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

Product Review

10 Months Post Harvey: Early Summer 2018

Well, spring has well and truly faded into summer. Even though the official start of Summer isn’t until July, in Texas, we all know that summer actually starts in late May. At a certain point, everything gets all melty, and that’s how you know that it’s actual summer, and that there will be no relief for the unbearable heat anytime within the next several months. When you live in Texas, you just have to learn to accept this as fact and move on. It means no more hikes; no more outside anything, really, unless you count the walk between the air conditioned ‘indoors’ to the air conditioned car or any time spent at the pool.

When last I posted, we found our intrepid heroes wrapping up homeschool co-op for the year, going to prom, and (as seems to be, forever) working on repairing our house post-Hurricane Harvey. That was back in April, so I have a couple of months to cover before you’re back up to speed, dear reader.

As ever, we’ve been busy, though not really with a lot of schoolwork of late. We took some time off because I was out of town, and there were a couple of weeks when Loverly Husband was also off work, so house-work became to priority. Although it doesn’t look it, we’ve gotten quite a lot accomplished; most of it is just behind the scenes. We’re about to start on the kitchen, completion of which will put us on the downhill slope towards being totally repaired. All that will be left post-kitchen is the master bedroom, bath and the office. Then we’ll tackle some outside projects, but that’s so not the focus right now. We did remove a wall; our house was built in the 1960’s, when open floor plans weren’t a thing. Our living room was an odd rectangle, but with a door on every wall, making furniture placement frustrating and entertaining impossible. We took the wall between the living room and kitchen out, making the whole center of the house one big room. I’m excited to see it finished. We have finished with texturing and painting, but still have the ceiling fan and vent covers to put back on, and trim work. We’re planning to do the living room and kitchen trim all at once. In any case, it’s definitely coming along.

School-wise, I found that trying to pretend like things were ‘normal’ when we really still aren’t solidly living a normal life in our house was not working. Despite trying to keep up and on a regular schedule, it was really hard to keep the kids on task and myself organized to help them. I have long been an advocate of ‘trying something new’ when whatever you’re currently doing isn’t working out, so I decided to enroll the boys in an online school. We’re using Acellus for the time being. I don’t know if this is permanent yet or not, but it’s going well for now, and lends a little more freedom to me and organization to them, plus they both have said that they like it (for now) and I am very grateful for that. Because our school year for 2017-2018 was so very interrupted, our schedule has been sketchy. In the Spring, we took a few weeks off to accommodate travel, illness, Loverly Husband’s vacation time and other productivity issues, but have been solidly in-session for the last couple of weeks now, and I feel like they’re making good progress.

That said, let’s recap! My last post was in April, so picking up where I left off…
Our homeschool group hosted an outdoor survival class at a local park. One of our families has an older daughter who lives in CA and works as a ranger-type for Girl Scouts or CampFire, I don’t remember which. She’s all about teaching though, and volunteered to take our students for a hike with an outdoor lesson. We had a great turnout, and the kids enjoyed having someone closer to their own age doing the teaching.

Afterwards, we spent some time with family. Spring is crawfish season in the South, and we’re nothing if not slaves to tradition. Unfortunately, my sister and I are allergic to shellfish, including crawfish, so our crawfish boils look a bit different than most people’s. The potatoes and corn and Zummo’s all go into the seasoned water first, then into a cooler once cooked, then the mudbugs go in all alone. My kids are, however, not allergic, and ate their fill. As per the usual, any time we get the kids together, we try to make them all stand still for 5 seconds to get a photo of them. This time, we even got my dad in the mix.




We’ve also logged a couple of teen socials with our homeschool group… the kids are a little older now, so I don’t always get pictures of them, but I do usually get a shot with our little mom’s group. We’ve hit the pool, a couple of local coffee shops with regularity, and our local froyo bar, OrangeLeaf, is another popular spot. We also hit up a burger joint for lunch one day instead of just coffee. They have an area that could generously be called an ‘arcade’, where many shenanigans were enjoyed.


We visited the Houston Health Museum in May, complete with Lab time for the kids. We’ve done this before, and it’s always fun. This time, the main exhibit was a series of kinetic sound machines/experiments/tech called BioRhythm… really interesting stuff. There was also a really weird film that was a trio of really bizarre looking people who had musical instruments borg-ed into their flesh. There were 3 separate videos that started off individually but eventually synced to make a ‘band’ of sorts… or st least a cohesive rhythmic noise. It was weird, but probably the thing that’s stuck with me the longest. True art, I’d say… something that someone creates that you just can’t forget about, and really creepy, which I totally dig. It was called BioMen, and was created by Chaja Hertog from the Netherlands. I think the videos are even on YouTube now.

It’s not been all work and no play; Loverly Husband and I slipped away to Houston with some friends for a weekend away. We went to the Death By Natural Causes exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science without the kids, and had dinner at an amazing steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, then stayed at a downtown Houston hotel for the evening. It was a lovely little mini-break!


In other news, our homeschool group organized a Marshmallow gun challenge using PVC pipes. We set up an obstacle course for them, then sent them off to play battle games while we watched. It’s gotten so hot out that I’m amazed they had as much energy as they did.

A couple of our lovely homeschool friends contributed to a local art show, which we absolutely couldn’t miss. The theme was floral related, and the art work was amazing. There’s a tendency to say that our town is ‘boring’, but there is so much to do and see, especially within the art community lately, if you just look for it. It’s always been that way, but more so in the last few years. The city launched a beautification project recently that invites local artists to paint traffic control boxes around town. I have several friends who’ve painted boxes, and a couple more in the works. The city has also opened up some park benches to get the same treatment, and we’re talking about having our homeschool group do one as a group project.

Our Mom’s Night out events are always fun; we’ve been joining a local mothering group for their Hoops & Wine nights lately. It’s been a lot of fun, with a little bonus exercise tossed in for good measure as well. It’s really nice to get to chat with some of the moms in our homeschool group without kids; we have a pretty diverse group of moms in our group, and I always really enjoy spending time with them in a grown-up environment.

For my BFF’s birthday, she wanted to take a road trip, so we did! It was really spur of the moment, and such a great time. I’m not usually a spontaneous person, but I’ve been giving being more laid back a try, and it was really relaxing. We drove through Texas to Colorado, and stayed in Air B’nBs, so we spent 3 nights and 4 days really inexpensively. Last time we made this drive, it was nighttime, and we missed a lot of the scenery across west Texas. This time, it was still light, and we passed Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. I have seen this online before, but thought it was in Arizona or something; I had no idea it was in Texas! We stopped and got pictures. It was wet and muddy, and there was a ton of trash, but it was still pretty cool.


PeaGreen shares his birthday day with his BFF, TabasocBoi, so they had a joint pool party to celebrate. PeaGreen is officially 15 now, and TB is 16. They donned Birthday Dictator hats for the duration, and bossed everyone around. They seem to have enjoyed themselves, but this demonstration reminds me that it’s maybe a good thing that my kid doesn’t have any real power (because he might be a terrible person {wink}).

Somewhere in February, back when RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 was still on, my friend Michelle found out that Trixie Mattel was going to be coming to Houston, and tickets were pretty cheap, so we snagged a quad pack. Fast forward to the end of June, and Trixie had won All Stars 3, and was still coming to Houston, but now with a crown. We took a weekend trip, and had a great time, complete with breakfast crepes al fresco at CoCo’s in Midtown.

