Digital Alternatives to Traditional Student Projects

Digital Alternatives to Traditional Student Projects

Are your kids excited about writing an old-fashioned book report or creating a tri-fold board to show off what they’ve learned? Those standby projects will probably never disappear, but as homeschoolers who want to prepare students for the future, there are amazing digital alternatives! Read on to learn all about them.

Digital Alternatives to Traditional Student Projects

Want to listen to this article on a podcast? LISTEN HERE Or WATCH ON YOUTUBE

If you aren’t a tech-savvy mom who tries out the latest and greatest digital platforms, you may have no idea what is available for your students. I do love new digital and online programs, but I haven’t used many of the newest options with my kids. Before I tell you what I learned from my guest Beth Napoli of TechieHomeschoolMom, I want to share the benefits of having your kids use these digital alternatives for projects.

All-Access Pass Info

Why Use Digital Alternatives for Student Projects?

First, they’re motivating to most kids. Kids may be so interested in learning to use a new platform that they don’t realize they’re doing the work of writing a report or creating a timeline. The second reason is related: bonus learning takes place when students learn to use a digital device or program. If your child needs the device or program to do something in particular, the tutorials will become a part of the process. Learning to use a new program is a vital life skill for the digital age. If your students learn how to teach themselves how to use a new platform now, learning another one later will be much less challenging. The final reason I believe that having your students use digital alternatives is because they’ll learn valuable career skills. Simply mastering one of these platforms opens the door to a skill that will make your student more employable or even to a business while your child is still in school. I have paid people to create graphics for me using one of the platforms I will mention below. I hope you’re excited to learn more!

If you’re worried that you will have to learn the platform too, rest assured that while you could learn along with your child, you don’t have to. My kids often teach me tricks for using tools I thought I’d mastered. Your students can move on without you.

What are Some Digital Alternatives to Traditional Student Projects?

Digital projects made with Canva

Canva. Canva is the free graphic program I use to create most of the graphics you see on this blog. I’ve also used it to teach the kids in our co-op. I assigned them the project of creating a flyer for a business (why pay someone when you can do this yourself?) and creating an advertisement. Beth Napoli mentioned having students create infographics to summarize what they’ve learned. You could also have your student create quote graphics for a historical figure or favorite quotes from a book they are reading.

EMaze Art Gallery EMaze Travel Journal

Emaze. I haven’t used Emaze with my students, but Beth has had her kids create a travel journal for Ancient Greece. This would be a fantastic way to share what is learned in a world or US geography study as well. Beth has also used Amaze to create a 3D interactive art gallery. Amaze is truly an amazing tool!

Prezi timeline project

Prezi. Prezi can be used for multiple purposes, but Beth had her kids create a digital timeline with it. My high school student created a paper timeline that spanned two walls of our basement and had to be kept up all year! I really wish I had had him use Prezi instead.

Animaker walk cycle

Animaker. This software can be used to create animated videos. Instead of a long report, have your students create a video on a topic and then share it to YouTube. Your kids will not only learn themselves but can help teach other students, too.

Where Can You Start with Using Digital Alternatives to Traditional Student Projects?

Beth has created a list of 25 free webtools for creating digital student projects for our subscribers. Click below to claim your list.

You can choose a project and one platform and get started.

But you can also make digital projects even easier by enrolling your student in an online unit study. Unit studies have been my preferred way of teaching for 17 years. They’re not boring, they involve teaching multiple subjects, and they reach students with all learning styles. The problem is they can be a lot of work to create yourself. Beth’s Online Unit Studies have done all the work for you. Using an all-in-one digital platform where students can watch videos, read material, and share what they’ve learned, your students can see their progress in each study. Your child will learn not only the subject that you want to study but how to use these digital platforms as well.

Until now, you would have to plan which unit study you wanted to use and pay for it individually. But with the Kickstarter campaign that you can participate in, you can purchase an all-access pass. What that means is that for one low price you can have access to any and all unit studies (even future studies!) for a month to ten years! I would have saved so much money with an all-access pass to online unit studies had the technology been available. Don’t wait, though. A limited number of all-access passes are available.

All-Access Pass Info

Famous Artists Volume I Famous Artists Volume 2

You can get an inside look at online unit studies on my Facebook page and enter to win the Famous Artists bundle by commenting on or sharing the video until April 25th, 2017.

Have you used a digital alternative to traditional student projects that you enjoyed? 

 

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This is Why You’re Not Failing as a Homeschool Mom

This is Why You’re Not Failing as a Homeschool Mom

I planned to write on this topic because a number of people emailed me to say that feeling like a failure is their struggle. I thought I would be writing on this topic to help other moms, but it’s ended up being me needing the help. Lately I’ve felt like I’m failing for sure! But I’m not. You’re not either. Here’s why.

