Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

When I first started thinking about homeschooling my oldest daughter, she was four, the middle child was two, and my youngest was not quite one. My days were filled with three little girls dressed in pink fluff, dancing to music, messing up my clean floors, and taking naps all over the place when they reached the end of their energy. We entertained the idea of homeschooling not because the school district we live in was struggling, but because I really love being a stay-at-home mom and I wasn’t ready to send my daughter to full-day kindergarten.


That’s it. Plain and simple, we homeschool because I was selfish. I didn’t (and still don’t) want someone else to have the privilege of enjoying educating my children. (Note: this does not mean that I look down on parents who utilize the public or private school systems! I know that every parent does what is best for their family.)

Our first year of homeschooling was a trial run. I used desks at first because that’s what I knew from my career as a school teacher. I slowly realized that learning at home rarely happens at a desk. Real education — the character development, faith formation, and samplings of all that is truly important — happened in giant piles of children on my lap as I read stories, as I read from recipes and followed directions (or not), and as I kept my cool (or not) in stressful moments that are natural when your children are with you ALL DAY. My children have seen my best days and my worst days. I’ve seen theirs. And there is still much love between us.

But we have a new challenge. He is adorable and energetic and infatuated with all things tractor and truck related. He’s the only boy and the youngest by seven years.


He doesn’t have to share my lap with any other siblings. I have to purposefully set aside time for him. It’s too easy for me to be swept up in the busy-ness of having three high school and junior high students. The clutter of a preschooler, the hands-on learning that I know he’ll need in kindergarten have been put away for years. As I’m unpacking them, I’m realizing that he learns very differently from my daughters. I’m in for the challenge of a lifetime!

For the past few months, I’ve felt pulled in two different directions: Studying Homer with the girls vs. teaching the boy how to read; moving the girls to advanced music classes vs. taking away wooden spoons from my son who drummed on the wooden furniture; trying to further my own education with classical literature and leadership development books vs. reading about giving pigs pancakes and Green Eggs and Ham.

It’s time to re-think my homeschooling.

Not that I’m going to give it up or send him to school. This is my chance to learn more about him, to discover new things about me. I wouldn’t let that opportunity pass me by for anything! (I’m going to repeat that again and again to myself on difficult days!)

Here’s my plan to bridge the gap between my children’s academic levels:

First, feel assured in the fact that I haven’t neglected my children’s education. Going back to my mission statement for homeschooling, I know that ‘education’ is pretty low on the list. The order of importance looks like this: faith formation, character development, family (household and farm chores, annual traditions and practicing effective communication), learning to love reading, music, and then the more formal aspect of education.

Second, I need to be more prepared to help my son learn according to his strengths. He’s all boy – meaning that he’s busy, loves all things with wheels and motors, enjoys cuddles, and thinks more clearly when he’s making noise. As such, I will need to teach him while he moves. Small motor skills are a little lacking and he isn’t reading yet, but the interest is there. My job is to not destroy that interest.

Several years ago I went to a seminar given by Andrew Pudua of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He listed the different ways boys and girls learn and suggested that schools with gender separate classrooms were showing amazing academic results. At the time, my son was only an infant, but as he nears kindergarten, I am beginning to experience those differences. I still have a bit of learning to do on the subject, but here’s my plan so far. I will post updates and changes to the plan as I learn :)

Things he can do while I’m working with the girls:

Sensory Bins

We are putting together more sensory bins which are available for him to purposefully play with during the times I’m working with older children.

Rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

Rice and beans

Shaving cream on a tray

Pattern Blocks

Salt tray and Letters

Threading beads on yarn – randomly first to master the small motor skills, then adding patterns to follow

Play-dough – Making it together and working on small motor skills. I love this the best. It’s time in the kitchen, working on a recipe together, seeing the ingredients that are mixed together to make something new. Then, we practice those small motor skills that are so often late in developing in boys, and make shapes and letters and action figures.

We also have tried all the easy recipes on Pinterest for different types of texture dough. Our favorite is mixing equal parts of shaving cream and corn starch. It’s slick and easy to clean up. I would recommend buying a non-scented shaving cream if possible. Our house smelled like a cologne store for hours.

Legos – That’s right. Legos. Who doesn’t want to play with them? Great for small motor development, creative 3-D building and can be used to make mazes (with a marble), to sort colors and sizes, and will eventually be used to teach fractions.


