Homepreschool and Beyond

*Relationship *Routine *Readiness *Reading Aloud

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Posts Tagged ‘Curriculum’

The “4 R’s” for Early Learners (Preschoolers)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 13, 2012

We’ve all heard of the “Three R’s”:  Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Most people believe that these are the basic building blocks of education for all children—even preschoolers.

But have you heard of the “Four R’s”?  The four R’s are not only for preschoolers; they are for children of all ages. They are the real building blocks of education–especially for preschoolers. The four R’s include:  Relationship, routine, readiness, and reading aloud.

Relationship is the first and most important part of any child’s education. Our first responsibility as parents is building a relationship of love and trust with our little ones. Once our children learn to love and trust us–ideally during infancy–we can begin to teach them how to have loving relationships with others. The most important relationship we can help our children develop is their relationship with God. (For more, see my tab on Relationship.)

Routine is the second building block.  Preschoolers need a regular daily routine that they can rely on. They need to have regular times for meals, snacks, naps, and learning activities. Even older children rely on that sense of “what comes next”; it keeps them on an even keel emotionally. I’m not talking about a down-to-the-minute, oppressive routine; just a simple plan for the day that gives children security and regularity. (For example routines for children ages 2-3 and ages 4-5, see my tab on routine.)

Readiness: Children of all ages need to develop readiness before they tackle any new task.  “Readiness” simply means that the child is physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually ready for the experience.  Readiness has everything to do with maturity…and since children mature in their own, God-given time-table, parents must learn to be patient and wait until their child is ready…no matter what their neighbor’s child is capable of.

Parents who wait for signs of readiness, interest, and even natural learning to take place will save themselves and their children hours of frustration.

Readiness is especially important during the first eight years of life.  During this time, there is a vast range of “normal” development.  That’s why homepreschooling/homeschooling works so well:  Parents can individualize their children’s learning.  Where their children are “ahead”, they can let them move them along without holding them back.  In areas where their children struggle, they can slow down, relax, and give their children time to develop readiness.

Reading aloud:  Reading aloud to your children is the single most important thing that you can do to help them learn.  Reading aloud, and the discussion that goes with it, does more than teach the content of the book you’re reading:  It also teaches pre-reading skills such as learning that letters make words, learning that print moves from left to right, learning to value and enjoy reading/language, learning the basics of grammar, learning correct pronounciation, and so on.  It also is a great relationship builder!

I believe that these “4R’s” should be the foundation upon which homepreschooling/homeschooling rests. If these priorities are kept in perspective, everything else naturally falls into place. You may ask, “but what about the traditional 3R’s: Aren’t they important?!” Sure they are…once your child is developmentally ready for them. Most preschoolers aren’t. We have to remember that the curriculum in the public schools has been pushed down to the point that what used to be taught in Kindergarten is now taught in preschool, and what used to be taught in the first or even the second grade is now taught in Kindergarten. No wonder so many children are struggling in school! Preschoolers haven’t changed, but the curriculum has…drastically. Yet many parents expect their children to master it.

I take a different approach: I believe we should give the kids an old-fashioned, relaxed, play-based preschool/Kindergarten, and then slowly, over the years, notch those expectations up. You might say: Expect LESS of them when they are little, but MORE of them when they are older. Most public schools have it the opposite way: Expect MORE of them when they are little, but LESS of them when they are older.

This isn’t to say that preschoolers can’t learn. Preschoolers can (and do!) learn so much. In fact, if you take a look at the “skills lists” in Homepreschool and Beyond, you will probably discover a lot of things that you would never think that preschoolers could or should learn (especially about the Lord, or about nature, science, and the world around them.) In these areas especially, I think many parents underestimate their preschoolers. However,we need to remember that the way preschoolers learn is unique (they learn primarily through play,hands-on experiences, and through being read to and talked to) and the things they should learn are not simply their colors, numbers, and alphabet. There is a whole, vast world to explore, and preschoolers are very curious.

By using the foundation of the 4R’s, we can keep our priorities in order (make the main thing the main thing–relationships), and we can lay down a firm foundation for our children’s later years.

In my next post, I will briefly talk about specifics: What specific things do preschoolers need to be learning or doing, if not early formal academics?

© 2010, 2012 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Curriculum, Early Math, Goals, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Kindergarten Readiness, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Readiness, The 4 R's | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Homeschool in Freedom: Breaking All the Rules, Part Two

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on February 20, 2012

-There is no rule that says that you must involve your child in every out-of-the-home activity available so that your child is properly “socialized.” While some such activities are enjoyable and recommended, remember to find the balance: After all, you have to be home to homeschool! Only participate in activities that provide positive socialization, and those that do not wear you (or your children) out. Remember that the home is the primary place for teaching manners and proper socialization; in reality, your children need little more.

-There is no rule that says that you have to do fifteen different subjects in one day. That is how many subjects some curriculum suppliers offer: Bible, math, reading, phonics, grammar, writing, handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, history, health, science, art, music, and foreign language. Alternate your lessons by day of the week, by unit, or by semester so that you are teaching either science OR history, spelling OR vocabulary, grammar OR writing, science OR health, but never everything in the same day. (Read my post “How Many Subjects Do We Need to Teach, Anyway?” HERE.)

As for grammar: Grammar  can be saved until your child is reading well (till phonics is done, or even later.)

-There is no rule that says you have to do school Monday-Friday, August through May. Many homeschoolers use a year round plan, taking their vacations off-season, starting school early or “late”, and so on. If you want to do a four day week, you can. If you want to do school on Saturday, that’s OK. It’s also OK to count your vacation days as “school” days if you are doing something educational (visiting a state park, museum, etc…field trip!)

-There is no rule that says that you have to start school at eight o’clock. Not all of us are morning people; many of us do our best work in the afternoons.  Oh—by the way—it really is OK to homeschool in your pajamas.

-There is no rule that says that you have to use textbooks. Often, especially in the early grades, the same material can be covered in a much more interesting way by reading aloud real books to your children. Remember, ANYTHING we use to help our children learn is “curriculum”, including real books, videos, games, activities and even un-planned, real life experiences.

-There is no rule that says you shouldn’t use textbooks, either. As a dear friend reminded me recently–textbooks are not intrinsically evil! Textbooks are merely tools that parents use to help their children learn.

A few words of advice: If you do choose to go the textbook route, don’t turn too much of it over to your kids to do independently. Make sure you follow-up on every lesson immediately, and discuss the lessons with your children— even when they can read them independently. Additionally, make sure that textbooks aren’t your children’s ONLY reading. Continue to read good literature aloud to them, even when they learn how to read themselves; and once they learn to read, make sure they read LOTS on their own, too. (This is so important!) Plan time for those “electives”, which are more than  “optional extras”—subjects like art, music, and PE are vitally important for normal development, and tons of fun, too. Additionally, give your children the time they need to explore their own interests (academic and otherwise.)

Personally, I tend to use real books almost exclusively during the early years (pre-K-First grade, at least), but I slowly edge a little more towards textbooks as my children get older. We usually end up using a “mix” including (an abundance of) real books, and some textbooks, too.

-There is no rule that says that you have to use a textbook—or any other book, for that matter—in the “traditional” way. Textbooks make great “spines”, to which you can add living books and real-life activities. Together, they make a great whole.

Books don’t have to be used as a whole—feel free to skim them, read only applicable passages out of them, and so on.

It’s always a great idea to set out a “library box” or “book basket” to encourage your children’s interests in reading, and/or supplement their curriculum.

-There is no rule that says you have to finish the entire book/text in a year’s time:  most public schools don’t; they simply drop them at the end of the year, potentially leaving out large chunks of learning. We don’t have to do that. We can pick up where we left off the next school year, or even extend our school year and continue working through them until we are done.

If your child is struggling with a new concept, slow down. Feel free to supplement lessons or repeat them until your child masters the concept and is ready to move on. Homemade games are awesome teaching tools to help your children memorize their math facts, practice handling money, or  practice phonics/reading.

NOTE: Most textbooks, especially math texts, include a review section at the beginning of each year. If your children need it, use it. If they know the material and are ready to move ahead, let them. Curriculum is a tool, not a slave-driver.

-There is no rule that says that all your teaching materials or textbooks must all be the same grade level. One of our greatest blessings as homeschoolers is the ability to individualized our curriculum and methods to fit each child. That may mean that your child is “in” the third grade, but is using a fourth grade language arts text, a second grade math text, and a third grade science text. That’s OK! Remember that mastery is the goal. Also remember that you will have a year or two’s wiggle room come high school, when many kids do only two or three years of math and science. You can use those years (or the junior high years, which are often review anyway) to “catch up”.  (NOTE: Find out what your state law says, though. Some states require yearly testing/grade level achievement. Find out what your leeway is. If necessary, hold your child back a grade. You can always bump them back up again, later.)

-There is no rule that says that you have to purchase your entire curriculum from one supplier. Most homeschoolers are “eclectic”, mixing and matching curriculums/suppliers to find what fits their children and their teaching style.

-There is no rule that says that you have to do every activity that the teacher’s manual suggests. Remember that most curriculums, especially textbooks, are written for classroom use and thus must contain “busy work” for the children who finish their work early as well as extra work for children who are struggling. DO ONLY THE WORK THAT WILL BENEFIT YOUR CHILD; don’t feel obligated to do it all! That’s a sure recipe for burn-out.

-There is no rule that says that you have to use the teacher’s manual, if it is no help to you. I rarely  buy teacher’s manuals at all until after the third grade or so—and even then, they are often used as an occasional reference, only (my exception: math.)

-There is no rule that says that you must give your child tests—and if you do, remember that you should only give tests if you believe they will be a help to your child (or you.) Homeschooling parents who are involved in their children’s learning usually know if their children know the material or not. Other than spelling tests, we give very few tests until after the fourth grade.

I do think it is a good idea to make sure that children begin to learn how to take tests by 5th or 6th grade, so that they are “in practice” for standardized tests, if they are required. Additionally, I believe it is important for junior and senior high kids to practice taking tests and doing the questions at the end of chapters, so that they are prepared for college (used to using/finding information in textbooks and used to writing the answers as well as preparing for tests.)

-There is no rule that says that if you do give your child tests, they have to be written. First tests, especially, can be given orally, in a game format, or whatever other creative way that appeals to you.

-There is no rule that says that school should take five to six hours every day. In fact, if you are taking that long, it’s probably too long. Short lessons are best.  Remember that homeschooling is more efficient that public school—we can get twice as much done in half the time.

On average, plan for 10-15 minutes per academic subject–per day– per grade—MAXIMUM. For example: Kindergardeners and first graders spend 10-15 minutes per subject; second graders spend twenty to twenty-five minutes, and so on, until you get to around forty to forty-five minutes per subject—then stay there. Yes, the public school’s class periods are longer—but they waste so much time settling kids down, taking roll, and handing out/collecting papers that they are lucky if they get 30 minutes of actual teaching time in each class.

Exceptions: If your children are older (junior high/high school)—and even then, I’d be sure they got breaks every 4o-45 minutes or so.

NOTE: I do allow my children more time when they are doing work on their own initiative, or when it is something hands-on or for fun (art projects they don’t want to stop, when I am reading an exciting book to them and the kids are begging to hear more, and so on.)

-There is no rule that says that your children must have homework: Most homeschoolers don’t. They get their work done during school time, or save it for another day.

-There is no rule that says that you have to pre-plan your lessons: I plan at the beginning of the year or the beginning of a unit/topic. Once we start, we just “do what comes next” and write it down later. This gives me leeway to adjust what we are doing if it isn’t working, to take extra time to master a hard subject or to explore a subject we are enjoying, or allow for sick days. I keep “journal-style” lessons, writing down what we do after the fact. (I do know which books we are reading next, etc.)

-There is no rule that says that you can’t include non-traditional subjects, or that you have to cover the traditional subjects in a traditional way: It’s OK to count chores as “life-skills”, baking as “home-ec”, and outside play time as “PE”. In fact, I recommend it. Remember that anything educational that you do, no matter the time of day or day of the week, is part of your homeschool’s curriculum and therefore should be counted as “school”.  Homeschoolers are always in school!! If you’ll count all the educational things you do on a day to day basis, you’ll be amazed.

-There is no rule that says that your preschooler has to know all his alphabet and numbers before starting Kindergarten. What else is Kindergarten for?! Kindergarten is the best time to cement those preschool “facts” and begin a slightly longer, more disciplined daily routine. Remember, we don’t have to make our children ready for Kindergarten—we can make Kindergarten ready for them.

-There is no rule that says that your child has to learn to read in Kindergarten—or even first grade. Learning to read, like learning to walk or swim, is very much a developmental task and should be approached on an individual basis–depending on readiness. (See my previous post , the tab on readiness, and the archives on “readiness” for more.)

-There’s no rule that says that you have to teach state history in the fourth grade (we did it together, when the kids were in grades 3 and 5) or do a science fair project in the fifth grade (unless you think it would benefit your kids.)

-There’s no rule that says that you have to teach your kids what the scope and sequence says you should for history or science, or that you can’t teach your children the things they want to learn, instead. In fact, some of the best learning happens when we give our kids the lead. (Scope and sequences are pretty arbitrary when it comes to history and science topics. Does it really matter which year you teach your children about the states, or insects, for example? Nope. Cover it whenever you think your kids will get the most out of it.)

No matter your chosen homeschooling method, I think it’s a great idea to take some time off once in a while and let your children choose their topics (often called the “delight-directed” approach.) If your child has a topic she loves, encourage her to take some time to pursue it. Feel free to take off on a “rabbit trail” once in a while and explore topics of interest when they come up without feeling guilty. Many times these topics will lead your child to learn more (about every subject) than you ever dreamed. Sometimes these topics lead children towards their future career paths.


Many times, homeschooling parents discover that they have to break free from the “public school” mentality and its rules in order to give their children the best and most efficient education they can. Just like their kids, they need time to “detox” and eliminate the “public school” mentality. Don’t be afraid to re-examine the rules or “step out of the box.”  Remember that YOU are in charge of your child’s education. You get to make (most of) the “rules”, so don’t worry if you are “breaking” them or adjusting them to fit your needs. The ability we have to individualised our materials and methods is one of our greatest strength as homeschoolers. Don’t be afraid to use it.

© 2012 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Challenge to Parents, Education, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homepreschool, Homeschool, homeschool methods, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschool/homepreschool | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Off to a Rough Start? Advice for Parents of Young Learners (pre-K-grade 3)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on October 2, 2011

   Note:  This is a classic re-post that orginally appeared on my Home School Enrichment blog several years back.  Thanks HSE, for giving permission for me to re-post it!

     Have you been thinking: “Here it is, only October, and I already feel like a failure as a homeschooling Mom?” I feel a little like that right now, too.

      It seems as though September was nothing but one interruption after another.  We had one child struggling with an ongoing illness, along with all the requisite doctor appointments; we had unwelcome guests in our house—two mice—which meant traps, then cleaning and sterilizing; we ALL got miserable colds, and finally, we finished off the month with our annual off-season vacation.

