Saturday, April 21, 2012

What We Do for School...

There have been quite a few people who have asked me to share what we do in our home for school.  It's impossible to list it all because there is so much unplanned, unprompted learning and imagination.  But I tried to make a list of as many things I could think of.  There are no fun pictures... because if I took time for that right now, I wouldn't have time to educate my kids.  Hopefully you understand.  

A few things before I start:

  1. No homeschool environment will look the same because each family is different.  That's one of the great things about homeschooling.
  2. We have switched to a block schedule for some subjects because making transitions between subjects takes more time, and we have to gear up for each one.  You're the teacher in your home, so feel free to make similar adjustments as needed.
  3. We don't necessarily follow a traditional school schedule.  It takes too long to get through material or takes too much time away from active and/or imaginative play time if we try to jam it all in at once, so we stretch things out over more months.  We break in to the school year with one or two subjects and gradually add a new subject every week or two, working up to a full schedule.  Then we get to taper off at the end of the school year when it's nice outside again.  
  4. It doesn't take nearly as much time in the day to cover our content as it would in the school setting.  I don't have to collect lunch money, get a whole class in line, wait for 20 kids to get crayons out, or deal with discipline issues for a whole classroom.  As a result, we legitimately get more free time in a day/year.  Don't think that your kids need to be sitting in a desk for 7 hours in order to be learning things.  
  5. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can slow down or speed up according to your child's abilities.  You don't have to do the same thing for every kid at a respective grade level, because each kid will have different abilities.  Remembering this helps to remind us as parent-educators to really sit back and evaluate each child as an individual, recognizing his/her strengths and weaknesses as well as how we can help maximize potential.  
There are a million things that could be said, but that's enough for now.  Here's what we use...


  • Long Story Short by Marty Machowski  (Our whole family does this together, and it's fantastic!)
  • ESV Bible for each of the older kids  (WTS Books is a good place to see some great options for kids)
  • Jesus Storybook Bible for toddlers (they like to flip through and look at the pictures while listening)
  • There are others we use too, but this is what we do on a daily basis


  • My Giant Sticker Activity Book
  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
  • Letter of the Week.  My sister-in-law did an AWESOME preschool tour through the alphabet for my nephew this year.  I'm so excited to do this for Claire next year.  
  • Lots and lots of educational toys, games, and conversation throughout the day
  • Keep in mind that you do not need to compartmentalize your child's learning.  Sometimes we like to do that because it helps us check something off a list.  However, so much learning goes on if we just talk about what's happening in our surroundings.  It's important not to minimize the importance of this!

  • Veritas Press Phonics Museum (covers reading, handwriting, art history, art, and quite a few other random subjects)
  • Math:  Saxon 1 (We purchased the Rainbow Resource version of the manipulative set to complement Saxon 1-3)
  • Listen along with whatever the older kids are doing for History, Science, Latin, Grammar, etc.
  • Homeschool Co-op:  PE, Art, and other random fun kindergarten things
  • Lots and lots of educational toys, games, and conversation throughout the day
First Grade
  • Grammar:  Shurley Level 1
  • History:  Mystery of History, Volume 1:  Creation to Resurrection
  • History Through the Ages Collection of Timeline Figures  I chose to purchase the CD of figures, and it's perfect!  To make a timeline, I secured 8 ribbons evenly spaced on a tri-fold board.  I printed all the timeline figures that went along with this year's lessons and put them on brightly-colored background paper The colored paper is an unnecessary step, but it makes it more fun.  We have a different color for each quarter, so we feel a sense of accomplishment four times throughout the year. Our second run through history, we will likely make a timeline notebook, but for now, it's really great to see everything in one view and see what came before or after something else.
  • Veritas Press Phonics Museum (covers reading, handwriting, art history, art, and quite a few other random subjects)
  • Math:  Saxon 2 (We purchased the Rainbow Resource version of the manipulative set to complement Saxon 1-3)
  • Reading:  Veritas Press First Favorites Volumes 1 and 2 (Note: There are four pages in this link)
  • PE:  Homeschool Co-op class... and LOTS of backyard play (the beauty of homeschooling is that we have HOURS of active play in a day)
  • Science:  Exploring Creation with Astronomy (Apologia)
Second Grade
Third Grade
Helpful Organizational Tools/Ideas
  • Purchase some side-load sheet protectors and some wet erase markers.  Slide the sheet protector over a workbook page (you may have to cut off the binder hole strip first) and have the student answer the questions with a wet erase marker.  Once you've checked the answers, remove the sheet protector, wash it, and use it again.  Save yourself loads of time and money that you would have spent photocopying pages or buying disposable workbooks for additional children.  
  • I love the index card idea listed in this blog entry:  Raising an Independent Learner
  • MP3 players for each kid if possible.  You can load all their audio learning tools onto their individual MP3 players, and they can listen to History, Latin, Grammar, Spelling, etc. through headphones while building Legos, playing with dolls, staring up at the clouds, whatever.  I found some very inexpensive 4GB players on sale the day after Thanksgiving.  They're not iPods (my kids don't need anything that expensive), and they do take a little bit more time to load than an iPod, but the Philips players we have definitely work for what we need.  I also purchased an MP3 player speaker/case for each kid ($7 each) the day after Thanksgiving.  Their headphones are tucked inside with their players, and they can choose between headphones or speakers.  Also, it allows toddlers to walk around listening to all their older siblings' school stuff, which they thing is GREAT, without putting and MP3 player in their hands directly!
  • Managers of Their Homes and Managers of Their Chores
  • Large Family Logistics by Kim Brenneman.  There are ALL SORTS of great ideas in this book!  Even if you don't have a large family, there are great ideas you can implement and get yourself off to a good start.  I wish I had thought through some of these things with only one child.  (Note:  The beginning of the book seems a bit less balanced than the book as a whole, so if you're like me and think it's a bit over-the-top in certain ways at the beginning, keep reading.)
  • A laminator!  The Scotch Thermal Laminating Machine is pretty economical.  Purchase the laminating sheets from Amazon to save money on those.  
Fun Supplementary Materials
  • The flash cards in the dollar bins at Target at back-to-school time are fantastic!  I laminated several sets, hole punched them, and put them on binder/index card rings.  I use suction cup hooks (found at Target in the hardware section) on the side of our school bookshelf to store them in easy reach for the kids who need them but out-of-reach for babies and toddlers
  • Building Thinking Skills Series 
  • Math-in-a-Flash flash cards
  • Rocket Math is a free app for iPhones or iPads that is pretty fun for the kids
  • Scientific Explorer's and ScienceWiz science kits
  • AnimaLogic
  • Imaginets
  • Legos and K-Nex 
  • Strategy games
  • Puzzles
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Art supplies
  • Grow your own butterflies
  • The list could go on and on and on.  You get the point.  The hands-on stuff is fun AND educational!  Do not diminish the value of letting your kids explore and learn along the way.
Helpful Resources
Favorite Homeschool Suppliers

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thoughts On Adding a Third Child (or Fourth, Fifth, etc.)

I had a friend ask for some helpful thoughts as she prepares to move from two to three kids. Here are some of the things I shared...
  1. Try to schedule some extra help right away, but also again at about weeks 6, 7 and 8 when you've reached the peak of your exhaustion. It's such a blessing to have someone come and take the olders to the park in the morning so you can rest, enjoy a little quiet, or just get something done that's driving you crazy. If that person can also put the baby in the stroller and go for a walk with all three kids for 45 minutes, you'll be amazed at how refreshed you are when it's over.
  2. For me, it's sometimes not easier for someone to be in my house helping me. It's actually easier if, once every couple weeks, Chet can take all the kids out for an hour and a half (between me feeding Will) so I can be in the house by myself to get things done or just collect myself.
  3. Suggestions of spending time with each kid are great. And it's also true that it might only be 5 minutes. Somehow, the Lord multiplies that 5-10 minutes so that it means a lot more than that to the kids.
  4. Remember that babies don't often die from crying. If you have to leave the baby laying down screaming his/her face off for a few minutes so you can pick up your screaming toddler, that's okay. It's not quiet. But it's okay.
  5. Try to be conscientious of the fact that you're asking your kids to drop what they're doing regularly to help you... and be willing to drop what you're doing every once in a while to help them too. Not always. I am certainly not kid-centric around here... but I definitely don't want my kids feeling like they're put on this planet just to help me.
  6. Consistency with discipline is key, and at the same time consistency with attention is key. As you consistently pay attention to your kids, they become assured that your discipline is really for their individual good and not just because they've interrupted you again.
  7. Make plans and try to improve them when they're not working... but mostly realize that no day can look exactly like any other day. The Lord will challenge you to become more and more flexible, to grow in grace more and more, and to die to yourself and become content in Him more and more every day. As you are growing in this, your kids will see where your joy comes from (helps to explain it too), and you can help them grow in contentment with the things the Lord has given them as well.
  8. I like to keep this thought in mind: If I sent my kids to a child care center, I wouldn't want the workers to be neglecting my kids in the name of constantly cleaning and doing projects... and I wouldn't want them neglecting the cleaning altogether in the name of playing with my kids. Sometimes the kids have to wait while you get something done, and sometimes the dishes can sit on the counter and pee in the potty seat because you're reading a story to them. It's impossible to be everything to everyone. Only God can be everything to them, so when you feel like you're failing, point them to the Lord and remind them that only He can satisfy the desires of their hearts.
I know that all of these things sound like terrible cliches and like a list of impossible demands. Hopefully, you'll just read it as thoughts to keep in mind to help you balance yourself when you feel like things are out of control. I'm in a stage right now where I just can't seem to catch up. And then I have to remember that, even if it's 5 or 20 years from now, I'll catch up... I just hope that I've spent enough time with my kids along the way that they'll come back when I'm sitting in my clean, empty house.