Friday, February 13, 2015

Deleted Photos

So it looks like I inadvertently deleted the photos from this entire blog. It connects back to Google+. Don't delete your photos from Google+ or it will delete your photos from the original source. Not a smart move Google programmers. I've heard this is a major problems from people all over the Internet. At any rate, I am going to attempt to replace some of the photos as I can. Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Studying Dickens in High School

I know there are those who absolutely detest reading Dickens. And even though I am a certified bibliophile, I completely understand. Dickens has a style that can be confusing and offsetting especially to those new to classic literature and especially Dickens. On the other hand, his use of language can be absolutely beautiful.

As I planned my oldest son's high school literature course of study, I knew I wanted him to read a Dickens besides A Christmas Carol (that one he can practically quote by memory). Before 9th grade, I wrote down, David Copperfield and Great Expectations as possibilities to be included into one of his years of literature. My son (like his mama) is a writer of fiction. And I told him you have to read the greats if you really want to be a good writer. Dickens is one of those greats. What I love about Dickens is his characters. If you want to learn how to write characters, you have to study Dickens. Thankfully, my son actually enjoys watching Dickens period drama films. We've viewed many of them and so the next step is to read of few them in their entirety.

As I am now planning this coming year and we are doing World History, I decided we will do a World Literature course as well. This is a good time to add in Dickens. I went back to the two possible book choices I chose a couple years ago and I began to research which one would be a good fit for my dyslexic boy. Ultimately, I chose a title that I hadn't considered before but which is often taught in high schools around the country. A Tale of Two Cities. 

Why is A Tale of Two Cities usually chosen above others. Well, to begin with it is less complicated in story and in character and it's shorter. It's also a great way to get into a study of the French Revolution and not focus on just the facts but on the people and how it all came about. His French history coming from Thomas Carlyle. It is much more serious than the bulk of Dickens work, but it will definitely incite lots of great discussion. We'll also be viewing the 1989 miniseries as we go along.

Will we eventually get to David Copperfield and Great Expectations? I certainly hope so. There are great characters in there that he needs to study and will enjoy the journey of doing so.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Designing Your Homeschool Schedule

I hadn’t intended for my next post to be about scheduling, but it seems everywhere I look in social media or blogs that people are talking about scheduling. Maybe it’s the New Year and everyone is trying to make a fresh start to finish out their homeschool right.

I know new homeschoolers especially are looking for that perfect sample schedule to follow or adapt which will set their homeschool off to a successful start. Today, I am going to give you the magic recipe for that impeccable and seamless schedule.


Just about every school year (and we’ve been doing this for over ten years now) I have tried to put together a working schedule. More often than not, I sit down with paper and pen and work out how to balance my children into a flow that will work so that I can see to both of their needs. I then take the time to key it into an Excel chart. I might even color code it by child, print it out and post it in the rooms for my two boys.

Are you all set to do that???

And do you know what will undoubtedly happen each and every time after I’ve spent all that energy on my precious schedule? That schedule will get thrown out with last nights table scraps only to be usurped by a better working schedule. A natural schedule. That’s the magic to making a successful schedule. Organically, one will come together.

So stop stressing!

I’ve found that a starting schedule is good. It makes me think about the needs we have in our school. I encourage you to do the same. You might even type it up, but at least write it down. Then as you actually get to schooling, you will find that your children will really choose their best schedule with your guidance. And you will naturally flow into the best schedule for you. Keep in mind that you still need to be in charge here (especially with multiple kids) but without becoming some kind of schedule police.

For example, I have found that my 9 year old will work best on independent work first thing in the morning. He’ll do some reading, working on papers such as handwriting and go into his math lesson. Meanwhile, I can work with the high schooler doing subjects we need to do together (like Algebra) while he is at his most lucid. This is not how I had it planned. Originally, I was working with the elementary student first and had the highschooler working independently, but that schedule just didn’t work.

I’ve also found that they don’t need to follow the same schedule everyday. In fact, it works better to mix it up and let them do different subjects in a different order most days. It keeps it fresh and then they won’t think, Oh, great, it’s 11am. Time for math…again. 

Invite your children to figure out what they like to work on and when. Once they get to a certain age (3rd grade or so), they really do have great insight on what works best for them. It also makes them feel more a part of their education and they might even develop a better work ethic to keep within the schedule you've put together.

Best wishes to you all as you schedule (or not) or allow it to naturally occur. Just remember moms and dads, don’t stress over the perfect schedule because honestly it is about as tangible as the Abominable Snowman. Some are convinced they’ve found it, others don’t believe it exists and the rest of us stumble around just wondering and keep on searching it out.

