Balancing Chores, Indoors and Out

It’s that time of year. Time to plant, time to weed, time to keep the lawn under control. There are new seedlings to tend and unwanted critters to chase off. And I can’t remember the last time I spent most of my day indoors.

Which is how I’d rather have it. I’d spend just about all my time stooped over in the garden, if it were up to me. But I’ve got this house that somehow goes to shambles–even though no one is in it most the day. Does that happen to you, too?

Fact is, if you’ve got a serious garden or animals to care for, then you NEED to be outside right now. But somewhere, we’ve got to balance both our needy worlds, inside and out.

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Make hay while the sun shines

I never thought much about that statement until recently. But I have a friend who mows hay for her family’s farm. And really, her schedule is dictated by the hay. She plans everything around the weather and the grass. I totally understand that. After all, if they are too cavalier about it, they’ll pay big time in winter. No hay–no food for the cattle.

And on a much smaller scale, it applies to us right now, too. My garden is more than a hobby. It’s food for my family. We count on it. And if we want to eat from it’s bounty in the fall, then we better put in the hours in the spring and summer. So when the weather is good, that’s the time to get outside and take care of what needs done.

Just like my friend’s hay fields, my week will be planned around the weather and the garden. It will get first billing on my to-do list right now.

Image Credit

Image Credit

But what about the laundry?

I have to confess that a string of gloriously beautiful days have kept me outside. And the laundry (clean and otherwise) has been piling up, begging to be dealt with. Not to mention the rest of the house. Right now, my cleaning strategy, though somewhat lopsided, is to make the most of the bad weather days. Those will be the days to do some serious cleaning and catching up.

But I don’t want to live in squalor in the meantime. So here’s our strategies for keep up with the housework during the busy outdoor season:

Find stolen pockets of time. I kind of talked about this a while back in this post. It’s keeping your eyes open for a pause in your day and taking advantage of it. Waiting for the pasta to boil? Tidy up the kitchen table. Have to come in and make a phone call? Fold some laundry while you do it.

And if you’re going to be outside ALL DAY, then this works well first thing in the morning and just before bed as well. A few minutes of tidying up before your posterior finally hits the couch (or the sack) will make a difference in the long run.

Recruit some help. You know, those little folks running around. (That somehow make such a large mess.) Right now, while I’m trying to finish up all the planting, my kids are doing a few daily chores indoors. Wiping down bathrooms, emptying the dishwasher, taking care of their laundry. It’s all stuff they help with all year, but I especially lean on them right now. I like to think of a family as a team effort, and it takes all of us to make this house run well.

Take a cleaning shortcut. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. For instance, I have hardwood floors downstairs. The hard floor attachment on my vacuum does the best job of getting all the grass and dirt and debris off the floor. And I HATE dirty floors. But it’s a big old canister vac, and sometimes a pain to drag out. So on busy days we break out the broom and dust pan. Good enough.

Good enough also means that sometimes, we cart the basket of clean clothes upstairs to get it out of the way, and we might not get it folded right away. Or the stack of mail and papers might be put into a tidy stack instead of filed then and there.

I’m not saying this is a good long term plan. Eventually things will drive me crazy enough to abandon the outdoors for a day and bring my kingdom back under control. But maintenance is the key.

It’s definitely a busy season. But’s it’s by far my absolute favorite!

How do you balance your chores this time of year?

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Our Summer Schooling Plans

School is outta here! Last week my girls had their portfolio evaluations required by our state. I sent my oldest to testing (you can do either in WV) earlier in the spring and we are eagerly awaiting his results. So for all practical purposes, our more formal/structured learning time is finished until fall!

But a homeschooling mama’s work is never done, right?

Even though everyone is eager for a well deserved break (including the teacher), I’m well aware that if we put our brains in neutral for nearly 3 months, then come fall, I’ll end up re-teaching a load of skills. So we try to keep the learning going–summer style.

My criteria for summer learning– uncomplicated, quick, and confidence building. We don’t want or need to spend all morning on things. Just a few minutes, then it’s outside to play!

For the youngest

calendar writing

Really, I’ve found that for the early elementary crowd, a few math problems a day and lots of trips to the library are all you need to keep their skills sharp. Ella is taking her sweet time memorizing her math facts this year, so we’ll plug along in her Alpha book from Math-U-See. It doesn’t really bother me that she’s not finished with it yet. (Which would have totally freaked me out with the first one.) We’ve got all summer. And pushing her through it will only serve to frustrate her and me. I know from experience that her retention of math facts will be better and future concepts much easier if I make sure she’s really ready to move on.

