We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Friday, July 25, 2008

Last piece of homestudy on its way!

Today Erik's fingerprint report from the State of Maryland arrived! Wow - done and returned in less than a week. Now there is only one piece of outstanding paperwork - our Child Abuse Clearances for Maryland. This was one of the very first of the forms we submitted, so I'm very anxious to get them safely in my hands.

I called MD today and confirmed with my buddy Keisha that, yes, the form was processed and mailed on the 16th. It really should be here by now - that's almost 10 days! Right now all we can do is wait for it to come (and call back to double-check the mailing address if it doesn't come). There is a chance that we had that sent directly to our homestudy agency - in which case that will delay us hearing about it. (but only by a day or so)

Anyway - please pray for it to arrive at the correct destination (our house or the homestudy agency) very soon - tomorrow would be good. LOL!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Helping the older child learn to read

This was originally posted last year, but I've updated and added links.

My eldest child went to public school for kindergarten and 1st grade. Which means that someone else really taught him to read. Conversely, my second child, now 8, has always been homeschooled (he was 4 when we started homeschooling his big brother). So, I've gotten to teach him to read. This has been both a blessing and a challenge. He is what you'd call a "late blooming reader".

For a long time I thought I'd failed him in some way, but then his younger sister (who has never been in an institutional school - not even preschool) is learning to read with no problems. So, I hope that indicates that I'm not a bad teacher! :)

A friend of mine is in a similar situation and her son is having a tough time with reading (our boys are just a few months apart). Just like my middle boy, he is a bit older than most starting readers and he probably isn't the "perfect" student. (By that I mean the type who wants to sit down and spend lots of time practicing their phonics sounds.) Their older age and temperment/learning styles combine to make for some frustration for both mom and child. We begin to feel like "something is wrong", which can lead to feelings of guilt for Mom and feelings of inadequacy for child.

Here are some of the ideas we tossed around together. If you have an active, school-allergic, late-bloomer student like ours, you might find some of these ideas really helpful.

A curriculum we've enjoyed
Let me start by telling you about Starfall, a free, internet-based reading program. The program is comprised of phonics-controlled online games and interactive "books". These are high-quality learning activities which kids really enjoy. There are various levels from kids just learning their letters to kids ready to write creatively. We choose a few activities each day to try.

One of my favorite aspects of Starfall are the online interactive read-along books. Your child reads the book and if he comes to a word he cannot read, he can click on it to hear it sounded out. Each phonogram-based book is coordinated with learning activities.

Starfall also provides printables that go along with each online book. In fact, you can download the whole set of printables for your own workbook. Again, these are high-quality materials covering phonics and some simple grammar and punctuation.

There are also some fun "play" activities based on seasonal themes, including calendars to print.

Fun and games
My son balks at anything remotely "schoolish". He melts down and seems to regress to preschool (he's 8) when presented with a workbook. While he is learning that being educated by me means he has to do some stuff that is "boring", I am learning to provide as many learning games as possible.

A very simple, but favorite game for us has been Sight Word Bingo. This is a little boxed board game by Carson-Dellosa Publishing. I started by calling out the word and showing him the card, then he would find it's match on his Bingo board. Now I call out the word, but don't show it to him unless he's stumped. He's gotten so fast, I often can't call out cards fast enough. One tip with games: play with your child (don't just call out the bingo cards)! Kids love getting a chance to beat Mom!

There are other games you could try, but I have had great success with this simple bingo game.

Here are some other ideas:

Readers for older kids
One real issue for us has been finding readers for older kids. Most readers today are written with very young kids in mind. These bored my son and me right out of our minds! But finding something more interesting (and more appropriate for his comprehension level) has been difficult. I recommend finding non-fiction books to use as readers. Science books are particularly interesting to kids and come in many reading levels. Biographies are another good idea.

Scholastic has a nice series of biographies at great prices (about $5.00 US). We've been reading The Story Of Thomas Alva Edison . He reads about a paragraph ot two each day. I help him when he gets stuck on a word, but for the most part, he reads on his own. There are some "big" words in the text, so I just jump in and tell him those. No sense getting him frustrated. He gets a mark on his reading chart and when the chart is complete a reward! (I'm giving him $10 to go buy more books.)

Another source for readers is DK Readers. These come in 4 levels, so you can easily choose the best level for your child. The readers in this series cover all sorts of fascinating subjects: history, science, LEGOs, sports, literature and more. They have DK's excellent pictures, too! We will start a Level 3 book called Spies! next.

