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Homeschool AND Save Your Sanity (Homeschool Together)

Why we homeschool together

Our first year homeschooling, which seems like a million years ago now, was our hardest.  I did what we all do–I made it much more difficult than it had to be.  Even though we had fun, and it cemented our decision to do this thing, my stress level was through the roof.

Littles was entering 1st grade and Middle was entering 3rd.  And I had purchased E.D. Hirsch’s What Your First Grader Needs to Know and What Your Third Grader Needs to Know, and I was empowered with the tools to make sure the Littles knew everything they could learn.  Which meant while Middle did science I was teaching Littlest history and while Littlest did spelling I was teaching Middle vocabulary and so on and so on.  I was exhausted by the end of the day.  The only subject we did together as a family was reading.

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When You Want to Teach Them Everything

As homeschool mamas, we have a deep desire to do this education thing right by our littles.  We look around at the ever-growing homeschooling world and we see all these choices–curriculum sales, free downloads, dozens of teaching methods–and we want to make them all.  At every turn, we question ourselves:  Should we be using that method or this curriculum??  We look at blogs and tweets and pins and Instagram photos and wonder why our homeschool doesn’t look like another family’s.  And, if you’re anything like me, you want to teach your littles Everything There Is To Know, so they will be fully prepared for the life coming to them.

fill in the blanks 1

The question becomes this.  How do we decide what to teach each year?  You know what a big fan I am of Hirsch’s What Your __ Grader Needs to Know series.  Though I rarely use them these days, I own all of them from kindergarten through 6th grade.  They helped me tremendously when I was starting out, especially when it came to ensuring my Littles were keeping up with their grade level in public school.  That was a thing for me at first.  I knew a family who had lost their kids for six months over a lackadaisical homeschool education, and I would never risk losing my kids for any reason.  However, my Littles surpassed their public school grade levels years ago, and over time I have loosened up.  I’m sure they appreciate it.

Even so, those books are a great place to start figuring out what you’re going to teach for the year.  They can be gotten on the cheap on Amazon, too, so if you feel like you need the help, look into them.

Nowadays, I go about things a little differently.  One of the very first things I do when I start thinking about a new year is create a book list.  Not a text-type list, but a Read-Aloud List.  I try to match a couple up to things we will be learning in other subjects, but mostly I just try to narrow down our options to a doable list.  Because it’s always longer than the school year has days.  Here’s what this year’s looks like so far:

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huck Fin
  • Animal Farm
  • Ruby Holler
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Number the Stars
  • Holes
  • David Copperfield
  • Great Expectations
  • The Jungle Book
  • Treasure Island
  • Moon Over Manifest
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Halloween Tree
  • Brave New World

I am not done making this list.  As you can see, we couldn’t possibly fit all of these into one school year of reading a chapter aloud a day.  But I will keep adding to it until about mid-June, then I will sit down with it and figure out which we’ll read during summer session, and how many we can fit in during September through May.  Then I’ll change my mind.  Then I’ll start making novel studies.  I’ll be slightly mad and extremely busy during that phase.  Think the Mad Hatter on speed.  Yup.

mad hatter

Next, I’ll look over my notes, like I mentioned yesterday.  See, throughout each school year some rabbit trail that they show keen interest in  will make me think, “We should study this in-depth.”  So I’ll write up a new schedule for the next year.  A couple weeks later, the same thing will happen, and I’ll either add to the schedule or change it entirely.  Then I’ll read a blog post that inspires me and think, “No, we should do That.”  And more notes will be made.  Once we’ve completed a school year, I have to wade through all of that and make a concrete plan.

Here are the subjects I would like to cover next year.  In a perfect world, I would be able to fit them all in.

  • Reading (i.e. reading aloud and studying the book together)
  • Africa Unit Study (just like this past year, with the history, science, art, etc., of each country)
  • American history: WWI through Civil Rights Movement
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Spanish (we’ve had several years of Spanish, but I like them to have at least a little every year)
  • Biology (I have a brilliant college text that has language simple enough for them to grasp and I Really, Really want to read that thing.  We had a Science Question of the Day every day this year, and we cracked that book open often to get a little more in-depth answers.  We loved it.)
  • Long essay/research writing (I would like very much to continue our summer studies throughout the year)
  • Romantic Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Art history
  • Learn an instrument
  • Math (of course)

Kind of looks like an AP high school schedule, doesn’t it?


