Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

T is for Travel Tips to pass the Time July 30, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:23 pm

We still have a long vacation coming up in August.    As a friend said recently, “We’ve taken ‘trips’ before but this is going to be a vacation!”   We’ll be spending two weeks away from home traveling to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Yellowstone, and Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park (plus a stop at Grandma’s house on the way home).  We’ll be doing some tent camping, as well as a few nights staying in cabins.  It should be quite the adventure.   And it involves 40 or so odd hours of driving!

Needless to say, I’m trying to be very well prepared for our time in the car so that we aren’t tempted to have the kids zone out to waaaay too many DVDs.  Sure, we’ll probably watch a few movies.  But I think we’d like to keep it to one long movie or a couple shorter shows per driving day (We have four 8-9 hour driving days, plus one 5-6 hour driving day planned for our trip).

So this list is as much for me to organize my ideas as it is to share a few ideas with readers. 🙂

1.  Audio books:  Miss M has enjoyed audio books for several years (though she hasn’t listened to many recently), but in the past the boys never really wanted to listen.   We tried a short, fun audio book on a trip to Chicago earlier this summer, and everyone really enjoyed it!  I’m requesting several audio books on CD from the library for our trip.  Some are long, some are short. That seems like a pretty easy way for us to do it in the car, but our library also offers downloadable audio book loans as well, and there are many great free audio books available for download at

2, Individual “Snack Packs”:  On short trips we just play “toss the snack” to the back row and hope it doesn’t spill or fall on the floor.  But a long trip calls for a different solution.  I have seen some super cute “snack box” ideas on Pinterest, but we keep it simple around here.   Each kid gets a brown paper lunch bag, and I fill it with snack size baggies or other individual snack items.   Hungry kids can help themselves and perhaps the adult not driving can even sleep for a bit without being interrupted by “I’m hungry” (maybe).

3.  Personalized coloring/activity books:  Before the trip I’ll ask my kids what kinds of coloring pages they are in the mood for, and I’ll print some out from the vast reaches of the internet.  Are We There YetThe kids also like mazes, and Miss M might be up for some other printables like crossword puzzles or word searches.   I saw the idea on a blog (but I can’t remember where) of including maps of each section of the trip to give kids an idea of where you’ll be driving each day.  I’ll bind my kids “coloring books” with a pro-click spine, but binders work too (that’s what I did before I had the proclick).

4. Printable games to play:  I’ve found some great travel game printables on Pinterest.  I already have a few games printed and laminated from previous trips, and I’ll probably try and print out a few more before our upcoming vacation.  These will get packed in a large baggie or three hole punched and stuck in a binder, along with dry erase markers.  We could try some travel-size non-printable games…but I’m not sure my kids would do well not losing pieces at this point!

5,  Games to play all together: We’ve discovered our kids love to play “20 Questions” (though we rarely manage to actually keep track of how many questions have been asked).  Other favorites include I Spy, The Alphabet Game (find signs or items that start with/contain each letter), and a “Continued Story” where each person adds a sentence to a story told out loud.  We’ll also pack a few Mad Libs books or similar printable fill-in-the-blank stories

6. Cut down on “Are We There Yet”?:  This is going to be a new area of effort for us.  Since this trip involves a lot more driving than usual, we’ll need to help the kids not ask that question that all parents dread hearing.  😉  We might use a combination of something to mark the passing of time (like a road trip countdown or a piece of tape with sections marked off for each hour of the trip) and maybe some kind of “prize” for the kid that asks that question least often!

7.  Pack a few “crafty things” to keep the kids busy: I love the ideas in this post at 123homeschool4me.   From cereal lacing necklaces to foil creations to beads on pipe cleaners, there are so many little things you could pack away to use on a trip.   This will take a bit more effort and planning on my part, but hopefully I could pull at least a few ideas like this together.

8.  Have “something new” up my sleeve:   I’m sure my kids aren’t the only ones that can find something new highly entertaining.  We got a couple gift cards for Christmas (one for a book store and one for a toy store) that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. I think this is it!  I’ll surprise the kids each with one or two new “nice” things for the trip (books or a travel toy)…plus maybe some dollar store junk too.  😉



Those are most of my great ideas for what to do while we are in motion in the car.  Do you have any more ideas I should add to my list?



I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!

Blogging Through the Alphabet


R is for Room July 17, 2013

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:00 pm

…A School Room that is.  We have one…but it hasn’t been used for “school” nearly as much this last year as it was at first.

R is for Room

When we first moved into our current house, Miss M was just beginning Kindergarten.  Being that all three of our kids (at the time) shared one bedroom, there wasn’t much room in there for toys.  Our other main-floor bedroom was a playroom/schoolroom.