Here are some suggestions:
I Want To Be a Jedi (Level 3)
Journey Through Space (Level 2)
Ready, Set, Podrace! (Level 1)

You'll need to guage your child's level and give them the help they need so as not to frustrate them. I'd suggest starting out with reading the text and having them read a few words in each line. Or alternate reading: you read a sentence (or paragraph), then she reads a sentence (or paragraph). Because my son can be a slacker, I've taken a different approach. We read as much or as little as he wants, but I will NOT read to him other than a bit of assistance when he gets stumped. (Just this book - we have lots of other read alouds) However, he only gets a mark on his chart if he reads atleast a 1/2 a page. His curiosity to see what happens next is my "hook"!

Another book that has been a hit at our house is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (there are 3, I believe). These are funny little books with pencil-like drawings on most every page, but they are laid out like chapter books. So, there is less print on most pages than an average chapter book, which gives developing eyes a break and discouraged kids a confidence boost (when they zip through the pages).

Read Along
When I was little I fairly taught myself how to read by using "read along" books and my record player. Now, you can find lots of great books on audio tape or CD. My son has particularly enjoyed the Magic Tree House Collection read along books. (The CDs come in 4 book sets.) These are great stories in simple prose. And your kids will learn at the same time! Most of their titles are history-based.

Out and About or Reading on the Fly
Another fun thing to do is encourage your child to read words they see while you are out and about. Billboards, advertisements on trucks, store signs, merchandise in the store, signs in the store or building, etc. You get the idea! Just make it fun. I bet you could even make this into a game. If you have an idea for a game like this, I'd love to hear about it! Post a comment or link to your blog.

I'm pleased to say that my son has really gained a lot of confidence in his reading in the past 3 or 4 months. I don't think it is solely due to the programs and ideas I shared above, but they have been a big part! He has a long way to go, but he's well on his way.

Give them a delight in GREAT stories
My husband is our read aloud guy. He has spent countless hours reading aloud to each of our kids before bedtime. This has especially helped our late-bloomer develop a love of great stories (hubby reads good, good books with them, not "twaddle"), which encourages him to want to learn to read even more. This has also given him a fantastic vocabulary - he tests at a 6th grade level in vocab (he's entering 3rd)...just don't ask him to spell those words!

Another thing my husband does during these read alouds is spend a little bit of time letting our late-bloomer practice his reading. They choose a simple book or a few simple sentences from the book they are reading aloud. This gives him almost daily practice in addition to the other instruction/practice he's had with me during "school".

Other ideas for the older kid learning to read? Love to hear them! Got a game you love, or a website - please share!

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The (hopeful) end to Fantastic, Festive Fingerprint Fridays

Among my Friday morning men's prayer group, all this fingerprinting has become known as Fantastic, Festive Fingerprint Fridays! Sometimes I've thought Festering Fingerprint Fridays might be a better title.

Until this past weekend, I've had all my adoption fingerprinting done at our local police department - and they only do them on Fridays before noon. With all the printing and re-printing, I think they know me by first name now!

I must admit, I was beginning to get a bit of a complex. Was it my fault? Was I not "relaxed" enough to get good prints?

After some research and phone calls to the MD office, I found out that they accept digital fingerprints! The caveat is: they only accept them from an approved agency within Maryland. (Most times, MD's government makes no sense to me.)

So, I drove 950 miles to Pikesville, MD (west of Baltimore) and back in 28 hours (with our boys). I got to the MD fingerprint office at 8:30 a.m. and I was done in an hour. Total cost of the trip, including gas, food and fingerprinting fees - $170. Seeing the MD fingerprint office in my rear view mirror - priceless.

I learned something from this experience that may be helpful to others. And it's so obvious, I would have tried it locally one more time before driving up there. You're gonna say, "Well, duh!" Here is my nugget of fingerprinting wisdom: find someone who does fingerprints all day, everyday, and have them do the prints.

No slight on the local PD guys, but I had a different officer do my prints each time I was in there. I know some of them took prints rarely. When I had my prints taken at the MD office, it was fast, easy and they looked great! When in doubt (and impatient), go with the pros.

See, I knew it couldn't be my fault.... Wish I could have saved myself ~ $165 and 15-16 hours of driving. In the end, it was worth getting it done, and learning the lesson.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And now good news...

Well, friends, I have some good news to report. (By the way, I am feeling much better and less discouraged, so thank you for your kind words and your PRAYER!)

First of all - the VA child abuse clearance has arrived! That means NC is complete and VA is complete! Come on, do the dance, people! :) (Have you seen Evan Almighty - "I now command you to DO THE DANCE" - very funny!)

Secondly, in talking with my home study agency we discovered that the MD child abuse clearance seemed to be missing. So, I decided to play the squeaky wheel today and called, and called, and called (leaving messages each time). I guess I annoyed someone enough that I finally got a live person and she said, "Yes, I will find your report and call you back within 30 minutes." She was awesome! About 15 minutes later, she called. (I kept my phone in my back pocket so I wouldn't miss the call and dropped it twice as I was answering.) She had located the form which she promised me would be completed today (Tuesday) and in tomorrow's mail. I have a sneaking suspicion she rescued it from someone's in or out box where it was languishing.

