homeschool winter days


We are finally getting back into a routine since the upheaval of Christmas vacation.  So far this week, homeschool has consisted of:

  • shopping for a new full-sized violin for Meg.  She grew out of her 3/4th size and has been playing on my old, cheap violin while we saved up for a new one.  Monday she and I went to the music shop and tried out several.  We took one home on trial, to let her teacher approve of...and she didn't like it!  I guess Meg and I flunked "tone" class...!
  •  Getting the kids used to working harder on our studies.  I've let them all slip into a routine of easy/lite work. Things are a changing here now.
  •  Meg and Josie resumed classes at Biola Star.


  • I started test-prep with Amie and Demi-Sky.  I've used Spectrum test prep workbooks before and for some reason I turned up my nose at the Buckle Down workbooks.  I can't remember what I didn't like about them now...except maybe that it has no answer key (I think you have to go online or something for it) but- we started using them and I kind of like them.  I am really liking the conversational tone and all the test taking hints/strategies they are pointing out/teaching.
  •  We are doing "Farmer Boy" as a read aloud
  • Demi is still busy with lacrosse.  They actually didn't take much time off during the holidays.
  •  Josie is neck-deep in graphic-arts work right now.  She wants to- kind of suddenly- apply to the local performing arts charter school.  She has to submit a small portfolio for round one of consideration.  It is really rather wonderful to have her so immersed in something she is passionate about.  It is kind of wonderful to have her totally "own" it all herself, nothing for me to do but encourage her and offer supplies.
  •  It's also a little terrifying for me.  I worry about how she will feel if she doesn't get in.  I worry about her getting in and not being here homeschooling.  I really, really worry I will screw something up and not get the right paperwork in or miss a deadline.  I'm on the verge of little mini-panic-attacks a few times a day over this...on the verge, not real ones. Yet.   Sometimes being Bridgit Jones is a hard burden... kidding. not.


  • We started reading Don Quixote before the holidays.  It is a wonderful illustrated version recommended by Susan Wise Bauer in Story of the World- which is one of the resources we are using in MFW this year.  Funny, I studied this book in A.P. English in High School but we didn't actually read it.  I am finding it hilarious!  Meg and Josie read parts of it at Biola Star in their text book, but they got caught up in it when I was reading it out loud the other day.
  • Today, (Wednesday) I took the show on the road and we did Math and read-aloud time at a local bagel shop for lunch.  I forgot how much fun, and how re-energizing doing homeschool out and about is...I will for sure have to set aside more time for outings that include study time.
  • Art class and piano classes, and violin class have all resumed.
  • homeschool winter days are full days.  How about you, are you getting back to a routine?

Using "spine" texts for homeschooling

homeschool books

I am 13 years into this homeschool journey.  One thing I find myself coming back to, again and again is the use of a "spine" text for our studies.  If I could go back and do it all over, I would trust more in a spine text- to keep us moving, and then branch off into creativity as mood and time permitted.

I'm an eclectic homeschooler - loving a little bit of this and that and not afraid to try different things.  I am unorganized, creative- when my lack of organization doesn't hamper me, and lately- I think I might have A.D.D. -which I joke about, but only because if you don't laugh at yourself, you'll just cry, or be a grumpy head...  I wish I had realized my A.D.D. problem years ago, I think knowing I had a problem would have prompted me to lean harder on books/texts that work for me.  Strict schedules, I already know from failed attempts, over and over through the years- don't work for me.  A road-map, though, seems to work best.

I've gone back, over and over, to The Story of the World series for History.  Even when I have ventured into the world of boxed curriculum, with their beautiful and enticing schedules, I have chosen programs that utilize STOW because I realized, years ago, that this text simply "clicks" with me.

I think the magic of The Story of the World series is that it centers on a text that "gets it done".  The kids love the narrative, that is a big plus, but the magic is the fact that despite whatever chaos/boredom/lack of organization/ crisis  I am in the midst of (and believe me, it's a rotating string of events for me) I can pick up a volume of STOW and just read what is next.  If life is perfect and the stars are aligned, I can branch out and add in library books listed in the activity guide, or even do some of the activities.  At the very least, when chaos reigns supreme- I can read aloud, have the kids narrate and do a map page.

