Sunday, August 29, 2010

Technology: Embrace it as a learning tool!

This week's Blog Cruise question is one similar to one recently asked by a member of my local homeschool support group.

Do you use technology (iPods, Computers, Videos, Digi. Cams,etc.) in your homeschool? 

I think sometimes people get so wrapped up in the potential negative of something that it prevents them from seeing the many benefits. I've seen the use of technology in the home fall into this category.  And while overuse of technology, as well as the information being passed along, can bring about concerns, I wouldn't say going technology-free is the better path.  Technology is a tool.  Tools are something that have the capability of hurting you if you don't know how to use them properly.  However, using tools certainly can make ones job easier.

I certainly use technology as a tool in my homeschool, with the computer being the most used tool by far. Young children need to be trained how to use technology properly, but I really don't know what I'd do without it at this point.  Below are the various ways technology has helped my children become better learners.

1. Educational software

I have a picture of my daughter playing on the computer at about 18 months with a Jumpstart program.  I'm sure some will be appalled at that, but she loved this game and learned a lot from it.  It was just like any other toy in her toybox and it taught her that a computer isn't a forbidden item but something available for her use when appropriate. We've always had a variety of educational software games available to the kids to use within limits.

2.  Online Classes

At about 3rd or 4th grade, both of my kids started with an online class experience.  For our family, it is a very convenient way to have the kids experience another teacher without the limits of what is available locally or a creating a disruption of the day's schedule.  For my daughter, online classes have been wonderful and she usually takes 2-3 a year.  For my son, they have been a good experience in small doses, but not something that he's ready to utilize for heavy coursework quite yet.  Most don't realize how interactive online classes can be, but it really is no different than sitting in a classroom. Since online meetings and webinars are growing trends in the business world, giving your kids this experience is multi-purpose.
3. Email

Probably many don't think of email as a learning tool.  However, not only does email give kids the means to connect with other kids, near and far, it also forces them to learn how to type, write, and spell!  I also sometimes use it as a way for me to communicate to them their schedule or give them an assignment.  That way, there is no question about whether or not they were asked to do such-and-such and/or given directions.  (smiles)

4.  Audio podcasts, lectures, and stories

My kids didn't have ipods until last Christmas and I haven't yet utilized them for audio podcasts, but this is on my to do list.  There are all kinds of  resources available for free using an ipod or just your computer, if you don't own an ipod or MP3 player.  One great resource is  Learn Out Loud.  You can sign up for their newsletter that highlights a free resource every Friday. There is also a section of free resources just for kids.  Other audio resources that I happen to have bookmarked include LibriVox, Internet Interactive (I've linked to the Old Time Radio files), Open Culture, Lecture Fox (free university lectures), and  Free Books (Accelerated Schools),

5. Video resources
One of my favorite video podcasts for kids is the CNN Student News. This is a great way for kids to keep up on current events.  There are many sites that have categorized video segments by topic for a quick tutorial in a certain area. HippoCampus is one such site. Other sites include:,, Annenberg Media, Internet4Classrooms , The Futures Channel, and Academic Earth.  You can even have your kids watch Liberty Kids, a PBS show about American history, completely free the Jaroo website.

6. Video cameras and movie making

My oldest has done several video presentations for classes, camps and special projects, which I've shared here in the past.  My youngest will be taking a class this fall which will focus more on the technical side of movie-making. I think such projects are a great opportunity for hands-on learners to grasp a subject and also a wonderful way for your student to show off their work to others.  Let's face it, Grandma and Grandpa would probably rather watch a cool video clip than read a 10-page research paper.  There is quite a bit involved with movie making, though at the same time the technology part isn't too difficult.  Students need to not only learn the material for the video, but have to plan, decide on graphics, work on presentation skills, etc.  Video making is also a fun group project.

7. Educational DVDs and lessons

Some of our curriculum has lessons presented on DVD and I have even purchased full courses on DVD.  Sometimes I watch the lessons with the kids and sometimes my students are independent enough on the subject to be able to watch without further explanation.  Either way, I'm thankful to have options like this for our home.

There are plenty of great resources out there; I've only shared a few. In fact, I found a new resource in the process of writing this blog post, Free Technology for Teachers, which is directed more toward traditional classroom teachers but still has plenty of useful information on teaching with technology. And while the abundance of technology resources can be overwhelming, in addition to requiring caution to not overuse and/or screen properly, there is no reason a homeschool should throw out all the good with the bad.  Instead, use technology wisely and embracing it as a learning tool in your homeschool.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My marriage is doomed!

I broke my Butter Bell yesterday. This. Is. Not. Good.

Some of you may be thinking, "What the heck is a Butter Bell?"  I get asked that question a lot when people see the contraption on my kitchen counter.  My answer is always the same:

"It's a marriage saver!"

Ok, I understand how truly odd that sounds, but it's true.  Every marriage has one of those constant arguing points.  Usually it isn't anything that really matters ("I can't believe you left your socks on the floor...AGAIN!").  However, insignificant as it is, it keeps resurfacing to cause strife. Early in our marriage we used to argue over butter.  Yes, butter.

We used to be margarine people.  That is, until I read that margarine closely resembles plastic.  The stuff really isn't healthy for you.  So, I confidently switched to butter for the good of our family!  Except there was one minor problem with my good intentions. I could never remember to set the butter out to soften in time for dinner.  My husband, the bread man that he is, was never happy throwing chunks of better across his dinner rolls.  And the arguing would begin. 

"Why can't you remember to set the butter out?  How hard is that?  Start buying spread!"
"But I'm just trying to keep our family healthy!"
"My bread is ripped!"
"Deal with it, ok? It's just bread!  How selfish!"
"No, YOU deal with remembering to put the butter out!  It's such a little thing you can do for me!"

Of course, it never stayed with just butter.  Each of us would bring up whatever grievances were lying just below the surface and soon were arguing about other things. It really wasn't good dinner conversation.

After months of this, I found my solution.  The Butter Bell!  The Butter Bell allows you to keep your butter on the kitchen counter at room temperature without it spoiling.  You put cold water in the bottom piece and the butter in the top portion.  The water seals the top and prevents air exposure, keeping it fresh.  All you need to do is change the water out every few days, which I actually can remember to do!  Instantly, our dinnertime arguments vanished!