I'm so glad I called and I'm so glad I was a squeaky wheel. Yea for squeaky wheels! Yea for Keisha, my hero in MD!

So, the only outstanding form is Erik's criminal background check for MD (mine is already cleared). He's headed up there soon to take care of that.

We do have one more minor hoop through which to jump for the home study, but it is just a double check of our financials (insurance, savings, checking, etc). In the past the home study agency did not have to have copies of these statements (they only verified employment, pay and tax returns), but for the Hague, they do. So, we have to get that together. Not a big deal, just needs to be done.

Pray for the Lord to redeem our time, which seems in very short supply lately. The days FLY by around here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Heart of the Matter Meme: What HASN'T Worked for Me

Homeschooling is a wonderful thing, but it has its own pitfalls. One of these, the one I find most frequently in my own family, is making comparisons with other homeschoolers.

Most of us are homeschooling to avoid peer dependency in our kids (among other things), yet we go right on with it ourselves! Why do we feel the need to homeschool just like Sally Homeschooler? Fear of inadequacy? Fear of failure? Fear of being, yet again, outside the "norm"? Well, this definitely hasn't worked for me: Overconcern with fitting some homeschool mold. Here are some examples:

Rearranging my house to have a "school room" - While this works for some families it was a disaster for us. We were totally on top of each other and the noise level in our school room was distracting to all of us. We are whole house people. I love to be able to get housework or personal work done while my kids get their school done. We are now back at the kitchen table - quite happily!

Adopting certain child-rearing philosophies that went against my nature and my children's - This was such a sad mistake, but hard to resist when many corners of the homeschool world tell us that if your kids don't do X or do Y, then you aren't discplining them well. Why did I listen to something that totally went against my nature? Perhaps it is the vulnerable state of a new homeschooler - everything is so new. We are leaving all of what seems "normal" behind and it makes one question many aspects of our lives. Then we hear these speakers and teachers with their amazing certainty and it is easy to think we've gotten our parenting wrong, too. Luckily, my husband and I have recently become acutely aware of the stress we've been introducing to our family and we are re-learning our discipline. It is quite amazing how hard it is to unlearn, though.

Thinking that if *I* wasn't teaching every subject, then I was somehow an inadequate homeschooler - Oh, this vigilancy about being just the "right" type of homeschooler. In fact, sometimes it is even implied that you aren't *really* a homeschooler if you are involved in any kind of outside classes, at least other than the most extra-extracurricular activities. This kept me for sometime from realzing that both my kids and I would greatly benefit from a co-op type of group. This particular group (Classical Conversations) has been such a help to me and a delight to my kids, I'm only sorry I let others dissuade me from being involved out of fear of not being a "real" homeschooler.

I encourage you to look beyond what your homeschooling circles are doing and teaching (friends, speakers, teachers, authors, etc) to what the Lord is calling YOU to do in your homeschool. Don't be afraid to step out and do something different if it is right for you or your family. That is why we are homeschooling!

This post is part of Heart of the Matter's Friday Meme: What Hasn't Worked For Me.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008


I'll admit, I'm feeling a little discouraged right now. I had thought for sure we'd have our homestudy completed and turned in by June. Now, it is mid-July and we are still trying to complete the background checks for our homestudy. At this point we'll be lucky if we have our approval returned from USCIS before Christmas. It is possible, but I'm afraid unlikely.

Sometimes I look around and think, "Why am I doing this, again?" I guess I just need a little encouragement that the Lord's timing will be perfect and will bring us our Junebug at just the right time. I also just need a little general encouragement not to get disappointed by these minor setbacks, but to keep our eye on the finish line!

I think it is time to go blast our Armenian music - it always makes me happy!

Art History Links for Homeschoolers - July 2008

I'm consolidating the art resource links to a once a month posting. Here are July's art resource finds:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a wonderful exhibit of Turner. Lots of online images and background information on this British landscape painter.

Starting July 15th and running until November 16th, the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachussetts is hosting: The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century. The exhibit compares realism from the history of art (Vermeer, with realism in the 21st century

The Art Institute of Chicago has a fantastic exhibition of the art of Benin (an historic kingdom located in present-day Nigeria) running from July 10 - September 21. The quality of the artwork is truly wonderful. If you are in the Chicago area, I'd say this is a do not miss. (If you are in the area, be sure to check out the "Passport to Africa" a series of free evening events sponsored by Target.) But, if not, their online resources are excellent: excellent essays on major exhibition themes, nearly 40 online images from the exhibit, and a thorough reading list.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

How appropriate that I would have finished The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan just minutes before I started to make dinner for my family! Literally, I closed the book and turned to my lasagna ingredients.

