The Song is About More

Oh the love that covers us,

Oh the Savior’s mercy,

Oh the blood that makes a spotless bride!

This weekend was the annual statewide homeschool convention here in Arizona. Sometimes when I attend, I have real questions I want answered for our next year of homeschooling; sometimes I attend because it is my “continuing ed.” It’s (one of) my job(s), after all, and it can get stagnant without fresh input.

This year the convention was about maintaining normal. It would have been a legitimate choice to just not go, since it meant managing Mr. N’s diabetes away from home for the first time.

But I am craving normal, even a new normal. So it was off to convention, kids in tow and with the help of my parents, and now it’s back to keeping this commitment of thinking via my keyboard.

And writing a devotion. For myself.

Because the simple fact is that the rest of my week was bigger and more gritty than sitting in a homeschool seminar or two, calmly taking notes as part of being normal.

It’s been a month or maybe six weeks that I’ve been drawn into a version of More and More of You as performed by WorshipMob. Without exactly knowing why. Here it is:

The truths from the bridge of this song have played over and over for me, getting stuck in my head because of the melody. And now I’m filling them in with experiences:

  1. Oh the love that covers us…

I’m thankful for the body of Christ, the love on Earth from the Father through his children. This is love that covers us, as surely as the love that saves us. It covers me, it covers my family. So many people have showed us that He cares by how they have reached out to us following Mr. N’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.

2. Oh the Savior’s mercy…

Lamentations 3:22-23, New Living Translation (NLT)

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

A fresh mercy in the morning — being able to learn something new for work, Mr. N’s cheerfulness at breakfast, a LEGO pit at the homeschool convention so the boys could play (since they had to go along this year, which had not been in my plans) — is God showing me He knows. He knows what is happening in my life.

3. Oh the blood that makes a spotless bride!

Jesus physically died as part of his sacrifice for our sins, as our means of redemption.  There was blood. And His blood stands for all that He did. It’s that “one thing” kind of word — the capital “B” Blood — that encompasses many things. And so His blood — that is, His sacrifice on the cross, but also His sacrifical life — refines me, whether I am expecting it or desiring it or not.

Philippians 2:5-8 New Living Translation (NLT)

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,[a]
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

These verses in Philippians have been etched on my heart for a long time, and yet some part of me thought or hoped that I had already given up so many “privileges” or potential or possibilities that I wouldn’t have more to let go. Now I am letting go again, having hopes and dreams reshaped because of a medical diagnosis, carrying out tasks I wasn’t looking for, needing to pray more and rely more on God in obedience to God.

As if in confirmation, this verse came through my Facebook feed this week in German from a page called Glaubensimpulse (Impetus or Encouragement to Faith), and it’s all about that reliance on God:

Unser Tod schien unausweichlich. Aber Gott wollte, dass wir uns nicht auf uns selbst verlassen, sondern auf ihn, der die Toten zu neuem Leben erweckt. —2.Korinther 1,9

Our death seemed unavoidable. But God wanted for us that we not ‘let down’ ourselves on ourselves (that we not depend on ourselves), but rather on Him, who awakens the dead to new life. –2 Corinthians 1:9

So God has more of Himself for me? And this is the path?

And am I then surprised that the song that has been following me is about More, too?

Holy Spirit, give us revelation,

A healing visitation,

Nothing else will do…

We want more and more and more and more of you.



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Helicopter Mom–parent

Some life-changing things happen in the space of one day. I became a helicopter mom in the space of an hour.

Last week, while I was contemplating in the previous blog how life changes suddenly and forever, our youngest son, Mr. N, was sick. He was low-energy, hungry and yet not, thirsty and pale. We thought it was a flu-bug or maybe some dehydration.

On Saturday, he started throwing up. The day before he had managed to keep everything down, although the “everything” was diluted sports drink, water, and some cracker-like finger snacks meant for toddlers. But on Saturday, nothing was staying down. By mid-afternoon, he was more uncomfortable. By late afternoon, he was breathing rapidly. We knew we were headed to at least an urgent care office.

