This blog tells the story of Adriana Zoder's homeschooling journey while sharing tips, ideas and information relating to homeschooling in general. She also reviews curriculum and educational toys, and experiments with different schedules and approaches.
For the next three weeks, I will be blogging about going back to homeschool. Research indicates that writing goals down dramatically increases your chance of reaching them, so all of us need to spend some time planning for success. If you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, you go right ahead. We will not judge. However, the rest of us must organize our chaos at least a little bit.
You are a professional. Plan accordingly. Color code your planner if you prefer.
In this first post, we will focus on looking back at this past year. First, what has worked for you? Secondly, what has not worked? Thirdly, how could you improve? Above all, did you experience burnout? Do you know how that happened? We all know our strengths and growth areas. If we do not, this is the time to sit down and spend five minutes writing down what comes to mind, under two columns called Strengths and Growth Areas.
Please note that we do not call the second column “Weaknesses.” The name you give something gives you a certain frame of reference. If you see your lack of organization skills, for instance, as a weakness, you will always embrace it as your “humanity” and shrug it off. But if you see it as your “growth area,” you will force yourself to improve and grow in that particular field.
What Do We Organize?
What do we need to get organized? Curriculum, meals, other commitments, lessons outside the home, everything. Get a planner and start plugging dates you already know for the next year: doctor’s appointments, spelling bees, science olympiad, field trips, family outings and vacations, national holidays etc. Or use Google Calendar, like I do.
Here’s my post on using Trello to plan your homeschool and menu. With it, you can start planning a menu with Week A and Week B. If you have it in writing, you will know how much time you need to prepare certain dishes and you will see if it will clash with certain activities on your calendar. Always have ingredients for a quick meal available, in case of an emergency. For instance, one can prepare grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in 30 minutes – even from scratch. A crockpot helps, too.
Similarly, write down your curriculum choices. For example, some states will require you to turn that information in, while others will not. Just write it down for your own sake. When something does not work, six weeks in, you can go back to the drawing board, but at least you have a drawing board.
In conclusion, avoiding chaos helps you prevent burnout. Trust me, you do not want to experience burnout as a homeschooling mom. Nobody likes it.
These days, I am obsessed with a new app called iNaturalist. It is free in the app store on your phone. You can take a picture of anything in the natural world and it will tell you what it is. I do not know the names of all the plants or insects in my neighborhood. If we find a turtle in our backyard, I cannot tell if it is a box turtle or any other type.
Wasp? Bee? Yellowjacket? The app helped us identify it.
So many times, I have taken the kids on a “nature walk” but I could not help them identify much beyond Black-Eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s Lace, and oak trees. It worked when they were younger. I feel we need to learn more.
Science app to the rescue
Now I take a picture of every flower, shrub, acorn, or seed on the ground. Then, I upload it into my app and hit “See suggestions.”
Black Oak Acorn
Most of the time, the app knows what it is. If it does not, it says, “We are not sure, but we think this is …” and it gives you a few suggestions. At least they give you a hint and then you can go online with their hints and compare some more until you find the right species.
My children love climbing this crab apple tree.
In the Western world, children do not spend enough time outside. I make an effort to schedule a nature walk almost every day with my children so that we can get the benefits of fresh air, sunlight, nature, and conversations. This app has helped make it even more educational, as we identify plants and insects.
The other day my son picked up a dead bee. Or was it a wasp? We could not tell. I took a picture of it and iNaturalist said it was a yellowjacket. This is why I need this app. When one is weak in an area, one needs tools to strengthen what remains.
ARTiculations is the clever name of an art curriculum put together by a Christian high school teacher with a master’s in art education, Hannah Nolt. If you want to teach your children art in a systematic way without having to prepare and plan a whole lot, ARTiculations can help.
Designing their own Taj Mahals.
A recent addition to the art curriculum market, ARTiculations has five levels depending on your children’s grades. Level 1, for instance, covers 1st and 2nd grade levels. Level 5 corresponds to high school. First, you would have to decide which level you need, based on your children’s grades.
Secondly, decide if you want to purchase the supply box or buying everything separately, on your own, from the supply list accompanying the curriculum. Lastly, think about the supplementary digital materials – do you anticipate needing those or not?
The art lesson spreads over eight pages, in full-color.
This curriculum arrives like a magazine prescription, as you can see here. You buy your level and a four-week unit plan will be mailed to you starting in August through May. Each lesson provides: a supply list by day, a historical introduction, a lesson sequence by day, a poster, and worksheets.
Scripted Art Curriculum
Some people would call this a “scripted curriculum.” Personally, I like scripted curriculum. I call it “open-and-go.” Rarely do I feel like making lesson plans or putting my own curriculum together. Especially if art is not your forte, a scripted art curriculum which breaks it down into small, manageable steps, complete with all the things you need to say, comes in handy.
