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Homeschool Preschool: Letter of the Week

September 1, 2017

When I was first blessed with the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom I  was overjoyed. I soaked up all of the snuggles, hugs, “conversations,” and time with my boys.

However, as my firstborn got older, and I came out of the fog of having a newborn, I craved more structure.  Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but I wanted to start implementing a regular routine in our day. I still loved just getting to spend each day with them, but I knew I wanted to begin working more intentionally with my oldest and create a daily routine that would work for us all.

So, our homeschool preschool was born. My husband is a teacher, so when he headed back to school, we started up as well!

At the time, my oldest was not yet 3 and my youngest wasn’t even a year, so our preschool was very basic. Lots of play, exploration, and using our imaginations. But for about an hour every day, we tried to work more specifically on skills that I felt were important for him to learn.

We always began our day by reading from The Beginner’s Bible and singing a verse song or two. (I highly recommend Steve Green and Seeds Family Worship if you’re looking for some) Then we moved into our alphabet work.

For simplicity’s sake, we started with a letter a week. I know there are so many different opinions about the order in which to do the letters – but again, keeping things simple – we just went in alphabetical order.

There were some foundational skills I wanted to work on with my son, but I didn’t want to be searching for, printing, and preparing a new activity every day. So, during the summer (before we officially started our homeschool preschool), I created packets of activities that would set me up for success.

The purpose of these activities were to help my little guys begin to recognize and write their letters, to work on distinguishing between capital and lowercase letters, and to introduce them to the sound that each letter made. I also wanted to include activities that allowed them to practice counting objects, begin learning basic patterning skills and even be introduced to the wonders of science. I’m a huge fan of reading to your kids, so I also looked for books that included ideas or characters related to the letter. And since kids always love a good snack, I brainstormed ideas for letter of the week snack ideas.

Here’s a peek of some of what’s included in each letter packet:

The beauty of the activity packets was that once I had made them, I was set. I didn’t have a lot of prep work during the week because we focused a lot on play and when we were all ready to have a little more focused time, the activities were already ready to go. I just printed the pages I wanted for the week on Sunday evening, and I truly had the rest of the time to focus on my kiddos.

These packets gave me a focus for the week. And since I already had these ready to go, I could be as creative (or not so creative) as I wanted – or as the week allowed. Baking, crafts, gross motor activities, field trips, art projects, games, the list goes on and on. But I actually had time to think about what those other activities could be because my letter work was taken care of.

And I have to say, I absolutely fell in love with homeschool preschool. I loved being able to watch my kids learn and grow. I loved seeing them get excited about learning. I adored getting to instill values that were important to our family.

But I also loved the fact that we could move at our own pace. If we needed a break, we took a break and went outside. If someone was sick, we took the day off. If a task was a little too advanced, we waited until he was ready. We weren’t confined to a strict time schedule. It definitely brought some much needed structure to our day, but these boys still had PLENTY of time to play and we still had a lot of flexibility.

And what I loved even more – I used these letter of the week packets 2 years in a row for my oldest. During the first year, when he was 2 and turning 3, we just worked on recognizing letters. We talked about each letter’s sound, but I definitely didn’t expect him to master it. I showed him the capital and lowercase version of the letter of the week, but if he was able to recognize any form of the letter during the week, I was thrilled and we celebrated. We worked on counting objects, but I didn’t require him to form numbers correctly or even consistently match a group of objects to the number in written form.

Then, the next year, we went through the alphabet again, but this time we focused on different skills. We moved on from just recognizing the letter to being able to write (or trace it). I started to emphasize the sound that the letter makes and we worked on finding objects that began with that sound. He started to recognize the difference between capital and lowercase letters, and he started being able to count a group of objects and point to the number that represented the number of items. Sometimes we repeated the pages we had used the year prior (mostly because he had enjoyed them so much), but we also used pages that were just too advance the year before.

By the time that year was over, he knew all of his letters and could identify each letter’s sound accurately. His fine motor skills (writing with a pencil/pen as well as beginning scissor skills) had improved dramatically. For the majority of the letters, he could recognize, write, and differentiate between capital and lowercase. He recognized numbers 1-10 and was proficient in one-to-one correspondence for these numbers. He recognized different types of patterns and was able to continue them. However, most importantly, he was excited about learning. He felt confident whenever we talked about school. And he was eager for more.

The next year, my oldest was 4 going on 5, and so we moved beyond simply working with a letter a week; however, by this point, my second son was now two going on three, and I already had all of the materials I needed to start working with him.

And that’s part of the beauty of these digital resources – you can print and re-print pages as often as you like for your kids or class. No need to go out and purchase additional copies! You are set!

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed using these resources with my boys – and then with the homeschool co-op that we are a part of.

