Homeschool Planning-- also known as, realizing you have no idea what you're doing

I am in the midst of planning my homeschool year for my two older boys, and I must say started out feeling a little overwhelmed! I'm so excited about making this year great, but it's easy to get bogged down by the wealth of information out there. I don't want to over-schedule or attempt to do too much--but I also don't want to slack off and miss out!

Tonight, I did a ton of research in my final push to finalize our homeschool calendar. When I started, I was fairly confident that I was almost done planning. But, God help me, I traveled down the internet rabbit hole and ended up feeling vastly unprepared!! How can I wrangle all this great information and all of these wonderful projects in to a workable curriculum?

Start with the big picture.

I started my planning by writing out a list of learning goals for each child. To help determine my goals, I used common core standards, as well as picking the brains of a few teacher friends. These goals are definitely big-picture, with no real detail. For instance, under goals for reading for my first grader, I wrote, "reading at a first grade level." Not so specific, but it makes a good starting point for my next planning step.

Define each goal in detail.

After drafting a list of learning goals, I took each one and defined it further to make it more tangible. Adding details to each goal helps you grasp what it really is you want your child to learn. "Reading at a first grade level" becomes "reads some materials independently," "understands phonics concepts," and "shows comprehension of reading materials." As you add definition to your goals, you'll start to better understand how to make those goals in to lesson plans.

Choose materials to help reach your goals.

My next step was to create a table of my goal details and explain what texts and materials we will need to reach that goal. For reading, I wrote things like "reading together once a day," The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (my text of choice), and "reading worksheets." At this point, my brain started descending from the clouds and I began to feel like I really understood how I was going to get our homeschooling goals under control!

Develop a calendar.

Just like I started with a big picture with our learning goals, I began with a monthly calendar, defining smaller goals for each month, and then each week. I use a homeschool lesson planner that helps me when I get to the weekly level; it has a table for each subject and you can write your assignments for each day by subject. I rarely plan things for every single day, and honestly I don't care which day the lesson gets finished, but it's good to have a rough idea of what should happen each week so you make sure it all stays on track.

Organize materials and get ready to learn!

Now that the calendar is done, the lessons are (somewhat) planned, and I've chosen curriculum, it's time to get everything easily accessible for daily lessons. Last year, I started creating "weekly workbooks" for my children, with all of the worksheets for the week in one binder so they know exactly where to find them. This is also nice for record keeping, as it shows week-by-week what we accomplished. I've seen a similar concept used by subject, with a journal for each, but I love the binder because it keeps everything from the whole year together in one spot.

I still have some refining to do, but I'm very excited about how far I've come in planning this year's curriculum in a pretty short time. I can't wait until the planning is over and it's time to do some learning!

How do you plan for a new school year? Let me know if you've got any stellar tips!


Post Mommy, Post-SAHM

This morning, as I was scouring the internet for good sources of information on homeschooling, peering over an endless array of colorful pinterest pages and mom-blogs, I realized I was yearning for my own long-neglected blog project. I came over for a nostalgic peek at my last few posts, and what I found was one part heartbreak and one part inspiration.

My heart ached as I glanced over the projects and activities I had been doing with my children when I last posted here; so much in our lives has changed since then that I couldn't suppress my longing for this "simpler" time. These last few posts were one job loss, one exhausting move, and one pregnancy ago; we find ourselves in smaller living quarters with more children and considerably less income. As a consequence to this more complicated situation, I have returned to work--and thus have a lot less time to devote to things like paper mache and rainy day treasure hunts. As I looked back, I was astounded by what I've given up and what I've failed to provide for my children in the last year.

For as long as I've been a parent--probably even longer--I have had certain goals for how I would raise my children (as all of us do). My perfect-world version of myself bakes regularly (kids covered in flour and smiles), lets the kids get messy without breaking a sweat (think fingerpaint and mud, head to toe), and always has time to "be a monster" or play hide and seek on a whim. I want to be a fun, engaged, accessible parent. For a long time, I was just that.

Time and circumstances have changed how I parent, and I would argue that the changes are not for the better. I have less time, less energy, and less patience than ever before. I can feel the strain it puts on my children, too--they are more short-tempered with each other and more apt to whine of boredom than to pick up their crayons and draw me a picture. My lack of time has severely impacted our lives, and I can't stand it!

