How to live like a homeschooler–even if you’re not one

Being a parent of a non-homeschooled child, you are probably busy and think you don’t have time (or energy) to do more where your child’s education is concerned. But your child can benefit from some of small ways home educators (especially BPA educators) approach education. Delegating your child’s education to a school does not absolve you of your responsibility to be your child’s most important teacher. Here are a few easy ways you can take more leadership of your child’s education.

Be involved in their education. Check homework, ask questions about lectures. Offer more than the school is offering. Go beyond, even if it’s only small things like checking out an extra book from the library on the topic.

Make your whole lives about learning. No one only learns in certain locations or during certain hours. Make your home a haven of learning. Set up a science center and/or a reading corner related to what they are learning. Cooking, laundry and chores are also times to learn math, science and life skills. Thinking about these simple tasks in a new way can open up a new avenue to connect with your child educationally. Bringing Biblical principles into the subject (like science)  brings life to learning that will inspire for life in a gentle way.

Read aloud–and read a lot. Mealtimes and car rides are great times to squeeze in extra literary goodness. Offer your child a reading list, especially in the summer. Add to the list your child’s teacher gives and if your child has a choice of books to read, offer a literary classic, a “living book.” (see some of my previous posts on literature.)

Learn alongside your children. Ask them questions and allow them to teach you something. Dig in and learn beyond the homework, which is probably fill in the blank or one word answers. Take a topic and together see what you can learn that s not fact-oriented.

Look for ways to incorporate their learning styles. Homework is a good time to let your child embrace their learning style. Making up songs to study for a test, walking and learning, drawing and doodling can all be done during homework time and help your child get more out of their homework.

Embrace individuality. As long as they are following the teacher’s instructions, why not let your child use colored paper, write with a colored pen, use a cool computer font or anything else that will help your child take ownership of their own learning. Help them make projects their own, not just something they were told to complete. Encourage creative expression every chance you can.

Take field trips. Weekends are for enjoying. Make them fun AND educational. Zoos, museums, aquariums, fire houses all make fun family outings that create memories and offer learning at the same time.

What suggestions do you have?


No need to dress up

Room to mess up

Strength to fess up

Home is where grace lives.

More corny jokes

Laughter evokes

Fun, happy folks

Home is where joy lives.

No secrets to keep

Enjoying sweet sleep

Drink it in deep

Home is where peace lives.

Forgiving a wrong

Heart ties are strong

Where I belong

Home is where love lives.

©Anna-Marie Hawthorne

Making the first school day of the year special

image courtesy jonathangarcia

First day of school is an exciting day for any kid who’s heading off to school in a building. New supplies, new clothes–it’s all so fresh and brimming with potential. There’s not reason home educators can’t make the day one to remember. Even if you educate your children year round, chances are there is a date on the calendar that you can point to as the start of the next school year. Here are some things I’ve done to mark the occasion with style.

  • I make a special breakfast. My children love crepes so that’s usually the choice.
  • There’s a new outfit. It’s fun to have something new to wear, even though we don’t invest in a whole wardrobe at one time.
  • When it’s school time there’s fun music playing. I make it a big deal that it’s time for the new school year.
  • I wrap all their new school supplies in wrapping paper so it looks like Christmas. After they open them they put their supplies where  they go. I love to start the year with new crayons, pencils and glue sticks. It makes it seem new and special.
  • We take pictures of them all together and alone.
  • We allow them to bring a friend to school–dolls, etc. Usually we don’t want these distractions, but the first day is special, after all.
  • We don’t do a lot of schooly things on this day. We set up our notebooks, talk a bit about expectations for the new year and talk about how they want to grow in learning.
  • We have started making time capsule books (will offer directions in the next post). In a few years we will also be able to open one each year. Right now we are only making them. They are so excited! You can make a time capsule from an oatmeal box or shoebox.

School days are fun. It’s one of the only “jobs’ you’ll ever have that has a start and a finish each year, that has such satisfation and a way to start fresh on a regular basis. I hope you’ll make the first day special and convey to your children the idea that learning is important and worthy of celebration.

The family newspaper

I had come across this great idea from Lady Lydia and liked it so much I started doing it here and from the beginning it was a big hit. It’s so simple I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. It’s a family newspaper.

family-paperThe premise is simple:

  1. take a sheet of paper and fold in half.
  2. Fill the pages with all sorts of interesting things.
  3. Give it to your kids to read.

I made a little title that fit our family and set about filling it with jokes, extended family trivia, menus, weather, encouraging words and something exciting that was coming up for each of  the kids that we could all get excited about (or maybe an acknowledgement of some success).

They love to read it while they eat their breakfast. They feel grown up and they love to read about themselves and their family. It has opened up some great conversations too.

I don’t make one every day because I don’t have the time for that. I probably make one every week or so. It’s not fancy. I make one and copy it on the copier so there’s not a lot of color. It’s hand drawn with love and they never complain that it’s too homemade.

Why do it? It’s another way to connect with your kids. And my kids write for the paper too, so it strengthens their writing skills. And I can add “don’t forget” things, so they don’t get another nag session from me. They learn things about their extended family with my trivia and I feed their souls with poetry and their spirits with Scripture.

You’ll be surprised how much you cna fit into this little newspaper. If you make one, please take a picture and share the response in the comments below.

25 uses for index cards

I am in love with index cards. Have been for a long time. They are just so, well, handy. There are whole books devoted to using them in your homeschool, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Flash cards. That’s a no-brainer, right?
  2. Matching games.
  3. Making puzzles.
  4. Making 3-D objects.
  5. writing out lesson plans.
  6. collecting ideas for a paper or a book. they can be shuffled in any order until you are happy
  7. Phonics: putting parts of words on cards to match up together.
  8. Mental math. Put answers on cards and scatter on the floor. Read problem aloud and when they solve it they pounce on the right answer.
  9. Life size board game. Put directions on index cards and create a path through the house. Use big dice and the kids become the playing pieces, following the directions on the cards.
  10. For preschoolers: pictures on the cards help them communicate their feelings. They can point to the face that matches how they feel.
  11. Use them like soccer warnings. They get cards as discipline. Green, then yellow, then red. You can assign discipline as your family sees necessary.
  12. Create a flip book.
  13. Write chores to check off.
  14. Cut a slit in the end and wind stray ribbon on it. The slit holds the end of the ribbon.
  15. Keep a grocery list in your pocket.
  16. Lay several out and draw a road on them. Now your boy has a portable road he can assemble anywhere he goes.
  17. Make bookmarks for a friend.
  18. Recipes. Put one on the quick bread you give to a friend.
  19. punch holes and they become lace up cards.
  20. Keep a card file organized by month. Use it for birthdays, seasonal chores and other monthly duties.
  21. Use them as little canvases for mini fridge art.
  22. Make a countdown calendar. Number and decorate the cards and put them in order. Fold one card to make an easel and lean the cards on it. Each day the kids can move the card to the back and see how many days are left.
  23. Make a speech. Practice it and then give the speech in front of friends and family.
  24. Write or draw your clothes on the cards–Bottoms, tops. Mix and match to create new fashions from your same old clothes.
  25. Write your memory work on the cards so you can put them in your pocket for memory work on the fly.

What’s your idea?

Chatting with The Science Mouse

This is our first of [hopefully] many interviews with creative types.

The Science Mouse is a homeschooled kid with a penchant for all things scientific. With a little help from her mom she publishes The Science Mouse, a terrific monthly ezine for kids with a different theme each month.

Tell us about you/your family. (hobbies, stuff you like, stuff you can’t stand)

I have two sisters and two brothers. I like to swim and really like when my dad takes me out for a bike ride. I just started softball and my brother is in t-ball. I have my own dog named Copper. He is a beagle and he is named after the puppy in The Fox and the Hound. We also have gerbils and chickens.

One of my least favorite things is sitting next to my six year old brother in the car because he won’t leave me alone. He always wants my attention, but sometimes I like to do things he isn’t big enough to do or to just read.

What you do like best about homeschooling? What do you like least?

What I like about homeschooling is not having six hours of school. What I don’t like about homeschooling is that I don’t have many friends in my neighborhood.

Have you always like to write? What’s your favorite subject?

No, I haven’t always liked to write. It depends on what I am writing about. I like it more when it is something I thought of. My favorite subject is reading.

Is starting up an online magazine what you thought it would be? How is it the same/different?

It isn’t quite what I thought it would be. It is more work than I thought it would be and I was hoping that I would get more contributions from other children. Mom says to be patient. My favorite part of the e-zine is getting to stay up late to work on it when the deadline is close.

mouse-w-her-stable1Where did you get the idea for The Science Mouse?

I wanted to start a blog and I like science. My mom talked to me about maybe an e-zine and I liked that idea.

What does “creative” mean to you?

Creative means to make up something and draw it or make a model or create something new.

Do you think you are creative? Why or why not?

I think I am very creative. I am always thinking of how to use things in new ways. For example, I made a stable for my horses out of things my parents were going to throw away.

What other creative dreams do you have?

I would like to write a book and have it published. I am writing a book right now called “The Horse Chronicles.”

What inspires you to be more creative?

The things I see.

What advice would you give to other kids who may want to start their own magazine? (How much time does it take to create an issue, what do you need, what’s the most important thing to know, etc.)

It takes a lot of time. Writing takes a lot of time, and so does typing. My mom helps me with that, but it still takes time. It takes time to let people know your magazine published. It takes time to answer emails and to learn about different things. Sometimes there are other things you want to do, but you have to work on your magazine if you want it to be successful. You also have to make sure you spell things right.

If other kids want to write for your magazine, how can they get in touch with you?

They can email me at Articles can be any length and it is OK for parents  to help like if a young child wants to dictate something. My mom helps me, too.

Please take a minute to visit The Science Mouse. She has videos, crafts, recipes and lots of articles that your kids will really enjoy, along with a FREE downloadable issue in PDF each month.

The most powerful creative tool

The most powerful tools you can have in your homeschool arsenal is–are you ready for this–a schedule. Many creative types see that word and run the other way. Before you write the idea off hear me out.

Why do I say a schedule is a tool? Because it gives you control of your time. Because it helps you. It helps you keep on task and lessens frustration. That’s one handy tool.

Why do I say it is powerful? Because it controls time. Well, your time anyway. It’s an amazing little tool with slots for all your tasks, big and small. A schedule seems to magically create time out of thin air, giving you time to create guilt free–time to think and explore and experiment.  And it can transform your day from chaos to calm and that is powerful.

Why do I say it is the most powerful? Because everything else rests on this. You don’t get enough rest without it. You don’t have all your supplies ready without it. You don’t have a clean workspace without it. You don’t have school without it.

A schedule is the single most important gift you can give your family. Maybe you call it a routine. Maybe yours is written or maybe it’s just in your head. However you do it, if you will commit to using a schedule you will see that your creative time is used more wisely, that you are more productive and less distracted when doing a creative project. Your materials and supplies will be ready. Your workspace will be ready. Your mind will be ready.

There are a thousand ways to do a schedule. Find one that worls for your family and try it out for 6 weeks and see if I’m not right. See if you aren’t more creative and less stressed.

making the most of public speaking

One thing all kids need is confident public speaking. The ability to persuade, inform and entertain is a priceless ability, and homeschooled kids have many terrific opportunities to hone their skills–and tools to help them do it better.

photo courtesy rick

photo courtesy rick

TED talks are very popular, and with good reason. If you aren’t aware of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) then visit their archives for public speakers and topics that run the gamut. They are interesting to watch, especially when looking with a speaker’s eye. Older kids and high schoolers can glean a lot from a TED talk. Things to watch for: the choice and use of visuals, the length, the manner of speaking. YouTube is another place for tons of terrific videos of speakers on any subject you can think of.

To gain public experience, there are opportunities everywhere. Home, church, clubs, nursing homes, teams–there are lots of places to get in some speaking times. Maybe you could head over to the local retirement home or homeless shelter. Or create a video on a topic you enjoy and teach someone something. Create a need and fill it with a speech.

