Online Homeschool Planner for High School

Online homeschool planner

It is my daughter’s senior year of high school and the time has come for her to take responsibility for her own planner. Knowing this goal was on the horizon I was comfortable with accepting a subscription to the online homeschool planner, the Homeschool Planet; in exchange for my personal opinion of this product.

Now my biggest challenge is bridging the gap between a paper planner and a non-paper planner.

I need my daughter to keep track of her own assignments and hold her accountable to her school lessons.

Setting Up The Online Homeschool Planner:

The moment I opened the software I had a feel for how things worked. Every blogger is familiar with a widget. My favorite widget allows me to send a text message to my daughter’s phone without leaving the software. I created a mini summer schedule to get a feel for how things worked.

I had my daughter log into the program. I pointed out where to change the background. I am not the pink music instrument kind of blogger.

Then I gave her the choice of setting up her school year. She chose her start date and which days she would be off for the holidays. Her end date of school is set by her umbrella group and since she is a senior it is in May this year. This does not leave us a lot of wiggle room for completing 180 days. Which makes it even more important that she stay on task for completing her assignments.

Her biggest rookie mistake with the online homeschool planner was forgetting to click the save button. She shut the laptop and thought she was done.

Then with a pile of her school books next to the laptop, she went through each subject and decided which days she would complete her lessons. Over the school year she will reschedule as she completes her lessons. She had no problem following the prompts to enter the information.

The great thing…she will be able to see how any reschedules will affect getting everything done by May 17. [Read more…]

Civitas, Card Game for Learning Governments

Civitas Game

When my daughter was asked to review the Mystery of History volume 2 cookbook before it was released I knew it was an instant fun activity.

When Tyler asked my kids to play a new card game about different governments…well I did not have the same instant fun thoughts. Fast forward a few months and it has become the family favorite card game!

What is Civitas?

  • Deck of 225 playing cards and 12 leadership cards
  • 8 Different kinds of government cards
    • Democracy
    • Monarchy
    • Communism
    • Theocracy
    • Pluracracy
    • Military
    • Anarchy
    • Republic
  • Geared toward the 10 and up age group

How to Play Civitas:

The first few rounds will be slow while players stop to read what powers the leadership cards give them and what some of the actions are on the cards. Pay attention because things will get fast once they know.

  • Shuffle and deal 7 cards to each player.
  • Play is similar to playing Uno, you will match governments (color), match numbers, or play cards like event cards or law cards that can cause you to draw more cards or change the direction of play.

Over the months this game has become our favorite family game.

  • Allies have been formed when the younger boys team up.
  • My teen boy will inform you that there are no friends in Civitas when deciding if the next player will draw two cards.
  • My daughter thinks a crown should be added to the game for when she is the queen. Yes, I can see my kids creating different hats for each leadership card.
  • My youngest can not wait to be the general of the military.

Pre-Order Civitas on the Bright Ideas Press website and use the code staceyplayscivitas and you can get 25% off the price! Since pre-order price is $24.95 that puts the game around $19 plus shipping.

This coupon code is good until May 2016. If you do not want to pre-order then pin the post and when the game is printed you can use the code and still save money on the purchase.



Batch Freezer Cooking, 4 Tips to Get it Done

Freezer Batch Cooking

Does batch freezer cooking meal plans overwhelm you? The unknown of completing the process for the first time often overwhelms me on a large project. Then the hardest part for me, just getting the process started.

Gain Experience and Motivation with Batch Freezer Cooking:

