But what are we trying to accomplish?

The first blog cruise topic for the TOS crew this year is, “What are your homeschool related goals for the year?”. I think this is an important question, after all, if you don’t have a goal, how do you choose a direction? And how do you define success? I find that having goals also helps me in my discussions with non-homeschooling family and friends. How often do I get asked, “Well, how will you know if you’re teaching them the right stuff?”, and “How will you prepare them for what happens when they grow up?”….sigh…

So, I guess I would say, the first thing I do is take some time over the summer to assess our previous school year, and look at each child individually. I go through their portfolios, look at their test scores (yes, we test with the SAT 10 every year! but that’s a topic for another day! 🙂 ), I also think about ways they have matured that year, how their interactions with our family have changed etc. etc. I make notes, and use this nifty planning sheet from the TOS Homeschool Planner, where I can just write goals in different areas (i.e. spiritual, academic, physical etc. etc.). I try to choose one thing for each child in each area, and that becomes my goal for the year. I then take time to look at my curriculum, and make more specific, quarterly goals that will lead to us achieving the final goal at the end of the year.

Both of my boys have different things that they need to work on. For my youngest, (10, 5th grade) we are focusing on memorizing the books of the bible in order. Memorization is hard for him, and he is constantly asking me where a specific book is when he needs to find it, so I am hoping that by the end of this year he will know the order of the books and not have to ask anymore. Academically, we are really focusing on improving his writing this year. Last year, we spent a LOT of time focused on reading, and it really paid off, but I didn’t pay as much attention to writing (both handwriting and just plain learning to write a coherent paragraph) so this year, we are spending more time on both the physical act of writing, and the “art” of writing as well. I am hoping to have him writing legible cursive and complete paragraphs by the end of the year! This boy has also recently expressed a desire to (and skill in) playing drums. We tried guitar last year, but that didn’t work out so well, so this year, we are hoping to build on his drum-playing talent!! (and he is REALLY enjoying this…even if it is loud at my house!)

For my older son (13-8th grade), we are working on memorizing passages of scripture. Memory work and reading come more easily to this boy, so I want to push him to grow in this area. Academically, we are tackling pre-algebra. Math is an area that is harder for him, so my goal is to get him to gain both confidence and skill in this subject. I would like to have him ready for Algebra in 9th grade! My oldest is also continuing in his guitar lessons, and he would like to start playing with the youth band at our church. This is a goal he set for himself, and one that I want to encourage. I think teaching your kids to set their own goals as they get older is really important.

We also have some general skills for both of our boys. My husband is a personal trainer (on the side, in addition to his firefighting job 🙂 ), so fitness and health is very important for our family as a whole.  He wants the boys to develop the habit of getting regular excercise and eating healthy. I am working with them to plan meals that are tasty and healthy for all of us, and trying to train them to be conscious about what they eat. We are also making a habit as a family to get outdoors and do stuff together (walking, biking etc.). We have some behavioral goals as well. We’ve started with a different chore chart, where we can put the daily totals of “commission” earned each day. We really want the boys to get in the habit of completing their chores WITHOUT prompting (which I’m sorry to say, has not happened here yet!!). And our final goal is just to get the boys to continue to focus on how they act and speak with each other! For the most part, they do get along really well, however, they are brothers, and we still have those days where ALL they do is pick at each other and drive each other (and us!!) crazy!

Now that I put it all into writing, it seems like a LOT to work on!! The good thing is, because we homeschool, I have a LOT of time to do it! I am very interested to learn how other homeschoolers set their goals and what those goals are! If you are too, check out the TOS Blog Cruise here:

Aletheia Writing Magazine

Do you have a budding author, poet, artist or photographer in your home? If you do, they would probably be interested in this magazine! Aletheia is a magazine for Christian teens, by Christian teens! It contains short stories, poems, pictures, contests, interviews, book reviews and more. The stories range from realistic drama, to fantasy, fables and even non-fiction pieces.

For this review, I received a copy of the Fall 2011 issue, and I also got to check out a sample online. The first thing I did was peruse the magazine myself, because I always like to check something out before handing it off to my kids!! I have to say I was impressed with the quality of this magazine. The stories are very well-written, exciting and beautiful, and the pictures and photographs were gorgeous.

