Sunday, July 5, 2015

How to homeschool on a tight budget ...

Working with a Tight Homeschool Budget

Originally published on October 21, 2010. Still relevant today.

I recently ran across a question online, asking how families living on one income make ends meet while homeschooling.  I thought I'd bring my response here to my blog, as well.

There are several different ways that our family manages the expense of curriculum in homeschooling:
  1. We buy used curriculum as much as possible.
  2. We try to use library resources (even inter-library loan) before resorting to buying something.
  3. We use unit studies to combine subjects and students.
  4. We buy multi-level items we can use for more than one grade whenever possible.
  5. We buy non-consumable curriculum.
  6. We look for free resources online.

Exceptions: Math (K-4th grades), handwriting (K-6th grade), and Grammar (5th+ grades) are consumable workbooks.

There are also things you can do to eliminate over-spending on curriculum or making costly curriculum mistakes:
  1. Don't rush out and buy the "latest and greatest" new product.  Think, pray, wait!   You may realize that your current curriculum is working just fine, or you might begin to hear negative reviews that show it isn't the answer for your family after all.  If you do still want it, it will make its way to the used market pretty soon.
  2. Look for ways you can adapt your current curriculum before you try something new.  What appeals to you in the other curriculum?  Can you make your current curriculum more like that?

There are even more ways we try to save money in other areas of our life, so I can stay home and homeschool our children:
  1. We shop yard sales and thrift stores first.
  2. We don't buy new unless we can't find it used.
  3. We try to make do with what we already have.
  4. We try to do it ourselves before paying someone else to do it.
  5. We shop grocery sales, buy generic brands, and use coupons.
  6. We cook from what is in the pantry, or what's on sale, instead of shopping to fit the menu plan even if it's not on sale.
  7. We look for inexpensive and free ways to entertain our family.
  8. We try not to watch too many commercials or read too many magazines which lead to discontentment.

And the greatest tip of all is to pray for creative solutions.   Often, God has shown me ways to solve my household  or curriculum problem with something I already own.

If you want to stay at home, or homeschool, pray about it.  If it's God's will for your family,  He will show you ways that you can make it work for your family, too.

What are some of your favorite tips for saving money, and affording to be a SAHM or homeschool mom?  What are your favorite tips for saving money on curriculum?

Trusting in Him,
April E.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Looks Like Summer: Harvest, More Flowers, and Summer Fun (episode four)

We just got home from a family reunion, with lots of good memories, where I didn't take a single picture. Terrible, I know. I'm feeling especially blessed right now, with family and love, and where we live. Wheat is being harvested and I am realizing how much I love being surrounded by farms and watching crops be seeded, grow, and be harvested through the seasons. Wheat harvest is my favorite, though.
A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Monday night I picked up my son from baseball practice, sweat pouring down his face, and took him to Sonic for a small half-price shake. We drove home past wheat fields being harvested and down the back roads, where we saw a deer and the almost-full moon up before it was even dark. We got home, discovered one of our mama cats had given birth when she came up to us skinny and very eager to eat, which means we have more kittens somewhere in our garage. Walked into the house and saw 19 yo A playing Yahtzee with the younger kids. Just love and joy and peace everywhere.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

I think this is the absolutely last flower that is going to bloom this year. Anything else will be a surprise to me. I'll be watching for wildflowers, I guess.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

This week, my 18 year old daughter is moving into her own apartment. Which means the 16 year old is chomping at the bit to move into the 18 year olds' bedroom, after sharing a bedroom her whole life.  My house is a wreck between that, and being gone for the reunion. I have some work to do.

Enjoy your summer!
April E.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Taken by Dee Henderson

If you've read my blog very long, you know that I love Dee Henderson's books. I've read them all and collected every one, as well. When my husband takes a business trip, I send one with him for the airplane ride. He's hooked on her books as well now, though he only has time to read them when he's traveling.

Taken is the latest book by Dee Henderson, once again connecting together the different characters we've grown to love in her previous books. Shannon Bliss was kidnapped at the age of sixteen. After eleven years of captivity, she's free. Shannon seeks out Matthew Dane to not only help her go home, but also capture the people responsible for her kidnapping and many other crimes. Matthew is a private investigator, former cop, whose own daughter was kidnapped and held captive for a number of years before being rescued. He's walked the road to recovery and healing with his daughter, and now he's committing to walk that same road with Shannon.

