Friday, July 18, 2014

Making BIG Decisions for College!

**Earlier this spring I was blessed with the opportunity of meeting Michele Pleasants. She's a fellow homeschooling mom blogger and we finally got to meet when her family was in the Dallas area. Her oldest is a few years ahead of mine so she has experience under her belt when it comes to getting a child ready for college! Read what Michele has today, and I think you'll be blessed by her wisdom and experience too! (and leave a comment for her!) Gwen **

How do you know if your child is ready to go to college?  Should they even go to college?  How do you get them ready and help them prepare? Where, when, how?  Trust me, if these questions and many more are not the center of your family's daily conversation, I assure you they will be at some point.

Been there, done that, and entering round two.  Please don't remind me that we will also have round three and four!

There are no easy answers and there are no right answers, but there is a lot to learn that may help.  We were blessed by several who have gone before us, and now we want to pass that blessing on.  Will these suggestions rock your world?  Maybe not.  But I do hope they will allow you to avoid some of the pitfalls along the path to the college decision!

1) Traditional college is not for everyone, and that is okay. There was a day when hardly anyone went to college. Then there was a day when almost everyone went to college.  While we personally hope that all of our kids will earn a college degree, we have to come to realize they all may not, or at the very least that they may not do it the same way.  Take our first born for instance.  She took online dual-credit classes for a year, went away to school for a year and a half, and will graduate this December, finishing up her last year online.  Yep, that adds up to only three and a half years, one of which was while she was still in highschool.  
Some options for you to consider
  - Dual credit classes are less expensive (we saved thousands of dollars).
  - Some kids are better off under their parents roof for longer.
  - Not all careers demand a four year degree.  
2) If your child goes away to school factor in all the costs.  Sure, everyone looks at tuition, room and board, and meal plans.  Know what we forgot?  That awesome school that is a two day drive away costs money to get to.  A lot, in some cases.  Car trip for drop off, plane trip for Thanksgiving (of course my daughter is coming home to eat turkey with us), plane trip for Christmas, plane ride for Spring Break, car trip at the end of the year, etc.  See what I mean?  We knew those things in our head, but not once did we factor those costs into our college budget.  Hard lesson learned!

3) Gap years really can be a good thing.  I know lots of people that say they just do not think their child is ready to go off at age 17 or 18.  I understand that, really I do.  I was not ready for my daughter to go off.  She did go, but I was not ready.  Gap years are looking better and better to me.  What does one do that year?
 - Get a job!  Earn some money, save some money, and learn some responsibility.
 - Get some training!  My son and I were recently talking about a young man we knew that spent a gap year getting every bit of training he could. EMT, firefighting, and diving certification were among the trainings he received.

4) And the preparation?  It is huge and often overlooked!  We seem to purposely prepare our kids for everything else in life, except for their first year in college. Some things to consider:

- Does your child know how to manage their time?  Seriously, you can not follow them around making sure they get to class on time and have finished their homework.  Now is the time to teach time management skills.

- Can your child do their own laundry?  Cook their own food?  Maintain their own car and keep the tank filled?  Those all may seem like everyday mundane things to you and me, but I am amazed at all the things some teens don't know how to do.  

- Are your kids good at picking friends?  Hopefully by this age they are.  But a gentle reminder, we are who we hang around!  Remind your kids that the friends they make while away from home have a huge influence on their lives and who they are and who they will become.  Scary, isn't it?

- Has your child ever taken a class with a teacher other than yourself?  Okay, I know this is a homeschool thing here, but hear me out.  I am a great teacher! ;)  But my kids need to know how to handle other teachers as well.  How to ask questions.  How to handle a different grading scale.  How to participate in discussion forums outside of family.  And on and on.  This is just one of many reasons we rave about online classes while in high school.  They keep our kids still safely home while exposing them to the world outside of mom the teacher.  We have seen the benefits and will sing them from the rooftops!

Some will go to college.  
Some will stay home for a while and then go. 
Some will take online classes. 
Some will train for a trade.  

Regardless of the path your child chooses, you can help them choose and prepare for their journey.  My advice is to watch others and listen carefully, be open to new possibilities, and be a team as you decide.  You and your child will benefit in the end!

