Work & Homeschool 7 – Independent Work

Concluding my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ independent Work 

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & 3. Take Messages  & 4. Office Hours5. Simple Systems & 6. Canned Responses.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Independent work 

p1150787In the ideal world, children should eventually cease to need us to everything with them.  In fact, we should prepare our children to work more and more independently.

By junior high, your children will automatically begin to pull back and want to work in their own space and on their own.  But, for homeschool sanity, when working with more than one child, and especially when running a business or working from home, this is an essential component of successful homeschooling days.

Depending on your children’s ages and stages, it helps if you have some independent work for them to continue with if you have to attend to anything urgent. Here is a list of suggested activities for children to do more independently ~

  • Busy bags for toddlersImage result for bananagrams
  • An older sibling read aloud to the younger children
  • worksheets
  • workbooks
  • puzzles
  • online educational games
  • computer educational games
  • Scrabble
  • Bananagrams games
  • appropriate YouTube videos
  • Handicrafts
  • Cooking or baking
  • Sketch Tuesday or other art

Independent activities are very helpful for those unavoidable moments where you have to attend to work instead of teaching.  Just watch out that this is not the norm and that the children learn to quickly disappear to keep themselves busy whenever you are distracted.  It is far easier to keep them going than to stop and start again.

Some subjects should be fairly simple to ease towards independent work such as handwriting, copywork, spelling practice, mental math worksheets, or narrations.

It is important to work diligently and to still be able to celebrate life with family.  We all need to find the balance between work, school and family time.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 6 – Canned Responses

In my post, Work & Homeschool 5 Simple Systems, I wrote that I regularly use canned responses to quickly answer many of our business emails.

Here is a Gmail tutorial to help you set up some simple, basic components of your regular emails to help you save time ~

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & 3. Take Messages  & 4. Office Hours5. Simple Systems.

Image result for gmailFirst, create a signature 

  1. Open Gmail.  Click the cog-wheel at the top right corner of your Gmail page.
  2. Scroll down to Settings.
  3. Scroll down to Signature.
  4. In the signature box, type in your closing greeting, your name and I recommend you include your website address.  Highlight that web address and click the hyperlink symbol above the box to create a clickable link to your website.
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes 

Here’s my personal signature:

Now to create canned responses You need to enable this feature in your Gmail settings first:

  1. Click the cog at the top right and select Settings.
  2. Select labs.
  3. Find the Canned Responses option and enable it.
  4. Click compose, and type in the message you’d like to save as a canned response.
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Settings

Now you can start creating your canned responses.

How to create new canned responses:

  1. Click Compose to open a new email message.
  2. Delete your signature if it appears in the new message.  Your message box must be absolutely empty so that you only have the words of your new canned response in the message box.
  3. Write out the generic styled greeting or salutation, or write out the content, or copy and paste the paragraph or information for a specific response from an existing email or word document.  You can include tables, numbered lists and styled word.
  4. Click the arrow at the bottom right of the page. Select Canned Responses and select New canned response … 
  5. A pop-up box will ask for a name for your new canned response.  Give your new canned response a name – just a few keywords.  This name will appear as the subject of a new email if you have not typed in your own subject.
  6.  Check how it works by going back to your new message:  Delete everything in the message box.  Click the bottom arrow, select Canned response, scroll down and click the title you just created, and the canned message wording should pop up in your message.
  7. Go ahead and create other messages you often need, each time starting with an empty message box and saving each topic with its own title.  I have about 12 canned responses, some very detailed, some numbered, or some with several paragraphs, each covering topics that clients ask me at least once a week.
  8. Your signature will automatically appear under any canned response in your emails when you open a new email.

For example here’s a canned response for a general enquiry, all this with just one click:

Here’s another example of the regular emails I send once I have posted seeds.  I simply insert the client’s name, the full tracking number and the rest of the date:

And another example of a question I often have to answer:

You can insert as many canned responses to any email that you need.  If I have a client that needs several questions answered, I simply insert each answer from my list of canned responses.

