Homemade Christmas With Children

The best Christmas memories are made by hand. 
And if that is true, then perhaps the worst Christmas memories are those made when we spend the majority of the holiday season in department stores without our children, trying to purchase toys that will be played with for a few days and then forgotten. 

I love gifts, and giving them is important to me, but often the gift that our children most long for is the gift of our undistracted time.

On the other hand, many of us envision making things by hand as just another distraction from our children. When these gifts are difficult projects that must be done solo, we are again forced to choose between time with our children, or time doing something for them, but not with them.

Last Christmas, I did spend a few hours away from my children. We had a theme of "used or homemade" for Christmas gifts which meant that I would take a few children at a time to hit up thrift stores, or I was sewing simple gifts for them such as capes and doll blankets.

This year, we are forgoing elaborate (or thrifted) gifts that our children will open in favor of an ultimate field trip. We are heading to Africa at the first of the year to do ministry to children and families, with a stop in Ireland on our way to celebrate Christmas with a beloved aunt and uncle.

However, we still want to have a few gifts on hand for grandparents and friends, and since this year we are on a tight budget we chose to make a few of these gifts.

These are a few of the simple gifts that we made;

Rolled Beeswax Candles

You need:
Beeswax Sheets

  • Carefully cut your beeswax sheets in half lengthwise. 
  • Cut your candle wick to fit.
  • Place wick at the edge of the beeswax and carefully fold over the first roll.
  • Finish rolling tightly.

Our two sheets of beeswax made 4 thick candles. You could also cut the beeswax in thirds for thinner candles or cut in quarters for short candles.

Essential Oil Bath Salts
Soaking in bath salts is a great way to supplement your body with magnesium and get better sleep.

You need;
Christmas fabric and ribbon

  • Pour your epsom salt into a large bowl. You could also add himalayan pink salt, dead sea salt, or other mineral rich salts.
  • Add about 15 drops lavender essential oil.
  • Stir well to combine.
  • Use a scoop to pour bath salts into jars.
  • Cut circles from your holiday fabric that are slightly larger than your jar lid. We used a gallon size jar lid as a template.
  • Place fabric over lid and then screw on jar ring. 
  • Tie ribbon around jar ring and add a gift tag if desired.

There are loads of other possibilities for homemade gifts, bean soup in a jar, cloth doll, a simple cape, or even potted plants such as geraniums that you start from a cutting. 

We can turn the tide on Christmas expectations, and create a holiday celebration that is defined by precious moments spent with our loved ones.

Do you want more alternatives to shopping this Christmas (or online shopping alternatives)? Check out this post

If you are struggling to figure out how you can pay for Christmas, please check out my new course, Bountiful Homeschooling. When you use code, "Budget" the course is only $18 and all proceeds go to a project we are doing in Tanzania, Africa this January. Not only do you get inexpensive help with your budget, but your purchase goes towards helping others.

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Cultivating Joyful Homes

Homeschooling can sadly be a joy killer. While spending our days with children should naturally bring tons of lightness and joy into our lives, it is easy for us to get preoccupied, worrying about doing enough, and then create an atmosphere of tension instead of fun.

It doesn't have to be this way though. 

When we begin to break down what our children really need to know, and when we begin to get a vision of the long view of homeschooling, we can start to realize that this pressure that steals the fun out of our days with our children is just a mirage. 

Think about it? What do you remember from your school days? What lessons stick out to you?

Here is another question. What do you want your children to remember from their first few years of school?

When we put these questions and their answers into perspective, we can realize that there are only a few things that we really need to do in the first few years of school.

What are these things? 

When you add in some devotional time, and a responsive parent, you have a recipe for academic success. All of the pushing that public schools are imposing on children is not producing brighter children, what it is producing is burnt out children.

Hop off that hamster wheel and start enjoying these precious early years.

Here is a post with some great information about delayed academics.

Here is another post about joy.

This post talks about how some children teach themselves to read.

This company sends out monthly projects.

My preschool curriculum, The Peaceful Preschool, is a great way to cultivate more learning fun in your home. It could easily be adapted to use with a kindergartner or first grader, simply adding a chapter book read aloud, a phonics program and a math program.

Do you need help with figuring out how to pay for homeschool resources? This course is full of practical advice for building a life you love and living within your means. Best of all, 100% of proceeds go towards ministry to families in Tanzania, Africa.

