Category Archives: Curriculum and Activities

Math Is NOT a Four-Letter Word!



Reducing Algebra Stress

I know a word that can make even a group of seasoned homeschoolers groan. Can you guess what it is? Algebra! But it doesn’t have to be that way. While I don’t have a secret weapon that will make math your child’s favorite subject, I can offer some suggestions to reduce the algebra stress and make it easier for both of you.

Wait until your child is ready. This is probably the most important advice I have for reducing algebra stress. From the time our children are tiny, we parents are prone to playing the comparison game. Did Jimmy walk at nine months while the Evans’ child was nearly a year-and-a-half? Did the Ortega’s daughter potty train at two years old while Ella is still in pull-ups at three? We take pride in our early learners and agonize over the later ones. This attitude is unfortunately carried into high school as well, where many homeschoolers rush their children into advanced subjects such as higher-level math.

I was four when I began public school, a full year younger than the majority of my classmates. While I was academically ready for kindergarten, the age discrepancy showed up with a vengeance in junior high. I had always gotten A’s in math, one of my favorite subjects. Then came pre-algebra my eighth-grade year. Suddenly, my teacher was speaking a foreign language I had never heard before, and I struggled to keep up. Just as suddenly, in my freshman year, math made sense again.

It wasn’t until I was in my education courses at college that I learned why this probably happened. There is a huge shift in cognitive development that occurs between the ages of eleven and fourteen. Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher, described this shift as a change from concrete operational to formal operational. A child in the concrete operational stage needs objects and concrete examples in order to solve problems, while someone in the formal operational stage can think abstractly. If a child has not yet reached the formal operational stage, abstract concepts such as algebra may seem like gibberish.

Giving your child a little more time to develop cognitively can make a huge difference.

Use “manipulatives.” Many believe that manipulatives (concrete objects used to teach math concepts) are only for primary students. This is unfortunate, as manipulatives can make difficult math concepts much easier to learn. Once I was ready to learn abstractly, algebra became easy and even fun for me. I even created my own algebra problems and tutored a fellow student. However, I am going to tell you a secret. Are you ready? It wasn’t until I went to a Math-U-See product demonstration at my first homeschool conference that I understood how algebra works! You see, I had learned to solve the problems without ever being taught why the solutions work. When the representative demonstrated how to factor an algebra problem using the company manipulatives, I was stunned to realize that I finally knew why we followed those particular steps to solve that type of problem. Math-U-See has their own set of manipulatives to use for their program, but you can also use Cuisenaire rods, Legos, or a variety of free online printables as well.

Master the basics first. Unlike other subjects that can be learned globally, math needs to be learned sequentially. Because math skills build on each other, it is very important that your child masters earlier concepts before moving on to algebra. If your child isn’t comfortable with multiplication and division, factoring a polynomial will be torture. Take some time to assess your child’s previous math knowledge and fill in any gaps before jumping into algebra.

Two steps forward, one step back is still progress. If you begin algebra with a bang, only to find your student hits a rough patch partway into the course, it’s okay to take a break. Spend some time focusing on those fundamentals again and review any algebra concepts that have already been learned. When my daughter—who had always done fairly well in math—hit a snag, we both found ourselves frustrated and unhappy. Instead of attempting to plow on anyway, I chose to put our math studies in neutral. We spent several months reviewing all of the concepts she had learned up to that point. After a few months, we tried the new material again—and to both of our delight, she not only understood the new material but was able to make up for some of the lost time by doing lessons more quickly than usual. And, better still, she began to enjoy math again.

If algebra is stressing you or your student out, try one—or more—of these ideas. You may find that math isn’t a four-letter word after all.

To read more about Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, you can read my post on HEDUA’s blog:

Originally published at


Charlotte Mason Homeschool Method

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Method

Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the 1800’s. Her education methods went out of style in the modern school movement, but have been revived in recent years and have become popular in the homeschool world.