This is why you're not a homeschool failure

Want to listen to this article on a podcast? LISTEN HERE Or WATCH ON YOUTUBE

#1 It’s not about results

I believe that God called me to homeschool. That wasn’t my plan at all. But the call wasn’t this: I want you to raise Rhodes scholars. I want you to produce kids with 36 ACTs and full-ride scholarships. I expect you to have A-students who are stars in sports, music, and activities. Your children must be winners. You must ensure that they never fight with their siblings, never complain, and never dawdle. They must obey you the first time and be so mature that everyone is amazed by them. They must be fully functioning as adults at a very early age. Their faith must be faultless. They must never engage in idle pursuits or waste time. This is how you will know you are succeeding as a homeschool mom. You receive bonus points for sewing, gardening, and cooking from scratch.

I am so thankful that wasn’t the call! Instead, the call was, “I want you to homeschool.” That’s all it was.

Throughout God’s Word, you will never see the Lord holding His people accountable for results, but only for obedience. I am in fact homeschooling in obedience to God’s call on my life. Thus I am not failing. If you are homescholing your children in sincere obedience then you aren’t failing either.

#2 It’s not harvest time

I think of homeschooling like planting an orchard. We won’t see the fruit of it for many years. The frustration we feel with our young children or even our not-so-young children will one day become something to laugh about. We will wonder what all the fuss was about. So many things my children did or didn’t do embarrassed me, frustrated me, and even terrified me. But I was foolish to be worried about how much fruit a young sapling would produce.

Men in Bible times were not considered worthy of military or other service until age 20. I believe we can wait that long to see what kind of fruit our homeschooling will bear. After 17 years of homeschooling, I see my boys doing well in college classes, staying close to each other, and continuing to serve God and others. I didn’t see that fruit in the early days. I worried that they would never stop fighting. I worried that they would never be diligent. I worried that they would never learn certain subjects. I felt like a failure in my worry, but it wasn’t harvest time.

[READ: TRUST BUT VERIFY: MY HOMESCHOOL MOM GUILT]

#3 We’re looking for the wrong fruit

I’ve already said it’s not about results, but we homeschool moms just can’t help ourselves, can we? We see our friends’ kids excelling in areas that ours aren’t and it’s hard. One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned in homeschooling is that God’s plan for my kids doesn’t necessarily line up with mine. I planned for my kids to finish college while in high school and be able to step into careers at a young age. Meanwhile, I would be able to protect them from all the temptations of high school and college. As many of you know, my oldest son went to high school. He completely rejected the idea of doing college through CLEP tests. I was sure my second son, an introvert, would want to live my homeschool dream. But he too wanted to go to college.

[READ: LESSONS LEARNED FROM SENDING MY HOMESCHOOLED CHILD TO PUBLIC SCHOOL]

My definition of success in my homeschooling isn’t God’s definition. I think God is looking at the results or at the very least how many books I read, science experiments I do, or field trips I take. But I know if I could ask Jesus what the most important commandment of homeschooling is, He would say, “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the fruit God is looking for as a product of our homeschooling. Are we loving God and others? It’s amazing how seeking all the other results we’d like to see can lead us away from love. But the Lord always draws us back. Do you love God? Do you love your kids? You’re not failing.

#4 Other people are looking for the wrong fruit

Sometimes other people make us feel like we’re failing — intentionally or unintentionally. Some moms seem to have it all together. I rememer going to a friend’s house and being depressed. She had three boys and it’s true that she didn’t homeschool. But I remember wondering how on earth she could keep things on her shelves. My boys would pull everything down in a heartbeat. And why didn’t she have holes in her walls? And her lamps weren’t beat up looking. What was wrong with me?

Sometimes this appearance of having it all together is more intentional. Other moms are so afraid that we’ll think they’re failing that they are careful to put on a good show. They may be dressed to the nines in public while there’s laundry everywhere at home. They constantly talk about their child’s successes and leave out the tension that pervades their home. I even heard of a woman buying a bakery cake and passing it off as homemade! We can’t compare an honest evaluation of ourselves to a surface one of someone else. Remember this: women who try the hardest to appear successful to others are usually the most insecure. We aren’t failing in comparison to others.

Unfortunately, there are sometimes people who will blatantly tell us we’re failing. If there is something we need to improve on, we should take steps to improve. But telling someone they’re failing isn’t a motivator. There are a number of reasons why someone might tell us we’re failing. They may be angry at us and saying it to hurt us. They may be jealous and hoping that our self-confidence will be as low as theirs. Or they may honestly believe that you’ll be motivated to succeed. In any event, other people do not determine our success.

