organizing ECC: my top 5.

Oh how I love to prep my curriculum for the school year! Call me nerdy, but I do actually enjoy it!

There are so many fun ways to organize ECC, and what I’ve found to be true is that everyone does their own setup a little bit differently. The internet is chock full of wonderful ideas, and I gleaned my organization from multiple sources.

I’m going to break this down into my top five tips for organizing ECC.

1. Bind the student sheets in advance.
This tip is not going to be for everyone. If you can’t.even. with thinking things through in advance, then this won’t be for you. I followed a fellow MFW mom’s tips, which she shared in the Facebook group for ECC. Y’all. That resource is a WELLSPRING of information! I found so many things that I loved from the Facebook group, but the whole binding books for my kids was absolutely my favorite thing I did. My kids loved having a “science” book, and a “geography” book. And the best part? I didn’t have paper everywhere!

My first investment for this was purchasing a coil binder. This has been the best investment! I used it so much in my prep for the school year this past year, and look forward to using it for years to come. I researched coil binding vs. comb binding, and ultimately I think it is a personal preference thing… I liked the idea of the coil binder the best.

Here’s how I divided the student sheets…

Geography: I purchased these plastic dividers to divide their geography books by continent. It grew into a fairly large book, so I am glad that I was able to keep it streamlined this way. I split all of the student sheets up based on what they were. I also went through the teacher’s manual and followed their “preparation” page for each country/continent and made copies out of the other books that come with the curriculum for each country we were studying. I kept everything in the same order for each continent to make sure everything stayed nice and uniform for them. Again, I will say how glad I am that I did this!

Note, for each country introduced, the first page I put for each country was the John 3:16 page in that country’s language.

Science: The student sheets that were for science, I put in order by the week numbers on each sheet. I also went through and added a blank notebooking page where it would be needed in order, for any time the Living World Encyclopedia book was assigned and there wasn’t already a sheet for it. Another resource outside of MFW’s student sheets that I found for this book, was from the website Exploring Nature. They have a lot of awesome resources, particularly some work sheets and coloring pages for each ecosystem and its food web. My kids love filling sheets like this out so it was a wonderful addition to our studies, as well as the coloring pages!

For this book, I also incorporated MamaJenn’s notebooking pages for the vocabulary words in the Geography from A to Z book. I went ahead and put everything in the order we’d be studying it, without any dividers. I sort of wish I would have gotten another set of the tabbed dividers to separate this science book out differently, but I still like the book as it is.

Bible: This was a separate book entirely, comprised completely of the MamaJenn printables. She has a set of copy work pages for the memory verses, which have been wonderful! We had nice pages for the memory verses when we did Adventures in U.S. History last year, so it was nice to be able to incorporate a pre-made memory verse copy work page in this year’s curriculum as well.

The other great resource that MamaJenn has are pages for the Hero Tales book that you use throughout the year. Each “hero” has different character traits, and in the ECC teacher’s manual they encourage you to write the character trait down and illustrate each portion of the hero’s story that embodies that character trait. The printables have each character trait and its definition across the top, a blank space for illustration and lines at the bottom for your student to copy the character trait info. These have been a wonderful part of our Bible time!

2. Destination board.
So this was something I picked up from another ECC mom on Instagram… I of course made it my own, but the idea came from her! So thank you to @pure_hearts_academy for your inspiration!

I made my destination board with a cork board, some dollar store letters, colored computer paper, velcro dots, and my laminator. I decided on four “features” for my board to highlight in each country: the flag, a landmark, the food, and the people. I spent time Google image searching to find the right images for each country. Once I did that, I printed everything out and laminated it. Each of the four “features” has a velcro dot, as well as each picture for each “feature” for all of the countries. For example… here is my USA board:

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I bought my ECC used, and with it came a set of all of the flags already laminated. For USA, my landmark was the Statue of Liberty, for food I had a picture of a burger and French fries, and for the “people” I tried to find pictures of kids from each country. Here’s another example, this one was for France:

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3. The geography game.
Not much to share here, just that I found it helpful to laminate the game boards in advance so they’d hold up… the geography game has become a favorite activity for my kids this school year. I can totally see this game being one we break out and do outside of just ECC! Another suggestion I have is to get yourself some transparent counting chips like these. I had them already, but they’ve been perfect for this activity.

