April 19, 2014

Drop Everything and Turn This On!



Yesterday evening my family enjoyed watching the live streaming of the Tabernacle Choir's performance of Handel's Messiah.    

I first heard about this performance in an email from Debby Smith, who directs the Heralders Children's Choir, a choir especially for homeschoolers along the Wasatch front that my boys sang in when we lived in Utah a few years ago.  Debby is also a member of the Tabernacle Choir and she sent out an email to everyone on her list to tell us about this special event she had the privilege of participating in.  

According to Debbby, when the free tickets to these concerts were made available they sold out in less than 7 minutes online.  They opened up overflow areas around Temple Square and those tickets also disappeared within minutes.  Many, many people contacted them requesting that the performance be broadcast.  

And so it was.  It is available on the choir's website right now, but it will only be there until Monday night.  I highly encourage one and all to make it a part of your Easter observances this weekend.  This is a performance worth watching. 

I have loved Messiah since I saw the play Joyful Noise at BYU when I was in high school.  Joyful Noise, written by Utah-native Tim Slover, tells the captivating story of how Handel wrote the greatest choral work of all time-- in only 24 days.  (If you ever have a chance to see this play, I highly recommend it.)  

Then a few years later I read Hallelujah, a historical novel about Handel and Messiah.  It was a long book, but I enjoyed the read.  The author brought in some fictional characters that helped me to understand better the significance of the work and the way it has been traditionally performed as a benefit to charity.  After reading it I had an even deeper love for the music of Messiah.

And I have, like most people, thought of it as Christmas music.  I know it was written for the Easter season, but until now I had only listened to it during December.  

Just turning it on last night brought such a sweet spirit into our home.  The kids, who had been bouncing around for hours bickering with each other and asking me incessant questions about the upcoming egg hunt, suddenly calmed down.  Within a few minutes they were all sitting quietly in the living room drawing or reading or just snuggling Dad and dozing off while listening.  I was in and out of the room, working on boiling eggs and making hot cross buns.  I loved to sit and watch it when I had a minute, but I also loved hearing it in the background while I was in the kitchen.  It kept my mind on the Savior and His life.  I am always trying to make our family's Easter observances more Christ-centered and I found listening to Messiah a very powerful way to do this.  

I truly believe Handel was inspired when he wrote this music.  The more I have listened to it and learned about it, the more familiar I am with it and the more it moves me and fills me with the Spirit, which testifies to me that Jesus is the Christ.  I am hoping that my children will have this experience too over the years as it remains part of our celebrations both at Christmas and at Easter.  


Sarah (Birrd) has always had a secret dream of singing in the Tabernacle Choir.  Since she is busy raising six children and homeschooling it doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon, but in the meantime she is happy being one of their biggest fans.  She would love you to visit her personal blog, The Birrd's Nest.  

April 8, 2014

Catch the Excitement!




I recently had an epiphany--one of those epiphanies that make you grateful you had it but mad at yourself that it took so long for you to figure it out.

The epiphany had its birth in my fascination and study of pre-literacy.  Pre-literacy is all the stuff you do to create little people who want to be readers and therefore grow up to be readers.  There are some tried and true ways to do this.

1) Be an enthusiastic reader.  This is the most critical thing a person can do to create readers.  I know some of us are way too busy to read as much as we'd like.  It's okay, you can fake it.  For example, I tell my kids about my favorite books all the time.  I also check out my favorite books on tape so the kids can listen to the books and we can talk about them.

2) Read to your kids.

3) Order a magazine with your child's name on it.  The Friend is great for this.  We have gotten Ranger Rick in the past and currently get the National Geographic.

4) Have books in your home.  There is lots of research to show that if a child owns a book, he or she is more likely to do well in school and enjoy reading.  That is why there are book charities that give children their own books.  Find a local book charity in your area and donate!

5) Give books as presents so your kids associate books with excitement.

There are other pre-literacy strategies, but those are the main ones.  I know these tips and have done all of them.  My children all love, adore, and treasure books.  On library day they spend hours poring over the new books they checked out and brought home.  In this I have been successful.

