting for the right “friend” to bring their true personality to the surface in true Pollyanna form…


TruthIsn’t it funny that we can forgive people for almost anything, but if we find out they were lying to us, it is a thousand times harder? Almost all romantic movies include a breakup near the end as a result of lying or withholding information. Isn’t it incredible that almost everyone does it, but they feel so abused when someone lies to them? My husband and I watched the televisions series Lie to Me a while back and something dawned on me. The human body doesn’t want to tell lies. It rebels against the very idea. We weren’t created for dishonesty, and it shouldn’t come naturally to us. What do you think about this topic?

More Spanish Learning Ideas

Spanish textI picked up a couple of books in Spanish the other day – one for Ian and one for me. I chose The Hobbit* for me because I have read it over and over, and I can always catch the gist of the story even when I don’t understand all of the words. A lot of times, I can figure out the meaning based on my memory of the story, context, or similarity to a word I know in English (or in Spanish). And I bought Biscuit for Ian (the one about the blonde puppy) for the same reasons. I am having so much fun learning, but I wonder if it’s possible to overdo it? My brain is fried, lol.

*Update on 1/11/2017 Upon further consideration and study of the scriptures, I have decided not to read or watch anything associated with the dark arts. I have enough things to fill my time, and I can certainly live without it. However, I am leaving this post up because it’s still a good idea to learn Spanish this way.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

Spanish Language Learning for Fun

Baby with BallIan and I have been on a Spanish kick lately. We have watched Disney* cartoon after Disney cartoon on Netflix. All of them that we have looked at so far have Spanish audio, and we have been turning on the English subtitles too. We have only been watching the ones that Ian is already very familiar with so he always knows what’s going on, even if he can’t read the subtitles fast enough. I figure this is the way babies learn. Slowly, bit by bit, infants learn what’s going on, and then they begin to recognize words and patterns. Every time someone points to a ball, the child hears the word ball and begins to form connotations between the object and the word. I figure we can learn a second language the same way, and we are having a blast at the same time! We might get serious about it someday, but for now, we will at least get used to hearing the rhythms and learn a few words in the meantime.

*Update on 1/11/2017. I no longer watch Disney movies. When Maleficent came out, I watched it and loved it. A few weeks later, I bumped into a guy who was caught up in all kinds of Jewish mysticism. He was convinced his beliefs were true (aren’t we all), and I made a deal with him that I would go home and look up a character named Lilith if he would agree to read his Bible. I might write more about it someday, but suffice it to say that Disney has been sneaking demonic things into our children’s classics, and I was totally unaware. So, yeah, no more Disney. I realize that to the pure all things are pure, but I don’t like the idea of consuming movie after movie produced by people who are willing to spend that much time researching the dark things of this world.

Planning for Spontaneity

DriveEleven, twelve, thirteen years ago, before my son was born, my husband and I used to drive and drive. And drive. Sometimes we would spend hours in the car, going basically nowhere. Once in a great while we would end up a few towns over. I remember once, when we were about an hour or so away, we looked at the clock and said, “Hmmmm…we could have been in Memphis by now if we’d driven straight there.” We had been driving for five hours that day, just for fun. So today, we’ve arranged for a babysitter, and we’re off! Nothing to do today but drive. Where will we end up? No idea. No plans at all, except to have fun, enjoy each other’s company, and relive the nostalgia of going for a drive.

Homeschool on a Budget, by Joy Kita

Homeschool on a Budget

Excellence Without the Extra Cost

By Joy Kita

When you choose to homeschool your children, you are embarking on an adventure that will challenge your patience, enrich your relationships, and change the tone and rhythm of your days. There may be the occasional moments when you question the reliability of your sanity, but on the whole it is one decision that yields large pay-offs and little regret. It is also a decision that has the potential to become a monumental monetary investment. After all, a quality education is costly, right?

