There are some days when homeschool is just clicking right along: everyone's doing their work, no one's fussing, you are glowing with tomorrow's expectation of making an Egyptian sphinx out of paper mache and a ping-pong ball...but then you wake up. You wake up to kids screaming about the insanity of having to write complete sentences for spelling and the lunacy of having to memorize the multiplication charts when calculators exist.
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And that's not a day but a season....weeks upon weeks of difficulty, and you're starting to threaten to send them to public school, or even residential military academy.
First off, breathe. Take a break. Take a week off -- yes, an entire week off -- and have your children do nothing but read for homeschool. Whatever they want, but they have to read at least an hour a day. Bake cookies. Go play outside. Then, talk to your kids about what they want out of their homeschool.
In this season when homeschool isn't working, try making these eleven changes to get your homeschool from being torture for all, to something everyone can enjoy.
Don't recreate public school
You are homeschooling -- you left public or private school, so don't try to recreate it. Have homeschool during the time of day that is best for the kids. For my daughter, that's in the morning, after her ADHD meds have kicked in. She takes her meds and eats breakfast while watching an educational video on YouTube or listens to me read to her.
While a desk is an important piece of furniture for homeschool, not all of homeschool needs to be done at a table or desk. Sometimes, doing spelling words or reading a history book on the couch is perfectly fine. If your teen gets her algebra work done on her favorite recliner, it's okay.
When we start out homeschool, sometimes we come with pre-determined ideas of what "school" should look like. Homeschool is what you create it to be. If your kids thrive on having a dedicated homeschool space with desks lined up in rows, okay. If your kids thrive on doing their work on the floor or couch, okay. But don't try to recreate something that you left.
Teach according to the learning style
Some kids can grasp concepts by reading about them; some kids learn by listening; some learn by doing. Still others cannot be still if their lives depended on it. All kids have different learning styles. If you have a wriggly kid, forcing him to sit and not move will not help his learning. This wriggle seat will help kids move while learning. If you're not teaching according to your child's learning style, that can cause a great deal of problems: stress, anxiety, and behavior issues. You can assess your child's learning style and learn how to teach accordingly through this book, Discover Your Child's Learning Style: Children Learn in Unique Ways - Here's the Key to Every Child's Learning Success, by Mariaemma WIllis and Victoria Kindle Hodson.
One thing we have to be careful about is being too rigid in homeschool. Harshness in teaching can result in losing the love of learning, and that is a lifelong sentence. Just like adults who need a break every now and then, children do, too. In our homeschool, my daughter can get up anytime for a glass of water or use the bathroom. She doesn't have to raise her hand. This is her home, for pity's sake. Her school is her home, and her home is her school.
Like I wrote above, homeschool during the time of day that makes the most sense for you and your child. If your teen is barely conscious during the morning, but ready to learn in the evening, save the lessons for the evening. If your child loves to get up at 7 a.m., start homeschool then. Fighting the natural rhythm only makes for kids who are fighting fatigue. On the other hand, if it's a matter of getting enough hours of sleep, reinforce a bedtime routine and time that will enable your child to succeed. Plus, you need a break -- send the kids to bed earlier, and you can have one.
Cut down the distractions
When I make doctor appointments, I try really hard to make them in the afternoons, after homeschool. I make it a point to tell my adult children that I'm homeschooling their sister during these hours, so don't interrupt. I don't answer the phone unless it's my husband or if I'm expecting a phone call. Recently, I moved our homeschool space from our dining room to a room that had been a guest room / office. The availability of a door that I can close to keep our cats out, and creating a space dedicated to learning, has made a huge difference.
This one goes to learning styles, too, to some degree. Some kids do better with online learning than others. Some kids cannot handle computer-based learning from a developmental standpoint. Kindergarten, first, and second grades should be done in-person, play-based, and focused on developing the love of learning, with steadily increased academic responsibility based on the grade. Third grade would be the first time I'd introduce online learning, and that is just for a little while: math games and such. My daughter is in the 5th grade, and I get her to input her spelling words when we make a word search that we download and print out. Conversely, if you want to introduce computer and technology courses to your homeschool, check out the amazing curriculum by SchoolhouseTeachers.com.
Using the wrong curriculum
Teachers in public schools are stuck with curriculum that has been purchased for the year, even if the kids aren't doing well with it. You are not bound by that! If a curriculum is just not working out, ditch it and find something else. Once I was using a language arts curriculum that my daughter and I just struggled with -- and I ditched it, bought a little grammar booklet from a teacher's supply store in town, and we were so much happier. But had I stayed with that one that didn't work, it would have meant tantrums, whining, and not wanting to do the work. Find something that works for you and your kids.
My single biggest issue with being a homeschool mom is being disorganized, and this is where I struggle the most. It's hard to maintain all the curriculum, the supplies, the endless line of crayons, etc. Take a couple of days, and you and your kids "homeschool" by organizing all the supplies, the books, notebooks, spaces, etc. Teaching organization is one of the best things you can impart to your kids. Being disorganized and spending precious time trying to locate a certain notebook, a pencil sharpener, or book is one of the fastest ways to lose that homeschool spark.