Happy Schooling from HWJ!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Creating High School Literature Units

I love literature--I always have. So when my oldest reached 7th grade, I decided to forgo the literature book and start creating my own literature units. Now I did teach 8th grade English in a Christian school before I started homeschooling.  In my teaching experience, we used whole book studies more than literature book studies. That made it much easier taking what I had done before and putting together a book study in our homeschool.

You can go about studying literature in two different ways. You can buy or find free online a prepared study guide for the book you intend to study or you can create a study from scratch all on your own. (Go to Glencoe Literature for free study guides.) In my case, I might do one or the other depending on the book. But many times I do a little of both. I'll give you some tips here on how to go about doing this.

Picking Books for Study
For a high school study, choose a theme--something you could put on their transcript such as Ancient Literature, American Literature, British Literature, World Literature, etc. This year, we are studying American Government & Economics. When I went about putting his literature study together, I picked books that went with a study of government. For example, this year in addition to reading Fellowship of the Ring, we are reading The Epic of Gilgamesh, Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, Animal Farm and Pride and Prejudice. He is also learning literary analysis.

Setting up the Study
Once you have chosen the books to study, you have to figure out what to do in your study. Go to one of the online book study sites such as Sparks Notes online. Copy or download the background information they have listed for your book. For example: Context, plot overview, Character List, Analysis of Major Characters, Themes-Motifs-Symbols. Go over these with your student as you introduce the book. Then from Sparks Notes, copy/download the chapter by chapter summaries and analyses.

After your student reads through a chapter of the novel, you can go over the summary and the analysis together. As an assignment, you could have your student write a short paragraph or two summary (or written narration) of the chapter before going over the summary/analysis. Enjoy these sessions with your student and try to bring out some great discussion between you and your teen. You could have them complete a quick reading quiz after each chapter  or a couple quizzes throughout the novel. I do not believe the quizzes are all that necessary but if you want your student to be used to taking quizzes especially pop quizzes go ahead and throw a few into the study.

Advice on Shakespeare

I do advise when studying Shakespeare to go ahead and purchase the Cliff's Complete version of the play you are studying. Go through the text with your student. The Cliff's Complete will explain historical references, Latin phrases, puns, Elizabethan phraseology, etc. as you read the text of the play. It makes deciphering Shakespeare so much easier. I would also advise if your student has had no background in Shakespeare to first read The Tales of Shakespeare by the Lambs. This will give them an understanding of the plot before they read it in the original format. And most importantly, watch the play being performed either live, movie or a recorded play. Shakespeare was meant to be watched not read.

Final Assignment
Continue going through the novel as described above. At the end, prepare a final assignment. Be creative and choose something to test your students knowledge of the material but take into account your student's strengths. For example, after reading Oedipus Rex, they could write a comparison paper between Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith and Oedipus Rex. After reading, The Hobbit, they could write a paper showing Bilblo going through the Hero's Journey. If your student, isn't a writer give them a different type of final assignment. A project maybe or something more hands-on.

In the end, make the study meaningful and memorable. Enjoy this time with your teen. You are doing more than studying a book; you are making memories.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beefing up HOD Beyond for a 3rd Grader

Originally, I had intended to use Bigger for my 3rd grader this year. This is our first year with Heart of Dakota so after some thought and prayer I decided to go with Beyond and move into Bigger in 4th and Preparing in 5th. That way we wouldn't be in CTC until 6th grade. I also made this choice because I didn't think he was ready for the writing aspect and the more Charlotte Mason style of narrating required in Bigger. But in doing so, I knew I would have to make some changes since he would be at the higher end of the guide. Here are the additions I've made to the curriculum.

Bible Study/Music:

The HOD Bible study and audio CD are great. My son learned the Bible verse with no problem. I did make him a Bible verse puzzle. We did it on Day 3 & 4 which really aided memorization. The great part is how the Bible integrates with all the other subjects.

In addition to the curriculum, I added more songs to Bible time and a read aloud to each day. Monday: Children Demand a Verdict, Tuesday: Egermeir's Bible Story, Wednesday: Morning Bells (part of HOD), Thursday: Great Treasure Quest, Friday: Is the Bible Personally from God. We also use the Bible verse copy work that I made at We do this M-TH. If you have a student who hates to write, only make them write one sentence a day but in their very best writing. If, on the other hand, your student loves writing, you can have them do the whole verse each day or a couple times a week.


At this point in history, I have not added any text to the already great texts used in HOD. In fact, the American Pioneers and Patriots book (Christian Liberty Press) is a 3rd grade book & Stories of the Pilgrims is a 4th grade level book. In my opinion (as someone with a history degree and a previous middle school teacher), most of these readings are on a higher level than a 1st or even a 2nd grader will completely understand. They may sit for it and be able to narrate back some of what they learned but a 3rd grader really will gain more from these readings than a younger child would. If I do add more to the readings, it will be Light and the Glory for Children and the other 2 subsequent books. We do the history activity as written each week. Make sure not to miss it.

