10 Tips for New Homeschoolers Attending a Homeschool Convention

It’s homeschool convention time, aka homeschool Black Friday!

All around the country homeschool conventions are popping up full of the newest curriculum and educational resources available.  Most have tons of classes and speakers, and they can be a great place to begin when you are starting your homeschool journey.  However, thousands of square feet of convention hall full of hundreds of publishers can also be incredibly overwhelming.  So I thought I’d share my 10 tips for new homeschoolers attending their first homeschool convention.

homeschool convention tips Homeschool Convention Top Ten Tips:

  1. Do a little research before you go. My biggest piece of advice is to get a general idea of what you think you are looking for in a curriculum, and then mark those booths that seem to be what you want.  You can even make a homeschool convention board on Pinterest to keep track of what you want to see. Start with these booths so that you’ll be sure to have enough time to see everything they have to offer.  Then decide what you like and dislike about the curriculum before exploring other booths.
  2. Keep an open mind. Once you’ve done your research, seen your top contenders, and determined what you like and don’t like about them, it’s time to branch out.  There’s usually one subject where I don’t feel strongly about any particular publisher.  If you feel that way too, then start there.  Go around to other booths that offer curriculum in that subject and do the same evaluation you did in #1.  If you keep an open mind, you might find that what you thought you wanted isn’t really what you end up getting.  I’ve found some great curriculum this way over the years.
  3. Attend classes. Most likely there will be classes at the homeschool convention for new homeschoolers, and these can be an invaluable source of information and encouragement.  Take notes so that you can reflect when you get home on all that you saw and heard.  Often publishers will also hold classes, and attending these can give you a better insight into that curriculum and whether or not it will work for your family.
  4. Set a budget for ‘extras.’ I know you think you will be able to resist all the cool offerings of educational resources and stick to just the books you need , but trust me, you’re going to find something that will just really get your kids interested in what you’re teaching, or be super fun, or make your life way easier.  Set a budget before you go for the little extras that you are going to find so that you can indulge but not break the bank.
  5. You can’t teach it all. While I’m sure there’s a homeschool family somewhere that has their kindergartener reading the New Testament in the original Greek while they decline their Latin and build robots for an MIT science competition, if you’re not that family it’s okay.  There is far more available than you will ever be able to teach.  Remember what your goals are for your homeschool, and resist the urge to try and do it all.  Do what’s right for your child and your family for this year.
  6. Focus on this year. I always like to get an idea while I’m at a homeschool convention of what I might want to teach in the future, but sometimes it’s hard to focus on the here and now.  Know what subjects you want to teach before you go, and try to limit yourself to those areas.  Keep a list in your convention brochure to keep you on task.
  7. Go more than one day. If it’s at all financially feasible, attend the convention for at least 2 days.  It’s almost impossible to go to all the classes and see all the booths you want in just 1 day, and that can also lead to impulse buying.  If you’re able to go for 2 days, spend the first gathering information, and then when you get back to the hotel go over it again.
  8. Don’t buy anything on day 1. If you are able to go for more than a day, your wallet will thank you for waiting until the 2nd day before buying anything.  Mark your convention program with the booths you want to purchase from and how much the items are.  This gives you time to get some perspective and add up the costs of what you think you want.  That way on day 2 you can go straight to the booth and make your purchases, giving you a better chance of sticking to your budget.
  9. Collect cards and flyers for later. If you see a really great booth that has something you know you might want later or for another school year, grab a card and a flyer to bring home.  You can keep these in a file so that when you go to plan the next school year you have them.  My favorite thing to do is to look up the websites when I get home and pin them to my Pinterest boards.  Then I can access them whenever I need them and they can stay organized by subject.
  10. Breathe. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.  You’ll never be able to teach it all.  Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged by that.  You are going to do amazing, and curriculum is just a tool to help you explore God’s creation.  There’s no need to worry about what others are doing – they don’t have your kids or your circumstances.  Take a deep breath and enjoy this remarkable journey of educating your kids.  It’s gonna be alright!

