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Birthday Cake

A few weeks ago, we went on a mission trip to inner-city Kansas City. We invited families to a Vacation Bible School in an area so rough, some residents wouldn't walk. But they were willing to ride our bus and they joined us for a week of learning about Jesus.
Near the end of our 2nd-to-last day, a gentleman walked in off the street to meet people. He was lonely.
He took of his baseball cap to wipe sweat from his brow, revealing a bald head contorted with scars. He had no ears. They had been chewed off by a pair of dogs when he was three years old. 
I asked him how old he was. He had just turned twenty six the week before. It wasn't a very good birthday though. He didn't have any cake. He was alone. 
I invited him to our Friends and Family night, coming up the next night. I mentioned that we were already making cupcakes to get ready for the party. I promised we would sing Happy Birthday to him.
He blushed.
He did show up the next night. I wasn't sure if he would. As he sat in the service, listening to the worship, he told me he'd really never had friends before. I nodded around at the smiling faces and said, "It looks like you have some now." Tears came into his eyes.
I was busy when it came time to go downstairs and eat, so I missed seeing his face. But I heard everyone join in singing Happy Birthday, Dear Brice. 
Such a little thing. But it meant so much to him. 
He lives in a box. There are shelters in the area, but one is full and he isn't allowed into the other because he got in a fight there once. He's said that he's a Christian now, and I believe him. He has some mental disabilities that make it difficult for him to take care of himself well. He's alone and doesn't have someone to help him figure out applications and deposits and doctor visits. 
We were unable to help with any of that. We loaded him up with nonperishable foods, a very temporary help. But somehow, Happy Birthday was able to touch him like nothing else we had to give him. 
Love. A kind word. Friends. He was starving for them.
We came home and things went wrong, as they always do. Our floor had water damage and had to be torn up. Our air conditioner broke. The bridge to our house was washed out. We encountered some very grumpy people. 
And it's nothing. It's really nothing. 
My daughter's birthday is coming up soon. We don't have enough money to buy her much, but she will know she is loved. There is no doubt that she will always have someone to sing Happy Birthday, Dear Honor. I try to teach my children to drop the idea that we deserve anything, but this encounter with Brice highlighted to me just how entitled I still feel. We are all sinners. We deserve death. Because of Christ, we have life.
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American History - A Review

Sometimes I don't read review descriptions as well as I should. I try, but sometimes it happens. Such was the case when I read about an American History review opportunity. I read about it and it looked lovely. I was in need of an American History program, so I said, "Why not?" and signed up.

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The box sat unopened for a couple weeks after it arrived. There just wasn't time. Finally, I opened up the box from the Notgrass Company and I was blown away. I nearly cried, and I'm not exaggerating. It was lovely, yes, but so much more. It wasn't just a book about American history it was the complete America the Beautiful Curriculum Package. In addition to that beautiful package, Notgrass generously added in the Lesson Review book (7&8th grade) and a Student Workbook (5th&6th grade.)

It is intended to be read by students in grades 5-8th, but I opted to do it as a read aloud and my 2nd and 4th grade daughters enjoyed listening along to lessons as much as my 8th grade son, as did I.
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History is my family's favorite subject. We've tried a LOT of history books through the years, and this one has truly impressed me. The illustrations are stunning. The content is God-honoring. The activities are thoughtful.

The package contains two spine books, one for each semester. It is designed to be completed in one year, with 15 Units in each semester. Each Unit contains five lessons, one per day. Samples are available online. Book 1 begins in the year 1000 and proceeds until 1877. Book 2 continues through Modern Times, specifically to the 2010 Senate election.

We opted to stretch it out over 2 years instead of one, supplementing with more literature selections.

Each lesson contains about 4-7 pages of text, with many illustrations. The last page of each lesson contains Activity instructions. Not every activity listed below is assigned for every lesson, and even then, the book stresses that they are optional. Here is a brief summary of the activities you'll find:

  • Thinking Biblically This section generally includes a scripture copywork or prayer notebook activity that is relevant to the lesson studied.
  • Map Study Students look at a particular map while reading many of the lessons and write or color in the designated Maps book when instructed.
  • Timeline Most lessons require an entry into the Timeline book. It is recommended that they read a few events surrounding their new entry each day.
  • Literature This most frequently refers students to the book "We the People", which contains excerpts from original source documents, speeches, songs, etc. It also assigns books from the literature package.
  • Vocabulary This section has students add 5 words from the lesson into their notebook, with definitions.
  • Creative Writing This section gives writing assignments such as creating a compact after reading the Mayflower Compact, reading a letter from a historical figure and then writing an imagined response letter, writing a campaign speech, etc.
  • Student Workbook or Lesson Review instruction - These optional books are chosen based on grade

Literature Package
This is sold separately from the History Package and includes:
  • The Sign of the Beaver
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man
  • Brady
  • Bound for Oregon
  • Across Five Aprils
  • Little Town on the Prairie
  • All-of-a-Kind Fmaily
  • Blue Willow
  • Homer Price
  • Katy
This book comes with the Complete Package and it is fabulous. This gives an excellent geography lesson to accompany the history being studied. If you have more than one student participating, you'll want to pick up an extra copy of this book for $8.95.

