10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with the Chapter Book Challenge. Come join us!

We all know we’re supposed to be reading volumes of great literature (“Living Books”) to our kids. It increases their vocabularies, improves attention spans, blah blah blah.

So why don’t I read as much as I would like?

Because it’s hard.

My kids fight over where to sit. They interrupt with a million questions. They whine and want to watch TV instead. Last year, my toddler invented an exhilarating game of trying to fling himself backwards off the couch during story time. Not exactly an ideal focusing environment.

When I read by myself, I can knock out a book in a few hours. When I read to my kids, I might as well settle down and get comfortable with the characters because I know we’ll be there a while. Like a month.

But that’s okay. It’s still worth doing.

Here are some real-life tips I’ve found for making reading chapter books less painful (and now, many days, actually enjoyable!) at our house.

(Picture books are wonderful too, but in this post, I’m focusing on chapter books, with only a few pictures and mostly text on a page. )


1. Read when the toddler is asleep or with the other parent. I’ve given up on trying to read chapter books with my 3-year-old in the room. He’s adorable, but a complete distraction. So I try to read to my six- and eight-year-old for 20-30 minutes during Tea Time when he’s napping. I also try read at bedtime for 20 minutes or so while Dad reads to The Great Distractor on the couch in the living room (or vice versa).

(I’ve heard rumors that there are toddlers who behave nicely and can actually be in the same room when you’re reading a chapter book. If this happens at your house, consider yourself in the 1%.  I’m very happy for you and only the tiniest bit jealous. Don’t mind me–carry on!)

2. Expect it to go slowly and be frustrating.

When I expect to get through a whole chapter, I get annoyed at interruptions. But if I resign myself to the fact that we’ll probably only get through a couple pages, I’m much more pleasant. We often only get through 2-4 pages in 20 minutes.

I answer questions as we go.  (If they ask totally unrelated questions, I’ll ask them to wait until we’re done.)

It takes us about a month to get through a chapter book.

That’s a long time, but it also allows the children to really get into the story, to get to know the characters, to dream themselves into that world. Some people might read more, but that’s okay. This is what we can do. I figure it’s better than nothing.

 3. Bribe them with food. My kids like Tea Time (i.e. Reading Time) so much better now that I give them warm milk and a snack. Our standard snacks are apples and peanut butter, Baked Lays, pretzels, or crackers and cheese.

4. Pick a book you actually want to read. I’m much more likely to announce, “Tea Time!” when I care about the book.  If I hate the book and have to drag myself to
read it, it’s just agony for all. And we don’t really need any more of that.


5. Make sure the kids understand what’s going on. I’ll often stop and ask, “Do you know what’s happening?” I let them ask endless questions about plot, character, time period, etc. If they need to do that to get it straight in their minds, I let them.

I’ll finish the other 5 tips in Part 2, and also list some of the chapter books we’ve loved.
Any tips to share for reading Chapter Books? I’d love to hear them!

Want to join in on our Chapter Book Challenge? (I also list out the chapter books I’m hoping to read with them this year.) Let’s help each other out with this! 

Chapter Book Challenge!

One of my main goals this year is to sit on the couch and read to my kids. (I kinda dropped the ball last year.)  I thought this might be a way to both hold myself accountable and to share what books we love as we go.

Do you want to join us? Here’s my idea: I will post our year’s chapter reading goals. I’ll update it about once a quarter, letting you know if we did it and what we thought of the books. Sort of a mini book review.

And you link up, okay? You could do it two ways:

  1. If you have a blog – comment with a link to your blog post where you do the same
  2. If you don’t – comment with the books you want to read for the year, or what you’ve been reading and what you thought. A mini book review.

We’ll just try it and see how it goes. I know there may only be a few who join in, but I figure we can at least learn from each other and share what books our kids like.

Your goal may be to read one chapter book this year, or twelve, or twenty-seven. Whatever. But sometimes it helps me to write these things down and share them with friends as a way of encouraging each other.

Join in, won’t you?