By January of 2012, Miss M now had three younger brothers instead of two, and she was ready for her own room.  We were also ready for the school room to be a bit quieter place.  So Miss M moved upstairs, and the playroom/schoolroom became a mostly school room, with a few quieter toys.    Here’s a blog post about our overhaul of the play/school room.

This past year, Miss M started doing more independent work — most of which she did at her desk in the school room.  I also found myself often working with Mr. E  while Miss M worked independently — and our talking made it difficult for Miss M to focus.   I had to look all the way back to October to see a school-work “action shot” taking place in the school room (not counting Miss M working at her desk, which she doesn’t really like me taking pictures of).

Meanwhile, Lego play has become more and more of a “big deal” for the two older boys.  And the Legos are in the school room as well.  It’s a catch-22: They are in the school room distracting the big sister…or they are in the boys room with the toddler (and then we either have to keep the toddler out of the room with all his toys or allow him to run amok with the Leogs!).  So, they stay in the school room most of the time, and sometimes we make a rule that they cannot come out until school is done for the day.   But that’s hard for the boys since they are done with their school obligations much earlier than their big sister.

We did almost all our non-independent school work at the dining table this year.  But all the books are kept in the school room!  We ended up many times this year with either a large school room occupied by one 3rd grader doing school work…or a large school room occupied by no one doing school and instead occupied by boys playing blocks or Legos or by a toddler noisily pulling books off the shelf.

I haven’t really figured out the solution to this problem yet.  I would love to find a way to move Miss M to a different spot in the house for her independent work…but she is the type who does not like change and is resisting the idea of being anywhere else in the house.  I’m glad we aren’t starting back to a full schedule until the day after Labor Day this year — because I still need some time to figure this out!

I’m finally caught up on my alphabet posts and I’m linking up to Blogging Through the Alphabet this week at Ben and Me!  I’m also linking up to the School Rooms post at the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop!

Blogging Through the Alphabetnbts-blog-hop-calendar-2013


Organizing the Logic of English Flash Cards and Game Cards March 6, 2013

Filed under: Getting Organized,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:56 pm

I finally got around to organizing all my Logic of English flash cards and game cards last night! This project has been a few months in the procrastinating making.  😉

Logic of English Cards

With only one student doing a Logic of English program, organizing the phonogram flash cards was pretty simple.  I kept a pile handy of the cards we were working on, and the rest were in a drawer in a baggie or held together with a rubber band.  Even adding a second student, Mr E, didn’t cause too many problems at first because I was going through the Essentials program very slowly with him and not using too many cards.   At this point I also wasn’t making very good use of the spelling rule cards, so those just sat mostly unused in another bag.

But chaos broke loose with my phonogram cards once I started Mr. K in the Foundations program and transitioned Mr. E to this program as well.  Now I had stacks for cards Mr. K was using, cards mastered by Mr. E but not by Mr K (but that Mr K will need in upcoming lessons), cards currently needed by Mr. E, cards needed by Miss M, cards Miss M had mastered but were not needed yet for Mr E and finally cards no one is using yet (but of course Miss M will need in the upcoming weeks).  Oh, and plus those spelling rule cards! Whew, that’s a lot of cards!

The Logic of English flash cards are a bit of a challenge to organize because they are bigger than typical 4×6 cards, and are also too wide to fit in many of the other random plastic boxes I had around the house or could easily find at Target.

After much searching online and asking for advice on forums, the best option I came up with at first is the box I purchased (see the picture above — or here on the Target website). I liked the fact that the game cards also fit in the box, but I was a bit disappointed not to have a storage box with a lid!  I’ve found what I think will be safe place to store the box so that it’s less likely to be tipped over by our curious toddler.

After I bought this box I did find a couple of options for 5×8 file card boxes that close with a lid (here and here).   I’m going to see how things go with the box I purchased, but I’ll be keeping this type of box in mind for the future if we have too many spills of the no-lid box.  😉

In order to avoid buying special large divider cards, I made some using cardstock — I just needed to trim a bit off the side of a standard letter-sized piece, and then cut each piece in half.  I then hand-cut the tabs (as I’m sure you can tell from their uneven sizing!).

As of right now the game cards aren’t very well organized.  They are just separated into three groups – cursive, bookface, and special cards.  A project for a future day would be to organize them better by who might use them for a game.


Daily Schedules and the “Bad Day” February 13, 2013

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:34 pm

I recently shared a little bit about a “day in the life” of our homeschool — or at least the basic outline of what our days look like…on a good day.  🙂

But what about the “bad days”?  Not all “bad days” are created equal.  Sometimes I’m the one having a bad day.  I often find that a quick prayer for extra grace, followed by a cup of coffee, puts me back on track.  A fifteen minute catnap while the baby is sleeping and/or while all the kids watch an educational video or play a game on the iPad can also work wonders.