Things he can do with one of the girls while the other two are working:

Cutting and Pasting


The girls help the boy with a craft each day. We each take a turn prepping and helping him follow the directions. This has turned out better than I expected. His fine motor skills are improving, he is sitting (or sometimes standing at the table) for longer periods of time as his attention is stretching longer. The girls are also finding opportunities to practice patience. It’s a win-win!

Obstacle course:

For the active days, I set up our rebounder and put tape on the floor to create an obstacle course. He builds it with me and then runs, jumps and rolls all over the place. This doesn’t create a very quiet atmosphere for us, but these are his favorite days!

We’ve also made the masking tape obstacle courses in the shape of his name. He drives his smaller tractors all over it as we work at the table on Bible readings, Science or Writing. I don’t know why I was surprised, but after he played with that tape for a day, he no longer wrote the letters of his name backwards.

Things we can do just because:

Park Trips

When the girls were younger, we spent one summer exploring our state’s playgrounds and state parks. Each week we packed a picnic lunch, traveled to a different park and explored. If there was a geo-cache nearby, we did that. We took pictures (what child doesn’t love to take pictures?) and rated the playground on a scale of 1 – 10 based on the quality of the playground, the proximity and cleanliness of the bathrooms, and the dirt. Remember, I have girls. If a playground was too dirty, it didn’t score well. They preferred woodchips, shredded rubber, and pea stones.

Summer Reading Program:

As always, I have a goal for the summer for all my children. We usually make these goals together, but my son seems to balk at the idea of planning something out. They only thing he plans on doing everyday is riding the lawn mower with me. The rainy days are almost unbearable for us all!

The girls will make a list of books to read:


They are too old to participate in the libraries summer reading program, so we make up our own.

To motivate my son to participate in the Summer Reading Program with us, I’ll make a chart of books to read with different siblings and my husband and I.

The teeter-totter of homeschooling such vast ages doesn’t have to be a wrist-breaking, butt-dropping experience. There are rules for playing nicely on the teeter-totter just like there are rules to follow to meet the goals of a successful year of homeschooling.

In all of this, there is also time for me to read and write. That’s really the beauty of it – mom is happy, too!

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Here’s an interesting video on How Curiosity is Crushed that was shared by Faraday’s Candle on a comment on Three Critical Errors I Made in Homeschooling


What do you think? Does testing and memorization ruin the beauty of science?

Michio Kaku states that we are all born scientists, that we all wonder why? We wonder ‘how is that possible?’ He’s absolutely right! Every child is curious about the world. I remember tearing apart dandelions to examine the base of the flower petals. Every puddle still draws me to it, wondering if there are any tadpoles or worms slithering along the bottom.

I do believe this is just one problem that schools face today. To examine even two issues of public education would fill a book, so I’ll just focus on the one that I believe is at the core of them all: Too much emphasis is put on Testing and too little on Character Development. Someone will comment that their school has a character quality of the week and therefore the children are learning about character.

That’s a good start.

It’s my belief that true character is formed on the back of discipline and faith – or the lack thereof . Within the word ‘discipline’ is the word ‘disciple’. A disciple is a student, “one who receives instruction from another”. Therefore, discipline is a lesson that is taught. When a character trait is flawed, it must be corrected. Disciplining a child doesn’t instinctively mean punishment, but a corrective action must take place. That action needs to have meaning.

Just Don’t Kill

The pessimistic side of me fears that Character Development in our American Culture is nearly a lost cause. Political correctness, the span of opinions between the intensely liberal and the overly conservative, and the desire to fit in make it almost impossible for a basic character quality to be agreed upon. But my optimistic side declares that there is hope. Most cultures believe it is wrong to kill. Telling lies is generally viewed as bad. Being independent and intelligent are desired, but the means to gain these character qualities is being forgotten. But we have the ‘no kill’ agreement. That’s a start.

Mr. Kaku calls the years of junior and senior high school the ‘Danger Years’. In an education system that houses 200-500 students of any particular age level, what else can be expected? Going back to the beginning of time, people aren’t meant to be grouped in large numbers with people their own age. The results are disastrous! If you disagree, read Lord of the Flies or go visit your neighborhood school and watch what happens when the teacher’s back is turned. Based on the souls that are forever wounded during these years, that ‘no kill’ quality appears to be lacking.