Of course, now my Butter Bell is broken.  It has saved me years of turmoil and counseling bills.  I think I might just have a special service for it and bury it in the backyard next to our deceased gecko.  

Now, my marriage is doomed!  At least, it is for the next 7-10 days while the replacement is in transit.

*Amazon affiliate link

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

There's a critter in my walls...

...and I really don't want to share my space with it.

What's irritating is that it is the wall by my computer desk and I can hear it scurrying around while working. We had the same problem around this time last year and had someone come in and put poison around the house and in the attic, where he found a small colony of bats, too.  I can't tell you how much the thought of bats in my house creeps me out.  When I was in college, I  had one come out of my closet and land on my arm while I was talking on the phone.  Nope. I don't like bats. At least, not when they make surprise appearances on my arm.

I'm pretty sure my wall critter is a  mouse, because that is what the pest control guy told us last time and it is in the same location.

But the thing makes enough noise to be a raccoon, and I wonder how it can just be a small little critter with all that ruckus. I guess mice are kind of like kids in that respect.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A quality education doesn't have to be expensive!

This week's Blog Cruise topic is about the financial cost of homeschooling.

How do you afford to homeschool? What are some ways to save money on hsing supplies?

People really get hung up on numbers sometimes, don't they?  In fact, just this past week I was asked about how much homeschooling costs. The nice thing about homeschooling is that it is possible to homeschool on even the smallest of budgets if necessary.

Before I give some money-saving tips, let me give you some points to ponder about the cost of education.
  • A more expensive resource doesn't necessarily mean a better quality resource. I've seen some high-priced resources out there that simply don't deliver.
  • Homeschooling saves in unexpected areas, therefore balancing out some of the necessary expenses. For example, kids don't have to wear costly name-brand clothes to fit in and expensive convenience food items or the purchase of a school lunch that lacks nutrition is not necessary.
  • Compared to private schools, even a generous budget for homeschooling is much cheaper. Your dollars, directed specifically to your child, will go much farther.

Now, on to specifics on how I personally cut costs in our homeschool while still delivering a quality education.

1. If possible, buy curriculum used.

There are some great swap boards out there. Vegsource and  Homeschool Classifieds are two that I frequent.  Yahoogroups has swap lists as well, some specific to certain programs, such as the IEW Items for Sale list.

Buying used takes some planning, especially for items in high demand, so there is a time investment. I feel the savings are definitely worth it.  For example, let's say I spend an hour of my time scouring lists looking for a particular item. If I save $25 as a result of my efforts, it would be like "working" for a pay of $25.  As a single-income family, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up an odd job here or there with the pay of $25/hour, would you?

2. Sell your curriculum when you are done with it.

I've known some to not want to be bothered with listing items and either let them sit on their shelves or just give them away.  The latter is a wonderful gesture to a homeschool family in need and I don't want to discourage anyone from doing so.  However, if  you are having trouble paying for next year's materials, take the time to sell your used items.  You'll not only bless another family by saving them money, you'll have some cash to make new curriculum purchases.

3. Buy items you know for sure you'll use in the future when you see them at a good priced used or on sale.

You need to be careful with this one, as you don't want to get stuck with items that you end up not using.  However, I keep an eye open for higher levels of programs that I am currently successfully using and know I'll be using into the future.  Sometimes some real bargains can be found and it's worth the savings to have the item sitting on my shelf for awhile.  I also tend to pick up items that I perhaps want to try and are priced such that I know I can turn around and resell at the same price I purchased it for if it doesn't work out. This way I get to try the product without actually losing money on a bad purchase.

4. Barter or borrow materials.

Bartering used to be a common way to obtain what you needed.  I have a friend that offers my daughter writing and literature lessons in exchange for phonics and spelling work with one of her kids. This would work with curriculum too.  For example, you could teach someone's child how to knit in exchange for a program or text the other family is done using. Or, perhaps a friend has some desired curriculum on their shelf waiting for younger sibling to reach that level who might be willing to loan it to you for a year.

5. Seek out inexpensive or free opportunities. Be creative!

I've been able to find many inexpensive opportunities in our area that are higher quality than more expensive programs. 4-H has been a wonderful find.  It only costs $10/student to join a club and there are so many opportunities outside of individual clubs.  Last year, our family received $40 in scholarships to attend already reasonable priced programs, simply by applying. Also, 4-H isn't all about cows and pigs. Check out your local area 4-H to see what they have available.  Starting your own club is very easy and might be consideration if you can't find something of interest.

Don't pass up community programs.  Look at what is being offered with an open mind. My daughter joined a creative writing group in our community recently.  It was intended more for adults, but they were very welcoming to her. It is completely free and she always receives positive feedback on her writing.  Also, I'm not shy about approaching someone offering a class or program in the community about teaching or speaking to a group of homeschoolers.  They are often very willing and will do so at an affordable price.

6. Teach your kids to be frugally minded.

I've been blessed with kids that aren't caught up on having certain items.  For example, my daughter likes to shop at Salvation Army for cheap and unique finds, which saves on the clothing budget.  Both my son and daughter do odd jobs for neighbors and save money for items that they really want.  Teaching good stewardship is a lesson in itself, but the practice will also save dollars in the long-run.

7. Utilize the library and parks!

You might as well take advantage of the resources your tax dollars support!

I feel a bit silly mentioning the library, because it seems so obvious. If your local library doesn't have an item that you need, ask about interloaning it.  Also request your librarian purchase items.  If it is in the budget, they are often happy to try to acquire items for their patrons.

We have several Metroparks in our area that are more than willing to provide low-cost educational programming for homeschoolers.  One such park is even offering a biology class based on a homeschooling curriculum in their lab classroom.  Just because there isn't an already established class doesn't mean they aren't will.  Ask and you may be surprised!

