Sunday, July 31, 2016

Organizing the Homeschool Closet

I can hardly believe I just typed that post title.  Why?

(ONE)  I never organize the closets until well into August!
(TWO)  It means the summer is winding down.
(and THREE) I am the world's best procrastinator.

On the procrastinating thing:  I only procrastinate the doing.  The thinking?...that I start months ahead.  I think through the entire task; I make mental lists; I talk it over with myself; I visualize; I just don't actually DO until the very last minute or even second.

It drives everyone around me nuts with a capital N.  But, I'm still married and my kids tell me they love me everyday, so it must be working.  Right?  Right!

Back to the closets.  I am so fortunate to have two large closets dedicated to homeschool materials/art project supplies/overflow chapter books.  The closets are big - lots of room for piling, stuffing, and cramming, which is what happens during the school year.  I wish I could place all the blame on my darling students, but I'm part of the problem, too.  We have to leave in 60 seconds for violin - quick, shove the art project in the closet.  And then never get back to it.

Does that happen to you?  Please say YES.  I can't be the only procrastinating, messy homeschooling mom out there.

Since I have two closets, one is for the meat and potatoes the other is for the gravy and dessert.

In other words:  science, math, language arts, history, and religion materials in one.  The other holds art supplies, games, manipulatives, puzzles and other odds & ends.

In the meat and potatoes closet I like to group the subjects together.  In the past I grouped materials by grade level, but that didn't work because I wasted too much time searching for multi-level books.  It's much easier to locate a specific language arts text if all language arts/English materials are together.

Below are two examples:  History and Language Arts

Now for the gravy.

This closet is a little trickier to organize because it contains such a variety of materials.  Basically, I clear out all the stashed in the corner garbage, put all the pieces back in the game boxes, and place similar items together.  Not rocket science, and I try not to spend too much time agonizing over the placement or grouping of like items.  One crazy, busy day and it's bound to get out of order again.

My best tip for you is to make a list of what's in the closet.

If you're like me, all kinds of awesome ideas will pop into your head while organizing the closet and you will start making plans for how and when you'll use all these cool art books and awesome manipulatives.  Then the school year begins and reading lessons and science labs push all those fun plans right out of your brain.  But, this year that's not going to happen because you're going to make a list of what's in the closet.

In all it's organized glory, here is the gravy closet.

It's definitely not perfect.  The violin storage is always a problem.  They need to be out of sight from the little ones, yet accessible.  The stands need to be close by, yet put away to avoid being tipped over.  The music - they want it put away, yet not so put away just in case they want to play one of their old songs.  Try working with that!  On the floor in a heap is our solution.

Since the closet still looks not perfect the list is important.  It's not a detailed list of every item, just the project books and activity packs that seem to get forgotten, but would bring great value to our home education plan.

Hummingbird Paint-by-Number (the Underwater Scene was painted years ago)
Canvas Boards (these are a favorite - Sam's Winter Painting)
Magic School Bus Rainbow Kit (I plan to use this very soon)
Dilemma Games (something similar)
Alphabet Bingo
U.S. puzzle (my childhood puzzle - this one is similar)
Double Take - Butterflies & Moths
Light Up Drawing Desk (ours is a much older version, but it's been a hit with all the kids)
The Window Art Book (definitely keeps kids busy for a LONG time and your windows will be colorful)
Number Flip (fun for kids and adults)
Balloon Animals (excellent for keeping boys busy when you're working with another child)

That's a BIG list.  I'll tape it inside the closet and refer to it when we're looking to add a little fun and flair to our school day.  I'm thinking it will come in handy when I need to grab a quick activity to keep a certain someone from running off while I work with a sibling.

As we encroach upon the school year I'll be sharing more of my not rocket science, but tried and true homeschool tips.  Stay tuned.  And if you know of someone in need of a little closet organizing, why not send them my way - I'd appreciate it.  Thanks.

