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.