The book's introduction opens with the question many mothers find both mundane and challenging: "What should we have for dinner?" Mr. Pollan never presumes to answer the question definitively for us. Instead, he invites us to make that determination ourselves by asking hard questions about where our food comes from. Along the way he does do a lot of the legwork for us by exploring three different "paths" a meal might take to the table: industrial, pastoral, and personal. There are visits to factories, farms and forests to explore each of the various food "paths" as well as a good deal of philosophical and political discussion along the way.

Four hundred and eleven pages later, Mr. Pollan has done an excellent and entertaining job of helping us do some serious thinking about our food choices. And he does it all without even a touch of preachiness!

From vegans to hunters (and the majority of us in between), I highly recommend this book to anyone who eats... and anyone who thinks.

In the coming days, I'll be posting my "Notes & Quotes" from the book. You can subscribe to this blog's feed by email or RSS to get those blog updates.

Next on my reading list is Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Enjoy other book reviews: Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Saturday, July 5, 2008


MD fingerprints just came back for the second time. The accompanying letter says they are "smeared, blurred or unindentifiable". They really don't look particularly worse than others we've had done. Those MD computers are picky! Erik is going to call Monday and see if there is a way to have them done digitally here with the State Bureau of Investigation and sent to MD (maybe using AFIS- Automated Fingerprint Identification System). If not, I think he's just going to have to make a trip up there. Luckily, he can go visit his Mom and take a daytrip up to MD from her home in VA.

We'll see.... Pray we'll find an easy, quick solution to this issue!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July 3rd Update: a litte progress

VA -Child Abuse Registry: resubmitted; waiting for processing
NC -Criminal History: RECEIVED! We are done with NC!
MD -Criminal History: Kerry's received, Erik's resubmitted and Child Abuse Registry: still waiting

I'm getting a little concerned with the VA Child Abuse Registry. That really should have been back weeks ago. The other delays had errors that have had to be corrected, but the VA one we've had no contact about. I'll call on Monday to see if I can find out any information.

Life has been going along fairly normally here. Without the flurry of activity that we had collecting the initial documents, it is easy to get distracted. Right now, I guess that is a good thing.

Thank you for your prayers!

Recipe Swap Box: BBQ Edition

Today is Randi's Recipe Swap Box day! She's asked everyone to submit BBQ related recipes, so go check them all out. You'll get some great ideas for the Fourth of July!

My recipe comes from my lovely and hostessly-talented friend Julie. I do not have the recipe, but it wasn't too hard to figure out. Amounts are "ish", so adjust to your preferences. This sounds like and odd combination, but is SO GOOD! And the beans and corn chips are a great protein combination.

Frito, Bean and Green Salad
One head of romaine lettuce (or iceberg)
One can of red kidney beans, drained
One bag of Fritos
Enough Catalina dressing to coat said lettuce, beans and fritos.

Rip or chop the lettuce into bite-sized pieces (or however you prefer your salad greens). Pour on Catalina dressing and mix well. Go easy here - you can always add more! Finally, mix in drained beans and Fritos coating them with the dressing, too. Enjoy!

The Fritos will get soggy if you mix this up too far ahead of time. If you want to make it ahead of time, just leave off the dressing until you are ready to serve.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A quiet day for us

My mom headed home today after visiting for about a week. She brought her new puppy, Callie, with her to visit which was so much fun for all of us. Over the weekend, hubby went on his Men's Retreat with our church up to the NC hills. The weather was lovely for him and all the guys had a great time up there. So, mom and I enjoyed just hanging out with the kids while he was gone.

We did go see Wall-E which I highly recommend! It is a sweet movie with a lovely message about friendship and a sober message about consumerism and our culture. If you go see it, let me know what you think.

Monday, I had my first meeting of "Libri Antiqui" a group of ladies and gentlemen gathering to read the Great Books together. We are starting with The Iliad. I cracked the book yesterday afternoon - I'm on page 7 of the Introduction - only 607 more pages to go! I'm not going to skip the Intro, but I sure do want to just dig in.

Today will be a quiet day. They always are after a visit as we get the house back to normal - or normalish. We'll spend it cleaning up the playroom that got trashed by "Not Me", finishing up the laundry Mom helped me get on top of, straightening up the multitude of piles that somehow seem to grow when I'm not looking and maybe a bit of relaxing, too.

Guess we have to decide what we are doing for the 4th. We've been invited to a big shin-dig pool party, but some of us are tempted to just enjoy a family backyard celebration. It sure is nice to eat watermelon, cookout, make smores and watch Daddy's backyard fireworks show! We'll see...

So, what are you doing for the 4th?