April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

Fly, Butterfly, Fly!


When the little package arrived in the mailbox that sunny afternoon in May, I was not sure what to expect inside. My two daughters were busy playing in the backyard, so I was alone when I cut open the cardboard box and found the five tiny caterpillars inside a little cup. It was just what I had ordered. The cup had a thick layer of gooey brown food on the bottom and a nice tight lid on top. This project was to be the highlight of our homeschool unit on butterflies, but I secretly feared these caterpillars were dead upon arrival. I could not detect any movement whatsoever.

Continue reading over here at The End in Mind.


A Hard Road Paved with Grace

At a crossroads. That’s where our homeschool journey began. By God’s grace, we felt peace that the public school path was not an option for our soon-to-be Kindergartner. But still two paths remained: private school and homeschool.

A Hard Road Paved with Grace - By Diana Barto

The private school option seemed like the most obvious route, especially since our oldest daughter was already attending preschool at the local private Christian school and enjoying it.

Click here to continue reading “A Hard Road Paved with Grace” over at The End in Mind.

Rain Boots and Books for Summer


Remember that rain song in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh? You know the one during which Piglet’s house floods and he gets swept away?

And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down

in rushing, rising rivulets,

Till the river crept out of its bed

and crept right into Piglet’s.

That’s our theme song this spring. Forget the sandals and shorts. Our wardrobe has shifted from winter coats and snow boots to rain jackets and rain boots.


The flowers love the showers, and my little girls sure love the puddles. Somehow rain boots make you brave in a splashy sort of way.


A big sister’s steady hand also helps encourage a daring little adventurer across the rocks. I won’t mention who got wet this time.



The last day of school is Friday, and that will wrap up our sixth year of homeschooling! I love getting to share the many adventures of daily life with these two precious girls, and we are all in a hurry to shift into a slower speed for the next few months.


Bring on summer! I am looking forward to spending more time outdoors, especially on the lake, and I am also looking forward to relaxing with some great children’s books. If all this rain keeps up, we will have plenty of time for snuggling up on the couch with our books.


Here’s what’s on our homeschool list for summer read-alouds:

  • Hitty – Her First 100 Years by Rachel Field: We already started this chapter book about a delightful wooden doll who writes about her own exciting adventures. I am surprised already by the non-stop action in this story, which was the winner of the 1929 Newbery Medal.
  • The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars: As a devoted fan of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and a huge fan of Trumpeter swans themselves, I am eager to read this compelling story that received the Newbery Medal in 1970, although I haven’t yet figured out how swans figure into this tale about a 14-year-old girl and a younger brother who is missing.
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson: Maybe you watched the movie in elementary school, too? I don’t remember if I ever read the book, but I do remember this story about a boy and his dog is a tear-jerker. I tend to confuse it with Wilson Rawl’s Where the Red Fern Grows, so I hope reading Old Yeller will help me distinguish the two. Published in 1956, Old Yeller is a Newbery Honor Book.
  • Abel’s Island by William Steig: This is another Newbery Honor Book, and it tells the story of a mouse who is swept away from his wife in a rainstorm and must learn to survive alone in the wild. Steig is also the author of Brave Irene, a fantastic picture book about a girl fighting a snowstorm.
  • The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson: This story is about an old hobo and the friendship and adventures he shares with a group of children. Published in 1958, it is also a Newbery Honor Book with delightful pictures by Garth Williams, illustrator of the Little House series and many, many other classics in children’s literature.


Of course, if the weather turns out really lovely this summer, a few of these books might get bumped to fall. Flexibility is this homeschool mom’s favorite tool.

What’s on your reading list this summer?

Winter’s Last Kiss

It’s “Poetry Day” in our homeschool, and it is snowing. Again. In April.

So here’s the poem I wrote after sipping what I hope will be my last cup of hot cocoa for a long while.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

8 Tips for a Great Kindergarten

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Homeschooling Kindergarten is so much fun. And while both my Kindergarteners seem to have run off to higher grades in a blink, many of my friends are making plans to teach 5 and 6 year olds at home next fall. So here’s my two cents on Kindergarten.

1. A little structure with curriculum was helpful for me the first year of homeschooling, mostly because I didn’t have a teaching degree and didn’t feel super-confident. But don’t feel compelled to buy/use lots of curriculum for this age group. You can do wonders with a library card and a little creativity.

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2. Read-aloud, read-aloud, read-aloud. Reading lots and lots of picture books (and a storybook Bible and maybe a few chapter books) out loud is most essential. Listening to written word read is a vital part of literacy. This is where the library card comes in handy. Check out audio books in the children’s section, too. These are great for car rides, younger sibling’s nap times, or times when Mom is busy elsewhere. This post about reading includes various lists of children’s books you might want to put on reserve at the library.

3. Emphasize reading not handwriting, and don’t complicate letter names and sounds with pictures of apples, bananas and cats. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is an excellent curriculum that avoids the unnecessary “B is for Banana” work. Instead, you point to the letter and say only the sound. A very dear friend/elementary school teacher used it with her children, and that’s how I first heard about this book. It worked really, really well with both my girls. We waited to start it when they were nearly 5. There’s a tad bit of handwriting included in those lessons as well; I consider that part very optional, especially at first and especially with boys. I’d suggest just doing the 10-15 minute reading lesson part and then take a break.

4. If you want to teach handwriting, too, do it at a separate time for 5-10 minutes and don’t rely on pencil and paper only. Hands-on learners seem to like to do letter handwriting lessons on Mom’s back or in a tray of salt or with finger paint or play-dough. Have fun with that; there’s plenty of time for pencil and paper later. Also, lacing cards and writing with chalk are other fun ways to work on strengthening fine motor skills for pencil-holding.

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5. Do teach math. For my youngest’s Kindergarten year, we used “RightStart Math Level A.” (We’ve also used RightStart curriculum with my oldest since 1st grade and love it. Check out http://www.alabacus.com for samples and more details.) What I like best is that it is Montessori-style teaching, so it comes with lots of manipulatives and fun math games and visual reinforcements like the AL Abacus. It is really light on worksheets, which I think is wise, and it de-emphasizes counting. It stresses the importance of mental math and thinking through math problems, rather than just memorizing math facts. I personally have totally re-learned how I do math with this curriculum!

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6. Go outside! Aside from reading together, almost nothing is more wonderfully memorable than time spent enjoying God’s creation with your children. Soak up the sunshine, smell the flowers and learn their names, discover what little creatures are living nearby — what they eat and where they make their homes. This is science!

7. If you do purchase a boxed curriculum like My Father’s World or Sonlight, don’t let it consume you. You are the parent and the curriculum writers are simply giving ideas. You have excellent, creative ideas, too, and you are the world’s leading expert in what your Kindergartener knows and likes and needs to learn. Don’t become a slave to any curriculum.

8. Stay flexible. Don’t feel like what you do the first year sets things in stone. As you go along, you can always change it up or combine styles or switch out what isn’t a good fit for your child’s learning style or your teaching style. Flexibility is one of the huge benefits of homeschooling.

Hitting the Books

It’s been a long, hot summer but now we are hitting the school books again! During our break, we read aloud one of my favorite chapter books: Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. By the way, Rawls is also the author of the tear-jerker Where the Red Fern Grows. Anyway, Summer of the Monkeys partly inspired the sock monkey theme we have going in the school room this fall.

Our bubbly first-grader named her newest monkey Gris.

And our dilligent fourth-grader named her newest monkey Marron.

The sock monkeys and books aren’t all that’s new to the classroom this year. The biggest addition is a couple of used school desks (with storage under the lid!) that I bought from a nearby Christian school that had closed. The girls are quite enamored with these desks, and I love that they are exceptionally durable and adjustable in height.

So that’s a quick update of what’s shaping up around here. I might be back in a few days to discuss some of the books and various curriculum we are using this year. But for now, please excuse me. I have some reading assignments waiting!

Hymns for the Next Generation

In our home library we have a lovely set of books that we use off and on for teaching hymns during our family devotions. The “Hymns for a Kid’s Heart” series by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada is truly a treasure.

Each book comes with a full-length music CD, which is produced quite well and features very pleasant children’s voices. For each hymn they include about five to six pages. Two pages focus on the hymn story, usually about the life of the hymn’s author. There’s also a one-page devotion, one sheet of music, words of all the verses, a corresponding scripture, and a prayer. In the back of each book is a glossary of words that may be unfamiliar for children, like “bulwark” and “wretch.” The books also include beautiful illustrations in color.

This four-volume series would be excellent to incorporate into your homeschool curriculum or as a regular part of your church’s Sunday School program. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all children could belt out a few classic hymns?

With Easter just a few weeks away, Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart would be a fantastic book to start your own collection of this series. It features stories to help kids understand more about God’s character and the meaning of the Cross.

Happy reading and singing!

Homeschool Moms, Let’s Do Lunch!

As a kid, I always, always, always toted a lunch box to school. My first one was metal with a blue plastic handle and had illustrations of Holly Hobby on it. Inside I usually had a slightly smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a thermos of chocolate milk. The best part of lunch was sometimes finding a love note from my mom, written on the napkin. I missed my mom, even while I was busy at school, and so those notes were a comforting reminder of her love.

When I started out as a homeschool mom a few years ago, I was happy to have my oldest daughter home at lunch time and thankful we did not need to pack lunches for her. The thought of packing lunches seemed silly and unnecessary for a homeschool family.

Somewhere along the course of the last three years, though, lunch time morphed into something less than pleasant. With all the morning chores and school work to do, lunch always sneaked up without a plan. At noon, instead of feeling the relief and satisfaction of having most of our school work done, I stressed out over what to feed my now starving students who were too short to safely reach things in the kitchen.

A while back I decided we needed to try out bento boxes, like the school kids use in Japan. In the process of shopping for those, I stumbled upon Goodbyn lunch boxes.

These aren’t insulated, so they might not work for a typical school kid who stashes lunch in a warm locker for several hours. But with five deep compartments under one lid, plus a beverage container, these lunch boxes fit well in the refrigerator and work superbly for our homeschool family. Packing them at dinner or breakfast time keeps me proactive about the lunch meal. So if my 3rd grader and I are still finishing up a math problem at 12:04, my hungry Kindergartener marches up to the kitchen and happily starts eating on her own. Finally, lunch time feels like a real break for me! Yay!

By the way, the Goodbyn lunch boxes come in a few sizes and colors. The ones I purchased have “ears” and came with dozens of dishwasher-safe stickers for customizing. Each costs about $25, is made in the U.S.A., and is BPA-free. The plastic cleans easily and dries very quickly; I usually make my kids handwash theirs. The biggest compartment is large enough and deep enough to fit a whole banana or apple. Another compartment fits a cup of pudding nicely. So far, nothing has jumbled up with food from another compartment. This box is really fun to pack and I enjoy seeing what fits in each compartment; maybe I’m just weird. But you’ll be happy to eliminate the need for plastic baggies, I bet. Oh, and just in case your child does need to carry his lunch somewhere, the Goodbyn does have handles.

My children insist on having a napkin packed, too, and sometimes I even include a mint with it. My youngest reports that mints make the napkin smell better.

So, without further discussion, let’s do lunch!

PLEASE NOTE: I am not being compensated in any way by the company that makes the Goodbyn lunch box. But if they’d like to pay me for this honest review, I’d {probably} gladly take their money. 🙂

Let the Listening, Adding and Learning Begin

This morning we kicked off another year of learning at Starlight School. Aren’t my students cute? We all appreciate the new lunch boxes; in fact, I think I need my very own new lunch box, too.

These from Goodbyn come with dozens and dozens of dishwasher-safe stickers so you can customize and decorate them yourself. What’s more, they stack quite nicely in the refrigerator. One noticeable drawback is their lack of insulation. But here in the frozen tundra, keeping lunch cool usually is not too much of a problem. If you live in a warmer climate, keep this in mind before ordering one yourself.

I was so jazzed about using these that — for the first time ever — I packed the girls’ lunches the night before. How revolutionary!

This completely helps me fight grumpiness around mid-day; my own grumpiness, that is. Some days when we are still deep in the books and the clock ticks ever closer to noon, I really wish I could just send them to the cafeteria for a while! I can’t; but having lunches all ready to go seems like the next best thing for easing my mid-day stress. Of course, this is just Day 1, so maybe I will follow up in a few weeks and let you know if this is still such a grand idea for homeschool moms.

The school room itself finally came together last week. Tah-dah!

Notice the geography theme? And the owls? I am so excited about the owls. We have an owl theme going this year to help us remember some of our key verses. This week’s verse is from Proverbs 1:5 — “Let the wise listen and add to their learning…”

The school room is truly a blessing, and I am very thankful to have the space to keep school books and projects organized. But since the room is in our basement and lacks windows, most days we can only bear to stay down there a few hours before we must come upstairs for air and sunshine and food (for the latter, see lunchbox discussion above).

We had plenty of sunshine and fresh air today. The weather is downright perfect this week! Right after lunch we headed to our favorite park for recess and a few “not” back-to-school photos. The playground equipment at this particular park is scheduled for a major upgrade in a few weeks, and I am feeling a tad bit nostalgic about saying goodbye to the swings, merry-go-round and slides that both my kids have thoroughly adored since before they could walk. Sniff.

Plus, doesn’t the weathered equipment make a nice background for school pictures?

Another favorite feature of the park, besides its massive trees, is the gazebo.

Lots of brides have their pictures taken here, and for a good reason. It offers nice lighting in the afternoon and an array of leading lines to add interest to your photos.

So that’s a quick wrap of our first day of school. Now I gotta run and pack tomorrow’s lunches.