Category: homeschooling

My top 5 homeschool hacks.


I’m not a great homeschooler. Really. When I imagined homeschooling I pictured my family sitting on blankets in a field on a prairie reading Anne of Green Gables and eating homemade bread and jam while we absorbed the beauty of the knowledge in the stack of books we had brought with us.

Okay, so I am a bit of a romantic. Also, possibly delusional. Whatever.

The truth is in this particular stage of life homeschooling looks a lot more like us scrambling to find sharpened pencils and desperately trying to get as much school done as we can while a very very very busy toddler takes a nap. It’s not generally pretty. But we get it done. Mostly thanks to a few things that work for us. They aren’t necessarily revolutionary but they work for us.

  1. Online free curriculum – We use a lot of online tools in our homeschool. Kahn Academy is a fantastic resource for math of all grade levels and we love using it. Starfall has been a staple for the little kids for as long as we’ve been homeschooling and it helps to entertain them and make them feel a part of school when they are too little to do much on their own. Homeschool curriculum is not cheap and any freebies we can find help take the financial burden off of the process. Sites like Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool are also an excellent source of 100% free homeschool curriculum. This particular site breaks everything down in days using free links to web content that allows the student to be self-directed. We love it as a supplement to the other things we do but many families use it for their entire school curriculum.
  2. Single focus days – We’ve done this during different seasons of homeschooling and it is still one of my favorite ways to homeschool. Basically we just assign a subject to each day and focus solely on activities that surround that. For example, Monday = Bible, Tuesday = Science, Wednesday = Literature, Thursday = History, Friday = catch up on all the things that didn’t get completed on previous days. When we were doing this we would do math each day just to try and keep things consistently moving in that subject since it is our least favorite/weakest subject. The beauty of this method is that it is kind of like unit studies in that each subject really covers composition, spelling, reading, critical thinking, handwriting, etc. The kids think they are doing less work (always a win in this house!) but really they are doing the same amount of practice in all of these areas it just feels less noticeable since each day they are working on new subject matter.
  3. Ted Ed videos – Do you ever have one of those homeschooling days where everything goes wrong and you need to clean oatmeal out of the carpet and somehow throw food in the slow cooker before you get everyone to ballet/boy scouts/whatever activity you foolishly agreed to participate in and then on top of that you have the pressure of oh, you know, EDUCATING your child? Me either. But if I did have multiple days a month like that then I would surely use Ted Ed to help fill in the gaps when I need to fill those sweet little brains with info and run a household. All kidding aside, Ted Ed is a great way to learn things that don’t fit into traditional homeschool curriculums. They’ve learned about how the band-aid was invented, the paradox of value, and whether spotty fruits and vegetables are safe to eat. I know, I know, not exactly Common Core aligned stuff here but what I love is that it fuels a love of learning. Each lesson includes a video, a quiz, an opportunity to dig deeper into the subject, and a format in which to discuss it. The world is a big place and by learning about some of the more random parts of it my kids have discovered a love of knowledge that I think can sometimes be tricky to impart when you’re hammering them with tests and quizzes.
  4. Outsourcing – We utilize a homeschool hybrid once a week as well as a once-a-month co-op class in teaching the kids. Maybe you think it’s a cheater’s way to homeschool. Maybe it is. The thing is I find outsourcing a great way to help the kids learn from others without giving up my ability to help meet their individual educational needs. Once a week the kids spend 3.5 hours at an arts-based hybrid learning things that I would never have thought to incorporate into our schooling. Kai is working with other students on a student film. Ivy is learning Calligraphy. Each of them is working in a group with friends and enjoying being a part of a classroom experience one day a week. Then once a month the homeschool group we are a part of holds an enrichment day that allows the kids to learn about different subjects each month. One month the kids participated in a Shakespearean drama and had a feast to go along with it. They’ve built volcanoes and met geologists and enjoyed learning about cultures from people who are experts in a way I will never be. Each time they come home filled with information and enthusiasm about a subject they hadn’t previously interacted with and it fuels their desire to pursue knowledge about it for the rest of the month.
  5. Year-round School – We officially start school every September but the truth is we try our very best to “school” the kids year round. The first year we did school we stopped at the end of summer and when we got back to school-time in the Fall getting the kids motivated to learn again was a nightmare. They enjoyed the summer and didn’t feel like diving back into school. The more I thought about it the more it bugged me that we were basically telling them they got to spend 3 months not learning and that they could stop pursuing the study of the world that we were trying to tell them was so important for the other 9 months of the year. The second year we tried not breaking for summer. We changed the pace of our lessons and did lots of unit studies with the kids. We explored different subjects and cultures and found ways to take unexpected field trips and just kept the learning going. Then by the time Fall rolled around we just jumped right back into “regular” school and no one complained. And we felt like we were reinforcing the idea that learning is a forever thing. Not something to take a break from. It’s been a win-win scenario for us.

