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With the school year approaching us like a freight train, it’s time to begin thinking about our plans for our kids and their education.
Are you and your kids ready to go back to school? Many parents are having to make tough decisions about whether or not to send their kids to any kind of in-person learning or to just keep them home for the 20-21 school year, and perhaps beyond. Needless to say, this school year is ramping up to look very different from school years in the past, even for homeschool families like ours who may be missing out on weekly co-op experiences, field trips, and playdates with other homeschool families, not to mention all of the extra-curricular and church activities that we previously participated in.
Maybe your family has made the decision to “crisis homeschool,” as you never planned to homeschool, but you aren’t comfortable sending your child back to a traditional school setting during the pandemic. Maybe you have chosen virtual learning, but you would like to supplement your child’s education at home beyond what virtual learning may provide. Maybe you had an idea in your head to homeschool all along and this is the perfect opportunity for you to try it on for size and see if it would be a good fit for your family long-term. No matter what your choice, you are welcome here! We are glad to have you as a part of our club! Everyone’s homeschool journey will look a little different, and everyone needs to do what’s best for their individual family! Now that you are thinking about embarking on this homeschool journey, I wanted to share some common misconceptions about homeschooling.
While it might be convenient to have a designated homeschool space in your home, it is totally not necessary, and if you have one, it does NOT need to look like a classroom (more on that below!). The truth of the matter is that many families are very successful homeschooling in so many different settings and in many different living arrangements including campers or vehicles, (“roadschooling”) to the forest (check out “forest school”), to tiny homes and apartments to larger homes with a designated homeschool space and every arrangement in between! While we have a homeschool room in our new home, we didn’t always have a designated space, nor do we always do our schoolwork in our current homeschool room. We used to live in a much smaller home, and didn’t have a homeschool room and I promise you, we got along just fine! A work surface or even a lap is all you need! We have done work in the backyard on a kids’ picnic table, on a picnic blanket on our patio, at the dining room table, in mommy and daddy’s bed, on the floor in the kiddos’ bedrooms, and even on the couch. While our homeschool room is a nice space and we often do our school work there, it’s nice to have the freedom to do our school work wherever the mood strikes for any given day. Routines are great and some families thrive with them, but for our family, it’s often nice to mix up our work areas to give a change of pace to our homeschool day. Baskets and totes have made our homeschooling super mobile. It’s nice to be able to grab a subject area tote and move it to wherever we would like to work for the day! I also recommend a basic pencil box or lidded container that has supplies that your students use most often for their lessons!
On a similar note, if you *do* have a homeschool room or designated space in your home for your children to do their school work, it doesn’t *have* to look like a traditional classroom (but some do and can work great, too!)! It’s really about personal preference, but give yourself grace with this and don’t get worked up or overwhelmed about making your space look perfect! Again, a work surface for the students to work, some basic supplies (like pencils, dry erase markers, scissors, glue sticks, and coloring materials), and a place to organize and store supplies (such as a closet, cabinet, shelving, drawers, bins, or totes) can go a long way. While some families like to install chalkboards or whiteboards, small handheld ones or easels work just fine, too! Some families like to post number lines, thematic posters, alphabet charts, pocket charts, and more, but again, not everyone has the wall space or desire to permanently post such things on the wall. For our science units, we have been taping some vocabulary words to our whiteboard easel. Some families will use trifold boards to post learning materials, as they can easily be folded and tucked away when they aren’t in use. Smaller versions of learning charts and posters could be printed on sturdy cardstock, laminated (or not!), stored, and can be retrieved just when needed, as another option.
While some families thrive on routines and schedules, it is not necessary for you to plan out every minute of your child’s day. I have seen mamas seriously agonize over this, and in my honest opinion, regimented schedules like that just aren’t realistic, at least not in our home! In addition, note that your homeschool day doesn’t have to take as long as a traditional school day. In order for schools to function with so many moving parts and groups of staff and students to manage, they must keep to a strict schedule. This is not the case at home. While you may be working with multiple children, you will not need to plan for shuffling and managing large groups of children to have bathroom breaks, transition times, lunch, recess, arrival, dismissal, clean-up routines, etc., not to mention managing the behavior of students, all of which can be time-consuming and take away from classroom learning time. Instead, all of these transitions and routines can happen in the natural flow of your day and these activities do not have to be as time-consuming as what you might find in a school setting because less children are involved and you know how best to manage your children and engage cooperation from them. Part of the beauty of homeschool is we have the ability to schedule in lots of breaks, snacks, outdoor time, and movement for our kids.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! Many homeschooling kids are very involved in activities and are around other children multiple times a week. My kids have been in swimming lessons, dance, Girl Scouts, homeschool co-op once a week, and church activities twice a week. Beyond these regularly scheduled activities, we regularly connect with lots of other kids of varying ages for playdates and periodically get together with the kids’ out of town cousins. Depending on your family’s goals in homeschooling, you can even opt to join a like minded co-op in your community. Join area homeschooling Facebook groups for support. If there aren’t any available, do like I did and start one and share about it in other local groups so others can join, too. Do a little research and ask around to see what co-op options are available in your area. Some are learning based, some may be field trip focused, and others are just for camaraderie and socializing. If possible, do a visit with the group before committing and/or interview the co-op coordinator to see if the co-op would be a good fit for your family. During these crazy times, a lot of our activities have moved to virtual, but we do socialize with a few of our neighbors and still do plan periodic visits with our out of town family members.
Not all families purchase curriculum to use in their homeschool. There are many free or inexpensive resources that homeschooling families will use. I recommend taking a quiz like this one https://homeschoolon.com/the-homeschool-style-quiz/ to determine what your homeschool “style” is before you determine your course of action when considering purchasing curriculum or planning how you will set up your homeschool. I used to be a classroom teacher and consider myself to be an eclectic homeschooler in that I draw from several different styles based on what feels right for the season we are in or even what feels best in the day to day. We mix and match our use of a wide variety of curriculum and sometimes we “unschool” and learn through life experiences and go down “rabbit trails” on short unit studies that are based on our family’s interests. We play games, bake, read loads of books, build forts, ride bikes, do crafts, do puzzles, play dress up, explore outside, build things, get creative, and all the while, I promise you my kids are learning! We also believe in the classical model of education and believe in the value of spending time exploring God’s creation and we take lots of pleasure studying fine arts. We give ourselves grace and the permission to hop around in whatever way suits us.
If you choose to purchase curriculum, ask for recommendations from other homeschooling families and do your research. I got a lot of value out of attending a homeschool convention a few years ago and leafing through curriculum and resources at the various booths in the exhibit hall. If you don’t have an opportunity to attend a homeschool convention in your area, I recommend using YouTube and hunt for curriculum reviews and seek out videos where you can see inside the parent and student guides and materials.
Another word on curriculum - if you purchase curriculum, you do not need to be a slave to it. I’ve had experiences where I purchased curriculum only to fairly quickly realize that it didn’t meet our family’s or a specific child’s needs or suit our homeschool style. There is no shame in this, and there are tons of homeschool buy, sell, and trade groups where you can sell your used curriculum to recoup some of your costs. Another thing you can do is save the curriculum and pull bits and pieces of it to incorporate, as needed to reinforce or provide extra practice with concepts that your child may be struggling with or could spend more time on. Also, consider saving it to try with your other younger children, as you might find that it suits them just fine. One last note about curriculum especially as it relates to reading and math - determine if you prefer a mastery approach or a spiral approach or a combination. This matters in the curriculum world. In a mastery approach, kids can stall out and not move forward in the curriculum until they have mastered a concept. In my opinion, this can present a problem if the curriculum doesn’t have enough resources and suggested activities for your child to continue to practice in order to reach mastery. On the other hand, a spiral approach will continually embed and cycle through concepts to help kids move toward mastery. We really love to move through material with a spiral approach. A hybrid approach is preferred! At a certain point, your child will be assessed in their curriculum and if they haven’t achieved mastery, it’s helpful if the curriculum provides suggested ideas to support your child to reach mastery on any concepts that they missed. As you research curriculum choices, I recommend that you find out which approach the curriculum uses to see if it will fit your preferences!
