Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Renae's Favorite Homeschooling Tools

Homeschooling Helps:

100 Top Curriculum Picks, by Cathy Duffy:

I really enjoyed how this book is laid out.  You begin by narrowing down your own homeschooling purpose, style, and philosophy (no easy task for me), and take a closer look at your children’s learning styles.  Once you achieve that, the book looks closely at the hundreds of choices of homeschooling curriculum available and rates them on how they fit in with various homeschooling philosophies, match learning styles, and even how much teacher-prep is involved.  As much as I would like to donate my copy to CHESN, I just cannot part with this valuable resource.  I would highly recommend each homeschooling family purchasing one of their own.  The cost is around $26.50 (or less).


The Story of the World, by Susan Wise Baurer.

This world history curriculum was recommended to me when I first began homeschooling.  I found it difficult to work into daily lessons, but despite my irregularity in teaching it, it has always been a favourite of my children’s.  So, in year six of homeschooling, I am again writing into my weekly schedule.  The books comprise of a novel-like reader and an activity book with chapter questions and project plus reproducible activity maps and pages.  There are 4 volumes in this series.  The first begins with the nomads—a lesson that my kids still remember and talk about.  Generally a basic historical timeline is followed, but you jump from country to country as significant events occur in history.  What I enjoy most is that all the grade level I have are drawn into the story.  Material covered overlaps with what is required to be covered in some social studies.  I have developed a love and appreciation for history by reading these stories to my children.  I have used these as read-alouds for my younger kids and then as independent study with the tests for up to grade 10.  The cost for the books are: $25 for stories and $35 for activities.

Math U See

I’ve explored several math programs and I keep coming back to this one.  I love that the DVD’s explain things so clearly and that my kids are not overwhelmed with workpages.  My younger ones really enjoy working with the blocks for the hands on aspect and the older ones appreciate the simplistic instructions that come with the math concepts (even I can understand them).  By the time my homeschooling journey comes to a close, my library will have a complete set of these books and DVD’s. 


Here’s a couple favourites that I have found make (or will make) life easier:  The Big Cook,  

The concept of this book is simple, cook or prepare extra while you make one recipe and you freeze it for later.  The delicious recipes give ingredients for 1, 2, 4 or 8 meals.  You can also work with others and just prepare a larger number of meals together.  While fun, this is a lot of hard work and takes organization.  There are some good tips included with preparing large quantities, which I find save a lot of time for me now.   I also realized that I could easily multiply with my favourite recipes.

Another time-saving recommendation was brought up by another homeschooling mom.  After reading her “promotion” of The Old Schoolhouse Planner, I decided to check out the website  I was amazed at the resources I found!  First of all, I was able browse through a copy of The Old Schoolhouse magazine online.  It was loaded with encouragements, practical articles and reviews of the many educational resources that are available.  I also signed up for the monthly newsletter.  If permission is gained from the authors, I may feature some of my favourite articles in our newsletter (one is featured this month).   

In doing this research, I had the opportunity to download and review The Old Schoolhouse Planner.  At first, the cost of $39 may seem steep for a download, but, you need to take into consideration all that this planner replaces.  It took me awhile to get the file downloaded (my error and slow computer).  Once I did, I was amazed to find 247 pages waiting for me.

The first part of the planner is in a day timer format.  This can easily be printed and put into a binder.  Scattered in the midst of the day timer are recipes, homeschooling tips and practical charts that you would like to have, but don’t know where to find them. 

The second part of the planner includes homeschooling sheets.  These are geared for every type of homeschooling, from the very organized to the unschooling family.  I especially like the reproducible sheets that outline crafts your kids’ complete, field trips, and books they’ve read—very handy for those portfolios.  I have to admit I was so tempted just to print out the entire 247 pages for myself, but since I already have most of my school year planned, I didn’t want to make more work for myself.  However, next year, I will be using even more of the pages from this planner.

The last part of the planner focuses on household planning.  Here you find your monthly menu, shopping list, babysitter’s list and even one of those calendars to remember everyone’s birthday through the year (I’ve always wanted one of those . . .).  Chances are, if you buy this planner, it will replace many “consumable” books we buy repeatedly every year. 

If you prefer a planner already put together, consider the The Well-Planned Day.  It is a yearly day planner that includes your family planning (meals, budget, calendar, etc) plus your school planning all in one book that you buy each year.  It’s easier to store than a binder, as it’s coil-bound and I like that it’s everything together.  In saying that, however, I still find myself going back the Schoolhouse Planner for other sheets such as yearly overviews and curriculum planning with my child who I am schooling tradition.  This can be ordered from and you don’t pay the shipping.  

Technical or Electronic:

The final favourite tool for homeschooling is a good printer.  When I say “good”, I mean one that will print economically.  I must say my least favourite job is photocopying.  A couple years ago, we bought a scanner.  Because we already had a good printer, I found I could scan in what I wanted and print it for around 3 cents a copy (plus paper).  Most of the books that I buy are reproducible, so I can reuse them for all my children.  By scanning and printing at home, I am saving valuable time (and rushed trips to the copy store).  I especially recommend this if you use any planners such as The Old Schoolhouse Planner that require a massive amount of printing.  Our old printer broke down not long ago, so we bought a laser printer.  Even though it only prints in black and white, I really like the idea of getting 2000+ copies on one toner (working out to 4 cents a copy).  Economical printers can be found at a reasonable price if you ask the right questions. 

I have since bought a photocopier, scanner and printer all in one and while it costs more on ink, I do like the convenience of being able to quickly photocopy something without having to run to a print store.  Since we do have 2 work areas (home office and school room), the copier serves in the office, while the more economical printer is in the school room.  

There is no perfect way to homeschool and each family will find what works best for them.  What I have hoped to accomplish is to share a few tools that have worked for me and if there’s one thing that will help you, my job has been done.

Happy Homeschooling


CHESN coordinator!


I've homeschooled for 11 years now with toddlers always part of the family makeup. We have eight children (ages 15, 14, 11, 9, 8, 5, 4, and 1) and I completely understand the challenge this can be. I may
not have solutions, but I have some thoughts and suggestions gleaned from experience:

First, RELAX! This is very difficult for certain personalities (like myself) but I've found it's critical if you want to avoid "burnout" and a lot of family frustration. I don't mean relax in your good desires, vigilance, persistence, etc., but in your expectations for yourself and others-- especially the toddlers themselves.

Second, consider approaching homeschooling like any other family undertaking: recognize your unique strengths and limitations, and be realistic. Many years I would spend the summer making lists, planning, buying curriculum, visualizing all the fabulous things we would do in our homeschool-- only to be in tears by the second day because our toddlers weren't "cooperating" with my plans. Think about
how you cook with toddlers around, or do laundry with toddlers around, or go to the library, or do yard work, or go on vacation, whatever.  You have to stay mighty flexible, don't you, and perhaps even bag your plans and do something different at times. I think we forget that we're not trying to "do school at home" but rather have "homeschool" which is going to look, feel, and be carried out in a completely
different way than what we usually think of with "school".

Third, it's very hard to do, but TRUST God that He will make up the difference in your efforts to educate your children. But be sure you're involving Him, too-- ask each day (or several times a day!)for His guidance and help. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn is that God will help me, but that He expects me to do things in His way and time, not mine. I cannot "require" it to be the other way around.

Fourth, of all the things you may teach your schoolaged children, how you respond to and act towards your toddlers will be a very lasting lesson. Is the unspoken but very apparent message to your older
children that the toddlers are in the way or are bothersome or annoying? Responding to your toddlers with patience, tolerance, understanding, and inclusion-- or loving firmness when appropriate--
will go a long way in teaching the children character qualities I'm sure you want them to have.

Fifth, accept that the toddlers have short attention spans and can't be expected to amuse themselves in acceptable ways for very long, so you're not likely going to get long teaching times in with your older
ones. This is just a fact, so stop trying to wish it away and just do your best to deal with it. (Sorry if that sounds too harsh or rude.) I once knew a mother who got her older ones up earlier than her toddlers woke so that she could teach them then. Others have held off teaching some things until hubby got home in the evenings and could either do the teaching himself or tend the toddlers. Otherwise,
prayerfully come up with your plan-- and several contingency plans, because you're sure to need them!

Sixth, I finally had to get over a few preconceived ideas; like that it was wrong to let my toddlers watch a Barney or Blues Clues video while I needed a few uninterrupted minutes to teach a math concept or
something. I've also set out a large but shallow plastic container filled with dry rice and let toddlers play with toy cars, dinosaurs, etc., while we sit nearby. Yes, there will be a mess, sometimes larger than other times, but the toddler is happy and the teaching gets done. Can you and the older child(ren) homeschool in the bathroom or hall while the toddler plays in the bath? Can you do schoolwork outside while blowing bubbles for the toddler? Get creative and lose the concept of a school classroom because this is your HOME.

Seventh, depending on the ages and abilities of your children, one could play with your toddlers (even for 10 minutes) while you work with another on academics, then switch later. If there is only one thing I
could encourage every mom to do, it would be to learn the value of five or ten minutes! It really is amazing what can be accomplished in short snippets of time if you jump right on them and don't expect too much. This also helps your older children learn that each member of the family shares in the job and blessing of helping the toddlers.

Eighth, for our family, I've had to set aside my desires for great unit studies or other group projects and learning situations. What works for us is as much independent learning as possible. This has
been heart wrenching for me at times because I hear, read and think about great things we could do altogether--well, all of us except the toddlers, of course. So in order to allow for the fact that we have
toddlers, older siblings have to do some self-teaching, some teaching of younger siblings, some tending of toddlers, and some moving on to something else until Mom can find time to come help them. Definitely not my ideal, but it what's been working for us. One day, though, when there are no more toddlers, the youngest homeschoolers in our family and I are going to do some fabulous unit studies and projects together!

Ninth, if the laws of your state are flexible enough, do as much homeschooling as possible through just living life. Practice math facts while folding laundry together; go over spelling words while driving in the car; ALWAYS keep books with you in the car, at doctor's appointments, etc.; plant the garden to learn about science, write Grandma a thank you note to practice handwriting, etc.

Tenth, it kind of goes along with what I've already said, but learn to do things with one hand for your toddler (rolling play dough, helping with a puzzle, etc.) while using the other to help teach an older child. While toddlers need our attention, they usually don't require it to be undivided. Our family has spent much of our homeschooling hours all sitting at the dining table, or all spread out in the living
room so that I could turn and work with each child at different moments, and still interact with the toddlers. Yes, this is more distracting for the children, but they learn to work through distractions, and then later they're old enough to work somewhere else that is quieter and then return to me when they have a question.

Well, this is probably far more than anyone wanted to read, so I'll sign off. Just know that there are many of us who've made it through the toddler years and still come out with children who have learned a lot academically!

Reprinted with permission from a

 Mom of eight in Washington State


Another Year older, another year wiser?

The boxes of books have arrived.  School bins from last year are emptied, sorted and ready to be filled.  The kids are curiously peaking into their new textbooks, some with anticipation, and others with a looming dread that summer is now drawing to a close.  Meanwhile, I have mixed emotions—I’ve loved my summer off, but at the same time, I crave the routine and the joy of a new school year. 

It just seems like yesterday that I embarked on this homeschooling journey.  It was a “try it for a year” kind of deal.  I remember my first homeschool meeting, my first trip to the school resource center and those joyful, excitement filled first few weeks of homeschooling—until the novelty wore off and reality set in.  No one warned me about those days when my kids would glare up at me and announce that I couldn’t tell them what to do—I wasn’t their teacher.  Or what around those mornings where I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to give a spelling test?  I also recall that dreaded visit from the teacher where she looked me in the eye and told me that my child wasn’t ready to move on to the next grade (however, she eased the blow by gently reminding me that this is the flexibility that we have in homeschooling and it would all be okay in the end).  Nothing prepared me for the backlash from family and friends when we decided to buckle down and homeschool longer than the first 3 years.  But, here I am, now preparing for my eighth year of homeschooling.  

There has been a shift in the last couple of years for me.  With the arrival of two more little ones, I am now anticipating “round two” of homeschooling.  I am frantically trying to recall all things I said I would do differently if I had another chance to homeschoolJ.  This time around, I am more relaxed and confident about the elementary years . . . as for Jr High and High School . . . well, ask me in June of 2014, when my oldest graduates. 

I am seeing the need to keep connected with other homeschooling moms more than ever.  There is nothing more reassuring than talking to another mom who has walked through what you are going through and can remind you that you are not alone.  As coordinator for CHESN, I will endeavour to provide opportunities for homeschooling parents and families to connect on a regular basis.   So, for moms who have many years under their belt and for families who are still working through the logistics of getting started, I welcome you and wish you all the best in this coming school year.                   

                                       CHESN coordinator