Category Archives: Our Homeschool Story

Our Homeschool Story
This is a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

Introduction
Introduction 1.1
Introduction 1.2
Introduction 1.3

Before Kindergarten
Before Kindergarten 2.1
Before Kindergarten 2.2 Books in the House
Before Kindergarten 2.3 Kelly Learns to Read
Before Kindergarten 2.4 Christian Learns to Read Differently

Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years
Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years 3.1
Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years 3.2 Kindergarten
Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years 3.3 Homeschool Planning–First Try
Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years 3.4 First grade homeschool

The government school years
The government school years 4.1 Why we did it
The government school years 4.2 A new school district makes us reconsider homeschool

What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be?
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.1 What were our options?
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.2 History and Literature
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.3 Writing and Spelling
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.4 Science
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.5 Math
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.6 Philosophy, Religion and Worldviews
What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? 5.7 Art, Music and PE

The Elementary School Years
The Elementary School Years 6.1 We choose Sonlight
The Elementary School Years 6.2 Structured daily plans
The Elementary School Years 6.3 A typical homeschool day (Christian)
The Elementary School Years 6.4 A typical homeschool day (Kelly)
The Elementary School Years 6.5 The things we did together at night

The Junior High School Years

CLEP Testing, the ACT and the Community College Years

Hard Undergraduate Degrees and Graduate School

Note: I try to answer all my email on the subject of homeschool, privately if requested.

Our Homeschool Story: Introduction (1.1)

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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I have decided to try to write a narrative history of our homeschool. My kids suggested that I write a book about what we did, not so much because we had anything particularly important to say, but as a way to remember and pass along a little family history. I have thought about this and even written about it in this blog. My conclusion is that I do not have the time at this point in my life nor discipline required to make an overall plan for something as ambitious as a book.

We do get lots of questions from friends, family and readers of the blog. I try to answer them as best I can, but I believe a continuous narrative might be a bigger help than just the hit and miss blog posts we have on this website. I have tried to pull some of the stuff together into series which I think have been a help to, actually, quite a few people. The series on skipping high school, use of CLEP testing in a homeschool setting, and socialization rank fairly high on the search engines and we get many visits there.

After a couple of false starts and the realization I do not currently have the will, time nor discipline to write a book, I kind of gave up on the project. Yesterday, though, it dawned on me that I have been faithfully writing a blog now for over ten years. All this writing has never been about any monetary benefit we might receive from it, so why not just record the history here. The story might lack in structure to a certain extent, but at least I can get the narrative down. That is what I have decided to try to do. I am sure it will be like all of my blogging effort–there will be periods of activity followed by times when my day job requires my full focus.

I am not quite sure about the structure yet, but the preliminary plan is to start writing about what led up to our decision to homeschool the kids. Soon after I get started, I will write a contents section and provide a link to a table of contents page for the whole narrative so not too much clicking back and forth is required to read the whole thing. If I ever get through the whole narrative, I will probably put it all into a PDF document or something similar so it can be downloaded all at once.

As for now, this is still in the experimental stage, so the whole project will surely morph a little before I settle on a format and/or writing schedule. I hope to keep posting on other things that interest me as I go along, too.

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Betty Blonde #195 – 04/15/2009
Betty Blonde #195
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Our Homeschool Story: Introduction (1.2)

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Though this story is part of a larger blog that is now over ten years old, I want it to stand on its own. To that end, I will briefly describe the educational background of our families and the early days of our marriage. My wife Lorena and I have surprisingly similar backgrounds. She comes from a family of farmers and woodworker’s from Northern Mexico while I come from a family of farmers and woodworkers (loggers and mill workers) from Oregon. The only one of our parents who went to college was my mother who got a degree in Pharmacy from Oregon State University in 1952, a time at which very few women studied Pharmacy.

All of the next generation in both families went on to college at some sacrifice to our parents. Lorena has three brothers with Bachelor’s degrees in engineering from excellent universities in Mexico. Lorena’s fourth brother runs a successful business, but education is valued so highly that he started and is half way through a mid-career law degree. It was only through great sacrifice, hard work and the family working together over a long period of time that they were able accomplish this uncommon level of education achievement. Lorena, herself is now half way through an Associate’s degree at the local community college.

My family has a surprisingly similar educational background. Of the four children, three have Master’s degrees (Psychology, Engineering and an MBA). The fourth ran a successful business for twenty years while earning a mid-career Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Our family sacrificed to get all the kids through college though not nearly as much as Lorena’s family. So, both Lorena and I came from families who valued education and, more importantly, were willing to make sacrifices to make college a possibility for all the kids.

Shortly after I finished my Master’s degree, I met Lorena at a church event in Texas. I had gotten accepted at Texas A&M for a PhD, but left graduate school when Lorena and I got serious about our relationship. I took an engineering job at Motorola in South Florida and Lorena and I got married a year later. Our daughter Kelly was born during the three years we lived in South Florida. We spoke only Spanish during our time in Florida, but Lorena took English as a second language at a local community college and was quite fluent before we moved to Oregon at the very end of 1994. We like to say that was when Kelly learned Spanish and Lorena learned English.

We moved to Oregon so I could start a small business with my father. Our son Christian was born there not to long after we arrived. We continued to speak Spanish at home, so both the kid’s first language was Spanish. Everyone around the kids other than Lorena and I spoke with them in English. That include their grandparents, cousins, neighbor kids, people at church, etc.  That meant they were fluent in English very early, too. That fluency in both languages was something at which we had to work pretty hard and probably had a significant influence on both how and why we did homeschool.

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Betty Blonde #196 – 04/16/2009
Betty Blonde #196
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Our Homeschool Story: Introduction (1.3)

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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This story will be divided into nine sections, each consisting of several chapters. Kelly is sixteen months older than Christian so some of the experimentation was done with her followed by refinement and adjustment for learning styles with Christian. Again, I am making this up as I go along so this could morph some as I remember more stuff or revisit previous sections to backfill material needed for future stuff to make sense. The sections are as follows:

