Rewards of Following Rabbit Trails

Recently I asked my 17-year-old daughter, now in her final year of homeschooling, what fun things she loved and remembered most in her homeschooling and this is what she said ~

“I loved learning to count in Japanese!” and she proceeded to count out loud in Japanese!

I was stunned!  This memorable little lesson was learnt while watching a  3-minute YouTube song we found “by chance” in an online search over 12 years ago.  My children loved this hip-hip counting song and it stuck with my daughter all this time.

But more importantly, her reply emphasized again how important it is to plan a wide margin of time to allow the freedom to follow “rabbit trails” or to allow your family to “take the scenic tours” in your themes and topics.

Back then, I was re-using our Sonlight World History core and I had discovered the joy of allowing the schedule to suggest and guide us, and not necessarily feel that I had to stick to their time-frame.  If I can remember correctly, their schedule allocated a mere 2 weeks to the Japan study, but we spent over a month covering all the aspects we found on our delight-directed studies.

Not only did my daughters learn to count in Japanese, but they enjoyed their free time and dressed up in kimonos, complete with make-up and hair accessories, and acted out stories.  They cooked and ate Japanese foods using chopsticks and our Chinese dinner service,  and they practised a tea ceremony.  We all learnt origami and my daughters still make origami in their creative projects to this day.  We tried our hand at ikebana (flower arranging), made fans, wrote haiku poetry and so on.

May I encourage any mom who is battling with a child or children don’t want to learn or participate, to get creative and look for other ways to find your fit.  Not only will your reluctant child rarely learn anything when she is nagged, urged, bribed, cajoled, or even punished, (and, yes, I did all this in my first few years of homeschooling when I was ignorant and idealistic), but this negative energy and relational conflict will rub off onto everything else.  If your children show signs of boredom or flat-out refusal, don’t force the issue.  If the lesson doesn’t work, then mom, please, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s happiness and their learning joys, look for something similar that might work.

Try a different approach.  Look for a video or song or hands-on activity instead of plodding on through a book and tailor-make their learning experience.  Remind yourself that homeschooling is actually like offering a learning buffet and you should allow your children to decide what and when they want to eat something.

I have learnt never to underestimate the value of those wonderful, almost magical rabbit-hole learning moments.  Sometimes, these happy discoveries may forge a lifelong fascination and enthusiasm for learning.  They are the whole reason we homeschool and it may be the one thing that they will remember for a lifetime!  I know that this is what works!

Blessings as you give yourselves extra time to follow those rabbit trails, Nadene

All the photos featured are the origami gifts that my daughters have made.

Not Qualified to Homeschool?

Encouraging new homeschoolers ~

A reader recently wrote and asked,
“I’m not qualified as a teacher.   I have 3 young children and want to start homeschooling. What do you recommend?”

Let me start with this statement20140811_125422 ~  YOU CAN HOMESCHOOL YOUR OWN CHILDREN! You are already educating your children as you intimately know your children and adapt to their needs, interests and abilities.  You don’t need certification, experience or qualifications to educate them if you are able to follow some basic principles, and approaches.  If you read good parenting and education books you will gain excellent perspective and understanding on how your child learns and how you can initiate or facilitate their interests and explorations.  Some homeschool curriculums are so well-designed and prepared that you will easily be able to facilitate your child’s learning.

I can fully understand how uncertain and insecure you must feel.  Even as a qualified, professional teacher, I experienced the same fears and failures in my first year teaching.  Here’s my story   ~

I qualified with a 4 year Diploma of Higher Education with subject majors and a specialization in remedial education as a senior primary (middle school) teacher.  When I received my first teaching post, the school appointed me to a junior primary class and I was completely ill-equipped!  I had absolutely no idea how to teach these young, little kids to write, read, do phonics or practice numeracy!  Even with the lesson preparation planned out for me, I had no idea how to actually implement the lessons.  I used to stand on tip-toe to  peep into my neighbouring teacher’s classroom to see how she taught her classes and try copy her in my class!  It was a real disaster!  Six months later, when a senior primary teacher was transferred to another school, I begged for her classes and was promptly “promoted” to senior primary where I flourished!

