Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

summer nature study | summer homeschoolI love how summer learning kind of takes on a rhythm of its own. We don’t have any formal “school” going on just yet, but as we wrap up this season, I’ve loved watching spontaneous learning just happen. And nature study is one of my favorite ways to watch learning happen naturally. It’s such a fun activity to encourage curiosity, exploration, and research. This summer, we’ve been noticing dragonflies and damselflies. The result has been an informal dragonfly summer nature study that has lasted all season.

Our Dragonfly Summer Nature Study

It all started with a dragonfly on our outside patio.

dragonfly summer nature study

As we “oohed” and “ahhed” over it, I asked the kids if they knew any differences between a damselfly and a dragonfly. We consulted some nature books and Google Images and observed some basic differences: dragonflies have larger wings that spread out when at rest, thicker bodies, and eyes that are closer together; damselflies typically have wings that fold when at rest (many times, it looks as though they only have two wings), thinner bodies, and more distance between their eyes.

Honestly, my kids took it from there. We observed dragonflies and damselflies on every nature walk for the rest of this summer. They even built damselfly and dragonfly lego creatures.

dragonfly summer nature study

They watched a swarm of damselflies mating and laying eggs in our favorite pond. And they picked up a dead dragonfly in a parking lot to observe at home under our microscope.

Tips for a summer nature study (or any nature study)

  1. Take a walk and see what catches your child’s attention.
  2. Ask some questions and find some answers together. Google it, or check out a library book. But make sure that it’s answering your child’s questions and feeding his interest in the topic.
  3. Allow your child to “narrate” or put the new info to use—whether that’s teaching the new info to you on the next nature walk, drawing in a nature journal, or playing with legos! 

I love having a time of the year to take a break from our classical/charlotte homeschool and to enjoy some summer spontaneity. And while I’m looking forward to adding some structure back into our lives and am excited about our new books and fresh supplies, I also love that learning can happen without those lesson plans, too. Learning happens anywhere!

A peak inside my Homeschool Lesson Plans

a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans

Over the years, I’ve taken the whole idea of customizing our homeschool to a new extreme. Our homeschool style is largely classical with a Charlotte Mason twist, and my homeschool lesson plans tend to be just as “custom.” I plan some subjects in the most traditional sense; I loop-plan other subjects; and I just record what we accomplished for still other subjects. Because my homeschool lesson plans are so unique, finding the right homeschool planner can be a little tricky. Which is why this year, I’ve ditched the traditional planner and just picked up a cute graph-paper notebook from Plum Paper Planner

Take a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans.

Planning by Terms

I love the Charlotte Mason method of planning the year by three 12-week terms. We have one term in the fall, a one-month break for Christmas, followed by a winter term and a spring term. Each term, I change things up. We finish certain books or subjects and add in others. We finish certain topics in our classical-style history cycle and begin others. It also gives me the freedom to tweak our schedule every 12 weeks and re-evaluate what is working and what isn’t.

Planning the “Discipline” Subjects

My “discipline” subjects like math and grammar and spelling are easy to plan in the traditional sense. I figure out how much we need to get accomplished each term, dividing the number of pages or lessons by the number of days. I usually also assign how much time I expect the assignment to take, just to help us set goals and manage time well. From here, I type out a printable weekly assignment sheet that my kids use to actually check off their work.

homeschool lesson plans | term 1 schedule | dialectic stage

Planning the “Inspiration” Subjects

Our “inspiration” subjects include history, science, literature, and some writing. Although I assign certain books for my kids to read and plan for when I think we will get to those books within the term, I tend to loop-plan these subjects. As in, we move on when the topic has been covered. When we finish our projects and books on the Vikings, we move on to knights and castles. When we wrap up one writing project, I introduce the next. My younger two (K and 4th grades) will be continuing with science in this same fashion, looping through different biology topics. My 6th grader, on the other hand, likes to take his science more seriously, with weekly assignments.

