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 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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First days back 2 school

Many moms around the world worry about the first days of school.  Homeschool moms worry about starting homeschool too.  And new homeschool moms worry even more.

May I offer some gentle advice?

  • Just start slowly.
  • Don’t try do the complete schedule.
  • Ease into your schooling.
  • Go gently.

Just remember that the professional teachers spend much of their first weeks of school doing orientation; they hand out new books, explain note-taking, give an overview.  They don’t jump straight in with the full program.

Here’s some tips that I still use after all these years ~

Set up your school area the night before (I like to do this as a surprise for the kids!)

  • Put tables, stationary and books/workboxes/or files in order.
  • Write a welcome note on the whiteboard or prayerfully write to each child and place a personal note on each child’s place.
  • Arrange the CD and music player ready with your song or praise and worship for circle time.
  • Get into a simple “Early to bed & early to rise” routine.  Chat and pray with each child before bedtime.

On your first day ~

  • Wake half an hour earlier than the family, make yourself a cup of tea, have your quiet time and pray.  Commit your plans to the Lord and surrender all to Him.
  • Gently wake the kids and get them into their morning routine and chores.  (I like to have a “test-run” a day before school and start the school morning routine a day earlier than the actual day.)
  • Have a simple but nutritious breakfast, or go ahead and make it something special!
  • At the agreed starting time, start school.
  • I like to start each year in a circle or on the couches.  Start with a chat about the year, the themes, some planned highlights and goals.  Let the kids talk about what they expect, what they are afraid of, what they look forward to.
  • Then pray about all these things.
  • Sing and learn a memory verse for the week.  Make it fun!  Chose something really simple and easy.
  • Now chose what you will do the first week.  Either just do some basics3Rs (Maths, Reading and Handwriting) or just do your Core (History, Literature study)for the first week.  Tell them that next week you’ll add the rest of the subjects, but this week they must just do their very best with the easy schedule.  (They may beg you to do it all!  If they seem relaxed and the work done was excellent, then, by all means, do your full plan.)  If things are really awful and stressed, just cuddle and read a story together.
  • Include a lovely tea break with some healthy snacks.
  • Plan some fast fun & games for in between lessons if children get fidgety.

Create precious memories from these moments ~

  • Take some “First Day” photos of each child.
  • Prepare a special breakfast.
  • Ask Dad to give a “Welcome To School” speech. (My hubby is our homeschool “Principal”!)
  • Give each child a small gift – some stationary/ stickers/ new hair accessories for their first day.

I trust this encourages you.

Blessings as you prepare and plunge back in, Nadene

Painted School Room

Earlier this year I shared our fresh-look schoolroom.  I had pinned study decor ideas and hoped to paint my desk and all the bookshelves before the end of the year, and I did!

Here’s the before:Study1 Lara helped me move all the books and craft suitcases to the guest room.

During:StudyMy friend Mindy, an amazing artist and expert chalk-painter, helped me paint my desk.   She’s even making me customized glass drawer knobs to match my color-scheme!

I ran out of store-bought chalk paint and so I followed the DIY chalk paint recipes I found on the Internet and made my own using white grout.  It was rougher than the bought chalk paint, but worked just as well.  I painted the bookshelf backs in a lovely dusty blue.  Waxed and buffed, it was all done in 2 days.

And here’s the after:Study2While my kids were away, I sorted and repacked the books.  Despite my hubby’s initial comments that everything looked too white while I was still painting, the completed schoolroom looks delightfully fresh and light!

Painting with chalk paint is as easy as all the online tutorials say it is.  Quick and delightfully textured, the results were lovely!  I love it!

Blessings,

 

Fresh Schoolroom

Here’s a peep into our fresh-look schoolroom for 2015 ~

s

We do most our homeschooling in our study-come-craft room. Squeezed into a small enclosed back stoep, we have all our bookshelves and our round table, my desk, the computer desk and sewing cabinet.

When the kids were young, we used a small plastic table and suitably sized plastic chairs. Once they were a little older, we all sat at our round table, the littlest one sitting high enough on booster cushions.

Now, teaching teens who are often busy  with individual creative artistic activities, we brought in one more table so that each person can spread out their things and work undisturbed.

I gave my youngest 12-year-old daughter her own more “mature” work space.

4-20150123_065037-1

 

  • She has all her school books, notebooks, ring binder, and personal stationary in a new storage box.  (Previously, we used chair bags or a space on a bookshelf next to the desk.)
  • The whiteboard is a good place for temporary displays, where our prestik doesn’t leave any residue.
  • Maps, our Theme of the Day and posters hang from hooks on the whiteboard.
  • Our display board clipboards were given a fresh coat of paint to match our new upholstery fabric.
  • The hook above her table is ideal to hang mobiles for our themes.