After teaching at public schools for 10 years and completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree,  I became a stay-at-home mom started homeschooling my young children.  All my years of teaching experience and study did not help me.  In fact it was a hindrance!

My first homeschooling year looked like “school-at-home” and I rigorously implemented Sonlight’s  packaged curriculum.  I religiously stuck to their schedule, and stressed and juggled to try implement the 3 separate cores I bought for each child and we all nearly burnt out!  Wonderfully, during this first year I also read amazing education and parenting books and slowly realized that I needed to loosen up, look for the learning spark or moment and fan that flame to encourage my children to explore and discover their own interests and creative passions.

My children learnt despite my best and worst efforts.  Two years later we spent 18 20140603_121902months on the road travelling around South Africa.  I wisely put all the children on just one core and followed Footprints On Our Land .  I learnt that even if we travelled and missed formal schooling days we didn’t fall behind.   I simply extended the schedule to cover 18 months instead of 1 year!  We loved the flow and natural learning that came with reading amazing books, visiting people and places and being creative.

So what do you need to have to qualify as a good homeschooler?

  • Relationship.  Be attached and connected, involved and encouraging of each child.  Know your children, their weakness, fears, anxieties, learning styles, interests, and passions.   This is true for any great parent, even if your child attends public school!
  • Facilitator.  Your purpose is to observe and listen to what they love to do, what they love to learn, and to encourage, initiate ideas, and help them explore and discover what interests them.  Give them time and space to explore, discover, create, make a mess, make mistakes, and make it their own.  Ask them what they want to learn and allow them to choose subjects, topics, books and approaches and then tailor-make their education.  Think of child-led learning.
  • Basic skills. Teach them with short, clear instructions and then let them apply it in their learning.  Give them examples of how to work with equipment, tools, materials and methods.  Show them how to be safe and keep things clean and in working order when finished.  Think of practical life skills such as washing, cleaning, using kitchen equipment, sewing, handwork, use a variety arts and crafts materials.  Teach more specific educational skills such as how to use a microscope or maths equipment .  If you don’t know how, find someone who can and learn together with your kids.  Often my kids find out for themselves in the Internet or from friends.
  • Read aloud with expression.  This may be your greatest teaching tool!  We have always learnt through living books and great literature.  I still read aloud every day to my high schooler and our family loves to read.  Even when everything else seems uncertain and failing, read alouds have kept us going strong.  It has been our homeschool glue!  Start while your kids are very young and just keep updating your library, looking for relevant, engaging books as they grow older.  There are dozens of book lists for children of every age.  Ambleside Online is a free Charlotte Mason education based primarily on book lists for each year.
  • Keep the young years fun!  Avoid making homeschool about desk work, days of dry, dull, long lessons.  Do hands-on activities, play, get dirty, have fun, sing, laugh and play.   Avoid curriculums that require strict marking, tests and exams.  This approach is not necessary until your children reach highschool.  Only in the final 3 years of highschool do you need to settle into a more focussed academic approach.

When buying a curriculum, most new homeschool parents buy the full bells-and-whistles packages.  This is a great help, but I urge you to adapt it and make it fit your family.

Here’s my best advice to new curriculum package users ~

  • One core – try put as many children of similar ages together on the same core.  Some years a young or older child may require the focus of the core, but generally go on a family adventure on the same read alouds.
  • Individual Reading, Maths and Spelling – each child on their own learning levels and pace for handwriting, phonics, reading, spelling and maths.
  • Short sweet lessons – For the 3R’s read how to keep lessons short – only 10 to 15 minutes long.
  • 4-Day-Schedule – plan for one free day to do extras, outings, co-ops, nature walks, fine arts and personal free time.  This will keep you and your children fresh and sane!
  • Start slowly – don’t pile into the full package.  Ease into the program over weeks even months.  Start with the best, juicy parts like the reading aloud and the main core books.  Each day work through this and then add a new subject each week.  Give yourself and your kids time to find your family’s natural rhythm and flow.  It doesn’t matter if some subjects are “behind” for a while.  You can focus on lagging subjects and catch up easily in a few days or a week!
  • Tweak the package for each child and use the schedule uniquely and individually instead of trying to make your kids and yourself fit into someone else’s learning plan.  Think of the schedule as an outline, prompt or suggestion.  It is the general road-map. Make the journey yours!


