Saturday, May 22, 2010

Small Talk Six – 6 Most Useful Sites – 5.22.2010

imageIt’s Saturday again and that means it’s time for another six item list to be shared! Today’s topic: My 6 Most Useful Websites!

Let me start by saying, what?! only SIX sites?! This is gonna be tough, but I will do my best.

1. Most Useful Social Site

Facebook wins this category hands down. Yes, I have had a MySpace in the past, and I just don’t like it. Facebook has better apps and games and is wayyy more user friendly. Even my grandma has a Facebook!

2. Most Useful Homemaking Site

I LOVE A Christian Home!! There is no end to the information and encouragement you will find on this site, from homemaking and cooking, to large family logistics and parenting, you can find it all here!

3 thru 4. Most Useful Homeschooling Sites

OK, this is a really hard one because I have several places on the web I read faithfully. BUT as far as variety of content and writers, my first choice just HAS the be Heart of the Matter online magazine. Not to mention the awesome conferences and contests you can find going on all year long. I have had the privilege of working with the HOTM team for the past year and they are a great bunch of ladies!

I can also frequently be found browsing through the reviews on the TOS Homeschool Crew’s Blog. being a confessed curriculum junkie AND a highly analytical, researching kind of gal, curriculum review sites are one of my best friends (along with catalogs, which I will get to in a moment) and I love the opportunities to hear about new products from people that have actually used them in their homeschools.

5. Most Useful Shopping Site

One of my favorite activities as a kid was browsing through the newest JC Penny toy catalog, marker in hand, circling and initialing all those wonderful things I just couldn’t live without. Now that I’m all grown up (snicker) I use to look up information on items I am considering purchasing and sometimes (if I’m lucky) I even get to look through a few pages of books I am considering as additions to our home library. But my favorite feature of Amazon has to be the wishlist feature! And the best part? They even have a Firefox add-on that I can use to add any item on any site to my wishlist! What could be better? I also love that I can get unlimited FREE second-day shipping for one low price per year.

6. Most Useful Recipe/Meal Planning Site

This is a recent find for me, but it takes al the guess work out of grocery shopping and meal planning on a budget. Menus4Moms is an awesome resource for busy moms, frugal moms, health conscious moms alike! There are several different subscription options, and all of them are very reasonably priced. Each plan comes with a weekly e-mailed menu plan, complete with detailed recipes and a grocery list that even has your estimated cost for the week. Of course, I am learning how to maximize my savings by perusing sale ads and using coupons to get rock-bottom prices.

I would love to share a list of couponing resources that I use, but there would be wayyy more than this six item list can hold, so I will save that for another post!

What sites on the web make your life easier?



Friday, May 21, 2010

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

for a super exciting announcement! I received the e-mail today letting me know that I have been chosen to be a member of the

image 2010-2011 TOS Schoolhouse Crew!!!image

I can’t wait to meet the other crew members and find out what awesome products we will be reviewing this year. I am so glad I decided to go ahead and keep our Fridays light, as we will need those days to try out all the new products TOS sends our way. Needless to say, you are going to be seeing a lot more reviews here in the near future!!

I will keep you updated as I learn more about this exciting new opportunity we have been chosen for!



Wednesday, May 19, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things – Blog Hop 5.18.2010

Yes, it’s time for another Homeschool Blog Hop! This week’s theme is “My Favorite Things”

Of course the top on my list is JESUS! In a very close second are these characters:

100_1507  100_1423IMG_0173 And in no particular order, here are some other things I am pretty fond of…


My laptop and internet connection…










My awesome bread machine that my Mommy got me for my birthday…











My cell phone with internet access…









BOOKS, BOOKS, and umm, more BOOKS!!



Yes, I could go on and on, but then I would sound more and more materialistic, LOL. Which I am totally NOT!! This was a fun meme to do, can’t wait to see what other things people love! Make sure you check out the other bloghop posts below…



Homeschooling without a school room - WFMW – 5.19.2010


When we moved here last November, we went from having a separate dining room to a combined living/dining room. I didn’t have enough room for my desk, filing cabinets, and all my bookcases. So we made due with what we had and after 6 months we finally have a workable space to learn in.

I have always liked having a set place to homeschool. A place to keep all of our books and materials. A place where I could hang my whiteboard. A comfortable, roomy area to spread out our work on the table and dive into learning. Sure our last school room was also our dining room, but it held all of our school things easily without overcrowding our space. This has been a very different experience and it has taught me to think about the things we really need and use everyday and how to keep those things close-by without taking over our living space.

So how have we adjusted? Our dining area holds our table and chairs, and a large cube style bookcase. I also have space on the wall to hang our pocket chart and our whiteboard. Our bookcase holds all those important items we need to be able to grab as we need. On the top of my bookcase I have 2, 4 drawer plastic towers that fit just right. These hold all our craft supplies, manipulatives, flashcards, and school supplies in a compact, out-of-the-way manner. Next to that I have a stack of plastic letter trays that hold printer paper, card stock, colored paper, graph paper, etc. Next to that is where my wonderful, awesome Epson wireless all-in-one printer has it’s home. The cubbys in the bookcase are a great way to divide the different things that are housed there and keep related items together and make them easy to find. Each boy has a cubby that holds the things he uses every day, workbooks, texts, notebooks, binders, and schoolboxes. One cubby hold little stackable trays with all of our markers, pencils, crayons, and colored pencils, as well as the markers for the white board. I have 3 teacher cubbies where I keep important papers (in a fabric basket) and all the teacher manuals etc we are currently using. Then the rest of the cubbies are filled with various fabric bins and plastic trays holding other things we use on a regular basis.

My desk, filing cabinets, and tall bookcase are upstairs in my bedroom. It’s not ideal, but it works for now. I am rarely up there sitting at my desk these days. Pretty much everything I need is downstairs. This area sadly is rarely clean and organized, and when it is, it doesn’t stay that way for long. The major reason is because I just don’t get to spend a lot of time up there. I am going to be reorganizing this space so that the boys can take their independent work up there and work on it in a quiet place.

I gave up the ideal of a “normal” looking home years ago. When you walk into our home, it is evident that we homeschool. We make no attempts to hide it. In fact, I am quite proud of our school area and how it looks. I put a lot of work and thought into making it our perfect space. I am a firm believer that with a little bit of ingenuity, minimal investment, and lots of hard work, you can make any space work for you. You just have to get creative and try some new things.

It works for me!



More about starting a new school year – part 2

Tonight I thought I would share a little bit about how I plan for a new year, or rather how I am currently planning (it changes every year). I shared some basic info on how I was handing planning in my previous post, but I thought I might use this time to share with you exactly how I am getting things done right now.

As I stated in my first planning post, I am planning in 6 week terms. My goal is to start the year with 3 terms worth of lessons mapped out, as well as all the papers, copies, etc. organized into term folders for future use. It’s all about simplification folks! I am not going to lie, it’s been a lot of work. But it is going to save me so much time weekly/daily and that’s a good reason for me! I would much rather plan and prep for a week every 6 weeks than every single weekend. I started out with a form I found at Donna Young’s site and tweaked it to fit my needs and preferences.

Anyhow, here is an example of the form I started out with:

^ week Lesson plan Log -

And here is what I ended up with:

Math Lesson plan term

Unfortunately you can’t see my beautiful font on these pages, because it did not transfer when I uploaded the document, but you get the idea. SO I go through each book and lay things out with a daily schedule. I then print these pages and put them behind the correct term’s tab in my record binder. I also printed off a copy of the first term’s plans to place in my son’s binder. This is what he will refer to when he looks through his binder and fills out his daily assignment sheet at the beginning of the day. (You can find that form in my previous post, More about starting a new school year – part 1.) So I have done that for each and every subject we are doing this year, except Tapestry of Grace, which I made a custom form for and has both boys’ work on one page. I am still trying to decide how I am going to work with the TOG plans for their work binders, since we do a lot of our Tapestry activities as a group. Oh yes, and I still have to make a spelling lesson plan for Drew, then I will be done with this phase of my planning. In case you were curious, here is a blank form I made to use for TOG lesson planning:

TOG Weekly block planner

I have made lots of forms in my homeschooling journey, but this has to be one of my favorite so far. It is typeable and has all the info I need in one place. Anyhow, this is what I use to plan all our TOG related work for every week. There are 2 pages because we are doing the curriculum half pace for now, so I stretch 1 week plan out over 2 weeks.

I plan on writing another post this week on how I go about planning my TOG in such a way that I don’t forget things or schedule too much work in one day, so stay tuned for that!

Anyhow, after going through this process with all our subjects for the coming year, I have a great road map that shows me exactly what I need to prepare for the coming term and put into the kid’s binders for them to work through. I will also be using the plans on these pages to pre-prepare (is that a real word) by getting papers ready and organized for upcoming terms.

Just a few sidenotes – in case you were not already aware – I love forms!! But I am never happy with just using someone else’s forms as they are, so I tweak and I modify until they are exactly what I want. Yes, I waste spend a great deal of time doing this. It makes me happy, what else can I say?

Secondly, this is my first time ever attempting to plan so far ahead. Mostly just because I am not a schedule-it, plan-it, prep-it ahead of time kind of person. I like to fly by the seat of my pants whenever possible. But I am become painfully aware that when you homeschool, and have 4 kids, this is not always the best way to do things. It’s not an easy change for me, but I know it will be worth it. The hardest part will be sticking to the plan as much as possible, at least when it is in my control to do so. Life happens!

So I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with all me detailed explanations, or confused you. I just thought it would make for an interesting read. I really enjoy reading how other homeschool families make it work and I hope you will, too!

See you soon!



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More about starting a new school year

I wrote my previous post in bits and pieces here and there, and it ended up being quite long. But there were some other thoughts I wanted to share – not so much on the logistics of HOW we are going through our next year of homeschool, but just some general thoughts that have been on my mind as I plan for a new year. So I thought it would be fitting for me to write a few posts to share these thoughts with you, if for no other reasons than to be real and to organize these thoughts into written form for my own benefit.

First and foremost, it really bugs me that I have allowed the boys to fall behind as they have. And then it bugs me that I let it bother me so much! Vicious cycle huh? I know we are behind where I intended on being at this point, but I am not sure if I am overreacting and being too hard on myself.

Granted, we are not behind merely because my boys are not doing well in the work they are given, or even because I have not been trying hard enough. I think the major issue has been that I was totally unprepared for how much a baby/toddler changes things. It’s not as if this was my first time with a baby/toddler in the house, but it had been 8 years between having Drew (now 10) and Joey (now 2). In case that is confusing to you, Isaiah (now 8) is my stepson who I have raised since before he was two. And although I did not experience the joy of bringing him into the world, he is fully mine in every other way. Back to the point of sharing all this – I was unprepared for the chaos, the disorganization, the sleep deprivation that I soon experienced. It became so much more difficult to get anything done throughout the day, That’s ok, I thought, we will make up for it when he is a bit older and has a better schedule.

Well, to make a long story short, Joey is now 2 and the daily challenges have not disappeared, they have just changed. Now instead of sporadic catnaps and teething crankiness, I have to worry about keeping important papers out of his hands, keeping scissors out of his reach, and keeping him occupied for 5-10 minutes at a time so I can work with the boys. Most days I just resort to trying to cram as much work as I can into the 1.5 to 2 hours he spends napping in the afternoon. Why didn’t I think any of these things were going to be issues before he came along?

I had it all planned out. The pretty picture in my mind was quite different than the reality I live every day. He was going to be “trained” early, I said. We are going to do blanket time daily, I said. He will learn to listen to Mommy and play quietly, I said. HA! Who was I kidding?

Not to make it sound like he is a bad baby, he is really well behaved 90% of the time. BUT I still have a very hard time telling him no unless he is in danger or there is another very good reason to. He is my baby! My baby that I prayed for 8 years to be blessed with, My little miracle! And man oh man, can he melt his Momma’s heart (not to mention Daddy’s) with one look, one cry, one pout. Yep, he’s got me wrapped around his lil finger, and unfortunately, I think he is completely aware of that fact.

So I have repeatedly allowed myself to postpone lessons or activities and even rush through things we really needed to spend more time on. And now I’m stuck. We must move forward from this point on with a mission. A mission to get back on track and make getting things done a major priority. And this is the reason behind my frantically searching for a better way. A better way to learn, a better way to thrive in the here and now. This is our reality, our family, our home. I think we need more structure (yuck, I don’t even like saying that word much less typing it) and a schedule that works for us not against us.

I am coming to realize that all this effort is wasted if I do not MAKE it work. I am going to have to teach my lil guy that Mommy cannot always drop everything to cater to his every whim. I think it is time for him to learn that although Mommy loves him very, very much, I also love his siblings very, very much and have responsibilities to them as well. If I am not willing to do hard things, how can I expect my children to follow suit? If I don’t make learning a top priority every day, then how am I communicating to my children that it is important?

I am still in the midst of planning and figuring out the logistics of how all this is going to work, but I am confident that God hears my prayers and pleas for help and guidance. I am trying very hard to hear His voice and follow His will through it all. I know He will not steer us wring!

Stay tuned in the next few days as I ponder more “new school year” questions and ideas (as long as the glimpse into my busy thoughts have not scared you away forever)! Until then…



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another school year is over…

which means planning time for Mom! Man have I been busy, busy, busy. I am attempting something I have never attempted before, I am planning out our year a semester at a time. Why? There are several reasons, but the most important one is this: it’s time for an overhaul! (I know, I know, I am always changing things up.)

Hubby and I were talking last week about the state of our little homeschool, and there are some things that we are both unhappy with. So after talking about these things and throwing out some ideas, we have a new plan for this year.

First of all, workboxes are out. Too much weekly/daily prep for me, too little time and energy actually spent on getting things done. We have slowly been falling behind for the past 2 years and enough is enough! We have to get back on track and QUICK.

I am also concerned that I am not giving my boys enough opportunities to be responsible for their own work. Drew is 10 now and there is no reason why I should have to babysit him through every assignment. He can read well and should be doing the bulk of his work independently.So out with the workboxes and in with a new system that will allow the boys to go off on their own, materials in hand and do what they can on their own. With the help of a good friend, I have tweaked my old binder system to help meet our goals for the year.


I am in the process of making lesson plans for every subject for our first semester. I am almost finished with this part of the process. These lesson plans are broken down by subject into 6-week terms, one term/subject  to a page. Each boy’s binder has a tab for each subject they are doing this year. Behind some tabs I have minioffice printables in page protectors. These hold things like a multiplications table for math and an editing checklist for composition. Then behind these I have placed the 6-week lesson plan for that subject. The only dates on these are the dates of the term, so they can work ahead if they want or do 2 assignments every other day. This will enable them to have a bit more control (and responsibility) over their work. Most importantly, each section has all the work they will need to complete for that term, so they can just move through the stack of pages, paper clipping the pages together as they finish them.

The front of the binder also holds a calendar of the current month and a calendar showing our entire school year mapped out. In the front pocket are a stack of copies of daily assignment sheets. I custom made these:

Daily Assignment Grid

I actually made one of these for each of my boys with their subjects typed into the boxes. But you can use this one if you want to. When they start school for the day they will take out one of these sheets and fill it out buy going through each section of their binder and finding that day’s work. Since all my lessons plans are undated this will be an easy way for them to see all their work for the day in one place and check things off as they go through it.

My hope is that our days will change a lot with this system. I will set aside an hour or so each day to work one on one with each of them, covering new concepts and the items they can’t do independently. When I am working with one, the other will be able to take his binder into another quiet area of the house and go through his independent work. Then we will still have an hour set aside at the end of the day to cover the material we do together such as some of our Tapestry work, devotions, projects, etc. They will have until this time to complete their other work. Then after we finish our group work, the school day is over! However, if they have not used their time wisely and have not finished their other work in the allotted time, they will go back and finish it before they are given their free time.

The other very important component of this system involves a file bin and lots of hanging folders. My goal is to have 2 terms ahead planned and all of the papers printed, copied and torn out and stuck into a folder. I have labeled a folder for each of the boys for each term, and the work will go into those. This way at the end of the term, I just have to get out the stack of papers and new term lesson plans and stick them in the proper section of their binders. Their finished work from each term will be put back into that folder when we start a new term,

I am also setting aside separate folders for each week of Tapestry to hold all the printables and worksheets we will need for each week plan. I want to have these done for the entire year. Why? I am always finding useful links and printables on things we haven’t started studying yet. I end up bookmarking them or printing them off and loosing them, and then we never get to use them. This way I can put things in the files as I find them. Then they will be there waiting when we get to that week plan.

Wow, what a long post this has turned out to be! I guess I should wrap it up and get back to work :)



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