Category Archives: Home schooling

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

7 Quick Takes To Get Your Home School Year Moving

7 tips to help get your home school year off to a good start
Everyone’s headed back to school according to social media posts and commercial advertisers. Back packs and curriculum, lunch boxes and lesson planners, parents are gearing up for another year of educational progress. As for us, we’re year-rounders so just when everyone else is shifting out of park, we’re kicking into second gear. But no matter what your schedule choice, it is a good time to do a systems check.

Here are seven quick takes to help you keep your engines running smoothly.

School Room VS. the Dining Room Table

#1 My social media feeds are filled with snapshots of beautiful school rooms, filled with learning centers, educational posters and inviting seats. School rooms can be a great place to keep and organize your books and learning tools, as well as, a good way to structure your child’s day (school happens in here, play happens outside of here, etc.) However, you should keep in mind a separate room is not a requirement for success and for some it may be a hindrance. 

We’ve always schooled at the dining room table (which is centrally located) because I found, with little ones toddling about, it was easier to make sure the preschoolers were in clear sight and had ready access to their play area. Of course, this means we have to pull out and put away our school books each day. To make the movement of books easier, every child has his/her own school box with their current grade books inside. When deciding what works for you, consider what ages you need to monitor and which household chores will require your attention during the day, than select the location that works best for everyone.

Shop ’til You Drop?

#2 Browse through a catalog or educational book dealer and you’ll be overwhelmed by the available choices from colorfully illustrated science books to laminated posters of the life cycle of a frog. If there’s money in your bank account, you’ll probably be tempted to shop ’til you drop. You’ll just have to try that book your girlfriend recommended for grammar and doesn’t that math manipulative look like fun. I’ve been there and done that, only my bank account forced me to restrain myself sometimes more than I wanted.

 Now with twelve plus years of home schooling on my resume, I have to admit the basics are the better deal. Think about it, little Dick and Jane were just as equipped educationally (in some cases better equipped when compared to today’s youth) and they didn’t require fancy new books and educational toys to absorb their reading, writing and arithmetic. Keep it simple, stick to a solid foundation of thorough basics and resist the temptation to buy into every new idea if the old one worked well. I remember in my Catholic grammar school there were lovely, decorated bulletin boards lining the hallways, but I can’t remember that those pretty pictures actually taught me anything of importance. In contrast, I did learn plenty from the information in those well-worn textbooks (I also learned to treat things with greater care because our supplies weren’t disposable).

Just the Right Price = Free

Okay, I’m dating myself with this picture
#3 Utilize free resources as much as possible. Make sure your family has a library card and visit regularly. Why buy when you can borrow? To this end, be careful in allowing your children on the internet. While it can be a wonderful tool to learning, it requires vigilant parental supervision.
#4 On the free front, my husband was able to find a good number of classics for “free” on paperback swap. You earn credits for free books by offering your used books for free (which is a great way to help clean out your overflowing book shelves). The book offerer pays the cost of media mail only. E-book readers also offer lots of free material, but again be careful that your kids aren’t able to access the internet via their reader without parental controls.

Learning All the Time

#5 Never forget that learning is a constant process so sweet Susie is learning all day long, not just when seated at a desk. Include her in the daily chores as part of her school day. Let her help make lunch, fold laundry and read to a younger sibling. 

How better to learn real life skills and religious lessons than by putting ideas into action? The Corporal Works of Mercy are an abstract for little ones until you have Bobby dress the baby and then point out that he has just clothed the naked. As Julie makes piles of laundry for each family member, you might tell her that she’s classifying items like in science. The point is if you are having an off day and you didn’t finish that whole page of math, Timmy and Tammy didn’t miss out on a whole day of learning. In days of old, parents understood this concept. Great minds were formed at the hips of their fathers and mothers; they still are.

Train Good Communicators

#6 My children tend to be outgoing and I think it’s an important skill to learn: how to communicate and navigate in the wide world. From the time they are little, I push them to engage others when appropriate (and safe). For example, have your younger child select an item from the store. Have him count out his own money, decide if he can afford the item, hand the money to the cashier and politely thank the checkout person for the change. If they can’t find a book in the library, have them ask the librarian for help, etc. I also make my kids write thank you notes which has become somewhat of a dying art, but is still no less important. 

