Friday, August 1, 2014

Middle elementary writing prompts

My goal when my kids are in elementary school is simply to instill in them a love for writing. We don't do a formal curriculum until jr. high/high school, but instead I offer them loads of opportunities to write each week. Journals, writing prompts, lists, letters, song lyrics...the possibilities are only limited by their imagination.

This year my youngest will be in fourth grade (insert sad mommy heart sigh). I'll encourage her to journal daily, as well as using writing prompt cards a couple of times a week. These include anything from "Would you rather give up reading or electronics for a year? Why?" to "Pretend you were there at Creation. What was it like?" I'm printing them on cardstock to laminate and will keep them in a jar for her to choose from each week. 

Sometimes we will go back and edit some of her writing, using the opportunity to practice grammar, punctuation, etc., but oftentimes I will just let her share it with me, pointing out the good qualities and letting it stimulate further conversation. In doing so, writing will not be something to be feared or dreaded, but become an enjoyable part of everyday life.

Looking for some ideas for getting your kids writing? Check out this free writing prompt printable, complete with instructions and 78 writing prompts to use with your middle elementary kiddos...consider it my "back to school" gift to you! You're welcome!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Homeschool 101: Is homeschooling right for our family?

Families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Religious, state of the school system, safety concerns, learning challenges, schedules  - each is a valid reason to seek a different avenue for your child's education.

Maybe you're entertaining the idea, but aren't sure if it would work for your family. Start by making a list of the pros and cons. What benefits would your family receive from the choice to learn at home? Freedom to learn at your own pace, study what your child is interested in and setting your own schedule are just a few of the pros. What cons do you see as a result of bringing your children home? These will be different for each family, but are certainly worth addressing as you move toward a decision.

Regardless of the reason families have chosen to homeschool, most will attest to the fact that the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, oftentimes the things we first thought would be a negative aspect to learning at home ends up being either a positive, or a non-issue. Find a homeschool mentor you can share your list with and seek guidance. They may be able to help you see things from a different perspective.

Keep in mind that while you may know other families who homeschool, it is a vastly unique and individual journey. Maybe you're a family of night owls that prefers to sleep a bit later. Nothing says you have to start school promptly at 8:00 am. You might prefer schooling in the evening when everyone's more alert. Have little ones in the house? Make good use of nap times for getting focused work done.  Work with your family's dynamics rather than against it. Your homeschool shouldn't look like your neighbors because your family is unique.  Don't waste time comparing, but embrace what works for you.

More often than not, moms have an easier time embracing the idea of homeschooling. While sharing our thoughts is part of the decision making process, seeing things from the male perspective is sometimes helpful for our spouses to be able to jump on board with the idea. For this reason dads might consider sitting down with another homeschool dad and asking questions.  It is important that you and your spouse are on the same page. From that point of agreement you can consider the options, research and make a joint decision about what's best for your family.

Whatever your decision regarding homeschooling remember it is not set in stone. If you decide a year or two into it that maybe it isn't the best decision, or it was just for a short season, you can always choose another educational option down the road. So relax, weigh the pros and cons, talk to others, pray and don't forget to breathe!

* First published for SELAH of Idaho's Homeschool 101 blog series.

Friday, July 11, 2014

World's best iced coffee recipe

I admit it. I'm a coffee snob.

I use to be a diehard Starbucks fan, but as I've learned the art of coffee (yes, it is an art) I came to realize I can make my favorites at home for a fraction of the cost and it got harder and harder to shell out $5.00 for the stuff. Besides, I like my stuff better now.

Iced coffee keeps me going through the hot summer months. I'll often make a pitcher and keep it in the fridge to sip on over a couple of days...unless my kids find it and then it's all over.

World's Best Iced Coffee

2 cups strong coffee
1/4-1/3 cup half and half (depends on how strong a coffee taste you prefer)
2-3 T sugar or your favorite sugar substitute
chocolate syrup to taste OR you can make a bit of chocolate ganache (see recipe below) for an incredibly decadent treat!

