Using Time Limits to Tame your Homeschool Day

Several months ago, most school days just seemed to drag on (and on…and on…and on), yet nothing was accomplished. Both DQ and I were getting worn out, and little time was left to dedicate to Hulk. Burnout appeared inevitable, and I knew we needed to make some drastic changes. I gave DQ an unexpected week off of school (we go year-round and normally just take off for holidays and birthdays), and determined that I was going to revamp as much as possible. I made some curriculum switches and started planning a more literature based day, because reading is a love for both DQ and I. However, the most important change I made was setting up daily limits for each subject we do. One little alteration to our plans has impacted our school life in a positive way.

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Each time we start a new subject, I set a timer for the designated time and we work diligently until the timer dings. When time is up, we pack up and get ready for the next subject. Our time frame gives us a solid ending to a subject, and DQ enjoys trying to “beat” the timer, even though I never say “this, this, and this needs to get done today.” I also purposely made my planner blank in both the plans and the dates sections. My Type A personality balks at my empty planner every day, but I have been doing this homeschool thing enough to know that my plans NEVER go the way I want. I have learned to stress less without a solid day-by-day lesson plan and I record what gets done each day as we go. I can also tell you that our productivity has sky-rocketed using a timer, even though our day is much shorter than it used to be.

In order to make sure that we are staying on track for the year, I make a goal sheet at the beginning of each year. I list each subject and what I hope to accomplish for the year. It looks something like this:

  • Math – Complete all CLE Math 2nd Grade units
  • Science – Complete Zoology, Anatomy, and Botany units

Every 3 months, I make another goal sheet for those months, like this:

  • Math – Complete 3 CLE Math Units
  • Science – Complete Anatomy Unit

And the end of the 3 months, I evaluate our progress and make sure we are meeting my goals. If we aren’t, I analyze why we may not be on track and whether I need to make any changes. Say we are only half way through our Anatomy Unit after 3 months, when I wanted it complete. Are we skipping Science when we should be doing it? Does it need to get moved to a different day or done at a different time of day? Or are we just really diving in and doing more projects and reading more books than I intended on completing? If the latter one is the cause, I just allow more time to complete the unit. If the problem lies elsewhere, I make adjustments and reevaluate after the next 3 months.

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Our school day never lasts all day like it did prior to time limits. School starts for us around 10am and is usually done by 2-3pm (including a lunch and snack time), leaving us with plenty of time for other activities and downtime. Afternoons filled with playtime make year-round schooling possible. We don’t get burned out easily because school is just part of our daily routine and is not the sole focus of our lives. On occasion, the timer will go off in the middle of a lesson. Unless it happens to be a hands-on activity that DQ is begging to finish, we go ahead and pack up the lesson and move on to the next one. Sometimes, DQ is just really struggling with a concept. She knows that as long as she has worked diligently and has done as much as she could, moving along in the middle of something is just fine. She normally comes at it much easier the next day after having a break from it.

Setting the time limits per subject is not an exact science. Grade level and maturity will be key factors in determining how long your student can dedicate to each subject. A great resource for a daily schedule with time limits can be found here. Her list is the basis for our times. I adjusted it slightly to fit DQ’s individual needs and made more changes after a few days of working with time frames. Always do what works best for your child, and never be afraid to adjust to meet those needs.

Want to see our schedule in action? Here is a look of one of DQ’s days last week:

Bible (10-15 minutes) – Reading done while eating breakfast. Coloring sheet and memory verses done while I wash up breakfast dishes.

Spelling (10 minutes) – Takes test. Test graded. Study for a few minutes.

Grammar/Writing (30 minutes) – Copywork from Complete Writer while I change diapers of little ones. Complete a lesson from CLE Light Unit 204 while I give snacks to littles. Go over lesson with Mom. Worked on one of the Light Unit Extra Activities for a few minutes.

Snack (not timed)

Literature (30 minutes) – Read Wizard of Oz and complete notebook page while I work with littles on Preschool stuff. Discussed reading with Mom for 5 minutes.

Languages (20 minutes) – Reviewed Latin flashcards and completed Copywork from Greek Alphabet book for one letter while Mom plays with littles. Mom quizzes with flashcards for Latin and goes over Spanish lesson.

Playtime with littles while Mom gets lunch ready. This time usually involves song time.

Lunch (not timed)

Math (60 minutes) – Work on Reflex Math while Mom gets littles ready for nap. Worked on Speed Drill while Mom puts littles down for nap. Completes Lesson 8 from CLE203 book. Did one page from Lollipop Logic and one page from Word Problems book. Did one review page from Math Mammoth. Played math game with Mom from RightStart Card game book.

History (60 minutes) – Listened to Story of the World Vol. 1 Chapter 15 while coloring. Completed Notebook page. Worked on timeline and map with Mom. Read from Ox, House, Stick with Mom on the couch.