4th of July has always been a ton of fun for us, since PeaGreen’s birthday is the 5th. Since we’re still not finished with our house, we spent the evening with friends. Once it got dark, the kids took to the streets with Roman Candles and Harry Potter spells, or at least we tried to convince them to use HP spells… they were less enthusiastic about it, but did a couple just to make the moms happy (and we love them for that).

Loverly Husband was on call the week of PG’s actual birthday (and we like to make the celebration last…), so we took PG out for a birthday Dinner at a local Italian eatery. PG is all into pasta these days… making, cooking and eating, and requested that we each get a different pasta dish and share. LBB opted out, but we still ended up with 3 different pasta dishes and more than enough food to bring home.

‘ice cream for breakfast while we have the car serviced’ selfies.

This past weekend, we finally broke ground on the kitchen; we are moving our refrigerator to a recessed closet off to the side so that we have access to our back door again. Our kitchen was TINY, and when we bought our kitchen table set a few years ago, we realized too late that the table was a bit bigger than we’d thought. The configuration of the kitchen meant that the only place to put the refrigerator was in front of the back door, so we blocked it off and the fridge has been there ever since. When we took the wall out between the living room and kitchen post-Harvey, it opened up more possibilities, so we’re taking advantage of that now (and I’ll have a back porch accessible through the kitchen again – yay!). We have the closet framed and sheetrocked; next up is to built in the cabinet overhead, then we can start on pulling the ceiling tiles so we can insulate and do the new lighting, then sheetrock. It’s just the beginning stages of a massive project – probably THE main project since we’ve been doing recovery work, but we’re finally on it and I am so glad!


We also saw our friends perform in their summer workshop play with Orange Community Players in Heroes & Villains Too! The Quest for Shmeep.

In other news, July is Camp NaNoWrimo, and I am at 15.8K of 25K words, so I am pleased with myself. I’ve never been this close to hitting a target word-count within the time frame, so I am feeling confident that I will win (for the first time!). If you’re a writer-type, Camp (10K word count) is a good way to get your feet wet in prep for November, which is the big project: 50K words. I have no idea what I am going to write about in November, but I hope it works out as well as this month is going.

That’s pretty much everything for the last couple of months! Just trying to keep up so that I don’t fall completely off the face of the earth between posts.

How’s things with you?

Homeschool Co-ops: Yea or Nay?

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. As parents, we are often left wondering where this mythical village is, and why we weren’t invited. As new parents, we’re consistently offered help, and told to just let friends and family know what we need, as if telling will magically translate into having. But when you decide to start homeschooling, most of those offers of help disappear. Along the way, homeschooling families seem to have noticed this trend, and voila! – the homeschool co-op was born.

A homeschool co-op, generally speaking, is an organized group of homeschooling families who choose to educate their kids together (cooperatively, thus the name), in small-group settings. Co-ops can be formal or informal; focus on ‘core’ subjects (language arts, math, science and history), electives (art, music, labs, etc.) or a combination of the two; organized through a church, local homeschool group, and or just a group of interested parents.  Co-ops use the same subject or text for teaching the students while they are at co-op, so they’re usually sorted into similarly aged groups for classes and may or may not assign ‘homework’ to students for completion outside of co-op days. Co-ops can have all kinds of arrangements, but usually meet one day each week. Some co-ops follow a more traditional school schedule; others only run seasonally or follow an altogether unique schedule. In most co-ops, the parents of the students are the teachers. This allows the parents to pool their strengths, and can offer some really fantastic opportunities to the kids. Others have a few dedicated teachers (who may or may actually be teachers) while the other parents in the co-op take on other tasks.

I’ve seen parents on either end of the spectrum, from brand new homeschoolers to experienced homeschoolers, look into co-ops for a variety of reasons. My kids and I have participated in 2 co-ops; one was not so great, but the one we are in now (our second year) is fantastic. Just like any other endeavor, some things fit and some don’t. There can be a bit of trial and error, and sometimes forging your own path to find (or create) what works best for your family. Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages that co-ops present.

Co-op Pros & Cons:


  • better use of your time – Homeschooling is time consuming and can be difficult. Sharing the work with other parents can be a really attractive option! Cooperative schooling means that you don’t have to fit in every. single. thing. to your schedule. If you co-op is core-focused, then you don’t have to worry about what to use, because the co-op will tell you. If your co-op is elective-focused, then you can focus your home days on core and not worry about fitting in art and music.
  • regularly scheduled social opportunities/away from home opportunities for kids and parents – Socialization is still (still? STILL.) a hot-button topic for newbies or those uninitiated into the homeschooling world. Since co-ops offer education in a group setting, it has a more familiar ‘feel’ to it than it might otherwise because your students are going to regularly be in a ‘class’ with other kids. If you or your children are social butterflies, having a dedicated day of the week where you know you’re going to be with other people for the majority of the day can be a good thing for your sanity. Actual *adult* conversation, folks!
  • allows you to take advantage of other parents’ strengths/knowledge – This is one of the primary factors in the ‘pros’ column, in my opinion. Every parent has the subject that they can knock out of the park, and another that they dread tackling each day. Co-op allows you to pool your knowledge, skills and strengths with other parents so that you can stick to what you do best. This helps the kids, too! I firmly believe that a teacher’s passion for a subject helps engage students. I would much rather have a parent who loves biology teach my kids rather than push myself to plod through it alone. Additionally, your co-op may offer something that you just flat don’t have access to. Last year, my kids were able to start violin lessons through our co-op. I didn’t play strings at the time, so this was something that would have otherwise been unavailable to my children. This year, I am teaching and essay class – something all of our kids need help with, but that the other parents dread. Since I love writing, it works out.
  • small group learning – kids with learning disabilities/anxiety or developmental delays may benefit from small group environments; they aren’t isolated like they would be at home, but aren’t overwhelmed with a large group of kids and noise like they would be in a traditional classroom. I’ve found that my kids have more closely knit friendships with their co-op classmates than they did when we weren’t participating in group classes every week. Since well run co-ops function like mini schools, the students (and often parents as well) are able to establish intimate friendships with their peers. Small, close-knit groups also offer opportunities for healthy competition among peers. Last year, during a seat testing day for orchestra, the teacher had to use 2 decimal places to determine seat placement – that’s how close the grades were!
  • cost – this one goes in the pros and the cons list. Participating in a co-op can allow you a little more room in your homeschooling budget. Some things, like science labs and art projects, tend to be costly if you have to buy a kit for only one student. Splitting the cost between a group may mean that you get a discounted rate, or can split the cost of a kit with several other families.
  • group-specific opportunities – some classes are harder to accomplish in a one-on-one setting. PE is often more fun when you have a group to play games with. Public speaking is more challenging (and arguably more beneficial) when your audience is real, live people instead of a room full of stuffed animals, your mom and baby sister. We often talk about the advantages that one-on-one homeschooling can provide, but there are some things that just work better in a group.
  • motivation and accountability – this one is iffy; if your co-op is core-focused, then having to meet up each week and keep pace with the other students is a nice incentive to stay on track during non-co-op days. However, if your co-op isn’t core-focused, then this may not apply. However, having a regularly scheduled time to ‘talk shop’ with other homeschooling parents can help keep you motivated to stay on track with your lesson plans, and help troubleshoot when things aren’t going well. Students can also energize each other; hearing what their friends are studying or learning about can help spark interest in your child, too.