How I created my own homeschool AP course

How to create a homeschool AP course

AP is a copyright of the College Board.

Last year we started homeschooling high school with our oldest. Her goal is to earn as much college credit during high school as possible, and one of the ways we are doing that is by taking AP exams.  (You can read more about what the AP exams are and how your student can earn college credit in my post on college planning). Our state has a free online public school that we can use to take classes, and have done so for a few in the past.  They did offer the particular AP class she wanted, but we decided to do our own thing and create a homeschool “AP” course ourselves.

When trying to choose which exam to take, it’s important to realize that some exams are harder than others – especially when it comes to getting a 5. Choosing a course in a subject that your student is interested in and excels in will give them a better chance of getting a high score.  PrepScholar has a great article listing the passing rates of the exams from 2014 and a discussion on what those rates mean.

The only way to label your course as AP is to submit your course information to the College Board and go through their AP Course Audit.  Since I’m only teaching my 2 kids and have no plans to create an online course, this was not something I wanted to pursue, nor was it necessary.  We were fine with just an “AP” like course (which you could certainly label as an Honors course).

Before I go into how I planned this course, I wanted to mention something that is important for you to research before you choose not to enroll in an official AP course somewhere.  Many colleges and universities give different GPA weights to AP classes over honors.  I would contact the admissions office of the colleges your child is thinking of attending and ask them what their policy is for this when it comes to homeschoolers.  Our university of choice told me that if my child has a corresponding AP Test score to the course that they will weight it as AP.  I was sure to get that in writing and I am keeping it in our high school portfolio for later reference.  If your university will not give the extra weight to the grade, I would consider the impact that has on their GPA before moving forward.

Planning your course

Step 1: Purchase the test prep book for your selected exam.

The test prep books for the new year’s exams are usually available in August.  The exams don’t normally change drastically from one year to the next, so if you want to start planning before the current book comes out, the previous year’s book should work just fine.  When the new books come out it’s worth at least looking through the opening chapter to see if there are any changes for the new exam.

The test prep books are going to list for you the major themes of the course.  In the particular course we did last year there were 7.  I used this for my framework to build the rest of the course around and also to help me plan how long we could spend on each section.

Step 2: Decide on a text book.

Depending on which exam your student is taking, you might want a text book to use as the main source of material.  The College Board has a list of recommended texts on their educator page for each specific exam. You might decide that the text is not necessary, but it was helpful to me to see what most formal classes use.  A quick google search will bring up not only the College Board page but also links on where to rent or buy the texts.  Below are links to some of the more popular exams’ book lists:

AP English Language

AP English Literature

AP Human Geography

AP World History

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP American Government

AP Macroeconomics

AP Psychology

Step 3: Search online for resources.

One of the great things about this day and age is that it can be really easy to find tons of great resources online.  A google search of the AP Exam we wanted to take led me to several sites of suggested syllabi, project ideas, test tips and more. Saving these to a Pinterest board or to a site like Evernote can allow you to search now and analyze later.  Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for infographics, videos, and strategies for your chosen exam.

Step 4: Determine your timeframe.

Go to the College Board site and find out when your exam is offered. Decide how many days/weeks you want to allow for review (I would suggest at least 2 weeks) and back up that long from the exam date.  This will give you the date you need to finish the main course work.  Take the date you plan on starting the course and count how many weeks you have until the finish date you determined.  Divide that by the number of sections or themes from the AP test prep book.  This will tell you how long to spend on each section.

Step 5: Create your course outline.

This will be different for everyone, but what I did was group my resources into the major themes and go through them to determine what I wanted to use and what I didn’t really need.  You can determine what chapters from the text you want to cover for each theme and assign them accordingly based on your timeframe.

It’s important that your student gets plenty of practice on the types of questions the exam will have, as well as understanding how to do the essay portion.  For me, the easiest way to incorporate that is by using the sample tests from the test prep book as our course tests.  I assigned writing assignments based on the essay questions from the test prep book throughout the course.  You can also view past exams’ essay questions on the apstudent.collegeboard.org site for the individual exam.

