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13 Years of {Catholic} Homeschooling ~ 13 Simply Great Ideas

Thirteen Years of {Catholic} Homeschooling ~ Thirteen Simply Great Ideas

My firstborn graduated from a high school course of study accepted by the state of Alaska and is now attending college (paid for by the state because of good test numbers!).  Thirteen years of homeschooling now and I feel properly disposed to present some great ideas.  In no particular order they are:

1One hour a day “alone with your thoughts.”  Not a nap.  Never call it a nap.  This sounds a little fruity, I know, but the real reason is for me to get reacquainted with my thoughts, changing this . . .

into this . . .

2. Family newspaper.  Two or three times a year, we hunker down and assign articles to every child for the Howelling Herald, printed on that longer-sized paper.  We do recurring features such as Outdoor Odysseys (excursions around), Family Accomplishments  (from black belts to potty training), History page (reprinted assigned paragraphs), and Classifieds (from lost cufflinks to cheap plastic crap for sale).  Smaller people just color stuff, which I scan and add right in, along with witty commentary.

3. Cheap ziplocs, tape, bandaids, and paper clips as toys.  Dump onto the floor and watch them get all MacGyver on you.  Amazing creations.

4. A time line made of 3×5 cards stuck to the top of the wall where a wallpaper border would be.  Helps to consecutively organize discombobulated reading selections and also helps to place into perspective things like an 8 year old’s obsessesion with ancient Greece and an 11 year old’s love of Scottish fairy tales.  I point to the section of the wall where it fits; they draw another 3×5 card with a minotaur or a fairy ring ~ bingo!  School.

5. Lots of reading and lots of legos makes an excellent curriculum.  Corresponds nicely with:

6. Pair up older children with a younger sibling for a half hour blessing (I call it a spiritual word because it guilts the big kids.).  This means that young teens can play forts and legos without embarrassment and little kids get to hang out with cool teens.

7. If there are male children, you can create an entire curriculum around battles. Choose 6-ish important battles to read about.  Read all about the country/ies and the reasons (social studies).  Recognize and dig into a relatable science topic.  Then write about it, play-act it, draw pictures of it (language arts).  An easy example is Gettysburg.  It’s fun to recreate the battlefield in your yard or living room with small soldiers.  There are strategy books for older kids and picture story books for younger kids.  Watch it , if they are old enough.  Science is battlefield medicine, which is pretty gruesome, which means they’ll love it.  Actually, my daughter did, too.

8. An IV in a kid’s arm that needs to be flushed and run through with antibiotics is great science.  If you don’t have someone with cystic fibrosis in your family, sorry.

9. Pet care = science.  But only if you make the children do the care and then draw pictures of things like the creepy rash on the dog’s belly.  Extra points if they mix up tea tree oil and warm water and bathe it.  If you make them write about it all, you’ve got language arts; if you make them do graphs of information like weight and amount of food and exercise, you’ve got math.

10. Boxed curricula works just fine and may be exactly right for whatever season you’re in.  So does unschooling.  


11. Elizabeth Foss’ book Enough said.

13 Reasons to Homeschool

12.  My shelf.  The red basket squares hold, from left to right, science equipment, math manipulatives, and art supplies, with books on the bottom corresponding orderly.  I love my shelf.

And my 13th great idea ~

13.  We stuck with it.  With all the stress and wondering and trouble and comparisons, we did it; for there is also fun and learning and companionship and education.

What ideas have worked in your homeschool? What would you add to this list?

Check out our Homeschool, Homeschool Curriculums, and Homeschool Resources boards on Pinterest, too!

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Raising Pro-Life Leaders: #whywemarch

It’s 6:00 am and the alarm rings on a cold, dark January morning. Before my feet hit the ground, I fully experience the decadent warmth of my bed. We’ve all arranged to take the day off. It’s a school day, but we’ve told the teachers that the kids won’t be there today. I hit the snooze and contemplate sleeping in. We could all use a day of rest. We won’t be missed. I inhale that thought in and with a big exhale, I reply, “Not today,” and my feet hit the ground running. It’s a day to march for those who can’t.

The kids spring out of bed with enthusiasm. Not because they understand the art of praying with your whole body, mind, and spirit, but because it’s a no-school day, they get to pack their favorite snacks, and take a bus ride to our Nation’s Capital. They forget, for the moment, that their legs will grow weary as they hike up Capital Hill after suffering the crowds, the bitter cold, and the long lines for the port-a-potties that are a vision of hell if I ever saw one. They will experience the power of suffering for others.

