Friday, August 22, 2014

7 Ways to Encourage Independent Work in Homeschoolers

If you homeschool, let me let you in on a little secret. 

The secret to surviving homeschooling is to get your kids working as independently as possible as soon as possible.  Especially if you have multiple kids. 

Because I don't know about you but I ain't got no time to sit down and walk each kid through all their work.  As my kids get older, my job as a homeschooling mom tends to change from teacher to overseer...they do more and more on their own and my job is relegated to answering questions and correcting stuff. 

Trust me..we've had many a homeschool day where we were still going at 4:30 in the afternoon and those are NO FUN. 

Encouraging independent work has really helped lesson the number of those days.  Because there are 3 of them and only one of me and I can't help more than one kid at a time, our days were dragging out FOREVER.  One kid was having to wait while I helped another kid and things were just taking A VERY LONG TIME.  The more my kids can do independently, the sooner they finish their work and that makes us all happier. 

1. Have age appropriate expectations. 

Independent work isn't really possible in kindergarten...or first grade.   With my experience, it wasn't until around the middle of second grade that my kids started to become more independent.   

This picture is staged.  John (1st grade) can't read that book independently yet. 
And, if your child isn't reading well by then, it could very well be later. And that's okay. The good thing is that generally the younger the grade the less work they have...and to be quite honest, you really DON'T have to do science and history in the 1st grade. In the early's okay if you only focus on reading, math and handwriting (and religion if you are religious)  It's great if you can do more, but if you do nothing but reading/phonics, math and handwriting in kindergarten and first grade, you're doing just fine.  

2. Be sure they know what to do and where it is. 

This is probably the biggest thing for encouraging independent work.  Kids must know what they need to do and where they can find the materials/books. Some families use workboxes, which can be great.  We don't, because we don't have the space or the boxes, but we do something similar.

The way our homeschooling works is that we basically do each subject, every day.  Generally we follow the syllabus from Mother of Divine Grace (although we do tweak a few things). 

My older kids know how to find the syllabus, look in it to see where they are, and if possible, do the work on their own. After they complete each day, they write their initial next to the lesson plan.  That way they can see at a glance where they are in the syllabus and we can use the syllabus for multiple kids.

3. It's okay to change things.

We do change things in the syllabus.  For example, the Mother of Divine Grace syllabus has kids memorize catechism questions and answers and practice them with a parent every day.  We don't do that. My kids who are old enough to read, practice them on their own.  It works better for them and me.  My kids tend to be visual as opposed to auditory learners (same as me).  They remember things that they read better than things that they hear.  When they are just listening to me be all blah, blah, blah on, it is easy to mentally "check out" and get distracted, but if they are actively reading and focusing on the questions themselves, they tend to remember them better.  And, this way I don't have to sit there and go over the questions with them 

4. Have a system for checking their work

One thing I've learned the hard way is to always check up on their work.  Always.  With the aforementioned catechism questions, about once every 2 weeks, we do a "check" where I ask them the questions. With other work (like math or Latin or Language Arts), I check it on a daily basis.  With some subjects, especially with Heidi (7th grade) I just check the quizzes/tests.  
Checking their work is easy for potty-training class.
It's a bit more involved with math. 

The important thing is to keep on top of what they are doing...check their work and make sure they are doing it thoroughly and completely.

About the worst thing in homeschooling is to realize that a child has NOT been doing the work you thought they were doing and they are now a month behind. 

5. Encourage working together.

My kids will frequently help each other with their a "you read me my spelling words and I'll read you your spelling words" type of way.  This is a good thing.  Again...just be sure to check up on them. 

6. Keep the momentum going.

This I found is probably the most important least for us.  It is helpful if my kids can move quickly from one task to another without having to wait for me (which is why independent work is so important).  Some families do well with lots of breaks, but we don't.  We tend to do best when we just keep going. Taking a break makes it harder for us to get back into work.  We try to take just one break a day at lunch-time and the rest of the time move straight from one task/subject to another. 

