Category Archives: Home schooling

how to homeschool

How Do You Do It? Why God Made Me Home School

How do you do it? That’s the question you’re sure to be asked when you tell someone new that you home school your children. Be it the curious customer standing behind you in the grocery store line or cousin Ed at the family reunion, someone, or better yet someones, are going to want to know if you are actually sane enough to make such a choice and they’ll test your mental stability by asking for an explanation.

And, if one of your home schooled kids is in close proximity, the inquisitor will also quiz little Johnny on his ABC capabilities and his grasp of the American system of democracy. Be ready. Continue reading

There’s No Room for Envy in a Grateful Heart

The house was buzzing with the usual school morning routines. There was foot traffic up and down the stairs and hallway, dishes being banged and stacked, and water pouring through the faucets. The dog was rubbing against every available leg and a rooster was crowing in the distance as the clock clicked passed 8:30.
In an attempt to corral my students to their assigned seats around the table, I grabbed my wooden beads and began that familiar recitation of the rosary. Like the Pied Piper’s entrancing tune, my rhythmic words drew my children forth one by one.

Seated on the low hearth, my bent legs formed an easy-to-reach perch which my 14 month old found irresistible. Every other minute he would race toward me (with a big, beaming grin) as I prayed and then throw his chubby leg onto mine. Without exchanging words, he made his intentions clear. I appeased his repeated attempts to climb unto my open lap by offering him the gentle extra lift he needed to shimmy his soft body into balance. Seconds after he’d abandon me and toddle off. By the third sorrowful mystery, he’d made his way up and down, around the table and back again no less than a half dozen times.
Finally, his attention flitted in another direction and he wandered toward our dog and some missed crumb he felt needed investigating. My six year old saw the opportunity he’d been waiting for, so he carried his beads and himself in my direction.
Of course, keeping my focus on the mysteries of the rosary was difficult (as usual), but who could turn down a little more snuggling? Just as the first grader straddled my lap and a new Hail Mary crossed my lips, the toddler rounded the table again and cast a long, hard look in my direction.
His eyes widened and his thoughts flashed in them. That place he’d left empty (his lap) was filled and he wasn’t happy. With eyes locked on the target, he hurried toward the hearth as fast as his fat, naked feet could move him and then reached out to yank his big brother’s shirt. Maybe it was the grace of the prayers or maybe my six year old just possesses understanding beyond his years, but he easily surrendered to the chubby fisted aggressor and took a seat on the bench.

It wasn’t surprising really, considering his age, but it was the first time I’d seen the hot spark of envy well up with such intensity in this littlest one. That quick, accusing glance he’d shot in my direction as well as his determination to unseat his competition were such visceral responses.

Having only lived a little more than a year “on the outside,” he’s not old enough to have to worry about the rat race or to be concerned with what the Joneses are keeping up on, but still it’s in there. That deep-seated vice of envy is rooted in his human fallenness.
I saw a picture posted on my social media feed the other day. It caught the excitement on the face of a woman opening the latest (and self-proclaimed greatest) cell phone. News reports stated that people spent hours lined up outside stores to ensure that they would be among the first to get their hands on the newest tech gadget.It’s doubtful that the purchasers were actually fulfilling a need for a new phone; more likely they’d been happily texting away on their old phones before they caught wind of the rumor that someone else might upgrade before them.
How many times I’ve arranged some fun field trip to the park with friends only to get bombarded with whining pleas for more time or a newer venue. Rather than enjoy the giant climbing structure, swing into the atmosphere, or race the length of the open spaces with the present friend, the focus shifts to some imagined play date which is always somehow less boring.
And if I had to do some self examining, I’d too easily be able to identify my own weakness here. All those social media pictures of beaming children posed next to Mickey Mouse or blogger tales of posts gone viral inspire me to envy, too.
There’s so much insight to be gained from the gospel story of the laborers who came late in the day (Mt 20: 1-16) when I think about our struggles with this vice. The landowner in the parable was a generous employer who spent his day seeking out unused laborers. Throughout the daylight hours, from early morning to just before closing time, he hired men to work in his fields. Imagine the gratitude of the guy who’d been over-looked all day when the employer finally hired him.
Of course, those who’d worked the longest assumed they would be paid a greater share. They deserved the most in their estimation and I’d have to say I would have agreed. Then came the shock and grumbling when they discovered that every man, no matter how late he was in arriving, got paid the exact same amount.
The employer, however, reminded the disgruntled workers that he paid them according to the agreement. They were not cheated. The landowner was free to disperse his money as he saw fit and he chose to be generous.
The story doesn’t say, but we might also consider that the late-to-arrive workers may have allowed the sweaty, tired, morning workers a bit of relief. Perhaps, some of the first to arrive were working at a slower pace when the reinforcements came in with some fresh perspective and energy. Regardless, the landowner, like God, was merciful and generous and didn’t limit his charity.
Really, who were the workers to lay claim to the landowner’s money? It belonged to him and he was free to give it as he saw fit. Maybe those late arrivals, who still had families to provide for, were passed over all day because they looked weaker or less desirable. The employer, however, recognized their individual dignity and need.
Certainly all that fussing could have been avoided if only the landowner had divided up the wages in secret. Had he paid the early workers first and then sent them away, they would have been none-the-wiser about the pay scale. That would have satisfied their human desire for “equality.” And by equality I mean our human longing to get what we think we (apart from everyone else) deserve and need, as opposed to what God knows is necessary for our sanctification.
Think of the gratitude of the late comer when he carried that money home and laid it on the table. The anxiety he’d felt throughout the day, wondering how he’d feed his family, had vanished. The man who’d felt cheated probably forgot to be thankful and instead counted his coins with resentment even though he, too, could buy what was needed from the market.
It really is amazing how easily any situation can be transformed by humility and gratitude. Although we can’t afford a trip to Disney nowadays, we were blessed with a few days at the beach during the off-season. My husband could only share part of the time with us which meant I was on single mom duty. The forecast called for dismal weather each day and I spend the first night in the rental tossing and turning on an uncomfortable pull-out couch with a disoriented toddler. How easily I could have allowed myself to become a grumpy complainer, but I decided to consciously savor the blessings.
With that baby (who now couldn’t keep his eyes open after our restless night) propped against my chest as I sat in the sand with the water lapping up around us, I took the time to thank God for every bit of it. I thanked Him for the rain which stayed at bay that morning, for the warm water and the rolling clouds which 

