Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Learning and Growing in Christ

If your children are doing cartwheels because the school year is over, but you are on your knees praying because you didn't teach everything you wanted to during the school year, you're not alone.  Don't lose sleep over this one.  The summer is a great time for catching up and an even better time for review.  The following ideas will keep your children's brains awake, this summer.  Remember, busy bodies and spiritual growth during the warm months are important too.
Field Trips
Summer provides time for the zoo, museums, a movie, sports, aquariums, arboretums, parks and family vacations. During a trip to an aquarium, families learn about lake and ocean creatures, habitat, animal interactions, and public manners.  Budgeting for tickets and gasoline to arrive at destinations is an excellent way to work on math skills.  And in the rare event families eat dinner out, we can encourage older children to add tax and tip to the check.

For most large families, family vacations are also rare.  But, when our family leaves the state, the children journal about each day we are on the road.  They record our traveling distance, comical events, and what we saw, liked or disliked.  Journal writing is encouraged through out the summer, and if I keep my request to short entries and drawings, the children usually agree to picking up a pencil.

Washington D.C.: We scheduled a tour in the Capital
 and visited museums and
Arlington Cemetery. 

Vacation Bible School
A week at church is a welcome break from the routine of home academics.  Learning about our faith with a large community in prayer, song, and activities (physical, visual, auditory, and hands-on) is what makes VBS a God-send for Christian parents.  Summer religious programs are refreshing for moms, because we receive a much deserved break from being in charge.  Our children interact with other adults and, more importantly children from kindergarten to high school.  

Read, Read, Read
Three months of summer provide time for favorite books every day.  Old favorites come off the shelf and our "library book box" is overflowing.  Perfect weather?  There is always a hammock or the beach for relaxing with great literature or even a comic book.  And, don't forget about bedtime.  After baths, my children climb into bed most summer evenings with a good book.  Sometimes Mom or Dad read with them, but we also read silently before lights go off.

Games Galore
Are you the proud owner of a messy game closet, shelf or trunk?  Much to my husband's demise, I am.  I don't mean the games that you plug in or watch on a screen.  Yes, children, there are games that come in a box that don't tweet, scream or contain characters that chomp, bounce, throw flames or stomp on one another!  And, games off the screen are actually as fun or (could it be?) even more fun than their  plug-in competition.  Don't forget about old-fashioned games like Hide and Seek and Kick the Can.

Flash Cards
I am also the proud owner of a messy kitchen drawer full of Brain Quest's Be a Know it All decks, that I use during the summer.  I was introduced to the delightful quiz decks when I taught school twenty years ago.  Teachers and parents challenge children with questions by grade or subject, then flip to the following card for  answers.  During a meal, my older children and I read questions to little ones.  I field questions to my adolescents.  As soon as each child gets three answers correct, they are excused from the table.  If one of my students is up for a challenge, they answer a handful of questions.  And if I am feeling generous, I surprise a lucky quizzer by allowing them to run off  before they help with dishes!
If you haven't seen these wonderful flash cards,
click on the image for Amazon's description.

Sports and Activities
Children's organized sports cost a small fortune, these days.  I pray several Hail Marys for peace of mind, before I write a check to cover baseball or ballet, but the benefits are worth the large price tag.  Social interaction, exercise, sportsmanship, and sacrificing items for memories are a few of the benefits of organized sports.  A family of twelve, taught our family this rule about sports: Wait until your children reach an age they'll appreciate the sport, then choose one sport for one child.  Until then, the backyard and a playdate is more than enough.  This allows children to experience athletics, but it doesn't break the bank or fill your calendar until you've run out of white space!
My little ones watched their big brother play baseball
and saw a Minnesota Twins Baseball Clinic.

Speaking of Minnesota Twins . . .  and their brother too.

Shhh. . . Be still and Listen
Ask any home educator who has adult children and they will remind you that as your children get older, most of your life is spent in the car.  If we attempt to do it all, we miss time to listen to God's plans.   How often do we make time for the gift of silence?  How often do we give that gift to our children?

My prayer for your families and for my own is that we remember that summer is a great time for learning and growing.  May we also take time to thank God for this time to refresh and be with Him in peace.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I feel Like a Woman?

The night that I let our first newborn sleep in our bed, was the best night’s sleep I had in three months.  My husband didn’t mind placing the baby between us.  My hair smelled like spoiled milk; and I was still wearing the sweat pants I squeezed into the morning before.   I couldn’t find a pair of jeans that fit over my, "When is the baby due?” belly.  Every time Eric approached me, I hollered “I have no time for you!  This child won’t stop screaming!”

“I wonder where she gets it from?” he'd whisper.