7. Have natural consequences/motivation.

We have certain rules in our house... playing on the computer/outside until schoolwork/exercise/piano practice is done. That provides them quite a bit of natural motivation to keep moving and "finish early".  Having that natural motivation built into the day really does work for us. 

What about you?  Do you have any tips for encouraging independent work?

(linking up with Jen and other 7 Quick Takers).

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5 Things I Bought That Actually Weren't a Waste of Money

I don't know about you, but I've been guilty of making a few unnecessary purchases a time or two...Just a few (okay maybe more than a few) but every one of them is guilt-inducing.  I have a bad tendency of getting it into my mind that. I NEED something, and then hopping over to Amazon...ordering it..and then by the time it comes...I don't need it anymore.  Whoops.  But, of course, I never return then I've wasted money and have this useless "thing" cluttering up my house. are 5 things I bought that actually WERE worth it. 

This thing is awesome. I LOVE it.  We have an old house with broken screens, and as a consequence we've gotten way too many flies inside.  Enter the bug zapper...this things works wonderfully at keeping the population of flying insects down.  It catches flies, mosquitoes, fruit flies and moths.  The best part is it makes a deliciously, loud zapping noise anytime it kills another flying insect.  It just warms my heart to hear those flies get zapped to their demise.  Go me to the SPCF (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Flies)..I don't care.   Plus, it's totally safe for kids, as there is a grate over the electronic part so a person couldn't possibly get zapped.  


We eat a lot of yogurt in this house and making our own saves A TON of money.  I used to balk at making my own yogurt, because I could never get it thick enough.  However, now that I have a yogurt strainer...I can strain my yogurt and get it super thick and creamy and delicious without any added artificial anything. You DO know that Greek Yogurt is just regular yogurt strained..right? Actually, I didn't know that until a few months ago myself.  Once you get the hang of it, making yogurt is surprisingly easy and saves A TON of money and is way healthier than the store-bought stuff. 


I just started taking Epsom Salt baths, but have noticed a big health benefit from doing so.   Magnesium is such an essential nutrient and is absorbed through the skin, so some people find that they absorb magnesium better this way. 


 If you only buy one essential oil, I suggest this one!  Frankincense is considered by many to be the "king of oils" and has so many uses. I mix it with Castor oil and dab it on anyone who has any illness, aches/pains or even just a cranky mood and it does help. 


 This is a very high quality fish oil and taking fish oil is an important part of my anti-depression strategy.  The high EPA especially tends to be effective at combating depression and anxiety. Most people are aware of the health benefits of fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids, and unfortunately most people (myself included) don't eat enough fatty fish to get it from diet alone..which is why supplements can be helpful.  The Body Vega brand is a good, high quality brand that I have been very pleased with. 

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you click through and order ANYTHING from Amazon...I get a few pennies....doesn't cost you a thing!). 
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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Day We Almost Spent the Night in the Woods

Alternative Title: The Day I Almost Strangled My Husband.

"Let's go creek-hiking" he said.
"It'll be fun." he said. 
"We can't possibly get lost." he said. 

You the can take the man out of Tennessee but you can't take the Tennessee out of the man. 

Apparently creek-hiking is a thing in Tennessee.  As in you hike through a creek....yes, through the muddy, mucky waters with the snakes and the fish and the alligators. I guess there are no alligators in Indiana...except for the ones that were just seen in Indianapolis.  Hopefully they weren't on their way to visit their cousins up in Fort Wayne.

So...on Friday, we visited a local county park and went hiking.  It was a nice hike. Kinda a wimpy long trails, no getting lost, no big hills., no mountains to climb.  Just an easy 1 mile stroll through the woods. 

Except that the creek-hiking-loving husband spotted the creek...with lots of paths leading down to it.  As we hiked along, we noticed several paths along the way that lead down to creek.

