Thriving During Distance Learning

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

There is a beautiful sentiment of simplicity behind this quote and perhaps in today’s digital age, the “library” could be replaced with the “internet” though many would still shudder to think so. But now that we are being temporarily stripped of our usual luxuries and even confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, this ancient quote is being put to the test. Children are having to practice “distance learning” since attending school is not an option and parents who didn’t ever plan to homeschool are struggling to figure out how to ensure their children stay on the educational path while juggling everything else on their plate, possibly even working from home. Can we really find satisfaction without our restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping excursions? Are books and outdoor exploration really enough to educate a child? Many parents are now having to ask themselves this question along with, “How are we going to get through this unfamiliar territory in one piece?!”

As a former-public-school-teacher-now-homeschool-mom, I hope I can offer a bit of encouragement here, but not alone. My friend (and veteran homeschool mom of four now-adult children) Jane and I worked together to compile a list of tips, tricks, resources, and encouragement for parents who are now faced with the seemingly daunting task of educating their children from home. We hope these insights prove helpful and encourage you to THRIVE through this unique time, not just survive it!

So get ready, this is a long one. Grab a beverage, and put the kids in front of a screen and don’t feel guilty this time. 😉 Here we go!

Thriving While Distance Learning… A Few Points to Remember

  1. School at Home is NOT the Same as School in the Classroom… You don’t have to recreate the school day. *You might want to find a way to occupy your children for 6-8 hours a day, which is a different topic and we’ll have some helpful resources for that as well, but first, please release yourself from the idea that you have to be teaching or your child has to be “actively learning” for 8, 6, or even 4 hours each day. It’s simply unrealistic.* Public school is designed for many children in a classroom setting. At home, learning goes much faster one-on-one. Try to set realistic expectations including shorter bursts of learning, frequent breaks, and motivate with rewards. Remind your child that you’re in this together. If you both can put in effort to get through an assignment, then you can both enjoy a reward (make a fun snack, take a walk, watch a movie, etc) together afterwards. We will give sample at-home routines later on. See for free printables and resources for covering subjects at home. Also remember that worksheets are “busywork” and might be necessary in the classroom so the teacher can assess everyone’s knowledge; but at home, if your child can answer a science/math/social studies question orally, they don’t need to write it down (unless you’re assessing their writing skills, too). And if they can complete six math problems quickly, efficiently, and correctly, then they don’t need to do 16. That is exasperation and will lead to burn out. More practice is needed only when more practice is needed.
  2. Focus on the Basics and Keep It Simple… It’s important to note that most of what our kids learn for science and social studies is repeated year after year in public school. So if you are also working from home, or you’re short on time, don’t stress over those subjects. Science can be really fun to do at home but if you’re not a science person or the thought of social studies intimidates you, let it go. Reading and math are the foundational skills kids need to “keep up” in school so give yourself freedom to focus on those, especially if your child needs extra practice with either.
  3. You are Not Alone… As a former public school teacher, I can imagine teachers everywhere trying to figure out what this classroom hiatus will do to the rest of the school year or the start of the next. If you can remind yourself that everyone is going through the same new situation, you can take some pressure off yourself to do this “right.” Reach out to your teacher friends and your homeschooling friends. Seek advice when needed (the digital socializing will be welcomed, I’m sure). But avoid comparing to what it looks like your neighbors are doing. Every family is unique and gifted in different ways. You are the right parent for your child and you do have the ability to teach them!

So HOW Do we Thrive While Learning at Home?

Set a Goal. Ask yourself, “What do I want to be able to say about this experience when it’s over?” Matthew 6:24 says that we cannot serve two masters, and Jesus was constantly calling people to demonstrate their devotion to Him by giving up something else they held precious. I believe this principle (if we are not intentional about serving God, we are serving something else) can be applied here. Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching from Rest* and the Read-Aloud Family*, and host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast said in a recent episode that if we are not intentional about setting a goal to a desirable outcome, we are probably working towards an outcome we might not favor. When your kids go back to school, you might say something like, “Well, we finished all the work the district sent home” or “we ‘did school’ for 4 hours a day” or “it nearly killed us, but we survived.” But if you’re intentional about setting a desired outcome, you will be able to say so much more.

When my kids go back to school/things return to “normal”, I want to say that…

  • we grew closer to each other
  • we grew closer to the Lord
  • I helped my child master a concept he/she was previously struggling with *Remember that public school is not really designed for mastery. It’s nearly impossible for one teacher to ensure that 30 students master a subject before they move on and many kids pass from one grade to the next with C and D grade averages. You have a rare opportunity to zoom in on an area of struggle for your child and help them get over the hump so they’ll be more successful when they return to school. It’s okay to push other things aside to give more attention where needed.
    • Need help mastering math facts? Check out or There are also several math game apps that can be used on tablets and smart phones. Math games such as Boggle, Rummikub, Farkle, and even Battleship are great to play with your kids. (Public school teachers employ these in the classroom, too, TRUST ME.) If YOU are struggling to figure out how the teacher wants your child to solve their math problems, now is a great time to discuss with your child how you would do it and give them an alternate way to solve the problem. This might help them figure out how to explain to you how they learned it. (Now THAT is number-bonding with your child!)
    • Need help with spelling? Check out Play Scrabble, Scrabble Jr., or Bananagrams (one of our favorites).
    • Need to work on printing or handwriting skills? Bible verse writing and copywork are great ways to enhance this and can be easy components of morning work. has FREE Bible verse copywork in printing and you can get cursive by joining the site for $10/month. What a great way to commit the Bible to memory, or something you can work on WITH your child! Writing letters is also a great way to improve handwriting and I’ll address that in more detail further down this post.
    • Check out Worldly Wise for help with vocabulary enhancement!
  • I helped my child learn a new skill or I learned a new skill with my child! Youtube has so many tutorials for things like crochet, whittling, and art! (My kids and I learned Chinese brush painting through youtube and it was so much fun!) Check out for more video tutorials on handicrafts. These are great for your kids to do during movies or read-alouds, especially if they are naturally on the fidgety side.
  • We improved our morning routine or got better at household chores. Parents of littles know that it is a daunting task to teach our children how to do a chore WELL. You have to put in a lot of effort up front to see a good return in the future. So if you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t help them get better at a chore or improve your morning routine because of busyness, now’s your chance! Get that morning routine down pat so it will be automatic when school restarts. Help them learn how to wash dishes, make their beds, or even cook a meal start to finish.
  • We did a unit study on a topic my child shows intense interest in! Visit for ideas and helpful tips and how to integrate school subjects into one unit. is a good resource for highschoolers, too!
  • My child “got over the hump” in reading and now enjoys it! This may seem like a stretch to those with reluctant readers, but it IS possible. So, let’s talk books…
    • First, I encourage everyone to subscribe to the Read-Aloud Revival podcast! It’s not just for homeschoolers, but for everyone who desires to “make meaning connections with their children through books.” You won’t regret it.
    • You can have a “family book club” or a “parent/child book club” or even a “virtual friend book club!” Pick a book, read it together (or separately during your own quiet times) and discuss them. That’s a literature class. And if you read a book that takes place during early American history, ancient times, the middle ages, or a biography; you’re also covering social studies! Visit for booklists in every category including struggling readers, first novels to read-aloud, and favorite picture books!
    • Listen to audiobooks! These are a great form of entertainment that doesn’t include staring at a screen. You can listen to an audiobook while doing a puzzle, a handicraft, coloring, or even cleaning the house or cooking a meal! If you have a struggling reader, it is perfectly acceptable to allow him or her to listen to an audiobook while following along in their own hard copy. It is a GREAT way to learn pronunciation, nuance, vocabulary, and fluency in reading.
    • Books that make good family read-alouds:
      • The Chronicles of Narnia
      • The Green Ember Series
      • The Wilderking Trilogy
      • The Penderwicks series
      • The Vanderbeekers series
      • The Bronze Bow (*great for Easter)
      • Vinegar Boy (*another Easter book)
      • Lost on a Mountain in Maine
      • The Golden Goblet
      • The Door in the Wall
      • Running out of Time
      • My Father’s Dragon series
      • The Little House Series (The Long Winter would be especially relatable during hard times, and these make FANTASTIC audiobooks–they are extremely well done!)
      • Anne of Green Gables
      • YWAM – Christian Heroes Then and Now
      • My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish (*good for struggling readers)
      • Magic Treehouse series
    • Books you can read and then watch the movie (compare/contrast):
      • The BFG
      • Matilda
      • James and the Giant Peach
      • Because of Winn Dixie
      • The Tale of Desperaux
      • The Little Princess
      • Little Women
      • Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings Series

