avoiding homeschool stress: lessons learned in week 2

It’s our third week of homeschool-ness and here’s what I’ve observed: Avery is a typical kid.

Every teacher knows that the first week of school is not a proper indicator of how the year will progress. A kid who is quiet and shy during that first week may end up being your biggest challenge later. Conversely, a child who misbehaves the first week may end up being your brightest student. Maybe the kids are on some euphoric high from the the smell of new crayons and glue sticks, but that first week is always the same: students are wide-eyed, excited, and eager participants in the learning process.

Then Week 2 rolls around. Week 2 is when reality sets in. Things aren’t so new and exciting anymore and the kids realize that they are going to have to stretch their brains, listen, and focus. After a long summer break spent sleeping late, watching t.v., playing, and generally not thinking – Week 2 is no fun. For anyone.

Avery is a typical kid.

Week 2 was hard. Week 2 consisted of a lot of whining, complaining, and general fussiness. If I weren’t the most amazing mom on the planet, I would have almost lost my “Jesus” a couple of times. I might have led a firm “discussion” in which I threatened to march her right over to our neighborhood school and drop her off. There might have been tears…if I weren’t the most amazing mom on the planet.

Just call me Task Master Tillman.

Anyway – we survived the dreaded Week 2, and have found our groove. It’s a groove that involves a behavior chart and a bit of bribery, but it works. For now.

Workbooks and textbooks are unavoidable in the educational realm, but since Avery seems to be allergic to them I am trying to avoid them as much as possible. That calls for a little creativity. One of the things that is really cool about homeschooling is that I have the option to cater to my child’s specific learning preferences and style. While workbooks create stress for Avery, hands-on activities create excitement and interest. Excitement + interest = no whining. Score.

Avery loves to label stuff. I’m constantly finding her name written on walls, doors, and even this ancient relic that we inherited when we bought our home:



This week, in honor of Avery’s love of labeling and dislike for workbooks, I had her write her spelling and sight words on construction paper and post them in the playroom. I let her put them wherever she wants them to go, the only rule is that she must write them herself and read them as she places them on the wall.

writing words

wall words

Tomorrow, we will play a game where I’ll call out the word and she has to run to touch it as quickly as she can.

Here’s a little Art project we did to go along with our Charlotte’s Web book study:

charlotte's web art

Don’t you just love Googly eyes?  I don’t know what it is, but I’m kind of obsessed with them. They make me smile. Charlie joined in on our project and cut out the spider by himself. I thought he did a pretty good job! It always surprises me to find out what interests him. He loves listening to chapter books and doing art…when he’s not playing ninja and terrorizing our dog.

One of our lessons called for teaching about apostrophes, so I decided to incorporate some possessives from Charlotte’s Web. I wrote the names of characters from the book on a strip of paper, and an item that is associated with that character on another strip. Avery had to match the character to the appropriate item and then write an apostrophe + s between the word strips.


finished apostrophes

Avery isn’t too crazy about the Early Reader that she has to read as part of her curriculum. So last week, (after a particularly stressful reading lesson) we went to the Library and picked out Early Readers that are just right for her. Since she chose them, she was actually excited about reading them. She even read them “teacher style” to David, Charlie, and me after dinner.

read aloud

read aloud 2

Dear goodness. Homeschooling definitely has it’s up’s and down’s…and it’s amazing that you can experience all of those high’s and low’s in just one day. Here’s to avoiding Week 2 for at least another year.

Planning for our Disney World Vacation – part 1

In approximately 10 days, we are heading to “The Happiest Place on Earth”. I’ll be honest, I think David and I may be more excited about it than our kids. This year will mark our third trip to Disney in the last 3 years. If you are adding up dollar signs in your head, I’ll just clarify that we are not Trust Fund kids or independently wealthy. Unfortunately. The reason that we are able to go is because David goes to The Experience Conference for work. And it just happens to take place in Disney World.

The conference itself is only 3 years old. Last year Christy Nockels was there to speak and sing at the conference. I have a serious mommy crush on her. She is so stinkin’ cute and cool. Her hair is awesome. Her voice is awesome… Seriously. She’s awesome.