Get buy-in from kids
If you and your husband, and your kids, have made the decision together to homeschool, the kids need to understand that their buy-in to homeschooling is a daily activity. They need to realize (through conversations and living this daily with parents) that this is their education, and they need to make the most of it. Homeschoolers have the potential to do so much more than their public school counterparts, as homeschoolers are not limited by the number of credits they can or cannot have, or the types of classes they take. High schoolers, particularly juniors and seniors, can take college classes at their local community colleges that will also count on their high school transcripts -- and get some general ed collegiate classes out of the way. Elementary and middle school-aged kids can explore topics they are interested in, such as a year-long class in astronomy, for example, or take as much time studying the Middle Ages if that's their interest. Presented like this to your children, they will be more inclined to give total buy-in and want to do homeschool. School is so much better if you're studying something of interest.
Social: Too Little or Too Much
Ah, yes, The social question. Like it or not, this can be a deal-breaker for kids. If they're not getting enough social time with their friends (especially if you pulled them from a public or private school), they may resent homeschooling and buck it altogether. Listen: just because you pull your kids from institutional learning, doesn't mean you must eliminate the friendships they have made, unless those friendships were more bullying than not. If the friends come from homes that do not share your values, have the kids get together at your house. Make your house friend-friendly. If you have the room and funds to do it, invest in some games like a video game system, or a transformable pool/game table even, to encourage group activities at your house. Be the "cool mom" that supplies chips, cookies, and sodas. Don't hover, but do keep a listening ear. Show the love of Christ to your child's friends -- who knows, as it says in the book of Esther, you may be the one to share the Gospel to the future Billy Graham. For girls, especially, invite them over for a Cookie Day where you and the girls make tons of different cookies. They will all love that.
Conversely, homeschoolers tend to be so worried about getting a lot of social time in that academics suffer. Joining in every park day, homeschool group activity, or meet-up at the expense of academics isn't good, either. If you child is involved in a group sport such as gymnastics or soccer, plus a fun homeschool group activity (such as a group field trip, park day, or even getting together to make cookies or crafts), that should be plenty for a week. Kids need to have unstructured friend time, too, but having structured social time more than twice a week is a bit much. We tend to think that public school kids are socialized but in reality, the only socialization they have is during recess and lunch, and even that may be taken away based on group behaviors. In other words, I wouldn't worry about the social aspect; let your child have friends over, do a group activity once a week, and enjoy the time you have.
Not enough fun
One of the greatest things about homeschool is that you can have fun while learning. Studying Ancient Egypt? Make mummies out of dolls. Make papyrus paper. Write a play about some historical event and act it out as a family. Have a spelling bee. Allow your kids to create a historical place in Mindcraft as a project (pyramids, a Medieval village, the Alamo...). Have homeschool using board games for one entire day, or week. Watch documentaries on Amazon Prime or another streaming system for a whole day, with popcorn. If your kids are stuck doing workbooks, online learning, or other seat work day after day, their buy-in will be negative zero. The beauty of homeschool is the ability to instill in a love of learning and have fun doing it. Invest in a subscription box, like the one from this blog, that features fun and quirky things for you and your homeschooling kids, either one time or as an annual subscription. This fun box livens up the day and weeks afterward.
If something isn't working in your homeschool, change it. There are no hard-and-fast rules here. If you see something that needs fixing, do it. You are the administrator and teacher of your homeschool, and can make those decisions.
(c) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
When I was a little girl at Dilworth Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina, November meant one thing: Thanksgiving break. It seemed like every classroom in every grade took a hiatus from the normal curriculum and focused on Native Americans, Pilgrims, cornucopias, pumpkins....the things of fall.
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There are some good things about public school, and the fun activities around holidays are right up there at the top. Homeschoolers, though, can have a lot of fun -- and educational time -- around holidays, too. In fact, we can take a lot of time and focus more on the meanings behind holidays.
When Laura was in the third grade, somehow, by the grace of God, our natural progression in history landed us squarely at the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth. Most of the time, I can guarantee that history class won't be so accommodating. I doubt this year's lessons of Ancient Egypt will have us feasting with Native Americans and Pilgrims on corn, pumpkins, and venison.
Homeschooling at Thanksgiving offers a cornucopia (sorry, couldn't resist) of lesson ideas that can supplement what you're doing in homeschool, even if it has nothing to do with Pilgrims. Gratitude is always a good lesson to reiterate, as is why Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Escaping religious persecution and placing faith in God first are always good things to discuss. Provide pens and copies of this "Three Things I'm Thankful For" activity for guests and family to complete. Then, share what you have written. You can also trade papers and have people try to guess the authors.
In our home, Thanksgiving is an all-hands-on-deck affair. We start on Tuesday, giving the kitchen a good cleaning and washing any special serving dishes we may need. We make a list of all the food to be purchased -- use this handy worksheet! -- and make a plan to cook dishes so that everything is done at the same time. It's also on Tuesday I make my Cranberry Relish, as it's so much better when it's had a couple of days in the refrigerator, although this year, my daughter will learn how to make it. For busy Thanksgiving Day mornings, I like to have breakfast already made so people can help themselves. A cherished family delight,Pumpkin Chip Muffins is always a hit on Thanksgiving Day morning -- or really, any time during fall and winter months.
My kids have always enjoyed helping me decorate for Thanksgiving. It helps when you have some cute decorations, like this"thankful" banner or this adorably cute Thanksgiving tablecloth. Of course, homeschooling at Thanksgiving would not be complete without some Pilgrim attire...
Kids love books about Thanksgiving, and one of my most favorite books is one I've had since I was a girl. Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende Devlin disappeared for a long time, but now it's back with a simple, heartwarming message and a delightful bread recipe to bake.
