Tour Our Home Schoolroom

Every year our schoolroom looks a little different.   I’m always rearranging things to suit our needs, or on a whim for a fresh look!  I rarely buy new things, but constantly move furniture around the house and re-purpose storage pieces.  We have a dedicated schoolroom (formerly a dining room), but learning and life are blended so books and educational items are spread throughout the house.

Here’s our schoolroom, spiffed up and ready for September:

homeschool room

This smallish room forms one corner of our main living area.  Before homeschooling I had converted it into an office and craft space for me (heavenly) and painted it a deep red, my favorite color.  When it became the schoolroom I considered repainting, but kept it red.  The red is warm and keeps this overstuffed room filled with maps, desks, lockers and scientific models still feeling like part of a home.  In the 2012 and 2013 schoolroom posts you can see a lot of the same things, though usually in different places.

Rearranging…

homeschool desks

This year our desks are separated, which has given everyone a better sense of their own space.  (And cuts down on complaints that some else has papers hanging over onto your desk.)

I moved our small table back in for working together, and also as a space for projects that need to dry, papers waiting to be filed, or the next day’s books awaiting exploration.  That helped cut down on clutter in the living areas of our home.

command central for homeschool

The “command central” wall was rearranged but is still a hub of our storage and activity:

  • The most important change was to move the computer into the schoolroom, which tends to be a quieter room for math or writing work.
  • My beloved lockers still house a writing center that holds everything the kids need for narrations and notebooking or other writing projects: paper of all sorts, sheet protectors, folders, envelopes, paperclips, index cards, etc.
  • The art wall (directions for making it also in my 2012 schoolroom post) is a highlight of the room.  It’s an easy way to display and change out their art projects, not to mention a place for wet paintings to dry safe from cat prints.

science storage for homeschool

  • Another new addition along that wall is a science cabinet: microscopes on top and all the supplies we collect inside: magnifying glasses, goggles, test tubes and beakers, scales…anything to help us feel like real scientists.

Books are EVERYWHERE!

I would love to have those big wall-to-wall bookshelves you see in lots of schoolrooms, but we do pretty well with what we have.  Perhaps the fact that wherever my children turn there are books is a good thing!  I do have several bookshelves:

homeschool book storage

  1. The main schoolroom shelves holds our curriculum, a cubby space for each child, plus science and history books.
  2. A low bookshelf holds all our picture books.  I use the top shelf for a frequently changing display: temporary pets (creatures my son collects and wants to watch for a few days) or items related to something we’re studying.
  3. In an upstairs hall is a shelf full of chapter books plus previous year binders.  This is getting very full and looking less organized as I start piling.  I’ve either got to purge or get more shelf space.

store books in baskets

I round out our shelf storage with boxes and baskets of books, tucked into the spaces I think they’ll get the most use or attract the most attention.  These smaller pieces are perfect for themed collections like poetry or drawing books, books for specific uses like beginning readers or library books, or books we use at a certain time, like when we’re learning together, during Tea Time, or for reading aloud.

Learning spaces throughout the house…

nature table

I’ve re-purposed a small children’s table as a nature table, and the low height and location in a walkway works well for catching attention.  And look–more boxes and baskets of books!  The box contains all our nature-related science books, the smaller basket beside it holds field guides.  I add relevant books to the tabletop with the nature items on display.

reading aloud

Much of our day (or at least our favorite part of the day) still consists of reading aloud.  This nook is a new arrangement of furniture we already had.  I like it because it’s a cozy comfortable space and the close proximity of the chairs means I can use a quieter voice.  There is room on the floor for our dog (or my son rolling around to get the wiggles out).  We read everywhere–the deck, a park, the living room, in the camper, at the dining table…but this is probably my favorite spot.

homeschool music room

Both my children take music lessons and are lucky to have beautiful instruments to play.  It’s a big priority in our homeschool budget.  Their instruments have a prominent place in our home and schedule.

Some things stayed the same…

diy magnetic board

The magnetic board I made three years ago still works wonderfully, now for my son who is using All About Spelling’s magnetic letter tiles.  (See my 2012 schoolroom post for directions on the inexpensive DIY magnetic board.)  An easel nearby is great for spelling practice, silly notes to each other, vocabulary words for narrations, surprise announcements, or schedule details.  Of course I still love my big $5 roll-down wall maps from a school closing sale.

Art and Craft Supplies in a Cupboard

This black hutch, with fabric behind the glass doors to hide the clutter, still stands in as wonderful storage for craft supplies.

Not everything is organized…

lego robotics mess

And here’s a real-life photo.  We re-purposed the old train table into a Lego Robotics table.  We bought a large tackle box to store the thousands of pieces…but that sits empty.  My son’s brain works entirely differently from mine, and can work within the chaos.  I close my eyes when I walk by!

That’s a current look at our homeschool learning spaces.  It’s a pretty good bet that if I took pictures again in a few months things would be moved around again! 

Head over to iHomeschool Network to peek into other schoolrooms.

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2014-2015 Curriculum and Plans

I’m almost ready for the new school year to begin.  We continue relaxed learning during the summer months, but come September we’ll resume our full-time schedule. (We never start before Labor Day–summer is short in Maine!).  Here are my written-in-pencil plans for my nearly-nine-year-old boy and my just-turned-twelve-year-old girl.

