5 Ways to Save on Back-to-Homeschool (and a Freebie!)

Ways to Save on Back to Homeschool

I can’t believe that summer is almost over.  However, everywhere I turn, the back-to-school sales have begun.  The notifications for start dates of co-ops and extracurricular activities are pouring in . . . including the invoices.  It can be a bit overwhelming.

To make your back-to-homeschool a little smoother, I want to share some suggestions for how I gather the curriculum that I need without spending an arm and a leg.

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1. Keep your eye out for what you will need in the future

Throughout the school year, I keep notes (mental or otherwise) for what I will need when I finish with the curriculum that I’m currently using.  That way, if I see what I will need later at a great price somewhere, I take advantage of the opportunity and put it away for the future.

2. Sales & Comparison Shopping

There are always great sales at the end of the summer.  However, I really like to comparison shop, especially online.  Sometimes, you can find something at a better price on a different site, especially if you factor in shipping costs.  For instance, my son’s speech teacher recommended a book that would help me work with him on his reading.  Every online bookstore that I checked was selling it for around $30.  I kept looking and found a used copy in great condition on Thriftbooks.com for $4.00!

Some sales that I’m aware of right now are:

  • Christianbook is having a big sale with free shipping on orders placed through August 13th of $35 or more.
  • Schoolhouseteachers is having a buy-one-get-one sale on memberships until August 31st..  New members will receive TWO full years of access to 380 Schoolhouse Teachers classes for $139 (regularly $179/year) with a guaranteed annual renewal rate of $139/year as long as they remain a member.
  • BJU Press is offering 10% off everything until August 14th.
  • CurrClick has a back-to-homeschool sale going on.

3. Group Buy Sites

Homeschool Buyers Co-op – With over 190,000 families who have joined for free, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op is able to use their purchasing power to get members deals on homeschool curriculum.  They also offer freebies.  I’ve taken advantage of several free trials on online classes during the summer months through this site.

4. Used Curriculum

I love used curriculum.  I usually have to order workbooks new, but textbooks and teacher’s guides are fine second-hand.  Here’s where I purchase mine:

  • Used homeschool curriculum fairs
  • Used book fairs
  • Free shelf at the library (ours has one in the entryway where people can leave books that they no longer want and where books that the library is removing from circulation get placed)
  • Co-ops
  • Homeschooling friends/family with older children
  • Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace on Facebook

5. Freebies, Freebies, Freebies

There are lots of places where you can download curriculum or organizational files for free.  Some of these sites will send you freebies on a regular basis if you subscribe to their newsletters:

That freebie I promised . . .

Last school year, I decided to create my own homeschool organizational forms.  I’ve seem some beautifully designed offerings from other moms online, but none of them were what I wanted – something simple that maximizes the usable space on the page and minimizes the amount of ink needed to print them.

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I created these for my personal use, but I figured someone else might find them useful as well.  I am offering these Homeschool Organizational Forms as a FREE download here.  This packet includes:

  • Weekly Lesson Log & Attendance Sheet
  • Curriculum List (to keep track of what you have on hand)
  • Reading Log
  • Resource Planner (to note what you need or want to purchase in the future)
  • Field Trip Form

Happy back-to-homeschool!

 

 

 

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Homeschool Organizational Forms – Download

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Here are the Homeschool Organizational Forms that I promised you.  They include:

  • Weekly Lesson Log & Attendance Sheet
  • Field Trip Form
  • Resource Planner
  • Reading Log
  • Curriculum List

These are designed simply because I wanted to maximize usable space on the page and minimize the amount of ink that is needed to print them.

If you have any feedback on these after using them, I’d love to hear it.  I hope you find them useful.

 

Finding Time for Art

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Did you ever begin your homeschool year with grandiose plans for all of the art enrichment that you were going to include on top of your basic subjects?  I have, only to become overwhelmed and then discouraged, feeling that there was no way to fit it all in.  In the early elementary years, you are laying the foundation for skills in reading, math, etc. that you will build upon later.  Taking time away from those areas can make you feel guilty at times.  How can you find time for one without sacrificing the other?