lessened the sun’s intensity. I told Him how grateful I was for these children in my care, for the opportunity to wake with a needy little one and for the chance to rest on the edge of His ocean. Not exactly sure how many blessings I counted that morning or each one after it, but they were enough to fill my heart with contentment and joy and wash away my fantasies of being anywhere else.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting some things: a lovely getaway, a gadget that helps get your work done faster, a park train ride with your buddy or a seat on mama’s lap. The problems come when we lose sight of what we already have or we second-guess what God in His all-knowing wisdom and limitless mercy deigns to give to us.
Hopefully, in time (and with maturity) my youngest ones will learn to say thank you more often than they say “but I just want/need…” I suppose that parable is a good reminder for me to do better as well. Rather than look over the fence (or on my social media feeds) to see what the other workers are receiving, I am going to count my daily blessings and be grateful for the abundance showered upon me.

Picturing Parties, Peacocks & the Perfect Beach Day

Just another week in Brelinskyville I say. And by that I mean: traveling to celebrate our first graduate, hosting 86 of the world’s most awesome party guests, a stray peacock, field tripping to the beach and an extra blessing to count.

1. I’ve already gushed HERE over my very first home school graduate, but now I’ve actually got the pictures to document the achievement. We opted to enroll our high schoolers in Seton Home Study, so my son was eligible to participate in a graduation ceremony in VA. What a thrill to be among 100+ other graduates (from all over the country and one who came all the way from the Philippines) and those were just the graduates who chose to attend the event. 

I can’t say enough about how well Seton met our needs as a family and prepared my son for his future as an intelligent adult and a Catholic capable of defending his beliefs. Quite frankly, while I knew I would stay the course throughout my son’s high school education, I was somewhat intimidated and overwhelmed at the prospect of having to calculate his credits, double-check his requirements and create his transcript. Enter Seton where they do all of that and more. Four years and three high schoolers later, I am satisfied that we made the right choice and the tuition is worth every penny.

Class of 2014

Jude’s First Holy Communion
Sebastian’s Confirmation

2. When we throw a party, we like to really throw a party! Years ago we decided to host big, all-inclusive, family-sized shin-digs. When the oldest two were little I did the kids’ only, themed birthday parties (think Veggie Tale donuts, pirate treasure hunts and paper mache pinatas) complete with preplanned games and a gift unwrapping break. However, as the size of our brood increased that plan seemed less than ideal and honestly kind of un-fun for the adults and siblings. I mean hosting 8 birthday soirees would book up our whole summer and fall (since our bdays span from March to September). So the big bash idea sprang up and we’ve been sticking with it ever since. Now the kids entertain one another (no need for me to orchestrate games) and no one is left out since there is a least one (or six) somebodies your age to hang with. Moms and dads are then free to enjoy the company of other adults since the kiddos are so busy together. Of course, being southerners and all potluck is the way to go. This cuts down on expense and allows friends to share something rather than feeling obliged to bring gifts.  

This go around we and 76 of our friends and family spent the afternoon together celebrating this year’s sacraments and milestones (with a confirmation, communion and graduation in one spring there was oh so much to celebrate).