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Fall Nature Study

Fall has finally arrived! The leaves are beginning to turn colors and my house smells of apples and cloves as I bake and diffuse. Although we started school way back in mid August, many of our extra activities didn't start until late September, so we are really getting into a groove with school, which also makes it feel like fall.

One of our favorite activities for the year, is our Tuesday "Home Team" day. We privately home school to allow our family more freedom to learn as we choose, and this year, were able to find a semi local school that provides some wonderful extra curricular activities. One of these is a P.E. Day for my older children. We started going to it last spring, and while my son would play football or soccer with the other high school students, my youngest two and I would sit near a creek and sketch or play.

Kingfisher Nature Journal, courtesy of @raisinglitlleshoots

Because our time there studying nature was so lovely, I wanted to offer a nature club to the other young students in the school. This year, I have a small group of K-3rd grade students and their mamas, hanging out with us as we observe, draw, and create.

Sometimes getting young children to actually observe nature, requires giving them a craft that involves natural materials. This allows them to slow down enough to actually observe the leaves, bark or feathers that they are supposed to be studying.

One of the resources that we are using this year, is the e-book, Exploring Nature With Children, by Lynn Seddon. This manual includes activities, book suggestions, an overview of the topic and even poem and art suggestions to go along with the theme of the week. 

We have also used the book, Look What I Did With a Leaf for our annual leaf creatures, and one of the girls in our group, made this fabulous horse, using ideas from the book.

Another family fall tradition that we have is a visit to Apple Hill. We don't live as close as we used to, but purchasing fresh apples and fresh apple donuts is worth the drive. 

As I evaluate the activities that we are involved in, and the choices that we make on a daily basis, I am constantly keeping our family vision in mind. As a family, we strive to live within our means so that we can be free to give. This might mean saying no to certain activities so that we can leave room in our budget and in our time to do the things that our dearest to our heart. 

I pulled together my best ideas for saving, and for building a vision for a course that I am offering for a limited time. This course, "Bountiful, Homeschooling on a Budget", will walk you through planning a family vision, creating a budget, getting debt paid off, and living within your means. 

The course includes;

  • Recipes and tutorials
  • Budget and vision forms
  • Interviews with other moms on a budget
  • Inspiration to find your purpose

In addition to all the helpful insight you will gain about living on a budget, 100% of your purchase is funding on the ground ministry we are doing this January in Tanzania, Africa. By living on a budget, we were able to save enough to purchase 9 airplane tickets to Africa so that our children can experience loving and encouraging people from another culture and continent. You can accomplish the dreams that God has put on your heart as well, and this course can help you do that.

Affiliate links included in this post.


Finding The Quiet

I had an opportunity to get away with my husband for a couple days. We get away a few times a year for a marriage conference, but the last time we were actually alone together for more than an evening, was a year ago, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary.

I was actually pretty excited about this trip. He has a hotel for work, so it meant that I could have some uninterrupted time to work on projects, without a big financial expenditure. You see, when I am at home, I don't want to be staring at a screen. If I am not looking my children in the face, I have lots of little organizing and gardening projects that I need to look at. And don't even let me get started on all the laundry and cooking. Even with several older children, it still requires one person to manage it all.

So life at home is very full, and the first day alone in the hotel room felt pretty amazing. I worked on my computer for a full five hour stretch before taking a break. It was a whole new experience.

By day two though, the quiet was starting to wear on me. I missed my crazy life. I missed the excitement and intensity of managing my busy household. I missed the hugs and even the refereeing that is such a big part of my days right now.

Sure, I could FaceTime my kids, and do a silly check on teeth brushing and schoolwork through the computer, but there is nothing so wonderful as being around these amazing humans that my husband and I birthed together. 

I am thankful that my husband and I still love each other, after 26 years of marriage. I am thankful that we enjoy being together, because I know that someday it will be him and I without all of these children at home. I am also thankful for the quiet times that I have at home. My morning routine of reading my Bible in bed, while I sip my first cup of coffee has given me just enough of a respite to keep me going on those busy days.

But I really love being around my kids, and I am so grateful for the many extra hours that homeschooling has allowed us to have together.

Some of the things that I love doing with my kids;
Watercolor painting

Reading aloud

Nature Study

Science projects-Tinker Crate has been a great resource for us this year!