This book also comes with the Complete Package and it is equally incredible. It is simple, but it is easy to follow and really helps students understand the chronology of what they're studying. Extra copies of this book can be picked up for $6.95.

This spiral bound workbook is intended for grades 7 & 8. It contains 5 review questions for every day's lesson. These are mostly fill-in-the-blank, list, or directly answer the question. We did these questions orally. This optional book is available for $9.95

This spiral bound workbook is intended for grades 5 & 6. It contains reviews in the form of crossword puzzles, word searches, matching, etc. When there were multiple choice questions, I asked them. Otherwise we skipped this book due to lack of time. This optional book is available for $11.95.

The Answer Key comes with the Complete Package and it provides answers for everything in the Timeline, Student Workbook, Lesson Review book, and the vocabulary assignments in the main text.

Things I love:
The back of both core books contains a Family Activity for each unit of the books (one per week.) These include things such as making your own Navajo Flatbread, learning about Colonial Printing by making movable type, building a model of the Erie Canal, and much more.

It is intelligently written. It definitely seeks to bring glory to God and it does this without any manipulation of facts. It is up to date and honest about how things happened.

It does much more than just tell what happened. The books describe the landscape, introduces landmarks, gives biographies, and more. It describes music and its influence through the ages. It tells the story.

Things I didn't love:
It's a tiny thing, really, but the text frequently gives instruction to "See a photograph at right" or something similar. It is rather frequent and gets a bit annoying. It breaks up the flow of the interesting text and seems a bit silly since it is already obvious that the picture to the right relates to what we're reading.

The Complete Package is available for $99.95.  This does not include the Literature Package or the two optional books. It does contain the most beautiful American History program I've ever seen. It contains a history program that implements geography and a timeline and writing assignments, projects, Bible study, and more.


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Blog Hop Freebie Week

If you missed it the first time around, no worries! Here are the links to the Organizational Freebies I shared during the week-long Blog Hop:

Day 1: Course of Study
Day 2: Menu Plan
Day 3: School Planning Pages
Day 4: Calendar
Day 5: Workbox Printables

Don't forget, there were 90 bloggers participating, so be sure to look up all the other great treasures shared!

Summer Blog Hop

Day #5: Organizing with Workboxes

My family began using Sue Gregg's Workbox system several years ago. It has been a fun way to organize and stay on track with our studies. This system has been very well described by Schooling in the Sun throughout this week's Blog Hop. Be sure to read all about it and then hop back over here for the Workbox Freebies I have for you!

Workboxes help me to purposefully look at each item we are using. I'm directly involved with even the independent studies as I fill the boxes each night. Workboxes help my kids see how well they are progressing through their day. They can watch their progress and know that the end is in sight. They are also filled with anticipation. Sometimes those boxes are filled with brownie mixes or puzzles or a new book to read.

I like to keep things fresh with different designs for our cards. I print them in on photo paper or cardstock and then cut them out individually before running them through my laminator. I attach velcro dots to the back of the cards, velcro to the drawers (we use drawers instead of boxes,) and velcro to their Card Chart. I sit down on Friday nights and fill out my Lesson Plan List of what I'll be putting in their boxes for the next week.

All of my graphics are from the incredibly talented Kay of Kay Miller Designs. Be sure to check out her fabulous digital products! With such cute stuff, it's fun whipping up a new set of Workbox Cards. Be sure to let me know if there is a style you would like to see, so I can add it to my project list.

When printing, you might want to consider choosing No Border in your advanced printing options. Some of my images cut awfully close to the edges and this will prevent it cutting off the edge of your page.

I've listed all of the freebie links below. Just click on the images to open them in Google Drive. I would love to hear how they work for you. I also love to see how other families incorporate workboxes into their school day. If you share about them on your blog, please be sure to leave a link in the comment section.

Sideways, blogger? Really?
HappyFrame Number Cards

Hobbes Number Cards

SaF Circle Number Cards

Confetti Number Cards
Organic Scallop Number Cards
Chart for finished cards, 2 pages
Preschool Cards & Chart

Day 4 of freebies!

I love calendars. I download, buy, and create about a dozen each school year and I fill them all in until one by one they drop from use and I finally settle on the one I want. Weird? It's just so hard to decide which one will be the perfect one. In the end, it's generally Google Calendar. But I need paper in hand when I'm planning school. I need something to doodle on while I sort my thoughts.