Emily understood, from infancy, that her mom was the poster child for anxiety. She challenged me, by needing little sleep.  She was a mover and shaker . . . right off the changing table . . . twice.  She was hungry . . . always.   I listened to experts who told me to feed her every three hours.  She disagreed with their schedule.

The relentless crying, the sleepless nights, and the marathon days without naps were unbearable; and Emily wasn’t doing well either.  I refused to break my feeding schedule, proudly posted on our refrigerator.  My husband would hand me Emily and beg, “Feed her!  Skip the schedule!"  I wouldn’t listen.  

One late night, as I was walking the floors with Emily, I turned on Shania Twain.  I needed to muffle out the hysterical crying from both of us, and thought some music might brighten our spirits.  “I Feel like a Woman”  filled our little house and Emily stopped crying.  In fact, she was content through the entire song. We danced our way over to Mommy and Daddy’s bed, and I gently laid her down.  Forgetting the experts rules, I nursed Emily only after an hour after the last feeding.  By the end of the repeated song she was peacefully asleep.  

After countless lullabies, hours in the rocking chair, and days of walking the floors, Emily’s perfect pacifier was nursing on demand, her parent’s bed and Shania Twain.

Fourteen years later Emily still turns Shania’s song up when she hears it.  I listen to the Virgin Mary.  Our Queen of Heaven taught me to go to Her whenever I need a nurturing example.  Emily taught me that if you invite children for evening cuddles, and listen to your heart, your children will become loving children; in the eyes of their parents, and in the eyes of the Lord. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pentecost Lesson

In a short while it will be Pentecost Sunday.  Teach your children about the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit this week before May 19th, 2013.

Materials: 8 and a half by 11 construction paper, 1 red, 1 black for each child.  Yellow and orange fingerprint (little ones) or tempera (older children) paint.  Scissors.  White crayon.  Children's Bible (see  Curricula page for suggestions).  Red treat.  Red clothing.

Procedure:  Suggest children wear a red shirt on the day you complete this lesson.  Discuss Pentecost: "Pentecost is a very special day, on the last Sunday of the Easter Season.  What do you know about Pentecost?"

Ask, "What is the Holy Spirit?" (The catechism says this about the Holy Spirit:  "689 The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God.10 Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church's faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him.)"

Here is an explanation in Kid Language:  Since Jesus' followers were lonely for Him, because he went up to Heaven a little while after Easter, His Father sent the Holy Spirit to be with their hearts and ours.  The Holy Spirit is the third person in the trinity: The Father, Son and  .  . . Holy Spirit. We can't love and worship Jesus and God without the Holy Spirit.  They all go together.  The Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire Pentecost Sunday,  just like our hearts are on fire with love for Jesus.  Pentecost is also the birthday of the Catholic Church.

After discussion, read The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) in the Catholic Bible you choose.

Here are some possible questions to ask your children/students, that range from remembering, to evaluating (for older children):

  1. What sounds did the disciples, under Peter's direction, hear?
  2. What happened to the Catholic Church when the Holy Spirit had been seen by the disciples?
  3. Explain what Peter meant by saying, "Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, to have your sins forgiven."
  4. Did Christ's disciples become baptized?
  5. How would you react to Peter's words and to the descent of the Holy Spirit?  Would you be inspired?  What would you be inspired to do?
After discussion, begin the following art project.  Say, "We are going to make tongues of fire - something like Jesus' followers saw on Pentecost."  Begin folding your red or orange construction paper the "short way" (hamburger bun, not hotdog bun style).  Draw mountain peeks on one side of the fold.  Cut while folded and unfold to create fiery peaks. See example below:

Students should paint strokes of yellow, red, orange and black to add color to flames.  Discuss the idea that fire is not one solid color.  Once paint is dry and students have created "tongues of fire," students should glue the flames on black paper.  Label the black paper with white crayon, reading:  "The Holy Spirit visits on Pentecost!"  The following is an example ready to be labeled:

Teacher Notes:  An optional idea might be to sing "Happy Birthday to the Church" and eat a tastey red dessert.  A co-teacher once found red sprinkled donuts for Pentecost Sunday while the children red wore shirts.  It was a lovely birthday celebration.  Happy Pentecost!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Although we have experienced piles of diapers, laundry, dishes and schoolwork; wiped tears away and calmed raging tempers; and we have sacrificed our days and nights for little ones, we continue to clearly see the gifts of motherhood.    Please share your comments after this post:  What gifts do you receive from motherhood?  What gifts do you give to your children, as their special mom?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

D.E. Delamare's Little Apostle on Crutches

Ryan, my nine year old, recently completed Little Apostle on Crutches, which we purchased at Catholic Heritage Curricula.  As a parent, I enjoyed D.E. Delamare's endearing book, because it emphasizes importance of virtues and character in a fun, traditional manner.  Since Little Apostle on Crutches was written for children Ryan's age, his review of this treasure is a better testimony than mine:

Do you show that you are a good Catholic?  Willie does, in Little Apostle on Crutches, by D.E. Delamare.  This is a great fiction story about a kind, little gentleman named Willie.  He is 11 and lives in 1911 in San Francisco.  His family is poor and Willie suffers, but he never complains.  He is strong and always praying for others.