So now that we’ve released you of the pressure to do things “just so” (you’ll choose what’s best for your family, right?!) how exactly will you keep these kids occupied all day?!

  • Have a schedule and follow it loosely. I like to say “rhythm” rather than routine. A schedule is good for everyone’s mental health. Children thrive on structure, honestly they do. But you also need to allow yourself grace, especially during an uncertain time such as this. A good suggestion is to have “anchor points” during your day. These are times that give your day structure and are largely stuck to, even when other things go astray. Meals, for instance, would be anchor points. And then you can ask yourself, “what do we want accomplish before lunch, or after?” In our house, quiet time is a big anchor point. It’s always after lunch, after the kitchen is cleaned. We read a picture book and then it’s naptime for the youngest children. The older two sit quietly in their designated areas for 30 minutes of quiet self-directed study. They can read, do activity books, practice origami, etc. Then they get an additional 30 minutes to play math games on their tablets. After that, they can play together quietly (usually legos or a board game together) until their siblings wake up from their naps. This is the most blissful time of my day! We all need a little break woven into our schedules. A certain time of day for physical activity ( or outdoor exploration is a good anchor point, too.
  • You might try a designated start and/or finish to your “school” day. Maybe you open with devotions or a read-aloud time and you end with a nature walk? In our family, we do devotions during breakfast and then the older kids get right into their kitchen chores. When that is done, they have a checklist of morning work to get through on their own. If your child has a packet from his/her teacher and some of it can be done individually, now might be a good time to do it. Then I lead a lesson in whatever our topic is for the day, and we’re usually done by lunch, sometimes before. Then we focus on keeping a clean house, going for walks, reading aloud, art, music, or cooking in the afternoon.
  • Allow time for your child to research a topic of interest to them. This might be a “golden hour” everyday, or we have “Wonder Wednesday” when the kids get to “ask Google” about something they’re interested in or wondering about.
  • Write letters! I know this might seem archaic in our digital age, but consider that if writing a letter to a friend or family member is your child’s ELA lesson for the day, how they might enjoy it! Make sure you check for proper spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and letter format. The skill of complete sentence, paragraph, and letter writing are almost lost these days and you will be giving your child a good advantage if you hone these skills! If you’re feeling artistic, you can paint and design your own postcards to send to friends and family together. Letter writing could be done once or twice a week.
  • For additional ways to fill your days, look into for freebies and resources. Doing a craft after a read-aloud is a great way to use up time! For younger kids, try making your own playdough, baking, painting, drawing, and imaginary play. For older kids, the book Look, I’m an Engineer* has so many fun science experiments to do with household objects. (I will link other miscellaneous resources at the end of this post.)

Final tips to leave with you…

  • Remember that you’re teaching a child, not just material. Put your relationship before the curriculum. Don’t focus on what your child needs to learn, focus on what your child needs: you, comfort, security, connection, structure, love. You’ll do just fine.
  • Focus on the process, not just the outcome. You probably won’t find instant outcomes, so don’t look for them. Just focus on fostering relationship and learning with your child.
  • Expect pushback. Your children will struggle to see you as their “teacher” at first. Remember that you are their parent first and teacher second. Be honest. Acknowledge that you will do things differently than their teachers and that you’re learning together. Don’t take it personally when they exhibit a bad attitude; this is an adjustment for everyone.
  • Model a love of learning for your child. You’ll both be better for it in the end.
  • Plant a garden together. Read books. That’s really all you need.

Additional Resources:

*This post contains affiliate links.

Beautiful Feet Books: Africa

I am loving the Beautiful Feet Books curriculum, “Around the World with Picture Books” which we are using this year. With this post, I hope to highlight some of the reasons why…

Once we finished North America with My Father’s World (you can read about that here), it was on to Africa. This is where I put down MFW and picked up Beautiful Feet Books. MFW’s “Exploring Countries and Cultures” curriculum walks through the continents geographically: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. But I wanted to travel based more on the ecosystems we are studying. So while we were talking about deserts, Africa was the next logical choice; that way we could continue our desert mural we started while in Mexico.

MFW only covers Kenya in detail, but Beautiful Feet Books has units on Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. These units are so beautifully done; using quality picture books as the backbone to almost every lesson, incorporating educational videos from online, and encouraging artistic notebooking on everything learned from geographical features to samples of cultural artwork to indigenous animals. The book, Maps* by Aleksandria and Daniel Mizielinska, that is used is a unique “atlas” that presents the special features of each country with lovely artwork that resembles something like an “I Spy” book. I think that’s why my kids love it so much! They can spend an hour or so just staring at a country’s page and finding all the fun features (animals, cultural costumes, geographical sites) it shows. Each page is as interesting as the country it’s representing.

For me, the notebooking has been the most fun. I bought three Japanese notebooks* of high quality and I am loving adding to my own! And while my kids don’t necessarily appreciate the value of the notebooking process yet, I’m confident that one day they will! For now, they really enjoy practicing water colors and making their own maps of each country. I believe they are learning so much more by creating their own maps than by simply studying one in a book. They get to pick which features of the country are most interesting to them and add those to their map. And in the notebook it goes, along with their own examples of artwork and animals from each country.