A thing of beauty.

I wish I had been more faithful to this method, I just didn't realize the genius in this structure- genius at least, for this A.D.D. mom.

At the tail-end of my homeschooling journey, I finally looked into the "What my ______ grader needs to know" series.  It is part of the Common Core series, which, to put it simply, is a set body of knowledge (or a scope and sequence) proposed for the entire country to use in public schools.  There is much debate about this idea, but you can see the advantage it could have for testing purposes and for families moving to different districts or different States.  This series by E.D. Hirsch follows the idea of the Common Core.  I started looking through it last week, and realized it could have worked for me in the same way that STOW works for me, by providing a spine or road map I could follow- to keep me moving instead of standing still.  Looking through the series, I saw good content for History, Literature,Culture, Geography, Science and the arts.  The content for Math and Language Arts, I felt, was not presented in a teachable way.  I think this series could be a really good spine for a homeschool family, and very economical too- a viable choice instead of the expensive boxed curriculum sets we all love to lust after.  (raising my hand- guilty here!)  I am thinking about using this series with Amie and Demi for geography, culture, Literature, Science and maybe the arts.

The beauty of a spine is the ability to slow down and branch-off when you want to delve into a subject more thoroughly or more creatively.

-just some thoughts, from a mom who is looking back now...

Do you have some favorite tried and true texts or programs you come back to over and over again?

Homeschool 2012- 2013

Here are the picks for the 2012- 2013 school year for our homeschool, known around here as Cliffs of Insanity Day Academy and St. Jenn's School for Exceptional Teens  :)


Here is our line-up

Demi-Sky and Amie grades 7 and 5

(my bonus student has moved on to public school this year)

Studies Together:

History/ Geography/Literature/Science/Music:  My Father's World Exploration to 1850 (American History)  our 1st year with MFW!   

Oak Meadow 5 Social Studies and English (U.S. History)  as much as I love MFW I have to face the reality that I am not using it...will Oak Meadow be {the one}?  I'm thinking yes.  For A.D.D. mom, having a basic text that I can plow through and add to at will seems to be key.  We have switched over mid-year, I will report back


Boy, Have I Got Problems!: James (Discover 4 Yourself® Inductive Bible Studies for Kids)

Science: Exploring Creation with Botany & The World of Animals with MFW

Oak Meadow 5 Science

Geography: Geography work/ States with MFW

The Complete Book of Maps and Geography, Grades 3 - 6

Geography is written into Oak Meadow

English: Shirley English 4,

Daily Warm-Ups: Language Skills Grade 4

Music:  Introduction to Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Chopin (six CD set) -scheduled with  MFW and Private piano lessons

Art: private art lessons and unit studies with Harmony Fine Arts/Sister Wendy's History of Painting-following listed artists in MFW

P.E.: daily exercise at home and weekly homeschool p.e. class (rotating sports)  (enjoyed this for 2 months, did soccer and flag-football but couldn't continue because of Demi's Lacrosse practice times)

Demi- his studies:                                                            Amie- her studies:

Math: Math-U-See Delta, then Epsilon, Horizons Math                  Math: Math-U-See Gamma, then Delta, Horizons Math

Assigned reading                  Rosetta Stone Chinese                              Assigned reading       Swim lessons twice a week

two books w/ literature guides from progeny press

lacrosse team/practice


Josie- 10th grade

Algebra II - Math-U-See                   Daily Grammar Review

History/Geography: High School World History and Literature by My Father's World

Oak Meadow World History High School course  (loved MFW but realizing this A.D.D. mom needs a program with less parts, less books to get out/coordinate.) *we have jumped in OM at 2nd semester.

