Daily Sheets of Fun and Wonder

In an effort to inject a little fun into each morning for Max, I just got finished creating some daily logs in Word on the computer.  We’re heading into fifth grade this year and I’m hoping that Max will get more and more comfortable working independently this year.  I’m trying to provide lots of structure for him to help him along.

I made some logs wherein I can fill one out the night before and set it out on the table for Max to look at the next morning, maybe while he’s munching on his cereal.  They are titled in big letters, “Max’s Daily Sheets of Fun and Wonder”.  I scoured Google images and looked for very fun and very silly images of the things he loves and put those images in the upper left hand corner, a different image for each sheet to keep him laughing and interested.  He likes Bey Blades right now, so there’s a picture of the Bey Blade characters.  He LOVES Legos, so there are several different images depicting Star Wars mini Lego figures doing crazy things like riding miniature motorcycles, flying kites, throwing snowballs at one another, etc.  Whatever I could think of, I pasted up in the left-hand corner.

Then there is a section of legal fine print and it reads as such:  “all school work and help around the house must be completed before you play with electronics, see friends, or watch Netflix.  Signed, The Management (a.k.a., MOM and DAD).

Below that there are big check boxes next to a line on which to write the school assignment or the household task.  I really should make some of these for myself to keep me on track – maybe I will!  What Google images would I choose?  Pictures of dark chocolate bars, bright colors, flower shots, cartoons, chickens……..

Hopefully they will elicit a smile from Max each morning, rather than a grimace thinking about spelling or math or what-have-you.  At least it will be more of a fun and gentle introduction into the day’s happenings.  I think it’s important and way more fun to sprinkle in little bits of silliness here and there during the homeschooling day.  We are getting set to start on Monday!  Back in the saddle.


Homeschool Planners for Perfectionists

Give me a well-thought-out spreadsheet any day and I’ll give a big ol’ smile right back to you.  There’s something about empty white boxes surrounded by thin black lines that make me all happy inside.  I like filling in those little white boxes with words and stuff – guess it makes me feel like I have some control over the situation, whatever that situation might be.

I spent a little time today looking for a homeschool planner that fits our needs – and mind you, I’m kind of picky about stuff like this.  I did recently purchase the 2011 Busy Body Book to keep track of the goings on for our family, animals, my photography business and our home.  Here’s a picture of what it looks like and I wrote a separate post heralding this planner:


It’s great and will work nicely for all of the other subjects outside of homeschooling.  Originally I was going to use it for this year’s homeschooling adventure, too, but thought about it and decided that I’d like to keep the record-keeping for schooling  separate so that I can easily reference it in the future if need be and keep all of his school stuff together.  I was on the hunt for a good planner that I can tailor specifically to homeschooling.  I wanted it to be creative, pretty, well-designed, intuitive, large but not bulky, sturdy, ring-bound and cheap.  Hah!  Good luck finding this, huh?  Maybe I should just design my own.

Many families use online systems like Google Docs for homeschool tracking.  Or they download fancy software like Homeschool Tracker, of which there is a free basic version and then an upgraded version you can dish out for.  I looked at their site and kind of blanched at the plain-Janeness of it.  Very utilitarian but I’m sure it works well for many families.  There are many similar versions out there – just Google ‘homeschool planning software’ and you’ll find them.  I was hoping to find something with more panache and pizzazz – especially if I’ll be looking at it every day for the next 9 months or so.  Again, maybe I should design my own.  But that would kill the printer cartridges, wouldn’t it? 

Also, I wanted something I could get my hands around, something tactile.  I didn’t like the idea of typing everything into the computer and then having to store it, knowing that someday storage technology will change.  A nice written record sounds lovely and kind of homey, if you ask me.

A quick trip out tonight to get soymilk and cat food might have been fruitful with respect to this planner dilemma.  I picked up a weekly/monthly planner from Blue Sky Images.  Here it is:

It’s their 8.5 x 11 inch Blue Indie Stripe Planner with  week-at-a-glance and monthly bird’s-eye-view options.  It has a nice thick plastic cover, so it should hold up fine for all the times it gets stuffed into bags, dropped, run over, chewed on, hidden by Max……..  And it has awesomely large spaces to write in for the daily stuff.  I can track to my heart’s content and then some.  This is great! 

Now I can settle comfortably into a chair and get down to business in planning the remaining details of the upcoming  school year.  The summer has been a tremendous adventure with lots of home projects like planting a garden, building a chicken coop, raising eleven chicks from the day-old stage (they are six weeks old today!), constructing a securely fenced chicken yard to keep the coyotes out, painting projects, etc.  I have been one busy little camper around here, but am suddenly aware that all of the other kids in the neighborhood are IN SCHOOL this week!!!!  Eeek!  No worries – we weren’t planning to start until September 1st and I did much of this year’s planning at the end of the school year in June.  We’re all set.  I just need to sit down with a good pen and transfer those thoughts into the new planner. 

In parting I’ll leave you with a picture of Max in the chicken coop – he is accompanied by Charlotte and Georgia.  Charlotte (on the right) is a light brown Leghorn (pronounced ‘Leggern’); she is a nervous wreck and is very hard to catch.  Georgia, on the other hand, is the sweetest girl.  She is an Australorp and is growing into quite a handsome bird.  It’s freaky how much they have changed in just six weeks!

Max, Georgia and Charlotte in the new coop

Just for fun, here’s what Georgia, the Australorp, looked like at 2 days of age:


Backyard chickens are the coolest!  How I went from planners to chickens……not sure, but both of these things have been on my mind :).

Busy Body

That could mean so many things!  The older neighbor lady with the pointy nose who peeks over your backyard fence, sporting her curlers and robe……… or a body that is constantly in motion, one that never sits down!  Well, to clarify, I’m writing about a tool that you may find useful, perhaps even indispensable as you prepare for next year’s homeschooling adventure (which will probably get rolling in August or September, by the way…..which isn’t that far off).

For the last three years I have toted these around and have relied heavily upon them to keep me walking in a straight line, more or less.  They have been scribbled in to the point that some weeks at a mere glance looked completely nuts, so much so that they made me pause and wonder what I was doing with my life!  Funny how a bird’s-eye view can do that for you – those birds are on to something, I tell you.  I’m referring to the Busy Body Family Organizer/Family Calendar:

This is the one I just ordered because I liked this cover option best.  Here’s what these books look like on the inside:

I can tailor this perfectly to all things US.  Usually the categories go something like this:  Max, Me, Family, Animals, House, but they can be changed to suit any mood.  Some weeks can even say ‘Me, Me, Me, Me and Me’!  No, just teasing.  I love the lined sheet on the left side and constantly fill that with lists and other oddities that tumble forth when I want to remind myself to take care of some task of some sort.  This book has saved me more than a few times!  I save them and throw them into a plastic storage container in case someday I want to look back at all of those crazy, busy body days!  Which I will probably do someday.

Funny, too, how when the new one arrives I write ever-so-neatly in it.  After a month or so I’m scribbling madly in it just to get the words down.  Soon it becomes dog-eared, bent and dirty.  Some weeks go by without so much as a mark because it’s either way too quiet or I’ve given up and thrown in the towel and am lying on the floor somewhere, curled up in a fetal position because I can’t keep up.  At any rate, these calendars make life a bit easier to manage!

You can also grab a wall calendar, or they have a nifty pad that would lay on the top of a desk.

I find this system incredibly helpful, especially when homeschooling.   Check out their website!  These, of course, are also available on Amazon.

Grand Central Homeschooling

Last week I set out on a project to move all of our homeschooling materials into a spare bedroom and turn it into a resource center of sorts.  I’ve been sorting, stacking, filing, piling, and generally engaging in mess-making mayhem.  It’s great!  I love to mess things up; unfortunate, though, because my follow-through lacks a certain joie de vivre.  Rats!  Why can’t I just be a complete package?  The room is dutifully adhering to the rule that before anything gets neater, it gets WAY messier first.  I’m beginning to see spots of the carpet shining through, so that must be a good sign.  When it’s done it will serve as ‘one-stop grabbing’, a central place where I can go to grab whatever we are using for the given day.  Prior to last week’s cleaning binge,  our books, games, papers and materials were spread willy nilly throughout the house in piles, driving me fruit.  Already I can feel a sense of peace about at least having everything in one room – equipped with a door we can shut to block the clutter!  Nothing better than a clutter blocker.

In my head I live this glorious vision of organization, of on-top-of-it existence, everything in its place, stuff at my fingertips when I need it, control of my environment – you know…..the unattainable perfect life!  Outside my head, well, it’s a heavy dose of reality that I sometimes just have to face.  Januaries are usually the impetus to get me rolling in a direction of some sort, whether it be regular exercise (again), becoming a vegetarian (27 days and counting!), or just getting my act together.  Impossible.  Curse the Januaries!  No, just kidding.  It’s good to start out the new year with goals and changes in mind.

The homeschooling room is coming along.  There are posters about volcanoes, art, local geology, museum exhibits (all freebies from a teacher’s conference), book shelves that are gradually filling up.  There’s even a twin bed shoved (gently and aligned correctly) into the corner that serves as a makeshift couch if we want to curl up and read there.  Now I’m on the hunt for a table and chairs that we can sit at occasionally, something inexpensive or better yet – free!  I’ll be checking Craigslist and Freecycle for said item shortly.  The intent is not to lock ourselves in that room during the hours Max is working on learning – hardly.  The intention is to put everything in a central location and try hard to keep it from wandering all over the house.

I am very diligent about recording what we do on a daily basis and keep file folders for each subject covered.  I also  keep a narrative going about the concepts we’re covering and how Max reacts to ideas, projects or experiments.  It’s a diary that I imagine will be pleasurable to read one day when he’s fifty and I’m really old (maybe I should type it in BIG PRINT.)  It’s also something helpful to keep on hand should laws in our state change and we need to come clean about the homeschooling done behind our closed doors.  May it never happen!  I love the freedom of being able to teach Max in whatever direction he wants to go.

So, bubbling with excitement about the lack of piles in the main part of our living space.  Also burbling about the change to vegetarianism.  You seriously wouldn’t believe how good some of this food is!  Stressing a little about those piles that have moved to the homeschooling room, behind that clutter blocker of a door.  Knowing that it’s still January and I can get the job done.

ROKU – Easy access to documentaries

Netflix offers an ‘on-demand’ option that we’ve been using for about a year.  The Roku digital video player is a little black box that hooks to your TV and streams movies from your modem either wirelessly or via hardwire.  I think that’s right.  No matter – it works. 

There are ample resources in instant-play documentaries available on Netflix.  A vast world of PBS, IMAX, NatGeo – right at your fingertips.  No trips to the library involved!  We’ve utilized many during unit studies or just in following whatever Max wants to learn about.  For awhile he was all over the Walking with Dinosaurs series from the BBC.  Then it was Shark Week reruns.  So far I’ve always been able to find something applicable and appropriate with respect to whatever we are working on.  A few clicks of a button and you’re off on another adventure!

The on-demand feature offered by Netflix is compatible with Xbox 360, PS3 and some Tivo systems.  There are other hook-up options, so in case you are curious, check out this link:  http://www.netflix.com/NetflixReadyDevices?lnkce=nrd-ohm&trkid=921401&lnkctr=mh_nfrd.  I have found it to be a very useful addition to our curriculum.

How to Keep Homeschooling Resources Organized

Okay, time to admit it.  Since I started on this hunt, half of my time has been spent scoring cool resources and websites, books and ideas – right.  The other half of my time has been spent pondering how best to organize all of this cool stuff so that I can find it if I need it!  Talk about trying to climb up on top of the heap.  Just when you find something great, there’s a link, then another link, then a click here and there, and another page or bookmark and another tangent and another idea………good gravy!  And then there’s the library catalog and Amazon and used book stores.  Where do you go with it all?

Straight to the filing cabinet.  Make hanging files for each subject (such as geography, history, math, science, language arts…..) and use file folders as catchalls (in the language arts hanging file make a folder for spelling/vocab, writing, grammar, etc.)  Label them in some fashion that makes sense to YOU.  I feel infinitely better now that the hanging files are in place and already they’ve saved me some time when trying to organize a unit study.

The next time you find a resource you like, jot it down and toss it in the right folder.  Wa-lah!

Oh – and set up a wish list on Amazon.com and use it liberally.  That’s where I tuck everything away and then refer to it when I’m ready to access the local library’s catalog online.  Plus I can check our local used book store’s catalog – if all else fails, I’ll buy it on Amazon used if it’s a must have.