Homeschooling, technology

Innovative Education:  Let’s talk Lessons

Math.  English.  History.  Science.  Fine Arts.

Most adults are familiar with school lessons.  Common Core curriculum .  Bells ring and classes begin.  Subjects are divided up into 50-90 minute classes and coursework is determined by “the powers that be”.   Teachers can vary the methodology and some of the topics, but in general the curriculum is standard across a school system or state.

So what exactly do your lessons look like when you homeschool?

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This year we are going to take a look at the election process in the United States instead of continuing with our traditional history path.   I purchased a book to guide us through using our amazing microscope and I am going to call it “science class”.  Math this year revolves around various workbooks, but there are plans to ditch them occasionally and explore the beauty of numbers. One child will take classes from a professional illustrator while another is considering a course on inventions.

Of course, the homeschool family down the street is probably studying very different things, even with children of the same ages. Perhaps they’ve been captiLet's Talk Lessonsvated by the Salem Witch Trials while studying Colonial America and have veered into a month long exploration of witchcraft in early America.  Science may consist of regular nature walks, participation in the nature pal exchange, and reading informative nature guides. Their children might be taking a digital photography course and maybe they are learning to speak Latin this year.

Another family is spending this semester in the kitchen. They found a book focused on kitchen chemistry to use for science. Mom includes them in breakfast baking and takes time to work in all sorts of math very naturally. Television cooking shows become a staple for fun and discussion. Little ones are learning to read as they help with recipes. Older students challenge themselves with a french cooking guide. And they’ll end the semester with their own cupcake wars.  No one in the house feels like they are doing school, but their mom isn’t fooled. She knows how much they are learning.

Of course, all of this diversity can make it difficult to explain a “typical” homeschool year to inquiring minds.  But the beauty of being a educational innovator in a homeschool environment is being aware that life offers a wide variety of lessons and they don’t always fit into the typical school model.

Let’s resist the pressure to make them fit.


Educational innovators are willing to try new things when it comes to lessons and teaching.   They know that no two homeschools need to look the same and they definitely don’t need to look like the public schools.  Innovators are willing to experiment to create the best homeschooling environment for their family.

Note:  Every state in the US has their own guidelines for homeschoolers.  While I encourage innovation, I encourage you to be aware of the laws in your home state (or country) and to obey them.   In addition, I am throwing out all sorts of ideas, but I fully recognize that we all have different personalities, goals and desires for our families.  Some of us have less flexibility as online schools are working well for our crew while other homeschoolers aren’t commited anywhere.  Take what works here for YOUR situation and enjoy the freedom to play around with the options.

1. Schedules.

School systems use a 6.5 hour day and divide it into segments for various courses. When one course ends, the other begins. Learning happens in very segmented boxes.  Teachers stand in the front of the room and students must comply with requirements.  Textbooks are used.  Timelines are followed.  Every class is kept on the same basic path through the school year.

Homeschoolers don’t have to follow this path.  Don’t be fooled into the need for following the traditional mold. Feel free to break out of it and try something new.

IMG_4955Perhaps you want to assign a different subject to different days? Dig in deep once a week instead of spreading it out. Experiment with it and see what works.   Don’t want to separate the subjects?  Try out a unit study.  See how it feels to make conections across the curriculum without forcing false separations.

Maybe you want to adopt the idea of semester scheduling?  You don’t have to do it for every subject, though you can.  For two years we studied science from Sept – mid-January and then we studied history from mid-January – May. We were able to focus on each topic in a deeper way.  It won’t work for us this year, but we enjoyed it in the past.

Heard of a looping schedule? We are so excited to implement this year. It makes so much sense to me and it is definitely out of the traditional box.  We will implement a loop for my younger three students and another one for our time when everyone is home together.  I love the idea that I won’t feel “behind” because we missed something on Wednesday, but I can rest in the knowledge that we will just pick up where we left off the next time we meet.

There is no rule that says you have to begin school by 8 AM.  If you are  a family of night owls, feel free to sleep in.  Do not believe the myth that this means your kids won’t be able to get up for a job when they need to.  Money is an excellent motivator and they’ll work it out.

Make your homeschool schedule suit your family.  Allow variance.  Be creative.  And in the end adopt a plan that works for you.

2.  Atmosphere.

So many homeschoolers begin their journey by purchasing desks and white boards and recreating the school classroom. And it works for some families.  But if it doesn’t work for you, then dump it.

Resist the temptation to embrace the atmopshere of a school and attempt to infuse it into your home.  Instead, embrace the atmosphere of your HOME and infuse it into your school. 

lounging while learningWe sit around the dining room table for any formal lesson time and often for group work.  You can find us lounging on the floor for literature, usually with kids coloring while I read aloud.  Books trickle into the hallway, science experiements spread across the kitchen table, and the writing process often spews in fits and starts all around the house.  We’ve been known to bring sleeping bags onto the deck while completing math pages.

Feel free to vary the location of “school” and change it up from time to time.  If you have teenagers in the house, then Starbucks is a great location change!

Hungry?  Then eat! This isn’t school.  You don’t have to wait until lunchtime.  Children learn better when their stomachs aren’t growling.  Dirty house bothering you?  Have a 15 minute pick up before you begin math.  Moms usually teach better when they aren’t feeling grouchy learning atmosphereabout mess.  Feeling restless?  Take a group walk around the block.  Then come back refreshed and read to tackle some formal lessons again.

Embrace an atmosphere that instills of love of learning and brings joy.  This will look different in every house.  Embrace the beauty that is your family.  Find your flow and don’t worry if it doesn’t look anything like the rows of desks in a classroom.

And include brownies.  Always include brownies.

3.  Subjects.

We are familiar with  the standard subjects included in the school system.  In many states there are requirements to include these subjects in our homeschools, but within those subjects most of us have a huge amount of play.  Embrace it!

Take a good look at your kids.  What interests them?  A certain time period in history?  A particular scientific process?  A certain genre of books?  Include it.  In fact, make it an integral part of their learning.  Give them a chance to teach you something that they know and love!

Take inventory of what YOU know.  Are you a professional or amatuer photographer?  Bring that to the table and teach your kids!  Are you a whiz in the kitchen?  Make that part of the school routine and make lunch with your kids.  Are you a mom blogger?  Help your kids set up their own blogs and teach them the basics.  I’ve been enjoying some basic graphic design and photo editing using canva and picmonkey.  You can bet my kids are going to be shown some of the basics to see if any sparks of interest fly!  (Note: Your kids might not enjoy learning what you know.  Don’t push it.  Give them a taste of what you love, but let it go if they resist.)

learning togetherTackle subjects as a whole family unit.  Unlike the school system, you don’t have to break everything into particular grade levels.  All second graders don’t have to study colonial history while fifth graders study the Civil War.  Bring the entire family along as you study and modify books and assignments for the various ages in your home.  We have found this to be an enjoyable and effective approach with both science and history.

Follow the rabbit trails.  You aren’t on a timeline.  There is no beginning and end when it comes to real learning.  Learning is going on all of the time as your children grow up.  Sometimes you are directing it, other times you are merely a guide, and still other times you join in as the student.  Allow your homeschool to vere “off course” occasionally and see where child-led enthusiasm might take you.

Include non-traditional subjects that engage your students.  Fashion Design.  Computer Coding.  Animation.  Inventions.  Culinary Arts.  Each of these subjects counts as learning and might be just what a child in your house needs to spark their curiosity.  Don’t treat these subjects as the “fun stuff” you can only do when your “school” is finished.  Recognize the incredible amount of learning going on in these courses and make them a priority in your day.

Educational innovators know to embrace inspiration and include courses of the 21st century.

4.  Teaching.

I often hear concerns about how I will teach subjects that I am not a trained expert in. What about spanish?  Engineering?  Chemistry?  How on earth will I teach topics to my kids when I am not fluent in them?

This is one reason I love the 21st century.  You do not have to be an expert, but at the touch of a keypad, you can invite an expert into your home on just about anything.

Enter: YouTube.  

YouTube has come into our lives and our homeschools will never be the same.  We can have crash courses in all sorts of topics (thank you John Green).  We can find channels dedicated to science that will blow our kids minds!  Our kids can learn to love numbers on YouTube.  The possibilities are truly endless

My kids have learned how to create videos, make sock monkeys, organize their school books, YouTube learningmake a minecraft video, do kitchen experiments, and more without me having to speak a word.  We have experimented with knitting and cooking on YouTube and most recently one child was looking up videos on working through anxiety.

Now I know that as responsible parents we have to monitor this wide world of YouTube. I encourage you to do so!  But as best as you can in your family, find a way for your kids to access all that is available to them through the “experts” on YouTube.  Many bloggers have put together lists of educational channels, so take some time to find your favorites and incorporate them into your routines.

What works for us?  We typically watch YouTube through our TV so that it is easy for me to monitor.  Or my kids find me to ask about searching YouTube and I can make sure I am present in the room with them.

Of course, there are also online classes available from a variety of schools, curriculum distributors, local programs and more!  I just love the instant help we get from YouTube and you can’t be the cost (free).  

Khan Academy is another great “online teacher” that is free to access.  There are all sorts of subjects from math to art history.  We are participating in our first class this year and I am interested to see how it goes.  Brave Writer offers writing courses online.  There are a ton at Techie Homeschool Mom.  And our crew is going to try a video led art course.

In the 21st century, homeschool innovators know that they can’t possibly be the expert on everything in our rapidly changing society.  But they know the experts are out there and they invite them into their homes.

In the end, remember that your homeschool can be as unique as your family.  Let your individuality impact the lessons you teach, the way you teach them, and the atmosphere you create.

How have you embraced innovation when it comes to lessons?  What are you attempting this year?

This is day four of a five part series on Innovative Homeschooling.  All five days can be found on the main page.

Homeschooling, technology

Innovative Homeschooling: Let’s Talk Languages

Latin.  Spanish.  French.  German.

There is no doubt that foreign language is a valuable part of a well rounded education. Most homeschooling parents include a foreign language as part of the child’s education regardless of their ability to speak it.

C.  Python.  C++.  HTML.  Java.

What about these languages?   Have you considered any sort of computer programming languages to your core curriculum?

Innovative Homeschooling: Lets Talk Languages

Let’s face it computer programming is going to be a basic literacy of the 21st century and beyond.  We are growing more and more dependent on technology and these languages help us understand the logic and science that controls the techology.

It might feel scary or overwhelming to homeschooling parents because the many computer languages are unfamiliar to many in our generation.

But we are innovative homeschooling parents.  We got this.  We know we don’t have to speak the languages to find the resources, classes, and support for our children to learn the languages.  Though, I suggest that parents learn right alongside their kids when they are able!

NOTE:  There is no “one right way” to go about teaching computer programming and coding skills.  Experts in the field debate various approaches (games to build logic vs. getting to the actual programming languages).  It is my intention to share some ideas and resources so that you can pick through and find the ones best suitted to your family.

So where do we start?  What is out there?

1. Start With What You Know.
Do you have a personal or business blog?  If so, you have possibly learned some basic HTML.  Perhaps you fiddle around in the HTML viewing screen or you edit the CSS. You might be familiar with tags, such as <em> and <h3> that dictate the appearance of the post on your blog.   Start with what you know and transfer that knowledge to your kids.

Help your kids create their own blogs, which are free through blogger and can remain private if you wish.  Help them mess around with the code so they can immediately see how it changes the visual text.  Teach them to close tags and how to find the problem when something doesn’t look quite right.

And if you haven’t messed around with basic html coding, then start your own free blog and feel free to play around.  You can even use an HTML cheat sheet!  (This one and more on my Teaching Tech Pinterest Board.)

Teach Coding Using Games2.  Use Games to Teach Coding Concepts
There are plenty of games that teach basic foundational skills for coding.  Let your kids try some out, especially your younger children!  (The older kids might be ready for #3 – learning computer languages)

Bee-bot is perfect for 4-7 year olds. Check out this free app for kids available on iTunes and watch your little ones go!

Scratch Jr. and Scratch.  Check out the apps and the desktop sites.

Lightbot Jr.(4-8) and Lightbot (9+).  Both were free on the desktop site.  There are also apps available for the skill building games.

The Foos is geared for kids ages 5-10 to help them program mini games with delightful characters.

SpaceChem is for your older set (ages 10+) and promises to challenge even high schoolers. It isn’t free, but might engage your older kids in a challenging and fun way to learn coding skills.

Hour of Code is available with games that use drag and drop blocks of code to complete a series of events. All of my kids have been able to participate! There are plenty of partnering sites listed where you can go to learn more.

Tynker is not a free website, but for a monthly subscription fee there is a lot offered here!

Code Monkey Island

This boardgame is the result of a successful kickstarter project. In order to play, kids will have to learn programming concepts such as looping, booleans, and conditional statements. This little gem was just added to my wishlist!

Learn coding langauages for Kids3.  Learn Computer Languages Online

The following websites will teach your children to write code.  These sites are geared toward 10 years old and up, though my almost 9 year old was determined to work it out!  You might need to help younger kids with the spelling and math required.

Kahn Academy is one of the first websites that comes to mind.  Classes in Java Script and HTML are completely free.

My kids learned quite a bit of Java Script last year and enjoyed the challenges built into the lessons.

Code Combat is another free website for teachers and students. This site is recommended for kids aged 13 and up because this site involves typing actual lines of code in order to play the game. Younger children may need help or supervision to successfully play.

Codecademy is another free online site for students to learn programming languages. I think this is the one I am going to register for and complete their courses. Yes, even parents should learn alongside their kids. Go for it!

Youth Digital offers plenty of courses, including one to teach your kids to code their own minecraft mod using Javascript. We have this course on our wishlist once my son, David, is closer to 13 and can get the most out of it. The courses aren’t cheap, but they are highly recommended.  (Right now the Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a deal!)

Feeling overwhelmed?  I know.  There is a lot out there and I have only scratched the surface.  Just take this one step at a time.  Pick one site or game and include it in your school routine.  Give it some time and see if it is the right fit for you and your student.  Remember that we don’t have to use all of the great stuff available.

If you are interested in finding more resources, you can check out my Pinterest Board: Teaching Tech where I am pinning a ton of Technology websites and resources.

Let’s give this innovative homeschooling a shot and include a different type of foreign language this year:  Computer Programming.

Do you teach computer programming in your homeschool?  What tools have you found effective?

Brave Writer, Homeschooling, Literature

Innovative Homeschooling: Let’s Talk Literature

Homeschooling parents love literature lists.  love.  love.  love.

Lets talk literatureQuality literature is an important part of our homeschools.  Historical fiction.  Classics.  Biographies.  Non-fiction.  The list goes on. and on.  and on.  Till we finally narrow down the titles we will attack for the school year.

And as we sift through our literature options, I’d like to offer a few thoughts to encourage homeschooling parents to embrace the role of an innovator when it comes to literature.

1. Adjust the Assigned Literature List
There.  I said it.

You may read books for your homeschool that aren’t on your chosen curriculum list.  As if you need my permisson. But just in case you do, you have it.  And if your list is already too jam packed to add anything, then you have permission to eliminate one of the titles on it.

The thing about homeschooling is that you are the teacher and while homeschooling parents spend a lot of time choosing curriculum that works for their family, you don’t HAVE to stick to the book list. You can make some changes as you see fit.

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Whichs leads me to my next point…

2. Include Modern Literature.  
I have to be honest here. I have been around the homeschool block a few times, and some literature lists leave me wondering what century we are in.

Don’t get me wrong, I Updating Your Literature Listam all for reading a good classic. Truly. Little Women and the Diary of Anne Frank were on our list last year. Mark Twain. Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. Timeless classics written by these authors should be included on our literature lists, but let’s not stick to only the literary worlds of the past.

If your school book list this year doesn’t include any books published in the 21st century, then modify the list a little bit. Take a detour for a few weeks or replace a classic title with a more current one.

Of course, this is one reason we are fans of the Brave Writer Arrow and Boomerang yearly literature guides. Julie Bogart of Brave Writer always does a fantastic job of mixing in some classics with modern titles. But it isn’t hard to find great book lists. They are all over the internet and readily available at your local library.

If you are stuck and need some title inspiration, you can check out the full list of modern book titles we have enjoyed in our homeschool which have been published after 2000. But here are a few favorites:

Once you have embraced your roles as the homeschooling innovator that you are, it is time to move on to the next step…

3. Embrace the Comic Book and Graphic Novel.
These two types of literature tell stories through a combination of illustrations and words though they aren’t exactly the same.  Comic books are typically periodicals that tell an ongoing story over time.  They are released monthly and are typically held together with staples in the spine.  Graphic novels read more like books and tell one fully developed story from beginning to end.  They are published in book format with hardcover and paperback bindings.  You can read more about the differences here.

Innovators in literature know the value of comic books and graphic novels.

Updating Literature for your HomeschoolAstonishing vocabulary development.  Less intimidating to reluctant readers.  Beautiful graphics.  Concise language usage.  Linking images to text.  This is powerful stuff.

Graphic novels, specifically, can be a powerful force in your homeschool. Just ask some of the experts…

“Visual literacy is the reading of text and images in conjunction, and requires traditional reading skills as well as ability to read frames, gutters, speech bubbles, and other graphic novel features (Monnin, 2010).  Students need access and interaction with both print and visual literacy in order to be best prepared for the demands of the 21st century.  Both literacies require interpretation, negotiation, and meaning making from readers, which in turn supports student ability to interpret the world.  Graphic novels provide the ideal vehicle for both print and visual literacy skill to be developed in the classroom (Gillenwater, 2009). ” – essay from Getting Graphic (full article found here)

Let’s bring the power of visual literacy to all of our students as we usher them into the 21st century!

I encourage you to encorporate at least one graphic novel title in your studies this year.  In addtion, keep a few around the house for your kids to read.  It is easy to find ones linked to historical events to reinforce what you are studying in a whole new way.

NOTE:  Keep in mind that graphic novels can be…well…graphic.  Research titles using Common Sense Media and other helpful sites to make sure the graphic content is appropriate for your children.  There are plenty of titles for all ages, so I know you will find one that suits your family!

You can browse the graphic novels our family has read or plans to read this year. (click the category you’d like to browse on the right-hand side)

But here are a few favorites to get you started:

The first time you read a graphic novel to your kids, it might feel a bit weird. Take your time and enjoy the graphics while you read the words. Everyone will adjust and I suspect you might enjoy it. But even if you don’t, it might hook your kids!

As for comic books.  I love them.  All types.  But our absolute favorite and astonishingly educational comic books are the Calvin and Hobbes series by Bill Waterson.  Calvin has taught my children humor, idioms, puns and pretty big vocabulary words. The ones from my own childhood are practically falling apart now so we keep adding to our collection.

When it comes to your literature studies this year, what innovations are you going to try?  What are you already doing?

This post is Day Two of a series, “Five Days of Innovative Homeschooling“.  All five posts will be displayed on the main page.

(NotBefore7 is a Brave Writer Ambassador and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Five Days of Innovative Homeschooling

It’s true.

I believe that homeschool parents have the potential to be counted among the most creative minds in the field of education.  We are the innovators who can bring education into the 21st century by paying attention to what the research is telling us, accessing what technology is available to us and creatively ushering our homeschools into the times in which we live.A 5 day post series on innovative homeschooling ideas.

It is time to rethink our educational philosophies and decide what is really working and what might need to change.  It is time to practice innovative homeschooling.

This doesn’t mean we should throw everything out or re-invent all of the wheels that have worked in the past.

Of course not.

There is a lot of knowledge to be gained from those who have gone before us and much value to be learned from what has worked in the past.

But we should not discount our experience of life in 2016 by strictly following educational guidelines and theories from the last century without any updates.

Join me this week for five days of inspiration and practical thoughts about innovative homeschooling!  The links will appear below as each one is published. Click on the title or on the picture to be taken directly to the post.

Day One – The Unique Power of a Homeschool Parent
Day Two – Innovative Homeschooling: Let’s Talk Literature
Day Three – Innovative Homeschooling: Let’s Talk Languages (Coding)
Day Four – Innovative Homeschooling: Let’s Talk Lessons

Innovation. The unique power of a Homeschool Parent.Lets talk literature Learn coding langauages for KidsLet's Talk Lessons

iHomeschool Network 5 Day Hopscotch.
These posts are part of the iHomeschool Network 5 Day Hopscotch series.

Stop by the iHomeschool Network and find more topics that are “hopping” this week!

Brave Writer, Homeschooling, Literature

Using the Brave Writer Arrow Guides

This is our third year using the Brave Writer Arrow Literature Guides.  And we love them.  In fact our family has adopted them as the core language arts program in our homeschool.

Using the Brave Writer Arrow Guides

What exactly are the Brave Writer Arrow Guides?

They are 3rd-6th grade book specific literature guides designed for parents to guide their students through four weeks of language arts activities.  The Arrow Guide includes weekly copywork/dictations passages alongside notes about the passage incorporating grammar, spelling, punctuation and literary style.  A specific literary element is focused on in each guides as well.  The most recent guides (2016-2017 school year and beyond) also include “Big Juicy Questions” to foster discussion with your students.

Arrow Guides can be purchased individually by title or parents can purchase a year long subscription for 10 guides and receive them once a month from August through May.  This will be our third year using the annual subscription.  In addition, we purchased the Quiver of Arrows one year for my younger set of students.  The Quiver is designed with titles in mind for 1st-2nd graders.

Do you read the book first, during, or after you begin the activities in the guide?

We always begin the book before we start the guide, even if we have to put off our Monday morning copywork plan for a day. It is important to have read at least through the copywork passage for the week. The first week’s passage is typically in the first chapter or two, so it isn’t hard to get to that point.

Once we start the guide, we just read a little each day and move at a pace comfortable to us that keeps us ahead of the weekly passages. Sometimes we finish the entire book by week 2 in the guide. Other times we have to read extra amounts of time to get caught up by week four.

Regardless of when we finish the book, we work through the guide in four weeks, completely one guide a month.

How do you break down the guide each week?
We are trying something different this year using loop scheduling (see below)  In the past, this is how an “ideal” week has looked:

(If it is week 1, you will want to begin your day by reading a few chapters or kick off the book over the weekend so you are ready for the copywork passage.)

I typically have the copywork passage written on my dry erase board.  If it is too long, I make copies to hand to each of my children.  We read and discuss the spelling and grammar in the passage based on the notes provided in the guide.  I let the kids mark up the passage on the dry erase board or the photocopied page.

I might ask them to circle all of the capital letters and then tell me why it is capitalized.  We might underline our favorite verb or dig for some colorful adjectives.  I pull ideas from the guide and make them up as I go along.

How we do copywork.

Then my kids begin copying the passage in their copywork notebooks. My younger children simply copy the passage under my writing because I write it on every other line of their notebooks the day before.  My older children copy it from the guide. I had no idea how difficult it was for some kids to copy it from the guide, so I am happy to write it in their notebooks the day before if they prefer it. I usually write it in there when they are doing independent work and just need me present to ask questions.

My kids finish the copywork passage or complete more of it as they are able.

IF this is a good day for discussion, we finish the rest of the notes provided in the guide about literary element. We also revisit grammar and/or spelling as needed.

If today is a bit crazy, then I put off our discussion until tomorrow.

Typically my kids finish the copying the  passage today and we finish up any discussion left in the guide.

Thursday and Friday
If we had an ideal week, then we can use these days to complete a dictation activity during our “Arrow” time or just enjoy the fruits of our labor and read a little more of the book each day.

 A concrete poem activity from our Brave Writer Arrow Guide.
A concrete poem activity from our Brave Writer Arrow Guide.

I like to leave the end of the week open because on a typical week, we miss some of our Mon-Wed plans and have to catch up.

Thursday and Friday are ideal times to work a little on the literary element activity included in week 4. We typically do this on week 4, but sometimes it has been appropriate to start earlier. These days are also good ones to work on any Brave Writer writing projects that we have chosen for the month.

What about the Big Juicy Questions now found in the guide?
We will use them throughout the book. I will keep an eye on them and ask the appropriate ones as we hit that chapter or section. I will not have the kids write answers out to these questions as a group. I might work on partnering with my 6th grader to help her form a complete, written answer to one question for each book.

Is that the only spelling and grammar your kids complete?

While I think copywork is an extremely effective way to teach both, I typically supplement the guides.

My middle two children need a lot of spelling help, so they each have a formal spelling program that we use.

We have dabbled in all sorts of grammar programs, though nothing very intense. We have read through most of First Language Lessons Levels 1 and 2 together to memorize the definitions of important grammar terms. This year, I ordered grade level Evan Moore Grammar and Punctuation guides for the kids to complete 2-3 times a week when our Arrow activities are light.

How does it work with multiple grade levels?
The first year my 3rd and 5th graders worked in the Arrow Guides while my 1st grader and 4 year old simply listened to the books.

The second year my 6th grader completed the Arrow Guides while my 4th and 2nd graders worked through The Quiver of Arrows.

The third year my 7th grader worked through the Boomrang Guides (7th-10th grade) while my 5th and 3rd graders worked in the Arrow Guides.  My 1st grader listened along to the Arrow Book.

This fourth year my 8th grader will work through the current Boomerang subscription.  My 6th, 4th, and 2nd grader will work through the current Arrow Guides.  My 2nd grader will only do what he is able to do in our discussions.  He has a handwriting book and probably won’t do the copywork.

One final thought about how we are changing things up this year.
This year I am not going to assign certain days for specific Arrow work. Instead, I am going to work through a loop schedule when I have my younger three kids for an hour.

Our 1-1.5 hours together will always begin with me reading our Arrow book title to them.  Then we will loop the following:

Arrow Lesson (copywork and/or discussion)
Grammar or Math fun (mad libs, songs, games)
Arrow Lesson
Memory Work (math fact songs, presidents, states, history sentences)

I suspect we will get to 2-3 things in the loop each day and we will pick up the next day where we left off.  Our Arrow lessons are listed twice to make sure we get to them more than once each week.

Have you tried the Brave Writer Arrow Guides? How does it look in your house?

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Favorite Faith Resources from My Personal Journey

The following post is a reflection of my personal journey and is not meant to make anyone feel defensive about their own beliefs.  Please know that I share these faith resources with great respect for every person and their personal journey with God.   By publishing this, I hope to provide resource suggestions for Christians who find themselves asking similar questions to myself.  I am not trying to influence people or change their minds with this post.

First, a little bit of background:  I was raised in an Evangelical Christian home and have never really waivered from my faith in God, Jesus, and the Bible.  In fact, theology and faith have always been of utmost importance to me.  Throughout my 20’s and 30’s, I pursued the development of my theology through reading and discussion.  Admittedly, I enjoy challenging my own thoughts and exploring various opinons on matters of faith.

Last year I began to research women’s issues through the lens of the bible.  Do wives have to submit to their husbands or should our marriage be more of a mutual submission?  Why do we (many evangelical and conservatives) support careers for women in all areas except in the area of church leadership?  As I began to read The Bible, I observed that the verses about submission in marriage were found in the same section as verses about slaves obeying their masters in the books of Ephesians, Colossians and I Peter.  Why?  How are these ideas connected in the bible and why do we only “obey” one of them in modern times?  

I began to find answers (this one in particular) that made sense to me and then I began ask more questions about women’s issues, violence in the old testament, and many more.  Thus began my current stage in my journey with God which continues to this day as I ask questions, seek answers, and then ask more questions.

Of course, my new conclusions are quite a change from my original stances.  My faith has evolved over many months to this new place and I struggled through this change immensely. It was difficult mentally and socially to feel very alone in my faith circles. I wasn’t sure who to talk with and how to process my new interpretations without making someone defend theirs.  It was not my intent to change someone else’s mind, but I felt passionate about my new conclusions and wanted to talk through them with others who were considering the same ideas.

Thankfully, my parents and 2 very close friends were walking through many of the exact same questions so we could enjoy exploratory conversation.  I also formed  a small group of women online who were researching similar issues in theology.  We were able to discuss our thoughts freely without judgement.  I feel very fortunate to have had people alongside me in this journey.

In addition to the people in my life that I could talk with, I found many authors who walked alongside me. They share their personal journeys of faith, their questions and their theological conclusions through their books.

Today I’d like to share some of the book titles and podcasts that encouraged me in hopes that might be a source of encouragement for others who are travelling a similar path.  

Resources from my personal journey of faith.

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The following faith resources either challenged my way of thinking, encouraged my soul, or both. Of course, my recommendations don’t mean that I agree with all of the author’s conclusions, but that I did enjoy reading and considering the material. Be sure to do some research and draw your own conclusions about which titles might be beneficial to you versus a source of frustration.

1.  I spoke about the book, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar, in detail on my blog previously.

This book came at a perfect time and was very instrumental in helping me sort through the feelings I experienced during this dramatic shift in my beliefs.

2.  Malestrom: Manhood swept into the Currents of a Changing World by Carolyn Custis James.  (Christianity Today Award Winning Title)

I came across this title as I was googling information about submission in marriage as taught in the Bible.  Years ago I had read Carolyn Custis James’ book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, and I enjoyed it immensely so I was eager to start this one.

This book takes a very straightforward approach to scripture and explores a biblical view of manhood, which also engages a view of womanhood as well.  She argues for an end to the patriarchal influences in the church because they were never God’s intention for his people.  This book would be a great read for anyone in my personal opinion.  It was the winner of the 2016 Hermeneutics Award from Christianity Today and there is a great summary on their site.

Carolyn Custis James writes often about the roles of women as well as various issues important to women.  She has many books and she also writes on a personal blog.  Her thoughts were very valuable to me as I began my research.

3.  Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans.  (Christianity Today Award Winning Title)

Since we are talking about winners of the 2016 Hermeneutics Award from Christianity Today, I will mention this gem which received the Award of Merit in the Hermeneutics category.

I have to admit that I never thought I would be a fan of Rachel Held Evans because I used to disagree with so many of her conclusions.  But as my faith was evolving, I found her experiences and thoughts to echo so many of my own.   I enjoyed the organization of this book as she organizes her personal stories, thoughts, and reflections around the sacraments of the church.

4.  Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans.

Since we are already talking about Rachel Held Evans, I’ll take the opportunity to add this title to the list.   She had me at the title on this one!  I WAS the girl with all of the answers and I suddenly was asking all of the questions.

(This book was formerly titled, Evolving in Monkeytown: How a Girl Who Knew All the Questions Learned to Ask the Answers, and has been reprinted under the new title.)

This book is the story of Rachel’s personal faith journey as she began to ask some tough questions and seek the answers. It was extremely similar to my own journey and I felt like I had a friend to walk along the path with me. Of course, she grew up with a much more conservative faith and it was eye-opening for me to hear about life in a conservative town.

Personal stories are one of my favorite types of books and this book was no exception!

5.  Tattoos on the Hearth: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle.

This book was a collection of personal stories by Gregory Boyle. He shares amazing and heartbreaking stories of his work with gang members in a ghetto of Los Angelos, CA. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries and shares his “hard earned wisdom” with the reader.

I highly recommend this beautiful book to everyone!

I did not read this book to research my theological questions. Instead, it was a title recommended to me in the last year during my journey as I was looking for stories of people living out their faith. Gregory Boyle is living out the love of Christ and had much to wisdom to share.

6.  Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey.

Sarah Bessey was a new name to me when I found discovered this book. In it she shares the story of her evolving faith in a gentle, humble and heart-felt way.

(Can you tell I enjoy personal stories?)

Sarah comes from a charismatic background with a husband who was in full-time ministry. While I didn’t relate as much to the specifics in her story, it brought me great peace to read about someone else clinging to God while their faith seemed to be “falling apart”.

In particular, Sarah shares how she handled coming to different conclusions than her husband in the area of their faith.  They were able to walk through the journey together, respecting the space each person needed for faith exploration as well as respecting their differing points of view. The beauty of their marriage and respect for one another was comforting to me as my husband did not share all of my changing viewpoints either.

Today I picked up another book by Sarah Bessey, The Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, and I can’t wait to finish it!  I’m already reminded of the gentle way that Sarah approaches topics.  I know I will enjoy this one.

7.  Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton.

Even if I didn’t agree with her, I have always appreciated Glennon’s heart for loving God and loving people. Her thoughts challenge, encourage, and inspire me. This book was a collection of her blog posts over time and I loved it!

I am waiting on my signed copy of Love Warrior: A Memoir that should arrive next month.

8.  One of the books I read early on as my views were changing was, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It by Peter Enns.

Without a doubt, this was one of the more controversial authors I have learned to appreciate.  The first time through this book, I actually tossed it aside and debated if I was going to continue.

I did NOT agree with much of what I was reading and I wasn’t sure what to do with that.  But this was the book that my two very good friends were reading and I wanted to engage the discussion with them, so I continued.  I am forever grateful that I did.

In the end, he opened my eyes to a new way to read The Bible.  I may not agree with all of his conclusions, but his approach came at the right time in my life.  This book was written for the general public as opposed to his previous more academic titles.   It was very easy to read, but the casual tone occasionally had a snarky edge.

By the end, I was much more open to what Dr. Enns had to say.  In fact, I discovered that he was speaking at a college in the area and I contacted the college and attended his seminar there.  When I met Dr. Enns in person he was not snarky at all.  He acknowledged that some of his thoughts are in opposition to what many believe and he was very respectful of that.

I also read his book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Orgins.  This book helps those who want to reconcile their belief in the Bible with their acceptance of evolution.   This book is not written in a casual tone and it is very academic.  It contains a very in-depth look at the interpretation of the Bible that Enns has come to accept.  He acknowledges some of the problems with his own conclusions, but encourages Christians to enter the discussion.

This was a great selection for someone  struggling to reconcile their acceptance of evolution with their belief in the Bible.  Evolution was not one of my recent questions, but I found the book very insightful.  Of course, it took many weeks for me to process through the heavy amount of information.

His most recent title, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires our Trust more than our “Correct” Beliefs, is on its way to my house through Amazon Prime right now!

In addition to numerous book titles, I discovered the world of theological podcasts and devoured episode upon episode!  My two favorites are:

1. Rob Bell and his Robcast.  Full confession.  I read his book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, the year it was released and I didn’t care for it.  I was open to his viewpoint, but I wasn’t convinced.  At all.  Fast forward to the present and I have discovered that Rob Bell is much better (IMO) at speaking than writing.  He discusses current events, theology, parenting, and conducts fantastic interviews.  If you are a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, you can check out his interview with her!

2.  The Liturgists.  I adore Science Mike and Michael Gungor.  My husband became a fan as well on our trip out west.  It has been a great experience to engage in deeper thoughts about modern science and theology with these two guys.  Episode 5 on Spiral Dynamics was so fascinating as we drove along the highway.  The beautiful integration of science and religion on this podcast is engaging and thought provoking.  These guys are fantastic!

If you are in a place where you find your beliefs shifting in a similar fashion, perhaps you can find support and encouragement in some of these sources.  

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Book Clubs, Brave Writer, Homeschooling

Creating a Book Club for Kids

One topic I receive a lot of questions about is starting a book club for kids.  And while a lot of information about my book clubs can be found on this blog and my YouTube channel, I thought I’d answer some of your most common questions.

How to create a book club for your kids!

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1. How do you start a book club?

I began by creating a vision in my mind of what I hoped to achieve. I had to sort out the goals for my book clubs in my own mind befor I could proceed. Your overall goals will impact who you invite and how you organize things. I bounced my ideas off 1-2 friends who I knew would be included until I had a more definite vision in mind.

For my older daughter, I wanted to focus specifically on creating a place where a group of girls could develop friendships through our book club. It was also important to me that she had a place where she could discuss the Think-Piece questions in the back of our Brave Writer Boomerang Guides.  (NOTE: The lastest versions of the Brave Writer Arrow Book Guides include Big Juicy Questions.)

Love that Dog book clubFor my younger daughter, I envisioned more of a fun setting for discussion and crafts based on the book. I also wanted to develop a group of friends with tighter friendships through their time at book club.  We use the Arrow Book Club guides at home, so it made sense to follow along with the titles.

Once you have a bit of a vision in mind for your club, then it is time to invite others to join in.

2. Who do I invite and what do I tell them?

As you begin to brainstorm a list of potential members, be sure you have narrowed down an age range in your mind. For me, because I was focused on developing a social circle for my daughters, I kept the age range VERY narrow based on their closest friends’ ages. I determined that one group would be 7th/8th graders and the other group would be 5th/6th graders. Each year the grades would move up together.

This year I will also lead a book club for boys ranging from grades 3-6 at our local homeschool group.  I am volunteering to take over a book club that has been established for a few years so the time and invitees were already determined.  Two other moms volunteered to take on this challenge with me and we selected the titles and will plan some fun discussion and activities to fill the time slot!

If you are looking for more of an academic focus and are open to a co-ed setting, then you could open your idea up to a local homeschool group or homeschool facebook page.

If you want to keep your entire family in the same book club, then seek out families with similar age ranges.

Love That Dog Book ClubIf you need more attendees, make a larger range. Perhaps consider a “middle school” or “high school” book club instead of just a particular grade or two.

Once you have a few folks in mind, share your vision with them and see if it will work for their family as well. Start with 2-3 invitees and build from there as people respond. I have found that I prefer 8-10 girls, though closer to 8 works well with the younger set due to the crafts and activities.

Note:   I planned the format of the book club as well as the book list before sending invites.  I tossed it around with two families who would have a daughter in each group. Once I narrowed down a workable plan, I sent out invites to other families with the entire plan (including book list) so they could agree to the list and format right from the start.

3. How often should we meet?

Once a month has worked perfectly for us. If you meet more often, I’d suggest having two meetings around the same title. If you meet less often it is hard to build cohesion within the group.

Based on my experience, December was a good month to take off from book club. Everyone is pretty busy. Last year we read short stories in my older group, but this year we plan to have a Christmas party instead of book club.

Our groups meet in Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec (party), Jan, Feb, March, Apr, and May. We did have a pool party in June at the end of the year and we are kicking off with one in August this year. Two families have pools in their yard so we were able to work that out pretty easily. You could kick off with a picnic or social time at the local ice cream place just as easily.

4. How do you pick your book titles?

That one is pretty easy for me. Part of my book club vision was enhancing our Brave Writer language arts. Our family follows the book list for the Arrow (3rd-6th) and the Boomerang (7th-10th) so we follow the annual list. The official list includes 10 books, but we read 7-8 of them as a group.

The Outsiders Book ClubIn the Boomerang Bookclub, we also like to include a Shakespeare play.  Last year we read short stories in December to change things up.  We also didn’t follow the official Boomerang titles either. Instead we just picked a few from the master list that we wanted our girls to read.

While I love the Brave Writer lists, there are millions of ways to pick books. You could let the members vote. Each family could pick one title, perhaps for the month they are hosting. You could follow your public school or homeschool curriculum. You could read a series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew together and discuss a few specific titles throughout the year.  The options are really endless.

Note:  Our titles from 2015-2016 for the Arrow Book Club can be found here and the titles for the Boomerang Book Club can be found here.  The titles for the coming year (2016-2017) for all three of my book clubs can be found on this post.

5. What does a meeting look like?

Meeting formats can be as simple or as creative as you like.  Meetings can be parent led or student led.  You can rotate homes or meet in a cafe.  You can include crafts, games or other activities or just have a simple discussion.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the format.

Keeping this in mind, you can plan the format in your own mind and present it when you invite people OR you can work it out together once you have a group formed.

Anne of Green Gables Book ClubMy original plan for the Boomerang Book Club was to chat at Starbucks over frappachinos. Eventually I came to the conclusion that we should rotate houses so that the girls could hang out after our discussion. Because this book club was so important to my core curriculum and the Boomerang Think-Piece questions, I offered to lead every single meeting.

The #partyschool atmosphere that eventually became our standard meeting was never the plan from that start. It just fell into place at our first meeting for the book, “Catching Fire”. That book club was such a #partyschool success, we decided to keep up the #partyschool atmosphere at several of the book club meetings, including “The Outsiders”.

