Homeschool Discoveries

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

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


P is for Planner June 20, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:43 pm

Last year was my first year using a full-blown planner to organize my homeschooling.  I just needed a couple of charts and an appointment calendar in past years!

Being the “DIY” type of a gal that I am, I couldn’t be completely satisfied with any pre-printed planner or even any of the complete printable planner e-book files out there.  Instead, I put together my own planner using free printables from a variety of sources, as well as a few pages I created myself.   Here’s what I made for the 2011-2012 school year:

I wanted my planner to be a go-to source of information for school plans and for our other activities. I also thought I would use some custom “weekly planner” printables I made to either plan out each subject or jot down what we did after the fact.

As it turned out, after a few weeks I didn’t use those weekly planner pages at all! I had fun creating something that looked good nice, but it just didn’t reflect the way I actually plan.  And while I liked in theory the idea of keeping a record of what we did each day…in practicality I forgot to do it.  We don’t need a detailed record to meet any legal requirements, so personal desire did not turn out to be a big enough motivation! (And then I started this blog, which has a nice side benefit of being a different sort of record of our weeks!).   (I did replace section of the planner partially with a simple chart of weekly assignments for Miss M. I printed out a chart to give her each week so she could check off her independent work, but this year I may just bind a bunch of these sheets together for her!)

After I printed all these pages, I took them all to the copy center to be spiral bound together.  I also had the cover laminated since it was too large to fit in my home laminator.

This year my planner will still contain a monthly calendar for noting family events, a section for meeting schedules and other important handouts, and excel spreadsheets I create to track what I hope we will do when with certain subjects like science and history.  I also will included photo-copied tables of contents for all our subjects that are “do the next thing” sort of lessons.   I don’t really need to plan out in advance when we will do which math lesson — we always just do the next thing.  But sometimes it is helpful to know what topics are coming up.  I like having information like that at my fingertips even if we aren’t at home.

I’ll save myself a trip to the copy shop by using regular size cardstock for the cover, and using my pro-click binding machine to bind it.  That has the added benefit of being able to re-arrange the pages if needed during the year.  I put many of my pages in page protectors last year so I could swap them out if needed (yes, the page protectors worked in the spiral binding just fine!).  This year it will all just go in the pro-click spine, and I’ll open it up if I need to swap anything out.

I found several sites helpful for finding DIY planner instructions and tips as well as free planner pages of various types.  Everyone has different needs and styles when it comes to creating a planner, but I think most people’s needs will be met somewhere in this list of free printables:

New Beginnings — Lots of Great instructions and printables.  One of the most helpful sites I found!

Donna Young — Tons, and tons of free planning pages and charts and calendars.  Most are pretty basic in terms of style/appearance, but almost every conceivable column combination is available on her site.

Vertex 42 – Free printable calendars (monthly, yearly, academic year, etc)

Daily Assignment Sheet @ Homeschool Creations — The printable assignment sheet I used for Miss M for the past few months

2012-2013 School Year Calendar — I am using this printable to plan my history units for next year…filling in little squares in various colors for each unit is fun!

Homeschool Planner Pages at Money Saving Mom

Another Free Homeschool Planner @ An Intentional Life

A big round-up of lots and lots of links to free homeschool planners @ Are We There Yet?

Happy Planning!



Making a Summer “Bucket List” June 12, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:10 am

Last summer I made a “Bucket List” of sorts for the summer that I just kept in a file on my computer.  I referred to it when I was trying to think of things to do on any free summer weekends or on days I thought the kids could use an outing or fun activity.  This year I decided to include the kids in our list making!

A Summer Bucket List for us is more than about filling the time when we are taking a break from our regular academics (though this is part of it).   Summer in Minnesota is such a beautiful season!  While we had a mild winter and a beautiful spring this year, some years it feels like the three months of summer are the only time we can consistently expect to enjoy a lot of outside activities!