Curriculum and Plans

Before I start, let me say that I have made great progress in not planning too much, and it has improved the atmosphere of our homeschool.  I also find myself aligning even more closely to Charlotte Mason’s ideas, which are a simplification of the subjects I tend to complicate.  I have read some inspiring posts on planning and scheduling recently, which I’ll discuss more when I post our daily schedule.  In short: I now indicate how long we will work on a certain subject in my plans.

Independent Work

In this case “independent” means the work each child is assigned that is not combined with their sibling.  Some of it may be truly independent, some of it may be one-on-one work with me.

12-year-old Daughter (7th grade)

She will receive a weekly list of her independent work, laying down habits necessary for high school learning.

Math

  • Teaching Textbooks: 30-45 minutes (usually one complete lesson) daily.
  • Life of Fred: The story concept appeals to my daughter and I like approaching math concepts in another format for her.  It was on the schedule last year but not done very often, we will try again this year.

Language Arts

  • Writing: Daily for 30 minutes.  This will take the form of a WriteShop lesson that we do together or her independent writing projects.
  • Spelling: No formal spelling.  We address misspelled words in her writing and that is enough for her.
  • Grammar: She has requested more grammar.  I’ll add it to her schedule to read one of our grammar books once a week (like Nitty-Gritty Grammar), and I’m looking for an editing practice book.
  • Literature: Read 30 minutes daily from a literature list I’ve prepared using Ambleside Online, Honey for a Child’s Heart and Read for the Heart.
  • Latin: Continue working on Latin for Children Primer A for 15 minutes daily.  At the beginning of each chapter we watch the video together.

Music

  • Continue with private piano lessons and practice 30 minutes daily.

Almost-9-year-old son (3rd Grade)

He will have a daily list to work from for his independent work, as he is not ready for a weekly list yet.

Math

  • Teaching Textbooks: Daily for 20 minutes.  I will continue to sit with him for the lessons, possibly transitioning to him working alone soon.  He usually only finishes part of a lesson each day either the lecture or the problems.  Charlotte Mason reminder: keep lessons short at this age.
  • Math facts: Practices these through games and apps, try XtraMath this year.

Language Arts

  • Reading: Daily for 30 minutes.  He will read for 15 minutes, then I will read.  He read to me daily last year, this year I am adding the time limit and reading to him.  These are both intended to make this as pleasant a time as possible.
  • Another 20 minute language arts session daily: we’ll work on All About Spelling (or a game like sight word bingo or ideas from Beechick’s Three R’s) and end with copywork.  Two notes: All About Spelling is a program I purchased for my daughter but found it unnecessary for my naturally good speller.  Now I see the tactile nature of the tiles are a great fit for my son.  Also I stay close by for copywork to assure he does his best work.
  • Literature: I also prepared a literature list for him.  He will listen to audiobooks 20 minutes each day, and can play with Legos or play dough or something of the sort while he listens.
  • Journal: We’ll continue keeping a journal to write back and forth to each other.  This is usually done later in the day or at bedtime.
  • Latin: We will listen to the songs from both levels of Song School Latin together before lunch.  I will do some of the activities orally, but he will not do the written work.

Music

  • Continue with private guitar lessons and practice 15 minutes daily.

Tea Time Stack

Together Work

I combine subjects when possible.  What wonderful relationships with each other and with learning it builds for our family!  Our combined learning will be broken into three blocks: Tea Time, Learning Lunch, and a Together Block.

Tea Time

At 11:00 daily we will come together for a treat for bodies and minds.  This was a new (and very popular) addition to the schedule last year, this year I’m expanding on it.

A few things will happen daily at tea time:

  • Bible Reading
  • Memory Work: we’ll work on memorizing scriptures, hymns, and poetry
  • Poetry: we’ll read poems each day, sometimes choosing from an anthology, other times focusing on one poet for a while.  I will also ask my daughter to choose poems some days and read them aloud to us.

These things will be on a loop schedule:

  • Composer studies: We’ll take composers one at a time.  We’ll read about their lives and play their music daily during tea time.  When it comes up in the loop we’ll do a SQUILT (affiliate link) lesson for that composer.
  • Artist studies: Similar to composer studies: learn about the artist’s life and art and do Charlotte Mason style picture study of one of the artist’s pieces when it comes up in the loop.  I hope to collect nice art prints (old calendars are a good source) so I can have the piece on display.
  • Sketch Tuesday: Barb posts a weekly theme at Harmony Fine Arts, then prepares a slideshow of all the sketches people send in.  This is an art highlight for us.
  • Poetry: When poetry comes around in the loop we’ll dig a little deeper into one poet and learn about his life, or learn about a particular style of poetry.

Learning Lunch

I like to make good use of my captive audience at lunchtime.  These things will happen daily:

  • Listen to Song School Latin chants as we prepare lunch.  These are helpful even for my daughter, who had no Latin base before beginning Primer A.
  • Watch Student News–keep a map handy to locate where stories are happening.
  • Bedtime Math: a fun way to get my kids thinking about math outside their lessons.  The part I like best is the focus on real-world problem solving and that they have to figure out what operation to use to solve the problem.

And we’ll finish out lunch with audiobooks or videos (documentaries, Horrible Histories, Beakman, Bill Nye, Science Friday, etc.).

Together Block

This is roughly an hour we’ll spend together after lunch and can be spent in a variety of ways.

