You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. -Deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, July 20, 2013


When homeschooling, it doesn't take long to figure out that if we're not organized, our home school feels like a sinking ship!  I had done some research on Sue Patrick’s Workbox system (See her website at via some other home schooling blogs and thought they would be just the thing for us.
So far they are working great!  It’s a little more challenging for me than some of the other moms because I use so many Montessori materials rather than worksheets and text books alone.  So I tweaked the system to work for us.
It takes some up front planning, but it will be well worth it.
Here’s a snapshot of how we are using the system so far.
I chose to buy some scrapbooking drawers when they were 50% off at Michaels Craft stores. One set for each child.  I believe these can also be found at JoAnne’s Fabrics and possibly at Sam’s Club.

I made some numbers for each box and added them with velcro dots so they can be removed as work is completed.
I plan out the content of each drawer based on my goals for the week which I map out on a spreadsheet.  I’m still tweaking the spreadsheet as I see how it works.
The subjects on the spreadsheet for the workboxes include:
-          Geometry, math, language and grammar assignments. reading and associated assignments, history, botany, zoology, science (Jan and May are our science months), geography, phonics (for my 2nd grader), spelling, Rosetta Stone Chinese, handwriting, Bible and Commands of Christ.
Art, PE and Music are covered in home school co-op classes.
Of course, not every subject is covered every day.  And I do allow my kids to continue work on a topic as long as they are concentrating.  So if History and timelines take all morning, so be it.  I’d rather have them dive deep into the material than to watch the clock and stop them just for the sake of getting to the next topic.
Once I have the work planned on my spreadsheet, I break it down into days and fill up the workboxes with instructions for the children.  They can open a workbox and see exactly what they need to do.
If they have a card in the workbox that says “WORK WITH MOM”, they know they need to get a “presentation” from me, or work with me to complete the entire assignment.  I try to stagger the “work with mom” boxes so that both children don’t need me at the same time.
Some subjects are done with all of us together, such as science and history.  For those, I plan them to fall at the same time (usually at the beginning of workbox time, or right after lunch.)
The top of the boxes holds a basket of each child's personal belongings.  Booklets for geometry (they write their own geometry textbooks), VFL - their "verses for life" from the Bible, Art sketches, Botany book with their own documentation, etc.

In this box, my daughter already knows she needs to mark the nouns, verbs and adjectives because she’s had several presentations on how to do it.  So this is follow-up work and does not require my assistance.  In the box, I provided the sheet she needs to complete as well as the appropriate color of pencils to complete the work.  (In Montessori, nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., are all symbolized with different shapes of different colors.  These are established by now for any child who has been in Montessori from an early age.)

In this box, my son has pulled out his maps and he then goes to get appropriate materials rather than my putting them in the box.  He knows he can use any maps we have around the room, or the atlas books we have, to complete the labeling work.

In this box, Kailyn has several math problems – addition and multiplication.  (Subtraction isn’t taught until addition and multiplication are nearly mastered.)  She knows that she will need to get appropriate Montessori materials to complete the problems she can’t do in her head.  She might choose the “Stamp Game” for the addition and the “Checkerboard” for the multiplication. 

