Surviving Homeschool Mondays (and even liking it)

surviving homeschool mondays | homeschooling on the hard days | ideas for a casual learning routine

All year I have fought the battle of “Monday”—coerced, threatened, plotted, and plodded through the toughest day of the week for us. I know Mondays are tough for most of mankind, but being a pastor’s family, Mondays seem to be that much more daunting. We come into the week empty

Though I did know enough about our family and our routine to keep our Monday calendar empty, I caught myself demanding that much more from our homeschool because it was one of our few days spent entirely at home. I mean, just think of what we can get done! Except that we weren’t. I cracked the whip, but everyone else dragged their feet, and the day seemed endless. It seriously took my kids three times as long to do the same assignments on Monday as it did any other day of the week. A twenty minute math lesson any other day was going to take over an hour on Monday. Surviving homeschool Mondays became such a drudgery, and we all ended the day so out of sorts and cranky, that I finally decided to revamp our Mondays entirely. 

Introducing our new routine for…

Surviving Homeschool Mondays

Our new Monday schedule consists of three parts: meetings, projects, and games.

Monday Meetings: Okay, this is actually the only part of our typical Monday I kept. We’ve been doing this all year. Monday Meeting is when I meet with each kid, look over the previous week’s assignments, hand over their new assignment sheet and week’s work, and discuss the week with them (events, extra-curriculars, projects, etc.) For my fifth grader, this is my primary contact with him, nearly the only time all week we are together. The rest of the week, he works independently. For my third grader, this gives her the scope of the week and the expectations, but I will still meet with her each day for math and grammar. 

Projects: The bulk of the day is spent on projects. Sometimes, this includes notebooking projects and a read-aloud. Other times, this is our major art project time where we sculpt and paint and create. This is also our primary science experiment day. It’s our day to make the big messes and do those projects that take lots of time. I’ve loved this part of the routine. Because I have very little planned on Mondays now, I feel like I can relax with the messes and allow them the time to really enjoy their projects, rather than rushing through so that we “get to everything” before dinner. And trust me, Relaxed Mommy is a whole lot more fun than Stressed Mommy.

homeschooling on hard days | projects, games, & casual learning

Gameschooling: I’m embracing some “Gameschooling” on Mondays, as well, particularly for math. Our new favorite right now is Number Rings. All my kids can play and be challenged at each of their learning levels. I love it! So instead of the workbook math, we play games and embrace hands-on math lessons. Next year, I want to develop this even more, expand our games collection, and include some other subject areas.

Occasionally, I may also throw a DVD into our Monday mix of learning; my kids love “Bill Nye the Science Guy” DVDs from our library. Typically, we’ll have our meetings and game time in the morning, eat lunch, then start on our projects after lunch. 

I hesitated for so long to make this switch in our routine, worrying about falling behind in our work or ruining my kids’ character and work ethic. But the opposite has been true. Mondays are now paced to allow us to rest and recharge from Sundays, and we are better prepared for the rest of our week. And the kids have worked hard those other four days to get assignments done. It’s been a win-win all around, and I’m so glad I finally gave it a try. Not only are we surviving Homeschool Mondays, we are actually enjoying them.

 

Allergy-Friendly Bread Machine Recipe

The kitchen is the absolute best place for hands-on homeschooling. So many lessons take place in the kitchen: math, chemistry, confidence and experimentation, following a process—not to mention those heart-to-heart talks that food and a warm oven inspire.

Because we live the “food allergy lifestyle,” the kitchen is an even more natural place for our homeschool. I’m always there.

Over the last few years, we have seen huge improvements both physically and mentally through diet changes and keeping a food journal, including significant improvement with ADHD and emotional/sensory issues. It’s been a long journey, and each family member (including my husband and myself) has slightly different needs, which creates quite a long list of eliminations for me. In addition to avoiding all artificial (petroleum-based) dyes and preservatives, we are also gluten, dairy, corn, and largely egg-free. That means I cook—ALL THE TIME. My allergy-friendly kitchen is constantly whirring. But I don’t do it all by myself. That’s nearly impossible. Instead, I’ve recruited some helpers to share the load. I’m teaching my oldest to make bake: bread, rolls, muffins, hamburger/hot dog buns, etc. That’s right. I’ve got a gluten/dairy/corn/egg-free allergy-friendly bread machine recipe that is simple enough my fifth grader can make it.hands-on learning in the kitchen | allergy friendly kitchen

I’m not a gourmet chef, by a long shot. I’m an allergy-mom who’s just trying to keep food on the table. Much of this has been trial and error for me. The kids have watched me try, and they have graciously eaten my failures. I’d like to think that’s given them the courage to try cooking and baking without the pressure of everything turning out perfectly. (And if you are just starting on this path, keep your chin up. You’ll find your groove again. You’ll get comfortable with baking and cooking flops. And eventually, you’ll find something that works, too. There will be a new normal.)

I’ve loved sharing this recipe with my son and teaching him what I’ve been learning, the chemistry of baking and the logic behind substitutions. “What does the egg do in this recipe? What substitute will do that for us?” “Follow the recipe, sort of, but always keep an eye on your texture; that’s most important.” It’s been a great help and a fun bonding time. I think this summer, I may promote him to part-time cook.

 

Allergy-Friendly Bread Machine Recipe

Ingredients
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour with xanthum gum included (I use Namaste, not totally corn-free, but it’s worked for us.)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 package of Red Star active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. salt (I use sea salt.)
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (I use Hains baking powder.)
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice (Apple cider vinegar works, too, if you have a safe-for-you vinegar.)
  • 3 tsp. arrowroot powder, mixed in about 1/4 cup of water (just enough to dissolve the powder)
  • 1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups warm water
Directions

Mix flour, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl.

Add the salt and baking powder, then pour the lemon juice over the baking powder. Next, pour the arrowroot mixture over the baking powder. There should be a fair amount of bubbling and fizzing. Add the melted oil.

Mix the ingredients well. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Slowly add the warm water, mixing thoroughly before adding more. The amount of liquid needed will often vary. Mixture should be sticky and no longer dry, but be careful not to get the dough too wet or it will sink in the middle after it’s done baking.

Place mixture into the bread machine and follow bread machine settings for gluten free bread. Often this will mean a shorter rise time (My bread machine setting is 1 hr. 55 min. rapid rise setting).

*Some bread machines have a yeast dispenser, but I’ve personally never had success with that feature. I’ve also never had success with dumping ingredients in and letting my bread machine do the work; I’m assuming it’s all those substitute ingredients for an allergy friendly dough.*

**Disclaimer: As always, be sure to use safe-for-you ingredients to be sure that any recipe is truly safe for your allergies. **

gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, corn-lite bread recipe | allergy friendly kitchen

Homeschool Theme Days: ideas for spring and nature activities

spring and nature activities | homeschool theme day ideas

This time of year, I get about as antsy as the kids. The sun is out, everything is in bloom, and I want to be part of all that nature. The bookwork and crafts that have occupied us all year through the rainy season no longer hold their appeal. It’s time to bring school outside and to bring the outside indoors. It’s time for a homeschool theme day for spring!

Ideas for Spring and Nature Activities:

  • Create Nature Art. And I mean create WITH the nature. Start with a nature walk and allow the kids to pick their art tools and supplies from their nature finds. Create earth art outside with rocks, sticks, and leaves. Let them create their own little fairy or gnome village. Then take your art inside and create some more—paint with nature, paint on nature, or create a collage of their treasures. The possibilities for spring and nature activities are endless.

  • Add some science. I probably wouldn’t do both nature art and science, at least not on the same day, because I like my theme days to be fun without a ton of extra effort. But if you have a child that prefers science to nature art, here are some great ideas to incorporate science into your spring and nature activities. (And, of course, your more than welcome to do both!)

  • Read spring-themed or nature-themed books. Rabbit Hill is one of our favorites, as well as Clara D. Pierson’s Among the People series, or search some of the other great ideas.

  • Have a picnic! What’s a party without food? Go natural with lots of fruit to create fun snacks. There’s even some fun “lunch box” jokes to share at your picnic. (My kids love these!) Or enjoy your read-aloud of choice while you snack on your fun spring food. For an added surprise, you can even have a picnic for breakfast instead of lunch.

 

Let’s get outside! I can’t wait to celebrate spring. (For more spring and nature activities & ideas, check out my Homeschool Theme Days board.)

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How to do Nature Study (when you don’t have a clue)

how to do nature study when you're not an expert | nature study resources and tips

I love nature study, but please don’t read that and think I’m an expert. I can’t identify every plant and mushroom or tell you the name of every bird by listening to their song or even identify tracks and burrows. I don’t know all the answers to my kids’ questions, but I love studying and observing nature. Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with not knowing everything, and I’ve accumulated some favorite resources that help us study and identify our discoveries. I’ve learned how to do nature study, even when I don’t have a clue.