My son can be picky about what he reads, but he really enjoyed the story “Awake: The Tale of Alatar the Blue”, and the interview with Joe Goode, for the “Into the Artist’s Studio” portion of the magazine. This portion focuses on an interview with a Christian artist (in this case, Joe Goode is an illustrator, but in other magazines they have interviews with scripwriters and other types of artists as well). He also asked me if he could participate in the “Writer’s Challenge”, which was to write a poem for a photograph in the magazine.

The Aletheia website is full of information for writers and artists as well. On their FAQ page they answer specific questions about the types of submissions they are looking for and how to submit your work. They also have a page of “writing tips” for teens to use when preparing a submission. They have even created a blog for Christian teens to share their thoughts and ideas! You can check that out here:


Aletheia was created by a husband and wife team, who wanted to offer a “quality literary and artistic publication that nurtures spiritually-minded creativity from
Christian teens”. They have done just that! A subscription to Aletheia will cost $26.00 (for those in the U.S.) and $29.00 (for those in Canada). At that price you get 4 full-color issues per year. If you have a child who is interested in looking for an outlet to publish their work, Aletheia would be a great place to start, and a subscription to the magazine may bring those writers of yours some needed inspiration. You can find out more about Aletheia, and even check out a sample of the magazine at their website:


***Disclaimer: I was given a free issue of this magazine for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Happy Birthday TOS!


The Old Schoolhouse magazine is turning 10 and they are celebrating by giving YOU prizes!! Now that’s a great birthday! All week TOS has offered sales and freebies on lots of their products, from the ever-popular Curiousity Files ebooks, to their awesome TOS Planners! Tonight, they will be having a facebook party from 6-9 PM. I attended my first facebook party for Illuminations a few months ago and it was incredible. They had speakers, prizes, and lots of opportunity to interact with other homeschoolers. The TOS party will feature discussions with featured columnists, TOS staff, and of course prizes and giveaways! Also, TOS is only about 58 “likes” away from another big giveaway on their facebook page…so if you haven’t liked them already, please do, and pass it on to your friends. For more info about all the birthday events going on, click here:


Hope to see you at the party!


Games for competitors has won a few awards for Tri-Cross, a strategy game for players 8 and up. The game was created by an Atlanta father-son team and is hailed as the “new chess”. The game itself is also environmentally friendly!

The game design itself is very attractive, and comes with instructions. There is also a tutorial DVD showing different examples of moves on the board, and you-tube videos available on the website.

I have to admit, at first this game seemed a little complicated to me! However, both my husband and my sons enjoy strategy games, they play Risk and Chess often, and after watching the tutorials, we got the hang of things pretty quickly! I haven’t won a game yet, but I enjoy playing!

There are also different variations to the game, such as face-down play, which add a new dimension to the game. We enjoy family game night at our house, and Tri-cross has been a great addition to these nights for us. I love the fact that it requires my boys to really *think* before they move. Strategy games often seem akin to logic puzzles to me…and anything that is fun AND causes us to exercise our brains is a winner here!!

If you would like to learn more, check out the Tri-Cross website here:


Tri-Cross comes in different versions. Standard is $24.95, the Wood Version is $35.95, the Travel/ Eco-Version is $19.95. If you have kids that love to play games that make them think, this one is definitely for you!

***Disclaimer: I was given a free edition of this game for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


We had a good week this week, although I am still having trouble with some of my pictures!! We did another forensics lab, this one involving different lipstick stains. I didn’t realize the effect acetone could have on lipstick…but that’s what I love about homeschool, I get to learn along with my kids!!

We took some time away from our regular studies these past two weeks to do the September 11 lapbook from Hands of a Child. My husband is a firefighter, and 9/11 holds special meaning to us. We think it is so important for us to remember what happened that day. My kids were only 3 and 4 months old when it happened…so all they really know of it is what they see on TV. But, I will never forget that day. I thought the lapbook was tastefully done, with lots of info, but it gave you, as the parent, lots of room to delve in deeper, or not, as you chose!

We have finished our Time Travelers Early 19th Century CD, and we will be putting our lapbook for that together next week as we wrap things up. After this, it’s off to the first week of Winter Promise American Cultures. I am soooo excited!! I need to spend this weekend planning and requesting books from the library! Hope you all have a great weekend!

Aims Educational Foundation–Earth Book

For my first review of the year, I got to use the Earth Book from AIMS Educational Foundation. AIMS supports hands-on math and science instruction as “the most effective way to develop conceptual understanding.” As a mom of two boys with short attention spans and eyes that glaze over after extending periods of “sit still and listen!” I can say I agree! 🙂

AIMS offers math and science activity books, based on specific topics (critters) and areas of science (physical science). They also offer manipulatives for math that can be used by grade level or topic as well. They have both physical books you can hold in your hands, and downloadable ebooks if you’d rather print pages off of your computer. For my review, I used the Earth Book, an activity book for science, with my oldest son (8th grade).

The book opens with a brief introduction and a list of standards that are addressed in the Earth Book (AIMS products are standards-based, you can even look up materials based on state standards if you wish). The lessons open with a page for the teacher explaining and describing the lesson, with tips on how to present it to the students. (Yes, I said students!). These books were created for classroom teachers, but are easily adapted to homeschooling. Many of us have a few students in our homeschool as it is, and I will say that I had my younger son (5th grade) sit in on some of the activities, and he did fine. I think it would be fairly easy to use this book across grade levels if I wanted to.

There is a materials list at the back of the book, which I found very helpful. There’s nothing more frustrating for this mom than having to go through multiple pages to sort out what materials I will need in the coming weeks. Many of the materials were common household items (straws, envelopes, vinegar, index cards etc.). However, some materials would require more effort to obtain (rock and mineral kits, builders sand, pea gravel etc.). Since the materials needed for each lesson are listed on the teacher page, you could easily look ahead and decide which ones you needed to get, or, if it was too difficult, just move ahead to another lesson.

Some of the activities we did related to hard water vs. soft water, the salinity of ocean water, the layers of the ocean and ocean currents. Other topics include things like earthquakes, weather, fossils, and rocks. I do want to make one important note here: AIMS lessons include information about the geologic timeline. The lesson for that particular topic does state that the earth is millions of years old. AIMS does not promote itself as a Christian company, just a company that wants to create fun science and math products for kids. Their views on this topic may conflict with yours. For me, as a Christian homeschooling parent, I would simply omit those lessons, or use them as a springboard for further research into the legitimacy of carbon-dating, conflicting evidence on the age of the earth etc. etc.

My boys enjoyed the activities that we did with this program.  I have chosen several more that we are going to complete over the rest of the year. (Currently we are working on the weather activities since it is hurricuane season here in Florida!). The thing I like most about this product is that it is so easily adaptable. We like to follow bunny-trails, and much of our science is interest based (as you can see from other posts I have written about our studies!). With the Earth Book, I felt like I could choose a topic, get some library books, and then just spend however long we wanted to reading about and doing activities on that topic.  That really is the best way for my boys to learn! The Earth Book costs $49.95 and comes with a CD with all the printables for the lessons on it, making it really easy for you to print copies for your kids.  You can learn more about AIMS here:


**Disclaimer: I was given this product free of charge in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

(Not) Back to School!

This month’s blog hop is focused on how we celebrate NOT going back to school! I remember my school days…buying backpacks and school supplies, hoping your teacher would be nice and your friends would be in your class, wondering what time lunch was going to be. As homeschoolers, my children do not participate in most of these traditions. Yes, we do buy school supplies together, but they know who their teacher is (Mom) and who their classmates are (each other), and when lunch is (whenever we get hungry!). Nevertheless, we do have some things we do to celebrate the start of our school year.

First, our local homeschool group has a beach breakfast at the start of every school year. The breakfast is usually held on the first day of school for our local public schools. We meet at a local beach (usually one with a playground as well) and everyone brings food to share. After breakfast the kids play games and the families hang out on the beach. We had a lot of fun this year catching up with our friends, finding out about their summers and learning what they would be doing in school this year.

We also have a family tradition of going out to breakfast at a local restaurant on the first and last days of our school year. This is something my kids really look forward to, because we don’t go out a lot! Once we get home, our first day is usually pretty simple. We talk about what we will be studying this year, the kids set up their notebooks and get to look at their books, and we talk about our schedule.

Speaking of scheduling, I find it funny that many of my friends who don’t homeschool seem to think I have a lot of free time on my hands every day. They ask me out to lunch, or to run an errand for them, or call in the middle of the day. I feel like our days are even busier since we started homeschooling sometimes, but we are doing things we choose to do, not things we have to do. We participate in a homeschool group and a homeschool running club, both of my kids take music lessons (one plays guitar, the other is a drummer), we have family trips to the beach, the park, museums etc. My boys are definitely more involved in things now than they ever were, and I know we would not have time for most of this if they were in school. I guess that is part of the reason we choose to homeschool in the first place!

Mid week update

I was so busy last week, I didn’t get a chance to post!! After a rough day, I realized sometimes it’s okay to just take a day off when you need too! So, we did that, and then got back into schooling.

We did a really cool forensics lab on the chromatography of inks, and it came out really well. I have to download the pictures, but let’s just say, the kids are REALLY enjoying it!

In history, we are almost finished with out Time Travelers Early 19th Century CD, which means we will be starting our Winter Promise/Time Travelers hybrid soon. I have to get busy organizing lists of books to request from the library, but I am really excited about this! I think we are just going to have sooooo much fun! 🙂 We will be throwing Notgrass Ameria The Beautiful into the mix as well (just because it looked so good I couldn’t resist), but I plan to pick bits and pieces from all of them, using the schedule in WP as a guide. The Notgrass book is great for concise information, and also has a LOT of info on unique places and things in the U.S. (like the Smithsonian Institute!). I have also been looking very closely at the newest Time Travelers CD, World War II. It wasn’t finished earlier this summer when I placed my original order, but it’s out now and looks great, so I may be getting it soon.

All of our other subjects are going really well, especially the Mosdos Lit. Both of my kids are really enjoying the stories (and the color pictures). I have to say, the stories are wholesome and fun, and the books themselves are gorgeous.

I have my first few reviews for the TOS Crew coming up as well, so I am going to be one very busy mommy over the next few weeks. It’s okay though, because my husband is working a lot lately, so I need something to keep me busy when school is done and he’s not home….I mean, you can only clean so much right? 😛

A confession

Today was one of those days….the boys were fighting left and right…the science experiment didn’t work the way it was supposed too…nobody would listen…and mom lost her temper. Today was one of those days I just want to lock myself in the bathroom and hide. A day when I question if I really have what it takes to do this…

Homeschool my kids? Really? Yes, I’m a trained teacher…yes I taught 120 middle schoolers a day at one point…but still, it did NOTHING, NOTHING to prepare me for the challenges of teaching my own children, not to mention teaching them while also cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, helping my husband with the business, running errands, looking after pets etc. etc. etc. Some days the weight of it all threatens to pull me under.

I am lucky enough to have a very close friend who also homeschools, and we are both lucky that we don’t both have days like this at the same time. The other day she texted me at lunch and said that was it, she quit, she was putting her kids in school. I called her, and we laughed together, and reminded each other of WHY we are doing this (because the Lord led us to) and unless He tells us there’s a change of plan, we need to stay the course! So I call her, almost in tears, and I am lucky because she stops what she is doing to talk to me and encourage me.

After we get off the phone, I take a deep breath, and I pray. “God, give me strength, and show me what to do now”. No, there are no lightning bolts or anything like that…and the sound of the boys arguing in the other room doesn’t go away…but I am reminded about something I read recently in How to Have a Heart for Your Kids. Rachael says that the Lord used homeschooling to shape HER! To soften the rough edges and make her heart more like His. To teach her patience and unselfishness. At that moment I feel convicted…maybe homeschooling isn’t as much for my kids as it is for me. To mold me into the woman God wants me to be, so I can then mold my children.

I decide to cut things short for today, and just spend some time hanging out with my boys. Because I am a homeschooler, I can do that! 🙂 Although, I admit, at first it was really hard for me to let go of my “to do” list! I like to check everything off, but I know I just have to accept that some days I won’t be able too. It’s a lesson in priorities. Maybe the Lord doesn’t care if we do equivalent fractions today or tomorrow, but I believe He does care about how I held my children’s hearts today.

So now I remember that tomorrow is another day. And I am thankful for good friends to stand by my side and encourage me when I need it. Mostly I am thankful for this life I lead, and thankful that I know I serve a God who is right beside me all the time. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13

Week 3! (and some observations)

This week we did a new forensics lab, comparing typewriting samples, and focused on Native Americans in history. My oldest took his first Pre-Algebra test, and my youngest is almost done with his first CLE 5th grade light unit. We also worked on some logic puzzles, finished our first lesson in Apologia’s Who am I? for bible study, and read a lot of books!

In history this week, my boys made an Indian Story Bag for their lapbooks. This was from Time Travelers Early 19th Century CD and it came out really well.  We talked about different tribes, the Trail of Tears, and the Cherokee Alphabet. I had an interesting discussion with my oldest, about the way we treated the Native Americans in this country, and the results of that treatment. The story bags came out really well!