If one of the boys is having a bad day, it usually just means extra patience is needed for me, and for Miss M.  I might have to delay working with Miss M while I deal with discipline issues or give one or more of the boys some extra TLC.   Since Mr. E is only a Kindergartener, I can easily drop any academic expectations I have on a particular day if it seems more worthwhile to just snuggle up and read or let him play legos.  We try not to let that be our pattern, and it is really the rare day I drop school all together for him.

The real sticky spot in our schedule comes on those not-so-good days for Miss M.  Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed, got distracted by what the younger siblings are doing, isn’t “in the mood” for school, is getting hungry (but forgets to stop for a snack) and/or is struggling with an assignment yet having a hard time communicating that fact in a polite way.

On a day like that, procrastination or s-l-o-w work is often an issue.  In that case, perhaps only one or two things from her independent work list have been completed by the time the boys are ready for a break (or even finished with their work)!  I’ve learned that with Miss M, exhortations to “hurry and finish up” generally make things worse, and as much as I think discipline and work ethic are important, trying to “make” her do her independent work is usually pretty counter productive relationally and otherwise.

Miss M strongly prefers to finish her whole list of independent work before we work together.  But that has also led to days when I was essentially waiting for her while she dragged her feet on her list of assignments.   After a particularly trying day recently that involved me doing a spelling lesson with Miss M in the very late afternoon (when we were really both too tired for it!), we came up with a compromise — by 11am I can ask her to start our work together if we haven’t started it already.

Most days, Miss M should be able to finish her independent work easily by this point or before.  But if she chooses to dawdle or be distracted…we will work together at 11am anyway (give or take a few minutes…since strict time schedules rarely work that way!).  Her independent work still must be finished later — even in the evening if needed.  It’s amazing how fast that work can be completed when there is a motivation of potentially missing out on something fun!

Of course, procrastination is not the only character issue that rears its ugly head on the not-so-good days.  We’ve had yelling, stomping and door slamming around here more frequently than I would like (and the student isn’t always the offending party!).  I don’t feel like have all the answers to dealing with these issues.   As much as I would like to just drop schoolwork some days and give Miss M the rest of the day off, that typically ends up making her more frustrated.  She likes to finish what she starts, and she knows that if we don’t do some of the work now, that might mean more work later.  As a third grader, work doesn’t just “disappear” — she is still going to need to learn those multiplication tables and be willing to humbly admit that she doesn’t know everything about perimeter and area yet,  😉

The best we’ve done so far is to stop and pray (sometimes it’s just me praying silently if Miss M isn’t ready to join me), and for me to give her some space to calm down and think things through.   And to offer a snack.  That often works wonders.   🙂

How do you deal with the “bad days” in your homeschool?  I’d love to hear your insight and suggestions!


A “Day in the Life” in early 2013 January 30, 2013

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:10 am

It’s been about a year since my last “day in the life” sort of post, and I never got a “daily schedule” post written last fall, so I thought I might share a bit about what a “typical” homeschool day is looking like for us at the moment.

For anyone just joining us, I have a 3rd grader (Miss M) and a Kindergartener (Mr. E) this year, plus a preschooler (Mr K turns 4 in early February), and an older baby/young toddler (Baby J is about 15 months…but not walking yet, so not exactly a toddler per say).

I started out the school year last September thinking we might try a timed schedule (I think I’ve said that every year, actually!), and having short subject blocks of 15-20 minutes for everyone.  There are some merits to that sort of schedule, but I think I have finally learned once and for all at least for the near future that running our school day with any sort of firm time schedule to switch from subject to subject just produces an excess of stress.


Morning Routine:

Early in the school year we fell into a routine that has served us fairly well.  Everyone is usually up around 7 or maybe 7:30am.  I try to get up between 6 and 6:30am…but we all know how that goes.  Some days I’m the one sleeping in if everyone else is too! The idea is that breakfast, getting dressed, and otherwise getting ready to face the day should be done by 8:30am (or maybe 9am at the latest!).  We’ve been pretty good about all making that one this year!

Sometime before that 8:30am mark, I write out Miss M’s independent work for the day in her daily planner.  Back in August, I asked her if she preferred a checklist, chart or planner this year for her independent work.  She selected a basic student planner from Target.  Each day’s work for Miss M starts out with Bible reading, daily calendar notebook, and something for history — either her choice from our book basket or an assigned historical fiction selection.   Miss M likes to “cross it off” on the list, so I write down even the items that are the same each day.   Beyond these items,  Miss M’s independent work often involves math practice worksheets, spelling or math practice on the iPad and reading or notebooking for science.