     Not enough school has been completed!  I already feel “behind”.  My plans have been set aside, and my vision for the first month of the school did NOT come true. 

     What should you do if your year has started like ours? First of all, and especially if you are new to homeschooling: Realize that “some days are like that.” Actually, some months are like that. I always tell new homeschoolers that the hardest part of homeschooling is not the academics—it’s life. It’s dealing with interruptions, illness, errands and laundry. This is a normal part of homeschooling that we all must learn to deal with.   

     Another important thing to remember is that there is nothing as hard to deal with as unrealized expectations.  They can be heartbreaking. Many homeschoolers, especially new ones, envision the “perfect homeschool”: Cheerful, obedient children who love to learn; a patient, totally organized Mom whose lessons plans are legendary and always completed. It’s hard when our dreams don’t match up with reality.
     So what should you do if your year is off to a rough start?  Here are some ideas:

-Pray and ask the Lord to renew your enthusiasm about homeschooling. Ask the Lord to give you HIS vision for your homeschool.

-Take an eternal perspective: Remember that this time at home with your children is just a “blink” compared to eternity. We want our children taught in the way that most benefits their eternity—and that is homeschooling. 

-Feel behind? Ask yourself, “Behind WHO?” Remember that the public schools expect too much of young children, and not enough of older children. The goal should be steady progress (slow and steady wins the race.) Preschoolers and Kindergarteners need time to build a foundation of basic knowledge about the world, and a wide vocabulary before they are introduced to formal academics.

-Re-examine your expectations. Are they appropriate? Often new homeschoolers spend TOO much time daily, and expect TOO much from their children—especially YOUNG children. 

-Re-examine the readiness issue: Has what you’ve been expecting of your young learner been inappropriate?  Is your child resistant? If so, perhaps you need to back off a little.  

-Re-examine your routine. Is it appropriate? Does it include plenty of breaks, and time for younger students to play? Do your children have regular bedtimes, and a set time to wake up? Do you? Do you get up and dressed BEFORE your children do?

-Consider shortening your lessons, doing more work orally, and generally “lightening” your load. Charlotte Mason says that short lessons actually build children’s attention spans.  After all, it is better to have your child fully engaged and paying attention for a short lesson, than having him squirmy and inattentive for a long lesson. We want our children to look forward to school; we want to keep them begging for more.

 -Consider changing to a year round schedule. A year round schedule allows you to take time off when you need to. You can take time off for family emergencies, illnesses or cleaning days without worry. We take off extra time around the holidays in exchange for schooling part of the summer (when it’s too hot to do much in central California, anyway.) During the early years of schooling (K-3), we follow a four day week, and only three days include an academic emphasis; one day is used for park days, field trips, library time, art, messy projects, nature walks, games, life skills, catch up work, etc.

-Make homeschooling your priority. Schedule everything you can around it. Don’t let the phone or appointments take you away from school time, unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

-If you haven’t already, take the time to write down the reasons you decided to homeschool in the first place–as well as some basic goals. That way, when you have a tough day (or week), you can re-read them and remind yourself that those reasons haven’t changed.  You’ll probably see that your important goals are being met, as well. (These are usually spiritual or behavioral in nature.)

-Plan time for the fun stuff: I know this doesn’t make sense if you feel “behind”; our tendency is to double the school work instead.  Resist that temptation or you and your child will quickly become frustrated and burnt out.  Instead, plan the time you need to enjoy art and music with your children.  Art and music are more than just “extra” subjects; they teach skills vital for young children.  Furthermore, they lighten the mood in your home, make learning fun, and give you and your children the opportunity to feel successful.

-Start over:  If you are new to homeschooling and feel as if September has been a bust, give yourself a chance to start over.  Count the days you have done as “practice”, or time to break into your school routine, and then start over.  That’s right, start over from right where you are, only adding the necessary adjustments. 

-Finally, remember that whenever God calls us to do something, He will give us the strengths and the abilities we need to complete it.  Don’t let a rough start make you reconsider your decision to homeschool…don’t give up.  Implement some of the changes I’ve suggested, and hang in there.  It does get easier.

Live the 4R’s!


© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Challenge to Parents, Curriculum, Early Academics, Education, Elementary School, Encouragement, Family Life, Getting Started, Homepreschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Readiness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Teach Your Children to Write (Handwriting, revisited)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 13, 2011

Note: It has recently come to my attention that one of my most popular posts, “How to Teach Your Children to Write”, has broken links in it. Therefore, I have revised my post, added new links and more information. I hope you enjoy it.

      Are you thinking about teaching your preschooler/Kindergartener how to write?  Before trying to teach writing, make sure your children have had lots of experience with art–felt tipped pens, crayons, colored pencils, cut and paste, play dough, water colors, collage, stencils–all of it.  This helps children develop small muscle strength and control, as well as eye-hand coordination.  They should have had plenty of experience with manipulative toys as well:  Puzzles, Legos, pattern blocks, etc.

     Be sure your children are developmentally ready before you start “formal” lessons.  Most children won’t learn to write until they are 4-5 years of age.  That being said, it is important to remember that age is not always the best indicator of readiness; instead, watch for these signals: Interest (asking to be taught), natural or spontaneous learning (copying letters/numbers spontaneously onto their art), asking you about letters and their meaning, etc.  Additionally, your child should be able to draw a detailed picture of himself, with at least a head, body, arms, fingers, legs, feet, hair, eyes, nose, and mouth (the more detail the better.) Note:  If your child is younger but  has all the readiness signs, you’ll have to decide if s/he is ready or not; after all, you are the “expert” on your own child!  If you think s/he might be ready, start with some “trial” lessons, but watch carefully for frustration and keep lessons short.  If you have any doubts, it’s better to wait.

     Remember—there’s no rule that says you must teach your children to write their letters in alphabetical order; most parents start by teaching their children how to write their names.  A good way to get started is with sandpaper letters.  You can help your child use his/her pointer finger to trace the letter, using correct formation (i.e. to make an ‘h’, start at the top and go down, up on the same line, and then around.)  You can make your own sandpaper letters with medium grade sandpaper, scissors you don’t care about (they’ll be dull when you are done), and Sharpie pens (it might take two or more.) Here is what you do: Cut the sandpaper into 3×5 or smaller rectangles (playing card size is good). Next, use the Sharpies to write the matching upper and lower case letters on each card (Aa; Bb, etc.)  Idea: Cut one longer strip, and write your child’s name on it. That way, your child can learn to trace the letters of his name easily. And remember, your child  should learn to write his/her name with the first letter capitalized all the other letters in lower case!

     More sensory experiences:  For other sensory experiences, you can write letters and numbers in cornmeal, salt, or better yet, Jell-o powder (have your child lick his/her finger, form the letter, and then lick her finger again as a reward.  Obviously, kids with sugar/dye sensitivities or children with dirty hands should skip this one!)

     Before trying to write letters on regular paper, make sure your child knows how to hold a pencil correctly. Ideally, s/he should have already learned proper pencil grip through art experiences. Some kids struggle with this, and benefit from pencil grips (I personally like the “crossover grips” and “Pencil Grips by the Pencil Grip Inc.” best.)  You can also see (and try) various pencil grips at your local school supply store. Learn more about the proper grip (called the “tripod hold”) HERE.  You can read more about holding a pencil, along with suggested activities meant to strengthen fingers and wrists HERE.

Children also need a comfortable chair so they can sit up straight (your child might need a booster seat or child sized table and chairs for this.) For ideal handwriting posture, children’s feet should be supported, not dangling. An office chair that is adjustable also works well for this, too, and will grow along with your child.)

     When it’s time to teach handwriting, it’s a good idea to learn some “tricks of the trade”.  Sing, Spell, Read, and Write, the curriculum we’ve used with all four of our children (with great success), includes scripted lessons that show you how to teach your child to write, letter by letter (in the Off We Go workbook).  If you feel lost and don’t know how to teach writing (and phonics), you really need this curriculum! Alternately, you can order just the Off We Go workbook (which is what we used for Kindergarten–we turned it into an alphabet book).  Call 1 800 321 8322 to  order directly from the publisher, or order in online HERE (publisher) or HERE.

Other Tips: Sit down by your child and watch your children carefully while they are beginning to write, even guiding their hands if necessary.  Say the phrases you learned (or make up your own) while they write. I used to say: “First little ‘c’, then little ‘a’.”  “First little ‘c’, then little ‘d'”, etc.  It’s important to insure that letters are formed correctly.  Bad habits are easy to develop but hard to break.  It might not seem very important right now how your child forms the letters if they are written neatly, but when you begin to teach cursive, you’ll quickly find out otherwise.  Properly formed letters lead quickly and easily into cursive, but bad habits (such as starting an “n” at the bottom instead of the top) mean extra strokes…writing that takes longer than necessary, and re-learning the correct letter formation when learning cursive (third or fourth grade.)

You don’t have to buy a separate  “curriculum” for handwriting unless you want to; if you do, please save it for Kindergarten or even First Grade.  (Note:  Before you purchase a separate handwriting program, take a look at your phonics program and see how much writing it requires.  It might be all you need.) Personal recomendations:   Explode the Code’s Get Ready for the Code(perfect for Kindergarten);  Christian Liberty Press Handwriting or Handwriting Without Tears. For teaching cursive, check out Cheerful Cursive (they also make Happy Handwriting, but I haven’t seen it.)

Once your children have learned how to consistently form their letters correctly, handwriting practice is easy. You can use a handwriting curriculum, or just use spelling and vocabuary words as well as copy work for practice. In fact, any writing they do counts as practice.  Simple Bible verses make wonderful copy work, especially the Psalms and Proverbs.

      About paper:  You might want to head down to your local school supply store and buy some nice, lined, handwriting paper.  I personally hate Kindergarten-sized paper; I think the huge spaces make it harder for little ones.  Imagine, little hands that can barely make straight lines being made to make those super long lines!   We started our children with 2nd grade paper (or thereabouts), and stayed with it for a couple of years.  Also, if you can buy smooth, heavy paper, it’s better than thin, rough paper (see links below).

Finally, remember to keep your first lessons short and fun–no longer than 5 minutes or so.  If your child is resistant, back off for a few months before you try again.  Remember, waiting for readiness makes the difference between months of forced lessons with lots of tears, and fewer lessons done cheerfully.

     Paper resources:  Miller’s Pads and Paper sells quality lined paper; Target and Amazon sells Composition books that contain bright, smooth, lined “story paper” (blank on the top half for drawing pictures; lined on the bottom for writing.)  They also carry”Redi Space” paper to help children space their letters, and “Mead See and Feel Learn to Letter” which has raised  lines.  It’s nice quality paper, especially for the price!

© 2010, 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Elementary School, Encouragement | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Curriculum Review: Peak With Books

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 11, 2011

      Peak With Books: An Early Childhood Resource for Balanced Literacy, in one sentence: Before Five in a Row on steroids!  According to Dr. Ruth Beechick, author of some of the best homeschooling books on the market:

     “I think this book is topnotch. Any parent who used these lesson plans for awhile would be getting a good education in using books with children and building upon them to expand vocabulary, experiences and thoughts. For people who want to do the “living books” thing that Susan Macaulay has popularized, here is the Kindergarten program all worked out for them.”

      From the back of the book: “Peak With Books shows how to use popular children’s literature to build reading, writing, and cognitive skills in an inquiry-based environment. Instead of using a “skill and drill” approach, the authors employ conversations, questions, and meaning-based activities to stimulate children’s curiosity, confidence and thirst for knowledge.”

Peak With Books, like Before Five in a Row, is:


*encourages multiple readings of each book

*includes discussion ideas and activities related to each book.

*Peak With Books does not include daily lesson plans. Like Before Five in a Row, you will have to decide how and when to use the activities.

*You should choose the activities that you think would be the most helpful for your child; don’t think you have to do them all.

Unlike Before Five in a Row:

Peak With Books is written primarily for classroom use. Even so, the activities are easily adapted for home use.

Peak With Books is adaptable to ages 4-7…it is for advanced preschoolers, Kindergarteners, and First graders, depending on their readiness/development (some activities will may not be appropriate for preschoolers.)

Peak With Books is a curriculum. It is not a distinctly Christian curriculum, however, and therefore it does not include Bible/character study ideas (I prefer more of a Biblical emphasis; however, from what I have read of the curriculum, you would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely offensive or inappropriate.)

*It is not a complete curriculum. Its purpose is to build literacy skills, thinking skills and vocabulary. You will need other resources to cover Bible/character traits, as well as phonics, handwriting, math, science, social studies (history), etc for Kindergarten and First grade.)

      Peak With Books (PWB) uses 42 picture books; many of which are classics.  Additionally, related books are listed  (“story time extensions.”) The front of the book includes a list intended to be used to turn PWB into a sort of unit study or thematic approach.  Personally, I don’t think it goes nearly far enough for that…no non-fiction books are suggested!  Additionally, the books listed under each “unit” aren’t well enough related to me, and many of the topics are weak, at best. (Some of the weak topics include:  Bear Hugs, Caps and Hats, Circle Stories, and Walking. It does include some good themes, such as “animal habitats”, but without non-fiction books, so much learning is left out.) Compare these themes to my suggested units HERE or my unit study archives (see categories on the left sidebar.)  

     Peak With Books includes story questions (good conversation starters), music (mostly singing; CD’s are suggested), drama ideas, 84 finger plays (Peak With Books calls them “finger rhymes”), and 82 poems.  It focuses on early writing skills, “reproductions and retellings”, as well as learning games and activities that are intended to help children learn those “preschool/Kindergarten facts” such as letter recognition, beginning writing, colors, etc. Thinking games and memory games and included as well.


     PWB is a good resource for those who want to learn how to pull elements out of literature (parts of the story, illustrations, questions, etc) and use them to teach their children literacy, vocabulary and thinking skills. It would also be a good starting point for families who want to use a literature approach, and need some “starter ideas.”  But to me, it seemed incomplete.  It felt like the authors had a good start on a wonderful unit study, but left it unfinished. They only needed to add only a few elements to turn each book into a full-fledged unit study. Since no non-fiction books were used at all, I don’t feel it could really be called a complete “thematic approach” or “unit study; it is not fully integrated. It does fulfill its purpose: Building literacy.  However, for as much time as you would spend doing the various activities, you could easily enjoy a full-fledged unit study and achieve a better and more complete result.  In my opinion, Five in a Row is a  better option. It is much more complete, especially when you add the Bible supplement. 


© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Book Reviews, Curiculum Reviews, Curriculum, Early Academics, Elementary School, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Methods, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Exploring the Montessori Method

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 14, 2011

        Warning:  This is a long and complex post.  I understand that many Montessori experts will not agree with my interpretations of the method, and am open to kind comments (see my previous post.)   I did my best to use reputable sources, including Montessori’s own writing.  NOTE:  Please excuse the lousy ads on the You Tube videos.

