Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Habit of Table Time

Have you ever gotten into a really great discussion about a book with your kids and suddenly realized it's been a while since you've seen or heard your toddler or preschooler? Have you ever wished you could have a really great discussion with your kids but you have toddlers or preschoolers who are distracting everyone, whining, and getting into things? Or maybe you just want to make it through a math lesson without ten interruptions? I have a simple habit to share that has made a huge difference in my homeschool: Table Time.

What is Table Time?

This is a simple practice where you teach your younger children to join you at the table during lesson time with a quiet activity while you teach an older sibling or two (or six in my case!). The idea is simple. You want your child to be able to play with a single activity for 30 minutes at the table without asking you twenty questions, wandering off and getting into things, or distracting the older siblings too much from their work. This one small habit has saved my sanity through many toddlers and preschoolers over the years. Let me share how I teach a child the habit of contentment during table time.

Step 1: Start Small.

I begin table time habits with 10 minutes. I put a child in their booster seat at the table, seatbelt on. They're used to this for meal time, so it's not something unusual. While older siblings sit around the table working with me on seatwork like math this trainee is going to learn to play by themselves. I give them one activity to use. It might be a puzzle, some crayons and paper, a peg stacking set, or just a few toy animals with some playdoh. I set a timer and let them know when it rings I'll be giving them something else to play with.

For the next 10 minutes I work with the other children and hopefully that child plays happily. I gently remind them that it is quiet work time if they get chatty, not talk time. Often a child decides they don't want to play with what they were given and they drop pieces on the floor. This is where the learning begins. I let them know that it's not time for a new activity and throwing their activity on the floor isn't a great way to play with it, so they can just sit and watch others work quietly until the timer rings.

What does any self-respecting toddler or preschooler do? They let you know they aren't on board with your idea. They whine, complain, cry, shriek, pout, or use some other means to be sure you understand your idea of one activity stinks. That is okay. As a matter of fact it is a very good thing because now you know you have their attention.

Your job from here on out is one simple thing: Consistency. Do not pick up the activity they tossed and give it back to them. Do not give them another activity until that timer rings. Gently sympathize and encourage them that soon the timer will ring and we can choose a new activity. Then go back to helping your other students.

Yes, your other kids are going to get pretty distracted during this initial training stage. Let them know it's temporary, that their younger brother or sister is learning to be content with one activity during table time and that in not too many days they will have mastered this new habit.

Step 2: Increase the time slowly until you reach 30 minutes.

Some kids very quickly accept the new way things work. Within a few days they happily play with their one activity until the timer rings. They get a new activity for 10 minutes and enjoy it. These children can move up to 15 minutes on their timer. Don't tell them! Just adjust the timer and let them play with one activity for 15 minutes instead of 10. Once they do that consistently for several days or weeks add another 5 minutes to the timer. Before you know it you will have baby stepped your child into the habit of playing contentedly with one activity for 30 minutes. It's a beautiful thing to behold because now you know where they are, what they are doing, and you're still able to work with an older child on some seatwork.

What if your child is not so easily convinced that Table Time is a good idea? Hold on momma! Be consistent. You may be stuck in the 10 minute phase for a month before they are ready to increase the timer to 15 minutes with a single activity. The most important factor for you and for them is YOUR consistency. If you give in to whining and hand them back the toy they tossed on the floor then you just taught them mommy will give in if I whine enough. If you let them down early or give them a new activity before that 10 minute timer rings you taught them that you don't mean what you say. You ignored the rule and now so will they.

A Note:
Don't make the mistake of adding seat time as a consequence for whining. If your child is being a child (aka. complaining, begging, whining) while waiting for that timer to go off please just ignore it and the very moment the timer rings say in your most cheery voice, "Oh, wow! The timer is ringing already! That went quickly. Let's put away that activity (from off the floor...lol) and pick a new one."

What this does is reinforces that you are going to abide by the timer, you aren't swayed by their theatrics, and you keep your promises. It does not punish them for being a child who is still learning a new skill, that of waiting patiently and playing contentedly. Because let's be real, we are adults and still find ourselves whining, complaining, and being obnoxious about things we don't want to do. Don't expect your child to master in two weeks or two years something that adults still struggle with!

In the end table time is just like any other habit, it takes consistency and kindness to build it.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How I Do Weekly Homeschool Planning for a Large Family

Weekly homeschool planning can be done in many different ways. I wanted to share how I prepare for the week ahead with 6 of my 9 children officially homeschooling. You just may be surprised how easy it is. Saturday evening I sit down with a stack of teacher's manuals and books.
I open each Math U See manual to the sticky note for the lesson, beginning with the youngest child's, and browse the lesson. Remember, I've taught all of these levels before, most several times, except for Geometry. So a quick read through reminds me how to cover the new material and I'm done. For Geometry I read the lesson carefully and decide if I want to also watch the dvd lesson. Today the answer was yes. I'll watch that Monday morning before the kids get up so that I'm freshly reminded of how to teach it.

I open the All About Reading level 2 Oliver is using to the sticky note. Glance at the next 2 lessons because some weeks he does 1 and other weeks he does 2. This is totally scripted, meaning I could just open the manual and read exactly the words to say and go with it. I see that this week he's reading a word practice sheet and then reading a story. The words he's just learned to read are words where s says the 'z' sound between two vowels and words where the long u sound may be 'you' or 'ooo' (think fume vs. rule). No real prep to do here. I'm done.