[LISTEN TO: HOW TO HANDLE HOMESCHOOL HATERS]

#5 Feelings don’t equal failure

That’s been my biggest problem lately. Whether because of hormones, fatigue, or stress, my emotions have been telling me I’m failing as a homeschool mom. Really, everything is awful, say my feelings. I’m horrible in every respect. I’m not a good cook, housekeeper, wife, or parent. Everything I’m doing is wrong. These are just lies! I’m far from perfect in any of these areas, but I’m not failing. Neither are you.

If feelings are convincing you you’re failing, I highly recommend truth journaling. This is what I’ve been doing and it helps me more than anything. Spend time in prayer and in God’s Word. Talk to other moms. Admit that you feel like a failure and if you have good homeschooling girlfriends, she will laugh with you. She’s been there. She’ll also give you a hug if you just need a good cry. Sometimes what we need when we’re in this state is rest. I was convinced to rest today and I desperately needed it. I’m already feeling better. I’m convinced I’m not completely hopeless now.

[READ TRUTH JOURNALING: POWERFUL TOOL FOR LIFE CHANGE]

#6 Failure is the path to success

This last time that I’ve been feeling like a failure I noticed that I want every part of my life to be perfect: my body, my schedule, my house, my kids. Notice I didn’t say my husband. I have at least given up on that! I’m happily married as a result. But if everything were exactly the way I wanted it to be, do you know how I would feel? Proud. Throughout the Old Testament we read about people who served God until they became successful. Then pride drew them away from God. If you and I had perfect little homeschooling lives, we would think we were all that. We wouldn’t need God. We would look down on other homeschooling moms who just can’t get it together. I don’t ever want that to happen to me.

In our weakness we are strong because God is working in us and through us. If I never felt like I was failing, I certainly wouldn’t be writing on this topic. And I don’t think I would have any friends! Failure is the path to success.

Do you feel like a homeschool failure at times? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.

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Organizing Challenges You Should Take On This Year

Organizing Challenges You Should Take On This Year

If you want to get organized this year, you’re in good company. It’s the second most popular goal for the year. But it’s a big one. Where do you start? I recommend starting with six areas.

Organizing Challenges to Take on This Year

Want to listen to this article on a podcast? LISTEN HERE or SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES or ON STITCHER

#1 Organize Your Tasks

The first area I recommend you organize is your tasks. Nothing makes me feel worse than forgetting to pay a bill, forgetting to RSVP or even forgetting a party completely, or letting someone down because I don’t have my tasks organized. This used to be commonplace for me when I started homeschooling. There is one good reason for that. I didn’t have a system for dealing with all of my tasks.

As homeschooling moms in a digital culture, we have tasks presented to us in multiple ways. In addition to traditional mail, we get email, phone calls (sometimes on more than one device), text messages, and social media messages and event invites. We also have family members and friends asking us to do things in person. If you’re like me, this happens all the time. If any of these tasks fail to make it to a common list, we are likely to forget them.

The solution seems simple enough. We need to choose one place to house all of our tasks. The first decision to make is whether you will have a digital or a paper task list. A digital task list has the advantage of always being with you if you have a smart phone. This is the method I choose. The advantage of having multiple alarms to remind me of appointments is huge for me. If you choose a paper list, choose something that you can take with you wherever you go. If you have a home planner and want to have a smaller planner with you when you travel, it can work. But you will have to be disciplined in transferring your tasks to your planner when you get home every time.

Once you’ve chosen a central to-do list, your work in organizing this area isn’t done. Next, choose a method of insuring that all tasks make it to that main list. I was once in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call asking me to be a substitute teacher for a class at my church. I was sure I would remember to put the date on my calendar when I was done with my meeting. I didn’t. I no longer allow myself to put off adding tasks, appointments, or even grocery items to my list. Develop routines for adding Facebook events, text messages,  and phone tasks to your list. For example, every night before dinner, go through your messages of every sort and add them. Use a checklist for all the places you need to look for tasks. Organizing your to-do list will help you feel organized this year.

#2 Organize a Parent-Teacher Conference

A second organizing challenge to take on this year is to have parent-teacher conferences. This is certainly not a typical organizing challenge and it may seem funny to suggest to a homeschooler. But it is amazing how much anxiety we homeschool moms can have about our children when we aren’t discussing them with our spouse or someone else if we aren’t married. The successes feel more significant and the challenges seem smaller when they are shared.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that my husband has some anxiety about how our children are doing. Having a parent-teacher conference gives me the opportunity to talk about what each child is working on. It also gives me the opportunity to share ways in which my husband could be supportive. For example, if my kids are doing a computer coding course and he doesn’t know, he might tell them to get off the computer. It’s a good idea to talk about all of your children’s needs and accomplishments during this conference. Discuss progress in chores, sibling relationships, and attitude. If there is something your spouse or another confidant can do to help you in homeschooling or parenting, be sure to ask.