The Death of a Soul

Speaking from my own experiences, high school was not an academic pursuit. It was a social endeavor. An obstacle course of clothing, economic status, country-club memberships, and brands. That, I believed, was the stuff people were made of. There were, of course, exceptions to those rules, but they were few. How much more has this worsened with the onslaught of technology? Cell phones with cameras and video capabilities that catch every person’s nightmare, sharing it on social media in an extended version of global bullying.

I remember a beautiful girl from my high school who came out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked into her panties. It was horrifying for her, but thankfully a good friend rushed up and corrected the problem, quickly tugging at her skirt to fix it before too many boys saw. Everyone’s face burned with embarrassment for her. No one would have ever thought of taking a picture and posting it anywhere. That idea never even occurred to us. But that is the norm now. And what do the adults do about it?

Bullying makes the headlines. Taunts and language do break bones, no matter what childhood poems say. Bullying kills the soul. It can also kill the person. Many bullied students can’t cope and end their life.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.”  http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

From http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Education, Basic Needs and Eric:

When I did my student teaching, I went downtown to a public school and worked in the kindergarten room. Many of the children were bright and eager to impress the teacher, to learn how to read, to do the crafts, to play with others. But there was one boy, Eric, who miraculously made it to school every day on his own accord. His mother, whom I met at parent-teacher conferences, had needle marks up both arms. With a toothless smile, she openly shared that her profession was the oldest profession.

Her son came to school dressed, but usually not dressed well enough to protect him from the winter winds, nor were his clothes always clean. He came to school for breakfast and lunch. Numbers and letters meant nothing to him. After breakfast, while the other children huddled around my chair for a story, Eric was usually asleep in the reading corner. With his belly full and his little fingers and toes warmed, his eyes finally rested in the only safe place he knew.

The basic needs of food, water and shelter must all be met before an education is possible. I don’t know what Eric learned that year. I do know that I will never forget him.

True education happens in small groups or in one-on-one mentoring situations, but mentorship is a dying entity. The “flowers of curiosity” that Mr. Kaku mentions in the video don’t just keep blooming from childhood into adulthood. They must be nourished and tended. Safe environments, encouraging mentors, availability to classical literature and quiet hours spent without music or distractions are what makes a student a scholar.

There are facts to learn and poetry and formulas worth memorizing. But not for the purpose of passing a test and not at the expense of failing in character to make the grade. What do our children truly need to learn except to learn how to learn? What more do they need than the desire to enhance their minds? My answer: First, they need to know it’s possible. Second, a mentor to show them what it looks like to learn. And third, the time and space to learn.

They need mentors. Not ‘Danger Years’.

Let this be your next experiment: What would happen if children read classical literature and studied any subject of interest to them? How would that impact their education and love of learning if they did that for three months? What would the ‘beauty of science’ look like in that environment?

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As a former classroom teacher, I approached the idea of homeschooling with a very strict, organized mindset. Students need desks and a schedule and textbooks. School should start at 9:00, lunch at noon, and we would wrap things up at 3:00. My children will be intelligent and polite and will compete well with traditionally schooled children.

The truth is, none of that matters. There are hundreds of misconceptions about homeschooling. All of mine were based on the fact that I have a Master’s degree in Education. It ended up being a setback for me as I had to reconstruct the philosophies behind classroom management and align them with the reality of a household.

Here are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned about home-schooling in the past ten years:

  1. A school schedule is not a home-school schedule.

The first year I homeschooled, my oldest daughter was five. Outside of dealing with guilt for ‘denying’ her a kindergarten school year, I felt pressure to be the best homeschooling mom. Ever. I quickly realized that the full load of lessons that I used to teach a classroom of kindergarteners was quickly completely by my one five-year-old.

I will never forget the very first day of our official home-school. We began promptly at 9:00 with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We read stories, practiced handwriting, and did a craft. We made play-dough from scratch and formed all the letters in her name. And then her sisters’ names. Then mine and my husband’s. We played outside and I was careful to provide time for her to run and jump. Those large motor skills are important, you know.

At 11:00 we called it a day. She consumed my plans as if she was a fish and all my carefully formulated lessons were nothing more than water over her gills.