  1. Schedule a dinner out at Chipotle and then tackle the grocery shopping. In other words create some rewards for getting the job done. I hate shopping. I often imagine the big conveyer belt in the sky just dropping down and my groceries rolling off the belt into my pantry. If I have motivated myself to get the food purchased for the batch freezer cooking…I will not let the food go to waste. Having the food purchased starts the timer on getting the job done.
  2. Hiring teenagers to help. I used to joke that I should have grown an extra set of arms when I gave birth to my second child. Which in hindsight I am glad I did not because my brain could not keep up with the multitasking of another set of hands. Thankfully I have a house full of teenagers. If you do not have teenagers, find some at your local church. My daughter helps me with prep work and my boys are on clean up duty.
  3. Cook one batch a day. Sometimes my schedule does not allow for a huge block of time to prepare. I have found breaking up the tasks to be helpful.
    1. For example with batch freezer cooking for breakfast I would give each day of the week a food to prepare. Monday I will cook and prepare all the Egg and Sausage English Muffins. Tuesday I will cook a triple batch of pancakes. Wednesday I will assemble the yogurt smoothie bags, especially since the yogurt needs to freeze in the ice cube trays first. Thursday I will assemble the oatmeal bags. Friday an extra batch of muffins can be done. Whatever I am preparing that morning my kids will have for breakfast.
    2. For dinner batch freezer cooking I break down the jobs  similar to breakfast. Mondays I will cook and assemble all the hamburger meals. Tuesday I will do the chicken meals. Wednesday I will do the soup meals. Thursday I like to do some smaller vegan meals for myself. Hopefully everything is done so I can take Friday night off!
  4. Gather friends to serve others.This one was my favorite idea. I had really wanted to purchase a prepared batch freezer cooking plan. A friend at church wanted to prepare some meals for 3 expecting mothers and I had a reason for buying a prepared plan. If the ladies get together we could cook 21 freezer meals and give each woman 7 meals for the freezer. A ladies event was created that day.
    1. I decided to purchase the crockpot meal plan from 5 Dollar Dinners. I divided up the shopping list among the women. I printed out the labels and recipes. I made sure the women brought their own cutting boards and knives. First we gathered on a Sunday afternoon and prepped all the ingredients. Then while things were cooling we gathered and ate dinner together. After the meal we assembled the freezer the bags. We did invite the expectant mothers to join us but they did not need to help. It took about 4 hours to get everything done, which included stopping to eat dinner. It was a great evening of fellowship and awesome to send home 7 crockpot freezer meals ready for when the new babies are born. (Yes the plan is for 20 meals but we were able to get an extra meal out of the ingredients to keep the numbers even) 

Biology 101 Series, Unit 5, 6 and 7

Biology 101 Series

If you are finding this series for the first time I suggest starting with the Biology 101 series post on units 1 and 2 or the Biology 101 series post on units 3 and 4.

Yes, it has been a year since she finished this. I got busy homeschooling and forgot to do the write up on the last half of the year. It has been sitting in a pile on my desk mocking me about unfinished projects. Today I will claim the victory of getting this post published!

My daughter did well in the class and is graduating from high school this year to pursue a career in the cooking world; her goal is a pastry chef. I will use this class again next year with my son, so a bonus for me to remember what I taught. 

Here is a list of extras I added to the provided schedule.

Biology 101 Series: Land Animals

  • I wanted a better visual for understanding toes and cud chewers. I had my daughter complete this diagram while reading the lesson, Toes and Cud Chewers Venn Diagram. She wrote the name of the animals and where they were on the diagram. Then she read some books on a few of the animals that were mentioned in the lesson.
  • I found this youtube on cow digestion.
  • She completed the listening guide on Eyewitness video on Mammals.
  • I had found an experiment on How is water used to lower an animal’s body temperature, but it seems to have been removed from the website. It was originally written by Janice Van Cleave.
  • My daughter loves frogs! So we agreed she would do the other dissections in this class if we skipped dissecting the frog. Instead I created a Frog Field Guide and had her go on a frog hunt to find and identify different species of frogs living in our neighborhood. She photographed and reported her findings.
  • I found this youtube on Dissection of a Crayfish helpful with dissecting our own.

[Read more…]

North Star Geography Notebooks

North Star Geography Notebooks

Time to create our North Star Geography Notebooks! 

First thing I did was review the teacher’s introduction in the front of the book. I am notorious for jumping in and then missing a few small details, ok maybe some big details too.

Since my boys are 9th and 6th grade I made some choices to skip some sections in North Star. First I am not requiring them to do the memorization lessons and we will skip the research section. My goal is to expose them to geography and adapt for their learning needs.