Several bloggers have put together activities, unit studies, and curriculum to go along with the Thanksgiving holiday. Here they are:
Rabbit Trails Through Thanksgiving by This Bit of Life
Intentional Activities for Kids -- Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt by Intentional in Life
Free Fall Thankfulness Journal for Kids by Kingdom First Motherhood
The Thanksgiving Jar -- A 30 Days of Gratitude Printable by They Call Me Blessed
Thanksgiving Book List Free Printable and a Thanksgiving Morning Time Resource Pack by Humility & Doxology
Year Round Homeschooling has a veritable cornucopia of Thanksgiving resources
I Choose Joy has these Fun Activities for Kids to do on Thanksgiving Day
Music in Our Homeschool features this Free 15-Minute Music Lesson for Thanksgiving
You can discover the history behind Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it with the e-book What Was the First Thanksgiving?. Filled with historical background on the Pilgrims and the reasons behind their voyage to the New World, the native Wampanoag tribe, the difficulties both groups encountered, plus the reason that Thanksgiving was made into a national holiday and more! Includes maps, paintings, and illustrations.
Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, giving thanks for all of God's provision. This year, my mother died on October 1 after a very brief battle with metastatic lung cancer. So this will be a very different holiday season. Yet, because of Jesus, I am filled with the hope of heaven and that one day, I will see her again, all because Christ was her Savior.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)
I thank God for each of you who read my posts and follow me on social media. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support.
The year 2020 has wrecked havoc on the whole society, but none more so than public school kids and their parents. In the spring they found themselves thrust into doing school at home, away from everything they knew. This also gave parents who were considering homeschooling a test drive without the legalities of actually withdrawing their children.
This post may contain affiliate links. This links are curated by the author to bring you the best deals to help you succeed in homeschooling. I receive a small commission, at no cost to you, when you click on and purchase using these affiliate links. I thank you for your support.
Now, it's the start of a new school year. Some public schools are going back in a mish-mash of at-school / virtual learning / hybrid concoctions that confuse even homeschoolers who don't have a child in the school. As someone who's in a couple of homeschooling groups for her state, I've seen the number of people in the group jump over the last six months as people who have kids in virtual public school think they're "homeschooling."
No. Virtual public school is not homeschooling. There are many differences between homeschool and virtual public school (done at home) -- and they are not alike.
Parents do not choose the curriculum for their kids in virtual public school. It's what is assigned by a teacher. With parents now aware of what is being taught in public schools, or told to not listen in, or buy their children earbuds so only they can hear what's being taught -- more and more parents are calling foul.
With true homeschool, parents choose what their children learn. Many parents, especially with middle and high school kids, talk with their children on subjects they want to learn. I asked my fifth grade daughter what she wanted to learn about in science this year, and she chose astronomy. She would not have had that choice in public school.
Public schools' curriculum is dictated by a standard course of study by each state's Department of Education. This curriculum is often heavily influenced by politics, social justice, and causes that are not necessarily good things. Often, these curricula have a great deal to do with sex education and come with the inability for parents to opt-out their children, if the curriculum goes against the parents' worldview.
In homeschool, parents set the standards of what their children learn. They choose the curriculum, based on their worldviews and what they want to teach their kids. Often, in homeschool, kids are exposed to a wide range of philosophies that they can compare and contrast. Many public school systems, especially in more liberal states, have teachers and curriculums that are taught to the kids that emphasize one philosophy or religion over another and downplays the largest religion in the world. For example, some school systems encourage kids to learn about Islam but not Christianity, eliminating teaching whole thought.
While browsing in a homeschooling group I'm in for my state, I saw a post by someone who made the comment they're homeschooling now until schools reopen like they were in the past, so their kids can go to normal school. While I get what this person was saying, it sound awfully disparaging. My daughter has learned more in the last three and a half years of homeschool than she did in the two and a half years she spent in public school, simply because the curriculum was taught in ways that she learns best. Our homeschool is best for her, but it is not inferior to an education she would receive if she were in public school. In fact, based on what she learns -- cursive writing, grammar, how to write paragraphs, Bible, math that makes sense -- her education, I believe, is superior to that of kids her own age and grade level.
For my daughter, getting up at seven o'clock and rushing to eat breakfast, get dressed, drive to school, then do all the school things was incredibly stressful. All that, plus the anxiety that came with being bullied due to having dyslexia, was just too much for her. She has chronic migraines, diagnosed at four years old, and she would have upwards of 15 migraines a month while she was in a public school setting.
Since she's been in homeschool, she gets up between eight and nine in the morning, has breakfast and takes her meds, then eases into the school day with Morning Basket time. During Morning Basket, we cuddle on the couch and I read pages from two books: Bible Stories for Courageous Girls and The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. Easing into the day by reading these books that encourage her in her faith and tell a story about the period of history she's studying reinforces key concepts and starts the day off on the right foot.
Since we've been homeschooling and incorporating relaxed themes, she has had maybe five migraines in three years. Eliminating stressors have helped her anxiety a great deal.
Homeschooling on our schedule enables us to incorporate learning into family trips. My husband plays wheelchair basketball, and last year we had the opportunity to travel to Wichita, Kansas for the championship games. Along the way, we incorporated homeschool into the trip by spending time at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in Mansfield, Missouri; the Ulysses S. Grant Home and the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri; and walking along the Mississippi River. We listened to Little House series on audio books all the way there, and all the way back. Visiting the Wilder homestead and museum after listening to her books really made the artifacts in the museum come alive. We would not have had this amazing experience if we did not homeschool.
Kids in virtual public school spend about six to seven hours in front of the computer with instructional time. In the in-person school setting, they don't get that much instructional time on a good day. No wonder kids are fidgeting and their attention span is out the window! That much screen time isn't good for anyone.