Blessings, Michele

Michele is a military wife of 21 years and mom to four kids, from 19 to 6 years old.  She can be found at Family, Faith and Fridays blogging about family, homeschooling, modesty and life, with a few reviews thrown in for fun.  When not schooling or writing, you can find her with her nose in a book, studying up on that farm life she longs to live.  With internet, of course!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Homeschooling An Only Child

**Even if this is your very first visit to Tolivers to Texas, it should be fairly obvious by the header picture that I have absolutely zero experience with homeschooling just one child! Combining multiple ages? Yep, I can give advice all day. But when it comes to "just one child" (I don't like that phrase!), it's a whole 'nother ball game and I'm so glad for blogging friends like Wren who can tell you all about that. So leave her a comment and give her some feedback today! Gwen**

5 Things I’ve Learned as I’ve Homeschooled My Only Child

When our son was born, we put him immediately on the waiting list for a local charter school, which had an excellent reputation.  And then, we went on about our business!  But while we were enjoying our early years with our son and all that that entailed (you know….diapering, not sleeping, reading board books, not sleeping, singing, playing, not sleeping), God was in the process of changing our hearts and moving us into the exciting life of homeschooling.  By the time he had turned 6, we’d received the letter from the charter school indicating that our boy had a spot there.  All we had to do was to sign and return the letter to the school verifying our acceptance.

But, with a little fear and trepidation, we sent the letter back….declining the spot. 

Over those six years, God had taken us on quite a journey.  Our son was a happy, social little guy. We spent hours together and tried as many different activities as we could.  We sang and played musical instruments at Kindermusik.  We played with exercise balls and bubbles at Gymboree.  We attended nature center activities, library events, playdates at parks, swim lessons.  And that was just outside the house.

And inside the house?  We read.  A lot.  A voracious reader myself, I naturally spent a lot of time reading books to our son.  We started with board books and toddler Bibles.  Then we graduated to picture books.  We made crafts with foam, we painted watercolor pictures, we played with the sand and water table.   One day I realized that we could be doing even more than that!  He was definitely ready, and he was so hungry for fun activities that we could do together.

A friend recommended the wonderful curriculum Five in a Row, which uses wonderful children’s books which you read together with your child, one book each week.  Then, during that week, you do a different activity each day that connects both to the book and to a particular subject; by the end of the week you’ve done activities on science, art, math, language arts and geography.  But it’s all fun and it doesn’t seem at all like school!

We started that, I believe, when our boy was 4 or 5.  It was a joy and a delight.  We even found a cookbook published by the Five in a Row folks, so we added an evening of cooking together to the mix.  And there we were, homeschooling…with great excitement and enjoyment!  I just don’t think it quite hit me that that was what we were doing until the charter school letter came.

My husband and I prayed together and came to the same conclusion.  Our entire family was flourishing in this life we’d “happened” into.  Our son was content, gently challenged and interested every day in what was ahead.  So we graciously declined the invitation, and we have homeschooled ever since.  We just completed our 8th year of homeschooling together this year! Many of our years have been pure delight.  Others, when challenges or difficulties have intruded upon our homeschool or our family, have been less fun.  And yet God in His graciousness and goodness has always enabled us to persevere and to continue.

If you are considering homeschooling an only child, let me tell you that if God calls you to do this, you can do it!  Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way that might be of assistance to you.

1.  Try a variety of activities every year.  We have done nature clubs, hiking clubs, art coops, swim lessons, piano lessons, soccer lessons, plus homeschool coops with other families.  Whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll both enjoy getting out for fun and variety; and you may discover some exciting new talents in the process!

2.  Be intentional about providing some social activities for your kiddo.  The favorite question homeschoolers seem to get is, “What about socialization?”  The truth is, your child is going to receive excellent socialization right there at home with you.  But, it’s also a blessing for both of you to have some like-minded families with whom you can hang out for play or talk. 

3.  Share your own failures or challenges with your child (within reason).  This was a great tip that we got from our pediatrician.  Our boy, like many only or firstborn children, definitely has some leanings toward perfectionism.  And failure can be difficult for him to endure at times.  The pediatrician reminded us that his only measure of his progress is against two adults who already know everything he’s trying to learn….unlike what he’d see if he were alongside his peers in public or private school. We found that this can help our children have a much truer perspective of themselves and their parents. 

4.  Never underestimate the power of story….and read together!  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve always done a lot of reading together.  And even though our son is going into 7th grade, our family still adores reading aloud together.  Get some comfy pillows, some hot cocoa, a great book and snuggle up and read!

