Author Archives: Sallie

101 Ways to Simplify Your Homeschool

101 Ways to Simplify Your Homeschool

101 Ways to Simplify Your Homeschool

Homeschooling does not have to be complicated. We often make it more complicated primarily out of fear – fear of not doing enough, fear of not keeping up with the other homeschool families we know, fear of ruining our child for life, etc. Instead of acting on fear, I’m going to give you 101 ways to simplify your homeschool. Choose the ones that work best for your situation and find freedom in simplifying!

1. Consider relaxed homeschooling

2. Understand your who your child really is instead of putting your expectations on her

3. Ditch the schedule when the weather is beautiful in the fall and get outdoors!

4. Realize you do not have to plan crafts for your child

5. Understand age disequilibrium and the significant impact it can have on your homeschool

6. Remember that most people can reduce their homeschooling to a computer, internet connection, printer and library card until at least middle school

7. Add more margin to your life, especially if you have a differently-wired child

8. Combine handwriting and science

9. Homeschool the child you have, not the child you wish you had

10. Figure out how to deal with the fact that you are an introvert

11. Have a substitute homeschool teacher bin for the days you aren’t up to teaching

12. Remember you can cover a lot of educational ground in the elementary years simply by reading aloud to your children

13. Remember play is learning

14. Don’t be afraid or feel guilty if you make your homeschool mom-friendly!

15. Get Amazon Prime for the free two day shipping and save a lot of time running around shopping

16. Learn from experienced homeschoolers so you can avoid some of the mistakes they made

17. Get Netflix for the educational content

18. Get Netflix for the babysitting capability

19. Buy a book to get fresh ideas and keep on hand for those tough days and weeks

20. Remind yourself you are doing this for the children’s sake

21. Keep a well stocked craft cabinet and let your children access it freely

22. Use printables with strong visuals for your visual learner so he/she doesn’t have to work as hard to remember what he/she reads and writes

23. Renew your library books online

24. Say no to the expectations of other homeschoolers

25. Organize your planning with a beautiful planner that will be a joy to use

26. Hibernate in the winter and don’t feel guilty about taking care of your family’s needs

27. Never underestimate the power of investing in new materials when things feel stale

28. Choose a new homeschool approach

29. Don’t stress over grade levels

30. Don’t forget that LEGOs are amazing learning tools

31. Institute a daily quiet time for your family

32. Don’t be afraid to embrace the hygge!

33. Drop phonics if it isn’t working

34. Take a break and relax with some fun!

35. Do nature study in the way that works for you and your child

36. Order pizza when you need to do so

37. Don’t be afraid to use printables if your child enjoys them!

38. Use YouTube videos to inspire your creative child

39. Educate the WholeHearted Child

40. Plan your meals so you aren’t distracted by the need to figure it out while you are working with your children

41. Find the schedule that works for you and ignore what every other family is doing

42. Have realistic expectations in this age of Pinterest

43. Don’t quit after one year of homeschooling for so many reasons!

44. Feed the birds and call it science

45. Combine handwriting and history/geography

46. When you need a break, let your children watch some semi-educational television like Wild Kratts and don’t feel guilty!

47. Keep kindergarten simple and fun!

48. Plan backwards – write down what you do after the fact

49. Use sticker books as learning tools!

50. Get enough sleep. Everything is simpler and easier when you aren’t exhausted.

51. Take advantage of library programs so you can plan a bit less and get a tiny break

52. Take a relaxed approach to math

53. Remember you can learn a lot of history and science by watching YouTube

54. Focus on the seven keys to homeschool success and let the rest go

55. Get rid of the clutter that distracts you

56. Live as simply as you can if your child is wired differently and don’t worry about what other people think

57. Set boundaries so you don’t end up burned out

58. Read a good book on child development

59. Set up a learning room to keep all of the materials in one place rather than scattered all over the entire house

60. Read a good book by homeschoolers when you want to quit

61. Have a jammies day

62. Understand the red zone and how it should impact your parenting

63. Adjust your expectations

64. Organize your materials in a way that makes sense

65. Hold off on formal mathematics

66. Never underestimate the importance of taking breaks, especially with small children. Doing brain breaks can make a huge difference in the ability of children to concentrate.

67. Learn geography with sticker books

68. Read a good book about simplifying your life and find one big change to make that will help your homeschooling

69. Pick your battles carefully and make sure it’s a hill you truly want to die on

70. Embrace silliness when it enters a lesson – it can be a powerful way to help children remember what they learn

71. Use a binding machine to make your own little workbooks of printables you find online

72. Avoid  people who tear you down

73. Read cozy books together

74. Practice strewing

75. Accept that no matter how much you may love an idea, your child may not

76. Get professional help for your child when you need it

77. Take vacation weeks when you need to, not when the calendar tells you to do so

78. Don’t overteach if it doesn’t work for your child

79. Let go of the idea of perfection in homeschooling

80. Stay home one day a week

81. Focus on relationships, not curriculum checklists

82. Consider unschooling for a time or even permanently

83. Ignore charts that require children to learn certain things at a certain time. Children learn when they are ready.

84. Join a drop-off homeschool co-op

85. Clearly define in your own mind if you are homeschooling or home educating

86. Be willing to change your mind based on your child’s interests and personality

87. Understand how personality types can have a huge impact on your homeschooling success

88. Choose not to stress over curriculum choices

89. Change up your homeschool space to something that works better for your family

90. Tidy up and change your life

91. Don’t be afraid to use learning websites

92. Remember that the grass is not necessarily greener at school and even the teachers know it

93. Say no to holiday pressures and take off the month of December from formal learning

94. Don’t get down on yourself when you feel inadequate to the task of homeschooling – even teachers struggle with feeling inadequate

95. Make geography a no-brainer

96. Get outside and enjoy the gorgeous creation!

97. Stop worrying

98. Invest in and use an InstantPot to save time

99. Allow your child to be frustrated when it’s appropriate

100. Admit that you can never do it all or be all

101. Listen to veteran homeschoolers who tell you to trust the process and it will work out in the end!































He Drew Me Aside

He Drew Me Aside – “I Needed the Quiet” by Alice Hansche Mortenson

He Drew Me Aside

This post was originally written March 13, 2005. I am posting it again unedited and complete.

I wrote previously about how after we have walked with Christ for awhile, we begin to see patterns in the way He deals with us as individuals. At that time I wrote of how God speaks to me through His creation. Until yesterday, I had forgotten one of the other ways.

I was looking for a recipe and pulled a cookbook off my shelf that didn’t look familiar. (That was because it was one that my husband had from his bachelor days.) When I opened it up, a postcard fell out. His mom had sent him a recipe on it March 10, 1989 and the front of the card had the following poem.

I Needed the Quiet
Alice Hansche Mortenson

I needed the quiet so He drew me aside,
Into the shadows where we could confide.
Away from the bustle where all the day long
I hurried and worried when active and strong.

I needed the quiet tho at first I rebelled
But gently, so gently, my cross He upheld
And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things
Tho weakened in body, my spirit took wings
To heights never dreamed of when active and gay.
He loves me so greatly He drew me away.

I needed the quiet. No prison my bed,
But a beautiful valley of blessings instead –
A place to grow richer in Jesus to hide.
I needed the quiet so He drew me aside.

From the book I Needed The Quiet, © 1978 by Beacon Hill Press

Until I read that, I had failed to remember that there have been several significant periods in my life when God has put me flat on my back (read: allowed me to be very sick) in order to get my attention. I’ve even talked with people in the past about how God will sometimes lay me out flat so He can get my attention when He has something really important He wants to show me.

So I was not only encouraged by the poem, I was encouraged by the reminder of God’s faithfulness to work, not in spite of the hard times but because He allows them on purpose. Not to hurt me, but because He loves me so much. We don’t think of pain and love as going hand in hand, but in God’s economy they certainly do. All I can think of is getting better, getting off these medicines that make me feel crummy, and getting back to “living life”. But in God’s plan to make me more Christlike, I am “living life” and probably living it more fully right now as I am forced to cling to Him than I would be if I were just going about daily life as it falls into place.

A verse that God has given to me on a few significant occasions is Joel 2:25. God is speaking and says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – my great army that I sent among you.” The words that are circled in my Bible are in bold here. God controlled the locust and sent the locust for a purpose. It was an event that probably seemed destructive at the time, but was under God’s control and according to His purposes.

May we all rest in God’s purposes each day, even when He draws us aside because we need the quiet.

The deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.
Elisabeth Elliot
Passion and Purity

Fun With Lil' Fishys

Fun with Lil’ Fishys Fish Toys

Fun With Lil' Fishys Bath ToysCaroline was excited to get her hands on a whole bunch of Lil’ Fishys. She loves pretty much any toy that is animal related and the fact that these were for playing in the water made them all the more fun!

I received these products for free and I was compensated for my time. All opinions and content is mine. I was not required to post a positive review.

Lil Fishys Fish Toys

We knew for a few weeks that these were coming and Caroline was excited to see them after watching videos about them and checking them out on Amazon. We were amazed when the package arrived. It was huge and full of fun fish toys!

Lil' Fishys come individually or as a fishbowl habitat with two fish

I always know something is well done when David says, “Oh, nice!” That’s what he said when he pulled them apart to put the AAA batteries in them. You can see the screws that don’t fall out! They are purposely made so you can’t lose them. Very nice!

Lil' Fishys run on one or two AAA batteriesCaroline enjoyed decorating the Aquarium Lucky Playset. It comes with a large selection of stickers so she could make it just the way she wanted to for her pet fish.

Putting Lil' Fishys in the fishbowl 2We kept the fishbowl in her bathroom on the counter so she could play with it whenever she wanted and I didn’t have to worry about water in her bedroom.

Putting Lil' Fishys in the fishbowlCaroline also enjoyed playing with them in the tub!

Lil' Fishys Spraying Whaleys and Clownfish in the tubAfter playing with them quite a few times, Caroline determined her favorites were the shark that came in the aquarium and Lucky the Clownfish. She also pointed out that their tails work like an immersion blender when you add bubble bath to a cup of water and use the tail to make bubbles. LOL!

Lil' Fishys Minis package with Lucky the ClownfishMy favorites were the whales that shoot up water – quite high! LOL!

Lil' Fishys Spraying Whaley Orca in packageMaking Bathtime Fun with Bath Toys!

We’ve never had a problem getting Caroline into the bathtub. In fact, we have just the opposite problem that she never wants to get out! But I would guess that these would be a GREAT enticement for the reluctant bather. LOL! The whales squirt water up, the dolphin dives and the shark races around quickly trying to get someone. Little kids would thoroughly enjoy them!

There are lots of fun Lil’ Fishys activities going on right now. You can check out some free coloring pages on their website. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can enter to win a Lil Fishys Aquarium and a grab bag of Lil Fishy toys! There will be three winners!


And if you enjoy Twitter, don’t miss this Twitter party coming up!


How We Ended Up (Almost) Unschoolers

How We Ended Up (Almost) Unschoolers

How We Ended Up (Almost) Unschoolers

Of everything that has happened to me as a parent, perhaps nothing has surprised me and bewildered me more than the fact that we have ended up as (almost) unschoolers. Homeschooling was always on my radar. Unschooling was not.

I have a teaching degree. I was in a specialized program that focused on creating effective learning curriculum. How is it that I could end up basically unschooling my daughter?

In reality, it has been a slow process of me letting go of preconceived ideas, but if I could do it over again we would have fully embraced unschooling from the start. It’s how Caroline has learned best to this point and it would have saved me a lot of grief and angst and money. If you aren’t familiar with our homeschooling and parenting journey, there are zillions of posts that I have written about that under Home Education and Gifted/2e Children. I’m not going to rehash all of those topics again, but look at a bigger picture aspect of how we ended up here.

Along the way, I’ve come to the conclusion that unschooling is often something you grow into as a homeschooling parent. Once you start homeschooling you realize that so much of what kids are asked to do is mindless busywork – even from the best programs. Kids have better things to do with their childhood than spend half a year learning how to multiply when if you wait another year or two they will master it in literally thirty minutes. You can spend a month teaching them to write a five sentence paragraph when they are eight or you can do it in three days when they are ten. And so you begin to realize how much learning can take place without traditional structures.

Train Up a Child

As I mentioned when I wrote about discipling children in Christ outside of traditional church structures, our understanding of the power of unschooling has developed and evolved along with going deeper in our faith. In that post, I shared two videos. I’m going to share one of them again here. Wayne Jacobson is answering a question about what it means to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). He has an interesting take on this and I encourage you to watch just a couple of minutes from 27:57 to 30:40.

Learning to Live Loved: An Interview with Wayne Jacobsen, Part 1 of 2 from Wayne Jacobsen on Vimeo.

There are a few things he said that resonated loudly with me where my faith and my homeschooling world intersect (which is actually every place).

“Train up a child according to the way that he is and he will not depart from that. It’s not indoctrinating to a kind of standard or ethic, but rather raising a child true to who God has made them to be… It’s not the standardizing of behavior…”

When I listen to this, I think not only of trying to point Caroline to God as her heavenly Father, but also pointing her to God as the Creator of who she is. She is going to relate to God differently than I do because she is a different person. Yes, we want to instruct her on the basics of the Christian faith because we want her to have a framework to understand the Bible, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc. But I need to be pointing her as an individual to God, not instructing her on a list of acceptable behaviors that will make people at church think she is a good little girl. Sometimes the behaviors that will make people think someone is a good little girl are in direct opposition to who God has created a child to be.

Jacobson describes Sunday Schools as teaching children morality plays that school kids in performance-based stuff. That makes sense to me because school is typically all performance based. That carries over into the traditional church as churches adopt school structures while attempting to help children in their spiritual growth – often in ways that don’t work for indiviudal children who don’t fit the traditional grade level parameters. Christianity ultimately becomes for many children about performance instead of walking with the Creator who made them unique and delightful individuals.

Unschooling, Faith and Relationships

Unschooling is above all about relationships. It has to be. When you unschool you have to be very in tune with what your child is thinking, learning, exploring, etc. so you can support her in those area. Unschooling doesn’t equal neglect which is what people often think when they first hear of it. It’s just the opposite of neglecting your child’s education. It’s being very relational and intentional with your child’s learning. But there is no doubt it looks and feels completely different than performance-based school.

Because unschooling is highly relational, it also fits well with Christian discipleship. As Jacobson explains elsewhere in the video, discipleship works best in close one-on-one relationships. Unschooling is the perfect vehicle for that.

When I was on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, my very favorite part of student ministry was meeting one-on-one with students to encourage them in their walk with Christ. It was never my intention to come in and tell them what they needed to do. I would talk with them, understand where they were on their faith journey, and we would try to devise a plan of something to do together. We might do a Bible study. We might read a book and discuss it. It was always driven by where they were and where they wanted to go or grow in their faith. I was there to encourage and bounce ideas off of. Their journey was their own. I was just someone sent along at that point of the journey to help equip them for the next step.

Discipling my child should be no different. Yes, I am the parent and there are some things I know she needs to learn. But if I am discipling her as the unique individual God has made her to be, our homeschooling journey isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. We’re going to make intensely personal and focused decisions along the way, refine our choices and keep going.

This is part of the reason why I don’t do extensive planning for our homeschooling. How can I? I don’t know what we’ll be interested in next November. I don’t know when I will sense a learning leap coming on and we can learn a bunch of stuff in a short and easy amount of time. I choose to focus on the relationship each day and know that the rest of it will fall into place.

We are (Almost) Unschoolers

So why is the (almost) in the title? We are almost unschoolers because I do require some work from Caroline. We do handwriting and math primarily, but not every day. We’ll do no formal math for quite some time and then we’ll do it for a few weeks. Most of the time when I ask her to do something she picks it up very quickly. I think oftentimes I’m more affirming she has learned something than I am trying to teach her something. I find that fits better with the unschooling model, but also gives me some peace of mind.

I expect how this all happens will change as Caroline grows. At nine and a half, I’m starting to see her take bits of initiative in new ways that lean toward the academic (something she has usually resisted). But I’m in no hurry to push her along. She’s only nine and she has plenty of time to focus on more formal academics in the years ahead if that seems prudent for our family. Will we always be unschoolers? I don’t know. She may surprise me and want to move in another direction at some point. But that will be because it is best for who God created her to be, not because I decided it was what I wanted. It’s her learning and faith journey. I’m here to point her to God, help her understand who she is, and find the best ways to joyfully bring that all together as her gift to the world.

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment

This was originally posted March 29, 2006. I have updated and edited it a bit to share again.

He is a wise man who does not grieve for those things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

The words content and contentment are only used about a dozen times in the Bible, yet all believers would certainly agree that it is a character quality basic to godly living. One well-known passage regarding contentment is found in Philippians 4 where Paul explains his understanding of contentment:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

Paul Learned Contentment

Twice Paul writes that contentment is learned (vs.11, 12). Contentment doesn’t seem to come naturally to people and this is certainly exacerbated by living in the United States.

Our culture constantly encourages us to crave more – more money, more power, more pleasure, more security. Even Christians who have all of their needs met (and a whole lot more) are not immune to the temptation to constantly look for ways to achieve more, buy more, and experience more. Paul “had it all” before he was called by Jesus. He had an excellent education, a position of power and authority, a good secure life, and a promising future. Paul could truthfully write that he knew what it was to have plenty. He also knew what it meant to be in want as he lost a great deal when he followed the call of Christ. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and went without food, water and sleep more times that we can imagine. And yet, in spite of all these circumstances, he learned contentment. Or, perhaps more accurately, he learned contentment because of these difficult situations.

Paul learned to focus not on what was happening to him and the physical difficulties he faced, but instead the secret of being content (vs. 12). Perhaps Paul reflected on Proverbs 19:23 during times of difficulty: The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Was Paul untouched by troubles in the physical sense? No, and he had the scars on his body to prove it. But in the midst of everything that happened to him as he shared the gospel, Paul was able to focus on the important things. He feared the LORD which led him to life and enabled him to rest contentedly, untouched spiritually by all of the troubles around him. Paul is very clear as to what makes this possible: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (vs. 13). Paul knew that to try to be content under his own power would be futile – only the Lord could give him the strength he needed. Paul learned the secret of where contentment can be found – depending on the Lord in all circumstances and resting in His strength.

Money, Material Things and Contentment

It is no coincidence that many of the passages which deal with contentment speak specifically about money and material things. Consider the following:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
I Timothy 6:3-10

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5-6

Contentment means knowing what is really important and ordering our daily living in a way that reflects that. If we are consumed with the things of this world, we will never be content, but rather will always be running after a better home, a flashier car, a more lucrative job, a more attractive spouse. Paul knew that the most important thing in this world was the spread of the gospel so that men and women might be reconciled to God. As long as he had food and clothing, he was content because as long as he had those two things he could get up each morning and proclaim the Gospel to those who were lost. That’s an especially challenging thought. Would I really be content to just have food and clothes and know that God is with me all of the time?

So does being content mean that Christians should be complacent and never try to change circumstances in our lives? No – contentment and complacency are different. Contentment is graciously accepting God’s will for our lives. Complacency is closely related to laziness and indicates an indifference to circumstances in our lives. God doesn’t want us to be indifferent. He is a God of excellence, beauty and pursuing all good things, and He would want us to seek that which is best. But He would have us do it with a spirit of contentment and with a desire to bring Him glory, honor and praise.

Contentment is a Choice

As I’ve learned my contentment lessons over the past several years, one thing has become strikingly clear.

Contentment is a choice and must be cultivated. I must choose to be content, and it is a decision that often needs to be made several times a day.

I must choose to be satisfied with whatever God does in my life, with whatever He gives me or decides in His wisdom to withhold.

To not be content with the life God has given me is to really say I don’t trust Him and that I think I know better than He does what should be happening.

I have also learned that I need to avoid things and people that stir up discontent in my life. Going through the day with a song of thanksgiving on my lips for all that I have been given brings a sense of contentment and peace. Spending the day rehearsing everything that is “wrong” or that I don’t have certainly does nothing to cultivate a spirit of contentment. The choice is mine each day and, sometimes, each hour.

True contentment involves a daily surrendering of ourselves to God. It hinges on our acceptance of His goodness and sovereignty. If we are constantly doubting God and His loving goodness in our lives, it will be impossible for us to be content. If we don’t trust God to lead us and direct our lives, we will always be restless and looking for that one elusive thing that will make us truly happy. One of the greatest joys we can know is the joy of resting in God’s love and watchcare, knowing deep contentment because we have left the worries and concerns of the world in His infinitely capable hands. Without this, contentment in this life is impossible.

Ultimately, truly content people recognize that this life is not all there is. They have eyes that see with an eternal perspective and look beyond the distractions of this world. They understand that complete contentment is yet to come when they are with the Father, but until that time they have learned to wait on the Lord, trusting Him to provide for all their needs, able to rest in His excellent provision in their lives.

Learning Geography with Gardening

Learning Geography with Gardening

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Miracle-Gro Gro-ables. All opinions are 100% mine.

Integrating multiple subjects is a great way to get the most bang for your homeschooling time. Some topics naturally seem to go together – science and math, history and geography, and reading and writing. If I asked you what you could integrate with gardening, I’m sure your first thought would be science and then probably math.

What about integrating gardening and geography? That’s what we’re doing as we continue to work on our Gro-ables Project.

Hardiness Zones in the United States

Understanding hardiness zones is an important part of gardening. This image below from the USDA shows the various zones in the country. Certain plants can only live in certain zones.

2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (USA) 1200

You’ll notice that we live in one of the most diverse states when it comes to hardiness (Michigan). Our location is marked with a smiley face so you can find it. We can drive just a short distance and be in a few different zones. Using hardiness zones will help you, for example, when selecting perennials at a garden store or ordering from a catalog. You have to use plants that work for your zone.


You also have to know about frost dates.

Frost Dates

The spring frost date is the day in the spring you can normally expect to have the last hard frost that could damage plants. The fall frost date is the first date you could expect to have a killing frost that would harm your plants. These are based on averages, remember, and weather has a mind of its own so things can vary from year to year.

If you look up the frost dates for your area online, you will know exactly when it is safest to plant. Where we live, we are generally safe from frost between May 15 and September 29.

Planting More Gro-ables

Now that we are officially past our last frost date, we’ve been able to get back to more garden planting with Caroline. We’re still in the process of planting our shipment of Gro-ables since many of them require warmer temperatures to be safe. This weekend we were finally ready to plant the herbs. We planted basil, lemon basil, flat leaf parsley and cilantro.

Grow-able seed pods come ready to plant in your container

Caroline did a great job of preparing the potting mix and getting the Gro-able pods ready.

Do not cover the Grow-able seed pod with dirt

The Gro-ables are fun to use with children because they are easy to handle. She’s enjoyed using the pods. She also pointed out that it was nice she could change her mind and easily move the pods around while planting.

Grow-ables planted in a planter

Super easy! Just put the Gro-able in the potting mix so it’s level with the potting mix around it and water! I’m especially looking forward to the parsley.

Grow-ables planted in a planter ready to grow

Next weekend we’ll finish planting the rest of the pods that need warm weather. What are you planting and growing with your kids this spring?

“At Miracle-Gro®, we believe that there’s a lot to learn from even the smallest plants.  So we started The Gro-ables Project: a movement to share the joy of growing herbs and veggies while giving kids truly hands-on learning experiences.  Join us by planting your own Gro-ables, taking part in the activities below and sharing your story!”

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