A Sane Approach to College-Prep Homeschooling

A Sane Approach to College-Prep Homeschooling

College Prep

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I am frequently asked about college-prep homeschooling. When some moms consider the high school years as preparation for college, they freak out. I get it. I was worried about high school too. But I shouldn’t have been. This May I will graduate my third high school student and will have my first college graduate. I don’t have all the answers, but my perspective has changed and I want to share my experiences that should calm your fears.

[Listen to Secrets to College Admission with Lee Binz]

Homeschool Graduates

Is it harder to teach college-prep homeschool?

A common question I have received is whether it is harder to homeschool high school, especially when you’re preparing a student for college. I know that question comes out of the idea that the subject matter is more complex and requires a more knowledgeable teacher. My answer to that question is in most cases it is easier to homeschool high school. Your students should be able to read and complete assignments with very little help from you. If your child is self-directed, you may only need to meet with your student to review work, administer tests, and grade papers. If the content is not something you are well-versed in, you can have your student use self-directed curriculum, getting help from other homeschooling parents as needed, have your child take a Learning Center class, or enroll your child in an AP or dual enrollment course. If you have a friend who is skilled in the subject that is weaker for you, trade responsibilities. As I’ve often mentioned, I have a friend who does my kids’ Apologia labs and grades and administers tests while I teach her kids literature and composition. You can do this!

What type of courses should be taught in a college-prep homeschool?

Another question I am often asked is about the types of courses high school students who want to attend college should be taking. Visit HSLDA.org to get a list of college-prep high school courses. Next, look at the requirements of a college your child may want to attend. My oldest had a large list of potential universities and he applied to many of them. He ended up choosing a state school. We were thrilled that he has been close to home and he has said that he is very happy with his choice. Our second two sons are also attending state schools and for financial and family reasons, we plan to send the rest of the kids to state schools. If you make a similar choice for your family, reviewing college course requirements becomes a lot simpler. I will say that you can take your high school student on college visits early on, but a lot of maturity happens in the junior and senior years that may have your student changing his mind.

Apologia science co-op

These are the course choices we have made in our college-prep homeschooling. We have included English studies every year of high school. I have like to alternate literature and composition courses every year and we have done these as part of our home based co-op. I find that my high school students enjoy literature and writing a lot more when they are able to discuss and share their writing with friends.

They have also done four years of math, though the levels of math have varied in the senior year depending on math ability. For science my students have used Apologia and have studied biology, chemistry, physics, and advanced chemistry. Science labs have been completed also in our home based co-op.

My high school students have taken a variety of other courses in high school including world history, American history, government, logic, health, Spanish, theology/worldviews, music, practical skills, and physical education. American history or government is a requirement for one college in our state.

[Read Teaching Pratical Skills in Your Homeschool]

How rigorous should college-prep homeschool courses be?

I am frequently asked about how rigorous high school courses should be. High school classes should be graded so those grades can be included on a high school transcript. I use assignments, participation, grading rubrics for papers, and tests that are included with curriculum in order to give my students an accurate grade. I find that some homeschool curricula requires more work (especially writing) than courses traditional schools require. I don’t like to require a paper a week for every subject, for example, because even college courses don’t require that much writing. On the other hand, to prepare your students for college, there should be increased expectations for evidence of your child’s learning. If there are no tests available with a curriculum you’re using, require your students to write a paper or create a project that demonstrates what your child has learned. Then you grade it.

How do I create a high school transcript?

That leads me to another question I frequently receive: how to create a transcript. There are free editable forms available for you to complete by adding the course name, the number of credits, and the grade. You will want to determine how course credits are typically calculated in your state. In mine, a full-year course is 1 credit. A semester course is .5 credits. You’ll want to choose a grading scale and use it consistently. I do not grade with A-‘s and B+’s, so I use 4 points for an A, 3 for a B, and so on. Keep the names of the courses simple like English Comp I or Spanish II so colleges can compare your child’s coursework to other students’. If you have higher expectations for a course or add enrichment activities to it such as the science lectures we had our students attend in addition to their Apologia coursework, you can label a course as Honors on a transcript (e.g., Spanish I Honors). Keep a record apart from the transcript of textbook used, course instructor’s name (if the class was completed at a learning center or online), and example work/tests should you be asked to present proof of course content.

Should I have my student take CLEP tests, AP courses, or dual enroll?

The next question I am often asked is about CLEP, AP courses, and dual enrollment. My oldest son took online AP courses through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. He then took the AP exams for those courses and did well in them. Depending on the score received, most colleges will accept those courses for college credit. When he later attended high school, he took enough AP courses with qualifying scores to become an AP Scholar. He had two years’ of college credit by the time he graduated from high school.

My second son took CLEP tests through College Prep Plus. He passed the tests, but when we decided he would attend college rather than complete the College Prep program, we learned that the tests he took would not qualify for credit at the state schools he wanted to attend. That is not to say that the CLEP tests wouldn’t have been valuable for a degree through College Plus. My son had an incredible experience working with a mentor through College Prep Plus and was motivated to attend college and set and complete goals because of the program.

Rather than AP or CLEP tests, my second and third sons took dual enrollment classes at our local community college. Getting college credit that way as opposed to the AP course and exam fee has been much less expensive for us and has been excellent college preparation. I have liked them taking the courses while I am still here to provide support. My fourth son will be taking courses at community college next year. My kids have taken American history, psychology, sociology, Spanish, and math.

I have been asked which option colleges prefer. Colleges aren’t as likely to accept CLEP exams for college credit. So do your research if you plan for your student to attent a traditional college. AP courses are excellent for students who want a competitive scholarship, but they aren’t required for the most common academic scholarships. Even though my oldest son had two years’ of college credits, he was admitted as a freshman and was given scholarships as though he were a freshman. College credits can reduce the amount you have to spend while your student is enrolled, but degree and scholarship requirements may limit the savings. My oldest is graduating in four years, for example.

How can I maximize my student’s chances of college admission and scholarships?

Now I want to answer questions I get on admissions and scholarships. Your student can earn free tuition from many universities with a high GPA and test score alone. Check the schools you are interested in for the requirements. You’ll be offered these scholarships automatically, regardless of your family’s income. You won’t need an impressive list of accomplishments and activities to get them. In fact, the admission form for our state schools doesn’t ask for this information. Their transcript and test scores were all that were required for admission and scholarships. If your student will apply for a competitive scholarship, that is when that list of accomplishments comes into play. If your student’s test scores aren’t high enough for admission, you may be able to use that list to gain admission as well. However, if your student doesn’t do well on tests but does well in the classroom, consider dual enrollment or full-time enrollment in a community college after high school. Your child can then transfer to a four-year college on GPA alone. There are fewer transfer scholarships, but there are some available.

Because the biggest scholarships are based on test scores, it’s important that your student do their very best on the ACT or SAT. Two of my students used workbooks exclusively to prepare for their exams because they’re visual learners.  Two of my sons have used Magoosh to prepare and I highly recommend it. It has short teaching videos and test questions that can be accessed from their phones any time they want to get a short practice session in.  I am considering enrolling my high school student in an ACT course as well because he’s an auditory learner. One strategy my kids have used that is excellent is to emulate the testing format during practice tests as closely as possible. So block out four hours of the day and take the exam in the same way that you will be on testing day. Have your students start studying early. If your student has learning challenges, arrange for testing accommodations. Contact your local homeschool support group for information about how to arrange that.

If you want more information about helping your child secure scholarships, listen to the podcast episode I did with Lee Binz. Investigate other scholarships that are available through the college or university that your child would consider attending. Many that are not based on GPA and test scores require leadership experience. Plan now for opportunities for your child to exercise leadership or gain the types of experience that the scholarship requires. Look for local, private scholarships as well. My dentist’s office offers a college scholarship, for example. Many smaller scholarships require letters of recommendation and if your child has someone who could write an excellent letter on his or her behalf, your child may have a good chance at earning the scholarship. Many smaller scholarships offered by colleges and universities require essays. If your child is a strong writer, you may be able to increase education funding by applying for those smaller scholarships. Of course, there are scholarships for sports ability and other extracurricular skills you should look into as well. Depending on your family’s income, you may qualify for grants to help defray the costs. One significant source of college funding that I had not considered before my second son attended college is serving as a resident assistant. My son was a resident assistant this year and will be next year as well. That position includes free room, board, books, and a small salary. That is a huge help to our family. Becoming a resident assistant does require good grades in college and good communication skills, but it is something to aim for to make college more affordable.

[Listen to Lessons Learned from Homeschooling High School]


Homeschooling high school can be a rewarding time in your relationship with your teen. While preparing your child for college can create anxiety, we can learn how to choose courses, prepare our kids for college entrance exams, and earn scholarship money. We can also trust God to help our kids do what is required to fulfill the plan He has for them. College-prep homeschooling has been much easier than I thought it would be. I hope I’ve reassured you!

Do you have any questions about college-prep homeschooling that I haven’t answered? Comment below.

College Prep Homeschooling

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The Best Language Arts Curriculum for Every Grade

The Best Language Arts Curriculum for Every Grade

The best language arts curriculum

One of the most time-consuming tasks for homeschooling parents is researching curriculum. I’m not only going to tell you what I think are the best choices, but I’m also going to give you access to a free document with all the information in table format. I think you’re going to love it!

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Why choosing the best language arts curriculum matters

Right away I want to issue a disclaimer. I am only sharing the language arts curricula that teaches more than one subject. I will not be discussing curricula that strictly teaches literature, writing, spelling, or grammar. In the future I may do reviews of these curricula as well. For today, if a curriculum teaches more than one subject and I believe it is one of the best currently available, I am including it in my list. You may have a curriculum you love that does teach more than one subject that hasn’t made my list. I would love to hear about it in the comments.

The list I’ve created will be a huge help in making a decision this year, especially if you are looking for a complete language arts curriculum and not a standalone subject. Click the list image below to claim your copy for subscribers.