Many parents believe that their children thrive best in a traditional school setting, and just don’t feel led to homeschool long-term. That’s totally okay. But in the spirit of making the best out of whatever this school year holds, I challenge you to keep an open mind. Look for the silver linings. I hope that you come to treasure these moments as a family as you may find yourself with the opportunity to bond more than ever with your child and watch them learn and grow, firsthand this school year. It’s always so amazing to watch our kids make educational gains. You might even find that you love homeschooling and the flexibility that it affords your family.
Come hang out in my VIP group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/BrittanythebookladyVIPs , full of like-minded parents in your same shoes who may also be making the decision to homeschool this year! There, I share lots of educational resources that families can benefit from. You’ve got this and I would love to be a resource for you.
I hope this helped relieve some of your concerns over homeschooling and ease some of the overwhelm that I’m sensing from lots of parents during these trying times. What questions can I answer about homeschooling? Let me know in the comments!
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Includes 30 cards for birthdays, new home, get well, weddings, etc. all housed in a beautifully designed organizer box with matching envelopes.
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Includes 30 cards total (16 blank cards and 14 Thank You cards) all housed in a beautifully designed organizer box with matching envelopes.
Includes 50 cards for various holidays all housed in a beautifully designed organizer box with envelopes.
Welcome to the club! Now, you may be wondering how you’re going to do this with babies or toddlers in tow. You are not alone! Many homeschool parents find themselves in this position and while it can be challenging to manage at times, I promise that it can be done! Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind while you manage homeschool during this season of life that you’re in:
As you know, little ones can be so unpredictable. They may not nap, they may be up all night, they may make messes, they may climb in your lap when you are trying to work with your older child, they may demand snacks and attention, and they may have tantrums that take away from your homeschool day. You’ll do better if you come to EXPECT chaos and if things go smoothly on any given day, it will be a pleasant surprise!
Considering the nature of raising little ones, it will be helpful to be flexible with your schedule. In this season that you are in, instead of creating a rigid schedule with strict timeframes, I recommend that you consider developing a checklist of tasks/subjects for your older child/ren and work through this list with them when your little one is being the most cooperative. Watch for those times when your little one is playing independently or even napping, whenever these things happen during the natural course of the day even if these times vary. If your little one is being particularly uncooperative on a given day, I recommend that you roll with the punches and try some of the tips below.
Your littlest ones are going to want your time and attention while you are working with your older learners. That may come as no surprise!! Come to expect it! What may surprise you is the fact that they may be super eager to participate and learn right alongside your older children in their lessons. If you think about it, it really is amazing how sponge-like their little brains are and how much they are able to catch on, even when they are itty bitty! While I’m doing lessons with my 6 year old, my 3 year old is often close by, either playing with manipulatives from our curriculum, listening, or playing independently. Sometimes, I’ll pause and ask him questions or have him try to do what his big sister is doing and sometimes I’m shocked by how much he can do or how much he grasps, even as a passive participant in her lessons.
We also play a lot of educational board games in our homeschool (if you’re interested in this, check out “gameschooling”). While my 3 year old doesn’t always completely understand the rules of game play, we often let him play with assistance or “team up” with one of us for as long as his attention holds. When his attention drifts away, we let him move on to something else and we continue playing without him. Your littles are going to feel valued and loved when you let them feel involved to some extent in your homeschool lessons and activities with your older children and you will likely be surprised by how much they will actually be able to learn right alongside the older ones.
You know your little one best and I bet that you can pinpoint some of their favorite toys and activities. Brainstorm the toys and activities that can keep them occupied for long periods of time and can be played with without much hands-on support or supervision from you. For my 3 year old, it’s building toys. He could play with legos, wooden blocks, magnatiles, or bristle blocks for a LONG time without any help from me. Sometimes, he can stay occupied by coloring, working in a wipe-clean or activity book, doodling on a white board, working in a sticker book, flipping through books, or working on puzzles. I strategically keep some of these activities nearby in tubs or lay them out on our homeschool table for him to occupy himself while I work with my 6 year old. As I mentioned before, sometimes he will even grab some of our curriculum manipulatives, (like the ones from our Good and the Beautiful Math box) and comes up with creative ways to play with them, and you know what? We let him! It keeps him happy and entertained and it gives me an opportunity to focus on my older child and it’s a pleasant surprise when he can use these materials correctly. The way I see it, this primes him for what he will be doing in just a few years!