In my homeschool lesson plans, this loop-planning looks almost like bullet journaling. I write in the projects, books, and audiobooks I expect us to get to in the next few weeks. As those assignments are completed, I’ll check them off. If they don’t get completed, it’s no big deal. I’ll write an arrow through the box and move the assignment to the following week.

homeschool lesson plans | weekly plans
For privacy, I’ve deleted my kids’ names from these plans, but you get the idea.

Planning “Meeting Times”

The time I spend one-on-one with each child is what we call “meeting time.” And I plan this time pretty loosely, mostly just recording what we’ve done. For my 6th grader, we plan to meet once a week, similar to last year. I’ll check over his work, hand back graded assignments, and answer questions on the upcoming assignments. New to this year, we’ll also be adding a discussion time with some questions about his reading and history topics, in a very classical model.

The “meeting times” with my younger kids are much different. For my kindergartener, all of his assignments require one-on-one with me. We’ll cover reading and phonics as well as math, and his time with me should take about 45 minutes or so each day. As those assignments are completed, I will circle the letter for the day of the week we worked together. At this stage, I usually work through subjects for an allotted amount of time, doing a little extra if he’s in the mood or a little less if he needs more playtime, rather than forcing him to complete an entire lesson on a particular day. I’ve never had any trouble completing subjects this way, and it gives my littles the flexibility they need early on.

My “meeting time” with my fourth grader is done very similarly. Because of her dyslexia and other learning challenges, she needs a lot more of my attention to get her harder assignments completed. Our subjects together include math, grammar, spelling, and some writing, but I adhere to the Charlotte Mason “short lessons” principle. All together, we’ll spend about an hour, and I’ll circle the letter for the day of the week that we got to each subject, alternating some of the subjects each day. 

Planning for flexibility

As you might have noticed, I don’t have daily homeschool lesson plans. I like to see my week and customize each day to get done what needs to be done. This allows us some flexibility and margin when we have busy weeks or bad days or sickness or whatever else life throws our way. On their good days, my kids will knock out quite a bit of the week’s work. On our bad days, we may only get to math. But by the end of the week, it works out—and I don’t stress about being “behind.”

We also have a unique schedule for easing into Mondays, which includes projects, game-schooling, art, and other casual learning opportunities. I don’t necessarily have a lesson plan for Mondays.

Though our system may not work for everyone, it’s perfect for us. Just like your system should be one that works for you, regardless of whether or not someone else could do it your way. That’s the nature and beauty of homeschooling—finding a learning lifestyle that fits your family, your personality, and your planning style.

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Finding the right homeschool planner

finding the right homeschool planner | planning tips

My earliest homeschool memories include my mom working over homeschool schedules in her spiral notebook. Nothing fancy. Just a cheap spiral notebook with ruled paper. That “homeschool planner” served her well for years. Over the 6 years or so that I’ve homeschooled my own kids, I’ve been all over the gamut of homeschool planning. I’ve tried online planners, planning apps, free planning pages, printable homeschool planner pdfs, dry-erase calendar board, the Ultimate Homeschool Planner, Plum Paper Planner—you name it, I’ve probably given it a try. My planning needs and preferences are constantly morphing. But the one thing I’ve learned is that the key to finding the right homeschool planner is to know yourself and what you’ll use.

Tips to Finding the Right Homeschool Planner

Know yourself (and be honest). We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have short-comings. You won’t find your perfect planning system if you can’t be honest about what just won’t work. It’s not a statement of who you are if you can’t make a paper planner work or if you never get on the computer to log those lessons as completed. It’s simply a matter of a system that failed you. We are individuals with unique personalities; what works for one person won’t work for everyone.

