Wednesday, September 5, 2018

7 Things I'm Doing This Year to Make My Homeschooling Work Better with 5 Kids

I'm that slacker homeschool mom. The one who takes a half day off no problem, convinced that it will just be one half day and no more. Then it turns into another and another and soon we're like, "Uh, why don't we know cursive handwriting and our state capitals and multiplication tables?"

So after 11 full years of homeschooling, I'm learning. We are all settled in our new home in the country and we have a lovely little routine that won't likely be broken up by fixing up a house, moving, vacationing, a new baby, etc. It appears to be a smooth-sailing year up ahead. (yes, I know ... the best-laid plans!!!!)

1. Six weeks on, then a break
Teaching for 6 weeks at a time then taking a 1-week break. We'll still get a Christmas break, of course, and one of our 1-week breaks will count as Spring Break. We'll need to go until the end of June, but then we get 8 full weeks off after that (July and August).

2. Teach more than one at a time
Combining them. Brave Writer Help for High School will be done this year with both Michael and Joel (freshman and junior). They'll learn the material together as I read it to them so I make sure I know what's going on as well. They'll write papers and assignments at the same pace.

3. Make them accountable and independent
Emailing links for the week to the high schoolers with videos I want them to watch (e.g., Crash Course Biology, Crash Course History, cool documentaries on Amazon Prime, Netflix or Hulu, etc.) Copying their workbook pages for Easy Grammar and giving them the entire week's worth at once so they can do it all Monday or do it all Friday or throughout the week, working at their own pace and being able to deal with other things they have going on at the same time. I think learning how to manage their course load is important. For the younger kids, letting them know which pages need to be done by Friday in Explode the Code (such a fun workbook series for Language Arts).

4. Make things special
Making things special more often, like we planned to do last year. Today we have Back-to-School Little Debbie snack cakes with a battery-powered candle and some picture books. Yes, I make my older kids sit through picture book time. And I also make my younger kids sit through some things which may or may not be currently over their heads. It all works out in the end. Take time for fun field trips like we've always done, with our friends and on our own.

5. Lunch-n-Learn versus Morning Basket
Instead of a Morning Basket, which is a fabulous concept, I am doing a Lunch-n-Learn since the kids all wake up at different times, which is fine by me. We eat lunch, I read to them a selection of things covering all subject areas, and they are free to create art during this time as well. I don't need their eyes on me at all. They can paint or draw while they listen.

6. Be prepared
Before the kids even wake up, I pull off the main homeschool bookshelf anything I'm hoping to use that day. That way, I can SEE my "workload" for the day and so can the kids. Over the summer, I cleared the entire shelf off so now it's organized like this, and I don't have anything on there that will distract me from the current set of 6 weeks of homeschooling.

7. Check myself before I wreck our entire year
I must have rules for myself, which is something I always rebelled against. This year they include things I can handle: I can do my paid work in the morning after prepping for the homeschool day. I can only check my phone to handle immediate things like if my husband texts, a friend wants to come and play, etc. Otherwise, STAY OFF FACEBOOK and other social media is the number one rule for myself from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Don't go on a 2-hour field trip and call that an entire homeschool day. Oh, and make sure I'm logging their homeschool stuff every single day. I like to look back on it and it's helpful to have records just in case.

Check out our first official day of homeschool, day after Labor Day.



Here's to a fabulous school year!


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Organizing Your Homeschool Areas

How about a mini tour of just the upstairs part of my homeschooling world? No, I don't have a specific homeschool room, even though we have moved to the country to a larger space. Where I might have carved out a homeschool space there is a pool/ping pong table, and that's not going anywhere anytime soon. Downstairs there is a bar area with lots of great drawers, a homeschool stash closet under the stairs, and a nook for a desk with computer and a large bookshelf. I still don't have it all figured out just yet but I'll link to it when I do :-)

So this is what I like to call my Homeschool/Work/Life Command Center. It's like home base for everything. So all homeschooling begins here. As far as homeschooling goes, it's where I keep the planner, the main binder, the homeschool helps books, the Thirty-One Container of Stuffs, writing utensils and highlighters. And the all-important thing that gets me through each day: the Cinnamon Fire Jolly Ranchers.
To the left is my Morning Basket-type thing.  That black and white thing is my Thirty-One Container of Stuffs.

And this is a small bookshelf of Stuff We Use a Lot.
I'm working on only getting things on this shelf that need to be here for the upcoming school year so I don't get distracted by other shiny homeschool curriculum choices.

So I went on Furniture.com the other day to check out some options for our entryway shoe issue and came up with this sweet solution at a good price. I kind of then went down a rabbit hole of other homeschool space solution options. I was surprised at the affordable AND stylish options that were available. Time to get rid of that hand-me-down particle board thing we've been storing the computer on.

I also found this great article on How to Set Up a Homeschool Classroom. It talks about where you are going to homeschool, how you want to set it up, and more. Now it's got me thinking that we could carve out a room down in our storage area ... the lighting is good, it's quiet, and there are plenty of shelves for all our stuff. Or I could brainstorm on how to homeschool at the bar, as was my original plan.