Obviously, some people are introverts, but we will all need to navigate through life, so teach your children these skills from the beginning. On a confessional note, I have a child who hates to ask for help, so I had to quite literally force him to call the home school counselor on occasion. It was well worth the effort because now as a young adult he is able to handle his own affairs.

Teach Them to Love

#7 If you love your children and model that love daily, you are succeeding. There are too many people in the world suffering from lack of love, but your children will not be in that group. And in loving them, you are teaching them to love which will change the world one person at a time.

So whether today is the first day of your school year or your 31st day, take heart and know you are capable of preparing your offspring to succeed. It doesn’t require bundles of expensive books or a vast array of flashy, new tools to educate a young mind. It only takes a loving, thoughtful teacher who inspires a love for learning.

These Four Walls Do Not Define Me, Learning to Become Unattached

Attending school in rural Pennsylvania, the “house on wheels” was introduced to me for the first time. Warehoused in tiny, tight rows or planted solemnly in the center of sprawling fields, these factory-produced, moveable abodes seemed so primitive and so, well, so hick-like. An eager, self-important, snobby college student raised in suburbia, I vowed to never, ever be caught dead living in a trailer.

Oh yes, I could get my roommate’s argument that the trailer was a convenient source of housing for the less than well-too-do budget conscience dweller, but still I wasn’t going to be anyone’s Double-Wide Queen (or Single-Wide Princess for that matter). Not on your life.
Aside from teaching me never to say never, God would use the next decade+ of my lifetime to humble me and redefine my ideas of worth.
Fast forward about eight years, a marriage, four apartments and three states later and I was living in my own trailer. Those prefabricated walls, tied down with steel rods, offered our growing family a secure homestead on our own piece of land, but still I dreamed of more. The plan was to live in our mobile home just long enough to earn the money to build a “real” house, the kind pictured in magazines.
Sure I tried my best to make that trailer into a welcoming habitation, covering the walls with hand-selected decorations and arranging the furniture so as to maximize space and invite guests to sit and stay. The fact that we were surrounded by other mobile homes didn’t necessarily mean I was actually living in a trailer park, or so I reasoned.
Having only two bedrooms, it quickly became apparent that our family was fast out-growing that little starter home. Not to mention my itch for bigger and better was inspiring me to push ahead in our plans for the real deal. However, after looking into the cost involved to build an ample-sized house on our land it became apparent that it was more economical to buy something already firmly established on a foundation.
How many houses we looked at, I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget the day we discovered THE ONE. Driving aimlessly around an unfamiliar neighborhood, we spied a For Sale sign planted in the front yard of a white with black trim, corner bungalow. The house appeared vacant, so we used the opportunity to mount the long, southern porch and peer through the windows. It was a dream come true – tall ceilings, expansive rooms, hardwood floors, a fireplace and all the windows I could hope for, not to mention that porch.
This was it, we had no doubts. After arranging with our realtor for a viewing of the interior, we were sold, or rather this seemingly perfect house was.
The next seven years were spent in that house growing our family. We relished the chance to fill it with auction-won furniture and decent hand-me-downs. The walls met the end of many of my brush strokes and our dining room was the scene of so many large dinner parties and school lessons. It met our needs in so many ways and satisfied my notions of worth to a good extent, at least for a while.
Unfortunately, having had little experience in home ownership, we’d chosen a neighborhood that was slowly sliding downhill and the pace of that downward slope seemed to become more rapid each year we remained. Suffice it to say, we witnessed a few frightening moments and knew it was time to retreat.
While I’d envisioned growing old and gray in that house and hosting my grandchildren in that dining room, I began to recognize that plan needed to change. Slowly, I started to notice all those little imperfections that you miss when first you fall in love (like the upstair’s sink that was stained blue and the crack in our bathroom that we’d never managed to find the time and money to fix). Something better might just be in store I decided, but in truth that gave me only small consolation. I had formed an attachment to that house. It was my house, my dream house.
Even if my domicile wasn’t really perfect, it had inspired lots of compliments. And that is when I had to come face to face with my vanity, my idolatry of sorts. I defined myself by that house. It was a status symbol in my eyes. When the time came to completely separate myself (to accept that I had to leave behind the nursery with my hand-painted murals, the hardwood floors I so regularly mopped and the big kitchen in which so much of life revolved) my heart hurt.
God allowed me a little assistance in breaking free. The buyer’s realtor did her best to avoid all protocols of southern hospitality. So by the time the deal was said and done, the taste in my mouth was as sour as a bag of lemons; and I simply wanted to get as far away from town and that house as possible.
But just to make sure I was really getting the message, the move into our new

