Tools of the Trade

It’s that glorious time of year when school supplies are everywhere and people start posting beautiful photos of their homeschool set-ups. I freely admit that I am a sucker for school supplies, whether we need them or not. So what if I have a dozen empty 3-ring binders on my bookshelf? Can you ever really have too many sharpened pencils and spiral notebooks?

Well. Yes, you probably can, but sometimes the sales are too good to pass up. We just rearranged our family room to incorporate our schoolwork area so my shelves are currently nice and organized. I suspect it won’t last long though! At what age should humans be able to put things back where they found them, the WAY they found them? We have apparently not reached that milestone yet. Here is our current arrangement.

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If you can’t tell, I completed the shelf in the top picture first–that’s our “curriculum/resource” shelf (plus some Outlander and fantasy books that didn’t fit on the “reading books” shelf. Fortunately, those cabinet doors hide stacks upon stacks of construction paper, lined paper, chalkboard, and half-filled notebooks. The two smaller shelves house the random stuff and baskets of junk–I mean, leftover supplies–that have nowhere else to live. And, of course, you also can’t see the twirly bin of pencils, markers, notebooks, rolls of tape, empty glue bottles, and sticky scissors that lives in the living room. Or the giant box of picture books that still need to be sorted through and then shelved or donated. Or the stacks of mostly-used workbooks that should be recycled but I just can’t bring myself to get rid of yet because what if I decide to use some of the unused pages this year? Let’s just focus on the good stuff today and forget all of those things exist.

And there, at the top of one shelf, sits my very favorite homeschooling tool EVER: The Laminator. “Why do I need one?” you ask. Why DON’T you need one is the real question. You can make posters, reusable worksheets, checklists, bookmarks, signs, reminders, labels. You can preserve artwork or awards certificates or other Really Important Things.

Besides, if Ryan Gosling loves it, it’s clearly worthwhile. What’s your favorite homeschooling supply item?

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Put on your Sunday clothes

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I will freely admit that here have been periods of my life when I have worn pajamas all day long. Life with babies and toddlers just kind of lends itself to staying cozy unless you’re leaving the house, right? There’s no shame in that! Those days are well in the past for me but I have to say that comfort is one of the keys to our homeschooling. I don’t stay in pajamas anymore, but I do tend to save my “nice shirts” for special occasions. Like, you know, leaving the house. I sometimes even break out my “dressy jeans” for the occasional Mom’s Night Out.

Though my almost-11 year old takes great pride in crafting her ensemble each day, my 8 year old lives in pajamas unless we are going somewhere. Fortunately, most of her pajamas happen to be selections of her comfiest regular clothes, so if friends happen to walk by our house, it’s not completely insane of me to let her go outside in them. And it cuts down on laundry, okay? Simultaneously saving the planet AND being comfortable seems like a win.

While we lovingly call some of the kids’ more creative outfits “The Homeschooler,” I do think our school uniform is basically pajamas. How about you? Do your kids get dressed before schoolwork or do you tend to lounge around in PJs?

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The Mondays or The Fridays?

Fresh homeschool meme Great Homeschool T Shirts

I didn’t start drinking coffee until I had my second daughter and realized that coordinating the sleep schedules of more than one child is somewhere around the seventh circle of hell. Now, I freely admit that I am a coffee addict. I’m not even sure it’s the caffeine that I enjoy so much as the sweet peace of drinking a hot cup of coffee (okay, two very large cups) in the mornings before we start schoolwork. And during schoolwork. And sometimes after schoolwork.

Mondays in our house are not terrible, since everyone here does better with routine (and our morning schoolwork means I don’t have to start listening to incessant Minecraft talk until well after the coffee has kicked in), but it’s not unheard of for at least one of us to have a serious case of The Mondays when it comes time to get started. Even if we push our start time back by an hour or so (while I enjoy another cup of delicious coffee), we generally get into our groove eventually.

When Friday rolls around, however . . . that’s usually when we start to crumble. Back in high school, our English department had “Friday Reading Day” across all of the classrooms and you could read anything you wanted during English class. I always thought that would be a fun thing to institute but we hadn’t quite reached a point where my youngest could read by herself comfortably until partway through this past school year, so we haven’t started that yet. Instead, Friday became “OMG Go Do Something Quietly Without Asking Me 10,000 Questions Per Hour” Day. Whatever works, right?

Sometime around May, I finally decided to start hosting Field Trip Fridays through our local homeschool group. It seems to be a popular idea–both among the children and for other families–so I volunteered to continue hosting throughout the new school year. It sounds charitable but really it just keeps me from having to make us all suffer through actual work on Fridays when we feel like doing annnnnnything else but school. And it definitely sounds more educational than banishing the children to their rooms to play just to get some peace and quiet, right?

Which day is harder for you and your family in homeschooling, Monday or Friday? Do you do anything special to help everyone get through it?

Sweet Freedom

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You may have noticed my meme addiction. I can’t help it, I love them, especially funny ones. This came up in one of my searches though and it struck a chord. It’s so, so true. When people ask why we homeschool, a million different reasons come to mind on any given day, but the freedom is very high on my list! Freedom to follow our interests, freedom to take vacations when we want, freedom to figure out each individual learning style and cater to that. We’re not tied to a school calendar each year, we can switch curriculum when we need to (except now because I finally bit the bullet and paid for a year of our online program so NOW THAT IS IT AND I PROMISE TO STOP OBSESSING). We can make our schedule work for us instead of slotting ourselves into one created by someone else. My husband and I are nerds, I freely admit it. We LIKE learning new things. The prospect of learning cool stuff alongside our kids was one of the biggest selling points of homeschooling for us.

While the freedom is incredible, it can also be daunting, especially for families new to homeschooling. “How will I know we’re doing enough? How much time each day is too much and how much is too little?” I’ll be perfectly honest here–some families spend hours upon hours doing schoolwork. We . . . well, don’t. Especially in the younger grades! If we got half an hour in working on math and reading for kindergarten or first grade, that was awesome! I don’t track hours spent reading or experimenting or baking together or doing crafts or drawing or taking nature hikes. We just do it. Kids are constantly learning, even if they’re not sitting at a desk! My kids are getting older so now we spend maybe an hour or so on “book work” each morning (which is now on the computer), and come fall we will add in a little bit more with writing (I’m such a nice mom, I’m giving them the summer off from that while they do math, science, social studies, language arts, and Spanish, ha!), but I’m certainly not looking to replicate school hours in our house.

If you’re homeschooling, accept your rebel status with pride! You’re already a weirdo by societal standards, so you might as well embrace it. And if you have that independent spirit, you can bet your kids probably inherited it. I know mine have! That doesn’t make it easy, but it might help sometimes when they’re driving you stark-raving mad and won’t just learn their $%#$%*^%$ math the way you’re teaching it or are ignoring the #$%#$*^@ directions in their workbooks in order to write a short story instead of an informational paragraph. Face it, you’re all weirdos and if you have the freedom to buck the system, sometimes you can pass that along and let them do it too. Just not too much, because then Mommy might need to lock herself in a closet to binge on leftover Halloween candy.

Jinxed it!

Next time I smugly say that I have our curriculum planned for September, just smack me right upside the head. I don’t think I’m *ever* done. In fact, I can’t recall a single year where we actually used the things I had planned on using for the entire school year without switching at least some things partway through.

Apparently, this year is no exception. The online curriculum we have been planning on recently went up in price, so instead of a monthly subscription, we can only be grandfathered in if we pay for the year upfront. As a compulsive curriculum-switcher, you can see why this would make me nervous. As the clock ticks down toward my deadline for paying for the year, I am, of course, awash with doubt.

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We are in possession of an entire treasure trove of options that I could piece together, but . . . online. Independent (for the most part). Silence all at one time for a glorious hour of the morning while I drink coffee and do Very Important Things (like blogging and spreadsheet-making and color-coding our schedule for the year). This is the first curriculum the girls have actually really loved and begged to continue with, and all I need to add to it is some writing. Why would I not jump on that?

Because I am me, readers. Because there is always more curriculum out there to explore, always more shiny new books to buy and shelves to fill. Besides, what kind of crazy homeschooler would I be if I couldn’t lug a wagon full of books to park meetups so newbies could see various things in person? IT’S FOR THE GREATER GOOD, OKAY?

I’ll keep telling myself that. In the meantime, I have 5 days to decide what I’m doing and I’ve only changed my mind 73.4 times in the last week. Wish me luck!

Decisions, decisions.

I don’t know about you, but I am a planner. I like spreadsheets and checklists and color-coded schedules . . . all of which I like to create, fawn over, and then generally ignore because that’s not how homeschooling works in our house. Still, I desperately love my spreadsheets, so I make them to make myself feel productive and prepared.

When it comes to curriculum, I start researching options around April, which is when I start to get sick of everything we’re using and planning for the fall staves off the insanity. We decided to try out an online curriculum back in May and the girls love it, so we’re keeping that for the coming school year, which leaves me with just activities to figure out. Back when my oldest was four, we started  in a homeschool gym & swim class–the fact that she refused to participate in gym for the first 3/4 of the school year and refused to swim until January are a story for another day! Regardless, it was the first in a series of weekly homeschool activities that we’ve had every year up until now. Every year I tell myself we need to do fewer things so we have time for one-off or monthly classes that pop up, field trips, library trips, playdates . . . and every year we are so over-scheduled that we don’t have time for those things. The girls are each planning to take four dance classes in the evenings so the prospect of daytime free to (GASP!) do schoolwork and do things spur of the moment is awwwwwfully attractive right now. Then schedules for various homeschool activities start coming out and I forget everything and want to do all the things.

It’s fairly common for newbies to express dismay at when their kids will see other kids or whether there are any opportunities for socializing (hahahahahahahahaha). In our area, it’s more like there are too many amazing options to choose from, which is a good problem to have. For someone trying to cut back on scheduled activities, though, it makes it very difficult to make a decision about just one thing to add to our schedule!

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Summer break? What’s that?

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Ahh, summer break. When the weather is nice, other kids are off school, and people swarm to our favorite places. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t exactly hibernate all summer, but yes . . . I am that mean old hag making her kids do schoolwork all summer.

We don’t always school year round–in fact, we’ve done a wide variety of different schedules! I think each year has been different. We’ve ended our school year in April or May and started the next in July, gone all summer to finish the previous year’s curriculum before fall hits, taken a break all summer and started up again in September, and started the new school year in May/June. The flexibility of homeschooling is definitely one of my favorite things about it, so we do what works for us based on what we have going on or how much time we’ve taken off (uh, because there are some years we take all of December off, or winters where the kids pass sickness back and forth and we get nothing done for weeks, or years where the weather gets nice in April and we are soooo over schoolwork).

Alas, my main reason for homeschooling through the summer is two-fold. 1) To keep me from losing my damn mind when they’ve forgotten how to add or WTF a noun is come September, and 2) to prevent my children from becoming giant a-holes toward each other during the summer. I mean, we do probably an hour, MAYBE two, of schoolwork per day all year round–they have all day then to do what they want. But when summer rolls around and I think, “Gosh, I’m going to be a nice mom and let them have time off of schoolwork!” they act like they can’t even function without snarking at each other all day long. I have no clue why an hour of structure changes the whole tone of the day, but it does, so by George, that’s what we’ll do. Don’t get me wrong, they still have jerky days when I send everyone to their rooms to read so I can have ten minutes of quiet before one or the other comes down and asks for something, but at least those days are slightly less frequent if we stick to our normal schoolwork routine.

I’m also mean and like to see my kids glare at adults who ask them how summer break is going. Ha!

Do you take summer break, school year round, or mix it up?