Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself. Continue reading

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

Winter Boredom Busters for Kids

by Deborah Taylor-Hough / http://www.SimpleMom.com


Since we try not to use the phrase “I’m bored!” in our home, I usually don’t hear my kids complaining about being bored during those long days at home during the winter. But I have to admit that we’re still an incredibly normal family. Even without the “b-word” in their vocabulary, there have still been those times when my three children just seemed to be at a total loss for something constructive to do.

A number of years ago I brainstormed with my kids and some of our assorted friends and we came up with a list of 200+ ideas for summertime activities. I decided to narrow the list down to just those things that can be done indoors and aren’t weather-dependent for those cold snowy days home from school or during winter vacation times.

You can put each item on this list onto individual pieces of paper, place the papers into a container, and when the children need inspiration for an activity, they can draw out two or three papers and then decide which idea they want to do, either as a group or individually. This method is usually more helpful than giving the kids a huge list of possibilities. By narrowing the choices down to just two or three, it’s easier for the kids to pick out the one that sounds the best to them.

143 INDOOR WINTER BOREDOM BUSTERS for Kids

  • make paper snowflakes
  • clean out the toy box
  • send virtual greeting cards
  • choose photos for a family calendar
  • have an indoor picnic
  • bake and decorate cut-out cookies
  • go camping in the livingroom
  • clear out your email inbox
  • make a mobile out of found objects (acorns, rocks, branches)
  • write up some New Year’s Resolutions
  • create a simple Family Tree
  • make sandwiches and cut them out with large cookie cutters
  • play basketball with a wadded up piece of paper and a wastebasket
  • play board games
  • make a tent out of blankets
  • read books
  • make homemade play dough
  • play with play dough
  • write a letter to a relative, friend or pen pal
  • clean bedroom
  • vacuum living room
  • clean bathroom
  • make a craft
  • draw
  • color
  • paint
  • watch a movie
  • write stories
  • use magnifying glass
  • write a play
  • act out a play
  • invent indoor circus acts
  • perform an indoor circus
  • play card games
  • dust the house
  • brush the pet
  • write letters
  • read a magazine
  • play dress-up
  • play Cowboys
  • build a fort in your rooms
  • do a jigsaw puzzle
  • play on the Geosafari
  • play on the computer
  • listen to a story or book on tape
  • do extra schoolwork to get ahead
  • do brain teasers (ie: crosswords, word searches, hidden pictures, mazes, etc.)
  • cook
  • prepare lunch
  • surprise a neighbor with a good deed
  • play store
  • prepare a “restaurant” lunch with menus
  • hold a tea party
  • have a Teddy bear picnic on the floor in the livingroom
  • play with toy cars
  • play dolls
  • play house
  • learn magic tricks
  • put on a magic show
  • make sock puppets
  • put on a puppet show
  • crochet or knit
  • make doll clothes
  • sew buttons in designs on old shirts
  • make bookmarks
  • take a quiet rest time
  • take a shower or bath
  • organize a dresser drawer
  • clean under the bed
  • empty dishwasher
  • vacuum under the couch cushions and keep any change found
  • write these ideas on pieces of paper and pick out one or two to do
  • practice musical instruments
  • perform a family concert
  • teach yourself to play musical instrument (recorder, harmonica, guitar)
  • fold laundry
  • sweep kitchen or bathroom floors
  • vacuum or dust window blinds
  • clean bathroom mirrors
  • clean sliding glass doors
  • copy your favorite book illustration
  • design your own game
  • build with blocks or Legos
  • create a design box (copper wire, string, odds-and-ends of things destined for the
  • garbage, pom-poms, thread, yarn, etc.)
  • have a marble tournament on the livingroom carpet
  • make dessert
  • make dinner
  • give your pet a party
  • have a read-a-thon with a friend or sibling
  • check out a science book and try some experiments
  • make up a story
  • arrange photo albums
  • play hide-and-seek
  • create a symphony with bottles and pans and rubber bands
  • read a story to a younger child
  • string dry noodles or O-shaped cereals into a necklace
  • glue noodles into a design on paper
  • play jacks
  • make up a song
  • make an indoor teepee out of blankets
  • write in your journal
  • play charades
  • make up a story by drawing pictures
  • draw a cartoon strip
  • make a map of your bedroom, house or neighborhood
  • call a friend
  • cut pictures from old magazines and write a story
  • make a collage using pictures cut from old magazines
  • do a secret service for a neighbor
  • plan a treasure hunt
  • make a treasure map
  • make up a “Bored List” of things to do
  • plan a special activity for your family
  • search your house for items made in other countries and then learn about those
  • countries from the encyclopedia or online
  • plan an imaginary trip to the moon
  • plan an imaginary trip around the world, where would you want to go
  • write a science-fiction story
  • find a new pen pal
  • make up a play using old clothes as costumes
  • make up a game for practicing math facts
  • have a Spelling Bee
  • make up a game for practicing spelling
  • write newspaper articles for a pretend newspaper
  • put together a family newsletter
  • write reviews of movies or plays or TV shows or concerts you see during the break from school
  • bake a cake
  • bake a batch of cookies
  • decorate a shoe box
  • make a hideout or clubhouse
  • make paper airplanes
  • have paper airplane races
  • learn origami
  • make friendship bracelets for your friends
  • make a wind chime out of things headed for the garbage
  • paint your face
  • braid hair
  • play tag
  • make food sculptures (from pretzels, gumdrops, string licorice, raisins, cream cheese, peanuts, peanut butter, etc.) and then eat it
  • produce a talent show
  • memorize a poem
  • recite a memorized poem for your family