Day over!! Read quietly until littles wake up, and then play the rest of the day!!!

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Human Anatomy Unit Week 1

This school year is shaping up to be an amazing one. We have made several changes to both curricula and methods, and we are having a smooth, fun-filled year. We have also had to cut down on homeschool expenses this year by quite a lot, so I have been making a lot of my own resources and implementing free quality ones I can find. We are getting ready to start a unit on the Human Body, and I thought I would share my plans with you. I will post about each section as we go. I do have a master document with my personal notes you can access here, but it may not be decipherable to anyone other than me;) I will work on a more reader-friendly version of all of the Section plans as time allows. Our main text was only $12.50, and all of the other resources are ones we already owned. I did incorporate Bill Nye videos because DQ loves them. We do not own these, but they are currently running on Netflix, and even our less than stellar library has all of the episodes.

Resources:

DK First Human Body Encyclopedia

My Body by Teacher Created Resources

Free Matchcard Sets for Anatomy and Nutrition

Magic School Bus DVDs

Bill Nye Videos

Projects from Pinterest (See my Human Anatomy Board)

Quiz sheets made by yours truly (no Quiz for the last 3 sections)

We spend around 2 hours per week on Science. I don’t make set lesson plans. We just work for a total of 2 hours (one hour per Science Day), and I make note of what we accomplish. Each unit plays out about the same. We sit together and buddy read the text. This method gives DQ the chance to ask me any questions as we read. We then work on our life-size body model and any worksheets I have. We also make vocabulary cards. The video/s come next, followed by an experiment or project if I have one (previously set up in Science bin so I just pull it out whenever we need it) and my homemade Review Worksheet. With this Review Worksheet, I have DQ answer as many as she can on her own. If she has any questions left unanswered, we sit together and look up the answer in the tex.t. Often, more than one video is listed. You can choose to watch all or just one. We normally watch all because DQ really loves them, and it makes my life a little easier.

DQ working on her life-size model.

DQ working on her life-size model.

Lesson Plans

Section 1: Introduction to the Human Body

  • Read pages 4-11 in DK First Human Body Encyclopedia
  • Trace body onto large piece of paper to begin Body Model
  • Complete Matchcard Worksheet 1 from Human Anatomy set
  • Make flashcards for Vocabulary words (Anatomy, genes, cell, nucleus, organ)
  • Watch Magic School Bus Goes Cellular (Season 6)
  • Watch Bill Nye Cells
  • Watch Bill Nye Genes
  • Build model of an animal cell. General instructions found here.
  • Review Worksheet
DQ working on Animal Cell model.

DQ working on Animal Cell model.

If you find any mistakes, please let me know so I can make changes.

Libib Review

In shelves. On dressers. In baskets. On desks. In beds. On tables. Books are spied in pretty much every spot you look in our home. We are all voracious readers, and books rank as the most affluent item in our house. However, this proclivity for attaining new books has lead to a problem. Countless times, I have found myself staring at a magnificent row of books in our Children’s Consignment shop or in our Friends of the Library book room pondering whether or not we have that copy of The Courage of Sarah Noble.   I needed a system for keeping track of the books we own that I could easily access on the go. Enter the Libib App and website. This program is simply amazing and is completely free!

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Easy to use, Libib helps me keep track of the books in our personal library. As an added bonus, I can create up to 100 libraries for the different types of books we have. I have one for each Story of the World volume so I can track the books that belong in each period. I have one for each year of Literature. I even have a Curriculum List, where I have all of the curriculum we own listed. I have not entered all of my homeschool items, but so far, every curriculum I have is listed. Being able to track my homeschool materials was an added boon that I was thrilled to discover. In total, you can store 100,000 books, so I am not afraid I will be running out of space any time soon.

Two other features I absolutely love are the Tag feature and the Group feature. I use the Tag feature for marking my ebooks. I prefer hard copy books generally, but will sometimes purchase ebooks. As with my hard copy books, I tend to forget what I own, and this feature has made it easy to see which ebooks I have available. I also Tag the location of the book. As mentioned at the beginning, books are often strewn all over, so tagging the location makes it easy to locate. If I am looking for Tales of the Odyssey, Part 1, I search the title in Libib and the tag tells me where it should be. The Group feature is lovely, too. I really only use it in the Curriculum List, but it has made sorting books in that library easy. I can group books by any category I want. For Curriculum List, I have groups for Geography, Math, etc.

A peek at my Libib library in the App.

A peek at my Libib library in the App.

Books are easy to enter into the system, too. Using the App on my iPad or iPhone, I can actually scan the barcode on the back of the book, and it is automatically added to the library I selected. In the App, is is not possible to search a book by keyword, but that can be done in the Website. So far, that little inconvenience is the only problem I have encountered while using Libib. Considering the fact that the service is free, I find the problem more than easy to handle. It even tracks video games, music, and movies, too, although I have not even begun to use those aspects. Overall, I highly recommend using Libib to track you personal library. Free, well-done, and just all around amazing, you really cannot go wrong.

*I was not sponsored in any way for this review. I just happened to stumble upon Libib, fell in love, and wanted to share it with all of you! Hope you enjoy as much as I do 😉

Building a Home Library

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about Creating a Read Aloud Household. Today, I want to share some ways you can start building a home library.   Our local library isn’t the greatest, and I am horrible at returning books and usually end up with large fees. Buying books has just been our way of avoiding paying for something I can’t own. Research also suggests that children surrounded by books in the home do better and go farther in school than those who don’t have books at home, regardless of a parent’s education level or income.

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Start with a good list. Browsing on Pinterest will result in several great book lists (try searches like “top read alouds,” “book lists for girls,” “book lists for boys,” etc.). I love the books suggested on Simply Charlotte Mason, too. The Mensa for Kids list is also a great place to begin.

 

Don’t feel like you have to buy all at once. I slowly add to our library as I find books. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, add books to your total to give you free shipping. Make buying books a kind of priority. Set a goal (like purchasing one book per 2 weeks, etc.), and aim to achieve it. If you drink Starbucks 2-3 times a week, you are already spending enough to have purchased at list one book. Books are also given here as presents and rewards.

 

Buy used. It amazes me how many times I find great deals on used books. I shop Better World Books often, and they frequently send out coupon codes. I also check out the book section in our local kids consignment shop and can usually find at least one gem for an incredible price.

 

Put books everywhere within reach. You can find at least one book in every room in our house. You can even find books in our cars. Making the books available will increase the chances that your child will pick up a book to read it.Photo

Project Bins

I have a serious issue with adding in hands-on activities into our daily school schedule. If I don’t have all of the supplies in one place, I just know it will not get done. We have made some HUGE changes to our homeschool this year, and incorporating hands-on projects is one priority I have for each day. I knew I needed to do something to help me stay organized and have less of a reason to say “no.” While shopping at our local craft store, I noticed they had 12”x12” clear scrapbook storage on sale for $4 each (plus my 20% educator discount). I came up with the idea of creating Project Bins for the areas we do a lot of hands-on work in.

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Dancing Queen has one each for history, art, and math, as well as a bigger container for science. Both history and art bins house all of the art supplies and instructions for the current art projects we are working on. The math bin holds the manipulatives and game supplies we need for the week (Dancing Queen requested a math bin this year). The science one is a bit larger, because it holds supplies for any labs we will be working on. The Hulk has only one bin for now, and it is his Preschool Bin, otherwise known as his Letter of the Week bin. I toss in all of the activities and supplies we need. He really enjoys doing school with his big sister, so it is imperative that I have fun activities he can be working on near me while I help Dancing Queen with lessons. His bin also holds a list of the different activities I put in there (otherwise I tend to forget about all I wanted to do).

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Putting the bins together is not hard work, either. Friday, after our school day is complete, I go through our materials for the next week and make a list of any supplies we may not have in stock. When I run errands on Saturday, I make sure I pick those supplies up. Sunday night, I sit down and put together the bins. The assembly takes me anywhere from 20-45 minutes. Those minutes are time well-spent when we are able to simply pull out a bin and easily start a project. I keep the bins in our school closet, and Dancing Queen knows that if she has free time (normally when The Hulk is napping), she can grab a bin and start working on a project. I have tried to make the bins as independent as possible so she has that opportunity.

Recipe – Abuela’s Coconut Cake

My mother-in-law LOVES coconut.  Whenever we get to see her, it is always a great time filled with tons of food, fun, and laughter.  As the worst cook in the family, I tend to stay out of the kitchen.  However, I enjoy baking and love to make dessert.  We had a family get-together at our home yesterday, and I was able to throw together a delicious Coconut Cake for her (and us) to enjoy.  I couldn’t find a recipe that took less than 3 days to make, so I just made my own!!

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Ingredients:

One box of Yellow Cake mix (plus all ingredients to make cake, using milk in place of water)

1/2 cup of sour cream

1 cup of coconut flakes (plus extra for topping)

1 1/4 cup of sugar

Small container of Cool Whip (I prefer Extra Creamy, but any will do)

Directions:

Prepare cake mix according to the directions on the box, using milk instead of water.  Pour into a 13″x9″ pan and cook for about 25-30 minutes, until done.

Right after you pull cake out of oven, mix the sour cream, coconut flakes and sugar and spread over warm cake.  Allow the cake to cool.

Top with Cool Whip and extra coconut flakes.  We like to toast them, but you don’t have to:)  Enjoy!!