Before You Add, Subtract

Growing up, I never understood why my parents did not like me saying I can’t find it. Now that I have children of my own, I get it.

Just yesterday, I ordered a garbage bag because the kids were going through the closet where we  keep school supplies and were unable to find what they needed. Yes, a garbage bag – because the first thing you must do when you can’t find something is start throwing things away.

Before You Add…

So perhaps in math, you get to add before you subtract, all you PEMDAS fans. But when it comes to curriculum or teaching styles or even for simple sanity’s sake, it makes sense to subtract before you add.

This is not just true when homeschooling in a small house. While it is necessary in a small house to keep clutter down, this is an effective tool no matter what size of home you have.

It makes sense to get into the habit or removing before adding in almost every situation that demands space – mental, physical or temporal.

Buying Curricula

It’s the time of year when many homeschooling parents are excitedly making lists, looking over other homeschooling parents’ lists and searching online for what to add to their schedule. I love research! And if some books and classes are good, more should be better, right?

Um, no. Let’s not drown the children in work just yet.

Before you add anything to your schedule, consider removing something else.

We Have a Rule

Because we have limited storage in our home, our rule for bringing anything into it is pretty strict – there has to be a place we can put it before we buy it and we have to eliminate one other thing. This is especially true of clothes and books.

We choose to donate an equal amount of each. So if I buy a bag of books from a library sale, I have to donate a bag.

While this is good for frugal reasons, when it comes to planning for homeschooling, this idea works wonders. This year, when you decide you want to add something – an activity, a workbook, a read aloud, consider two things: where will it go in your day and is there anything you can remove before you add it in?

Do that first. Before you add, subtract.

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Frugality Begins in Contentment

This is part of a new series of blog posts on frugality, which will be a regular feature of my blog.

My husband and I recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we headed out to dinner. One of the things we like to do together that has fallen by the wayside after kids is shopping. We love decorating our home. So we headed to some of my favorite places that sell home items.

We spent a good three hours. Guess what we came home with? A coffee spoon. No, I’m not kidding.

It’s an odd thing, this frugality. We weren’t being stingy, let me add. It wasn’t like I had drawn our purse strings tight. We weren’t walking around saying, “No, no, no…” It was fun truly appreciating some things in the stores; we had fun looking around, but we didn’t want to own everything we appreciated. It was a great feeling to know that if we liked something, we could buy it. We didn’t need to deny ourselves.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. 

But there was also something else: a deep strain of satisfaction, of contentedness, if you will, that made grabbing for the next shiny object not that necessary. I believe when it comes to frugality, this is one many miss.

We truly are content where we are.
A Frugal Post
Daughter paints a leaf on our “mortgage tree” – a visual representation of our (only) debt.

This is not to say that we don’t dream. But there are two kinds of dreams – ones that are just fun and others attached to a plan. Our financial dreams get to sink their teeth in plans – we budget meticulously, I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive homeschool supplies, ideas and books, I love libraries, sales, thrift stores and clearance racks of the bigger stores.

This is where perhaps my love of video games and frugality intertwine. By accepting and reminding myself that I am okay whether I buy that next big thing or not, that I am content at any given moment, I can treat our budget as a game.

Gamification (and frugality) begins in contentment.

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The Three Lessons of Monopoly

We have a new obsession around here. It’s Monopoly.

At any given opportunity, my children will pull it out and begin playing. It’s surprising to me, really, how often they will beg me to play it with them and I find myself saying, “Are you kidding? We have to leave in thirty minutes!”

“Please?” they will whine then, “please, please, please?” with the blithe carelessness children have for time.

I usually cave and we end up forgetting lunch and extend bedtime. I play with them, but not only because I usually win. (And they still want to play. I’m in awe.) And not even because I’ve waited a long time to find anyone else as in love with it as I was as a kid.


I agree to play it so much because Monopoly has some fantastic lessons. (And before you roll your eyes, let me say, of course it’s okay to play it just for fun. Not everything has to have a lesson.)

However, if you’re an overthinker like me and you appreciate myriad reminders of frugality, budgeting, cash reserves, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Otherwise, maybe it’s best to go read about how to win at Monopoly each and every time.

Here are three lessons “the world’s most popular game” has taught me.

Pay attention

Children (did I say that out loud? I meant people – in general, but let’s stay focused) tend to have tunnel vision, especially when something looks fun. I find that Monopoly is a fantastic reminder to get them to be aware of their surroundings.

The Lessons of Monopoly

When a property goes to an auction, my children almost always reject if they’re not actively seeking it out as a monopoly or if they think it’s unimportant for whatever reason. (The light blue properties, for instance, are treated like trash and sold back to the bank with the least hesitation.) Here’s where I remind them.

“Look, I’m picking it up for a song.”

Shrug.

“No, look!” I insist, as I turn back around and resell the property to the bank and make some extra cash or hold it until it becomes obvious that it’s valuable to someone else wanting a monopoly. It’s been a hard lesson for my children to learn that even if they’re not interested in a property and it isn’t as expensive or high rent as Park Place or Boardwalk, it’s still a great way to make some money by what we now call “flipping.”

Also related to the auction is keeping an eye on what the other players have in terms of money and / or properties. Many a time, it is a good idea to let a property go to auction and not buy it for asking price if the other players don’t have ready cash available. My children rarely notice this and happily pay asking price if they’re excited about landing on a past favorite.

In terms of developing the art of paying attention, Monopoly is as good as a game as the Where’s Waldo puzzle books or playing Spot It and Spot It Jr. with younger children.

It teaches them that gathering information at all stages of the game – not just when it’s your turn – is a fantastic skill to develop.

Currency is not Value

My children never, ever want to part with their hundred dollar notes. Never. Ever. And this is not an exaggeration.

If there is ever a time that they have to pay fifty dollars, they would rather gather up all their change in five and one dollar notes rather than break the hundred dollar notes.

Also, once they own a specific property, even if they owe another player rent, they will get rid of all their cash and refuse to liquidate it, claiming they have “no money.”

Indeed, they will make all kinds of arrangements to simply keep playing. It’s fascinating to watch the odd combinations and permutations they come up with – including debts, forgiveness of said debts, even paying each others’ rents!

At some point, my husband declares, they’re not even playing Monopoly; they’re playing “rotten economy,” if such a game exists.

The Lessons of Monopoly

“So what is money?” my daughter finally asked at the dinner table the other day after a long conversation with my husband trying to explain the concepts of money, price, value and currency.

She may not have got it all, but at least the conversation had begun. And I understood that based on the classical model of education, they are still in the grammar stage and money versus currency is definitely a logic stage conversation, but there had been a hint in that direction.

“What is money, then?” she asked. I wanted to applaud. She’s only eight. It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to ask that question.

Fortunes change, be kind

This is one we all stumble on, but one specific child (I won’t mention who) really, really likes to win. I mean, really. And this specific child likes to rub our noses in the dirt when such a victory is about to take place, takes place and after it takes place.

I’m all for celebrating, but learning to be kind has been one of the best lessons from this game. And yes, while I will say that there is a tipping point after which fortunes certainly can not change, we have had some very interesting reversals.

Helping my children to manage their emotions and temper both their wins and losses has been challenging, to say the least. What are the chances that I would get one of each child who loves to win and one who hates to lose? (That sounds redundant, but I assure you, it’s not.)

So we have to learn, I guess, in one word, humility. Me too.

The Lessons of Monopoly

This is one subject with no lesson plan. I can’t put “kindness” in our daily planner. So we practice when we play. And when the winner loses, we remember the quote I had glued above my desk when I was much, much younger, a quote from Kipling’s poem If that I still recall with fondness.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

And if you’re here reading this post and nodding up and down, saying, We knew this for years, maybe consider the Monopoly Luxury Edition! I can’t show this to my kids yet, because they’ll want it for tomorrow instead of for Christmas. *wink

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3 Must Visit Curriculum Hot Spots to Homeschool on a Budget

I’m feeling the pinch lately.

The children finished what we had set out to do by May in March and we’re scrambling a little to piece together a curriculum for the next stretch of our homeschool. I hate to call it a year because what I buy never lasts an entire year – apparently the learning never ends in homeschooling, even for me!

So what does a homeschooling mom do when the budget is small but her vision is grand? What do the children do when their thirst for learning and reading is growing? How do you piece together a curriculum that works for everyone but also works on a budget?

Everyone knows about the public library and how to use it. Here are some others that you may not have thought of while building your curriculum.