If you’d like to get a taste of what these packets offer, you can sign up to receive my FREE Dot the Letter A-Z Set HERE.

Can’t wait to see how you use these!

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Why We Start School BEFORE the First Day of School

August 11, 2017

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the flexibility of the schedule. Now I’m not just talking about the day today schedule  – I’m also talking about the yearly schedule. If you look into the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state, you’ll find that most states require a certain number of days or hours, but it doesn’t dictate when those days or hours have to be. So, for our family, we start “school” before the formal first day of school to get some of those hours in ahead of time.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for summer break. Believe me. I was an elementary school teacher for 8 years, and my husband is currently a teacher……so we LOVE our summers. We also know that the kids need that break too. So we always take a few weeks completely off, and we definitely don’t do school when we are traveling, visiting family, or on vacation. But for those weeks in the middle and end of summer when we’re home, we definitely try to put a few hours of school into our week.

Our “summer school” days are not our typical days. We only put a hour or two in, as opposed to a full day, but you’d be amazed at how much you’re able to cover in that seemingly short amount of time. We also don’t try to cover all of the subjects. One day we might focus primarily on language arts and art project. The next day we may dig into a fun science activity and review some math. And although I don’t count these days as full days in our calendar, it really gives us a jump start in to the year.

There are few reasons we really love this approach.

Number one. Starting school in the summer gives me some time to figure out what using my curriculum really looks like. The teaching guides and what I think should happen is one thing, but when I actually put the material in front of my kids, it could be something totally different. So spending some time before we’re in our formal school year figuring out just how long that reading lesson will take or just how much prep time I need for science is super helpful. Though the time each day is limited, it gives me a chance to kind of experiment with the curriculum so that I can better prepare and plan when the formal school year starts.

Number two. If you’ve been anywhere around the teaching world, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “summer slide.” Basically, it means that during the summer a lot of kids lose some of what they’ve learned in the previous school year and they’ve “slid” a little bit backwards in their learning progress. It’s totally normal, but by keeping my kids involved in activities that review what we’ve done the previous year it helps prevent them from falling into the summer slide trap.

Additionally a lot of the material we cover at the beginning of the year is review of the prior year. For instance, this year my son is starting first grade. Having looked at and planned some of the curriculum, it’s clear that a lot of the material in the first few weeks even the first couple of months reviews what he learned in kindergarten. So, by tapping into some of that material over this summer, we’re not only engaging in our new curriculum, but we’re also continuing to review concepts and material that he learned or was introduced to last year.

And number three – (and perhaps my favorite) – by putting some hours and days in during the summer, it gives me a little bit more flexibility during the actual school year. If we have to take a few days off for travel, sickness, or if we just simply need a break, we’re able to do that (and still meet or exceed our requirements) because we’ve built a little cushion during the summer. And we all know that sometimes we just need those random breaks.

So, if you’re planning on homeschooling this year, and just can’t wait to dive in, go for it! Take it a couple of hours at a time, and you’ll learn so much – even before the school year starts!

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Mapping Out Your Homeschool Year

August 3, 2017

Planning Your Year

Planning an entire year might seem completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. But let me tell you, the time you take to map out your school year is well worth the investment! Without a doubt, plans will change, things will take much longer (or shorter) than expected, but if you have this general curriculum map in place, you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and about the pace you need to go to get there.

Pacing

When I taught in the classroom, we often referred to this as our pacing guide. Being a runner, this resonated with me. For example, if I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) and I want to get in under the 2-hour mark I know I have to keep a pace of about a 9-minute mile with a little wiggle room. Some miles might be faster, others will be slower, but I know about the pace I need to go to meet my goal. The same is true for your curriculum mapping. If you know you have X amount of lessons to cover and 180 or so days in which to do it, you’ll want to know about the pace you need to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT about “just getting through the curriculum.” Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to adjust to your student’s needs, interests, and learning style. However, I also know I’m responsible for equipping my kiddos (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and academically) for when they transition to public school. And so part of that requires I move at a pace that does prepare them academically.

Okay, let’s dig in! If you don’t have one yet, grab a planner to jot all this information down (I suggest in pencil)!

So, let’s start with the simplest part. Begin by establishing your starting and ending dates. Now as I shared in a previous post, we always “start” our school year a little early – getting our feet wet with some of the curriculum in the summer. But we still establish a date when we’re going to start that full day schedule. Once you have those, block off holidays and any other days that you know you will not be conducting school. At this point, make sure that you have – at a minimum – the number of days required by your state.

Now, you’ve got your big picture outline, and it’s time to start actually adding the meat of your planning.

I suggest starting with your mathematics curriculum. I suggest starting with math because it tends to be laid out in lessons that will consecutively build on each other and it’s a subject you’ll likely be doing every day. Start by evaluating how many lessons are in your curriculum – be sure to count any review and testing days as lessons as well. Then, divide the number of lessons by the number of weeks in your calendar, and you’ll have a general idea of the number of lessons you want to cover each week. Using the planner, pencil in when you’re going to do each lesson. This is where you want to start paying attention to dates and day. If you know you’re heading into a break, you aren’t going to want to start a brand new unit right before. Also be sure to plan review days. Not only is it important for kids to review the material they are learning, but it gives you the freedom to spend two days on a lesson that your students find more challenging.

I suggest moving on to language arts next. I advise you to do these two subjects first – simply because they are two of your core subjects that you’ll be doing every day, and if you can get these two subjects planned, the rest will be a piece of cake.

You’ll take a similar approach in planning your language arts curriculum as you did with the math. However, many language arts curriculum are planned out in weeks or units as opposed to numbered lessons that you often find in math. But you’ll basically start the same way. Evaluate the number of weeks or units that are in your curriculum. Look at the number of days you have in your calendar and divide to see approximately how much you need to cover each week.

Remember, you’re getting a big picture idea with this planning. You don’t need to go into great detail with every single component of the curriculum. So don’t stress about that! You’re just trying to get an idea of the pace, and when you get closer to the actual teaching, you’ll be able to spend more time preparing for all of the components of the lessons.

Once you have your language arts and math planned out, it will be time to tackle the other subjects. What else do you want to include in your teaching? How often do you plan to teach those subjects? You’ll likely include history and science. But do you want to include art? Bible? Music? Foreign language? This will depend partly on the age of your student, as much more is required for older students.  

One thing I DO NOT recommend is trying to hit every subject every day – especially if you have young ones. Not only will your kids burn out – but you will too!

So, maybe you plan to do history on Monday and Wednesday and focus on science Tuesday and Thursday. You can leave Friday open for other specialized activities or just for review. Or may you choose to really focus on a history unit for a couple of weeks and then dig into a science unit for a few. The choice is really up to you.

The big idea with this planning is to assess where you want to be at the end of the year and then to map out a general plan and pace. This has made such a difference in my planning – and I sincerely hope it helps you as well!

Do you have other tips? How is your planning going? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below!

Homeschool Motherhood

Renfros on the Road

July 25, 2017

If you’ve followed along with my posts on Tenspire since the beginning, you’ve read a bit about how our family came to the decision for me to leave the classroom and stay home with our daughter. It was a scary financial situation since my husband was a teacher at the time as well, but we felt convicted that it was the right thing to do and that God would provide for our family. We took a major leap of faith and just as I’ve seen with so many other situations in my life, God had a bigger plan laid out for us that we could have never imagined. By leaving the career I loved to become a SAHM, we have been set up for our family’s biggest adventure yet.

On the Road

For years, my husband talked about following in his dad’s footsteps and becoming an independent insurance adjuster. While he loved his students, working in a field that require more hands-on work was exactly what he wanted. However, I loved my students as well and was not ready to give up the classroom. This job requires lots of travel. When a storm hits, you go work the claims that come in from the damage. That could be anywhere in the U.S. and you could be gone for months at a time. Either we would spend months apart or I would travel with him. Neither were an option at the time.

Things have changed quite a bit since then, and I bet you’re starting to see what God was up to… Leaving the classroom for a traveling job was not exactly on my radar, but leaving the classroom to spend all day every day with my baby girl was an absolute no brainer! After about a year of me staying home it occurred to us – what was keeping us from trying the job then???

Making it Work

So here we are now in quite an interesting situation. We sold our house and moved in with my grandparents at the beginning of June so we can look for our new home. My husband has completed his training and is waiting for his first call! How is this “stay-at-home-teacher” going to make this all work, especially with an 18 month old? I hope you’ll follow along to find out! I can’t wait to share with you all how we organize our learning activities, time, and make life comfy while we travel! After all, isn’t that what all teachers do? We take the cards we’re dealt and see how we can make the best of them to give our kiddos the best experience possible. I hope to share tips and tricks that make life in the classroom easier and more simple!

Homeschool Motherhood

2 Summer Reads for Homeschool

June 21, 2017

Ahhhhh, summer. A season filled with unmistakable sunshine, the sound of water splashing from the pool, gardens full of fresh fruits and veggies, and a much needed break from the daily school routine. And if you’re a homeschool mom, like me, you probably anticipate the summer just as much (if not more) than your kiddos.

Now, we don’t totally abandon all educational activities during the summer, as I’ll be sharing about more next month, but it’s definitely a less structured season and the planned educational activities are less frequent.