  • time  – there are several time factors to discuss: one is the amount of time that co-ops can take to organize and plan. Because they’re usually run by parents, that means that, at the very least, you will have to pitch in to help plan, organize or contribute to the smooth running of the effort. If you’re teaching, factor in curriculum research, lesson planning, and grading or evaluation. Consider if the time investment is worth it based on what your kids are getting out of it. Another time factor is the schedule: homeschoolers jokingly operate on ‘homeschool time’, which can mean a variety of different things but usually indicates that start/arrival time is negotiable. For a group to run smoothly, that may mean altering your normal homeschool schedule to fall in line with ‘real world’ time again (at least on co-op days). The last time factor is the amount of time that the co-op takes out of your normal weekly homeschooling routine. If you already have a pretty tight schedule, then you may need to evaluate if you have time to devote to co-op and still have your normal course load. This is less important if you have younger children, follow a more delight-led or unschooling path, or if your children are very independently motivated. Our normal personal homeschool day is a minimum of 4 hours (that’s the *minimum*). Our co-op last year was from 9-3 (this year it’s 10-2), and we also have music lessons 2x per week. We only have one day each week that is fully ‘at home’, so co-op HAS to be worth it for us. Co-op schedules vary, so make sure you consider your students’ work load outside of co-op classes if you’re considering joining or starting a co-op.
  • cost – costs can vary dramatically depending on what classes are being offered. The good thing is that co-op parents are generally pretty conservative, so you aren’t spending money on ‘generic’ supplies; what your co-op asks of you is exactly what the student needs. Some co-ops factor in administrative cost, which may include venue fees or pay a coordinator; others may trade cleaning services or lawn maintenance or some other service that should be factored into your tuition fee/time commitment. There may also be costs associated with co-op that aren’t factored into the tuition fee, like clothing, lunch or event admission fees (if your co-op has field trips). Last year, our co-op began a student orchestra, so the cost of our students’ instruments was on top of the tuition fee.
  • distance – This may also be a disadvantage for some. In our area, there are quite a few co-ops to choose from. Some are very near (the closest to me is literally less than 5 minutes away from my house), but the co-op we participate in sometimes requires a 45+ minute drive on co-op day because we rotate participants’ homes. I put this in the ‘disadvantage’ column, because let’s face it: for most homeschoolers, any location that isn’t our couch or kitchen table is probably farther than we want to go for homeschool. Again, this is just one factor that may make participation in co-op more or less feasible for your family.
  • students may not get what they need from the co-op – Ideally, you will have some input into the classes offered by your co-op. But some co-ops are formed with only a small planning committee or you may have joined after the classes had been set. Depending on how the co-op is structured, your student may be older or younger than the other students, or may be farther ahead or behind the skills and lessons the class is teaching. Class/curriculum planning is one of the harder aspects of organizing a co-op for this reason. It’s a good idea to find out what the co-op’s policy is on dropping out before you commit to the year, for both yourself as a teacher and your student.
  • no/less individualized education – one of the main advantages of homeschooling in my opinion is the ability to customize your student’s education, from philosophy and approach to curriculum and accommodations. You lose some of that autonomy when you choose to educate in a group setting. It’s not as limited as it would be in a traditional classroom, but you’re not as free to make changes like you would be otherwise.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I think it touches on some of the more pertinent points. As with anything you decide to try with your kids, it may work and you may love it. It may be okay, so you continue doing it because you already committed to it. It may be a flop, and you want out asap! Good communication with your co-op group goes a long way towards clearing up any misunderstanding and alleviating any mishaps.

Our Experiences

We are in our 7th year of homeschooling, and have been in 2 co-ops (organized through the same local homeschool group). Our first go-round was when my kids were in middle school. My two were among the oldest in the class, and we had about 8 families participating. We had 3 age groups, with 4 classes plus lunch. The kids were separate for most classes, then we lunched together and had a big group art class. I taught geography, history and art. It had… issues. Overall, it was a good experience, but there were some things that were problematic. First was time vs. value. Originally I wrote new lesson plans, which was very time-consuming. Unfortunately, as the other older kids dropped out and my two were the oldest, I needed to shift into a lower gear for my classes. I ended up using materials that my kids had already gone through, so my kids weren’t benefiting from my classes. They still had French and a science craft/lab class that they really enjoyed, so it wasn’t a total loss, but overall, the value wasn’t worth the time investment. We also has issues with switching location; originally our co-op was held in a church with several classrooms and a large communal space (both indoors and out), but when that fell through and we moved into a home, there as more tensions since we were all on top of each other all day long. Ultimately, we cut the experiment short by several weeks.


2014 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK Co-op

Our second co-op started last year. We limited it to high schoolers, which was one of the reasons I think it was so successful. Previous experience taught me that a small co-op with several age groups didn’t work. With several different age ranges, it’s more stressful because as a teacher (especially if your don’t have kids of your own in those ages) you have to switch gears mentally to teach up or down to the age of your class. With the high school co-op, we kept the 4 classes plus lunch structure, but since we only had 9 students, we only had one class going at a time instead of 3. That was great, because when I wasn’t teaching, I could chat with the other moms or take care of work things.

We had our co-op in someone’s home both times; the first time, it wasn’t ideal, because we were shuffling kids into bedrooms and the kitchen and living room. Space was crowded, and there was nowhere quiet the entire day. For the second go-round, we had class in the living room or kitchen, and had an office (or outside patio space) that was kid-free during classes. Again, this had to do with limiting the age range.

We tend to favor a 6-weeks on/1-week off schedule for our co-op classes. A lot of the families in our homeschool group follow that type of schedule for their personal homeschool, too which is nice. The first co-op we participated in lasted through one 6-weeks and petered out somewhere in the second (maybe third). We’d only planned for three 6-week sessions, but it wasn’t working, so we cut it short. When we started up again, our group actually had a high school co-op (which had five 6-week sessions) and an elementary co-op (which had two 6-week sessions). The high school co-op ran August – May, and the elementary co-op had a fall session and a spring session (both only 6 weeks long).

Overall, both experiences were good to have, but our second experience (limited to high school) was much better; so good in fact, that we have already started our co-op schedule for the 2017-2018 school year. We started earlier so we could have six 6-week sessions for the year. Not everyone who was in the high school co-op returned for this year’s classes, but enough did to make it worthwhile.

2016-2017 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK High School Co-op

Starting a Co-op

I don’t know how popular homeschool co-op classes are in other areas, but a couple of years ago, we had 13 co-op groups in Southeast Texas. We have a population of about 388,745, with somewhere around 1,500-2,000 homeschooling families; I don’t know how that compares to other areas. Most of the co-ops in my area are faith-based. Actually, all of them are, except the one we belong to. Since I wasn’t willing to sign a statement of faith, we didn’t qualify for membership in most of the groups and co-ops in my area, which is what led me to starting our local homeschool group in the first place. As the group grew, possibilities opened up, which is what led to us deciding to give co-op a try.

