Saturday, November 26, 2011

Keeping Balance at Christmastime

Christmas Gift
Christmas season is officially upon us.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Santa decorations, trees, lights, carols, nativity scenes, silly holiday sweaters, trying to get a decent family photo for the Christmas cards...the list goes on and on.

I'll admit that I get caught up in the fun and excitement of the season. Sometimes I have a difficult time balancing the busyness and merriment of Christmas with the birth of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems that talking about the real reason for our celebration isn't as fun as what the world is offering: reindeer, candy, toys, elves, decorations. The nativity ornaments on the tree aren't as sparkly or shiny as the ones that look like presents with glitter and bows.  How do we keep the fun but preserve the wonder of God stepping into human history as a baby in a manger?

I have a few ideas. Maybe you have more (and I hope you'll share them if you do).

1. Slow down on the gifts. Really, a few well-chosen gifts are just as wonderful as a pile of plastic noisy toys that will be forgotten in a few weeks. Let your time and your peace be part of your gift.
2. Let your holiday decorations reflect your faith. Not that you need to purge all whimsical decor, but if all you see is Santa in your house, it will be harder to emphasize Jesus. You can have a beautiful tree with stars, hearts, words of faith, crosses, and nativity scenes. I even have some little blown-glass churches with glitter-snow on the roofs as a reminder of worship (plus, they sparkle like crazy!)
3. Slow yourself down. Don't let your kids see you freaking out over Christmas shopping and baking. You are doing this in the joy of the Spirit, right?
4. Play (and sing!) Christmas carols that rejoice over the birth of Jesus. Repeat daily.
5. Have the children make birthday cards for Jesus. Hang them on the tree or wall.
6. Give to those in need and let your kids know you're doing it out of your love for Jesus and for others (Toys For Tots, donating to a local food bank, project Angel Tree, giving to support missionary work, making cards or gifts for a nursing home)
7. Don't forget that the birth of Christ was a miracle, full of beauty and mystery. Tell the story with the awe and excitement in your voice that the occasion deserves.

Now it's your turn: how do you balance worldly and spiritual things at Christmastime?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hearts Unit 7 and Thanksgiving Feast

This week in our Kindergarten  lessons, we read about Ruth and Naomi, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel. One of our Bible stories was about Gideon destroying idols. We destroyed some of our own -- in our case we played a carnival-type game of knockdown using Dad's rolled up socks as our beanbag and our Inchimals as our targets. This helped both the girls remember the Bible story, and at the same time let them burn off some energy and work on their coordination. Maybe we'll win a big prize at the next county fair.

In math we learned about measuring, using non-standard units of measure to begin with. We measured our dining room table with jumbo craft sticks (15 sticks long, in case anyone is wondering), our chalkboard with straws, and our paper with paper clips. We also measured some sea creatures using a seashell.

Measuring has been the most challenging part of math so far for Buttercup, because the fine motor skills required to hold the measuring stick still, mark its place with a pencil or finger, and carefully move the stick again without overlapping or sliding too far. It will take some practice but the concept of measuring is sinking in.

While we were working on math, my Sunshine brought me a bowl of Play-Doh "noodles". I had asked her to play quietly while her sister did seatwork (which she did, thankfully), and she thought I might need refreshment.

In a combined science/art project, we learned about different types of grasses and the grains that come from them, talked about animals that eat them, and what types we eat. Then the girls painted green grass, golden brown grass ready to harvest (with oatmeal glued to the end) and something made from oats (Cheerios).

Friday was also our Thanksgiving Feast with our homeschool group. The girls dressed up as Native Americans to celebrate.

They also had a cute little Thanksgiving project at the party. It was simple, too. It was a blue plastic plate to represent the ocean. Foam cutouts became England and Plymouth Rock, and a seed pod became the Mayflower, thanks to a piece of play dough holding a toothpick mast and paper sail in place. We filled the plate with water and blew the Mayflower across the Ocean. To the New World!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Autumn Treasures Unit Study

We have spent the last few weeks slowly working through Amanda Bennett's Autumn Treasures unit study, and there are so many great lessons in it. I have pared it down quite a bit to meet my five year old at her level; but it is a unit study we can grow into and expand on next year. The unit study is designed to be completed in five days, but we have completed our part of it more slowly, when we felt like it.
A little bit of what we've worked on:

Fall vocabulary words: autumn, harvest, crops, season, deciduous. We made a "new words" pocket to go into her lapbook, and I wrote the definitions of her new words on leaf shapes (templates are included in the unit study). These are all going into a notebook/lapbook for Buttercup to keep.

The life cycle of a pumpkin cut-and-paste:

What does fall look like in your area? (My daughter's pictoral answer: cactus with fruit, seed pods and seeds from the trees, green trees and plants, bright sunshine, and monarch butterflies) :

The colors of autumn leaves (where they actually change color), parts of the world that have fall colors/deciduous trees, seasons and hemispheres.