“School Day” begins:

By 8:30 am (on an ideal day anyway) Miss M has consulted her list and started in on her independent work for the day.  Some days Mr. E and Mr. K and I are ready to start on their daily agenda at this point as well.  Other days, they are already in the middle of Legos, blocks or some imaginary game involving anything from super heroes to angry birds.  If they are in the middle of something, I let them play.  I often let them know that I will set a timer for them for 15 minutes or half an hour and that’s when “school starts” for them for the day — it’s really more for Mr. E’s benefit since most of the “school work” that needs to happen is for him, rather than for his younger brother.

I used to start Mr. E’s Kindergarten time with his reading practice.  Since the beginning of the new year, we’ve made a commitment to have everyone listening to or reading the Bible in the family.   Mr. K sometimes (or maybe even often) wanders away, but Mr. E really enjoys listening to a couple chapters everyday of the YouVersion app’s NLT audio Bible.

Then comes reading practice for 10 or 15 minutes, followed often by me reading aloud to the boys from books they select.  Mr. E may take a short break at this point (especially if we’ve done his reading practice and story time).  I have to hope he doesn’t get TOO involved in anything else during the break time — but sometimes he does and a 10 minute break extends to 30 minutes or an hour!  We typically tackle math next — Mr. E’s favorite subject.  Lately this is looking like anywhere from 10-20 minutes doing RightStart B, plus about 10 minutes or so to read a chapter of Life of Fred.   Mr. K sometimes sits and listens in on Mr. E’s math, but more often than not he goes off to play in the boys’ room.

By this time (unless math was preceded by a long break), Mr. E is definitely ready for a snack and longer break.  Meanwhile, on a good day, Miss M may be close to finishing up her independent work by this point!

Snack time and Switching focus to my 3rd Grader:

If so, it’s an easy choice to suggest a short break and a snack for her, and then move into doing her “together” work with me — this sometimes involves spelling and usually involves math. If she’s not quite done with her independent work, she may leave it to finish later (usually not her preference), or continue working until it’s done and have a short break and snack later.

If everyone is ready for snack at the same time, I try to read aloud to all the kids.  This may be a fiction or non-fiction selection for history, The Sentence Family (a story-based grammar program we started recently), or just another family read-aloud.

When Miss M is ready, we work together.   Baby J used to almost always be ready to take a nap by this point…I miss those days! Now that he is an almost-toddler, he rarely is ready for a nap in the morning (maybe by 11am if he is extra tired).    Especially while I am working with Miss M, I try to either distract J with a favorite toy, or convince the other two boys to please play with their brother (instead of playing Legos which distinctly leaves the baby out!).  The boys are most often playing while I work with Miss M — but I am not above keeping them out of our hair by letting them play an educational game on the iPad every now and then!

After I’m finished with Miss M’s math, spelling and anything else she needs help with, my next effort is often to consider if it’s time to start lunch — I might need to get something started in the kitchen. Sometimes I take a break and for a few minutes too!

Back to focusing on the boys…

Then (assuming it’s not already too close to lunch time…on a good day, we usually still have a bit of time until everyone will be super hungry) I attempt to coral the boys for their Logic of English Foundations lessons.  This is something new we’ve added since Christmas.

Usually they are pretty receptive, though it can be hard for them to stop playing at times.  If Mr K really isn’t interested on a given day, I don’t push it.  Preschool activities for almost-four-year-olds are pretty optional in my book. 🙂

Lunch and Reading Aloud…

Now it’s time for lunch.  If I haven’t made lunch yet, the kids play for a bit while I take care of that.  I’m trying to get in the habit of reading to the kids during lunch time — usually from a history read-aloud.  If we didn’t get any reading aloud done during lunch, we will try and do some reading shortly after lunch.   “Official” school work is usually done at this point! Yeah!

Afternoons: Free time, fun, chores, and ???

Let’s face it…Mom needs a bit of break too after a morning of focusing with the kids on school.  I have never figured out how to develop that clever “quiet time” habit some moms have of sending the kids to play quietly in their rooms for a certain amount of time.  Instead, I encourage the kids to pursue their interests and hobbies many afternoons.  For the boys this may mean playing more legos, drawing, pretending, or playing outside.  Miss M often reads or does a craft project of some sort.

I try to grab a few minutes to relax, and then spend some time doing chores or cooking (often with Baby J following me around and playing near me, if he isn’t playing with his brothers!).  Miss M often has chores assigned to her as well that she needs to complete sometime in the afternoon.

Of course, some afternoons I have a project in mind for the kids — whether it be arts and crafts, cooking, or maybe even a longer science activity.  And some afternoons we snuggle up on the couch and read together.

