Back to “Home” School Series (B2HS)

back2homeschoolSummer is nearly over! Its almost time to get back into our homeschool routine. We always take a full summer break, because up here in the Northeast, it is the best time to be outdoors! After a long winter cooped up in the house, we all crave a nice long summer vacation. So we usually take all of July and August off of school. By the time September rolls around, we’re all (mostly) ready to get back to our routine. Personally, I love this time of year – like Anne Shirley, I excitedly look forward to a whole new year with no mistakes in it yet. We collect our materials, plan our schedules and get everything ready for our new school year.

This school year, I’m going to have a high school sophomore/junior (we’re contemplating a flex year for her since she has a late birthday and started school on the early side), two 8th graders (one of whom is starting to earn some high school credits this year), and a very reluctant 1st grader. That should make for an interesting year!

This week, I’ll be doing a quick series of posts about getting ready for the new school year. I’ll link all the posts here at the end of the week for easy access.

B2HS: Advice to the New Homeschooling Mother

B2HS: Getting Organized for the New School Year

B2HS: Tips for Avoiding Homeschooling Burn Out

B2HS: Build Your Own Timeline 101

B2HS: Tips for a Great First Day


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About Build Your Library Curriculum

Build Your Library – secular homeschool curriculum, literature based – building young minds, one book at a time!

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history? What about a secular science that is mostly literature based in the elementary years? Well, you have come to the right place! Welcome to Build Your Library Curriculum!

I am a homeschool mother, not unlike you. I spent years searching for a curriculum that fit my needs, and having to tweak each program to death to make it work for my family. Then one day, I realized it would be simpler to just write my own program. That is when Build Your Library was born. I thought I must not be the only one looking for a literature based program that was also secular. So I set to work to create a homeschool curriculum that would fit many needs.

I wanted a curriculum that was rich in great literature, not just old fashioned tomes, but modern children’s literature as well.  I wanted a curriculum that was history based but didn’t drown you in historical fiction. I wanted to make narration a priority, but in a way that was fun and easy. A curriculum that took passages from the books you and your child are reading and turned them into copywork in the elementary years and dictation at the middle school level.  I wanted to incorporate art study that was connected to history and included fun art projects. And I wanted to include science – literature based in the elementary years, and I use Elemental Science’s logic stage program in the middle school years.  It was a tall order – but our children are worth it.

I hope you will try out a program and join the Build Your Library family, – building young minds, one book at a time!

Current Full Grade Level Products Available for Purchase –
Kindergarten – Grade 1 – Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4 – Grade 5 – Grade 6
Grade 7Grade 8

Current Unit Studies – Supplemental Educational Products Available for Purchase
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHistory of ThanksgivingA Jan Brett Christmas Winter Holidays Around the World –  The HobbitDarwin and EvolutionSharks! – World War IIPrehistory

Other Educational Products –
Narration Cards
  Book of Centuries and Timeline Figures


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B2HS: Tips for a Great First Day

This is the 5th and final post in my Back to “Home” School blog series. So far this week, I’ve given advice to the new homeschooling mother, helped you to get your school materials organized, and given you tips to avoid burnout, and shown you a variety of ways to make your own timeline. Today I’m going to give you some tips to have a great first day of school!


Is there anything more exciting than the first day of school? All those new books and shiny new school supplies…it’s pure joy. I don’t know about you, but after a long enjoyable summer, it’s still a huge relief to get back to our normal routines.

Many families have special traditions for the first day of school. My goal every year is to make this a special day, one they’ll look forward to at the end of summer. Here are a couple ways you could choose to make your homeschool opening day great:

313323_2276889077568_4088768_n1. Make a special breakfast treat. I know I can’t be the only one with kids who love junk food for breakfast. I usually try to keep meals healthy, but on the first day back to school we splurge. My children LOVE monkey bread. It’s been our go-to 1st day breakfast for the past 7 or 8 years. Maybe you could make chocolate chip pancakes or french toast with syrup and whipped cream… or even better – go out for breakfast to your favorite diner or restaurant. 

309665_2276889597581_201391_n2. Take first day of school pictures. Every year, I take a first day photo of each of my children. Since we rarely get professional portraits done, these are special treasured photographs of my children as they grow up. I love looking back at older 1st day pictures to see how they’ve matured. They each pick out a special “first day of school” outfit to wear and if the weather is nice, we go outdoors for our pictures.

58838_4426125767142_329765418_n3. Do some fun things first. Start your year off with something they are already excited about. Is your child really into art? Begin with a fun art project. Does she love science? Start with a science experiment. Begin with a new read aloud, a nature hike, an exciting field trip… whatever gets you and your children excited to jump back into learning mode. One year, we started off with a Harry Potter theme. All of the spelling words were from the books (pensieve, lumos, wizard, etc.), we made wands, read aloud one of the books, wrote copywork and dictation from the books, did some chemistry experiments (potions class!), and sorted ourselves into Hogwarts houses (thanks to Pottermore).

4. Complete an “All About Me” survey. This is a fun thing you can do every year just like pictures. It’s a great way to get another form of a snapshot of your child right now. It can be great fun to go back and see how they’ve changed over the years.

Download All_About_Me Survey

5. Go out to dinner. If you didn’t already do it for breakfast, consider going out to eat dinner as a special treat. It can be a great time to reflect on our first day back, discuss goals for the year, and just kick back and enjoy time out as a family when no one has to be in charge of either cooking or clean up.