David told me that she won’t be there this year, so my dream of running into her in the lobby of the hotel, becoming her BFF, and riding the Teacups with her will have to be put on hold. This year’s line-up includes: Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Paul Baloche, Jason Ingram, Phil Whickam, and a bunch of other guys who don’t write songs in their mini-vans while driving their kids to soccer, or have awesome hair, or sing like I will when I am in Heaven…

Anyway – David really enjoys the conference, and we get to tack our family vacation time to the end and beginning of his conference days. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

When you book the conference, you are given the opportunity to choose to either receive a special rate on a room at the resort where the conference is hosted, or get whatever special deal Disney is doing during your stay. You can’t have both… So – the first year we went, we stayed off-site, rented a car, and paid for our meals independently. When all was said and done, we discovered that we actually could have saved money by staying at a Disney Resort and riding the Disney Shuttle. So – the next year, we opted to stay at a moderately priced resort (Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, French Quarter) and got the free meal plan. We really liked Port Orleans and discovered that the Disney transportation wasn’t difficult to maneuver once you got the hang of it. We ate WAY too much with the free meal plan, but we were able to try all of the foods that we wanted to try without thinking about the cost. This year, we chose to take the special conference room rates for the resort and will pay for our food independently. The conference will be held at The Contemporary Resort, so we were able to get a killer discount on a room there. I’m very, very, very, excited about our choice. Even if Christy Nockels won’t be there to meet me in the lobby.

A couple of weeks ago, David got an e-mail inviting him to participate in a special test run for Disney’s new MyMagic+ program. With the MyMagic+ experience, you are given special wristbands called MagicBands. The bands are water-proof (it remains to be seen if they will be “Charlie Proof”) and have some kind of tiny computer chip built inside of them. During your stay, the MagicBand acts as your park ticket, allows you to make food and merchandise purchases without a credit card, and is a room key to your resort. At www.mydisneyexperience.com, you can select fast passes for rides and make dinner reservations for every day/night of your stay. Your MagicBand syncs with your online schedule and everything is in one place. No more wallet. No more room keys. No more crumpled up park maps.


Ummm… That’s just ridiculous cyber coolness. Is anyone else singing Conan’s “In the Year 2000” in their heads right now?

After quickly deciding to participate, we entered our names, chose the colors for our wristbands, and got a super swanky package a few days later.

magic band box

magic bands

What?!? Disney is crazy awesome. At everything.

This week, I will start washing clothes (and maybe even fold them) and try to make sure we have everything we need. Next week, I will start actually try to tackle the whole “packing thing”. Thinking about all of the things I need to do before our trip makes me wish that I had one of those MagicBands for my life. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have your keys, wallet, and schedule literally attached to you? “Mommy Brain” would definitely be an excuse of the past.

In the mean time, our count-down chain will keep us on track…sort of.

disney countdownI

creating our homeschool space


Before I had Avery, I was a first grade teacher. After she was born, I spent 5 years teaching  Junior Kindergarten in a Preschool. Since I have some experience as a teacher in a typical school setting, I thought that choosing curriculum would be fun and easy. Unfortunately (or fortunately – depending on how you look at it) there are a million online resources out there for home education. While I enjoyed researching my options, I found myself quickly falling down the curriculum rabbit hole. It was totally overwhelming… and way less fun than the Pinterest Rabbit Hole, or the Facebook Rabbit Hole, or the Candy Crush Black Hole.

Maybe it’s just me, but the very first moment that I looked at my perfect newborn baby, I had the frightening realization that there are at least 8 million ways that I could screw that kid up. I find myself constantly worried about feeding my kids the wrong things, letting them watch the wrong things, making sure they eat their vitamins, whether they are really brushing their teeth correctly… the list is seriously endless. Screwing my kid up educationally was NOT something I wanted to add to that list. People will look the other way if your kid has a cavity or two, but if you mess your kid up educationally, I think it’s safe to say that you are generally considered a truly terrible person. As a first year homeschool mom, I needed easy. I needed less choices. And I needed to be absolutely positive that I wasn’t going to mess my kid up.

Thankfully, I found a few highly rated, all-inclusive options. I realize that the word “all-inclusive” probably isn’t “academically correct”, but that’s what I’m going with. It was like having an “easy” button for homeschool. I clicked the mouse, whipped out my debit card, and all my lesson plans were written and all major subject areas were covered. Everything was included. Even math maniuplatives and science equipment. Easy peasy.

The two options that fit our needs the best were My Father’s World and Sonlight. In the end, I chose Sonlight because it seemed to be the best option for my little girl. It fit her interests and her personality best. She’s a deep thinker, loves to listen to chapter books, and thrives on structure and routine. Once I made my decision about which distributor to go with, I had to choose the curriculum path that I would take. I decided to choose Sonlight Core B curriculum because I thought it was really cool that it teaches kids all about the history, cultures, and people of the world. Global Outreach and Missions are two things that really speak to David and I and the thought of intentionally instilling a love for the people of God’s world was exciting to me. This year, we decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International. The little girl we chose to sponsor has the same birthday as Avery. Because our curriculum addresses different cultures and places, talking about our new friend in Peru will be much more natural and fun for Avery and Charlie. We can even write to her as part of our writing lessons.