Honestly, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how a co-op ‘should’ be organized. Since it’s a cooperative effort between homeschooling parents (and students), you have a lot of freedom to create and customize it to whatever your community in interested in. But if you are thinking of taking on the task of creating a co-op, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • choose a coordinator for a very small group, or committee of 3-5, depending on the size of your co-op – every ship needs a captain, and someone needs to have the final say-so when it comes to decision-making for your co-op. Choose wisely; the coordinator needs to be someone who is organize and can handle both stress and communication well. Additionally you may want to have someone in charge of the treasury (collecting tuition, ordering supplies, reimbursing expenses, etc.). Keeping a cash box or money bag is fine; no need to open a checking account unless you want to go a more formal route.
  • ask for input from your group – homeschoolers like options! They like to be included and have a say in what’s happening with their kids (as they rightfully should). Ask for input or feedback on policies, plans, classes; ask what parents want to teach (or what their strengths are), and ask students what they want to learn about. Your co-op will only be as successful as the interest your group holds in participating, so input from your membership is vital to your staying power. We usually ask parents/teachers to list their class name and a brief description of their class, the created a poll and let the students vote on which classes they prefer. Once classes have been chosen, you can move on.
  • create a handbook – communication is so important when you’re organizing a group of people. Creating a handbook can get a lot of the questions out of the way, ensure that everyone (parents, teachers, and students) knows what to expect and what their responsibilities are, and serve as a reference point when communication gets sticky. Your handbook is where you’ll lay out everything about how your co-op operates, and should address most of the questions that you have as you’re looking into co-op: how does it work? what does it cost? how are the students graded? what if I want to teach/don’t want to teach? what about younger/older kids?, etc.
  • determine location – where will your co-op meet? Some options include: someone’s home (same place every time, or on a rotating schedule?); library; city or town community room; church; park (though outdoors can get distracting or be problematic when the weather is bad); restaurant (possibly negotiate a deal for lunch)… your city likely has some unique possibilities – think outside the box! Cost is usually a factor when it comes to location. Some venues will work with your and allow you to meet without a fee, or at  discounted rate, or even in trade (with your group offering cleaning or lawn maintenance or some other task in exchange for space). Storage is another consideration – will you tote school supplies back and forth, or is there space to store things on site? Other considerations include: table or desk space for the students, computer and wifi access, chalk or white board/projector/screen access; parking; lunch facilities – will everyone need to bring lunch or can you cook on site?
  • have the teachers decide on their curriculum, create lesson plans, and price supplies – be sure to factor in printing costs and coordinate with other teachers to use the same supplies where possible so you don’t over-estimate supplies costs. Supply cost estimates are usually needed before tuition can be decided, or you can set a flat fee. Be sure to ask parents what they have on hand that can be donated to co-op to help keep costs down! What you choose to include in your tuition fees is up to you.
  • decide how non-teaching parents will contribute – it’s not ‘cooperative’ unless everyone participating has a role. There’s plenty to do; ideally everyone takes a turn doing all the things, but if the same parents seem to enjoy teaching and you’re content to let them do it, make lunch or snacks or childcare for younger siblings the responsibility of non-teaching parents. The larger your group is, the more jobs there are. No one should feel taken advantage of.
  • decide on your schedule, and how the classes will be broken up – Some classes only take 4 or 6 weeks to complete; others last a full semester or even longer. Your schedule will depend on what your co-op is planning to do, and will require someone organized to create a schedule that works. You’ll need to know when you want classes to begin so that you can set your tuition due date in time to order supplies. Be sure to add in field trips, special events or other things like that so you’re well-planned. You can add things like ‘morning meditation’ or ‘lunch chat’ or something else clever to address the specific needs of your group. It’s also a good idea to plan a ‘state of the union’ assembly at some point to see how things are working for the group.
  • decide on tuition fees and due date – If your location carries a fee or built-in obligation in trade, that will need to be factored into your tuition cost. Decide when you need tuition paid by so that you can order supplies in time for classes to begin. A savvy shopper will check online stores, shop for wholesale options and look at price-matching options to keep costs as low as possible. Consider additional costs as well, and make parents aware of things that the co-op will not supply (like musical instruments, lunch, literature books or things like folders/pencils/etc.).
  • have a great first day! Keep the coffee flowing, bring mimosas sometimes, let the kids cook lunch, have class outside one day, bring in a guest speaker …. co-op can be amazing and fun and just the thing you need to get you out of a rut. If what you want or need isn’t available in your area, then create it. If you want it, chances are someone else does, too.
Image result for if you build it they will come

Oh, sure… they meant baseball fields, but this totally applies to homeschool co-ops, too.

Other Options

Of course, co-ops aren’t the only option for parents who aren’t sure they want to take on homeschooling all on their own. Many areas have local homeschool groups that serve as a supplement to your personal homeschooling plan. While they may not all offer a co-op, they often do offer support and a shoulder to lean on as you’re finding your way.

More recently, there is a trend towards part-time private schools, where the kids attend a brick-and-mortar school a couple of days each week and homeschool the other days, which is a neat option. Unfortunately, the only ‘schools’ I am aware of that offer this option are costly which takes it off the table as an option for many homeschooling families. Another movement on the rise is ‘democratic schooling’, like the Sudbury School model. Great in concept, but if you’re a working homeschool family living on one income, it can be cost prohibitive.

Online academies also offer an option, but that’s not a great option if your interest is in homeschooling and not just ‘school at home’. Those programs are run by the state and you end up with none of the benefits that homeschooling provides, like (depending on your state’s laws): full control over what your child is learning; opting out of standardized testing; endless personalization and customization options for your student; and liberation from the 8-3 school day/week and mandatory attendance schedule. Still, some families find it to be a good option, either as an intermediate step towards more independent homeschooling or because it just works for them.

You can also look into workshops or classes held by stores, restaurants, or other local businesses. Colleges, museums, and other places may offer summer camps or classes, or may be willing to work with your local homeschool group to hold a class with enough participation. Private music classes, art classes, gym, dance or other sports are usually available to homeschoolers, and you can always look into hiring a tutor if you feel like you’re not able to help your student get where he or she needs to be.


Hopefully, this will give you some things to think about, whether you decide to join a co-op (or start one) or try something else. I am a firm believer in being open to trying new things, and if it doesn’t end up working out trying something else… and even trying something again that didn’t work out before. Our first co-op was a learning experience, and that led to a success story the next time we gave it a shot. Remember: nothing you choose in homeschooling is so permanent that you can’t stop and choose something  else.

If you have the opportunity, give a co-op a try!




Co-op and Field Trips and Fall, oh my!

co-opfieldtrip-fallsept2016I know I always say this, but holy Toledo – I cannot believe how quickly this month has passed! We’re officially into #allthethings now, and somehow that makes time pass even faster. On the one hand, I guess it’s good that we’ve been busy living life, but blogging helps me focus on the positive and awesome stuff that happened, so I have missed not posting regularly. I see a lot of bloggers get accused of glossing over the bad stuff, and that’s fair. I tend to focus on the positive because I am prone to depression and having a place to ‘store’ the memory of what we’ve been doing fixes that in my mind instead of all the other, stressful and negative stuff that’s been going on. So if that’s been something you’ve wondered about, please know that it’s not that it’s not my intent to misrepresent what my life looks like, but more that I want to keep my brain occupied with things that make me happy, which at this point is still pretty focused on the kids and homeschooling and all the associated business of being a mom.