Taken is centered around Chicago, so we find ourselves reuniting with the Falcons, the Bishops, and even an O'Malley. I appreciate the way Dee pulls her different series together, though I often wish we saw more of the O'Malleys in her more recent books. I was completely engrossed in the story of Shannon and Matthew and their search for justice and healing. I enjoyed watching their friendship, respect, and love for each other grow. I will say that Taken wasn't as suspenseful as some of her previous books. I found myself more drawn in by the relationship and story that was unfolding more than fear for anyone's safety. I guess that makes it gentle suspense with a little romance and a strong Christian theme.

This was another excellent book by Dee Henderson that I will gladly add to my bookshelf. My husband was vying to take it on an upcoming business trip and I pointed out he needed to finish the Uncommon Heroes series he started and work his way up from there. He'll get to Taken eventually.

If you're looking for an exciting summer read ... pick up a copy of Taken by Dee Henderson!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes. No other compensation was received.

April E.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Looks Like Summer: Wheat, Flowers, and Kittens (episode 3)

It's definitely beginning to feel like summer now. Hot weather, sprinkler fun, church camps, and familiy reunions. Baseball season is winding down, and harvest is gearing up.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Hopefully, you're enjoying your summer and finding beauty in the world around you.

April E.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Homeschooling High School: Planning For High School

Homeschooling High School Blog Hop 2015

I was very nervous when my oldest daughter approached high school. I wasn't sure what subjects we should cover, or how to make a transcript. I asked questions online, searched the internet for homeschool transcript templates, and looked at our state's graduation requirements for an idea of what subjects were considered requirements in our state. Then I made a plan, using our core curriculum as a guideline. We relied on a 4 year history cycle and literature-based history learning at that time.

Two years later our second daughter was entering high school and decided that she wanted her high school education to be textbook-based and line up as closely as possible with what her friends were studying in public school. So I made a new plan, with new curriculum and new subject titles on our transcript.

Another two years went by and our third daughter entered high school. She wanted the freedom to study sciences and languages not offered in our local public school. Against her sisters' advice, she chose to study Astronomy and Latin and Ancient History. We made a new plan that allowed her to cover the state requirements as well as follow her own interests.

And now my fourth child is entering high school. He'll probably follow the path of my second daughter, with textbooks and a desire to mimic the public high school's plan. But we are replacing our history textbooks with ones that are simpler to plan, and have fewer components to use. Sweet and simple is the goal, because I want him to be independent and not get bogged down in planning, excess busywork, or trying to figure out how to put it all together.

Two Types of Planning

In our homeschool we have two types of planning. We have our overall "high school plan" which we actually put into a transcript template at the beginning of their freshman year. We are planning with the end in mind - graduation requirements and possible college entry. Some subjects fill in automatically, easily falling into place on the year plan. Then there are the elective slots where we might write in some options, though everything is subject to change as high school progresses. Every school year, we reassess the proposed transcript plan - finalize the upcoming year and tweak the plan for future years. Our goal is 6 credits per year, for a total of at least 24 credits.

Our basic "high school planning" looks something like this:

9th grade
English 1
Algebra 1
Biology (or astronomy if you're DD2)
Health and Nutrition
Elective (possibly PE)

10th grade
English 2
Chemistry (or biology if you didn't take it yet)
World History
Elective (foreign language?)
Elective (computer science?)

11th grade
English 3
Algebra 2
Psychology - Other Science - Elective??
US History
Personal Finance/Other 1/2 credit elective
Elective (foreign language again?)

12th Grade
English 4

We also have our weekly planning.

With our oldest daughter, I was filling in a weekly worksheet of assignments for her (and every younger student), which was time-consuming. My second daughter switched to textbooks and took this task upon herself in high school. She figured out the pace she'd need to keep to complete her textbooks in 36 weeks. She filled in her weekly charts and kept herself (mostly) on track. (They say doing math through the summer is good for you anyway, right?) Our third daughter has also learned to plan her own weeks. We look at her curriculum together at the start of the year and make an overall plan, and she fills in her weekly charts. She's done an even better job of staying on track, with only a few math lessons to finish in the month after school ended.

Part of the reason I switched to new, simpler textbooks for my upcoming son is so that the weekly planning won't be overwhelming. I wanted to have textbooks that had 32 - 36 chapters, which would make it simple to plan one chapter per week. I wanted them to have just a couple components, so he wasn't overwhelmed by 5 different books for one subject. In other words, I wanted books that were more homeschool-friendly. I think it will take more time to teach him to do his own weekly planning, and I am going to have to keep a close eye on his progress, but it really is easier on everyone if the high school student is in charge of that (with oversight).

