Thursday, October 8, 2015

3 Things They CAN Do On Their Own

Doing on their own is a glorious moment for parents and children. 

Parents welcome the growing independence (well, for the most part) and children gain confidence and a sense of contribution. 

With eight very different children, adult to infant, we have experienced these milestones at varying times. There have been no two identical developmental time tables. Yes, there are milestone guidelines, but what takes one four-year-old child six months to practice and master may take another three weeks. Both four year olds achieved the milestone, but with different processes and progress. That is the beauty of life, unique and individual.

With all their distinctive characteristics, there are wonderful ways these littles could be independent, work on their own, with some guidance and forethought from us.

One- They can process and participate in decisions. 

In doing so they can independence and confidence, two important aspects of future growth and development. Participation in decisions also gives them age appropriate control, again important to growth. Participation in decisions also gives them opportunity to gain important life skills: cause and effect, collaboration, cooperation, and conversation. 

Two- They can be a part of the family helping team. 

Just as processing and participating in decisions, children gain independence and confidence when they realize they can contribute to a cause bigger than one person can manage. They realize their contribution makes a difference in others lives. Setting the table, gathering and emptying smaller trash cans into one large one, folding laundry, watering flowerbeds, washing a car, and many other life skills. Our family members have come to realize, when we work together, completion and care are quicker and there is more time for play and entertainment. Children thrive when they feel like a part of a bigger team effort; they feel a sense of camaraderie and community life skills which will later be used outside the family unit.

Three - They can care for many of their physical needs

Tooth brushing, putting dirty dinner plate in the dishwasher, placing shoes by the front door, replacing borrowed library items to a library bin, putting laundry away; these are all practical ways littles can care for themselves. If parents repeatedly do for the child what he can do for himself, self-governance and responsibility will be delayed. Delayed too long has huge life impacting consequences. 

An older, wiser mom once told me, "You are supposed be working yourself out of job!" 

Yep, I have, and I am. It is hard work, but a work worth the effort, many times over.

Littles (and not so littles) are very capable of doing for themselves. When I allow them, they can say, "I CAN!" with confidence which perpetuates ingenuity and  fosters responsibility; three vital life skills children need in their life tool box. What begins with putting away laundry and brushing teeth progresses to driving a car, building a marriage, and eventually parenting another generation. 

 It is hard work, but a work worth the effort, many times over.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writing Paragraphs for Little Learners

Paragraph writing can be intimidating, especially for little learners just beginning the writing journey. 

Over twenty-eight years I have tried numerous ways to teach paragraph writing. Depending on the learning style and motivation, some methods have been more successful than others.

What have we used?

Our recent success involved colors and glue. Yes, the creative, crafty, visual learner.

First, said learner narrated her paragraph to me. She spoke, I wrote. The paragraph was of interest, her topic choice. In fact, it was her idea.

This is often the most important initial step toward writing success: the content must be intriguing, something that matters to the learner. 

After she narrated her paragraph and I wrote the words neatly on lined paper, we discussed what a sentence was and why each sentence was important to the paragraph. The first sentence pulls the reader in, the last sentence wraps up or concludes. We also discussed punctuation.

I drew a black line after each sentence, a stop sign.

She selected construction paper; the number of colors dependent on the number of sentences.

The next step of her writing was to write one sentence on each color. After writing each sentence, she placed the sentences in paragraph order. This step was important as one of the sentences was better placed toward the end of the paragraph. With one sentence per color we could easily change the order of the sentences.

Once sentence order was finalized, she glued the edges. Done! She reread her paragraph and then proudly displayed on Dad's side of the table, waiting for him to arrive home from work.

Success! She walked away confident about the process and eager to share learning with others.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Torn Paper Rainbows

"Cheryl, take the kids out to see the double rainbow!" 
Mom called, encouraged.

Out we went. Raindrops continued to fall. 
Sun brilliantly overcoming wet shadows. 

Children and I look up, mesmerized, awed!

Like a fresh watercolor. Radiant.

Learning moment launched.

"I want to make a rainbow!"

Pulling from my mind activity file, construction paper colors gathered. Glue found. 

Together, thirty minutes, tearing paper-- fine motor strengthed--a colorful paper rainbow appeared. 

Mesmerized, awed. 

"Mom, look what we created!"

A together moment. A learning moment. 

And a rainbow gleaming through water droplets started the process.

It was simple and it was glorious. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Celebrate High School- What Matters?

"As you walk through the last years of your student's high school journey, remember the final celebration is less about the knowledge stored up in the student's mind (though that is important) and more about whether the young adult understands his or her strengths and how those strengths will bring value to whatever he or she endeavors." 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Charlotte's Web- A Relationship Spanning Generations

Charlotte's Web, one of my favorite first chapter books, from childhood through adulthood.

I couldn't wait to read my favorite literature pieces to my children, both picture books and chapter books.

As the parenting years have rolled along, I have now introduced Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, to seven of my learners. This week we revisited the work again, thanks to an online resource. 

When I begin a book, I introduce my children to the author. After all, the author's mind and hand crafted the work, often from personal stories and experiences; sometimes consciously, other times not.