However, fall always comes faster than I expect, and I have found that if I don’t take the time to rest, reflect, and prepare for the next year, I start the year feeling like I’m already behind.
So, I’m excited to share two books that have inspired, encouraged, and blessed me in my homeschool journey. These are perfect reads for the summer – because who really has time to read another book during the school year?

The first book is Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood by Kimm Crandall (**affiliate link). In this powerful book, Kimm shares about the battles that so many moms face, but are often hesitant to share openly. With great transparency, she shares how she struggled with (and sometimes still struggles with) feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to “do it all” and make it seem easy, how she placed unrealistic expectations upon herself and then kicked herself when they went unmet, how she constantly fell into the mom-comparison trap, and perhaps the one that spoke to me the most, how she allowed her “performance” as a mom to dictate her self-worth.

This book spoke directly to my heart. At times, I really felt as if she had taken a peek into my journal and was speaking right to me. Kimm does not come across as the expert who already has it all figured out. Rather, she shares with great vulnerability anecdotes from her own life and constantly reminds us of our desperate need for Christ.
Christ in the Chaos does NOT outline a five-step plan for being a better mother or give you a checklist to eliminate chaos. Instead, she calls each reader to bask in the grace of God and find our identity in Him – knowing that we cannot do it on our own strength, and that we are not enough on our own.

The book itself is broken into ten short chapters – again, perfect for mothers. In fact, this one is on my list to re-read this summer!

The second book I’d recommend is Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie (**affiliate link). Like Christ in the Chaos, this book is written from a Biblical perspective; however, unlike Christ in the Chaos, this is specifically written for homeschool parents and the entire book focuses on that subject.

As a homeschool mom, I know I have wrestled with the questions: Am I doing enough? Am I doing this well? Will my kids be successful in the long run? Was homeschool the right decision? And when I meditate on these questions, I am left feeling stressed, burdened, anxious, and completely exhausted.

Sarah uses her own experiences to address these questions and provide incredible encouragement and affirmation. She emphasizes the fact that teaching from rest does not mean ease – quite the opposite; rather, it is having meaningful learning and growth, but without the stress, anxiety, and overwhelm so common in many homeschool moms.

Sarah shares practical tips and ideas from her own experiences, but also highlights the fact that every family is different and you truly have to find what works best for you and your children. She focuses on the opportunities you have as a homeschool parent to build an irreplaceable relationship with your children and how you can tailor your curriculum to suit their needs and interests.

As a former elementary school teacher, this book really challenged me to alter some of my approaches to homeschool because it reminded me of the fact that my homeschool classroom does not have to look just like a traditional classroom, only at home. And I found incredible freedom in that. As she shares in her book, “What if, instead of trying to make the most of our time, we worked harder at savoring it? What if we were more intentional and lavish with our time and more detached from our checklists? ……Teaching from rest doesn’t mean we aren’t planning ahead…..It means we are doing one thing at a time, and we do that thing with all our heart.”

This was such an inspirational read, especially for homeschool parents (like me) who desire to create a loving and nurturing homeschool environment, but are struggling with numerous anxiety-inducing questions and doubts. It has definitely impacted my approach to homeschooling for the better!

Do you have any reading planned for the summer? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below.

Homeschool Motherhood Uncategorized

Can I Really Start My Own Co-Op?

June 4, 2017

Community. It’s something we all long for, need, and yet often resist because sometimes it just seems like too much work.

Now, if you’re a homeschool mom, you need this community more than ever! Yes, you seem to be talking with little ones all day, but having a conversation with another adult, especially in person, is a rarity.

And to be quite honest, when you don’t have a community encouraging, supporting, and pouring into you, your motivation to continue can become depleted quite quickly!

So, what’s a mom to do?

Our solution – one that has truly been nourishing to my soul was starting a co-op.

On a side note, when we started, the kids were all preschool age, as you’ll see in my story below, but the principles and applications hold true for moms with older homeschool students as well.

Now, you might be thinking: Can I really start my own co-op? Or, my little one is only 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5), does he really need this? Or, I can barely make it out of my house as it is, do I really have the time and energy to coordinate a co-op? Or, my plate seems so full already, is the effort to attend another thing every week even worth it? The answer to all of these questions is YES, YES, and YES!

I know because I wondered the same things.

After teaching for 8 years, I transitioned to being a stay at home mommy. I was incredibly thankful to be home with my little ones – a newborn and almost 2 – but I was completely overwhelmed. To be honest, I just survived for about a year. While I loved being home to pour into these little lives, I was exhausted. I knew something needed to change.  

I knew I wanted to start incorporating some “instruction” into our day, especially for my then almost 3-year-old. I knew we needed more structure for our day because I constantly felt frazzled. And I definitely knew we all needed to get out and connect with other families more regularly. How that was going to happen? I didn’t know, but I started to ask.