I have added some history worksheets to our week. Someone created and posted history note booking pages for Beyond in the HOD yahoo group. They are a great review and assessment of what was read all week. I will give this either on Thursday or Friday. They can be found at:


We have really been enjoying the geography in HOD and do every activity. Geography is only offered once a week which I think is just a enough in these early elementary years. For the 3rd grader, I have added Map Skills published by Instructional Fair (Carson Dellosa). It is a very inexpensive book and my son loves doing them. (We did the 1st and 2nd grade book last year.) We just do one page a day on the same Geography day in the HOD plans. We also include extensive use of the globe and as we move more into the United States we will use the US map and be learning the placement of the states and learn the capitals. 

Poetry & Rhymes:

We follow the poetry lesson plans closely to how they were written. I see the weekly poetry as exposure not mastery. Some of those poems would be hard to memorize in a week. If it is a long poem, we focus more on the first stanza though I will read through the other stanzas periodically. For doing the poem copy work, a HOD mom has made up some copy work pages. It can also be found in the HOD yahoo group files section. For the 3rd grader, you could have them write an entire stanza each day or the entire poem depending on their writing ability. For my 3rd grader we usually do one line a day and focus on one stanza.


The science exploration lessons and experiments have been a hit with my son. He is very excited when it is a science day. We follow the lessons as written, but I have included doing a lab sheet when we have an experiment. This is great preparation for middle school/high school science. Another HOD mom has prepared these sheets and are available in the HOD yahoo group files under Beyond. I have added Apologia Zoology 1 into our week. We do it twice a week. However, we do not do all the experiments and activities in Apologia as it would be far too much work for my guy in addition to the HOD Science and lab reports. Get additional books from the library on the topics your child seems most interested.


We follow the art section as written. I really love how these activities are incorporated into the week and integrates with the rest of the weekly lessons. In addition to the art activity, we might add an art project from Abeka Art Projects on Fridays. Once a week, we do a few pages from How Great Thou Art curriculum using I Can Do All Things. I tried using this curriculum with my son when he was 6 and in 1st grade. He hated it! Now he is really enjoying it which shows how we need to be in tune with our children's likes and abilities and be ready to make changes as needed.


My older son started studying Latin last year and my younger one sat in on the classes and watched the videos too. He did learn a little, but I was more interested in exposure for him. This year,  the 3rd grader is using Prima Latina (the 9th grader is using Visual Latin). We are taking it slow doing it twice a week and going through a lesson every two weeks. He's picking it up and doing great with it. We will continue with this same book in the 4th grade. I would not consider doing this program earlier than 3rd grade.


For storytime, we don't necessarily pick a book from Carrie's list. It is not that we dislike the choices (quite the contrary), but we may not have the book or be able to get to the library to pick one up. We just pick a book from the same genre and it works great. At the beginning of the lessons, it is a biography. We read a book on Benjamin Franklin. We finished it in 9 days. So we started a second book on Sacagawea. We will have it finished before moving on to the next genre. We follow the lessons plans and I write in a composition notebook his answers to the questions in the lesson plans or his oral narrations. He can draw pictures in there too which go with his book.

Language Arts:

We do not follow the Language Arts lesson plans as we have other curriculum that works well for us. For spelling, we use All About Spelling and for grammar First Language Lessons. In addition, we use Abeka Language 2 book for writing and some worksheets for the struggling reader. If you use the curriculum suggested by HOD, start using Rod and Staff grammar in 3rd grade and do the higher level spelling lists at the back of the Beyond manual. Keep a list of words your student misspells in his writing during the week and learn those as well.

Handwriting is covered in the copy work we do in other subjects. He just has to understand that the copy work isn't busy work or just a way to learn his poem or Bible verse. It is to practice his handwriting. So, he needs to take his time and do his very best handwriting. We decided to hold off on learning cursive writing until his printing is better. We used Handwriting Without Tears last year which was great. And next year for teaching cursive, we will be using Cheerful Cursive. Other 3rd graders might be ready for cursive this year.


We do not follow the mathematics recommendation of Singapore math. We use Math-U-See. My son is in the Gamma level this year learning multiplication.  He also practices his math facts using several different means. Spend this year getting math facts cemented and use a math program that works best with your child's learning style at their own particular level which does not have to match their grade level.


