Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Homeschooling Resources

School Supplies Shopping


IMG_20130801_151923_Max_Rain_PeriIt’s my favorite time of year – school supplies sales! I just love the bins and bins full of pencils, crayons, erasers, pens, post-it notes, composition notebooks, binders and other things that we consider ‘essentials’ for starting school.

You might wonder if, since we’re not in school-school, we may needs school supplies. Well, I’ll tell ya… just like any other school-child, my kids go through plenty of paper, pencils, binders and notebooks. We use some of the same things, but different things as well. Since we lapbook, we use file folders by the box. We also use a ton of construction paper and glue. Pencils probably top ever student’s supply list, and notebooking in our house only can go in composition notebooks, so we go through several each year. Pocket/brad folders also are prime real estate around here.

So, on my list was:

Don't judge me!!!

@ Target

  • pocket/brad folders (22 @ $.15 each; = $6.60)
  • page protectors (1 pkg of 50 = $3.79)
  • glue ( 5 – Elmer’s school glue; $.52 =$2.60)
  • markers
  • post-it notes (4 @ $1.00 = $4.00)
  • colored pencils (2 @ .75 ea = $1.50)
  • dry-erase markers (pack with 6 black & 4 colored = $5.00)
  • snap cases
  • construction paper (heavy weight) (2 @ 3.99 = $7.98)
  • pencils (2 packs of Ticonderoga @$3.99 ea = $7.98)
  • clear slick contact paper
  • loose-leaf paper (reinforced; wide-ruled = $2.00 per pack)
  • composition notebooks (5 for $3.00)
  • packing tape (clear)
  • page dividers $4 @ $1.00 ea, = $4.00)
  • page dividers w/ pockets (1 pkg. @ $2.29)
  • 2″ binders (2 @ $3.50 each = $7.00)
  • mechanical pencils (pkg. of  =$3.79)
  • BIC sharpwriter mechanical pencils (pkg of  =$2.74)
  • crayons (4 @ .50 ea. = $2.00)

There are still some things left to get, and some things I will need more of (like page protectors… they should make those in packs of 500, not 50), so I will be heading back to the store sooner or later, but for now, we’re good to go!

What about you? Hitting the sales, or minimalist homeschoolers?

Warmly, ~h

Lesson Planning – Fall 2013

I am always so excited at this time of the year. It’s LESSON PLANNING TIME!! I have been reading and researching my little heart our and now I am ready to start putting it all together.

It’s been a long time since I have detailed exactly how I got about my lesson planning for the year, and watching a friend of mine who is new to homeschooling trying to find her way has reminded me how difficult lesson planning can be for your first year of homeschooling. There is literally an information overload when you start looking at resources. It gets completely overwhelming, and it’s easy to get stuck.

I will say that for first-years, I really do still stand by what I have always said – don’t buy much (if anything); sample everything you can get your hands on to see what you and your student like best – but most of all, learn to find the FUN in learning again. If that means that for your first year, you only do the 3 r’s, that’s cool. The rest will come. De-school if you need to, but if not, that’s cool, too! Don’t get locked into one mindset or curriculum – and open mind on your first year will help you find your way to what is right for your family.

But if you’re looking for more intense lesson planning, here’s how I got about it (which is in no way saying that mine is the only/best way; this is just how I, personally, do it. There are hundreds of other blogging homeschool moms who are more than willing to share their methods as well).

Fist, I decide what subjects I want to tackle, and how many times I want to cover them each week. For us this year, it’s:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2)
  • English (3)
  • Latin (3)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2)
  • Science (2)
  • Geography (1)
  • Art / Music (2)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

Then, go about refining the weekly classes:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2), English (3)
  • Latin (3), Art / Music (2)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2), Science (2), Geography (1)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

That is a much shorter list, because some of my subjects alternate days. Since I am only doing 2 days of Literature, then I can focus more on English the other three, etc…

Next, I can start looking at multi-disciplinary lessons. For example, I taught the boys more individual lessons (a set time for Spelling work, then a set time for English (parts of speech, sentence structure, etc.), then a set time for History, and so on. Now that they’re older, I can lump all of the reading/writing centered lessons into one.

Then, I start going through the books I have on hand, and through my links and Pinterest boards (by subject) to see what I wanted to use. Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome for archiving things, but unless you are very conscious about properly categorizing your pins, it can be a big mess when it comes to finding things. I separate my pins by subject. All grades are under the same subject, but I can wade through to find the right grade (or adapt and idea up or down for my kids’ needs). There are so many amazing links on Pinterest; even searching (i.e.: Math 6th grade) pulls up a ton of links that you can use.

This year, we’re trying something I’ve only just read about (on Pinterest), called ‘Thoughtful Journals’. The concept is fairly simple; a composition notebook divided into 5 sections (or 5-subject spiral). Each section is named. The sections are: My Strategies, My Thoughts, Powerful Words and Phrases, Author’s Craft & Genre Learning. As you go through your lessons, the student uses the journal to record notes and other useful tools to help them learn to be better readers and writers. I am paraphrasing, badly, in describing this technique, so I will link you to Life in 4B, which is the awesome blog I found the idea at. In any case, the Thoughtful Journal is where most of our work related to Grammar and Writing will find a home this year.

History, Science and Geography are another area where I smooshed subjects together. We are still going through Story of the World II at the moment; I plan to be finished by December. We are still lapbooking it, thanks to CarrotTopX3. When Alia from ‘Chronicle of the Earth’ was unable to finish the lapbook template for SOTWII, awesome bloggin’ mom Brenda stepped in to fill the gaps (for which homeschooling moms all over the WORLD are eternally grateful!!) – Team Work, yo!! SOTW makes History easy, especially with lapbooking. We try to coordinate our artist and composer study with History, so even though they’re not ‘on the list’, we still work that in. As we finish up SOTWII, I have SOTWIII waiting in the wings. I have already started lapbooking it; hopefully I’ll be able to post it in full when we start on III. We have the activity guide as well, and I am looking forward to digging into that.

Science fills the other two weekdays when we’re not focusing on History. We usually switch them up, but I am considering doing History M/T and Science W/Th so they have two days in succession to focus on one subject this year – dig a little deeper. Then Friday, of course, leaves us time for Geography as it’s own subject. We also tie in Geo. with History, but this gives us extra time to work on land forms or other interesting components of the earth (which is kind of History AND Science).

Math is another one that’s easy to plan; I don’t go off-road much which Math, so I get a grade-level curriculum and go from there. We’re working with Math Advantage this year. Latin is another one that I don’t experiment much with. I don’t know Latin any better than my kids at this point (though I am learning), so I can’t rightly ‘teach’ it to them – we’re learning together. We are still in Book I, but will be moving to Book II later this year.

Once I decide how I am going to plan my lessons, I start looking at the actual curriculum. For the most part, I stick with what I can find that’s grade-level. But, as is wont to happen with homeschoolers, I have found that they naturally fall into their own strengths and weaknesses as they progress. I found a great article discussing Homeschool Misconceptions that touches on this a bit, and is worth reading. For us, it means that this year their curriculum may fall anywhere from 4th to 7th grade. Spelling is a weakness, but Grammar is something they’re both strong in. It balances out! I found that even the school system uses different books for different grades, depending on the school district. I have a copy of the Science book that I used in school in the 6th grade that the manufacturer says is 5th grade level. I’d rather have my kids spelling ‘below’ than keeping up and failing in the classroom. Their spelling skills can be improved. Self-esteem takes longer. Whatever sources or grade levels you choose for your kids, you get the most out of it in whatever way works best for your family.

Once you find your curriculum, it’s time to look back at your schedule. You may want to flip through the books you’ll be using and make some rough outlines of how much material you want to cover each week, or how long you want to spend in one unit before moving on. I usually map out the schedule on notebook paper (Week 1 = Unit 1, Chapter 1; Week 2 =Unit 1 Chapter 2; etc.). This may change during the year, and that’s okay. But having a guide makes it easy to see the pacing of the year a bit better. You can always make adjustments later on.

This year, I am using a binder in addition to my usual lesson planner (homeschool bossy book). We aren’t doing workboxes this year, so I have been using the workbox plans in my planner for scheduling. It works well for that. The binder is a more in-depth, day by day type of lesson planner. I have it divided by subject, and the year’s activities per subject mapped out in each tab. This is also where I am storing printed materials, and unit study/lapbook plans. Having both planners will help make the day’s activity easier to follow, I hope.

We have in the past clocked about 25-30 hours of school per week. That averages out to some longer days and some shorter days. This year, however, I am pushing for more of a set schedule – about 30 per week. That’s on the high end of what we normally do, but I think it’s reasonable for my kids. Mine still need to be led quite a bit, or they lose focus. Not all days will take as long, but some will go over, so again – balance.

The only things left after this point are gathering school supplies and waiting on the first day of school!

… and the second-guessing, and worrying, and reading a blog at 3AM that tells to do do something totally different than what you have newly finished and ready to go… relax. That’s totally normal! Know that you can change any aspect of what you have planned at any time. It’s not a big deal – just go with the flow. The hardest part is getting it all laid out in the first place. There are SO MANY cool things to try, to implement, to experiment with – and each and every bit sounds more exciting and fun than the next.

I read a great blog yesterday that was talking about being ‘inspired’ by someone without re-making yourself in her image. I take that to heart when I read about SuperMoms in the homeschool world who have their crap together far better than I do. Go have a read. It’s at Living Well, Spending Less.

Happy planning!

Summer 2013 – Weeks 6-7

So basically, nothing that we’ve had planned for the last couple of weeks has panned out. After PeaGreen’s birthday party, I have been exhausted and have wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and stay there. Though that’s not practical, staying home a lot really has been, and that’s mostly what we’ve been doing.

To save time, I’m going to lump the last 2 weeks all together in one post. Just for kicks, I’ll add what we’d planned, and then what we actually did so you can see exactly how much I have not been in the mood to do things lately.

Week 6:


Monday & Tuesday – Lactation Course for me so the kids went to Grammie’s house. She brought them to Tennis Camp Monday. Tuesday, she took them to Tennis Camp in the morning and to a ‘learn to draw cartoons’ class in the afternoon.

Nope. Plans changed. The lactation course I was going to take still happened, but I didn’t go since the group I was going with decided to go another route. I’m happy about the change! Monday morning we still had kids over from the birthday bash, so I slept in while various parents came to claim their kidlets.  I almost felt bad for sleeping in, but not bad enough to actually get up. Sorry about that, parents! The afternoon was spent cleaning up from said bash (which wasn’t too bad – we have delightful friends who helped to clean up the night before, which is amazing – THANK YOU!!).

Tuesday, Red Butler and Huckleberry Pie came for the day while Bridey was taking her nursing test (which she totally passed – Congratulations!!). The kids and I spent the day in the pool  and accidentally  missed the drawing class. When I realized it was already over, I was mildly upset, but figured we’d catch another one eventually.

Wednesday: Tennis and SPAR SPAR, though cheap was out of our budget this week. Some of the families in our homeschool group went, but we didn’t. The kids and I agreed that we’d been having so much company, and been on the go so much that we needed a break, so we had a lazy day… for the rest of the week.

Sunday, we had another Spiral Scouts event – our first one since being chartered! The kids made their neck cords and we made a bunch of huge messes with science experiments. We made Oobleck (cornstarch and water), Moon Sand (flour & baby oil), GAK! (school glue & borax) and elephant toothpaste, which kinda fizzled out. But the kids had a great time!



Week 7:

summer 8

Monday – Tennis Camp & Mom Craft day Almost crafting… my sister and SmurfMom came over to chat for a while. My sister dropped Appleberry off for the day, but SmurfMom was without child so that she and I could work on lesson planning for the coming school year.

Tuesday actually went off without a hitch. Everything we’d planned went according to, and we had a great day. SmurfMom and my sister dropped their respective children off at my house, then we met some other friends at the movies to see the classic Willie Wonka (with the amazing Gene Wilder as creepy as ever in the titular role). After the movie, we headed out to the library for a summer reading club craft. The flyer said ‘sand sculptures’, which I took to mean that a sand sculpture artist would be on had to show off his/her craft and teach the kids a bit about actual sand sculpting. We were all disappointed to find out that they’d had sand brought in and the kids were just building sand castles on the porch. In any case, fun was still to be had; the kids enjoyed popsicles and lemonade outside, then we went in for some books.