In the interests of ‘keeping it real’, the past month has been filled with stress related to my aging and infirm grandmother and parents (all of whom live next door to me); anxiety over work and finances and the direction of my career; existential anxiety over realizing that with the progression to ‘high school’, my days and identity as a ‘homeschooling mom’ are coming to an end in a mere 4 or 5 years, with the associated “what does that mean? What do I do? Who am I, if not that?” types of thought processes; frustration over getting the kids to do their freaking work and all the worry that goes with ‘am I doing enough to prepare them for the real world and life as an adult?’; and a host of other things, many of which involve negative thought-spirals that I’d rather not dwell on. Despite those issues, life moves on, and now that we’re (mostly) fully settled into this school year, I can breathe a bit and play a bit of catch-up here to remind myself that in between pockets of ‘bad’ are a hell of a lot of ‘good’.

The biggest new thing we were anticipating was the start of our homeschool group’s high school cooperative group. We’re now 4 weeks in, and it’s *so amazing*.  Classes for this semester are: Life Skills, (which covers practical math skills like paying bills, balancing a bank account, planning for large purchases and managing credit, in addition to finding an apartment, buying a car, and things like that). Debate (Lincoln Douglas, which I freely admit I know nothing about and am thrilled to have someone offer this to my kids); Literature (Shakespeare; Romeo & Juliet and something else I haven’t decided yet, because I am teaching this one); and, of course, Orchestra. The boys are both playing violin, and I am playing cello. We have 10 students and 4 parents taking lessons along with the kids. Never too old to start a new hobby, right? The spring semester will have a couple of different classes, including a mental health for teen course that I am very excited about.

Overall, I am super happy with how co-op is organized and how things are progressing this time. The co-op we were part of last time had a wider age range of kids, and it was chaotic and stressful. Though this is tiring, it’s not ‘stressful’ in that way. I am really enjoying this smaller age group, and that it’s teens in particular. We’ve made a couple of changes to our original plan and moved some things around, but I really couldn’t ask for it to be better. The kids all seem to mesh well, and the class is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough for them to bounce idea off of each other and appreciate their classmate’s insights. Though it’s not ‘competitive’ in the way of classroom education, they do bring out the best in each other, and that healthy competition is really nice to see emerging.





For everyone freaking out over posture and form, worry not – we’ve since moved to proper seating and standing for the violins. These pictures were from our first day when everyone was just getting acquainted with their instruments. We’ve also moved to a different room, with cellos seated in front and violins and viola standing in the back. We’ve progressed from pizzicato to bowing now, and about a third of the class has moved up from ‘baby bow’ to ‘teen bow’ as of today. We still sound like cats dying when we play, but there’s definite progress! Exciting!

In addition to music instruction during co-op, their music teacher also offers a bumper lesson every Monday (see? Standing!). Currently, they’re practicing with a rolled up tee shirt under their arm and a shoulder rest to correct posture and hold. It’s been a long time since I took any sort of music lessons, but it’s amazing how quickly things come back, and how important PRACTICE is. When I was in school, I was a lackadaisical student – practice was definitely not a priority (but I also had band every school day, so many it balances out?)…  however, because we’re only getting actual instruction time twice a week, an hour-long practice is part of the daily school plan, which means that I can actually see their improvement from week to week. cam04653

Our homeschool group hosts a public speaking class every 6 weeks. We started doing this last school year, and this year, we changed the format a bit so that it’s less ‘presentation only’ and more actual development and skill in presenting. During our most recent class, we focused on developing and delivering a persuasive speech, and the kids had to use an outline and note cards to help with delivery. They did fairly well, but there was a lot of room for improvement, so our next class will stay on persuasive speeches, but focus on Presidential candidates’ speeches and their considerable powers of persuasion. It’s been interesting listening to the kids talk with each other, especially after the Presidential Debates the other night – I never thought my kids would engage in thoughtful political dialogue, but I am both glad they are, and proud that they can do so somewhat intelligently. How this will translate to their speech class presentation remains to be seen, but at least they’re not as blind to the world as I was at their age.


I have no idea what this face is about…



we call this the ‘anime grin’

We’re also still participating in our homeschool group’s Art Guild, which is based on the book Discovering Great Artists. We meet every 6 weeks, and both learn about an artist and create a work of our own in that style. This month was Georgia O’Keefe in watercolor. For those of you inexperienced at watercolor, let me just say that it’s a hard thing to master, especially with 15 kids in the room! They made a valiant attempt, but we may need to refine our technique a bit more.

Another addition to our schedule this year has been an Aquatic Science class, taught by one of the moms in our group who is a former science teacher. She’s using a really cool project-based approach which is giving the kids a lot of hands-on exposure that I am just in love with. This is the kids of thing that I have wanted to do as a homeschooling mom and always seemed to fall short of it. Their teacher is amazingly patient, and keeps them focused during class time and sends them home with follow-up work. This was from a couple of weeks ago – they were using an orange to map a globe, continent and island, and transfer the ‘globe’ onto a flat surface. Last week, they worked on land-forms, and made a contour map from construction paper and an elevation map from cardboard stacked and painted. We’ve been having classes every week, and in tomorrow’s class they’ll be using their models to work on ‘sounding’ the ocean floor.



With all of these additional classes and clubs, we’ve had to put actual field trips on the back burner this year! Our most recent was this week’s trip to Galveston to Seawolf Park. They have a battleship and a submarine open to tour, so we spent the afternoon on a lovely day trip. Ferry rides are always the highlight of our trip; there are dolphins in the bay and fat seagulls that follow the ferry looking for food offered by the passengers. You can see Seawolf from the ferry and it looks like it’s fairly close by, but it’s a 20 minute drive that I wasn’t expecting. Hurricane Ike destroyed the building that used to be the park’s eye-catching landmark; it’s still there, but disconnected from patrons by a huge fence. Apparently, there’s a proposal for renovation of the park, but it’s not underway yet. In any case, we still had a good time. LBB is somewhat afraid of heights, so he and I spent the majority of the time working on getting over that (without success this time), which was at times funny and others frustrating, for both of us. Afterwards, we spent the latter part of the evening on Crystal Beach, soaking up some sun before heading home (to practice our instruments, of course).




In other news, FALL IS HERE – finally! The weather is forecasting 60’s most mornings this week and I am over the moon about it. We left for co-op this morning and it was cooler outside than it was inside (with the AC on). I am so beyond ready for sweaters and boots! Speaking of ‘favorite things’, we have gotten some awesome mail this week – our PhysicsQuest science kit, and the kids’ homeschool yearbooks arrived! This is our first experience with both of these companies, and I am thrilled with both. I’m not an affiliate; these are resources we’re actually using by choice with my very own monies. The PhysicsQuest kit (which was free), I learned about in a homeschool group. They sent a kit for each kid, with the book and most of the materials (everything except household things like water and paper) to work through the problems presented in the story (comic book). We haven’t started on it yet, so I’ll get around to updating that when we do.2016-09-26_10-10-12

The yearbooks are from Picaboo, and I am ENTIRELY pleased with. If you’re in the market for either a personal yearbook for your kids’ school year, or an option that works for your homeschool group, I HIGHLY recommend Picaboo. The quality and options for the price are incredible. After some tinkering to figure out their site, it’s super user-friendly to create the books, and the free customization option is really cool. My boys both got  their names and pictures on the back/flip cover, with pictures of ‘just them’ in the flip section, in addition to the main book. I am really considering creating a book to cover our entire homeschool journey as part of the boys’ graduation gifts. We’re still a few years away from having to think about that, but wouldn’t that be something?

To sum up… we’re busier than ever this year. With just math, music and literature, the boys have a minimum of 3 hours of school work per day, not including the rest of their subjects. With clubs, lessons and classes, plus co-op, their time and mine are extremely limited this year. I enjoy being busy for sure, but I am maxed out by the end of the week. To combat that, I’m focused on self-care in a big way. Music practice is part of that for me – learning something new that has to potential for creative expression in such a beautiful way is extremely satisfying. I recently went to a weekend retreat with some very close friends, and spent a lot of time just focusing on my connection to life and nature and it was glorious. I have another retreat in a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to it as well. At home, I am nurturing my creativity with art. I always forget how much I need art in my life when I get stressed out. Our homeschool group is hosting a ‘mom’s night in’ every month, and this month, we decided to do a paint-along with The Art Sherpa on Youtube. We did the dragonflies with the Kevin modification, and it was so much fun! I also created my own version of Paint with Jane’s ‘A Walk in the Rain‘ that I am pretty happy with. I didn’t know that painting along with someone was a thing, but I am making it part of my routine now that I do!


This one lives in my bathroom now.




This is a pretty long post, so if you stuck with me through to the end, thanks for reading! My plan is to get back into updating weekly, so hopefully there won’t be so much to cover at once. So now that we’re all caught up on me, how about you – how’s your year going so far? Doing anything new?

Happy Fall, y’all!

Weekly Wrap-Up


Mid-January Update

It’s crazy how fast time passes by, especially when you’re busy, not that being busy is anything outside of the norm for us. We’ve hit 2016 running, and (as usual) have had one activity after another. I am honestly looking forward already to our break, which is planned for mid-February. After a month with no school responsibilities, getting back to the daily grind has been rough! Don’t get me wrong; it’s been fun, and nice to have the routine again, but still… I think I’m just a lazybones at heart.

One thing I can say that’s been absolutely perfect is the weather! You may have heard the jokes about Texas weather or seen memes that allude to the insane unpredictability: ‘don’t like it? Give it an hour and it will change’; ‘the four seasons of Texas: Summer, Summerer, SummererER, Christmas Day’; etc…. While those aren’t far off, January is always fairly mild, and this year exemplifies that perfectly. Mornings range from 40’s to 50’s, and the highs are in the 60’s and 70’s – this is what I imagine other parts of the US enjoy for Spring or Fall weather. February and March might be cold, but for now, we’re outside as much as possible, soaking up the cool(er) weather.

Our homeschool group went out to the Big Thicket National Preserve for a hike last week. Their Visitor’s Center is really nice; it’s one of our favorite stops when we’re in Kountze. We hiked the Sundew Trail, which is famous for its carnivorous plants (sundews and pitcher plants). I think it was a little early in the season though; mostly we saw pines and yaupon underbrush. Last year (or maybe two years ago), we went out there right after they had a prescribed burn. It was really interesting to see the burns on the pines, and to see how quickly the forest bounced back. Most of the new growth was as high as I am tall (5’4ish). It was cool to see how the trees recovered as well.



January is the beginning of our group’s art classes. We’re working from Discovering Great Artists, and our first lesson is on Pablo Picasso. The kids were instructed to paint a self-portrait for use in the project for the class. I wish I’d noticed that the boys were both using such similar colors, but it probably won’t matter in the end since the pictures will be cut up and reassembled, and added to with other supplies to make a collage.

CAM03088 (1)





Here’s the obligatory group shot, and our ‘after’ pictures, Picasso-style!


This was such a fun project – the kids did a great job on their original portraits, and their after creations ran the gamut from basic cubism to truly eclectic creations. I love art, and as a homeschooling teacher, that’s probably one of the things I regret most – that we don’t spend as much time on actually ‘making’ art as I’d like. It’s been on my mind for a while; I got the kids a ‘wreck it’ style journal, and one for myself for us to go through this year. I did Keri Smith’s ‘Wreck this Journal’ a couple of years ago and found it to be a lot of fun; hopefully the boys will find some inspiration in this journal, too. Rip It, Write It, Draw It is on sale at B&N right now for $3.99 – a great buy if you’ve been wanting to try WTJ but not wanting to spend the dough for a book you’re just going to tear up! (Disclosure – I am not affiliated with B&N nor do I receive kickbacks from them or anyone else – I just have this book and appreciate a good deal.) I’ve already re-covered mine with a quote from this little gem of a book, which I’ve found helpful for everything from personal reminders to boosting notes to the kids and friends.



We’re wrapping up this week with some advice from the Homeschool Snark Shark… and calling it a half-day today.


Hope you have a great weekend!


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’?



Summertime: Week 4

Before I begin, I would like to apologize for not coming up with more creative blog titles. In my defense, I have barely had tome to get a re-cap of our week posted – being clever to boot is just more stress than my poor little brain can handle right now.

If you’ve been visiting over the last few weeks, you may notice that there isn’t a lot of ‘homeschooling’ going on here on this homeschooling blog. I admit, ‘school’ as we normally define it here has been noticeably absent over the last few weeks. We’d originally planned to take August off for a long break, but things worked out so that we needed to take most of June and July instead. We’re still doing some un-schooly stuff – reading and artsy-fartsy projects, but desk work and ‘core’ will be back a month or so from now. In the meantime, we’ve been busy with more out-of-the-house pursuits. We also have three extra kids and tennis camp for the next few weeks – between those two disruptions, trying to keep up with a ‘normal’ school day wasn’t going to happen.

Tennis camp is back in full-force; we got rained out all last week. Monday, the kids actually got to volley back and forth and started learning about scorekeeping. Even though they missed last week, you wouldn’t know it from watching them. They’re getting pretty good! It will be fun once their classes are over and we can go play tennis and actually ‘play’ the game with rules and style rather than just bouncing around on the court trying to hit the ball back and forth.

After tennis, we ate lunch and then basically fell into the pool – which offered only minimal relief. With the trees gone due to Hurricanes Rita & Ike a few years ago, there’s not much shade mid-day over the pool, so it’s kinda like swimming in bath water. But it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick {wink}. We had some friends over to play – that always makes things more fun!

A word about the heat… it’s topping 100 degrees out here every day this week – and it is miserable. At this point, I am so glad that we’ve been outside as much as we have over the past few weeks or we would be dying. Water and snacks have been or prime importance for outdoorsy activities; I am usually pretty organized when we go out. I posted a long time ago about the ‘field trip box’ and that’s been such a great thing! We use stuff out of it all the time, but lately, it’s been a hassle having to dig around in it when we need stuff, and to remember to re-stock after a day out. Thanks to Pinterest, I found a pin that made my little OCD heart sing with joy – an organized van – with easy to see (and therefore inventory contents) and accessible pockets!


The Castro HAPPYnings: Junk in the Trunk


I couldn’t find the bags she used, but the mesh ones worked just fine. They were $2.50 each at Dollar General and I got 3 of them. They came with hooks, but I just looped the bar around the head rest rods and they’re pretty secure.

I moved almost everything from the field trip box into the pockets. The first aid kit hangs below – it’s red and pretty visible – much more handier than stuffed in the bottom of the box! The picnic blankets and towels are always a pain – I need to get one of those air-tight bags to seal them in until we need them or bungee cords to something to tame them – but then again, we use them a lot, so they need to be accessible, too. I don’t like them where they are (and loose), but that will do for now.

