LivingAs we near the start of our school year, I’m thinking of what I’d like to do that’s new.  This year I’ve decided to focus more on ‘living’ books than I have in the past few years.  These are books that tell stories about our world with a lively, conversational story-telling style, in a way that makes subjects “come alive.” Here are some of the books that have caught my eye. You can click on the titles below to see more about each book on amazon.


Do you homeschool with ‘living’ books?  What books have your children enjoyed?


More Booklists

Charlotte Mason Booklist (by grade)

1000 Good Books

Reading about immigrants

Well, we’re back home and back to school, all in one fell swoop. Thankfully we’re over the worst of the jet lag by now. For awhile the girls were waking around 3 AM and then having a hard time getting back to sleep, which meant they were all practically comatose by 6PM. I kept having to coax them to stay upright just a little longer in the evening so that they could get back to Idaho time.

Josh and Ben are doing well in public school so far, though I continue to have pangs feeling like (in allowing them their wish) I have deserted some of my responsibility to them. Funny how something that seems so normal to the vast majority of the world can feel so foreign to me. But I think they are doing OK, and of course it is God who is in charge of their life, not me. So I keep praying, keep talking to them about how things are going, and also now and then remind them that some of the questions I’m asking are not really a reflection on them, but simply me getting used to this new thing.

immigrantsJumping into school straight from 2 weeks in Ethiopia gave me an idea for a unit study with Emily, Julianna, and Zeytuna, my three homeschoolers this year. So many Ethiopians were happy our girls had come to Ethiopia to visit, but multiple times the girls were told to stay in America to live, as Ethiopians see America as the land of opportunity. Then of course we came home to read about all the refugees from Syria, and the terrible ways in which they are struggling to provide life and safety for their families.  Many of them also are longing to come to America.

Always in the past America has been seen as a place of refuge, a land that welcomes people who are struggling. I hope this will continue to be true in the future. I decided I really wanted our kids to learn a little more about the immigrant experience, and did an amazon hunt for some books that we can read together.  Most of them talk about the immigrant experience from the point of view of children and teens.

Four of the books tell the story of people who came to America via Ellis Island.  Children of the Dust Bowl is the story of kids who moved to California during the Dust Bowl and how they dealt with the discrimination they faced in that move. A Long Walk to Water is the true story of one of the lost boys of Sudan. Esperanza Rising is fiction and tells the story of a girl who moves from Mexico to the United States. Inside Out and Back Again is the true story of a child who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, and it is written entirely in poems.

My plan is to begin with that last book, and to do a fair bit of the reading at lunch time to the girls while they eat.  I am hoping that our fresh experience in another country might make these immigrant stories more meaningful to our kids, and might give them a deeper compassion toward people who struggle to find a place in this world.


Homeschooling and new paths

A quick note about last week’s book giveaway.  The winner is commenter #24, the mysterious ‘S’, who is a longtime reader. 🙂  Congrats!  Email me your address and I will get your book headed your way.


Always at this time of year, my thoughts turn toward school again.  This year if I’m figuring it right, we’ve hit the 20 year mark as a homeschooling family.  We haven’t exclusively homeschooled:  our oldest daughter went to private school for her first two years, two others had several years of public school in Ethiopia before they joined our family, and most of the teens have done a bit of college while still homeschooling.  But when I did the math for  two decades of teaching 10 kids, I came up with something like 97 total years of homeschooling.  Crazy, right?

how school looks for us this yearAll along we’ve done our best to tailor each child’s education to his or her needs. Well, this year we’re taking a brand new path for two of our seniors.

Josh and Ben have for several years been asking to go to public school.  For years we’ve chosen to stick with homeschooling, adding college classes into the mix the last 2 years to liven things up a bit.  But still they’ve been longing for the whole high school experience.  So after lots of prayer and lots of discussion John and I decided to let them try public school for at least a semester, and if all goes well, for all of senior year.

Whew, it was a hard decision for this momma. Homeschooling has overall been an excellent path for our family. It has grown the boys well too, both in their faith and in academics, enough that we’ve been talking for awhile about letting them graduate early.  Sure, they have maturing still to do; no kid has everything figured out at 17.  But John and I ended up deciding to hear their wishes, trust their common sense, and let them have this adventure.

I suspect that sitting in classrooms hour after hour it will be more boring than they’re imagining.  But there will also be new and different opportunities.  Josh is interested in Spanish 3, and in some of the music offerings at the school. Ben would love to learn welding and auto repair, among other things. So we’re sending them off.

Josh starts school the day the girls and I leave for Ethiopia, and Ben starts just a few days later.  We are praying this ends up being a blessing and a positive experience for them. Zeytuna (last I chatted with her) was still steadfastly insisting she prefers to stay at home for her senior year. I’ll also have Emily (grade 8) and Julianna (grade 5) still.

SchoolSo our home school tradition this year will continue with three students, just as we had our very first year of school so many years ago, when all the kids were little. We’ll also be starting a little later than usual, in mid-September, since the first two weeks of the school year will be taken up by our big trip to Ethiopia.

Life is just full of adventures!  I’ll keep you posted as to how all these adventures go.  Meanwhile, it’s back to packing for Ethiopia, and getting the boys registered for school.  If my to-do list is any indicator, both these events take lots of doing!


Speaking of new adventures, if you’d like an occasional ‘insider’ update from the Owlhaven, just enter your email address in the right-hand sidebar above, and click the ‘subscribe’ button.  Once every month or two, I’ll be sharing just a few extra newsy highlights from our life– fun things that won’t necessarily all make it to my blog.  I’d love it if you’d join me there!

And if you’d like to read my best homeschooling tips from two decades of homeschooling, check out my latest book Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families, available on Kindle.

Day 4

Just heading off for day 4 of orientation and wanted to check in with you all. I’m hanging in there with orientation– sometimes doing fine, and sometimes feeling like an utter dunce.  (So far it’s the equipment that is making me feel more foolish than the computer charting– go figure!)  But I am sure it will all come together.

Today after work I need to take my computer to be fixed– for weeks I have been coddling the spot where the power cord connects to the computer, and since the bad spot is actually IN the computer, not the power cord, it is unfortunately going to be a harder fix.  So off to the shop it goes.

I will check in with you on Monday and let you know who won the book giveaway– thanks for all your entries!  I also wanted to let you know that for the next week, my homeschooling ebook Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families is going on sale sometime in the next 24 hours and will be only $2.99!  So check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet!

My computer power is down to 24%, so I’ll have to check back in with you later– have a great weekend!


Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families

Practical HomeschoolingHooray! Finally, after years of living only in my head, my very first e-book is complete and officially releases on Monday. It’s called Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families and is chock full of my best tips for doable homeschooling (translate: ideas that won’t make mom nutty trying to do them).

I think every mom benefits when she has at least a little time for things she enjoys doing.  But to find that time, we need to work smart at homeschooling–otherwise it can very easily take up the whole day.  And that’s not good for parents or kids.

It can be tricky to find the right balance– the place where you’re getting enough school done to keep everyone moving forward, but not so obsessed with homeschool perfection that nobody’s happy.  A huge goal of this book is to help you find that happy place for your family.

What’s in the book?

In Practical Homeschooling, I’ll talk you through selecting curriculum that works for you and share my favorites, including lots of ideas that don’t cost a penny. You’ll learn about homeschooling short-cuts, games for little ones, tips for teaching essay-writing, ways to encourage resistant learners, and even how to create a high school transcript.  And along the way, you’ll hear more of my family’s homeschooling story.

What if my kids are in school?

This book also contains tips useful for non-homeschooling families.  There are homework helps, ideas for choosing books to suit your kids’ reading level, and lots of tips easily applicable to summer enrichment.

Here’s the link for pre-ordering.  Order between now and Monday, and you’ll get a special sale price.  So grab it now!

Share, please?

Will you take a moment and click the buttons below to share this post on facebook  or  on Pinterest ? Thanks so much for any help you can give me getting the word out!

P.S.– Here’s a special deal just for my readers. 

Order this week and share about it on social media, and I will send you a sample transcript — just like the one I’ve prepared for my five kids who’ve already graduated.  You can fill it in (and modify it) to use for your own children during the high school years.  To get the freebie, email me at, put transcript in the subject line, and tell me where you shared about the book.  I will get that sample headed your way!



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Homeschooling Resources

Tried and true homeschooling resources

When talking with a group of mommas about homeschooling at the Joy for the Journey adoption retreat last month, I promised them a post sharing some of my favorite homeschooling resources.  Here’s that list.  Most are ones I’ve used.  Some I mention because they are highly recommended by other homeschooling moms. Some of them are even my favorite price–free!


  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons— I used this with several of my kids and liked it.
  • ABC Snacks — This is a free preschool phonics game that looks like fun.
  • How To Teach Phonics-This book is free on kindle.
  • Sound Bytes Reading- This resource is highly recommended for older reluctant readers and ESL students.
  • Phonics Pathways– This book has lots of great recommendations on amazon.
  • Bob Books– These books are some of my absolute favorites for the very beginning stages of reading.
  • Starfall — This is an online phonics learning website that I used with my youngest daughter, complete with lots of games
  • Owl at Home— This is one of my absolute FAVORITE books for 1st-2nd grade.  So funny.


  • Calculation Nation — a free math learning website
  • Horizons Mathematics – I use this math for K-3.  It is bright and interesting, and moves kids along quickly.
  • Saxon Math– For many years I used this math starting in 4th grade. Good series, but not a fave of my kids who struggle with math.
  •   Teaching Textbooks — computer-based math programs from 3rd grade through Algebra 2.  We used Saxon math for years, but in the past years have switched most of our kids to this math.  Excellent, though not as acccelerated as Saxon.
  • Life of Fred — story-book math–highly recommended by friends of mine as excellent for kids who want a more language-based approach to math




  • Seterra — This is a great free geography learning resource that my younger girls use and enjoy.




  • Duolingo —This is a great little language learning website that offers 14 different languages.
  • Fluenz: Learn Spanish— My kids use this excellent program, but it is pretty spendy.  It is also available in Mandarin, Italian, and French.



  • The Way They Learn— I think that figuring out our kids’ learning styles is helpful info for every parent, not just homeschoolers.
  • The Well-Trained Mind— Many moms LOVE this style of teaching.  I love the idea of it, but in its entirety it is too labor-intensive for me.  Whether or not you decide to take this exact path, it’s worth the read to glean what parts of the system might be a fit for your family.
  • Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers–This is an excellent discussion of the importance of relationship-building with kids, a hugely important factor in successful homeschooling.
  • The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind– I can’t recommend this book highly enough for helping kids move past stress toward emotional regulation.  This is especially on point for kids with special needs and trauma backgrounds, but it is useful for navigating melt-down moments with all kids.






This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click through and order any of the amazon products, I will receive a few cents from Amazon.  This helps support all the free content here at Owlhaven, but doesn’t add a cent to your cost.  I’d love for you to add your own homeschool resources in the comments section so that this resource can be even better. And as always, I really appreciate pins, likes, and shares.  Thanks for your support!



What we’re reading

Books this year

Today I finally got all my planning done for the school year, including who gets the computers at what time, when the teens will be taking their science tests, and which books all the kids will be reading this year.  Our three teens, all juniors, have just one book a month of assigned reading, which they’ll read during the first two weeks of the month, then write about during the second half of the month.  In conjunction with that, we’re working our way through a world view book called The Eternal Argument.  They’re kinda yawning through this one so far, but I at least think it’s interesting.

Our 7th grader has three books a month of assigned reading.  I was going to have her also do some essay writing like she did last year, but after going through the bookshelves upstairs, I realized there are great quantities of wonderful books there that she’s never read. Since she has really taken off with her interest in reading lately, I decided to make it a reading year for her.  Plenty of time to work on more essay-writing for next year. My 4th grader, who still reads best when reading to me, has a book or two a month that we will work through together.

To make the books easier to find, I set all their books for the year together on one shelf. The teens are reading some of the same books, and some fairly deep ones, including the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and few others that are no slouch. One interesting new addition to our library is Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major. It is an uber-practical and irreverent look at selecting a college major that I have really been enjoying reading, and that I thought might give some guidance to the teens who don’t yet have a game plan post high school.We’ll see how it goes.


One other new addition this year for the teens is a College Prep Genius program that we started last week.  It is proving to be absolutely excellent, and while (again) it’s not riveting to the teens, it is exceedingly practical.  Over and over while watching the DVD’s with them, I’ve said, ‘I didn’t know that!’  And these are not the first kids I’ve helped prep for SAT’s.  I think it will offer them some major help on the PSAT in October, and the SAT next year.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

That’s enough for tonight!  I’ll check in with you on Friday and tell you how I’m doing on my grocery savings challenge.

End of summer


I always mourn the end of summer. This one was busier than usual with kids jobs and activities,  but it was still slower-paced than the school year.  I love sleeping in, having time to swim and camp, and just not feeling the press of school assignments.

tent cityOur most recent camping trip included Jared’s girlfriend and a couple of the grandbabies.  Such fun to see them at the place we’ve loved for so many years.  As usual we had a little tent city set up next to our travel trailer. Though there’s lots of sleeping space inside the trailer, most of the kids prefer to have their own space in various tents.  There’s lots of swimming and fishing, plus games with cousins and visiting by the camp fire.


But now that summer is winding down, I’m back to thinking about school.  Last school year we had lots of finishing-up to do with our then-senior, so we hit school pretty hard and got a lot done. The current juniors benefited from that intensity, and also got a lot done, so I’m planning for this school year to be a bit less ambitious.


I’ve never been an unschooler-type mom– I like structure too much. But we’re going to try  taking Mondays off, as I wrote about before. Sleep in, plan only a little. I’ll still have the kids do chores, as well as an hour of reading, but it can be something of their own choosing.


Subjects with our three juniors will include:


Our two younger daughters (4th and 7th) will be doing:


How about you?  Are your kids back at school?  If you’re homeschooling, are you trying anything new?




Also of interest


(This post contains affiliate links, which does not increase the cost of any item to you, but does allow a few cents of each purchase to be applied to support all the free content on this site.)






Free online resources for school

Free Online Resources for SchoolWith school just getting underway, I thought I’d share some online learning resources that are out there for folks who don’t have a lot of money to spend.  Twenty websites, all free– what a beautiful thing!  If you know of other free online resources for homeschooling or for enrichment learning, please share them in comments, below.  And if you find this post to be helpful, please feel free to pin it so that others can find it.


  • Starfall — an online phonics learning website, complete with lots of games
  • Young Minds — free printable handwriting pages
  • Arcademics— this site combines math learning with the fun of arcade games.
  • Calculation Nation — here’s another math learning website
  • The Teacher’s Corner– offers free printable worksheets
  • Seterra — This is a great free geography learning resource
  • Youtube Primary & Secondary Channel— ] learning videos on scads of topics appropriate for elementary school learners
  • Music Appreciation, Charlotte Mason style– hints on teaching music appreciation to children
  • Patrick Math — this is a website devoted to math tutorials, some on very complex topics
  • Free Rice Grammar– English grammar drills for junior high and high school kids
  • Free Rice Vocabulary— vocabulary drills for kids and teens
  • Free Rice Math — review of pre-algebra skills
  • MOOC—lists classes you can take online for free.  In some cases you may need to pay to earn actual credits.
  • MIT Open Courseware– offers many different college level classes for free
  • Textbook Revolution — has many textbooks available in pdf’s or other forms online for free.  Check here before you buy a spendy book.
  • — free online speed reading course–what college student doesn’t need that?
  • Khan Academy — bills itself as providing a free world-class education for anyone.  Many topics.
  • Duolingo — is a great little language learning website that offers 14 different languages.
  • –offers free sheet music and instruction for a variety of instruments
  • Code Academy — teaches basic beginning computer coding step by step.



Easy summer learning

This week I’m thinking about what school our kids will be doing this summer, besides yard work, and hanging out with friends, and summer jobs. For years we took summers entirely off school, and I have to admit that way still sounds appealing. But then I remember about the math-forgetting, and the wandering around bored, and I return to the conclusion that mixing just a little school in with all the down-time works best for us.

One of our teens will be reviewing algebra in hopes of acing the COMPASS and being able to skip one college math class. Another is planning on studying for the Psychology CLEP.  Two other teens will be putting in a little time each day studying Spanish.  As for the youngest two, it will be multiplication and division all the way.

Our current third grader is just at the age where not having her math facts down cold is slowing her down. I’ve had her write down the facts over and over, and do some work with flash cards, but still any math fact higher than the 5’s takes a LONG time to answer. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, a fellow homeschooling mom of 7, she said, “Oh, you ought to try Reflex. My kids love it!”

reflex math

Reflex is a web-based math fact fluency system that uses a variety of games and rewards to teach kids, and to get them to like math in the process. Your child begins by creating an avatar (a computer picture of them) whose features and clothing they get to choose. The program then starts with a simple game to assess what facts your child knows, then customizes the learning experience to focus on facts that your child still needs to learn. As kids progress in their learning, they can unlock new games which keeps things interesting. They also earn points to spend on clothing and accessories for their avatar. My 9 and 11 year old daughters LOVE it, and have been begging to spend time learning their math facts on Reflex.

Reflex offers a free 2-week trial, so that you can see how their product works and if it is interesting to your child. My first plan was to let my daughter just do it for the free two weeks. But she enjoyed it so much (and still had so much to master) that I went ahead and bought it. A one year subscription for one child is $35. I’m planning to make this be my 9 year old’s math curriculum for the summer. She is thrilled to be doing something fun on the computer, and I’m thrilled that she’s finally learning her math facts. The only down side I’ve found is since the program customizes to what a child knows and doesn’t know, two children can’t share one profile. You have to buy each child an individual seat. But other than that, this is a great software program and my kids are thrilled that I listened to my friend’s recommendation!

Do you do summer enrichment with your kids or do you take summers entirely off school?

Oh, and before I forget to share it, here’s me and my clan yesterday. Everyone was home– and smiling– all at the same time! Be still, my heart….
With all 10 kids  :)


*Reflex gave me a free subscription for my second daughter in exchange for blogging about this program.