Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

MACHE Conference 2012 Wrap-Up April 18, 2012

Filed under: Books,Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:50 am
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I had the opportunity to attend the MACHE (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators) annual conference in St. Paul last weekend.  It was only my second time attending a homeschool conference, and I am glad I went.

In some ways, my favorite part was the shopping.  I came home with this major purchase:

Yes, it’s an expensive shopping trip to pay money to attend a conference to go and spend more money once you are there.  But on the other hand, it is such a great way to actually see products first hand, ask questions of knowledgeable product reps (or sometimes the authors/creators themselves!), and in some case come home with your item right away.

I’ve known for a couple months that our current spelling curriculum was not working for us.  I had been super curious about “The Logic of English Essentials” curriculum by Denise Eide, ever since having read her book “Uncovering the Logic of English”.   After looking through the material in person, asking questions of the product rep (I was a little bummed that Ms. Eide was not there herself, given that I think she is a resident of our area!), and attending a breakout session about the curriculum I decided to go for it.  I then lugged what felt like a ton of books around for several hours since I didn’t want to pay two bucks for the book check.  Silly, I know!

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about this curriculum in the future, but I will say I decided to jump right in and use it right away, and I think I am going to like it from a teaching perspective.  I guess only time will tell if it will help Miss M’s spelling woes or help Mr. E get off on the right start as a new speller himself.

I feel good about my investment in the sense that even if after a couple months I change my mind, this product should have a good resale value since it is such a new curriculum.

Besides my purchase of the “Logic of English” curriculum, I purchased a few art supplies (using great restraint — I wanted so many more!), a couple handwriting books, and a few fiction books from the used books area.  I even found a copy of “Gentlemen from England” by Maud and Delos Lovelace for myself!

A few other highlights:

  • I attended a seminar on Fractions by RightStart math author Joan Cotter.  It was a helpful seminar, and helped me continue to feel enthused about Right Start.  If games and these concepts can help kindergartners that Ms. Cotter taught learn concepts that upper elementary children often get confused about, this is a great approach.
  • I had a great conversation with a bookstore owner about “spine” texts for American history.  Unfortunately it confirmed what I already thought might be true — I am going to have a hard time finding exactly the type of text I am looking for at this time, given the age of my student and my other criteria.
  • I heard most of a Keynote session about homeschooling as an opportunity to make disciples.  I am challenged to think “simple” when it comes to having devotions with my kids.   While something fancy and prepared is great, we can also have a great time in the Word by just randomly (or purposefully) having a “one inch” Bible study as the speaker called it — picking an inch of text and discussing a few simple questions: What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me? So What should I do about it?

My conference experience was not without its frustrations.  Two seminars I wanted to attend were full by the time I arrived.  I lost my name tag mid-way through the second day and had to pay a $5 fee to get a new one.  Bummer!  But overall it was a great experience.  I’m not sure going to a conference is an every year sort of thing for me, but I definitely enjoyed my time this year.


I is for iPad April 17, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:41 pm

I’ve been participating in Blogging Through the Alphabet, hosted by Marcy @ Ben and Me.  It has been great fun trying to think of something related to homeschooling (since  this is a homeschooling blog, after all!) for each letter of the alphabet.  I feel like this letter “I” is a bit of a lazy effort, since “iPad” is not a real word, and I’ve already written a lot about how we use our iPad.

But since it happens to be a Tuesday as I am writing this, I wondered if I could challenge myself to think of TEN ways we use the iPad for homeschool. (Then I can link up to Top Ten Tuesday!).

1. Let’s start with the obvious — educational apps/games.  I think there’s probably got to be an app out there for pretty much any subject to teach or review. Apps for Homeschooling is a great resource to find educational apps.

2. Occupying the boys (ages 3 and 5) while I try and focus with Miss M (age almost 8/2nd grade).  While I prefer the boys to play quietly, or work on their own while I do the subjects that require my one-on-one attention with Miss M (like those tough math lessons on 4 digit subtraction!), the reality is that some days they are running in circles past us while pretending to be “Angry Bird Clone Trooper Jedi With Really Loud Guns and Light Sabers!” On those days, sometimes it is “iPad to the rescue” to provide a few minutes of peace and quiet.

3.  I love reading ebooks on my iPad, and I also use it occasionally to read aloud to the kids.  With the wealth of free public domain ebooks, free and inexpensive kindle finds or an ebook checked out from the library, there are so many options available!