In our study this week, I learned several things I did not know about Charlotte's Web or E. B. White. 

After reading the article aloud and doing a bit more research about E. B. White, we enjoyed the audio recording of the book, read by E. B. White. What a treat!

Today, the question resounded, "Can we listen to Charlotte's Web?"

Though most of my learners had been introduced to the work and the author prior, a love was rekindled.

I had successfully introduced, and reintroduced, my children to one of my favorite literary pieces. And, they loved it!


More about E. B. White

  • His name was Elwyn Brooks White.
  • In addition to Charlotte's Web, White also penned the Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little
  • He authored seventeen books of prose and poetry. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Middle and High School Learning Environments

Though summer annual evaluation season ended a few weeks ago, I will continue posting frequently asked questions to help equip and empower parents. Knowledge in the high school years is power and adds confidence to the journey.

Recently in our area there seems to be limited diversity in learning environments for middle and high schoolers. Many venues provide only traditional classroom settings or online meetings. This is not the best setting for my child. What other opportunities are available and acceptable?

This is a tremendous question with valid concerns.

First, check the home education laws in your state

Second, having some experience with online learning is beneficial. Online education is growing. It did prepare our graduates for post-secondary education.

Those points being said...

Home educated middle and high schoolers have the opportunity to partake in a variety of learning environments; a definite advantage over their public and private schooled peers.

Our middle and high school students learn widely from a variety of environments. One started a business and learned on the job, everywhere from church fellowship hall craft shows to convention trade show floors. Another learned from independent study, volunteering, and conversation from professionals in the field. Still another learn from contractors, field work, job shadowing, and collaboration with peers. Our home education statute allowed us the freedom to utilize these means. We are all grateful we could fit learning with learning style and student interest.

When designing courses or considering courses for middle or high schoolers the learning environment is essential and often dependent on the learning style and strengths of the individual. For example, if the student learns best by observation, perhaps best fit environments would include laboratory settings, field work, internships, job shadowing, or apprenticeship. In these settings, the student can observe to learn. If the student is an auditory learner the best settings may be research laboratories or classroom instruction.

When the course is complete, if our students were applying for a university requesting course descriptions in addition to a transcript, I made sure to be specific about which environments the student used. Often the environments, being different than a typical classroom or online setting, were intriguing.

Yes, the reward was worth the effort. The contents of the course descriptions, transcripts and cumulative folder were the documents which set a solid foundation for resume writing.

And in the end, as we--student and parent--looked over documents, the accomplishment was a part of our celebration of high school and the ability to finish with excellence.

As you consider the potential learning environments your learner may have access to, ponder how those opportunities may benefit your young adult. The results can be astounding.

Purchase Celebrate High School: Finish with Excellence.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Simple Science, Profound Discoveries

Today one of my little learners decided she wanted to make a parachute. 

She asked wonderful questions. Solved problems as she worked. Experimented, and tried again.

The end result...a parachute. 

Busy with other learners, I served as a resource. But, I could hear her processing. She is an external thinker.

"Where can I find plastic?"

"Wonder if we have a bolt? Well, maybe something else heavy would work? I just need a weight."

"This piece of plastic is cut too big. Good thing we have more bags."

"I think this would float slower if the strings were longer and the plastic were smaller."

"I can stand on the bed, but the tall tree would be better."

Enter sibling.

"Can you make me one?"

And the two work together.

Enter another little learner, the one who was working with me.

"That's cool! Can I make one?"

A smile of accomplishment.


And the experimentation begins again, with a different weight plastic and another type of string.

What a thrill to watch the learning and collaboration unfold!

Simple things--a plastic bag, some string, and a clip--provided an afternoon of trial and error learning with a sibling. Profound.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Magnificent, Make-A-Difference Middle School

Celebrating high school begins in middle school. Given opportunities to develop strengths and interests, the middle school years and their subsequent experiences set the stage for future decisions. Decisions move middle schoolers forward, or set them back,

Middle schoolers need coaches, cheerleaders, people to cheer them on, answer their questions, affirm their successes, and come alongside when ideas fail. Like adults, middle (and high schoolers) gravitate toward sources or encouragement and affirmation.

Our experience is that middle and high schoolers will hang out most with those who encourage and affirm them best. 

Mike and I were (and still are with our current middle and high schoolers) intentional to champion their interests. As a result we were (are) invited into their successes and their messes!

Middle schoolers need help understanding themselves. Mike and I have learned that before we can help our middle and high school young adults understand themselves, we must know them! To know them, we must spend time with them (even when it's hard to be with them). Spending time means observing, listening, and asking. We watch how they respond in both stressful and rewarding circumstances. We observe what activities they enjoy and what makes them smile. Body language and verbal responses are windows into their hearts. What they read expresses their interests. Who our children talk about gives us understanding into the character they emulate or respect. Knowing our children takes diligence and purpose, but is deserving of my time and energy.  

When we come to know our children--what motivates, intrigues, and captivates them--we can begin to help them understand themselves. 

