For years now I’ve wanted to do a big blog post about our ever-evoloving campsite, which I often talk and share photos of on Facebook, and we all love so dearly, but I’ve never actually posted about here.  I thought it was time to tell the story of how this magical space came to be.

The first thing I must tell you is that the land and woods which we call “our” campsite, is not, in fact, ours.  We actually live in a townhome at the end of a quiet culdesac in a normal old neighborhood.  The beauty of it is that the lawn at the end of our street  borders nearly 100 acres of undeveloped woods, owned by a kind-hearted man who doesn’t mind when kids and dog-walkers and woodland-loving folks enjoy his property.  There are miles of trails running through the woods, made mostly by a neighbor of ours who has large dogs, but a few trails closer to home were carved out by me and the kids.

And I guess you could say the campsite has been our little project in the past few years.

It went like this: one spring, the kids found this spot just down the hill from the common lawn.  They made an opening in the bushes and would slide down the steep bank into this little clearing of sorts, and began going down there to play and pretend as kids do.  There were several fallen, moss-covered trees, and lots of random junk tossed over by folks over the years. My kids began using some of these things to build themselves a little fort of sorts, and they’d go down to play house.

They called it The Secret Woods, and it really was this quiet secretive place, off to the side of the main lawn and the trail entrance to the woods, and from the road, no one can see down into it.  It was quiet and calm, and pretty.  Daffodils and wild onions speckled the ground there in spring and it wasn’t long before they were dragging me down to see their new play area.

I was completely in love.  The light and the trees and the mossy logs were magical…but the slope was terrible.  You literally had to slide on your tush to get down there, which is fine for kids, but not so much for mommys. 🙂

I, too, was drawn to the space, so soon I had my shovel in hand and was digging out earthen steps to make it a bit more accessible.

The problem was that someone had dumped gravel–like a LOT of gravel–right onto that slope, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to dig steps into gravel, but it’s doesn’t work well. Everything kept sliding down and the gravel bank was just a mess.

We put up with this until fall.  Then I found some old pavers in our garage and decided to get serious about the steps.  Determined to get through the gravel, I kept digging and tossing it into a heap at the bottom of the hill.  One by one, I was able to lay the steps down on mostly solid ground.

I always tell people who ask about our campsite that the woods provided most of what we used to decorate.  The gravel was a blessing in disguise.  The huge pile was spread out to form a path.  The kids gathered stones they found lying here and there, and soon, the path was lined.

Where does the path lead?


Well, at first, no where.  But the next order of business was to build a fire pit so we could enjoy campfires together as a family.  An existing log was left in place to provide seating, and old deck chairs were dragged down too.

Even this happened over weeks and months.  The whole area is on a slope, and after one or two campfires with little ones toddling around, we realized how dangerous that was and so we began grading the area.  All of this happened slowly…every few days, moving a wheelbarrow full of topsoil from one area of the campsite to the fire-pit area in order to level it out.  It still slopes a little, but it’s manageable.  This is, after all, western Pennsylvania.


Spring again, and a Cowboys and Indians-themed birthday party for my 2 oldest prompted the building of the Tee-Pee.


To build it, I used stag horn sumac trees (readily available in our area) which are fairly straight,  and SUPER easy to cut down with a bow saw as they are not dense.  For the teepee covering, I cut apart a large painter’s cloth which I hot-glued, pinned and knotted around the sumacs. This is not a tutorial for teepee building, and I definitely jimmy rigged the whole thing all by myself with some rope and random materials, but guess what? It held up for 2 years.
Eventually, as you can imagine, it got kinda gross.  Wet and moldy cloth and all.  We lovingly called it the creepy tee-pee, and though no one dared go in it anymore, it looked so rad that we left if up until last fall.

Fast forward to last year when we studied the Middle Ages, and I began dreaming of having our own re-enactments down in the woods and having a real pallisade where we could stage battles with friends, and a castle fortress complete with a castle-keep and multiple rooms.

A pile of abandoned pallets in the woods did the trick.  The kids and I literally dragged them from their spot farther in the woods over to where we wanted to build, and then I had to once more, do some leveling of the slope in order to make the fort.  I got some good exercise shoveling earth for a few days and stepping the castle area to form two “rooms.”  Then my husband and I dug a rough 3-6in. trench around the perimeter, and placed one pallet at a time into the trench so it would stay upright.  From there, we tied each pallet to the trees nearest them, or to the pallet next to it using rope.  Back-supports were added here and there and eventually, we had a pretty stable fort.  Where we wanted a back door or front door, we simply left a space between the pallets.

The kitchen was probably the most fun to make.


To make the kitchen-counter/cooking area, we used a couple of stumps topped with an old wooden deck step that we also found in the woods.  The table and chairs are more stumps, and were added over time, as I would drive past places that advertised free firewood and the like- I would simply stop and ask if I could have a few stumps for our campsite.

For the pots and pans, we always keep our eyes open at goodwill and when we go visit my grandpa’s scrapyard, and little by little, we had a while kitchen full of treasures.

My own children and all the neighbor kids who play down here spend quite a bit of time making all sorts of nature concoctions in this kitchen.

The only rule we have is to tidy up and leave the place looking orderly.  I added several nails to the pallets so the pots and utensils can be hung when not in use.

An old stainless steel mixing bowl acts as a sink, and a grilling plate given by a neighbor functions as our “stovetop.”

Old brown curtains were added at some point to the kitchen / back door area.  They are simply hung on a branch, and I leave them up spring-fall and take them down and give them a washing before I pack them away for winter.

The last time I visited my grandparents (who operate a scrapyard), I brought home an old corded wall-phone and I added a screw and hung it in our castle fort.  Lots of calls are made on that thing.


One day, a neighbor who was ripping out their patio approached me and asked if I had any use for the cement blocks they needed to get rid of.  I had no idea exactly HOW we could use them, but of course I said yes, we’ll take them.  Eventually, these became our pretend fireplace in the main room of our castle-fort.



Three swings supply the kids with hours of fun each day. The hammock has been a wonderful spot for me or my hunny to snuggle up on.  Everyone loves piling onto it and occasionally I will sneak out there with my girl to star-gaze on warm summer nights.


While we have now “developed” much of this area, one thing I love is that there is still ample area surrounding our campsite for the kids to continue to explore and build their own secret hideouts~plenty of room for more trails to be added.  It is healthy to allow our children to have the time and freedom to create their own natural play-spaces~ones that we keep our hands off because they are theirs, not ours. My kids are always blazing new trails in our woods, and finding new secret places, each one more exciting than the last.

A couple years ago, I couldn’t resist planting a few dozen bulbs down there.  Seems silly since it’s not our property, but what a wonderful thing to make an investment into an area where you spend so much time–it was well worth it in spring when happy crocuses and daffodils and tulips graced the earth around the fort.

The past two years, we have hosted a mother-daughter harvest party in our Secret Woods.

We spend hours and days leading up to it decorating with pumpkins and corn stalks and hay bales, hanging fresh flag bunting and outdoor lights.






When dusk settles in and the lights are turned on, it’s truly something right out of a fairy tale.


This space is a gift that keeps on giving.  During the early afternoon hours, it’s all ours and we are thankful.  It’s also the first place neighbor kids run to at the end of their school day, and there are many nights when we adults sit down there under the stars and trees and enjoy campfires long into the evening.

It started small, and it’s wonderful to look back and see how it’s changed and improved.

Most recently, we added a zipline to the area.


