Loosing the Reins

Loosing_the_ReinsWhen our children were little, they required a lot more guidance in their learning. They needed me to walk them through a daily and weekly routine. They thrived on knowing what to expect next, what each day brought to them. As my littles have grown, however, I’ve come to realize they are wanting a little more control over their learning routine.

I like routine. With all of life’s responsibilities, good planning removes a lot of the stress and headache of trying to get everything done. The danger in too much control is that our children can sometimes feel boxed in, forced to follow a pattern which they had no say in making. As our children get older, it helps to include their input and loosen the reigns.

We started out our learning year just as we have the previous few. We had our routine in place and our electives chosen. Our ‘rotation’ spots were all picked out and mommy had the perfect plan in mind. Somewhere around the beginning of second quarter, my kids started to voice new-found opinions. Would it really be that life altering if they got to choose when they did electives?

It seems instead of doing electives at an appointed time they wanted the freedom to work on these learning areas at will. If they chose to rise earlier than everyone else, they could practice their Spanish then. Free time between learning subjects might be the perfect opportunity to sit at the piano. It wasn’t a matter of avoiding these topics, they simply wanted the freedom to choose the appropriate time themselves. In other words, they wanted a little control.

This didn’t seem like such a far-fetched request. They are getting older and have solid reasons for wanting the bulk of their afternoons free; it’s not like they are pushing off electives only to sit around doing nothing. They still plan to get things done, but in their own time. Afternoons could now be free to bake, sew, play together, and even just rest.

Part of me had doubts, but I wanted to give them a chance. So, we compromised. I would allow them the freedom to choose when they did their electives. If they couldn’t stick with it, and I was having to remind them too often, we would return to our normal routine.

Thus far the plan has worked well. My girls are cruising through their lessons with me and finishing their electives in good time. While my son needs my input and assistance a little more than his sisters do, he too is doing very well. Unless the kids are learning a new piano piece or my son needs a reading partner, they are handling electives entirely on their own. Loosing the reigns and allowing them monitored freedom was a great decision for all of us. The kids are learning to structure their own time wisely and mommy has less to worry about. It’s been a win-win change.

Now, if only I could convince them that 25 minutes if not a half an hour. Cutting corners doesn’t count!

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time,…”
~ Ephesians 5:15-17

Your Turn!: How closely do you monitor your children’s electives? Is this something you work on together or allow them to manage on their own? Share your ideas with us!

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But I Don’t Want To!

Ugh! My alarm clock is ringing in my ear and the multitude of responsibilities which need to get done today are screeching my name. Do you think anyone will notice if I just pull the covers over my head and never emerge? I know I need to get out of bed, but I don’t want to!

While, to some, it might seem our family has it all together, let me assure you we still have off days. There are times when I don’t want to do dishes ten times a day. The kids don’t want to do their arithmetic and the man does not want to mow the lawn. However, life is very rarely about what we want to do.

I’m sure this conundrum existed when our family consisted of just my husband and I, but now that we have four not so little kiddos in the house we seem to address this issue a lot more than before. Generally, our children are amiable and willing to please, but, on occasion, we are forced to listen to not so subtle whining and the inevitable, “But I don’t want to!”

After hearing this complaint used far too often, I thought I would give my children a taste of their own medicine. The next time they complained about ‘not wanting’ to do something, I replied, “You’re absolutely correct! Let’s spend the day only doing what we want to do, okay? You do what you want and I’ll do what I want” When it came to wanting a drink… sorry, mommy doesn’t want to. When it came to lunch time… sorry, mommy doesn’t want to. When it came to working on a project they were excited about… sorry, I’m busy reading right now. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for them to realize this was not going to work! They happily agreed that life wasn’t about what we wanted to do, but what needed to get done.

Are there times in life when we can make the choice to not do something? Absolutely! We weigh these decisions constantly. However, there also comes a time when we need to put on our big girl/boy shoes and just get moving!

Our children need to see us model this behavior. They need to understand we are human, too. We don’t always want to get out of bed. We don’t always want to do the dishes, clean the house, run the errands, or the myriad of other things which need to be handled on a daily basis. Through seeing us pursue to the end, our children learn character.

The fact is, we all have to do things we don’t “want” to do. We do them anyway because they need to get done. The question is whether we’ll handle them with grace…

Time to Chime In: If there was one responsibility you could cross off your list forever, which would it be?

Getting the Most Out of Field Trips, Part III: Routine

Who doesn’t like a good field trip? There’s nothing quite like fresh air, a change of scenery, and a little exercise to rejuvenate your learning routine. While field trips can be a lot of fun, they will quickly turn into a frustrating mess when not planned properly. Join us as we share tips on how to make the most of any field trip and explore ideas for a smoother day.


