Tag Archives: planning

Our “Classroom”

From Towards a Philosophy of Education, by Charlotte Mason:

When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions.

With that quote in mind, and the beginning of a new school year fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to show you our home learning environment.

classroom 2

Our homeschool “classroom” is actually our kitchen (and often our living room, too). This setup works great for us because Lillia can do schoolwork at the table while Zane can engage in pretend play with his “kitchen,” or play with playdough, or eat a snack, or do some painting…it’s nice to have everything all in one place.

classroom 4

We made the tree branch mobile last year and we change it with the seasons. Right now we have apples hanging from our “tree” but soon we will have brilliant fall leaves — it brings nature indoors for the kids, and gives us lots of opportunities for seasonal crafts.

classroom 3

Zane loves to help make the paper decorations and often comments on them for several days after they are changed.


Here is the same branch mobile at the beginning of April — no leaves yet, but lots of early spring birds.


So, there you have it! The humble “classroom” where much of this coming year’s growth and learning will take place. Do you have a special room designated for homeschooling, or do your rooms serve multiple purposes (like ours)? I’m always interested in seeing the “where” of other family’s homeschooling experiences.


Filed under 2014, Planning

New School Year

The kids in our district went back to school today. But, not us! Oh, no, we are waiting until after Labor Day. That’s what we did last year and since that worked out well for us we’re doing it again. Lillia will be going to art class at the school on Friday but the rest of the week belongs to her. A last hurrah, if you will.

In the spirit of anticipation that this week brings I wanted to share some of my goals for the coming year, for both kids.

Goals for Lillia

2013 091
— Learn the multiplication facts from 0-12.
— Continue to practice and become proficient at writing in cursive.
— Overcome fear of writing on command.
— Develop some coping strategies for when difficult problems arise.
— Work on developing independence & a sense of personal responsibility.

Goals for Zane

— Continue to develop vocabulary.
— Learn to identify more colors (he can do red, blue, and green).
— Work on potty training (yikes!)
— Read EVERY day; an adult reading to him, that is.
— Find opportunities for peer socialization.

I know these aren’t the loftiest goals but I am avoiding listing anything too specific here. Perhaps other goals will make themselves known as the year progresses, but I am trying not to have expectations that are too high at the outset. I learned a lot last year about what is and isn’t realistic, when it comes to academics as well as the homeschooling experience in general. I am certainly the type of person who likes to know what’s coming; the type of person who thrives on having it all worked out and written down beforehand. Well, last year taught me that most days aren’t going to look anything like they do on paper. Having a rough outline is great for staying on track (definitely important if there are certain things you really want to cover). But, trying to plan out the day by the hour is a waste of time. Some days there will be a cranky toddler who just won’t let you get anything done. Some days there will be an anxious tween who runs away at the sight of her math book. That is reality.

That having been said, I am so excited about this year. It may or may not be (though most likely is) my last year homeschooling Lillia and I want to really make it count (not just from an academic standpoint). I want to enjoy this year with her and not get too bogged down by the details. I think we are going to learn some cool stuff, and I feel surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing. This time last year I was a disaster area. Now that I’ve experienced a whole year of homeschooling and nothing terrible befell me or the kids, I can go into my second year without all of that baggage — the anxiety, the pressure, the fear of the unknown, the unreasonable expectations…

This year will be great.


Filed under 2014, Ideas, Planning

Homeschool Tools

I don’t usually post mid-week, but I have recently started using some new software that has made my job as a home educator (and mom) a lot easier and I wanted to share them with you.

Note: I did not receive these products for free and I was not asked to write reviews of them.

computertime logo

I have a love/hate relationship with computers and the internet, especially when it comes to my children. As a former Waldorf parent, I cringe when I tell you that we allow our nine-year old to use the computer two hours a day. I know that’s sacrilege in some educational/parenting communities, but here’s the thing: I honestly believe that she benefits from it. She has taught herself Photoshop and uses it to make cards for her friends and drawings with her dad’s Wacom tablet. She’s writing a story using Microsoft Word. And, yes, she does have internet access, but we closely monitor what she does, and where she goes, online.

That having been said, it can sometimes be a huge struggle to limit the amount of time she spends on the computer. We tried the honor system (big failure), using a timer (the timer mysteriously broke), and using Microsoft’s parental controls (too restricting). The truth is that nagging does work, but I do enough nagging and I don’t have the time or the energy to be the internet police. Enter: ComputerTime.

