My newest school planning helpers

I just love going to my local used home school store. The woman that runs it is a walking home school catalog. Her knowledge of all the different curricula is staggering. And there is where I happen upon most of my home school loves.

My newest favorite resources are a set of giant, yet unassuming books. They may not sound like a big deal, but they are–at least they should be.

I am in love with all the Teacher’s Book of Lists books (available at Amazon and other online bookstores). They are worth their weight in gold. Yes you can probably find all the information on the Internet, if you took months, and even then you may not find it all. Why put yourself through that? It’s organized and at your fingertips right in this book. For example, some things included in the comprehensive science book are:

  • plant terminology and classification
  • dyeing procedures (from plant sources)
  • animal classification, reproductive and life cycles
  • major terms of the 10 human body systems
  • determining to mole of a compound
  • balancing chemical equations
  • isotopes of chemical equations
  • classification of energy
  • calculating the specific gravity of a mineral
  • codes for weather symbols
  • classification of stars by color and temperature
  • base two
  • checklists for graphing conventions
  • metric conversions
  • professional publications
  • science fair project information and checklists

And that’s just a few of other over 290 lists. In the literature book you can find 247 lists like vocabulary lists for all sorts of writing; lists by theme, genre and author; lists of award winners and books that have been made into movies. You can search by literary period, find a nice list comparing gods and goddesses and even lists of famous characters.

I think you get the point. You will be so glad you have these books on your lesson plan bookshelf. It is saving me so much time looking up things that I need to grab and move on. These book keep me from getting lost in the details, so I can focus on the principles I want to teach. These lists are great for illustrating principles, gleaning ideas for reading lists and essay questions and for just plain fact-gathering and they cover k-12, so there are no other books to buy (always a winner to me!).

If you prefer integrated studies, these are still valuable. You can use them as project starters, essay fodder and just general resource. Because they are broken down by subject you are able to hone in on just the info you need. You can also see who the subjects intertwine. And you can use them to make mini offices for your kids on any subject. If you aren’t convinced by now, you are a hopeless case. Or you  have another easy source for all this information available at the tum of a page. If you’d like to share a favorite resource, please leave a comment. I’m always curious to know what other moms are using in the homeschooling.

Creating unit studies using the Biblical Principle Approach

Unit studies (which I prefer to call integrated studies) are wonderful. Teaching all the kids all together, planning one stream of lessons for the whole bunch is smart and interesting, and you actually retain more information as you see how it is all connected. However, the thing that always has concerned me is the tendency to focus on facts. It is easy to get caught up in the activities and the topic and lose sight of the beautiful principles that hold it all together. How do you create a unit study that keeps the focus on the principles? Some things to remember:

The overarching principle is the focus of the unit. This is the umbrella for all your lessons.

The leading ideas point to the Principles. They guide your lessons.

Lesson plans come from the leading ideas, which come from the principles.

The facts of the lesson illustrate the principle, much like an illustrated sermon.

So this is it in a nutshell: principle—->leading idea—->lesson

For example, your study on WWII may discuss the Holocaust. Your study may have the overarching principle “God’s Principle of Individuality.” Your lessons could include the leading ideas like, “All men are created in God’s image,” “We are all responsible for our own relationship with God” and “Man has intrinsic value.” Your lessons would be guided from these leading ideas that reinforce the Principle. So your lesson might include studying a concentration camp story, reading up on the third Reich and their ideas that are contrary to the principle or calculating how many people lost their lives.

You could show that even as the prisoners lost their freedom they went to great lengths to maintain their individuality–sharing stories of their heritage, smuggling out personal items,writing stories during and after the horrific events. (It is interesting that the Third Reich went to so much trouble to document the Jews as individuals, taking photos, issuing numbers, keeping meticulous records.) Also there are many inspiring stories like Corrie TenBoom’s biography that are inspiring stories of individuals making a difference in the lives of other individuals during the war. And you can do scripture documentation, key sheets and word studies to complete your study. This is just scratching the surface of course, but I hope it gives you an idea of how an integrated study can work well using Biblical principles.

Do you see how the lessons come alive as you discuss the material in light of Biblical principles? Writing, reading, history, literature and sometimes math and science can be intertwined into a cohesive study that makes sense to all of your students. Have them study some things on their own and then share what they learn with one another. (They learn even more and you didn’t have to teach it yourself!) You will be amazed at what the Holy Spirit can prompt in your children.

It is almost like planning a traditional BPA lesson plan, only you have several subjects together instead of separate. Providential HisStory flows naturally between the subjects because everything has happened at some point in history.

I think the label “integrated studies” makes more sense for BPA families because the subjects are integrated under a principle and not a topic. If you think of them as integrated subjects that can keep you out of the “facts only” unit study ditch.

While this isn’t the only way to create an integrated BPA study, it’s the way that makes sense to me and I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining myself. Thoughts? Ideas? Please leave a comment.

Getting the most out of your art museum trip

Yea it’s museum day! Your family is excited as you all pile in the car. How can you get the most out of your precious time together? Here are some tips to help you enjoy your local art museum to the fullest.

  • Go when your family is at their best. for some it’s morning, for others the afternoon. Assess your family’s best time and go then. And remind the kids about the usual–whispering, not touching anything, etc. so they know what to expect, especially if it’s their first time.
  • Go on free day. Many museums offer days with free admission. Take advantage.
  • Check the schedule. Before you head out the door check the museum’s listing of temporary exhibits. Maybe one fits what you are studying. Mark future exhibits on your calendar so you won’t forget.
  • Study a local artist that has work in your museum before you go. Your kids will enjoy the artist’s work much more when they feel connected to the artist. Maybe you can even schedule a studio tour with the artist. It never hurts to call and ask!
  • Leave prepared. Have all the stuff you would have wherever you go. Feed the kids. Wear comfy shoes.
  • Get a map. Plan out your tour, learn where the bathrooms are (and the fire exits too) and see what’s available for viewing.
  • Get a tour from a docent. They will tell you all the interesting tidbits you might never learn otherwise. They are passionate about the museum and will usually offer a great tour.
  • Go on a regular basis. You don’t have to see the whole thing at once. Take it in small bites and savor each moment.
  • Buy a membership. Membership really does have its privileges. Members have access to private shows, special events, classes and newsletters. And if you are a regular museum goer you’ll save money on admission.
  • Plan a visual scavenger hunt. Make a list for the kids to check off, such as “a lady with a hat” or “a piece of fruit” or “a statue of a horse” and let them look for them.
  • Don’t skip the gift shop. It’s a great place to pick up unusual gifts. And they almost always have neat things you can use in your homeschool, like sun printing paper, models and art prints.

Individuality of subjects

The first Biblical principle we study, and the overarching principle as well, is “God’s Principle of Individuality.” This principle can be seen everywhere, and we focus on seeing it in the subjects.

If God cares about individuality, then if we study the subjects individually we are enjoying the distinctiveness of each subject. There is a rich history, diverse vocabulary and important principles that each subject contains. A goal of learning with the Biblical Principle Approach is not fact mastery but subject mastery (through principles).

We are not discussing facts but principles, so multiple grades are able to learn together. There is no need for complicated lesson plans for each child. A little modification and all your children can learn at the same time.

How can we understand the unique vocabulary and rudiments of a subject if they are all lumped together? Each subject has its own language and foundation. It is important for children to learn these in order to master the subject.

When you understand the rudiments of a subject, along with its vocabulary, you are able to see how the subjects naturally overlap and fit together. There are common principles that bring the subjects in harmony and bring a richer appreciation of all the subjects.

For more reading on the subject, these two PDF handouts are available for download.

Selected Quotes Concerning the Individuality of Subjects

My personal notes concerning unit studies vs. individuality of subjects

I have nothing against unit studies per se, I just prefer a distinct subject methodology with natural subject integration. What I mean is I do not rally around a topic but around the principle of a subject. I may pick a certain topic that several subjects will naturally fit into but I do not try to contrive lessons to fit a topic.

Once or twice a year I will do a study on a subject and the subjects will naturally integrate, such as a study on Bach (which we are starting this week). HisStory, geography, literature, English and music are all naturally covered as we read through the book, adding to our enjoyment and understanding of the life and times (and character) of Bach. The subjects add to our understanding of cause and effect, of the things that made Bach who he was. They are not disjointed facts but parts of the whole under the principle of individuality. We see how, where, with whom and when he lived contributed to his character. Along with this study we continue our math, Bible and science separately.

The subjects are beautiful and unique. I don’t want my children to miss out on the treasures that each subject contains. 

I hope this post will spark some conversation regarding the topic.  I will begin over the next several weeks to go over each of the individual subjects, beginning with history. Our Thursday chat will also correspond to the weekly subject.

Thoughts concerning unit studies

I am not crazy about the term “unit study.” I much prefer “integrated study” but it’s really just semantics, so for the sake of the search engines I will use unit study here.

As I was considering again this whole idea of unit study, related to Principle Approach and most importantly to my little lambs, I had some thoughts. Unit studies can be enjoyable. They can also take over your life. If you are not careful they, like anything else out of balance, suck every ounce of enjoyment out of education. I came up with a list of things I am printing out to keep in my teacher’s notebook concerning this.

Education is not about the activities but about the learning. More activities does not equal more learning. Simple is almost always better.

I want my unit studies to be:

  • not fun, but interesting (Ps. 16:11, Prov. 2:10, Ps. 145:18, 19)
  • not complicated, but complete (Mt. 11:29, Job 37:16, 2 Tim. 3:16)
  • not only temporal, but eternal (2 Cor. 4:18, Eph. 5:15-17)
  • not fact-based, but based on Biblical principles  (Is. 28:10,13; Ps. 119:40,94)
  • not standard issue but customized (Prov. 22:6)

When my plans are led by the Holy Spirit and based on the Word of God, they will do all of that and more.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Is 55:11

Individuality comes out of the closet

When we did our study on homekeeping in October we reasoned from one scripture each day as we colored from this book.  Each day they delighted me with their insight and we enjoyed the study very much. We simply read a scripture and talked about it while they colored. The girls they colored in their books had rainbow hair many days and we had a great time gently reasoning from God’s Word together. I came across some notes I had made while we were talking, my beautiful daughters and I. They are 8.5 and 5.5.

The scripture for that particular day was Proverbs 31:22 and they were reasoning about clothes and why we need them. This is their list.


  • protect us (like a coat or protective gear)
  • cover us (first by God in Genesis)
  • keep us from getting embarrassed (when we are modest)
  • get us certain things (like wearing a uniform)
  • make us unique

I could not have done a better job myself. As for the last one, my oldest daughter has quite a unique perspective on fashion. I love it because she’s comfortable wearing what she likes and not what’s necessarily trendy. You never know what she will come out of her room looking like. (Don’t get me wrong. She’s not a clown, but rather, um, eclectic in her choices.) But she thinks she looks good and her grace and confidence help her to carry off an outfit I never could have worn at her age.

She’s a modest young lady as well, so if I want to question her fashion sense, most times I just smile and let it go. She’s happy being her own person–and that makes me happy too.

Blessing our home: week one

Well I’m late with a recap because I have been pretty ill with a respiratory thing. Here’s what we did last week in our unit on homekeeping.

We defined keeping home. We looked up scriptures and discussed things needed to keep home–diligence, organization, etc. We discussed what it means to “bless” your home. 

We learned about the history of cleaning through the ages with Cleaning the House by John Mala and 300 Years of Housekeeping Collectibles by Linda Franklin.

We drew our unhappy (messy home). We will finish the unit with drawing a happy (clean home).

We read several cleaning books: Five Little Monkeys with Nothing to Do, In a Minute!, Spring Cleaning, Boo and Baa on a Cleaning Spree and Home Tools among them.

We are coloring a picture each day from Doorposts’ coloring book on Psalm 31.

We memorized Psalm 31:10.

We made a kid-safe cleaning solution with baking soda, Borax and water. Now they have a special spray they like to use.

They did worksheets for math. 

And more…

It was a fun week. We learned a lot about cleaning and God’s idea of home keeping and blessing. This week we will continue, but my health has put things on a bit of a hold so far. We will start to work on a schedule and lots more that I will post next week.

Realizing a dream

In this post I said that as a home educator I hope you are always evaluating what works. To me this is one of the best things about what we do. We are free to try new things and evaluate what works–and what doesn’t. For us a struggle has been the whole idea of separate subjects. I understand that the BPA philosophy keeps the subjects separate so they retain their distinctiveness. They have a reason for the traditional “school” model and I have no problem with that, in general. However it has not ever worked so great in my home. (see Dee’s post on BPA unit studies)

So I was at my local used homeschool bookstore the other day when I came across a book that describes how to create your own unit studies. A bell went off. I have wanted to do unit studies since my oldest was in K (we even used FIAR before moving to BPA). My heart leapt. Could I really do unit studies with BPA? I never really thought I could, so I kept on with what I knew. It was great and things were pretty good, but something was missing.

Now that I have added my 5dd, I really want our lessons to be interesting and educational and engaging. I want them both (and my ds as well) to love learning. (see this post) The best times we have had were little types of unit studies, with Benjamin West and other topics that I sort of tied together.

But the rest of the time has been “regular”. It was not making me happy as a teacher. I do not want to focus on academics per se, but on the rudiments, the first things to know. What we have been doing is not really engaging, at least for us. Everything is disjointed and unrelated. So I took the unit study book home and looked at it. I was so glad I did!

As I read through it a light bulb came on, I realized that BPA and unit studies are very compatible. Here are some reasons why:

  • unity with diversity: subjects flow together naturally, nurturing a love of learning, but still distinctive.
  • As the child grows, they are able to see the 4-R’s process more clearly, so they are able to move to independent study naturally.
  • You are able to relate a principle to the whole topic, as well as to individual subject, so it will flow well.
  • It is easy to include multiple grades and tailor learning to each individual’s level.
  • It provides opportunity for family to learn together, strengthening relationships and providing an environment for each person to learn from one another.

Personally, I believe that this method is more like real life. They can master the subjects as they relate to one another, as opposed to disconnected “boxes” of subjects.

These were my two dreams in educating my children: BPA and to use unit studies to do that. Now I can do both. Praise to God for the journey I am on. Each step I have taken has led me to the next. I don’t regret anything I have done to this point because each was a necessary step to get me here.

In my next post I will go into detail about our first unit study, which may surprise you!