Can One Learn to Read . . . in all Educational Settings?

Learning does take place in all educational settings.  Joelle has been in public school for six weeks and has just come home reading her first book.  I am a firm believer that every child does learn differently and may require a variation in the learning environment to succeed. Our youngest made it very clear that she wanted me to be her mother, not her teacher.  She wanted me to hold, to tickle, to love, and to play with her-but that was it, though.

Our youngest just needed more socialization.  I know, home schoolers do not like hear that their kids are not sociable, and I believe, for the most part, many families, who choose the road of educating their own, do produce very outgoing, personable children.  But, are we all the same?  I have to remember that my daughters did have another chapter in their lives before we became a forever family.  They were use to interacting with groups of people . . . and a different culture!

What works for her right now is interacting with a teacher (Of course, it helps that I know this teacher personally.) and being involved in a classroom setting.  She thrives on being in the middle of it all-the singing, the laughing, and apparently, the reading!  Here is a video of her reading to daddy: Joelle’s Reading

Each of our children has learned to read well in a different school setting.

  • Our oldest son: Christian school
  • Our youngest son: Christian school/ homeschooling
  • Our oldest daughter: home
  • Our youngest daughter: public school

The Right Side of Math and the Dyslexic

As I continue down the bumpy road of educating our four kids, I am simply amazed at what each of us has learned.  However, during the last three years of homeschooling, my youngest son has taught me a great deal about learning differences-especially in the area of dyslexia.  It is my desire to share with you the helpful hints that I have discovered along the way.

This is what I know about dyslexia and how it affects math:

  • Many struggle with directions of left and right.
  • They also confuse the words over and under.
  • And, visualizing numbers in place value form is challenging.

Math Struggle: Number Sense

  • Standard Form: 1,992
  • Word Name: one thousand nine hundred ninety-two
  • Expanded Form: 1000 + 900 + 90 + 2

                    PLACE VALUE TEMPLATE

Place Value Template~This template is what my son used to complete problems in standard and expanded form.

~He was allowed to keep this place value template out until he could successfully complete both the standard and expanded forms as well as read numbers.

~Daily, he would have to write his numbers onto a template like this one.


~Because he was right-handed, I would say,  “The “0ne” pencil that you hold in your right hand will always be the “0ne” closest to the 0nes‘ column: the beginning of place value.”

I see templates as a way to create a new pathway (a systematic structure) into the brain.  Once this system is permanently etched into the brain, like a footprint in the sand, students with dyslexia, like my son,  are successfully able to move on to other mathematical concepts.









The Black and White about School

black and white bus

Wouldn’t it be easier if life was simply black and white-especially in school situations?  In our family, I have experienced being a homeschooling mom, a public school teacher, and a supporting parent of Christian school education.  I have come to value both the strengths and weaknesses in all three of these schooling situations.  Which educational choice is the right answer, and is there only ONE answer?  Or better yet, should every child’s education be treated in the same way. . . every year?

jake back school

Year 1: My oldest son Jake was the catalyst for our homeschooling adventure.  He had been in a private school and was burnt out on both the school scene and monotonous curriculum.  Fortunately, I was teaching only half-time while working on my masters.  On the days I taught, he was homeschooled by a teacher friend.  What a blessed year we had!  I loved spending quality time with just him-reading, writing, and learning together.  Meanwhile, my youngest son and daughter were happily attending our local Christian school.  This was also the year our son watched God move and provide the needed $25,000 for our second adoption to China.  I would not change this year with him for anything and have many treasured memories.

jonah back to school

Year 2: Once Joelle came home from China, our lives changed once again.  My parents had moved closer, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my youngest son was tested for dyslexia.  Needless to say, my life had taken a U-turn-imagine leaving your job, going from homeschooling one to three children, and acclimating a new child (age three) to her new culture?  Did I mention that my youngest son needed one-on-one help to complete ALL schoolwork?  How was I ever going to bond with the newest edition to our family? Setting academics aside, my son’s self-esteem was non-existent. Somehow, though, through many tears, a lot of laughing, and sadly, some yelling, we became a closer family who learned how to pray and work together while also learning how to value each one’s differences.

Year 3:  I quickly realized that each year comes with a new set of challenges: learning about my son’s dyslexia became my obsession. Juliese had requested to return back to the Christian school, and Joelle was in preschool three days a week.  This year, I was determined to help my youngest read, write, and spell.  Allowing him to choose his own books and taking turns reading (paragraph by paragraph) eventually worked. Soon, the tears were gone, and he was reading on his own!

Back to school juliese

Several weeks after Christmas, life took another spin: we had two deaths in our family-one week apart.  On top of this, I was doing some respite care for my dad three days a week.  And . . . my dancing scientist asked if she could spend the rest of the year home with her mommy.  Fortunately, she is a self-directed learner like her older brother-loves to read, write, DANCE, and enjoys learning.  Just this summer, she was trying to schedule a time with her dad, a math teacher, to learn how to divide.

Year 4: We are only into the first month of the year, but I am feeling a shift in our homeschooling adventure. For one thing, the Lord is asking me to give up my control in certain areas-one being our kids’ schooling. 

The Lord, “Jenni, you cannot control every area of your children’s lives.  They are mine.”  Ouch!

Our youngest daughter did get on that bus like you see above, and she LOVES school.  Surprisingly, it has not been a hard transition; I have to keep reminding myself that her life was different before she became our forever daughter.  I am homeschooling this year with the intent to mainstream the other three back into school next year.  Am I scared?  Yes!  But I also realize that life could take a few more spins before the new year rolls in.  For now, I will just take one step of faith at a time.   

Joelle school

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  II Corinthians 5:7



Homeschooling Portfolios: What Should I Include?

I do a lot of portfolio reviews for the homeschooling community.  Many ask questions like these:

  • What does a portfolio look like?
  • What do I put inside one?
  • How do I manage this with multiple children?

For starters, we automatically hole punch and file our work on the same day it is completed.  If my son has just completed a math test, I will say to him, “Son, go file this in your math section.”  Once done, we move onto the next subject; I won’t lie, though.  It does help that my brain operates in a filing cabinet manner! 

Beginning of the Year

Portfolio Creativity For an art project, my children are asked to design their portfolio covers.

FRONT: Cut out five different pictures that describe you (must be positive in nature).

BACK: Write five positive character traits that describe you.  We also do either a handprint or footprint; inside, we write the height and weight.

*At the end of the year, we love flipping through portf0lios reflecting  on how much they have learned and grown!


What to Include in a Portfolio

  1. A calendar: to keep track of school daysCalendar of School
  2. A list of field trips
  3. Lesson Plans (if you use these)
  4. Grade Records (We print the Teaching Textbooks grade book.)
  5. Report Card *
  6. Tests/Assessments
  7. Writing Samples
  8. Pictures (I rarely do this, although I have a great picture portfolio on my laptop!)
  9. Samples of work from each subject area
  10. Reading Logs

*We try to do parent/teacher conferences periodically throughout the year.  Because our kids attended private school for the first couple of years, grades still drive them to perform and apply themselves.  Being able to reflect on what they have learned for the quarter as well as share it with their dad helps us all stay on the road to success!

Portfolio Ideas





It’s Raining Volcanoes?

Unless you are getting paid for it, who likes to dissect or explode anything-in their kitchen!  For many home schoolers, completing science experiments can be a nightmare.  Just gathering the ingredients alone is enough to make me crazy, but one of my kids really could be the absent minded professor.  So, we do them . . .



The kids and I have been studying volcanoes; I bought these books for a dollar at our local homeschooling fair:

  • Volcanoes and Other Natural Disasters by Harriet Griffey
  • Mountains and Volcanoes by Barbara Taylor
  • Earthquakes and Volcanoes by Deborah Merrians
  • Natural Disasters Volcanoes by Jacqueline Dineen

One of the reasons I enjoy using several, multi-leveled resources is that each child has as a resource he can read.  Each week, we focused on a different volcano:

  • Pompeii
  • Mount St. Helens
  • Surtsey

During this time, I showed online videos, played volcano games, and used K-W-L graphic organizers to take notes.

Finally, it was time to make our volcanoes.  First, each child made a batch of salt dough with these ingredients:

Ingredients + Water

Ingredients + Water




While this process was going on, my oldest covered our picnic table with a blue tarp and washed out some aluminum cans; we molded the dough to these cans.  Using a small can is better unless you wish to triple batch your dough!





Now, this is where I am suppose to tell you that exploding the volcanoes was equally as much fun, but I can’t.  You see, since last Tuesday, these volcanoes have been stuck inside our shed, waiting for the sun to come out!  Wait!  I hear an Annie’s theme song coming . . .

The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

So, apparently, the bigger lesson here is to always check the weather forecast before creating volcanoes.   And . . . also keep a sense of humor when things don’t  go your way! 








 WARNING: These volcanoes are subject to incredible explosions; that is, ONCE the sun comes out!



A Mother’s Day Blessing

It is hard to believe that we are finishing up our third year of homeschooling!  I am still trying to figure out how I ended up here?  Really, how does one, who has taught for sixteen years,  decide to stay at home?  

For me, I was, literally, thrown into it!  Though my oldest loved his friends and teachers, he was frustrated with traditional school; he wanted to explore his own passions: sports and writing.  So, in the middle of October, Jake came home to stay.  Meanwhile, my youngest son and daughter were still at our local Christian school; they were happy.  Somehow, with both help from the Lord and others, I taught part time, home schooled my son on the opposite days,  (On the days I worked, my friend home schooled him.), finished my masters, and adopted our youngest daughter.  Doesn’t that make you just tired thinking about it?

Year two rolls around and there is no money to send my youngest son and oldest daughter back to school.  So, I went from homeschooling one to four!  Yes, year two was a trying year for me.  There were many ups and downs; I had once read that the hardest type of parent to home school was  a school teacher!  However, having a merciful Lord and forgiving kids encouraged me to persevere through year two. It was during this year that I realized my youngest son, who was in  third grade at the time, had dyslexia.  Needless to say, I spent countless hours  being read to . . . frankly, it was a painful year.

Year three rolls around the corner, and thank goodness, I had finally mellowed out.  I decided to throw out all readers and let my son pick his own books.  Though most books were beyond his reading level, Jonah needed to “own” his reading.  The first book he chose was The Sign of the Beaver; I downloaded this book onto my Kindle, increased the font size, and used a white background.  Daily, we set the timer for thirty minutes and took turns reading a paragraph.  And now, two years later, Jonah is reading his own books.  He loves the Cartoon Network Scooby Doo series.   Who cares that these books are not “classics”!  After all, this was the boy who wanted to take his spelling tests in the mirror!

About a month ago, while skimming the newspaper, Jonah saw an essay contest about mothers.  He wanted to submit an essay.  Even though he did not win, Jonah was awarded Honorable Mention (fifth place) in our local paper.  This essay was my Mother’s Day blessing simply because my son finally had the confidence in his reading.

Note: Students who struggle with reading have similar issues with spelling and writing.  It is no surprise to discover that their verbal skills are advanced.  This essay was dictated to me.   If you have a struggling writer, please consider letting them tell you a story as you type it.  


The Great and Powerful Mom

The ReaderHave you ever met my mom?  If you haven’t, I would like to tell you about her.   Well, my mom is a good cook.  These are just some of the foods that my mom makes.  Orange pie tastes like juicy oranges that just got picked from Florida.  Her chocolate chip pumpkin cookies fresh out of the oven melt in my mouth and make me want to jump for joy!  Now, I am going to talk about homeschooling with my mom.  We do a lot of fun field trips like going to the Common Ground Fair where we saw sheep dogs chase sheep into pens. Together, we went to Mount Marie and found out about tourmaline rocks and saw a newly discovered tourmaline rock called Wine Frozen-in-Time.  These field trips require my mom to drive me there.  Down in our family room, my mom teaches a writing class where we learn about topic sentences and how to write paragraphs.  I wrote a paragraph where we made up an animal.  My animal was a Terdybirdy which was half mammal and half bird.  I like this assignment because most moms would not quit their jobs and stay home to teach their children.    Next, she helps me on my reading because it was hard for me at first because I was reading things backwards and this made me very sad because others could read better than me. So, mom and I kicked to the petal and took off!  My mom told me that I could learn to read and made me read for thirty minutes every single day of the year even in the summer. Finally, after four years, I finished my first book by myself.  It was called Jake the Drake by Andrew Clements.  And that is why I know my mom should be the mother of the year.     



Game Your Way through Science

I am a home schooling mom who loves to study history through reading, writing, and the arts. Taking a year off to travel the world with my family sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

But . . .

I do not like science.  And, I especially, detest reading a bunch of boring facts from a textbook!  Seriously, when you were a student, did you really retain that textbook information? To be truthful, math isn’t my favorite subject either, but I have managed to stay sane by using Math-U-See and Teaching Textbooks.  Love them!

Here is my solution in teaching a science unit to a multiaged, multileveled class or family.

Create a board game!

Step #1: Choose a book.  We used Apologia’s  Exploring Creation with Astronomy.

Creative Science projects

Step #2: Gather a variety of different leveled text: picture books with some wording, several Usborne books, a solar system mobile kit ($6 at TJ Maxx), and the above text.

Side Note: On a budget? Ask a librarian to help you gather the different leveled text for a unit.

Step #3: We created the visual first.  This prevents the youngest from saying,“When are we going to make the planets, Mom?”

Step #4:  We focused on one planet a week until the unit was covered. It took us four months to complete this science topic.  My children were given some colorful sticky notes and were given these directions: “Today, we are going to focus on the planet Mars.  Find three to five facts to share with your family.  Mark the pages with sticky notes, and do not forget to use both the table of contents and index to help you.”

rough draft

Step #5: Next, have the children share their facts with each other; then, as a group, reword the information into game questions.  This is a great way to teach them how to both analyze and synthesize the information.  I promise they will never forget it this information!

Step #6:  Finally, during the course of studying God’s planets, we began to design and create the game.  Below are some photos.

We taped the poster board tightly onto the newly sprayed black game board.

And . . . sprayed painted the maze  ORANGE!

I found these stickers at the Dollar Store.  Great for creating our game pieces.

Here is our old Candy Land box with a new, “spacey” look to it!

Step #7:  : By the time we were done,  over one hundred questions had been created.  Our oldest son typed them out, rewording where necessary.  This is just another way to incorporate writing!  Finally, we created a template for the game cards and printed them onto colorful card stock.

academic fair planets 014

Step #8:  Finally, it was time to write the directions.  Using the online Candy Land game directions as a model, we wrote our own.  Many compromises were made on how the rules were going to be orchestrated; however, the healthy collaboration between the two boys far exceeded the disagreements.

academic fair planets 007 Five months later:  We have now played the game several times.  Unlike their anti-science-teaching-mother, the boys could still answer the majority of the astronomy questions-phew!  Gaming your way through science is not a bad idea!  I think next week we will blow rocks into space by creating  some volcanoes! Stay tuned!

The Queen’s Chair

This is our new chair.  Looks fancy-almost throne-like, don’t you think?  I would definitely say it is pretty enough for the queen of this household!  The questions is, though, does the queen ever really get to sit in this golden chair christened with burgundy, velvet pillows, dripping with ruby-like beads?  Really, is she even worthy enough?

Our furniture track record has been in the negative for almost three years; chairs and couches do not live long in our house.  However, this chair is different; they say it is “top of the line”.  Only time will tell; however, Queen Mother, that is me, claimed this chair for myself. We had quite the ceremony.  My kids presented me with a cardboard scepter as I elegantly walked to my new throne while carefully balancing my pillow crown that sat upon my head.  Here are the chair rules: no child is allowed to sit on throne unless Queen Mother is present and sitting in the chair; the children may sit with her.  King Father may sit in the chair only if Queen Mother is absent.  Elder Prince Jacob may sit in the chair only when he is babysitting.

Surprisingly, these silly rules have worked well until today.  Look at these faces.  Could you tell them no?  I bet not!  Seriously, they danced their way into my heart once again and taught me another life lesson. How did the Lord know that I needed to be reminded about Him and His love for me?

Princess Padgetts 131 (video)

To the Lord, I am not just the maid of the household as the picture below depicts. My scepter, in the Lord’s eyes, is not a broom.  To him, I am not a mother, wife, maid, teacher, or caregiver. And neither are you, moms!  Though these roles are important, they should not define who we are in Christ.

Psalm 45:11 “The King is enthralled by your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord.”

When I read this verse, I thought “enthralled” by my beauty?  I immediately started to name all of my flaws-both my physical, spiritual, and emotional ones.  Then, I realized that it was my heart that He is captivated with.  He loves me in spite of my shortcomings.   Ladies, the Lord is hooked, hypnotized, charmed, fascinated, and deeply in love with you and with me.  This is what my daughters taught me today.  Why else would I be willing to post a picture of me in this tiara!

As Seasons Change

According to, idealism can be defined as the cherishing or the pursuit of high principles, goals, and apparently, I need to add the word: curriculum to that definition!   Based on the below photo, taken shortly before the new school year, I was an optimist, or to say the very least, a dreamer.

For me, being a home schooler is similar to being a classroom teacher.  How?  Well, every summer, prior to the new school year, I would write down the units and projects that I wanted to cover in my English classes.  And without fail, October would come rolling in, and I would realize my students were either not reading, needing more time grasp a concept, or a change of plans was in order!

So, for me, it’s reflection time! 

Math:  I love Teaching Textbooks especially the life application word problems!  My oldest son is doing really well with this computer course;  the computer monitors what areas he needs more practice in.  The computer grade book and  automatic quizzes makes it more manageable for me.  My other son is doing the Beta level of Math-U-See which is too easy for him.  Solution?  At this point, he completes only a couple of practice pages and then, does the test.  Our goal is to finish this book by Christmas and move up to the next level.

Reading:  We started off using the Abeka readers and comprehension quizzes, grade 4, with my youngest son.  He was argumentative and very bored with these.  Solution? Though it is hard for us to give up any curriculum, especially once we’ve purchased it, I had to.  I gave him the control in choosing his own books; he excitement and reading performance has improved drastically.  The Imagination Station series was his favorite; these books provide great historical information, too.  Later, after completing this series, he decided he wanted to read The Sign of the Beaver by Speare (a 5.7 reading level) but was struggling with the small print and vocabulary.  I had remembered in one of my literacy trainings about kids who cannot read may need more white space between words like this:  Can     you     see     the     white   space    in     this     sentence?  I, then, remembered that my Kindle could change font sizes, so I purchased the book online.  Unbelievable!  That boy can read!  I just needed to let him pick the books and utilize the proper tools.  Guess what he’s getting for Christmas?  Many e-books!

Spelling/Vocabulary:  My seventh grader is doing Vocabulary from Classical Roots.  What really helps the words “gel” into his brain is creating a Power Point on the confusing words: he is expected to find the definition, pronunciation, part of speech, both the synonym and antonym, and finally, an example and non-example of that word.  My other boy is doing All About Spelling, first level.  Having him draw the words in the rice is not just improving the spelling, but his cursive is getting easier.  All spelling words must be written in cursive which is reinforces Cursive Success (Handwriting without Tears).  Improvements Needed?  I definitely need to keep the spelling program to 20 minutes.  So, many times, I get caught up in the “mommy goals” and forget about the realistic ones for a nine year old.

Social Studies:  Right after personal and family devotions, we are integrating our history with our current event magazine: God’s World News.  Originally, I was going to do both social studies and science after lunch, but we kept running out of time!  Solution?  Science will be done the last two quarters.  Completing social studies the first thing in the morning (from 8-9) is working for us: the boys like starting the day off with discussions about history, current events, and how they relate to the Bible and other books  we are reading.

Writing/Grammar:  My oldest has a blog that houses his writing assignments. I pull errors from his writing (i.e. commas, apostrophes) and then, assign additional work to help improve these weaknesses.  Some of my writing ideas come from TeachNet.   My other boy just daily writes in a journal.  Sometimes, I give him a writing prompt; however, if he has an idea, that always trumps mine!  I do not get hung up on the spelling with him (due to the dyslexia issues) but choose to focus on the positive.  For example, “I love how you used capitalization for your character names, son.”

Just like the seasons change, so do we.  What is currently working for this quarter does not necessarily mean that it will continue this way.  Reflection and flexibility, along with creativity, are critical in any educational sect, including homeschooling.  I pray that you are challenged to do your own reflection-don’t wait for an “ideal” summer day to do so!





Adjusting . . . One Day at a Time

I cannot believe that I have four children!  So much has happened since we jumped off the plane from China with our daughters in our arms.  Adjustment #1: For starters, I now home school our two boys while our daughters attend a local Christian school.  This seems to be a good fit for our family for now-especially since one of my son’s has severe dyslexic tendencies and needs much one on one.  Adjustment #2: Because of this lifestyle change, I resigned from public school teaching after 18 years.  Though I am still teaching my boys from 8-12 every day as well as teaching 13 hours of adult education, the paycheck is just not the same and so, Adjustment #3  has occurred . . .   bread making every other day!  My son, a 5’10”, was eating, on average, 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day-with store bought bread.  The homemade wheat bread has limited him to only one sandwich!  Surprisingly, our grocery bill decreased by $30!

Adjustment#4: After 20 years of being away from my folks, they now live only 2 miles down the road.  The kids love having their grandparents so close by.  I, being the only child, love having my parents, especially my mother who is becoming my best friend once again. However, the adjustment comes in on how to teach our kids about Alzheimer’s; sadly, my dad was diagnosed with this in January.  Watching the daily changes in my dad causes us to reflect  both a family and as an individual:

  1. Take one day at a time and be thankful for every day blessed to us.
  2. Focusing on the future is not an option.
  3. Being flexible with the needs that arise is a must.
  4. The Lord is daily teaching and preparing me on how to better serve my folks while maintaining a joyful household.

Below is an example of  a homeschooling day  tossed out–my youngest son was bonding with his Grampie!

Matthew 6:25-27, 34  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.