For Laura, my daughter, 5th grade homeschool lasts about 3-4 hours at most. She does her book work, practices the ukulele, and we call it a day. A regular day in public school is filled with crowd control, walking to the library, art, cafeteria, recess, etc. There's so much time that's wasted on behavior modification that the teachers cannot possibly teach in the way that her students learn. When you homeschool, you can customize lessons for each child in the way he or she learns. You get the work done, learn it, and move on.
In the days before schools shut down, most students would only go on 3-4 field trips a year. We purposely plan our homeschool weeks to do academics Monday through Thursday, and leave Friday open for field trips. These field trips may entail going to a museum: I've planned such field trips to coincide on the curriculum. We visit exhibits that are curated to dovetail what Laura is learning in school.
These field trips may entail a trip to the library, or a park. They may be a visit to a national or state park that has some relevance to what we're studying. The point is, nearly every Friday we go on a field trip that supplements what she's learning in school. She could not possibly get that level of supplemental learning experiences in public school.
Don't Give Up
If you have chosen to homeschool instead of doing virtual public school, don't decide to send your kids into the same environment you removed them, just because it's hard. Homeschool is hard -- most things that are the most rewarding are difficult. Give it a couple years, make it your own, and watch your kids flourish. Homeschoolers can graduate high school, walk in graduation ceremonies, and go on to college -- and thrive doing so, often stand out with their abilities to reason and write. Don't give up! Don't say you're going to try this for six months and then put your kids back in public school, hoping "they won't be too far behind." Homeschool, done right, will put your kids further ahead than you could possibly dream -- if you, as the parents, are willing to do the work with your kids and stick to it.
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(C) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Last night as I lay in bed, surfing Pinterest for the latest pins on Mesopotamia and astronomy (my daughter's current homeschool topics for history and science), I found a couple, then sent them to my wireless printer to print. It's handy, I admit. But for a lot of printing, using up my toner just doesn't float my boat.
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I know many homeschoolers who are in a similar situation. They buy one curriculum that they intend on using for children in different grades, or download a curriculum they have to print themselves. Spending over $600 on printing costs isn't what they intended when they filled out their Notice of Intent to Homeschool.
As a homeschooler with 15 years' experience in the printing industry, I understand. I also have the knowledge and experience to bargain printing costs down and look for the best sources. It is my desire to help homeschooling families not break the bank when it comes to their printing needs.
With this in mind, I've taken the years of experience in the printing industry, plus my degree in graphic arts / printing management, and years of being a blogger, and morphed all that into this exciting news: Bentley Homeschool Printing.
Bentley Homeschool Printing serves homeschoolers and homeschooling bloggers with their printing needs, from copies to bookmarks, and most everything in between. More products are being added each day, including booklets, manuals, and even shirts with your homeschool name on them, to help you showcase pride in your homeschool! I'm so proud of this endeavor that I put my name on it: "Bentley" is my maiden name, and it's to memorialize my dad, John Bentley, who died in 2005, as well as my uncle, Fred Bentley, who died very recently.
Plus, Bentley Homeschool Printing is proud to debut Quiver & Arrows Homeschool Literary Magazine. This print - and online - literary magazine is for homeschoolers in 11th and 12th grades. Fundamentally a Christian magazine, it features nine total categories: short and long fiction, nonfiction essays, and six categories of poetry: free verse, blank verse (poetry written with a precise meter—almost always iambic pentameter, non-rhyming), rhymed verse, narrative poetry, Haiku, and sonnet. The submission window for the inaugural edition of Quiver & Arrows is December 20-31, 2020. For more information, visit this website.
Searching for printing solutions that understand your needs as a homeschooling family just got a whole lot easier. I hope you will give Bentley Homeschool Printing an opportunity to serve you.
Thank you for your support!
(C) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I like a clean house. I don't like cleaning house. There's the conundrum. And there's absolutely nothing like homeschool (and blogging / vlogging about homeschool) to make one acutely aware of just how messy and cluttered one's home really is.
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Listen, I've sat on this blog post for months now. Knowing that it's extremely hypocritical of me, and also knowing my adult children (and my husband) will read this post and go, "Do whatI?"
So this is my promise to myself that if I write it and publish it, I will actually do it. [insert laugh track here]
I firmly believe in teaching life skills in homeschool. While there is a day dedicated to paying taxes along with all the paperwork required to do so, there is not a Mesopotamian Day. Maybe there should be, but there isn't. We still need to learn history, including the Fertile Crescent, but knowing how to do taxes is important -- along with how to properly load a dishwasher, do laundry, operate (and clean out) a vacuum cleaner, etc. So here's the thing, the secret and joyful part about teaching life skills: you teach them so you can get your students to do them, so you don't have to do all of them.
Little kids can easily clean up after themselves. Teach the "clean up song," use a timer, whatever you need to do, to get them to help clean up the homeschool area before dinner -- especially if your homeschool area is, like mine, also the dining area.
Teach tweens to do their own laundry, load and unload the dishwasher as well as hand-washing dishes, clean the bathroom, and other necessary jobs. Teens need to learn about filing taxes, completing employment applications, voting, and heavier household tasks like moving. Ironing clothes, using a laundromat, repairing things, sewing, and car repair are all things that teens need to learn to prepare them for life as an adult.
It helps me when I manage the house by utilizing a schedule. Sticking to it on the long-term is something that I have an issue with. Check that: it's an opportunity for growth. Yes, that's it.