5.  Make love the theme and underlying force of your homeschool.  We’re all probably very familiar with 1 Corinthians 13.  And it applies enormously to homeschool.  Allow me to paraphrase here:  “If I can teach calculus to my first grader, but do it impatiently and crossly, I am nothing.  If I believe that God has great things for my child but I instruct him harshly like a drill sergeant, I’m showing him nothing.  If I can teach him Greek but I don’t love him while I do it, I have gained nothing.”  Because our precious children in our homeschool are with us 24/7, love must go with all that we do.  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, and of course we’re going to blow it.  But if we can always come back to love…and if we help them to KNOW that they are accepted and loved no matter what….we will be helping them grow into loving and well-adjusted people.  And that’s a goal of ours as parents, isn’t it?

Homeschooling our son has been the joy and delight of our hearts.  I have not regretted one single moment that we have had together.  He and I have both grown spiritually, emotionally and academically.  If this is something you feel God is laying on your heart, I encourage you to prayerfully consider it with your family!  “Faithful is He who calls you, who will also do it!”

Wren, a former missionary and a current homeschooler, blogs at with her sister Finch. Homeschooling has been an amazing journey of discovery, in which she’s learned (among other things) that she can teach art, blog, and make a large group of second graders mind!  She is married to the best man on the planet and they love life with their only son.

Finch n Wren

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Make Unit Studies Work in Your Family

**Welcome to Part 5 of my Homeschooling = Lots of Choices series. Today, Rebecca gives some super practical ideas of how unit studies work in her home and I think you'll find they can work in your home too. Leave a comment for Rebecca and give your perspective on unit studies!**

Have you ever started a new curriculum with the best of intentions and then discovered six weeks into the school year that you're still on the first week of the new curriculum?  It's not that you haven't been learning.  You've made recipes, built sculptures and taken a hundred little side trails off the ideas in the curriculum that sparked your interest.  In fact, you've done six weeks of studies, but it's all tangented off of that first week in the curriculum book.

Hi!  My name is Rebecca and I've done that too.  At first you think that maybe it's the curriculum's fault.  If you could just find the perfect curriculum, you'd stick with it and be done on time.

Let me tell you today that there is no perfect curriculum, but it's perfectly normal to find the things that interest your child and build your studies around those things.  Our children are most receptive to learning the things that they deem valuable and relevant to their lives.  The other things can come later (or be mixed in carefully with the ideas that they're wanting to learn).

For example, when my son decided that he wanted to study football, it was easy to mix in all the different subjects that he would need to learn.  Here's how we did it:
  • For History--We studied the history of football: where it came from, where it was played, what sports inspired football, how did it become such big business today, and changes in the rules and division/playoff changes
  • For science--We were able to study Newton's Laws of motion, force, parabolas, geometric shapes, and even nutrients in the use of sports drinks like Gatorade
  • For Geography--We made a huge US map with all the teams on it and their logos  (This was my favorite project we did.)
  • For Math--We did sports statistics, decimals and percentages.  We also did skip counting by 3s and 7s
  • For Art--You can take any art technique from chalk pastels to painting to collage to sculpture and just pick a project to do and give it a football theme.  No worries there!
  • For English--We had tons of new vocabulary and spelling words.  If you create a football unit study, you can decide to assign them creative writing/informative writing or whatever skills you want to focus on.
  • For Reading and Literature--This is a spot that's weak in a football unit study.  However, you can find several elementary level readers for reading practice and there are several passable middle school level football series.  We used elementary readers and some DK Encyclopedias instead of having a real literature study with this unit.
There are companies that sell unit study material if you don't feel comfortable starting out, and there are many blogs where you can search for ideas for free as well!  So, if you're interested in creating something engaging and fun for your children to do (even as just a summer or holiday study), maybe you should see what your children are interested in.  There's a whole world of possibilities for some serious studies just by being willing to adapt and build around your children's interests.