History

We will continue to use SOTW as a framework (this year volume 2) but dig deeper using books from All Through The Ages.  The kids will narrate.  This can be a simple retelling (orally for my son, written for my daughter) or sometimes be done in more creative ways.  Crafts and hands-on activities are to be done sparingly.  (Remember, I’m a reformed over-planner!)

Science

We still will not use a year-long formal science curriculum, but science will be part of our school in many ways.

  • Nature Study is a big piece of our current science education, mostly interest-led.  We will continue keeping nature journals and aim for weekly entries except in the depths of winter.  The subjects my kids choose are usually quite different.  If my son has a snake for a while or my daughter brings in flowers to draw, they both learn from each other’s interests.
  • Videos we watch during learning lunch bring up many other topics.
  • I plan in-depth science units between history units.  Last year it was the weather and the human body.  This year I’m aiming for chemistry, but I’m not sure which resource I’ll use yet and it won’t happen until after Christmas, so I have time!
  • Read alouds: Even science is literature-based.  I read nonfiction books and scientist biographies aloud.
  • Hands-on: We provide as many tools for hands-on exploration as possible.  Microscopes and other real science tools, Snap Circuits, Lego Robotics.  My son’s interests often lead to reverse engineering broken things: vacuum cleaners, blow dryers, music boxes…
  • Outside classes: We will attend classes available in our area.  I won’t be sure of these until the school year is up and running.  A children’s museum and new planetarium at a university are both hoping to offer homeschool classes.  As is often the case, these will be dependent on enough people signing up to attend.

Literature

Oh, how I love to read aloud with my children!  I plan to continue the habit until they leave home.  We will continue our relaxed book club with one other family, meeting whenever we’re done reading to discuss the books.  Our children all keep Reader’s Response journals.

We’ve enjoyed three Shakespeare plays so far.  I read them a retelling, then we see the play (live or recorded).  We’ll hopefully do more of the same this year.  Perhaps we’ll memorize a little Shakespeare?

Brain Breaks: I have to include this in our curriculum list because I’m so glad to have found this resource!  Our Brain Breaks cards get very regular use in our homeschool.

Extracurriculars

We try not to run around too much, but we do have to get out and socialize, right?

  • music lessons
  • Scouts
  • Homeschool Rollerskate once a month
  • Possibly gym time at a local recreation department
  • Field Trips: I love them!  We try to join in on those organized by others, and have arranged a few of our own. The usual ideas like museums, historical sites, and performances (plays, orchestras) are great, and we also try places like wildlife sanctuaries and businesses…any place we can think of that would be interesting and willing.

Phew!  I know that’s a long list, so I appreciate you reading all the way through.

Are you ready for the school year?

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July in Pictures

After tying up the loose ends of last year, I’ve been more relaxed than ever about intentional learning this summer.  My one big focus has been reading aloud together, and we’re devouring books and building memories.  Here’s a little peek into our summer through pictures: a mix of relaxation, enjoying the special activities of summer, and learning through it all.

We like to visit lighthouses and try to add new ones to our list when possible.  This year we visited Portland Head Light, the oldest Maine Lighthouse (commissioned by George Washington!).

Portland Head Light

The growing season is short, but we’re enjoying the garden’s bounty.  These delicious raspberries are the reward for dutifully picking Japanese Beetles every day.

fresh raspberries

We’re using our new kayaks to explore Maine’s lakes, ponds, and streams.  What fun family adventures we’ve had in them, not to mention amazing nature study!

kayaking

My animal-loving son adores finding “temporary pets” now that I’ve relaxed and learned to say YES.  We keep them a short time, learn a lot about them, then let them go.  This little guy, a gray tree frog, was on our deck one rainy night:

Gray Tree Frog

We sailed the ocean blue thanks to generous friends, and saw seals and harbor porpoises!

Sailing

Camping on the coast is a summer tradition.  My son is the great critter-finder.

camping on coast

Just to be real, this is what the house looks like when we return from our lovely camping trips on the coast:

post-camping laundry

Shakespeare Under the Stars!  A highlight of the summer, at least for the homeschool mom in me–and how perfect that this year’s performance was Julius Caesar (we just finished studying the Romans).

Shakespeare Under the Stars

The one shadow over the summer has been fighting cancer in our furry family member.  I know she’s “just a dog” but we love her so very much, and thankfully her prognosis is pretty good right now.

Fighting Cancer

The days pass so quickly! I’d love to write more about the temporary pets, or how we’ve been enjoying Shakespeare, but between doing all these things and pulling together next year’s plans (which I hope to post in a day or two) there just isn’t time.

Happy August!

Linking up here:

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Summer (School) 2014 Plans

It’s summer in Maine!  (Don’t blink or you’ll miss it!)  Our regular daily schedule goes out the window in favor of relaxed summer days, but that doesn’t mean we stop learning.  You can read my post on year-round schooling for the why of summer school for us, in this post I’ll tell you what that looks like this year.

Summer School Plans 2014

I am finding that I can loosen my reigns a little as my kids are becoming more independent learners and honing in on their own special interests.  For my daughter that means plenty of time for playing piano, writing stories, and crafting (crocheting, shuttle tatting, sewing).  For my son that means creative role playing, building (Lego & Lego Robotics, playdough, wood and nails…anything), and finding creatures outside.

Daily (Mostly) Independent Work

Within our relaxed schedule I keep a few required subjects going throughout the summer.