The more moms I talked to, the more I found that so many moms were in the same boat. Being a stay at home mommy is HARD. Even when you have a wonderfully supportive hubby (like I have been blessed with), I truly believe it is one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world! So, we started talking…and meeting….and meeting at parks to talk some more.

We asked questions and discussed. We tried out different ideas – some were successful, while others weren’t. But we kept talking and meeting, praying and encouraging. Slowly but surely our co-op was born.

It has now been 4 years. Our little co-op of about 6 kids has grown into a much larger co-op that meets at a church because we’ve simply outgrown anyone’s home. We currently have 4 classes (grouped by age) and will be adding a 5th class next year. To be honest, I have been blown away by the way our community has grown, and it is truly a testament to how much we crave that community.

The friendships that have grown out of these weekly meetings are some of our most treasured – for the kiddos and myself. They have both learned so much – not only academically, but socially, spiritually, and yes even physically. They’ve learned about listening to authorities (other than mom and dad). They’ve learned about conflict resolution – when that one special toy just seems to bring out the worst in them. And I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with their academic growth! Personally, I’ve learned that I am not alone, even when it feels like no one else understands. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect – and neither do my kids. And I’ve learned that the push to get breakfast done, everyone dressed, and out the door with their school supplies (most of the time), is worth it every time.

It has truly been a blessing for our family, and I would love to pass it on to you! On my blog, Teaching Where You’re Called, I am offering a FREE email course that will walk you through 7 steps to starting your own co-op. There will be an email lesson with a simple PDF printable to make things as easy as possible for you! Don’t worry, you’ll get a lesson every 3 days, so you’ll have plenty of time to process and prepare. And hopefully, by the time fall hits, you will be ready to kick off your own co-op! I am so excited for you to start this journey! Don’t hesitate to ask questions- I am more than happy to help!

Or you can just click HERE to sign up!

Homeschool Motherhood

We’ve Decided to Start Homeschooling…..but What Do We Do Now?

May 29, 2017

If you’ve just decided to start homeschooling, congratulations! Making that decision and truly committing to it is the first step in your homeschooling journey. But now, you might be thinking, well, “I’ve made the decision, but I have absolutely no idea what to do next!”

Last month I shared a bit of our “journey to homeschool story,” and probably like you, this whole concept was completely foreign to me. I had been raised going to public schools and had spent the majority of my adult life (up to that point) teaching in a classroom. However, we truly felt this was something we had been called to do, so we just went for it. There were certainly some challenges and hiccups, but we just took everything one step at a time, and God was (and continues to be) so faithful on this journey.

Thankfully, we’ve learned quite a bit along a way, and I’m eager to share these tips with you so that the start of your homeschool journey will be as smooth as possible!

  1. Spend some time researching your legal requirements

As I shared last month, we have had the privilege of homeschooling through a school, so almost all of the legal components are taken care of for us. So, I recommend looking there first. Is there a public, private, or charter school in your area that offers a homeschool option?  If so, what does it offer? Does it align with your goals and purpose in homeschooling? What kind of support do they provide?

If homeschooling through a school is not an option – or it’s not a great fit for your family – don’t fret. There’s plenty of support available. I suggest visiting the Home School Legal Defense Association website. It offers a plethora of information regarding the legal requirements for home school in your state. While some states require a minimal amount of documentation, others are stricter. It’s important to know your legal requirement before you get started.

  1. Establish a Budget

Now, this was one area I had to learn from my mistakes! I didn’t establish a budget early on and ended up spending much more than I had planned on supplemental curriculum (the majority of our curriculum came from our school), materials, school supplies, “cool” educational gadgets, books, and more (some of which we hardly used!) You don’t want to repeat my mistake. But at the same time, it’s important to realize that homeschooling is an investment – and that includes the financial component. So, work with your spouse to set aside money for a budget that will allow you to purchase the supplies you need. Notice I said need – not want. Because if you’re anything like me, when you start browsing all those teacher supply and curriculum sites, your cart fills up fast! Having a budget really helps to keep your spending in check!

  1. Evaluate Your Child’s Interests and Learning Style – and Think About Your Own Teaching Style as Well

Before you decide on a curriculum, you will want to consider your child’s learning style and interests. Does he like a hands-on approach to learning? Does she respond best to visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning experiences? Can he focus on an activity for an extended amount of time, or does he need to incorporate lots of movement and activity into the learning process? Does she process information inwardly, or does she need to talk it through?

It’s also important to consider your teaching style. Even if you haven’t been formally trained as a teacher, consider what you want your day and your instruction to look like. Do you want a more structured, scheduled routine or do you prefer it to be more relaxed? Do you want to guide instruction or do you envision it being student led?