  1. Introduction – This section.
  2. Before Kindergarten – Both of the kids learned to read fluently by age four. They learned to read in completely different ways. This section describes how each of them learned to read, the materials we used in teaching them, and our struggle to find appropriate materials for each one. The small series of events that lead to our understanding of the difference in the way each child learned started with the different way each of them learned to ride a bicycle. This also describes how they started memorizing poetry and scripture, something which we had no initial intention of teaching them.
  3. Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years – Kelly attended a traditional Christian Kindergarten in our neighborhood. The experience was really quite good. Good but not great, so for her first grade year we decided to try homeschooling. I describe why we decided to homeschool, the books we read to try to get a handle on how to do it, what we did and how it went.
  4. The Government School Years – Kelly and Christian went to the local government school when Kelly was in second grade and Christian was in Kindergarten. The first school they attended in Sherwood, Oregon was quite good. We might never have returned to homeschooling had we stayed in that school district, but we moved to Albany, Oregon the summer before Kelly entered first grade and Christian entered second grade. That year convinced us we needed to do something else. This section describes the good and the bad of their experience in traditional government schools and why we decided to switch to homeschooling.
  5. What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be – We knew that we had to do something differently in our second pass at homeschooling than from when we did it in Kelly’s first grade year. That went great, but it was a lot of work and I had a day job. If we used that method, there was time to plan for homeschool or deliver the homeschool, but not for both. We investigated different homeschool systems and chose the ones that we thought might work best for us. In addition to systems, we had to decide what style of homeschool we wanted. There are many good styles of homeschooling including classical, unschooling, what might be characterized as traditional, unit based and what we have come to call “tiger mom” style homeschooling. It is possible for the kids to aim at vocational careers, the arts, sports or some specific college goal. This section describes how we decided between the plethora of tools, styles, systems and philosphies available to us.
  6. The Elementary School Years – This section describes a lot of the mechanics of our homeschool. We describe how we organized the work required to homeschool. This includes Lorena’s role as the stay at home mom, my role as the educator even though I had a full time job that required travel, our daily expectations for the kids and other operational considerations. I talk about the curricula we chose for this period, why we chose it, changes we made along the way, supplemental materials and, above all, planning.
  7. The Junior High School Years – Since Kelly skipped three years of high school and Christian skipped all of high school, we spent a lot of their junior high school years on things that would help prepare them for college. We chose curricula not only to help them prepare for the elevated academic rigor, but for a more challenging social environment. We discuss how we addressed worldview issues. It was very important, at this point, to explain in detail why we believed what we believe. We did not like the US History curricula from the system we had used during the elementary school years so we made one fairly large change that, serendipitously helped us understand how to better prepare the kids for college. I describe why and how we made those changes in the US History program and how it helped us with other materials and college preparation.
  8. CLEP Testing, the ACT and the Community College Years – Kelly and Christian both took the ACT college admissions examination every year from Christian’s seventh grade year until they entered North Carolina State University in the Fall of 2010. The did it as part of the State of North Carolina’s requirement for all homeschoolers to take a nationally-normed, standardized test every year they homeschool. The ACT as well as CLEP testing the kids took as part of their junior high school homeschool programming played a big part in their success in preparing for college. I describe the role of this testing and their transition, socially and academically, to community college.
  9. Hard Undergraduate Degrees and Graduate School – The kids were still young when they got to Big State U (North Carolina State University). This section describes the admission process, their degree selection (something hard), social adjustments between community college and Big State U, the amazing influence of NCSU’s math lounge on their social lives, and application to and selection of graduate schools and graduate degrees.

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Betty Blonde #197 – 04/17/2009
Betty Blonde #197
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Our Homeschool Story: Before Kindergarten (2.1)

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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People generally like to think their children are exceptional. That is especially true when the children are young and the topic of conversation is intelligence. We are not immune to that and maybe it is a good thing. Studies have shown that one’s perception of their abilities has an impact on performance. If you think you are good at math you will do better than if you think you are not. In addition, more and more research is showing that intelligence is not immutable. If you diligently study a broad range of hard stuff, over time you can dramatically improve your performance on intelligence tests.

The funny deal with respect to our family is that Lorena and I have never had much of an illusion about our own intelligence or the intelligence of our children. I like to think I am a pretty smart guy, but I work with people who are much more intelligent than I, many of them PhD physicists and engineers. I am disabused of the idea that I am brilliant virtually every day. That being said, it always seemed peculiar to me that the ones who had to study really hard just to keep up are the ones who seem to perform best in the technical areas in which they were trained while the ones who make the claim that none of the math was hard end up in management. It kind of makes me think the ones who said it was easy were talking trash.

To be honest, when the kids were little, we did not think about what our children would have to do to perform well academically when they got into college. We believed our children were of at least average intelligence, most likely a little above that. We did things when they were very young that would serve them well in their academic pursuits later on, not because of of planning or goals, but because that is what we all liked to do. Much later we realized they would have to work hard to perform well academically. Fortunately we just happened to like to do some of those things that would help them in that regard.

I will talk in this chapter about three specific things we did when the kids were little that gave them an academic advantage when the got to a more formal educational setting. First, we read a lot together and were surrounded by books in the house and out. Second, we spent a lot of time memorizing poems and scripture. Finally, we came to the realization, very early on, that Christian learned in very different ways from Kelly. I will explain how this was manifested with two examples: The different ways they learned how to ride a bicycle and the different ways they learned how to read.

Of course, all this happened in the context of other normal, often quite frivolous childhood pursuits that included art (clay, PlaDoh, Legos, massive amounts of printer paper, crayons, etc.), swimming and swimming lessons, museum, zoo, aquarium, park and farm visits, play dates, etc., etc., etc. One of the understated elements of their pre-Kindergarten education is that it happened consistently, every day for between a half an hour and several hours over a period of three or four years. What we did was important, but that we did it in a way that all of us enjoyed and that we did it consistently was what made it work.

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Betty Blonde #199 – 04/21/2009
Betty Blonde #199
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Our Homeschool Story: Before Kindergarten (2.2) Books in the House

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Books in the bonus roomThere are a fairly large number of studies that show that the greater the access to books in a home the greater the academic advantage of the children who live there.1 This is another one of those things for which we would like to take credit but cannot. Both Lorena and I grew up in households with no television, no computer games and no video-game consoles. The only alternative was books, so even when our budget was tight, books were high on our list. We decided when we got married we decided we wanted the children to benefit from the both the lack of television and an abundance of books.

We had (have) books everywhere. The picture to the left is the niche in the bonus room where we store some of the book and homeschool project overflows. From the time the kids were old enough to understand, we read at least an hour a night to them including weekends. As they got a little older we often read much more than that. We started reading some of books the old books from my childhood that I loved–Homer Price, Henry Reed, Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was fun for them and fun for us. The kids had their favorite books and, as is the wont of young children, we read some of the books repeatedly.

The kids were so dedicated to their books, Lorena had a little bit of a struggle managing them. I actually walked into the house one day after work and heard Lorena yelling at the kids, “QUIT READING!!!” because they read so much. Lorena often had to take away their books to get them to play outside the house or to do art or build something with legos. They liked that, too, but perusing books was like breathing to them.

In the early days we spoke Spanish to them and read to them in Spanish and English. As they got up toward elementary school age, it got harder and harder to find Spanish language books so we transitioned to mostly reading to them in English while continuing to speak only Spanish to them. They could both speak both languages quite well, but we felt if either of us would have quit speaking to them in Spanish, their skills would have diminished because all the neighborhood kids, people from church, and everyone in my family, the only family close enough to visit regularly, spoke only English to them.

We had neither enough books nor enough money to buy sufficient books to satiate the kid’s desire for them so Lorena began to frequent whatever local library was available. I remembered them going to the library at least three days per week at that age. I asked her whether that was right, whether she actually went that often. She said they often went more than that and almost never less. Each kid had their own cloth bag to take books to and from the library. The checked out as many as they could every time and we frequently needed to do frantic, last minute searches to find books to get back to the library so we would not be fined.

So I guess we qualified as one of those households where the kids had access to books. One particular book that we actually owned and that we read time and time again was a beautifully illustrated picture book version of Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat. That book was instrumental starting a program to memorize stuff. I will talk about that in the next post.

1. The following citation is from a long list of citations on the contribution of access to books in the home to the ability of children to learn to read from this article at the Children’s Literacy Foundation: (Source: Reading Is Fundamental, Access to Print Materials Improves Children’s Reading: A Meta-Analysis of 108 Most Relevant Studies Shows Positive Impacts, 2010). This page asks and answers questions about child literacy with relevant citations of the research. I recommend it highly.

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Betty Blonde #200 – 04/22/2009
Betty Blonde #200
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Our Homeschool Story: Before Kindergarten (2.3) Kelly Learns to Read

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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I wrote about how Kelly learned to read in a previous post that also featured this rather pixelated video with scratchy audio. We had read Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat so many times starting about when Kelly was three she started to memorize it. As I believe is fairly common she knew it well enough to correct us when we got distracted and read something incorrectly. That is when we realized that she had the poem memorized. After that, when we read, we started to drag our finger under the words we read until Kelly caught on and wanted to do it herself. Pretty soon, she began to make associations between the words as we said them and their appearance in the book.