You can overwrite a canned response.  If you need to change any canned response, simply follow the same steps and then scroll down the canned responses listed and find the title under Saved and it will pop up a prompt saying, This will overwrite a response.  Are you sure you want to proceed? Click Yes and the new response in your message will replace the one you previously saved.

You can also delete any canned response by repeating the steps above, and scroll to the title below the word Delete.  Follow the prompt and click Yes.

I know this may seem like cheating, but I always personalize my greetings and add specific sentences to special emails.  Generally, I have well-worded, correct, detailed email content waiting for me to simply add to an email and, with these canned responses, I save hours doing repetative admin every day.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 5 – Simple Systems

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Create Simple Systems

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & 3. Take Messages  & 4. Office Hours.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Create Simple Systems 

You all know that I love practical plans and simple systems!  Here are a practical, simple business systems that have helped me work more efficiently ~

  • To quickly answer detailed emails, I created canned responses that cover almost every topic and question, so that I can take just a few minutes to reply to emails and personalize that reply. (I will give a tutorial on this in my next blog post.)
  • Image result for empty inboxI love an empty inbox and so I created several email folders and I immediately move new emails to these folders once I have read and answered them so that I can keep my inbox as empty as possible.  For me personally, there is nothing more draining than opening up Gmail and seeing long lists of emails in my inbox.  An empty inbox at the end of a day is very satisfying.  Obviously, there are some emails that remain in the inbox until an issue is addressed or processed, but generally, all the emails live in folders and not in my inbox.
  • I have very simple physical filing systems – a file with an index and plastic sleeves where I can store all slips and papers.
  • I keep a running client order list in the front of my diary/ order book. This helps me have a “bird’s-eye view” of orders, invoice numbers, clients that have paid or require follow-up emails, etc.  By the end of the year, I have the entire business summarised on just a few pages.  The date is the reference back to the diary page where all the details are noted, and the invoice number takes me back to the document on the computer.  It is so simple, yet so effective!
  •  I use coloured highlighters on my running list to keep track of payments, tracking number, special delivery notes etc..  At a glance, I can see everything!
  • I number our invoices by numbers first and names second: Year + sequential numbers + names; or Month+day +name+abbreviated titles, so that the saved documents are kept in numerical order.  I have set my computer files to read from the most recent to the last.  That way, new orders are always on top and easy to find.
  • I have pre-written invoice templates in MSWord where I can simply add the invoice number, client information and date at the top and the specific order information in the body.  I open the template,  Select all (Control +A), Copy all (Control +C), Open a new document (Control +N) and Paste the copy (Control +V) and in 4 clicks, I am ready to fill in the invoice.
  • Image result for dropbox logoI save everything to Dropbox.   This has saved all our business information when my laptop crashed a few years ago.  It is also a fabulous way for my hubby and me to work on the same documents from different computers or tablets or smartphones.
  • I created a very comprehensive business website and refer clients to the website rather than spend 2 hours talking through specific, detailed information.  Most new clients’ phone calls and email questions cover the same information, so I also include hyperlinks to the website in emails because the client can view the photos and detailed information there instead of having to write everything out.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 4 – Office Hours

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Keep Office Hours

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & Take Messages.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Keep Office HoursImage result for office hours

When I gave up my teaching job to stay home to look after our new baby, I ended up working for my hubby in his engineering firm.  Working for him became an area that caused a lot of conflict in our relationship, especially during our early married life.

While we were working hard to establish his new business, he expected me to do business all day and any time he needed at night.Image result for overtime  There always seemed to be work to catch up after hours when my hubby came home from work.  I became increasingly frustrated trying to be professional while breastfeeding at the office.  I hated the noise and engineering mess of my hubby’s workshop and eventually decided to work for him from home.  This was back in the 90’s where we only had a fax and a landline.   We had many miscommunications, many last-minute orders to process, and many late nights when I knew I had a baby who would still wake me a dozen times all night for feeds as well.  I was super-stressed!   On one particularly bad day, late at night, I think I resigned 5 times!

I decided that for the health of our relationship, the professionalism of our work and for the most important job in the world – to be a mommy to my baby, my hubby needed an admin or personal assistant, and so he hired a secretary.  She never worked after hours, and certainly never at 11pm at night!  I realized that there was a simple boundary in her work conditions = office hours!

Fast forward to our current business, and with some years of maturity and experience behind us, I decided that establish office hours to do our admin and especially to answer and make phone calls.   We have early morning meetings to confirm plans, make arrangements, delegate duties, confirm payments and orders, and to book appointments on our calendars.  As a married couple and business partners, this helps us remain in unity and to keep our business running smoothly.

Unless there is an emergency or something really special and vital, I do not work after 5pm or on weekends.  This “rule” protects our private and family time and gives me the much-needed break from constant work demands.

Image result for yesI believe that we have to know what our big YES is for this season in our lives.  Is it motherhood, homeschooling, keeping a home?  Is it a professional job?  When you know what your YES is for your life in this season of your life (the focus may shift and change), then you are better able to say NO to the rest.  You can say NO to taking phone calls during school time or during family meals.  You can take time off to be with your children, family, friends and church ministry separate from work.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 3 -Take Messages

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Take Messages

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

The phone is a terrible interrupter!  I literally groan when the phone rings while I am busy tutoring a teen or working with a younger child.  I know how hard it is to get back into the focus of an activity or lesson.

Use voicemail or answering machines

Activate a simple voicemail or answering service on your phones and allow the machine or service provider to do the work of taking messages for you.  Answering machines are not that expensive.  In our early years, our answering machine was invaluable when we could not take calls.  We have sometimes lost potential clients who forget to leave their contact details or drop the call, but generally, if they are serious, they usually call again.

Teach kids to take messagesRelated image

Teach your children how to properly answer the phone and take good, clear messages.  My youngest daughter has always loved this job and is excellent at taking calls when I am busy.  This is a very valuable life skill!

If I take business calls in the morning, I often explain that I will process their queries or requests in the afternoon, unless it is an emergency.  I usually follow-up calls after lunch.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 2 – Manage Interruptions

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Manage Interruptions

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool post, pop over to read 1. Start Early

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Manage Interruptions

Interruptions cause the most stress and lack of productivity in almost every work environment.  Many homeschool moms write to tell me that this is one of their worst issues in their homeschooling.Image result for interruptions

In our early years of homeschool and work, I set up some simple boundaries for our family and friends.  Make sure that friends, neighbours, and close family recognise that you have a serious job during the mornings, i.e. homeschooling.  Explain that you will not be able to read social media, answer texts or take unscheduled social calls or visits during the mornings.  It also helps to mute notifications or put your cell phone on silent during school hours.

Image result for interruptionsIf your children know that you are very easily distracted, guess what?  They will be easily distracted.  Moms, we set the tone!

Commit yourself to an hour of homeschooling with no interruptions to get the basics covered.  Have a tea-break and quickly follow-up any urgent work issues, and then back to school.  Maintain the focus as a professional with your children and they will also learn to take their work commitments seriously.

In our business, we do occasionally have clients that come to our farm, but my husband deals with them during school hours.  Of course, I may quickly pop out to meet and greet them, but I generally do not host them while it is school time.  This was an important boundary for me, as I answer almost all the phone calls which are a terrible intrusion and interruption for me.  (I’ll share more about managing this issue in Part 3.)

Now and then, clients may visit where I am expected to assist with tea or coffee or keep a wife company while my hubby attends to the client, but even then, I politely explain that my children need me at the schoolroom.  If there are sales, I may have to stop to create invoices and complete some of the transaction, but I have independent work for my children during these times, which is really helpful.  (More on that in Part 6)

Image result for cellphone chargingWe live in the age of distractions!  Interruptions, social media notifications and media distractions are quite possibly the greatest threat to a focussed mind and a calm soul.  Our children are part of this generation who battle with short attention spans and significant restlessness.

My hubby is very strict about cell phones.  We have a NO PHONE during school time policy!  Our children have to dock their phones in our bedroom at 9pm at night and can only have their phones again after 2pm when schoolwork is done.  During the weekend they have fuller liberty with computers, cell phones and DVDs.  Somehow, we should, in our homeschooling and in our homes, be mindful about how to create a calm, focused and productive environment.