Middle schoolers want to make a difference. Middle schoolers need time and experiences to help them understand who the are and what they can contribute to the family, community, nation, and the world.

They need something to ponder, practice, and pursue, a way to make a difference. 

Making a difference they feel the satisfaction of collaborating and contributing, serving and giving.

Middle schoolers need help managing their time. Several facets of life motivate middle and high schoolers to manage their time: knowing they have skills to solve a problems, having a project to complete or understanding their skills can contribute to a cause. When these aspects are discovered and fostered, managing their time matters.

Time management is a necessity for accomplishment.

Middle schoolers encouragement for organization. Middle schoolers are not usually naturally organized. They usually need parents to help them brainstorm ideas. They need someone to take them shopping for organizers.

Organization is often key to time management. 

Middle schoolers need help finding and using resources. Middle schoolers have ideas and interests they want to pursue. There are things they want to build, books they want to write, businesses they want to start, logos they want to design, and fish they want to catch. Resources, tools, and significant people put those ideas and interests in motion. One of the greatest resources is time--time to process, time to think, time to talk through ideas. In and through conversation and experience, middle schoolers learn to plan, design, analyze, and evaluate, all which work together for understanding.

Without time, these key life skills cannot develop. 

Middle and high school young adults are really not any different than adults. 

Adults thrive when they understand their strengths and have the freedom to grow in those strengths, when they have people to help them process ideas and adults, when they have access o necessary tools and resources to carry out the plan, and when they are surrounded by supportive family and friends. 

Middle schoolers will surprise you! Middle school years have great potential to directly impact a student's entrepreneurial ventures, employment, or college and career path by offering options of promising study. Be ready for your middle schoolers to surprise you! Ours have surprised us many times with their ideas and plans. They had solutions we had not discovered, insight we could not see. Theirs were not only better, but because they "owned" the plans, they were more excited and successful in executing the steps to reach their goals.

This content is excerpted from the new expanded edition of Cheryl's book,  Celebrate High School: Finish with Excellence, A Guide for Middle and High School Home Education.  You can order a copy of this book by emailing Cheryl at This book will also soon be available on Amazon.

Cheryl will present Celebrate Middle School at the 2016 FPEA Convention. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"This is a Perfect Book for My Art Appreciation Class!"

Budget cuts in many school districts have cut art and music classes. 

A Harris Poll released in 2005 determined 93% of Americans believe the arts are essential to a well-rounded education.

In our home, art is not part of a budget cut. In fact, art can often be taught well for minimal cost and better yet through a mentoring artist or art enthusiast.

Today we headed to the local library to return items. We purposed only to be in long enough to return books and have the notary sign paperwork for a sports opportunity. An hour later, three floors of shelves investigated--because each child headed off on a rabbit trail (have I mentioned, not planned!) --we left with treasures.

While one learner found the books she needed to add items to her hand-made jewelry collection, another turned around and found Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles on an adjacent shelf. She also found Drawing and Painting Animals by Bill Tilton.

From an aisle over I hear, "This is a perfect book for my art appreciation class!"

Appears my high school young adult with The Great Book of Currier & Ives' in America. This book, this HUGE book, is a BEAUTY, every 15 inches in height, 12 inches in width, and 2 1/2 thick piece of it! It has to be one of the biggest books I have ever seen! It set spine up on the shelf as it was too tall for the traditional shelving.

On the way home, two high schoolers seated side-by-side in the car, paged through American history by means of  Currier & Ives. Stunning art definitely appreciated. A great addition, student-interest led, to her art appreciation class.

I will keep you posted on how this book is woven into this year's art appreciation.

Note: I imagine for a student interested in art more than history, this book might spark an interest in our nation's history through its brilliant works. If a student with such interests resides in your home, perhaps a catalog search will reveal this treasure on shelves near you. Just be prepared for an arm workout while hauling it home!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ironing Out First Week Wrinkles

I didn't anticipate today!

How about you?

We read year round; even practice a few math problems throughout the summer. So, when today was a little wrinkled, well let's just say I had to iron faster to work on the creases.

Dad headed back to school this week and we pressed forward, beginning where we left off at the end of May.

Today was hard. I moved from learner to learner feeling like I my body needed roller skates and my mind was a million places at the same time!

First there was math lesson #1. The learner didn't remember the solution process of multiplying two 2-digit numbers. Review! In ten minutes, she was on her way. On to math lesson #2, dividing a decimal by a decimal. Ten more minutes of review and assigning ten problems. She was on her way. Little learner needed a snack.

Learners #3 and #4, high schoolers, needed assistance editing Spanish essays. Only ten sentences, but IN SPANISH! An hour later, though it felt like all afternoon, they were ready to move onto the concussion video (honestly it's called a course!) mandatory for their participation on the district high school sports team. I must admit, I was wondering how many students actually watch this "video".  My athletes wondered the same thing. We watched. Why? Because we have to sign a form saying we complied. A life lesson of integrity.

