How to Implement an Independent & Authentic Learning Homeschool Day

Blog, She Wrote: How to Implement an Independent & Authentic Learning Homeschool Day

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It’s just about time for a new homeschool academic year. In fact, as you are reading this, we are beginning with our first day back. We like to have a slow start to our full load, so we begin a week before public school convenes. Over the years our homeschool “schedule” has changed quite a lot. How do we work in all of the academic and project work for multiple ages in our homeschool? Here are some thoughts on How to Implement an Independent & Authentic Learning Homeschool Day.

How Our Homeschool Routine Has Evolved

When our children were all younger and working on basic skills, we sat down together and worked at our table. We would begin our day with our unit study, working together, and move toward independent work based on their skill level. Some years we did the opposite. We began with individual skills and moved to unit study work.

Now that our children are older, there is a lot more independent work in our homeschool days. Along with more skills, comes more independence and these days you can find our students engaged throughout the day in various aspects of their own work.

As your students change and grow, so will your homeschool routine.

Instructional Time During Our Day

There are still moments in our day when I am involved in direct instruction- either for my 4th grader or for some elements of our middle and high schooler’s courses. Here are a few examples:

  • High School Science- Our high schoolers read the text on their own and do their assignments. If they are confused by a concept, they search out answers on their own from the text or online videos before seeking me out. The idea is not to spoon feed their instruction, but to encourage them to find their own answers and then discuss the concept with us.
  • Math- As you may know, we use Life of Fred in our homeschool. The books are written to the student, but depending on the age of our kids I may sit with them and hear them read the chapter to me before answering this questions at the end. If there is trouble with a concept, then I will also step in to clear up misunderstandings.

Learning Together During Our Homeschool Day

Of course, being a unit study family for many years and still today, we love to learn together with all ages. We come together on a few things whenever we can:

  • Fred Math- With all of our students immersed in Fred’s world, there is always something to discuss about Fred at the dinner table. We can engage about Fred any time, but often he comes up at dinner where our kids share what they’ve been working on.
  • Geography- We are using NorthStar Geography this year and while our two high schoolers will earn a credit, our younger boys will join in when they can.
  • Read Aloud Time- We love to hear stories together. Often times I have my teens read to us and my 11th grader loves to read to me! Reading aloud is a great way to begin your homeschool day and to get started and focused again after lunch. The benefits of building this time into your schedule are numerous.
  • Earth Science- This year we’ll be tackling earth science as a family. The younger boys (4th & 7th grades) will be studying earth science with their Adventures in the Sea & Sky curriculum while the high schoolers will be following the course set by CK12 Earth Science for High School. You might like to read more about our curriculum choices for 2014-2015 if you missed it earlier this month.

I’m excited to see how the kids will collaborate with one another this year.

Leaving Time for Discussion in Your Homeschool Day

Not only do your students need direct instruction when they are younger, you’ll find they need lots of discussion time as they get older. Your discussions can be on many topics and take many forms, but here are a few examples from our homeschool.

  • Discuss Academic Topics- anything from the book they are reading to thoughts on a historical moment.
  • Talk about Books- Book discussions are an excellent way to increase communication with your teens! If you want an easy way to talk with your students, discuss books together. That means you need to read them too!
  • Mentoring- Guiding our students as they get older and no longer need our direct instruction all of the time.
  • Consulting- I’m always available to our kids as they work on their projects. They can consult with me on how things are going and I can encourage them in their work. This is part of keeping the work going and moving in a forward direction!

As your children grow, you’ll find they need a teacher less and a mentor more. I’ve written a chapter on this topic for The Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas. If you purchase a copy, you’ll find a host of tips on how to make the transition from a teacher to a mentor.

Project Time as Part of a Homeschool Day

No homeschool day is complete at our house without project time. Each of our students has a Project Workspace where they can leave out their work and spend a lot of time working and researching. Project time might include things like:

  • Following a tutorial
  • Learning a new computer programming language by reading and testing it
  • Designing a new model rocket or custom mini-fig
  • Pinning a new insect
  • Drafting a fashion design
  • Reading & Researching on a topic
  • Building a machine like a catapult
  • Testing a hypothesis
  • Writing to add to stories and novels
  • Attending seminars and workshops related to an area of study
  • Collaborating with each other on progress

All of these are born out of their interest in a topic & represent the amount of time we’ve poured into these interests. Much of our homeschool day is wrapped up in project time. This is the time when I get to be a mentor and consultant and listen and encourage their efforts.

Blog, She Wrote: Ten Things that Make a Great Homeschool Day

Allow Room for Making Adjustments to Your Homeschool Day

For all of these ideas that work well, we’ve tried some which haven’t worked so well. You might find that a student you thought could work well independently doesn’t. Working with a more flexible routine is a double-edged sword. What makes it so appealing is also the thing that can go the most wrong!

Working consistently and experiencing forward progress in their endeavors is key. If you aren’t seeing it in your homeschool, then perhaps it is time for an adjustment. It could be a small adjustment to the schedule or it could mean rethinking your approach to the schedule all together.

How do we gauge if our routine is working? That’s a question easily answered with Ten Things that Make a Great Homeschool Day.

Other iHN bloggers are sharing their Day in the Life posts. Visit them for more encouragement as you begin a new homeschool year!

nbtsbloghopcalendar2014The Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas is on sale now. If you’d like to read more about how to transition from an instructor to a mentor for your children and teens, be sure to purchase your own copy.



Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

We are gearing up for another homeschool year here at Blog, She Wrote. This post comes just in time to write out the Individualized Home Instruction Plan I’m required to write for all my students for New York State. Here’s a look at our Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2014-2015:

11th Grade Curriculum

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

This is the big junior year for our oldest, Ethan. He has a heavy academic schedule in addition to preparing for college bound tests. For the first time, he is enrolled in an online class. We’ve chosen to outsource one class for the sole purpose of having someone else give a grade. I know it will challenge him to meet deadline not given to him by us and a good grade in an online class will give validity to the ones we give him on his transcript. College admissions officers like this!

  • Modern US History- We are using All American History from Bright Ideas Press for a look at modern history in the US.
  • Geography- NorthStar Geography from Bright Ideas Press
  • Worlds of Imagination Fantasy Literature- First semester he will take a Potter’s School class on Fantasy Literature.
  • Worlds of Imagination Science Fiction Literature- Second semester is focused on the world of science fiction.
  • Other Worlds- The science fiction & fantasy module of One Year Adventure Novel. Ethan has been writing his dystopian novel since the spring. It’s coming along well and so far, his writing far surpasses that of his adventure novel.
  • Trigonometry & Calculus- He is in the last quarter of Life of Fred Trigonometry and will begin Life of Fred Calculus this year.
  • Earth Science- We are using CK-12 Earth Science for High School. He is completing credits in chemistry and biology now and will do earth science before he takes physics in his senior year.
  • Spanish- With Rosetta Stone. He is working on 3 credits of a foreign language as required by one of the universities he wants to apply to.
  • Phys Ed- Ethan does a half credit of PE each year and it is mainly comprised of large group games at our homeschool co-op and at youth group. He also mows grass and does yard work for others.
  • Fine Art- He must have one credit of fine art for high school and he does one quarter credit each year by doing computer graphics and other projects for his content area work.
  • Homeschool Co-op- We participate in a ten week, two hour co-op in the spring and fall. This fall he is taking dystopian literature class along with an outdoor games class.
  • Test Prep- We’ll be working with Ethan to study for the PSAT in the fall and the SAT/ACT in the spring. It is time!
  • FLL Mentor- Having aged out of FIRST LEGO League, Ethan is transitioning to team mentor. He’s pretty excited about helping the teams this year as a mentor.
  • Part Time Job- Ethan took on his first part time job last April at a local grocery store. He works as a cashier anywhere from 12-17 hours a week.

This is a heavy academic load fairly typical of a college bound high school junior. Over the last year his energies have focused on writing. Ethan loves to write and would like to explore the possibilities in technical writing and editing. He’s excited to have narrowed his interests down and to have an answer for all those well-meaning inquiries that come his way!

9th Grade Curriculum

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

Rebecca is our new high schooler! Her four year plan has been laid out with the basics plus a strong emphasis in her areas of interest.

  • Earth Science- She’ll be working with her brother through CK-12 Earth Science for High Schoolers
  • Geography- NorthStar Geography from Bright Ideas Press
  • Cover Story- Finish up this program
  • US History- All American History Volume II, modern history
  • One Year Adventure Novel- She is excited to start her own novel. This curriculum has been a part of our homeschool for over three years now.
  • Pre-Algebra & Beginning Algebra- With Life of Fred. She will continue to work through Algebra skills this year
  • Spanish- Rosetta Stone
  • Art- Rebecca will have a yearly art course with goals listed and a framework laid out. She’s already started with a Craftsy class in pen, ink, and watercolor
  • Sewing & Design II- More design elements and coursework for her pattern drafting and sewing with an emphasis on portfolio work.
  • Health- one quarter credit is required and is accomplished through family discussion and focus on current issues.
  • Homeschool Co-op- Usually sewing and craft classes when they are available.
  • Phys Ed- a half credit per year which is done through regular weekly activities such as large group games and seasonal activities.

 7th Grade Curriculum

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

Our 7th grader, is a huge fan of planes, rockets, and anything flight. Using Adventures in the Sea & Sky from WinterPromise seemed like a great fit for him and a nice transition from unit studies to more traditional approaches to learning.

  • Adventures in the Sea & Sky- This is a fantastic look at the history of sailing and flight throughout time- explorers, scientists, sailors, inventors, pilots. Anyone and anything that shaped the way we live today by their pioneering in these areas.
  • Cover Story- He will be finishing his magazine with Cover Story by the creator of One Year Adventure Novel.
  • Physics & PreAlgebra- with Life of Fred Physics and Pre-Algebra texts.
  • Earth Science- Primarily within the studies of sea and sky which will include oceanography & space sciences.
  • Phys Ed- Large group games weekly, bike riding
  • Homeschool Co-op- Which includes FLL and games this fall
  • FLL- He will be on a FIRST LEGO League team for the first time this year.

4th Grade Curriculum

We have one last elementary school student and he is sharp. Here are our plans for him:

  • Adventures in the Sea & Sky- He will be working with Isaac on this study and it will be interesting to see how they work together and how they will follow their interests.
  • Math with Life of Fred- He will begin the intermediate series and we’ll shore up skills in preparation for Fractions in 5th grade.
  • Language Arts- Focus on paragraph writing and short reports on our own and with WriteShop Junior D.
  • Homeschool Co-op- He loves to take whatever science classes are offered and this year will be in the FLL class as well.
  • FLL- He is a new member of our FLL team this year!
  • Engineering- Always an elective for him, he will have project time. It might be building or exploring or computer programming or solving a problem/making something better. But, he cannot be stopped!

Work Together with Multiple Ages

I always like to include time when all four of our children will learn together. Having been a unit study family only for a long time, our kids come from a homeschool background of working together and learning alongside one another. Though, we prefer to let each of our students work in their niche, we like to come together on some things. This year it’ll happen in a few areas.

  • Reading Aloud- I like to begin our day with this or use it as a tool to refocus on the work at hand.
  • Earth Science- The high schoolers will be working on the CK-12 course while the younger two boys will be doing oceanography and space science (both considered pieces of earth science) as part of Sea & Sky.
  • Geography- Once again, the high schoolers will be studying NorthStar Geography and the younger boys will tag along. I want to see how the course pans out for younger students- particularly late elementary.
  • Art- We do lots of art projects together which I love to use to adorn our walls!
  • Discussion/Collaboration- One of the things we are good at in our homeschool is collaborating with each other even now that our kids are not all working on the same level or curriculum. Asking for opinions and advice, starting discussions and review, and seeking expertise from others is something we encourage our kids to do daily.

How to Enhance Any Curriculum

Blog, She Wrote: How to Homeschool with a KindleWe have had huge success with using a Kindle in our homeschool. Both the eReader and the Fire have been assets to our learning for over a year, but especially after our three youngest kids all got Kindle Fires for Christmas last year. Learn all the ways we use Kindles in our homeschool.

We are looking forward to a new start. It’s exciting to think about what a new year brings!

Other bloggers from the iHN are sharing their curriculum choices for this year. Have a look around and be encouraged!

nbtsbloghopcalendar2014Don’t forget to drop in and enter the Geography Learning Tools Basket Giveaway through August 7, 2014.

Big Book of Homeschooling

Organizing Your Homeschool Library

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library I bet I’m not the only homeschooler who has a home overflowing with books. Though we’ve made ample use of the public library as homeschoolers, it’s important to keep a print rich environment on hand in our home.

But how do you store and organize all those books on your shelves so that you can use them efficiently? Organizing your homeschool library can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips!

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

Places to Keep Books

First, let’s get to where we are going to store all these books. What kind of bookshelves do you use and what other tricks have I found useful?

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

  • Magazine Wall Rack – holds our reference materials like the atlases, subject encyclopedias, DK general books, dictionaries, thesauruses, spellers, and some Field Guides.Anything that can be considered reference is here, but we’ve outgrown the space now that our kids are older.
  • Shoebox Bins- I keep biographies, Newberry honor books, classics, and other chapter favorites in shoebox bins on the shelf so the kids can flip through them. That strategy is a favorite of mine because it turns the book covers out.
  • Converted Cereal Boxes – make great magazine holders and I labeled them with winter, summer, spring and fall. I also have a box for Five in a Row, Before Five in a Row, and Beyond Five in a Row books. On another bookcase I have boxes for alphabet books, Henry and Mudge Books and a few other series we’ve collected over the years.
  • The Library Shelf- This is a spot for library books only. When my children were younger and we used the library more often, this was a wonderful addition to our homeschool library. Having books from the library all in one place is a useful organizational tool on library day! When kids are finished with a book, they return it to the library shelf. On the display, I like to keep a book open. It’s guaranteed to stop your kids on the way by and draw them in.
  • Bookshelves- As many as you can reasonably fit! I have worked to replace mine with IKEA Expedit Shelves which hold a ton. Not living close to an IKEA, I keep my eye out on Craigslist and I’ve been able to get two. Make sure they are sturdy- solid wood means they won’t bend under the weight of the books.
  • Gutter Shelves- Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, is a van of the gutter shelf. It is just what it sounds like- a gutter fastened to the wall which holds books. We put up gutter shelves when our kids were younger and our space was small. Using the vertical space in our house was imperative. Word to the wise on the gutters- the cost is low as long as you skip the end caps and other hardware. Once you start adding that in, it gets very pricey! So you will see ours had rounded edges and they were plain. I’d prefer the end caps and braces, but it turned $15 worth of gutter into a $100 project.
  • Personal Book Storage- I try to provide space for books in our kids’ bedrooms. With three boys in one room, we don’t currently have bookshelves in there. This is when a gutter shelf would be great! Maybe it’s time to bring those back. My daughter does have a small shelf in her room which holds her project related books for her studio. All of our kids have project workspaces where they do keep books.

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

Ways to Organize the Books

Now that you have places to put the books picked out, how can we organize them so you can find them? Having books is a great start, making them accessible and attractive is the next step!

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

  • Use a service like Library Thing  – Keeps an inventory list for you and connects you with other readers.
  • Organize Using the Dewey-Decimal System – No reason not to categorize books as the public library does. I’ve always figured that if I need to shelve the books in my home using Dewey Decimals, my husband would declare us once and for all to have too many books! So, I haven’t taken that step. I do a combination of several systems at our house.
  • Arrange by Subject on the Bookshelves- I use a color coding system to organize them together on the bookshelf.  I just colored plain white sticker labels in a small size and then stuck them to the bindings of the books. Purple- math, Green- science, Red- Social Studies.
  • Reference Section- Just like a public library, you can have a reference section at home. It’s a place for dictionaries (I hope you are still using a print version!), thesauruses, atlases, topical encyclopedias, etc.
  • Shelve Teaching Resources Together- We have a lot of teaching resources- things like curriculum teacher manuals, curriculum not in use, and activity books for all kinds of topics like art, history, and science. When my kids were young these were exclusively my shelves. Now I share better and my teens see plenty of use out of those resources for their own enjoyment and research. I still shelve teaching books by subject area.
  • Keep Current Teaching Resources at the Ready- I have a small, narrow cubby shelf next to my desk where I keep the books I need to plan from now. It makes it much more convenient when I’m sitting to work with one of my students or I need to work on planning.
  • Place Chapter Books in Shoeboxes- As mentioned above, I store some chapter books in a box so they can be indexed like a file and face front. It saves space and makes the books attractive. I like to rotate the front book so they catch my students’ eye.

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

However you choose to organize your books, make sure they are rotated and you bring attention to various types of books and content. The time it takes to plan this and implement it pays off!

Using & Organizing eBooks

Is there a place for eBooks in your homeschool library? Using eBooks saves me time and money. Sometimes an eBook is cheaper than the gas it takes to get to my library. They are also cheaper than the fines some of us incur! It definitely takes less time to download an eBook than it takes to make a trip to the library. Obviously, eBooks take up less space. That’s a bonus as well.

Blog, She Wrote: eReader HomeschoolingHaving trouble with the concept of eReaders? Here are links to a few compelling reasons to use them.

  • 5 Reasons to use a Kindle eReader- This post focuses on the Kindle eReader with 5 ways we use them in our homeschool.
  • 5 Reasons to Use a Kindle Fire-  These five ideas focus on the Kindle Fire tablet and how this little gem has enhanced our homeschool.
  • eReader Homeschooling- My Pinterest board on all things eReader for your schooling. You’ll find free books here and other information on using eReaders effectively at home.

My teens use eReaders in their school work daily. You won’t find a better tool for the cost.

Other Reading Resources at Blog, She Wrote

Blog, She Wrote: The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

Building readers is a passion of mine. Take a look at other helps for making readers at your house.

Blog, She Wrote: Summer Reading Challenge without the Carrot & Stick

Our many books provide a print rich environment for our children and allow them to explore many topics and places. The key to having lots of books is making sure they are somewhat organized. Owning books is every bit as important as using the library. If you have another way to organize books, please leave a comment and share it with us!