This year I bought both my high school students this student planner to use for their weekly planning. I'm hoping it will work better for them than the blank charts I was printing out every week. And rather than getting lost (my son) or stuck into a folder at the end of each week (my daughter) it will all be bound together as a record of their year.

You can do it, too!
High school planning can FEEL overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Start with your basic skeleton. What does your state require? How many classes and credits do you want to tackle each year? Fill in the basic subjects. The rest of your slots are electives. You can look at state requirements and usually find a catalog of courses from a local high school online to get an idea of electives you can offer.

However, this is also where homeschooling allows you to follow your child's interest. If he plays guitar, you can have 4 years of music electives. If she is in gymnastics or dance, you have four years of PE. If your child is into computers, then find a programming course for him or her. If your child is interested in photography, a photography elective is perfect.

You don't have to have it all figured out their freshman year. Just keep an eye on the goal (graduation requirements) and adapt as you go. There will be elective slots that get filled in later. There may be changes. Maybe they  move Chemistry to their junior year and do an extra elective their sophomore year. Get your basic skeleton plan in place, knowing it's subject to change, and then focus on the upcoming year.

You can do it! High school isn't that scary. Get some good resources to encourage you, and talk to someone in your area who is already homeschooling through high school. I'm sure they'll be glad to help you figure it out!

See what these other bloggers have to say:

Meg from Adventures with Jude on Planning Your Homeschool High School

Chareen at Every Bed of Roses with thoughts on Planning to Homeschool through the High School Years

Debra over at Footprints in the Butter asks: You mean I have to PLAN our Homeschool High School?!?
Michele at Family, Faith and Fridays shares Here's the Plan

Lisa at Golden Grasses says Don't Panic! Homeshcooling High School Blog Hop

Debbie at Debbie's Homeschool Corner Planning Out a High School Program

Gena over at I Choose Joy! shares her The Top Tip for Planning Homeschool High School

Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break shares on Planning and Preparing for Success

Tess from Circling Through This Life shares on Planning the High School Years

Erica over at Be The One shares Planning and Record Keeping for High School

Jennifer from A Glimpse of Our Life on Planning For Homeschooling Highschool

Carol over at Home Sweet Life on Making A Plan

Wendy at Life at Rossmont shares thoughts on Planning for High School

Cristi from Through the Calm and Through the Storm shares on Making High School Plans

Dawn Oaks at Double O Farms shares Planning for the High School Years

Leah from As We Walk Along the Road shares her thoughts on Making Plans for Homeschooling Through High School

Take a deep breath and just jump into your skeleton 4-year plan. You can do it!

April E.

Crew Round-Up: High School Reading List

CTCmath Review

Our fourth high school student will be starting 9th grade this fall. We will also have an 11th grade student this year, and we've graduated two daughters already. I've tried to gear our high school literature assignments toward each student and their interests. Some of my children enjoy heavier, classic literature, while others need high-interest books to hold their attention. I find it is easier to assign them books that suit them, rather than fight them about reading a book they hate.

Before I start listing books, I probably should state that we are a Christian family, however we do allow more freedom for our high school students in what they read (both assigned and unassigned) than some families. Just be aware that this is not the most conservative of reading lists.

High School Literature:

  • 1981 by George Orwell
  • A Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom 
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding 
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (and her other books)
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 
  • Shakespeare's Plays (Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Advanced Reading List:
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Les Miserables (abridged) by Victor Hugo
  • Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy  
  • Shakespeare's Plays (Hamlet, MacBeth, Julius Ceasar, etc.)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Some of these books are ones I remember particularly enjoying in high school (To Kill A Mockingbird). Some of them were picked from reading lists (such as the 1000 Good Books List) because I thought my kids would enjoy them (Frankenstein), even though I hadn't read them in high school. And one of them is a book I hated in high school (Lord of the Flies), that I include because it opens up good discussion about morality and ethics and is a style they enjoy.

We often use Progeny Press or Total Language Plus study guides for our high school students. We have them select books at the start of the year and buy the guides from them. We're also willing to wing it, as we will be this upcoming year for my 11th grade daughter who will be studying Shakespeare's works. I prefer buying Progeny Press guides on CD-rom so I can re-print them for future children, but the kids enjoy the Total Language Plus guides a bit more. We try to use some of both brands each year.

For freshmen, I've settled primarily on books that I read in 9th grade because they were higher-interest books. A couple of them are classic dystopian and since my teens are enjoying modern dystopian books, I wanted them to be able to compare them. We start 9th grade with Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, and usually Old Man and the Sea because it's short. This year, my oldest son J will enter high school. He's a challenge to push through literature assignments, so we'll need his books to be high-interest and manageable in length. I think these four will work for him, though. I'll probably stagger them so that To Kill A Mockingbird falls between the two dystopian books.

My daughter C will be a junior this year. Her plan is to read as many of Shakespeare's plays as she can. I own a complete set now, and she's an avid reader. I also purchased a book about Shakespeare himself to go along with this plan, and she will be writing a variety of essays and research papers. I need to start compiling my list of essay ideas for the different plays. (Google to the rescue.)  I'm not highly concerned about finding literary analysis questions for each section. She talks through everything she reads with me, so we'll discuss it naturally. She's also put in two years of literary analysis work (which she hates) and she'll read more Shakespeare in one year than most high school students do in four years if I let her just plow through at her rapid reading rate, instead of slow her down with excess literary analysis. My main goal is to improve her writing skills this year.

There is so much room for freedom in High School Literature and in personal reading. We prefer to allow our children some room to explore different ideas and writing styles in this age - while they are still home to discuss them with us. Parents of teens need to make it a priority to discuss the books and the worldviews they contain with their teens - movies, too. If you haven't read the literature book yourself, consider reading along with your student (get two copies). When our teens pick up books at the library, we try to be available to listen to them talk about the book and point out worldviews and belief systems coming out in the books. They've been good about staying away from vulgar books or those that are overtly anti-Christian, but their fantasy and dystopian genres are tricky, gray-area books at times.

I hope this helps you think about your own High School Reading List. Stop by the Schoolhouse Crew blog to see more high school reading lists from other Crew members.

April E.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Crew Review: Smart Kidz Media

SmartKidz Media Review

I don't know any kids that don't enjoy watching videos online. Mine love it! If the same video were available at the library, mine would still prefer watching it on a laptop or tablet. SmartKidz Media is creating an educational video library (and other educational tools) online and we were able to review it with the Schoolhouse Review Crew. We were given a one year subscription to their SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers for the review, and my kids were thrilled!

SmartKidz Media has a Family Media section that includes educational (and fun) videos, as well as music collections. They also have a Reading and Learning Center that is continually growing. My 9 year old daughter enjoyed the puzzles in the Fun Zone, which we were able to get working on our wii system. The Baby Signs section has videos on baby signs, as well as potty training. We're beyond the baby signs stage, but the potty training videos are definitely helpful! You can also find e-books and Kidz Karaoke videos in the Reading and Learning Center. This screenshot shows you the different categories in both sections of their website.

We spent most of our review period enjoying the Family Media: World of Discovery videos. The screenshot below shows some of the many categories in the drop-down menu, though they wouldn't all fit on the screen. There are more videos and content in the works, as well. Some new items were added during our review period, and there are more to come.

My younger children enjoyed watching Nature's Soap Operas, which adds funny dialogue to video clips of animals. My elementary kids enjoyed watching Unusual Cultures with me, and learning about different people groups around the globe. I was looking forward to enjoying more of the history videos after they were added, but we began to have internet problems. Being "scrolled back" for maxing out our satellite download limits is worse in summer months, when more people are home using the internet than it is during the school year. We can usually watch videos when we're scrolled back in other months, but we can't right now. Needless to say, we're looking forward to enjoying more of SmartKidz Media's online videos once the internet improves again.

Every SmartKidz Media video that we watched was well-made and entertaining. My kids enjoyed having unlimited access to the videos, since we usually limit their television viewing to certain channels which don't have much variation in content. If your family has smart phones, you can access SmartKidz Media on the go.  Our family is reliant on wi-fi for the kids to be able to view the videos on their tablets or my laptop. This is one of those times when I wish we lived in town with better internet options, because I'd love to be able to more fully utilize our SmartKidz Media membership.

If you normally preview the documentaries that your children watch, you will probably still want to do that with SmartKidz Media. Although we never viewed anything objectionable, each family has their own standards and I can't say I've screened every single video for content. We didn't preview them, but we watched them together and had no problems at all. I consider it to be a child-safe website for my family.

SmartKidz Media has a 14-day free trial - so why not sign up and check out the content and quality for yourself? (I love free trials!) If you like it, you can purchase a membership for $10 per month, or save money and pay $99 for one full year's access. You can also follow SmartKidz Media on facebook and twitter.

Stop by the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to find more SmartKidz Media reviews.

April E.

SmartKidz Media Review

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