For us, the flexibility of studying the AP course material on our own was worth the effort it took for me to compile it all.  We were able to move at her pace, taking time where she needed it and moving on where she didn’t.  In fact, I’m devoting most of my summer planning to working on my outline for next year’s history AP! 🙂

 

5 places to store homeschool supplies when you don’t have a schoolroom

Homeschool storage

If you’re anything like me, when you cruise around Pinterest you drool over some of the adorable homeschool rooms people have set up in their house.  Complete with world maps, cute painted desk chairs, and color coded art supply organization, it seems as though these rooms would make any kid love to learn.  The reality for most of us is that our “school room” doubles as the breakfast nook, dining room, or living room.  And while I did have a balloon model of the solar system that the kids created hanging on my breakfast nook window for a couple of weeks once, dedicating the decor of my main living areas to maps and timelines just isn’t going to happen.

For us, the kitchen table is where school takes place.  I tried once to use our spare bedroom as a classroom, but it’s upstairs and just didn’t work for me.  The kitchen table is convenient, large enough for the kids to spread out, and best of all, it’s on the 1st floor. 🙂  The only problem with it is that I hate clutter.  I can’t stand to have things out on my countertops that aren’t making coffee or decorative, and where possible I prefer things to be behind closed doors.  That makes finding a place for all the art supplies, experiment kits, school books, teacher manuals, paper, pens, and pencils a real challenge.  Homeschool supplies can require a lot of storage. However, in my desperation to keep everything put away yet still convenient, I managed to find lots of nooks and crannies to squirrel things away.  I bet if you started looking around, you can find the same types of spaces in your own home.

Here are the five places I keep our homeschool things.  All are right by our kitchen table, and took just a little re-arranging to make them work.  I hope they inspire you to get creative with your space (at least until you can get the color coded art supply organizers and cute little painted desks)/  😉

spare shelf for teacher manuals A spare shelf in a kitchen cabinet

I cleared out some old cake decorating supplies that I wasn’t using anymore and was able to consolidate them down to less than half of the cabinet.  This left me with quite a bit of room to keep all of my teacher’s manuals.

 

 

Inexpensive end tables

Our kitchen nook has no room to store any of the kids books.  It is open to our living room, which seemed the next logical place to store them, but we don’t have any bookshelves or tall storage that would work.  I went shopping at our local Sauder and found these end tables that were perfect for holding lots of books.  Target, Walmart, and consignment furniture stores are also great places to look for items like these.  I bought one for each kid and have them in 2 places in the living room.  I love these because they are deep enough to hold their big binders, they have a shelf that’s adjustable to give us storage for laptops and library books, and they have a drawer to hold even more supplies.  We use the drawers to hold notebook paper and art supplies like colored pencils and markers.

Now you see them….

…Now you don’t!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A spare kitchen drawer

I had our serving pieces and knives for our silverware in the drawer closest to the table.  I found that without much trouble I could incorporate those into the other drawers in the kitchen and free this one.  I used the existing silverware organizer I had in there to separate our pens, highlighters, pencils, mechanical pencils, scissors, protractors, compass, and erasers.  The kids can reach this drawer while still sitting at the table so it’s super convenient.

silverware organizer for pen storage

Behind decorative items

I have this copper plate on a stand and a decorative box that I keep on the end of the counter by the table. It’s the perfect place to hide the ugly pencil sharpener and hole punch, and there’s an outlet back there too, so we can keep the sharpener plugged in.  It helps that they are black like the countertop, but even if they weren’t, you can’t see them hiding back there unless you go looking.

Don't see them?

Don’t see them?

Here they are!

Here they are!

In existing furniture

This lovely dresser has been in our kitchen for 10 years holding dish towels, aprons, and my collection of individual salt and pepper shakers.  It has 2 deep drawers in the bottom that were mostly a random collection of junk.  After cleaning and purging, I was able to clear out both drawers and put them to better use.  In the top one we keep our science experiment supplies (I love the ones from Nature’s Workshop that provide almost everything you need for Apologia’s Sciences.)  In the bottom drawer we keep our larger art supplies like construction paper, popsicle sticks, and felt.

Deep drawers work perfect for the science supplies.

Deep drawers work perfect for the science supplies.

 

What creative ways do you have to hide your homeschool things in plain sight?

SAT Test Prep The Easy Way

sat prep

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I took some great classes at our local homeschool convention. One of the most outstanding was a class on preparing for homeschooling high school and how to get scholarship money for college taught by Jean Burk from College Prep Genius.

Workbook and DVD from CollegePrepGenius

Workbook and DVD from CollegePrepGenius

Jean was a homeschool mom who decided to find out all she could on the SAT and PSAT tests to help her oldest get into college, and to attend for as little as possible. Her research resulted in a full ride to just about any college he wanted – in fact she said they threw away 7 garbage bags of acceptance letters! What Jean found was not that your child has to be a genius to get these high scores and awards, but that he or she needs to understand how the test is written.

Unlike the ACT, which is a content based exam, the SAT is a logic based test. This means that there is a way to think critically through the question asked and answers provided WITHOUT having to ‘know’ the math formulas or the vocabulary. I was skeptical at first, but Jean walked us through several examples in the lecture and I understood exactly what she was saying! In fact, later at her booth I was joking with her that I was relieved I no longer needed to teach my kids higher math. 🙂 (If only that was so!) What this means is that the kids can actually learn the test, and by doing so score much higher. Higher scores means more money for college. I like those words.

Collegeprepgenius.com has several products to help prepare your kids for the SAT. I purchased the ‘kit’ that includes a DVD with classes on it, a workbook that teaches the SAT and has sample questions, her book on high school preparation, and 6 fiction books that are full of vocabulary words often tested on the SAT. You can get these items individually as well. I just got them in the mail a couple of days ago, and after looking through everything I have been really impressed.

You may wonder why I am worrying about the SAT now when my oldest is only a rising 8th grader. First, I’m always looking ahead and I figured that the more practice the kids have with these tests, the better they will score. 9th grade is only a year away for us, so why not give her time to get a feel for the test before hand? Secondly, if you participate in Duke’s TIP program, they actually begin giving the kids the real SAT in 7th grade. My oldest will be doing that in December, so it makes sense to start preparing for it a little bit now.

There are lots of test prep classes and techniques out there. So far, I have been really impressed with everything I have seen from Jean Burk. The true test will be in our ultimate scores, but I know if nothing else going through this course will take away some of the test anxiety they might have otherwise felt. Plus, going through the DVD course and all the practice testing will give the kids a semester high school credit for test prep too.

Check out more test prep ideas on my Test Prep Pinterest Board.

Do any of you have experience with this course or another test prep?

*The SAT and PSAT are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board, and the products at CollegePrepGenius are copyrights of Maven of Memory Publishing.

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Homeschooling

Ten-Things-I-Wish-I-Knew

I first trifled with the idea of homeschooling when our oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten.  At the time, I really couldn’t see how I could do that and keep working, so I put it on the back burner.  Fast forward to the start of 3rd grade and due to a really bad teacher, it seemed like homeschooling was the only viable solution.  Even though I talked to as many people as I could and read all the how to books I could get my hands on, there were a number of things I know now that I wish I knew then.  For those of you who are getting started on this amazing journey of educating at home, I hope these will help and encourage you as you begin.

*Some of these links are affiliate links*

1. Once you find a book you like, stop looking at others. There is A LOT of great curriculum out there.  I was overwhelmed at the size of the Rainbow Resource catalog!  How do you possibly choose from all of that? My advice is to limit yourself to 3 books for each subject you want to teach, and then look through those to make a final decision.  Then STOP looking.  Otherwise you may find it hard to commit and get started for fear of  a better curriculum choice out there.

2. People will not understand your choice.  I live in a city that has one of the largest concentrations of homeschoolers in the country.  Of all places, you would think people here would understand homeschooling.  Not at all.  I get a lot of strange looks or condescending remarks whenever people find out why my kids are ‘not in school today.’  Like most everything else in motherhood, shrug it off and do what you know to be best.  YOU know YOUR child better than anyone, and as a result you know what is best for them.  If you have decided that homeschool is the best, then don’t worry what anyone else thinks.

3. Homeschooling can be lonely. As with anything in life, it can be hard to be the odd one out who isn’t doing what everyone else does.  If possible, find another homeschool family or two and do things together.  Read blogs of other homeschoolers.  Go to homeschool events at local museums.  You’ll soon realize that there are a lot of us out there!

4. Your school will be very different from everyone else’s.  I think when I got started I imagined that there would be lots of other homeschoolers doing things similar to us.  I was using the plan and most of the books laid out in The Well Trained Mind, and I figured I would find many others doing the same.  Well, what I found was that I was the only school who had these 2 students, so naturally I was the only one doing school in our particular way.  This is OKAY.  Find your confidence in what you’ve decided to do not in what everyone else seems to be doing.

5. The curriculum of today may not work next year.  I tried very hard to find a science and math curriculum that would carry us all the way through high school.  My thought was that it would be easier on them to know what to expect from their books from year to year.  That plan worked great for science, but not so much for math.  As we progressed in our studies, we found that what we liked in the early years was not working at all in the middle years.  Let it go.  Move on to what does work.  If the kids are constantly bored and confused as they do their studies, are they really learning anything?  Don’t be married to your curriculum.  It’s okay to change.

6. You probably won’t get through the whole book. I always feel this ridiculous pressure to finish every lesson in every book we have.  It took me a while to cut myself some slack.  First of all, I can’t remember a time when I was in school that we actually made it through a text book.  Secondly, most books are designed for 180 lessons.  If you take field trips or stop to do a project, you’re not going to have 180 days available to do each lesson.  It’s okay.  Next year, the first few weeks will cover anything that you didn’t get to.

7. Consider what mastery really means. When I first started I heard the term mastery and had this idea of it meaning ‘completion’.  For example, if we completed our 180 science lessons, then we mastered science this year.  What it really means is that you don’t move on to the next topic until you have fully and completely understood the one you are on.  This means that sometimes a spelling lesson can be done in a week, and other times it takes 3 weeks.  The calendar is not there to race against.  If you think that mastery is important, then understand that your lesson plans will have to be written in pencil.  Mastery is concerned with WHAT they learned, not how quickly they learned it.

8. ‘Mommy Guilt’ will still appear.  We women have a horrible habit of measuring ourselves against others.  When my kids were in public school, there was always some mom who had to tell everyone how her kid was smarter/faster/more accomplished than our kids.  There were also times when I felt guilty because we weren’t together all day like homeschoolers were.  Now that we homeschool, there are homeschool moms who like to tell everyone how their kid is smarter/more of a prodigy/fluent in Latin by age 5, etc.  And there are times when I feel guilty that my kids aren’t getting to experience certain things in school.  My encouragement is to: 1. stay away from ‘me monsters’ who have to brag all the time, and 2. concentrate on the great things you are experiencing with your kids.  Everyday is not rainbows and roses, but I wouldn’t trade anything for getting to watch my kids learn.

9. Homeschooling is harder than you think. I love to learn and I love to teach, and I really thought this homeschool thing would be pretty simple to get going.  For me, the academic side of it was for the most part.  I did not expect the emotional trials that homeschooling can bring.  It took a while for us all to understand our new roles as not just mother, daughter, son; but now teacher and student.  You never know how things will work out when you get started, but just be prepared to run into a few growing pains as you transition into homeschool.  The difficulties are REALLY worth it!

10. Be careful of trying to do this in your own strength.  My type A personality gets me into all kinds of trouble in this area.  I have a tendency to put my trust in all the planning and research I’ve done, and then I get upset when these plans are derailed.  God has shown me time and time again in this journey that I have to trust Him and not all my plans.  I pray James 1:5 over and over.  I realize that I only have this one shot with these kids, and the only thing that matters is that I teach them about Him.  They can always learn quadratic equations, but if they miss who He is and who they are created to be, it will all be for nothing.  Pray, pray, and pray some more.  He will guide you through.

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

How to create a webquest for homeschool

Webquest

 

I’m always looking for new and different ways to introduce subjects in our homeschool.  By keeping things fresh, I feel like the kids are more engaged.  Webquests are often used by teachers in traditional schools, and I think they are a fantastic tool for homeschoolers as well!

A webquest is a power point presentation that directs the students through a specific study using online sources.  The webquest includes links to the specific sites right in the document, so the student doesn’t have to spend time searching for the information.

There are 5 main parts to an ‘official’ webquest which you can choose to include: Introduction, Task, Process, Evaluation, and Conclusion.  EllenFinkelstein.com has a detailed article explaining each of these categories.  As you create each slide guiding the students through the lesson, you would include hyperlinks to the specific website you want them to read.  Be sure that when you create the hyperlink you are linking to the page or post in the site, not just the main URL.  The idea is to have them go immediately to the area you want them to read, not to get distracted by searching through the site.

Here is a quick example of a very basic webquest:

Webquest How To

The sky is the limit for ways you can use these in your homeschool!  Here are just a few:

  • Create a series of webquests for each component of a unit study
  • Create a few to keep for a day you’re not feeling good
  • Have your children create one to show what they’ve learned about a subject.
  • Create a webquest to have the children find the answer to a question they’ve asked you
  • Use it for your younger children as a way for them to study the same topic as your older children
  • Use it for your homeschool planning.  You can create a document that has all the links you need for future use in one place under the appropriate heading

Don’t be intimidated by the ‘real’ way to create a webquest.  Yours does not have to include all the parts if you don’t need them.  Rather, think of them as a fun way to present material to your kids that allows them some independence.  After they complete the webquest, discuss with them the quality of the sites you used.  Kids need to learn how to discern what is factual online versus opinion (or flat-out lie!), and you can point them to the type of things to look for when doing internet research.  (Maybe this would be a great topic for a future webquest!)

If you’d like more information on the reasoning behind and creation of webquests, Bernie Dodge has created a webquest on webquests for teachers.  What ways can you see using this great tool?

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

My new method for keeping homeschool grades

Last year I really felt like I wanted to keep a cumulative record of the grades my kids were earning on the subjects where we have tests. I know looking forward to high school we will have to start keeping a GPA, and I thought that it was time to start that process in a small way. Mainly the kids were earning grades on spelling tests, grammar quizzes, reading comp quizzes, and science tests.

I set up a spreadsheet for each child with these subjects down the rows. I printed out the blank sheet and filled it in as we went. What I found was that I was not so great at stopping to figure the overall grade each semester. By the end of the year I had abandoned it because it wasn’t doing what I wanted.

I was having coffee with one of my best friends the other night (who is a wealth of information and great ideas!) and she showed me a new app she had downloaded for her iPad. Called Homeschool Helper, this cute little app is a planner and record book all in one. You can enter field trips, lesson plans, grades, attendance and more – all for $5.

Main screen

Main screen

I was a little hesitant to try any online planner – I had a bad experience last year when I bought an online homeschool planner that never did deliver what it was supposed to. However, after clicking around on my friend’s app, I was hooked.

I am much happier using my own paper lesson plans, but I am using this app for my grades. In about 15 minutes I was able to add both kiddos and all the subjects that I will be tracking grades for. You can even weight the different items so that tests hold more weight than quizzes and so forth.

Student snapshot screen

Student snapshot screen

The app includes a great help section that is full of videos for all your FAQs. Best of all, as soon as I enter the grades, it instantly gives me their cumulative grade. I just love it when technology does the hard work for me!

Note: these images are screenshots from my personal Homeschool Helper app. All copyrights are theirs.

For those of you who keep track of grades, how do you do it?

This post is linked to The Ultimate Homeschool Link Up at The Homeschool Village.

Top 10 Tips for Working And Homeschooling

Top 10

There’s a growing trend in the homeschool world of parents who are homeschooling their kids while still working. It’s a very tricky balance, but one that has been well worth the effort for me and my family. For those of you who are thinking of taking that plunge, here are my top 10 tips for finding the balance of working and homeschooling.

1. Be creative with your work schedule. I run my own business, which for the most part allows me to set my schedule. I am home in the mornings and then I go into my office after lunch. If you work in a corporate setting, don’t be afraid to approach your boss about an alternative arrangement. Can you work from home in the mornings? Can you work an earlier shift so that you’re home in the early afternoon? Or maybe you go in later but your spouse comes home earlier? It never hurts to ask – most employers want to keep their good employees happy.

2. Buy a really good planner. Actually several, one for you and one for each of your kids. I write down my to do list as well as any ideas that pop into my head into my planner. This frees me up from the stress of trying to not to forget things, and keeps me organized. Write down the weekly assignments for your children in their planners so that they always know what they need to do, even if you aren’t there to tell them.

3. Have a designated spot in your home for all things homeschool. A cabinet, bookshelf, or bin on the floor where the kids can put their school books and binders is a must for keeping your sanity. Disorganization is a stressor that wastes precious time and can make homeschooling feel like a chore.

4. Look for curriculum that has lower teacher involvement. Many publishers today write their curriculum directly to the students. For example, our Apologia science books require very little interaction on my part as they are designed to be read and worked through by the kids. Especially in the beginning, these types of books will help make the transition easier for you. You can always add more teacher led projects once you settle in to your routine. (Here is more detail about which homeschool curriculum I use)

5. Look for ways to incorporate things the kids already like to do into your lesson plans. Sometimes my kids get bored when they finish their assignments early and I am not done with work. By having fun projects for them using the video games or legos they already like to play with, I can keep them learning and entertained at the same time. For example, if we are learning about Ancient Greece, they can build a temple out of legos – a fun project that eats up a lot of time.

6. Plan ahead. Most curriculum comes with a suggested lesson plan for the year, which can be a huge help. I used to plan out the week’s lessons on Sundays, but I found there were times when I didn’t have something on hand that we needed and we had to skip an experiment or activity because of that. I am spending the summer laying out our year, but even planning a month in advance can help you out. The more you have done ahead of time, the easier each day will be.

7. Understand that you can’t participate in everything. In my hometown, there are tons of co-ops, conventions, and classes for homeschoolers. Problem is, most of them require time commitments each week that I just can’t make with my work. IT’S OKAY. Just like your kids don’t need to be in every sport offered, they will still have a wonderful, fun, and enriching education experience even if you can’t be in the local homeschool group. For most of us who work, there will be sacrifices made to be able to homeschool. Whatever those are, the benefits outweigh the costs!

8. Seek encouragement. It’s lonely sometimes feeling like the only one who is trying to work and homeschool. Let me assure you that you are not the only one. There are lots of us out there who understand the unique challenges this brings. Every now and then stop and reflect on why you homeschool and the benefits you see. Encouragement is vital for any homeschool parent, and it really helps to remember why you are doing this when the going gets rough.

9. Take advantage of learning opportunities unique to your situation. In my ‘day job’ I work on building custom homes and remodeling, so when I can I bring the kids along. They love to see the ‘behind the scenes’ work of how things are built, and what it takes to run your own business. Are there ways to incorporate your job experience into your homeschool?

10. BE FLEXIBLE. This should probably be #1 on the list. Homeschooling requires flexibility anyway, but when you are trying to handle a career and all the surprise phone calls and meetings, you have to understand that your best laid plans are always subject to change. No public school teacher ever has everything go exactly the way they thought and you won’t either. It’s okay. Just go with it. Tomorrow is a new day!

If you’re interested in more in depth information on how to work while homeschooling, I have an ebook on the subject available here.

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings
This blog post is linked to Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

Special Field Trips: Homeschool Days

Homeschool-Days-discounts

For the couple of years my kids were in public school, they got to take some really neat field trips, and for some great prices. For example, there is an alligator farm near us that has regular admission at around $20, but on a field trip we only paid $7. I was bummed to not get the special school rates until I did a little digging around. Turns out, homeschoolers often get the same or better rates! All of the major theme parks have homeschool days that not only offer special discounts but also really great classes that give them behind the scenes education. Several museums near us allow homeschoolers to download education guides for their exhibits and get group rates with just a small group. I’ve listed some of the biggies below, but if you search on the websites of attractions near you, you might just find hidden deals that are not well advertised. I often find them on the education page.

Disney Homeschool Days: Disney offers classes before the park opens that discuss science, animation, and agriculture and how those who work at Disney use them. The price of the class includes admission to the parks.

Universal Studios: Universal requires a group of 15 to get the discount, but if you have a few families join in it’s a great discount.

Kennedy Space Center: The Space Center has a homeschool day in October that grants you behind the scenes tours and a meeting with an astronaut.

Busch Gardens: During September, Busch Gardens has a special discount for homeschoolers, and they have several educational programs all year.

The Biltmore Estate: One of my favorite places anywhere, the Biltmore has a homeschool festival in the fall that includes several activities on their farm as well as a tour of the fabulous mansion.

Fort Menendez St. Augustine: This very cool recreation of a Spanish settlement in St. Augustine is one of our favorite places to go. During January they do a homeschool event with even more crafts and experiences. We’ve made our own candles, spun twine for rope, and played a type of checkers that the Spanish settlers played in the 1600s.

LegoLand: LegoLand has an amazing offer for homeschoolers that allows you to come to the park for only $8 a student!

As I said, these are some of the biggies near us, but if you look around online you’ll find tons of resources and discounts that are available to us as homeschoolers.

Using Konos as a supplement

konos curriculum review

Konos is a wonderful unit study based curriculum. It comes is 3 HUGE volumes that are organized by character trait instead of traditional topics. For example, the lesson on human growth and development is under the Patience character section. These 3 volumes can be used as a total curriculum for history, science, writing, and geography, and are meant to be used across several grade levels. Each lesson comes complete with a suggested lesson plan, co-op ideas, book lists for reading and for research, and tons of activities to choose from.

I purchased the full 3 volume Konos set several years ago, and every activity we have done out of it the kids have loved. I am a firm believer in creating a ‘3D’ learning experience – where music, crafts, food, and participating in an activity combine to make the lesson come alive. The Konos activities are designed to do just that. When we studied genetics in science, one of the activities we chose was making a chart of all of our family member’s eye and hair color. Then we studied the results to identify the recessive and dominant genes that each person must have. It really helped the kids to understand them better, and they still will bring up dominant and recessive genes a year later.

I do not use Konos as prescribed, however, going through a character trait at a time and using it as our core curriculum. Instead, I like to use it as a supplement to our regularly scheduled learning. One thing I have found with Konos (any way you use it) is that it takes a bit of planning on my part in order for it to be successful. There are no texts, just activities, so I have to make a trip to the library in advance to make sure we have books that discuss the topic. I also have to narrow down the myriad of activities to the ones I want them to do, and then make sure I have any supplies needed on hand. This isn’t particularly time consuming, but it definitely requires forethought. Very rarely have I been able to just open up the binder and work on an activity.

We used their election book during the last presidential election, and it was one of my favorite things we have ever done. I highly recommend it for really helping kids understand our election process at all levels.  It’s especially great to do anytime a current election is going on so that you can visit the candidate headquarters and get the full experience.

They sell an index that lists the major topics and people covered in the three volumes and tells you where to find them. After I finish the lesson plans on my planning worksheet, I take the topics section and look for any that are listed in the Konos index. I have another sheet where I am listing these topics and where they are in the volumes. Once I have this list from the index I look at the individual lessons and decide which activities I want to do. I will then go back to my lesson plan worksheet and and the Konos activity to it. I am also making a separate log of any specific books and supplies I will need so that I can get them ahead of time.

These types of lessons get to the heart of how I want to educate my kids, and I love how engaged they are with each one. Even though I am not using it as our core, we have found great benefit using it as a supplement!