Easy Ideas to Boost Learning All Summer Long

Did you know that on average students lose two months of reading skills during the summer break? If this cycle were to continue, the gap of learning by the ninth grade could be significant. As homeschoolers we have even more flexibility to keep the summer learning going with our children at home. It doesn’t have to be a chore or “like school” to bridge the gap between school years.

Continued summer learning can be simple and fun!

Here are some easy to implement activities that I’ve found to keep the learning fun and simple all summer long:

1. Plant a garden. Everything from planning the plots, seeds, and schedule, to making delicious recipes from your bounty can be a great summer learning experience. (If you don’t have space for a garden, you could go picking — like at a strawberry patch — and make a meal out of it.)

2. Plan a trip. This could be camping, a road trip, or even an adventure in your own town. To make it interactive your kids could plan out the budget, go shopping for any food in advance, and even map out the course you will take.

3. Make nature observation and journaling a part of your weekly routine. The concept of specific nature observation activities is that any skill you want to get good at, you have to practice the different parts that make it up to be proficient at it. One way to be a proficient nature observer is to have a “sit spot” that is your very own. You can have your child pick a sit spot, explore it with a magnifying glass and binoculars, map it, and incorporate their findings into their nature journal. You could also use nature to create (boats for the lake out of natural materials, forts, etc) during your daily nature observation time.

4. Find some summer bridge books. Maybe you love the idea of having a small amount of structured learning at the beginning of the day, and then using the rest of the day to play, play, play? There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. We like these Summer Bridge Activity Books that often include summer game activities, stickers, flashcards, and more. They are a fun way to keep the learning going, while enforcing any skill sets that you want your child to keep during the summer months.

6. Geocaching. Finding and creating a cache is a great way to get outside while utilizing some great mathematic and problem solving skills at the same time. We enjoy using the IOS App “Cachly” for finding local caches.

7. The Jr. Ranger Badge Program. This program is available in most state parks as well as national parks. Kids around ages 5-13 can participate by answering questions and discovering what rangers may do at that particular site. There are also some “at home” programs available along with more info at https://www.nps.gov/kids/jrrangers.cfm.

8. Read, Read, Read. Bring books everywhere you go: the backyard, the beach, the park, everywhere. Summer is also a neat time to prolong family worships and do extra reading and Bible study time, as you may not be able to spend as much time during the school year. Bonus: what a great time to experience God’s love through His creation firsthand!

9. Quality family time and rest. Enjoy the season of rest and fellowship! Many times just sharing experiences together as a family can boost learning and connection. Summer is a great time to kick back and spend quality time with those you love.

Whatever you choose to do to boost summer learning, remember that it can be fun and easy to keep up the learning during those summer months.

Five Tips to Spring Clean Your Homeschool

I recently have been going through my sister-in-law’s ebook on Simplifying Home. In it, I have been gleaning information for simplifying our entire house. Simplifying my home can be tough for me as I am in the moment, but I am ALWAYS glad when I have completed a round of simplifying. I feel lighter, less-stressed, and ready to use the items that I need and love that are left in my home. I also feel like it frees me up to enjoy time with the people I love, doing things we love to do, rather than constantly fussing with our belongings. 

Through this book and a recent article on capsule wardrobes in the Magnolia Journal, I have cut my wardrobe in half and begun to declutter my whole house…again. (This is a constant process for us, but seems to get easier every time, and as our habits change to intentionality.)

As I am applying some of these principles to our personal homeschool space, I wanted to share my ideas and tips with you. Spring cleaning and simplifying your homeschool can be extremely beneficial to your whole program, and free you up to enjoy your school time with your children.

Five Helpful Tips for Spring Cleaning your Homeschool

1. Make a pie chart. First, make a list of the activities you actually do in your homeschool time and space. Then, divide those activities out and approximate the time that you concentrate on each activity. Lastly, make a pie chart with your homeschool activities and keep it for reference. In the simplifying process you can use this chart to help you be realistic about things you need to have in your space to accomplish the activities you value and spend your time on.

Example: If arts and crafts are on the smallest portion of your chart, perhaps you don’t need an entire bookshelf committed to items for that activity. Perhaps a small tote with art supplies you regularly use would do the trick for you in your homeschool season. 

Here is an example of my first draft for our homeschool pie chart:

2. Pull everything out of the space. Once the pie chart is completed, go ahead and pull everything out of one space (for example, one bookshelf or one drawer at a time). At this point you could decide if you have time to finish all of these steps at once, OR if you would like to do steps 3 and 4 now, and come back for sorting with step 5 at another time.

I personally like to do a quick initial sort through of all of the steps while I’m in each space. Then, I can choose if I have time to revisit for a deep sort and purge later. It’s completely up to you, and your energy and time frame.

3. Clean the space. When all of your items are out of the space, do a quick wipe down of the space before replacing the items that go back. Having a clean surface always makes me feel better about my space. 

4. Replace the items that belong. At this point remove items that do not belong in this area. You can put them in a box or tote to return to their homes when you are done with this space. Then, you can return the items that belong at this point and come back to sorting another time, OR you can do a quick sort while the items are out and then return the items left to their space.

5. Ask “Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I love it?” These are the three key questions that I ask myself about any item I’m sorting. If the answer is yes to any question, I keep it for a time; if the answer is no to all three questions, it goes in the outbox.

When sorting items in any area, I always have an outbox on hand. An outbox is simply a box that quick “NOs” or “maybes” can go. I then keep the outbox in a separate area. If I decide I need something from the outbox, I bring it back into the space. If after a time I don’t miss anything from the outbox, I can donate the items left. This helps if you’re feeling anxious about parting with any items for any reason.

6. Use your chart to make future purchases. This may be the most important step when cleaning and simplifying your homeschool space. When you are going to make a purchase for your homeschool, I would encourage you to be intentional about what you let in. Referring to your chart to see if it is an item you need for your activities is a good start. We are often tempted to “stock up because it’s on sale,” thinking we are saving money, when that may not be the case.

“When simplifying feels complex and overwhelming, remember the basics: More out, less in. Those two simple habits, even over time without doing a dedicated simplifying challenge, will land you where you want to be in a simple home and a simple life.” ~Trina Cress, Simplifying Home

Intentional purchases that you and your child use, need, or love can help enhance your overall homeschool experience and help put stress to rest. Happy Spring Cleaning!

Here are some links for organization inspiration, if you are ready to move to the next step in organizing your space:

http://orgjunkie.com/2014/10/homeschool-organization-kitchen-table.html

http://themoffattgirls.com/the-moffatt-girls-classroom-i-am-so/

http://www.notconsumed.com/practical-and-simple-homeschool-room/

8 Ways to show your homeschooler love. Valentine's Day and Beyond

8 Ways to Show Your Homeschooler Love – Valentine’s Day and Beyond!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be a perfect time to focus on LOVE (I want you all to know that I’m writing this article just as much for myself as for you).  Genuine, caring, heart-felt love for our children can be a game-changer in their lives..and in ours as well.

In God’s word He is always calling us to “love one another”…this includes loving our children!

Most homeschooling parents I know deeply care about their kids and want the best for them. However it’s easy to get caught up in the routine and hustle of the everyday, that we sometimes miss displaying that affection to our children.

Here are 8 easy tips you can try today to communicate to your children that they are safe, adored and all is well:

1. Give eye contact with a smile. Connections most definitely come through eye contact and what follows. It sends the message of acceptance and love, or disapproval and rejection. Think about the random smiles you receive from those you love. They definitely create that warm and safe feeling inside. The same will happen for your child(ren). Make a point to look your child(ren) in the eyes and smile.

2. Speak kind words. As parents you most definitely know the difference between your child saying “Yes, Mama” with a loving tone, or “Yes, Mama” with a grunt and eye roll. Speak love into your children’s lives. Be mindful of the way you speak your words and the tone you choose to use.  Even a simple “Good Morning Lexi, How are you today? Did you sleep well?” in the right tone can create the atmosphere of kindness and love you are looking for in your home.

3. Be interested and ask questions. Think about a time when someone has met you several times, yet the questions they ask certainly confirm “You don’t know me”. Get to know your children. Ask them questions about their hobbies, favorite foods, books…them! If you need to, keep a journal with answers they have given you so you can reflect on them later. Throughout the year, ask them questions about the topics earlier discussed (How is your dog’s foot after he stepped on that spur? Did you and your brother ever make up that funny skit you talked about?) Showing a genuine interest in their lives will go extremely far in showing that you truly care.

4. Be present. I feel that as homeschooling parents it can be one of the most difficult challenges to be present with each child (especially if we have multiple children). We are amazing at multi-tasking and are usually thinking of 100 other things while we are teaching each child during the day(Uh oh, Johnny’s out of his seat again…Did I print off Bible for today?… Do we have swim lessons today?…Did I start the crockpot this morning?) It is so important that our children see and know we are present with them.  This means focusing in and staying in the moment when possible.  Everyone knows what it is like to be with someone that seems to want to be somewhere else.  Give your children the gift of being in the moment. Be Present.

5. Have a special routine. Connections are really amplified through three main areas: eye contact, physical touch and fun. Of course we can bestow huge hugs and kisses on our children each morning, and there are other ways to connect through physical touch. There’s nothing like a good ole high-five or the sweet old-fashioned “secret handshakes” of our childhood (we seriously rocked the “Say Say My Playmate” chant in 3rd Grade). Why not come up with a fun “Good Morning Handshake” when your child begins class time or right before you leave. You could really jazz this up with serious knee clapping, finger snapping, spinning around and the whole shebang. Even older children would love to participate in coming up with their own celebration “handshake”.

Check out “I Love You Rituals” by Becky Bailey for more great connection ideas.

6. Find out your child’s “Love Language”. The five love languages of children are: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts and Acts of Service; as laid out in Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages of Children. Check out the book “The Five Love Languages of Kids” by Gary Chapman for an in-depth look at each love language.  You can even group your children into each category for a quick and easy love check list.  Once you have a list you can check it daily.  Then go through your list and speak words of affirmation to those that need it, spend one-on-one extra time etc. with each child according to their specific need. Intentionality doesn’t equal fake, it means that you are wanting to meet those needs and show love to your kids.

7. Seek the Lord Daily. We absolutely need God’s love in our hearts, to be able to truly love others. Fill yourself up with God’s word every day and seek out specific counsels on love. Post them on sticky notes by your mirror to remind yourself of His perfect example of love.  Some of my favorite verses about how to love like Jesus did are: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31 “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Luke 12:31 “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

8. Love them. Ha! This one is a little bit of a tricky play on words. On a serious note though, sometimes it’s hard to love and care about some children that at times can be…well…a little difficult to love and care about. Can you find one thing today that you like or appreciate about each child? I would suggest making a list to help bring some of those positive things to the front of your mind.  Even if you are struggling with what to write for a particular child, keep in mind that in reality you don’t need a reason.  Each child deserves to be loved, regardless of whether they act like it or not, simply because they are a child of the King!

Looking back I can distinctly remember special moments with my parents when they were kind and showed me genuine love. That love and kindness made more of an impact on me then all of the Math, Language, Science etc. ever could.

P.S. Don’t be surprised if your children start doing some of these same things with each other. When a culture of love and acceptance in cultivated, there’s no telling where it’s impact will end.

Simple Ways to Celebrate Diversity with Your Child

celebrating-diversity

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day this month, the topic of diversity always comes to the front of my mind. What does God expect from us and our children when it comes to celebrating diversity? In the famous children song that we often sing to our children, we hear “Jesus loves the little children, ALL the children of the world.” Jesus made us all different and it’s something worth celebrating.

I believe that our differences are worth honoring. We are all God’s children and He loves every single one of us. We don’t have the eyes of the Father, and so it can sometimes be difficult to like and even relish our differences, yet God calls us to love all of his children. Here are some simple ideas to bring the concept of celebrating diversity to a child’s understanding:

1. Pick out books that bring out differences in God’s children and discuss how our differences can be beautiful. I love these books because they use a great language that our children can understand. (Click on any of the pictures below to go to the books.)

the-colors-of-us

jesus-loves-the-little-children

same-same-but-different

spaghetti-in-a-hot-dog-bun

2. Seek out craft projects and experiments that have an intention of celebrating our differences. These crafts seem to be simple and focused on understanding those who may be different from us. (Click on the pictures to find the crafts.)

egg-experiment

the-crayon-box-that-talked-2

mlk-character-craftivity

3. Music is a great way to illustrate diversity in a beautiful way that sticks in our mind. Here are a few songs I found on diversity.

hide-em-in-your-heart

if-youre-happy-and-you-know-it

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

4. Practicing good listening skills is a great way to celebrate diversity of thought. I love these activities for role playing and bringing the concept of good listening to children.

understanding-listener-craft-picture-001

5. Schedule some giving projects. Whenever we choose to look outside of ourselves to be generous or help another of God’s children, I believe the Holy Spirit helps us to see God’s love for that individual in that moment. Here are some fun giving projects to enjoy giving!

9-easy-but-intentional-acts-of-kindness-kids-can-do-for-community-caregivers-like-police-fire-fighters-nurses-teachers-and-childcare-workers

Whatever method you choose, I challenge you and your family to celebrate the differences that God has given us. Together we make up the beautiful body of Christ! That’s something worth celebrating!

Making Space for Quiet in Your Busy Homeschool Day

Making Space for Quiet in Homeschool

Have you ever been so consumed with the go-go-go of homeschooling that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to have some quiet time? Have you ever been in a place where you’ve felt like you couldn’t keep up with the rushed pace of all you need to fit in?

Between schedules and standards, at times I feel like I am missing some important downtime and quiet time. I can tell when my children are getting restless, too, and need some quiet in our schedule.

Quiet and downtime is a very important part of a homeschooler’s day. Adding these moments of calm can act as a steam vent of sorts, to release some of the pressures and stresses that can build up in any given day. In God’s word He encourages us to incorporate rest and quiet into our daily schedules. In Ecclesiastes 4:6 He says, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” Then again in Psalm 4:4, he encourages stillness by reminding us to, “Stand in awe, and sin not: Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.”

Stand in awe and sin not, commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still.

But, how can we meet the demands of curriculum and schedules, yet still find time to have quiet, restful stillness to connect with our Heavenly Father and each other? With each “rest moment” it is important to set up cues to help you as you establish your quiet time routine.

Here are six simple ideas for incorporating quiet into your homeschool day:

1. Nature Observation: Scheduling some time in God’s “other book” is a great way to connect with him and restore your soul. You could have your children each find a quiet spot of their own and draw pictures of what they see. You could even take a quiet walk, and then talk about what you each have learned and observed during your stroll. This could also be a great daily prayer time or something that you put into your schedule weekly. Either way, nature is a perfect place to enjoy some quiet in your day.

2. Quiet Reading Time: In our house we currently only have one consistent napper. My oldest daughter still enjoys some quiet time during nap time though. She usually chooses to look at books quietly during this time. This gives everyone in the house a chance to have some peaceful rest time, even if not napping. After lunch, almost daily, my kids know that it is rest time. My oldest will choose four or five books, get her blanket and pillows situated, and nuzzle in for some quiet reading time. Some days I use this time to catch up on reading of my own, or occasionally I will snuggle up with my youngest and attempt to have a little snooze time with him.

3. Listening to Music: Calming music can be a great way to create a quiet environment. The type of music is really up to you. If you want to create a focus on Christ during your quiet time, playing that type of music while you rest would be a great idea. Music is also good in assisting to calm in a stressful time of day. Some days, I will turn on some piano music randomly in the middle of our day, to help create that atmosphere of calm if our day is getting hectic.

4. Drawing Time: Some days, during our afternoon rest time, my oldest child enjoys some peaceful drawing time. She quietly sets up her colored pencils and drawing notebook and quietly creates her masterpiece. She knows that the rules are that she can draw, as long as she can do it independently and peacefully. If she begins to be frustrated or needs to interrupt an adult to assist her, she knows it is time to move to quiet rest time for the duration of the allotted period.

5. Journaling: Journaling is another great way to add some quiet into your day. In the seasons of my life when I’ve been committed to journaling on a consistent basis, I have felt more connected to Christ and more at peace during my day. I think the act of getting my thoughts on paper, and releasing them from permeating and stressing in my mind, helps calm me down. I usually prefer to set my journal up in a “letter to Christ” format. I have even heard of some who have kept a nature observation journal, and they record how they see God’s handiwork in nature. You can choose the best journaling format for you and your children.

6. Bible Reflection: Whether writing or drawing about a Bible passage or story, Bible journaling is a wonderful way to bring the peace of the Holy Spirit into your day. This is an activity that can be done at any age. If you have young ones at home, you could read the passage together and then reflect in drawing. We have a children’s Bible story on audio. Many times during rest time or at night we will play the story and then talk about it and pray together.

In whatever avenue you decide to add intentional rest and quiet time into your homeschool day, I pray that God’s peace and Holy Spirit will be an intricate part of your journey to add space for quiet.