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4. YouTube.
Another idea from the ECC Facebook group, this has been another favorite for my kids (and me!). Whenever we begin our studies in a new country, we “fly” to that country. I found a website where you can even print your own fake boarding passes which was really fun in the beginning but this is not something that I have kept up on as we’ve gone through the school year (I kept forgetting to do it in advance and it felt silly to make them wait to start the day for the boarding passes to print!). On a day where we are beginning a new country, we turn our school room into our pretend airplane. I do a little bit of work in advance and make a playlist on YouTube of videos for that country. I start with an airline safety video for whichever airline would be appropriate (i.e., when we “flew” from France to Germany I found one from Air France). The kids really enjoy this… the next video on the playlist is a window view of an airplane taking off from whichever airport we are departing, followed by their “in-flight movie”… a.k.a., information on whichever country we are flying to next!

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Some of our favorite videos have come from Geography Now (a little over their heads at times but the guy who does these is pretty funny) and National Geographic Kids’ Are We There Yet? series. I also have found a virtual tour of some of the bigger landmarks for some countries (Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, etc.). I do have some stuff saved on my YouTube channel, and will do my best to update it with the videos we actually enjoyed.

Out of all of the things that I have done that I have added in to our studies (that has not necessarily been prescribed in the teacher’s manual), this has been the crowd favorite week after week. My kids LOVE this, so much so that my three- and five-year olds have to sit in with us when we “fly” and have learned quite a bit from doing so! While we are “in the air”, I have tried to facilitate a special “in-flight snack”, which leads me to my last point…

5. Try to eat food/snacks from every country that you study!
My kids have thoroughly enjoyed trying foods from all of these countries! We had plantain chips from Mexico, maple candies from Canada, Brazi cheese bites (thank you Costco) for Brazil, orange marmalade on French bread while in France, German chocolate, animal crackers when we studied Kenya (because there are no places within a 200 mile radius from here that sold Kenyan snacks!), and beyond.

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The teacher’s manual gives some ideas for recipes/treats from each of these countries as you go, but I found more enjoyment out of finding recipes and meal ideas on Pinterest for some of these countries. We did not do all of them… everything from Kenya looked less than appetizing, lol… but we have made a concerted effort to make a meal from every country. I will share our meals from each one as I blog through our school year, but I would encourage you to look further than the teacher’s manual for recipe ideas. I have some pinned on my ECC board, organized by country, if you’re interested!

More info on each country, and what we did, will be shared as I blog the year!

Happy organizing!

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our trip around the world, part 1

We are nearing the end of our trip around the world this year with My Father’s World’s ECC (Exploring Countries and Cultures) curriculum. This has been such an interesting, stretching year for me as a homeschool mom. We have had our own set of challenges, but at each curve this roller coaster of a year has taken us on, we have worked out the kinks and have come out on the other side stronger.

I wanted to document this year well, for my own memories’ sake but also to share what we’ve done that has worked for us (and to maybe share what has not).

I’m going to start at the beginning of the year and try to share recaps of sections of our year.

As we started the year, it was all sort of crazy as we also were in the process of negotiating and executing the purchase of our new home. We began our school year officially on August 14th, just one day after our offer on our home was accepted. So needless to say, the beginning of the school year was somewhat of a whirlwind. I did not plan out my school year to include a move, so as far as our calendar was concerned we were already not going to be on track! Ha!

The first two weeks of ECC is a general introduction, and in the first couple of days it includes a pre-test to see how many countries the student can identify. My kids were totally freaked out by this, and it was definitely a character developing moment – they needed to learn to be okay with not knowing the answers to everything and that if they got it wrong/didn’t know, that it was okay. Don’t get me wrong, we are still working on that character development, but this was definitely a teachable moment in that.

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I honestly don’t have many pictures of activities or crafts that we did in the first couple of weeks, because there really weren’t any. I was completely overwhelmed by everything on my plate, and I probably skipped over some of the more difficult-sounding things! Just tryin’ to be real with you!

After the first two weeks of school, I boxed my school room up and we just waited on “taking off” for our trip around the world – we closed on our house at the end of September and moved all before the beginning of October. Somewhere in there we had a vacation, too, which was a much needed sigh of relief BEFORE the craziness of moving!