Another thing I am really good at is getting my children to be good eaters.  By "good eaters" I mean that my children eat a wide variety of foods and don't complain about any food put on their plates.  I am really proud of this because food is really important to me--I love to cook.  And eat.  Especially eat.  Here is my system:

1) Be an enthusiastic eater!  You can convince any child that a food is delicious if you make lots of enjoyment sounds while you eat it or, better yet, say casually that you hope he doesn't like the food so there will be more for you.

A short story to illustrate the point.  My parents always put a can of smoked oysters in our stockings because they loved smoked oysters and we didn't get much seafood in our little Canadian prairie town.  Because we only got smoked oysters at Christmas we all firmly believed they were a treat (they totally are!).  When my baby brother was about three he had someone open his can of oysters for him first thing Christmas morning, tried one, and said, "Mine are rotten!"  We laughed until we cried.  Notice, though, that he assumed something was wrong with that can and not oysters in general because it was inconceivable that something we all viewed as a treat could taste bad.

2) Make a wide variety of foods.

3) Never, ever, ever fight about food.  This is obviously my own personal opinion and lots of people disagree with me.  I think that food is a joy and a pleasure and should be treated as such.  The only rule we have for food at our house is that if you serve yourself, you have to eat what you take.  That way the kids learn to not waste.

4) Don't make alternate menu items for kids--because of their age or their preferences.  I don't make kids eat what I serve, but they certainly don't get to have something else instead.

5) Don't ridicule kids for not liking something.  I don't like squash but nobody criticizes me for it or forces me to eat it.  My kids love almost all food but I have a five year old who isn't a huge fan of onions.  When we eat meals that include onions, he simply pushes them to the side of his plate.  If it is ever brought up, we simply say, "Eli is learning to like onions."  That's it.

Of all these rules, the most important one is to be an enthusiastic eater.  All my kids love asparagus because I do.  They love smoked oysters because I do.  They love incredibly spicy Thai curries and Chinese dishes, grains, and breads, and especially vegetables--because I do.

So my epiphany is this: maybe everything is taught this way.  Maybe our enthusiasm about something will always infect our children.  I love to read and my children love to read.  I love to eat and cook and my children love to eat and cook.

What if I loved to study my scriptures?  What if I had the same enthusiasm for the scriptures that I do for chocolate?  Or Lloyd Alexander novels?

Let's be frank.  I am terrible at reading my scriptures despite my deep and profound belief that reading my scriptures is the most important thing I can do to keep my testimony growing.  I have an on again/off again ability to read my scriptures.  Before I was called to be Relief Society president I was doing a pretty good job reading my scriptures.  Then I stopped reading completely while I held that calling.  Now that I've been released I keep trying to force myself to get back into the habit.

What if my children develop the same lack of enthusiasm for scripture study because of my example?



I was deeply humbled by Sister Reeves talk.  What good is it to raise readers if they aren't reading the scriptures?

During conference I heard over and over and over the call to read our scriptures.  That might not be what you heard because you needed a different message, but it is what I heard.  I also felt strongly prompted to reorganize our family scripture study around topics instead of reading the Book of Mormon straight through.  I have a new plan of action and a determination to do better.  If my enthusiasm is catching then I want my children to catch such a profound love of the scriptures that it changes their lives.

So I must change mine.

Wish me luck.

And good luck to all of us as we try to implement the messages we heard at conference.


Andrea is a homeschooling mother of six; ages 10, 9, 7, 5, 3, and 13 months. She is a "retired" school teacher who loves books, books, and more books! She also loves writing, cooking, hiking, dancing, singing, and hanging out with her family.  You can read more about her homeschooling efforts on the blog Frolic and Farce.

March 29, 2014

GIRL Power!!

I am so excited about the General Women's Meeting for conference this year!

In years past, as I sat at the Relief Society broadcast, I felt the strength and power of the women of the church. I loved knowing that although I am not in the same state as my sisters they were watching too. We were all in it together. And together we were stronger.

This year, not only my mother and sisters will be watching with me from afar, but my nieces, and my very own daughter who just turned eight! I am so inspired by the strength of the younger generation and know that they are my sisters in the Gospel. I can't wait to feel what it will be like uniting in purpose and song with ALL my sisters. Young and old.