Wishing you all grace and courage as you follow your heart and begin this most amazing journey!

Blessings, Nadene




Make Memories with Hands-on Activities

Revisiting earlier posts ~

Way back in 2009, when I re-used our Sonlight Core 1&2 World History with my youngest 2 kids, I ignored the time-frame suggested in the Sonlight schedule and followed it as a mere guideline.  Adding hands-on activities to our themes made homeschool come alive and filled our school day with fun!  

But, more importantly, it really helped my kids learn.  In fact, when I asked them what they remember of their studies, they mostly only remember the hands-on activities!

I am re-using Core 1&2 with my younger 2 girls and decided to relax, stretch the schedule and do hand-on activities when we could this year.

Buiilding castles

building castles

The girls have made models and built castles.  They have created interesting project pages.  They have dressed up and acted out scenes from read alouds.  They have cooked and baked and then ate foods from the country or era.  We have visited places and museums.

Dressing the part

Dressing the part

During school they have played online educational games and they have created interesting notebook pages.  We have made lapbooks for as many themes as we could find or create.

Mapping World War II

Mapping World War II

These activities have been the highlights!  I highly recommend that you allow more time to ‘flesh out’ the schedule!  How can one spend only 1 day covering Japan?  Or take just 2 days to enjoy the Knights and Castles?

Sonlight has offered me a great framework and I have enjoyed this approach SO much more than my first year of homeschooling tick-the-box-stick-to-the-schedule approach!

Life is the learning journey!

Especially while you are teaching your young children, even up to junior high, add and include hands-on activities!  Make time for it!  It is an investment in your children’s learning experience that will last!


World War II Notebook Pages, Maps, Timelines & Online Resources

An Observer Corps Spotter on a rooftop in London.

World War II

As with our WWI studies, I wanted to present a brief overview to World War II events, rather than to do a detailed study.  I felt that if any topic raised someone’s particular interest, we would delve into it a little deeper.

Most my children’s existing knowledge of World War II has come through movies.  As a family, we had watched a few WWII classic movies, such as the BBC’s  The Battle of Britain and The Great Escape and the modern release of Pearl Harbor.

I find that holocaust movies can be deeply disturbing.  We selectively guide our children’s viewing of these films.  We watched The Diary of Anne Frank  and The Boy with Striped Pyjamas.

For our History studies, I wanted to create a type of “skeleton” or framework on which they can attach all their existing and new knowledge.

Timeline activities and map work seemed the best method to use.

I spent several hours researching for online resources and there is a stack out there!

I use OneNote for all my web research and notebook preparation.  I simply copy and paste anything I find on the internet on One New Side Note.

What is wonderful about this Microsoft tool (part of the Office package) is that ~

1. it saves everything for you automatically automatically places the url hyperlink under the clip when you copy and paste a picture, quote, table or whatever.  I use these hyperlinks to go back to the original website or use these references to complete my lapbook organizer or bibliography with one click!

3. you can easily organize your notebooks, filing and creating sections, tabs and new notebooks as you go, or afterwards

Recommended Websites on World War Two:

For the best overviews:

History Animated

A brilliant website with animated maps, timelines and original audio recording, radio broadcasts and famous speeches.  Highly recommended!  Go here to view WWII in Europe and Africa with an outstanding animation of the Battle of Britian.  They also cover the entire WWII Pacific wars and include animated maps with audio of the Japanese Onslaught, America Fights Back and battles on various islands in the Pacific.

History on the Net

They have an excellent site with photos, timelines and free printable notes.  They also include some online word searches and quizzes.

Work online on the excellent interactive map of WWII with more notes on the side.  (Excellent visual presentation)

History Of War Online

Here are stacks of links to maps, photos, documents, stories and even recordings of the war.

(I love audio recordings – great for auditory learners and learning with busy hands!)

BBC – History: World War II

With expandable index and excellent notes.



