Home School Co-ops:  How and Why?

 Australian and Asian Animal parade at Milw. Zoo 1990

Australian and Asian Animal Parade

If you are looking for a way to break away from the monotony of textbooks and wish to add a little life to your curriculum, co-ops are the way to go!  I’m not referring to such things as enrichment classes which can serve something like 80 families and 150 students, though in a sense, they are a co-op.  What I’ll be discussing here is small co-ops of a handful of families focused on studying the same topic for a set amount of time.  When planning a co-op there are several things to be considered:  How do you go about choosing families for your co-op?  How controlling should you be?  What type of problems might you run into?  How can you choose and limit activities?  I will give you the basic model we created that has proven very successful for co-ops I have been involved in, and then go on to answer the other questions and concerns.  In another article, I will share some of the different events and activities we did as a group.

Ideally, the co-op should enhance your chosen topic without putting undo time and energy constraints on its participants.  Your co-op doesn’t have to be a year long thing.  You can plan a 1 or 2 month commitment if you want. Truthfully, I can’t co-op continuously.  At most, I can do two years in a row.  Co-ops expend a lot of creative energy and can burn you out if you don’t take occasional breaks from them.

Civil War

Civil War Co-op

We’ve been involved in a number of co-ops over the years. Some have been wonderful.  Some have added extra stress to our home school. Some were just for a social outlet. By the grace of God and the pioneering spirit of the early home school families, we managed to create a beautiful model with the first co-op we attempted.  For the most part, we have used the same basic set up for all the other co-ops we ran.  Here is the model we created:

  1. Keep it limited to about 6-8 families (You will likely need to “close” your group at some point to keep it from ineffectively growing out of control.)
  2. Choose the families carefully; you need to have similar expectations and similar commitment levels.
  3. Choose a topic to study together; let each family study the subject as they see fit at home, but focus on being prepared for upcoming co-op activities.
  4. Lay out a schedule for the semester/year appointing two families to organize the events for any given month. (It works much better to have two moms working together rather than assigning one mom to take on all the planning for any given event.) Every month a different set of moms steps up to the plate so there is not too much burden on any one family.  Alternatively, we had each mom team take two months in a row and then they were done hosting for the year.
  5. We liked to meet twice a month, once for a field trip or speaker pertaining to our topic of study and once for a group event (a themed banquet, learning new skills, an art project, each family giving a presentation, etc.).
  6.  Limit your activities.  Weed out those that are less valuable or too demanding in time, money or energy.  Even still, it is possible to incorporate several different activities into a single group activity day.
  7. While only two families are involved in the organizing for each month (Be SURE to rotate this responsibility!), ALL the families are assigned a contribution of some sort whether it’s bringing supplies, bringing food, preparing their own presentation, etc.
  8. Make a clean “end” to your co-op, thereby freeing yourself to move on and/or create a new co-op with other families (or some of the same). Things get stale if the same 6 families keep trying to carry on co-ops together year after year.
Prairie Family gets a visit from Mr. Lincoln

Pioneer Days

CHOOSING FAMILIES

The chemistry of the families involved can make or break a co-op.  Be a little exclusive here.  If you have a friend or two that you know would love to do this with you, invite them privately and let each of the 3 families invite one other family to the group.  You don’t have to advertise that you are starting a co-op.  Personally, I have a hard time saying no to anyone, but when it comes to co-ops, if you’re not willing to draw some lines, you may as well skip co-oping.  Completely open co-ops are dsestined to fail.

You have to have somewhat like-minded families for this to work.  If one family wants to be really laid back and focus on crafts and another family wants to have each child deliver a 10 page report, you’re going to have problems.  If two moms are working their bottoms off and the other 4 are sitting in the other room just chatting with one another, that’s not going to work well either.  You need families committed to participating and not just taking.  There’s nothing wrong with focusing on crafts OR research papers; just make sure the group is like-minded.

Castle Construction

Building Castles with the Middle Ages Co-op

Another question is what to do about younger siblings.  We have always allowed preschoolers to participate.  And it was an unspoken rule that parents would keep their younger children involved or otherwise involve them quietly in a corner of the room so as not to disrupt the activity or stress the hostess.  It is also important to understand the necessity of respecting the home and belongings of the host family.  Again – Keep your co-ops small and manageable.

There are other reasons for limiting the size of the group.  First of all, if you are meeting in somebody’s home, it’s unreasonable to have 30 kids show up.  Secondly, it’s important that everybody does their fair share.  If every participating family doesn’t have to carry a share of the load, you will end up with uncommitted families that will take advantage of those that are willing to put in the work.  Usually you want at least 2 families working together to “host” any given event, but if you get more than 3 or 4 families hosting, it becomes “too many hands in the pot”. Finally, you will find if you limit the number of families, it will be a more intimate group where real friendships have a chance to blossom and grow and it is unlikely that anyone will be ignored or left out.  Also, it’s less intimidating to plan and activity or make a presentation before 12 peers than it is before 30.  Big enough to share the load, small enough to avoid cliques – that’s my recommendation.

If you don’t know many families, you may have to just publicly put your feelers out there on your local home school forum or facebook group.  If that’s the case, really spell out what you are looking for – something like this:

Oregon Trail Day

Oregon Trail Re-enactment

“Fun family of upper-elementary students looking for 5-7 other families to co-op for two months on the Solar System and two more months on the Oregon Trail.  You can choose to join us for either or both studies.  We will not be following any particular curriculum.  We will have a planning meeting for each co-op to decide exactly what we want to do as a group, but other than that focus, you use whatever materials you like to study the subject.  We will meet twice a month for each co-op alternating between field trips or speakers and hands-on activities and presetnations.  You must have a student in the 3rd – 5th grade level to join.  Older and younger siblings are welcome to participate as well.  We expect all children to be kept under control and to be respectful and cooperative.  Each family will commit to helping organize one of the two events for each study.  Failure to hold up your end of the bargain may result in asking you to leave the co-op so other “cooperative” families can fill your spot.  We will limit the co-op to a maximum of 8 families.  If more families than that are interested and willing to commit, we may break into two groups.  If you are interested, please call …”

You can also put out a more general announcement such as, “Is anybody else studying The Oregon Trail or the solar system?  We might be interested in doing a few group activities together.”  Gather whoever is interested, then split into groups based on ages and/or levels of commitment.  It’s possible only one or two families end up responding and it becomes evident you won’t work well together.  If that’s the case, just graciously decline and say you’ve decided a group might not be best for you at this time.

With a little planning, a good dose of commitment, and the careful choosing of participants, co-op groups can add tremendous depth and fun to your home school experience.

Next time, I will share some of the things we’ve done together in co-ops and other ideas for group activities.

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My Blog is Up Again

Old Folks + Technology = Comical

I’m so sorry to anybody who has tried to get to my blog these past few days. I was experiencing technical confusion. Not only was my blog inaccessible, but in trying to problem solve, I inadvertently deleted the first copy of my recent post along with all the nice “likes” I got so quickly. There were issues with my domain name, but I didn’t know about them because I had used my gmail account to register my name. That would be the very same gmail that I’ve periodically tried to get to for at least a year. So desperate was I that I even humbly admitted to my tech savvy sons that their old mom couldn’t find her inbox and needed help. They couldn’t come down to my level of inefficiency far enough to even understand how that problem could even exist. Well, today I conquered. I’ve both fixed the issues with my website AND I found my inbox ! (thereby being able to see the notifications about the problem) Unfortunately, I got so excited, I forgot to note how I got there.

Suffice it to say, my blog is up and running again.  The changes this year will bring SHOULD allow me the time to do more writing.  Please come and explore what I share. Invite friends and leave “likes” and comments. It’s very encouraging to me and it broadens my perspective to hear from you. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

~ Beth

Resolutions Can Be Fun

NYE - sisters

The Z Sisters Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Being a bit slow on the draw, I’m not usually ready by New Year’s Eve to make resolutions, plans or goals for the coming year. Seriously folks, I’m still in recovery mode from Christmas at that point. So be it. I’m trying to clear away the cobwebs now and make a plan for this new year that has fallen upon me. Of course there are the usual “wishes” — eat healthier, more exercise, drop oodles of weight. I DO want to do those things but I have an issue with confusing discipline with punishment. Perhaps that’s something I can work on this year — reprogramming my brain to truly believe that adding disciplines is a form of helping (even loving?) myself rather than the punishment I conceive it to be. But for now, I want to set some goals that I really look forward to putting into action — things that will represent a life change and not just a one year commitment.

A few years back, having been inspired by the movie “Julie and Julia”, I set a New Year’s goal to try a new recipe every week. That was quickly altered to 52 new recipes in 2010. And yes, I did have to make about 10 recipes that final week of the year to meet that goal but meet it I did. This was probably the first time I followed through on a New Year’s resolution and it opened my eyes to the fact that resolutions can be really fun!

In more recent years, I’ve focused on a few more areas in my life that needed changing. I don’t remember if they were New Year changes or just mid-year revelations but I found it took about a year of exercising them before they started to become reflexive.

First off, I determined to be more open and flexible to accept the blessings God has offered to me through allowing Him to work through me. This meant working toward not waking up with a rigid agenda for my day.  It meant adding more margin to my life — a good topic for another post.  It meant waking up with a plan, but being open to altering it without complaint when the phone rang with a need, or someone in my home needed to focus on restoration instead of tasks. It meant adding the phrase, “Why not?” to my thought process. This is a continuing work in progress, but one that has added incredible depth to my life. It was the seed that began to germinate and grow into this blog.

NYE - Margie

My mom celebrated her 89th New Year’s Eve with us.

Ironic as it may be,  just as I’m in the middle of writing this, I got a phone call. This one was a sister-in-law saying she would take care of checking in on my mom for me this bitter cold afternoon which frees me up to stay cuddly and warm a few more hours and allows me to finish this post. Being flexible to what God has planned for my day has also made me much more willing to except these blessings as he opens up time I didn’t think I’d have. If you know me well, you know it’s a near miraculous change in my heart which allows me to accept help.

Moving on … At one point, God spoke to my heart and told me He didn’t ask me to fix or control the situation, but only to love the people he placed in my life. (The seedling to the sub-heading of this blog — “Love the ones God gives you.”) This has brought some healing and restoration to close relationships in my life.   God continues to bring people into our lives that can benefit from the spontaneous type of hospitality we have to offer, and this has greatly enriched our home. Making this change in my heart was a crucial step in strengthening my soul to be able to strong-arm my depression into submission. And guess what! It’s way more enjoyable to share love than condemnation. Who knew?

Last year, as a New Year determination, I decided to take action when a friend or I said, “We really need to get together.” Realizing how frequently that phrase is tossed about, and how seldom it is followed through, I determined when I came upon it I was going to follow it up with setting up a time and place. I know that is not a measurable goal. We are not supposed to say, “I am going to do more of …”; we are supposed to say something like, “I will reconnect with 10 friends this year.” That type of defined goal has it’s place, but I wasn’t looking for a checkoff list here. I was looking more toward the live life intentionally type of thing. For me, it worked. Looking back, I had many long and enjoyable walks and lunches with family and friends in 2014 because of this determination. So, I’m not going to check that off and move on now, I’m going to continue to make relationships a priority in this way, but I’m ready to add another aspect to my live life intentionally plan.

This will be a change of seasons year for me. I will be completing my 26 year career of home schooling my sons and possibly looking at an empty nest by this time next year.  Of course, this opens me up to the opportunity to pursue “career” options which might even provide an income.  (Oh!  The thought of having a second income!)  It also frees me up to consider ways in which I might minister to others.  It will be a year of deep reflection and considerations.  There will be time for that.

For now, this is what lies on my heart:

First – I want to be more intentional about offering appreciation.  This too is a topic for another post, but to sum it up, I am SO wary of pretentious flattery, that I often neglect genuine appreciation.  I’ve been becoming increasingly aware at how hard it is to WANT to bless someone who never appreciates what you do.  This is a lesson I want to change in our family dynamics and one which I’d like to pass on to the next generations.  I will start with working on it myself.

Secondly – I like traditions. They lay the foundations for memories. But, if you just keep adding traditions, they will soon become prison bars. Often, when people try something new, and it turns out to be fun, they want to add it to the traditions. Thus variety becomes monotony. Now, whenever we get together, or whenever we celebrate this event, we will add this activity or eat this food. My siblings, sibs-in-law and I  had an in-depth discussion on this topic. This is a tough nut to crack with my extended family as they are notorious for wanting to make everything a tradition. My sons tried to get me to understand the flaw in this thinking a couple of years ago and it has taken me a lengthy amount of time chewing this cud before I was really able to digest it. I think I’ve got it now and I want to approach this year with an intentionality* to add variety without making the variety a new obligation or … dare I say it? … to replace some of the old traditions with new ones?  (*My reference tools tell me “intentionality” is not a word; it should be a word.) The sibs/sibs-in-law discussion came to the conclusion that switching up what foods we bring to the holidays might be within reason, but everybody, including myself, jumped all over my brother-in-law when he suggested we could switch up who hosted each of the holidays. One step at a time.

God bless your new year.  I’ll be sharing where this season-changing year takes me as it unfolds.  Please share what you are actively working on changing in your life.

— Beth

Home School Help – Tending to Toddlers and Preschoolers


Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

It is very easy to neglect your toddlers or preschoolers while trying to carry out your home school responsibilities. Younger children without a doubt, create a challenge for any mom, especially the home school mom.  We are torn between guilt and frustration as our younger children wander aimlessly about through their day, trashing the house and interrupting our teaching efforts. This post is to remind you that you are a family first, and a school second.

If you have read my earlier post on LESSON PLANNING, you will find that to be a great start in being able to make more time for your young children.  School-aged children with a weekly lesson plan in hand have far more direction and need far less of Mom’s constant attention.  In addition to making out a plan for your students, make out a plan for your pre-schoolers (even toddlers) as well.  How detailed you want to make this is up to you, but it should have at least these two things:  Every day you should have at least one special play activity scheduled.  You should also schedule at least one older child per day to spend an hour of playtime (or reading time) with the younger ones.  (Write their assigned time right on their school lesson plans.)  These two items alone could well give you two hours a day to focus on school without neglecting the little ones.  In addition, schedule time for you to spend with your younger children.  If you don’t consciously schedule it, it often gets forgotten.  I know it may not be possible to spend a large chunk of time, and maybe you can’t even get it in every day, but at least a few days a week plan an activity alone with this child.  It could be as simple as reading a book, playing hide and seek for 15 minutes, or letting them help you put groceries away.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Make sure each of your older children has at least one hour a week (each having their scheduled day/s) assigned to playtime with their younger siblings.  It would be best, but not necessary,  if these hours were scheduled at the same time each day.  Little ones thrive on routine.  It might also come in handy to give students a ½ hour assignment to play with the baby at those times when their brain needs a break.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour "assignment" to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour “assignment” to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

Now, about those daily special play activities – Pick at least one item each day that is done only on that day of the week, during school time.  You can even call it their  “school”  if it helps.  A sample schedule might look like this:

Monday:  stringing beads

Tuesday:  playdough

Wednesday:  pattern blocks

Thursday:  popcorn play*

Friday:  painting

* By Popcorn Play I mean buy a 25# bucket of popcorn seeds from Sam’s Club and set it aside just for play use.  Dump it into a large, wide container (We’ve found a plastic toboggan to work particularly well, otherwise and underbed storage container will work nicely.) and let them play with it like sand — measure, pour, make roads, bury things.

You could even plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon.  The child should be where you can keep an eye on him, but try to plan activities that he can do without much assistance.  By allowing these activities only on the assigned days, it keeps the interest level high and your child will play at the activity much longer, thereby developing a healthy attention span.  Also introduce you child to daily chore assignments, and allow him to sit in on school when possible.  My 3 year olds loved to cuddle up on the couch when we were reading aloud even if they had no clue about what was being read.  It’s just a nice “belonging” thing to do.  If my boys were playing phonogram Bingo, we gave the preschooler a card and they’d tell him where to put the marker chips.  If they were using math manipulatives, their younger siblings were right beside them building things out of the same manipulatives.  Always let them sit in on fun stuff like science experiments and art projects.  And finally take full advantage of their naps!

I will write what could be a sample schedule, and then I will list lots of activity ideas.

8:30 chore time (some simple but contributing tasks)

9:00 free play or joining in on school activity

10:00 assigned morning activity (This would be the special activity chosen for that day of the week.)

11:00 play with sibling

12:00 lunch and recess (Get fresh air!)

1:00 nap

2:00 assigned afternoon activity (a second activity done only on this weekday)

2:30 Mommy Time!

3:30 free play

4:00 play with siblings while Mom makes dinner

You will note that I have included “Free Play” periods.  It’s very important that children are allowed some freedom in their day.  There should be times when he can explore, learn to entertain himself, or play as he desires.  The opportunity to do so is sadly lacking in today’s overly structured, schedule-packed society, and it’s not fair to the children.  Also, PLEASE, don’t plop that tot in front of a screen!  Granted, there are lots of wonderful things to explore TOGETHER on the internet — caterpillars morphing into butterflies for example — but really, REALLY limit the time your young children sit in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, tablet or phone.  And as much as possible do screen time along with your child rather than using it to babysit for you. That being said, I will now go ahead and list suggestions for things to do during the scheduled part of the day.

IDEAS FOR ASSIGNED ACTIVITES:

  • playdough

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

  • pattern blocks
  • popcorn play  (like sand play, only with popcorn kernels)
  • puzzles
  • play with water (much like the popcorn – Place a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen floor with a plastic dishpan full of water.  Supply the child with a baster, funnel, cups, strainer and small toys to strain and let them have at it — under supervision, naturally.  When they are done, grab the mop and you’ll get a cleaned floor out of the bargain as well!)
  • sorting activities (sort by color, size, texture, category, likes/dislikes, …)
  • drawing / coloring
  • cutting, pasting & stickers
  • Duplos
  • Fisher Price Little People, Imaginext, or Adventure sets (These collections are easily built via rummaging.)
  • rubber stamps
  • digital books (This is one of my few suggestions for being in front of a screen.  Make this the exception and not the rule for reading time.)
  • listen to music (dance with streamers or bop a balloon to the music)
  • blocks (At about 1 year old, my boys particularly enjoyed dropping cube-shaped letter blocks through the hole in a plastic cereal container.  Eventually they moved on to building towers, then zoos and cities.)
  • toy animals (the hard rubber type – great for sorting, setting up a zoo,  or playing “survival of the fittest”)
  • matchbox cars
  • play food / dishes
  • practice cutting skills with old magazines (I am told by enrichment teachers that a number of our 7-8 year old students still cannot handle a scissors properly.  You need to give them practice in this skill.  There are plenty of “safe” scissors available.)
  • roller-skating in the basement (assuming you have slow kid’s skates!)
  • chalk on basement floor (a wet mop will take care of it)
  • build a blanket tent and look at books or camp with stuffed animals inside
  • wash windows (a spray bottle full of water and a rag)
  • math manipulatives (Pattern Blocks, Unifex Cubes, balance, Cuisenaire Rods, links, counting bears, dominoes, geoboards, fraction circles, etc.)
  • Tending to Preschoolers

    Math manipulatives can be used creatively.

    costume box

  • special videos (use sparingly)
  • puppets
  • obstacle course
  • decorate graham crackers with frosting and sprinkles *
  • make snack kabobs with toothpicks, mini marshmallows, pinapple chunks, cheese cubes, raisins, etc. *
  • magnetic letters or other magnets
  • look at photo albums
  • rhythm instruments
  • paint-with-water books
  • bean bag toss
  • weighing and comparing items with a child’s balance
  • practice dropping clothespins or pennies into a mason jar.  Count how many you get in.  Do it from a standing position with the jar on the floor or kneel on a chair and balance your arm on the chair back.

*allow them to serve the snacks they’ve prepared to their older siblings – if they dare eat them!

Okay, that’s enough to get you going.  Choose five or ten activities and assign each to a day of the week.  You may use additional activities  for Mom or Sibling time.

Don’t cast that child aside.  He will grow up all too quickly and is at a very precious age right now.  Be sure your home school doesn’t leave him a casualty.  God Bless your efforts.

Home School Lesson Planning

Lesson Plan Binders
The first few years that I home schooled, I would try to schedule out each week ahead of time.  Even so, sometimes I would wake up in the morning and wonder,“What were we supposed to do today?”  It’s amazing how brain dead you can get with mountains of laundry, dishes and papers to be corrected staring you in the face.  Several years later (Don’t wait that long!) I finally learned how to lay out a lesson plan that was easy to use and very effective.  I have used that same basic format for nearly 20 years now and we couldn’t function without it.   This has made a world of difference in our home schooling day and in what we accomplish in a year.  My method is not by any means the only method out there, and it may not be right for you, but for those of you struggling with how to plan your day this is well worth the effort.

I have created Lesson Plan Forms using the “table” tool in Microsoft word.  It is helpful to have all this information stored in your computer, but easy enough to do by hand as well.  You will want a weekly lesson sheet for each child.  This is a basic chart with the days of the week listed across the top and the various subjects or book titles listed down the side.  If you are planning for just one child a standard teacher’s plan book works fine.  I note on my master copy which subjects need to be done with Mom or siblings.  Across the top I have the child’s name and grade, the week number/dates  and a blank to record the number of hours for that week.  (In my state we have to keep track of hours.)

If you are doing this on computer, enter as much of the unchanging information into your table as you can, then highlight it, hit copy, and paste it 30-40 times (depending on how long your school year is).  You can then type in (or cut and paste) the various assignments for each week. You may skip this part if you don’t want to have a record on the computer of the whole year.   If you are doing it by hand, make a master chart for each child, then run 40 copies of each one.  I buy different colors of paper to print out our lists, and assign a color to each child.  It makes it easier to identify who’s list is laying under the coffee table and it gives the task list a cheery look.  Use bright colors!
Here are some blank forms you can copy if you prefer to write them out by hand.
Blank Lesson Plan PagesCreating Home School Lesson Plans

BREAKING DOWN THE BOOKS

Make a stack of all the books you plan to use for each child. If you will be using more than one book for a subject — for instance, reading a book about electricity, one having electricity experiments and one about Thomas Edison — make note of what order you wish to read the books.  If you are doing unit studies, determine how long you will spend on each unit and what books and activities you intend to use.  Now you need to decide how to break each book down into daily assignments.  Some books are easy.  With many text books it is obvious to do one lesson a day and reserve some days for tests.

Other books are not so clear cut.  They may only be used for a few weeks, or may not be broken down into easy-to-divide lessons.  I’ll page through these books, determine how much I think my child can handle in one day and break it down that way.  I might otherwise decide how many weeks it should take to complete this book.  I will look at the number of pages /chapters/lessons and determine how many need to be done each day or week in order to meet my goal.  For instance if my child is to read a 23 chapter book and I think he can handle 2 chapters a day, I know it will take 12 days to complete the book.  I’ll then decide if we can afford to spread it out over 3 weeks or if we’ll have to fit it into 2 weeks.

If I’m breaking it down by pages rather than lessons or chapters, I will actually page through the entire book to figure out where a logical place to break would be.  You don’t want to end the week two pages form the end of a section. In this case, I figure out how many pages we should average a day and try to break it close to that amount. In addition, you’ll want to note any special activities of field trips you  want to do when studying a book.

You don’t have to do every subject 5 days a week.  As  much as I am able, I try to keep each subject down to 4 days a week, and each day I alternate which subject gets skipped.  This way if we have a field trip or day off, say on Friday, I can schedule every subject’s  “off day” for Friday that week,  and not have to catch up. You should type out or write down your breakdown of daily assignments for each book.

Here’s a six week segment for a science book we used.
6 week breakdown for one book

Once you’ve broken down all the books you can transfer the daily assignments to your weekly lesson plans.  Here is where individual preference really steps in.  Because I store all this in my computer (where it’s really easy to cut and paste changes as we go along) I try to lay out the daily lesson plans for the entire year.  I usually spend my summer months doing this.  I know from experience that I don’t have much time or brain power to do this once the school year starts, and if it’s not written out it doesn’t  happen.  This can be an overwhelming task and you may prefer to fill out your forms week by week.  If you have a list of daily assignments for each book this is not difficult.  Just check off the assignments you’ve completed and you’ll know exactly where you’re at.

Here is what a weekly lesson plan incorporating all the subjects will look like.
3 versions of weekly lesson plan

There are some incredible benefits to having a plan such as this.

  • You make great progress, and those extra books
    that you’d really like to fit in some time actually get assigned and completed.
  • You hand your child the assignment sheet each week (or tape it on the wall) and both you and your child know exactly what needs to be accomplished.
  • If you file the paper at the end of the week you have a nice record of  what you’ve done.
  • It’s a great lesson and satisfying experience in setting and completing goals.
  • It places both the freedom and the responsibility of effective time management in your child’s hands.

My boys cross off each box as they complete it.  If your child is feeling particularly motivated he may whip through the tasks in a few hours.  If he is dragging his feet, you simply don’t allow school to be done (no TV, no play, no dinner if need be) until all the day’s assignments have been checked off.  My boys will occasionally decide they want a day off and work diligently for a day or two to get an entire day ahead. I don’t specify any order as to how they have to work through their day – as long as they get through the whole list.  School is no longer done or not done according to how frazzled Mom feels today.  It also makes my boys happy to know Mom is not going to just keep adding assignments to their day until they faint with fatigue!

Lesson Plans for Every Child

I hope this helps give you an idea on how you can organize your lesson plans.  For me, the important thing is that each child has their own sheet.  The teacher planning books are good for one or two children, but there’s just not enough room for larger families.

If this whole thing is too overwhelming for you, keep asking others how they do it until you find a system that works for you.  I’ve known people that just write out at the end of the day what they’ve done that day.  I personally am too tired at the end of the day (and lacking in the discipline) to take the time to do that.  Others will write a date in the corner of the workbook pages which shows when that page is to be completed.  Still others will just fill out lesson plans each weekend for the upcoming week.   If your system is not working, find a solution.  If it’s working well, stick with it.

UNPLUG and ENGAGE – 100+ Things OLDER Kids Can Do at Home to Learn, Relieve Boredom and Bless Others

Nothing ruins a summer so much as the phrase “I’m BORED!”  But letting your children pass the days sitting in the air-conditioning in front of some screen or another is not the answer to this problem.  Here are all kinds of things your older children can do to engage in life, relieve bordome, stimulate their minds and imagination and use their gifts to bless others.  [Check out my son’s stop-motion videos if you want to learn the value of stimulating the imagination.]  Here’s hoping that awful phrase is removed from your home this summer.  These activities are — for the most part — FREE!, child led (not a lot of parent involvement necessary), and can be done right in your home or yard.  Almost all of them don’t even require electricity much less a screen (although I do send you to some internet links to help you get started on some of them).  Print ’em and Post ’em.  When the kids even HINT at being bored, point to the list.  Enjoy!

Go here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/unplug-and-explore-60-things-kids-can-do-at-home-when-theyre-bored/  to see my list for younger children,
and here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/road-trips-unplugged/comment-page-1/#comment-160 to see my ideas for fun things to do in the car.

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

Alone or With Friends

  1. Learn  at least 3 different kinds of  SOLITAIRE.
  2. Learn to SHUFFLE and “bridge” cards
  3. Find old  FRAMES and/or old  FURNITURE (get permission!) and PAINT them with fun designs.
    DCIM100MEDIA
  4. Practice SPORTS SKILLS – dribbling, shooting, passing, free-throws, lay-ups, kicking, batting, pitching, volleying, archery, etc.
  5. LEGOS
  6. PAINT a masterpiece (If you haven’t got any ideas, try to copy a famous piece of art.)Imagination Station
  7. Practice DRAWING – I heartily recommend Mark Kistler’s books (or videos).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAcK9BY7Ymw
  8. Explore the world from a DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE with binoculars, magnifying glass or microscope.
  9. Have a KOOL-AID STAND.
  10. Gather, clean, and price outgrown toys and have a TOY SALE.
  11. CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN with Cryptograms, Crosswords, Sudoku or Logic Puzzle
  12. Create a MAZE, with pencil and paper or with blocks or dominoes.
  13. Write a STORY.
  14. Complete a 500 piece PUZZLE.  (or more difficult if you choose)
  15. Use RUBBER STAMPS to make a collection of cards
  16. Learn ORIGAMI. – Get a book on how to do it from the library.
    origami
  17. Listen to AUDIOBOOKS  (Check your local library for a plethora of titles.)
  18.  CLIMB a tree.
  19. DECORATE your room.
  20. Build a TREE HOUSE.
  21. ROLLERBLADE
  22. Go for a BIKE RIDE. – With your parent’s help map out a 10 mile route and conquer it.
  23. Practice creating an outstanding AUTOGRAPH.  Your signature says a lot about you.  Make it stylish and unique.
  24. Make a MINIATURE GOLF COURSE in your yard or basement.   Use soup cans for holes.
  25. Learn some fancy JUMP ROPING moves.
  26. Learn some MAGIC TRICKS.
  27. Try a simple BUILDING PROJECT – shelves/bench/wooden crate/etc.
  28. Make an awesome COSTUME.
  29. Go on a NATURE HIKE.
  30. Create a SHELTER  out of branches, leaves, etc.  Sleep in it, if you dare.
  31. Press FLOWERS.
  32. Make PICTURE FRAMES  from twigs (or any other objects) glued onto sturdy cardboard
  33. Learn to KNIT or CROCHET.fairy garden
  34. Make DOLL CLOTHES.
  35. Create a  FAIRY GARDEN in a corner of the yard.
    http://www.themagiconions.com/2010/08/make-fairy-garden.html
  36. RE-FASHION old T-shirts.
    http://darlingadventures.com/?p=574
  37. Make BOOKMARKS.
  38. RE-CREATE your favorite book illustration.
  39. DESIGN your own GAME.
  40. Write SECRET MESSAGES with lemon juice on white paper.  When dry, hold paper over heating toaster to make invisible letters appear!
  41. Start a JOURNAL or write in one you already started.
  42. Organize your photos.  Create a PHOTOBOOK.
  43. Find and ant hill,  drop some crumbs or sweet liquid nearby and watch the ANTS do their thing.
  44. Play CHARADES.
  45. Draw/write a CARTOON STRIP of your own characters.
  46. Make a MAP of your bedroom, house or neighborhood.
  47. Find a PEN PAL from another country.  Share ideas about your cultures with each other.
  48. Collect sticks and mud and build a BIRD’S NEST.
  49. Create a family or neighborhood NEWSLETTER.
  50. Make PAPER AIRPLAINES.
  51. Learn to COOK a meal.
  52. Gather junk and discarded materials and turn it into a sculpture or other piece of art.  This is called FOUND OBJECT ART.
  53. Create a STOP-MOTION VIDEO.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuexL14O9L8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9115ZqfkXM4  (See how creative my kids are?)
  54. Learn some CARD TRICKS.
  55. Practice FANCY LETTERING – a great skill to have for making cards and signs
    CHALK ART  https://www.etsy.com/listing/175732200/jeremiah-2911-for-i-know-the-plans-card?ref=shop_home_active_21
  56. Start a BLOG.
  57. Learn to FACE PAINT.100_0071
  58. Learn to whistle, snap your fingers, swim, ride a bike or ANYTHING ELSE YOU’VE WISHED YOU COULD DO.  (Probably not flying though.)
  59. REARRANGE your bedroom.
  60. Learn to tie a variety of  KNOTS.
  61. Learn a new VOCABULARY word every week and try to use it correctly every day that week.
  62.  Play MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
  63. Pitch a tent and CAMP OUT in the backyard.
  64. Learn to make SHADOW PICTURES.
  65. LIP SYNC to a favorite song.  Or just go ahead and learn to sing it —really well!

 

 

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

With Friends / Siblings

  1. Play BOARD GAMES.
  2. Play cards with a friend.  Look up “POPULAR CARD GAMES” and learn the rules and strategy.
  3. Play MARBLES.
  4. PUZZLE RACES – Using two puzzles of the same difficulty (100 pieces or less) Race a friend to see who can complete their puzzle first.  You can also do this with teams.
  5. MAKE A VIDEO staring you and your siblings/friends.hopscotch
  6. Play HOPSCOTCH.
  7. Set up an OBSTACLE COURSE and  challenge friends/siblings to beat your time.
  8. Have a water BALLOON TOSS or an egg toss.
  9. Have a WATER FIGHT with water balloons, water guns, big plastic cups or all three!
  10. Play FLASHLIGHT TAG.
  11. Play KICK the CAN.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Kick-the-Can
  12. Have a SCAVENGER HUNT.  Form teams and a list of things that must be found outside/ in the house/ in the neighborhood.  State a time limit and see which team can find the most items.
  13. Record you and your friends doing CRAZY STUNTS like posing as mannequins in a store window, asking a stranger for a bite of his sandwich, handing out candy bars to random passers-by, having a parade down your street, or protesting something ridiculous.
  14. Play FOUR SQUARE.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Four-Square
  15. Play photographer.  Have a friend take turns with you doing PHOTO SHOOTS of each other.

 

 

Be a Blessing

We Are Most Blessed When Blessing Others

  1. WRITE a Letter.set up fair
  2. Wash WINDOWS.
  3. Clean a SHELF or DRAWER in your room.
  4. Set Up CARNIVAL GAMES for the kids in your neighborhood or for your siblings. (If you want to get really into it – have the kids bring old toys in exchange for tickets and use the old toys for game prizes!)
  5. Memorize then  Recite BIBLE VERSES.
  6. Memorize then recite a POEM.
  7. Put on a PLAY.
  8. BAKE A TREAT for your family or neighbors.
  9. ADOPT A GRANDPARENT from among the many lonely people in assisted living.  Write them notes, visit them, make things for them.
  10. Make CARDS/PICTURES and send them to loved ones
  11. CLEAN your bedroom.
  12. Pull the WEEDS.
  13. Using family friendly movies, run a THEATER in your living room for friends (complete with popcorn!).
  14. Write “THANK YOU” cards to tell someone how they’ve blessed you — even if you haven’t received a gift from them.
  15. Create circus stunts and perform a CIRCUS for/with the neighbor children.Circus Lion
  16. DUST the house.
  17. BRUSH the pet.
  18. PICK berries or vegetables.
  19. ENTERTAIN a younger sibling or neighbor child and give mom a break.
  20. Play outside with a PET.
  21. Surprise a neighbor with a GOOD DEED.
  22. Host a TEA PARTY.
  23. BATHE a pet.
  24. READ to younger siblings.
  25. ORGANIZE a dresser drawer.
  26. Clean UNDER the BED.
  27. MOW the lawn.
  28. Create a list of “RANDOM ACTS of KINDNESS” you can do.  See how many you can accomplish.
  29. Hold a neighborhood BIKE WASH.
  30. Do a STORY HOUR  for the younger children in your neighborhood.

Road Trips Unplugged

Call me old-fashioned (and, of course, I am) but there are so many wonderful ways to entertain your family in the car.  I hate when I see kids plugged into a movie (even for a quick jaunt across town!), or when the teens in the car plug in their ear buds and tune out everyone else.  Here are some great ways to wile away the miles that help to engage all the passengers, expand attention spans and strengthen the mind.  

Toy Box / Lap Desk

Individual Lap Desk Boxes contain each child’s toys

Ready to Travel

Individual Snack Bags (healthy as you choose) for each child adds to the fun.

Go here for ideas on how to UNPLUG AT HOME . And here for over 100 ideas Older Kids can do to UNPLUG at home.

  • Alphabet Game This is a classic.   Watch the signs to find a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, in order.  You can play together as a team, or as my family prefers, every man for himself, in which case players compete to see who can complete their alphabet first. For younger children, you can allow them to just find the alphabet letters (in order) anywhere in the word.
  • Animal Alphabet Go around the car with each person naming an animal (or any other category you choose) that begins with each letter of the alphabet.  So first each person has to name a different animal that begins with A.  Then everybody names an animal that begins with B, etc.
  • Animal Name Game This game can easily pass an hour or two of time. It requires a bit more brain power than the other 2 alphabet games and ANIMALS seems to be the best category to use since you will need a vast number of  names.  It should be noted that “animal” can include anything in the animal kingdom — mammals, fish, birds, insects, reptiles, etc.  You cannot precede an animal by an adjective unless that is part of its actual name.  For instance, brown trout might be acceptable for B, but not a brown ant.   If necessary vote amongst the other players as to weather a named animal is acceptable or not.  For this game we use the letters of the players’ first name.  All players should have the same number of letters to work with, so pick a number.  If you have a Jim in the car, you might pick the first three letters of everyone else’s name or add the first couple of letters of Jim’s middle name to equal whatever number of letters you settle on.  Now you go around the car, each person naming an animal that has not yet been named that begins with whatever letter they are on.  Each player begins with the first letter of their name and progresses to the next letter when they can think of no other animals that begin with their first letter.  Once you progress you cannot go back to a previous letter.  Other people in the car may share a letter with you and you might want to progress before they use all the animals for that letter.  When you come to the end of your letters and can think of no more animals for your final letter, you are done.  Whoever can hold out the longest wins.  Names with double letters only count that letter the first time it shows up.  So, for a 5 letter game, Nathan John would use the letters N-A-T-H-J because the A and the N have already been used, and he might be in hot competition with Natalie since their first three letters are the same.  In a 5 letter game, Natalie will use N-A-T-L-I.  We had a friend in the car that went a full hour still on her first letter – C !
  • Sing songs, sing rounds, sing harmony
  • Audiobooks – choose a book that the whole family can enjoy and listen to a professional actor read it chapter by chapter breaking as needed.  OK, I know.  Technically, this is plugged in, but since the whole family is plugged in and engaging in the story together,  AND  because books stimulate the mind SO much more than movies, it stands.
  • Tell a progressive story Someone begins a story by telling a few sentences or maybe even just a phrase.  Then the next player adds another phrase/sentence and it continues around the car.
  • Make a progressive picture Very similar to the story telling except someone starts by making a squiggle on a piece of paper then passes the paper around with each person adding to the masterpiece.  Unfortunately, the driver gets left out of this game.
  • Trivia Cards Bring a pack of cards from that old dusty Trivia game and just quiz each other.
  • Deep Questions Kind of the opposite of trivia.  Either come up with questions ahead of time or have each person come up with a question on their turn and then everybody has a chance to answer each question.  These questions are of a more personal or thought provoking matter. Here are a few examples: What is one of your well hidden strengths? If you had $5000 to spend on others, what would you do with it? What kind of invention would you create if you had the know how/ resources? What character traits are good to look for in a spouse/friend/roommate? What is something you really want to work on this year?
  • 20 Questions One person comes up with a person, place or thing.  Everyone else gets to ask up to 20 yes/no questions to try to guess what it is.  Whoever guesses correctly gets to come up with the next thing to guess.
  • Create a poem Either create a poem together or assign a topic, have everybody create their own poem (write them down) and take turns reciting what you’ve written.  To make this a ton more fun, get a book or do a google search about different types of poetry for kids.  There’s so much more than just rhyming phrases.
  • 100 Mile Prizes –  Pack a box of small trinkets or treats.  Every 100 miles, let everybody choose a prize out of the box.  (Great way to use accumulated Happy Meal toys or Dollar Store gems.)
  • Map tracking This is becoming a lost art, but get a map of where you’re going and map out the route.  Have your children follow along on the map as you travel checking the cities as you go and estimating the time / distance to the next city / exit.
  • License Plate Phrases Another classic.  Make up fun phrases to go with the license plate letters you see.  Vote on who’s  phrase is the best.
  • Comic Books – Normally, I don’t promote fluff reading, but there is a time and place to enjoy Calvin and Hobs, Peanuts, Garfield or other comic style books.  The car trip is one of those times and places.  HINT:  We found that the kids who get car sick when reading in the care CAN READ in the car at night, with a book light.  It seems seeing the scenery/cars whizzing by out of the corner of their eyes is what makes them sick.  At night you don’t see all the outside stuff .
  • Name the states and/or their capitals This is how I learned my states and capitals.  My brother and I would quiz each other whenever we went on a road trip with our parents. Here’s a little help I memorized as a kid – how many states for each letter of the alphabet:  A=4, C=3, D=1, F=1, G=1, H=1, I=4, K=2, L=1, M=8, N=8, O=3, P=1, R=1, S=2, T=2, U=1, V=2, W=4
  • Researched Topic – With older kids, choose an interesting topic of discussion a week or so before the trip.  Everybody does their own research in preparation for the big drive.  Have an informed discussion of the topic once you’ve hit the road.
  • Light up toys at night — spinny, twirly lights inside a clear globe, glow bracelets, little lighted shapes that fade from one color to another —  these are all fascinatingly cool during the long night hours.  We found a toy like a magna doodle, except it glows –LOVE IT!!!

    glo doodle 3

    Glo Doodle

  • Search Books (Usborne) Honestly, I hate the Where’s Waldo and I Spy books.  But I LOVE the Usborne search books!  They have a preschool level, a primary level and an upper level elementary level.  I think these books served as a great help in preparing for the Animal Alphabet games.
Search Books by Usborne 2

Great Search Book Series Ages 6-12

Search Books by Usborne

1001 Things To Find series Ages 3-7

  • Origami  – get a good book on the subject and a pack of origami paper and a firm board on which they can fold.  Let the fun begin!
  • Modeling Wax – this soft, pliable wax is like playdough without the crumbly mess.  It’s not cheap, but Oh, SO worth it!  http://www.magiccabin.com/Art-Supplies/Stockmarand174;-Modeling-Beeswax-12-Pieces-4-Inches-x-1-12-Inches.htm
  • Goodie Bag for each passenger Let’s face it road trips and car snacks go hand in hand.  Give each child a gift bag or ziplock bag with their name on it containing an assortment of goodies for the trip.  This may include the individual juices and snack packs.  Or make your own little ziplock packs of (likely healthier) options.  This eliminates fighting over who’s hogging what and teaches your child to ration out their goods to last through the whole trip.  Hint:  ginger snaps are a good choice since ginger helps alleviate motion sickness.
Oldies Scanned July 2013 481

Blue Treat Bag within easy reach. Box of toys makes great lap desk.

  • Plastic box of car toys for each child with lid so it also serves as a table Invest in some covered plastic boxes (one size bigger than shoebox size)with smooth (slightly indented) lids – One for each child.  Fill the box with books/crayons/ paper/toys for the trip.  The box serves as a lap table for the child and provides a place to keep all their little items contained.  It the top is slightly recessed it provides a nice tray which helps keeps crayons and toys from rolling off.  Fun tip for night driving:  Use a clear bottomed box.  Place some glow sticks inside and flip it upside down to become a light table at night.  For readers, you might want to pack a little lantern in the box or a booklight to provide a reading light at night that won’t disturb the driver.
Toys in Travel Box

All these toys fit in one lap box!

Packed Box, ready to go traveling.

All packed and ready to go

Take the unplugged challenge … at least for large segments of your road trip, if not the whole ride. The car ride is half the fun!  Plan well and avoid the misery.  Engage your children instead of plugging them in.     Continue reading