About that same time, Dalton, a boy who lived next door of about the same age as Kelly and Christian got into video games. I believe his favorite was something called Monster Truck Madness. The kids wanted their own video games, but if we were going to get sucked into the computer game vortex we wanted to exercise some control over them. We did this by getting some educational games including Freddi Fish, Putt-Putt and Pajama Sam that featured cartoon characters in adventure games that required logic skills. The kids got into the habit of sitting on my lap to play the adventure games because they were a little bit scary for a three or four year old. 

After the kids had played the adventure games for awhile we found a series of phonetic reading games called Reader Rabbit. The games required the players to make decisions based on the sounds of letters, letter combinations and, finally, words shown on the screen. Because she sat on my lap when we played the adventure games, Kelly wanted to sit in my lap to play Reader Rabbit, too. So, every night when I got home from work, we would sit for fifteen minutes and play Reader Rabbit together with me mostly just acting as the chair and watching Kelly play the game. I do not think I can overstate the impact of my presence with Kelly in the playing of the games. She was excited for me to sit down with her the instant I got home. I do not believe, at that age, she would have been willing to sit down for nearly as much time on her own.

The games taught her how to sound out words. She already had knowledge about the appearance of some common words from her memorization of The Owl and the Pussycat. By the time we put a new “easy reader” book in front of her that she had never before seen, she already understood the concept. She read aloud to us a little in the beginning, but rapidly graduated to books like the Junie B. Jones series which she read on her own. We had many Calvin and Hobbes comic books in the house, too. Kelly and Christian “read” those books endlessly. When she learned to sound out words, she tried to work her way through some of these comic strips, learning in the process that there are more things at which to laugh in a comic strip than just the pictures.

Kelly could read fluidly when she was four, well before she got to kindergarten. Of course, we foolishly thought we were great teachers. We went through the precise same process with Christian that had worked so well for Kelly and failed miserably. It was not Christian who failed. It was us. We did not take into account the vast differences in the way our kids learned. He had great joy in learning to read at age four, too, but it was by a completely different process that required a good chunk of additional work on our part. That is described in the next post.

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Betty Blonde #201 – 04/23/2009
Betty Blonde #201
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Our Homeschool Story: Before Kindergarten (2.4) Christian Learns to Read Differently

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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I described how Kelly learned to read at age four without a lot of planning on our part in the last chapter. We actually worked hard at a lot of things that helped her get there like memorization, phonics games, making interesting books available to her and reading aloud, but it was not part of some greater plan. Christian is 15 months younger than Kelly. When we saw what worked with Kelly, we just thought we would do the same thing with Christian, but with a lot more planning and organization. We did exactly that and it did not work.

We continued to read aloud to Christian. He loved it. We played the same phonics games that Kelly played when she learned to read and with equal success. We did lots of memorization. We ran our fingers under the words of “easy reader” books as we read them. Christian got great joy out of it all, but did not make the leap to reading. A few months after he turned four, we decided we needed to change our plan. We kept doing what we were doing (with little or no reading progress, but Christian loved it) while I investigated other reading programs.

About that time, we sent Kelly to a local kindergarten that used the Spalding method so we tried that with Christian. We quit after a couple of weeks because it completely killed the joy of reading for both us and for Christian. I continued to read as much as I could on the subject and continued to try things for the next several months, but nothing really clicked. At the end of Kelly’s kindergarten school year, we moved into a new house in another town so a couple of more months went by without a whole lot of concentrated effort. Then, literally just seven weeks before Christian’s fifth birthday, we were looking at books in a Christian bookstore in Beaverton that had a large homeschool section and I found a series of books titled Explode the Code.

Explode the Code looked like something Christian might like to do. It consisted of a series of workbooks that systematically taught children phonics and built their vocabulary. I liked the books. I was pretty sure Christian would like the books, too, especially if I sat with him and did them. I was very much less confident the work he did in the books would lead to his ability to read. I was completely wrong.

While we were at the store we went through several of the books to find the right level with which to start. I think we started with Explode the Code 3–Reader Rabbit had at least gotten him that far. So that night and virtually every night for the next five weeks, Christian and I sat down on the carpet for fifteen minutes while I watched him do Explode the Code exercises. We actually used the oven timer so that we would do exactly fifteen minutes. We made it through about book 8 and Christian was a reader. We replaced Explode the Code with “easy reader” books and moved on up to Junie B. Jones within less than a month.

Do we think Explode the Code was the system/program/method that actually taught Christian to read? Well, kind of–it is a great program that we highly recommend. In reflecting on it, though, we think his learning to read had more to do with a couple of other things. The first and most important thing was the timing. Christian saw Kelly read and get all kinds of praise, even from her kindergarten teachers, for her ability to read so well. As Kelly got better at “reading in her mind” she was less willing to read aloud to Christian so he no longer had as much access to the books he loved, especially Calvin and Hobbes. He also saw that it was important to Lorena and I that he learn to read. We spent lots of time on it and had great joy when he read well.

I might not be precisely right when I say that Christian learned to read in a different way than Kelly. Timing probably had more to do with it than method. Both of the kids learned to read when it became important enough to them to make the effort.

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Betty Blonde #202 – 04/24/2009
Betty Blonde #202
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Our Homeschool Story: Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years (3.1)

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Homeschool was not even on our radar when Kelly was at an age to start kindergarten. We lived in a fairly poor government school district just a couple of blocks from a low performing elementary school in a suburb of Portland, Oregon so we were not too excited about putting Kelly there. We looked around and found a high performing Christian elementary school about a mile away. We interviewed the teachers there and decided to give it a try. Kelly enjoyed herself and had quite a good year there, socially. The next post in this section of Our Homeschool Story series describes our experience at this traditional Christian school.

Toward the end of Kelly’s kindergarten year, a group home for juvenile delinquents moved into the house next to us so we decided to move. We sold our house and bought another one in a more affluent suburb with much better schools, still in Portland. We could not afford to put Kelly into any of the private schools in the area, so we considered putting her into the local government elementary school. We wanted to investigate other options because Kelly had not learned anything in her experience in a traditional kindergarten. We found that, in Oregon, a parent has the right to postpone putting them into school until they are seven years old. We decided we would take that year to push Kelly further ahead by homeschooling her.

The third post in this section of the series describes my first foray into learning how to homeschool. I took a fairly typical path reading The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I talked to lots of friends, figured out the laws, identified curricula and did all the stuff I thought might prepare me to teach the kids at home. The fourth post in this series describes what we did, how we did it and how we thought. Without this first pass at homeschooling, I do not think I would have had the will nor knowledge to make what I believe were the great (for us) choices we mad in our second pass at homeschooling several years later.

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Betty Blonde #203 – 04/27/2009
Betty Blonde #203
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Our Homeschool Story: Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years (3.2) Kindergarten

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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The purpose of kindergarten is usually to get kids acclimated to a traditional school environment while giving them some of the basic skills they will need to function properly in first grade. That is exactly what happened in the Christian kindergarten Kelly attended in our neighborhood. There was nothing deeply negative about the experience at all. Some of her kindergarten was very positive–memorization of Bible verses (we especially enjoyed Psalm 8), visits to local nursing homes to sing for the people living there and a few new friendships. We were glad we did it.

We saw though, that moving forward, traditional school was not a great place for academic advancement nor for healthy socialization. There was nothing she learned in Kindergarten she did not already know. We pretty much expected that, but when we investigated what would be covered in her first grade year, we found she would not move forward there either as most of the students would need to continue improving their reading skills and start on basic arithmetic. All of this would occur in a social setting, while much better than the local government school, whose predominant feature was still a room full of 20-25 same age kids with one teacher and a part time aide.

