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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Tracking Grades and Why I Create Report Cards

math testWhy Keep Track of Grades?

Tracking grades helps me have a record to look back on to see how the children have progressed in each subject.

In some states keeping track of grades is mandatory, however many states (such as ours) require only attendance records and mention nothing about grades. It’s up to you if want to record your child’s grades. Some parents use a portfolio which may include samples of their child’s best work, photos of projects, a list of field trips, and a list of any community service work their child has done. Other parents record numerous tests, daily grades, project grades, and so forth.

I don’t recommend grading every piece of paper your child completes, nor do I recommend putting a large amount of emphasis on the grade for each test or project. It’s more important to encourage a child to do their best, follow directions, and use neatness. For this reason I rarely discuss grades for individual projects or quizzes with the children. After a written test they immediately want to know how many they got wrong, but this is typical for everyone, no matter our age.

science social studies exampleHow Can I Grade Subjects Like PE and Art?

I keep track of grades from tests, oral quizzes and project grades for most subjects.Then at the end of the quarter every subject gets a daily work grade which is usually decided based on these three factors:

1. Completed daily assignments on-time
2. Neatness
3. Followed Instructions

For subjects like PE where there typically isn’t any written assignments I grade the children on:

1. Participation (always trying their best)
2. Attitude (willingness to do what is asked with minimal complaining)
3. Following Instructions

These same factors can be applied to Art or Music as well. Don’t be too easy or too hard on your children. Think about their work from an outsider’s perspective. Did they really put forth effort and try their best?

What do I Use to Track Grades?

Some people use a teacher record book or homeschool grade book.

Other families use an app like Homeschool Helper, which can be really helpful if you have a tablet or smart phone. (I’ve used it only briefly, but I liked what I saw).

I use a spreadsheet software called LibreOffice Calc (it’s very similar to Microsoft Excel). Any type of spreadsheet software should work. When I first open a new document I rename the tabs at the bottom my children’s names. Then each child has their own page.
Next I list the subjects across the top and simply copy/paste the subjects to the other children (modifying any that may different for a child in a different grade). After that it’s simple to list the date on the far left and each graded item under the subject column. Be as specific as you want to be. I’ve found giving more details helps me when I look back a few quarters later.

grades example sm

Example of spreadsheet with grades. Note the child name tabs at the bottom.

As you can see above, I put the final quarter grades in blue. For the next quarter I just skip a few lines and then keep going. It’s much easier to keep all of one year on a page, plus if you name the document Grades 2014.2015 or something similar you can easily find the year you’re wanting later on.

I HIGHLY recommend putting a copy of your child’s grades in a cloud storage place such as Google Drive or similar. Computer hard drives go bad, lightning strikes, and all sorts of mishaps can happen. A backup of their grades in a cloud storage will allow you to retrieve their grades from any computer no matter where you are, all you’ll need to do is log-in to Google.

Why Would a Home-schooled Child Need a Report Card?reportcards 2014

While a report card isn’t a NEED for most homeschool families it sure has its benefits.

#1 Our children have answers ready for the inevitable question of, “What did you make on your report card?”

#2 Local rewards for As!
Get a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme for each A (up to 6 for free). Get a free Happy Meal at select McDonald’s for straight As. Get a free game of laser tag at Lazer Zone for straight As. I’m sure there are other places that give rewards for As, but these are the ones I know of.

Get your own report cards.

Get your own achievement certificates.

Do you do things differently? Have any suggestions or comments? Please leave a comment.


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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Record Keeping


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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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Ready for the 2014 – 2015 School Year

school area2 2014We are all set for starting school this week and I’m too excited to sleep! To celebrate, we have a tradition of going on a field trip the first day of school. This year we will be visiting the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center.

The main attraction at the Exploreum right now is the LIVE African penguin exhibit! We’ve been looking forward to seeing them all summer, though I think I’m probably more excited about the penguins than the children are.

Our children will be in 4th grade and 1st/2nd grade this year.
Why the 1st/2nd grade? Because we started our daughter in K5 a year early, which put her doing 1st grade work last year. We went at a slower pace throughout 1st grade so she will still be finishing up 1st grade math and reading this fall, but is at a 2nd grade level in the other subjects. This is actually pretty common with homeschooled children. It makes the question “What grade are you in?” quite interesting. I expect her to be in the 2nd grade books by January or February, but we’ll go at whatever pace she needs.

luke 4th grade booksHere is the list of curriculum we’ll be using for our 4th grader:
Our American Heritage – Geography
Heritage Studies 3 – Social Studies (using this with both children)
Horizons Spelling & Vocabulary
All About Spelling
Horizons Math 4
Discover the Wonder – Science (using this with both children)
Daily Language Review – Language Arts
Easy Grammar 4
Phonics Plus
Reading 3 (finishing up some lessons from last year)
Cursive Writing 3rd & 4th Grade
View from My Window – Writing
Write on Track – Writing

Online curriculum: – Math
Easy Peasy Online Homeschooling – Typing Lessons & additional Social Studies lessons

*Side note: I’m aware a couple of the books in this picture are the 3rd grade level instead of 4th grade. I was feeling lazy and just grabbed the books that were closest to me. The covers are different colors, but you get the basic idea.

brooke 2nd grade booksOur 1st/2nd grader will be using the following curriculum:

Horizons Spelling & Vocabulary
All About Spelling
Horizons Phonics & Reading 1
Arithmetic 1 – Math
Horizons Math 1 (this is more advanced & fast paced so we’re doing this after the other book)
Grammar Skills
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Explode the Code – Phonics & Reading
Heritage Studies 3 – Social Studies (using this with both children)
Discover the Wonder – Science (using this with both children)

Online curriculum:
Reading Eggs – Phonics & Reading
Easy Peasy Online Homeschooling – additional Social Studies lessons

Our children are also enrolled in co-op classes that meet once a week. Our oldest will be learning about Alabama history, elementary chemistry, and grammar; while our youngest learns about science, geography, logic & critical thinking, and PE. The children absolutely love their co-op classes and I enjoy having them learn from different adults besides just boring mom all the time. 🙂

Do you have a question about curriculum or anything else about homeschooling? Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Curriculum


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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”.

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


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