My 12-year-old daughter:

  • Finish Teaching Textbooks Math 6 (less than 20 lessons left!)
  • Daily piano practice (lessons continue in summer)
  • Literature: read daily from a list of quality literature, her free reading is her choice

My eight-year-old son:

  • Read to me (and most days a quick All About Spelling lesson right after)
  • Daily guitar practice (lessons continue in the summer)
  • Writing: He generally dislikes writing but enjoys a joint journal where he and I write back and forth.

Learning Together

The things we learn and do are very flexible during the summer.  It involves lots of reading and taking advantage of opportunities that come our way–nature study when we’re camping at the ocean, visiting a farm on Open Farm Day, attending a Shakespeare play.  I fit these in around summer fun, and chores like mowing the lawn and caring for the garden (which is a yet another learning opportunity).

History

I mentioned our school year had a bit of a soft ending, and part of that is due to our study of the Romans.  So all of June and the early part of July are finding us still reading and marveling over the Roman Civilization.  I want to hit on a couple more topics and maybe have a little end-of-unit celebration, then close the history books for the remainder of summer.  The kids aren’t complaining a bit: today Julius Caesar was running around the house conquering (then sitting on his throne), and I acted as interviewer of Cleopatra for a video narration by my daughter.

Reading Aloud

We do a lot of reading aloud during the school year for history and science, plus a literary book club.  Over the summer we’ll still read aloud together, with a theme of silly and sweet.  Roald Dahl’s BFG and The Witches along with the Ramona books will take care of the silly.  Then for sweet we’ll be reading Winnie the Pooh (which I keep hearing it is perfect for slightly older kids like mine), and perhaps Paddington Bear. I can’t tell you how much I love sharing stories with my children.

We also participate in our library’s summer reading program.  The requirements are general and easily met by our regular reading, but my favorite parts are the special events like a puppet show and Mad Science show.  I’ve also printed up the fun, free resources from Traveling Through The Pages Summer Reading Program.  I like the requirements from different genres so I’m going to use this as a family reading program and see if we can complete all the squares and reward ourselves with some sort of prize.

Nature Study

We incorporate nature study regularly, but certainly it is easier during our warmer months.  We camp at the seashore many times during the summer, and no matter how many times we go we always learn more.  I’m trying out a couple new things this summer:

  • In the past we’ve added nature journal pages to binders, but for fun this summer I bought nice hardcover sketchbooks for each of us.
  • I’m not assigning what to draw, just requiring one drawing a week (and I’m including myself in the assignment–it’s good for me!).  It’s more relaxed for me, and allows my children to follow their interests.  My daughter often picks flowers while my son focuses on creatures.

Red Eft

Another part of our summer nature learning is keeping temporary pets.  We’ve done this before with monarch caterpillars and a katydid, but I’m focused on finding (or agreeing to) even more opportunities this summer.  So far we’ve had a garter snake (that I was initially afraid to even touch), an Eastern Newt, and a Golden Ground Beetle.  We learn so much by having them up close to observe, even just for a few days, and it really excites my critter-loving little boy.

Art

We love participating in Sketch Tuesday during the school year, and Barb is organizing a special summer art series on Picasso.  Each Tuesday in July she’ll post an art project assignment based on one of Picasso’s works.  My kids enjoy the slideshows Barb puts together of everyone’s projects, so this will be a fun way to keep art going over the summer.

So those are my relaxed summer learning plans.  Just enough to keep our brains engaged but allow for lots of free time for my kids to pursue interests, and me to get rested up and geared up for next year! 

How much do you plan your summer learning?

2013-2014 Year End Review

We’re having a blurred end to our third homeschool year.  Our required days and annual testing are behind us, we’ve glided into our relaxed summer school schedule, and during it are finishing up a unit on the Romans and plugging away at the last few math lessons.

Note: For the formerly rigid planner in me, allowing the blending of topics between school year and summer is a sign of great personal growth!

This felt like a transitional year.  We were no longer new homeschoolers, but saw homeschooling as our lifestyle.  On the other hand, year #2 had it’s stresses and I knew we needed to make changes.  I shared the difficulties caused by my over-planning and, after much thinking and reading and scribbling, my new plans.

A couple times in the thick of the year I gave a peek into how those changes looked (here and here), but after enjoying rest and relaxation in the beautiful outdoors of Maine (after a brutal winter in Maine) I’m here to share my full review of the last school year.  You’ve been waiting on pins and needles to read this, right?

Asticou Azalea Gardens

Hooray for things that work!

First and foremost, I’ve made great strides in keeping my over-planning in check and remembering that life isn’t about my to-do list–it’s about the people.  Less planning and less computer time in general helped me be a more well-rounded mom, plus me being more content lightens the mood of our home.  Many things rolled along pleasantly:

