Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5 Ways to Beat the Spring Slump

I confess. This is the time of year when I both want to throw in the towel and get going. I'm ready to move on from this year and look to the next. I want to start buying and planning for the upcoming school year. I want to feel that excitement and "newness" another year brings and leave behind the monotony of trudging through already set lessons plans with kids who are just as tired and looking for change as I.

So, what's a homeschool mom to do?



1. Throw out the curriculum. Seriously, just put it on the shelf and change things up. By this point you should know the topics that are coming up. You can stick to those, but do something different with it. If you've been hitting the books hard, watch a Netflix documentary on the subject. Not a big TV person, read the books to your kids if they are already independent readers.

2. Incorporate board games. Monopoly is one of our family favorites for the two Big Kids. It teaches so much in a short time - history, geography, math, economics, and well, since I'm being honest here, character. The math and the economics aspects are right there in plain view, but did you know that every single property is based on a real place? Have the kids look it up! Urban legends and historical facts about the game's development and use? Go for it! Your kids are still learning even if it doesn't look like your normal school day.

3. Get outside! This is so important not only for our physical well-beings but also our mental. We experience temperature extremes ranging from below zero in the winter to flooding in the spring to triple digits in the summer, so most outside time is really limited to fall. I'm not talking nature walks, which are awesome and a regular part of our science class. Grab the sidewalk chalk and do a spelling test on the driveway or front walk. Need a record of it? Snap a pic! We live near railroad tracks, so we often walk the quarter mile or so to them talking about a trip we might take or where they could lead. When we arrived, we can look at the construction of the tracks and discuss the materials used and transported by them. Then there is always the sitting on the porch and watching the trains pass by while the little ones watch with big eyes!

4. Dance Party! One of my dear friends is a public school elementary teacher. One of her favorite tactics for perking up students at the end of the year is to once a week, call out "dance party"! The kids no to jump up and boogie to the radio for a good 5-10 minutes. It gets the whole room laughing and giggling and serves as a wake up for the brain. She says after that, she always gets alert and eager to learn students for the rest of the day. To keep them on their toes, do this one at random. No scheduling, or it loses it's effectiveness!

5. Take a field trip. I've tried scheduling field trips year round, and for our family, they seem to interrupt the nice flow we have going. Now I save up a bulk of our field trips for spring. I find that when we can't get ourselves focused for a solid day of work, a field trip provides the learning we need without feeling like we are doing school.

So there you have it - 5 Ways to Beat the Spring Slump! Do you have any to add to this list?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Review of the Last Quarter and Looking Ahead

It's been a while.

Our family has been simply living day by day, relying on God to keep us going. I'm not sure if I haven't had the time to post or simply too tired when I get the time.

The big update is that Baby Girl is doing great! She is up to 15 lbs 7 oz. Her feeding tube is out more than in, and she is making great strides in her physical development and milestones.

In caring for Baby Girl, I've also seen a great deal of growth in Big Girl! She has learned so much and stepped up so much in helping to care for her sister. Know that I do not put this on her at all. There have been times where I've put Baby Girl down for a nap, gone to work with one of the boys on school, and Big Girl has heard her cry, checked on her, changed her diaper, and brought her to me for a bottle. None of this has been asked of her. She just does it herself.

Big Boy and Baby Boy adore their sister and help out in their own ways. I do admit that it has strained their relationship some. Baby Boy hasn't really had the same opportunity to be Mommy's big helper to his younger sibling like the older one's have because of Baby Girl's additional needs. He acts out by starting fights with Big Boy. I hate that they feeling so out of place right now.

To help combat the tension between the boys and help Big Girl remember that she is a kid and not Mommy's partner during the day, we have backed off school to just the basics for the last quarter. That means nothing but math and reading. With the time that used to go to other subjects in school, we've pulled out board games, read, cuddled on the couch watching movies, and overall just focusing on enjoying each other. I figure the science, social studies, art, and music can be learned later. I feel like what's important right now is to just be a family and build relationships in the face of medical difficulties.

Coming up on the final quarter of our official school year, the kids are getting through their basic schoolwork at a quicker pace. We've been able to do more reconnecting while getting Baby Girl's needs met without many hiccups. To help get back on a more academic track, we've added a couple of episodes of "How the States Got Their Shapes" on Netflix 3-4 times per week. The kids have really enjoyed the show, and it has sparked some great discussions at the dinner table! Big Girl even decided to take on a state report over our home state and now takes notes during episodes.