        The Montessori Method  is based the writings and schools developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the first female medical doctors in Italy.  Montessori was Catholic, and many of her first schools served the developmentally disabled and the disadvantaged; many Montessori schools were Catholic schools.  Montessori was greatly influenced by the time she spent in India…many writers label her philosophy as a mixture of Catholicism and Indian mysticism (see point six.)   Quoting from The Essential Montessori, p. 15:  “In later years, her combining of the mystical and the methodological makes the content (of her writings) even more difficult to understand.”  

        The Montessori Method is best known for its sequential “exercises” or “work” in several different subject areas: 

 –Sensory materials (or sensorial) help children learn concepts through hands-on, “sensory” manipulatives; these materials teach discernment of color, weight, size, temperature, sound, etc.  (Watch Barrick Tablet lessons HERE.)

 Practical life materials include child-size, real tools that children use to practice various skills that help them grow in independence and coordination, such as hand-washing, wiping tables, arranging flowers, dusting, folding clothes, shining shoes, pouring water, spooning rice and/or beans, and using “frames” to practice tying, buttoning, fastening, etc (don’t all good moms do this sort of thing?  Just doing day-to-day “life” with your children—like chores—and teaching your children how to dress themselves–takes care of this one.)

-Academic subject materials, or “materials for development”, including materials used to help children grasp mathematics (things like The Bank Math Game, counting & matching,) language arts (sandpaper letters, the “movable alphabet”, science, history, geography, etc. 

-Other common Montessori activities include:

-“Gymnastics” (marching, exercises, walking a line, swinging, games with balls, gardening–what we’d call PE), as well as “respiratory gymnastics” (breathing exercises)

-Music (there is mention of singing, chanting etc; some do formal lessons; Montessori classrooms keep musical instruments available, such as “tonal bells”)

-“Manual work” (making vases from clay, making little bricks which are then used to make mini walls and houses, etc) 

-Art:  The purpose of art to Montessori was not to provide the child with an opportunity for free expression, but to train the child’s eye and hand for later such expressions.  Art exercises often include exposure to the masters as well as activities such as methodically outlining/filling in geometric shapes.  She felt that such an approach to art laid a foundation for later art experiences.   To quote:  “…the so-called “free drawing” has no place in my system.  I avoid all those useless, immature, weary efforts and those frightful drawings that are so popular in “advanced” schools today…we do not give lessons in drawing or in modeling, and yet many of our children know how to draw flowers, birds, landscapes, and even imaginary scenes in a very admirable way…We do not teach a child to draw by having him draw, but by giving him the opportunity to prepare his means of expression…” (The Discovery of the Child, p. 318.) Again, I disagree.  Any artist will tell you that to learn to draw, you draw.  Besides that, any type of art, including “free drawing” is more about self-expression and the enjoyment of the process than the end product. 

        I have noticed that most modern Montessori blogs—especially homeschooling blogs—don’t seem to follow this part of Montessori’s methods…most homeschooling Montessori families do a lot of arts and crafts—some involving “free expression”, some including “lessons.” 

Important Things Montessori Has Given us:

-Child-sized materials (tables and chairs, toys, tools, and manipulatives)

-Educational toys

-The idea of “observing” children, which is now an important part of child development programs and studies

-The idea of a “prepared environment”:  A home/classroom environment designed with carefully designed elements to promote self-teaching

-Self-correcting toys and learning materials

-An emphasis on learning through the senses (training the senses—touch, vision, smell, sound, etc)

-The idea of multi-age teaching (“open” classrooms—of course, all homeschools work this way.)

-The idea that there are “sensitive periods” in development, and that the years from 0-6 are “the formative years” (although there is some controversy about specified “sensitive” periods, since the timelines of normal child development vary so much, even in normal children.)

The Montessori Philosophy

        Montessori believed that every child has an “inner force” that drives them to learn.  “The fundamental principles of her method are observation, individual liberty, and the preparation of the environment.”* (The environment includes the materials, the room, the teacher, etc.)  Her ultimate goal was to help each child “return to a state of its true normal way of being; i.e. the normalized child; with the qualities of spontaneous self-discipline, love of order and constructive activity, attachment to reality, and complete harmony with the entire environment”. *   In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori states that “normalization is the most important part of our work.”  (p. 204.)  Montessori further stated that, “Normalization causes the disappearance of many childhood traits….which are generally thought to be virtues….the so-called ‘creative imagination,’ delight in stories, attachments to individuals, play, submissiveness.”  (From The Secret of Childhood, p. 204.)  I don’t know about you, but I do think those things are virtues, and I wouldn’t want my child to be “normalized” if the result would be their loss—especially “attachments to individuals”, which would be a very great loss, indeed. 

        Montessori also believed that it was through “individual free choice that the child perfects himself and is enabled to work with the particular piece of apparatus most needed to fulfill something within him.”* (I’m sorry, but any mom will tell you that children are not always drawn to what they need.)  In The Montessori Method, she stated that “it is necessary that the child perfect himself through his own efforts…a man is not what he is because of the teacher he has had, but because of what he has done.”  (Luke 6: 40 says that “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”)  In The Montessori Method, p. 373, she states that “Each one of them (children) perfects himself through his own powers, and goes forward guided by that inner force which distinguishes him as an individual.” In The Essential Montessori, this concept is explained a little better:  “The educational value of a movement depends on the finality of the movement; and it must be such that it helps the child to perfect something in himself; either it perfects the voluntary muscular system; or some mental capacity; or both.  Educational movement must always be an activity which builds up and fortifies the personality, giving him a new power and not leaving him where he was…”  (p. 104. emphasis added.)  The idea of a child “perfecting himself” troubles me…especially in the areas of mental or personality development.   In my opinion, children cannot perfect themselves…and even if we exchange the word “mature” for “perfect”, we must acknowledge that maturity, especially in the mental and spiritual sense, is a life-long work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  The maturation process must include more than just educational activities; discipling through teaching and example is necessary, and that is not something that a child can do through his own efforts alone.  Children need guidance; children need parents– they cannot “raise” themselves!  Even in regards to the later quote, referring to the perfection of the muscular system or some mental capacity—perfection is not a term I would use.  Growth perhaps, but not perfection.

        According to Montessori, the main job of the teacher is that of an observer; she “teaches little and observes much.” (Montessori Method, p. 173).  The “directress”, as Montessori teachers are called, is not to force a child to do (or repeat) lessons, nor “make the child feel that he has made a mistake, or that he is not understood”.  (Montessori Method, page 109.)  (If the teacher cannot correct the child, how will the child learn the right answer from the wrong?)  The directress observes the children at their work, records their progress, and then presents new challenges to them in a sequential order.  I had assumed that the teacher did very little “direct teaching”, however, by reviewing the use of some of the materials, you can see that the teacher does “give lessons”—not only to introduce children to the materials (and often, how to use them), but also using the materials to give “lessons”; very often a “three period lesson”.   Most lessons are individualized lessons, not group lessons. 

Different Interpretations of “Montessori” 

         Since the name “Montessori” now belongs to public domain, there are now many types of “Montessori” preschools, schools and homeschools—each with their own interpretations of the method.  For instance, it is my understanding that some Montessori schools allow children to choose ALL their own activities throughout the day (including when to go outside), with little-to-no guidance (in this case, my kids would choose to play outside and never use the academic subject materials), while in other schools, there is a daily routine—but the children are expected to use the Montessori materials (during a “work” period”) for a certain amount of time (they are given the “freedom” to choose the materials they want to use during this time.) 

        You can find lots of examples of Montessori materials and different types of lessons on You Tube, including lessons for the famous “pink tower”, which is probably the most widely recognized of all Montessori materials (I found it interesting that this teacher states that the children CAN use the Pink Tower in different ways…but I can’t help but wonder if the child would be allowed to make houses with the towers, or use them with toy cars?  I rather doubt it.)  A good overview of the classic Montessori materials can be found on these sites:   

Montessori Cottage-scroll down for nice descriptions of the different types of materials

My Montessori House-materials—Montessori materials and ideas for their use

More of Montessori’s Ideas/Things I like about the Montessori approach:

-The idea of helping our children build their independence and self-confidence:  To quote from The Montessori Method, pages 97-98, “We habitually serve children; and this is not only an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful, spontaneous activity. We are inclined to believe that children are like puppets, and we wash them and feed them as if they were dolls. We do not stop to think that the child who does not do, does not know how to do. He must, nevertheless, do these things, and nature has furnished him with the physical means for carrying on these various activities, and with the intellectual means for learning how to do them. And our duty toward him is, in every case, that of helping him to make a conquest of such useful acts as nature intended he should perform for himself.  (It’s OK to serve our children from time to time, but chronically doing for them what they can do for themselves isn’t healthy.)

-The idea that ages 0-6 are the “formative” years—much of the child’s personality and basic knowledge about the world is built during these years  

-The materials themselves, which can be wonderful learning experiences for children.  I have used similar materials in preschool classrooms and at home.

 -The idea that “Man is an intelligent being, and needs mental food almost more than physical food.”  (The Absorbent Mind, p.  200)

Concepts I Disagree With:

-The idea that goodness and compassion are inborn, and don’t have to be taught, only protected. (I’ve seen this phrase over and over in writings about Montessori and her approach. Here’s an entire quote from Michael Olaf, of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company:  The most important discovery that Dr. Montessori has contributed to the field of child development and education is the fostering of the best in each child. She discovered that in an environment where children are allowed to choose their work and to concentrate for as long as needed on that task, that they come out of this period of concentration (or meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward others. The teacher must know how to offer work, to link the child to the environment who is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn, and do not need to be taught, but to be protected.”   The Bible says that we are born with a sin-nature (Romans 5:12-5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:22-15:22, Psalms 51:5-51.)  Children are not born with “goodness and compassion”—those things have to be taught.  They are taught from the moment of birth, even as Mom is lovingly caring for her newborn.  True, children are “innocent”—they don’t know or understand many of the ways of the world …and this innocence must be protected.  But innocence is not the same as “goodness” or “compassion” (in fact, young children are notoriously selfish or “ego-centric”.) To emphasize:  Goodness and compassion must be taught. 

-The idea that using the Montessori materials will teach (self-teach or “auto-educate”) the child or “normalize” the child.  Concentrating on manipulatives do not fundamentally change a child’s personality (normalize them).  They can help children build skills, self-confidence, etc.  I also disagree with her statement that “Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding” (quote # 115.)

-These quotes: “The child becomes a person through work.”  (What is he before work, a non-person?) and, “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

-Her belief that “Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” No way!  Character can and must be taught.  It is taught through example, through teaching, through conversation, and through reading aloud.     

-The idea that “the children being free are not obliged to remain in their places quiet and ready to listen to the teacher, or to watch what she is doing.” (The Montessori Method, by Maria Montessori, p. 107-108.)  I believe that children should be taught to sit and pay attention to their Mom (or any other authority) at story-time—in fact, whenever she is speaking, thus teaching obedience, respect, and self-control as well as developing the attention span.  Additionally, I believe that there should be a balance of free choice/child-led and teacher/mom-led activities.      

-The idea that it is important to “free the child from his role of dependency on adults if he was to develop into a truly free and independent person.” (The Essential Montessori, p. 58.)  Young children do not need to be “freed” from their parents.   Preschoolers are, and should be, still dependant on their parents for many years to come.  Independence develops slowly, as children mature in their abilities and their decision making skills.  Helping our children grow up and become more self-sufficient does not preclude the fact that they still are dependent on us. 

-The idea that children naturally love to work and will almost always choose “work” (“working” with Montessori materials) over creative play or play with toys.  In the book, The Essential Montessori, Hainstock says that “It is easier for the young child to relate to reality because it’s something tangible and concrete.  Montessori observed that children, given a choice, preferred activities related to the environment around them: reality-oriented objects and actions” (p. 99.)  I disagree.  I have observed that young children are equally at home in “reality” and “make believe.”  Furthermore, children’s play often allows them a chance to “act out” or practice reality-based activities of their future life—being a mommy, going to work, and doing other “grown-up” things. (See my article, Why Preschoolers Need to Play.)  Besides, according to everything I’ve read, Montessori decided that children preferred “work” because the she observed that the children in her classroom chose her materials over toys.  Well, the Montessori materials were displayed prominently and neatly on shelves, but the toys were crammed in a toy box.  No wonder the children chose the Montessori materials!  Besides that, the quality of the other toys must be questioned (remember, educational toys had not been invented yet.)  Perhaps if the toys had been high-quality, open-ended toys that were displayed attractively on the shelves, they would have been played with more often.  

        I’ve noticed that my own children enjoy manipulative-type activities, and will often seek them out on their own.  However, they always turn back to the toys that can be used creatively—especially those that can be used as props for dramatic play (cars, Legos, blocks and plastic animals, baby dolls, etc.)

-The idea that the Montessori Method is a “scientific” method:  I may get some flack for this, but I don’t think that the field of education is a “science.”  Educational methods (or theories, or philosophies) cannot be “scientific”.  These fields are not based on scientific fact, but personal observation and opinion (which is colored by personal biases and perceptions), not based on scientific experimentation.  Methods are not one-size-fits-all; they don’t always get the same results, since each child and each parent is different.

-The idea that children should learn what they love, since the “rest” would be hated/forgotten anyway (if so, who would ever choose to learn algebra or grammar?)  I do agree that it is beneficial to encourage children’s interests, and help them explore them fully (this is often called “delight directed study.”)  But we should not teach our children only the things they are interested in. 

-The fact that in many Montessori schools (probably not all), the manipulatives are intended to be used one way, and only one way; creative use of the materials is discouraged or not allowed (some answer this argument by saying that other materials are available for creative use.   This may be true in some classrooms/homes.  But it is my understanding that during their “work periods”, children are only allowed to use the special “exercises” or Montessori materials, and only as directed.  I realize that there are many interpretations of this, so this is not true in every case.  Many homeschooling parents do allow their children to use the materials in creative ways.) 

-Montessori “believers” insist that the children will do the exercises over and over.  It’s true that repetition is a powerful force for children…we especially see it in reference to practicing new physical skills, music, and in reading aloud (children often want their favorite stories read to them over and over.)  But in my experience, when it comes to manipulatives, any materials or toys that can be used in only one way are quickly set aside in favor of materials that can be used in more than one way (i.e. used creatively.)  And once most children master their new skills (be it mastering a physical skill such as walking up stairs, or mastering a self-correcting toy), they are usually anxious to move on to new things.

-I don’t agree with Montessori’s belief that punishments and rewards are “the bench of the soul, the instrument of slavery for the spirit.”  (Montessori Method, p. 21.) In my experience, rewards are highly motivating for children, and punishments (or preferably “discipline”) is necessary.  The Bible speaks at great length about the importance of child-training, and the principles of sowing and reaping.  Besides, everything in modern society is based on rewards and punishments; go to work, do a good job and your reward is a nice paycheck.  Refuse to do the things the boss wants you to do, and you get fired (sowing and reaping.) This is not slavery, by any measure of the word.     