Here’s wishing you interruption-free homeschool days!  Be strong!

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 1-Start Early

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Here are a few practical tips in a series of short posts for homeschool moms who also work~

Start Early

There is nothing worse than starting the day late, feeling that you are behind, and chasing your tail all day!  I have found that the day actually starts the night before!  It helps to clear desks, pack away things, pack out things, and plan ahead the night before.  From the shiny, clean kitchen sink to my uncluttered desk, I love to meet the new day with a clean slate.

Image result for quiet time early in morning

Although our family start our day late by most farming standards, I always like to start the day early.  I make tea for the family and go somewhere peaceful for my quiet time. If I start my day with the Lord, I find that I am not running on empty and that I have the grace to face most of the challenges and demands of the day.

Me hand-milking Milly our Jersey cow.

I have farm chores to attend to.  I hand-milk our dairy cow, process the milk, feed my chickens, collect their eggs, and water the vegetable and herb gardens, etc.  My husband moves the livestock, prepares feed, moves electric fences for grazing management or starts his watering and irrigation for the day.  We are quite busy running around for the first hours after waking up!

I then come in and start my work on the business emails, orders and any administration that requires my attention before breakfast and before our school day starts.  My hubby and I often discuss business at the breakfast table.  It is good to have clarity and unity before the day really starts.

We only start homeschooling after breakfast and chores, well after 9am or 10am, and my teens sometimes start even later.  Over the years, I tried to force an earlier schedule, but this is our most natural family rhythm and it is far less stressful if we flow according to this later start.

Once schooling starts, it is hard for me to catch up with business work until after lunch, so I always feel more in control if I have tackled business first.

My afternoons are mostly quite free so I can do almost all the rest of my business, or work out in the vegetable and herb gardens, do my sketching or hobbies and other activities in this time.  By 5pm I usually stop all my computer work and hobbies to prepare dinner and then spend time with my hubby and family.  We always eat together and our family meals are a celebration and a social occasion.  We don’t have TV or cable, so we often head to bed early to read and talk.  I do my evening workouts and stretches and we generally go to sleep early.  It is a wonderful simple routine and a lovely lifestyle.

It is important to work diligently and to still be able to celebrate life with family.  We all need to find the balance between work, school and family time.   I encourage you to start early and have the upper hand in your day!

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Practical Tip – Leaf Rubbings

Quick practical tip for nature journals!

A leaf rubbing is a wonderful way to capture the leaf edges and veins, but also allows one to create an instant background to a journal page.

It also allows you to create an instant copy of the leaf in the journal instead of waiting weeks to press and dry a sample.

You can also colour the shape around the leaf such as you can see in the third picture below.  This time you will place the leaf on top of the page and colour over it and out onto the page.  This will leave a blank-shaped leaf with a coloured surrounding.

How to make a coloured leaf rubbing ~

  • Place the leaf under a page or paper.
  • You can work directly on your nature journal page, but I would encourage you to experiment and test your technique on a scrap piece of paper first.
  • Use a soft crayon or soft coloured pencil.
  • The pencil should be used lying slightly sideways and not with the very tip of the pencil.
  • Lightly colour over the leaf with a light, even pressure so that the details show through the crayon.
  • If you press too hard you will create such a dark colour that the details of the rubbing won’t show.  Also, you may actually flatten the surfaces that should be revealed when rubbed.
  • Keep your page in the exact same position until the leaf is complete.  Any movement can distort the shape of the object you are shading.
  • You can shade other colours over the one you have used to create more realistic or creative results.

So, why not try this in your next nature journal entry?

Blessings, Nadene

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Current Affairs Calendar Maps Symbols & Flags

Current affairs (noun) Definition: Events of political or social interest and importance happening in the world at the present time.

Natural disaster(noun) Definition: An event such as a flood, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life.