When kids leave school, they almost never enter such a homogeneous, unhealthy “Lord of the Flies” social environment for the rest of their lives where a group of relatively unsupervised kids socialize each other. Kelly had lots of friends from swimming lessons, the neighborhood, church, library and other activities where there were people of different ages and more adults per child than in a traditional school setting. That seemed like a much healthier social setting than that of a traditional school. Even in kindergarten we could see a pecking order get established. The competition to wear the “right” clothes, play the “right” games (Pokeman was the rage at the time), watch the “right” television shows had already started. That we did not have a television in our home became a topic that needed to be explained. It was pretty low grade competition at that age, but it had definitely started.

We really did not care whether or not Kelly learned anything in kindergarten. She was only in school a few hours per day and we kept teaching her new stuff at home anyway. That would change when she went to first grade. We wanted her to actually learn things then. That and the social aspects of the artificial social environment in traditional school settings gave us pause. We started considering homeschool toward the end of Kelly’s kindergarten year. At the end-of-the-year assembly, they had Kelly read a passage from a book none of the other kids could read and implied the school had taught her those reading skills. That pushed us even further down the road toward homeschooling.

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Betty Blonde #204 – 04/28/2009
Betty Blonde #204
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Our Homeschool Story: Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years (3.3) Homeschool Planning–First Try

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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I talked to the four or five people I knew who homeschooled and checked out some books from the library to kick-start our homeschool program. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise was all the rage at the time. I bought a copy of the book and really liked what I read. We had some very close friends down in San Diego with three kids about the same age as ours who were going through the same process. With not a lot of additional information, I bought into the very strong case made in the book for Classical Education.

The three stages of Classical Education, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric resonated with us. The kids were already in the Grammar stage that features rote memorization of facts and rules (for arithmetic, grammar, spelling, etc.). The process, at least for our kids, was a truly enjoyable one that gave them the building blocks for future learning. They loved to memorize stuff and learn rules and facts, but they especially enjoyed it because we did it with them and lots of others (aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, friends) loved to listen to them recite what they learned or hear them read a passage from a book.

The Well-Trained Mind calls for the parent to develop a program that follows a very thoughtful set of educational goals and material to be covered to meet those goals. So I developed a first grade overview/plan to cover those things called for in the book. We traipsed down to the Christian bookstore where we found Christian’s Explode the Code books that had a large homeschool section and bought the materials and books we need to implement our plan.

We still love and believe in Classical Education, but I should say a few words about how it is practiced in much of the homeschool community and many Christian Classical Education schools. We believed and vigorously practice the ideas and methods called for in the grammar and logic stages, but have found that the outcome of many Classical Education rhetoric stage programs is the production of little lawyers focused more on winning arguments than contributing to society. I have written about it a couple times on this blog here and here. Luke Holzmann’s father (Luke is our friend from the Sonlight blog) wrote about this in an amazingly insightful post here. Actually, I found Luke’s Father’s post from comments made by Luke by in May of 2009 titled “Say It to My Face”, but the link was broken. Maybe he can help us with that.

We eventually went away from the methods described in The Well-Trained Mind to something we believe was much better both in terms of our kids education, but also in terms of our own sanity. Of course, I will describe those new methods in later posts in this series. Nevertheless, the things we learned from The Well-Trained Mind served us well during the year we used it and we have no regrets in that regard. I will describe our implementation of that system in the next post.

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Betty Blonde #206 – 04/30/2009
Betty Blonde #206
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Our Homeschool Story: Kelly’s Kindergarten and First Grade Years (3.4) First grade homeschool

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Kelly’s first grade year, our first year of homeschool, was a thing of beauty. We did “home-preschool” with Christian, too, so he would not feel left out. We loved every minute of it, but it was a lot of work–more work than I could sustain for two kids over the decade they would be in school. We followed the Classical Education, grammar stage methods from The Well Trained Mind book described in the previous post in this series. It really was wonderful.

Our only problem had to do with the fact that, unlike many homeschools, I (the dad) did all of the academic parts of the homeschool. That is not to say Lorena did not do anything. She did just as much as I, if not more–assuring the kids stayed on track to finish their assigned materials during the day, running to the library, zoo, piano lessons and a million other events, coordinating materials purchases and the million other administrative tasks required to do homeschool the way we wanted to do it.

I loved the entire process–identifying materials, buying materials, making schedules, making the overall plan, making and updating the daily plan and, especially, sitting with the kids to read, learn math facts, memorize Bible verses. I did this for Kelly’s entire first grade year. Coupled with my full time job that required an hour and a half of driving to and from work, I had virtually no time for anything other than work, church and homeschool.

Kelly spent two or three additional hours every day to work through a to-do list of assignments. She loved it. Mostly it consisted of reading some books, working on math, doing some art, writing reports and in her journal and that sort of thing. It was stuff she probably would have been doing anyway. We gave Christian a list of about a half an hour worth of pre-school things to-do, mostly consisting of doing a worksheet or two and participating in Kelly’s art projects with her.

Every night, when I got home from work, I sat with both of kids to teach, correct homework, memorize and read for two or three hours more hours. After the teaching and correction, I needed to spend another hour or so per night to go through the materials for the next day and assure they were at the right level and taught what I felt we should cover for each of the materials. I made up a list for each kid on the computer that Kelly could understand (Lorena helped Christian) and printed it out so they could no exactly what was required that next day.

Then, every weekend, I spent at least half a day in bookstores, art stores and libraries, hunting down materials. I never hit every subject on every weekend, but it was very rare when we had a weekend available only to relax and hang out with the family. Really, it was too much. I knew I could not maintain such a pace of work as long as I had a full time job. We decide we would find a different way to homeschool or put the kids in government school the next year. We decided on government school for the next year for a number of reasons I discuss in the next post in this series. In addition, I delve more deeply into the topic of why we moved away from the Well Trained Mind in another post here.

We will never regret having done it exactly what we did for Kelly’s first grade year. We might have been exhausted, but we accomplished a lot with much joy. It served the kids well. They loved the program and the materials, were not burdened with too much work and learned a lot. Lorena and I knew the later grades would require even more work as Christian moved into “real” homeschool and the materials got more difficult. So something had to change if we wanted to continue homeschooling.

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Betty Blonde #210 – 05/06/2009
Betty Blonde #210
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Our Homeschool Story: The government school years (4.1) Why we did it

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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The kids spent three years in government school. We sent them there because homeschool preparation and delivery were just to difficult to do using the methods described in The Well Trained Mind books on which we based our first homeschool year. The problem was compounded because the principle planner/preparer/teacher/correcter  (me) worked full time. Lorena did a lot of work to make the homeschool possible, but I was in charge of content and I just could not get it all done and keep my day job.

During the spring of the school year before we started government school, a juvenile group home moved into the house next to us. The new next door occupants were in continuous uproar. We actually did not feel like it was safe for our kids, so we put our house on the market and got out of there. The good news about the move was that we moved from a very low performing school district to one of the highest performing school districts in the state. I was in a job that required a lot of travel, literally around the world, so we knew we had to do something different. We investigated the school our children would attend, talked to the teachers they were assigned and decided to enroll them.