Usually about two days a week we are going somewhere in the afternoon — typically one day for an extra-curriculuar activity, and the other day for errands of some kind (library, Target, grocery store, etc).  That shapes our afternoon of course, though there is still time for free time and fun.

By late afternoon, we have some clean-up time to attempt to tame the chaos around the house.  We also often have some screen time in the late afternoon — “fun” iPad game turns (no educational games required during a “fun” turn) or a Netflix/DVD show of some sort (I try and encourage at least semi-educational choices).   I will often be making dinner or dealing with kitchen chaos while this is going on…or relaxing if it has been a hard day!

The end of the day…

After dinner finds us doing a variety of family activities or needed chores depending on the night.  Bedtime brings one final piece of our “school day” in a sense — I almost always read aloud to Miss M for at least 30 minutes at bed time — this is when we read longer chapter books (history related or otherwise) that are beyond the boys’ interest or understanding at this point.

While no two days are exactly the same in our family, this represents the way our basic routine looks as of early 2013!

I’m joining in with the “Day in the Life” link-up at!



Meal Planning and Homeschooling September 17, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:32 pm

I can’t imagine myself ever becoming a food blogger — I take lousy food pictures and rarely, if ever, make up my own recipes.  I do, however enjoy menu planning and cooking (at least most of the time).  And of course menu planning is a big time saver (very necessary with four kids and needing to spend a good part of each day educating them!).

So, I was pretty excited when I saw that the topic for  our monthly homeschool support group meeting was going to be “Organization in Cooking Meals: Meal Planning to Help Free Up Our Homeschool Days.”  I love to both share things that I’ve learned about meal planning and learn from others as well.

The mainstay of my menu planning for the almost ten years we’ve been married is a basic monthly calendar, always filled in with a pencil:

The magnetic frame is a freebie I got years ago, and each January I print out a new year’s worth of calendars to put on the fridge.   I’ve used these monthly calendars in various ways over the years — sometimes filling in a month at a time, other times filling in just a week or two at once.

But whether I do it once a month or once a week, it still takes a lot of time and energy to pull out my menu planning inspiration  (lists of favorite recipes, my binder of recipe print outs, and my laptop full of bookmarks and Pinterest recipe pins, etc), and decide what to fill in each menu square.

So, I decided a few months ago to try something new.  I created six weeks of menus for summer back in May, and rotated through those for four months.  Then at the end of the summer I created a five week menu rotation for fall/winter that I hope to use for at least the next four months.

Here’s what the Fall menu rotation looks like hanging on my fridge:

At the beginning of the month I use this menu rotation spreadsheet to fill in the monthly calendar (in pencil, of course!).  If there are certain nights I know at the beginning of the month we will definitely not be eating at home, I just skip those meals from the menu rotation, making a note somewhere that I skipped them in case I need meal inspiration some other day — perhaps a day we’re just not in the mood for something I had planned, or if I end up not finding a reasonable price on the ingredients for another meal I had planned.

Using this method I am not only saving time in menu planning, but I have a better likelihood of saving time when grocery shopping as well.  I didn’t try this at all over the summer (and I had more time then, since we weren’t doing full school days!).  But in the interest of saving time, I attempted to purchases as many groceries as possible at the beginning of the month! Sure, I still have to run into the store for milk and produce, but that takes much less time and stress than buying a week’s worth of groceries!

Having all my meat for the month also allowed me to do a bit of freezer cooking — At the beginning of the month I cooked enough ground beef and shredded chicken to use for all the meals in this five week menu! I’m also trying to do just a bit of other freezer cooking — doubling a meal here and there.  But for now, I’m pretty happy just to have most of my groceries on hand and some already-cooked meat in the freezer!

So, what about sales? With my limited time right now, I am not doing double couponing or looking for the loss leaders every week — I’m mostly going to Rainbow for double coupons when I need cereal.  If I happen to find time for a special sale on some other items, great! I can incorporate it into my current plan or save the item for a future month.  I am doing most of my shopping at Aldi, which has pretty consistently low prices on most items I buy.  I’m sure I could do a bit better on overall spending, but my hope is that I’ll save money by shopping less often…and of course my time is valuable too!


W is for Websites August 1, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized,Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 1:29 pm

I’m so thankful to be a homeschooler in the internet era.  It’s hard to imagine homeschooling without the resources, ideas and support that come from the many sites dedicated to or just available for homeschoolers to utilize.

