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

Homeschooling Tips and Tricks

Teach Them to do for Themselves

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in the homeschool community about not measuring up. There was a time when homeschooling was fairly synonymous with genius-level intelligence. Even though that stereotype still gets lip-service, as homeschooling becomes more and more popular, it’s just us normal folks, with normal kids schooling in the kitchen these days (or maybe that shows my own perceptions…).

Not only that, but as my kids get older, we’re coming up on the point in time where we’re moving past the basics and into more future career and interest driven learning – meaning that the boys will have more say in what they learn about.*

One of the mantras that I use is ‘Education isn’t about teaching them everything. It’s about exposing them to as much as possible, and teaching them HOW to find the things they need to know, when they need to know it’.

It’s about teaching them to read directions. I didn’t teach my kids how to cook; I taught them how to read, what measurements are and how to properly read/decipher fractions, fire/heat safety and where the dishes go. Nowadays, they can cook anything they have a recipe for (and clean up the kitchen afterwards, too).

That’s kind of how I approach their education. My main goal is to expose them to as much as possible. We do all of the regular subjects – reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.; and I also cover the arts, health, physical education, and other ‘normal’ things that you’d find in any school. But I also glaze over things that may not hold their attention as well as other things. For example: when we covered Vikings, the kids were crazy into it, so we lingered there. Did a lapbook, build a forge in the backyard so the kids could play at being blacksmiths, read a couple of Viking-centered stories, watched How to Train Your Dragon 3 times, and other fun Viking-related stuff. But now, we’re in 1600’s England, with Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and King James and the kids are all ‘ Ho-hum… can get skip this and get to the Black Death already??’ In a word, yes. Glazing… it can be a wonderful thing!

Even though this is one of my personal favorite times in history (reformation of the church, splitting off of the Puritans, the reign of Elizabeth I and the powerhouse that was England… so exciting!), the kids aren’t feeling it right now. But, the beauty of history is that it repeats, so in a few years, we can cover this again, and maybe they’ll be more interested in the same parts I am. And, their lack of interest doesn’t keep me from re-reading the things that I enjoy.

Back to how this applies to homeschooling, though… education is meant to be the foundation upon which your life is built. Helping ensure that my kids have a solid knowledge of the basics means that from there, they have the keys to unlock everything set before them. They can then learn about any subject or field that they choose to; their options are limited only by what they believe they can do.

To sum up, I don’t have to be a perfect, rigorous, every-day-8a-3p, scheduled homeschooling mom in order to be successful, and have successful kids, and neither do you. We just have to teach them the basics, and empower them to do for themselves. Because they can. And they will.


*We are eclectic homeschoolers. I like traditional/classical education for the younger years, moving more towards interest/career path learning as they get older.


Homeschooling: Where Do I Begin?

One of my favorite homeschooling bloggers (I say ‘blogger’, but she’s on Facebook), The Libertarian Homeschooler, wrote on this topic today. Her answer was long and thought out, and I sincerely encourage you to read her entire answer, and the comments that go with it, but here’s the part that called to me:

“Q: With all the resources and information available, where do you even begin? And how?

A: You begin with relationship. Children don’t come with instruction manuals. You have to seek them out. Many of the instruction manuals will tell you that you don’t have to make any changes to your life to accommodate your children. They sell marvelously well because we, as a culture, really don’t want to have to grow up and make time, space, and accommodations for our children. We want to be selfish and for our children to accommodate us. Be counter cultural. Devote time to understanding the planes of a child’s development. Find out what observation means. Learn to read your child’s actions, cues, and signals. Spend a lot of time doing this. Become intimately acquainted with your child’s communications and gestures. Watch what your child does without interrupting. Observe keenly. Like you’re looking for treasure. Because you are.”

I LOVE that she emphasized that aspect of homeschooling. This applies not only for homeschooling, but for having children in general. Parenting is not easy, but it’s not hard either, provided you treat your children like real people. Because that’s exactly what they are. They’re not clean slates that you start writing on the moment they’re born. They’re people, born with a personality that will develop with or without your help. Yes, you can influence them, but the basic wiring for them to become who they will be is already there. They’re born with feelings, with a sense of justice and fairness, and a thirst for knowledge.

More than that, though, the children that come into your family via birth, circumstance or choice, are entrusted to you so that you can help them grow into the potential that they are born with. Your task is to help them grow into productive members of the society we live in. In order to successfully do that, you need to know them; to be in tune with them. You have to meet them where they are, so that you can guide them on their path. Whether you choose to homeschool or utilize public/private/charter/alternative schooling methods, the point remains the same, and it requires just as much effort no matter how or where your children are educated.

In the context of homeschooling, I found that I lost some of the connections I had to my boys when they started public school. Even though I was at the school a lot of the time, volunteering in their classrooms, chaperoning field trips and doing my best to work with the school to help overall, it wasn’t the same as being accessible to them, and having access to them during their peak hours. Now, some people are going to read that and come to the conclusion that I’m just an overbearing mom, intent on monitoring her kids 24/7. If that’s what you take away from this, then peace be with  you. You needn’t comment, and I’m not here to try to change your mind; you’re not my target audience. But if you ‘get’ this concept, then you know what I am talking about. It’s more than ‘wanting control'; I don’t control my kids. In fact, I am sure that many people I’ve met wished I exercised more control over them. But that’s not my job. My job is to guide. To inform and educate, and trust that I’ve done my job well enough from my kids to make good decisions. At the same time, they are kids, and mistakes will be made, as will lapses in judgement. My job then, is to help them see other paths, other decisions that could have been made, and hope that next time, they choose better.

It’s been a while since I posted here, and I haven’t abandoned my blog; I’ve just been busy devoting time to other pursuits. But you’ll hear from me eventually, when something strikes my fancy and I feel the need to post about it. Y’all have a good day ;)



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 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.


Note to Self: You’re Doing Just Fine

This is a reminder that I need every few weeks, it seems. We’ve now successfully completed almost half of our fourth year of homeschooling, and STILL, I go through phases where I have these doubts.

Most recently, it’s come to my attention that my father is under the impression that LBB (now 11.5 years old and in 5th grade) does not know his multiplication facts. Nevermind that he’s been working on division for the past few months, and doing beautifully at it (including fractions and decimals). My dad asked LBB what 5×5 was, and LBB said ‘I don’t know’. When my dad told him to figure it out, LBB made like he didn’t understand what he meant or how to go about doing that. So this, of course, prompted a call to me with concern about his math skills.

Le sigh.

This prompts several responses on my part. On the one hand, towards LBB: “WTF, man? Really? 5×5? You’re having trouble with FIVE TIMES FIVE? That’s arguably the easiest of times tables and you’re going to choke on that one?? Dude. C’mon – you know this. Just take a minute, think about it and answer the question. No big deal.”

Then again, I totally get the ‘on the spot’ freak out. If someone asked me, my initial response would be to freeze; like if I was still enough, they won’t remember what it was that they asked and I can get out of the situation without answering the math question.

Towards my dad, I get this mama-bear, ‘Hey man! Not cool! Don’t test my kids!’ sort of feeling. I understand that it was a reasonable question. I know that some of my homeschooling compatriots have unsupportive families, and a question like that would come from a negative place, but my family is very supportive and I don’t think there was anything untoward or sneaky meant by it, but still, I get a little twitchy when I feel judged. I feel like my kid’s lack of willingness to answer a question is a reflection on my teaching ability (because that is what got called into question – not his attitude or interest, but *my* part in it).

Honestly, could he be stronger in math? Yes. Am I drilling him on basic multiplication tables? Daily; and this in addition to our regular math lesson. Do we do ‘math bingo’, Timez Attack, flash cards, and other ‘fun’ math things to help cement those concepts? Yes. Are those things going to make him pop out with the answer to a random math question? Meh … maybe. Maybe not. The thing is, I can’t separate his interest or cooperation with others from their perception of my ability to teach. I understand that it’s not my job to correct this perception, but it still affects me when I see/hear/feel it in action and directed towards me.

My kids are not babies anymore. They’re young men, and though they do still have to do the work assigned to them, I can’t learn it for them. I have said this before and I still think it’s true: One of the hardest parts about homeschooling is that no matter what you do, the blame rests firmly on your shoulders. When your kids are in school, to a certain extent, if they don’t get good grades or learn what they need to, then you can cast off some of the blame onto the school system. The school, in turn, can shove off some of their responsibility onto the parents – they weren’t involved enough, or didn’t give the child support/encouragement/motivation – whatever. But as a homeschooling parent, ALL of the ‘blame’ rests squarely on your shoulders… which is wrong, I think, to a point. Some of the blame rests with the child, himself, and I think that it is this point that many people forget or don’t realize, especially in homeschooling.