Have fun!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the mother of three, a full-time college student, a displaced homemaker trying to make ends meet on a limited budget, and the author of several older (but still in print) books including the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series. You can visit Debi online at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Twaddle-Free Holiday Celebrations

Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com


Since we’re currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison (author of A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education) and we put our heads together to come up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding “twaddle” (or what modern parents might call “dumbed down” literature or activities) in our holiday celebrations, family times and Christmas reading materials.

Defining Twaddle in Literature

First, let’s look at the synonyms of twaddle which include: babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written specifically to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter’s works — she wrote to children but not down to them. Or the original A.A. Milne “Winnie-the-Pooh” books are another good example of twaddle-free just-for-fun reading material.

Regarding children’s literature, look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. The imagination should be warmed and the book should hold the interest of the child. Life’s too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they’ve been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It’s our opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words. Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one’s reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in previous centuries, and we must cope with it in ours. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to handle this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best — even at holiday time.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times?

Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you’re heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they’ll need. If you’ve started to collect any particular set of children’s classics currently in bookstores or catalogues, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you’d like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore.

Twaddle-Free Holidays

How else can we apply the concept of twaddle to the holiday season as a whole?

Well, I firmly believe that twaddle is in the eye of the beholder. That means that some of the following ideas may appeal to you while others may not meet your expectations. Catherine and I put our heads together and came up with the following ideas — some of which were shared with us over the years by other people. As always, take what you like and ignore what you don’t.

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the “What’s Happening” section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven’t previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel’s Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house — while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites — would be more soothing.

Many families, including both Catherine’s and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine’s favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly — however Catherine insists it’s worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

It’s also time to buy next year’s calendar. If you haven’t thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent prints to use for art appreciation throughout the year.

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine’s family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles — which may appear to be a bit twaddly at first glance — but they truly enjoy spending time together which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn’t come to you then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Obviously, there are countless good ideas that help families enjoy each other. Catherine and I send our absolute best to you this holiday season and may each of you be truly happy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough (author and mother of three) is a free-lance writer, editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter [ join-cm-monthly@hub.thedollarstretcher.com ], and author of the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series and several other books including Frugal Living For Dummies®. You can visit Debi online, connect with her blogs, and order her books at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Thanksgiving Ideas

thankstreeLater this month, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving Day. One of our family traditions for this particular holiday is making a Thanksgiving Tree.

We either make a tree trunk with bare branches out of black craft paper or we draw a tree onto a large sheet of paper.  Then we tape the “tree” to our dining room wall. We cut out individual autumn-colored leaves (red, orange, yellow, brown) from more craft paper.