As far as reading goes, I have no worries. We frequently find her in a corner somewhere reading a preschool Bible or one of her other favorite books. She likes to read a little board book to her cousin before nap time nearly every day. But to keep the phonics skills moving along, I’m planning on having her work through Explode the Code, book 7. I’ve used the Explode the Code series for phonics with my middle child and it’s usually pretty easy for them to work independently.

For my middle child

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Abby did a really great job this year and got every single thing done early. So for her summer work, we’ll do a few review math problems (I love that the Math-U-See website lets you print review worksheets for extra practice!) and work on some word skills, mostly spelling and vocabulary development. She reads like crazy, but sometimes words frustrate her, and she’s expressed a desire to work on that this summer.

For simple, quick work in this area, she and I will be going through Sequential Spelling (which really works with word families and spelling patterns–very helpful for her) and I plan to pick up a book of Wordly Wise so she can work through some vocab on her own a few days a week. All this shouldn’t take more than 30-45 minutes. We’ll tackle it right after breakfast, so they still have plenty of their summer days to enjoy.

 

The oldest

(Who retreats to his room to do school…so no pics.)

My firstborn will be entering the high school level next year. Yikes! He still has a few lessons left in his Algebra 1 book, so we’ll plug along through those. When that’s finished, I’ll probably have him work on some computation stuff that we all tend to forget, like fractions, long division and decimals. Yeah, I know, not really fun for anyone out there. But if I only give him 4 or 5 problems a day, I think we’ll both survive it just fine.

He does like to read, and is a great reader, but sometimes he just doesn’t seems to make that happen often enough. So right now, I’m working on some incentives to get him to carve out more time for reading. During the school year, I assign different books for him to read, but for the summer, I’m hoping he’ll get back to enjoying it on his own a bit more. A girl can dream, right?

And I”m also considering having him work through a Wordly Wise book for his grade level as well, and continuing with it through high school so we can be better prepared for all those lovely college entrance tests that are looming in the distance.

 

The bottom line is, giving a little time to summer schooling (and I really do mean little) gives us the luxury of not having to cram as much in during the school year. We can take a more comfortable pace, which I’ve found helps the kids tremendously on retention and plain old enjoyment in their studies.

So what kind of learning do YOU do in the summer?

 

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When the School Day Gets Derailed

I hold school time as near sacred. Most people know that I may or may not answer the phone or texts before lunchtime. I do my best to get any big cooking projects started in the wee hours of the early morning (like my bread orders). I schedule doctor appointments and meetings and errands for the afternoons.

But sometimes, despite our best efforts, the school hours of the day can get derailed. Interrupted. For a couple weeks there, I felt like we weren’t moving forward much. I was sick. There were dance rehearsals/concert. There was Easter and a long weekend off. So when I woke up Monday morning, I was determined to put some intentional focus back into our school time. After all, the more structured part of this school year is just about over.

It’s been anything but. We were trucking along pretty good Monday morning when I got a call from my husband (I do usually take his calls) that his dad needed our oldest to help out with something. But it was going to have to be right away, cause the weather was about to turn. My father-in-law has been sick and helping family is a priority for us. So I put my instruction with the 1st grader on pause, we hopped in the car, drove into town and made it happen. He finished his school work when he got home and I worked with Ella while he was gone.

Tuesday morning I sat down to print out some additional math sheets for my youngest only to find that something was all screwy with my printer driver. Spent some time searching for the answer and ended up abandoning the project for later on.

None of these things are really that big of a deal. We’ve had worse (and I’m sure you’ve had them too). No one was struck with a sudden illness, no one broke themselves or something else. But they were interruptions nonetheless. And when your seven-year-old is struggling to keep her attention on ONE math problem for more than 10 seconds, little interruptions can add up.

ella school

My answer to this–get back on track as soon as you can. It’s all too easy for one or two days of haphazard schooling to turn into a week of it. (Or worse.) You’ve got to get back to the plan and back to the routine. Turn off the ringer. Close the laptop. Push some things off your to do list so you can carve out the time you need.

Steal some learning moments later on. If you’re morning turns into a circus, make it a priority to carve out just a few minutes later in the day to squeeze a little more learning in. That was my tactic for Tuesday. After we cleaned up lunch and got my niece down for her nap, I took turns with the girls. Abby needed some direction in planning a report. Ella and I still needed to read together and get a little extra practice with addition facts. Even though I was still pulling my hair out with the computer, and had a full list of stuff to get done, that little bit of time really didn’t set me back. And it helped me feel like we weren’t falling behind.

