Happy Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras always makes me a little homesick for Louisiana.  We lived in Baton Rouge for a few years.  It was a really wonderful time in our life.  Hard work, good friends, and just an amazingly special place.

IMG_1682When we moved away I had to learn to bake my own king cakes. (You can order them, but they aren’t as fresh as picking them up at the bakery.)  I still miss the warm weather and crawfish boils of Louisiana.  I miss Spring coming in February.  But today, even as the wind batters the house with numbingly cold winds, each bite of King Cake brings warm happy memories.

So today I’m sharing my favorite King Cake recipe, in case you too find yourself far away from the bakeries of Louisiana!

Zulu King Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3+ cups flour
  • Filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teas cinnamon
  • 1 teas vanilla
  • White Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • Chocolate Icing
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, melted

Instructions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, sugar, oil, baking powder, salt, egg and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
  2. Turn dough onto well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
  3. Place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough is ready if an indentation remains when touched.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. While dough is rising, make cream cheese filling by mixing softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla on high speed until fluffy.
  6. Roll dough on a floured surface into a rectangle about 16" x 8"
  7. Place cream cheese filling down the middle and fold dough in thirds to make a roll.
  8. Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper with the seam side down and shape into a circle.
  9. Bake covered for 20-25 minutes and then finish with about 5-10 minutes uncovered.
  10. Once the king cake has cooled top with a simple white frosting, melted chocolate, and toasted coconut flakes(optional).

Notes

King Cake season runs from January 6th through Mardi Gras.

http://learningwithboys.com/2015/02/17/happy-mardi-gras/

Have fun with it and make it your own.  Try pecan fillings or fruit fillings or go a more traditional route by making a cinnamon roll ring.

Happy Mardi Gras! 

 

Get Organized

GetOrganizedCan I admit that some variation of “Get Organized” showed up on my resolution list for  many many years?

If your goals for this year include “get organized”, check out the series of posts I’m sharing this week.  I’m offering details about various strategies that have helped our home become more relaxing and more organized.

Before we get to those I want to take a moment to think about goal setting.  “Get organized” might be the search term we all use, but our goals really need to be more specific.  Take some time to think about what “get organized” means for you.  Does it mean you want to be able to find your keys when you leave the house?  Maybe you want to have better communication between family members about appointments and pick up times.  Are you eating too much fast food because you don’t have healthy meals available?  Are you scrambling to make sure your family can find clean clothes to wear?  Do you “stash” piles of paper if company is on the way?

Instead of making a broad goal that is hard to measure, think about specific areas where you could make improvements in order to simplify your life and make it less stressful.  Then establish priorities and work on just one area at a time.

This week I will be sharing the importance of having a meal plan and a clean up strategy in the kitchen.  I’ll also share my “laundry epiphany” and wardrobe strategy.   My personal biggest struggle has been to eliminate paper clutter and the stress and mess it creates – during the last year or two I’ve finally found a system that eliminates the paper piles that used to clutter my counter and allows me to find what I need when I need it.

I hope you enjoy the series and find some tips that work for you.  It’s not about being perfect or superior – it’s about creating a home that serves it’s inhabitants well.  We all deserve a home that is functional, restful, and welcoming.

Enjoying the Holidays

DSC_5020

It’s been a little bit odd this year getting into the holiday spirit.  Our FLL tournaments were just last weekend and both teams advanced.  Super happy for the kids!

Thankfully my husband enjoys doing the biggest share of the holiday shopping (online of course).

Christmas Tree

I absolutely love our tree.  Each year we add a few photo ornaments.  It’s so fun to look back at the pics from when the kids were little.

The outside of the house isn’t showing much Christmas flair, but I think we are looking pleasantly festive inside.

This year I’m focusing on keeping it easy and not purchasing things that require storage.  My holiday decorating purchases have been limited to a piece of black foam board and having a few winter nature photos printed.  I’ve had a ton of fun and everything has been peaceful and stress free.  I think it’s all about attitude.  This year I’m just doing what we have time for and enjoying it.  Every little holiday touch is appreciated.  Things will get done when they get done and if they don’t –  that’s okay.  The holidays should be about enjoying people.  It’s really not about how much greenery is in the house, how perfect the lighting is, or how many presents are under the tree.

