Unschooling: What It Is and What It Is Not

For the most part, when I mention to people that we unschool, I get one of two reactions. The first is curiosity, the second is disbelief. This is typical across the board.

The former usually means they haven’t heard the term and they want to know more. The latter comes from unschoolers or homeschoolers themselves, both claiming that that’s not really what I’m doing.

So I’m here to set the record straight. Since unschooling is a term that can apply loosely or rigidly, here is what unschooling is and what unschooling is not.

Letting the Child Take the Lead

When it comes to our family, unschooling is trying as hard as possible to take the lead of the child. It involves waiting, agonizingly long sometimes, for the child to be ready for the next step of their education instead of following some random scope and sequence because the state standards require it.

A perfect example is one of writing. Many curricula tie reading and writing together and while there probably is a connection, I don’t see any reason to hold back a budding reader simply because he is not holding the pencil right.

By the same token, we do not believe that the children will learn only when and what they want. We set aside time for “school” every day, but it is with the awareness that it is only the tip of what they will learn on an ongoing basis through the day.

We emphasize reading, writing and math and, yes, we do math drills.

We do this because we believe that these are the basics of any good education and no matter what the children decide to do in the future, they will have need of these basic skills.

However, we follow a relaxed schedule and don’t feel pressured to keep up with grade levels. We insist rather on achieving a certain level of mastery before moving on to the next level.

Aiming for Self Discipline

My ultimate aim for the children is self discipline, which is one of the reasons I am such a proponent of unschooling. I want them to take responsibility and be self-directed. But I am also aware that at this point they need my guidance to get to that future place where they will be steering their own ship.

We discipline, we exhort, we teach – continuously. We do not encourage acting out, temper tantrums or otherwise bad behavior and neither do we justify it.

As such unschooling is not letting them run wild and figure things out on their own.

It is however arranging things, ideas, subjects, even our home, in ways that they can learn, in the course of our daily lives, how stuff works, how people and professions, countries, governments, environments, history, God and geography interact with each other on an ongoing basis.

Unschooling is interacting with my children in the minutiae of daily life while pointing to the larger picture and reminding them to find their place in it.

Non Traditional Teaching Methods

Unschoolers are known for their distaste for worksheets and textbooks. As someone who hates clutter, I am one of them. However, my children love online drills and I do have a daughter who loves stationery. Let’s just say I don’t stand between her and her passion.

With that said, I have an affinity for non traditional teaching methods and include them as often as we can. These include hands-on workshops in cooking, field trips, Netflix videos, TED Talks, experiments, talking to specialists, and so forth.

For us, unschooling comes into play most often when subjects mingle one with another. Science leads to history, to language arts, to math, to the Bible and back to cultural studies. This fluidity is one of the attributes of a good education, because the more connections you make, the better the learning.

Unlike some radical unschoolers, though, I do not make a rule out of this. If the children prefer to read a book about butterflies rather than go out and look at them, I won’t stop them. And I have gradually begun to read more to them as well.

So there you have it. The way I see it, we have the best of both worlds. If I’m not unschooler enough or homeschooler enough, it doesn’t matter. I see unschooling as a spectrum, not a box. We’re on it, somewhere. I’m certain of it. 

What do you think? What method works best for your family and how closely do you align with it?

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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.

Enjoyed this post? Then you’ll love my book The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Creating Your Own Curriculum coming this summer! Sign up below for updates, giveaways and details.

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Free Online Informal Assessment Tests – A Comprehensive List

We recently tested our homeschoolers. After working with them all year, I was curious.

Of course I knew their individual abilities, but it was good to get some reassurance that we were indeed on the right track, even a little ahead.

Since we were still working at lower grades, I did not want to formally test them. These informal, online assessments came in handy.

The Schonell Reading Test tests if the child is reading at the right age level, not grade.

The San Diego Reading Assessment Test takes about ten minutes and measures the recognition of words out of context. Be forewarned however: I do not endorse this test for anyone younger than 2nd grade. In fact, I don’t believe in pushing children to read before they are ready. (By “ready,” I would mean that they are able to blend sounds.) Since this test claims to have preschoolers recognize or read words, I do not endorse that part of it.

Mindsprinting Tests are for math and reading. Full disclosure: I have not used these and they do require you to provide an email address.

Singapore Math Placement Test – while a “placement” test and not “assessment test” nevertheless can be helpful to get an idea of the child’s ability to solve math problems at a specific grade level.