It’s important to consider both of these factors because if either party is completely miserable, it’s just not going to last long. Prior to homeschooling, I didn’t even realize there were different homeschool methods (traditional, classical, Montessori, unit-based, Charlotte Mason, project-based, unschooling, and eclectic to name a few). So, you may want to spend some time looking at the different methods and evaluating what might be a good fit for your family.

  1. Find a Community

After asking a number of homeschool families the top things they can’t image homeschool without, one of the top responses is almost always “other homeschooling families.” Friend, this is a huge task that you are starting – and it’s not an easy one at that – so you need people who understand what you’re facing, can offer encouragement or advice, or simply be someone you (and your kids) can share life with. So, try to establish connections with other homeschool families. Look into joining – or starting your own- co-op (look for more info on that next month). But get out there and find your community!

  1. Choose Your Curriculum

Once you’ve got some ideas about your child’s learning style, your teaching style, and the budget that you have to work with, it’s time to start investigating some different curriculum options. If you’re going through a school, start there and see what’s available. However, don’t feel like to have to do exactly what that school’s doing. There’s also an abundance of other resources available. A few places to start browsing could be: Sonlight, A Beka, Heart of Dakota, Time for Learning, Oak Meadow, My Father’s World, the Teachers Pay Teachers website…… the list truly goes on and on. Again, you want to choose materials that will be a great fit for your family, so don’t rush this decision. There’s also a reason I mentioned finding your community before settling on a curriculum – they are an incredible resource! Ask them to share what’s worked for them. What are the pros and cons of different programs that they’ve used? It’s likely that a large portion of your budget will be allotted to curriculum, so take your time with this one. Ask for samples, borrow guides from other families, and don’t be afraid to ask the publishing company questions.  You also don’t need to go out there and purchase huge amounts of expensive curriculum, especially when you are just starting and really figuring out what works for your family. Yes, you’ll need to purchase some, but there’s also lots of free materials available, so explore lots of options before making any final decisions.

  1. Map Out a Weekly Plan

Once you’ve selected your curriculum and have nailed down your weekly commitments (co-ops, classes, piano lessons, etc), I suggest mapping out a general idea for your week. Now, the beauty of homeschool is that there is flexibility; however, having a general idea of what your week and each day looks like will help ensure that you are meeting your legal requirements while also meeting the individual needs of your child. It’s also a time to determine when and how often you plan on teaching each subject. Do you plan on starting each day with Bible? Is it important to you to incorporate technology into your plans? Be sure to go back to your child’s learning style as you’re drafting this. If you know your kiddo needs plenty of breaks, build them in. Is your child an early riser? Maybe you want to start school earlier in the day and leave more free time in the afternoon. There’s not a right way to do this. And most likely, you will modify it as you get into the school year, but having a general idea, gives you an excellent starting point, especially if this is your first time. I also highly recommend building some “independent time” into your week. This could be quiet reading time, independent work time, or even independent play time for the younger ones. But this gives you a much needed opportunity to get some of your prepping and planning work done (or even a well deserved nap!)

  1. Get Started – and Give Yourself Grace

Like we tell our kids, “Just go out there and try it. You’ll never know, unless you try,” – the same goes for us. Eventually, you just have to start – even if you’re still filled with an infinite number of questions. Just start. Yes, you’ll need to make adjustments, tweak some things, maybe even try a completely new curriculum, but you won’t know what works best for your family until you try. So give yourself plenty of grace! One method of homeschooling not working for your family? Try a different approach! Kids feeling burnt out every week? Adjust your schedule or try an alternate curriculum. Remember, there’s not just one way to do this. Find the best fit for your family, and enjoy this precious time with your kiddos!

Are you starting to homeschool this year? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below with your questions  – and I’ll be sure to get back to you!

Ashley

 

Featured Homeschool

3 Ideas for Wrapping Up the Homeschool Year

May 11, 2017

First of all, can you believe we are in the month of May and talking about the END of the school year? I don’t know about you, but this school year has absolutely flown by for our family!

It’s about this time of year that I start trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to wrap up the year. Now, as a side note, we often do some school work and review material over the summer months, but we definitely transition from the more structured routine – we all need a break!

Since we homeschool, there’s not that final day that we have to get out the door and to the school by 8am. There’s no final bell that officially signals the start of summer. And while I am sometimes saddened by the fact that my kids won’t be a part of huge classroom parties, yearbook signings, and school-wide celebrations, I still love celebrating all that my kids have accomplished during the year and I want them to be able to participate in that summer excitement.

So, over the past few years we’ve come up with some awesome activities to celebrate the year and signal the start of summer! Here are our top 3 for bringing a whole lotta fun to the end of your school year – even if you’re not in a classroom.

1. Plan a Summer-Themed Field Trip

Since you will be jumping into summer, why not celebrate by going somewhere that screams summer? Plan a trip to the beach, a water park, a theme park ,or even the zoo! Your kids will not only anticipate these events, but it will be the culmination of your year. And the beauty of being a homeschool family is that you can actually plan it on your last day of school, you don’t have to coordinate buses, chaperones, permission slips, etc, and you are not locked into certain time parameters. As a former teacher, believe me, it’s a beautiful thing!

2. Plan an End of the Year Party

If you’re a part of a co-op, this is probably the simplest idea. As a group, agree upon a date to wrap things up and plan a party. This can be at your co-op’s normal location, a local park, a kid-friendly eatery, or even someone’s home. We usually coordinate a picnic lunch and present the kids with an of end of the year certificate, character award, or achievement award (it’s varied from year to year). Some years we have planned games and/or activities, other years it has just been a free for all! Either way, the kiddos love it, and it most certainly helps to ring in summer! And even if you’re not in a co-op, invite some of your kids friends over for an afternoon and celebrate with them – I’m sure they wouldn’t want to turn down an opportunity to celebrate the coming of summer!

3. Plan a Review Day

Now, I know what you’re thinking: a review day, fun? Yes! But the key is how you review! Think about games and activities that you student really enjoys. Then, modify those activities to incorporate some of the material you have learned over the course of the year. Does your student love board games? Then, play the game, but instead of just rolling the dice or spinning a spinner, give them opportunities to answer questions and earn extra spins, jump extra spaces, etc. If you’re not sure how to incorporate your curriculum into games, just type “learning games” or “review games” into Pinterest and you’ll see more ideas that you probably ever wanted! What I love about this idea is that not only does it bring a great deal of fun into your day, but it truly gives the students the opportunity to see just how much they have learned and how far they have come. My only word of caution with this option is this: be sure the material you’re reviewing is truly review. We want to celebrate your student, not leave them feeling deflated by being unable to answer most of the questions. Then, cap off your game time with a special meal or trip to the ice cream shop.

Thinking about trying one of these ideas or have one of your own? I’d love to hear how it goes! Comment below with your best end of the homeschool year celebrations!

Classroom Community Homeschool Substitute

I Love You Because You’re You

April 30, 2017

One night while I was putting my daughter to bed, I read her the book I Love You Because You’re You. I grabbed it off of her shelf of board books and thought it would be a quick, sweet read. Right away I was moved by the simple message – no matter what you do or how you act, you are loved. You are loved by your teacher, by your family and by God.

Educating students in academic subjects may be our job. But so many times students come to us without their basic needs met and we have to fill in the gaps. It’s important for our students to know that they are loved and are safe in our classrooms. Whether you’re teaching in the public/private school setting, a Sunday school class or at home with your own children, this companion for I Love You Because You’re You has everything you need to help foster a loving and welcoming environment.

What’s Included?

I LOVE to use cross-curricular activities. I always saw the greatest results when I used one book or topic to shape our week’s lessons around. In this companion you’ll find the following skills:

– Reading Comprehension – compare/contrast and text-to-self connections

– Writing – brainstorming and composition (What Makes Me Feel Special)

– Grammar – adjectives

– Phonics – rhyming words

– Bible Study – love

– Social Studies – how to make others feel special

– Craft – self w/adjectives

How Can I Use Them?

One of the great things about book companions is that they have just as many uses as they do components. You have so many choices! My favorites are for leaving with a substitute, using for a multi-day study, or as an enrichment project for my higher students who can work independently. Below is a picture of the companion as an enrichment project. (Click on the picture to find this product in my TPT store!) Simply store the worksheets and activities ready to go in a storage container with the book and allow students to work at their own pace during station or intervention time!

Sometimes we leave these important character building activities out of our plans because we think we don’t have time for them. But with some cross-curricular connections, there’s always time to teach our kiddos how to love and appreciate each other. Enjoy helping your students feel loved!

Featured Homeschool

5 Things I Can’t Imagine Homeschooling Without

April 14, 2017

The end of the school year is rapidly approaching, and it’s a great time to reflect on things that have worked well and things you might want to tweak for next year. As a homeschooling mom of two boys, we have had some great successes and more than enough flops, but there are a few things that I really don’t think I would have made it without.

So, I’m excited to share my list of 5 things I can’t imagine homeschooling without! Now, this list is really two-fold. It’s an opportunity to express incredible gratitude to the people and resources we’ve been given, but I also hope it will give you some insight into things that will make your homeschooling experience easier – especially if it’s something you’re thinking about trying next year.

So, here goes….