Wednesday – Tennis & riverboat tour w/ TH

Thursday – Tennis, Lego club, karate

Friday – Geography Fair & hike & swim and boys to Brideys to spend the night

Saturday – karate and edible book fair

 No to all of that… we were been homebodies much of last week. Over the weekend, Loverly Husband replaced our front door, and then ended up repairing our dishwasher (our NEW dishwasher), and I’ve been saying for months now that I was going to get the school room cleared out so we can use it again. I finally got started on that, which led to more intense lesson-planning for the coming school year. As ‘small’ as that may sound, it’s taken up basically all of my time over the last week (watch for a post soon about that). What time wasn’t spent on school was spent getting a new ‘command center’ ready so that hopefully, with more organization, I can lessen the stress in my life where it’s related to family and chores. I’ll keep you posted on that!

In any case, we’re still hanging in there – maybe not as exciting as we might otherwise be, but I’m planning on taking it easy for the next couple of weeks because school starts August 5th!



Summer 2013 – Week 4

summer 2

This week started off with Sunday. Usually, I like my week to start with Monday, but since I already published last week’s fun and games, I put the weekend with this post.

Recently (well, back in November) we signed up with Spiral Scouts International, which is a scouting program designed for minority faiths. Since our homeschool group is secular and this program can be tailored to be non-religious, we thought it would be great for our group. So far, so good! We were recently chartered, which means ‘official’, basically, but we’ve been getting together for monthly events just as a ‘get to know you’ type of thing. Over this past weekend, we had a ‘make and fly a simple kite’ craft and meet-up. It was fun! The kids made the simplest of kites (one sheet of computer paper, carefully curled and stapled, with a string attached). They also brought ‘real’ kites to play with. It wasn’t a very windy day, but they still got their simple kites in the air!

Monday and Tuesday were pretty  non-eventful; just tennis camp. We’ve been going strong for a few weeks now and are getting kinda pooped! We took a couple of days off to rest since Wednesday will be a long day.



Our homeschool group plans a big trip to Galveston to visit Moody Gardens every year. This year, the group had the option of any two exhibit halls, and/or Palm Beach, which is their newly-renovated water park. We chose to only visit the water park since our family just recently visited the other halls. It was SUCH a great idea! We had a wonderful time. The kids ran all over while the moms mostly stayed in the lazy river.



Thursday was another ‘day of rest'; recovering from a day in the sun is hard work! No sunburns though, thankfully. Yay for sunscreen! Friday, we got to hang out with some long-lost friends who recently moved away. They come back to town frequently though, so we haven’t lost them entirely! We spent a few hours playing in the water out at Village Creek – one of our favorite haunts this summer.



Summer 2013 – Week 2

Summer on a beachWeek 2 began nice and slow. Loverly Husband had jury duty, so we were stuck home without a car. Luckily, my mom let us take car, so we went to tennis camp, then came back home for lunch. I had every intention of making the kids do some schoolwork, but other than reading and chores, but that’s pretty much all they got accomplished.

Tuesday was tons of fun though. We went to tennis (again), then picked up Bridey and her boys and met SmurfMom and went to Louisiana to SPAR, which is a local waterpark that was built by their Parks and Recreation department. It’s really fun! I’ve known about this place ever sine the boys were very small, but we didn’t make it out there until last summer. Now, it’s one of our favorite places!  Because of the traffic and just plain organizing that many people, we didn’t make it to karate that evening. PeaGreen was quite disappointed, but we had to bring Bridey and the boys home, too. RedRanger spent the night with LBB. They were up plenty early the next morning, so I imagine they got very little sleep the night before.

Wednesday, we went to … Tennis Camp! in the morning.It was a pretty easy day. Bridey and the boys came over for the afternoon/evening and we grown-ups got some time in the pool sans children, which was niiiiiice while the kids played inside. So, SO relaxing!

Thursday was a bit chaotic. During the night, my phone switched off, so my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up late… LATE. We made it to tennis camp about 15 minutes late. Miss Eileen, one of the kids’ tennis instructors, wanted to work with LBB for a private lesson for a bit, so I didn’t want him to miss that. It’s funny how you look at your kids and see their various differences. Thankfully, the boys can admit their brothers’ strengths and congratulate the on accomplishments and skills without being upset. LBB’s talent really seems to lie in tennis. He’s really showing a lot of interest and picking it up very well. PeaGreen’s strength is definitely in karate!

After tennis, I was supposed to drop PG off with Bridey, and go to ‘work’, but by the time I got to Bridey’s house, it was too late for ‘work’, so we just went back home for lunch and a bit of schooling (and laundry), and then off to karate. We made it on time, and Loverly Husband met us there. This was my first class back in a while. I’ve either been busy or just plain slacking for a while, and it felt good to get back in the dojo.

Friday was another really good day. No tennis camp on Fridays, so we got to sleep in just a tiny bit. But we were still up and at ‘em by 10 and ready for company by 11. PBJMom brought her kids and crew, and another mom from our homeschool group came with her husband and 3 kiddos, so we had 11 kids in the pool. Rather than have the kids at each other’s throats fighting for space in the pool, I had them play some games… racing, Goofy, red rover, and some free swimming. By that point, everyone was getting tired and hungry.

So we dried off, cleaned up and went to the library to see The Bard of the South.

Ricky Pittman is a storyteller: singer, songwriter and author. He roams the south telling stories of the Civil War and the people who lived then; often the lost stories, bringing once again to life the lives and experiences of people long forgotten. He brought a lot of things with him: a candle lantern (complete with ‘Lucifers’ – candles!, a courting candle, a parasol and fan (and talked a bit and demonstrated the ‘language of the fan‘). He also had a few of the boys (PeaGreen and RedRanger included) to talk about some of the uniforms of Confederate soldiers. Specifically, he compared Texas Confederate uniforms and Louisiana Confederate uniforms to Union uniforms. He talked about what the colors of the trim meant, the equipment a soldier would carry, the artillery that soldiers were issued and the shoes.

He also showed a blow gun (child sized) and talked about the various parts and the making of a blow gun, and talked about the uses for them as well. He said that the boy would use a piece of coal to hollow the inside of the cane. I am thinking that this might be a cool project for the boys to try soon. He talked some about Sam ‘The Raven’ Houston, and about orphan Jim Limber Davis and his relationship with President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis and First LadyVarina Davis and their family, about which he wrote a book entitled Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House

Now we’re winding down into the weekend. My boys went to spend the night with Bridey and her crew, and Loverly Husband and I went out for a ‘date night’. Overall, I’d say this has been a pretty productive week!

Hope your summer is going along swimmingly! Next week, my niece Appleberry will be with us, and a long-lost friend of mine will (finally) be moving back to Texas. I can’t wait!!

Before I go, I’d like to dedicate this video to my BFF, Amy:



Summer Plans!

Like for many families (homeschooling or not) summer is always one of the busiest times of the year for us. My niece, Appleberry, comes to stay with us, and all of the kids’ friends are out of school (except for the homeschooling ones; some of them school year-round like we do). We have friends who come in from out-of-state for the summer, so our social calendar is packed.

We also have activities with our homeschool group all summer; since so many school year-round, our group stays active, and we take a few opportunities during the summer to meet with a Houston area homeschooling group. Additionally, we participate in the Summer Reading Club through our local library, have Tennis Camp for 10 weeks, a 3-day long Historical Day Camp at a local museum… my calendar is looking full and summer is just now starting!

If this is your first year homeschooling, you may be wondering where I found all this cool stuff (most of which is free) to do in our city. Now, by ‘city’, we’re not a big city – not at all. 2 movie theaters, 2-3 bowling alleys, a single story mall, and 9,784 churches, 2-3 mini-golf places, 5 libraries and 5 McDonalds’… to give you a frame of reference. We’re also smack-dab in the middle of quite a few smaller cities, so within 30 minutes of most of them is the ‘city’. (Whereas Houston is the ‘big city’. Savvy?) So, while we don’t have things going on every day, there is enough for the need to pick and choose what you want to participate in.

There are some things that happen that are on a national scale, or that are fairly commonplace and are easy to find out information on – summer reading clubs, sleep-away camp, day camp, vacation bible school, and the like. Other things may not be advertised as widely, and can be easy to miss if you don’t seek them out. Be sure to check your city’s website under summer recreation programs. They may have things like outdoor concerts, movie nights, or other city-wide events. Our city offers a free tennis camp, an inexpensive day camp, a free lunch program, and things like that, but I only found out about them a couple of years ago. I heard about the club in winter, so I wrote it down and started looking for information on it in the spring. Often, when you find one camp or club hidden away like that, it leads to more.

Check your local bowling alley and skating rink, mini-golf or game center, One of our bowling alleys offers 1 free game per kid, per weekday all summer long. Our skating rink has ‘family night’ so we can get in cheap and rent skates for a couple bucks each. Some restaurants have a ‘family night’ as well (free kids meal with adult meal purchase). Kids Meal is a search engine that can tell you who has deals near you.

Local museums may also have summer day camps – one of ours offers a ‘pioneer life’ camp that lets kids experience life in the late 1800’s for a few days. There’s also a gardening camp, art camp at the art museum, and several restaurants offer cooking camps (but those can get kinda spendy).  Our local newspaper has a section called ‘Summer Camp Guide’ that comes out right before school lets out for the summer; if yours doesn’t, it may be worth it to request that they look into something like that for next year.

Word of mouth is also a good way to find out what’s going on in your community. ‘Liking’ local pages on Facebook can give you a heads-up on things in your town. Many of them have events posted, so you can add them to your calendar. Check out your local playgroups, homeschool groups, mom’s clubs and parks for other moms and their plans. Mommy-networking can be invaluable, especially if you’ve recently moved to an area.

If all else fails, there are always things like hiking at national or state parks, biking, canoeing, geo-caching letterboxing, and postcrossing. In Texas, the state Parks & Wildlife service has Texas Outdoor Family, which is a ‘family camping 101′ teaching event. They also sponsor Junior Ranger Program that offers explorer packs that the kids can use. Park clean-up days here finish up with a complimentary canoe trip for the volunteers – a great way to keep parks clean, and enjoy a free trip, too. Most of those kinds of events are free or inexpensive ways to keep busy during the summer. Just get out there and do ‘em!

Any other tips for a fun summer?


Secular Homeschool Conference

Today, our homeschool group sponsored a mini-conference for people who are, and who are thinking about, or planning on homeschooling their kids in this area. The closest homeschool conference or ‘open event’ is in Houston. I’d go, but the only issue I have with it is that they tend to be heavy on the faith-based thing. That’s cool and all, but really not my bag. We’re secular homeschoolers, so I thought that hosting an ‘informational’ mini-con might work. I created a public event on Facebook, and sent out invitations to all of the homeschoolers I knew, and invited them to share the event and invite their friends. I was expecting only 1 mom outside of our group.

Color me speechless to find out that more people came than I was expecting! We had 3 soon-to-be homeschoolers, one who wasn’t able to make it, and four who are already in our group and are actively homeschooling. For our first event of this kind, I think it went pretty well, especially considering that we didn’t really advertise or anything. I’m fine with that, and having this one finished opens up a lot of possibility and ideas for future events.

So, I wanted to talk about organizing one, and make some notes and share some thoughts if you might like to put on a homeschooling mini-con of sorts for your community. Here are somethings I learned and wish I’d had on-hand:

1. an identifying banner of some sort – I didn’t realize that some of the ladies who were there waiting were there for us and if we’d had a sign of some sort, we would have been easy to identify. I priced a 1′ x 3′ banner at the UPS store and it was less than $30 for a vinyl sign with grommets at each corner. There are lots of times that may be a good thing to have, so I am considering getting one. carries banners similar in size for $16.00.

2. name tags – helpful! Since it was a small group, I think I remember everyone’s name, but I am SO BAD at names! So having name tags would be good. Also, being able to address everyone by name creates a sense of intimacy that most people respond well to.