#3 Organize Your Homeschool Space

The third organizing challenge I recommend you take on this year is to put your homeschool space in order. A cluttered and disorderly space takes a toll on your morale as a homeschool mom and does not encourage your children to work hard. Rather than ogle designer homeschool spaces on Pinterest, my recommendation is that you remove anything in your homeschool space you aren’t using. Simplify your space and keep frequently used items accessible. If the kids have to move things around in order to access their books or tools, you will have a mess every day. It’s better to have these items visible, even if they aren’t pretty, than to have the frustration and mess making.

In order to make your homeschool space decluttering easier, don’t make any final decisions about curriculum and material that you’ve purchased at this point. Just remove it if you aren’t using it. Put it in storage and leave the possibilities open. Ask your children to help you find the best place for the things you are going to be using. When you’re done decluttering, then pretty up the space. Attractiveness is important, but only after you have simplified. Buy a nice art frame or two to display your children’s work. Or put maps in a frame. Have favorite photographs of homeschool activities enlarged and framed for your homeschool wall. I love this idea and will be implementing it this year.

#4 Organize Your Used Curriculum

The next organizing Challenge I have for you is the used curriculum challenge. If you know you have things that you won’t be using again, then you can absolutely get them out of your home now. Otherwise, wait until the end of the traditional school year to decide what to do. When you have younger children who may be using materials in the future, It can be hard to let go of curriculum. But I can tell you that I have sold or given away curriculum only to have to repurchase it and I survived. I also could have asked to borrow curriculum if I did not want to repurchase it. It feels great to sell or donate items you won’t be using anymore. You can bless other families with them. I wrote a comprehensive post about the best places to do just that.

#5 Organize Kids’ Clothing

Once you have organized your to-do’s and your homeschooling, I recommend you get clothing organized. Make it simple for your children to choose what to wear. The easiest way to do that is to remove clothing that they cannot wear right now. I have spent countless hours organizing my children’s hand-me-downs. I did save money doing this, but I honestly wonder now if it was worth it. I do know homeschooling moms with large families who don’t hand clothes down. If you need to keep used clothing, I recommend that you start with the oldest children. Have them choose clothing that no longer fits.  Then have the next oldest child of the same gender give it a try. Choose a number of clothing items that you think is appropriate for each child. If your child is in need of more clothing, add those items to your shopping list. You do have a shopping list now, right? I use the built-in list on my iPhone for this purpose. Having your children fold clothing in drawers using the Konmari method well help them to remove items without making a mess.

#6 Organize Meals

The final area I recommend you organize this year as a priority is your meals. Unfortunately, dinner has to be made at the end of the day. If we haven’t planned ahead or put something in the crock pot, we’re likely to be irritated by having to get dinner on the table when we’re tired. Without a plan, we are likely to go out and spend more money or time having to run to the grocery store at rush hour. Failure to meal plan costs us money, time, and good health. Fortunately, there are easy ways to meal plan. The simplest way is to make a list of easy meals your family loves. Create a meal plan and grocery list from them. Start with a one-week plan and keep creating more plans as you can.

A more advanced way of planning your family meals is to use Plan to Eat. Sign up for a free trial. Once you have your family’s recipes added, you can drag and drop them to a calendar. In this way, you can plan an entire month if you want to. Another advanced meal planning method is to do freezer cooking. You can not only plan your family’s meals but make them in advance. It’s one less thing you have to worry about at the end of a long homeschool day. My favorite freezer meals go into the crockpot in the morning. Finally, you could opt to use a premade meal plan. The problem with that method is not liking all of the recipes. I have had very good luck using Tastefully Simple’s 30 day meal plan, however.  I also have a free meal planning book for you.

theorganizedhomeschoollife_2piecemockup

When you have completed these challenges, you’ll be well on your way to an organized year. If you’re ready for more, I think you’ll enjoy my book, The Organized Homeschool Life. It includes 52 challenges for organizing every area of your homeschool life.

Which area are you organizing first? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.

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Homeschool Changes to Make Now

Homeschool Changes to Make Now

If you’ve been too busy to think about changes you need to make in your homeschool, now is the time. I have some ideas for changes we can all make now, regardless of our homeschool approach.

Homeschool Changes You Should Make Now

Want to listen to this article on a podcast? LISTEN HERE or SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES or ON STITCHER

Make Your Homeschooling Fast

The first change you should make to your homeschool now is to make your homeschooling fast. I wrote a very popular post called How to Homeschool in an Hour a Day. At this point in my homeschooling, an hour of direct teaching is all that I need to do on most days. This does not include individual tutoring, editing papers, or the courses I teach in our co-op. One of the reasons we homeschool is so that our children do not have to sit at a desk for seven hours a day. Research is conclusive that our attention is not sustainable for long periods. The shorter the lesson, the better. Short, frequent lessons are more effective in helping our children learn anyway. Short lessons are especially helpful for your children who have attention challenges. It’s even helpful for distractible moms!