We see this in reverse and don’t question it. When a homeschooled child excels, we say how smart s/he must be, and congratulate them for persevering and working so hard. We don’t pat the parent on the back and say, ‘Way to go, Mom! What a great teacher you must be!’ So why do we blame the parent when the child’s ability doesn’t match up to what our perception of where s/he ‘should be’?

Children are not ‘babies’ forever. At some point, they do grow up. In fact, we have years between baby and adult that we should use to teach them to be responsible for themselves. This is a gradual teaching and learning – not something that they master all in one day or by whatever grade. If we want them to grow up into productive members of society, then we as parents must allow them a certain amount of responsibility, gradually, and offer them the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merit.

Over the past few years, my kids have taken on more responsibility for contributing to the overall running of our household. Their chores are divided into either ‘dishes’ or ‘laundry’, and they switch every month.

Dishes includes (but is not limited to):

  • loading and unloading the dishwasher
  • hand-washing anything that can’t go into the dishwasher
  • sweeping the kitchen floor
  • clearing and wiping the table and counter tops
  • helping Mom & Dad; doing whatever else is asked when needed

Laundry includes (but is not limited to):

  • loading washer and dryer
  • putting towels into the towel basket
  • putting kids’ laundry into their baskets and taking them to the correct room
  • taking out the trash (kitchen, bathroom and schoolroom)
  • taking the big trash can to the road if Dad forgets
  • Cleaning the hallway bathroom
  • picking up the living room & sweeping
  • helping Mom & Dad; doing whatever else is asked when needed

It’s a little un-balanced, but they both agree that dishes is the most onerous of the two, and so gladly will take on more work in order to not do dishes. Loverly Husband and I also have chores; in addition to helping the kids, we both do our own laundry, clean the fridge, clean all the stainless, blah, blah, blah…  everyone has chores.

My point in laying all that out is to say that where we used to step in and pick up the slack if the kids forgot their chores, now, we don’t as much. If they slack, then dinner has to wait until they’re done, or they don’t have the right clothes, or, or, or. It’s not just mom or dad ‘nagging’ – it’s the whole family who is irritated at you for not pulling your weight. It’s been a slow process, but one that’s starting to pay off. They’re more likely to step up and say, “Oh, I forgot to do that. Give me just a minute and I will get it done.” It doesn’t always happen, but it is happening now whereas before it wasn’t. They see more now how each person plays a role, and if they don’t do their part then the whole family suffers.

I think learning and education are the same way. Though I play a role in their education (especially right now), as they get older, I will play more of a guide role and less of a participant role. It will be up to them to choose a career path and go after the skills and education necessary to meet those goals. It will be my job to encourage and support and help guide them to appropriate courses, but ultimately, especially though high school, their education becomes more and more a product of their own efforts.

LBB is starting middle school in the fall. Middle school! I don’t want him to reply on me so thoroughly to ensure that he’s applying himself that he can’t work independently. Of course, I will be watching and making sure he is doing the work, but my goal isn’t for him to ‘just do the work’. That’s not real education. Based on what I know of my kids, and of children in general, this type of responsibility is years in the making for some kids, and that’s okay. 

Contrary to what we tend to believe, there is no rule that says kids have to do or know XYZ by Xth grade or by age N. Children aren’t programmable robots. They learn at different rates. They have different interests and what motivates one child may do the opposite for another. Knowing this, and repeating this is what keeps me from throwing the towel in some days.

And then there are days like yesterday, where we got into a discussion about the origin of life, and the boys both had fun schooling Mom on which came first, the chicken or the egg. Apparently, they are much more well-versed in this conundrum than I am, and though we both used the same bit of research (located independently, I might add), it was applied in different ways. They were so excited to showcase their knowledge, and that’s something that can’t be taught.

So yeah. We’re doing just fine.






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’?



April Update

I suck at blogging this year. I know it’s not an excuse, but (like most of you) I’ve had too much on my plate lately. I used to make time for blogging, but I haven’t been motivated to do so lately. I tend to work in cycles, so this isn’t entirely unexpected  from my end. Things have been kinda topsy-turvey for the last couple of months, but we are settling into a routine again, so hopefully updates will come a little more frequently now.

Let’s see…

February was pretty busy. For field trips, we saw a play (The Real Story of the 3 Little Pigs, which is based on this book - one of my kids’ favorites when they were small), visited the symphony, went to Moody Gardens, celebrated Imbolc and Valentine’s Day, met with our newly-forming Spiral Scouts group to finalize our charter paperwork, had a ‘s’mores and movie day’ with our local homeschool group and had our monthly community service day volunteering with our local Humane Society.

picture by Amanda Horn

picture by Amanda Horn

Aidan - HumaneSoc January26_2013

picture by Jean Bennett

I also tested for my orange belt in karate, re-visited my doc for an update and medication switch to handle my depression and anxiety (because I am a good mother who does not want to end up on the evening news for freaking out and taking off my clothes and running down the street starkers), and got new contacts (because vision is of the good).

Orange belt!

March was full of school-y goodness, with a visit to the ballet to see Snow White, the NOAA Sea Turtle Research Facility in Galveston, celebrated Ostara & observed Easter, went hiking in the Big Thicket (I’m Mayor of the Kirby Trail on FourSquare!!), the Exotic Cat Refuge in Kirbyville, TX, a hike in Village Creek, and another successful volunteer date with the Humane Society.


April has been equally exciting in some ways, but less ‘school-ish’. Due to inclement weather, we’ve ended up seeing movies (OZ and The Croods) instead of educational stuff, but those links are to lesson plan fun, so even strictly social/leisure outings can be built into school). I was also sick for a couple of weeks, so we missed out on some pretty awesome field trips (like NANO Days at the Houston Children’s Museum). I was bummed. I also missed our Humane Society date. Boo to that.

I’m on the mend though, and on a personal level, April rang in both the celebration of my 36th birthday and marked the occasion of my first ever 5K event. Loverly Husband and I went with my sister and some friends to the Mud Farm in Sour Lake, TX to do a ‘mud run’ obstacle course. It was so dirty and so much fun! #213 Heather Thomas 1:19:56 – 111 of 121 runners <— that’s me! He came in 38th with a time of 0:43:50.

Mud Run 5K - April 6, 2013

picture OF me, BY someone who is NOT me…
Carrie, maybe?

In homeschool news, we’ve been working our literature unit pretty consistently. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with the kids on a unit study; I’ve forgotten how ‘big’ this type of schooling can be. Even though this is ‘just’ Beyond Five In A Row, and ‘just’ The Boxcar Children #1, which is way below the boys’ reading/grade level, it’s still lent itself to some surprisingly in-depth lessons. We don’t necessarily have anything to show for it (other than the lapbook components), but it’s steady progress, which is a good thing. One of the more memorable lessons was on the construction of the Hoover Dam. The boys watched a half hour documentary about it and were pretty riveted. Another lesson was on planting blueberry bushes, which led to growing zones and was a nice tie-in to starting our garden this year. We’ll be planting more, but this was a nice start.





We’ve also been hitting math and Latin pretty hard, which has been surprisingly fun. I found a Cambridge Yahoo group that and has been helpful in finding add-on lessons to go with book I. They also have a files section with worksheets and practice lessons and games.

I’ve been working with the boys on timed multiplication drills using worksheets. 5 minutes to do as much as they can. We’re working on adding one number each week and it’s going really well. We started with 1’s and that was a real confidence builder for them both. I am also using a workbook that I found called Multiplication Puzzle Practice by Bob Hugel/Scholastic. It’s divided into riddles and puzzles and the lessons are cumulative, each one adding another number. With this and the drill sheets, they’re doing quite well. I’ve also found that they are motivating each other (in between snarky comments and death-threats whispered under their breath to each other). Sorry… it’s been one of those days, LOL.

I’m also going to start using Lesson Pathways again, I think – at least for Language Arts and Science. I need something more… guided, I think. I tend to flit about from subject to subject in science and I really want something a little more cohesive. Their 5th grade Language Arts is using Dear Mr. Henshaw – a book I remember doing in 5th grade and I loved it. I think the boys will like it when we’re done with Boxcar.

In personal news, we had another Journalistas ‘dinner & coffee’ event, I picked up two of the other Keri Smith journals (Mess and This Is Not A Book). I’m more or less done with WTJ, but am having a really hard time getting into the other two books. I think I am going to start Mess first; TINAB makes me cringe for some reason. I’m not ready to explore that feeling just yet. Somewhat recently, I also went to see Beautiful Creatures and to a Happy Birthday dinner with PBJMom, and spent a Saturday morning cooking quiche and toffee crackers for a friend’s Blessingway. Loverly Husband and I had 2 date nights with our ‘best couple friends’ (to see Evil Dead and IHOP, and out for dinner and coffee), had my picture taken by a real professional for the BBC’s new website (coming soon), and am almost done with Leader Training for our Spiral Scouts group.

photo by Sarah Lynne Photography (click picture for link)

photo by Sarah Lynne Photography
(click picture for link)

Sprinkled between all this has been regular school days, pool preparation for the summer, board meetings an peer counseling with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, complete and utter enjoyment of the new seasons of Game of Thrones & The Borgias, taking care of taxes, visiting family, and cooking dinner, amid other things. I’ve been in a funky place lately, but I am coming out of it now. My life is full, and I am grateful.