While editing Spanish essays there was another request for a snack, another question about a math problem, a "How do you spell?" request, the dryer buzzed, the baby needed a diaper change, dinner needed to be started. Should've used the Crockpot, but it's our anniversary and I wanted to do something special. Phone chimes. Two text messages regarding the wedding our family will celebrate in a few short months. Oh, and the question about grad school (we have a learner filing application), and two high school transcripts to update for above mentioned athletes!

Those are just glimpses into a few hours of the day. There were several more with similar wrinkles.

How was your day? Many of us have days like this. 

To make it through the day, for it to be as successful as it could be, I had to keep perspective. I reminded myself to be intentional, moment by moment.

I had to work with the day instead of against it, even when there were more wrinkles than anticipated.

I was tempted to quit, to defer to the easier choice, but I knew the days ahead would be more difficult. Pay now or pay later. I pressed on.

The beginning of the year is like this (well, even days mid-year are like this sometimes) for home educators and for classroom educators. When I was a classroom teacher I remember wise words from a veteran teacher, "Hang in there and hang tough! If you give up early, ease up, the rest of the year will be even harder."

Yes, we read through the summer; even practiced a few math problems. But today was still a bit wrinkled.

It's okay. I am not alone. You are not alone. Many teachers, whether in the home or in the classroom are ironing out first week wrinkles, too!

Hang in there! 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Counting FUN with No Roses for Harry

What a delightful day! 

Our day unfolded much differently than I had thought. That never happens for you, right? Ha! 

A little learner presented a borrowed library book, one of my childhood favorites, No Roses for Harry by Gene Zion. A fun read about curious, adventurous Harry, a black spotted terrier. Children relate to Harry, his personified adventures and feelings because they resemble those of a young child. 

In this read, Harry receives a rose adorned sweater from grandma. He is not enthused. How often do  children receive gifts perhaps they don't like or didn't expect? What do they do with those feelings? What discussions ensue because of those feelings? As this plot unfolds, the reader tells of Harry's experience. In our home, conversations followed. Thoughts were shared and lessons learned in a non-threatening manner, because, of course, they began with a playful friend to whom my children could relate. 

Oh, the discussions we had!

Our little learners--one turned to three when they heard me reading aloud--wanted to continue learning with Harry. 

Thinking it would be fun to learn counting by putting printed paint spots on Harry, I drew an outline sketch of Harry and littles began stamping circles of paint on this body. First one spot, then two, then three and so on to ten. 

With ten Harry prints drying on the kitchen floor, I cut the end off a celery bunch and we printed "roses" on green paper. This printing project became our cover. 

We practiced counting to ten, forward and backward. To further counting we put chocolate sandwich cookies (spots) in sets. I called out a number and a little learner counted a set of corresponding cookies. This activity reinforced my childrens' ability to count to ten, to visually remember a specific set of objects, and to convert audible information into a visual representation. 

They loved the learning time. We all loved the time together. 

When all the pages were dry, we bound our Counting with No Roses for Harry with pieces of scrap fabric.

Our counting book is now "read" as much as No Roses for Harry. 

There's a learning moment in every story. 

Thankfully, there's always a story!

Celebrate Simple Goes to HERI Conference in Jacksonville

Just two weekends ago Celebrate Simple traveled to HERI Conference in Jacksonville. We shared workshops on using living books to teach history and science, teaching math concepts to little learners while cooking and working in the kitchen, raising a contagious reader, and sharing four essential lessons our young adult son learned while being home educated. Cheryl and Josh enjoyed presenting their workshop together to a full room. 

Between workshops we listened to parents share their experiences and helped them process their coming year. We answered questions about teaching measurement with tape measures and egg timers, how to keep high school records and everything in between. Our booth was outfitted with tools and treasures--simple items to teach profound truths and concepts--from coin stickers and paper money, to balance scales, living books, and one of our very favorites, the Magiscope. On our science table, little learners (and adults!) were invited to discover small wonders including an abandon wasp nest, a butterfly wing, and crystals.

What a treat to encourage parents of preschoolers through young adults that weekend! Our twenty-one year journey, from preschool to high school graduation several times over, has taught us parents as much as our children. 

Learning together, building family relationships, priceless. 

It is the simple things. Be sure to celebrate them!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What About Spelling?

As we sit around the evaluation table with homeschooling families this summer, great questions surface. This week, "What about spelling?"

A common question with several appropriate 
answers dependent upon 
educational philosophy, age, ability, and learning style.

There are many ways to teach spelling
  • Purchase a traditional, grade-leveled spelling curriculum. 
This is the first answer which comes to mind for most parents. Easy-peasy; buy the curriculum. Done. Works well for some folks.

  • Choose high-interest or frequently used words.
This method takes a bit more work, but is pleasantly effective. Works well for active learners and learners with interests which saturate their days. Words of interest often return the greatest reward. There is a purpose to learn.

For example, live with a fisherman? Consider words of interest: bait, tackle, license, trout, shrimp, brackish, hook, sinker, shore, catch, freshwater, captain, salmon, carp, permit, marsh, or wade.

Sometimes we have used objects of interest to learn spelling. One of our most unusual items have been acorns and cerealStickers and foam letters make great teaching tools as well.

