Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Shopping! Usborne Books!

I admit it. Sheepishly. I am a Black Friday shopper. I wait in crazy lines for $5 pajamas. Sad I know.

But as I warm up under a blanket today and browse online sales, I thought I would share with you all about an exciting adventure I started recently. 

I became an Usborne Books consultant. It makes sense. I love love love books. And I love love love Usborne books...seriously... The shelves don't lie. It is slightly embarrassing. 

So if you are at home looking for some great deals, head on over to my Usborne website and take a look. There are some great deals to be had! 

My Usborne Books website. Check it out! 





Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Wonderful World of Picture Books

I am so excited about this week's Homeschool Help series topic...because, well, it's about books! And well, I LOVE books! And it is my hearts desire to convince my children that they love books as well!

I am a super sucker for good picture books as well. I love beautiful books. My kids have favorites, I have favorites...but to pick our top 6 read aloud picture books is nearly impossible...I mean, almost as impossible as picking a favorite child! But, I shall do my best...or maybe I can cheat a little and add categories???

Top 10 Picture books for our family: (because I simply could not narrow it down to 6! These 10 have been read over and over and over again in our home!)





1. Head to Toe












2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar










3. Goodnight Moon












4. Brown Bear









5. On the Night You Were Born











6. The Tale of Peter Rabbit









7. My First Little House Collection










8. Trusty (series)











9. Teddy's Button










10. How do I Love You
Picture books aren't just for babies. Some of our best history learning comes from great picture books. Here are a few we have enjoyed in our history journey over the last few years. 

Picture books for the study of History:

Top 6 Picture books for Ancients
1. Seeker of Knowledge
2. You Wouldn't Want to be...(series)
3. Gilgamesh Trilogy
4. Tutankhamen's Gift
5. King Midas and the Golden Touch
6. Cleopatra 


Top 6 Picture books for Middle Ages
1. D'Aulaire biographies
2. The Clown of God
3. St. George and the Dragon
4. You Wouldn't Want to be (series)
5. Good Queen Bess
6. Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci

Top 6 Picture books for US history to 1850
1. If You Lived...(series) (Hopi, Iroquois, Souix, Cherokee, Colonial Times, Boston Tea Party, etc.)
2. The American Story (series) by Betsy Maestro
3. D'Aulaire biographies
4. You Wouldn't Want to be (series)
5. If you Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
6. Winter at Valley Forge




Check out the other Homeschool Help bloggers favorite picture books!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Avoiding Homeschool Burnout

We have all been there...well, I think we all have. OK. Maybe it's just me. I've been there. Lots of times actually. We are on our fourth year of homeschooling, and well, some days are tough. And then there are tough weeks. And then there are tough months. What do you do when you are a homeschool mom and the last thing you want to do is school your kids???

This is very timely, because well, I was at this point recently. (ok, I may still be there).
We had a great August and a fantastic September. I even commented to my husband how we were having the greatest homeschool year yet! (I should have knocked on wood!) And then came October... When November wasn't getting any better I knew it was time to take a step back and regroup. I almost waited too long. You see the title of this post is "avoiding homeschool burnout." It is way easier to avoid homeschool burnout than recover from it!

After six rough weeks of schooling, I was d.o.n.e. Like really done. Like call my husband every day crying. Locked in the bathroom, sending S.O.S. texts DONE. And for the first time in four years I said to my wonderfully patient great listener counselor husband, "Either you help me figure out what is going on or they have to go to school!"

I was tired. The kids were acting out. The 8 year old forgot how to subtract (she is doing division), the 6 year old forgot about short vowels, and the 3 year old well... she was a whiny argumentative sassy (cute) mess on two little legs.

Yeah, burnout ahead!

It was time to step back and figure out WHY I was yelling everyday, and why my 6 year old would bring me a napkin when I told him to "turn off the light." Yeah, it was a mess and we needed to regroup!

A few things we did that helped:

Assess the situation

What is causing the burnout? Is it the curriculum? Unrealistic expectations? Kids behavior? Lack of sleep? Diet? Outside stressors? Will the stressor fix itself? (new baby, illness) or is it something you need to be proactive about fixing?

Address the Root issues

One of the main issues I had to deal with was the attitudes of my kids and me. We needed more sleep, more routine, less eating out and processed foods, less sleeping away from home, more family time, and more consistency. Sometimes mom just needs a break-- some "me" time. A chance to step away from my kids so I can miss them long enough to remember why I adore them.
What about extracurricular activities? Yours and theirs? Too many? Not enough? Make sure you have time for family.

A Fresh Perspective

Sometimes we just need a different set of eyes. I asked my husband to stay home one morning and just observe. Honestly, after he did, I realized I didn't need him to, just having him there opened my eyes to what he was seeing and ultimately what was happening. Talk to a homeschool mom friend or your spouse. Don't suffer alone.
Keep the Relationship First

No curriculum or academic pursuit is worth sacrificing your relationship with your child. Find a way to make it work where you are both happy, or find something else to do. The parent/child relationship usurps the homeschool mom/student relationship every time. Spend some time just being mom. Hug them, cuddle them, let them know you approve of them just because of who they are, not because of what they do academically.
Change of Routine

Sometimes a slight change in routine will do it-- dropping a stressful unit or reordering the subjects...Or sometimes dropping school altogether is needed. For a day, a few days, a week. Whatever is needed.
Find the joy of learning again. Pick a project, do art or music, or that science experiment you haven't gotten to. Some of our best days like this have been when the stress level is high and we take several entire days to build a Viking ship, or create a model of the Santa Maria. It's those projects we "just don't have time for" that usually spark the love of learning back into our kids...and it it lets us take some time to put our eyes back on our kids and off of the calendar. Some of the best days come from scrapping everything on the plan, staying in your pajamas and doing a day of read alouds on the couch. Is math the cause of the stress? Put the math book away. Maybe they need a break entirely from math, or maybe they will be thrilled playing math games with you and won't even realize they did math. Change your approach.
Change of Scenery

Sometimes we don't need major changes to avoid burnout. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that is needed. Last week we schooled at the park, and at a local restaurant (wifi and free refills oh the possibilities!) I leave the little one with Grandma and it is amazing what we can accomplish! And the kids love doing the "same" schoolwork somewhere "different." It's amazing how simply cleaning my school room can change the scenery and decrease the stress levels!

Heed the Warning Signs

Don't wait until you are officially burned out. It's harder to recover from that. If you wait, it may take months or a year to bounce back, but keep your eyes open. When you see the signs in you and your kids, head it off! Take a few days. Or a few weeks. Read some great books. Do a project. Go to the park. Watch a movie during school hours. Change it up.

Homeschooling is a wonderful privilege. Yet, it is hard! Take some time for you, enjoy the kids, take a break! Remember, this is a marathon not a sprint. If we despise teaching our children what good is it that they can translate Latin, do long division, and write a novel? We don't continue to do things that we hate, so if homeschooling is your calling...take time to remember why you do it, and take time to enjoy it.

Focus on relationship, being realistic about expectations, and being honest about reality avoid burnout.


Check out what the other Homeschool Help bloggers have to say about "Overload-- What to do when you run out of fuel?"









Saturday, November 16, 2013

November Traditions




I love family traditions. Because my kids are still young and the first years of their lives were spent with me in a a whirlwind of emotions, hormones, babies, and moves, we are still establishing many of our traditions.


I love the holidays. I love Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the wonderful family traditions they bring with them.

November brings a month of thankfulness which we celebrate with a Thanksgiving Tree.





Every November we work on memorizing (or reviewing depending on which child you are!) Psalm 100. Yes, complete with motions and a song.

Another favorite November tradition is the shoebox packing party for Operation Christmas Child at our church.

We also love the shopping and packing of our own boxes for OCC, and participating in our church school's Shoebox Chapel.







Time with family,  turkey celebrations, Thanksgiving treats like turkey Oreo lollipops, and turkey cupcakes, a time of giving, and a time to focus on how very blessed we are and how we can serve God and others. And I think we even got into the 70's this week! I love November!

And of course, November means December traditions are just around the corner!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

School Without Grades or Tests?!?!?

Can you have school without grades and tests?!? How is that even possible?!? The ideas of grades and tests are so ingrained into our idea of schooling, that many are often surprised when we tell them that we don't use tests or grades as evaluation tools. I know that horrifies some!

In a classroom, it is challenging to determine retention without tests and grades. In a homeschool situation, the dynamics are completely different.

I am not anti-tests or anti grades-- if that works for you great, but for us...at least up until this point, there has not been a need.

I spend every day one on one with them. I can see what they understand and what they don't. I adjust, practice, and skip as needed according to what they need to "learn."  I can assess daily based on the time I spend with them. I correct as we go, and don't need to test to see what they know...I already know!

