Most of us have started school by now. I hope it’s smooth sailing for my readers out there! For our family, we struggle after each break we take to stay on task. It’s especially hard because Blueberry Ball doesn’t like to sit still. He’s the oldest, and as such, he’s required to do a lot more of the work I give him independently. In first grade, he is capable of quite a bit of seat work. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned and used along our homeschooling journey to help him stay motivated, engaged, and focused.
First Things First
I’ve tried many different methods of scheduling in the past, but the one thing I’ve always gone back to when ordering our day is that if he does the fun (in his case the easier) subjects first, the rest gets lost in the shuffle. Having him do his English practice first is key for us completing the day’s tasks. You can’t make the hardest items all you do for the beginning of the day either though. He has handwriting/ copy work that corresponds with the week’s language practice and spelling words, but it is just not feasible at all for him to be expected to complete that when he just completed another subject he hates. We do that after he’s completed his math (he LOVES math).
Find a system that works for your child, then stick with it. He thrives on structure, so I do try to remain consistent, but I’m not afraid to change things up if they just aren’t working.
Of course, I always allow time in the schedule for us to go over things together. New concepts are always taught by me before going to seat work, and I always give him the opportunity to play a game or have fun activities to break up the boredom. I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I’ve purchased by far for our home school walk has been the Abeka K5 charts and games. We pull at least one out each day to help him with flashcard facts and other reviews needed. We also have many versions of Bingo, lapbooks, using toys for counters, and even simple board games and card games.
“Sparky The Dog Topper” from Abeka was also a great tool for both my children. You could use any fun animal on the end of a pencil, ruler, or chopstick to help their eyes follow along on the page or whiteboard as you teach new concepts or as they complete a reading assignment.
Another trick for engagement would be to simply ask him questions and make conversation starters.
It may be an obvious one for a lot of home school parents out there (after all, why home school if you can’t have fun), but it’s a “task” that I can all too easily overlook when I focus too much on the weekly/ monthly goals.
Break It Up
I feel like this one should have been a no-brainer for me, but this was actually my husband’s recent suggestion. Between each subject/ assignment I’ve started giving him a small break. 5-15 minutes is all it takes. It encourages him with a sort of reward and it keeps his mind fresh with each new topic. Again, this one may be obvious, but it turned out to be a total game-changer for us.
Give Me Some More Ideas!
I am quite honestly looking constantly for new ideas to keep my children engaged, encouraged, excited, and focused. What has worked in your classroom? I read every comment and would love to hear from you below.
One day, while searching for a cleaning hack for my stained shower, I stumbled across the term “speed cleaning”. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t, but having done cleaning as a profession for years, I was intrigued. This new found term could not have come into my brain at a better time. Yes, you read that right, I have done professional cleaning for years, but when it came to my own home I found it close to impossible (especially at times of transition) to clean my own home to the same level that was commonly expected of me in the professional environment.
I have been looking around for the one article that really helped me to be able to tackle this idea in a productive way. Upon reading it, I was skeptical. She claimed that she was able to clean her four bedroom, two bath (or so) home in under an hour every day. I decided to give it a try for one week, but was not holding my breath. So far, I’ve been unable to find that particular article that helped me out so much. If I do, I will definitely share it with you.
However, this is what we’ve adapted for our own home. My hope is that you can take some of these tricks and ideas and adapt them to your individual needs and skills.
I will cover different techniques and ideas to get you started, then I will share what exactly we do in our speed cleaning routine as an example.
1.The Power of The “Clutter Bucket”
I’ve found that I eventually get things routinely clean and organized to my liking once things settle down in our day-to-day. The problem for me most often comes when we move, reset our school stations, or need to set up new spaces. In other words: the clutter. It begins to take a priority because I can’t even see or get to the dirt and grime until things are in their proper place.
