Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Year of Homeschooling in One Post!

The 2015-2016 school year (finished last week) completes our fifth year of home education.


I have so much yet to learn, but I've learned so much.

And while I know all too well my failures, weaknesses, and areas of needed improvement (let's not get started), I no longer feel as a foreigner in a foreign land.

Instead, I feel at home. And that's a good place to be.

Here are a few highlights, memories, and random notes from our school year, now ended!

Homeschool Memories

 May 2015 through March 2016

Not-Back-to-School Party, May 2015:


In history studies...

This year we started our first chronological study of history using Story of the World, Year 3.

This was a huge success!

We love Story of the World, and it is a major keeper for our family. We made it through 32 of 42 chapters, which is remarkable considering that we started the program almost a third of the way through our school year. When we begin our 2016-2017 school year in May, we will continue through book 3 and then into book 4.

I am beginning to think that I will use a five- or six-year rotation with Story of the World rather than a four-year rotation. (To keep up with a four-year rotation, one has either to squeeze in extra history lessons or skip some to keep up.)

Our major history success of the year was the two months we spent studying the American Revolution. Wowza, this was a favorite. We had so much fun.

(Story of the World devotes two chapters - that is, two weeks - to the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution. We used our Christmas break to stretch it out to eight weeks in order to fully enjoy studying this time period. There's just too much good stuff for only two weeks.)

Reenacting the Boston Tea Party. For two straight hours. 

Here are a few books on the American Revolution that we loved (some are for younger readers, some are for older children, some were for adults):

  • The Jean Fritz Revolution series
  • "George Washington's Spy"
  • "King George: What Was His Problem?"
  • "One Dead Spy"
  • "Toliver's Secret"
  • "Johnny Tremain"
  • "The Notorious Benedict Arnold"
  • "Ben and Me"
  • "The Education of George Washington"
  • "Guns for General Washington"

The boys had a wonderful time recently attending the Phoenix Liberty Festival as a closing activity for their studies. They got to drill with the soldiers, fight in a mock battle (and watch other battles reenacted), help with a mock amputation, and spend time hanging out with the soldiers on both sides.

Other history topics that caught our fancy this year were...

Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving!

Indian cornbread, turkey, potatoes, succotash, stewed pompion. (All recipes courtesy of SOTW Year 3 Activity Guide!)

Guy Fawkes Day - Parkin Cake (really good!) and a really badly constructed bonfire.

Yeah. Gotta work on our bonfire skills for next year.

St. Martin's Day Celebration!

The Plague Year of London - I so enjoyed reading Defoe's "Journal of a Plague Year" and the fictional "At the Sign of the Sugared Plum." Wow, I learned so much!

Many, many other topics of history caught our fancy this year. The execution of Charles I, the Protectorate under Cromwell, the Restoration, Jamestown, the search for the northwest passage, Mary Queen of Scotts, Henry Hudson, Samuel de Champlain - and lots more.

I should note I was encountering almost all of the above subjects for the first time in my life.

I am finally getting the thorough history education that I have always craved but could not find in my own educational experience. It is an incredible blessing.

Some of our Story of the World coloring and map pages displayed for the world to see! 


And some favorite crafts and activities of this year:


But that was not all! Oh, no - that was not all!

This year we also continued our geography-based state history studies with Cantering the Country. This year's states were...
  • Alabama
  • Texas
  • Oregon
  • New Mexico
  • California
  • North and South Dakota
  • Hawaii
  • New Hampshire

The winners for this year (in terms of general popularity) were Alabama, New Mexico, and Hawaii. This is not based on the states themselves, but simply on the wealth or lack thereof of materials available at the library. My big disappointment was New Hampshire, for which our library had almost no material, and the big surprise was Hawaii - lots and lots of material! (We're not done yet!)

Here are some of our favorite projects from our CTC studies!

