Our Summer Homeschool Plan

Summer SchoolEvery year I have these great ambitions of doing school year-round, and having summer be just as productive and structured as the rest of the year. And every summer, I laugh at my well-laid plans, and realize that it’s just not going to happen.

So, this year, I’m actually anticipating this, and have a laid back summer planned…with lots of learning activities available of course. (See my popular post about Learning While On Summer Vacation)

Math: We finished out Tater’s 1st grade year about 20 lessons into Horizons 2. We’ll continue doing a couple lessons a week, but will be mainly focusing on memorizing Skip Counting and solidifying her addition and subtraction skills to begin multiplication in the Fall.

Handwriting: Tater was diagnosed with dysgraphia, which basically means she has a hard time with handwriting and spelling because of motor skill development. (Fun fact: I had similar issues in school.) We’ve been working with Junior’s OT to give her hand exercises to strengthen her fine motor skills, and some core exercises to improve her gross motor skills. We will be starting cursive, as that is supposed to help, and this summer will be spent learning cursive letters and improving motor skills.

Reading: She does reading herself and we do a read aloud together…she’s been reading Imagination Station, Berenstain Bears, and her Bible Storybooks to herself. Our read-aloud right now is Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Spanish: I found a Spanish workbook at Costco that Tater is really excited to start. She likes to order in Spanish at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and has asked to learn more.

Travel: We have several trips planned this summer. One vacation to the beach and one trip to visit family on the East Coast, so I’m going to incorporate History, Geography, and Geology into those trips.

What are your Summer Plans? Comment below to let me know!


Book Review: Centralia

It’s not very often that a book keeps me awake at all hours of the night just because I need to find out what happens. Centralia, Mike Dellosso’s newest novel, is partially responsible for my lack of sleep this week. It is a wild and crazy psychological thriller that I just couldn’t put down.

Peter Ryan wakes up one morning feeling fuzzy, and unable to find his wife, Karen, and daughter Lilly. He calls a friend, who gives the devastating news that his wife and daughter were killed in a fiery car accident two months ago. Remembering only bits and pieces of the funeral, Peter knows that something isn’t right. He ransacks his home looking for some shred of evidence that Karen and Lilly are not actually dead, and finds a hidden note in his daughter’s handwriting that says “Daddy, we went to Centralia.”

Not knowing what Centralia is, Peter resolves to find his family, hoping against hope that they are not actually dead, but within minutes of finding the note, armed men show up at Peter’s house, and he begins to wonder what in his past could have sparked the danger he is suddenly in.

Peter has a recurring dream that he is locked out of one room of his home, and he thinks that if he can access the room in his dreams, his memory will be restored and he will know exactly where Karen and Lilly are. But, eventually he has to make a choice between what he knows and what he sees, and he realizes that faith is the key to all of his questions.

I can’t say too much more about this plot without giving things away, but rest assured that it is a crazy ride full of twists and turns and “whoaaaa, did that just happen?!” moments. I was thrilled to see that Centralia is book one in a series, and I can’t wait to read book #2, though I am a little sad that it won’t be coming out until Summer 2016.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.


When Hard Means Good


I collapsed onto the couch at the end of another long day. Both kids were finally in bed, but Junior was still making a  vocal protest about having to sleep, as he does every night.

“Why did God give us such a challenging kid?” I asked my husband, as I thought back on that day of another meltdown in therapy, a screaming fit in the car, and an emotionally draining afternoon trying to reason with an overtired 3-year old that consistently refuses to nap.

“What do you mean?” he responded, though still engrossed in ESPN.

“My friends all have easy kids. They sleep, they understand the word “no”, and for heavens sakes, they go to the grocery store and actually hold onto the cart!”

He must have sensed that my question held an underlying insecurity, because he turned to face me as he considered a response.

“Why do you assume that easy means good?” he asked thoughtfully.

Huh?!? Of course easy means good! Easy means sleeping more than a 4 hour block, it means going on an airplane without stressing for weeks that he’s going to have a meltdown 10,000 feet in the air, it means going to the park and playing with friends instead of going to therapy again, it means never having to explain why your child is different…

But then, suddenly, something in my brain clicked. Easy might be good, but that doesn’t mean that challenging is bad. No, challenging is good in it’s own special way…just like Junior.

When he wakes up in the morning and says “ears!” because he wants his cochlear implants on…that’s good! He has had to work hard for every sound he hears; hundreds of hours of appointments and therapies in the last 2 years, but the pride I see when he completes a listening task is better than good. It’s a miracle.

When he sits in a chair and plays with play-doh instead of throws it…that’s good! Yes, it took 3 months of OT to get him to sit still for 5 minutes, but it was worth it!

When he goes up to his sister and hugs her instead of hits her…that’s good! It only took 327 times of saying “we don’t hit” before he finally got it (this time, anyway), but it’s still progress.

If I’ve learned anything in the last 3 years, it’s that the harder you work for something, the more obstacles you face, and the more sacrifices you make, the more you appreciate it.

My life with Junior isn’t ever going to be easy. But my perspective about his special needs has shifted. I appreciate the little milestones more than any typical parent is capable of. I don’t take those baby steps of growth for granted. I know how much hard work, sacrifice, tears, and sleepless nights have gone into every ounce of progress, and that means everything. And, at the end of the day, I guess I don’t want an “easy” kid, I just want Junior.