8. Don't feel like you have to do everything to provide a good education. Choose wisely!

In the past, I tended to overbuy and over schedule.  All of those materials and opportunities cost money! I've learned that while there are amazing resources out there, we can only use so many.  My kids don't learn if the materials on the shelves aren't actually used. And if we are running around every day going from activity to activity, the kids will be too scattered to actually get the most out of every activity. Over the years I've needed to learn to say no to activities or materials, as wonderful as they sound.

Homeschooling does not need to cost a fortune to be successful. All it take is a bit of creativity and determination, not a difficult task for a community that already is willing to look outside of the (public school) box.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I've been triple awarded!

Wow, talk about this being a busy and blessed week.  It has been one of those whirlwind weeks where it seems like I just can't get what is on my agenda done.  Yet, just when I need a little pick-me-up, I receive three awards from some wonderful ladies! Thanks, so much gals!

Both Sheri @ Homeschooling on a Wing and a Prayer and April @ Busy Minds, Busy Hands, Busy Feet awarded me the Sunshine Award.

And then today, Michelle @ A Life Better Than I Deserve gave me the Beautiful Blogger Award.

Both of these awards have the following requirements:

1) Add a link and note of thanks to the person giving the award.
2) Pass the award on to the bloggers whose blogs you love (15 tops)
3) Share 7 things about yourself

I don't think I could possibly come up with 21 interesting tidbits about me, so in an effort to save you all from boredom, I'm combining the requirements and only giving you 7 things for all three awards!

7 Random Things About Little 'Ole Me

1. I used to be a Purchasing Manager and once spent over a $1,000,000 in one day!  Granted, it would have been more fun if it were my own money and it didn't involve large quantities of steel and electrical panels, but hey, it was fun nonetheless.

2. Do I dare admit I refused to date my husband when we first met?  He kinda grew on me! In October, we will have been married for 16 years!

3. May (except the closest of friends) think I am ultra organized.  I am so not! I often feel scattered.  I guess I put on a good front!

4. Ever since I turned 40, I can't type!  I've either been leaving out critical words (e.g. "not") and end up typing the exact opposite of what I mean, or have very strange word substitutions. Fortunately, most of my friends seem to be able to decipher my now cryptic emails.

5. I am definitely not a morning person, no matter how hard I try to be.  I can get so much more done in the wee hours of the night.

6.  I'm really, really claustrophobic. I once got stuck in a friend's bathroom (the sliding door became jammed) and had to be rescued very quickly by another friend yielding a butter knife before I completely freaked out. A pull ribbon was later installed on that door and it is still there today, even though that was about 9 years ago.  What great friends I have!

7. Two years ago, I completely didn't get blogging and had no idea why anyone would want to share their thoughts with the world.  Around the same time, I also hesitantly applied to be on the TOS Crew and almost didn't accept the invitation.  It's just a little ironic that I'm blogging about 7 random facts of myself because of awards given to me by some great ladies met through the TOS Crew, no?

Now, for the fun part, passing the awards along to some great bloggers!

I award the Sunshine Award to the following, in no particular order:

1. Kris @ Homeschooling Momma3
2. Melissa @ Day In Day Out
3. Tonya @ Live the Adventure
4. Alecat @ Serenades & Solace
5. Holly @ A Mommy's Blessings
6. Tracy @ Our Life with 3 Guys and a Doll
7. Tonia @ The Sunny Patch

I award the Beautiful Blogger Award to the following, in no particular order:

1. Denise @ Light, Liberty and Learning
2. Lisa @ The Berry Patch
3. Heather @ Faith, Family, and Fun
4. Becky @ There is Hope
5. Wendy @ Homeschooling Blessings
6. Merit @ Creative Learning
7. Lori @ Loving Learning at Home

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Schoolhouse Expo is coming October 4-8!

It's back to homeschool time and registration is open for the online Schoolhouse Expo, October 4-8. It's five days of top homeschool speakers, fellowship, and fun door prizes.

Save $5 per ticket! Register between August 16 and midnight August 22, and you'll pay only $19.99. Plus you'll receive over $200 in free E-Books.

You'll be inspired by speakers including: Zan Tyler, Dr. Jay Wile, Jeannie Fulbright,Carol Barnier, Diana Waring, Todd Wilson, Davis Carman, Kim Kautzer, Lee Binz, and many more!

A special teen track is planned--the entire family will definitely want to listen to these special sessions. We've also planned a special focus on a topic that touches every homeschool--writing. Plus, an array of other topics that will inform and inspire you throughout your homeschooling years.

Don't forget, MP3 copies of each session comes with your LIVE event ticket.

Two special preconference shows on August 24 and September 21 with Dr.
Jay Wile, Jeannie Fulbright, and Kim Kautzer!

Register starting 12:01 a.m. on Monday, August 16.

The theme this fall is "Celebrate Homeschooling!" We're going to celebrate the unique blessings of homeschooling, the beginning of another school year, our families, and the freedom to tailor our children's education to best meet their needs.

If you cannot make the Live event, then the October Expo To Go is just your ticket! You'll reserve MP3s from all of the workshops. This week only, pay just $14.95!

You can visit either of these links to get more information.

*Disclosure:  In exchange for sharing this information, I will be receiving tickets to Expo to Go at no cost.

Samson's Big Move (4H2O Eco Challenge 2010)

A few weeks ago my daughter the 4-H2O Eco Challenge 2010 camp.  The camp was made possible through 4-H, Toyota, Indian Springs Metropark, and Heavner Canoe Rental.  The participants, grades 7-10, learned not only about the ecosystem, but technology was also integrated into the learning experience. One of the projects for the week was for the students to split into groups and create a video about some of what they learned over the course of the week.  I really appreciated the combination of learning about nature and technology and thought I'd share the end result of my daughter's group, just for fun!

And just a plug for 4-H... if you aren't involved in this organization, you should definitely consider it. 4-H is about much more than cows, pigs, and chickens!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Despite the bumps, it's a rewarding road to travel!

The Blog Cruise is up and running, with the first question being very appropriate as most are gearing up the school year.  This week's question is:

What advice do you have for those considering homeschooling or just starting out? 

Some of my advice would depend on the particular situation, e.g. age of kids, but there is one piece of advice I can give to all just starting out on the homeschooling adventure.

