April 5th Accountability Post

Last week was a bit of a dumpster fire. We’d all had enough of being indoors. Miss 6 completed her school’s packet, 43 lessons in Dreambox and a bunch of lessons in Lexia. In addition she did:

Penmanship – ZB Kindergarten p. 131
Spelling – Lesson 15 “Short Vowel I”
Read & discussed “The Grasshopper and the Ant” drew a picture
Wrote cookie thank you cards
Completed Singapore Math p. 104-112
Completed Kumon Differentiation p. 6-42
Morning starters 5-7
Watched 2 Cincinnati Zoo videos
Earned her Girl Scouts Board Game Design Challenge Badge
Worked on learning to fold clothes using the “Marie Kondo” method
Read about kitchen safety in Williams Sonoma Kids Cooking
Read 20-30 minutes every day
Watched videos on magnetic science

I’m about to make this week’s lesson plan. I’ll also be writing a post about where to find Secular resources this week.

March 29th Weekly Accountability Post

This is what Miss 6 did this past week:

We wound up not doing school on Friday. Each day, we spent about 2 hours on these things, and some more time reading, watching educational videos, and playing with purpose.

All About Reading Level 1 Lessons 10 & 11 (review)
Zanner Blosser Handwriting K p. 127-130
Spelling Workout A Lesson 14 “short A”
What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know – Fables
Cookie thank you cards
Singapore Math Essentials of Math K B p. 90-103
What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know “Plants Are All Around Us” and “Plant Parts and 180 Days of Science pages 49-58 – on animal habitats
What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know “What a Ball: Our World,” “Oceans and Continents,” “Maps & the Globe,” “Which Way Are You Going?” and “North, South, east, West”
DK Geography p. 40-47 – finished the book
Kumon Logic p. 62-72, finished the book; Kumon Creativity p. 21-26
Morning starters p. 1-4
Geodes study
Daisy Cybersecurity badges (all 3).

This week, we get a packet from her school. We’ll also be adding in work for the Preschoolers, who want to do “work” too.

Stay well, be healthy.

Working From Home While Homeschooling

When I started homeschooling my oldest, I was a single mom going to grad school. A year in, I left grad school and started my own business. I’ve been running that business (and others) now for 12 years. I know a lot of us have been thrown into homeschooling & facilitating distance learning at the moment. It’s hard to balance it all. I have a confession: the interior of my house looks like it’s a disaster site, and to be honest, I probably won’t be fixing that until this weekend. Balance is hard – even when you’ve been doing it for a while.

Know Your Priorities

If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The reason I know that we’ll get to the whole house maintaining thing this weekend is because I have a handful of deadlines. For me, with 3 kids ages six and under, having an immaculate house is a task of Sisyphean proportions. I’d rather let go of that and focus on 1) keeping clients happy and 2) ensuring my kids aren’t spending all of their time with the electronic babysitter.

Use Screens Strategically

That said, I do make use of the television, and I’m not even going to apologize for that. Sometimes, there are conference calls, sometimes I need to follow up with a prospect, and sometimes I have a strict deadline that I absolutely have to meet. In those times, I have no shame in my game – Blippi, Paw Patrol, even that Ryan kid help prevent interruptions.

Develop a Do-Not-Disturb Signal

This one is easier said than done when you have young children. With my oldest, I would put headphones on, and that was his signal to read, draw, or play independently. My six-year-old is starting to get the hang of the headphones on…but I can’t do that if her youngest sibling is awake – I need to have all ears ready. Find something that works for your family – especially if your partner is also working from home.

Have a Plan

I use ClickUp to manage my life. (The link is a referral link, which gives me points. I’m not sure what the points do). Between ClickUp with my tasks list for any given day and my homeschooling planning tools, I feel pretty good going into each day. I know what I need to do and what my students need to do. It also gives me a measure of how I did with a day at the end of the day.

Be Social

Okay, so this one is somewhat hard right now and we really need to think outside of the box. Ordinarily, we have a lot of different activities we participate in for social engagement – and I do a lot of volunteer work. Right now, we’ve dialed back on that. I won’t be coaching T-Ball this summer in all likelihood, and I’ve taken all of my Girl Scouts troop meetings into the virtual realm. I’m considering hosting a virtual dinner party or something of that nature. Working from home gets lonely. So does homeschooling. Even if you don’t think of yourself of all that social a person, humans are social creatures. You don’t realize how many small social interactions you have until they’re just not there.

