Category Archives: Help for Newbies

6 Ideas for Nature Study in the Winter



The first dusting of snow fell last week, and today we have gotten several inches of the white stuff. My middle-school-aged son and I have been studying animals in science this year, so we are gearing up to have some fun with nature study in the winter. We have our bird feeders set out where we can see them from the warmth of the kitchen, and I am planning a hike or two as soon as it warms up just a tad. While spring and summer may seem like the optimum months for nature study, winter can be enjoyable, too.

Here are a few ways we enjoy nature study even when the temperature plummets outside:

  1. We put up bird feeders and keep a record of which birds visit our yard. We also like to experiment with different types of bird seed and feeders, to see which ones attract more birds. Right now, we have a clean vegetable oil bottle filled with regular bird seed and a suet basket.
  2. We check out animal tracks and compare them to our animal tracks guidebook to see if we can identify the animal that made each one. We see a lot of rabbit tracks in our neighborhood!
  3. Some years, we enjoy making temperature and precipitation graphs. We had so little snow last year that it wasn’t much fun, but we are off to a good start already this year.
  4. When it isn’t too cold out, we like using my son’s telescope to study the stars. We compare the stars that we can see in the winter to those that we normally see in the summer.
  5. We combine nature study and art by drawing winter landscapes. This is especially fun when we can take a trip to the lake and watch the geese on the water and the snow on the trees before we draw.
  6. When it is just too cold to consider going outside at all, sometimes we curl up with a good book about hibernation and stay indoors!

While it may take a little more planning — and a lot more clothing! — to do nature study in the winter, we feel it is worth it. With the fresh air, the peacefulness of being outdoors in the cold, and the different items to study, we have come to greet the first weeks of winter nature study like a long lost friend.

What nature discoveries have you found this winter?

Originally published at


Expanding Your Child’s Writing



How to Get Started With 4 Common Types of Writing

While not every child is destined to become a famous-or infamous-writer, everyone needs to write in a variety of writing typesduring his or her lifetime. From letters to speeches to reports, it is important to expose our children to a variety of types of writing. Here are descriptions and examples of four common types of writing: narrative, expository, persuasive, and descriptive, as well as some tips for getting started in teaching each style to expand your child’s writing.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing tells a story based on a real or imagined event. Its purpose is to entertain. The primary goal of narrative writing is to relate a series of events. Narrative writing needs descriptive language and imagery to tell the story, in order to hold the reader’s interest.

Examples of Narrative Writing

  • Autobiographies
  • Biographies
  • Creative writing
  • Fiction
  • Epics
  • Epic poems
  • Fables
  • Fantasies
  • Folk tales
  • Historical fiction
  • Legends
  • Myths
  • Novels
  • Parables
  • Plays
  • Realistic fiction
  • Short stories
  • Tall tales
  • TV show scripts

Tips for Teaching Narrative Writing

Read a large variety of narrative writing to your child.

Have your child tell a story about an event that is meaningful to him or her.

Write down the five senses and ask your student describe aspects of the story that he or she can see, feel, smell, hear, or taste.

Ask your student to write details that make a word picture for the reader.

Have your child write a response to a piece of narrative writing, such as rewriting the story from another character’s point of view.

Use photographs as writing prompts.

Expository Writing

Expository writing is used to explain, describe, and inform. It requires strong organization in a logical order or sequence and often includes facts and figures. Expository writing is often formal, and casual language and slang is usually unacceptable in this type of writing. It does not contain personal opinions, but merely states facts.

Examples of Expository Writing

  • Blogs
  • Brochures
  • Business letters
  • Character analysis
  • Contracts
  • Diaries
  • Dissertations
  • Editorials
  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Flyers
  • Newscasts
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Pamphlets
  • Policy manuals
  • Reports
  • Reviews
  • Speeches
  • Term papers
  • Text books
  • User manuals
  • Web pages

Tips for Teaching Expository Writing

Teach your child to organize his or her writing, perhaps using graphic organizers or outlining.

Read good quality expository writing to your child.

Ask your child to write about what he or she knows.

