Lesson Planning Feed

Earlybird's Visual Learning

My goodness but I've been working on this draft for some time now ... and yet for some reason I just can't seem to wrap it up! Well, here we go anyway ... I hope you enjoy! :)


So here at last is Earlybird's "learning line," something I mentioned last month on Instagram and promised to show in more detail here at the blog ...

This learning line is basically a simple, visual catalog of information - consisting of sheets stored in page protectors. We've had some good success with this the past few weeks, so I snapped some pictures to share here in case this might work well for someone else's child ... :)

But first, a bit of background ...

Our 14 yo Earlybird has autism and teaching him in a way that is both engaging and meaningful has been a real challenge for us as a home-educating family. We are always looking for ways to make learning enjoyable for EB, while taking into account his varying special needs. He can't really handle long lessons or a lot of one-on-one, intense instruction so I like to "sneak in" the ideas and concepts we're working on and then revisit them to assess how things are sinking in. (EB is developmentally delayed but has a fantastic memory and a bright inquisitive mind. Some subjects (like science) he readily absorbs like a sponge, while others (for example, math) he really struggles with.) My first thought was that we'd just sit down together with a binder full of the sheets shown above, but EB can be funny about this kind of activity. I could envision myself saying, "Hey, EB, how about we sit down over here and look through your lesson pages together?" To which EB would most likely say, "Um, no thanks." Or maybe even something like "Noooo, I don't wanna ... noooo!"

(Insert door slam here.)

Compliance and flexibility are things we work on every day with EB's (amazing) behavioral therapist - and we're making progress, certainly - but as you can imagine, this kind of attitude doesn't really lend itself to easygoing homeschooling moments. It's actually quite disruptive and really messes with the lesson plans!

Hence our ongoing efforts to find methods that are appealing to EB while also training him to be more accepting of requests and responsibilities. (This is also why I tend to make EB's lesson plans with a rather wide-range vision. I sketch out some general topics and themes for a month, then write up weekly goals which get plugged into the days of the week as they work best.

My October notes read like this: Explorers, New England geography/geology, Americana artists - Moses/Wysocki, music of Harry Potter (composer John Williams), autumn weather/frost, woods/leaves, soil, migration, St. Francis, All Hallow's Eve

Side note - it is really difficult for EB to sit and listen to someone read aloud to him (re ~ sensory issues) and while he can read on his own, he doesn't have a lot of stamina for it. So in come audiobooks! Funnily enough, I've never been a big fan of audiobooks myself - preferring paper as I do - but they have been a real lifesaver! And so incredibly enjoyable. I play all kinds of literature while we drive around, bringing Crackerjack to his "out of home" classes or the soccer field or on errands, etc. It seems we're in the car every day for something or another these days! So I just casually press "play" and when EB asks me to switch back to "the news" (he loves news radio, lol) I say something like, "Oh we'll go back to that in a minute, let's just find out what happens next ..."  We just finished Peter Pan, and have now begun Harry Potter ... I am so excited to revisit this with Earlybird! It's his first time, but one of many re-reads for me!

Ok, so enough of my chatter, here are some pictures of our "learning line" - and this also gives you a little sneak peek into how the learning room is coming along (Slowly, but surely! And a full tour to come soon ... )


So the line stretches across the entire back wall of the sunroom learning room. Bill just used "Command" hooks and a length of kitchen twine for this project. Other supplies include sheet protectors, post-it notes and small wooden clothespins. The current books are on the windowsills for now but eventually - once Bill builds me some book ledges! - they will be displayed on the walls. Both the books and the sheets reflect current learning topics ...


Some of the things I have hanging in the sheet protectors:

  • a map of the US slowly being colored in as we cover each state
  • a state bird and flower coloring page (we're starting in New England)
  • a photocopy of a colorful state map, corresponding with the state bird/flower page
  • some Peace Day print-outs
  • a corn plant with diagram labels
  • a map of where corn is grown in the US
  • some index cards with landform vocabulary terms - these are specific to New England (EB was asked to look them up and record the word on each card)
  • the weekly forecast
  • September's poem

I've since added a compilation of seed-dispersal facts and a Charles Wysocki art book page (with New England theme) as well as some coloring pages and crafts made by Little Bear at his library Storytime.

To some of these pages I might add post-it notes with questions such as:

  • According to this map, which area of the US grows the most corn?
  • What is the capital of Massachusetts?
  • What are three adjectives that describe September?
  • What day this week looks to have the best weather?
  • What Native American tribes were found in Massachusetts? Check the Giant US Discovery Atlas

Some of these pages are photocopied from workbooks, text books, library books and other resources. Some things are found online as images or printables. (How did we ever home school before Pinterest?) The index cards are in sheet protectors with divided pockets. Currently I'm just filing the sheet protectors in a binder as is, retiring last week's pages over the weekend and hanging fresh sheets before the new week begins.

(Ok, let me rephrase that - I'm actually placing all those pages in a basket until I find a binder I like for this purpose! I need a large one, but the rings need to work very smoothly for Earlybird.)

The "learning line" is something EB uses with his therapist as well. They've been working his homeschooling into their daily sessions and it has been a tremendous help! I think Earlybird likes this approach because it's visually appealing and he feels proud to see some of his work hanging up in this way. I've heard him show visitors his learning line and he'll comment on it sometimes to me throughout the day. It's a way of keeping his lessons front and center - but with a relatively low-key approach. Some items stay up longer than a week if I feel they need to "sink in" a little longer.

Note: these pictures were taken last month ... here is a peek at the line this week!

LL october 2

LL october 1

So there's a look at one of the ways I incorporate "visual" learning into Earlybird's week. I hope you enjoyed this peek into our learning room, and as I mentioned above, a full tour will be coming up soon!

Enjoy your weekend, my friends and as always, thanks so much for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!

Planning a New Year + a Peek at My Lesson Planner!

Seasonal homeschooling 2

Happy Tuesday, my friends! I hope your week's off to a great start!

These are heady days, aren't they? I just LOVE this time of year ... it's so full of promise and preparation. We're still enjoying the nice weather of late summer (warm, breezy, dry) but autumn is truly just around the corner so it's perfectly respectable to start planning ahead. (Great fun for those of us who love autumn and planning!) And while we're still in "vacation" mode here, it's definitely time to get our new year in order - plans, resources, learning space, official approval and all that. Part of that rhythm for me involves pulling together a lesson planner of some sort - a tool to help me iron out the year ahead. I'm very much an eclectic homeschooler, but I draw much inspiration from the Charlotte Mason and Waldorf styles of learning. Some years have leaned more one way than the other, but I am always better off with a PLAN of some sort in place.

So I thought today I'd give you a peek at the planner I've created - even though it's still under construction! This year I'm homeschooling a 17 year old, a 14 year old (with special needs) and a 3 year old who simply will not be left out of anything, lol. (Our 21 year old is a senior in college, so for the most part, he's out of my loop!)

Ok, here is the cover of my planner:


It just makes me so happy ...

I started with a plain, one-subject, spiral-bound notebook I really like and covered it with a vintage alphabet scrapbook paper. (You can see the print in closer detail in my blog banner above.) I adhered the paper to the front of the notebook with some yellow washi tape and added a fun sticker on top. "Capture the Joy" sounds about right for a homeschooling motto!

Inside the planner it's a rather humble affair ... I just used a pencil and ruler to create the pages I needed for planning. Inside the front pocket I keep a printout of the ed. plan I sent into the school system. After a title page I have a "Contact/Correspondence" log. Here is where I mark down when I send stuff into the superintendent and when I hear back. I also note our HSLDA renewal activity.

Next comes an academic year at a glance "attendance" calendar:


I shaded in the days we would be on vacation (blue) and actively homeschooling (yellow). Green shading indicates a weekend. This helped me determine how many hours per week we need to count towards the 990 total for the year. Also, I can see where it makes sense to take time off and when we can (hopefully)wrap up for the year.

Next comes the two-page seasonal homeschooling schedule:

Seasonal homeschooling

On the left side of the schedule I have the Monday date and seasonal theme; on the right hand side I have written down any events of note. This chart runs from 9/5/2016 - 8/28/2017. (I'll share these seasonal themes in my next post.)

The next several pages are devoted to organizing our weekly rhythm (when we're home and when we're out each day, where to fit in which subjects) as well as a breakdown of goals and ideas for each of my boys. Crackerjack's page includes space for college planning, while Earlybird's allows for ABA goals and Little Bear's is just all about how I'd like his preschool years to look. ❤️

Then comes a list of all the subject areas I want to include this year (for example - poem of the month, artist of the month, a monthly field trip, weekly nature study and art project, etc.).

Next I break down the months of the year with notes in all areas - another hand-drawn chart with lots of tiny writing!

Seasonal homeschooling 3

It's hard to see here, but the circled letter denotes the month. On the far left I've listed the seasonal themes that fall within that month. Then comes two blocks for things like audiobook, history topic, science topics, artist(s), music focus, geography region, field trip idea, habit to work on ... etc.! And then finally on the far right I've written down the events of note in that month. These are days that will figure into our homeschooling in some way.

After this two-page spread comes a list of back-to-school supplies and traditions. (I'm working off a rather large checklist I wrote a few years ago. You can see that list in a newsletter here if you're interested. The list is on the last two pages.)

Now comes the monthly sections! First up of course is September ...


Ok, so I get a little silly with my notebooks, I will happily admit. I love organization and tidy details, but I need to have a page for doodles and brainstorms! This is a portion of my favorite September poem and all around the edge of this page I've written out things I love about the month: apples, fresh pencils, goldenrod, grasshoppers, green tomatoes, alphabet soup, sweatshirts, spiderwebs, crisp mornings, cricket song, the harvest moon ... a kind of love letter to the month ahead. This might not be "standard" in a typical teacher's planner, but I love to include this kind of inspiration in mine!

After the title page I have a monthly planning page for September with notes on the left and a calendar on the right.


I use post-its here because I like how they allow me to organize ideas in a flexible and visual way. Each note represents a particular area of September planning: field trip, nature themes, nature study, science, geography, events of note, social studies, math, faith focus, music, crafts, good habit, literature, bird and badge of the month, and "teas" which are basically monthly sit-downs with special food and a seasonal celebration of some sort.

The calendar (as with pretty much everything else in this planner!) is hand-drawn and embellished with a little seasonal washi tape, sticker and doodle. I'll add some quotes and notes here, too.

And now for the nitty-gritty - the weekly lesson planning section!



I apologize if this is way too much detail, but that's just how I roll, lol! As longtime readers know well ... ;)

On the left side of the weekly spread is another post-it brainstorming page similar to the one in the monthly section. I've also listed the theme for the week (sunflowers this week) and any days of note. I have not yet decided if I will continue to use post-it notes here (which are fun and convenient but might bulk up my planner) or if I'll commit to a hand-drawn grid for planning. Meanwhile, on the right-hand page I have a chart where I can sketch out daily details for each of my three students. There are rows for Monday through Friday and then a large row for the weekend at the bottom. We don't typically do academic work on the weekends, but there is usually homework for my 17yo as well as seasonal, family activities to enjoy.