Know what you are most likely to use. Some of this is trial and error. You simply won’t know until you give a few things a try. If you are good at keeping your Google Calendar up to date and like to keep Reminders and Notes on your phone, then try an online planner. If you are a list person who likes to write it all out by hand, then try a paper planner. Do you like to see your week’s events lined up vertically or horizontally? Do you like a large 8×11 size plan or a smaller “throw it in your purse” style planner? If you have no clue, then jump in and give something a try. Within a few days or weeks of using it, you’ll know what you love or hate about it.

Know what motivates you. And again, be honest. I’m cheap, and I hate to spend money on myself. But one thing I’ve had to be honest about: I just don’t plan well in an ugly planner. As shallow as that sounds, I have to have a pretty planner with soft, high-quality paper that invites me to sit down and plan. I literally try to think of something just so that I can write on that paper. If my pen scratches across the page, I won’t write it in it the way I should. Bottom line, if you hate your planning system, you won’t plan. If you hate sitting at a computer, online planning will not change that. If writing by hand is hard for you, then writing in a planner is not going to be a win. So find motivation that will make planning pleasant, and reward yourself for doing it. If stickers are your thing, than motivate yourself with some cute stickers and a Lisa Frank pen. If chocolate is your proverbial carrot, than by all means, have a private stash that only comes out during planning.

My homeschool planner for the 2017-18 school year

This year, I’m stepping way out of my norm for planning. But in a way, it really makes sense for me. Last year, I had two “planners” for homeschool. I had a traditional weekly planner from Plum Paper Planner that allowed me to customize my headings, add extra note pages and checklists, etc. It was my second year to use a Plum Paper Planner for homeschool, and I’ve loved them. But last year, I also had a cute little notebook from Plum Paper that was smaller and filled with graph paper. My idea was that all my brainstorming and Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc. would end up in my little notebook, then the final version would make it to the planner. But what I found last year was that I was much more excited about jotting down plans on that graph paper inside the notebook than actually using the planner itself.

While I love Plum Paper Planners as my personal planner for church, work, and home life, I’ve opted for the (much cheaper) Plum Paper notebook for my homeschool plans this year. It’s been fun to set it up, similar to bullet-journaling. And when I was done with planning, I didn’t want to be—I sat with it open hoping I’d think of something else to write in it. That, my friend, tells me I’ve got a winner. (Or that I’m a total nerd. lol!)

homeschool planner | finding the right homeschool planner | Plum Paper notebook

Here are a couple of other posts to get you started planning your homeschool year:

Need a little more direction with your homeschool planning? Subscribe to my email list for a link to my free homeschool planning course. Find out about different methods of planning and organizing, a list of planning resources, and tips for how to customize a system that fits your needs. Click here to subscribe.

Finding Significance in Everyday : Sacred Mundane book review

finding significance | Sacred Mundane review

(Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own, and I have received no compensation for a positive review.)

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post!

We all have those moments where, in the midst of dishes and dirty diapers and picking up toys for the gazillionth time, we wonder if our life means anything. Does our mundane serve a purpose, or is a just a waste of life as so many in our culture say that it is? Can we actually find purpose in our daily grind and insignificant moments? Kari Patterson’s book Sacred Mundane is an invitation to live our everyday grind with purpose, allowing Christ to use the daily mundane to transform us.

I first heard Kari Patterson speak about 4 years ago at a women’s camp, and I instantly resonated with her message. She spoke about finding significance, purpose, even worship in our daily tasks—our mundane tasks, like doing dishes and scrubbing toilets. Kari invited us to live a “sacred mundane,” where our life is hid with Christ in God, where we do all things for the glory of God. I’ve heard Kari speak a couple of other times since then, and I love what God is doing in and through her. When Kari mentioned she had a book coming out, I instantly jumped at the opportunity to review it for her, and it’s been every bit as inspirational as I anticipated.  