Three Popsicle Snowflakes

 

The boys made giant popsicle snowflakes for me.  I love the way they turned out.  Turquoise wasn’t a color I had in mind when we went to buy paint but I love it!  I’m so glad I didn’t say, “I was really hoping for red.”  I will admit to purchasing red paint, just in case.

DSC_5016

I’ve seen a lot of chalkboard ideas out there.  I thought a chalkboard over the mantle would be really cool, but I honestly didn’t have time to purchase the plywood and paint it this year.  Black foam poster board and a tiny bottle of white paint to the rescue.  I’d like to add some poinsettias or rosemary trees or candles.

WinterNaturePhotos

 

I switched out our usual family photos of the kids feeding giraffes for some winter nature scenes.

 

SnowflakesWe made lots of paper snowflakes.

A few ornaments hung on ribbon over the kitchen sink add a little sparkle while I’m doing dishes.

The decorations are far from “perfect”.  We don’t have multiple Christmas trees or holiday towels or even specially scented soaps.  But we’ve spent time together.   We’ve made cookies and crafts and played games and watched movies.

It’s been such a nice season and I’m so glad for the time with family.

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH  Mary_CollageFriday

The Best Christmas Gifts

Can I share with you two of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received?

IMG_1506

It’s a LEGO bee.  It really looks great in person.  It’s sort of a modern art interpretation.  Considering the materials he had available I thought C did an amazing job.  He made it to express his appreciation for coaching his FLL team this year since their project was, “How can we improve the way people learn about bees?”

IMG_1508

It’s a polymer clay sculpture of chocolate pie under the microscope.  It looked better before we baked it, but I think it still looks very much like our microscope.  E says he was conveying my support of their interest in science, my quirky sense of humor, and my love of math.  It’s also a reflection of my son’s interest in science and math and his quirky sense of humor.  I think it’s great!

These gifts are the type of stuff I will cherish, because they came from the heart and tell a story about the relationship between giver and receiver.  After all life is really all about the relationships.

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH  Mary_CollageFriday

Intentional Leisure

DSC_4729

Way back in January or February my husband and I discussed plans for the year.  One of his objectives for our family was to “spend more time relaxing.”  At first glance it might seem like an odd goal, but he wanted to be intentional about making sure we planned outings as a family to go camping and mountain biking.

Too often we want to do fun things as a family, but the weekends seem to slip away and our calendars fill with other commitments.  Our goal this year was to schedule family time first – to make it one of the big rocks in our container and fill in the other stuff around it.

In March or April, I started making reservations at various places within a three hour drive of our house.  Our original goal was to go camping twice per month – the amended goal quickly became to “cottage camp” once per month and add additional single track riding close to our house.

Almost as soon as all the reservations were made, we had to start making adjustments.  Soccer ran a week longer than planned, our family reunion weekend changed, other conflicts came up.  Mostly we were able to adjust, but sometimes we chose to honor our plans and miss out on other events.

As we come to the end of the year, it’s clear our planning paid off.  We spent the night on a battleship, visited Niagara Falls in winter/early spring, and added the state of Kentucky to the boys travel list.  We created a ton of memories together.  Hopefully we will all be able to laugh about some of them given enough time.

We plan to do something similar next year, but I think we may focus less on camping and more on just taking a weekend trip together.

Admittedly it can feel a bit odd planning short weekend trips months in advance, but it helps us live life according to our priorities.   The time we have with our kids is short and it seems even shorter when we let other people schedule our time.

What about you?  Do you plan ahead or do you manage to be spontaneous and still get out of the house?

Finishing-Strong-Link-Up-Button-250-x-250

9 Tools to Organize Your Life (and Save Your Sanity)

Tools to OrganizeIt used to seem like I was on a never ending quest to “get organized.”  I constantly had piles of paperwork waiting to be filed or sorted, laundry to be folded, and generally a cluttered feeling.  Over the years I’ve reached the place I feel organized –  all while homeschooling, doing volunteer work, shuttling kids to practice and maintaining a blog.  It’s really been a combination of finding the right tools and developing good habits.  Today I’m sharing the real life tools and technologies that help me stay organized.  All links are informational, not for affiliate purposes.  

