Friday, April 21, 2017

My 5 Best Homeschooling Tips

We are in week 28 of our 36 week homeschool year.  In a much, much bigger picture we are in the 14th year of our homeschooling journey.  And a journey it's been.  I don't know who's learned more - the kids or me.  Actually, I hope it's the kids.

Seriously, though, I have learned a lot about how to handle the homeschool day, how to homeschool with littles under foot, how to make it through all the lessons in a reasonable amount of time.  And here are five of my best tips to help your homeschool day go a bit smoother.

Get the most from your homeschool day

Homeschooling Tip #1 - Know your limit for outside activities.

Unlike the word suggests, homeschooling doesn't have to take place at home.  As the number of homeschoolers increase, so do the number of awesome educational activities available.  Homeschooling support groups and co-ops are popping up everywhere.  Each has its own unique flavor and emphasis.  It's tempting to sign up for multiple email lists and FB groups.

Standing Rocks homeschool ski day
The messages start coming in with invites to museum visits, skiing adventures, rollerskating parties, tours of tree nurseries and cheese factories, group guitar lessons, community service projects....are you feeling overwhelmed yet?  They all sound so interesting, so educational, so necessary to provide the much questioned, peer socialization.

In my experience larger communities have endless opportunities.  Travel time might not be an issue, but packing in too many activities might be.  Rural homeschoolers have their own challenges.  With less nearby opportunities, travel time naturally increases as we search out activities in other communities.  And if you have more than one child, chances are their interests differ.  The desire to meet everyone's needs can take a toll on your sanity.

Here's my story:

Many years ago when we were a family of six (now we're nine), Wednesday was our day.  Violin, guitar and piano lessons were scheduled - different teachers, different places!  And since we were in town and had time between each lesson we stopped at the library and grocery store.  Imagine shopping for 6, with 5 people.  There were lots of hushed, "stop touching your sister", "quit hanging on the cart", "no, we are not getting the super size box of cosmic brownies."  By the time we loaded the van with groceries, household needs, and people the van was literally bursting at the seams.  And then we made one final stop at the feed store for multiple 50 pound bags of food for the chickens, dog, horses, and birds.  Every time we got home, I said, "I'm never doing that again."  Then six days would pass and I'd do it again.  We packed so much into every Wednesday that I started dreading the day on Tuesday night.  Fuses were short, tempers flared - mine and the kids'.  Two of our kids still rehash an especially difficult day when I dropped them off at the mailbox (we have a 1/4 mile driveway) and made them hold hands while walking home.  I was determined to squelch out their attitudes before it wrecked the entire day.  I needed a little breathing room, too.

Eventually, I realized packing it all into one day was really taking a toll on my sanity, so lessons were rescheduled and kids were left home to babysit the youngest (Sam at the time).  I was still running, actually, more than before, but now the time spent away from home at one time was less and so was my stress level.

It took a while to figure out my limit for outside activities.  Who am I kidding?  I still don't have it figured out.  I over extend at times, but I'm more aware of protecting our home time now than in my early years as a homeschooler.  We reassess activities each year depending on the ages of our kids and other outside commitments.

Homeschool Tip #2 - Keep Your Daily Homeschool Schedule Simple

I've tried many, many different ways of scheduling our homeschool day.  I've color coded blocks of time for each child, homemaking tasks, meals, and outside play.  That was too restrictive.  I've used laminated wall charts for each child.  That was ok.  But what's works best is to form a routine.  In our family it goes something like this:  morning chores, morning time, seat work, outside play, seat work, lunch, more seat work if necessary, room job, free time.  In general, if the kids are marching (or strolling) through the day, I figure all is well.  It's normal to have children who get right to the task of school, finishing up by 11 a.m. and others who will still be asking for grammar help at supper time.  For the most part I'm ok with that, as long as their list is completed by bedtime.  I fit my work in throughout the day, offering guidance when necessary to the more independent learners and spending one-on-one time with the younger ones for reading lessons.

Another way to keep the homeschool schedule simple is by combining subjects and grade levels.  This year our 9th and 12th graders are doing Chemistry and Geography.  They work as lab partners and we can correct assignments together, saving valuable time.  I gather the younger ones for science, handwriting, art, religion, just about everything except reading lessons.  A solid 30 minutes and we can knock out handwriting practice and I can get them going on an art project that will keep them engaged while I fold laundry or prep lunch.