1. Relax and be flexible!

It is very difficult to match your visions of homeschooling with reality when you don't have any experience.  I remember when I first started out with a kindergartner and preschooler. I had grand visions of what our day would look like, how we would conduct school, and the attitudes of the kids. By the end of the year, everything looked completely different from what I had envisioned - and I'm glad for it!

If you are just starting out, it will take some time to figure out what truly works for your family.  Make sure you are flexible enough to deviate from your original plan if it isn't working out.  That is one of the biggest advantages to homeschooling - the opportunity to change what isn't working to something that does.

2. Don't be afraid to move ahead in content or spend more time when needed.

This is related to my first suggestion.  I once had a mom confide in me that her grade-level curriculum was too easy for her child, but she felt her daughter should do every page before being able to promote her to the next grade. What? This makes no sense.  If the child knows the material, move on, for goodness sake!  It is an utter waste of time (not to mention completely boring to the child) to make them cover material they already know, to make it "official" in some way.

On the other side, if your child needs to spend more time learning a concept, by all means spend the time, regardless if a new lesson is scheduled for the next day. You will be doing your child a disservice by pushing them through.  This is what the public schools do and why it is possible for someone to graduate high school barely reading and writing.

3. You may need to spend time establishing your new role in your home.

While I do believe that the older the child, the more a parent should get feedback and explore the wishes of the child, just as you would with any important decision on their behalf, it isn't necessarily a good idea to let a younger child dictate how it is all going to go down.  A mother, who really confide in me that she wanted to continue homeschooling after a rather smooth year of it, put her FIRST grader back in school because that is what the 6-year-old wanted.  Really?

Let's be real - kids like to challenge. I remember when I first told my daughter that we were going to homeschool.  She had attended preschool for two years and had been exposed to all the hoopla on heading off to kindergarten.  She put her little hand on her hip, wagged her finger at me, and said, "I am not going to be homeschooled.  You are my mom, not my teacher!"  He he.  She didn't get far and my stubborn little girl was soon doing math with her mama.  I'm not saying it was easy at first, but just like any new expectation in the house, your kids will challenge you and you need to make sure that they understand you are the parent making the decisions. 

My son, age 11, has never expressed a desire to go to school and I doubt he ever will. Now, whatever happened to that finger wagging girl?  She's a teen now, and does not want to go to traditional school.  I do, however, check in with her on occasion and make sure that attending school is not a burning desire that she'd regret not experiencing.  I've tried to present real pros and cons of traditional school and compare it to homeschooling. If she really wanted to try out school, I would explore options, get her input for why, and see if we could come up with something reasonable. It might mean doing things differently in our homeschool if she felt she was missing out on something particular or it may mean visiting some local schools. It would not mean I would let her make the decision nor would I mean I would dismiss her.  Right now, however, the finger wag comes with a definite, "I will NOT be attending school!" 
4.  If your kids have spent many years in the school system, you may need to deschool a bit.

This is especially important if your child had a negative experience. What is "deschooling"?  It is allowing the child to rid of the baggage of the traditional classroom.  This does not mean you are to just let them do whatever.  However, allow the child to explore interests, gain some confidence, and learn to love learning again. Learning can happen without lesson plans and workbooks, and for a child coming from a bad learning experience, this may be the best thing for them at first. Even if there there are no negative experiences at play in the background, you may want to make a point to show your new students the benefits of homeschooling. "Buy in" will get you a long way.  Go on some cool field trips they wouldn't have been able to do if they were in school, head over to the park for a nature walk, or simply let them blast their music mid-day and dance around for recess.  Which gets me to my next point...

5.  Don't recreate school at home.

Many new homeschoolers think homeschooling needs to look like a classroom.  They have a rigid schedule.  The children are up at 6 a.m. and are doing workbooks by 7:30 a.m.  They get 20 minutes for lunch and mom marks their papers with a big red pen.  If that works best for your family, great.  However, realize it is completely fine for kids to call you "Mom" rather than "Mrs. Smith" and homeschooling doesn't have to look like a brick and mortar school.

6. Get plugged in!

I feel it is extremely important to get plugged in to a homeschool support group.  There is nothing like a group of people who know exactly where you are at to lift you up and give advice.  You'll have the benefit of homeschooling right alongside other families just starting out as well as veteran homeschoolers who have been-there-done-that.  There are all kinds of different groups, from co-ops to casual, large to small, so look around if the first one you come across isn't a fit.

If you live in a rural area and can't find a local group, be sure to get plugged in online.  There are many different homeschooling forums. You can also go to Yahoogroups and search for "homeschooling + your state".  You may find a chat group of other folks in your area.

For those of you just starting out this year, I wish you a very successful year! Realize that all those bumps in the road will be well worth the blessings of the journey!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is fall planning stressing you out?

Does the thought of planning your school year make you feel like this?

Are you overwhelmed at the household chores waiting for you? 

Are you constantly baffled on what to make for dinner or do you hold a frequent customer card for the local pizza joint?

Does the very thought of planning out curriculum and daily schedules make you want to chase down the big yellow bus and shove your kids on board?

Don't despair! It is not too late! Help is on the way!

The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner, containing 614 sanity-saving pages, is available as an instantly downloadable E-book for $39 or on CD for $44

Need some homeschool inspiration through encouraging articles? 

It's in there!

How about household forms to keep track of chores, grocery lists, budgets, even to help plan your garden?

It's in there!

Would you love to have tried-and-true recipes submitted by busy homeschool moms just like you?

It's in there!

Want all the work done for you, with every imaginable form for your homeschool already created? Curriculum planning, daily records and schedules, log sheets, unit study forms, co-op sheets...

It's all in there!

 Over 120 unique and fully editable forms are available to customize for your family.  Just type in your personalized information and print.  Make one for each family member! No worries if your schedule changes.  Simply change the forms and reprint a new one. Customize a planner with only the exact forms you need.  Or, save even more by going paperless and keeping a digital planner.

Get your household in order with a full selection of forms to organize essential information for your home.  Find emergency information and contact information at a glance.  Keep your family full and happy with meal planning forms and 84 tried-and-true recipes.  You'll find forms that you didn't even know you needed!