Will you be there tonight? I know that our Father knows his daughters and knows our day and he will
 have messages for us all. So gather up your sisters for the ultimate Girl's Night Out!!

I found this awesome link for ways to share an invite about the conference. It has videos, facebook pics, etc. Let's make sure no one forgets to fill their lamp tonight.

March 19, 2014

Audible versus LibriVox



Audiobooks have been a homeschool staple at our house for years.  In fact, I feel like one of the best things I have done for my kids, starting when they are very young, is to get them listening to classic stories on audio while they are playing with their toys.  It has done so much to enrich them in so many ways, and since I can't read aloud to them as often as I wish I could, I am really grateful for that technology.

The library has usually been our go-to source for audiobooks.  Most of the six towns we've lived in over the years have had a good selection of children's stories on audio at the library.  We have sure appreciated being able to borrow these stories from the library for free... though I must add that while my children were still learning to take good care of tapes and CDs we spent a lot of money in library fines.  (You might want to think about that before you check out a book that has 10 CDs, especially if you have very young children.  Lose one, and you might have to pay for the whole thing... been there, done that!)

A few years ago I heard about the website LibriVox from a homeschooling friend.  She told me it was a website where you could download free audio recordings of books in the public domain.  I was very excited about that idea, but when I visited the site at that time I found it not only difficult to navigate but I had trouble getting the audio files to work on my computer.  So I moved on to other things and forgot about it.

Later, my sister told me about Audible, an Amazon-affiliated site for audio recordings.  She had a membership for $15 a month which allowed her one audio download a month.  She could also purchase other downloads for a discount if she wanted.

I thought she was crazy.  Why commit to spending $15 a month on audio books when you can get so many at the library, or buy used CDs from half.com or other online merchants?

A year ago we moved to a town where the audio selection at the library was not up to my standards.  My oldest in particular was really missing having the rich selection of books on CD, especially some of his old favorites.  This is my child with the learning disability, and audio books have been a critical component in his educational success, so I started looking at purchasing the ones we were missing.  It wasn't going to be cheap!

I decided at that point it made sense to get a membership at Audible.  I figured I would look at the $15/month as a homeschooling expense.  We made a big huge wishlist with all our favorites on it, as well as new ones I wanted the kids to experience.  Once a month we get to pick out something new.  This not only breaks up the expense but makes it more exciting as we wait for our next credit and think about what we're going to get with it.  We've been doing it for almost a year and it's been a lot of fun.  The quality of the recordings has been excellent and they have a return policy: if you choose one you don't like for whatever reason, you can return it for something different.  And we don't have to worry about scratched or lost CDs.

Recently, something got me back over to the Librivox site and I found that it has improved much since I first took a look at it.  I found it easy to use.  I could easily see what books were available, and many of the classics have multiple recordings.  Downloading them was simple and they played on my computer without any problems.  And then it hit me how awesome it was that they were all FREE!  My son and I got pretty excited as we went through our Audible wishlist and realized that many of the things on there were classics that we could get on Librivox right away without waiting for our next credit.

We went wild and downloaded a bunch of books.

We have been very happy with some of them, but not so happy with others.  I guess we've gotten kind of spoiled with the high-quality Audible recordings.  Librivox recordings are done by volunteers.  Some of them do a practically professional job, some of them don't.  And often they switch readers on you between chapters.  This can be distracting and even frustrating.  My son downloaded a G. A. Henty book and was loving how exciting it was until about a third of the way through when the reader switched to someone with a really dry voice that read action-packed sentences with no emotion whatsoever.  The story was much harder to follow at that point.

However, some of the recordings have been really great.  And it's so cool that it gives you access to so many classics for free.  What an incredible resource for homeschoolers!  It's definitely worth putting up with some imperfections.  I see a lot of Librivox recordings in our future.  I'm still going to hang on to my Audible membership though.  It's not a necessity, but it's a little luxury we really enjoy.


Sarah (Birrd) and her husband (Badger), are raising six children in a small cowboy town next to the mountains.  She loves daffodils, roasted asparagus, and the writings of L. M. Montgomery.  She would love to have you visit her personal blog, The Birrd's Nest.  