Kevin (named in honor of the bird from UP)

3.  Okay, so normal people might happen across a stray kitty or puppy, right? But here in B-ville we find ourselves adopted by a stray peacock! No, really, a peacock literally flew into our field of fowl and he’s decided (against our best efforts to discourage him) to make this home. Occasionally, he perches on our high roof, but most of the time he sits near the hens that he is trying so very hard to impress. Quite comical, when the hens walk passed he fans out his tail feathers and shakes them ever so purposefully whilst turning slowly so as to remain within 

the hen’s line of sight. The chickens (like innocent, college girls in a frat house) don’t quite understand his oh-so-subtle flirtations (or they’re just not interested in inter-species romance). If the girls here aren’t diggin’ him, I guess he’s decided the food makes up for it. Anyone got any peacock tips?

Mr. B and the sea

4. How is it that a whole year has slipped by since I carried my big bellied self to the beach? Well, it has and it was high time to soak in some RR on the coast of NC. A more perfect beach day we couldn’t have prayed for (okay well the freezing cold water may have been a deterent for some of us but as you can see from the pics the kids numbed up fast enough to enjoy the chilly waters) as the temperature was warm but not sweat-worthy, the life guards were on duty, the parking lot was nearly empty and the sky maintained its Carolina blue.

We barely even bothered with the radio as the soothing sounds of the waves were enough to captivate our attention. God also graced us with just enough wind to lift our kite, but not so much as to require us to wrap up in towels for comfort. The coast takes a bit of navigating for our crew since we live a few hours from it, but as always the day trip gave us that little timeout we all needed.

5. Putting this post together, I have to admit my shame in adding this last thought. Just across the way from our favorite beach spot is the Bodie Island lighthouse, so this trip we decided to check it out (not sure why we hadn’t in the past). Happy to have arrived an hour before its closing, we filed out of the van and began snapping pictures. A tour guide was about to usher in a new group and she advised that we’d need to purchase tickets inside to join the next grouping. Unfortunately, once inside we realized the pricing was too far outside of our tight budget, so we had to settle for looking at the curator’s picture book of the lighthouse interior. 

Glad for the portrait view, I was internally bemoaning. Our budget is more often than not tight, but I hate saying no again and again. I wanted to say, “Yes. We’ll take ten tickets!” I wanted my kids to race up the spiral staircase, to peer out from the top, to imprint a lasting memory, but thoughtful planning dictated that we needed to forgo this expense as our traveling is not yet complete for the summer. 

How silly I feel now for my ingratitude as I detail the abundance of blessings that have been poured forth these last few weeks. So what that we missed the spiral stairs in that black and white structure we’ve witnessed sacraments, welcomed loved ones, met new friends, experienced unfamiliar settings and stored up an ample cache of mental souvenirs. 

Once again, this domestic church I call home succeeds in raising my eyes upward.

Home schooling 101, Stuff In Our School Cabinet

our generally organized school closet
We’ve opted to keep our home schooling supplies in a relatively small space, so as not to turn our home into a school house alone. Early on, my husband expressed his concerns that our house should be a comfortable place to live and entertain and not just a warehouse for kids’ toys and books. I tend to agree with him. Additionally, as the primary teacher in the house, I like the feeling of “being done” (with at least one job) for the day which means all textbooks, cubicles, pencils and school boxes get put away (out of sight).

However, being that space is limited and our students range from kindergarten to seniors, I’ve had to come up with simple and creative ways to recycle, reuse and store materials that will be needed by younger siblings.
Budget is also a factor when it comes to operating our home school, so I try to avoid buying more than we need and I want to make more expensive supplies last as long as possible.
Here are a few tricks and tips I’ve discovered or come up with along the way:
1. Plastic bags. I love plastic bags and it is a rarity that we don’t put them to multiple tasks before finally relinquishing any to the trash bin. The gallon sized kind that zip closed are a must-have item (the ones labeled for freezer use are the most sturdy). I use them to store softcover textbooks because the bag protects them when they are being pushed in and pulled out from the bookshelf.
My fifth grader isn’t the most gentle when it comes to putting her math book away and the book she is currently using has already served her four older siblings so it may not last beyond her. To increase the odds of its survival through the year, I am having her return the book to its plastic bag before plopping it back into her school box for the night. This way the pages won’t get roughed up when she stuffs her pencil box, etc. on top of it. 
Plastic bags are great for preschool activity holders. I had my preschooler’s box filled with several bags. One contained a pair of scissors and a stack of card stock sheets to cut (I had drawn lines with thick black marker on the card stock which he was supposed to cut along).
***a little note of warning, don’t allow toddlers or infants to have access to plastic bags and make sure preschoolers don’t have bags in their school boxeswhich are big enough to fit over their heads.
2. Plastic page protectors.These are fabulous for protecting notes, sample copies, and chore lists. My daughter, who just started studying algebra, has been diligently taking notes on the formulas she’ll need to memorize. I had her slip the notes into a page protector sheet so they will last her throughout the course. My third grader is keeping the sample guide for cursive letters in his.