6. Go on a Field Trip: What could be a better way to celebrate the start of a new year than taking a trip to the beach, a state park, or a local museum. Not only will you get to do something fun, but the crowds should be minimal, because everyone else is back in school.  Pack a lunch and make it a picnic – for some reason my kids think simple pb&j sandwiches and juice boxes taste better when eaten on a blanket at the local park. 😉

It can be easy for us moms to get wrapped up in the curriculum, the schedule, the dailiness of school. But by just working in a few simple things, we can add meaning to the day and make special memories in the process. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I’d love to hear your first day of school traditions! What do you do to kickstart your school year?

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B2HS: Build Your Own Timeline 101

This is the 4th post in my Back to “Home” School blog series. So far this week, I’ve given advice to the new homeschooling mother, helped you to get your school materials organized, and given you tips to avoid burnout. Today we’re going to talk about timelines!

BYL Timeline 101

Timelines are essential when it comes to showing your children the grand scope of history. They help your children see connections, giving them a way to visualize when events overlap that they may have not realized when just reading about them separately. It is one thing to know that something happened in a particular year – memorizing dates is helpful for test taking, but if you want your children to have a deeper understanding of history, you really want to show them events on a timeline.

For instance, did you know that both Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born in 1929? We may think of them as living in distinctly different time periods, but they would have been contemporaries, had Frank lived passed childhood. Timelines can bring these kinds of connections to your children’s attention.

In this post, I will show you the basics, as well as give you some examples of different ways you can make a timeline work in your homeschool.

But how do you create a timeline?

857000_10200317515356377_1699091222_oExample 1: Timelines can come in many shapes and sizes. When we first started out, I went the easy route. I bought the largest  tri-fold display board from our local Staples for about $5, pulled out a yard stick and divided the workspace into sections, drew colored lines and labeled dates. When we got to an event, we colored in the timeline figure, cut it out and used a glue stick to attach it to the board. As far as a “functional” timeline goes, it fit the bill. It was also portable as it folded flat and could be stored out of the way when it wasn’t in use. Was it the prettiest? Nope, but it worked.

Example 2: Eventually our first couple kids outgrew the large wall-style timeline and switched over to a 3-ring binder Book of Centuries. This was also neat, portable and worked well.

But now our youngest is coming up to the year where she will start her timeline project. I told my husband a few weeks ago that I really wanted to put together a wall timeline for her. She’s a very visual person, and I wanted something we could keep out all the time. We have a large section of blank wall space in our school room (or kitchen as it is also known). I expressed a desire to utilize that real estate in some manner, but was quickly shot down by my husband who was hesitant to let me start taping papers to the paint and use my meager art skills to come up with something. So I dropped the project into his lap since he is much more artistic and tasked him into coming up with a visually appealing timeline that he would approve of…

Example 3: He said he would think about it and a week or so later we noticed two good sized bulletin boards sitting out at our local recycling center. After a minute of quick brainstorming, we both knew that this would be the basis for our wall timeline and grabbed them. Originally I was thinking we could just give the boards a coat of fresh paint and use some sort of paper boarder strips for the lines and thumbtack the figures on. But then while they were resting against the bookshelves waiting to be cleaned up, my husband got a better idea. He looked up some old style maps on Amazon and found one that was just a few inched bigger than the boards.

20150821_155947Two days later after Amazon Prime shipping and a trip to Walmart, we were ready to create the “timeline masterpiece” in my husband’s mind. We gathered our materials – 2 “free” 23″ x 35″bulletin boards (notice they are kind of beat up), two 24″x 36″ antique style map posters ($9.55 each), 1″ colored scotch tape in 4 colors ($2.25 each), a Sharpie marker, ruler and thumb tacks. Not pictured are post-it notes, a pen and our handy-dandy label maker.

20150821_171817We removed the frame from the boards so the edges were way up under the molding and cut the maps to fit. Then we tacked them on with  thumb tacks. When we replaced the frame, we made sure the posters were smooth and tight inside the frame. Now we were ready measure out the spacing to add the tape lines to mark the time periods.

When you create a timeline, you want to differentiate the major time periods. For an 20150821_175913elementary student, you can simplify it into four categories – Ancients, Middle Ages – Renaissance, Early Modern and Modern. I like to color code these categories. It really doesn’t matter what colors you use, so long as they are different. Once you have your categories, you can start to place your dates. I used colorful scotch tape for our categories. They just happened to have 5 colors of masking tape at Walmart, so we picked 4 of them. We measured to make sure the periods would be evenly spaced – it will depend on how large of a surface you are working with. We ended up with about 4 inches between each category.