ComputerTime does everything I want it to do. I can set both the times of day she can log on (ex: from 9am-7pm), and the total hours for the day, week, or even month that she has access to the computer and/or the internet. This allows me to give her computer time to work on her story, without giving her access to the internet. ComputerTime also has a feature that allows you to print out tokens to give your child bonus computer or internet time for doing things like helping around the house or doing extra chores.


We are still using the trial version, but we will definitely be buying this software. It has saved my sanity, and I feel good about setting limits that I know we can meet fairly and consistently.

homeschool tracker logo

When I started planning my curriculum for this school year (way back in June 2012!), I was using Microsoft Word to create lesson plans and book lists, and pretty much every kind of document that I wanted to have available going forward. By nature I’m fairly scatterbrained. Okay very scatterbrained. I have awesome, big, super cool ideas and the energy to make them happen! But, I’m really bad at figuring out how to make them happen. I just can’t seem to visualize the steps needed to see a project from big idea through to completion.

I’ve recently learned that I can outsource this skill to a piece of software called Homeschool Tracker. Seriously, I think I heard the heavens open up and the angels singing when I realized just how much this software was going to help me. Because this year is already 2/3 of the way over, I am using the rest of the time to experiment with Homeschool Tracker, so that I can be a proficient user by the time I am planning for next year (I can’t wait!).

The thing I love most about this software is its library feature. For example, I can find a book I want to use on Amazon, or anywhere else, and enter the ISBN into my online library. This will give me a file for the book (including a thumbnail of the cover), which then makes it a “resource.”

homeschool tracker library screenshot

Once a resource is created, it can be used to create lesson plans. A resource can then be divided up into lessons using the lesson plan feature, and assigned to specific days. I prefer to use the scheduler feature to do this, but you also have the flexibility to click and drag items in the agenda if you need to reschedule.

homeschool tracker screenshot

From here you can create agendas and reports, like Daily Task Lists (which are really handy for helping us stay on track with our readings).

Screenshot tasklist

So, there you have it: technology working for the good of humanity. I will be sure to post updates about new features I discover, or let you know if these tools stop being helpful.

Do you use any software to help you as an educator/parent/human being? Please share!

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The Twelfth Week

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. — Henry Ford

Last week was a lesson in accepting defeat, and waiting to see what sort of phoenix would rise from the ashes of my failed plans. What is one to do when everything is all wrong? Why, fix it, of course!

My plan of attack was twofold:

Part 1 – repair the damage from last week’s fighting.
Part 2 – do some serious research!

This week we took it easy. We meandered through some Life of Fred, some history, and some literature (we started reading the Old Testament this week, as part of our Ancient Near East unit). One afternoon we all baked chocolate chip cookies together. The kids bonded, and Lillia learned some things about baking (measuring, how to read recipes, etc). So, when in doubt, make cookies!


In terms of research, I checked Hoagie’s Gifted for language arts recommendations. Then, I spent quite a while surfing for books on Amazon (something I do on a regular basis, anyway). I found lots of great language arts books that are not a “curriculum,” per say, but could work well together, and ordered them. Don’t let anyone tell you that homeschooling saves you money.

Here’s what I ordered:

From Amazon.com: The Jacob’s Ladder Reading Comprehension Program targets reading comprehension skills in high-ability learners by moving students through an inquiry process from basic understanding to critical analyses of texts using a field-tested method developed by the Center for Gifted Education at The College of William and Mary. Students in grades K–9 will be able to comprehend and analyze any reading passage after completing the activities in these books.

Using skill ladders connected to individual readings in poetry, short stories, and nonfiction, students move from lower order, concrete thinking skills to higher order, critical thinking skills. All of the books, geared to increasing grade levels, include high-interest readings, ladders to increase reading skill development, and easy-to-implement instructions. The ladders include multiple skills necessary for academic success, covering language arts standards such as sequencing, cause and effect, classification, making generalizations, inference, and recognizing themes and concepts.

This sounds like just what we need, and since Lillia’s major academic strength is language arts, I think that a gifted program will be challenging enough to keep her interested.

From Amazon.com: It’s Shel Silverstein meets Strunk and White and the results are both hilarious and instructive. With over 120 illustrations and gobs of delightfully goofy examples and exercises, this book provides a lighthearted and ludicrous guide to the essential elements of language and grammar…not to mention a few writing tips thrown into the mix.

Grammar has often been taught as joyless process of memorizing rules and diagramming phony sentences, but most writers will tell you that grammar actually promotes a love of language. Not only can the study of grammar be fun and joyful, this unique primer can also be used by adults everywhere who simply need a single volume at the ready to keep them on the straight and narrow…and laughing all the way!

I have high hopes for this book. I hope it’s not too silly, because there is a fine line between treating a subject with humor and deliberately dumbing it down.

From Amazon.com: Kids climb to new heights in reading and writing with these engaging, reproducible word building games! Kids read clues on each rung, then change and rearrange letters to create words until they reach the top. All the while, they’re boosting decoding and spelling skills, broadening vocabulary, and becoming better, more fluent readers.

I bought this book mostly because it looked like a lot of fun. You start with one word (for example “vegetable”) and you either add or subtract letters as you go up the ladder to create new words. We’re not doing a formal spelling program, but I think if we did one word ladder a week, Lillia’s spelling would definitely improve. You have to spell the words right, or they don’t work in the puzzle.

From Amazon.com: If you believe that teaching creative writing should be done creatively, you’ve picked up the right book. Don’t Forget to Write for the Elementary Grades offers elementary teachers 50 creative writing lesson plans developed by the imaginative and highly acclaimed 826 National writing centers. The book is designed to be a handy teacher’s aide that can help reach and inspire all students ages 5 to 12 (even those most resistant to creative writing). The lessons range from silly (“Brains! or, Writing with Zombies”) to practical (“How to Write a How To”), from sports to science, music to mysteries, and everything in between (yes, there is an academic purpose to having Harry Potter and Spiderman battle some evil ninjas). Each lesson is written by educators, 826 volunteers, celebrated authors, actors, and writers, and all are linked to rigorous writing standards.

The book’s activities are based on proven pedagogy that can help students develop the skills to organize their ideas, craft their arguments, revise their work, state their points of view, and peer-edit, all while having a blast and learning an awful lot about the joy and hard work of writing.

Since none of the writing programs I have tried so far have even remotely interested Lillia, I figured we’d go with an entirely different approach. This book is endorsed by Daniel Handler (a.k.a Lemony Snicket), and it looks really, really good. Here’s a nice video about it:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu-qJ-egAE8&w=560&h=315]

So, that’s the roundup. I will certainly be sure to write about our progress with the books as we use them.

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Filed under 2013, Books, Planning, Weekly Update

Re-inventing the Wheel

I must be honest — I’m really struggling with the process of designing my curriculum. I totally understand why someone would buy a boxed curriculum. But, I’m stubborn, and I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with someone else’s product. Also, my daughter is all over the place when it comes to grade levels. She’s third grade for science, eighth grade for reading, somewhere in the middle for math. No pre-made curriculum is going to meet those disparate needs.

But, what happens when you find yourself designing, then re-designing, and then again re-designing just the first unit? What about the rest of the year? I’ve always had a perfectionist streak, and I try very hard to answer my critics with success. I feel I must get this just right or those who doubted our choice to homeschool will say, “I told you so.”

I don’t know if anyone has been in this place, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. We are “starting” school next week, and I feel like I’m back at square one.

Just a FYI: We are loosely following a Charlotte Mason-style method, although I am all for experimenting with other ideas. Also, I’m back in school myself, one day a week, and I have a lot of reading to do, so I don’t really have time to keep re-designing everything.

image via


Filed under Planning

Basic Unit 1 Schedule

Here is a preliminary schedule for our Unit 1 study of Prehistory and Climate Change. I haven’t added any of the supplemental materials yet, as I haven’t quite worked out where they will fit. This schedule reflects only the work that Lillia will be responsible for doing on her own.

Click here to view—> Unit 1 Schedule PDF

UPDATE 8/29/12: This has changed completely. I will post an updated version soon.

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Week 1 Schedule

I’ve completed a basic draft of what I hope to carry out during Week 1 of our trial period. Of course, there’s a good chance we won’t get to everything on here, and I am intentionally not creating a “schedule” because I know that, especially with a little one around, life can be unpredictable. If you’re interested in our plans, please click the image below! (I used Donna Young’s Basic Unlabeled Weekly planning template to create this document.)

I will be working on Week 2 over the next few days, and will post that when I’ve finished. Onwards and upwards!

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Filed under Planning