My Chapter Book Goals for 2012-2113
(These are for my 8 year-old son and 6 year-old daughter. My 3 year-old gets mostly picture books. )

August Narnia: Prince Caspian
Sept Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Oct The Little Princess, Burnett
Nov Mary Poppins (1-3 books)
Dec Peter Pan
Jan Paddington Bear (1-2 books)
Feb Ben Hur (picture version)
Mar The Bronze Bow
Apr In Grandma’s Attic
May Narnia: The Silver Chair
June Narnia: The Last Battle

Extras, if done early:

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Story of Doctor Dolittle
Anne of Green Gables
James Herriot’s Animal book
The Door in the Wall

What about you? What chapter books do you hope to read with your children this year?

(I plan to do a two-part series on Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books later this week. Because this getting kids to sit still and listen isn’t fabulously easy, is it? But let’s do it anyway.)

Easing In

This week we started easing in to our school routine. It went amazingly well. I’m not really sure why.

Oh, well, probably because things are still novel and interesting. I’m sure the complaining will start back up again soon.
Here were my goals for the week:

1.  Work on Sleep/Wake Routine.  I wanted to get us sticking to a
consistent bedtime and waking up time. Watching gymnastics until 11 p.m. was
not in the plans, but other than that we did pretty well.  

(I had been trying to get up before the kids to work out, because though I get really irritated at Jillian Michaels yelling at me, at least it wakes me up, and I get my irritation out on her instead of my kids. The Olympics is ruining that plan though, because I have to get to bed earlier. Maybe next week.)

 2. Try out School Schedule/Routine/Checklists – I wanted to see if the schedule I had planned was realistic.  I realized some things worked better in a different
order, so I tweaked the routine a bit. (For example, I decided to do Bible with breakfast in the kitchen and go on our walk right afterwards.)

I wanted to get the kids into their new habits.  For example, math is in the
kitchen with Mom; if it’s not your math time, you need to stay out of the

No, really, you need to stay out of the kitchen.

I know you want to see what we’re doing, yes, but it’s not your turn right now, so you seriously need to stay out of the kitchen.

Sometimes it takes a while to get the idea.

3. Discipline. The six- and eight- year old did pretty well, but we still worked on the concepts of a) listening to me when I was talking b) giving a respectful answer and c) actually doing what I asked.  They weren’t being blatantly disrespectful, they just needed some practice.

My  two-year-old, however, was being blatantly disrespectful. We worked on all kinds of
things: sitting quietly at meals and not yelling or banging his fork, not yelling
“Mommy, you’re mean!” not telling me no when I ask him to do something, and not
throwing baseballs at his brother.

He went to his pack-n-play a lot this week.

But that’s okay; it’s to be expected. He has to learn that he really does have to obey. We had lots of sweet cuddle and reading time too, but I know I have to let him know I mean what I say or the whole year will go downhill.

We’ll work on it for a few weeks, but that part should get better as he learns what to expect.


Those were my main goals. I didn’t really care if we got any school done.

But you know what? We got SO much school done! I think because I wasn’t stressed about it, and I just made sure we did our routine each day, we actually accomplished a lot. Go figure!

Also, I didn’t have a car so we were stuck at home all week.

I think this was a good thing. I wasn’t able to decide to go to the park (and take myself by Starbucks on the way) or go do whatever else because I thought it sounded like more fun. It was actually lovely.

I’m seriously considering asking my kids to hide my keys every other week so we would be forced to stay home. Or maybe my husband could hide the keys, so that I’d have hope of ever finding them again.

Anyway, it was a great week. We just sort of slowly worked through our day, stopping when we needed to for birthday parties in the hallway.

Despite Monkey’s lingering double-sprained-ankle injury, she had a lovely time.

(This is the Monkey for whom my daughter wanted to buy a rolling bin as a wheelchair. Poor Monkey has had to soldier through without it.)

All in all, a lovely week.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, we still had plenty of tears, fighting, messes and issues. But it’s getting easier as the kids get older.

(I was talking to a mom last night who will be embarking on her second year of homeschooling. She was telling how hard last year was and I told her, “Yeah, the first year is just terrible. I mean, it’s great too, but it’s so ridiculously hard. It gets easier. This year will be so much better.” So that’s what I’m saying. It gets easier.)

Here’s an example: I had a brainstorm Monday morning that maybe I could read the Bible on the kitchen couch while the kids ate their breakfast (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). I didn’t actually expect it to work.

Last year Bible time was an exercise in frustration, people crying, fighting over who got to sit in my lap, spilled milk, and my toddler trying to fling himself backwards off the couch just for fun. It was horrible. Almost every day.

But this week, do you know what they did? They sat. They listened. (My toddler whined about wanting to read David and Goliath every day, but eventually he acquiesced.) They ate their breakfasts.

I’m still in shock.

So. There you go. I’m not sure I’m actually living in my house, and I’m not sure how long this will last, but so far, so good.




Homeschool Planning

You know what really motivates me to plan for the upcoming year? Panic.

I looked up and there was our co-op starting date staring me down.

I had been thinking we would start school after Labor Day because, you know, I wasn’t really in the mood to do school yet. Then I realized our
co-op begins August 17th, which means we need to start getting into our routine Monday, August 13th.


We’re not even done with potty training yet. Poop and school really do not mix, so I need to do something about that as well.

Anyway, back to planning. That’s what I’ve been doing for about ten hours today (I had a babysitter). My brain hurts. I’m still not done.

There are about a million ways to plan a homeschool year, and all kinds of lists and schedules I make, but I wanted to share my three favorite tools. They are simple and they’re what made last two years run much better than the first two for us.

Planning Tool #1 – Checklists (these might get tweaked as the year goes on)

My son (8) and daughter (6) had a checklist for their language arts stuff last year. This saved my sanity.

My son figured out that if, instead of whining and complaining, he would just do the work and check it off the list he’d get to escape the dungeon (schoolroom) that much sooner.

The checklist works so well, in fact, that I decided to make another one. We do Bible and math downstairs, then take a walk, then go upstairs for language arts, so I made a
checklist for each.

Here they are. Feel free to use them if you would like. I left them in Word so you can modify as needed.

Checklist: 1st Grader (mostly math)
Checklist: 3rd Grader (mostly math)
Checklist: 1st Grader (mostly Language Arts)
Checklist: 3rd Grader (mostly Language Arts)

Just for fun: checklist for my 3 year old. (He’ll turn 3 on August 17th.) Mostly so he doesn’t feel ignored.

Planning Tool #2 – Weekly Lesson Plan (these will hopefully not change too much as the year goes on)

I printed off 40 of these babies, punched holes in them and put them in my pretty little 3 ring binder. Then I sat there for about 3 hours today willing myself to keep going and fill them out.

Last year I kept about a month at a time of these lesson plans on the fridge in those big magnetic clips. It really helped me look at the whole week at a glance and know what was coming up.

Here’s the other great thing—they kept me on track. I knew that if I didn’t do that week’s spelling lesson, I’d have to rearrange something later on to adjust for that and it was less work to just suck it up and do the spelling lesson already.

I also like having a “plan” column and an “actual” column, because learning opportunities come up that I wasn’t planning on, and I can write them down.

{Oh, VERY important! I have “catch-up” weeks designated throughout the year. If we’re actually on track, then it’s a fun week of going to the library or whatever. If we’re behind, it gives a chance to catch up. Otherwise, this planning the whole year out would be a nightmare, because you’re always going to get behind. So I have about 6 catch-up weeks that coincide with fall/spring break, a couple extra in December/January, and a few at the end. I don’t get stressed out if we’re a bit behind because I know I’ve got some catch-up time planned.}

Here’s my version of a weekly lesson plan. Feel free to use this if it’s helpful.

Weekly Lesson Plan

Planning Tool #3 – Lists

I still like plain old lists for planning. We won’t follow these reading lists exactly, but they give me a place to start. I made the lists based on a combination of Sonlight, Ambleside, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and what I thought my children would enjoy. I also tried to have a good mix of boy and girl books.

Reading List – Chapter Books (Mostly I read, they might help a bit.)

ReadingPlan_Independent – (My 3rd grader will do (theoretically) during Rest Time.)

There you go! I’m all planned out. Hopefully those are helpful. Oh, and if this is your first year, just remember that things will rarely (and possibly never) go according to your plan. But that’s okay. It’s still good to have a place to start, remembering that we may plan our way, but God directs our steps.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions about any of that. IEW means Institute for Excellence in Writing, HWT means Handwriting without Tears, CC means Classical Conversations and I don’t know if I used any other confusing acronyms. Comment or email me with any questions!

