Essential Elements of a Home Learning Environment

Blog, She Wrote: Essential Elements of a Home Learning EnvironmentIt’s time to share our learning spaces with everyone! We’ve been homeschooling for eight and a half years and our learning environment has changed a lot over that time. When Ethan, our 11th grader, first started homeschooling half way through first grade, we had just one small table in our living room and a bookshelf for his school things. As we added more children to the official homeschool roster, we added books, larger tables and we dedicated part of our playroom to homeschooling. Two years ago,when we began looking for a new home, we knew we were looking for some place special. It had to have space for our learning materials, our homeschool library, and our project spaces.

Essential Elements for Our Home Learning Environment

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Our focus is not to recreate a school classroom in our home. However, with four kids immersed in learning throughout the day, it’s hard to miss that we homeschool. Here are a few “must haves” for our learning spaces.

  • Bookshelves for our homeschool library- while we do use the public library extensively, it’s important to have a variety of print material in our home. Bookshelves are essential.
  • Media Area- for the computers the kids use for school and projects. We keep them in the media room.
  • Slate Chalkboard- I adore slate and we had a smaller chalkboard in our last house, but this lovely piece of slate is a recent addition to our home learning environment and as you can see it has seen a lot of use in the few weeks it’s been up. We do a lot of math on the slate!
  • White Boards-  I often use it for explaining things along with a chalkboard. Or to write down assignments and reminders for the day. And sometimes the kids work problems and their own explanations on the board. I keep portable white boards on hand too for working math problems and playing games.
  • Large Table- for school work and projects. Though the kids can go to any area to do their work, they often work there together. We put it right in the large window so there would be plenty of natural light.
  • Storage Cabinet- or closet for homeschool materials that are not books. We have one large wooden cabinet which was a very special gift from specials friends and we have bookcases in our basement which hold everything else.
  • Project  Work Space- We wanted to provide a place where each of our kids could work on their own and plan and work on projects. This is an essential for us because a place for diving into and leaving out their work is important.

Using Walls for a Homeschool Learning Environment

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While it would be homier to not use posters and maps on our walls, the extra immersion is great for growing minds! The only thing I’d change? I’d put wooden frames around each one if I could!

  • Maps- both US and World. I’d love a large physical map of the world too. We have a laminated set I bought at Staples many years ago.
  • Periodic Table of the Elements- I went for the one that has pictures of the actual element by Theodore Grey.
  • Calendar- a regular wall calendar is all you need, but I was compelled to buy a pocket calendar. I do not have calendar time! Conversation about the calendar has successfully taught all of my children the nuances of the calendar year. However, I keep a large calendar there for reference.
  • Bulletin Board- for student work and other displays
  • White Board/Chalkboard- previously mentioned.
  • Student Work- on display this could be work hard earned, work done well, and art work. Love to display art work.

Homeschool Technology

Blog, She Wrote: Essential Elements of a Home Learning Environment

 

We make ample use of technology in our homeschool. Here are a some examples:

  • Computers- two desk tops and two laps top for student use.
  • Open DNS- is the filter we use for content at our house. It’s not perfect, but it works well.
  • LEGO NXT- we’ve had NXT for many years. Our kids are active on FIRST LEGO League Teams and Dan coaches. We are eager to be able to purchase the upgrade EV3.
  • Project Time- can include programming the NXT, Scratch, Alice, and other programming software for kids. Other software applications for word processing and presentations are encouraged.
  • Digital Microscope- We have the Intel Qx3 which is a nice video scope and can take stills and video of the object.
  • How to Homeschool with a Kindle- Tips on how to use Kindles and Kindle apps in your homeschooling.

Blog, She Wrote: How to Homeschool with a KindleManaging the Internet in Your Home

How do you handle internet access in your home? This important question is surely a part of a homeschool learning environment. Dan wrote a series of blog posts on Internet Filtering & Access Control. He answers questions like:

  • How do you control when your kids are on the internet with your router?
  • How do you filter content once they are there?
  • Using OpenDNS as your content filter

Blog, She Wrote: Managing the Internet in Your HomeTips on Using a Homeschool Library

We have books in almost every room of our home. Here are a few tips on handling homeschool books and making sure they get noticed and read:

Blog, She Wrote: Essential Elements of a Home Learning Environement

  • Rotate books- especially if you don’t have room for all the books to be out or on a shelf
  • Reference Books- should be easy to find and use. We have a magazine rack that is our reference shelf.
  • Library Shelf- to shelve books we have borrowed from the library.
  • Display Area- this is the top of the library shelf for us, but I use it to put out books I want the kids to notice and leaving the book open is very inviting!
  • Coffee Table- is a great place to leave books you want kids to notice. Both the coffee table and the display area never fail to promote interest in a book. Try it!
  • Organizing Your Homeschool Library- Helpful tips on storing and using books in your home library. You don’t want to miss this!
  • The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home- Ideas for how to make your home encouraging to readers regardless of age!