Going back to my preschoolers, I housed matching shapes and matching letters (upper and lower case) games in plastic page protectors.
Last year I was introduced to a wonderful new grammar program which seemed to be the answer I’d been looking for to improve my children’s understanding of grammar concepts. After hearing the creators describe their methodology, I was sold on their product, then I saw the price tag. Wanting to use the program with multiple students, I had to figure out how to make the worksheets work for us without violating the copyrights. As it turns out, I was able to slip a plastic sheet over the individual page and have my child write directly on it with a dry erase marker. I then corrected the work and we used a piece of felt to wipe the page clean for the next child to use.
Similarly, we use these pages to hold chore lists because chores can be checked off with dry erase markers and then the sheet can be wiped clean with felt or a napkin at the end of the day.
3. Plastic linen bags. After purchasing a couple of single curtain panels, I wondered how I could recycle the sturdy, plastic, zippered bags they came in. They became pencil bags, of course. Better than boxes, they are light weight and can easily be squished into tight spaces.
4. Plastic tubs. I don’t know what we did before these came along, but big, medium or small plastic tubs hold it all. We each have our own school tub (plastic containers designated for our school stuff). Additionally, I use smaller ones to organize the various supplies in the school closet (the thinking is that my tidy children will actually put items into the neatly marked containers each and every time- I can dream can’t I?). Generally, I label the boxes by subject, so the math box contains rulers, addition flash cards, compasses, cardboard clocks. etc.

5. Plain file folders. I always keep a box of these in our supply cabinet. Whenever we are planning a trip or preparing for a sacrament I use one of these to keep all the necessary paperwork, directions, notes together in one place.
Instead of purchasing pricier tab divider sheets for separating subjects in binders, I cut a folder in half and use a hole puncher to create two less expensive divider pages. 

A few months ago, I made a learning tool out of wood and nails for my son and I cut file folders into strips for the changeable parts to be matched. You can read more about that project HERE.
Maybe that’s part of the reason why I like home schooling so much, it provides me the opportunity to be creative (whether out of want or necessity). And along the way, my children are learning how to be good stewards of the resources God has given us.

My First Home School Graduate

To-do list:

wash laundry

scrub toilets

wipe counters

make bed

graduate son

mop floors

pay bills
Hey wait, did you catch that? I just ED off an item on my to-do list FOR-EV-A! Unlike the laundry which will never be finished or the crumb piles that will only reappear five minutes after I’ve cleaned them up, my son will never again require me to re-home school him (okay I will probably have to remind him of his manners and to pick up his wet towels, but that’s a different kinda schoolin’). That’s right, I’m doing the happy dance now that my numero uno son has completed his last assignment, making him a high school graduate.

It seems like just yesterday that little Pierce, in his adorable mushroom cut, was seated across the kitchen table with #2 pencil in hand. “Ssss, snake, ssss…what letter says ssss?” I was asking. Number families were neatly chalked on the hand-painted, wall blackboard and card stock Rembrandts covered the fridge. From ABC’s and 123’s to algebra and biology, I watched him stretch and grow in stature and wisdom throughout these last thirteen years.
This was the child that taught me to correct in blue ink (to his young perfectionist mind red pen was like the matador’s cape). He was the gifted artist who scrapped beautiful pictures if the proportions weren’t to his liking. The first (not the last) to reduce me to tears during our first reading lessons, he went on to devour books as a teen (no, not literally, he only bit board books as a toddler). My son #1 has music in his heart, so he taught himself to play the organ and then the piano. While he may not have ever been the quickest player on the soccer field, he easily ascended the ranks in Civil Air Patrol.
Our home schooling years are like postcards in my memory.
Okay, some of those postcards might be stamped from LaLaLand when I recall my yellow, school bus daydreams. Those are home school mom fantasies wherein you place your beloved, hard-headed learner on the magic yellow bus and then float back into the house to commence leisurely eating your secret cookies right in the middle of your tidy living room (as opposed to stuffing one in your mouth while hiding behind a cabinet door hoping no one will sniff you out). Then you watch some mindless talk show on the fingerprint-less TV screen and talk uninterrupted on the phone for a whole hour.
Yeah, I admit it, I even threatened to send him to “school” a time or two figuring he’d return home ever grateful for my sacrificial time and attention. In my estimation, he would return home (after a 7am to 4pm day, heavily laden with a ten pound backpack stuffed full of homework) uttering words of thanksgiving for his former home schooling routine and begging to be home again in the pleasant company of his siblings.
I had those days occasionally, but all in all our years together at the school table were a great blessing. Every milestone achieved, every lesson learned, every concept internalized, I was lucky enough to witness. And for all of the education he received, I learned right along with him. Indeed my rusty algebra was renewed and I can diagram sentences again, but even more importantly I was schooled in patience, compassion, perseverance, honesty, integrity, forgiveness and charity.
Home schooling is about providing kids the tools to become life-long learners, who know how and where to find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. In the beginning, people asked me how I would make sure my son didn’t miss anything. When high school drew close that “anything” became how could I teach him subjects that I was lacking in. Staying the course in my vocation, I discovered the reply to that inquiry just about the time they stopped asking. He wasn’t constrained by me anymore than Einstein was constrained by his mother.
So today I am reaching around to give myself a well-earned pat on the back. Looking at my handsome, intelligent, artistic son who serves on the altar, holds down a part-time job, leads in his CAP squadron, delights his baby brother and fills our home with melodies, I know we succeeded at forming a whole person capable of extraordinary things.
That’s one goal down and just 7 more (kids) to go.