World Leaders & Famous Speeches:

Audio recordings of soldiers, civilians and survivors:

Main battles and events:

Pearl Harbor: An excellent animated map of the attack at Pearl Harbor with audio and full click details on the images on the map. Pop back to my New Pearl Harbor Lapbook post

Free WWII Notebook Pages:

(Click the title for your free download)

These come in 3 different layouts.  We combine our minibooks and notebook pages.

I created a concertina-folded timeline to paste into our Book of Centuries.  This way the war “unfolds” 🙂 for the child  and gives them a bird’s-eye view.  This 9 page download comes with detailed timeline notes that the child can use to write their own time line events.

Children colour in the different countries according to whether they are Axis, Allies, Neutral and Occupied Territories on a world map.  Coloured map of Europe during the war is also included.



World War I Minibooks and Notebook Pages

One-page minibooks are my favourite minibooks because you can tell a whole story on one page. With just 3 folds and a snip, and refolded, it becomes an 8 page booklet filled with info.

(Have you downloaded my one-page minibook templates yet?)

I created several minibooks and notebook pages for our study of

World War I

The first minibook covers the most important events of the war which I adapted from this excellent online animated book of WWI.

The second minibook is about WWI warfare, including trenches, guns, tanks, airships and airplanes.

I made a vocabulary and definitions minibook and created a crossword, word search and match words worksheets to reinforce the new vocabulary. I love the simple worksheet maker at PuzzleFast Instant Puzzle Maker.   You just types the words and their meanings, and you can select whichever game you want and it creates it for you in a jiffy!  Using the same imput you can select several puzzles at a click.

I made World War I notebook pages in 3 variations.  We combine our minibooks and notebook pages.

We concluded our study by writing in all the main events and dates on our Book of Centuries.

You can download your WWI pages here:



New – Pearl Harbor Lapbook!

We have started our final section of Sonlight American History.

I created a new free lapbook  download~

Pearl Harbor Lapbook

Update:  I’ve broken the above lapbook file into 3 smaller files for easier downloads:

Pearl Harbor Lapbook

The Pearl Harbor Lapbook includes:

  • 19 page download with …
  • lapbook organizer with hyperlinks for each section to original websites
  • Vocabulary and definitions with several activities such as a crossword puzzle, word search and match words with meanings
  • Detailed (even minute-by-minute!) timeline
  • Battleships, Cruisers & Destroyers minibooks
  • Map of harbor to identify ships
  • What happened? with 3 photos to examine, discuss and describe
  • Oral history and survivor reports from a nurse, a sailor and a lieutenant commander to read, discuss and summarize
  • Aftermath of Pearl Harbour with photo and info
  • History Notebook Pages in 3 variations

This lapbook is for upper middle schoolers (for 10 – 12 year olds) but can be adapted for younger middle schoolers or extended for junior high students.

I suggested several alternative activities and introduced some advanced skills like ~

  • summarizing reports
  • making inferences
  • coming to conclusions
  • consequences to events
  • characteristics of heroes
  • write newspaper report
  • create an interview
  • give a radio report

With this in mind, I’m sure my 12-year-old will combine minibooks on the notebook pages, rather than do a lapbook.

If you download and use this lapbook, please feel free to comment here and share your photos and stories!


Re-using Sonlight and Doing it Differently

This is my homeschooling motto ~ “Nothing is cast in stone”

I started out over 12 years ago ~ idealistic, a purist, Sonlight-out-of-the-box, strictly schedule-driven, and determined to make it work with 3 different children on 3 separate cores.  I had a steep learning curve coming ….  And I was stressed and none of us really managed and none of us really enjoyed school.

As I shared before, I am re-using my Sonlight curriculums and most of my bought full packages. I have used and re-used Kindergarten Introduction to World History,  Core 1 & 2 World History, Core 3 & 4 American History packages.

Sonlight packages are FANTASTIC!  Their readers, read aloud books and core books are wonderfully selected and perfectly scheduled to overlap and cover history through literature.  If you can afford it, I would highly recommend the full packages!  They are a real investment.

As I re-used my Sonlight cores, I have taken a different approach.  How have my methods have changed?

  • I try to place as many children on the same core as possible.

Homeschooling through literature is a journey best shared with the entire family.  Especially when you read aloud, all the children end up listening anyway.  There are some years where combining all the children on one core is not possible, but try avoid buying different cores for each child – there is simply too much to read and cover with each child.