So many options! I'll keep you updated on my space solutions. In the meantime, let me know what your homeschool space looks like in the comments below. Feel free to link to a blog post you've written :-)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Homeschool Conference Weekend! Why I'm Not Going and What I'm Doing Instead

So it's Friday, June 1, 2018 and it's the weekend of the Catholic Homeschooler Conference here in Kansas City. It starts as I am writing this post, at noon, and goes until 9:00 tonight. Then tomorrow it goes from 8-4.

*If you are a conference lover, and I know there are a lot of you out there, I RESPECT THAT! I love that you can go and socialize and buy stuff you need at a great price and listen to great speakers and go back home ENERGIZED about your faith and about homeschooling in general. I am not knocking homeschool conferences at all!

With that said, here's why I am not going — and may never go — to a homeschool conference.
  1. I am easily confused. I blame my self-diagnosed ADD — or the fact that I'm running a household with 5 kids and a husband in it and also have a side business ... and am almost 47 years old. If you give me a choice of 100 homeschool resources, my head will explode and I will either get very testy and annoyed and buy nothing or I will try to decide and end up buying too much stuff I will never use and that my kids hate.
  2. Too much socialization makes me exhausted. I love seeing my friends and making new ones, but I am doing a lot of socializing this summer by having friends over, and I want to be fresh as a daisy mentally for my pals and their kids.
  3. Too much information, in the form of speakers, makes my mind shut down. I need things in bite-sized pieces.
  4. I want to be with my kids and husband, who are going away to sleepover camp next week. The timing of conferences around here never seems to be just right for our family ... there is always something going on and I just can't commit to even going for one full day of it.
  5. We need to save money (gas, conference cost), and the time spent at the conference is time I either need to be working or hanging with my kids and husband.
What am I doing instead (besides saving gas, conference money and time)?
  1. I am listening to Pam Barnhill's The Homeschool Solutions Show podcast on planning and organizing. I also love The Homeschool Highschool podcast, Brave Writer podcast, The Homeschool Sisters podcast, and Read-Aloud Revival podcast.
  2. I am watching YouTube videos by Pam Barnhill about planning (10 steps, and the first is to have a vision, which I don't think I've done since my oldest was in first grade and now he's going to be a junior), Erica Arndt (Confessions of a Homeschooler), and Julie Bogart (Brave Writer). Also, others I stumble on that might be helpful.
  3. I am working on my list of parenting magazine writing markets that writers are asking me for so that I can sell it and put money away for homeschool books and activities and field trips and PARTIES!
  4. I am reading Read-Aloud Revival by Sarah Mackenzie for great book ideas for the coming year. The biggest problem is culling the list and saving some for the next year!
  5. I am planning for co-op for fall (Creative Writing and Drama for 5/6 graders).
  6. I am formulating what I want to do with my own kids this summer (as far as books we want to read and movies and pool parties).
  7. I am ruminating on what I'm learning so I can work this month to plan our 2018/2019 in the best way possible instead of winging it.
  8. I am preparing my kids for camp next week. Two of them are going to overnight camp so I want to be with them as much as possible before they leave; the youngest is going to Scout day camp and I am going with him, but there are still things to get ready. Also, don't forget about the things we need to buy for camps, like sunscreen, bug spray, and secret care packages I like to send them.
  9. Oh, and I am hanging out by our swimming pool in the country with kids and podcasts. It's called Poolside Professional Development!

So ... are you going to a homeschool conference this year or have you already been? Tell me some cool stuff you learn/learned! Also, do you have any great podcasts or books or videos you have learned a lot from that you'd like to share about?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Pizza Hut BOOK IT Program 2018-2019


Homeschool Enrollment starts May 1, 2018! Here's the link!

We have been doing this for many years and love it! We used to have a drive-through Pizza Hut right up the street from our old house and the kids looked forward to getting their FREE personal pan pizza every month since they would hit their reading goals.

Now that we have moved to the country, we don't have a lot of restaurants around but we DO have Pizza Hut so yay for that! I think we'll get a head start on the 2018-2019 school year this summer by diving into some great books!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Halfway Through Our Virtual School Year with Calvert (Leavenworth Virtual School in Kansas)

A homeschooling friend was asking my son some questions about our virtual school yesterday so I wanted to FINALLY take a moment to put this together to let you know how our virtual schooling has been going since I know a lot of people have questions about it.

Kindergartner Eva does some of her computer lessons, like typing, learning how to send email, how to do Excel spreadsheets, use Paint, etc.
We are eclectic homeschoolers usually ... ranging from an expensive Catholic curriculum one year to Sam's Club workbooks another to whatever is donated to us to IXL Math and CTC Math and general hippie or unschooling methods. We love free online resources like Khan Academy for Math and, believe it or not, Orkin for Science!