Eliminating the Paper Piles

Doxie Scanner – We’ve had a multi-function printer with scanner for years now.  I rarely used it because it was so inconvenient.  About a year ago we purchased a little Doxie scanner.  It is really small and easily fits in a drawer.   This is huge for me.  I hate filing and all that paper work takes up a lot of space.  Now I don’t have to think so hard about what to save and what to toss.  If in doubt, scan it and toss it.  If I don’t want to take the time to scan it, it almost certainly isn’t worth saving.

Evernote – After I’ve scanned documents I upload them to Evernote.  I pay the yearly fee to get the scannable pdf feature.  Any time I need to search for a document, I just type in key words and the file appears even if I didn’t use those key words in the title or tag.   I can create different folders for the documents and set reminders for myself.  I have folders for various bills, school work, school records, and even recipes.  All of it is readily available when I need it, no more paperwork piles cluttering the house.

Managing the Daily Household 

iCalendar or Google Calendar – I switched over to the Mac platform last year and I love how seamlessly it is working for our family.  We have a family calendar that everyone can share.  If I add an appointment that other family members need on their calendar, I just give it the right color code. “Viola!” it is on all our calendars across most of our devices.  Google calendars can also be shared in a similar fashion.

Dry Erase Board / Photo App –  When I run out of something I add it to the shopping list on the dry erase board that hangs in the kitchen.  When I leave the house to go shopping, I snap a picture of the list with my phone.  Admittedly it is a pretty low tech solution BUT it really saves time.  I find it easier than using a shopping app and better than rewriting a paper list.  I don’t end up with handwritten lists cluttering my purse and when I arrive home I only remove the items I purchased from the list (sometimes there are items for multiple stores) .

Library Holds / Library Reminders –  I love our library.  I can log into my account and check the entire regional system for any book I want.  If they have it, I can place a hold and pick up when ready.  Not only does this feature save time, but I also save money by purchasing fewer books and avoid having too many books cluttering my house.  Some books are even available electronically.  Our library also sends out e-mail reminders when books are due.  I can simply log in and renew online thereby avoiding late fees.

Online Banking – Online banking is a BIG time saver.  If the amount is the same every month,  just set up a recurring bill payment and you don’t have to think about it until the amount changes.  It is quick to schedule other bills and you don’t have to pay for checks or postage.

Label Maker – Another low tech solution.  A label maker is fabulous for keeping track of all the cords and chargers that come into our house.  I also use the label maker in the pantry.  It really helps me be consistent about where I place things and keeps the shelves looking tidy.

Baskets / Storage Containers – I use baskets and storage containers inside cabinets, drawers, and closets to group collections of similar items.  For example, I use a basket to corral the vitamins – it keeps them all easily accessible and tidy and prevents anything from getting pushed to the back of the cabinet and lost.  Another basket holds reusable water bottles – when it is too full we get rid of some.  Using stackable containers to hold bags of chocolate chips, coconut, powdered sugar, and brown sugar maximizes the available storage space and increases accessibility.

Managing a Team or Group

Shutterfly – I bet when you think shutterfly.com you think photos, but the “Share Sites” you can create FOR FREE are organizational powerhouses.  If you are managing a group or team these private share sites are fantastic.   I’m currently using these for FIRST LEGO League  (FLL) teams.  We need to keep a scrapbook, send emails, communicate the practice schedule, and organize research.    Over the years I’ve used these share sites to share photos with various teams and used the calendar portion to send out reminders about practices and games.  Members can update their availability for events on the site, which really helps the team manager.  Just this week I discovered some truly powerful features I will be utilizing for our FLL teams:

  • Members can subscribe to the group calendar.  Instead of typing everything into your own personal calendar, you can subscribe to the group calendar.  Like magic the practices and events go straight into your calendar.  For a team of 5 kids with an average of 2 people per child following the schedule that saves calendar entry for 9 people.  Yes please!
  • Journal Entries – I had given no thought to using journal entries.  Turns out this can be a powerful tool for organizing team research.  If one kid on the team reads an interesting article, they can create a journal entry with a brief description or question posed to the team and a link to the article.  You can even scan in attachments or link to videos.  You can make a journal entry noting books and videos that aren’t on-line to keep as a history of team reference materials.
  • Group emails – The site allows members to quickly do a group email for up to 100 members.  The list includes all members currently on the site.  No re-working across different systems.