4. I came up with a new option for Mr. E, my budding reader, last week — an easy-to-read Kindle book on the iPad! I was recently tipped off to The Literate Child, a page you can “like” on Facebook to receive notifications of free children’s books for Nook and Kindle.  Mr. E enjoyed the novelty of reading a book himself (with a bit of help from me) on the iPad.  I’ve also let Miss M read a Kindle book on the iPad on occasion.

5. Dance party! While I have had great aspirations of setting up playlists to listen to particularly appropriate educational songs or Bible songs I would like the kids to learn, that has not actually happened.  What has happened is we have put on an a Pandora station for a quick dance break, soothing background music, or even music by which to play some variant of “musical chairs.”

6.  On our “Family Science Nights,” my husband often pulls out the iPad to show pictures or videos of something he would like to illustrate, especially for biology related topics.  Wikipedia is a great source for all kinds of science-related pictures.

7. Would you believe we don’t seem to have a stand-alone calculator in our house? When Miss M’s math curriculum called for a calculator we first tried using my phone,which proved to be a bit small for her.  The iPad, however, was a nice over-sized calculator once we had a calculator app installed!

8. We’ve had the iPad on hand to use in place of a paper atlas during history lessons.  We only have a simple, free world map program currently.  However, I have often wished we had a nice, historical atlas to refer to! Maybe that will be a future purchase. For now our free world map app is enough for me to remind Miss M of the location of Britain or Japan.

9.  Of course, the iPad works just as well as a computer for doing research on various books, curricula or projects we might like to utilize in the future.  I love how easy it is, though, to hand it to the kids to show them various ideas (for, say, art projects they might like to do).

10. Finally, I like having a quick way to document and share things we are doing during our school day.  I try and take a lot of pictures on my camera, but it takes multiple steps to share those photos (take the card out, import into a folder on the hard drive, export to a smaller size, etc).  Up until recently, my phone was too slow and clunky to do this easily.  But, with the iPad handy, I can easily snap a quick picture to share with friends and family.

This list doesn’t even include ways I have thought of using the iPad but haven’t actually tried yet: for audio books, as an electronic replacement or supplement to a paper planner, or using an ebook version of a textbook!

Have you used an iPad in any other ways in your homeschool?

Linking up with:

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little BlessingsPhotobucket


Collage Saturday: Expert Day and a Short Week April 14, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:38 pm

Wow.  This week has really been a blur.  My birthday this past Monday already seems like a long time ago!  Since Tony took the day off work, other than a few minutes spent working on Miss M’s expert day project, it was a day for fun!

Then I went to our state’s homeschooling convention yesterday and today.  That will have to be another post in and of itself to describe my adventures there. 🙂

That only left full days on Tuesday and Wednesday plus Thursday morning for regular school work…and getting ready for Expert Day (Thursday afternoon at co-op) took all of that time.  No other school work got done this week, but I’m okay with that.  We had plenty of learning, and it was kind of nice to have a week  that was a change of pace.  Here’s a few highlights of our week:

1. Playing Triominoes on my birthday. I love playing games as a family.

2. Getting ready for Expert Day (read about our Horse Unit Study in this post).

3. There’s always time to read, even in a busy week.  After taking a break from Boxcar Children books for a few weeks, I think Miss M read about five of them this week!

4. Miss M wanted to find a few horse drawings she had made over the past few months, so that meant cleaning out the “done” art work bin.  This is was a much over due project!

5.  With just a little help from mom and dad, Miss M created a Popsicle stick feeding trough for her horse display.  It felt like the essence of a school project to create a model out of Popsicle sticks!

6. The boys kept busy with some artwork.  They told me that this was a paper plane.

7. and 8. Mr. E created a story loosely revolving around Angry Birds Space.  After writing some of it out himself (asking me how to spell words), I ended up typing it up for him to decorate with pictures of the Angry Birds.

9. First bubbles of the spring.  I finally remembered to buy the kids a new jug of bubble stuff.

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and Weekly-Wrap Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.


H is for Horse Unit Study

Filed under: Books,Themes — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:14 pm
Tags: ,

If you’ve read some of my posts over the past few weeks, you may have noticed quite a few comments here and there about books and activities related to horses.  Although it really wasn’t my intention to begin with, Miss M’s Expert Day project for co-op turned into a fairly full fledged unit on horses.