  1. A Community of Other Homeschooling Families

I really can’t imagine trying to do this on my own. And as I talked to other homeschooling moms, this was consistently one of the top things on their lists. On days when I’m completely exhausted, overwhelmed, and feeling like I’ve failed the kids, being able to talk to, be encouraged by, and simply be reminded that you’re not alone by these other mommas always re-energizes me. Not only has this community blessed me, but it has given my kids countless opportunities to develop friendships, participate in large group activities, and grow in their social and problem-solving skills. We attend a weekly co-op with 9 other families (more on this coming soon!), and it is truly the highlight of our week! I can NOT imagine trying to tackle this alone, and having other homeschooling families nearby has made a tremendous difference.

So, if you’re thinking about homeschooling, look for ways to connect. Are there other families in your community who are currently or will be homeschooling? What are some ways you can connect with them? Look into starting a co-op of your own (again, more specifics on this will be coming soon). Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – it’s well worth the effort!

  1. Our Educational Supervisor/Teacher

We homeschool through a public charter school, specifically designed for homeschool families. Each family is assigned a personalized learning teacher who helps get your curriculum, checks in on each student’s progress, helps parents with planning and learning strategies, and takes care of ALL the paperwork/legal side of things. This is such a huge blessing! I don’t have to worry about making sure everything is documented and submitted to the state correctly. She totally takes care of all of it – gathering the information and materials she needs at our meetings. Furthermore, she conducts assessments throughout the year (so it’s not just Mom doing it), to help ensure we’re on track and give advice on things we can work on.

If you’re looking into homeschooling, research what is available in your area. Is there a school you can go through? What resources and/or services can they provide? What kind of assistance will you receive? Homeschooling is so much more than just doing some activities with your kids at home, so the more help you can receive, the easier the process will be.

  1. A Supportive Spouse

Being a homeschool mom is a pretty thankless job. I certainly get “paid” in plenty of hugs, kisses, and smiles, but when it comes to verbal affirmation for the job I’m doing, it’s pretty few and far between. It’s primarily because no one else sees the time, effort, and energy I’m pouring into this day in and day out. However, the one person who does see it is my husband. He sees the planning, the progress the kids are making, the projects, the organization, and coordination, and he sees me do it day after day. He’s the one who takes the kids to the park just because he knows I need a break. He’s the one who cleans up after dinner because he knows I’ve been “on” all day. And he’s the one who affirms and encourages me when I feel like giving up. He does this because he knows the sacrifice I’m making to homeschool our kids. And I know I couldn’t do it without him.

So, if you’re thinking homeschool may be in your future, take plenty of time to discuss this with your spouse. Ask the tough questions to ensure you’re on the same page. Now, that’s not to say you can’t homeschool if you’re a single parent, but if you are married, you want this to be a joint decision. Because if it’s not, it will be incredibly divisive.

  1. A Daily/Weekly Routine

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Part of the benefit of being a homeschool family is the flexibility you have in your schedule. Flexibility, yes, total freedom, no. You still have material you need to cover, there are still skills students need to practice consistently, and it’s just not going to get done if you don’t establish some type of daily and weekly routine. It doesn’t need to be planned to the minute, but having a game plan for each day of the week makes a tremendous difference. Ours is simple – we have a consistent start time, we almost always begin with a song or two, followed by Bible. We then move on to language arts before having a snack and brain break time. We then move on to math, followed by history, science, art, or other activity. Now, this schedule varies a bit day to day (like on the days we have our co-op), but for the most part, the boys know what our school day looks like – and it definitely helps me on the planning end. It’s amazing how well kids respond to routine, and I’m so thankful other homeschool moms taught me about the importance of this consistency early on!

So, make a game plan. Decide how often and on what days you need to teach each subject (for example, we don’t hit science every day, but language arts we do). Think about how long you’ll need for each subject – and don’t forget to include brain and movement breaks! Then, put together a tentative schedule for your week. Know that there will be some flex in it, but bringing some structure into your week will help everything go more smoothly. And by the way, don’t feel like you need to go from 8am-3pm because that’s what your local school is doing. Do what works for your family, especially if you’ve got younger kiddos.

  1. Peace for the Storms

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, is my faith in Christ. Homeschooling is hard – much more of a sacrifice than I ever imagined. Honestly, there have been days when I just want to give up. However, my faith in the Lord has given me strength, wisdom, hope, encouragement, and purpose as each day I strive to fulfill what we believe He has called our family to do. Not only does He bring peace to the storm and strength to the weak, but Jesus is the ultimate example of selflessness, sacrifice, and love. And it is his example I seek to follow.

While the above five things are not any type of curriculum, school supply, or even organizational system, I can’t imagine homeschooling without them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well! What are your must-haves for homeschooling? Leave a comment below – I’d love to connect with you!