Virtual school has been a change but something I needed personally to keep on track. The testing does freak me out but I need that pressure ... you might picture homeschooling parents as all organized and teaching at the dining room table from 8-3 every day but that's actually pretty rare. We are all super different and I'm finally getting some footing here in my 8th year of homeschooling!

So here are the basics:
For $45 per kid we get EVERYTHING we need to homeschool. See my posts on unboxing curriculum for Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade and 7th grade.

There are 2 crazy days when you have to hit every subject and do one checkpoint for each subject. The district/state requires this and you just block it out on your calendar and don't plan to do anything else those 2 days.

We have to do 160 lessons total before the end of May. Each lesson might have only 5 checkpoints in 5 different subjects or it may have as many as 8 or 9 in a busy day.

You can go at your kid's pace. My boys are going to get their spelling lessons for the ENTIRE YEAR done by January 9 because spelling is easy and fast for them so why not knock it out and not have to worry about it anymore? Callie will do Picture Study for the whole year this week. Then we focus on harder subjects at a slower pace.

We like to do one or two subjects per day instead of one LESSON per day because it's a pain to switch from one subject's books to another. It's easier to just do several checkpoints for one subject ... keep reading on Science for a few chapters then it's easy to knock out several Science checkpoints.

We need to log 160 days of attendance for our virtual school to keep their accreditation ... (see tips below on logging attendance). It does NOT log TIME SPENT online per kid like K12 and other programs that REQUIRE your kid to BE ONLINE for 6 hours a day. There is no way we could do that. Also, if you have a kid who likes to work at night, they sure can.

I am behind on math for every kid and our awesome facilitator Gary is coming end of this month to do testing so I am feeling a bit stressed about that. I believe he only comes one more time for testing at our house but we also have STATE TESTING to worry about in April, I believe. I have to point out that I freak out about testing in general and it's not because the school is putting is putting any pressure on me or anything!

Tricks, Tips and Other Stuff:

If we have a sick day or day we were out and don't show attendance, I might have the kids each do one CHECKPOINT (not one entire lesson) on a Saturday or Sunday to show one day of attendance. Then we can work harder and catch up later but I like to see that we are on track attendance-wise so I don't have to worry at the end of the year.

We have only been on one field trip but it was entirely free for my virtual schooled students, leaving only myself and my 5-year-old son to pay for our portion. In December we went to see a play at The Coterie then ice skating at the Ice Terrace at Crown Center. What would have been a $72 field trip ended up only being $24 ... we had to get up earlier than our norm but it was worth it!


If your kid is "behind" for their grade, they don't ridicule you. There is a program called Verticy, which I have one of my budding readers in. If you don't like the math program, they will get you a different one. If you need lessons read to your kid they can get you a program to do that.

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS? Please ask! I'm happy to answer them in the comments or in another post!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Downloadable Multiplication Table PDF

When I was in third grade, I had no choice but to memorize the multiplication facts using flash cards. My parents would practice with me at home, we would also practice at school, then I would get tested by the teacher on how well I knew them. I had to know one set before moving to the next. I remember the 8s and 9s kicking my butt. I also remember my mom giving me a little prize, like a book, after I'd mastered the harder ones.

These days I notice that public and private school kids alike don't know their facts. I remember trying to do it with Joel and failing miserably. Kids in school have a handy dandy multiplication facts table like the one below (you can print one out bigger in PDF version here). I think the reasoning is that they will learn them this way if they have to look it up over and over.
//

Some kids easily memorize the facts. Michael, for instance, my 9-year-old son (this was originally posted in 2012), can pop off that kind of thing from memory.

How do you teach multiplication?

Updated 9/28/17 and my sons use this like crazy now for their Teaching Textbooks lessons. Now that they are 14 and 16, they are doing different things than IXL.com and Teaching Textbooks is an investment that I can spread over five kids and then sell to someone else later. It's a great and fun program. Check it out!


Bath and Books Homeschooling Winter Edition #BraveWriterLifestyle #ReadAloudFamily

Sometimes it is so difficult to grab my kids in the middle of playing and have them sit and listen to me read. I love to read to them! Even the teens! Who doesn't love to be read to? I don't insist that they remain still or anything like that, but they can't be watching a YouTube show or playing Minecraft while I'm reading!

So I realized I had a captive audience in my two youngest, aged 8 and 10, when they were in the bathtub. I started grabbing books to read to them in the tub and they loved it! Here are some books we read this winter, and I think this activity fits in with the Brave Writer lifestyle:

Don't worry; my toilet was very clean ... we have been entertaining a lot so we clean the bathrooms often

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant (I love this one because there are 5 penguins, just like I have at my house, and they are having fun in the snow!)




Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan by Cynthia Rylant (level 2 ready-to-read book)

Mama, Do You Love Me? by by Barbara Joosse

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (we have the postage stamps with artwork from this book!)

The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid (this one inspired me to go buy buttons and a box at the local collectibles shop!)






Also, you have to check out this book: The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids. I just got it and carry it around in my purse, devouring a page or two here and there when I can. It will change your homeschool and honestly make you a more peaceful and confident homeschooler!

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