Some of our favorite books from Africa were Mirror* by Jeannie Baker (Morocco), The Day of Ahmed’s Secret* by Florence Parry Heide (Egypt), Emmanuel’s Dream* by Laurie Ann Thompson (Ghana), and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears* by Verna Aardema. Our favorite crafts were recreating Kente Cloth (using paper) from Ghana, and painting animals in the Tanzanian “tinga tinga” paint style.

If you know me and my love of food and cooking, you won’t be surprised that I set out to make a meal for each country we “visit.” While studying Africa we made a lot of chicken and rice and enjoyed some fried plantains. We even had an elaborate Moroccan feast and invited my parents over to sit on pillows in our living room surrounded by candles and Moroccan music while we enjoyed a five-course meal.

African animals are fun to learn about! And although we didn’t add as many details to our desert/grassland mural as I would have liked, we took field trips to the zoo and Worcester’s EcoTarium, where they have the African Communities animal center. Our pastor and his wife go to Rwanda every year and she agreed to talk to us about their trips and what life in Rwanda is like. She even brought in lots of trinkets, jewelry, and native clothing, which was awesome! I gave us an extra week in Africa to wrap up any unfinished notebooking and fit in our field trips. (I’m determined to not keep a super strict weekly schedule so we can take extra time in interesting places if we want.)

A Brief Word on Nature Walk and Collecting…

Even though we are not studying forests anymore, we are continuing our weekly nature walks. They are their own entity. I find that scheduling and making them a priority has helped all of our mental and emotional healths. So rather than say we’ll try to fit it in after school, we often do it almost first thing on Thursday mornings. (Thunder Thursday, remember?) Then we come home and drink tea and do the rest of our school work. Because we had an extra week in Africa, it also allowed us more time to do nature art. We had a great time collecting interesting things in nature and then putting them together to form animals and designs. We’ve also started listening to Chopin’s piano concertos but haven’t talked about his life, yet. We’re easing into our music study while we do other things. This is why we homeschool. Days like this are beautiful.

Here are just a few extra photos from our time in Africa… playing a geography game, Mancala (believed to have originated in Africa), and an afternoon movie party of the “live-action” Lion King complete with animal cracker snacks and spicy popcorn!

*Affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Zooming In on Our First Units: North America, Forests, and Author Studies

I’ve always been a fan of unit studies, so I love that this year’s curriculum lends itself easily to unit style learning. I know this goes against everything Charlotte Mason advocated, and I’m okay with this area of disconnect. Though I do find it funny that while she disliked unit studies, she did advocate for the study of a single artist or composer at a time… sounds a little “unit-esque” to me. 😉

In a previous post, I outlined what curricula we’re using for which subjects, and what our days look like. In my last post, “What’s in a Name“, I touched on how our weeks are structured as a whole and how we’re managing to fit in all the “fun stuff” on a regular basis. If you read those, you know I spent a significant amount of time over the summer planning out our school year. Though not necessary for all homeschoolers, I like to get a big picture of our year and then zoom in on each piece or unit, and enhance it if I can. I rearranged the countries that were outlined in My Father’s World to suit my preferences. (I wanted to study Antarctica in January rather than late spring–call me crazy–which led to rearranging the other units as well. I was happy with the result, though!) Then I added in the units from “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books, the combined 3rd and 1st grade sciences, and the author studies for first grade.

So here’s a “zoomed in” look at our first units: studying the countries of North America, forests and deserts, and author studies on Laura Numeroff plus the start of Eric Carle.

We started in the U.S.A. with a review of what we were learning last year through our exploration of United States history. We also began our unit on forests. Both curricula we’re using this year call for quite a bit of notebooking and rather than try to make it all work together and exasperate my children with an intense amount of writing and recording, I decided we’d make a mural out of butcher paper for each ecosystem studied in lieu of an ecosystem notebook. It makes a nice addition to our homeschool decor and it’s fun to see the scene come together over time.

While studying deciduous forests, we used our home field advantage and took several nature walks and field trips around the area. We’re attempting to take a nature walk every week this year but in addition to that, we climbed Mt. Wachusett, hiked Quabbin Reservoir, and took other walks off the beaten path…

To help keep Emmalyn included in our studies, she had her own “units” on trees, leaves, autumn, and the changing colors. I also found these cute “cut & paste” papers on ecosystems for preschoolers. They are a great way to practice those scissor and glue skills and make a nice addition to our mural! We did lots of nature collecting on our walks and made these neat field guides with leaf prints on the covers. In the end, we had a pretty awesome forest mural happening…

After the United States, we hit Canada, while staying within our forest unit. This allowed us to expand to talking about coniferous forests as well. (You may have noticed the very hastily completed “pine tree” that graced our forest mural…) While studying Canada, we made “Inuit sculptures” out of soap, and “poutine” for dinner one night!

Before I talk about Mexico, I should mention our author studies. When Abby was in first grade, I split the curriculum into two years because I started her schooling at a young age. So with only half of a one-year curriculum to complete, it was easy to fit in monthly author studies with their own lessons. This year, we are essentially trying to do 3 different curricula in one year PLUS the author studies, so it’s not as easy to do all the lessons. But just as Charlotte Mason saw the value in studying a single artist or composer at one time, I still see the value in zooming in on a single author to study their voice, style, and genre. We may not do all the lessons and activities that I wrote a couple years ago, but we still learn a little something about each author as we go. We began with Laura Numeroff and transitioned into Eric Carle when we started Mexico because his books are easily found in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to do some side-by-side reading! Eric Carle’s art is really fun, too, so we did find a way to fit that in! To find out how I structured those author studies when Abby was in first grade and to download the material for FREE, click the links for Laura Numeroff and Eric Carle.

On to Mexico! And deserts! We finished up North America by spending an AMPLE amount of time in Mexico; reading Spanish picture books, studying deserts, making plenty of tortillas and churros from scratch, blasting mariachi music while we cleaned the house on “Work Wednesdays”, and I even found an old movie I watched as a kid called “Friendship’s Field” about a family who hired Mexican workers to help them on their farm in the 1960s–that brought back memories! Capped it off with a family dinner at a local cantina and decided our homemade salsa was just a little bit better. 😉

Next, we head to Africa and continue our desert study. Hopefully I can get that post up soon!

6 Weeks In: What Our Homeschool Looks Like This Year

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this. There’s a laundry basket full of clothes to be folded, another load that needs to be started, new clothes from birthdays that need to be put away, and I still need to solidify my lesson plans for the upcoming week. But I’ve been in this cycle for about 6 weeks now (school work, house work, repeat) with no end in sight and decided I needed to just force myself to break it this once–even if it means I’ll be “behind” for a day or so. These past weeks since we started school have been CRAZY. I am overwhelmed, I feel overworked, I am exhausted, a little depressed, but I am also grateful. Overwhelmed because there is so much good stuff I want to do/read/incorporate in our homeschool. Overworked because schooling kids with a baby and toddlers in tow is exhausting. Every time I go to do SOMEthing, I am interrupted by a little one with very real and very immediate needs (hunger, diaper, potty, runny nose, etc). Exhausted because of both those things, plus if I ever DO get a break from the needs of the children, there are dishes, laundry, or that email I started 2 days ago but haven’t finished or sent yet. (Yes, this has happened on more than one occasion recently and is entirely out of character for me.) I have been depressed because I set out this year aiming to truly “teach from rest” and I don’t feel like that’s what I’ve been doing because I’m so exhausted. But I am so grateful for this time with my children. I’m grateful for the hard days we have together when I get to witness some really touching interactions or triumphant breakthroughs. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and explore with my children.