So for my “W” post in “Blogging Through the Alphabet” I thought I would share a few of the websites that I have found most helpful (and refer to regularly) in my homeschooling journey:

1. Pinterest.  Yep, most of you reading this have probably jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon already.  If you haven’t (and you think you can use at least a little bit of self-control to not spend too much time there!), you should check it out.  Think of it like a virtual bulletin board — you can use it to save favorite sites/pages in whatever categories you choose (and then you have a handy visual reminder of these sites you want to visit again!).   You can also search or browse through “pins” that others have saved.  I love following other homeschoolers and seeing what great finds they pin! I’ve found some really great ideas and useful resources here. If you are looking for more homeschoolers to follow on Pinterest, check out this link-up — Over 400 homeschoolers have listed their Pinterest url’s in this link!

2. Homeschool Classifieds.  Looking to save a bit of money on curriculum by buying used? I’ve had great luck finding things I’ve been looking for here.  I’ve never had any problems either buying or selling here (use common sense — it’s not like there might not be a few spammers or scammers hanging out there!), and it helps stretch my homeschool $$.

3. Homeschool Share.   This site is full of free lapbooking printables.  They also have unit study resources, “five in a row” resources and kindergarten kits!

4. A Book in Time. Looking for books or crafts to go along with world history or American history studies? A book in time has many resources, sorted by era.

5. ClipArtETC.  This is a relatviely recent discovery for me — it’s a great source for all kinds of educational clip art.  Be sure to check out their Maps site as well!

6. Books Should Be Free.  There are quite a few sites dedicated to free public domain ebooks and audio books, but this one is easier to browse than some of the other sites.  If the public domain book you are looking for isn’t here, check out Project Gutenberg, LibriVox (audio books), Lit2Go (audiobooks), and the Baldwin Project (online children’s literature).

7. Jimmie’s Squidoo Lenses.  Jimmie has created tons of “lenses” (fancy squidoo term for a webpage filled with links and info about a certain topic) on Notebooking, Lapbooking and more.  When I am looking for a lapbook on a particular topic or advice on notebooking, I find myself on one of her lenses quite frequently!

8. 1plus1plus1equals1.  This site with a funny math problem for a name has some of the greatest printables for tots through Kindergarten age.  Carisa has put a lot of time into creating wonderful, free tot packs, preschool packs and so much more.   Following those links to her site will get you links to several other sites with free tot/preschool packs as well.

9. Paula’s Archives.  While not as fancy and modern looking as some sites, Paula’s Archives is packed with useful info on living books for history and science, movies for history, tips and ideas to entertain toddlers during school time, lunch ideas and more.

10. Guest Hollow.  I found a lot of inspiration from this site’s free American History curriculum as I created my history curriculum for this year. Besides two years of free American history plans, Guest Hollow features free curricula for ancient history and various science topics, as well as notebooking pages and other printables.

Those are just a few of the many sites that I have found helpful!  The homeschooling community on the internet is so wonderful, and there are so many free and low-cost curricula and tools for all of us to enjoy!

Linking up with…
Blogging Through the Alphabet Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


2012-2013 D.I.Y. Homeschool Planner July 31, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:37 am

I’m trying to stick to my goal of multi-tasking while watching the Olympics, and so far I’ve been pretty successful.  I’m super excited to have finished my planners for the 2012-2013 homeschool year!

Yes…planners…plural!  I posted a few weeks ago a bit about my planner from last year and some thoughts I had about creating a new planner for this year.  (That post has links to a ton of free printables I found for creating planners, so be sure to check out that post too if you are working on creating your own!).

I decided this year to create a weekly planner and a calendar/curriculum reference in a separate bindings:

The front and back covers start with a base of cardstock, and the front covers have a piece of decorative paper attached.  I then sent front and back covers through my laminator.  They are pretty sturdy yet still a bit flexible.  I bound each one using my ProClick binding machine.  I love the ProClick because I can open these planners up and re-arrange or add/delete pages as needed!

My planner from last year had a journal/planner section that I used for a few weeks and then abandoned.  It just didn’t reflect how I actually planned or tracked our weeks.  However I did find myself printing out a bunch of these one page charts to pencil in at the beginning of the week — just so I could get a feel for what each day would look like.   I was inspired by this thread at the Well-Trained Mind forum to look at a few more planning ideas, and I found this weekly planner (intended to be a student planner).  I thought this planner (edited with a different font and headings) might be a nice replacement for this chart, with a little more space to write on and with the easier ability to customize the subjects:

This planner doesn’t specifically have space for different students’ subjects. Some subjects like history and science we do “all together” anyway.  The boxes are big enough that for subjects like Math and Phonics/Spelling I can write in the same box what each student is doing.  This may not work when all 4 kids or even the three older ones are school age, but for right now with just a K’er and a 3rd grader doing “real” school, this should be just fine.

How I’ll use this is at the beginning of each week I’ll jot down in pencil what I hope to accomplish in each subject — which history books we might read, what math lessons I hope we finish (i.e. I will look through the upcoming lessons and see if any will take more than one day, etc).   Then I can easily erase and make changes if needed! I can look back on the week as I am writing a weekly update post or as I decide what we need to do the next week!

I like having this as a separate volume from my calendar/reference planner, because then I can have both open at once — one to a reference page and one to a weekly planner chart.

Here’s what I put in my other planner:

I started out with a nice sturdy plastic pocket.  It’s an Avery Big Pocket Insertable Plastic Divider.  Since this reference planner is also my main calendar, I find myself taking it with me to appointments, etc and sometimes I have small bits of paper or appointment cards I don’t want to lose.  That’s what this pocket is for!  It used to have a tab divider sticking out the side but it stuck out way too far so I cut it off! 🙂  Under the pocket is a one-page academic year calendar from vertex42.  I’ll use an (erasable) colored pencil to mark the weeks were planning on taking school breaks.

Under the one year calender is a quick chart of “school weeks” vs. dates.  We started doing some schoolwork at the beginning of July, but we won’t do “full school days” until after labor day (well, we might do a couple “for practice” the week prior to test out our schedule!).  This only makes 32 full school weeks, but with the work we get done in the two months prior to this, it still makes for a pretty full school year.  This reference will help me make sure we stay on track with things like Miss M’s Bible study book for the year, where we’ll just do one chapter per week.  I can quickly make sure we are staying on track by comparing the week # with the chapter #!

Under the chart is a set of monthly calendars, again from Vertex42.

Next is another plastic divider pocket…and a blank space that will later be filled with schedules from co-op, homeschool support group, etc.   After this space I have subject-specific dividers:

In each section I copied or printed out the tables of contents for the books we use, and any helpful reference materials — like the phonogram chart for Logic of English Essentials or the flowcharts that go along with Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I just have a couple pages of theme and activity ideas in the Pre-K/K section. My history section has the most actual “planning” documents (which makes sense since I planned our own history this year rather than relying on a packaged curriculum!):

I used the school year calendar from 5Js to color each of our history units a different color for quick reference.

And I also printed out the most recent copy of my history spreadsheet (available on this page — I’ll be updating the file as we go through the year) for quick reference.  I’ll be changing out these pages every couple months as I update the spreadsheet (I think, anyway!). If  I find I always just look at this on the computer, I may take it out all together, but I suspect I might refer to this at the library or elsewhere.

I’ll still be adding a few more pages to my reference planner, but it’s about 95% or more complete!  Finishing the planner makes me really excited to get going with more of our school year!


Ten Ways to Multitask While Watching the Olympics July 23, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:01 pm

Although I am typically pretty ambivalent about watching sporting events, I do get pretty excited about watching the Olympics.  When it only comes around once every four years it feels like something worth rearranging schedule for (well, sort of once every two years if you count any Olympics…but of course once every four years until the same season repeats!).  The last time we watched the Summer Olympics, we only had two kids! Mr. E was not quite a year and a half old!

As much as I am excited about watching, I know I will spend waaaay more time in front of the TV than usual during the two weeks of the games.  I decided to make the most of it by thinking of ways I can multi-task while watching.   Given that we are speeding closer and closer to the start of the new school year, this seems like an ideal time to make some preparations!

1.  Binding artwork and samples of last year’s work with my Proclick Binder.  Zip, Zip back and forth with the binding machine, then feed the punched paper onto proclick spines.  Mindless, and perfect to do while watching TV.  Getting ready for next year means getting cleaned up from last year, too!

2. Print out the first several Animal ABC until from for Mr. K.  Laminate and cut where needed.  While I am really very relaxed about preschool and don’t feel the need to follow a curriculum per se (I am not sure it is really even that high of a priority for Mr. K to learn all his letters this year!) — I know he is interested in letters and will want some “school stuff” to do while his big siblings are hard at work.

3. Prepare cursive copywork pages for Miss M.  I decided to ditch A Reason for Handwriting level D (which I had originally planned for this year), and focus instead on copywork more directly related to Bible, history and other areas Miss M will be studying.  I think i can handle some copying and pasting of  Bible verses while watching the athletes.  Then I can get the Proclick back out and bind those together too!

4.  I might print and prep some Kindergarten Packs from 1plus1plus1equals1 and Kindergarten Kits from homeschool share for Mr. E — this would be fun supplemental stuff for him to do if he needs something “extra”.

5. Consider a Calendar notebook of some sort for Mr. E and Miss M to do this year.  I have a pinterest board with ideas for this.  I am not 100% convinced I want to go this route, but if I decide to do, it this would be the perfect chance to prepare.