These are some of the important parts of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy:

  1. Children are born persons; they are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.
  2. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Teachers use the child’s natural environment, disciplining of habits, and the presentation of living ideas in order to teach.
  3. Children learn to write by doing copywork, listening to good literature, giving oral narrations, and eventually writing written narrations and compositions. Students also write from dictation, read by the parent from quality literature.
  4. Lessons are short and pleasant, especially for young students.
  5. Students read “living books,” not “twaddle.” A living book is one that is written by someone who has a passion for the subject and is not condensed or altered. Twaddle would include most contemporary fiction series that talk down and undervalue the intelligence of the child.
  6. Art and music study are important parts of a Charlotte Mason education. Students are taught to enjoy classical music and famous artists in a gentle, natural manner.
  7. Student spend a great deal of time outdoors. Nature study is an important part of the school day.
  8. Handicrafts are taught in a Charlotte Mason school. This can be any number of activities, such as sewing, woodworking, gardening, and drawing.

Here are some examples of curricula and resources that follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education:

2014-2015 in Review


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Crestview Heights Academy School Year in Review 2014-2015Crestview Heights Academy School Year in Review 2014-2015Crestview Heights Academy School Year in Review 2014-2015Crestview Heights Academy School Year in Review 2014-2015

Whew! It is hard to believe how fast this school year has flown! We are almost to the end of our year, and I am deep into planning our next school year. I would have to say that this was one of our best years yet. We got a lot accomplished! And it turned out that high school isn’t so bad after all. Smile

Here are some thoughts and comments on the past year and the curricula that we used:

I have worked hard this year at simplifying and organizing. I have a lot I want to do this summer, but I do have to say that it has made our year easier. I have declutter a lot of extra items and gotten much more organized with regular cleaning chores. My Well Planned Day planner bears testament to the fact that I am using it regularly as well.


We used some favorites this past year and then added some new ones into the mix. As my kids get older, I am learning more and more what works for them. That means that I hit the mark with the curriculum choices more often!


Boo had lessons with my mom, read her Bible, listened to teachings, and went to Bible study each week. We are working her into a more adult-style way of using her faith.

Buddy read from his Bible and worked on AWANA memory verses.


Boo used Applications of Grammar this year. I love this curriculum for her because it is thorough, but easy for me to use. She is my traditional-style schooler, so workbooks are a good fit for her. I put together a literature curriculum for her, and she made it through all of the books. She doesn’t love reading, so that was quite a feat for us! I did allow her to listen to a couple of the books on mp3 from Librivox just to shake things up a bit and make it easier. And she also looked up and defined a number of vocabulary words.

Buddy used All About Reading and All About Spelling again this year. I can’t say enough about this series. His reading has improved dramatically since we started using them. It fits right in with his right-brained, artistic mindset. He also did choice independent reading, and I read aloud several books to him.


Boo used Math-U-See and finished up Pre-Algebra and is working her way quickly through Algebra 1. We took some extra time last year to make sure she had a solid foundation before we got into higher-level math, and that time has shown this year.

Buddy is still doing some Math-U-See as well, but we have moved onto Life of Fred for most of his Math work. The quirky stories fit his learning style very well. I am very happy with this choice and ordered the next few books for next year.


Boo completed Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology from Dr. Jay Wile. With the exception of microorganisms, which is necessary but not really our interest, we loved this book. I worked with her on this one most days, and we both learned so much. We had a lot of fun with the experiments, as well.

Buddy worked through two of Apologia’s Zoology books. He will finish the third one next year. He preferred the land animals one, but had fun with them both. His favorite activity was the candy activity that showed how camouflage works!

Social Studies:

Boo studied World Geography using lessons I created using several books. The base for the study was DK’s Geography of the World book. With tons of full-color photos and information, I felt like she got a really good overview of the world. She also completed maps and did some reading from Operation World. I intended for her to do more hands-on activities, such as cooking and art, but we just ran out of time. I do think those activities would have been helpful in learning about the cultures, though.

Buddy also studied geography, with a brief look at each continent, some map activities, and study in geographical terms. I used books from the library, and the online games Stack the States and Stack the Countries to work with him, too.


Boo worked hard for her music performance credit this year. She had a solo in our church program and sang solos and duets for other events. She has had several years of piano lessons. This year she has begun working on accompanying someone singing for praise and worship.