house was fraught with stress and disappointment. From our dogs attacking the goats (they came with the house) on moving day, to kitchen cabinets lined with mouse droppings, I quickly saw every imperfection. The bathrooms needed to be scrubbed with super-human strength elbow grease and nearly every light switch cover had to be replaced. Add to those stressors the fact that our third son was making his First Holy Communion the next weekend and out-of-state company was scheduled to arrive to share in the celebration.

The tears fell in great big drops and I prayed I could call the whole deal off. How was I ever going to get my house guest-ready and uphold my personal idea of perfection? How could God have led me here? Why now? Hadn’t I been a good enough wife and mother to merit something better? Didn’t I work hard enough to earn something more flattering?
The readings right now are about Moses and His call to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt. How happy they were initially when the Lord provided for their safe passage, but then it didn’t take very long for the grumbling. Oh, they

complained why did you lead us out here to die; the food isn’t good enough; where’s that Moses because he’s been gone too long; we want an idol to worship, etc. Here were God’s beloved chosen ones, who’d witnessed the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, ate their fill of manna in the desert and yet they still weren’t satisfied.

Well, by week’s end the house was as ready as it needed to be. Not perfect, but perfection wasn’t required. Family came to share in the joy of our son’s sacrament, not to evaluate the party locale. We’ve been here nearly seven years now and at present it seems we’re meant to stay a while longer. This house hasn’t fulfilled my dreams, but my dreams never should have revolved around a stick edifice.
This place is a home, not because of its facade or its square footage. It is a home because of the people who dwell within its walls. The Lord has provided us shelter from the storm, met our needs, what more could I ask for? These walls do not define me, but my love for the people within them will.

Home school 101: Tips and Tricks of the Trade

easy ideas for home schoolers
Stumbling through files on my computer, I happened upon some notes I’d written for a talk on home schooling. While I’ve got twelve plus years on the job, know that I’m not a doppelganger for Mrs. VonTrapp, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two about what works in Brelinskyville.

  1. Without rehashing old posts, I have to say first and foremost that you need to prayerful discern God’s plan for your child’s education. Home schooling is my vocation. You need to discover if it’s yours as well. Days will come when you’ll second-guess your ability to endure one more minute as the ringleader of your 24/7 school house and knowing that you’re doing God’s work will give you the grace to continue the task.
  1. home school tipsEncourage your children to read, read, read. There are books on every imaginable topic, so if you can read, you can learn anything. An old friend’s daughter called home from college and thanked her parents for encouraging her to become an avid reader. She explained that college courses consisted of mostly textbook reading and so she had an advantage over some of her classmates, who didn’t like to read. 

    Honestly, I’m not very picky about what my kids read and I don’t have the time to preview their choices, so I’ve tried hard to teach them to recognize what isn’t appropriate. On more than one occasion, they’ve brought me a book and pointed out a “bad” word and they’ve agreed not to read it further. I’m okay with silly books for my younger kids, the boys especially, because for me the goal is to get them to enjoy reading and want to read more. Remember reading can lead to better vocabulary and spelling skills as well.