Each month, two encouraging homeschool articles and two "must-know" lists offer up support to keep you going and your children learning.  Monthly ideas and resource lists are right at your finger tips.

There's more!  If you order by August 15th, you'll receive a FREE gift of 12 E-books.
Still not sure?  Check out an entirely free 59-page sample at absolutely no obligation to purchase.

This really is a no-brainer, folks!  The only thing this planner doesn't do is clean the house, cook the meals, and teach the kids.  

So, relax.  Planning for a household and school year doesn't need to cause migraines, heart palpitations, or possible injury by throwing yourself in front of a yellow bus to add a few passengers. 

Click your way to sanity with the purchase of The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner as an E-book ($39.99) or CD ($44.00, shipping included!).  All E-Books published by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine come with a 7-day, 100% money-back guarantee!

 The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner makes it easy for you. Grab an iced coffee, put up your feet, and enjoy the last few days of summer as you head into an organized fall.

*Important Disclosure, please read!
This blog post is not only a reflection of the number of infomercials viewed by the author, but also part of an advertising campaign and contest.  I, an independent contractor for TOS, received the E-book version of The Schoolhouse Planner in order to write this ad. While the woman pictured in this post is not me and my real husband is much better looking with a full head of hair, I really do get overwhelmed with schedule and meal planning. Since I can't afford a maid, personal chef, chauffeur, nor a private tutor, it is my hope that my new planner will continue to make my numerous jobs easier. If you are looking for a versatile planner that will help you more efficiently plan and run your home, check out The Schoolhouse Planner!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Does the post office only lose the expensive stuff?

My daugther's Latin textbooks arrived yesterday. Sort of.  What arrived was an empty bubble envelope with one end completely open.  Nice, eh?  I mean, it was like saying, "See - we are competent enough to get the envelope to your door!  Oh, you actually wanted the $120 worth of textbooks inside. Sheesh.  You can't have everything!"

Now, if I had purchased these books, I could just go back to the supplier and tell them they needed to replace them.  That is how business works.  However, this wasn't a business transaction.  These were loaner books from dd's teacher in CO.  The loss was a double whammy.  The teacher lost one of her classroom sets and I now have to go purchase the books because she had a very limited number of sets to loan.  She actually only had one near-complete set and dd was to get them because she was the first registered for her class.  Now all the used textbooks on the market have been snatched up and I have to purchase these babies brand spankin' new.  Bleh.

I called the PO and informed them of my plight. They weren't insured.  However, they do have some sort of investigation system for lost items.  I'm not overly optimistic. The woman on the other end of the phone took various bits of information such as sender's address, arriving addresses, value, and description of items. "Do you expect foul play?" the woman asked.

"Who would steal Latin textbooks?", I asked.

Come on, it's not like someone is going to see a Latin book sticking out of a package and say, "Hey, I think my kid would like to hear Vergil's Aeneid for a bedtime story tonight!"  Or, "Oh wow - Latin.  I think I'll brush up on my Latin for my next trip to, ah...Ancient Rome."  No, I informed her, I think what is more likely is the PO decided to target this package for their random media mail check and didn't seal the package back up properly.

Now, let me say this.  In all the years of shipping items back and forth, whether it is eBay transactions, sold homeschool materials, or gifts being sent to out-of-town relatives, the PO has only lost three packages of mine.  Actually, that is a pretty good ratio.  However, they only seem to be interested in losing the expensive stuff.  The first MIA package was an airline ticket.  The second was another $100+ book set (that I sold and then forgot to insure, though the buyer purchased insurance...I had to suck it up and come up with a replacement).  Now expensive Latin texts.  All the great offers for credit cards, Christmas cards from people I no longer speak to, and requests for money graduation announcements of relatives across the country that I hardly know....those all make it to my mailbox without a dent or scratch.

So, I now have an "Investigation Claim Number" and I am told someone will contact me in 24-48 with news on whether or not they have located my items.  I suspect I'll be $120 poorer in 48 hours.

Monday, August 9, 2010

School Room Week

The topic this week for Heart of the Matter's  Not Back to School Blog Hop is School Room Week.  Do you school at the kitchen table, on the family room couch, or do the kids have desks in their rooms?  Where is your favorite place in the house to do your learning?

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Last year I did a very similar post, so this will all look a bit familiar if you are a regular reader. However, I decided to take new pictures, though our room hasn't changed much, simply because I just finished organizing our shelves and I'm so proud!

I've been blessed to have a designated place, a "bonus room" above the garage, for school.  In the early days of our family, this room held a Toys R Us storeful of Little Tykes, Little People, and various other hunks of plastic.  When we first started homeschooling, I simply added a table and a set of shelves amongst the plastic landfill and called it the playroom/schoolroom.  As the kids got older and my curriculum addiction overtook the Little Tykes, we decided to have the room converted to meet our homeschooling needs. 

It is a bit of an odd-shaped room, but it has the perfect place for a long desk, a corner computer area, and cubby compartments on both sides.  This is where we keep the things that we use the most. 

The computer area is where my daughter often sits, either taking online classes or doing work on the computer.  The cubbies on this side hold mostly reference materials and computer programs. I often sit with my son at the long desk. In the cubbies over the long desk, I have magazine holders that hold the materials for one subject each for each child.  This is something I started once I was introduced to workboxes. It has ended up being more an organizational system than a workbox system, but is something that has made our day flow so much better.  I just go through the boxes each evening and make sure I have the needed materials for the next day.  Many times it is the same items, but I'll often place supplemental materials or perhaps a game into the box. If we aren't doing a subject that day, I just turn the box around to the closed side.  We also turn each box around as it is completed.  My "big" addition this year is to add labels to each box.  I don't know why that is so exciting, but it is! It makes me feel more organized.
In the below picture, the green unit next to the desk contains more computer programs and audio materials.  A storage area is to the right of the unit (behind the blue door) hides the remaining toys. The shelf to the left of the window is full of Sonlight materials and to the right is more audio programs and educational DVDs.  The TV is strictly to play DVDs and has no cable. More DVDs are in the cabinet below the TV. The futon is great for sleepovers and reading aloud. The white table is a converted train table turned end table.  Games are stored inside.

More books are housed on a display shelf by the futon. By the entrance door is my son's favorite place to be...with his Legos.
The rule is that he can keep as many creations out as fit on the blue rug. The rest have to be either in the drawers or on top of the unit. Most days Legos are all over the place, but come clean-up time we fall back on the "rug rule".

There are two really great storage areas in the room, which mostly hold items that aren't directly related to school. One is located by our Sonlight shelf and the other, which is much larger, right by the entrance door.  My son has created his own special reading area in the larger one.

I'm really happy with our space for school, though we don't always stay in there.  My son in particular likes to bring his work down to the kitchen table or whatever room I happen to be working in.  And on occasion my class of two gets rambunctious enough that I have to kick one of my students out to work at a desk in his or her room.  Even so, just having a space for all my homeschooling materials makes my day feel so much more organized and productive.

What I also like is that when friends come over, the kids tend to hang out in this room, playing Legos or games that are also stored in this area, along with some Playmobil and other toy items.  Occasionally dress-up items will get pulled out for younger kids or I'll find teenagers piled on the futon with popcorn and a movie.  Much like homeschooling is just a part of life, rather than something separate, this room is just as much for play and fellowship as it is for arithmetic and grammar.

Check out other school rooms at this week's Not Back to School Blog Hop!

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to get rid of cat urine from carpets...and not rid of the cat

Last week I post about my evil and disturbed cat who has paranoia issues.  Things have improved...sort of.  By improved, I mean she hasn't peed on my regular carpet.  Just a throw rug.  And only once.  Instead, she's been leaving deposits of the other sort, but it has been next to her box and on tile floor.  So, I can't exactly say I'm happy, but the turmoil is decreasing in our house. My daughter sees hope that her "precious" and mentally unstable cat may stick around for a while longer.

What truly saved this cat from permanent removal is a recipe I found to remove cat urine odor from carpets.  When I discovered the cat was using the regular carpet in the kids' bathroom (where we placed an extra box, but on the tile portion) instead of the litter box, I about went nuts.  As you probably know, cat urine smell is just about impossible to get out.  I wish I could remember exactly where I found this recipe to give proper credit for saving my carpet (and cat), but I didn't bookmark it.

1.  Saturate area with a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water.  Make sure you use enough to get down to the pad.  Then, use a towel or extract using a steam cleaner to get the area almost dry.

2.  Sprinkle baking soda over entire area.

3.  Mix 1 teaspoon of dish soap (not the automatic variety...I used Ivory hand dish soap) with 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide.  You'll need more for a bigger area.  I used 1 cup hydrogen peroxide with 1T of liquid soap.  It was a little less soap than called for, but ended up being plenty.

4.  Next, sprinkle hydrogen peroxide mixture over baking soda.  You can use a small watering can to distribute more evenly if you like.  Use a scrub brush or rubber gloved hands to get the mixture, which will bubble and foam, down into the fibers.  I used gloves so I didn't tear up the fibers of the carpet.  Make sure you really massage it in all areas.

5.  Let the mixture dry.  Mine took several days to dry.  If possible, keep the guilty animal away from the area.  We didn't, because she need to cross the area to get to her box just on the other side.

6. Once dry, vacuum up the area.  I have some left-over residue, but you can't tell by sight.  I'll just run over the area with my steam cleaner.

So far, so good.  I think the cat started to use the area - I found some suspicious moisture the day I first cleaned it - but either the smell or feel of the drying mixture must have turned her off in the process.  Since then, the area has remained untouched and, more importantly, the smell is entirely gone!  I can't tell you how thrilled I am.  I had visions of needing to pull up the carpet and replace it.

While needing a recipe and procedure such as the above is certainly not good, hopefully the having it will save some stress in the house if your animal has decided to try out some naughty behaviors.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Our curriculum plans for 2010-2011 (6th grade)

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Yesterday, I shared my plans for my 8th grade daughter. I started with her because I have fewer loose ends in her plan.  I have a very good start for my son, who is entering 6th grade, but there are some subjects that aren't fully decided yet.

Language Arts
I know the above may look a bit busy, but Language Arts is a focus for this year.  It has been a focus for the last couple of years, actually, as we remediate this struggling area.  I have seen much improvement lately, which is very encouraging.  My son, age 11,  is an excellent reader, grade levels ahead.  But his writing skills are woefully behind.  He fits the term "stealth dyslexia" perfectly.  Anyhow, we discovered IEW materials last year.  While I had known about them for a long time, I never really paid much attention. I wish I had. This past year ds started the Level A and will finish it up soon.  However, I don't feel he's ready to move on quite yet, so I'll be using IEW's All Things Fun and Fascinating and Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons to cover the same content in Level A.

For the last two years we've been using All About Spelling and absolutely love it.  We took a break for summer and will continue in the fall.  I didn't want to halt spelling entirely over the summer, so I picked up IEW's Phonetic Zoo Level A, which can be used independently (in stark contrast to AAS).  I think it compliments AAS nicely and I'll have ds continue, since it isn't very time consuming.  I also like to use SpellQuizzer to practice words that are consistently wrong.

For handwriting, we will continue with Peterson Directed Handwriting.  This is a program I never would have known about if not for my participation on the TOS Crew.  I had all about given up on writing, but now have some hope that this can be a functional area.  We'll also continue with typing skills using Keyboarding Skills put out by the same people that publish Explode the Code (EPS).  This program is the old style top spiral-bound flip books with no bells and whistles.  I found that the fancy computer programs were too distracting.  Ds has actually been through the book once, but I think a quick run through might be a good idea since I've noticed his finger placement on the keyboard needs some correcting.