Here’s how her display for expert day turned out as we set it up at home for a practice run:

Do you have a horse lover in your life? Here are the primary resources we used:

Hands of a Child Horse Lapbook (lots of general information on horses).  Here’s how we put together the completed lapbook project:

DK Eyewitness video, “Horses” (scientific and historical information)

Once Upon a Horse (historical information – read my thoughts on it in this post!)

Various books about how to draw horses

A few “easy non fiction” books from the library (which we already returned before I remembered to write down the titles!).  Some Miss M read on her own time, and a few I assigned as part of her school work.

We also checked out The Complete Horse and The Kingfisher Horse and Pony Encyclopedia to have on hand for further research.  Both looked interesting, but we didn’t end up having time to dive into these very much.

We read Misty of Chincoteage as a horse-related literature selection.  I wrote about my impressions of that read-aloud last week.

Miss M picked the broad topic of Horses for Expert Day, but since she only has three minutes to give a presentation, I encouraged her to pick a much narrower topic to focus in on. She decided to focus on how people used horses throughout history.  Since even that is a very broad topic, she chose to narrow it down even further and discuss how horses were used in war and for travel during her three minute oral report. I was able to work with Miss M on important skills like defining a topic, reading for the purpose of research, and summarizing important points of what she read.   She narrated to me what she wanted to say in her oral report, and I transcribed and helped her refine what she was saying.

As much as it was a lot of work, I am glad we have Expert Day at co-op each year to push us to work on these skills!

I’m linking up with:



Why I’m Going to a Homeschool Conference this Year April 11, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:40 am
Tags: ,

I’m starting to get excited…This Friday and Saturday I’m going to the MACHE Conference (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators) in St. Paul, MN.  The last time I attended the MACHE conference was three years ago, the spring before Miss M began her Kindergarten year!  That seems like forever ago, and I feel like I am at a very different point now as a home educator than I was when I attended my first conference.

So, why did I not go to a conference the past two years? I had a variety of reasons.  For one thing, the MACHE conference moves around between three locations.  Only one of those locations is reasonably local to me, so it is a much greater expense of time and money for me to attend when the conference is not in St. Paul.   The past two years I wasn’t very intrigued by the keynote speakers, nor did I have any burning desire to see curricula in person or learn more about any techniques I couldn’t just read about on the internet.

This year, I felt more apt to attend in general because the conference would once again be in my local area.  I could easily arrange for the kids to be taken care of, and be home with my family in the evening.  But I have a few other goals for my time at this year’s conference:

I’m looking to settle on a new spelling curriculum or tools to help me use the one I currently have.  Spelling is a weak point for Miss M, and the curriculum I have tried to use this year isn’t helping much.  I am excited to see the Logic of English Essentials curriculum and attend a seminar about it. If this curriculum isn’t “it” for us, maybe I can take a look at some others.

I wasn’t even using Right Start Math or planning to when I attended my last convention. Now I’ve been using it for 2.5 years.  I’m looking to pick up my materials for next year and not have to pay a shipping fee. I’m also thinking I’ll attend the Right Start seminars and pick up a few tips and tricks on using our curriculum

We’re going to focus on American History for history next year.  I’m looking to browse the used curriculum area and pick up some read-alouds to go along with our studies.

This year’s conference theme is “Bright Lights in a Dark World.”  I’m excited about this theme and attending some of the sessions based on this theme.  Raising up children who can will be a light in the world is a big goal of our homeschooling, so this year’s theme is especially interesting to me!

Any local readers out there who will be at the MACHE conference? Or are you attending a conference near you this year?


Happy Birthday to Me…10 Ways I’m Celebrating! April 9, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:27 am

Today, Monday April 9th, is my 35th birthday…and even though I am generally trying to keep this blog focused on homeschooling, I’m giving myself a little more liberty to talk about something else on my birthday, even if it only minimally relates to homeschooling. 🙂

I feel so thankful today for the ways God has blessed me, and here’s some of how I am celebrating:

1. Spending the day with my family, including my wonderful husband, who took the day off from work in honor of my birthday! I love that homeschooling makes it easy for us to spend the whole day together.  We might still work on Madeline’s expert day project a bit (so that the rest of the week isn’t too stressful).

2.  Eating pastries for breakfast that Tony picked up fresh this morning

3. A completely quiet and relaxing bath at 10am.  Almost completely uninterrupted!

4. Playing board games.  I love to play board games and I’ve found it hard to make time for playing “grown up games.”  We played a game with some friends yesterday afternoon…and maybe we’ll try and play some more grown-up games today (and even try to teach one to the older kids?)