Blend all ingredients for a few seconds until frothy. 

Drizzle the inside edges of your glass with a bit of chocolate syrup or ganache. Carefully add ice and coffee.

Top with homemade whipping cream and a few chocolate shavings for an amazing summertime (or anytime!) treat!

* To make chocolate ganache, melt a handful of chocolate chips with a few drops of heavy whipping cream or butter to form a nice thick sauce to add to your coffee.

* For homemade whipping cream, beat heavy cream, powdered sugar to taste and a dash of vanilla in a mixer or Magic Bullet until stiff peaks form. You will never allow Cool Whip to pass your lips again after trying the real deal.

Iced coffee is best enjoyed with a friend. Or on the front porch. Or with a good book. 

How do you enjoy your iced coffee?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The simple secret to a clean bathroom

Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be an all day affair. A few simple steps in the morning will leave your bathroom fresh and company ready.

1. Swish and swipe. The Flylady coined this phrase years ago and it stuck with me. Take two minutes after you get ready to swish the toilet brush around the toilet and wipe off the counters with a clean rag. 

2. Put it away! Return items to their proper place. A counter littered with hairbrushes, make-up cases and toothpaste tubes is not at all appealing. It just take a minute to put it back where it belongs.

3. Clothes and towels - Hang 'em up, put 'em away or toss 'em in the hamper. 

4. Get it outta there. On your way out the door, return all items that belong in another room to their proper place (ie: newspaper to recycling, glasses to the kitchen, etc.).

Once a week do a more thorough, deep cleaning and in between these simple steps will keep your bathroom clean and tidy.

5 Tips for Easy Homeschool Planning

You've scoured the curriculum catalogs, stalked the on-line sites and attended every used curriculum sale within a 50 mile radius. You've found everything you need...or think you'll need, for the coming school year. Now it sits, piled high on the dining room table and you find yourself wondering - NOW WHAT?

Homeschool planning can seem an overwhelming task, but take heart! It doesn't have to be. By breaking it down into five easy steps you can plan your way to a great year!

1. Make a list of goals for each child. It doesn't have to be a long list, just a few key things you want to see improved on. Maybe for your kinder aged child your goal will be teaching them to read. Everything else will revolve around that main goal. For your fourth grader it might be to improve their mental math skills and your preteen may need to focus on working more independently. Keeping these goals in mind will help keep you focused on what's important and allow you to work in opportunities for growth in those areas.

2. Assess your child's strengths and weaknesses when making your schedule. Are they great at reading, but struggle with new math concepts? Then plan on tackling math first thing in the morning when they're feeling fresh and let them read on their own after lunch. Do they love to tackle creative projects, but don't want to sit still to get their basics done? Reward them for completing their math lesson with time to work on their own pursuits. In doing so, you're working with, rather than against, how they're naturally wired. 

3. Get your child involved! Show them what subjects you have planned for the year and get their input on what their day should look like. Obviously mom has veto power, but involving them in the planning makes them feel more responsible for accomplishing the tasks given them. It also sends the important message that you care about their ideas and how they spend their time.

4. Go with what works for YOUR FAMILY! Some families prefer a more rigid, time enforced schedule, while others function better with a general outline. You can pencil in math every morning at precisely 9:30 and history at 10:00 or you can say we will accomplish math and history before 11:00. Either approach is OK. Forget the fact that your neighbor has her kids sitting at the kitchen table doing their work promptly at 8:00 a.m. Don't kill yourself trying to make your family fit someone else's schedule.

5. Write out a tentative pencil! Know that no matter how U-MAZING your schedule looks on paper, it will not always go according to plan. In fact, it may rarely go according to plan! Flexibility and a really good eraser are a homeschool mom's BFF.