My children love to have calendars on their dividing walls. We use tri-fold presentation boards to separate workspaces and my children love decorating these with their own personal flair. I also use a calendar for our morning board. As our new school year approaches, I'm in a calendar creating mood. For myself, I usually just create plain-jane items. I don't want to use much ink for my personal notebook. I choose pretty calendars for the kids' boards, but I've never made them myself. Instead, I pick them up at Hello Cuteness. Today, I tried my hand at making my own. What do you think?

To me, it's just too busy. I don't have an artist's eye. What would you do differently? 

Here is a quick-view calendar (2 pages) that let's you list holiday, birthdays, upcoming unit studies, whatever tickles your fancy:
The image shown is page one of my Year List form. For a prettier font, try Year List 2

One last form for the day. When organizing my school year, I also keep in mind my layout for high school. I begin this form when mine are in 6th and 7th grade. It gets plenty of tweaking, but it is a good reference for me over the course of their high school years. There are 3 pages in the To Graduate file, the first with subject prompts while the rest are blank with 2 font choices.

Be sure to see what other goodies are available on the Crew Blog Hop:

Summer Blog Hop

Day 3: Bonanza of Freebies

This marks the third day of free organizing printables, and let me tell you: You are going to love this. I am really excited about sharing these!

This is the stack of goodies that I go through every August as I prep for my upcoming year. It truly preps me for the WHOLE YEAR. I make a great big mess to get started and I write and rewrite things a dozen different times, but then it's finished. It's really finished for the year.

The amazing part about that is that I am kind of scatterbrained. I'm easily distracted. I require a verrrrrrry flexible schedule. We will skip school for a week on a whim and go camping. We will take off the entire month of December for Christmas School. We will take turns with stomach bugs and each of us will lose an entire week...but not the same week...due to vomit, snot, and exhaustion.

This stack of awesomeness let's you lose a gazillion days of school and always be able to pick it up and see where you are and where you should be. Sure, you could miss enough days to mean you'd need to cram 6 weeks of school into 5 days, but I can't help with that. I can just help you see that there is a disaster to deal with. But at least you'll know what the disaster is!

Some of my forms were inspired by This is a fabulous site with free forms for just about anything you can think of. I am a control freak and some freakish rebellion keeps me from enjoying any pre-made form "as is". I have to tweak everything. It's an illness. I've used inspiration from various sources and developed the forms that fit my needs. I'd love to hear if they help you!

I begin by narrowing down the subjects, which I mentioned before. After I know what I am teaching, I need to narrow down when I'm teaching. I begin with a calendar. And, I have to recant here because I actually have found a calendar that I have never felt a need to tweak. FiveJ's puts out a school calendar every year and it's always perfect for my binder. I take that calendar and my school year form and plot out the weeks and days that we will be in school.

Next to each week on the calendar, I write out week #'s to represent each week of a 36 week school year. I skip plenty of weeks where I know we'll miss 3 days or more. I don't actually stick to a 36 week schedule, but I'll explain that in the next paragraph. I keep page 2 of that freebie file in the front of my binder so that it is handy for jotting notes and for reminding me of my goals.

For each subject I teach, I fill out a course outline using this Weekly View by Semester form. See how it is numbered down the side? It's not dated. It's numbered. I divide up my school year into 36 weeks. I school year round, but I divide it up by 36 weeks. Those aren't the same thing, you see? This means that I can work on "Week #1" for 3 days or 3 weeks. It doesn't matter. It's still week one of my 36-week school year. When we finish week #1, we go on to week #2, and so forth. I also like to divide my weeks up to include a review week every 6-8 weeks, depending on what the year looks like. I plotted my calendar in the first step, giving me a general outline for the year and an idea of when we would end our school year. But things happen. My calendar might say we planned to hit week #36 in June, but we might not actually hit it until August. Then again, we could hit it in May. It just depends. That's the beauty of homeschooling with flexibility. It's also the curse, because seriously, I have never been finished in May. Never.

Did you notice the grading scale on the bottom of that previous form? Grading subjects is brand new to me. But my sons are in high school now and it's time to start approaching things a bit differently. When you homeschool, you teach until they get it. If they don't understand it, you don't move on! So technically, every student gets 100%  in every class. Most colleges don't understand that. Putting 100% down for every subject looks suspiciously like Mama is a biased teacher. So this year, we're trying to grade things. For an individualized grading page, I have this grading form for you.

To get down to the nitty gritty, I do a little math. I look in the math book and see that there are 400 pages. I divide that up over the # of weeks we're in school. 400 ÷ 36 weeks =  a little over 11 pages of math per week, which equals roughly 2 pages per school day. I browse the table of contents to find some good places to stop and review and I round the pages assigned up or down each week to fit comfortably into my Term #s. I just draw a marker line in my Semester form to show where I want to pause for a review week.