To that end, find a FUN learning activity. Cue up a Netflix documentary on science, geography or history.  Play a game at dinner. Every now and then, we pull out this USA Bingo game during meal time (this is also a great trick if you’ve grown a little weary with the day to day dinner conversation/or bickering as the case may be).


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When you’re teaching–be ALL there. I have to confess I’ve been struggling with this lately. Can’t seem to get my brain to just slow down and focus. But in whatever uninterrupted moments I have with them (teaching or otherwise, really) I need to give them, their questions, their ah-ha moments–my full attention. Otherwise I may miss something that’s tripping them up. Or I might blow a chance at helping them dig deeper.

The point is don’t just sit there–DO SOMETHING. It may not be perfect. There will always be interruptions. ALL school kids deal with them. Sheesh–everybody deals with them. And there is some merit in learning to roll with the punches and be flexible.

Tomorrow, I resolve to make the most of our school time. Even if I get a dozen texts. Even if the dang printer stays on strike. I will be really there with them. I’ll cheer them on. I’ll keep steering this little ship towards the finish line.

How do you deal with interruptions?


So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling–Some Resources to Help

If you’re one of those families just now thinking about homeschooling your children, the whole process can be overwhelming. There are so many different philosophies and styles. So many different curriculums, groups, evaluation options. Suddenly, you have choices to make about a hundred different things and pressure and questions from well-meaning (but often not-helpful) family and friends.

So I thought I’d put together a few places you can look for some advice and perspective.

HSLDA

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The Home School Legal Defense Association is a national legal advocate for homeschoolers. If you join (I’m not a member, yet, but plan on joining this year) they will give you legal assistance if you should ever need it. But beyond that (scary) stuff, they’re a good place to start to find your state’s requirements where homeschooling is concerned.

I tend to keep up more with my state’s group CHEWV (Christian Homeschoolers of West Virginia). Most likely, your state has some similar kind of group. Both of these will help you figure out testing or year end evaluations (if required) and keep you informed of events or homeschooling related government updates.

Local Homeschool Support Groups

Many homeschooling families end up joining a co-op or support group. They come in all varieties. Ours is a bit more structured, offering once a week classes, field trips, project fairs, talent shows, plays and more. It’s a pretty big group and I love all the variety of options for my kids. As in most of these kinds of groups, parents are expected to help teach or assist in some way during the year. I’ve taught a good amount of classes for our group.

Some groups are more of a play group or field trip group. Others form book clubs or get together for different sports. The HSLDA site has a place to search for groups in your area. And if you have a state organization, they may have an even better list. I also found this site (Homeschool World) that offered a list of groups by state or country. (Although my group wasn’t listed–so it’s not an exhaustive list–just a place to start.)

Sometimes, finding a group is just a matter of talking to other homeschooling families you know, or calling a few local churches.

Curriculum

Ella's shelf

I hate to even open up this box for you. Before I started, I had NO idea there were so many different options out there. I would suggest before you start out, make a note of your child’s learning style. Do they like to read and  be read to? Then they might thrive in a Charlotte Mason style curriculum like Sonlight.

Do they love to sit for hours with a coloring and activity book? Then they may do better with a more “traditional” workbook/textbook curriculum like Abeka or Alpha Omega.

And if you have a kid who gets downright obsessed with a topic and dives into every part of it, longing to know more and more, then they might do well with a unity study approach that integrates language, math, science and history into one topical study.

Once you’ve given some thought to the type of learner you have, then you’ll be better equipped to sort through all the options without getting lost.

If you’re ready to start looking, here are some other sites to check out…

  • Christianbook.com   (Affiliate link) This is where I get most of our stuff (other than Amazon and Ebay). They have loads of sales in the spring and sometimes offer free shipping codes.
  • Rainbow Resource. I haven’t used them myself, but I know quite a few people who do.
  • Apologia. We have used their material for science for a few years now. I usually get it at CBD or Amazon, but if you want to check out all they have, this is their site.

Books and Magazines

homeschool guides

When I first started out, I grabbed about every book I could. There’s loads out there, but these are some I’ve read or heard good things about.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff! And that’s just the tip top of the iceberg. Let me assure you, once you start digging in to homeschooling, there will be no end of options and ideas for you to consider. But if I could pass on a little advice…

Keep it simple.

Consider your kids.

Be flexible.

Most of us change programs or methods somewhere along the way. But the freedom to do what works is one of the best things about this type of learning!

And never fear, I’m working on another list for you of free/cheap homeschooling resources to go along with this more mainstream stuff.

Got any of your favorite resources to pass along?