Picking fruit


What are your favorite things to do with your kids?

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Planning Your Week

We made it through our first few weeks of school! I am so glad that I started early. This next week is when our fall extra curricular activities start, and I really wanted to get into a routine with our academics before we added more stuff.

 As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I try to map out a weekly schedule so that I know exactly what is a regular occurring activity throughout the week. It is important to me to build in a few days at home so we can work on our farm, as well as plenty of mornings at home to focus on schoolwork. This might mean that we have to forgo some really cool activities, but it gives us a buffer so that our home environment and relationships don't suffer.

A few of the activities that we are involved in this fall;

Monday-Choir. I am hoping to get my youngest boy involved as well, this will give him an opportunity to develop some skills learning from other adults. I also have an older son enrolled in an Algebra 2 class at the local community college on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Thankfully both of these activities are in the evenings so I can have the first day of the week to focus on school.

Tuesday-Home Team. This is a P.E. activity that is hosted by my homeschool private school. It requires me to drive nearly an hour one way, but it is with people that we really love, and it is run by a wonderful local man who is teaching my older children the basics of many sports. While the older kids are doing Home Team, my youngest two and I are running a parent participation Nature Study Club. I am super excited about sharing our love of nature with some other local families.

My oldest children also have a small youth group that they go to on Tuesday nights, and will be working with a local family to improve their worship leading skills. This is an answer to prayer that I am very excited about!

Wednesday-My oldest daughter is teaching an English class to local teens, including my two oldest students on Wednesday afternoons. I am so happy to be able to outsource this subject to my daughter, and I am also excited for my boys to have the joy and challenge of learning with such a sweet community.

Thursday-We have set aside a couple hours for music lessons, but otherwise we are keeping Thursday  through the weekend open for family time, farm work and hospitality.

Sadly, I don't have a history co-op or book club set up for this year, but my kids and I are planning a middle ages party this fall, so hopefully we will get some of our projects done then.

There are always new events popping up that we need to fit in somewhere, so keeping our schedule reasonable is a huge stress reducer.

When I prayed about school for this year, I really felt that experiences with my children were going to be something to focus on. This is another reason why I am resisting the temptation to add more activities to our schedule. So far we have enrolled in Tinker Crate and built some cool little machines, pressed our own grapes for a biology/chemistry experiment that will hopefully result in wine, found a local source for beeswax so we can dip our own candles, and learned new skills with bread baking, metal working, and jewelry making. We have also already gotten through a few of our middle ages literature selections.

All of this creativity is made possible in part because I am limiting computer time through our Circle device. If I wasn't taking authority over time spent on computers, there would be no time to pursue these creative endeavors. Because I am able to set individual time limits on each computer in my house, I can make sure that even older children who need the computer to work (even adults such as myself) aren't just wasting the day away on video games or social media.

I want my family to have the opportunity to develop as many skills as possible, and love learning, while they are in my home. I've got only one chance to pour into these children, and I am so excited about learning with them!

If you are looking to create more experiences with your preschoolers, check out my new collaboration, The Peaceful Preschool. This literature and project based curriculum is perfect for early learners, and is offered at a special introductory price until September 15.

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2016/2017 Curriculum Plan

The number of years that I have been homeschooling seems to escape me. I started my oldest out with preschool, and then followed with K-12. She graduated at least 3 years ago, plus she took a gap year, so I think that should add up to 17 years. That should make this my 18th year, although about every 6 months I give myself an extra year, so occasionally you will find me saying that I have been schooling for about 30 years.

If you hear me say that, set me straight.

Mostly these have been great years though. Some years we have simply scraped by, between various crisis, we didn't get tons of schooling done, but we have always had lots of books being read, and I think that contributed to the progress of my older students.

My third child graduated this spring, and is taking the last class he needs for his AA this summer. His teacher in that class tells him that he is a great writer. This is despite the fact that I assigned very little writing to him until high school. He also worked for a contractor through his high school years, and only did school a few days a week. He has a high GPA and graduated with honors from the PSP he is enrolled in (no, he was not the only graduating senior.)

That means that this year, I will only have four students! This is incredible to me, for the last several years I have had at least 5 students, often with a baby or toddler as well. I am excited to see how it goes, especially with the happy fact that my youngest is beginning to read without me having to cajole him.

Without further ado, this is the budget friendly curriculum that I have pulled together for this year. Budget friendly because I owned most of it already, had it given to me, or purchased it used.
It's called networking.

2016/2017 Course of Study

10th Grade Boy 
(I was going to have him move into 11th this year, but when I did the math on how old he would be when he leaves home for college, and about how efficient it would be to get as many JC classes done while they are free in high school, I decided to have him do 3 more years of high school)

New Testament Survey (Read New Testament, write verses, memorize, and participate in Bible studies.)

British Literature Class, My daughter is teaching this to a group of Jr. High and High School students in our area.
English 1A- This will be a Jr. College class he takes online the second semester of school
Wordsmith Apprentice This is an editing curriculum. Ethan has his second book, The Fire Trolls, available on Amazon, so the extra editing practice will be helpful for him.

Abeka World History (I owned it and will let him read through for an overview.)
Middle Ages Literature Selections
Adventures of Robin Hood
Son of Charlemagne
Men Of Iron-Howard Pyle
Joan of Arc
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis
Morning Star of the Reformation

Apologia Chemistry, followed by a Chemistry class at the JC

Algebra 2 at JC

Spanish (online at JC)

9th Grade Boy

Studying God's Word book G (New Testament Survey)

British Literature Class
Rod and Staff Grammar

European History
Studies in World History-James Stobaugh (Part B)
Middle Ages Literature Selections (See above)

Apologia Physical Science

Teaching Textbooks Algebra

Computer Programming
Tinker Crate

4th Grade Girl
(My experience with my college students inspired me to rethink the grades I had my children in. I started out homeschooling with the idea of getting my kids through with school and on to life as soon as possible. However, if life involves a college education then it makes sense for them to be a little older in high school so that they can manage the demands of junior college, and then be a little older when they leave home for university.  In our state, dual enrollment students do not pay for classes. Although I love the freedom of private homeschooling, I also love the help that community college classes provides me and my students. for this reason, you will see that a couple of my students are doing the same grade that they did last year. This is the beauty of homeschooling. We are free to have our children on an educational track that most benefits them.

Studying God's Word
Daily Bible Reading/Verse Writing

Writing With Ease, Level 3
SWR Spelling
Jr Analytical Grammar and Mechanics
Prescripts Cursive

Math U See Delta

History of the Middle Ages-Watts
Greenleaf Famous Men of the Middle Ages
Timeline/Geography work, Book Club
Literature Selections- The Door in the Wall, St George and the Dragon, The Dragon and the Raven,
Pilgrims Progress (abridged version) Men of Iron (Audible),

Nature Study
CLP Nature Readers

Wild Explorers Club

2nd Grade Boy
Hooray, he is reading! The first couple days of school, he has sped through his work, and read without complaint. This is a big change from last year. Sometimes our students just need a little time to develop.

Rod and Staff Readers

Explode the Code
Spell to Write and Read
First Language Lessons
Prescripts Cursive

Math U See Beta

Middle Ages Book List

Nature Study
BJU Science 1

Wild Explorers Club

I am so excited about this school year. We get to go back up to the creek for nature study, and my older kids have a sweet community of friends who all love to worship God.

If you are looking for help with homeschooling in the early years, please check out my new curriculum, The Peaceful Preschool, you can download a free sample of the curriculum, and the rest of the manual will be available on August 15.

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An Italy Study

Last year we were able to dabble in a study of Italy while we covered ancient history. It is one of those magical countries, that captures the imagination, and makes you want to visit, or at least revisit, a study of it. 

The Romans made such an impact on western culture, and the country still inspires, with innovators such as Carlo Petrini of The Slow Food movement, and Loris Malaguzzi who helped pioneer an educational movement called Reggio Emilia, that places a beautiful emphasis on environment and play.

This summer, we are studying cultures around the world, and loosely participating in a Read Aloud Revival book club called Give Your Child The World.  The book club has inspired us to do a few short unit studies on some of the countries and cultures that intrigued us last year during our ancient history studies. Italy is also a great country to study over the summer in preparation for our year of middle ages history that we are gearing up for.

There are many famous historical people of Italy that we are touching on during this study; Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo are just a few, and we are also highlighting some of the beautiful regions and products that are Italian.

No study is ever complete without a feast, and Italian food is a family favorite, so preparing for this part is pure fun. We could have gone to World Market to search out some imported Italian foods to add to this feast, but we were fortunate to find the Nonna Box, and had one shipped to us.

The Nonna Box was a very happy way to experience the foods of Italy. It included several delicious items, including the best strawberry jam and biscotti that I have every tasted, as well as a beautiful panforte full of delicious dried fruit.

We also traced maps, watched this adorable video, and looked up photos of Tuscan gardens. We also plan to try our hand at fermenting grapes, and curing olives from produce grown on our land. We have the fruit, and will let you know about the results!

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A Study of Birds

For the last several years we have done most of our elementary science as part of a homeschool co-op. This is a perfect arrangement for me; I can enjoy nature study and reading about nature with my children in between our meetings, but then once or twice a month we meet with our co-op to go over the science experiments.

This past year, we studied birds with the younger students, and it was a wonderful exploration of our feathered friends. We used the book, Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day as a spine, and checked out lots of books from the library about the topics we were studying. After we read each book, we would write a narration about what we learned and then paint or draw a picture.

We also did some fun projects, such as building nests in the trees with found materials, creating these nests out of melted marshmallows and chow mien noodles, and making bird feeders with recycled bottles. We also collected feathers and diagrammed them, and made a diagram of an egg. There were so many interesting ways to make this study come alive for my children.

Although we read many beautiful books this year, one of my favorites was "Bird Watch", which was a book of poetry about birds. We also used the book, "Nature Anatomy" extensively. It was a perfect inspiration for our nature journaling activities.

We also watched a few movies about birds, including, "Winged Migration" and for the older kids, "The Big Year" When we study a subject, I love to include as many types of information as possible, including fiction works, non-fiction, nature guides, posters, and experiments.

This was by far, the most interesting year of science we have had, and also the easiest. By focusing on interesting literature, and experiments, and ignoring extras such as worksheets, we kept learning and having fun at the same time. Now if I can only find a way to make this happen with math!


Summer Science Fun

We have been having a sweet mix of school and summer fun here, spending a couple days a week reviewing our math facts and then swimming with friends or heading on an adventure the other few days.

As I was discussing what we would use for school next year with a good friend, she explained to me that she planned to use Tinker Crate for science with her elementary student. I got excited about the idea also, because I have felt a strong inclination to start making more of our science learning project based, in order to get my boys more engaged with the idea of science as a career. I had even ordered Snap Circuits as a coming home present for my boys, an out of character splurge for me, as I don't often buy gifts (aside from thrifted books) in between birthdays and Christmas.

The boys were thrilled with the Snap Circuits, so when I started looking into Tinker Crate, I got excited about getting a subscription, and using it for our science studies.

Our first box came midway through June, and coincidentally contained a constellation project and other projects related to astronomy. I say coincidentally, because my favorite homeschool resource is Wild and Free, and this month's bundle was all about stargazing. We were able to combine the two resources to really delve into a fascinating short study of the constellations, while also giving my children a beautiful introduction to fiber optics, and some extra skill with wiring electrical circuits.

There were several other science experiment ideas in the "Tinker Zine" that came in our crate, but by far, the fiber optic night sky that we created using the materials that were contained in the crate was our favorite.

Really, any activity that gets my sons off the computer, and into hands on learning, is a hit with me, and I loved that this engaging activity didn't require any convincing to get them excited about completing it.

You can sign up for Tinker Crate here,

They have a few great specials right now, including 25% off the first month of any subscription. 

You can sign up for Wild and Free bundles here (Wild and FreeThe Stargazer bundle also has all the beautiful audio from the recent Wild and Free conference. I have listened to the talks several times, getting new ideas with each listen, and I can't even tell you how encouraging the spoken word by Danielle Bennett was. I could listen to that every day.

A few other things we are doing to stay busy this summer;
1. Swimming in a lake
2. Visiting a beach with friends
3. Making lots of jam
4. Planting an herb garden
5. Hosting a graduation party
6. Going backpacking
7. Taking a quick mission trip to Mexico
8. Reading lots of picture books
9. Eating ice cream
10. Sleeping in a tent.

What are your favorite hands on science resources? How do you keep your kiddos busy and off the computer during the lazier days of summer?

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