We’re getting ready for the summer, which means summer reading club, summer movie clubs, hiking every week, my niece, Appleberry, will be back with us, and lots of time spent lazing about on the beach (if things go well). Hopefully, you’ll hear from me again very soon!




Lemurs, Adopt-A-Beach & Report Cards

The last couple of weeks have been pretty exciting – and thus explains my absence from blog-land (I hope). I keep meaning to come post, and I have drafts started, but when it comes down to actually posting them, I have fallen short of my goals. So, to make up for that, here’s an extra-long post!

Last week, our homeschool group toured the local emergency center (911 dispatch & emergency management offices), and talked with a local K-9 police officer about his job training, working with and handling his partner, beautiful Danish born German Shepherd, Hutch.

I’ve never really thought about the intricacies of emergency planning in a city – this was really an eye-opening experience. I know that our city took a lot of flack for how they handled the hurricanes (Rita & Ike) in the past, but I can imagine that any disaster is going to cause issues – it is good to know, and good to see and put a personal face on the emergency response team for the city.

The kids all got to field mock 911 calls, and listen to some real 911 emergency calls. They were nervous and embarrassed as kids are wont to be during things like this, but I think they were impressed with the level of stress that 911 dispatchers deal with. Some of those calls were scary!

After that, we headed back home with some of our friends, and while the moms were chit-chatting inside, the boys all went out to play with their 911 frisbees and to practice their archery skills. One of the kids came in and said, “Mom, there are lemurs in our yard.” quite matter-of-factly. I was skeptical, because honestly how often does one find exotic animals in their yard, right? But I went out and was shocked to find that yes, there were in fact lemurs in our yard!

h with a couple of ring-tailed lemurs

We have an exotic petting zoo down the street from our house – well, it’s not the zoo, itself, it’s where the owners of the zoo live, and house the animals that are not currently on display. That means that on any given day, we hear the brays of donekys and zebras, the caw of peacocks and turkeys and the low grunts of camels cracking the silence of a peaceful evening.

Right off the bat, I figured that the lemurs were from the zoo; they were collared and healthy-looking; and they were not shy of people. They weren’t overly enthusiastic about being picked up, but they knew enough to know that people=food, so we were able to lure them into a cat carrier with bananas.

I tried calling the zoo, but got no answer, so I hit the next best thing – Facebook. Several of my friends are all about animal rescue, so I tagged them – social media at its finest, I tell ya! Within moments, I had a thread with helpful suggestions and offers of assistance in finding the owners. After a little while I decided to walk down and see if the zoo was missing some little friends. Apparently, the lemurs have just returned from a 6 hour road trip and the lady that runs things came in, dropped everyone off into their enclosures and hit the hay – understandable after such a long drive. The lemurs we found were babies, who normally get out, but usually stay close to the adults. Who knows why they chose that day to explore – I’m glad we found them and were able to keep them safe! Hopefully, they will take this example under advisement and make sure that the babies are kept secure and safe on their premises from now on.

I have to say that I had a bit of a moral dilemma in this situation. I kinda dislike zoos altogether. Though I understand that people are more concerned with donating time and money to wildlife causes when they can see. hear and smell the animals and so zoos raise a lot of money for conservation and wildlife protection, I see it as a double-edged sword. The animals that are subjected to small enclosures, unnatural climates and habitats and subjected to the constant scrutiny of humans – it’s not a fair life for them. I have less issue with larger facilities, but for every large-scale zoo, there are a dozen ‘mom & pop’ zoos that have enclosures that are too small, or too unnatural. Then, you have the petting zoo industry, which is less concerned with conservation and more about capitalism via the exploitation of exotic animals.

I admit that there was a part of me that desperately wanted to keep those babies. Nevermind that I was not prepared to house or feed them – I was willing to do the research to find out what would be needed to properly care for them (while at the same time recognizing that in captivity, there really isn’t a ‘proper’ way to do that). But, that would mean knowingly keeping something that didn’t belong to me – so theft… and I am, naturally, at moral odds with that as well. Basically, it was a no-win situation. I was forced to do the legal thing, even though I felt that it was the wrong thing, ethically, especially when I saw that we were returning them to a too-small, less that secure, and overcrowded enclosure. Considering that Texas does not regulate exotic animals that are not classed as ‘dangerous’, and that this location is outside the city-limits (therefore effectively removing any city ordinance issues and authority), there’s really nothing that is going on there that ‘technically’ breaks the law, leaving my hands tied. That was a hard lesson to teach my kids – that sometimes, doing the ‘right’ thing can be the ‘wrong’ thing, too.

Le sigh.

In other news, the kids and I signed up a few weeks ago to participate in the Adopt-A-Beach cleanup program at one of our local beaches. I say local, but we’re about an hour from the coast in several directions. It’s one of the few perks about living where we do! This time, we went to Sea Rim State Park. I have to say that it was kind of sad to be out there. This is one of the state parks that they’d put a lot of effort into over the years – there was a massive multi-story observation deck with a museum, bathrooms and showers and the headquarters for the park. On one side was the beach, and on the other was camping and a wildlife trail through the marsh that was on raised piers through a mile or so of wetlands that was home to all kinds of fish, fowl and reptiles.

As a kid, I’d been down there many times with my mom. She ran our homeschool group when I was in school, and we had several trips to Sea Rim. This is the first time I’ve been out there since Hurricane Rita in 2005 – talk about shocking… all of that is GONE. The landscape is barely recognizable. Even the pavement that went down to the beach is disrupted and mostly grown over. There were several areas where we could see the piers from the walkway through the marsh – even the marsh that was protected by dunes and marsh grasses has been exposed by the shifting landscape.

On the upside, they’re working on it. There were a couple of blocked off areas with lots of heavy construction equipment out there and contractors. They’ve built back a walkway from the visitor’s section over the marsh down to the beach (but I don’t think it was open yet), and I hope that they’re planning on building an observation deck and facilities again. Hurricanes suck.

In any case, we did spend some quality time together, working as a team to pick up some trash off the beach. We collected bottle caps, plastic water bottles, plastic bags, motor oil containers, forgotten shoes and broken beach toys, fishing supplies…. all kinds of nasty stuff that’s been left behind. After that, the organizers sponsored lunch and a drawing – we all three left with fabulous prizes, donated by one of the companies that sponsored the clean up site. Afterwards, we played on the beach for a few hours. It was a fun day!

With the beach clean-up, that marks the end of the first grading period of our school year. For a while, I stopped using the computer and keeping ‘grades’. I liked that, but I feel like my own accountability was starting to slide, so we’re going back to grade-keeping this year. I am using the free version of Homeschool Tracker (Basic). With just the two kids, that’s all I need right now; when they get up into middle school (which is next year for LBB – yikes!!), I am probably going to upgrade to the paid version.

The boys both made the A/B honor roll – I think the lowest grade was 80. I waffle back and forth with grades sometimes. On the one hand, this is homeschool – we stick with something until we get it and then move on. Since we move at their pace, then there is no reason for bad grades, ever. But on the same token, I don’t want to ‘baby’ them through school. So far, I just do what is asked of me from the program – points possible, points accredited and time spent. I am going to have to figure out how to weight grades (so that tests carry more weight than daily work) for middle school – but thankfully, I still have a year to worry about that!

In any case, we’re done for the week! Hopefully, the next month will afford a few more blogging opportunities.




Back to (Home) School

One of the things I miss about brick-and-mortar school is the ‘first day of school’. With homeschool, it’s just a matter of falling back into a good routine. We don’t go anywhere, there aren’t new clothes and new backpacks and lunchkits, there’s no excitement about seeing who’s in your class this year or moaning about getting this teacher or that one.

On the one hand, you might say those are bonuses to homeschooling, not drawbacks… but I really loved the first day of school. I am thinking that when we break and go back in January (which is technically the beginning of our school year), I am going to have to make the first day back a little something more than we did today… maybe a Schultüte (a giant hand-made cone full of school supplies and other goodies) or party decorations… something fun, I think.

On the plus side, we spent our first morning ‘back to (home) school’ in our pajamas, had lovely mochas and spent the first part of the morning in quiet serenity (with a little bubbling excitement just under the surface). Our first day back went well overall. Usually, after a break of any kind, going back to a regular school schedule is like pulling teeth, but they were excited to get back. We went school supplies shopping last week, and since I banned all school supplies from anywhere but their desks, I wonder if part of their excitement was being able to use their new colored (and totally erasable) pens to do their work.