So, when he suggested going back on Sunday to actually do some REAL creek-hiking, I agreed.  Because I figured we'd go through the creek a little ways and there would be lots of paths to get back up to the trail. .nice and easy.  Plus, the creek looked small...I didn't think it ever got past knee-high.  
Little did I know (insert maniacal laughter here)

So, just as we are arriving at the park, Greta announces that she has to go to the bathroom.   If Greta had not had to use the bathroom the entire course of our afternoon could have been altered.  However, she DID have to go, so instead of parking at the parking lot we were at on Friday, we drove down to the further parking lot...the one with the bathroom.

And, we decided to start hiking from there...and just find our way to the creek. This is a small county-park/nature preserve.  How hard could it be?  And it was super easy. We found a trail, we found our way to the creek and there were even STAIRS leading down. Stairs.  It was perfect.

We were confident that if we just started hiking down the creek there would be MULTIPLE paths leading back up to the trail.

At first it was fun.  The water was cooling. I had Elsa on my back in the Kozy. With a sense of high adventure, we made our way down the stream.

Then in certain parts the water got a bit deeper, up to waist high (or higher), and we had to hold John up.  Ben had to hold the wallet and cell phone up above his head to keep them from getting wet (because no way was I was going hiking without a cell phone...or my wallet).  But, it was fun and we kept hiking on.

Past the snake. 
Not the actual snake we saw.  Because I wasn't about to risk my camera getting wet in the creek.  And even if I had it, no way was I getting that close to a SNAKE.

Past the HUGE spiders.  And, when I mean HUGE, I mean HUGE, SCARY spiders. 

But, we valiantly soldiered on.  We weren't going to let a little thing like snakes or spiders stop us.

By and by we started to get tired and started to look for a path up the creek leading to the main trail.

So we looked....and looked...and looked.  We kept walking and walking and walking and walking and walking and walking getting more and more and more tired.  Because walking through a creek is NOT easy.  It is way, way, way, way harder than walking on land. 

But we soldiered on...just SURE that just around the NEXT bend would be a path. But the next bend came and went, and there was no path...and not at the next bend, nor the next one, nor the one after that. 

It was getting late.  We started creek-hiking shortly after 4 PM and it was now about 6:45 PM.

Finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally we came to a path that lead up the creek-bank.

It took some scrambling and some hand-holding but we all made it all the way up.  Even me, with Elsa on my back. 

That path lead to another path.

Not one we had ever seen before, but we took it anyway.

And, we walked, and walked and walked and walked...past a few smaller branch-offs, but we decided to stay on the main-looking path.  We pretty much had no idea where we were and the mosquitoes were awful..but we had no choice but to keep walking, hoping it led out of the park somehow. 

Until we came to a branch off and Ben was all "hey, this path leads down to the creek, we're exactly where we started.  We just went in a big circle."

Insert family-wide groans here.  No tears though. Amazingly enough no one cried.

So, we back-tracked.  We took a branch-off path, we followed the trail.

Then we heard the BEAUTIFUL sound of    Hooray!!

We came to a parking lot.

Except it wasn't the parking lot where we parked.  And, we weren't at the entrance we came in.

Somehow we ended up clear across the park at a totally different entrance.

There was nothing to do but keep we started walking down the road.  We didn't get very far, before Ben flagged down a guy in a red pick-up truck

I prayed, he wasn't an axe murderer.

Spoiler Alert:  He wasn't.

We asked him for directions and he gallantly offered to drive us to the other entrance of the park near our car.

So, we all piled into the cab of his pick-up truck.  I was nervous about the lack of car seats, but then walking another 4 miles to the van along narrow country roads didn't seem like too much fun either.  So, we risked it and hitchhiked a ride from a good Samaritan.   Thank you to the guy in the red pickup truck from N A Insulation.  If I ever need anything insulated, THAT is who I'm going to call.

Although come to think of it, I probably need to impress on my kids a bit more strongly, why it's generally a bad idea to take rides from strangers.

We were wet and tired and hungry...but we made it back to van.  Before it got dark even...I think it was about 7:30 by that point.

So, we didn't have to spend the night in the woods after all and I didn't have to strangle my husband (because if we had spent the night in the woods, there would have been some major strangling going on). 

All is well that ends well.

Now...the question we want to do it again next weekend?

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Answer Me This: Houses, TV' Shows and the Sign of Peace.

Answering more questions from Kendra

1. What is your favorite room in the house?

We live in a house that has more people than rooms (6 people and only 5 rooms) so that's kinda a tough question.  My favorite room is whichever room has no one else currently in it...which probably means the bathroom.  And, our bathroom isn't that great. 

2. Do you subscribe to any magazines or other periodicals?

No, we don't subscribe to any, but we do get a few magazines and periodicals because we belong to organizations that send them out. Indiana Lawyer, Chess Life, Chess Life for Kids and the AAA magazine are the ones I can think of right now. 

We also get alumni magazines from where we went to college/graduate University of Rhode Island, Transylvania University and University of Kentucky.  We've moved so many times, that I'm not sure how they find us, but they always, always, always do.  It's almost spooky.

3. How do you feel about the sign of peace in Mass? Enriching? Awkward? Overdone? Just right? Some combination of the above?

Generally I find it to be awkward, but I just tend to find those sorts of things awkward. 

4. What is your least favorite sound?

A baby (or even a kid) crying. 

5. What was your favorite TV show (or shows) growing up?

I loved that PBS show Square One.  Yep, I'm a geek.

6. What are your favorite TV shows now?

We don't have actual cable, so I just watch online.  I like:

House M.D.
Dick Van Dyke Show
Downton Abbey

Although I think we're about to cancel Netflix and switch over to Amazon Prime. So, then I'll have to find new shows to watch.  Any suggestions for things available on Prime?  I'm a little nervous about it because I tend to do a lot of impulse Amazon Prime shopping.  We haven't had Prime several months and my online shopping expenditure decreased significantly during that time. So, I'm going to to have to be strict with myself.  


Stay tuned for tomorrow's exciting blog post, entitled, The Day We Almost Spent the Night in the Woods (alternatively titled) The Day I almost Strangled My Husband. 

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Things you DON'T Need for Homeschooling

So, you're homeschooling this year....or thinking about homeschooling this year or getting ready to homeschool this year, or continuing homeschooling this year.  (Or maybe you don't care about homeschooling...if so, you might want to just go ahead and skip this one.)

But, if you are homeschooling, you may be wondering what you actually NEED.

You may have been ordering books and supplies and watching the dollars add up while the inward panic sets in. 

You may have been reading homeschooling blogs seeing ALL THE COOL stuff that everyone else has...and wondering if you need it too.

In some ways, homeschooling isn't any different than regular school.

I remember looking with much longing at other kids' Trapper Keepers. (remember those!)  I desperately wanted one with horses....or cute little kittens or puppies.   I never actually got one..and shockingly...I still managed to do just fine without it. In fact, I NEVER lost my homework.  I wish I was as organized now as I was as a 10-year old.  

Well, homeschooling can be much of the same way...especially if you read homeschooling blogs or talk with other homeschooling moms (and I would be willing to bet that you do both.  I know you read at least one homeschooling blog anyway).

Well, rest are 5 things you don't actually need to homeschool.


A schoolroom....I'm sure you've seen all the blogs...with the beautifully decorated schoolrooms and cute little desks and awesome storage areas  And, those can be great if you have the room to make one.  But it is definitely NOT a necessity. 

A large orange cat to oversee your school day s also nice. Or not.
I've never had a dedicated school room. In fact, IF we ever do live in a house that actually has an extra room to spare...a schoolroom is pretty far down on the list of what I would use it for.  Right now, we do school either on the couch, in the comfy chair (you DO have a comfy chair, right...THAT'S a necessity for school) at the dining room table or on a desk (in the living room).
  We've also done school on beds and floors and outside.  Sometimes it's nice to shake things up a bit. 

Educational stuff on your walls.  You don't have to make your house look like a school to do school.  If you want to, that's great...but if you don't, that's great too.  We have NOTHING educational on our walls. No maps, no alphabet charts, no prayers written out, no blackboards.   Those things can be nice if you like them, but if you don't, they certainly aren't necessary.

And, I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  Kids don't pick up geography by osmosis from seeing a map on the wall.  Well..maybe some kids do...actually I'm sure a lot do.  But, I'm sure a lot don't.  I went through 12 years of pubic school and I'm sure I was exposed to lots of maps on the walls...but I still don't know exactly where Zimbabwe.

Nearby hiking trails are nice to have however.

So, if you want to have all sorts of educational stuff on your walls..that's great.  But, don't feel like you HAVE to.  A space doesn't need to look educational for learning to happen there. 

Saint-like patience.  If you have the secret to this, please, please, please share.  Pretty please.  I sure don't have it.  In fact, I don't have any more patience than most other mothers..probably less.  When God was handing put patience, I was too impatient to stand in line. (stop me if you heard that joke before.)  Patience is something we always have to work on...everyone does.  Even school teachers.  I can remember quite a few school teachers that yelled quite a bit when I was in school.  Not to say that yelling is okay..but it's human...and it's okay to be human. 

Knowledge of ALL THE THINGS I don't have knowledge of ALL THE THINGS.  In fact, I only have knowledge of A FEW THINGS.  In fact Heidi (7th grade) did her her entire last year of Latin with almost zero help from me.  She is learning Spanish and Latin and studying Tolkien and Ancient Egypt all on her own, with very little help or input from me. They can do that you know...and there are all sorts of online
Use this to learn ALL THE THINGS.
and offline tools to help you and them.

Tons of fancy, expensive manipulatives. When we first started homeschooling my mom gave us a whole bunch of these little multi-colored teddy-bears.  They were fun to play with, but we never actually USED them for math.  Same with all the little cubes and stacking squares and math u see blocks.  Now, some kids DO need and use those things.  But, WE never did. And, in a pinch you can substitute household items or make drawings or otherwise figure something out.  Of course if you like the colorful, manipulatives and are organized enough to keep them together they can be fun but they aren't totally necessary for every kid. 

Bonus: What you DO need. An extra large supply of pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners, erasers, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, glue, etc..  You probably should just buy stock in a pencil company or something. And set up automatic home delivery. And, no matter how many you buy you will still never be able to find what you need when you need it.  Or maybe that is just us. 

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

My "Controversial" Sunday Outfit...and Some Non-Controversial Questions.

So, Tusday's post of this week turned out to be somewhat controversial....which was totally to be expected.  Friday's post however was decidedly not controversial, which was also to be expected. 
However, my brother said that no controversy = no fun, so I promised him a controversial Sunday outfit.  

This was the best I could do.

Linking up with FLAP

First of all...lime and pink and a weird pose? 

 My own daughters did not approve of the color combination.

"Pink doesn't match green, Mom" 

So, I was all daring with my color combination.

And, sleeveless in church?? I know some people don't approve of that either...but I personally have no problem with a sleeveless top depnding on the cut of it.  I wouldn't wear a tank top to church but sleeveless is fine with me.  I'll begrudgingly follow modesty guidelines if they are posted, but I will also admit that I'm not a fan of them. 

  Now, for some more questions from Kenda.

1. What do you still want to do this summer?

Well, I would like to get Elsa fully out of diapers before her 2nd birthday on September 11th (probably not going to happen).  And, even more than that, I would like my husband to find a good, full-time paying job before the end the summer (he managed to come up with pro-bono, part-time legal work, but you know...we kinda need money.  That's what I want..anyway...not sure if it will happen. 

I've never really had a summer bucket list and my ideal summer would basically look just like the rest of the year, but with swimming and the occasional family visit and reunion thrown in. 