You all are a great bunch.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wisconsin With Kids {Parfrey's Glen}

Wisconsin offers many State Natural Areas to explore.  Parfrey's Glen, Wisconsin's first State Natural Area, is a favorite.  We visited years ago; I believe Amber was a toddler (so 12 years ago), and we've been wanting to get back ever since.  Glen is a Scottish term for narrow, rocky ravine; last time we visited, a boardwalk was the path through the glen.  Since that time, the glen flooded, washing away the boardwalk.  The remaining posts are proof that the boardwalk existed.  The glen closed for a while during the clean up from the flood, but has since reopened to the public.

For directions, maps, allowable activities, and details on the flora of the glen click here.

For pictures of us enjoying Parfrey's Glen, keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling - there's a lot of them.


Gathering around the sign - I like to secure this picture first thing when everyone is smiling, still full of energy, and eagerly anticipating the hike.  This isn't my first rodeo - I know how family hikes can end.  Don't worry this is a super fun hike, bound to start and end well.

Amber's missing - she was on a bus to Washington D.C.
 A good hike always starts with nourishment.  Never attempt this with hungry children.  Today's choice - Veggie straws, Voortman oatmeal cookies, and more.

Remember brushing your teeth while camping.  This is where it happened.  It's still a draw; there's just something fun about pumping water from the ground.  Making your brother mad - that's a bonus.  Joe wanted a drink of water without Sam pumping; of course the water stopped when the pumping stopped.  This was maddening to Joe.


The path into the glen starts as a flat, easy hike.

 A grand variety of flora to be seen.  I wish I would've taken along a wildflower guide.


As we approached the glen, the path got a little narrower, much more rocky, and made for some fun tripping over tree roots.  Side note:  it's much cooler in the glen, so this hike is great for hot days.

Is it ok to treat your little sister like a lion cub?

These stone steps is the official beginning of the glen.  The absence of the boardwalk makes the hike much more challenging and hands on.  

Great practice with balancing and large motor skills.  I see everything through the eyes of "Joe's teacher" (which I am).

We made it; we're still smiling; no rock jumping injuries.  It was a success.

Our day didn't stop there, but since this post was so long, I'll save the Merrimac Ferry for another time.

For more Wisconsin With Kids posts click here.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Signs of Reading Readiness for Homeschoolers

We're at that point in the summer where homeschool planning and curriculum purchases can't be put off any longer.  Maybe you have a 4, 5, or 6 year old and you're wondering if you should invest in a reading program and get down to the business of teaching your child to read.  Age is not the only factor, so I've compiled a list of signs to watch for that show reading readiness in young children.

Reading hasn't been easy for all of my children.  I've shared our struggle and path before.  These reading readiness signs are not only for typical children, but will work for children with dyslexia and Down syndrome as well.  I speak from experience.  I have 5 readers in the house - all at different levels, including 2 with dyslexia and 1 with Down syndrome.  Trust me there are signs to watch for.

As a homeschool mom I've heard my share of stories about 3 year olds reading Harry Potter and 10 year olds taking college classes and I'm sure you have too.  Believe me that is not the norm.  The norm lies in all our homes.  There are early readers, average readers, late readers.  Unless there is a significant cognitive disability, children will learn to read when it's approached with love and a good step by step program.


1.  Ability to sing ABC song

From my experience, young children love to sing.  Teaching your youngsters to sing the ABC song can be accomplished in so many ways.  My favorite is to display an ABC poster, gather around it each morning, and sing slowly while pointing to each letter.  An ABC strip in the hallway would work well, too.

The Cedarmont Kids DVDs have been a winner since Emily was small.  They have an upbeat version of the ABC song.

Musical stuffed animals make great night time pals.  Peter has a plush monkey that sings the ABC song.  It's been a favorite since he bought it with his birthday money.  This elephant is similar to the monkey we have.

Anything you can do to get your little one singing the ABC song will put them one step closer to reading readiness.

2.  "What does this say?"

The desire to read comes from the yearning to know what strings of letters say.  Road signs, book covers, love notes - when they start to wonder about these things, they are on their way.  Over the years I've found that when kids start to ask, "What does this say?" they are developing a desire to read.  They've realized that all those ABC's mean something.  They are curious.  It's a big step.  I have an almost 3 year old already asking this question, however, I also have a child who didn't ask this question until almost 8.  They're all different - embrace it, pushing it will only result in excessive tears.