(Note: I'm still working on our week's rhythm - which days we do what subjects/activities. Our weeks are mostly shaped by Crackerjack's outside classes and Earlybird's therapy schedule. It's a little different this year so I'm re-thinking things a bit. Some subjects, like reading and math, are done daily - but we do need to find the best time of day for those lessons. Mornings would be ideal, mentally speaking, but with CJ going to classes some days and EB working with his therapist everyday, a lot of our activity takes place in the after-lunch hours. That said, EB's therapists are working more of his home education into his sessions, and I'm really excited for this support! Another reason to be really organized and detailed with my weekly lesson plans!)

By establishing a consistent framework (science on Tuesdays and Thursdays, social studies M-W-F, etc.), it is easier to plug activities into the chart. I'm still tweaking all of this - because as long as I've been doing this, it changes every year! - but will share more when I can. :)

Sometimes, for whatever reason, plans must change or be abandoned, and I've come to accept this is just the nature of homeschooling and life with kids. (Particularly one with autism!) Plans provide wonderful guidance, but they don't absolutely guarantee all the boxes will be checked off at the end of the week ...

But I never feel a minute of planning is wasted. Planning gives me a leg up on whatever our week brings our way. I've learned not to dwell in disappointment when things don't go "as planned." There is still beauty and value in creating plans that pan out in a way I didn't originally foresee. Sometimes I carry things over into the next week. Sometimes I save things for next year. Missed lessons are sometimes caught up with in a flurry. For the most part, I find it all shakes out in the end ...

If I've established an atmosphere that promotes learning, they will learn. If I've encouraged an attitude of curiosity they'll be curious. If I've shared my own joy and wonder at the world, then the world will be a source of joy and wonder for my children. If I can check boxes off in my planner I'll be thrilled, but there is room to see where my children might lead me, too.


OK, I'm going to sign off now because I'm getting a little rambly and clearly I could just go on and on here ... I will share my 52 seasonal themes in my next post. For those of you who remember I'm working on a book (and yes I am still working on it!) these themes are my book's outline. So this will be a little sneak peek, if you will. :)

Other upcoming posts:

A look at this year's file crate.

A tour of my brand new desk!

How I'm using my Day Designer ...

Early Autumn Planning Sheets!

So I hope you all enjoy your  week and what's left of this summer season ... thanks so much for stopping by!

I will see you here again very soon ...

The planning process is underway ... 😊

Ed reports 1

Hello, my friends! I hope your week is going well. I am popping in tonight to say "hi!" and share a few pictures. :)

So, I am currently knee-deep in my "ed. planning," and by that I mean, I am sifting through piles and piles of notes and folders and calendars etc. so that I might recall and record just what it was we did during the previous academic year. In my state (Massachusetts), we homeschoolers may choose from one of four evaluation methods - standardized testing, a portfolio of work samples, periodic progress reports or one year-end report - and our family chooses the last option on that list. We always have done so, because it's something I do for myself anyway, and it's just as easy to send a copy to the school system.

Anyhoo, every year, as I dive into the deluge - with a certain amount of angst, as I wonder if we did anything at all - I say I will be more organized about my record-keeping (and lesson-saving) going forward ... Next year I will be SO careful with my notes, I swear! Next year I will save EVERYthing and it will ALL be in one place ...

And yet this year (like most years before it), I found myself rooting through the house, sorting through in-baskets and file folders and notebooks and tote bags and backpacks and calendars and ... oh yeah, that homemade lesson planner I used for all of September, 2015.


But it's all going to be fine, truly - I know this in my heart. Like every one of the 15 years before this, we do actually do stuff, and I do end up finding All the Things - because thankfully I never throw anything away - and as of Sunday night, I have written up some pretty darn good reports (if I may say so myself). Renewed our HSLDA membership and started in on the next phase of my ed. planning ...

Aka - the fun part! Figuring out next year! :)

Now, because I am a visual learner/do-er, I like to lay out potential resources and then group things in piles. So this is what's going on in the dining room right now ...

 Ed plans 2

Ed plans 3

Ed plans 4

📖 ❤️ 📖 ❤️ 📖 ❤️ 📖 ❤️

Most of these books have been used and loved before - some of them going way back to Bookworm's time - and I'm really looking forward to revisiting them. As you can probably guess from the assortment above, this year we are concentrating on early American history - Colonial America and New England seafaring history in particular - American artists, the US government, biology for the high schooler and something I'm calling, "seasonal science" for the younger boys. :)

Once I've written out the plans for each of the boys (what we'll cover and what we'll use), I will be ready to send the whole package off to the Superintendent. Hopefully by the end of the week!

In the meantime, I'm filling out a brand new homemade lesson planner ... WHICH I am resolving to make FULL use of this year. Now, I have given you peeks of this planner at my Facebook page (and in the banner above) but I will do a more thorough post on the ins and outs in a future post. It's basically a plain, spiral-bound planner that I transformed into a homeschool planner with pencil and ruler. Not too fancy, but - with proper and consistent usage - most efficient.

(Update: Here's a tour of my mostly finished planner!)

Hopefully, anyway. My planner problem seems to be twofold - jumping from one "tool" to another (giving up too soon on something that isn't quite working) and not creating serious, committed time in the family schedule each week for lesson management. Time to review and record what was and plan and prepare what will be.

"Tools and Time" - a great title of a future post!

But speaking of Facebook, a reader, Patricia, asked if I could share my weekly themes (seasonal and liturgical) and I would be happy to ... in fact, I just finished the week-by-week chart in my lesson planner today! I may even try to make it a spreadsheet of some sort, so you could print it out and add your own events and notes. That MAY be getting way ahead of myself, but we shall see!

In the meantime I'm getting back to "work," and as always I thank you all for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


How I Use the Weekly Planning Sheets ...

Sheets 14

Happy Thursday, my friends! How's your week going so far? I do hope it's being kind to you!

A few folks asked if I could show how I use my weekly planning sheets, and today I am here to do just that! To be honest, I'm still kind of figuring them out - tweaking things as I go along, trying to make them work better - so these sheets are still a work-in-progress! But I'll show you some examples below and then describe the way I'm utilizing each of the blocks ... as well as when in my week I actually work ON them. (That's half the battle sometimes, isn't it? Finding time to do the planning itself!)

Currently I am using these sheets in coordination with my file crate system and it's working out pretty well. I staple the two weekly sheets (one for household planning and the other for lesson planning) onto the front cover of the folder itself.

So here is one sheet stapled to the front of the folder ...

Sheets 2

... and the other sheet stapled to the inside of the cover.

Sheets 3 

The folder itself is clamped onto the front of a rather nifty contraption I bought at Target a couple of years ago. It's called a "clipfolio" and it's basically a "padfolio" with a clipboard attached to the front. As you can see above, the papers found inside this week's folder are held securely by the clamp on the front of my clip folio. I really like this set up! It's easy to tote around and it makes a sturdy base for writing in my planner.

And here is the inside of the clipfolio ... embellished with somebody else's scribblings!

Sheets 4

(I haven't decided how I want to use this pad and pocket yet. I'm thinking a master-to do list might work well here.)

Here's the clipfolio without the folder attached:

Sheets 1

It's made by greenroom and I'm not sure if Target still carries them but I found something similar at Amazon.

I keep the folio-with-folder on my kitchen counter - aka mission control - next to my domestic journal (which is always open to today's page) and beneath my planner, which is flipped to the side of the week we're working on ...

Sheets 12

Now, about how I use these sheets ... (you were probably wondering when I'd get around to that!)

Sheets 13

Above is the general planning sheet for next week (1/25-1/31). I started filling it out today because it's Thursday and that's when I start my "week ahead" planning. (This gives me time to organize my weekend "work" - errands, supplies, prep, further planning.) I wrote in the days and events of note and the seasonal theme for the week, and these helped me shape the rest of my plans. (If you click on the photo it should open up so you can read my scribbles a little easier.) I wrote in nightly suppershome & garden notes, blogging ideas as well as a few crafts and comforts. These are the kinds of things I love to dream up and plan out - but must accept that we may not get around to doing them - at least maybe not this year! They often tie into the weekly theme, or a favorite holiday or feast - so here I have ideas for celebrating Burns Night, exploring ice, and concocting home remedies and growing a medicinal garden.

As for the housekeeping notes, well ... they do tend to be a bit sentimental. Less "unload dishwasher" and more "embroider dish linens." So, am I romanticizing things here a little? You bet! But I love reading books about the old-fashioned "art" of housekeeping and this is my attempt to write something of the sort for myself.

Finally, in the lower left hand of every planning sheet there is a bit of vintage clipart with a simple seasonal suggestion ... and boy, do I have fun creating these snippets! I will confess, these sheets were (are?) going to be part of a bigger seasonal project, but for now, I'm just having fun with it. Trying them out to see if they actually make sense! But I thought it would be nice to make the sheets printable in case someone else might like to use them ... Deep Winter pages here ... Early Spring under construction!

Next, here is the home learning planning sheet - with note space for each of my three (still-at-home) boys and a weekly overview. This provides a framework for organizing lessons as well as all the seasonal ideas and activities.

Sheets 15

Now, about the week's rhythm - I find this to be a great planning tool if your schedule allows for it! Especially for my younger children, but it's lovely for me too. I consider the busy-ness of each day and then give it a name - Monday is for nature, Tuesday is for book baskets and drawing, Wednesday is for storytelling and handwork, Thursday is for painting or projects (music and poetry) and Friday is for baking/cleaning. (The weekend is for family fun and faith @ home.) This gives all my seasonal ideas a place to "live," if you will.

So since I know next week's theme, holidays and feasts ....

On Monday we'll devote some kind of nature activity to the concept of ice: a walk, a journal entry, an addition to the seasons shelf.

On Tuesday we'll pick up library holds (books about Scotland and ice harvesting) and do a coloring page or two (flag, map, loch ness monster).

On Wednesday, while the boys play with dough, I'll tell a couple of stories, and depending on my audience it might be about woodland animals finding a frozen puddle ... or perhaps about my Scotch-Irish grandmother's family.

On Thursday we'll listen to celtic music and read a famous poem by Robert Burns. We might also work on ice painting as we listen.

On Friday we'll bake Scottish shortbread and learn the Selkirk Grace. We may even watch Brave, an old Disney movie that's new for us!