Starting with the most frequently used words? Check out these lists:

Learning Resources posted and ranked 300 words

  • Play a game.
My children always enjoy a good game. Games add spark to learning. When there is a less-than-favorite subject to learn, we try a game. If we don't own a game to teach a particular subject, I make one. 
  • Compile a "I want to learn these!" list.
Where there is intrinsic motivation, retention is not far behind. Whether learning a new skill or reading a book with intriguing vocabulary there are likely words the child wants to know. Use the words of interest to compile a "I want to learn these!" list, place it in a notebook, and whittle away at it each week.
  • Tackle commonly misspelled words.
Compare lists at a given level to find the most often cited misspelled words.

Elementary School
National Curriculum Associates complied this list from children's writings, grades three through eight.

ABCTeach published multiple lists

Mrs. Martin's 100 most commonly misspelled words

Your Dictionary lists

Horicon school district language arts helps

Spelling-Words-Well multiple grade lists

Fry's Instant Word List

Middle School and Above
Info Please offers their compilation

John Burroughs Middle School offers spelling and vocabulary lists

Kenneth Odle's most commonly misspelled middle school words

High School and Beyond
Capital Community College list from Student's Book of College English by David Skwire and Harvey S. Wiener. 6th ed. MacMillan: New York. 1992

Oxford Dictionaries common misspellings

  • Use a combination of several above. 
Though cliche, it is often true of learning: variety is the spice of life. Educators have used a combination of the above possibilities and been highly successful at teaching children this often dreaded and difficult skill. Use what works and spice up learning during the dry seasons.

Spelling comes in different, very effective packages. There is not a tried-and-true method. Each child receives, stores, and retrieves information differently, especially with spelling. Hence a individualized path is often necessary in order to produce the greatest retention.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Life and Learning Collide: Natural Spelling and Handwriting

Thank you notes, a great way to learn writing, practice penmanship and build relationships, naturally.

I don't intend to ruffle feathers. Schooling methods are as unique as the children who are being taught, in homes or schools. I am not disputing methods or means. I want to encourage moms, mom
s who are teaching without realizing the impact they are having, wondering if they are "doing enough".

Celebrating several birthdays lately, I am reminded of the great lessons and practice woven into writing a thank you note, and it is natural, engaging, important, with real-life benefit.

I am also reminded of the workbooks I experienced as a child. Prompts to which I could not relate; some so silly I felt as if my intelligence was being challenged!

Which would I rather write?

Of course, the one that mattered to me personally.

Reflecting on our twenty-one years of home education, I find the same has been true for my children.

They want to write what matters.

So, when a new ball cap was unwrapped for a birthday, a new writing opportunity presented:

Grandma gives you a baseball bat for your birthday. Write a thank you letter to Grandma.

Writing with purpose, an intrinsic desire. Not in response to a made up prompt.  

So moms, next time you child celebrates a birthday or holiday and wants to write a thank you out of gratitude, embrace the moment. Walk alongside your child in his or her natural response to life. Answer questions about spelling and punctuation. Write hard words on paper for them to copy onto their thank you card. Find an envelope and talk about how to write an address. The intrinsic motivation to thank a grandparent (or other significant person) will drive the learning. Why? It's important to the child. Couldn't ask for a more natural, productive lesson...and grandma will be thrilled!

Use life, what is natural to learn life skills.

Thank you and letter writing is not the only way to learn writing and spelling. Every child has an interest, a pathway on which learning become enjoyable, natural, essentially easier, hopefully without tears and frustration. Often these ideas are spontaneous and child-initiated. 

Not long ago one of our children asked if she could copy the text from a favorite animal book checked out from the library. We talked about plagiarism. She simply wanted to write the text so she could remember the words after she returned the book. Her thoughts reminded me of how writing, grammar, and spelling were learned by great leaders in history. Many of those leaders became extraordinary writers. My daughter copied the entire book. It later became part of a project she initiated. Writing, spelling, naturally. 

I am not saying we have never used repetitive writing of a word to learn its spelling. We have. The point is, we use whatever is appropriate for a particular child, at a particular time. 

One day celery prints took a twist and we decided to list "C" words. It was spontaneous and FUN!

Children with a creative bent can naturally integrate writing into their art. One of our children decided to make "fancy" thanksgiving cards with a creative greeting tucked inside. 

Taking learning outside, in a different environment is helpful for mom and children!

Writing and illustrating outside!

A "new" outside patio set makes a great place to write.

Once inside, tummies rumbling, cookies and crackers with letters give spelling a boost

Sometimes I make games for my children. Time consuming, yes. However, the results have been astounding for the child who needed that method. And, with the intrinsic interest and love for games, often the child will ask to pull the game out again for review. 

The spelling and writing I remember was tedious, rarely applicable to life. It was laborious, especially for me, a non-phonetic reader due to processing challenges. I was the child my third grade teacher said would never read. However, my parents (mom especially) incorporated learning into life: writing recipes, grocery lists, making "books", and playing restaurant. Most of all I remember my parents partnering with me, walking alongside to help and process my ideas. 