They breezed through Reading and Spelling; LBB got hung up on math, but PeaGreen got through his morning work pretty quickly (and so he got to do his chores! Yay!!).  After a bit of moaning and groaning, we took a break for lunch, then PeaGreen got over his hurdle. LBB was still in a funk and tried some of his old stalling tricks. We did some re-focusing, and then it was time to pack up and head over to a friend’s house to make soap.

The boys brought their work with them – Latin to finish, handwriting & Grammar (plus a bit of math for LBB). It wasn’t a total success (bringing work with us). PeaGreen – who is by far the less distractable of the pair, got finished with his work fairly quickly. LBB though…. he likes to dawdle. And stall. And find things to be distracted by. Being in a new place, watching mom do a cool craft – that’s not exactly a recipe for success. I cut him some slack though. To be fair, it wasn’t really a good time or place for ‘school on the go’. Our friend is extremely crafty and has lots of pretty cool things to look at. Plus, we were mixing oils and making soap! She even got out some homemade melt-and-pour soap and let the boys make up their own bars. LBB chose a lemon scent and PeaGreen chose grape.

Speaking of soaps… if you get a chance, check out her products at Goddess Divine Creations. I have a bathroom FULL of her soaps and they are *amazing* – my favorites at the moment at Nag Champa Hemp milk soap and Dragonsblood. I also use her Teen Clean Neem Facial Soap and quite a few others (Sin City Amber, Orange Patchouli, Lemongrass, Prosperity Blend, Strawberries & Champagne Salt Bar, Blueberry Salt Bar… oh, my list goes on and on!!).

The rest of the week has been surprisingly easy. Whatever mental block LBB had on Monday & Tuesday, he got over it by Wednesday and completed all his work in record time Wed & Thurs. PeaGreen is as steady as ever – he’s my little trooper!

We’re as busy as ever – Monday’s soap-making excursion, Tuesday’s field trip and planning sesh for the fall calendar with our homeschool group, Wednesday was mine and Loverly Husband’s 13th wedding anniversary, but we had a full day home at school, and Thursday (today), LH was home (we went to see The Dark Knight Rises… excuse me while I squee like a silly fangirl, but it was *fabulous*!!) but managed a pretty full day of schoolwork anyway – total gold star for Mom for managing to get school done with Dad home… that’s usually a no-go!

Speaking of Batman… Catwoman has always been one of my favorite characters, and I love the Batman/Catwoman ‘ship – I have since the good ‘ol days of Michael Keaton/Michelle Pfieffer movie way back when. I have to say, Anne Hathaway did a good job bringing her to life, and though I haven’t been as much of a fan of Christian Bale as the Dark Knight, it was good to see them on-screen together again (Batman and Catwoman, I mean). All things considered, this was a truly amazing movie.

Bruce Wayne & Selina Kyle = <3
Batman & Catwoman = <3

So… things I learned this week:

  1. keep calm, and explore Mars – we need to incorporate the Mars landing into our lesson plans next week.
  2. keep calm, and pretend it’s on the lesson plan – be flexible with ‘on-the go’ lessons
  3. keep calm, and drink more coffee – coffee calms my kids down; that’s not a bad thing for desk work
  4. keep calm, and carry on – ignore distractions, like Dad being home
  5. keep calm, and play games – 8 minutes of math game is worth and other 15 minutes of hard-core desk work
  6. keep calm, and karate-do – our karate class was cancelled Tuesday due to the power being out from a storm. I just missed class and am looking forward to it this evening, that’s all {wink}

I am posting this on Thursday, and taking it on faith that Friday will go in a similar vein. Light a candle and hope that I don’t eat those words! Hope your first week back either went well, or will go well!



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!



It’s Not About Patience

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard some variation of ‘I wish I had the patience to homeschool my kids’, I could buy the bestest homeschooling stuff!

I would like you to think about that statement. What does it mean? First of all (and I recognize that I may take a tremendous load of crap for saying this), I think it’s a cop-out. We teach our children from the moment they are born. Everything they do is a testament to our ability to teach and support them as they learn, from breastfeeding, to sitting up, to walking to riding a bike – we’re there, preparing them, supporting, kissing boo-boos when they fall and gently encouraging them to try again. So saying that you lack the patience to teach your child is patently untrue (unless your kids were raised by wolves, in which case, I salute you {wink}).

If you’ve had a four-year old that is currently still alive and past that point, then you can most certainly homeschool your child, for NO ONE asks more questions than a four-year old who wants to know ‘why’. I know of no other scenario that is solely designed to test one’s patience than ‘Why?’ for an hour straight. No school-aged child asks that many questions, even when you’re trying to explain molecular science, prepositions and fractions (all in the same day).

When I hear, ‘If only I had the patience’, it kinda irks me. It implies that I possess something that you do not. Since I am a mom who takes medication for anxiety and clinical depression, I assure you that patience is not a virtue one must possess in order to successfully homeschool. There are days here where – just like in your home, I am sure – things go to crap the moment feet hit the floor. There are bad moods that must be dealt with, whiney kids that must be endured, savage beasts that must be tamed. I think the difference is having a strategy to handle those types of situations.

Most of us know when days like that are brewing. The smart homeschool mom nips it in the bud by feeding everyone, then shooing them out of the house. If nothing productive paperwork-wise is going to get done anyway, then take school on the road. We have a state park with a lovely pavilion area that is perfect for school outdoors. Between assignments, the kids can hike the baby bear trail or skip down to the creek’s edge for some stress relief and solitude before coming back and hitting the books again.

Then again, there are days where school just ain’t gonna happen – and you know what? They have those days in school-school, too. Those are the days your kids comes home and you ask, “What’s you do today?’ and the answer is ‘Watch movies!”. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a day off now and then – beneficial, even.

The other thing that I hate about that statement is that it automatically sets up a competition between you and me. Yeah, I homeschool – so what. Surely there’s something that you do with your kids that I don’t do (that I might even be envious of). That’s cool – rather than competing, why can;t we appreciate that we have different approaches to the many aspects of child-rearing, learn what we can from one another and support the rest?

So what is it, really, that prevents moms from homeschooling? For the vast majority, I think it’s a choice. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine – and it is a choice that should be supported.

Homeschooling does not automatically win you the ‘Better Mom’ award. You don’t get extra points; there is no gold star or special prize when your child graduates. We all educated our children according to the needs of our individual families – and those needs will vary wildly from one family to the next – from one year to the next, from one child to the next, and that’s as it should be.

But for some reason, there seems to be a taboo against saying, ‘I just don’t want to homeschool.’ I for one, think that if you know yourself, and homeschooling isn’t your ‘thing’, then it’s better to send your kids elsewhere to be educated. Homeschooling is a lot of work – it’s fun for most of us most of the time, but it’s work, too. If you’re not up to it, that doesn’t mean that you’re not just as dedicated to ensuring that your kids get a good education. You just have a different path to accomplish that.

Other families are not in a position to homeschool. Perhaps both parents need to work – or there is only one parent. There are those that manage to homeschool despite that limitation, but they more than likely don’t do it alone, and they word hard to make it happen. And those that do make it happen alone? Those are the ones that deserve accolades. But again, it’s not about being a better parent than you, it’s about what is best for their individual child(ren).

Still other families are happy with their local ISD or can afford a private school option (or charter school, or special theory school – whatever). Believe me, if our ISD was more interested in the child and not his ability to test well, I might have my kids in public school. If I could afford to put my kids in Montessori school, or if our area offered an affordable Waldorf style school, I would seriously consider it! But short of my husband working a second job, and me taking on a full-time job, that’s not going to happen! Some those kids who thrive in a classroom environment – and that’s fine, too. For every child who ‘needs’ to be homeschooled, I imagine there’s a child who just functions better in the hustle and bustle of the classroom.

I think that patience comment has become a convenient way to gloss over the real reason – explaining ones’ self fully would be too complicated (and invasive). Most of us can relate to feeling frustrated dealing with homework and equate that frustration with what homeschooling must be like, not realizing that it’s not even remotely the same.

I don’t know where all I was going with this, but it was on my mind and I wanted to write about it. Feel free to continue the discussion!



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?


Educate the Children

All over Facebook recently, I’ve seen pictures with a topic, like ‘Stay at Home Mom‘ and ‘Home Birthing Parents‘, and ‘Doulas‘ with 6 pictures that reflect the different attitudes and perceptions of what the parents/people who subscribe to the beliefs of the topic are like. I looked around for one on homeschooling, but couldn’t find one, so I made one:

And I thought I’d write about how homeschooling (or homeschoolers) seem to be viewed by the outside world.

