Monday, September 15, 2014

Weekly Homeschool Checklists

This year, like last year, I have been spending some time on Sunday afternoons making up weekly homeschool checklists for each child. This only takes me about 30 minutes total, except for the very first checklists of the new year. Those take longer because I need to set up a new sheet and figure out how often to do each subject. But once that first list is created, I can use it as a template for future weeks just by plugging in new page numbers and book titles as needed.

This is the process I use to make our homeschool weekly checklists.

1. I open up an Excel spreadsheet.  I use the "insert sheet function" to make four tabs, one for each child. I put each child's  name on the top of their sheet and then list the headings "Day 1" through "Day 5" down the left-hand column, leaving several rows between each day for the assignments I will plug in.

2. For each day, I use two columns of the spreadsheet. The left-hand column is for independent work and the right-hand column is titled "With Mom". Please excuse that these photos didn't come out all that great!

3.  I enter assignments in the independent column for each day.   This is work the kids can do on their own, while I am working with someone else. Each daily independent section is divided into "Sonlight/Bookshark Work" and "Other Work". This just makes it easier for me to set up the list, plus they can see all of their readings at a glance.  I copy the reading assignments for the day straight from my Sonlight schedule. This way the kids don't always have to be checking my binder for their assignments. For curriculum that I want to finish in a year (like math and grammar), I put lesson numbers on the weekly checklists.  I will do a separate post on this, but for now I will just say that I made up a 36-week schedule of these subjects for each child and I just plug in the lessons we need to cover each week in order to stay on track to finish. I do not do this for every subject! Things like spelling, handwriting, current events, and typing are just listed on the weekly checklist and we "do the next thing".

4. I enter assignments in the  "With Mom" column for each day. Over here, I put things like read-alouds, our writing program, math.... whatever subjects that particular child needs me to do with them. I  list specific lesson numbers as needed so I don't have to flip through the book every day trying to remember where we stopped.

 Each child's weekly list usually takes up two pages, except for my youngest. All of her weekly work fits on just one page.

5. I add some color, to make the list look more exciting! I like to make the left column red and the right column blue.  My kids seem to really enjoy box checking, so I provide boxes for that. 

Once the checklists are ready, I attach each one to a clipboard. Then we are ready for the week!  I generally cycle through the kids each morning, spending about an hour with each before moving onto the next. I can usually at least touch base with all of them before lunch. After lunch, I bounce around helping them finish up. When it is their turn with me, we work on the items in the "with mom" column. While I am working with someone else, they work through the independent column of their list.  Anyone who finishes their independent work works on their chores, takes a shower, packs up for whatever activities we are running to that day, and then has free time while they wait for me.

We do try to finish the weekly lists each week, even if that means cutting things out. I just try not to cut out the same things each week. So one week Christopher may only hit typing once, but the next week he might not do as much spelling. It all balances out in the end. If we did not get to a specific scheduled lesson like math, grammar, or a reading assignment, we just do it first thing the next week. 

I hope this is somewhat clearer than mud!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our Extracurricular Routine, This Year

Last year, around this time, I wrote a post about limiting extracurriculars. Last year, I think we did a great job at doing just that. We were home pretty much every night for dinner. Everyone was in one activity that met once a week and then some of the kids did swimming and/or rock climbing with their Dad every week. I think it is so important to have a lot of flex time and lots of margin and empty space on the calendar. I know it is crucial to my well-being. If there is too much stuff going on- too many things written on the calendar, too much coming and going, I start to feel seriously stressed. Like Mama in The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure.

I love that book. I don't love the stress that comes with doing too much, though.

I get stressed because we don't have as much time to do our lessons.
I feel badly about not being able to cook a decent dinner. I get sick of sandwiches!
I feel terrible when I have to interrupt a child who is happily playing "because it's time to go to practice."
I get tired of always having to plan the day around what time we have to leave.
I start watching the forecast, hoping for rain, because some of the activities are weather-dependent. Then I feel guilty for doing that!
And I get stressed about just how much all of it is costing!

 This week, I do not feel like I am doing such a great job at limiting the out-of the-house stuff, so I am struggling a bit to adjust. I am a pretty introverted person. I do enjoy watching the kids develop interests, and I love to watch their activities, but lately I find myself wishing I could just stay home more! The kids aren't really doing anything new this year, but Grace is going to be at the horse farm twice a week instead of just once. The gymnastics team meets two evenings a week and it totally takes over dinner time, plus it's 25 minutes of driving each way. Actually, pretty much everything we do is 20-25 minutes of driving each way. Rose really wanted to continue swimming lessons, but the only time I could fit it is Saturday morning.  Christopher's practice takes over another dinner time. I think those things, plus the fact that dh's work hours are less flexible this year have me feeling the crunch more than usual.

But some of this activity is seasonal and this fall is going to be busier than this winter will be, at least I hope! So I am trying to treat right now as "a season", which really, it is. I enjoy reading about others' routines, if nothing else because oftentimes their lives are crazier than mine and it helps me get perspective. After all, we could certainly be even busier than we are now.

So for the record, here is our fall routine....

Monday - We stay home all day! I am trying to keep appointments off this day and am resisting signing up for anything taking place on a Monday.  I love starting the week with a day at home, we get a ton done on Mondays and can actually eat at a normal hour.

Tuesday - We visit the library, then the older kids go to the gym with Dad and Rose has practice. Everyone gets home late and we eat together late.This is a crockpot night.

Wednesday - Grace is at the farm and Christopher has practice. While waiting for Grace, the other kids and I head to the park. While waiting for Christopher, Dad collects the other kids and brings them home. I stay and watch, go for a walk, and run errands. Christopher and I bring along sandwiches, everyone else eats at home.

Thursday - Rose has practice. Grace cooks on Thursdays and people eat in shifts, basically.

Friday - Kind of a wildcard day, but we usually only homeschool in the mornings. Afternoons we usually have park day or a field trip.  This is our pizza night and we are usually back early enough to make it ourselves.

Saturday - Grace heads to the farm again and Rose has swimming. Both are thankfully in the morning, leaving the afternoon free.

Sunday - There is nowhere we have to be, though we will often do some sort of outing.

When I write it out, it doesn't look too bad. I think a lot of my stress is coming from not leaving enough space around activities (that margin again). Homeschooling is taking us until 2:30 or 3:00 most days and it feels like a lot to have to pack up and run right out, only to get back late.  I am not sure how I can fix that, other than cutting our lesson time shorter. Basically, I have no answers for how to make this "season of driving" easier on everyone, but I am trying to figure it out!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Musings

Plans for the week ahead

It is our second full week of the kids' new extracurricular schedule. Last week pretty well exhausted me, so I am hoping that this week will be better! It was a tough transition going from a few weeks with pretty much nowhere we had to be.... to the new fall routine where most days there is at least one place we are supposed to be (and often, two or three). This week we add our homeschool group meeting back into the schedule, plus the older kids' monthly book club begins again.

Thinking about

Margin. And how to get more of it in our daily life.

Homeschool notes

James and I start Bookshark's American History Part 1 this week! I spent time over the weekend setting up a shelf with all of the new books we are going to read, and I am feeling pretty excited about it.  He will also begin Sonlight Science D, which I have on hand from his older siblings.

Out of doors

Finally, finally, it has cooled down just enough to be still summery but not stifling. The evenings are nice and cool for sleeping....I wish I could bottle this weather. This week we will be doing as much of our reading outside as possible and seizing any opportunity we can to use the pool. 

In the kitchen

Lots of tomatoes, at last. I am so glad. We are eating tomatoes with every meal, mostly just sliced up and drizzled with a little olive oil, then sprinkled with salt and pepper. The garden gate now has a latch after a  chicken busted in and discovered the tomatoes. Naturally she had to go right for the biggest one. Grrr. We are still eating lots of cucumbers and chard from the garden as well, but most other things are winding down. 

Watching & reading

We started a new season of Once Upon a Time. I have gone back and forth about whether I actually like this show or find it kind of silly, but I keep watching, so I must like it. It is definitely a nice escape after a tiring day.   We also watched 12 Years a Slave (without the kids, obviously). It was beautifully done and certainly deserved the award it got, but it is one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen. Definitely a must-see, though.

A photo from last week....

Dear husband turned 40! He says it doesn't bother him at all. I think it bothers me more and I still have two birthdays to go. Time is moving at warp speed all of a sudden. I have always heard that the older your kids get the faster time goes. I am not sure why that is, but it definitely feels true lately. Perhaps it is just because you are so busy all the time!

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Clipboards for Homeschooling

This year, like last year, I have been making each child a weekly list of things to accomplish for homeschool. I list their readings, science experiments, math lesson numbers, and anything else they can do on their own.  This worked beautfully last year, though it took a lot of work in the beginning to get them used to the idea that if I am busy with someone else they should refer to their list, instead of standing around and staring at me! This year, I also added a second column, a "things to do with Mom" column.  I tend to rotate through the kids, spending an hour or so working one-on-one with each child per day.  Having my list helps me keep on track, plus I don't have to spend time figuring out what I need to do. Also, I get a little charge from checking things off!

 One problem I had last year was that some of my children were constantly losing their weekly lists...funny how that happens! Said child(ren) would claim that they had just set the list down on the counter a moment ago and but that it had apparently disappeared into thin air. So naturally, they had no clue what they were supposed to be doing and instead could stand around staring at me.


 I would find those lists later... fallen behind the couch cushions, trapped behind the desk, or in the recycling bin (!), or sometimes I just wouldn't find them at all (mysterious, that...). Anyway, this year I had a light bulb moment and decided to attach the weekly lists to clipboards.

This is working out great! The kids can bring their list to wherever they want to work and I can clip other things (math sheets, lab forms, writing pages) behind the list. When it is their turn to work with me they bring along their clipboard and I can see at a glance what needs to be done.  Best of all, we are three weeks in and I have not had one single complaint about a lost checklist!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bookshark's Timeline Book: A Review

Rose added her first sticker to her new Timeline Book this week, after we read about the Vikings in Living Long Ago (click here for a little review of that book).   My older three all have the Timeline Book from Sonlight, while Rose has the one from Bookshark, but all of the books are identical.  Both programs use the same Timeline Book for several years, so this is a one-time investment per child. With my first three, I put off buying the Timeline Book for a couple of years to save money, but I am sorry that I did. I wish they had had their books right from the beginning. So this time around, I made sure that Rose had one right away.

 Here is her Timeline Book...

 The book has a nice, heavy, spiral binding so that it will open flat. The front and back covers are laminated. My older two have had their books for two years and they still look brand new, despite being hauled out once or twice a week to work on them. I am very happy with the way these are holding up. The spiral binding has not started to pull out at all, which we have had happen to many of our other books.

 Inside, the book is divided into two sections: "B.C." and "A.D.". The "B.C." pages are shaded in a darker color, which makes it easy to flip to the right section.

The date range is listed in the top corner of each page and then the rest of the page is blank, except for the timeline!

I really love the stickers that go along with each Bookshark/Sonlight level. They are black and white, so kids can color them if they like.  The stickers are all together on one sheet, you just find the one you need, color, and cut it out.....

 Rose was very happy to color her sticker and place it in the right spot.

The sticker sheets can fit into a pocket at the back of the Timeline Book for handy keeping.

This first level does not have as many timeline stickers as the later levels do, but I love that kids can start their books at age five or six and still be adding to it six years later. It is a very worthwhile investment and will make a nice keepsake.