March 13, 2014

LDS Homeschool Conferences (2014) and Associations

lds2

Latter Day Saints Home Educators – Home Education Conference in Virginia Beach:  May 22-23, 2014

LDS Homeschool Conference in Provo, Utah:  August 8-9, 2014

National LDS Home School Association

Support Groups – State-wide

Liahona Homeschool Support Group – California
Started in 1988 by Diane Hopkins to provide an organized opportunity for LDS homeschooling families in Orange County, California, to meet together.

LDS Homeschooling in California
Site includes a number of ways to communicate, including an email list and list of support groups. A conference is also planned.

Latter-Day Saint Oregon Home Educators Assocation
Serving Mormon families in Oregon and Washington.

Washington State Latter-day Saint Family Educators
We are a non-profit organization set up to help parents educate their children according to the desires and wishes of their heart.

LDS Homeschoolers in Maryland - This group is for members and friends of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who homeschool their children (or are considering homeschooling) in Maryland (or adjoining states).

S.H.A.R.E. of Southern Nevada
Email Loop: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sharehs
Networking LDS and like-minded homeschoolers in Southern Nevada, with area groups in Moapa, Henderson, East Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, West Las Vegas and a Teen group.

LDS Pahrump Homeschoolers – Nevada
This group is for those homeschoolers in the Pahrump, Nevada area who have chosen to raise and teach their children in the home. LDS and like-minded families are welcome to share in our passion for teaching our children. This group hosts weekly co-op which can include social activities, idea sharing, classes, field trips, regular Mom Meetings to lend support, brainstorm ideas for future co-ops, make decisions that involve the group etc. We will share local resources with one another as well as be a support to one another in our shared passion for educating our children.

Beehive Academy – New Mexico
Latter Day Saints (LDS). Serving Albuquerque and surrounding area. Twice monthly meetings for group activities, including service projects, holiday activities, field trips, presentations, and social activities. Visit http://www.lds-nha.org/support.html#nm.

Love-At-Home, NOVA LDS Home Educators – Virginia/Maryland
Loudoun County | Fairfax County | Prince William County | Fauquier County | Frederick County (MD) |
A group of Latter-Day Saint Home Educators. They coordinate and share ideas and events. This includes such things as social events; field trips; and unit studies.

Know of any other LDS groups or resources?  Comment below and I’ll add them to the list!

Jen is a mother to 3 boys with a baby girl.  She is in her third official year of homeschooling. She has a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education and worked with young children for many years before having her own. She likes to read, cook and get crafty. She is an Usborne Books Consultant and blogs at Chestnut Grove Academy.

February 19, 2014

Book Review: Read for the Heart



Last month I was putting in a mid-year order to Rainbow Resource Center for some more homeschool books and I needed one more item to reach $50 so I could get free shipping.  It was a great chance for me to indulge: order something I didn't absolutely need but would just enjoy.  So, of course, I ordered a book about reading.

The book I chose was Read from the Heart  by Sarah Clarkson.  This is a time of year when my family has more time to read aloud on cold, dark evenings and I always have my eye out for reading lists and book suggestions from trustworthy sources.


 

I absolutely LOVE this book.  What makes it stand out from other similar books is that it was written by a young woman who grew up in a literature-rich homeschool environment.  She has been through exactly what I am trying to create for my children and has come out the other end with a passion for good wholesome literature which is incredibly contagious.

The book is the perfect length: long enough to be really useful but short enough to not be overwhelming.  She begins with a few chapters on the whys and hows of reading and then follows with her annotated book lists, grouped by genre.  All of it is enjoyable to read because she writes with a lot of feeling and insight (I can't help but think of the rich harvest her homeschooler mother is reaping from this daughter!)

I was particularly inspired by these words in the first chapter:

"As I have considered the many wonderful reasons to read, a steady progressions of scenes from my childhood has come to my mind, each one a poignant portrait of a reading life.  One by one, these scenes remind me of the reasons I read: for a wakened heart, a strong mind, and a steadfast soul."

I love that so much I want to put it on a sign in my library or make it my homeschool theme or something:  A wakened heart, a strong mind, and a steadfast soul.  Yes! Yes! Yes!  That is want I want books to give my children.  It is what they gave me, and it is a gift I value beyond that of riches.

In the second chapter, she has some really eye-opening things to say about the power of literacy.  Here is a part of her message:

"Reading shapes the way the brain encounters new concepts, creating a space for contemplation and discernment that electronic media never provide.  Reading requires diverse areas of the brain-- each controlling a different part of sight, speech, or sound-- to work together to extract meaning from a page of text.  Every aspect of this description suggests that reading is an intense mental activity.  It produces the exact opposite of TV's passivity, resulting in a brain trained to interact with ideas and a mind able to comprehend, choosing what it will accept or reject as true."

The third chapter gives some solid and practical ideas on how to build a culture of literacy in your home.  This includes both tips for reading aloud and ways to promote individual reading.  I love how her focus is on making it enjoyable and natural.

I wondered as I approached the book lists if I would find much there that was new to me.  I am a life-long bibliophile, well-versed in the world of classic children's literature.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that while quite a few of the books on her lists were old favorites, there were a great many I had never encountered before, especially in the children's picture book section.  It's like discovering a whole bunch of new flavors at the candy store.

I really love the way she gives a brief synopsis of each book, including age-appropriateness and cautions about possible disturbing content.  (A classic example of this is Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is a very powerful and worthwhile book but also very troubling.)  Other book lists I have that I have used a lot don't do this, and there have been times where I had a child read something that turned out to be something I wished I'd waited a couple years to give to them.  In my ideal world, I pre-read everything for my children, but in our fast-paced reality that doesn't happen, so it's nice to have someone with values similar to mine who can tell me in advance what to expect about a book.

On the back of the book it says, "Owning this volume is like having a children's librarian for a best friend."  I would say that pretty much sums it up.  Passionate, inspiring, and incredibly useful, Sarah Clarkson's book is going to be a well-worn and frequently-used reference in my home from here on out.  I ordered it for fun as a side-note to all my curriculum, but it just may end up being one of the most influential volumes in my homeschool library.


Sarah (Birrd) and her husband (Badger) are the parents of six little bibliophiles.  She is currently reading aloud "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" to her twelve-year-old, Elizabeth Enright's "Melendy" series to her ten-, eight-, and six-year-olds, and "Winnie the Pooh" to her toddlers.  She reads from the cozy bookshelf-lined living room of her snow-covered house in a remote region of the western United States.  Visit her at The Birrd's Nest.  


February 16, 2014

Spilling Ink - Review

After spending our entire first semester in a rigorous, but BORING, grammar program, we were all feeling a little burnt out from classifying sentences and writing expository paragraphs. Ugh.

Although learning the rules of writing can be important, all things should be done in moderation- especially in home school!

We found the following trade book to be a breath of fresh air and an excellent tutorial on creative writing that saved us all from language arts doldrums. Meet, Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter



This book is written to a target audience of upper elementary/early middle but I have also found it useful for my early elementary kids, myself and my wanna-be writing club for grown-ups.

Successful and experienced authors, Anne and Ellen, share their writing advice and tips in simple stories and short segments that are followed by an "I Dare You" challenge. The segments are packed with useful information that I've also found in heavy-duty How-to Write guides, but never before in such a concise, enjoyable and doable format. The dares are writing exercises, prompts and challenges that are so deliciously served up you can't help but want to do them.

My kids and I read a chapter or so and then do the challenge. Our favorite challenge so far was baking cookies and having a heart-to-heart slumber party tell-all interview with our character (we created in an earlier "dare") to find out all about him/her and his/her heart's desire. Talking to imaginary friends sounds crazy, but it really helped our characters (and our home school) come alive.

I have wanted to write my own fiction for decades, but never dared. And I didn't know where to begin anyway. But Spilling Ink made it easy to, well, spill some ink and just get writing. I now have a character with a story waiting to be told and so do each of my children.

If you need a creative writing boost, I DARE YOU to check this one out!

--------------- Jana is a mom of five learning along with her kids, and having the time of her life. ---------