Homeschool Update: September 2021

We’ve been back to homeschool for nearly a month now, so I wanted to post a little update on how things are going.

Ballet Boy (12th)

Ballet Boy is working hard at studying for his GED test rather than doing set classes. He and I have been working on the courses from ACT Mom (which we reviewed late last month) together. In some ways it’s like schooling a 1st grader again because he’s not confident enough in himself to fully understand the concepts. This means that he’s tentative to work on it on his own for fear that he’ll miss something and not absorb the information properly. So we spend about an hour a day, three days a week working on this course. The videos and quizzes are short, but we spend a lot of time pausing and going over what’s being taught in our own words to make sure he understands what’s going on.

In addition to that, Ballet Boy is taking a self defense (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) class with Practice Monkeys (review on that in November). This is daily (M-Th), and he does the classes with Scorpion. They seem to be having quite a bit of fun with it. He’s also reading quite a bit and has begun teaching a music class (ukulele basics) to his younger brothers. I truly appreciate his help with that because I am not at all musical (I don’t even really like music that much), but I still think it’s important for them to learn.

He also works 5 days a week, from 4pm until “late” with Will. The two of them are working hard to really build up the publishing business. They’ve put together a product line for our comic as well as the beginnings of some social media for the company. If you like to laugh, give us a follow! Now we just need to really get the word out to start selling the stuff.

Scorpion (9th)

Scorpion is plugging away at his Khan Academy courses. For the most part, I trust him to get done everything that needs to be done each day. I ask him a couple of times a day how it’s going in order to keep him on track (left to his own devices, he’d play basketball and rubik’s cubes all day). I also get on his iPad at the end of the week to make sure he’s been honest with me – so far, he has! As of right now, he’s between 2-10% done with each of his classes. Some of the easier ones (grammar, pixar) he gets through quicker, while things like math and science are more difficult for him.

He is also reading Frankenstein and doing a Progeny Press study guide to go along with it. More on that next month.

Grasshopper (4th)

Grasshopper is my main student this year. The older brother work largely independently, which is really helpful because it allows me to focus a few hours each day on Grasshopper. So far, things are going quite well. We’re (mostly) sticking to the schedule I made each day, and it’s really rewarding to be so productive. It feels good to get through the work each day, knowing that not only are we using our time well, but that he’s getting some really good foundational learning done.

Things we work on each day:

Words Rock (language arts practice)

Reading Kingdom: Spelling Ninja (review coming soon)

CTC Math

Reading Eggs (mostly for fun, but good practice nonetheless)

Literature (we’ve got a few books going right now; more on them in another post)

Science (the Discovering Disgusting Creatures course on – he was really skeptical at first, but now he loves it!)

Dragonfly (K)

We’re taking a super relaxed start with Dragonfly, mostly so I don’t have to split my time quite so many ways. He and I spend about an hour a day working on Reading Eggs and Math Seeds, and I try to get him to read an early reader book each week (though that’s a little frustrating at this time). As the weather turns and it’s easier to get more hours inside without the kids bugging me to go outside and play all the time, we will add in more hands-on things with him, like lapbooks. Stay tuned for some of those projects later in the fall and winter!

How is your first month of homeschool going?




Reading Eggs (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

We had such a great time learning with Reading Eggs and Mathseeds last year that I eagerly requested to review it again this year. Grasshopper was really jealous of Dragonfly’s work last year, so I added him to the account this year, and Bumblebee is preschool age now, so he got an account too! Let’s explore Reading Eggs again, this time with all three of my little guys.

Bumblebee (3 years old)

Bumblebee has been using Reading Eggs Junior, a specially designed portion of the app for the 2-4 age group. It is super simple, but has loads of great activities to get your child ready for reading and math, which they will encounter in a couple of years. There are three main sections to Reading Eggs Junior: Books, Videos, and Activities. Bumblebee has been working on the activities exclusively at this time.

In the Activities section, there are 14 different areas to work in: colors, counting, eggs, handwriting, jack in a box, jigsaw puzzles, letter puzzles, matching game, memory, sorting, same or different, sound buttons, sounds, and the alphabet. We have worked primarily on the colors lessons, with a few of the others sprinkled in for good measure. Bumblebee learned his colors really early – he’s known them for months already. In fact, one of his first words when he was learning to talk was “yellow.” He can easily differentiate between the “normal” colors, so he enjoyed being able to do the colors lessons easily. In these lessons, children are shown 2-4 pictures (a butterfly, a fish, a car, etc) with a circle cut out of it. At the bottom of the screen are those cutouts. They simply drag the correct color up to the right picture.

Matching Game has also been fun for Bumblebee. It is very simple (obviously – it’s designed for the very young), with just 3 pairs per game. Whenever my littlest boy got a matched set, he would get so excited!

Overall, he has had great fun with Reading Eggs. He spent the better part of the last year watching Dragonfly with his lessons, so he’s learned through observation that way, and now it’s exciting to let him have his own turn with such a familiar program.

Grasshopper (9 years old)

When you think of Reading Eggs, you probably think of a program for younger kids – those who don’t yet read or who need some remedial help. Grasshopper fits neither of those criteria, but he was always pretty jealous of Dragonfly’s lessons last year. We had a bit of difficulty getting him a proper diagnostic placement test, so instead of using Reading Eggs proper, he’s been using Fast Phonics to reinforce the reading he already does reasonably well.

Fast Phonics uses a “Matterhorn” theme, and the main character is a yeti. Each lesson contains about 20 activities, and they are quite similar to the Reading Eggs activities, but with a focus on phonics rather than sight words. Here are a few words from Grasshopper on the program.

When I play the video games in Fast Phonics, the yeti helps me along the way. The videos help me learn new sounds and it’s really useful to help me learn new words and stuff like that. My favorite of all the games I play on there is the game where the yeti is on the wrecking ball and you have to knock the sounds down (the sounds are engraved on the ice). It’s a really fun game and it helps me to really remember the sounds I’ve learned.

It’s really fun, and Fast Phonics has been amazing. I’m glad I started it.

Dragonfly (5 years old)

Dragonfly has been using Reading Eggs and Math Seeds for over a year now, and it’s been so good for him. He has learned so much through these programs! Let’s talk a little bit about them.

Each lesson consists of about 12 activities. The first activity is typically a video to introduce a specific word or sound. Each of the activities after that reinforce the concept taught in the introductory video. You can easily tell how many activities are in a specific lesson by looking at the pop out menu on the left. It shows exactly what activities your child has done, the one they’re currently on, and those that are upcoming. Each lesson uses a mix of different activities, and there are more than 12 games, so no two days are quite the same.

Some of Dragonfly’s favorite games are the frog hop one (which is just like the old “Frogger” game, except you have to land your frog on the truck with the word of the day); the planet match one (where you are given 3 planets each with a word; when the star appears, you match the word on the star to the appropriate planet); and the painting game (it’s like a paint by number, except it’s a paint by word; the child reads the color word and then colors that section accordingly). When all of the activities for the lesson have been completed, the child is awarded with an Egg, which hatches open and reveals a creature. After every 10 lessons, there is a 15-question quiz. The child must get at least 11 questions right in order to move on to the next ten lessons.

Math Seeds is much like Reading Eggs except for Pre-K/K math. Because math is an easier subject for a lot of kids, the lessons are longer and there’s a quiz (“Show Me Your Skills!”) after each lesson. There are a series of activities/games, and at the end of the lesson the child is awarded with a Seed that has a creature in it.

Here are a few words from Dragonfly:

The activities help me read and it’s really fun. I’m really good at it. I always do it. I love it.

As you can see from my kids’ own words, we love Reading Eggs and Mathseeds! This will continue to be a staple in our homeschool for many years to come.

Make sure to click through and read more reviews from other families.



Why We Use a Literature Based Approach in Homeschooling

I’ve mentioned before (but only in passing) that I prefer a literature-based approach in homeschooling. It didn’t used to be that way. When the teenagers were small, we were more workbook based, but it wasn’t enjoyable for anyone. That’s not to say that everything needs to be fun all the time, especially in schooling, but if your kids aren’t engaged in what’s being taught, they won’t retain any of the information you’re imparting to them. And that’s if you can even get them to do the work in the first place.

Two children are standing in a forest with mythical light. Each one is holding and reading a book.

About the time Ballet Boy was 9 and Scorpion was 6, I joined the Homeschool Review Crew for the first time. Leading up to that point, I’d read an ebook called Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath – You Can Do This! by Terrie Lynn Bittner. I got it for free at some point in an Amazon promo, and I mostly read it during the nights when I was up with a baby Grasshopper. (It doesn’t appear to be available as a Kindle book anymore, but you can get a paperback copy for about $15.) That book changed our homeschool permanently! There were so many ideas in there for how to run a homeschool, particularly one that didn’t look like “school at home.” It was there that I learned about lap books and that playing games could be a reasonable – and successful – form of learning. I learned about Unit Studies, and that was the method of schooling that really spoke to me the most.

Some of our earliest unit studies were Penguins and Newspapers. I created my own studies for the boys, and all were based around – you guessed it – a book. When we studied penguins, we read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I created a spelling list for each of the boys revolving around penguins and the antarctic. We created a lap book, and generally had fun learning together. For our newspapers unit, we read Henry and the Paper Route, learned about how paper is made (including creating “wood pulp” from existing paper and reforming it into our own new paper), and took a field trip to the local newspaper office. Those are some of my fondest memories with my older boys.

It was around this time (the next school year, I want to say) that I found Ambleside Online, and we did an entire school year using their curriculum. It’s a lot of reading, but such a good curriculum if you’re looking for something based on “living books” (novels and picture books rather than textbooks). Doing that year of Ambleside, I realized just how much I wanted to incorporate books into our homeschool. They are so vital to memorable learning, and I’m forever grateful I finally came around to a different way of teaching my boys.

These days, we get a lot of review products to incorporate into our school days, but I still favor a literature heavy approach. We read a ton of books together, and going heavy on the literature is a good way to incorporate a lot of different learning styles into a single teaching session. Obviously you can’t do everything together when you’re teaching different ages, but you definitely can read books to many children at once. And they’ll all absorb different things from the same book.

You don’t have to “write” your own curriculum if you want to try a literature-based homeschooling approach. There are lots of options out there. One that I haven’t used, but I have gotten a sample of and think has amazing potential is from Leah at As We Walk Along the Road. She even has quite a few free literature unit studies! Homeschool Share has lots of unit studies based on children’s books (both picture books for the younger crowd and kid novels). Progeny Press is an obvious choice for making sure your students get “more” out of each novel. The list goes on and on.

What’s your homeschooling style?


Keeping Your Homeschool Day on Track

The most important thing you’ll do as a homeschool parent is make the decision not to send your kids to a traditional school. Next on the list is choosing curriculum (ideally based on your child’s learning style).

But once those two decisions are made, the next most important thing is making sure you actually get through all of the lessons you need to each semester/year. Making sure you stay on track will keep your child moving through the grades “properly.” And this will assure success later in life. Not only will they “finish” school with their peers, but they will learn the importance of sticking with things until they’re done. If they decide to enter the traditional work force and get a job, this will keep their employer happy. If they opt instead to start their own business, then they will have a huge advantage over a public schooled peer in that they already know how to stick to their own schedule instead of someone else’s.

But how do you do that? Especially if you’re schooling different kids in different grades? Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with keeping on track. Looking back, my most successful year was the year we had a paper planner (and I was only working with two elementary-school aged kids). I know that sounds kind of dumb; of course things will be easier to keep on track if you’re working from an actual planner as opposed to just kind of “winging it.” But to a certain extent, that’s easier said than done. See, with winging it, all you have to do is make sure you have a pile of books and all your online subscriptions up to date. With a planner, you have to actually take the time in advance and write down everything you want to cover each day. It’s more work for Mom! But that’s precisely why it’s such a better system. When you put that work in prior to needing it, it’s almost like you feel obligated to follow through. If you don’t, then all that planning time was wasted. And we don’t want to waste our time! So take the time to plan, and then make sure to pull those plans out each school day and follow them.

Which planner should you use? The short answer is “whichever one works best for you and also fits into your budget.” That school year I mentioned before, the one where I felt the most on the ball? I used The Well Planned Day planner. I won it in a giveaway, and I adored it. I haven’t used one since, but if you can swing it, I can’t recommend it enough. It runs about $40 on Amazon, and is worth every penny (assuming those pennies don’t stretch your budget too thin, that is). One of the things I liked so well about it was that it had monthly and weekly pages, and the weekly pages had enough space to plan for multiple children. It was so easy to write out the lesson plan for each child and have them all in one place, where I could quickly glance at the day’s plans and see what each of them needed to do. It was a dream.

But I haven’t used a paper planner for homeschool in many years now, and I can feel it in my own self. I know in my head that things aren’t the same as they were that year that we used a good planner. So this year, I’m going back to a good, monthly and weekly, paper planner.

I found a great digital option using my membership that I’m going to use this year. It’s called the Schoolhouse Smart Planner (if you don’t have a membership,  you can purchase the planner – physical or digital – for about $35), and it reminds me very much of the Well Planned Day. (Though to be fair, I haven’t used or seen a Well Planned Day planner in about 5 years, so I could be remembering inaccurately.) But it has everything I need, which I described before as reasons I loved the other one so much: a monthly calendar and a weekly calendar with space for more than one child. The monthly calendar is great for “at a glance” things like appointments, while the weekly is perfect for writing down the specific lesson plans for each child. And beyond that, there are other pages that give you a different “at a glance” specifically designed for homeschool. What I mean by that is that the pages include “semester” and “annual” goals for each child. There’s a page to manage your household budget and your homeschool curriculum budget. There’s a reading log, and even a page specifically for making sure your preschooler knows what he needs to know for Kindergarten readiness. And the best part is that because it’s digital, you can simply print out the number of pages you need of each style of page. For example, even though there’s technically only one page of weekly planners, you just need to print multiple copies of that page when you set up your printer.

When you get all your pages printed out – however many you decide to print – you can take the printouts to any office supply store and have them bound. If you have your own binding machine, even better! With your new planner in hand, you just need to write down all the assignments for each day, and then execute them. It’s amazing how much simply having a written list of things to do (and cross off!) will help keep you organized and on task.

How do you keep your homeschool days on track?


What We’re Reading (Sept 2021)

Happy First Day of School! Many of you have probably already been back to school for a couple of weeks, or even a month, but it’s the first official day of school for us. The first day of school is the one way I struggle to separate our family from the public school schedule, but it’s one that I don’t mind following! One of the ways I plan to keep us more accountable this school year is to go back to posting a reading list for each of my kids here each month. I used to do this a few years ago, and I like the idea. Besides keeping us on track, it offers book ideas for other families. I hope it will give you ideas for books to read to/with your kids.

Read Aloud

My teens don’t really participate in our read alouds anymore. I know a lot of families encourage/require everyone to be there for them, but that doesn’t really work in our family dynamic. So when I talk about our read aloud choice each month, it is for myself, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly primarily. Sometimes Bumblebee will mill around or snuggle while we read also though.

This school year, we will be reading quite a few classics. For my birthday a couple of years ago, Will found a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was beautifully illustrated for me. I read it to the younger kids right away, and we all marveled at the gorgeous drawings. Recently, we discovered that that book was actually part of a series of classics all with “new” illustrations done by the same illustrator, Robert Ingpen. (I say new with quotation marks because these are newer than the text, but not actually new. Mr. Ingpen has been illustrating books since the 1950s, and working on children’s books since the 70s. The set of classics that we’ve been collecting were all done from 2000-2014.) So we’ve been building up our collection of these books over the summer, and now that school’s in session for our family again, we will begin reading our new treasures. Another thing I love about these books is that each one has an indentation on the front cover that is associated with the story without giving anything away (wood tools for Pinocchio, shoes for Oz, etc). It’s such a neat touch!

This month, we are reading Pinocchio. This is Bumblebee’s favorite Disney movie, by far, and the other kids enjoy it too. They were really excited when this book showed up on our doorstep from Amazon, and we’ve been reading it inconsistently throughout the summer. But with the weather beginning to cool and more time spent inside, we will be making a much bigger effort to read it more regularly now.

In addition to the classics, we are also making our way through the illustrated Harry Potter books. If you haven’t seen those in a bookstore or on Amazon, and you’re a HP fan, I highly recommend them. Jim Kay has done an absolutely stunning job illustrating the familiar stories. We’re about a third of the way through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone now.

Ballet Boy (17; 12th grade)

Even though the big kids aren’t participating in read aloud time, they are still reading books on their own. Ballet Boy has never been one to care for novels; he’s always preferred biographies instead. So he’ll be working his way through Church History in Plain Language. Will assigned that to him last school year, and it’s so dense that he hasn’t finished yet. This is a hefty read, but a good one if you’re interested in finding out why American Christianity is the way it is now. That may not be the point of the book, but you can definitely read it and see the path that brought us to where we are now. As we get through the school year, I may add other books to his load, but we’re going to start with just the essentials (this one is essential because Dad assigned it). Ballet Boy spends a lot of time working with Will, so his schedule involves more than just school at this point. I’m happy to accommodate that.

Scorpion (14; 9th grade)

I’m going to be assigning Scorpion a book a month, like the other kids, and he will be getting a mix of classics and modern novels, in addition to the reading required by his Khan Academy lessons. First up for him is Animal Farm, and I have a Progeny Press guide for him to do along with it.

Grasshopper (9; 4th grade)

It’s time! It’s time! Grasshopper is finally getting a chance to read Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom. He’s so excited to read this book, and I’m excited to experience it with him.

Dragonfly (5; K)

Dragonfly is still a very early reader. He’s technically been able to put sounds together for a year, but when our iPad died a few months back, he fell behind on doing his Reading Eggs lessons. I bought him those Paw Patrol books over the summer, so we’re going to work on those until he’s super comfortable reading things in the “real world,” and then we’ll see where we end up with him.


Until recently, I hadn’t actually read much in awhile. I love that I’m getting back into reading novels at night, and some of my favorite authors have older books that I haven’t read yet. I just finished up a John Grisham book last month (The Guardians, which will be this month’s book club post), and I’m going to be diving into another Grisham novel this month: Sooley. This one is on the newer side, but my turn on the hold list came up, and I don’t want to miss out after so many weeks of waiting.

What are you reading this month?


Using Audio Books in Homeschool

Books are the number one way to learn. It doesn’t matter what you want to know about, you’re sure to find at least one book on the topic. Sometimes you don’t really have time to read, though, so what should you do? Listen to an audio book!

a cup of coffe and a smartphone. the phone has an audiobook cover on its screen and a pair of earbuds nearby.

We use audio books often in our home. Grasshopper loves listening to them, and he listens to something pretty much every single night before bed. Listening to books rather than reading them helps him to get into slightly more advanced stories than he’s ready to read. He’s a smart kid, has fantastic comprehension, but is still easing into reading longer books. So audio books are a great tool for him.

Scorpion enjoys making animations. He also does some art-work (not to be confused with artwork) for Will sometimes. In order to make the most of his time, assuring that he gets his schoolwork done even when he’s been given a “real” job by Dad, he utilizes audio books. When I assigned him Tom Sawyer, he was able to find a free audio book version that he listened to while he was doing his other work. Best of both worlds.

I go through phases when there’s just nothing on any of the streaming services that I’m interested in. During those “droughts,” I often revert to audio books, which I listen to while I knit or crochet at night. I have three main apps I use for audio book consumption. Chirp is a good one because they have reasonably low prices on their audio books. I was able to get 3 books for free once using a coupon code (good for $5) from a YouTube channel I watch. The best thing about Chirp is that it’s not a subscription service. You just pay for the books you want, and you have them to keep. Audible is the next one, and I’m sure you’ve heard of them. It’s owned by Amazon, so probably everyone has an Audible account whether you know it or not! For one monthly fee, you get a “free” audio book each month. For a slightly higher fee, you can upgrade and get two per month. Often, you can get a free trial of Audible – with a new Amazon account, or even if you just haven’t used Audible in a while. And the final app I use and recommend for audio books is Overdrive. This is a library app, and it’s connected to many libraries. If you have a card for your traditional library, you should check out Overdrive (or Libby, which is under the same umbrella; I don’t use it though, so I can’t vouch for it) and see if your library system is supported. They have thousands of audio books (and Kindle books, for when you do have time to read!) that you can get with your library card. You don’t have to worry about returning them, like you would with a booklet of CDs if you were to get an audio book from the physical library. When the loan period ends, the title is automatically returned – no late fines! And Overdrive works even if your library card is riddled with fines (ask me how I know).

There are other uses for audio books, too. Take, for example, the One More Story app that I reviewed a couple of months ago. It’s a great audio book option for younger children because it also includes the pictures from the books. As I mentioned back then, sometimes you as the parent want to read aloud but just can’t for one reason or another. Audio books are a fantastic resource to use in those times.

Do you have a child who struggles with dyslexia? Audio books can be a lifesaver for him or her. It allows the child to hear the book properly rather than stumbling through the reading, getting words mixed up and becoming frustrated. While I’ve never tried this, it might even benefit a child to listen to the audio book while following along with a physical copy. Combine the audio and visual components to create a stronger reader.

What other uses are there for audio books in an educational setting?


A Day in our Life

Welcome to the final week of the Homeschool Review Crew’s Not-Back-To-Homeschool Blog hop! This week, members of the Crew are sharing a sampling of a day in their homeschool life. Join me for an average day for our family!

9:00 a.m.

          The little kids and I wake up. I get the kids cereal for breakfast.

9:30 a.m.

          I wake up the older kids and they eat their breakfast and/or drink coffee (in the case of Ballet Boy).

10-11:30 a.m.

         The big kids dive right into their lists. The little kids and I do our Bible reading. Then they usually do some drawing or other low key activity. I don’t like getting into anything too heavy during this time because I know I’ll have to stop to make lunch.

11:30 a.m.

          I prepare lunch. I usually have Grasshopper work on something he can do without help during this time (like CTC Math).

12-1 p.m.

          Lunch time (including clean up).

1-4 p.m.

          We’re not super scheduled during this time. The older kids work on their assignments (Scorpion on Khan Academy, Ballet Boy studying for the GED). I work with the younger kids.

          Grasshopper (entering 4th grade) does literature (reading aloud to me); math, if he didn’t get it done earlier; grammar (IEW’s Fix It! Grammar); science (from; history (also from;and writing (using My First Reports from Hewitt Homeschooling).

          Dragonfly (K/1st) does simple things. He really likes working on Reading Eggs, and he also loves making lap books. We’re currently working on one about Bats from Homeschool Share. He also listens during the science lessons, but doesn’t do much in the way of assignments with that.

          Bumblebee (who turns 3 this weekend) tends to wander about a bit during school lessons. He really likes watching his brother work on Reading Eggs, and he also has a lot of fun doing Khan Academy Kids lessons. If I have a bit of down time, I help him with that. We also read lots of picture books – his favorites are the “If You Give…” series (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, for example).

4-6 p.m.

          The kids have free time to play outside with their friends, or inside if the weather is bad. I continue trying to keep Bumblebee busy, and around 5:00 I start preparing dinner.

6 p.m.

          Dinner. Generally, we all eat together 5-7 nights a week. Some weeks, Will works late and doesn’t join us every night. Sometimes we have date night and the teens babysit. But generally we all eat together.

7-9 p.m.

          The older kids play outside some more (or inside, in the winter). I do the dishes, and Bumblebee either gets lucky and the big kids take him outside, or he watches a bit of TV to keep him out of trouble.

          Bumblebee goes to bed at 8:30. Dragonfly and Grasshopper go to bed between 9 and 9:30, depending on how long it takes the baby (I use that term loosely these days) to fall asleep. I found that he is much better behaved at bedtime if he goes to bed on his own, and since the three of them share a room, staggered bed times are my friend.

          Once they come in from outside, the teens usually have a bit of free time until around 10, at which time Will wraps up work for the day (if he hasn’t already), and we do some sort of media time together, the 4 of us (sometimes the 3 of them, depending on what’s chosen). Movies, TV shows, etc. We all go to bed between midnight and 1 a.m.

So that’s us – a family of night owls! Make sure to click through any of the links below to find out more about other homeschool families and their schedules.




This post is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Not-Back-To-Homeschool Blog Hop. Click on any of the links below to explore this topic further.

Last Minute Back-to-Homeschool

This post contains affiliate links.

It’s back to school time for most of the country! What an exciting time of year! Are you ready? Because I’m not. As much as I love the fall and get excited for back to school with my kids, I enjoy the freedom of summer and just letting the kids run around outside most of the day (except for Bumblebee, who’s not quite 3 – his birthday is next weekend).

an hourglass with red sand sitting on top of an open newspaper

We live in a state that doesn’t start school until September (the day after Labor Day, specifically). As a former public school student, I’ve always followed that same basic schedule with my kids. Over the years, we’ve slowly grown less attached to the public schools’ guidelines, but there’s a small part of me that just can’t keep the boys working hard all summer long. I don’t think I’d make a good year-round homeschooler! So every year around this time, it’s time to start thinking about back to school things.

I posted earlier this summer about our plans for high school. Read what Scorpion is doing, and how Ballet Boy is studying for his GED. They will also work on review products as they come up, but their basics are covered already.

Let’s talk about curriculum choices for the younger set. Maybe our choices will help inspire you. And keep reading to the end of this post for a special offer from the Homeschool Review Crew, too.

Grasshopper (4th Grade)

Literature: He will be reading a few books aloud to me this year. First up, Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom. He owns an autographed copy of this book and has been desperate to read it for a long time. It’s finally time! It takes him quite a while to get through a novel, so I’m holding future selections loosely for the time being. As of right now, I plan to write a post each month with our new reading choices, but that might change as the school year progresses.

Math: CTCMath, with random other things to supplement.

Grammar: Fix It! Grammar from IEW. He got about halfway through book 1 (The Nose Tree) last school year, so he will finish that up and then move straight into book 2 (Robin Hood). He loves this program! The biggest issue I have is slowing him down; he prefers to do an entire week’s worth of work every day! But I need to make sure he understands the concepts, not just gets through the book.

Science: Every other day, alternated with history. We will be utilizing our membership for science. There’s lots of fun science classes for 4th grade on there, so we will work through them over the course of the school year. “Discovering Disgusting Things” sounds like a good place to start for a 9-year-old boy!

History: My plan is to work on a variety of things from We’re going to start with their Lapbooking Through the Ages course because he did so well with the Home School in the Woods lapbook course we reviewed over the summer.

Writing: Even though he’s a little old for them, we are using My First Reports from Hewitt Homeschooling (they don’t have a landing page for all of the different options, but here’s one on mammals so you can see what they’re all about and then poke around on their site for more options). He was such a late reader that these reports work well for him, even though he’s 9 years old. They provide such a strong writing (and learning to research) foundation that they’re a fantastic resource.

Dragonfly (K)

Dragonfly is young enough that we’re still taking things reasonably slowly with him. He works on Reading Eggs every day, and does a combination of Math Seeds and CTCMath for mathematics. I also plan to start him on Khan Academy Kids this year. Bumblebee has been playing with that app and loves it, so I know Dragonfly will too. We will also continue to have him read simple books, with the goal of graduating to more mainstream books (maybe even his first novel or biography) in the spring. I will also add in a few things from for him, and maybe a few lapbooks from Homeschool Share. I want his first official year of school to be both well-rounded and fun, and I think using this combination of resources, without focusing on specific subjects, will accomplish that.

I also plan to read the New Testament aloud to these two kiddos. It was about this age when the older set and I did that together, so it’s time for the younger set to get that experience too.

Now for that special offer from the Homeschool Review Crew! They’re giving away a subscription to this week. The giveaway starts on Saturday, so make sure to head over to the Review Crew website this weekend for more information!

What grades are you teaching this year? What are your curriculum choices?




This post is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop. Make sure to check out other posts in this series in the linky below!

Homeschool Encouragement, Incentives, and Rewards

If you’re a parent, you know that children respond well to rewards. Just think about it. What’s one of the biggest tips to potty-training your toddler? Give them praise and rewards when they “do their business” in the toilet. Never punish them for getting it wrong. Why would older children, school-age children, be any different? They’re not.

Homeschool Encouragement, incentives, and rewards

We likely spend all day encouraging our children, even if we don’t realize we’re doing it. “Good job, buddy.” “Nice work!” “I’m so proud of you.” Those are just a few of the things that parents tell their children on a regular basis. Sometimes you need a bit more though, and that’s where incentives and rewards can come in.

Incentives and rewards are similar in concept, but not exactly the same. An incentive can become a reward, but it starts out as its own thing; it’s the promise and the reward is the follow through. In the world of homeschooling, we might use incentives to urge our children on in doing a particularly difficult assignment, or more broadly, to learn a difficult concept (like times tables or learning to read). When they succeed, they get the reward.

The incentive and reward “required” will vary from child to child. I’ve talked before about how when our children read their first chapter book (whether a novel or a nonfiction book like a biography), we get them a trophy of some sort. Our oldest child was all about Ancient Egypt when he was learning to read, so his trophy is a replica of a mummy’s sarcophagus (head only). Our second child, who read his first chapter book at about the same time as his older brother, really liked learning about medieval times. His trophy is a bookend of a knight in shining armor. Our third child was a late reader, just like our first child. He loves literature – he just prefers to listen to it rather than reading it. So even though he didn’t really read, he had plenty of exposure to good books, and therefore had a favorite author. So his trophy was an autographed book from that author. The incentive was always “when you read a chapter book, you’ll get a trophy.” The reward was the trophy itself.

Incentives and rewards aren’t just for kids, though. As adults, we also relish in the encouragement of our spouses and friends. Just think about how good it feels when you’ve spent a long time cleaning your home, and your husband returns from work or a day out and notices. He tells you, “The house looks good today. Thank you.” That’s a fantastic feeling! Without even necessarily doing it on purpose, he has given you encouragement and reward all in one little statement.

What about in homeschooling? I know that some of the best rewards I get as a homeschooling mom is when my children are really learning well. And enjoying their time with me. I love to see their eyes light up when they learn a new concept, or when something finally clicks. Reading is the biggest one for me. When my children finally understand that all those funny little squiggles they’ve seen everywhere (letters) work together to make words, and they are able to decipher those squiggles and understand the words for the first time… those are my favorite homeschool moments, by far.

So today, let me finish up by offering you just a tiny bit of encouragement.

You are a good mom, even on the days you don’t feel like one. Even when the days feel impossible to navigate, you can do it. Your children are grateful to be home with you rather than in a public school, even if they tell you they aren’t.

You are enough.




This post is part of the 2021 Homeschool Review Crew Not-Back-To-Homeschool blog hop. Click any of the links below to read more posts on this topic.

Speed Drills for Math Practice (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

One of the biggest setbacks to a “regular” school schedule is the possibility of losing ground over summer break. This is especially true with math and reading, though reading is easy enough to keep practicing. But math can be a lot harder to stay motivated to work on when it’s “off time.” This is especially true if your student has only recently mastered a new concept – like multiplication or division facts. Math Essentials has an answer for that, though: Math Essentials Speed Wheel Drills! We received all three of the titles in this series: Addition, Multiplication, and Division.

A collage showing the three book covers, the three book spines, and a completed wheel drill

What is a Speed Wheel Drill?

A completed +1 Wheel DrillWhile you may not have heard of a Speed Wheel Drill, once I describe it, you’ll understand where the name came from because it really is exactly what it sounds like. On each page of the consumable workbooks, there are a series of circles. Each circle (wheel) has two smaller circles within it, and a series of spokes coming out. In the very center is a large number (3, for example). In the center section are a series of other numbers, a bit smaller than the center number (7, 5, 2, etc). Your student simply uses the center number as the “base” for each math problem, and then does the specified operation (depending on which book you have), writing the answer in the outer circle. So, with 3 as the center number and 7 as one of the middle numbers, in the multiplication book the child would write 21. Next to the 5, he would write 15. The 2 would get a 6. And so on.

There are a couple of different ways you can use the “speed” portion of the Speed Wheel Drills.

  • Don’t use a timer at all, and just do them as Wheel Drills
  • Time your child as he completed a wheel. Then see if he can best himself on the next one, and the next one.
  • Set a stopwatch and see how far your child gets in the set amount of time. Next time, see if he can complete more of the wheel in the same amount of time.

How We Used the Workbooks

The three workbooks stacked on top of one another, fanned out.My older boys are well versed in their math facts, so I didn’t bother giving these to them. Because we received all three books, which are ideal for different ages, I set up Grasshopper (9, heading into 4th grade) with the Multiplication book and Dragonfly (5, K) with the Addition book. We set the Division book aside for later.

Grasshopper has gone through all of the multiplication lessons in his math curriculum, and has done quite well with them. But that curriculum only has a single lesson for each set of the times tables, and that’s just not enough practice to really master such an important concept. Adding in Speed Wheel Drills has been perfect. We started without the “speed” aspect, just to see how he’d do, and he did pretty well. As I could tell that he was getting quicker with each successive wheel, I introduced a timer. I opted to use the second method that I described before with him. It was great to watch him continue to get faster and faster throughout the summer. And Grasshopper is a kid who loves to best himself, so this type of workbook is perfect for him.

Dragonfly, being just 5, is reasonably new to addition. He’s done a little bit here and there, but his math up to this point has been primarily number recognition, patterns, colors, shapes… you know, Kindergarten stuff. He’s very good at that now, though, which means it’s time to begin some of the more difficult things. We used the Speed Wheel Drills Addition book as a gentle introduction to adding for him. He was a bit confused about how the wheels worked until I explained it to him, and then he thought it was such a great idea. He warmed to the concept very quickly, although he got frustrated with trying to write the numbers himself. We found that they worked better almost as oral drills, and I wrote his answers down for him. We haven’t timed him at all yet.

Opinion and Final Thoughts

Math Essentials Speed Wheel Drills are fantastic resources for students. You can use them during the summertime like we did, or as a supplement to any math curriculum. My kids thrived with them, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Make sure to click through to see what other members of the Homeschool Review Crew think of the books!