Saxon Math Placement Tests can be found here.

If there is a specific curriculum you have been using, you can also check online to see if it has its own assessment test associated with the text.

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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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Real Homeschool Schedules

It is perfectly normal to panic when you first begin homeschooling.

If some of you are thinking about starting this year, I wanted to bring you some cheer. Be inspired by these moms who are currently homeschooling. While I am not at liberty to reveal names, rest assured that these are real moms (and dads) who have made educating their children a part of their lives.

I am sharing these in the hope that you will see how homeschooling can be endlessly tailored to fit your family and your children’s personalities. There is no one-size-fits-all. And if you’re not normal, so be it. As I have said before, the fact that you cannot teach like a school, far from being a weakness, is a strength! Be inspired!

The original question was what time homeschool moms went to sleep and when they woke up and how it all worked with the kids.

“I get ready for the day while the kids have breakfast and enjoy free play. We start our school day around 10.”

I am up late – midnight or after. I get up with my husband at 6:30 get him off to work then try to get my AM flylady routine done before my youngest is awake. Then I do work for business. Kids get up anywhere from 530-1130. My daughter is an early riser and oldest son is a night owl. We get school work done mainly between 12-3. In my perfect world all my children we would be asleep by 10:30 but as it is 11:05 currently and no one is asleep yet you can guess how often that happens here.”

“Our house is full of night owls so we are all up until 10-11ish pm. I wake up no later than 8am to give me 2 hours to get my non-school stuff done. It’s me time! Wake kids by 9, and give them 1 hour for breakfast, morning chores, play time and whatever they want to do then start school around 10 and we usually do avg 2-3 hours 3-4 days a week year round.”

4.5 year old and 8 month old go to bed around 11:30, we are up naturally around 10/11, and start school at noon. I decided that we will start later, as I thought kids learned best when on a natural sleep schedule. I might also do school in the evenings later on and see if she absorbs more information that way. I’m just getting started, but I just figured I’d share what we’re doing right now. It might change, and that’s okay too.”

Well, it’s past midnight and I’m almost sleepy..DD/12 yrs, the one that is HS, is still up looking for her phone..dont judge please ( it doesnt have service,lol) I wake up kinda early around 8, DS/3 yrs, sleeps till 9ish, the oldest DD/18 yrs and hubs is already at work, HS DD wakes up between 10 – noon, eats breakfast, plays with her brother, makes a few messes, then does schoolwork. She likes to break it up. 2 hours in the afternoon,Then she does her chores and then gets to play with her friends. then 2 hours in the evening. Its easier for her to concentrate without her brother,lol. We are still new so this might change but for now, its working. No more fighting to get her up! Its heaven.”

I go to bed around 10:30 because I need a lot of sleep. My kids wake up at around 7/7:30, sometimes earlier or later. They have a list of things they can do on their own for school (they are 9, 8, 6, and 4, and most days they finish all of it before I even get up), and they can have a piece of bread if they are starving (or if I’m planning on making something that I know my oldest can make, like toast and a smoothie, or cereal, I just let her make breakfast for everyone), but I wake up around 8, take my time getting out of bed, and breakfast is at 9. After breakfast we do the part of our school that we do together, like history, science, grocery shopping, book reading, etc. Then we are completely done by 11, eating snack, and playing or off on an adventure.”

“I work over nights and when I get home my kids get breakfst and feed their dogs as I take a nap. When I wake up they have their books ready for me to look over and talk to them about what was not right and then redo but use another page to help them know. I sleep from 7am to 9am then 7pm to 9pm sometimes from 3pm to 4pm”

I’m up late and so is my son…he is on my schedule, work part time as nurse on 2nd shift. No fail I wake up with no alarm at 7 to 8 am in morning, no matter, if 2 hours sleep or 8 hours sleep. I let him sleep in till 10 usually to get 8 or 9 hours depending on what time he goes to bed. We eat breakfast/brunch and then do some fun stuff, play a game, getting his brain ready for work and then we do some work….than break, repeat till lunch. I read to him after lunch and then we are usually done at 2pm with breaks included. He homeschools year round, he is 11 yrs old.”

“My twins (4 yo) go to bed at 7:00. Then the baby (9 mo) usually stays up until 9:00. Then I get all my work done. I work from home for our business. Usually go to bed around midnight-1:00am. I sleep until they wake up, usually around 6:30-7:00am (several wake-ups in between). I get going just looking forward to and drinking my 2 cups of coffee while I make breakfast.”

Hubby and I go upstairs to our room around 9.30 and usually fall asleep watching tv. On nights that I work closing shift I don’t get home until 10.30, so a bit later on those nights. Hubby’s alarm goes off at 4 am. Sometimes I go ahead and get up after he leaves for work and that is my alone time, ‘cuz the kids won’t wake up until 6-7.30ish. But if I am not already up when the kids get up, one of them will usually test out their cooking skills on me and bring me breakfast in bed, with coffee. That’s a good motivator.”

I have 3 sons, 6,10 and 16. We are very regimented with our schooling. My sons do not function well otherwise. . I’ve tried several different time schedules and the one that works best for them is bed at 10pm, wake at 9am, do morning responsibilities; dressed, hair combed, teeth brushed, beds made, eat breakfast, one feeds the doggies and the other lets them out. Then I let them play until school starts at 11am sharp. I found that getting their energy drained a bit was very helpful for keeping them focused and sitting still. We do school from 11am-4pm including lunch and 2 snack breaks. If they finish before then they are free to play. If they do not finish by 4pm the work carries over into the next day and so on.

I have found that with 1 child who has a few disabilities and 1 who has a very high IQ, I had to meet both of their needs at once. So a very strict and structured time schedule which one son needs and a creative fun curriculum for my other son, the schedule allowed time for more fun and adventurous school lessons. When I tried the more relaxed time schedule and trying to teach them how empowering and fun knowledge was it was a disaster. I’ve tried it several ways and what I mentioned we do above has proven to be the most successful for us. Also something very hard to do, but very successful, was me not doing anything else during homeschool. I give them my undivided attention the entire time. Their education is their future so don’t take it lightly. I stopped all distractions as best as I could during school hours. I wasn’t doing any chores, laundry, no phone, dishes, etc…. All dogs were put into the bedrooms and the phone was put on silent. It was my hubby’s suggestion and it works great! Also as long as they stick to their time schedule they are allowed to wear a costume to class, LOL, and if they are naughty they have to take it off.”

And there you are. See, there’s no one size fits all! I told you so.

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3 Things You Do Not Know That Are Affecting Your Homeschooling

Some days are better than others. There are those mornings I wake up and know the children are going to be in trouble and then there are the days I wish we could repeat over and over for the rest of the homeschool year in an endless loop. Let’s face it. We’re all crabby some days and enthusiastic on others. Why should kids be any different? However, sometimes things in our environment can affect us in ways we don’t know and set the mood for the rest of the day. Here are some things to be aware of that can affect your homeschool day for better or worse.

Sounds

I just finished reading Sonic Boom by Joel Beckerman in which he talks about how sound can be manipulated to make us feel something. He is concerned mainly with the marketing side of using sound and music – jingles, anthems, things like that. But it got me thinking about how much sound affects me in my daily life. Consider how constant whining in the background makes you feel, think about your own tone when you speak to your children. Or how about the constant drip of television shows or video games in the background?

How about playing classical or jazz while you’re doing chores? (I find that to truly relax I need a wordless environment for a little while. Even music with lyrics tire me mentally. Experiment with different kinds.) How about playing study music while the kids do independent work for greater focus? Pandora and Spotify are free. Also, if you like the coffee shop environment, there’s an app for that. Or perhaps you need white noise?

Play around with it and eventually you’ll hit a sweet spot. Music calms my children down and puts me in a better mood – for both work and play. Win-win. 

Words

I mentioned above that words in music can sometimes make me feel mentally exhausted. Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer and notice things like lyrics more than the instruments in a piece of music. But words have the ability to change the way we think about things as well. Michael Hyatt talks about specifically about how a shift in our vocabulary can affect our thinking here.

It’s not a stretch to see how this affects our homeschooling through the day. It might seem like a good idea to “vent” about a bad day to a friend, but it is not always productive and can sometimes be detrimental. Instead, focus on what has worked, what you can do to make it better or if that seems like too much, just take a break and be quiet for a little while. Take a nap.

Watch your words and teach your children to do the same. It will dramatically change your mood.

Clothes

What do you wear through the day? Do you know that getting dressed for a day of work can actually affect your mood and productivity more than any other thing you can think of? Fly Lady talks about getting dressed to lace up shoes. People looking for work are told repeatedly to get up, shower and dress for work as if they already had a job, and then begin the job search process. There is power in dressing well.

As a homeschooler, you should not be in pajamas all day. Sure, there are days for that. But your children are looking to you to see if what you do is important, if what they do is worthwhile – pajamas don’t convey that to them. There are plenty of clothes that are comfortable enough for you to be able to teach in and hang out with kids. Look to teacher’s clothes for inspiration. Most days, you will find me in a skirt with a comfortable top.

You are at work. What you do is important. Act like it.

Tweak these three things and see if it doesn’t change your homeschooling. You might be surprised at the results.

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How Not to Teach Math

My math book sat in front of me, tears brimming in my eyes. The writing on the page blurred. I was fourteen.

“No one ever studies math by reading it!” I remember my mother saying.

Now I’ve mentioned in the past that my mother and I weren’t always on the best terms, but there was one thing I will be eternally grateful to her for and that was teaching me how to study (and by extension teach) math.

I like to think of math as having two levels – the concept level and the mastery/rote memory level.

The concept level is the lower and the mastery level higher. In order to advance in math, it is necessary to step from concept to mastery at each successive step. It is only when mastery is achieved on one level that the concept stage can be reached on the next rung. Think of it as a ladder.

When I sat years ago in tears trying to read my way into a math test, I was stuck at the concept level. I had been confident in my ability to solve problems because I understood what the teacher had been explaining to us on the blackboard. But I had not achieved mastery, which meant that while I could follow along and understand, when it came to actually applying what I had learned, I couldn’t do it.

When just three short months later, I scored 98% I had finally achieved mastery.

There was only one thing I did differently – I practiced. For a measly thirty minutes a day.

I introduce math to my children in some pretty crazy ways. I have cooked with them, done puzzles with them, even had them sort beans and macaroni noodles to teach math concepts. But if I stop there, I believe I do them a disservice. They get the concept, but that does not mean they have achieved mastery, which leaves them weaker for the next rung.

I think schools and every group situation in which math is taught suffers from this problem. A concept is introduced and everyone “gets it” so a little practice is done and the class moves on. It is only later, when the child has to use the lesson learned a few months ago that the chinks in the armor become visible. It is at this point that it becomes necessary to go back and re-learn, or rather, to practice until mastery is achieved.

The good news is that this problem can be avoided. The bad news is that it takes daily practice, progress is slow and you don’t see improvement day over day, but rather month over month.

Just recently I introduced my kids that have been dying to “learn the x-es” (multiplication) to the concept. They did pretty well up until 3 x 7, which is where I reminded them why we need to work through double digit addition before we get there. 

Unschooling math is fun, but because there are few things in life that take no practice, it is necessary to take the next step after the concept is introduced. Teach to mastery and nothing less. No matter how long it takes.

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Six Ways to Save Money Homeschooling

If you have read the previous post about the most common curriculum blunders homeschool moms make, you’re probably wondering about how to create a curriculum for the coming year without spending thousands of dollars. If you’re new to homeschooling, or just want some ideas to keep the children occupied this summer – also without spending large chunks of money – read on!

Here are some ideas that have worked best for our family.

#1. Sheet protectors

I’ll admit it. The first time someone suggested these to me, I thought the idea was cheap, and not in a good way. However, today, I see these as the most effective way of saving money while homeschooling. Worksheets and other consumables, especially when the children are younger, are the biggest expense in our homeschool year. If you’re homeschooling multiple children, that number goes up exponentially.

A simple fix is to use sheet protectors with dry erase markers. You don’t need anything fancy. A pack of 60 from the stationery store works just great. Slip it on to any workbook page, give the child a marker, and wipe it off when done with a paper towel to use again later.

You’ll get more use out of every sheet, more practice, and spend less money. 

#2. Coupons

Coupons come in extremely handy when shopping for school supplies. Late July and early August when all the back-to-school sales fill the stores, combine coupons with already low advertised prices to get the best deal on pens, pencils, erasers, and other stationery. 

Also, do not underestimate the power of coupons for saving you money on everyday meals. If you’re committed to a specific diet in your family, as many of my friends are, you can still clip coupons just one day a week by being extremely selective in what you clip. Toothpaste, shampoo, mustard, mayonnaise, laundry soap, dish soap and sausages seem to be my favorite for buying with coupons.

Again, be sure to combine coupons with store sales for the best price.

#3. Select online resources

Ambleside and Easy Peasy Homeschool are the two best websites I know for free curriculum. If your resources are limited, these are the best way to get a good education covering all the basic subjects without spending too much. We have used Easy Peasy and can attest that it is completely free and based on free websites. If you would like to buy the print version of the readers, however, you will have to pay to have them.

If you like to do lots of research (like me!) Pinterest can be invaluable for everything from preschool to high school. You could actually piece together a solid curriculum for each year with just the information found online. It can be done, but it will need some time and some resourcefulness.

#4. The county library

Speaking of resourcefulness, have you visited your local library yet? If you’re local to Sacramento, you can rent books, audio books, music CDs, DVDs, as well as things like sewing machines, video games and musical instruments through their new program called Library of Things.

The local library also holds used book sales on a regular basis but mostly through the summers. Use these to stock up on books for the year. We are still reading books we picked up last summer, mostly because we’re finally over my daughter’s reticence to story time.

#5. Video games and free apps

I have found video games and apps invaluable in our homeschool. If you do not like to use these, feel free to leave them out but the sheer number of them and the willingness on the part of the children to learn with video games, websites and apps makes me want to provide them. I also like that in some regard the children are self-directed in this method of learning and I don’t have to lead them as much as I have to with all other forms.

Abcya is my go-to place for learning games, as is the online drills section of Math-U-See. You can also use Khan Academy, which is currently expanding and adding more subjects. Other apps we use regularly include Math Bingo, First Grade Math, Second Grade Math and Learn to Read. Poke around and you’re sure to find others. Some of my friends swear by Stack the States for geography, Field Trip for history (provided you drive, at least around your city), and Duolingo for foreign languages.

We also love, love, love Minecraft. Enough said.

#6. The odd ones

These are the ones no one talks about, but every homeschooler worth his salt has used in a pinch. Use comics in the Sunday newspaper to strengthen or teach reading and the newspaper to deal with social studies and current affairs. Want to teach math? Consider using basic pantry supplies like macaroni as manipulatives – I’ve done it. Fractions? Cook with the kids.

Art? History? Geography? Do a random search on Netflix through the streaming movies and see what comes up. I recently found this amazing resource for learning history through movies. I have also in the past subjected my daughter to (I mean enjoyed, haha) Ted Talks about bacteria when she was sick with the stomach flu. The longer you look, the more you realize all it takes to homeschool is time, effort and patience.

If you look and ask and hang out with other homeschoolers long enough, you will soon find a treasure trove of free or almost free resources.

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The Right Way to Shop for Clothes (and Save Money)

Summer is coming. Soon, the kids are going to need a whole new wardrobe. Sigh.

Now wait just a minute. You’re not actually going to buy them a while new wardrobe, are you?

No, no, of course not, you say, but they will need clothes. Time to break the bank.

But before you do, consider these ways to save money in the process.

1. Make an inventory of everything they own, individually.

Don’t skip this step! Go through their closets. Check what fits, what doesn’t, what needs to go and what doesn’t. If something needs to be fixed, fix it. If something is too warm for summer but could be used again next winter (provided they don’t grow another two inches!) save it in an overhead bin away from their usual clothes.

This is also a good time to donate clothes, save buttons, etc. (if you sew and would like to save them) and hand individual pieces of clothing down to the next child.

2. Consider what they usually wear.

My daughter swore up and down that she wasn’t going to buy an entire closet of pink clothes the last time we went shopping. And yet, at the store, the pinks called her name with their siren song. Hey, who am I to stand between her and her favorite color? My son will never wear a sweater vest no matter how many I buy. So why waste cash?

3. Make a (realistic) list of what is needed.

Someone once told me to keep seven – eight shoe boxes of clothes for each boy in the house. The boxes would be organized by them and would contain one pair of pants (or shorts), one shirt, one underwear and one pair of socks. I followed this for years. But now that my older boy is five, I have him organize his clothes in three bigger boxes – shirts, pants, underwear. We still like to keep about a week’s worth of clothes on hand.

When I go through their closets on the eve of a big shopping trip, I see what’s missing and write it down. For instance, if they already have five shorts that they can wear through summer, I will only buy two more pairs. But if all they have five full pants, I might splurge on shorts and decide to buy seven pairs.

Shopping with a list and a plan ensures you don’t buy things that will only hide in the closet all year. It saves you money without having to scour places for bigger and bigger sales. It also helps you control clutter.

Happy shopping!

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The 5 Most Common Curriculum Blunders Homeschool Moms Make

If you’re like most moms who homeschool or are considering it, you are – to put it lightly – on it.

Before pulling out the sleeping bags and cleaning them for summer, you have scoured the catalogs, overwhelmed yourself with yet another Google search on homeschooling curricula, your Pinterest boards are full of ideas for the next three grades of schooling each child and you’re even braving the Facebook homeschool curriculum groups, with Paypal on overdrive.

But wait.

Are you making one of these five biggest blunders?

Asking this question early can save you heartache, yes, but it can also protect you from spending thousands of dollars on curricula that will leave you unhappy, your kids grouchy and you hating the very idea of homeschooling.

BLUNDER #1 – Not taking the time to recognize your child’s individual personality

Every child is different. As a mom, you already know this. You know which one out of your children is the social butterfly who chats with all the grocery store clerks and you know who is the recluse. You know your singers from your drummers and your – ahem – controlling ones from the kids who are happy to just follow along.

When you buy a curriculum, remember these differences.

For some reason, even though as moms we understand our children’s unique personalities, as homeschoolers, we fail to acknowledge them. There is no one style that fits all and if we try to teach all our kids the same way, it’s only a matter of time before we teach them to dislike learning.

BLUNDER #2 – Not understanding your own unique teaching ability

To understand your unique teaching ability, you have to first go back and think about what drew you to homeschool or unschool your child in the first place. What is your gift? What about having your child with you all day long resonated with you? What did you hope to achieve by this togetherness?

Think it through and try to formulate or find a curriculum that works in accordance with your vision.

There were months that I spent feeling guilty for not reading enough to my children, not doing what all my other homeschooling mom friends were doing. It was only after I took this quiz that I realized why I had been feeling like I was teaching differently from the others. Most of my friends followed the classical system; I was more of an unschooler.

Whatever your style may be, to avoid feeling like you’ve been put into a straight jacket, play to your strengths in what you choose to do this year.

BLUNDER #3 – Overscheduling your school days

This usually happens because either you’re trying to replicate school at home or because you’re just having tons of field trips and fun, fun, fun. If you (and your children) enjoy either of these, there’s nothing wrong with it. But most of the time, children, especially younger than ten years of age (or the third grade level) do not need hours and hours of sitting down and working at a desk. Some studies suggest that it could even be detrimental.

Leave room in your homeschool days for segues, for spontaneity. Leave room for fun.

Do not, I repeat for emphasis, do NOT schedule 180 days of school. Yes, I know, that’s what the State of California requires, but trust me, if you teach them diligently, you will have 180 days of school even without scheduling them all. I would start by scheduling three solid months at a time.

After those initial three months, you can take a week off, review, and see what pace works for your family and plan the next three months accordingly.

BLUNDER #4 – Buying a premade curriculum for a specific grade level

Okay, okay, before you throw my blog to the curb, unfriend and denounce me publicly, let me say this. Some homeschoolers do just fine with pre-packaged curricula. They find just the right one that works with their style of teaching, their children’s style of learning and they don’t hold so tightly to it that they can’t veer off the beaten path ever so often.

However, the problem with a pre-packaged curriculum is that most moms are tempted to follow the guidebook that comes with it. If you don’t follow the guide, you worry that you won’t finish in time, aren’t doing it right, and so on.

The other problem with pre-made curricula is that it often does not address children working a grade or two above or below their grade levels, which can happen often before middle school. My son, for example, started second grade math while he was at kindergarten grade level. Because I homeschool multiple children, I could accommodate his needs but if I was limited by our curriculum choice, I suspect he would be bored.

Pre-made curricula takes the guesswork out, but it also takes away from your personal touch and sometimes your (and your children’s) unique personalities. Refer #1 – #3 above.

BLUNDER #5 – Failing to include cross-disciplinary learning

This one is by far the most important, which is why I saved it for last. I have said before that I see homeschooling as a journey not just for the children, but also for the parents. I see homeschooling as a fun, creative, educational pursuit for the entire family. Your goals might be different but they do not mean that you have to be so focused on textbooks and workbooks that you forget curricula that can be had for free!

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about how Finland recently decided to get rid of individual subjects and teach only through cross-disciplines.

Consider including different media or chucking media altogether and learning through field trips. Think about free classes and other free or inexpensive resources all around you. Engage extended family members, friends, specialists in their fields, go on tours, learn a new craft yourself! Learning is fun. For everyone, regardless of age!

Steer clear of these five most common blunders and have the best homeschool year yet! See any that I may have missed? Have personal experience with any of these or others? Be sure to comment!

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