Category Archives: My Thoughts on Homeschooling

Summer Reading

As our children have gotten older their love of reading has grown. Back in January I chose the book Holes, by Louis Sachar for our 6th grader to read. He complained about it a bit, but once he got a few chapters into it he seemed to enjoy the story and finished it in just a few weeks.

At the beginning of each summer I carefully select 6-8 books of various genres that are at or a little above their reading level and let them choose two to read over the summer. For our daughter, who will be entering 4th grade, I gathered books like Pippi Longstocking, The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries, Ten Kids, No Pets, the Mandie series, and the Animal Ark series. Well she was having nothing to do with the books I had chosen and told me they were all too boring. She wanted something with more adventure off her brother’s bookcase. After browsing his shelves for just a few minutes she quickly chose Ferals, by Jacob Grey. While this book is a little dark for her age-wise, it is at her reading level and is full of adventure so hopefully she’ll love it.

For our soon to be 7th grader I chose Where the Red Fern Grows to be his mandatory summer reading book, and then he chose One Eyed Cat, by Paula Fox from a selection of books I had chosen. Our son has been stuck on reading The Warrior series, by Erin Hunter, and anything about Greek Mythology or Percy Jackson for the past year. I’m quite happy to have him branching out and reading a few different things between the other books he loves.

Did you miss my previous post on Encouraging Summer Reading?

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Posted by on May 30, 2017 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling


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School During the Summer?

Whether you choose to do year-round schooling or not, sometimes it’s nice to go at a different pace for the summer months. There are many different ways for children to continue learning over the summer without even calling it “school”.

Summer Projects:

Teach your child how to code! They’ll have a blast learning how since it’s more like playing a game than “learning”, plus it never hurts to know more about computer programming.
Our favorite websites for learning to code are: Scratch and  These are geared towards all ages, so even adults can practice and learn how to code quickly. There are examples and an assortment of projects for all levels, so the challenge never ends.

2015-12-29 10.50.08  2015-12-29 11.35.30

Work on science projects, science experiments, engineering skills, life skills (lawn care, cooking, automotive care, etc.). The list is limited to only what you can imagine.

Here are some links you may find helpful.

Engineering Ideas

Science Experiements

History & Geography Projects

Summer Camps:

Music camps, art camps, science camps, sports camps, theater, dance, and gymnastic camps, and so on. For those living in the Mobile area the possibilities are endless. Check out MobileBay Parents for a list of available camps.

summer reading 5thgradeSummer Reading:

We can’t forget about summer reading! Our children are both pretty good about reading daily, but for the summer I try to make sure they expand their interests a bit more and try other things.

Here are some of the books we’re reading this summer. The Greek Gods book I’m reading aloud to them and the I Love People is a writing/thinking book I have both children working through together.

There are many Summer Reading programs available to help encourage your children as well. The Mobile Public Library has a great one, plus there’s the one from Barnes & Noble where your child can earn a free book.

Summer Schedule:

A typical week-day in the summer when we’re at home looks like this:

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This is a simple checklist I use to make sure we stay on track.

  • Wake up (typically 7 – 8am)
  • Listen to music, read, draw, or play in their rooms
  • 9am Read with Mom (I read, they listen, we ask questions and discuss after each chapter)
  • Get dressed, eat breakfast
  • Morning chore
  • Play outside
  • Write & Draw/practice Cursive (twice a week)
  • Math/Language Arts (twice a week)
  • Social Studies/Science (twice a week)
  • Eat lunch
  • Electronics time (I break up the electronic time into 1 hour segments)
  • Art
  • Read Aloud
  • Outside chores
  • Play a board game/card game
  • Silent reading
  • Electronics time
  • Play with Legos
  • Afternoon chore

On the days when we have VBS, music camp, martial arts camp, etc. our typical day looks like this:

  • Wake up (typically 7am)
  • Get dressed, eat breakfast
  • Morning chore
  • ———-> summer movie, visit the park, VBS, etc.
  • Play outside
  • Outside chores
  • Silent reading
  • Afternoon chore
  • Read with Mom
  • Electronics time (typically this is right before dinner)

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PE isn’t a Real Subject… is it?