I got the idea to do this because the Schoolhouse Review Crew is doing a “blog hop” this week. I’m NOT one of their official “crew” but I thought the topics they were writing about sounded fun.

If you want to read more about planning, start at Sam’s Noggin or Christine’s blog, then click on any of the links at the bottom, in the “linked up” area.






In Praise of Dirt and Sticks

Have you noticed all the great “summer fun” ideas floating around on blogs? There are some wonderful ideas, but a lot seem to involve quite a bit of time, materials, or preparation from the parent.

I’m not against any of that, but what would happen if we just let our kids play in nature?

Mine seem to think it’s pretty fun.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we need to entertain our kids. Often, some good dirt and a big stick will do. When we visited my sister in Texas (back in the cooler spring), we went a few mornings to the pond near their house. The kids found lots of ”fun activities” to do. Here are the things they came up with, with absolutely no adult interference.

  1. Throwing rocks into the pond.
  2. Throwing sticks into the pond.
  3. Gathering rocks.
  4. Gathering sticks.
  5. Having sword fights with sticks.
  6. Trying to find the frog we heard.
  7. Finding a tiny frog.
  8. Looking at butterflies.
  9. Looking at ducks.
  10. Digging with sticks in the dirt. (Making a river.)






12. Playing in the wildflowers
13. Pretending to be lost in the “Flower Forest” (those tall yellow ones)
14. Running and hiding and jumping out to scare the other kids.








It was a good reminder to me of how much they love being outside, how serene they are when they’re there, and how much learning can take place. We did several Nature Days in the spring, before it got too hot.

In the summer we tend to go outside in the mornings or evenings to beat the heat, or go swimming.

Some Nature activities we’ve done lately (some on cooler days):

-Blue Hole – a natural spring-fed swimming place, like playing in a creek. Awesome.
- Fed ducks at a nearby pond
- Went to a friend of a friend’s farm and fed the chickens, saw goats, and a donkey. This day was a huge hit.
- Went to a normal park in town, but the kids played down in the creek and tried to catch tiny minnows or crayfish.

Other Nature activities we’ve done in the past:
- Driven 45 minutes to a nearby lake with a state park for the day. Ate a snacky lunch and McDonald’s on the way, so I didn’t have to pack too much.
- a local museum is free for kids and has an incredible garden, some cultivated, some more wild. We just pay the adult fee, $8.50.
- gone to a sheep farm, Shepherd’s Cross sheep farm in Claremore (we go spring or fall)
- picked strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

As I plan out this upcoming school year, I have every other Thursday planned as a Nature/Science day where I’d like to get the kids out of the city, go to a lake or other wild place, and hopefully play, then do a nature journal (we are studying birds this year so I’m hoping to have them make a bird journal).

As you plan your school year, think about where you’d like to take your kids. Are there state parks within an hour’s drive? Mountains? Lakes? Even a duck pond in town can be a nice lunchtime break on a school day. Is there a way to incorportate whatever science you’re studying? A Nature journal is a great way, or looking at field guides to find birds or animals, or making a Tree or Bird Book of whatever they observe!

September and October are perfect weather around here. (If you live in Alaska, now might be the perfect time!)

How do you like to get your kids out in Nature?

For more reading on this, I highly recommend Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder.


What Summer Reading Looks Like at Our House

My son read to me while I cooked eggs.

Of course things aren’t as orderly as I planned, but we do get a lot of reading done in the summer. The long, hot days mean we spend extra hours inside most days, so July and August are some of our prime reading months. (January and February are also big reading months for the opposite reason.)

Here’s what that looks like at our house:

1. Before breakfast –  Whichever child wakes up first staggers out to the kitchen and groggily lays on the kitchen couch while I read.Lately it’s been my eight-year-old son and we can read a chapter book (right now, The Horse and His Boy, the 3rd Narnia book) uninterrupted.  Often we get a good twenty minutes in before someone else wakes up. Whoever wakes up first gets to pick the book.