What was different from teaching 25 students? Much of the time I spent as a kindergarten teacher (1 semester – my experience in this world is quite limited) was used in teaching songs and steps for the daily projects, managing transitions, discipline, academic testing, walking up and down halls for special classes, managing recess, and communicating with parents. With one five-year old (and younger siblings – a 3 year old and a one-year-old), my duties were drastically different. I was the teacher, custodian, lunch lady, and principal. Parent communications were constant (I do talk to myself). I didn’t need academic testing because it was clear to me what she grasped and what needed more work. Special classes – gym, computer, library – were all right there in the house, but we still fit playgrounds and libraries into our schedule as weekly stops.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

That was ten years ago. Our typical day is very different and we’ve gone through several different schedules and plans. For now, we work for 4-6 hours a day on reading, math, science, and music. We are going to add a foreign language to that mix in May. When most schools are winding down for the summer, we are changing gears and keeping the learning fresh with different subjects. Our schedule evolution could fill a book. Hmmm…maybe one day it will. It would be a comedy.

  1. Too many subjects a day keeps the Scholar away.

Because we only focus on four subjects at a time, my children don’t (typically) feel stressed about the amount of work they have to do. This feels like freedom to them because a year ago it was a different story. I had enrolled them in a faith-focused, accredited home-school. I needed the direction, the pre-planned lessons, and the books they use are amazing! When the lesson plans arrived, I unpacked three, four-pound bricks of shrink-wrapped lessons. Each brick had nine subjects spread out over a 36-week school year. They had several different recommendations of how to organize these lesson plans. I’m sorry to say, that after using this curriculum for two years, no suggestion worked well.

It was in the throes of a bitter winter that I noticed four things about our home-school:

  1. My daughters spent so much time at their desks, I didn’t really see them during the day. They may as well have been in school.
  2. The volume of subjects was weary. Mathematics, Religion, English, Reading Comprehension, Reading Thinking Skills, Spelling, Vocabulary, History, Science, Physical Education, Music, and Life Skills. Not one of these subjects overlapped.
  3. We were always behind. The lesson plans were organized by week and day. The only day we were on target was Week 1, Day 1. By the end of the first week, every child was on a different day in every subject. Despite the fact that the school said that was fine, to go through the lessons at your own pace, mine is the personality that doesn’t jive with that. By December, we should have been on week 16, but no one was. We felt like failures.
  4. That feeling of failure lead to short tempers. Mine, mostly.

Our solution was to return to what we love. Reading. We read and write for at least two hours a day. While this is the cornerstone of our education, there is also Math, Music and Science.

The kid's bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

The kid’s bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

  1. I am my own worst student.

Ten years ago as our home-schooling adventure began, I made a critical error. I believed that my degree in education gave me everything I needed to know about how to best teach. Only in retrospect and after many tears and prayers, was I able to admit that I had not studied enough.

My children’s education is only as good as the habits I exhibit. In other words, I can’t teach them anything. Every critical skill that my children learn, they learn from observation. If I want them to flip their lids when the dishes aren’t done, all I have to do is model that behavior once and they have it. They will take that lesson and apply it to moments when a sibling doesn’t return a borrowed jacket or absently leaves a glass on their desk. If I want to teach my children how to gently guide their youngest brother through the four-year-old stubborn streak, I have to model that day after day.

My bookshelf. I'm working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

My bookshelf. I’m working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

If I want my children to be avid, always-hungry readers, I must be an avid, hungry reader. If I want healthy children, I must follow healthy eating and exercise guidelines. The same is true for any circumstance: gentle nature, neatness, respect, gossip, etc.

To remedy my education in Education, I turned to un-schoolers, read about Montessori schools, dove into Classical Education and read up on Leadership Education. Taking the bits and pieces from each, I’ve applied what works for our family and am striving to create a household of learners who are eager to wake up each morning to join me at the table to read and learn. They have their own projects and books they are working on, but essentially, our family has taken a bold step to become Scholars.

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I laughed out loud when I received this award…I just lost my temper when things in my house didn’t go as planned. That is the total opposite of versatile :) And maybe that’s why I LOVE writing – everything can be edited for content and polished to perfection before anyone reads it. Like airbrushing ideas.

And now for my second confession: I received this award a few weeks ago but haven’t done anything with it because of the number of blog I need to award this to – 15!

But before I get to the rules and awards, I want to thank Gwen Bristol @ http://www.GwenBristol.com for the nomination! We met on LinkedIn and she has become a source of encouragement, support, and really good stories. (The Night Ones Legacy is excellent!)