I do one room at a time, always starting with the “clutter bucket”. You can use any handy container for this, but we usually use our large rectangular laundry basket. The concept is simple. I go through the room counter-clockwise, and top to bottom with one goal in mind: to remove everything that does not belong IN THAT ROOM. For instance, if I am trying to remove clutter from the kitchen, I place any paperwork, mail, keys, loose change, etc. into the “clutter bucket”. Then, I ignore it until the very end. This is probably the number one time saver that I’ve found throughout years of housekeeping. This way, I’m not stuck walking back and forth, to and fro putting each tiny thing where it belongs. Instead, when the house is entirely clean and clutter-free, I make one stop to each room to put things back into their proper place. I can’t stress this one tip enough. It is such a time saver!
2. When Possible, Get the Entire Family Involved
Everyone made the mess, everyone can help clean it up. Right down to the youngest child, they can all do their part. I’ve found that for my four year old and six year old, it’s best to start them in their own space. They know where their own toys and clothes belong and are required to do that first. I break it up for them so that it isn’t too overwhelming. “First, put your toys away”. Their bins are all labeled with pictures and words so that they can easily find where their things belong and act accordingly. “Next, put your laundry away. Clean items go in your dresser/ closet, and dirty items go in your hamper”. “Finally, Refold any of your drawers that are getting out of sorts”. My youngest still has trouble with this one, so she usually just starts on their next task: emptying the clutter bucket. I’ve had times where they have everything put away as fast as I can put it in the bucket. I’ve also had times where there are still a few items remaining when we are done. Either way, its yet another time saver. It usually keeps them busy while I’m doing something like the bathrooms that they can’t help with much at all.
3. The Cleaning Caddy
This is one I learned and applied immediately when cleaning on the professional level. It helps immensely to have the supplies you need on hand and ready to go and to be able to carry them all with you at the same time when you go to the next room. I think I may even make myself a cleaning apron eventually. Make sure you try to keep your supplies to a limited amount and go for multipurpose cleaners when possible. The whole idea is to make it convenient to carry from place to place. Items to place in it may include:
all purpose cleaner
small trash bags/ grocery sacks
furniture and wood polish
toothbrush (for those hard to reach crevices)
Replace these items as needed at the end of each speed cleaning round so that you are not searching for anything as you are cleaning.
4. The Checklist
This tip is not for everyone. It usually helps me to have one as a reference for each room when I’m getting into the groove of a new place, but I don’t seem to ever use them long before it ends up taking more time than it’s worth to go back and forth to check it. I will recommend you at least write out your daily plans for each room. It’s up to you on whether you feel you need it for a constant reference or not. If you are the type of person who could benefit from this, I recommend writing or printing it out on 3″x 5″ note cards. Laminate them (or place them into plastic baggies like we did for our homemade dry erase book) and put them on a ring so you can easily flip through them and place them in your caddy/ apron when not in use.
5. Clean Top-to-Bottom and Counter-Clockwise
You’ve probably at least heard the top-to-bottom rule. This one makes sense because you don’t want the dust from your ceiling fan landing on the floor you just vacuumed, right? Cleaning counter-clockwise (right to left) allows your brain to see what needs to be cleaned as you go. We are naturally inclined to go the opposite direction. For instance, we read from left to right. If you force yourself to do the opposite, you’ll be surprised how effective you can be.
6. Save the Floors For Last
This is the only thing I typically save to do for all the rooms at the same time. It doesn’t make sense to lug the vacuum or mop and broom around with your cleaning caddy and clutter bucket. Once every room is completely clean, you can go through and knock the floors out all at once.
7. Set Your Alarm
In order to make this a priority that absolutely gets done every day, you need to set a specified time each day for it. I ended up setting my alarm for around four every day. The kids were done with their schoolwork and nap this way, and it was before dinner needed to begin. (Now I just need to find a space in our new schedule for it…)
An example of Our Cleaning Routine:
Go top to bottom and right to left through the room and pick up anything that does not belong in the space. Put these items either where they belong in the bedroom, or into the clutter bucket.
Dust. Top to bottom, and right to left, dust every horizontal surface you come across. Ceiling fans, Bookshelves, headboards, dressers, desks, window sills, baseboards, t.v.s, remotes, door frames, everything.
Make the bed (if it isn’t already)
Clean windows, mirrors, and other glass
Again, I was skeptical at first that these tips would help out so much that I could only spend an hour a day and keep the whole house clean. I dare you to try it for a week though.Play some music, have fun with it. Tell the kids they’re trying to beat the clock! We ran overtime the first three days or so, because we were doing details that were being neglected more than they should, but once we get in the groove and stay in the groove, it really takes no time at all to have a truly clean home.