My boys like to know the big picture before they can settle into the details. I have taken the suggested schedule in North Star and tweaked to reflect the choices I have made. This will be the first page in their notebooks. Yes, we only do lessons 4 days since the 5th is co-op day.

Geography Schedule

North Star Geography Notebooks: Supplies

  • 3-ring binder
  • 6 dividers or tabs
  • Pouch to hold glue stick and colored pencils
  • Printer ready with paper and ink

North Star Geography Notebooks: Printing

  • Print the first page of the student reader for a cover page for the notebooks.
  • Print the 16 note taking pages and put under tab 1. Each lesson has its own note taking page.
  • Print the vocabulary notebook pages and put under tab 2. (more info below on this section)
  • Print Atlas building section and put under tab 3. I did the 26 pages double sided to save on paper.
  • Print the outline maps needed for Atlas building and put under tab 2 matched with the lessons. That is 16 maps total, one world, two Europe, two N. America, two S. America, two Africa, two Middle East, two Asia, two Oceania, and one Antartica.
  • Print Activities section and put under tab 4. I did the 55 pages double sided to save on paper. I want my boys to select which activity they will complete each week.
  • I printed a blank book list to put under tab 5. My kids can track the extra books they read from the library.
  • I did not print the quizzes or tests. My boys will be taking them online at the Bright Ideas Press website. I will allow them to take the quizzes open book.
  • Tab 6 will be for any extra maps or projects completed over the school year.

North Star Geography Notebooks: Vocabulary

This section needed my most attention. To quote Tyler Hogan, “How you wish to incorporate vocabulary is entirely up to you.” So I created a plan for my students.

Geography VocabularyGeography Vocabulary 2Geography Vocabulary 3

Geography Vocabulary

I created 3 Geography Vocabulary notebook pages for this section. One page allows for basic word and definition style in a list form. The second page has a blank box to provide a visual for the vocabulary word. The third page is blank to create or copy labeling of vocabulary in things like the layers of the earth.

I then went through each lesson and decided which Geography Notebook page I want my boys to use for the bolded words in the text.

If you would like a PDF of my schedule I created this Geography Vocabulary Schedule

Then I will plan some vocabulary games to review the terms throughout the year. My boys enjoy hangman and matching games.

What great ideas have you found for organizing North Star Geography Notebooks or other items? I have a Geography Pinterest board on some of mine.

Next up to plan my literature books to correlate with North Star. 

Teenagers and Chores, Downside to Chore Charts

teenagers and chores

I have a house full of teenagers and chores that need to be completed. Since I have been a mom for 19 years, I have used an amazing amount of chore systems and chore charts. Routinely I would change systems just to keep things looking different for my kids.

Last month I realized the disservice I had established in my kids…they did what was on the chart and nothing more. They could ignore the bag of trash that blew into the yard, they did not care if the corner of the living room became overrun with clutter or if anyone around them needed help. It was not on their list.

I know…some moms would be jumping up for joy if their teens did the chores they were asked. This is so much more than chores…this is teaching my kids to notice what needs to be done, prioritizing the chores, and serving others.

My kids have become accustomed to mom writing a list and mom deciding what needs to be done. I called a family meeting and explained there was a new cleaning system effective immediately.

New System for Teenagers and Chores:

  • There are no more chore charts or lists coming from mom.
  • Teenagers must decide what 3 things they will clean each day.
  • On Friday a written list of what was accomplished each day must be submitted to mom.
  • A fun reward will be given to those who have done their tasks.
  • Failure to complete daily chores results in spending time on Saturday catching-up.

Of course 1,000 questions were launched at me…my teenages thought I had finally gone crazy.

I did state that personal laundry and dishes did not count. These already had systems in place and needed to be done regularly. Otherwise a fight would break out on Friday morning with 5 people trying to use the washing machine.

The lawyer of the group immediately wanted to know if he could do the same 3 chores each day. No, some chores only need to be done weekly, your list should reflect that. 