Rebecca is a fun-loving, Christ-serving Mom to four children under the age of 10.  They homeschool in a very relaxed-interest led fashion and Rebecca writes about it all over at Raventhreads  When given some spare time, Rebecca also enjoys cross-stitching, football and just about any kind of craft that she can find.  You can connect with Rebecca on her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Classical Style of Education

**This is the 4th part of my Homeschooling = Lots of Choices series. Are you interested in classical education? There are many great benefits of this style of learning and my friend Lexi has written about how the Classical Style of Education works for her family. Leave a comment to give her some feedback! Gwen**

When people ask me about my homeschool style I usually tell them that I’m “classically eclectic.”  What I mean is that I follow the classical model of schooling with a lot of other extras added for good measure.

What is the classical model?
The classical model of education is based on a cycle of study that is divided into 3 separate stages:

Grammar Stage-elementary aged children (K-4th)
Collecting Facts 
At this age children are collecting facts on which to build their foundation for future learning.  These children have a large capacity for memorization and they thrive with routines, patterns, repetition, structure, and sameness.  They are concrete learners who cannot think in abstract principles.  They need to be given large amounts of information without being required to analyze them or make judgments about them.

Logic Stage-middle school children (4th-8th)
Evaluating Information
Logic stage children are able to begin to think abstractly and to analyze information.  This phase happens anytime between 4th - 8th grade and is different for every child.  Some children enter the logic stage in one subject area while still being in the grammar stage thinking in another subject.  At this age students ask the "Why?" question and try to determine the cause and effect relationship between people and events. 

Rhetoric Stage-high school age (8th-12th)
Express Opinions 
After a child moves through the logic stage of asking thoughtful questions, he is ready to begin forming his own opinions about the information he has gathered.  Rhetoric students are ready to discover their own identity and determine how they will respond to the material they have learned.  At the rhetoric level, a student should be allowed to follow his passions and study topics of interest.  These students are able to read, analyze, form an opinion, and then defend their belief.

A classical education focuses on memorization of facts, readings of great literature, development of skills in logic and critical thinking, and inter-relation of topics in history, language, and science. 

A typical classical education includes the study of history time periods and scientific topics on a rotation.  This means that the same time periods or topics are studied in greater depth every 4 years, allowing a student to cover each area of study 3 separate times through the course of his education.

What does classical education actually look like at my house?

Memory work – My children are all in the grammar stage of learning at this point.  Therefore, we focus heavily on memory work.  I have created a notebook of poems, Bible verses, grammar definitions, math facts, states and capitals, historical people and events, and science topics for memorization.  Each day we review a few topics from our notebook as we work to memorize important dates, definitions, and events. 

History Cycle – We study history on a 4-year cycle.  We spend one year each studying ancient history, medieval history, renaissance to the 1800’s, and modern history.  We pair our studies with literature, biographies, and mapwork.

Literature – A large part of our schooling revolves around literature.  I spend hours reading out loud to my kids each day and they spend much time listening to audio recordings of books and story retellings.  For my oldest child who is an independent reader, I assign her books that she reads on her own.  Then we discuss what she read together. 

Logic – Even though my children are still in the grammar stage, I have slowly introduced logic studies through using some logic books written to elementary children.  My kids have great fun puzzling through the logic problems or working on them with me.  I love how it has taught them to think and persevere.

Latin – This is our newest addition to our homeschool studies.  My oldest child is beginning a study of Latin as part of her 3rd grade curriculum.  I’m excited to learn alongside her as we study grammar, vocabulary, and Latin root words. 

I did mention that we’re classically eclectic right?  That means that we don’t rigidly follow the classical model.  For instance, we don’t study science on a rotation basis in which we only study one field of science per year.  We enjoy more variety in our science studies.  We also did not begin with Latin as our first foreign language.  We introduced Spanish first before our Latin studies.  I also integrate some unit studies, some online learning, some video-based learning, and even use some textbooks and workbooks that would not be considered “classical.” 

For us, we’ve found the perfect balance of a classical education with our own twist.  I’ve seen how it has challenged my children, developed their reasoning abilities, sharpened their critical thinking skills, and instilled a love of great literature. 

If you want to read more about classical education here are some books to start your research:
The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
The Core by Leigh Bortins
The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers
The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson
Teaching the Trivium by Harvey Bluedorn
Trivium Mastery by Diane Lockman
The Liberal Arts Tradition by Ravi Jain

Lexi is a Texas homeschool mom of 5 little people who are ages 8 and under.  She is a lover of books, connoisseur of curriculum, and allergy-free mama to several children with food allergies.  She blogs about her homeschool adventures and growing curriculum collection at

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