Her Taj Mahal
The kids and I worked on “Balance in Buildings – The Taj Mahal,” which was Level One, Volume 1, Issue 7. The steps were not hard to follow. I put all the supplies on the table before I called them to the room and then we started. I like the poster inside – a full-color picture of The Taj Mahal, 11″x17″. We would refer to it again and again as we followed the steps in creating our own version of it.
His Taj Mahal, receiving finishing touches
Each lesson can be done in one sitting, 30-45 minutes, but you could also follow the script to the letter and stretch it over three days. It depends on how you do art in your home. The script itself presents three days of a lesson sequence.
The kids had fun and learned a bit about design symmetry, architecture, and art in the process. We like this curriculum a lot. One year costs $85 and the supply box is also $85. The supplementary digital art costs $35.
I received a free lesson in exchange for an honest review. If you would like to try a sample lesson, there are several on the ARTiculations website.
Math Island is a book written by John Koller and Gillian Singler for children of all ages. It helps if they are past third grade though, in my opinion. That way, they get more of the math content. The book has two main characters, Lily and Tad, who are siblings. A host of supporting characters joins them from chapter to chapter.
Our son reading “Math Island”
Together, Lily and Tad discover – by chance – that they can travel to a magical location called Math Island. A crab named Carl functions as their guide, while other animals also help explain math concepts to the visitors.
There is always tension in the air because of the Axioms – the villains of the island. These guys thrive on the aura of people with low brain activity. It’s a thing. The more you rely on a calculator, the greater your “low brain activity aura” becomes, so the more you attract the Axioms.
Math Island combines math and language arts within an exciting plot of adventures.
This is why the Tangents – the good guys on the island – help Lily and Tad memorize and practice math facts without a calculator and even without pen and paper. As long as they can get math problems solved without a calculator, and we are talking arithmetic here, the kids are safe from the Axioms.
More Than Math
The other interesting thing about Math Island is that it teaches vocabulary in footnotes. Additionally, at the end of every chapter, you get to work through some exercises that explore vocabulary in depth. As such, “Math Island” is the perfect book for the summer break (and beyond). The readers get both language arts and math in one package full of adventure and a plot that keeps you turning the pages.
In my own experience, my fourth grader wanted me to read the book to her. She reads a lot on her own, but she was not sure about this book. So she wanted me to kickstart her engine. My sixth grader read it on his own and loved it, but he still wandered into the room later, as I read it out loud to his younger sister. He said it was fun going through the book all over again.
Math Island is available on Amazon for $14.95 or by contacting the authors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors sent me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review. This is definitely a great resource for our homeschool and a fun book to read for intermediate and middle school students. I highly recommend it.
On my week without children, because they spent this week at camp in Georgia, I decided to tackle planning the school year. Over the years, I have tried different planners and even made my own. This year, some homeschooling moms told me about a digital conference which, so far, has been worth every penny.
My daughter’s first week of homeschooling as laid out in Trello.
One of the workshops dealt with planning your entire school year in Excel. I tried to do what she wanted us to do, but it just never seemed right. What if Lesson 46 does not get done in math one day? Well, you put it on the right side and move it to the next week. Then, you build in make up days. It just seemed too difficult.
The other thing that did not work for me was how fiddly Excel is. The presenter offered some free forms and logs, but they all got changed by the time I opened my Excel file. Then, I had to mess with cell formatting and that’s just not something I enjoy.
Last but not least, when I got it to look well on the screen, it did not print out well. I felt pretty discouraged and went and vacuumed my car. They say that when you scrub or clean, creativity starts flowing.
Light Bulb Moment
It turned out, there was yet another workshop about planning, this time with Trello.com, and only one week at a time. I gave it a try and it was a better fit for me. Why do you need to have the entire year planned out anyway? This is not public school where the principal wants the teacher to have everything in writing so they know what lesson they will be on during week 32 of instruction.
I am excited to try Trello this year. We were already using it for Science Olympiad assignments, but I still had to learn a few more buttons around there. It’s very intuitive and user friendly though.
As I said, you do not have to plan the entire year. Each child has a master schedule (board). The lists (or headings) are the days of the week, plus another list for “weekly assignments.” Under each list, you build the cards – one per subject. They can be moved around and color coded.
You can add checklists on each card. Your child can come and check them off when she is done. This will give you a clear visual of what still needs to happen that day.
Trello to the rescue
At the end of the week, if everything has been done, you can close that board and be done. It goes into an archive. You can reopen it and look at it in case you need to check if something has been done.