  1. Stick to a schedule. Children thrive on schedules and households are generally less stressful when everyone knows what to expect. I find it helpful at times to post the schedule, especially if I’ve made a change. This also prepares our children to be able to self-direct their studies as they get older and prepares them for schedules in the workplace.
  1. Flexibility is essential if you’d like to retain your sanity (or at least some portion of it), especially if your running a large household. As important as a schedule is, I think it is equally valuable to learn to make changes when needed. When we’ve had a baby, I’ve made a point to not get too attached to a hard and fast schedule for naps and breastfeeding. I nursed on demand and allowed my little one to sleep in my arms wherever we were and that philosophy carried over into all of our days. So, if the opportunity for a play date suddenly presents itself or a fabulous field trip is proposed, we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the blessing and make up the leftover work throughout the rest of the week. 

    I never “school” on the weekends, but occasionally when necessary I’ll add an extra week to our planners for the purpose of getting caught up. Perhaps, this is more of a personal preference, but I find it helpful to teach my kids to be able to “go with the flow” without falling apart.

  1. nurture your marriage while home schooling your childrenRemember to nurture and protect your marriage. When our children were little, we instituted Daddy and Mama Time which began at 8:00pm. I hold this time as sacred for both my own peace of mind and for my marriage. All of our children must go to their bedrooms at that time. The older kids are free to quietly play a game, read a book, chat with each other or study, but that must take place in their bedroom. It really helps to have this time to look forward to each day and it allows dad and mom the opportunity to focus on one another. There are days when 8:00pm can’t come soon enough! I think this also establishes a boundary for the children because they come to understand that dad and mom have a separate relationship (as opposed to just being dad and mom). A strong marriage makes for a stronger family which makes home schooling easier.

  2. Keep the house tidy and get dressed every day. While I wish that my house looked like those in Better Homes and Gardens, it doesn’t. Throughout the years and with the addition of children, I’ve had to become more Mary than Martha (and that is a HARD lesson). With that said, there are days when the beds don’t get made until lunchtime and there are school books still strewn on the table at 5:00pm. 

    Teach yourself and the children to tidy up throughout the day, so the house can be generally in order by the time dad gets home. For example, after you take a shower take the extra minute to hang the towels up neatly and pick up any stray items from around the sink. This way when you visit the restroom later, you won’t feel overwhelmed by “another mess.” Obviously, the house needs some serious cleaning, too, but I find it easier to pick one day a week for scrubbing and dusting. 

    Just as a tidy looking house helps to bring about a feeling of tranquility (just tune out the screaming children from this vision), a tidy looking mom will help motivate everyone. You are a teacher, an organizer, a motivational speaker, and a counselor, so look the part. Yes, the baby’s spit up may be on your shoulder and your pumps were traded in for flip flops, but you should still start every day by getting dressed, brushing your hair, etc. My grandmother and mother always “put their faces on” and “fix their hair” which is a good way to force yourself to look in the mirror for a few minutes every morning and recognize that you are beautiful and that you are YOU and not “just mom.”

  1. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw is out or give it a rest. Maybe you’ve tried to implement a suggested schedule in your house and it just isn’t working; by all means, stop and find what works for YOUR family.

    Does that grammar book that worked wonders for your son, work as well for your daughter? If not, don’t be afraid to shelf it and try another route. I used to get up and stay up at 6:00am. For a time it was a great blessing, but then life changed and my needs changed and getting up that early led me to feeling tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I decided to give that schedule and myself a rest by sleeping until 7:00. 

    Throughout the years, I’ve implemented many chart/reward systems, and they usually start out well. My kids have seen behavior charts, time charts, consequence charts, privilege charts, chore chart, enough charts that they should be aces if they are ever called upon to give some big graphic presentation to a future employer. Oh, and that’s not to mention the ticket, treat and time reward systems that I’ve offered. In time, these become less effective because the novelty has worn off or the goal was reached, then it is time to give it a rest. 


  1. Consistency is key. Most parents spend a lot of time seeking the magic trick to get their kids to behave. We buy books and listen to tapes, hoping to garner the secrets to success. Dr. Ray Guarendi tells us wisely that consistency is the real key. Really, no matter what the lesson we’re trying to teach, we need to be consistent if we want the lesson to “stick.” Unfortunately, the child’s brain doesn’t come with settings, so it may require mom to consistently say “Clean up your room” one million times or more rightly to say “clean up your room” and then consistently enforce a set consequence if it isn’t done.