Event (noun)  Definition: A thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance

News of the recent devastating hurricanes,  earthquakes, wildfires and floods that wreak havoc on our world fill our news feed and reports every day.  There are threats, attacks and wars loom.  People riot and protest and terrorists cause death and destruction.  New presidents and world leaders are elected. Heroes save lives and humanitarian aid rescues those in distress. This is current affairs

It is good to keep a record of current affairs, natural disasters and other major events happening around the world.  By regularly taking note of current affairs, your children will significantly enrich their general knowledge.  By placing world news, extreme weather disturbances, disasters and major events onto a map your children will form meaningful connections to their Geography, History and Social Studies lessons. 

Simply use my maps, flags and blank calendar page download (found on my Packages Page), or clip news articles to a bulletin board or onto a map each week.

I have completely updated my Current Affairs download for you.  (You can find a free Current Affairs sampler on my post – Notice Board Current Affairs .)

This brand new 20-page Package download includes ~

  • world maps
  • political maps for each continent with countries identified
  • thumbnail-sized flags for every country,
  • symbols for natural and man-made disasters to use on maps
  • colour-codes to highlight different events on the calendar
  • blank calendar pages to use to record significant events each month.
  • Filled-in current affairs calendar from January to September 2017 which I  compiled using Wikipedia.  These events have hyperlinks so that you can simply click the link to read the full articles.
  • The calendar is not dated, so it is a perpetual calendar download which you can print out each year as needed.

You can use the symbols and colour codes to mark these events on your world map or on the calendar.  Add country’s flags if you wish.  Cut out and paste newspaper clippings to add to your current affairs boards.  This is a quick, 10-minute lesson once a week.  We posted our current affairs pages on a clipboard on our Notice Board for quick and easy reference.

While this current affairs topic list is aimed at senior primary school to high school children, you can modify what events you cover to suit your children’s ages and interests.  Please note: Terrorist activity can be very disturbing for children.  Use your discretion when covering wars and political affairs.

Here’s an example of the calendar pages filled in with information gathered from Wikipedia.

Here are some good current affairs websites ~

You can purchase this download on my Packages Page Thank you so much for your support!  

Blessings, Nadene

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Combine Art & Read Alouds

Here’s this week’s practical tip ~

art-read-alouds

Busy hands with listening ears” has helped my kids focus during read alouds in our homeschooling.  I always planned hands-on activities for each theme so that my kids were quietly and constructively busy while I read aloud to them.  But, while some projects were distracting, drawing, painting and coloring-in activities were very helpful.  20150701_113932

Combining several children on the same core and covering the same Fine Arts is a wonderful way of streamlining and easing your homeschooling!   We used my traced outlines of art masterpieces and painted them for art appreciation lessons and this was a wonderful opportunity for combining art with listening to classical music or our current read aloud.

Many first-time homeschool moms are often overwhelmed by the huge amount of reading they have with their children and fine arts is often neglected.  So, why not plan a simple art activity for each week and let your children quietly create while you read aloud.

Each week try put out new art materials such as oil pastels, or glue and string, or some magazines and scissors, or puffy paints or glitter, so that your kids can experiment and enjoy a variety of art supplies   (Look on my Art Page for many more art appreciation lessons and ideas.)

Often I encouraged my kids to illustrate the characters or current scene in the read aloud.  These gorgeous illustrations often formed part of their narrations.  After the chapter reading, my kids would dictate or write their narrations next to their pictures.  My youngest is a visual learner and could often express her ideas far better in an illustration than with words!

Alternatively, small kiddies can play with playdough, felt boards, stacking, sorting, beading, or threading, while older kids who do not want to draw or paint can do handwork such as knitting, embroidery, hand sewing, or building puzzles, or making models.

Legos were a favorite, but it was sometimes difficult to prevent the noise of sorting through all the blocks and pieces.  I would encourage them to pour out the pieces on a towel and spread them out first before I started to read aloud.  We even used Legos for narrations!

Read Jean Van’t Hul of Artful Parent.com “Why Read Aloud Time is Drawing time“.

Hope this encourages you in your homeschooling!

Blessings, Nadene