Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Checking In

Wow, it's been a while!  You've probably thought I've wondered off a cliff somewhere.  I assure you, nothing quite that dramatic happened.  We painted our house, we finally gave up on the garden (the drought was too much) and pulled everything, I prepared 48 freezer dinners,  we started school, went to see The Lion King, and more. 

I'm teaching a science co-op this year so I've been making quizzes and lab sheets for that as well as trying the experiments ahead of time to see if they'll work well with upper elementary kids.  I've been creating a lot of lapbook/notebook components using Graphic Toolbox and Photoshop Elements for school in history, astronomy.    So far the most fun has been making digital scrapbook pages to help us memorize key dates in our Mystery of History curriculum.  Here are the two latest....

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TOS Review: Create Better Writers

A few weeks ago I mentioned how smoothly math class goes in our home, both teacher and student find it fun and easy.  Now I must be brutally honest and confess that teaching writing falls at the other end of the spectrum.  My son complains that it takes too much energy to write.  Well, the number 2 on the pencil does not refer to its weight in tons.  The friction between the lead and the paper isn't difficult to overcome.  So what makes writing so draining for him?  As for the teacher...well I've decided to compare writing to Olympic diving.  I can recognize a job well done and a terrible flop on my own, but I don't have the expertise to dissect the movements and say what it was that made the dive so good in the first place--I certainly can't teach my son how to dive that way.  In the same way I feel less than qualified to teach my son what makes a good paragraph beyond following the rules of grammar.

According to the Homeschool Writing Action Plan by Create Better Writers, I'm not alone in this situation--students hating to write and parents lacking confidence to teach.  The program is designed to help parents where to begin writing instruction and how to teach in an organized step-by-step manner. All the e-books I received were written to the teacher.  You can use this program alone or you can use its techniques to tweak a curriculum you already own.  For students, while writing may never be fun, it can certainly be less painful.  According to the author, everyone has the ability to master the basic structure.

The Action Plan contains a pacing guide whether you're starting with third graders or trying to get a high schooler up to speed.  Either way you begin with learning how to write a good paragraph.   When the paragraph structure is mastered then you can work on building vocabulary and making sentences stronger and more descriptive.  This may be all a third grader gets to in a year  ( I can tell you that we are working at this slow pace.  It will be a quality not quantity year).  Older students may progress from one paragraph to a five paragraph essay.

The key to the paragraph is a visual tool used in pre-writing to organize thoughts.  You can see it here in a conference workshop.

I have to say, writing is a lot less intimidating when you look at it in baby steps instead of a marathon (there I go with an Olympic reference again).  In some lessons we've just been deciding on main ideas--are they too broad or too narrow.  Then we move on to trying to write a topic sentence.  When I start to hear whining I can say "Look, we only need to write one sentence.  Surely you have the energy for one sentence."

How to Teach the Paragraph seems to be geared to a classroom setting (or at least multiple students) as some assignments have students critiquing each others work.  Since I only have one it's hard to accomplish that peer review--everything seems like the teacher is grading me, so Schnickelfritz needs to be his own editor.  I honestly don't know how kids reviewing other kids would work, I suppose it depends if they're mature enough to understand the concept of constructive criticism and not use the exercise to get back at Sis for what happened at lunch or some other misuse of the power.

Softcover  $19.95
e-Book     $15.95

The book is written to adults teaching kids in grades 3-12.  This is really the Course Overview, Pacing Chart, and  Road Map for implementing the other books.

e-Book  format only    $7.99

This book is written to adults teaching kids in grades 3-12.  It is included free with the purchase of How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay or The Complete Writing Program.

Softcover  $19.95
e-Book     $17.95

This book is written to adults teaching kids in grades 4-12.  It is included free with the purchase of The Complete Writing Program.

We'll be be continuing with this course.  Schnickelfritz has several essays to write for Royal Rangers merit badges this year.  I hope he'll give me permission to print a completed work here on the blog.  You'll definitely want to check out some of the other Homeschool Crew blogs on this review as we moved very slowly and never even got to the last book.

Disclaimer: I received free copies of the e-Books mentioned above for the purpose of completing this review. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

XXX for the 30th Olympiad

Have you been watching?   I don't suggest sitting like a coach potato with picture in picture so you can watch two channels at once.  Nor is it necessary to watch every hour of broadcasting.  But it is nice to see discipline and dedication pay off.  And Schnickelfritz and I have chanted USA....USA in our living room from time to time.

There are plenty of opportunities to sneak a little learning into the Olympics as well.  The obvious choice is to keep an atlas nearby and look up countries you've never heard of before.  What about converting meters and kilos to American weights and measures?  You can discuss the history of the Olympics.  Our local station has been running a series about the 1904 Olympics that took place in the U.S.  Know where?  Just down the road in St. Louis as part of the Worlds Fair.  Several websites (like are offering Olympic themed freebies.

Unfortunately, there has also been the opportunity to talk about ethics--the Badminton athletes that threw their matches to get easier draws.  What about the Chinese system of taking children from their families and force them into a life of training for the state?

DigiScrap MOH Dates to Remember

Last month or so I posted about my new-found interest for digital scrapbooking and that I'd found a lady who was using that hobby in her homeschooling.  I mused about creating pages for the dozen or so Dates to Remember in our Mystery of History Vol. 2 course.'s my first page.

I created it as an 8.5 X 11 sheet so I could print it and add it to the notebook we're keeping, but it turned out so nicely I may use it like a mini-poster on the wall.   I used Photoshop Elements 10 (picked that up for free with my Office Max teacher rewards points).  I googled Pentecost for the artwork and a map of the places mentioned in Acts 2.  The handmade paper background came from a free kit "Home of the Brave" at

So what do you think?  Please leave a comment.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Can You Count on Co-ops?


You think you get asked the socialization question all the time?  Try being the mother of an only child.  While I score nearly all the possible points for "introverted" on those personality tests, my son could grow up to be a Wal-mart greeter.  I'm always looking for ways for him to meet up/learn with other kids.

Our first year in Missouri we belonged to two co-ops.  One met each week and had scheduled classes, just like school.  Schnickelfritz took Spanish (something I couldn't teach since I learned French), choir, and cup-stacking (okay, I logged it as P.E. but it was mostly for fun).  The other co-op met bi-monthly for a pitch-in lunch and then activities based on a theme--on Apple day we made applesauce and stamped art by applying paint to apple halves.  One time each family made a presentation on a country of their choosing.

Then a sad thing happened--the churches that we met in were suffering economically.  They both wanted us to pay, or pay more for use of the facilities.  That was tough to do since most of us were one income families to begin with.  One co-op moved to a smaller church, but it didn't give us enough classroom space.  The other tried meeting at the park or in a municipal center but we couldn't actually reserve the sites for our use.  Bottom line--they both died.

We do keep a Yahoo group for the homeschooling families in the area.  Occasionally someone will come up with a field trip idea and we'll work together to meet up.  Of course, the lack of face to face contacts make those obligations easy to break.  One mom of 10 organized an apple butter cooking day and my son and I were the only other family to show up. 

Last year I had a very small co-op of sorts.  Another mom and I took turns hosting the experiments for Apologia's Land Animals of the Sixth Day.  I really needed that accountability of meeting bi-weekly to keep us on our reading schedule for science. 

This year we're trying another school-like co-op.  For ten weeks we have four hours of classes available for differing age groups.  Every parent that wants their children to participate must teach (or at least help) in a class or do nursery duty.  I'll be doing hands-on science for 3rd to 6th gradersusing the Science of Disney Imagineering DVDs.  Look for me to post about this during the fall.

To sum up my experience--a co-op is only as good as its committed participants.  When one mom is doing the bulk of the work, she gets burnt out and things stall until another enthusiastic mom arrives on the scene.  I'm hoping that this forced sharing of the load will increase the lifespan of our newest endeavor.

Of course. these are just our co-op experiences.  Be sure to check out some of the other blogs below.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The Olympics are currently on, and while I veg on the couch watching people in far better shape than me I wonder when they'll start passing out medals for the ability to stretch a dollar.  Now there's an event homeschoolers could win--after all most have given up a second income in order to teach their kids, most have larger than average families to feed and clothe, and most have to purchase the books and equipment they'll use to teach.  Enter our latest training tool:  the website.

Don't know what to teach?  The SchoolhouseTeachers tab offers more than 15 monthly lesson plans by the biggest names in each field:  History from Diana Waring, Lapbooking from Hands of a Child founder Kimm Bellotto, Geography from Knowledge Quests's Terri Johnson.  Here's the current list of subject, but more are being added all the time.
  • Career Exploration
  • Chemistry
  • College Choice Guidance
  • Economics
  • Figures in History
  • Filmmaking
  • Geography
  • High School Math
  • History
  • Home Economics
  • Lapbooking
  • Literature
  • Music/Voice
  • Reading Lessons
  • Special Needs
  • Technology
  • Writing
My son's not ready for the Chemistry lessons yet, but I'm downloading and saving them for when he is--files take up so much less physical space than textbooks.  Right now, all past lessons are still available online but as more keeps being added some of the older lessons may be removed to free up space.

Maybe you've already got your curriculum but just need a few reinforcement exercises or filler activities.  The SchoolhouseDailies tab has grammar exercises, writing prompts, this day in history facts, and more.  Right now there are Olympic themed facts and activities.  Totally unrelated to school, but still helpful to mamas everywhere is This Month's Menus with recipes enjoyed by fellow homeschoolers.  I'm so thankful for the ones that include photos because we eat with our eyes first.

Perhaps the biggest bank for your buck comes with the SchoolhouseExtras tab.  I no longer need to store the physical copies of back issues of The Old Schoolhouse magazine--they're all here online. (The current issue is available too!)  There's a free ebook every month and more ebooks from the TOS store are added the longer you are a member--titles like the Curiosity files and WeE-book series.  I feel like an infomercial--BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE...You can download all of the Schoolhouse planners: Primary, Intermediate, High School, Special Needs, and the 800+ page "Big Mama."   I've printed out calendars and sheets to fill in Field Trips Taken and Books Read for our school record book.  There are also plenty of pages to help organize and manage household chores and budgets.  Coming soon will are the MP3's of the Schoolhouse Expos.

Finally, there's the SchoolhouseLibrary filled with virtual shelves of copywork, reading lists, and articles of encouragement.

You can get all this for $5.95 per month.  That's a bargain in my book.  If you're still not sure you can try the first month for only $1.00.  Ready to go for the Dollar Stretching Gold Medal?  I just saw that HSLDA members can get a PerX discount code for a FREE Year of  membership!!

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I have a free membership to

Homeschool Room? ....Try House


Okay, if you were to come to my house to see my homeschool room I'd probably show you the walk out basement first.  This is where we keep the books and supplies.  This is where the chalkboard is located.
The chalkboard was given to us by a fellow homeschooler.  When her church remodeled, they gave her all the classroom chalkboards, and she passed the blessings on to others.  

Our timeline is in the hallway to the bathroom--BC to the left and AD to the right.  We're using the timeline figures from Homeschool in the Woods.

As much as I love the basement, we only spend half our time there.  Someone gave us this cute, old-fashioned school desk with an adjustable writing surface.  Unfortunately, it determines on its own when it's time to adjust so we do most of the writing assignments at our dining table upstairs. 

 The cool basement is great when we restart lessons in August, but come January it's too nippy so we take things back to the dining table or the living room couch (or sprawl on the floor).  Science experiments often happen in the kitchen where we have access to higher counters and the sink for clean up.

Other days, its just too nice to stay indoors.  Schnickelfritz and I read in the porch swing.    Sometimes he does his math homework by jumping up and down the steps to the deck.
Now isn't this a nicer view than a blackboard?  We call it "home"schooling so why not use the whole house?  In fact, after my hysterectomy, school was often just reading aloud in bed.
Want some more ideas about setting up your own homeschool room (or house)?  Then you'll want to check out some of these other blogs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Planning with Edu-Track


Like most homeschoolers I try to make every buck count when I'm buying curriculum.  I borrow from the library, I buy used books, I got our chalkboard for free!  Today's Blog Hop subject is lesson planning and if I had to choose the one item that keeps our homeschool going it would be the record keeping software I paid full price for (and still consider a bargain).   I purchased Edu-Track when I learned we would be moving from Indiana to Missouri and I'd be switching from checking off days on a calendar to tracking hours, specifically:  1000 total hours with at least 600 in core subjects,  of which 400 hours must take place at the regular home school location.  Edu-Track was developed by a Missourian so  all this core/non-core gobbledy-gook is built into the software and all I have to do is check a box here and there.

I like to start off my school year having as much scheduling done as possible.  I've learned from experience if it ain't written down, it ain't happenin'.  This is especially true with non-daily subjects.  Once I realized we'd gone two weeks without cracking open the spelling book when it wasn't returned to it's proper place.

I may have to tweak dates as the year progresses but I know my 1000 hours (or at least the 600 core hours) are accounted for up front.  Edu-Track has a great recurring activity feature that makes data input easy.  If I know we're going to start each week watching the next lesson of Math-U-See  I fill in the Repeating Activity Screen as follows.

Just like that I have 30 core hours scheduled.  I can repeat this step for Worksheets B-D on Tuesdays-Thursdays and schedule a test for Fridays.  One hundred fifty hours of math input in less than 5 minutes.  For other subjects, like science, I may put in a generic activity like "Read pp ____ in Astronomy" to set up the repeating activity and go in to manually enter the specific page numbers later.
The Skip holidays box keeps anything from being scheduled on the weeks we take off for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I start by entering my core subjects: math, science, social studies, and language arts.  While the state doesn't consider Bible as core, I do, so that's added too.  Then I can add scheduled sports activites like karate and Upwards basketball. 

This year we are participating in a co-op on Thursdays.  Four hours of classes there means I don't want to schedule any non-daily subjects on those days.  The same is true when I learn about field trip opportunities.  The software allows me to bump individual and groups of activities forward and backward with just a few clicks of the mouse. 
At the beginning of each week I print out a schedule by subject. 

The paper leaves plenty of room for me to "edit."  If a crisis occurs and we don't our social studies done on Wednesday, I just draw an arrow to Thursday.  If someone calls to let us know about a great exhibit at the Science Center, I can write in the details of the field trip.  When the week is complete, I'll make any necessary changes to our Edu-Track records and print out an updated and accurate copy to keep in our record book
Of course, there are probably as many ways to plan your school day as there are homeschoolers so you'll want to visit several others blogs to see what others do.

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