The beauty of Montessori materials is that once I’ve given a complete “presentation” of how to do the work, I can then assign follow-up work that the child can work on alone for the rest of the week or even as long as a month, depending on the level of difficulty and the various follow-up assignments available.  This makes it easy to fill in the workboxes with follow-up work.
The challenge with Montessori materials is just learning all of the best ways to use them and the proper order.  Since I’m not using a set textbook or curriculum that tells me what to do next with a worksheet for everything, it takes a lot more planning and time to educate myself.  But once I get over the hurdle of proper use, it’s a thing of beauty to fill up the boxes and then watch my children enjoy their work (most of the time), challenge themselves, and problem solve without mom having to tell them every time make a mistake.  They typically figure out errors on their own since the materials are self-correcting in most cases. 
The workboxes also eliminate any wondering how much more they need to do.  The kids are able to quickly see their progress as they take the number off the workbox and put it inside when they have completed that work. 
Another benefit is that they seem to find it fun to open the next box and see what is in there.  It might be a fun follow-up work or something they haven’t done before, or maybe their favorite subject.  I’m working on adding some fun craft items in the middle of the day to break things up a bit, too.  I’m not naturally “crafty”, so this will take some work!
I’m also considering letting them work in any order they want, rather than in the order the drawers are numbered.  That would be the Montessori thing to do.  But I’m not sure how that would go just yet.  I’ll do some trial runs to see if we can make that work.  Working in the order they choose might be a great way to keep motivation higher.  Then they could choose a fun craft, or favorite work, once they have completed their workboxes. 
We’ll see how this next week goes as I focus on staying flexible and upbeat.  No matter how good the system, I know if I am not excited about the home school day, my children definitely won’t be!  And if I do not keep a pleasant demeanor, my children will certainly not.
Colossians 3:20-21 ESV Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Lord, help me to train up these children in your Word and teach them about all of your wonderful creation.  It is only by your Grace that I will be able to do it.  Amen.

Chore Packs

Chore Packs
Now, I can’t take credit for any of this, the idea was created by the Maxwell Family, see “Managers of their Chores” at

I originally heard about this idea from several other homeschooling families and I was impressed with the results they seemed to get. We’ve been using them for nearly 2 years now, and it’s been such a life-altering sucess, I thought it would be worth sharing with other weary moms!

Here’s how I implemented it in our home:

First, I came up with a list of items that need to be done around the house. Things that are done daily as well as bigger jobs that might be done only one time per week or month. Then I sorted through the lists to identify which items were appropriate for the ages of my children and which I would need to continue to do myself.

Second, I made detailed instructions for completing each task or chore. This is a critical step because mom’s idea of a clean room might not be the same as the child’s idea of a clean room. ;-0 These instructions might look something like this:

Clean your room
o Make bed (a presentation is provided by mom the first few times, on how to do this and how it should look when finished)
o Pick up all unapproved items from floor and shelves (these are items that are not approved by mom to be on the floor or out on shelves)
o Put away clothes, ensuring that all drawers will close properly (no clothes hanging out of half-closed drawers!)
In the beginning, we had a detailed list for everything – even brushing teeth!

Brush teeth
o Wet toothbrush
o Put small amount of paste on brush
o Brush for 2 minutes, until timer goes off
o Rinse mouth
o Dry brush and put away toothpaste
o Rinse the sink out so no toothpaste can be seen
o Wipe counter

Yes, we needed that much detail in just about everything. This way, everyone has expectations set properly.

Third, I began to provide “presentations” on how to do each chore properly so the child knows exactly the steps that are needed in order mark that chore as “completed.” It is critical to always check the child’s work after completion! For the first month, we had the detailed steps posted in the appropriate rooms so they could check the list and ensure they didn’t miss any steps.

Fourth, once the child knows how to complete a chore properly and completely, this chore card can be added to his chore pack without mom’s help. It's a nice little clip-on packet and each chore card can be moved from front to back as the chore is completed. Over time, new chores can be presented and added to the chore packs.

We started with smaller things, but now my children can clean the bathroom (minus the toilet), clean bedrooms, clean the basement, clean the blinds in various rooms, empty trash cans and sort laundry, unload dishwasher, set table and dust. The kids like knowing exactly what they need to do and seeing their progress as they move cards from front to back in their chore packs. The last card in their pack says “Report to Mom” so that I can see they are finished and/or check their work if one of their chores is a bigger or new job for them.

No longer do I have to run around telling everyone what to do. I just say, “Grab your chore packs!” and off they go. They get their work done and I get my chores done without interruption. It is such a wonderful thing to spend just 30 minutes to 1 hour on chores and then stand around looking at our clean house and rejoicing in the work we accomplished together. I really don’t know how I ever survived before using these.