First day of school!

But let’s talk practically for a minute. Even though the days are hard, things ARE getting done. So… how? If you are thinking of homeschooling, or already homeschool and are trying to figure out a rhythm, you’re in GREAT company. We’re all trying to figure out our rhythm. These past 6 weeks have been our testing period. And now that I think we have a new groove to settle into, we’ll keep at it for 6 more weeks or so and then reassess. I’ll let you know if it’s still working then. For now, here’s how our days look:

I’ve got Abby in 3rd grade using My Father’s World ECC (Exploring Countries and Cultures), Noah in 1st grade using My Father’s World Learning God’s Story, Emmalyn doing her first year of preschool, and Elijah (2) and Logan (6 months) tagging along. I knew that structuring this year was going to be tricky so I spent much of the summer gathering our supplements and drafting a rough plan for our year. That way I’d be able to spend time during the school year working on our daily schedule and I’d never have to wonder “what’s next” theme-wise. This school year is unit-based and one of the things “teaching from rest” means to me is that each unit can be as long or as short as we feel like while we’re in it. We are exploring countries and cultures, and I fully anticipate that we’ll be more interested in some than others so we’ll explore accordingly. Math and ELA will still be done everyday at our own pace.

What We’re Adding On: We are supplementing with another literature-based world geography curriculum called “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books. I am so in love! I think the countries we learn about from this curriculum will be our favorites. Their book lists are short and quality choices. I bought the art supplies from the BF supply list and we are excited to get our paint on and improve our skills! It’s going to be a beautiful year! I’m counting this and any other art projects we do from the book Global Art as our art for the year.

For music we are using Simply Charlotte Mason’s Music Study with the Masters: Chopin. I plan to use my own piano skills to teach a few things and if Abby wants to further explore the instrument, hopefully she can take lessons next year. This year was just too crazy! We’re also using the MFW 1st grade music: a study on Peter and the Wolf. Speaking of my own skills… we’re learning Spanish this year! Or, I’m teaching Spanish to my children this year. Slowly and gently. I love the website for help with this.

For science, we are learning about the different ecosystems that coincide with our countries by region. I’m using the MFW 3rd grade resources for this, but I also went through their 1st grade science and pulled experiments that I liked and could link to different ecosystems and fit them into my outline.

First Ecosystem: Forest

First grade is my author study year, so we are doing that as well, though not quite as in-depth as we did it when Abby was in 1st grade. We have a lot going on! But I still want to incorporate them as much as possible and I chose a few different authors that I thought would appeal more to Noah. For more information about what I do with author studies, check out that post from a couple years ago.

Starting our Eric Carle & Spanish book unit!

How We Structure Our Days:

7:30 breakfast/family devotions: We are reading through the book of Matthew, focusing on Proverbs for Noah, and using Window on the World to talk about missionaries around the world.

8:00 Kitchen Crew/Preschool Time: Abby, Noah, and Randy make up the “kitchen crew” and they are in charge of getting the kitchen cleaned after breakfast. Emmalyn, Elijah, Logan and I head to the living room for “preschool.” Over the summer I picked preschool units to coincide with the rest of our school. Some “match” clearly, others don’t and are separate themes. We do a lot of interactive play, sensory activities, puzzles, singing, work on motor skills, block building, etc. This is basically time I get to spend with the little kids right away to help satisfy their desire for mommy time. I’m not saying it magically makes them play on their own for the rest of the day, but I do believe it helps soften the blow when I can’t give them the attention they want later.

Matching letters!

8:30 Morning Work/Continue Preschool Time: Randy leaves for work and Abby and Noah are to start their morning work/individual work. This includes daily math, handwriting, spelling, and simple worksheets that reinforce what was discussed the day before, etc. They each have a list that I type out the night before and paper clip it to whatever work the are to do on their own.

9:00 Table Work: We are all at the kitchen table; Emmalyn and Eli are probably coloring or Emmalyn might have a specific worksheet or activity to do. I also have tactile boxes for them that I’m putting together for each of our ecosystem units, which they can use and play with at this time. I help Abby and Noah with their ELA and reading. Usually I’ll help Abby first and then she does 15 minutes of silent reading while I do reading instruction with Noah.

10:00 Snack/Math (Just what it sounds like!) Emmalyn and Eli have been dismissed from the table by this point and are playing independently or maybe watching a toddler DVD.

That is our basic morning schedule and when those things are done, we fit in science, geography, art, music, and more when we can. And to be honest, sometimes the morning schedule goes longer than I’d like. As I was typing them out, I was thinking “hmm, this doesn’t seem so bad, so why do I feel so stressed out?” Well it’s because our mornings are constantly interrupted (we do have a baby and a potty-training toddler). We are not schooling in a vacuum. The transitions between subjects can sometimes be a hassle in a small space, as well. But we are getting the hang of it. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that I can still teach from rest and be tired, because I have a baby. Babies are tiring. Plain and simple. So I’m giving myself grace on that end. I’m going to be tired for a little while longer, and that’s okay.

Morning Work

After I got our year and our days structured, I thought I was done. Turns out I wasn’t. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And that’s another blog post of its own, hopefully I can get around to it soon!

A weekend planning session at its finest!

Homeschool Series Part III: What it Looks Like

It’s official. I stink at keeping up with the blog. I wanted to write and publish all three parts of this series within a week of each other and completely failed. I don’t know how other homeschool moms with littles write regularly, but I know there are some out there who do! Hats off to you, Mamas! As for me, I’m learning to accept my limitations and write when I get the chance. So here’s a little glimpse into our busy homeschool world…

If you’ve talked with anyone who home educates their children, you’ve likely heard all the benefits there are to this lifestyle: flexibility, tailored education for children, more free time. I touched on these and more in my last post about why we chose this form of schooling for our kids. (Be sure to check out Part I, too, about freedom in education.) But you might be wondering, “Ok, but what does a homeschool day actually LOOK like?” Whether it’s pure curiosity or maybe you’re thinking about educating your own kids at home and need some ideas, I’m going to address that question here.

I’ve said before that we loosely follow a Charlotte Mason style of educating our children. Charlotte Mason was a teacher in England around the turn of the twentieth century.  Along her career, she published several books containing philosophies of education. She viewed children as persons with their own ideas, interests, and desires. In her philosophy, children should enjoy the learning process through hands-on experiences, real and meaningful encounters with the materials or ideas being taught, and have opportunities to formulate their own opinions and thoughts, rather than being told what they’re “supposed” to think. She believed children should be presented with a “feast” of quality learning on a daily basis.

