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!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Back to Homeschool 2014

Yeah, yeah. I know it's only July, but I'm anxious to get started on another year. I thought I'd start out this year's school blogging with a series of posts on how I get everything ready and what plans I have in mind for the upcoming year. I'm calling it ...



This year I'll be full-time homeschooling a 5th and 2nd grader and part-time homeschooling a preschooler along with caring for an infant, so having a plan in place is CRUCIAL to a successful homeschool year. :)

B2HS Day 1: Curriculum - How I Select It
B2HS Day 2: Curriculum - 2014-2015 Choices
B2HS Day 3: Scheduling - Yearly, Weekly, & Daily
B2HS Day 4: Planners - Teacher & Student
B2HS Day 5: Classroom Set Up Organization

Check back here, as I will be adding links to each post!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wrapping Up the School Year

Whether you follow a traditional school year, set your own unique calendar, or homeschool year round, there's always a transition point from one level to the next. Here, I share my thoughts on wrapping up the school year.



This year has been a bit different for me in that we are doing our first school year that will truly last a full year. This was not planned but is the result of welcoming a new baby and getting hit with a month long sickness. We are honestly not quite finished up with our work, but I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel! Hooray! (Yes, even homeschoolers look forward to our "summer breaks"!)

No matter when wrap-up happens I always follow the same general steps. These are very general, and there are different ways they actually play out depending on your family. That's okay!

Step 1: Catch up on YOUR daily work. By this I mean make sure you have looked over & graded any work that needs to be done. This includes entering grades into your grade tracker (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet), and filling out progress reports. If you are on top of things and not a procrastinator like myself, this step will pretty much be done. :)

Step 2: Keep student work needed by the state, and throw out the rest! How do you know what's needed? Check HSLDA's website and click on "My State" to find out. For my state, I don't have to keep anything specific, just enough to show that learning is happening. Set aside what you need, and then put the rest in the garbage can. Seriously do this! You probably didn't even realize how much was there, and it is so freeing to have it gone!

If grandparents really want that A+ test or you just adore that art piece they made designate a single file folder to hold the FEW pages. Give yourself no more than a week to get these to their permanent homes. If it is a 3D piece, grab your camera and store it digitally! I've seen the most adorable coffee table books that were filled with the artwork of the home's children!

Step 3: Transfer work to student portfolios. Student portfolios come in all shapes and sizes - binders, scrapbooks, file boxes, digital storage, etc. I have chosen to use 3-ring binders for portfolios. I let my children pick a theme and print off a cover and section dividers for each school year. Section dividers are slipped into page protectors. Then I hole punch and store schoolwork & other documents behind the year's divider. I drop progress reports in the page protectors behind the pretty divider. As I previously mentioned, I don't really have to keep a lot, so one binder each has sufficiently met our needs so far. Whatever system you choose, make sure it is easily accessible if you should ever need it quickly. I'd also recommend permanent storage of these in your emergency evacuation kit.

Step 4: Clean up your teacher files. I do this following the same steps as outlines above for the student work - figure out what needs to be kept, set it aside, and toss the rest! I also check my notes section in the back of my teacher planner and transfer those to my new planner (if it's been purchased and arrived).

Step 5: Pack away or sell this year's curriculum. Pretty self explanatory! :) Since I have littles that have not yet entered school, I keep my stuff from year to year. I have a science tub, Tapestry of Grace tub, and then grade level tubs for things like math and phonics. At this time, I also remove the shortcut for my digital Tapestry of Grace products from my desktop. I still have not come up with a good permanent storage solution for these tubs as our home doesn't have a lot of closets or hidden storage.

Step 6: Go through your general school supplies. I have a large tub that I keep all of our misc community school supplies in. During the year, it all ends up getting just thrown in with no regard for organization. I use this time to throw away empty bottles, take inventory of what I have left, and set up a shopping list on my Cozi app for any needed supplies.