Best Language Arts Curriculum

I believe that language arts is the most important subject we teach in our homeschools after the faith. Yes, I think it’s more important than math because we have to read to learn math and certainly have to read word problems to calculate them. My belief is backed up by research which demonstrates that reading and most particularly vocabulary (which is developed by reading) is the best predictor of a student’s academic success and life happiness. Writing skills are important in getting a good job as employers evaluate what is written on a job application. Writing is also a big factor in grades for most other subjects studied in college.

Because language arts is so important, we want to find a curriculum that will encourage our kids to read and write well. One of the most important criteria should be a student’s enjoyment. The more your child enjoys reading and writing, the more your child’s skills will improve. We can certainly encourage our kids to read and write outside of a traditional curriculum. But teaching higher-level language arts skills at any grade level can be easier with a curriculum to serve as your spine. It also makes sense to teach the language arts together, rather than dividing them into subtopics. Having said that, I have taught stand-alone subjects many times over the course of my homeschooling.

The best language arts curricula for elementary students

Grammar Galaxy

I will begin with what I consider to be the best language arts complete curriculum for elementary students. Am I being completely objective in recommending Grammar Galaxy as one of the best options? No. I have had too much positive feedback from Grammar Galaxy families to remain objective. I hear over and over that reluctant readers and writers are now doing both and loving it! I have heard too many times that children beg to do Grammar Galaxy where other grammar and English curriculum left them groaning.

Writing Kids Love

I am excited about the launch of the third volume of Grammar Galaxy which teaches literature concepts, vocabulary and spelling strategies, grammar, and composition and speaking to fourth graders and up or those who have completed the Protostar level or its equivalent. The stories and including students in the story as guardians of Grammar Galaxy who have missions and not workbooks to complete seems to be the awesome sauce. As this podcast is being released, Yellow Star and any bundles it is a part of is 20% off with no coupon code required. Go to GrammarGalaxyBooks.com/shop to save before midnight April 8, 2018. This is the best price through the fall of 2018. Grammar Galaxy currently has levels available for beginning readers or first-graders through fourth-graders but complete levels are planned for fifth and sixth graders with individual subject books planned for junior high. I already have students in junior high using and loving Volumes 1 and 2, however.

Shurley English

For elementary students, I have also enjoyed Shurley English. While the jingles weren’t my kids’ favorites, I had not found another curriculum before I created Grammar Galaxy that did as well at teaching parts of speech. It honestly amazed me how quickly my kids learned parts of speech with Shurley English. It is otherwise a standard textbook approach that teaches grammar and composition.

Character Quality Language Arts

I have used and enjoyed Character Quality Language Arts. This program is daunting at first because of the size of the stack of hole-punched pages, but it teaches many clever ways of remembering grammar rules and spelling words. It is a Christian program that emphasizes character. It draws from the keyword approach to writing that is characteristic of Institute for Excellence in Writing. I am not including IEW in my list as I consider it a stand-alone writing program. CQLA also uses dictation, which I think is important. Some of the work, like defining vocabulary words, becomes repetitive, however.

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind

I have also used and enjoyed First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained mind. This curriculum is short and scripted and was fun to use with my youngest. I liked that it is a gentle approach to language arts for young studients. I found that the recitation became a bit tedious for my guy over time, however.

All About Spelling

I have also used All About Spelling and I think it’s an excellent approach for students with dyslexia in particular. I found it wasn’t necessary for my students, but I highly recommend it for kids who struggle with reading and spelling.

Other recommended language arts curricula for elementary students

Other elementary curriculum I have not used but am including in my recommended elementary list include Logic of English, English for the Thoughtful Child, Sonlight, My Father’s World, Language Smarts from Timberdoodle, Language Lessons by Sandi Queen, Alpha Omega Lifepacs and Switched On Schoolhouse, Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Time for Learning, Easy Peasy, Abeka, Monarch, Writers in Residence, and Total Language Plus. In the download for this episode, you will find the grade levels for each curricula, pros, cons, difficulty, teacher involvement required, material requirements, costs, as well as top reviews. I can tell you that this list took a considerable amount of time to create, which will save you time.

[Read 6 Reasons Your Child Hates to Write and How to Fix It]

The best language arts curriculum for junior high students

Writers in Residence

For junior high, I did not use a complete language arts curriculum. I began using literature and composition-specific courses instead. The only complete junior high curriculum I’ve gotten to review closely is Writers in Residence from Apologia. Students are coached along the way to create meaningful writing. The curriculum also teaches literature and grammar. It’s an excellent choice.

Other language arts curriculum for junior high

Other options for you to consider for junior high include Alpha Omega Lifepacs & Switched On Schoolhouse, Time 4 Learning, Monarch, Life of Fred Language, Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Total Language Plus, Logic of English, and Language Lessons by Sandi Queen. If I were to choose a complete language arts curricula for my rising junior high student, I would consider Logic of English or Total Language Plus in addition to Writers in Residence. They have both been recommended by homeschoolers I know.

The best complete language arts curriculum for high school


For high school, the only complete language arts curriculum I have used and recommend is Abeka. While I think it includes too many exercises, the instruction is thorough and straight to the point. It’s an excellent option.

Other language arts curriculum for high school

I am also including in the list for high school the following: Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Time 4 Learning, Monarch, Oak Meadow, Logic of English, BJU Press, Excellence in Literature, Language Lessons by Sandi Queen, Life of Fred Language, and Total Language Plus.

How to make a language arts curriculum decision

 My list will get you started in deciding on language arts curriculum for next school year. But if possible, I highly recommend that you look at your choices in person. I will be exhibiting at Great Homeschool Conventions in Cincinnati and St. Louis this year. I would love to have you take a look at Grammar Galaxy and the other curricula I’ve mentioned. It can help a lot to get your hands on it.
But there’s one more important thing to remember. Making the right curriculum choice is not do or die. I hate to tell you how many times I’ve purchased curriculum that didn’t work or that I just didn’t have time for. Usually it was the latter. Be sure to read how to decide which curriculum to use as well. That’s for my fellow curriculum hoarders. Look at the options, talk with your spouse and friends, ask in the HomeschoolScopes group on Facebook, pray about it, and choose. If it doesn’t work, in many cases you can return the curriculum within a certain timeframe or sell it used online. I have a thorough post on selling used curriculum for you in the show notes.
Blessings on your research and decision making on language arts curricula! Which options are you leaning toward for next school year?
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6 Reasons Your Child Hates to Write & How to Fix It

6 Reasons Your Child Hates to Write & How to Fix It

child hates writing

Hey, homeschoolers! If your child hates to write, you’re in the right place. My kids were the same until I learned why they hated writing and what to do about it. Listen to the podcast for the solution to reluctant writers.

Listen to the podcast

Writing Kids Love

Why Kids Hate to Write and How We Can Fix It

#1 Your child’s handwriting speed is too slow.

The first reason your child hates to write is because your child’s handwriting speed is too slow. You can finish reading a picture book by the time your child has formed the letter a. Your child may have learned to form the letters correctly but you may not have given him focused practice in becoming faster. If your child writes slowly, you’ll likely have a student who resists any written work. Her brain is working much faster than her fingers and it’s frustrating.

I learned that this was behind even my advanced student’s writing reluctance. It wasn’t that he couldn’t write; he just didn’t want to. Only my daughter didn’t complain about writing because she was the only one whose fine motor skills could keep up with her creativity. So what do you do if your child writes too slowly? Give your kids focused practice in writing faster–not so fast that their work is not legible–but with less of a focus on perfect formation. Faster handwriting is one of the lessons in the first volume of Grammar Galaxy: Nebula, but I have a treat for you. You can download the forms I use in the lesson right here. I'd like the free forms!

Work at increasing your child’s handwriting speed, but don’t stop there. You can help your child learn to enjoy writing by making the input easier. Allow your child to dictate to you. Write what your child says on a chalk or whiteboard so he can see what he is writing. Or write it in a notebook and then go over it together. The first two volumes of Grammar Galaxy encourage ample use of student dictation so your child will learn to love writing. Next, use dictation software. I love my Dragon Dictation app for the iPhone, but Macs also have built-in dictation software that works well. Dictating is a skill for the future. I frequently dictate so I can move while I write. Dictation is perfect for your kids with ADD too. Then teach your child to type. Learning to type faster is a lesson in Grammar Galaxy Protostar. The faster your child can write, whatever the medium, the more likely he is to enjoy writing.

#2 Writing assignments aren’t structured for your child’s level.

The second reason your child hates to write is because the writing assignments aren’t structured for your child’s level. We not only have a child who writes slowly,  but then we ask him to write about any topic. There are hordes of adult writers who are paralyzed by the thought of having to choose a topic, even within the broad scope of something personal, a famous person’s biography, or a science topic. Give kids a short list of specific topics to choose from instead, even if your curriculum doesn’t. Limiting choices actually increases creativity. Then provide as much support in completing the assignment as possible. It isn’t enough to tell a 2nd grader to write five sentences on her topic. Young writers need graphic organizers for their writing. These are forms that tell students exactly what to write for each part of their paper. They make the writing process seem easy. That’s why I include so many of them in Grammar Galaxy. The blank page is terrifying to all writers. Instead, young writers should have fill-in-the-blank pages or writing recipes that feel easy and fast to complete. And the younger the student, the shorter the assignment needs to be. Even more advanced writers prefer to have a short writing assignment, giving them the freedom to write more as they would like.

#3 You’re correcting instead of encouraging.

When your child’s handwriting speed has increased and the writing lesson is structured appropriately for your child’s level, your child is less likely to hate writing. But if you correct instead of encourage, your child is still likely to resist. No one likes to do something they aren’t good at. Most children see corrections and even suggestions for change to writing as a sign that they aren’t good writers. I have edited fellow adult writers’ materials and often see their discouragement upon seeing the changes I’ve made. I tell my students that every successful author is edited. Sometimes the edits are purely subjective and the author doesn’t like them. But most of the time, the edits make the work better. Writing isn’t like math where there’s one right answer. This is a truth we have to reinforce with our students frequently.

[Check out the Better Editor Game]

Before you regularly correct your children’s spelling or grammar, encourage their creativity. Express your joy in their writing, much as you would with their artwork. Be specific about what you love about it. Your child puts herself on paper and wants to hear that she is a delight. Explain that you aren’t worried about spelling or grammar mistakes. You just want your child to write. Once your child has begun to enjoy writing because you enjoy it too, you can begin to suggest a few changes. Work on just a couple of things at a time. Start with making sure each sentence begins with a capital letter and has an endmark. Make sure the word I is capitalized. If your child struggles with spelling, deemphasize it. Focus on vocabulary instead. Have your child replace weak vocabulary words like good and bad. This gentler approach to writing is one of the reasons students with dyslexia love Grammar Galaxy. But any student who resists writing because of constant correction is likely to blossom with this approach.

#4 Writing assignments are boring.

Being encouraged about something structured you’ve written with faster input is a great start. But boring assignments, reason number four, will keep your kids hating writing. Having your child constantly write out definitions to words may help them remember vocabulary, but it is not fun. I don’t want to do it. Do you? Notebooking is another writing assignment that can help your child remember what is studied but doesn’t ignite the writer within. When your aim is to teach your child to love writing, refrain from giving repetitive writing assignments. Give your kids funny writing prompts instead. Nothing has been more effective than humor in getting my kids excited about writing. Start with prompts that are already funny like the funny spring writing prompts you can subscribe to get by clicking the image below. Even better, allow your child to turn an ordinary writing prompt into a funny exercise. When your student feels freedom to use humor within appropriate limits, magic happens. In our house, I’ve had to make a rule about writing unkind things about others. But I’ve allowed my kids to use their siblings’ or friends’ names in their stories within that boundary.

funny spring writing prompts

Subscribers to the Grammar Galaxy newsletter receive a month’s worth of daily assignments, including fun, seasonal writing prompts. You won’t have to spend time looking for ideas on Pinterest because I’ve done the work for you.

#5 You’re anxious about your child’s writing.

You can be doing everything right with writing, but if you are doing this fifth thing, your child may still hate writing. If a homeschool parent is freaking out over their child’s homeschool progress, it’s likely to be about one of two things: slowness to read or what is perceived as poor writing skills. I know this fear. One of my children wasn’t able to learn to read using the phonetic approach that had worked with my others. I didn’t know what to do. And every time I read one of my elementary or junior high student’s papers, the spelling and grammar made me want to cry. I had failed and everyone would know. But then something amazing happened. By the time they were sophomores in high school, their writing improved significantly. Spelling improved for most of them automatically. I hadn’t used a formal spelling curriculum for them, but had corrected errors as we came to them. Grammar, which requires higher-level thinking, improved as my students developed. Most exciting was the fact that their personality, opinions, and creativity were expressed beautifully in their writing because they felt free to share it without fear. My honest appreciation for their work allowed them to continue to improve as they wrote.

[Listen to Help for Anxious Homeschoolers]

If you’re afraid your kids are terrible writers, they’ll know. Anxiety is as catchy as the common cold. Your child will be afraid she’s a terrible writer. Then she’ll resist writing because again, we all hate to do things we aren’t good at. They’ll procrastinate on every writing assignment and tell you they don’t care about writing. So relax. If you aren’t strong in writing, ask someone whose strength is writing to encourage your child and make suggestions. Believe that your child can become a competent writer who enjoys the process. As a bonus, work on your own writing while your child writes. Write your own responses to the funny writing prompts, for example. If you work to improve your writing, your confidence will carry over to your child.

#6 You don’t give your child a reason for writing.

The last reason your child hates to write is because he thinks it’s like higher-level math that he’ll never use. Your child needs a reason for writing. Show her the importance of writing in a future career she is eyeing or even better, show her how writing can help her reach her goals now. Writing is valuable in business, charity, and relationships. Writing a pitch to a business, a sign for a church event, or a status update on social media are all opportunities to practice writing that have the potential to pay off for kids.

Donations for Malaria blog

Next, use your child’s personality to provide a reason for writing. My kids are competitive and social. Writing competitions and group read alouds have given them a reason to write. Other kids can find emotional solace in writing or a way to connect with people they care about. Have your more introverted child keep a journal. Write to your child in a shared journal or ask your child to write letters to a relative who lives far from you.

Finally, point out the importance of good writing skills as you see examples. Good writing has the power to increase the status of the writer, while poor writing can make a writer look like a fool. In Grammar Galaxy, kids learn what happens when the Gremlin tampers with the English language. As fellow guardians of the galaxy, kids have to write to save it and stop the ensuing chaos. Kids are given a reason for writing.

Grammar Galaxy helps kids love writing.

Next week, I’ll announce the launch of Volume 3 of Grammar Galaxy, which is designed for fourth graders and up or those who have completed the equivalent of Protostar, Volume 2. If you have a student at this level or below, you’ll want to subscribe to hear about special pricing and bonuses that can get your kids writing and loving it.

If you want students who love to write, increase their handwriting speed or input, structure the assignment so it’s easy and quick to complete, encourage rather than correct, give fun assignments, relax about writing, and give your child a motivating reason to write. If you do these things, you may not be raising the next Longfellow, but you can have a child who enjoys writing. And that is half the battle.

Which of these approaches will you try first? Let me know in the comments.

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Morning Time Music in Your Homeschool

Morning Time Music in Your Homeschool

Music appreciation is a wonderful addition to your homeschool’s morning time. Music can soothe a cranky baby, get a restless student keeping the beat, and create a peaceful environment. Who doesn’t need that? Music in your morning time creates memories and can even change hearts. Substitute Christian music for Bible memory occasionally and your kids may remember even more Scripture. Music appreciation in your morning time also provides regular inspiration for your children’s music lessons and practice. You’re all reminded of the beauty that can be created when we stay focused on our music instruction. Morning time music is also a great adjunct to your history studies. We can picture the time period more readily with the appropriate music playing.

[Read why music education matters]

Including music appreciation in your morning time can be hard.

If you want to include historical music in your morning time, you will need to research which are the most important pieces to play. You will want to share some information about the piece and its artist, but you don’t have time to share a lot. So you’ll need to select the most important points and talk about them in a child-friendly way. Once you know which pieces you want to include, you’ll need to look for them at the library. You won’t know for sure how many you’ll get through, so chances are good you will have to keep renewing the pieces. Or you’ll look for the music online, having to spend time watching YouTube ads only to discover that the video wasn’t quite what you were looking for. If you want to take the learning deeper, you’ll need to look for or create some notebooking pages to go along with your studies. Are you tired yet? I am.

I am a fan of anything that makes my job as a homeschooling mom easier. Music appreciation courses do that. The material has already been prescreened by a Christian mother and the notebooking pages are done for me. The music appreciation courses from Music in Our Homeschool have been so enjoyable and enriching to our history studies. But if I’m being honest, something was missing from them. I didn’t notice it until the solution was right in front of me.

Morning time always includes holidays.

One of the things we do with our morning time is talk about current events and holidays. I read seasonal books, do seasonal devotions, and complete holiday unit studies. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about including holiday music appreciation in our morning time before. When I heard that Music in Our Homeschool was launching this course, I asked myself this question:

“What would holidays be like without music?”

Music makes holidays special. I can’t imagine Easter or Christmas or the 4th of July without the signature songs that inspire faith, joy, or patriotism. Yet I wasn’t including holiday music appreciation in our morning time. May I get real here? I teach music appreciation for me. I love it. I am passionate about music and hearing the stories behind the songs we all love. Music appreciation makes me happy. When I teach it in the morning, I am in a good mood all day. And when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

How a Holiday Music Appreciation Course Saves Your Sanity

This course is hosted on Teachable, which is a beautiful, user-friendly platform. You’ll see at a glance which lessons you’ve done, so you don’t repeat even when the kids are yelling, “We’ve already done that one!” Maybe that only happens to me. You have unlimited access to the course, so you can pick up where you left off and just teach the holidays you want to teach. But you’re going to want to add the lessons to your Organized Homeschool Life planner, so you remember to do them all. I can’t wait for the Star Wars day lesson!

Holiday Music Appreciation Course


I love that the videos are embedded within the course. It’s a safe platform for your kids to work on your own. Assign one child to be in charge of making sure you do your holiday music appreciation in the mornings.

Printable copywork (so helpful in building good writing skills) and activity sheets are included with the lessons. Have your kids answer the short quiz at the end too. My kids love working together on these.

I did a short screen share video so you can see what the course looks like inside.

Launch pricing is a gift.

Save 40% with code HOLIDAY through 3/28 on this holiday music appreciation course.

Which songs make the holidays for you? Let me know in the comments.

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How to Be Happy and Homeschool Too

How to Be Happy and Homeschool Too

You’ve read the title for this blog post. Are you wondering if I’m suggesting that happiness and homeschooling are mutually exclusive? Yep. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I’m thankful my friends Andy and Kendra Fletcher were the first to be honest about it, saying that homeschooling can be a buzz kill. It is possible to have a happy homeschool, but you need a homeschooling psychologist to tell you how.

Listen to the podcast

Before I go any further, I have to address the controversial issue. Which controversial issue you ask? The use of the word happy in my title. In some Christian circles, happiness is treated like the pagan step-sister of the word joy. Don’t believe me? I was once asked by a conference organizer if I would be speaking about happiness rather than joy. Happiness was strictly forbidden. You can imagine how happy I was to have this person listening to my every word and verifying that no happiness talk was included.

It’s okay to be happy. Really.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the theological difference from joy, which is a fruit of the spirit and isn’t subject to circumstances, while happiness is a fleeting human emotion. But I also believe that God created us to seek happiness. Happiness is related to the release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine allows us to learn. Dopamine motivates us. Without happiness, we would all be the Hoho-eating, couch-dwelling bums we are often assumed to be. Seeking happiness isn’t evil, unless you are sinning or you’re a psychopath who enjoys inflicting pain on others. I’m going to leave that determination up to you and I will proceed.

A happy homeschool. How the two fit together.

I’m hoping all the psychopaths stopped reading. I also hope that I’ve established that being happy and seeking after it is a good thing. You can thank me later for absolving you of that guilt. But what I haven’t resolved is happiness and homeschooling. How do they fit together? The problem that most of us have is that we begin homeschooling, believing that it will make us happy. Well, maybe not homeschooling per se. Most of us believed that homeschooling was a path to well-behaved, godly children, who would one day win the national spelling bee.

If we really want to dig deep, and I do, we may admit that we thought homeschooling was a way to make ourselves look good as parents. Maybe we could prove to the naysayers that we actually know what we’re doing. The trouble with this is obvious. We had no idea what we were doing when we began homeschooling.

Homeschooling won’t make us happy.

And choosing to homeschool in order to be happy is an even bigger problem. Homeschooling can make us miserable. I met one of my now good friends when she had just begun homeschooling. She told me, “My son doesn’t want to follow my plan!” I just laughed. Our strong-willed kids never want to follow our plan. And even our submissive kids, if they had any sense, wouldn’t want to follow our plan. Our plan, when we are starting out, is nuts. We try to teach 15 subjects a day using 30 different books. And our schedules would make Navy Seal candidates turn and run. No human being can complete the obstacle course we call a schedule. Between being pregnant, nursing a baby, chasing a toddler, cleaning up after the preschooler, managing the tween’s attitude, and standing our ground with a rebellious teen, we have zero energy left to sew them matching outfits or grind the wheat for homemade bread. If you haven’t yet begun homeschooling, consider this episode your warning. Happiness is not ahead.

“I thought you said this was about how to be happy and homeschool too?” I know that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a psychologist, so I have that gift. I AM going to tell you how to be happy and homeschool too. But I had to make it clear that homeschooling won’t make us happy. I promise you, it won’t. If we want to be happy and homeschool too, we have to be happy first. I know some moms who want to homeschool and are unhappy. Perhaps they long for another child. Maybe their marriage could use a tuneup. Or maybe they aren’t happy working outside of their home. If you add homeschooling to your unhappiness, you’re highly likely to be miserable.

Get happy first.

Before you homeschool, you have to work on your happiness. Yes, happiness is work. It isn’t something that is bestowed on us by the happiness fairy. Happiness doesn’t come from getting married, having a baby, or getting an Instant Pot. (But in case you really want one, I’ll include a link.) Like physical fitness, happiness requires consistent attention. If you’re unhappy right now, keep reading. It gets worse.

Do things that make you happy.

Happiness isn’t a passive activity. Because happiness is a human emotion that is short-lived and tied to our circumstances, we have to pursue it regularly. One of the biggest mistakes we make with respect to happiness in our homeschooling is we stop doing the activities that used to make us happy. When I began staying home with my first child, I lost a considerable amount of income. Without consulting my husband, I decided that I would not spend any money. I didn’t feel I had earned the right to spend. I was not only living very frugally, but I had no social contacts. The relationships I had were all at work. It didn’t take long for me to become very depressed. If that’s you, I encourage you to listen to the episode I did on depression for Homeschooling in Real Life.

Here’s how I got my happy back. I started a Bible study with other stay-at-home moms at my church. We started going out occasionally to eat as a group, away from our husbands and children. Gasp! I spent money. I left my husband and my children at home. I did and I’m proud of it because it saved my sanity. I also started scrapbooking regularly with my friends. I had a hobby that I spent time and money on. It made me happy.

[Read how I still fit scrapbooking into my busy life]

Do things you used to enjoy.

If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you have to do things you used to enjoy. Depressed people do fewer and fewer pleasurable things. The solution can be as simple as pursuing those pleasurable activities once again. I can hear you making excuses right now. That’s another of my psychological skills. “I can’t afford to do the things I used to do.” My response? You can’t afford not to. You could spend a modest amount of money on the hobby or the social activities you used to enjoy or you can spend 5 to 10 times as much on treatment for your depression. You choose.


The fun is just beginning. If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you must do things you enjoy. You also must exercise. If you don’t have time to exercise, you don’t have time to homeschool. My opinion is that exercise is more important than homeschooling. How can I speak this heresy? Because in a homeschool, you are the most valuable player. Without you functioning well, your homeschool will fall apart. Your marriage will fall apart.

6 of the Best Short Workouts You Can Do at Home

I think of a homeschooling mom like a thoroughbred. I don’t know much about horses, but I know that I would never race a horse that had had no workouts. Every day in the life of a homeschooling mom is a race. In order to be at our best, we have to exercise. Exercise is the most powerful drug we have. It can treat depression, anxiety, and it can prevent a host of physical illnesses. Best of all, it’s free and has very few side effects if it’s done correctly. Exercise releases endorphins that make us happy in the moment, but happier all day long. It doesn’t have to take long. A recent study demonstrated that three vigorous ten-minute walks were more effective than a longer walking session at a moderate pace. Take the kids with you. Get them dancing with you to Christian Zumba or on Wii Zance Party. Or get really crazy and go to the gym without them. To quote Nike, just do it.

Get enough sleep. Or even more.

If you are spending time doing things you enjoy, and you’re getting regular exercise , you are ready for step number three to make you happy. After racing my thoroughbred, I would not ask it to teach long division or correct papers late into the night. I’m going to give it adequate rest.

To be happy as homeschooling moms, we have to get enough sleep, even more than enough sleep. If you believe that you’re getting enough sleep, but you’re not that happy, add an extra half hour of sleep to your schedule and see what happens. Sleep deprivation makes us cranky. It’s produces fatigue, which makes running our homeschooling race so much harder. As moms we recognize our kids need for sleep. Let’s recognize our own. As I have gotten older, and more specifically hormonal, I need more sleep. I get it, even if doing so means I can’t keep up with my Navy Seals schedule.

[Read how to homeschool through hormones]

I can hear you again, and you’re saying you don’t have time to sleep. You have a baby, a toddler, or a teen waking you up at night. Then take a nap. A short nap of 20 minutes can do wonders in restoring your energy and your mood. Have a nap while your kids are napping. Ask an older child to supervise a younger while you nap. Put on a video. Allow the kids to play a beloved game. Yes, I mean a video game. Or hire a mother’s helper so you can nap. It’s all worth it to be happy.

It IS possible to have a happy homeschool.

I could give you more ideas (I just did above!), but these three (pleasurable activities, exercise, and sleep) are enough to get you started. When you are working to achieve happiness, you can be happy and homeschool too. In fact, with a happiness foundation in place, you can find yourself being even happier in your homeschooling than you ever dreamed. Homeschooling can be a buzzkill. But it can also be one of the most rewarding careers a mother can have. I have been homeschooling for 19 years. I have enjoyed a closeness in my relationships with my kids that thrills me. I marvel at the closeness my kids enjoy with their father and with one another. And the blessing of learning together is an experience not to be missed. But these blessings come after we are already happy.

Which of these happiness tips are you going to practice today? Tell us in the Homeschool Sanity Facebook Group.

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How to Teach Sign Language in Your Homeschool

How to Teach Sign Language in Your Homeschool

Have you thought about teaching sign language in your homeschool? I asked Rochelle Barlow some questions about why and how to get started. You can listen to our conversation on the podcast or read a summary of the interview below. Either way, you’ll be blessed!

Listen to the podcast

Rochelle is an ASL teacher with more than 14 years of experience. She’s been an ASL interpreter for 18 years and runs a popular YouTube channel and website, ASL Rochelle, filled with fun and challenging ASL resources and lessons.

What got you interested in teaching sign language, Rochelle?

Reading the book Koko’s Kitten inspired me as a child. I’ve always loved sign language.

How can sign language help younger kids communicate?

Most people have heard of baby sign language using a smaller vocabulary. I’ve used it with all of my kids, but I signed the most with my oldest ecause of chronic ear infections.

Why should we teach sign language in our homeschools?

It’s a true foreign language with its own community and culture. It’s powerful, beautiful, and visual, using facial expressions. You can tell a story with one sign using your face and intensity. I recommend teaching ASL (American Sign Language).

Sign language can be a secret family language that bonds you. I’ve used it with my kids in church, for example.

Finger spelling words teaching spelling and learning words clarifies vocabulary and concepts.

You can teach sign language with other subjects. Signing is a way of making science processes more tangible, for example.

What’s the easiest way to get started learning sign language?

Use an ASL dictionary. I recommend the Gallaudet children’s dictionary. Dive in and make a list of words you want to learn.

You can also choose a topic and find the signs for that topic.

Next, look for YouTube videos and free classes in sign language.

Once we’ve learned the signs, how can we maintain the learning?

Review signs during morning time. Create your own flash cards as creating them will be review as well. Use a daily activity to cue you to review your signs.

What resources do you make available to help homeschoolers learn sign language?

The Learn ASL in 31 Days course is available on the front page of ASLRochelle.com. I also offer vocabulary videos with categories like ocean, holidays, and grammar. I have other free courses like one on finger spelling.

For students who want to learn more, I offer a fluency and vocabulary course, a practice, retention, and memory course, and a grammar course. My courses can take a student to a level-three college equivalent in sign language.

I offer a four-week summer camp in ASL and Facebook groups, where I give monthly challenges and offer feedback to students.

Thank you, Rochelle!

After I interviewed Rochelle, I was inspired to continue our sign language studies. I know you will be too.

Have you taught signing to your kids?

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