As much fun as we had at several meetings, I have NEVER required the host mom to plan a #partyschool atmosphere. Two of the moms simply put out snacks and gave us an area to chat. Other moms loved the idea of getting into the decorations and food around the theme of the book. Giving moms the option takes the pressure off any particular mom who doesn’t feel comfortable with the #partyschool idea.

Note:  If you are interested in the #partyschool book club, you can follow my Book Clubs for Kids board on Pinterest!  I link to all sorts of ideas as I find them as well as my own posts about our book clubs.

Many of the chosen book titles were made into movies, so we watched the movie version after our discussion at several of the meetings. Eventually we realized that the girls wanted time to socialize and we didn’t do the movies.

My Arrow Book Club runs a little differently. The girls were in 5th and 6th grade, so I wanted to do some crafts with them in addition to our discussion. The host mom plans a discussion, snack, and craft around the plot of the book. Each mom takes one month. If there is an additional month, I have stepped in. Once again, a #partyschool atmosphere just sort of happened after a few of us did it. The girls had such a memorable time that all of the moms continued the same idea to varying extents.  (NOTE: The lastest versions of the Brave Writer Arrow Book Guides include Big Juicy Questions in the guide)

We were part of a book club a few years ago that was student led. Each participant selected the title for their month. The child led the discussion and a craft with a little help from mom. Snack was provided at each meeting. This was a very fun and low key book club for my older daughter and it would be a great option for a book club.

Regardless of the format you select, make sure food is invovled! Having a discussion around food is really helpful to keep everyone participating and engaged.

6. How long is a book club meeting?

I have found that 1.5 hours is a great amount of time. The Arrow book club can fit in discussion, snack and crafts or games in that amount of time. Sometimes there is even a little time left to play outside or chat.

Our older group tends to get together for 3 hours, though only 45 minutes – 1 hour is our actual meeting. After that the girls have enjoyed the movie version of the book or some time to hang out together.

7.  How do you keep a book club organized for everyone involved?

I began by using a google document to keep track of books and dates, but last minute changes didn’t work well. Then the need arose to communicate ideas and thoughts with various group members.  Unfortunately, group email wasn’t adequate.

Instead I created secret groups on facebook for each of the book clubs.  I invited the mothers of the girls who are part of the group.  I created an event for each of our book titles, named according to the book.  The time and date is secured and moms can begin to comment on the event that they would like to host.  Once a host is determined, I can supply the address for the event.

Overall, the only glich in this system was the moms who weren’t on facebook.  I did my best to communicate with the non-facebook moms through email.  At this point, everyone has joined Facebook or is using their spouse’s account.  This has made it a lot easier.

8. What resources have you found most helpful?

Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence Goldstone is a quick, easy narrative that is helpful when considering how to lead a book club discussion.

How to Teach Shakespeare to Children by Ken Ludwig is on my nightstand right now. This isn’t just helpful for book club though. It is helpful for approaching Shakespeare all year long with my kids which boosts my confidence when it comes to book club.

Shakespeare Made Easy is the series we used for book club. One side has the original text and the other translated it into modern english. This made it much easier for the participants to get through the reading on their own. We used the original text for acting out at book club.

Of course, I have already mentioned the Brave Writer Boomerang Guides.  The think-piece questions guide most of our discussions.  The latest versions of the Brave Writer Arrow Guides have Big Juicy Questions at the end as well!

I Love Libraries has written a post with great tips on leading a discussion in creative ways and there are general questions listed for you to use.

Lit Lovers has another list of general questions for fiction titles.

Food in literature will be a great resource if you are looking for the #partyschool experience.  Fantastic recipes inspired by book titles are listed there!

Book Clubs have definitely been a highlight of our school experience.  How about you?  Do you run a book club?  How does it work in your house?

(Not Before 7 is a Brave Writer ambassador.  My love for the curriculum makes me happy to endorse it on my blog.  Purchases made through my links help keep the content on this blog flowing!  Thanks for your support.)


Beyond the Gluesticks: Schools Supplies that are Fun to Buy

Long ago I realized that my homeschooled kids were not going to need the typical list of school supplies every year.

Beyond the GlueWe are able to reuse folders and binders each year and we don’t need quite as many of them as your typical classroom students.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t go school supply shopping each year.  I love fresh new items to kick off our year.  Sometimes I grab a creative spiral notebook for someone or a special folder that catches my eye, but overall, I just stock up on fun stuff that we love.

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1. Pens.

We will start with the school supply that I love the most.  I have an obsession with pens.  We love them for copywork, poetry, journaling, art and….well, and EVERYTHING!

Sharpie Markers.  Sharpies of all shapes and sizes and colors make me giddy.   I love the fine point, the ultra fine point, and even the chisel style.  Without a doubt, the retractable style is my favorite. This is probably due to the fact that my four children don’t always remember to put the caps back on.

Papermate Flair Felt Tip Pens are Ah-Mazing.  I mean.  I adore these pens.  I stock up on these babies because I use them for everything.  If you don’t have a set, grab one or two or three.

FriXion Pens.  These pens give you all of the beauty of the colored pens you love (like the felt tip) but they allow you to erase mistakes with ease.  These are great for copywork or math when you want a little color with the ability to correct what you did.

NOTE: The FriXion pen ink disappears in heat.  I have no idea if this would disappear in a hot car, but it does disappear with a blow dryer, making for some fun secret message activities.  Put the paper in the freezer and most of the writing returns!

2. Clipboards.

We use clipboards everywhere.  In the house.  In the car.  On nature walks.  On field trips.  We are huge fans of clipboards.  They make it so easy to take your work to the sofa or on the road.  They are convenient for students to color while listening to a read aloud book.

Of course, we have the cheap standard brown set at home right now, but the ones pictured far left below are the ones I have my eye on for this school year.  The colors are fun and they have a few that work for a boy! You can see the amazing variety available!

3. Pencils.

These Geddes Twister Mechanical Pencils were introduced to me by my niece and nephew, both public school students.  They assure me that these are the best!  They love how the eraser can twist out as you need it.

I immediately added them to my list because fun pencils make me happy!

Now there are folks who swear by the Ticonderoga Pencils.  I have yet to give them a go.

They come pre-sharpened and I have been told that they are fabulous.  I hesitate to try anything other than a mechanical pencil, but we might try these out this year.

4.  Artist Pads.

We love to use these for all sorts of activities.  I keep around cheap ones for random doodling and nicer ones for planned activites. The artist tiles are perfect for zentangles if you plan to explore that art form this year. And watercolor paper is another one we like to keep on hand for occasional projects.

5.  Blank Books.

We found these at the Target dollar spot and I suggest looking there first.  They were $3 for a pack of them.  I stocked up because they are only offered once a year during Back to School Time.  If you missed it, you can still find them online, but you’ll pay a bit more.

These amazing books allow your students to publish their stories on their own.  When I walked in the door with them, one of my kids accosted me and wrote a children’s book that day.

6. Art Supplies.

Each year a few of our art supplies need refreshing, so I pick one or two freshs packs of something as a surprise.

Faber Castell is our favorite chalk pastels brand that balance working well with a reasonable price.  I have also added watercolor pencils to the list this year so we can play around with some new art supplies.  Sculpey is an absolute favorite art suppy in this house, so I make sure we have plenty on hand.  The multi-pack is my favorite way to restock.

7. Headphones.

The kids in my house have hit the point where they need headphones. The pair on the right was inexpensive and perfect for my 9 year old son who has been recording videos for YouTube.  We needed a simple headphone set with a microphone and this inexpensive pair has worked well. Headphones are a perfect surprise for back to school!

8.  Just For Fun

Ok.  I love to surprise the kids with some things that are purely for fun.

I have been eyeing up these magnetic bookmarks. You can see them below on the left.  How cute are they?  One of my pet peeves is a book lying open on the floor to hold the page, so they would be a perfect and fun solution!

Or check out these emoji stickers! I can think of a ton of fun ways to use them for decorating or journalling or just goofing around.

My kids use tape pretty frequently. I’d love this silly tape dispenser for our art room.

Finally, we love to use post-it notes for all sorts of things so a few fun shaped notes would work well in our school supplies.

9.  Back to School “Backpack”

How about a creative container (if you don’t need a backpack) waiting for your kids on the first day of school filled with these fun new supplies?

Perhaps hiking backpacks make the most sense for your kids?  Then you can use them for vacations, camping or hiking in addition to the infrequent times you need them for school.  Or perhaps a new laptop case filled with all of their fun supplies.  Later, they can use it for their laptop?

Life-Changing-Supplies-700x700-94403I am off to shop because these supplies make me happy and ready to kick off the school year!

Happy Shopping Everyone!

This post is part of the iHomeschool Network: School Supplies that Changed My Life.

Stop by iHomeschool Network to see suggestions from other bloggers.

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Periscope, Things I Love

Things I Love: Periscope Edition

My first periscope was done on a whim on September 18, 2015 after Julie Bogart’s periscope challenge to show our “enchanted spaces”.  I decided to take up her challenge and I grabbed my phone to show our mess enchanted space.

At the time, I had no idea what an amazing tool periscope would become for me.   It has changed the way I learn about science, the world, and homeschooling.  I continue to be very involved in the periscope community.  If you are interested, you can follow me there (or on your app @notbefore7) and join in the fun!

I admit that here have been a few purchases made in this house specifically because of my love of periscope.  Therefore, this edition of “Things I Love” is dedicated to the wonderful world of periscope.


1. Spiral Bound Notecard Set.

My first purchase was a set of basic spiral bound notecards to display important websites that I mention when talking on a periscope.

My own website is listed on the first card and then sites I mention frequently come next. Any site I mention can be included on the list quickly and will remain there for reference in the future.

2.  Tripod.

Eventually, I got tired of propping my iPhone against a stack of books. I didn’t invest in anything fancy, but I purchased a pretty basic tabletop tripod. It does the job and keeps my hands free and the phone steady.

3.  Burts Bees Lip Balm.

Let me be honest here.  It can be tough to stare at yourself on your iPhone for 20-30 minutes during a periscope.  You begin to notice things about yourself that you normally don’t notice.

Like your lips that suddenly seem so pale.

My first attempt to correct this issue were the Burts Bees Shimmer Lip Balms. I grabbed one in Fig and kept it downstairs where I often periscope. It worked perfectly.

Until I began to notice some of my friends going for bold lip colors on periscope and I decided to try a more bold lip approach, which brings me to my next purchase.

4.  Lancome Lip Crayon.

I was never much for bold lipstick in my everyday life, but boy does it make a difference on the screen!

So I went off to the local Ulta and bought a bold lipstick.  I selected this Lancome Lip Crayon and it is perfect.  It is slim and fits in my purse or in a bin with my other periscope equipment.

Best of all, I love the name: Only Wine Will Tell. Brilliant.

5. Rectangular Storage Bin.

I keep all of my periscope equipment together in a cabinet: lipstick, tripod, and notecards. The next purchase on my list is this bin. I am tired of the lipstick rolling around on the shelf. This bin will hold them all and fit nicely in my cabinet. When it is time to periscope, I can just grab it! Voila!

How about you? Do you periscope? Have you made any purchases for it?

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Homeschooling, Uncategorized

The Unique Power of a Homeschool Parent: Innovation


Innovator is my word for this homeschool year.

in·no·va·tor   ˈinəˌvādər/   noun
     1.  a person who introduces new methods, ideas, or products.

I am an educational innovator.  I am on the cutting edge of bringing education into the 21st century.  I am in the practice of creating new methods, ideas, and maybe even products.

And I am not the only one.

The power of educational innovation rests in the hands of every homeschool parent on this planet.

Innovation. The unique power of a Homeschool Parent.

Homeschool parents have some unique advantages when it comes to educational innovation.

We are not bound by a set of common core standards or any set of standards that are currently “en vogue” with the powers that be.  We have access to those standards, but we are not tied to them.  We can choose to follow aspects of them, but we have fields of freedom in the implementation.

Our homeschools are not required to adopt any one particular educational philosophy. We are free to explore a Classical approach, ground ourselves in the teachings of Charlotte Mason, adopt a method of unschooling, learn with unit studies, or follow our own eclectic mix of these methods.  Most of us tend toward one or two of the overarching educational philosophies, but we are free to bend and stretch the principles as needed.

But some of us are scared to do the bending and the stretching.  We continue to force a philosophy, a practice, or a curriculum even when something just isn’t working.  We don’t always feel confident to modify or update an approach.

But we should.

Homeschooling parents are the very people who should be ushering in a new era of education.  An era that embraces the research, science, philosophy, and technology of the post-modern time period that we live in.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we reject the philosophies of that past in their entirety!  Instead, we recognize the value in aspects of the educational methods and approaches of the 20th century but we adopt them and update them for the 21st century.

We are the educators of 2016.

We have fantastic access to research in the field of education, psychology and science.  Do you realize that our understanding of quantum physics impacts how we should be educating our kids?  Mind blowing.  Worthy of consideration.

Technology is a powerful tool in our educational arsenal. We can learn how to use it to bring information from all over the world straight into our classrooms.

We can usher in the future of education right through our own front doors.

And while it can feel overwhelming, I mean for it to be empowering.


Proceed with confidence as the teacher.


(These thoughts were inspired by my time at the Brave Writer: Be Good to You 2016 retreat.  Julie Bogart of Brave Writer shared her thoughts in a keynote, “Bringing Charlotte Mason into the 21st Century”, which was designed to inspire the listeners to update their homeschools specifically in regards to the Charlotte Mason curriculum and practicies.  She declared that “WE (homeschool parents) are the innovators in education” and it stuck with me.  I wanted to elborate here on my own thoughts after attending her retreat.)