All in all, these past few months have been more lessons in life than academic lessons, but I think every homeschool goes through this at some point. I think it's what makes many homeschool kids truly well-round individuals and ready to take on just about anything when academics have formally stopped.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Break!

Well, we did it! We got through our first quarter of school, and despite some very unexpected obstacles, we managed to come out of it having learned a bit and still liking each other.

I know we are all welcoming the break from structured learning. I also know that unstructured kids mean cranky kids, so we are filling our week with lots of holiday planning, crafts, games, movies, etc. I also have some crochet projects I'm *thisclose* to completing.

I'll be back hopefully with lots of pictures next week!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Managing a Special Needs Child

Please read my previous post When Life Comes to a Stop for the full story.

I sit here in my kitchen not hungry and exhausted from the past couple of weeks. I know I need to eat, but I also need to write. This is harder than I ever thought, and yet I know that I have it so much easier than many other families.



We are home from the hospital, and my older three kids are back home from an unplanned extended stay with Grandma. I'm glad to be home, but part of me is still stuck in that hospital room. I'm up every 4 hours dealing with medical equipment to feed Baby Girl. I hate the sound of all those beeps, and Big Girl does too. Since the girls share a room, her sleep is often interrupted with feedings. I'm just thankful that the boys are sleeping through the night still. I treasure the silence much more because it means everyone is actually resting.

I'll be honest, we haven't gotten back to school since Baby Girl was admitted to the hospital. I'm trying to figure out how to fit it all in. I say "it all" but I know it will be just a shadow of what we'd been doing. I'm thankful I have such voracious readers because that gives me hope that their schooling won't be compromised. I also am continually reminding myself that walking through this time with Baby Girl is the best education they could receive. I know as they grow and ultimately enter adulthood that it will not be all sunshine and roses. How we all do during this time will prepare them more for life than any lesson they can learn from a textbook. Isn't that some of what homeschooling is all about?

I know we can't move forward without a plan. You read a few weeks ago all about our scheduling. Thankfully we had a bit of a loosey-goosey schedule going on anyway. Now I have to figure in Baby Girl's feeding schedule. She is "eating" every 4 hours, and each feeding takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.

So onto our new schedule (at least on paper)!

9:00am - The 3 big kids have free time until I get up around 9am (yes, I'm sleeping in longer due to the interrupted sleep) and call them up to get ready for the day.
10:00am - Baby Girl eats and I pump. Sometime around 10:45 we head downstairs for brunch if Dad didn't already grab them breakfast.
11:30am - Morning Routine
12:00pm - Lunch. After lunch, we do any lessons that need my direct teaching.
2:00pm - Baby Girl eats and I pump. Boys go down for a rest while Big Girl works on independent work. About 2:45, I get some quiet time. Once independent work is complete, Big Girl will quietly entertain herself.
4:00ish - When Big Boy gets up, we will work on his math & phonics, which need my direct teaching.
5:00ish - Once Baby Boy gets up, it's time to cook dinner.
6:00pm - Dinner. While the family starts eating, I am setting up another feeding with Baby Girl. Instead of pumping this time, I'll eat with the family.

Evenings are used for Baby Girl's physical therapy, any "homework" the big kids may have to finish, and any additional rest I need to grab. There are 2 more feedings overnight.

I'm new to all of this, and the new, more structured schedule is quite exhausting for me. The boys also don't do well with the new amount of non-structured time for them. I'm sure within a few days, we'll all get into a good groove, but for now I feel like a zombie.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Life Comes to a Stop

We are now the parents of a special needs child. Fortunately our situation is most likely temporary and is something that we can manage primarily from home. That being said, every aspect of our lives are affected, and my older children have not had school in over a week. So what do you do ...



A couple of weeks ago, we went to Baby Girl's regular 9 month checkup. She's always been very small like her older siblings, but I knew something wasn't right when I only checked off 1 or 2 milestones that she'd met. The doctor took a look at things and plotted her growth. The combination of milestones not being met and a plateaued growth curve meant we were off to see a specialist.

I figured as I packed the older three for a sleepover with Grandma that we'd spend most of the day meeting with doctors to get a plan into place and return home. We got to our appointment and discovered that not only would we be meeting with a pediatrician, physical therapist, and nutritionist, but a case work with DCFS was required to meet with us as well.

After speaking with these 4 individuals and a full evaluation from the pediatrician, it was determined that Baby Girl would need to be admitted to the hospital for failure to thrive. The diagnosis didn't come as a surprise but the hospital visit did. Inside I was starting to get really worried, but I stayed calm on the outside. I have a friend who went through a similar situation with her son, so I started praying that everything would turn out just fine for us like it did in their case.

Upon arrival to the hospital, the attending physician decided that Baby Girl would need a feeding tube since she refused to take both a bottle and a sippy cup. They brought in a breast pump because nursing wouldn't count toward her feedings since they could not measure output. I met with a lactation consultant.


Over the next couple of days we met with even more doctors and child development professionals. A physical therapist came in to work on low muscle tone and physical milestones. She recommended a Bumbo, and my husband quickly found one on Craigslist just a few blocks away for $15. An occupational therapist worked on spoon feeding. She noted that Baby Girl had a high palate, so she brought down cups used with cleft palate cases. We started to have some luck on drinking! Traditional sippy cups were now to be used for teething and play. The hospital's nutritionist came in a get a game plan for feedings both through the tube and with adding in solids. We had to meet a total of 500 calories per day, and breastfeeding, drinking from a cup, and solids would not count towards that total.

They were all amazed at how calm my husband and I were through the whole thing. I didn't feel calm much of the time, but I knew that God was in control. I knew He had already brought us through many things with Baby Girl. He would see us through this as well.

As the days continued on, we carefully watched her weight. We were told that Baby Girl needed 3 consecutive days of weight gain before the doctors would consider releasing her. After 4 days in the hospital, we finally had 2 days of weight gain. All we needed was for Monday to show another increase.


Monday came, and everything seemed to fall apart. First was that overnight, we had to pull her IV because it had started to leak. Then she had to skip a feeding for a MRI that had been scheduled. The MRI team determined that they could not sedate her for fear that her airway would close due to the low muscle tone. They say to go ahead and feed her. Then keep her awake until the MRI (about an hour away). If they could get her to sleep through it, we wouldn't have to put her fully under. We went ahead and fed her, and when we noticed drowsiness, we started with slightly more vigorous play. It was too much, and she threw up at least half of what she had eaten. She did sleep through the MRI, which was great, but her weigh in shortly after showed a weight loss. Our hearts sank.

The doctor acknowledge that all of the variable from the day - missing IV, skipped feeding, and vomiting the next - most likely was the cause of the weight loss. If we could have a gain the following day, they would not start the count all over again. We continued with the feeding plan, lab work, physical therapy, etc. as scheduled and prayed for good results the next day.

During this time, we also learned that Baby Girl would be going home with the feeding tube. I had to learned how to run the pump to feed her along with changing the feeding tube itself. I hated making her scream and cry, but I knew it was crucial to her survival.

Tuesday weigh in had arrived. I held my breath praying that her weight would be up. The nurse set up the scale while I stripped Baby Girl down. I couldn't look. When the nurse wrote the weight on the board, I nearly cried. Not only was she up from her weight loss day, but she was well over her previous gain! Praise the Lord!



The doctor came in and let us know that she was getting to work on discharge papers. I just had one more training to do that evening and sign rental agreements for medical supplies to use at home. I ordered lunch and set up Baby Girl for a feeding. Then we both crashed from exhaustion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back-to-Homeschool Day 5: Classroom Tour

Oh boy! Did time get away from me or what? I'm so sorry at the lateness of this post, but sometimes life happens and must be lived. Am I right?

Onto our tour!



Our class room is setup pretty much the same as last year, so be sure to check out my 2013-2014 classroom tour post. This year I'm going to show you the  changes I made to the setup.

The first & most obvious change was the addition of Baby Boy's desk. He picked this out and paid for it himself using a gift card he received as a Christmas gift. He was so excited to get it in and help me put it all together!


The other change I made removing the color discipline chart. It just wasn't working out, and I couldn't figure out why until I read this post by Teaching in Progress. It made total sense, especially in dealing with Big Boy's behavior issues. He was so defeated by the end of the day that he wasn't on "blue" that he just wanted to give up. This year I'm trying to take a different approach that I've had a bit of luck with using the concept of "stealing school time". I'll do a post on that later to explain my full approach, but I will say it has seemed to work so much better than the old color system. In it's place, I'm working on getting another large world map to use with our zoology studies.

Those were really the two only changes I made. I'll occasionally bring in Baby Girl's bouncer if she's awake. Most of the time she naps on her activity mat in the other room (but still in clear sight). I'm also trying to do a better job of utilizing the room just off the classroom as a preschool playroom for Baby Boy when he is finished with his work. This both keeps him busy AND in sight!

Well, off to get myself some lunch before the two little ones wake up from their naps!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back-to-Homeschool Day 4: Teacher & Student Planners

Last year was my first year putting together my own teacher planner (see it here) after years of buying planners that didn't quite fit my needs. This year Big Girl and Big Boy wanted there own planners, so while I put together mine, I did one for each of them.


Teacher Planner
- Contact Info & Family Memories
- Student Information - Name, Age, Grade, Goals for the Year, Curriculum Information

- 2014-2015 Year at a Glance
- Semester Goals & Notes
- Monthly Calendars
- Daily Schedule - I put one of these behind each month since my husband's schedule changes so frequently.

- Weekly Planning Pages

- Student Grade Report
- Semester Student Notes
- 2015-2016 Year at a Glance
- Notes for Next Year

Student Planner
- Contact Info & Yearly Goals

- 2014-2015 Year at a Glance
- Books I've Read

- Monthly Calendars
- Daily Schedule - behind each calendar
- Weekly Assignment Sheet

- Semester Review
- 2015-2016 Year at a Glance
- Notes for Next Year

The biggest change between last year and this year's planners is the planning pages. There were times when I felt I needed more room, and we are moving to a block schedule (see my post on scheduling for more details). I hope the new design helps with these two items.

What do you use for planning - store bought, homemade, or electronic planner? Do your kids have a their own setup, or do they rely on you for daily instructions?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back-to-Homeschool Day 3: Scheduling - Yearly, Weekly, & Daily

As a homeschooler, I feel like I have to be on top of time management. Coincidentally, time management is probably my biggest weakness. Here's how I do my best to overcome it.



Yearly Scheduling
As with everything else, I always check my state's homeschool requirements for attendance. My state requires 180 days of instruction. The first thing I do is pull out my Year-at-a-Glance calendar along with 4 highlighters.

First, I highlight all holidays in one color.
Second, I highlight all family birthdays in another color. I know the weeks leading up to these days are often hectic and need to be met with a lighter course load.
Next, I determine a start date and highlight our days in school in a third color. This year, I did this by counting back from Christmas 19 weeks and starting our week on Monday.
Finally, as I work through setting our days in school, I work in breaks with the final highlighter color. This year I aimed to take a one week break between 9-week units and two weeks at Christmas.

Here's what I came up with:


Now, it's not perfect and doesn't take into account Saturday field trips or the like, but all things considered, we'll meet our goal! *grin*

Weekly Scheduling
This year we are trying something new. I've tried the schedule every subject, every day approach, and it was too overwhelming for both myself and the kids to maintain. So, we are giving block scheduling a try.

To set up the blocks, I split our week into 3 blocks - two 2-day and 1 1-day. Math and phonics are done everyday. From there I listed out the rest of our subjects based upon how often they needed to be done - art (1), Bible (2), geography (1), history (2), literature (1), piano (1), science (2), spelling (1), and writing (2). Then it was simply matching subjects up with either day 1, 2, or 3.

Once I divided subjects up into blocks, I also had to take a look at outside activities. In a typical week, the kids have church, library day, and karate. This year Big Girl will also be playing for a year-round softball traveling team she was selected to be apart of after summer leagues were complete. The parents are all great and are mostly in our circle of friends, so we all trust each other and are all willing to swap driving to and from practices.

Once I get that all written down and many sheets of scratch paper later, I have something resembling a typical weekly schedule. Outside activities all have set days, but the school blocks are depending on my husband's work schedule since he will be teaching our Bible/worldview course. You'll see more how this all works out in my next post, so be sure to come back!

Daily Scheduling
This is where I hit my biggest challenge! I've tried many things in the past for getting our days to run smoothly, but they've all lead to all kinds of crazy stress - not good for the home or learning environment. Last year, I decided to go a little more loosey-goosey with it, and things just sort of fell into place. I'm sticking with it!