Home Schooling 101: Easter Egg Inspirations

Years ago we initiated the annual hunt in Brelinskyville on Easter morning. Under cover of darkness a 5’4″ bunny distributes brightly colored plastic eggs beneath bushes and daffodils beds, in outdoor work boots and under porch stairs. Come morning’s light our eager basket-toting scavengers set out to collect their treasures.

The eggs have always contained sweet treats and sometimes a bit of shiny silver coins, but at one point in time I decided they needed something more. That’s when I began to include a scriptural verse, inspirational note or saintly quotation inside. My kids like to call them “fortune eggs” since the notes come on thin strips of folded paper.

A fun and simple way to evangelize, we’ve include these notes in eggs that we donate to community egg hunts and we make up small baskets with a few goodies for our neighbors and include a few “fortune eggs.” One year my boys decided to keep the notes in a bowl after Easter so they could pick out one each evening to read aloud. Some of the quotes need to be explained to little ones, but that’s a great way to begin a deeper conversation.
If you’d like to add a little extra surprise to your eggs this year, feel free to copy and print what I have come up with for this year.
God is so good and merciful, that to obtain Heaven it is sufficient to ask it of Him form our hearts.
-St. Benedict Joseph Labre
Patient endurance is the perfection of charity. -St. Ambrose
God is good.
God is love.
Jesus loves you.
There is no such thing as bad weather. All weather is good because it is God’s. -St. Teresa Avila
The saints were so completely dead to themselves that they cared very little whether others agreed with them or not. – St. John Vianney
Jesus, I trust in You.
The world would have peace if the men of politic would only follow the Gospels.
-St. Brigitta of Sweden 
Maintain a spirit of peace and you’ll save a thousand souls. -St. Seraphim of Sarov
The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweths them that trust in him.
-Nahum 1:7
Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent. -St. John of the Cross
Never rebuke while you are still indignant about a fault committed- wait until the next day, or even longer. And then calmly, and with purer intention, make your reprimand. You will gain more by a friendly word than by a three hour quarrel. -St. Jose Escriva
If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. -St. Ignatius of Loyola
Thank the good God for having visited you through suffering; if we knew the value of suffering, we would ask for it. -Blessed Brother Andre
I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of God. -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
-Psalm 27:14
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Every child is a gift from God.
Love of man leads to the love of God. -Indian Proverb
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and rely not on thine own understanding. -Proverbs 3:5
Other books were given for our information, the Bible was given for our transformation. -Anonymous
He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands. -Bernard of Clairvaux
Fretting springs from a determination to get our own way. -Oswald Chambers
Happy the man whose words issue from the Holy Spirit and not from himself. -St. Anthony of Padua
Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family. -St. Angela Merici
Never utter in your neighbor’s absence what you would not say in their presence.
-St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi
Christ make my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve. -St. Anges
When you seek truth you seek God whether you know it or not. -Edith Stein
As sailors are guided by a star to the port, so are Christians guided to Heaven by Mary.
-St. Thomas Aquinas
Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are. -St. Gregory the Great
Do something good for someone you like least, today. – St. Anthony of Padua
Let us love God, but with the strength of our arms, in the sweat of our brow. -St. Vincent de Paul
Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.
-St. Therese of Lisieux
Love Him totally who gave Himself totally for your love. -St. Clare of Assisi
At the end of our life, we shall be judged by love. -St. John of the Cross
True charity means returning good for evil-always. -St. Mary Mazzarello
Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society. -St. Francis of Assisi
Make up your mind to become a saint. -St. Mary Mazzarello
You cannot be a half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all. -St. Therese of Lisieux
Laugh and play and dash about as much as you like, only be careful not to say or do anything that would be displeasing to God. – St. Mary Mazzarello
The gate of Heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it. -St. Elizabeth Seton
The whole science of the saints consists in knowing and following the will of God.
-St. Isidore of Seville
God loves obedience better than sacrifice. -Blessed Jan Van Ruysbroeck
Hate the sin, love the sinner. -St. Augustine
No one heals himself by wounding another. -St. Ambrose
No one is really happy merely because he has what he wants, but only if he wants things he ought to want. -St. Augustine
The soul of one who loves God always swims in joy, always keeps holiday, and is always in the mood for singing. -St. John of the Cross
It is such a joy when I awaken to salute God by singing. -Blessed Teresa of the Andes
In everything ask yourself what the Master would have done, and do that. -Ven. Charles de Foucauld
Never make a decision without stopping to consider the matter in the presence of God. -St. Jose Escriva

Home Schooling 101: Hands-On Learning Tools Made from Recycled Stuff

home made educational tools for learning multiplicationWhile I suppose all young learners appreciate some creative, hands-on tools to liven up their task, little boys seem most interested in movable instruments. I can’t lay claim to conjuring these ideas from scratch, but I thought I’d share some things that are working in my home school.