After an hour and a half at urgent care, we were told that our son needed some care that they couldn’t give, so we went across the street to the emergency room. As soon as we reached the desk, the attendant looked at Mr. N and then put him in a wheelchair with oxygen and transported him to an examining room — no triage, no paperwork, just the room.

Within a few minutes, Mr. N had a nurse, a tech, the doctor in charge of the ER for the night, and countless other medical staff in his room. He had an IV, numerous blood draws, a chest scan, an EKG, and more.

When enough tests had been done and the senior doctor had even come in and smelled Mr. N’s breath, the doctors let us know that our son likely had Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and would be transferred to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for appropriate treatment. He was in DKA — diabetic ketoacidosis.

The first plan was to transport him the approximately 100 miles via ambulance. As the numbers became clearer and the consult with the pediatric endocrinologist was made, the ambulance turned into a helicopter. Although my husband and I were there in the ER with our son through this whole experience, the exact time and details are too hard to know — everything seemed to happen quickly and yet not quickly enough. But, more or less, roughly estimated, we had about an hour to prepare for the idea that Mr. N was going on a medical helicopter to Phoenix, and there was a good chance it would be without either of his parents.

And this is when I became a helicopter mom — a mom with a son who flew on a helicopter. A medical helicopter. A life-flight helicopter. And my husband became a helicopter dad.

We didn’t get to go on the flight because of space and weight constraints, but Mr. N had to go and had to go quickly to get the care he needed. At the time they loaded him on the helicopter, his breathing was still rapid, a sign that his body was trying to get rid of its high acid levels associated with his untreated diabetic condition. Even if we wanted to — which we did! — we couldn’t be the ones to swoop in and take care of him. He had to go on the helicopter.

Now, 6 days after Mr. N’s helicopter flight, I am not a helicopter mom anymore. That flight, that hour of life, is done. Our lives have been changed — in just one day — but I am not a helicopter mom in the newfangled, socio-critical sense: hovering, rescuing, overparenting. We were taught in the hospital to treat his diabetes in a matter-of-fact way: check the blood sugar, give the insulin, and let him eat! His body cells are hungry and have been for a while, for all the time that his body was not converting his meals into usable food energy for them. So now he eats and enjoys and we all know he is getting his nutrients. And we can relax. A little.

Oh, the irony of writing about what can happen in one day! Our T1D story was, in all likelihood, several weeks or even months in its development, as Mr. N’s pancreas gradually stopped producing insulin, as the B-cells responsible for that insulin succumbed to his own body’s white cells — because T1D is an autoimmune disease. But the signs of the disease only became really clear in the space of one day, as his body crashed, as his sugar and ketone levels reached debilitating, life-threatening levels.

His condition was critical. He had to go on a helicopter.

By the grace of God, I am not and will not be a helicopter mom anymore. No hovering, worrying, restricting. I do have to be available. Mr. N’s dad and I are the med-care team until our little boy (he’s only 8) can do self-care, or until there is technology available to him that will help with his care.

But I can creatively manage everyone’s schedules and meal plans so that we find a new normal that is close to the old normal.

By the grace of God.

II Corinthians 12:9 “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (NLT)
* * * * *

For parents who are worried and wondering about signs of diabetes — that was the primary question I was asked at a homeschool park day yesterday — my husband and I would recommend this: if your child has signs of flu or dehydration with NO fever, buy a simple bottle of ketone-testing strips and check your child’s urine for a high amount of ketones. Check them before your child enters the vomiting and rapid breathing stage of DKA.  Seek a medical consult and obtain necessary treatment. –This is our suggestion to set your mind at ease, NOT to replace proper medical help. For our own peace of mind, we have checked our two non-diabetic boys at home.

From our hospital guidelines on diabetes care

From our hospital guidelines on diabetes care


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Just One Day

We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day. –Gayle Forman

I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read this author. But this quote has grabbed me because of its truth.

Just one day.