To get the best you must pay for the best—at least that is what some people/companies/curriculum providers might have you believe. Resist the urge to buy into the mentality that spending a lot of money is the first line of attack in educating your children, and take a moment to look at alternatives. You have choices—good choices that will elevate your child’s education to a higher level of learning and sophistication within a reasonable, frugal budget.

There are people in the world who believe that education should be free. These beliefs have led influential change-makers to create learning platforms that produce quality material for little to no cost. This is good news for the savvy homeschool family who wishes to teach and learn without the expensive price tags that adorn textbooks and classroom courses. Homeschooling on a budget for one child or ten is well within your reach.

Careful deliberation at the beginning of the year is essential to protect your wallet and time. Making a list of the subjects you wish to teach is a critical step. There may be a curriculum out there for everything, but that does not mean you need to purchase it.

Traditional schools have a rounded approach to learning: they teach a little bit of a lot of subjects to fill the gaps of time in a long day. You need not mimic the learning structure of public schools if another way suits you better.

If you identified the “core” of a child’s education, you would find yourself with three subjects to teach: math, reading, and writing. Other subjects are secondary to these, providing enrichment material that supplements and rounds out the learning journey. Curriculum publishers may offer an entire grade’s worth of supplies in a box, but that does not mean your child needs everything it supplies.

Math is an important subject, and many resources are available at different price levels. Workbooks are reasonably priced; the teacher’s manuals are not. Ask yourself if you need the teacher’s guide book. In the early years you may find that you do not. It is fine to go with the workbook only. As your child grows and the math becomes more challenging, you might consider purchasing an answer book rather than the teacher’s manual. Not everyone will need both.

Partner with another homeschooling family, buy together, and share. The Internet offers many websites that provide free printable worksheets to supplement textbook lessons. There are safe educational sites with math games to correspond with the material as well. Visual games can go a long way in providing clarity and understanding of many math concepts. Quick tip: Have your student write out his multiplication tables on index cards.

Reading is another critical component of your child’s education. There are families who rely solely on good literature to teach grammar, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary with great success. Become friends with your local librarians, and take out stacks of books for free. Project Gutenberg is an online resource that offers thousands of great works of literature for free. Print what you need, or read straight from the computer. Visit garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores in search of great bargains on books. Quick tip: Organize a simple book co-op with other families, sharing your resources for free.

Writing is an expansive, stand-alone subject that confuses a lot of people. What is its scope? How many books and workbooks do you need to teach all aspects of this subject adequately? Actually, writing is not a complicated subject, and you can teach it well with few outside resources.

Take the subject of spelling, for example. Word lists that correspond with grade-level readiness are available online. (Do not be fooled into thinking you must stay within the confines of the lists for specific grade levels.) Hunt for words that are suitable for your student/school to learn. Use a list of words that your student misspells to create a unique, personal list of words to master. Identify spelling words within the quality literature your students are reading. Haul out the dictionary for definitions and alphabetizing practice.

Copy Scripture verses for penmanship practice and memorization purposes. Read poetry and create your own.

Don’t forget about creative writing. Make writing jars from tea canisters, and then put the names of characters into one, a variety of potential settings into another, and types of conflicts in a third jar. Students can then draw out a single entry from each jar and write a story based on those prompts. Quick tip: Use portable chalk boards or white boards for writing practice or dictation for younger students.

The three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, represent the bulk of your child’s education; the rest of the subjects provide enrichment. Fill your days with science and geography, history and art if you desire. These are great subjects to use for child-directed learning.

Ask your children what they want to learn about. Find out what they are curious about. Don’t just follow them into the rabbit hole; dig it for them.

10 Best Websites That Offer Quality Material . . . Free!

1. Quirks and Quarks—Award-winning radio science program that delves into topical science inquiries.

2. Ted Talks—Site that hosts video presentations of ideas worth spreading, from innovative change-makers around the world.

