The Nuts and Bolts of Education.

So. Yesterday in my tiny moment of impressedness with myself for a change, I had a fantastic fail – caught by the first commenter (and then everyone else all day long.) I snickered about it over and over. Did you catch it?


Yeah. It’s 2016-2017, Rachel.

Clearly I’m qualified to teach children.

So on that note, shall we talk about what Kindergarten and Fourth Grade will look like this year?

Noah’s Curriculum:

For Kindergarten, let’s admit that unless you’re either super Classical, super hands-on, or super crunchy, all books are pretty much the same. And, since I’m none of those and very much a workbook kind of mom, I set out to find ones he would be interested in. And oh, boy, did I succeed in my endeavors.


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My little Darth Vader (he wears his Darth costume at least five times a day, and I do mean five times a day because he has to take it off every time he has to pee – thanks, Party City costume engineers) could NOT have been happier about his Star Wars Curriculum. He literally squealed when he saw his workbooks.


They’re made by the BrainQuest people, and I love their work. They currently make preschool through second grade (maybe they’ll have high school books by the time we get there), and they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to motivate stubborn little boys.

On his first day, Noah happily did several pages, then stopped abruptly and said, “OH – I need to stretch!”

Stretching During School

I always encourage good stretching habits. Even in the middle of Phonics.

I also found a bunch of free printable math worksheets in his other interests, Lego and Minecraft, and he was a pretty big fan of these, too – especially the Lego ones.


There were only a couple of these printables, so we quickly moved on to making our own.


He liked this better, because after he finished, he could make something out of the Lego.

For instance, the above math sheet, once finished, was built into a duck…


In the middle of the act of pooping. Beige Lego-Brick Turds.


EDUCATION, PEOPLE. It isn’t always pretty.

Since he enjoyed the Lego format of math so much, I bought him a storage clipboard to keep a special reserve of math Lego in.


I put some in the pencil holder and more in the body of the clipboard. He was so excited about this new asset that he made himself a math sheet first thing Saturday morning.

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Another thing I’m doing with him is finally trying to teach him his states in the same manner that I taught Ali when she was two:

This is my most viewed YouTube Video, and although Ali is ADORABLE and totally deserves the views, I feel ever-so-slightly guilty about it since I now know that her level of focus and memorization is not attainable by every kid at the age of two – including the subject’s own brother (we tried. Really.)

So, for any mothers out there that felt less-than when they couldn’t produce the same results, please know that Noah is five and a half and didn’t know the state of Alabama when we looked at this map last week. So yeah. Sorry about that.

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But even so, he enjoyed learning, and enjoyed the marshmallows even more, so maybe by the time he’s six, he’ll be up to speed with his sister when she was two.

For handwriting, we’ll be using the Star Wars Writing Book along with Handwriting Without Tears. He especially likes their chalkboard – who cares if he’s using the lines all wrong? It’s without tears – that’s the important part.


And for reading, I’ve got half a dozen different curriculums. I’m going to try them all until one sticks – because I don’t know what will motivate him – yet.

Ali’s Curriculum:

Ali is using several new books this year, and a few continued publishers from prior years. We’re still doing BJU English and Reading, but dropped BJU Math and will be attempting to transition to Saxon Math.

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We used Apologia for science last year (Astronomy) and she really enjoyed it, so we’re using their Botany series this year. Ali loves our hikes and adventures, so Botany should be a really fun study for her.

Exploring Creation with Botany

(After our first lesson we were inspired to make our Sam’s shopping list using taxonomy and binomial nomenclature, so I am giving it an early A+.)

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I’m also trying Apologia Bible. I’ve failed in the past at actually using a curriculum for Bible, so we’ll see how I do this year.

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(The coloring book is Noah’s – coloring books always help with attention span.)

We’re nearly through book one of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga for read-aloud (continued from last year), and it is so fantastic.

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And our super all-encompassing subject this year is Alabama History – but since I’m creating it from scratch, it’ll be another post on its own (or series of posts.)