Other Learning Environment Links from Blog, She Wrote

Blog, She Wrote: Essential Elements of a Home Learning Environment

Take a look at these other posts on our learning spaces- they are all still in use today.

  • Our Supply Cabinet- this is where we store our paper and art supplies for school. This post gives a list of what we have on hand in there.
  • Learning Spaces Full Tour- from last 2012. Things look nearly the same though we’ve upgraded some bookshelves and added more books!
  • Displaying Art- a post on how we use student work all over our home.

Thank you for joining us today at Blog, She Wrote for a look at our learning environment. Please sign up to receive updates in your inbox so you don’t miss the rest of the Not-Back-to-School Hop and Geography Quests here at Blog, She Wrote!

Visit other homeschool bloggers to see their learning spaces this week.

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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!

The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

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

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Reading. It’s what every parent hopes for their children from a young age. It’s the primary educational goal for young students in school. In fact, even after children learn to read, schools concern themselves with how well they are reading- with leveled reading books and reading comprehension exercises designed to improve fluency and understanding. This post is all about how to build a reading culture in your home without a structured, prescribed method but by immersing your home in story and books.

As homeschoolers, we have a unique opportunity to engage our children in the world of reading and most families I know want to take advantage of it. How do you go about establishing a reading culture at home? Let’s take a look.

Blog, She Wrote: Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

Build a Home Library

For certain, one of the best ways to make reading a priority is to make books a priority. Surround your children with a print rich environment from the start.

  • The book basket- When our 15yo was a baby, we had a basket of books in every room he hung out in his nursery, the living room, the car, and the kitchen.
  • The bedroom bookcase- Make sure your child’s room has books! We’ll talk about organizing books in a bit, but having them where your kids are is important.
  • Buy Books- The library is a wonderful resource, but nothing beats owning books.
  • Get books at Library Sales- This is my favorite way of getting new titles because there is so much available at low cost.
  • Growing Your Home Library without Breaking Your Budget- A post on how to get books the frugal way.

Choose The Books for Your Library

Once you decide to build the library, how do you know which books would make a good library? Lucky for us, there is no shortage of resources and information on the topic! Here are some of my favorites and links to other bloggers with their own ideas.

  • Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families- I love this book by Sarah Clarkson. She shares compelling reasons for making books a priority in your home. If you choose just one book to take away from this post, it’s this one!
  • Honey for a Child’s Heart- A classic book on using books with your children. I have one of the original editions and the newest edition which addresses screen time. You’ll find a nice anthology in this book to give you a hand with choosing titles.
  • Honey for a Teen’s Heart- Based on the same idea as the first title, this book focuses on books for older kids which is a much needed resource! I love this one because it shares how to communicate with teens using books. Imagine advice on enhancing the relationship you have with your teen based on shared books!
  • Charlotte Mason Series: Living Books- Cindy West tells all about “living books” and what to do with them. If you’ve never heard the term, living books are books written by one author who cares a lot about a topic. They make a much better read than text book type books which are edited by more than one person- less personal and more cursory on the topic.
  • Choosing Good Children’s Books- A look at how to go about discerning a good book for kids.
  • 50 Great Books for Young Readers- A lovely list of titles for elementary readers. I love a good list. Don’t you?
  • Emergent Readers to Super Readers- Wonder what books to put on the shelf for kids just leaving phonics and working on fluency? This is a must read!

Blog, She Wrote: Organizing Your Homeschool Library

Organize Your Home Library

Once you have a lot of books, you’ll need ways to organize your books as the collection grows. I’ve found a system which really works. What’s your preference?