I think one of the main perceptions I get from local society is that I don’t fit in with their ideal of what a homeschooling mother ‘should’ look like. I don’t own a denim jumper, I only have 2 kids, and though I drive a mini-van, it’s just your average-sized grocery-getter (or chariot, as one of my friends lovingly describes the transportation of choice for busy families). That’s not true for all areas, of course, but here there are definitely more than a few denim-jumper/quiver-full families.  If it’s not the denim dress uniform, then it’s khaki and twin-sets (the less-than-stylish around here call this brand of woman a ‘West End Wanda’); another group that belong not to. My standard uniform is a black tee-shirt, jeans and whichever shoes I feel like putting on (which can range from Doc Martens, to wedge heels, to flip flops, depending on the day’s activities), which puts me firmly in the ‘impostor’ – or worse, ‘secular’ – category, according to the homeschooling majority in my area.

Then you have homeschooling as portrayed in the media. Over and over, I’ve seen stories about how abusive homeschooling is, and/or that the only reason people homeschool is to indoctrinate their kids into religion. While I do know plenty of homeschoolers who do so for religious reasons, most don’t fall anywhere near that crazy tree. For most Christian homeschoolers, their goal is to raise their kids with their family’s values at the forefront, including the need and desire to be faithful ministers of their god. Though I disagree with that approach, I do understand it and think that it’s dishonest to link homeschooling – even if the primary goal is religious in nature – with abuse, neglect or other acts of parents who would find some other way to harm their kids if religion was taken out of the picture. Those people are mentally ill and that does not describe the vast majority of homeschooling parents.

Up next is the perception that teachers have of homeschoolers. This one also gets an unfair rap in my opinion. I think that this perception is perpetuated by children who, for whatever reason, go back into the classroom after homeschooling for a while. Many times, the child is classified as ‘behind’ when that’s only part of the picture. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is that you can tailor your child’s education to your individual child. In Texas, we’re not required to follow the school’s curriculum, so we have a lot of room to truly match what we’re teaching to where our child is at. We can also go about education in an entirely different manner (mastery-focused instead of covering X amount of material this week; or take history chronologically while the school starts with your family and branches out from there). We can use unconventional methods – from educational philosophy or theory to using non-standard materials or classroom environments. Since we don’t follow the same method and curriculum as classroom teachers, that means that there are areas where our child may be behind and there are usually also areas where our kids have a more well-rounded education than his classroom counterparts. But too often, it’s not the whole of education that shows, only the areas where your child is not ‘up to standards’ and thus, the myth continues.

After that, we come to how non-homeschooling people see homeschooling (not all of them, obviously – but some, certainly). I think that the perception (not necessarily of ‘me’, but of homeschooling parents in general) is that homeschooling parents see their kids as genius-level potential, and that with enough early learning and constant fact-drilling, it will be enough to bring that potential into reality. I know that I speak for plenty of homeschooling parents when I say that our kids don’t hold any more potential than yours, nor are they smarter than your kids. The difference is how we go about  accessing that potential. Homeschooling, again, allows us to tailor every aspect of our child’s education to that child. Even if we have several children, we can adapt how or what they’re learning to address that specific child’s needs. If we have a child with ADHD, we can do spelling words or math while the child is on a trampoline or yoga ball. If we have a child who is a night owl, we can start our school hours later in the day (or even have school at night). If we have one child who prefers reading and another who is adept in math, we can cater to those strengths while taking the other subjects a little slower to ensure that the foundation is solid before moving on. Give any student that level of personal attention and you’re going to get better results.

Next, there’s my perception. Since the comic is not my own creation and yet I identify with it wholeheartedly, I dare say that other homeschooling mothers feel similarly at least part of the time. If the text is too small, it reads, ‘5 minutes after Mindy died trying, Brice finally understood fractions‘. It seems like there are days, especially when we start something new, that I explain and explain and explain and yet still it seems like nothing gets through. We’ve been doing this for over 2 years now, and I can see the pattern… all the sudden, one day it clicks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happened over and over again. Then we start something new; rinse, repeat. As frustrating as it is to get the idea through my kids’ head that they’re learning something – they’re not experts yet and mistakes are okay; expected, even – the poor dears are blessed with enough aspects of my personality to ensure that failure is a big deal. They’d rather not do it at all than fail. But the other side of the coin is the gratification and exhilaration on their faces when they do finally get it and can do it like a pro.

Then there’s the reality of what it is that I, and homeschooling parents all over the world like me, actually do, and that is educate our children. We’re not experts, we’re not perfect. We have good days and bad, ups and downs and yes, there are days when we want to throw in the towel. It’s not about being superior or thinking we’re better or can do a better job than you; we don’t homeschool to judge you or your educational choices. In fact, we don’t care one bit what you do with your kids; we’re too busy doing stuff with our own kids

The long and the short of it is that homeschooling parents come in a variety of packages, and no two are exactly similar. Now that I think about it, I’m may have a tee-shirt made that says ‘Homeschooler: Contents May Vary‘ to wear when we’re out and about. Like non-homeschooling parents, we do the things we think are best for our kids. Any contentious parent homeschools with genuine intent, and with their children’s best interests at the forefront of their lives. They’re not abusive, they’re not fanatics; they’re just regular people who feel like homeschooling is the best educational path for their kids. We’re not raising geniuses; we don’t think our kids are prodigies, but neither do we let them bum around all the time without seeing to their education. Our methods may look lackadaisical to you, but until you live in our home and see what we do, how we do it and what the results are, then we respectfully suggest that you keep your nose occupied elsewhere. We’re human; we get frustrated just like anyone would, but we’re also in a unique position of seeing our child’s mind expand on a daily basis – and taking pride on the role that we play in helping them learn.

Even with all our differences, homeschooling parents have one goal: educate the children.


Photo credits:

homeschooling family:

religious indoctrination as child abuse:

kids playing video games:

reading baby:

Mindy comic ( (c)Todd Wilson):

Homeschool outside:

Fidgets for ADHD Homeschool

One of the benefits of homeschooling a child with ADHD is that you have an almost unlimited amount of freedom to experiment with and utilize the many therapeutic tools that are out there to help such children maintain their concentration on the task at hand.

Fidgets are one of the tools that have been shown to be successful in helping ADHD children maintain focus when they’re doing mentally intense work. If you’re not familiar with them, fidgets are little toys or gadgets that provide children with attention disorders stimulation (tactile, oral, or gross motor, or a combination thereof) and/or an outlet for their excess energy during seat-work. Some fidgets are small, either handheld or for the desktop to keep hands busy while the child is thinking, writing or calculating. Others are larger and provide different types of stimulation and feedback over the whole body, like weighted or vibrating materials; or furniture that allows the child to move more freely than your average desk set-up, like swings, balance boards, mini-trampolines or exercise balls to sit on.

There are some stores/websites that sell fidgets and sensory materials, like the Therapy Shoppe (which separates their fidgets into categories like alert fidgetscalming fidgetssilent fidgets, and tactile fidgets), Fat Brain Toys, Sensory University, and Sensory Edge, and these are great if you can afford them.

But when homeschooling, you’re often on a budget and even inexpensive fidgets can seem out of reach when you’re not sure what things your child might like. Since I can relate to that, I thought I’d put together a list of fidgets that are easily ‘found’ or made at home.

Starting with small fidgets:

  • spring/spiral (plastic, taken from an old spiral bound book or notebook and cut into pieces. Those spiral shoelaces also work well as a fidget.)
  • Lego tree (round, though I’m sure the conical ones would work just as well – lovely for palming and twiddling)
  • velcro dots (sticky-backed ones can be applied to the underside of the desk)
  • clothespins (alone or can be used with clip-ins like a bundle of rubber bands, a few bent chenille sticks, yarn or other something to make a ‘brush’)
  • soft bristled paintbrushes or jumbo makeup brushes (feel nice on cheeks, over eyes and lips)
  • skinny balloons (stretchy and can go onto fingers – but don’t let them chew on them!)
  • foam stress ball (often given out free at conferences, fairs, doctor’s offices, the mall…)
  • filled stress ball (the dollar store often has squeeze balls; there’s one called a ‘blob ball’ with a net outside that lets the inner part bulge out of that is both disgusting and fascinating; or you can make them from big latex party balloons filled with sand, moon sand, powder, modeling clay, rice, beans, poly pellets, or a combination of things for long-term use (can double balloon and tie for a little extra protection). If you’re looking for other textures, you can fill them with peanut butter, pudding, tapioca, jell-o, etc (but these are, for obvious reasons, disposable after a day or two).
  • worry stones made from polymer clay (or air-dry glue/cornstarch clay, also called ‘cold porcelain clay’) or rocks
  • aluminum discs (made from the bottoms of coke cans – Use tin snips to cut the rounded bottoms of a coke can out, then put them together, convex sides out and seal the edges by gluing and then burnishing, or with tape on the outside. Use sandpaper to smooth and finish the edges. It makes a lovely palm-sized convex disc that feels good in your hand.)
  • butterfly/triangle paper clips (can put several together on a binder ring)
  • a long bolt with a rubber band on the open end and loose nut to twist up and down (metal or you can find plastic ones in the plumbing section of the hardware store)
  • put a rubber band on a pencil, slide on some metal hex-nuts towards the top end and add another rubber band. The pencil is weighted and the nuts are twistable. Also works on crayons and markers)
  • mini rain stick (toilet paper tube or even smaller diameter cardboard tube, nails and rice/beans and masking tape)
  • egg shaker (re-use those old plastic Easter eggs – fill with rice, beans, poly beads, BB’s or anything similar and seal with tape. You can papier-mache for extra security)
  • bean bag (scrap material and dry beans/lentils/rice/poly pellets)
  • poly pellet (single to roll between index finger and thumb)
  • teethers (especially gel-filled ones and ones with ‘nubbies’ on them; Sophie the giraffe is fun to chew on as well)
  • rubber bands (tie a bunch together, then snip all but one of the loops to make  a ‘koosh’ type ball
  • tape measure with a button re-winder
  • Rubik’s cube