I added sling backpacks, our letterboxing supplies, maps, rope (and other survival gear), plenty of sunscreen and bug spray, a bag of baby wipes, and all sorts of other things we frequently use in the car or need when we’re out and about to the pockets.

One thing I have to contend with that she didn’t was the sling chairs. We have about 5 of them and use them *all* the time. I simply must have them in the van at all times, so that takes up a significant portion of the trunk space in the back – but necessary – and there’s still more room since the bog box is gone! We also have tennis rackets at the moment – tennis camp won’t be over until July.

In any case, I am extremely happy with how it turned out. Everything is right there at hand, and clearly visible since the pockets are mesh.

Tuesday, we went to Tennis Camp but then headed back home for the day. We’ve been gone so much over the last few weeks that the house is getting out of control. I needed to go through books and the kids clothes and just weed out the high-traffic areas of the house and put things where they go (but didn’t do any of that – the kids went o visit Grandma and I celebrated an empty house with an iced coffee drink).

Wednesday, we went for a drive and ended up at a nearby water park. We’ve been before, and the kids had such a great time!

Thursday is supposed to be our action-packed day: 5 kids, then tennis camp, then the movies. Well, two out of three ain’t bad {wink}. After tennis camp, we were pooped – the heat is absolutely INSANE. We read for a bit, had lunch then I let the kids play Minecraft for a while. That started off really well, but deteriorated the longer they played. Chalk it up to being cooped up inside with a cranky Mommy, I guess – no one was in a very good mood that afternoon. Here’s a picture from after karate – you can see how pleased everyone is, LOL

Even though we had a less than stellar blip during the week, the weekend got off to an early start! Here’s hoping your week has been lovely, and your weekend deliciously relaxing.



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?


Project WILD

I just finished the Project WILD – Wildlife in Learning Design courses! Well, almost. My kids aren’t old enough to worry about going through the Science and Civics course that’s offered for high school students, so eventually I will go back and do that one, but I am done with all of the one that my kids can use right now. Yay!!

If you haven’t heard about this group of programs, then it’s definitely something to look into. They have a short video and a longer one that tells all about the program. We’ve used the activity guides so many times – both in our classroom and in group activities with our homeschool group. They’re fun, fast and easy to put together – definitely worth the time it takes to go through the training course.

Project Wild’s mission is to provide wildlife-based conservation and environmental education that fosters responsible actions toward wildlife and related natural resources. Project WILD accomplishes its goal of developing awareness, knowledge, skills and commitment by linking students and wildlife through hands-on activities brought to life through creative use of the activity guides available through program workshops. These activity guides are available to teachers, parents and youth leaders through professional training workshops. They are balanced and aligned with state standards of education and are designed to be easy to incorporate into current classroom activities. Getting the students intimately familiar with wildlife and conservation results in the making of informed decisions, responsible behavior, and constructive action concerning wildlife and the environment.

I’ll be honest – my first exposure to Project WILD was when a mom in our group showed us her activity guide. I wanted one, and if that meant enduring a 6 hour training course to get one, then so be it. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how informative and entertaining the classes have been. Just going through the workshops, I realized how much we tend to take for granted – resources that we don’t think twice about today are going to be major players on the environmental front as our children get older. As much talk as there is about environmental awareness, I think that wildlife education and conservation is an under-served area. Having these materials on-hand, with a good run-through during the training workshops has made it easier and more likely that I think about how to bring wildlife conservation into the running theme of environmental awareness.

The classes themselves were quite similar. We learned about Project Wild (or the specific category) and then did several of the activities. Afterwards, we chatted about how we might tweak or change the activity to suit older or younger kids, or how we might use the activity concept in another lesson. Towards the end of the class, we had a crash-course in learning how to use the book – how to look up an activity that fits the needs of your specific lesson. Most of the activities are organized in several ways; alphabetically, by topic or category, by age group, by time frame and whether it is an indoor or outdoor activity. So you can look up an activity that is specific to your current topic, or just as a quickie if you want a group activity that’s outside that takes 30 minutes – easy to find. It may sound odd, but I left with a very good understanding and ideas of how to use these books the next day with my kids. You’re more likely to use the materials you’re familiar with and I felt that the training courses I went through prepared me very well. Special thanks to Amanda Adair, Mary Kay Manning and Mary Anne Weber for putting on wonderful classes!

Practically speaking, we’re using these books quite a bit. I’ve been able to incorporate the activities in the guide with our science, literature, geography, math and art lessons seamlessly. Some of the activities work well in lapbooks and unit studies, as well as just add-ons to whatever else we’re doing. The books are kinda bulky, and since they’re bound, it makes handling them and copying pages a pain, so I sliced off the binding and put my books into binders. I put the Project Wild, Aquatic and Growing Up into one binder (since they’re all in a similar format) and the Flying Wild book into a binder of its own.

The Growing Up Wild book is huge – it’s a spiral pad that’s around 24″ x 11′. It was extremely difficult to store, so I folded the pages almost in half and put them in the binder. Then I just fold the page I want out to use it, or take it out of the binder completely.

Having the pages loose also makes it easier to pull an activity out when we’re going somewhere. For example, I tend to write posts at night and schedule them for the next day. So as you’re probably reading this, the kids and I are meeting up with some friends and frolicking along the Texas coast. Since we’ll have several kids there, and we’re going to be near the water, I know I am going to want something from either the Aquatic or Flying books – maybe both.  Having an activity available on-hand makes it easy to incorporate something educational into our play.

Project Wild is a national program, so check here to find your state’s info. The other programs are part of Project Wild, but also have their own web pages or sites: Project Wild Aquatic, Flying Wild and Growing Up Wild (early childhood, ages 3-7 – however I am finding enough activities that my 9 year old ADHD/SPD child enjoys that I am glad I went through the training course. Growing Up Wild is the only book that is available to purchase without the training course.). Project WILD is not the only program like this, I also found information on Project WETProject WetCity and Project Learning Tree, which is through the Forestry Service.

Another perk to these types of classes is TEEAC certification. I am not entirely sure just yet what all those lovely stickers mean for me yet, but since I have a handful, I am motivated to collect more – enough to make up the 45 hours required to get TEEAC certified. I am thinking that when the kids are older, I might like to go into EE work – through one of the state or national parks, so I am sure that this will help with that. Learn more about the Texas Association for Environmental Education here.

Are you using Project Wild materials? Or other similar EE materials?



Homeschooling and Worksheets

Worksheets get a bum rap.

There, I said it. Even though it is universally known that ‘proper’ homeschoolers all loathe and despise them and that they are not featured in ‘real’ homeschooling…. I kinda like them. So that’s what this post is about. It may alternately be titled, “In Defense of Worksheets in Homeschooling: A Perspective”.

To make things easier, I am going to use the term ‘worksheet’ to mean either worksheets or workbooks (which are essentially bound volumes of worksheets). Before you get your nose out of joint, I need to explain to you what I mean when I say ‘use worksheets’. You may have noticed that when I talk about worksheets, I say that we don’t ‘do’ them. In fact, I say that fairly often – not necessarily here, but certainly in forums and such. I should clarify – we don’t ‘do’ them, but we do use them. Often. That may seem to be a contradiction, but it’s quite a difference in definition in my book.  The word ‘do’ is almost always in quotations when I say that; that’s because my version of ‘do’ is not the same as what ‘do’ means in the classroom.