Upon asking Raspberry Bug which theme she wanted for her party she wasn’t quite sure. I couldn’t get her to be decisive this year at all. Until only a month or so ago when she saw my pinterest page. I was putting together a Summer Learning Board to give me some ideas. I wanted to keep the kids busy with a small amount of effort over the summer moving time while still stimulating their brains. It was there that Red fell in love with this picture (I couldn’t find a link to go along with it):
She immediately said: “I want a caterpillar birthday!” This is one thing I love (and sometimes not so much 😉 ) about Raspberry Bug. She never picks your average Disney princess theme. It has turned out to make some very cute, original, and memorable parties. We’ve had a Hello Kitty party, a ” Hawaii flowers” party, and now a Very Hungry Caterpillar party. Luckily, I was on Pinterest and was able to find plenty more ideas where that came from! We even created a Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday board together and had a sweet unplanned mother-daughter time that morning <3.
I didn’t do everything on the Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday board, nor did I stick to very many specifics, but I’ve found Pinterest to be extremely helpful in creating a vision for events like this.
Here’s what I came up with for her feed the caterpillar game:
They were a bit mangled by the end of the night when I took the pictures, but for a paper bag, they worked for exactly what we’d planned. I placed a bowl full of play foods found in The Very Hungry Caterpillar story in between the two of them and it was that simple. The younger kids kept coming back to this activity throughout the duration of the caterpillar party.
We had an AMAZING spread! I went from worrying that there wouldn’t be enough food the night before to wondering how I would fit it all on the table thirty minutes before the start:
I have a special thing going with my children’s birthdays. They get to pick any cake they want with any theme, and I create it . This was actually one of the easiest ones I’ve had to create. Just a circle cake and some cupcakes. Compare that to Master Yoda or to a pirate ship! She did ask me to do a cherry pie, too. It was, after all one of the hungry caterpillar’s favorite snacks. I don’t know if you can see from the picture, but the vent holes in the top were actually cut from a butterfly shaped play dough cutter! The jello jigglers were also cut in the shape of butterflies.
Luckily, I had some fabric from Eric Carle’s line already in my stash. I used the polka dot fabric and the food trim fabric for a make-shift table runner:
I also hung the blocked quilting fabric on the door as a welcome sign of sorts:
We used our window seat as a space for people to place their gifts and I hung handmade Very Hungry Caterpillar banners above the area:
Unfortunately, the lighting was not in our favor for photos. I initially wanted to hold the Very Hungry Caterpillar party outside, but it was just too hot for everyone. In case you can’t tell the caterpillars were made from construction paper circles. I put a letter on each section of the caterpillar’s body and punched a hole on opposite sides of each circle. I then strung fuzzy yarn through and tied that to the blinds to create the long, draped caterpillar effect you see here.
I also had an adorable Very Hungry Caterpillar sign on our mailbox to tell people where to turn in. Since we just moved I thought it would be a good idea. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of that.Too bad, really. It was one of my favorite features. It was similar to this:
But our caterpillar was scaled to fit the mailbox and I used large sticky foam cutouts for the letters. That one touch made it very bright and cheery. It also made the letters more visible to the passerby. I’m still kicking myself for not getting pictures.
When I asked the Birthday girl what her favorite part of the day was she said without hesitation that it was pin the head on the caterpillar.
I love it when they’re still young enough to view presents as a secondary bonus! This was a bit more time-consuming than some of the others (mainly because I was out of color ink and had to grab the markers instead), but this caterpillar activity was definitely worth it.
I just found a Very Hungry Caterpillar I liked from Google Images and then printed it in a 2×6 scale. Then, I pasted it into my paint program, erased the caterpillar’s body, and played with his very hungry head until it was around the same size as the whole caterpillar I made. I then proceeded to color a giant caterpillar and seven more heads… yeah.
At least they were all one of a kind. On A Dime right?