Begin by having your child write instructions or simple descriptions, such as how to make a sandwich.

Have your child write a comparison between two items.

Practice writing cause and effect pieces.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing contains the opinions, biases, and justifications of the writer. It is used to persuade the reader to accept the author’s point of view, or to call the reader to action based on the writer’s opinions. Persuasive writing relies on specific details and examples for support, but does not rely on fact.

Examples of Persuasive Writing

  • Advertising
  • Book reports
  • Debates
  • Historical analysis
  • Letters to the editor
  • Literary analysis
  • Newspaper columns
  • Research papers

Tips for Teaching Persuasive Writing

Read a variety of persuasive writing, discussing the viewpoint and motivation of the author.

Discuss the difference between fact and opinion. Ask your child to label statements as fact or opinion.

Have your child write an imaginary letter to the editor on a current topic or interest.

After reading a piece of persuasive writing, ask your child to offer counterarguments to the author’s position. Then ask him or her to refute the counterargument.

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing focuses on describing a character, event, or place in great detail. It can be poetic in nature. The purpose of descriptive writing is both to inform and entertain. It attempts to evoke emotions. Descriptive writing might be used within any of the other three types of writing.

Examples of Descriptive Writing

  • Character sketches
  • Journal writing
  • Personal experiences
  • Poetry
  • Stories

Tips for Teaching Descriptive Writing

Read good quality descriptive writing to your child.

Read a plain sentence to your child. Then read the same sentence, but with a variety of descriptive words added. Discuss which one makes a better word picture.

Read descriptions in riddle form, and ask your child what the author is describing.

Create lists of descriptive adjectives and adverbs.

Blindfold your child, then have him or her describe items without using their eyes.

Take a nature walk, asking your child to use all of his or her senses when describing the experience.

Have your child look at the world from other points of view, such as from the top floor of a building or standing on a chair.

Exposing your child to a variety of writing can be a fun and educational experience for you both. What are some ways that you expand your children’s writing skills?

Originally published at

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

9 Ideas for Involving Dad in Homeschooling



How do you involve Dad in homeschooling?

While homeschooling certainly isn’t a gender-specific occupation, in many of the families that we know, the mom has the lion’s share of the responsibility for homeschooling. My husband’s occupation makes this necessary in our home, but it also has the unintended consequence of his being left out of a good amount of our day. Early on in our homeschooling, we began making a conscious effort to include him as much as possible.

Here are some strategies for involving Dad in homeschooling that we have used over the years:

Show and Tell. After my husband has had some time to change his clothes and move out of “work mode,” I encourage my children to show off some of their work from the day, especially if we have done a special activity. Art projects, science experiments, handwriting pages, and new reading material are all fun to show dad.

Supper Time Chat. My husband often spends part of our supper hour chatting with the kids about what they have learned during the day. He also enjoys quizzing them on spelling words or math problems. The children enjoy telling him about what they are reading as well, narrating Charlotte Mason-style.

Field Trips. We plan educational family trips for days that my husband is home from work. When possible, he also takes work off to attend field trips our co-op group takes as well.

Homeschool Activities. Our local co-op plans a variety of family activities throughout the year, such as a hay rack ride in the fall and a talent show in the spring. My husband makes every effort to attend these events. Not only are they fun for our whole family, but when we tell about this person or that at co-op, he knows who we are talking about.

Texts, E-mails, or Notes. When the kids were younger, and especially as they were learning to read, my husband would often leave them notes before he left for work. As they’ve gotten older, these have morphed into e-mails and texts as well. He encourages them to be diligent in their schoolwork and to obey mom, as well as letting them know he is thinking about them during the day.

Co-op Visit. We attend afternoon co-op classes once a week during the school year. My husband takes one afternoon off a year and visits our kids at co-op. They love having him there, and it gives him a better idea of what we are working on.

Dad-Friendly Classes. While my husband doesn’t teach any of our core classes, he does occasionally teach some elective ones. For example, he has given lessons in gun safety, carpentry, weight-lifting, and baseball.