Sacred Mundane includes 8 chapters that delve into this topic of finding significance in our everyday by changing our perspective and inviting Jesus to work in our everyday tasks and frustrations to spiritually strengthen us and make us new. Sacred Mundane also includes a “small group” study with daily questions and readings to delve deeper into each chapter’s topic. The study takes a chapter a week and includes additional Scripture to study, a memory verse, and application questions. At the end of each week’s study, Kari also includes recommended resources for delving even further into each area of study.

Friends, this is how we are transformed: not by escaping dreary domestic duties or difficult relationships, and not by dreading the daily grind or grimly bearing these weary days until we can fly away to some celestial shore. We are transformed by engaging in the here, the now, the conflict, the tension, letting God change us from the inside out. ~Sacred Mundane by Kari Patterson

Kari is humble, gentle, and authentic—it comes out in her book as she shares her journey through discouragement and disillusionment to finding freedom and purpose in her own life through this truth, and it comes out in her generosity. All royalties from her book will go toward World Vision’s work with women and children in need. Kari is also offering a free copy of Sacred Mundane to one of you! Enjoy an excerpt from Sacred Mundane and then scroll down to enter the giveaway, or purchase your own copy on Amazon.

Sacred Mundane review | finding significance in everyday

Introducing a love for poetry (to boys and other skeptics)

introducing a love for poetry (to boys and other skeptics)

I know that not everyone loves poetry the way I do. I totally understood why my college students weren’t as excited about our poetry unit in Creative Writing as I was. But that’s never stopped me from loving the challenge of introducing poetry to a skeptic and surprising them with the reality that they could love it, too. Now as a homeschool mom, I still love that challenge. I love introducing a love for poetry to my kids. And often, that love surprises them.

Especially if you have active learners, introducing a love for poetry can be tough. But here are a few ideas to give you a head-start in the right direction.

Introducing a love for poetry

Choose the best books.

I love Shel Silverstein’s books of poetry, especially for boys. If anyone can pull off a surprise love for poetry, Shel Silverstein can. My kids have literally laughed out loud through his books. Falling Up is such a favorite at our house that we now own it (because someone left the library book outside overnight and it got a little too damp to return).

But a new favorite of mine is the book Guyku, haiku for boys (or any kid who loves to play outdoors). Even my daughter with dyslexia couldn’t help but pick this one up.

introducing a love for poetry | haiku
Guyku by Bob Raczka and Peter H. Reynolds

Haiku is probably one of my favorite poetry forms, and these authors do a fantastic job writing kid-friendly haiku. Their website also includes some great teaching resources and free printables.

Create a memorable moment.

  1. Have a picnic, lay out on a blanket, hunt for cloud shapes, and read a couple of fun poems. (Just a couple, don’t over do it.)
  2. Use poetry to introduce something fun you are about to do. Read a poem about the beach and let them guess where you are going. Read haiku about nature and then go on a nature walk to find ideas for your own poem. 
  3. Have a poetry scavenger hunt and have them find poems about particular topics you’ve listed. (Choose a fun book and quirky topics.)

Whatever you do, let the poetry be a part of an already fun experience. The positive vibes from the event will spill over into the poetry part of that memory. Your goal is to have a fun, positive memory associated with poetry, rather than the memory of sitting at a desk discussing rhyming patterns.

Provide a fun snack.

Adding food never hurts, especially if you’ve got boys. Food is definitely part of that positive association. I can pull off just about anything with my kids if there is food involved. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Have one particular treat that only comes out during poetry time. Or surprise them with a favorite treat, and a new favorite poem.

I’ve read a lot of the blogs that do the “poetry teas” as a way of introducing a love for poetry to children. It’s a great idea, and when my kids were little, I could get by with that. But my soon-to-be sixth grade son is not keen on “tea parties.” These ideas still work for him, though. And with the right book, I can still surprise him with a love for poetry he didn’t know he had.