The kids started school and it was really not so bad. They made a few friends, enjoyed participation in their school’s annual fund raising carnivals and a school play or two and that sort of thing. The problem was that virtually nothing they did seemed to rise to the level of actual education. The first clue we got about that was when Lorena went into the classroom as a volunteer aide. Kelly was a good reader by the time she entered the school, but it seemed like none of the other parents had spent time trying to get their kids up the reading curve.  Lorena spent all her time as an aide in Kelly’s classroom listening to other kids read while Kelly sat in the corner and read books like Nancy Drew, Hank the Cowdog and other books around those levels of difficulty. That kind of thing did not happen all the time, but it did happen more than it didn’t.

Christian’s experience was very similar. He was very competent with books like Junie B. Jones, but none of the other kids were doing much more than memorize the alphabet and say the letter sounds. Lorena spent her time as an aide in Christian’s classroom helping the kids learn how to pick up toys, color, do crafts and act properly in a classroom setting. I know there were plenty of kids out there operating at our kids level, but it did not seem like any of them were assigned to classes with Kelly or Christian. To us, this seemed to say less about how bright were the kids–many of them were very bright–than it did about how serious the parents felt about their responsibility to take ownership of their children’s education.

We were not too worried about it at the time. We continued to do educational stuff at home–reading, writing, arithmetic, memorization, music and everything else we could think to do. The kid’s academic education did not stop during their government school years, it just did not happen in the government school. I guess we were doing what has come to be known as “after-schooling” which is the equivalent of homeschooling, but that happens after the traditional school has babysat the kids for a few hours.

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Betty Blonde #223 – 05/25/2009
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Our Homeschool Story: The government school years (4.2) A new school district makes us reconsider homeschool

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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We are actually pretty thankful for the time the kids spent in the Sherwood, Oregon public school system. The principal was very good. The teachers were engaged. The parents were active in the classroom and the school. Even though the kids enjoyed the school, made friends and participated in everything available to them, we still believe we would eventually have returned to homeschool because the academics were weak at best and the socialization was not nearly as healthy what was available for homeschoolers–I have written about that elsewhere. Still, the kids got to see what government school was like at its best and that was a good thing.

Toward the end of our time in Sherwood some other things happened that gave us pause about government schools in general and Sherwood in particular. The high school principal who we knew because he lived right across the street from us in our quiet little cul-de-sac got caught in a hotel with a teen boy he met on line. He was eventually arrested, convicted and went to jail for this. In addition, a fellow who lived a few houses down from us worked as a teacher at a middle school in Beaverton and was accused and eventually arrested, convicted and served time for abuse of a female student at his school. Based on this article, it does not appear much has changed over the years in Sherwood.

I got a new job in Corvallis, Oregon at the end of Kelly’s third grade year and Christian’s first grade year. That summer, we moved to Albany, a town that is about 15 miles from where I worked in Corvallis. Even though we had thought about homeschooling again, we went ahead and enrolled our kids into the local government school. The idea was that, because I needed to get myself established at my new job and so the kids could start to make friends in our new town, it would not hurt to put them in school. Sherwood had been OK. What could go wrong in Albany.

The first thing that happened when we applied was that the kids were asked to take a test for English as a Second Language to determine whether or not to put them in a remedial class. Maybe there is additional money available for ESL kids. The schools had the kid’s records from Sherwood and could easily see they were high performers, higher it turns out than most, if not all, of their same age peers in the Albany system. Of course Lorena immediately signed up to volunteer in the classroom like she did in Sherwood. She was told that it was fine if she came to the class, but she could not do it too often and she had to give a lot of advance notice. Further, she was told there were paid aides to do the work that parent volunteers normally do. We had never heard of such a thing. Every school we had ever visited and/or heard of begged parents to volunteer.

After two years of a truly enjoyable experience for the kids at a much more highly rated public school in Sherwood, our kids became problem kids at low performing schools in Albany. They still performed at a high academic level, but Kelly’s spirit was getting hard. We demanded she be respectful to those in authority even though the respect was not reciprocated by her teacher nor the principal.

Christian was just lost. He read at a high level at home at the same time he was required to read at a much lower level at school. They made him work at learning stuff he already knew in math because that was the highest level available.The generally surly aides in his classroom had little training and appeared to be there solely for a paycheck. Christian’s teacher was disengaged at best. Christian’s spirit was not getting hard so much as he was getting sad and confused by the fact he was required to either sit quietly and do busy-work or work at a level that must have been excruciatingly boring under the tutelage of a disinterested teacher and callous aides.

This was all bad enough that I started a documentation trail. I made notes of what the kids told me and of what the teachers and administration told me when I met with them. The main feature of my meetings with both Kelly’s teacher and the principal is that they told me how it was going to be while I listened. Even worse, they were categorically dismissive of Lorena. Christian’s teacher had no sense at all for Christian’s capabilities, but at least she was more benign than her aides. I still have many, many pages of handwritten notes that describe our horrible experience at the hands of those schools and their teachers and administrators.

I am glad to say we did find one person there who really tried to do her job as professionally as possible with a spirit of public service. Sadly, she was the secretary at one of the schools who had control over nothing and must have been frustrated with what she saw. She was kind to us and acted apologetic when I waited to meet with the principal. I am really glad I wrote it all down because any time I start thinking it was not so bad, all I have to do is reread my notes.

There were academic reasons to get the kids out of those schools, but the main reason we knew we had to change is that Kelly’s spirit was getting hard and Christian was a little lost soul with no one to advocate for him in the school. He did not feel safe and his spirit was dying. The straw that broke the camel’s back was what we learned about the sex education that Kelly would be taught if she went on to Middle School the next year. At that point, with about two months left, we just decided to get them out at the end of the school year. There were no good private school options, so we knew we needed to start homeschooling again.

We loved our time in Albany in spite of our experience at the hands of the government school system. It is a beautiful town with lots of things going for it. In one sense, we are even grateful to the Albany public schools because they were so bad for our children we finally and emphatically made the choice to return to homeschooling for good. Albany turned out to be a great place to homeschool. There were lots of other people who had bailed out of the government schools for the same reasons as us. The homeschool friendly public library was a huge plus. There were lots clubs, activities, sports teams, music opportunities and on and on and on.

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Betty Blonde #225 – 05/27/2009
Betty Blonde #225
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.1) What were our options?

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Once we decided to bail on the traditional schools, we needed to make some decisions about how to homeschool. The way we did it three years before when Kelly was in the first grade was too much work. I explain that here and here. We wanted to have assurance that whatever we did would cover the material needed to perform well in high school and college. The reality is that we had somewhat of an idea of what should be covered from our previous experience. We hoped we could find a program with similar content and focus, but that did a lot of the planning for us.

Part of the challenge is that Lorena would be at home with the kids during the day, but even though I worked all day, I would be the principal teacher. That was why it was so critical to find a system that included detailed daily plans. There are lots of great programs out there. We looked at Sonlight, A Beka, Bob Jones, Charlotte Mason, Beautiful Feet and a lot of other programs. We liked the idea that the books in the Literature curriculum were coordinated with the History curriculum. We wanted a program that included extensive day-by-day plans and all the required materials and books, but that also provided some flexibility.

After looking at a lot of programs we determined was that it was going to be difficult to find all the things we wanted in single program and that whatever we did, we were going to have to pay a good chunk of money to do it. It would be a lot less than private school, but because we started from scratch and needed two complete programs we figured it was going to cost us about $5000 for the first couple years. After that, Christian could use Kelly’s program from two years previous and the cost would drop a little. I believe it is possible to do this for a lot less money if more time is available for planning and materials searches, but we did not have that luxury.

In the end, we arrived at a method for buying materials and daily planning that served us well during the entire trajectory of our homeschool with only minor modifications. I will walk through our decision process for each of the different subject areas for which we bought separate materials. This is the thing that got us off on the right foot, provided the structure we need to make homeschool tractable given our circumstances and assured we covered enough of the right stuff so the kids would be prepared for high school and college when the got there.

