Family Read Aloud Time

It started a couple of years ago as a result of wanting to share a fun story with the kids. I guess I could really say that it started nearly a quarter century ago with my oldest child and our read aloud times, but snuggling up and reading a children’s book is not quite the same. No, definitely not the same. have journeyed to many far away places as well as places of long ago. We have witnessed romance during a time when a simple glance was considered highly romantic and when hearts pounded within one’s chest simply at the thought of receiving a letter from the one that they love. We have experienced true toil, the physically demanding labor of centuries ago – before modern technologies. We have been through battles, high seas, and horse drawn carriage rides. We have even walked alongside Jesus. Yes, we have experienced a lot in these last couple of years in our read aloud time.

Our children (11, 8 and 6) have had no difficulties in keeping up with the stories that we have read. Although the language is oftentimes different, teaching us unfamiliar words, we have established friendships with those that have lived before us.

It has been a highly beneficial experience for us all. Lives have been vastly different through the ages and what a tragedy to only know the life that we live in today.

Even in the most tired of times when I can hardly shuffle to their bedrooms to tuck them all in, one will most certainly remind me that I need to read just one chapter. Suddenly the energy surges among us all as we jump back in and walk alongside our new acquaintances and almost inevitably, one chapter turns into two, sometimes three or more.

There is nothing that can replace this family time that we share. It is unlike anything else. Sure, we can take in a marvelous movie and talk about it for days, but rarely does a movie lead us to feel as though we are living in that time. Rarely, with a movie, do we ponder the current upheaval of the story and wonder how our friends are going to make it through. Rarely do we walk away from a movie and apply the life lessons to our own daily lives. I wonder if it is because a movie is typically over in the blink of an eye and a several hundred page novel from a century ago takes us hours to walk through.

If you have not incorporated reading aloud time with your family, try it. Grab a simple story and purpose to read it through. You will be amazed at what transpires in your family time and the life lessons your children will take hold of without you ever having to tell them to.

Read, read, and read some more.

Creating a Masterpiece: A Review

When we first started homeschooling, we made sure to fit in all of the basic subjects that were necessary and expected, leaving little room for art. We simply could not have known, at that time, how important art would become in our homeschool. Our kids (1st, 2nd and 6th graders) have grown tremendously in their artistic abilities and overall interest in art over the last couple of years and were therefore ecstatic at the opportunity to review Creating a Masterpiece monthly plan.

Creating a Masterpiece is an online, subscription based, art instruction program. It is appropriate for most anyone that can hold a utensil and is capable of following basic verbal (or visual) instructions. Sharon Hofer, the instructor/artist, takes you through each project in a simple step by step process, literally enabling the creation of your very own masterpieces. Being online content makes it even more flexible, allowing a student to pause the instructions, go back and review a step, stop and resume at a later time or even complete a project multiple times.

The art co-op crew!

Projects are divided according to artistic levels from beginner through level 5. There is also an Art in History level, exploring classical techniques of particular time periods with lessons to create a project similar to those from that era. Projects overall are from a wide array of art mediums including, acrylic, batik, block printing, conte crayon, copper tooling, glass mosaic, gouache, ink, oil painting, oil pastel, pencil, charcoal, sculpture, silk painting, soft pastel, watercolor and wood burning! Subscriptions available to the these wonderful projects include unlimited access to all lessons available for either a monthly membership ($39.99 month) or an annual membership ($349 year). Also available is a full-year access to a single level, ranging between $119-199 depending on the level itself.

Prior to receiving access to the program, we decided to complete the sample project as a family. Our experience was memorable for several reasons. First of all, we have never done an art project as a family, having both mom and dad participate was a treat for us all. Secondly, it was a pleasure to see how we all followed the same instructions, yet made them uniquely our own, creating individual masterpieces. Lastly, it was reassuring to us all that although we are not all as naturally gifted as Bookworm Beauty is in the arts, we all have the ability to create beautiful work when given proper tools and instruction.

Sample Project (soft pastel on black pastel paper) Top from left to right; The Boy (6), The Dad, Sweetness (8). Bottom from left to right; The Mom, Bookworm Beauty (11)
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Bookworm Beauty (11): Floral Medley (watercolor) and African Sunset (watercolor)
Sweetness (8): Floral Medley (watercolor). Note***the painted hands in the picture are the result of an unrelated project

I believe that copyrite should always be honored and respected; so upon receiving access, I contacted support from the Create a Masterpiece website and requested the ability to use our access in our weekly homeschool art co-op, consisting of three families. We were granted permission to use Creating a Masterpiece in our group and the excitement level of our kids skyrocketed!

To date, we have completed two projects and have a third project that is near completion (it required more than one setting). Our first project was a Gouache technique, Granny’s Crabapples from the beginner level. This was our first experience using Gouache, which opened our novice art eyes to a whole new dimension. Nine kids, ranging from 4-13, participated. I am not sure if they had more fun creating their masterpiece or if us mom’s had more fun watching our kids become masterpiece creators!

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M (9) and Sweetness (8): Granny’s Crabapples (Gouache on matboard)
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R (11), Bookworm Beauty (11) and R (12): Granny’s Crabapples (Gouache on matboard)
Winter Cabin (Oil Pastel on velour paper): Top left to right: Sweetness (8), The Boy (6), R (11), and Bookworm Beauty (11). Bottom left to right: M (9), T (7), K (11), and R (12)

The oil pastel Winter Cabin was our second project completed. Eight of the nine students participated and once again had a wonderful time learning from Sharon. Her step by step instructions are thorough and her pleasant voice and demeanor are inviting. We stream our lessons through the computer, connected to the large screen television, allowing good visibility and sound for everyone. During our first lesson, Granny’s Crabapples, we found that the young artists would watch what Sharon was teaching and then immediately follow the steps without listening completely, and therefore missing valuable tips. We learned from that and took our time during our second project, watching the whole step one time through beforehand. Then we would replay the step while the young artists did their own work.

Our third project is an acrylic project from level 2, spring flowers. This was more detailed than we first imagined. We typically try to do projects that can be completed in a single setting and found that this one not only needed a second setting, but a third setting as well! We are not discouraged in the least, however as the work that is being created is simply beautiful!

It goes without saying that age, interest and natural artistic ability would play a large part in the outcome of any particular piece. However, our experience is that even our 4 year old participant is having a delightful time and is able to produce work that greatly resembles the project. Certainly her piece is different from the 12 year old’s, as should be expected, but she will only get better. More importantly, she is proud of her work.

At this time, I have found only one item that I believe could be improved upon. A basic supply list and color swatch is available with each project (there is also a downloadable supply list). We found that the initial basic list is not complete. Our artists were busy with their project when Sharon picked up a color that we did not have out and they were each frantic, looking for their black. Fortunately, we had the necessary colors on hand (because we have an abundance in supplies) but this could pose a problem for someone that purchases supplies for a specific project. With all of that said, however, we did not find anything omitted from the downloadable supply list. We now ignore the basic list under the project and instead keep the downloadable list close by. With the list and previewing the lesson, we are able to ensure that the supplies are accessible to each of our young artists.

Overall, our experience has been nothing short of amazing as Creating a Masterpiece has helped our students feel more like artists as they have created their very own masterpieces! Creating art that they are proud of is a joy to witness!

A Homeschool Yearbook?

One of Bookworm Beauty’s greatest treasures are her yearbooks from Kindergarten through 3rd grade when she attended both public and charter schools. She pulls these treasured items out every so often and shares her memories with Sweetness and The Boy. During 4th grade her and Sweetness (Kindergarten at the time) attended a homeschool enrichment charter program where they participated once weekly. They were both excited to receive a yearbook from that program as well.

Last year and this year, all of the kiddos have attended a new homeschool enrichment program, that unfortunately does not put together a yearbook. They are feeling the loss of not having their years documented in some sort of formal format.

This year, along with our closest homeschool buddies, the kids have been tasked with creating a yearbook. We have outlined one of our classes much like a high school yearbook class. The kids each have a different topic that they had an interest in covering. We are walking them through every step of the way as they gather info, upload photos, create storyboard layouts and then create them electronically. We are thrilled to know that this year, we will officially have yearbooks for our homeschool.

One of the most exciting things for us is to see how our whole year of schooling is documented from some of our favorite studies to our field trips and even science experiments! I am proud of the kids for taking this project on and anxiously awaiting the ability to sign a special note in each yearbook!

Kids in the Kitchen

I have allowed my kids in the kitchen from the very beginning, which literally meant that it often looked like it had rained tupperware lids and pans. As they got a bit older, they were often helping to measure ingredients, load the dishwasher or help cut vegetables. Those early days were the best. I loved the big misshapen chunks of cucumbers that were often found in our salads.

A quarter of a century later and I now have mini sous chefs that are apt to teach me a thing or two. I also have three left at home that are between 6 and 11 years old. Gone are the days of chunked cucumbers as our salads are beautifully presented when the kids help out.

It is such a joy to see their love of the kitchen.

I believe that the more time people spend in the kitchen, the more willing they are to experiment, be creative and even taste foods that they would not otherwise have tried.

I am going to try something new with my younger children. I have long appreciated the monthly meal planning and even the bulk freezer meals. At one time, myself, a friend, and several family members got together one Saturday every month and prepared 20+ meals each that were to be frozen. We did this for several months. We found that when we bought in bulk and prepared it all at once, not only did we save time but we also saved a LOT of money. Our meals typically ended up averaging $10-12 for a meal for six.

I miss those days. I miss going into the freezer and pulling out an already marinated and prepared roast or an enchilada dish or even a delightful soup. I now have two deep freezers that are filled to the brim and although I enjoy cooking, I do not always enjoy coming inside from working on a project and having to prepare dinner. While I like being able to grab something and throw it into the oven, I also dislike buying pre-made, packaged food – unless it’s pizza (smile).

I am thinking that it is time to introduce the younger children to a once a month cooking program. I’m thinking that they, along with their closest homeschooling friends, could pick a freezable meal each and we can walk them through preparing that meal for the freezer. If they do this alongside their friends, they will experience what all of us mothers have come to appreciate so much – fellowship in the kitchen! I can also imagine how delighted they will be when they get to pull out their meal from the freezer and pop it into the oven to serve to their family one night during the month.

Yes. I think we need to do this.

I will keep you posted.

Unleashing Creative Writing

Our students have really seemed to develop a little extra hop in their step when it comes to their writing, thanks to the Creative Freewriting Adventure and the Creative Freewriting Adventure Coloring Book Edition by Home School Adventure Co., which we have been reviewing.

The 61-page Creative Freewriting Adventure retails for $18.95 for the digital download version and $21.95 for the print version.  The Creative Freewriting Adventure Coloring Book Edition is basically the same book (less a few informational pages) with a coloring page for each of the ten writing prompts and retails for $21.95. We used the digital version of the Creative Freewriting Adventure Coloring Book Edition for our writing sessions, although the coloring pages were not always used as the kids occasionally chose to draw their own picture instead.

Over the years, teaching writing has been my greatest struggle as a homeschooling parent. I have been focusing more energy and instruction on writing through great resources like Creative Freewriting Adventure and have been amazed to see how much the kids’ writing skills have improved. Although the kids’ writing skills have improved greatly with our increased focus on writing, they had not shown any real excitement for it. That is until our discovery of Creative Freewriting Adventure. Our first day using the product was literally an opinion altering experience for all three of the kids. That session started with several ho-hums and a few sloth impersonations as they gathered their pencils and sat at the table. Their body language spoke volumes to me and made me wish I was not selected to review this product. I gave them a short pep talk and reminded them that this product is fairly short and that I needed them to put at least a fair amount of effort into it so that we could give it an honest review. There was no evidence of any change in their body language as they agreed to participate and give it their best.

I followed the process as outlined in the booklet. I read the brief story excerpt, set the timer for 15 minutes and allowed them to finish the story their own way. As I finished the excerpt and looked up at the kids, I saw that Bookworm Beauty (11) and Sweetness (8) were no longer resting their heads on their fists but rather holding pencils and looking into the distance as if deep in thought.  I set the timer and then asked The Boy (6) to join me in the family room so that he could narrate his story to me without distracting the girls. The moment we sat down to write, he began his story and rarely stopped talking during the entire writing time.

During the 15-minute writing time, Sweetness asked if we had to stop when the timer went off. She was worried that she would not have adequate time to finish her already 3-page story! I told her that since this was our first time doing this exercise that I would let them finish their writing after the timer went off, but I did not want them to spend too much time on it as we had other things to work on. Bookworm Beauty let out a sigh of relief and then asked if she would be able to find a place to stop in her story and then pick up from there to write more the next day. I was nearly speechless. This was meant to be a simple 15-minute creative writing exercise and my kids were not wanting to stop.

The next day was one of those go-at-your-own-pace kind of homeschooling days. We seem to have days once in a while where things did not get planned as well as we like and the kids get to be in control of their own day. They typically grab the books that they want to work on and do a few assignments. Writing is rarely, if ever, selected. Not only was Creative Freewriting Adventure selected that day, it is what they wanted to start with and they asked if they could do it without the timer.

We are nearly finished with the ten writing assignments in the Creative Freewriting Adventure. When Sweetness asked if Home School Adventure Co. had additional books, Bookworm Beauty suggested that we just grab a book from our own library and open up to a random spot and read a short section, leaving off at a cliff hanger of course.

I can not express how delighted I am to see the changes in our kids’ attitudes towards writing. Becoming a good writer does not typically just happen. It develops as a result of writing. The more someone writes, the more their skills and creativity develops. Creative Freewriting Adventure is the resource that literally unlocked my children’s interest in writing.

Home School Adventure Co. has made true on their promise… No prep required. Just grab a pen and paper, set a timer, and have fun! It was that simple for us and our kids are really having a lot of fun!

Time to Celebrate!

We take every opportunity possible to celebrate the many accomplishments made in our homeschool. Some are small, like The Boy finally writing his o’s and a’s properly – starting at the top and moving counter-clockwise around; and some are a bit bigger like Sweetness successfully reading her first chapter book. Then we have the more significant such as Bookworm Beauty mastering the computer keyboard and able to fully type without looking. Then, there are the monumental milestones that are worth confetti, balloons, high-fives and sometimes a full on party.

This is one of those moments.

As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking at ways of doing things more efficiently or better than the way that we are doing them. Sometimes we feel a curriculum will be a perfect fit, only to get partially through it and realizing that it is lacking in one way or another and we search for another program and make a switch. There are times that we finally find the right fit and jump in with both feet and we start the journey through the curriculum, hoping that nothing will derail us from crossing the finish line.

Last week we completed our Astronomy program through Apologia!

Let me tell you why this is monumental. I already mentioned the times that we make a switch midway because we find something else that will be a better fit for our homeschool. There are also the times, which happen most often, when we fully intend from the onset to cover only certain portions of a program for a variety of reasons. It is for these reasons that we rarely complete an entire curriculum from beginning to end.

There is something just so satisfying about this accomplishment and even more satisfying about completing the program is that the kids have learned A LOT!

We have cracked open our new science program, Human Anatomy and Physiology and are still riding the wave of excitement from completing Astronomy as we jump in with both feet. I look forward to sharing our completion of this program as well, but I’m sure it will be a while before that happens!

Am I the only one that feels this overwhelming sense of accomplishment when completing a homeschool program in its entirety?


Pennsylvania ~ Here we Come: A Review

“19 out of 20 Christian parents and grandparents do not talk to their

children about God and spiritual truths in their daily lives”

This quote literally changed Joy Budensiek’s life. Joy has spent her life teaching at various levels as well as serving and sharing the love of Christ. When she heard this statistic she asked several of her college students about their growing up experiences. Many of them confirmed that although they were raised in Christian homes and attended church, VBS, camps, and other things, they did not have many memories about being talked to about God in their every day lives. Stunned, Joy – through God’s guidance – set out on a mission to share a biblical world view to children by authoring a children’s book series she would call the By the Way Book Series.

Her goal is to educate children – and adults – on the history, culture and natural habitats of each of the 50 states in America through a biblical world view. Also included in the series will be various regions as well as a few countries. It is her hope that through following a journey of young children as they explore the state, region or country that she can enlighten others to the presence of God around them and how He speaks to mankind through His creation.

The Series

The By the Way Book Series currently includes: Pennsylvania ~ Here We Come, Ohio ~ Here We Come, Colorado ~ Here We Come, Washington ~ Here We Come, Smoky Mountains ~ Here We Come and Florida’s Treasure Coast ~ Here We Come, each retailing for $14.99. Additional books coming soon include: Ireland, Indiana, New York and Idaho. Supplemental products (sold separately)  that are designed specifically for each book, including a full color poster, 8 trading cards, activity book and a stuffed animal are also available.

Our Experience with Pennsylvania ~ Here we Come

Naturally, when I was selected to participate in this review, I had a strong desire for us to learn about Colorado, where we live. My second choice was Pennsylvania, an area that I have never visited and one of the focal points of our homeschool this year as we continue our early American History studies. I got my second choice and have not been let down in the least. I fully expected that this book would be a typical fact-based book, filled with random facts throughout, but where it is hard to actually learn anything substantial because of the lack of framework tying anything together. However, this  book proved to be anything of the sort and was unlike any other fact-based books that we have perused over the years. I was delighted to see the story line of two young children that shared their journey throughout the state.

The book itself is a nice sized hardback children’s book that is small enough to tote around and fit on most bookshelves, yet large enough to enjoy the many colorful photos. We decided to read this 49 page book during our history studies as a supplement. We ended up spending the better part of a whole afternoon as the kids were engaged in the story and wanted to find out what was happening next! The next few days was spent recovering from an illness, which prevented me from reading the book to them. I guess they were not happy with that thought because one afternoon I found them snuggled together under The Boy’s loft bed with Bookworm Beauty reading the story aloud. This was a melt-my-heart-homeschool-moment. They even brought it in the truck with us that same afternoon when I had an errand to run, but did not start reading it aloud until after they filled me in on the details and Pennsylvania facts that I had missed out on.

The facts shared are stated in a memorable fashion, so much so that my children (ages 8, 6 and 11) are recalling them and discussing them at different times. We have learned about many standard state facts such as the state bird, but also about the Appalachian Trail, the Gettysburg battle, Punxsutawney’s big day (Groundhog Day) and many historical facts. There is also information about waterways (including the Lake Effect snow formation), agriculture and native species. The kids’ favorite facts are about the 50 ton, 12 foot wide concrete cross erected in Jumonville and the introduction to geocaching, which has sparked a new interest in this household. The kids are wanting to learn more about geocaching, create their own and search for other local ones.

The real treasure in this book is not the local and historical facts of Pennsylvania but rather the way that God and His plan for mankind is woven throughout the story. Our household is the 1 out of 20 in the opening statistic of this post. We speak of God and include Him in our daily conversations. We found this book full of scripture, mixed with state facts, weaving together a beautiful tapestry of Pennsylvania. For those that may be struggling with finding ways to include God in their daily conversations, this book may be a great introduction of how to do so.

We hope to read all of the books in the By the Way Book Series as part of our homeschool studies in the years to come. In the meantime, we will enjoy returning to the Pennsylvania ~ Here we Come book as a resource and are anxiously waiting for our  Colorado State book to arrive so that we can learn more about our beautiful state!