The Secret Woods has become one of the dearest, most treasured places for all of us–our own little slice of heaven here in suburbia–and very much part of our home. When we moved here I never would have imagined this wooded wonderland and what a gift it would be to our lives.  If ever we move, it is what we will all miss most.

I always encourage moms to help their kids along in developing little magical spaces.  The hours will slip by and your children will enter into that sweet realm of outdoor imaginative play that every child should get to experience and soak up and treasure as their very own.


In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.      ~Charlotte Mason




Counting down the days until Passover and today I put together the goodie bags for the kids.  I had been collecting candy and small toys for the past week or so, and it was fun to finally put the bags together.




These were lots of fun to put together, and the kids are really going to be excited to open them on the night of Passover.

Here’s what I used for each plague:

Plague #1 Water to Blood — Fruit Gushers (I only used the red and blue and left out the yellow)

Plague #2 Frogs — Gummy frogs

Plague #3 Gnats or Lice — Nerds

Plague #4 Flies — Plastic flies

Plague #5 Diseased Livestock — mini animals from Michael’s

Plague #6 Boils — Pink Flarp from Dollar Store

Plague #7 Hail & Lightening w/ Fire — Jumbo white gumballs (Target) & Hot Tamales

Plague #8 Locusts — Zelda’s Chocolate Marshmallow locusts.  We only had a few, so we also used small brown and green Sixlet candies for some baggies.

Plague #9 Darkness — Black licorice

Plague #10 Death of Firstborn — Small, painted wooden clothespins, with felt tunic hot glued on, and wrapped mummy-style in felt (since they were Egyptian) 🙂

I found small 3×4″ baggies at Michael’s and used these to parcel out the candies/toys.

I made my own label stickers then put one of each of the 10 plagues into my party/treat bags and tied them up.

These little candy bags will serve to make this holiday even more special for our children.


This will be our 3rd year celebrating Passover as a family, and each year, our children’s appreciation and anticipation for this holiday grows. We are born-again Christians but as such, we understand that we have been “grafted into the cultivated root” of Israel.  It is therefore, our privilege to “also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.” Romans 11:17


If you have never heard of believers in Christ celebrating the Passover (or other biblical feasts), I would encourage you to find a messianic seder taking place near you, and attend it as a family to understand the significance of the Passover in the lives of New Covenant believers.

All first century believers, including Christ our Lord, celebrated the biblical feasts, and understanding how the feasts are made full in Christ will bring a depth and richness to all aspects of a believer’s life.

It brings me joy to hear my children talking together about who will be the one this year to find the afikomen and to see their understanding of the original communion table grow as we share the matzah and wine on Passover, and remember Christ, our great deliverer, who has brought us out of the Egypt of sin and death, and has redeemed our lives by his sacrifice.


I highly recommend Sam Nadler’s book, Messiah in the Feasts of Israel.




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Last week, in Part 1, I talked to you about our new schedule and how well it’s been working for everyone.

This week, I kinda ate my words.

Our “extracurricular” schedule was overfilled and so more than once, we began our day LATE.  The toddler seemed to interrupt more than last week, and something new: a couple different times, the kids got bored/restless at their 30-minute stations, and wanted to switch…which I allowed…but regretted when they threw fits when the timer went off after only 10 minutes at the new station they chose and were enjoying (new rule: no switching stations until the timer rings!).

All that to say, there are kinks that will need worked out, and this is not the end-all solution to homeschool craziness, but overall, it IS working very well.

I also made a note to myself to make SURE to play with my little 2 yr old Caleb 1-on-1 first thing in the morning while the big kids are doing their room clean up and personal hygiene because on the days I didn’t do that, he seemed to come in and demand my attention more.  I’m reminded that he needs mama-love and quality time as much as my other kids did at his tender age and I can’t just expect him to go without it all morning and be ok with that.  Mom first, teacher second.

On a positive note, I am LOVING how my kids are completely responsible to clean up their activities and how tidy the house has remained as a result.  Also the room-check in the morning and fixing of beds, etc…priceless.  The house feels pretty..clean..for once…without ME going crazy trying to keep it that way by myself!


Today I want to share pictures and details of the bins we’ve put together to further inspire you to get organized and keep your sanity.


Ready, set… let’s get organized.



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We made a list of what activity bins we thought would be enjoyed by the kids, and I tried to continually keep in mind that they would have Caleb (age 2 1/2) with them at these stations, since one of the main goals is to keep that little mister happy and busy playing while I work at the table with the others to complete schoolwork.

We basically have two types of activity bins.

1. Activities that must be done at at table.

2. Activities that must be taken to the living room (these are the play-type activities).


When choosing the first type of bin, since we typically do school in the dining room, it’s worked well for my kids to take these bins into the adjoining breakfast room to work at the smaller table there.

The first set of bins are stored in our homeschool room (which is also our breakfast area).

Because I am a stickler about keeping this space neat and aesthetically pleasing, I keep these smaller, clear bins inside larger, solid-colored bins…does that make sense? The two white IKEA bins  in the photo below fit perfectly into the shelf and are really large, so they can each hold 2 or 3 smaller activity bins–see?  You can also see our thin, flat, clay-bin stored next to the bookshelf there on the left.

The second set of bins are stored in the closet / pantry near the living room.



Ok, now for what’s in each bin!

NOTE: See an arrow on a photo? Click on it to see more details about that bin.

First up:


1. Play-doh Bin with Accessories.

Who doesn’t love play-doh?  Having ONE big bin where all our different sets can hang out has been great.  With a batch of new dough just added, this has been a very popular station so far.  More often than not, we make our own play-doh (what else does one use cream of tartar for anyway?) and I like to add a flavoring to it so it smells good.  Every few weeks, we whip up a batch of fresh, warm playdoh.  It seriously takes less than 5 minutes, and the kids enjoy helping. Remember to keep your old play-doh containers for storing your own homemade stuff.


2. Tactile Play Food Bin

I’m a big fan of Learning Resources company.  They carry some great items, and these two are no exception.  This is not technically an “active” bin yet because these two items are Christmas presents for my youngest!  Shh!

But I am certain this bin will be popular.  The Super Sorting Pie has a ton of colorful, rubbery-textured fruits that little hands will enjoy sorting using the tongs while working on colors at the same time.

The Train Mix and Match is also pretty rad.  The pieces of trail mix are a nice size for little fingers to hold, and each one has a hole in it so your little ones can put them onto the string. Great developmental activity as 2-4 year olds love to string things!


3. Cut, Paste and Create Bin

This has been one of THE most popular bins so far, which totally surprised me!  Maybe it’s because the kids can have free-rein to glue and glitter and bling out their own artwork to their heart’s content without mom standing over them telling them what to do.  All ages have loved this. For the most part, I put things into it that I already had, and freshened it up by adding additional glue (including glitter glue) and some washable markers and stickers.


4. Do-A-Dot Bin

Do your kids love these things?  Geared for younger kiddos, it’s mess-free art fun,  and I simply added the do-a-dot paints we already had, and printed out some pages from the internet that the kids could practice dotting.  I’ve also got a couple do-a-dot coloring books coming in the mail which will be added to the bin.


5. Clay Bin

We’ve been SLIGHTLY obsessed with polymer clay the past couple months.  Like we can’t stop making ridiculously cute play-food for the AG dolls and GI Joes.  Super super fun stuff and kids as young as 2 or 3 can join the fun (the baby has his OWN bag of mixed up clay since he likes to squish all the colors together anyway).  I found this great bin for organizing our clay, and it has little movable compartment walls so you can customize it.  It’s been a great way to keep it all stored nicely.  The kids enjoy making their own creations, and will leave what they want baked sitting on the counter once they’re finished cleaning up.


6. Bead Bin

Another very popular choice for the littles.  To make it even more accessible, I keep pipe cleaners in it and even tie beads at the end of a few so the baby can open the beads and get going right away.  He has probably used this bin every single day since I first set it up.  Here’s a tip: don’t throw away large beads from broken necklaces!  Add them to the bead bin and let your kids enjoy them.


7. Playful Patterns Bin

My friend Barbara gave me this set of foam shapes and cards, and my kids really enjoy creating pictures with them. Sometimes they’ll try to see how many of the cards they can complete using all the shapes in the bin.


8. Blocks and Bears Bin

So my girlfriend Hannah was recently telling me how she remembered these little bear counters that her teacher used to let the kids play with when they had free time in the classroom…she said she just LOVED getting that bin of bears and sorting them all out by color and making them play together.  I decided I might just have to try these bears out! Found them on Amazon for less than $10 and went ahead and purchased them.  Technically they’re math counters I think. Anyway, she was right–they were an immediate hit! Who would’ve known?  They came with cups for sorting, but it didn’t take long for my kids to mix them into their other play worlds. Soon, it was blocks and bears.  They enjoy making elaborate “houses” for the bears and having them visit each other, etc.

And occasionally, the boys bring the squinkies/trashies or their little mini GI Joe guys to play too.


9. Kinetic Sand

Have you tried it yet? We think this stuff totally rocks.  It’s good for an hour or two of fun for the kids when we get it out, and usually, they bring their animals or sea creatures down to create play environments with it.  We used it a TON when we studied Ocean Creatures last year.  We got ours as a gift and it think it was purchased at Brookstone but I’ve noticed many toy stores carry it now.  It really is sand without the mess.  Cool stuff.

10.  Automoblox Bin

You guys, we seriously love these toys.  They’re cars that you build and interchange. They have been thoroughly enjoyed by every single child in our family (even the girl though she may not admit it), and each year, I like to add a couple more cars to the mix.  My little 2 year old loooooooooovesssss these things and plays with them pretty much all day long in between the other (“lesser”) activities.  They are expensive, so look for sales 2 or 3 times a year online, or find them in museums and learning stores everywhere.  Super great well-made toys.


11.  Waffle Town Bin

Going vintage here, peeps!  Did you guys play with waffle town when you were little?  Did you love them as much as I did?!  Such a great toy set. A few years ago, I went on ebay and found a vintage set selling for cheap, and I grabbed it up.  My kids all love building towns for their matchbox cars or little people to live in.  It’s a nice challenging activity for under 4s because you have to fit the pieces together in a certain way for it to work.



12. Lego / Duplo Bin

My 2 year old is also really into Duplo blocks and so that is always an option for him during the day.

Of course for big kids, there are regular legos.  We keep all legos upstairs in the boys’ room, and when they want to dump their BIG bin out, they know they have to dump it onto a sheet.  This makes lego-cleanup a breeze. Legos are def. a creative-play staple around here.



13. Animal / Farm bin

We have a collection of Schleich animals plus our Playmobil 123 Farm Set in this bin, and the littles enjoy getting it out every few days.


14. The Hess Truck Bin

My dad worked for Hess Energy for a couple years, and during that time, our boys received many wonderful trucks as gifts from their Grandpa.  The whole Hess fleet lives in this toy box, and from time to time, we renew batteries on all of them.  GREAT quality toys, and they put out a new model each year.  A day doesn’t go by that my boys don’t play with their Hess trucks.


15. Wooden Train Bin

Do these toys ever get old? Love the imaginative play they provide as the kids build elaborate train track configurations on the living room floor.

16. Waterbead Bin

I think you guys know by now that I am a huge fan of waterbeads!  These things are addicting to play with.  Awesome sensory fun for ages 3 and up.  We like to mix and match colors and make ocean bins, or rainbow fairy bins, or whatever!  This bin is not always an option because waterbeads, once hydrated and played with, do have a shelf-life and once they break down, you have to toss them.  But when I do offer this activity, it is by FAR the most popular choice!  Order your waterbeads cheap on Amazon, or find them in the floral department of Dollar Stores, WalMart etc.


That’s it for our bins right now, but there are a few others I’d like to add over time, including:

–Watercolor Bin

–Puzzles Bin

–Games Bin

Gears Bin

The ideas are endless!

Hope you’re inspired to get some activities organized for your kiddos that will keep them busy and happily playing so you can accomplish more, experience less frustration and interruption, and keep your homeschool running smoothly.


Looking for more activity ideas?

Click here to check out some of the Sensory Fun Boxes we’ve created ~


{Linking up today with Trivium Tuesdays}

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.47.49 PM Homeschooling, especially with multiple-aged kids, can be really difficult.

There are so many logistical, practical details that continually need to be worked out, and many of us get so overwhelmed, that we end up stuck in a place where we simply accept (however unhappily) that a certain level of stress, frustration and discouragement is just part of life.  We are tired. We are disorganized.  We are discouraged that we’re always on edge, or that we lose our temper too much and fail to be the kind, patient, loving mom we want to be to our kids as we teach them.  We pray for grace day by day but often feel we’re stuck on a crazy spinning hamster wheel.  At least I do.

Guess what? There is hope, mamas.

Little by little, we’re going to make it.  It’s going to take dedication and grit and stick-with-it-ness, but if we remain humble, disciplined and willing to learn, we can find a place of peace–imagine teaching your kids from a place where you are mentally and emotionally relaxed and joyful!  If Michelle Dugger can keep that smile on her face as she raises and home schools 19 children, I know I can too.

I am continually amazed what I am able to glean from other veteran homeschoolers, moms of large families and through reading many books/online resources. Each time I find a new solution that works well for the stage I am in with my children, I am so grateful.


Today’s post is about putting some new strategies into place that will provide a calmer, more peaceful homeschooling environment where kids are learning happily and mom is not frazzled and on edge. I am currently homeschooling my four children, ages 8, 6, 4 and 2.

So really, that’s two school-aged kiddos (1st and 3rd grade) and two non-school aged, but very needy/demanding littler kiddos.


This year when it became apparent that I had to keep my six year old at the table with me a little longer, my four year old son lost his playmate for that hour or two, and let’s just say I’m pretty sure he and the toddler formed some secret evil plan to undermine my school-time each day. I’d shoo them off to play together, but that didn’t always go so well, and even when it worked, it was only for like 10 minutes and then they’d  be BACK at the table, along with their noise and toys and craziness.  Argh.  I kept working with it, but it was testing my patience and I hated that my eager first grader who was making strides in reading and math, and needed some concentrated 1 on 1 time each day, was continually being distracted by their antics.

I decided to seek some help.

I knew about Teri Maxwell’s Managers of Their Home book but the last time I looked at it, I just felt overwhelmed by it, and also that it didn’t quite apply to our stage at that time.  But this time, it was honestly heaven-sent.

I was inspired and encouraged as I read through it, and decided to get started immediately by:

1) putting my kids and myself on a schedule for the morning which would include

2) chores and expectations for their morning routine of personal hygiene and care, and

3) a set-schedule for school time, with expectations for who was doing what and when.


I also knew I wanted to try her suggestion to have each of the older children in the family (in my case, that includes everyone except the 2 year old) take turns for 1/2 hour at a time “watching” the toddler / baby so that I could have concentrated, distraction-free time at the table with 1-2 children at once, all morning long.


And finally, I knew for it to be effective, I’d have to set up some activity “stations” that the kids could choose from when it was their turn to watch the 2 year old.  They would have to be responsible to manage their station by playing fairly, keeping the toddler happy, and cleaning everything up completely when they were finished.


We have only been doing this for one week, but already, I’m calling it my sanity-saving-system because it is working so well, and guess what? The kids love love love it.

I wanted to share it with you so that some of you could draw some inspiration and perhaps put a few of these things in place immediately in order to alleviate stress in your homeschool situation.

Of course, I’d encourage you to get Teri Maxwell’s book, but to get started right away, you will want to assign 1/2 hour blocks of time to each of your children to watch/play with your younger child(ren) while you remain at the table working with the others.  In fact, the entire morning (really, the whole day) is broken up into 1/2 hour segments


Just to give you an example, this is how our mornings are looking:

6am Mom: up early!  <— more on that another time, but for me, everything pretty much hinges on this.  This is when I can read, pray, exercise, and plan.

7:30 – Littles up, playing, Mom: Daily meal-prep in kitchen

8am – Breakfast and Family Devotions / Prayer at table, Daddy leaves for work

8:30 – Big kids: Rooms, Chores, Hygiene, Dress for Day – Mom: 1 on 1 time playing with and loving on Caleb (age 2)


9:00 – Josiah (K-4) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (Mom does Math at table with 1st and 3rd grader)

9:30 – Joshua (age 6) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (3rd grader does indep. work (daily grammar, phonics, silent reading, copy work) and Mom works 1 on 1 with Preschooler).

10:00 – Eden (age 8) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (Mom works 1 on 1 to do reading with 1st grader while Josiah chooses a station to do on his own).

10:30 – Josiah (4) and Caleb (2) choose a new station and play together again (Joshua does journal writing and spelling semi-indep and Eden and mom work 1 on 1 in writing and read-aloud).

11:00 All little boys free to play together or choose stations, etc. while mom continues to work with Eden in Science and/or History until just before noon.

12:00 – Lunch Time

12:30-1:30 FREE PLAY TIME

1:30 Baby goes down for 2 hour nap & Boys go outside to play, weather permitting or play quietly indoors ( ha ha ha ha).  Eden finishes up any remaining school work, then has free play time. ….


So this is only part of our day’s schedule, and I KNOW I still need to address the later hours of the afternoon right before Daddy comes home (which are notoriously the witching hours for homeschool moms) but even this little morning schedule has been LIFE-CHANGING for our home school!


Suddenly, I wasn’t being interrupted 2,389 times as I tried to get school done at the table.  Everyone LOVED the stations, and did a great job cleaning them up when the timer went off. The big kids totally rose to the occasion when it was their turn to “babysit” Caleb.

First of all, they felt like they were getting recess/a break from school work, which all kids love, and secondly, they felt very mature getting to be in charge of the baby and all. It worked great for Caleb too, since he already had 1on1 time with Mommy first thing in the morning, and then had such willing, engaged playmates for the remainder of the time.

Before I started all of this, I brainstormed with my oldest as to what stations we could set up,  and what would be enjoyed.  I then grabbed empty bins from around the house, and also bought 4 or 5 more so everything could be nice and orderly (another key to success).

As we worked together and got each bin set up, the enthusiasm just kept building.  The kids were so eager to start school time the next day, because they couldn’t WAIT until it was their time to watch Caleb and choose an activity station. From day one, it was awesome, and I knew I had found something really, really good.

I feel like I just got a better grip on life and homeschooling using this system.

Mamas, this is totally worth giving a try if you are struggling with maintaining your sanity as you juggle school and life with multiple ages! Start by planning out a little schedule and then: get organized.

And for pity’s sake, don’t go out and buy all new stuff.  Organize what you already have.  When it comes to toys and art supplies, we have SO MUCH, it was actually kinda ridiculous as I began gathering.  I could have done 10 MORE bins if I wanted.  The problem is that our kids’ things are usually all scattered about the house or their rooms, or the homeschool area, and everything’s all crazy and mixed up (and driving me even MORE crazy).  Putting every activity into its own bin was probably the most helpful thing I did. It also allowed me to assess each bin and see what I needed to add.  For example, I bought more glue and glitter, etc for the Cut, Paste and Create bin, and also printed off a stack of do-a-dot papers for the Do-a-Dot bin. It felt really good to organize all of our clay into one sturdy bin that is accessible to me and the kids when we need it.

And guess what? The kids appreciated the organization too.  They were so eager to open each organized activity set and get going right away with their play or creativity.  Another of Teri Maxwell’s suggestions I may try is to rotate the availability of certain bins.  If play-doh is only available on certain days, or every other week, it will keep it from becoming overused and boring.

The bottom line here moms: don’t give up.  Don’t accept that crazy and frantic and frazzled are just the new norm for you and your kids.  And certainly don’t believe that by putting a schedule together, your home atmosphere will feel stifled and rigid.

The truth is: Kids and adults alike thrive from routine, and FREEDOM comes when you adopt a clear set of expectations. Start with only scheduling your morning, or maybe only trying a 9-11am set schedule.

Write it out, and be clear as you share with your kids that they each have a job to do during that period of time.  Post a master schedule somewhere where you can all see it.  Use a timer and keep yourself, and your kids accountable.  {In fact, Teri Maxwell shares how it’s very important to keep things moving along and switch up the school tasks and the stations every half and hour even IF everything seems to be going smoothly.  Part of the reason for success is because the whole morning is ordered into 1/2 hr segments and so it moves pretty quickly.  When things are allowed to be drawn out beyond that, boredom or fighting can more easily set in}.

Finally, begin brainstorming activity stations that will be meaningful and fun, and start to get a few organized. Just start somewhere. Next, I’ll be sharing what is in each of our bins, and where we store everything, so be sure to stop back to see it all!

(CLICK HERE to read PART 2)


Wanted to share a photo album of our time spent last week at Meadowcroft Indian Village in Avella, PA. The trip fit right in with where we are on our history time-line and it was great to change our perspective from the early colonial lifestyle in the 1600s to that of the Native Americans.

Many of the kids dressed up in costume and we all had a great time learning about the Eastern Woodland Indians, including the Monongahela, who lived in this area in the 17th century.

We learned about the tools they used to build, gather, garden, and hunt.  Highlights of our visit included getting to go inside the temporary teepee shelter and the wigwam (much more room in there than you expected!), throwing the atlatl at a target, grinding corn using a mortar and pestle, and feeling/holding furs of many different kinds of animals.

Next week we will return to Meadowcroft to tour their colonial village!

If you are in the Western PA region and studying the early-modern period of history, you should truly consider a trip to Meadowcroft–you’ll find it to be well worth your time.

Click to see an enlarged photo with caption.


We joined a weekly homeschool co-op this year that meets each Friday.  Because my kids now join over 150 other kids for a morning of classes (including gym for all, every week!) we are left with only 4 days to get all our regular stuff done for the week.  Typically, I like to reserve Fridays for a make-up day, or a field trip, but this year, I had this grand idea that after co-op, I would build an art-hour into Friday afternoons and make that a regular thing.


Well.  Last Friday was our first co-op day and let me tell you, I was completely SPENT when it was over.  I also had 2 of my 4 kids melting down (baby needed a nap SO badly), we left later than we should have, and on the way home, in desperation, we went through a drive through for lunch (GAH).  It was 3:30 before I knew it, and all my ideas about having a nice leisurely art time with the kids went out the door.

But this week, I planned better. I high-tailed it outta there as soon as classes dismissed and before baby melted down.  I successfully transferred him into his bed without waking him.  I had soup waiting in the crock pot and lunch was easy peasy.

I was SO much less-stressed.  I let the kids play for a while after lunch, and then:

I busted out the art supplies.  =]
Since we woke up to 54 degrees today in western Pennsylvania, I thought these fall leaf prints would be fitting. I am a little bit partial to leaf-art this time of year, how about you? {be sure to check out our Watercolor and Glue Resist Leaves from last year}.

We created these together on the back patio, and the kids loved it.  The weather was perfectly sunny and cool, and we were all relaxed.

This also proved to be a great quickie-art lesson.  You probably have everything you need already in your home.  If you don’t have tempura paint, you can use acrylic (just be sure your kids’ clothing is covered).

We used:

::Large pieces of construction paper

::Tempura paint {white and fall colors}

::An assortment of fresh leaves & a few tiny acorns

::Paint brushes and sponges

::Paper plates for paint & LOTS of paper towels for messes.
(be smarter than me and cover your work area with some newspaper first)

Check out the full tutorial over at  Deep Space Sparkle (also one of my favorite art sites)!


4 year old's piece

4 year old’s piece


My 6 yr old’s–loving his colors. So vibrant


My 8 yr old's lovely finished piece.

My 8 yr old’s lovely finished piece.

My kids added a 3-D element by gluing acorns on to their dried artwork.  And my 6 yr old found a feather which he glued to his as well.  I think they all turned out lovely.


Remember when you’re doing art with your children, that it’s really more about the process than a finished product.  Join your kids in creating if you’re able~I enjoy art as much as my kids do, and when I keep it simple, I find it to be therapeutic.

This “art hour” turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing end to our week.


I’ll try to post more of our Friday art lessons as we do them this year.

Have a great weekend everyone!

God is not an ER Doctor who only repairs our hurts; He is a Master Surgeon who plans our hurts in order that He might do us greater good.  -John Piper

The following excerpt from The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis explains the dangers of percieved self-sufficiency and how God sometimes allows crisis and pain as a gift of grace.

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the secondshatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.

We find God an interruption.

As St. Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’

Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people—on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little tradespeople, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right.

How can I say with sufficient tenderness what here needs to be said? . . . Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched.
And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them.

I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. 

If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms;

But He is not proud.
He stoops to conquer.

He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.

The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture.  It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell; yet even this He accepts. 

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames,God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’. ..And [because] this illusion of self-sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people, and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.” (1)


Saints, if you find yourself in such a place of painful “interruption,” I pray you would be encouraged in our Lord today.  He has not led you to this place to abandon you, but to refine you.

“But [the Lord] said to me: My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!”

-2 Cor 12:9

O Lord help us to see that all is grace!
Pitch Thy tent over us and dwell with us in the midst of trials and suffering which You have ordained, for our good and Your glory.  Interrupt us where we need inturrupted.  Disturb us according to Thy will.  Shatter our illusions of self-sufficiency that You may reign supreme in our lives, and be our all-in-all.
Help us in our deepest “cellar[s] of affliction,” to find Your “choicest wines” reserved there for us.  (2)


(1)  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of PainThe Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (New York: Harper One, 2002).

(2) From quote by 17th century theologian, Samuel Rutherford: “When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.”


Crisis and Suffering as Gifts of Grace is a re-post from the 2012 archives.

A covering.

Here is the very thing for which our souls yearn.

It’s a truth I am reminded of each time that my children run to me, crying in pain.

Mama, I’m hurt! I need a band-aid!  As they unknowingly weep this confession, their owies and tear-streaked faces preach the same sermon to me again and again, and it’s nothing short of gospel truth.

We need a covering.

It’s under a covering that we are hidden, for it clothes and conceals us, protecting and shielding from danger and harm.  It’s under a covering that we find healing,  wholeness and rest.

Without it, we are vulnerable–exposed, naked, hurting, ashamed.

At creation, God the Eternal breathed life into our first mother and father, and gave them everything good and perfect and beautiful.  Being made in the beginning, only a “little lower than the angels, and crowned [surrounded, encompassed, covered] with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), Adam and Eve knew nothing of shame and nakedness and fear.  No other covering was needed because they were completely encompassed–surrounded and upheld above and below and on all sides by God’s glorious presence. And for a moment, there was heaven on earth. 

In crept the enemy, and at that first sin in the garden, the perfect and holy presence of God over the human heart was removed, leaving them, and all of mankind, naked, ashamed, and desperately trying to sew together fig-leaf works of righteousness in order to bandage gaping heart holes, remove the shame and protect from death itself.

But just as their fig leaf coverings were insufficient cloaks, so too does he count our own righteous deeds as filthy garments.

Alone, and aware of our own sin and shame, like our mother and father of old, we cower and hide, as deep within, the echoes of our own hearts condemn us while the enemy of our soul gloats in triumph. This we understand: without a covering, we. are. dead. in. sin.  Darkness surrounds us as night comes, and the glory of what once was, fades to a distant longing, buried deep within our aching hearts.

We are now as the walking dead, and the world around us goes on screaming, pulling and pressing, ever suggesting that life can be found in this pursuit or that token or this affection.  Vainly we pursue. Because the longing, the yearning, it drives us and leads us to keep searching for that distant memory of what we once had–that which brought LIFE.  Over and over again our idols seem to turn upon us to attack, consume and wound more deeply.

Here in the blackest of nights, with bleeding hearts, exhausted from striving, we shiver in the dark–not from cold, but from despair and fear and pain.  Oh wretched soul, our heart accuses, who can save thee from thyself? We lie down, but not in peace, for what rest can be found for tormented hearts such as these?

It is in this darkest hour, that God the Eternal sends forth from His throne, a shaft of holy light, piercing down from glory above, and for the first time, our souls are taught mercy.
Heaven breaks forth with thunder, and the skies burst now in glorious day.  Light shines forth, light that is a banner of love, rippling down from the throne of grace, to bring a covering for every naked human heart. Down it falls like rain, cascading into streams of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  Lifting our burning eyes, we see that this fountain issues forth from a cross set high on Zion’s hill.

Behold the Lamb! We see him standing now, the Root of Jesse, raised as a banner over sin and death.  Piercing our hearts with His fiery gaze, he beckons us to draw near.  Step into the fountain. My blood covers all your sin.

So we come. Bowing beneath the crimson waters of salvation, we join the saints in this living song–Worthy is the Lamb! Seated on the Throne!

Grace covers all, heaven is handed down, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.


So you see sweetie? I whisper to my children, as I bandage their wounds.   See why a band-aid just feels so good? It reminds us that Christ Jesus is our covering.  In Him alone are we made whole. Only He makes all things new!


O happy hour, O blessed day

When Christ encompassed me!

To be free from sin and death I came

And fell beneath that tree.

For by his death, new life I gained

And from sin’s grip he freed

This grateful undeserving soul

To life eternally.


Family vacation this week~ oh, what blessed joy!

There have been hours of sitting and soaking in the sunshine and sand, playing in the waves with the children, the gift of an empty schedule, and the quietness of soul to read and pray and write.  It’s truly more than this mama could ask for!

This morning, I was reflecting back to when I first began my homeschool journey, and remembering with a grateful heart, the lessons learned thus far from the many trials and triumphs that are not unfamiliar to what so many of you have experienced, or are currently experiencing!

By the time our second was born, I knew I was ready to say goodbye to my classroom teaching days to be home with my children. What a relief it was to finally be close to my babies each day! By the time my oldest was four, my husband and I had talked with and gotten to know enough real-life homeschooling families to be open to the idea ourselves. The reasons were many and seemed to continue to add up.  After a time of prayer and waiting came the perfect peace of God…and the assurance and confidence to know, to trust, and to obey.


From that point, my enthusiasm grew month by month. It was a matter of waiting until my oldest was finally Kindergarten age so I could “officially” get started!  Oh, how eager I was to begin school that first year with her. I had so many expectations, so many hopes and ambitions!  By that time, I was so certain homeschooling would be a perfect fit for our family, I couldn’t wait to begin.  I was also certain I wanted to Classically educate my children (by this time, our 3rd had come along). So we began in May, a few days after my daughter turned five.  Why wait until fall when we cold get a “head start” in spring? I would have her reading by Christmas, no problem.

Looking back now, I see now how many of my ideals were unrealistic.

I remember using baby gates to keep my 1 and 3 year old boys out of our dining room so that I could have a quiet place to work with my daughter each day. Naturally, they revolted, and were soon hanging over the gates, crying and wanting more than ever before to be by my side now that I had forbidden them.
I can remember shedding a few of my own tears in those early weeks when I was just starting out. Nothing was going quite as planned! The quiet classroom-time I imagined, where calm, patient mother and wide-eyed, eager-to-learn daughter could sit together peacefully for a morning of lessons was so far from the reality of life at that time, it is almost comical to look back upon. And though I was still determined and enthusiastic, I felt I was scrambling from the get-go to find solid footing.

How exactly was I going to work with my daughter for an hour or two each day when I had a needy baby and toddler who wouldn’t leave us alone for even a moment? School-time was a hectic whirlwind most days. It seemed as soon as we’d begin, one or both of the little boys would need something.  I would have to get up a dozen or so times during “school” to change diapers, get them snacks, or set them up to play. Each of their activities seemed only to last  5 or 10 minutes, and served primarily to add to the mounting wreck that was our house.

I was exhausted those early weeks and months, and was struggling to try to meet my own rigorous demands and high expectations.  Classical education meant literature-rich, yet when was I to read aloud? Why was it taking so long for my daughter to learn to read?! After all, I was using the best curriculum I could find.
All the while, the little boys disrupted and worked against us.  Some days, I was so frustrated with their “bad” behavior, I would find myself taking it out on my daughter–how can you not know that math fact yet!?  Think harder! I’d bark, as tears filled her eyes.

I knew if I just pushed through, we’d find a way. Surely we’d find solid footing eventually…or would we?

Around that time, I was re-reading The Pilgrim’s Progress and found myself relating to a particular scene more than ever before. I came to the familiar passage where Christian finds himself stuck in the sough of despond (or the swamp of despair).

Wherefore CHRISTIAN was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavoured to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket gate: which he did, but could not get out, because of the burden that was upon his back. But I beheld, in my dream, that a man came to him whose name was HELP, and asked him what he did there?


“Sir,” said CHRISTIAN, “I was bidden to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come; and as I was going thither, I fell in here.”


“But why did you not look for the steps?”


“Fear followed me so hard, that I fled the next way and fell in.”


Then said he, “Give me thy hand.” So he gave him his hand, and he drew him out; and set him upon some ground, and bade him go on his way.


“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”
Psalm 40:2


Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run; and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond. For still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arises in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.  It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad;

…True, there are, by the direction of the lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps placed evenly through the very midst of this slough; but at such times as this place does spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or, if they be, men, through the dizziness of their heads, step beside, and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there; but the ground is good when they have once got in at the gate”.  



“Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.”

Isaiah 35:3, 4

How I wept as I read it.

Here I’d been floundering through the muck, trying to force MY own way…The way I was sure was the right way.  Like Pilgrim, I trudged forward, sure of self, lacking in prayer and trust in the Lord who had started me on this path. All the while I was becoming increasingly burdened by my own doubts, fears and failures.

How needy we are of His daily grace and guidance, dear friends!

The steps are there, but how often we miss them when our eyes are not continually fixed upon Him.  When we plow forward in our own strength rather than awaiting His leading, despair can surround us quickly.  It was as if I chose over and over to refuse His outstretched helping hand because it meant I would have to lift my own and surrender my will.

We’ve been going through a series at church for the past few weeks on the names of God.

Some are so magnificent and powerful–Jehovah Tsebaoth–the LORD God of Hosts (He who commands armies), Jehovah Bore–Creator God who brings forth the starry host, one by one, and calls them each by name, El Shaddai–Almighty God…

Each name reveals another facet of our Eternal God, and truly, presents a picture so vast and omnipotent, it is beyond our comprehension.

Yet so often, as I’ve walked along this road of parenting and homeschooling, there is another name that I have cried out for and clung to. Here in the muck and mire of daily life as mother and teacher that I have come to know my Lord most intimately as Elohim Ozer Li –God, my HELPER.

How often my Helper has reached down and pulled me from my own messes–more times than I can count.

How faithfully He saves! How tenderly He helps! How lovingly He places us back on a sure path, and in our weakness, endows us with wisdom and strength and what is often most miraculous to me, He fills us again and again with joy and gladness!

What about you, sweet mama? Are you feeling stuck in the muck? Burdened by the cares of life? Feeling like a failure? What is it you lack? The Lord our Helper longs to fill you with every good thing~you need only to ask.

As you begin this new school year, side by side with your children, I pray that you and your children would come to know our Lord more intimately. May you cling to Him more fiercely, day by day, and be filled to overflowing with all the goodness He loves to pour out upon His own.  Cry out to Him by name, and ask for that which He promises to give.


“How great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!

Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be the Lord: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness!”

Psalm 31:19-21





One thing I am asked about over and over is how I map out, plan and organize our lessons for a homeschool year.  Today’s post is an edited version of a response I sent to a reader who wrote in to ask about this very thing

I thought I’d share it here for others who may be interested in knowing how we plan our year.

I find that if I do not begin with a solid plan of action–what I want to accomplish, how and when–I will inevitably begin strong, but in a short time, fizzle out, become distracted or lose the bigger picture of where we were supposed to be going.  Has that ever happened to you?

Someone might say, well I purchase an all-in-one curriculum and it just lays the plan out for me in the teacher’s guide.

Sometimes this is the case, and many moms do prefer this, particularly if they are new to homeschooling and feeling overwhelmed.  The year I began (public school) teaching, I can remember practically CLINGING to that teacher’s manual and guide to help me navigate through the school year.  I would have been lost without it.

But as I went along and gained experience in my classroom, it wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t HAVE to follow their specific instructions for my students–I could use it as a guide to meet state standards, but fill in with my own literature choices and hands-on lessons, etc. Soon my classroom was coming to life in ways it never had when I had just blindly followed someone else’s instructions of how to teach.

Even in that environment, I was learning how to tailor my teaching to reach my students more effectively.

What a privilege that as home educators, we can COMPLETELY custom-fit our curriculum choices and teaching methods to fit with our children’s interests, abilities and learning styles.

Needless to say, I no longer choose those big box, all-in-one curriculums that so resemble what I had to use during my 10 years of public school teaching.  Now I enjoy researching, picking and choosing, and finding the best of the best for my kids, in each area of study.

However, this leaves the mapping out of details in my court, and that takes a bit of time.  With four children, I know once the school year starts, I will NOT have time to plan, week to week.   That leaves summer break to get it done.

I’d like to first share how to lay out all the basics which are very easy to plan, then move to the things that are a bit harder to map out, like custom history units.

It’s important to get some idea of what your kids will be using for daily practice …skills and subjects that need repetition and consistency in order to reach mastery.  What 2, 3 or 4 activities will your children be required to complete every single day?

My chosen grammar curriculum has 180 lessons, and is designed to be completed, one lesson every school day. Other things like Math are also fairly simple too: we do math daily (and sometimes a quickie review on Sat mornings too). Obviously, we hope to get through about a whole grade level or so in a school year. If the lessons are numbered, it’s easy to figure out how many pages/lessons need done each day…and to know when you’re behind! 

Last year we were somewhere midway through the year, but I noticed in grammar we had only done about 40 lessons! So, again, it’s helpful to know which subjects are one lesson per day.  Copywork is another area that is daily for my kids.  I prefer to get these “daily practice” type of things out of the way first thing in the morning.   I am continually tempted to do many other {more fun} things first, but I remain disciplined because I know if we skip it, we may never get back around to it. 


Consolidate! Workbook pages for these 3-5 independent or semi-independent practice subjects are stored in the SAME binder, and my kids know to grab it first thing in the morning and get started.  For math, the entire year’s worth of practice pages will not fit easily in this binder, so I only hole punch about 3 month’s worth, and I insert them behind the math tab.  I remove these finished pages when we are ready to re-load with new ones.
It is really nice to have most of your child’s workbook pages in one place.  Less for them and you to juggle each day.

My daughter’s primary school binder:

On to planning–

Science is fairly easy for me to plan out as well. We use Apologia, which uses the in-depth approach to science, and allows us to stay in one area of study for an entire semester (or year if you choose).  This year, for example, we are studying Zoology Land Animals for Sem. 1 and Human Anatomy Sem. 2.

As there are approximately 13-14 chapters to get through per book, and we do 2 books (in-depth studies) per year,  I know from the get-go that I can spend about a week per chapter and have a bit of room to spare at the end of the schoolyear (which I like).


Pre-read your primary texts!  

Reading more!

Every summer, I skim/pre-read my Science text, and preferably, the material for both semesters if I am able. Not everyone does this, and probably I am in a small (nerdy) minority, but here is why I do it: when I know what is coming up, and when, I can begin “filling in” and rounding out our studies with awesome hands-on stuff.  Because who wants to spend all our time reading when we can be going and doing?  Knowing what is coming helps me plan better for it.

When we were studying Flying Creatures, for example, last year, I pre-read the text in summer, then began considering field trip options and art lessons that would fit into our in-depth study of insects and birds. We ended up putting some of these things on the calendar far in advance, for example, visiting the Butterfly Conservatory during our chapter on butterflies, and going on an Insect-Walk w/ fellow homeschoolers to find cicadas, crickets and grasshoppers during that week’s lesson. We also did some pretty cool oil-pastel resist GIANT insects with our homeschool group (and all the supplies were ready before hand). It’s fun to look forward to these things once they are ON the calendar, but the only way to do that is to skim/pre-read the text and get at least a general idea of where you’re going.

That brings me around to my next tip…


Get your calendar in front of you, and begin filling it out.

In order to effectively plan out our Science and History studies, what I ALWAYS do next is put my calendar in front of me.  Some years I have purchased that huge school calendar they sell at Office Max, had it laminated, and used it as a workspace as I plan with my colored-coded dry erase markers.  I write, erase and move things around to fit them in better here or there. Here is what last year’s looked like as I was working on the fall semester:



While I do roughly plan my entire year each summer, I only do a detailed plan for FALL because it is hard for me to plan well the farther ahead I go. Also, I break our school year into 2 semesters. Semester 1 is Fall/Winter and Semester 2 is Winter/Spring. For us, Semester 1 begins first week of August and Semester 2 begins first week of January. So once my calendar is in front of me, I begin scheduling my year by counting out my 180 days and where my breaks will fall. Once you determine your start date, your end date will work itself out, more or less, from there. That brings me to my next super important tip when you first begin planning it all out on paper:


SCHEDULE IN YOUR BREAKS right from the start!

What schedule will you follow? Remember, YOU get to choose! Think you won’t need regular breaks? Think again. 😀  Think you’ll be ok just winging it and taking breaks whenever you feel like it? Okay… Just be ready to deal with losing whole months at a time when those breaks get away from you, and like weeds, life and other demands sneak in to overcrowd your growing garden.  Why aren’t the kids blooming? Why are we still stuck on chapter 2 in science? Why do they resist me every single day I *try* to do school?
Set the expectation that a nice long holiday will come their (and YOUR) way once you work hard for x amount of time. It feels so good to earn those breaks!

We follow a “Sabbath School Year” schedule where we do school for 6 weeks, then take a full week break. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this! It’s been absolutely wonderful to help prevent total burnout and it enables me to not only have regularly-ocurring, carved-out time to plan ahead and see where I’m going, but it also gives us time to relax together as a family and not always be in school mode!

Because I share my core subjects (History and Science) with a couple close friends, we enjoy getting together on our off-week to plan out the next 6 weeks, brainstorm lessons, activities  and field trips.  This keeps us accountable and always on our game.

What about summer break?

I find that I still like to have a summer break (some folks homeschool year round and that works for them, others follow their local public school calendar because of sports, etc). We have found that we don’t need THAT much time off in summer to get recharged and rested, and that we much prefer to have longer breaks scattered throughout the school year. So we take a TWO month summer vacation from June 1 to Aug. 1.

Additionally, I have discovered as I’ve been on my little homeschooling journey, that I like to have a NICE LONG Christmas break. Starting last year, I’ve begun scheduling a full three weeks off at that time of year, and it is wonderful.

I can then begin 2nd semester the first full week after New Year’s Day. So once your calendar is in front of you, and you’ve determined your start date, be sure to plan where you want those breaks (*and remember to let your husband know when these are, so you are on the same page…sometimes we’ve had to adjust them for his work, and often we plan little getaways for these weeks off).

For our family, I begin counting out weeks Aug. 1st, and after 6 weeks, on my little (or big) calendar, I mark “NO SCHOOL” on that 7th week. Then I begin counting up another 6 weeks with a full “NO SCHOOL” where the next 7th week falls. Inevitably, this will get all screwed up in fall especially with holidays and all of that. So there are certainly times where we will only have been in school for 3 or 4 weeks, and we’re somewhat “forced” to take our week off. This month, we are going on vacation, and we’ve only been in school 3 weeks. So once we get back, I scheduled 8 weeks of school before our next break. You could, of course just begin your six-week count again, and take a half week off or whatever works for your family and sanity.

Just stay somewhat flexible and know it will probably be crazy until 2nd Semester. Then the Sabbath Schedule works out like a dream, and to be honest, the long winter months are when you need it!

Now it’s time to count up your days to make sure you will meet your state requirement.  Here in PA, we are required 180 days (or 900 hours) at the elementary level.

Don’t forget to count those Saturday, Sundays, or even full weeks where you are mixing Education with vacation…a trip to the coast when studying swimming creatures? A visit to Colonial Williamsburg? These can count as school!

Last year, for example, we counted our day at the Renaissance Festival as a school day since we were studying the Middle Ages.

So add those days up, and see where you finish. For the past 2 years, we’ve finished by Memorial Day (or June 1st-ish) and it’s been awesome. I’m always ready to set school aside that time of year, and be outdoors more and more without anything holding us up.


From there, I simply begin writing in the lessons in History and Science that I plan to cover each week of our year ON the calendar (I write them in on the margin or on Sunday’s box…for example, the first Sunday of August on my calendar says Sci L. 1 and Hist. Review Columbus & Age of Exploration). I like to go through and write in all my Science chapters/lessons first, then go back and schedule in History.

History is our Core and it requires the most prep time and is the trickiest for me to put down on the calendar (and even harder to stick with what I’ve planned).

Even though I use the timeline and a much-loved curriculum as our skeletal guide (Story of the World), I don’t exactly read straight through it because we prefer deeper unit studies….so it can sometimes feel like a guessing game–what empires and events and characters will we want to spend longer on and develop into fuller units with costumes and crafts and a chapter book and field trips? What can we skip? What books do I want to read to go along with these units or themes? I borrow and order history books (picture and chapter) all summer long. Planning our History core truly requires the most significant amount of planning for me. I spend my summer reading, but I find it enjoyable, interesting and exciting. I pre-read about 90% of what I purchase (or loan) to read to the kids for the year in history. I never don’t have a book in my purse, on my desk, in the car, and on my person during summertime! In the process I educate myself which I personally find CRUCIAL in order to teach it well. As I privately read all of the books I will eventually share with my kids, I CONTINUALLY place each of these books on the timeline we’ll be covering for the year.  This way, I can see where the events and key people belong and fit into our History and Literature studies. This year we are in the Early Modern period, approximately 1600-1850, with a focus on American History.  Somewhere in all that reading, and using my primary curriculum as a skeletal guide, and always the timeline, a plan forms for history.  I get the big ideas first, then I “fill it in” with the details and what books I want to use to drive our learning.  My planning lists in history look a bit like this:

BIG IDEA: Age of Exploration 1500-1620
Details: Spanish control of the seas, conquests in S. America of Incas, Mayans and Aztecs, Mining for Gold, Cortez, Montezuma, Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth,
Books to Read: Exploration and Conquest, Sir Francis Drake: His Daring Deeds,

BIG IDEA:–Early Colonization 1585-1630
Details: English attempt to colonize N. America, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lost Colony of Roanoke, Queen Elizabeth defeats the Spanish Armada, Religious Persecution in England,  Holland and France, King James, Jamestown Colony, Puritans, Seperatists, Mayflower, Plymouth Colony, First Thanksgiving
Books to Read: The Betrayer’s Fortune, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, My America books: Our Strange New Land and The Starving Time~ Elizabeth’s Jamestown Diary,  A Journey to the New World: Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, If You Sailed on the Mayflower, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, …..and many more


Getting it down on the calendar, as I said, is trickier, because it’s not always so clear-cut (lesson 1, lesson 2).

And of course, very often I fly by the seat of my pants and add things in as I find them, rearrange units, and work out the smaller details as I go along. I’m sure it all sounds crazy and the reality is that sometimes it is.

Here are a couple of snapshots of this fall’s calendar where I’ve written in a basic plan for science and history–


I don’t plan every single day out normally.  I find that overwhelming and sometimes a bit stifling. I just know I have a week to get through the material in those lessons or chapters.

Why only write down your History and Science plan? some may ask.
Well, remember the other subjects require daily practice.  Science, and particularly, History  (which for us, includes Literature and the Arts) are more time-consuming and need planned out, week by week.

It should be noted again that because History really IS our foundation/core, during school hours at least, most of what we are reading, learning, creating and doing is related to our chronological study of history. We read a large amount a material together, spending a couple of hours a day or more reading aloud. Rich, living literature is the glue of a Classical Charlotte Mason Education.

For some homeschooling families, history is just another “subject” and is more of a minor focus. This is totally to be expected since most of us were taught that way. For many, it just feels natural to buy a giant box of grade-level curriculum from an all-in-one company where the lessons are all planned out for you, subjects are separate, but tied loosely together, and plans are scripted week to week. Some people really, really prefer to teach their kids this way, and a few of these big-box companies have come a long way with the rich literature that they now offer (much of it tying into history). I just know for ME, and for our family, that does not work well.

In fact, after teaching this way for almost 10 years, I could not be more pleased how delightfully different our homeschool atmosphere and living curriculum is from what I experienced in the public school system.

Have you already begun your school year? Are you counting down those last days of summer break, and feeling like it is too late to be well-prepared for what lies ahead of you? Don’t stress, mama!  Having even the most basic plan in front of you will feel good, and will keep you from floundering and wandering off track this school year. 

It’s not too late to grab your calendar, and at least generally plan our your major subjects or areas of study. Every year will get easier to plan, I promise.

Finally, plan your basic school day.  Take a look at what you have. What subjects will you begin with? What kind of routine do you want to establish?

Some home educators prefer to start gradually, just getting their kids used to a morning routine and the “basic” daily subjects they will be required to complete.

Your first week of school may look something like ours did:

  • 5, 6, or 7am (as much time as needed) Mom is up before kids!
    Read the Word, Attend to Laundry, Prep food, School prep. reading as needed.  {I NEVER REGRET taking this early morning quiet time to read, refresh and prepare while the rest of the house is sleeping! It’s a daily gift to myself}. 
  • 7:30-8am Kids Breakfast, Husband out the door 
  • 8-9am Fix beds, tidy room, get dressed, brush teeth (<—build these habits in from day one)
    If you have little ones, get them started in play at this time…hug, kiss and cuddle–remember, mom first, teacher second!
  • 9am-Noon   Dedicated School Time
    Introduce new materials to your children, one subject at a time, one child at a time if possible.  This is when I show my kids their prepared binders with their semi-independent practice work already in place inside.  The first week, I only had my 1st grader do his phonics/reading practice and his math page in the morning.  I then let him run off to play, and called him back to the table just before lunch for our Science and / or History reading and activities.
    My oldest is required to stay at the table / in the school area for those 3 hours, obviously with some short breaks here and there, sometimes for me as I need to tend to my toddler.

Be patient. Remember that the first week back kids are rusty and resistant. (I’ve found that the promise of “recess” or a break after they finish 1 or 2 tasks is helpful early on).

Keep your expectations reasonable that first week or two.  It will come!  Begin establishing good habits, and get them used to the new routine.  Make chores and then school an expected part of their morning and even by week two, you will start to feel like the house is a well-oiled machine!


Finally, remember this is just works for OUR FAMILY!  You may have discovered an absolutely perfect (for YOUR family) way to plan out your school year.  Or perhaps your personality much prefers to throw the plan to the wind, and enjoy the adventure of interest-driven learning and teaching year round.  Do what works for you!
I think and pray so often of you many homeschooling mamas out there, especially you newer ones, and I pray that you will be filled with the JOY of the LORD, which is your strength, as you begin your school year alongside your children.  May He guide and tenderly help you each day, and in every area where you lack, may you find His grace is sufficient for you.

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. ~Proverbs 16:9 

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. ~James 1:5

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~2 Cor. 12:9



Additional Resources:

Sample Homeschool Schedule

6 Ways to Improve Your Homeschool Day

3 Tips for a More Successful Homeschool Year

Homeschooling with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Underfoot

{These Posts and more under the School Room Tab}