To get the brainstorming started, I taped up several large pieces of paper to the dining room wall.  I added headings to each sheet of paper to get us started:

  • Places to Go
  • Things to do Inside at Home
  • Things to do Outside at Home
  • Plans to Make
  • Yummy Things to Eat
  • Things to Learn
  • Projects to Work On
  • Goals to Accomplish

There was some overlap between the headings (a few things we debated momentarily about which list to put them on), but the headings were really just to help spur on our creative thinking.  I wrote down pretty much anything the kids said unless it was clearly too dangerous (Sorry Mr E, no rock throwing fights!), not possible in our current situation (We don’t have an appropriate tree for a tree fort, so that’s out. We’ve already decided that an inexpensive “in state” summer vacation is in our budget this year, so we didn’t write down, “Go to Colorado” for this year), or just generally not possible (Mr. K, you will have to be a grown-up before you can become an astronaut or a race car driver!).    I also explained to the kids that we might not do everything on our list.  We only have so much time and money.  Some ideas might work just as well during the school year, or we may save some for future summers.

Looking for some summer activity inspiration? Check out my Summer Fun Pinterest board! And here are some of the ideas we came up with for Summer 2012:

Place to Go (Local to the Twin Cities, aka Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN and surrounding area):

Things to Do Outside at Home:

  • Treasure Hunt
  • Fire in our Firepit
  • Water Gun/Water Balloon Fight
  • Food Fight
  • Silly String Fight (hmmm..I see a theme here!)
  • Backyard wading pool
  • Sprinkler
  • Bubbles
  • Sidewalk chalk/paint
  • Put on a play
  • Get all wet in a hose fight
  • Lemonade stand
  • Picnic outside at home

Things to do Inside at Home

  • Play-doh
  • Pillow Fight
  • Make a Movie
  • Have a “Backwards Day”
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Make an Angry Birds level out of toys
  • Make a Robot out of Legos
  • Raise Monarch Caterpillars
  • Play games with balloons

Yummy Things to Eat:

  • Homemade Popsicles
  • Mix Vanilla Ice Cream with Popsicles
  • Homemade Ice Cream
  • Make Preserves or Jam
  • Go out for Ice Cream
  • Eat homegrown Lettuce and tomatoes
  • Try new vegetables we’ve never had before

Things to Learn:

Miss M wants to learn about:  Sewing, Tennis and Swimming

Mr E wants to learn about:

  • Spiders
  • How houses are built
  • How lotion is made
  • How paper is made
  • How to play soccer
  • Reading and writing
  • Electricity

I want the kids to learn about:

  • New chores (we might have a “chore bootcamp!”)
  • Cooking
  • Bible studies on Biblical character traits

Plans to Make

  • Playdates with Friends
  • A BBQ for 4th of July
  • Look into Pottery classes for M and E
  • Games for the Block Party
  • Summer Adventure camp (Miss M wants to have her own camp with her friends!)
  • Meeting friends at the pool
  • More camping trips

What’s on your “Bucket List” this summer?


O is for Organizing June 6, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:07 am

We’re currently on a six week summer break from most of our formal academic work.  And wow, it has been hard to get in the mindset to think about anything homeschool-related at all, whether it be for this blog or for planning and getting organized for next year!   But I also know that now (when we are on break, and really all summer long until we get back to a “full” school schedule) is the time to get all my ducks in a row for a great start to the next school year!

The past few summers I’ve had to spend major time organizing our school room/supplies.  This year, we are still fresh from a big re-do of our school room back in January:

I only wish it still looked that clean! (The only down side I’ve found so far to the Trofast drawer set up is that big, flat open space…it’s a clutter magnet!).    The main thing I need to do is clear out this past year’s stuff and possibly make some labels so everyone knows whose stuff is where! Our art and game cabinets need a bit of “touch up” organizing — but they are still pretty fresh from our big January clean-out as well.

I do have two other areas that need my organizing attention this summer: Our non-fiction kids books and my electronic files.  I tried to get some of our non-fiction books organized into Ikea magazine holders last summer.  But I never got the magazine holders labeled, and the result was those books didn’t get used very much.  I need to move out of the way some history books we probably won’t use this year to make more space, and find a better system (or maybe just labels on the old system) for the rest of the non-fiction books.

My electronic files need the most organization of all.   You know all those great free PDF-format printables and Ebooks?  Or those $1 sale files from the Scholastic teachers express store? Or the great deals that currclick offers? I must have dozens of those files, spread out between two computers, my iPad and even still sitting on Currclick and Scholastic’s servers, having never been downloaded.  A few files are nicely in a big folder labled “homeschooling” and some are just in the general “downloads” folder along with every other random thing we’ve downloaded in the last couple years.   I’m not making good use of the files I have, and I have nearly re-purchased a file for a second time that I had already paid for once (because it looked just as good the second time!).

