Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I have three birthdays in December, and keeping up with all those birthdays, definitely took a toll on our excitement about Christmas. We had decided back in October to focus on used or homemade gifts for Christmas, in an effort to create less junk, and save money for things that we value, and although that worked out really well, the entire holiday just seemed a little less exciting to me this year. 

Hopefully, my children did not catch my lack of Christmas spirit. We played lots of Christmas carols, sang at a convalescent home, baked cookies, and walked by Christmas lights in an effort to make the season bright for our children, and keep their eyes bright with the joy of the season. 

 We also had a fabulous three days at the coast just a week and a half before Christmas, which didn't help with our Christmas prep, but certainly contributed some wonderful relationship building time, which is what Christmas is really about anyway.

 I confess, I am happy that it is over. I feel so excited about setting goals for the new year, and getting back into the wonderful routine of homeschooling and gardening, and mothering my children. 

For the last several years I have posted my goals for the new year here. It has been a really good way to keep me accountable. As I set goals, I pray that my vision would also be aligned with what God wants for me in the coming year.

I have been reading, Becoming Myself, by Stasi Eldridge, and one of the exercises that she has you complete in the book, is to write a list of all your biggest dreams. Sometimes, in the busy years of mothering and homeschooling, we fail to look down the road at the bigger picture. 

Even Sarah Mackenzie, in her talk at the Wild and Free conference in Virginia talked about looking forward twenty years, and dreaming about what you want your children to remember about their homeschool years. Dreaming is an important first step in any goal setting process, if we don't know what the long view is, how can we make daily or monthly goals that make sense?

So this week, as I prepare to make three month goals for the year, I am setting aside time to dream and journal about what  the focus of this next season will be. 

What are your big dreams, and the daily steps you will take to accomplish them?

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Why I Am Not Out Shopping On Black Friday

I can hear my children playing in the next room, and as I do the head count, I invariably step around toys that someone has left lying around. This has led me to believe that instead of needing lots of new stuff for Christmas, we would be better served by taking time as a family, or by encouraging talents through purchases geared towards creativity.

Sometimes it feels tiring, or stingy, to say no to toy requests from my children, I love them so much and would love to give them the moon. However, more stuff, does not equal more satisfaction. What it does equal is more time spent managing all the stuff.

Some of the things we will be doing this season;

Building a snowman

Drinking cocoa

Watching Elf

Reading "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

Making homemade gifts

Painting Christmas themed art

Caroling at a convalescent home

Putting Thieves on our feet to prevent sickness

Cutting down a Christmas tree

Hanging out on the beach

Going to the Monterey Aquarium for Homeschool Days.

I love that our Christmas plans involve so much togetherness, and hopefully, with a few less presents to buy, I will be able to focus more on relationship and connection, and less on buying, wrapping and  cleaning up stuff.

This post has links to Amazon items that we own and love.


Jr. Analytical Grammar

"Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language."
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein

When I had been homeschooling a couple years, I read Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well Trained Mind. It was surprisingly simple to understand and gave me a few great ideas for organizing our school. I carefully took note of which curriculum she recommended, and because Rod and Staff Grammar was both on her list and available for free or cheap through used book sales and the publisher, I went with that for our grammar studies. I used R&S Grammar with my four oldest children, and along with all the books they read, it seemed to work well at teaching them the parts of speech.

My twelve year old son, however, was not as keen on continuing with R&S. He had a hard time with the vast cultural divide between himself and the culture of the publishing company, and grew weary of some of the colloquial sayings that are included in their lessons. Although I was a little annoyed with his annoyance, (I owned the curriculum, and was not keen on buying a new one), I was willing to try something different. 

We inserted a year of Easy Grammar, which might be very easy for someone who had more of an education than me, but I felt that the instructions were often a little light, which left some confusion. I did however, love their clear explanation of prepositions, so I am not ruling it out altogether for future years. It could simply have been an operator error.

Meanwhile, I read a few reviews of Analytical Grammar, and grew excited about giving it a try. I find that with my 12 year old, he does much better with more teacher involvement. He is a people person and wants the interaction. Because of this, and the fact that I am full time schooling his two younger siblings as well, I decided to try using Jr. Analytical Grammar with him and his 8 year old sister. 

It has been a wonderful asset to our homeschool this year. The lessons are very simple, but offer exactly the amount of review that these two need. The curriculum is simple enough for the 8 year old, but also gives my older son a good review of the parts of speech and their usage that he had previously learned in his use of R&S and Easy Grammar. I am enjoying teaching both of them the same material and having one set of material to grade. Although Jr Analytical Grammar was designed  for 4th and 5th grade students who are not quite ready for the more in depth coverage of grammar included in the regular Analytical Grammar program, it is working well as a grammar review for my son.

I also appreciate that Analytical Grammar is so clear and concise. The lessons are easy to understand, and build in a very logical way.  First nouns, then proper nouns, then articles and adjectives, and so on. As well, it is laid out differently than Easy Grammar and Rod and Staff, this is wonderful for us, because at the beginning of the year when we have lots of energy, we are now learning a different set of information. Instead of spending the first part of the year on prepositions, ala Easy Grammar, we now have the chance to get really good at identifying nouns, pronouns, articles and adjectives.

Although I truly believe that the most important way to teach your child good grammar is to read to them, and require them to read, great books, their ability to identify parts of speech will be a huge asset in their ability to communicate well. As an aspiring writer, I too am grateful for all the grammar review that I am getting. I need it and am thankful that we can enjoy studying grammar together.

Here is a video from the author, R. Robin Finley, with more information about Jr. Analytical Grammar.

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Homeschool Co-op How To

I have had some form of a homeschool co-op for many of the 17 years that I have been homeschooling. I love being around people, and I love the accountability and enrichment that homeschooling with a co-op has provided. 

Although space limitations have kept our co-ops very small, I dream of one day being able to meet in a facility where I could join with more families in my community to learn together.

In past years, we have only met once a month, but this year with no baby nap schedules to worry about and with fewer students to manage, I have two co-ops that meet every other week. This means that I have a co-op meeting each week. My children and I never have to go too long between an inundation of time with friends. Hooray for that!

One co-op is especially geared towards teaching writing and science and I am having a great time teaching the Apologia Flying Creatures class to my students. We scavenge for feathers, build bird feeders, and mostly draw, paint and read books. It is loads of fun. Meanwhile, friends who are better at teaching the upper grades are doing biology and general science with my older kids. It is a wonderful situation where we all get to see our children learn and have fun.

I recently joined Periscope, a very interesting app for live broadcasting, and my son and I have been making videos, with my broadcasts or with iMovie. The video here is a broadcast that I did on Periscope which explains exactly how to start your own co-op.

Some of the specific steps that I talk about in the video are;

Find a group to co-op with

Pick your subjects or classes

Meet together to create a schedule

Designate who teaches what and where you will meet

Then, just do it!

It isn't too late to start a homeschool co-op this year. It could be as simple as a play date with a particular theme, or as complex as hosting multiple classes. Book clubs, sewing bees and adventure clubs are all wonderful ways to get families together for fun and learning.

If you don't have a group of homeschoolers to gather with, check out the Wild and Free groups page here, or look up your state's homeschool association. Somewhere there is a group of families waiting for you to join them and learn together!

If you have questions about how to start a co-op, feel free to post them here, or e-mail me at jennpepito@yahoo.com

This blog post also has some great detailed advice on starting a co-op.

If you want a comprehensive book that explains how to start a co-op, check out this one.

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Art Appreciation For Children

From the moment I began homeschooling, exposing my children to fine art has been a high priority. One of my fondest homeschooling memories was when we were visiting the Hillstead Museum, and one of my young children was able to point out a painting by Whistler. They could pick out his paintings because they had been exposed to pictures by him in our homeschool.

One of my favorite resources for teaching art to young children is simply using art postcards, to do various picture study activities. In the following video, I demonstrate how my young son and I use postcards from the Child Sized Masterpieces set (with instructions from Mommy It's A Renoir) to learn to identify different painters and to appreciate some of the world's finest art.



Please forgive any mispronunciation of artist's names. This video was very spur of the moment, and I definitely could have butchered some of their names.


Let me know if I can answer any questions about how we do art appreciation.


Narration For Evaluating Reading Comprehension

When we first began homeschooling, we purchased a reading curriculum. The curriculum featured a reading passage and then pages and pages of workbook exercises to evaluate the comprehension of what was read. This worked okay with my oldest child, who loved to write, but the next students were bored to tears by this work.

Around this time, I discovered the works of Charlotte Mason. Especially The Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola. This book helped me to see that reading comprehension could be checked by having the child tell back in their own words what was read. This became a favorite  method for checking reading comprehension as well as a wonderful way of working on speaking and listening skills.


In this short video, my daughter and I demonstrate a few examples of how we do narration.

If you would like to know more about narration, check out this post from Simply Charlotte Mason.

My son and I are enjoying this project of making videos about homeschooling, but we would love some feedback. If you have any suggestions for how we could improve, or have a question that you would love answered in a video, would you leave a comment below?

Thanks for reading and watching!



Phonics Games for Early Readers

I recently wrote an article for the Wild and Free homeschool magazine where I talked about easy games to play to help early readers, especially busy readers who would rather be playing Legos than doing school work.

You can access the bundle at the link above; it is a great compilation of information for new homeschoolers, including articles on learning styles, handwriting instruction, and even a book club.

In order to further explain some of the games that I talk about in the bundle, my son and I made this short video. If you want to learn about the rest of the reading games, you can purchase the "Beginnings" issue from www.bewildandfree.org


Moviemaking is a passion for my son, so I am really excited that he can use his interest as a project. Pursuing personal interests is one of the great perks of homeschooling.


2015 Curriculum Plan



As we soak every moment out of summer, I am simultaneously planning and purchasing for our upcoming school year. This year I will officially have five students, although my oldest student is only in my school this year, because I discovered through trial and error that trying to get scholarship funds to a Christian college is much easier if you are applying as a freshman than as a transfer student. For this reason, my oldest son will do one more year of high school to better prepare him to transfer as a freshman, and hopefully get some financial help with his schooling. I will update next year, with the results of this experiment

I will also be sending my other high school student to community college with the oldest three. This is another experiment. Only time will tell if it is a good one. He took an online class at the community college last year and scored well, so I feel it is worth a try to let him take two days a week of classes with his older siblings. Although I am presently not willing to send my children to public school (aside from my spiritual objections, I feel that high school wastes a lot of time) I do believe that older boys especially might benefit from the instruction of someone other than their mother as they grow. Especially this mother. I love teaching the younger years, but because I tend towards being a little better at relationships than consequences, having the experience of a classroom with a teacher who doesn't love them, might benefit my kids as they grow. So far, it has worked well for my students, and we will see how this one does.

Without further explanations, here is the plan.


1st Grade Boy

Spell To Write and Read/All About Spelling

Explode The Code Book 2


Rod and Staff Reading, Grade One, readers only

Mystery of History, Ancient Times


Apologia Flying Creatures

4th Grade Girl

Bible Copywork

Spell To Write and Read


Memoria Cursive

Ancient History Reading List

Mystery Of History Ancient History

Apologia Flying Creatures

8th Grade Boy

Life of Fred Algebra


Bible Copywork

Jr Analytical Grammar
 (I will do this as a class with the younger sister,
 followed by Jr. Analytical Grammar Mechanics or R&S Grammar)

Theme Essays with Co-op

I.E.W. Ancient History Writing Lessons

Ancient History Reading List

Apologia General Science

Studies in World History-Stobaugh



10th Grade Boy
Algebra-Community College

Theme Analysis with Co-op

Ancient History Reading List

Beginning Painting-Community College

Philosophy 1 (audit Community College class with older siblings)

English 1A (semester 2)

Studies in World History-Stobaugh

Spanish 2-BJU

12th Grade Boy

Study hard for SAT

Chemistry- Community College

Geometry- Community College

U.S. History

The children also do martial arts and ballet for physical education, as well as music lessons, for, well, music.

For science and history, we will focus more on notebook pages with illustrated and written narration than on using tests or worksheets to assess their progress. We will do experiments and hands on work in our co-op.

For Bible, I am using Long Story Short and The 18 Inch Journey as my curriculum. We will also be reading through the Old Testament and copying Bible verses. 



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Homeschool Planning

I have been busy over the last few days feverishly sipping iced coffee and working on plans for our upcoming school year. Although a few of my students were still finishing up stuff from last year as I worked, that small fact won't deter me from getting started on our plans for a new year. I will have five students in the coming year, and although I will be sending a few of my students to community college for some of their classes, it is still a tremendous amount of planning.

The very first step for me when planning our homeschool year, is to evaluate what went well in the year we just (nearly) finished. If a curriculum was causing a lot of frustration, then it it will probably not be used again. Same thing with classes and activities; because there are so many of us, I have to carefully evaluate what we spend our time and money on.

The homeschool planner by Alicia Hutchinson has been a great resource for me this year, as I work on this process. I usually pull together calendars and lesson plans from various sources on the internet, but when I saw that Alicia had put together a planner that was sold as a download so I could easily fit the pages into my existing binder system, I was really excited to try it.

One of the first pages that I used was the, "More Of This, and Less of This" page. Tools like this, really help me to nail down my thoughts so that my planning makes sense.

Once I had jotted down some thoughts there, I printed one of the lesson plan pages which I used to jot down ideas of which curriculum I would use for each child. This provided a helpful grid for remembering which subjects I needed to cover as I hashed out what resources I would need. As I filled in the squares with book and curriculum ideas, I then made notes at the bottom of the page about which subjects I would need to purchase. As a long time homeschooler, I am blessed to be able to pull from a stash of books that I have collected through the years. This is one of many ways that I am able to homeschool on a budget

I also started a comprehensive list of what books we would be reading in the coming school year. I don't want our schooling to be just about getting through a textbook, but I want my children to interact with real ideas from living books, the kind of books that bring history to life. The planner from Alicia also included a helpful resource for book lists. 

If only the work ended there, but unfortunately, the next task usually takes the longest. Before I can get my students baskets filled with their new books, I have to weed through the pictures and pencil stumps and (mostly) finished workbooks to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. I used to keep nearly every bit of work, until a helpful friend recommended just keeping a few samples. You could check with your state, but this article from HSLDA suggests keeping samples of work, attendance records and records of what curriculum you used, among other things, but doesn't say that I have to keep every single workbook page. Sweet relief.

I did find that since we moved away from using so many workbooks, and more towards integrating written and oral narration, our keepers are much more fun. I ended up stapling some of the best ones into a booklet that we could flip through later to remember our happy homeschool year. This amazing post by Jodi Mockabee gives some more clever ideas for saving your children's best work.

Once I had gone through and cleaned out the baskets, they were ready to fill with our new curriculum, which I am slowly compiling. As I filed last years school work, I also averaged out test scores to give grades to my high school and junior high students, and filled in simple report cards for all of them. We don't make a big deal about grades in our house, everyone is expected to give their best effort, but I do start coaching them on the importance of grades as they enter the junior high and high school years. That is when grades start adding up to money for college, if that is the path they choose.

Once all the grades have been logged and last years school work filed, I am left with empty baskets and a happy list of what we will be studying in the coming year. There is plenty more to do, before I officially start school, but I am super happy to have the most difficult jobs behind me so I can get back to reading aloud to my kids.

I was blessed with a review copy of the planner, which is well worth its bargain price tag. It had tons of options for planner pages, and is a great tool for getting your homeschool organized.


Resources For Special Needs Homeschooling

Some Great Resources For Parents of Special Kids

1. www.nathhan.org  A lending library, family directory and discussion board are just a few of the resources available here for families with special kids. This Christian ministry also helps match adoptive families with special needs babies.

2. www.hslda.org  Home School Legal Defense Association has counsel at their website for parents of special needs children as well as being a great resource for all your home education questions.

3. Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander- This book is full of developmental activities for children to age 5 and a list of what is “normal” development.

4. Homeschooling Children With Special Needs by Sharon Hensley- Another book, this one a great overview of how to homeschool a child with special needs.

5. Homeschooling the Challenging Child by Christine Field- One of my favorite books about homeschooling special kids, full of practical advice, checklists and resource lists.

6.Too Wise To Be Mistaken…. by Cathy Steere-  A memoir about one family’s journey through helping an autistic son. It also includes a good list of resources and explains some of the nutritional aspects of special needs as well as giving an overview of the neurodevelopmental approach to helping a child with autism. 

7. The Out Of Sync Child-Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.- The first book that really gave me insight into my daughter. It includes many exercises to help children overcome hypersensitivity. It also includes an excellent checklist to help parents determine if their children have sensorimotor issues.

8. Healing The New Childhood Epidemics by Kenneth Bock, M.D. - This is a fascinating book which links asthma, autism, adhd and allergies to toxins that children are exposed to as infants. I appreciated the information about the impact food allergies can have on learning and function and I feel it is important for parents to be aware of the connection between nutrition and behavior.


Summer Of Fun

My time with my children is moving so quickly. These happy days of childhood will be over all too soon, and in my earlier years as a mother, I was often so deep into survival mode, that I couldn't take the time to reflect on how quickly the days were flying by. 

As I have grown to understand that my time to build relationships and influence my children is limited, I am even more intense about creating memories while we can. Because of this, I try to take time each season to brainstorm with them some favorite activities to complete. Each season has it's own special celebrations, and because there are fewer national holidays in the summer, we make a point of thinking up special summer celebrations.

Last summer, I found this amazing post by Ann Voskamp, which inspired me to look at even ordinary things as a celebration. As I started highlighting these occurrences to my children as special celebrations instead of taking them for granted as part of the everyday, our summer gained a little sparkle and delight.

This summer, we sat down and talked about all our dreams for the summer. Some of them are simple while others will take a bit more planning, but because we have created a culture that values simple fun, my kids didn't even think of asking for tickets to Disneyland, or a Hawaiian vacation.

On our list;

1. Sleep in a tent

2. Go to the beach

3. Roast s'mores

4. Have a party

5. Swim

6. Eat ice cream

7. Jump in a lake

8. Go to the fair

9. Go to a farmers market (I grow a fair bit of our fresh food, but haven't completely detached from grocery store produce.)

10. Ride bikes (we live on a dirt lane, so this takes a special effort.)

11. Pick berries

12. Read a novel (this one is for me, the kids seem to find time....)

We rescued a baby bluebird.

Through the years, we have also tried to find special books to celebrate the seasons. 
Preschoolers and Peace highlighted some great picture books on this post.

We checked out a few of those, but have also enjoyed A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor as a book to celebrate the seasons, and also, Swallows and Amazons for a wonderfully fun summer read aloud.

Had a family vacation.

What makes your summer extra special?

Went to the beach!

and read.

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