Moms, you can help your child learn writing, grammar and spelling, naturally, in ways that are fun. These activities also pack in the highest retention, meaning your children will remember what they learned. Ponder the happenings in your home. How many of the activities are you passing off as play or something that needs to get done (like an email) that actually teach great lessons in language arts? 

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Test Optional? Really?

Since George Washington University announced it joined the ranks of "test optional" schools, home educators wonder what it means for them.

Though some universities are moving toward test optional for public and private schooled graduates, not all schools are following suit for college-bound, home-educated students. We personally found it wise and helpful to research the admission requirements for our student's top colleges of choice, first and then work to meet those requirements. Though we were pleasantly surprised to find some test optional or test flexible, others were not.

So, which schools are really test optional for home educated grads at the time of research, July 2015?

Adventist University of Health Sciences, Orlando, FL
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
Albright College, Reading, PA
Allegheny College, Meadville, PA
American University, Washington, D.C. (home education admissions link)
Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock, AR
Bay State College, Boston, MA
Bellevue University, Bellevue, NE
Beloit College, Beloit, WI
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Boston MA
Bryant University, Smithfield, RI
Bryn-Mawr College, Bryn-Mawr, PA
Catawba College, Salisbury, NC
City College, various locations, FL
Clark University, Worcester, MA
Emmanuel College, Boston, MA
Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, Tacoma, WA
Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, NY
Full Sail University, Winter Park, FL
Furman University, Greenville, SC
Providence College, Providence, RI
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

Colleges and universities may be added. Check back soon!

Note: Wording can be confusing. Interpreting the words should, must, advised, required, and recommend is essential. When there are questions, contact the admission office of the university.

When considering test optional universities, homeschoolers may want to consider:
  • Schools which list as test optional for general public and private school graduates, may not have the same policies for home educated graduates. Read the fine print.
  • Though the university may be test optional, supplemental information may be required including a homeschooling philosophy, curriculum used, and methods utilized. 
  • Colleges which accept students without SAT or ACT scores may require validations which may include dual enrollment grades.
  • Researching every college carefully, and recheck requirements yearly. Admission policies do change.
  • Test optional may mean "interview". Work to help your student be interview-ready. 
I have learned it is recommended that students take the SAT or ACT, at a minimum, while in high school. Though there are test optional universities, and the list may continue to grow, there still are many which have very specific application requirements. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Revised Celebrate High School Has Arrived!

The revision--which increased content by almost two-thirds--is here and ready for purchase. Contact Cheryl at or purchase on Amazon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The PERT: Postsecondary Education Readiness Test

A common question heard around the evaluation table this summer...

"What about the PERT?"

The PERT—Postsecondary Education Readiness Test—is a customized assessment used in Florida to measure students abilities and skills for the sake of course placement for postsecondary studies in the areas of math, reading and writing. The assessment is computer-adaptive—questions are computer-generated based on the previous question—with the results intended to help place students in classes where they will be most successful. There are 30 questions on each subtest. The test is not timed, an advantage for some students. 

For information regarding scoring and course placement, visit

Study guide resources can be found at the following links:
PERT video study resources
Seminole State frequently asked questions

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Benjamin West: Impromptu Mini Study

Celebrate the simple in learning

It's been a few years and a few children ago that we read Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry (yes, the author who wrote the beloved Misty of Chincoteague, another classic worthy of the read). The book introduced us to the Father of American Painting, an artist of whom we were unfamiliar.

Recently, the youngers were introduced to Benjamin and the olders were reacquainted while reading Benjamin West: Gifted Young Painter by Dorothea J. Snow, a biography from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. We were all intrigued, just as we were years ago at our first introduction.

Little known facts we learned:
  • Benjamin wrestled with how his God-given talent could possibly be woven with his Quaker faith, giving his family and his church a new perspective to consider. 
  • Benjamin was creative and industrious, making the best of what he had, from colored clay (insert science study here) to using his cat's fur to make paintbrushes (there is a character lesson of truth telling here but I won't spoil the story).
  • Benjamin was a court painter for King George III. 
  • Benjamin taught famous painters Gilbert Stuart (think famous portrait painter of George Washington) and John Trumbull (think Declaration of Independence
Interesting new vocabulary we learned from our reading journey through Benjamin West: Gifted Young Painter .
  • Satchel
  • Provost
  • Ramshackle
  • Aghast
  • Daub
  • Folly
  • Hautboy
  • Chortled
  • Nape
  • Comely
We finished the COFA biography today. As I read the last word of the book, a little perked up, interested:

"We have to find out more!"

Yes, we can. And so can you! Look up these painters in your favorite set of encyclopedia (yes, they still exist), explore Google images, and watch a few You Tube videos.

A good story sparks an interest.

Our little impromptu mini study sparked a new fire.

"Benjamin influenced many artists. Let's find out more about those artists."
  • Charles Willson Peale
  • Gilbert Stuart
  • John Trumbull
  • Thomas Sully
  • Samuel F. B. Morse

A spark ignites an interest, which in turn lights a new fire.