3. a sign-in sheet - also helpful! – since there was only one woman that had not already contacted me, and she was friends with another mom in our group already, I can pretty easily get in touch with them. Had we had a bigger turnout, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk to each of them individually (which is a perk of having only a small group).

5. Handouts – I really should have written up a hand-out or something for everyone to take home – a welcome kit… something. I’ve done them before by calling different companies and asking for samples (things pencils from office-supply stores, other swag from school supply stores, coupons for local kid’s places (jump zone, OrangeLeaf, bowling or skating, etc.), a list of resources, a pamphlet about our group, etc. If I’d thought about it a month ago, I’d have had time to pull that together. Maybe even a gift certificate for dinner or something and do a ‘just for fun’ raffle. A lot of places are wiling to donate stuff like that if only you ask.

4. I think next time, if we do this again, I’d like to do a bit more promotion. Our group is already on our local Library resource list, and is on several ‘group databases’ online, but local advertisement for local homeschoolers would make more sense and probably be more helpful at attracting locals.

5. Explain to my homeschool group members better what kinds of audience we’re targeting with this project, and break it down into small, specific jobs so that my group moms have a better idea of what’s happening and how they can help. I asked for help a couple of times, but, only to find out today that I wasn’t explaining myself very well. I’d love to make this a yearly thing, and many hands make light work, so I’ll need to work on that for next year (if we do this again).

The feedback was good – that what was presented was helpful, and the experiences shared by the more seasoned homeschooling moms (especially about their ‘getting started’ experience) was reassuring and worth hearing. Our group has been growing by leaps and bounds since January, and from what I’ve heard lately, we can expect more.

For our topics today, we covered:

*Homeschooling and Texas Law*

Homeschooling Law in TX  (synopsis)

HSLDA website

  • In Texas, homeschool families are considered private school and as such, are are not subject to regulation by the school district or state (this includes standardized testing and compulsory attendance edicts), and are exempt from school-time curfews (with identification).
  • Since homeschooling is legal in Texas and operate independently from a school district, you do not have to allow the school district representatives to ‘review’ or ‘approve’ your child’s curriculum.
  • The only the requirement for legal homeschooling in Texas is to homeschool in a bona fide manner, with a written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship. This can be as simple as a sheet of paper with these subjects written on it.

*Methods and Philosophy*

The method an philosophy has to do with how you think that children (your children) learn best, and what you think school should be. We all start out with preconceived notions about these things, and sometimes, we find that we were right all along. Other times, we may need to choose a new direction. Reading about the various styles of homeschooling that are out there gives you a ‘niche’ for what you are already thinking. For the most part, why re-invent the wheel? Homeschooling has been around for generations. Though each new generation adds a new twist on an old idea, when you’re just starting out, knowing where you fall in the ‘structured…. unstructured’ scale can help find resources that will be closer to what you’re looking for and makes a good place to begin your research. Here are overviews of some of the more well-known methods and philosophies out there:

*Learning Styles and What they Mean to You*

Everyone gathers information about the world through three sensory receivers: visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinesthetic (movement). Some people rely most on visual cues, others prefer auditory input, and still others learn best through movement. Educators refer to these differences as learning styles. How does knowing your child’s learning style help? By identifying your child’s dominant learning style you can tailor their education to lean heavily in that direction so that they learn best. Public schools tend to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ in their approach. Homeschooling with an eye toward your child’s learning style will help make schooling more enjoyable for you and the, and maximize their learning potential.

Learning Styles

  • Auditory – listeners: They may learn to talk early on, and may enjoy listening to tapes and playing musical instruments. Auditory learners are often talkative. They may like to read aloud, recall commercials word for word, or do tongue twisters. In school, they may memorize math facts much more easily in a song or poem than from flash cards.
  • Kinesthetic – hands-on: Kids who love taking things apart to see how they work, or who are obsessed with building toys may be kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic kids are often in constant motion, their movements are well coordinated, and they are anxious to crawl and walk as quickly as possible. In a classroom, kinesthetic learners can be fidgety. They’ll often be the first to volunteer to do something —anything—active. They want to do an experiment not watch it or read about it.
  • Visual – watchers: As babies, they are often drawn to lights, colors, and movement. They revel in colorful toys and piles of picture books. Visual learners enjoy and learn easily from pictures, handouts, videos, and films. In school, they can learn science principles by watching a science experiment rather than having to conduct the experiment themselves.

Not leaving the teacher out, there are different teaching styles, too. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is the ability to tailor-make your education program. Everything is yours to try, tinker with or discard in favor of a new or changing idea or need. As a teacher, you’re interacting with your child in a different way than as a parent. The two are closely related, of course,  but what you want for your child may be different at an age, o what they need from you may call for more or less structure. So learning your teaching style is also helpful. I am sure there are more, but the way I like it explained best is Directive, Guide and Facilitator. All of these can work with basically any schooling philosophy or method, though it might take some finagling.

Teaching stylesTeaching Styles

  • Director - had total control over all aspects of the child’s education. Parent sets mood, tone, lessons, materials, and every aspect of what the child learns. I see this as more of an elementary level style of teaching, though some children who tend to be easily distracted may work better having everything laid out for them.
  • Guidance - Parent still sets most tone, but has slightly more input from the child. Parent helps guide the child to subjects, activities and research that are in-line with his/her interests and goals. I see this as more of a middle-school style of teaching, though may work for independent children who work well alone.
  • Facilitator - Parent is solely there to facilitate – to learn about and promote learning through the child’s interests. And/Or the parent is there to help, but the child’s education is largely self-directed. I see this more of a high-school age style of teaching, but also works well for children who are very self-motivated and who need little by way of encouragement.

Obviously, this list is not complete, but may help you determine what your style is, and what your child may need from you. Often, if you have more than one child, each of your children may need something different from you.

*Curricula – Finding What Works*

Finding the exact right curricula can be absolutely overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of options, and often many options associated with different methods. Finding what fits your family can be challenging at best. First, knowing what fits in line with your personal philosophy and what method you want to use is important. That will eliminate may curriculum options right off the bat. Identifying your student’s learning style and your teaching style will further narrow the options. Once you have those things out of the way, there are several places you can begin.

Grade level (or age/peer group) can be a good place to start. If your child is being pulled from school, unless you know they were behind, you should be able to pick up with that grade level work. If your child was consistently getting lower scores, it might be worth it to drop down a grade and work on cementing the previous foundations before moving on. Don’t feel bad if you need to do that; your student will soon catch up and even surpass his peers.

Many parents feel that it’s a good idea to have a ‘spine’ – a framework that tells you what your child ‘should be’ learning. This is often found in the scope & sequence. What is ‘scope & sequence’? A couple of options are:

Core Knowledge K-8th Grade Sequence 

Texas Education Agency Scope & Sequence

You also want to figure out your schedule. Many homeschoolers take more frequent, shorter breaks than public schools. We school for 4 weeks, then have a week break, then pick up again. Others have different schedules; you’ll find out your own. That may be closely aligned to the ISD, or may be totally different. Do what works for your family.

*Getting Started – Homeschooling, Year One*

Tip #1: Don’t buy anything ‘big’ the first year – no curricula, don’t re-model your house. There are PLENTY of free homeschooling resources that you can use the first year. The last thing you want to be is locked into an expensive curriculum that both/either you and/or your child hate(s).

Tip #2: Look at your first year as an ‘exploratory’ year. Try different styles, experiment with times and days, try out different methods. See what works and what doesn’t. After a fully year, you’ll have a much better idea of your teaching style, and of your child(ren)’s learning style. You’ll be able to spend that whole year trying new things and ideas and will have a much better idea of how YOUR homeschool will work when you start planning for Year 2.

For me, setting up our space helped get me in the frame of mind. Having our school space separate from the ‘home’ seems to help us all focus a little better. That’s not to say that we’re trapped in here during school. We’re just as likely to work on the living room floor, retreat to their own bedrooms, have school on mom’s bed, have school outside, pack up and head to the park… all totally valid options. But just having that space helps me out a lot.  Of course, that’s not practical for every family, and many families just don’t want that. Again, do what works for you! There are so many options – if you don’t know what you want right off the bat, start with one thing, then change it if it doesn’t work. Flexibility is one of your greatest ‘teaching tools’.

Another tip is to join a homeschooling group. If there’s not one in your area, start one and you can learn together with the other newbies. If there is absolutely nothing in your area, find a good forum or group to join online. Having someone you can talk to to vent, praise your children bounce ideas off of, share resources, talk about your latest field trip, gripe about your non-supportive family or in-laws… whatever – having that support is absolutely essential in my opinion.

The blogosphere is awesome, too. I have learned so much from reading other blogs! Moms that inspire, Moms that I am in awe of, Moms that make me laugh, Moms that really make me think… there are SO MANY homeschooling moms of every variety, of every style and method – it’s truly amazing how much these bloggin’ mamas share. Feel free to check out my sidebar – there are tons of links!


If you were able to be with us today, THANK YOU for coming out! If you’re planning a mini-con for your community, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also love to hear what kinds of things that you, as homeschooling parents, would want to get out of a small-scale conference.



An Atmosphere of Learning

I’ve been thinking lately about the atmosphere of learning in our house and I feel like we could use some improvements.

When we first started homeschooling, I was much more relaxed about what we ‘needed’ to do. Since we were just starting out, I felt like there was all the time in the world, and we could take things easy. Homeschooling was really fun. We did a lot of hands-on stuff, and there was much less resistance from the kids (which may very well be chalked up to the novelty of homeschooling after leaving a desk).

Over the course of the last few years though, I feel like there’s been more and more pressure on me to ‘get it right'; to be more rigorous and push the kids harder. I try to combat that feeling, but I am not sure where it comes from, so it’s hard to fight. I’m sure there is outside pressure, but I’d wager that the majority of it is internal, and that can be really difficult to overcome. My post last week was partially about working through that feeling, so I don’t want to dwell on that aspect too much this week; instead, I want to talk about the overall environment that we create in our home as homeschooling parents.

When we first started, it was very important to me to have a ‘school space’. We’re fortunate to have the room to dedicate to school, even though at present, it’s become more of a storage space and we’ve moved school to the kitchen table. I think that this is something I need to work our way back into. I felt more ‘together’ when we were working in a dedicated space, and more like we were altogether more focused. The school room also has less distraction, and the kids both have their own spaces to work in (which means that they annoy each other less). The other aspect to this is our style of teaching/learning. One of the things I have always liked about Montessori style education was that it was uncluttered and accessible. Things were laid out in such a way as to encourage the child to experiment and choose their own path. I do still agree with that, but I also feel like there needs to be a good, solid foundation of the basics before a child can really move on into learning what he or she likes or needs. But, if I left it up to my kids right now, everything would be about video games. It’s hard to find balance between those two philosophies, but in my plan for next week (when we’re off) is to de-clutter as much as possible and get us back into our school room.

Another area I’d like to work on is my tendency to lapse into ‘teacher’ mode. I struggle with finding the balance between lecture and encouragement. I’m a talker, so what I tend to think of as inspiration or helping foster ideas tends to come across as nagging or droning on. I also tend to jump the gun when it comes to offering help or going

on a new direction or way of thinking about something, instead of giving them the time to really consider what’s already been said. That’s one of the reasons that I used the picture above with Holt’s quote, because I need to learn when to shut up!

Something else I want to continue working on is ‘learning by teaching’. Teaching others is the most effective way to ‘know’ something. I want the boys to work more on helping each other, either when one grasps a concept first, or by working independently on different parts of something and teaching what they know. I think this will also help me keep my mouth shut and let them find opportunities to shine.

We have an anchor chart similar to this one that we use when we start something new. I have found that learning where they are in this journey helps relieve frustration when they don’t grasp something right away.

Another area where ‘learning by teaching’ comes into play is in our extra curricular activities.

We have become involved in scouting recently, and one of the things I like about it is that it encourages leadership and mentoring. We have a split scouting troupe – one group of kids who are in the 8-13 age group, and another in the 3-5 year old age group. This is an excellent opportunity for the older kids to be actively mentoring the younger kids.  This concept is also reinforced through their karate classes. Our sensei regularly pairs up more advanced students with newer ones to give them the opportunity to teach, which bolsters the students’ confidence in themselves. You can’t teach it unless you know it. I want to get to my kids on every level so that they really understand and know what it is to be adept at their skills. 