  • I am led by my children’s ages and stages.

My children follow their own Maths grade, spelling, handwriting and phonics programs.

I try to ease the younger child along the program, realizing that she may not get the full picture, but she is learning along with the rest and enjoys the hands-on activities and lapbooks we cover.  Who knows, I may re-use parts of the package with her again later?

This year I am pushing my middle schooler.  I want her to maximize her learning and develop her skills everyday.  In the past, she may have cruised a little, but now I focus on her pace and keep her motivated and focused.

  • I follow the schedule at a pace that suits my family.

My first years of homeschooling, I ticked all the boxes.  You see, Sonlight is so organized that all you do is open the schedule and start the work.  I was devoted to the schedule.  I dreaded “falling behind” and I would strive to do everything every day.  It was simply exhausting.  Now, I follow the theme.  If a sub-theme or topic catches our attention, we deviate.  We take side paths.

I don’t mind how long the program will take.  In fact, I usually spread a 12 month schedule over 18 months so that I can stretch it to the max!  And why not?  It is all paid for, it is all there.  I want us all to enjoy it.  I try savour the moments.  I try not to rush and cut things short.  I am not trying to fill my kids with information.  I want to ignite their hearts, fuel their love to learn and develop their characters.

  • I add new activities to the core where and when I can.

I realize that my kids may be familiar with the books, stories and some facts as I reuse the curriculum, but they were so much younger when they first heard it. Yes, they may know some things, but when we cover the themes this time, they learn new information and understand concepts better.

I look for some new hands-on activities, create new history notebook pages, find plays, lapbooks and internet resources to give the core a completely updated version.

My children really love to notebook their narrations.  They also enjoy some lapbooks.  I didn’t even know about these activities when I started homeschooling my children.

Surely, if I re-use any core a 3rd time, I’m sure I would do it differently again … I’m growing and learning [smile] and I still discover new techniques and approaches.  I prayerfully apply more of Charlotte Mason’s principles as I go along.

Nothing is cast in stone.

I hope that my sharing encourages you as you plan your new year.

Be blessed, Nadene

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More History Notebook Pages

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...

Image via Wikipedia

Before I give you some new free downloads [big smile!], I would like to share a bit of my current History homeschooling journey with you:

I am re-using my Sonlight American History curriculum for my younger children, and so much has changed  since I last used the curriculum over  6 years ago …

  • The bought schedule is now my guideline rather than my task master.  I no longer stress about ticking all the boxes and keeping up with all the reading schedules.  I follow the themes rather than the schedule.
  • My attitude about teaching has matured since my early first years of homeschooling.  I do NOT focus on teaching information.  I now focus more on character training and skills development.  It does NOT matter if I don’t cover everything.  It will NOT matter if I leave things out.  My children can ALWAYS learn this information and any other time and this is not a once-off study on these themes.
  • I want them to gain an overview.  I hope that they will link classic literature and films and famous people to periods and times during American history.  Just as American families study World or Eastern Hemisphere history, we, in South Africa, need to cover American history for our world perspective.
  • In the previous year I created my own eclectic curriculum and it has given me confidence to linger where there is a spark of interest and move on when the topic does not ignite our minds or thoughts.
  • I use methods my children love – notebook pages and minibooks as well as occasional hands-on activities.
  • I have changed my core books.  My original Sonlight core book,  The Landmark History of the American People by Boorstin, was just too long and wordy and unsuitable for my children’s’ maturity and interest.  I also laid aside the textbook-type series The Story of the USA by Franklin Escher Jr.  I now use A Child’s Story of America by Christian Liberty Press.  It has a warm and conversational tone and, although rather subjective, presents most of the history and information as an overview.

So, based on our new core book, A Child’s Story of America, I have made these notebook pages:

  • a basic blank 3-block and lined page notebooking page

  • a page with 3 blank minibooks that fit inside the blocks of the notebook page

  • clip art or illustrations and headings for each theme

It is an easy for me to prepare specific notebook pages for each chapter.  The children cut out the clip art and illustrations and cut and paste these on the minibooks or the notebook page while I read the chapter aloud.  The pictures give clues and the cutting and pasting keeps their hands busy while I read.