More to do:
  • Differentiate between portrait and self-portrait. Paint or draw your self-portrait.
  • Create a time line of the American history occurring at the time Benjamin West and the other painters were painting. What events were taking place? Did the painters have anything in common?
  • Talk about other events in American history happening about the same time. 
  • If you had the opportunity to meet Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart or John Turnbull, what questions would you ask them about their work or the time in which they lived? 
  • Learn about the Quaker faith and how it is similar or different from the faith of your family.
  • Read Barbara Brenner's The Boy Who Loved to Draw, biography of Benjamin West. If reading more than one book about Benjamin West, discuss how the books are similar or different. Compare facts in each work.
A spark ignites an interest, which in turn lights a new fire.

That's the ever giving blessing of learning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Natural Learning, Intentionally: High School- Part III- Cum Folders, Home Education Style

             Intentionality has paid off in the high school years. 

Thankfully, I realized early in my son's eighth grade year I would play the role of guidance counselor for my homeschooled high schooler. Meaning? I would be the liaison between school (us!) and college, the keeper of all things official. Yep, me, until the student was 18 (that is the topic of another intentional high school blog). No qualifications or degrees, "just" the mom who was overseeing the learning taking place in our home. If I didn't keep the records, no one would. The records I kept would influence my student's post secondary career (no pressure, right?)

Not much time was lost in regards to recovering the undocumented or potentially important information we needed to begin compiling a cum folder for our high schooler; not many tracks to retrace. And in the end, retracing was worth the effort. The folder became a gold mine, one of those things you tell people you would grab if the house were aflame.

Wow! Me, the keeper of the "cum folder", the folder about which school officials threaten and gloat, at least in the high school I attended. When things got serious students got the "that will go in your permanent cum folder" lecture; the file in which all things which hold the keys to the future reside.

When my son was in eighth grade I began researching the NCAA requirements. It became evident I would need specific documents for eligibility.

No one I knew had kept a cumulative folder of high school records so this was new territory for me. And, not a naturally organized person I was determined to start THAT DAY!  I purchased a 3 1/2 inch binder and some colored-tab separators to help me keep his paperwork organized. Armed with plastic protector sheets and a hole-punch, I sat down to begin compilation of the "cum folder". I started labeling tabs I knew we would need, and then added, trial-and-error, along our journey. Years later, as we began contacting colleges, I added tabs for copies of applications (yes, this was before they were online), scholarship applications, acceptance letters, and financial aid notifications.

At the end of four years, when writing the first edition of Celebrate High School, I decided to include the major section tabs we found helpful, knowing parents who read the book may find our tab titles helpful as they complied the cum folders for their students.

What tabs did we find helpful?

  • Activities
  • Awards
  • Certificates and Certifications
  • College Admissions Requirements
  • College Applications
  • College Major Requirements
  • Community Service/Volunteer Hours
  • Dual Enrollment Documents
  • Financial Aid Applications
  • Financial Aid Offers
  • Grades
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Medical Records
  • NCAA Eligibility
  • NCAA Home School Core Course Worksheets
  • Scholarship Applications
  • Scholarships Awarded
  • Test Scores
  • Transcripts
  • Work Experience
  • Writing Samples
*Note: These tab titles are our most recent (based on our experience with three unique high school students) and will be included in the revision of Celebrate High School. Not all tabs will be needed for every student. This list has been updated since the most recent edition of Celebrate High School and my blog post dated 07/29/2013.

Revised edition due out July 2015!

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Natural Learning, Intentionally: High School- Part II- Course Descriptions

              Intentionality has paid off in the high school years. 

The transcript provides a one-page snapshot of a young adult's high school course, grade, and credit summary. Course descriptions offer short synopses of the learning chapters in your student's story. Ideally, those course descriptions should complement--add value and give clarity--to the transcript document.

Why course descriptions? For students graduating from a public entity, course catalogs (also called course guides or curriculum guides) are available online (used to be paper and had to be requested from the guidance department) and follow the requirements (standards) of that state (or now in many cases, Common Core). Colleges know the set criteria and standards met in the classroom are standard for each course at every school in that state. So, there is no need for each school to write individual course descriptions for every class for every student.

Home education is different. A sculpture class in one home is likely to look entirely different than a sculpture class in another home. One student may enroll in a sculpture class at a local art studio. Another may have been invited to join an artist for weekly mentoring in a private studio. Yet another student may dual enroll a sculpture class at the local college. The same distinctiveness can be applied to a literature course (each home can choose their own literature selections) or a science course (where the student might be invited to take part in a research project at a local university). There is no standard way to meet course requirements (unless your state dictates differently--this post assumes parents have researched and know the home education statute for their state). Hence, some colleges use course descriptions to assess the depth and rigor of a home education course.

Some colleges ask for parents to write course descriptions.

It is part of their verification process.

Not all colleges ask for course descriptions. Some don't know they could, should or would even benefit from them. Others do not care because they have come to understand and prefer the quality students home education affords, and prefer to meet the student in person rather than on paper. However, with the eclectic mix of methods and means home educators utilize, the course descriptions do bring out the extraordinary opportunities homeschoolers have embraced.