And over the weekend we'll watch football, play farkle, attend Mass, and ... relax. :)

Now, it goes without saying - but I'll say it anyways - things do NOT always go according to plan! I try not to stress when the week flies by and we've barely done anything on this chart. I try not to fret if the "theme" I so carefully chose was never recognized in any real way. As long as the boys are working on their weekly goals - lessons, habits, family, faith - then we're good. If I've worked in some seasonal awareness and appreciation somewhere along the way - well, that's great!

Below is next week's folder, open ...

Sheets 6

Coloring pages for the boys (Scotland/Burns Night), and some photocopies from a wonderful book I own called, Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends by Pippa Middleton. She has a fantastic section about hosting a "Burns Night Supper" and I have a few of her ideas in my folder to consider for next week. My shortbread recipe is in here too, as well as a birthday card that needs to be mailed next week.

So there we have it - the planning sheets in excrutiating detail! I hope this was interesting to some and helpful, perhaps, if you're using the planning sheets (or the file crate system). I would love to hear what you think - questions, comments, how you are using the sheets if you're using them ...

As I said, I'm always tweaking ... and trying to find a balance between letting things go, and getting things done. As laid back as I try to be about letting things slide, I do try to include enough activity (or awareness) that would suggest there is a seasonal rhythm to our life. Something beyond the tasks and to-dos, but a greater rhythm that connects us with our world, our family, and Faith. That's what I'm doing all of this for ... as personal as I make it, and as much joy as I find in the planning, it all really comes down to my children - the attitude I'm modeling for them, the memories I hope they take with them ...

But now I will wrap up and "let it go" ... because I've really kept you here long enough! I thank you - as always, but especially when my posts go on and on - for stopping by. I wish you all a happy weekend and I will see you here again very soon!

Tuesday Tidbits: Frost, Frosting & Wintry Fun!

Frosty sunrise window

Happy (frosty) Tuesday, everyone! :)

I have just a few quick things to share today ... but first! What is the weather like where you are right now? It is SUPER cold here in my neck of the woods - in fact, I don't think we'll see 20°! Theres snow on the ground (a few inches) and plenty more on the way this weekend ... but such is January in New England!

Now, a few of you asked about my birthday cake frosting - it is a favorite in my family and one my mum is expert at making! It's called "penuche frosting" and it is buttery and sweet and fudgey in texture ... here it is if you'd like to try it sometime:

Penuche Frosting

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
hot water

Melt butter - add brown sugar. Bring to boil. Lower heat and boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add milk and bring to boil. Cool to lukewarm.

Gradually add confectioner's sugar and beat.

Add hot water if too thick.

Also, while I'm here I wanted to mention - for those of you on Pinterest - that I have a few new boards set up. These are each specific to my seasonal planning and I'm using them for links to go along with ideas, activities and special days coming up. So here is the January-February board if you'd like to take a peek. :)

2016 Planner: January & February Links

If you are not on Pinterest, I can do a post with links sometime if that would be helpful. I just added some wolf coloring pages this morning in light of the Full Wolf Moon coming up this weekend! :)

Snowflake lesson 1

This week our seasonal theme is "snowflakes," and I have some fun things planned for the boys - the bigs and the littles! Something I'm working on this week, too - and I meant to mention this during the planning chat last weekend - is the concept of craft bins for seasonal planning and organization. Someone asked me not too long ago (and forgive me for not remembering who) how I keep the craft materials and other resources for the week organized ... and believe me, it's a challenge! I haven't really tackled the craft bins we moved from the old house - nor the craft storage here in the new house! My thought is to have bins for the seasons though - and as I plan and prepare for certain projects I will add those items we'll need to those bins. There should be six bins in all once I'm organized, and you can be sure I will post about them once they're established!

Kitchen window poem

And finally, I had to share this pretty page from a book I have displayed at my writing desk right now. I think I've shared it before, but it's worth another look. It's such a lovely sketch - a mother having her tea and gazing out her kitchen window ... taking such joy in her "lot" in life, days spent at home with the children. The stanza below resonates with me so much ...


She has a kinship with the earth
Though busy in her own domain,
And comprehends its noble plan
From just a kitchen window pane.”
(Milly Walton)

Well my friends, I will be off now, but as always, I thank you for stopping by! It's a busy week of lessons, therapy and activity here ...  Bookworm's back to campus and our relaxing holiday routine is well and truly over. I'll be posting as I can, though - and there are lots of planning posts coming up! In my next post, I will show you my planning sheet "in action" so you can see how I'm using it for seasonal planning. And I am currently working on the next set of printables (Early Spring) as well as a big post about making time in your schedule to DO the planning! Giving all the WHAT a WHEN! I also have a couple of "cozy nests" posts in the works ... 

So I hope you'll stay tuned! Enjoy the rest of your day and I will see here again very soon ... :)

A Fresh Start: Printable Planning Sheets

Fresh start button final

Happy Friday, my friends! I hope this week is treating you well.

I have some really fun posts coming up - there's a new "Planner Tour" in the works and of course "Masteriece Monday" as well as a "Birthday Tea" on Tuesday! - but for today I'd like to share some printable planning sheets with you all ...

Now originally, I was designing these sheets as part of a "spiral-bound, weekly planner-book kind of thing." I was also creating another set of pages for further description of seasonal projects and homey little "assignments" ... but this all became a bit overcomplicated (not to mention oversized!) so I decided the planning sheets would work well enough with my file crate folders. I've been looking for a way to make the FCS more useful and this just might be it! So I went on to transform a simple store-bought notebook into a more user-friendly weekly planner (details soon) and the seasonal project/assignment pages are (slowly) being churned out and set aside for that someday (soon I hope) book. :)

Anyhow, since I very recently figured out how to make a document a PDF and link it here at my blog - I thought it would be fun to share these sheets here in case they might be helpful to someone in some way ...

I have two page designs - one is for general planning and the other is for lesson planning. I am stapling them to the front cover of the folders, with general planning on the outside and lesson planning on the inside. You could also use Washi tape to attach them, or a decorative paper clip, perhaps ... but so far, stapling works for me!

I only have my first season (aka two months) done so far, but if there is interest, I will share the following seasons as I complete them. So here first is my Deep Winter Overview 2016 PDF which breaks down the season by weeks and themes, and will perhaps give you a better idea of what those project pages cover. This particular sheet I have attached inside my notebook planner, at the start of the Deep Winter section, secured with some pretty washi tape. 

(Edited to Add: Here is a clean copy of the Deep Winter Overview Planning Sheet.)

And here is a link to my lesson planning sheet:

Home Learning This Week (Dawn's)

Home Learning This Week (blank)

 (I've included my own personalized sheet just to give you a better idea of how I use it, as well as a clean copy for you to use if you wish.)

And, finally, here are the Weekly Planning Sheets for January and February. There are sections for planning "days of note," a weekly "theme," suppers, to-dos, crafts & comforts, home & garden tasks/projects, and thoughts & prayers. I also had fun choosing a bit of vintage clipart and adding a simple seasonal "suggestion" for the week.

Deep Winter Week One Planning Sheet (12/28-1/3) PDF

Deep Winter Week Two Planning Sheet (1/4-1/10) PDF

Deep Winter Week Three Planning Sheet (1/11-1/17) PDF

Deep Winter Week Four Planning Sheet (1/18-1/24) PDF

Deep Winter Week Five Planning Sheet (1/25-1/31) PDF

Deep Winter Week Six Planning Sheet (2/1-2/7) PDF

Deep Winter Week Seven Planning Sheet (2/8-2/14) PDF

Deep Winter Week Eight Planning Sheet (2/15-2/21) PDF

Deep Winter Week Nine Planning Sheet (2/22-2/28) PDF

Planning sheet on folder

I can do a follow-up post to show how I fill out those blocks. This sheet shown above was hot-off-the-presses and just set on top of a folder for a photo-op.

Now as I mentioned, I also have my notebook planner going on, and I use that more actively than I do these folders/sheets. I refer to my folders/sheets for ideas and direction, but I have daily checklists and a weekly agenda in my planner. I hope this will all make more sense once I give you the full planner tour - WHICH I am hoping to have up midweek! I have a busy weekend with family visits and such, but I will be working in my planner as I find time and taking pictures to share. My goal is to post the tour by Wednesday!

So for now, I will let you go, but I hope you enjoyed this post and seeing all my Deep Winter planning! I would love to hear your thoughts on them if you have time! I would also love to write more about how I'm using the sheets but nap time is nearing its end so I'd better wrap up. I will be back very soon, however, and for now I wish you all a wonderful weekend!


Creating Seasonal Themes: Corn Week!

Corn 1
(Plus a bit of book news at the end!)

Happy Wednesday, my friends! Sorry I've been a bit out of touch lately ... we've had a lot going on here at the house these days!

We're gearing up for a new year of home learning, and we're getting Bookworm ready for his move back to BC, and we're starting Earlybird on a new, daily, home-based, fairly intensive, behavioral therapy. All very good things, but all things requiring a lot of time, energy and attention. (And did I mention, energy?) Also, as August winds down, we're trying to squeeze the very last drops of goodness out of this fast-fleeing season ... we'll have warm weather here for several more weeks, but for all intents and purposes, Summer pretty much ends after Labor Day.

So I thought I would share some of my notes for this week with you all! As I have mentioned before, I enjoy shaping my family's year by assigning seasonal themes to each week. This helps me weave in all the little comforts and joys of the season I might otherwise overlook. And though I really get into planning these themes out with all kinds of details, I try not to set my expectations too high. Because real life often runs over my plans, and a particular "theme" might not get explored very much ... so some years we might manage something small (a special recipe, perhaps) while other years we might go all out and really work that theme into our homeschooling and home life! Either way, I think it's always good to have a plan. And to be aware ... I think as seasons pass, the beautiful rhythm of the year truly wraps itself around my family however much attention we pay it. That is my end goal! :)

Anyhoo, this current week is devoted to the very timely topic of CORN. In New England (and I suspect, across much of the country) corn is in its peak season these days. Corn-on-the-cob is just heavenly right now - partaking daily is not out of the question - and cornstalks will factor into our home decorations in the coming weeks ...

But enough gabbing on my part! Here are some of my thoughts:

The Full Green Corn Moon will rise on Saturday, August 29th @ 2:35 p.m., and it's a Supermoon this month! We'll have to be sure to look for it after dark and plan a special farmstand supper - starring corn, of course! - for that night. 


We'll visit a local corn field ... we drive by it often and always marvel at its size. This time we'll stop the car and get out - observe the field, its sounds and smells. What wildlife is flying overhead or scurrying underfoot? What do we hear? (Is that the corn making that sound?) What can we smell? (Vegetation, earth?) How does the air feel right now? (Hot, humid?) Now, we won't touch these stalks because we don't have permission, but we might visit a local farm and ask to do just that. I'll see what our schedule allows and how much interest has been piqued. Before we go, we'll take pictures of the cornfield from various angles. 


