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.

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.