I’m not an expert on Charlotte Mason by any means, and I’m only halfway through the book, For the Children’s Sake, which is an informational book about Charlotte Mason’s life and philosophies of education. But everything I glean from books and podcasts about her philosophies I love. Picture studies, music studies, nature studies, and poetry studies are just a few of the things she insisted must be in a child’s education and we incorporate them all on a regular basis.

So what does our schedule look like? It’s important to note that it changes at times. Whether it’s year to year, or even week to week, the schedule doesn’t always look the same. I try hard to make my schedule serve ME, not the other way around. With two toddlers of my own and the occasional visit from our neighbor’s baby who I watch 2-3 days a week, I have to be flexible.  It’s also important to note that I keep my lessons short. This is another Charlotte Mason “trick.” I agree with her that it is better to have your child’s full attention for 5-10 minutes than to have half of their attention for 30-40 minutes. When they are giving their full attention, they will retain more information. And when they get into the habit of paying full attention, they will continue to do so when the time frames increase which is much better than getting into the habit of only half-listening or interrupting all the time. We can get so much more done in a short amount of time when we are working one on one or one on two and they are fully present in the lesson. It’s awesome! This means that most of the time, we are completely done with school by lunch. The exceptions to this are when the toddlers are really antsy or continuously interrupting us in the morning so some of the school gets pushed off until the afternoon when they might be napping. Or maybe none of us are feeling the art or read-aloud component of school in the morning and this is better saved for afternoon tea or snack time–picnicking outside on a blanket or cozying up on the couch indoors.

Our family has a 7:30 breakfast rule. Because of Sunday morning church and Saturday morning sports, this is a 7-day rule right now. Breakfast is at 7:30 everyday and you must be dressed with your bed made and ready for the day when you come to the table. On homeschool days, this is when we do Bible. We are able to discuss our devotions for the day over breakfast as a family. Immediately following breakfast the kids have a few chores to do and then it’s right into school. Abby is usually starting her spelling by 8:15. So here is what our daily schedule might look like written out:

  • 7:30 Breakfast/Bible
  • 8:15 Abby – spelling, Noah – play with Emmalyn & Eli
  • 8:25 Abby – ELA This varies daily from mini-lessons on grammar, oral narration, oral composition, written composition, dictation, poem memorization, copywork, picture studies, or week-long units on a different fairy tale which I’m incorporating myself. The lessons almost never go over 10-15 minutes.
  • 8:40 History for Abby & Noah This is usually in the form of a read-aloud and then a IMG_20180910_123457368retelling of what they remember. Sometimes there is an accompanying fun project or video. At the end of the week, Abby writes a summary of the topic or person we’ve studied.
  • 9:00 Abby – book basket (quiet reading from any of the books I’ve placed in the book basket for the week) Noah – kindergarten letter work, reading, number sense, etc, with me.
  • 9:20 Math We usually do a hands-on lesson with manipulatives on the living room floor or kitchen table. Noah participates with us. When the lesson is over, Abby does written practice in her math workbook. We use Singapore. 
  • BREAK/SNACK AT 10:00
  • 10:15 Science/Art/Other We don’t do science everyday but when it’s scheduled, we usually do it right after snack. We might have an art project to do, a music study, or something else that’s “special” planned and that would go here or after lunch.
  • After lunch we might play a math or reading or letter game or take a nature walk. Then I read aloud before quiet time.

There’s our schedule. It doesn’t always look exactly like that, but it’s close. I can’t emphasize enough that every homeschool looks different and it’s not always “picture perfect.” But I love this homeschool life, I really do. And I honestly think my kids do, too.

Whether you do homeschool, private school, or public school with your kids, Mamas, I hope you remember the freedom we have in our education choices and to change our minds when something doesn’t seem to be working. There is no “one-size fits all.” I’d like to leave you with just a few of my favorite quotes about children, education, and homeschooling.

Children want to be sparked like flames, not filled like barrels.” – Heraclitus

Whatever curriculum you use, remember to give yourself and your children three things: something to love, something to do, and something to think about.” – Karen Andreola

Homeschooling is about freedom. But not just doing things the way we want. It’s also about our children’s freedom. Let’s not hold onto our methodologies so tightly that we forget the reason we’re doing this in the first place. Children are born persons, after all.” – Ainsley Arment

Free time is necessary for the fruit of creativity. It grows out of a rich life. All children respond to this abundance with ideas, plans, imagination, playing. They solve problems, think, grow. Children respond to life by living. They need this time to grow.” – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay


Homeschool Series Part II: Why We Homeschool and It Works for Us

In my last post, I talked about how we have freedom in our education choices and should choose carefully what we feel is best for our families. I’m attempting to answer the popular question I get asked, “Why did you decide to homeschool?” in perhaps a round-about way.  One reason it can be hard for me to answer that question is because the reasons my husband and I decided to homeschool in the first place are not necessarily the same reasons we continue to do so. We’ve only been at this for a few years and are by no means experts, but I think our attitudes and beliefs about homeschooling have already evolved from when we first started even thinking about it.

When my husband and I were engaged and I was finishing up my student teaching in my last semester of college, he told me that if we had kids he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom and wanted us to homeschool. I adamantly disagreed on both accounts. I was finishing my degree and I planned to use it! I also didn’t know much about homeschooling but my initial thoughts were something like: weird and unusual and why would I do that? Randy’s main reasons for wanting to homeschool had to do with having a negative school experience himself, wanting his kids to know and believe the Bible before anything else, and his political leanings. Being a libertarian, he tends to want to stay as far away from heavily government funded/influenced institutions as he can. I thought he needed to chill.

For me, I never thought much about how I planned to educate my kids. I guess I assumed they would go to public school like I did. Just like I never thought much about whether I would breast or bottle feed, or what I planned to name my children… until I actually became pregnant and was forced to start really thinking about these things. And though I was against homeschooling at first, over time I can say that God changed my heart. Although I loved my job and was really passionate about teaching ESL, when I became pregnant with my first child, I had an overwhelming desire to stay home with her. At the time this was out of reach. I continued working full-time until my second child turned one, but my desire to stay home never left and I started clinging to the idea of homeschooling because if Randy wanted it to happen so bad, I was sure he’d find a way to make it financially possible. And though I don’t want to get into all the details here, as a public school teacher, I saw so many flaws in the system that homeschooling continued to appeal to me. (It’s not that I don’t care about the education of all children or that I felt that my kids would really suffer in the public school system, but my heart and mind were being softened to the desire my husband already had for our family.) Homeschooling would mean getting to teach the way I wanted and giving my kids a quality education that centered around love, family, Biblical principles, and hands-on learning. So those might be the reasons we had in mind when we agreed to pursue homeschooling, but why do we continue?

Why DO we homeschool?

