Learning plans 2009-2010

Last year was challenging (but when is homeschooling not challenging really) because I have always struggled with doing things the “right” way using the Biblical Principle Approach. Actually the BPA is beautifully simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple. Adding a 5yo to my 6th and 3rd graders had me a bit stressed. I wrestled with the idea of individual subjects, of textbooks, of private school. Some health issues have added to my struggle and I wasn’t sure what I could do, much less if I could do what I wanted to do. Then in a conversation with my husband it all fell beautifully into place.

So here are our plans for this year.

Bible: Judah Bible Curriculum (my favorite) and trying to work in some study of the Days of Awe. We are in grade 4.10 of the rotation.

Integrated studies for history, literature, English and geography. I am using a history backbone and we are learning through literature. Lots of great books. I am using Genevieve Foster’s book Abraham Lincoln’s World as a basis for our history and it’s working out great. The time period this year is mainly the 1800′s and we will finish the year with a study of our state’s history. Our overarching Principle for this year is America’s Heritage of Christian Character.

Math: Ray’s and other resources I have to add variety, along with studying a few mathematicians.

Science: tons of experiments from Janice VanCleave’s books. Earth science, oceanography, astronomy, and cytology.

Music: it’s always happening here. Two children take lessons at a local music school and my husband is a musician. We do some extra music games and then we try to have family praise & worship.

Foreign language: the girls want to learn Spanish so we are using The Easy Spanish. It really is easy (gentle lessons).

What will make what we do Biblical Principle Approach? Ask Renae.

Here’s what our weekly schedule looks like:

  • daily: Bible, math and integrated study
  • science, Spanish and art 3 days a week
  • oldest daughter is starting homemaker lessons that she is working on independently
  • I also work with my 5yo on phonics and a few simple things separately

Not complicated, not too much. Mainly reading great literature and learning from books (which is what literature means). I am finally getting to see my dream fulfilled and I am so thankful. (If you note the date on that post you will see how long this process has taken me!) I will try to post more often about how our year is progressing, like I did in my journal’s early years here (feel free to peruse the archives).

If you have written about your home educating plans, please feel free to leave a comment & link to it.

Raising good cooks: part two

Becoming a good cook isn’t about being flashy or complicated. I think the best cooks are a ones with a few simple techniques that they do well. There are some things that will give any cook confidence.

Reading a recipe. Knowing how the recipe will flow helps you be a more confident cook. And also knowing if you have the ingredients/equipment on hand is good to know too.

Knife skills. Learn chopping, dicing, peeling, and the right knife to use.

Measuring. Liquid measuring cups are different than dry measuring cups. They should not be interchanged. Learning the abbreviations for measurements is important too. And how to accurately measure dry ingredients like flour. Math is important here, because you want to try your hand at doubling or tripling recipes or seeing if you have enough of an ingredient on hand.

Greasing and/or flouring pans. Not hard, but useful.

Methods for mixing. Whipping, folding, stirring, etc. are the most basic food preparatory skills.

Reading food labels. Eating healthier begins with knowledge of what you are buying.

Planning a menu. Food choices are fundamental to good cooking.

Culinary lexicon. It is necessary to know terms such as braise, simmer, saute and soft ball. Learning basic terms will make you a better cook because you will know what you need to do.

Equipment. Know what basic tools are and how to use them. These are basic tools like whisks and electric tools like blenders.

Food safety. This is a biggie. Know when food is unsafe, how to store food properly and first aid too (treating burns and cuts, for example).

Cleaning up. Sanitation, or how to properly clean cutting boards, counters, non-stick pans and knives. You may want to include stain treatment/removal.

Next: Part three–the top ten tools to have for a cook’s basic kitchen.

My newest school planning helpers

I just love going to my local used home school store. The woman that runs it is a walking home school catalog. Her knowledge of all the different curricula is staggering. And there is where I happen upon most of my home school loves.

My newest favorite resources are these giant, yet unassuming books. They may not sound like a big deal, but they are–at least they should be.

I am in love with all the Teacher’s Book of Lists books (available at Amazon and other online bookstores). They are worth their weight in gold. Yes you can probably find all the information on the Internet, if you took months, and even then you may not find it all. Why put yourself through that? It’s organized and at your fingertips right in this book. For example, some things included in the comprehensive science book are:

  • plant terminology and classification
  • dyeing procedures (from plant sources)
  • animal classification, reproductive and life cycles
  • major terms of the 10 human body systems
  • determining to mole of a compound
  • balancing chemical equations
  • isotopes of chemical equations
  • classification of energy
  • calculating the specific gravity of a mineral
  • codes for weather symbols
  • classification of stars by color and temperature
  • base two
  • checklists for graphing conventions
  • metric conversions
  • professional publications
  • science fair project information and checklists

And that’s just a few of other over 290 lists. In the literature book you can find 247 lists like vocabulary lists for all sorts of writing; lists by theme, genre and author; lists of award winners and books that have been made into movies. You can search by literary period, find a nice list comparing gods and goddesses and even lists of famous characters.

I think you get the point. You will be so glad you have these books on your lesson plan bookshelf. It is saving me so much time looking up things that I need to grab and move on. These book keep me from getting lost in the details, so I can focus on the principles I want to teach. These lists are great for illustrating principles, gleaning ideas for reading lists and essay questions and for just plain fact-gathering and they cover k-12, so there are no other books to buy (always a winner to me!).

If you prefer integrated studies, these are still valuable. You can use them as project starters, essay fodder and just general resource. Because they are broken down by subject you are able to hone in on just the info you need. You can also see who the subjects intertwine. And you can use them to make mini offices for your kids on any subject. If you aren’t convinced by now, you are a hopeless case. Or you  have another easy source for all this information available at the tum of a page. If you’d like to share a favorite resource, please leave a comment. I’m always curious to know what other moms are using in the homeschooling.

Creating unit studies using the Biblical Principle Approach

Unit studies (which I prefer to call integrated studies) are wonderful. Teaching all the kids all together, planning one stream of lessons for the whole bunch is smart and interesting, and you actually retain more information as you see how it is all connected. However, the thing that always has concerned me is the tendency to focus on facts. It is easy to get caught up in the activities and the topic and lose sight of the beautiful principles that hold it all together. How do you create a unit study that keeps the focus on the principles? Some things to remember:

  1. The overarching principle is the focus of the unit. This is the umbrella for all your lessons.
  2. The leading ideas point to the Principles. They guide your lessons.
  3. Lesson plans come from the leading ideas, which come from the principles.
  4. The facts of the lesson illustrate the principle, much like an illustrated sermon.

So this is it in a nutshell: principle—->leading idea—->lesson

For example, your study on WWII may discuss the Holocaust. Your study may have the overarching principle “God’s Principle of Individuality.” Your lessons could include the leading ideas like, “All men are created in God’s image,” “We are all responsible for our own relationship with God” and “Man has intrinsic value.” Your lessons would be guided from these leading ideas that reinforce the Principle. So your lesson might include studying a concentration camp story, reading up on the third Reich and their ideas that are contrary to the principle or calculating how many people lost their lives.

You could show that even as the prisoners lost their freedom they went to great lengths to maintain their individuality–sharing stories of their heritage, smuggling out personal items,writing stories during and after the horrific events. (It is interesting that the Third Reich went to so much trouble to document the Jews as individuals, taking photos, issuing numbers, keeping meticulous records.) Also there are many inspiring stories like Corrie TenBoom’s biography that are inspiring stories of individuals making a difference in the lives of other individuals during the war. And you can do scripture documentation, key sheets and word studies to complete your study. This is just scratching the surface of course, but I hope it gives you an idea of how an integrated study can work well using Biblical principles.

Do you see how the lessons come alive as you discuss the material in light of Biblical principles? Writing, reading, history, literature and sometimes math and science can be intertwined into a cohesive study that makes sense to all of your students. Have them study some things on their own and then share what they learn with one another. (They learn even more and you didn’t have to teach it yourself!) You will be amazed at what the Holy Spirit can prompt in your children.

It is almost like planning a traditional BPA lesson plan, only you have several subjects together instead of separate. Providential HisStory flows naturally between the subjects because everything has happened at some point in history.

I think the label “integrated studies” makes more sense for BPA families because the subjects are integrated under a principle and not a topic. If you think of them as integrated subjects that can keep you out of the “facts only” unit study ditch.

While this isn’t the only way to create an integrated BPA study, it’s the way that makes sense to me and I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining myself. Thoughts? Ideas? Please leave a comment.

Thoughts concerning unit studies

I am not crazy about the term “unit study.” I much prefer “integrated study” but it’s really just semantics, so for the sake of the search engines I will use unit study here.