It’s 7:45 and we board the packed bus of smiling faces. We say our hello’s to familiar faces from marches past and we meet new marchers as we find our seats and get settled. The cheerful chatter of the passengers comes to a hush when we hear the contemplation of the Joyful Mysteries of the life of Christ come over the bus speaker system. And, we begin to pray together. And, as the rosary is complete, the hum of happy passengers continues. This is the integrated life of prayer that I want my children to experience.

We arrive at the Mall and are, in an instant, surrounded by thousands of marchers moving in one direction and we join the march to hear today’s pro-life leaders welcome us and remind us why we are here and why we have been coming for 43 years. And, I blink back to my first march as an 8th grader. It was a much smaller gathering and with my limited life experience, I did not comprehend the power of my participation. And, I certainly did not have the support of my peers. Fetal development was not understood as it is today. Thanks to scientific advances, we can no longer ignore the fact that there is a developing baby hanging in the balance. And, the message I received as a young woman, both subtle and blatant, was that my fertility was a disease that needed to be controlled if I were going to have power and achieve my dreams. And, abortion was necessary for the fulfillment of women. It would be many years before many of my peers would awaken to the lies and join me. I return to the present moment and inhale all the enthusiasm and marvel at the robust cheers of the young men and women surrounding me. This is THE pro-life generation.

This year, for the first time in the history of the march, the Vice President was a featured speaker. This meant that we had yet another obstacle. Security was increased and we could not carry a back pack. So, we all had to stuff our pockets with water bottles and snacks. “Life is winning!” we heard him exclaim over the loud speakers. He also reminded us of our duty to be generous and compassionate and gentle as he said, “We will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children.” My children will learn that to be pro-life comes with a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.

To my surprise, I also learned at the march that the Second Lady, Karen Pence, is an ardent advocate of art therapy. I happen to be a practicing Art Therapist with my own Art Therapy business. What are the chances that my two passions, being pro-life and practicing art therapy, would get so much national attention on this day?! My heart skipped a beat. It is because of my pro-life passion that I pursued a career that would help children and families in need. I am heartened to know that the profession of art therapy will have a spotlight shined on it by Karen Pence. And, I am excited to discover how this experience will lead my children to a life of service someday. That is my prayer.

As the speeches come to a close, we begin our march toward the Supreme Court. The kids begin to complain about their discomforts. My 6 year old is certain that his legs will fail. My husband lifts him and whispers in his ear, “You are a hero, Joseph! You can do it!” He also reminds him of the all you can eat buffet we will stop at on the way home. And our little pro-life hero gives his dad a squeeze and is back to marching. The older girls are shivering. We make sure everyone is zipped up, hats and gloves on, fully hydrated, and we continue our march. There is so much enthusiasm and joy in the crowd and that keeps us going. When we reach the top of the hill, we look back for a moment and cannot believe the endless throngs of people coming up the hill. As we turn the corner towards the Supreme Court, snowflakes fall for just a moment and the crowd erupts into jubilant cheers.

It’s nearly 4:00 and the sun begins to set on this historic day. My kids and their cousins are now skipping, giggling, and singing as we make our way to Union Station. No sign of exhaustion and no crankiness. Just banter about the events that they have just witnessed and participated in. They are all smiles. This is why I am choosing to raise the next generation of pro-life leaders.

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A Personal Tribute to Mother Teresa: My Mystical Journey to Darjeeling

A Personal Tribute to Mother TeresaIt happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.

Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!

I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.

I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.

What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.

Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.

Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.

But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.

I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

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Having Good Kids: Is it the Luck of the Draw?

good kids

I can’t count the number of times people have told me I am so lucky to have such good kids. They see them sitting in church or gathered around a table if we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to go out to eat, respectful and quiet, acting in a manner appropriate for the occasion. We can take them anywhere with us and know that they will behave.

When people engage my children in conversation the kids are excited to speak with them, are able to hold a conversation, and are typically very polite. They have smiles on their faces and are genuinely happy.

tornado reliefThey are often the first to volunteer to help others and, more often than not, when they see someone sad, they look to comfort them. They don’t know a stranger and most of the time (they are human after all!) they try to treat others with love and respect. They are naturally funny and tend to make others laugh and smile. They really are “good” kids.