Once you have your colored categories, you can start adding your dates. This is the part that caused me most stress to lay out. When you are creating a historical timeline, it can be difficult to figure out when to begin, how much space between dates, and how many dates. I like to keep things fairly simple – I look at what the earliest event we’ll be covering in history will be, and that’s our starting place. So for our timeline we started at 5000 BCE. Then the distance between dates will change depending on how many events you expect to add. These are the dates I used on our timeline:

Ancients                  Middle Ages – Ren         Early Modern              Modern

B.C.E.                                    C.E.                                       1600                                1860

5000                                       25                                         1625                                1870

4000                                      75                                          1650                                1880

3000                                      100                                       1675                                 1890

2500                                      200                                       1700                                1900

2000                                     300                                       1725                                 1910

1500                                      400                                       1750                                 1920

1250                                      500                                       1775                                  1930

1000                                     600                                       1790                                  1940

900                                       700                                       1800                                  1950

800                                      800                                       1810                                   1960

700                                      900                                        1820                                  1970

650                                      1000                                      1830                                  1980

600                                      1050                                      1840                                  1990

550                                      1100                                       1850                                  2000

500                                      1150                                                                                  2010

450                                      1200                                                                                  2020

400                                      1250

350                                      1300

300                                      1350

250                                      1400

200                                      1450

150                                       1500

50                                         1525

.                                             1550

.                                             1575

20150823_115023I started adding temporary date markers with post-it notes so that it would be easy to adjust them as needed to be sure they all fit. You could add more dates if you have a larger space to work with, but I find these dates sufficient for the elementary aged child, and they fit nicely on a tri-fold display board or my two bulletin boards. Once I arranged the spacing to my liking (about an inch or 2 depending on how many dates I was trying to fit), I created the permanent date stickers with my label maker.  You could just as easily write them on the tape with a Sharpie, but we were aiming for pretty on this project. Since this timeline is hanging prominently in our kitchen where we spend a lot of time, we wanted to make it look as nice as possible. My handwriting is not the greatest, so we broke out the label maker. 😉

This is our finished product (along with my 6 year old who will be the main student using the wall timeline this year):

20150823_144747The maps are purely decorative and will eventually get covered up by timeline event figures, but doesn’t it look nice? :)

This is just one way of making use of a timeline. Not everyone has wall space for something like this, or the patience to put it together. For some more excellent ideas, I asked some Build Your Library customers to send me pictures of their working timelines so that I could share some of their creativity with everyone for some further inspiration.

Example 4: This timeline was created by Annie. She says:

AncientTimelineCollage“The cover and banner are from and the images were free printables from, but I don’t have a color printer.  I just trimmed and taped together file folders, and guessed at most of it. It will be on a wall once we move, but for now it is folded on a bookshelf when not in use.”

20150824_103033Example 5: This timeline was submitted by Diana. She says:

“We used index cards paper-clipped to yarn on our dining room wall. It makes it easy to add additional cards later and gives us a room for a little review info (especially helpful for my husband and I!). It has led to lots of good dinner conversations and games. Our favorite is trying to guess which time line card someone is describing.”



timelineExample 6: This is how Amy set up her timeline. She says:

Here’s a photo of a timeline my daughter, Ava (age 8), and I have been working on.  As I read from Story of the World, she draws a picture.  She then narrates a short sentence or phrase to caption the picture.  We did a timeline for Book 1 about 18 months ago then put it away (attached).  This week, we took it back out to review before starting Book 2.  Although I wasn’t sure what some of the pictures were about, she was able to tell me exactly what they were and how they each tied in with the event!  This is a favorite part of our week for me.

Example 7: Finally, here’s Claire’s wall timeline. She says:We will be starting this week so there are no figures on it yet. I wanted to have the whole thing fully visible so I used an 11 foot long piece of paper and hung it in our hallway.”


Thanks Annie, Diana, Amy and Claire!

So as you can see – timelines can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be. I hope that I’ve taken some of the fear and confusion out of the process.

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B2HS: Tips for Avoiding Homeschooling Burn Out

This is the third post in my Back to “Home” School blog series. I’ve given some advice to new homeschooling mothers and helped you to get your materials organized for a great year. Today, I’m going to give you some tips to avoiding burn out.

avoiding burnoutWhether this is your first year or your 13th, no one is immune to homeschooling burn out. It can strike at any time, but for many, it hits right around February, when your smack in the middle of the winter doldrums and everyone is getting tired of the same routine.

How do you know you are experiencing homeschooling burn-out? Well, let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms:

  • Are you feeling like maybe it’s time to just send your children to the local public school?
  • Do you want to toss your school books out the window?
  • Do you find yourself feeling irritable at everyone all day?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed?

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then you are probably experiencing burn out. We all question our decision to homeschool at some point in time, but if you step back and re-evaluate and realize that you did make the right decision, then it’s time to dig your way out of the quagmire of fatigue.

Get inspired with a good book.

Here are a few of my favorite go-to homeschooling books:

  • The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home You really can’t go wrong with The Well Trained Mind – it’s probably my all time favorite homeschool read. I also adore Susan Wise Bauer’s Audio Lectures – and she even has one on avoiding burn out!
  • Learning All The Time – really any of John Holt’s books are a great place to go in order to remind yourself of why you are on this journey in the first place. I first read this book when my oldest was about 7, and I’ve returned to it several times since. I would never consider myself an unschooler, but I love the idea that learning is always happening, and that children naturally want to learn.
  • The Three R’s and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 Ruth Beechick’s books were some of the first I read when I began homeschooling. She lays out a great foundation for the K-3 years in The Three R’s and then extends it with You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, which covers grades 4 – 8. There is a bit of Christian content in You Can Teach, but it’s easy to skip over.
  • A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning
    If the thought of reading Charlotte Mason’s original writings overwhelms you (they are massive!) then this is a beautifully written guide to how to give your children a Charlotte Mason style education. It was one of the first books I read about the Charlotte Mason philosophy. This book does come from a Christian perspective, so if that would bother you, definitely skip it. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a secular Charlotte Mason book. I should probably get on top of that. 😉
  • Drive: 9 Ways to Motivate Your Kids to Achieve I came across this book when I was looking for a way to inspire my oldest child to be more motivated about her education.
    This book is full of great ideas and tips on how to help your children become motivated and inspired. I’ve read this book a couple of times over the years and I actually just added this to my To Read pile again, because it’s been about a year since I read it last and I feel like we all need a motivation boost.

Change up your academic routine.

Sometimes burn out happens because you have gotten your homeschooling into a rut. You could try changing things up with a unit study. Build Your Library has several to choose from. Unit studies can be a great way to combat burn out, because it gives you the opportunity to change up your studies for a brief period of time. Then, when you return back to your regular routine, it will feel fresh again.

Or why not have a read-a-thon where you spend a whole day or even week just reading lots of great books. Curl up with blankets, hot chocolate, finger food snacks, and piles of books.

If you live somewhere that get’s snow – do a bit of nature study focused on winter and snow!

If you’ve gotten behind in a particular subject – say science or art, spend a few weeks just focusing on that particular subject. My kids love it when I surprise them with an Art week or a Science week.

Get out of the house.

Go on a field trip, or even just get out of the house for a walk. A bit of exercise and fresh air, even when it’s cold and snowy, can really do wonders for your outlook on life. Especially if you’ve been cooped up for an extended period of time, you will all benefit from a fun field trip.

Take care of YOU!

Sometimes burn out has nothing to do with homeschooling. When you spend all of your time doing things for everyone else like planning lessons, cooking meals, or running the kids back and forth to activities, you can lose yourself a bit in the shuffle. Do something just for yourself. Get a haircut, spend some time alone and read a good book, take a relaxing bath, eat some chocolate – I’m convinced all problems can be solved with chocolate. 😉 Be sure you are taking care of yourself – drink enough water, eat well, get enough sleep, and try to fit in a little exercise (I say this as much to myself as I do to you). When you take care of yourself, you’ll have the energy to face everything else.

Clean something. 

I know this sounds counter-productive – if you are burnt out, you’re too tired and overwhelmed to clean! But seriously, pick a spot that you will see regularly, and get it pristine and organized. This will become an oasis of sorts. Having at least one area of my home completely cleaned and organized makes me feel better and gives me the energy to tackle anything else that comes my way. Even if it’s just walking into the bathroom to gaze at the neatly folded towels in the linen closet.

Know that Burnout can strike anyone…

Even the most enthusiastic among us. So having some tricks up your sleeve can alleviate things before they get to the point when you are ready to throw in the towel completely. Sometimes, just knowing you aren’t in this alone can be enough to pull you out of the doldrums.

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B2HS: Getting Organized for the New Home School Year

This is the second post in the Back to “Home” School series. Yesterday I gave some advice to new homeschooling mothers, and today, we’ll be discussing how to get organized.

Getting OrganizedSo you bought your curriculum and you went school supply shopping… Now what? If you are like most homeschooling parents, you are hoping to find a way to keep your materials both organized and accessible. I’m not claiming to be any sort of organizing guru, but I like to think I have at least managed to keep our homeschool materials in order. Today I’m going to share some tips to help you stay organized all year!

20150824_132956Last year, I bought this cubby-style book shelf for our kitchen, where we do the bulk of our schooling. I love it because each of my children get both a shelf and a canvas bin for their things. As long as they put their materials away when they are finished, everything stays both accessible and easy to find. I keep their binders on the shelves and workbooks, lapbooks, and any other odds-and-ends in the bins.

I keep the stapler, 3-hole punch, sharpies and pens on top, mainly to keep them out of my 6 year old’s reach. It is  also the perfect perch for our globe and American flag.

One thing I am always asked is how to organize all of the papers that go with Build Your Library’s curriculum. We keep our work in the binders – my high schooler has a Book of Centuries that she’s been adding to for the last 4 or 5 years, as well as a catch-all for writing. Most of her 10th grade classes are going to be online this year, but I like to have a place for her to keep some printed copies of her work, divided by class. Anything and everything can go into the Book of Centuries – from current events, to mapwork and written summaries.

My twins are going into 8th grade, and they have their Book of Centuries binders, an English binder and a Science binder. We’re using Grade 8 – History of Science this year and for English, we’re going to be doing The Giggly Guide to Grammar, Writing With Skill, Level 1 and Adventures in Fantasy: Lessons and Activities in Narrative and Descriptive Writing (which we are using to have the twins collaborate on a graphic novel or series of comic books). My goal this year is to spend some time really focusing on building up their writing skills. Between those three programs and weekly dictation assignments, I’m hoping they’ll more than ready to tackle high school level writing in the next school year.

My youngest is going to be a first grader this year, working through Grade 1 – The Ancient World. She’s just starting to read and can write her letters and numbers. She’s going to have one binder for all of her work – divided by subject. She’ll have History, Science, and Narration sections in her binder. I’m not planning on starting copywork with her until the second half of the year, so we will add a Copywork tab later to have a place to file those assignments as well. In the past, I’ve also had the children each keep their own composition book for copywork.

Here is how I set up the twin’s binders to help them keep their work organized. For their English binders, I placed these divider tabs:


They are mostly self-explanatory, except for the reading section, which is where we put things like narrations, character journals, book reviews, as well as a running book list of everything they’ve read (or listened to) all year.