This section will include posts on the curriculum and materials we selected for each major subject area, why we chose what we chose and how it worked for us over the course of the homeschool. The major subject areas include the following:

  • History and Literature
  • Writing and Spelling
  • Science
  • Math
  • Philosophy, Religion and Worldviews
  • Art, Music and PE

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Betty Blonde #226 – 05/28/2009
Betty Blonde #226
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.2) History and Literature

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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We put History and Literature together in this post because that is exactly what we did in homeschool. We knew from our previous homeschool experience what we wanted from a History and Literature program. Many homeschool programs feature literature that tracks with their history program. We did it that way when Kelly was in the first grade and we were following the methods described in The Well Trained Mind. It worked very well for us. There were additional features of these programs that were important to us and were thankful for our previous experience because it helped us understand what we wanted in the homeschool programs we investigated. I will describe each of those features and the reasoning behind our decisions. These features are not necessarily in order of the importance we ascribed to them.

1. Lesson plans that assured we covered what was needed to move to the next level

I was pretty sure I could make daily lesson plans that would cover all the material the kids needed in History and Literature to move on to the next level each year. I had done it before using The Well Trained Mind. I knew, though, that I could not do that, work a full time job, delivery the material to the kids and correct their work. There just were not enough hours in the day to do it all. That is why I looked for programs that were more “canned.” That is, programs with daily lesson plans and curricula that had continuity from year to year culminating in mastery of sufficient material to perform well at the next levels: high school and college. In addition, we knew that the History and Literature programs should be coordinated with our Writing program.

We liked the idea of spending a couple years on a pass through world history and a couple of years on a pass through US History, then doing it again a couple years each at a deeper level. In addition to wanting to coordinate History with Literature, we wanted to assure the kids would read a representative sample of classic children’s and young adult literature. Actually, The Well Trained Mind was great that way, but again, we just did not have the time to do all the planning ourselves.

2. Reading aloud together

I read to Kelly and Christian a lot. We did it before they went to government school, then through those three years, too. We read many different books including the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series, all the Homer Price books, all the Henry Reed books and much, much more. We did not want to lose that when we returned to homeschool. The problem was that Kelly was entering the fifth grade, two years ahead of Christian starting third grade. We LOVED reading together, but the material they would be covering would be very different. We needed to find a way to be able to read together even though the materials were very different.

3. Literature that represented other worldviews, but that did not diminish our worldview

Everyone has a worldview, even the ones that deny it. One of the reasons we decided to return to homeschool is that the kid’s teachers, Kelly’s in particular, gave lip service to neutrality but aggressively pushed a hard secular and feminist worldview. That worldview had already started to seep into the textbooks from which the kids studied. We wanted them to have some balance. We did not want them to be sheltered from either a secular worldview nor from what we viewed as a rigid, “churchy” worldview, but we did not want either to be rammed down their throat. We will talk about that in more detail in a later post.

What we did

We looked at Sonlight, A Beka, Calvert, Harcourt and some others. The Sonlight programs easily met the criteria we had set for ourselves better than any of the others. We had to be pretty creative when it came to the second category (Reading aloud together), but even that turned out better than we had any right to expect. The first literature book we read aloud together was one of Christian’s, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It was an awesome start. It had nothing to do with what Kelly was studying, but it did not matter because it was just great literature. The first History material we read together was also from Christian’s program, The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the West, Volume I. It was probably the best and most interesting History text we read in our entire homeschool experience and that is saying something because we ended up with an amazingly strong History coverage. After that we quit worrying so much about what books went with which program when it came to our read aloud books. Kelly would have missed that great material if we would have stuck strictly to the specified material.

Even though we evaluated the daily plans as best we could from afar, our selection of Sonlight was really a leap of hope (not even a leap of faith). There are ways we could have checked this out more carefully, but the reality is that we did not know we had selected just the right program for our family until we had the Planning Guides in our hands. We did not strictly follow the plans for most materials, but for History and Literature we did exactly what was on the Sonlight supplied plans. It did two things: 1) We covered what we were supposed to cover and 2) it was the anchor for all the other materials, even math and science, that kept us moving forward at a specific pace that culminated in a good result many years later. I will talk about the mechanics of our plans and the role played by the History and Literature sections of the Sonlight planning guides in the section on Elementary School.

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Betty Blonde #227 – 05/29/2009
Betty Blonde #227
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.3) Writing and Spelling

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Our plan was for the kids to write a lot during their homeschool years, but the three years in government school created a bit of a deficit in the basic tools of language they needed to do it well. So our first task with respect to language arts was to try to improve those basic tools. Of course the amount of time we spent reading together helped a lot, but we wanted to build up their spelling and grammar skills in a more formal way. The kids did write a lot from the very beginning, but the writing took a back seat to the mechanics of spelling and grammar for the first couple of months. We continued hammering at grammar and spelling with two programs which we found indispensable.

Spelling

For spelling we used Spelling Power. The spelling program took the kids two years each. The blurb they have on their web page says it all:

With Spelling Power, your children will master the 5,000 most frequently used words at their own pace — in just 15 minutes a day — using research-proven strategies.

That is exactly what we did. We spent fifteen minutes per day with each kid on spelling. The program is very systematic in its approach, only a little time was needed each day, fit in well with our Sonlight based daily plans and the kids skills increased rapidly in a measurable way. There might be other ways to do this, but we were glad we found Spelling Power because it was perfect for us.

Grammar

We had some fits and restarts in trying to find a way to teach grammar that would allow the kids to work through at least part of it on their own while I was at work. About two months after we stared, we found a system called Easy Grammar that was every bit as good at teaching grammar to our kids as Spelling Power was at teaching spelling. It was amazing how well this program fit into our Sonlight centered plan, too. The books feature an 180 day per year program of worksheets in series of workbooks. The kids completed the last book, Easy Grammar Plus right before they started study for the Freshman College Composition CLEP examination for college credit. The Freshman College Composition CLEP test has now been replaced with a new one called just College Composition. They took the test at age 13 and passed the exam with high scores. These books were a little dry, but a single day of work was really not much longer than the work on Spelling Power. I have to admit my grammar skills improved quite a bit just correcting their work.

Daily Writing and Research Papers

The kids probably wrote a page per day on their literature and history. In addition, they produced an essay of some sort every couple of weeks or so. We had them do one big writing project every year. That was their formal research paper. The first were a little rough, but then Kelly was a fifth grader and Christian was only a third grader. Here is a link to Kelly’s first research report on Newspapers (pdf) and Christian’s first report on Flight (pdf). They hand illustrated the papers and included formal bibliographies. They were supposed to be 8-10 page papers, double-spaced and formated properly. We would have liked to have found a more formal, systematic way to teach them writing. We tried several systems, but felt none of them were particularly stellar. In the end, we either followed the writing directions of the Sonlight program or assigned essays and analysis tasks we thought up ourselves. The kids did very well in their college level writing, but we did not have warm fuzzy feelings about having covered writing in a systematic way. I think the year each spent in Freshman College Composition CLEP preparation brought them where they needed to be when they went on to college.

Other (Spanish and Typing)

There are a couple of other things we should probably include in the “language arts” bucket. The kids first language is Spanish. We always spoke Spanish at home because we figured if we did not, the kids would not be able to speak with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Mexico. In that regard, we were right on one count and only halfway right on another. Many if not most of the kids we know who grow up with bilingual parents lose the language of the country they are from if that language is not spoken in the home in the country where they live. They WILL pick up the language of the country where they live as they have many opportunities not to mention a need to speak it. So we were right that we needed to use Spanish as the language of our home. On the other hand, with the exception of the grandparents on both sides, almost all our family in Mexico learned English and all my siblings and most of my nieces and nephews learned Spanish.