The first and simple answer for me is… I just love it. For a while, I didn’t think this could “count” as an answer. It doesn’t seem legitimate. But isn’t it? If I can give my kids as good, if not a better education at home, shouldn’t I first WANT to do it? These days, it’s not a popular opinion to love being around your kids. But I seriously do. It’s not that they don’t drive me crazy at times or tire me out; but in general, I really love spending my days with them.

My kids get a one-on-one (kind of), tailored-to-them education that is fun for all of us. They might not consider everything we do fun, because there is an element of work and rigor, of course. However, we get to do hands-on experiments, outdoor exploration, crafting, reading aloud, and kitchen learning that my kids don’t necessarily consider “school”, but I know better. 😉

Another reason homeschooling really works for us now, that we couldn’t have predicted back when we began, is that our family schedule has become unique and not at all what we envisioned when we first started a family. My husband isn’t home for dinner Monday through Friday. We used to say that we would always make family dinners a top priority in our family. But now it’s family breakfast. And quite frankly, I’m not sure our breakfasts would be able to be as leisure and meaningful as they are if we all had to run our separate ways early in the morning. Homeschooling allows us to have real family time in the morning so that if the kids can’t see Daddy before bed, it’s not as big of a let down. Homeschooling allows us freedom to be flexible with our schedules in other ways–to go shopping in the morning when stores aren’t as crowded, to take field trips at discounted rates on “homeschool days”, to take vacations on “off” weeks, or go out for lunch somewhere along Daddy’s route so we can have a family lunch out! And because the rigorous parts of school don’t take quite as long when you’re working one-on-one or one-on-two, we have way more time to explore other interests. Noah borrows books on outer space from the library, and Abby is working on writing her second “book” in a series. (Yes, she is quite an ambitious little girl… look out, world!)

Finally, homeschooling forces us to do family devotions and Bible learning. I am confident that we would want to do family devotions even if our children were being educated outside of the home. But I wonder how difficult it would be–especially with our unique family schedule. We use a curriculum that builds Bible learning into the schedule and weaves it into the other subjects whenever possible. So when we have our family breakfasts we do family devotions. This year in kindergarten, each unit that Noah studies focuses on a letter of the alphabet that stands for something God made. He is learning about God’s creation, A-Z. In second grade, Abby’s Bible theme is the different names of Jesus and she has a new memory verse every other week. She also gets her own devotional from time to time to do just with me or independently, but I am very grateful that our core Bible learning is already planned out for me and we have time in our day to fit it.

Now that I’ve made homeschooling sound so appealing… (right?!)… HOW exactly does it work? What do our days actually look like? And who is this Charlotte Mason woman I applaud so much and why was she so great? That’ll be in my next post, part three. 🙂

Here we are getting ready for breakfast during the first week of school this year. Everyone had a name card that had the meaning of their name on it and Abby got a new Bible.



Homeschool Series Part I: We Have Freedom (and Responsibility) in Education Choices

I’ve wanted to write about our decision to homeschool for a while. It’s a question that often gets asked, “What made you decide to homeschool?” And I wish I didn’t struggle so much with how to answer it. So maybe the process of writing it out will help me form a better verbal response the next time someone is curious. But I also want to share the joy and beauty of homeschooling with anyone who might be looking at their kids’ education options. I don’t think homeschooling is the only or always best option, but I do think it’s a great one! And I definitely can’t fit all I want to share about homeschooling in one blog post. So I’ve decided to create a 3-part series on homeschooling. The common thread through this series (besides homeschooling itself) is that we have FREEDOM in the choices we make in how we educate our children. So I hope you will find this encouraging and maybe even a little enlightening.


The main reasons I often struggle to answer the question about why we decided to homeschool is because I’m afraid of being judged and I fear others will think I’m judging them. But this fear is not rooted in Christ. Because of the Gospel, we have freedom to make many different choices; we are no longer bound by the law. As Christians, sometimes when we’re passionate about something, (without necessarily meaning to) we can turn it into a sin-issue in our minds, even if it isn’t one. Both Jesus (Matthew 15) and the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10) reminded us that we cannot be made “unclean” by what enters our body, but only by what comes out of our hearts and minds. I think the decision we make about formally educating our children is a lot like this. It is not a sin to choose one way or the other, though sometimes we judge each other as if it were. And though we have this freedom in Christ, it also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility to weigh our options carefully and choose what will be best for our family and children. And in a way, we all have the responsibility to “homeschool” our children, but I’ll get into that more later. First, I’d like to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding homeschooling and some of the reasons we worry about judgment…

Because we’re Christians, it is often assumed that my husband and I are trying to shelter our kids from the “evil public schools”, or that we think all Christians should be homeschooling their kids if they can. Neither of these are true. In fact, because my husband and I are Christians, we know that the only thing that can save our kids is Christ. And that because of the Gospel, we have freedom to choose the kind of education we feel is best for our children–because we believe that God works in all education modalities and there isn’t one that is best for all. Just like sharing a hobby one loves with others, I want to share the joy of homeschooling with others, but this doesn’t mean I think everyone should be doing it or should even want to. God made us all unique and all of our children unique, and that is a beautiful thing!

On the flip side, sometimes it is wrongfully assumed that homeschoolers are not doing their part to help take care of their community, or we receive judgment for not “adequately exposing” our kids to the diversity around us. But there are several ways homeschoolers can and do support public schools and help take care of their community. We donate supplies, participate in community activities, financially support community programs, and some families even volunteer their time at local schools as a family. And it’s also important to point out that exposure to diversity does not automatically equal loving kindness to one’s neighbors. That needs to be taught and can be cultivated in a variety of settings, not just a public school. Don’t get me wrong, homeschooling is difficult and does take a lot of time to prepare and can cause us to focus a lot of our attention inward while we’re working so hard for our families. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have a responsibility to our community, as well.

Are public school teachers and homeschoolers on the opposite side of the education aisle? Can we even be friends? Of course we can! And if we have the best interests of children in mind and desire a strong education for all kids, we are very much on the same side. Rather than judging or condemning each other, we should be praying for and supporting one another. As a former public school teacher, I can certainly speak to the fact that teachers need our prayers! They need prayers for grace, patience, wisdom, guidance, and stamina. And they covet prayers for their students, too. Homeschooling families need prayers for much of the same. The parent/teacher/child/student relationship can be a tricky one to navigate.


I mentioned earlier that as parents, we all have a responsibility to “homeschool” our children. We have freedom to choose whatever mode of formal education we deem best for our family, a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. But we have the responsibility to educate our children about God’s laws, His Word, His Son, and also the things of this world, no matter where they are going to get their academic education.  We need to have an open line of communication with our kids so we can be aware of the influences in their life and set an example of what a humble servant of Christ looks like. And if we are teaching our children about these things as we should be; in a sense, we are all “homeschoolers.”