Now, I know from this year that the Africa unit will take a lot of our time.  But I fully believe that learning all about a country makes its location stick firmly in their heads, and I have seen the proof of that this year.  Also, I really want to continue this line of geography, because we’re on a roll now and I think it would be cool for them to have that info to build on when we pick an historical period to study later on.  For instance, studying India and surrounding countries set us up for the Industrial Revolution and colonization studies.  Which is why I’m burning to study that in detail.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to study two or three different historical periods in one year–that could get confusing.  So if we’re doing Africa, the IR and American history will probably have to wait.  But I have all these super cool books on that period of American history and I Really want to use them.  It’s a quandary.

Also, if we’re studying Shakespeare, studying another era of poetry is a bit of overkill, no?  So maybe I should drop that until next year.  And art history would be included in the Africa study, so I can drop that from the list, too.  So I narrow it down some.

  • Africa unit (including history, science, art, garden, and government)
  • Reading
  • Spanish
  • Biology
  • Essay/Research writing
  • Shakespeare
  • Instrument
  • Math

Looks more doable, doesn’t it?  But reading Shakespeare And reading a chapter book?  Is that feasible?  And studying geology and animal science for Africa and Then studying biology?  Is it too much?

Looks like I have some more thinking to do.

At least you can see my thought process.  When you homeschool without a curriculum, you might have more options, but you also have more responsibility.  When you want to teach them Everything, you can make the mistake of over-planning.  Having too much on their plates can kill a school year quicker than anything.

So make a list of all the things you want to teach them.  Then decide which are most important to you, most interesting to them, and if any are similar enough that you can choose one and still be covering the subject.  Before you ever take out your planner, narrow the list down 2 or 3 times.  Then, once you start filling that planner out and realize you’re going to be in school for 12 hours a day, narrow it down again.  Get your littles’ input.  It helps me to find out which of the chosen subjects the Littles would like to study most.  Because you want them to learn Everything, but this is supposed to be fun, right?  Because it’s easier to learn when the learning is fun.

If this didn’t help you at all, I hope that entering the chaos of my mind at least entertained you for a few minutes.  Lord knows it amuses the hell out of me.

And keep in mind, I always end up chucking at least one thing once the school year is in full swing.  I already told you–I’m a plan-a-holic.

Love wins,



What Do I Do with All This Free Time?


Hey, y’all.  Another school year has ended for us here at the Lit Mama Homeschool.  We studied All of the Asian countries, even those tiny Middle-Eastern ones that you hear about on the news sometimes and can’t quite place…  Oh, yeah, I know where they all are now.  Sometimes I think homeschooling does as much for me intellectually as it does for my precious Littles.  We didn’t just find out where those countries were, though.  We studied their history (boom–history taken care of for the year), their topography (boom–science in the form of geology), their native animals (Oh. yeah. Biology), their art, and their governments.  Even their gardens. It was a lot of material, but it covered almost every subject we needed.  We journaled about them, so writing was taken care of (though we did English lessons separately).  All we had to add was math.

finished garden

The Littles with their Japanese tea garden in a box

Because I make up all our curricula myself, I am constantly researching things in more depth than I ever learned them in public school.  And because we cover such a vast array of material, I also have learned more than I ever did in college.  Not to knock my college education.  It rocked.  If I could go to college forever, I would.  Homeschooling is a brilliant substitute.  But it’s over for 5 weeks.  Summer school doesn’t start until July.

So what am I going to do with all my free time?

Oh, you.

What free time?

Sure, I’ve taken a couple days off from All Things School, but I have to jump right back in.  I just told you–I plan everything myself.  So since I (thank God) already have summer planned, by week’s end I will be pulling out the notes I made throughout the year, looking at the different plans I came up with for next year–there are at least 3, and I probably won’t stick to any single one of them–and diving into the research necessary to start filling out my planner and having everything ready for the day after Labor Day, which is our official start day every year.  (Whew, that was a long sentence.  Did it make sense?!)  Here’s what that looked like last year:

planning messFun, right?

Why yes, yes it is.

I have a lot of tools I use to help this process, and it is not as disorganized as it looks.  The first thing I do is make up a school year calendar.  I like knowing exactly when we’ll be in school and when we’ll be having a blessed break.  It looks like this.

school year calendar

Go ahead.  Copy the idea.  It helps me tremendously when it comes to day-to-day planning.  Plus, it ensures I get the required 180 days of school in.  Since my wonderful state requires only that and that I keep attendance, I make sure to follow those rules to the letter so I can keep all this freedom to school my boys as I choose.  You’ll notice there are only 3 weeks between our 2 longest breaks.  We’ve always used that time (especially since it’s in the middle of the holidays and the Littles’ minds tend to be elsewhere most days) to do a concentrated study on one subject.  We’ve done Christmas, dinosaurs, pirates… It’s a fun time for us.  It’s also the time when the Littles learn and practice a Christmas play to put on for our extended family.  Last year, Littlest wrote the play.  And it rocked.