Other than those areas that need work, overall I am pretty happy with the learning environment we’ve fostered in our home. The kids have access to board/card/video games, art supplies, research materials (both in print and online), books, magazines and other printed media, mechanical things to take apart and reassemble or create something new, science craft books and materials, quick & healthy snacks to fuel up when the need arises, and a variety of different modes of learning pretty much all the time. They have plenty of outdoor space (including 10 acres to roam, bikes and a mile radius to ride, skateboards, a pool, a garden and a pond to explore). We also regularly meet with our homeschool group in person, and the kids have an online chat list and can play video games online with each other. We also engage in regular community service activity and have scouting 1x per month (soon to be more often) and karate classes 3x per week with a ton of other homeschooled kids.

It really does help sometimes to write down the positive aspects instead of the negative ones.

Additional Sources:

This is an excellent ebook by Brenda Sain called Creating an Atmosphere of Learning.


Top Ten Homeschoool ‘Must-Haves’

One of the groups I am in on Facebook joked about getting a new table and chair set for her homeschool room, at her request, for a combo birthday/Mother’s Day prezzie. Naturally, that made me start thinking about the things that I ‘must have’ as a homeschool parent and thought I would post about it.

In anything we do (sports specifically come to mind), it seems that there is a list of requisite supplies that you need in order to successfully compete or carry out the task at hand. Obviously, when you’re homeschooling, you have to have things like curriculum (or some sort of plan, even if you’re unschooling). A dedicated school room, while nice, is certainly not necessary; school can be just as well accomplished at the kitchen table or on the floor (or in the yard, in the car, at the library, at the park… you get the idea). So this list isn’t about the typical ‘basics’ – this is all about what I, personally, have found to be indispensable for homeschooling in our house. Your mileage may vary, and I would love to see your lists in comments or a link back to your blog if you write it there!

So without further adieu….

10. Coffee – without caffeine, nothing would ever get done. I an convinced that the pyramids were built *because* they had coffee running in their veins instead of blood. Though almost any kind will do, my very most favoritest combination is Texas Pecan coffee from HEB with Coffeemate Italian Sweet Creme non-dairy creamer. If you get coffee at my house, this is probably what I am serving you.

9. External hard drive – I have a Passport 500GB one (in fabulous red), and it’s almost full. When I got it, it was much more expensive – if you’re in the market and have the extra $20, I say go for the 1TB, minimum. Over the course of your child’s homeschool career, esp if you’re starting out homeschooling from the beginning, you’ll use it. I archive everything (in multiple places, really), and frequently. Computers come and go – I can’t tell you how many friends have lost *everything* because they didn’t back-up regularly. If you’re not already, PLEASE back your stuff up!

8. support system – We’re especially fortunate to have a supportive family. Not only Loverly Husband, but my parents and his as well. I was homeschooled, and so were several of my cousins, so I am lucky to have this kind of supportive platform to spring from. However, even with that built-in support, having a supportive community around me has been and remains essential to my homeschooling success. Not only for the ‘hey we’re having a crappy day’ support, but for the inspiration, the ideas, the encouragement, the thought-processing…. the list goes on. My homeschooling ‘community’ is in parts – real life, which includes family and friends (who do and who don’t homeschool), which includes my local homeschool group; and online support. I am a part of our local group’s chat list (and the kids have their own online chat list through the group as well). I also frequent homeschool forums, blogs, websites, and watchdog sites to keep abreast of the goings-on in the homeschool world at large.

7. Gallon-sized ziplock freezer bags – this is an organizational tool for me. I store lapbooks-in-progress in them. A gallon-sized bag holds the folded lapbook, all of the papers and templates and mini-books and the source material (literature selection, guide, and/or other assorted papers) all together in one place. It may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re into lapbooks, they’re indispensable.

6. storage clipboards - This many seem like a luxury item, and it is… this whole list kinda is, really. But this feels especially indulgent. We school ‘on the go’ quite a bit and my kids are notorious for losing their work. I usually keep things in folders (and what’s not 3-ring’d into place is stapled in), but these clipboards make storage and pencil-toting easy and all-contained. We have several of them and they get a good workout!

5. My blog – I have this on the list because I am a chronicler and I mean that it’s important for me to write, NOT that I think my blog is an essential for the world at large. By ‘chronicler’, I mean that when my kids were babies, I religiously kept up their baby books. When they started school, I kept papers, then at the end of the year, I culled, but still managed to keep a respectable overview of their school year. Now that we’re homeschooling, the days tend to blend together without some sort of narration. My blog allows me to do that in an unobtrusive manner. Sure, Facebook chronicles, and with ‘timeline’ even more so, but it’s not search-friendly. With blogging, I can chronicle what we did that day, or over the week or month or season. Tagging allows me to easily find posts on lesson planning or gardening or whatever, so I can usually fond things I am looking for. And one day, my kids will be able to go back and review their homeschool career (hopefully with fond memories).

4. Swingline 747 stapler – the big daddy, old-fashioned metal one. Not the plastic one. I staple everything, especially loose worksheets or bits of paper into the kids’ folders that would otherwise be in an easy-to-fall-out-of pocket. I have been known to threaten stapling my kids’ work to their foreheads if they don’t sit down and get finished. If that threat ever came to fruition, I have no doubt that my Swingline 747 would totally get the job done. You can get it in red (a la Office Space), but mine is a big, sexy black beast and I love it so much.

3.  laser printer & cheap toner - I started homeschooling with an inkjet. It was serviceable, but ink was spendy and when I started using refill kits (which worked for a while), I ended up with cartridge recognition errors. Plus, I could drain an ink cartridge in a week. I don’t print an extraordinary amount (mostly lapbooks), but when I sit down to print, I do a lot at once. We replaced the inkjet with a wireless laser printer about a year and a half ago and OMG = <3. I get my toner through amazon, and though I have had some issues (most easily resolved/replaced), being able to print over 1,000 pages per cartridge is muy bueno. I use cheap toner because of the volume I print. If I were printing for business or something that needed to be pristine, cheap toner may not work best, but for my printing needs now, it’s worth it.

2. Homeschool Planner – this is the end-all-be-all of homeschooling must-haves for me. Without it, I would be utterly lost. It’s my schedule and daily ‘to-do’ list, and also serves as a reference when I go to put grades into the computer. I have a weekly plan and a daily plan, and when I need to find something we’ve done, it’s in the planner. I keep track of field trips, notes for our homeschool group’s blog, contacts that I have made in the homeschooling community… not to mention other personal information. All of my appointments are on the calendar, shopping lists, meal plans, birthdays… I literally LIVE by what’s in the planner. The one I use is here, blank and free to download.

and the number one thing I cannot live without… drumroll, please:

1. electric pencil sharpener – and I am not talking battery-powered. I mean one of those ugly, old-school, plug into the wall types that will sharpen a TREE. I cannot tell you how many pencils we go through. Let’s just say that I am pretty sure we’re contributing to global de-forestation. We’ve tried mechanicals, and I love them for myself (Papermate Sharpwriters are my personal fav), but for the kids, they go through them too quickly. We’ve had the Westcott iPoint Kleenearth Evolution Recycled Electric Pencil Sharpener for about a year now and it’s not let us down yet.

That may seem like a silly thing to have as the number one, but everything else has an alternative which, while not quite as good, is serviceable.  The pencil sharpener though… I’d die and/or kill someone if I had to sharpen a thousand pencils a day with a handheld.

So, what’s your ‘top ten’?



January Review

I thought I’d re-cap what all we did this month, both to catch you guys up, to archive for myself, and to get back in the habit of regularly updating… I don’t know what my problem is lately, but I have not been in a blogging mood.

It’s always a bit of a struggle to get back in the groove after a break, and we had an especially long/unstructured break due to my mom’s illness and the holidays. Buckling back down into good school-habits was especially challenging for me – I got spoiled to sleeping in, but we disciplined ourselves, and got settled back into the swing of regular school day-type things pretty easily. Our main issue, I think, was shifting from the idea of being able to stay up super-late to going back to a normal(ish) bedtime and getting up earlier. If Loverly Husband ever switched to working nights, we’d all adjust to sleeping all day and being up all night just fine!

With my mom being sick for so long, we ended up skipping over the last little bit of several things – lapbooks, writing assignments and such. So we got those back out and finished them up (including the Ancient Greece Lapbook and Manatee Lapbook), then started on the Viking Adventure Lapbook from Viking Adventure is a Sonlight book, and the lapbook goes chapter-by-chapter. We’re doing a little more than a chapter per week, and the boys are having a lot of fun learning to write in runes. We’re also lapbooking The Boxcar Children via Beyond Five In A Row, which is going really well.

I remember back when we first started homeschooling, we did a lot more hands-on projects; we’ve gotten away from that a bit lately, and these lapbook and story combos are offering a lot in the way of hands-on learning. One of the things we have been learning about is different types of armor, and at a field trip a few weeks ago, we came across a full suit of medieval armor. Being able to see it in person is always more of a learning experience than just looking at a picture – after getting a good look, both boys decided that they’re glad they don’t have to be knights!

Suits of armor

Over the last few weeks, our local homeschool group has really grown! We’ve added 5 new families to the group over the past month. Since our group is private, we usually meet with interested parties before adding them to the group, which has meant that at least once a week, we’ve been able to take a mid-day break and hit the coffee shop to meet a new homeschooling family.

Let’s see… field trip-wise, we’ve gone to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, (they have free admission to the main halls on Thursday, so we try to take advantage of that when we can). We got a nice surprise when we got there this last time; admission to the Butterfly Hall was discounted that day, so we got tickets for that as well. We had such a great time! And we even made it back into town in time for karate class that evening!


learning about energy

Looking for fossils

checking out human evolution


Megalodon devouring an elephant-like creature…

The kids checking out the whole of human evolution – amazing reference!


Rise of the Guardians – Don’t mess with Santa Claus ;)

We took the kids for a movie day – some of us saw Rise of the Guardians, others in our group saw The Hobbit. That was fun – we took the boys to see The Hobbit a few weeks before that, so we saw Rise. I liked it; their portrayal of Santa as a tattooed, dual sword-wielding Guardian was pretty awesome.


The week after that, we took a holiday; Loverly Husband was off work, and the boys’ friends were out of school so we met up with them at the park. My friend PBJMom and I are working through ‘Wreck This Journal’ with some other friends of ours, and so we played journal while the kids ran around the park. We started a group called ‘Art Journalistas’ and have been egging each other on encouraging each other in our creative endeavors. We started sharing pictures of our work, and have scheduled a few meet-ups to work on them. As I write this, I actually just got back from our ‘Document Your Dinner’ dinner & coffee extravaganza. We usually all bring a bunch of art supplies and have a lot of fun with it.




photo by Mamie Leger

photo by Mamie Leger

This past winter, I really started moving towards a more herbal-based first aid/medicine ideal, and have been experimenting with making tinctures and other herbal remedies. Some of the moms in our homeschool group have similar interests, so we organized an herbal workshop of sorts. We talked essential oils and herbs, and made an all-purpose herbal salve (beeswax, coconut oil, tea tree oil, ginger root and chamomile).

In other news, as a group, we decided that we should do some sort of volunteer/community service project each month. We chose our local Humane Society. We’ve all done our orientation training, and this month was our first official volunteer date with the Humane Society of Southeast Texas. We organized our dates for the next six months with them – the kids love going!

Photo by Jean Bennett

Photo by Jean Bennett

This week, we were supposed to go to see two theater performances, but we ended up going walking/hiking instead. I am SO READY to get back to regular hiking!! This was the first hike (more of a walk, really – though we did walk the dirt-bike trail, which is much more challenging…. so a mild hike, maybe) of the year – I am itching to really get out there. We did see one performance – the ‘True Story of the Three Little Pigs’ by Dallas Children’s Theater. It was pretty funny – I wasn’t sure of I was going to like it, but there were some parts that really made me laugh. It’s always a gamble when you see a show that’s really geared towards younger kids, but we have been attending theater shows since the boys were very young, and have rarely been disappointed. This is the first time that we were in the balcony, on the very top row – as high and far away as you can get from the stage. I never realized how steep the balcony is – they really mean ‘nosebleed’ section!

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon soaking up some Texas sun at the park. It’s been a good month!



Feb 2, 2013


How’s your year starting off?


Back in the Groove

 And so we embark on our fourth year of homeschooling. Looking back, I just can’t believe that we’ve been at this for three solid years. Time has just FLOWN by. It’s amazing to me how much we’ve accomplished over the last three years.

We took off the month of December, as is our normal schedule. We use a four weeks on/one week off schedule throughout the whole year; that gives us roughly the same number of school days that your average public or private school has (following a traditional schedule) – we just get our breaks spread out through the year instead of clumped together during the summer.

I spent our first day ‘back to school’ doing some assessment testing with the boys, mainly in reading, and was impressed with their progress. I don’t do much testing as we go; we’re mastery focused, so we don’t move on until the concept is learned, so there’s not a need for testing in the same way that educational institutions use testing. If you’re interested, I use a couple of reading assessments; there are several listed here that are free and easy to use. It may not be totally comprehensive, but it’s good enough to get an idea; plus, they read all the time, so I hear them reading aloud and already have an idea of their ability; this just gives me a quantifiable number for my records.

I thought that I posted a ‘lesson planning’ post for this year, but I must have overlooked it. I know that I updated our ‘curriculum’ page, but I’ll reference some of that here for good measure, rather than posting a lesson planning post. We’re pretty much set at this point; we’re not making a lot of changes the way that we were in the beginning. I’ve kind of found the things that work for us, so we don’t need as much trial and error!

One of the things that i kinda wanna brag about for a minute is ‘grade level’. I have said over and over again that we don’t really do ‘grade level’ – it’s somewhat of an arbitrary concept, in my opinion. However… even though I’d love to get rid of the concept entirely, we can’t really escape it. The boys have friends in school, my niece is in school – so the topic comes up whether I like it or not. Since we pulled the boys out of school mid-year, and started our school year in January, we’ve been in the middle of a grade for homeschool. My goal has been to get the boys and the school year’s start on the same page – without letting the boys lag behind their schooled peers – and it’s taken three years, but we’re finally there! That’s a silly thing to be proud of, but I am!

That said, we’re actually not starting the next grade. Technically, they’re both done with this grade level’s work (4th for PeaGreen, and 5th for LBB), but one of the benefits of not having to jump into the next grade is that we have time to play around with unit studies and some of the other things that I’ve been wanting to do that we just haven’t had time for because we were busy getting the basics out of the way. I’ve really been wanting to get back to Mason style, literature-based lessons, and with the boys having their grade-level work completed, I finally feel like we can delve into those things.

When the boys were small, we pre-homeschooled with Before Five in A Row and Five In A Row. Then, when the boys started school-school, I sold our copies of those guides and books – but when we had them, we loved them. So, I bought Beyond five In A Row, Volume I to work on over the next few months. I had forgotten how multi-disciplinary the lessons were. I don’t feel that they’re necessarily complete, but using them as a base and supplementing with other materials will work quite well, I think.

The first book in BYFIAR I is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We do lapbooks, so I decided to lapbook the lessons. I posted them a few weeks ago here: The Boxcar Children Lapbook for Beyond Five In A Row Vol I, and we got started on them yesterday. So far, so good! This is a different ‘style’ lapbook than we’ve done previously; usually the mini-books are all on the same theme. In this case, because the lesson plan pulls so many different aspects into it, I’ve had to re-think lapbook organization. Truthfully, the lapbook probably won’t make much sense without the lesson guide, but feel free to use them if you like.

On the schedule for this year are:

  • continuing with karate – Loverly Husband and PeaGreen are both orange belts; LBB and I are both yellow belts. We’re completed a year of training, and participated in our dojo’s New Year’s Day tradition of Hatsu Geiko, or 1,000 Kicks, to re-commit ourselves to our training for the coming year.



  • Spanish Lessons – our local library has organized a children’s conversational Spanish course to be held once a month with a group of volunteer teachers. We went to the first class this evening, and it sounds like they’re going to have a lot of hands-on type things. It sounded interesting and can’t wait to get started! The theme for the next class is ‘food’, so we can interpret that how we like, I suppose. 
  • Spiral Scouts – we’re starting a new Spiral Scouts group in our area. I have issues with Boy Scouts, so that was out, but scouting always sounded like so much fun! There’s just nothing like that in this area; we’ve been in need of a more inclusive scouting program here for years. I’ve known about SS for a while, and am glad to be getting started with it.
  • I don’t have a main curriculum for math right now; we’re going to work on solidifying some of the core concepts before picking up again and moving forward. LBB is working on division with decimals, and PeaGreen is working on division with remainders at the moment; I’m content to work on that and multiplication tables for a few weeks. We used Timez Attack for a while last year so I think we’re going to use that a bit more for a while.
  • The boys both got tablets for Christmas and already, two days int the new year, they’re getting quite a bit of actual school-use from them. We’ve been working on research projects each week, so that laid a good foundation for them to be able to do independent research. Already, they’ve been asked to and successfully located information about Gertrude Chandler Warner for a research paper on her, and several bits of information for their Viking Adventure lapbook, and definitions for vocabulary. I am loving that I don’t have to give up my computer for them to do their work!
  • Something new I want to try this year is visual writing prompts. I found an article by Rosina Lippi  a while back on Pinterest where she was talking about using them, and it made me start a pin board for interesting  pictures that we might use for writing prompts. We haven’t started that yet (only 2 days in), but I am looking forward to using them.
  • Science is another area that I am not set on yet. I am thinking that we may go ahead and do REAL Science Odyssey. I am thinking Level I Chemistry and then Level 2 Biology in a few months… we’ll see. I have science textbooks for days, so we may stick with those.
  • We’re doing Story of the World III this year, but aren’t starting it just yet. We’re in the middle of II, and are taking a break to pursue Vikings at the moment; I found a lapbook that corresponds with Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla, so we just got started in that. We were/are doing the SoTW lapbook from Chronicle of the Earth at RunOfTheMillFamily’s blog, but she’s on hold for now; we may or may not be ready to start SoTWIII by the time she has started posting new minibooks… that’s a  ‘wait and see’ game. In the mean time, I have started working on lapbooking components for III just in case.
  • We are still doing Latin; still Cambridge I. Hopefully we will get into II sometime this year.
  • Science Fair is coming up in the spring, with the Texas Regional Homeschool Science Fair in March/April. We’re going to go this year, I think – maybe not compete in the TRHSF, but at least go to get the kids excited about next year.
  • And, of course, our local homeschool group is active, as ever. We just updated our calendar for the group’s activities through June and we have a ton of fun stuff planned.

So… that’s a look at what we’re doing/thinking about for the coming year. We’re off to a really good start, and I look forward to sharing our continued journey with you!


The Boxcar Children BYFIAR Lapbook

 Beginning in January, we will be working on literature-based unit studies for our spring semester. When my kids were younger, we worked through the Five in A Row series, and we loved it. We’ve gotten away from it, so I thought that with the plan to go back to literature units, it might be a good time to revisit FIAR.

We’re using Beyond Five in A Row, which uses chapter books instead of picture books. Volume I starts with Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. Though we have the activity guide, I thought it would be fun to work the activities lapbook-style, and so have created lapbook templates for each chapter, based on the activities in Beyond Five in A Row, Volume I. You can likely do the lapbook without the activity guide, but it is my recommendation that you have BYFIAR I as these templates are intended to complement, not replace the BYFIAR activities. Also, there are some activities that would not have translated into a mini-book.














If you enjoy these templates, please feel free to link back to this page! I’d love to see pictures of your lapbooks.


(disclaimer: no copyright infringement is intended in any way; these templates are for personal use only.)

Winding Down…

 It’s the end of our school year and we’re winding down. This is our last week before our break – three years of homeschooling have gone by in such a flash!

Some of the things we’re wrapping up:

Ancient Greece Lapbook

Manatee Lapbook (and accompanying community service project – many apologies to those of you who have been looking for updates on our manatee project; we truly have not forgotten about it – as soon as I have our adoptions complete, I will be posting the updated info on them. It’s in my plan for this week!)

The boys have finished their grade workbooks for this school year; even knowing how fast they can work through those books, it’s always surprising to me when they zip through them in only a few months. The Aug-Nov schedule has been a pretty normal one, including a more or less month-long break so we could help take care of my mom after her surgery and through the issues associate with that – and yet still they’ve breezed through their lessons. I am not quite ready to advance them to the next grade, so we’re going to work on literature units from January through May of 2013.

Its been crazy-busy around here between my mom’s recovery and the holidays. We’ve had to replace basically all of the appliances in our house over the last few months, so Tool Time has been in full-force; Loverly Husband spent this weekend replacing the floor in our kitchen! We’ve also run errands and in general been too busy to sit still for much schoolin'; hopefully this week will afford us the time to finish up the last few things for the end of the year, then we can relax!

I have been talking to several moms lately about Five in A Row - I used Before Five in a Row and FIAR when my kids were small, and I LOVED it. As a literature-minded person, I loved that those lesson plans were based in beloved children’s books; they just fit our style so very well. So, in light of that, I ordered the Beyond Five in A Row to work through with the kids when we start again in January.

Volume I utilizes The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and Homer Price by Robert McCloskey as its two fiction selections, and Thomas Edison by Sue Guthridge and Betsy Ross by Ann Weil from the Childhood of Famous Americans Series for its two non-fiction selections.

We’ve already read the Boxcar Children, but not as a unit study. The other books are new to us, but I am sure that they’ll be interesting. I am not sure of the timing for those units, so if we have time, I will be ordering the other books as well. I think that TBC is a bit young (3rd grade level), but since they’ve read it already, I thought that it might be a good way to boost their enthusiasm for the assignments by working with material they’re already familiar with.

To start us off in our literature adventure, and even though we’re not technically doing ‘school’ for the next month, we’re reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I found a lesson plan that spans 2 weeks that we may use to really get into the meat of the book; but even if we just read the series, I think there is plenty of educational value in that. Scholastic’s website also has resources for The Giver.

In any case, I am excited to wrap this school year up and get ready for the new term in January!



Fall is in the air!

This week marks our second week back since our break, which was so very nice; Loverly Husband was able to take the latter half of the week off as well, so we went with some friends down to Galveston for a day spent on the beach – so much fun!

Last week was pretty easy-going – just a normal school week, but the weather… oh, the weather! We had our first cool front of the season come through on Oct. 1st, which has been so amazing! I have been ready for sweater-weather since, oh… May… and so far the weather is holding in the 60’s-80’s range and I am in heaven.

I am peppering this post with lovely fall foliage because here down South, we don’t get the kinds of color changes that the Northern states get. Even though I have lived in the South my whole life, I miss fall foliage. I feel like it’s something that I had once and have lost – it’s such a weird feeling! So this is as close as I am going to get.

Like I mentioned above, we spent a lot of time on the beach when we were out of school. The weather is perfect to beachy-time fun – not blisteringly hot, and the water is right on the cusp of cold. It makes for such a great day. The place that we’ve been going is nice, too. It’s a city-kept park, so the sand is clean (well, as clean as sand can be, I suppose) and swept – only bad thing about that is the lack of collectibles – they all get swept away. But the water is nice, too – no seaweed touching me under the waves – I actually went out chest-deep in the water with the kids to play.

We took a field trip to Lutcher Theater in Orange to see ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, a story about a man who lived in  a barren area of France and spent his time herding sheep and planting acorns. Eventually, the acorns grew, and turned the desolate plain into a lush forest. This particular performance was by the Edinburgh-based Puppet State Theatre Company, which is known for  its clever combination of puppetry, storytelling, choreography as a multi-sensory experience. I have to say that this is one of my favorite performances we’ve been to in a while. Since it was a small play; just the two gentlemen pictured and a small set with a handful of puppets and props, the theater opted to hold the performance backstage – so the kids got to see how ‘behind the scenes’ works. It was such a nice, intimate feeling.