Homeschool Tip #3 - Require Concentration

In the age of handheld electronics, this can be a tough one.  Those iPods and phones can be slipped into pockets and played with under the table.  Even the most observant mother can be fooled.  I can't call it a hard and fast rule, but I am known to confiscate devices for 24 hours if used excessively during school.  I also block their internet access.

Siblings also love to distract each other.  Years ago we moved away from the dining room table to individual tables because "so and so is shaking the table when they write".  That was a never ending battle destroying any hope for concentration.  Again, learn your children's strengths and weaknesses and set up your homeschool for success.

Homeschool Tip #4 - Expect Greatness

Even though we homeschool, our kids have plenty of friends who don't.  And those kids often say things like:  You're so lucky!  You can just lay around in your pajamas all day watching TV?  OR Do you even have to take tests?  And then my kids say something like:  You don't know my mom.  She makes us work. OR Yes, we take tests.

Expecting greatness is a tough one.  On the one hand, a benefit of homeschooling is a more relaxed day with room for hobbies and other interests.  However, on the other hand, too much of a relaxed atmosphere can breed lethargy.

I've found the best way to expect greatness is in the way my children dress for homeschool.  Here's an example:  If I put on a prom gown to clean the bathroom, worried about damaging my dress, I'd do a shoddy job at best.  Likewise, if I wore bleached out sweats, baggy t-shirt and hair in a messy bun to the prom, you wouldn't find me confidently stepping out on the dance floor.  Our clothes really do help put us in the mood for a particular event.

In order to expect homeschool greatness from my kids, I require them to "arrive" in clean, comfortable clothes, hair combed and teeth brushed.  If we're going out and about (representing homeschoolers at large) then clean and matching is the requirement, sometimes even a collared shirt for the boys.  It just seems to me if they are dressed for success, they succeed!!

Another part to expecting greatness is giving your kids a chance to show off what they know.  For the earliest readers, reading super short stories to their siblings and earning signatures to trade in for candy is a big hit.

I also like to create tests based on what they're learning.  This year I created tests for both Chemistry and Geography.  Once my highschoolers knew a test was coming, boy did they ramp up the studying.  I made the test hard, but manageable.  I wanted them to succeed.  I wanted them to have a chance at memorizing info and regurgitating it for a test.  Not because I believe that's true understanding, but it helps them feel ready for college because there will be tests in college - GUARANTEED!

Each homeschool is unique; find ways to encourage greatness in your homeschool.

Homeschool Tip #5 - Leave Room for Fun & Conversation

Now after all that seriousness of clean clothes and tests, let's talk fun and conversation.  It seems like a no-brainer to leave room for fun and conversation, but it's easier said than done.  Conversation - that's pretty straight forward.  I've written about this before.  Being together every day, all day allows for plenty of opportunities for conversation.

But, FUN.  This is the area I struggle with the most.  I'm always looking for the educational value.......in everything.  It takes effort to allow myself to watch a nonsense YouTube video my kids want to share with me.  They're all like Mom, you should watch this, it's so funny.  I don't want to (wasted time, stupid nonsense, unneeded distraction, yadda, yadda, yadda) but, I oblige.  I start out rolling my eyes, then a smirk starts off, and then I'm all like alright, that there's funny. 😄  Link to a nonsense, yet funny video.  Amber and I were just laughing about this again last week.

4-wheelin' country kid fun

Stretch your mouth out, make a fool out of yourself kind of fun.

That's how inside jokes start.  And who better to share an inside joke with than your kids.  If you're not used to leaving room for fun then make a conscious effort to make room for fun.  You'll be glad you did.

Your Best Homeschool Tip??  Why not share with the rest of us in the comment box.  Thanks.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Learning About Sharks::A Unit Study

Sharks and Dinosaurs, Dinos and Sharks - that's pretty much the mantra around here with Peter and Joseph.  Peter knows the exact location of shark books at the library and I think we've checked out every single one of them.

My favorite part of homeschooling the youngest learners is their sweet desire for knowledge.  Everything is new and exciting.  One simple book leads to questions which leads to a quick Google search for coloring and activity pages.

The book that started it all

We have nearly the entire set of Cat in the Hat's Learning Library.
Thanks to that collection, last summer we focused on butterflies and frogs.

My kids love coloring while I read, so I'll print off a pile of theme pictures and while I read a stack of books, they'll color.