2. What's your favorite kind of pie?

My philosophy of dessert is that if it's not chocolate, it's not worth it.  So, I guess I would say that chocolate pie is my favorite.

3. How much sleep do you need each day? How much do you get?

I need about 8 hours. Usually I do get around that much. 

4. Do you prefer to swim in a pool, lake, river, or ocean?

I prefer to not swim at all, but if I have to (like to keep a toddler from drowning herself)...I much, much prefer a pool.  I hate seaweed and icky things like that. Plus the ocean is always cold.   Lakes are okay, but there's fish and plants and lots of times the bottom is slimy. 

5. Do you know any poems by heart?

Yes...I know the ones that John memorized last year for Kindergarten. I don't know the girl's poems though..they memorized them on their own without help. 

6. Do you use the public library?

Are there people who actually don't use the public library?  I love the library.  One of the first things we do when we move is get a library card. And, I've learned the trick of getting one for each of my older kids.  That way if one card gets black-listed, we can use another one (did I just admit that??).  Don't worry..I still pay the fine...eventually. And, I still use library cards from Florida and Rhode Island to check out e-books. 

I actually really love the library where we live now.  The main library is HUGE with a great selection.  I found some new books from my favorite authors and so far we've been able to find most of the books that the girls need for school.  Plus they have chess club and free homeschool art lessons and a bunch of other activities that seem cool.  So yes...we use the library. 

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Friday, August 8, 2014

7QTF: Breastfeeding, Chess and Stuff


Did you know that it's National Breastfeeding Week?

Since I've spent 11 of the last 12 years breastfeeding...I might just have a thing or two to say about it.

It's hard for me to articulate how much breastfeeding has meant to me in my last 12 years of motherhood.  It is about so much more than just feeding a baby.  Breastfeeding has been such a large part of my mothering.

It's about nurturing and comfort and connection.  Weaning is a right of passage and my kids have all taken that step sometime between age 3 and 4.    

As babies and toddlers, breastfeeding is how they fall asleep....and how they wake up.

It is how they get comfort and how they relax. 

It comforts them when they are sick and nourishes them back to health. 

It keep them quiet in church and calms a toddler storm. 

It's not always fun (like right now when a certain toddler should be nursing to sleep but is instead kicking her feet in my face) but it's always worthwhile. 

(Disclaimer..please, please do not take this post to be any sort of judgement on moms who can't breastfeed, don't breastfeed, wean earlier or do things differently.  We all have our other mothering path and breastfeeding is big part of mine.  It may not be part of yours, and that is okay.)


So, we've officially started our new homeschool year (one in 7th, one in 4th and one in 1st).  So far things are going rather swimmingly and I'm actually quite pleased with the curriculum we chose.   That's the good news. 


The bad news is that from talking to others in the area about the legal job market, I've pretty much resigned myself to another 12-18 months of un/underemployment, hardship and difficulty...if not longer.   I really really really wish I had appreciated what it was like to have a normal life back when we actually had one. More time off purgatory right?

Ben and I are going to be starting bimonthly rated weeknight chess tournaments here.   Really hoping we get a good turn-out with lots of other kids for my kids to play. 


A friend posted this interesting article on my wall the other day.   I do agree that in many ways our parenting was harder.  Sometimes I really long for the days when we didn't have Dr. Google and I couldn't convince myself that every single little symptoms is a SERIOUS AND SCARY disease and I couldn't compare myself to all the other better mothers who actually have matching furniture.

On the other hand..I love play dates and organized classes and taking my kids fun places.  They are fun for me, too! 


I've been getting into essential oils recently (don't worry I did NOT join a network marketing company) I'm just been learning on my own.  I really love them....sometimes just whiffing a bit of lavender oil is enough to relax me.  Heaven knows......I need all the relaxation I can get. 


I can't think of anything else, so I'll just direct you to Conversion Diary for more quick takes. 

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