There is one area we "test" in, if you could call it that. We use math "tests." This is a no stress opportunity to demonstrate proficiency "on their own." We treat it like an independent worksheet. "Go work on this and do as much as you can on your own." Then we come together and go over it. It helps me gauge if I have missed anything, and pushes their independence a little. There is no grade, no red pen, no pressure...just "do your best" and then we can finish it together.

If a curriculum we use has quizzes or tests, we usually use them as a review or worksheet or not at all.

I have considered adding tests for my oldest...I probably will eventually, for some things at least. Actually, we just started a new spelling curriculum that has tests...we will probably do them... I like to be flexible. If it doesn't work out or causes unnecessary stress, we can just change it up again.

The reality is testing is a part of life. We will eventually have to teach my kids how to take tests. From standardized tests to SAT's to job and career testing...testing is a part of our culture.

Grades. My daughter especially is a perfectionist, and I can't see how grades would help her. I think they would stress her out unnecessarily. Grades tend to focus on how you did on the test, not how well you know the material. I want the focus to be on "learning," and enjoying the journey, not performance on a test. I also don't want to label them as "good" at certain subjects and "not" on others.

Some grade for motivation. How will they try harder? If one of my kids is not grasping something and therefore would be earning a low grade, as her teacher I get the luxury of finding out why, presenting it in a different way, and watching them succeed without need of grade motivation. I can motivate in other ways. I can reward diligence and hard work instead of performance.

My kids are young...so I can only speak to our experience thus far...

One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling the ability to do this how each family wants to. If you want to have "school" at home, great. If you don't want your homeschool to look anything like "school," great. Somewhere in between? Great. We get to be flexible and do what works for us. 


Don't forget to check out what the other Homeschool Help Series bloggers have to say about "Grades: Do You Give Them? Why or Why Not?"
Bernadette "Passing Grade"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Summer: Repair and Prepare

Sometimes I look longingly at those who homeschool year round. They have a routine and stick with it. I hear you can accomplish so much more, and there is no months long break to forget everything you worked so hard to teach them. Breaks every 6 or so weeks... more time for rabbit trails and project based learning...sounds delightful!

Except, that I could never do it.

Sigh. Maybe I am too lazy to school year round, but I think I look forward to summer break as much if not more than my kids do!

Many homeschool moms struggle with the balance between homeschool mom and just "mom." Summer is a long stretch of time where I am just "mom." Summer brings long days at the pool, discount movies, free bowling, all those read alouds we didn't get to during the school year...I love summer!

While I love the long lazy days of summer, I also know how hard my kids work all year and have no desire for them to lose all that we have worked so hard for all year. While year round schooling is not for us, we have found a bit of a compromise. I don't feel the need to introduce new material, or make great progress in June and July, but I do aim to "tread water" and not lose ground, particularly in math and reading.

We finish our school year in May-- finish out the curriculum we have been using, attend homeschool convention, finish planning the following year, and then take a couple weeks completely off--nothing but movies, playing, and swimming.

After a few weeks, we begin "summer schedule." I like to keep their math and reading skills up to speed so that we don't spend a ton of time having to go backwards in the fall.

I have tons of books on the shelf and they choose to their hearts content. Reading is all that matters-- not what.

Math Mammoth came out with grade review books last summer which are perfect for this purpose. We didn't complete all of it, but we did plenty of review to keep up with their skills.

One of my favorite parts of our "summer school schedule" is all the read alouds we get to. We can read all of those great books we didn't get to during the year, or that didn't fit into the topics we were studying. We love read alouds, and summer gets to be a free for all in this area.

Summer also provides a time for me to regroup for the following year. I usually have all of my materials at least ordered by May/June so that I can make lesson plans, copies, and get everything organized for August. I tend to do a lot of prep work in the summer to make the year go more smoothly.

Each weekend my husband and I put effort into getting our house ready for the next week-- cleaning, laundry, school prep...we call it "repair and prepare," giving us rest from a busy week, as well as a good foundation for the following week. Summer is like a 6 week long repair and prepare for our family. It helps me and the kids reboot, remember why we like each other, and be recharged to embrace completely the challenges of the next grade.

I hope one day my kids will have wonderful memories of summertime...I know I am enjoying making those memories!

Don't forget to check out what the other Homeschool Help Series bloggers have to say about year round schooling!


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