We'll visit our favorite farmstand and buy plenty of ears of fresh corn. We'll ask where the corn comes from and how many ears they sell each day. We'll buy some to eat and some to use for exploration/activities ...

At home, we'll pile some ears on the table and take out our colored pencils and sketch pad: "Still Life with Corn!"


We''ll enjoy some nice books from the library all about corn:

Corn book 2

The Life and Times of Corn

Corn book 1


Corn book 3

Corn is Maize

Corn book 4

The Popcorn Book

Corn book 5

Raccoons and Ripe Corn

(These might be in a basket or set up as a display on a nature shelf.)


We'll play some pretty lullabies ... and discuss how/why corn was so important to Native Americans

Corn music

Under the Green Corn Moon (Native American Lullabies)

For craft day we'll make a corn husk candle - a small glass votive surrounded by corn husks with a tiny beeswax tealight tucked inside. That will look nice on our table! (We could also try making this or this ...)

Or we could try making a corn husk doll (and research the history behind it) ...

We will pop popcorn for snack ... and we might even make marshmallow popcorn bars for a tasty treat!

We might do a taste test: boiled corn vs. grilled corn. 

On baking day we will make a pan of corn bread, and serve it with honey butter.


We'll learn a poem called "A Green Cornfield" by Christina Georgina Rossetti. We'll add that poem to our nature journal, along with our pictures/sketches.

 The earth was green, the sky was blue:
I saw and heard one sunny morn
A skylark hang between the two,
A singing speck above the corn;

A stage below, in gay accord,
White butterflies danced on the wing,
And still the singing skylark soared,
And silent sank and soared to sing.

The cornfield stretched a tender green
To right and left beside my walks;
I knew he had a nest unseen
Somewhere among the million stalks.

And as I paused to hear his song
While swift the sunny moments slid,
Perhaps his mate sat listening long,
And listened longer than I did.


We'll consider "Kansas Corn Field," a painting by artist John Steuart Curry in 1933:

Corn 2


I also have notes for some Indian Corn activities but I'm not sure if I can get it at the nursery yet. Also, those might wait for a later week in the fall. This week is really more about fresh, or green, corn. :)

So there, in a nutshell (or a kernel!) are my simple ideas for celebrating the goodness of corn during this last week of August. Remember - they're all just possibilities! I can't imagine fitting them all in in any one given year.

How do you enjoy corn at this time of year? Perhaps you grow it yourself or have a favorite recipe ... let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, and before I go, I wanted to mention my book briefly, because I've had a few people ask recently about how my progress is going ...

So, I have been working on it this summer - here and there, not as often as I'd like! - but it took me a while to get going because I wasn't entirely sure WHAT I wanted to write about. I have a few subjects I enjoy very much and there are a few topics people ask about more than others ... well, I finally found my focus! And that enabled me to get rolling ...

I am going to do a book about the file crate system - describing how I do it (and why) and the basics of setting a system up for yourself. That will be the first half of the book ... the second half will focus on seasonal learning (and living) ... and how I use my FCS to manage my family's year. So my hope is to have an outline of 52 (weekly) *seasonal* themes to present  along with activities and books and observations. And tips for using the folders to make it all happen! (Or most of it ... some of it ... well, you get the picture!)

Sometimes when I describe this it all sounds so straight forward and simple - these are my two favorite topics, after all! It seems like the two sides of the equation should work well together ... I need the folders to make the plans happen! But it's possible I may need to separate the two topics ... goodness knows I can get wordy!

(Case in point, this post.)

I will most likely be self-publishing so I'll need to do a WHOLE lot of research into that. I have my eye on a neat contraption that will allow me to bind things at home ... and I am looking into permission for using things like scrapbook papers and poems, illustrations, etc. 

Much to do, much to do! But I'm excited ... so I wanted to update you all .. and I will of course keep you all posted. For the time being, if you have a prayer to spare, or good energy to send, I would be grateful ... I'm desperately trying to find the time in my new schedule to just ... get 'er done!


Thanks so much for stopping by my friends ... enjoy the rest of your Wednesday and I will see you here again very soon!

A Glimpse of Autumn ...

Hello my friends, and welcome! I hope your week's going well. :) I have a few fun things to share with you all this fine Thursday morning ...

Pre-autumn 1

I spied my first glimpse of Autumn yesterday as I paged through the newest PaperSource catalog ... I LOVE "seeing" fall on the pages of my magazines and catalogs, even if I'm not quite ready for Summer to end. It makes me happy and eager to plan the next season!

Speaking of planning ...

Pre-autumn 2

With the school reports out of the way, I've started working on my lesson planner for the academic year ahead. It's a rather humble and homespun affair (using stuff I had on hand), but I'm hoping it will serve me well. I will share it here with you all soon.

Pre-autumn 3

And here's one of those very fine, early Autumn issues! My Victoria never disappoints, but I especially love its annual British issue. 

Pre-autumn 4

And finally, I had to snap a picture of this spot in my bedroom because it just looks so pretty and cozy. I'm in love with my "new" quilt and shams - and I must say Thanks to my Mum for her generous donation! This lovely set was in her guest bedroom until I "borrowed" it and couldn't seem to give it back. ;) And I love that the window is open - because the air is so fresh and cool this morning - and there's a bit of reading stacked on the night-side table. (There's even more in the basket sitting on top of the hope chest at the foot of the bed.) And I had to turn on the light because it was just a bit too dark for a good picture without it. I liked that, too ... that tells me the daylight is changing as we move closer to fall ... :)

Well, my friends - I must be off for now, but thanks so much for stopping by. Blessings on your day and see you here again very soon!

Homeschool Thoughts, Lists & News, etc.

(A bit of a hodgepodge today!)

Happy august 1

Happy August, my friends! It sure is hot and hazy here, but I love how the flowers just glow in the summer sun these days. And everything is so green ... I just love this time of year!

Well, I wanted to pop in quickly this morning to tell you I am *thisclose* to finishing our school reports - I just need to finalize Earlybird's ed. plan for next year. His reports are always a bit tricky because, as a special needs child, my plans must be thorough, but flexible, and his progress is not always so readily apparent. I have to put a lot of thought into what we will learn and how I will teach him these things. And because of his learning style and challenges, my methods are not always as clear-cut as just say, ordering a "Grade X Curriculum." Thankfully he does make progress each year ... I just have to really look back through all we did in each subject to remind myself (reassure myself) how said progress was made and measured.

(For example, this year he listened to audiobooks - something he didn't couldn't do before - and in this way we "read" several classic books together. I couldn't ask him to fill out a quiz or write a report, but I could - when the time was right - ask him questions about what we'd heard that day and to re-tell parts of the story, which I would write down.)

So I'm always looking for ways to "think outside the box" when constructing Earlybird's education, and one resource I have found immensely helpful are these fantastic (and free!) Living Learning Lists from Ed Snapshots. There are some terrific ideas here for experiential learning in all the main subjects! I've pinned these lists and printed them out to keep in my homeschool planner for use all year long ... :)

And speaking of Ed Snapshots ... well, I am just SUPER excited to have been invited to do a podcast with Pam sometime in the near future! (You can read other podcasts here ... so much inspiration!) I will keep you all posted about when mine will be happening ... I'm not sure what-all I can bring to the "podcast table," but I am SO honored to have been asked! I haven't "talked shop" in a while ... :)


Let's see, what else? I also wanted to mention that so far I am really enjoying my new Day Designer! I will do a post on how I'm using it as soon as I can - I want to get some more "days" under my belt first - but I wanted to mention that if you'd like a peek at how the planner looks, DD offers free downloadable planning pages to try out before purchasing. Mind you, this is an example of a page from a flagship planner - the original Day Designer - not the Blue Sky version I purchased from Target. I'm still working out how the versions differ ... and how to personalize my own planner. More about that soon!

Ok - and here's a final thought for today - over the weekend I had my hair cut, colored and styled and boy does it feel good! (Some of you might have seen my "after shot" on my Facebook page.) And it got me to thinking ... wouldn't it be fun to do a "hair care" post here at the blog? I would love to chat about how we wear our hair, and how we care for it ... on our own at home and at the salon. Especially when we're busy with other things (kids, work, life!) or being careful with our budget. We could even - if people were willing! - share pictures. I will keep that in mind for sometime in my posting future - let me know if you think that would be fun and any other post ideas you might have for me! I'm always open to suggestions. :)


All righty then ... I will be off now since my kids are clamoring for lunch and I'm the point person when it comes to that situation. For now I will wish you all a good week and hope to see you here again very soon!

Teach quote

(Saw this just before hitting "post" and had to share!)

More Q & A: homeschool planning?

Lesson planning 11

Continuing on with our Q&A series, a few ladies asked about my homeschool planning methods, so I thought I'd tackle that subject today. :)

From Leah:

How do/did you give your boys their assignments? Did they each have a planner or did you print out assignment sheets? Or, did they just do the "next thing" in the curriculum? How did you keep track of your side of it (read-alouds, projects, etc.) or is that part of that FCS cover sheet?

From Helena:

How/where do you plan out your homeschooling? I don't mean the outside classes you have scheduled, but the lessons you do at home.

From Tanya

Meant to ask you where you keep your home learning plans? Are they in your planner or do you have a specific place where you lay out what subjects you want to study and then specifically how you will study them? 

As you might expect, over the past 15 years of homeschooling, I've used all kinds of methods for managing home lessons - in planning them, assigning them, reviewing them, etc. I've used separate planners (both commercial and homemade) and I've worked the plans into my file folders, and/or my main planner. Each year was a bit different depending on what we were using for curriculum. What I can do here is tell you about what I do now ...

These days, Bookworm is at college and Crackerjack takes several outside-the-home classes (in small groups of homeschool peers). I don't have a hand in those assignments but I am in charge of overseeing his schedule and how he manages his workload. (We also decide together which classes mesh with our goals.) Math, Religion, and Geography/World Events are home-taught. (He is also enrolled in monthly Confirmation prep at our church.)

With Earlybird (who is developmentally delayed), I'm basically designing my own curriculum - using a few workbooks and a wide variety of educational materials. We rely on his interests and simple activities - immersing ourselves in (hopefully) memorable experiences that involve his head, hands and heart. It is child-led learning, but not too unschoolish, for lack of a better word - I need a real plan to work around, but I gave up scheduling assignments firmly a long time ago.

I usually do my lesson planning over the weekend, though I'm trying to work it into my Fridays instead. It would be much more efficient if I could. But whenever I do it, I begin in the dining room where I pretty much take over the whole table, lol. Holidays and Summer aside, it looks like this pretty much all year:

Lesson planning 12

I know not everyone can - or wants to - use their dining table in this way, but it works for me. I am a visual person so I like to have piles of books that are grouped by theme/lesson. It helps me focus and organize ideas. I keep even more books in nearby tote bags, including my own general "teacher" resources, as well as Crackerjack's books and notebooks ...