We've used Pathway Readers for years.  Ds doesn't need much help with reading, but I like to have him read aloud to me somewhat regularly to correct pronunciation and work on general enunciation and voice inflection while reading. I like the short passages and simple stories, usually with a moral attached. Megawords will help with vocabulary and spelling as well.  I'll work this in as we have time.
Now grammar is the one I'm really having trouble with.  We used Winston Grammar last year, which is straight-forward, has minimal writing, and seems just about perfect for our needs.  However, things just didn't seem to stick long-term.  I added Michael Clay Thompson's Grammar Island into the mix toward the end of the year.  However, what I'm seriously considering for this year is going back to The Bridge to the Latin Road, a review item from two years ago.  I liked it when we used it, but the writing requirements were too much for ds at the time.  I need to give it another look now.  It is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is geared toward dyslexics, and I seem to recall it being mostly grammar.  I need to make sure I don't bog ds down with numerous time-consuming programs, though. We have so many programs on our shelves (many, many more not listed above) and so many areas that we need to work on, that is is hard to not overschedule for this subject.

Lastly, I just purchased a reasonably-priced used Linguistics Development Through Poetry Memorization, an IEW product.  I'm not sure if we'll use it, but I think ds will benefit from the memorization and speaking required. If I don't use it this year, it may be something for the future. This item is hard to find used at a decent price, so I picked it up when I had the opportunity.

Whew...let's move on.

I've been using Math U See with my son since the beginning, with the exception of one year of Singapore.  This year he's doing Zeta, which overs decimals and percents.  While fractions went well this year, I think I'm going to add in the Life of Fred Fractions just as a supplement and review of the previous year's material. I had actually planned to have him go through it this summer, but it just didn't happen.  He'll use Mathletics and Math Score for drill and practice.

A few years back, ds did the Pre-Level Chemistry while big sister did the Chemistry text.  I had planned for him to go through the Level 1 books sooner than 6th grade, but last year he wanted to work though Apologia's Young Explorers series.  He's done all but two in the series now, and two won't last him the full year (he likes to read them on his own, and he's doing so in about 2-3 weeks per text).  Since I had RS4K sitting my shelves already and he's never used them, I decided to use what I have rather than buy something new. I can beef them up if needed, but they may be fine as is. One thing I've been wanting for ds is more online classes.  He's done a couple short-term classes and they have been good experiences. 


Things are a bit fuzzy for history, though for good reason.  So we can concentrate on other subjects that need more work, I've decided not to lock us into a firm history plan.  Plenty of historical fiction will be read, likely from Sonlight Cores 3 and 4, to coordinate with the Sonlight 100 my daughter will be studying.  We also have All American History that we dabbled in last year and may go back to this year, though at a slower than normal schedule. I also have Story of the World, Volume 3 (he read Vol 1 and 2 last year) that he may do informally. All this to say, I really don't have a strong plan, but have many, many options sitting on my shelves should I decide I really need something more structured.

When I started the Lighbearers curriculum with my daughter last year, I thought it might be too much for my son.  However, he started sitting in and answering questions I presented my daughter.  Since I didn't get very far into the program, I plan to start from the beginning and fully include him as well this year.  I still need to find some sort of Bible study.  In the past, we've always used AWANA as our Bible curriculum, but my son will not be going to AWANA this year.  Instead, he has decided to attend the junior high group at our church.  I think the youth group may actually have a study they do, and I'll likely wait until fall to find out what they cover.

Fine Arts
  • Guitar lessons
  • Theater production (spring)
While he's played piano for 3 years, somewhat happily, my son has had an interest in trying guitar.  After starting music lessons after our 18 month break from piano for financial reasons, I thought the timing was good to try something new.  A friend loaned us a guitar that her son had outgrown for as long as we needed, which was a huge blessing.  His first lesson was last week.  He loved it!

My son doesn't have the theater bug as badly as my daughter (as in he doesn't constantly surf the 'net for local auditions), but he really enjoys our annual spring play through our homeschool group.

Physical Education
  • Karate
This will be ds's fifth year of Shotokan karate.  He will also attend at least one tournament and likely have another belt testing before the year is over.

  • First Lego League
  • Lego Moviemaking Class (in-person)
Our participation in First Lego League last year was entirely driven by my son's obsession with Legos.  For those of you who have done FLL,  you know the competition is about much, much more than Legos.  This is great, because it gives ds opportunity to practice other skills while being sucked in by those little bricks.

This fall, he'll also be taking a Lego Moviemaking class with the a Star Wars theme.  How cool is that?  Talk about combining interests!

I'm really resisting adding a "Things that I'm unsure about or want to do but not sure how to fit in" category as I did with my daughter.  There certainly is plenty in that category for my son.  However, I'll consider this year successful if the only thing we do it move forward and closer to grade level in the writing and spelling area.  I really want to keep that a focus, so will resist the temptation to dream adding more to the schedule.

My two biggest challenges with homeschooling are over-scheduling and wanting to try every program out there. While the Language Arts department looks a bit overwhelming, I think I have a very good plan of focusing on one needed area, sticking with the tried and true in others, utilizing already owned materials, combining with my daughter's studies, and keeping flexibility in non-essential areas.  Now to just figure out a schedule for it all!

Make sure you visit the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop over a Heart of the Matter to read how others are planning for Curriculum Week this week.

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Our curriculum plans for 2010-2011 (8th grade)

When I saw that  the Not Back to School Blog Hop was having Curriculum Week this week, I knew it was just the nudge I needed to finalize and post our curriculum plans for 2010-2011.

I can't believe how quickly fall is approaching.  I feel like I have a pretty good plan for this school year, at least as far as the materials we are using. Creating a schedule is an entirely different issue!

My oldest is entering 8th grade.  She takes a few classes online.  I love the accountability and the opportunity for dd13 to work with other teachers. It is a good system for both of us, as she's a very independent learner.  This year I wanted to add in more in-person classes, since she doesn't  have many academic group learning experiences in that format.  Dd isn't a typical 8th grader, so this task is a bit harder than it may seem. I think I have some great opportunities lined up, though. The end result is a nice mix of work online, in-person, and at home this year.

