“I’m interested in your handwriting charts. But I’m wondering, does the child need more initial feedback from the paper than a laminated copy might provide? I’m wondering if this is too slippery and potentially frustrating for a newbie. Is it better to start with a chalkboard or actual paper that provides some friction in the learning process?”
“Help me! I always over-plan, over-buy and become overwhelmed when planning my new year! What should I do?”
In answering this reader’s question, I remembered my early years and the terrible stress, anxiety and fear that consumed me when planning a new year. After years of homeschooling and finding what works for us , here is my simple encouragement ~
Don’t over do it.
- You don’t need to cover every . single . subject . for . each . child.
- Combine your kids for all the Bible, Core studies, Read Alouds and Fine Arts wherever possible.
- Start with a good Maths, Spelling & Dictation, and a Reading/ Phonics program for each child. Then add a family centered Core.
- Gently add all the extra subjects such as Fine Arts and Nature Walks once your kids manage the basics.
Don’t spend money on curriculum or supplies you are not sure you will use.
- Don’t buy under pressure that you “should” or “must” do programs, or purchase programs all the other moms are using.
- Put those orders on a wish list and let them wait there a while until you have peace and rest in your heart.
- Find FREE downloads instead. You can download stacks of my Free Pages to cover Handwriting, Copywork, Nature Study, Biographies and a full Famous Artist & Musician studies.
- There are so many free Lapbooks and Unit Studies out there, but, again, don’t download and print out too much! See #1.
Don’t make a rigid schedule.
- When I tried to follow an over-full schedule, I felt overwhelmed, especially when we “fell behind”.
- Create a wide margin of time to explore, discover, follow other tangents and pause and reflect on the subject matter.
- Give your children options. They don’t have to everything!
- View the schedule as your guide and not your strict task master.
- Follow the 4-Day Week schedule and give yourselves one “free” day for fun and Fine Arts.
- STRETCH out the curriculum over 18 months instead of 12 months. It really doesn’t matter what “grade” your child is following each year so long as they are working on their level and working consistently.
I hope that this encouragement helps settle those nerves and make your planning seem simpler and easier.
Blessings as you plan, Nadene
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A reader recently asked me ~
I love the idea of doing lapbooks, but I just don’t know who to fit them into our day. Can you please share some practical ways we can include lapbooks in our homeschooling?
Let me first quickly explain what a lapbook is ~ A lapbook is usually a folder containing a collection a number of little folded booklets called minibooks all focused around a theme/ topic/ book/ or project.
What I love about lapbooks is that all the little minibooks are little mini-lessons! Each minibook covers its own topic, which essentially is a stand-alone narration or lesson. So simply, your children write (or dictate) their narration for the specific topic in the specific minibook and you’ve done your lapbook lesson for that day.
Another reason my kids love lapbooks is that the minibooks are small! Children don’t feel intimidated facing a large, blank notebook page which they felt they had to fill with lines and lines of information. Instead, the small booklet seems as if they just need to note a few details and they start writing without too much stress. Surprisingly, these little booklets can hold a lot of information! I usually ask for 5 full sentences with at least 8 facts. Even young children following a Charlotte Mason approach can easily recall these facts and easily fill a minibook.
Lapbooks mean that your project/ theme or topic is already prepared. All the minibooks are all the little lessons, and the lapbook planner helps you keep track of the lessons. I’m very practical and developed a wonderful time-saving tip in organizing all these little booklets before starting the lapbook ~ We print, cut, fold and paste all the minibooks in the file folder and everything is ready, on hand when we do our lapbook. This is a huge help because kids don’t have to first cut and fold, or sort through a bag of booklets searching for the correct minibook before settling down to write. They simply open their folder and browse for the relevant minibook, open it and start writing.
Some moms mentioned that their children were afraid of making mistakes in a minibook already pasted in the folder. I recommend children first write out their narrations in rough draft, or copy a dictated narration, or trace over a penciled narration. At worse, you can always paste a new page over a spoilt minibook.
We normally only do one lapbook at a time for one subject, but sometimes we have 2 running, one for History and maybe one for a Science theme or Bible project. Start with your first lapbook on its own and gradually add other activities once you and your children get used to the schedule.
My older children loved to combine minibooks with notebook pages instead of using the file folders. This works just as well and is simple to prepare – I created notebook pages with the lapbook theme as a header and left space for the minibook. the rest of the page was lined or blank, as needed.
So what does each day look like and how do we fit in our lapbook lesson?
Our school days are fairly short – just a few hours per day. Here’s an example of our schedule for our 3 children – a junior primary, middle schooler and junior high child, covering the same core.
- Bible time together = about 10 mins
- Seat work or 3R’s = each does Maths, Spelling, Handwriting and Reading = about 15 minutes per activity and I move between each child to help with work or listen to reading etc.
- Tea Break and a few minutes to run outside or jump on the mini trampoline.
- Story time = Core or main reader with all the kids together on the couch or under the tree.
- Narrations or Lapbook or hands-on activity = about half an hour. Each lapbook minibook is a lesson and so we usually do one minibook per chapter =about half an hour. Some narrations take longer and the kids work over several sessions while I keep reading. Other times I stop reading and we use that time to work on narrations or writing.
- Lunch break
- One more subject after lunch = look at my Themes for the Week. This is where we fit in all the extra subjects like Nature Study, Science, Fine Arts. Many days my children work to complete this before lunch so that they have a full “free” afternoon.
That’s it in a nutshell. Hope this helps you and I trust that you and your children learn what works for your family and enjoy lapbooks as much a we did.
Please pop over to my Lapbook Page for all my free lapbooks, templates and tips.
A reader recently asked ~
“Do you have any ideas when dealing with boys? My son (11) to be a different learner, wanting to be more independent and do things on his own, which I am fine with and would like to encourage, however he keeps putting everything off and doesn’t want to be told when to learn….”
Your son’s desire to work independently often occurs when children, both boys and girls, move into their tweens and teen years. The trick is to find the balance between independence and accountability.
I believe that independence is given through trust that is earned by repeated responsible behaviour, and so my teen children gained more independence when they regularly worked up to standard.
I have written several posts on High School and independence here and here, and the tips and advice that I share below applies to high school ages, but you can apply most these points to your independent learner, whatever his age. Here’s what I found works for us ~
- Collaborate and decide together what subjects/ topics/ themes/ courses/ or programs your child wishes to cover. When you provide delight-directed subjects, he will definitely be more motivated. He may still have to cover other compulsory subjects to meet your country/ state’s education requirements, but if the majority of his homeschooling focuses on his interests and passions, he should co-operate with you.
- Plan and schedule his subjects and determine his goals and deadlines. Create a basic timetable and a year plan. Once you schedule his chapters/ lessons/ and topics over each month, this will form your basic year plan. You can plan your child’s work on Google Calendar or Homeschool Tracker or in a Spiral Notebook.
- Keep track and record his work. Provide your child his own checklist so he can keep track of his own work. I use my year plan for my record of work and created space to write comments, marks and dates.
- Allow your child freedom to choose what and where he wants to work, providing he achieves a certain standard of work. (Lying on the floor or bed to work is fine for some subjects, but is not effective for written work.) Teens often want to work in their own rooms. Privacy is important, but, again, they need to demonstrate their responsibility in order to earn your trust.
- Be flexible yet consistent. Independent learners should work at their most efficient times (maybe later in the mornings or in the afternoons), but they should work regularly.
- Set the standards and encourage your teen to raise their standard to meet the requirements for high school.
- Be firm about how their work is presented or how detailed their notes should be. Phase this in as they start their new work. Encourage them to improve as they master the basics.
- Very Important — Schedule regular accountability sessions with your independent learner. Start with daily meetings before schooling starts, to discuss the schedule and his assignments. Sign-off his check lists and discuss and evaluate his assignments at the end of the day. Once he has accomplished his assigned tasks correctly and independently, you can meet to sign off his work once a week. These accountability sessions should be friendly, but focused meetings. They are essential to building trust in relationship so that he can work more and more independently. For example, if a child skips work or produces inferior work, re-schedule the assignment for him to do/ redo. It is good to sit side-by-side and talk about the work, rather than simply tick pages with a red pen. Quite often these discussions are an excellent opportunity to evaluate your child’s understanding, their focus or ability. I make notes in my record of work when we meet. Please read Heather Woodie of Blog, She Wrote post Fostering Collaboration With Morning Meeting Time.
- Mom, you need to be consistent. Keep an eye on your child’s progress. Don’t skip meetings or forget to have daily or weekly meetings, because, before you notice, your child may fall behind or skip work altogether! I “dropped the ball” when I lost track of our middle daughters’ progress in her first year when she worked independently. If I skip weekly meetings, some tasks fall below the standard. Children need regular checkups with the necessary encouragement or suggestions to upgrade and improve in their work.
- Never stick to something that simply doesn’t work! You can adjust the course as you go along. Find alternatives such as a study group/ a tutor or an online course where there is conflict between you and your child.
- Tailor-make your homeschooling to include a variety of subjects such as life skills and entrepreneur options.
- Ensure that your independent learner avoids obvious distractions such as cell phones, social media notifications, computer games etc. My hubby insisted that our children put their cellphones in our bedroom at night until after 2pm the next afternoon, so that they had undisturbed sleep and homeschool without temptations of constant online distractions.
- Above all, maintain a heart-to-heart relationship with your child. Remain interested and involved in your child’s interests, passions and friends. Even though they seem to “push us away” in their desire to become independent, they still want and need us in their lives. Listen to their music, watch their games and videos. Read aloud to them, laugh with them, pray with them. Despite your changing role, this is still the most wonderful, intimate way to educate your child!
Dear mom, your child’s desire to work independently is actually your goal! Our role as homeschool moms is to facilitate our children to become independent. We need to prayerfully and graciously learn how to move out of center stage and stand in the wings of our emerging young adults’ lives.
Wishing you much wisdom and grace as you work through your son’s transition.
“I understand that my 10-year-old should be writing some of his narrations, but he still balks when faced with his blank notebook page. How do I encourage his early written narrations. He’s very visual and artistic. Does an illustration count as narrations?”
Narrations (or “telling back”) are the cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason education and this complex learning activity takes years to master before your child can confidently write his written narrations. Illustrations are an excellent starting point for early narrations.
Here are some creative narration ideas ~
- Draw or illustrate the most important scene/ the ending/ the main character/ the surroundings/ machines or inventions mentioned. Draw articles mentioned instead of making lists. My kindergartener start drawing pictures of their narrations in a large jotter. Sometimes this was part of their “busy hands with listening ears” activity while I read aloud. Afterwards, as they told me what they remembered of the story, I jotted their narrations next to or under their illustration, capturing a detailed, personal retelling.
- Mom prints the child’s dictated narration next to or under their illustrations in pencil. Encourage young writers to then trace over the penciled narration with a colored pen or felt-tipped pen. This forms excellent handwriting practice and develops the child’s handwriting stamina. It also looks like “their own” narration — which it is!
- Draw a comic strip of the narration. A comic strip can include a massive amount of information! Comics with just 6 blocks can easily sum up entire chapters and are great for imaginative, visual children. Comic strips help a child order or sequence their narrations. We did a whole series of comic strips for our Astronomy studies. Here is my free blank comic notebooking page.
- Make a model or 3D image. Children love creating paper or cardstock models, like the 3D Little House in the Big Woods. My children loved to illustrate, color in and cut out the windows, doors, and other folds which, when pasted correctly, formed three-dimensional illustrations. Young children love to lift flaps and look inside doors and windows!
- Use those Lego blocks for narrations! Children draw the backdrops and characters for the scenes in the reading. Punch suitably sized and spaced holes into the cardstock to fit the Lego blocks and clip in between Lego blocks to stand upright. Children can “act out” their narrations. They placed their cardstock scenes and characters into an envelope pasted on their notebook page to store them safely.
- Use minibooks instead of a large notebook page. This helps the child feel more confident that he just has a small space to fill and he need not fill a whole blank notebook page. I often combined minibooks with my notebook pages. The image and heading on the front of the minibook provided an excellent narration prompt. My young kids loved these minibooks and enjoyed planning their own page layout and often filled a large notebook page with several narration-filled booklets. A real Win-Win!
- Lapbooks follow the same principle mentioned above and we used lapbooks for almost all middle school subjects. I believe that lapbooks are an excellent transition to formal notebook narrations.
I hope that these ideas help and encourage you and your child develop creative narrations!
“My 10-year-old son makes a huge fuss about learning to write in cursive! He seems stressed, angry and tearful when he tries to write in cursive. What can I do to help him?”
- Anger and tears usually represent some kind of frustration or fear.
- Try diffuse the lesson with some handwriting activity that is really easy and fun, such as letter recognition / search games, pattern play, use fun “writing” mediums such as shaving cream on a window!
- I would ask,
- “Is he ‘ready‘ for cursive?
- Does he know his alphabet?
- What is his fine motor control like?
- How does he hold/ grip his pencil and how accurate is he doing small movements?
- Is his eyesight okay?
- He may have physical difficulties and require some therapy or extra help.
- Teach the lesson with a large, clear laminated cursive lower case cursive chart and whiteboard markers. This is a quick, easy way to teach all the letters before going on to copywork.
- Tell him that he can quickly and easily wipe away any mistakes when he uses a whiteboard marker. Some kids hate to make mistakes! Although pencil rubs out, whiteboard markers are super-quick to erase!
- Whiteboard markers make lovely bold, smooth lines, therefore no need to pen pressure = less stress.
- Demonstrate each letter and talk through your movements. See my Handwriting Hints tips and booklet.
- Girls love to use gel glitter pens. Find a favorite pen for a boy!
- Find or make ‘olden days’ letters or manuscripts to read.
- For fun, let him make his own with quill feather and ink on paper aged with tea! Let him make invisible ink and write secret spy letters.
- Only use cursive for formal handwriting lessons, but allow him to continue to use print for his own notes and notebooking.
- Select really funny/ interesting copywork for him to practice.
- Practice daily. Provide a short copywork piece / extract from his favorite book. Pop over to my free copywork pages.
- If all these tips do not help, I would suggest you take your child to a therapist for more precise testing. Remedial therapy is often presented in fun activities and yet produce great results.
What would you suggest I use as a start to art appreciation for my 6-year-old and 4-year-old sons? I am not a natural artist and I was never really exposed to art, but I would love to share art with my boys. Are boys even interested in fine arts?
- It is really not necessary to buy any art formal curriculum at this stage. While packages, books and programs are often a great blessing to moms with little confidence or art experience, it is really not necessary to spend much/any money on your art appreciation lessons.
- Pop over to my Art Appreciation pages for inspiration for art lessons, activities, links and outlines of famous artworks.
- For free lessons, I highly recommend Patti’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful” because she prepares a weekly picture, classical music selection and poems with all the Internet links. Subscribe to her blog and you will receive her emails each week.
- Read Simply Charlotte Mason post Teaching Art Subject By Subject on how to do your picture study and teaching art expression.
- Barb at Harmony Fine Art has Fine Art Plans to purchase, but she shares loads of free artist study ideas and lessons!
- Jimmie of Jimmie’s Collage shares her free Charlotte Mason Artist Study lessons, ideas and links.
- Use what you have or borrow books from the library and select an interesting artist and look at his work for a brief lesson once a week.
- Don’t worry about being able to paint or do art either. Simply enjoy the art activity with your kids. We LOVE doing Sketch Tuesday each week!
- Find stuff that is fun and non-threatening for your kids and do it along with them!
- There are tons of YouTube videos and blog with ideas and tutorials, but, again, keep things loose and informal and encourage participation without stressing about “doing it right”.
- ALL children can enjoy art appreciation. Some artists, topics or techniques lend themselves more to boys, while others, girls may find more interesting. Select interesting art – especially the subject matter. Vary the type of media or art studied. It may be typical to assume that boys may enjoy the physical, messy art lessons, while girls may prefer “pretty” art. I have found that everyone forms a personal reaction and response to art. It is a subjective experience. That is what makes it so special.
- Art appreciation doesn’t mean that you or your kids have to “like” every art piece! My youngest daughter hated most of Picasso’s art! But, she can recognize his works! Ironically, her Guitar Collage art appreciation activity was chosen from an international search for a child’s art work for a poster!