Whenever someone in the family thinks of something or someone that they’re thankful for, they write the item, event, or person’s name onto one of the leaves and then tape the leaf to the tree branches.

We try to put the Thanksgiving Tree in place by mid-November so our family has at least a full week to add more leaves to the tree.

By Thanksgiving Day, the tree is FULL with the names of people, events and things we’re thankful for. This is great fun for the kids and a meaningful addition to our family’s holiday traditions.

Another idea along these lines is to make a Thanksgiving Jar. Throughout the year as things came up that your family is thankful for (new baby, new job, answered prayers, etc.), write the event onto a piece of paper and slip it into a specially designated Thanksgiving container.

A family at our former church in Olympia empties their Thanksgiving Jar once a year and reads each slip of paper on Thanksgiving morning during their family breakfast.

Do you have any special activities or traditions your family shares on Thanksgiving or any other upcoming holiday?  I’d love to hear about them!  🙂

Free Nature Study Resource

I was on the REI website recently  and stumbled upon this interesting item called the Family Adventure Program. It has a free downloadable journal for keeping track of outings and other outdoor activities.

There’s also some information on the webpage about family-friendly hikes in the local area, some free bonus activities you can download, and if your child is age 5-12, she can receive a certificate of completion and a free prize.

http://www.rei.com/family-adventure

Just thought I’d pass on the info in case anyone’s interested. Very unschooling and Charlotte Mason friendly. My kids are too old for this now (23, 20 & 15), but we all would’ve LOVED this resource when they were younger!

 I love REI and even used to work there … 😎

Making the Most of a Homeschool Convention

The homeschool convention is almost here! Are you ready?

Whether it is your first convention or your fifteenth, the annual homeschool convention can be an overwhelming event. With dozens of workshops, over 100 vendors, and thousands of new and used books, it can be a challenge to know what to do first. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your convention experience.

BEFORE THE CONVENTION:

Register

In order to maximize your time and money, start planning well before the day of the convention. Pre-registering online is amazingly convenient, and it will save valuable time when you arrive at convention. Members of the sponsoring organization often receive a generous discount on full registration, and pre-registering by the early-bird deadline can save even more. That is extra money to spend on something that will make your homeschooling easier!

Plan

First, know why you are going to convention. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to:

  • Find out about homeschooling in general?
  • Learn techniques for teaching toddlers or teens?
  • Gain encouragement for educating your special-needs child?
  • Get a hands-on preview of new curriculum?
  • Stretch your dollars by buying used curriculum?
  • Hear encouraging truths from veteran homeschoolers?
  • Make a few dollars by selling your used books?
  • Give back to your homeschool organization by volunteering for a few hours?
  • Save shipping costs by purchasing your textbooks?
  • Attend an inspiring graduation ceremony?

You can do all this and more at the convention if you plan your time wisely! If you spend time thinking through your goals for the coming year, and deciding what you need from the convention before you go, you are well on your way to making the most of this exciting weekend.

Make Your Lists

The sponsoring organization maintains a list of workshops and vendors on its website, and the preliminary workshop descriptions are usually included in the latest issue of the newsletter. Use these resources to plan your time at the convention. As you study the workshop schedule, you will begin to see workshops that you absolutely want to attend. Check them off on the preliminary program, and begin to prioritize.

Inevitably, there will be more than one workshop per session that you would like to attend. This is not a problem! Virtually all the workshops are recorded, and you may purchase tapes or CDs at convention and listen at your convenience later. This way, if you decide to spend all your time in the curriculum hall or the used book sale, you will not miss out on all the encouraging and informative workshops that are scheduled.

Plan for Children and Teens

While convention weekend is a wonderful opportunity for some special “couple time,” the convention is family-friendly if you prefer to bring everyone. A glance at the program will reveal many workshops that are of special interest to teens. These teen-track workshops may include topics such as “Technology and Computers,” “Creation vs. Evolution,” “College Options,” and many more.

Children ages 5-12 may have the opportunity to enroll in a special children’s program, where they can enjoy skits, songs, stories, and crafts focused on the development of good character qualities. The children’s program usually runs for the entire convention, except for meals, for which your children may join you to talk about all the things they’ve learned.

