More play?

There has been a lot of interesting research done on children and learning. And the bulk of it comes down to this: Kids need more play. Kids learn through play, so they need more play.

I totally believe in play. People might not think so, since I’m always posting lessons and experiments. But we do a lot of play at the house. Some of it is organized play (board games, Lego building contests, block building contests, science experiments…….) and some of it is unstructured play (as in I tell them to go play).

We also have unstructured play in nature. We head to the beach and I let my kids play all they want there. We go hiking, and we always stop for “snack” in a convenient location that lets them play around. We also head to museums that have play areas and I let them play. Or playgrounds…..or the front yard……..

I think you catch the drift.

Kids can get over-scheduled. When that happens they lose their time for play. It’s important to have enrichment activities, and equally important to have play activities. So how do you balance them?

It’s a very personal decision. Sometimes it means we do bare minimum work and have a play day. Sometimes it means we do equal play and work in a day – it just depends. I can tell when the kids aren’t getting enough play because I start to feel it too. But when they are getting enough play, it’s more fun! First of all, they don’t like coming in from play. But if they are getting enough play, I can use it as a bribe in order to get other things done. “Finish your writing work and we can go play,” is very commonly heard around my house. It’s fun to play, the kids want to do it, so they do their work before hand and then we go play. If we aren’t getting enough play, then we don’t have an easy time doing work.

Here’s the links to two articles I really like on the need for play.

Article 1

Article 2




My planner

A shot of my planner two weeks before the lessons. As we get closer, it will get messier.

A shot of my planner two weeks before the lessons. As we get closer, it will get messier.

People have asked me how I plan for homeschooling. Truth is, there’s a lot of flexibility in planning. I have two tools that I couldn’t live without: my planner and my 10 minute box.

The planner

The planner starts off all neat (see the images on the other side), and ends up messy. I paperclip each days’ stuff to the planner as we get closer, that way I have all the information I need in one spot. Then I gather all my materials and put them into the box for school – and then we start getting closer. I put down names of books we are reading, if we take a trip to the grocery store I write it down if my kids do any math or reading while we are there. The planner gets messier and messier. I cross things off with a highlighter when we finish them. And at the end of the week, I try to get everything we didn’t finish in to finish.

The planner helps me organize, but I like that I don’t have to stick to it. It’s my guide, my helper – but it doesn’t rule my life. If we need to make changes, we make changes.

10 minute box

My other special tool is my 10 minute box. This box holds plastic bags that have a ten-minute lesson in them. These can be art projects, short lessons, some dot-to-dot activities….there are lots of things in the box and they are all independent activities. We have “light source” treasure hunts. I have “measure the chairs to find the tallest” I have lots of fun activities in the box. The key to using this box is that it givers me a few minutes to set up for the next activity. The kids pick – and I make them pick the same thing. Then they do the activity while I set up.

I also use this box instead of the TV sometimes. And I make them do and activity from here before they get anything on TV.

The 10-minute box is really helpful to give me just that little bit of time I need. It is also neat because I let the kids pick the lessons they want to do out of it – so they feel like they have some control.

I try to put 30 lessons in there on a Sunday and hope I don’t run out. Sometimes my kids really like going to the box, so it can be neat.

Other tools

I also have a bunch of other tools I use. I keep a stock of Lego activities in my head. They can be as simple as “build me the tallest Lego tower you can,” or “Build a castle with your blocks for the Army men to conquer.” All of these ideas are ones that the kids can do to give me a few minutes to set up the next activity, project, or meal, without having them underfoot.

Of course, sometimes they need to be underfoot – like when they are helping cook.

I hope this helps people understand how I go about planning and being flexible.

What are your summer plans?


What are your summer plans?

Many children finish school in the coming month. Homeschoolers tend to finish school around now too. But homeschoolers also do summer learning.

The importance of summer learning can’t be over emphasized. Children loose skills when they aren’t exposed to them every day. Math is a perishable skill. Reading is a perishable skill. Spelling is a perishable skill. In order to maintain the same level of math skills, reading, and other skills, a child needs exposure to them over the summer.

Everyday over the summer we do math and reading. It’s not always the same amount of math that we do during the school year, but we still do it. And we read.