2. During lunch – This does not happen every day, but a couple times a week I might read the kids a book during lunch.  I have been choosing picture books so everyone is interested, one with a story they know. I often retell it, using my own words instead of reading every word. (I eat bites while they look at pictures, or sometimes I eat before or after them.) I do this more so they’ll be quiet and eat and not bicker, but I’m sure there’s value in the reading too!

The basket on the left is for library books; the one on the right is for our own.

3. After lunch- Often on the living room couch. Sometimes I read again that book we did at lunch, but I read the actual words, not my retelling.

4. Before naptime – This is pretty much mandatory. I read two or three picture books upstairs to my toddler before he goes down for his nap. (If the books are long or above his level, I paraphrase a bit.)

My toddler's books in the living room. There's another basket upstairs for before naptime.

5. Rest time 
My six- and eight-year-old read in their rooms during rest time, sometimes. I was planning for this to be when they do their 30 minutes of independent reading each day, but I need to enforce it, plus I’m out of easy chapter books right now for my son. So that’s my fault. But when I remember, my son sits in his beanbag chair and reads.

(My daughter is supposed to look at books and read what she can, but like I say, I haven’t been checking up on her.) Sometimes she listens to books with CDs when I am organized enough to get them from the library, but you know about my library issues this summer.

Our favorite easy chapter books we’ve found this summer are these Imagination Station ones. They are a lot like Magic Treehouse, but with actual Christian history mixed in.

6. When somebody’s sad – If someone has been crying and needs some Mommy attention, reading is a great excuse for a little cuddle time. Especially for my eight-year-old who often thinks he’s too big for such things.

Oh, those sweet sweeties. Melts my heart.

7. Before bed – this is almost mandatory as well. We skip it only when we’re running really late. My toddler gets two to three books out in the living room before bed with either Mom or Dad. The older two get a few pages of a chapter book, either read to them or on CD with the other parent.

The chapter book we’re reading now, The Horse and His Boy (3rd Narnia book), is very complicated with plot and vocabulary, so it would be too confusing to listen to on CD. We’re reading it a few pages a night, and stopping often to explain vocabulary or recap what’s going on.

8. Audio books In the car-  The other day we went swimming out at Blue
, and the hour drive out and back was enough to almost finish The Whipping Boy. My son had read it earlier this year, partially by himself, so this was a great chance to review and go over some things he hadn’t understood, and I wanted to hear it too.

I do have to say, the audio books work much better when my two-year-old is not in
the car or when he’s asleep. The other day I put in an audio book  and he slapped
his tiny baby forehead and moaned, “Not again!” He likes his music.

9. Waiting at the doctor’s office - We actually haven’t done much of that this summer, but whenever we do go, I try to bring a backpack with some books.

Okay, I think that’s about it.  And full disclosure, we’ve gotten very little math done. I was planning to do flash cards every day, but that has not happened. Sigh. I need to work on that. Oh, and I was going to work on some summer writing activities, which has not happened either. So many things, so little time. Anyway . . .

What does summer reading look like at your house? Any favorite times or places?

Drop Thy Still Dews of Quietness





Another of my favorite cabinet quotes:

Drop thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease;
take from our lives the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.
- John Greenleaf Whittier

Why are our lives so often not ordered? I think when mine is not it’s often because I’m afraid to say ‘no’ or I’m afraid of what other people will think (failure). So, this year I want to purposefully say no to the things that are not highest on my priority list and focus on the things that are. That means, for me, less computer time, less writing. More keeping up with my house, more making soup, more sitting on the couch reading with my kids.

How about you? What things have you cut out to have a more ordered, less stressful life?

Mommy’s Having a Meltdown

I have my breakdowns in the spring. As surely as you can count on daffodils and the NCAA tournament, you can count on my very own Mommy March Madness.

My husband is a  CPA, which means from mid-January to mid-April, he’s working late and on weekends.

You wouldn’t think this is breakdown-inducing, but it really is. It means this spring I had responsibility for the children from morning, when I was awoken from my groggy stupor by a crying toddler, to bedtime, when I had to get teeth brushed and people into bedrooms all by myself.

This year, I thought I was doing better. I’d been making myself go to the YMCA twice
a week for a break, and trying to focus just on the basics. All was going well. I made it through March, Praise the Lord!