We started nature walks when my kids were very little. Gradually, we identified some favorite birds and plants common to our area. Then we moved from the east coast to the west coast. It was like moving to a different country! The birds are different, the plant life is different, the climate is different. The knowledge about nature that I had gained did us no good on our nature walks in our new tromping grounds. But we still loved nature study, and gradually we are discovering and learning the nature of our new home. My point is—you don’t need to be a nature expert to do a nature study with your kids. Instead, model the learning process with them.

nature study resources & tips | how to do nature study when you aren't an expert

Simple Steps for Nature Study

  1. Discover. Nature is all about discovery. It’s perfect for every age because there is always something for everyone, your preschooler to your high schooler. Sometimes I offer the kids a specific theme. Find signs of spring. Find signs of animal life. Find different leaf shapes. Kids are natural detectives, and mine have always craved a mission of discovery.
  2. Observe. Every nature walk, we take at least two items: our nature journals and a camera or my phone. (We also bring magnifying glasses, a field guide, and water bottles.) We choose “mystery” creatures and observe them closely, taking pictures and sketching in our journals so that we can go back later and research what they are. On our latest nature walk we had a journal full of unidentified discoveries—tracks, holes in the ground, two mystery birds, etc. We photographed each item and researched them in field guides, our local park and wildlife resource websites, and my favorite bird identifying app. Eventually, we identified nearly all of our mysteries, with lots of surprising results: cougar tracks, red-eared slider turtle nest, and a couple of new birds. The process is half the fun!
  3. Learn. I think the best part of nature study is that my kids see me learning beside them. I’m modeling with them what it means to discover, observe, and learn. I keep a nature journal and share my pages with them. I spend my birthday money on nature books and guides and studies. We read about it together. We learn how to keep a journal together. We enjoy and marvel at God’s creation together. They learn that it’s okay to not know the answer. It’s okay to be excited about a new creature or plant that we haven’t identified yet. And over the years, our repertoire of what we can identify is growing.

Below are a list of some of our favorite nature study resources. But I encourage you to find what you love, resources that work for you. As I followed nature study blogs and tried out different resources, I discovered that what many homeschoolers loved I absolutely hated. Handbook of Nature Study was a resource touted by many. I own it. I never use it. It just didn’t work for me. These are the books and nature studies we’ve used and loved, but you may have your own favorites (list them in the comments for us!)

steps to nature study | nature study resources & tips

 

Nature Journal resources

(Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. That simply means that when you click on the link and make a purchase, I get a small fee that helps me offset my blog and homeschool expenses. It doesn’t cost you a thing, and helps me a lot! For more info, feel free to read my disclosure.)

My nature journal

Oldest’s nature journal

(My daughter has nature study pages in her “Fun-schooling” journal, and my youngest just uses a spiral notebook.)

Nature Connection (I love all of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, but this one is my favorite.)

Nature Study Books and Guides

Discover Nature series (another author I love, Elizabeth Lawlor)

Book of Nature Projects

Clara D. Pierson’s Among the People Series (A living book at it’s finest, this fictional story provides lots of information about the lovable animal characters.)

NaturExplorers are another of my favorites! I love the nature walk ideas, the printable notebooking pages and scavenger hunts, the book recommendations, the art and music suggestions, and the emphasis. There is a ton to learn in these studies, but the emphasis is beauty and wonder not merely scientific observation. I love bringing the joy and wonder of nature into our nature walks and times together. While the ideas given are perfect for lower elementary, additional suggestions are provided for including the older student. When we first moved to the Pacific Northwest, we did a study on Remarkable Rain. I loved it! I loved the poetry, fictional tales, and art that rounded off our nature study. Currently, we are using the Animal Signs study, and loving it equally as much, especially the nature study notebooking pages provided in the study.

Nature study does not have to be intimidating. It doesn’t require a ton of research and preparation. It just takes opportunity. Take a walk in nature and notice what’s around you. That’s it! And chances are, your kids will do the rest for you.

Our Journey Westward

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. For more info, feel free to read my disclosure.)

Learning History Through Art: braving clay & other art adventures

learning history through art | bas relief | ancient history art | Tapestry of Grace | ARTistic Pursuits

I remember in the past making a lot of excuses when it came to big art projects in our Tapestry of Grace curriculum. But on an impulse this year, I bought some air-dry clay. Maybe it was the creative rush of a brand new Hobby Lobby just opening in our area, maybe I was feeling excessively optimistic about our year—whatever the mind-set, I ended up with a big box of clay and no excuses. So I’m trying something new this year and braving the clay as we learn our history through art of different cultures.

First up on our tour, has been bas-relief. It seemed simple enough, as we read the instructions and looked at examples in our ARTistic Pursuits book. Carve out an image, smoosh the clay away from what you carved, add details, paint.

