Friday, December 30, 2011

Organization: Implementing a New Routine

I've discovered our priorities and passions, I've planned out a workable's time to dump it on the kids, right? Surprise them one Monday morning after a relaxing Christmas break or summer holiday? No! That's the fast-road to burn-out for me and my children!

Kids like warnings just like adults do--it helps them to get ready for what's coming. A day or two before we start back up, I let my kids know how our first day will go. I like to start school gradually. We don't do every subject the first day. Instead, I like to start with something old and something new. The "old" thing is the easy part--something the child can do independently while the other child and I figure out a new curriculum--how is it organized, how long does it really take (versus how long I think it will take), and so on. I give us time to warm up to new books and new ways of doing things, and alternate that with something that's familiar. This year I started with math, reading, and history. Math and reading were familiar, history was different.

After a couple of days I add on one or two more subjects, again something old and something new if possible. When they kids were young, I took up to 4 weeks to get into our full schedule. Now I might only take a week or two.

I also start back gradually after Christmas, spring break, or other shorter vacations. I might take only 1-2 days or even up to a week to get back to full speed. Judge your own and your children's needs as you see what needs to be done. (Sometimes what we need is a day to unpack and get the house in order, instead of jumping into school.)

New schedules will need to be tweaked. Maybe the order I've scheduled things just won't work. Maybe my daughter can't work on a certain subject while I work with her brother, because she needs my help too often. Maybe my son needs things divided up differently--I found that to be the case this year.

My pattern is to start with the things that require my attention and work towards the independent subjects, but my son needs the longer, independent subjects divided up more. So he does history on his own, and then spends one on one time with me. Then he works on math--sometimes with my help, sometimes without; and then science on his own. After lunch he might go for a walk, and then do spelling with me, then do some more independent work, then finish up with guitar. Each year we have ordered things a bit differently, depending on the kids' and my needs.

Starting slowly allows me to see what order works best for all of us; gradually adding in subjects helps us all to get the flow of our day. I ask the kids for lots of feedback here, and we restructure until we hit on a good routine for all of us. So...when you start back after Christmas break, expect to take a day or two to ease into things, especially if you are making changes.

Lots of people have asked for our "typical day," so next time I'll write: Organization--A Typical Day

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Organization: Creating a Workable Routine

Last time I discussed Organization: Priorities and Passions.

Once I have prayed over and planned our priorities and passions and made a list of these, I next look at:

What other subjects would I like to cover?


Where is my time needed? What subjects can my child do independently or with minimal guidance, and which subjects require a lot of my one on one attention?


How long do I want my child to spend on each subject? If a curriculum lays out a "daily plan" I consider that, but I don't take this plan as etched in stone. Sometimes a child can get through several lessons in a short time. Sometimes they need more than a day to really absorb one lesson. I like to come up with time limits and reasonable goals to structure my day, as well as taking into account natural breaking points in a text or book.

Subject times grow and change over the years. When they were little, 10-15 minutes was plenty for many subjects, and all their attention spans could handle. By high school, an hour is more appropriate for many subjects, though there may still be shorter times for some things.

I list out all of the subjects we'll do, and decide how long to spend on each of them. Then I evaluate: Is that reasonable? Is it a slight step up from the previous year...or a huge leap? Is it all realistic? I pray through this process as well. Maybe some subjects don't need to be done daily. This year my daughter is doing both writing and grammar, but only one of those two each day. In the early years I sometimes alternated history and science, rather than doing both subjects daily. I allowed 1-year curricula to last for 2 years (and loved the flexibility that afforded us to pursue field trips, areas of interest, days off to bake around the holidays, and so on).

Do you have too much planned? You may need to pray through it all again and scale back. Ask the Lord to guide you; He will. When my kids were little I thought we'd do composer studies and nature walks and art and spanish and music and... whew! The list I created was very long and not very realistic! I culled back, started with the basics, and got creative with the others. Maybe we could do art one quarter and composer studies another, and then only once or twice per week. Nature walks could take the place of science sometimes. Not every subject has to be done daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly. Over the years my kids have tried many, many things, but not all at once; life is a marathon, not a sprint!