First off, I am not a morning person, so getting up at 5:30am for time in the Word, breakfast on the table by 7am, chores wrapped up and starting school at 8am just doesn't work for me. Instead, I fill all workboxes with individually completed assignments the night before. This way my early risers can get started with those as early as they'd like. My goal is to get started on group lessons by 10am. This year I am adding in Baby Boy's preschool lessons before group, so I want to work on disciplining myself to get around a bit earlier and start those about 9:30.

From there, I just have a list of what needs to be accomplished, and we work from top to bottom until it's done. We do have set times for lunch and Baby Boy and Baby Girl's naps that don't change. We simply take a break at those times before continuing on with our work.

So, that's the down low on how it all comes together and fits in our hectic lifestyle. It's by far not the only way to do things, but it's what works (after lots of trial and error) or our family!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Back-to-Homeschool Day 2: Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

In my previous post, I addressed many of the questions regarding curriculum decisions and purchasing.

Let's move on now to what we've settled on for this coming year.



Big Girl - 5th Grade

Math - Saxon 5/4 and 6/5
History - Tapestry of Grace
Geography - Tapestry of Grace
Bible/Worldview - What We Believe: Who Is God?
Science - Apologia Zoology 3: Land Animals
Spelling - Tapestry of Grace
Writing - Tapestry of Grace
Art - Tapestry of Grace
Literature - Tapestry of Grace
Piano - Simply Music Learn at Home program
P.E. - weekly karate lessons & softball traveling team

Big Boy - 2nd Grade

Math - Saxon Math 2
Phonics - Saxon Phonics 2
History - Tapestry of Grace
Geography - Tapestry of Grace
Bible/Worldview - What We Believe: Who Is God?
Science - Apologia Zoology 3: Land Animals
Spelling - Saxon Phonics 2
Writing - Tapestry of Grace
Art - Tapestry of Grace
Literature - Tapestry of Grace
Piano* - Simply Music Learn at Home program
P.E. - weekly karate lessons

*We are still debating on whether or not this is actually going to fit into Big Boy's schedule without overwhelming him. We will use the Simply Music system if we decide to move forward with piano lessons.

Baby Boy - Preschool

I use the Golden Books Step Ahead series. We will start with the following titles:
Before I Write
Counting 1 to 10
Shapes and Colors
I'm Ready for School

Once we complete this set of 4 books, we will move on to the Mickey Mouse titles. He will also be sitting in on the big kids' Bible/Worldview class with his own coloring book. In between books, at holidays, or just if I feel like we need a change of pace, I like to hunt for free learning packs, folder games, and simple lapbooks on Pinterest. Anything to keep his little hands busy is a good thing!

Baby Girl will of course be present during all of this, so I know scheduling is going to be a challenge.

Speaking of scheduling, come back next week to see how I make it all work!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back-to-Homeschool Day 1: Curriculum - How I Select It

One of the most common discussion points I encounter in the real world is curriculum. How do I know what subjects to get? Does curriculum come all in one, or do I have to find each subject separately? How do I decide which company to go with? Is it expensive? Where do I find it? I hope to answer those questions here before I share our curriculum choices for 2014-2015.


Way back when I first decided to homeschool, I consulted the HSLDA website to see what subjects were required in my state. In my state, there are no specific subjects required; however, to ensure that I cover all my bases, I take a look at what the public and private schools in my area teach.

Curriculum comes in all shapes and sizes. I've used complete kits (all subjects, one purchase, super easy), and I've selected subject by subject. Currently, I use a complete kit for my history and humanities studies with individually selected curriculum for math and science. Then we supplement with outside lessons.

Deciding which specific curriculum to go with for me was a matter of experience. I was a classroom teacher for a couple of years, so I was able to get some hands on experience with a few choices there. Then it was a lot of reading and research and trying out things with my own kids. I've had great luck with some and still use my first choice, and others have been an utter failure that I've had to toss mid-year.

Cost can range from free to very expensive. I tend to lean toward pricier options that last are designed for long term use, so in the long run it works out to be very economical. The biggest thing to realize is that you do NOT have to break the bank to educate your child.

This year I bought a bulk of our curriculum from Mardel. Other places I've purchased from include Christian Book Distributors, eBay, Craigslist, our local homeschool group, and a local Facebook buying/selling page. I also greatly rely on our local public library for a large number of our trade books.

So, stay tuned for our 2014-2015 curriculum choices!