Things May Not Go As Planned

Despite our best intentions, when working with kids, things might not go as you’d planned. Be prepared for this, and do not let this discourage you. Working at home with kids at home full time and homeschooling them on the fly is a really unique situation. Even those of us who have done this a long time struggle. Something I do that really helps is to record how long things actually take when I’m trying out a new schedule or routine. That way, I’m better able to estimate how long things will take next time and I can plan better. Be flexible. There really is a learning curve to this.

Realize You Cannot Do It All

I know this is related to prioritizing, but it really merits its own discussion. No one can do it all. You will lose your mind and drive yourself into a state of burnout. It’s tempting to try to do it all. I know that temptation well! When I was writing about project management, a wise project manager told me, “You can have scope, budget, or time – pick 2.” That’s a pretty good analogy here. We are all in unique situations right now. It’s okay that it all doesn’t get done. It will. Enlist others to help if you can. If you can’t, it will wait.

Schedule Down Time for Yourself

Finally, I’m a firm believer that if it’s not scheduled, it won’t happen. We all need some downtime. Right now, that’s going to be a bit unique, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you decide, “you know what, I don’t have an immediate deadline, we’re fine on our reading, we’re just going to watch movies and play board games today.” I promise you – from my own experience – it all evens out. Make sure you have time-outs for yourself in your schedule.

Overview of the Homeschooling Planning Tools I Use

I’m joining in the Timberdoodle Blog Hop again today, and I wanted to talk about planning. I’m a big fan of planning. I feel like even if I don’t follow the plan exactly, if I have a plan, that’s a huge boost to getting things done. It helps to eliminate the risk of decision fatigue. There are lots of great tools out there for doing this, and perhaps at another time I’ll do more detailed reviews of some of the options. For now, though, I want to give an overview of what you can use to plan your homeschool.

Paper Planners

There are many different paper planners out there – Happy Planner and Erin Condren are two of the biggest providers that are popular with homeschooling parents. There are also bullet journals (which I prefer). Paper planners are just how they sound. I use a paper planner post-work. I use a composition notebook and write down exactly what we did in each subject. That way, I just pull it out to see where we finished the week & to update my plan for the following week.

Excel or Google Sheets

In-progress lesson plan for the week

Right now, because we were thrown back into homeschooling, I’m using an Excel spredsheet just so I can get a general overview of the week. I’ll adjust as needed for the following week – for example, if I find it takes two days to complete a lesson in our reading curriculum, I’ll account for that (that’s one of the big reasons I like using the paper planner to record what we actually do). This allows me to see what supplies I’ll need for the week & plan accordingly. If our library were open, it would also allow me to make sure that on Sunday we pick up what books we’d need for the week as supplimental resources.

Microsoft Word or Google Docs

This is where I do my long-term planning and my brainstorming for curriculum ideas. In the above image, I have links to all the different resources. I’m not going to actually use all the resources listed, but I still like to go through, make notes of everything I’m interested in, and have it all in one spot. That way if one curriculum choice doesn’t work well or if I find we need extra help in an area, I don’t have to go searching. I can just go to my document, click on the link, and go to the page where I found the resource.

It’s also where I lay out the lesson plans for the entire year for each subject. I outline everything we will cover for a specific subject, then find resources, choose some science projects, research videos and documentariess that are available, etc. Again, this is a lot of up-front work, but then it makes life easier later when we’re knee-deep in talking about evolution and I want to remember which videos I’d found that were age-appropriate for the subject matter and what science projects I found to do that week. This isn’t something I’ll do while we’re temporarily homeschooling to the end of the year – my goal is to make sure the remaining standards are met – but it is something that I’m doing for the next level of subjects.

Homeschool Tracker

If you’re looking for an online tool that also allows your students to sign in, Homeschool Tracker is a good resource. It allows you to track anything you can possibly want to track with your homeschool. I will likely go back to this depending on what happens with COVID-19. (and use it in place of Excel) It’s really robust, and it’s handy and you can create transcripts with it. It costs $8 a month, and yes, there is an annual subscription discount.

It definitely is a more handy tool when you have older children who are independent – because they can sign in and see their assignments and chores. You can also enter in those state standards we talked about, and track which assignments link to them – this actually came in really handy with my oldest when we put him in public school for 8th grade. It helped with placement.

So there you have it. These are the tools I use when I’m planning for homeschooling. I’m a classical homeschooler, so that means I do follow the Trivium, depsite being secular, and I do have a much more traditional school approach with lesson planning and tracking. Unschoolers likely will not use these tools – and maybe an unschooler can weigh in on the comments to talk about what they do with tracking/planning in their homeschool.

Be sure to check out some of the other blogs in the blog hop:

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How Do You Know What to Teach?