The artists, themselves were amazing. Very calm and they just made it such a great experience! They sprinkled lavender essential oil on a huge fan and wafted the scent through the theater, spritzed the kids with water-guns, waved birds on strings right over our heads and wrapped up with the scent of fresh mint. It was really a wonderful performance!

If you’re interested in seeing the story, there’s an animated version of the book on Vimeo here. A slight content warnings from 7:00 to 7:40; 14:00 to 14:15,  if you have sensitive littles, but other than that, it’s very similar to the performance. There’s a study guide for the performance at Lutcher Theater’s website here, if you’re interested in using this as a unit study.

From a secular viewpoint, there are a couple of mentions of God and creation, but depending on your viewpoint, this could be simply a figure of speech shaped by culture, especially in light of a comment made about ‘man being as effective at God in something other than destruction’, and about Elzéard Bouffier’s accomplishments ‘being worthy of God’. There are references to Lazarus emerging from the tomb, and to the land of Canaan – again, this could be a literary reference rather than a religious one.

In other news, Loverly Husband and I also both had belt tests this past week – I’m a yellow belt and he is an orange belt now. That makes everyone in our family officially a ‘colored’ belt! The kids will both (hopefully) test in December.

This week, we went with our homeschool group to the Fire Museum of Texas in celebration of Fire Safety Week. Their theme this year is ‘have 2 ways out’, so we talked about the door as our primary escape route, and how to safely exit a window – our house is old and the windows are hard to open, so just open and exit wouldn’t work. They’d need to break the glass safely (eyes away from the window), and to lay a towel or blanket over the sill and shoes or another blanket to cover the ground below the window in order to avoid cut feet. We reviewed all of our fire safety plan for our house and checked the alarms and batteries; between this and the recent 911 Operations Center field trip, the kids are well-rehearsed in what to do in case of an emergency!

One of the things I really wanted to work on this year was community service oriented projects. So far, we’ve participated in the Adopt-A-Beach program at Sea Rim State Park, and spent an afternoon making get well cards to Houston veterans; up next is part of the kids’ environmental science curriculum. I’m really proud of how the boys have stepped up and made these projects fun to do.

They’ve chosen the Save A Manatee Club as their beneficiary and are raising funds to adopt a manatee through their program. They need a total of $70 to meet their goal; with fundraising season being in full swing in the public school system (we’ve bought cookie dough from several kids in our dojo, and contributed to Jump Rope for Heart), I figure now is a s good a time as any for the boys to work on their campaign. All of the funds raised, both in person and online will go to the Save A Manatee Club in Florida.

The boys have each chosen a manatee that they’d like to adopt this year. PeaGreen chose NICK, who is a small adult male who was first identified in 1977. His movements have been tracked by radio telemetry, producing information on behavior such as going north, rather than south, in midwinter — hence his nickname, “Crazy Nick.”; and LBB chose BAMA, a manatee who made history in September 2009 when she became the first manatee ever captured and tagged in Alabama waters by Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network. Now a local attraction in Mobile Bay in the spring and summer, Bama has migrated from Alabama to Crystal River, Florida each winter.

Looking at the age ranges of some of these animals, I am surprised at how old they are, and at how long they’ve been being tracked. Some of them are travelers, too! We’re starting a lapbook on manatees as well, to go with this project (so look for that to be posted soon)!

Click the picture to be taken to our GoFundMe page if you’d like to donate to help the boys meet their goal!

Unfortunately, my computer in the school room (where I normally compose my blog posts) is acting up, or I’d have more pictures for this post – I’ll either update this post or just make a new one when I get that computer up (hopefully this evening).

This coming week is full of fun stuff – Vampire Diaries premiere  … and a bunch of other stuff. The main thing is the VampDiaries season premiere though. {wink} I’m hosting a silly fangirl party for all of my thirty-something girlfriends to come squee like 15 year olds, lol. Silly, indulgent fun, that. Looking forward to it!

Hope your week is busy being awesome!

Three Weeks In…

and things are going well.

We have been hitting the books pretty hard; there are serious dents in the boys’ workbooks, which makes me insanely happy. I know that it ‘shouldn’t’, and that seeing piles of completed work doesn’t equal learning… but still, something about seeing those stacks of completed assignments (or at least grades in the computer) makes me feel like we’ve accomplished more than when I don’t see those things. Some habits are hard to break, I guess.

Anyway – if the boys keep moving at the pace they’ve set, then they’ll be done with this ‘year’ by December. I am in no rush, and we won’t start the new grade until I am sure they’re ready. For a bit, I thought that was a reasonable goal, but we really need to work on multiplication tables with PeaGreen,  and LBB is into fractions with mixed numbers, so we’re camping out in those areas for the time being. We finally got the hang of GCF and LCM… so maybe things will be moving along soon.

Next up: decimals! (can you feel the excitement??)

We’ve pretty much combined Grammar, Spelling and Reading this year (as subjects). We’re still notebooking (Beethoven is our current notebooking project), and lapbooking (Minerals (on hiatus), The Continents, a Weather unit, and SOTW II (about to go on hiatus so we can work the Ancient Rome, Viking Adventure & Ancient Greece lapbooks from HomeschoolShare). I’ll have new pages up on those lapbooks when we’re done; almost all of those use templates from, but I’ve either changed or added things to them (of my own or from other places) to bring them up to the boys’ level.

I am really liking the ‘unit study’ theme and am considering bringing that concept more into play in January. There are several books I’d like to go through, but I would like the pressure off to complete ‘grade level’ work before we delve too much into them. When the boys were younger, we did FiveInARow, and I *loved* that… in the past year or so, we’ve strayed from CM-style learning and I am ready to get more into literature-based work again. I am considering getting Beyond Five in a Row as a guide for January.

Field trips are back in full swing as well. We’ve gone on a 2.2 mile hike and swim with our homeschool group, and had planned to hit the water park this past week, only to find out that they all closed over the weekend. I am bummed about that – summer is NOT over yet, even if school has begun for the majority of districts. We made up for it with a trip to a local sprinkler park (with thankfully remains open through September).

Photo by Amanda Pond

In other news, the boys both tested for their yellow belts in karate, and passed! Shamrocks and I will be testing in October (him for orange and me for yellow). I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my stamina over the last few months – I am much stronger now than I was when I started training.

Hmmm… oh – Minecraft. My kids (an I) are all addicted. So, rather than fight it, we’re using it. One way we’re incorporating gaming into education is by graphing out a building plan on graph paper and then building it in Minecraft. We play on XBox 360, and since it’s just me and the boys, it is less distracting (we don’t play online). We’re just creating simple designs at this point, but we will be creating more grand constructions in the future, and building cooperatively. There are also ideas at that I’d like to try. It’s a little redundant for my boys (the journaling part will be new though). I am considering having them keep track of their resources on a daily basis (collected, used, lost, traded) when we start journaling as well.  they both have created multiple servers and explored multiple seeds with different biomes… so they definitely get the creative and cooperative side to the game. As addictions go, this isn’t one I am complaining about.

We’ve also started another kitchen project – water kefir. So far, we’ve made strawberry lemonade and fruit punch and they’re super yummy! We usually drink water or tea (and we all know that this Mommy is a coffee fiend!), so this is a welcome alternative. It’s also a fun science lesson – watching the kefir grow and seeing the differences in taste after 24/48/36 hour fermentations.

Some other things we’ve been up to:

  • school pictures (which I will have to update and post later since I am not at the right computer) – also part of the NBTS Blog Hop (that I am late in participating on).

(edited to add:

Not Back to School Blog Hop

  • I also added this year’s school pictures t the ‘school days’ frame that we have for each other boys (instead of keeping the pictures on my desk for 6 months, watching them get raggedy and worn before adding them to the frame).
  • As always with picture-time, I made this year’s homeschool ID cards and educator ID card for myself, as well as homeschool group ID cards for the parents in our homeschool group, and updated my educator accounts with Barnes & Noble, JoAnn’s, School Aids, Office Depot… all those discounts add up!!
  • I re-vamped the kids’ workboxes (which I think I already posted about, but will make a proper post of in the future).
  • I’m about to embark on a massive household purge – I picked up a few super cheap clothes for the boys, then got home and realized that we’ve never cleaned out the too-smalls from the last few months. So between that and the piles of books that I’ve been hoarding, I seriously need to de-clutter (but then again, I always say that, don’t I?)
  • …. I think that’s about it for now.

Hope your school year is off to a wonderful (and productive) start!



NBTSBH Curriculum Week: Planning 4th and 5th grade

So as of today, we’re officially ‘back to school’ – yay!!

That means that it’s time to play ‘Not Back to School Blog Hop‘! Yay!! I love this time of year – it’s so… exciting. Everything is all hustle and bustle and getting ready for doing things! This past summer was the first time since we started homeschooling that we’ve taken a lengthy break (not that we’ve been idle), and even the kids are actually looking forward to school starting up again.

Rather than be frustrated with the school year not working out the way I’d envisioned, with a few changes to the fall programme I am quite happy with the way that she summer has worked out. We’ve had a full 8 weeks of summery-time fun, and spent tons of quality time with friends. The kids have gotten to attend some pretty awesome classes and even though it wasn’t structured, got plenty of learning in as well. Now that all that is past, it’s time to drag out the books, clean out the files and start fresh.

Some ideas that I’ve played with over the last few years that I want to put fully into practice again:

  • workboxes – I am a fan of workboxes. We’ve struggled to find the exact right method of ‘box’, and are trying out one more . Eventually, I think I’d like to have this style:

This isn’t my picture, but this is the style I want to use. Everything is open and visible at a glance – I can see what’s inside the boxes at any time without having to mess with them. But for now, we’re using the file box system. I did print out some workbox tags from HeartofWisdom (and some from HomeschoolCreations as well) to help the kids see ‘at a glance’ what they have in their files for the day.

We have 12 boxes; we’ve been talking about this already for a while now. We started preparing for the ‘first day of school’ about 3 weeks out; I wanted them well-prepared with what to expect this year. I am putting the onus on them to get their work and chores done – with everything spelled out and in their boxes, as long as they follow the next box, they shouldn’t have any trouble – or get into trouble – for not fullfilling their responsibilities.

With middle school on the horizon in the fall of next year, I need to see more than a little independent work from them, especially LittleBoyBlue (who will be 11 in December). He has ADHD and SPD – but he also has a large repertoire of coping strategies to help him stay focused; there’s no reason I cannot expect him to handle this level of responsibility. After all, this is what we’ve been working towards! And I will still be there to offer reminders.

  • meditation/quiet time/reflection time – some sort of similar idea Mind jar

W"I Am In Charge Of How I Feel And Today I Am Choosing Happiness."e’ve been using our mind jars for quite some time now, though probably not as often as we could, and I have noticed that the boys are more easily able to contain themselves when we make meditation practice a more regular part of their days.

I have also been attending group meditation at the local Buddhist temple and Unity church, and find that in addition to my own formal private meditation practice, these group meditations are useful. I think that we’re going to start incorporating some sort of mindful meditation as part of our school schedule this year, even if it’s only 15 minutes or so a couple of times each week, with an eye towards having the kids attend in the near future. We’re not ‘religious’, but this sort of consideration for the needs of the spirit/soul/inner self/mind – whatever you want to call it, are helpful, I think.

Another area we’ve been slacking in is organized group charity work. AT one point, we had a HEARTS group, but that kind of fizzled out.  Coyote Communications has a lot of great suggestions for community service work, and we’re planning our homeschool group’s calendar tomorrow at our weekly meet-up, so I am bringing a list and getting some plans on the books. 

In addition to the regular subjects, math, grammar, handwriting (yes, still), spelling, geography, science, history and the like, I want to work on extra-curriculars. We’ve talked for a while about doing ‘adventure scouts’ with our local homeschool group – a scouting group that is completely secular and utterly non-discriminatory – for our kids to participate in, but we’ve never gotten it off the ground. I’d like to work on that this year. The kids’ hiking vests have gotten too small, so it looks like we’ll be getting new ones in the near future, too! (Oy… do I move all the patches, or just start getting new ones??)