Step 7: Sit back and enjoy your summer! You should now have a less stressful start to next year and can enjoy whatever the summer has to bring you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to Survive Your First Homeschool Convention

Homeschool convention season is upon us. I just returned from my 5th annual trip. This year went so smoothly after many years of bumps and obstacles and generally trying to figure out how to navigate the weekend. Here I offer my best tips and tricks for making your first (or second or third) conference a smooth one.

1. See if they have a children's program. Our conference has a children's program, and it is so nice to not have to track down a babysitter for the weekend. Plus, they get to meet new friends and have two days of crafts, songs, bouncy houses, etc.

2. See if they record and offer sessions for purchase. My first year, I nearly killed myself trying to get to every little session I was interested in. I was so agonized over what to choose if two topics fell in the same session. By the end of the conference my brain was fried, and I was beyond exhausted. At the very end of the conference I learned that I could buy all 60+ sessions plus the keynote address for about $75. What a stress relief! Now, I could easily choose what speakers to see, take an extended lunch break, visit the vendor hall, etc.

3. Don't take money on the first day! The vendor hall is way too tempting. Thousands of books, curriculum, art supplies, parenting books, religious books, activities, etc. You'll want to have and do it all! If you leave the money at home, you won't be tempted by an impulse purchase

4. Plan on making at least 4 trips through the vendor hall. I'm serious about this one. It is very overwhelming, but if you break it down into a few trips with specific purposes, you won't feel lost.
  • First trip is just a quick breeze through. Make a note of what booths you are interested in either learning more about or purchasing from.
  • Second trip is strictly for freebie signups. Not every booth will have a giveaway, but don't discount booths you find uninteresting. One booth at our conference this year did not apply to our family at all, but they were giving away a $100 Visa card. That would pay for about 20% of my curriculum!
  • Third trip is for learning. This will be your longest trip through. Take time to ask questions of the vendors, note prices of things you may want to buy, pick up information, etc. Spend enough time at booths you are interested in to get the information you need and skip any booths you have no interest in.
  • Fourth trip is where you are going to make purchases. You've done your research and know who has the best prices on what, so now go shop! :-)
5. Finally, have fun! I know it's a time for you to learn and grow as a parent and teacher and to network with other homeschool parents. I also try to take the weekend to do something fun with my family!

I hope these tips help you to have a much more relaxing and productive conference experience!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Teacher Planner

My creative outlet tends to flow best when I'm making lists and plans. I'm not always best about following through with those plans. After years of buying teaching planners and having them not quite work out for my personality, (I'm a little OCD at times.) so this year I put my own together. I've actually used all the sections in it, so I'd say it was a success!



This year I went a little crazy with the whole Mickey Mouse theme, as evidenced my the above photo and our classroom! I found the graphics over on Granny Enchanted under free kits, and the Disney font was found on a quick Google search. 

Now, onto the planner itself!

I started off with a basic information page, which records contact information, a family photo, and my children's ages. I also added a section for our family memories. Here I record our favorite read aloud, restaurant, movie, family activities, and board game. I also have lines for travels, new studies, and anything God did in our family.



Each student has an information page as well. These pages include a space for a photo, name, age, grade, goals for the year, curriculum information, and general notes.



Behind each info page is a schedule. My teacher schedule is pretty much a combo of my schedule and each of the kids' schedules.



The next section includes a semester overview, calendars and planning pages. The semester overview has spaces for goals along with field trip and project ideas.



I have a full page calendar for each month where I record any appointments, birthdays, community events, homeschool group events, and general stuff that happens outside of our usual schedule.



My planning pages each have 4 lines for each subject Monday - Friday. Along the right hand side is a place for notes and weekend plans.



Our attendance chart can be seen here hanging in our classroom. Each day we have school, the kids get to put a sticker on the date. At the end of each month, I count up all the stickers. Then it goes in my planner at the end of each semester.