You are invited to follow along with us this year, or if you want to wait until after we actually complete it, I hope to be able to share an organized and easy-to-follow hands-on curriculum. But more about that in my next post…and then I swear, I’ll stop it with the homeschool posts for a minute.

A Rare Motivation.

Last week, we did something I have constantly said I’d never do.

We started school in early August.

I’m just as shocked as you are. First of all, why would we do that? We homeschool so we should start school when God designed for school to start – after Labor Day. But more importantly, even if I did somehow feel the desire to start early, I’d never be ready for it, because I cannot think about school during the summer.

But somehow, this year, I found myself with approximately 65% of the motivation that I have always envied in more dedicated homeschool moms (I usually have around 8%.) I was regularly searching Pinterest for worksheets and ideas. I spent an entire car trip creating an Alabama History spreadsheet – with a plan for the entire school year (more on that later this week.) I’d bought all my books by July. I’d spent two days rearranging my school room (formerly known as dining room.) And for some reason, I was actually excited about starting.

And furthermore, my excitement rubbed off on the children. And they both asked if we could please start school early.

So last Tuesday night, we returned to the place where we had our end-of-school family meeting, The Clock Tower, for a beginning-of-school family meeting. Chris got a bit sentimental, imagining that if we kept The Clock Tower as the location for all important family talks, one day Ali was going to ask us to meet her at the clock tower to tell us we were going to be grandparents.

As he wiped a fake tear away, I told him he was getting WAY ahead of himself and to please focus.

We reviewed the new rules for the new school year – bedtimes, iPad limits, rewards systems, and a strong encouragement to Noah to please, for the LOVE, participate in the act of education this year.

And the next morning, we got up, bright-eyed and ready to learn.


Okay not everyone was immediately bright-eyed.


But even he couldn’t deny the excitement of true, legit Kindergarten status.


And, shockingly, Noah was quite participatory for the first three days of school. Ali actually struggled – not with school, but with emotions and not feeling as excited – totally out of character for her. I finally realized that the transition from Mom-Who-Doesn’t-Have-To-Parent-Her-Much to Teacher-Who-Reminds-Her-Constantly-To-Write-Neatly-And-Leave-Spaces-Between-Words can be painful to her perfectionist psyche.

Hopefully she’ll be used to the new me – and realize that she’s not in trouble for leaving too little spaces between words – by next week.


Which brings us to the importance of a good rewards system.

I’ve been using the same rewards sheet the past few years, so I decided I needed something new, fresh, and more motivating. So I found a site online that had created Lego Bucks, so I printed and laminated a bunch.


I asked the kids and Chris to please make me a banking system for my bucks, OBVIOUSLY out of Lego.


The middle is the bank, the left is Ali’s account, and the right is Noah’s. The characters are the security guards. They’re doing a fantastic job. So far.

Ali earns her bucks by being neat and thorough, not rushing to get through her work but doing it with excellence (the girl takes after her Mama and loves to wake up early and finish school before I get out of bed. Although I appreciate her drive, I also need her to slow down and learn well.)

Noah earns his bucks by being participatory, obedient, and not whiny during school – a feat indeed.

I haven’t created the prize redemption sheet yet, but it’s sure to include candy, treats, and Doodle’s Ice Cream trips. But just the promise of prizes is enough at this point, so I’m milking that for at least two weeks.

One of the problems we had last year was Ali’s frustration and inability to focus when I was working with Noah. So this year, I bought her some noise-canceling headphones. Although they don’t block all noise, they seem to be blocking enough to be successful in their mission.

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As for me, I’m using my same homemade lesson planners, tweaked and doubled now to account for Noah’s differing subjects. Clearly they need more tweaking, as I LEFT THE READING CATEGORY OFF OF NOAH’S for week one. Geez I’m the worst.

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I’m giving Ali “Independent assignments” so that she can still do some things on her own time, and so that it separates what we’re going to do together so that she doesn’t get ahead of me. And she, like any red-blooded woman, LOVES to have her own checklist to feel accomplished and in general amazing.


