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.

 

Using literature-rich curriculum with dyslexic and ADHD kids

literature-rich curriculum with dyslexia ADHD | Tapestry of Grace with special needs | classical homeschooling with learning struggles

I’ve made a lot of curriculum adjustments over the years, but one constant for us has been Tapestry of Grace, a classical, literature-rich curriculum. I love using a literature-rich curriculum in our homeschool—with busy, loud, active ADHD kids, one of which is also dyslexic! In our classically-inclined, charlotte-mason inspired homeschool, we use tons of books, lots and lots of them. Living books, classics, historical fiction, and engaging nonfiction books line my shelves, spill onto the floor, cover our dining room table, and sit by the door (in hopes that we’ll remember to return them to our library.) 

Using a literature-rich curriculum immerses my kids in a culture of reading. Reading is not a school subject. It’s not a checkbox on their assignment sheet. It’s our lifestyle. We read books together and on our own. We listen to books. We talk about books. We buy books. We borrow books. We make room for more books. Why choose a literature-rich curriculum like Tapestry of Grace for kids who are active and have language-struggles?

Three reasons to choose a literature-rich curriculum:

Exposure

We currently don’t use a “textbook” for any subject. Instead, we learn history, science, literature, etc. from library books, lots of library books. Last year, each of my kids read about 50 books each. We are on par for at least that this year, and that’s just for school; that doesn’t include the “just for fun” books. Using a literature-rich curriculum allows my kids to be constantly exposed to books. They are surrounded by them, and reading is a normal part of life—not just school but life itself.

This constant exposure to language through stories (whether audio books, read-alouds, or books they read themselves) has tremendously helped my daughter especially. She’s a strong, confident reader in spite of her challenges. She knows she doesn’t read as quickly or as easily as others, but she loves stories. And the exposure through so many senses and with so much variety, strengthens her understanding and skill in an otherwise challenging area for her.

So what does this exposure look like practically? I select several books for each kid on our topic that we will be covering for 2-4 weeks. For my oldest, I’ll suggest a couple of titles that I’d like him to read each week, chapter books often taking 2-3 weeks. Then, I’ll “strew” the other books around the house to tempt him to read more on the subject. Because my daughter requires a different approach, I’ve recently just assigned all the books for the term and allowed her to work through them at her own pace. She’s using (and loving) this funschooling journal along with her reading. She gets to creatively draw a picture, write a sentence, or choose some copywork from her book of choice to record in her journal. 

Variety

Honestly, I don’t think my busy rambunctious kids would be readers if we had chosen a traditional curriculum with textbooks and readers. The key to engaging my ADHD kiddos is variety, and Tapestry of Grace provides such fantastic variety. My kids are exposed to classics, biographies, picture books, historical fiction, encyclopedias, and more. Although my kids love books in general, they don’t love every book and are sometimes skeptical of a book I’ve assigned. So, I’ve instituted the “five chapter” rule. For all fiction, they must read at least read five chapters before they can decide whether or not to finish the book. In nearly every case, by the time they got to chapter 5 they were totally engaged. In some cases, the book even turned out to be a favorite. For nonfiction books, I don’t require them to read every word. They read for information, to learn certain facts, or to discover facts that interest them. In both instances, the variety of books means that there are books that appeal to all of my children for one reason or another. It also means that my kids have often discovered they were interested in a book or subject that they didn’t think they’d like.

The variety also allows my kids to connect with the subject matter in their own way, to make their own connections based on what interests them. My daughter connects with art, beauty, nature, and animals of a culture. My son connects with wars and weapons and inventions. They remember different things about the different time periods we are studying together. This has been awesome because as we share as a family what they’ve been reading and learning, we get such a wide spectrum of information.

Shared Experience

Books create memories. My kids have favorites they love to re-read. They have favorites that Daddy alone can read to them. (Babaji is a favorite from when they were very little that they still love to have him read—in character.) They have books that we share together as read-alouds. Books makes those moments special for us. Books bond us together, all snuggled on the couch listening to a story, or side by side each with our own book as we wind down for bedtime. Tapestry of Grace allows for tons of great book selections to always be available at every reading level. I don’t insist that every book be “read.” We have fond memories of listening to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Railway Children as audio books. And I don’t insist on reading every read-aloud myself. My kids read-aloud, too. This year, we’ve read selected chapters from the Story of the World and Grandpa’s Box to go along with our ancient history studies. It allows me to give the input and emphasis of our study, to draw out the major themes we are studying, but it also allows them the opportunity to contribute as well.

I have very fond memories of reading aloud with my mom, chapter by chapter through multiple books all the way through college. Even now when we visit each other, we select a book to read aloud together. I love those memories with my mom, and I love those memories with my kids.

There are so many reasons for choosing a literature-rich curriculum, even with a household of ADHD and dyslexia. My kids read upside down on the couch, under tables, outside, in giant refrigerator cardboard boxes with flashlights, or in the most cock-eyed positions. And we still stay very active, with lots of hands-on projects to supplement all that reading. But the constant exposure, variety, and shared experiences from using a literature-rich curriculum have been treasures to my family and to my kids.

How do you know if a literature-rich curriculum is a good fit for you?

  • Don’t let reading or attention struggles rule this out for you.
  • Do consider how committed you are to reading as a lifestyle. If you look at a literature-rich curriculum as simply school assignments to get done in a week, you will probably both hate it.
  • Do consider access to a good library. Honestly, a good one is worth paying for if you aren’t local. A good library allows that maximum exposure and variety without breaking your budget. I could never afford to keep my kids in books without our local library (and that’s where we find our great audiobooks).
  • Don’t assume that a particular learning style will prevent a child from enjoying literature. Instead, use that learning style as a means to enjoy literature.

It would be easy to see all that energy and assume my kids would never sit down long enough to read. But that just hasn’t been true of our family at all. Books are a calming constant. It wouldn’t be home without them.

Want to know more about how we use Tapestry of Grace with ADHD/dyslexia? Check out these posts:

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids

Celebrating progress with unit parties

Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer: out-of-the-box ideas for your out-of-the-box learner

teaching a reluctant writer | homeschooling dyslexia

Writer’s Block happens even to the most gifted writers, but it is a serious problem for our kids who hate writing or are intimidated by it. My dyslexic daughter definitely falls into the category of the reluctant writer, not that she doesn’t have ideas. This child is always bursting with creative ideas for everything, but trying to find words for those ideas is tough. Even more so if she is required to think of those words on the spot or under pressure.

We know that the first step to writing is brainstorming, compiling a list of ideas and choosing the best from that list. But how do we get our reluctant writers to even get started with this list? Here’s a BIG Tip: don’t make them write it! 

I’ve taught writing in many settings over many years—to college freshman, to sophomore and junior English and pre-law majors, to kids in homeschool co-ops, and of course, to my own kids. And one strategy I like to try when working with reluctant or intimidated writers is trying to plug into their other strengths, the areas where they are confident. If I could tap into an area of creativity where they were confident, the ideas flowed much more freely. We all have ideas, but each of us processes those ideas uniquely. Connect with your reluctant writer on their level with their gifts.

Ideas for Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer

  1. Is your reluctant writer a talker? Let her talk and talk and talk. Ask questions. Encourage her that there are no bad ideas right now. Just whatever pops into her head. You can be her scribe and write down the ideas as she says them, or you can just listen until she finds her favorite ideas and is ready to start writing.
  2. Is your reluctant writer an artist? Let him draw! Don’t make him describe the room with words; let him draw it first and then tell you about his drawing. Let him create a comic strip of the story first, then narrate the story to you from the comic strip. Let him sketch the abandoned shack before he describes it to you. Let him draw a diagram before he tells you the steps to building the marshmallow launcher.
  3. Is your reluctant writer an actor? Let him act out his ideas. If he starts using sound effects instead of words, ask him what is happening. When he’s done, retell the story back to him to see if you understood it correctly. Write down what he says, or record it and let him transcribe the video.

Remind them that bad ideas and good ideas are all a part of this process; sometimes those bad ideas lead to the best ones. If your child is a perfectionist, trying to think of the perfect idea will also lead to reluctance and writer’s block. Try playing some games to get the ideas flowing. A couple of games I love are Story Cubes (there are several varieties) and WriteShop Story Prompts. Play one of these games as a warm up before you get started.

Once the ideas are flowing, help your reluctant writer to capture those ideas before they disappear. Act as the scribe and write down what your child says. Or, use a voice recording device and allow your child to replay her narration as many times as she needs in order to write it down. Writing is a complicated process that we tend to take for granted. And it’s often very tough for our kids, particularly our dyslexic kids, to have an original thought, remember that thought long enough to write it down, and then write it correctly onto paper.

Reluctance usually comes from fear. Remove the fear, the intimidation factor, and you very well could have a budding author in your midst.

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.)

When a pinterest-fail is NOT a homeschool-fail

Learning is about discovery, not perfection. | homeschool success | imperfect progress

I love Pinterest for homeschool inspiration. But for all that inspiration, my homeschool isn’t always “pinterest-worthy.” Sometimes our projects are very nearly pinterest-fails. And yet in those moments, I see my kids beam with admiration. They aren’t comparing their creativity to the perfect projects online; they are glorying in their learning success, reveling in the joy of creating something original. So why should I compare our imperfect homeschool progress to someone else’s? Learning is about discovery, not perfection. A pinterest-fail is NOT a homeschool-fail.

Case in point, we’ve tackled clay this year. And my kids have loved it! There is something soothing about wet, squishy clay that even my uber-sensory-sensitive child enjoys. We’ve tackled bas-relief, clay pottery, and sculpture. It’s been so much fun, and my kids will remember this year and our clay adventures for quite awhile, even though much of what they have created would not be necessarily pinterest-worthy. Our pinterest-fail is NOT a homeschool-fail; it’s imperfect homeschool progress.

 

not homeschool-fail | imperfect homeschool progress

My lesson plan was Greek pottery, but my kids had ideas of their own—including sculpting Alexander the Great (and a monkey face but somehow I didn’t end up with a picture of that one, another example of my imperfection for you). And just one week later, my daughter dropped her bowl while painting it, shattering it into pieces. Her presentation to her homeschool friends that week included how she had learned that Greek pottery is fragile.

Our display boards are another pride and joy. They worked hard on those projects and loved every minute of the journey, but few will find those images on Google and stand in awe. That’s okay! Because my purpose was not to impress others with our artistic ability. My purpose was to create lasting memories that fuel their love for learning.

Do you find yourself skipping a project because you know your kids can’t produce what you see on Pinterest or Instagram?

Are you tempted to micromanage the project to make it look better?

Are you embarrassed to share the final result?

Trust me, I’ve been there. But I’ve realized over the years it doesn’t matter; I’ve learned to share our homeschool imperfections proudly. As we cycled through history this year, I listened to my kids share about our first time through ancient history, squeal with delight when they saw favorite stories from five years ago, and recall for each other our first projects and adventures. I loved hearing their memories and realizing, this is why I make the effort at hands-on family learning. Not so that someone will re-pin our Nile River or our bas-relief, but because my kids will remember the year we played with clay and learned all about Greece and Rome. A pinterest-fail is NOT a homeschool-fail. No matter what others may see, we remember a huge homeschool success!