Firsts and Lasts

I think anyone who has been a parent has shared the feeling of excitement that comes when your child does a “first.”  By that I mean, the first time you watch your child gain a victory over some skill or do something by themselves.  We applaud wildly when our little ones take their first steps or say their first words. When they are older, it’s other things that bring that joy, like reading by themselves or riding a two-wheeler for the first time.  We all spend those childhood years cheering our children on from one accomplishment to the next.

But there is a different perspective that I wish I was more conscious of and that’s the “lasts.”  So many times we have no warning that something will be done for the last time and we wish we’d known so we could take a moment and savor the experience one last time.  Things would take on a different meaning if you knew that it would be the last time.  I remember how many years I was awakened in the night to nurse a baby and how I would sometimes wish that season would end. But if I had known which time would be the last time, I think I would have taken a moment to acknowledge the experience as one that often brought a sense of peace and a pause that sort of said “all is right with the world.” There was just something about that middle of the night experience that I now look back on and treasure. As that time passed I told myself with some relief, that the little fellow was finally sleeping through the night.  But after experiencing it with seven babies, I wish I’d known which time would really be the last, because now I know that I would have looked at it differently.

Most times we are just living life, focusing on what comes next and we aren’t at all conscious of the passing of time. We probably miss a lot of lasts and never even notice. But last night I had an experience that reminded me that the lasts are important and I would do well to notice them. My youngest son has been involved in a program called Royal Rangers. It’s similar to Boy Scouts but since it is part of the Assemblies of God Church program, it has a strong Biblical focus. Last night Alex’s group had their Council of Achievement where they are presented with the merit badges they have earned during the previous quarter. Alex had worked very hard for several months and earned several merits as well as an impressive number of rank advancements.  I was so proud of him and at the same time, I became painfully aware that he was the last of the boys to have this opportunity and indeed, he was quickly moving forward and would move on to a new season as the others had.  He is really looking forward to moving on to youth group and likely won’t be in Royal Rangers next year so he  only has one more quarter to work on badges and stand proudly before the audience to receive his awards.

You might say that focusing on the “lasts” just brings sadness and you are right, it does, but it also brings an opportunity to stop and savor moments that you would otherwise totally miss because of the pace of life. We move through life so fast that we are sort of on automatic-pilot, switching to the next season without thinking about what was gained in the previous one. We do have certain times where we have learned to take notice  like school graduations and marriage, when we recognize that our children will be forever changed, never to return to their former lives.  When those things happen we greet them with feelings that are bittersweet. We wouldn’t take those moments away from our children, but at the same time we grieve a little for what is passing.  But this is what parenting is, isn’t it?  A holding on and letting go, over and over.

I would like to suggest that there are many more subtle moments in life when our children are ready to move on to a new season and if we were aware, we would  have some wonderful moments where we experience joy in the passing.  Yes, it will be  bittersweet  and some tears are likely to be shed, but they will be tears of joy as we see what has been done in that child’s life to get him to this new season.  Firsts are great, but  lasts are the necessary stepping stones and are perhaps worth the pause required to acknowledge them.

Of course it’s easier to notice the lasts for the youngest child because there are no more to follow but the lasts in the lives of the older ones are worth acknowledging too. I am praying that God will help me slow down and take more notice of the lasts that I may be thankful for each one and appreciate more what comes next.

Getting Your Kids to Read

Books Children LoveA couple of months ago I wrote a post about the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I hope you have had a chance to take a look at this excellent resource.  Now that it’s August, I am looking at what we will use for school this year. I have consulted several other resources similar to the Read Aloud Handbook that I think are also well worth a look.

Since our homeshool method is pretty relaxed, I usually use mostly library books for history. No dry textbooks for us. We’d rather find a story, be it fiction or biography, that helps us imagine what it was really like to live in a particular time period. So I am always looking for interesting titles that I can read aloud to my younger boys or recommend as independent reading to the older ones. I try not to assign them specific books but rather allow them the freedom to choose titles that they find interesting.

There are many resources available that help you choose a variety of books to interest your children. Since I have all boys, I have found a book called Great Books for Boys by Kathleen Odean particularly helpful. The author has organized her recommendations first by reading level and then by genre. She gives short summaries of each book and the age group recommended.

Another general title is What to Read When by Pam Allyn. This resource begins with a section of ideas to get your child motivated to read and then she gives a list of books recommended by age group. Finally, she lists suggestions of books that relate to 50 different topics that she has chosen to address. Some of the topics she deals with include adoption, death, divorce, siblings and loneliness. All the topics are things many children are going to face in their lives and the author has given several books in each catagory to help kids grow through the challenges they face.