Some people have set days for laundry in which they do all their laundry on that one day. My adult sons, who live out of the house, bring over their laundry to work on as they do some outside chores for me that I just cannot do. It's a good system. Since I have a washer and dryer at my beck and call, I usually do a load a day, to stay on top of it. Do what you need to do -- but teach your little ones how to do laundry, too: sorting, washing (hot, cold, warm, etc), drying, folding, and putting away.
I have found that soaking dishes, then running them on express wash in the dishwasher, is a quicker method than on normal, particularly when I have to do a load before dinner so we'll have dishes to eat on, or if there are a lot of dirty dishes. I use the express wash a lot, and have become a fan of it, actually. If I soak and do an initial swipe with the scrubber brush beforehand, the express cycle does a great job of washing and sanitizing them. I've taught my daughter (the only child left at home) to do this, too, so now she loads and unloads the dishwasher.
In my homeschool, we schedule breaks in between two to three subjects. During these breaks, I ask my daughter to do a small chore, say, unload the dishwasher, then she can take her break. Usually she'll use the bathroom, grab a snack, go outside, and maybe play a game on her tablet. That's all fine to do, as long as she comes back without grumbling to get some more academics done. This is a system that works well for us.
We use the weekends for project days -- either deep cleaning or maintenance chores. Every other week, on Saturday night before bed, I'll put special cleaner in the washing machine and let it run at night. This way, it doesn't use up precious daylight hours when we could be doing washing clothes. The same goes for the dishwasher. I remove the filter, clean it and remove all the debris, then put it back. I like to use this cleaner to clean the dishwasher, as it removes limescale, grease, buildup, and rust (and it's all natural).
I have found by taking a couple of days and deep-cleaning the house (and, by the way, if the kids help do this, I think it counts as homeschool as it's teaching lifeskills), then maintaining the cleanliness through the week, neither the house or myself get overwhelmed with it all.
You may be homeschooling one while having a little one on your hip or at your ankles. Homeschooling a child while having a baby or toddler is tough, but not impossible. Teaching the toddler, especially, that this is the time for brother or sister's school will acclimate him or her about school. Try to include the toddler as much as possible -- they might want to do "school" too. Try these tips:
Homeschooling, homemaking, and your sanity can coexist, but it requires working smarter, not harder. Make the appliances and tools work for you, not against you. Unless they're paying rent in the form of cold hard cash, kids need to be doing chores, as they live there, too.
Finally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a mental health day during the week, putting on some kid-friendly DVDs or streaming services, and letting the kids watch a movie or two while you get things in order in the kitchen, or do a general clean-up. Sometimes, friend, we just have to do that to help our own sanity.
(C) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
When I was a young girl, I loved back-to-school time: the new Trapper Keeper, the new pencils, the new, four-colors-in-one ink pen, the new glue sticks. I loved taking my time to decorate and sort through my new school supplies and preparing my new clothes for the first day of school.
While homeschoolers don't have the typical first day back to school, making the first day of a new grade in homeschool special is a celebration worthy of the name. The following are some things I do to make the first day of homeschool special.
After I purchase the curriculum, I go through it and make a lesson plan that covers the first month. There are some homeschoolers that can plan the entire year out, but, alas, I am not one of those. This year, my daughter is going into the 5th grade, so her list of subjects looks like this:
Tuesday & Thursday: Art/Music & Reading
On our dry erase board, I've written that Laura needs spiral notebooks for Bible, spelling, English, and math. She needs a spiral notebook and a folder each for Spanish, science, civics, reading, and art/music, and a three-ring binder for history. She decorates each of them based on the subject they will contain. This helps her prepare mentally (and have some fun) as she takes ownership of her school supplies.
We also prepare the dining room, which is also our homeschool space, to start the new year. We hung a new wall calendar on the wall, refreshed our stash of dry erase markers, and will give the dining table and chairs a good cleaning. The floor will get swept and mopped as well.
The night before homeschool, once she has showered and gone to bed at a reasonable hour, I lay out the books and supplies on the table.
It's our tradition to go out for doughnuts for the first day of homeschool, and have our morning basket reading while enjoying breakfast. It's a tradition that we both really enjoy and it's a sweet (pun intended) celebration to start our year.
The First Day
The first day is always exciting, because books are new, pencils are well-sharpened, and we're back into a schedule. Taking regular breaks, though, can help with restless legs and learning fatigue. Make sure your child can get water and go to the bathroom when they need to -- when we first started homeschooling, Laura would raise her hand to go to the bathroom, but I told her: just get up and go, and come right back. We're homeschooling! We don't have to raise our hands to go to the bathroom.
At the end of the first day, make sure that the child helps pick up. Have a shelf, basket, or bin that the materials can go in to, if you don't have a dedicated homeschool space. If you do have a dedicated space, pick it up and get it ready for the next day. Be sure kids can run and play and burn off energy.
Remember, homeschool is more of a learning lifestyle than an education. It's geared to give the whole child opportunities to learn, grow, and become who they are meant to be. Celebrate this time together! And please don't say, "We have to homeschool," like it's the worst thing ever. There's a world of difference between "We have to homeschool," and "We get to homeschool!" Celebrate it!
(C) 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Terrie Bentley McKee
Pick up any homeschooling catalog, or take a peek with an internet search and you will see that there are endless combinations of curriculum choices out there for you to choose from. It can seem impossible to make an informed decision, especially with a topic that is so subjective. When you ask around, one friends loves a particular product, and the next person you talk to hates it. With the cost and time involved in getting started with a homeschool set up, there has to be a way to help narrow down the field for a smoother selection process.