I did a lot of preparation for our school year in advance, you can read more about how I organized ECC in this blog post.

Our first “stop” in our trip around the world was right in our own backyard – we started in North America, right in the good ol’ U.S. of A. This was a great way for my kids to start out the year! We went through My Father’s World’s Adventures in U.S. History curriculum last year, which included a study of the 50 states and their geography/history. One of their first activities was to identify as many of the 50 states as they could on a blank U.S. map – both of my girls successfully filled in the entire map, accurately!

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Here’s our “destination board” for the United States. I love this visual for the kids, it is fun for them to see that on the wall as a reminder of where we are in the world! It has proven its worth as we have progressed through the different stops we have made.

The other thing that has really defined our year, has been the crafts. Oh, the crafts. I was not a very good crafter last year with the kids … we did a few projects but this year has been ALL about the crafts! We’ve used so many different mediums this year, it’s been so fun to try new things together.

A note: while the “Global Art” book that comes with ECC has some cool ideas, I found way more inspiration and exciting projects for all of the countries by way of Pinterest. Visit my ECC board for a ton of ideas! The projects we did as a result of my Pinterest searching all last summer will be linked when I share about them.

Our first craft of the year was a fun Pinterest craft I found, something that just screamed, “‘MERICA!” We followed the tutorial from the blog I Can Teach My Child for Shaving Cream Fireworks. My kids loved the process of doing this project, and they turned out pretty cool!

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During our time studying the United States, we also did a project focusing more on Native American art… this was one of the projects from the Global Art book, sand painting. There were a lot of other ways we could have done this… namely, getting pre-colored sand instead of trying to dye your own sand with tempera paint powder. File that one under “overachiever” and “what was I thinking?”

It was still a fun project, though!

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I also decided to run off some coloring pages of USA landmarks for the girls to watercolor… the day we were supposed to do the sand paintings, the whole dyeing sand process took longer than I had expected so they were bummed that we couldn’t do the sand paintings. They enjoyed the simplicity of just getting to paint a coloring page! Watercolors are always a fun option.

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Another element I really wanted to incorporate this year, was a meal from every country. And what better way to start than having burgers, fries, baked beans and milkshakes?

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Stay tuned for part two, as we embark on our journey around the world… Our first stop? Mexico!

it counts.

OK… so I haven’t been a very good blogger and I get that. It’s been really hard to keep up on LIFE, let alone writing about it.

We’ve had a good school year, even if it’s been a little disjointed. We started off strong (don’t let that phrase fool you, we got like three good days in the first week and four the next), then we went on vacation… and THAT was really hard to recover from. Oh, and did I mention that we made an offer on a house literally the day before we started school? And it was accepted? And we moved after we got back from vacation? Yeah. We had a busy fall. But, the show must go on, right?

Our lives have felt much like a roller coaster since the beginning of this school year. Even though it isn’t at ALL what I envisioned when I poured over the teacher’s manuals, blog posts, Pinterest ideas, etc… it’s been exactly what it’s needed to be for us. No, I haven’t done every assignment. No, I haven’t checked every single box in that curriculum. *gasp*

You know what I have done? I have enjoyed learning alongside my kids. I have learned more about myself, what works for me and what doesn’t, and what I need to be better about doing. I have learned a lot about rolling with the punches when things are crazy.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time using My Father’s World’s Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum. It’s been a very fun approach for us to study each country this way. We spend a couple of weeks learning about each country: landmarks/notable places, culture, spiritual needs of people groups in the country, and the list goes on and on. We have investigated what each of these countries’ typical biomes/ecosystems are like in our science studies. We’ve created fun crafts inspired by each of the countries we’ve visited. As I said, it’s been really, REALLY fun.

But then again, there have been some not-so-fun aspects of this year. We’ve had some growing pains. We’ve started out doing things that I realized weren’t the best fit for us, and we had to take a step back. I’ve spent a lot of time praying. Reading. Researching. Conversing with other moms in the same boat as I. We’ve had to make some adjustments to our year.

Yeah, adjustments. We’ve had to adjust a lot. We’ve had to let go of some things that weren’t bad, but also weren’t the best. This entire school year for our family has revolved around that word adjustment. And at the end of it all, one simple truth that has resounded with me throughout this entire year? Two simple words.