So with all this freedom we have to choose whatever kind of education we want for our kids, why on earth would anyone choose to be the one to do all the planning, prepping, and teaching math, science, history, reading, and keep their kids home all day when a bright, beautiful, yellow school bus could come and take them away for six hours a day??? I’ll get into why and how homeschooling works for our family in my next post…

10 Goals for a Year of Homeschooling

I was a little aghast when I logged onto my blog site to see that my last post was dated April 18! I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been THAT long! I never even wrote about our final author study from last school year or concluded my series on our studies. I have pictures of recipes I planned on recording here, as well, which never happened. I have no profound reason for this other than four small children, the busyness of finishing our school year plus wrapping up my work at our church. I hope to write more this year about food, homeschool, and life but I’m not making it an official goal because my goals this year revolve more around DE-stressing, not adding more to my plate. 🙂 So let’s just say hopefully you’ll hear from again soon and on a more regular basis, although I’m making no promises.

I wanted to start our school year by recording some of my goals for the year, so here I am. These aren’t academic goals for my children, these are goals for me as their teacher, and our school year in general. So hopefully when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or discouraged, I can come back to this and remind myself what I set out to do at the start. And if they provide any other homeschool mamas with ideas, encouragement, or wisdom, then I’ll be doubly blessed.

Goals for My Homeschool Year

  1. Connect with my children. We [loosely] follow a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling for the most part. She was a HUGE advocate for getting to know the children you are educating and treating them like people with opinions of their own. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the time you get to spend with your kids. I would be squandering that gift if I let our days pass by simply trying to get stuff done and not paying attention to what my kids are thinking, feeling, exploring, and learning. I do not want to sacrifice this grand opportunity to really get to know my children in order to finish the page, book, lesson for the day.
  2. IMG_20180819_071453058Schedule “margin” into my routine. I’m a planner. It’s pretty easy for me to set a routine and it’s not too difficult for me to stick to it. But what I don’t do often enough is schedule the “margins.” I’m learning to do this with time it takes to get ready or get somewhere. With four young kids, I’ve learned that it will take more time than I think it should to get out the door. So I plan for that. It’s a little bit harder to do with my school schedule, but my goal is to get better at it this year. Then I don’t have to get frustrated when a math lesson takes longer to complete than I expected. My kids sense my frustration, which leads to them feeling like they failed or at least, let me down. By scheduling “margin”, I hope to avoid (or lessen) these feelings of frustration on both ends.
  3. Remember to re-evaluate. This year will be my first year following an official curriculum for more than one child. My son has always been able to sit and listen in on his big sister’s schooling, and he has had his own little books to complete as well. But this year he’s more “official” and I’m a little nervous. So I want to remember to re-evaluate periodically. I need to re-evaluate our schedule to make sure both kids are getting the amount of time with me they need. I’ll need to re-evaluate our days, and maybe even our curriculum. I never want to become too set in my ways that my children suffer simply because I’m trying so hard to make something work that just isn’t working.
  4. Remember that I have nothing to prove. This is a tough one. The homeschool world has come a long way and so has acceptance of the idea. But in many cases, homeschooling is still considered unconventional. This leaves many homeschool mamas feeling like they have to prove they made the right decision. We feel like we have to prove that our kids are learning just as much, if not more, than traditionally educated children. We feel like we have to prove that they’re “being socialized” enough. And we have to prove that our children are enjoying every single day of this homeschool journey and THAT’S what makes it so “worth it.” But the reality is, not every day is a joyful journey. Just like anyone else’s school days, some are good, some are better, and some are pretty terrible. And you know what? My children’s and my identities are rooted in Christ alone, not other people’s perception of our homeschool. And I believe that He called my husband and I into this particular education style.  I do think that parents should weigh the education options they have and if they have a choice, choose the one they feel will be best for their kids and family. But we all have freedom in that choice because of the Gospel. WE are not our children’s saviors and homeschooling is not going to “save” my kids… from anything. (Other than maybe having to wait in the snow for the bus to come! One of the many things I love about this choice.) 😉 Only God can do that. So I need to remember that all of this is for His glory; not mine, and not my kids’.
  5. Be flexible. I should really try to be more flexible in all areas of life, but particularly IMG_20180820_124821840the homeschool front. I recently read Sarah Mackenzie‘s book, Teaching from Rest, and loved every minute of it! Along with the idea of scheduling in margin, another thing I gleaned from the book was to be flexible with my plans because #1: they may not be God’s plans and therefore, don’t matter; and #2: who can predict exactly what will happen over the course of the year/month/week/day??? A recent example of this was the way we started our school year. I had planned on starting with Abby (2nd grade) on Monday, August 27. Noah would start kindergarten on September 4. But then we were invited to a lake with a homeschool group for August 27 and the weather for that day and the following days looked gorgeous. And it just so happened that the week prior, our van was in the shop and the weather was pitiful. So Abby and I had a “soft start” a week early while we were stuck inside and didn’t make it a big to-do like the first day of school usually is. That freed us up to enjoy the next week outside and with friends. It wasn’t what I planned the beginning of our school year to look like, but it was definitely for the better. I hope I can continue adjusting with such ease as the school year progresses.
  6. Read-aloud ALL THE TIME. Okay, so this honestly stresses me out just a little bit. That’s because there are SO MANY great options for read-alouds and there is absolutely no way we can get to all of them! Right now, I’m reading 3 different chapter books aloud to my children. Abby is reading her own chapter book (and frequently requests to read chapters aloud to the rest of us) and I have 2 books going on my own. Not to mention the picture books we read before Emmalyn and Eli’s nap times. It is overwhelming, but in the best way. We are so fortunate to have so much great literature at our fingertips. I know I can’t get to every single great “classic”, so I’m not going to make that a goal. It would turn into a list I felt I had to follow and I’d stop re-evaluating and being flexible with our reading time in lieu of checking books off a list, and I don’t want that to happen! So I just want to read aloud as often as possible and make sure we are never without some interesting book to immerse ourselves in!IMG_20180812_191552991
  7. Pray always. This is another continuous “goal for life” that almost goes without saying. But sometimes it doesn’t, so I wanted to make sure I did. 😉 (Did you get that?) I want to make sure my plans align with God’s plans for my family and our schooling, so I need to stay connected with him. And while it’s easy to remember to turn to Him for the big things, sometimes I overlook the little things that could easily turn into big things if I don’t give them to God first.
  8. Get enough rest. I’m talking about me, here. I’m useless to the children I’m supposed to be caring for and teaching if I’m staying up too late planning, reading, or watching TV and not getting enough sleep. Even though I’ve always known I needed it, this has never been easy for me. So I’m making it a goal to make sleep a priority.
  9. Put the phone away. I have seriously cut back on screens for myself and my kids lately. It’s usually not that hard to do when the weather is nice. But specifically, I haven’t had Facebook on my phone in months and I really limit my log-ons these days. I love it. Days that I don’t go on Facebook at all are the best days. And take a look at goal number 6! How do you think we have time to read all those books? We’ve also been playing a lot more board games lately, which we love. But my phone can still be a hindrance to school time if I’m texting a friend, checking email, or hopping on Instagram. And since I no longer need it for work purposes throughout the day, it goes in the bedroom behind a closed door during school. We have enough distractions with the little ones running around, I don’t need to add to them myself.
  10. Take regular “field trips.” This year we’re studying U.S. History in 2nd grade and I feel so fortunate to live in New England during this time! Such small states so close together, and lots of American history right in our own backyard! So this is a more year-specific goal, but I want to take full advantage of our flexible schedule and prime location. I’m excited for a great school year!