  1. Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don’t over-extend yourself with too many commitments or extracurriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS.

  1. living your faith with your children in the home

    Lastly, live your faith in plain sight and love your children in the moment. All the lectures and book-work in the world won’t go as far as your example will (which your kids will be studying at every moment). Remember, this time with your children (while it may seem endless on the difficult days) will pass by before you know it, leaving you a clean house and an empty school table. Tomorrow they’ll be heading out the door to fulfill their own vocations, so enjoy this time and know that your sacrifices of time, self and sanity won’t have been in vain.

What’s Your Vocation?

Since we home school on a year-round schedule, now is the time of year our children rise to new grades. For my kids, this is a time filled with excitement and anticipation as the UPS man begins to appear in our driveway balancing boxes stuffed with crisp, new textbooks. And their enthusiasm peaks when the annual CAT tests arrive sparking a house-wide hunt for number 2 pencils and eraser remnants.

I guess I’d have to admit my own excitement at the realization that I’ve successfully completed another home schooling year with my sanity in tact (mostly). Although I might also be spied taking some extra deep breaths and wringing my hands as I navigate the half-opened boxes and packing peanuts strewn across the floor while administering 6 CAT tests simultaneously.

high school graduates need more than a job they need a vocationThis spring marks an especially monumental period of sorts. Our eldest son is entering his senior year of high school, followed directly behind by his little brother, the new junior. For the last year or so, in addition to the regular topics of conversation in our household (which span everything from what’s for dinner to the catalysts for the decline of the Roman empire), there’s been quite a bit of talk about vocations.

The dictionary defines vocation as:

  1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.
  2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling.

the priesthood is a vocation that requires a responseWhile I would be overjoyed to supply the Church with more priests and religious (and I regularly pray that I will), our discussions cover a broader perspective. Too often, perhaps, the focus for young people in this age begins with a more materialistic vision. The first question seems to revolve around pay scales and earning possibilities. While it is certainly reasonable to ponder income potential, especially considering they may one day be providing for their own families, we are encouraging our sons to discerntheir vocations.

Sometimes Apples Fall A Little Further From The Tree

Unlike their dad and I, who were both like ready racing greyhounds when the the gate is lifted and the hare appears, our sons seem to be more relaxed and less narrowly focused in their career dreams. Current professed employment intentions have included a novelist, a millionaire (that one didn’t have a means, just a goal), a recruit in the Marines then the Army (sorry no sailors), a graphic artist, a boss (of what I’m not sure), a photographer, a con artist (hmm, maybe one of them is already trying that skill on for size now)…

My regular prompt for them is, “What does God want you to do?” I have known from the moment they came into my life that their Father had a purpose for each one of my children. Watching them grow and mature, I am privileged to see their unique talents and strengths, as well as their weaknesses.

At times, their dad and I have been inclined to recommend paths like the priesthood, military services, etc. And friends have taken the opportunity to share their advice. Talking from experience, we all want the best for their futures. We want to spare them the heartbreaks, failures and frustrations we may have weathered, but we are not God. We lack His wisdom, His understanding of the bigger plan, so our focus may be less vocational and more employment oriented.

St. Peter Julian Eymard says, “The man of the world does not wait for things to happen, but anticipates them and forces them into his service. The man of God waits for the hour of divine Providence, responds to the impulses of grace, devotes himself to the entire will of God, for the present and the future, and he does so with a filial self-surrender that leaves the whole care and glory of everything to God his Father.”

In my own life, Divine Providence has taught me time and again (because I’ve been too stubborn to listen to the first prompting) that God’s ways are truly far above my own. So, in this historic year in Brelinskyville, I’ll pray with extra devotion that my children will be open to the still small voice of their Father. And when they each prayerfully discern His call, I will rejoice in knowing that wherever their paths leads them, if it is God’s Path, they will one day matriculate to the heavenly roll.