Old computer or DVD discs and their cases make handy reading or math wheels. I simply flipped the discs to their blank sides, drew lines to divide them into quarters and filled each quarter with consonants or numbers. When you snap the disc back into its case (so that it is on the left-side), the child can easily spin the wheel to 
home school DYI math wheel for learning times tableschange the beginning sound or number to be multiplied.
I cut index cards to fit the opposite side of the case (where the album cover would normally be). On these I wrote the simple word endings (at, it, et, ot, in, on, op, ack, ick, etc.) and the second factor. For the multiplication tables, I wrote the whole family of products and taped this to the index card so that it can be folded back (to hide the answers).
how to teach kids times tables
For reading, I simply let my 5 year old sound out all of the words without bothering to correct real from false words. As for the occasional, SH + IT, I just ignore it since my son has no idea this is a “bad” word.

easy inexpensive ways to teach phonics to young childrenphonics toy made from recycled materials
The matching nail board is a work in progress. It consists of a piece of wood (an old shelf board), nails, string and card stock. The idea is to match the two sides or to work back and forth. So far I created the Ten Commandments so my 2nd grader can practice the proper order. He also has to memorize The Act of Contrition so I created a back and forth pattern to help him practice. My daughter hates Latin, but she’s about to start a class in it, so I’ll make vocabulary match-ups for her. There are lots of possibilities for this one from language practice to matching number names and their digits.

making a match up board to teach kids

With years in as a home schooler, I’ve learned not to get too crazy buying every new gadget or book on the market. Limited space and budget helps me rein in my “I’ve gotta try that” temptations. These ideas were made completely out of recycled materials I already had around the house and they were easy to construct. They’ve gotten my boys interested in some self-directed learning masquerading as tactile fun.

Advent Traditions, Old and New

small Keep Christ in Christmas

Be sure to visit as many links as possible, listed at the bottom of this post.

Trees and lights, gifts and bows, party invitations and brightly colored cards, the excitement leading up to Christmas can tempt us to lose focus of the important task of preparation. Advent, however, invites us to slow down and make ready our hearts and minds. Like the Magi, we can spy the eastern star in the distance and take our time traveling the path towards it. Additionally, if we give Advent its due, then we can avoid the premature rush to throw Christmas to the curb on December 26th. 

the advent box

Years ago we were gifted with an advent box that has a numbered drawer for each of the December days leading up to Christmas. Each drawer gets filled with a piece of candy or a quarter for each child. As you can imagine, my children love the sweet beginning of a day that starts with a yummy treat. Of course, you could fill an Advent calendar with all kinds of non-edible items, but I like to keep it simple and it’s fun to allow a little innocent self-indulgence once in a while.

As a small child I remember the anticipation of opening the paper doors on my advent calendar. After searching the pictured scene for the proper number of the day, I was rewarded with a tiny image of an angel, a shepherd or a manger animal. I was an only child at the time so there was no one to argue with about whose turn it was to flip open the little flap. I’ll be honest and admit my own brood isn’t quite as interested in our card stock calendar, but the wait time in between turns may have something to do with it.

the wreath of candles

Of course, we couldn’t celebrate advent without the traditional wreath of candles. We place ours in the center of our table (around which most of our life revolves) and I have a set of the Holy Family to accompany it. The warming glow of the candles invites us each evening to recollect where we are in the journey toward Christmas. Also, this tradition welcomes our older kids to get involved as only they are allowed the privilege of lighting the candle. For the little ones I have a felt wreath with four flames that Velcro on the three purple and one pink candle.

st. andrew novena

In the past I’ve prayed the St. Andrew novena by myself, but this year I’m going to introduce it as a new tradition to replace our regular family bedtime prayers. Honestly, our night time invocations can become rote at times so this seems a wonderful way to inject a bit of newness into those evening petitions and thanksgivings. Since the novena is meant to be recited 15 times a day, we may split it throughout the day. 

the tree

Our priest encourages everyone to wait until Christmas Eve before erecting their Christmas trees, but I have to admit that with eight children that idea invokes images of a stress-filled day. Additionally, I relish the fragrance of the tree and the magical luminescence of colored lights so we opt to trim our tree about one week before Christmas day (this way we can enjoy it all the longer). So as not to get stuck picking through the remainder of rejected trees, we usually purchase one earlier in advent and simply leave it outside in a container of water. This method insures our tree will last throughout the twelve days of Christmas without turning into a fire hazard. Last year was one that had us postponing our hunt for the perfect evergreen, but to our delight we got a great deal on the price as the local salesman wanted to move his remaining inventory and close up shop.

story time

Perusing blogs, several others have suggested starting a family story time tradition to keep the excitement and joy enduring all Christmas long. The idea is to wrap twelve children’s books and open only one each night during the twelve days starting on Christmas day. Thinking that a brilliant idea, but wanting to avoid breaking our budget, I sent a son to retrieve all the holiday themed books we already own (so that I only had to purchase a handful more). Later during a shopping spree I happened upon a providential find at Barnes and Noble bookstore. They carry a book that contains 24 stories to be read throughout Advent, so we’ll begin with that one. Going forward, I’ll send all of the books into the attic once Christmas passes. This way the stories will be “new” again year after year.

the creche

My stepdad hand made a manger for our family when our numbers were far fewer. Now that he’s left our earthly embrace, that gift has become my most favored decoration. After the advent box, it is the next thing to be carried down from the rafters. It remains empty, albeit for some animals and a lone shepherd boy, until Christmas eve. The wise men are positioned in a distant “land” while Joseph and Mary begin their travels from shelf to shelf. Rather than just setting up this piece and leaving it untouched until Epiphany, I find it helpful to engage our senses by moving the holy players about. The manger is also the last reminder to get packed away because I feel compelled to allow the Magi their time in adoration.

praying through the twelve days of christmas

During the twelve days we, as a family, assign each day for a particular person/persons. We pledge to offer up the whole day (our actions, sacrifices and prayers) for the person of the day. Preparation for this happens in Advent. I print up slips of paper with blanks for the assigned date and name then we determine who will be the designated recipient from December 25th through January 5th. To save on postage we include these love offerings in the envelopes with our cards (that way I also don’t forget to mail them later in the season when life gets busier- I make sure to keep a list of names and dates on our own calendar). 

Our family has a few tried and true traditions that we look forward to each year, but this year we’re adding some new ones. My goal is to keep us focused on the true purpose of the season, a preparation for and anticipation of the joy to come on Christmas. Craft fairs, parties, gift wrapping and cookie exchanges are all fun ways to fill up our holiday dance card, but the preceding ideas are meant to call our family closer and to quiet our bodies and minds for awhile each day. From the sweetness our the early morning treat to the evening’s story time snuggles on the couch, we’ll be reminded that the joy of this season lies nestled in our hearts and in our faith.

Visit these participating blogs for awesome posts about Keeping Christ in Christmas!
Equipping Catholic Families: Keep Christ in Christmas
Simply Homeschool  Living Advent Series 12/1 – 12/25
Fifth of Five     Keeping Christ in Christmas – Blog Link-up 2013
Coffee Moments with Sam     The Light of Hope
Hand-Maid With Love: CHRISTmas Presence: Keep Christ in Christmas 2013 Edition
Open Window Making hay while the Advent wreath shines
Faith Filled Freebies: Keep Christ in Christmas
Written by the Finger of God: Not Christmas as Usual
On the Way Home:  Keep Christ in Christmas
Sue Elvis Writes: Bring Christ to Others
Mommy Bares All       Why Celebrate Christmas Even After #YolandaPH
Canadian Catholic Mom         Keeping The Little Ones Focused: An Advent Link-Up
Mountain of Grace Homeschooling   Keep Christ in Christmas
Em’s Estuary: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Happy Little Homemaker: December Devotion: Immaculate Conception 
Adoro Ergo Sum:  How We Keep Christ in Christmas O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Home to 4 Kiddos        Keep Christ in Christmas
Embedded Faith          Boldly Be the Christ in Christmas
City Girl, Country Home         Emmanuel Is With Us. Are we WITH HIM?
Journey to Wisdom: Trusting in your Awkward Fiats
Joy of Nine9    Waiting in Joyful Expectation Like a Child
Splendor in the Home Ideas For Keeping Advent and Christmas Holy
Training Happy Hearts            10 Ways to Celebrate the New Liturgical Year
A Catholic Life Advent: The Beginning of the Liturgical Year & Source of Rich Meditations
Designs by Birgit: Elf on a Shelf and Santa Claus
Catholic Inspired: Faith-Centered Family Christmas
A Slice of Smith Life: How we keep Christ in Christmas
Catholic All Year: Three Reasons I love Advent
Mary the Defender: Christmas The Battle Begins
Truly Rich Mom: Keep Christ in Christmas
Day By Day in Our World: 40 Days Seeking Him and Keeping Christ in Christmas
Diapers and Drivel: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising Soldiers 4 Christ: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom   Keep Christ In Christmas With A Teenager
Tercets:           Keeping Christ in Christmas: Join Church Ministries
Campfires and Cleats How We Keep Christ in Christmas
Life Unabridged: Celebrating the Fullness of the Advent and Christmas Season
Homeschooling With Joy        Keeping Christ in Christmas
Mrs Domestic Bliss     Gingerbread Nativity
The Chic Traveller      Keeping Christ in Christmas
California to Korea     Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique’s Desk       Keeping Christ in Christmas
Our ABC Life: An Advent Update
Journey Living: Anno Domini
The Road to Rome: Advent Prayer and Reflection Resources
Life of Fortunate Chances: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Quidquid Est, Est!: Reblog: Advent Posts