I love to hear the compliment that my children are so well behaved or that they are great children. I agree with the person complimenting me! It makes me feel good and I know that it makes my kids feel good too. I beam with pride when someone tells me that they love my kids and love to be around them. I am appreciative that others can see what amazing kids they are.

But am I truly “lucky” to have such good kids?

It may seem crazy to also be a little off-put by this statement, but it bothers me when people tell me how “lucky” I am. I know those who say it mean the best. They see other kids who don’t act right in public or are doing things that make you cringe in disappointment. They look at my kids and see wonderful examples of how they feel kids should be behaving. They look at them and see “good” kids. I appreciate the compliment that they are trying to impart, I really do. But, a part of me always cringes at the remark too. 

Here’s why…

First, I think that all children are “good”. Maybe they make bad decisions or their life circumstances are such that they haven’t been taught how to behave; but God has made all His children good. There is not a single person in this world that was made evil or bad. God doesn’t work that way. Each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God and so that means that each person is made good. Every person who has a child is “lucky” to be blessed with a good one. God doesn’t make anything less than goodness!

caroline poutingSecond, our children mess up, and mess up badly. Most people don’t see what I see. I don’t talk about the mistakes our kids make because I know they don’t want their faults shared. It’s important that I not make them out to be people they aren’t, but at the same time, it’s important that I don’t spill all their faults and mistakes to everyone either. I try to make sure that they have privacy to work through the mistakes they make and the hurts they both inflict and encounter without others judging. Because I don’t share their aberrations or failures many often assume they never make them or that I want people to think they are perfect. This is not the case. It is simply out of respect for my children that I choose to keep their failures or lapses in judgment out of the public light.

Lastly, there is a lot of hard work that goes into teaching our children how to behave correctly. Telling me I am “lucky” makes me feel like all the work I have done means nothing. I’ve been at this gig for 23 years now and I still work hard each and every day to instill values and encourage proper behaviors in our children. From discipling even when I want to laugh instead to loving them when I want to scream; volunteering and being active in their lives even when I feel overwhelmed and tried, constantly trying to modeling desired behaviors and act right myself, and praying with the patience and the endurance of a saint- it’s a never-ending job!  There are days that are so overwhelming that I want to give up, but I don’t because I know the rewards are great- both for the kids and for me. I may cry, I may yell, I may fall to my knees begging for God’s help, but I know that this job of helping to form the hearts, minds, and souls of my children is the most important one I will ever do.  Prayers for strength and stamina, not luck, go a long way when I feel like I am not capable of doing the job in a manner that both pleases and honors God.

I am truly thankful that others love my children as much as I do. I thank God for the people He puts in our path each and every day. I appreciate the fact that those who know my kids think they are amazing and “good”. It brings joy to my heart to think of my children sharing happiness and hope to those who may not feel like there is much to be happy or hopeful about.

While I am not “lucky” to have good kids as I have worked hard to instill joy, love, kindness, a strong work ethic, respect, happiness, and hope within each of my children, I am very lucky that God has blessed us with people in our lives who love our family, who cherish our children for who they are, and who want to share in our lives.


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Diary of a Homeschool Mum part 1

I don’t know if you know me. If you are a regular reader of Catholic Sistas you have hopefully met me through the 7QT First Friday posts or possibly have read some of my other posts. I’ve recently joined the new team we have writing the Raising Saints Homeschool monthly series. 

Way back in the early nineties when I was expecting my fifth child we had just purchased our first home and our two oldest daughters were attending the local Catholic elementary school and our five year old son was a drop out from kindergarten. The three year old was still enjoying snuggles even if the ever growing baby lump was getting in the way.

Wait you say – the five year out was a “drop out”? In a manner of speaking, yes. Your typical apple pie and blue eyed little boy who enjoyed building train tracks with his red headed younger brother was coming home from kindergarten and systematically beating up his best friend. As you can imagine this was not sitting well with either his father or I (and his brother wasn’t much enjoying it either!). I had a frank Best buds againdiscussion with his teacher and she agreed with my suspicion – my son was coming home and pummeling his younger brother most likely as a result of the aggression he was seeing on the play ground. She readily agreed five year old kindergarten was not a prerequisite for grade one and he could as easily learn his numbers and letters with me at home. Little did we know then that it would be another ten years before he stepped foot inside another brick and mortar place of learning. For his other siblings – most would never enter a “real” school room until they left home for college, while a couple got to sample of public school life for one year while they attended a Montessori Charter school.