Your local thrift stores

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like an unlikely place. But trust me on this one. I have had great luck finding not just educational games in thrift stores but also flashcards and beginning reading curriculum.

But my absolute favorite thing to buy at thrift stores is read aloud books. You won’t believe the treasures. And I do mean treasures because how wonderful is it to find a hardcover wonderfully illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz for $2? It always feels like a treasure hunt.

Another tip: To keep from getting frustrated, go often but make the time you spend there short. If you don’t find anything within the first ten minutes, leave.

Used curriculum stores

I love these. Not only do I get to peruse and take a peek inside the books (which I can never do shopping from an online catalog) I also get to compare curricula against each other.

If you don’t know if there is one in your area, ask around. And if you’re in the greater Sacramento area, you’re in luck! My favorite one is Kingdom Builder Books which, incidentally, also has various classes for different ages of students. Check them out!

The owners there also offer free consultations (with an appointment) to help you find the right curriculum for your style of homeschooling.

Google Books

Ah, my favorite. If you have a computer or a pad, this is an amazing resource for books that are now out of print – good books that have fallen out of favor with the educational system for whatever reason (that’s a whole other blog post!) and are now only available digitally. For FREE!

I have found language arts readers, history, grammar and many others. Go browse!

And there you have it! Have you used any of these free or cheap unlikely resources? Know of any others? Let me know!

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I’m Planning Next Year’s Curriculum on Snapchat

Oh look, it happened – we’re out of things to do. Between the motivational chart and the burn out sessions and the readalouds – in the midst of life and whining and being bored, learning happened. We’re done.

We’ve exhausted all our planned, available resources. It’s happened sooner than I imagined. Not that I’m complaining.

So here I am scrambling to find more things to put on the agenda. Okay, okay, not scrambling exactly. While we’re enjoying the easy days of “just one sheet of math” and Minecraft broken in with some reading and writing, I’m beginning to start the search for next year’s (whatever that means!) curriculum. (whatever that means, right?)

In the upcoming weeks, I intend scouring the books/resources I have, checking off what I want them to learn in the upcoming months, gauging where they currently find themselves and working to engage them as much as possible in their education. As someone put it, homeschooling is of course “trying to work yourself out of a job.”

Only this time I’m doing it on Snapchat.

If you haven’t been on Snapchat, you should definitely check it out. The idea is that the content there only lasts for 24 hours. So come find me and watch the videos I put up. They can only be 10 seconds long, so I’ll try to make the most out of each snap.

I’ll provide you with a good idea of how to pull from many places depending on what you and your kids like. And you know I’m cheap, so I’ll do it frugally. If nothing else, you’ll come away from my snaps with your mind bursting full of ideas for your next curriculum planning session.

I’ll show you places I shop and what I buy and don’t buy. And also (to my great sadness) what I have bought in the past that was a complete disaster. And some curricula that looks nothing like curricula but teaches real life skills and even some – sigh – worksheets and flashcards. Because much to my disdain, I have one kid who likes them.

If I’m feeling really brave, I might even let you into the sit down work part of our day. Ten seconds at a time. Eep.

So come find me on Snapchat. Let’s have some real fun planning curriculum! Why should our kids have all the fun?

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5 Reasons Facebook Makes You Miserable

We recently had a wonderful visit with family from out of state and one of the more interesting discussions centered around everyone’s frenemy Facebook.

Some refused to use it, some deleted their accounts and others were in favor of limiting their use, even removing them from their phones to do so.

I too in the past have been one of those people who deleted my account. I decided I would never come back to Facebook, that I would be happier (not to mention, productive!) without it. Clearly, I came back. (Follow me here!)

So what is it about this social media site that makes everyone love to hate it? I have a few guesses, five to be precise.

#1 It “Shoulds” All Over You

You really should put down your phone, you know, you should observe and watch your kids because, God forbid they ever look up at you for approval and you’re reading/checking your screen, or, you know, doing dishes or cooking. How dare you, mom? You should be watching them all day long with adoring eyes. (I hope the sarcasm is coming through. I’ll stop. I will, I promise.)

But the “shoulding” unfortunately doesn’t end with making you feel guilty about your screen time. There are other forms of shoulds so common on social media, we almost don’t even notice them.

You should be more loving, you should be eating ice-cream, no, wait, that’s not healthy. You should be eating healthier, you should be working out. It’s your birthday? It doesn’t matter that you want to stay home and read. You should be out having fun.

It’s not that anyone comes out and says it to you per se, of course. It’s just that social media in its highly selective (all your friends) and yet universal (all your friends from everywhere you’ve ever been) creates an environment that fools you into believing that all those opinions matter.

It shoulds all over you.

#2 It Creates a Community of Sufferers Suffering Together

How many times have you been so angry you had to go to your Facebook page to vent and later regretted it?

You’re not alone.

Unfortunately so.

Angry vents make up quite a bit of my personal newsfeed and I imagine yours as well. What does that do to your emotional state and how you respond to your world? After all, remember this experiment conducted by Facebook?

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.

Perhaps the worst thing that does is justifies your bad mood by commiseration. Now think about what would happen if you didn’t share that experience. You would probably brush it off. You would maybe even forget about it.

But now that you have five hundred of your closest friends commenting on it and discussing it days after it happened, you’ve prolonged your indignation.

#3 It Interrupts Your Day

Which leads to the next reason for my frenemiship with social media: interruptions.

I noticed that ever since I downgraded from a Samsung Note to a Motorola, (thanks to Republic Wireless for bringing down my phone bill to $10 a month!) my Facebook notifications are hit-or-miss. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier!

Turning off notifications meant I wasn’t interrupted throughout my day. As I have written in another blog post, I already deal with interruptions through my day and they have a way of draining me and leaving me with a feeling of not having accomplished anything through my day.

Social media notifications add one more interruption to the mix. It’s hard to ignore the flashing light when the children are doing their math drills or writing practice for the day. It’s easy to pay attention to the urgent and ignore the important.

Thankfully, this one is easily fixed. Turn off notifications.

#4 It Forces You To Think In Snap Decisions

If you’ve ever read historical letters, you would likely be struck by how well-argued they were. These were times when people sat down and thought through their theses, took pen (or quill!) to paper and – most importantly – formed a coherent opinion.

We all know about the “type Amen” or “Pass it on – God is watching” posts and, rightfully so, ignore them. But how many of us repost or hit the thumbs up “like” on things in a hurry in our newsfeed just because they agree with our knee-jerk response?

Worse, how many of us are found forced to form opinions in the midst of cooking dinner – or teaching reading – about big things like guns, life, death and the next Presidential Election and then trying to write about them on a small screen letter by painstaking letter?

We can only be passionate about a handful of things at a time and they’re probably all related. But they show up on our newsfeeds as a constant barrage. Write a book or a letter; avoid sharing them on social media. Just a thought.

#5 It Offers the Perfect Life

We all know about this one. We’ve all read the post about why yuppies are unhappy and how it relates to social media.

Of course no one puts pictures of sad things and things going wrong on Facebook and I would argue that doing so –  far from giving you a sense of balance – would seem equally glorifying of the lazy, ugly and unruly side we all possess.

Just the fact that something is on a screen and being watched gives it value in our minds. Just like putting something in a book gives it a certain respect. No matter what. (I don’t know if it’s years of media exposure or what, but changing what we put on the screen to reflect reality just does not work. Because ultimately in choosing one or the other, we edit, opine and otherwise stitch things together to present to an audience.)

And, honestly, I find it takes much less time to clean up a room than to take pictures of it and post it to show how “real” I’m keeping it.

Final Thoughts

All this to say, I still love Facebook and see it as an integral part of my day. But I try to remember that nothing is perfect and trying to keep the above five things in perspective helps me distance myself from much of what would otherwise be a small annoyance or probably just ruin my day completely.

How do you keep your sanity on Facebook? I’d love to hear!

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Poetry Memorization in the Homeschool

Having come over to a slightly more classical side of education from the relatively scary (I kid, I kid!) unschooling side of things, we have lately been doing a lot more memorization work in our homeschool. We memorize poetry, Scripture, basic catechism questions and even some historical and scientific facts from the lessons we cover during regular school.

Why Memorize?

I have written in the past about our method of studying history, a subject I hold quite dear. And what I believe about what they should know was lately confirmed to me by reading E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s book The Knowledge Deficit.  There is much (and I do mean much!) I disagree with him on, including Common Core, but I had to admit that his argument for children to have a body of knowledge from which they can draw to increase their reading comprehension made perfect sense.

I began to wonder then if it wasn’t the lack of this background information that was holding my children back from speaking clear, proper English. 2 out of my 3 children are late talkers, so I understand they have some catching up to do when they do start talking, however, I would like to help their grammar along once they do. Poetry, Scripture and basic background facts do an amazing job of this.

The How of Memorizing Poetry

I went to a homeschooling conference a few months ago and made the decision to teach poetry memorization. But the book and CD they were selling gave me serious sticker shock. Wow, I thought, classical education sure costs a pretty penny!

I understood however why it cost so much. It was because the CD had to be recorded. Children – my children and perhaps yours too – like to listen to poetry and imitate the inflections and emphases of the speaker. There is a rhythm to the spoken word they hear and imitate. Poetry then isn’t that different from learning songs where the rhythm carries you along.

The Tools

No. I did not purchase the poetry memorization CD. I am too eclectic of a homeschooler, classical or not, to let someone else direct my curriculum so completely. I mean, picking things from here and there, putting it all together is one of fortes and my greatest joys.

Instead, this is what I did and where we find poetry to memorize.

Books

Okay, so this is quite obvious. Scouring literature anthologies can help with finding great poetry. Begin small, then add another stanza and another and another. We began with Tennyson’s The Eagle, which is six lines long.

Audio CDs

Check your local library. Our local library in Sacramento has books on CD which we may borrow. I’m not certain they have poetry as well, but it’s worth a try.

Online Resources

These are by far my favorite. Pandora, Spotify, YouTube – all these websites have poetry read by poets or voice actors that are just a joy to listen to! The added bonus is that you get to save the ones you like and begin your own collection which you can come back and play over and over.

I have the children listen to the poem while reading the words from an anthology and then repeat. The slowest we learn is a stanza a week. Short poems should take no longer than a month to memorize.

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How Discipline Can Help You Predict the Future

Name one thing you can do today – for your self or your children that can predict the future. No? Okay, how about you name one thing that will make you happier tomorrow or a week from today?

The answer might surprise you – it’s discipline.

Discipline can help you predict the future happiness of your children as well as your self.

Whoever wrote discipline is freedom was definitely on to something.

I have written in the past about the necessity of a time budget and how to begin one. There are various articles online about how to do the same with money, but curiously not many talk about how these restrictions and rules instead of making us feel constrained and miserable as we think they will, actually make us happier. (Clearly, I have to write one.)

Mea Culpa

Remember when our family was flirting with the idea of unlimited screen time not too long ago? Yeah, well.

Let me put it this way. It didn’t work.

While I still am fairly liberal with our use of technology for school, I have come to the conclusion that I do have to limit its use in the morning to create a distraction-free environment in which the children learn.

In big ways and small, I have come to realize that Charlotte Mason was right. The habits of the child do produce the character of the man.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” – Charlotte Mason.

It’s a sobering, sobering thought.

 Not Just For the Kids

Parents sometimes tend to make the mistake of thinking that discipline is only for the children. And as such, if they haven’t cultivated it in themselves (or have had a hard time doing so) they assume they will never be able to teach it to the children.

However, if you’re even remotely introspective, the very act of teaching it to the children will make you start to apply it yourself.

And if you think discipline is about being miserable all day, read this.

Discipline Can Predict Future Happiness

I had wrongly assumed that having a routine that we stuck with no matter what and having definite boundaries that even I wouldn’t cross (for example, no snacking until two hours after a meal, no more than one soda a day, no screens until 2 pm) were arbitrary rules we didn’t need, but I was wrong.

Just like a money budget gives you the freedom to spend on the things you have planned for, and a time budget helps you get through the day feeling accomplished but not constantly rushed, discipline predicts the amount of satisfaction you will experience with your given task. 

Without a plan, it is easy to get sidetracked, feel hurried or worse, waste time on trivialities. Learn to cultivate discipline, add some necessary, clear-cut guidelines and bring lasting freedom to your homeschool days.

Now, go make some rules.

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A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Own Homeschool Curriculum [infographic]

Ever since I wrote about the 5 most common curriculum blunders homeschool moms make, I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a post specifically to address how to go about creating your own curriculum.

The problem with a lot of premade curriculum seems to be its rigidity. Every child is different, comes with different strengths, abilities, interests.

Each parent is different, too, and most homeschool moms have their own strengths and styles in which they teach best.

A pre-packaged curriculum addresses none of this.

While there may be advantages to buying one just to get started, I find that fitting it into your own family’s routine and personalities becomes its own chore.

I have always built my own curriculum. You can as well, by following the steps below.

Step 1: Assess the child’s abilities

One of the biggest reasons I recommend building your own curriculum is because a grade level doesn’t mean much to a homeschooler. Eventually, you find out that even though your six year old would technically be in first grade he is reading at third grade level or your daughter who is only nine is already working at sixth grade math.

But their abilities are not straight across the board.

Typically, you find out that one of your kids is a math whiz while the other is a reader. One can advance through the grades of history while another is interested in science.

In such a scenario, it is much easier to pick and pull and build a curriculum of your own rather than go by the rigid categories and limitations pre-packaged curricula offer.

It is best to assess their abilities through various online tests. I have found a few that are quick and free and will help you get an idea of where to begin.

Step 2: Consider their interests, your style, and how much time you have to homeschool

Some children learn to read by playing Minecraft. Some like to listen, some are musically inclined, others are not.

While pursuing a well-rounded or rigorous education, don’t forget to play to the children’s interests. If you have a child who loves to cook but isn’t interested the least bit in reading, there is no harm in giving her a cookbook and engaging her in reading from that angle.

There is no one size fits all. Homeschooling is all about thinking outside the box.

Not all school needs to be fun, but don’t completely throw away the freedom you have and insist that it’s in the curriculum, so it must get done.

Also, take into consideration your teaching style and how much time you have to devote to school in a given day. There are parents who work and still homeschool, there are parents with irregular schedules who homeschool. How much time you have is an important factor.

These will and should directly affect your curriculum choice.

To get an idea of what style of homeschooling suits you best, take this quiz.

Step 3: Browse scope and sequence or guidelines of various curricula through online catalogs

Okay, here’s where it gets to be fun.

If you’ve been poking around online, I’m sure you have come across online catalogs. You have probably also been mailed some to your home. Some of these catalogs will list titles of books for each grade level. Take some time to go through these.

Check out their Scope and Sequence page. In it, they will tell you exactly what specific skills they will be covering. If you want to take this a step further, you can check these against the scope and sequence of your specific state.

Now, align the scope and sequence with your child’s interests, your teaching style and voila. Any curriculum built this way will far superior than any boxed curriculum because it will be customized to your family.

Take some time doing this, though. This part will be perhaps the most time consuming part of all. But the work on the front end will pay off later in the year.

Step 4: Look Around You

Okay, you have a pretty good idea of what you want to teach your children and you know they’re going to love it and you’re going to enjoy teaching because it aligns with your style and the time you have. Great! At this point, take a break.

Yes, that’s right. Take a break from the planning and the thinking and the deciding.

As you take a break, you might just realize that you already have around you material that you have not considered “curriculum” because it didn’t come with “textbook” written all over it. Consider encyclopedia like Childcraft, (if you’ve ever been so fortunate as to pick up a few at a library or yard sale) story books, Netflix, even relatives and friends skilled in a task.

Read Six Ways to Save Money while Homeschooling to get a better idea about free or almost free resources you can use.

5. Shop!

And finally. Fill up the remainder of what you need and enjoy the rest of the summer. Of course some of us don’t take summers off, so in that case, well, have fun! It’s time to enter the new school year confident.

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12 Must Haves For Your First Year of Homeschooling

When you start homeschooling, you might wonder: what exactly do I need? If the first thing that comes to mind is textbooks, think again. You can piece together a curriculum from anything fairly inexpensively. Although some homeschoolers do appreciate having the year mapped ahead of time, it is possible to commit some pretty serious blunders that way.

If you’re one of those people who wants to have a fully equipped homeschooling room dedicated to learning and teaching, more power to you! Just don’t get too worked up if everything doesn’t go exactly according to plan. Also, I would recommend leaving some room in the budget for field trips. These tend to come up throughout the homeschool year and can help by breaking up the routine, enhancing what you are studying or both.

 

Here is a list of homeschooling essentials, for the uninitiated.

1. Stationery

This is obvious, right? Pens, paper, (check Staples for great deals. We bought 10 reams of paper once for something like $10 but it required a mail-in rebate.) markers, highlighters, crayons, scissors, sharpeners, post it notes, pads of paper, ink. I tend to be a bit of a stationery hog, so my stationery stays separate from my kids’ because I don’t want them getting into it and throwing it all over the place.

 

2. Storage Boxes

Target comes up with some pretty good deals on storage boxes around fall every year. I buy shoe boxes to store the aforementioned stationery as well as the children’s craft items like play dough, beads, and jigsaw puzzles. One year, I used plastic crates to store their pictures and school work. Since it was still preschool and kindergarten we were working on, it was fairly easy to just drop the worksheets and other crafts into the crates labeled with the kids’ names and sort through them at the end of each month.

3. Library card

I am convinced this is the one essential thing for school. There is currently so much the local library offers beyond books that no homeschooler or unschooler should be without a library card.

4. Dirt

Yes, I said it. Dirt is an essential. Mud puddles, gardening, building, whatever it is you intend to do with it, use it. We frequently like to get the kids to get outside with us to work on either trimming trees, digging holes, spreading mulch or just playing in the dirt. Of course, depending on what age they are, they will do different things with the dirt, but sometimes, the price of giving them dirt is a mud puddle. So be it.

5. Two of Whatever YOU Like Doing

I am often seen writing on my computer or reading. So it is inevitable that the kids want these. They also seem to have an aptitude for it. So when I got my new Chromebook, I cleaned up my old laptop, put some good parental controls on it, loaded some games and some math practice work on there and handed it over to the kids. Yes, it’s sticky and the screen has been touched once too often by dirty two year old hands, but they have arguably gotten way more enjoyment out of that old thing than I can say I could have ever imagined.

6. A kitchen

Some of our favorite homeschooling moments have been in the kitchen. It is where my daughter learned to bake, use a knife on a piece of fish, mix things, make salads. It is where my toddler learned how to crack an egg. “Tap, tap, tap,” he says when he sees me with one. My husband has taken to teaching my middle son to make mac and cheese and sometimes scrambled eggs. A kitchen can be used just as easily to teach math and reading as it can be to teach cooking. And related to the above, if you like to cook, it’s just a matter of time before the kids jump in. It’s inevitable.

7. Play dough & Other Dollar Tree / Target Consumables

These two stores are a homeschooler’s dream come true. Some days, I think between the dollar stores and the library, I could easily teach my three kids for a year. These are especially handy when the children are little. Playdough, jigsaw puzzles, coloring books, some stores even carry things like workbooks for specific grade levels. Pick them up around August during the back to school sales and sometimes in June for the summer sales and stock up! 

8. Shelves & a Couch

Well, you’re going to want somewhere you’re going to need to start putting all those books you will soon acquire, right? Start building NOW! Pretty soon you’re going to be scouring library sales and such. Give the kids a comfortable position to read in or construct a reading nook.

9. Bedsheets

Extra bedsheets, blankets and pillows are indispensible if the kids are going to be spending lots of time at home. They love hiding themselves away and reading or playing. Provide bedsheets for them to build tents. These do not have to be 800 count cotton either. Check your local thrift stores where you can pick them up for no more than $5 a piece.

10. Video Games

While many parents are wary of video games, I am a huge proponent of them. I have found they have many benefits, teaching children to deal with failure and try again being one as well as teaching co-operation and reading skillsMy kids love their video games. I wouldn’t homeschool without them. I consider them an important tool.

11. Legos and Other Building Toys

We love Legos. Who doesn’t have a set? Enough said. We also love our other STEM toys. Here is the best list I have found. Be warned, though. Unless you have older children, and sometimes even then, you will be irritated by these because you will find them under the couches and in your bedroom. You will step on them at night. And you will be tempted to sweep them away and throw them in the trash. But don’t. Because you’ll only end up needing to buy some more.

 

12. An Internet Connection

Remember how exciting it was in school when they wheeled in a small television set and video? Yes? That’s pretty much how we do a lot of our school, except for the, um, wheeling part. There are so many educational shows that are streaming on Netflix or Hulu and YouTube, that you could write an entire science and social studies curriculum based on those alone and complete it with field trips. So don’t discount an Amazon or a Netflix subscription.

Most of all, keep the first year light and enjoy spending time with each other more than anything else. By the end of the year, you’ll have established a rhythm and then you can begin to adjust according to what you’ve noticed works and what doesn’t. Happy homeschooling!

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