Finally, I have a semester wrap up. Here is where I record any notes about the students performance, attendance, etc. all on one page. :)



Overall I have really liked the layout, but I have found a few tweaks I plan to make for next year. For one thing, after I put this together, I found the planning pages in my Tapestry of Grace software. (Yeah, I'm a bit slow.) I'll probably use those instead of trying to change all the dates on the pages above. I also have a few ideas for condensing down some of the above pages in order to save a bit of paper. Lastly, I'd like to spiral bound the whole thing instead of using the binder I did this year. It was just way to accidentally tear pages out.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Winter Olympics 2014

As mentioned in my previous post, we changed things up a bit for the Winter Olympics. We had a lot of sickness coursing through our household. Plus this is the time of year it seems to be when I hit my slump, so we all took a step back and did an easy lapbook while we watched the games!

Cover of Lapbook
Inside!

As I said we kept things insanely simple. This is NOT the normal level of lapbooking/notebooking I'd have Big Girl do, but even the kids occasionally need a break from their hefty workloads.

From top to bottom, left to right...
Olympic Motto: We wrote the Olympic motto in both Latin and English.

Olympic Mascots: We simply watched for the mascots to make an appearance, and once the kids found them and could tell me what they were, they glued a pic of the 3 of them inside the booklet.

Athlete Profile: The kids each chose an Olympic athlete, either from the USA or another country. Then they answered a few questions about them and tracked the medals they won. Big Girl chose Meryl Davis while Big Boy chose Kyle Tress.

Sochi/Russia Facts: Again, we answered a few questions about both the host city and country.

Russian Flag: Printed off and colored the host country's flag.

World Map: We looked up the location of Sochi and placed the 2014 Olympic logo on our world map.

Medals: We tracked all the medals the USA won throughout the Olympics.

 


Baby Boy got into the Olympics as well. Each morning he asked me, "watch games, please?" and was so disappointed if they weren't on yet. I made his work very simple since he is only 2yo. I printed off coloring pages I found here, hole punched them, and placed brads to make a coloring book. He could color anytime he wanted while we watched. Then, he and I worked together to trace the name of each sport.

Did you do anything special for the Olympic games? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

School & Sickness

What a crazy few weeks! My family has decided to go out and catch every bug they could and pass it around the past 3-4 weeks. First Big Boy, then Big Girl, myself, the three oldest, my husband, and then Baby Girl! We are still not 100% here, but we are hopefully getting over our last round of this stuff.

School has pretty much been a joke through all of this, but we were able to get some stuff done here and there. Plus, I learned one disadvantage to the set up I have had for the past couple of years.



As I've mentioned several times, we use and love Tapestry of Grace for most of our subjects. I love the approach that they (and several other curricula) take in using with multiple age groups. It makes planning so much easier on me, allows the kids to learn from each other since they are covering the same topics, and helps dad (or the non-teaching parent) to keep up with what is happening in school.

The problem comes when one child gets sick. What then do you do? I could keep going and just have the sick child miss those days but then what happens when new lessons depend on the knowledge gained in the missed lessons. Plus, I could be back to planning separate lessons for each of my children. I could just give everyone the day off of school, but what if said sickness lasts for much longer than anticipated? Now, I'm having to scramble to get all of our allotted days in according to state law. Do I say forget the curriculum and do a separate unit study to pass the time with healthy kids? I could but then the library gets cranky because now all my school books are well past due.

So what did I do these last few weeks when we had pretty much every non-serious bug imaginable hit our house? A bit of a combination of all of the above.

I was blessed by the fact that the Winter Olympics were on when my kids all came down sick - instant unit study! Yay! We did really easy lapbooks (which I'll blog on when get all wrapped up with those), and the kids got the afternoons off to watch the competition. They loved the break from our usual routine and the fact that they got to watch lots of TV!

But then what about all those library books? Well, as I said, the lapbooks we did were super easy and had enough flexibility to be able to get caught up on when said sick child felt better. That allowed for all of the regularly schedule reading to take place on schedule. Sick kids can still hear read-alouds after all, and the healthy kids get out of the regular assignments since we're doing Olympics unit. Plus, I can return those library books on time, so the librarians stay happy with me! Win-win for everyone!