Beyond the way I’ve been using the application, I think these sites could be helpful for organizing a volunteer schedule or even for helping your kids manage an independent research project.

Bonus 

Grocery Service / Curbside Pickup– This is the only suggestion I don’t currently use.  I do however think it could be tremendously helpful – if conditions are right.  Create your list and for $5 – $10 pick up your groceries on the way home.  No impulse purchases, no standing in line, no cruising the store trying to remember what else you might need.  I know some Giant Eagle stores and some HyVee stores are offering the service and I’m sure others are as well.

I was trying to pick a few favorites out of the list as the tools that were the most helpful, but I really feel like each one helps me create a more organized and peaceful house.

What about you?  What are your favorite organizing tools?

Hip Homeschool Moms  Finishing-Strong-Link-Up-Button-250-x-250

7 Places our Summer is Going

Hope you are all having a great summer!

I’m finding myself looking back at the last month and saying, “Where is this summer going?” I vacillate quickly between feeling like we’ve accomplished a lot and nothing at all.  While consciously creating space in our schedule for rest, spontaneity, and UNscheduled time, I feel anxious that we haven’t DONE more.

So where has our summer gone so far?

IMG_0906 1. Camping – During the dark cold days of winter we set a goal to go camping every month this summer.  So far we’ve gone on two trips.  They were both full of gorgeous settings, hiking, and learning. The picture above is from our hike at Old Man’s Cave, part of Hocking Hills State Park.

Foot Golf 2. Soccer –  One of the MetroParks near us offers “Foot Golf”.  It’s played on the golf course but using soccer balls.  It’s a fun way to spend time together as a family and practice our soccer skills.  E attended a week of soccer camp and we’ve been trying to keep up with the World Cup action.  We don’t have cable, but we do get Univision (the Spanish channel) via our antenna.  I find it a bit difficult to pay attention to the visuals for the full length of a game when I can’t understand the audio. It makes a good hardship story for the boys.  “Our parents make us watch soccer in Spanish.”

Bedford MBT 13. Mountain biking!! – Some really nice trails just opened this month close to where we live.  10 miles of trails just a 20 minute drive away.  Yeah!  We’ve taken the kids out for a short ride there and just the other day my husband and I had a mountain biking date.   One of our camping trips had some ridable trails for the whole family and the other had some good trails for dad.   After nearly 12 years of riding only “rail to trail” type bike paths I’m really excited the kids are getting old enough to enjoy some single track.  This newest addition of local single track makes things much more doable for us.

 

4. Spending time with Friends – This is my favorite thing about summer.  I love the open schedule that allows us to meet friends at the pool, have friends come for dinner, and just have time to hang out.  This is one of those areas where creating space in the schedule is so necessary, but we also need to be intentional about ACTUALLY inviting someone for a playdate or dinner or field trip.

Declutter collage

5. Decluttering  – I really wish it hadn’t been necessary for me to spend so much time on this project this summer, however I’m so happy with the results. Our house feels more spacious and peaceful.  Preparing meals is easier with less stuff in the kitchen. I can actually go down to the basement to work out without feeling overwhelmed by clutter.  I wanted to think that because I try to be conscious about the things I buy, I didn’t have a lot of extra stuff hanging out around the house (well, except in the basement, there was no denying that).  I do have a lot of good habits – sorting our clothes at each change of season to get rid of things that don’t fit, avoiding the dollar aisle, and doing periodic purges of junk drawers and other hot spots – yet we still had a lot of miscellaneous / duplicate stuff in the house.   It’s been really eye opening.   While we don’t tend to be big shoppers we still have a lot of free stuff enter the house and kids outgrow clothes and toys.  I wish I had taken some pictures along the way during this process, but I never realize how big the change will be until I’m done.  There were also some time consuming tasks like taking an old dehumidifier to the scrap yard (where they are qualified to capture the coolant), making a trip to the Household Hazardous Waste Depot (open once per week for 6 hours), and converting some paper files into digital ones.  The huge stack of 17 plastic containers is the result of all the purging I’ve done so far.  My little Doxie scanner has been a big help in getting rid of paper clutter and using baskets in the cabinets really helps me keep things easily accessible and organized.

6. Listening to Audiobooks and reading – We are having a great time working our way through the Harry Potter series via audiobooks.  This is such a great way to make use of car time.  Of course we all want to continue listening when we get home too.   During our morning reading time, the boys are continuing to read book after book about a variety of animals.