Remember the 5 W’s in elementary school? They were drilled into our heads with every writing assignment: who, what, when, where and why. Using these five question we can eliminate some options and bring the curriculum choices you need into clearer focus.
Who is going to be using the materials?
Each individual child you are teaching is unique. They have their own learning need; topics they accelerate in and deficits that need to be braced up this school year. By knowing who the curriculum is for we can then begin to whittle down the wide world of curriculum to a few shelves of choices.
Consider Learning Style and Preference
How does your student receive learning materials best? As a parent , you might need to do some intentional observation. Is your child an auditory learner who needs to hear clear instructions or are they the child who runs off and figures it out on their own with little instructions? Do they prefer hands-on activities or do you find that supplemental projects usually fall by the wayside for lack of interest? These kinds of answers will help you select the best types of curriculum that fit the way your kids already like to learn.
What is Currently Working?
Looking at the places where your student excels is a great way to discover the learning styles and tools that are working for them. Conversely, you can look at areas where your child is struggling and determine where they are not connecting with the materials and then make the changes necessary. A good idea is to try to incorporate what your child responds to positively. It is surprising how often this point get overlooked. Choosing learning tools is a huge undertaking, but the student has to be a central focus in our planning.
What Are Your Teaching Preferences?
Knowing your learning goals will help you to know the kinds of materials will you need. How are you planning on covering the basic requirements for each child? Do you want each subject; Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading and LA, in separate books or booklets so you can systematically go through the materials over the year? Are you a creative yourself, and would like a more organic approach where you make room for individual learning time through more hands on learning tools?
Do you need to save time? When teaching multiple grades, you might like an more integrated approach, like a literature based program where you read books that cover several topics like social studies, history, reading and even some science all at one time.
When Do You Plan to Use The Materials?
Topics like science and electives can be done over the week in small chunks or they can be done in a larger segment of time on a day of the week. Many curriculum providers offer several schedule options, the choice of a four day schedule is becoming a popular pick with parents who want more time for non-academic learning activities. Some public schools have even adapted this four day schedule, leaving Fridays for extracurricular activities, sports, band and other practices as well as family time.
Choosing to do a subject like Science on a designated day makes it more likely that you will have the necessary time for experiments, field trips and other hands on studies. This also creates an opportunity to add other electives and your child can receive school credit while they do them as well.
Where Are You Students Going to Be Working?
Will they have computer access? Many homeschool programs are available in a hardcopy textbook or as an online program. If you have several students and you know you will have your attention divided at times, choosing one or two subjects on the computer is a great way to have you child do self-directed work while you teach little ones or meet with other students.
We also have to consider our lifestyle. Is travel a regular part of your life that would make consistent internet a problem? Then an offline program possibly could be a better choice. If you have regular outings, because of sports or medical needs, a program with smaller workbooks or a literature based curriculum can make it easy to grab and go. This makes it more likely to help keep school going on road days.
Why Are You Choosing to Homeschool?
More importantly, what is the main goal that led you to choose to homeschool? This is a key element that should be represented in your homeschool curriculum. If you want a better foundation in a life topic, school subject or personal discipline, there is a tool that will help you implement those goals in your family, be sure to include it. This will ensure that your top priorities won’t fall by the wayside.
With these questions answered, you will build a framework that will help you choose the right curriculum that meets the specific needs you have identified for you each one of your students.
Homeschooling is more than moving school into your home: it is your opportunity to create a deeper relationship between learning and your child. When done well, teaching and learning becomes a constant guest that fits into your life instead of rudely interrupting it.
Homeschooling will definitely transform your day, but you have much more power over your schedule than you realize. Being creative and flexible with your school hours, days, and weeks, means having more freedom to make choices you might not have thought possible.
A Life of a Homeschooler is a Life in Flux
When the kids were all very small, consistency was the key to keeping us on task. We chose to hold school year round because it fit our needs. As the kids grew older, baseball became a summer occupation for my husband as a coach. We opened a wider stretch of weeks in the summer for a break. Eventually, we followed closely with the public school schedule when our older children first began attending college, as we didn’t want to miss out on the time that they were home with us for the summer.
We flexed our calendar schedule, but our hourly schedule has seen plenty of change too. With multiple children, we schooled in rounds. The younger children get up earlier, so we would begin with the subjects that they needed my hands-on instruction for. When they were excused for a break, the older kids had instruction time. We wrapped up the day with online math and personal reading time.
Last year, I worked away from home two days a week. We again switched back to year round school AND to a four day week. Because of my work schedule we chose to have school on Saturday mornings instead of a traditional “school” day. With homeschooling, it is your school; you decide when and how you will fulfill your state’s required minimum days of school.
With this flexibility parents find that homeschooling might be a more feasible option where they once thought it was impossible. With co-ops, play groups and activities you can still schedule outside activities with another family or share rides to help cover work schedule overlaps.
Thinking Outside of the Norm
Many parents I speak to are intimidated by homeschooling because of the perceived time commitment. Eight hours a day teaching seems like a daunting requirement for anyone, but especially for the person who has to make the same kids dinner and tell them to do their chores.
Homeschooling takes less hours than you think. A school day is not eight hours long. A school teacher’s workday is eight hours, this is to make up the American standard, 40 hour workweek. If you discount time trading classes, settling in, correcting students and reviewing material covered in the previous class, instructional time is less than 30 minutes on average. If the average school day has seven periods, that is roughly three and a half hours of hands on instructional time.