The plot of The Little Apostle on Crutches is about events in Willie's life, like when he sells newspapers, helps his sister get glasses, finds his big brother, and celebrates his first communion.   The most exciting part of the book is when his friend Jimmy gets swept by a wave.  Thank Goodness Willie saves him.

Little Apostle on Crutches is a Catholic story for nine and ten year olds.  I love how Willie is strong in his faith and is good to others.  I want to try to be more like him and was sad when the book was over.  I highly recommend H.E. Delamare's book.

By, Ryan J.

Mastering Simple Adding and Subtracting this Summer

My twins are adding and subtracting, numbers larger than 20, as they get close to the first grade finish line.  Thank God for the person who invented erasers, and for those who remind Mom to be patient when the boys forget carrying numbers in addition, or skip regrouping in subtraction.  I am  also reminded that in order to add and subtract double-digits, children need to be strong in their add/subtract skills to twenty.  In other words, adding 23 + 9 will be difficult if children do not have 3 + 9 memorized.  And, if children have not mastered 13 - 9, regrouping 23 - 9 becomes challenging.

Since the twins are my fourth and fifth children to complete these tricky skills, I looked back on my notes and found some refreshing tips on how to improve basic facts, 1 - 20.  These tips can be used during the summer with students going into first grade, too.   An abacus is terrific.  Several math programs use beads and counters.  Try pennies, buttons, or for subtraction, a tiny treat to take away and eat.  Instruct your children to put a number of items in two or three piles (perhaps in string circles) and then count them together.

Every math program offers enrichment suggestions and worksheets.  Find those sections in your program and enrich your children with review worksheets.  Focus on the lessons that teach addition and subtraction facts, especially through twenty.  If your program offers drill sheets encourage your children to finish a certain number of facts in five minutes.  Completing this activity at least once a week will allow your children to see progress in the number completed and the number correct.

Use flash cards at meal time or in games.  Each time your first grader gets an answer correct, mark an illustrated baseball diamond, so they are "running the bases."  If she answers a difficult problem mark her  as "running"  to second base, or she might hit a homerun with an answer to a challenging math fact.  Now that it's finally warm out in our midwest state, we head outside to run real bases marked with old towels.  If my children miss an answer to a flash card three times, they strike out and a sibling is up to bat.

On rainy days, your first grader will enjoy this Step Game.   Each time he gets an answer correct he can move to the next step.  Each missed answer means he takes a step down.  How long will it take him to reach the top?  Do you have a white board?  Allow him to answer some workbook math facts with a dry erase marker so he doesn't grow bored with worksheets.

Don't forget about story problems.  My twins are into action figures on the X-Box, so I let them choose a certain number of action figures added to another set of figures to figure out a grand total.   Sometimes they like to draw the story out.

This next idea is my children's favorite.  Post number families with Mom, Dad and Siblings.   Mom or Dad are the top numbers with children, who are listed underneath them, and they make up a number family.  The number six might be Dad.  He has children named 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  0 and 6 hang out together; 1 and 5 play together; 2 and 4 are especially close; 1 and 5 are inseparable; and 3 and 3 are identical twins (this, of course, is the twins' favorite part)!  Then, we discuss how each pair adds up to 6: (4 +2 = 6, 2 + 4 = 6).  6 also works with each "child" to find their brother or sister (6 - 4 = 2, 6 - 2 = 4).

Try classic games like Addition & Subtraction Bingo, and Cookie Counting Math that you can buy at, or if you are feeling especially creative make up your own.


Experts agree that solving addition and subtraction facts quickly, at this early age, is not nearly as important as mastering the answers.  Work on memorizing before you require speed.  Once children's answers are consistently correct, speed will make addition and subtraction with larger numbers less tiresome.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Photo Courtesy of Amazon Associates 

Background to share with children:  Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's 
Independence Day, rather it is a day that celebrates a victory for Mexico against the French in 1862, on May 5th.  The French wanted to occupy Mexico while Americans, to the North, were fighting the Civil War.   If Mexico had lost to the French in Peubla, Mexico, than Mexico might have come under French control.  France would have assisted the South in the American Civil War, so the United States' future may have been different.  Their victory and change in the course of history is why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by Mexicans  and Mexican Americans alike.  It is a special day to remember how important patriotism is for countries.

