Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks


Amidst all of the adorable back to school pictures our friends posted on various social media, these were ours:

11953314_10153545551544727_8293208923135990811_oYep, THIRD graders! (Who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since preschool)
These are the days I need to remember when the going gets tough!

The latest addition to our point system is a new set of prizes, and they’ve been a huge hit!

In the clearance bin at a local craft store, I found some packages of reward cards made for this purpose, with a blank to write in the prize and scratch-off stickers to place on top. The hidden rewards include choosing dinner, staying up 30 minutes late, picking a show to watch on the big TV in the living room, and baking something with Mom.


You can find tutorials online, like this one at The Dainty Squid, to make your own; you’ll need acrylic paint, liquid dish soap, and clear packing tape. I’ve heard of people using a heavy coat of crayon over the tape as well.

Simpler is to buy online: has a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. I am using a couple of different 2″ x 1″ rectangular stickers (links below) and, although they are smaller than the ones in the kits, they are easier to scratch off and come off much more cleanly.


With some index cards (or cardstock) and my own fun stickers, I now have a nearly endless supply of surprise prizes. The kids are as excited about the mystery as the reward itself!

Now that we have emerged from the post-winter-break chaos, I’ve discovered a few key elements that have been making our days move along smoothly, much more so than before.

  1. Get an early start:
    We wake up (sometimes slowly), we eat breakfast, we do chores, and we start schoolwork. Play time comes a little later, electronics come much later, at the end of the day.
  2. Daily and weekly, not hourly schedules:
    Because there’s so much variation in how long one or all of my kids will take to complete a particular lesson, trying to stick to a time-based schedule resulted in stress and frustration all around. Setting goals for the day and simply working through them one by one allows us to take more time where necessary. A bonus when we sail through things quickly is that there’s a chunk of free time at the end of the day instead of having it all in bits and pieces through the day. We do have break times, but the quick days give us enough time in the afternoon to go do something.
  3. Whiteboard it:
    Like most homeschoolers, I have tried a variety of lesson planning tools. My favorite so far is a small whiteboard. I list the next lesson in each subject area or curriculum, so I can see at a glance what materials I need to prep next. Some things on the whiteboard will be for today; others for later in the week (or even into the next week), but it gives me a good idea of where we stand and options for our next steps. Changing plans is a snap, whether moving forward or shifting gears, just erase & re-write.


    I keep a weekly planning sheet on paper as well, and usually get the next whiteboard entries from that (where they’re not obvious from chapter or page numbers), but the paper planner is more for getting the week thought out in my head than a checklist of what must get done. The whiteboard is what I follow day by day. I also mark lessons as we complete them. It gives my students a nice way to see what they’ve accomplished during the day, and I can take a snapshot in the evening for an extra record of our current status (my formal log, required by our state, is a subject for another post).

  4. Rest time:
    I read a forum post and watched a youtube video which both mentioned daily “rest time” or “quiet time” and I had an epiphany. I’d previously thought that since naps were long gone in this house, the chance of getting them back into their rooms mid-day was somewhere between slim and none. At the same time, the kids were becoming more and more rowdy regardless of how much outdoor and physical play time they had. It almost seemed as though more outdoor time was exacerbating the problem. On top of that, I didn’t get a break when I could just stop and gather my thoughts, so I was frazzled as well.

    I shifted gears and tried an hour or so of quiet time after lunch, and it was like magic! That afternoon’s lessons were calm, relaxed, and completed with minimal whiing and complaining. Rest time has become an integral part of nearly every day, generally immediately after lunch, and it’s made an enormous difference in attitudes and quality of work throughout the day.

  5. Go with the flow:
    Regardless of what’s on the whiteboard or the weekly planning sheet, I try to stay in tune with what my crew is struggling with and what they’re breezing through, and I adjust our lessons accordingly. If math is popular today, I’ll toss some extra at them; if they are overwhelmed by the next piece of reading, we’ll rewind a few steps and work our way back up to the troublesome lesson. Sometimes we’re just not into spelling or grammar or whatever, and I can pick the next cool science lesson off the board instead. If we sail through lessons in the morning, we might take off in the afternoon for some fun surprise adventure.

    Some days I’ll have one kid smash through everything in record time while another is taking alllll mooorrrrrniiiinnng to get a simple worksheet done. This is where flexibility really comes into play. I have to be ready to keep the quick worker busy without penalizing him or her for finishing first, but I also have to be ready to sit at pokey’s elbow without rewarding the dawdling with extra attention from Mom. It’s a constant balancing act, and second only to not being able to adequately teach or explain a concept in frustration for me.

And that’s what’s working for us right now.

It’s been a while since my last post. Life has happened. Travel, the death of my father, illness, holidays, houseguests, and then the days and weeks of clawing our way back into a routine after an interruption of our usual schedule… only to have it disrupted again and find ourselves back at square one.

As much as I enjoy it, blogging took a back seat to the most basic daily necessities. Trying to force it, or any of the other resolutions that passed through my head at the turn of the year, into a life in turmoil wasn’t going to do anything but bring me added stress and disappointment. So I passed on that. My goals, my hopes, even my dreams haven’t undergone any radical changes from December through January. I just want to get back to business as usual.

We’re finding our groove again now, enough that I’m even taking on a new extra-curricular activity or two myself. The apple cart may get upset again tomorrow, but for the moment things are good.


This is a flower I spotted on the ground as I was walking through the woods over the weekend. I saw one, then a couple more, then dozens along the trail. It gave me hope, these bright blooms scattered about atop the dead, brown winter leaves carpeting the path. It was a powerful reminder and a great help to me at that moment, but that’s a post for another day, I hope one day very soon.

The Holiday Season is now in full swing. It feels like it’s been going for a few weeks already… and maybe it has (if you, like me, end up running Thanksgiving and Christmas together into one big ball of activity and stress). I have trouble saying “no” to anything that might give my family a fun, memorable experience. Add that to the things I enjoy doing for (and sometimes by) myself, and the calender ends up stuffed like the Thanksgiving turkey.

I can handle that for a few weeks out of the year. The fun and excitement surrounding this time of year make the busy-ness a happy thing, and most of the activities are well worth the effort they require — seeing old friends, making music to celebrate the coming of Christmas, shopping for gifts, and enjoying the kids’ excitement and anticipation.

The other day, though, I realized that I had a bigger problem during the rest of the year, in the regular times. The hours blocked off on our calendar for scheduled activities left little room for the freedom and spontaneity that was one of the main reasons behind our decision to homeschool in the first place. On top of that, the varying 20121206-090655.jpgtimes and places meant that I couldn’t even put together a daily home routine that fit in between all of the outside stuff. At the end of it all, I would up exhausted, hitting the sack so soon after the kids’ bedtime that I had little time for my own thoughts, planning the following day, or enjoying time alone with my husband.

When I stopped to think about it, I became aware that most of these commitments were made out of fear — my fear that I would fall short in some area and leave my kids wanting. The academic tutor, 4-H club, six classes at two different co-ops, music lessons, gymnastics, church children’s program, Sunday school… (is that all?) These were not things my children asked for, but things I put in front of them out of my own fear that they wouldn’t have enough. Enough what, I’m not sure… enough socialization (that’s the first word I hear as people learn we’re homeschooling, is it any wonder I’m worried?), enough reading, enough play, enough art, enough science, enough friends, enough everything. Add in my own activities (drastically reduced though they are from a year or two ago) each week, and when those fun play dates or travel opportunities pop up I find myself stuck between declining and picking which of our activities to miss that week. The decision alone is unpleasant; the second-guessing that comes after makes me crazy.

Fortunately, most of our activities follow the school schedule and take a break for Christmas time. When they start back up again in the new year, some of them are going to start up again without us. We’re going to spend less time chasing experiences all over town and more time making our own right here at home. There will be less guilt over missing a scheduled whatever, and more time to spend with our friends. Less rushing to the destination and more enjoying the journey. That’s why we’re doing this, after all, isn’t it?

About a month ago, while at one of our co-op days, I went to put some things back in the car while the kids played outside the lunch room. I was rushing to get back in case there was a problem; we were new to the co-op and I hadn’t yet met many people.

My left foot caught on something, I’m still not sure what. It wasn’t just a little stumble, I was going down. It happened very quickly, but I remember thinking I didn’t want to stick an arm out and break that (right, Sis? :)), and also trying to twist around so that my more padded parts could cushion the fall instead of landing on my face. I picked myself and my things back up, glad at least that no one had seen me sprawled out on the pavement. My ankle and knee hurt pretty badly, but I could still walk. I got some rest that afternoon and put some ice on my boo-boos, but life goes on, right? At a previously scheduled 20121004-061052.jpgvisit the following day, my doc took some x-rays and saw no major problems, so I went on wrapping up the knee and ankle and trying to take it easy when they felt especially bad. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), so I’m used to getting on with life even if my joints ache.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my knee and ankle were still painful. My doc was concerned and sent me for an MRI. Yesterday she discussed the report with me. The good news is that I didn’t tear any ligaments, though my knee is still ‘bruised’ inside. The ankle had a more serious problem, for which she immediately sent me off to a podiatrist. The result of that is what you see here. It turns out that in falling, I’d twisted my ankle just so, and it fractured a tiny piece of bone at the back of my foot, which was surrounded by a lot of inflammation. Even that little tiny crack in that little tiny bone needs to be immobilized in order to heal — this explains why, a month later, it wasn’t feeling much better. On went a light plaster wrap and elastic bandage (with strict instructions to keep it dry) followed by this lovely ‘walking boot’.

Fortunately I can still drive, and I am allowed to put my full weight on the foot, as long as I’m wearing the boot. Having the ankle immobilized has reduced the pain substantially. Walking with it, though, is taking some getting used to. I’m much more steady with a cane or crutches, especially with my knee still hurting, and I am supposed to rest and ice it as often as possible. I go back next week to see how things are progressing and (I hope) change out the inner wrap.

Now I need to figure out how to change our routine to accomodate this unexpected development. I was feeling pretty down about that last night, as many days were a struggle already. I know that I will need to allow more time for most anything I have to do, from getting dressed to grocery shopping, and I will have to find a way to motivate my little darlings to do more of the little things for themselves that I usually do without much thought. If I handle this well, though, we could end up making some positive changes that will help everything go more smoothly once I’m back on my feet!

If you ask a dozen homeschoolers, you’ll get a dozen different ways to plan your homeschool days. Some purchase a boxed curriculum that includes everything down to a day-by-day schedule of educational activities. Others have no plan at all and follow their children’s interests, finding teaching opportunities in daily activities, chores, and play. I, like most, am somewhere between the two. Here’s how I do it.

One of my curriculum sources is a boxed, scheduled package, and another provides a less-detailed weekly schedule. I use only pieces from each of those, so I need to do my own scheduling for the rest. And I do plan my weeks in advance, as I find that my days flow much more smoothly when I can grab the next piece of schoolwork without thinking too much about it. 20121001-120923.jpgNow, that doesn’t mean we stick to a rigid schedule, despite the fact that my week plans have a column for each day of the week. I still work around out-of-the-house activities and go with strong interests that aren’t in the lesson plan. Most of the time, I’m happy if we complete most or all of what I have written down for the week by the end of the week. Sometimes we play catch-up the following week, and in extreme cases such as our recent back-to-back travels, I will stretch one week’s plan over several week’s time. Now that we’re home and back into our usual routine, though, I will do my best to keep us on track.

After looking at a number of planning forms in books and online, I came up with my own, a combination that matches my way of thinking. It’s a simple chart, with subject areas down the side, days of the week across the top, and a space for the week number (to line up with the curriculum schedules I use) and dates. I recently added a column at the front for weekly goals, because too often I found myself wanting a place to put things that weren’t one particular day’s work, but largerconcepts or topics that we would deal with throughout the week. I also have lines at the bottom of the page to list spelling and vocabulary words. Of course, these are few and simple right now; I imagine these (and possibly other subjects) will leave the schedule page and have their own sheets as we progress into higher grades.

Weekly lesson planning chart

I fill in scheduled activities like lessons and co-ops first, then write down my goals for the week in the first box for each subject. These usually include weekly goals from both my boxed curricula and other workbooks — in their teacher’s guide, online, or sometimes even in the workbook itself you can find suggested daily or weekly scheduling suggestions. I look over the daily lesson plans where they’re available and fill them in (sometimes with my own modifications), then fill in the blanks with whatever is left to do. Giving some thought to those weekly goals first makes the process easier, as I just have to look at the time that’s not already claimed and spread portions of those goals into the empty space.

Once I’ve done that, I have only to glance at the schedule sheet to see if there’s a subject area that needs catching-up, and what lesson comes next. I keep track of what we’ve completed by checking off the item on the planning sheet, so that when I’m looking for what to do next I can skip over the items already checked off. For more permanent recordkeeping I keep notes in my little pocket notebook then transfer them to the spreadsheet I use for our activity log… but that is another whole blog post.

Lots of parents use point charts to motivate our kids, whether it’s stickers for potty training or chore checklists for older ones.


Our system has two parts, one is “B. Bucks” represented by poker chips. I found some nice clay chips with dollar denominations on them that don’t have ‘Las Vegas’ or a casino name, in $1 (grey), $5 (red), and $10 (blue) denominations. The kids can spend these on anything from a juice box or extra dessert to a day at Disney World. The second part is “points”, which they earn for schoolwork and many types of small achievements, and each time they reach five points they get a B. Buck. Points are awarded for doing schoolwork, chores, and surprise bonuses when they do something nice for each other or around the house. Major accomplishments, or areas we are working especially hard on (lately it’s been staying in their bedroom all night) can earn a whole B. Buck.

I started out keeping track of points with tally marks on our fridge whiteboard, but it was difficult for my little ones, at age 4 & 5, to see at a glance how many points they had and how far they had to go to earn a B. Buck. 20120814-104337.jpg While browsing the school supply store, I ran across these little achievement charts, complete with stickers.

I wanted something a little bit simpler and re-usable, so I put stickers on the charts every five spaces and then laminated each one. I can now use a dry-erase marker to check off spaces as they earn points. When they land on a sticker, they get a B. Buck. At the end of the course, they get a small bonus, like some new stickers for their desks, and we erase and start again.

The kids love these charts, they can easily see how far they have to go and they’re fun to look at besides!