February 17, 2017

Planning Breaks & When Dad's Away People Get Sick :(


Right before the weekend I came down with some kind of flu--low grade fever, headache, stomach cramps and all-around fatigue.

School migrated to my bed where we did our read alouds and I tried to help each one with math and writing as they needed.

Camped out on the bathroom floor
The day before my husband was scheduled to fly away for week-long meetings, my oldest daughter came down with the same sort of thing, but more severe. So while he was packing and holding his breath, I was starting to dread what could be a long week ahead of us with everyone else taking turns with this bug. Seriously, my least favorite thing as a mother has always been nursing sick children.

Sure enough, when we came to Tuesday, my youngest was also throwing up. Thankfully it started in the afternoon, so by the time we were ready to go to bed he was over the worst of it.

Ironically, I scheduled a break to happen next week (officially), so we pushed through this week. And peoples' illnesses didn't interfere with our school schedule too much this time, thankfully.


So, as I said before, Next we have a school break! Yay!  ☺

We do not school through the whole year. Approximately we work September-May, and during school break time (June/July/August) I spend some weeks penciling in our schedule and where I hope we will be curriculum-wise. We take furlough every other year during Canada's summer months, so in the past we have returned to school in October and worked until July. Those furlough years were two of our tougher schooling years.... maybe mentally I have something against doing school in July? I don't know.

Most of the planning is done for me by the Sonlight IGs, but I like to map out where the kids will be in their math, and science, and Language Arts as well. Also, I like to make a list of read alouds for the year, but this is flexible as our mood might change throughout the year. The plan is really just a guideline, and a tool for me to measure our productivity.

In the yearly plan, I like to schedule in our breaks. This gives everyone something to look forward to, and it kind of feels like a reward after some good weeks of hard work. I also like to plan our breaks to help us avoid taking forced breaks from burnout or frustration (sometimes we still need a day or two off to regroup). It feels so nice to take a break because it was planned, rather than take one to save us from pulling our hair out!  ☺

I try and work a 30 week school schedule. Thirty weeks is plenty for our family for a school year, and after this amount of time we are really ready for what's next! Sonlight IG's go for 36 weeks, and I can't say I have ever officially finished any of their years... and that's ok with me. I'm not letting a curriculum be in control of what's best for our family.

So What is Our Break Plan?

I roughly work on a 7 to 8 weeks on and 1 week off rotation. We typically take most of December off as well. The other weeks line up closely with Easter and/or "Spring Break." 
Knowing a week off is in sight helps motivate the kids to know they need to push hard for 1 or 2 more weeks. It also helps me keep going when things are feeling a little stressful. 
Having a week off has really proved successful in giving everyone a necessary breather so they come back to routine refreshed and ready to give it another push for a season.

Ongoing Projects

Before we moved to Madagascar, we had the opportunity to live in Quebec City for 5 months to begin learning and focusing on French. Language learning, I've discovered, is definitely not my strong suit, it's a lot of hard work, and I find it really frustrating most of the time. But I have tried my best to continue learning bit by bit, and I think my french has improved significantly over the past 5 years. Albeit, I have a long way to go!

We have a membership on Audible and have been growing our collection of audiobooks over the past 18 months (mostly with children's literature), and I recently discovered some language learning resources on there. So I purchased Power French 2 Accelerated, and so far I really like it. There are some good explanations in there, lots of practice exercises, along with memorization techniques.

For awhile I have also tried to catch the French Your Way podcast. I really like this podcast, as it's short, and she tackles some language concepts I have struggled to understand. 


Lots of bananas in the yard right now. We usually cut these down when they look like this, and then we hang them up under cover to ripen. Usually a bundle will take approximately 2 weeks to ripen.

On My Side Table

Emily of New Moon: L.M. Montgomery

For me, there's no shame in admitting I love children's literature. After my recent stint in War World II with Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, I was ready for something a little lighter..... ? This classic has also been sitting on my ereader for eons. 

For something completely different, I decided to pick up Julia Child's memoirs: My Life In France. So far this has been a fun read--beginning with her own language conundrums and desire to improve in the French language.

February 10, 2017

Reading Aloud & Playing in the Mud


This past weekend we were able to get away for a few nights to a cabin on a lake.

It was such a relaxing time. We played games, ate snacks, and watched a few movies. Because of the lack of rainfall, the lake is severely low. This lake would normally be way over our heads, but the kids were able to walk across it almost at waist-depth. It was fun to watch them play in the mud. They loved feeling it, hearing it squish around their toes and feet, and seeing themselves covered in it.
They spent the time out of the mud, collecting branches and dried pine needles to build a fort. And we had a small campfire on the last night and made bannock. My kids aren't quite at the 'bannock roasting' stage however, as I found myself left with 5 sticks of bread to try and cook on my own. haha. I think we'll bring marshmallows next time.  :)

Seeing my kids have enough free time to invent their own games and to make fun times in the mud makes me so thankful for the simple life they have right now in Madagascar. Even though I go through stages where I wish there were more structured activities for them to take part in, I'm mostly thankful our calendar is free and open, lending itself to lots of creative playtime and practice at making up good games when boredom strikes.

It may surprise some people to hear that I believe it's good for my kids to be bored sometimes. They must learn how to manage their own time well, and that boredom should not lead them into trouble. It also seems that some of their most creative moments are born out of having plenty of unstructured time of their own.


Current Read Aloud - one we've
enjoyed in the past
A mainstay in our homeschool has been our Read Aloud time. This is where we share a Bible Story or devotional, read a chapter of a novel, and cover a history topic. I have also been thinking about adding a bit of poetry to this time of day. (More about how we incorporate poetry another time.)

We probably spend up to 40 minutes reading aloud together during this time. They have definitely grown into it. And I find their attention spans differ depending on what novel we have on the go. 

Reading aloud has taken on different forms over the years. I've had to adjust the format depending on my kids' ages or attention spans. For a season we would pile into my bed and read aloud before the kids' bedtime. This worked well to keep little wigglers quiet and still. There's something about being under blankets that's calming. For a little while I read aloud during lunchtime. (Mouths full of snacks or lunch also help keep talking to a minimum.) But nowadays, we find ourselves reading aloud in the morning. On the mornings we don't have french lesssons (Tue and Thu), we begin our day with reading. For the other mornings, we get straight into math and phonics while each child takes turns with their french tutor, and then after french, we have a bit of a break and then dive into our read alouds. They are all in a drawing stage (or coloring). I usually let them choose something to print off and work on while I read. At other times, I've let them build Lego quietly, but that's tricky as searching through Lego pieces can get loud... if they want, I let my non-readers look at other picture books while I read.

Some of the books we've enjoyed this year
Reading aloud is probably my favorite part of our homeschooling day. The kids have really grown up with it since we have been reading out loud every day for the past 6 years, so they are very used to it. But we still have days where I'm constantly interrupted with questions about everything except the story or book we're reading! Or where one child needs to go find their coloring book, and then another needs to pee, and yet another wants to go and get a drink. Ah! It's definitely not picture-perfect, by a long shot.

But I value this time of reading aloud so much. I think it has helped to improve my children's attention spans. It has given them practice at sitting with a quiet activity (like building puzzles, drawing or coloring) while listening to someone talk. And the stories have led to building some great memories together. Because we have shared novels together over the years, we have created some points of discussion or even laughable memories. We have re-read some books together, and I love watching their faces as we near a part they remember fondly. I also love the sense of suspense I leave them with after ending a chapter. "Please keep reading, Mom!"  or  "What?! It's finished already?" is music to my ears.  :)

Some of my favourite titles over the years have been:




Wild Decorative Ginger
This has to be one of my favorite plants in my garden--Wild Decorative Ginger. They give off an amazing perfume-smell that fills the living room when I bring them inside. I love how we get to enjoy them two seasons. I get some blooms in November, and then they bloom some more during February and March.

On My Side Table

I wasn't recommended this book. It has just been sitting on my e-reader for a really long time. After I finished Chris Bohjalian's Sandcastle Girls a couple of years ago, I found this title of his on the library. I have spent a lot of time in books set during wartime so far this year it would seem..... 
  • Going Solo
  • Inside Out and Back Again
  • The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
and now this one set in Italy during the final year of WWII. This is strange for me because I don't particularly enjoy movies set in war times, but I seem to be able to handle books a bit better.

February 3, 2017

Language Arts & Internet Issues


Underwater Network Cables
I am writing bits and pieces of this blog between intermittent internet service because about a week ago the internet cable that runs under the Mozambique Channel broke. There are three main internet providers in Madagascar, ours and one other who use this broken cable, and then another provider who use a smaller cable. So now our internet provider and the other are having to purchase bandwidth from the other smaller cable, thus slowing down our internet significantly. I hope it gets up and running soon, so we can resume our normal activities we so heavily depend on internet for, online courses, piano lessons, phonics games, SkypeYouTube, even television shows. :) Yes, let's get down to the really important stuff, hahaha.

If you ever want to know how much of your life depends on internet, just cut yourself off for a day or a week. It's frightening!


Grade 1 Language Arts Sonlight Package
How do we do Language Arts?

Because I have been so happy with Sonlight over the past 6 six years of homeschooling we are continuing with it. I did try out Brave Writer for the first time this year for a change, and for my personality,  I found it way too free. I didn't feel like the kids were producing any good amount of quality work, and I was having to coordinate way too many things myself rather than follow a pre-laid out schedule with everything included. I definitely discovered that I truly appreciate the Sonlight way, in that the schedule is already there, and I don't have to create the program. So after Christmas I put each of the kids back into Sonlight Language Arts and we just dove right into the middle of the year's program. I was pleased to discover they were all right on track, a couple of them even ahead of schedule as far as their skills are concerned. 

So obviously taking a detour on Brave Writer for half a year didn't hurt them in the least. I really like the idea of Brave Writer, in that it's a literature based writing program, with heavy emphasis on copywork or dictation to teach grammar, but once again, for me I felt like it was too unstructured. I'm glad I have the Writer's Jungle however, and I will refer back to it as a reference for ideas about teaching certain writing concepts.

Within the realm of Language Arts our family is also using the following:
Penmanship:  Handwriting With a Purpose
Phonics: Explode the Code & MCP Phonics
Vocabulary: Wordly Wise


The avocado tree in our yard is going crazy with fruit this year! Last year was the first time it produced any, and this year we've probably seen triple in the amount of avocado on there. Our rainy season has been very late in coming though so some of the avocado are drying up and falling off the tree already. They have to stay on there and grow until at least March, even April perhaps.

I hope the rain comes and saves them!

There's nothing like an avocado and tomato sandwich on toasted bread. Yum.

On My Side Table

 Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I can't remember where I found this title or who recommended it to me. But I really enjoyed this quick read. The entire book is free verse poetry, so I was little intimidated by it--something totally different for me.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

Last year I read many Mitford books, and it seemed time again for another. These books are generally easy reads with believable plot-lines.

January 27, 2017

Can I Be Joyful All the Time? & a bit about Math


Reading Out Loud, and Taking Breaks on the Trampoline
Can I be joyful all of the time?    This was a question that my kids and I discussed during one of our devotions this week. They all pretty much agreed that "No, we can't." "Nobody is happy all of time." And this is probably most of our thoughts on the subject. But we were able to get into what joy is, and where it comes from, and what our joy is dependant on. Do things have to be going our way for us to be joyful? Do we have to get what we want to experience joy? That feeling of happiness is wonderful, and God created it, but the joy we can have is so much more. It's more about the position in Christ that we can experience. Peace in knowing our position is secure because of what God supplied for us through Jesus. This is where our joy should be rooted. And if it is, we can answer "YES" to Can I be joyful all of the time?


Part of me feels kind of guilty for not experiencing what we homeschooling moms refer to as a "Mid-Year Slump." That's when everyone is experiencing post-holiday duldrums, and perhaps like we can't wait until the first glimpses of warm sunshine---and maybe our "brilliant" plans we started out with in September are not panning out the way we expect, so we start researching for next year already.

Living in the tropics, and a 3rd world country, has its own frustrations and set of stressors for sure, but right now I kind of feel like we've entered a "groove" with our school. As long as the framework of a good plan is there, it's happening, and we take a day off here and there as we see we want.

This week I wanted to share about our Math Choices over the years:

We have tried a couple of different math programs over the years--Horizons, Saxon, and Singapore, Rod & Staff. 

I have found my choice of math programs depends on the child and their strengths and/or weaknesses. 

With my 5th grader, and firstborn, we started with Horizons math as a default option back in Kindergarten (also Sonlight's default math choice at that time). The program emphasizes memorization of math facts, and quite a bit of practice on the facts. The big draw to this curriculum is colorful books that are full of nice illustrations. The books look nice, and you want to be in them. But I remember my daughter being overwhelmed often, and being the daydreamer she is, took so much time finishing a lesson. Of course, this isn't the fault of the program. I liked Horizons because it gave her a good foundation for transitioning into Saxon math in her 5th Grade year. She has literally transitioned into Saxon seamlessly. In fact, we didn't even finish the Grade 4 Horizons math books, because we were feeling ready for a change already. So she went straight into Saxon 6/5 in the middle of her 4th grade year. She is now finishing Saxon 6/5 during Grade 5, with no trouble at all.

That being said, the redeeming factor for Saxon (because this is what I largely grew up on and didn't exactly love it) is that they have now come out with teaching DVD's. This has saved my relationship with my daughter over the past year! Math can definitely be one of those subjects that starts the tears flowing, from student or mom, and sending her off to watch the lesson on the DVD has been a true relationship-saver. Plus we have found that it keeps her going at a good pace. She wants to keep up with the DVD, so there isn't much time to dilly-dally around. I don't go through her math question by question checking everything. Because she is doing so well (90-100%), I just spot check answers with the Solutions Manual.

The best book I've read to help me
understandhow to teach math for levels K-3.

My second daughter was definitely struggling in math at the beginning in Kindergarten. She would just blurt out a number to an addition problem, and make random guesses constantly. I was concerned about her understanding numbers and how to manipulate them on the page from day one. So I saw Rod & Staff math and it looked great for her. Lots of repetitiveness, methodical, and very slow-paced. It ended up being the Ruth Beechick book The Three R's that saved the day and really helped me understand teaching math to young children. There was actually nothing to be worried about with this student. She just wasn't processing all of the information in all three "modes" yet, according to Beechick's book.

So after a little bit of time I put her into Singapore (which her older brother was already working through) and she is excelling in that. Rod and Staff would have been much too slow-paced for her afterall.

Thus far, Singapore math is definitely my favorite. I don't feel like there's a crazy amount of questions to work through. There are lots of options for adding extra practice if you choose, and I really appreciate how the concepts are taught. My math has even improved since using this program because you really learn the mechanics of math as well. So my three younger kids having been using this--Kindergarten through Grade 3 so far, and we have the Grade 4 material in our house and it looks great also.


My false bird of paradise or lobster claw, whichever you prefer, blooming even more this week. This is such a fun flower to watch bloom. I love it.  :)  As well the birds in my yard have been so active and fun to watch them in their acrobatic flight.

On My Side Table

What Hearts: from Sonlight 9th Grade Classical Literature program

January 20, 2017


I decided to try out a new bank this week--one closer to my house. Going to the bank to get cash out has been my responsibility since early after we arrived in Madagascar. It's very time consuming and has to be done during hours when Rob is at work. In the past I've tried to redeem the awful long wait-in-line with promises of ice cream treats for us all... the kids don't complain about this. However, by the time we actually get to the bank (if the traffic is bad, which is most of the time) and then wait through the line up, which can take upwards of an hour, and then return home after getting ice-cream, I feel like we've spent most of our morning out--severely disrupting our school schedule or other fun activities we could be doing. This different bank, located a mere 5 minutes away from my house seemed like a great new option. Plus, the line-up was almost non-existent! I couldn't have been more thrilled to take my youngest out and return, cash in hand, in 20 minutes! How amazing this was. My disappointment came later that evening however when Rob calculated how much this bank had charged me for international funds exchange. Their exchange rate was much higher than my previous bank ever charged us. MUCH. So unless I can figure out a way around this, I think we will have to continue going to the other, much longer-of-a-wait-but-we-get-ice-cream-bank.


A couple of really cool school-finds I wanted to share!

This site has some really nice free devotional materials, journal pages, and a large Bible activity book, great for keeping younger ones busy while they listen to a sermon in church, or even for using in their own quiet times.

I used to teach piano before I was married and had children. And I have taught music to my own kids in the past, but this resource has benefited us so much! I love Mr. Hoffman's teaching style and how he gets brand new beginners playing pieces they can be proud of. As a piano teacher myself, I appreciate how he teaches rhythm and ear training--giving students confidence on the piano right away. My kids are going to the piano on their own most days without me asking them to practice. Definitely check them out if you're looking for a solid beginner music program. Hoffman also encourages improvisation at an early stage and builds on those skills throughout the course as the students gain confidence in their knowledge of music.

Ongoing Projects

One of the things I've come across lately is hand-lettered cards. I've found so many neat ideas online, and I'm always looking for new simple designs for homemade thank-you notes. This Madagascar palm was one design I came up with this week. It's so iconic of Madagascar, and I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

Local News

Normally at this time of year we should be experiencing tropical torrential rains every afternoon around 3:30. Those downpours have yet to arrive, and the reservoirs that provide water to our city are said to be basically empty. We were told that the dam some 70km away from the city has been opened, so now water should be flowing and on its way here. Everybody is praying for rain, however, as crops are having to be harvested early due to a poor growing season, and a second planting season probably won't be successful. This of course means most people here, who rely on their own agriculture for survival are entering a desperate time. If the dry season comes earlier than normal (typically April), it means we will have a very short rainy season, and not much chance for the reservoirs to fill again.


While the rainy season keeps holding off, things in my garden are still growing. I love these plants called heliconia flowers, or also known as false bird-of-paradise, lobster claws, or wild plantains. This is a new plant to my garden that is blooming this year. I didn't get to see it bloom last year, as it was still new. This bud just started opening, so I'm looking forward to seeing it fully open in the coming weeks.

On My Side-Table

Going Solo: from Sonlight 9th Grade Classical Literature program

January 14, 2017

Life and Lists


My kids love checklists, which is just fine with me. :)

If I can have things written down in a list-format, my mind feels so much less cluttered.

It was a little crazy last month though as I found myself actually creating a shower schedule for the kids because I didn't want to be bothered to tell them to take a shower (none of my kids' favorite activity, yet, by the way) and have the whole conversation ensue about why they need one and that they smell and etc.... So now I just say "Shower Time" and they all go and see who's supposed to take a shower AND if they're supposed to wash their hair or not. It's kind of silly, but it's one less thing I have to think about, and that helps me. It also lessens our confrontations a bit, I just say "Refer to the list" and they can't argue with the paper.

A little bit about how I organize our homeschool... I have started to look at the following week's work on Friday while the kids are working through their independent school. Saturdays are often planning days, but more and more my goal is to leave Saturdays and Sundays completely free from looking at schoolwork.

My second daughter helping frost cookies one afternoon
Each of my reading children has a notebook where I write down each day's assigned work. Everything I want them to do before free-time, tv, or computer games goes on this list. Anything in red type is what they will definitely need me to teach them. So they know that they can go ahead on anything else independently. We usually try and do all of our read-alouds either during breakfast and after French lessons (which happen 3 mornings a week), or all after breakfast. For a season I saved our read-alouds for the evening, but then I was finding myself too tired to really enjoy it. The kids save their independent reading for Quiet Time, which we have for 40-50 minutes after lunch. This is the time of day when everyone needs solo time (that is, I tell them they do); I try and rest a bit, and it's generally quiet in our house. My kids have grown up with this, and a couple of them instinctively whisper to me if they need me during Quiet Time. It's wonderful. Of course we have many days requiring my constant reminders that it's truly Quiet Time. :)

Kindergarten--we use "A Reason for Handwriting" to practice penmanship
My kindergartener is probably still my most tricky to include in our school day. For the most part, he's very independent. He has advanced Lego-building skills for his age, which keeps him pretty busy. But I do sense he wants my attention more when he sees me busy with the others. There's a huge temptation to let him play endlessly on electronics (since he loves them), but I try and curb that with limits and other activities, painting, play-doh, puzzles etc.


This week we had a dentist appointment in the city. This was a huge event for us, as we haven't yet had the courage to visit a dentist in Madagascar. We usually save dental work for our furlough. But my oldest had a permanent tooth which had grown in front of a baby tooth, so the baby tooth needed pulling.

This visit to the dental clinic went extremely well--Praise the Lord. The dentist was patient and very gentle, and my daughter overcame a few dental fears that day. Due to our long afternoon at the dentist, we brought some schoolwork with us--a great advantage to homeschooling!

Showing us the tooth the dentist pulled, and where it was


My garden is giving me many new things to watch and see every day. These hot peppers are ripening nicely on a front window-sill of my home. We love to dry them and then grind them into flakes to sprinkle on rice or chicken.

On my Side Table

The Outlaws of Sherwood: from Sonlight 9th Grade Classical Literature program
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell: recommended by The Modern Mrs. Darcy.