-Montessori’s belief that “obedience appears in the child as a latent instinct as soon as his personality begins to take form (The Montessori Method, page 367.)    She also believed that children under the age of three cannot obey unless what the child is told to do “corresponds to one of his vital urges” (The Absorbent Mind p. 258.)  In The Secret of Childhood, she states that “we should remember that a child loves us and wants to obey” (p. 127.)  Once again, I disagree.  Children don’t always want to obey…usually they want their own way.  Obedience is not an instinct; it is taught.  Additionally, young children can be taught to obey, even if their “vital urges” make them want to do otherwise.

-The very humanistic idea that “All human victories, all human progress, stand upon the inner force.”  (The Montessori Method, p. 24.)  The truth is, as human beings, we have very little in the way of natural self-discipline or drive…we need to learn self-discipline…and many people are not “driven” to do anything against their own selfish natures (especially children.)  Most of all, if we are to accomplish anything important…if we are to mature and learn self-discipline, we must remember that as Christians, we can ONLY do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

-The idea that “the first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him in his normal development” (The Secret of Childhood, p. 166-182).  As I said, the true nature of a child is a sin nature!  This “nature” is what we were put in this world to overcome, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  We do not “unconsciously suppress the development of the child’s own personality” by correcting our children; (The Secret of Childhood, p.20).  Even if the “true nature of the child” refers to personality, we must admit that children need guidance in this area as well.  What if our child’s natural personality is rebellious and grumpy, or painfully shy?  Shouldn’t we try to help our children overcome these personality traits through training, teaching, and self-control?  I think so.   

-The idea of “normalization”; that children can/will spontaneously become self-disciplined, lovers of order, etc (again, see above.  I think this is not only undesirable, but un-Biblical, too.)

Other Possible Problems with the Approach (Common Objections to it): 

-The idea that writing should precede reading (I don’t think there’s any “correct” method here.  But traditionally, writing follows reading, since many children’s writing skills lag behind their ability to read, often due to a lack of small muscle strength and control…especially in children who learn to read early.)

-The cost of the materials (though many materials can be adapted or home-made), and the space needed to store it all

-Too much freedom (when children choose all their own activities), or alternately, too little (when children are expected to spend too long on the exercises)

-Starting children on the exercises at age 15-18 months, as many moms and schools do (see my archives and tabs on readiness.)

-Lack of creativity and free-play, AND/OR the very idea that creative/dramatic/fantasy play should not be encouraged, but seen as something that the children should overcome (almost all experts agree that creative play is one of the cornerstones of normal development.) 


        Montessori has given the world a lot of good ideas and a lot of good manipulative materials that we can use to help our children learn.  However, mixed in with her good ideas are ideas that, in my opinion, are not Biblical—many of her ideas come across as very humanistic to me.  I would have to say that I do not/could not personally agree with or use the Montessori philosophy, but I could (and have) use(d) the Montessori materials.  But when using them, my goals would be different than Montessori’s.  My goal is not normalization.  My goals would be to help the child develop specific skills, such as eye-hand coordination, small muscle strength and control, etc.  Additionally, once my children were interested and ready for a gentle introduction to “academics”, the materials can be used to teach through play (what I call “playful learning”; I have a whole chapter on this in my book, including specific ideas and recommended resources.)  The Montessori materials are also great for reinforcing concepts that are not quite mastered.

        I recommend Montessori and Montessori-like activities as long as they are used in balance with other methods.  They should be used as a part of your day, not your entire day.  They can be used for their intended purposes (yes, even used for “lessons” IF they are developmentally appropriate lessons), but they should also be available for children to use creatively.  (Remember, “developmentally appropriate” has different meaning for each child.  We don’t want to push our children, but we don’t want to hold them back, either…especially if they are gifted or truly ready for the next step.  We are seeking balance!) 

        It’s OK to let your child choose which materials to use for himself, but it’s also OK to simply pull out some materials (or trays, the trays are nice) and say, “Now we’re going to do some tweezing” (although I would never force the issue with a preschooler…as I said, there are so many other ways to learn, simple conversation and reading aloud being some of the best.)

        However nice the materials are, though, remember that they are not “magic”.  Also remember that home-made substitutes or just plain old TOYS can teach many of the same skills, and more cheaply, too–especially when pared with conversation/playing with Mom.

         If you would like more information about the Montessori Method, ;please investigate on your own and decide for yourself how to interpret her method.  Here are more links to help you get started (some of these blogs have some really neat activity ideas that would be usable by anyone, no matter their preferred “method”: 

Common objections to the method, some with rebuttals

Montessori Blogs

Montessori Goldmine (scroll down for some examples of activities) My Montessori Journey 

 Montessori Materials:

Montessori Mom (free printables and downloads)

Montessori for Everyone (free printables and downloads)

Affordable Montessori (online store)

Ways to use the materials: 

See another way to use the movable alphabet at Amongst Lovely Things

You Tube example of using the movable alphabet

More about fantasy versus reality:

Maria Montessori.com

Montessori Quotes:




*The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Writings, the Method, and the Movement by Elizabeth G. Hainstock

Montessori’s own writings, as reference above

Various websites, as referenced above

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Montessori | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Teaching Science from a Christian Perspective

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 27, 2010

     As Christian homeschoolers, we are determined to teach science from a Christian world view.  After all, many of the topics involved in science are foundational to faith:  A literal 6-day creation, the consequences of sin on all creation, the value of all human life, and responsible stewardship of the resources that God has provided us. 

     The problem is, like most Christian parents, we went to public school ourselves.  At first we knew little about science from a Christian perspective.  After all, we were taught that science and faith are mutually exclusive…things to be kept separate. 

      This is a problem because children—even young children—have lots of questions that really should be addressed on both fronts: The spiritual front and the scientific front.  If we want our children to believe the truth about  creation, the flood, dinosaurs, etc, then we need to teach them these things from both perspectives simultaneously. 

     The solution:  Re-education!  As homeschoolers, we have found that we have had to re-educate ourselves in many areas.  We have to “unlearn” the lies, and learn the truth.  We used a variety of resources in our re-education and as a result, we are more confident parents with a stronger faith…parents who are ready to answer those unending questions that children of all ages ask.

      If you feel totally unprepared to answer your children’s questions or talk to them about these issues as they come up, the first thing you should consider is re-educating yourself as well.  Many of the resources I list below offer resources for adults and children.  A few carefully chosen DVD’s or books can boost your knowledge and confidence tremendously.

     Here are some of the things we do to teach science from a Christian perspective (remember that my book has an entire chapter on science, including suggested topics and a list of the things that preschoolers can learn/do to explore science):

~From the time our children were tiny, we talked about how nature glorifies God.  When admiring flowers, we’d comment on their intricate design.  When cuddling a new puppy, we’d marvel at its sweetness and say, “I’m so thankful that God made puppies for us to play with, aren’t you?”  When learning about elephants or anteaters, we’d marvel at God’s creativity and sense of humor.  And when contemplating space, a roaring waterfall or a tornado, we would marvel at the power of God.

~We believe and teach that any scientific “theory” must align itself with the Bible (not the other way around.)  Any scientific “theory” or so-called “fact” that conflicts with the Bible is immediately discarded as false.  The Bible is always our standard.

~We teach our children to listen for “code words.”  Anytime we watch a science show or read a book that uses words like “evolution”, “evolved”, “adapted”, or “millions of years”, my children know that it means “evolution” which means LIES. 

~This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach our children about evolution.  When they are small, we explain it simply like this:  “Some people believe that people started out as ape-like creatures that slowly changed to be like we are today.  Is that what the Bible says?”  Other times I might say, “Some people believe that the whole world started all by itself in some sort of explosion called ‘the big bang.’  We believe that God created the world.”  As our children get older, we use a variety of curricula that teaches evolution, but then disproves it using creation science. That way, our children have a ready answer to anyone who might question them. 

~Be sure to watch non-Christian shows (Discovery Channel, nature shows, and even old Disney shows, etc) with your children so that you can remind your children of the truth, or, if necessary, turn the show off…especially while they are young.   

Recommended Resources

     To help you teach science from a Christian worldview, you might want to invest in some of the wonderful curriculums and DVD’s now available.  Here are some of the best creation-based materials I have found:

Apologia science curriculum:  Curriculum from a Christian/creation science perspective for grades K-12!

Answers in Genesis:  Lots of articles, books for all ages (preschoolers too), videos, a magazine, science curriculum,  and apologetics books.  We love The Answers Book for Kids, which tackles questions about creation, the flood, dinosaurs, the Bible, the nature of God, and so on.  It is for ages 5-11.  We read through it last year, and will re-read it in a year or two so that the answers are cemented in my children’s minds.  Answers in Genesis is the “gold standard” for creation science resources as far as I’m concerned.

-Master Books:  Books about creation/dinosaurs/animals and more from a Christian perspective—for grades preschool-three.

 –Nature Friend Magazine

It Couldn’t Just Happen:  A wonderful devotional book all about creation; could count as part of your Bible coursework, and part of science.  Recommended for older children, ages 9-12; personally, I would wait until age 10 or so.  Apparently this book is now out of print, but it is still available on Amazon, and still common at used curriculum sales.

Favorite Video Resources: 

Incredible Animals that Defy Evolution:  See previews HERE, HERE and HERE.   Wonderful!  Shows how animals could NOT have evolved.

Newton’s Workshop  offers videos from a Christian perspective on many different science topics; most are good for ages 6 and up, but check the recomended ages on each video.

Moody Science Videos   I understand that their videos on the human body are fantastic.

Websites with more resources:

Dr. Dino:  We have an entire set of his videos, and they are great! (For junior high through adult.)  I know that he is somewhat controversial, but we haven’t seen anything wrong in his videos, and have learned a lot. 

Crazy About Creation

Bible Probe

The Institute for Creation Research

Creation Evidence

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Creation Science, Curriculum, Homepreschool, Nature Study, Preschool Science, Science | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Building Your Home Library: Online Resources

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 23, 2010

      Have you discovered online libraries? They are an inexpensive way to “build” your home library.   One of the neatest things about these resources is that many of the very popular, “living” books—those that are being reprinted by companies like Yesterday’s Classics—can be found online for FREE.  How can they be offered for free?  Well, these books are in “public domain”—printed before 1923.  So if you need an older book and don’t have the money to purchase a hard copy, be sure to search online first.  I usually get the best results by searching for the book title this way:  read “Tom Sawyer” online.    

      I do prefer “real” books—books I can hold in my hands.  However, you can’t beat the price or ease of online books–and there are no storage problems, either!  

      Some families choose to print out their books, but I find it more economical to simply bookmark them in a special ‘favorites” file and then use them as needed. 

     Be sure to learn about the features of each site.  Many sites let you “bookmark” your place in each book, read by chapter, and some even let you print by chapter/page/etc (great for copywork!) After checking out the book online, sometimes I do choose to purchase a reprint of the book. 

      Disclaimer:  Don’t forget that like any “library”, once you start searching you’re likely to find very good books and very bad books.  I’ve been shocked to see that many of the old texts are very secular–even “new age” in nature (such as many of the books you’ll find for “nature study.”)  There are also some very moral-even Godly texts to find.  Be sure to preview your choices carefully.  Many include references to mythology, magic, Halloween, etc.  Obviously I haven’t had the time to look through all these resources in detail, so use discretion.

      Here are some of my favorite online libraries:

Textbooks and Curriculum Online

An Old Fashioned Education:  I think this is the best site for finding homeschool curriculum, literature, and textbooks online.  Best of all, you can search by subject…and what subjects!  Besides the usual school subjects, you can search under Bible and religion, character and etiquette, fiction for boys, fiction for girls, and lots more. 

19th Century Textbooks:  Here you can find the New England Primer, Spencerian Handwriting, Osgood’s American Primer (reading lessons–you can also find the third and fifth grade readers in this series),  McGruffy Readers and more on this site.  I especially like the looks of this book.  

Don Potter:  Lots of old texts, including phonics and math, as well as Noah Webster’s 1824 Spelling Book

Baldwin Project’s “Main Lesson”  

Ambleside Online:   Classically inspired Charlotte Mason-year by year book plans (outlines of what to study); not really a library, but a free curriculum plan.

Guest Hollow:  Complete history plan,  science plans using real books and lots more; again, not really a “library”, but free curriculum plan.


The Baldwin Online Children’s Literature Project  and Baldwin’s list of 549 Best Online Classic Children’s Books Online

Children’s Books Online: Lots of graded readers.

Library of Congress   

Classics for Young People


Google Books:  Search by author or subject, such as “nature study” or “arithmetic”; some of the nature study texts are amazingly “new age”/secular, so be especially careful to pre-read.

Project Gutenberg 

Bartleby.com:  Literature, reference, and verse.

Specific Online Titles:

     These worthwhile titles have been rediscovered thanks to companies like Yesterday’s Classics OR because they are promoted by various homeschooling methods or curriculums—especially the more “literature based” programs.

Nature Study:  A Pupil’s Textbook 

 Nature books by Fabre

Read Thorton Burgess books online:  Some families love these, others dislike them because of their frequent references to “Mother Nature”, and so on. 

Parables from Nature

Handbook of Nature Study:  An awesome classic by Emma Comstock.  Don’t forget this wonderful blog, Handbook of Nature Studies, which brings the book to life.  This could be all you need for science until late elementary/Jr. high.

Books by H.E. Marshall:  These history books are promoted by classical homeschoolers and some titles are included in  Ambleside Online and Guest Hollow’s history plan, among others:

This Country of Ours 

Our Island Story (too “classical” in nature/too heavy for me, but some families love it)

A more complete list of Marshall’s books is HERE. 

Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by Baldwin

Laura Lee Hope Books (Bobbsey Twins)

Ten Boys who Lived Long Ago to Now

Eggleston’s Stories of American Life and Adventure 

Eggleston’s Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans and A First Book in American History: Used in Heart of Dakota, etc; scroll through to find other titles by Edward Eggleston, for various ages.

History/Bible/Biography Books by Josephine Pollard: Various titles, including A Child’s History of the Battles of America and the The Life of George Washington, written in 1893!  No revisionist history here! Some are written to accomodate younger readers. 

Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible

Among the Forest People and others by Clara Dillingham Pierson

The Beginner’s American History by D.H. Montgomery:  This one looks great! Very narritive in style.


Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (searchable):  I think this is the best dictionary in the world.  The book is HUGE and very expensive, so if you can’t afford the real thing, use this site.  This dictionary is especially useful when studying older literature (many of the original words are now out of common use or have different meanings).  We also love to use it because it is Biblical.  The definitions of character traits and words like “education” are priceless.  Check it out!

Bartelby’s: Huge reference library

One look:  Search 629 different online dictionaries

Elements of Style: Grammar/writing handbook, 1918 edition.

Have fun!  ~Susan

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Book Lists, Curriculum, Elementary School, Freebies, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Nature Study, Picture Books, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Teaching Children to Read/How We Use Sing, Spell, Read and Write

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 4, 2010

       When we talk about phonics, the first thing we need to emphasize is keeping things in perspective.  One of my favorite sayings goes like this:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom—not phonics.”  (Mary Schoalfield.) 

      Keeping things in perspective:  Phonics (especially before the first grade) are NOT the be-all end-all to homeschooling.  Don’t over-emphasize phonics!  Don’t make phonics the focus of your homeschool!  Don’t overlook other important learning in favor of phonics!  And DON’T feel like a failure if your child isn’t reading before Kindergarten (or by the end of first grade…or at the end of second grade…or even later!  Some children don’t master reading until age 8-10.)   Instead of stressing so much over teaching reading, we should remember to balance the need to teach our children to read (along with our other academic goals) with the needs of the whole child.  We also need to be sure we keep first things first, remembering our most important goals–building Relationships.  We should be most focused on:

 ~Teaching our children about the Lord, and helping them                develop a personal relationship with Him. 

~Growing strong relationships between family members, especially parent/child and child/siblings.

~Helping our children develop Godly character traits and good/helpful habits.

       Learning to read is very, very important.  But remember that readiness  is truly key to reading/academic success AND to maintaining a love of learning.  We need to respect the God-given timetable within our children, and let them retain their love of learning by being very careful not to push.

      That being said, here’s how we teach our children to read–using Sing, Spell, Read, and Write.

         Why I like Sing, Spell, Read and Write I have used Sing, Spell, Read and Write to teach all four of our children to read–with great success (well-my youngest are still “in progress.”)   Here are the reasons I like it:

  • It is multi-sensory, using games and music to teach phonics (bells and whistles!)
  • It tackles words from left to right, the way we attack the words when we  read.  Many curriculums concentrate on teaching the sounds that come at the end of words (_at, _in, _ate.)   This doesn’t make sense to me, since we read the beginning sounds first, and then add the endings.  Sing, Spell, Read and Write teaches the beginning blends first (the easiest first, such as ba, be, bi, bo, bu, and later, harder blends such as tra, tre, tri, tro, tru etc–tr, sl, sm, sn, scr….you get the idea.)  You can still teach the word families (most kids pick up on them, anyway–) but I personally, I believe that it makes more sense to start at the left side of the word.
  • The order of the lessons is logical and systematic.
  • It includes readers that reinforce the words children are learning.
  • It does NOT include very many sight words; it DOES teach the words that are “rule-breakers.”  (I prefer to concentrate on a phonetic approach, instead of memorizing hundreds of sight words the way the public school kids do.)

       This is how we used Sing, Spell, Read and WriteWhen our children start Kindergarten (age 5 or 6–no sooner), we buy the First-Grade Kit (I thought the preschool kit was a total waste of time…nothing but a bunch of “worksheets”, which are inappropriate for young children.  I didn’t think the Kindergarten set was necessary, either.) The First grade kit comes with two books: Off We Go, and Raceway. We used the Off We Go book (almost exclusively) for Kindergarten.  We used it to “cement” the letters and sounds, and to make an alphabet book. (Off We Go contains no blending.) 

      We completed about one letter a week (sometimes more, sometimes less),  leaving the last 10 weeks or so of Kindergarten to begin the songs and games from the beginning of the Raceway book.  If I believed the children were ready, we would start blending letters to make words (we spent a long time on this step–beginning blending–singing the “Ferris Wheel” and playing the blending games–“Blend-o” and “Pick a Sound from the Merry-go-round”.)

      Back to the Off We Go book:  For each letter there is a coloring page, a cut and paste page, a dot to dot page (alphabet order dot to dot), and a page of handwriting (we usually did only one row or two rows of writing practice.) My kids liked the cut and paste pages best (which picture goes with the letter?–Which doesn’t belong?) After they were done with the pages, we glued two of them into a 12 X 12 scrapbook. Around the edges, we glued pictures that I gleaned from old magazines and old picture books from Goodwill. This turned it into their “alphabet book.” (Note:  If you only want to purchase the Off We Go book, you can find it on Amazon very inexpensively.

     We also added some of their favorite art to their books (the last pages)— especially self-portraits drawn at the beginning and end of the year (to show how the children had matured.)

       You could even turn a scrapbook into a sort of “school journal”, recording your favorite activities and art experiences.  Here is one of our rare, cut-and-paste-for-a-set-result type of craft:

      Back to phonics:  We use the Raceway book for first and second grade–sometimes through third. By the time the children complete it, they have the tools they need to sound out anything.

     About the “teacher’s edition”–We don’t follow the long, detailed lesson plans. We don’t spend the amount of TIME the teacher’s edition recommends, either (we keep the lessons down to 10-15 minutes max for first grade…less for kindergarten…it’s best to leave them wanting more, versus overwhelming them.) 

      We don’t follow the lesson plans as written.  We just sing the songs, play the games, and then read the words once the sounds/rules are mastered.   When we are first starting the Raceway book, all we’ll be doing is playing games and singing songs. Gradually, as more “steps” (sets of words) are mastered, we’ll add reading new words, writing them, spelling them, reading the phonic story books aloud, etc.   

     We let ourselves feel free to skip any pages that we consider to be “busy work” (things I know they’ve mastered).  Some of my children have used Explode the Code (which mostly goes in the same order as SSRW) to supplement/practice spelling, handwriting, etc as needed. If the kids ever “get stuck”, we just play the games and sing the songs until they “get” it (children often seem to learn in spurts.)   Once they start to read, we give lots of practice reading aloud via the simplest books.  This gives them a chance to feel successful, and to learn to read fluently and with expression.
     About spelling–Most of my children reached a point at some time or another when their ability to master spelling the words didn’t match their ability to learn to read the words.  When that happened, we’d let them go ahead with their reading, while continuing to practice their at spelling at the level they needed to—even if they were several steps “behind” in spelling (SSRW suggests children should be able to read, write, and spell each of the words before moving on to the next step.)  By allowing the children to move along, they can progress and experience success with their reading while simultaneously continuing to practice their spelling.  Later on, perhaps even the next year, we would go back and review all the spelling words, making sure they were mastered. 

      A final word about phonics and readiness–Many families try phonics program after phonics program, to no avail.  They become more and more frustrated with the programs and their children.  They often come to believe a common myth about curriculum:  The myth that “if we could only find just the right curriculum, then my children would learn to read” (or learn their math facts, or get interested in history, etc.)  Some might start to think that perhaps their teaching is at fault; others might start to believe that there could be something wrong with their children.  But then, low and behold, once the third or fourth expensive curriculum package has been purchased and tried, suddenly something “clicks” and the child starts to read!  Some children even seem to teach themselves. The truth of the matter is simple.  In all likelihood, it wasn’t the “curriculum’s fault” at all.  It was a simple matter of readiness. Trying program after program, however frustrating and expensive it was, allowed enough time to pass for the child to mature and develop readiness. 

     In my experience, reading is very much a “developmental” task, just like learning to walk or learning to swim.  Before children develop readiness for these new skills, it is useless to try to teach them.  They balk; they fight you; they become frustrated or even afraid.  Most certainly, all the joy is driven out of the task (we sure don’t want to take the joy out of learning or reading!)  But once they are ready to learn, you can barely hold them back.  Reading is very much like that.  Don’t make the mistake of starting too soon.  It will only frustrate you and your child.  It will take the joy out of learning.  If your children are struggling or resistant, just set aside phonics for awhile, and then try again later.  Let readiness have a chance to develop before you spend money on another phonics program. 

     If this happens in your family, remember that children who learn to read later learn more quickly and easily than younger children do.  So why spend YEARS teaching letter recognition and phonics (starting in preschool, as many parents do) when you could teach it in only a few weeks or months when your children are older?

     It’s something to think about, anyway.

A note about curriculum reviews:  Remember that I don’t receive any money for my reviews.  Also remember that my personal curriculum choices might not work for you or your family.  If you are looking for a back-to-basics phonics program with no bells or whistles, there are numerous programs that might work for you…you might start by investigating Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. 

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Curiculum Reviews, Curriculum, Early Academics, Elementary School, Homeschool, Kindergarten Readiness, Phonics, Teaching Reading | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Curriculum Planning, 2010-2011 (part two)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 28, 2010

     Now we get to the really fun topics of study!  Here are our plans for units, art, and music:

Unit Study (History/Geography/Science): 

     This year we are going to alternate between history and science by topic, treating each as its own unit study. 

~History:  TruthQuest.  TruthQuest is a literature approach that includes suggested reading (living literature) to cover each time period, as well as text that ties each event/time period together.  I chose it because many other curriculums that use a literature approach don’t tie events together at all..they don’t even try.  We’ll use Homeschool in the Wood’s  Time Traveler’s series for lapbooking activities to go along with it, as well as Sonlight’s Timeline figures (we’ll be making a card file timeline—more on that later.)  


~Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, supplemented with Knowledge Box Central’s lapbooks.  We’ll throw in all the non-fiction/”living” books we can find on each topic as well as any field trips or activities we can, turning each topic into a “chicken unit study” (a.k.a. a unit study for “chickens” who don’t want to step out and plan units without any textbooks/pre-made curriculum at all.  Instead, the textbooks become our “spine” or outline of study.)


~Music lessons:  Private music lessons (piano and violin, repectively.) 

~Listening:  We will play one CD of classical music for a month at a time, until the boys are familiar (or re-acquainted) with it; at the end of each month, I hope they will be able to identify the composer and some of the pieces just by listening.  My choices: 

     ~Paganini  (best of)

     ~Mozart’s String Quartets K387 and 421   (my boys already enjoy these)

    ~Mozart’s Requiem 

    ~Handel’s Messiah  (Think: Hallelujah Chorus.)  If you aren’t familiar with it, you’re in for a treat.  It’s a little “long hair” to those who are new to classical music, but give it a chance!  It tells the entire life of Christ through music. It’s moving and beautiful.  Give a listen to the samples of the choruses “And the Glory of the Lord”, “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, or—get ready to cry and listen to “Surely he Hath Borne Our Grief’s”, or “He Trusted in God that He Would Deliver Him”, which re-inacts the crowds who were mocking Jesus while He was on the cross.)

     ~Handel’s Water Music

     ~Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

~The best of John Williams (movie themes—I think he is one of the greatest composers of our time.  He wrote the themes for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, E.T., Hook, etc, etc.  These are like beautiful mini-symphonies.)

~Glenn Miller (classic “big band” or “swing” music–love that brass!)

~The Imperials and the Cathedrals  (both in one month)–these are classic southern gospel albums that include quartet music, hymns, spirituals, and some pop.  Many of you young moms may consider this type of music to be “corny”, but be assured, the musical difficulty and quality is amazing (especially the vocals, which both groups are most famous for.)  If you want your children to learn to discern complex harmonies and be able to pick out the individual parts in music, these are indispensible.  Give a listen to some of the samples and see for yourself:  On the Imperials’ CD, sample “The First Day in Heaven”, “Sweet, Sweet, Spirit”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; on the Cathedrals, give a listen to “This Old House” and “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”.  Just when you think their bass goes down as low as is humanly possible, he goes down an octave more!  (Don’t forget that you may be able to listen to more complete portions of the music I recomend on You Tube.)

~Singing:  Hymn of the month–We will choose one hymn that we will sing (during our worship time-along with other worship/”Sunday School” type songs) every school day for a month, OR until the boys have the chorus and at least one verse memorized.  I choose these according to what is going on in our lives spiritually.  Our first hymn will be “I Surrender All.”

      We will also sing during our unit time (we’ll listen to music of the time periods we study, learn the folk songs of the time, etc.) 

Art:  My goal this year is for the boys to do all of the art projects listed in my book—there are 56!  (These are open-ended projects appropriate for almost any age–preschool through early grade school.)  We will also be using Artistic Pursuits at least once a week. 

     Whew!  It does seem like a lot, but I’m hoping that the elements will work together well.  If I decide we need to tone it down a bit, we will.  I want to keep things simple, consistent, and FUN this year.

Live the 4R’s! 


© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Curriculum, Elementary School, Goals, Music | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Curriculum Planning, 2010-2011 (part one)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 27, 2010

     I can’t get over it…the 2010-2011 school year!  How can that be?!   Anyway, I’ve been working on our curriculum plans for the fall.  Next year will be my daughter’s senior year, and the boys will be in the second and fourth grades.  After this year, I’ll only have two children left to teach!  Unbelievable!

   I’m only going to post detailed plans for my littles.  If you want information about our high school curriculum, visit the “Our Curriculum” tab over the next few days to see what we’ll be using (I’ll post it soon.)

     The resources below are really just the tip of the iceberg for us…we’re going to use a plethora of “real” or “living” books this year!  Because this post is so long, I’m going to split it up into two installments.

Here are my choices for this fall:

Bible:  We are going to concentrate on character traits and learning to please God this year.  I decided to use a combination of resources including Character First (series one),  Pleasing God,  and the Word of God (I haven’t seen these, but the content looks like exactly what we need—we will do them orally).  We will also continue to read Vos’ Bible Story Book, and of course, the Word itself. 

      I have several goals for Bible memory work this year:  1) to continue memorizing Bible verses, including “cementing” the 23rd Psalm and our other previous work (goal: memorize at least 10 more verses and one longer section); 2) finish memorizing the Lord’s Prayer; 3) memorize the books of the Bible, and 4) begin sword drills.

Language arts:  My main goals for this year for both boys are to 1) wrap up all phonics (if possible; my second grader might need a little more time), 2) help the boys become fluent, expressive and confident readers; 3) help them continue to develop neat handwriting and handwriting speed; 4) do longer copywork, and 5) work on narration skills (oral composition) and composition.  For curriculum we will use:

~Phonics, spelling & handwriting: Sing, Spell, Read and Write (I will post about how I use this in a later post) and Explode the Code 

~Other language arts: Daily Grams (done orally–this is a good compromise between heavy duty grammar and delayed former grammar–for more on this issue, read THIS article);  portions of Queen’s Language Arts

 Math:  Our goals for math this year will focus on mastering the math facts (addition and subraction for my 2nd grader, multiplication for my 4th grader.)  I hope to add some fun computer games/card games etc to make this more fun.  The curriculums we will be using are:

Teaching Textbooks  (oldest)

Rod and Staff (youngest.)  Note: We add our own manipulatives, as needed.

     I’ll post our curriculum for unit studies (history, geography, and science), art, and music in my next post.

 © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Character Traits, Curriculum, Elementary School, Goals, Homeschool | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Helpful Advice for Homeschooling Elementary School-Aged Children

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 12, 2010

Simplify the Curriculum, or “Colette’s List of 10 Things  (with my own comments added):

1).  Keep everything as simple as you can. Jesus wrote with a stick in the dirt, and He was the greatest teacher that ever lived. He used no curriculum or flannel graphs or lesson plans. Homeschooling can be made far more complicated than it should be. A simpler approach is much more effective.

     Why do we make things so difficult for ourselves?  Why do we feel we need to spend hundreds of dollars on curriculum, “educational toys”, manipulatives, etc to homeschool successfully?  Why do we glue ourselves to one single method or curriculum? 

      Remember, there is no perfect curriculum.  There is no special toy/manipulative or magical homeschooling method that will teach your children and solve all your problems.  The truth is, we can make almost anything “work” as curriculum if we need to–in fact, before buying curriculum, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself if it is really necessary at all.  Many topics can be taught naturally using real books and discussion. 

     The key to homeschool success is relationship–your relationship with your children; the time you spend working with them one-on-one; your ability to individualize your methods and curiculum; the time you spend reading aloud and then discussing what you’ve read.  Relationship is more important than curriculum (or method.)

2).  Stick to the 3 R’s. They form the foundation of life-long learning in every field because they are the tools of study. There will be no need to formalize any other subject if the children are doing their best in these 3, because people who are well grounded in reading, writing and math will approach other subjects boldly, independently and confidently.

     I have to add Bible to that…I believe our most important subjects are Bible/Christian Character, math, and language arts.  We should concentrate most of our time on these.  Be sure to go for mastery, not just “exposure” in these subjects.  I have a good friend who says, “If your child knows and loves the Lord, loves to learn, can read and write well, knows basic math, and knows how to do research –then what else does he need?”   (Thanks, Peggy!)

     Do you worry about “gaps”?!  Things your children will miss?  All children have “gaps”.  You have them, too.  There is simply too much to learn; no one can master it all.  But if you love to learn and if you know how to do research, you will want to fill those gaps when they come up–and you’ll know how to do so.  You will be a lifelong learner.

     Don’t get me wrong; I do want my children to know science, history, geography, etc.  We do teach those subjects in our homeschool.  I also believe that art and music are important.  But sometimes we overlook the fact that our children learn lots from real life, being read to and through independent reading.  We make things harder than they need to be.  If your children haven’t mastered the basics yet, try concentrating on mastering them  for awhile.  For your other subjects, read aloud to your children, and discuss what you’ve read.  Also encourage your children to explore their own interests during their free time. 

3).  Let the children teach themselves as much as they are able to. This teaches them responsibility, intellectual independence, and builds confidence. It’s also better for the parent/child relationship because you can focus on parenting instead of playing schoolteacher.

     I agree, and yet disagree with this one.  I make it a rule not to do anything for my children that they can do for themselves; I encourage them to learn how to work “independently”  in their chores and their schoolwork (more and more as they grow older.)   But that doesn’t mean I expect to totally give up my role as “teacher-mom”  and turn all learning over to my children.  I think there has to be a balance of independent work and facitiated learning/discusion. 

      Sometimes in our haste to make things easier for ourselves, we turn too much over to our children too soon.  To make the most of our homeschool, we need to maintain our involvement in our children’s school work.  At the least, we should introduce new concepts and discuss them; introduce new assignments, communicating to our children exactly what is expected of them; supervise/check in on our children as they work; read aloud/discuss their learning; ask them to talk to you about what they’ve learned (or narrate–either verbally or through a report), and finally, inspect (check) their work immediately upon it’s completion.  If we overlook these things, we miss out on the best parts of homeschooling and in my opinion, let our children down. 

     I must admit, I didn’t do the best job with this for my older set of children.  I was so busy with my little ones that I entrusted them with too much independence too soon.  I didn’t discern their true needs.  Be careful to find a balance in your homeschool, so that you don’t repeat my mistakes.  (Note:  Plan to sit right with your children while they are doing their assignments for the first few years.  Maturity comes before independence.)

4).  Use the most direct method available. For reading, read. For writing, write, for math, do it, and for Bible, read it. Don’t fall for catchy curriculums or methods that are really just something else for you and your child to learn. 

     See my post, “Homeschooling Early Elementary…Keep it Simple”, HERE.  

5).  Don’t worry about your child’s age or grade. Just let him do the best he can each day. Children grow intellectually like they do physically: in spurts. Although we may have an audience of skeptical relatives, homeschooling is not a circus, and we refuse to train our children to do tricks for people.

     Our goal should be to find out where our children are now, and then move them forward from there.  Slow and steady wins the race!  We tend to expect far too much of our younger children, and not nearly enough of our older children.  Instead, duing the early elementary years, back off a bit and wait for readiness.  Children in Sweeden and Switzerland don’t even start school until they are 7, and yet they outscore American children on standardized tests.  (See my tab, “Readiness”, and my archived posts on readiness as well.)

 6).  Minimize distractions in the home. Watch for excessiveness in entertainments, snacking, outings, phone conversations and the like. These sorts of things can easily get out of hand and compete with the effectiveness of a homeschool and sap the family of time and energy.

     Such distractions also get in the way of our children’s time to play,  explore their hobbies/interests, and so on.  These are vitally important to children of all ages.  Distractions eat up our own time as well; especially the time we could be spend reading the Bible,  playing games with our children, and giving them unrushed, real life experiences (cooking, nature walks, art, etc) they need.

7).  Seek quality over quantity. A few tapes of great music, a small case of carefully chosen books, a few special play mates, and an occasional outing is better than a large, but poor quality collection.

     Often we spend hundreds of dollars on these things–with the best of intentions–only to have them gathering dust on a shelf.  Start with a few of the best, and use them.  Once your children become familiar with the books and CD’s you have, you can add more.  This saves you from stress and guilt…and it saves money, too.  Sometimes I think we give ourselves so many options that we don’t know what to do; we’re like toddlers overwhelmed by a mountain of toys.  Less really can be “more.”  Believe me about this–I’ve learned it the hard way.

8).  If you must document your school activities, do it after the fact. This way you will not make promises you cannot keep. If you are required to make lesson plans, be as vague as permissible. Don’t let transcripts, diplomas, records and tests determine your academic plans. Focus on learning and the rest will follow.

     I don’t know about you, but I hate those “teacher plan” books…I dispise those empty boxes (even if I planned my day that way–i.e. alternating subjects.)  This year we’re using a simple, journal-type planner.  I added my own tabs to divide up the weeks, as well as tabs for writing down the books we read, resources we’re using, etc.

9).  Put the needs of your youngest, most vulnerable children first. If an older child gets a little behind in school, I’m sure you can forgive yourself. But if something happened to the toddler while you were busy homeschooling, I don’t think you would be able to say the same.

     Once we’ve given our youngest what they need, they will be content to let us work with our older children.  See my tab on “Routine”, and my article, “Keeping Little Ones Busy.”

10).  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and don’t neglect to seek him early…giving him the first fruits of your day and teach your children to do the same. I know that you are tired and that there aren’t enough hours in your day, but we serve a God who can make the sun stand still.

     Examine yourself:  Do you “make the main thing (JESUS!) the main thing”  in your personal life/homeschool/family life?  Do you spend time in the Word everyday?   Does your life reflect your most important goals?  Do you live out your faith?  Does your life rotate around GOD, or your family/homeschool?  (OUCH.)   I know I have a long way to go regarding these matters…I’ve been very convicted lately about truly living out my most important goals.  

     For more about “the main thing”, see my post, “Challenge To Christian Parents.” 

     Live the 4R’s!   ~~Susan

     Info about this post:  Simplifying,”   according to my information, this was orginally posted on the RC4JC Yahoo group and is used with permission:  “Anyone can use Colette’s list of 10 things; she’d like it if they credit the e-group or her by name, but it’s otherwise free for use without any conditions.”  (If this information is incorrect, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.  I did my best to find the orginal source.)

Colette is one of the moderators of the Robinson Curriculum email group:
Robinson Users for Christ

Simplify the Curriculum © Colette Longo, used with permission.  Other portions of this post: © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Elementary School, Encouragement, Goals, Holiness, Homeschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Readiness, Reading Aloud, Relationships, The 4 R's, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Why I’m so Adamant About the Importance of Readiness

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 31, 2010

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of readiness, and why I’m so adamant about its importance.  It’s surprising to me that so many parents seem to believe it is a non-issue. 

Here’s my list of reasons:

 ~Tradition:  Yeah, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  Formal academics have traditionally been saved until children reach the age of 5 or 6.  The preschool years were considered to be a unique, set-aside time that was special to both parents and children.  It was marked by close relationships between parent and child, real life experiences and lots of time for play, art, music and reading aloud (the epitome of a “traditional childhood”.) 

       In the last thirty years or so, there has been an incredible “pushdown” in curriculum.  What used to be reserved for Kindergarten or First Grade is now routinely taught to preschoolers—either outside the home or in.  The powers that be promised that this pushdown would result in higher test scores, higher IQ’s, higher graduation rates and greater overall academic success for the children throughout their lives.  However, this has not been proved true.  Instead of the expected boost in test scores, the result has been stressed children, an unprecedented increase in learning disabilities and attention disorders, as well as lower test scores than ever. 

       Is it any wonder?  Preschoolers haven’t changed, and yet what is expected of them has changed drastically.  This “experiment” has gone on long enough.  It’s time to return to the tried and true methods.  It’s time to give our children the time they need to be little, and the time they need to mature before they are introduced to formal academic lessons.

 ~Research: The issue of readiness has been studied for many, many years now.   All of the evidence coming out of the world of academia (college research) as well as the brain and sensory research being conducted by doctors and developmental psychologists support the importance of readiness.  The few contrary opinions come from those who are in the government school camp.  They commission studies to “prove” the benefit of early academics, early “intervention”, and early out-of-the-home care, especially in the lives of disadvantaged preschoolers (but make no mistake–their ultimate aim is mandatory government preschool for all preschoolers.)  The most famous of these studies, The Perry Preschool Project, seems to prove their point—that is, until their methods and conclusions are examined carefully.  For instance, the Perry Project studies disadvantaged children, comparing them to other disadvantaged children.  Even so, they apply their outcomes to all children (even children from normal, loving homes.)  This misapplication of the results is equal to doing research without a “control” group.  (Remember, according to Dr. Raymond Moore, author of Home Grown Kids, No study of normal children from loving homes has ever proved that there is any benefit to out-of-the-home preschool programs or early academics.) 

       This is just the beginning of the flaws.  A home-visit component was included in the study, but not considered in the results.  Teachers visited the home and family, working with the children and working with the parents, teaching them how to take better care of their children and how to provide an enriching home environment for them (a learning environment.) They even supplied appropriate books and toys, and taught the parents how to play with and read to their children.  However, they neglected to account for the home visits or include any of the changes made in the home and family when they reported the results of the study.  Instead, they credit any gains the children made to the preschool program only, even though home-life is well known to be one of the greatest predictors of school success: “…many studies indicate that parents are the biggest factor in academic success, particularly at the early ages. A 1999 study by Parker, Boak, Griffin, Ripple, and Peay examined the way that parent-child relationships affect school readiness. According to a report titled “Supporting Young Children as They Enter School,” this study concluded: “Main findings were that children have better school readiness outcomes when parents spent more time helping them at home. Parents that had a better understanding of the importance of play in child development also contributed to better cognitive outcomes for children.””  I believe that it is obvious that if gains were made, the changes in the home were the reason, not the children’s preschool attendance.

       Finally, when promoting the results of the Perry Preschool Project, they neglect to reveal that the study showed that the “gains” the children in the study made were short-lived, disappearing all together by the second grade.  For more information about these flawed studies, their exaggerations, and the truth about developmental research, read THIS wonderful article.  For another important article about early academics, click HERE; also investigate the tab, “Important Links.”

~The most important and famous experts in the field of child development believe in the importance of waiting for readiness; people such as Charlotte Mason, Dr. Jean Piaget, Dr. Raymond Moore, Dr. Ruth Beechick, Dr. Jane Healy, Dr. David Elkind, Dr. Lillian Katz, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, P.H.D., and many, many more.   

 ~Personal experience:  I taught preschool for more than eight years, in every type of setting:  Private daycares, a parent participation program, a college center where we trained college students who wanted to become preschool teachers, and later on, I provided home daycare.  In many of these settings the preschools had several different classes—sometimes more than one per age group.  In some centers I worked in one smaller classroom with one “set” of children, and in others, I worked in one large classroom where the children rotated through “stations” (80 or more children.)  In all those years, in all those schools, working with all those different children from many different types of families, I never came across a preschooler (age 4 or younger) who was ready for formal academics, and I never met a 3 or 4 year old who could read phonetically. 

       Now I’m not in denial; I know that there are gifted children out there who are developmentally ready for formal academics.  Some of the most gifted children of all teach themselves to read, or teach themselves math at a young age.  But these children are few and far between; they are unusual.  With the advent of the internet, however, it’s easy to click on blogs that describe these children’s special abilities.  Doing so makes parents of “normal” children feel as if their children are “behind” or not “doing enough”.  Don’t feel that way.  It’s O.K. for our children to be “normal”. 

 ~It’s a waste of time.  Why spend two or three years concentrating your child’s entire learning experiences on formal academics, when there is so much to learn through play, natural learning, and reading aloud?  Why concentrate exclusively on only one aspect of your child’s development, while overlooking the needs of the whole child?  Why spend years gluing beans on the letter “B”, when you could be engaging your child in creative art, creative play and exploration?   Why make alligators shaped like the letter “A”, when you could read about real alligators, learn where and how they live, and so on?  Which type of learning is going to be the most meaningful for your child—and which type of learning ignites the fire of a life-long love for learning?  Which provides that simple base of knowledge about the world (and the vocabulary to go with it) that will help your child in all his learning later (especially reading comprehension?)

        Most children who are raised in a responsive, enriching home environment “pick up” those academic skills (colors, letters, numbers, shapes, etc) on their own—especially if they have parents who take the time to talk to them and read to them.  Why spend years trying to teach them “facts” or “skills” that they are not ready for, when they will learn them in only days or hours a year or two later?! 

       I talk with parents all the time who insist that their children are ready for academics.  Some of them have children who are gifted; others have pushed their children every step of the way; most simply do what they think is expected of them.  Here are some questions that I think these parents should consider:

By concentrating on academics, are you overlooking other, more developmentally appropriate activities that your preschooler needs and enjoys?  Some parents tend to overlook play, art, music, and reading aloud in favor of workbooks and flashcards.

Will learning academics really help your child in the long run?  Studies have shown that children who participate in play-based preschool and Kindergartens actually do better in the long run than children who concentrate on early academics.  According to research, “children subjected to overly-academic programs tend to have more behavior problems and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.” In fact, other research states that “By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status.”  (Read the entire article HERE.)  

 Are early academics best for your child emotionally? Roberta Golinkoff, author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, says that “Research…shows that academic preschools offer children no long-term advantages academically, but makes them (children) more anxious.”

       Once again, I’d like to encourage parents who are taking an academic approach to reconsider their methods.  Refocus your homepreschool.  Learn about insects, the ocean, pets, plants, trains, etc.  Read, bake, dig, do art, sing, and play together.  Spend hours outside; take long nature walks.  Put formal academics at the periphery of your preschool time instead of the center of it. You and your children will be happier for it.

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homepreschool | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Me and the Moores: What Peaked my Interest in Homeschooling

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 19, 2010

        Way back in 1990, when my oldest was two, I heard Dr. Raymond Moore talk about homeschooling on the radio show,   Focus on the Family.  That single show started our family down a path to a major lifestyle decision–homeschooling. 

        Before my son was born, I was a huge supporter of institutional preschools.  I planned to keep teaching after our first was born.  I thought I’d find a preschool/daycare situation where I could take my baby to work with me…I was also considering starting my own home daycare.  But once I held my son in my arms, I saw preschool/daycare in an entirely new light.   I realized how much time it takes to care for a baby.   I remembered the preschoolers I worked with and saw them through new eyes…the eyes of a mother.  I realized that most of the children I worked with were lost, confused, and hungry for love and attention.  I knew I wanted better for my little boy.

        After hearing that radio show, I knew in my heart that the solution for us was homeschooling.  I’d already realized that I enjoyed the company of my then 2 year old way too much to ever send him away to preschool, but before the show I had never thought about homeschooling him.  I don’t know if I’d even heard of homeschooling.  

        I started to research homeschooling right away.  The first thing I did was to check out the book, Homegrown Kids from the library (Dr. Moore’s book).  I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but my background in Child Development told me that his emphasis on readiness and natural learning was right on the mark.  

        Dr. Raymond Moore is considered to be the “father” of the homeschool movement, and rightly so. The Moores have been at the forefront of the homeschooling movement since the early 1980’s.  The Moores emphasize developmental readiness, and introduced the idea of an “Integrated Maturity Level” or IML.   The IML includes our children’s cognitive, physical (including eye sight, eye-hand coordination, small muscle strength, and general coordination), and social maturity, which often doesn’t “come together” until age 8-10; therefore, the Moores suggest that children should learn in natural ways and not be forced into formal academic lessons until that time.   The Moore Formula encourages us to provide our children with approximately equal amounts of 1) manual work (think, life-skills!), 2) service (in the home or the community), and 3) “school” or study time (for young children, reading aloud and natural learning.)  I would add play to the list, especially for younger children. 

        Although the Moore’s method is often called “delayed learning”, it is anything but.  As I stated in my post, Preschool Myths, waiting for readiness is not the same as withholding learning.  It’s very different from un-schooling, as well.  The Moore’s advocate neither pushing children nor holding them back; they simply discourage “formal” or workbook/textbook type learning early on.  Instead, children learn through loving, consistent care and conversation (relationship),  a regular routine, lots of reading aloud, unit studies (delight directed), real life/hands-on experiences, games and oral work, and often through starting their own home business or helping their parents with theirs (a large component of their method.) Obviously the Moores have had a huge influence on me, since I am definitely a proponent of relationship, routine, readiness, reading aloud, and unit studies!

        The Moore Formula meshes well with many other methods, including Charlotte Mason (lots of lit; few if any textbooks, short lessons, oral work, etc) unit studies (lots of books and hands on/life experiences) and the Beechick method (again, lots of books and reading aloud, readiness, life experiences; emphasis on correct dating of early history), and even Montessori (life skills, hands-on activities, using real, adult-sized tools versus toys.)   

         Personally, I don’t go quite as far as the Moores do when it comes to delaying formal academics…Dr. Moore would have us wait for any type of formal academic lessons until our children are 8 years old.  Instead, I believe a more balanced approach is in order.  Having had an early reader (reading well at age 5-6) and a later reader (not reading much at all until age 10), I believe I see both sides of the issue.  I do believe in planning short, play-based lessons for the early years, but I believe they should be done carefully, with readiness and interest in mind.  Even so, I do see the good of the Moore Formula and I think their research is very comforting to parents of young children.  I recommend that parents of preschoolers and Kindergarteners (especially) read Home Grown Kids–if for no other reason than to help them relax and back off from an emphasis on formal academics during the preschool and early elementary years.  

        Reading Home Grown Kids helped me let my young children be young children, without worrying about a check-list of “facts” and “skills” they should conquer by age 4 or 5.  Their research held me together when my second born was struggling with reading.  The Moores are right–delayed readers do just as well or better than children who learn early (and I might add, there is not one study that shows that learning to read early is beneficial in the long run.)  My daughter went from struggling to read the simplest books (Boxcar children–at age 10) to reading Lord of the Rings so fast it made my head spin.  She now holds our family record for the most books read in one year, and she wants to be a Christian fiction writer. She never goes anywhere without a notebook, and she loves to read.

        I guess my point is, if you haven’t read Home Grown Kids, it’s worth your time.  If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the Moore’s developmental research, read Better Late Than Early, too.  The book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook shows how the formula works in real families.

        To find out more about the Moore Formula, check out these links:

Read explanations of the Moore Formula HERE

Read articles about using the Moore Formula HERE

Read the article, Learning How to Think by the Moores (great ideas, except for the line about “the family democracy”; I don’t know about you, but our family is NOT a democracy!) 

Read the article, Unschooling and the Moore Method, by Dorothy Moore HERE.    

 © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Deciding to Homeschool or Hompreschool, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Methods, Readiness, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Freebies for New Homeschoolers (and the rest of us)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 12, 2010

          If you are getting ready to start homeschooling next year, or if you are still in the process of making the decision, here are some freebies that will be especially helpful to you:

Homeschool 101, a FREE e-book from The Old School House Magazine

A Free Copy of Homeschool Enrichment Magazine, the magazine I write for from time to time

Read the book, The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto online for FREE

Here are some websites that offer free resources for homeschooling:

Angel Fire, Curr ClickAn Old Fashioned Education, The Baldwin Project, Calvary Chapel’s coloring pages, Donna Young’s homeschool forms, Dr. Mike’s FREE math games and drills , Homeschool Share-free unit studies and lap book templates, Notebooking Pages.com–FREE notebooking pages, Printable KJ Bible for inductive study etc.

Have fun!


© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Deciding to Homeschool or Hompreschool, Freebies, Getting Started, Homeschool, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Unit Study Planning for “Chickens” (A.K.A. a “Chicken” Unit Study)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 1, 2010

        Do you have elementary school-aged children?  Do you want your curriculum to become more “literature-based”? Would you like to try the unit study method– but you’re scared to take the leap?  Then read on, because this post is just for you.

         Ever heard of a “chicken” unit study?  It isn’t a unit study about chickens…it is a unit study for chickens (those of you who can’t give up your textbooks.)  Here’s what I mean:

        If you’ve been having a hard time giving up your (boring) textbooks (chicken!), then why not turn each major chapter or topic in your children’s textbook into a mini unit study?  That way, the text book becomes a sort of “spine” or outline that leads you along.  I admit it:  One of our best year’s homeschooling ever was done this way, and I’ve been considering doing it again. 

        It really is a (nearly) perfect solution, giving your children the “best of both worlds.”  Yes, it takes longer to get through the texts this way, but your children will remember lots more—and enjoy it more, too.

        Here’s what to do:  Choose your textbooks as usual (try to choose a textbook that is as pleasant to read as possible, preferably one written in a “narrative” or “story-like” style.)  Use the index to plan your topics.  Alternate your “units” by topic or major time period and subject (i.e. do a history unit, and then a science unit).  Another option is spending half the year on history, half on science. 

        Read the textbook aloud to your kids and then, instead of written Q & A’s or tests, embellish each chapter with unit study elements:

 ~Books are the most important element to add.  You’ll want to look for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; literature written during or about the time period you are studying (historical fiction), and/or biographies of important people who lived during the time period you are studying.  For science units, read biographies of famous naturalists, scientists and inventors, as well as fiction and non-fiction stories about animals/nature. 

        Since you are only doing science OR history in a single day, you’ll have more time to spend reading aloud.  We usually read the non-fiction books during your unit time, and then read the fiction books after lunch and/or before bed (yes, this counts as part of your school day!)

 ~Lapbooking, notebooking,scrapbooking: Look for resources to go along with each major time period or science topic, such as materials from Hold That ThoughtHands of a Child; History Pockets; Homeschool in the Woods,  etc. 

 ~Time lines: Check out the variety of ways to make and use timelines on Squidoo.     We are going to use the card file type of time line, and occasionally Mini Books.  There are lots of good ideas on Paula’s Archives, too. 

       Some people don’t believe that timelines are helpful to children until they are in the fourth grade or so, but  I disagree.  I think a simple timeline for early elementary aged children (grades 2+) can help them get a sense of “what came first” and “what came next”.  They can slowly build their timelines, and review them over the years to help them remember what they studied.  I wouldn’t worry about trying to get your children to memorize very many dates or time periods, though, until they are around Junior High age.

 ~Charlotte Mason-y elements:  Pull out copywork, vocabulary and spelling words from your literature; have your children narrate (or tell back) short sections of the literature.

 Other, optional things to add:  These things might take more work to come up with, but they sure add a lot to your units.   Don’t go overboard with these; if they seem contrived or unnatural to you, or if they take too much effort to come up with, then feel free to skip them.  Each family has to decide which of these elements are important to them.  In our family, art and music are high on the list; videos are always easy to add, via Netflix.  Field trips and experiments are easy to find for science, but harder for history.

 ~Arts and crafts: Study art from the time period you are studying (picture study); “copy” art methods (i.e. paint with dots like the impressionists, or paint upside down like Michelangelo had to do while painting the Sistine Chapel.)

~Music: Listen to music related to the theme, or written during the time period of the theme.  Study the famous composers during each major time period.

 ~Projects/activities:  This includes cooking experiences, science experiences/experiments/exploration, nature walks, mapping, dioramas/models, etc. 

~Dramatic play:  Some families really get into using dress up clothes, props, and prop boxes to to “pretend” about their unit or “reenact” history. 

 ~Videos:  Used sparingly, these can be a great supplement–especially when it comes to science (documentaries.) Warning: Watch out of evolutionary content and history that has been “re-written”.

~Field trips or virtual field trips: Icing on the cake!

        There are no required elements to this.  I like to keep things simple, so most of our embellishments would be books.  Lapbooking or notebooking would be another element I’d like to use as much as possible.  Other than that, I’d use whatever elements I could come up with!

        This is a great way to break into unit studies, while holding onto the security of textbooks.

        There’s only one thing I ask:  Do yourself and your children a favor; don’t ever use a textbook by itself! 

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Curriculum, Homeschool, Music, Reading Aloud, Unit Studies | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Homeschooling Early Elementary Aged Children: How Many Subjects Do We Need to Teach, Anyway? (Keep it Simple, Silly!)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on April 15, 2010

       Looked at a curriculum catalog lately?  If so, you must have noticed the overwhelming number of subjects most “boxed” curriculums offer.  Take a look at the number of subjects usually offered for an elementary school aged child:   Bible, math, reading/phonics,  grammar, handwriting, spelling/vocabulary, history, science, health, music, art, and  foreign language.  That’s twelve subjects in all.  Some parents choose a vocabulary curriculum that is separate from spelling, adding another subject; others add separate writing, thinking skills,  geography courses, too.  That’s 16 subjects in all.  Whew!  Multiply that by more than one child:  Two children = 32 different subjects…three children = 48 different subjects for you to teach….with each and every book/subject unrelated to all the others.  Ridiculous. 

        And what about the amount of time it takes to teach all those subjects?  If you adopt a “public school” mentality, you would confine your children to their chairs until they had spent 50 minutes per subject.  That equals approximately 13 hours, 33 minutes of school time per day.  That’s insane.  Even if you only spent 30 minutes per subject, which is a much more reasonable amount of time for homeschoolers, you would still spend 8 hours per day of solid academics.  Still too much!   So what are we to do?!  Simplify the curriculum.  Click on this important link to find out how! 

         Don’t continue till you’ve read linked article by Dr. Ruth Beechick!

        It’s a whole new way of thinking, isn’t it?  As usual, Dr. Beechick makes homeschooling sound easy…almost too easy.  Don’t worry though; it is a reasonable and proven approach.   If you haven’t read her books, The 3R’s,  You Can Teach Your Child Successfully Grades 4-8,   or A Biblical Home Education, I encourage you to do so.  I promise you that you’ll refer to them over and again during the years you homeschool.

       Here are several other ways to keep your curriculum simple:   Alternate your subjects.  Alternate science OR health with history OR geography;  alternate art and music, too.  Be brave and teach language arts as a unified subject, as Dr. Beechick suggests (and/or count the writing/reading/etc or child does in other subjects as a part of language arts.)   Never try to teach 11-15 subjects on the same day.  It’s a sure recipe for burn out–both for you and your children.

       Implementing these tips will get you down to 1) Bible, 2) math, 3) language arts, 4) history/geography OR science/health, 5) art OR music (and not in the form of a formal curriculum–and not everyday, unless you incorporate them into other subjects or your child practices an instrument) and 6) foreign language (which is optional; we “skip” this till junior high or high school.)  

Still more ideas: 

~Alternate history/geography OR science/health by day of the week, or better yet, by chapter or topic (this will edge you into unit study territory.)  You should also consider if you even need  a health class every year.  Most of the “health” content for grades 1-4 is the type of thing parents teach their children at home through conversations:  Safety rules, taking care of our eyes, keeping clean, the importance of brushing teach, etc.  In my opinion, if you provide your children a health class in the 5th or 6th grade and again in high school, you’ll have it covered.

         Are you still afraid to take the leap, especially in the area of language arts?  Do you think you won’t be doing enough?  There are several curriculums that combine the different “subjects” of language arts for you.  We use Sing, Spell, Read and Write to teach our children K-2nd or 3rd grade.  This combines the most important elements of language arts for the early years (phonics, reading, writing, and spelling.)  This is all children need until they can read well.

        Once your children are reading well and ready for more, take a look at an “all in one” language arts curriculum such as Learning Language Arts Through Literature,   (we love the old, out-of-print spiral bound editions best) or Queen’s Language Lessons, which include poetry and picture study.  Alternately, you can use the Charlotte Mason method–pulling your language arts lessons from your reading (copywork, dictation, and narration  from the books you are already reading for history/science; see how to do it HERE.)  You can also pull your spelling words and vocabulary words from your reading, if you’d like to.  It’s easy and it’s free.

         Finally, consider an entirely different method of homeschooling—one that will really simplify the curriculum.  If you switch from a textbook approach to a unit study/literature approach, you can cut your subjects down to four:  1) Bible, 2), math, 3) language arts, and 4) unit study.  Some of these four subjects might have more than one element, but still, doesn’t this sound more reasonable?  It is especially useful for teaching multiple children.

       It’s something to think about…simplifying your curriculum. 

  © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.



Posted in Curriculum, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homeschool, Unit Studies | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

How to Start Homeschooling in 10 Simple Steps

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 31, 2010

1.  Pray.  Pray about your decision, and ask the Lord to give you the wisdom and patience you will need.  Also ask Him to give you His vision for your homeschool.  What should your goals be?  What does He want you to teach your children this year—and how should you teach it? (See tab, “Homepreschool Goals” if you have a young child; your primary goals should be the same–just add mastering the basics–the  3 R’s.)  To solidify your decision, be sure to explore the links related to “Making the Decision to Homeschool” under the tab, “Important Links”. 

 2.  Write down your goals and the vision the Lord gives you, and then don’t be afraid to step out in faith and go for it!  This vision might have to do with your homeschooling lifestyle, character and Bible learning goals for your children, or academics…but whatever it is, trust the Lord’s inspiration and follow His leading. 

 3.  Research the legalities involved.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states; some states require little to nothing, others make you jump through a few hoops.  Go to Home School Legal Defense’s website, You Can Homeschool.  There you will find links to your state’s laws and support groups.  They will help you meet the requirements of the law in the simplest way possible.

          If you are pulling your children out of public school, HSLDA and your local support group can guide you step by step; be sure to contact them before  pulling your children out of public school.          

          Remember to check the compulsory age of attendance in your state.  In many states, Kindergarten isn’t mandatory.   You might not have to worry about the legalities at all until your children are 6 or even 7 years old (this varies from state to state.)

    4.  Join HSLDA; most private school satelite programs  require it.  HSLDA is an essential part of protecting our rights to homeschool.  They will also protect you from any legal problems you might encounter if you need to pull your children out of public school.  HSLDA monitors legislation in every state, as well as nationally.  Best of all, HSLDA can provide you with peace of mind. 

 5.  Contact your local Christian homeschool support group and join it now.  The best place to find your group is Home School Legal Defense’s website.  Click on your state to find the group closest to you.  You can also Google your city/state and the words, “Christian Homeschool Support Groups”, or your state’s name plus the words, “Considering Homeschooling groups,” “Exploring Homeschooling” or “Smoothing the Way Groups.” These groups offer mentors and/or  meetings to help you get started and help you during your first year of homeschooling.

        I can’t overemphasize the importance of a good, Christian support group!  Our group is like our church family; we love, support, and encourage each other.  Our group even serves each other in emergencies (when I was on bed rest during a pregnancy, our support group brought us meals!)  Your group has a wealth of love and support, as well as a network of helps and activities just waiting for you.  Don’t try to be a lone ranger; get involved and let them bless you.  You and your children need them, and they need you, too.

 6.  Find out where your child is in his/her learning now.  (This is vital because our goal should be to start where are children are now, and move them out from there.)  There are several ways to do this.  The easiest way is through home assessments.  Depending on your child’s age, assess the following:   Does your child know his phonics, including the “blends” like ch, ck, cl, cr, th, sp, sw, etc?  Is your child reading fluently and with expression?  Can she write a complete sentence?  (Does she know what a complete sentence is?)  Does your child know her math facts? And so on.  

        If you child is being pulled out of school, you might have tests or paperwork to look over or perhaps, if you believe it is wise, you could talk to your child’s former teacher.  (See Homepreschool and Beyond for more information.) 

7.  Determine your child’s learning style.  How does your child learn?  Through hearing it? Seeing it?  Experiencing it?  Writing it down?  OR, perhaps some  combination of these?  Oklahoma Homeschool’s site has lots of good information about this, as does A-Z Home’s Cool Homeschool site.  If you are still not sure about your child’s learning style, don’t worry about it; just observe your child as you go along, and note your child’s most successful learning experiences.  Finally, remember that it’s better for young children to learn using hands-on/several different modalities (see it/hear it/play with it/etc.) 

8.  Research methods and curriculums. If you feel totally lost, a good place to start is (again!)   Oklahoma Homeschool. Be sure to print up and use the Curriculum Planner Worksheets—especially the first one, which will help you assess your preferred methods of teaching (scroll down to find it.)  Another helpful site is Home School Curriculum Advisor .  (Just Google “homeschool methods”, though, and you’ll get thousands of results.)

          The most commonly used methods are traditional textbook/worktext (a textbook with “fill in the blanks” included); unit studies (see my posts that explain units), literature approaches, including Charlotte Mason, and the classical approach…but there are many more.  You should know that most homeschoolers are “eclectic”, meaning that  they customize and combine several different methods, and use several different curriculums (versus ordering a “boxed” curriculum from one supplier.)  My preferred methods include the “Beechick” approach with elements of unit studies/Charlotte Mason/literature approach and Notebooking.  (Many different methods fit together perfectly.)

        Before you order anything, remember to ask yourself:  Can I teach this without using a curriculum?  Does this fit the methods I like to use, and my children’s learning style?   (For much more on choosing and using curriculum inluding 20+ important tips, read Homepreschool and Beyond.

9.  Gather your materials.  Start simply.  Start by choosing your Bible curriculum; it’s the most important.  I find that once I choose my Bible curriculum, the rest seems to fall into place.  It could be as simple as a Bible story book or a devotional book, or it could mean a more formal “curriculum.”  You might even find what you need at your local Bible bookstore—especially if your children are young.  (See Homepreschool and Beyond for more details.)  I encourage new homeschoolers to start with only 4 subjects:  Bible, math, language arts, and reading aloud (for us, a unit study.)  This will give you time to break into the homeschool routine, and discover what works for your family.  You might even discover that you and your children are enjoying the read aloud time so much, that you want to stick with it and continue to use a literature/unit study approach.

          If you are pulling your children out of public school, you might want to allow your children some “detox” time before you begin, and then, you might consider slowly adding to your daily routine (again, start with Bible) until you are doing all your subjects daily.

 10. Set up a simple daily routine (see “Routine” tab.) Remember, it doesn’t have to be timed to the minute; just a simple schedule of “what comes next” will suffice.  Be sure to keep your lessons short and give your children frequent breaks.

            Now you’re ready to get started!

       Remember, relationship is more important than curriculum.  It is the love, time, and attention that you give to your children that is the most important element of your homeschool.  The heart of homeschooling is time spent together reading aloud and discussing what you’ve learned.  Whatever curriculum/method you use, be sure not to overlook homeschooling’s greatest strengths:  a) One-on-one attention (beware of any method that asks your children to work too independently),  b) Conversation, and C) Individualizing the curriculum (your child might need 1rst grade math, 2nd grade phonics, and 3rd grade history–and that’s OK!) 

           You can make due with almost any curriculum if you have to, but it’s almost impossible to homeschool successfully without developing healthy, loving relationships, so make the main thing the main thing! (See the Relationships tab.)

           May the Lord richly bless you as you start homeschooling!


This post contains excerpts from the book,Homepreschool and Beyond”; used with permission.  © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Deciding to Homeschool or Hompreschool, Getting Started, Goals, Homeschool, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Call to Action: National Educational Standards

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 27, 2010

       Note:  This blog is not about politics, and I’ve avoided posting any articles or links about my personal political beliefs unless they have something to do with the state of America’s educational system or our freedom to educate our children as we see fit.  This is one of those times I can’t keep quiet.  Please read the summary below and take the appropriate action.

      No doubt you have heard about Obama’s proposed national standards for education.  Perhaps you have been concerned, as I am, about the affect these standards could have on young children (the continued pushdown of curriculum), and on homeschoolers (who often are required by state law to keep their children at state “grade level”, no matter how inappropriate that “grade level” might be.)  Even those of us not required by law to keep our children at a certain educational level will be influenced by these standards, either through changes in homeschool curriculums because of the standards or through public/peer pressure. 

       The new National Standards proposed are disturbing.  They are not developmentally appropriate, and many of the “requirements” and unclear and open to subjective judgments.  If they pass, they will put increased pressure on young children and on homeschooling families. 

       These standards will, in my opinion, lead to a national curriculum and take away public school teacher’s abilities to be innovative or creative (opportunities to improvise/individualize the content).  From what I understand, every classroom in America would be required to teach the exact same thing in the exact same way on the exact same day across America. (Not to mention–who would write our “national” curriculum?  What type of social engineering/Outcome-based garbage might it include?)

       Most of all, I worry that these standards will eventually be used as an excuse to regulate homeschools and private schools.  If they were made to apply to homeschoolers, they would take away our abilities to choose our own curriculum or individualize our curriculum in content and method–and this has been one of our greatest strengths.  Additionally, these standards would take away our ability to move our children along at their own pace…letting our little one’s maturity set the pace, instead of the curriculum.  Curriculum would become a slave driver instead of a tool. 

         There is still time to do something about this.  First, read the position statement put out by the Alliance for Childhood and Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals.

         Next, go to the Alliance for Childhood’s website and follow the step by step directions to add your own comments to the proposed standards.   I won’t lie to you; it’s a pain.  But we only have until April 2nd to make our voices heard.  Please take the time to express your opposition to National Standards today.

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Readiness | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Spring/Gardening Unit/Theme for Homepreschool/Homeschool

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 23, 2010

A springtime/gardening unit offers us many opportunities for learning and fun.  What fun it is to look for the first signs of spring!  This post is a mish-mash of resources for Springtime units.

Signs of Spring

Spring is a great time to teach your children to observe nature, and learn some names of common plants and animals.  Here are some of the plants and animals we commonly think of during spring:

Crocus flowers are grown from bulbs.  The Crocus is known to be one of the earliest spring bloomers–they sometimes bloom right through the snow! If you have Crocuses planted in your area, go on a nature walk and take a look at them; if you don’t, at least show your children the pictures.

Another plant we identify with spring is the Daffodil.   It’s fun to make your own Daffodil craft by drawing a long green stem on a light-colored sheet of paper.  Next, cut out (or help your child cut) 2-3 inch long, fat triangular-like petal shapes (they can be yellow or white.)  Arrange the petal shapes to make a flower, and then glue a yellow or white mini cupcake liner on top to make a daffodil.

Pussywillows, like Crocuses, are plants we traditionally look for in spring.  Ideas:

Read the book, Pussywillow by Margaret Wise Brown (a Little Golden Book.)   If Pussywillows don’t grow in your area, visit your local florist shop and see if you can purchase a few cut branches.  They make a beautiful display…and children love to touch their velvety-soft buds…be sure to let them!  Next, try your hand at some Pussywillow art.  Click HERE for a site that has several different craft/painting ideas, and some flower crafts, too.

Spring growth:  Other signs of spring we look forward to are new green grass, budding/blossoming trees, and wildflowers.  See if your area has a wildflower or tree blossom trails like ours (Bakersfield, CA Wildflowers; Fresno, CA Blossom Trail).   If so, try not to miss them! Idea:  Bring some “spring” inside by clipping a branch from a tree that is blooming (or about to bloom), and putting it in a vase.  At the very least, go for a nature walk in a nearby park and look for signs of spring growth (etc.)  Fresh cut flowers from your own yard are always enjoyable.  If you are really ambitious, you could try your hand at forcing some bulbs.

Spring Poem:  I looked out-side and what did I see?  Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!  (Author unknown.) For more spring poems, click HERE.

Art ideas: 

– Have your child draw a “tree trunk” onto light-colored construction paper (or draw it for them.)  Pop popcorn and glue it on the branches for “blossoms.”

-Paint with branches, OR paint flowers and then use them to make prints.

-Collage with seeds (be sure to use only edible seeds such as lentils, beans, etc, in case your children try to eat them.)


– Purchase a variety of different seeds. Look at them, and compare (try to have a varity of types and sizes, such as avacado seeds, bean seeds, corn, sunflower, mustard seeds (or other very tiny seeds.)

-In a mason jar, sprout the avacado seed; in another, sprout the beans (put dampened paper towels in a mason jar; place beans right next to the glass. Place them in a summy window, and then watch them sprout.)  Watch and compare. Experiment: What happens to the seeds without light or water?

-Plant some of your seeds in peat pots or starter trays (available at home and garden stores), or sow them directly in the ground.

-Learn about trees. Is your area known for certain types of trees? If so, make sure your child can recognize them.  Take a nature walk and look for signs of spring.

Books to read:  The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree, by Gail Gibbons; The Apple Pie Tree, by Zoe Hall; A Tree is a Plant (a Let’s Read-and Find-Out Book), by Bulla; How a Plant Grows, by Bobbie Kalman (beautiful pictures); A Tree is Nice, by  Janice May Udry (this one’s considered a preschool classic);  Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert;  Jack’s Garden, by Henry Cole;  The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Kraus (another classic; great for younger preschoolers); The Sunflower House, by Eve Bunting (you can look for grown-up books about sunflower houses, too, and some for kids AND grown-ups.)

Vocabulary: Bud, blossom, fruit, shoot, root, seed, and so on.

Animals and Spring

Robins are considered to be signs of spring.  Watch for the return of Robins and other birds.  A good book to read about robins is A Nest Full of Eggs, by Priscilla Belz Jenkins.

Make a paper bird:  Enlarge any one of these bird patterns and copy onto heavy paper.  Let your child paint the bird with water colors, and let dry.  Glue wings on to complete the bird.  Click HERE for an alternate pattern.

For a craft activity, consider making/setting up a bird feeder, bird house or bird bath to attract birds to your yard.  Here are a variety of bird/bird feeder craft ideas: http://kidsactivities.suite101.com/article.cfm/easy_bird_feeders_for_kids


For the ambitious:  See if anyone you know has an incubator you can borrow and hatch some chicken eggs.

Other books about birds:

An Egg is Quiet, by Dianna Aston Book, by Jane Werner Watson (Out of Print)

Birds:  A Child’s First Book About Our Most familiar Birds, a Big Golden Book, by Jane Werner Watson

What Makes a Bird?, by May Garelick (may be out of print)

It’s Nesting Time, (an older Let’s Read and Find Out book) by Roma Gans (out of print)

 Baby Animals:  Many animals have their babies during spring.  This is a perfect time to learn about baby animals and their special names.  If you can, visit a petting zoo, zoo, or nearby farm to observe baby animals.  Books to read:

Baby Animals (a Little Golden Book), by Garth Williams

Baby Animals, by Harry McNaught

Kitten, The Little Rabbit, and others by Judy Dunn.

You can find other books about Spring, plants, baby animals and more in the series, Books for Young Explorers, from National Geographic (one of my favorite science series for ages 4-9; beautiful photos.)

 General Books About Spring/Seasons:

What Happens in the Spring, a National Geographic book Young Explorers, by Kathleen Costello Beer.

How Do You Know It’s Spring, a Rookie Read-About Science Book, by Allan Fowler (ages 2-6.)

Over and Over, by Charlotte Zontolow (contains references to Halloween, but they are easily skipped.)

Other related/possible units:  Bunnies, Plants and Trees, Gardening, Weather, Insects and more!

Have fun!

Note:  I can only recomend the pages I link to, not the entire content of each site.   Further note:  Many of the books I recomend are out of print.  But thanks to Amazon, it’s no problem!  (I am not an Amazon Affliate; I don’t get any money if you purchase any of the books.  They are simply books I’ve enjoyed with my children.)

This post contains excerpts from the book,Homepreschool and Beyond”; used with permission.  © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Book Lists, Crafts, Curriculum, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Nature Study, Reading Aloud, Unit Studies | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »