You Can’t Keep Sin Out

I’m not a current events blogger.  You will rarely see me address current events because I do not believe they should affect how we homeschool, manage our homes, or live our lives as followers of Christ.  No matter what is going on in the world, God’s Word remains true, so the way I see it, this blog doesn’t need to address the latest scandal.

However, on occasion, events take place which deserve attention here on Raising Arrows because they DO affect those of us who have chosen to stay at home and homeschool our children (the main focus of my blog).

This past week, such an event came to light, and while I do not care to rehash the details or give credence to anyone’s “side” of the story or personal opinion on the matter, I do feel THIS POST from The Gospel Coalition speaks to something we MUST heed as Christian homeschooling families – the fact that we CANNOT keep sin out.

You Can't Keep Sin Out |

From the article:

We begin to believe that sin and rebellion is a problem outside of our home, not inside.

We start thinking our kids are basically good and in need of moral direction, rather than recognizing that our kids are basically bad and in need of heart transformation.

We communicate to our kids that it’s ”us” (good) versus “them” (bad) rather than helping them see our family’s role as one of service (“us” for “them”).

I must admit, there was a point early on in my homeschooling career when the children were all little and I was convinced if I did XYZ, I would get perfect children.  I totally missed the fact that sin is within.  Put a child on a remote island, and they will still find a way to sin.  Put ME on a remote island, and I will still find a way to sin!

It runs deep…in everyone.  So, yes, there are bad influences, and yes, we are still supposed to parent in a way that promotes righteous living before the Lord, but not a chance are you going to avoid that sin nature.  We MUST stop believing we can follow a formula or method and reap perfection.  

Please note, I am not saying methods are bad, but rather the unrealistic savior-esque expectations we place on those methods.  Kelly at Generation Cedar speaks to this topic beautifully in her post, Are the Duggars to Blame?

If you, for example, homeschool because you think that is the key to raising godly children, you will be wildly disappointed. If you homeschool because you think you and your children are good and everyone else is bad, you are grossly deceived. But if you homeschool because you believe God has called you to disciple your children and you believe you need lots of time to do that, and because you want to help them avoid a peer culture that hinders them from walking with the wise (as Scripture encourages), if you entrust the souls of your children to the only One who can save them while doing your part to shepherd their hearts to love Him, then your motives are pure and right.

My dear homeschool mamas (and daddies), teach your children what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Teach them that sin exists and they WILL have to learn to fight it…and IT may not always be outside of themselves.  Teach them to stand strong.  Teach them to persevere.  And teach them to be humble…please, please, please teach them to be humble.

…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b

Oh, how we all need that grace…

Transcript & Portfolio Help

Now that we are moving into the high school years with some of our homeschooled children, I am getting more questions from readers about how we handle grading, testing, transcripts and portfolios.  And I feel totally unequipped to answer those questions…

First of all, I live in a state that does not require any of these things (a GREEN state by HSLDA standards).  Secondly, several years ago, I purchased The Total Transcript Solution from Lee Binz of, so I knew if I ever needed help, SHE was there to answer my questions.

Transcript & Portfolio Help |


I was so impressed with the content of her site and products, I hosted a webinar with her (you can still view the webinar via this link!)…

Total Transcript Solution hosted by

and included her information in my ebook, Large Family Homeschooling.

Large Family Homeschooling - releases April 1!


So, if you are looking for transcript and portfolio help as you move into the high school years, please visit The HomeScholar.  She can answer your questions much better than I can!


Art Supplies and Ideas for Small Spaces and Large Families

Children are natural artists. They will sketch and color on just about anything if left to their own devices. They don’t typically need encouragement to be artists (unless somewhere along the line they got the notion in their heads that they were NOT good at drawing – this is usually from an outside influence, and will take a lot of coaxing to correct – BUT, that is a totally different post 😉 ).

Obviously, we need to set boundaries for a child’s artistry (so they don’t draw on the walls!), but we most definitely should allow for creativity in our school day.  Having art supplies at the ready is a must for any homeschool!

I have a unique situation in that I have a lot of kiddos of varying ages needing art supplies and a small space in which to store them – the art supplies, that is. 😉  Here are some of my favorite art supplies and ideas for small spaces and large families.

How to manage art with varying ages and abilities |

This post is sponsored by:Large Family Art Ideas |

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+ 10% off all other SEE THE LIGHT products on the same order

Large Family Art Supplies

Keeping art supplies on hand for the large family can be a full time job!  I just discovered yesterday, my stock of glue sticks was frighteningly low, and I JUST bought a stash of them from our local store!

Years ago, I found a wonderful place to buy massive quantities of high quality supplies.  In fact, I only had one child in school when I discovered Discount School Supply.  When my son was 5, I placed a big order, and some of those supplies JUST ran out last year!  That’s 12 years of stock!  And I can honestly say the products were just as good 12 years later as they were when I first purchased them.  (just typing all that brings me back to those early years of homeschooling…*sniff*…time goes so quickly)

So, let me give you a few suggestions from the Discount School Supply website that are large family friendly – you can click the pictures to see more information about them.

Large Family Art Supplies |

Large Family Art Supplies |

Large Family Art Supplies |

Large Family Art Supplies |

Pretty much anything you need art-wise can be purchased there for a great price!

Storage and Organization of Art Supplies

In our home, art supplies are kept in a few different areas.  My recommendation for separating out art supplies would be based on RULES OF USAGE.  In our house, there are 3 different Rules of Usage –
1.  Anyone can use any time.
2.  Only some can use any time.
3.  Supervised use only.

Anyone can use any time – Under our bookshelves, we have supplies I am okay with the children using on a daily basis without needing to ask.

Large Family Art Supplies | I love using the plastic containers you find at the store for around a $1 to fill with supplies.  I have a larger open one for pencils, erasers, and sharpeners (to allow for easy access), and several smaller closed ones for crayons, colored pencils, and markers (to allow for ease of transport).

I used to keep individual boxes for each child when I only had 4 children using supplies.  I bought each child their “color” and wrote each of their names on the lid.  However, now that there are 7 children using supplies, I haven’t found this method to be the best choice.  Instead, I have 4 crayon boxes, 1 colored pencil box, and 1 marker box that are able to be used communally.  The markers (even though they are shown in this photo) are not allowed in this area.  My daughter accidentally put them there when she was cleaning up.

Notebooks make up the main paper supply for this area because they are tidy.  The children are allowed to use loose paper from time to time, but that falls into the next category…

Only some can use any time – The markers, loose paper, scissors, glue, and the more expensive art supplies belong in this group.  I have these items on top of the bookshelf in the dining room in totes.  My oldest daughter also has her own stash of expensive pencils, colored pencils, and charcoals in a locked box in her room.  These were either gifts or purchases she made on her own, so they are “hers” and do not belong to the community at large.

Supervised use only – The supervision-only items are on the top shelf of my closet in a bag I can easily pull down.  These items include seasonal art supplies (like those needed for Truth in the Tinsel) and the blacklight I use for the See the Light chalk art projects we do during the holidays.  I keep pipe cleaners and coffee filters, beads, and glitter in this bag, along with anything else that I would not want to be used without my permission.  I also keep paints and the bulk items I mentioned above on this shelf.

How to Incorporate Art into Your Homeschool

I believe art belongs in nearly every aspect of your homeschool  From your nature studies to history to math and beyond, I believe sketching and adding color to your work is a great way to truly enjoy studying as long as your child doesn’t get wrapped up in the artistic side to the detriment of their studies.  Don’t be afraid to let your child doodle while you teach or color their workbook after their lessons are finished.  I always allow notebooks and pencils during Tapestry of Grace time, and I do not get wrapped around the axle over doodles in their math books.

I also think it is important to teach some formal art to give your child the tools to create something beautiful with a certain amount of mastery.  I recommend using an art program that incorporates many ages and stages and does not require a ton of extra supplies.  We use Art Class from See the Light Art.  You can read my full review HERE.  It spans the ages well with short lessons, solid instructions, and doable art projects that are beautiful!

Large Family Art |

Right now, you can get Art Class (and anything you else you order at the same time) 10% off + FREE SHIPPING in the U.S.  Coupon Code: VIRTUAL

Large Family Art Ideas |

Saving Art Projects

Every parent I know wonders how they are going to keep all the lovely art their child creates.  Nearly every day, one of my children creates something that is super cool and something I would love to keep, but with a large family, these amazing works of art quickly become clutter.  That’s why I LOVE the Keepy App.  I can have as many children on the app as I want and all I have to do is snap a photo, add a few words about the project, and I am free to throw away the original.  Yes, I do keep some REALLY phenomenal works of art, but those are few and far between and go into a file in the filing cabinet.

Unique Ways to Acquire Art Supplies

The last thing I want to address is how you can gather art supplies.  The only word of caution I have here is that in the acquiring of supplies, be sure they don’t become clutter and chaos.

Make art supplies a gift – My 4 year old got a big stash of art supplies for his birthday.  Most of these became community supplies because at his age, sharing is fun, but you can allow each child a small tote that is just their own.  Ask for art supplies as gifts or give them yourself – they are consumable and always welcome!

Recycle – Boxes, packing paper, jars, yarn, ribbon, sticks, and so much more can easily become art mediums.  The rule in our house is that you get to play with recycled items for a one day and then they must go to the trash (unless the thing created is well-constructed and will last a long time without becoming a big mess – example: the dollhouse my daughter made from a cardboard box).

Garage Sales – One of the best garage sale finds I made when my two oldest kids were little was a huge bag of notepads!  You will often find these types of things grouped together and selling for little to nothing.  You might also find some more specialized supplies, but be certain you NEED them before you buy, and be certain the quality is worth the cost.  Low quality crayons and other supplies just aren’t worth it no matter how cheap.

Deconstructed Items – Search the term “UPCYCLE ART SUPPLIES” on Pinterest and you will find a treasure trove of ideas!  Take a gander at the ideas there and start to see ordinary items in a new light.

No matter how you do art in your home, let it be free-flowing and fun!  This isn’t a time to be strict and structured, and criticism needs to take a hike.  In fact, I would even encourage mama to sit down and create alongside her children.  Color, cut and paste, and enjoy the time with your children!  You want art to be something your child has fond memories of!

Everyday Board for Circle Time (or for Mom’s sanity!)

I never thought I needed an Everyday Board – you know, the kind of tool preschools across the country use during Circle Time to teach students weather, time, and calendar skills.

Using an Everyday Board to teach preschoolers |

I don’t run a preschool (even though I do get accused of that occasionally 😉 ), so I didn’t figure I needed something like this, but then I noticed a strange (and rather irritating) pattern taking place in my home day after day…

4 year old:  “What day is it today?”

Me:  “Wednesday.”

4 year old:  “What do we do today?”

Me:  “School and watch a movie.”

a few minutes later…

6 year old:  “What day is it today?”

Me:  “Wednesday.”

6 year old:  “What do we do today?”

Me:  “School and watch a movie.”

a few hours later…

6 year old:  “What day is it today?”

Me:  “Wednesday.”

6 year old:  “What do we do today?”

Me:  “School and watch a movie.”

a few minutes later…

4 year old:  “What day is it today?”

Me:  “Wednesday.”

4 year old:  “What do we do today?”


Sometimes all you need is a walk to get back to the place you need to be |

Now, don’t get me wrong, these little guys are super cute and I love answering their questions, but I do NOT want to answer the same question over and over if I can help it!

I was brainstorming ways to stop the madness, when I realized those preschools with their Everyday Boards were on to something!

Using an Everyday Board in your homeschool helps your little ones know what to expect that day! |

Children like routine.  They naturally look for it.  So, when my boys were repeatedly asking what day it was and what we did on that day, they were looking for the structure and routine of the day.  They wanted to know what they had to look forward to that day (school and watching movies), and what else their day might hold.  The fact that they were asking repeatedly every day wasn’t defiance, but rather forgetfulness.  That’s why I decided an Everyday Board would be the answer!

Using an Everyday Board to teach preschoolers |

Each day, my 10 year old daughter takes down the Everyday Board and goes over every section on the board with the little boys.  She tells them the month, day, time, and weather…and yes, she tells them WHAT WE DO ON THIS DAY!

Using an Everyday Board for Preschool Circle Time (and mom's sanity!) |

I got my board from SimplyFun.  I didn’t want to have to make one myself, so it was worth it to have one already made for me.  The Tibbar’s Everyday Big Board has a row of numbers at the top to show what day of the month it is.  A column on one side with months and one on the other side with days of the week.  At the bottom of the board is a circle for seasons, and a circle for weather.  In the middle is a big clock (not a working clock) that my daughter shows them how to “set”.  There are lots of extra pegs in case you lose one…or five.  It really was exactly what I needed!

And guess what?!  They don’t ask me what day it is and what do we do on this day any more!  They have the board to look at ALL DAY LONG!  Even the non-readers know by where the peg is placed, what day it is!  And best of all, they are learning without even realizing they are learning!

Everyday Board for Preschool Learning! |

As I said before, children like routine.  This routine is something that is just for the little boys.  It’s not something I have to work super hard at to make happen, but it offers structure to their day and a few less questions to mine. 😉

Would you like to WIN your own Everyday Board?!  SimplyFun has been gracious enough to allow me to give away one of these boards to one reader!  Enter to win below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Parent-Student Conferences – Starting the New Homeschool Year Together

It’s a very busy season here in the Roberts household.  One of the things we are busy doing is prepping for the new homeschool year.  Even though we homeschool year round, I still spend a lot of time in late summer going over what we will be working on in the upcoming year.  As I’m researching, putting together orders, and working on schedules, I always take the time to have a Parent-Student Conference with each of my school-age children.  This is one of the best things I’ve ever done to help our homeschool year start off on the right foot, so I wanted to share this idea with you!

Start your school year with a heart-to-heart talk with your kids!  This will be one of the best things you do this year! |

Before you begin, you will need to do a little homework.  You will need to know what subjects you plan on doing and have those plans written down in some form that makes sense, so you can easily convey your plans to your child.  I typically start with a brain dump of all the ideas I have for each child (or group of children), and then I start sorting from there.  Eventually, I end up with a list with each child’s name on it and subjects/ideas that are individualized to that child.  This isn’t an extensive list, but rather a “highlights” list that looks something like this:

Child’s Name –
Subjects (highlight of materials to be used for each subject)
Ideas (plans for special events, feasts, trips)

Next, decide on a time and place for your Parent-Student Conference.  You can be as low-key as simply having them come to a quiet room or the back porch, or as elaborate as taking them out for a meal while you have your conference.  We usually make coffee or tea and go to the parlor where we can shut the French doors and discuss without many interruptions.

Parent-Student Conferences - Start your Homeschool Year off Right! |

When you discuss the upcoming school year with your child, be sure to present the subjects and plans in a non-stressful way.  Don’t plow through them as if you are stacking bricks on your child.  Give the highlights and take it slow.  You know your children well enough to know which onces can handle a pile of information and which ones need you to give an overview without getting too elaborate in your plans.  (My 17 year old loves all the nitty-gritty details.  My 14 year old gets bogged down by too much information.)  This is one big reason you do not want to do Parent-Student Conferences corporately!  It will be information overload for some.  Plus, you want this time to be special!

As you go through your list, explain certain subjects – what they are and why they are important.  For your older students, explain what requirement they fulfill and why these requirements are important.  You need your child’s “buy-in” for the upcoming school year, and to get this, they need to understand where these things fit into the grand scheme of school.

As you present your plans, keep your eyes and ears open!  Listen to your child’s input.  How are they feeling about certain subjects?  What are their worries?  Do you detect excitement or dread?  What can you do to help them in the upcoming year?  Not only are you presenting the material to be covered next year, you are also collecting valuable data on your child.  As you gauge your child’s response to each subject and idea, you can consider what (if any) tweaks might need to be made, and you can start thinking through what you can do to help them navigate the difficult subjects while also playing to their strengths.  This is also a really good time to soothe any fears your child might have about their academic performance.  Do your best to avoid criticizing.

Also, do not be afraid to ask for your child’s input.  This can be a scary prospect for the homeschool mom who has poured herself into the upcoming school year plans, but please don’t neglect doing this.  Bringing your child to a place where he or she owns the responsibility of his or her school work, starts with a parent willing to listen to their child’s ideas.  A child who feels a part of decisions is more likely to WANT to work diligently and responsibly.  Not every subject needs to be to the child’s liking, but if you are willing to listen and compromise on some things, you will find your child much more engaged with all of their school work.

I’d also encourage you to host these Parent-Student conferences regularly throughout the school year.  I do them about 4 times a year.  It helps all of us to touch base with where we are and where we are going.  It is super important now that I have 2 students in high school that we keep on top of their work and figure out how to box our non-traditional methods of study into boxes that neatly fit state requirements.  It also helps me to evaluate anything new we are doing and decide what things are working and should be taken advantage of and what things are not working and need to be discarded.

In many ways, these Parent-Student Conferences are like the big, deep breath you take before you jump into the swimming pool.  They are cleansing, they are timely, and they are life-sustaining.  So, as you jump into your new homeschool year, take that deep Parent-Student Conference breath and jump in together!

Is It OK to Put Two Children in the Same “Grade” in Homeschooling?

For the second time in our homeschooling career (13 years), we are faced with the prospect of putting 2 children who are close in age in the same grade level in certain subjects.

boys sitting

The “little boys” of our family are now 2, 4, & 6.  The 4 year old will soon be 5, and is ready to start a more formal education.  The 6 year old is beginning to read, but has trouble retaining anything mathematical.  He just finished all his Rod & Staff books, and the 4 year old will be finished with his in a few weeks.  So, as you can see, the two boys are neck and neck, and a decision about the upcoming school year needs to be made as soon as possible.

The reason I titled this post “Is it OK…” is because I hear from a lot of parents who are worried that putting their children in the same grade level will come back to bite them in the way of creating a competition that hinders rather than helps the children.  So, I thought it might be helpful to explain how we manage this situation.

Some Subjects Shouldn’t Be Combined

I want to start by saying there are certain subjects that don’t work well with two children in the same level at the same time.  Here are the ones I would never choose to put two children in at the same time:

1.  Reading/Phonics – I am a firm believer that teaching a child to read is a very personal thing.  It requires a lot of patience and a lot of one-on-one.  It should be a no-pressure environment.  Putting two children in the same reading level automatically creates pressure.  You will more than likely end up with one child reading very well and one child afraid to try.  You will also find that one child will answer all the questions and say all the sounds before the other child, leaving the second child with a very inadequate knowledge of letter sounds and reading mechanics.  I purposely only teach one child to read at a time.  (Here is a review of the program we use.)

2.  Speech Therapy – Even if you have 2 children needing speech therapy, it is likely their difficulties lie in two different aspects of speech pathology.  You will not be saving time and energy trying to correct both speech issues at the same time, and you WILL frustrate both of the children, and quite possibly make them feel completely inept which tends to be counter-productive, leading them to not even try to form the sounds correctly.  I tried putting two children in the same at-home speech therapy program.  It was a horrible experience.  Learn from my mistake.

3.  Anything that is considered “remedial” or “treatment” related – What I mean by this can be seen in my comments about Speech Therapy.  If you have a child who needs help in a subject, putting another child who is likely to surpass them or “do better” in some aspect of the program not a good idea.  Respect the individuality of your children and let them learn at their own pace.

Some Subjects Work Very Well for Learning Together

There are some subjects that naturally work well for combining varying ages.  This is not an exhaustive list, but a couple that I see as very easy to combine.

1.  History – As I mentioned in my post about Tapestry of Grace, we are easily able to span the ages, and simply present the material at their level.  History does not need to be separated into grade levels and does not need to be taught chronologically until upper grades.

2.  Lower-level Science – Science can easily be taught together in the lower grades.  There is no need for tests at this age, and you can enjoy nature studies, experiments, and readings from science together without anyone feeling they are “behind.”Is it OK to put 2 children in the same grade level? |

How to Teach 2 Children at the Same Level

Avoid using the term “Grade Level” – Government schools put children in grades as a way to make the masses more manageable.  You do not need to do this at home (except maybe on paper when reporting to the state or some other such entity).

Government school grade levels contain a lot of “crossover” in what they teach, especially in the younger grades.  Typically, the first 30 some lessons in any workbook-type subject (i.e. math, handwriting, grammar) will be a “refresher” of the previous year’s lessons.  There will also be repetition throughout the school year because the more you review a subject, the better you get to know it.  So, something learned in 2nd grade will be reiterated in 3rd grade, and so on.  Grade levels aren’t magical things that will wreck you if not done properly.  Be wise about it and you’ll be fine.

I know many homeschool books still use grade levels to separate each workbook (although quite a few have caught on to the fact that this isn’t necessary), but that doesn’t mean you have to call attention to the grade levels.  In fact, feel free to be candid with your children about why schools use grade levels and why your school does not need them.

Teach to the Individual – If within the class there are questions to be answered, workbooks to be written in, and tests to be taken, be sure to give equal amounts of time and energy to each child.  When I taught Grammar together a few years ago, I gave one child all the even questions and the other all the odd questions.  I separated them to different areas when they took tests, and I did not grade their work (or return their work) in front of each other.  I wanted each child to master the subject without relying on their sibling to do the work for them.

Make it a “Matter of Fact” – We spend entirely too much time analyzing the psychological consequences of everything (remember my post on sibling rivalry?)  We say things out loud that end up hurting rather than helping.  If we address putting 2 children in the same grade level, it doesn’t need to be a big to-do.  Just make it matter of fact.  This year, Johnny and Jimmy are going to be doing Math together!

Make it fun! – Your attitude is going to be 9/10 of how your children see this combining of grades.  Theoretically, you are gaining time and energy by putting the kids together – show that enthusiasm and use it to share a snack, a special time together, or plan a themed party!

Give everyone their own materials – If at all possible, make sure each child has his or her own materials for the class so you don’t have to worry about sharing.  In the case of a shared text with corresponding workbooks, just make sure they have their own workbook and enough manipulatives or accessories to not have to wait on the other child to get their work done.

Do individualized subjects first, then do combined – Combined subjects often take longer than the individual ones.  Because of this, it will probably be better if you let them do their single subjects, and then move to the combined ones.  This isn’t a rule, but it is what we’ve found to work best.

 Be flexible – Your children are not cookie-cutters, and not everything works out perfectly.  You may find combining your children simply does not work.  Give it a couple of week, or even a month, but if you find it is a disaster, rethink the plan.  You may need to hold off teaching one of the children until the next year, or teach the same subject to each of the children at a different time of day, or even change curriculum to make it work better.  Don’t make homeschooling a bunch of “have-to” rules – everyone will be miserable.  Enjoy the journey and enjoy your children!

Have you combined children into one grade level?  Tell us about it!