Down-home fried chicken dinner with ALABAMA

Homemade butter with TEXAS

Navajo Fry Bread with NEW MEXICO

Dinner, South-west style, with NEW MEXICO
Fun with maps with CALIFORNIA

Splitting open a coconut with HAWAII (Unfortunately, no one liked it, but it was still fun.)
Homemade cherry pie with ALABAMA. (I don't have any pictures of it BEFORE it hit the floor.)
And our closing-of-the-year luau with HAWAII:

A lasting memory from this year's CTC studies was the song "Boll Weevil" that we reviewed during our study of Alabama. Not only did we all learn the song (and it became a family lullaby for our newest), but our little girl was immediately christened "Baby Boll Weevil." Each of our children has somehow gained an animal nickname, and we now have Bug, Wombat, Moose, and Boll Weevil. Not the most expected nickname for a baby girl, but it's definitely memorable.

We discovered the work of Mantan Moreland while watching the above video, and enjoyed learning his comedy routines from the early days of film:

I love how home education has a unique ability to chase down bunny trails and transform itself into an extremely complex learning experience. Almost each of our studies has revealed unexpected interests and learning opportunities.


In other areas...

In math, we continued with Christian Light Education. As with last year, it was wonderful. A complete hit! We added on Christian Light's Language Arts, and it too was successful.  Next year we will be adding in Christian Light's Reading and Science programs. 

Here is our curriculum summary for the year:

{Click on images to enlarge}

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!


Other school-y stuff this year...

We started working on hard-core memory work, getting through something like 50 memory pieces this year! 

We used Bible passages, character definitions, poems, and lots of the fun historical speeches and pieces that we ran across in our history curriculum.

The biggest hit of the year was the poem "Click Beetle." The 4yo can recite this one, and does so with enthusiastic energy. In fact, he insists on it every morning during our memory review time. It has a wonderful chant energy that makes it a great poem for group recitation. 

Some of our other favorites were:
  • The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (Yes, the whole thing. We're not finished yet.)
  • Poem - "Ducks Are Lucky" 
  • Poem - "Boll Weevil"
  • Patrick Henry's Speech ("Give Me Liberty!")

I have been using the Simply Charlotte Mason Memory Box system, and it has worked beautifully for reviewing pieces once learned.

Memory work has been such a blessing. It has continually amazed me how quickly children can memorize, and this ability gives us a wonderful way to build up an enormous base of memorized pieces that become both a life-long blessing and a wonderful family culture.

Our memory pieces of the moment, hung over the sink for review while washing dishes!


Some things that didn't happen (or happen well) this year were:
  • Catechism
  • Piano lessons
  • Art study
  • Science experiments
  • Hymn study
  • Famous musical pieces study

Some of these will continue to lie fallow next year; some will (hopefully) be resurrected. Time will tell.

Things that we plan to add next year include Latin, formal science, a reading comprehension curriculum, and some notebooking.


One of the most fun things about home education is the wealth of field trip opportunities. We participate in field trips (as well as park days and seasonal events like Christmas parties and Valentine exchanges) with three different homeschool groups, as well as with our own family.

Here are some of our field trips from this year!



Magic Show


Olive Mill

Tool Day

Mountain Climbing

Desert Hiking

The eclipse in the desert

Tubing at Canyon Lake

Ballet Under the Stars

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Field Trip

Someburros Field Trip

Star Wars Day at the Library

Pumpkin Patch

Chuckwagon Cook-off
Local airport hangar

Field trips have been one of the major perks of home education. During my K-12 public school education, I went on maybe three field trips, total. (Pumpkin patch in kindergarten, Sea World in sixth grade, Disneyland with the band in high school.) With homeschooling, we take three or more field trips in any one month! I don't know yet if the children know how blessed they are in this regard, but they will at some point. I find it lovely that as an adult, I get to enjoy the field trips too. I'm making up for lost time.

(Okay, I remembered a fourth field trip from my school experience - Pisgah Crater under the leadership of my amazing senior year Government and Economics teacher, Mr. Tim Tuttle. Mr. Tuttle, you were awesome. I still remember that trip. Thank you.)