3.  "Will you write ________________ on this paper?" and "This says ____________."

Two more question/statements I listen for.  When my child starts asking me to write words for them or giving me papers covered with scribbles and "reads" it to me, I know they are approaching reading readiness.  They've equated written words with meaning, and they yearn to know the meaning.

4.  Obedience

Google defines obedience as:
          compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another's authority
Compliance is the perfect word to describe the necessary attribute of a child who will be learning to read from their parent.  A wise older homeschooling mother once stated at a homeschool support meeting that 'without obedience, homeschooling is impossible'.  She's spot on!!  If a child refuses to put their shoes in the basket or pickup their stuffed animals or apologize, that issue must be addressed before teaching them to read no matter how ready they are.  Because sitting down with a disobedient child for a reading lesson will be hell on earth.  Trust me on this one.  And no, I will not be sharing any stories no matter how perfectly they illustrate this point.

5.  Ability to Rhyme

Not necessary, but helpful.  So far my kids with dyslexia struggle with rhyming; the kids without dyslexia figured out rhyming early.  Joseph, with Down syndrome, but likely not dyslexia, struggle with rhyming.  So I add this to the list as another sign to watch for, but please don't hold off on reading lessons if this is the only skill lacking.

The five signs showing reading readiness listed above is my personal list.  Throughout my 13 years of homeschooling, I've learned to watch for these things.  However, it definitely is not the list I learned in college class EDUC 309 (Materials & Methods for Teaching Reading).  One of the things on that list that I do not believe is necessary is:


Attention span becomes an issue in the classroom when a group of children are learning together.  Each child needs the ability to stay on task and focused even when the teacher is working with another student or teaching something they already know.  

In the homeschool setting, cuddled up on the couch with mom, getting all her attention pretty much alleviates any attention span issues.  Also, in the homeschool setting if the lesson isn't going as planned it can easily be pushed to a later time or the next day.  We can force the lesson, but we don't have to.

If you came here wondering how do I know if my child is ready to read, I hope I've helped you know what to look for.  Please don't hesitate to leave questions in the comments.  I will address any questions or comments you have.

And if you're saying to yourself, yep, my child's ready, may I suggest my favorite reading program.  I've tried many, and All About Reading is the best. (*affiliate link, thank you)

AAR - Symptoms of Dyslexia Checklist

Linking up with:

Homeschool Preschool: Preschool and Kindergarten Community linkup at Homeschool Creations

Homemaking LInkup

Literacy-Musing-Mondays- where we celebrate reading!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

{pretty, happy, funny, real} - high summer


Cherry tomatoes right from the patio plant.

My baby rolling out pizza crust.

Joseph is our rainbow seeker.  We were on the 4-wheeler when he started yelling "rainbow, rainbow".  We turned around to see this beauty.

Amber was selected as a Washington Leadership Focus delegate through 4-H.  She left for Washington D.C. Sunday morning, and already tomorrow we'll be picking her up.

Peter is always riding his 1950's vintage Schwinn.  Everyone of our children has learned to ride on this bike.  It makes me so happy to have something that has stood the test of time - kids are NOT easy on things.

Even without a baseball bat in his hands, he's practicing his technique.

Maybe you saw the group wearing these soul patches.  Maria couldn't quite figure out the placement.  We all laughed when she stuck it to her nose.  Maybe someone told her it was time to trim her nose hair.
Birthday cakes are always topped with mismatched candles at our house.  I wash, save, and reuse candles until they are stubs.  So, when I used a package of brand new candles (along with a few old ones) on Sam's cake we were all laughing when they started relighting.  I had no idea they were magic candles.  Lots of teasing about girlfriends and old flames - just what a 12 year old boy wants.

Without Amber around this week, the house mess has been getting a little bit out of control.  Between gardening, cooking, BMX, blah, blah, blah, blogging - the kitchen has been neglected and it looks like this on a daily basis.

The love between these two is so real.  
Joining up with Like Mother, Like Daughter for {phfr}
capturing the context of contentment in everyday life

So it appears {phfr} is taking the week off, but I'm taking my post live anyway.