  • Our eclectic style suits us.   This year was filled with more reading and learning together, less me putting on a show.  We read loads of great books, together and independently, for literature, history, science, and just plain enjoyment.
  • We continue a small book club with another family.  With just two families it is easy to agree on book choices and we can be very flexible for scheduling.  We wait until everyone is done reading and meet to discuss the book.  Sometimes we watch a movie or have snacks–it’s really up to us what comes to mind!
  • Many curriculum choices worked well: Latin For Children and Song School Latin from Classical Academic Press, Teaching Textbooks, and WriteShop. (Links will take you to my reviews on The Curriculum Choice.)
  • We had a great year of ancient history using Story of the World as a spine with extra literature selections from the SOTW activity book and All Through The Ages.  We focused on Charlotte Mason style narration with select hands-on projects (a few period crafts, simple costumes for making Greek myth videos, and my favorite–food).  I found our history studies this year simpler and overall very enjoyable.
  • We continue our financial and scheduling commitment to music lessons for the value of beautiful music and hard work.
  • We enjoyed several special projects through a relaxed science fair and literature fair, and quite a few field trips.  Two notes on field trips: I’ve realized we have to schedule them ourselves if we want them to happen, and not to be afraid to try a place that might be unusual for field trips.  We called a wind farm and they were happy to give us a tour.
  • A huge hit in our daily schedule is tea time, a treat for mind and body after focused morning work.  The benefits are numerous: it motivates my children to work hard to be ready for tea time, it is a spot of joy and togetherness that we look forward to, and it is the perfect time to fit in the “extras” of art, music, poetry, and hymns.
  • Another scheduling choice worked: rotating science and history.  We used to study a historical time period and science topic at the same time, aiming for two days per week on each.  But due to extracurricular activities or spontaneous family fun, those subjects planned for the afternoon didn’t happen daily.  Focusing on one at a time helped our studies feel more cohesive, so when I would pick up a history read aloud it would be more fresh in their memory.  Plus the changeover between focus topics was refreshing!  CM note: The science of nature study is continuous, like our squirrel or moon study.

Bar Island, Maine

And there’s always room for improvement…

There were areas of my plan that needed mid-year changes, and instead of being frustrated I embraced it as the beauty of being an independent homeschooler: I can change what isn’t working.

Needs improvement: I wanted to incorporate Project Based Learning for my middle school daughter, but in typical micro-manager fashion I started out overzealous. I set up a binder with plans for scheduling the projects and requiring paperwork and everything.  Very Good: When I relaxed my daughter did better than I could have planned.  (I’m not saying oversight is bad, and with some students more structure may be necessary.)  She learned skills independently, used her time wisely, and persevered through difficulties.  It’s humbling to see that it wasn’t any great skill on my part, but simply providing her the time and making sure time-wasting activities are not allowed.

Needs improvement: While the weekly checklist a great tool for my middle school daughter, I also tried to add one with my eight-year-old son.  That was silly.  Satisfactory: I gave up on the list and relied on telling him what he needed to do next.  My daughter likes the big picture and the flexibility to do things on different days.  My son just wants to know: what do I need to do right now before I can build with Lego Robotics?  I need to take smaller steps towards independence and keep his personality in mind.  We’ll try a daily list next year.

Needs improvement: Afternoon quiet time is a good thing for my introverted personality, but it fell by the wayside due to busy afternoons.  The other problem as my kids are getting older is that after a day of focused and structured schoolwork they weren’t ready for more structure and quiet.  My son wants to build with Legos, experiment with paper airplanes, wrestle with his dad, or dress up as a spy and sneak around.  My daughter wants the freedom to play piano, type a story, or work on crafts.  Satisfactory: The my-kids-are-older-but-I-still-need-time-alone plan is this: make quiet time for myself by going into my room and shutting the door.  The kids are old enough, so we just need to work on what is a valid interruption (I’m bleeding!) and what can wait (Where’s my mini Nerf gun?).

Needs Improvement:  We changed our morning schedule (again).  Here’s the background: since infancy my daughter has been a late riser (and needs even more sleep in adolescence) and my son an early bird.  I spent too many months forcing my later riser to be ready before she was truly awake while my early riser was hungry waiting for breakfast and losing a couple hours of his most alert time before schoolwork.  Very Good:  I had an a-ha moment: we’re homeschoolers with flexibility, why am I trying to make them start at the same time??  So now my son and I get up early, and (after my coffee) we eat breakfast together and start his work early.  Meanwhile my daughter can wake naturally and enjoy her morning routine, then get rolling on her day.  We come together at tea time, then move into subjects we do together.  My daughter finishes up her independent work after that, while my son enjoys free time.  There’s less herding and hassling, and both children are working at their prime focused time.  Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Ducklings

The glass is half full…

Before I mention items that I didn’t accomplish as well as I’d hoped, let me say that my mindset has great effect on my overall review of the year.  My mantra: don’t focus on what we didn’t do, celebrate all we did!

  • Maybe we didn’t break out art supplies every week, but we did enjoy both unstructured use of art materials and working on art lessons together, along with museum trips.
  • I did not regularly incorporate copywork and dictation, but we did enjoy two Shakespeare plays.
  • We didn’t memorize hymns, scripture, and poetry like I wanted, but we read and shared a love of all of the above regularly.   In addition, I had purchased a set of hymnals for my daughter, and after thumbing through them playing her favorites, she can recite a surprising number of them.  I’m delighted that these beautiful songs filled with scriptural truth are feeding her soul.  (Another area where less oversight from me accomplished great things…I’m seeing a theme here.)

I encourage you to reflect fully on your school year, but when you feel like making lists of things you didn’t do remember to make a list of all you accomplished and enjoyed!

Brain Breaks Boost Learning and Build Relationships

I remember early reading lessons with my son.  At the beginning of the lesson he was completely capable, but the longer it went on the harder it became for him to focus or remember things he knew.  He would slump over onto me, yawn and look around the room, and our lessons would become like a slog through thigh-high snow.

Most days, in task-master mode, I’d force him to buckle down so we could finish, promising him a break as soon as we were done.  One day in desperation I told him to get up and do a few jumping jacks and it helped him refocus.  After that I used the same tactic occasionally, but my personality usually just focused on getting the lesson DONE.  I understood his need to be active but felt we should finish the lesson first, then go take a real “break.”

 Brain Breaks

This post contains an affiliate link to a product that we regularly use and love (and need!) in our homeschool.

Enter a Valuable Teaching Tool: Brain Breaks

Then Heather at Cultivated Lives wrote about Brain Breaks, short bursts of controlled movements to be used during intense mental effort.  She’s a mom of boys who’s in the trenches with me trying to get these active little guys to focus.  Add in that she’s a self-proclaimed science nerd and I jumped at the chance to obtain a free review copy her book, Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks.  I devoured it in an afternoon and with great excitement prepared the printable Brain Break cards for our first week of school this year.

We used Brain Breaks our very first day and countless times over the course of this year.  It’s not just my I’d-rather-build-a-robot-than-practice-reading son who benefits, but also my musical daughter who wishes all math curriculum would cease to exist.

There have been so many times over the course of this year that I’ve seen one of my children who is frustrated and even in tears grab a Brain Break card and within a couple minutes be laughing and ready to try again.  Not only do they help refocus children who are not working at their best, but they change the whole mood of the moment.

I call for Brain Breaks when I recognize a lack of focus or negative emotions, and often my kids ask for a Brain Break because they can recognize the signs in themselves.  Come to think of it, that’s actually a life skill and will help them be more productive even when they are older.

Brain Breaks can Break a Negative Pattern

I’m not exaggerating when I say Brain Breaks have helped us have overall far more pleasant days.  Here is an all-too-typical pattern before:

I drag my son, who is flopping like wet spaghetti, through his one-on-one reading lesson.  We finally finish and I send him off for a short break.  By now I’m feeling a bit edgy.  I check in with his sister, who made simple calculation errors in her math lesson because she wasn’t focused on math but was really thinking about the story she’s been writing.  I get upset that it isn’t her best work, so soon she’s teary.  Pretty soon I join the unhappy club and the mood of the whole house takes a nosedive.  In typical type-A fashion I bulldoze through our next task.  We check things off but the joy is lost.

These days I call for a Brain Break.  I join in with the kids, because when they aren’t focused or working well I can get frustrated, too.  A few minutes later we’re back on track, smiling and reconnected, breaking what used to be a vicious cycle for us.  Brain Breaks not only help get their more focused work done, but they also build our family relationships in the process!

Do you really need the book to implement the idea of Brain Breaks?

If you’re like me you do!

  1. First of all Heather details the scientific facts.  She shows the wisdom in taking breaks for movement when necessary.  I tend to value checking things off my list above all and steamroll over the little people that get in my way.  Realizing how much the Brain Breaks boost learning helped me prioritize them over plowing through the lesson.  So even if it feels like taking a break is counter-productive I know more learning occurs if I implement them.
  2. Second of all the printable cards make it easy and provide a variety of ideas.  When you need a Brain Break your brain is mush, so that isn’t the time to think of a fun or original way to move!  That was one of the problems with my old system of “Hey, jump up and do a few jumping jacks.”  It got boring and didn’t re-inject the fun into our learning.  Besides providing a variety of ideas to prevent boredom, the movements are specifically chosen to stimulate the brain for learning, from blood-pumping whole body movement to imaginative dramatizations.

Using Brain Break Cards

How We Use Brain Breaks in Our Home

I keep two small glass jars with the Brain Breaks cards.  We grab a card from the “Go” jar (green ribbon) and after it’s used place it in the “Done” jar (red ribbon).  That way we cycle through all the cards before repeating.  The jars and a few bean bags (helpful for some of the Brain Breaks) sit near an open space in our house, ready to save the day!

This week we’ve been doing our yearly Standardized Testing, and what a difference Brain Breaks have made.  During long exams I allow Brain Breaks and they’ve kept us laughing even while filling in bubbles!

Want to Try Brain Breaks in Your Homeschool?

Click on over to grab your copy of Heather’s Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks today!

The Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks

Making Pysanky(ish) Eggs With Kids

Making Pysanky Eggs With Children

Like most children, mine love the yearly tradition of dying Easter eggs.  Since being inspired a couple years ago by the beautiful Pysanky eggs made by Babushka in the book Rechenka’s Eggs we wanted to step up our decorating methods.  Luckily I found methods that are child-friendly and don’t require special equipment.

We’ve used two different techniques: one is a bit easier and suited to younger children, and the other is more precise, takes longer, and is better suited to older children (or moms!) who enjoy the more detail-oriented process.

I’ll explain the steps for the more difficult process…stay tuned to the end for how to simplify for younger children.

A Child-Friendly Pysanky Egg Using Melted Wax

This technique uses melted wax as a dye resist, much like traditional Pysanky.

1.  Melt wax to use as a resist for the dye.  I used a tea light wax melter to melt another tea light with the wick and metal case removed.

Tools for Applying Melted Wax to Egg

2.  After the wax melts use a tool to apply wax to the egg.  We made our own tools by sticking a sewing pin into a pencil eraser.  Applying the wax this way is a slow process requiring frequent dipping of the tool into the wax.  Starting with a plain egg, wherever you add wax will remain white.