If certain things have not been done, then you add them to the next week’s workload. Every time you copy a board, you can choose to keep both the lists and the cards, or just the lists.
Just to be clear, you can copy any board (just one click) and customize each week’s workload. You can give it a name like “Johnny, August 12-19.” That way, it is different from the master board for the child, which would be “Johnny, 5th grade.” Of course, you can pick whatever name helps you remember exactly what that board is for.
I worked in Trello last year with my son, for Science Olympiad. It was very helpful. We will see how it works for the overall homeschool.
One of the most important things you can do for your children is to help them connect with nature. We live in an era of nature deficit disorders due to technology’s influence on our lifestyles. In my own experience, I have had to be intentional about the time we spend outside.
It is easy for me to say, “Well, they are inside and reading. They are watching educational videos or building with LEGO bricks and other building toys. So, they are learning. Why go outside and deal with gnats, ticks, sunburn, and mud?”
Our daughter helped pull many of the plants out of the garden bed.
Besides, we live five minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and we get black bears in our yard. Also, coyotes, raccoons, deer, and opposum. We feel so much safer inside. Our windows are large, so we can see all these animals, plus birds and insects galore – almost like a National Geographic video right here in our backyard. It is so much safer and easier to stay inside.
Last week, my daughter found three ticks on herself, on three different days. Of course we are monitoring her symptoms and praying she does not get lyme disease. More precisely, we are looking for fever and a rash in the form of a round circle around the bite area (like a target).
I say all these things not to frighten you, but to let you know that we are aware of things that could go wrong in nature. And yet, we choose to go out in nature because it is good for their health and ours. We need fresh air, sunshine, and movement. Studies have shown creativity spikes after walks in nature and so does the function of the frontal lobe.
Our son hauled discarded plants to a small valley on our property.
Recently, I was inspired to do something with our garden bed. We have this 4’x8′ raised bed we planted back when our son was 1 – so ten years ago. I have tried my hand at planting veggies and we have had some moderate success with it. I just cannot motivate myself to start a veggie garden again – all that watering and weeding while gnats fly wildly into my eyes, ears, and mouth.
Breaking Up The Fallow Ground
So we left it fallow for a couple of years now, especially after our outside cat decided to use it as a litter box. Somehow I got inspired to make it into a flower bed. We have these seeds my husband picked up at Lowe’s and I engaged the kids in a bit of a cleanup operation.
I raked the clean bed before they planted flower seeds.
We had fun, though it was incredibly hot and uncomfortable with all the gnats. But we got it done. As the flowers grow, I will post updates here. When I look out the window, the garden bed will not be an eyesore anymore and the cat can keep using it as a litter box. It’s a win-win.
What about watering? Well, the kids have promised to take up that job through the summer months, which puts them outside and teaches them about gardening, perseverance, and taking care of a plant. Plus, they get to spray each other with the hose. It’s a win-win-win.
Everybody needs a break, including homeschooling moms and students. While you should take a few weeks off to relax, you should also consider the perils of summer slide. Sorry for shoulding all over you, but I figured we all need a little encouragement in the right direction now and then.
Our son found a baby turtle in our backyard. We left it alone after taking a picture.
We have taken two weeks off after finishing the school year. Now, it is time to get back into a relaxed routine of educational activities like reading and practicing the violin and piano, alternating with physical activity outside, chores, and some screen time. I even make them do a bit of math and writing or spelling now and then. Not every day though.
The kids must feel like they are on summer break, unless you choose to homeschool year round. I feel like we need clearly defined boundaries. For us, year round does not work. However, we do not throw out the books over the summer.
I have made a simple chart with daily and weekly goals we must reach. They check each one off as they do it, or I check it for them. That’s the thing. Mom still needs to supervise and enforce activities. There is no rest for the mom. Sigh.
The other day, I spotted this T-shirt which said, “Tired as a mother.” I complimented the lady who was wearing it and we both laughed about our situations. We will be tired – exhausted is more like it – until they go to college. Life has become this continuous round of chores and we must find little oases of time and space for ourselves, to get refreshed.
You know you have homeschooled for more than five years when you stop making certificates for your children. Ha! This year, I have no interest in making these end-of-the-school year diplomas for my children.
Let freedom (to homeschool) reign!
I have a folder full of them for each child from previous years and they just sit there. Nobody will ever look at them. Berean Christian School in Knoxville, our umbrella school, safely stores our cumulative files. That’s what counts.
These certificates I make at home represent a period at the end of the sentence for 2018-2019 and nothing more. The kids don’t care about them. I needed them more than the kids.