NXT

7. Learning computing skills – The boys have learned a little about creating Minecraft mods.  E has also been getting together with his FLL team to do some informal programming on the NXT.  Every little bit helps.

What have you been doing this summer?

Sharing at:

List_it_Tuesday

Living with Less – Family Style

Minimalist decor appeals to me.  I don’t actually live that way – the people in my life prefer cozy furniture and plenty of electronics.  They like print fabrics, warm throw blankets, and color.  We also have stuff – I’m sure it’s more stuff than some families and less stuff than others.  Like Goldilocks I’m trying to find the just right spot for our family.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of de-cluttering.  I’ve donated some clothes and household things and I’ve contacted a place that takes building supplies and furniture to come get the leftovers from a few projects.  Unfortunately I’ve also had to throw away quite a bit of stuff.  I swear two trash bags worth of detritus exploded out of the kids’ drawer – old crayons, party favors, string.

All this cleaning and decluttering has me thinking about how living with less frees us to live life abundantly and feel good about the choices we make.  It has also impressed on me how hard it is to keep stuff from entering the house.  Even though I’m intentional about purchases, free stuff and kid presents still enter the house.  I have to accept that things will always enter our lives, but there are steps I can take to make keeping a clean and appealing home easier.

10 Tips

1. Buy less – skip the dollar aisle, don’t buy things just because they are on sale, buy only what you need.  I actually avoid certain stores because the visual overstimulation causes me to make purchases I regret.  Set space limits on certain items like nail polish, socks, and school supplies.  If you buy more than what fits in the space it’s time to weed out the old.

2. Avoid ads and tv shows that encourage consumption – HGTV  I’m talking about you.  Low key advertising only between shows is one of the reasons I love PBS Kids.  Most channels aimed at kids have very intense advertising.  Ads are created to make us buy things we wouldn’t otherwise.  Advertising tries to create discontent.  Throw away the catalogs.  DVR your favorite show and skip the ads.

3. Sign up to stop ads and credit card offers.  You can use opt out prescreen to stop credit card and insurance offers.  Catalog Choice and DMA Choice can help you reduce the amount of junk mail that comes to your house.  I signed up for these several years ago and it really helps.

4. Make it easy to recycle.  I stand by the recycle bin to sort the mail.  By eliminating credit card offers I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of mail that needs to be shredded and I’ve moved the shredder to a convenient location to avoid a backlog on items that need shredded.  We also keep a small recycle can in the kitchen.

5. Use a scanner to make a digital record of documents you think you MIGHT need or want again.  Paper clutter has always been an issue for me.  About a year ago I got a small Doxie Go scanner.  It’s slow but easy to use.  You can use a service like Evernote to store your documents in the cloud (free) and create a file cabinet of searchable ($) PDFs.

6. If an item isn’t working for you, don’t feel guilty about giving it away.  Get rid of things quickly while they are still useful to other people.  The bike your son outgrew last month is easier to find a good home for than the one he outgrew 3 or 5 or 10 years ago.

7. Think about the space you will gain by getting rid of items and how much easier it will be to find what you want and keep the house clean.   

8. Borrow before you buy.  Check out books from the library.  See if your friend has an extra cooler or folding table before you buy them just for a party.

9. Get rid of an item if you buy a replacement.  Whether it’s clothes or kitchen items,  there seems to be a temptation to hold on to old things after we replace them.  It’s fine to have one old pair of shoes for mowing the lawn, but you don’t need 4 old pairs of shoes for mowing the lawn.

10. Buy less, buy less, buy less – skip the dollar aisle, don’t buy things just because they are on sale, buy only what you need.   This was already on the list at number one,  however it is the most important step if you are serious about reducing clutter.

Have you taken steps to live with less?

Sharing at:

List_it_Tuesday

The Value of a Homeschool Parent

A few things happened recently that prompted me to consider the economic value of homeschool parents.   First, I was chatting with the private tutor of a “homeschool” kid.  She also has two kids of her own, who attend traditional school.  In the course of the conversation, we were discussing some of the pros of her current job and homeschool, as well as past jobs and benefits of being able to have time with your kids.

Then she asked, “Do you miss working?”  My response was an immediate no.  I find homeschooling the kids and maintaining a blog very rewarding.  I have the opportunity to research and learn things that are directly beneficial to my kids. I coach a FIRST Lego League team.  I’m investing not only in my own kids, but bringing science and robotics to their friends.  I have tons of flexibility and freedom in how we accomplish our goals.  Later, the irony of the question really sank in.  I don’t have any animosity about the way the question came across, it simply shows the mind set of our society.  The private tutor and I are doing nearly identical work, but she is performing the service for another family and receives a paycheck.  Therefore it is considered work with economic value – she isn’t a homeschool mom, but instead a private tutor.    On the other hand, homeschool parents don’t receive a paycheck, so many people don’t consider it work.  However, the value of the homeschool parent and the private tutor are roughly equivalent to the respective families.  The transfer of money from one account to another is not what gives value to work. 

I also came across the popular info graphic comparing the cost of educating each student at  $500 / year for homeschool students to $10,000 per student in a public district.  I’ve seen the graphic used numerous times, and it always bothers me because it isn’t comparing apples to apples.  That figure only considers the cost of materials and outside classes and completely ignores the contribution of the homeschooling parent. The homeschooling parent is dedicating at least 30 hours/wk to monitoring progress, making lesson plans, supervising field trips, reviewing curriculum and other activities related directly to the learning of the students.  Again, because there isn’t a transfer of money some people disregard the economic cost.

It’s hard to put a dollar value on the contributions of a homeschool or stay at home parent.  Maybe it should be compared to private school tuition times the number of children plus the additional cost of maid and laundry services and possibly aftercare. Maybe it should be considered the same as a classroom teacher – although the jobs are vastly different.   Maybe it should be compared to the amount the parent is giving up by either not participating in the work force or having a more limited schedule.  Whatever the amount is, it is not $0.  

I consider our homeschool choice the economic equivalent of choosing an expensive private school.  Given the choices on the market, I can’t find a private school that offers the level of customization our homeschool provides.  As a consumer,  I’m happy to pay the cost.  As “President of Student Affairs and Human Resources”,  I’m humbled and honored my services are so highly valued.

Maybe choosing a different job title would emphasize the fact the parent is doing work that has value for their family.  ” I’m the Individual Education Coordinator for a small private academy” or maybe “Director of Student Education.”  Imagine the Linked In profiles stating the job responsibilities –  “I ensure the integration of science, nature and technology into the daily life of students.”  “Using the latest research in project-based and experiential learning, I facilitate the semi-independent and independent learning process of students in a supportive atmosphere.” We could talk about the values of our respective schools – “The Core Values of the Academy include enabling students to become independent learners – self-motivated, self-confident, and prepared to contribute to the world both now and in the future.” “At the Academy we strive to develop the student as a whole person.  We value not only academic performance, but promote service to community and respect for self and others.”  It’s actually a good exercise to think through our goals and core values.  At the end of the day,  I still like the titles “homeschool mom” or “homeschool dad”, they imply a certain warmth and commitment.  My goal is not to impress others or elevate myself, rather my goal is to make contributions to my family and society that have lasting value.

We choose to homeschool because of the positive customized learning environment for our children.  For us homeschool also creates a more peaceful environment for the entire family by giving us more freedom to live our lives on our own schedule.  It isn’t the right choice for every family or in every season.  For some families the economic strain of having only one income would create stress. Perhaps schedules can be adapted so both parents are still working, but the stress of working and overseeing school might be too much.  Some kids may enjoy the social aspect of school so much they wouldn’t enjoy homeschool. These are all considerations for every family to make.

When a parent chooses to be a stay at home parent or a homeschool parent, that decision has value to the family and comes at a cost.  The parent’s time doesn’t suddenly become worth nothing just because there isn’t a paycheck.  The family has decided to do without $ x to obtain the benefit of having a stay at home parent.    Other families might decide they can’t afford or don’t want to give up $y  when they are reasonably satisfied with their current education choice and family situation.

So homeschool mom or dad:  Make sure you know the value of your work.  

Homeschool Record Keeping and Organization – A Relaxed Mom’s Guide

RecordKeepingTitle

I find it amusing when people find out we homeschool and immediately say, “You must be so organized.”