Pictures from our lake day on what would’ve been our first day of school. So glad we opted for flexibility! 🙂

I’m so glad she’s developed such a strong love of reading!

1st Grade Author Study: Patricia Polacco

I adore Patricia Polacco’s books! I think the first one I every read (as an adult, anyway) was Thunder Cake. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to read it to my children and then actually go through the process of making the cake ourselves. There are many things I love about homeschooling, but one of the biggest is that my kids and I get to experience things (books, in particular) together. We are not limited by such tight schedules and other constraints. So when a book has a recipe included or a fun activity, we can make it!

With this author study, I wanted to focus on the journal aspect of the unit. Most of Polacco’s books are about her own life. This gave me the opportunity to really highlight the skill of “making connections” while reading. (Fellow teachers, this unit is a “Text-to-Self”, “Text-to-Text”, and “Text-to-World” paradise!) So rather than do cross-curricular activities or “cutesie” crafts with each book, we simply journaled about the stories after we read them. The reflections in my author study journals have always been the same. But in our past units, we have glossed over some of the questions or didn’t do a journal response to every book because I didn’t want to bog Abby down with the weight of them. But now we’re near the end of 1st grade and she’s capable of more mature thinking and her writing stamina has increased greatly!

Some of Polacco’s books deal with more serious situations and many of them are suitable for upper elementary students. (The Lemonade Club is a good read and about two characters struggling with cancer, Thank You, Mr. Falker deals with some severe bullying.) But I liked that Abby and I could talk about these topics through the lens of story plot and literature. Some of the books we read and enjoyed include: My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother, Chicken Sunday, The Lemonade Club, Babushka’s Doll, An “A” From Miss Keller, Thank You Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, and more! Here is the link to the printable author study journal I created: Polacco Author Study Journal Pages

Of course we made a “thunder cake” according to the recipe in the book, but there was no thunder when we made it, so it wasn’t genuine. Ha! Abby also has plans to make a “keeping quilt” with her Mimi–we’ve already picked out the photos for it! This was a fun study and Polacco’s unique, auto-biographical style brought a fresh perspective to the the collection of authors we’ve studied thus far.

If you want to take a look at any of the author studies we’ve done this year and get free printable downloads, click the links: Eric Carle, Laura Numeroff, Jan Brett, Dr. Seuss

Centers! First grade & preschool

These centers are for first grade and preschool. Here’s the breakdown week by week.

Week 1: PRESCHOOL–color-matching with pom-poms and plates, puzzles, and number matching with unifix cubes. GRADE 1–long-vowel sentence matching, addition matching with unifix cubes, and word building

Week 2: PRESCHOOL–shape-tracing with yarn, dot art (painting only using dots and the primary colors), and letter-matching with foam puzzles (not pictured). GRADE 1–puzzles, beginning sounds matching, and Roll the Dice (addition).

Week 3: PRESCHOOL–letter-matching garage (so fun for a boy who loves cars!), color-shape wheel (matching, and then coloring), number identification. GRADE 1–pattern animals, reading/writing words with and without a silent E, free art center.

Week 4: PRESCHOOL–cut and paste art center, rhyming sound matching, letter/word identification (He must use the letters in the envelope to create the word written on the outside of the envelope.) GRADE 1–Roll the Dice (addition), ending sound identification, rainbow writing sight words.

Week 5: PRESCHOOL–Pattern matching (with colored apples), “Broken Hearts” number matching (can you tell it’s close to Valentine’s Day?), ABC garage (not pictured this week). GRADE 1–Domino Addition (using the Roll the Dice page), word families (using hearts), Valentine’s Day paper (answer the question).

Week 6: PRESCHOOL–forming letters with play dough, cut and paste rhyming strip (not pictured), shape matching with paper bags. GRADE 1–sentence matching, fact families, and ABC order practice.

Week 7: PRESCHOOL–more rhyming strips, number matching, word building (without the writing). GRADE 1–counting by 5s & 10s, word building, sight word reading. *For Abby I did a “cowgirl” theme this week!  She had a cowgirl hat which she used for word building and then her sight words were written on cowgirl boots. Her “badge” said “deputy reader”! She loved it!

Week 8: PRESCHOOL–milk cap name (followed by working in his dry-erase maze book once he finished his name), rhyming sound matching, color and number matching. GRADE 1–sentence matching, Roll the Dice (subtraction, this time!), silent E work.

Week 9: PRESCHOOL--salt tray letters, identifying numbers (and counting) to 20.     GRADE 1–fact families with dice, “Wonder, Draw, & Tell” papers on weather (not pictured). Both kids had a craft center based on the book, “Mouse’s First Spring.” Originally, I wanted to do this book for the first week of spring, but the weather was not very spring-like so I waited to do it until April.

Week 10: EASTER WEEKEND! I wanted to use these egg centers for the week before so they could enjoy them the entire week leading up to Easter, but it didn’t work out that way. We don’t do centers EVERY Friday. Sometimes it gets pushed off because we’re busy or I’m really not feeling up to it (darn pregnancy nausea!). When that’s the case, they still have an abundance of independent activities to choose from during school week–they just tap into previous centers they’ve done. So fun egg centers got pushed off and we did them on Good Friday. They’ll continue to use these centers during the upcoming week after Easter.

PRESCHOOL–letter egg hunt (Noah had to find the letter eggs I hid all over the room and then match them up with the letters on the alphabet chart), make a turtle (working on gluing skills), play dough cookie cutters (motor skills).  GRADE 1–compound words, rhyming words, word families (all egg centers).


Week 11: PRESCHOOL–ABC Truck Match-Up! (Match the letters on the truck “tires”.), Rhyming Game, Practice Gluing. GRADE 1–Place Value Game (create random numbers from number grid using unified cubes to show tens and ones), SPACE-themed worksheets on word families, PLANET word families (ew, ow, -ead).


Week 12: PRESCHOOL–Pig in a Puddle (center on the letter “P” including sound matching, salt tray practice, and tracing), Clothespin Match (numbers), Search for Bugs (hunt, match, color). GRADE 1Wonder, Draw, & Tell worksheets on bugs, Roll the Dice (free choice–addition, subtraction, or fact families), digraph “Bird Watch” match-up. **I like doing some themed centers, like last week Abby had some space themed work, and this week both Abby and Noah had to search for some cards around the room. Noah had to look for matching bug cards and Abby had to look for the cards that matched her bird digraphs. She also had some bug-themed worksheets.