Growing up in a very structured school system behind the Iron Curtain, I cared about diplomas and paperwork and lots and lots of it. The more, the better. But that is not how it works in Tennessee (or the US for that matter) in 2019.
Freedom from Paperwork
When we came to Day 180 of this school year, it marked the end of our efforts. I recorded the attendance sheet for the year, their grades, and the curriculum we will use for next year. Then, I mailed all these forms to Lisa Lee, our coordinator at Berean.
Of course, freedom to homeschool has been bought after many battles back in the 80s, by faithful parents who did not have it easy. Even though they did not have to lay down their lives, many of them faced imprisonment or the horrible prospect of having their children taken away from them. That seems a little worse than death, actually, the more I think about it.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States, when we remember the fallen soldiers who have fought for our freedoms throughout our nation’s history. I am thankful for their sacrifice, as well as the efforts and sacrifices of homeschooling parents of previous generations. Long live liberty!
Homeschoolers, like any other students, deserve only the best gifts to celebrate their graduation. Therefore, you should make it more memorable by giving the perfect present for reaching an education milestone. No idea what to choose? Read on for the best gift ideas to consider.
Shutterfly Photo Book I put together about 2017
Cash or Gift Cards
Do you know your graduate’s favorite store or restaurant? Get them a gift card for that particular store. Do you trust your graduate’s ability to spend cash wisely? Then simply write them a check. It’s easier on you and they will have the freedom to personalize their gift according to their own desires. Everybody loves cash or gift cards. You just added to their financial freedom a bit. We all love freedom.
If you are looking for sentimental gifts for homeschooling graduates, a photobook will be the perfect option. It is a great way to remind the graduate about happy times before graduation. This is a perfect way to reminisce about fun times during one’s younger years. If you are looking for a photobook as a graduation gift, check out Shutterfly.com.
The secret to happiness is to spend money on experiences and not things. This is applicable when it comes to gifts for homeschoolers. They usually spend most of the time schooling at home. Some of them might even be bored. To reward them for all their efforts, the best experiential gifts include concert tickets, a visit to a local museum, a pottery class, or a trip to their favorite destination.
Chances are, your homeschooler already owns a laptop. Consider getting them a better, newer one. This is especially a great idea for parents looking for gifts for their kids. It is expensive, but the cost will be worth it, given how important a laptop is in this digital era. It can be used for both education and entertainment. Make sure the recipient is not too young to be using a laptop. The laptop will also help to continue computer-based schooling.
Especially for girls, you can never go wrong with jewelry! It is one of the best personalized graduation gifts! Do not choose just any piece with a generic design. Make it more special by adding elements of personalization. For instance, you can give a necklace with the name of the graduate in the pendant. A ring with the birthstone of the celebrant is also a great graduation present.
Kids they love listening to music. We see kids wearing headphones even when they are with families. It is not being rude, it’s just that they want their private time. Homeschoolers spend all day with their siblings and at least one of their parents. They need their own space, especially on long car trips. With this, consider giving headphones as a gift for homeschoolers.
It makes a great gift to keep homeschoolers entertained. Choose board games that are right for their age. It is also a great way to teach them how to be sociable, which is one of the benefits of playing board games as a group.
This is perhaps one of the fool-proof ideas that you can give to graduates, including homeschoolers. Choosing the perfect gift, however, can be a challenge. You have to know the recipient to have an idea about what he or she likes. Choose books that are motivational.
If you know anyone who is about to graduate from homeschooling, take note of our gift suggestions above! They will probably paint a big smile on the face of the recipient.
My first Mother’s Day with a child taller than I am makes me feel a bit wistful. Where is my baby boy? My son, age 11, is now taller than I am. When he starts talking about rocket science, I have a hard time following what he is saying.
In Florida, May 2019
My daughter is not far behind him, either. She will probably not grow as tall as he will, but she will certainly get to be taller than I am. I certainly hope so. It should not be that hard any way. I am barely five feet tall.
In the words of Prince William, parenting is the Sleep Deprivation Society. At least, it is in the first decade. Then you start to not sleep for other reasons. The thing is, I used to have sleep problems before, too. Anxiety and worrying can happen to non-parents, as well.
But having three children under six, as Prince William does, must be exhausting. So I understand where he comes from.
For those of us who have managed to cross that line of the first 10 years of parenting, things are a bit easier. Older children sleep in and homeschooling allows for that. These days, I do not know if I should let them sleep in as long as they can or if I should wake them up by 8am. The thing is, they need their sleep.
And even though we send them to bed around 8:30pm, they do not always manage to fall asleep before 9:30 or later. They tell me this the next day.
Google does not usually promote traditional family values, but they tugged at my heart with their Mother’s Day video this year. Mothering is, indeed, the role of a lifetime.