Lesson planning 3

This table displays periodicals and seasonal books ... this is done mostly for me. :)

Lesson planning 21

I start the planning "process" by first making a hot cup of tea ... moving the cat off my chair ... retrieving a pencil from the toddler ... neatening the table ... and pruning those book piles. Some books go back to the library bag (or storage downstairs), once I've made note of them in our portfolio. Actually, "portfolio" is probably too formal a word for what I'm keeping right now, but at the end of the year I hope it applies!

Next, I open up my planner and fill in our agenda for the week ahead:

What classes/activities/appts. do we have?

What things do we need to turn in or remember to bring?

Are there library holds in or books due?

What days are of note? Will we work them into our home learning?

(This week we have - Grandma Barbara's birthday, National Chocolate Cake Day, St. Thomas Aquinas, National Carnation Day, Days of the Blackbird, St. Brigid's Day, February begins, Parish Breakfast, The Superbowl)

What's the weather looking like this week?

Anything special happening at Church?

I then have Crackerjack sit with me (or he stands beside me, eager to get back to whatever he was doing) while we go over his work for the week. His classes were a bit overwhelming last semester, so he came up with an idea to make himself an assignment board. I thought it was a great idea and left it entirely up to him to create and maintain. He found an old white board downstairs and unearthed a dry erase marker (which we mostly hide because EB does bad things with them) and set this up ...

Lesson planning 7

I transfer CJ's assignments to my own grid ...

Lesson planning 20

(As you can see, I didn't retrieve that pencil from the toddler quickly enough!)

 The top side of this sheet is for Crackerjack and the back side (seen below) is for Earlybird. I'd been writing these notes rather randomly, but have decided to keep formal weekly lesson planning in a new section of my journal binder. (One of the reasons I love doing these Q&A posts is it gets me to assess what I'm not doing well!) This is just a trimmed down piece of legal pad paper - I like how the yellow paper stands out.

(I will post more about this new journal section later this week, but here it is pictured below.)

Lesson planning 8

Also, the index card seen on CJ's  planning page is another "system" I've used from time-to-time: daily task cards. I'm giving it another go to see if I can get us back on a steady track. (The holidays kind of derailed us ...) These cards, as their name implies, are for assigning daily lessons and other tasks ...

Lesson planning 6

 I have a little plastic basket that fits index cards perfectly and I have one per day per child. Right now, though, I'm just using this system with Crackerjack. Each day Crackerjack gets a card that details what he needs to remember to do - like, put out trash, finalize art project, complete math lesson, fill birdfeeders, pray for a specific intention, etc. We have this neat little photo holder from Disney World and it holds the card of the day perfectly - CJ keeps it next to his computer in the living room. 

Ok, back to the planning ...

I then look through my in-basket, book piles and journal pages for things to record:

Videos watched - lately it's been Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Liberty's Kids, and Popular Mechanics for Kids.

Magazines read - Skywatch, Highlights, Trains, and The Baker's Catalog.

Books read/chapters listened to - currently we are reading Little House in the Big Woods and we are LOVING it. It's the perfect book to listen to at this time of year.

Any papers done, printed out, drawn/colored ...

Any things EB said or did that demonstrated a new skill or comprehension, independence, his sweet sense of humor, etc. I'm usually jotting those things down in my daily journal.

As I plan for Earlybird, I don't use a subject grid like I do for Crackerjack (though I'm trying to come up with a life skills goal sheet that would be a bit more formal). Rather, I brainstorm miscellaneous ideas for the week ahead ...

Lesson planning 22

Here's a closer look in case anyone is curious ... :) 

Lesson planning 18

Then each day I decide what might be a good fit for us (for him). I make sure my book requests are made at the library (it usually only takes a day or two to get them in) and I make note of any materials I need to pick up at the store. (Seems we'll be doing some baking this week!)

(Note, we've just learned a blizzard of "potentially historic" proportions is heading our way for Tuesday. So, first of all, YIKES - but second of all, this would be a perfect opportunity to look at the science of snowstorms and research record snows in New England ... so I've added these notes to my list.)

So it's not all that organized, and there's certainly no guarantee we'll get all of it (or even most of it) done ... but it's been working pretty well for us this year. I just need to remember to sit down periodically and revisit the overall goals I made for the year, and see which areas need attention. For instance, EB listens and comprehends literature quite well - if I have him "trapped" in the van, lol. At home, he's more "free-ranging" so I try to catch his attention when I can. He can be very resistant to seatwork so I struggle between making allowances for what are legitimate issues and pushing him a little ... do I make him get used to it or will it make him hate it even more?

That, however, is probably a post for another time: How do we work with our special needs children at home? How do we make learning enjoyable for children who struggle with rigidity and extreme sensory issues? And still make progress? Idea-sharing would be wonderful!


Well, ok then - I think I'd best wrap up or I'll never hit "post," lol. I am sure I left a lot unsaid - which seems crazy after this mammoth post, but I could have talked more about planning a year in advance (generally speaking), keeping track of progress (weekly/monthly) and other assessment/review methods ... mind you, just the way I've done it! Not as a "how to" guide by any stretch of the imagination. I may be a "veteran" homeschooler, but I'm still figuring things out as I go along!

Also, before I forget, I wanted to mention two other post ideas that were suggested to me by my friends Shirley Ann and Emma. I have these in queue as well ...

* How do we keep our Sundays special, for our families and ourselves?

* How do we find time and create space in our daily routine for quiet contemplation, personal prayer and spiritual goals?


Thank you you all so much for joining me today ... I'd love to hear about your lesson planning methods if you'd care to share. If you have a moment, please leave a comment below. :)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, my friends. If you're in the path of nasty weather - hold tight and stay safe! I'll see you here again very soon ...

When you take a kid to Whole Foods ...

Whole Foods Market is Earlybird's favorite place on earth (aside from his Nana and Papa's, of course), and he asks me constantly if we can go there, when can we go there, who can come with us and whose car we'll take. We usually have the whole trip discussed, imagined and planned out days - even weeks - before we even step foot in the store. ;)

Well, it occured to me that such an avid interest presents a wonderful learning opportunty for Earlybird! Building on what appeals to him - with simple, relatable activities - makes learning easier and more fun (for us both). So I started brainstorming some ideas for a little "Whole Foods Curriculum" and thought I'd share my list here in case it's helpful to somebody else with a child who just loves to food shop!

*Quick disclaimer: I'm a homeschooling mom, not a curriculum expert or special needs pro. I don't mean to present this as anything other than a humble and hopeful collection of home-grown ideas. I'm just going by what might work for my own son and his particular interests and learning/life needs.


27 learning activities inspired by Whole Foods

Make a list of things we need to buy.

Practice spelling and penmanship, expand vocabulary. When we check our pantry and fridge/freezer before making our list we practice good food management and decision-making while taking responsibility for our family's needs (all important life skills).

Try to find items on a prepared scavenger list.

"Made from oats." "Came from the sea." "Smells good." etc. (reading practice, creative/logical thinking)

Look over store flyer and organize coupons.

Good reading practice, and discerning information (what's on sale, what's fresh?). Using coupons to save money - sorting, organizing, budgeting. Simple subtraction (item price minus coupon amount).

Use a calculator to add up a small order.

I wouldn't try this with a big shopping trip, but for a basket-ful of items - using a calculator to predict how much the cashier will ask for. Math - estimation, addition, calculator-use.

• Make reusable shopping bags.

O and r at wf 4

Earlybird with his own reusable bag, a birthday gift.

  Using inexpensive cloth tote bags (from a craft store), decide on design/colors. Great creative/art experience. Discuss why reusing bags makes good sense (environmental science).

Draw a map to Whole Foods from our house.

Creative project using all kinds of skills - geography, measurement, memory, arts & crafts. Use a large sketch pad and colored pencils. Write out directions to go along with map.

Whole Foods A and Whole Foods B - which is closer?

We're lucky enough to live near(ish) not just one, but two Whole Foods stores - I know which one we prefer (size, selection, layout) but which one is closer? Observe odometer at start and finish for each trip, record travel times.

• Practice clear and polite communication.

Think of potential questions and ask for help, make conversation with staff and other patrons (language skills, social skills).

• Practice good cart management.

Earlybird loves to use the cart himself, but this takes a little skill sometimes! The store can be busy, aisles can be crowded (gross motor skills, social skills, patience).

O and r at wf 2

Little Bear is amazed by all the sights to see!

Learn: What does organic mean?

Look for the word "organic" on labels, store signs, flyers. Ask someone to explain what it means (call ahead of time) and/or research at home. Visit the library to research further - ask the librarian to help us look up information: How is organic healthier for us? For the earth? Make up a short "report" with Mama's help. (environmental science, research skills, clear communication, observation, composition/grammar/spelling/vocabulary)

Tour the store.

Ask for a tour with a store manager (or other store staff). Call ahead to ask. After tour, narrate experience (Mom types in) and add drawings, photos. Write thank you note afterwards. (patience, attention, social skills, penmanship/spelling/vocabulary)

Film a pretend commerical.

O and r at wf 1

Little Bear is all business when discussing yogurt.

Ask manager for permission to take video (on phone) while walking around the store. At home, make up a "script" and signs/props for commercial. Talk about what we like about Whole Foods. Record commercial to share with friends and family (language skills, reflection, creativity, oral presentation, diction).

Look for products from around the world.

Make a list of all the countries we find represented, and write down what products came from where. Use a world map to mark discovered countries. What country has the most products? Find out if there are available statistics for that information (ask manager). (geography, observation, communication/language, simple math, research skills)

Where are Whole Foods stores located across the US?

Research store chain locations - which state has the most stores? Look at US map as we research. (geography, observation, simple math)

How do receipts work?

How much money do we spend at Whole Foods? Look at receipt from recent visit, what does it show? Use cash to show the amount of money spent. (math skills, life skills, money management)

O and r at wf 3 

Earlybird and Little Bear on a recent trip to Whole Foods.

Visit a local farm that supplies food to Whole Foods.

Ask the store manager for a list of local suppliers. Visit one (or more) of the farms in the spring and ask about the farm-store connection. Calculate distance from farm to store - ask about how the food/items are transported. Take pictures and write up a "report." (social skills, communication, language, math, geography, community, environmental science)

Tour the individual store departments.

Visit the store and write down the name of each store department. Over following visits, investigate just one department at a time. What is the seafood counter all about? What can we find in the dairy? Talk to a staff member associated with that department - have some questions prepared. Make up a booklet at home describing the information and communication. Use photos, drawings and narration. (observation, list-making, language, organization, communication, social skills, creativity, memory/reflection)

Make up a Whole Foods cookbook.

