A Nostalgic Outing

Recently the kids and I took part in a visit to Dawson Creek’s Pioneer Village. It hadn’t opened yet for the season, but the homeschool group was given a personal tour and we enjoyed poking around the heritage buildings on the site and hearing about their histories.

The gentleman who opened the fire hall had actually been a firefighter in Dawson Creek in the 60’s and had a lot to say about how things have changed over the years, and his personal fight to save the two fire trucks that are on display at the Village.
fire truck | Angela Fehr I love antiques and would have loved to take home some of those old pieces of furniture. My plan for my new studio is to decorate it in the style of an old-timey general store, and so a trip like this is always good for ideas.packed | angela fehr

The kids enjoyed trying out the desks in the two one-room schoolhouses on the site, and my son was the perfect model for the dunce cap! He’s a clown.


This is just a quick post – it’s a beautiful Saturday and I’m going to dash outside and help my girls fill some hanging baskets with annuals to decorate our home. How we are loving the spring, now that it is finally here!

25 Silent Reading Enrichment Activities for Elementary-Age Students

Being an artist and living a creative life leaves one with a lot of free time on one’s hands. (Yeah, right.) So I fill my mornings with the education of my three children, ages 6, 8 and 9. Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, but I’m blessed in having been home educated from grades 8 through 12, and so I’m pretty comfortable with the concept. We’ve really embraced the idea that we can take charge of our children’s education and teach them to really love learning as a lifestyle.

My daughters are in grades 3 and 4 and they are just starting to get more comfortable with writing. It can be a misery to try to get them to write a book report, or even a descriptive paragraph. I also find that as a parent, the student/teacher dynamic is different than if I were to give them instructions as a non-family member. They are under my authority all day long, and this can chafe. My children are more receptive to educational directives if they are plainly spelled out at the beginning of the day (goal charts) or if they are offered choices or instructions in writing.

Enter the reading enrichment jar:

I wrote up a list of twenty-five reading enrichment activities that should work with most of the books they read through the course of a year, whether fiction or non-fiction. I printed the list, then cut them into strips with one activity on each strip. Each day, after completing their silent reading, the girls can each pull a strip from the jar and complete the enrichment exercise.

We tried it out today, and the idea was a hit. We were all getting a little stale on “write something you remember from your reading today” so my oldest was delighted to have the opportunity to create a word search inspired by her novel, while my eight-year-old wrote an alternate ending to her book.

Here’s the list, if you want to try it with your reluctant writers! I’ve saved it as a PDF file if you want one print-ready, right click on the link and “save file as”.

25 Reading Enrichment Activities

  1. Write an alternate title for the book.
  2. If the main character came to your house, would you be happy? What would the two of you do? Where would you go? What questions would you ask him/her?
  3. Draw a new cover for the book.
  4. What is the setting of the book? (Ask if you don’t know what this means.) Is it a real place or imaginary?
  5. Is this book fiction or non-fiction? If it’s fiction, is it fantasy or reality?
  6. How is the main character of the book like you? How is he/she different?
  7. Is there a villain in the book? How are they like you? How are they different?
  8. Describe the conflict in the story. Can you see a way to resolve it?
  9. List three words from the book that are new or unfamiliar. Find their definitions and learn to pronounce them.
  10. Write a haiku or limerick about the book.
  11. Find the setting of the story on a map, or, if an imaginary location, draw a map of the locations in the story.
  12. How is life in the book like your life today? How is it different?
  13. Write a newspaper headline based on what you read today.
  14. Does your character have a special talent? What is it?
  15. If you could be magically placed into the story’s action with the main character, would you go? Why or why not?
  16. From the book, write one sentence that is a question, one that is an exclamation, and one that is a statement. Pick interesting sentences if you can.
  17. What is the author’s name? Is there an illustrator? What is his/her name? Have you read any other books by this author or illustrator?
  18. Pretend you are a news reporter and choose a character from the book to interview.
  19. Write an alternate ending for the story. If you don’t know how the story ends yet, imagine an ending for the book.
  20. Write the first sentence in the story. What does the first sentence tell you about the story? Is it an interesting sentence? Does it make you want to read more?
  21. Write the name of the main character. Write three nouns associated with that character. (For example: Anne Shirley; girl, orphan, friend) Write three adjectives describing the main character.
  22. A book written to continue a story begun in an earlier book is called a sequel. If there was a sequel to your book, what could it be about? Write a paragraph describing some ideas for a sequel to the book.
  23. Often, books contain a moral lesson or advice to teach us. Think of one lesson a reader could learn from the book.
  24. Books are often categorized by genre, that is, by subject matter or theme. Some common genres for fiction are mystery, adventure, romance, fantasy, science-fiction and historical fiction. What genre does your book fit?
  25. Create a word search using ten important words from the book. (Ask your teacher for a word search template.)

Do you have any additional reading enrichment exercises? I’d love to hear them – the more we have, the more interesting our writing will be over the course of this school year!


The Annual Home Education Planning Post.

Drooled a little in the aisle at Walmart the other day. The binders were what got me. Black, with purple butterflies. And turquoise. My resolve to buy only from my list weakened considerably.

I’m not the only mum who gets a little giddy over shopping for school supplies. As an artist, I thrill to the scent of pencil shavings, and my fingers love to wander the smooth surface of a blank sheet of paper. And pens! Don’t even get me started.

So I’m going to let a little secret slip; I homeschool for the shopping. Pulling out a shopping cart loaded with pencils and binders isn’t enough when there’s an option to take it a step further and buy an entire curriculum or three.

Shopping aside, I’m a frugal home educator. We use as our primary curriculum a program called Sonlight which is heavily literature-based. The books we read together can be read over and over again and are a permanent part of our family library. I love that books that I read in my free time (this year’s line up includes such gems as Sarah, Plain and Tall; Johnny Tremain; and The Witch of Blackbird Pond) make history come alive for my daughters in third and fourth grade, and my son’s first grade Science is full of Magic School Bus fun and science Berenstain Bear-style. Extra money in my budget goes for books, every time. Classics that will be read and loved for years to come.

British Columbia is generous with home schoolers and my budget doesn’t go only to books but to CD’s and games, physical fitness (we are planning to swim, cross country ski and learn circus skills this school year) and music and drama. I really value the opportunity we have to do these “school activities” as a family. While most families participate in sports and other activities together, I like that our time spent as a family isn’t competing with time spent in school.

This year I’m changing a few of my teaching tactics, with the support of the teachers who “supervise” our family’s homeschooling year. (I am enrolled with a Distributed Learning school and report to teachers who file report cards and make sure my kids are where they ought to be academically.)

Math: All three children will be continuing using Math U See for their math curriculum. We were very happy with it last year and my oldest girl who was struggling with math excelled under the program. My son is starting grade one and is very resistant to working on paper at this point, so he’ll be learning most of the concepts using manipulatives, saving his workbook time for things like writing. I expect that this hands-on method will give him a really good grasp of the concepts, and he won’t miss a thing.

Language Arts: With the exception of continuing to use Sequential Spelling two or three times a week, I haven’t purchased a Language Arts curriculum for the girls. They finished a very good Language Arts program last year and this year our focus will be on writing, using Rock and Roll Literacy as our guide. What is needed most for them is confidence, interest and practice. Mr. Grade 1 will be using Explode the Code and reading daily from simple readers. Both girls are avid readers and will blaze through the readers for the year easily, I’m sure. Whether or not I’ll be able to talk anyone into writing a book report is anyone’s guess.

Science: Sonlight’s program for grades 3/4 is biology, taxonomy and anatomy, so we’ll be using those resources. I’m also going to try something a little adventurous; we discovered the Jonathan Park CD’s last year and these creation-based audio theatre adventures come with a study guide. We’ll be using the study guide to make the CD’s part of our science curriculum and since the kids love the CD’s and listen to them over and over again, they learn far more than they would from reading a science text once.

Bible: I love that Bible is part of our family’s education plan. Because we are not great at faithfully doing family devotions, working Bible into our curriculum ensures that we are studying to know what we believe and put into practice. This year we’re trying Apologia’s Who is God? program. I’ll let you know how we like it.

History: I learned a couple of years ago that it is very hard for me to follow a study guide when it comes to teaching my kids. Everyone is different, but for me it is very important that I feel I can be flexible, that I am not pressured to get everything done in a day, and that if something isn’t working, I can ditch it. We’ve been using The Story of the World to cover world history, and will be continuing that book, reading a little every day, and doing activities when they interest us. Last year I tried to pull out novels that corresponded to the time period we were reading about after we’d covered it in Story of the World, but this year I’m turning it backwards. If the kids are reading about medieval times in a novel, they will be much more engaged when we cover the facts a day or two later, is my theory.

I’m excited about the school year ahead. It’s getting easier in many ways. I enjoy the time I spend with my family, and my kids are turning out to be interesting, fun and basically normal human beings. And I’m getting a second education, one that I’m much more excited about this time around! Sure, I do have to juggle my life a little differently to make it all work – homeschooling adds another facet to my job description and my life can get VERY full, so I don’t recommend homeschooling unless you are seriously committed to the idea, but for us, it’s totally worth it.


“Oh, this looks like so much fun!” I was photocopying activity sheets for the girls’ history program and couldn’t help but gush as pages of paper dolls, medieval adventures and maps rolled off the copier. (Well, maybe not about the maps.)

The woman beside me was curious and I explained that I’m homeschooling my three children. “Oh, how far out of town do you live?” she asked, and I answered, “Ten minutes,” before realizing that she was asking because she assumed distance from schools to be the only reason a parent would choose to home educate.

A recent outing with another homeschool family had the kids climbing the river hills, searching for gypsum crystals.

Her next question was “Then why do you homeschool?”

I don’t think I would homeschool if I only had one answer to that question. Lately I’ve been thinking that really, were I to send my kids to school, they would be fine. They would cope well and get a decent education and I would have more free time for myself. (I’ve really been struggling with the schedule change since we started school two weeks ago.) Sometimes I fantasize a little about it.

But they like being home. And I am passionate about homeschooling because it fits us. It suits our goals for our family, for our values and how we spend our time. I love the flexibility of tailoring a child’s education to suit their learning style and interests. It’s thrilling to teach a child to read, and satisfying to discuss topics studied and how they relate to what we are seeing or hearing later in the day. And it’s good for me – ensures I am spending time with each of my children, forces me to deal with behaviour issues I might ignore otherwise, and I’m getting a second education out of the deal (and I’m much more interested this time!).

Home schooling is a lot like managing finances – you could always do a better job – and I struggle with never feeling like we’ve gotten everything done, but it’s a choice we are glad we’ve made, despite the sacrifices.

Back to School.

We started school on Labour Day. I like a five-day school week, what can I say? And the kids didn’t seem to care about missing a long weekend.

Wecco, my brand-new kindergartener, was excited about starting school. I quickly realized that I’ll have to adjust his curriculum a little – between his reading, Explode the Code and handwriting he covered three different letters of the alphabet. Far better to focus on one at a time, so I’ll use the reading textbook as our guideline for what letter to introduce when. I am so glad I bought the wooden letter builders from Handwriting Without Tears! We trace the new letter with our fingers, then form it with the wooden blocks, and then try writing it with chalk or pencil. And I like the little song we sing about always starting our letters at the top. It’s very kinder-friendly.

Sassy & Scooter tackled the new math curriculum – we are using Math-U-See and they are both doing the Beta level. Today we also needed to do a quick review of some addition methods.

I cannot say enough about how big a fan I am of the library’s summer reading program. Both girls surged forward in their reading over the summer and Sassy especially advanced at least one grade level in her reading. She went from early reader books like Frog & Toad at the end of the school year to chapter books like Henry Huggins and was even sneaking ahead in the chapter book I’ve been reading to the kids at bedtime. So when I need to spend extra time working with Wecco, I can put the girls to silent reading and their time isn’t wasted.

And because it’s the first week and I am idealistic, we even did Phys. Ed. yesterday, hauling out the long skipping rope to give the girls a lesson in skipping and rope-turning. They did well for their first time, and on a windy day, too!

Last week we went berry picking and stopped in a picturesque spot to take photos – I’m calling them their “school pictures” for this year – though Scooter could use a hairbrush and a retake. I’m thinking of waiting for retakes until her front teeth fall out – they are very wiggly!

Shades of the teenager she will be in a few years. Sassy is too pretty!

My little firecracker, Scooter! Love this blondie!

Wecco is everything I ever wanted in a son. And a little bit more.

Don’t Like Curriculum? This Post is Not for You.

Sassy got a little worried when we picked up two packages of curriculum at the post office and I told her that we’d be starting work the next day. I raise gullible kids.

There’s so much to do before we are ready to start school again! I picked up paint for the girls’ room yesterday, and they helped me move everything out so we can cover up the grape Hubba Bubba shade with a fresh apple green. We desperately need bookshelves in the school room and summer has barely started, now that it’s stopped downpouring (knock on wood). But I am excited about the changes we are making in our school planning and I thought I’d share with you what we’ll be using for homeschooling curriculum this year.

1. Sonlight.
We love Sonlight and I initially used it exclusively, which makes it super easy to plan the year. Sonlight’s best feature, to me, is how literature-rich their program is. In addition to providing great readers for Language Arts, they use a lot of great books for History and Science, and while I am using a different Science program this year, I am still ordering the Sonlight books for the girls’ level. Which brings me to the second thing I love about Sonlight – they allow you to combine a number of subjects to teach to kids within three years’ age difference. So Sassy and Scooter, who are apart by one grade, take the same History, Science and Readers. I’ve also combined Language Arts for them, but for that I use:

2. First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind
While I love the readers, and the way Sonlight teaches reading, Sonlight’s Language Arts program was not a good fit for us. It seemed a little too ambitious, that is, the examples they would give for writing assignments sounded more like something I would write than what I would expect from a first-grader. It was hard to get past that expectation, and for my oldest, who is a reluctant writer, I needed something that didn’t push her too hard. (I’ve since found that Sassy writes eagerly when I ask her to write a letter to someone, but she’ll cry if you try to get her to write a story or a poem. Scooter, on the other hand, loves writing stories.) Last year I did First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise with both girls and we’ll do level two this year. I like it because it takes virtually no prep for me, I just read the lesson with the girls and do the assignment, and we’re done. While I wouldn’t like reading all lessons by rote, in this case it works for us.

3. Math-U-See
For three years I’ve used Singapore Math via Sonlight, and I like it a lot. I like the emphasis on teaching mental math, and the way they combine the different math actions (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and how the kids get a basic introduction into these in first grade, adding more each year. But as much as I liked it, Sassy wasn’t enjoying it. She frequently got overwhelmed and shut down before even starting her assigned pages. So I’m taking the homeschool prerogative and changing to Math-U-See to see a different program helps. I’ve heard good things about Math-U-See and I like that new concepts are presented by DVD since maybe Sassy will be more receptive to a teacher who’s not me. I’m less certain about the way the program seems to compartmentalize – the level I’ve chosen focuses on addition and subtraction – but maybe that is what Sassy needs. After looking over the placement tests, I’ve decided that both girls will take the Beta level, which is about a second grade level. Means Sassy is basically repeating what she learned in math last year, but I think she needs it. And I can’t let my pride push her forward when it would only overwhelm her again.

4. Science
I’ve already raved about great literature so you know I’m an English geek, right? Science has never been a priority in our homeschool agenda. I don’t do experiments, and we usually settle for reading the books that come with our Sonlight core and skipping the worksheets and any hands-on assignments. While I believe that elementary science is lived more than anything else – the kids learn from exploring the world and talking about what they find – the education system tends to look for something a little more tangible as proof of their learning. So I’ve  ordered ACE’s Science workbooks for my girls. They are what I used when I was a girl, and they are ideal for a non-motivated homeschooling mom since the work is mostly independent – they read the assignment and answer the questions. And there are some experiments, and I will try to help them do them for a change.

5. Spelling
I was quite impressed to see Scooter’s spelling quite improved on the last birthday card she wrote in, and I think that all the reading the girls have been doing has helped their spelling without my involvement. But I do love Sequential Spelling and we’ll be going through book 1 this year. I love the way the lessons start with a small root word and then build upon it, showing connections between words that teaches a logical approach to spelling.

6. Handwriting
We are continuing with Getty-Dubay italic handwriting. I like the look of it, though handwriting is not a high priority. If the girls are anything like me, they will practice their handwriting for sheer prettiness’ sake. I order the curriculum from Sonlight.

7. History
I almost forgot! While we order the History readers from Sonlight, we are reading Story of the World Vol. 2 for our actual curriculum. Volume 1 seemed quite similar to the program provided by Sonlight, but I liked the writing better than A Child’s History of the World. I ordered the worksheets this year as well to help the girls retain what is read.

8. Wecco.
My boy is a kindergartner this year and he tells me he’s excited to start school. We’ll see. For him, the year will be all about learning to read and write his letter sounds, and he’ll be doing Singapore Math K. For helping him to form his letters, I’ve ordered Handwriting Without Tears. It comes with wooden letter shape blocks that add a kinesthetic approach to making letter shapes, which I think is great for hands-on little guys. He will be sitting in on much of the reading aloud I’ll be doing, so he’s taking grade three history (wink!) and will also continue his apprenticeship in School of Lego. I’ve read Better Late Than Early and I agree with much of Dr. Moore’s points on not pushing a five-year-old into too much sit-down work. I want Wecco to love learning, not to see it as an obstacle to being able to play and work with his hands.

I should have known this would be a long post! I laugh when I read my list because I had always intended to pick one curriculum and stick with it, and here I am, mixing and matching more every year. I am thankful for the homeschooling moms that have helped me make decisions about what to teach (changing math was a difficult decision) and even when we don’t agree, it’s neat to see how we are all able to find something that works for us.

My Homeschool High School (Missionary Kid) Experience

I often joke that I am the poster child for the “unsocialized homeschooler.” In 1989, my parents moved to the country of Papua New Guinea to be missionaries in a tribal village on the island of New Britain. I was in eighth grade, and I graduated just before we returned to Canada in 1994.

People coming to Papua New Guinea for the first time usually experience “culture shock.” It’s a small country, but rugged, and over 800 languages are spoken by the tribal people who live in grass huts on the coasts, in deep valleys and on mountain ridges that are often only accessible on foot or by helicopter. The people are incredibly friendly, but their lifestyle is dramatically different from western culture. In our village, they tended gardens of sweet potato and taro root, and fished with hooks and spears in the ocean that lapped just a hundred feet from our doorstep. How I loved waking at night to see shadows cross my walls as a lone fisherman drifted with his lantern in an outrigger canoe!

Getting an education in a tribal village is very different from that experienced by today’s North American homeschoolers. There were no support groups, no dual credit college courses, no extra-curricular sports and arts programs, no internet research (even today internet service in much of Papua New Guinea is extremely unreliable). My brother, sister and I completed the required number of pages each day, graded our own work and took bi-weekly tests on the material. We usually started our school year in August and finished in May, and completed our day’s assignments by noon, a basic course load of math, social studies, science, language arts & grammar, and spelling. I took French for two years, and learned more pronunciation than vocabulary.

I missed most my rosy ideal of what a “normal” student’s social life would be. In the tribe, I had only my sister’s friendship and letters from friends in Canada for company. I spent so much time writing letters to my friends! The culture and language barrier meant I had only the most shallow friendships with teenage girls in the village, who were usually concerned with adult issues, caring for siblings or their own babies. My dreams of boyfriends were hazy imaginings, while as one of the few white girls in the area (my sister being the other one) my every action felt exaggerated and I didn’t even dare look a village boy or man in the eye for fear of it being misinterpreted as sexual interest. I used to worry that when I did return to North America, I wouldn’t be able to look at or talk to boys because I had needed such great reserve in New Guinea.

Seventeen years later, I am in my fourth year of home educating my own three children, and I hope that they too will graduate from home, as I did. Despite the lack of support, my limited social experience, and “missing out” on extra-curricular classes and clubs, I would not exchange my high school homeschool experience for anything else. The freedom I was given in homeschooling gave me opportunities to explore my own interests and ideas and it was so fun! From my earliest childhood, I loved creating art, and in the tribe, I may not have been able to take art classes but I explored so many creative ideas – drawing, painting, learning calligraphy, making puppets, writing music and stories that I then illustrated. We pored over our twenty-year-old World Books and wore out the pages of our set of Childcraft encyclopedias. We bought fish, massive tuna from local fishermen, and packaged and sold them to missionaries in more land-locked villages, using our profits to buy bicycles so we could ride daily to swim in the ocean or our favourite fresh-water spring. We learned to swim proficiently and explored the coral reef with snorkels, or on foot when the tide went out. We visited World War II wrecks and listened to village legends about the Japanese occupation. We marched through enormous bat caves and hiked into remote villages to visit friends or attend a tribal church service. I listened as my father told a village, in their own language, the gospel for the first time, and learned that even though I would have chosen a more traditional teenage circumstance for my own life, I was right where God wanted me to be, and I could trust Him through it.

In his book, Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, Todd Wilson says that your child will be who they are meant to be. I don’t know if my parents lost sleep over their decision to educate their children in such a remote location and the opportunities we might miss in the process, but I hear and see daily the concern from parents that in homeschooling, their children might miss out on something vital that they need in order to succeed in life. Often this holds parents back from home educating their children, or gives them a sense of self-doubt as they make choices for their children. How encouraged I am to trust that it’s not all up to me! God can take our circumstances, whatever they are and wherever they are, and enable us to not just survive, but to thrive.

By the Book.

Last week was supposed to be our last week of school. Today, Sassy is sitting at the kitchen table, math before here, crying her eyes out. She has about five pages left to complete her grade two workbook, and she’s been stuck on the same problem for an hour. A problem I’ve already walked through with her multiple times. Short of feeding her the answer, I’m stuck.

Three read-alouds stack, unfinished. Wecco and Scooter play “distract the sister,” and the crying changes to yelling. Sometimes I hate homeschooling.

I’ve said before how I believe in home education. There are many, many things I love about it, and it has been very good for my kids. My biggest struggle with homeschooling is the sacrifice of my own time and space. It is very easy to be envious of the moms who enjoy child-free time on a daily basis – who get to attend mid-morning waterfit classes, grocery shop without cart hangers-on and pleadings for junk food, have lunch with friends. Selfishness, basically. Not a good reason to opt for traditional schooling.

It is times like today, when a year of Monday morning math meltdowns cause me to question my effectiveness. Surely by now we should have a system worked out that bypasses the drama. Kids don’t bawl like this in public school math classes (though maybe they do at home over homework and I’m dealing with a universal problem). I remember crying over a page of multiplication homework in fifth grade, and yet being able to relate to Sassy’s struggles doesn’t give me an answer.

This is the situation which makes other parents say “I could never homeschool.” They are envisioning similar episodes with their own children – the tears, the refusal to try, the frustrated mom eventually joining the meltdown. I hate the exasperation that comes into my voice when she is balking over a problem that I know she can do and in fact have just told her how to do and she is still not doing it! Makes my blood pressure rise just describing it. If only those parents could know that these stressful moments shrink to invisibility when measured against hearing your child read to her little brother, and knowing “I taught her that.” Or when your children spend a hour crafting swords and shields from cardboard and scotch tape so they can play “Camelot” after reading it for history. Or when they snuggle up beside you and pull out their science textbook…and it’s Sunday afternoon.

It is worth it. It is worth it. It is worth it. I have to remember that on days like today, when I have many other things I could be doing and the last thing I want to do is cajole my child finish one last problem in her math. And when I feel like a bad influence, rather than the calming, accepting parent/teacher/role model that I chose homeschooling to be. It’s scary to know I have to make this work, that I can’t give up. And I can’t be willfully blind to my relational shortcomings – it all comes out in the classroom.

Homeschooling doesn’t make me a better mom than you. I’m pretty average, mom-wise, though I’d love to tell you differently. Perhaps homeschooling gives me more opportunities to lose patience, to yell, to struggle with discipline and keeping order, and maybe that makes you the better mom. I spend a lot of time feeling convicted over the most recent confrontation, and desiring to do better, and wondering why I’m not better at loving my kids. (I love my kids, I just don’t feel great at loving them.) Maybe I have more opportunities to get it right, too. Or just a few more moments on my knees, reminding Jesus and myself that my life is His, my children are His, raising them is a gift from Him, and I can’t do it alone.