Teaching Reading Winner

I didn’t get to a full 7 quick takes post this week, but I do want to announce a winner for Brandy’s Teaching Reading with Bob Books:


Brandy will send you a free copy of both Teaching Reading with Bob Books: Set 1 Printable Phonics Lessons and Teaching Reading with Bob Books: Set 2 Printable Phonics Lessons.

Because TATRAS, my favorite phonics program, is currently inexplicably unavailable, I’m glad to have another inexpensive, comprehensive, simple program to recommend.

Brandy makes all the lessons free on the Teaching Reading with Bob Books site, but the pdf versions are much easier to use.

If you have a young child you need to teach how to read, this is definitely worth checking out.

Thank you, Brandy, for offering the giveaway!

Which is better? Paper or digital planning?

It’s a trick question, of course.

The one that is better is the one that you will use.

But so much of the time, we don’t know which we will use more, which we will love more, which we will not let sit ignored on the counter while we continue functioning by keeping too much rolling around in our heads.

You know I like digital planning. After all, I wrote Paperless Home Organization.

But for the last year I’ve used a hybrid method of planning that involves both paper and digital. This has worked very well for me, and I’d love to brainstorm with you a unique set up that will appeal to you, work for you, and make life run more smoothly for you.

After all, who doesn’t love to talk all things planners and organization, especially in September as we get off to new schedules in the fall.

So I hope you’ll join me for a free webinar
at Simplified Organization
on Thursday, September 3rd
at 1:30pm Pacific (4:30pm Eastern)

Register to receive the access link and the replay link.


During this webinar we’ll talk about

  • the advantages and disadvantages of paper planners
  • the advantages and disadvantages of digital apps
  • different ways to use paper for planning purposes
  • different apps that work well for moms at home
  • how you can combine paper and digital into a hybrid form that will work for you
  • the habits that we must learn to make any planning system work

I hope you’ll join me. There will be a chatbox, and I’ll be taking your questions and we’ll all be sharing what we’ve found does and does not work. It’ll be a load of fun!

Enter your email and hit “register” in order to receive the webinar link on September 3rd. Everyone who registers will also receive the replay link within 24 hours of the end of the webinar.

Feel free to share this post and the invitation!

So many good things – including a giveaway!

The last take in today’s post is a giveaway of Brandy Vencel’s phonics lesson plans, Teaching Reading with Bob Books. But there’s a lot of good stuff between here and there, too.

~ 1 ~

We started our Harvest Term this week – I’ll post about our content for the term next week. We seem to have a pre-algebra stall but some significant fraction improvement. By now I have enough experience with these waves of math to not worry about them but just keep everyone putting the next foot forward to take the next step. It all evens out.

What I’m happy with so far is that I’m not neglecting my middle set of students. It’s easy to put off and disregard the early grades, especially with 7th grade at hand, but now is when my 7-year-old is forming those habits that will make teaching her later either possible or exceedingly difficult. So, consistent lessons have been a priority, and they have been happening.

Surprisingly, our favorite bit is spelling! I never was consistent with spelling with the boys, but they also didn’t seem to need it. For Ilse, it’s been a good phonics reinforcement, and she and Knox both love that they get to use markers. I can do it for them both at the same time, and I could it is spelling, extra phonics, and handwriting all in one condensed 10-minute session, so I’m happy, too.

Weekly Wrap-Up

~ 2 ~

pretty * happy * funny * real

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

One of my favorite sights to see around the house:

round button chicken

Just don’t look at those feet. I promise I mopped – the next day. After taking the picture, I went and finished my own book.

He’s reading the first book in the fantasy trilogy by Stephen Lawhead: The Dragon King Collection. I chose the trilogy as a birthday present for our now-12-year-old. I’ve read a Lawhead book before, but this series was on the 1000 Good Books list, which has yet to fail me.

The book I finished was The Miracle Worker: A Play, but that one deserves its own Wednesday with Words post!

~ 3 ~

So this week my big win in homeschooling came as a direct result of listening to the master class “Education in an Hour ” with Sarah Mackenzie and Adam Andrews on Saturday while making bread. Three questions. Ask them about any story. Good conversations that move us all toward thoughtfulness and connections happen.

On Monday, I used the questions with Hans and Jaeger separately, asking them about the books they’d each finished over the weekend. I also used it with the picture book and Bible story with Knox and Ilse. Then I used it again with Jaeger when he narrated his Bible reading.


I am set. Seriously.

I watched all the Teaching the Classics videos last summer with a friend, and they are excellent, but they still left me feeling like it would take practice to really make it work. I still felt unsure and awkward and I never really incorporated into normal conversations – and normal, organic conversations are my preference rather than a sit-down, let’s do literary analysis session.

This class distilled Adam Andrew’s approach and made it immediately useful for organic conversations.

I’ve been trying to do more narration this year, and it’s been going well, but it’s never really moved to conversation and although it’s better than just reading and moving on, I’ve been feeling it’s still rather flat for us.

So, my 5th grade son is reading a chapter and the corresponding Bible passage from Starr Meade’s Mighty Acts of God, and he likes to give short and sweet and basic narrations. He knows the stories already, and I want him to narrate more the teaching/doctrine within the story that the book is drawing out, but he doesn’t take well to “drawing out” after he’s given a basic narration. So, I asked what his chapter today was about:


(He expects me to say “tell me about Gideon.”)

“Who was the protagonist?”

He registers a look of surprise at the new question. Thinks. Squints his eyes at me to let me know he’s not going to fall for any trick questions.

“Well, God is the protagonist, because the Bible is about God.”

… And I could have died happy right there.

Yes, I followed up with the other questions and we actually talked about how God uses people even though they are difficult – the kind of conversation I’d been wanting to have, but couldn’t make happen.

I am totally pumped about it – a whole week of the same set of questions every day and it’s worked like a charm with all the kids, every time.

The master class is included in the Read Aloud Revival Membership Site, but you can also purchase it separately. Don’t tell Sarah I told you to do this, but if you didn’t get this master class when it was live, I’d recommend signing up for the Read-Aloud Membership Site, watching this class, downloading the cheat sheet, … watch the other videos while you’re there …. then you can cancel.

Totally worth it.

~ 4 ~

I’m working behind the scenes, after kid’s bedtime, during naptime, and before breakfast on my next thing: Work the Plan Video Training.

It’s coming together and I’m super excited about it!

My signature course, Simplified Organization: Learning to Love What Must Be Done, is for moms who feel like they are drowning, who feel like everything is chaos and there is no way to step out of the frustration. It was birthed from the plans and notes I made for myself after the pregnancy and birth of my fourth and fifth babies (three years apart). Pregnancy and birth and sleep deprivation mess with one’s perspective, and Simplified Organization: Learning to Love What Must Be Done is about finding a path out of negativity and apathy.

Work the Plan is geared at – myself, right now, a mom with several plates to spin who needs to actually work her plans instead of just making them, who needs to spend more time doing and less time listing and brainstorming and planning.

Really, my projects are all created out of pure selfishness: I need a kick in the pants. I know what to do, I just need to pull it together and actually do it. Having to put it together and package it up to make it intelligible and useful for other people forces me to clarify my thoughts and finish the plan all the way instead of being distracted by another idea. Also, if I put something out there as “this is what I do,” well, then I’m also binding myself to do it now, aren’t I? So this is my own strategy for public accountability. Thank you for helping.

My monthly newsletter goes out Saturday morning and will have a sneak peek at one of the videos I’ve already finished for the course. Sign up and make sure you don’t miss it!

~ 5 ~

You didn’t miss Pam’s first episode of her new podcast did you?

Your Morning Basket with Cindy Rollins as the first guest.

You simply must listen. No, you simply must subscribe, because Pam has already recorded with most of the guests for the whole season and they are all going to be incredibly helpful and encouraging!

~ 6 ~

Because I’m recording videos for Work the Plan, I haven’t used Periscope much this week, but my ‘scope on Monday about our EHAP5 practice went over pretty well:

~ 7 ~

And last but still very important, today I get to give away a copy of Brandy Vencel’s phonics guides! Teaching Reading with Bob Books is a step-by-step guide to using the Bob Books to teach phonics thoroughly. She tutored reading before she had kids, and she used this notebook-based and whole-book method to teach all four of her kids to read.

I’ve received several emails in the last week about the phonics program I use and love, TATRAS. It appears to be out of print and no longer available! It was simply sold by the author out of his home in 3-ring binders, and no one has been able to contact anyone through his site. So, especially in light of the fact that the program I’ve recommended for years is now unavailable, I give you a chance to win a free copy of Brandy’s easy-to-use method.

I told her I was picky about my phonics and although I use Bob Books for early reading practice, I think the phonics they teach is sorely inadequate. I also disagree with teaching sight words.

However, it turns out that what Brandy does with her lesson plans is teach actual phonics and phonograms using the Bob Books, but not in the way the Bob Books say to use them. I took a picture of the TATRAS phonogram chart and she said that her program covers every single one of those phonograms by the time you’ve moved through all the Bob Book sets and the Treadwell Readers. She teaches the phonics rules for what Bob Books calls sight words, also. She doesn’t teach all the sounds of each phonogram at the same time (“vertical” phonics), but one can’t have everything, I suppose. ;)

So, she relieved my concerns and now I can whole-heartedly recommend you look at her lesson plans if you are in need of a phonics program.

Enter to win a free copy by leaving a comment telling me your least favorite word to spell. Ha! It’s possible knowing all the phonograms can help.

Brandy is giving away the guide for Set 1 and also the guide for Set 2 which will be released any day now. I’ll choose a winner next Friday!

She also has many cute and helpful phonics teaching tip videos on her Teaching Reading with Bob Books blog.

All the reading lessons are available for free at Teaching Reading with Bob Books, but the lesson plan sets pull it all together so you can print it and use it more effectively.

Check them out…after entering to win!

5 tips for teaching kids to use checklists

We’ve been using checklists in our homeschool for about 3 years now, since my oldest was 9 and my second-born was 7.

Through much trial and error, I’ve learned some rules of thumb for teaching kids to use checklists. Because I’ve received several questions about my kids’ checklists, I thought I’d share what I have learned as well as the checklists we’ve used over the years.


1. A checklist doesn’t replace mom.

It’s so tempting to just pass off a checklist and pass off the responsibility with it. Yes, the kids do need to learn responsibility for their own work, but that is a gradual process, not something that happens automatically when there is a box to tick.

Theoretically, a checklist provides direction for the student so he can move on to the next productive thing without getting distracted or sitting around waiting for your direction. If you’ve ever tried handing off a checklist with that expectation – as I have – you’ve probably already learned it doesn’t work that way. That’s not a problem with your child or with your checklist; it’s a problem with our expectations.

A checklist can’t be an excuse for mom to write off her role as guide and primary director. We still have to pay attention and take responsibility. A checklist does not substitute for mom sitting, watching the handwriting lesson, saying, “Start at the top. Start at the top. Good. Start at the top. All the way to the line. Start at the top.”

A checklist is not a teacher, and a checklist also isn’t a magic tool that automatically makes a student mature and responsible simply because they are holding a checklist on a clipboard or in a spiral notebook. Teaching our kids how to use checklists is the first step, and it takes practice. Knowing how to be self-directed and responsible is a gradual process that must be taught, modeled, and learned; it doesn’t happen with the mere existence of a checklist.

2. A checklist doesn’t work if it’s never checked.

When you first give your children checklists, the first several months – maybe the first year – will primarily be about whether or not you mean what you say. And you can only prove that you do by standing behind your written list and checking in with them, preferably every single day.

Do not wait for your child to come to you with a problem. Watch. Notice. Pay attention.

Have posted consequences for checking off a box when the task isn’t completed.

At our house, I always correct all the math pages every day. I do this not only because I don’t want to tempt my children to cheat, but also because it’s the only way I can keep my pulse on how they’re actually doing.

Also at our house, a school day isn’t done until I’ve marked their checklist day off. So if they’re playing and I haven’t seen their checklist, then there’s a problem. They are free to play after reporting with their checklist and I’ve said that they are done.

You’ll see in the examples of checklists below, though, that crossing an item on the checklist out completely was not a rare occurrence. However, that was something I had to approve, not something they could decide on their own authority – that was something they had to learn, and that was something caught because I was checking their lists daily.

3. A checklist must be super-specific and explained.

“Practice piano,” it turns out, is actually a very vague task. It is what the checklist says, because I can’t write a full descriptive complete sentence for every box on their list, but for many months, I had to spell it out on the board and face-to-face that if “practice piano” was marked off but they hadn’t completed every single item on the list the teacher left, then it was equivalent to a lie.

Now we can just say, “practice piano” on the list and there is rarely a drawn out, “But did you do your scales?” conversation.

But that first year needs extra hand-holding and clarification. It’s obvious to you what you mean, but it’s not obvious to your child. Also, saying it once isn’t enough. You need to ask questions, clarify, and hold the line (after making sure it’s been clearly understood), day in and day out until the habit of looking at the list and following through is acquired.

If checklists have been a problem for you, it may be because you and your child function from different understandings of what the task means and what done looks like. Expect that, trying not to get too ruffled by it.

Try, each Monday for several weeks, to sit down with your child and his checklist and have him tell you what each task on there means and what done looks like. By listening rather than always being the one talking (and perhaps not being heard), we will more quickly come to the root of our miscommunication.

However, we should assume miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than rebellion and disobedience first. We need to try to keep the conversation cheerful and positive, rather than putting our kids on the defensive all the time. That is not a good posture for learning. Disobedience isn’t, either, but we’ll be ahead if we can short-circuit a confrontation by saying, “Oh, you must have forgotten! Piano practice includes scales. Go do them now.”

4. A checklist bestows ownership.

At first this might seem contradictory to the first and second points, but it’s not.

If we give our kids a checklist, we have to allow them some say in how they use it. If we do want them to grow toward being self-directed, then we need to let them have some say in the order they do their work, in how they mark things off, in whether or not they doodle on their list.

We want them to have ownership of their learning, and that begins with baby steps and with missteps. Let them learn first-hand that it really is better to do math first by putting it off to the end. Add exercise or something physical to their list so they can learn to recover from strenuous mental work with fresh air and physical work.

5. A checklist is only a tool, not the point.

What we all must remember as we print off and hand off the checklist is that checking off boxes is never the point.

With the checklists, they are learning to follow instructions, learning to do the next thing without prompting – and it takes time and practice to learn those things. And, of course, with the items on the checklist, the point isn’t simply to cross them off, but to learn and practice them as well, whether it be writing or typing or piano or reading or anything else.

So remember that the checklist is a small tool the children are learning. If it becomes a stumbling block, it’d be better to throw it out that trip them up. There’s plenty of time to learn how to check boxes. What matters most is learning the skills and gaining the knowledge that the checklists point to.

Let them use checklists as a tool for self-direction as much as possible, rather than a tool of mom’s micromanagement.

Examples of our checklists over the years.




I use the Plan Your Year Kit to put together my homeschool plans. It’s helpful even for people like me who love to plan! And if planning isn’t your favorite thing in the world, Pam has step-by-step, straightforward help to get you off to an intentional, well-thought-out year.


Try something new: 7 Quick Takes

I didn’t get in a pretty, happy, funny, real post yesterday, even though I do love putting those together. So, I took a cue from Brandy and am trying a 7 Quick Takes instead. :)

~ 1 ~

We took the week off everything except math this week because the older three kids all took tennis lessons from 9-noon, Monday through Thursday. Twelve hours of tennis wore them right out! Not only were our mornings shot, but I knew they’d not be in a frame of mind or body to learn in the afternoon, either. They could all do a math page before we left and then they listened to a lot of audio books in the afternoon.

So, really, it was a great week.

Weekly Wrap-Up

~ 2 ~

pretty * happy * funny * real

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

round button chicken

Geneva popped on her big brother’s [ginormous] flip flops and went outside, returning after a couple minutes with this “bouquet” for me.

There’s probably some awesome metaphor here about how our children can turn the worst weeds into a precious gift, but I don’t feel up to that right now.

Suffice it to say that these really are the prettiest things in our yard right now. Dratted drought.

~ 3 ~

The fun thing about being an Amazon affiliate is seeing the links to things people purchase. Don’t worry, I have no idea who is buying what, though I do attribute all weird health products to Brandy.

I try to not waste too much time looking at what people buy, but the truth is I’ve found some pretty cool things this way. This week I got sucked down the rabbit hole and found all sorts of cool index card accessories! And you know I love index cards.

Now, I would never pay $12 for a clipboard, especially such a tiny clipboard, but I love this! An index card sized clipboard! It’s so brilliant! It brings two of my loves together. I won’t pay $12, but I will be keeping an eye open at office supply stores when I get a chance. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

I saw someone bought these cases for index cards. I have one, and I love it. I’m pretty sure I paid more than $2 for it, too, so I added it to my wishlist in case I decide I want another.

And look at this! It’s like an index card wallet case! “Hipster PDA” used to be a thing — a stack of index cards with a binder clip for your system — and this accessory would be perfect for that sort of system. Actually, there was a dark purple index card wallet, too, which I was momentarily tempted by. But at $35, when I don’t generally carry something like that around anyway, I only added it to my wish list instead. :)

Isn’t it pretty?

And, yes, those are all affiliate links. Thank you all so much for your support of this site through clicking through my links! I really appreciate it!

~ 4 ~

I updated my Command Center cupboard this week. I’ll post on it in more detail at Simplified Organization next week, but right now I’m basking in the minimal feel to it now. It has so quickly become a junk-hider, and it took 2 days to clear the counter of miscellaneous stuff after I emptied it, but I decided that it was time to make it look nice, neat, clean, and then keep it business-like and minimal.

We’ll see how long it lasts.

~ 5 ~


Allison’s Cultivating the Kingdom podcast is out and absolutely wonderful! You can’t go wrong listening to George Grant for 30 minutes, no matter what the topic is, in my opinion. I’m happy to have another inspiring podcast to add to my playlist. What are your favorites?

~ 6 ~

Also, Dawn published her ebook “I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will: Charlotte Mason’s Motto Explained for Upper Elementary Students.” We’re reading it during our Morning Time and it’s superb. I recommend it absolutely and whole-heartedly, even if you aren’t using the Charlotte Mason method – by thinking about who we are and what we are called to do, we become more focused and able to do our work with a good will. That is true for moms and that is true for kids.

Dawn’s book will give you the words and the structure to meditate on those truths together with your kids.

~ 7 ~

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been playing around a bit with Periscope. I figured out how to get them recorded and I can embed them in blog posts now. So here’s the one that seemed to be the greatest hit so far, all about getting control of your email inbox:

Hope you had a great week!

Summer is for school, camping, and organizing – and reading, always

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

round button chicken

This is our fifth week back-to-school, and although we’ve had rocky days, sick days, long days, and vacation days, overall the plans for this year seem to fit where we’re at. What a relief that is to see that your plans are actually going to work!



~Pretty morning time ~

Morning time really is the best part of our homeschooling day. Pam is getting ready to launch her new Your Morning Basket podcast in a few weeks, and so our Scholé Sisters conversations have often been descriptions of and reasonings for our various ways of doing things.

Brandy hit the nail on the head in one conversation when she said, “Morning Time grounds us.” She went into a metaphor about actual electricity and reactivity and grounding which was really a bummer because I like to pretend I can live without understanding the real, physical world. It’s so, so true, though.

Morning Time connects us, gives us a base to work from, and gets our day off to a strong start, having been centered on prayer, God’s Word, and time together with truth and beauty. It puts us all in a place of rest so we can attack those checklists after first things have been put first.


Remember you can see all I’ve written about Morning Time on my Morning Time Index page!




~ Happy Campers ~

My older two boys spent Friday-Monday camping with my parents and the 2 siblings still at home, traveling to the family reunion with them at the coast. They had a blast, but Tuesday was a Morning-Time-only day because they were still so beat, and Wednesday was Morning Time and math only.

Vacation (especially vacation with grandparents) detox is hard.



~ Funny math pages ~


Knox is my math man, or so he claims. He is cruising through MUS Primer. I’m guessing he’ll begin Alpha in September or October.

I get a kick out of it when the math pages get turned in with long-winded proclamations or whinings written in the margins. We are a language-oriented household, clearly. Also, clearly: we need to work on handwriting!

In other math news, 8 weeks off from fractions took its toll, and returning to the Math-U-See videos didn’t seem to help. So, I finally looked into Khan Academy, and it seems that a fresh voice and a fresh take are helping both comprehension and the willingness to tackle difficult concepts. It’s hard to feel like you’re being sent back, so I think a change was a better approach. After finishing the fractions unit in Khan Academy with the instant feedback it provides, we’ll return to MUS and finish out Epsilon.



~ Real Progress ~

On my summer break project list, I had “clean out & organize storage room” and “re-cover dining room chairs.” Neither happened before we started school back up, but last week it dawned on me that this could still count as summer, seeing as it’s August, even though we’re doing school. I could still do both those things, actually, this summer. Both of them need attention so badly.

So I’m tackling them with the slow-and-steady method rather than the all-day fit method, which is probably more sane and effective, but appeals to me less. Over the weekend I did the big part of the job: pulling out the overflowing clothes bins and sorting and actually making it all fit in the bins (by better folding & by purging). With that done and the clothes bins put back and a sketch of where I want things to end up when I’m done, 15 minutes a day in the storage room is making quicker work of it than I anticipated.

By the end of the week, I’m hoping to get to labeling the shelves, even! Maybe next week I’ll have a final picture and not just an in-progress picture.


our classical homeschool summer term plan

Books read in our house this week

~ Homeschooling with books ~

Capturing homeschool real life

~ Follow me on Instagram ~


Weekly Wrap-Up