The last week of June is, for me, full of days which are each Just One Day — the kind that changes the world as you’ve known it. On a day during the last week in June —

  • my husband and I met (20 years ago this year!)
  • our family left the Midwest on a permanent, cross-country move
  • we started a new hometown tradition

These personal events have lifelong effects — the world is different for me after these things. Sometimes, though, the non-personal and seemingly distant can also change my life on a lasting basis — and when the anniversary is near or on my own personal anniversaries, the change can sink in deeper.

It was during the last week of June that the Lone Survivor ( was born — born in the aftermath of a fight with Afghani militants which saw his 3 teammates killed and 16 more American soldiers and sailors killed in the attempt to rescue them. Operation Red Wings, June 28, 2005, 19 heroes gone, 1 left.

And on one other June day — when Prescott, AZ, was the home of our hearts, if not yet our household — a summer wildfire got away from the crews which were fighting it. The Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew had to deploy their protective shelters, but the fire overcame them anyway. Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013, 19 heroes gone, 1 left.

I didn’t know anyone personally who died on those June days. But it was clear from the circumstances of these deaths that they were self-sacrificial — men had risked and lost all in their efforts to save other lives. They had been John 15:13 men whether they knew it or not, whether they knew the One who was the Original Sacrifice or not.

And there’s the change in just one day, just one June day — my life-altering days mixed in with signposts of truth along the way…

and, Lord willing, I come out changed because of Just One Day.

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Do One Thing

When I was in eighth grade, my very wise band director said to me, “You’re going to have to choose. You’re going to have to eventually choose to do one thing.”

At the time he gave me this advice, I was playing flute in the more advanced band and oboe the next hour in the secondary band. I was also taking piano and organ lessons. I do believe I was also going to school for other subjects, but my band director knew that, within the area of music, I was exploring (he let me try a bassoon and a saxophone that year, too!), but that my explorations needed to arrive… somewhere!

I think about his “do one thing” advice quite often. I think about it. And then I find myself doing 10 things instead. I am doing the figurative “10” things right now in my life (not a literal, but close!), and I want to ask a question before I cut out any of those things:

How many of these things are really one thing? One thing which is subdivided into many small routines or tasks, sort of like grocery shopping.

When I do my one task, called grocery shopping, I am really doing many tasks, like checking produce for the freshest pieces,  selecting cheeses and meats based on both my family’s tastes and price, steering my cart carefully and not crashing into other shoppers, remembering the things I forgot to write on my list…

No one is counting my grocery shopping as all of those things. Grocery shopping gets a whopping “1” — one thing done on my checklist for the week.

If I think in those terms, then I have to be careful how I count what I do. I homeschool my kids. Weeelll… isn’t that a neat and tidy package?! I homeschool. We homeschool. But — what’s the word? — Unpack. We have to unpack that concept a bit for it to really have meaning. Because anyone who has homeschooled knows it is not “one thing.” But it is one overarching goal or lifestyle, and when the word is said, it communicates the sense of many tasks, but one thing. Home, the place where I am hidden from all the world except from those closest to me, and school, the place where I learn that I don’t know as much as I should know, and I am helped to learn more — together are they homeschool, the place where I learn to be a humble yet confident scholar? But that is a different subject, a second thing.

One thing.

“To do two things at once is to do neither.” –Publilius Syrus

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul to the Philippians, Ch. 3:13b-14

One thing.

In high school, I eventually concentrated the most on playing flute (with piccolo on the side for marching band season!). This led ultimately to the great blessings of traveling with my high school show choir as an instrumentalist and performing in some amazing places. I played only a little bit in college but found great joy in picking it up again in grad school and also in church settings.

In order to arrive at the next one thing, I need to tease apart, to unpack, to unblur the lines between my tasks, identify which of them are really only sub-tasks — “small, manageable tasks,” like steering my grocery cart — and which of them are the overarching tasks, the ones which are captured by a simple name: homeschool, work, family.

And this leads to a last question for myself as I ponder doing one thing:

Are homeschool, work, family staying in their places as sub-tasks themselves, subordinate to THE One Thing: “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”?






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Always Beginning Again

After several years of neglect, this blog has summoned my attention again. Not that it had any momentum before, or that I had a particular cause to promote or life to share — just that I like to write in the moments when I have something to say. Some people speak their thoughts more readily, and I more readily write.