6.  Organize the multitude of free downloaded homeschool products I have on two different hard drives, plus files I have stored at Currclick, Scholastic, etc but have never downloaded.  It’s hard to make use of free/cheap files when you don’t even know what you have.  This has been on my to-do list for a while.  Maybe now I’ll finally get to it!

7. Once I have those files organized, maybe I will get ahead on printing out a few things I’m pretty sure we’ll use this year.  It would be nice to have some history and science printables ready to go!

8.  Find great stuff to pin to my new Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding  (BFSU) Pinterest Boards.  These are a group effort, but I want to add more quality content.

9. Work on my US History Year 1 spreadsheet — I want to link more of the books in my file to their amazon pages to make them easier for anyone else to find the same books!

10. Finish putting together my planner for this next year.  I have it started, but it’s not done yet.

Maybe I could even write a blog post or two while I am watching the Olympics.  Maybe.  I’m not so sure about that. 🙂 And that’s not going to help me (very much anyway) to get ready for the next school year! (So no, that’s not #11 on my list!).  😉

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesday @ Many Little Blessings!
Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


Ten (sort of) Totally Random Things as I Plan for a New Year July 16, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum,Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:45 pm
Tags: ,

This week’s “10 in 10 Blog Hop” topic from the iHomeschoolNetwork is “10 Totally Random Things on My Mind.”   So for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday list, while I couldn’t bring myself to be totally random, here is a (sort of) totally random list of ten things that are on my mind as I get ready for a new school year.

1.  I searched all over the internet for “Free American History Timeline Figures” and really didn’t find anything I liked.  Miss M really wants a timeline with pictures, but I really didn’t want to buy an expensive package of timeline pieces.  Then when I was searching for science clip art, what did I come across but…Clip Art Etc: A great source of free, educational clip art for history, science and more!  This is a totally legit site from a university with a generous usage license – no ads or inappropriate content to worry about here!  They have a very well organized set of American History clip art I’m excited to use for timelines and notebooking pages this year.

2. I’ll use those free clip art figures in the Timeline Template at Guest Hollow, and follow these directions to mark my timeline book pages…

3….and wall-ah…a nearly-free timeline! I bought a timeline book last summer after being frustrated by the printer jamming when printing lots of cardstock pages, so not completely free.  Now we have a new printer that probably wouldn’t jam, so I could print pages if wanted to.  And I still have a blank timeline book we never used last year.  But Miss M insists we do a timeline so I am motivated to make it work for us this year.

4. Moving on to science, I came up with a brilliant idea.  We use Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) for science.  It is a curriculum with a lot of strengths, but one of its strengths is not easy access to supplementary materials like printables, notebooking pages, example photos, videos, etc.  Users are on their own to find such things.  So I am thinking of putting the power of Pinterest to work and creating collaborative pin boards for BFSU users to make pins related to and labeled for each lesson.  I just need to find the time to create them, add a few pins, and then hope that other BFSU users join in the work/fun to make it a good resource!

5. We don’t have a lot of geography plans yet for this year, other than looking at maps of the US at it relates to US History…Hmmm…I am thinking I might add in a few other geography plans.

6.  After viewing historic planes last Saturday, my kids are totally fascinated with WWII-era aviation.  We’ve watched two documentaries on netflix in the last two days.  The kids keep asking me why we have to study American History “in order”.  They want to skip right to WWII!  We’ll do a little bit of side study of WWII to feed this interest while still keeping on track with the chronological plans I’ve laid out.

7. Will someone please remind me to put labels on our Ikea Trofast drawers we are using for all our school supplies/books? Thanks!

8.  I just realized that the Half-Price books tent sale is this week…Yippee! I love buying books…I am going to try really hard to focus on books that will be useful for history and science studies.  We need more random picture and chapter books like we need more holes in our heads… 😉  But I always make exceptions for the classics!

9. We have a table in our school room but it is like pulling teeth to get the boys to use it.  Miss M has a desk in the school room that she uses most of the time.  Sometimes she uses the table for crafts that take up too much space.  But the boys always (or at least 90% of the time) chose to sit or lay on the floor to do crafts and color or draw.  I’m tempted to get rid of the table.  Except for the fact that Mr. E will need a place to do real school work pretty soon.  Should I get him a desk? Make the table a lot lower so they don’t need chairs?  Any advice?

10. We’re thinking about guitar lessons as a music option for our family this fall.  A nearby park has a family guitar program where Tony can take lessons together with Miss M and Mr. E.  I am really hoping this works out for us.  It seems like a more realistic option right now than bringing a piano or keyboard into the house.

Hop on over to Top Ten Tuesday @ Many Little Blessings to see 10 Random Things that other bloggers have on their minds, and lots of other interesting top ten lists!

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings