Inside the Mommyvan

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


While the kids finish up their last few weeks of summer camp (art camp x 2 weeks, then done!), I have been busy planning our coming school year. I’m also gradually easing us (yes, all of us) back into school mode with a few short review assignments each day.

Now that I have some idea of what I’m doing, with a whole year (full-time) of this under my belt, I have set a few goals for the year. One of my goals is to streamline — not necessarily minimize, but efficientize — the set of curriculum materials we are using at any one time. Here is what I ended up with for our first two weeks: pages chopped out of workbooks, online learning, looseleaf pages removed from their binders for the week, digital copies of teacher guides, and leaving the extras and supplemental materials on the shelf unless and until I need that particular resource.

This level of streamlining does call for some compromises, and one of them is financial. As much as I love my Kindle, I cannot skim, survey, or plan without a physical, dead-tree book in my hands. Once I’ve got the idea into my head, though, 95% or more of that book is dead weight in any given week. So, for certain resources, I buy both the paper and electronic versions. The cost isn’t quite double, but the savings in my aching back are substantial.

What I’ve ended up with is a small stack of books and papers, plus my trusty Kindle and iPad, all of which fits in this old swag bag from an HP Tech conference (I’d tell you more about that, but you know what they say about Vegas…)

What we’re doing this year, or what I have planned, anyway:
ETC,, AAS, HWT, Wordly Wise 3000, WWE, FLL, SM,,, BrainPop Jr. BFSU, Growing Up WILD!, FIAR, ToG, SOTW, SongSchool Latin, Atelier, My First Piano Adventure… and some other stuff

Note that not all of these will be used every week, nor do I expect to complete them all during the year! I like to have options to move between depending on what’s working at the moment.

To decipher the alphabet soup:
ETC = Explode the Code (phonics) = online reading program
AAS = All About Spelling
HWT = Handwriting Without Tears
Wordly Wise 3000 = online vocabulary program
WWE = Writing With Ease (language arts: exposure to high quality writing w/copywork & narration)
SM = Singapore Math = online math program (with adaptive learning, very cool!) = online math program (drills)
BrainPop Jr. = online videos w/games & quizzes on many topics (multi-subject)
BFSU = Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding
Growing Up WILD! = nature-oriented unit studies (multi-subject)
FIAR = Five In A Row (unit studies based on classic children’s books, multi-subject)
ToG = Tapestry of Grace (history, geography + some language arts, and other subjects related to the period being studied)
SOTW = Story of the World (history text and activity books)
SongSchool Latin = introduction to Latin for young children w/music & video
Atelier = art technique, history, & appreciation for young students
My First Piano Adventure = piano & music theory for young musicians

I have a pile of other materials and supplements, as well as outside activities we’ll be involved in, but this list makes up the core of our planned curriculum for the year.

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?

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.

We didn’t “finish” this week’s plan, so we wil continue it next week. Since we’re doing school year-round and often on weekends, I expect this to happen from time to time as we travel and take time off here and there for purely fun stuff.

Our week began with arts & crafts on Sunday, tie-dye shirts. Each of us made several shirts, in different patterns. I think the kids’ shirts actually turned out better than mine, here’s to not yet knowing they’re supposed ot be afraid of messing up and just going with their heart! We also worked on a new song that we may sing in our church talent show… Big maybe.

In language arts, we added verbs to our word bank cards and made some very silly sentences with subjects, verbs, and objects. We covered a few more I Can Read It! stories, worked on short-u words for phonics, learned about series commas, and did some handwriting and copywork.

We began The House at Pooh Corner as our new read-aloud. I have the book, but decided to try the audiobook version instead of reading this one myself. This one is dramatised (the version is, the CD doesn’t specify), so It’s a lot of fun! I can choose whether to listen with the kids, or use the time to organize our next lesson (if I do this, I keep one ear on the story, or skim the chapter for our discussion afterwards). Speaking of, I joined up figuring I’ll get my money’s worth in read-alouds over the next few years anyway. I love the fact that I can use the Audible app on my phone and plug into the car stereo! We continue to work our way through The Llama Who Had No Pajama and The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose at bedtime.

Math this week got into adding by ‘counting on’ and then beginning subtraction. We did a lot with Cuisenaire rods to cntinue memorizing addition facts / number bonds up to 10.

For science we read about grasslands and rainforests, and watched several of our new Magic School Bus DVDs about rainforests and subjects we’d touched on in previous weeks: desert animals, volcanos, air pressure, and weather.

History will have to wait until next week (we have enough to do that I’m calling it week “6a”), but we did do some map work in preparing for our trip to Disney World on Friday.

The new P.E. DVDs we got are good for indoor days. P.E. At Home is structured like a typical grade school gym class from my childhood, with running around cones (or around pillows on the floor), jumping jacks, skipping, and so on. Fit Factor Kids is lighter in tone, but just as active. It has several themed sections, our fave being the one that makes exercise of animal imitations.

The highlight of our week was a meetup on Friday afternoon with our ‘Duffy & Friends Adventure Club’ — a subset of the ‘Disneyschooling’ group we belong to that is mostly the younger kids. We went on some rides and maybe even learned a thing or two (I was thrilled that when we saw the hippos on the Jungle Cruise, my kids remembered where the name came from – water horses! – from last week’s history lesson on Mesopotamia – the land between the waters / rivers). We also had a great time earlier in the week at a beach party with one of our co-op groups. Lots of new friends this week!

A complete(-ish) list of our curriculum materials can be found here: if you want to see what we’re using for each subject.

Time to get the weekly wrap-ups going. This was a good week; it seems like we’re hitting our stride now that we’ve been doing this full-time and consistently for a few weeks now.

In our morning circle time, which was almost always in the morning :-), we continued our general calendar learning, and added some time and clock topics: hours and ‘half past’, noon & midnight, AM & PM. We’re using the fun Tell the Time! book for this. We continued memorizing our address and phone number, and everyone took a turn at show & share.

For Language Arts (reading, writing, phonics, ghrammar, literature, etc.) We made more progress in our I Can Read It! book (vol. 1, from SonLight), both reading alone and in a group (taking turns, a sentence or two at a time). We read ten pages in all, which had one stand-alone story and two story arcs. I explained the use of apostrophe s to indicate posession in these stories and we discussed the content of the stories. We finished up the short i sound in our phonics work (Explode the Code 1), practiced printing a few more uppercase letters on Handwriting Without Tears worksheets, did a short copywork passage, and traced & copied our sight words.

Our read-aloud this week was The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. This was a fairly short book, so we were able to finish it all in one week. We spent some time discussing kids teasing each other, and also made note of the abstract nature of the illustrations. We read several more poems from The Llama Who Had No Pajama and The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose at bedtime.

In math, we started the week with numnber bonds, using manipulatives and Singapore Math worksheets. This is a new concept for me, but I can see its utility in helping students to visualize and memorize the numerical associations that will later be useful for both addition and subtraction.

We quickly moved on to simple, single-digit addition. Our biggest challenge was not with ability, but with motivation. The kids spent a lot of sime sitting and doing nothing (not really nothing, but whining, making excuses, getting drinks of water, and so on), but when they finally got going the work went quickly. We are using Essential Math Kindergarten from Singapore Math, and we’re just into the ‘B’ book. I particularly like the fact that this workbook includes both straight addition problems and what I call ‘baby algebra’, or problems where one poerand and the result is given, and the students have to find the second operand.

Science followed the SonLight schedule for week 5. We learned about plants & water, rivers, mountains, deserts (all from our Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia, which I love for its illustrations), and continued our weekly Frogs & Tadpoles reading. We experimented with stalks of celery ‘drinking’ colored water, made a jar garden thagt doesn’t need watering, and planted cactus in a decorative dish garden to put outside in our courtyard.

History and geography are following, more or less, the Tapestry of Grace year 1 schedule. This week we learned about Mesopotamia, Sumer, King Sargon, and the geography around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with some reading from Story of the World and other sources. In circle time, I continue to emphasize the difference between city, state, and country.

We did not do much in art & music this week. Some playing around on the piano, and a little discussion of the illustrations in our read-aloud book, The Hundred Dresses. We also learned the song, Take Me Out to the Ballgame and sang it each day in morning circle.

PE was the usual: playground, swimming, and our weekly gymnastic lesson. I have just received two PE/exercise DVDs I hope to use on rainy days, I will report on them next week.