But other than that, our summer learning is all about museums and nature. We spend summer visiting parks, museums, and hiking. It gives the kids great exposure to things they might not do during the rest of the year.

The key to summer learning is remembering that not all learning involves a classroom.

Making screen time about more than just the screen.

Asking questions can be the best interaction during a movie.

Asking questions can be the best interaction during a movie.

There are days when moms just need breaks. These days come when mom is sick, there is a lot of cleaning to be done, or simply because life hits. Sometimes kids need breaks. We like to call these days, “Lazy days,” and I make sure we have one a month at least. They come after we do a lot of traveling, when there’s a lot of “life” going on, or because we just need some bonding time.

But I try not to make the day about plopping the kids in front of the screen (television, computer, iPad, LeapPad….) and not interacting with them. There have been numerous studies that show that if you interact with the kids during screen time, they will learn and retain more. Mostly, I use screen time as a time to teach them to follow story lines. Sometimes we use screen time to learn things (LeapFrog videos or NASA educaiton hour and various science shows/history shows). But a lot of the time it’s just about watching our favorite movies and TV shows on our off days.

I simply ask questions and listen to responses. They don’t have to be great responses – but they have to be ones that show my kids heard the question. Here’s the list of questions I have in my “Mom folder” and use when we are watching screen time. I’ve broken the questions down into two sets – one for non-educational programs and one for educational programs.

Questions for “fun” shows

1. What is happening?

2. What just happened?

3. What do you think will happen next?

4. Who is the main character?

5. What is the plot?

6. Who are all the other characters?

7. Why do you like this part of the movie?

8. What song are they singing?

9. Can you move like that? (I use this one when we watch anything with movement. Sometimes we run around like cars after the question, and sometimes we dance).

10. Where are they now?

11. When did that character do                                           ?

12. What does that remind you of?

13. Who is the protagonist and antagonist? (Yes, my kids know these terms. I use them and explain them while watching shows. I want them to get to know the proper literary terms as soon as possible).

* The key is to notice that none of these questions are “yes/no” questions. Instead they are somewhat open-ended and allow for interaction. I almost always grab the child in question and pull them onto my lap and cuddle while asking the questions (This won’t work for older kids. You might have to offer them a snack and pretend to be a cool mom instead).

Questions for educational videos

1. What are they talking about?

2. What have you learned?

3. Who is talking? Who is teaching?

4. When do you think you can use this?

5. Where does this work? (Mostly for science stuff).

6. What else do you know about this subject?

7. What else can you do with the things you are learning?

8. How might this work for us?

9. Can you sing me a song about what you learned? (My kids like to make up songs about what they learn).

10. How does this work with other things we have learned?

So why should I do this?

I’m not saying you have to do these questions – make up your own. But by asking questions you are interacting and reinforcing concepts the kids are learning in the videos. Even if they are playing a video game these questions work. It simply involved interaction with kids so that they aren’t all by themselves and becoming drones while watching screen time.


Discipline, homework, and chores….

I’ve been trying to decide what the best way to get my kids to focus on school work is. We’ve tried a million different things – maybe a few more than that actually. But we’ve finally come into a system of rewards/punishments that is working.

Dealing with backtalk

I don’t tolerate backtalk during school. Discussion yes; backtalk no. The minute Nicholas gets snarky, I give him one warning. The second warning results in him being sent to his room until he’s ready to come work nicely. I always warn him the same way, “If you are too tired to do your work nicely, then you need a nap.” Usually our school time works without too many problems. But sometimes he’s spending more time in his room than doing his work. He has actually missed a playdate because he didn’t finish his school work. Which leads me to the second point….

School work comes first

I break our school work into two categories; lessons and practice work. The practice work consists of things like math worksheets, practicing letters, writing letters, dot-to-dots, memory work, and phonics/reading. The lessons are things we learn about that day. Most of the time the lesson also includes various practical aspects (drawing a star, practicing circles, answering questions….). But I still break the day up into these two categories. He never has more than 20 minutes of practice work – if he would sit down and do it. In practice, it takes us about an hour to do the practice work. It’s lucky my kids get up early, because we finish this work before 9 am. Nothing happens until this work is done.