Several other titles that offer help with finding good books for children are Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Laraway Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and Books That Build Character:  A Guide to Teaching Your Children Moral Values through Stories by William Kilpartrick.

I have also found a couple of more specific resources helpful. As I said, I often rely on historical fiction when I am talking about history with my children. A couple of resources have been designed to make this easier. One is Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher.  This book goes through the eras of history with recommendations for books that are sorted by setting. The author has noted the reading age and type of book as well as a comment to help you in your search. There are hundreds of titles that you might not ever run across on your own. This book has been a valuable resource for us for many years. It is out of print now and available used at a pretty high price. The best way to get your hands on this book might be through inter-library loan. Check with your local library.

Another similiar title, Turning Back the Pages of Time by Kathy Keller is also out of print but available used at This is just a small, 35-page booklet but it is packed with great reading suggestions sorted by era and then by reading ability. It is worth finding if you are using fiction to teach history.

That’s all I have for now. If you have come across other resources of a similar nature I would love to hear about them. Feel free to add a comment to this post with your recommendations.


What I’ve Been Reading

BooksMy husband and children often tease me about how many books I have out from the library (sometimes over 100!). They also find it strange that I am usually reading several books at the same time.  But that doesn’t really seem all that odd to me. After all, when I was in college, taking several courses at once, didn’t I read more than one book at a time then?  I just tell them that they should try it too, maybe they could actually keep up with me!

I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading lately. There is usually no real pattern to what I read at any given time. I just follow my interests moment by moment. Here is what I have going at the moment.

I just finished a book called How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World by Leslie Vernick. This book challenges the current cultural focus on self-centered living. It was a refreshing call to make some changes in my life that would help move me toward personal, relational and spiritual growth. I highly recommend it to anyone who is tired of the “looking out for number one” mentality.

I am also currently reading a book called Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. This book looks at how we as parents can help our boys to truly enjoy just being boys. The author offers practical ways to teach our sons to become responsible, caring men of integrity in a world that often portrays men as weak and stupid. Just watch some prime time TV and you will see plenty of examples of men being made to look foolish. This book is a real encouragement to return to some of the old-fashioned forms of play for boys and turn away from the offerings of the current culture that seeks to make them less than they were created to be.  Great book!

Another book I am reading is called Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. This is a sort of laid back textbook on creating fiction. If  you are interested  in learning the craft of writing stories,or have a teen who is interested in writing, this is a great book to help you create memorable characters. This is the third time I’ve read this title which is out of print, but still available used at

I just picked up a new book from the library last week called Simple Food for Busy Families: The Whole Life Nutrition Approach by Jeannette Bessinger and Tracee Yablon-Brenner. I have only read the first few chapters but these two authors have already given me some  great ideas about making healthier choices when it comes to feeding my family. The book is loaded with nutritional information, tips and recipes that will help you find the confidence to try a new healthier way of eating.

Finally, I always have a fiction title in the works as well as all the others. Right now I am reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I’ve read this book before, probably 8 or 9 years ago. It is definitely worth reading more than once. I love this story because if reminds me that no one is ever beyond God’s reach. A great story based on the Old Testament story of Gomer in the book of Hosea.

Well, that’s it for the moment. In another post I’ll tell you about the genealogy books and the quilting books and the cookbooks…maybe I’ll make this a regular monthly post. I know I’d never run out of material!

Happy reading!


You Can Do It!

Last week I had meetings all week.  In Iowa, one of the assessment options for homeschoolers is to work with a supervising teacher.  Since I was a licensed teacher in Ohio back in the 80’s I was able to obtain a substitute teacher’s license when we moved to Iowa. This allows me to act as a supervising teacher for other homeschoolers. I am required by the state to meet quarterly with homeschooling families so I meet in August, November, February and April.  At these meetings I talk to both the parents and the students.  The families I work with cover the spectrum of homeschooling methods. I have families who purchase their entire curriculum for the year as a packaged deal from their chosen publisher. I also have families who are total “unschoolers,” learning in rhythm with their child’s interests, using no conventional curriculum at all. The majority fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

I’ve noticed one similarity shared by all types of homeschoolers. They desperately want to do what is best for their children and, because of the skeptics they must constantly answer to, they doubt their ability to do what they desire most.

This is where I come in. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is the opportunity I have to look these sometimes very discouraged moms and dads in the eye and say, “You can do this and I will help you succeed any way I can.”  Some visibly relax when they hear those words. Somewhere inside them, they know that they can do what is best for their child but the outside influences have slowly eroded their confidence.  My goal is to help rebuild their confidence and help restore some excitement about this homeschooling adventure they are on.

And, it is an adventure! Everyday presents the opportunity to explore new ideas and make new discoveries. That’s what learning is supposed to be, not the drudgery of taking tests and completing assignments. While some find they need that sort of feedback, that isn’t where the joy of the journey is found.

The joy comes when you see your little boy read his first Bob Book all by himself or when you see the satisfaction on your daughter’s face the first time she gets all her multiplication facts right. But even better are those times when you watch a thunderstorm move in and learn together about the power of the weather. Or when you watch a bee on a tiny spring flower and you marvel at the incredible way creation comes to life after a long winter.

The best part of homeschooling is getting to experience these things with your children, not just hearing about them second hand when your children come home tired from a day in the classroom. That’s what makes it all worth it.

And, after a week of meetings, if I have been able to encourage my families to look at the bigger picture, I feel like I’ve make a difference. Yes, there are curriculum decisions to make and challenges to deal with but in the long run what matters most is the day to day interactions between parent and child. The homeschooling  adventure happens a day at a time and sometimes a moment at a time.

Enjoy the journey!


My Little Apron

My Little Apron

I recently finished a fun project for my granddaughter. She turned three in May and, as has been my tradition-for three years anyway, I try to think of a gift I can make for her. So far I have made a rag doll and doll sized quilt and puppets.  At Christmas last year I made her an apron because she always wants to be in the kitchen when her daddy is cooking and Daddy has an apron. Lately I’ve noticed that aprons are becoming more popular again. There are many websites with information about making a variety of styles for children and adults.   Here are just a few: (some of these are repeats of the first website)

The pattern I used was one I actually bought:  Simplicity 3949.

As my granddaughter’s birthday approached I was thinking about what I would make for her and decided on a chef’s hat to go with her apron. I just used some of the scraps from the apron and white fabric to make the rest. I found the pattern here.

It was a simple gift but I think she liked it. If you look at her photo you’ll see what I mean.

Her little sister is about to have a birthday. I’ve been busily working on her gift but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see it. It’s a surprise!

Happy sewing!


Make Summer Memories — for $20 or Less!

In the Pool

Well, summer is slipping away. If you are like me, you start the summer with the goal to have a great summer, full of activities that will leave your kids with lasting memories. But now, with the summer more than half over, you are still looking for the time and the money to create these special moments.

I am here to tell you that there is still time and you don’t need a lot of money to make it happen. Remember back to your own childhood summers. It’s probably not the expensive vacations that you remember. It’s more likely the simple things that bring you the fondest memories. For me, some of my greatest memories are included in this list of things I’ve also done with my kids or still plan to do.

So take a few minutes to plan a little and then start making some memories. And be sure to have your camera ready!

1. Have an Ice Cream Party. Buy a gallon of ice cream, a bunch of bananas, and some toppings like chocolate syrup or whipped cream. Invite the neighborhood kids over and have fun creating amazing sundaes.

2. Host a Water Balloon fight. Buy several packages of water balloons and…well, you know the rest!

3. Go on a Nature Adventure. Plan a simple picnic and take a walk at a nature park. Bring along your insect, tree and bird identification books. You could also bring sketch books and colored pencils to capture what you discover.

Sidewalk Chalk

4. Host a Sidewalk Art Show.  Purchase a couple of large boxes of sidewalk chalk.  If you have sidewalks, have each child choose a square ( it’s a good idea to leave empty squares in between so the artists have room to work without stepping on each others masterpieces). No sidewalks? A paved driveway can be divided into squares too. If you live in the country you’ll have to find a friend in town with sidewalks! When the artists have finished their work invite the neighbors to visit your outdoor gallery.

5. Make some homemade bubbles. There are tons of websites with ideas for this activity. Here are just a couple to check out:

You can also just do a search for bubbles and bubble wands and find many more.  Cool humid days with little wind are the best days for bubbles.

6. Create a Photo Album of summer friends.  Buy an inexpensive miniature photo album and have your kids take picturse of all their friends. Print the pictures on photo paper on your home computer or take them to a quick print photo lab like those at Target or Walmart. Add captions and decorate the albums with stickers or other art supplies that you might have on hand. You could make this an annual event and years from now your kids will have lasting memories of their summer friendships.

7. Plan an outdoor games event. Invite some friends and play games like relays, tests of skill and other old-fashioned birthday party type games.  Who needs a birthday in order to have some fun?  For most games you can use various household items. A great book called Play with Us: 100 Games from Around the World is a great resource. Many of the games will be new to your kids. Most require a few props and those can usually be found or made at home. This book may be available at your public library. It is also available new or used at  you can also check out this website for some fun, easy games.