She loved present opening time (of course). However, I didn’t capture much of that either. Next year I will certainly pull one present down at a time for her. She ripped through them in no time! I mean, she must hold a record or something now.
One of my favorite parts of The Very Hungry Caterpillar party was the dress she wore. A close family friend had one sent over here the night before the party so she could wear it and wrapped a whole other one for her to open at the party. SO PRECIOUS!
And it twirls beautifully on my four year old!
Another successful DIY party. Who knew The Very Hungry Caterpillar could be so fun!
At some point while living on a boat I decided to give up blogging to allow for more time for my family. The boat (while it was enjoyable in many ways) presented a number of challenges with homemaking and homeschooling that just took more time in general. When I was evaluating my schedule one day, I decided that one thing I could cut out of the timetable would definitely be the blog.
I’ve missed it a great deal, but now I’m back! We’ve moved back to the states and into a house that can allow me to have more free time overall. Let me give you an update on all of the happenings in our humble household.
Blueberry Ball is now six and a half years old and in first grade. He was ahead by taking kindergarten early, but with changes happening in our family and the timings in everything, it ended up catching up with his age. I’m so proud of him though! He’s doing very well in school and actually finished over a semester’s worth of work in about two months before taking summer break this year. At the rate that he’s blowing through his materials in first grade, he should end up finishing the whole grade level in a half a year. It was amazing to watch him transition from being able to just read one and two vowel words to taking over diphthongs, sight words, compound words, contractions and more. His reading level just exploded! As soon as I gave him harder material he rose to the occasion and simply soared.
Raspberry Bug has recently turned four and is currently in the middle of Kindergarten. She was reading three letter words and counting to twenty before her last birthday! We are so blessed. She has always floored me when it comes to pure intelligence and comprehension. For her, it’s exciting enough to be doing the same things she’s seen her brother doing in school. And get this: she actually craves worksheets! I can actually give my second child “busy work” when I need extra time with Blue without feeling guilty about it.
I can’t wait to see what the Lord has planned for us in the upcoming months and years. I’m so glad to start blogging again as well. Coming up soon: Details on Red’s birthday party, updates on curriculum choices and schedules, summer fun, and more.
It’s taken me way longer than expected to get a system down that I like especially when it comes to all of our new supplies in relation to what I need to prepare each night for the following day of home school. I spent a great deal of time brainstorming for ideas. I scoured the internet searching terms like “small space home school” and “home school closet organizing”. I found little if anything to help me. When you are talking about thirty total feet of living space, I found that generally people who live in (even a small) average living space have no clue what the term “small space” really means. It got very irritating trying to imitate spaces that I liked and then attempting to fit it into our small space and lifestyle choice.
I eventually rolled my sleeves up last week and completed the task through trial and error. It only took about three hours one evening! It’s one of those things that happen to be more daunting to look at and think about than to actually do.Here’s what I came up with:
Unfortunately, with our limited counter space, the microwave had to stay there by the fridge.The rest had to be used for schoolwork (despite the temptation to share it with Mommy’s craft items).
1) From the left:
Plastic shoe boxes are a lifesaver when living on The Armor Of God. We use them for anything from school supplies, to toys, to socks and underwear, to hygiene products. It is an easy way to keep things contained (when we do set sail) and it utilizes all of our vertical space by making everything stack-able. The items I changed around last night have yet to be labeled, but they will be. I (and the littles) need to be able to find everything easily.
From top to bottom, left to right we have:
Raspberry Bug’s puzzles, flashcards, and clip cards. These started as just leftovers from Blueberry Ball’s schoolwork last year.
The next shoebox (moving downward) holds their chore chart incentives. Each Friday they get a toy (chosen and displayed the previous week) if they completed enough of their tasks.
Next we have the one that’s labeled “math blocks”. I have various counters and manipulatives stored here. Anything from seashells, to pennies, to beads and more. They are all organized and separated using labeled zip-top bags.
The next shoebox (top left) is extra pencils along with the teacher’s grading pens, sharpies, and highlighters. These are also separated and labeled in individual zip-top bags. I’m probably going to downsize this one soon as the space is not being used to it’s full potential.