What will follow over the next few months will be a collection of journal entries based on my memories of the early months and years of homeschooling. Let’s begin now…

January 12th, 1991 (Ontario Canada)

Dear Diary;

I’ve talked with Alicia’s Godmother once again about the idea of starting to homeschool and I think she has finally convinced me to try. She talked me out of the idea that I need to become a certified Montessori teacher in order to be able to teach them. I’m not sure though. I borrowed a few books from the library about the Montessori method. I love this program but if I wait until I’m certified it will take me 2 years. I can’t imagine Caroline & Alicia making it through two more years in the school here. Hugo seems ready for me to try but he agrees we need to wait until the baby is born and start in the fall. I’m so glad he agrees we should wait. It’s going to be hard dealing with the school board when I pull the kids out. Everyone I know says they had to answer all kinds of questions and I think they even had to go to a board meeting or maybe it was a meeting with the superintendent? I’m dreading this, just dreading this! 

February 26th 1991 

Dear Diary

I’m sorry I’ve neglected you for so long but Elizabeth joined us … on Alexander’s birthday! Good thing we celebrated it early. I don’t think I’d be up to celebrating it right now. Worst. Labour. Ever! I wonder how long till he realizes he’s sharing his birthday with his baby sister. He seems pretty pleased with her but has been very quiet since she was born. Ooops, I hear the baby … gotta go. I hope I can find time to squeeze a few more words in soon. 

June 20th 1991

Dear Diary:

I’m the worst diary writer ever. Where has the time gone? Elizabeth is already four months old. We got a scare when she was so late focusing her eyes – I thought she was blind! All of our other babies were looking us in the face and tracking in their first week. I called Hugo at work, crying and he called the pediatrician. His wife called me & was so reassuring. Anyway – clearly nothing is wrong with her vision now. She’s constantly grabbing my glasses and pulling them off. 

I have good news and bad news, Diary. Bad news first. Last Wednesday I had to walk over to the school with both boys and Elizabeth in the snuggly. The school had called – Caroline had been hit in the face with a baseball. Apparently the teacher on yard duty told her it was her own fault because she was sitting in the grass watching ants. Seriously? A little kid is interested in nature and gets hit in the face wiGoodBye Busth a huge bloody nose and THAT’S what you tell her? Then Thursday I had to call a taxi because the school called again and I still had Caroline home recuperating from the getting smashed in the face. This time Alicia had fallen from the monkey bars … they think. She might have lost consciousness … they think, but are not sure. Apparently the teachers on lunch duty didn’t even notice Alicia lying on the ground until some of her classmates went to get one of them to help her. I was livid when I found her barely able to sit up straight in the chair outside the principal’s office.  (It was interesting trying to fit all five children and myself into the taxi!) Now here’s the good news!!! When I met with the principal to tell her that my girls would not be returning the rest of the school year and I didn’t think they would be back in the fall, she didn’t even bat an eye. She just nodded when I said they would be joining the Mary Immaculate School. She knows full well that’s our small homeschool that the mums in the area have set up. When I told Marie about it she laughed and said – ‘they’re probably afraid of you suing them. I bet you don’t even get a call or letter from the school board.’ I guess that’s the silver lining to my poor girls getting hurt so badly at school. Well, it’s too quiet downstairs – I better go see what the kids are up to!

July 1st 1991 

Dear Diary 

It’s Canada day and tonight Hugo will take the kids the park for the fireworks. We talked about driving into Ottawa and watching them at the parliamentary buildings but Elizabeth is so young. I’ll stay home with her tonight.

Alexander seems to have stopped talking since Elizabeth was born. In every other aspect he seems normal. But he no longer talks. He just nods or shakes his head to questions. This week was his turn to go out with Daddy to Tim Hortons and Hugo said he was interested in what was going on around him but – no conversation. He got his MMR just after his fourth birthday. A friend who’s a nurse brought that to my attention. I’m trying not to worry too much.

I’ve decided to order my curriculum from Our Lady of Victory in the States. I met with our principal of our little school and she agreed that I would feel more comfortable if I did that as I’m still very nervous about the whole idea. It’s so comforting to know she’s had a lot of years teaching in the regular school system. I don’t know if I’m more excited or more nervous about this adventure I’m about to plunge my whole family into. journal cover 4


Well – dear readers, I will see you again in June and you can hear more about my adventures in our early years of homeschooling. I’m currently in my  twenty fourth year of homeschooling with just another decade or so stretching in front of me until all my 13 munchkins have graduated. I’m sure I will have plenty of memories and adventures to share.