3.  Dye the egg, taking care to start with lighter colors.  In this case my daughter started with yellow.

Layers of Wax and Dye

4.  Add more wax before dying again.  This time the wax will protect the lighter dye from being covered over with darker colors.  You can repeat the process of applying wax then dying a few times, moving from lighter to darker colors.

5. When finished remove the wax.  It’s a tricky process involving an open flame, so I did this part for my children.  I warmed the egg over the flame, being careful not to burn myself or make a burnt spot on the egg, then wiped with a paper towel.

Removing the Wax

At the end you have a beautiful egg with layers of color and pattern, reminiscent of the beautiful Pysanky eggs!

Pysanky-style egg

Simplified Version using a Wax Crayon

This technique is perfect for younger children because it is not much more complicated than dipping in one color and does not involve hot wax.  Simply use a white wax crayon (they come with many egg dye kits) to draw patterns on the egg.  The wax crayon will protect areas from accepting dye just like the melted wax.

Be sure your child presses down carefully with the crayon to apply a thick layer of wax.  Obviously you can’t get the fine details with the crayon, but it still allows for creativity and layers of color.

Removing the wax is easier: just wipe down the egg with a paper towel.

was crayon Easter eggs

In addition to being very proud of our finished eggs, I appreciate how these techniques encourage my children to slow down and focus on the process.  Each year we look forward to a relaxing afternoon during the Easter season making just a few eggs, instead of dying a dozen without particular attention to an individual egg.

An (Almost) Spring Homeschool Journal

We’ve made it to the first day of spring–at least according to the calendar.  In Maine we’re accustomed to waiting a little longer for true spring, but this year it seems especially hard.  Possibly because everything outside is still covered in snow.

winter wonderland

It has been a cold, blustery, icy, snowy winter.  I know, that’s a lot of adjectives.  This winter is worthy of many words.  Yet I trust that spring is coming.  After all, we enjoyed Maine Maple Sunday, a spring ritual.

maple sunday

And the goldfinches are losing their dull winter color for vibrant yellow.  What happy little birds!  It’s worth all the seed I buy to see the first spots of bright yellow–the first sign of spring color outside my window.

goldfinch

Despite having to hibernate too often, we’re living a full and engaging life.  Lately my children seem to grow before my very eyes, and I’m trying to soak them in and enjoy them.  Many days I fail and go to bed frustrated with the day or myself, but each day is a new beginning.

Here’s a smattering of what we’ve been up to:

Reading

We’ve treasured wonderful read alouds together.  Our favorites this year have been Heidi and The Secret Garden.  I’ve also been reading more books myself (much better to get lost in a book than lose two hours online).  I savored Pride and Prejudice and now I’m delighting in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.  Sometimes I giggle out loud when I’m reading and have to read a section to whoever is nearby.  I’d allowed my personal reading to fall by the wayside far too long.  It’s back on my priority list because I enjoy it and I’m modeling something I want my children to do: read what is lovely and nurture your intellect even when it isn’t a school requirement.

Art

Something about me being more relaxed actually has us accomplishing more.  Does that make any sense?  There seems to be more time for beautiful things like art.  A weekly favorite is Sketch Tuesday from Harmony Fine Arts.  Barb gives a topic, we sketch something related to that topic, and then she makes a slideshow of everyone’s drawings. We usually watch our slideshow during Tea Time.

tea time

We’ve also enjoyed the free art videos by posted on the Rainbow Resources blog and made a trip to a fine art museum.  Our highlight was seeing a painting by Renoir.  We couldn’t help but stand close and think how he had stood in front of that very same painting putting on the finishing touches.

Renoir

Fun

You must break up the winter doldrums with a little fun.  We celebrated our third annual 100th Day of School.  This year I kept it a surprise and the kids were delighted on a Monday morning to see this:

100th day of school

We also celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by reading old favorites and some still new to us.  We topped it off by reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck and making oobleck.  Messy but oh-so-fun!

seuss and oobleck

Busy Hands

My son has been engaged in building with Lego robotics.  I’m so thankful my budding engineer and technology fanatic has a daddy who understands and enjoys working with him.

My daughter crochets like crazy! It’s the first craft she’s taken up that I know nothing about.  She and I learned to knit together, but it didn’t spark her interest like crochet.  I’m thrilled with her independence.  My mom and my friend Tina (thank you, ladies!) are available for occasional consult, but otherwise she is using books and online videos.  I use Pinterest and browser bookmarks of reliable websites with embedded videos as a safe way for her to browse and find instructional videos and patterns.

Homeschool Mom Inspiration

Have you visited Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things?  Her series on Teaching from a State of Rest shares great thoughts (as does her blog in general) on cultivating the souls of your entire family and enjoying your homeschool life.  I’m also working through the resources on her Listen Up! page where she links to audio lectures and videos.  Those are turning my cold winter-time dog walks into a mini homeschool convention!  My favorites so far are: Teaching Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather Be Building Forts All Day, Incorporating Liturgies in the Classroom (absolute favorite), and Memorization and the Soul.

Basically I’m finally REALLY understanding that the most important thing about homeschooling isn’t my organized schedule, my fancy unit planning, what curriculum I choose or what test scores my kids achieve.  The people are the priority.  That includes these little people entrusted to my care to raise to adulthood, and me, too!