Our Homeschool Curriculum for kindergarten

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | classical homeschool kindergarten

These young years are the best! I love all the hands-on games and manipulatives and dry-erase activities and stickers. My littlest is in kindergarten this year. Because there is so much available for free or for very cheap at this level (both online and at the local dollar store), I keep our homeschool curriculum for kindergarten pretty simple for the most part, with a few fun surprises sprinkled in. Phonics and math are our priority, while the other subjects he is enjoying simply because of the whole-family learning approach we take to those subjects.

Our Homeschool Curriculum for Kindergarten

History and Geography

As I’ve mentioned in my other curriculum posts for 4th grade and 6th grade, we use Tapestry of Grace as our core for history, Bible and worldview, literature and writing. I love using Tapestry for whole family learning, and my youngest is enjoying this opportunity because my older kids are using the curriculum. The fun thing about whole family learning is that my youngest is already used to being part of our routine. Last year, he listened to our read-alouds, completed his own notebooking crafts, and made his own display board. He was right in the middle of all of it, and he has no expectation that it should be any different. So this year as he enters kindergarten, the only difference will be that he is more aware of what we are studying and more capable of completing the projects on his own. And he’ll have his own portfolio to show off at our unit parties.

While my older kids use a lot of the projects from Homeschool-in-the-Woods and History Pockets, my kindergartener will be using more of the Story of the World activities from the pdf I purchased four years ago when my older kids were little. Oh, and he’ll have some cool Usborne sticker books that have the older kids envious.

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | classical history

Littlest will also be tagging along in our Visualize World Geography curriculum, learning countries from around the world through stories and pictography. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never underestimate my kids. As a preschooler, he learned his continents and could locate the pyramids and the Ishtar Gate on his Vtech globe we picked up from a thrift store. He fully intends to hang with the older ones during geography time this next year.

Phonics

I loved using Logic of English Foundations for my daughter. It was key in helping her work through her dyslexia challenges and learn to read. With my littlest, I knew right away I’d be using this curriculum again. I love it! Solid phonics—the best I’ve seen—and lots of fun kinesthetic activities to make learning to read busy, active, and fun. One of the greatest challenges of teaching busy young kiddos to read is having them sit still long enough to read the book or list of words. But Logic of English Foundations is very good at incorporating games throughout the curriculum that has my kids running the stairs to read a word, going on a “word hunt” around the house to find strips of paper to read, playing phonogram bingo, and tons of other engaging activities.

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | Logic of English Foundations

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | Logic of English Foundations

We started Foundations A toward the end of this last year, so we’ll be wrapping up Level A and completing Level B for kindergarten. While he is not reading yet, all of the tools and skills are in place. He understands sounds and blending. He’s just a step or two away from putting those skills together to read.

Math

My littlest loves math. He devours it. While I intended to take our time through preschool math, he took off. Consequently, he’s got a good head start on kindergarten math skills. I’ve chosen to start him with Math Mammoth 1. While it is technically first grade, it starts slowly enough that I think he will do just fine. Plus it will continue to challenge him throughout this next year. Otherwise, I’m afraid we’d be done with kindergarten math by November. Another perk is that I already own this curriculum as a pdf, so it costs me nothing right now to have both my fourth grader and my first grader working through this curriculum.

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | math mammoth

As a bonus, I’ll also have some Star Wars Math on hand for him. Last year, he bought the Star Wars preschool math from Barnes and Noble with his own money, and worked the entire book in about a week. I’m telling you, this child consumes math!

Science

At this stage, I’m pretty laid back about science. My plan is to read fun science books together, either from our own personal library or from the public library, and then play science board games with his older sister. I picked up SomeBody game for our anatomy unit and Hit the Habitat Trail board game for our animal science unit.

homeschool curriculum for kindergarten | science board game | gameschooling

My little guy is raring to go. He simply cannot wait for kindergarten. And the more I organize his homeschool curriculum for kindergarten—and counting bears, cuisenaire rods, sticker books, and phonogram tiles—I can’t wait either.

You can check out the rest of our curriculum here: