Reblog: Homeschool SOS

If you are panicking about school starting, if your rhythm is non-existent, if you haven’t planned one single thing for next year, if you have just made a last-minute decision to homeschool, take a breath. I promise you, this is a foolproof plan for getting started.

#1 Go for a walk in the morning. This is a great way to start the day. It gets everybody’s ya-yas out, and doing it every day after breakfast will begin to shape your rhythm. Just get outside. Don’t have it be a nature lesson or a historical walking tour. It’s fine if these things casually come up, but just get everyone out of the house and walking. Walk for as long as you can, building up to an hour if you have nothing else planned for the morning. When I first started walking with my boys, they were nice and tired when we came home. I gave them a snack, and found myself with some free time where I could do some planning. Usually I had a lot of ideas generated on the walk – getting them down on paper was a step in the right direction.

OK, after you’re walking consistently for about a week . . .

#2 Have afternoon storytime. I have written a lot about storytime. If you get a basket, put some really good books in it, and read to your children every afternoon, you are doing something great. Depending on the ages of your children, walking and reading could be enough.** Or perhaps, enough for a good long while, and then enough to build upon. If you are uncomfortable reading aloud, start with audio books. My advice is to go for the classics – these books have stood the test of time for a reason. You can take a look at our reading lists here.

There, if you are walking in the morning and having storytime in the afternoon, you have 2 anchor points during your day. Bonus points can be added if you have predictable mealtimes. Again if your children are little, especially if your oldest is under 7 or 8, relax. You’re doing enough** – or at least enough to buy yourself some time to get a solid plan together. However, if your children are older, and you want to do more . . .

#3 Do some math. I’m not talking about researching every math curriculum out there and spending a lot of money. Math can be baking. Math can be playing games. Math can be playing cards. Math can be skip counting, times tables with beanbags, baseball stats, football scores. I have some cheap and easy math ideas in this post and this post. The idea is just to begin introducing math into your homeschooling day. See how your children learn. See what they like. My favorite resource for beginning with Waldorf math is Melisa Nielsen’s math book. It is simple, yet thorough, and not expensive.

OK, you can feel good about getting some math in. And now, last but not least . . .

#4 Recite some poetry. This could be nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, seasonal verses. This could be simple songs. Interacting with language orally promotes literacy on so many levels. Check out a book of poetry from the library, and read it together. Pick a poem to memorize. If you really want to impress your kids, memorize “The Jabberwock” by Lewis Carroll and recite it to them one morning after your walk. Donna Simmons suggests this in her book Living Language, and it is a sure fire way to generate some enthusiasm around poetry.

Do these four things consistently for 3-4 days a week with your children, and you are really doing big things!! Add a baking day. Add a library day. You’re doing it. You’re homeschooling. You’re starting a rhythm. Congratulations!!

**Obviously you need to check the homeschooling regulations for your particular state, as they vary widely. However, my advice – no matter what rules need to be followed – would be to start slow and to start small. Build a solid foundation and move on from there.

Shout Out: Planning Webinar with Jean Miller

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It is no secret that I adore Jean Miller, so it will come as no surprise that I am wholeheartedly recommending her upcoming planning webinar. I have done it all with this woman: phone consultations, all day private planning sessions, plus formal and informal classes at Taproot. She is a master and I have learned so much from her. Go, go, go and sign up right now – there are only 10 spots available and early bird pricing ends August 15 August 19 – Jean just extended this. You can find out all the details here.

***FYI, I am in no way compensated by Jean’s massive Waldorf Empire – not even one measly beeswax crayon!! Just happy to spread the word.

Desk Clutter/Mind Chatter

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Consider this post a foil to my previous planning posts (this one and this one). Or perhaps think of it as a window on reality. No matter how early or loose a plan is, it always looks good typed up and/or photographed. Everything appears neat and tidy and organized. Such images may lead to assumptions that the person who made the very early and oh-so-loose plan is also neat and tidy and organized. Perhaps she is also impossibly tall, unbelievably thin and naturally blond. Sadly, none of this is true.

The photograph above shows the surface next to my chair in the living room. Underneath my coffee cup are resources for our bird block, poetic recitation, geology and a catalog for the John C. Campbell Folk School – which I always dream about going to, but really has nothing to do with anything. The photograph below shows the surface of my desk. (Notice I didn’t lead with that one. Didn’t want to scare anyone away!) God only knows what’s on there. To the right, I can definitely make out the watercolor paintings I worked on and featured in this post crammed in between someone’s grade binder, some other resource and the tape gun.

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If my physical space looks messy, my mental space is even worse. This is a conversation I had with myself when I was planning Vincent’s block on Rome. “Hmmm . . . well Donna Simmons suggests starting out the block with Penelope Lively’s retelling of The Aeneid, In Search of a Homeland.” Look that up in the library system. Put it on hold. Think, “We should really own that.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . . and noticed retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad. Remember both these titles were cut from our block on Greece last year. Think, “Really now, how can we read The Aeneid without first reading The Odyssey and The Iliad? These are seminal works. Literary touchstones in the course of human civilization. How can we NOT read them? I’ll put them in the beginning of the year and THEN we’ll start Rome. But which version of Homer should I go with? Donna Simmons recommends Rosemary Sutcliff’s retellings, The Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy.  But I know I read somewhere that The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum is the best. Plus, we own that one already.” Compare Colum’s version with Sutcliff’s. Like Sutcliff’s better. Look up Sutcliff in the library system. Put both books on hold. Think, “We should really own them.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . .

This is where my eyes start to bug out, my head starts to ache and all thoughts of incompetency, overwhelm and anxiety begin to flood my brain. I’ve been around the block with this planning gig several times. It doesn’t matter. This is how it goes in the beginning. If I don’t consciously put a stop to my mental chatter and construct some firm boundaries around our blocks nothing is going to get done. Nothing. Not one stinkin’ thing. I’m trying to plan a six-week block on Ancient Rome for a sixth grader and suddenly, I’m piling on a mountain of pre-requisites like it is a 400-level college course. Not to mention, we have other subjects to cover, and oh, I have to plan those as well. We are never, ever, ever going to get to everything – especially if we can’t even get to the subject at hand.

But what to do with all of those books, projects and ideas that come up? I am pretty strict – sometimes even ruthless – with keeping our blocks lean and mean. A lot of additional books related to our blocks go in the read-aloud basket. Sometimes they get chosen and sometimes they don’t. This year, I have come up with what I’m calling “The Sick List”. Basically, whenever something comes up that is related to what we are studying, but is not deemed essential, I’m putting it on the list for when we are sick: physically sick, mentally sick, sick of school, sick of each other . . . you get the idea. Currently this list has a bunch of handwork projects, craft ideas, recipes and books – lots and lots of books. And can you guess who is at the top of the list? Homer and Virgil, well, Rosemary Sutcliff and Penelope Lively. After all, they started it.

***Click on the comments for this post. It would seem there are a lot of us in the same boat! (You can reach the comments by clicking the pale grey bubble with the number in it, directly to the right of the title above.)

Dissecting The Big Paper

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Click to enlarge.

**See the first part of this planning post here.**

1. Fold your paper into 12 squares and label the squares, starting with the month you begin school and ending with the month you finish. For us that is 11 months (August through June.) We only do school 4 days a week, and don’t really do much of anything in December.

2. Print out a calendar that will show you how many days there are per month and where the important holidays fall. Here is a resource for this from Jean Miller www.calendarlabs.com. Go through every month and color in the squares on your calendar printout when you know you will not be doing school. This could be holidays, vacations, birthdays, weekends, whatever. I make sure to note these days (holidays, birthdays) in several places.

3. Okay, this next step could be the BEST planning tip I ever received. And it comes from  . . . you guessed it . . . Jean Miller. (She really is a genius. Have you been to her website yet?) OK ready? Count the days you have available for main lesson per month. Remember to take into account any co-op days or regularly occurring off-days that you don’t do school. This was a game changer for me, because it helped me to see the actual amount of time I had per block. We don’t do school on Fridays, so I am only counting 4 days per week, not including holidays, birthdays, etc. There is anywhere from 8 days (August, December, June) to 20 days (October is a whopper this year!) to an average of 15-16 days per block/month (September, November, January, February, March, April, May). Put this number somewhere prominent as it will guide and determine your weekly and daily plans.

4. Before I get into planning on a weekly or daily basis, I need to get the order of my blocks solid. This is slightly intuitive and consequently, hard to explain. First I determine the “big” blocks that need to come later in the year. (For grade 6, this will be Physics and Medieval History. For grade 2, this will be Saints and Heroes and the novel The King of Ireland’s Son.) Then I try to put blocks that require field trips in months with nicer weather (grade 6: geology/October). We do math in January simply because it does not require a lot of preparation and that is what I need trying to get back to school after our extended break in December. In addition to these factors, I try to alternate math, history/language arts and science blocks. Anne Cleveland pointed this out in her excellent planning talk on The Waldorf Homeschool Expo this year. I don’t know if I paid attention to this before, but it is something I am taking into account this year.

5. Once I have done the four steps above, I feel like I have given myself a solid foundation to work with. Knowing how many days I have per block helps me rein in the number of resources I think I need. If I only have 16 days to teach a certain block and I read a new story every other day, that means I need 8 stories. If I need only 8 stories, I don’t need to beg, borrow, steal and purchase 101 books! Once I narrow down my resources, the number of days also helps me to divide how I am going to teach the block. Usually, I like to have my blocks fall into the confines of a month, however, some blocks in the upper grades need more than a month. Last year, Greece needed 6 weeks and this will happen with Rome this year. I know I am using Charles Kovacs’ book Ancient Rome which is divided into 3 sections. If I have 6 weeks to teach the block, that gives me 2 weeks per section. (For another take on this, see this post from last year. For a reality check, see this post.)

Below you will find a revised block schedule for next year. Things I’ve scrapped are in red; things I’ve added are in green. It is ongoing and ever-changing. I feel like our first semester (August through December) is pretty tight. The rest will be adjusted in December/January.

August:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Bird Study/Form Drawing/Math Review (2 weeks)
  • Jude (grade 2) – Bird Study/Form Drawing/Math Review (2 weeks)

September:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Rome (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 1
  • Jude (grade 2) – Animal Legends (4 weeks)

October:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Rome Con’t (2 weeks) / Geology (3 weeks) / Biography Study (2 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 1
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (4 weeks) / Nature (1 week)

November:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Business Math (3 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar/Math Focus – Grammar/Punctuation Practice/Geometric Drawing
  • Jude (grade 2) – Uncle Remus Tales (3 weeks) Celtic Legends (3 weeks)

December:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Ancient China (2 weeks) European Geography (2 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar/Math Focus – Grammar/Punctuation Practice/Geometric Drawing
  • Jude (grade 2) – Festival of Stones, Reg Down

January:

  • Vincent (grade 6) –Geometry (4 weeks) Geometric Drawing (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar Focus: Grammar/Punctuation Practice
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (3 weeks) / Nature (1 week)

February: Room of Requirement

  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 2

March:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Physics (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 2
  • Jude (grade 2) – Saints and Heroes (4 weeks)

April:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Medieval History (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 3
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (3 weeks) / Nature (1 week)

May:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Arthurian Legends / Time Line / A Little History of the World, EH Gombrich (4 – 5 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 3
  • Jude (grade 2) – King of Ireland’s Son, Padraic Colum (4 weeks)

June:

  • Vincent (grade 6) – Wrap Up / Review (2 weeks)
  • Jude (grade 2) – Wrap Up / Review (2 weeks)

The Cowboy Boot Contessa Makes . . .

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I am posting every day this week in hopes of expanding our menu of meals. We have reached a nadir in menu planning, variety and the culinary demands of a certain child who happens to be turning 8 this week. No names . . . wouldn’t want to expose the guilty party. (It’s Jude. And he’s driving me NUTS!!) So breakfast . . . what’s your favorite all-around? How about when you’re in a rush? Do you like it sweet? Savory? Tell me everything and anything you have to say about the most important meal of the day in the comments section. Leave a link or a recipe or join in on your blog. You can see what Mama and the girls are having for breakfast over here.

I had the idea a couple of weeks ago to start serving breakfast buffet-style on school days beginning in August. In the past, we have used menu planning to much success. (Look here and here.) Then Tom took over breakfast and began to channel the spirit of his grandfather who worked as a cook in a New Jersey diner. This was working out pretty well, but things were getting a little complicated. So one morning during pancakes-bacon-and-eggs-any-style, I had the idea to eliminate the element of choice and elaborate preparation on school days. My criteria are high protein, low sugar, minimal cooking and easy clean-up.

Here is a list of items I plan to have available for breakfast on weekdays. (Not all items will be available everyday. This is more of a list of options for me to pull from.) Fridays and weekends will have Tom returning to his role of impersonating Pop-Pop Larry.

  • Boiled eggs
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Nuts, dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cereal
  • Milk
  • English muffins, breads
  • Quick breads, muffins
  • Cheese
  • Cold cuts
  • Yogurt, kefir
  • Peanut butter
  • Granola

***

Check out the breakfast recipes I have posted in the past.

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