Books We Read About Sharks


Links to favorite shark coloring pages

Get Coloring Pages (huge variety of scary and smiley sharks)
Super Coloring (print or "color" online)

After all the listening and coloring it was time for something a little more active.  I found this Flipping Fins Shark game.  It teaches left and right and worked for all ages.  Basically you toss a shark and earn points based on how it lands.  

Other fun stuff:

(this is for an Easter basket)

(favorite larger size sharks for tub play)

This Shark Unit Study was so short and simple, yet effectively informed my three youngest about the many different species of sharks, how they use their 6 senses, and kept the kids yearning for more shark info the next day.

*this post contains affiliate links

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Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Keep Your Homeschool Kids on Track Every Day

As a mother of many, one question I get all the time is: "How do you do it all?"  Of course, I don't do it all.  There's always something left undone.  More times than not there are a lot of somethings left undone.  But as I look around, the house is acceptably clean, someone is always eating, birthdays are never missed, laundry gets done on a regular enough schedule, and the kids are (in my opinion) well educated.  I'm typically pretty happy about how things are chuggin' along.

One thing I've learned since our early days of homeschooling is the day goes so much better if the kids can stay on track with their school work.  If mom can turn her back without chaos breaking out between the kids then she can get her work done while the kids get their work done.  

There are 2 components to keeping your homeschool kids on track.

#1 - Train you children in obedience.  And when they don't comply issue a swift and effective consequence.  In our house homeschooling happens first thing and, like most kids, our kids have a full list of things they'd rather be doing.  The best consequence for not staying on task is a double school timeout.  

What is a double school timeout?  It's a timeout based on your age and then doubled.  If you're nine and daydreaming or hiding out in your room or shaking the table while your sister is trying to write then you stand on a 18 minute timeout.  

The timeout starts when the child is quiet, standing straight with their hands at their sides, facing the hallway wall.  I set a timer and they are expected to remain in position until the timer beeps.  If they talk, wiggle, pick paint off the wall, play with pocket knives, knock the Jesus with children art off the wall, then the timer is reset.  I have one child (who might be graduating this year) who once stood for over 40 minutes because he just wouldn't stop mumbling under his breath about the "stupid timeout".

Once the kids realize I mean business (yes, I should've been a drill sergeant) it doesn't take long for this method to be effective.  Because, let's face it, they'd rather get their work done and get on with their own plans than stand for endless minutes on a timeout.

#2 - Figure out the best planning method for each child.  Over the years I've used many types of planners for the kids.  I used Catholic Student Planners for a couple years with my middle grade kids.  I've used wall charts, checklists, homemade planners, work boxes....you name it we've probably used it.

This year I'm using a variety of methods because each child is unique with different planning needs.

I did share our planners live on Facebook.  You can view that here.  I'm not going to share those details here, just a quick picture.

When the kids know exactly what they need to do, they can plan their day accordingly and it's easy as the mom to check their lists to make sure they are staying on track.

I would like to share a little about setting monthly goals for the non-reader.  Non-readers and early readers need a lot of direction from Mom and my method for setting monthly goals instead of a daily to do list works best for me.  For our younger children, I divide a sheet of paper into 9 sections, label each with a month from Sept. - May, then number it 1-6.  I then list the goals I have for each month.

Possible Goals that Might Make the List

# of reading lessons
# of math lessons or pages in workbook
large motor skills
fine motor skills
# of art projects
saints to read about
field trip idea
# of books to read
living skills to learn
cultural event to read about (Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day, etc.)
.....and so many more.

Normally the month starts out strong, then life happens, then week 3 I look over the goals and pick up the pace a little.  By week 4 we are cranking out books and lessons because I like to end the month with a ✔ next to each goal.

In the end, keeping your homeschool kids on track every day requires effort from both the homeschooling parent and child.  Teaching children to be obedient and then giving them a workable plan and checking it twice will allow you, the mom (or dad) to get your work done along side your child making homeschooling and family life more enjoyable.

I hope you all have a crantastic day!

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Day With All About Reading

As you know from numerous other posts, we are in our 3rd (or is it 4th?) year of using All About Reading and All About Spelling.

When I'm researching a new curriculum option I like to see how other families are actually using the product.  Do they use it exactly as is?  Or do they tweak it to meet their needs?  

I tweak everything!!!  For one, Joseph does not fit into any box.  In some areas his skills are around grade level, yet in other areas he has substantial delays.  Homeschooling is the perfect solution to meeting his wide range of needs.

Today I'd like to share A Day With All About Reading.  