So, there you have it. Five homeschooling hacks that are working for us! I would love to hear what works for you and yours when it comes to educating the kids whether it is homeschool, traditional school, unschooling or some combo of different styles. There is so much to be learned and shared with others on this journey and I love storing away great ideas for when we need to change things up!

Pilgrim Progress…

So, Kai has been studying Pilgrims as part of our lessons recently. She had the choice for her class this week to give a report on any aspect of Pilgrim life. And what did she choose? Why Pilgrim “fashion” of course!

For her report she wanted to dress like a Pilgrim for school and I was happy to oblige. Any excuse to get dressed up, right?

I scored big time at the thrift store and found a long brown women’s skirt from Anthropologie (size 0 so not much altering to do!) and paired it with this strangish blue coat that was clearly pretty vintage and just had a Pilgrim vibe to it. I made her apron out of an old King size sheet (the sash is the band at the top of the sheet – it worked perfectly and was much less sewing) and the bonnet was from an old pillowcase. I had some fabric scrap that I used to make the Pilgrim pocket (since they didn’t have pockets in their clothes like we do) and we were set. The whole outfit cost $5 to make and she was super excited!

Plus, we made these Pilgrim hats & bonnets from Martha Stewart to hand out to the kids in the class. It was a huge hit!

(If you’re making the Pilgrim hats & bonnets you can use posterboard instead of the cardstock paper she suggests in the How To. I ended up cutting out the boys’ hats and instead of using a the long paper band she suggested I used a small width elastic I had lying around to make a headband to keep the hat on. They turned out adorable!)

Advice Needed: How do YOU homeschool with a toddler?

We’re approaching the end of our first homeschooling year. And, honestly, it has been great. I have learned a lot about what works for my kids and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that I need to be more organized and I need  (at the very least) a loose schedule for the day. That I can do.

Homeschooling Kai and Ivy together has been a relatively easy task. Ivy gets to experience more advanced subject work and I’m still able to work with her on her level. The only big issue I’m having? Traveler.

He’s mobile. Like, really, mobile. And I hate to stick him in the playpen all day. Or (even worse) plop him down in front of Sesame Street forever. But he’s super distracting to the girls during school. And his naptimes aren’t exactly reliable lately.

So, what do I do?

No, really. You tell me. What do you do? Some of their work can be self-directed but I really want to be a part of their hands-on learning. So, homeschooling parents who have toddlers in the mix, what are your suggestions for keeping everybody learning without resorting to TV or the dreaded baby cage? I would really appreciate your advice!

Bring on the Waldorf

Part of my New Year’s Resolution was to get better about our homeschool structure and curriculum. So, I set out to find a schedule and structure that would work for a family that didn’t really do structure and schedule. Turns out that is harder to find than I thought. Most of you homeschoolers out there have it way more together than I do!

The Waldorf-Steiner educational philosophy has long been something I found fascinating. I love the emphasis it places on the role of imagination in learning and it’s focus on the coordination of education with the rhythms of everyday life. If I had my wish (and money was no object) I’d have them enrolled in the Atlanta Waldorf School in a heartbeat. I really truly think this philosophy of education breeds imaginative, innovative free thinkers with a love of learning. And that is an approach to education I desperately want for my girls.

Since we’re not ready for fork over $10k for Preschool/Kindergarten right now, I set out to find an inexpensive (or free!) Waldorf style curriculum to use for our homeschool trial. Since Waldorf doesn’t really emphasize a strict curriculum for pre-school and Kindergarten I found a site that has great information on Waldorf philosophy as well as some of the stories, fingerplays, songs, and crafts that make up it’s early curriculum.

I’d been avoiding tackling this project but with the help of the links I’ve included above I’ve managed to create a great Waldorf style rhythm that works for both girls.

Part of Waldorf is having days of the week being designated for specific activities. Which means Mondays are now Baking Days, Tuesdays are Watercolor Days, and Wednesdays are Clay Days. This gives the girls a chance to know exactly what creative exercises we’ll be doing on what days and allows for a bit more structure and predictability in their schedule.

Since it just seems impossible for me to fully commit to a schedule, Thursdays are “Wild Card” Days and Fridays are Field Trip Days. I need just a little wiggle room in our schedule so this seemed like the best compromise.

I feel great having finally gotten this part of our life organized, structured, and down on paper! I can’t wait to see the difference it makes in our homeschooling weeks!

To see what other moms are tackling this week, head over to 5 Minutes for Mom for more Tackle It Tuesday!

How to Make a Rain Stick

Since we’re studying the weather, I’ve been looking for some cool weather related craft ideas for Kai to do. One of the coolest ones I found was the Rain Stick craft. It was easy, fun, and not something that made a big huge mess in my dining room (not that I’m opposed to big huge messes in the name of creativity).

It didn’t turn out stunningly beautiful (it’s the process not the product, right?) which, of course, could be because we didn’t quite follow all the instructions. But we did have a fun time making the rain stick and it lasted a whole 48 hours before being completely destroyed by my kids.

Supplies Needed:
Duct Tape, Paper Towel Roll, Scissors, Rice, Toothpicks, Paper, Stickers, Paint, Ribbons, etc. (and one super cute kiddo!)

Trace the ends of your paper towel roll (or 3 toilet paper rolls) and cut out small circle to create a cap on each end.

Seal up one end by taping the cap down onto the paper towel roll.

Insert toothpicks at various locations/angles on the rain stick.

Add rice to the tube and seal up remaining end.

Break off ends of toothpicks and wrap tube in duct tape.

Add stickers, paint, glitter, and ribbons.
Shake it up and enjoy the sounds of the rain!

What I’ve learned from my first homeschool month

1. Homeschooling freaking rocks! Don’t make fun of me. We are really loving it!

2. Scheduling minute by minute is definitely not my thing: I tried using a lesson plan book and scheduling every single second of the day. But, freaking out because we are 2 minutes late for “snack time” is too stressful to be worth it. I’m thinking that making a list of objectives for the day is a much more productive and Loving family appropriate way to do this. We just don’t do well with overscheduling.

3. I’m more organized than I thought I was: I found some awesome organizers and record keeping sites for homeschoolers/unschoolers and it has helped me to recognize and record just how much we are doing at home. It is amazing to see how much education a child unintentionally receives over the course of the day.

4. I’m definitely a homeschooling/unschooling hybrid: I don’t fit into one category. **Shocking, I know!** But, I have come to think I am definitely some kind of cross between these two styles. I need a bit more structure than some of the hardcore unschoolers and yet I just can’t embrace the whole single curriculum/home classroom model either.

In the end, we’ve ended up having a learning objective list for the week and the month with activities, worksheets, books, videos, and field trips planned throughout the month. We do alot of hands on activities and not so many work sheets. We’re learning math at the park, science through art projects, and history through story books. We’re learning traditionally and unconventionally and we’re really enjoying every minute of it.

5. It’s seems to be about finding your child’s rhythm: Kai tends to pay better attention in the morning to subjects like math and science. Worksheets that are going to be done for the day need to be done then. But, afternoons she’s more creative and experimental and those hands-on projects are best saved for after our “siesta” time. Any extracurricular classes that require paying lots of attention we do in the a.m., but ballet/tap/physical activities are best planned for later in the afternoon to help her work off energy and settle down for the evening. Of course, rhythm can be fickle and we are learning to be flexible to what her daily needs are.

6. I have very little figured out. As with any journey into education, I think half of the experience is realizing how little you really know. There is so much I am figuring out and I am in awe of those career homeschoolers who have been doing it for years. I don’t know know how long we’ll do this. I don’t know whether all of our kids will be a fit. I don’t know whether or not I’ll ultimately be able to pull off everything that is involved. But, I do know that for now it is working and that we’ll keep it up as long as it is…

And then she ate the baby…

In my not-so-brilliant attempt to teach Kai about dinosaurs (that’s what we’re studying this month) I found Jurassic Fight Club today while flipping through channels and thought it might be cool to show her what dinosaurs look like.

I mean, it’s on the History Channel, so how scary could it be, right? She wasn’t really scared to see the dinosaurs fighting. She thought that was cool. And when I told her the mommy dinosaur was protecting her baby she thought that was even cooler. That mommy dinosaur kicked some serious butt and I think moms became a little cooler in her mind after seeing that.

But, perhaps I should have screened the show first, because when I told her that her mommy was like that dinosaur and would protect her just like that mommy dino did I didn’t realize what was coming next.

Immediately after saying that, the big bad boy dinosaur killed the baby and was then beaten up by the mommy dinosaur. And then it happened. The mommy dinosaur ate her own baby. ‘Cause, you know, she needed some food after all that fighting.

And Kai looked at me suspiciously and said, “So, if I die, will you eat me, too?”

Jumping in

It’s less than 2 months until we officially start the homeschool journey with Kai. We’ll be doing some preschool/kindergarten with her to see how things go. This is our test year. Our year to see if I am able to pull this off.

We chose this age ’cause we decided if it didn’t work out, at least she wouldn’t be behind the other kids her age. But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous to try this.

Still, I think it will be an exciting adventure for Kai, me, and the rest of the family.

My biggest fear is socialization. Or rather, lack thereof. I tend to be a bit on the introverted side in real life (the internet gives me amazing courage) so my biggest worry is that my tendency to withdraw in social settings will ultimately affect Kai in a negative way.

But, I’d love to know, oh blogosphere friends, do those of you homeschooling have any words of wisdom for a fledgling homeschool mom embarking on this journey? And tips for making sure she’s educated and sociable??

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