I remember when I encountered the first college requesting course descriptions. Thankfully, we were still early in our high school journey so we could easily remember all the exceptional experiences our young adult benefited from in his courses, some variations of more traditionally taught classes (like the 10 dissections he completed in an Honors Biology class he took at a local co-op) as well as courses we designed based on independent study, research, and personal reading. The reading list he compiled on the computer helped tremendously as we reflected on all what was involved in each course.

From the first high schooler on down, I have diligently kept course descriptions current--with the exception of the year a baby was born in MAY! 

I have learned to:

Write course descriptions when the young adult begins the course (even if just the bare minimum is known: textbook, reading materials, anticipated experiential opportunities) and add significant educational highlights throughout the year. When I waited until the end of the year to write the whole description, I forgot some of the most beneficial learning blessings he experienced, no to mention getting my head above the project was monumental, or at least it seemed so when I felt I was drowning.

             Keeping current has saved me time and headache. 

I have to remind myself course descriptions tell the stories of the courses detailed on the transcript. It is the document college admissions personnel will reference as they consider offering admission and need more information to differentiate one student from another. A course description is not an outline of the course and will be less likely to read if lengthy. Course descriptions are chapter summaries, hitting the highlights, offering the concepts learned, the teaching methods and resources used, and exceptional experiences in which the student participated.

To capture the most significant, record keeping is essential.

Course descriptions are especially important if the parent and young adult are designing unique courses, courses not typically offered on local school campuses or courses not generally taught in high schools, for example Introduction to Equine Science, Survey of the Building Construction Industry, or Care and Concerns of the Elderly.

When I don't record regularly, I forget valuable additions. In our busy years, I found it helpful to open the course description document and add bullet points which I can revisit later and edit into cohesive sentences. Tackling course descriptions in this manner helps me remember important details and keeps me excited about what my young adult is accomplishing. When it is not in front of me, I tend to forget. 

I constantly must remind myself there are many ways to accomplish learning (this is true even of the state standards- the standard can be met with very different and unique methods). For example, think about American History. If two of the many learning goals for a high school level American History class are to understand the causes and consequences of the Civil War and the effects on the American people, and to understand the causes and consequences of World War II in the United States and abroad, the learning possibilities of how a student will understand those concepts is vast and plenty. Chapters in a text could be read and summary questions answered. On a family vacation up the East Coast of the United States, the family could visit and tour eight Civil War battlefields and National Parks and compare what actions were taken and who was involved at each location. The student could attend a local WWII veteran's meeting and listen to the stories shared by the members. Perhaps the local library hosts a presentation by surviving Tuskegee Airmen who share their wartime experiences from the perspective of African Americans serving during WWII (actual event we attended and it was AMAZING!). And then there are the plethora of primary source documents and biographical materials which could be read. Not only can the same learning goals be accomplished, but learning with this type of diversity allows young adults of different learning styles to retain information they might not otherwise remember. It is these exceptional and unique opportunities which can be highlighted in course descriptions, should a high schooling family choose to prepare this document or a college require it for admission. 

Being intentional about writing course descriptions proved most valuable for courses we designed or courses developed from internships and shadowing experiences. When designing a course, I felt it was important to keep a running log of educational experiences, online resources, and learning resources, just as I would if I were compiling a course as a traditional classroom teacher. 

As we progressed through high school and began researching colleges, I was thankful I had records of courses my student had completed. 

There are blessings to writing course descriptions. For us, the original course descriptions from my first high schooler could easily be cut, pasted, and edited to the unique experiences and opportunities of the high schoolers who followed. Second, though not all colleges asked for the description document, I sent them anyway. It was done and I wanted officials to have the document should they have questions. I know some parents feel this is a controversial and dangerous precedence for future home educated applicants, but in at least one situation those descriptions placed our young adult in a better position of acceptance in an honors college (because we couldn't document any of his courses as Honors or IB, which most of the applicants had earned). When the descriptions (which included reading materials) were read, the depth and expanse at which our young adult studied most of his courses could be realized. Our homeschool high school experience was just as rigorous as those students who had completed accredited IB programs. Note: Realizing that our student had the ability and desire to qualify for an IB or similar program, I researched the contents and reading materials utilized by these programs and then wove them into our studies. Again, this is our experience, not something I am advocating for every home schooled high schooler. 

Being intentional with writing course descriptions has served us well, in many cases. The work was done as we studied, and saved on the computer, should we need it. We did need it for our first applicant. With our second, because of dual enrollment and then an easy transition to the state college (and eventually a four-year university), the course descriptions were not necessary. On a side note, had our first and second grads followed their aspirations to play competitive collegiate sports (hence registering with the NCAA) having the course descriptions complete would have saved me a huge amount of time filling out their Core-Course Worksheets. Keep in mind as you consider NCAA and course titles, they prefer specific titles. Be aware.

This information (and more) is included in Celebrate High School. which is currently undergoing revision and update with an intended release date of late summer 2015. The revised edition will contain every thing in the original publication as well as some new features (including middle school sections) parents will find helpful as they celebrate high school.

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education.