5.  Buying myself Amazon Prime.  I always get a bit of birthday money to spend from my family, and this will be the third year of treating myself to this little luxury in life.  I love free two day shipping!

6. A date with my husband this past Saturday.  We even left baby J with our babysitters while we enjoyed a fancy dinner out!  This was the first time we had left him with sitters for a date.

7.  Making something I love for lunch.  I’m excited to make some “fancy” homemade mac and cheese (with three kinds of cheese, mushrooms, spinach and mock crab).

8.  Bike ride around Lake Nokomis.  By myself!

9. Stopping for my free birthday coffee and reading for a bit while out on said bike ride.

10. Family outing for dinner.  I am thinking maybe a Chinese buffet.   Or maybe fancy pizza. But I reserve the right to change my mind before dinner time…it is my birthday after all!

Here’s to all the ways God has blessed us so far, and all the blessings in the years to come!

I’ll be linking up to top ten Tuesday tomorrow…even though it is Monday today as I write this.  🙂 I’m giving myself a birthday privilege to do that.  😉

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


Collage Friday: Horses, Easter Bags, and Character Refinement April 6, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:18 pm

Some local friends were on Spring Break this week, but we forged ahead with our schedule as usual.  The best part about the local schools being on Spring Break was that I had the opportunity to hire two teens with some time on their hands to clean my kitchen.   I find it hard to make time for serious cleaning…and it’s not just because of having a baby…I always can find some excuse! 😉  It was a win-win with the teens earning some money toward their financial goals, and me ending up with a kitchen that hasn’t looked this clean since we moved into the house for a reasonable price.

Here are a few highlights from our week:

1. Mr. E working on a Lego set he got over the weekend as a belated birthday gift.  I’m so proud of him for focusing on the directions and assembling one car from the set almost entirely on his own!


2. Miss M assembling her horse lapbook.  We didn’t quite finish the assembly, as it kept getting pushed to the bottom of our to – do list.  With Expert Day coming up next week, deadline pressure will help us finally bring it to completion next week!


3. I found an offer for a free horse magazine a couple months ago, and the first issue arrived this week! Miss M enjoyed looking at all the pictures and reading some of the articles, even though it is really not a magazine aimed at kids.


4. Miss M’s writing and spelling work came in the form of letter writing.  Inspired by a lesson in her Spectrum Writing book, she wrote a letter to friends from across town that we don’t see very often.  A question directed to Miss M in a family Easter card from her great aunt about what books she has been reading prompted her to begin a letter about some recent favorites. Since spelling is still a big struggle for Miss M (to the point where I think it would be difficult for others to “get” what she is trying to say), I have her write a rough draft. I then correct her spelling mistakes and have her write a final draft.


5. & 6. The kids were given the suggestion at church to make “Easter Bags” to give to friends. There were some pre-made bags with treats and info about the meaning of Easter we could have picked up at church…but my kids really want to go the DIY route and make their own.  I made sure they had some empty bags, Easter eggs and candy and they are pretty much taking it from there!


7.  Math….oh, Math.  There is something about doing math that lends itself to being a refining, character building process.  For both me and Miss M! We worked on lessons 92-95 in Right Start C this week.  Some days were a piece of cake — Miss M finished the lesson 92 worksheet with ease on Monday.  Presented with the exact same sort of problem on Tuesday, we had nuclear meltdown.  Today’s struggles were less about how to do the math problem, and more about how to use the calculator as the lesson suggested (as Miss M is doing in the picture).  I tried to explain that as long as she got the concept, I could help her with using the calculator.  But she was determined to do it herself, to the point of frustration.   Math is a testing ground for learning patience of my part, and for Miss M to learn about humility, being teachable and dealing with frustration/asking for help appropriately.


8. The boys came up with a great project idea today.  Disappointed that I couldn’t find any “Angry Birds Space” coloring sheets to print out for them (I could only find coloring sheets of the original “angry birds”), they asked me to print out lots of small pictures of the various birds and pigs from the space game.  They got started cutting these pictures out and gluing them on large sheets of paper (Thanks to Grandma Karen for supplying us with lots of blueprint-sized scratch paper!).  They are creating their own “angry birds space” levels on paper!


9. Continuing on the “Horse” theme, we read this book, Once Upon a Horse, instead of our regular history this week.  I’ll be writing more about this book for Read Aloud Thursday next week!

Have a wonderful Easter weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

PhotobucketWeird Unsocialized Homeschoolers