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Thinking About Homeschooling?–Our Story

thinking about homeschooling

We’re getting to that time of year. The end is in sight for the second semester of school. Kids (and parents and teachers) are daydreaming of summer freedom and fun.

And maybe you’re starting to think a little about next school year. Maybe the word “homeschool” has even gone through your head a time or two.

And you have a million and one questions. Your child is just starting out and you’re wondering how to even get started teaching at home. Can you possibly teach him or her to read? What do you do about friends or music lessons or sports?

Or you have a student who’s been in public or private school, but something just isn’t quite right. And you’re wondering if there’s another way.

My Story

I’ve been where you are, my friend. I never had any thoughts about homeschooling when I first had kids. Then something happened. While my oldest was enrolled in a local, private preschool, I kept hearing the whisper of “homeschool.” But then I’d have another epic power struggle with a four-year-old (sad, I know…we’re much better now) and I’d throw the homeschool idea into the crazy file.

So he went to a Christian school for kindergarten. And he did great. I substitute taught for the school and had every intention of enrolling my second child there and maybe teaching full time. But the idea of homeschooling never really went away. I just intentionally shoved it to the back of my brain. I didn’t want to go there.

It turns out that God was patiently trying to bring me around. But I’m a little slow. So when that didn’t work He gave us Ella. And through her and circumstances and me FINALLY yielding my will to His, I sent in my letter of intent.

And we all lived happily every after…………well, not exactly.

Yeah, it was messy and sometimes ugly. And then there were sweet moments and satisfying days. I quickly realized that the lifestyle of homeschooling was often teaching me as much as it was them. I needed to learn to be a more consistent parent. I needed to reign in my temper. I needed to depend on God WAY more than I ever had.

Teaching was the easy part. Molding and training these sometimes stubborn little hearts while not losing my cool was the real challenge. (Looking back, I really believe that other than teaching them to read and teaching them about God, the most important lessons for beginning homeschoolers are those of following directions, working with a good attitude and persevering through frustration. If you wait to work on that while you’re in the middle of quadratic equations and cellular biology–it’s not gonna be pretty.)

And here we are, eight years later. Now I teach an eighth grader, sixth grader and 1st grader. It hasn’t been easy. There have been days (or months) that I daydreamed about sending their little fannies out with the school bus. I can’t say that I’ve gotten it all right. We’ve seen each other at some of our worst moments.

So why am I still doing it? For me, it has always boiled down to obedience. I know that this is something God has called me to do. If it wasn’t from Him, I probably would have thrown in the towel long ago. (I’m not saying that everyone is called to homeschool. This is just my story.)

That’s not the only reason, though. The good has definitely outweighed the bad. We have learned so much together. My kids are closer that they could ever be if they were apart for 7 hours a day. We have incredible discussions about history or society or God. I get to share in their victories. I get lots of hugs all day long.

We’re a team. And I love it.

I tell you all of this because I want to be upfront. There are plenty of families that have entered into homeschooling half-heartedly, or with some idyllic notions, and they’ve had their worlds rocked. Some give up because of it.

The decision about schooling is unique to every family. And sticking it out for us boiled down to three things…

  1. Commitment or calling–Why are you doing this? Are you firmly convinced of it? Because if you’re not sure, it’s so much harder to get through the tough days.
  2. Willingness to be humble–Can you admit when you’re wrong? Can you depend on God daily for what you need? Can you put aside what you would rather be doing (to explain that math problem 10 more times)?
  3. Following through–We all start out with good intentions and goals. But it’s another thing to keep that train moving for 9 months at a time, year after year. Can you keep pushing them towards maturity and understanding, little by little, day after day? This is a huge responsibility. And they’re counting on you to get them ready for the next phase of their lives.

I’m not at the finish line yet. And in another few years, maybe I’ll give you a completely different list. But these seem to be the things I come back to every year.

There’s a lot that goes into this decision. Next time, I’ll give you some resources that might help you along in the process.

If you’re a homeschooling family, what led you to the decision?


Cheering On Their Learning

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The other day, I saw a picture of a very little girl stooped over her school work, crying desperate tears. I couldn’t even bear to read the article (though I think it was something about Common Core) because I couldn’t get the heart breaking image of that little one out of my head.

No little one should have to feel overwhelmed, lost or somehow not as smart when it comes to learning.

I’m not here to blame public school or any format or institution. The fact is, it can happen in any classroom and in any home. Maybe the material is confusing. Maybe the teacher is favoring one learning style over another. Maybe expectations are too high or the child just needs a few more months to be developmentally ready.

But what I really asked myself when I saw that picture was, “Do I ever make my kids feel that way?”

Because there are days when I’m impatient or distracted. Days when I’ve explained the same thing for the millionth time. There are moments when we reach a wall and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to explain something in any other way.

And on those days I wonder if I have ever frustrated my kids. Made them feel overwhelmed or stupid. If I’m really honest with myself, and you, I’d have to say it’s happened more than I’d like to admit. I think I’ve become a little more laid back and patient with the process over the years. With seven years under my belt I know that there will be days when things don’t come easily. But I know there will also be days when they have great ah-ha moments and everything clicks.

It was all a good reminder to me. Because learning shouldn’t be about all the things you don’t know. We shouldn’t hold this mountain of “skills to master” over our children’s heads. As if somehow they haven’t arrived until they reach a certain point. Or that what they’ve learned so far isn’t wonderful and worthwhile and worthy of praise.

I constantly have to remind my type A self that the goal of my children’s education is not test scores or scholarships or crossing off some random government mandated list. Education is about learning. Discovery. Wonder. It’s about teaching them how to read and communicate, investigate and think, explore and experiment–so that the learning doesn’t stop after high school or college. But that they are well equipped to keep on learning and growing and delighting in all the wonders that God has made.

And along the way, my job is to present, explain, help them practice and cheer them on. Not to dwell on the hurdles or remind them of what they got wrong. Yes, we correct our mistakes and try to do better next time. But if I’m not careful, my rhetoric becomes more of the negative kind.

To that end, I’ve been making it a point to notice all the victories, large and small, in our homeschooling.

  • Ella’s reading. Man, is that kid reading! Anything and everything she can find. She loves words. Reading, writing, spelling. It’s totally unexpected, since she’s the least verbal of the three.
  • Abby has read so many books this school year that I had to print another reading log for her. She’s a self proclaimed book worm and proud of it.
  • Wyatt’s history. He’s studying American History this year and I think his curriculum is rather challenging. Lots to remember and keep straight. But he’s doing a great job, and with little help from me.

There’s other things I can think of, now that I’ve got myself going. But the point is, if I can remember the good and be thankful, then I can remember to give them appropriate praise and encouragement. I can cheer them on when the topic is tough.

I can make good and sure that they know they are bright, capable and fearfully and wonderfully made.

Because every child is uniquely made by God and equipped by Him with special talents and gifts. And just because they can’t bubble in a test, or fit into a “one size fits all” program, doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

It just means we aren’t opening our eyes to what they are and will learn. They just need someone to believe in them.


A Simple Plan for Teaching the Months of the Year

After almost 8 years of homeschooling, I’ve learned that there are some skills that kids usually pick up along the way. I don’t worry too much, for instance, about money, telling time or calendar skills. We cover them, but we don’t labor over it. They use these things almost everyday, and in that day to day rhythm, I’ve found my older kids have gotten it just fine.

Nevertheless, I decided it was time for a little calendar work for my youngest. I like to save days of the week and months of the year for after they’re reading pretty well. And now that she’s coming along in that department, and since we’re at the start of the calendar, I figured now was the time.

Ella loves to craft and make little books, so I decided that we would put together our own little calendar book.

month project

Here’s what you need:

  • Colored construction paper
  • markers and colored pencils
  • stickers, stamps or any other supplies to make seasonal artwork

As I said, this is a simple little project. Each day, we work together on a different calendar page. I lightly write the name of the month, which she traces and cuts out (pretty pattern scissors are great for this) and glues to that month’s page. I may write any notable event or holiday for that month (like Happy New Year or Valentines Day) that she can also trace in bright colors.

If your child copies really well, then you could write the months or special days on a board or piece of scrap paper. I knew that Ella might get a little confused on the longer words (leaving out a letter here and there), so I decided tracing was good.  My goal here is not for her to be able to spell everything right now, just read it.

Then we talk about ideas for a scene she can draw that might represent that month well. Snowmen for January, hearts for February, etc. At the end of the project, I’ll either staple them all together or hole punch the top and use some ribbon to bind them. And she’ll have her own little calendar book to refer to.

As we go along, we might say the months of the year or talk about seasons. And for a couple extra activities, I’ve got these printables saved.

calendar writing

If you want to go a little more in depth, you could also turn this into a bit of a science lesson with the free download from Five J’s. It covers seasons in relation to the earth’s axis and orbit of the sun as well.

After we finish our calendar book and a few worksheets, I plan to revisit things by letting her fill in our family’s wipe off monthly calendar and having her make monthly calendars of her own (giving her lots of practice with the days of the week) that she can keep in her room. That way, little by little, and month by month, she’ll be able to find her way through the week and months on her own.

How do you work everyday skills into your homeschool?