The next thing I do is get out my planning binder.  As I do my research and find reading material, projects, experiments, and crafts to add into a class, I have 3 different places to write it all down.  Why 3?  Because organization.  If I am not completely organized, my nature tends toward chaos.  I mean, come on, you’re talking to a woman who would rather be immersed in a good story than just about anything else and writes stories of her own… If I don’t concentrate, my thoughts tend to wander.  Organization helps me concentrate.

planner collageSo I have my calendar on the front of the planner.  Then a weekly schedule.  Then separate tabs for each subject in which there is a daily schedule.  And a project/experiment/craft schedule that I can glance at from week-to-week to make sure I have all the needed materials.  I can’t tell you how many times that project schedule has saved me.  If I check it on Friday afternoon, I have the whole weekend to buy whatever supplies I might need for the next week.  It’s really hard to make a solar system with Styrofoam balls if you don’t have any Styrofoam balls.

My Daily Curriculum Planner and Weekly Project Planner are yours for free in my Subscriber Freebies.  Just scroll down–they’re toward the bottom.  And you might find some other goodies you want to pick up!  They look like this:

weekly project planner


daily curriculum planner

They aren’t especially pretty, but they’re functional, and I just think that’s more important. 🙂

I plan each class for the year using all of these tools.  I jot down on the weekly planner what I want to cover each week, then I get out the daily planners and fill them out in detail.  As we approach a new school day, I have everything we’ll be doing for each subject written on that daily planner.  Then I pull the projects from the daily planner and add them to the weekly project planner.  By the time school starts in September, I am over-prepared.

I fully admit I have a problem.  Hi, my name is KT, and I am a plan-a-holic.

So yeah, no such thing as free time here.

Because at some point I have to get the very chaotic classroom cleaned up from this year and ready for next.  And that, my dear friends, is my biggest chore of the year.

chaotic classroom

Now.  Will someone please sing something so I can get this damn Alice Cooper song out of my head?

Love wins,




Should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque

I have a confession.

You know how you make a homeschool plan, then a couple weeks into the school year you evaluate things and tweak and throw out what isn’t working and improve on what is?  You know how that happens pretty much every year?

booksNot this year.  Not for me.

Because school starts tomorrow and I realized over this past weekend that my plan is Not. Going. To work.

At All.

I’ve been a little concerned about how stressed I’ve been over the planning process this summer, a little confused as to why I couldn’t get it together and get the year Mostly Planned like I usually do.  My conclusion?  I am putting too much on myself.  (Some of the homeschooling mamas around here who know me–along with my bff–are cheering right now.  They’ve been telling me that for years.)

So we start school tomorrow.

classroom 1And I’m chucking the entire plan.

Okay, so maybe not the Whole Plan, but after the first 4 weeks, we are going to move from unit study to an entirely different type of learning with entirely different goals.

Is that okay?  Well, the downside of being a homeschool teacher is I don’t get paid for all this extra work.  The upside is I don’t have a boss or a government telling me Exactly how I have to school  my kids. So I have options.

What do you do when you realize the Entire School Plan has to be thrown out??

Remember the other day when I talked about my School Flash Drive and all the awesome ebooks and ideas we haven’t used?  Guess who’s going to be using them.  We’re going to go ahead and do that forensics class for Littlest.  We’re going to pull from our summer plans that got altered to include the video game course and do the Curiosity Files from The Old Schoolhouse.  We’ll do a lot more nature study than I had planned.  We’re still going to study the geography of Asia, Africa, and Oceania, but we’re going to cut ourselves a little slack. We’ll still be studying composers just like we planned. We’re going to change our reading list, which I feel a Whole Lot Better about.  I’ll spend the next week or two finding a good code-writing program for Middle, deciding which historical era we’ll study, and I’ll start over.  Sound fun?

Hey, everybody makes mistakes–even those of us who now consider ourselves veterans.  Today what I love about homeschooling is the flexibility it allows me.  When I mess up, I can fix it without too much stress.  In this case, a lot less stress.

classroom 2

And you know what?  Since I had this realization and stopped trying to convince myself that I Had To go through with my original plan, I’m looking a lot more forward to our homeschool year.

I’ll let you know what I come up with.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, let me know.  And keep breathing.  The alternative?  Not so good.

Love wins,