It counts.

When my three year old is driving all of us insane and it feels like we’ve accomplished NOTHING, but then quietly sits and watches his sister do long multiplication problems and points at the numbers she is writing? It counts.

When I’m beating myself up that I didn’t get to that one handwriting page with my five year old daughter, but she sat with us during a geography lesson? It counts. (especially since she identified Norway by herself, without any prompting from anyone!)

When my eight year old is beating herself up about not getting a good score and might have to repeat a math lesson because she didn’t understand the concept, but she has learned how to deal with her emotions, talks it out with me, and learns that it’s okay that she’s not perfect? It counts.

When I just let.them.be. and they all get along really well for a couple of hours instead of finishing up that science reading? It counts.

We’ve had our moments of needing to push through and press on and do what needs to get done. Hopefully, by the end of this school year, I can honestly say that I am happy with where we’ve wound up. But in this middle-of-the-winter, dreary February time period, I choose to celebrate the victories, even if they’re small. Because, at the end of the day, no matter how many math lessons they get done this year… no matter how many times I have to remind them to capitalize the beginning of a sentence… It. ALL. Counts.

I am resting in that fact as I take this week off from our regular studies to break away from our routine and go on an adventure with my family. We might not be doing math fact drills, but we are spending time together, making memories, exploring new places…. and guess what? It counts.

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our learning space.

Okay. So, I’m a little late in the game to be doing a post on our first few weeks of homeschooling, seeing as how it is almost NOVEMBER. Seriously, when did that happen?

Our first few weeks of our school year have been… wonderful. frustrating. HILARIOUS. messy. amazing.

That’s just a small cross-section of the emotions I’ve experienced in the past two months. Our first official day of school was August 29th and this year we are using the My Father’s World “Adventures in U.S. History” curriculum. If you’ve never heard of My Father’s World curriculum before, and you’re not into the traditional style of education with a ton of work sheets and text books, then this curriculum may be for you. I’ll write a separate post on why we picked MFW and how it works for us soon. I also have good intentions to write some recaps on our school year and how MFW has worked for us.

First things first, I have to give some love to my school room. We moved into this cute farm house almost a year ago. When we decided to move here (we are renting), I walked through this house and immediately saw the potential in this cute little room downstairs. It is right off of the dining room area, with a built in book case that is home to our growing pile of educational books. It’s not a huge room, but it is just the right size for us. Last year when we moved in and started our homeschooling journey, I didn’t know for sure how I wanted it to look, so I sort of used what I had. It was chaos times infinity about 99% of the time. There was no organization to the room at all, books were all over the place, the school-style desks we had for the kids to do their work were constantly covered in junk. Also, we all agreed that the kitchen table was a lot nicer of a space to work alongside each other. Since I was still sort of defining my homeschool goals and vision for how I wanted it to look, I decided to give it the summer, to research ideas of how I could best organize my space, and of course save up the funds I’d need to make it happen.

After settling on a set up I fell in love with from Ikea, my husband and I purchased the components to our new school room table and shelf, and after a few weeks of preparation, itschoolroom0005 is all put together!

It’s so clean in these pictures…. it doesn’t look like this now, of course, because well, KIDS…

The table itself is two tabletops from Ikea and four of their ALEX drawer units as the legs. We put them back to back on either end of the table to support it. I love how much storage I have in this table. Each of my older two kids have a set of drawers that is *mostly* just for them… The drawer units have five drawers each.

So at the end of every school day, the girls are *supposed* to put their books back in their drawers. It doesn’t always happen, of course, which is why my table is always a mess!

There is enough space on the opposite side of the table for a couple more chairs, for me and my little miss A… she is four, and we do some book work together, but a lot of times she either tags along with what I do with her big sisters, or she plays with her little brother. Every day is a little different, but we make it work! I have one of the drawer units that is MINE… I keep my teacher’s manuals, extra copies of things, etc. all together in there.

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Behind where the girls sit, are part of my pride and joy of my classroom. Our curriculum utilizes a daily “book basket” time which is focused time for the kids to read books about whatever the subject may be for that week. We have four shelves, so the two on the left are typically for our book basket books for the current week, and I made the top right shelf the “curriculum” shelf for all of the books that come with the MFW curriculum. The bottom right is typically a holding shelf for the following weeks’ books since I request books from the library once every couple of weeks. My husband built these out of pallet wood he had leftover from work. I could not love these any more if I tried!

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My next favorite thing is my magnet wall. It’s low to the ground, and mounted to the wall so little siblings can come in and play while we do school. It hasn’t been used TOO much yet, but

I have visions of phonics lessons and little man S having fun with other magnet toys during our school days. Right now his favorite thing to do with the letters is pull them off and hide them. I found an “X” in my diaper bag the other day… LOL!

We also have a very large chalkboard on the same wall as the magnets – we were blessed with this old chalkboard from my mom and dad’s church. It has been so useful and we use it pretty regularly – for copy work, helping to understand concepts, and to keep track of how many math facts miss N knows. 🙂

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On the other side of the room is still sort of a work in progress – the corner is still full of random stuff I need to find a place for but it mostly looks like this. We had a 3×3 cube storage shelf that didn’t have a spot yet in our house so it seemed like the perfect piece of furniture to put in there to store some more school goodies – educational toys, flash cards, puzzles, paper, etc. I have a basket on the floor next to it where their coloring books live, and above the 3×3 shelf is a Trofast shelf from Ikea. I saw this shelf in someone’s school room post on Facebook and it seemed like the perfect place to keep school supplies and things out of reach from little curious hands. I designed little labels in Photoshop and printed them up, laminated them with my laminator and used Velcro dots to keep them attached to the front of the storage bins. I have math manipulatives, play money, Play Doh, paint brushes/watercolors and bingo dot markers in these bins. The center of the school table has little wire mesh cups I bought in primary colors (Target dollar spot for the win!), for pencils, colored pencils, twistable crayons, scissors, and a rotating caddy for glue, hole punchers, pens, erasers, etc. It’s nice to have all of that stuff accessible all of the time. We also have an Ikea abacus that lives on our school room table – something I never expected to use as much as we do!

That’s about it on the school room! I’m very happy with it and I can honestly say that we all enjoy being in this space together daily. It’s a fun room, and probably the most organized room of our house. 😉

Stay tuned for some more posts in the near future, including an overview of why I chose My Father’s World. I also plan on blogging through our year in Adventures, for those of you who are interested in seeing what we’ve done.

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how I became a homeschool mom.

So, I’ve tried this before. I have desired to blog for many years, and I have never found the right time to really start. For whatever reason, at the brink of a whole lotta change coming, it feels like the right time.

We are five days away from embarking on our first full year of homeschooling. I am a bundle of excitement and nerves. I have said many prayers that everything I have invested in to planning this school year would just bless my family. I pray that we will learn together, grow together, and have fun together.

Our homeschooling journey has been a long time coming. Since I myself was homeschooled, it’s weird to be on the other side of this whole thing. It’s weird to think that I will now be in the role that my mother was in all those years ago. You know, back in the day when homeschooling was controversial… oh wait, it still is, isn’t it? LOL

When people asked me if I would homeschool my children because I was homeschooled, I usually answered it with a “no,” “yeah right,” or sometimes I would say “only if God sends me a clear sign” (and did He ever). Don’t get me wrong… I loved being homeschooled. My mom sacrificed a lot and put her heart in to choosing what she felt was best for me and my brother. I do not resent my upbringing at all… I just never thought that I would choose the same path. Boy, was I wrong.

When our oldest became old enough to attend school, my heart was torn. I desired to have her with me and teach her, but at the same time I felt stretched very thin with two younger kids at home too… I also desired for her to “get out in the real world” and have that “first time at school” experience. The yellow bus, the shiny new markers, backpacks, etc… and she got to experience that. We moved to a new school district, and off to first grade she went. As she and her sister embarked on a new school together in kindergarten and first grade, my heart was heavy…but since I had a newborn baby at the time, too, homeschooling just was not on my radar. I was just trying to survive sleepless nights, a colicky baby, and a 2.5-year-old sassypants. I just felt totally inadequate, like I would not have been able to give them what they needed as their educator. They had a fabulous year, they learned a lot, and I just know that God completely surrounded them with friends and teachers who loved Him too, and that for the most part their innocence was preserved during their kindergarten and first grade years. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, first and second grades…and a preschooler too! My excitement for them to get back to their friends, to see familiar faces and interact with the people we’d gotten to know there was far greater than my desire to homeschool… right up until the moment they got on the bus that first day. As I watched the bus drive away, parents around me were cheering and high-fiving. I stood there, with my husband’s arm around my shoulder, and I just started to cry. We’d had such a fun summer. Why was it over so soon? I dismissed my tears as just being emotional about it being their first day back. Besides, I still had two littles to take care of at home, right? It wasn’t like I had nothing to do… I had plenty to do to keep myself busy.