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Book Review: Wilderness Rising

I have really been enjoying Christian suspense novels recently. I have heard good things about author A.L. Shields, so I was looking forward to reading his gripping novel, Wilderness Rising.

Wilderness Rising begins by introducing us to Bethany Barclay, an American lawyer who is a wanted suspect in the bombing of several American labs, as well as a murder. Bethany claims to have been set up by an anti-church group known as the Wilderness, who are looking for an ancient biblical artifact called the Pilate Stone. She uses a fake passport to go to England, where her friend, Annabelle had been searching for the same relic before she was killed.

In addition to the Wilderness group, there is also a pro-Christian group known as the Garden. Both groups are very secretive (think freemasons), and will go to any extreme to reach their respective goals.

The Pilate Stone is a legendary relic that supposedly proves the existence of Jesus in history. The Wilderness wants it so they can clean the stone and disprove His existence, while the Garden wants to use it to prove that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Bethany is caught in the crossfire between the two groups, and both try to use her for their own gain.

Meanwhile, teenaged computer genius, and friend of Bethany, Janice Stafford is being held hostage by members of the Wilderness back in the US. We don’t know exactly how Bethany and Janice are linked (having read the first book of this series may have cleared things up), but they are both worried about each other’s fates.

The book is mostly about Bethany’s quest for the Pilate Stone, and Janice’s desire for escape. There are many double agents, and Bethany doesn’t know who to trust. But, her life hangs in the balance, and one wrong turn can influence the course of history.

First off, I didn’t realize this book was actually a sequel to The Church Builder. I felt like I missed quite a bit. The book didn’t really re-introduce the reader to the characters, so I had to piece together the back story and characters a little at a time.

The writing itself was engaging, but there were so many characters introduced–at least one new character per chapter–that it was hard to get into the flow of the book. I kept having to stop and ask “who is that person again?”

I probably wouldn’t have gotten stuck while reading this book so often had I read the prequel and knew the back story, but I did like the writing style, which was very intelligent and precise.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not being influenced in any way.

7 Fun Ways to Keep Kids Learning on Summer Vacation

7 Tips to Keep Kids Learning on Summer Vacation
Just because school is out doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. Summer is a great time to give kids a love for learning by making it fun! Some of my favorite learning opportunities happen when we’re traveling and seeing new places, which means summer vacation is a great time to sneak some fun learning in!

Whether you’re traveling across the city or the state or the country in a car, ship, or plane, there are plenty of ways to turn your summer trip into a great learning experience.

1. Prepare Your Kids Beforehand
A few weeks before we went to Zion National Park earlier this year, I got Tater a bunch of maps and books that talked about the Park and the state of Utah. Introducing your kids to the location before you go will give them a sense of what to expect, so their eyes and ears will be open for learning! Maps (if you are a AAA member you can get them for free), library books, and travel shows on Netflix or YouTube are all great ways to get your kids ready for your trip.

2. Rethink Travel Games
I’m the first to admit, on long road trips and plane rides my kids spend plenty of time watching DVDs and iPad movies, but I still pack a bunch of travel games and activities. In addition to a few DIY Travel Toys, I also fill a binder with coloring and activity pages about our destination, photos of various landmarks we will see, and Booklets I print out from the National Parks Junior Ranger program. (Even if you’re not going to a National Park, you can still use it to print out information about landmarks from the state(s) you’re visiting.)

3. Be More Observant
Even on vacation, it seems we don’t notice the little details, and only pay attention to the “exciting” things. But, if they’re observant enough, your kids can learn a lot even in mundane situations:

  • Talk about construction styles and architecture as you’re walking down the street (architectural details vary widely between regions, and history plays a big role!)
  • Notice the license plates you see in a parking lot (often license plates will feature a state motto or important state feature).
  • Discuss how geographic location influences regional favorites on the menu while you wait at a restaurant (why does the South feature catfish, the Northwest feature salmon, and Hawaii offer Pacific mahi mahi?)
  • Ask about the landscape and how it’s different from where you live. Introduce geology and geography by talking about mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and even the color of the soil or rocks. (Red dirt usually means iron rich, and gray rock formations could be limestone, shale, or granite.)

4. Take Pictures
Get your kids an inexpensive camera and encourage them to take pictures of anything that interests them. Give them more information about the things that captivate them, and when you get home start a scrapbook using the photos he or she took.

5. Keep a Journal
Encouraging your child to keep a journal of the things you’ve done and places you’ve visited not only preserves the memories, it also practices their handwriting and spelling skills. If your child is too young to write, have them draw a picture or dictate their memories for you to write down.

6. Choose Your Attractions
Children’s Museums, Aquariums, Zoos, and hands-on Science Centers are all wonderful attractions that provide learning while having fun first.

7. Don’t Force It
This is actually the MOST important tip. The goal is just to keep your kids’ minds active, you don’t need them to memorize information. You don’t need to test them, and if they don’t really want to hear about the history of the state or the engineering feat of the bridge you just drove over, don’t push it. Make memories, have fun, and learning will follow.