As for me feeling amazing, I’ve found that a Magazine Organizer is imperative to not having papers and files strewn all over my house.


This stays on my table and holds completed work, future worksheets, paper, lined paper, and more. It’s like my own little secretary.

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As for what specifically we’re covering in school this year, I’ll share later this week. I’ve found some fun stuff, some boring stuff, and some very, very ambitious stuff…so we’ll see if my rare motivation lasts. Until at least February.

The Tale of Bugtussle.

This Giant Tabby Cat is the only photo I have from that rental house. It was the only photo I dared take.


But I do have the memories.

It was a Girl’s Trip last year – myself and three other moms.

I drove up first, along with one of my friends, who was quite pregnant at the time. The directions to get to the house, which happened to be way too near a town named Bugtussle for comfort, included many county roads, unmarked roads, strange landmarks, and an all caps “CALL ME” when you reach a certain point.

We made the call, rather unsure as to why, in fact, we needed to make this call. But he told us, in an Irish accent, that he would meet us <somewhere that I couldn’t understand due to his thick tongue.>

Wait. There are Irish people in Bugtussle?

Or was that a fake accent?

(I tend to assume all Irish accents are fake because I once worked with a fake Irishman who turned out to be a con man.)

Due to my inability to dissect what he said, I waited at the wrong place. He called back. “Where are ye?? I’m here waitin’ on ya!!”

Finally, we found him – in a beat-up Gator (think golf cart on rural Alabama steroids), wearing cut-off shorts and exceptionally muddy knee-high rubber boots, sporting a bit of a mullet and an arm around the massive dog in the passenger seat.

It was the least Irish ensemble I’d ever seen.

He saw us and waved for us to follow.

There was an extremely long tree-trimmer blade hanging out of the back of the gator, bouncing along and creating sparks as he drove on the gravel road. We looked at each other, wondering if this was intentional, praying that it didn’t fly off and smash my windshield.

He drove us to the rental house, hopped out of the cart, noticed the now beat-up blade, cursed at it, then shook our hands and said, “Let me give ye a tour of the house.”

This is not common. I have actually never met a VRBO owner. And the fact that we were down more no-name roads than I could count at a tiny lake inlet where there were no witnesses made it all the more Murder Mysteryesque.

But what were we to do except follow him, and his muddy waders, AND HIS BARKING DOGS (massive dog had now been joined by yipping tiny dog), into the house.

He felt the need to point out every appliance. And ceiling fan. And tell us that he installed them himself. He was also compelled to point out every dent and non-working appliance that “redneck guests” had added to his house. He continued to rail against rednecks, as he raked his hands through his mullet, stomped his knee-high muddy boots (which looked AWESOME with the cut-off shorts), and let his dogs bound through the rental house.

When we made it to the master bedroom, he caught a glimpse of my friend’s pregnant belly and decided it needed to be rubbed. Vigorously. While saying “eh, that’s a big boy in there!!”

After the excruciating tour, we made it back to the kitchen. I said, “Oh – you didn’t give us the keys?”

He looked confused. “Keys? We don’t use keys out here. Ye won’t need one.”

“But…if we go out to dinner?”

“Eh, just leave it unlocked. No one will mess with ye.”

My friend and I very conscientiously locked ourselves into the house and retreated to the upstairs living room, a bit wide-eyed and worried about our future.

Until ten minutes later, when we heard a knock.

I went back down the stairs, and there he was again.

“Did ye bring a lot of booze this weekend?”

I stared.  ….is he asking to party with us? Or is this some sort of weird trap to see if we’re going to further “redneck” up his house?

He finished the thought.

“There’s ice in the shed back there if ye need it for your beer.”

“Um, no – we didn’t bring any alcohol. Thanks…”

“WHAT?! Ye didn’t bring any alcohol?!”

“Well, you saw my friend is pregnant…”

“YEAH! But YEER not!” He jabbed toward my belly.

“I’m good, thanks…”

“Okay, well there’s ice in the shed if ye need it.”


And, I know that this comes as a shock, but we did not get murdered that weekend.