Next I open All About Spelling level 1 that is being used by 4 children and preview the next several lessons. Again, this is totally scripted so I could wait until the day of the lesson, open the manual, and run with it. But I like to preview the concepts and figure out the best way to teach it to 4 kids at once.

Time to choose something to read aloud to the non-reader boys (Oliver, Caleb, plus the younger 3 boys). I'm thinking some Beatrix Potter for sure. I also have a set of books by Beverly Cleary and these boys would probably love hearing Ribsy or Ralph S. Mouse, so I suspect I'll start one of those this week too.I glance at each older child's current literature book to remind myself what topics are in the chapters they will read this week. This was The Hiding Place (Makayla), The Giver (Joseph and Emma), The One and Only Ivan (Daniel). We'll discuss each day's reading. I've read the books before and am reading along ahead of them too.

I look at Makayla's Biology assignments for the week. Her schedule is in the spiral bound Student Notebook from Apologia. She'll probably finish this module by the end of the week. Yay! I also look at the week's weather forecast and my nature study list to see what we are likely to be able to do. I saw ladybird beetles today on my front door so I think we'll look at insects this week.

Alphabet for Caleb - I open the binder full of alphabet printables to pick a letter for the week. I printed all this before the school year began so it's easy. I'll pull some picture books off the shelves each day that go with the letter.  

I read the teacher's notes for the Power in Your Hands, Makayla's writing course. This is new to me and I like how there are notes in italics when there is something I need to do with her on a day's work.

In the Beautiful Feet Medieval History high school guide I go to week 2. Read through the assignments and choose which ones I want Makayla to do. Jot down a note for her about each. Check her week's reading assignments to be sure I've already read them so I'm ready for discussion.

I open the Beautiful Feet Medieval Intermediate guide to week 2. Read through the assignments and choose which ones I want to do with the rest of the kids. See what our reading assignments are for the week and decide how much I want to read each day so it is done by Friday. Look at our picture books set aside for history this year to see if there are any I want to share with the younger kids that relate to this week's topics.

Writing for 6th and under right now is the notebooking they are doing in history. We'll be adding in a Brave Writer style writing project each month beginning in September. Beautiful Feet History also has writing and research assignment options we can use. I don't have to do any weekly prep for notebooking because during the summer I printed a 3 ring binder full on general notebooking pages and the kids grab out any page they want to use. I also have full sheets of blank paper they can draw and write on in there too.
All of that took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The slowest subject to prepare for me is  Makayla's writing course as this is the first time I've used it. I did not have to do any preparation for her veterinary medicine class (online) and for her herpetology class designed at home I've assigned her a paper to work on, plus she has a lot of animal care to do.

The rest of our learning assignments fall under our morning basket. I prepared that for this term during the summer by placing items in a crate to work through. I have zero weekly prep. This covers hymn study, scripture devotional, scripture memory, 50 states study, artist study, grammar, Ohio history, Bedtime math, poetry, and civics.  

That's it - an hour and 15 minutes of planning per week for my 6 students combined. I spent time over the summer pre-reading and studying our materials so now it really is just refreshing my memory for most of it. My weekly planning will continue like this until Christmas break. Then we will evaluate where we are in each subject and move on from there. Some things will remain the same, like math. Others will change, like switching from nature study to Apologia's Elementary Chemistry and Physics. Makayla will begin new online classes (Veterinary Medicine 2 and Criminology).

Our morning basket items will slowly change during the year. For example our civics book, The Land of Fair Play, will probably last about 20 weeks. Then we will put something new in it's place. Our artist will change twice this year, going from Bev Doolittle to John James Audubon and then Beatrix Potter.

How do you do your weekly homeschool planning?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Mash Up: The first week, favorite subjects, our school mascot, books we're reading.

We've made it to the end of the first week of homeschool year 2016-2017! We had a lovely week and the tentative schedule looks like it will be a decent fit for now. I blogged about Monday already so I won't rehash that here.

Tuesday went smoothly. It may have been the jellybeans! Having been around this back-to-homeschool block a number of times I know that just a little sweetness to look forward to can make all the difference. Jellybeans were passed out in threes randomly throughout the morning. People were awake on time, school began with our morning basket. We got to grammar in our morning basket loop and I pulled out a Doctor Who themed Mad Libs book. My kids love Doctor Who and so it was easy to love grammar.

We also read a chapter about an Ohio animal in Critters, Flitters, and Spitters - the trilobite. Apparently it's the state fossil and one the size of a toilet seat was found in Ohio in the early 1900s. My boys were thrilled with that fact.

Math, spelling, reading, alphabet - it all went well. I'm teaching 5 levels of math to 6 different children, which is interesting. The only new material I've never taught before is Geometry. I really love Math U See because between the teacher's manual and the dvd lessons I am confident in what and how to teach for each child!

Makayla's course work is going smoothly, and rather independently as usual. Geometry was basic definitions for things like point, line, ray, plane, congruent, similar, and collinear. Biology is discussing Darwin and his theories, writing happened with a bit of a conference because they asked her to come up with a boring and broad topic - which she found weird. History and literature were also great. We had two repairmen in to look at our dishwasher. We're waiting on a motor and still washing dishes by hand.

Wednesday our routine was scrambled around a bit because we had our first art class. Every other week or so another homeschool family comes over and we do art together. I asked kids to do chores right after breakfast instead of in the afternoon. Then they did math and one other subject - which subject varied according to their choice. Art class, visiting, and an early lunch with our friends covered 9am-12pm. We took our usual 12pm-2pm break time. At 2pm Daddy was home from work so he got to join us for our morning basket and Beowulf reading. Then we headed outside for some exercise/nature study.

Caleb wanted to write the numbers from 1-20. Not bad since I haven't taught him how to write numbers yet! Younger kids tend to pick up a lot of things just by being in the homeschool environment with older siblings.

Thursday was back to the regular routine which is my favorite kind of day. We had nowhere to be and nothing out of the ordinary on the calendar. By 5:30am three children were awake and the morning kept rolling from there. Yes, I really do have early risers. While I was feeding Tobias some breakfast at the table Caleb asked to do his school work early. I realized yesterday that he's not quite ready for sitting down and doing Math U See Alpha every day. We tend to spread Alpha out over Kindergarten and 1st grade, so today we grabbed counting bears instead. I have some activity mats for the bears with patterns to complete, games to play, and other math concepts to explore. Before I knew it my 8, 7, 5, 4, and 3 year olds were all using the counting bears and their activity mats around the table. It was fun to see the older boys in that group rediscover old favorite activities and teach their younger brothers what each activity was.

For spelling we used coins as tokens to segment words with Joseph, Emma, Daniel, and Oliver. After we made it through our words they wanted to play with coins so I began handing them random piles of coins from a jar to add up, had them compare their amounts and put them in order, make change, etc. Who knew such a simple thing would be interesting to them today?

Makayla and I worked on history together and she took her geometry test today. She had some veterinary medicine reading and homework to do and a quiz for that online - which she aced. Because she had so much for her vet class she chose to skip biology for the day and add it to Friday's work.

Today is Friday and the kids were so excited to be at the end of the week that they were buckling down to school work early. Makayla and I are still working out the best way to handle her workload. She prefers to work independently for much of it but I still need to keep my finger on the pulse of her learning. We hashed out a few things to try for next week.

The 6th grade and under kids all aced their first chapter test in math. Joseph, Emma, and Daniel are the kids I planned to use All About Spelling with this year. It turns out Oliver is going to insist he does spelling too. He's joined in every day this week. We flew through three lessons today because the concepts were ones they already understood.

We've had fun with history and after some more of Beowulf the kids have added to their notebooks again today. If you look closely you'll see all sorts of body parts and gore. Have you read Beowulf? Let's just say that my boys are quite satisfied with the hero and the fight against evil. Here's a page from another child's notebook:

We listened to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for about an hour today over lunch, pulling out coloring pages and puzzles after our muffins were eaten. We are all enjoying the book and I'm enjoying using Audible to read it for me. I read the first couple chapters but it is quite lengthy and now that I'm reading aloud more school books I wanted a break somewhere. An audio book was perfect! We will be discussing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with friends at our next Homeschool Book Club. 

{Favorite Subject of the Week}

I asked my kids today quickly what their favorite subjects were this week. I also promised a certain child I would not name names. ;) The top subjects were: Math, Literature, and Art. Math got 5 mentions, Literature got 6, and Art got 6.

{Our Homeschool Mascot}

Did you know we have a school mascot? That's right! It's a pygmy puff from Harry Potter. We named it Arnold. It was sent to us by a friend of grandma's and the kids love to pull it down from our book shelves and hold it at various times in the school day. Harry Potter is one book series we've read and listened to multiple times. It has some really great discussion points as you go along with truth, lying, good, evil, standing up for what is right, doing hard things, friendship, loyalty, and trust, but mostly it's just a really interesting world to immerse yourself in for a bit. Right now 4 different people are reading or listening to one of the books in the series again.

{Books We're Reading}

I love seeing book lists from others because I can learn of new titles or be reminded of old titles that are worth reading or rereading. I decided to share the books currently being read at my house. This list is a mix from family reading, audio books, books I'm reading as well as one or more children for discussion, and books being read by individual members of the family. I'll try to divide the list into groups. If you have any questions about a title just ask in the comments.

Family or Group Books
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo
  • Critters, Flitters, and Spitters by Rick Sowash
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Individual Books
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The One and Only Ivan by
  • The Work and the Glory 5: A Season of Joy by Gerald N. Lund
  • The Book of Mormon
  • The Holy Bible
  • Chess by Claire Summerscale
  • National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia
  • National Geographic Dinopedia
  • Beatrix Potter books - The Tale of Peter Rabbit and a host of others
  • Gossie by Olivier Dunrea
  • Franklin the Turtle books by Paulette Bourgeois
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read another chapter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

{This post is linked to Weekly Wrap Up.}

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Art Class: Pointillism, Value, and Collagraph Plates

One thing my kids asked for more of this year is art. I decided that motivation is always a good thing and so I invited another family to join us every other week for art. We had our first art class of the school year today. This group of 10 children ranges in age from Joseph, my 6th grader, down to a toddler and does not include Tobias (9mos) or Makayla (15yrs). Makayla does her own art separately. 

How We Plan

We set up the class so that each time we meet the kids complete 1 art piece to take home. They also make progress on 1-2 more art projects that take more than one session to create. For example if something needs paint to dry before moving on to another step. I have several art books with ideas in them, information about artists, etc. However the majority of our art class is coming from the Deep Space Sparkle Membership Club. We invested in a 1 year membership and so far it is amazing! This reopens enrollment tomorrow for a short time only so be sure to check it out if you are curious. I'm not affiliated with them, just a satisfied customer! And if you have any questions just ask in the comments.

Today's Art Class

Today we learned about Georges Seurat, looked at one of his paintings, measured out how large it actually was, and talked about pointillism - dot painting.

The kids used oil pastels to draw a picture without very many details. Then they used q-tips and tempera paint to fill in their pictures with dots.

Our second project will take two class periods. It is a jellyfish project. They began by painting the background today. The idea was to focus on value - starting with white and gradually increasing color to the darkest. Children chose a plate that only had 3 paint colors to work with, either white, blue, and black or white, red, and purple.
They painted white, then white with a bit of color, then more color, then added a bit of dark paint to the color, then mostly dark paint. 

The last step today was splattering thinned white paint to create bubbles. Next time we meet they will do chalk pastel jellyfish over the painted background.

The 3rd art project they began is a printmaking project. Children first pulled apart a bouquet of real flowers and passed it around to study flower shapes.

Then they made a collagraph plate by cutting foam sheets and gluing them onto cardboard. Those are drying now. Next time we meet they will paint the foam with a paintbrush and then stamp their flower onto paper. A baby wipe will clean the paint off the foam so they can add new colors and stamp again as many times as they want on their landscape paper.

It was a great first art class!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Chores at Our House

Many people wonder how one mom handles the cooking, cleaning, and laundry that come with a family of 11. If she is wise she doesn't. One of my roles as mother is to teach and train my children in the skills they will need to be a competent adult. Foundational to that is basic home management - otherwise known as chores. We tried quite a few chore plans over the years that had their good and bad points.

When you are a mother of only young children it is your job to do the chores and simply include your children in the fun as they are able. That is just reality. Once your children begin to mature you do them a disservice if you continue to do all the housework. They need the opportunity to grow and develop the skills of managing a home. At our house we begin this process the summer after a child turns 4. It is a much anticipated event because it is what 'big kids' do. Up to this point children have simply been allowed to help others with their chores and to help me in the kitchen.

Every summer we hold a chore boot camp. Each child is given authority over one room or area of the home. This area will be theirs to clean every day but Sunday for an entire year. They become experts on the jobs in that room. During boot camp we spend a lot of time working together in their new room, either overseen by mom or by the child who has been cleaning that room for the last year. Summer gives them relaxed time to learn the routines without the press of school work needing done.
Laundry and cooking are handled separately so I will cover those in a moment.

Our Current Room Assignments

Mason, age 4.5, cleans the piano room. This is a bit of a challenge as Mason uses a wheelchair, but he's enthusiastic. He picks up and puts away toys. Then he pulls out the lightweight stick vacuum and uses it to clean the wood floors. Wheeling and vacuuming without tangling in the cord is still a work in progress.

Caleb, age 5.5, cleans the living room. He picks up toys, uses a broom to knock toys out from under the couch, puts those away, and then uses the lightweight vacuum to sweep the wood floors in the room.

Oliver, age 7, cleans the half bath and alcove it is off of. This involves wiping off surfaces and toilet, emptying the trash bin, sweeping the floor, and cleaning the mirror, as well as putting away toys in the alcove and vacuuming it.

Daniel, age 8.5, cleans the dining room. He puts away anything on the table or floors, wipes off and removes chairs from the room, pushes the table to one side, sweeps, moves the table to the other end of the room, sweeps, and puts everything back to rights.

Emma, age 10, cleans the laundry room. This is actually a laundry room, pantry, and trash room with a door to the back yard. She wipes down the washer and dryer, removes items from the lower shelves and wipes them down, takes out the house trash, and sweeps the floor.

Joseph, age 11.5, cleans the kitchen. He washes any dishes that are on the counter (sippy cups typically), puts away dishes on the counter (again, just a few things like cups people washed after using), wipes down counters, stove, microwave inside and out, and sweeps the floor.

Makayla, age 15, cleans the full bathroom, hall, and stairs. The hall and stairs get vacuumed daily. In the bathroom she wipes down surfaces including tub/shower, sink, toilet, mirror, and empties the trash bin.

Wait! What do YOU do Tristan?

That's a great question! My job as mom of many has evolved to trainer and manager. I make sure people know how to clean their room and retrain as needed. I inspect regularly to be sure work is being done. I praise them for a job well done, for their help to the family workload. If a child is sick I take over their room. I can pitch in and bless children by helping out. I can do little jobs that need done more than once in a day, like sweeping the dining room with a messy baby eating at the table. I am also head chef.

Cooking and Dishes

We decided not to include cooking duty or the loading and unloading of the dishwasher in the kitchen chore because we want all our children to have regular experience in this area. Instead we have paired up older and younger children and each pair has 2 days a week when they are the kitchen help. They work with me on cooking, unload and put away dishes, and everyone loads their own dirty dishes after meals.

*** Well, actually, the dishwasher broke last week after I started writing this post. Yes, really. So right now the way this works is that every person who can reach the sink washes their own dishes after every meal and then the kitchen help of the day washes dishes for the little ones. ***


Again, I'm all for simple. We live in a 3 bedroom home. Our laundry system has the oldest child in the bedroom take the laundry basket downstairs and wash the load. The next oldest child in the room switches laundry to the dryer. Then it gets unloaded and taken up to the bedroom where each person puts away their own clothing. We have the 2 girls and 3 yo boy in one bedroom, 5 boys in another bedroom, and then the baby shares a bedroom with my husband and I (I do our laundry). And if you were wondering, no - we don't require people to fold clothing. It goes in their 1-2 drawers, folded if they feel so inclined.

That's it. We keep it simple around here. There is no chore chart where jobs change ownership every week and nobody really knows what job they are supposed to be doing. I know exactly who to call on if a room needs attention. A year of working at the same job makes it very possible for a child to master the work. They gain confidence and skills one day at a time.

Monday, August 22, 2016

First Day Back to Homeschool 2016

What is more fun than getting a peek at the first day of the homeschool year? My children have been pretty anti-camera today so most of the pictures have things in them, not children. Use your imagination and just add in 6 redheads, 2 dark blonds, and 1 brunette. That's my children in a nutshell.

My alarm clock rang at 5:00am and I got up, dressed, and started putting away dry dishes because our dishwasher broke last week and so the evening dishes were left to dry overnight. Tobias, the 9 month old, woke up at 5:15am for a bottle and diaper. Because it is Monday my husband is home and was able to take care of that. Makayla, the 10th grader, woke with her alarm at 5:20am to get ready for seminary, her morning scripture study class. At 5:40am she and I climbed in the van and headed to her teacher's home and I dropped her off and came back to my own house.

Back at home I ate breakfast and read my scriptures, looked over a few things for the school day, and then started turning on lights to wake kids at 6:30am. It's not my week to run the carpool after seminary so I didn't have to go back to get Makayla. My husband and I worked together to get kids into the school morning routine:
  • Get up.
  • Take care of bathroom  needs.
  • Get dressed.
  • Come downstairs for breakfast.
They had until 8am to eat breakfast but all were done well before then. This opened up time for them to play, craft, create, or do their chores (which are not required to be done until the afternoon). Children chose a mix of those options. Makayla arrived home shortly after 7am during this.

At 7:40am I pulled out a surprise - window markers. Kids went through the house decorating all the windows. Here are a few samples for you to enjoy.

At 8am the whole family gathered to the couch for morning basket time. Today that meant I played a YouTube video on the tv of our hymn to sing along - If You Could Hie to Kolob. We had prayer. I read a scripture and quote about developing our talents and using them to bless God's children and we talked about that for a minute. Then I introduced our 50 states study. We are learning the shape, name, and capital for each state, reading a couple books about them along the way. Today was Alabama. Why? Because we're going alphabetically. And of course I introduced my children to the 50 Nifty United States song via YouTube. There were some singing along and some rolling their eyes. As that finished I introduced them to Bev Doolittle, our artist for picture study. We learned a little about her history and looked at her painting called Pintos, as well as two others.

This brought us to 8:30am and table time. Younger children got playdoh while I taught math lessons to Joesph, Emma, Daniel, Oliver, and Caleb at the table. Today was reviewing exponents, multiplication, subtraction, and counting depending on age. Then I taught our first All About Spelling lesson to Joseph, Emma, and Daniel. Oliver listened in because he wanted to, Caleb did an alphabet page, and Daddy played with Tobias and Samuel. Mason was still doing playdoh. After spelling I did All About Reading 2 with Oliver. 

During all of this Makayla was working independently on literature (reading a chapter in The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom), history (reading part of a chapter in The Medieval World), Geometry (watching the first lesson on dvd and doing a practice page), and writing (the first day of The Power in Your Hands).

Around 9:20am I regathered kids from K-6th grade to the table. On the board I wrote a few vocabulary words for each child to define. These will come up in our reading of Beowulf this week. This is one fun part of working as a group - none of the kids had a huge list of vocab because they divided it up among the group. While they jotted down notes about their words I introduced them to the early middle ages with a book. Then it was break time. The whole family gathered to have a snack.

As snack finished Joseph, Emma, Daniel, Oliver, and Caleb went to their independent work - literature and scriptures. They each read or listened to 1 chapter in their new literature books, and if they can read independently they also read a chapter in their scriptures. Younger boys played upstairs with toys. Nobody was allowed to talk to mommy or Makayla because it was our tutoring hour.

During this hour we will work on whatever Makayla needs or wants help with. It's similar to office hours for a college teacher. I can ask how she's doing with subjects and she can bring things to me specifically for help as well. Today we did a history discussion with our Beautiful Feet Medieval study. They had a series of quote from various people throughout history sharing their thoughts on why we should study history. We read and discussed the quotes and then shared our own thoughts on the topic.

She decided to read her biology pages without me, so she did that and then narrated what she learned. She also answered the On Your Own questions orally. (She decided this weekend that while she's doing a year long veterinary medicine course online, continuing her herpetology study and hands on projects (raising reptiles), she also needed to do the second half of the Apologia Biology course from last year. She is on module 9, which talks about Charles Darwin and his ideas of evolution.

We also talked a bit about her literature book, The Hiding Place. It is one of my absolute favorite books and so I'm interested to see her perspective on it. She didn't feel like she needed any help with writing or math today.

At 10:50am Makayla grabbed my laptop and settled in her room for her online Veterinary Medicine course. It meets weekly for an hour and a half and today was the first meeting. She enjoyed it. It was fun to talk to her afterward because one of her assignments this week is to create a list of the 30 veterinary schools in the US and their specialties. She and I had been doing research on veterinary programs recently so she already knew where to find the list of 30 colleges. Now she'll visit each college's website to learn about the specialties they offer.

While Makayla was doing her vet class I pulled the rest of the kids to the table for more history. They were able to bring a quiet activity to do while I read aloud from Beowulf. They really got drawn into the story and groaned when I left off with Beowulf and his warriors climbing aboard their ship to go to the Danes and help King Hrothgar with Grendel the monster. I showed them the binder full of blank notebooking pages and challenged each of them to draw a picture and write about today's reading in Beowulf. They were so different and it is always interesting to hear their word choices and find out what parts of the reading stood out to them.

After lunch we decided that it was a perfect day for some nature study, so outside the whole family went. We explored the backyard today to see what we could find, did some cloud watching, and soaked up the sunshine. That was the end to formal schooling for the day.

Overall it was a good first day of school. It is always helpful to begin on a Monday when my husband is home, because I can focus on the school age kids getting into the new routine while he helps with the baby and preschoolers if they're not joining in with their older siblings. Now that everyone has been introduced to the basic routine for the day we'll just keep working to make it a routine we don't have to think about. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Mash Up: Last week of summer fun

Welcome to my Friday Mash Up! This post is my excuse for fitting all sorts of random topics into one entry. I'll share weekly updates, links to interesting reads online, and more. This week was extra sweet as our end of summer week. My husband has been off of work and so we packed simple fun into each rainy day.


We played an old X-box game with the kids called You're in the Movies where it records video of you doing different actions in the game and then puts it all together into a short movie. It's hilarious!


We went to the last summer glow bowling night with our Kids Bowl Free membership. My pictures were terrible so just imagine it.


We visited the temple grounds with our children and brought along ice cream.


On the way home from that temple visit we stopped at a new Half Price Books location. Our children love when we do this! They each search the stacks for just the right book to bring home. I love that we can add to our family library inexpensively (plus they give a teacher's discount to homeschoolers!). We ended up buying 47 books and the price averages out to spending $2.82 per book.


We did some major cleaning and organizing projects. The not-so-finished basement where we have a pantry and long term food storage needed cleaned out. Daddy tackled that and I'm so grateful. The attic bins of toys and homeschool materials got sorted and labeled. The garage got some cleaning out, though it isn't finished yet - maybe Saturday. We were productive!


Date Night happened! Jason and I went to the Columbus Ohio temple for our date. I love when we get time to go out on a date instead of doing a date night at home!


We had a lovely morning Friday with some friends for Poetry Tea Time. Read more about that here.

There you have it, a quick recap of some of our week!

Poetry Teatime with Friends

One of my favorite Brave Writer Lifestyle practices is Poetry Tea Time. Combine the magic of words with snacks and my children will linger around the table reading or listening to others read poetry. Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes from funny to sad to scary to lovely. There is something for everyone to enjoy. During the school year we aim to have a poetry tea time about every other week. Occasionally we make it a bigger event and host one with our Homeschool Book Club.

Today was one of those group events. We keep things very simple and kid-friendly because in our small group of 4 families there are more than 20 children ranging from babies to high school when everyone is able to attend. This time it was just us and one other family, daddies included. Each family brings a snack or two to share. I provide the teacups, saucers, and teapots (pictured above). Drinks vary, this time we had water, juice, and milk available. In winter there would be hot cocoa. I tried a new-to-me recipe for scones, making pumpkin scones (pictured above), cinnamon scones with a caramel glaze, and orange glazed scones. Makayla made lemon puppy chow. Others contributions were equally delicious!

The preparations were simple. Each person was invited to bring a copy of a poem to share. This week my children browsed poetry books looking for just the right one to share. Even daddy got in on the poetry hunt with us. We ended up with silly poems like Runny Babbit, tongue twisting poems like Whether the Weather, and beautiful poems too.

Quick Tea Time Tip: Obtaining Teacups, Saucers, and Teapots

While I would love to buy a beautiful matching tea service for my whole family it is expensive, especially for 11 people. What I did last year was visit several local thrift stores once a week for about 6 weeks hunting for dishes. I was pleasantly surprised at how often there were partial sets of teacups, saucers, or small teapots inexpensively. I have enough dishes now to serve around 30-35 people during a poetry tea time together. I spent about $25 for all of it a little bit at a time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Club Titles Through the Years

Years ago our family started a homeschool book club with some local families. I wanted a group where children of all ages were welcome and all the local co-ops and clubs were for school age children. They didn't offer any whole family activities that included the baby/toddler/preschool set. I'm on my 15th year straight with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers - they have been an ever present feature of our homeschool from the beginning. Little did I know then the friendships that would grow from our little book club.

We have shared so many books together over the years, more than I have listed here, but these are the ones I have recorded. I know I'm often looking for book recommendations from others and love reading their book lists, so here is ours! We liked most of these books but your mileage may vary. If you have a question about a specific book on the list just ask in a comment.

Fun Fact – Our first book club meeting was March 3, 2010.


·         20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne - this is our current book!
·         Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
·         Stuart Little by E. B. White
·         The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris
·         The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
·         Poetry (varied, for a Mad Hatter Tea Party)
      ·         The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
·         Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


·         A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
·         Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
·         Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
·         Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
·         The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
·         Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth
·         The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
·         The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
·         The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
·         Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry



·          The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
·         Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
·         Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brian
·         Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
·         The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
·         The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
·         The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart



·         The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
·         The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
·         Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
·         Little Britches by Ralph Moody
·         A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
·         Not sure what we’re missing here!


  • Paddington Bear Stories – families chose any of the Paddington chapter books.
  • Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
  • Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  • Aesop’s Fables
  • The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery
  • Fairy Tale month
  • Not sure what we’re missing here, either!


·         Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
·         Meet Samantha by Susan Adler
·         The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
·         Thomas Jefferson: Third President of the United States by Helen Albee Monsell (Childhood of Famous American’s series)
·         Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
·         The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
·         Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
·          (Part of this year we morphed into a Geography/Art club and did picture books too.)


·         The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
·         Heidi by Johanna Spyri
·         My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
·         The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene DuBois
·         The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
·         Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
·         Beatrix Potter Month – The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many others
·         Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
·         Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
·         Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll

There you go, a host of wonderful read alouds to try. I would love to hear some of your family's favorite read alouds in the comments!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Nature Study and Art Plans 2016-2017

Nature Study

We are not doing a formal science study for the 6th grade and under crowd until 2nd semester (January). That means for 1st semester we plan to do some nature study. It is actually an ideal time of year to focus on regular nature study because we'll go from summer to fall to winter. That is a whole lot of change to observe. Our nature study happens just about any time, I don't schedule it so much as I watch for opportunities when getting outside will breathe life into our day. I have a list of topics to pick from as we go. I'll share an overview, just know there are quite a few specific options in each of these that I'm just not going to list out.
  • Plants: Wildflowers, Trees, Pumpkins, Apple trees, Weeds, Seeds
  • Pond study: Plants like cattails, animals like frogs, fish, dragonflies
  • Clouds and Weather
  • Rocks, Minerals
  • Birds: Geese, sparrow, birdfeeder/birdwatching, woodpeckers
  • Insects: Bees, moths, butterflies, crickets, ants
  • Night Sky: Constellations, creatures like bats, owls, raccoons, phases of the moon
  • Mammals: Squirrels, horses, rabbits
  • Nature Walks: In town, forest, fields, early morning, night hike, photo walk


We have a split among the children. Some adore art and have passed my skills in specific disciplines (including areas I simple have no knowledge or skills in). These people are handed books or given online video based classes and materials to pursue their passion. Makayla, for example, will be doing a couple video based courses on Craftsy this year including Picture Book Illustration: Animal Characters, Draw Better Portraits, and a photography course or two. She asks for books or picks up books I just happen to add to our shelves (ahem) to try new art like Manga. Emma is great at handicrafts, diving into things like wool felted animals or clay charms. A great place for a crafty kid to begin is with Klutz book kits because they are very clear on instructions and come with the materials to get started.

The art lessons that I will be leading this year cover a variety of materials and techniques aimed at kids from K-6th grade. Have you seen any of the lessons at Deep Space Sparkle? Patty has free lessons, a huge store of lessons to purchase, a blog, and more. I happened to get in on her first round of openings for The Members Club subscription. Each month we get tons of PDF art lessons centered around an artist and more centered around a theme. SO many! Then the new month arrives and we get more PDFs for a new artist and a new theme. There are some for grades K-2, some for grades 3-4, and others listed for grades 5-6. Some cross over the age ranges, or can be adapted to cross ages.

Twice a week I'll be working on projects from this vast collection with my children. It's that simple. I grab the materials listed, pop open the PDF or the video on my laptop, and we go for it. A couple times a month we'll have another homeschool family join us to work on art projects too, which is going to be tons of fun! For that my plan is to do a mix of working on projects that take more than one session to finish and shorter projects that finish in one day, so we've always got things working for the next meet up but the kids also complete things at each meet up as well.

We also have art appreciation built into our Morning Basket.

Did you miss any posts in this series?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Large Family Homeschool Schedule

Teaching a large family while keeping up with the cooking, cleaning, medical needs for Mason, and everyday life including taking care of babies and occupying toddlers is always an adventure. Each year our routines and schedule have been different because each year I have more children at different ages and stages. I set up a tentative schedule and we tweak it when we need to. This year is no different. I'm going to share our tentative schedule and we can see where things need adjusted as we go. Please remember each family is different and that is a good thing! I always say, "Do more of what works and less of what doesn't."

5am-5:40am - Rise and Shine. Makayla and I get up at 5 o'clock because she has early morning seminary, a scripture study class, at 6am each school day with some teens from church. This year they will be studying the New Testament. I drive her to the teacher's home each day. Then I go home and exercise or do my own scripture study. I wake any kids who are still sleeping at 6:30am, which is only a couple kids as I have lots of early risers. Depending on the week Makayla will arrive home around 7:05am with a carpool driver or I head to pick her and a couple others up, drop the others off at the high school, and Makayla and I come home.

7am-8am - By the end of this hour everyone should have eaten breakfast, gotten dressed, and can do their chores if the wish. This year we will be moving chore time to 3pm. I know a child or two who will go ahead and do theirs during the early morning hours, but most won't.

8am-8:30am – This is when we do the items in our Morning Basket as a family! Check out my post about our Morning Basket Plans for more details. Little ones participate in this, or are at least in the same room playing or snuggling someone.

8:30am-10am – I work with my 6th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd, and K kids around the table on the following: Math(all), learning to read (2nd), learning alphabet sounds (K), Spelling (6th,5th,3rd).  I just rotate around the table helping when needed. The high schooler is doing her work in writing, history reading, literature, etc. independently. She is in charge of planning her daily work, I hand her the week's assignments but she is responsible for deciding what to work on when. The only rule is she has to be working during school hours.

10am – 11am – I spend this hour one on one tutoring my 10th grader Makayla. We work on anything she wants/needs to do with me. History discussions, writing/editing, math help, etc. During this time the other kids have a snack and then do their personal scripture reading and read or listen to an audio book for 1 chapter of assigned literature. Any free time after those is theirs to enjoy until 11am.

11am – 11:30am – I read aloud from our history stories to all but the high schooler. Then I turn the kids loose to do a narration in their notebook (writing, drawings, etc) while I make lunch. From 11am-12pm my high schooler works on her school work. She’s got more freedom to pick what to do each time block, because she’s shown over the years that she can lay out her own schedule and get her work done diligently.

12pm – 2pm – Lunch and FREE time. I take care of medical needs for my 4 year old that take an hour after lunch. Kids are allowed to play on a Kindle from 1-2 if they wish.

2pm-3pm – Kids can finish up anything they ran out of time to finish earlier in the day. For example if they didn’t get all their math problems done or wanted to work more on their history notebook page. BUT if they did their work in the reasonable times allotted earlier in the day they are essentially done with school work at noon. The other possibility for this hour is art projects or nature study, because really, the kids usually buckle down during the morning to get work done. They've learned how joyful it is to have the afternoon free to follow their interests. The high schooler will work on science homework in this time block for an online veterinary science class, or any other work she needs to do. I’m available to help anyone during this hour.

What are my 4 year old, 3 year old, and 9 month old doing during all of this? Playing, sitting up to the table and doing playdoh, listening to read alouds, building with magnet tiles, drawing on the chalkboard or dry erase board, doing puzzles, getting into things, typical little kid stuff! And the Kindergartener is always done early in every time block, he has short lessons and then is free to play with these younger 3 brothers. He enjoys being the ‘big brother’ during this time. Tobias also still naps once or twice a day.

What happens at 3pm?

Snack, chores, and freedom. Kids follow their own interests, play, read, argue, build, create, whine, and be kids. It's pretty laid back because that is how we like it. We are not a fan of scheduling full evenings every single day to run and go. Several kids have activities at church on Tuesday evening (Boy Scouts, Youth Group, Activity Girls age 8-11) and this year our Cub Scout pack meets on a separate night (Wed.). Beyond that we don't schedule anything in the evenings as a regular thing. No lessons, no sports, nothing.

Well, except for last year.

Makayla did have a regular activity last year for about 2-3 months that was daily, M-F, plus some Saturdays. We all just about died were miserable from the intrusive schedule dictated by an outside entity. She joined the local public high school's track team for the spring season. As a high schooler we felt that was something she could make the commitment to if she had a strong desire to. She had a love/hate relationship with it, learned a lot, and may do it again this year. It sucked a lot of joy out of our spring though.

Wait, if you're a sports fan, don't throw tomatoes - or the ball from your favorite sport! Remember what I said earlier? Every family is different. We do not believe that playing sports heavily is worth the time it takes for our children at any age below high school, and even then it's not a priority or important goal if it is crowding out other, more important things. You can disagree for your own family - just pretend you didn't read my thoughts and we'll get along just fine!

Did you miss any posts in this series?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Morning Basket Plans 2016-2017

We have done a Morning Basket for a few years. Basically it is a time where the family is gathered together for a devotional or studies that begin your day with truth, goodness, and beauty. The contents of this morning time are as varied as individual families are. I have a mix of ages from high school down to a baby. We also incorporate a loop schedule into our basket.

Every day we begin this way:

  • Sing a hymn together.
  • Pray
  • Read a devotional - this year we'll read the day's entry in Stand a Little Taller by Gordon B. Hinkley. It has a scripture to read and a quote. We'll discuss this.
  • Article of Faith memory work
  • 50 States - We are learning the shape, name, and capital of each state this year. Some of my children may already be familiar with these, but we're doing it together. Daily we will look at a couple pages about ONE state. We may take 2 days per state sometimes, I don't really care how quickly we go through this. We will be going in alphabetical order. The picture books I've got in my basket for this currently are Celebrate the 50 States by Loreen Leedy, The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide by Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson, and Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America by Lynne Cheney.
After these four daily tasks we move into the looped portion of our morning basket. Each day we will do 1-2 things from our loop, picking up where we left off the last time. I am still deciding the actual order for our loop items but here they are:

  • Bedtime Math - It's a great website, a free app, or daily emails. We'll use the app for our Morning Basket. Each day there are three or more math problems for a variety of abilities from the very young to better mathematicians than I happen to be. It includes a day's topic with information about interesting things, the problems, and the answers, which you can't see until you click on a specific button.
  • Picture Study - We are starting with the art of Bev Doolittle using the book The Art of Bev Doolittle. It's got the story of her art as well, so we will be able to read and learn more about her along the way. After a couple months we will move to a new artist. On tap this year we also have Beatrix Potter and John James Audubon.
  • Poetry Study - We are reading a few poems each time from one of our poetry books. The first two poetry books in my basket this year are A Child's First Book of Poems illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres and The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry selected and with commentary by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund. We also read poetry during Poetry Tea Time every other week or so.
  • Civics Study - We'll be reading from The Land of Fair Play (2nd edition from Christian Liberty Press).
  • Ohio History Stories - We'll read from Critters, Flitters, and Spitters: 24 Amazing Ohio Animal Tales by Rick Sowash and Heroes of Ohio: 23 True Tales of Courage and Character, also by Rick Sowash.
  • Grammar Fun - We'll do Mad Libs, look at the World of Language series by Ruth Heller, read Punctuation Tales, etc. Did you know they have really fun Mad Libs themed books like Star Wars and Doctor Who? Yep, my kids will be thrilled!