Once I have my list of subjects and activities and the time they'll take, I start to put it together into a schedule. First I plug in the priority subjects, then the passions, then the rest. I take into consideration when I need to be working one on one with a student, and what our style is. Some moms like to teach math to everyone at the same time. My kids need quiet to concentrate, and since I can't be in two places at one time, this approach doesn't work for us. So, I think about what subject the other child can do while I work with one.

If a child struggles with math, that's not a good subject to schedule during one on one time with another, even if math can be done independently. The likelihood of my being interrupted is high. Instead, a subject that rarely requires my help is a better choice. My 7th grader reads while I work one on one with her brother. My 9th grader reads history while I work one on one with his sister. In earlier years, sometimes the independent subject was playing with manipulatives or puzzles, independent reading (even if it was just looking at picture books), play dough or another easy craft, a chore they knew well, or even a quiet play-time in their rooms.

My rule has always been, don't interrupt Mom's one on one time with a child unless there is blood, broken bones, fire, or other serious harm to person or property! We've used workboxes for several years, and these make it easy for a child to go on to the next box and then ask me when that one on one tutoring time with the other is finished.

In the early years, I read to or did an activity with my little one first, then set her up on something to do while I worked with my older one. has lots of great ideas for toddlers and preschoolers. One of my daughter's favorite activities when she was 3 was to stand on a chair at the kitchen sink and play with a sink full of water, some bowls, spoons, and measuring cups.

Once I have my schedule outlined--I know what one child can do while I work with another, I have a general flow to my day...then I put the kids' workboxes together.

So, if you're changing things up, play around with your schedule and routine this week. Feel free to email me with questions too, I'm always happy to help. Coming up Friday: Organization: Implementing a New Routine

Monday, December 26, 2011

Organization: Priorities and Passions

Are you looking to change things up in the new year?

I thought I'd do a series of posts on organization since this topic comes up a lot. This week I'll focus on how I come up with each year's routine, because I often re-evaluate during Christmas break!

I say "routine" because while I do make up a schedule, I use it loosely, as a guideline. I'm not a strict clock-watcher--I like to follow a general routine instead.

Over the years I've re-evaluated our schedule. What works well one year doesn't always work well the next, so I find that each year I do just a bit of fine-tuning. Some things stay the same: We always start with Bible, and we always do literature read-alouds before bedtime. These habits I started when the kids were very little, and they still enjoy read-alouds at 12 and 14. It sets the right beginning and ending tone to our day.

When I think about how schedule everything else, I look at a few things:

1, What's my focus for the next year? What subject for each child needs to be the highest priority? Where do they need the most work? I make sure that I focus my time and energy here first, and give these subjects priority in the schedule. (But priority doesn't mean "first" necessarily--it just means that if other things need to be dropped for that day, the top priority subject still happens almost every day). In different years, the priority has been reading, writing, math, grammar, or spelling.

2, What is each child's passion? Or, what topic would each child really like to study? My daughter loves the science fair, so I always make sure we can work that in. One year my son wanted to study sharks, and a local children's museum was actually going to have a class and disect sharks--yes I'm serious! The timing was incredible! So I made sure to work that in. My son always enjoys history, and I look to capture his interest there (Sonlight curriculum has really helped with this).

If you make sure the priority subject happens, and you make sure your child has time for their passion--then on those crazy days when something has to give, you can let go of the guilt. You know you are getting to the things that are most important.

As a side note, I like to say that sometimes God's curriculum isn't my curriculum. Pray over the priorities, and ask your children about what they are interested in. Be a student of them and discover their passions. But if God has different plans for a day than you do, that's ok. Sometimes life is the lesson. Sometimes learning to help someone in need, care for someone who's sick, character training with your kids, or answering a question that has nothing to do with school but your child really needs to discuss--sometimes these things are just more important than our plans. So...I try to hold plans lightly.

