Friday, August 7, 2015

2015-2016 Student Planner

It's no secret to my friends and family that I love planners! It's also no secret that I'm not very good at sticking with them. I was never really taught how to use them, so I've winged it for the last 20 years or so. Since the beginning of our homeschool journey, Big Girl and I have learned together (often failing) to use a planner. I've also learned that she is just like me ... tons of calendars all around and very little use in each of them.

In an effort to get us both on the right track, I have bought and even made planners for each of us. So far it has been a failed experiment, in part due to my tendency to over complicate things. Enter ...


This year, we went shopping together and without telling her which planner I bought, she chose the student version of mine, Mardel's A Simple Plan Student Planner. I love the student edition for many of the same reasons I'm so excited about my own!

First off, it's cute! There are two student designs - wood grain and chalkboard. Wood grain has a rustic feel to the design, whereas chalkboard is very bright and whimsical. Big Girl went right for the chalkboard! (That's my girl!) Although this planner is eye catching, it's not distracting from it's purpose.

Secondly, it is packed with all the necessities! It starts off with the student's contact information, a 2-page yearly calendar, a schedule for each semester, and a full page for notes. The monthly planning pages have plenty of room for writing down activities, goals, reading lists, and prayers along with a 2-page spread for the calendar. Each month ends with a full page for notes. Weekly planning pages run a full 7 days with a space for memory work and check boxes when assignments are completed. The final section is more of a journal with a couple of pages dedicated to suggested scriptures for memorization.

This planner is seriously sturdy! Both the cover and the section tabs are heavy duty with pockets on the inside front and back covers. The pages themselves are nice and thick, so there are no worries here of pages accidentally ripping out.

Want one for your student? Need a teacher planner that is easy to take along with you? Check out Mardel's complete A Simple Plan line!

Needing something for yourself? Check out my review of Mardel's A Simple Plan Homeschool Planner.

2015-2016 Homeschool Planner

Planners are my weakness! I have bought, used, and even created many of them to keep me organized. Want to know what happened to each one? Yeah, it fell by the wayside. Maybe I'm just too picky or thought I wanted something that turned out to be too complicated, so this year I'm trying something new ...


This year, I decided to save a bit of brain power, time, and a lot of toner! I bought the A Simple Plan planner from Mardel, and so far I couldn't be more please!

First of all and kind of important if I'm being completely honest, it's cute! No really. They change the design up each year, and looking through Pinterest and a quick Google Images search, they have all been perfectly fashionable without being distracting! Truth be told, this year's isn't my favorite color scheme, but I LOVE the polka dots!

Secondly, as the title implies, it is simple! The first thing I notices were tabs for each section and month down the right-hand side for easy access to anything you need. The color scheme is carried throughout the book on each tab; however the pages are kept in a simple gray scale, so you don't have to worry about your pencil or pen not showing up. The contents are really geared toward the year-round homeschooler without the added fluff. This planner does not try to be a home management binder in addition to a homeschool planner like others I have used. No chore lists, budget worksheets, family trees, medical lists, etc. Just plain and simple homeschooling pages! Nothing overwhelming here.

Don't get me wrong, this planner is packed! I still have room to jot down all of my contact information, both our household and support group contacts. There is a whole section for full year planning of curriculum by student/subject. (Before I would set up a spreadsheet in Excel, which wasn't the most conducive to my poor eyesight.) The monthly calendar pages are a nice, big 2-page format, and each month has an "at a glance" section for goals, reading lists, supplies, and activities. Weekly planning pages have enough room to plan for six children. There are no weekend planning boxes on the weekly pages, but there is a large notes section where you could do weekend planning. Toward the back of planner, you'll find attendance charts, a curriculum tracker, a grading chart (no more figuring these in my head or wasting time finding a calculator), and a large notes section!

There really is a lot to this planner, and yet somehow they've packaged it in a compact, non-overwhelming format!

Finally, and probably most importantly, this planner is sturdy! The heavy duty cover features a pocket at both the front and back of the planner. The tabs I mentioned above are made of the same material as the cover. The pages themselves are nice and thick, and the whole thing is spiral bound!

I am so excited to start filling this out and really dive in on using it!

Want your own? Check out Mardel's complete A Simple Plan line!

Need something for your students or want a heavy duty planner you can take with you? Check out my review of Mardel's A Simple Plan Student Planner.

Friday, July 24, 2015

2015-2016 Curriculum Choices

I have a middle schooler this year! Ack! How did that happen? Around here, the first year of middle school won't be much different from elementary since Big Girl will still have many classes with Big Boy. Speaking of classes, here's what I am planning to teach and what curriculum we'll be using.

Big Girl - 6th Grade

Math: Saxon Math 6/5 & 7/6 - She really struggled with math last year, so we are going to hone in and focus this year to get her back on track and on grade level.

Science: Apologia Anatomy & Physiology

Humanities: Tapestry of Grace - history, geography, art, literature, vocabulary and writing

Worldview: Apologia Who is God? (And Can I Really Know Him?)

Character: Cat & Dog Theology

Spanish: Rosetta Stone - We won't be starting this on day one, as we are still working to get a classroom computer, but the plan is to add this as soon as we do.

P.E.: Karate & Softball Off-Season Training

Big Boy - 3rd Grade

Math: Saxon Math 3

Science: Apologia Anatomy & Physiology

Humanities: Tapestry of Grace - history, geography, art, literature, vocabulary and writing

Worldview: Apologia Who is God? (And Can I Really Know Him?)

Character: Cat & Dog Theology

Spanish: Rosetta Stone

P.E.: Karate

Baby Boy - Kindergarten

Math: Saxon Math K

Phonics: Saxon Phonics K

Worldview: Apologia Who is God? (And Can I Really Know Him?) - Colors while the lesson is read.

Character: Cat & Dog Theology - Colors while the lesson is read.

Baby Girl - Birth to 3

Baby Girl really doesn't have a set curriculum; however, she has weekly therapy appointments along with monthly specialists. This takes an extensive amount of our schooling time, so I've got to take it into consideration in all planning.

That's our year and what we're using! Off to figure out how to fit it all into our day. *wink*

Saturday, May 9, 2015

New Homeschooler Packet

Are you thinking about homeschooling? Do you have a friend who wants to homeschool and is turning to you for advice? Need a quick reference for yourself or moving to a new state with different laws?

I often have people ask how to get started with homeschooling. What do they need to do? How to they select the right curriculum? Is it even legal? Where do they turn for support? Most recently these questions came from my kids' karate instructor. I was a week away from attending our homeschool conference and told her I'd pick up some information for her. Now I've done this before for friends and acquaintances, except I did it all wrong. Upon returning, I handed them a big stack of catalogs and papers with a general "ask if you need any help" offer. You know how many called me back? Not one. So this year I took a different approach. I put together a new homeschoooler packet for her.

In order to do this, I still went through that vendor hall to pick up some (but not all) the usual information I get, and instead of handing it to her, I organized into an easy to navigate manner.

My first stop was the HSLDA booth.I picked up an application for a FREE preschool membership along with their brochure "You Can Homeschool Your Preschooler" available FREE on their website! (Can you tell I love free?) I also scanned the table for any handouts they had on getting setup in our state. They didn't have them this year, so I went back through old conference notes to find the Cliff's Notes version of our state laws and printed them off along with step by step instructions for getting all set up with the State Department of Education.

Next, I had attended a wonderful session by Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason entitled "The Five Flavors of Homeschooling". What a great "back to basics" session this was for me personally. I found out that she was giving away a DVD of the session for FREE, so I picked one up to include in my packet. You can view the session for yourself at the link.

Finally, I included a list of curriculum companies organized by subject. I also included a list of helpful homeschooling blogs and a few of my own personal tips for getting started. Then I slip in a flyer for our local homeschool support group.

Have you ever put together a information packet such as this? Let's see pictures! What other information do you think would be helpful?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Homeschool Conventions ... Now What?

A while ago I shared my tips for surviving your first homeschool convention. Now that you've attended, survived, and hopefully learned a bit, what do you do with all that stuff you've most likely obtained?

My husband, two older children, and I just returned home from our annual homeschool convention! As always, the kids had a great time, and I came home with a huge bag of stuff before counting any purchases!

Vendor halls are great! They give you the opportunity to really look at a product before you buy. The hall is also filled with a lot of junk - an abundance of catalogs, flyers upon flyers for activities that don't fit your family, and a ton of random freebies (pens, candy, etc.). For me, all this stuff makes it hard for me to concentrate on what I learned, so the first thing I do after unpacking is to GET RID OF IT! As I empty my convention bag, I sort everything into 3 piles; "keep", "revisit", and "trash". Once I sort into these 3 piles, the trash is thrown away. Next, I take pictures of all the cards, flyers, catalogs, and information in the "revisit" pile and then throw it away. This way I have a digital copy of the item without finding a place to store it. Finally, I should be left with a small pile of the things I really want to keep. For me, these may be smaller purchases or forms I need to fill out and send in. Also in this piles are receipts from the weekend. These are put into a folder and saved until tax time. (Yes, I will soon be able to write off school expenses in my state!)

Once the paper clutter is mostly taken care of, I pull out any speaker handouts and notes I took. I simply type or scan these into a Word document and throw away the paper copies. If you read my convention tips post, you know that I buy CDs of all the sessions. At this time I import the tracks into iTunes for listening to at a later date. I also slip these into my desk with the previous years' convention disks. Ideally, all of the discs would be placed in an CD sleeve (similar to this) and then stored in my teacher binder.

Lastly I can go through my purchases and put them away for next year. At this point I feel pretty free an settled in back at home from a long but wonderful weekend away.

Well, until I go and do this ...

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.