Beside speaking Spanish, we purchased Rosetta Stone Spanish. The kids went through two years of Rosetta Stone before they began to prepare for the CLEP Spanish exam. They were able to test out of two years of college Spanish. I am not sure whether we are in a place where we can advise people how to study for Spanish in a homeschool setting because we came at it as native speakers (all but me, anyway, but I can defend myself fairly well).

The other thing we think (if you squint) fits into the language arts bucket is the typing we did. It is funny that we started in on typing in a fairly formal way when the kids were in second (Christian) and fourth (Kelly) grades. We did not want the them to play computer games. They wanted to do something on the computer, so we compromised by “letting” them play Mavis Beacon Typing on the computer for fifteen minutes per day during the summer. They looked at it as a game. Over a period of years they got pretty good and now they are screaming fast typists. That actually helped them a lot in their writing as they did not have to go through the pain of learning to type and write formally at the same time.

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Betty Blonde #228 – 06/01/2009
Betty Blonde #228
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.4) Science

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Science was one of those subjects with which we struggled, not so much in terms of finding material, but in how to organize the learning. What we did worked well enough, but we would probably do it differently if we had a chance to do it over again. I guess the issue for us with what we did had to do with timing and organization rather than content. That being said, in the end we felt like we got stellar results from much of what we did. So, I will describe here, first what we would do if we had a chance to do it again because I have given it quite a bit of thought. Then, I will describe our actually trajectory with its challenges and successes.

If we did it again, here is what we would do

The core of Sonlight’s Science programs is now Apologia Science. Their programs are perfect for homeschool and the Sonlight science study guides are indispensable. Our only regret is that we did not start earlier with the Apologia materials. Christian was absolutely ready for Apologia’s General Science by the fourth grade. We would have put Kelly one level up in Apologia Physical Science during her fifth grade year and she could handle that just fine, too. From Sonlight’s science page, the recommended time to start Apologia General Science is in grades 7, 8 or 9. Neither do we believe the material was too difficult for Kelly or Christian at the earlier ages nor do we believe it would have been too difficult for most kids if the parents are engaged in the learning. That way he could have made it through the entire high school series by the end of the eighth grade.

One thing we did right by accident was to buy a science program from the Access Research Network called Real Science 4 Kids, Chemistry I. We were pretty disappointed with the pre-Apologia science provided by Sonlight, so halfway through the year, I started looking for something different. We chose that Chemistry book. The program includes laboratory work that includes taking measurements and evaluating data in a series of experiments. We actually read this book aloud together at night, then the kids would do the experiments during the day. I do not have enough good things to say about the Chemistry I program. I hope Sonlight considers looking into this whole series as part of their curricula some day. We honestly believe it is better than what they currently offer. Due to timing, we never did more than that one book. If we had to do it over, we would have gone through all of those books, but certainly at an earlier age than was recommended. That would have given us an even better foundation for the Apologia material.

The different Apologia programs and the grades at which we would have started them:

The way it actually happened

Sadly, we stuck with the pre-Apologia programs provided by Sonlight until the specified time to start General Science in seventh grade. That bit us some when we the kids could skip high school if they wanted. Christian spent the summer before his Junior year in college cramming for a test required to demonstrate knowledge of high school Chemistry. The funny deal is that it was his memory of the material he learned in Real Science 4 Kids, Chemistry I that jump-started him in his preparation. In the end, the kids did not suffer, too much. Kelly took Geology and two semesters of Biology and Environmental Science as her college level Science requirements. Christian took one semester of Biology, one semester of Chemistry and two semester of Calculus based Physics for his Science requirements. They both did just fine.

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Betty Blonde #229 – 06/02/2009
Betty Blonde #229
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.5) Math

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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The instruction in Mathematics was particularly strong in our homeschool. It was not because we, as the parents, were particularly knowledgeable or had special insights. I think the thing we did well is continually monitor the progress of the kids to assure they continued to learn the material they were in. When we started back in homeschool, we chose Saxon Math. I think that is a great program, but after a couple of months we saw the kids were losing interest because of the tedium and repetitiveness of that system. We needed something that held the kids interest at the same time it laid a strong math foundation for future work.

Singapore Math

We had heard about the quality of Math education in Singapore long before we started homeschool. We just assumed the system was tedious and repetitive, too. We assumed that to receive the kind of in depth coverage of all the foundational material, it would have to be that way. We were so wrong. I read some reviews of the program, downloaded some sample lessons from the Singapore Math web site, talked to some others (also on-line) and decided to give it a try. We thought we would be a little behind because of our false start with Saxon Math, but when the kids took the placement test (available for free on-line), they were a little ahead of their grade levels. When we ordered the books, we decided to just start them at their normal grade levels to let them ease into the program. We were a little surprised that the best pricing we could find on the books at the time was through Sonlight.

We went at the recommended pace for about a week, but the kids were enjoying it enough and doing it so rapidly, we decided to double the assignments. We did that for the duration of the kids elementary school. That put the kids pretty for out front of what might considered to be a normal trajectory. One of the things we really liked about the Singapore Math program was a pretty strong focus on “mental math.” Christian really got into that and could do some pretty amazing calculations in his head. Kelly was not so bad at it either, but got to it at enough of a later age that that particular math skill did not get as ingrained compared to Christian.

Math After Elementary School

After the Singapore Math sixth grade material we switched to Teaching Textbooks. We finished it all well before the kids got to sixth grade and started in on the Singapore Junior High School, but we did not find it to be even remotely as good as the elementary school programs. I will talk about why we decided to switch to a different Math program to study Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry in the section on Junior/Senior High School. For a taste of this, I wrote a post that is one of the most frequently visited posts on this site. It is titled Why we switched from Singapore Math to Teaching Textbooks. Also in the Junior/Senior High School section, I will discuss why we moved away from Teaching Textbooks to Thinkwell Math for Pre-Calculus and Calculus.

A Final Note

We are very happy with the trajectory we took with respect to Math. On the basis of this Math foundation, Kelly earned a degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and Christian earned a degree in Applied Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude) at North Carolina State University. We as confident about the quality of Math education received by the kids than any other subject area with the possible exception of what we studied in the area of Philosophy, Religion and Worldview. We can heartily recommend this path.

Finally, I should note that for Math, we did not follow any of the Sonlight daily planning guides. I am not even sure whether they have a plan for Math. The kids did two lessons per day in Singapore Math and I corrected their work very carefully every night, going over any material with which they struggled. It required diligence on my part and diligence on their part. I think it would have been that way for any math program we would have chosen

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Betty Blonde #230 – 06/03/2009
Betty Blonde #230
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.6) Philosophy, Religion and Worldviews

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Study of Worldviews, Religion and Philosophy was fundamental to our homeschool. This subject matter seeped into just about everything we did, not just our homeschool. It encapsulated a lot of things that kind of mushed together and permeated everything else. I will try to break them into some broad categories to give a sense for the scope of our work in this area.

The Bible

It all started with the Bible.  The kids memorized Bible verses from age three forward. Until they were about eight, we did it together with me reading them verses they would repeat until they were memorized. From eight until about ten, the kids transitioned from memorization with Dad’s help to memorization by reading on their own. It was amazing how much stuff they memorized. The first whole chapter each of them memorized was Psalm 8. There was a lot of stuff in between, but it all culminated with the memorization of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, before they went off to college. The memorization verses were complementary to our other studies in this area.