Now I just have to figure out how to convince the kids to happily return to their normal routine of full lessons and assignments. Hmmmm.....thoughts on this one?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Life Skills Day

One of the great things about homeschooling is that in addition to the academic stuff, my kids really get to learn about life out in the real world, and they do it my living it right alongside me day in and day out!



I'm not the best housekeeper normally, so when you add in the extra duties of homeschooling and consider that my kids are here to help mess up the place all day long, you can probably imagine the task I have ahead of me feels pretty daunting. This really is my biggest weakness as a mom and wife.

So, how do I combat that? Every so often, we take a break from the books and have a "life skills day". The great thing is that it still counts as a school day because it is not just the kids doing their daily chores. I'm spending the day teaching them the skills needed to manage a household. Yes, they are doing chores as part of it, and yes, the advantage for me is that I can get caught up on housework.

For a life skills day, we'd be working on your typical housework, like laundry. Here is what it looks like after Big Girl has emptied the chute. (Yes, we have a laundry chute! Coolest thing ever!)


This is one of her weekly chores, so I don't get to count this as school since she already has the skills to independently complete the task. The plan today is to teach her how to pre-treat stains, so that when I ask her to load the washing machine, she knows to look for stains and how to take care of them when they're found.

Big Boy's task for the day is running the dishwasher. He already handles the silverware tray, while I load everything else. I'm a little OCD when it comes to loading the dishwasher. Today, I'll take a few minutes to show him how to add soap (We use the packets, so no pouring.) and show him all the settings discussing how/why we use each one.



These two tasks won't take up our whole day. We will be doing and learning other tasks under supervision along with the two continuing to work on independent tasks. Baby Boy will practice picking up after himself (something that is a constant battle with my very strong willed little guy).

Here's a quick list of things that are being taught/mastered at the moment:
  • Using the ShopVac to clean the kitchen/laundry room floor
  • Putting away laundry appropriately
  • Cleaning the lint trap on the dryer
  • Bulk cooking (homemade oatmeal packets & breakfast burritos)
I'll be completely honest in saying that while these days are a break from our normal routine, they are in no way easy days. Training my kids in home management is hard, especially since I don't enjoy the work, but it is absolutely necessary.

What life skills are you teaching your children? How do you manage to stay caught up on all those tasks it takes to run a successful home? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Walken in a Winter Wonderland

Okay, so I'm not actually writing about Christopher Walken. This is just one of my favorite memes, and I do want to share another art project we've done to make our home a crafty little winter wonderland.


This week's winter craft project was coffee filter snowflakes, which we proudly displayed on our kitchen windows! Big Girl and Big Boy took part in this, as did Mom. No way was I allowing Baby Boy in on this one. Given his propensity lately to find humor in disobeying me, I just didn't feel it was safe to put scissors in his little hands.



I'll be honest, I've had a hard time coming up with craft ideas. Thank goodness for Pinterest!

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Remember the Alamo!"

As I mentioned in my 2014 Homeschool Goals post, I'm striving to get more art activities incorporated into our week. For this week, I did something quick and simple to go along with our study of the Alamo.


Before we get to the art project, I thought I'd share briefly what this week's lessons included.

A few of the books we read:
The Story of the Alamo by Peter F. Copeland
Susanna of the Alamo by John Jakes
Story of the World, Vol 3, Chpt 40 by Susan Wise Bauer
The Alamo by Tom McGowen
A Picture Book of Davy Crockett by David A. Adler

We also visited the Alamo via Google Maps street view! My kids always love doing this. (We've visited the Colosseum, Pyramids of Giza, the USS Constitution, and the Palace of Versailles among other places.) 

Now onto the art project. I decided on simple for this week and printed off the Texas state flag. Then I allowed the kids to fill it in using whatever medium they chose. Big Girl chose yarn, adhesive foam, Crayola Model Magic, and cotton balls. Big Boy opted for red, white, and blue finger paints.


And the finished products:



Any other ideas on incorporating art into history?