In addition to Math, Reading, Spelling, and Phonics, I teach Social Studies, History, and Science every day. When I was teaching in a typical school setting, I was lucky if I had time to cover Science and Social Studies twice a week. When our big boxes of curriculum arrived, I was so excited to discover all of the beautiful chapter books that were included in the lesson plans. So much variety!  The reading nerd in me is just giddy when I look at this picture:


While I like Sonlight Core B curriculum for our basic subjects, I was kind of bummed to see that there really isn’t a lot of opportunity for creative journaling or fun art projects. Evidently, Sonlight has some supplemental curriculum that you can add for Art and other electives, but I think I can manage to find cute art projects on my own. I added a daily “Calendar Time” to our lesson plans since it’s such an easy way to incorporate math and life skills and I plan on adding daily journal writing activities in September. While it sounds like I may be adding a lot to our curriculum, none of the activities I mentioned take more than a few minutes to do when you are only teaching one child. In fact, our entire school day is finished in 3 hours or so. It’s amazing how quickly we can get through all of our subjects.

We have our “school” set up in our downstairs playroom. I know that there are lots of theories out there about how and where you should do school. Most of them seem to argue against having a “structured” area in the home for schoolwork, since it can be a little too rigid. The beauty of Homeschooling is that I get to decide how and where I want to educate my kids. I made the decision to have a more structured space for my kids this year because I think that they really need it at this point in their life. Early learners are so literal and thrive on routine and structure. Having a “school” space for my kids seems to help them transition from “hanging out/relaxed time” to “listening and learning time”. We may end up changing that one day, but it’s working really well for now.

One of our first activities in the morning is to have “Calendar Time” together. This is our playroom/classroom wall.


Our white board is actually a large piece of shower board that I bought at Lowe’s. David and I measured the wall space and the good people at Lowe’s cut the board according to the dimensions we needed. That was the easy part. The hard part was getting that gigantic board home. I’m not going to lie, we may or may not have had an incident on a major road with some flying shower board. If we hadn’t lost our first board tragically, I think we would have only spent $30 for the entire thing. Did you know that a giant white board normally costs hundreds of dollars?  It’s shocking, really. Shower board is definitely worth a trip (or two) to Lowe’s. Once we got our it home, we bolted it to our wall with regular screws and it works beautifully.

While shower board is an awesome dry-erase surface, it’s not magnetic. I had to use painter’s tape or sticky clips to attach items to our board. I also added some pocket charts from my teacher days for our sight word cards, etc.

I bought my calendar pieces, alphabet display cards, sight word cards, number line, touch point number cards, and our vocabulary cards for Charlotte’s Web from Teachers Pay Teachers for just a few dollars. Whenever possible, I prefer to purchase school items from teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers. It makes me happy that I am buying a product from a real person…especially an under-paid teacher. I’m kind of obsessed with that site.

desk picture

We bought our desks this summer at Ikea. Since I needed two desks, I needed something inexpensive and the Micke desks seemed like a good option. The only problem is that the desks and chairs are grown-up sized, so Charlie and Avery’s feet don’t rest on the floor when they sit in them. As a result, we end up doing most of our work on the floor of the playroom. I plan on making some giant floor pillows soon.

I wanted to keep the other side of our playroom a “play” space. Play is a really important part of early childhood development and should not be separated from the learning process.  For that reason, I intentionally kept our play space in the same room as our learning space. I use the backs of the kids toy storage bins as a space for my pocket charts and our map.



I have two of these giant organizational tower thingys for our school supplies. They are amazing. And yes…I’m just a little type A. Just a little.

storage bin

What is fun about homeschooling a preschooler and a first grader is that while Avery is learning, Charlie is too. This year, Charlie will be learning one letter and one number a week, but there are so many things that he is learning that I’m not “intentionally” teaching him. He may be coloring a picture while we read chapter books, he may be playing with his cars while we count aloud…but he is learning.  He is learning about Nocturnal animals, he is learning to count to 100, he is hearing how letters merge together to make words, and how words work together to create books…

playing with magnets

David has his day off on Friday since he works on Sunday. This Friday, he spent the school day with us. Avery was so excited to show off everything she had been learning that week. David read the Social Studies lesson to the kids that day. As luck would have it, the lesson was about different tribal cultures and the materials that they used to build their homes. When the subject of “poop bricks” came up, there were plenty of immature jokes and giggles. Mostly by David. The kids loved it.


