July 30, 2014

Articles: the Grammar Series

To begin this series, I thought we'd tackle one of the lesser-known rules of grammar that not very many people pay much attention to but is, in my opinion, pretty important.


Articles are those tiny words in a sentence that help to determine how many of a thing are being talked about.  We have three articles in the English language - 'the', 'a', and 'an'.  

The article 'the' is called definite, meaning, it refers to something specific.  The book.  The car.  The movie.  When you use 'the', it's clear exactly which thing you're talking about.  It refers to something you can point at or touch.

The articles 'a' and 'an' are called indefinite, meaning, they refer to something general.  A bug.  A song.  An elephant.  An uncle.  When you use 'a' or 'an', you can't point to or touch the thing you're referencing, because it could be any number of things in a group.

If I have a bunch of grapes, I can offer one to you.  I would not ask, "Would you like the grape?", unless I had picked one single grape out of the bunch and were handing just that one grape to you.  That would be silly, though.  Instead, I would ask, "Would you like a grape?"  In that case, I'm holding out the bunch of grapes toward you, and you are free to choose whichever grape from the bunch you would like.

How do we know when to use 'a' and when to use 'an'?  Can we just choose whichever we like, willy-nilly?  No, there are rules that determine when to use which article.  

The simplest way I can think to remember these rules is to remember your vowels and consonants.  Vowels being 'a, e, i, o, u' and consonants being the rest of the letters of the alphabet.

The article 'a' is always used when the word that follows it begins with a consonant.  A dog.  A fig.  A yam.

The article 'an' is always used when the word that follows it begins with a vowel.  An oval.  An egg.  An umbrella.

As with most rules, though, there is one exception.  Even though the letter 'h' is a consonant, the article 'an' is often used when the word that follows it begins with 'h'.  An honest man.  An hourglass.  An historical fiction.

What about words like habit, or happy, or hospital, or harpoon.  It sounds clumsy to say 'an habit' or 'an happy'.  

The secret lies in the syllables.  If a word beginning with 'h' is said with the emphasis on any syllable other than the first, you will always use the article 'an'.  An hotel.  An humongous mountain.  An habitual coffee break.  If, however, the emphasis is on the first syllable, you'll use the article 'a'.  A happy man.  A hardened criminal.  A hankering for cheese.

Honestly, though, the 'h' rule is becoming outdated.  Following the 'h' rule often leaves your speech and writing sounding clunky and odd.  It's acceptable to use your own judgment here.  If you feel silly saying, "Let's go find an Halloween costume store," then, by all means, use the article 'a', instead.

If you found this post useful, or if you have any questions about it, please do leave me a comment.  I'll be posting several more in the Grammar Series, and if I've helped just one person, then it will have been worth it.

Previous Post:  The English Language: does it matter?

July 29, 2014

The English Language: does it matter?

I received a request from a few women in the Hip Homeschool Moms community on Facebook to begin a post filled with spelling and grammar tips, tricks, and rules.  Knowing this is a weakness for them, they desire to learn in order to better teach their own children.  What follows, then, is an introduction to a series of posts I'll be making in which I offer just that - tips, tricks, and rules for spelling and grammar.  I hope you find it helpful, and, if you have any to add, or if you feel I've made a mistake, please feel free to post a comment.

Ana Lucia

In the heart of Spain lives a 14-year-old girl named Ana Lucia.  Born and raised in Spain, her family tree traces back far into Spain's history.  She and her family speak only Spanish.  In school, though, she learns of an opportunity for high school seniors to become foreign exchange students.  This piques her interest.  Tales of life in the United States have always fascinated Ana Lucia.  She decides at that moment to become a foreign exchange student to the U.S. when she reaches her senior year.

What do you suppose is the most important thing Ana Lucia must learn over the next 3 or so years in order to best function in the unfamiliar American culture when she arrives?  Mathematics?  Chemistry?  Art appreciation?  Music theory? 