Field-TripsIt’s nice when everyone is on the same page, isn’t it? Everyone has an idea of what the set goals are, what the time-table looks like, and what is expected. This is true of most organized events; field trips are no different.

Know Your Plan – If you are attempting to be at your venue by a certain time of day, it helps to have a game plan. Pencil out a tentative itinerary to help keep you on track. Knowing what time your trip is scheduled for (e.g. eleven in the morning), estimate your drive time and plan a time to leave your house; continue working backwards from this point. (For example: Our trip starts at eleven; the drive time is one hour, so we need to leave at ten. However, I know it takes my kids fifteen minutes to get themselves in the car; so, we need to get in the car at 9:45. It takes my kiddos an hour to be up, dressed, fed, and ready to walk out the door; so, they need to be up and awake by at least 8:30 in the morning. I usually get up before them; I will need to be up and awake by 7:30.) Knowing our tentative plan for the day helps eliminate stress.
One additional thought: If others are joining in, add an extra half hour to your plan. Leave plenty of time to meet, expecting people to be a little late, and hand out directions before actually getting on the road. To doubly ensure you are ahead of schedule, throw an extra fifteen minutes into your plan, somewhere along the line. This way, if you happen to run a little late, it’s no big deal.

Share Your Plan – A plan has little chance of success if you are the only one in on it. Let your family, and all others who plan on attending, know the game plan . They don’t need all the details, but a general outline will help them understand your plan of attack and ensure they know what time they need to be ready to walk out the door or at the meeting point. The night before a trip, I usually let my kiddos know what time they will be waking up and what time we are walking out the door. This eliminates constant reminders from me, they are given a wakeup call and they know our family plan. We work as a team to meet our goal.


Stick to Your Plan – As much as possible, stick to your plan of attack. If things go a little awry, just take a deep breath and keep moving forward. Remember, you planned those extra fifteen minutes and perhaps you can make up for lost time along the way, with a little help from the family.

There’s no accounting for little mishaps on busy mornings, but having a tentative plan for your day will help everyone stay on track and prevent unwanted stress. Your routine doesn’t need to be set in stone, but penciling it out doesn’t hurt either.

Do you usually have a plan for field trip days?

What to Do; What to Do?

Apple FarmsI am not one to procrastinate. In fact, I am probably the exact opposite of a procrastinator. I tend to work years into the future, if at all possible. Why wait, right? During this holiday break I find myself in the same position. Is this year’s routine working for us? Should we change things up next year?

I think most of my pondering is due to, what seems like, a long pull of learning between August and November with no breaks except for weekends. I have been inspired by other home schoolers and bloggers to perhaps rethink our methods.

Although our children have never set foot in a public school classroom, I have noticed I tend to build our yearly schedule around the local school system. This helps with their non-home school friends being able to visit and keeps me aware of when police and social workers (hey, you never know) might be on the lookout for truancy.

Recently, I have begun to wonder why. Why do we do this? We don’t have many friends in the system and working around that would be easy enough. We never take the summer off, so why do we stick to the system’s routine?

This year we were a little brave and planned three weeks for our Christmas break. While we have yet to get there, I can already tell this is going to be a positive move on our part. This leads me to believe that perhaps a few more changes might be beneficial in next year’s schedule.

California Science Center

To start with, I think we are going to begin our “year” a little early; by a week at least. This will allow us to take a week off between our first and second quarter. Second quarter will run until Thanksgiving, we will take a week off, and then finish up the remaining weeks before Christmas break. Christmas break will mark the end of first semester. Second semester might be more of the same. We would do third quarter, take a week off, school fourth quarter for six weeks, take Easter break, and then finish the school year.

My biggest internal debate right now is the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Would it be more beneficial to start our year even earlier and once Thanksgiving comes have the remainder of the year “off” (not doing book work, but learning through other means) or is that too long a break from things like algebra, which need constant refreshers? Perhaps we could just do a one day session of “speed drills”, per week, to keep them up to pace during the break. This would clear up our routine, but also keep them at the ready.

Hmmm… See my dilemma? (Okay, so it’s not really a dilemma; more of a puzzle.)

No decisions have been made quite yet, except for starting at least two weeks earlier for our mid-semester breaks. The rest is up for grabs at this point; lots of thinking and prayer still need to be done. At least by starting early, I have plenty of time to work it out.

How do you handle the holidays with learning? Do you take off from Thanksgiving to the New Year or do you take a Thanksgiving break and resume school for a few weeks before Christmas break?

One Step at A Time

Ah… That feels good. Three weeks of our “school year” are under our belt and things are coming together. Why are they just now coming together? Well, for the last several years, the kiddos and I have tried something revolutionary in our learning year. Instead of tackling all of our subjects the very first day of school, we take one step at a time.

Yup; you read that correctly. Rather than bog down our children with masses of subjects the first day out of summer, we take things nice and easy; gently returning to our regularly scheduled program.

The first week back to school, we usually focus on all areas of ELA (English/Language Arts). It’s not until later in the week that we introduce their new Arithmetic books and do a quick page to wet their appetites.

One Step at a Time

Our second week back, we keep up our ELA and Arithmetic and add Geography and History to the mix. Even with these two included, we can usually breeze through school in about two and a half hours; not bad! Probably because we are starting off with mostly review work (as the curriculum books assume you haven’t been doing summer work and are ready to pick up right where you left off).

Now for the fun part… week three! During this week, we add in Science and personal projects such as video presentations. Whew!

So far things are running pretty smoothly and we are all handling things well. Hopefully this is a good example of how the rest of the year will fit together. Oh, I’m sure some days will be more challenging than others, but that is to be expected.

With all our subjects now plugged in, it’s time to get moving full steam ahead.

What’s your take?… Do you dive right in or test the waters?

Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Once again, here we go! This will be us this coming Monday. Wow! I’m so glad I re-read this to be better prepared in resuming our “regularly scheduled program”.

A Homeschool Mom

Today we returned to our “regularly scheduled program”; meaning school. Books were pulled out of the homeschool cupboard, pencils were sharpened, and lessons were learned.

For some, the first day of school can be a little bit overwhelming and sometimes even scary! Over the years, there are a couple of tips I have incorporated into our routine to make this first week run more smoothly.

I start the day a little earlier than our kids. Once my kids are up, it feels like the starting line at the Olympics, “And their off!” Getting up even a half an hour earlier than my kids, allows me time to take things easy and enjoy a cup of coffee before madness begins.

I pray, pray, pray. I want to make sure that the Lord is the center of our day. Starting the day off with prayer sets the right pace and tone for…

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Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Today we returned to our “regularly scheduled program”; meaning school. Books were pulled out of the homeschool cupboard, pencils were sharpened, and lessons were learned.

For some, the first day of school can be a little bit overwhelming and sometimes even scary! Over the years, there are a couple of tips I have incorporated into our routine to make this first week run more smoothly.

I start the day a little earlier than our kids. Once my kids are up, it feels like the starting line at the Olympics, “And their off!” Getting up even a half an hour earlier than my kids, allows me time to take things easy and enjoy a cup of coffee before madness begins.

I pray, pray, pray. I want to make sure that the Lord is the center of our day. Starting the day off with prayer sets the right pace and tone for our home.

I make sure I read my Bible. Praying is important, talking to God always is, but I want to make sure I am hearing from him as well. Whether from a devotional or reading straight from the Word, I want to make sure I get in some good reading time.

I wake my babies with a cheerful “good morning” and a silly song. I try to wake the kids with something light and cheerful. This helps all of us look at the day in a good light. I usually walk in singing, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!” They laugh, half asleep, and beg for five more minutes. This is usually met with a swift “nope” from me and a quick announcement. They are told they get one hour to get dressed, clean their room, eat, and  be ready to learn.

We start our learning with Bible time. Once the kids are finished with their morning routine, we gather at the kitchen table and tackle the most important subject together as a team. This sets the mood for the rest of their learning.

We start off nice and easy. The first week of school, I try to keep things nice and light. The work is mostly all review, with very few pages to be completed. This eases the kids back into a more formal routine and affords me the time and opportunity to readjust as needed.

We don’t cover all subjects on the first day. Jumping into more formal work can be a daunting task. Going from an easy summer load to a full fall load, all in one day, is like going from 0 to 60 in about 2.5 seconds; I prefer to ease them into it.

The first day of school, we cover just the basics; penmanship, spelling, language arts, oral reading, and “rotations”. Because of our curriculum layout, we won’t even start arithmetic until Thursday! Unit studies and Spanish will not begin until next week.

Starting off “light” gives me an opportunity to monitor how much time those first subjects are taking and adjust accordingly. It also means I have an opportunity to work around our chores and see if our routine is working for us.

We finish the day early. The first week back to school, I want to make sure they aren’t sitting at the table all day long. We try to take a few breaks in-between subjects and we try to finish up our learning time around 2p.m. With plenty of breaks and free time, the kids are less likely to complain about the return of a formal routine and they grow accustomed to longer periods of learning.

With all of these tips to help us out, our return to learning went fairly well. There were a few hiccups, but we will work those out. With much prayer and patience, we are getting back into our routine.

What tips help you make “back to school” more easy? I would love to learn how you “return to your regularly scheduled program”!


Our homeschool closet is cleaned out, our portfolios are ready to go, and we are ready to tackle today’s project… putting in the new school books!

It seems all this week I have been reading posts by other homeschooling families who are getting their curriculum in place and are eagerly ready to start their school year. We, too, are getting things finalized, but with a slightly different twist. Unlike other families, I am not anxiously awaiting the arrival of our books; ours have been here since May!

I have found waiting until the middle or end of summer to order our books, to be stressful. There are several reasons why this doesn’t work for our family.

  1. I don’t enjoy summer knowing that I still have work that will need to be done.
  2. If I wait, I might not get the order in time or it might be backordered.
  3. If I wait, I will need to rush through the curriculum to set up our routine and determine how much work should be done daily.
  4. If I wait, I can’t take advantage of all the great promotions available for those who order early.

Usually, aBeka starts having demos of their curriculum around April. Once I receive their flyer in the mail, I highlight the closest location with a date that suits our schedule. I make sure to add the date to my iCal program and then I start researching. I don’t want to peruse at the demo; I might be led by impulse instead of through prayer. To ensure I am only buying what I need, I will look through aBeka’s website first. From there, I will write down any items that I know are necessary and compile a list with the item numbers and prices. If there are items that I have never seen or items of question, I will write those at the bottom of my list and highlight them. Those are the items that I will review with my husband and pray over. The day of the demo, I check out the items that I might have highlighted, sit down to fill out my form, and then check out. Because I have ordered at a demo, I will save 10% up front and avoid shipping costs. Usually, I save myself about $60 this way!

One of the main reasons I order our books so early, is because I don’t order teacher guides. (I have not found them to be necessary for the younger grades and don’t care to spend money that could be better spent elsewhere.) Due to the fact that I don’t order teacher guides, I must spend a little time planning out our year. I open each text and lay out our lessons, ensuring that everything gets covered. This is very simple but it still needs to be done. For very little work, I am saving myself a great deal of money. On average, textbooks for all four of my children run me $250 per year. Not bad, all things considered!

We usually end our school year just around the beginning of May. By the time we have finished school, our books for the next year are just coming in. I make sure they are all here, I take the time to go through each one (mapping out how many lessons get done a day), and then they get tucked away until the end of July. I am now free to enjoy my summer, knowing everything is here and we are ready to start come fall.

Now that summer is just about over, it is time to put those books on the shelf and do any last-minute reorganizing. I have double checked the books (refreshing my memory about lesson schedules), organized how I want them to be placed in our cupboard, and added any reference materials I thought would be necessary. Ah, what a beautiful sight!

Just two more projects and we will be ready to start on Monday.

When do you order your books? Do you order early? Do you wait? I would enjoy hearing when you choose to get your books and why!

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!

¿Usted Habla Español?

I am part Puerto Rican, but my father (the Spanish blood in my genes) left when I was a child and never looked back; thus, I don’t speak Spanish. My mother-in-law is Mexican by birth and my father-in-law Spaniard by birth. Coming to America they wanted to become fluent and so they only spoke English in their home, therefore my husband doesn’t speak Spanish well.

Despite the fact that neither of their parents speak Spanish, our children grew up becoming more and more interested in their hispanic heritage. They love listening to their yaya and yayo (grandma and grandpa) speak fluently and try to figure out what they are saying. They love listening to Spanish music and learning to dance. They even have dresses, brought over from Spain, which they wear as often as possible when they are having play dates at my in-laws. They love Spanish and Mexican cuisine, paella and tacos being the top picks, which makes my in-laws very proud.

It seemed natural when at some point my kids asked if we could start learning Spanish. Always willing to give a learning area a shot, I quickly looked up some good Spanish curriculum for young kid.

The curriculum that best met our families needs was Teach Them Spanish! This curriculum starts as early as PreK and covers a lot of ground. I like the fact that it starts off with everyday items that the children will use; colors, numbers, family members, and parts of their body, are just a few topics covered in PreK. Each new grade level stars off with reviewing what has already been taught and then builds upon it. If you learned 10 colors in PreK, you will review those 10 and add 5 more in K.

The best part of the curriculum, in my opinion, is the fun activity list that accompanies each lesson. Not only does the curriculum offer workbook pages to help you with learning, but it has Bingo games and other ideas to help make learning fun!

For those absolutely new to Spanish, like myself, there are also very helpful teacher pages. These pages follow each lesson, offering suggested questions to ask your student. For example: When studying colors, the teacher pages will teach you how to ask your student what color their shirt is, in Spanish with the English translation next to it. It will then teach you how your students should respond, in Spanish with the English translation beside.

This curriculum has been a lot of fun and we are learning a lot. Come high school, we are going to have to go with a more formal program, but for now this is working for us. The kids are having a blast and my in-laws are having fun supplementing what we are learning.

Do you have a Spanish lesson that you enjoy? I would love to hear suggestions.