I am relieved to be nearing the end of March far more content than last spring.  I continue keeping strong limits on my time in front of my computer, and that helps me be happier, more engaged in relationships around me, and maybe even have a tidier house.  Not that you’re hanging on my every word, but that explains the infrequent posting!  I still enjoy writing when I have something to say and the mental space to write in complete sentences.  Thanks for taking your time to visit.

I’m linking up at these places, where you can find other homeschool bloggers sharing their activities and inspiration:

Recent Homeschool Reviews

You know I write reviews for The Curriculum Choice, right?  I forget to pop in here and update when I have a new review up over there.  My most recent review is about one of the hits for our family this year, and I wanted to let you know about it so you can check it out. Have you ever heard of Scratch, a terrific and FREE way to introduce your children to computer programming?

Scratch Review

While I’m at it, here are a few others I’ve done this year:

By the way, while you’re over at The Curriculum Choice make sure you subscribe!  It is one of my favorite blogs to read (and was even before I was one of the contributors).  I adore my fellow authors at TCC: sweet women like Trisha of Hodgepodge, Barb of Harmony Fine Arts, and Cindy of Our Journey Westward.  Reading their review posts is like sitting down to coffee with an experienced homeschool mom and having her  share a favorite product that she uses in her home.

Care to keep up to date on the products we’ve tried and resources we’ve fallen in love with? 

  • Check out my Reviews and Resources page on the blog, where I keep links to all my reviews published here and on The Curriculum Choice as well as the extra special resources that have helped me in my homeschooling endeavors.
  • You can also find those and all my reviews  in one place on My Homeschool Reviews Pinterest Board.

How I Teach Homeschool Fine Arts

Homeschool Fine Arts

This is the final installment in the “How I Teach” series, where I’ve been sharing how I approach each subject area.  It’s time for the finishing touches: fine arts.

What do I try to cover in fine arts?

This is where I bring in the beauty, all that is lovely in classical music and art, theater and dance.  I’m interested in two things: appreciation of beauty through experience and education, and also opportunities to produce beauty.

Why are fine arts necessary?

Why bother with fine arts?  Aren’t they just frosting?  Well, one of my favorite homeschool authors says it better than I can:

Great paintings, like great music, are part of our common culture.  They are part of the core that educated people enjoy and share and through which we all gain deeper understanding of human possibilities in this world…What we want is for the children to use their minds in a kind of thinking that they don’t experience while practicing subtraction or learning the past tense of verbs…Study more than the tyrants and wars of the past.  Enjoy the best of civilization.  Enjoy music and art.”  Ruth Beechick in You Can Teach Your Child Successfully

How Do I Teach Homeschool Fine Arts?

I was initially nervous trying to cover fine arts because of my limited knowledge, but I’ve found great joy in learning alongside my children using simple techniques and a myriad of available resources.

*This post contains affiliate links to products I use and enjoy in our home.

  • Both my children take private music lessons that include music theory.  This one requires the highest financial sacrifice and time commitment, but also has the largest life-long benefit.  My children both have developed a love for their instrument and enjoy playing for others, both informally in our home and at recitals and church.
  • My eleven-year-old daughter recently joined the adult choir at our church, which is not only providing a lot of music educations, but a lasting relationship with the choir director, the delightful members of the choir, and the lovely songs they sing.
  • This is our second year utilizing Harmony Fine Arts, an art and music appreciation curriculum created by Barb, a homeschool mom who just graduated her third child.  Her materials have been instrumental in our fine arts education: she provides a fabulous framework to help me know what to introduce, leads me to wonderful resources (like The Story of the Orchestra), and provides instruction in methods that are simple and enriching, like picture study.  And here’s a great tip I learned from her: discounted calendars are an inexpensive way to obtain large full-color prints by famous artists.  I just picked up a Monet calendar for $3 at an art museum!
  • Another homeschool-mom-created curriculum that I love using is SQUILT by Mary from Homegrown Learners. The Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Technique helps your children form a personal relationship with great classical music, and Mary provides the background information to allow you to have educated discussions with your children about what they hear.
  • Two other easy to use resources are Maestro Classics CDs (I bought Peter and the Wolf for Christmas), and listening to Classics for Kids, an excellent radio show (you can listen online or as a podcast) that teaches children about composers and pieces of music.
  • We go to experience fine arts when possible.  We’ve enjoyed wonderful opportunities: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a production of The Nutcracker with full orchestra, the musical Annie, an on-stage radio theater presentation of A Christmas Carol, art museums, etc.  This can also become expensive so I watch for discounted tickets.  I also use quality DVD recordings, like we did for CATS, to bring the productions to us.
  • To produce art I use resources like Storybook Art, keep supplies on hand and allow my children free use of them, and use ideas from my Art and Artist Study Pinterest board for learning about great artists  and producing our own art.  We also enjoy participating in Sketch Tuesday at Harmony Fine Arts.  Email your sketches on that week’s theme, and then enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s drawings.
  • We’ve begun studying hymns using the book Then Sings my Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories.  It’s simple: I read the story of the hymn from the book and find a YouTube video with the words displayed on the screen.  We listen regularly and try to sing along until we’ve learned it.

I hope this in-depth look into how I teach each of the subjects has been helpful.  I love learning alongside my children and finding the methods that work for all of us to enjoy the journey of education.

The “How I Teach” Series:

Hi, I'm Heidi and I homeschool my two sweet kids. I want them to know that learning is an exciting lifelong adventure! We love great books, unit studies, notebooking, lapbooking, and hands-on learning.

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