As I was considering again this whole idea of unit study, related to Principle Approach and most importantly to my little lambs, I had some thoughts. Unit studies can be enjoyable. They can also take over your life. If you are not careful they, like anything else out of balance, suck every ounce of enjoyment out of education. I came up with a list of things I am printing out to keep in my teacher’s notebook concerning this.

Education is not about the activities but about the learning. More activities does not equal more learning. Simple is almost always better.

I want my unit studies to be:

  • not fun, but interesting (Ps. 16:11, Prov. 2:10, Ps. 145:18, 19)
  • not complicated, but complete (Mt. 11:29, Job 37:16, 2 Tim. 3:16)
  • not only temporal, but eternal (2 Cor. 4:18, Eph. 5:15-17)
  • not fact-based, but based on Biblical principles  (Is. 28:10,13; Ps. 119:40,94)
  • not standard issue but customized (Prov. 22:6)

When my plans are led by the Holy Spirit and based on the Word of God, they will do all of that and more.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Is 55:11

Blessing our home–week 1

Well I’m late with a recap because I have been pretty ill with a respiratory thing. Here’s what we did last week in our unit on homekeeping.

  • We defined keeping home. We looked up scriptures and discussed things needed to keep home–diligence, organization, etc. We discussed what it means to “bless” your home. 
  • We learned about the history of cleaning through the ages with Cleaning the House by John Mala and 300 Years of Housekeeping Collectibles by Linda Franklin.
    We drew our unhappy (messy home). We will finish the unit with drawing a happy (clean home).
  • We read several cleaning books: Five Little Monkeys with Nothing to Do, In a Minute!, Spring Cleaning, Boo and Baa on a Cleaning Spree and Home Tools among them.
  • We are coloring a picture each day from Doorposts’ coloring book on Psalm 31.
  • We memorized Psalm 31:10.
  • We made a kid-safe cleaning solution with baking soda, Borax and water. Now they have a special spray they like to use.
  • They did worksheets for math. 
  • And more…

It was a fun week. We learned a lot about cleaning and God’s idea of home keeping and blessing. This week we will continue, but my health has put things on a bit of a hold so far. We will start to work on a schedule and lots more that I will post next week.

Coming home

In my last post I talked about the latest turn in my journey. I am venturing into unit studies and already I am more at home than I have ever been as a home educator. I have come home in more ways than one.

You may be surprised to learn about the topic of my first unit study. It is home keeping. You read right. (It is called home education, right?) That may seem a strange place to start, but you haven’t been to my house. It is a struggle for all of us to stay organized and orderly and it stops here. Now. Here is a snapshot of how this will work at our house.

We will begin with God’s design for women, using a concordance and Webster’s 1828 dictionary. We will also see how God intends for us to live, as children of God. We will note principles, such as God’s orderly nature, God’s Principle of Individuality and Christian self-government. These principles will be the over-arching themes throughout this study. They will reason from God’s Word for themselves what their unique roles as children and as young women are, liberating them to be what God intended.

Once the foundation has been laid and they know why we need to keep a neat home, we will move to the how. This will be things like the history of cleaning around the world, lots of children’s books (fiction and non-fiction) about the topic, samples from literature like Little House on the Prairie. We will mix our own kid-safe cleaning solutions, sew aprons, create charts, estimate task times, and by the end of the month we will have created a chart to keep a neat home together.

After this month is done, we will continue this training. Each Monday will be a sort of “Home Economics” day. We will learn all the things it takes to manage a home well, and do it with Joy. This will include meal preparation and food safety, sewing, cleaning skills, budgeting, shopping and making menus and time management. The other four days will fall into our usual lesson routine. As my son grows older we will teach him these things as well, along with some “manly things” that he will need to know.

It seems strange to say, but I am so excited to realize that it’s okay to teach my kids what I think they should know in this area, and that it can be a part of learning, just as math or history. So I feel the liberty to learn along with them as we start this new life–at home. I hope you will follow along and offer any insight you may have.

Realizing a dream

In this post I said that as a home educator I hope you are always evaluating what works. To me this is one of the best things about what we do. We are free to try new things and evaluate what works–and what doesn’t. For us a struggle has been the whole idea of separate subjects. I understand that the BPA philosophy keeps the subjects separate so they retain their distinctiveness. They have a reason for the traditional “school” model and I have no problem with that, in general. However it has not ever worked so great in my home. (see Dee’s post on BPA unit studies)

So I was at my local used homeschool bookstore the other day when I came across a book that describes how to create your own unit studies. A bell went off. I have wanted to do unit studies since my oldest was in K (we even used FIAR before moving to BPA). My heart leapt. Could I really do unit studies with BPA? I never really thought I could, so I kept on with what I knew. It was great and things were pretty good, but something was missing.