3. Enchanted Learning—Treasure trove of printable material ranging from simple coloring pages to labelled diagrams.

4. Spelling Time—Award-winning interactive spelling program.

5. Old-Fashioned Education—Directory of free homeschool curricula.

6. National Geographic—More than just a magazine! 7. Seterra—Geography quiz game. 8. NASA—Top science material.

9. Khan Academy—Free world-class education with a focus on science and math.

10. Kids Know It—Educational fun for the young and young at heart.

Joy Kita is a mother of four and is the blessed wife of Stan. She has been homeschoolingfor seven years and is currently the director of a thriving co-op with more than eighty children. She is an author specializing in adventures for boys. Her newest book, Fable Nation, will be released by Brighter Books in 2013. She stays motivated by her all-consuming love for the Father. You can read her blog, Fluorescent Fingerprints, at, and check out her innovative publisher:

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Independence with a Safety Net

The other day, I was reading a very nice blog that I like to follow for courage and inspiration. In her post entitled Downhill, she writes about the experience of watching her little guy grow up. He’s only five and just entering kindergarten and the real world, but as I read, I can see my own thoughts about child-rearing mirrored in her actions. I’ve never put it into words before, at least, not as nicely as she does in this post. However, having been in the inner circle of numerous homeschooler families, I have seen a lot of different parents raise their children in a lot of different ways. It occurs to me that my beliefs about how I am raising Ian into adulthood coincide perfectly with the following method, taken from the blog Family, Work, Life:

And as he grew, I parented him with a hedge of protection but also with a fair amount of space.  I gave him whole sandwiches when other kids were still having their food cut into small pieces.  I used big words and sentences instead of easy ones.  We exchanged the sippies for big-boy cups to see if he could learn through trial-and-error.  He did things on his own, made messes, made mistakes, and got frustrated.  He also mastered skills and experienced the pride of success.

But I was always there to pick up the pieces if something went awry, comfort him when he got upset, and help him out if something just wasn’t working.

He might have been learning about the world on his own terms, but he was never alone.

ParentingI think that plenty of parents do this for their toddlers, but here’s a question for you: Why can’t we do this all the way through? Up until the day they move into a place of their own. And after, if they’re willing to call us once in a while and catch us up. Why can’t we allow them to make almost all of their decisions, while being there to catch them and make sure they don’t ruin their lives? And, if we’ve raised them properly, how many children actually end up ruining their lives anyway? I don’t even know anyone in prison or living on the streets somewhere. Now, there are things that are non-negotiable in Ian’s life: School. Church. Instrument Practice. Reading his Bible every day. And I make sure he spends time away from his video games, etc. But aside from that, I give him plenty of space and the liberty to make most of his decisions.

I know I’m not the authority on parenting, but I do know this: I like my kid. I enjoy being in the same room with him, spending time with him, so hopefully that means I’m doing something right. I’m proud of the young man he’s becoming and the decisions he is able to make on his own. Hopefully I am raising an independent adult and not someone who feels entitled. However, I am open to suggestions, and I realize that not every method works in every family. Have you raised your children differently? How did you do it? And are you satisfied with the results?

Recording Accomplishments

ListI think I’m going to have Ian start a list of all of the chapter books he’s finished on his own. So far, that isn’t any, but the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is going really well. (Up to this point, he’s mainly read comic books and magazines, parts of books, or I have read out loud to him; although, maybe we can count the New Testament when he finishes that.) I am hoping if we make a really neat, bright banner that he will really enjoy adding his books to it.

But now, as I am typing this out, I am wondering if there is a way to get really creative with it, such as have him draw a picture of the main character and write a sentence each about the setting, the plot, etc. Then he could have a binder that contains a little bit of info about a bunch of different books. That would be a big book of short book reports.

Hmmm, thinking some more. What about that game Super Smash Bros. Have any of you all ever played it? (Why does everything have to be video-game related? If you’d ever met my family, you wouldn’t have to ask, lol.) In that game, you choose a character from a video game to fight a character from a completely different video game. I’m wondering if Ian and I could brainstorm some “stats” for each main character, include a little about the setting, and create a book of players. We could record how we think each player would stack up against the competition, and try to give everyone a bit of an edge in their own right, based on personality, super powers, etc. The setting could help or hinder certain characters.