One challenge parents struggle with is determining what to teach. In the case where you’re homeschooling through K-12 or an online school, that information is often provided for you, but if you want to veer from what’s prescribed, how do you figure out what to teach, and what constitutes covering a given subject?

Providing A Solid Foundation for Learning

I’m a big fan of general education and of teaching children how to learn. A child who knows how to learn, and has the skills to do so, will be able to learn anything that catches his or her interest. Thus, language arts needs to be a big part of your child’s education – reading skills and phonics, reading comprehension, writing (technical aspects and penmanship, spelling, grammar, and writing for communication’s sake), and critical thinking (as it will become important as your child gets older for him or her to be able to discern whether something is a valid source). Mathematics is also an important part of learning as it’s the language of (higher) science and technology and it is a technical life skill.

It’s also important for children to have a general grasp of social studies (history, how government works, their local community) and science. I would also argue that getting a general appreciation of the arts (music, art, theater, literature, dance), how to take care of oneself (physical education, health, nutrition) and general life skills are also important.

This might seem somewhat overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be – keep in mind many things can be learned through everyday life.

Enhancing Interest Areas

Some children love science, some are enthralled with music, and some really want to delve into history. When you’re choosing what to teach, consider areas your student is interested in already. It may even be helpful to use some of those interest areas to springboard into other areas. A reluctant reader may be more excited if basic readers are about dinosaurs. A child who loves to read might really enjoy a biography about a historical figure and be less excited by project-based learning for history. Your child will have her or his own interest areas – and that’s great – but it’s also important to take care to push the child out of that comfort zone. It’s one thing to use an interest area as an entry-point. It’s another thing to neglect mathematics instruction or a basic understanding of history because a child’s interest in bugs has taken over everything during learning time.

Becoming a Global Citizen

Even young children can become involved in some form of service learning. It’s important for children to learn where they fit in society – both now as children and as they grow up. Service learning opportunities can help with this, give children a firm feeling of connection with the communities in which they live, and empathy for those who have different backgrounds and experiences from their own. Right now, service learning is going to require a lot of thinking outside of the box. I’m hoping to compile a list of service opportunities forr kids while they’re also maintaining social distance.

That’s all great but… how do I know what they need to know?

When I’m choosing curriculum, I look at standards-based learning. While I follow the Classical method for learning, I also like to look at what state and national standards are for each grade level – this can also help when determining whether a curriculum is a good fit. Where do you find what the standards are for each grade? Here are some resources:

Core Knowledge Sequence – Not to be mistaken with “Common Core,” this is the sequence put together by those who created the “What Your ___ Needs to Know” series of books (which are a great K-6 resource for those looking for a place to start).

Massachusetts Framework – Massachusetts has repeatedly been ranked top in the nation for their education system. That’s not the only reason to check out their standards. They offer Digital Literacy, STEM, Health Education, Foreign Language, and Vo-Tech standards as well.

New Jersey Student Learning Standards – New Jersey also leads the nation in education, so it’s worth looking at their standards as well. They also list preschool teaching and learning standards as well as life and careers standards.

Common Core Standards – These are definitely worth looking at. It’s not “new math,” it’s a list of what students should know by which ages – and an attempt to standardize this between states so that students who move from say, California, can jump right in in Kansas and expect to pick up right where they left off.

Your Own State’s Standards – You’ll also want to do a search for your own state’s standards.

Keep in mind that standards are just a jumping point to help you determine what should be covered at each grade – they’re not an end all be-all. It’s easy to get caught up in them. Instead, use them to get an idea of what should be taught, when, and if your child seemed ahead or behind, where you should start with language arts or math.

This post is part of a Blog Hop by Timberdoodle with all kinds of tips for homeschooling while we’re social distancing to help flatten the curve.

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Tips for Temporarily Homeschooling

Wow. None of us expected to be where we are right now. It’s overwhelming, it’s a little bit scary, and we have our kids to keep calm and occupy. Last summer, we’d made a decision that we’d send our kids to public school, but that I would “afterschool” and do summer enrichment wtih them. Our little Miss 6 wanted the school experience, and went in for Kindergarten, since she didn’t meet the state’s age requirements to start 1st Grade. She was enjoying it. We all liked her teacher, who worked hard with Miss 6 to help her anxiety the best way possible.

Then, we all know what happened, because it’s happening across the country. School is out for the rest of the school year. Perhaps longer depending on what’s going on this summer. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our kindergarten teacher. No kinder graduation. No muffins with mom. We’re just suddenly done for the year – but going online.

This is not what homeschooling looks like.

First, it’s important to understand that this is not what homeschooling looks like. Yes, we’re at home when doing it, but we go to park days, zoo classes, museums, the library. I feel like I’m floundering as much as everyone else – not because school is out and I have to teach the kids at home. That, I can do. Being at home 24/7 with no library resources (our library has shut down), no zoo, no museums, no park days with other kids? No Girl Scouts.

I’m bracing myself for everyone to get a horrible case of cabin fever, really quickly.

Recognize that this is an uncertain time and a time of transition.

I’m going to be honest right now; I’m dealing with large levels of anxiety. Uncertainty is extremely triggering for me. Despite all of our good intentions to get in there and have a schedule and have our kids learn learn learn! They’re likely also feeling anxiety. They didn’t say goodbye to their friends. Seniors have had prom canceled. Fifth graders won’t get their important transitions for junior high. Every child, from preschoolers who were just getting used to the out of the house routine to teens missing out on the important milestone of graduation, is also feeling uncertain, anxious, and likely sad.

Give space for big emotions.

When I first got into this homeschooling journey, when Mr. 21 was 8 and halfway through second grade (I’d never intended on homeschooling), the best piece of advice I recieved was to give some time for “deschooling.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a transition happening, and here, now, with COVID-19 threatening us, shaping our lives, shifting our routines – radically, there are going to be a lot of big emotions going on. It’s okay if your days are a bit of a hot mess at first. This isn’t “homeschooling as usual.” It’s every parent and guardian in the nation being thrown into something we’ve never seen before. Everyone is going to have big emotions.

Reach out if you need help.

You’re not alone. Most schools are providing at least some sort of learning continuation. We’ll see what our school does, but we’ll likely return to the curriculum I was planning to use. I’ll share that in another post. So many people are sharing resources – zoos are live-streaming learning videos, operas are online, there are so many great free resources – many of them geared for younger kids. If you need help, ask. I am very familiar with ECE materials, but I’ve also homeschooled a kid from 2nd-7th grade with secular materials.

In the coming days, it’s my plan to share as many resources as I can for older kids who may have online work, but might be wanting more resources to learn. I will do my best to share that information with you.

Meanwhile, if you’re a veteran homeschooler, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who has been thrown into this lifestyle? Share in the comments.

This post is part of a blog hop, hosted by Timberdoodle. Check out the other posts.

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Review: Djeco Bugs

My 5 year old loves to color. She goes through coloring books so frequently that we’ve taken to purchasing them at the Dollar Tree so we can keep up with the demand. When I was offered the opportunity to review Djeco Bugs, a scratch-off art kit carried by Timberdoodle, I knew that it would be something she might be interested in. That suspicion turned out to be absolutely correct.

About Djeco Bugs

Djeco Bugs is a scratch art set from the French company, Djeco. Kids can scratch through the inc to the surface below using the wooden tool included. There are four images in this particular kit – butterfly, caterpillar, bee, and ladybug – to work with. The kit is only $5.99, making it a nice activity for an afternoon or a nice gift for an artistically-inclined child.

Our Review

Miss 5 really enjoyed working on these. We put some newspaper underneath for easier cleanup, but it really wasn’t necessary – making it a nice no-mess activity for kids that’s different from coloring and doesn’t have the clean-up commitment of painting.

The activity set is for ages 3-6, so it’s one of those great activities for building fine motor skills. Children can make their scratchings as simple or elaborate as they would like – there are patterns underneath the blue ink. Miss 5 went through the kit in an evening and has requested that the pictures be hung on the picture wall in their playroom.

Teaching Tips

While I just let her play with and explore the Djeco Bugs Scratch Art kit, it could definitely be incorporated into both a science and an art curriculum. In fact, it’s originally bundled in Timberdoodle’s Kindergarten Curriculum Kit. Here are some ideas on how you can use the scratch art kit as a learning tool.

  • Use each image in conjunction with learning about the insects. children learn about caterpillars and butterflies, then they can complete the scratch art for that.
  • Use the pictures to talk about composition in art and patterns. Challenge your child to create a different pattern on each area of the scratch-off art.
  • Use the kit as a jumping-off point to talk about how scratch art works. First complete the art in the kit, and then create your own blank scratch art canvas. Here’s a great tutorial on making your own scratch art.
  • Use the images and the artwork created to talk about matting and framing artwork. Either hang the resulting artwork in a place where your child can see it or gift the resulting artwork to a family member or family friend.

What other ways can you think of to use the Djeco Bugs kit in your homeschool? Share your thoughts in the comments.