The four hour school day is not as hard to schedule for. At our house we do school from 10am to 2pm; this works for my schedule as a freelance writer. I work best in the early mornings, while the house is still quiet, but in other homeschools, the kids rise early and do any work that takes parental involvement in the morning hours. A parent can work in the afternoon from home while the children move into their own studies, electives, hobbies and chores. Some parents alternate teaching days with their spouse to fit their work schedules, single parents have created similar approaches to shared teaching times if they live where the state allows parents to teach an unrelated students.
Room to Explore and Be Creative
My public, high school class had over six hundred students. I was able to take one art class, it was the only class I looked forward to and I knew I was not going to have the opportunity to have another one. Homeschool students have the opportunity to explore topics that interest them.
I encourage parents to find ways to discover their children’s interests and make them creditable. Do they play a sport? Homeschooling gives the flexibility for offseason training. Do they love games, tech, photography or art? Classes are available in abundance through homeschool curriculum providers or in the same places I learned how to build a website and improve my blog; classes online.
Education is rapidly changing and adults are taking the reins of their skills and turning to sources outside of the traditional college network. Course creators and creative entrepreneurs are taking notice and creating tools to give those with skills a platform to teach. Our students can receive high school credit while under our supervision for learning any number of skills in and outside of “school” hours.
Creating a schedule that fits your life and the needs of your student will give you a homeschool experience that feels natural and compliments your family’s rhythms. With less stress and conflict, student work gets done and learning can begin to be fun again.
I started homeschooling my daughter when she started kindergarten, after homeschooling my oldest son, who has autism, the last semester of his senior year in public high school. Halfway into Laura’s kindergarten year, a tragic event stopped us cold in our tracks – my husband was shot and paralyzed in an attempted armed robbery.
As his caregiver, I felt (at the time) like I couldn’t give him 100% and homeschooling 100%, so Laura was enrolled in the local public school for the remainder of kindergarten, and for the next two years. A double-whammy diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD, coupled with chronic migraines, re-opened our homeschool almost three years ago.
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Laura has thrived in homeschool for third and fourth grades. Yes, she could have done better on tests, but homeschool is where she thrives (and her migraines went from 15 a month in public school down to about four a year).
When I started homeschooling, I had tons of questions: curriculum? Dedicated homeschool space? Socialization? Do I follow my state’s course of study?
Because of recent events in our nation, there is an unprecedented rise in the number of homeschooling families. This post serves to answer some questions I had as a new homeschooler and provide some resources.
What about socialization?
With public schools’ mandated masks, six-feet-apart, have lunch and PE and specials in classrooms, not to mention library, the socialization question is now moot. If homeschoolers have other homeschooling friends over to play, do seatwork together, or work on joint projects, they will have more socialization than kids in public school. With my daughter, because she is with adults most of the day, she can carry on conversations with adults and kids alike with confidence. Don’t worry about this.
Dedicated homeschool space?
If you are blessed to have a space in your home that can be a dedicated homeschool space, by all means, go for it. I live in a three-bedroom, two-bath house where the “open concept” is alive and well, and the living room/dining area/kitchen are all open to one another. Now, the smallest bedroom doubles as a guest room/office, so I still don’t have a dedicated homeschool space, and continue to use the dining area.
The dining area is right off the kitchen (again, open floor plan) and I really like this. Laura can do seat work while I put something in the slow cooker for dinner, or wash dishes. I’m right there within earshot and sight line if she has a question or wants to talk through the lesson.
We have a small shelf in the dining area that holds this year’s curriculum so we don’t have to dig for it. We have another cabinet that holds resource books and things we don’t use all the time but still need to have handy. A chalkboard and dry erase board on the wall complete the ensemble. When we read books together, whether it’s literature, history, or science, we go to the sofa to read as it’s more comfortable and we can both read along in the same book. When we watch a YouTube video to explain a concept, we watch it from the sofa.
Our entire home is meant for learning – we have science experiments in the kitchen, large craft or art projects strewn on the living room floor, and the dining table is for seat work. This works for our family.
There are many choices for curriculum. You can do an all online curriculum, or buy printed, all-inclusive curriculum. You can do what I do and put together an eclectic curriculum based on your child’s needs and where they’re at academically. Or, you can do all three. The most important thing is to do what is best for your child, even if you have multiple children – each child is an individual with individual needs. Homeschooling is the ultimate individualized educational plan.
The beauty of homeschool is that you as the parent choose the course of study. You don't have to follow a set course of study from any state. With high school, if your child is interested in going to college, have him choose two or three colleges or universities that he's interested in applying to, and work with your teenager to develop a high school course of study based on those college/university requirements.
Budget is also a consideration. You can have a completely wonderful and acceptable homeschooling curriculum without spending a lot. Or anything. Just because someone buys a $500 curriculum doesn’t mean that any better – or worse – than someone who spends $20 on curriculum.
I like old-school textbooks that existed before common core was common. So, for the third year in a row, I have purchased some textbooks for my daughter on EBay. Her math, science, and English textbooks for 5th grade have all been purchased, and I spent less than $20 on the entire lot.
For spelling, I find spelling lists for her grade level on Pinterest, and create activities for them. A good dictionary book (not the Internet) provides definitions which she writes down. For cursive writing and spelling practice, I use this website to create cursive writing worksheets that are her spelling words. I use this website to create word finds and crossword puzzles. Playing board and card games and Hangman using her spelling words helps her learn them, too.