We do morning family time as a way of saving time. We can complete many subjects in short order. I reserve Fridays for teaching things that I never have time to teach. We watch Bible or history videos, study art, or read about contemporary issues. The afternoons are reserved for independent work. My kids actually prefer their independent work time. They read and prep for their co-op classes, do math, Bible, piano, extra reading and writing, and exercise. They love structuring their own time.

The most common cause of homeschool mom burnout is trying to do too much. If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, reevaluate what you’re doing. God doesn’t ask us to do more than we can handle. Sometimes the stress is circumstantial. There is an ill family member, a job loss, or a move, to name a few of those circumstances. But more often than not, the stress comes from driving kids to two co-ops, six sports practices, and trying to complete two math curricula. It can also come from directly teaching individual students when that isn’t necessary. If you have a preschooler or emerging reader, more of your time is required. However, the younger the student, the less formal teaching you should be doing. When your student can read well, he can be asked to work independently.  He can ask older siblings for help. He can wait for you to finish what you’re doing and go on to another question or subject.

Make Your Homeschooling Easy

The next change I recommend you make now is to make lessons easy. Planning lessons that are too easy for gifted children is something to avoid. Very easy lessons that are far beneath a gifted child’s ability level are demotivating for them. But in most cases, even for gifted children, lessons that can be completed without struggle are more motivating. Consider your own response to a difficult, time-consuming task. The harder it seems, the less you want to do it–the more likely you are to put it off. Many children who are resistant to reading are resistant because the reading material they’ve been given is too difficult for them. We want our children’s lessons to be easy and quick to complete so that motivation stays high.

Making it easy can mean skipping repetitive, unnecessary work. Curriculum authors want you as the teacher to have enough work to meet your needs. They aren’t implying that your child must complete every exercise, every page, or every book they suggest. I used a curriculum that would have exhausted me in college, let alone junior high. I cherry picked from the material to make sure my students wouldn’t hate it and me. A particular issue I’ve noticed with some homeschool curriculum is the expectation that students write a paper every week. That isn’t a requirement even at the college level, so I don’t expect it of much younger students. If you’re confused about what’s reasonable to expect, ask a traditional student the same age as your child how much they have to do. Expecting a little more than what public schools do is understandable, except you also want your child to have more time than public school students do.

If your child is struggling with grade-level material, give them material that’s a step down. We often don’t want to do that because we are afraid our child will be behind. The opposite is actually the case. If your child resists the work, she is more likely to get and stay behind. Give her work that makes her think she is a competent student. She will be motivated to get back to grade level on her own. If you can, find ungraded materials. Do some research on an easy curriculum for the subject your child is struggling with. Ignore the teachers who scare you by saying it’s too easy. There’s no such thing as too easy if it helps your child understand a subject. For example, don’t worry about college when your child hasn’t mastered algebra. Just focus on making algebra easy.

If you can’t find a curriculum that does the trick, find a teacher who can make concepts simple to understand. Reaching a struggling student can be like translating a foreign language. Someone else may have the words or the illustrations that will click with your child. Getting help isn’t failing. Not getting help when it could benefit your child is failing them.

When you make a subject easy for your child, you make it possible for him to love it. We all hate things that are hard, that we don’t understand. When the light comes on, we discover the joy of learning the material.

Make Your Homeschooling Fun

Finally, change your homeschool now by making it fun. Not everything we have to do in life is fun. I will never enjoy cleaning toilets. Some children will never enjoy certain homeschool subjects. But we can do our best to make things more enjoyable. We can pair less enjoyable activities with something pleasant like music, for example. We love to do chores with upbeat music playing. Some children find that working together with you as teacher or with other students makes material fun. My son resisted his art curriculum until I suggested we do art together. This is also why we are so committed to our homeschool co-op. My children love science, unit studies, and high school classes because they are doing them with other students and sometimes with another teacher.

You can make school fun by incorporating games. The advantage of digital curriculum is that it often gamifies learning, taking advantage of a proven motivator. Online educational curriculum or just games can supplement your primary curriculum and may end up being the most educational. I have written a post on the best online sites for grammar. Games don’t have to be on the computer, however. Talented teachers have created a number of card, board, and group games to teach just about everything. My post of the ultimate list of grammar games was my #1 post in 2016. I refer to it all the time myself.

In addition to using games, make your homeschool fun by incorporating variety. Anything that’s done repeatedly can become dry. As important as homeschool routine is, it’s also important to change things up in your homeschool. If you’re a textbook family, consider taking a break to do a unit study. If you are a unit study family, consider doing some traditional curriculum for a while. One year our co-op decided to only do field trips. We had focused on subject-intensive courses for quite some time and we needed a break. Surprise your students with a new plan, a new twist, or even just a new recipe. It will keep their minds fresh and help to eliminate oppositional attitudes.

I do not want to suggest that if your children don’t enjoy doing schoolwork that they should not have to do it. Having fun is not a requirement. But it is a worthy goal.

Grammar Galaxy Language ARts

I created Grammar Galaxy to make language arts fast, easy, and fun. I had to share what mom Elizabeth recently told me. She mentioned that their schooling had been a little off schedule because of a move. She wrote:

We got back on track yesterday and started Mission 8. Let me tell you, it’s been fun, but my son lost his mind on this lesson! I have NEVER seen him laugh so hard during any lesson, for any subject since we started homeschooling. When the queen told Ellen, “I hate you” with tears in her eyes, he fell off his chair. He actually begged me to read the story to him again! I laughed equally hard at your instructions to try mixing up synonyms and antonyms at dinner (But [to] let your parents know what you are doing). Our 5 year old was so offended when he told me dinner was just terrible! You really did it. You truly made grammar fun. I didn’t think it was possible but you obviously deserve some kind of medal! THANK YOU!

If you have a 1st to 3rd grader, a beginning reader, or a reluctant reader, I highly commend it to you.

Which of these homeschool changes are you going to make this week? Let’s talk about it on Facebook.

HOMESCHOOL CHANGES YOU SHOULD MAKE NOW FB

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How to Have Your Sanest Homeschool Year

How to Have Your Sanest Homeschool Year

The end of the year always seems to get particularly busy for me. That makes it a perfect time to think about how I want my homeschooling life to be different in the new year. As a psychologist-turned-homeschooler who has been at this for 17 years, here are my recommendations.

Want to listen to this article on a podcast? LISTEN HERE or SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES or ON STITCHER

How to Make This Your Sanest Homeschool Year Podcast

#1 Get more sleep

The best way to ensure that we get more sleep is to go to bed earlier. Set an alarm on your phone. Use that alarm as a signal that you and/or your children need to go to your room for some quiet reading before bed. Make sure the room is cool and dark enough. Getting enough sleep will give you the energy that you need to accomplish all of your goals for the year. Going to bed earlier means you won’t sleep in. Waking up late is likely to make you feel behind. The one exception I have for going to bed early is teens. It just seems to be helpful for teens to sleep later. But that doesn’t mean that you as mom need to sleep in. I will allow myself to get as much sleep as I need at times when I need it. But I still feel much happier and more productive the earlier I get to sleep at night. If getting enough sleep at night just isn’t possible for you right now, plan regular naps. Sleep when your little ones do. Or nap while your children have a quiet time.

#2 Establish routines

I have mentioned the mistake of giving up on our routines this time of year. Establishing new routines or going back to the old routines that work is a great way of having an excellent homeschool year. The more chaos that reigns, the more likely people in your family are to be irritable and unproductive. If you’re someone who likes variety in their day like I do, you can still use routines. Just don’t make every single part of your day a routine.

Do begin with your morning routine. A book that may inspire you is The 5 Am Miracle by Jeff Sanders. Jeff and his wife don’t have children, but his experience with making the most of the morning hours is inspiring. If you don’t already do morning family time as part of your homeschool, I highly recommend it. You can learn more about it in Pam Barnhill’s Morning Basket Guide. Children are more likely to be cooperative when they know what to expect. Whatever it is that you hope to accomplish in the coming year that didn’t happen this year, a routine is likely to be part of your accomplishing it.

#3 Discipline children

One of the most common questions I get from homeschooling moms concerns their child’s unwillingness to participate in homeschooling. Because homeschooling can be so much more fun than public school, we can get the idea that our children always have to be having a good time. That just isn’t so. You and I learned something from classes we weren’t crazy about. I’m all about making learning fun, but if you have allowed your children to continually complain, ignore your requests, or refuse to participate in schooling, now is the time to correct that.

When I first began homeschooling, discipline was the number one subject I taught. We did a unit on obedience from Konos and I think it was more helpful for me as a mom than it was for my kids. I learned the importance of obedience and how much work was going to be required to teach it. I want to address child discipline in a future podcast episode, but for now recognize that you do have the right to expect your children to complete school work and participate in your homeschooling without excessive complaint. A complaining, obstinate child does not mean that you are a failure as a mother. Sending them to school will not relieve the problem. Even if they decide to cooperate at school, you still have to deal with them once they get home.

If you need help, I like the book How to Have a New Kid by Friday by Kevin Leman. Watch episodes of Supernanny and Nanny 911 on YouTube. And I recommend that you listen to an episode I did with Reb Bradley on the subject. Require your children to participate. Give them a consequence if they don’t that isn’t excessively harsh. With consistency, you’ll have a much saner homeschool year. If you still have a problem, seek professional help.

#4 Require your children to do chores

I did an episode of this podcast on teaching children to do chores well. But if you don’t have a chore system or one that you have use faithfully, I highly recommend that you begin that this year. Again, children don’t have to approve of your chore program. They only have to follow your instructions or suffer the consequences. There are so many chore programs that will work if you do. The main problem that destroys the effectiveness of a chore program is mom’s failure to require it and supervise it. After having tried numerous complicated chore systems, my favorite approach is to work together. We clean each floor of our home for 10 minutes. All the while I am able to see whether they are working or doing a good job or not. My children also have once-a-week chores that they complete. You are not being mean to require children to participate in the upkeep of your home. It’s up to you whether you give your children an allowance or payment for more complicated chores. But I have had great success in using both approaches.

#5 Meal plan

When I am tired at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is figure out what I should make for dinner. Discovering that I don’t have the ingredients for what I want to make just adds to the stress. Heading to the store at the busiest time of day is not a good idea. I plan my meals a week at a time using Plan to Eat. I can generate a shopping list quickly and easily that way. Currently I am using the 30 day meal plan from Tastefully Simple and my family has really enjoyed those meals. It saves me even more time because the planning is already done for me. Whatever you choose to do for your meal planning, a little bit of time spent planning and shopping in advance is certain to save your sanity. For more on meal planning, pick up your free copy of The Once and For All Meal Plan.

#6 Have an overall plan

Planning, even when we end up changing the plan, is a powerful way of making positive changes in any area of your homeschooling life. I will be planning my homeschool speech class for our co-op happening this semester. Having a plan laid out will keep me from wondering what we should be doing when all the students have already arrived in my home.

Our kids need a plan to follow too. Make sure they have their own list of work to accomplish. I have two free planners for kids. Or give Trello a try.

theorganizedhomeschoollife_2piecemockup

Homeschool moms tend to spend a lot of time shopping for the perfect planner and I understand that. Planners are awesome! But just as important is what you write in that planner. If you want to teach your kids a new subject this semester, you’ll want to plan for how to do that. We can save ourselves a lot of time by adopting someone else’s plan that we think would be workable. You can use an online unit study from Techie Homeschool Mom that’s already been put together. I’ve also talked about how we can get organized this year by using someone else’s plan, which in this case happens to be mine. The Organized Homeschool Life gives you a plan for organizing a different aspect of your life every week of the year. There may be particular challenges that don’t apply to you. So you can simply choose to work on an area of your homeschool life that does apply to you. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Search for plans for gaining control and meeting the goals that you have for the various aspects of your homeschooling life besides organizing. If you want to get in shape, you don’t have to cobble a workout together on your own. There are numerous workouts that have already been developed to help you. You can find someone else’s plan for growing spiritually, too. There are prayer and Bible reading calendars ready for you to Google them.

Which of these sanity steps will you take first? Let’s talk about it at Homeschool Sanity on Facebook.

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6 Christmas Stress Mistakes You Must Avoid Making

6 Christmas Stress Mistakes You Must Avoid Making

You’re busy. You’re dealing with lots of people. You’re stressed this Christmas season. Stress can lead us to make some mistakes that will make things worse. Avoid these six mistakes and you’re likely to have a merry Christmas.

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Christmas stress mistakes you don't want to make; homeschooling

Mistake #1: Not planning a homeschool break

What we typically do is get busy with other things this time of year. There is more shopping and cooking and even chatting going on. After all, it’s Christmas! Somehow in the midst of all the extra activity, we end up not doing school. But it isn’t a planned break. We just sleep in, do some Christmas shopping, or watch Christmas movies instead of homeschooling. We aren’t doing a Christmas unit study. That’s different. We find ourselves falling into a Christmas break. The result is we feel guilty. We really wanted to get a lot done before Christmas. But we didn’t. And we don’t feel refreshed like we should from a planned break. Instead of falling into a Christmas break this year, decide whether you really are going to do a Christmas unit study. Plan what to do. If you don’t have time to plan, try the Christmas Traditions or Christmas Around the World online unit studies from Techie Homeschool Mom. They’re done for you.

If you don’t want to do a Christmas unit study, plan when you are going to take a break and for how long. If you feel behind on your regular studies, decide what you want to accomplish before Christmas. Make a realistic list for yourself and your children. Give your children the option of finishing early if they finish their work early or you finish your family work early. This is the process I used to create the most motivating homeschool planner ever.

Mistake #2: Changing your sleep schedule

Changing your sleep schedule may be one of the things you look forward to at Christmas time. You can stay up late watching movies and can sleep in. A few nights of this is okay, but erratic sleep schedules will wreak havoc on you and the kids. I recently read that our melatonin levels go down after 10 p.m. This means that it will be harder for us to fall asleep later at night. Adequate, consistent sleep provides a number of benefits. It helps to control weight, maintains a positive mood, increases focus, strengthens immunity, and helps control stress. No matter how busy you are, you will benefit from sticking to your regular bed and awakening time as closely as you can. If you have to stay up late for a Christmas party, for example, sleep in if you can. If you can’t because your kids will be up early, get up at the same time as usual. Then do your best to take a nap during the day. This advice is good for your children, too. We took a family vacation over Christmas break when my youngest was three. He did not get his nap and had night terrors as a result. He woke up screaming and could not be consoled. It’s a great example of what lack of sleep does to all of us internally.

Mistake #3: Skipping personal devotion time

When we go to bed late, we tend to get up late. If you have your time with the Lord in the morning as I do, you’ll miss it. Then you will struggle to have that time with God later in the day. Not having a quiet time of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation is a real problem when you are stressed, because that’s when you need it most. In fact, having that time with God during the Christmas season is likely to prevent stress in the first place. What’s more, if you continually skip your time with God this season, you will find yourself looking back on Christmas and feeling as though you missed the most important part. If in the midst of Christmas stress, you find yourself missing your time with God, make plans to correct that immediately. In addition, don’t limit yourself to your planned times with God. When you find yourself feeling frazzled or annoyed, take a few minutes to sit down in the presence of the Lord. One of my favorite things to do in those instances, is to write out what I’m feeling. Go to God with your stresses and worries and concerns and write them down. Pray and ask God what He has to say to you about these things. He may give you an idea or a Scripture or just a sense of peace that you did not have before.

Mistake #4: Not getting exercise

Another common habit we skip when we are under stress is exercise. That’s unfortunate because exercise helps to control the physical and emotional side effects of stress. For example, our immunity suffers when we are stressed. One of the benefits of exercise is that it raises our body temperature, helping to kill viruses and bacteria like a fever does. Over the Christmas season, we may have erratic sleep schedules, eat differently, and will spend time with large groups of people who may have a variety of germs. Giving up our exercise is not wise in these conditions. Exercise is also proven to relieve depression and anxiety. Christmas is the season we need exercise more than ever. If you don’t currently exercise, now is the perfect time to start. Check out 6 Short Workouts You Can Do at Home. Exercise doesn’t have to take an hour to be effective.

Mistake #5 Dropping other routines

There are other aspects of our routine besides sleep, devotions, and exercise. Because we’re stressed at this time of year, we can be temped to let them go. But not doing laundry, regular picking up, and meal planning will make life even more stressful. A cluttered environment adds to the feeling of being out of control. No meal plan will lead to irritability and an extra expense at this costly time of year. Not taking a few minutes to put laundry away and do dishes will cost you more time. It’s a lie that we will have more time to do these routine things later. Instead of dropping your routines when you’re stressed, maintain your habits. Use this time to start new ones. Set the timer and do a whole house pick up together for 15 minutes. Then do it again the next day. This is the time to be even more careful to schedule your days. You’ll accomplish what you hope to in your homeschooling, your home, and other responsibilities and you’ll still have time to enjoy special Christmas activities.

Mistake #6 Skipping your favorite parts of the season

When we are stressed, we immediately consider ways of saving time and cutting corners. That’s a good thing unless we consider eliminating things that are the highlight of our Christmas. If you don’t love making everyone’s favorite appetizer, pick something up instead. But if making Christmas cookies is a treasured tradition, make sure you do it — even though you’re stressed. The disappointment of having a busy, but unsatisfying Christmas just isn’t worth it. What if you don’t know how you can still do your favorite activities? Pray about it. The Lord will show you if there is something you think is non-negotiable but could be dropped. He may show you a way to multi-task. Need to have lunch with a friend and get Christmas shopping done? Do both together. Be willing to talk to people you love about your predicament. Will they really be disappointed if you don’t do something this year? They’ll let you know. You can include your favorite parts of the season even though you’re busy by asking for help. I used to be exhausted trying to wrap dozens of gifts. Then I switched to purchasing three gifts for my family members. You can find the link to my idea list for this in the show notes. And I asked my family members to help wrap. They love wrapping! And we spend time together while we do it. Being with my family just happens to be one of favorite parts of the season.

Which of these mistakes has caused you the most problems in previous years? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.

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