Read Ahead

If you are new to homeschooling, or are entering a new phase of home education, such as high school, you may want to do some reading before you arrive at the convention. You may wish to order books such as The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell, For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley, or 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. There are many other wonderful resources available, and whatever you read will help you prepare for the convention, as well as for the coming school year. Ask a veteran homeschooler for her recommendations, and she’ll probably be happy to share some of her favorites.

Make a List

If you write your shopping list on a business size or 7×9″ envelope, you will be able to place all your receipts in the envelope as you make purchases. You can jot notes about what you see on the back of the envelope, and keep a running total of what you spend on the inside of the flap. Just be careful not to lose your envelope!

AT THE CONVENTION:

When you arrive at the convention, you’ll receive a program booklet and a bag of literature from vendors. The program will contain a map of the convention hall, speaker and graduate profiles, listing of vendors, and a final schedule of workshops. It pays to sit down for a few minutes to get acquainted with this valuable resource. First, check the workshops you want to attend and verify the time and location. Second, locate the bathrooms, concession stands, bag drops, and other conveniences, and locate the booths of vendors or speakers you particularly wish to visit. Now you are ready to plan your day!

As a point of courtesy, if you spend a lot of time with an author or vendor who patiently answers your questions, please remember that it would be very rude to go across the aisle to save a couple of dollars on the same curriculum from a vendor who has not given so generously of his or her time. Most authors and vendors are at the convention, not only because they truly want to help other homeschooling families, but also because they need to make a living.

If This Is Your First Convention

If this is your first convention and you are able to come more than one day (I highly recommend coming for the whole time, if at all possible), don’t buy anything until the last few hours you are there. Use your first day, or first few hours, to attend the introductory workshop sessions offered for new homeschoolers, then browse the curriculum hall, picking up catalogs and brochures. If you know you have a bag full of information, and will be able to order anything you see later, after you have had time to make a careful decision, you will not feel pressured to decide too quickly on anything you see.

Take all the literature you have gathered back to your hotel, or out to lunch if you are there for only a day, and look through it. Focus on things that fit your needs now – elementary curriculum if you have young children, high school curriculum if you have teens. Get acquainted with some of the things that are available, so that when you return to the curriculum hall, you can go directly to the items that seem most interesting or useful to you. Write down questions you would like to ask different vendors, and do not forget that the homeschool organization probably has a table is staffed with veteran homeschoolers who would be happy to answer questions for you. Remember that you do not have to make any quick decisions, but that you may order virtually anything, including workshop tapes, after the convention.

If You Are A Veteran Homeschooler

If you have been homeschooling for years, but have not been to the convention in a while, prepare to be astonished and delighted by the amazing array of high-quality curriculum options that are available. You will find many resources for the high-school years, as well as a great deal of information on helping your student make the transition to college, the military, or a career. There are encouraging new books and resources, as well as workshops and vendors that can answer many of the questions you may have as your students grow older.

Veteran homeschoolers are probably also aware of the many opportunities available for volunteer service at the convention. The convention takes place only with the help of the many volunteers – both new and veteran homeschoolers – who donate a bit of their time to make it happen. You may choose to help in the exhibit hall, graduation, security, hospitality, registration, publicity, used curriculum sale, or as an office volunteer or speaker host. As a special thank-you, volunteers often receive special privileges such as first admission to the used curriculum shopping area, or a free workshop recording.

AFTER THE CONVENTION:

When you reach home after the convention, you will have much to digest. Make time to read the books and catalogs you bring home, and listen to the workshop tapes you have purchased. As you put all you have learned into practice, you will be thankful you took time to learn more about home education. Your new knowledge will help you experience joy in the journey!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janice Campbell, author of Get a Jump Start on College! A Practical Guide for Teens, Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler’s Guide to High School Paperwork, and the forthcoming Excellence in Literature series, has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980’s. She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, using the principles she now shares in her books, blog (http://www.Janice-Campbell.com), workshops, and her free e-newsletter. Sign up for it today at http://www.Everyday-Education.com

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