As homeschooling parents, one of the often overlooked subjects is Physical Education.

But is PE a “real” subject?

Of course it is! It’s also very important for a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Learning to stay active as a child will also help a child remain active as an adult.

There are many studies which show regular physical activity helps reduce stress levels and provides for a better night’s sleep. Don’t believe me? Check out these links: Kids Health and Exercise for Children and 10 Benefits of Physical Activity

Physical activity for children doesn’t have to be typical sports like baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. There are also activities like:

  • swimming
  • tennis
  • martial arts
  • gymnastics
  • dance
  • fencing
  • horseback riding
  • golf
  • ice skating
  • roller skating
  • laser tag
  • bowling
In addition to being great exercise, martial arts helps with self discipline, respect, and confidence.

In addition to being great exercise, martial arts helps with self discipline, respect, and confidence.

Keep in mind many sports are seasonal, while others are year-round. No matter which activity you and your child choose, make sure they stay active even in the off-season.

In our family we are quite partial to martial arts. I just can’t say enough great things about how much karate has helped our children. Sure they’ve learned self-defense and have greater flexibility and muscle strength, but the most important lessons they’ve learned are discipline, respect, focus, and confidence. My very wiggly, “can’t sit still longer than two minutes” 6 year old became a focused and calm 7 year old after just a few months. I highly recommend martial arts for ALL children, (it’s not just for boys). The benefits are for life!

Can’t afford to pay for special classes for your children?

family fun run

Our daughter, age 5, walking with my husband in a kids fun run downtown.

No worries! Try some of these ideas:

  • Schedule 20 minutes twice a week for your family to walk around the neighborhood.
  • Go for a family bike ride.
  • See who can do the most push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks.
  • Have a hula-hoop contest. See which member of your family can hula the longest.
  • See who can jump rope across the driveway first, or see who jump rope the longest without tripping.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt at the local park or around your neighborhood.
  • Go Geocaching. If you plan a route where there are many geocaches you’ll get plenty of exercise by getting in and out of the car frequently and seeing who can find the geocache first.
  • Enter the whole family in a Family Fun Run or Walk-a-thon. Most of these everyone walks and/or runs at their own pace.
  • Go roller skating on their cheap-skate day/time (often this is only $4 per skater)
  • Take them to a jump house place like Pump-it-Up, House of Bounce, Jumps-a-lot, Kangaroos, etc. on a regular basis.
  • Join your local YMCA. They offer family memberships which include swimming pool and gym access, plus many other benefits. Staying active as a family is well-worth the cost.

The key is to actually get out there and do it. Children watch what we adults do. If we’re sitting on the couch day after day and aren’t interested in going for a 20 minute walk, why should they be interested?


Haven’t seen an activity your child would be interested in yet?


Ice skating (and roller skating) is great exercise. It also improves balance, coordination, and confidence.

As parents sometimes we just have to give them a little push. Schedule a time for them to go for a walk or bike ride with friends. Offer to take them bowling, roller skating, or to play laser tag with friends. Think laser tag isn’t physical? Ha! You obviously haven’t played it. There’s a lot of fast-walking, ducking behind obstacles, poking your head around corners, crouching down to avoid on-coming fire, etc. Trust me, you’ll be sweating after 1-2 games. We try to go every couple of months and use it for report card rewards as well.

While ice skating isn’t available year round, roller skating is! Both activities will improve balance and coordination. Plus working all those different muscles takes a lot of energy. Invite some friends. Exercise is ALWAYS better with friends. Even for us adults!

Horseback riding helps build core muscles, strengthens leg muscles, improves balance, coordination, and focus.

Horseback riding helps build core muscles, strengthens leg muscles, improves balance, coordination, and focus.

When it comes to getting children active, horseback riding is often overlooked. I think most people consider it a leisure activity, but really it takes a whole lot of muscles to stay balanced and seated properly when walking, trotting, turning, and stopping a horse. It doesn’t matter whether your child is interested in English or western style, both will improve your child’s physical and mental health.

How much exercise should my child get each day?

According to the CDC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, 60 minutes each day. Think it’s not possible? Don’t worry, it IS possible! It just takes planning it into your family schedule gradually. Start with the above tips, slowly adding in some activities several times a week and go from there. Oh, and if your child begins complaining they’re tired after an activity, that’s okay. It’s GOOD to be tired after exercise. A child who has worked hard exercising will work up an appetite and sleep better.


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Posted by on March 11, 2016 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling


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Benefits of Standardized Testing for Homeschoolers

standardized test - ITBSThough some states don’t require standardized testing, many cover schools (aka umbrella schools) require standardized testing yearly. There are many varying opinions on the pros and cons of giving standardized tests to homeschooled children.

I rode the fence for a while because we homeschoolers often don’t stick to teaching what is expected at certain grades. For example, you may plan to teach Alabama history to your 3rd & 5th grade children the same year rather than teach one child at a time. In most public and private schools however, Alabama history is taught in the 4th grade. If you were to give a standardized test to your oldest child, a 4th grader, he would be certain to score lower in the Social Studies section simply because you hadn’t covered Alabama History yet. As long as you take that into account and don’t stress over it, it’s not a big deal.

Some of the most common standardized tests given to K-12 are the Stanford Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), and the California Achievement Test (CAT). Commercial test publishers developed standardized tests to give you a snapshot of the academic skills and abilities of a large number of children in the same grade level. Many people think standardized tests indicate how your child compares academically to grade-level expectations, but really the test shows how your child compares to other children of the same grade level, during the same time-period. (7th month of grade 4, for example).

standardized test2 - ITBSEven if your cover school doesn’t require standardized testing, you should consider having your child tested every 2-3 years starting around 3rd grade. (Though there are tests for the younger grades, I personally feel the hours spent testing puts too much stress on such young children.)

Think of standardized testing as a way to reassure yourself, your spouse, and other family members that your child is learning on-par with other children at their grade level. The key here is to go into testing with the knowledge that your child will very likely be below average in some areas, average in some areas, and above average in some areas. The results are simply comparing your child to others in the same grade and does NOT reflect on your child’s overall intelligence, nor your teaching ability.

How should you use your results? On the days you’re short on teaching time, work on the areas your child scored lower in. Don’t forget to use a variety of teaching methods that include listening, reading, writing or drawing, and hands-on elements when applicable.


standardized test1a - ITBS

Sample results from a homeschooled 3rd grader.


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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling


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Encouraging Summer Reading

summer readingDon’t let reading stop just because it’s summer time. Here are some great ways to encourage reading:

  • Keep books easily accessible to your children. Put some on a bedside table or on a low, reachable shelf.
  • Take your children to the library frequently.
  • Visit a bookstore (or browse an online bookstore) together. Ask your children which books look interesting to them.
  • Don’t worry if your child only wants to read comic books, or books about a specific topic. Let them choose the books and they’ll be more enthusiastic about reading.
  • Consider e-books or audio books as well. Some children do better with listening to a book, and then gradually will become more interested in reading.
  • Surprise your children with a couple of books they would be interested in. Even better, have them shipped to your house with your child’s name on the package. All ages enjoy getting surprise packages in the mail.

nonfiction books

Have 5th grade or older children? Select 2-3 books you want them to read over the summer in addition to the books they want to read. Don’t forget to include both fiction and non-fiction. Maybe a biography and some poetry for example. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get a child to read a topic they aren’t interested in. Don’t give up though. Simply give calm encouragement and bribe them. “Bribe them to read?!!” Yes. It’s easy and there are no downfalls (except maybe for your pocketbook.)


reading rewardsGive small rewards for finishing each book. Inexpensive things like notebooks, colorful tape, special pens, small toys, etc. Most of the rewards we use come from the $1 section at Target or were found on clearance. For older children you can use rewards like a trip for frozen yogurt, a movie rental, iTunes song, etc. As long as the reward comes quickly after they finish their book (immediately for younger children) and within 48hrs if possible for older children it doesn’t really matter what you use. Just choose something you know your child really wants. I try to stick to the $1 – $2 range for a single book and $5 – $6 range for 6 books (for my older child). Adjust this however you need for your children and their reading needs. Reluctant readers do better with a reward after every book.

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6 Things Homeschool Parents Forget to Teach

#1 Independence

“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” – Frank A. Clark

Ready for her 1st AWANA meeting.

Sometimes children get this “deer in the headlights” look when they don’t see their parent, grandparent, etc. in sight. This is acceptable at ages 4-5, but once they get to age 6 and higher they really need to learn to be okay with having another adult in charge. Some of you may think this is obvious, but for many homeschooling families the children just aren’t left with any adults other than the grandparents or another close relative.

Here are some easy ways to help your children get accustomed to not always having mom or dad in the room.

  • Have the kids join a co-op class where you are NOT in the room. Perhaps you help in another room at co-op instead.
  • Take them to Sunday School regularly
  • Take them to Vacation Bible School (I know it’s only 1 week, but they will learn some independence in just that 1 week.
  • Let them join Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, AWANA, American Heritage Girls, 4H, or one of the other clubs that meet regularly.
  • Sign them up for a summer day camp, or similar week-long half day or whole day program.

#2 Basic Safety Knowledge – Not Just 911

boy confusedToo often homeschool parents put off safety knowledge until their children are older. But why? Children age 4 and up should know their full name, birth date, parent’s first names, parent’s cell phone #s, and their address. Think this is too much for a 4 or 5 year old to know? It’s not! Try putting your phone number or address to a favorite tune. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they learn it.

For children age 8 and up: be sure they know the phone number of a nearby relative or neighbor you trust. A list of important phone numbers on the refrigerator is a great thing to have as well. Just make sure it’s low enough for the children to easily see it and keep it up to date. Things happen and it’s best to have your children well prepared.

Add to this, children as young as 3 should be taught about gun safety, fire safety, and water safety. When visiting friends and family it’s very easy for young children to come across a gun if it isn’t locked out of sight. Don’t assume others will keep your child safe. Teach your children the skills they need, so they’ll know how to react in advance.

#3 Speaking Skills

Make public speeches a regular part of learning. Perhaps have your child stand up and recite a poem or sing about prepositions in front of their grandparents or in front of a co-op class. Don’t let this be just a once in a blue moon activity though. Requiring it at least once a month would be best. Children need this very important life skill. This will help them build their confidence, learn to speak clearly and at the correct volume, as well as how to make eye contact with the audience. Start them young and they will continue to improve as they get older.

#4 Organizational Skills

organized studentChildren need to learn to be responsible with their books, papers, art supplies, sports equipment, etc. If you are always packing their bag for them or cleaning and organizing their work space what will they do when they get to college? Would your child lose some important book or paperwork if you didn’t organize for them? Perhaps, but it would be a valuable lesson learned and in cleaning up their own stuff they can find what they need.

I’m not suggesting you leave them to their own devices, but help them find ways to organize things. Suggest ways they can organize books on a bookshelf, or have them help you re-organize the kitchen cabinets. Here’s a great article that may help. Organizational Skills If you’re looking for a book to help you teach your middle-high school age child organizational skills I recommend The Organized Student.

#5 Finance

Understanding finance is important for everyone. From a very young age children should be taught the importance of money. They need to understand how hard it is to earn it and how to use their money wisely. Too often parents teach children to “save” their money when they should be teaching them how to “invest” their money. I highly recommend the book Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids
Also, here’s a brief list of some great financial books and blogs for teens: Financial Reading Your Teen Won’t Tune Out  Don’t worry, they aren’t all books.

#6 Making Friends

gardeningwith friendsThis might seem very basic, but for many children making friends is difficult. While some of the homeschooled children I’ve met are quite outgoing, others just don’t seem to have the skills it takes to approach an unknown child and start up a conversation. Teach your child to approach another child with a smile and say something like, “Hi, I’m Sarah, what’s your name?”  Then they could say something like, “Have you seen the movie ________?” (a popular new movie) or “I really like your _________.” (hair, shoes, shirt, necklace, etc.)

After basic introductions teach your children to invite others to come play with them by saying something like, “Do you want to play basketball?” or “Anyone want to have a turn on my ______ game?” (tablet or smartphone game).

Role playing while teaching these scenarios is the key to getting your child more comfortable with meeting others. Start off pretending to be your child while he/she pretends to be another child. Go through some of the scenarios above or create your own, then reverse roles. It may always be difficult for them to make friends, but with practice it will get better.

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Posted by on September 13, 2014 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling


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Real Life… Learning in the Outdoors

brooke catching minnows

Catching minnows in a lake.

Children of all ages enjoy exploring the outdoors. When the weather is nice I like to take our learning outside. From watching clouds slowly moving across the sky to catching tadpoles or minnows. The world is always changing all around us.

Scavenger Hunt

Consider sending your children on an outdoor scavenger hunt. Give them notebooks and pencils so they can write about and/or draw what they find rather than collecting each item. (You don’t want them to collect any creatures, plus this saves your flowers and more delicate plants from being picked.)

A scavenger hunt is easily adapted to a variety of ages, just remember to keep the list of what they are looking for short for younger children and a bit longer, more time consuming for older children. For some great outdoor scavenger hunt ideas try this website: Nature Scavenger Hunt

Book Work Outdoors

Sometimes it’s nice to take the school books with you outside just to change the scenery. We’ve done lessons on our front porch (which usually involves a cat or two walking across the books or jumping into our laps). Sometimes we’ll take our books to the park and do some work at a picnic table for a while, play for a while, then do more work and repeat. Find a shady spot around town somewhere where you live. Perhaps a gazebo, picnic table or a blanket in the shade will work for your family.

schoolwork while waiting

Waiting for a local business to open. (I goofed so we were 30 minutes early.)

Another thing to consider is any downtime between doctor appointments, meeting friends, or waiting for a group class to start your children can do a little book work. All it takes is a bit of planning before hand to remember to bring the books and supplies with you. I like to choose easier subjects that my children can work on with minimal input from me. For my third grader this is usually grammar and spelling. For my first grader this only leaves spelling because most of her other work requires me reading the instructions to her.

Don’t attempt to get lower elementary children to do their work in the car. It’s difficult for them to hold the book in their lap and write at the same time. If it’s a single worksheet on a clipboard or lap desk then they can probably get it done, but if it’s a workbook or text book you’ll find they perform much better at a bench or sidewalk.

Just find a spot where your child isn’t in the full sun or near the street. Also consider the weather. If it’s too hot or too cold they may not be able to concentrate. Instead of book work I’d consider playing a game like I-Spy or having them practice reciting some things they’ve learned in the past. (Grammar jingles, 50 states song, multiplication rhymes, etc.)

Exploring Nature

butterfly and chrysalis

One Monarch drying it’s wings, another still inside the chrysalis.

In good weather go on nature hikes, visit the park, explore trails in the woods (make sure you aren’t trespassing), visit a U-pick farm. You just never know what you’ll find. Often children see things that we adults would never notice. I think partly it’s because they are lower to the ground, but also it’s because we adults are so busy focusing on where we are going next that we tend to forget about enjoying the present.

Take the time to stop and smell the flowers. Watch the butterflies, admire a roly-poly, explore mushrooms and fungi on fallen trees. There are so many things to investigate and explore outdoors.

Let children ask all the questions they want about what they find. Don’t worry about not knowing the answers, simply explain that you’ll look up the answers when you get home. You better write down or send yourself and e-mail of their questions though, because if you are anything like me you will have forgotten what they asked by the time you get home.  🙂

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Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Real Life


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Book Work v.s. Hands-on Projects

caves stalactites stalagmitesWe all know the public schools focus mainly on book work with the occasional science or social studies project once a year. As homeschoolers we have the opportunity to do as many hands-on projects as we want, whenever we want.

Studying earthquakes? Let’s do an experiment! What about stalactites and stalagmites? Create some! Geography fair time? Let’s do it! The list can go on an on, but it’s also important to find a balance that works for you and your children.

Too many projects and experiments can lead to less broad learning, but much more in-depth learning. In-depth learning is a GOOD thing, just don’t forget to touch on the high points of some other topics as well.  🙂

growing crystals balloon skewer project
We do a ton of book work from August through September when it’s still very hot outside. In October we usually start doing more hands-on learning and field trips. By the holidays we’re doing a combination of book work and hands-on projects, then the cycle starts all over again. When the weather is pleasant we enjoy hiking and outdoor experiments, but when the weather is oppressively hot and humid we do more book work and learning games than projects.

luke & brooke bookworkOver the past few years of homeschooling I’ve learned to try to balance out fun projects with book work (or seat work as some call it). Book work is necessary and not every aspect of homeschooling can be fun all the time.

I find that our children do their best work early in the morning. Once our main written subjects are finished we can move towards the more interactive subjects like music, art, science projects, etc.

What works for you and your children? Do your children have 1-2 big projects each year? Do they complete 4-6 smaller projects? Does what you do vary and just sort of go with what you are studying, the weather, and whatever whim you (or your children) happen to have at the moment? There is no right or wrong answer. 🙂

If your children are learning and you aren’t stressing out then say a prayer of thanks. Keep exploring and learning with your children as you watch the wonder in their eyes when they discover new things.


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Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers

ninjago insideMany children are intimidated at the thought of reading a chapter book, or any book with more text per page. Being a reluctant reader does NOT mean they aren’t good at reading. It may be something as simple as finding a subject matter to grab their attention. For others it might be they are shy about reading aloud.

Regardless of the reason, I highly recommend trying a couple of graphic novels.

Definition from Wikipedia:

graphic novel is a book made up of comics content. Although the word “novel” normally refers to long fictional works, the term “graphic novel” is applied broadly, and includes fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized work. It is distinguished from the term “comic book”, which is used for comics periodicals.

Our 3rd grader has been enjoying a mixture of graphic novels along with traditional books since the end of first grade. While some teachers and parents may frown at the idea of letting children read graphic novels, we think they are GREAT!

Below are some of my children’s favorite graphic novels. Click on a photo to purchase through Amazon. You may be able to find some of these at your local library as well.

lightning thief  warriors

ninjago  boxcarchildren

trojan horse  starwars

black beauty  owly

bone  binky

Another great thing about these graphic novels is many of them are part of a series. Find one your child likes? Let them read the others in the series!

Looking for more tips for a reluctant reader? Read my previous post “Getting Your Child to Want to Read”.

***This post contains affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for more info.


Posted by on October 26, 2013 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling


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Real Life… Learning Around Town

schoolwork waiting room

What does the term “homeschooling” mean to you? Do you picture a family sitting around the dining table with workbooks? Perhaps sitting on the couch reading and discussing a lesson together? These are both valid thoughts, however not every day has to be that way.

Some feel that “home education” would be a better term for what we do every day. BUT, even the term home education has the word “home” in it.

For our family, homeschooling is NOT about staying home and doing book-work all day. We have frequent dentist appointments, visits to the library, we take grandma to the hospital for outpatient procedures, and other time-consuming events which pull us away from home during the typical school hours.

dentist office work

On top of everything above I try to plan a fun day once a month. We take our books with us to either the park, Chick-fil-a, or Pete’s Party Castle (indoor play-place with obstacle course, slide, and arcade games).

My rule for these fun places is they must complete 20 minutes of work to get 20 minutes of playtime, then repeat. Feel free to adjust these times as fits best for your children. I certainly do!

Side note: for restaurants such as Chick-fil-a, make sure to go between their peak hours so you aren’t taking up a table from their other customers. I try to be courteous and aware of my surroundings. When the lunch crowd starts pouring in it’s time to leave.

Whether your family is visiting someone at the hospital, going to a doctor or dentist appointment, or perhaps visiting your spouse for lunch; education can happen anywhere.

book cafeschoolwork hospitalcounting bugles


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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Real Life


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