As we visit the store through the year, keep note of what is in season when. Devise/collect recipes for seasonal foods (baked apples in winter, grilled corn in summer, etc.). Ask for a seasonal list of foods (if available) and use that as a guide. Keep all these recipes and information (along with pictures we take as we cook) in a binder. (observation, list making, language, creativity, communication, life skills, environmental science)

Make a well-balanced meal.

Plan out a healthy meal and write out a shopping list. Talk about how much we'll need, think about how many people will be eating the food. Make sure to include all food groups and talk about why that is important. Talk about the connection between good health and healthy food. Discuss how we feel after we eat a nutritious meal (energized? full?). (list-making, organization, language, decision making, science, healthy habits, self-awareness)

Practice time management.

Plan a very early trip to the store (like, 8 a.m.) and devise a plan for getting there on time. How early do we need to get up? What things have to happen before we can leave the house? What do we need to bring with us? Make a list and post it. On the day of the trip, time each activity that leads up to leaving the house. (life skills, time management, independence, responsibility)

O and r at wf

 EB can be a big help with his little brother. 

Rules are important.

Does Whole Foods have rules? Look at the entrance for any signs (no shirt/no shoes/etc.). Talk about why rules are important. What are some of our family/household's rules? (life skills, responsiblity, community living)

Write a poem about Whole Foods.

Brainstorm words about Whole Foods - nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. Print out the words and cut out so that we have lots of single words on little pieces of paper. Play around with the words and make up rhymes. (language, creativity, grammar)

Conduct a taste test-survey.

Choose a sampling of foods (perhaps WF store brand vs. name brand or another store brand). Invite friends/family to try the foods (decide how best to do this - blindfolded?) and make a note of reactions. Tabulate "votes" and make up a graph to show survey results. (decision-making, organization, communication, math skills, creativity)

Host a Whole Foods party.

A nice late spring/early summer event - decide on date/time, plan out guest list, make invitations, devise menu, write out shopping list, create decorations, etc. (calendar skills, decision-making, communication, language, creativity, patience, social skills)

Have a meal at Whole Foods.

Our local Whole Foods has a cafe where patrons can buy drinks and snacks and enjoy them at a table. Plan an outing with Daddy for an early weekend morning (before it gets busy). What do we need (money)? How shoud we behave? After eating, give Daddy a tour of the store. (social skills, patience, money management, hygiene)

Plant a Whole Foods garden.

In the spring, notice the gardening items that Whole Foods offers: seeds, plants, tools. At home, plan out and create a small garden plan (pots, easy-to-grow items). Purchase seeds and small seedlings at Whole Foods. Peruse tools and other garden implements and decide if they are something we need or not. (list making, organization, environmental science, nature study, creativity, exercise/fresh air, decision making, money management)

Write a letter to Whole Foods.

Find out how to contact the "head' of Whole Foods (look online) and write a letter expressing our fondness for the store, as well as any suggestions or ideas. :) (language, creativity, research, social skills, life skills, US mail)


Well, I guess I'd better stop there, because this post is getting awfully long! Thanks for letting me share all of this ... I hope maybe someone else finds it useful! Lots of ideas, and some of them will work better than others ... we will try them out over the next several months as opportunity (and energy) presents itself! And of course, I'll let you all know how it goes ...

Thanks so much for stopping by today ... have a good one, my friends, and I will see you all here again very soon!

A Slow, Snowy Sunday

Snowy sunday morning

Well, after that very brief taste of Spring, we're back in the clutches of old man Winter once again ... it's another snowy Sunday here in New England! I hope you're all having a nice weekend ...

It will be a quiet, homey day for us ... I'm doing my "mid-year review" of our curriculum and some lesson planning for the rest of the winter quarter (with an eye towards spring). I do this every year, looking back at the ed. plans I submitted for each child and then seeing where we're at/how things are going. I make adjustments and then plan out lessons and activities for the next several weeks. We tend to get off-track around the holidays so it's a good idea for me to take stock about now. The process always starts out a bit sobering, but usually I feel pretty energized by the time I'm done.

But speaking of feeling "energized" ... we're also anticipating a very BIG GAME here later today! GO PATS!!! Whatever the outcome, this should be an epic re-match between Brady and Manning, two amazing quarterbacks in the prime of their careers. And since a snowy "Patriots Sunday" always calls for a hearty supper, I'm making a rich beef stew, to be served over potatoes, and shhhh don't tell the boys but I'm also making some "Patriots" cupcakes for dessert.


So, just popping in to say hi and share that snowy picture with you all ... I'm sure I need not remind you all that Downton is on tonight ... followed by the much anticipated return of the simply amazing Sherlock! I am going to try very hard to stay awake for DA but I can pretty much guarantee I'll be catching Sherlock tomorrow online ...

Either way I'll have a chat post up tomorrow morning so we can all share our thoughts on the latest Downton developments!

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, my friends ... see you here again very soon!

Looking at Next Week

Happy Friday, my friends! It's time to start planning a new week!

New file folder 1

Lots going on next week - in our schedule, in our Faith, and in nature, too. And the week not only closes with Palm Sunday, but we celebrate a Papal Inauguration as well! How lovely is that?

So yesterday I pulled the folder shown above out of storage, attached a weekly planning page to its cover, and starting "thinking things out."

Here are my thoughts and ideas ... :)

Events/Days of Note

19 - St. Joseph's Day

19 - Papal Inauguration Mass

20 - Vernal Equinox

22 - Blogiversary (7 years!)

24 - Palm Sunday


Dinner Menus

*Under construction - please see my Menu Monday post!



Plan CCD finale/Palm Sunday party.

Order natural egg dye kit.

Buy white eggs.

Spring cleaning, con.

Make card for our pastor.

Finalize Easter menu.

Books to Request/Display

Song of the Swallows

The Spring Equinox


Humphrey's First Palm Sunday



Watch papal proceedings on tv on St. Joseph's Day; serve "sloppy joe empanadas" for supper and "dulce de leche" sundaes as a special "Argentinian" dessert. :)

Talk with boys about "Friends of St. Francis" badge program - brainstorm ideas.

Observe spring equinox: watch sunrise, start a pot of seeds, set out nesting materials.

Take a family Palm Sunday Praise Walk - look for pussy willows by river, stop by vernal pond, observe signs of new life.

Watch night sky for comet: use printable sky map.

Work on amphibians & reptiles study: visit pet store (ask questions, look at turtles, snakes, frogs, lizards), begin "pond watch" at home (listen for peepers), investigate back fence/woods for salamanders.

Set up spring nature table.


So those are my notes for now ... they're just ideas and hopes, but the week will take its own shape and rhythm and we'll do our best to keep up. But I'm excited about all that's to come - it's a very special week in the year - one of my favorites!

Do you have any special activities in mind for next week? If you do, I'd love to hear about them!

Hope you all enjoy your Friday ... see you here again very soon!


Thinking ahead to Next Week ...

So on Thursdays I start actively planning out the next week ... I grab the new week's folder from my file crate, sit down with my calendar and then set about filling in the blanks ...

File planning

First I determine days & events "of note" ...

For the week of Monday, February 11th - Sunday, February 17th:

11Our Lady of Lourdes

12 - Abraham Lincoln's birthday

12 - Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras

13 - Ash Wednesday/LENT begins

14 - St. Valentine's Day

I also think about things that will need to be done/remembered and begin my "to do" list. I look at how busy our week will be - the balance of how often we'll be out and how much we'll be home. This helps me decide which days can handle more "to-do's" and which days will require a simpler supper.

Next I plan out our dinner menus, again keeping an eye on the calendar - is someone out one evening and/or is there something special to celebrate?

I then look over the master notes for this week in the year, and sort through the new folder to see what I've saved - recipes, crafts, invitations, etc. Then I decide what seems appealing/do-able this year.

The coming week is particularly rich with seasonal and liturgical events - so there are a LOT of plans listed here - but we only ever do what we can comfortably fit into our week. (And what I, as "ringmaster," feel up to.)


Our Lady of Lourdes: a coloring page (from this book) - with EB, finish up Bernadette: Our Lady's Little Servant - with CJ, who will also research the sacred grotto, discuss plans to make our own backyard shrine, supper: crockpot French onion soup + small roast beef-baguette sandwiches + French apple dessert. After supper we'll watch a documentary on Lourdes (available on Netflix, instant play).

Lincoln's birthday: morning math: make penny rubbings with EB (review coins/money), bring out Lincoln Logs, lunch: rolled wrap sandwiches and jelly rolls ("Lincoln Logs"), read this book and fiddle with "log cabin" supplies (peanut butter, graham crackers and pretzels), watch Abraham Lincoln: Inspiring Heroes (middle boys) after lunch, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets after supper (older boys)

Shrove Tuesday: make Mardi Gras masks (paper plates, feathers/markers/craft sticks), supper: pancakes w/syrup and whipped cream, roasted kielbasa/homefries, fruit salad & a sparkly king's cake, bury our alleluia ...


Ash Wednesday - attend early Mass and receive ashes, back home set up Lent corner which will look much like this, plan meatless meals for the season (check back on this post), supper: cheese raviolis and simple salad, organize Lent/Easter book basket

St. Valentine's Day - earlier in week hang Valentines flag and decorate windows with red & white doiley hearts, wake boys with a pot of hot chocolate & freshly baked chocolate-chip banana bread, read about the real Saint Valentine, for supper: garlic baked chicken, rice pilaf, soy-butter asparagus and raspberry cobbler cupcakes, watch Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown with the kids after supper - and after EB goes to bed (he absolutely loathes Charlie Brown, lol)


So those are the plans for next week, and we'll see how well we fit them in. Some weeks we do a lot and some weeks not so much - but it's always nice to have plans, because ... there's always next year! And that's part of the comfort and joy of the year's seasons. :)

Well my friends, as I wrap up this post, it's the "calm before the storm" as the saying goes, as a "blizzard of epic proportions" is heading our way. Seems hard to believe since it's been such a quiet, sunny day ... but we've made our preparations as best we can ... and now we just sit and wait and watch for the snow to start falling ...

(I'm sure I'll have snow pictures to share at some point this weekend!) 

I hope wherever you are, you have a lovely evening and a good day tomorrow. Thanks so much for stopping by ... I'll see you here again sometime soon!


Organizing the Nest Survey, Part 6 ~ Home Learning (& an Internet Query)


Hello there everyone, and Happy Thursday!

So let's talk about home learning, a subject near and dear to my heart - *raises hand* - 12-year veteran right here! There's a lot to manage when you add home education to your family's already full plate - so naturally, there's a lot to discuss when it comes to organizing it all - but I tried to keep my questions simple. ;)

And so as not to leave anybody out, I have an "internet" question at the end of the post that I've been meaning to ask for a while, so if you'd like to leave a comment for the giveaway, please feel free to check that out ...

So my "organizing" questions for today are as follows ...

1. Do you work with a formal lesson plan each week?

2. (And if so) where do you write down/keep these lesson plans?

3. How do you keep your kids on task/aware of their responsibilities?

4. Do you have a separate learning room or space?

5. How do you keep "school stuff" in order? What do you find hardest to organize?

6. Do you find it a challenge to balance time spent outside the home (field trips, get-togethers, clubs, etc.) with time spent on academics at home?


And, my question for those who don't have homeschooling comments to share, is about two online activities - Pinterest and Instagram. Are you using either of these sites, and how do you use them? I'm somewhat familiar with Pinterest but I really have no idea how Instagram works. It seems as though everyone's using one of these sites these days - or both!

Information, please? :)

Now if you'd like to revisit previous survey comments (to read through or add your own), please click on the following links:

1. to-do lists (daily and someday)

2. family food

3. calendars

4. file folders and paper management

5. family finances

(Remember - each time you comment your name is entered in the contest!)


Well my friends, it is BEYOND frigid here in New England today - a high of 19 today, I think? We'll be in the deep freeze for some time, but there is relief in sight for next week. Rain, too - but I'll take it if it means temps in the 40s! I'm getting itchy for spring which is kind of dangerous when it's still only January! As for me and the babe, I'm still taking it easy here, and things have quieted down nicely. Well, except for the little boy himself who is VERY active inside his mama! He's now moving around so vigorously that others can feel him from the outside, and you can even SEE him moving my tummy around. (Sorry if that's TMI, lol!) It's a miracle, honestly - each day I give thanks that we have been blessed this way once again. Late May seems way off and yet, things seem to be moving along pretty quickly!

 Friends, please have yourselves a nice Thursday ... I'll see you here again very soon!


ETA - It seems some folks are having trouble leaving comments, and I have no idea what's up with Typepad, but I appreciate all the more the time and effort involved in leaving your thoughts! No survey post tomorrow - look for one over the weekend! :)

Making My Homeschool Lesson Planner*

*This post is my Back to School Prep: Part 2, I just couldn't fit all that text in the header!

Lesson planner 5

Good morning, my friends!

Over the weekend I put together a lesson planner for myself, and I thought you all might like to see it. :) I started with a dark blue, 3-ring binder, which I embellished with pretty paper, ribbon and stickers.

Lesson planner 4

Back when the boys were little we called our homeschool, "The Little Acorns Homeschool" (because tall oaks from little acorns grow, of course), and our "symbol" was a combination of oak leaves (one for each parent) and acorns (one for each boy). So I decided to use some pretty stickers I had on hand for the front label ... I'm feeling a bit nostalgic since this is the last year I'll be homeschooling all three boys. 

Now for a look inside ...

Lesson planner 2

Inside the front cover I keep loose papers to file, and on the right is a colorful class chore chart. I must admit I'm not exactly sure how I'll use it, but a package of 25 was only $2 at Michaels so I couldn't pass it up ... 

Lesson planner 1

(I have a soft spot for owls, too.)

I then added some tabs to my lesson planner:

General information: ed. plans, curriculum orders, class information, etc.

Family Living & Learning: family activities and adventures, field trips, and faith @ home, etc.

Then, a tab for each of my boys ...

And finally, the lesson planner itself, a set of weekly planning pages.

Now this is how I plan to use it.

I am keeping ALL my weekly planning pages in this master binder, but each week I will move JUST the pages that are meant for that one specific week to my Home Management Binder ...

Lesson planner 6

They'll be in the front section, directly behind the yellow daybook pages and blue master to-do-list. At the end of the week I'll swap out the "used" pages for a new set.

The weekly lesson planning pages are organized like this:

(2 sheets of paper = 4 sides)

Page 1, side A: Cover page - Monday's date, any events "of note"

9/3 ~ Labor Day, Lessons resume, (Not) Back-to-School Picnic, Nativity of Mary, first Pats game, first CCD class

Page 1, side B: Specific lessons and goals for each student that week (the page is divided into three sections)

Math, English, Science, Social Studies, Nature, Faith, etc.

Page 2, side A: Brainstorming page for seasonal/liturgical themes/ideas, recipes, field trips, activities, etc.

Discuss chores/allowance, First Day breakfast, create Mary garden/serve blueberry cake, wash our homeschool "bus," Intro to Animal Study: hang classification chart, organize subject cards, etc. ...

Page 2, side B: WeekEnd Journal (my summary of the week)

e.g. "Our first week "back to homeschool" was ..."

So after I write the summary, I'll file away those completed pages and grab next week's pages from the lesson planner ... and start all over again! I could of course, not move pages at all, and just use the lesson planner as it is, but I'm trying to streamline my planning tools as much as possible. So the HMN is really my planning "hub" these days.

Now, I do have all the weekly pages written out as far as possible ... the cover pages are all marked with events of note and the brainstorming pages are full of timely ideas for that week. I'll update that information as events arise and ideas form. The "weekly goals" and "weekend summaries" are more timely of course, and will be filled in at the start of, and end of, the week, respectively.

Does any of that make sense or am I talking in circles, lol? I'm wrapping this post up in the very early morning hours and my caffeine level is not up to snuff yet!

Before I go though, let me show you the "autumnal" cover I made up for my HMN:

HMN fall cover

It makes me very happy. :)

Well my friends, I'm going to sign off for now and jump-start my day. It's raining here in Massachusetts this morning, and it's just so lovely. We have all the windows open ... and the sound of the rain is so soothing and the coolness of the air is so refreshing. I can say all this of course, because I'm not rushing through this rain or sitting in traffic, so I'm taking a moment to count my blessings and savor the comforts and joys of my line of work. :)

So please have yourselves a good day, and thanks so much for stopping by ... I'll see you here again very soon!

Q & A Roundup

KG sunflowers

Happy Friday, my friends! It's time for a little Q&A catch-up!

"It would be lovely to know about all of your [home management binder] sections but most especially your blog planning, prayer section and homeschooling section :) Thanks for sharing!" ~ Posted by: CeAnne @ Sanctus Simplicitus

CeAnne, here's a look at what I keep in those sections:

    * In my "Personal/Blog/Writing" section, I keep a running list of post ideas and suggestions, as well as notes for other writing projects and personal hobbies.

    * In my "Prayer Book," I keep a running list of prayer intentions. I used to have a box for this purpose, but it was out of the way and nobody seemed to use it. These days, when something comes up - a need or request for prayer - I can write it down here.

    * Behind my "Home Education" tab, I have copies of the current education plans and any correspondence with the school. I don't keep my actual lesson planning here (at least not presently) because it's just too big.


"I love the idea of a "storage binder" for the finished pages so the regular working binder doesn't get too big or too full. What size binder do you use for the everyday one?" ~ Posted by: MamaGames

MamaGames, my primary binder is about an inch-and-a-half wide. (I measured the width since I can't remember what size I bought!) It seems to be just wide enough, but not too unwieldly. I'm trying really hard to keep it useful, not overwhelming.


"I like the idea of the binder because then you can switch things around... so does the binder replace the spiral book you had made? I also like your clippings pages. Let us know how you like it. Will you move these to a yearly binder for storage?" ~ Posted by: Theresa

Theresa, I am using the binder in place of the spiral-bound daybook. I just don't have the time to make up something new right now and I'm trying to keep things all in one place. That said, I do have a small spiral-bound (commercial) planner which fits in my bag. (This is the planner that leaves the house - the binder I leave at home.) Someday when I have time I will get back to making my own daybook. That's really a passion of mine!

And as for the clipping pages, so far I'm finding this method to be pretty efficient. (I'm not loving it, but it is working.) And yes, all those pages are filed into the storage binder, right behind the daily pages and outdated monthly calendars. If this section grows bigger I will give the clippings a binder of their own.


"I do actually have a request...I am a new Catholic and I would love a post about the resources you use to teach Catholism to your sons, especially Early Bird, as my kids are little. Also, a question...how far apart are your two older boys?" Posted by: Kristie


Kristie, that's a wonderful post idea and, as I am currently outlining our "Faith @ Home" year, I'll write something up soon. But I can easily answer your second question: my older two are four years apart, whereas there are only two years between the younger two. :)


"Do you have any homemade homeschool planning sheets you use on a regular basis?" ~ Posted by: Denise

Denise, I have used various lesson planning materials over the years - some homemade, others commercially produced. For many years I used a lesson planner made by a company that, alas, went out of business. Then I tried something similar by a different manufacturer but ultimately I found making something up on my own fit my needs best. 

I am currently setting up a notebook to use as my "teacher's planner" this year. When it's done I will be happy to show you, but I can tell you I like to plan things weekly (rather than daily) and I designate space for general notes as well as goals for each of the boys.

Have you seen Donna Young's website? There are loads of planning sheets available there - and all are printables, free to use.


Well, I have more questions to address, but this is all I have time for right now. (This day flew right by, did it not?) So I'll sign off for now, but please let me wish you all a happy weekend ... and thanks so much for stopping by!

I'll see you here again very soon.


Getting Ready for a New School Year

Vintage ABC

As much as I hate to rush summer along, it's right around this time when I start getting ready for a new homeschool year. I thought I'd share this overview of the steps I take, and then, in future posts, I'll go into further detail. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, because we all approach September differently - some of us homeschool, some don't; some of us have kids, some don't! - and I think it's always nice to share ideas.


* Planning & Preparing for a New School Year *

1. Tie up last year's loose ends.

I first pull out last year's educational plans (one for each child, filed with the town) and begin a "year-end report" document for each child. As much as I love paper, I do this on my laptop. And to refresh my memory, I go through our in-basket, last year's file folders, my calendar, and this blog, in order to remember what they/we did this past year. I then draft the three reports and after showing them to Bill, I print them out. We mail in the reports (along with our new ed. plans) in early August.

2. Start a planning page for "new year" thoughts and lists.

I have a tab for this in my home management binder. I just take out last year's pages and file them, and then insert new pages for this year.

3. Think, think, think ... and envision.

I like to spend a good bit of time imagining the year ahead, and thinking about what I'd like to see happen - what we need to work on and how I'd like things to be different. I have to make time to do this - even schedule it in! But I also often have to reign myself in, because I do love to think ... and time can get away from me! Some of these ideas will be more concrete than others: (re)teach cursive and listen to more audiobooks ... immerse ourselves in nature and work on independence. I have some pretty strong feelings and ideas about this year because this is Bookworm's senior year! So it's my last year with all three boys enrolled in my "class." *sigh* 

4. Meet with my family.

This is a chance for us all to sit down and talk about our hopes and goals for the new year - activities outside the home, both academic and not (classes, sports, clubs, volunteering, etc.). I also talk with the boys about their curriculum - which subjects and topics we'll be covering this year. 