Last year, we made the decision to homeschool our children. At the time, it seemed like an excellent idea. I was, after all, practically homeschooling them already with all of the activities we were doing, and I was thrilled by the concept of being their teacher. Now, I'm struggling just to make them workbooks for the week and finish their daily reading lessons with no time for special projects or fun activities!

(And don't even get me started on how I feel like I'm letting down my younger two!)

There is light at the end of this dark tunnel, however. I didn't come here just to whine about how difficult it is to be a working mother of four. I was inspired by looking back, too--inspired to find ways to return to being this better version of myself. How can I get back there? Especially with my newfound lack of time?

I know there are ways. And I intend to find them.

My first goal is to make time at least once a week to return to the simple life. I do have some days off, after all! I'd like to stop treating them like days to cram in as much stuff as possible and start treating them like days to forget I ever went back to work. This will take a tiny bit of extra planning (not my strongest suit), but I'm fairly certain it can be done.

My next goal is to find a way to stop working (for an employer) again. I have ideas on how to make this happen, but it's still in the early lightbulb stage. Ideally, I would be able to earn money doing something I love without being a slave to a timeclock (the American Dream, no?!). I just can't shake the feeling that this is what needs to happen. I need to be home with my children and have time for them!

I've always lived my life by the credo that you can do anything you put your mind to. So now I need to prove it to myself. Here's to plotting and planning and making dreams realities. I'll be sure and stop by to share my journey with you. For now, it's time to make the best of my last 24 work-free hours!


Paper Mache Baskets

I've been wanting to try paper mache for a while, but I always found a reason we couldn't do it. Last week, though, we ended up with a bunch of balloons from my sister's baby shower, and I kept looking at them thinking...we should really use those! So, last Wednesday, I bit the bullet and ripped up a bunch of old newspapers for some paper mache!

There are a few different ways to make the paste for paper mache, and a quick Google search will help you see all the options. I went with the cheapest, easiest method that didn't require me to buy anything: flour and water.
Paper Mache Paste
5 parts water
1 part flour

Combine ingredients in small saucepan and boil until thickened, about 3 minutes.

The paste kept well overnight. It was in a coffee can and I just put the lid on it to keep it until the next day.

My first thought was just to cover the balloons with no real end product in mind, but when we started, I had an idea to make them in to baskets instead. I drew a line on each balloon to show the children where to stop covering them.

This project took a total of 4 days: 3 layers of paper mache, and a final day for decorating.

The first two layers were made of newspaper. To make it easier to paint, we did the final layer in white computer paper. (This step could definitely be skipped if you don't want to waste brand new paper.)

You need to wait until each layer is completely dry before starting the next. That's why we just did a layer per day. If you started in the morning, you might be able to get two layers done in one day if you wanted to.

Cover the balloon twice for each layer (so, I guess technically that's two layers....but whatever.)

After your final layer is dry, pop the balloons and start decorating!

I was honestly surprised that my boys weren't more in to this project. They liked the gooey paste for a few minutes, but got bored with the task of actually covering the balloons. My friend's 8-year-old daughter, however, loved it and helped me complete all 4 projects once the boys lost interest.

Side note: I'm so glad I always save all my coffee cans. We used them to hold our paper, hold up our balloons, and keep the paste. SO much easier than needing to use a bunch of bowls.

I was thinking baskets...the kids were thinking weird alien-head helmets.

We used paint, markers, stamps, glitter, and even my husband's airbrush to decorate the projects.

Everyone's project turned out great, and it was a relatively quiet hour while they worked. I call that a win.

This little one was my favorite. The balloon didn't come out of the inside when we popped it, so it's all purple inside:

When the paint dried, I used a hole punch and some ribbon to add a handle to each "basket."

This was so fun, even if the younger ones didn't get excited until we got to the painting part. Definitely something we'll be doing again!


