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.
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her youngest daughter. Married to her husband Greg, they have four children, all of whom have special needs of varying degrees. Terrie is a follower of Jesus Christ and tries to glorify God in all she does. To read more about her testimony, click here.
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