What do you want to talk about? Maybe a poetry reading, an original story or reciting memory work. Almost anything you can think of would make a good topic. Sermons and great speeches from the past are great practice for unsure speakers.

Even speaking at home can be helpful for shy speakers. An audience that is familiar, loving and supportive can go a long way to boosting the confidence of a kid who is apprehensive about public speaking. If it would help, practice with an audience of stuffed animals.

I hope you’ll give your kids many opportunities to speak publicly. It’s a necessary skill that will take them far in life.

Finally: a use for junk mail

We get tons of it every week. Finally, something to do with all that stuff!

photo courtesy Wooties!

photo courtesy Wooties!

Younger kids:

  • play post office and use it for the mail.
  • cut out words, pictures, numbers for learning and review as flash cards
  • use the grocery ads to create a pretend shopping list. Cut out the pictures of the items and glue to index cards. Tape a piece of bent index card to the back like a picture frame so it will stand upright. Set up a little store and practice shopping.
  • Use the same cards to sort items by color, shape, food group, etc.
  • Cut up junk mail for collage.
  • Cut out words for creating new sentences or poetry.
  • Play “I spy.”
  • Use the mail to learn your address.
  • Create a mailbox for them and fill it with junk mail they can open.
  • When you get mail with stickers or stamps, let them play with them.
  • Catalogs are great for clipping pictures for picture books and flash cards.
  • Cut pictures from catalogs and give them as pretend gifts to each other.

For older kids

  • Open up those credit card offers and analyze them. Calculate fees and interest and compare them against one another. Practice filling out the forms. Use it as a teaching tool.
  • Compare grocery store ads and find the better bargain.
  • Create a menu from the ingredients in grocery ads.
  • Use sales letters as a template and write one of your own. Dissect it–grammar, word choice, use of punctuation and even the layout.
  • Practice sticking to a budget with grocery ads and catalogs.
  • Research unfamiliar foods and where they come from.
  • Count how many different countries the grocery items come from.
  • Use catalog pictures as writing prompts.
  • Catalog item descriptions are great examples of concise, descriptive writing. Try to write your own.

Art preservation made easy–and fun

As parents, as I think even more as homeschooling families, we accumulate a plethora of art projects. And after a while you start to wonder what to do with it all. You don’t feel right tossing it but you certainly don’t want piles of artsy goodness all over the house.

photo courtesy the_toe_stubber

photo courtesy the_toe_stubber

My friend Renae had a post the other day about saving art work and of course a quandary like that just gets my mind going. I have to write a post when I started a mental list of some potential ideas for you to consider. Keep in mind these are the keepers, the best stuff. You don’t have to keep it all, just keep the stuff worth saving and happily toss the rest when the kids aren’t looking.

  • Laminate them. Punch holes in the corners and connect them with jump rings to make a curtain of art for a wall or a room divider or to cover a window.
  • Laminate them to use as placemats.
  • scan for use as a screensaver.
  • Use them as wallpaper. Arrange them corner to corner like bricks and attach to the wall with sticky tack. When you want to change it up, just pull them down.
  • Mount a piece on heavy cardboard with glue and cut into puzzle pieces. before you cut, make sure to scan it to make putting the puzzle back together a lot easier. Mail it to a relative or friend.
  • Make a scrapbook. Google that if you need to know.
  • Affix a weighted string to the ceiling and hang art on the string with clips or two magnets stuck together.
  • Mail them to your relatives.
  • Cut them up for collage or other projects.
  • Recycle them. Use a different medium to add to it, trade pictures with siblings and add to the picture.
  • Enter them in a contest.
  • Use them as story book illustrations.
  • Scan them and make T-shirts.
  • Use them as story prompts.
  • Trade art with another family. Take turns guessing the subject of the piece.
  • Hold an art show. Display your art all over the house and invite friends and family. Serve simple snacks and have a short discussion on art appreciation or how to study a painting.
  • Scan and print on fabric for use as pillows, quilt squares, tote bags or clothing.
  • For 3-D things, take pictures of them. And for smaller things a high shelf or curio cabinet can be a nice place to showcase the best of the best.