Then I started thinking about roses. I had a friend over from church to help me
figure out what to do with our backyard. I’m not sure why I thought this was a
critical activity that week, but for some reason I did. I had this vision of my
backyard fence covered Nantucket-style in climbing roses. It was far, far from that. But something about spring and seeing buds and flowers, and the gorgeous roses I did have on the few struggling plants made me want to get things going in the backyard.

That was a bad idea.

Because when my friend came over what she did was gasp in alarm at the current soil, and weeds, and bushes growing out-of-control, and then recommend lots of amending the soil and digging, and replanting, or hiring someone to do all these things.

Although I’m sure she’s right, I cannot imagine trips to the nursery, and lugging home big bags of pine fines, whatever that is, and the kids “helping me” and getting covered in dirt, and then not only having landscape items on my to-do list, but adding floor-cleaning and many, many baths. It was starting to stress me out even thinking about it.

That same week I had to make calls to get tax receipts that I had somehow misplaced (or thrown away); try to make dinner, which always seemed to be a problem; stay caught up with school to finish out the year; try to be nice to my children who were fighting again; think about when I was going to go to the post office; and when was I going to return something to Macy’s; and when was I going to get shoes for the kids for Easter, because all we had was old tennis shoes and outgrown ones from last year, and you all know a five-minute errand without children takes about seven hours with children; and I had too many things on my list and no time in which to do them.

I got very, very impatient, because you know, I had ten thousand things to do. My
children seemed to be so incredibly sloooow with every task, and my son wanted to stop in the middle of math to tell me about R249768APq99 or whoever his favorite Star Wars droid was. And I tried to make myself care, while I tried to ignore my toddler throwing puffballs from his Busy Bag all over the carpet. I tried.

And then I tried to calmly explain for the two-hundredth time to my six-year-old that forty-two came before forty-three.  Before.

“What do you mean, before?” she asked, as if I were speaking Latin. “You know,” I said,
trying to breathe deeply, “before.” That same “before” as it was yesterday, and the day before.

None of this was my children’s problem or fault; I fully realized this. It was all
totally mine. They were just being kids. But what happened after that
particularly long and painful math time is I start comparing myself to others.
I started thinking, “She’s six. She’s finishing kindergarten. She doesn’t know
that forty-two comes before forty-three? My oldest knew that at age 3. I’m sure all the other kindergarteners know that. Have I not taught her anything this year? Have I been totally overlooking her? I’m a terrible teacher. She would have learned much more in school.”

You know those thoughts. So those were brewing under the surface, and I was
feeling so tired and stressed, and probably just needed a good cry, but instead
I soldiered on, grumping at my kids to hurry, and sort of whining at them, “Why are you guys fighting again?” So of course they were whining back. It was a cranky, miserable houseful of people.

But here’s where the story changed. Usually I would keep going until we were all
miserable, and I yelled at them and they felt like I didn’t love them, just
like Julianne in the book in December. This doesn’t happen that often, but it
usually does happen around March/April at least a few times. I hate that it
does, but it does. So, Praise the Lord, this time, I actually listened to my
own advice. Here are the things that helped me that day:

1. I vacuumed. Okay,  this is weird. But, it did a few things. One, it got me moving to get some of that adrenaline out. Two, it was loud, so I couldn’t talk for a while, which forced me to be quiet and try to pray. Three, it made at least that room look better, which helped me feel a bit better.

One of my friends and mentors said she used to go in the closet until she could calm down.

2.   I gave the kids some chores. I left my toddler strapped in the
high-chair, and had the older two work on the mountain of clutter I had scooped
into the Clutter Basket, and put one thing away, then come back and say, “What’s
my next job, Mom?” and put another piece away, and so on. They were glad to
have something to do to help, because they knew I was stressed, and the room
ended up looking better, which again made me feel less overwhelmed.

3. Called a friend to babysit the kids.
I hate to do this. I hate to admit I can’t do everything, and I need help. It’s hard. But I know from experience that if I ignore these warning signs of snapping at my kids and being impatient that I’m going to yell or hurt someone’s feelings and we’ll all end up in tears. Sometimes Mommy just needs a little time away to get herself together.  

My friend did watch the kids, and I paid her, but I know she would have done it even
if I hadn’t paid her. I’m so thankful to have friends like that. If I didn’t have a friend to watch the kids, I probably would have given up on school or taken the kids to the park, just to get away from the house and change the scene.

4. Cut things off my list.  Once all my errands were done, I sat and ate lunch and prayed about what was going on and what I was feeling stressed about. I knew I needed to lower expectations of myself and cut some things off my list. Here are some things I decided I was not going to worry about:

  •  Backyard landscaping. I had to take roses and backyard off my list. I was feeling like a failure because I had placed these expectations on myself that I had to fix our disaster of a backyard right then. I decided it was not a priority right then and needed to wait. I gave myself permission to ignore it again.
  • Fancy Dinners. My kids would be delighted if I’d serve them pasta and baby carrots every night, so why did I feel like I wasn’t doing my job if I didn’t prepare
    inventive dishes nightly?  My husband wasn’t home for dinner, I was fine eating soup every night, and for the rest of the month, I decided that was okay.
  •  School expectations for next year. I was already thinking about fall and how we could possibly do more. I was considering adding another co-op because it sounded so great. But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing. I decided I wanted to leave some margin in our days: time for playing, reading snuggled up on the couch, and exploring outside. I adjusted my expectations of all of us to be more realistic.

5. Pray! I should have done this earlier! I prayed during lunch about what verse I should repeat to myself when I start feeling all overwhelmed again. I decided on

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30.

Because that’s the real issue, isn’t it? God’s burden is light. It’s all my burdens of
pride I pile on top that become heavy: have a perfect backyard, have a spotless
house, cook an elaborate meal each night, have my children be above grade level
in every subject.

But my children don’t need that, do they? They need a mother who knows Who’s really in charge of all this anyway, who listens to their hearts, is patient with them when they need help with counting, and who will stop barking orders and sit down and give them a hug.

As I looked out on my backyard later that spring, I adjusted my focus.

I chose to ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.

With my children, and backyard, and life, let me choose to focus on what is there, what is beautiful, and choose joy in that instead of focusing on what isn’t perfect.

I’m so thankful God is patient with me, gentle and humble in heart. He is so gracious to teach me about being a gentle mother, despite my failings, and help me adjust my focus.

Oh Lord, will you lead us mothers to walk humbly with you, not focused on what we
think we need to do to prove that we’re good enough, but accepting your grace,
rained down on us. And help us see it when we need to stop and be refilled, so
we can rain down your grace on our precious children. Help us model love, and patience, humility and grace, so our children can act that way with each other.

In our lives and with our children, help us ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.


Question: What helps you when you are stressed out or overwhelmed? What things have you given yourself permission to not worry about for now?

Rhythm of a Year: Summer

I thought it might be interesting to those starting out to see what the rhythm of a homeschooling year looks like in our family. And even if you have been homeschooling a while, it might be interesting. I always enjoy seeing what other families’ routines are like.


Summer = Organization

Summer is organizing time for me. I have to get everything done that I haven’t gotten done during the year. This year that is a lot, because I’ve been basically ignoring the house for the last year.

Here is the list from early May. The crossed out things are done.


Homeschool – 5 days worth of work

  • wrap up this year
  • Testing – prep, administer (we do Iowa tests)
  • organize/file records  (used my weekly plans and notes to summarize the  year’s work)
  • straighten up schoolroom. Clear out/file/throw  old curriculum, projects, books, etc. [Note: decided to do show & tell for Grandma when she comes in July, then file or throw out the old stuff.]
  • type up year end wrap-up (year’s summary onto computer. Not required in Oklahoma, but helps me see what we’ve accomplished  and what we need to work on for next year.)
  • Finish any book work/reading lists
  • Turn in co-op receipts

Home – 2 weeks [Note: took at least 5 weeks, probably 6 after I do the kitchen/laundry room. And maybe garage, if I have any energy left.]

  • Declutter whole house; organize bedrooms – 5 days
  • Possibly paint bedroom/bathroom (maybe?) [Took forever! part of 2 weeks.]
  • Clean office/wrap up book work – 1 day
  • Kitchen – clean out /organize
  • Plan, think about good meal system for  gluten-free -2 days
  • Outside kitchen window – plant a few vines? [This might not get done.]


Homeschool – 5 days worth of work

  • Start planning next year. Pray about what  worked/what needs work.
  • Make calendar for school year with “normal,” “rest,”  and “holiday” weeks
  • Plan curriculum for each child, make list of  chapter books I want us to read
  • Buy all curriculum and books (conventions/used  book sales) except library books
  • Make out weekly lesson plan sheets and fill them in
  • Organize schoolroom with new curriculum, books,  etc.

Homeschool – co-op/Classical Conversations – 5 days

  • Attend practicum – 3 days
  • Order all materials for CC – ½ day [Still don't know what I'm doing about this.]
  • Plan/buy for co-op toddler class – 1 day
  • Plan art/poetry class; buy materials; make  posters, etc. – 3 days


  • One book signing – Mardel + trip to Colorado

RELAX !!! Try to rest and enjoy my family.



  • POTTY TRAINING!!  (2 weeks )
  • Reading 30 minutes / day ; Xtra Math on computer
  • Think about how to cut back on TV
  • Routine for summer!


  • One book signing – Oklahoma City

If Time (get a babysitter for 3 days)

  • Scrapbook past year (3 days)
  • Edit videos and burn to CD (3 days)

RELAX & REST (I relax better after all of the above is out of the way!)



  • Exercise
  • Spa day with yoga and massage
  • New haircut
  • Few comfy clothes/ giveaway old clothes


  • Start working on new routine
  • Work on chores, train in new chores, routines

There you have it. Those are the summer plans. Lord willing. Pretty much  every summer has those same categories of wrapping up the prior year, preparing  for the next year, getting things settled, etc. This year it will take longer  because of the dreaded POTTY TRAINING and also catching up from this past year  of letting the house fall into disarray while working on the book.

But I am fed up. I want order. I want peace. I want a clean

And after everything is neat  and tidy, I’m planning on that spa day for myself, I promise. I just have to clean a few things first.

Do you do home projects during the summer? Or do you actually relax?

Character Books for Young Children

Rod and Staff Little Jewel Books

I absolutely love Rod and Staff Little Jewel Books. They are sweet, teach good character, and are about $3 each. My favorites are Molly Helps Mother (not pictured), Just Four, Helping Mother, and A Boy to Help.




Little Lights Missionary Biographies

I had been looking for something like this for a long time. These are missionary/Christian hero biographies, at a very young level. I love them. I got them from Grace and Truth books.



I saw these on a “19 Kids and Counting” episode and spent hours online trying to find them! They do a good job with character. No Bible verses are included, so I want to write one for each book on the first page just to remember to tell my
kids.  I find the writing a bit
long-winded, so I tend to edit a bit. My two-year old LOVES these for some reason! (When he saw me working on this he started shouting, “King of the POND!!!” And then clambered up on my lap so he could see. He loves his King of the Pond.) I ordered online: http://www.advancepublishing.com/ASTS_Series.html .


I got these at a used book sale. Sadly, they’re no longer in print, but you can be on the lookout for similar ones at used book sales or the library. Church libraries might have something like this as well.



You certainly don’t need to buy these, but as you evaluate books think: What character lesson is this teaching? What example are the children giving? Are they complaining and whining, or cheerfully obeying?

I was so happy to find Grace and Truth’s booth that I loaded up on LOTS of books for our shelf at home and for gifts. That’s how I met Dennis and Naomi, got to talking with them, and asked them to consider being a vendor for my book at the OCHEC conventions. They said “YES!” Hooray! Come visit us at OCHEC.

I’ll also be at the Books Bloom booth at the convention, and I’m sure they’ll have awesome books too. I’ll probably end up buying some if I’m there very long, so I’ll have to do a post about what other treasures I find after the convention!

If you are not a homeschooler, you might check into a convention anyway. I know the OCHEC convention is offering FREE entry to anyone who’s never attended before. (For the rest of us it’s $30 or so.)  You can go, check out the books, listen to some speakers, and learn more about homeschooling or how you can incorporate some ideas, even if you aren’t homeschooling.

What about you? What are your favorite character books for young kids?