For larger stimulation, we have used:

  • weighted lap blanket (I made them from a fat quarter of fabric and filled with poly pellets from the craft store)
  • noise cancelling earphones
  • foam ear plugs
  • vibrating neck pillow
  • yoga ball
  • rolling pin on the floor (under desk, for feet)
  • yoga
  • balance board (can be made from a 24″ long piece of 1″x 6″ scrap board with a 1″x 1″ half round piece of molding nailed to the underside. Sand the edges and let your child paint and decorate it. The child stands with feet on the outer edges and balances the board up on the round.)
  • weighted hula hoop (can be made by cutting open a regular hula hoop and adding steel ball bearings and taping back together)
  • sensory steps (in our version, I made a couple of sheets of 8.5 x 14 paper with eight 4″x3″ squares of sensory material – just enough to ‘toe’ and small enough to fit under the best. Ours include sandpaper, lentils, elbow macaroni, faux-fur fabric, shredded plastic, rubber bands, toothpicks, crinkled aluminum foil, yarn, Easter grass, egg shells, lego bricks, shredded newspaper, terry cloth, and pantyhose.
  • rice sock (tube sock filled with rice; can be knotted every few inches to provide more even distribution and/or a different ‘feel'; also can be filled with lavender or other herbs and rice, and heated to make a warm aromatherapy weight)
  • meditation/mind jar
  • 2lb hand weights (also works to roll with feet on the floor)
  • yoga block (for feet to manipulate)
  • weighted tube (a paper towel tube with a spent D cell battery in it. Close both ends of the tube with cotton balls (for cushion) and tape. Tilt back and forth gently to let the battery slide from one end to the other. It has a nice ‘thunk’ to it.)
  • sensory tubs (usually used for younger kids, but are very useful for older kids with SPD)
  • sensory bottle /science bottles
  • sound therapy: white noise;  thunderstormfireplace/thunderstorm are all amazing and vary in length.
  • alpha wave sound therapy on low volume over headphones. You can record this video/sound, then put it on an ipod and loop it for however long you need it for. Once is almost 10 minutes. Any sound therapy we use with headphones for maximum effect.

We use or have used most of these (not all at once, obviously). Different things seem to work at different times, and I’ve noticed that even my younger son (who is not ADHD) seems to focus better when allowed an outlet, so even though these types of tools and activities are ‘for’ kids with attention or sensory issues, they can definitely be of use to children without them as well.

What are some of your cheap/handmade sensory tools?


Girl’s Weekend Out

This past weekend, I got to take off with the girls for a couple of days Ren Festing it in Plantersville, TX.  As much as I love my darling children and Loverly Husband, being a homeschool mom means that opportunities to pamper myself with time away from them are few and far between. I’ve been in a funk lately and this kind of break was very much needed.

If you haven’t been to a renaissance faire before, I highly recommend that you check one out, and if you are so fortunate to live near enough that you can attend Texas’ version, then you should most definitely put that on your list of Things To Do. Like our reputation suggests, in Texas, we do it bigger, and Ren Faire is no exception.

The Texas Ren Fest is one of the largest in the US, with 65 acres of Renaissance Goodness to be had. There are games, food and assorted craft vendors, plus tons of live entertainment – and the best part of all is the people-watching. From the elegantly made up professionally fancy-dressed staff to your average Joe and Jane with every culture and genre under the sun represented, the people-watching portion of the day is one of my favorites. We saw drag queen Geishas, a family of satyrs, gypsies and belly dancers, plenty of nearly-nude-but-for-chain-mail-clad barbarians and fur-covered Celts, elaborately costumed English Lords and Ladies, a Star Trek away team, a couple of Nazgul, Hobbits and Wizards and more than a few winged fey.  Each weekend is a theme; this was the Highland Fling weekend, celebrating Scottish Culture, so there were many, many kilted men to oogle (and plenty to quickly look away from lest you see something you might wish you hadn’t). We joined the fancy dress fun as a band of gypsies complete with bells and coined skirts. Apparently, Saturday (Nov, 12) was a record-setting day, attendance-wise, with the most visitors on a single day, ever. How fun to be a part of that!

We truly had an awesome time. We walked and shopped, saw some shows (Tartanic (shirtless, sweaty men with bagpipes and drums *swoon*) and Sound and Fury (Testacles and ye Sack of Rome) stand out as the most memorable) and munched on tasty snacks – oh, so very much fun was had by all! Pictures! (Disclaimer: none of them were taken by me!)

Originally, our plan was to camp, but with the wildfires scouring the land (and they are bad – we saw acres of burned woods and dead trees on our drive out there), there are burn bans in effect pretty much everywhere, which makes camping not as much fun so we opted to hotel it instead. I don’t often get to do things like this without the kids, but when I do it’s always nice to come back home relaxed and in a better frame of mind. That said, I freely admit that I’m already looking forward to the next one!



Enjoying the Autumn Weather

We had our first cool front come through last week – a much needed, much appreciated cool front. It’s been unbelievably hot this summer, and even though I say that every year, this summer really has set records. I’m not an outdoors-y type most of the time, but between the swarm of love-bugs that have finally left town (or died out – whatever) and the unrelenting heat, this first taste of cooler weather made me positively antsy to be outside.

We packed up the kids’ remaining school work one day last week and went out to one of our local state parks to enjoy the cooler weather. It was actually quite a bit cooler than we’d thought when we left the house; several times, I had the kids run around the pavilion we were sitting at to warm up. We did nearly get carried away by mosquitoes; normally those nasty little bloodsuckers fade away once the weather turns, but maybe the woods offered some shelter because even with the cooler air, they were out in droves. Yay for bug spray!

When we got home, in keeping with the autumn atmosphere, we made caramels. This is my new favorite thing ever: MICROWAVE caramels. Yes. Microwave. You just mix everything in a big Pyrex bowl and throw them in there, stir occasionally and in six minutes, you have  lovely and brown and bubbly and smooth and creamy caramel… and with a tiny sprinkling of flaked salt on top, they’re oh, so very tasty!

The recipe is from Food Network, but I found it on Pinterest.

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

  1. Combine all ingredients.
  2. Cook 6 minutes, stirring every two minutes.
  3. Stir and pour into lightly greased dish.
  4. Let cool.
  5. Cut, wrap in wax paper & store in air tight container.

I didn’t have brown sugar, so I used a 1/2 cup of white sugar with a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. I didn’t have Karo, so I used a 1/2 cup of white sugar with 2 teaspoons of water (stirred to dissolve the sugar). The caramels didn’t quite set up the way they should have, but they taste fantastic. One day, I’ll buy the other ingredients and make the actual recipe… maybe. My version is more like a thick caramel sauce and is amazing in coffee and over ice cream, in case you were wondering.

Hope you’re celebrating fall with hot cocoa every morning!



Just DO it.

If you’re unfamiliar with our schedule this year, we have school for four weeks, then take a week-long break, all year long (with a couple extra weeks in December, between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next, which is on Jan 1).

This week, thank all that is sacred in that which was, is and ever shall be, is our off week. We had kind of a wonky schedule over the summer, with a lighter workload and more days off than I’d originally planned. As is wont to happen, I started feeling like things were sliding, so in a fabulous (but misguided) flurry of organization and determination, I announced that we would henceforth be putting our noses to the grindstone and get back on track. Somehow, in my blaze of glory, I decided that the best way to accomplish this was to skip the last break, which put us at 6 weeks straight of school.

Oh, silly young Padawan… there is still much to learn.

The funny thing is, I already knew that this was a mistake. Our schedule last year was 6 weeks on, one off. We only had school 4 days a week, but I realized towards the end of the year that 6 weeks was too long. We all get burned out, and consistently, by the end of week 6, I was seriously struggling to get schoolwork organized and the kids were lollygagging about, doing any and everything but schoolwork. After 5 weeks, max, we all needed a break! This just goes to remind me that, even as a somewhat more experienced homeschooling mom (now that I’m almost through our 2nd year), that lingering ‘school’ mentality still exists.

So, in an effort to maybe have these things sink in (AGAIN), I give you my list of reminders why homeschooling is awesome:

  • City ISD school year calendar and State Education Association list of skills by grade: these are not the schedules you’re looking for.
  • There WILL BE gaps in their education. No matter where they go to school, or in what style they’re educated, or how many days and weeks they spend learning, there is always MORE to know. No two ideals of what is ‘core knowledge’ will match up, so stop trying to please everyone else! Teach them how to learn, and to love learning that they will be FINE AMAZING.
  • For the love of Pete, stop trying to ‘catch up’. Education is a marathon, not a race. They’re going to be ahead in some things and behind in others. That’s okay… they’ll get there when they need to.
  • Remember the fun stuff! Education is not just about book learnin’. There are arts and crafts and gluing macaroni and cotton balls to construction paper. It’s creating seed mosaics and painting with food dyes, exploring the world, doing it themselves, and learning at the knee of a seasoned professional with knowledge to share. Revel in the fact that you have freedom from the established norm – the amazing opportunity – to collect these types of learning experiences for your children. Be willing to go out and MAKE them happen for them!
  • Breaks are essential to balance. Being parent and teacher is an extremely stressful job. It’s easy – too easy sometimes – to get caught up in the constant pressure and demand for educational excellence that homeschooling parents deal with. It comes from within and from outside – but it cannot rule your relationship with your kids. Take breaks often and enjoy them fully. Laze about and relax!
Now, I’m off to work on costumes for Halloween and the upcoming Renaissance Faire with my clever little trolls. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled program next week with updates on our workbox modifications and NVC progress.

Calling School on Account of Blahs

One of the many, many things that I love about homeschooling is the flexibility. We’ve reached the middle of the week and after a couple of days of ‘phoning it in’, I am calling school on account of blahs.

I am not ‘sick’, but I feel kinda… meh, and I know I am not giving them my best. It’s not that it’s been a ‘bad’ week; things have been fine. But the kids are just doing the work to get it done, rather than doing any real ‘learning’, so instead of continuing to push, I think it makes more sense to spend a couple of days getting over whatever this is we seem to have and begin again next week.

Intellectually, I know that breaks are beneficial. Not pushing when your heart’s not in it; actually stopping to re-group and rediscover your joy in homeschooling is necessary. It’s something that I’ve said and read over and over again, and yet still I occasionally find myself battling the ‘get it done’ mindset.

We’re not bound by anyone else’s rules or policies. We have no one but ourselves to report to or satisfy, and we’re not disrupting a carefully crafted time-table to put off today’s plan in favor of something that fits better. I purposefully designed our school schedule so that there would be enough school days built-in so that we could take breaks where needed. But still, there is the lingering feeling that ‘today is a school day’ and so we ‘must’ get XYZ finished. Silly, I know. Perhaps Mommy needs some de-schooling today. {wink}

In any case, it’s 9:45 and the kids are still in their rooms. They’re not asleep; I can hear them chattering and laughing. I am thinking brunch, chores and then grocery store for hot chocolate and coconut milk to make coconut whipped cream. Then, I think we might scour the KidCraft Pinterest board for something awesome to do this afternoon. Yeah. That’s a good plan.



Meditation with Kids – Mind Jar

A while back, I decided to start working in some meditation time to our day. Immediately after making that decision, I forgot about it. Well, that’s not entirely true; we’ve done a couple of meditation times as a group, but not as much as I’d planned on incorporating.

Over the last month or so that I’ve been Pinteresting things, I’ve been seeing the ‘mind jar‘ pop up over and over again. The uses are myriad; everything from an alternative to time out for littles to an actual meditation tool for kids who don’t know how to zone out. I thought that was a great idea, and wanted to make some with the kids as actual meditation tools, and for taking personal time outs when things get stressful.

Since we’ve been workboxing school, I have more awareness of the fun things that have been getting left out because we’re so focused on trying to get the ‘real’ work done. I know I said it in yesterday’s workbox update post, but that is one of the advantages of workboxing – being able to see patterns and gaps in our week. I’m using a worksheet that I originally made when I first read about workboxing. I’ve updated it now  ,here’s a blank version of mine if you’re in the market for one. Planning out the week’s plans and having a weeks’ worth of actual assignments as opposed to a general idea of what we’ll be doing is an improvement, I think.

I’ve been able to add in things that we haven’t had time for, which is awesome and ever so much more fun for them; more craft projects, more games, more time to do something one-on-one with Mom. When we first started homeschooling, I bought this book of file folder games. I made up several of them, and we used one or two, but since then, they’ve been sitting on the shelf next to our completed lapbooks. Now that I have to fill a time slot, it’s been easier to throw those in there for a supplemental math or language arts lesson and to make sure it gets done instead of skipping it because we’ve already been working on school for however long.
That’s one area for the kids that I see a benefit in. They’re expecting to have to do ALL of the boxes (however many are assigned for the day). They haven’t questioned any part of how many boxes there are as of yet. If they have 12 boxes, then they’re expecting to do them all. This was one aspect of workboxing that I liked – that they didn’t need to ask me what else they still had to do; they can see it. That aspect will be worth something to keep however we tweak the system in the coming weeks.

Back to the mind jars though…

The recipe I found originally called for glue, water and glitter. Others mentioned glycerine and a similar project that I did with my kids called for baby oil. I didn’t have any of that on hand, but what I did have was a huge bottle of styling gel that I bought eons ago and will never, ever, ever use. It’s water soluble (science lesson sneak-in there – more on that in a minute), so it worked out just fine.

We did end up adding a few drops of food coloring to the jars to make the colors pop a bit more, and it did take a little mixing-magic to get the consistency just right. The idea is to have the jar clear in about 5 minutes. The kids jars take about 5-8 minutes to get calm again (depending on how ‘clear’ you want them).

After messing with theirs so much, I decided that I needed one, too. Unfortunately we were almost out of gel by that point, so I started experimenting with other substances. I had about half a jar of hair serum (to tame frizziness) left from a long time ago so I tried that. The only problem with that was the new product was oil-based. Let’s just say that a lesson on water solubility was enjoyed by all. With glitter. In any case, I found another bottle of water-based gel in the bottom of a drawer and made a pink one with white pixie dust in it for myself. The solution is a bit thicker in my jar and the glitter is a bit lighter; it takes about 10  minutes to clear.

I do have to say that it is totally mesmerizing to watch the glitter sparkle and fall! On a scale of 1-10, I rate this an 8 for make-ability, a 5 for mess-making (with a 3 for mess-making potential – spill one of those containers of glitter and you’ll see what I mean) and a 10 for fun/usability. Add some gorilla glue under the cap to make the jars resistant/less prone to unsupervised additions and this is nearly the perfect craft.

Hope your weekend is fantastic!

Workboxes, Week 1

Well, we’re almost through our first week with workboxes. We’ve actually completed all of the boxes every day so far (though I did change ‘health’ to ‘chores’ yesterday – kinda cheating, I know, but I was ready for school to be done).

I haven’t decided exactly how I feel about them yet. I’m thinking that we’ll give it another week and see how it goes. I am almost sure that the actual ‘box’ part is just adding an extra/unnecessary step; I’ve seen several versions of workboxing mods that use a single box or bin with manilla mailing envelopes to hold the work, and others that use hanging files, covered cereal boxes, and lots of other methods. Since we’re so limited on space, I am wondering if something like that might be better.

I am also going to have to figure out something else to do with the ‘done’ cards or tags… the process we have now feels like a bunch of extra steps that might be eliminated. I saw several people using velcro dots on the fronts of boxes (or on a sheet of paper inside the front of the box) to hold all the tags; I’m thinking that I might want to try that instead. I do like the chore cards though, so I may play around with that and see if I can come up with a better way to manage them. We have a chore chart in the hallway that I made months ago; we may go back to that style for a while.

Overall, I’m not sold on the system for us, but there are some things I like about it, so I’m not ready to scrap it just yet. I thought I’d do a pros and cons list this week and then re-evaluate next week. In the interests of disclosure, I will say that I have not read Sue Patrick’s book (creator of the workbox system), or attended any kind of lecture or class on them. I’ve just been reading about them since last year and checking out all the different mods and tweaks that I’ve seen in blogs and put my system together from what I’ve read. That may very well do Ms. Patrick a huge disservice, so please take my two cents on the matter with a spoonful of salt. {wink}  I like the idea of the workboxes system. Ideally, it seems like allowing the kids to be completely responsible for their work makes me happy. I just don’t know how that will work out practically speaking with my kids.