All of our work with the Bible was augmented by church attendance, two or three times per week. This is not the time and place to discuss church so I will just note that our homeschool would have been greatly impoverished if church participation were not integral to it.

Engaging with Other People

In the first year of our return to homeschool we read two introductory books on logic and reasoning for children. The books were titled The Fallacy Detective and The Thinking Toolbox. We used these books to give the kids tools to evaluate what they heard as they engaged with the culture. The books featured stories and exercises that showed them how to identify common fallacies such as red herrings, ad hominem attacks, genetic fallacies, tu quoque and others. The exercises walked them through how these fallacies might show up in their day to day lives. This was a surprisingly effective introduction to some fairly subtle material that inoculated them from quite a bit of popular culture nonsense.

Tools to help the kids engage with people in a kind and effective way was just as important as the ability to detect nonsense. The first two books described above give a brief treatment to this by focusing on the importance of listening before jumping into the combative logic and reasoning. Actually combative interaction was very much discouraged. We wanted more in that area so we read How to Win Friends and Influence People aloud together. This had a big enough positive influence on the kids the first time we read it, they asked to read it again several years later.

Another book that was especially helpful in terms of how to treat people with respect while not getting steamrolled by false logic was Greg Koukl’s excellent book Tactics. The tools learned from that book were especially helpful when the kids went on to college.

Worldviews

There were several areas on which we concentrated with respect to worldviews. First, we wanted the kids to know that belief in Christianity is rational. That Jesus really did come to this earth, die, was resurrected, said the things the Bible claimed he said and lived his life the way the Bible says he lived his life are a matter of history and it is rational to believe all of it. We wanted the kids to know the history and scholarship surrounding that what we know about Jesus supports their faith and is confirming to the personal revelation of Christ that is fundamental to Christianity. We read books and watched lectures by Historical Jesus scholars such as Gary Habermas, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Michael Wilkins and others. We watched scholarly debates. We evaluated the works of some of the liberal fringe scholars like Marcus Borg, Bart Ehrman and the people that make up the Jesus Seminar so the kids could see what was said by the other side even though those scholars have been fairly thoroughly discredited.

Next, we wanted to understand what people of other worldviews actually thought. The Sonlight Literature and History materials covered different cultures, religions and worldviews fairly well. This is especially true of their hugely helpful curriculum titled Understanding the Times. Here is quote from their description of the what the program covers:

This 18-week curriculum helps you examine how each of the four dominant Western worldviews (Secular/Cosmic Humanism, Marxism/Leninism, Islam, and Biblical Christianity) uniquely interpret reality in different areas of theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, and more.

We read Understanding the Times aloud, stopping to discuss different aspects of the material much more frequently than for any of our other read aloud books. One thing we did not do was use the ancillary materials (workbooks, CD’s, etc.). A close reading of the book with discussion worked much better for us than these other materials.

Before we read the Understanding the Materials text, the kids read Paul Johnson’s The Intellecutals about the morally bankrupt personal lives of many liberal icons like Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and John Dewey. We also read several books on the the Crusades, the rise of Christianity and the rise of western civilization by sociologist Rodney Stark. I think the Understanding the Times book was much more fruitful because of this preparation.

Intelligent Design

There is a sea change going on right now in the area of origins. We spent some time on this by reading books, principally Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language.  We also watched some debates and videos such as the Privileged Planet. All that was good, but after we finished homeschool, a bunch of great new material has come out that we certainly would have included if had arrived in time. These include Darwin’s Doubt, Signature in the Cell, Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information (especially for Christian because of the math content) and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism.

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Betty Blonde #231 – 06/04/2009
Betty Blonde #231
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.7) Art, Music and PE

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Lorena and I jokingly told the kids they could decide for themselves whether they wanted to continue with music lessons after the first ten years. It was pretty humorous that they took that as a serious statement. The same was true for our efforts in Art and Physical Education.Oddly, it was not a problem. We really did not do anything out of the ordinary in any of these categories. A lot of the things we did were similar to what many kids get whether they are in homeschool, private school or government school so I will go into a little bit of the details only on our Art program because of the materials we used and the joy we derived from it.

Art

We worked surprisingly hard at Art. In the beginning, I did not really know what to do, but wanted something that I could do with the kids that was fun and relaxing. The first thing I could think to do was teach them how to knit. Both kids still love it, but do not have as much time to do it as before. The Amigurumi Dragon to the left is Kelly’s. The Ubuntu scarf on the right is Christian’s. My own efforts after the basics were not so skilled. After that, we did not know what to do so I started looking for some basic drawing stuff.

We found a book called Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad. We bought three sketchbooks. Good ones. We bought some pencils and erasers, then started to sit down together for a half an hour or so every night to work our way through the book. It was just awesome and I wrote about it quite a lot (hereherehere and many more). Both kids read I, Juan de Pareja, a Sonlight book about a servant of the great Spanish artist Diego Velazquez who also became a great painter. Velazquez influenced the style of Norman Rockwell in his illustrations. We became huge fans of Robert McCloskey the illustrator of the Henry Reed and Homer Price books we loved so much. We were absolutely hooked on drawing, painting and art.

We were at a little bit of a loss when we finished the Draw Squad book and floundered for a week or two until I found a book by a lady who trained forensic artists for the FBI to draw realistic portraits. The name of the book was Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces. We loved the book and were off to the races again. Christian’s drawing of Robert Goddard, the rocket scientist is the one on the right. Kelly’s watercolor of our friend Celia is on the left.

Celia. A watercolor by KellyFor two years starting shortly after we finished Draw Squad, Kelly drew a daily comic strip titled Betty Blonde. I am putting these strips up at the bottom of each post until I have the entire series here on this blog. You can see her June 5, 2009 offering below. The kids still draw for fun, but also use their skills in their work, particularly when it comes to describing concepts. Our homeschool art was an unexpected joy.

Music

Neither Lorena nor I had much of any musical training. The vast majority of our musical effort was (and is) expended singing hymns in church. We did not want Kelly and Christian to miss out on some early musical training. Because we did not really know what to do, we asked anyone we thought might have some idea about how to do this. One consensus response was that it would not hurt to start their musical training with two or three years of piano lessons with a good teacher. We were told it did not matter whether they wanted to be singers, guitar players, saxophone players or violin players, a stint with piano lessons would not do them any harm. So that is what we did. Kelly loved the piano and stayed with it for ten years. We found the best teacher we could find who would accept her everywhere we lived (four teachers). Christian did three years of piano, then finished out his ten year stint in guitar before college got in the way. Neither of them are brilliant musicians, but both can sight read music, play when time permits, love playing and appreciate music at a level at which neither Lorena nor I are capable.

Physical Education

One of the greatest gifts my mother gave my siblings and me was swimming lessons from the time we were very young. My Finnish grandmother with whom we often stayed lived near a river and Mom gave us those lessons as a safety measure. What we did not know at the time was that feeling comfortable swimming in deep water is a gift. Lorena and I wanted our kids to have that gift, so swimming was a constant staple as one of our Physical Education activities. The kids spent many years in competition (at quite a low level) on local swim teams, usually at the local YMCA. In addition to this, the kids took lessons in snow skiing, gymnastics and tennis, played soccer, prepared for and ran a half marathon. More than anything, we just made sure they got out of the house and got their heart rates up at least five days per week. Both kids have graduated to weight lifting and running as that is what their current schedules allow in graduate school.

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Betty Blonde #232 – 06/05/2009
Betty Blonde #232
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