Language Arts
  • One Year Adventure Novel 
  • Compare Contrast Writing w/Mark Twain Literature  (in-person)
  • Creative Writing Group (in-person)
  • Sonlight 100 (in-person) 
  • A.Word.A.Day                            
I've been eyeballing the One Year Adventure Novel for a couple of years and finally just broke down and bought it at the Midwest Convention in Cincinnati.  I had been hesitant because creative writing isn't really something that dd needs to work on.  However, I knew that she'd love this program and decided to just let her enjoy her creative writing this year, especially since some of her other subjects will be a bit more time consuming.  In the fall, she is also taking a 10-week compare/contrast writing course, being taught by a dear friend and professional writer that has served as a writing mentor for dd, and a year-long American Literature course being taught by a friend of a friend to a small group. The American lit class will have vocabulary study and written assignments, so she'll be doing plenty of writing.

This summer, she has started attending a local Creative Writing Group that has really turned into a great blessing. Each group member will read the work of the others in attendance and give constructive feedback. Dd has been looking for this sort of group for a few years and even tried to create one, but nothing panned out. This particular group is intended as an adult group -dd is the youngest by at least 20 years- but she loves it and we plan to continue during the school year. The group seems to enjoy having her there as well.

I've rounded out this area with a daily word study with A.Word.A.Day (AWAD), which is delivered daily via email as a free service.

Math lags a bit behind her other subjects, though fine for her actual grade level.  I hope to have her finish up Videotext's Module C before fall starts.  The goal is to be done with Algebra this year and then move on to Geometry the following year.  Whenever she doesn't understand a concept, I always have her watch a lecture covering the same material on a MathTutor DVD. Mathletics and Math Score will be used to practice and improve upon basic skills.

  • Apologia's Exploring Creation with Chemistry (online)
For the last three years, dd has taken science online with the same instructor (Red Wagon Tutorials)*, and we'll continue with that format for one more year.  She started with General Science and took Biology the following year.  Rather than take Chemistry after Biology, she took Marine Biology last year in order to wait for her math knowledge to catch up a bit.  This year, she has nowhere to go but tackle that Chemistry.  I think she'll do fine, but I'm glad I had her take the extra year to make the calculations in this course less painful.

* Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend this online resource. Feel free to contact me via email (listed in my profile) if you need further explanation in order to make a decision that is right for your family.

  • American History, Sonlight 100 (in-person class)
This course is in combination with the American literature course mentioned above.  After deciding against my original plans last-minute and not sure what I was going to do for history, I was thrilled when a friend presented me the opportunity to join a private class with a two others families. The mom teaching it has a very well-thought out plan, using Sonlight 100 as a spine, and plans to really challenge the kids.

Foreign Language
  • Latin 300 (online)
This will be her third year studying Latin with Karen at Lone Pine Classical. Karen has been a real gem of a find and was very willing to let dd try her classes younger than most.  The challenge has been great for dd. This year will be different from the last two years in that there will be no new grammar (dd is excited about that) and the focus will be on poetry.  If you contact Karen about her Latin classes, tell her Heidi sent you!

Both Grapevine and Lightbearers were on the schedule for last year.  While I loved both programs, we sadly didn't finish them as planned.  I hope to do better this year.

Fine Arts
  • Voice lessons
  • Piano lessons
  • Theater production (spring)
After 6 years of piano lessons, finances forced us to stop for the last 18 months.  Things are a little more stable and dd started up voice lessons, something she has been asking to do for about 6 months, just a couple of weeks ago.  I'm still trying to find the right piano teacher.  When I do, I don't know if we'll be able to afford both voice and piano.  For the rest of the summer, she'll take voice and we'll reevaluate from there.

For the last two years, our school schedule has revolved around theater productions.  This fall, however, we have no theater!  While the opportunities have been wonderful, theater is very time-consuming.  We'll continue to do our annual spring play, which is less intense than the fall productions we've been doing.

Physical Education
  • karate

This will be dd's fifth year of Shotokan karate.  She usually has at least one tournament opportunity in the year and will probably have belt testing again before the year is over.

  • First Lego League
Last year was the first year our family participated in FLL.  Though it became a time sink, it was a great experience and much was learned.  It was definitely worth repeating this year.

Things that I'm either unsure about or  want to do but not sure how to fit in:
  • The Fallacy Detective 
  • Money Matters for Teens 
  • Various Teaching Co courses 
  • Verbal Advantage 
  • IEW Advanced Communication Series 
  • Public speaking and debate course
The above are all things that I'd like to work into our schedule somehow.  I just don't know how and where. Some of these I'll be able to fit in after our busy fall, but I need to be realistic and come to terms that some of them we won't do at all. In that case, they'll be waiting on my shelves for another year.

Before the week is out, I'll share the plan, so far,  for my 6th grade son. In the meantime, visit Heart of the Matter to read the curriculum plans of other homeschoolers.

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fun potluck treats

It seems like we go to a lot of potlucks, especially in the summer.  For potlucks, I like to bring something a little out of the ordinary, or at least something that I wouldn't typically make at home.  I try to think of things that aren't very time consuming, but are a little special nonetheless.

We had a potluck to go to on Friday and I was feeling a little lazy.  I had signed up for a dessert, knowing that it is pretty hard to not bring a crowd-pleasing dessert and I would probably have the necessary ingredients on hand for just about any recipe.  I went for something super simple with a little fun twist, rice krispy and brownie doughnuts.

A couple of months ago I purchased a doughnut pan at Amazon* for some healthier baked doughnuts. I also bought a Norpro Nonstick Cake-Sicle Pan*, just for fun.  It was super simple to just mold the rice krispie treats, cool, dip in melted milk chocolate and top with sprinkles. I did the same with just a plain 'ole boxed brownie mix, except I used vanilla frosting instead of the melted chocolate.
For the cake-cicle creations, I used chopped peanuts instead of the sprinkles.  These stayed home for the family to enjoy though.

It was funny how many compliments I received on my rice krispie and boxed brownie mix treats.  They were definitely a hit! A little presentation goes a long way, I guess.

*affiliate link

Free Audio Books!

I'm really excited about the free resource that Kristi over at Clothesline Musing has shared!  Both of my kids like to listen to audio books.  Now that they both have speaker systems for their ipods, listening while cleaning, drawing, or just hanging out in their room is even easier...and now cheaper!

Check out!

My daughter is taking a literature class on Mark Twain and several of his works are available, among many other classics. The audio books will be a perfect supplement for her class!  This is definitely a site to be bookmarked.