We did the traditional school thing for a few years.  Homeschool doesn’t require more organization, but it does require a different kind of organization.  I greatly prefer running our homeschool compared to overseeing everyone getting out the door on time with the needed “stuff” each morning.   With homeschool I’m dealing with long term project goals.  I also have a tremendous amount of flexibility and my kids have “bought in” on these goals.  Traditional school didn’t allow much flexibility for me or the kids. It did require flexibility and it frequently felt we were operating in the urgent/unimportant quadrant (you know – finding out Monday evening you need some supply for a project at school on Wednesday after you just went to Target on Sunday)

My traditional school organizational set up included:

  • hooks by the back door for backpacks, jackets, hats
  • a “mailbox” for each child where I could store papers / items that needed to go back to school
  • a “mailbox” for mom where I stored informational flyers for short term reference – notices about parties, concerts, sight word lists, ect.
  • an informational file where we stored papers we might need to reference – student # logins,  policy information,  and various forms
  • a file box of test papers and completed work we wanted to save
  • storage space for lunch boxes, water bottles, and other lunch supplies
  • a file of yearly test scores and report cards
  • a continual STACK of papers I needed to sort / file / throw away
  • a hodgepodge drawer of pencils, balls, and tidbits that came home as gifts and rewards

The day by day homeschool set up is much easier:

  • A bookshelf for math, grammar, spelling workbooks as well as reference materials and idea books (science experiments and the like)
  • A file folder for storing handwriting paper (I also have these bookmarked on the computer for easy reprinting as necessary)
  • A basket for library books
  • A spreadsheet for recording books read and hours spent on learning activities.
  • A dry erase board that stores our “All About Spelling” letter tiles.
  • A dedicated location for supplies like pencils, rulers, protractor, and calculator (same as when they were in school, but now there is only one set required)

When it comes to record keeping my main tool is a spreadsheet I created.  It includes a book list and activities list.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.12.30 PM

The book list includes the title, author, reading level, who read the book and the count for the year.  Color coding each line makes it easy for me to process the information at a glance.  I could keep three spreadsheet pages instead of doing the color coding, but I find this method easier.

I want the boys to read books they find interesting regardless of the level of the book, but I also want to make sure they progressively read harder material.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.21.17 PM

In the same file, I keep monthly lists of learning activities.  It’s very straight forward.  Date, activity, and the number of hours:minutes spent on the activity.  A cell at the top of each child’s column totals the hours for the month. The current month’s page has a cell that shows the yearly total hours.

Next year I plan to strengthen our record keeping by keeping a list of documentaries and television shows similar to the reading list.  I jot them down in the daily record, but I’ve noticed I don’t keep enough information to share them in a resource list.

I also scan any handwriting samples I want to keep.  E has started typing many of his stories and emails them to me.

Previously I’ve tried keeping a handwritten journal, but I’ve found the spreadsheet option works much better.  I like the built in calculations and the fact the record is backed up to the cloud.  If I haven’t remembered to record anything for the day,  I’m usually reminded when I sit down to check Facebook or do a blog post.

As far as yearly records, I keep a copy of our notification and testing results.  I also keep a summary sheet of unit studies, the yearly book list, and a list of the workbooks completed for the year.  All these records go in a three ring binder.

You will also want to store any documentation of learning issues or testing accommodations with the yearly records.  If you know your child will need accommodations on the ACT or SAT it is best to start building a record early.  Lexercise offers dyslexia screening and testing.  The screening is free and the testing is currently $300.  You aren’t obligated to use their tutoring.  There might be educational consultants in your area who can provide testing for a similar cost.  Going to a neuropsychologist will cost more (usually starting around $2500 and can be $5000 and up), but can provide more information and some of the cost may be covered by insurance.  Even if you homeschool, you may be able to get testing through the local school district depending on the state (don’t depend on the school district to know if they are required to do this).

In addition, the blog serves as a scrapbook of our homeschool activities and unit studies.  I really appreciate the weekly wrap-up sites for the accountability they create.  Because of them, I do a much better job taking pictures each week.

Please remember to check your state laws. Every state has different requirements.

That’s my relaxed record keeping strategy for the elementary years.  It’s no cost, low maintenance, and best of all doesn’t require a large volume of paper work.

Do you have any record keeping ideas to add?  If you did traditional school, do you find homeschool organization easier or harder?