What if I can not find 3 things to do? I would encourage you to ask mom, dad, or a sibling if they need help. Helping counts as a chore. 

What if I forget to do my 3 chores? Ideally 3 a day is best, but I know there will be times when things need to be adjusted. I need 15 completed by Friday, but I warn you trying to complete 15 on Friday might be overwhelming. 

Things I have noticed with my teenagers and chores after one week of new system:

  • My teens began tackling jobs I would never have assigned them. I came in one morning and my son had emptied the tupperware cabinet and was matching up lids with containers.
  • I invented the saying, when in doubt, look around and find something extra to do. One of my sons wanted to discuss if each item on his list counted and could something be counted twice. If this counted twice then he was done for the day. He really wanted a list of acceptable chores and I wanted him to decide what was important. We are working toward him being confident in his choices.
  • My youngest son with Aspergers has learned to ask his siblings if he can help them. Bonus: he is learning to work with others which is a bigger accomplishment for him.
  • My daughter hung my clothes on the line and has asked me for help on a regular occasion.

Now what to do with the time I spent on creating and maintaining chore charts. 

Do you have any great tips on helping teens complete chores?

Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers

Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers

Things are definitely different when you are planning a teenager’s birthday party. The first thing I did was create a Pinterest board titled “Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers” and invited my teen to pin her likes and ideas.

Having shared her birthday parties with her other 2 siblings for the past 15 years, my daughter had huge plans for a Sweet 16 Party. In my defense when you have 3 children with birthdays only 22 days apart…it’s almost impossible to do 3 separate parties.

Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers: Decorations

  • Each table represented one of her favorite author’s. She included her stack of books by the author and a favorite quote. We placed the quotes in picture frames.
  • She did take a page from a book and cut a heart out and glued to a root beer bottle to hold flowers.
  • The photographer in me wanted photos of everyone in attendance. We did splurge and buy a backdrop and props from Oriental Trading. If you do buy a backdrop from them, buy one that is patterned and doesn’t have to match. It comes in folded plastic sheets and can be difficult to look nice. The props really helped with creating some fun photos.

Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers: Food

  • Yes the cupcakes had mini books on top of them.
  • Other than themed cupcakes the rest of the food was standard party snacks. I thought about giving them creative names but ran out of time.
  • Bookworm Party Goody Bags I created this PDF so I could share the top of the goody bag I created for the book lovers party. We took the clear candy bags and added gummy worms. Then folded the cardstock in half and stapled to the bag.

book worm
Birthday Party Ideas for Book Lovers: Games and Crafts

  • Originally I wanted to create a Jeopardy style game on questions about each of her favorite authors but I ran out of brain power. Instead I wrote down 20 book titles on slips of paper to play Literature Pictionary.
  • I found some great free bookmark designs on the web. I printed them on cardstock and supplied things to decorate with.
  • For the higher level crafter, book earrings were popular.
  • I had some old library cards that I asked people to write notes of encouragement. These are now a lovely keepsake from the party.

Yeah! For Sweet 16 birthday memories.

Two Becomes One, A Twenty Year Journey

two becomes one

It’s a special week at my house, my husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary on the 20th of May.

I have never written about marriage because frankly the “D word” has popped up a few times over the years in my marriage.

My struggles have me feeling so inadequate about sharing any great advice on marriage.

But I have one thought about being married for 20 years…there is an amazing journey in “two becomes one.”

I remember in our first year of marriage we were so focused on the physical aspect of two becomes one…ah young love.

But all that “oneness” brought along children and soon “two becomes one” was a necessity for survival. We quickly became outnumbered! We had to be a united front in parenting.

Now there is an almost 20 year age difference in our relationship which has brought about a new aspect in “two becomes one.”

A few years ago my husband was diagnosed with COPD. I almost think a chronic diagnosis should trigger marriage counseling because there is a mourning when losing your health.

Now we have two people affected by one diagnosis. Two people facing different struggles from one disease. Two people scared about becoming just one.