Versatile Blogger Rules (If you choose to obey them)
•Display the Award Certificate on your website
•Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
•Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers (I’m changing it to 7 blogs. Why? Because I have to share 7 things about myself and 7 is the number of completion and perfection.)
•Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
•Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Here are the seven bloggers that I choose to present this award to:

http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com/ This girl has spirit!
http://frenchwellness.wordpress.com/ Very unique. I never know what to expect :)
http://5kidswdisabilities.com/ Inspiring!
http://shirleysquirrely.wordpress.com/ Just plain fun writing
http://lorieb.wordpress.com/ I’m always looking for wheat-free ideas
http://michelleproulx.wordpress.com/ She’s funny and spirited and adorable
http://quirkybooks.wordpress.com/ Talk about versatile! Sandra covers it all!

Now for seven things about myself:

1. I homeschool my children and I love it! I didn’t start this journey out of any religious crusade; I simply wasn’t ready to put my oldest daughter in all-day kindergarten and I knew I could teach her at home. We tried it for a year and decided to do it again. That was 8 years ago.

2. I have Type 1 Diabetes. It sucks. I give myself insulin injections every day. The silver-lining? I eat really healthy and I’m in good shape.

3. I turned 40 last year. Hey, it’s a milestone so we celebrated!

4. I have four children: three biological daughters and one adopted son. They are all beautiful and much loved. God knew what he was doing when he gave me these children: they stretch and fill my heart in many ways. (Did I mention my youngest was 2? He’s stretching me!)

5. I didn’t catch the reading bug until 7th grade when I was given The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende for Christmas. I read it in 3 days. I devoured every book I could after that, but nothing captured me like that again until I read The Counte of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.

6. My favorite snack is apple slices and almond butter.

7. I have a second blog that I started a few weeks ago for diabetics: http://www.NaturallyDiabetic.com It’s helping me stay focused on eating and exercising well, keeping my meals planned, and encouraging my children to take pictures of everything we eat so I can post it :)

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school bus

I was supposed to be in Cheboygan, MI this month talking to students about writing, but schedules being unruly beasts, I’m not able to be there. Instead, here is a bullet point list of ideas to do with students to encourage them to write.

* End the School Day with Journal Writing
At the end of a school day, each child has endured an adventure, solved the mystery of science, experienced a horror in the lunch room, felt the sting of bullying… the list goes on. Give them time to write about their day. What did they learn? What would they like to forget? What was the highlight of the day? Ten minutes a day of dumping their thoughts on paper could safe a life. I don’t believe I’m stretching the truth there.

writing pics 009

* When the students write, so does the Teacher
Model the behavior you want from the students. Are you a homeschooling parent? Do the same.

* Read what you wrote to the class
If the subject matter isn’t entirely private in nature, share what you wrote. Make sure it is light hearted. Although, if there was a difficult moment of the day, write about that, but end it with a VERY positive tone. Modeling positive thinking is good thing!

* There are times to correct grammar and times to just read
Think about it – if every time you spoke someone corrected you, how long would it take before you stopped talking altogether? Imagine a child at a dance being told he was dancing wrong…that’s a wallflower in the making. Sometimes writing is just writing – horrible spelling, grammar, and dialogue and all! The voice can’t always express the heart. That’s the power of art in therapy. Writing can be therapy too, but not if the teacher marks up a student’s heart with the sharp end of a red pen.

* Give students time to share
If you were to look at the notes of a popular public speaker, it’s likely there would be errors. But in public speaking, the notes are not graded, just the delivery. If you have a student who is not a good writer, they are likely a good speaker. Given them an audience. Don’t have time to sit and listen to one student? Give them a video recorder/digital recorder and let them run with it. You’ll be amazed with the growth in that student!

* Share good sentences
When I was a teacher, I made the horrible mistake of reading a student’s work as the ‘bad example’. Yeah, I know – horrible! Never ever read a students entire paper to a class, even if it’s the good example. Instead, pull several well-written sentences from several students papers and post them on a bulletin board (refrigerator for homeschoolers). Even a weak writer can have a great sentence. This boosts self-esteem and will result in stronger writers.

Related Links
Writing and Editing with Students

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When people learn that I have four children, they smile. It’s more than the average two kids and far less than the typical Catholic family of ten. When they learn that I homeschool my children, they are impressed (or worried that my kids will be social freaks). And then when they discover that I also write, they slap their forehead and walk away. “How can you possibly do all that?”

Easy! The same way anyone else manages to do the things they love. I make time for it.

Step #1 – Set Weekly Goals.
Know what you want to accomplish. Personally speaking, I include writing, exercise and household chores into one list. My favorite part of accomplishing the goals is crossing them off. It’s a little thing to do, but it means that my time has been well-spent and I have something to show for it.

Step #2 – Schedule Time to Achieve Those Goals
I can’t tell you how many people will tell me that they want to do this or that, but they don’t have the time. I want to lose ten pounds…I want to be a writer…I want to homeschool…I want to train for a 5K…but I work full-time, I get home too late, I can’t afford it, I can’t.
Bah! I say! Those are lame excuses and they need to be tossed out like last year’s trash.
Wake up 20 minutes earlier and read or write. 20 minutes isn’t going to completely deprive anyone of sleep, but using that time effectively can bring about great results.
Have an hour for lunch? Walk for 30 minutes or write for 45 minutes.
Do you watch 2-3 hours of TV every night? Quit. Work toward your goals instead.

Step #3 – Accomplish tasks/goals in ‘Chunks’ of Time.
There are times when little snippets of time are all you have. (see Post-it writing for more). To truly make progress toward your goals, you will need to invest time.
I’m very good at planning meals and I can grocery shop on a dime, but when it comes to actually making the meals I fail. The solution for this came to mind as I looked at how I schedule several hours a week to write; therefore I should do the same for meals. I now plan a week’s worth of meals based on the sales at our local grocery store and shop. When I come home, instead of putting the meat in the freezer (because at 4:00pm on any given night everything will still be frozen) I put the meals together then freeze them. Luckily for me, my family loves casseroles and crock pot dinners, but mostly, I think they are just happy to have regular meals. I spend hours planning, shopping and preparing meals, but making the meals ahead of time keeps my afternoons free. It takes a few minutes to turn on the oven and slid a 9×13 in than to start from scratch.

Step #4 – Professionalize Your Goals
Every professional has business hours. Writers, parents, homeschoolers, and any one striving to accomplish a goal needs the same. I have every Thursday afternoon to write. It’s a guarenteed 3-4 hours of uninterrupted writing time. When I set my goals for the week, Monday through Wednesday include writing tasks that will make Thursday more efficient.

Step #5 – Have Fun!
If writing is your goal, then keep it fun. If you are a parent, it’s not like you can quit. Just find the ways to keep it fun. Same with exercise. Change up your workout. Jog on Monday, lift weights on Tuesday, swim on Wednesday, yoga on Thursday…you get the idea.
The enjoyment-factor of any task helps keep motivation high. For example, one of my least favorite tasks is changing out summer clothes for winter clothes. To put much of the work on my children (it’s their clothing!) and to keep it fun, I pull out the new season of clothing and set up a store in the living room. They all ‘shop’ for what they want, but have to turn in clothing for GoodWill – a one-for-one exchange. They shop, the closets are cleaned out, everyone is happy.
In writing, the enjoyment comes when I schedule in weeks to not write, but to read as many books as possible. My record is 8 books in one week.
When I’m trying to keep my writing fun, I will switch up stories, read something I wrote years ago (and laugh), or find a new place to try writing – libraries and coffee shops are great, parks are more interesting, in the middle of the mall during Christmas is a blast! So much drama :)

And remember, there are 24 hours in each day. Minus 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 16 hours of productive time. Use it well!

tick-tock...this is only a caption. Stop reading and start working on your goals!

tick-tock…this is only a caption. Stop reading and start working on your goals!

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It’s been over a week since my last post. It’s NaNoWriMo for Novelists – a madhouse of writing 50,000 words in a month and I’m doing my best to keep up. But it’s time for another Writing Conference boost. To review, our outline is:

wRiting Effort DoUbled by Concentrated Educational Details

Today is Educational. And we are going to talk about…education. Creative, huh?

This concept is so simple, it’s easy to forget…Go back to school.  I’m not suggesting that you should sit in on a third grade lesson, but look at what kids these days are reading. I guarantee it’s very different from what you read as a kid.

I turned 40 this year. As a child, I read Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle and ten-pound school anthologies. That’s it. The librarian at my elementary school failed miserably at her job and didn’t even know it. I remember the first time I stepped into that library – the smell of ink and paper was as rich to me then as a strong cup of coffee is now. We were in the LIBRARY! I was certain this was the place, the once-a-week half hour when we would hear a story, a haven of time in my week when I could explore books and escape work. How wrong I was!