The science binders are divided like this:

20150824_134301They will file their lab reports behind the Experiments tab,  and Notes and Writing is where they will place the lists and outlines they write as well as any writing assignments and any science-based activity pages they complete from History of Science.

20150824_133536I also have a white board on the other side of the room where I write their dictation passages, as well as any notes about assignments due, classes they are taking that day, spelling words to practice, and anything else that strikes our fancy.  You can see that right now, we have our Back to School countdown posted. 😉

Behind the table, where we do our work, I have added a 20150824_114651shiny new art cart. I’m really excited about this, because keeping the art supplies organized is the bane of my existence. On any given day, we have crayons and color pencils scattered all over the house, and no one can EVER find a pencil to do their work. So, I was thrilled to find this adorable cart.  Now everything has a home, and it’s all within even the littlest one’s reach. The cans that hold our pencils and markers are recycled cans that we spray painted. We’ve been using them for about 3 years, so they have held up really well. I also store some of our manipulatives and games in the bottom 2 baskets.

20150824_155515My living room serves as a library, of sorts. It’s where I keep all of our school books, arranged in a way that makes sense to the kids. Reference books are on one shelf, 2 shelves for world history, two for American history, two shelves for science books, two smaller shelves for geography, and then the books that we’re going to be using for the current school year on their own shelves.

20150824_155313This other bookshelf is where I have our printer and a 3-drawer organizer for paper and index cards. The little basket in between is our chore basket where I have written out several different chores, like sweep the floor, wipe down bathroom counters, vacuum the stairs, etc. on index cards and fold them up. The children each choose 2 chores every day.

The top shelf is where I have all of our Grade 1 books, as well as the SEA Tween book club selections for the year. The middle bins house extra notebooks, loose leaf paper, folders, divider tabs and a some of the kits and odds-and-ends we’ll need for the year. The bottom shelf has the teaching guides or other reference books we’ll use on a regular basis during the year.

Lastly, though not pictured, is my own “Mom Binder.” Years ago, someone sold me on the idea of keeping all of the papers I’ll need for the year in a separate binder. This is where I print out any instructor guides I’m using, as well as activity pages and such that we’ll need each day. I don’t print out everything at once – that would be one massive binder! I like to print about 2-3 weeks at a time so that I can look ahead and see what materials and such we might need. I also keep a section in my binder for menu-planning, as well as notes about the kids interests, any project ideas, lists of materials we need and anything else that comes to mind that I do not want to forget.

And that’s how I keep our little homeschool running. There are numerous pictures on Pinterest and other websites with gorgeous school rooms and a thousand different ways to organize every single thing. But do what makes the most sense for you and your children, high style or high function. There was a time we stored each child’s notebooks and workbooks in milk crates – this worked great until we got a dog and the crates ended up holding more dog hair than school work. Just because an idea works well for someone else, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will fit into your household, or that it will work for you every single year.

What are some of your best homeschool organization tips? I’d love for you to share any tidbits on what works for you in the comments below!




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B2HS: Advice to the New Homeschooling Mother

This is the first post in the Back To “Home” School blog series. Stay tuned this week for more inspiration for the new school year.

Advice4NewHSMomsI remember back when I first started homeschooling my children… I was in my 20s and didn’t really know anyone else who was doing this crazy and rebellious “teaching their own children” thing. I was completely overwhelmed. What was I thinking taking on this much responsibility? What if I totally ruined my children? What if they turned out weird?!

Well, 13 years into this adventure, I am now a lot less overwhelmed, my kids have not been ruined, and weird is really a relative term, isn’t it? When we first started out, I was always worried that people would ask one of my kids a “simple” question and discover they didn’t know the answer. I would be proven an incompetent teacher and I was very uptight and  obsessed over doing everything the “right” way. Trouble is, there is no such thing. I eventually learned to relax, and allow for the inevitable gaps that would appear in my children’s education.

No one can know everything, and education isn’t about memorizing every fact possible. That might work for a Jeopardy contestant, but that isn’t what educating your children is about. I don’t claim to have it all together or even be an expert – I haven’t even graduated a student yet (two more years to go!), but I do wish I could go back and offer some advice to my younger self to calm those “first-time-homeschool-mom” jitters, or even the “been-doing-it-a-short-year-or-two-and-am-still-uneasy-mom”. So here is some of the best advice I can offer:

1. RELAX. It’s going to be OK – really. Homeschooling is a lot of responsibility and a lot of work, but it’s also really fun. Relax and enjoy your children. One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is getting to spend more time with your kids. Instead of having to squeeze in your family bonding time on the weekends, you can relax and hang out with your kids all the time. I know that sounds like a blessing and a curse, but remember – you don’t have to entertain your kids 24/7. Teach them how to work independently and entertain themselves, and you can still have time to read, bake, knit, even clean.

2. Make reading aloud a priority. I say this all the time, but reading to your kids is one of the most important things you can do. Whether they are 4, 10 or 16, everyone enjoys a good story. When I look back on our years of homeschooling, I can say that this is one thing I’ve done right. Even my boys, who are reluctant readers and if asked, will say they don’t like to read, will still quote books we’ve read or debate favorite characters. We have inside jokes about the stories we’ve shared, like how we can’t see rabbits without someone saying, “Hazel, we have to leave the warren! It isn’t safe!” or as soon as someone says “I have a question…” someone blurts out “42!”

3. Don’t compare. Your child is unique, and has his or her own timetable for learning. You are unique, and will come to teaching your own child in a way that suits you best. There is no one way to do anything. Just because someone’s child is reading Shakespeare and studying Algebra at 6, doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child. I have had both early and late readers, and at the end of the day, they all learned to read, and read well. You know your children far better than anyone else. So go your own way and forge your own path. I promise – the grass on the other side of the fence is just as green as yours.

4. Keep it simple. Especially if this is your first year and your are starting with very young children. In the early years, the only thing they HAVE to learn is how to read, how to write their letters well, and basic math skills. Everything else is gravy. Your first grader does not need to study a foreign language or grammar or even history. So if you’ve planned any of those things, and a few days or weeks into the school year, you or your child feel stressed out about the work load, drop some of the non-essentials. Cover those 3R’s and read aloud great literature. That really is enough in the first few years.

5. Don’t Over-schedule. This goes along with keeping it simple. Sometimes when you are first starting out, people will ask you the dreaded question, “What about socialization?” So you’ll overcompensate by signing your children up for every activity – karate, co-op, art class, soccer, book club, music lessons, scouts etc. While they all sound fantastic, too much activity means not enough time doing lessons. It means all of time spent driving to and from these events could have been spent on a nature walk in your neighborhood, or just playing Legos or relaxing at home. If you find that you have to squeeze school work in between activities, classes and errands, then you need to step back and re-evaluate. Over scheduling your days will lead to burn out for you and your children. Every year, my kids are allowed to choose two activities outside of the house. This year, it’s music lessons and First Robotics for the older children. My youngest will be starting music lessons, and we’ll decide later in the year if we want to add a second activity. These activities are in the late afternoon and evening, so it won’t take away from our school day.

6. Be Kind. Homeschooling is hard and there are days when you want to quit entirely. You’ll be sick of being around your children all day and you’ll consider picking up the phone and registering them at the local public school. When you are having a bad day or week like this, drop the books, go outside and play at the park, take a fun field trip, or just cancel lessons and watch movies all day. Love your children, even when they get stuck on the same math problem for the millionth time, even when they “forget” how to read or diagram a sentence. You might feel like losing your cool and yelling at them for making the same mistake AGAIN. But instead, take a moment, count to ten,  and love them instead. Show them kindness, and force yourself to be patient. They grow up fast, so just recite the mantra, “This too shall pass,” and then go love on your babies.

7. Homeschool doesn’t have to look like public school. Public schools were set up to teach hundreds of children the same material so that everyone could be educated. The methods that work in a classroom, are not necessary in your home. You will be less of a teacher and more of a mentor, or guide. Often, you will learn right along with your children! There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. Just because the public schools may cover the American Revolution and Botany in 1st grade doesn’t mean you need to cover the exact same materials. Do what makes sense to you and to your children. Study what interests both of you. Don’t let the curriculum control you. If you are studying Ancient History and your child can’t get enough of Ancient Egypt, then follow that rabbit trail and spend another few weeks focusing on that topic. Don’t worry about getting off schedule. You aren’t tied to a specific school time table, so if you need to work into the summer, you can. If you want to take a month off in the middle of the year, you can! You are in charge, and you make the rules for your own homeschool.

8. Don’t listen to the haters. It’s human nature to care what other people think. But those who aren’t familiar with homeschooling will not understand what you are doing. They will question your parenting choices, sometimes pretty rudely. You do not have to answer to these people. Don’t let others, who aren’t directly involved in your parenting choices, dictate how you homeschool especially if all they know is public schooling methods. If they tell you that your kids are going to be weird, or that your child will never get into college if they are homeschooled, just let it go. That’s their wrong opinion. Don’t take it personally, and don’t stress yourself out about it.  If they are always negative, try to avoid them for a while. Homeschooling is hard enough without someone dumping negativity all over you every chance they get. You do not have to ensure that your child is the poster child for homeschooling, or prove anything to anyone.

9. Mistakes are OK. Whether it’s a mistake made by your child or yourself. Maybe that math book isn’t working out. Ditch it and find something else that does work. Maybe your 7 year old is struggling with narration. Stop asking for narrations for a month or two. Giving your child a safe environment to make mistakes without worrying about getting a bad grade is more important than struggling through something that isn’t working.

10. Don’t over-plan. Even if you know you are in it for the long haul, don’t try to plan little Johnny’s entire education from day one. Things change – circumstances might change, your child’s interests might change. Plan one or two years ahead, and that’s all. If your oldest child is only 8, don’t even worry about high school yet. Focus on the now. If there is a book you want to read to your child, but you’re worried it might come up in a much later year of curriculum – just read it. If is comes up again, read it in more depth and do different activities. You don’t want to miss out on the experience of reading that book with your children. Thinking too far ahead just brings stress into your life that you don’t need.

Homeschooling is a journey, whether you’re doing it for just a few years or their entire education. The days are long but the years are short. Try not to lose sight of why you chose homeschool in the first place. When things get hairy, and you have doubts, remember to take a step back and look at your child and who they are becoming. Give them a hug, love on them, and then set aside the school books to do something fun. Homeschooling is one of the most difficult and amazing things I’ve ever done, and while I’ve had some moments I regret, I can honestly say that I love that I get to do this. I love that I have given my children this life and this gift of time together. It’s been wild ride, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Summer Learning

We are deep into summer mode right now. The days are hot and lazy, perfect for curling up 20150725_122617with a good book or spending afternoons in the backyard catching frogs and worms. It is also birthday season around here – my three eldest children all have birthdays within a week of each other. We have cake up to our ears!

My youngest finally learned how to ride a bike – with her motor delays, she had a tough time figuring out the pedals, but suddenly, she was ready. I was so proud to see her take one more little step towards independence.

My older children have spent quite a lot of time working on their hobbies – practicing their instruments, drawing, making videos (my oldest teen and her friend are creating their own youtube channel), and writing.

20150801_175456But just because it’s summer, it doesn’t mean I don’t try to sneak in some educational pursuits. I keep up our read aloud habit all summer long – mainly so that I don’t lose the skill. There’s nothing worse than having a sore throat for the first several weeks back. I try to choose a book that I think all of my older children can enjoy. Right now we are reading Lord of the Flies.
I haven’t read it since I was about 14, and I remember it making quite an impression on me. So I thought it might start some interesting discussions.  We’re also reading from Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare. I like to keep it simple over the summer – just some literature and poetry.  I also have a couple of books going with my six year old – she’s on a Japanese kick right now. Probably because her big sister is obsessed with all things Japan. 😉

We’re also working on writing skills – I’m doing a bit of writing bootcamp with my twins. They have always struggled a bit with writing, so I’m taking the summer to really work at refining that skill. I give them a writing assignment each week and then we go through the writing process – Monday we choose a topic and gather information, Tuesday we work at creating an outline, Wednesday we write our first draft, and then we take Thursday and Friday to revise and edit and polish their paper. These assignments are one page or less – so far they’ve written about their favorite hobby, the New Horizon’s Pluto fly-by, and Work Ethic (a topic we’d been discussing quite a bit lately). This week I’ll be assigning them a paper telling all about themselves. Other topics I have in mind: review your favorite book, tell about your future career, write fan-fic about your favorite movie or television show, and write out a scene from your latest Dungeons and Dragons game (they’re in a D&D club at our local library).

I also have a big stack of dvds from HHMI that I want to get through – if you’ve never heard of them, they have tons of science educational materials that they give away to educators for free. Just be sure that you sign up as an educator. They have a lot of great material that would go very well with my Darwin and Evolution and Prehistory unit studies.

What does summer learning look like at your house?

Are you looking for something fun and educational to do with your children this summer? My Unit Studies fit the bill – swim with sharks, spend a few weeks at Hogwarts with Harry, go on an adventure with Bilbo and Gandalf or explore life in Prehistoric times!




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How to Teach Copywork

CopyworkPicCopywork can seem deceptively simple. Give your child a sentence or two and have them copy it. It can seem like pointless busy work, but the benefits are tremendous.

First, copywork takes the place of penmanship practice. Once a child learns how to write their letters comfortably, they are ready to start simple copywork. Start with very short sentences and have them copy it in the best handwriting. It is important that they give their best effort. If you find them struggling, give them less to copy. In the beginning, it’s ok if they only do one word per sitting as long as that one word is in their best handwriting. You can gradually increase the length of the model as they become more and more comfortable. However – it is important to take their age into consideration. A typical 6 year old isn’t going to be able to copy a paragraph worth of writing with their best effort.

Why do copywork at all?

Copying models of good writing teaches your child what good writing looks like. Many of the world greatest writers learned how to write through copywork. Jack London would copy out his favorite books in order to teach himself good writing; Benjamin Franklin would copy or outline essays and then try to recreate them on his own to see if he could write them better.  By copying out good writing, your child learns what good writing looks and feels like, thereby improving their own writing.

In the elementary grade levels, copywork can even take the place of formal language arts curriculum. You can use copywork to teach mechanics, such as proper punctuation and capitalization, as well as spelling, vocabulary, careful handwriting and parts of speech. You can teach them different writing techniques, such as how to write dialogue, different literary devices (metaphors, alliteration, etc.) – there are so many different ways that it can help nurture your child’s writing abilities. Just choose one thing at a time to focus on. For a beginning 6 year old, you might focus on beginning with a capital letter and ending punctuation. Your 9 or 10 year old is ready to learn about parts of speech or how to format dialogue. Focus on just one thing at a time, spending as much or as little time as necessary until they understand.

How do you choose selections to copy?

If you want to teach good writing to your children, then you need to provide them with beautiful writing to copy. Choose passages from well-written books, poetry, songs, etc. When you use a Build Your Library grade level program or unit study, your copy work passages are chosen for you from the literature you and your child will be reading.

You can even use copywork to aid in memory work – I find that when we use our memory work as copywork it helps them to learn it quicker because they are using more of their senses – mind, hands, eyes, etc.

So what does copywork look like in a typical homeschool environment?

For a young child, I write their copywork very neatly on the top of a sheet of their writing paper. I read it over with them, pointing out anything of note and have them copy it out in their best writing. If your child is a dawdler, you may wish to set a timer. It should take no longer than 10 – 15 minutes to complete.  For an older child, I like to write out their copywork on a white board. I recommend doing copywork three days per week.

Remember, copywork isn’t only for children! We can keep our own “Commonplace Books” where we can jot down quotes from our own readings that strike our fancy. Not only is this good for our own self-education, it’s encouraging for our children to see that we are learning too.

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Shop the Summer Sale!


I am so excited to announce that Grade 8 – History of Science is complete and ready for purchase! I’ve been working really hard the last several months to get Grade 8 written before the new school year begins and I can finally say I’m finished!

To celebrate, I’m having a summer sale! For the next two weeks (July 3 – 17) you can take 20% off your entire purchase! Just use the code SummerFun20 at checkout.

So whether you are planning for the new school year or just wanting to try out a unit study or two over the summer, this is a great time to buy!

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Recommended Readers for Grades 1 and 2

One of my twins around the age of 4 happily reading about the Solar System in a laundry basket.

One of my twins around the age of 4 happily reading about the Solar System in a laundry basket.

This could potentially be a pretty long post – but I wanted to share some books that would work well with the Grade 1 and Grade 2 programs. I scoured my own personal bookshelves, as well as my town library and Amazon, to provide you with a list of great books for your children to enjoy. There is a lot of  “twaddle” out there for early readers, but there are also some real gems to be found. As reading abilities at this age vary so greatly, I will try to divide up the lists by reading level, without trying to label the books with “grade” levels.

Beginning Readers

By beginning reader – I mean just starting to sound out cvc words.

My favorite place to start is Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers. These are very simple little stories and are just right for the child just beginning to read. Since each book is only a few pages long, it’s very satisfying for a new reader to read a “whole” book.

Once they are comfortable with cvc words you can expand out into these books:

The Cat in the Hat

Green Eggs and Ham (I Can Read It All by Myself Beginner Books)

Hop on Pop

Danny and the Dinosaur

Planets Around the Sun – Level 1 (See More Readers)

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Elephants Cannot Dance! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Biscuit Storybook Collection

Inch and Roly Make a Wish (Ready-to-Read. Level 1)

Inch and Roly and the Very Small Hiding Place (Ready-to-Read. Level 1)

Next Step Readers

This is the stage where they’re still building confidence in their reading. The above books are too easy, but they’re not quite ready for chapter books yet. This list get’s more advanced towards the bottom.

Little Bear Boxed Set: Little Bear, Father Bear Comes Home, and Little Bear’s Visit

The Frog and Toad Collection Box Set (I Can Read Book 2)

Owl at Home (I Can Read Book 2)

Mouse Tales (I Can Read Book 2)

Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping (I Can Read Book 2)

Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia (I Can Read Book 2)

Nate the Great

Nate the Great and the Monster Mess

Fox and Crow Are Not Friends (Step into Reading)

A Poor Excuse for a Dragon (Step into Reading)

Tut’s Mummy: Lost…And Found (Step-Into-Reading, Step 4)

Discovery in the Cave (Step into Reading)

The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War (Step-Into-Reading, Step 5)

Pompeii…Buried Alive! (Step-Into-Reading, Step 4)

Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs

Greek Myths

Iliad and the Odyssey

Tales from Shakespeare

Favorite Medieval Tales

Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky

Beginning Chapter Books

Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon

The Minstrel in the Tower (Stepping Stone)

The Sword in the Tree (Trophy Chapter Book)

A Place in the Sun

The Ch’i-lin Purse: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories (Sunburst Book)

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride

The Making of a Knight: How Sir James Earned His Armor

The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries)

Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest (Scholastic Junior Classics)

King Arthur

The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short (The Knights’ Tales Series)

The Squire’s Tale (The Squire’s Tales)

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #14: Ancient Rome and Pompeii: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #13: Vacation Under the Volcano

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #10: Ancient Greece and the Olympics: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #16: Hour of the Olympics

Roman Myths

Space Explorers (The Magic School Bus Chapter Book, No. 4)

Food Chain Frenzy (The Magic School Bus Chapter Book, No. 17)

Advanced Readers

This is a list for those of you who are using Grades 1 or 2 with older children and are looking for good material for them to read:

Maroo of the Winter Caves (This book is also included in the Prehistory Unit)

Warrior Scarlet

Tales of Ancient Egypt (Puffin Classics)

Mara, Daughter of the Nile (Puffin Story Books)

The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

Abel’s Island

The Trojan War

Theras and His Town

Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome

The Secrets of Vesuvius (The Roman Mysteries)

The Thief (The Queen’s Thief, Book 1)

The White Stag

Black Horses for the King

The Blue Sword

Pigs Might Fly

The King’s Swift Rider

Catherine, Called Birdy

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists


There are more than enough books here to get you started – many of the chapter books are series. Beginning readers tend to love reading a series of books. There is something about really getting to know a set of characters and sticking with them book after book. While some might consider things like Magic Tree House as twaddle, I think they are great for getting children started in reading, especially if you offer them plenty of other choices as well.

As far as a reading schedule goes – there isn’t any specific order in which to read these – some would be better with Grade 1 while others are more suited to Grade 2. Many can go with either – depending on your child’s reading level. Aim for very early readers to read aloud to you for at least 10 – 15 minutes a day. This may mean they only read a few pages of a reader, but a full chapter or even a whole book will soon be possible. Build up to 30 minutes of reading time every day, eventually reading silently. Having them read aloud is very important, even once they become comfortable, as you want to be sure they are pronouncing words correctly, enunciating, and reading with fluency. It is good practice for public speaking as well.

I hope this list proves to be helpful to you. It is important to instill a love of reading in young children, so go gently in assigning these books. If they adore Frog and Toad, it’s ok if that’s all they read for a month straight. Re-reading is totally acceptable! Your goal is to get them to enjoy reading, so let them have some freedom in their choices. There is plenty of time later for assigned reading.


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