Silence! Learning in Progress

The wind blew furiously and rain pelted us so hard I almost decided to pull the car off the freeway. The clouds were dark and ominous, and I think I even heard a hint of thunder in the sky, but still my two older sons decided to roll down their windows. I gritted my teeth in the front seat, annoyed. If it were a sunny summer day, they'd be complaining about the wind, I thought to myself. I started to ask them to roll their windows up, but when I looked in to the rear view mirror, I couldn't help but stop and smile. The boys were having so much fun! They giggled and screamed at the wind and remarked on how wet the rain made their fingertips. One would roll his window partway up and they'd notice how it made a helicopter sound and made their ears feel funny. They're learning right now, I realized. It might be a little obnoxious to me, but maybe it's not something I should immediately stop them from doing. They're discovering things about air pressure and weather and physics that they won't be introduced to formally until much later in life. Should I really make them stop, or should I hold my chin up and let them have a little fun?

Annoying to you is amazing to them.

Yeah, sometimes annoying is just annoying. But often, that thing your 2-year-old keeps doing that is driving you nuts is teaching her something. She's interacting with her world and figuring out how it works. Understanding that banging two blocks together makes a certain sound or singing the same nonsense words over and over again are not simply activities meant to try your patience. Your child is actively discovering and learning, every minute of every day--and as long as no one is actually getting hurt, maybe you should just let them be.

It's hard to step back and realize that sometimes, especially after a long day when you've already had enough. I'm also not saying that no matter what, you shouldn't ask your children to calm down or be quieter. I eventually made my boys roll up the windows, but I did my very best to give them a while to discover first. Does a few more minutes really hurt all that much?

Just land your helicopter, take a deep breath, and enjoy the moment.

Embrace the crazy. Let it unfold, and keep thinking about how much they're learning. We live in a generation of helicopter parents, constantly standing there ready to stop their children from doing something they shouldn't. We need to spend a little less time hovering and become lifeguards, watching from the sidelines and ready to jump in when necessary, but otherwise enjoying the view in peace and quiet.

Treat all moments like learning moments.

Because they are. And some day, your children will thank you for the freedom you gave them to explore.


Six Word Fridays: Offering

makes me think of sacrifices made--
a burnt, a sin, a peace--
things done for a special purpose.
given humbly but not always taken:
the choice is there even so.
with open heart and engaged mind,
a gift laid out with love.


Rainy Day Treasure Hunt

April showers have come a little early around here, and I've got an extra child for half the day because school lets out early all this week. 
Rainy days + lots of children = extra attention required to keep them happy!

So I whipped up a quick treasure hunt to give them something to do on this wet day.

It all started with a note. I told the kids a pirate stopped by and left a note for them. Then note contained clue #1, which led them on a hunt through the house to find all of the clues and finally the prize!

I included a few activities to integrate a little of our "schoolwork" in to the activity:

The kids had to finish this worksheet to get the next clue.

I asked the children to count the red dots on this paper, and choose the correct location based on their answer.

I "hid" the letters of the word "bath" on this coloring sheet. They had to find the letters, color them, and then work out what word it was to find the next clue.

Finally, they found their prize! As promised, there was something sweet (a Jell-O No-Bake pie), something new (an unopened board game we hadn't tried yet), and something fun (Perler beads they always ask to play with that I rarely let them actually get out).

Checking out their "booty"

Finished peanut butter pie...a laborious team effort (getting 4 children to share all the duties without fighting is way harder than it sounds!)

The kids had tons of fun searching for their treasure, and the activity kept them busy for a couple hours. What a great way to pass the time on a rainy day!!


Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Today is Dr. Seuss' birthday, and we decided to celebrate today my adding a little Seuss in to our day's activities!

We started off by collecting all the Dr. Seuss books we have in our collection and reading a couple of our favorites (the day's not over, though--we'll get them all!).

Next, we played a little game I like to call "Pin the Hat on the Cat." Each child colored their own hat and cut it out. Then, I blindfolded them and let them do their best to get their hat on the cat's head! (I am, by the way, obnoxiously proud of my Cat in the Hat drawing. It's a Jennie original!).

After that, I let the boys watch the animated version of Green Eggs and Ham while I whipped up a batch of our own for lunch. The eggs are green from adding pesto. The "ham" is actually turkey because we don't eat pork, and I wrapped it around a pickle to add a little more green (and because I knew they were more likely to eat it that way!). 

Hope you're all having a happy Dr. Seuss Day! I think we might make it a family tradition!