  • Organizing Your Homeschool Library- Ideas for how to organize your books by topic. This is an older post, but we still organize books this way. Only we’ve added many titles since then!
  • Face the Covers Out- Find a way to face some of the covers out like they do in bookstores. I like to put books in a plastic shoe box so we can flip through them like papers. It saves bookshelf space too. The orientation of the books makes it easier for kids to see the books and choose to read them.
  • But Where Do We Keep the School Supplies?- A fun look at a homeschool library. I love the sheer volume of books from the basement up in this unschooler’s home!
  • Organizing Children’s Books- Another look at how you can organize books for young children.

 Set Up Your Book Environments

It’s important to have lots of areas with access to books. What does your home library look like?

  • Educating the Whole-Hearted Child- Sally Clarkson does such an outstanding job of explaining how your homeschool world could look. In it you’ll find suggestions from a veteran mom on how to encourage book reading at an early age. Trust me. This is inspirational!
  • Provide plenty of reading nooks and/or places where each child and go on their own to enjoy the book.
  • Help Your Child to Become a Confident Reader (and lover of books)- Great ideas on providing time for reading and a cozy reading environment
  • Homeschool Extras within Sight- Keep your books in your kids’ minds by setting them out on the mantle. Great tips on getting kids to notice books.
  • 10 Homeschool Centers- Include reading nooks. Love this tour of the Hodgepodge school by Tricia.

Blog, She Wrote: Library Shelf

Establish a Library Shelf

One of the best things I did for our homeschool library was to find a bookcase that I could use only for library books. Who among us doesn’t use an inordinate number of library books at any given time? Benefits of a library shelf:

  • One stop for all things library- easy to keep them there and have them returned there when a child is finished with a book
  • Easy access for exploring the books- when they are stuffed in the bag you bright them home in, they aren’t likely to be remembered or seen because they get forgotten about in there.
  • Makes a great way to find the books that need to be returned to the library- cuts down on (though doesn’t eliminate) the panic of finding a book on the due date as you try to scramble out the door!
  • The top makes a fun place for themed displays. (see link)

Read Aloud to Make Friends with Books

Reading aloud to your kids from a young age and long into their teenage years is a great way to make friends with books and to deepen and continue the relationship. It also soothes away the grumps and helps to refocus your kids on school. Need proof that it’s worth your time? Check out these posts and articles.

  • The Read Aloud Handbook- This is a topic near and dear to Jim Trelease and in this book he compels the reader to make the time for a host of undeniable reasons. Included with this book is a thorough annotated bibliography for extra help in choosing the right books.
  • Trelease on Reading- If you want to hear more on how reading aloud affects the ability of kids to read, check out Jim Trelease’s website. You’ll find a lot of great information here. One of the things I love about Mr. Trelease is his unwavering opinion that reading aloud does take a lot of time and it’s worth all the time you can give it.
  • The Reading Promise- This is a book about Alice Ozma and the books she shared with her father. It’s mostly about their relationship and the commitment he made to reading aloud to her. Their “streak” lasted well over 3,000 days. I’d love to see more about the books they read than the interpersonal goings on, but with regard to the reading commitment it’s very inspiring.
  • Tips for Reading Aloud- Ideas for how to have a successful read aloud time with your kids.
  • List of Our Favorite Read Alouds- This is the Baker’s Dozen version of a Top Ten list. Which ones does your family enjoy the most?
  • Introduce Your Kids to a New Series or Book- Often if I have a child who is reluctant to read a new book or author, I will start reading it aloud until they are drawn into the story. Then they will voluntarily read it by themselves- and love it.
  • Handwork Ideas for Read Aloud Time- Fun ideas for keeping hands busy while you read aloud.

Blog, She Wrote: Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture

Engage in Activities Based on Books to Have More Relationships with Books

My kids have always been taken with stories and making activities to go with books has never been a problem- even from when they were tiny. Here are some links and tips:

  • Create more fun from a book they love- without using any books at all, I would make up activities based on what I noticed them enjoying the most out of a book. For example, my oldest loved the book Too Many Pumpkins. One page he would spend a lot of time on is the page with all the jack-o-lanterns lit and covering two pages. I made a felt set of pumpkins of different shapes and sizes with the face pieces for him to decorate. I especially made sure to make the letters for his favorite pumpkin which said, “Boo!”.
  • Five in a Row- in all its forms including Before FIAR, Beyond FIAR, and even Above & Beyond FIAR. From preschool to middle school, this curriculum will introduce your children to books and the many layers of learning you can experience with them.
  • Picture Book Activities- this book has less formal activities such as snacks, fingerplays, and crafts that go with picture books. It’s written for preschoolers.
  • Picture Book Art- This is a lovely book with art lessons in imitating children’s story book illustrators. These are easy to follow making the process enjoyable and the results fabulous!
  • The Gentle Ways of Reading- A lovely post about how to incorporate books and reading into every day life with your children.
  • Summer Reading Fun- Ways to enjoy books all summer long with activities and incentives
  • Literary Adventures- An Adventure Box them to take your kids on a literary voyage. If you want a way to immerse kids in a fun learning experience, check this one out.

Host a Book Club  & Other Ways to Involve Older Kids with Books

As your kids get older, you can try a lot of different ways to interact with books using more sophisticated conversation. Book clubs are a great way to read books you normally wouldn’t read and to try new foods and activities. Best of all, it gets middle and high schoolers talking about books and relating them to their own world. That’s a win!

  • The Kids’ Book Club Book- A nice volume all about planning & implementing a successful book club from tweens through teens. You’ll find out how to make the guest list, where to meet, how to invite, what to do and what to eat. There are also book suggestions with ideas for club meetings.
  • How to Host A Classics Book Club- Find out how to choose books and activities to go with classic book choices. Middle and High School students are often surprised at how enjoyable classic literature can be. One favorite idea is to watch the movie after reading the book and comparing the experiences.
  • 5 Reasons to Host A Book Club for Girls- We’ve been hosting a book club for girls since September and this post details all the benefits of girls enjoying a book together.
  • How to Start a Book Club for Kids- This post from World for Learning includes a free checklist to go through as you prepare for a book club. You’ll find lots of practical ideas on how to put a group together and what to do each time. Take a look at the bottom of the post where you’ll see activity guides for three classic literature pieces.

Blog, She Wrote: Ten Reasons to Use a Kindle in Your Homeschool Part 1

Use eReaders to Boost the Reading Habit

Book lovers are sometimes reluctant to embrace the eReader, but it’s been a lovely addition to our reading culture. Enjoy the following eReader resources:

  • Ten Reasons to Use a Kindle in Your Homeschool- This is part one of a post on using Kindles which focuses on the eReader format.
  • Quick Acquisition- One of my favorite reasons for using a Kindle is that you can have that book within a few seconds of browsing for it. This is great when you forget to plan ahead or you didn’t count on the one title you need. Sometimes a Kindle book is less than the cost of gas to get you over to the library!
  • Built in Dictionary- Kids don’t think it’s a big deal to look up a word they don’t know while they are reading. Works for adults too! Don’t get me wrong. I love a good print dictionary and everything you can do with it, but we often don’t bother to look things up and the ability to linger your touch on a word in the text and have the definition and other information appear is simply magical.
  • Ten Reasons to Use a Kindle in Your Homeschool (Part 2): The Kindle Fire- The Kindle Fire brings color and interactiveness to the book party. It allows you to view picture books. While this may seem crazy to some, it does open many possibilities for taking large numbers of books with you on vacation! I love the Kindle Fire for reading pdfs and non Kindle ebooks over the eReader.
  • Free Kindle Book Series- Judy at Contented at Home keeps a fantastic list of free books you can get by series for the Kindle. Follow along with Judy so you can get all her latest book from Amazon.
  • eReader Homeschooling on Pinterest- See my collection of eReader ideas for homeschooling and reading.

Surrounding your family with good books and reading them together is never wasted time. At this point in our homeschooling, we have grown four excellent readers- some reading earlier than others, but all going from just starting out, to emergent reader, to fluent reader, and finally to being a fully engaged voracious reader. Even my 8yo is a reading hound. His greatest love right now are computer manuals as he tries to learn new programming languages!

Enjoying books together has always been a part of our family culture and it pays off in big ways as your children become teens. Ethan, my 15yo is taking literature classes both at home and at our co-op. Reading and discussing books with your teens is a fun way to stay connected.

Invest in your homeschool library! Establish the reading culture early on and enjoy the benefits of learning together with books.

Other bloggers with the iHomeschool Network are sharing Ultimate Guides today. The topics are terrific so make sure and stop by to see all the resources waiting for you!

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