Organizing Chaos

All week we have tackled various areas of organization; filing the old stuff, creating our new portfolios, and putting in the new school books. Today’s project… replenishing our art supplies!

Homeschooling is more than just reading, writing, and reasoning. While those areas are essential, I also want to make sure that my children have an opportunity to be creative and artistic.

The week before we head back to school, the kids and I make sure we do a thorough inspection of our art supplies and restock anything that might be low. Markers are taken out of the box and each one inspected, just to make sure they aren’t dry. Paint bottles are checked, ink pads are tested, and glue bottles are consolidated. We reduce all we can, before determining what needs to be replenished.

Once we have determined what is low (or out), we make a list of all that is needed in order to keep our closet stocked. Then, we thoughtfully add anything that might be wanted. We then head out to Wal-Mart or Target and take advantage of all the back to school sales, using as many coupons and promotions as possible.

Upon returning home, our loot is unpacked and organized into our homeschooling closet. We have a plastic bin just for our adhesive and scissors. We have separate bins for ink pads, card stock, decorative paper, crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Each type of art supply has a separate container, making crafting and cleanup more organized. (It is also a huge time saver.) Each bin is clear so that the children can easily identify which box is needed and a step stool is placed in the closet to help them grab whatever they might need.

Our homeschool closet is now refilled, organized, and ready to go! The kids are excited to know that everything they need is available and mom is excited to know that I won’t be needing to make any last-minute runs to a craft store because we ran out of something!

Do you have a cupboard or closet that you keep your supplies in? How do you keep your’s organized?

 

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The Art of a Good Portfolio

Yesterday, I mentioned that we planned a particular project for each day this week. When we start school on Monday, I want to be ready and relaxed. Today’s project… our portfolios!

When most people think of a portfolio, they think of an artist or professional showing their well crafted work in order to gain recognition or obtain employment. However, did you know that homeschoolers can have a portfolio as well?

When I first began to homeschool, I read everything I could on the laws of our state and ideas on how to keep ourselves protected. One great suggestion that was made were portfolios; simple, three-ring binders that hold all pertinent work and tests the student has done for the year. In the event it should become necessary, examples of the students’ work are on hand and available.

Yesterday, we cleaned out our homeschool cupboard and filed all of last year’s portfolios in a safe place. Today, we wanted to get our new portfolios ready to go and organized. We grabbed our three-ring binders, some dividers, pens, crayons, and markers; then, we got busy!

For the new portfolios, the first thing the kids worked on is the cover for their binders. I created a simple cover with some clip art that was available via Google. We all (I have a binder for this year too) sat down at the table and enjoyed some coloring. We had a great time, visiting and being creative.

Next, we grabbed our dividers and started getting things in place. I made sure the kids have one divider for each section:

  • Reading (I keep track of all the books they read)
  • Writing
  • Language Arts
  • Arithmetic
  • Geography
  • Spanish
  • KONOS

Lastly, I made sure to print out the children’s names and cut them into narrow strips. These were placed down the outside spine of the binder. This way the children easily recognize which binder is theirs and are able to grab them at will. Our portfolios are now ready to be filled with all sorts of learning projects and assignments. They are tucked into the homeschool cupboard, ready to be used come Monday.

Our children’s portfolios have really come in handy. When we have family over, it gives our children an opportunity to share all of the things they have been working on and how much they have learned. The portfolios have even been a great way for me to show new homeschooling moms examples of different curriculum we have tried or examples of different learning styles (as each of my children slightly vary). While I hope this never becomes necessary, in the event it should, our portfolios may also be used in court in order to show examples of our children’s progress.

Hooray! Our project for the day is complete and we are almost ready to start school on Monday. Let’s see what tomorrow brings….

Do you have “portfolios” of your children’s work? We would love to see examples!

The High School Handbook

Our oldest daughter is in sixth grade this coming August. Not one to wait until the last-minute, I wanted to spend some time this summer reading up on Junior and Senior High. I want to be fully prepared for what lies ahead. I want to know what I need now so that I am not panicking at the last-minute, worrying if I am doing something correctly or not.

To this end, our ISP principal highly recommended The High School Handbook by Mary Schofield. In The High School Handbook, Ms. Schofield does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for Jr. and Sr. High. She provides a helpful, step-by-step process to organizing your students workload, as well as ideas on how each can be implemented to their fullest. She explains, with clear reasoning, why each step is taken and how it benefits both your student and yourself. To further assist you with each step, Ms. Schofield has graciously placed helpful sample forms throughout the book, showing how her family has organized each area. She has also included blank forms for you to copy and use at your own disposal, making your job even easier. 

Ms. Schofield covers every area of Jr. and Sr. High that you could possibly imagine. If you are unsure of how to organize your classes, this book will help. If you are unsure which classes are needed to attend a university, this book will help. Need tips on grading, courses standards, transcripts, and college? This book is definitely the one for you. From Language Arts and Arithmetic, to Driver’s Ed and Work Permits, this book has something for everyone.

On a personal level, I am extremely grateful that I chose to read the book this summer. Our daughter is still in elementary school (being that we are not including sixth grade as part of “middle school”); had I waited until the summer before junior high, I might have stressed myself out with the amount of paperwork and organizing that needs to be done. However, having read the book a full year in advance, I have plenty of time to prepare whatever forms might be necessary. I have the time to systematically lay out classes and to talk with my daughter about where she feels the Lord is leading her. I very much appreciated the sections on Missionary Opportunities, Apprenticeship, and College at Home, as each of these areas are of particular interest to our family.

Our HS Outline

The High School Handbook is highly recommended for everyone with a child going into Jr. and/or Sr. High. Even if you don’t homeschool, it will help you to better understand what classes your child should be taking in their studies. It will help you prepare them for ACT and SAT exams, College Applications, and other areas common to all students. I highly recommend this book. Don’t wait until your child is about to start their higher education, help them now. You won’t regret it!

For those of you with children already in Junior or Senior High, was there a particular book(s) that you found helpful in organizing the chaos? I would love to delve into a few more books. The more ideas, the better!

The Old Piano Roll Blues

My husband very much wanted our kids to learn piano. Unfortunately our budget couldn’t afford sending four children to piano lessons. I was also a little hesitant to add another outside activity to our list. My guy, very sweetly, suggested that I was “smart enough to do this on my own”. Off I went to conquer the unknown…

I knew how to read music, as I had played flute for several years and sang in high school, but knowing how that relates to a piano is entirely different. I needed a program that would start off with the very basics.

Teaching Little Fingers To Play by John Thompson worked wonders! This curriculum started with the most basic instructions of all; finger placement, hand position, and posture. From there, the children learned to identify basic notes on the piano and to play them, first with the right hand and then with the left. Once the notes and their corresponding keys were learned, songs were introduced. I found that I liked this curriculum for getting started and for teaching them the basics.

John Thompson’s curriculum goes far beyond Teaching Little Fingers To Play; there is also Modern Course for Piano. For those interested, they also have music for Christmas, Disney fans, and more!

Joining the ISP we are apart of now, I noticed that several of the other kids were taking piano lessons. Their progress was quickly achieved and they played more advanced pieces than our children had been exposed to. I asked around and was told that all of the other kids were taking lessons using the Suzuki Method of piano. I was highly impressed with the program and wanted to try it out for ourselves.

We still were not able to afford classes, but having already learned the basics from Teaching Little Fingers to Play, I felt confident that we would pick things up with this new curriculum. I was right! Our kids took to it immediately.

I appreciate that the Suzuki Method teaches children to focus on playing the music by ear and not relying on the sheet music itself. I also appreciated that the curriculum came with a CD so that we could listen to the pieces as our children played, teaching them to keep time and play along with someone else.

So far, we are more than halfway done with Book #1 and going strong. The kids are loving the program and enjoy learning new songs. I am loving the fact that we are learning without having to leave the house, spending time and money we don’t have. I enjoy the Suzuki Method greatly, but I am very glad we started off with Teaching Little Fingers to Play first. I believe it gave us a strong foundation for what we are now learning.

Do you have a piano lesson you do from home? I always love learning about new curriculum and would love to hear what you use!

The King of Unit Studies

I homeschool four kids. Sure, I could spend hundreds each year on curriculum for each student, but why? I have better uses for my very limited funds and my children would rather spend time together, rather than apart and doing things from a workbook.

Outside of the three R’s (reading, writing, and reasoning), I have chosen to do unit studies to teach our children history, science, and more. In the past I have created my own unit studies, but I have found that I end up using more time creating them (as I tend to be very in-depth and want to do all kinds of projects) than I would have liked.

When our oldest daughter was in Kindergarten, I came across KONOS. This is probably the grand-daddy of all unit studies. There are three main volumes, if you buy the standard curriculum, each book lasts about two to two and a half years (depending on how you use it).

KONOS is based on a Christian worldview and each section is based on a Biblical character trait that we are trying to instill in our children. (For example: Obedience, Attentiveness, and Honor.) Each character trait incorporates smaller topics that will help you learn history, science, art, and more! While studying Obedience, you will learn about ancient kings and queens; knights; sheep; military history and heroes; horses; Bible; and friction/resistance.

 

KONOS even goes as far as to add vocabulary lessons, Bible, suggested books/videos, and more! They have kindly separated the ideas into age categories, helping you to further organize which activities might be best for your child’s age group.

 

KONOS is a very thorough program, with hands-on application. When we studied American Indians, not only did we study each tribe and map them out, but we also built a tepee and learned how make beaded necklaces. When we studied military history and heroes, we went to the park and dug trenches masked with camouflage. There is nothing quite like, literally, digging into your lessons.

We have used KONOS for seven years now and never had a moment’s regret. Each unit has been filled with exciting things to learn, with plenty of activities to choose from. We have learned so much and still have more to explore.

We have used all three of our KONOS books, but are planning to go through them yet again. With all of the varied topics, activities, and wisdom to be gotten; they truly have proven themselves to be the king of unit studies.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail: Part Five

Fail-to-planI love it when a plan comes together. That is how I feel when I set about planning my routines. Once we put them into place and they start working for us, it is a beautiful thing.

Now that I have my chores, events, and schooling organized; I need to put them all together and get moving. Once the school year starts, I will need to put all of my organizing together and make these separate schedules work together smoothly. This will help me, once again, see where I might need to do some last-minute rearranging and restructuring. It will also help to see where I have some flexible hours, in case anything should come up.

The first things I want to combine are my chores and my schooling. As I mentioned in Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail: Part One; my first ministry is to be a keeper of my home. If the house and my kids’ education cannot be merged smoothly, events need to wait. My weekly schedule with both chores and schooling combined usually looks like this:

Monday:

  • Start load of my laundry right before Bible
  • Do Bible lesson and start kids on core curriculum
  • Change loads of laundry at breaks or between subjects
  • Finish Core Subjects and begin History & Science
  • Lunch Time and Finish Laundry
  • Family Chores
  • “Rotations”
  • Remainder of the Day Free

Tuesday:

  • Start load of kids’ laundry right before Bible
  • Do Bible lesson and start kids on core curriculum
  • Change loads of laundry at breaks or between subjects
  • Finish Core Subjects and begin History & Science
  • Lunch Time and Finish Laundry
  • Family Chores
  • “Rotations”
  • Remainder of the Day Free

Wednesday:

  • Start load of linens right before Bible
  • Do Bible lesson and start kids on core curriculum
  • Change loads of laundry at breaks or between subjects
  • Finish Core Subjects and begin History & Science
  • Lunch Time and Finish Laundry
  • Family Chores
  • “Rotations”
  • Remainder of the Day Free

Thursday:

  • Do Bible lesson and start kids on core curriculum
  • Finish Core Subjects and begin History & Science
  • Lunch Time
  • Mommy does grocery list and menus
  • “Rotations”
  • Remainder of the Day Free for kids
  • Grocery Shopping for Mom

Friday:

  • Testing on all core subjects (All of our testing is done Fri.)
  • Collect Library Books and Straighten up House
  • Library
  • Errands
  • Lunch
  • Homeschool Co-op or other Homeschooling Event
  • Remainder of the Day Free for kids

Normally we are finished with school anywhere from 2-3pm each day, with the exception of Friday. Friday is quite a bit shorter, but I plan it that way on purpose; counting our library time and our homeschooling events as part of their education.

Once this list of chores and schooling as been combined onto one master schedule; I can now add my events. Knowing that I am pretty busy Monday through Thursday, I usually avoid planning events on those days. Should the need arise though, I am free after 3pm and know I am available. Fridays are usually the days that I try to plan anything special or extra.

With life more organized, we are free to have fun events like this one… Renaissance Night with the homeschool group!

As with most things in life, this schedule isn’t perfect. There are days when we take longer to school or there is an unexpected event which causes us to rearrange our schedule; field trips during the week can cause a temporary change for example. This schedule isn’t meant to be concrete and final, simply a structure that I put into place; one that I am free to move around and fit to my family’s needs.

1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” I pray that the Lord would find me faithful in having obeyed His Word; that my family would be a living example of what He has commanded us to do; that He would be glorified and honored through the keeping of my home, the education of my children, and the ministry we accomplish in our free time. It is not for our own name that we do these things, but His.