I hope that this blog is the primary thing I’ve neglected since I last added to it. It seems that my family and I have been beginning again, starting anew, for the last few… years! In the summer of 2014, my 3 boys and I moved to Arizona, leaving my husband in the Midwest to sell our house and join us in a couple of months. Those “couple” of months turned into 6, and the house only sold after 10 months. Our new beginning turned into a whole year of beginning again. After that year, prolonged beginnings, with starts and stops, seem normal. Why not start writing again in this kind of format, if it moves me now?

We human beings are always beginning again — is it a new hobby? Is it a new stage with our children? Is it a new weight loss program, job, a new school, or, as in our case as homeschoolers — a new homeschooling curriculum?

Always beginning again… what is new for us now? We’ve been through the new of a new town, new home, new friends, new church, and for me, a new opportunity to teach German, and now they are already past. New friends are becoming not-so-new (but not yet old) friends, and after 2 years of teaching German for homeschooling families, that opportunity is also completed. It has run its course.

On to the new course of starting a homeschool co-op with some of said “not-so-new” friends! On to a new job which creates new schedules at home and a need for new curriculum! On to the next step because there is no place to go other than onward…

We are always beginning again, no matter how settled we become. It is part of this existence we know, and it is also somehow a preparation and prelude for that post-life existence we have yet to know.

And yet we can know the One who invented beginnings and newness; He makes all things, and He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelations 21:5). Even if we are — even if I am — always beginning again, the Creator of Newness stays the same.

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Only for a Season: A Letter to a Friend Considering Homeschooling

This is a revised-for-privacy version of a real letter I wrote to a friend. Maybe it will meet you where you’re at:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi, there,

I’m so happy you felt like you could ask me about homeschooling! It just so happens that the law which governs homeschooling in our state has changed within the last 3 months, and it is easier to homeschool now than ever, at least from a legal or paperwork standpoint.

The more difficult question is whether you want to try homeschooling in your family, or just “tough it out” until you can move to a new school district, since you don’t like the one you are in. I think that you COULD teach your child at home, if you want to try. There are many, many curriculum packages that you can purchase, and many of them also come with step-by-step lesson plans and/or basic guidelines for how to work through the curriculum. Some websites for curriculum would be — which sells a package for each grade level — or — which sells many different curricula.

I’ll also refer you to my blog, which doesn’t have many articles, but may have a couple which would help. May 2012 and June 2012 at have posts relevant to starting up homeschooling.

Well — so the short answer is — yes, you ARE able to do it, if it fits your family. And yes, your child can go back to public school if and when you move. Homeschooling can be something you do for only a season of life.

Look at some of these websites I’ve mentioned and do some reading, and then see if you have other questions you’d like to ask. I’d be happy to meet you for coffee or something, if you’d like, or meet at a park so our kids can play, if you’d like to talk in person.

Happy homeschool hunting ,

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Revisited: Word Families

This is a re-post of one of my first blogs. I am even more convinced of the usefulness of word families than I was one year ago because I have continued to use them with our struggling reader. Here’s a new curriculum we’ve been enjoying, and there are more ideas throughout this “word families” post.


Recently my youngest son, Mr. N, wanted to build words with the letter combination “-ag.” As I searched my mind for words that he could make to create an “-ag” word family, I had a hard time finding any with positive connotations. Starting alphabetically with “bag” (maybe we should just bag it!), I continued in my mind with “c–,” “d–,” “f–,” –no, none of those would work for their own reasons. I could suggest “gag” to him, “hag,” “lag,” “nag.” Wait! I thought. How is it that, in the English language, this combination of “a” plus “g” results in so many unhappy words? Gag reflex, old hag, lag time, don’t nag! Surely, there had to be a more child-friendly, upbeat word family, one that would be more musical sounding, too!

We moved on to more gentle rhyming sounds: “ran, “ “fan,” “tan;” “cat,” “sat,” “mat.” In a sense, word families are nothing more than sets of words that rhyme, and isn’t that the tried-and-true pre-reading advice? “Play rhyming games with your children so they are ready to learn to read.” In the case of my youngest son, playing with word families comes naturally.

I hadn’t given word families much thought, however, until it came time last fall to teach our middle son to read. Mr. C has the most difficulty with words of our three boys, which first prompted me to think about using word families, that is, familiar rimes with multiple onsets [1], for learning to read. He was going to need repetition and practice in a way our oldest son hadn’t when he learned to read. I looked into file folder games, worksheets, and electronic learning toys for help. My husband started the practice of letting Mr. C earn time playing video games if he could write down ten words by memory or by sounding them out. When Mr. C comes asking for help to think of those words, he and I find a word he already knows, and I dictate as many words as possible in the same word family: “back,” “black,” “stack,” “hack,” “rack,” and so on. When I think about it, it is not surprising that the spelling curriculum I gravitated to for our oldest son, Mr. P, also uses word families to develop spelling skills. Take a brick and add another… “end,” “bend,” “lend,” “blend,” “tend,” “extend”– we want words to be easier, more related to one another, more relevant in our daily use, don’t we?

We do. We want words to be a rich resource for our lives through the blessings of reading and writing, and the accompanying entrance to thoughts beyond and higher than our own. My husband, a software developer, works with computer languages which have their own kind of words, and longs to write a novel. I, a sometimes linguist, was completing a dissertation on second language learners’ attempts to place words correctly in German sentences when I married him. We are now educating our 3 boys at home, each of whom has a different level of relationship to words, and each headed toward his own ultimate level of like or satisfaction or meta-thought about them. Yes, we are also a word family– a family who likes words and needs words, even though some members of the family still consider the written word a battle to be fought or a task to be done.

But words are a worthy task, a worthy battle, and word families are a wonderful way to work and play with words. Even the “-ag” family has its redeeming members, I realized, as we finally made “wag.” What a friendly word! Yet we continue our efforts so that, eventually, we will move beyond the rhyming and on to the reading and connecting of words and thoughts, lest the tail wag the dog and not the other way around.


Here are a few specific resources used around our house for practice in word families:

  • Hot Dots Phonics Flash Cards: Word Families, by Educational Insights
  • Kumon workbooks, such as My Book of Rhyming Words & Phrases
  • LeapFrog TAG Reader and books
  • The Mailbox: The Idea Magazine for Teachers, kindergarten and first grade levels
  • Sequential Spelling series, Don McCabe/AVKO Educational Research Foundation


[1] The term rime refers to the part of a word family word which stays the same, such as “-ag.” Onset refers to the first letter(s) of a word which change in rhyming (i.e. word family) words, thereby making a new word.

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Fresh Produce, Part II: Bringing It Home

If you’re about to begin homeschooling for the first time, or if your school (and/or the teacher!) is in need of some fresh ideas, attending a locally-run homeschooling convention can be a big help. In my previous post, I compared going to this kind of conference with going to a farmers’ market: both present the best of what is local and available and healthy for your family. But how do you know what you need, if you are new to homeschooling? And how do you choose which speaker and vendor “produce” to put in your “shopping basket” when most conventions offer a myriad of choices in a short space of time (usually one weekend)?

In my experience, here are the top 5 produce picks to bring home from a locally-run homeschooling convention, especially if you are just starting your homeschool:

1. Information About Your State’s Homeschooling Laws

Since each state makes its own laws governing homeschooling, you need to find out exactly what your state requires of you. At your local convention, you will most likely be able to attend one or more sessions led by homeschoolers from your area who can guide you in the paperwork process for homeschooling (if your state has one, that is). It is always your responsibility to know exactly what the law says, but a convention session or lecture can start you on the right path and help you know the essentials. One example of what might be contained in your state’s homeschooling law is the kind of oversight the state practices. In my state, homeschooling families must show evidence of properly advancing their children’s education in one of three ways: by meeting with a state-certified teacher on a regular, supervisory basis; by having the children take a  yearly test of basic skills; or by submitting a portfolio of student work for review to a state-certified teacher.