Ah, me and my far-out ideas. I will talk to Ian and see which idea he likes. Maybe he will even have a better one! I just need to balance the fun factor with how much time the project will take. If it’s going to take two hours every time he finishes a book, we will probably never do it. A quick fix for that would be spending an hour creating a form, and then just filling it out after every book.

And then there’s always this page: More Ideas Than You’ll Ever Use for Book Reports.

How do you all motivate your non-readers? How do you record accomplishments of any type? I need ideas that will work! I am willing to do whatever it takes, even silly, crazy projects with my 10-year-old.

Playing by Ear

PianoIan surprised me the other day. I was practicing for an upcoming gig, and he came into the music room and started playing his own song in the top octaves of the piano. I always let him play whatever he wants while I play because it doesn’t really distract me, and I figure it’s good for him to be creative. Slowly, it dawned on me that I recognized the tune he was playing; it was Ode to Joy. When I asked him where he heard the song, he replied, “Peggle.” I guess it’s a video game he’s played. On the next day, I overheard him working out the harmony in thirds. I showed him where to add in a few fourths to make it fit the chord structure and explained the reasoning behind using different intervals in harmony. Now I am kind of excited about the fact that his ear is so good. I’ve played piano since I was nine, but I have only rarely worked out melody and harmony to an existing song, and the first time I did, I was a teenager. So, of course, I would like to help him improve his existing skills, but I don’t want to ruin it for him by forcing yet another instrument on him. So, of course, being me, I have concocted a sneaky plan.

I found a book in my closet that I’ve owned for years but never used. It’s called Performance Jams. Each song starts out with eight measures of a simple melody. Two of those measures (at least in the first song) contain a single harmony pitch that lasts the entire measure. The next eight measures of the book are completely blank, in which the student improvises using prescribed pitches played in any order in any octave. The last eight measures bring back the original melody and finish up the piece. There is also an accompaniment included for the teacher, so the melody and improv parts will have a nice background. I am going to:

  • Record the song into the song bank on my piano
  • Have him mute MineCraft for at least an hour of his playing time
  • Loop the song over and over and turn it up where he can listen
  • Have him spend five minutes a day at the piano until he can work it out on his own (I may help him with the harmony at first)
  • Once he can do this, I will show him the parameters for the improv section and have him try

I’m pretty sure he will think this is fun, and not a horrible waste of his time. Wish us luck!


Multiplication Breakthrough, 3 years later

Someone used the search terms “multiplication breakthrough” and landed on my site the other day. I don’t even remember writing anything like that, so I went back and reread the post I composed almost three years ago. Funny, I guess we didn’t stick with it because I don’t even remember doing that. However, we have had a new breakthrough just this school year. I had tried using flashcards in the past, but they didn’t really work. I don’t know whether it had more to do with his developmental level, his lack of focus, or what. But lately, they do work. Maybe it’s because I have changed my approach. For a while, we would do two or three cards until he knew them, then we would add one at a time, mixing them up sometimes to make sure he wasn’t just memorizing the order they were in. It worked! He now knows almost the entire deck, front to back. He’s very mathematically minded, so we have made it through five years of school without ever memorizing all the facts. He could always figure them out because he came up with a system. I had him explain it to me, and this is how he did it:

Two times a number is that number plus itself.

Four times a number is two times a number plus two times a number.

Three times a number is that number plus itself twice.

Six times a number is three times a number plus three times a number.

Five times a number is half of ten times that number.

Seven times a number is three times the number subtracted from ten times the number.

Eight times a number is two times the number subtracted from ten times the number.

Nine times a number is the number subtracted from ten times the number.

MathIt seems crazy and burdensome, but he got rather fast at it, and now he has a very good sense of how numbers interact with each other. Word problems are easy for him because he knows how math works. Distributive property is easy for him for the same reason. Now, finally, he has his facts memorized, but I believe that he is better off for having to figure them out for the last five years.