8. Build an outdoor tent village.  Using old sheets and blankets, a few deck chairs or folding chairs and some clothes pins you can creat a small city of tent dwellings. Hours of imaginative fun can be found inside these temporary dwellings.  Think about the indoor tents you have made in the winter and adapt it the great outdoors.

For even more ideas for inexpensive activities to do with your family, click here.

Go have some fun!


Save Money with Old-Fashioned Homemade Gifts

I am always on the lookout for frugal gift ideas. Even without the recent economic woes, we have needed to be careful in this area. It is easy to go way over your budget for gifts in a hurry!  With my large family and fast-growing extended family, finding a way to give gifts to those we love while keeping expenses down has always been a challenge.

Many years we have made the decision that hand-made gifts are our best option.  There is something about being able to creat a gift for someone that goes beyond simply going to the store in search of the perfect gift at a bargain price. I think we get a chance to really savor the anticipation of how the gift will be received and are able to feel the love we have for the recipient  going into the process.

Some years we have made food items and other time it’s been Christmas ornaments or household items. Lately I have been sewing a lot of gifts since I have granddaughters.  I think finally having girls around has awakened a love for creating things from fabric that I never new existed until now!  I’ve made dolls, quilts, aprons and puppets and have a great time coming up with new ideas for the next project.  Right now I am finishing a little doll quilt for my granddaughter’s birthday in a few weeks. It is made from the same material that I made her baby quilt from when she was born so she and her dolly will have matching quilts.

Usually — at least at Christmas time — I involve my sons in the creating. Each time the satisfaction that shows on their faces when they present a gift that they helped make is  priceless.  There are shelves of books full of ideas for making the perfect gift. We have used many books and websites over the years that have had great ideas. I’ve compiled a list of a few that I think have some good projects and contain easy instructions.

The first three titles are out of print but available from used books sellers on

201 Craft Bazaar Best-Sellers is a book packed with easy projects that you might find at any craft bazaar. The projects are simple to create and would be fun to do with children.

55 Country Doughcraft Designs has almost twenty pages of basic instructions and technique before they get to the projects. After reading the clear directions you will feel confident to try your hand at doughcraft.  The projects range from very simple to challenging and there are plenty of illustrations to show you the finished products.

Crafts to Make and Sell is another book full of projects you might find at craft bazaars. The instructions are clear and the variety of projects is amazing. The cover says “more that 1000 projects, tips and ideas for marketing or giving your crafts”

Finally, a much newer title is Painting and Decorating Clay Pots.  This book had 150 fun step-by-step projects using terra-cotta pots that you can find at any craft or garden store. You might even find some on clearance toward the end of summer.  This book is laid out in an easy to follow format. Each project has the instructions, a list of materials and a picture of the finished product. Projects range from small ornaments to household decorations to larger outdoor decorations. They are fun to make and fun to give.

Now is the time to start thinking about Christmas gifts!  You can take your time and make some wonderful gifts if you start early!

Have fun!


Do You Geek the Library?

From a homeschoolers perspective it goes without saying that the library is a vital part of daily life — at least at our house. I don’t know about you, but for our family the library is actually our main source of curriculum. I use the word “curriculum” loosely.  It isn’t uncommon for me to have more that 100 books signed out on my library card at one time. Fortunately for me, my library has no limit to the number of books you can take home!

Years ago, when I began homeschooling I spent hours with the curriculum catalogs and then spent more hours in the vendor hall of our state homeschool convention in search of the perfect curriculum.   I collected boxes of different programs all designed to be the perfect means by which to educate my children.

Now, eighteen years later, I have tossed most of those texts and also tossed the concept that we need some sort of canned program at all. These days you will find us on any given school day, reading a variety of books — most, if not all, from the public library.

At this moment, because of the current economic challenges we are all facing, libraries are becoming endangered.  Many state and local governments are considering cutting funding for libraries at a time when  the resources available there are more important than ever.

As homeschoolers, we are quite familiar with the need to make our voices heard about issues of importance. This is another cause that we can get behind wholeheartedly. Institutions like the public library are part of what makes our country a great place. Let’s get informed and get the word out that we need our libraries to be a priority.

You can start by visiting and sending the link to anyone you feel would be interested. No one will know that we think this is important unless we tell them.

What do you geek?


Sometimes Life Gets Messy

LaundrySometimes my life gets messy. I’m not talking about issues, emotional stress, challenging relationships. Not that kind of mess. I’m talking about the really physical mess that happens in households where kids are being trained.  For years I have had trouble finding the line between training my children to be responsible and keeping my household up to the standards I would like it to be.  When you are training children there is always that learning curve that inevitably leaves pot holes in the road.