Buddy had piano lessons and a speaking role in our church program. He also had an art lesson each week and is learning to draw.


Both of my kids spend many hours practicing for ball and playing games. Boo spend some time at the YMCA working out, and both kids do Wii Fit. I am hoping to improve on P.E. next year, because Buddy will be old enough to go upstairs at the Y and  use the treadmills and other machines.


Boo used online programs to learn some Spanish and for Keyboarding. I liked the Keyboarding program, but will add some bookwork in for Spanish 2.


We had a great year at co-op. Both of the kids were in a wonderful poetry class and completed books of their own poems. They also had a creative writing class and wrote short stories. It stretched them both and was fun as well. They also learned some Spanish from the Spanish pastor at the church that hosts co-op. Buddy enjoyed a study on pioneer days. Both kids had choir.

All-in-all, this was a good school year. I am happy with what we accomplished, but I have some goals for next year. I am hoping to have both kids work a little more independently so that working with them one at a time will be easier. And I am hoping to have some more hands-on activities for our studies in World History (Boo) and Ancient History (Buddy). For now, though, we are going to enjoy a summer break and some ball games!

5 Questions to Ask About Electives and Your Middle Schooler



How To Choose Homeschool Electives for Middle School

While core subjects by necessity make up a majority of our day, electives are a very important part of our homeschool curriculum as well. Electives offer students a chance to explore different interests. In our homeschool, we also use them as a way to offer our middle schooler choices. Depending on where you live, you might find yourself overwhelmed with the number of possibilities. Today’s homeschoolers can take advantage of everything from cooking classes to choir to homeschool sports teams. So, how do you choose electives? First, I strongly advise you give your middle school child input, if not complete choice, in his activities. Here are a few other things to consider when choosing elective classes and activities for your middle school student:

1. What types of activities does your child show an interest in or aptitude for? I have one child who has to work hard at reading and another who intensely dislikes math. That is enough struggle for me; I don’t choose outside activities or classes that will need the same level of parent involvement.

2. On the other hand, is there an area where your child really should be stretched? While my daughter doesn’t love public speaking, I felt she needed to be challenged a bit in this area, so we signed her up for a short-term speech class. Rather than a long-term commitment, this short class taught her some important skills without frustrating her.

3. Speaking of skills, which ones do you want your child to learn before leaving home? Do you want her to know basic auto or house repair? Cooking? Sewing and mending?

4. Which classes can you teach or have your child complete at home? Which ones will need an outside class? I am able to teach sewing or cooking to my children, but singing and music need outside help!

5. Do you want to limit the number of outside classes and activities? Even in more rural areas the opportunities for classes, field trips, and other activities can be astounding. If I’m not careful, I can easily overschedule my family. When the possibility for a special class or activity comes along, I carefully evaluate it before I sign up my middle schooler!

Where can you find elective classes?

Now that you’ve thought through these questions, where can you find some great elective classes and activities for your child? Here are some ideas that we, or our friends, have used:

  • First, we utilize our co-op. Each spring we have a planning meeting where families can suggest classes for the following year. I add our wishes to this list, and often I find that others are interested in these classes as well.
  • If it doesn’t work out with our large co-op group (and before one was available in our area), I sometimes team up with one or two other families. We trade off whatever we are skilled in. Because my daughter is able to sing and I am not musical at all, I trade grammar classes for singing lessons.
  • We sign our children up for classes at our local YMCA and take advantage of the summer sports our town offers.
  • Our art center offers a variety of art experiences, including drama opportunities.
  • For classes like auto shop, home repair, and foreign languages, we look to family, church family, or friends. My dad teaches my son mechanical skills, while my mother-in-law showed my daughter how to crochet.

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers. As you consider what electives your middle school student could pursue, enjoy the wealth of possibilities that flexibility allows!

Originally published at

Deal of the Day: Learning Folders


Learning Folders is today’s Deal of the Day at Currclick. This is your chance to save 50% on a great resource for your children.

Learning Folders

Learning folders are part personal dictionary, part almanac, and part encyclopedia.  You can use this eBook to create a personalized learning folder that will meet the needs of each individual child.  This eBook includes a materials list, directions, and learning folder pieces for early childhood, language, math, science, social studies, arts and Bible.