2. Names of People and Organizations Who Will Help You Homeschool

Whether you have a state legal requirement to fulfil, such as finding a supervising teacher for your homeschool, or whether you simply want to find other groups of homeschoolers with whom to participate in various activities, a homeschooling convention can help connect you with people you need to know. We were able to find a supervising teacher through a list available at the first convention we ever attended. You may want to find a LEGO group or a p.e. class for your children to participate in as part of your homeschool week. Local opportunities will often be advertised or even represented in the vendor hall of your local homeschooling convention.

  1. An Overview of Types/Styles of Homeschooling

At a homeschooling convention, you may also attend information sessions on homeschooling styles. Will you rely primarily on pre-packaged, textbook-base curriculum to structure your children’s work? Will you use a Unit Study approach, weaving multiple subject areas in and around one favorite subject at a time? Or do you want to center your teaching and learning around great literature, reading works of fiction side-by-side with history, science, geography, art, and so on, which complement the books’ content? You may or may not know what you’d like to do or would be able to do before you attend a convention. Convention sessions can either give you ideas and send you in a direction or fine-tune the direction you are already headed.

  1. Eyes-and-Hands-On Time With Homeschooling Curricula

When you have an idea about the way or method you will use to teach, you can investigate curriculum to support that method. It is also true, however, that the curriculum that appeals to you as the teacher may give you some indication of which method you’d like to use. The relationship between style and curriculum can be something of a chicken-and-egg experience, and attending the vendor sales hall at your local homeschooling convention can give you a great opportunity to see and page through various available curricula. There are also curriculum designers who make themselves available to answer questions about their products. For example, I have been at conventions where the math company, Teaching Textbooks, has its own booth where it displays and sells its products, while at the same convention a large curriculum distributor, such as Rainbow Resources, is also selling Teaching Textbooks math products. As the customer, you can choose how you’d like to examine the product – on your own or with the help of the curriculum company, at the booth of a neutral vendor or at the booth of the company invested (literally!) in providing a good product.

  1. Catalogs, Brochures, Handouts, Notes, Etc. to Review and Study Further at Your Own Pace

One of the greatest items of produce, if you will, to bring home with you from a convention is knowledge, and hopefully knowledge in a form you can review at a more contemplative place and time.  When you shop at a local farmers’ market, you examine the produce to the best of your ability, but you take it home to wash it, sort it, process it, cook it if necessary, and then consume it. This, I think, is a good analogy for the produce from a homeschooling convention. Take notes in every session or lecture you attend; collect fliers from local support groups; write down names of helpful people you run across, especially those involved in your statewide homeschooling organization; collect catalogs from vendors you appreciate; gather every bit of information you can. Then, once you are at home again, you can review what you’ve learned and make informed legal, methodological, curricular, and extracurricular choices for your homeschool.

Finally, know that you can always change any choice you make, at least over time. If you choose to use a supervising teacher for your first year of homeschooling, you can in all likelihood change to the testing option the next year, if it seems that it would fit your family better. If you choose to use a pre-packaged curriculum and then discover that there are too many elements of  it that you or your children dislike, then you can swap out parts of it or choose materials from a variety of publishers instead of just one. One of the perks of homeschooling is shaping your “school” to suit your children and your family, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial-and-error to find the right shape. Your local homeschooling convention and your local support groups can help guide you as you look for the information – for the “fresh produce” – that you need.

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Fresh Produce, Part I

When I think about the return of summer, I think about longer days, less schooling, planting flowers, wearing sandals – all kinds of lighter, brighter happenings on a daily basis. Summer also brings the opening of farmers’ markets, where the freshest produce and the best locally-made foodstuffs can be found. It’s gratifying to shop a farmers’ market and bring home healthy food for your family while at the same time supporting your neighbor who produced it. It’s a blessing of the season, one to take advantage of whenever possible.

When I think about the return of summer, I also think about the return of local homeschooling conventions. State-level homeschool organizations, such as NICHE here in Iowa or AFHE in Arizona, bring out their freshest teaching ideas along with the best, most relevant local homeschooling information so that homeschooling families can “stock up” for the next school year. It can be satisfying,  and even relieve anxieties, to go to a local convention and then bring home the information your homeschool needs. And in the same way that buying from your neighbors at a farmers’ market supports their enterprises, so also attending your local convention supports your state-level homeschooling proponents. If you attend your local convention, you reap a blessing of the season and give one back to your fellow homeschoolers in turn.

If you are new to homeschooling, or if you need a “nutritional boost” for your next homeschooling year, consider attending the convention nearest you. Here are links to the websites for the two conventions I mentioned (which are also the two conventions we attended last year):

In the next few days, I’ll be posting more about the benefits of attending a homeschool convention and what I’ve learned from the ones I’ve attended. You can also preview this in my earlier post, Overheard: Overwhelmed (June 2012).

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Keeping Track: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

In the last week, I posted the following Facebook status:

  • One of the most successful things we’ve done recently is put our kids on a “whole life” checklist system. They are more accountable every day (to themselves and to us), and they love “cash-in” day (Sunday) when Dad reviews their list for the week and assigns their allowance accordingly. It also has helped me direct them toward those school things that always slip through the cracks! Who was it who said — “I love it when a plan comes together!” –? Well, that’s my quote for the day!

My friends who responded to this post wanted to see the list or know what it was all about. Perhaps it was the off-the-cuff name or the fact that I was reporting on something new that our kids liked that prompted the positive feedback. Whatever the reasons, I wanted to give a response but realized that it  could be misleading to simply produce a photo or a copy of the list, since our whole-life checklist is nowhere near static — it is different for each child, and it changes for each child almost every week. So rather than sharing only the product, I decided to share the process, as well. Then you, my friends and readers, can see if you’d like to use checklists in your home or homeschool, as well.


An Overview of a Whole-Life Checklist

First of all, I must give credit for the seed of the idea to the homeschoolers at Timberdoodle ( They are a curriculum and materials resource; through the selections they offer, they have helped me think about homeschooling in new ways. Along with many outstanding books and products, they offer curriculum packages and accompanying checklists of assignments for each grade level. I started on a checklist system for my boys by trying to adapt the Timberdoodle lists for our purposes, but they were not a close enough match. I finally decided to generate a plain old table in a word processor and go from there.

For each of our three boys, I have created a table and filled in the names of each curriculum or subject area in the left-most column. Then I generated columns for the days of the week. I decided to write by hand on the far left of the chart the number of times a child should do a subject each week; this is so that the number can change each week (or even during the week) without me reworking the entire chart.

Once I had created a school assignment list, it was easy and natural to add in the kids’ chores. There are any number of pre-made chore charts that you can buy, and I have tried my share of those, too. But putting everything in one place seemed easier. The next natural extension of the chart was to list things which had not been happening but which my husband and I had as desirable goals or activities for our kids. This included things like trying a new food each week, playing with each other (and not on the Wii!), trying out new board games and/or playing educational games more often, and for our oldest child and best reader, reading a chapter of the Bible on his own each day.

A resulting chart/checklist might look something like this (this is an abbreviated sample):


Child’s Name Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Explode the Code
Empty Dishwasher
Play with brothers
Try new food


To the left of the named items, I write in a number (for example, the number 4 for math), and then the boys know how many lessons to complete for the week. Once they have 4 checkmarks in the boxes, they are done with that subject.

As you can see, it’s not a very beautiful list — but so far, it’s working!


Our Motivations for a Whole-Life Checklist System

As I mentioned at the beginning, a checklist system is new for us. This tells you that we were doing something else beforehand! For the first several years of homeschooling, I had recorded by hand in a lesson journal each assignment as it was completed, and I was very happy with this system. Simply put, it worked for us! Although I recognize the value of writing daily lesson plans in advance (I created them when I taught college German), I confess that I have never used them in homeschooling for several reasons. First of all, the simple selection of curriculum in large part determines what must be done on a daily basis in order to complete it in a school year. Secondly, I’ve had a strong desire to preserve the flexibility of a homeschooling day, and finally, this has combined with a strong (or possibly stronger!) distaste for scribbling out pre-recorded assignments that get pushed off the schedule in favor of something better! So before the checklists, our routine was to meet together in the morning and start our daily-type assignments (such as Explode the Code phonics), and then I would work with each child on other assignments as needed, recording what was accomplished as it was accomplished. Occasionally we had “days off” in a given subject area for field trips or special activities (such as M & M math), and so continued to work this way until the end of the school year.

This year, however, I had been sensing a need to put more pressure on our kids, especially on our oldest (a 4th grader), to take responsibility for the completion of their assignments. When you homeschool, there is no outside pressure to get up in the morning, to start the “school day,” or to finish by any particular time. It seemed that creating a checklist of school assignments for each child would bring a certain amount of pressure to bear (on me as the teacher, as well!) to get things done, since it would eliminate the excuse of “out of sight, out of mind.” A checklist also would simultaneously provide a written record of what was accomplished every day, effectively taking the place of my lesson journal. With these considerations in mind, I tried the Timberdoodle checklists, but soon determined that for our subject areas, chores, and goal-setting needs, custom-made lists would be necessary.

Following the creation of the checklists came, of course, their implementation. I can look back at the earliest charts and see that it took a couple of weeks to get used to them. Fairly early on, however, our school principal (my husband!) got involved and decided to assign each boys’ weekly allowance according to how much he accomplished on his chart. This led to our preschooler wanting his own chart (I had not created one for him initially). This has also led to the boys’ extreme excitement on Sundays, which has become our Reckoning Day. There are no checkboxes for Sundays, a message to our kids that sometimes we do things because it is the right thing to do, because we belong to a family, because we take a day of (more) rest. But on Sunday, my husband examines each checklist and records the resulting allowance in a spreadsheet, much to the boys’ delight! Then I get the charts back to file as a record of homeschool work accomplished for the week.


Whole-Life Checklists At Work in Our Family

If you have been parenting for a while, you are undoubtedly already guessing what I will tell you next – that the checklists get processed by creative minds, children who are constantly thinking about how best to work the lists to their own advantage! This week our oldest, who is supposed to do 4 lessons in Teaching Textbooks math every week, decided to skip it on Wednesday because he already had 2 lessons done and he still had Thursday and Friday to meet the requirement. To be fair to him, he has Tae Kwon Do on that day, and his brothers do not. Nevertheless, his attitude is different than that of our second child, who loves to accumulate as many checked-off boxes as he can in a given day and then have a less structured day on Friday. The kids also try to add things to the lists in an effort to earn more allowance. Not a week goes by without someone saying, “I think you should put X on my list, Mom, because…”. Naturally, some things will never make it onto a daily checklist – we’re not going to give them allowance just for eating breakfast and checking it off a list! But I do have “getting dressed” on their lists, at least for the moment, because, at least for this homeschooling family, it is otherwise too tempting to have pajama day several times every week!

Although most of each child’s list stays the same from week to week (there is always math, reading, history, science, etc.), they almost always change a bit, as well. In the same way that I am always subtly  refining our school content, I also have to refine the lists to reflect that content. For example, our second child is a struggling reader, so his reading assignments change slightly as we work through one set of early readers and move on to the next, or add in a new curriculum for word families. Our 4th grader is using a series of books from Edcon Publishers which focus on reading comprehension, and as he finishes one, the next one gets filled in on the chart. Sometimes the chart alterations come from change in non-school factors, as well, such as the end of a sport’s season or implementing a new family exercise time.


In Conclusion

The purposes for our checklist system were initially and primarily twofold: first, to keep our daily homeschool assignments better organized and visible to both the kids and to me, and second, to maintain a written record of each assignment accomplished in a given week. But they have turned into our “whole life” lists, helping our family focus on goals and good stewardship of our time. They have also taken some pressure off of me to manage everybody all day long. The charts are – for us, for this point in time – a step toward more child responsibility in appropriate areas, and hopefully this is laying the foundation or good habits for them for the future when they have more responsibilities. The best news is that the kids have been successfully using these lists for 10 weeks, and they are making a positive difference for our family.



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