It was Dewey or Die.

The library was meticulously organized, dusted and decorated. Books were lined neatly with the edge of the shelves – right where the librarian wanted them to be. After my first library visit, I left with one picture book that had to be returned the next week. There was no story read to us. It was all rules and decimal systems.

On the counter near the door stood  a coffee can of rulers for us to use when we explored the bookshelves. Yeah. Rulers. It wasn’t to measure our reading ability. If we saw a title that sounded interesting, we were to slide the ruler next to the book before taking the book off the shelf. This assured that all the books would still be in place when the class left.

Talk about judging a book by its title!

She never introduced us to C.S. Lewis, Beverly Cleary or Paul Flieshman. In fact, our school library was divided into grade-appropriate shelves. Older students were not allowed to check out picture books and younger students were not allowed near the chapter books. That meant the older students who struggled with reading were only allowed to check out books that were too difficult for them. Those who excelled in the early grades were stunted in their reading development because they were not given the opportunity to read the more difficult books.

As a writer, this opens a market for you. High-interest, low-reading difficulty for struggling students, to name one. These could be non-fiction books with shorter sentences and paragraphs with age -appropriate information. Or, stories written in a simpler sentence structure that offer exciting adventures.

So, learn what’s out there already. Study the masters – not necessarily those who make the NY Times Bestseller Lists, but books that break molds, that have stood the test of time, the banned books. Read the genre that fits with your writing. And then make a note of who published it, see if you can find the agent that represented that author and when your story is finished and polished, send it to them.

If you are like my students, you are wondering, “How many books should I read?” The answer is: Read a little of what interests you every day. No matter where you are in your writing journey, stop and take a week, or a month to read the new releases. Or, if you are like me and didn’t have teachers who encouraged you to read, go back and read what you missed.

http://bitly.com/SsDwSF – link to HAISIN Recommended Reading Lists 2012, a list of books for children. If you write for children, learn what’s out there, see what’s selling, talk to parents about what they are looking for in a story, in a non-fiction book.


The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

The Penderwicks (a series) by Jeanne Birdsall

Inkspell, Inkheart, Inkdeath (a trilogy) by Cornelia Funke

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

And if you are interested in supporting this author, try: Gateways, by Me :)  available @ http://amzn.to/SYiT3W


If you have any other reading suggestions, please share! Include the age level and genre.



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Jesus told Peter to “put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5).

Hmmm…deep water? Sounds like missionary work. Not just missionaries who travel to remote islands with a New Testament in hand, but missionaries within ten miles of where we live. Those folks who man the Soup Kitchens, distribute food and compassion, the Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and act accordingly.

Deep Waters.

Taken while fishing with my dad – a tradition I hope lasts forever!

With Jesus as our guide, we can walk on those waters and not be sucked under by gravity or the undertow. Our faith can protect us from slipping under the consuming waves while we cast a life line out to those just under the surface.

On our dining room wall, we have a topographical mural map of the world. It’s wonderful for homeschooling, not to mention a great conversation center piece with guests. As my children and I sit around the table, gazing longingly at the world, we wonder where we will visit in the future.

Best Christmas present!

My daughters want to become missionaries and travel and share God’s love and message. We’ve read stories about people who have made the journey to South America and lived among the tribes in the Amazon forest; a woman who traveled through a war to arrive in China where she shared God’s Word; another woman who went to the Philippines and lived among a tribe and became their daughter and sister. The stories are wonderful on paper when years of weather, illness, struggles and deprivation are condensed into neat paragraphs.

The Deep Water we are called to navigate in order to share God’s Word looks pleasantly coordinated on our wall map. The rivers are neat blue lines, the oceans more interesting because we can see the ridges which lie hidden under miles of water. Missing is the understanding of what a jungle holds, how deep hunger can eat, and just how far of a walk it is to the other side of the mountain.

And I realize that my Deep Waters are nothing but a wading pool for infants. I may complain when splashed and perhaps I have even fallen in and soak my clothes, but I have never truly slipped under the water and watched the sky recede from view. Hunger only lasts as long as it takes for me to walk to the cupboard. I can go to a church which I choose and not fear persecution. My family is alive and well and living close enough that I can drive to them in a few hours. My children are healthy, we have a house, we drive two cars – we are living a good, easy life.

Am I following Christ? Do I have to leave everything behind and follow him? Is that what Deep Water Faith is?

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Mr. Obstacle, I will not surrender to you.

Mrs. Negative Thought, I will not be ruled by you.

Mr. Today, you have tried to beat me back but I will resist you.

Push me – I will not give . Shove me back – I will not budge. Slap my cheek – I offer you the other.

Yes, it’s true that I’m trying to do too much, but that was my choice. I will accomplish my tasks. What I’m doing is necessary. So I’m here.

And my purpose is here to stay.

Mr. Obstacle, Mrs. Negative Thought, Mr. Today – you will not be here tomorrow. How do I know that, you ask?

I know who is on my side. He’s bigger than you and He’s more loving than me.

And He always wins. And when I do His work, I always win.

My prayer to everyone struggling with something:

Lord, I hand over all our troubles to you. Care for our hearts, our minds, our souls. Help us to see your will in our purpose. Protect us from the attacks of Satan, the dark angel who works through policies and expectations of other, within red tape and circumstances, in our doubts and fears. Keep us strong, focused and patient. Amen!

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It’s that time of year for our family when we wrap up one school year, celebrate our accomplishments and prep for the new school year. Last weekend was our annual Homeschooling conference where I purchase all the school books for the upcoming grades. It starts with a rush of eager mothers on the used book tables and then persists all weekend as we peruse the glossy books that have never been opened; the pages that contain oodles of information and stories that call out to be read and loved.

Now that I’ve attended this conference a few years, I’m smart enough to come prepared with a crate on wheels to hold everything I buy. Other moms are still learning as they balance book in there arms and have to turn down coveted items simply because the don’t have the strength to hold another one.

It’s when I came home and unloaded my booty of bound written words that I realized how much my family loves books. We have eight bookshelves in the house and four of them are stacked with books two deep. The end table in the family room is stacked with my daughters favorite books so they can sit down and re-read their favorite parts. Library books are organized on the floor in our reading corner where they lean against the wall in their own little display. We have book bags near the door to grab on the way to the store to catch up on a few pages between here and there. We buy purses large enough to hold books.

But the best part of all of these books cluttering my home are the notebooks of stories my children are writing are sprinkled around house. They read and they write. They have friends who write and share their stories during play dates. I will be honest – the kids are great writers! They are imitating their favorite authors, using those books as guides, the authors becoming mentors to my children.

Friends and family often ask how I encourage my children to read so much. As I look at our lifestyle and our home, I can narrow my children’s reading success down to four things my husband and I have done:

1. Our TV is not an option except for Friday nights when we all watch a family-friendly movie together. We don’t watch the news, they aren’t exposed to commercials, and they don’t wear that dopey TV-face for hours a day as someone else determines what is entertaining for my children. Instead, we read, play, interact, cook, do art projects and work in the garden. TV is a huge deterent from everything creative.

2. We have loads of books and our children see us read and write often. Children will do what their parents do. If you want your children to be good readers, you need to be a good reader. We go to the library often, visit used books stores, share books with friends, and talk about what we are reading. If a movie is based on a book, we all read the book first. Books and gift cards to bookstores are rewards for good behavior.

3. We are blessed with a retired teacher who hosts a weekly Literature Club for several children. This is a huge part of my children’s desire to share their writing. For many, myself included, sharing what you’ve written is difficult. My daughters have found encouragement and new ideas in this group. For your family, find a parent or a teacher who is interested in leading a similar literature club. Children read a book a week (or one a month) and then talk about it and do an activity. My daughters have made acorn flour & pancakes after they read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and origami boxes for The Year of Jackie Robinson and the Boar by Betty Bao Lord.

4. My children don’t own any electronic games. There is no Game Boy, Kindle Fire, or whatever the lastest hand-held distraction is in this house. We don’t have a Wii, although I would like one because they are active and many of the games do encourage group participation. While many families spend money on video games that draw kids away from interacting with people and consumes their mind with battles and violent images. Even the mild games draw children away from people. Books can do the same thing – my daughters don’t hear or see anything in the house when they are reading. The difference is that the images in their minds are their own creation, not a digital vision injected into their mind.

It’s true that some kids just aren’t going to be readers, but if their home environment directs them to a book or magazine instead of the TV, the potential to become a good reader increases. The next post will be how to encourage active children to pick up a book. Until then, take the kids to the library and find a used book store. Happy reading!


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