No.  Ana Lucia must learn the English language.  Without a firm grasp of English, she will struggle as a student in America.  Over the next few years, Ana Lucia must learn word meanings, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and more. 


In the United States, a 14-year-old boy named Alex begins his sophomore year of high school.  Born and raised in Ohio, Alex's family tree traces back to the Pilgrims.  He and his family have never been out of the country.

Alex has a full schedule in school.  Algebra, Biology, English, World History, Art, Band and Choir, Phys. Ed., Health, Home Economics.  He isn't planning on going anywhere.  His plans involve graduating with the classmates he's had since 7th grade, and he's been thinking about attending Ohio State afterwards.

Which subject in Alex's course load is most important for him to learn?  One might say it depends on what his future plans are.  Does he want to be a graphic designer?  Art should be his focus.  Does he want to be an accountant?  He should take all the math courses available. 

No.  Alex must learn the English language.  Without a firm grasp of English, he will struggle as a student and potential employee.  Over the next few years, Alex must learn word meanings, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and more.


The longer I home school, the more I realize that people in the U.S. don't place much importance on the English language.  Maybe because we speak it.  We write it.  It's not something we have to think about.

More than not thinking it's important, though, many people are offended when it's suggested they ought to place more importance on it.  For reasons I have yet to figure out, when it's said that "your" and "you're" aren't interchangeable, or that "are" and "our" are not the same thing, or that "I seen a cat" is not acceptable, people bristle. Why is the English language any less important for native speakers to study than it is for a foreign exchange student?

Not everyone can have impeccable spelling and grammar, for various reasons.  Dyslexia, being one.  Just as not everyone can recite their times tables from memory, or name all the elements on the periodic table, or remember the names of all 50 United States.  And everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.  I am horrible at math.  I rely on a calculator.  BUT.  But.  That doesn't mean we can't all at least try our hardest.  And it certainly doesn't mean it's not important to learn or to teach our children.

Spelling and grammar errors on a resume' aren't going to impress a potential employer.  On a college application essay, they're not going to impress the admissions staff.  In an interview, you won't need to multiply 8 by 23.  You won't need to label a map.  You won't need to describe the water cycle.  While those things may be pertinent to the job you're applying for, the only thing that will really matter during your interview is whether or not you are able to communicate clearly.  Can your potential employer understand what you've written on your application?  Do you sound like you know what you're talking about when you answer their questions?

A set of twins sees a "Help Wanted" sign outside a restaurant.  In need of employment, they enter the business and ask for the manager.  The twins are well-dressed in khakis and button-down shirts.  They're clean-shaven and well-manicured.  By outward appearances, they seem employable.  When the store manager appears, Twin A says, "Me and him seen the "help wanted" sign out there, an we need jobs.  Can we get a application?"  Twin B says, "My brother and I noticed the "help wanted" sign out front.  We're seeking employment.  May we have an application, please?"

Which twin do you suppose the manager would be more likely to consider for the job?  The way we speak (and write) does matter.

We, as homeschoolers, ought to desire to better ourselves in all areas in order to best teach our children.  Most of us have faced a situation in which a non-homeschooler questioned our ability to teach our children.  Why lend credence to such claims by writing and speaking poorly?  After all, our words are what the non-homeschooling world see and hear before anything else; therefore, that's what they judge us by.

The English language is the most important thing for a foreign exchange student to learn before coming to America.  Why should it be any less important for those of us who are native English speakers?

Next Post:  Articles

June 16, 2014

Home School Laws and Regulations by State

Facebook is an excellent resource for home schooling families.  Numerous groups are set up specifically for home schoolers to learn from each other, share curriculum ideas, and support each other.  One of my favorites is the Hip Homeschool Moms Community.  

One thing I've noticed, though, is that people new to home schooling or who are considering it always ask what the laws are in their State.  People who are moving from one State to another seek the laws in their new State.  Sometimes, even home schoolers who have been doing it for a while don't fully understand their own State's laws.  

I feel it's important to have access to the laws on home schooling for the States in which we each live.  We ought to be intimately familiar with them in order to be prepared for any scenario in which our right to home school may come into question.

My family is in New York State, so most of the information in my blog posts revolves around the regulations here, but I thought it might be helpful to other home schoolers, especially newbies, to have a single place to access the laws in any State they may desire.  To that end, I put together a list of links for all 50 states and Washington D.C.

This list is not intended to serve as legal advice or counsel.  It is merely a tool to assist you in learning about your State's home education laws and regulations.  If you have any questions regarding any of the laws, you should contact home school friendly legal counsel, such as the Home School Legal Defense Assocation (HSLDA).

The links for the States listed in red do not lead directly to that State's Department of Education website for one of two reasons.  Either, (1) that State does not regulate home education, or (2) no information on home education could be found by me on their website. Instead, those links lead to other, trustworthy websites with information on the home education regulations for those States.

I hope you find this useful.  Please feel free to contact me with any errors or broken links you may come across.

Alabama A2Zhomeschooling.com
Alaska Alaska Dept. of Education & Early Development
Arizona Arizona State Legislature
Arkansas Arkansas Dept. of Education
California California Homeschool Network
Colorado Colorado Dept. of Education
Connecticut Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers
Delaware Coalition for Responsible Home Education
Florida Florida Dept. of Education
Georgia Georgia Home Education Association
Hawaii Hawaii Dept. of Education
Idaho Idaho Coalition of Home Educators
Illinois Illinois Board of Education
Indiana Indiana Dept. of Education
Iowa Homeschool Iowa
Kansas Homeschooling in Kansas
Kentucky Kentucky Dept. of Education
Lousiana Louisiana Dept. of Education
Maine Maine Dept. of Education
Maryland Maryland Dept. of Education
Massachusetts Massachusetts Home Learning Association
Michigan Michigan Dept. of Education
Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes
Mississippi U.S. Dept. of Education
Missouri Missouri Dept. of Education
Montana Office of Public Instruction
Nebraska Nebraska Dept. of Education
Nevada Nevada Homeschool Network
New Hampshire New Hampshire Dept. of Education
New Jersey New Jersey Dept. of Education
New Mexico New Mexico Dept. of Education
New York New York Dept. of Education
North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education
North Dakota North Dakota Legislative Branch
Ohio Ohio Dept. of Education
Oklahoma Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation
Oregon Oregon Dept. of Education
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Dept. of Education
Rhode Island Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers
South Carolina South Carolina Dept. of Education
South Dakota South Dakota Dept. of Education
Tenessee Tenessee Dept. of Education
Texas Texas Homeschool Coalition Association
Utah Homeschooling in Utah
Vermont Vermont Agency of Education
Virginia Virginia General Assembly
Washington Washington Dept. of Public Instruction
Washington D.C. Homeschooling in D.C.
West Virginia West Virginia Legislature
Wisconsin Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction
Wyoming Homeschoolers of Wyoming

February 26, 2014

Chores: Lessons Not Found in Books (Part II)

My boys have a tendency to leave their toys and other belongings laying about the house in random locations.  If you have boys, I'm sure you can relate.  Legos are everywhere.  In the lint trap of the dryer.  Behind the couch.  Under the refrigerator.  In the dog's mouth.  You'd also be hard pressed to look in any corner of the living room without finding a Matchbox car or Transformers piece or dirty sock.

These sorts of things don't fall under any of our chore categories.  Well, technically, they do, but if you know boys, you know how attentive they are to detail when it comes to cleaning.

One fine day, whilst perusing Pinterest, I fell upon this gem of an idea, lovingly called "Mom's Ransom Box".  Of course, I immediately located an empty Rubbermaid bin and printed out the cute little poem to tape on top of it, provided by Just Another Day in Paradise.

About once a week, I walk through the living space, pick up any out of place items belonging to the boys, and put them all into the bin.

My boys have specific chores they complete each day, and the chores they must complete in order to earn back their belongings from Mom's Ransom Box are above and beyond their regularly scheduled chores.  (If you want to know the reasons we implemented a chores system with our boys, you can check out my previous post.)

Retrieving the mail is generally the one they choose.  They get back one item from the box each time they bring the mail in.  Other chores they could do include washing the laundry, shoveling snow, cleaning the bath tub, or giving the dog a bath, just to name a few.  Although, that last has yet to happen.  I'm usually the one drenched in soapy water and covered in dirty dog hair.

Hopefully, this system, along with their regular chore schedule, is helping to teach my boys responsibility and a respect and appreciation for their belongings.  They are much more careful about leaving their things laying about the house since we implemented the Mom's Ransom Box. 

Give it a try!  I think you'll be pleased with the results.  Let me know how it goes!  Or, if you have another method for getting your kids to take care of their belongings, tell me about it, too!

February 20, 2014

Chores: Lessons Not Found in Books

 Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.  ~Proverbs 13:23
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.  ~Proverbs 22:6

I remember coming home from school to find the dreaded scrap of paper on the dining room table.  My brother and I knew what was written on it, and we wanted to burn it.  We may have actually done so at least once, but not before reading it and doing as it said, for fear of being grounded indefinitely.  Of course, playing with fire would get us grounded, too, but we didn't think that far ahead.

On that scrap of paper, we'd find a list of chores for each of us.  Clean the bathroom.  Wash the dishes.  Dry the dishes.  Vacuum the carpets.  Clean your room.  Ugh!  We hated those lists.  But, if I'm being honest, without those chores during my childhood, I probably would live in a pigsty today!  Having chores helped teach me responsibility, hard work, and just general life skills. 

My husband and I desire to teach our boys those same ideals.  We want them each to have a good work ethic, to understand that you have to work for the things you want in life and that you can't just have things handed to you because you feel you deserve them.  We want them to learn to take pride in a job well done and feel the growth of self-worth and self-respect that comes with accomplishment.

We feel that these types of lessons will also teach them to respect other people and property.  When you work hard for something you want and finally reach your goal, you will appreciate it more than if someone simply handed it to you.  You will treat it better.  You will take care of it.  And you will realize that the things other people have are also important to them, because they, likewise, worked hard to earn them.  Therefore, you will respect their property in the same way you respect your own.

And, of course, we want them to learn to take care of themselves in the future.  They won't always have us around to cook their meals, wash their clothes, or take out the trash for them, so they need to learn now how to do those things on their own.  And, let's face it, some day we're going to be old and decrepit, and the boys will have to take care of US!

When we felt they each were old enough, we implemented chores for our boys to complete each day.  We don't have them do all the house work while we sit around and eat bon bons all day.  They're not our slaves.  But we do expect them to pitch in and take part in this thing called family.  There's no reason that all the tough stuff should be left up to just one person (namely, me!)

This mom stated quite succinctly in her blog the major benefits of having children do chores.

So we chose a few chores we knew they could handle.  Some simple.  Some a bit more challenging.  Twelve of each.  Then, at the beginning of each week, the chores are split evenly between the boys.  Six chores each that get completed each morning before we begin school.

We tried, at first, having the chores written on slips of paper that they drew from a basket, but inevitably, one boy would end up with the majority of the hard chores and the other would get the easy ones.  Then, tears and tantrums would follow. 

The pictures below show the solution I came up with for that problem.  Each boy gets 3 easy and 3 hard chores, so it's even, and there are no more tears.  Plus, they don't have to do the same chores every week.  With the flick of the spinner, they can get a brand new set for the new week, which helps keep them from getting bored and feeling overwhelmed.  Take a look:

Do you have your children do chores?  If not, I'd love to hear your reasons why.  Let me know in the comments.