Read-Aloud. Reading aloud in the evening, especially during the winter, has been a wonderful way to include dad in our homeschooling. (Tweet this!) My husband especially likes reading books to the kids that he enjoyed as a child, such as The Hobbit,Where the Sidewalk Ends, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Sports Activities. My husband works with our children on sports activities. Both of our children play competitive ball (softball and baseball). He spends time teaching them fundamentals, has coached their teams, and attends games.

While it takes some effort and time on both of our parts, including my husband in our homeschooling world has been well worth it.

What ways do you involve Dad in homeschooling at your house? Share your tips with us!

Originally published on

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.

Clean Your Plate: When Enough is Enough


There are starving children in Africa! In years past it was common for parents to encourage their children to eat everything on their plates, regardless of hunger. As more and more attention has been focused on childhood obesity, “clean your plate” is a phrase I hear less and less. Parents are encouraging their children to eat only until they are full.

Clean Your Plate When Enough is Enough Crestview Heights Academy

This analogy can be applied to homeschooling, too. Many curricula include page after page of practice problems. And well-meaning homeschool parents, who want to be diligent in educating their children, believe that it is necessary for a child to do EVERY SINGLE ONE of those problems. That simply just isn’t true. The same way that a child does not need to clear her plate in order to satisfy her hunger, a child does not necessarily need to do every single problem or answer every single question on a worksheet in order to fully understand a concept.

How do you know when enough is enough? Here are a couple of ways that I decide when it’s time to stop and move on, rather than continue to have my children complete problems or answer question:

  • Has she answered the last five questions correctly without hesitation or help?
  • Can he explain how to do a problem in his own words or teach the concept back to you or someone else?

So, when we are confronted with a page of 50 problems, what do I do? Sometimes I have my children complete the first few and then stop. Other times I have them complete all of the odd or even problems. But making a child continue to work problems long after he has mastered the process is not only a waste of time, it can make learning a drudgery rather than the delight that it should be.

Next time you find yourself assigning a huge amount of problems, consider whether your child really needs to “clean his plate” or if a few bites might just be enough.

Top 10 Reasons I Love Lapbooking


Crestview Heights Academy Top 10 Reasons I Love Lapbooking

10 Things to Love about Lapbooking

Lapbooks have become increasingly popular in the homeschool world. In case you have never heard of a lapbook, it is a hands-on learning tool made of two or more file folders attached and folded. Students create a variety of booklets, graphs, charts, and other items with information about a topic they are studying. Students then attach these items to the lapbook base. As lapbooks have increased in popularity a number of companies have begun creating lapbooking kits to give busy homeschool parents a jump start on creating their lapbooks.


Families use lapbooks in a variety of ways. I know some families that use one for nearly every topic they study and others, like us, who use them occasionally to add some fun to our homeschool routine.

While lapbooks may not be a good choice for every family, here are my top ten reasons that I love using them in our homeschool:

  1. Lapbooks provide hands-on, meaningful learning experiences that help my children remember what they have studied.
  2. Graphic organizers are a great way to help kids learn information  and lapbooks are, in essence, giant graphic organizers. Students can organize their lapbooks to be meaningful to them.
  3. My children enjoy looking at previously completed lapbooks, which helps them review and retain what they have learned.
  4. Lapbooks serve as references. My children often use their lapbooks to look up previously recorded information, such as animal classification or leaf identification, when they need to answer a question. They also use their lapbooks as references for writing projects.
  5. Because we use a literature-based curriculum, I spend a lot of our school day reading aloud. Making a lapbook gives my voice a rest.
  6. The same lapbook can be used with a variety of ages and ability levels. One child can carefully do his own writing while another draws pictures or dictates her sentences to an adult or older child.
  7. Lapbooks offer an opportunity to be creative. You can put your lapbook together in any way that you choose.
  8. We can cover some of those “arts-and-crafts” skills at the same time we learn about history, science, or geography.
  9. A lapbook allows us to show daddy-or grandma and grandpa-what we have been learning.
  10. Lapbooks are fun!

Originally published at