Now, for my younger students, the assignments aren't as simple as "do the next page". I like a little more detail, a bit more flair. Our assignments are easier and more broadly painted. I use this year-at-a-glance form for these big-picture subjects. There are 3 pages included in this form, providing different views for your needs. I prefer page 2, with 5 weeks available because some months bless me with these bonus weeks! I just cross out the boxes that don't fit into our calendar.

If I were using the year-at-a-glance form for science in the early years, it would include the basics that I wanted to cover for the year. I'd draw a line to separate my semesters (likely between December and January.) I might begin August with Astronomy basics for week #1, The Sun for week #2, Mercury for week #3, Venus for #4, etc. In January, we'd begin studying Deserts for week #1, Rainforests for week #2, Grasslands for #3, etc.

Once the general plan is all laid out, I can plot it more specifically on week-at-a-glance forms. I don't generally fill these out more than 3 weeks out. I already have a big picture view. I don't get too specific too far from where I am. Sometimes books that I intend to last for 3 weeks last only 3 days. Sometimes they last 6 weeks. If my forms are filled out for the year, my OCD spazzes out when I have to scratch stuff out. This is the form that gets used to pieces. I print these for the kids and they each keep one in their binder for the week. They mark off assignments as they are completed. They spill milk on them. They doodle arrows and castles and all manner of nonsense in the borders. These are an essential part of our homeschool life. It's simple, but here it is:
In the left column, I list every possible subject that I could want to teach, yet always forget to teach. I need prompted every week. Oh, yeah, nature study. Why can I never remember that?? I've included one with a blank subject column since we don't all teach the same subjects.

Be sure to check out the rest of this amazing Blog Hop in the link below!
Summer Blog Hop

Day 2 of Organizational Freebies

It's not just for homeschooling families, obviously, but homeschooling families certainly know that the stress of coming up with something to cook for dinner can make or break the success of a homeschool day. Many evenings have seen me dissolve into a puddle of tears because one of my children innocently asked, "Mama, what's for dinner?"

I came up with a very simple Menu Plan to help me be prepared for those moments. It lists the days of the week down the left side, but we rarely stick to those. They are guidelines, really. Just suggestions. What really makes this work for me is that I know that I have the ingredients in my fridge and pantry to create any food item on the page. I have options!

I love that there is room for notes, so I can remind myself to thaw the roast on Wednesday to enjoy on Friday. I love that there is room for everything. I keep these weekly menu plans and reuse them. When I just don't know what to use, I pull out a tried and true week that I know we'll enjoy. More often, we like to try new things and end up creating new menu plans.

I've created several font options for you and I'd love to hear which is your favorite. I'd also love to hear about some of your favorite go-to meals. Seriously, I really want to add some go-to favorites to my repertoire. It makes my school days much easier.

Be sure to check out the 89 other blogs participating in this helpful week of articles. I particularly think you should check out my friend Beth's week long discussion about Charlotte Mason and Living Books at Acorn Hill Academy. Good stuff, that.
Summer Blog Hop

A Week of Free Printables!

**UPDATE**  I shared the wrong link earlier this morning. As of 1:45 this afternoon, the link is now fixed. Sorry about that!

My family begins school on Labor Day every year. My general pattern is to randomly collect books that catch my eye throughout the summer and pile them in a corner until the pile topples. By August, I realize the new school year is looming and I sit down to do some actual planning.

The first course of action is to figures out what my options are. There are always about twice as many options as what can actually be given to my children without bordering on abuse. Wading through the piles is a messy process, but I'd rather see it all at the beginning of the year and narrow down from there, than to try sneaking more and more into our year as I find new and interesting things throughout the school year. It helps to look at the big picture and see what really suits us. Generally, I can't see it on my own. I take my list and pray over it; God knows what my kids need to study. The trick is stepping back and listening.

To get a look at what our year might look like, I use this Course of Study form. I fill it up and rearrange a few times. I pray. I rearrange. I pray. I rearrange. I make a new copy and fill it in with my plans for the year. Here's an idea of how I use mine:

The new form can be saved and used as a reference for when younger siblings someday begin that same grade. But if yours are like mine, this rarely works. It does give a nice starting point though and at least triggers memories of things we loved and that I don't want to miss.

In the link, I have provided 3 free copies of the form, in different fonts to suit your preference. Let me know what you think! Also, let me know what other forms you might find handy. I love making these pages and would love new ideas for helpful printables.

I'll be sharing something new each day, so be sure to check back.

As we approach the new school year, it's a great time to check out many other helpful articles from Schoolhouse Crew Members. Be sure to follow the link below for some great ideas!

Summer Blog Hop