Every year I sort, rearrange and pack our books.  Colored stickers help us keep books in curriculum or age-appropriate order on our bookshelves. 3-20150123_065101

  • My high schooler chose to work at the round table.
  • She has a storage box on the shelf for all her school books and equipment.
  • I arranged our Science kits, reference books and nature study stuff together in storage boxes on an accessible part of the bookshelf.
  • All our maths games and kits, spelling games and other educational games or equipment are stored in labelled ice-cream boxes.
  • We store all our arts and crafts materials are stored in drawers and small plastic suitcases.
  • My 15-year-old has her own special art supplies and equipment in a plastic drawer system.

We have enjoyed the new layout and working arrangement! The kids love all the space and I love the organized freshness!

Blessings,

 

Tailor Made

Tailor-make your child’s education.

IMAGE-tailor-706x470-thumb-706x470

If I asked you if you ever had anything “tailor-made”,  you would probably say that you were not rich and famous enough, or that a mom or granny had made something just for you.  It would probably be really unique and make you feel really special!

Homeschooling allows for this kind of perfect fit and delight!

How?

1. Outline your basic subjects – I use a simple “House Model” picture and fill in subjects, books, ideas and activities I have in mind.  This gives me an easy overview.

When planning, include all the basic subjects required by state regulations, adding extra subjects where necessary. Some first-time homeschooling moms may find mastery lists that outline what your child should know and master for their age and grade as a good guide.

OverviewYear Planner with my notes

Overview Year Planner with my notes

2. Discover your child’s learning style and your teaching style Homeschoolhelper.com has clear definitions, explanations of the different learning styles with practical teaching suggestions.  Multiple Intelligences has an online quiz for kids and adults and generates a clear pie-chart of your test results.  You and your child can clearly see strengths and weaknesses. Multiple intelligences resultsNow, consider your own personal loves and hates in teaching styles and AVOID those curriculums and approaches!  These will burn you or your children out!  It’s no good preparing fiddly, artsy projects if your lack of space and patience or temperament will make you dread school!  Find those subjects, methods and activities that will ignite your child’s delight and interest and focus on those.

3. Discuss and look over options together.  This is more important as your child moves into middle school, and especially towards junior high.  High school choices require a lot of collaboration with your maturing child.   Once you have an idea of your child’s interests, discuss specific subjects, topics and options.  Check with your child each year as they mature.  They may have loved doing lapbooks previously, but may now find them frustrating and boring.

Here are some questions I asked my 12-year-old child this year:

“Do you want to continue with Bible Draw? Old Testament or New? Old Testament. 

Can we continue with Hymn singing?  Umm, er … (She objects to my CD recordings – so I need to look for more modern Hymn versions!)

Maths – Are you still okay with the workbooks?  Sure.  But I really love using my compass, protractor and set square set.  You enjoy Geometry?  Good, I’ll see what other fun stuff we can add once a week!

Spelling – Do you still want to work with our lists? What about this book? NO.  Okay.  And Spelling City games and tests?  Yes. Great!  I’ll upload this year’s lists.

Are Lapbooks still okay?  YES!  And do you still want to do hands-on activities? YES!  Good!  I’ll see what I can find …

What would you like to study for Science/ Geography/ Social Sciences?  I may suggest ideas I had initially jotted down and we delve a little deeper, browsing through books I have on hand so that she can better see the activities and ideas that could be fun.

4. Find, plan and prepare the actual subject material – Now I spend some time “shopping” from my own bookshelves and used curriculums.  Also, I spend time on  Pinterest browsing and I search the Internet for free downloads.  My homeschooling materials have seldom cost me anything more than my printer’s ink!  Some years, we may purchase one or two products, but I almost never ever buy full packages!

5. Follow the sparkle and delight!  Remain flexible and adaptable.  Add plenty of time to take scenic routes, detours and rabbit trails!  Follow your child’s interest and involvement.  You can always stretch a 12 month curriculum over 18 months!  Be humble about stuff that doesn’t work and gently lay aside the themes, topics, activities that don’t work. If you homeschool several children on the same core (which I highly recommend), allow for individual choices.  Give them options.  I may suggest 3 or 4 activities and they chose the one that they prefer.  I love to let my child take the lead!  It has empowered her and released me from my “teacher-knows-it-all” ways!

This last year, my daughter was utterly delighted with her tailor-made package!  After I laid out her books, projects and her school file and went through it with her, she jumped up and hugged me and said, “Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you,mom!  I’m so glad you are my teacher!”  It made my whole teaching career!  It has been a joy to teach and facilitate her in her own learning.

If you have a child with unique, special interests, or a child with learning challenges and difficulties, homeschooling is the perfect solution, only IF you tailor-make their schooling experiences.  A “slow” learner will thrive at his own pace.  A child who hates and struggles with writing can record, video-record or demonstrate his learning without tedious notes and workbooks.  Find ways to make your child’s education fit their style, interests and strengths.

Blessings