As for some of the resources we’ll be using this year, I decided to go with a different big workbook than we have been using. I decided on American Education Publishing’s 4th and 5th grade Comprehensive Curriculum books to try out. There are actually 2 versions of these books; one is older and one is newer. I think I like the older version better, but both seem a little more challenging than the Harcourt books. The 5th grade books has a section called ‘citizenship’ that I am using as a guide for both boys, and there’s an ‘environmental science’ section as well with projects and activities that they can both do. These workbooks are pretty much our guide for covering basic skills in reading comprehension, math, grammar and phonics. I supplement that with activities like journaling, copywork, narration, dictation and reading aloud. We’re implementing a ‘student teacher’ section on Fridays where instead of the boys doing their reading lesson, they can teach it to me and their brother (the idea being that when you can teach it, then you know it).

I haven’t gotten the 5th grade Core Knowledge book yet, but I do have the standards for 4th and 5th grade printed out. (It’s the ‘download the sequence’ tab in the menu here. Although I like the ‘What Your X Grader Needs to Know’ books, we don’t use them for much past the checklist of skills. I may get it later, but I don’t need it right now. This is one reason why I like the big workbooks – it’s covering the basic skills for each grade level without much fuss.

For History, we’re still using Story of the World II and the lapbook from Run of the Mill Family (which is *awesome*). There isn’t a lapbook for Volume III, so I may be writing one! I am loosely using Mosaic’s activity guide for year II, but in January we will have to find a new activity resource. I may end up getting the actual SotW III book and guide. So far, between our timeline, the lapbook and additional reading and video watching, history has been pretty well-rounded, though I would like to add some more hands-on activities this year.

We’re doing a composer study each month; starting this month, our composer is Ludwig Von Beethoven. Miss Music has a great page with some basic info for different composers, and notebooking pages from Practical Pages (and their composer of the month wall chart as well). We’re only hitting composer study once or twice each week, so a month-long lesson on each composer (and possibly a lapbook) seems much more doable than one each week. I’d like to do an artist study as well… but one thing at a time, I think.

We’re using Seterra for geography, as well as some Practical Pages geography lapbooking. I am considering making just one big geography lapbook instead of breaking each thing up into smaller sections, but I am not decided just yet. Seterra has some nifty little flash games that help with identifying geographical features; the boys like games, so  that worked out well.

Great way to get the kids to evaluate themselves and their learning.Another idea I came across (on Pinterest) was to give the kids self-assesment tools, such as this poster, rather than rely on my interpretation of how they’re doing. We’re going to play with this a bit and see how we can incorporate it into their space. I am thinking that maybe we’ll talk about some of the assignments before they get started and see where they think they are, then afterwards, review again and see if they feel like they learned it. Not on everything, obviously – that would take a LONG time! – but when they seem to get ‘stuck’, maybe… idaknow… I’m still working on that.

So there you have it… a pretty good look at what we’re going to be doing and using over the next few months. To see more homeschool planning goodness, check out Heart of the Matter Online for their Not Back to School Blog Hop!



Summer Fun Passport

I was going to start this post off with a line about wanting to know what my kids are up to when they’re not with me. Then, I realized that there are very few instances when my kids are not with me, and so that wasn’t an applicable way to begin…

But the principle applies – *if* my kids were away from me, especially on a somewhat regular basis, I’d want to know what they were doing. By the same token, I thought that it would be neat for Appleberry, Huckleberry Pie & Red Butler to have a  record of everything we did this summer to take home with them.

And so, the ‘Summer Fun Passport’ was created!

I took my existing history passport and changed the color scheme and updated the text. Then I searched Google for clip art of things we’ve done – tennis camp, swimming, sleepovers, the library, summer reading club, spending time with grandparents, movie posters, etc… and put them into a document with text (in some cases).

Then I printed the pictures, cut them out and glued them into the spaces just like passport stamps and added dates and notes (if they weren’t typed out).

The result turned out pretty good, and is a visual record of what we did this summer!

I added the templates I made if you’d like to make your own:

Summer Fun Passport Cover and map BLANK

I print the covers, then turn the page and slide it back through for the map to print on the opposite side. Then I do the same thing with the map pages for the insides. They don’t align 100% perfectly, but they’re pretty close. It may take a bit of fiddling with flipping the pages to get them to print evenly; on mine, I have to turn the page over and upside down so that the margins match up. But if they don’t, it’s not that big of a deal; most of the lines will be covered with pictures, stickers or text anyway.

I also left blank spaces on the back so that you can add your homeschool crest or logo, and a message to the kids on the back. If you make one, link back and let me know! I’d love to see how this idea gets adapted!



Summery Time Fun

Last time I posted, I was complaining about wanting the school year to be over; I was ready for summer to begin. Now that we’re officially ‘in summer’, though our school year has mostly wrapped up and we’re taking it a little easy on classwork, our calendar is even more packed than usual.

I don’t know why I am surprised. Summers are always busier for us than the school year. Between my niece Fred (who has asked to be re-named and is so christened Appleberry) visiting with us for much of the summer, the addition of Tennis Camp that starts next week, and my two new additions (friends’ kiddos who are visiting for the summer and staying with us once a week) Red Butler and Huckleberry Pie, our house is extra full.

It’s always interesting getting to know new kids. The two new boys are visiting from Cali; Texas is completely new to them – from the heat to the bugs, it’s been fun watching them acclimate. We spent much of their first week in town together since they’d be staying with us. They fit right in, with personalities similar to  each of my boys. We’ve also had quite an influx of new blood into the homeschool group, and with the addition of the boys to our weekly routine, I am continually amazed by the readiness of my children to accept and integrate new people with ease. So often, I have seen the ‘new kid’ sitting shyly off to the side, waiting for an invitation to join a group of kids. In our homeschool group, that has never been an issue. The old-timers are there with welcoming handshakes and immediate invitations to the new kids to come play. They don’t have the cliquishness of the classroom, and it doesn’t matter if the new kids are  older or younger or smarter or more talented – in homeschool, they’re all equal and it is lovely to see.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been super busy. I know I say that all the time, but I really mean it this time! In addition to our regular weekly outings with our homeschool group, we got signed up for the summer reading club with our local library (there’s an adult SRP this year, too!), and the kids are doing Tennis Camp; we have the summer movie clubs at a couple of local theaters and of course we have karate and roller derby taking up our time as well. Thankfully, we do get a couple of ‘home days’ each week and we can fall into the pool for a truly relaxing day.

In addition to that, we’re wrapping up the final pages of this year’s ‘grade’ curriculum and starting on summer reviews. Since we’re so busy with out of the house stuff, desk time is few and far-between, so we’ve scaled back to a couple of days of seat-work per week; there are plenty of educational opportunities coming up that we’ll partake of fully.

I can’t believe that my babies are growing up so fast! LBB will start 5th grade soon, and PeaGreen will start 4th. I am in awe that even though we spend every day together, the time is still just FLYING by. I thought that homeschooling would slow things down a bit, but I am still finding that some days just end too soon.

Here are some pics from our recent escapades:

Hope your summer is off to an equally adventurous start!


Anchor Charts

Have you heard about anchor charts? An anchor chart is a chart that you make with your kids/students to help illustrate a concept. Once it’s created, the chart/poster is placed in an area so that it can be seen and referred to as needed.

I have seen many, many examples of anchor charts, and differing views on how they’re made. I’ve implemented a couple of techniques – from making them up before hand and presenting them to the kids, to working out a concept with the kids, taking notes and then making the final chart for display purposes. That seems to work better – making the chart together. I do admit to going online and finding an example of the chart I want to make and guiding the conversation in the right direction though!

A few months ago, I found a large wall chart pad at a school supplies store on clearance about bought it. Anchor chart pads are usually larger, but in a homeschool setting, this size creates smaller, more manageable sized charts that are idea for our space. The pad I use is a Bemiss Jason 24″ x 16″, 1.5″ ruled notepad, similar to this one at Amazon. We have a chalkboard on one wall and I just open the pad to the right chart and lean it against the board in the chalk tray.

Since we’ve been using anchor charts, I do think it’s helped. Most of them have some sort of catchy phrase to them that make the concept easy to remember. Some of our charts include:

  • Reading Aloud (reading fluency chart)
  • Reading Fluency (similar to our Reading Aloud chart, but less rhyme-ish. I actually like the Reading Aloud chart, used with the hand signs, better)
  • Rounding Numbers
  • Math Doubles (‘If you don’t know your doubles, you’re in ‘Double Trouble’)
  • Math Strategies for Adding and Subtracting (8 ways to add and subtract: fingers, number line, abacus, tallies, memorize it, use a grid, count objects, put one number in your head and ‘add on’ or count the difference)
  • Plot (like a roller coaster – beginning, middle (highest point), ending)
  • Math Phrases (what phrases mean ‘to add’ – like ‘how many, altogether, plus… ‘subtract’ – remaining, left, take away, difference between… etc.)
  • Math Fact Families
The ones we use most often are the Reading Aloud chart, and the Rounding chart.
The Reading Aloud chart is based on this reading fluency exercise video by YouTube user TeachinginRoom6.
This is our actual chart:
This is our Rounding chart, base doff of many similar ones I’ve seen on the web, and the rhyme, ‘FOUR or less, let it rest; FIVE or more, raise the score’ and the concept of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ numbers:
I have seen many others that I think we’ll eventually incorporate – charts for ‘good writers’ or a ‘writing lab’ for different types of writing assignments, charts for the periodic table and scientific procedure/ lab safety – lots of fun things to use! Do you use anchor charts in your homeschool?


NSYP Day (Part 2) & Lesson Updates

I am generally not a spontaneous person by nature, but when one of the moms in my homeschool group sent through the link to GranolaMom4God’s National Sharpen Your Pencil Day, the idea struck me as completely charming. That was one on the very first things I saw when I sat down at my desk to get started on school today, so I thought, ‘why not?’ and printed out the robot pencil toppers and the activity pack.

<—This is supposed to be me, as a robot, colored by PeaGreen. Notice the ‘ponytails’. And I don’t wear purple. Just sayin’. LOL

The pack was a bit young for my kids; I think they were targeting more pre-school/ younger elementary age so we did what all snazzy homeschooling moms do – we adapted the lesson plan. I started off by bundling up some pencils and placing them on top of their worksheets on their desks. I had them gather up and count their pencils – not only the ones on their desks, but also the ones they have in their rooms. Our total pencil count for today was 215  (112 for mom; 58 for PeaGreen, and 45 for LBB). We also kept a tally of how many pencils we each sharpened throughout the day: total 52   (7 for Mom, 25 for PeaGreen & 20 for LBB).

There were four handwriting sheets, and since we still do handwriting, I just had the boys do those pages as-is. If I’d thought about it before hand, I’d have given them a few fun facts about pencils to write on the lines, following the wave patters or slant pattern. However, they did enjoy the idea of doing such a ‘simple’ assignment, so it was fun which is one of the goals, so I am content.

The spelling assignment was a word that the boys have had before, so we did a scavenger hunt instead, finding one item that began with each letter in ‘pencils’. Below is LBB’s treasure:

P= pencil

E= electronics

N= nothing    (Clever or lazy? You decide.)

C= cents (or change – he said both)

I= Insanity (The Joker)

L= list of items

S= shoe

The boys did the pattern cards and created patters, then made designs and pasted them into their packet, and also cut out the pencils ordering puzzle. They also measured the pencils on the ‘longest to shortest’ page, and colored and cut out their robot pencil toppers – a throw back to easier grades, but fun, nonetheless.

In other news, we’ve been busy little bees around here lately, which accounts for the lack of blogging. We’re finishing the last few mini-books in our Black History Month Lapbook up today and tomorrow, and I have a Titanic Lapbook (with 23 minibook templates & links) ready to start in a couple of weeks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. And hey – an honest to goodness excuse to watch Titanic again? Even yesser.

I also ordered The Number Devil from Amazon and found More of a Mom’s Number Devil Lesson Plans. I printed out her worksheets and lesson plans and we’re planning on starting that next week. We’re still in the midst of multiplication and division, but it’s getting kind of stale, so I thought we’d work on something new and different for a bit. I’m not planning on going through TND all at once; we’ll focus on that next week and just doing a few basic math drills, then go back to our regularly scheduled math curriculum when we come back from our break. I just wanted something to break up the monotony – repetition and patterns and foundations are good, but after a while, I find them so boring. The Number Devil was recommended on something I was reading a while back that was talking about kids with ADHD – the concepts, especially with More of a Mom’s lesson plans – are a little more ‘whole learning’ based instead of dry textbook stuff. There are even notebooking pages incorporated into her lesson plans.

We’ve also been hard at work planning and getting ready for our group’s second annual Science Fair. One of the local state parks that we frequent has agreed to host for us, and we’re doing a ‘Moms vs. Kids’ contest to help everyone get involved. We’re all very excited about it! I am doing a blood spatter experiment, PeaGreen is building a hovercraft model and LBB has been quite secretive about his project – I think he’s planning on getting his dad involved.

On a sad note, LBB’s lizard, Lizzy, died yesterday. She wasn’t a pet in the traditional sense; we frequently get green anole lizards stuck in the house. They’re escaping the heat or cold or damp – I’m not really sure, but they love it here. In any case, LBB found one in his room a few weeks ago and created a ‘habitat’ for it on a shelf (but open, so that the lizard could come and go and be free) and he developed an attachment to it. In any case, he has been quite sad about her loss, so we made some commemorative art today to remember her by. This was my contribution to Lizzy’s memory.

This week is also Texas Independence Day – we reviewed our Texas Lapbooks (TX Independence and Texas Symbols) and went over our plans to visit the San Jacinto Monument in a few weeks. We’re also gearing up for some more home improvement stuff (I finally have a new dishwasher – installed!!) and yard work, including planning our (biggest yet) garden for this spring. I’ve been Pinteresting ideas for a while now; it is going to be so much fun laying them out and seeing everything come to fruition.

Hope your week is going well!


Celebrating Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and to be honest, aside from reading a few things about African-American history, we haven’t gone much in-depth, study-wise. Actually, we only started really doing history as its own subject last year; but part of the reason we haven’t gone farther into Black History Month is because so much of it happened in relatively recent years. We are working through history chronologically, and we’re still in the Middle Ages. We’ll get more into modern history as we go through our history lessons and will devote quite a bit of time to both the Civil War era and the Civil Rights Movement (which we have covered in the past).

Even though this is our 3rd year, we’re just now getting into a good enough routine to cover most of the curriculum I’d like to incorporate. One of the things I’m planning on doing this year is devoting time to cover many of the ‘X-History/Heritage Month’ themes. Much of my family is from Irish/English and French descent, and German/Dutch, while the kids are Native American, Welsh and Scottish and we’ve never looked much into those either, so I thought we’d start the year off right.

In that vein, we’re working on a new lapbook. It’s been a while since we’ve done one, so it’s fun to get back into that again. I was looking for a Black History Month lapbook and found resources, but not a ready-to-cut one, so I made one (downloadable links below) This turned out to be a pretty big lapbook; it has 26 mini-books, including quite a few short  biographies of notable figures and activists. I’m having the kids choose a person, research and write up a biography, then share what they learned about that person. This will be the most hands-on lapbook for them that we’ve done to date.

I also wanted to include:

  • a brief overview of the Civil War era
  • the migration of African-Americans to the North
  • poetry and inventions that we credit black inventors and artists for
  • a timeline of America’s part in black history, starting with the slave trade and including notable historical events through the present

This is by no means a ‘professional’ lapbook; it was created as I was reading and researching, and the layout reflects my ADHD-ness. Also, some of the mini-books are in color, others are in b/w because my printer at home right now only wants to print in shades of red. With those disclaimers, feel free to print and use what you like of it, and share with your friends by linking back here (please don’t upload the file on your own blog/website).

Eventually, I’ll have a new page with more links and resources to go along with this lapbook, but for now, it’s mostly just the templates. Enjoy!
ThisAdventureLife’s Black History Month Lapbook




Three Weeks Down Already?

Oh, Dwight… you do have such a way with words.

I was going to make a comment about time flying by, but then I found that picture and got distracted by fun stuff from The Office. ‘Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica.‘ There’s even a tee shirt.*So* funny.


We’re three weeks into our new school year. How did that happen? Didn’t we just get done with Christmas? I am shocked and amazed – we’re only four days out from our first break this year and everyone is alive and well. As stressed out as our last few weeks of school were last year, I am exceedingly happy to report that this year is off to a very nice start. I’ve also lost 12 lbs. of 128 lbs. since Christmas, so I’m a pretty happy camper all around.

We’re still doing our crazy schedule – the kids have karate 2 evenings per week and on Saturdays, and I am training to be an NSO with our local roller derby team. My sister is a rollergirl; she’s been after me to come play but seeing as how I am an utter disaster on skates, I think it’s best that I keep my involvement firmly planted on the ground. Being a non-skating official lets me participate without risking my tailbone. In any case, practice is one night per week. If we weren’t enjoying it so much, I’d complain about being over-scheduled, but so far it’s working well.

Plans for this week include attending a performance by our local symphony, attending a half-day full of JASON presentations at our local college, learning about Groundhog’s Day and the history of (which are Candlemas and Imboc), and various crafting and lapbooking associated with, and working on solidifying those pesky multiplication facts. I found a video that uses your hands for quickly figuring out 6×6 – 10×10 facts, and a way to do ‘short’ division (because long division is absolutely killing LBB). I started arrays with PeaGreen, but he’s not so keen on them, so I will be looking for other ways to help him with his times tables (maybe Mr. Numbers?).

We’ll be winding up the week, and the first four weeks of school on Friday with a review of what all we’ve covered so far and a look at what we may want to change. I like my new lesson planner layout; the boxes for individual subjects are smaller, but they look *super* full when I write in them now, so it’s quite visually appealing. I’m still kinda disorganized off of paper, but on paper, I’m the bomb-diggety. We’re still using workbox plans, but I haven’t been packing the boxes like I was. We’ve been using a file box with hanging folders instead of actual boxes, but the boys say that they like the boxes better so we may work on going back to that here in the next few weeks. I’ll have to work on space though; the school room is crazy cluttered right now (we’re working at the kitchen table as I type). Luckily, tax season is right around the corner, so we’ll be doing some home improvement inside and out in the very near future. That means storage shelves, new paint and planning our garden for this year. Loverly Husband is even talking about building a greenhouse. I can’t wait!!

Now that school’s over for today, I’m going to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and my Nook while the children are otherwise occupied in another room.

MLK Day Festivities and Notebooking

In celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, we’ve been working on expanding last year’s lapbook into this year’s notebooking. I came across a nifty ‘how to make notebooking pages‘ from Squidoo via Jimmie’s Collage (which has tons of really great notebooking info, and Jimmie also does The Notebooking Fairy blog) and whipped up a few for the kids to use instead of the dreaded handwriting workbook.

I’ve been meaning to get the kids into something other than a workbook for handwriting for a while now, and I think notebooking will fit the bill nicely. We’re taking it slow and easy – just working on forming letters and small passages – but I think that they need the practice and that writing real words instead of just practicing letters will help their writing become more fluid. I already notice that their cursive writing is significantly neater than their print, so we’re going to be stepping up the cursive writing portion quite a bit this year.

I know, I know – the debate about cursive is endless, but that’s a topic for another post! Moving on…

As our first real foray into honest-to-goodness ‘notebooking’, the boys have actually gotten off to a pretty good start. We’re going to be working on the Dr. King theme all this week; there’s a lot of information to cover and just one day won’t be enough time (and too much writing in one sitting makes fo grouchy boys).  I am using much of the info from the unit study I posted yesterday from The Homeschool Mom’s site, the kids are researching online, and they’re using the information we compiled in our MLK lapbook to complete their notebooking pages. We’ve been doing weekly research projects for the past few months, so this is a step in a useful direction – not only locating the information, but presenting it in a more polished form – still fairly simple, but more story-structured (with complete sentences and everything!).

We’re off to a pretty good start with our weekly field trips – it was wet and rainy so the rest of our group (who were all coming from 20+ minutes away) opted to stay out of the weather, but we had an… educational experience with just our own company. It’s not really a ‘fun’ park; there’s no play gym or anything like that – it’s just more or less a lovely rest area with concrete walls along one side that have information on Dr. King’s life and work, and quotes from various letters, speeches and papers. It’s a somber experience, reading about what he accomplished and endured, and how he was persecuted for standing up for something we pretty much take for granted in such a ‘big’ way. The concrete plaques that are engraved are as tall as I am and there are 12 of them.

It was interesting listening to the kids talk about Dr. King’s words. They’ve never experienced anything like the kind of atmosphere that Dr. King lived in; I don’t know if they really understand (for that matter, I don’t know that *I* really understand) what it must have been like for the average person (white or black) to live in such a climate. For what it’s worth, I am thankful that the kids don’t live in that type of limited environment, and for Dr. King’s efforts towards both a non-violent approach and the end of racial segregation.

Some pictures from our trip today:

We’ll be wrapping our week up with completing our notebooking pages on Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, and continuing to adjust to our suddenly very busy schedule now that we’ve added the Couch to 5K program and karate. We had a nice long break and are finally getting back into the groove… at least until our first break, which is still a couple of weeks off.

What about you – any new and interesting MLK links for this year?


Fun With Glaciers & Paper Chains

In our science lesson last week, we were discussing glaciers and how they help shape the land. Anytime we’re working on science concepts, I try to find places where we can go that demonstrate the concept. Most of the time, so far, that’s been feasible. We have pictures of erosion in a riverbed, along the banks and from after hurricanes Rita and Ike along the beaches. We’ve gone to the beach and checked out the dunes, and talked to our local State Park Rangers about rebuilding them after a storm. We’ve gone to Anahuac to see the salt domes and the oil wells all around the perimeter of them. For almost every type of land formation that we’ve studied, finding a local place to see it in action hasn’t been all that hard. But we live in Texas, and there just aren’t that many glaciers around these parts.

So, like all smart and crafty homeschooling moms, I improvised. I’ve been seeing these ice block/salt/food coloring art projects posted all over the web lately, and since our science text’s experiment also called for ice blocks, I figured we could kill 2 birds with one stone in a combined science/art project.


The pictures REALLY don’t do them justice; the kids had such a great time with this project! We froze plain water in plastic containers overnight and then brought them outside and drug them around a bit to collect dirt and leaves and debris, much like a real glacier would. On softer ground, the ice left marks (shaping the land), and in other areas slid over it. This obviously wasn’t the most accurate relation; a glacier moves much more slowly, has ever so much more weight and also melts and re-freezes as time passes, picking up and releasing debris from one area to another as it moves. It was a bright, sunny day here, so no re-freezing was possible. Even though it wasn’t an exact replica, the kids got some decent notes out of the experiment for their journals and we had a good discussion about it.

After we were done with Phase I, we got out the salt and some food coloring and added them to the ice blocks. That was the most fun; watching the salt melt the ice and shape the block as the saltwater melted the ice and ran down the sides. It created rivulets and runnels down the sides of the ice; it was easier to explain how glaciers form and re-form as time goes by. Next time we do this, I think we’ll play for a bit, then re-freeze, then maybe add more water to see how the colored block gets frozen inside of a ‘new’ block.

A word of caution: salt kills grass. We now have a few bald spots in our yard where the saltwater seeped into the ground, killing all the grass… Dad was less than thrilled. So if you do this project, you may want to water the area thoroughly when you’re done to dilute the salt, or use trays and endeavor to keep the salty water off your lawn. Also, we used food coloring and the staining… oh, the staining! Blue/green hands and faces all around. Wear old clothes and maybe gloves. That should help!

In other news, we made orange and black paper chains this morning. It helps to have the kids do something with their hands while I read aloud. Today, I read our history lesson and asked them to recite while they crafted. Aside from a few minor ‘look at me! I have chains on my arms!’ moments, this is a good, mindless sort of craft to keep their hands occupied while they’re listening. This afternoon, we decorated the school room for Halloween with the chains (and added a purple and black stand, because more is always better), added bat cut-outs and listened to ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’ from Reclaiming’s ‘Let it Begin Now‘ and other seasonal music to get in the mood for the weekend.

Do you decorate your school spaces for holidays?




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