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  1. Farm it out. My children have taken inexpensive (and free) art classes at co-op, museums and our local library.  Some of these activities fall outside of school hours.  The ones that interfere with our typical school day don’t feel like interference when I know that there is the added benefit of getting my kids out of the house to spend time with other children.  If you don’t want to sign up for a long-term commitment where you will be obligated to be there every week, consider classes at your library, which can often be signed up for one session at a time, when it fits into your schedule that week.
  2. Link it to another subject that you are studying. The history curriculum that we use suggests art projects to go along with the chapter that we are studying that week.  This year, we reached a chapter on the Renaissance, and decided it was the perfect time to pause in our book and dedicate some time to learning about some great Renaissance-period artists.  I have some artist biographies, art cards and fine art pages that I have been hoarding for the day that I had time to use them, and I went through and found what was applicable to the time period.  We chose one artist per week, read a biography, viewed examples of their art, and watched YouTube videos about the artist.  When we finished studying all of the artists that we had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and enjoyed doing it.
  3. Take a field trip to a museum. Field trips are a great way to add fine art appreciation to your homeschool.  I feel this works best if you have already learned something about the artist whose work you are viewing or the subject matter of the art.  On the other hand, it can also be the jumping off point to spend some time studying the artist when you return home from your trip.
  4. Take advantage of weeks that tend to be less productive. A great time for fine art study is the week before a major holiday or the last week of school, when your children tend to be distracted or you have a lot of your plate.  One year, I found a free Kindle download of a picture study curriculum.  Paintings were provided to observe, discuss and answer questions about.  It kept them engaged while I did some holiday preparations and rounded out what otherwise would have been a short school day.

Don’t give up on those special subjects that you’d like to include in your day.  Be creative about it and you can make it happen!

 

Fine Art Study – The Renaissance

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I have been hoarding artist study materials for a while, as this is something I really want to go over with my children, but often find that it gets put on the back burner.  They really enjoy it when we are able to make time for it, though, so I was glad to find an opportunity to utilize them recently.

We use The Story of the World as our history curriculum for our homeschool.  We are currently on Volume 2:  The Middle Ages.  When we reached the chapter about the Renaissance, I decided this would be the perfect time to incorporate some fine art study into our school year.

First, I pulled out our set of Memoria Press art cards, and picked out the ones that were appropriate for the time period.  We looked at the cards, read the information about the pieces, and discussed which we liked best and why.

Next, I chose some prominent Renaissance artists to focus on – Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt and Raphael.  I used this timeline to help me narrow the choices down.  I have biographies from the Great Artists Series by homeschool bits for each one, which also include links to online videos and activities about the artist.  We focused on one artist per class.  We read the biography together, answered the review questions, watched some of the links, and viewed examples of the artist’s work.  We used some of our art cards for this, as well as Enrichment Studies art pages (you can receive free art pages from them each month if you become a subscriber).  We also visited the Google Arts & Culture page.  One caution about the Google page – many of the pieces of art on it contain nudity.  My son is not a fan of Michelangelo as a result.  He said, “I understand him painting Adam and Eve naked, but King David wore clothes!”  Oh, well.

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Another source that we used was a series on YouTube called Art with Mati and Dada.  We discovered it a while ago and my children really enjoy it.  We found the episode that went along with the artist we were reviewing that day and I let them finish the lesson by watching it.

When we finished studying all of the artists that I had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and had fun doing it.  We hung the matched sets up in our classroom afterward so they can continue to observe them.

I found that tying the study of art into our history lessons worked well.  I didn’t feel like I was taking time away another subject, but was enhancing it instead.

Edited to add:  If you will be studying Renaissance artists with your children next year, I just found out that Enrichment Studies will have a new study on that time period that will be available.  Each week will focus on one artist, and each day there will be a video about the artist and/or their work sent by email.  There will be coordinating Fine Art Pages to have on display in your home during that week as well.  It will give a short, daily dose of art appreciation that’s easy to find time for.

 

The Importance of Outdoor Education in a Digital World

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I grew up in a large city.  Swapping childhood stories with my husband, he was appalled when I explained that recess at the schools that I attended meant being released to an enclosed, asphalt yard.  I counted myself lucky that I actually had a backyard at home with trees and flowers.  Most of my friends only had a small square of grass in front of their house.  Needless to say, our exposure to nature was a bit limited.

Luckily, the private school that I went to recognized this need.  We had an environmental education program in grades 4 through 6, where we got to stay at a campground for a few days in the fall and the spring.  I recently asked some old schoolmates about it, and found that they have as many treasured memories of the experience as I do.

Unlike me, my children are growing up in a more rural area.  They have much more experience with nature than I did.  Even so, when we went camping for our family vacation this year, and completely disconnected from electronics (no TV, cell phones, or other devices), my children were even more engaged with the world around them than normal.  Some of the things that we did were:

  • Identified leaves and plants that we found
  • Learned about wildlife that was native to the area
    • Learned the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
    • Learned how to identify raptors in flight
  • Collected leaves, ferns, etc. and made charcoal rubbings and sketches in nature journals
  • Observed and felt moss growing
  • Found a bird’s nest
  • Saw the natural growth and decay of the forest
  • Learned how to build a fire and cook over it
  • Practiced carving wood
  • Collected pine resin and learned some uses for it

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My son actually remarked that he thought life was better without TV!  Being outside without the distractions of modern society allows for more intimacy with nature and with each other.  We interact more fully with each other.  It inspires awe.  It demands use of all of the senses and strengthens observation skills.  Navigating on uneven terrain helps to develop core strength and a sense of balance.  Self-directed learning occurs naturally in the outdoors, as children ask questions about the world around them.

In my son’s case, I’ve watched his confidence grow as he is now able to answer some of his younger sister’s questions.  Sometimes, he can even answer mine, when he shares a tidbit that he has learned from his father.

Of course, we can’t camp all the time, but now that it is spring, we often finish up our school day with a walk.  I ask them to point out any signs of spring that they notice and it is fun to witness the progression from day to day.  The exercise, fresh air, and connection with nature is calming and has pretty much the opposite effect on them that screen time does.  Screens have their place in our lives, but they cannot replace time spent outdoors, which meets a need that seems to be instilled in us from our Creator, to recognize our part in His creation.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?”  – Job 12:7-10

 

Free Classical & Charlotte Mason Homeschool Guide

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Since September, I’ve been contributing to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart blog.  I received an email from them the other day letting me know that they are offering this free resource based on classical Christian and Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods and encouraging me to share it with my readers.

Since I am a classical homeschooler who tries to incorporate a lot of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, this is right up my alley.  I downloaded it right away, but it’s taken me a few days to begin reading it, because we adopted an 8-week-old puppy and he has kept us busy!

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Anyway, I’ve begun going through it and I’m really enjoying it.  You can download your copy for free here.

Happy reading!

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Growing Things

So, this happened on Monday. . .

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. . .and so did this.

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This avocado pit has been sitting in a jar of water since the fall.  I grew an avocado plant a couple of summers ago that got big enough to transplant to a pot, until my daughter’s cat got to it and ate it.  All it takes is a few toothpicks, a jar and some water, so (after making some guacamole) I decided to try again.  The pointy end of the pit goes in the water.  This took until March to get a root, and I’ve been watching it get bigger and bigger, anxiously waiting for that stem to emerge at the top.

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Another kitchen experiment that I’m trying is garlic.  I had a store-bought clove that sprouted, so I planted it, along with a couple of others from the same bulb.  My son and I put potting soil in the pot, moistened it, and gently pushed the cloves (sprout side up) down into the dirt.  These came up quickly!  Garlic doesn’t do well in our garden, so I’m trying the container method this year.  After opening these bulbs up tonight, it looks like we’ll be planting some more.

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We also started some lily seeds.  I had some lilies come up in my yard last spring whose bulbs had been given to me by a friend and planted a couple of years before.  I saved seeds from them, but didn’t know what type they were.  We also gathered seed from some lilies around town, so they could possibly be from different types.  It turns out that lilies are kind of complicated to grow.  Some types are epigeal and some are hypogeal.  I guessed that these were hypogeal and the kids followed these directions, to put the seeds in moist peat moss in sandwich bags.  I’ve been keeping them on a seed heating pad.  So far, nothing has happened.  However, looking at photos of lilies this week, I realized that the ones in my yard are Asiatic, meaning that they are epigeal.  So, we planted some in a seed-starting greenhouse today, along with some vegetables and other flowers.  We’ll see which method works!

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My daughter’s sweet potato is crazy with slips!  My son’s half finally got roots, but we discovered today that it was rotting, so we tossed it in the compost bucket.  Luckily, the second sweet potato that we started is progressing nicely.  Both halves have nice roots and a little slip is beginning to emerge on one half.  He recently figured out how to download photos that I take and insert them into a Word document, so he has been using them to create his own report on the progress.  He calls it his “homesteading book.”

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It snowed again this morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and it warmed up, so we took advantage of that to plant the seeds that I’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks.  Here’s hoping that we are officially done with snow and it will finally begin to feel like spring!

 

“To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

Starting Sweet Potato Slips as Nature Study

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Now that spring is here, my children and I are spending a lot of time studying nature.  We are classical homeschoolers, but we incorporate some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas about education into our homeschool, especially her emphasis on nature study.

The first thing we decided to grow this year was sweet potatoes.  My son came home from Cub Scouts last spring with a sweet potato in a cup of water, and we patiently waited for something to happen.  It took quite a while, and I was on the verge of throwing it out, when it finally got roots.  Eventually, we transplanted the slips to the garden.  It was a bit late in the growing season, so the sweet potatoes that were produced were pretty small, but still tasty.  This year, we figured we’d get a head start, and hopefully, end up with a larger harvest.

washing sweet potato

To start your own, follow these steps:

  1. Buy some organic sweet potatoes from the store.
    1. Technically, you should be able to use any sweet potato, but most conventional potatoes are treated with chemicals that prevent slips from growing.
  2. Wash your sweet potato.
  3. Cut it in half.
  4. Stick 3-4 toothpicks in, across from each other, about halfway down your potato.
  5. Balance the toothpicks on the edge of a wide-mouth jar. We’re using salsa jars.
  6. Add enough water so that half of the potato is submerged.
  7. Keep them in a warm, dark spot for the first week. We placed ours in a cabinet above the refrigerator.
  8. Check the water level and refill as needed. Change the water if it becomes cloudy.

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Keeping them in a cabinet for the first week is a trick I just learned, and roots appeared much quicker this year than they did for us last year.  After that, you can move your jars to a warm, sunny spot.

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We’ve been making official observations on their progress every Monday.  I ask my children what changes they notice, we discuss it, and they update a nature journal page.  We’ve been using a template that we used to chart tomato seed progress last year and it’s worked really well for us.  I found it on Notebookingpages.com.  They are very compatible with a Charlotte Mason approach to education.

Here are some of the ways that we have used these pages over time:

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Eventually, your sweet potatoes will grow little plants on top called “slips.”

  1. When the slips reach 5-6 inches high, you can carefully pull them off and place the roots in a glass of water with the leaves above the liquid.
  2. Put them in a sunny spot and allow them to keep growing. Your sweet potato should continue to produce new slips.

At this point, you can take your study even further, if you like, and plant the slips.  When the ground is warm enough (at least two weeks after your last frost date), they can be planted in the garden.  You can plant them directly in the ground or in a container.  We used a large 10-gallon bucket last year.

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To plant your slips in a container:

  1. Drill holes in the bottom of the bucket.
  2. Find a spot next to a fence or trellis for the plant to climb.
  3. Prop the bucket up on something to allow for drainage underneath.
  4. Add a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and manure to the bucket.
  5. Moisten your soil well, keep it loose, and shape it into a slope.
  6. Plant your slips on their side, with the top end toward the fence.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil moist.
  8. When the leaves have dried out and turned yellow in the fall, dig up your sweet potatoes.
  9. Cure them in a cardboard box, unwashed, in a cool place (55 to 60°) for about 6-8 weeks for maximum sweetness.

One of the things we liked about growing them was that they were low maintenance.  The plants are a pretty addition to the garden as well.  I hope you enjoy growing sweet potatoes as much as we do!

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It’s Time to Start Seeds!

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As spring approaches, I am looking forward to what has become a homeschool ritual for us at this time of year – starting seeds.  When my son was in kindergarten, I decided that would be a good science lesson for him.  However, it became a learning process for me as well.

After growing seedlings indoors, we ended up transplanting them outdoors after the ground thawed.  We learned about caring for the garden, when to harvest the fruit and vegetables, and finally, how to save seeds for the next year.  Each spring, we begin the process again and try new things.  We experimented with starting the seeds in different types of containers, growing various types of plants, and planting them in the garden in new ways.  We have tried a raised pallet garden, container planting, and a hugelkultur.  We learned how to compost.  We fought with powdery mildew, blight, pests, and made homemade sprays to deal with some of these issues.  We learned about pollination and even hand-pollinated some squash.  We expanded our garden last summer and let the area that comprised the original garden lay fallow.  This summer, we will test whether that has a positive impact on our plants.

If you would like to try seed-starting with your children:

  1. Find out your plant hardiness zone to figure out what seeds to plant and when.
  2. Gather supplies.
    1. Pick a container. You can order a seed-starting kit, use egg cartons, Styrofoam cups, peat pots, etc.
    2. Pick seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and some flowers are often started inside.
    3. Pick up some seed-starting soil. You can make your own or buy it, but it is different than regular potting soil.
    4. Download one of the free plant life cycle worksheets or seed journals that are available online to teach your children about the process.
  3. Place some soil in your chosen containers, water well and add a seed to each. Push carefully into soil.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Prick small holes in the plastic wrap as well as the bottom of your containers for drainage.  Keep in a warm spot or place on a seed heating mat.
    1. Label each seed! We write on plain popsicle sticks that we insert in the soil.
    2. Water often, but use something with a gentle flow, to avoid displacing seeds. We’ve used a spray bottle or a water bottle with a small hole made in the cap.
  4. Once the plants emerge, remove plastic wrap and move into a sunny spot.
  5. When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, move to larger pots with plenty of compost.
  6. If you are going to transplant to the garden, harden them off about a week before planting.

Of course, not everyone has a backyard that is large enough for a vegetable garden.  One friend of mine starts seeds with her children indoors and they watch the seedling grow, but the process ends there.  Another grows her plants in containers.  There are many ways to incorporate it into your homeschool, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area.

I have found it to be such a rich learning experience.  Not only is it hands-on, but it inspires awe in the perfection of God’s creation and His provision for us.

 

Don’t Marry Your Method!

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As I was preparing to embark on my homeschooling journey, I read books, consulted veteran homeschooling moms, and gathered materials.  One of those items was a set of vintage readers that was recommended for practicing oral reading.

I purchased another book to teach phonics, so we focused on that first.  My son hated it, though!  For a while, we tried practicing small passages in the reading primer instead, which he preferred.  Eventually, I resorted to splitting our time equally between the two books.  After all, the phonics curriculum had come highly recommended and I’d spent money on it.  I should use it; right?

This school year, we finally abandoned that phonics book in favor of the preferred vintage readers, and he is making significant progress.  I toyed with the idea of ditching his spelling curriculum, too, and just focusing on the new words introduced at the beginning of each lesson in his reader.  Again, though, I thought, “But I spent money on that spelling book,” and he didn’t dislike it.  As our year wore on, though, I didn’t think that he was making connections between the words in the spelling lessons when he would encounter them in other reading material, so I decided to revisit the idea of using the readers for that purpose.

As I searched for direction on how to do that, I discovered the original teacher’s manual online.  I discovered that the series was designed not only for teaching reading, but also spelling, grammar, vocabulary and composition and it seemed to me that the publisher’s intent in how they were to be utilized made perfect sense.  I believed it would be more helpful to him than what we’ve been doing so far, so I began the new year with this method.

I have asked myself why I fought these changes.  I know that I was afraid of steering away from curriculum with the teaching steps explicitly provided for me as well as overlooking the recommendations of other moms that I respect.  While reading the manual, this comment leapt out at me, “…we wish to warn the young teacher especially of the danger that the method will become a hobby unless he is careful, and that thus the end will be lost sight of in attention to the means.” 1  Consistency is important, but if what you are doing isn’t working, maybe you are putting too much faith in your curriculum, your teaching philosophy, someone’s advice, or valuing the money that you spent on that book a bit too much.   Depending on where your heart is, any of those excuses could actually be idolatry in disguise.  In the end, as I prayed for direction, God just steered me back to where I needed to be.

Maybe you have less of a tendency to get stuck in one way of thinking than I do.  If you’re like me, though, beware of marrying your method (or curriculum)!  In the end, consider what works for your individual child, pray on it and trust the leading that you receive.  Don’t be afraid to make changes.  It may be exactly what you and your child need.

 

1 The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers.  Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., 1885.