Homeschooling 101: Cubicles to Contain the Chaos

  1. I will not talk in class
  2. I will not talk in class
  3. I will not talk in class…
Okay, I admit it. I had to write that sentence (or some version of it) 50 times X 50 times. And at some point in the third grade, my least favorite teacher devised a plan to curtail my social nature. She moved my seat in between two of the boys. That plan was a failure because, as it turned out, I had no problem relating to my testosterone-fueled classmates just as easily as my female bff’s. Back to writing sentences…
Perhaps that lay teacher placed a secondary “Mother’s Curse” on me. You know the one; when you wish for your little darlings to grow up and have little darlings of their own who mirror all their best traits (like forgetting their chores daily or debating every topic from global warming to the color of purple).
Setting out on this journey of home schooling twelve years ago, I figured that I’d escaped the trials and tribulations of traditional teaching. Visions of silent, studious students danced through my head. They would sit attentively while fully engaged in their bookwork in between our thoughtful discussions. Then reality set in.
To my knowledge there aren’t any notes passing back and forth with goofy pictures of the teacher (with horns and buck teeth), but eight opinionated pupils sure can find an endless stream of topics to chatter, debate, and muse about. Sometimes the volume reaches rock concert decibels.
I will not” sentences penned and essays (detailing the merits of cooperation) sprawled on lined paper, I was still searching for the answer to eliminate the constant distractions at our school table. That’s when the light shone down on my laptop and I stumbled across a DYI genius who’d built collapsible partitions. So I raced to the basement (the home to all manner and size of cardboard boxes) and got my crafty on.
a simple home made cubie to help cut down distractions for your students
Emerging from the depths of our foundation with two brown cardboard tri-folds in hand, I established our new jurisdiction assignments. Setting my homemade cubicles around the most needy students, they were encouraged to decorate their spaces.
easy cheap tools to cut out distractions for students
While I would be lying if I claimed that all the chit chat was arrested (I fear not even duct tape could squelch all their vocalizations- don’t worry I won’t try to find out), it is fair to say that those cubies aided in diminishing a portion of the unnecessary inter-table communications. My seven year old son, like most seven year old sons, can lose focus quicker than you can say “squirrel.” But behind his DYI wall his eyes are able to lock in on the next math equation rather than the antics of his 5 year old cohort who is attempting to balance a crayon on the tip of his nose.

This idea didn’t knock one out of the ballpark, but it certainly has become one of my constant classroom tools. In fact, my twelve year old daughter decided she wanted a niche of her own, so she recently hauled up her own brown board.

And, hey, as an added bonus they’ll be well trained as future office staff.

Busting Boredom Forever: Homeschooling 101

We’re borrrrred,” said the children of Brelinskyville until their mama (me) had had it up to here (hand raised high in the air). “Go outside, play chess, clean your rooms, build a Lego tower, etc., etc., etc,” I repeated ad nauseum. And then the day came (THE DAY of all days) when I set about to banish boredom from our corner of the world FOREVER.
banish the I'm bored complaint The idea can’t really be claimed as an original because I’d garnered the knowledge from some other wise mama, who long ago had had it up to there. But on this day I made it my own. I took pen to paper and wrote out fabulous activities and creative chores. Then, I snipped the boredom busters into single strips which were folded and piled high in a jar.
The key, I decided while brainstorming, was to include more chores than fun stuff so as to make it a bit less enticing to utter the hateful words. However, not wanting to throw a monkey wrench into our routine distribution of household jobs, I included only out of the ordinary tasks.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me” face

Once complete I set that jar in a prominent spot and declared that the word bored was no longer listed in the Brelinsky dictionary. Henceforth all residents heard proclaiming the banished term would be immediately required to remedy their own ills by picking a boredom buster from the jar.

Grumble, grumble, groan,” they retorted, but I stuck to my guns. By week’s end the word rarely crossed their lips. Now, several months later, I am thrilled to report that my children seem to have all but forgotten that dirty little word. 

not my kid



Recently, a crafty child attempted to tell me, “There’s nothing to do,” but I quickly revised the law to include all manner of synonyms and sent him to the jar. I’ve also decided to create a second jar for outside activities since apparently our giant, homemade jungle gym/swingset (with 3 slides, a climbing wall, 4 swings, a rope and a fireman’s pole), 30 roaming fowl, 2 dogs, 20 assorted sports balls, 10 ride on bikes/cars, basketball hoop and badminton net don’t inspire the imagination.
So, if you’re kiddos are bombarding you with their boring babble, then give it a try and banish the boredom blues for good. It’s cheap, it’s easy and my experience has proven it can be done.

Ideas for your jar:
dust under furniture
run ____ laps in the yard
draw a picture
clean the windows
count to 100
wipe the walls
read a book
clean the van
memorize a poem
organize a book shelf
write a thank you letter
clean under beds
pull weeds or pick up leaves
wash or brush the dog
clean out lower kitchen cabinets
do ___ push-ups or sit-ups
do ___ jumping jacks
sing a nursery rhyme
pick up __ sticks
find a white rock