Recently mild dementia has sprung up in our marriage. The brain likes a steady level of oxygen and does not work well on a reduced amount.

It reminds me of a funny skit I saw about two becomes one is for growing old: when one of you will remember where the car keys are…one of you will be able to open the pickle jar…and one of you will be able to hear the phone ring.

Over the past year I have had to turn to another page and focus on the cord of three strands.  My husband struggles with feeling he is not worthy of love if he can not contribute to the family. I struggle with thinking I am alone and overwhelmed with taking care of everything.

Honestly these thoughts sneak in when we take our eyes off the one who created us…our identity in Christ…so important.

It has been good to look back…looking forward scares me…most days I do not have the strength…I only have the strength for today…for that I am thankful.

Twenty years ago on the Twenty of May with a Twenty year age difference…Two became One.

Happy Anniversary to the man who I will remind that he can forget anything but my name…and I will every few days ask him and sometimes I get back some creative responses…because you still have to laugh along the way.


North Star Geography

north star geography

Conference season is in full swing and my daughter occasionally travels with me and helps work the booth. While I was packing my daughter was inclined to share some thoughts with me.

“Mom, I am so glad I won’t be working a booth with you this year.”

“Why? I thought you enjoyed traveling with me.”

“Well I am comfortable telling people why I love Mystery of History but I hate North Star Geography.”

“Oh my”

Which then lead to conversation about we should not always share just the good things and sometimes sharing the bad can be just as helpful. Honesty mixed with your perspective is always important when sharing your thoughts about curriculum. I reminded her not every homeschool is created to use the same books. Welcome to conferences filled with rows and rows of vendors!

But I did not leave the conversation there. I followed up with what about North Star did you dislike.

“We had to complete every single project, I hated some of the projects.”

“It sounds like you were overwhelmed with the amount of work and did not like having the opportunity to choose your projects.”

She thought for a moment.

“Hmm…I did like how the lessons talked about culture and discussed how geography was more than maps. I guess all the work killed my liking it.”

“Daughter, that is what you should tell homeschool moms…it’s a great book on geography and if you do every single project your kids will hate it.”

Oh I am so guilty of wanting to complete all the great projects!

Then I went back and counted…North Star Geography has 62 different activities. That does not include the work she did with atlas building, notebook pages, and memorizations lists.

Since we were part of the test group we were required to complete each activity so we could provide the necessary feedback.

I have found memories of the class, but I only did 5 of the projects. My favorite was the Lego city my family built.

The great thing about homeschooling multiple children..I get to teach North Star again this year to my younger kids. First on my list is limiting the activities. 

Helpful Hints for Teaching North Star Geography:

I am also in the process of creating a book list to go along with North Star for next year. I am sure a follow-up post will be coming soon.


Happy Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day!

Last week I met with a friend and while I was sharing some deep struggles in the middle of my thought she said, “you are making the best choices you can with this situation. You are doing a good job.”

I just wanted to burst into tears…it had been months since anyone had told me I was handling anything well. Can I just say it was such sweet balm to my soul.

Most days I deal with thoughts of falling short, thoughts of inadequacy, and thoughts of being overwhelmed. How many times had I been approached with your son did this, or your daughter needs this, or could not fall asleep at night knowing I had missed opportunities or lost my temper.

I am a mother, a mother of teenagers, a mother of special needs, a working mother, and a homeschool mother. Whatever adjective you place in front of mother…we could all use some words of encouragement in this role of motherhood.

So how about this week before Mother’s Day we could take a moment and express an encouraging thought to another mother. If you want to get fancy and send a card or meet for coffee, great…but the simple sentence of “you are doing a great job of being a mom” might be the best thing a mother has heard all day, week or month.

While I am not a deep emotional writer on the subject of motherhood, I am still shocked with how moved I was when my friend told me I was doing a good job. It’s been two weeks and I am still clinging to those words.

Of course a face to face exchange would be the best choice but I know that time with other moms can be limited, sometimes sending that text or email might be the best dose of encouragement!

Join me in telling another mom this week they are doing a great job being a mom.