  • I like that having a weeks worth of plans laid out in advance helps me see where things are missing; I’m planning better and even though it’s still taking a while, the day is well-rounded.
  • I like that I can also see where I am harping on ‘work’ and not adding in enough ‘fun’ stuff; workboxing it helps me make sure to include fun stuff at even intervals during the day.
  • I like that everything is done the night before; I can just say “okay, time for school” and they’re set.
  • We’re getting a CRAPLOAD of stuff done! I am impressed with the number of completed assignments that they’re turning in every day.
But of course, all this can be done without workboxing it.
  • it takes up a lot of space – the whole time; from storing packed boxes, to while they’re working on an open box, to boxes they’re saving for homework and boxes that they’ve completed. I’ve got boxes everywhere.
  • the packing process takes a long time – not so long that it’s prohibitive, but long enough that I can see myself getting bored with it in the near future. I’ll want to pack them, but slack, then feel stressed about it in the morning.
  • it’s not saving us ANY time. My kids still dawdle. The only benefit here is that I can say, “Okay, time’s up. Pack your things back into the box and set it on the side of your desk. That’s homework.” But then I still have to oversee homework. Le sigh.
  • Even though we have the shoe-box sized bins, they’re still not big enough to hold workbooks or larger materials. Even their journals and notebooks get curved into the bottoms of the boxes.
  • I’m also concerned about long-term wear and tear on the boxes, themselves. They’re dollar-store boxes, but that was still $24 on box. If I upgraded to heavier boxes or wider ones, that will be an even bigger expense.
So that’s where we’re at now. Again, SO IMPRESSED with the sheer number of completed assignments that they’re turning in. With better time-management, I think that this might be a good system – time will tell, though. If you’re a workboxer, I’d love a link to your blog or other sites you’ve found helpful in modifying workboxes, thinking of fun stuff to put in them… anything workbox related, really. I made a Pinterest board for my workbox bookmarks and it’s sadly lacking.
If you’ve been reading here and wondering about our progress this week, we have had a much go of it than we started off with. Tuesday was great – we met our homeschool group for our 2nd Annual ‘Not Back to School Brunch’ at the park, and managed to get all of the boxes for the day completed before dinner time. Wednesday, we were home and had a heavier workload, but still… it was a good and productive day. Today, we had errands planned, so they got their morning boxes finished, took some work with us to do on-the-go and have finished in time to hit the pool before dinner.
Hope your week is winding down into a relaxing weekend!
P.S. If you’re looking for an NVC update post this week, I think we’re going to work on chapter 3 again next week. The chapter is on separating ‘observation’ and ‘evaluation’ and I am having a hard time with it.

The Many Uses of Index Cards in Homeschooling

It has recently come to my attention that index cards may be the most awesome invention ever.

One of the main things I like about them is that they are portable and easy to organize – color coding, alphabetizing, numbering – all methods work equally well. They fit well into kids’ hands and they’re easy to work with.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve been finding tons of creative uses for them via the internets…

Heart of Wisdom suggested 10 Super Index Card Ideas, I  found #6 to be the most appealing:

6. Book Record/Bookmark

Index cards make great bookmarks — students can write out the title, author and publication date at the top of an index card. write notes about the book on the card. When  finish the book, drop the index card into a file box and have an ongoing record of your reading.

I LOVE this idea!! LBB tends to read something and it goes in one eye and out the other; this would be a great way to help him keep track of the details in the book to refer to when it comes time to work on a book report.

I also found the Hipster PDA. There are downloadable templates here, or you can just make your own since the concept is basically a bunch of index cards clipped together with a binder clip. Still fun, esp for the kidlets. If the index cards are too big, you can also use blank, printable business cards; they’re smaller and would be perfect for making your own card games, flash cards, new cards for re-purposing old board games (Candyland adapted for math, chutes and ladders adapted like Mad Libs – that sort of thing), create-your-own geography games, Hipster PDA-mini… etc.

They can be used for copywork, too – write or print and paste a phrase, a poem or paragraph on an index card and have the child copy it below (or affix it to the back for longer paragraphs). This helps the child see how the words are spaced when written (if you wrote it out). Plus, by archiving them in an index file, you and your child both can see the progression of penmanship as the year goes by.

Index Card timeline for shorter time lines, or specific time frames, using a string and clothespins to hang index cards would be a great idea. We’re using a scroll timeline right now – it’s LONG when all out, but easy to use for the most part – but I like the idea of using index cards, too. That would make it easy to add new figures or pictures during a unit, and then they can be added into the scroll.

Another great idea is using index cards and book card holders to make a ‘tired word rescue center’. Use one book card holder for each letter of the alphabet, and write commonly used words on the blank side and synonyms on the back (happy on the front, joyous, delighted, pleased and others on the back). That could even be expanded into a vocabulary-building game.

Another nifty index card idea is for spelling. I used an index card file box and a binder ring. Each week, on Monday, I give the kids 7 words. I write the word on the front (blank) side of the card once in print and once in cursive. Then the kids write their words three times, in print, cursive, print on Monday. On Tuesday – Thursday, they play games, write them, quiz each other  – they have a list of spelling activities that they choose three from each week and practice every day.  Then on Friday, we test. Any words that they get correct come off of the ring and get filed alphabetically. The words that they miss stay on the ring for another week (or until they get the right on the test).

To keep the rings separate, I write their initials on each card, and the date that each word was given so I can keep track of how long they’ve had a word. Once they know the word, it goes into the box, and that will eventually be their word bank. Also filed away are sight words (all of the ‘a’ words on a single card, etc.). This helps prevent a constant barrage of, “Mom, how do you spell…” during writing assignments.

I know there are tons of other ways to use index cards – what are some of your favorite ideas?


NBTS Blog Hop – Student Photo Week

Once again, we’re participating in the Not Back to School Blog Hop over at Heart of the Matter. This week, it’s student photos!

Even though our school year ‘officially’ starts in January, it’s really hard not to get caught up in the excitement of ‘back to school’ around this time of the year. We stock up on school supplies (OMG, SALES!!!) and clothes and take their ‘official’ school year picture.

Since my kids started Kindergarten in school-school,  their picture each year was always taken in the fall. I have one of those big Kindergarten though Graduation progressive picture frames for each of the boys and so to stay consistent, I take their ‘grade’ pictures around back-to-school season so that the pictures are about a year apart. I always wanted one of those frames and now, having one for the boys, I love seeing how much they change from year to year.

I’m not obsessive about haircuts and  uniforms the way I was when they were in school, so even though we have head-shots, they’re not as tailored and ‘posed'; artificial, like they were in school. I think my kids are super cute always, but so far, I think I like their homeschool ‘school’ pictures better.

Technical info: I try to take their pictures outside; natural light and all that, then I edit in Picasa and add the text. I am a font-freak and downloaded that one from

I also update their school ID cards each year. I think it’s helpful to have something ‘official’ for the kids. We haven’t ever been bothered with questions that are invasive, but I like to be prepared.

On the fronts of the cards, I have spaces for their names, grade, and birthdate as well as my name and phone numbers and our homeschool group affiliation. I used a template at Homeschool Oasis. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, there is a downloadable MSWord.doc that has samples of all the card templates she offers. I used the ‘Card E’ layout and added more stuff into the card – our homeschool crest, our city’s flag and the state flag, and you can’t see it, but I added our homeschool group’s logo and name. I did not sign the front of the card because I have the back signed.

On the backs of the cards, I have a signed medical information, emergency medical release and emergency contact information, as well as a notice that they’re exempt from the daytime curfew in our city.

There’s also discussion on a list I am on about daytime curfews so I thought I’d share my ‘solution’. We do have one in our city, and though I oppose the ordinance, it passed with flying colors a few years ago. According to the state law though, we’re exempt. It’s not actually spelled out in so many words, but if we were accosted, I think my interpretation would hold up. One exemption is in the event that a minor child is with a parent or other appointed guardian. My kids are nearly always with me, and when they’re not, they’re with someone I trust, so them being out and about alone is a moot point. The reason I claim ‘exempt’ is because in TX, homeschoolers are considered private schools, and as such are exempt from compulsory school attendance laws. In any case, I updated their ID cards this year with the city ordinance and state statute that grants their exemption from daytime curfews.

I also made an educator ID card for myself, and I have both of the boys’ names on my card and their grade and the homeschool group affiliation. I put my homeschool group membership card on the back of my educator ID card. Our homeschool group operates on more of a traditional schedule (Aug/Sept through May/June) and we (parents) have group ID cards for discounts at places like Joann’s, Michael’s , Barnes & Noble and more. Once the cards have been updated for the new school year, I print them and then have them laminated at the print shop.

Do you use a homeschool ID card? Post your favorite resources, or links to your blog if you feel like sharing yours!




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