It takes just a few minutes for my youngest to dictate her narrations while I write them for her, or about 20 minutes for her and her older sister to write their narrations.

Quick, simple and really pleasing results!

Here are the downloads ~

  • Old Times in the Colonies  – with a spinning wheel minibook and steps how to spin flax, and pictures of life on the frontier and the First Thanksgiving.

Pop over to my other history notebook pages for more free downloads!  Enjoy!


Playing the Mayflower Girls

We had such fun in History recently!

We acted out a simple play I downloaded called “The Girls of the Mayflower “ by Amy Puetz.

My youngest learnt most her lines by repeating her words after me and she loved acting.

But my 11-year-old is shy.  She hates to speak publicly.  And she absolutely hates to act in front of an audience, so she made me promise that we would not perform the play for anyone.  Of course I agreed.  We rehearsed and she began to speak up and put some actions to her words.

I made some new calico bonnets and wide collars in the Pilgrim style.  the girls used their dress-up skirts and aprons and we went outside to perform our play … to the birds!

It was great fun!

But the best part is that they learnt and knew so many facts and details of the events of the Pilgrims and their journey to the New World.

Plays are a great way to make a subject come to life!

How do you make History fun?


Planning for 2011

It is nearly the end of 2010 and I have been busy planning for 2011!
  • We filed all this year’s completed work.
  • I wrote out evaluations and recorded our work we accomplished.
  • I used very similar planners for this year as I did in 2010.  For several months now, I have prayed and planned for the right combinations, curriculums and materials for my children for next year.
Using Clay and Sally Clarkson’s “The Wholehearted ChildWholehearted Year Planner I jotted all the basic ideas I had in the ‘foundation’, ‘circles’ and ‘roof’.  You can download this planner and all the other documents in blank format for you to use on my Planning & Organization page.
Discipleship Studies ~ Starting with the foundation –We will continue with the very successful “Bible Draw!” pictures of each Bible book; concentrating on the New Testament this year. Disciplined Studies ~ basic 3R’s and 2nd language.  We will continue with our current Singapore Maths, Sonlight readers and Language Arts, Sequential Spelling and Copywork and Dictation for handwriting. Discussion Studies ~
  • After the most wonderful year using my first eclectic curriculum, I have chosen to re-use my eldest daughter’s Sonlight American History Core 3 and 4 for the younger 2 next year for the spine of our Discussion Studies.  Although I have purchased the condensed core, I have planned to branch off and take whatever tangent and hands-on activity we may find along the way.  I also want to create new notebook pages and minibook combos, and maybe a lapbook here or there … so we may not complete the package in a year … or at all.
  • For our Classic Literature we will continue our Little House Series with the wonderful free lapbooks from  This has been an absolute highlight for the girls and it will fit in perfectly with our Sonlight curriculums.
  • For Fine Arts we will further our monthly studies of Famous Impressionist Artists and Famous Musicians using Charlotte Mason’s wonderful principles and methods.
Discovery StudiesWe will enjoy our weekly Nature Study and Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day. I purchased the lapbook to go with this book (one of the very few purchased lapbooks!) and used my time-saving method of preparing the minibooks.  We’ll complete Geography cards and definitions and add as much map work with our other studies. Discretionary StudiesWe will include homesteading skills, cooking, baking, sewing, needle crafts, farming, gardening, guitar lessons and other skills or interests There! Planning phase 1 done! Now, I create a simple page with my 2011 Year Plan.  It is a basic planner with daily, weekly or monthly columns. Next, I type in the most important subjects on my 36 Week Subject Plan and Record of Work.  This forms the most detailed plan and I record everything we do on this same page.  This took the longest time because I had to schedule the Artist/ Composer/ Science Lesson/ Poem/ Bible books across the 36 weeks.  Lastly, I made the Week Timetable for in front of our files. This is the basic daily schedule. Final Checklist:
  • Filing done √
  • Planning done
  • Printing done
  • Timetables done
  • New Cover Pages in the girls’ files

Pop over to my Free Planning Pages for downloads your own personal use. I trust that your final preparations for the end of this year are going well. Blessings, Nadene