But even more importantly, my children are seeing that they are an important and needed member of the family. And, they are learning life skills they will need to have when they have their own family someday.

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. -Proverbs 13:4

Organized for the Year (original post February)

I'm not sure if it was the fact that it is the start of a new year, or if it has something to do with the potential of having another child join our family... but something got into me and I was ready to reorganize and get a fresh start for the homeschool year!  Since we homeschool year-round, we don't have a summer off to do planning.  Instead, we work 4 weeks on, and 1 week off, all year.

So last week after returning from Christmas vacation, the kids and I worked diligently on organizing our bedrooms and then the homeschool rooms.  I'm so pleased with the outcome!

The best part is, since the kids were so involved in it all, they have done a great job of leaving the homeschool room clean at the end of each day.  It's such a joy to have a nice work space.

This is the extra bedroom that has been acting as our primary homeschooling room since we moved to MO.  We've now converted it back into more of an actual bedroom...  for guests or possibly for another child to move in.  Kailyn kept her flag wall going, however.  She works on a flag each day identifying the country and then making the appropriate flag.  It's a project she's really enjoyed so we're keeping it until she's done them all. 

This is the desk in the bedroom which we're also leaving in place for now.  It's a nice, quiet spot.

We're fortunate to have this little room that sits off the guest room, it's the perfect homeschool storage room and now we've made it into more of a work area as well.  The workboxes are moved in here as well so everything is in one space and the door can be shut as needed.  The window lets in just enough light to make it light and bright in the room.

This desk was here when we moved in, so now we have a workspace in our storage/homeschool room.  It's nice to have two desks in separate rooms, but close enough to hear each other as needed.  The two desks are simply separated by a wall.  Most of the time, however, the kids like to work in the same room as each other!

One set of shelves is dedicated to all the Montessori math materials.  They take up a lot of space so we had to get creative...
by storing the larger boards such as the square root peg board and the multiplication checkerboard sideways between shelves.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Geography work is all stored here in baskets that are easy access.  They sit on top of low shelves that hold most of our books.  We keep a separate basket that contains all of our library books.  When homeschooling, just go ahead and buy a ton of bookshelves because you're going to have a whole lot of books!

Reading books and files are stored on shelves as well.  I really didn't have enough shelves of the right sizes, so we decided to turn some of them all sideways so we'd have taller openings.  This worked out great.

More geography work

Montessori language materials and extra math books are stored on the file cabinet.

Kailyn helped me finish our home-made Montessori pin maps.  We love Montessori methods for geography but the pin maps are so expensive, so we made our own.  She couldn't wait to start using them so she sat down to work on Africa as soon as we finished them!  Order maps and labels here

I used actual pins since the kids are old enough to keep from poking themselves.  Quilting pins worked well and with a coupon they were very affordable.

I used boxes from Montessori catalog "Small Hands" which work perfectly for storing the pin labels for every map.  I printed a small picture for each one, representing the country for easy identification.  We use just one cork board and the kids just put the map on the cork board and remove it for a different one when ready.

After a day of organizing, we sat back and admired our work and how clean the entire upstairs looked.  And then made hot chocolate and sat by the window looking at the nice snow we had that day.

What kind of organzation have you done to your school room?  Would love to hear other homeschooing moms' ideas for making use of every inch of space!

Healthy Hot Chocolate:

1 cup raw milk (right from the cow!)
1 heaping tablespoon of raw cocoa
1 t. vanilla
2 t. raw honey

Mix all ingredients in a pan on low heat.  Don't over heat so as not to ruin the healthy enzymes in the raw honey.  Stir until well mixed and enjoy!

Psalm 34:8
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Character Training: Self-Control

This month our Character Quality that aligns with our Wisdom booklets is Self-Control.