On May 5th, or Monday, celebrate Mexican heritage with one or more of these ideas:

  • Listen to Spanish music from this Sesame Street video and watch the festivities.  Pandora is a music library found on tablets, smart phones and iPods.  Simply search for Spanish  music and a Spanish radio will pop up.  "Digo Si SeƱor (I say Yes my Lord)" is a lovely choice, found on Christian Music Pandora.

  • The Mexican women wear colorful, flower covered dresses, and flowers in their hair, on this special day, especially at festivities.  Make simple tissue flowers, using green pipe cleaner craft sticks and tissue paper.  Fold three or four complimentary tissue sheets placed together, back and forth accordion style so the paper is about an inch wide when you're finished (it looks like a thick ruler). Fold the top of the craft pipe cleaner down about half an inch.  Slide the tissue paper under the fold of the craft pipe cleaner.  Tighten the fold around the tissue paper securely.  Cut the tips of the tissue ends round or pointed.  Open the tissue carefully separating the colors so they fan out to make a flower, then lift above the top of the "stem."  
  •  Eat authentic Mexican food. Jessica Neve, a dear friend who teaches Spanish and has traveled to Mexico several times, suggests mole, fajitas or tacos al pastor.
  •  Mexicans love the Virgin Mary. They owe it all to Juan Diego who had visions of Mary in the mid 1500s.  Mary instructed Diego to spread the Good News about Her Son to all of Mexico, and to have a Church built in his town, Guadalupe.  Read more about Juan Diego in Saint books or click on the following image: 

Little ones will love these fun sonsgs about Cinco de Mayo.  Visit,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

FDA Brings Dismay, While Justice Provides Hope

When there is lightening, thunder usually follows. In the same way, you could almost sense an appeal today from the Justice Department for Judge Korman's ruling on emergency contraceptives, after yesterday's decision by the Food and Drug Administration allowing Plan B One Step to be sold over the counter to persons age 15 and older. Was that the compromise the Justice Department was waiting for before it decided to file an appeal?

Spokeswoman Erica Jefferson of the FDA assured me it was not. In an e-mail correspondence she wrote, "The FDA's approval of Teva's current application for Plan B One-Step is independent of that litigation and this decision was not intended to address the Judge's ruling."

She went on to state that the FDA took, "independent action to approve a pending application from Teva Women's Healthcare" for the approval of Plan B One-step.  "Additional time beyond the goal date was needed to review Teva's application to address questions including potential concerns about ensuring access to the product for women 15 and up, while limiting access for those under 15," she added.   Phone calls to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, LTD, to receive a comment on the FDA's decision, were not returned. 

Ms. Jefferson concluded by saying that "additional data would be needed to show that younger women could use Plan B (the levonorgestrel two-pill dose) properly without the intervention of a health care provider before it could be available without a prescription for women 16 and under." 

In Judge Korman's ruling on April 5th he stated in his concluding remarks that if the FDA did believe there was a "significant difference between the one- and two-pill products, it may limit its over-the-counter approval to the one pill product." That concern was finalized yesterday by the FDA.

For the time, only Plan B One Step will be available over-the-counter at pharmacies and retail outlets, and the Justice Department has asked that Korman's ruling be suspended during the appeal process. According to court documents, the case will be heard in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It seems the FDA and Justice Department attempted to find a middle ground on this controversial and divisive topic, and proof came when those on both sides of the issue expressed displeasure with yesterday's Plan B- One Step approval.  National Organization for Women president, Terry O'Neill, emphatically stated that yesterdays decision "Does not go far enough to allow emergency contraception to women of all ages," and groups from Christian and Family centered organizations have expressed grave concern that such a drug should be available to young children without parental consent. 

But credit must be given to the Obama Administration for having the common sense to appeal this ruling, even though there remains a plethora of moral education that still needs addressing. 

In a final thought, It is worth noting that NOW president Terry O'Neill chose the word "women" when describing those of all ages, as if to make no distinction between childhood and adulthood.  Judge Korman and the FDA also use a similar standard when determining whether such drugs as emergency contraceptives should be approved.  As both noted, if an individual is old enough to understand the label and its effect than the drug should be deemed safe.  But, what the preceding people have failed to address is that children or young adults do not have the wisdom, or properly formed conscience, to fully understand the results of their actions. Children most certainly could benefit from their parent's moral guidance on this issue. It appears the only winner in this epic battle, is the pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Eric and Julia Johnson

I will continue to bring readers lessons, literature and curricula in days to come.  Plan B diminishes  the trust in families and I believe that family is the intricate part of home education and Christian families alike.