Some homeschool mamas are more creative and organized than I am and will even put together special tubs of toys or “busy bags” for their little ones that only come out during homeschool time. The novelty of getting to play with “special toys” can go a long way in keeping our littlest ones occupied while our oldest ones need more hands-on attention in their homeschool lessons. Oh, and while your littlest ones are playing nearby, expect messes. Make “cleaning up” after themselves a teachable moment at the end of your homeschool time each day and get them involved with the tidying!
You will be spending a good deal of time working with your older children on their lessons, and so it’s going to be super important to also carve out some 1:1 time that you can have with each little one periodically. Your little ones will likely notice how much hands-on attention your older children are getting from you and will crave some attention, too. You may find that they will misbehave as a negative attention-seeking strategy. Try to recognize these moments instead of jumping into discipline mode, as we may often automatically do. Be generous with hugs, kisses, and affection with the littlest ones during these moments. Find humor and bring out the tickle monster, or pull them into your lap for a few minutes for some snuggles while reading a short book. You might be surprised by how quickly these simple tactics can help ward off the misbehavior.
Of course, we want our little ones to feel special, important, and loved, just as much as our older children. Some ideas for 1:1 time may look like doing simple lessons with them, reading aloud to them, playing games and puzzles, or playing pretend with just them. Whatever this looks like for you, be present with your little one and give them some of the undivided time that they have been craving. It will mean a lot to them.
Remember that this is just a season where you will be homeschooling older children while also raising little ones. Your patience may wear thin some days, as babies and toddlers can be quite challenging to manage alongside your homeschooling journey! They may be underfoot and in the way a lot. Give yourself grace and give them grace as well. Practice patience and try the tips above. Every day won’t go as planned, but if you approach your homeschool journey with this in mind, you may find it easier to cope with those challenging days! On those particularly challenging days, give yourself permission to call off the rest of the lessons for the day and spend some time in the backyard, go for a walk, or snuggle up together on the couch for a movie day, or play some board games as a family. There is a lot of learning to be had during these unstructured times, just the same and it can do a great deal for your sanity, as well!
You may be clamoring for ideas and resources on how to make the learning fun and engaging for your children. Afterall, when children are enjoying themselves, they don’t even realize they are learning and they are often more cooperative! Not to mention, they retain more of what they are learning, too! Who wouldn’t want that for their kids! Maybe as a parent, you are bored to tears teaching your child’s curriculum or supporting virtual learning and you need some ideas on how to spice things up. I’ve got you! Check out the ideas below and let me know what you think and if they were useful to you! Which ideas will you implement right away in your learning at home this year to help make the learning come alive for your children?
As you may know, cooking and baking not only involve math, science, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills, but it also helps our children develop life skills that they will carry on with them as they grow into independent members of our society! Doesn’t it make sense for us to help foster these skills in our kids? We can make learning come alive for them in the kitchen! Want some ideas on how you can incorporate cooking and baking into your homeschool? I’m here for it! Cooking and baking can be taught independent of any curriculum as there is much learning to be had through these experiences, but there are also some fun ways to incorporate it into your child’s regular studies. For example, are you reading books that feature characters making special treats? Why not look up recipes together and prepare the same dishes, desserts, snacks, and treats that your children’s favorite characters are making in the stories your family is reading together? Here are some children’s cookbooks to get you started!
Maybe your family is much like our family and you also enjoy incorporating classical or fine arts studies into your homeschool including poetry, art appreciation, nature study, classical music, and more? Why not periodically incorporate “tea time” into your at-home learning and prepare special treats to share as a family while you listen to classical music and study fine art, or poetry? Or maybe your family just enjoys special treats and snacks during your read aloud time. There’s something wonderful about coming together with popcorn or cookies and milk to share a read aloud novel as a family.