So one of my challenges to myself this summer is to take care of this organizational disaster.  I think I need to condense everything to one place, possibly with file folders labeled by subject area and maybe even a master list of files I have purchased.   And now that I’ve told the world I’m going to do it, I’ll need to follow through and actually do it! 😉

To see what other bloggers are writing about for the letter O, visit “Blogging through the Alphabet” at Ben and Me!



10 Things to Do With Kids’ Artwork March 13, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:00 am
Tags: ,

I’m often amazed by how many items made of paper my kids produce every week.   Whether it is schoolwork, drawings, paintings, sticker collages or more elaborate art work, it can be a big chore to deal with all of it.  Here are few ways that we try and tame our “paper tiger” without just throwing all our kids’ hard work in the trash can.

1. Have a designated spot to put it (and sort through that spot regularly).  Here’s our current “done bin” as the kids call it…hmmm…I think it’s time for a clean out! 🙂 Unless something is obviously trash or someone wants to display it right away, most paper items in our house go here first.   Maybe it’s procrastination, but I like not making each and every clean up time a battle over what to save or toss.

2. Display it.  This could be a Top Ten list of its own, and more.  A search for “display kids art” on Pinterest  results in many, many creative ideas. We currently have a bulletin board in the school room.  The kids can pin any of their work to the board, but they either need to take something down of their own or get permission from a sibling to take something down before a new item can be added.   For quite a while I had a special display area in the dining room that I stocked with pictures. I took an old poster frame, added black posterboard to the back, then put 4 of my favorite pieces of artwork in the frame.  I hope to get this back up soon, as it was a great decoration for the dining room.

3. Make an artwork binder.  Maybe this is where  I am being a little bit lazy, but I have been letting Mr E in particular save almost any flat 8.5 x 11 piece of paper that he wants to save in a binder.  Here’s how this got started.  He and Mr. K love stickers.  They love to just sit and put stickers on paper.  That’s art to them, I guess.  It just killed me to be spending money on stickers and then throwing them away so fast once they were put on paper.  Enter the artwork binder! I punch holes in the paper, and many, many sheets of paper fit in each binder.  And, you know what? The boys actually sit and look at these two (so far) binders and enjoy looking at sticker pages and various drawings.  They tell each other stories based on what they see.  The items in these binders may not be “keep forever” sort of things, but it seems to be something they enjoy greatly for now!

4. Scan it.  What about the “good stuff”?  Well, if it is flat and standard size, I often scan it.  This gives us a lot of versatility of what to do with it in the future!

5. Photograph it.  Items that are too big to scan, like this “Happy Halloween” banner, or 3-Dimensional items can be saved for posterity in this way.

6. Save a few items for the “permanent collection”.  I ask Mr. E and Miss M to choose 5-10 pieces of 2-D art to save each year (or I may pick a few favorites myself).  I may or may not have scanned the items first, but after a few favorite items are no longer being displayed, I pack up these items in a large plastic bag.  I’m not sure if we’ll ever do anything with these, but they don’t take up a lot of space, and I think my kids may at some point fondly look back on these items. Or maybe I’ll just be fondly looking back at them when they are grown.  🙂

7. Make a photo book from scanned or photographed art.  I got this idea from Pinterest and I have followed through on actually doing it yet…but wouldn’t this be a fun thing to have on our bookshelf?

8. Use photos or scanned files to make calendars or other gifts. This has become an annual tradition for us.  Grandparents love to get a new calendar every year decorated with kids’ artwork!  Photo sites like VistaPrint, Shutterfly and Snapfish have dozens of “photo gift” options and often run really great sales.  Why not make a mug, keychain or notecards decorated with your kids’ best artwork to give as gifts?

9. Re-purpose it.  Once you’ve scanned the artwork you want to scan, and you’ve saved the cream of the crop to store for the future, turn some of the originals into something else?  Large pieces of art could become wrapping paper.  Smaller items could become part of a greeting card.  Or if you want to really get crafty, check out this idea for re-purposing your toddler’s scribbles!

10. Give it away.  Grandmas seem to love having their grandkids’ art to decorate the fridge.  You could go one step beyond just giving it to Grandma by thinking of other distant relatives who might like getting a drawing in the mail, or even giving pictures to older friends and neighbors who might find that a child’s art would really brighten their day.

Do you have any other great ideas for dealing with kids’ art? I would love to hear them!

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

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings