Free Issue of Practical Homeschooling Magazine

Right now you can request a free copy of the current issue o Practical Homeschooling magazine. I've been writing for PHS since 2000, but I've been a subscriber for many more years. This issue features the annual Reader Awards where readers vote on their favorite resources in a variety of categories.

Follow this link to request a free issue. There are only 1000 available, so you'll need to hurry. Don't worry - this isn't a "trial subscription," that you will be billed for, though you will be asked if you want to subscribe later.  After you submit the request form, you'll receive an email that you must open and click inside to confirm your request.

Two Helpful Words

Last night Tim and I went out for dinner. Our conversation turned to our children. (Surprise!) I began expressing my sorrow over my failures as a mom through the years. There are so many things I should have done that I haven't, and even some of the things that at the time I thought were right and helpful, in retrospect look very different. After a while Tim stopped me. “Anne, parenting, like life in general, requires two things: repentance and faith.”

He's right. Instead of just becoming more and more depressed about my inability to love my children as I ought, I need to run to the Lord for forgiveness and then for strength to once again set my hand to the plow. Repentance doesn't just mean sorrow for sin, but a turning from it to head in the right direction.

And I must live by faith. Not by fear or resignation. Faith that God alone is the one who can cause my children to be reborn into newness of life. Faith that He is working His good purposes in my children. Faith that He will use even two very flawed parents in the lives of the children He has given.

Repentance and Faith. Now to live it.

II Cor. 4: 18 ... while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Morning Glories: Starting the Day Off Right

Morning Glories, Shibata Zeshin, 1860

I recently read an article on Business Insider titled “Twelve Things Successful People Do in the FirstHour of the Work Day.” Interesting. But it didn't have all that much application to my life as a homeschool mom. Still, I agree with the premise of the piece that “the first hour of the hour of the workday is critical, since it can affect your productivity level and mindset for the rest of the day.” 

I started thinking of the things I do every day that lead to a more productive and peaceful day in our home. Your list is probably a bit different, but the key is thinking through what helps make things run smoothly in your home and then working to see that those happen (most of the time.) 

  1. Wake up!  
    Ha – and you thought that was a given! Maybe it is for natural morning people. But for the rest of us, waking up ON TIME is more than half the battle in starting the day right.
  1. Prepare breakfast for the crew. 
    We eat a hot breakfast five days a week, so I get started cooking first thing. Usually it is a matter of assembling something and sticking it in the oven. Two things streamline this process:
                 a. Follow a simple, weekly plan. (If it's Monday, it must be muffins! Not quite our
                     current plan, but close enough.)

                 b. When possible, assemble dry ingredients and pans the night before.
                     At that time I make final decisions about whether I'm making pumpkin, blueberry,
                     banana, peach, cranberry, or banana chocolate baked oatmeal, for instance.
                     In the morning I can finish up easily, even if I'm in a semi-zombie state.

Charlotte Weeks, 1882
     3. Spend time in prayer and Bible reading!
         So often we feel "too busy" to spend time with
         the Lord. Yet the older I grow, the more
         convinced I am of my utter dependence on
         Him and my need to saturate my life
         with prayer and Scripture. I know how hard this
         can be when you have a new baby or an
         early rising toddler! Some mornings may
         be out of the question, but whenever
         possible, carve out some time -
         even a short time - and start your
         day by meeting with Him. You will be so
         glad you did. (More on this to come in the future.)



 4. Greet everyone in your family cheerily!
        Another obvious one, right? This is actually one of the few transferable concepts
        from the business article, though. How do you greet your "team"? Your attitude sets
        the tone for your home, and morning greetings are a good place to start right.
        Lynne Taylor says good supervisors show compassion and build rapport as they
        greet their employees: "This is the first hour of their day, too, and your actions 
        have a significant impact on their attitude and productivity." True for our kids, too.

 Proverbs 1624 "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

   5. Eat breakfast - and don't skimp on protein!
       You're going to be working hard today,  so give your body proper fuel. Even if you 
       have to eat standing up. While shoveling bits into the toddler's mouth. 
       And nursing the baby. And putting dinner in the crockpot. Just don't forget to feed 
       yourself, too.

   6. Give only a brief scan to your emails. And skip Pinterest, Facebook, etc. altogether.
       Morning is too key a time to get bogged down in a weighty email response or 
       FB controversy. 

      With everyone working together just 15 minutes, you can accomplish wonders!
   8. Start a load of laundry.
      I like to think of my appliances as my maids. And every morning I tell that laundress
      to get a move on.

   9. Think about dinner.
       Really? In the morning? Yes! Take a peek at your menu plan (you do have one, right?)
       and see if you need to do anything. It's a real bummer to find out at 5 PM that you'd
       intended to make a crock-pot meal.

   10. Order your school subjects carefully.
       Starting with a Bible and prayer time together helps you all 
       focus your hearts on  things above. Then when I had little 
       ones I always worked with them first so they felt included 
       in our school and not ignored. Next, tackle the most     
       difficult subject. If you are teaching a new reader, schedule 
       that early in your school day. If math requires the most brain
       power, hit that up early. This guarantees you won't run 
       out of time, and also that everyone is fresh. 

 What's NOT essential in my morning routine:

1. A morning shower. Used to be. But I've determined that finding QUIET moments for prayer only happens before the household is up. In other words, during the time I used to shower. No, that doesn't mean I'm smellier these days. But unless the morning is running very smoothly, I shift a shower to a non-prime time or even skip it altogether.

2. A morning walk. I love to get outside early and walk on my country roads or farm trails. But this also is something that I've shoved to a later part of the day. Some day, I'll again be able to walk early and do all the other morning things. But for now, my early morning hours are still too packed.

So there you have my basic components for a glorious morning!

Here We Go Again...

For what I am thinking may be the last time, my basement has a dozen little chirpers living in it. I wasn't at all sure we would replenish our flock this year, something we normally do every other year. But even though I may be "done" with raising chickens, I'm not done raising sons. And sons need work, especially good outdoor work. So we're still in the chicken business. They're cute, at any rate.

Woman's Shirt to Toddler Dress

You can find a number of tutorials for making dresses from (large) men's shirts such as this one and this one. But would it be possible to make one from a small women's blouse? I wondered.  I had one that had once been a favorite of Kara's.

Kara working on her veil on her wedding day

She'd even worn it to the church on the day she was married. I thought it would be fun if I could re-purpose it into a sweet little dress for one of her sweet little daughters.

1. The men's shirts tutorials require too much fabric, so I decided to work with some nightgown patterns. First I cut a front and back yoke. I basically used this nightgown pattern.

2. Next, I cut out two cap sleeves. I was able to get these from the cuffs on the original sleeve, taking advantage of prefinished edges! (Yes! That's one of the things I love about remaking clothes - you can so often use edges and avoid hemming!)  
I worried a bit about how the sleeves bend in the middle, but I hoped that wouldn't matter once the upper edge was gathered. I was right - it's completely unnoticeable.

3. From the rest of the shirt, I cut a front and back skirt.

4. And then I put everything together. So easy!

Helpful Habits for Kids

Our children are continually forming habits, whether they are ones we want them to have or ones we'd rather not see them continue. Left to herself, my youngest grandgirl, sweet Jenny, might just continue eating sticks of butter at will. Somehow, though, I don't think her parents are going to allow that.

Back in the 19th century there was a common saying which goes like this:
Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character

We don't think much about an individual action, much less a thought, but when we repeat an action over and over, it becomes a habit, and summed up our actions create our character.  As moms, habit training is a big part of what we do as we "train up our children in the way they should go." As we help our children develop good habits and godly character, we'll see huge benefits both in their lives and in our homes and beyond.

Back in January I had the privilege of speaking to our church's moms' group, Bloomingmoms, about training our children in helpful habits. I talked about some of the whys, hows, and whats of building habits, sharing some things that have been helpful to us and other things we have not done well so you can learn from our mistakes. Here's a link to the talk and handouts. (I don't like to hear myself talk, so I don't know how it sounds. I think it's about an hour long.)

Reading Aloud: How does YOUR family make it happen?

In his latter years Grandpa Wegener used to fall asleep while he was reading to the kids. They'd watch him for a while, giggle a bit, and then slip off to do something else for a few minutes. This winter I've started having the same problem! Yikes! I'm either getting really old or really tired! I've been blaming it on the woodstove, but I don't know...

Afternoon read aloud time has been a staple in our home since, well, probably pretty much “forever.” It started as a precursor to naps and morphed into a regular part of school. I used to hold two post-lunch reading sessions – one with picture books for the littlest people before putting them to bed followed by another period reading chapter books to the kids up through about junior high. Now I'm down to having an audience of just two boys, 4th and 7th grade, so my daily read aloud sessions are numbered. (Hurrah for visits from grandchildren to look forward to!)

Family reading is one of my favorite times of the day. It's kind of like recess for me and for the kids. We get to sit down for half an hour, maybe knit a little bit (me), and enjoy a good tale together.

I've written before about WHY we love reading together as a family. But I haven't written about HOW to make it happen. When a friend wrote not long ago asking for advice in making family reading actually happen, I thought that would be an easy post to write. Actually not. At least not without making you feel as if you had been sitting in front of my woodstove right after lunch.  ZZZZZZzzzzzz...

But here are some basic tips:

1. Pick a time of day you can consistently hit at least three times a week for 15-30 minutes. We find a slot during our school day works better than evenings because those get filled with other things. 

2. Find some great books which are fun to read aloud. The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis), Just So Stories (Kipling), or Mr. Popper's Penguins (Atwater) are good ones to start with.

3. Vary your reading material to include different genres from poetry to biography, historical fiction to mysteries.  Here are some read alouds particularly suited for boys we've enjoyed.

4. Stop and talk about what you are reading periodically! Books yield those "teachable moments" everyone tells you to watch for and are so hard to find.

5. Let your children work quietly with their hands while you read. In fact, if you have them do their handwriting practice, map making, or something else relatively mindless, you can get double duty from this time. Young children might work on puzzles or play with Legos. Some of my sons make models, all my daughters knit, others have drawn, and some have worked on a drafting program. I do best if I can knit while I'm reading aloud.  

(Many people really do listen best when their hands are working. Heather Ordover, a former English teacher and host of the CraftKnit podcast, is currently writing a blogged book called Cognitive Anchoring: Grounding Your Mind so Your Thoughts Can Run Free. Her interest in knitting, crocheting, and doodling as calming activities grew after she found knitting and crocheting to be hugely helpful for her traumatized high school English students weeks after they were evacuated from their Manhattan school on 9/11.  You can read her story here.)

6. Audio books from the library or Librivox (free recordings of public domain books read by volunteers) make a good substitute for times when a parent is unable to read to children.

So here's my question for you: If your family enjoys reading together, how do you make it happen?