My son is an emerging reader even in 3rd grade. He has a medical eye issue that required surgery. He is finally able to use his eyes together and focus. His reading development has been slower than average but he is still doing great and he should catch up this year. We follow the emerging reader schedule but not faithfully. In addition, to the emerging readers we still practice our Abeka phonics charts and read out of another additional book along with the Emerging readers. He does some worksheets for the struggling reader as well. If you have a 3rd grade independent reader, put them into DITHOR. I would wait to put a student in DITHOR before 3rd grade. If you have an independent 1st or 2nd grader, have them read books from the 2/3 list and let them narrate, but I wouldn't put the stress on them into starting DITHOR before they are ready.

I hope this helps those of you attempting to use Beyond with an older student. Feel free to leave questions on the blog or email me privately.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HOD Beyond Week 1

This was the big week we were waiting for--our first week using Heart of Dakota. I'm happy to report that our week went smoothly and we had a lot of fun too. I've had to add to Beyond because I am using it with a 3rd grader (Comedian R) but I still think it is a good fit for my guy. There will be a later post on how to beef up Beyond for a 3rd grader.

In storytime, HOD begins reading a Biography. To introduce that a biography is a book on a person's life, they have the students go to their room and pick 5 items that tell more about them. My son picked out an American flag because he is an American, green shamrock beads because green is his favorite color, a Superman figure because he wants to be a superhero when he grows up, a Lego Ninjago figure as he loves playing legos, and a rubber lizard just because he likes it. We are reading a biography on Benjamin Franklin. The Story of Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American by Margaret Davidson. You don't have to use the title suggested in the curriculum. It just has to be a biography. All the activities and questions are generalized to work with any biography.

In history, we learned about the Spanish pioneers as they crossed the Atlantic on their way to settle St. Augustine in Florida. In geography, the curriculum says to make an outline of the world with masking tape. I just got out my large laminated world map which worked great pointing out the continents. In this picture Comedian R is jumping on one foot from each continent that I call out.

In science this week, we learned about ocean currents and whale blubber. Here he is with his paper boat making currents with a small dropper. By the way, the dropper was too small and the index card boat became water logged too soon. We got out a small plastic boat and used a turkey baster to make the current and we sailed the boat around the bathtub.

In Beyond, you start building a timeline. The curriculum suggests taking a piece of paper and creating a grid of centuries and then drawing a picture for each point on the timeline. Instead, I had this drawing paper and decided to make a more longitudinal timeline.  Comedian R is not an artist and does not like drawing pictures. So, when we can, we will find pictures to put on the time line. His brother (Creative C) helped him with the fort drawing on the timeline this week.

The last activity of the week (Day 5), we were to make a coat of arms. As it happens, I will be teaching a class on medieval times in co-op this semester so I had a book just on coat of arms. I took some thin cardboard and traced an outline of the shield. We cut it out and then traced the shield outline on the piece of construction paper. Then cut that out and glued it to the cardboard. Using just water colors we used stencils to make the figures to create the coat of arms. We glued an empty toilet paper roll on the back for a handle.

We also had a breakthrough this week. My guy tied a shoe for the first time. FINALLY! Admittedly, I haven't had him work on this as much as I should as he doesn't wear laces in his shoes at this point. Overall, it was a great week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Setting up Workboxes for the New School Year

Last year I set up our workboxes and wrote about it last fall. This year I knew I wanted to use the workboxes but with some improvements. Attending Sue Patrick's seminar really gave me some ideas.

For my elementary student, I used the traditional workbox system using the shoe rack and shoe boxes. This is the same set up that I used last year.

This is what I did different this year. First, just like Sue suggested, I made him a way to 'clock-in & clock-out.' It seems silly and a waste of time but the younger kids really like it. If it gives them a reason to be excited to start school each morning, then that is something to utilize. My son really does enjoy 'clocking in and clocking out.' He even does it on the weekends when he is doing chores. You can use anything to make these. I just took a letter size envelope and cut it to look like a pocket. Then I laminated it. Using an exacto knife, I opened the slit. For his time card, I printed it on card stock and then laminated it.

Last year, I had a chart where he put the numbers after finishing the box. This year I decided to make the strips. It tells him what box to work on, when to take a break, do activities, play instrument, do lunch, etc.

When he is finished with a box, he places the completed label on the box. This is different than Sue Patrick suggests. In her book, she says to place everything back into the box and then stack them beside the students desk or with younger students put all the boxes into a large rubbermaid container. To me this just wastes time. I usually use a lot of the same materials everyday. So it makes sense to place everything back into the box and replace the box on the shelf for tomorrow.

I am pretty much doing the same thing with my high school student. He uses magazine files on his book shelf instead of the shoe rack. This fits into his room and works much better for an older student. I am using the strips with him too. Works great!

We have also started doing Centers which is another part of Sue Patrick's system. I will explain better how I have i instituted that in another post.