Now that I have added my 5dd, I really want our lessons to be interesting and educational and engaging. I want them both (and my ds as well) to love learning. (see this post) The best times we have had were little types of unit studies, with Benjamin West and other topics that I sort of tied together.

But the rest of the time has been “regular”. It was not making me happy as a teacher. I do not want to focus on academics per se, but on the rudiments, the first things to know. What we have been doing is not really engaging, at least for us. Everything is disjointed and unrelated. So I took the unit study book home and looked at it. I was so glad I did!

As I read through it a light bulb came on, I realized that BPA and unit studies are very compatible. Here are some reasons why:

  • unity with diversity: subjects flow together naturally, nurturing a love of learning, but still distinctive.
  • As the child grows, they are able to see the 4-R’s process more clearly, so they are able to move to independent study naturally.
  • You are able to relate a principle to the whole topic, as well as to individual subject, so it will flow well.
  • Personally, I believe that this method is more like real life. They can master the subjects as they relate to one another, as opposed to disconnected “boxes” of subjects.

These were my two dreams in educating my children: BPA and to use  unit studies to do that. Now I can do both. Praise to God for the journey I am on. Each step I have taken has led me to the next. I don’t regret anything I have done to this point because each was a necessary step to get me here.

In my next post I will go into detail about our first unit study, which may surprise you.

Charles Willson Peale


Charles Willson Peale


We are studying Peale for the next two weeks. I was fascinated with him. He accomplished many things and led an intriguing life. Among the many things I discovered: He learned saddlemaking, painting, metalwork among other things. He was friends with many of the founding fathers and as a patriot bravely fought in the Revolutionary War. He had 17 children, 11 of whom lived (most of them he named after artists) and held the controversial position that a woman could be as creatively expressive as a man. He started the first natural science museums, a revolutionary idea for his time. He loved his family and his country. Here is how I developed our studies.I searched my library for resources and came across these (there are many more, including an autobiography on microfiche):

  • The Ingenious Mr. Peale: Painter, Patriot and Man of Science by Janet Wilson
  • This biography is short (120 pp. or so) but thorough. It gave me enough information to flesh out his life without getting bogged down in a lot of unnecessary information.
  • Mermaids, Mummies and Mastodons: The Emergence of the American Museum published by the American Association of Museums Has an interesting timeline that documents the items procured for the different museums . Also contains sketches by his sons detailing the museums’ interiors.
  • The Joke’s on George by Michael O. Tunnell This is a children’s book detailing an true and funny incident when George Washington came to visit Peale at his museum in Philadelphia. This book really got me started on studying him more in-depth.

I also found more info on Peale online.

I discovered that one of my local museums also had some of his work. That was very exciting to me!

First I read through the biography of Peale and made notes on the following (according the the study outline in Dr. Rose’s Guide): Key People in Peale’s life, Key Events (in the form of a timeline), Key Institutions and Key Documents. I also kept a list of his character traits and insights as I went along.

From there I looked up key words in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary and then looked up those words in the Bible to discover the Principles I need to discuss. After I had done all of this I assembled samples of his work and then I felt I had a good grasp on just who Charles Willson Peale was.

All of this information helped me formulate my weekly plans. We will incorporate Peale in every subject these two weeks. Some things we have planned are:

  • history study of his life.
  • field trip to the Gilcrease Museum to see his work up close.
  • creating a terrarium for science to study nature as Peale did in his own garden at Belfield.
  • creating our own living history museum, complete with stuffed animals and local flora and fauna.
  • We may “sell” tickets to family to come and tour our museum and see our hard work.
  • Coloring pages, definitions and other examples of Gabrielle’s work to file in her notebook. We will keep track of the four keys that we discover in our studies and document and color them.
  • Copying Peale’s art and discussing his influences and the attributes of his work
  • We will still work on handwriting and mathematics each day and try to fit it with Peale as we can.

This is just to give you an idea of how PA works for me. We won’t study in this way every time, that is, one single topic. I will begin to develop lessons in unit study fashion according to the Links on the Chain of Christianity. What I mean is we will study art, history, science and the other subjects that fit along the same link.