There was also a lesson on seed dispersal. I quoted Buttercup on the ways seeds can be dispersed.

We also worked on a November weather calendar, teaching calendar skills and weather observation that tied-in with the unit study. November 4th we had another dust storm, so the calendar reflects the "dirt" in the air.

There were more activities that we will save for later grades (the unit study is appropriate for K-4th grade). If you want to check it out or purchase it for immediate download from the seller, click here.

Autumn Treasures

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hearts Unit 6

I have to start this weekly wrap-up with the girls' favorite lesson of the week. They learned about soil layers and had the assignment to make their own "soil layers" using chocolate chips, crushed oreos, and sliced almonds to make up the rocky, topsoil and humus layers of the soil. They've never loved eating "dirt" until now. (Lesson plan courtesy of Heart of Dakota -- Little Hearts K curriculum)


Another favorite activity of the week was sorting and classifying objects. Buttercup sorted and counted a pile of items (she did it really fast, so I think sorting laundry will be added to her responsibility list).


Sunshine wanted to participate, too. She sorted hers with ease, as well, then proudly posed in front of her work.


Sunshine also completed some workbook activities from her PreK workbook, finding items that are same/different and more/less. Not bad for a two year old!


We are so excited about the cooling weather in the desert, we're off now to the park to spend the rest of the day!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The more I ponder the realities of homeschooling, and prayerfully examine my own weaknesses, the more I realize that this journey is not simply about providing a good education for my children, though I'm confident we can achieve that.  I believe we are meant to homeschool to teach me many things I still need to learn -- my Momschooling.

My personal Momschooling is taking the form of character-training (it's not just for kids anymore!).  Here are some of the subjects I'm hoping to learn on my momschooling journey:

How to really listen
How to let go of control
How to commit everything to the Lord
How to speak a language my children understand
How to pray
How to trust
How to persevere
How to accept my children for who they are
How to increase my patience
How to lower my voice
How to organize my day
How to really know my children
How to appreciate the strengths of my children
How to discover and use my own strengths

A broad and important education, to be sure! I'm not expecting an overnight miracle. These muscles have to be developed, and in my case most have rarely even been flexed.  Though we are only fledglings on this journey, I can see where my Momschooling is going to be challenging, and these may be the very reasons why need to homeschool. Because I need the education.

Whether you're homeschooling or traditional schooling, what are you learning (or hoping to learn) in your Momschool?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Books For Pre-K and Early Elementary

I read an armful of children's Thanksgiving books at the library today, trying to find ones that educational or character-building, but still captured the interest of my little girls. I sifted through stories about turkeys trying to escape, turkeys eating dinner together, and various pilgrim stories that were either too dull or too dark. My girls are young and still innocent to some of the harsher realities of life, so I didn't want too much detail about what the pilgrims or the Native Americans went through in those days. Here are some that made it into our book bag this week:

Thanksgiving Day by Anne Rockwell - This book is told from the perspective of a young elementary school child who learns a little about the first Thanksgiving in his class story time, and then puts on a play with his classmates. Each child plays a part, from the Mayflower to a log cabin to Squanto, and other pilgrims and Wampanoag peoples. It was cute and a little educational as well.

The Thanksgiving Door by Debby Atwell is about an elderly couple who accidentally burn their dinner and head to a restaurant, the New World Cafe. There, the family of recent immigrants who own the restaurant are preparing for their own first Thanksgiving. The cafe door is left open, and the couple joins the family for a very different type of Thanksgiving celebration than what they're used to. It's a warm little story about opening your heart and sharing with others.

The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern is an appropriate early-elementary telling of the Mayflower voyage and the hard work and struggles that went into the Pilgrims' settlement, leading up to the first Thanksgiving. It gives a peek into some of the work that even the children had to do back then. Good for when the kids complain about picking up their toys.

Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation by Diane Stanley has cute, cartoonish illustrations and includes quite a bit of detail about Pilgrim life. The book is a bit busy, has lots of talk bubbles, and reminded me a little of a Magic Schoolbus story. Grandma takes twins Liz and Lenny on a journey back in time to the Plymouth colony, where they meet their ancestors and see what life is like for the settlers. The kids cook, sleep, play, work, and go to church with the pilgrims. They get to meet Squanto and learn how he saved the settlers by teaching them how to grow food. They enjoy a harvest celebration with the Wampanoag people and then return to the present time in time to help Grandma with dinner. The twins' parents, who were at the apple orchard, apparently don't know about Grandma's time-traveling abilities. The endpapers of this book have an interesting comparison of foods on the Pilgrims' table and modern Thanksgiving foods.

I also found a reader that is appropriate for a kindergartener or first grader. No pilgrims, but it goes with the Thanksgiving Theme. Oh My, Pumpkin Pie! is about the different types of pumpkins by shape, color and texture, and some of the things that can be done with a pumpkin. It's a cute little reader, appropriate for children who are reading simple sentences.

I hope you find some good Thanksgiving books in your local library, too. Happy reading!


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