The definition we use is: The ability that self-control is the ability to do what is right instead of following our own desires and passions.

Our operational definition is: “Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.”

The word control is derived from the Latin phrase contra rotua, meaning “against a roll.”  It is the ability and power to resist the natural flow of events.  And in today’s world, the natural flow of events can look so appealing and so many lies can seem like truth.  But there is only one truth and we must study diligently, God’s Word so that we will be able to distinguish right from wrong and choose the right path.

It even takes self-control to learn to ride -
doing it the trainer's way - not our own way!
"Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit."

Some Action Steps:

  • Not act impulsively
  • Not equate desires with rights
  • Set my own limits
  • See my anger as a sign that something is wrong in me
  • Walk away from things that aren't right

To further study this quality – we found Biblical men and women who demonstrated this character.  Some my children found included:

-          Daniel, David, Moses, Noah, Jesus

We also identified some men and women who did not demonstrate this character quality, and then read about the consequences they faced.  And on Easter Sunday, what better person to study than Jesus Himself – who showed the ultimate self-control when he willingly went to the cross to die a horrible death because he loved us all so much!

And lastly, we have the operational definition posted in large print at our eating table – it’s THAT important that we learn to put this one into daily practice.  J

Happy (late) Resurrection Day, everyone!

Character Training: Alertness

I mentioned the Character Qualities in an earlier post… we teach these using our Wisdom Booklets each day.  I thought it might be fun to share a post on the Character Quality we are working on each month.  While I recommend teaching first Attentiveness and Obedience, I’m starting with a different quality since it is the one we’re learning about this month. (I start with Attentiveness because, if I can’t get my kids’ attention, then I’ll never get their heart!)


Definition: Watchful and prompt to meet danger or emergency, quick to perceive and act.

Operational Definition (aka: How I apply this to my life): Being aware of that which is taking place around me so I can have the right response to it.

Activities and discussions we have around the quality of Alertness:

-          Expand the word by learning (or recalling) synonyms and antonyms.

-          Discuss related qualities that bring balance, such as: Discretion, discernment, gentleness, forgiveness, humility

-          Discuss how God sees differently than we see

-          Decide three ways we as a family can demonstrate this quality this month.  Some ideas we came up with:

o   Notice and greet visitors at church with a smile

o   Listen to and look at those who speak to us

o   Notice and meet needs around the house.

We actually had a great opportunity to put this to action by visiting a nursing/assisted living home where the residents had the need for visitors.  And we were so blessed by them.  Perhaps more than they were blessed by us!

Alertness in our home also includes:

·         Looking for and praising ways that family members have displayed good

·         Sensing that seemingly harmless activities could lead to bad influences and
wrong friends

·         Being aware that participation in certain activities and wearing certain clothing
could attract the wrong friends and weaken the trust of authorities

·         Practicing preventative maintenance with household appliances and personal

We also relate the Character Quality to many scriptures by identifying people in the Bible who did or did not demonstrate this quality – and then what happened as a result.  My son said, “Whoever says the Bible is boring… must not have ever read it!”  I’ll say “Amen” to that.  It’s more exciting than anything Hollywood has to offer – and more useful too.  J

We also take time to learn a related hymn.  This month it is the hymn: “Open My Eyes That I May See.”  We learn the history of the hymn and then we listen to it and sing with the CD.  (I am not much of a singer so I’m so happy to have this CD with all the hymns on it, which are all related to the Character Qualities!)

It’s a joy to see the kids singing this tune as they work – even after only learning the first few verses.