So, if you are looking to reorganize this week, spend a few days praying over your kids' subjects and activities, decide your priorities and their passions for this spring. On Wednesday I'll post: Organization: Creating a Workable Routine

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the AAR 1 Giveaway Winner is...

Anya! Congratulations! Please email me at merry at hopeismyanchor dot com.

The winning entry was chosen by

Thank you to all who participated, and thank you Marie Rippel for sponsoring this giveaway!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All About Reading Level 1 Giveaway!

In honor of the release of All About Reading Level 1, I'm hosting a Level 1 giveaway!

The giveaway will include the Level 1 Kit (Teacher's manual, Student Materials Packet, and 3 readers: Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat). This link also has links to samples of each of these items


AND the Deluxe Interactive Reading Kit, which includes the Letter Tiles, Magnets, Phonogram CD-ROM, Reading Divider Cards, AAR Tote Bag, Review Box for holding the cards, and Star Stickers.


My 12 year-old was looking at the materials today, and said, "I wish I was a kid again!" (Ha! That made me chuckle, she feels so "old!") "Mom, don't you wish we had these when we were little? Let's read a story." We opened up Run, Bug, Run, and she kept saying, "just one more!" and she read about 6 of them, LOL!

The pictures really are adorable, and she's right, I DO wish I'd had this when my kids were little. We struggled a lot with finding materials that would really help develop fluency, would give us good decoding tips, and would make the process a little less painful. I think this really would have helped them AND me!


You can have up to 5 entries in the contest. Each time you do something, comment on the blog here--your comments serve as your contest entry.

1) Check out the video The Story Behind All About Reading and post a comment on my blog about one of the aspects that interests you in AAR.

2) Follow this blog (link in the right-hand side-bar); if possible, suggest a question or topic you would like me to address in a future blog post when you post that you subscribed. (If you are already subscribed, you can still post.)

4) Post on the AAR Facebook page that Hope for Homeschool sent you (that's my new blog)

5) Click to get a free download of In the Kitchen with the Zigzag Zebra or Safari Stories with the Zigzag Zebra

Not sure if your student is ready to learn to read? See this checklist to help you decide.

The winner will receive a Level 1 Set and a Deluxe Interactive Kit.

Entries must be submitted by Midnight on Sunday, December 11th. The winner will be announced on or before Tuesday, December 13th.

Feel free to post a link to this giveaway to your friends! Enjoy! Merry :-)

Advent Chain - The Names of Jesus

A couple of days late, but this one looks fun, easy to do, and meaningful, so I had to post about it (with thanks to the friend in my homeschool email loop who told us about it!) You can make a paper chain with the names of Jesus (found on this page), and either take a link off each day (to count down to Christmas) or add a link each day (which I think we might do). Each link has a related verse so you can read and discuss the name a bit. I know my 12 year-old will have fun doing this as an activity and even my 14 year-old will enjoy the discussion.

There's also a template for ornaments that goes right along with the links, and there is a short set of lesson plans, or a longer, 149 page set that you can do! I think we'll mainly focus on the links and reading the verses. We also like to use The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman, which is absolutely beautiful. Each day you open a richly ornamented door to reveal a beautiful picture of the Christmas story and read a short sentence or two about it.

For the last two years we've read Arnold Ytreeide's advent books--first we read Jotham's Journey, then we read Bartholomew's passage. These are exciting adventure books with a reading for each day, along with a discussion note or verse to ponder. From Amazon, "Arnold Ytreeide is a fine storyteller who cares deeply about spiritual growth in families." There is another called Tabitha's Travels that we haven't read yet, but this year we're going to do his Easter book, Amon's Adventures.

What do you like to do for Advent?