And honestly, it was that simple. All the kids enjoyed it. And I do love it when all my kids get to learn something together, from preschool to fifth grade. We learned Assyrian and Babylonian history through art and clay. We’ve been reading about the Assyrians bas-relief battle campaigns and, of course, the famous Ishtar gate of Babylon. Even my preschooler knows where the Ishtar Gate is on his talking globe. The boys chose to carve a dragon and a minion, while my daughter was inspired by the idea of Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

ancien history | bas relief | history through art | preschool

This was a two week project, and part of my campaign to overhaul Mondays. If you follow my weekly updates via my email list, you know the struggle we’ve had with Mondays and my attempts to salvage something from these days. We do only math on Mondays, meet together about the upcoming assignments for the week, and do read-alouds and projects for the rest of the day. For this project, they shaped the clay one Monday and painted it the next.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

None of the many fiascos I envisioned actually occurred, and I’m thinking I may even be brave enough to tackle Greek clay vases in another week or two. Homeschooling stretches us, doesn’t it? But I’m (usually) always glad I’ve taken the risk and been brave enough to try something new. Learning history through art and hands-on activities and fun read-alouds is exactly why I homeschool, at least one of my million or so reasons.

Incorporating Drawing into Learning

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into learning

When I first started homeschooling my kids, I began with the homeschool style I identified with best (classical). It wasn’t a bad start. At five years old, my son had not shown a clear learning style yet, and I didn’t know his strengths or weaknesses. I had to start with what I did know. But over the years, I’ve shifted my style slightly. We are still predominantly classical, but it’s not easy to have a hard-core classical, literature-rich homeschool with all the ADHD we have going on!

I’m learning that the key to making our homeschool method work well is working within my kids’ learning styles and strengths, adding activities that they enjoy or that keep them active. For instance, my son LOVES to draw, so I’m incorporating drawing into more of his homeschool. Drawing is more than just art. For both of my kids, drawing focuses their attention on the details that their active minds and bodies would otherwise not notice. Drawing slows my ADHD kiddos down enough to catch the details.

Because I’ve already mentioned how we’ve been using some drawing and sketching to help my daughter through some of her dyslexia struggles, I wanted to let you behind the scenes to see how my 5th grade son has been incorporating drawing into his subjects.

Incorporating Drawing into Science

We are putting together our own science curriculum this year with an encyclopedia we love and some experiment kits. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been covering sound, which had him learning about the ear and how it works. The encyclopedia we use had a cool diagram. While I knew I could find some free worksheet somewhere for him to label, I also knew—my son LOVES to draw.

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into science

So I had him draw the ear and label it. Honestly, I wasn’t positive how this would turn out when I first assigned it, and my son’s reaction was not instant enthusiasm. But once he started this project, he was eagerly asking for more. And he did an awesome job! Also, the attention to detail that the drawing required helped him to notice more than simply labeling an ear would have.

Okay, so this won’t work for just any boy. But because drawing is his strength, incorporating drawing in this way was a serious win for us.

Incorporating Drawing into Geography

There’s lots out there about drawing maps from scratch as a way to learn geography, but because he was already drawing an ear I wanted to change it up a bit. My mom got us a light table for Christmas, and it has been a huge hit. We use it for everything, except school. I hadn’t tried that yet. So when I suggested he used the light table to trace his map of ancient Phoenicia, he was stoked!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into geography

Have you heard how ADHD kids can hyper-focus and have a rough time breaking away from something they enjoy? Yes, my son was so tuned into this assignment that he finished the entire week’s map assignment in a single day (we didn’t get math or language finished, but you know— you win some, you lose some). Hyper-focused is understating it.

The next week, when I gave him his new map, he immediately asked if he could use the light table again. Of course, I defined some terms of use this time.

Incorporating Drawing into Writing

My son loves writing as much as he loves drawing. In his spare time, my son is writing novels. But he doesn’t just love to write. He loves to draw and illustrate. If I give him a writing assignment, he’s on board. And if I ask him to illustrate his paper, draw a comic strip, or create a map for the setting of the story—he’s ecstatic!

hands-on learning | ADHD | incorporating drawing into writing

incorporating drawing | story writing | story settings

It’s hard to say if incorporating drawing into our homeschool is such a hit strictly because of their personalities or if it’s successful because it focuses some of that energy into a kinesthetic activity that helps them to slow down and pay attention to those tedious details. I honestly don’t care why or how it’s working, only that it is! And while I know not everyone’s kids love drawing in the same way my kids do, I’d love to encourage you to incorporate your child’s strengths (whatever they are) into your homeschool (whatever your homeschool style may be).

It’s not just about classical vs. delight-directed, it’s about using everything to our kid’s learning advantage.