We love our Exploring Nature with Children curriculum and highly recommend it to other families. Within the curriculum, there are weekly opportunities to go to your family’s special “nature spot” or venture out together on nature walks. This doesn’t have to take a whole lot of forethought or planning. Our children love simply exploring our backyard plants, trees, rocks, bugs, and passing wildlife. Sometimes, we “do school” outside on nice days by laying down a picnic blanket, enjoying some treats, and reading, playing games, or working through our curriculum. Not only do we get to enjoy some vitamin D, but it’s also nice to get some fresh air and grow a greater appreciation for God’s creation. Of course, I also recommend our wide assortment of nature books on my online book store! We have beautifully illustrated books worth exploring with our children to help them grow a lifelong love of nature and the wild world around them. Check out those selections here!
Does your family engage in any art studies at home? We love studying famous and classical artists in our homeschool. We love to take the learning further and enjoy exploring these famous artists’ techniques and trying to replicate their famous pieces, as well. It’s also fun to learn about these artists’ lives and the time periods in which they lived. We also have a variety of art books and resources that you can add to your learning at home experience to study these artists and test out some of their techniques. Beyond art appreciation studies, we can teach our kids step by step drawing techniques to add depth and dimension to their own art pieces. Not good at drawing yourself? You can learn right alongside your child! Check out some of these arts and craft books and resources that are sure to get your kids on the right path learning which art modes and mediums that they love to experiment with the most. You might be surprised by the artistic talents that your children already hold, just waiting to be revealed through their arts and craft projects!
Are your students learning about science concepts that are hard to comprehend? While your curriculum may already have experiments embedded to help your family explore scientific phenomena, these pieces may be missing or you may be looking for something more. Don’t despair! There are tons of free and inexpensive resources out there that can be used to help bring some life to any dry science content that your children may be learning. A few years ago, we were learning about dinosaurs and we bought a dino dig kit for the kids to excavate and assemble a model dinosaur. It was so fun and I know they loved the experience! We also recommend snap circuits! It’s fun for the kids to move through the suggested activities as they get progressively harder, and they can build their own as well to test how they work, all in the name of exploring power and electricity! I can also recommend several books that have great science experiments that you can conduct really easily at home with limited materials, many of which you probably already have on hand.
At the time of this writing, we and many other families are social-distancing, but when it is safe and you’re comfortable to do so, consider adding field trips to your homeschool or virtual schooling in order to help make the learning come alive for your children. While taking field trips can be fun and educational, it’s even better when you can be strategic about planning the ones you will do to specifically go along with what they are learning in their homeschool or virtual school studies. For example, are your children learning about space and planets? Take a trip to the planetarium to experience the stars and planets firsthand! Are you reading the Little House on the Prairie series or learning about medieval times? Venture off as a family to “prairie days” or a renaissance festival in your area to take a step back in time. You could even go in costume to dress the part!
Family travel experiences can be super educational for your children, too. Some of my most memorable experiences from childhood were from the times that we traveled to Yellowstone, the grand canyon, the beach, Mount Rushmore, and many more amazing destinations. We did a lot of camping as a family and it was a great way to not only go on adventures and learn about our nation’s history, natural wildlife, geography, and geology together, but it also really tightened our family’s bonds! It was a win-win, if you ask me! I wasn’t homeschooled growing up, but I know that these experiences really taught my sister and I a great deal! Did you know that some families “road-school” and homeschool on the road for long periods of time bouncing from place to place? This is our family’s ultimate dream, but we aren’t there quite yet! Someday…. Take a look at these books about the USA and around the world to help capture your child’s interest in travel and what may be worth exploring outside their own neighborhood.
What do I mean by this? If you are following curriculum, developing unit studies for your children, or even following your school’s virtual learning program, you might be surprised by how easy it can be to brainstorm activities and experiences that go along with the learning. This can even be done on a whim! Here’s an example: the other day in our nature study (check out Exploring Nature with Children), we were studying an “Art Piece to Enjoy,” called Blackberry Picking by James Clarke Hooke. I figured, what better way to make the learning come alive than to actually go blackberry picking! So my oldest and I ventured to the neighbor’s yard (with permission, of course), to pick some blackberries and then we came home and made a yummy yogurt parfait with our little blackberry harvest! Or when we were doing a unit study about the moon, stars, and space last year, we checked out a telescope from the library and got to view and experience the moon on our own at home! What are some other activities and experiences that your family could do to make the learning come alive for your children?
I want to encourage and empower you to brainstorm other learning adventures that you can partake in with your children and family as a whole! The curriculum you are using may already have some ideas embedded in it, but feel free to go off course a bit and take the learning even further. You may be surprised by how much better your children will retain their learning when you incorporate these extra activities and experiences. Their learning will be unforgettable!
Maybe WE are the ones who are “off.” Maybe it’s the kids who are “off.” Regardless, we all have “off” homeschool days and it’s just the nature of the beast. I just want you to know that you are not alone and not all hope is lost. There are some simple ways to turn your bad homeschool day around! Below, you’ll find my top 3 tried and true ideas to turn a bad homeschool day around.
There, I said it. I give you permission to drop what you’re doing. Drop the curriculum, drop the activity, drop the experiment, drop the read aloud. Things aren’t always going to go as smoothly as you expect them to. Your kids may struggle with difficult concepts in the lessons you’re working on and they may shut down completely. Believe me, I’ve been there with my oldest! Perhaps you’re the one who is frustrated, trying to figure out how to teach something in a way that your child will grasp. Or maybe you’re struggling to juggle ALL the things and just snap! It happens. Give yourself a little grace, mama. Take a break. Or skip it all together. End your homeschool day early. Or move on to something else. Allow the kids some free or creative play time. Follow a rabbit trail and engage in some interest-based learning, instead. Revisit things when all are in a better headspace, whether that’s later in the day, tomorrow, or even next week. It will be okay. Just a note - If curriculum is what’s causing you and your children frustration, remember that you are not MARRIED to it. You can stray from it, bounce around, skip lessons, or try other curriculum, resources, or teaching methods.
Weather permitting, of course! You might be surprised by what getting some vitamin D and fresh air can do for bad attitudes (yours or your children’s!). Whether you’re taking the schoolwork outside, or taking a break from the learning altogether, all will benefit from a little time outdoors. Bonus if you can work in some nature exploration or even some family exercise while you are outdoors. Go for a walk, head on a nature scavenger hunt, or embark on a family bike ride. Do some outdoor yoga. Make an obstacle course. Draw with sidewalk chalk. Play hopscotch. Blow bubbles. Plant some flowers or weed your garden. Dig or play in some sand. Pick some wildflowers for a pretty flower arrangement and bring them inside. Run through the sprinkler or spray each other with the garden hose. Raining or snowing outside? Stomp in some puddles or build a snowman. When you return indoors, all will be in a better headspace to continue learning and get along (or rest if you’ve called the kibosh on the homeschool day)!
While I may be a biased book lady, I have researched the numerous positive benefits of reading aloud. You can’t ignore facts and science! Reading aloud is so good for kids and adults of all ages. Just check out The Enchanted Hour, The Read Aloud Handbook, or The Read-Aloud Family if you don’t believe me. Related to turning around a bad homeschool day, reading aloud to children will not only strengthen family bonds (so it’s no surprise that it’s so great to do when everyone is butting heads!), but it will also help relax all who are involved (yes, you too, when emotions are running high!). Sounds like a win-win to me! You may not know this about me, but I struggle with anxiety and I have on and off all of my life. When my anxiety is running especially high, I suffer from a visceral response. I can tell you firsthand that when I take some time to read aloud to my kids in moments of high anxiety, the tightness in my chest will quite literally melt away. All of this to say that you and your kids will likely get along better and be in a much better mood following a read-aloud. Whether it’s a chapter book, a stack of board books or picture books, a magazine, comic books, the bible or your family’s favorite devotional, no matter the read aloud, taking some time to read aloud as a family will undoubtedly help turn around your bad homeschool day!
These are just my go-to strategies to help turn things around when our day has gone sour. Note that if you find that you are having more bad days than good ones in your homeschool journey, I’d love to be a resource for you. Use my contact form to reach out so I can try to help diagnose potential deeper root causes to your family’s homeschool troubles. Or seek out some veteran homeschool mama friends for some insight and guidance. You’re not alone in your struggles and veteran homeschool mamas carry so much wisdom and are often willing and eager to help, no matter what you might be dealing with.