The first week of school has come and gone. We are still alive. Stuff happened. Kids got educated. I didn’t go insane. It was a good week. It turns out that this Homeschool thing may not be so scary after all.


why homeschool?

If you had told me one year ago that I would be Homeschooling our little girl for her 1st grade year, I would have called you crazy. And laughed.

The reality is that Homeschooling kind of snuck up on me. I had plans for this year. Plans that didn’t have anything to do with the “H -word”. But God saw things differently.

Last year started out really well for Avery. She was enrolled in a great neighborhood school, had a precious teacher,  and made sweet little friends right away. Things were looking good for her.

revised avery

Initially, she was really excited about school…but unfortunately, that excitement was short-lived. After about a week, anxiety kicked in. As a former educator, I realized that tummy aches and tears were totally normal for her age. I had seen it all in my students many, many times. It would stop. She would adjust. Things would be fine.

When I would walk her to school in the morning, she would hold my hand right up until we finally had to say “good-bye” at the school door.  It was painful to watch her stifle her tears as she walked down the hallway to her classroom by herself.

Avery worried every single night, whined every single morning, and even cried during the day while she was at school. She tried hard to be a “big girl” because she knew that going to school was something that she had to do, but every time the topic of school came up at home, the tears would start again.

Early in the school year, Avery told me that she didn’t want me to come and eat lunch with her because she knew that she would cry when I had to leave again – and crying in front of her friends embarrassed her. Her sweet teacher would send me texts to update me on really tough days and even let Avery call me a time or two in an effort to help calm her, but nothing seemed to help. I felt so completely powerless. There was nothing I could do to make things better for her.

September came and went, but the tears remained. In December when there were still tears, I held out hope that the next semester would be better. When the tears lasted all the way through February, I started to feel concerned.

David and I prayed all year for Avery. We were stumped. She was our kid. Our responsibility. Our little blessing. Something had to be done.

For a while, we thought that the solution was to send her to a different school. We prayed about sending her to a Christian school with smaller classes. We tried to crunch numbers and make it work, but the numbers weren’t there to crunch. Sending her to a private school just wasn’t an option.

In the Spring, as I was praying about our dilemma, God gave me the answer I’d been looking for. It just wasn’t the answer I expected.

The day that we told Avery that she would be homeschooled for first grade, the tears finally stopped.  It was like a weight had been lifted off of her tiny shoulders. If I had any doubts that it was the right decision for us, they vanished when I saw her smile.

Why did we choose homeschool? For her: the sweetest little firecracker in the entire world. She needs me. She needs home.


married to the ministry

David and I have been married for 13 years, and of those 13 years, all of them have been spent in ministry of one kind or another.


We’ve been on staff at brand new churches, growing churches, and even failing ones. We’ve been a part of churches the size of a small town and churches where everyone can fit in one living room. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of ministry.

Make no mistake, I use the word “we” to describe our 13 year trek intentionally. Because in a lot of ways, that’s the way that both great marriages and ministries are made to work. In marriage, it’s natural and healthy to take interest in the other person’s interests. It’s important to be a helper. A supporter. A partner. An encourager. The “we’re in this together” thing keeps you close. It makes you stronger. I’ve found that ministry functions in very much the same way. Ministry isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are. It’s the life we live. So – as a result, I take interest in his area of ministry. I encourage him. I support him. Because of this blurry area,  a lot of churches see Ministers and their wives as a kind of a “package deal”. It’s not entirely fair, but it’s the way it works. I’ve often thought that it is interesting that no one asks a Firefighter’s wife to gather a team of volunteers to wash the trucks. Lawyer’s wives aren’t expected to help prosecute criminals.  Minister’s wives, however, are expected to be active participants in their husband’s area of ministry.

Being married to a Worship Pastor means that the first question that I usually get asked after meeting someone at church for the first time is, “Do you sing too?”. To which I almost always respond, “Oh no. NO body wants that to happen.” And then David almost always looks at me and says, “Oh Jennifer…you aren’t that bad” (which is exactly the kind of blinded-by-love lie that smart husbands are obliged to tell). And then I say, “Actually, I like to call myself ‘The Best of the Worst’. I’m not good, but I’m not the worst.” Obligatory laughter ensues. It’s good times. And after 13 years, it seems a little scripted. I’ve got to come up with some new material. I don’t sing. I don’t play the piano. I don’t set up sound equipment and stage lighting. I just don’t.

I do, however, love my husband. I support him. I listen to him. That’s what I think is the most important way that I can be an effective worship pastor’s wife. Because honestly, no one wants me to sing. For reals.