Ideas for battling Summer Boredom

battling summer boredom | helping kids set goals and expectations | bucket list for kids

We are officially on summer break from our homeschool year, and on the very first day my kids were already wandering around aimlessly asking for screen time. Not even a full 24 hours in, and my kids were already bored! But not for long. I have a plan for battling summer boredom, Christmas break boredom, basically any kind of boredom. And it’s really simple.

Battling Summer Boredom with a Bucket List

The very first activity for every break includes creating bucket lists. While my little (rising Kindergartener) is a too young to have an official list, he has plenty of ideas to contribute. Both my older kids make out their own list. Essentially, their bucket list is their list of ideas for what makes a successful summer break. I ask questions like what would you be disappointed that you didn’t get to do by the end of the summer? What activities have you been really wanting to do but haven’t had the time because of school?

In other words, my kids’ strategy for battling summer boredom is setting goals and expectations for their summer. Whenever they act bored or a little lost, I refer them back to their list or, in true parenting style, offer to give them some work to do.

Place to Go

This is the easy part for my kids. They always have a long list of places they’d like me to take them. By having them write it down, I’ve shown that I’m aware of their desire to do that, and that I have all summer to follow through. They understand that not everything on their list is possible (i.e. a trip to LegoLand), but in the first week, I try to get to one or two of their top places to show my commitment to them. We are going to make the most of our break. Most places are simple: the beach, a swimming pool, the park, the movies, the science museum, camping, etc. Some times, I have them rank their places to go so that I know what to make a priority. For the most part, this is my only responsibility on the list, but it eliminates the nagging when they get bored if it’s already written down somewhere.

Things to Do

My kids are always full of big ideas; its one of the upsides to ADHD. From huge lego productions and i-stop motion creations, to puppet shows and other dramatic endeavors—my kids have ideas for tons of major enterprises that require time and pooling of resources. There are also ideas like riding their bicycles or scooters, playing baseball or football with friends, having a picnic, and of course, watching particular movies or playing Wii.

Skills to Work on

I coach my kids through this section to help them set some summer goals. What desserts do you want to learn how to make this summer? What meal do you want to learn how to cook? How many new chords or songs do you want to learn on your instrument? Do you want to sketch something or paint something? Including this in their plan for battling summer boredom gives them direction and helps me make a few summer plans myself.

Interests to Pursue

In some ways, this is similar to the “skills to work on” but a little broader. Basically, was their something from this year’s school that you wish you’d had time to learn more? Is there something you’ve been wanting to explore that you haven’t had the time to explore? Maybe it’s coding or survival skills, maybe it’s bracelet making or pottery, maybe it’s looking at more things under the microscope—whatever! This can be broad, and sometimes they have something to add while other times they don’t. I don’t force the issue, but I always ask, just in case it lights a fire.

Books to Read

Of course, we all want our kids reading during the summer. Maybe your child has a series of books they want to read or reread, or maybe it’s a goal of a certain number of books or pages they want to read. For my kiddos, I keep them very busy with assigned reading during the year, good books that often become favorites for them, but there’s a lot of them. And my kids often don’t have the time they would like to pursue personal reading—until break time. I’m okay with that, because I know it adds extra motivation for them to continue reading during break. One of the things my kids get most excited about is reading whatever they want. I don’t have rules about “twaddle” or how age-appropriate or anything else. As long as the book doesn’t compromise any of our core family values, my kids can have at it. That first library trip of the summer is their favorite. And because all the rules are off, even my dyslexic daughter gets excited about reading her favorites, including her old favorites she’s read many times over.

There are a couple of fun reading challenges for the summer, if you are looking for a little extra direction or motivation. Join the Reading the World Book Club and even turn it into a missional fundraiser. Or, create a Tower of Books challenge.

We are already busy checking off some of those summer bucket list ideas and making the most of our summer break. Battling summer boredom is so much easier with our lists, and by summer’s end, my kids can measure just how awesome their summer was by what got checked off the bucket list.

Teaching Spelling While Homeschooling Dyslexia

teaching spelling | homeschooling dyslexia | right-brained homeschool spelling curriculum for kinesthetic and visual-spatial learners

Teaching my daughter to read was a challenge. We both fought hard to win that battle. But just as she was finally making strides in reading, her phonics curriculum switched from an emphasis on reading to an emphasis on spelling, and her performance plummeted while her anxieties surged. No matter what technique we tried, no matter how long we spent going over words, she couldn’t spell. Half way through her second grade year, it was clear we were dealing with dyslexia. Teaching my dyslexic daughter to read was tough; teaching spelling to my dyslexic daughter has seemed impossible on many, many days.

My daughter has a beautiful way of seeing the world that is uniquely her own. Unfortunately, this creates challenges for her when it comes to language. The spring of her second grade year, we abandoned teaching spelling with a traditional curriculum and opted for a homeschool dyslexia therapy instead. She completed Dyslexia Games level A that year, and we followed it up with Dyslexia Games level B her third grade year. My technique was constant exposure. Without a spelling curriculum, she practiced spelling on her dyslexia apps, her Dyslexia Games therapy, her keyboarding program, and some various copywork exercises.

This coming fall, we will be tackling our first spelling curriculum in a year and half. She’s still below grade level, but I’m hopeful she’ll continue to make strides with our new spelling curriculum, A Reason for Spelling.

The pros and cons of standardized testing for homeschoolers

pros and cons of standardized testing for homeschoolers

Though standardized testing might not always be the best method of assessing a child, sometimes, as homeschoolers, we find ourselves without a choice. Currently, we are in a homeschool situation that requires regular testing. It’s taught me a lot, about myself, about my kids, about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Whether you are deciding if testing is right for you or trying to make the best of a state-mandated testing policy, here are some pros and cons of standardized testing that may help you gain a little perspective.

The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing for homeschoolers

Cons of Standardized Testing

I love the emphasis that learning styles have received, in both homeschool and public education. I love that we are appreciating differences in learning and equipping kids to understand how they learn. But the great irony is that while we are making strides in educating according to the different learning styles, we are still assessing in one style—the standardized test. Consequently, my number one reason for disliking testing is that it is, more often than not, an inaccurate reflection of what a child knows.

Tests are long, boring, and intimidating. Children zone out, or don’t test well. If the material is asked in a way the child is not familiar, he may answer incorrectly even if he knows the material. Tests hurt a child’s self-image, especially if that child is already insecure about certain learning struggles. And honestly, nothing kills a love for learning like struggling through a standardized test. I’ve seen smart children (including my own) feel like they are losers or stupid because of a less than gratifying score. For all the time we spend praising differences, standardized tests reduce a child’s learning to a single line on the graph. And not every child is going to follow that graphed trajectory. We don’t expect them to be on the same trajectory for height or weight at the doctor’s office. The growth of their bodies is expected to vary, but the growth of their brain is supposed to march along the same upward incline as everyone else.

Pros of Standardized Testing

My kids have struggled and excelled on standardized tests at varying points in time. Being in a situation that requires testing has been a growing process for all of us. But as my kids struggle through the emotional roller coaster of testing and test scores and national averages and learning trajectories, etc., we’ve learned a lot, too. Sometimes, the tests confirm struggles I felt we had, learning gaps I was pretty sure were there. Sometimes, a test will help a homeschool parent see a struggle she wasn’t aware of at all. But perhaps the greatest advantage to testing, the one I remind my kids about each time testing comes around, is the practice and preparation for life. For better or for worse, our culture is a testing culture. Driving tests, college entrance tests, college midterm and final exams, further education for job training, performance and certification testing—bottom line, our children will grow up to be adults who have to take tests.

If your kids are anything like mine, they have a lot of testing anxieties. Both my older kids have an ADHD diagnosis, my daughter has anxiety and dyslexia, and both panic any time you say “timed” anything. We’ve worked for years on the “timed” test anxieties, and made great strides. Now, in one sense, we are stepping up that test anxiety with standardized testing and scores. I tell my kids that standardized testing is merely practice for the tests that matter. My kids are told to do their best, but not to stress about the final score. The end goal right now: learn to take a test.

By the time my kids have to take the ACT or SAT, they will have had lots of experience with standardized testing, without the pressure of performing. They will have had lots of time and room to grow beyond the anxieties they experience today. They will learn what questions look like and will have the maturity to think critically and problem solve. There will be a day when the test matters, but for right now, standardized testing is just practice for life.

Whether you have the choice to test, or the choice was made for you, your child can benefit from your knowing the pros and cons of standardized testing. A whole lot about the testing experience is determined by the adults involved. Coach your child through the process and the results. In the end, it could be a great asset to your child’s curriculum for life.

Homeschool planning a new year

homeschool planning and curriculum | thinking through a new homeschool year

As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.

I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.

So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.

My steps to homeschool planning:

Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace

I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.

Gathering our other curriculum.

I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.

Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.

In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.

Tackling the master plan.

Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)

Organizing the resources.

This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)

Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia

There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!

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Filling in the Gaps in your child’s education

filling in the gaps in your child's education

It happens. Maybe you switched curriculum mid-year, maybe you transferred from a brick and mortar school to homeschool, maybe your child has special needs, maybe you just flat out missed some spots. Gaps happen. Filling in the gaps in your child’s education does not have to be stressful or intimidating. Here are a few ideas to fill in the gaps gently and easily.

Ideas for Filling in the Gaps in your Child’s Education

Catch it next year.

So much material is reviewed each year. If your child’s educational gap is not a glaring one, you may be able to just hone in on it more firmly next year. Take a look at your curriculum for the coming year, identify when that particular topic will show up and make sure you allow plenty of time to cover it thoroughly. Sometimes, a “gap” could just be that your child wasn’t developmentally ready to handle that new skill or concept. Just being a few months older could make all the difference for your child when you are filling in the gaps in their education.

Tackle it during the summer.

Keep in mind, I’m not even suggesting that you have to do a full school load all summer. But if there is a subject or a topic that you feel warrants a little extra attention, spend 20-30 minutes a day. Just that little bit of time for an extra month or two may help your child leap forward in time for the new school year.

Reinforce it with extra activities.

I use this technique with my daughter. Her “gap” is actually an on-going weak area for her: spelling. Because of her dyslexia, spelling is her nemesis. She is easily a year or two behind in the subject, but she’s making progress. My technique is constant exposure. Spelling is not a single subject that she does for specific time each day; it’s something I subtly add anywhere I can. I had her do typing lessons everyday, and not just for the keyboarding skills; I wanted her to see and make words correctly. Each week, she made her own list of words by hunting words of a certain length:  a list of four letter words one week, a list of five letter words the next week, a list of six letter words, etc. She also had a couple of different spelling apps that she used throughout each week (Dyslexia Quest and Simplex). Next year, I’m adding a formal spelling curriculum that provides a lot of non-traditional practice (A Reason for Spelling—we are both very excited about this program). And I’ll be adding calligraphy and zentangle word-art projects for her to work on. By exposing her to spelling in all of these different areas, we are reinforcing her weak area. This is an area that may always need a little extra attention, but she’s making progress.

Filling in the gaps in our child’s education does not need to send us into a panic, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a minute to assess how much help your child may need and then give one of these ideas a try. Have some other ideas for how you’ve filled in the gaps? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to add them to my list.

Surviving Homeschool Curriculum Overwhelm

homeschool curriculum overwhelm | finding the right homeschool curriculum

I recently got to venture to a large homeschool conference with a homeschool vendor hall of over 120 exhibitors. That’s a lot of books and a lot of options. As we visited with one vendor, just 30 minutes after the event opened, the vendor mentioned having a tearful conversation with a new homeschool mom who was already overwhelmed. As fun as all those options can be, it’s also a whole lot to take in. If that’s you, tearfully surveying all those options and feeling completely lost, here are a few tips for surviving homeschool curriculum overwhelm.

Surviving Homeschool Curriculum Overwhelm

Realize it’s trial and error, not pass or fail. Our success does not depend on our choices in the vendor hall or in our online shopping cart. We don’t need all of this to succeed, and we won’t fail if we make the wrong choice. Even an experienced homeschooler makes choices that don’t work out as well as they’d hope. It’s just part of the process, constantly making adjustments. But you have time to find your stride, and you won’t ruin your child’s education in a day, or a month, or a year. There are plenty of free resources to fill any gaps or rough edges you may discover as the year rolls on.

Remember it takes time to educate a child (as in 12 years!) It was comical to walk the aisles of the vendor hall and see all the promises the different products made: master multiplication in 10 days, learn a new language in a month, teach grammar in 15 minutes—you get the idea. Educating our kids can seem urgent, and in our frustration it’s easy to want a quick fix to our struggles. But the reality is, it takes time to teach our kids. I’m not saying these tools aren’t helpful and even amazing, but we set ourselves up for burnout and frustration if we plan our year according to these promises. Even with a great curriculum, it may take you longer than 10 days to master multiplication, and that’s okay.

Recognize that books and lesson plans are just tools. I’ve made a meal in someone else’s kitchen before, without my go-to tools and favorite appliances. It’s possible, not always convenient and maybe a little frustrating, but definitely possible. Homeschooling is the same way. Any of these tools will work to get the job done. Some of them may not end up being your favorite go-to item, but the real curriculum we teach from is life itself. There are so many hours and opportunities to teach what your child needs to know, and so much of it will happen when and where you least expect it. Maybe it will be from that shiny, new exciting publication you picked up from the vendor hall, and maybe it will come from the walk in the park this summer. 

I remember the days when there weren’t as many choices and options, when my mom did the best she could with what she had and improvised. And a lot of the options and resources we have today are because of those brave moms who innovated and improvised. I’m so thankful for them! I’m thankful for the richness their ideas have brought to my kids’ education. Surviving the homeschool curriculum overwhelm begins with seeing these as what they are—options, a wide range of good options. Start somewhere; and in one sense, it doesn’t matter exactly where. 

Read more about finding curriculum for ADHD and recognizing your child’s learning style.