Going down, we have the teacher’s box. This holds all of Mommy-teacher’s sticky notes, cue cards, hole punches, tape and glue sticks, and more. Whatever I may need for planning and preparation that I don’t exactly want the children getting into regularly.
The last box is larger and not as accessible, but it doesn’t have to be either. It holds all of our craft supplies. Pipe cleaners, pom poms, cotton balls, q-tips, food coloring, homemade and store bought paints, brushes and smocks, extra glue, tissue paper, bubbles, craft sticks, and more are all kept here. Our art activities are well-planned in advance these days and I can pull it out and dig through it as the kids are sleeping, so I don’t mind it being behind some of the more important things. Our play-clay and some of the other sensory play items are kept in our dock box. Mommy can’t stand play-clay inside anyway =).
2) Turning the corner, to the left, we have probably the most important (or at least the most used) basket.
This is my “A Beka Basket” where I keep the books that Blue won’t be using in the upcoming lesson, along with visuals, charts and games, and flashcards that had no box with them (I do wish they’d all come with that convenience).
On top of the microwave I have all of the flashcards that did come contained:
3) The boxes came pre-labeled (thank goodness!) and I separated the “Letters And Sounds” cards from the “Numbers” cards. Behind the microwave, I tucked away the extra large sticker pads and coloring books along with our rolls of art paper.
4) This is a convenient place for our lap desks and for our step stools (stools come in handy when it’s time to help Mommy-Teacher in the kitchen).
5) This is where Raspberry Bug’s items start. I sort of formed a boat-friendly version of our previous Free Style Art Center. It is mainly used to keep her busy when we are, or throughout the day. She loves to “do school”. Her dry erase/ chalkboard easel goes here along with the abacus, large dominoes, Lacing Cards, and alphabet books.
6)Here is where visibility starts to diminish. Sorry; it really is a tight space.You can’t see the center very well because that’s where the items get shorter. On the left side Red has her Other dry erase boards. She has more of the primary lined ones along with the Leap Frog ones that Daddy was thoughtful enough to buy for her. (We used to diy the dry erase books, but they aren’t as durable.) On the right side, we have worksheets and coloring pages placed in a folder. I pick new ones each school- night so that she can keep busy with her own things during Blue’s lessons. In between these, I have our pencil boxes with dry erase markers placed closest to the dry erase boards and books and colored pencils, markers, and crayons closest to the worksheets and coloring pages. The cutting practice is near the back kind of tucked away. She still needs help with that, so I don’t want it to be too accessible.
7) You can’t see number seven at all . It is a narrow file folder box with a snap- top lid. This holds all of our ABC Jesus Loves Me materials, sight word worksheets, coloring pages and books, handwriting practice,copy paper, extra notebooks, construction paper, and more. Basically Mommy-Teacher’s grab box for Red’s folders. I don’t have anything too structured for her yet (she’s only two). I pick only things that she can do all on her own to go in her “Free Style School Center” and choose at least three things a week to do with her. This way she doesn’t eat up lesson time I could be using for my K5 student, and she still feels included and accomplished.
This is right beside the fridge which has a small, but very convenient storage and display space:
Sorry for the poor quality; these photos were taken a little later in the evening. Here we have a wooden drawer organizer. I took out one of the removable dividers and placed all of the “Readers” and CDs. Then, close to the front I placed some of our dry erase markers, Mommy Teacher’s grading pens, highlighters and a couple of sharpies into a jar (on the left) The right side holds my sticky notes and my tap dispensers. I will soon Velcro these down so that they can’t move when we are underway. I love the look and convenience of this space most of all!
I placed a magnet on the back of our A Beka-themed task cards and placed it on the fridge. At first it was up higher with our calendar and the rest of our displays, but I found it was much more exciting to Blue when he could mark tasks off on his own.
Here’s how our display is going so far:
I’m not in love, but it works. I haven’t decided what will work best yet. I may end up doing a magnet board? Or a clip strip of some kind? Maybe a even a Homemade Bulletin Board? Whatever it grows into, it needs to be custom built to fit the uneven shape (It gets narrower the further back it goes.). Any ideas on this would be greatly appreciated!