Take a deep breath mom. Homeschool planning doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a little bit of thoughtful focus, you can have a awesome year.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Chair

*** This post was recently published in the CHOIS Connection homeschool magazine's spring issue. My new column is entitled A Cup of Encouragement. You can check out the rest of the publication at

There’s a chair in my living room that everyone loves. Not because it’s beautiful, stylish or even incredibly comfortable. It’s certainly not a chair you would find in Southern Living. No, they love it because of what it represents. Friends will often call and say, “I need to come sit in your chair.” Oh, if that chair could talk, what stories it would tell. Stories of laughter shared, tears shed, encouragement given and prayers whispered.

If you drop by my house, I’ll offer you the chair. You’ll sit, feet pulled up under you and hands wrapped around a steaming mug.

That’s when the magic happens.

You may not even recognize it at first, but slowly you begin to relax, your blood pressure goes down and your heart begins to open up. The chair envelopes you like a warm hug…and you may have a hard time leaving.

The chair represents community.

Moms, we were created for community. Real face to face community. Not the on-line, Facebook connection, but the kind that allows you to look into someone’s eyes over a cup of coffee and hear what they’re not saying in a status update. Social media, while it has its place, has given us a false sense of connection. We think because we know what someone had for breakfast, or where they went on vacation that we’re connected with what’s going on in their lives. The problem is most people’s Tweets and status updates are more a reflection of the life they wish they had rather than their current reality.

Real connection takes time and sacrifice. It takes setting aside our agenda for the day and speaking into some’s life. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well that would be great, but you haven’t seen my to-do list.”  True. As homeschool moms we are Busy with a capital B. Building community takes a commitment to lay aside some of that to-do list, to decide that community is important enough to make sacrifices. Sure we can make it through life on our own. We can possibly even homeschool successfully without the support of other homeschool moms to come alongside us, but how much more rich and fulfilling it is to do life in REAL relationship with people we love.  

Who is in your “community”? Who have you spent time getting to know…real, up close and personal? Who has the Lord called you to encourage? Maybe it’s time to log off Facebook, look up from our to-do list and see who the Lord has placed in our lives for such a time as this. Gardens don’t grow without care and attention, children don’t raise themselves and community doesn’t happen by accident.

Be intentional.

Live life on purpose.

Cultivate community.

And if you’re ever in the neighborhood feel free to stop by. The chair is always available, the coffee’s always fresh and there’s always room for one more friend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Moms make the world go 'round...or at least keep it tidy

Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if you stopped doing everything you do around the house? 

I have...often. Apparently I'm the only one in my family with the special gene that allows you to actually see when things are a mess. It's so strange. Apparently certain family members were born without that one. How does that happen? Because of that, I've often lamented, sometimes to myself and most often NOT to myself, what my family would do if I weren't here. I was sure they would eat nothing but cold cereal and eventually end up on an episode of hoarders.

The last ten days we got a real peek into just what that mom absence would look like. With back to back events, I was out of the house every day, all day. At the end of the first event I came home, unloaded a Suburban full of stuff and deposited it in the living room floor in order to make it to the next event. That was's still there. It honestly looks like a bomb went off in almost every room of my house. Some of the kids were home during those ten days and in their defense, they did SOME pulling a backyard full of four foot tall weeds. Props for that guys! And I came home at the end of the event last night to find the oldest mopping the kitchen floor, so I have to give them some credit. 

Here's the thing. They just don't see things through a mom's eyes. They can't...they're not moms. They are incredibly willing to help and do anything I ask of them, they just don't always see the need on their own. They don't have the same "mom standards" I have. My boys know I mean business when I tell them to "mom clean" their room. They know it's about to get serious!

One unintentional outcome of my little unofficial mom experiment is that I realized how much I love being home and doing all those little things that I so often complain about. It was nice to wake up this morning, sip my coffee and work on putting things back in order. There's peace in order. I know that, but I had been missing out on the peace that getting things in order can bring because I was so worked up about the fact that no one else saw the needs that were so obvious to me. My frustration caused me to miss out on the blessing.

So today I'm "piddling". The washer and dryer are humming along, the kitchen's clean (or was ten minutes ago when I came upstairs), things are getting put away, we're packing up our oldest to leave for two months and we're slowly working our way back to normal....I'm discovering I really, really like normal.

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