Literature and Composition with Biola Star Program  (outside class twice a week)

*Jensen’s Format Writing     *Brief Wadsworth Handbook 7th edition    *Vocabulary From Classical Roots A

*Fundamentals of Literature 2nd Edition ~ Bob Jones University Press   *The Scarlet Pimpernel –Baroness Orczy

*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn     *The Hobbit      *The Christmas Carol –Charles Dickens

*Little Women       *Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis

Science: High School Biology with Biola Star Program

*High School Biology Student text, Lab Manual, Test book, Quiz book  ~ Abeka books

Music: private piano lessons and Introduction to Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Chopin (six CD set) -scheduled with  MFW

P.E.: private fencing lessons       Private Art lessons for 1 semester.


Meg - 12th grade

British Literature with Biola Star Program

*British Literature 2nd Edition  ~Bob Jones University Press          *Brief Wadsworth Handbook, 6th Ed.

*Vocabulary From Classical Roots D             *Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

  *The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan    *Animal Farm  -George Orwell      *Northanger Abbey  -Jane Austin

High school Chemistry with Biola Star Program

*Exploring Creation with Chemistry 2nd Edition  ~Apologia   *Exploring Creation w/ Chemistry solutions & tests book

Government-Semester1: A Noble Experiment DVD set and workbook by Zeezok Publishers

switched to Oak Meadow  high school U.S. Government

Economics-Semester2: With Biola Star Program  ( Prentice Hall Economics textbook)              

Math: Geometry by Math-U-See

Russisan  Russian level 2 -Rosetta Stone. The Everything Learning Russian Book with CD: Speak, write, and understand Russian in no time! (Everything: Language and Literature) (second half of book)

P.E. equestrian cattle sorting/riding/exercising         Music: private violin studies


the mad curriculum shopper


I went to the local hotel showing for Abeka books today.  I needed to order Biology books for Josie's Biola Star Biology class, and health books for the semester of health she needs to complete.  The cool thing about these hotel display meetings is that you get free shipping on your order. Boo-ya!  The uncool thing.... the curriculum lust and self-doubt I begin to experience as I look at all the books displayed.  I don't know about you, but I begin to re-think the approach I was perfectly happy with yesterday.  I'm good with the grammar and Math I have picked out, and yet, I begin to wonder if I have deprived my kids by not following the sequence of offerings they have displayed so nicely.

We are in the midst of some highschool Math-angst here at Home...major review going on at our house to prepare the girls for their courses for 2012/ 2013.  I am unhappy with Josie's retention and scared stiff about Meg taking Geometry this coming year.  I got a 'D" in geometry.  I was also in 9th grade and my teacher couldn't hear and would yell at me when she made me stand up and recite proofs.  Yeah, good times there...  anyhow, I started leafing through Abeka's Geometry and liked the traditional flow of it all.  I was sorely tempted to buy it and have her do two Geometry programs: Math-U-See and Abeka Geometry, you know to attack it from all theoretical angles.

If Math curriculum is good, even more would be better!! 

And heck, while I was at it, let's throw in Abeka Algebra II for Josie to do along with her Math-U-See Algebra II.. piles of curriculum for all my kids!!

The solution manual for the Geometry was $60 and some dollars.  So, I did what I had to do and called Sky.  He talked me down.

Hey, I figure if Mr. Civil Engineer is happy with what we are using, who am I to doubt?

it'll be okay, right?  Whimper....

do any of you run in circles each year doubting your curriculum choices?  Tell me it's not just me....

The post where I spill about what worked, what didn't 2011/12

Here's where it gets real, friends.  Homeschool plans 2011-2012: What really happened-


Okay, homeschool mom in the field, reporting back....

My Plans:  The 3 youngest Students [together]

Bible: Possessing the Land (5th grade) Positive Action for Christ Curriculum

Sonlight History Core D  intro to American History (was called Core 3) [History, Geography and literature]

Wordly Wise (vocabulary)                                  Abeka cursive handwriting

Writing with Ease 2 by Susan Wise Bauer

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry level 1- Pandia Press

The Reality:

Sonlight American History - we slogged through this and got to week 19 or so.  I wasn't even really following the schedule anymore, just looking to see what book came next and if we wanted to do it.  I ended up using mostly "A History of U.S.A." workbooks from this core and then reading from "A story of US" series from Core 100 and doing narrations.  I don't have the whole Core3, what I have I've had stored away for a few years, so I don't feel bad about wasting money.   For next year, I am moving over to My Father's World- I was able to look through their TM at a conference and it looked easier to use.  They have an American History year we will be using.