The blend ladders are massive compared to the size of smooth wall surfaces we have to work with. This is literally the only spot I could find that they fit. Then, we have our weather chart and our calendar. I also placed four dry erase boards up with Velcro. These are primary lined and only have two lines per board, but they are an ideal item for our small display. Artwork simply goes wherever we can cram it in right now. The pride and joy they feel in displaying it makes Mommy-teacher be able to tolerate it.
Overall, I think we have a well-functioning space. And it turned out to be way better than I thought it could have been. All the stress and worry went away when I actually rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
What does you small-space home school look like? Do you have any clever solutions for me? What about pics? I’d love to see your pics =)
We went sailing a couple of weekends ago. It seems like it’s taken us forever to be able to get out there on any boat (let alone ours). I’m so grateful to our dear friend for taking us out on his boat. The kids seemed to enjoy it for the most part. Raspberry Bug could have had more fun, but I think she was pretty nervous. We tried to explain to her what sailing was, but found that difficult to explain to a two year old. She was fussy for the whole first hour or so. I kept asking her to use her words. Finally, when she did, she said she wanted to stop moving. She was well behaved, all things considered, as long as I kept her on my lap.
Blueberry Ball loved the whole day! He got to be captain for a little over an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him focus so seriously on anything before and he only needed minimal corrections! He had a little bit of seasickness near the end, but he was such a trooper about it! We started heading back when he wasn’t feeling so hot, and he was smiling before we made it off the boat =)
He had just three rules that day. We kept repeating them on the way to the boat. 1) Listen, 2) Be obedient ,3) Be respectful. He way surpassed my expectations! We left at noon and by the time we got back to our humble aboat it had already gotten dark. Yet, he still listened, obeyed, and showed respect.
While the children napped on board, I climbed to the top.
When they woke up, we had lines in the water.
We had SOOOOOOO much fun! I can’t wait to do it on “The Armor Of God” (our 29′ Cascade)!
There are a number of ways you can go about combining two lessons into one. I’ll show you how we do it for our A Beka home school plans, and you can feel free to adapt it to suit your child, your curricula, and your individual needs.
First, you need to be honest with yourself as parent and teacher. Can your child keep up with the pace or will you be burning him out? Is there a need academically or socially to keep up with the lessons the way they are written on the calendar? Or does he simply need more to occupy his time or more of a challenge? Consider these things carefully before adding anything more to his workload.
I start with the A Beka Teacher Plan book. If you didn’t order this book, or if you are using a different curriculum, you could substitute with graph paper or simply make a list in a notebook. I do, however, love the way that this book is organized.
I don’t use it for it’s intended purpose. When you combine lessons using this book, you tend to run out of room. I use it to organize a list of things that I will need for the upcoming lesson. This way, I can grab it all at the same time and place it in his backpack for the next morning.
I can’t be searching around our tight home school space for every little flashcard or game as I need it. The backpack helps us both stay organized and focused on the tasks at hand.
Next, I take my graph paper (I like the composition notebooks best) and I write down my “To Do List”. You could do all of this on the computer, however, I personally find it easier to keep in mind during the day’s lesson if I have physically written it down before hand. To each his own.
I Arrange it by subjects in the same ordering that one lesson would be in. For instance, I will write down everything in two phonics lessons into one category, then continue on to phonics review, then numbers, etc. This keeps me from having to go back and forth in the teacher’s manual from one lesson to the other. Rather, I have all of the same information written down in the format of one fluent lesson.
Keep your child’s personal needs in mind as you go through the planning process. It may not be necessary to repeat two of the same activities in one day as written in the manual for two separate lessons, or you may choose to add some extra repetition in one area or another to ensure he is keeping up with the pace. For instance, my son is a whiz in the “Numbers” subject and doesn’t need to be drilled so much in number recognition or basic counting. We usually go through this subject rather quickly, more in the form of review. However, When it comes to “Letters And Sounds”, he needs every bit of drilling we can squeeze in. I don’t skimp in this area, as I know how much he needs the practices. If the same activity is used in two different lessons (this is often the case with flashcards, for instance), we simply do it once near the beginning of the phonics block and again near the end.
This is, after all, the beauty of home school. You should always tailor and adapt materials to fit your students needs.