Other things in our family this year:

Watching baby grow! 
Watching baby learn to crawl... stand... walk! 


One of my main projects for last year was reorganization! This was a major milestone for me, because I was born with little to no decorating aptitude. With only agonized prayers for guidance, I made some major changes. I'm still feeling antsy because there are so many things yet to change (just come and look at our family room if you don't believe me), but we did make major progress in making our home work for our family.

Next up... creating a girls' room!


A major process this year for me was/is... learning to cook.

Yes, I already cook. And I've cooked several hours per day for years. But this year I started to learn the Trim Healthy Mama system of cooking, which meant learning lots of new techniques and ingredients. Examples:

  • Gelatin and Collagen
  • Radishes (cooked)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Okra
  • Cooking faux potato dishes with cauliflower
  • Glucomannan
  • Psyllium husk powder
  • Almond milk
  • E vs. S vs. FP meals

And recently, in response to some health issues, I have added Weston A. Price cooking to my learning repertoire. Here are a few of the items that I am learning and will be learning over the next few months:
  • Shellfish
  • Fish broth
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Bone marrow
  • Organ meats
  • Raw milk and raw cheese
  • Seaweed
  • Beef bone broth
  • Chicken feet
  • Ghee

All I can say is... yowza. My head is going to explode. 

Time to climb another learning curve.. 

Sauteed radishes! 

This year we saw something we never see in Phoenix - beautiful Fall leaves! Forgive me while I print these pictures all over again - I can't stop enjoying the gorgeousness!


This year we celebrated Reformation Day with our now-customary outing to a local pizza parlor. (It's the one day of the year when they're deserted.) I also finally got around to making a "Diet of Worms" cake (yuk, yuk, yuk), which the children thoroughly enjoyed. I kind of forgot about the huge unit study I planned studying Martin Luther, but hey - that will wait for another year.

That is, if I can find wherever I stashed all of the stuff I printed for it.

We also instituted a new family tradition which was an instant hit - Friday Family Movie Night, complete with popcorn. The children love this, and we've had a wonderful time with it. We only watch for about 45 minutes, but it makes a wonderful treat to look forward to every weekend.

This year we traveled north to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. Highlights of the week - the 9yo's tarantula find, our family Thankfulness Tree, and time with Grandma and Grandpa.

This year I did something I've never done before - meeting with another blogger! We had a wonderful time, and plan to meet again soon.

This year was also another first for our family - making our first Operation Christmas Child box. It was a great experience and a wonderful antidote to the American "me, me, me!" attitude that pervades our house at Christmas, despite my best efforts. Next year we hope to fill two boxes.

We won't soon forget this year's Christmas - it was the year that we actually had to cancel (postpone) Christmas due to a ravaging stomach bug that took out the whole family on Christmas Eve. But aside from that, it was a lovely Christmas season, and we thoroughly enjoyed it as a family. As of this writing (mid-March), our Christmas tree is still up.

This year I have realized anew how blessed I am to have a husband who is deeply involved and invested in his children. My husband treasures our children and enjoys spending time with them. After saying hello to us all in the afternoons, he usually spends several hours outdoors with them every night watching them play (and playing with them). This is a huge blessing, because it allows me some breathing time to make dinner and take a few gasping breaths of silence.

Additionally, my husband has started reading aloud to our children in the evening. This has been wonderful! They finished "Eddie and Gardenia" and have moved on to "Shane." This is an added bonus to our home education program and a wonderful time for the children. My husband has also succeeded in turning the kidlets into Trekkies, so they spend quite a bit of time discussing Star Trek plots with him. Thankfully I was a hardcore Trekkie as a child (Next Generation only), so I can discuss this without too much confusion.

This year we made the big transition from my husband being an at-home small business owner to being back in the corporate world. While the change was challenging, and our ideal is still to have daddy at home, the move was a good one (at least for now!) in many ways, and we have adjusted well.

Earlier in the year we celebrated our annual Lepkuchen Day, this time with a personalized Lepkuchen Day apron given to us by friends and fellow collaborators. This is one of our favorite holidays.

A few random photos from this year:

Our baby with special needs, engaged in one of his favorite activities - destroying books. 

One of my main focus areas in our homeschool program is the inclusion of awesome, amazing literature. We read aloud constantly, and I do everything in my power to encourage our children as readers (see Jim Trelease's "The Read-Aloud Handbook" for more information). 

This year the 9yo has increased prodigiously in reading skills and volume. He reads widely and deeply, and constantly surprises me with the things that he knows. A few favorites from this year:
  • "One Dead Spy" - the life story of Patriot spy Nathan Hale
  • "I Survived" series
  • "Boxcar Children" series
  • "Grandma's Attic" series
  • "Little House in the Big Woods" series

I also have been blessed by the sheer volume of literature that I have been able to enjoy - both with the children, and on my own as I read to keep up with them. This year I encountered for the first time the wonderful works of E. Nesbitt, along with other great children's works (The Pemberwicks! The Melendy Quartet! The Mysterious Benedict Society! Dr. Dolittle! Mr. Popper's Penguins!). I have really enjoyed immersing myself in classic children's literature.

Celebrating Leap Year 2016:

Yes, the picture is upside down. But that will keep you all from noticing how badly drawn my frog is.


And... birthdays!

Mr. Adventure turned NINE...

Our eldest has matured so much this year - physically, mentally, emotionally. I have been very pleased in how he is gradually growing in responsibility and the ability to handle tasks individually. He's even beginning to learn how to cook! And as always, his intense imaginative abilities continue to amaze me on a daily basis. 

Baby Wombat turned SIX....

This little guy continues with weekly therapy and with steady, slow progress. We are addressing multiple health issues with him, and it's going to be an interesting and challenging year. He is the delight of the whole family, and we are blessed by his precious life.

Mr. Practical turned FOUR...

He spends his time planning a career in firefighting and telling me how he's going to defeat various bad guys. He is intensely practical, intensely independent, and alternates between "Ah, he's so CUTE!" and "Okay, sorry, I'm going to have to wring this child's neck." The latter part just seems to be part of being three. Thankfully he focuses on cuteness most of the time.

This year he decided, at the tender age of three, that it was time to ride a big-boy bicycle. And so he taught himself to do so, with no help (and no training wheels), in under 24 hours. This child is a natural athlete and is completely fearless.

The wee one turned ONE...

This year our little one has learned to crawl, to stand, and to walk. She's now into everything! She is learning how to maintain her balance in our rough-and-tumble household, and is the darling of the household.

And that, in a nutshell, was our homeschool year!


I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you! It's actually been an encouragement to me. I tend to torture myself with the mantra of, "I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing enough. I'M NOT DOING ENOUGH!!!" But looking back, I have been surprised. We actually accomplished quite a bit in one year.

If you're just at the beginning of your journey, I want to caution you against overly-high expectations. These pictures show the fun moments. They don't show the tears, the frustration, the tantrums, and the back-breaking workload that comes from being a stay-at-home mama and home educator. So keep that in mind, and don't succumb to the "She looks like she's having fun, why can't my homeschool be that fun?" trap. It's not an easy life, and it comes with (more than) its fair share of exhaustion and grief. It's joyful, and it's also sheer hard work. The two are inseparable.


We will be enjoying "summer" break through April, and then returning to school the first week in May for fourth grade.

Here's to our first half-decade of home education!


  1. What an astonishing and wonderful post! You've accomplished so very much! I hope you have a good break and have lots of fun prepping for a new year. I look forward to seeing what's ahead.

  2. Wow! I was so impressed with what you're doing with homeschooling! I agree that it's a lot of work to be at home teaching the children, but like you, I feel that it is SO worth it! I liked this article so much, I think I'm going to come back and read it later. So many good ideas, and yes, it WAS encouraging! Thanks, Jessica

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jessica! Hope you guys are well, and that the little one is treating you gently! :)


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