Worldly Wise- didn't use much.  Writing With Ease 2- I still like it, we got about half-way through, we will keep using this through the Summer.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry - found it delightful, Amie loved it but we only got to Chapter 2.  Instead, for Science we ended up using Teacher Created Resources Nonfiction reading workbook- I just picked the Science topics.  Bible- didn't get done much, will do some soul-seaching and planning for next year.

Individual Studies- 3 youngers:

MCT Grammar Island , Sentence Island, Practice Island, Music of the Spheres (poetry) etc.  - did a few chapters but decided the sit down one-on-one format was too difficult for me to follow through. I also was sad to see little retention in my kids.  I ordered Shurley Grammar 4 and began using it in May, will continue through the Summer. Instead, I used mostly the workbooks I had for standardized testing prep- I relied heavily on Daily Warm-ups: Language skills by Teacher Created Resources. It was easy to use. (I like easy)

Math: *Math: Math-U-See      *Horizons Math  *Mad Dog Math (multiplication)  it was all good, I was pleased with our picks and will continue using these.  This was our first year supplementing MUS with Horizons math- I was really pleased with Horizons, it was colorful, very easy to use, I hardly ever had to use the manual.  MUS was our main text, moving through Horizons was slow, we will continue with it through the Summer.

The Highschoolers: The plans-

Math: Math-U-See -Algebra I, Algebra II     Switched on Schoolhouse H.S. English  (minus essay assignments)

Switched on Schoolhouse HS Earth Science  Biology- Biola Star Program

Intro to Composition: Biola Star Program (Josie)  Inklings-Biola Star (Meg)

The Reality: 

I continue to be pleased with Math-U-See, we will stick with it through High School.  The Biola Star program continues to shine (pun intended) and I am so thankful for these classes.  Josie's composition class centered around IEW writing and also included grammar.

Switched on Schoolhouse English and HS Earth Science:  The Earth Science was a big fail.  Doing it on the computer drove me nuts.  I need to be able to look through the book, see where she is at, what is upcoming and how I can plan to add any projects/reports.  I had to order a study guide to use with this to flesh out the content.  I have decided that for my next 9th graders (Earth Science is required in Ca) I will be putting them in the Earth Science class at Biola which is geared for Jr. High, but I've heard the text and content is demanding enough for HS.  At least it will be easier to use and document (and will have a lab)

Switched on Schoolhouse English- I had the same problem using it on the computer, I ended up ordering the lifepac units for the 2nd semester which seemed to be exactly the same as the computer version.  It was better having the units in my hands- but we will not be using these again for High School.  I added on a few meaty books with sparks notes to this program for my 9th grader and 11th grader.  Switched on Schoolhouse English got us through the required subject for reporting purposes, but we had no joy using it, and English has always, always been my favorite subject.  My only joy came through reading The gift of the Magi, The Scarlett Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird on our own, with the help of Sparks notes for the 2 novels.

The Inklings class:  (English composition/Literature/Humanities) Biola Star program

This program was stellar.  I watched Meg's writing abilities soar, her reasoning abilities sky-rocket, enjoyment- discussion- logic-argument- it was all there.  I loved this class.  Unfortunately, it was a giant reading load, and mega-writing due every week.  As much as I loved her growth, we became alarmed as her other studies suffered, she got behind in her Algebra II studies and was not practicing her violin.  We had her drop the class at the end of the first semester.  I was sad to see it go, but she needs a strong Math finish.  It was also an expensive class, it was a relief to not pay the fee 2nd semester (total honesty here)

Biology with Biola Star was great, I loved all the lab work and projects they did (that I didn't have to...more honesty)

So, all the hits and misses at The Cliffs of Insanity Day School and St. Jenn's School for Exceptional Teens.  I'll set up our plans for 2012-2013 soon and put it under the homeschool tab at the top.

So friends, what were your hits and disasters?  Spill! 