5. Write out the 2012-2013 educational plans.

I write a plan out for each one of the boys, which we submit to the school system for approval. This includes an outline of topics to be covered and the curriculum we plan to use. (I always make sure to note that we will include these resources, but not limit ourselves to them.) Then, along with the year-end reports and a few other requirements (notice of intent, instructor qualifications, hours per subject, etc.), I send the whole kit and kaboodle to the superintendent's office. (A copy gets filed under my home education tab.)

 6. Ready the space.

Some families have designated learning rooms, some learn all over the place; we do a bit of both. We do call our sitting room off the kitchen our "learning room," but we hardly limit ourselves to this space. For all intents and purposes, however, this is the heart of our homeschool. Sometime in August - when the weather's not too hot! - I like to do a thorough cleaning of this room. I wash the windows and birdfeeders (ok, Bill does this) and vacuum/dust/mop and polish ... till everything's shining bright and smelling fresh. (I also think about our outside learning spaces - all around the yard, the garden and woods.)

And as I weed out old bins, baskets and bookshelves, I begin a list of things to replenish. This becomes our "back-to-school" shopping list ... 

7. Gather our materials.

If I was really on top of things, I would order our curriculum in the spring, when Oak Meadow is having its 20% off sale. Unfortunately, I'm never ready to order that soon. So I decide what curriculum we need to purchase as I write out the education plans. Then I place our orders and cross my fingers it's all in stock! After I've made those purchases, I finalize our school supplies list and then I'm off to shop. Once I have it all home (or delivered, as the case may be), I keep our supplies set aside until our first official day. 

At this time we also look at the boys' clothes and see how things are faring in that department. Having all boys has been wonderful for reusing clothes - huge savings there! But there are always more things we need - new shoes, backpacks, jackets, sports gear, church clothes, pajamas and slippers, etc.

8. Reasses our routine.

I look at what our weekly schedule will be like - how many days are we at home vs. how many days are we out and about? Every year is different - some years we are more active than others, but I always try to have a balance. I can't function (and we can't get our work done) if we're out all the time, so I like to have *at least* two days that are free from any outside activities (at least during the daytime). Depending on what days are busy, I may need to change up some of our home-based activities (i.e. craft days, faith @ home, nature walks, baking, etc.).

Then there's the daily routine ... now, I know not all homeschooling families get up early, but we do - partcularly on days we have outside classes or Mass. Summer mornings have been much more relaxed, so it's good for us to start waking a little earlier each day - and getting ourselves "together" earlier too (i.e. dressing, eating, etc.). It's really not that big of a change for us, since we are already fairly early risers, but it helps ease the transition all the same.

 9. Pow-wow.

I have a group of dear friends - homeschooing mamas I've known for years - with whom I meet for coffee once or twice a year. We usually try to make one of these meet-ups at the end of the summer so we can give ourselves a little boost and see what's up with each other. We don't see each other as often as we did when our kids were small, so it's really nice to check in and catch up. And the ideas we exchange - resources, upcoming classes, etc. - are wonderful. And of course, it's great to talk with like-minded women whose "school year" will look very much like mine. I always walk away from our time together feeling inspired, invigorated and truly connected!

I am also quite fortunate to be part of a wonderful homeschool support group. We have participated in many acitivites and many ways through the years, but my favorite annual event is our "September Planning Meeting." At this meeting - run like a true business meeting - we make plans and share ideas and I diligently take minutes for the newsletter. We schedule things too - like parties and fairs and community events. This meeting always gets me fired up for a new year of home learning and happy living! 

10. Create a lesson planner.

I've used different planners and methods through the year, but I always need some way of keeping track of our academic plans and goals each week. My new planner is still under construction right now, so I'll have to get back to you on this point!

11. Plan for kickoff!

I am often asked if we have to sync up our schedules with the public school calendar, and the answer to that is, thankfully, no. We have to commit to the same amount of hours, but it's up to us when those hours fall. So we don't have to take February vacation if it's not convenient (and most years it's not) but we can take Holy Week off because that's important to us.

So we "start" our school year the day after Labor Day - every year, without fail. The older boys also take elective classes at a local homeschool center, and those start up this week, too. So we'll really be getting "back into the groove" that first full week of September! I like to plan special meals for that week, and I also like to take a "class" picture of the boys, every year.

It's always nice to mark a special day - a turn of year - in happy, familiar ways. These are the things that make fond family memories, and let our kids know we are proud of them and we're excited about learning new things, too!


Well, this got to be quite longer than I originally intended, but I hope you found it somewhat of interest. For me, and my household (and homeschool), a successful "new year" has its start here in the dog days of summer. As I stated above, I don't like to rush time along - goodness knows, it needs no help! - but I think a little forethought and preparation makes any season more enjoyable.

(Speaking of, does anyone else think about Christmas in July?)


Have a good Monday, my friends ... I'll see you here again very soon!

A Tea for Shakespeare's Birthday

KG boy and girl with garland

As I mentioned in my earlier post, today is England's National Day (aka St. George's Day), and it is also the birthday of one of the most famous Englishmen, William Shakespeare. As an American of English descent (on both sides!) as well as a self-confessed Anglophile, I feel this is a fantastic day for my family to celebrate! (It's also the feast day of a great Catholic saint - Crackerjack's favorite - so there's that as well. :))

So I pulled out my olde Norton Anthology of English Literature from my college years (which I've since given to Bookworm for "Brit Lit") and perused some of the Bard's sonnets. I even read a couple out loud in case anyone was listening. (I don't think they were, lol.)

 Now, I have a St. George's Dinner planned for tonight, but I thought I might incorporate some kind of dish to represent Shakespeare. So I googled a little but alas, all I could find was a "Shakespeare's Tea." Apparently it was mentioned in The Winter's Tale (act 4). I don't have the specific herbal ingredients on hand, but I thought I might add them to my garden plans this year. They are all readily available, easy-to-grow plants.

Here's the recipe, just in case you're curious:


    • 1 cup dried lavender flowers
    • 2 cups roughly cut dried peppermint
    • 1 cup dried summer savory
    • 1 cup dried sweet marjoram
    • 1 cup dried whole calendula flowers


  1. Here is a dried tea blend to keep you young and warm-blooded all winter!
  2. Collect your herbs mid-summer and rub off the stems when dried.
  3. Crumble the Peppermint leaves to match the size of the other greens.
  4. If your Calendulas are huge, break in half when dry.
  5. Use 1 tsp per cup.
  6. In a pot add 1 tsp per person and 1 for the pot!
  7. Steep 3 minutes.


How neat! 

And if you happen to have a copy of China Bayles' Book of Days (an absolute favorite of mine) for today's page there is a checklist of herbs and flowers to include in a Shakespearean-themed garden. They all show up in one way or another throughout his works.

(If you don't have that boo,k and you're intersested in the checklist, let me know in the comments below - I'd be glad to type it up and send it to you. :)

Now, I may not devote a whole garden to this particular theme, but a few planter-pots would be fun! Maybe a windowbox devoted to the herbal tea mentioned above? Ooh, I can just imagine the possibilities! This would make a great summer homeschooling project, methinks! I can see a whole notebook devoted to Shakespeare ... poems, narrations, research ... nicely embellished with pressed herbs and flowers related to his works. In fact, I just requested this lovely little book from our library, and I've added a project page behind the May tab in my Yearbook binder ...

But I'm getting carried away now (as I'm wont to do), so I'll wrap up what was meant to be a quick mid-morning post!

I hope you're all having a lovely Monday - rain or shine, busy or no. Thanks so much for stopping by ... I will see you again very soon!

• Cranberries Week •

Good Monday afternoon, my friends! I hope your week's off to a good start. :)

So, according to my "seasonal themes" outline, this is cranberry week! And "cranberries" tie in nicely with the holiday - they were, after all, served at the very first Thanksgiving! But it will also be a very busy week, as we prepare for dinner on Thursday, so I'm not expecting we'll do all of these things. Hopefully, though, we'll fit in a few of them (#s 1, 2 and 10 seem quite likely).

Here are a few ways to include cranberries in this week's learning and living ...


1. As we make up our weekly marketing list we'll be sure to list cranberries. Now, this list is different from the one I write in my shopping notebook. This list is just for EB and me. When Earlybird and I have our marketing days, we work on a grocery list together. And as we do, we focus on spelling, printing, reading and pronunciation. We'll go to the market and look for cranberries ... we might even practice asking the produce manager for assistance. (A great way for EB to practice social skills.)

2. We'll buy extra bags to freeze because cranberries are only available at this time of year. (Great discussion prompts: What are seasonal foods? What are local foods?)

3. (And with some of those frozen cranberries, we'll make cranberry soap later this winter!)

4. At home, we'll wash our berries and set a few aside to observe. We'll sketch a cranberry for our nature journal - one whole, and one cut in half so we can see the very interesting insides. (Another discussion prompt: How does a cranberry grow? Here's a nice resource.)

5. We'll freeze a tray full of ice cubes with cranberries inside - they'll look lovely in our Thanksiving beverages, including ... A "Pilgrim Punch" just for the kids! We'll mix cranberry juice with ginger ale, scoops of lime sherbet and "berried" ice cubes. (I'll add a splash of apple juice if it's too tart.) It will look lovely in my grandmother's cranberry glass punch bowl.

6. We'll read some good books - like Cranberries: Fruit of the Bogs and Clarence the Cranberry Who Couldn't Bounce. We'll also watch a wonderful episode of Reading Rainbow called "Giving Thanks" in which Lavar visits a Massachusetts cranberry farm.

(Note: That vimeo site is wonderful for watching all those old Reading Rainbow episodes, which sadly are no longer shown. They're like virtual field trips ...)

7. And speaking of field trips, next year I'll plan one to a local bog. The last time we visited one - a gorgeous organic bog on Cape Cod - I was pregnant with Earlybird!

8. We'll make a string of cranberries and popcorn - and put them out on the big spruce tree outside the learning room windows. A small way to say thanks to the animals that visit our yard. They bring us so much entertainment and education! (The stringing is also excellent fine motor practice!)

9. We'll bake wonderful cranberry breads to pass out to community friends on Wednesday. (Our children's librarian, the post office ladies, the farmstand family, and the supermarket-bank ladies who are always so nice to EB when I'm checking out.)

10. On Wednesday afternoon, I'll make my special homemade cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner. It's made with berries, orange and spices and the kitchen will smell so good! And while it cooks, we'll try a cranberry fresh, and a cranberry dried - it's National Eat a Cranberry Day, after all. :)

 11. We'll make another graph chart by taking a "cranberry sauce" poll. (The poll will go up tomorrow morning - and we'd love to hear your response!)


So there are some of my cranberry ideas ... I'd love to hear yours if you have some to share! And please check in later for my "cranberry poll." I bet you can guess what we're asking!

Have a wonderful day, everyone ... blessings to you and your loved ones!