Our lessons are never hard to get the kids involved in. Whether we are doing jellybean math, cooking, art, science, reading and writing our own stories, working on animals and plants….it never takes much to get them interested and participating. I put these lessons throughout the day. Normally after I go to the gym (yes, I make this my time and I need it!).


Stickers as rewards.

Stickers as rewards.

My oldest works better with punishments than rewards. He doesn’t care if his worksheet gets a sticker or he gets ice cream at the end of the school day. My youngest works well with rewards. She gets stickers on each worksheet she completes. She gets a bigger sticker when she is done with her school work. She really likes stickers, so this works well for her.

We also have Ice Cream Fridays. On Friday, once everything is done and all the school work is caught up, we have ice cream.  The ice cream gets made by the kids. I’m there to help pour and measure, but they get to choose the flavor and what they want to add to it. I’ve had blueberry chocolate chip ice cream and pineapple banana ice cream. Whatever they want they get to choose. It helps them get through things on Friday and gives them a reward.


Chores are a part of our homeschooling. My kids – even the youngest – have their chores. We do laundry, bathroom floor washing, and dishes as chores. They also have to put their toys away at night. Chores are often done while we sing various songs; I like the kids to learn songs. We’ve sung “Old MacDonald” to do laundry and “Hokey Pokey” while doing dishes.

One thing I don’t do is use chores as punishment. If the chores don’t get done, they don’t get to go on play dates. That’s the rule. They can’t have people over unless the chore for the day is done. They know what days their chores are supposed to get done – I have charts for them to see.

That’s all

At the moment, that’s all I have. I’m going to say that something different will work for each kid. And at different times different things have worked. On days when nothing seems to work, we simply change the lessons. That means there is something to do on Fridays since Friday is out catch up day.


Helping readers.

Do you have a new, emerging, or just a general reader in the house? Are you looking for new and interesting ways to get them engaged in reading?

Barnes and Noble, in partnership with, Tikatok, puts out some free resources for parents to use. These are free downloads that show how reading can be used across different curriculum areas. These resources also have ideas for making reading more fun and encouraging readers.

Here’s the link to the program:

Christmas season here we come!

We made wreaths for the fromt hall as part of our art time. Who knew a 4 year old could be taught to use a law-heat glue gun?

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. It is only topped by any occasion on which I have a babysitter and my husband and I get to go out. Even those occasions don’t last for a month, so Christmas is really a nice season for us.

We are working harder now than we were in October. The routine has gotten easier and as the kids have gotten more used to the routine, the routine has gotten even easier. They know that sometimes we break routine – like when we go visit grandma – but normally they know they have to finish their school work before anything else happens. We have two sets of work: Practice work and lessons. Our practice work is the hands on practice of math worksheets and writing. That work is done before we go anywhere. We finish that work by 8a. The lesson gets worked into the day somewhere – that is my responsibility.

We have a few things we always enjoy more at Christmas. Art is always more fun when it gets displayed – and I display all my kids’ Christmas craft projects. I consider it an investment in disposable decorations. They make it, we display it, we dump it and make new stuff next year. Some exception are there – like the wreaths Nicholas made this year. But mostly we create, dump, and make new again next year. It saves on storage space.

The lessons this month won’t be all Christmas all the time  – that’s not fun for us. We like a variety of lessons. But the art time and cooking time – those are Christmas oriented.

We made candies today. Candy has a lot of science in it. I love this website that explains all the science behind candy making.  We did the caramel lesson today. It turned out okay – better than my caramels normally turn out. I can’t wait to work our way through the rest of the recipes. Tomorrow is marshmallows!!

Do we still do our normal stuff? Yep. Math and writing are done everyday. To save myself a bit of a hassle I got a writing workbook and a math workbook. We are just working our way through them this month so that I can focus more on our fun things and planning – this month can get so hectic.

Happy start of the Christmas season!

Our handouts are free!!!

In case you haven’t heard, our handouts are now being uploaded to Teachers pay Teachers.

This website is FREE! You have to register to download anything, but the registration is free.

My store – where you can find all our handouts – is located at

The handouts I make are free. So are the mini-lessons that are at the store.

In addition to my store, there are many other free resources available online. Go browse and see if you can find anything to help your studies. I found a free word wall for our German lessons. This way I don’t have to cut and paste all the pictures – it has already been done for me.

Have fun browsing, and make sure to follow my store to get all the handout updates as we go.

What? No tests?

Wouldn’t you rather see the smiles and energy that come from learning and exploring the world than the stress of exams? Why would I test when instead I can take the kids out and show them how things work in the real world and see them smile?

Recently I’ve been getting a few questions from people about how I am going to verify that my kids are learning something. What they are asking is – are you going to test them?

Let’s think about what a test is. A test is a way to check if you have memorized certain facts or a process. When children take standardized tests the test is looking for a certain thing: Can you read a paragraph and answer a question this way. Or can you do a math problem. Tests do not measure a creative process or critical thinking. A test is only a good verification tool of a fact or a set process – because if there could be more than one answer, then the test isn’t going to be a standardized tests – that’s what essay exams are for.

Essay exams are a little different then regular tests because you have a blank paper in front of you and get to explain yourself. In an essay exam you can express your answer and the way you got there. While an essay exam has more leeway with allowing you a creative process and critical thinking, it is still an exam and is still looking for a right answer. I have taken many of these in my college and graduate education and know that the exam is still looking for the “right” answer – they just want to see your reasoning to get there.

So what is the goal of a test? To measure something specific. It is a little like Jeopardy in that way – except the exams are more limited than possible Jeopardy questions.

I don’t test my children – nor am I planning to. I don’t think they need exams to show that they have learned something. I don’t need to give them a math test to verify they can add – they will simply be able to add and subtract and since I’m the one doing the work with them, I will know if they can do it. I don’t particularly care if they memorize the historical facts and figures we are learning about. I’d rather they get a general overview of history. The things they like will stick with them.

Am I sure about this? I am sure. I get random questions all the time about how I’m going to be sure they are learning something. They will learn. We interact in lessons. We go to exhibits and watch shows and do experiments and practice work that shows me they are learning. You don’t have to test whether kids are learning – they really are.

Some people seem very frightened by this approach – as if by not testing my children they are going to miss out on various facts. So here’s my question to you guys out there who believe testing is an integral part of a child’s educational experience: Why? What fact did you learn for a test that you truly remember? I know, from experience, that I learned things for tests that I have no idea what they are right now. None. I can tell you that I passed high school and college level courses in chemistry and biology – yet I can’t remember what the parts of a flower are. For the kids in my neighborhood that’s a big test coming up right now. There are lots of kids trying to memorize the parts of a flower. Why? If they are interested, these facts will stick with them and drive them to various classes in continuing education. But for now…why?

Sure, my kids are going to be tested by others. They will learn that tests are something they need to do for other people. But at my house, I’m happier seeing the smiles that come with learning and exploring than the stress of preparing for exams.

Using free online platforms for courses.

I’m a big fan of not reinventing the wheel. I use worksheets that I can print off other people’s sites, workbooks that have information that I need, and library books as textbooks. I also use college-level classes, that are free online, as basic backbones for information to teach.

Why the college classes? The professors are well known in their field and the information is free. When you try to get online textbooks for various classes – since I am not an expert in all information and need help from time to time – there are none. Or if they are out there, the books and information cost a lot of money.

I’m homeschooling. That doesn’t mean I am rich. I have to keep costs low enough that I can continue to homeschool. Unlike a public school, I don’t get an average daily amount per student to help run my school. I make due with what we already have.

Therefore, free information and worksheets are a great tool that helps me out a lot.

There are two online educations platforms that I really like – MIT’s Opencoursewear and Coursera.

Both of these platforms hold college level classes in a wide range of areas. Whether you want music, engineering, math, or humanities classes, you can find them here. And what is more – they give you all the tools you need. They have the books listed, but they also have all the articles they read, the syllabus, and some even have notes and tests. The courses are academically sound, rigorous, and provide an amazing amount of information.

What is more – they have courses that help me too. I recently did a music class through Coursera with my son and he was amazed to find that mommy had to learn things too. It was a great experience and we had a lot of fun.

Go visit the sites. They will amaze you.

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