Joseph (Down syndrome, age 8) is working through Level 1.  Progress is slow, but consistent.  He's on lesson 16.  And we've been at this for well over a school year.  I spend a lot of time on the Fluency Practice pages and the word flashcards.  Let's say one lesson takes us 6 school days to complete, I still start each day with the green word flashcards.  It's become a habit and if I try to start instruction any other way, Joe gets grumpy and wants the fwashcards.  I also add in sight word reading lessons between each All About Reading lesson.

Most lessons have activity pages to go with, such as this one.  He just learned the /th/ sound and this activity page has him cut out and color (if desired) fried eggs, then place them in a pan and flip them to read.  I don't usually have Joe color the pages, but I thought it would be a good lesson in following directions and perseverance to have him use a highlighter to color in each yolk.  I gave him explicit directions to color in the entire yolk without getting any yolk on his egg white.  While he worked hard at this, I spent time reading books to Peter and Maria. 

I put three eggs at a time in the pan, he flipped them and read the /th/ word.  The activity pages in All About Reading are simple, fun, and effective practice.

I have a super fun idea to get your kids to practice reading and develop fluency.

Whenever our niece comes to visit, she has a poem to read to us.  Her assignment is to read it and have people sign that they listened to her.  

Peter is also working through Level 1 - we just started some time in the late fall.  He's really good at reading the flashcards, but needs a lot of practice with fluency.  Every other lesson of All About Reading has the student read from the phonics reader.  One time through the story isn't enough.  He's pretty slow and choppy and the meaning of the story is lost.  So, I thought about our niece's assignment and adapted it to our homeschool.

I wrote the name of the story on the notecard and then numbered it 1-6.  I told him he had to read the story to 6 people and then I would give him a treat.  I purchased a giant bag of candy for him to pick from.

It's working like a dream.  The first time he reads the story I sign, so then he only has to get 5 other people to listen and sign, but he can't double up.  Each person to sign has to = a reading.

Emily's home on spring break - Peter's reading to her while she folds laundry.

Peter reads "The Sad Hog" to Maria.

Peter reads it again to Sam.

Here's a look at his notecard with signatures.  I purchased some chocolate, too, so next time Joseph has a phonics reader lesson I'll be using this fluency practice technique with him, too.

All About Reading has been a winner for our family.  Do you have questions about this or other levels?  Just ask in the comments.

All About Learning Press is always offering new and exciting free games and other learning activities.  Here's a fun one for practicing compound words.

Banana Splits Game

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekly Wrap-Up....{the one where the dogs wore clothes}

Speaking of clothes, this dark load really sums up our week - a lot going on, but it sure wasn't laundry.  I did eventually get all this washed just in time for two kids to get the stomach flu.  Blah!

Here are the adorable pups Amber's been watching.  I think I mentioned last week they wear ski jackets.  I didn't make that up.  Amber just brought them in from a chilly evening walk.  

They went home yesterday, and I actually miss them.  I can't say that too loud or everyone will be begging for a dog again.

Bella is wearing a cheetah fur trimmed sweater vest while she studies "Civilizations of the Fertile Crescent"
Maria had such fun dressing Teddy all week.  And what a trooper Teddy was, she actually would lay on her back like a baby, letting Maria velcro the clothes on.

And when it doesn't work out quite right, ask your 12 year old brother for help.

Amber and I participated in a 5K.  It was the first one of the year - cold and had one killer hill.

When I shared the recipe for Southern Pork Barbecue, I listed the other new recipes I'd tried.  This is Frank's Chicken from this cookbook cooking in the crockpot.  I'll share this recipe soon.  It turned out very tender chicken.  I think I'll use a little less rosemary next time, though.


Noteworthy Homeschooling News

Amber finished Algebra 1 Teaching Textbooks this week.  She worked so hard this year, never missing a day, and it's really paid off.  She's very prepared for Geometry.

Joseph read a book to me at the library.  I pulled a Margaret Hillert book off the shelf and while I typed out a blog post, he sat and read the entire book to me.  I heard a few missed words, but I let them go and a couple times he went back and reread the sentence with the right word.  That's a HUGE win in my book because that means he's actually comprehending what he's reading.

Margaret Hillert's Beginning to Read series has become a favorite of mine this year.  Joe has been responding so well to the limited vocabulary in her books.

That about wraps up our week.  It's a windy, dreary day here in Wisconsin.  Springtime temperatures are welcome anytime now!!

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Weekly Wrap-Up