This deal lasts until 10 AM CST tomorrow (5-21-2015).

Are We Done Yet?


Crestview Heights Academy Are We Done Yet?

It’s that time of year again for us. We are finishing up books and the end is in sight! Every homeschool family is different. For some of you, your school year may follow the regular school calendar, like ours does. Others school year-round or follow a different schedule. Still, at some point, you get to the place where your year is DONE!

When I plan out our next school year each spring, I always keep in mind the changing seasons. I know to plan a little lighter around the holidays and in the spring, when we have started ball season and I’m on to planning the next year. But, at some point, we are just DONE. All capital letters. And DONE doesn’t always mean the books are completely finished. Believe me, school teachers across America are DONE in the next few weeks, too, whether the books are finished or not.

So, how do you know if your school year is done?

  • If you or your kids are hanging from the chandelier, your school year may be done.
  • If you can’t stomach the idea of correcting one more paper, you may be done.
  • If the warm spring air is calling your name, you may be done.
  • If you have all of your books, workbooks, worksheets, and every activity you planned for the year complete, you are DEFINITLY done…and probably deserve some kind of medal! Smile

Here’s a truth about schooling in the public or private school: most curriculum is designed to review much of what was learned the year before in the first few weeks of the new school year. And much of what is learned is repeated multiple times before a student graduates. It is okay to take a look at your books and decide what doesn’t need to be completed before you end your year. Is there anything that will be reviewed the next year? And, as homeschoolers, there is no reason we can’t just pick up where we left off in a book the next year. I’ve done that several times with our Math curriculum. For other curricula, I contemplate whether we will miss anything if we don’t finish it.

To be clear, please be sure that you are completing everything the state requires of you. I am not recommending that you ignore your responsibility to educate your children. But if you have completed your requirements and are pressing on to finish a book or list of activities simply to get them done, rethink that plan. Is every chapter, every book, every worksheet or activity really necessary? If not, your school year may simply be DONE.

Hands-On Learning with Field Trips


Homeschooling allows us to provide our children with a unique, tailor-made education. And what better way to provide this than to give our children real-life opportunities to learn? Real-life learning can take many forms, including chores and life skill lessons, jobs, ministry, and apprenticeships. Arguably one of the best methods of real-life learning is taking a field trip. It certainly is one of the most fun!

You can use field trips to add to your curriculum in a number of ways. For example, our family will be taking a road trip this summer from here in the Midwest to sunny California. We decided to take a side trip and visit Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon on the way. Not only will this allow me to check a couple of things off my bucket list, but it will be a great jumpstart to our studies next year. Boo will be studying world history using Exploring World History from Notgrass, and Buddy will be spending the year in ancient history with Ancient Civilizations and the Bible from Diana Waring.

There are many reasons field trips make education more memorable. Field trips:

  1. Can show students a variety of occupations they may be interested in pursuing. Consider a trip to a newspaper office, bank, sports arena, hospital, farm, veterinarian’s office, dentist, or factory, among others.
  2. Allow opportunities for hands-on, interactive learning. Many historical sites have learning experiences, and some have lessons and programs that you can attend. Try historical locations, science museums, and children’s museums.
  3. Give students the ability to see artwork, fossils, and artifacts close up. Even small towns often have local museums, and larger ones will likely have a natural history or art museum.
  4. Show children how and where the government works. Locally, try your police department or city government offices. Consider visiting your country seat or the state capital as well. Many states also have tours of their governor’s mansions. And, if possible, a trip to Washington, D.C. can be a fantastic adventure.
  5. Get you out of a rut. Sometimes we can get bored with just the same old, same old every day. Taking a field trip can breathe life into your school year.
  6. Make a great wrap-up activity. After you have spent some time reading about and studying a topic, taking a field trip can bring the topic to life.

Crestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field Trips

Crestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field Trips

Crestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field TripsCrestview Heights Academy Hands-on Learning with Field Trips

Considering the fact that there are so many fantastic reasons to take a field trip, why don’t you start planning one today?