The weeks of school went on and we started to settle into a rhythm. But for the first time, it just felt like things weren’t as easy as they’d been the previous school year. Homework was harder, attitudes were bad (not just theirs either), and everyone was T-I-R-E-D. The demands of two children in school plus a preschool schedule and a toddler were taxing. I kept praying about my attitude, and for their attitudes. I was also struggling with my identity, who I would “be” once all of my kids were in school. It felt silly to be asking those questions, because practically speaking why on earth would I be wondering what I’d do when my then 14 month old would start kindergarten…you know, in like, five years?!? I thought about it a lot, and I kept thinking about what I could do… get a job with the school? Go back to school myself and start a new career? Volunteer more? Pick up more with the photography business? As I thought about each opportunity, my heart just longed for more direction from God. He gave me the desire to find my identity as a mom. I asked Him to give me clear desires and a focus, something to work towards even now and to prepare myself for. It felt silly to do that since it still felt so far away. Obviously, these questions about my future forced me to draw closer to Him, to dig deeper in the Word and to fully rely on God to give me direction.

At the end of September 2015, I attended a women’s retreat with ladies from our church. The worship experiences while I was there were like none other. I felt so connected to God and really sought Him to give me guidance. As I worshipped, I kept hearing this small voice. I felt like God was telling me to homeschool. I hate to admit this, but I just kept on ignoring it. I felt like there was just no way I could even do it. How on earth would I be able to give my kids the kind of education they deserved with so much other responsibility? I remember telling God, “I just feel spread so thin already, how on earth would I be able to have enough of myself to give to the girls, and still take care of the younger set of kids?” The feeling didn’t go away, and after a couple of weeks of this back-and-forth with God, He spoke to me in such a real way that there was no doubt in my mind I was supposed to do this.

I dreamt that we were at church and our pastor was about to preach out of Deuteronomy. I remember hearing him give the reference he was about to preach from, and then I woke up. I sat up in bed right away, grabbed my phone and opened up my Bible app – I just had to know what this verse said.

10 The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number. — Deuteronomy 1:10, NASB

God’s direction for my family became so very clear to me in that moment. Just like that. After whining and complaining to Him that I felt so spread thin and that there wasn’t enough of me to go around, He gives me a verse promising me that He will multiply me. This moment was my turning point. My “aha!” moment. I felt like He spoke so clearly to me that there was nothing I could do but obey.

The following weeks and months brought about a lot of changes, the biggest of which was moving to a new house – the perfect opportunity to have a clean break from the school district, and brick-and-mortar school itself. The girls had their last day of public school on the last day of school in 2015 – when Christmas break started, we officially became a homeschool family.

Our first half a year was interesting… it had its ups and downs, its victories and failures. But we all learned together. It was so fun. So now I look ahead to this school year and while there are still some questions in my mind about how it will all work out (in other words, how much will the two year old let us do), I just think about that morning I woke up with a Bible verse reference in my mind… a normal, common place morning that changed the course of my family extraordinarily. God always meets us where we need Him to in order for us to understand what He’s asking of us. He did not allow me to stay in a state of confusion.

As we start this school year, I decided I wanted to blog… it may be about what we’re studying. It may be about how we are organizing our school year. It may be about things that the Lord has taught me through my kids. It may even be NOTHING after this post…although I hope I can continue it. But I promise one thing: It will be honest. I don’t think blogs should ever be just the “pretty” side of things. It may be messy. It may be an emotional rant about how my seven year old isn’t grasping her math facts. But my prayer is that maybe there is someone out there who isn’t sure about homeschooling…maybe someone who was like me, and just didn’t know if they could do it.

To God be the glory.