For starters, I’ll agree with those who say that worksheets are just repetition, or that they’re disengaging, or that they’re boring and so on and so forth… yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all that. But the information contained on or in the worksheet is (sometimes) useful. I say sometimes because I’m not talking about just any ol’ worksheet; I’m talking about well-planned, leveled worksheets; worksheets that go along with lessons as a review or to solidify concepts through practice – not busy work. When I say ‘use’, I don’t mean handing your kids a worksheet, sending them to their desk and expecting them to do 30 of the same thing over and over again. I mean using the worksheet the same way that you might use any other tool – to help with a task; in this case, cementing information or concepts in the mind.

Many of the worksheets that my kids ‘do’ come from a workbook (though I do print them from different places online; SuperTeacherWorksheets is a favorite but we use it primarily when I am looking for something specific). Even though we utilize the pages, our use of them comes mainly in the form of discussing what is on the page and then using the actual page to record anything they want to remember about the information. They may actually work some of the problems or answer the questions as repetition, but rarely do they just go ‘do a worksheet’.  Much of the material is covered on the chalkboard (yes, we have an old-school style chalkboard in our school room. Two, actually. {wink}) or orally. Many times, the worksheet is in front of ME and the kids are bouncing around answering questions that I toss at them. We also use videos to kick off new concepts (like homophones). Simple, but effective for my kids (YMMV).

So, you may ask, ‘why use worksheets? Aren’t there other ways of doing that?’ Well yes, of course there are other ways of accomplishing this same thing, and I am not dismissing those methods at all. In fact, one method that we will be using quite a bit in coming years is notebooking – essentially writing everything instead of going over the material on the workbook pages. We don’t use it right now because my boys are not yet strong writers or strong spellers. I suppose I could answer, “Mom, how do you spell” 6,000 times a day, or I could allow each lesson to take 2 hours because they need to look each work up in the dictionary… but I’d rather not do that. So we’re taking baby steps to get to the point where tons of writing is feasible (having said that, whether that style will work for my kids remains to be seen and is another matter entirely) – mainly, starting with copywork* and a word bank. We’re working on an index card style version, which is basically a dictionary that they write on index cards and file at their desks that is made up of words they have learned or are learning to spell.

This year we used an all-in-one curriculum workbook as a guide for the kids work. Since we don’t use a boxed curriculum, I found that this is a really good way to keep us moving through the lessons. I have a tendency to get bogged down in the lessons – where one thing can be learned, there are 7 more that can enhance it! Using the workbooks as a guide keeps me on-track and moving so we’re not lost in one thing for weeks on end (like our US Constitution lapbook – we spent 4 weeks on that almost a year ago and didn’t finish it, but I am STILL burned out on it). Some things, like grammar concepts, they’ll cover over and over every year, so even though they may not have mastered homophones just yet, we can safely move on because we’ll cover it again in a few months.

And then there are some worksheets that I do give them with the expectation that they will take to their desks and work independently. You may have noted our struggles with working independently in the past and this summer, much of the math work they’ll be doing will be a review of already-known concepts. Since this is a review, I do expect them to know it and to work independently. But that doesn’t mean that they are required to do exactly as the worksheet directs. I often give alternate directions, or allow them to come up with their own version of what to do. I sometimes wonder if that’s not doing them a disservice – teaching them, or allowing them to think that things are negotiable, but I tend to feel that most things are negotiable, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

This is really all I have to say about it; I just wanted to offer a different perspective to that of the vocal majority of worksheet-hating homeschoolers. Carry on!



*copywork: this article is on the value of copying a painting and is directed at student artists, but I think it’s an excellent article and can be extended, for many of the same reasons, to the printed word. Copying sentences, phrases, paragraphs, quotes, poems – all of this and more can be used to reinforce ideals, expose new ideas, improve penmanship, reinforce grammar and spelling, teach prose… the benefits are myriad. For more on copywork, check out:

Counter Cultural School,  Homeschool Jungle and this thread from the Well Trained Mind forums.

An Update on Latin

We’ve been using Anthony Gibbins’ (TuTubusLatinus) ‘Learning Latin with Virgil‘ series on YouTube as our main curriculum (of sorts) as an introduction to Latin. I love the videos, because they’re interesting (he uses South Park people to illustrate conversations – you can’t help but love that) and they’re flash-card-like, which makes it easy to actually make flash cards for them (which I have done – see here under ‘Latin’), which is a  learning tool that is extremely effective for my kids. In short, I think the series is fantastic.

LLV is based on The Aeneid, Virgil’s is a classic epic poem about Aeneas. We found an ‘English for kids’ version of The Aeneid at the library yesterday and will be reading for ourselves this week so we’ll be more familiar with the story. The videos are quite simple and short, they’re easily followed and make a really nice introduction to Latin. We’re currently still working on lessons 1-3 and I imagine we’ll be there for a while still, reviewing and strengthening our foundation. I say ‘our’ because I am learning, too. We tried learning Spanish but the lessons, though perhaps more useful as we live so near Mexico, were boring. Latin is ever so much more interesting.

In browsing TuTubusLatinus’ YouTube channel, I came across another series that he did called Latin Lessons using Cambridge Latin I, which you can find online here, along with a host of other resources and activities to supplement the main video entry. This series is a little more complete as a curriculum in that it follows an actual text-book rather than literature, but it does still use stories to teach vocabulary and grammar. There are also several additional videos that go along with this set of lessons, like the Canis picture book, the Familia picture book (which uses the Griffin family of Family Guy fame), the Labor picture book, the Cibus picture book and the Gilbo series, which uses different characters (helpful for kids who memorize visual word patterns and then cheat), but mirrors the Cambridge lessons pretty closely (at least through the third video!).

I like both approaches, and we’ll continue using both, along with our flash cards and the picture book videos. Even early on in the lessons, the boys have picked up quite a bit of vocabulary, so the grammar is coming in handy. Another thing I like about learning this way is that I am not relying on my own pronunciation. There have been several words that I would have said incorrectly, so short of a formal ‘Latin class’, this is as good as having a tutor come into our home.

At some point, we’ll start the Ecce Romani series of books, but I imagine that is some time off yet. The LLV series has 20 or so videos, and the Cambridge lessons have quite a few as well. I don’t know how much the series covers that the ER books, so we may not need ER by the time we get done with the video series but we’ll probably go over it anyway just to reinforce what we’ve already learned.

If you’re interested, here’s some other fun stuff I’ve found:

Latin Alive – a short film that illustrates many of the words we use in English with Latin roots

Song School Latin

Latin Monkey Match flashcard game

If you’re a LOST fan, then this becomes much more interesting: The Others speak Latin part I and part II.

And just because I find this extremely interesting and can foresee a time when it graces my personal library shelves, Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis, aka, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone in American English).

If you’ve ever thought about starting a Latin course in your homeschool, then I can definitely recommend Mr. Gibbins’ videos. They’ve been fun and engaging, and offer plenty of ‘pause and review’ opportunities that make it an interactive lesson.



Disclosure: I have not been paid or otherwise compensated to review these videos. This is my own personal opinion based on my experiences with them. I’ve found them to be educational and my kids LOVE them, so I wanted to let others know about them as a possible resource or supplemental resource for their own Latin curriculum.