This morning there was a pretty impressive pot hole.  We are in the process of training our boys to do laundry. Not just to learn the mechanics of running the washer and dryer. The whole process is of course, much more involved than that. At our house it involves the following steps:

  1. Finding the laundry (search the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms and sometimes the front steps, please)
  2. Sorting (no, that new black shirt doesn’t go in with the load of white socks and underwear)
  3. Loading the washer (you cannot wash 25 bath towels at once, that would be at least TWO loads — and don’t forget the detergent!)
  4. Remembering that there is laundry in the washer before the sour smell gives it away
  5. Putting the laundry in the dryer (that little door with the fuzzy stuff coming out all over is supposed to be emptied EVERY time you load the dryer)
  6. Taking the clean clothes out of the dryer ( were the clothes in the bottom of that basket you just dumped clean clothes into, clean or dirty?)
  7. Bringing the clean clothes upstairs
  8. Sorting
  9. Folding
  10. Putting it away where it belongs

And that still isn’t the end of it. There is also the aspect that the laundry person needs to stay on top of the job. It is not acceptable to leave a zillion loads in the laundry bin and expect it to just  some how wash itself. The other thing is, since we have more than one trainee there is that issue of expecting that “someone else” will do it.  I often find myself saying,”someone needs to change the laundry” to which my husband can be heard saying frequently “someone doesn’t live here.”

So this morning, when my husband got up to go to work the clothes he needed hadn’t been put in the dryer the night before and now he was scrambling to find something to wear. It should never get to this point but when you are training children to be responsible there will be times when the system fails. They won’t always get it right and knowing that, we sometimes have the tendency to “just do it ourselves” so we avoid any issues. Whether we know it or not, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we choose to avoid the possibility of failure.

What we can do is keep working with our kids. They will eventually learn if we don’t give up. They will become responsible adults, eventually.  So just keep trying, keep training…and retraining. Keep encouraging them and keep praising them when they get closer to the goal. When the trash is overflowing and no one but you seems to notice, when the dog’s water bowls are empty…again, when the laundry smells funny because it sat in the washer too long, just remember that you main goal right now is training your kids, not having a flawlessly run household. It might be tempting to just do everything yourself but your kids will be the better for it if you just persevere.  One day they will be grown and gone and you will have your house in order. You will be proud of who they have become and you might even miss these chaotic days just a little.

Keep pressing on!


Ways to Avoid Summer Brain Drain

Summer ActivitiesI know a lot of homeschoolers do some sort of formal schooling all year round. For a long time I started each year with the intention of continuing through the summer but as April rolled around and then we got into May, my resolve always crumbled — by then we all needed a break.

The research is plentiful if you want some proof that learners actually lose some of what they learned if they take a long break from the learning process. I had plenty of evidence in my own house, I didn’t need convincing.

What I did need was a way to take a much needed break from the more structured education process that we follow most of the year without losing too much ground. I’m really not worried about “getting behind” (click here to find out more about why this doesn’t have to be a concern).  I just didn’t want to spend unnecessary time “relearning” before we could move on.

What I’ve found with my own kids is that it isn’t always that important what they think about during the summer. In other words, they don’t always need to be progressing in the usual subjects like math lessons and spelling lists. I’ve found that a little review now and then, coupled with a variety of activities that keep their brains from collecting cobwebs is enough to prevent the sort of information dump that we are constantly being warned about.

If your family is anything like mine, then you are learning new things all the time. We have never considered summer as a break from learning, just as a break from the routine of the rest of the year. We are always looking for new things to explore. So what we do now is try to be a little more intentional about learning but we mostly just have fun!

Here is a list of  some of the things we do in the summer that help us keep our brains engaged:

  • Reading lots of books for the library reading program.
  • Reading magazines –  click here for a list of great magazines for kids
  • Watching nature or travel DVD’s
  • Keeping identification books for bugs, birds, wildflowers, trees, weather, etc. handy so we can look up anything that happens to come across our path
  • Drawing and art projects
  • Board games
  • Hobbies like stamp collecting and coin collecting, kites, rockets, model cars, fishing, woodworking — all these things require learning new vocabulary and new skills

Aside from those activities, camping trips and family vacations offer tremendous opportunities for learning.  The thing I always try to remember is that my main goal is not to fill my kids heads with a bunch of facts but to teach them to love the process of learning and I think the summer months are the perfect time to do that. So enjoy your summer and learn some new things right along with your kids.

Happy learning,