Laura will have some new subjects this coming year, such as Spanish. I utilize Schoolhouse Teachers for her Spanish class, and as supplemental material on other subjects such as history, unit studies, and grammar. Schoolhouse Teachers is wonderful because they mail a quarterly magazine, included with your membership, about homeschooling that is rich with ideas and encouragement.
For set curricula, I like to buy from a website where I can browse and read about each product, such as Christianbook.com. For some subjects or as supplemental material, I use Evan-Moor workbooks which are an incredible resource for all grade levels.
When Laura reaches high school levels, I’ll use 7 Sisters Homeschool, which has no-busy-work curricula and is all PDF based. They host a wide variety of subjects written by veteran homeschooling moms.
As you can gather from my daughter’s diagnoses, special needs is a thing in our house. Actually, all four of my children have special needs, though the three oldest are adults and have moved on to their own houses (and, one got married!). It can be downright exhausting to parent special needs children, let alone homeschool them.
I have found that my daughter thrives at home, where there is less stress and zero bullying. Still, parents who are homeschooling children with special needs require encouragement and inspiration. That is why, with the Lord’s incredible help, I’ve developed the Homeschooling Special Needs Online Conference, the first of its kind in the nation. Featuring over 20 speakers presenting over 30 sessions on homeschooling special needs, including the incredible Temple Grandin in a keynote. The conference boasts all pre-recorded videos for your convenience, and lifetime access to boot, for just $22. For more information, click here. To register, click here.
In public school, kids have “specials” – library, PE, music, art. Homeschoolers have these things, too. We go to the public library once a week, Laura is constantly making art projects that tie into what she’s learning in history or science, and she goes outside to play, and play hard, for PE. We’ve also been known to incorporate health lessons in “physical education.” She also learns life skills, such as doing her own laundry, cooking (she loves making eggs for her own breakfast in the morning), and baking. Just today she finally (!!!) chose an instrument to learn, as we told her she needed to choose one for the fifth grade. She chose the ukulele!
For attendance, we use the AppleCore online attendance that is a perk of membership with Schoolhouse Teachers. When Laura starts ninth grade, it will be used to house her grades, too. The AppleCore program then takes her grades and generates an official high school transcript. I tell you, the annual membership for Schoolhouse Teachers is one of my most favorite -- and utilized -- resources.
Homeschooling can be a delightful time, if you relax and allow learning to happen, at any time. For us, homeschooling is not between the hours of 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. It is 24 hours a day. We focus less on education and more on learning. Every experience can be a learning experience, and that is the attitude we choose to adopt.
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I wish you all the best!
© 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Many homeschooling groups and organizations are reporting higher-than-ever interest in homeschooling. With the rise of children being pulled from public school to be homeschooled, inevitably, there will be younger siblings who will want to "do school," too.
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The last thing parents want to do is discourage little ones from learning. Preschoolers like to imitate their older brothers and sisters, so foster a love of learning by incorporating them into homeschool too. Here are a few ways to do just that (and help you teach your homeschoolers at the same time).
Maintain a schedule
Most, if not all, children learn best when on a schedule. It doesn't have to be down to the hour or minute, after all, this isn't public school. For homes blessed with preschoolers and older kids, try to get the older kids up first to start their day. For little ones who wake with the sun, get the older kids up, too, and have "morning time." Incorporate a family read-aloud while you eat breakfast. You can include a devotional during this time, too. Make sure that naps for the youngest member of the family are not ignored or rushed, and mealtimes are on a set schedule.
Include reading time
For children learning to read, or to improve on their reading, have them read to the preschooler while other children do different work at the dining table or a dedicated homeschool space. This gives the reader good practice and involves (read: entertains) the youngest.
Reading to children, of all ages, helps them to visualize the words in their minds and learn them. Even older elementary and middle school students enjoy being read to (and so do your high schoolers, though they would never admit it).
Some precocious little ones will want to do their work, too. After all, they see their older siblings with workbooks and books and manipulatives, so why should they have all the fun? You can acquire pre-k workbooks for children so they can do their lessons, too. Age-appropriate puzzles, blocks, and educational toys are all great things to keep on hand.
It's important to remember that before the age of seven, kids learn mainly by playing. Even children in kindergarten need a great deal of play time -- that is how they learn best. So the educational toys, puzzles, and toys that boost the imagination such as puppets, kitchen sets, and dolls aren't just for "playtime" -- they're instrumental in learning.
Music and art
Music and art are crucial to mind development, in all ages. When writing, I often play Christian concentration music in the background to help me focus, and when homeschooling, I do the same thing for my daughter. Playing instrumental music softly in the background helps develop a peaceful atmosphere in which to learn. Preschoolers thrive in homes where music is appreciated.
Buy too-large plain tshirts to use as smocks, and let your preschooler paint with easy-clean paints in the kitchen or outside. Use brushes that are meant for little hands and be sure to display their artwork when dry.
If you can find a music class for little children, by all means, enroll him or her. Or, if you can't find a class, ask around and try to make one. Or, if all else fails, buy some kiddie instruments and teach them how to play. Recorders, drums, and little guitars are easily found.
Homeschool is all about learning
Your older children need to have some one-on-one time as you teach them, and your preschooler needs you too, and cloning can't be done. The best thing is to work with your preschooler's need to be included, and make sure your other kids know that any help they need that requires complete attention will have to wait for naptime. When homeschooling, it doesn't have to be between the hours of 8 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Homeschool and learning can be spread throughout the day. The important thing is to cultivate a love of learning throughout the home and with all the members of the family -- even the youngest ones.
(C) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her daughter. In the past, she also briefly homeschooled her son, who has autism.
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