Ca standardized test prep at {Home}

I am one of those homeschoolers who doesn't put much stock in standardized testing.  I am not a fan of the large amounts of time public schools now spend studying to pass the tests.  I am not a fan of cutting out subjects such as art, History, Science, music- that will not be tested that year.  I am not a fan of some of the hard to understand questions on the tests, or of having to pick the more right "politically correct" answer from 2 or 3 possibly correct answers.  I also think it is hard to measure learning, there are so many variables that go into the equation- how much of the curriculum was covered before testing? Did the teacher branch out deeper into some subjects but missed others?  Were many of the kids sick that year, or did they arrive in the classroom already behind?

So, yes, I disagree with the mania and emphasis and carrot/stick application of the No Child Left Behind act.

And yet, my kids will need to be tested.  Yes, they will be taking the SAT's in highschool.  We homeschool using a public Charter School program that is made up entirely of homeschool families.  We do have to test every year because we use a charter school.  My approach has been to downplay the whole thing, and just show up on testing day with some yummy snacks.  Yeah, that's it.

Until this year, that is.  Last year, Meg scored very high on her standardized tests.  And yes, it went to my head a bit, and made me feel really good, I admit it.  Not that we did anything different, we did not prepare for testing at all.  She just did really well.

And it went to my head. I already mentioned that part, yes?  I liked how it felt.  I liked that I had concrete proof of their learning and retention.  So, with all that, I decided to do it a bit different this year, and study a bit for testing.

We are casually, going through these workbooks, starting at the beginning of February:

Spectrum California Test Prep grade 4

Spectrum California Test Prep grade 6

(I found a lack of materials for test prep for High School...)

Daily Warm Ups: Language Skills grade 4

Flash Kids Language Arts test prep grade 8 (the highest level I could find for Josie-grade 9)

9th+ Grade Use it! Don't Lose it! Daily Language practice (for Meg, grade 11)

I am surprised to find I am enjoying working slowly through these books with the kids.  In the past, when I've glanced through these sort of books, I've turned up my nose, because there is no teaching helps or explanations for the questions and subjects. But, I am finding that I am totally capable of explaining the concepts as we move through them.  I like that I am pushed to address some skills that we are not covering, it's good to be stretched some, yes?

How about you?  Do you *Homeschool parents and also *public school parents- do any special prepping for testing season?Are you a public school parent who afterschools some?  Please share your wisdom :)

around the house

We started our new Science program this week.  I decided to go with R.E.A.L Science Odyssey from Pandia Press.  We will be doing their Chemistry level 1 program.  It consists of a textbook and student workpages that I can copy for each child.  They will put these pages into a notebook.  I will forever, *be* a worksheet girl... The experiments use items that can mostly be found around the house.  There are several lists in the book warning me of items to collect for each week.  There is a also a handy chart showing how to approach each week: what to read, when to do the experiment, which worksheets to complete.

So far, we take turns reading the chapter out-loud, together -then we work  on the worksheet.


The first chapter was about what chemistry is, how everything is made up of chemicals, and how a chemist learns about/tests chemicals.


The kids then went around looking at chemical lists on items we have around the house.  The list on our sunscreen was pretty was the list on a cereal box.

Next up~ the experiment: coming in a future post :)

Operation Occupy my Kitchen is officially over.

My kitchen is now {red} and I have open shelving. { love }

Unfortunately, since my children are in charge of keeping the kitchen clean, it is never actually clean, so no photo for the blog. **sigh**

photos coming soon, after I clean it myself....

Our Gluten-free adventure is going well, Sky and I are the most faithful, with Amie next.  I have cheated a few times, and while my reactions haven't been horrid, I still feel much, much better when I am gluten-free. Sky has actually had stronger reactions to straying. Amie doesn't seem to be bothered with gluten, I always suspected something disagrees with her because of a few symptoms she suffers from, but I don't think it's wheat now. Dairy, maybe?  It's really, really hard restricting a kid's diet...


Sky came home from Costco with this for me. {swoon} how I love that man!


He brought home 2 bags, which did not last long. Not long at all...unfortunately, they were a special item and our Costco doesn't have anymore.

Popcorn, Indiana ...

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