We also reference our large Character Sketches books which take the learning to a whole new level.  Each quality is related to animals in nature and stories are told about them.  In the process of learning about the animal, there is geography and history learnings which come from that.  There are additional stories of people in the Bible as well and they are written in such a way that it keeps the learning interesting for all ages.  I’ve learned so much more about these stories myself, as we read through the Character Sketches books.  You can find information about the Character Sketches books here:
A chance to be alert to needs of others, while at the nursing home

Then it is my job (mom) to be very ALERT and look for my children demonstrating this quality.  It could be that D remembers to clear the table after dinner, or K picks up a scrap of paper on the floor and throws it away – anything, big or small.  I immediately say, “Wow, look at how alert you are!”  Then at night, I am sure to call out all the examples I’ve seen of alertness in front of dad during Bible time.  I’ve learned it’s important to praise kids in front of as many people as possible, as that praise multiplies by the number of people that hear it!
Related Bible memory scripture:  And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain….”  Matthew 5:1

"Watch thou and wake when others be asleep."

"To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to

acquire wisdom, one must observe."
--Maryln vos Savant

"It is the providence of knowledge to speak, and it is
the privilege of wisdom to listen.
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

"He that walks with wise men shall be wise."

"The end of argument or discussion should be, not

victory, but enlightenment."
--Joseph Joubert

Character Training!

One of the reasons we home school our kids, is so we can teach them character as well as academics.

We’ve been so encouraged by other families.  One family was particularly encouraging to us without even knowing it.  When we saw how their 10 children all treated each other we thought, “That’s what we want in our family!”
They shared their family “guidelines” with us and we were so amazed by their family’s love for each other that we decided to use their list and tweak it a bit for our family.

We call it “guidelines” and not “rules” for a reason.  We know none of us is perfect – and many times a day we probably need to ask for forgiveness for all those imperfections!  Rather, this is something we are striving for each day.

George Family Guidelines:

1.     Always use soft words, even when you don’t feel well.

2.     Always display kind actions and joyful attitudes, even if you have been mistreated. Have the right response by quickly forgiving others in your heart even before they ask.

3.     Always be enthusiastic and look for opportunities to praise others' character.

4.     Always deflect praise and be grateful to God and others for the ways they have benefited your life.

5.     Always use manners and be respectful of others and their belongings.

6.     Always do what is right, even when others may not, or when no one is looking.

7.     Thank God for how He made you, for what He has given you and everything He allows you to go through. (Romans 8:28)

8.     Don’t mock or put others down. Develop compassion and pray for others.

9.     Never argue, complain, or blame. Quickly admit when you have done wrong and ask for forgiveness (even if you were only 10% at fault). Don't wait till you’re caught. Be sure your sins will find you out. He who covers his sin will not prosper, but he that confesses and forsakes it shall find mercy.

10.   Have a tough accountability/prayer partner to daily share your heart with and to keep you in line (your parents, spouse). The power of sin is in secrecy.

11.   Be attentive and look for ways to serve others with sincere motives and no thought of self-gain.

12.   Think pure thoughts (Philippians 4:8, Romans 13:14).

13.   Always give a good report of others. Don't gossip! Never tale-bear unless physical harm will come to someone. (Use Matthew 18.)

14.   Never raise a hand to hit.

15.   Never raise a foot to kick.

16.   Never raise an object to throw.

17.   Never raise a voice to yell.

18.   Never raise an eye to scowl.

19.   Use one toy/activity at a time. Share!

20.   Do your best to keep your surroundings neat, clean and organized.

21.   Never let the sun go down on your wrath.
(Don’t go to bed angry or guilty)

22.   Amendment J.O.Y. -
-Put Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Building Character

Another thing we have begun doing a couple of years ago is studying the Character Qualities.  These are 49 character qualities with what is called the “operational definition.”  The operational definition is what helps us understand how we should apply this to our lives.  The Wisdom Booklets we use from ATI are a help in this area as each unit of study has a character quality associated with it.  But we also have Character Sketches books, a Character Quality game and booklets with stories and examples of other famous people in history who exhibited these qualities.  Most importantly, we must model the behavior ourselves as parents (this is the hard part to be sure!)

Too often in today’s media, those who do not exhibit these qualities are shown doing so with no consequences, or even worse, shown as heroes in the story.  We think this sends the wrong message to our children (and to us!) as we subconsciously become “numb” to these wrong behaviors.

This course of study becomes a part of our lives as it weaves through everything we do, all day long.  We also realize that as we teach these to our children, we ourselves are convicted by God.  I might think, “Oh Lord, I don’t want to teach on this topic because it’s painful to see how I’ve failed at this throughout my life.”  God is teaching Keith and me while we teach our children.  Sometimes I’ll just humble myself and admit this to my kids.  I say that while Mommy is teaching them, God is teaching ME how to teach them. 

We have a long way to go, but we’re thankful for the many resources we’ve been given through ATI and for the wonderful families who have shown us what the fruit of these things look like:  Teenagers who are not rebellious but are loving in spirit to others both inside and outside of their families and children who are hard-working and responsible.  It’s a wonderful thing to see and we now realize that this IS possible.  But it is a journey that is for sure!

For a PDF download of the Character Qualities click here:

Using the Montessori Peg Board

Here are two examples of pre-algebra Montessori “work”

The Peg Board

The Peg Board has many uses, here is the example we worked on this week.  The purpose is to take a square and make it into a smaller square that is equivalent to the larger square. 

For this example, we took the number 625.

First, my son "D" takes the units pegs (units are always identified as the green color, tens are blue and hundreds are red.)  At this age, he is already well prepared to have the amounts represented by just a color – so there is some abstraction in this work that has come with years of being in the Montessori classroom using these representations.

Here is the peg board with the units pegs in a square that is equal to 625. 

Second, he now counts over 10 pegs from the side, and replaces each row of 10 with a blue peg (which represents 10.)

Third, he continues with this process of replacing rows of 10 pegs, with a blue peg.

Fourth, he then begins to replace rows of “10s” pegs with the 100’s peg (red) where he is able.

This process continues until the smallest square possible is built – equivalent to the original square of 625!  From here we can see that 625 is equal to 25²

He learns to document this process as well as he goes along.  Which you'll see in the next example.

Working with Squared Numbers
For this one, I’ll use the same numbers for sake of ease.
Materials needed include:
  • Montessori Decimal Bead set (up to the ten bars)
  • Montessori number tiles (I take them from the checkerboard multiplication set we have)
  • Pipe cleaners – used for the “()” in the problem
  • Cuts of paper with “+” and “X” on them.
  • Montessori “hundreds” squares (each represent 100 beads)
Working to find the answer to 25²
First, we agree on a few things:
We agree that 25² = (20 + 5)² = (20 + 5) X (20 + 5)
Now he can work on the problem visually to come to his answer.
Step 1: He lays out the problem using the actual amounts shown by the beads. (See part of the problem built out visually below)
The "2" is in blue which represents the 10s place, making the 2 stand for "20".

Step 2: Once he has the two rows of the problem both written and shown visually with the beads and tiles, he begins to use the hundreds squares and beads to find and show the answer to the problem.

As he finds the answers, he finds he will need 4 hundreds boards (represented by the squares) and then he finds how many 10 bars he will need - and places them in the binomial square shape (which he is already familiar with from previous works.
The binomial square!

So he finds that he needs 400 + 100 + 100 + 25
400 - represented by the 4 100s squares
100 + 100 represented by the 10s bars
25 represented by the 5 bars (light blue bars have five beads on them)
His written notation looks like this:

From here he can work through the answers to multiple problems, practicing the steps over and over as well as practicing writing out the problems in his math notation workbook.
I didn’t know how to do this until Jr. High school, (and even then it was pretty shaky) but perhaps if someone had shown me how all squared numbers actually make a square – I might have found it interesting and concrete enough to try a bit harder.  I’m looking forward to practicing this myself so I can help my daughter prepare for algebra the same way!
If you'd like more examples of this with more detailed instructions or pictures, feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to share examples to help you along!