June 18, 2018

Practical Homeschooling Supplies Other Than Books

I would describe my homeschooling and homemaking philosophy as minimalist.

Sadly, this does not mean that I don't have a lot of stuff! Now that I have ages baby to 8, my household requires cloth diapers and watercolors and shin guards and play dough. So, while I have more stuff than I like, I like and use 98% of the things we own.

Still, I fight overcomplicating my homeschool or kitchen with extra gadgets and refuse to keep ANYTHING that I don't use regularly or can't find room to store.

Also, I'm frugal. Living on one income means we need to count our pennies, especially as we work to overcome a massive student loan debt. So I think very carefully about every purchase!

This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure to learn more.

Nevertheless, I have found some supplies other than books that have been worth the cost. All of the items on the list have been researched, tested, and approved by our homeschool.

Staples Better View Binders - I have a small stash of binders, portfolios, and slip sheets that I've collected over the years from freecycle and my decluttering. Whenever I need a binder, I reach into my stash and make do.

However, each one of my students gets their own Staples Binder to hold their schedules, completed memory work (recitation pieces and folk songs), certificates of completion, etc. They come in many colors and they can hold up to the abuse of being thrown into a crate daily. They are also easy for my young kids to open and close and the rings will hold up!

3 Hole Punch - If you want to put papers in a binder, you need a hole punch. This one locks in a flat position so I can keep it handy in a shallow kitchen drawer right near the kitchen table at the center of our homeschooling.

Primary Composition Notebook - I give each one of my kids one of these to use for copywork and also spelling dictation practice. It eliminates the need for loose papers floating around, which keeps us organized.

In our homeschool, I prefer quality handwriting over quantity so one of these will last us throughout the primary grades of 1st-3rd. Next year, we just pick up in the notebook where we left off.

Book Lights - We like our bedtimes early and strict :-) Seriously, I credit our overall health and well-being as a family to our adequate sleep schedules. Currently, our 3-year-old (who no longer naps) begins her bedtime routine at 6:30 pm, the 6-year-old says goodnight at 8 pm and the 8-year-old heads off at 8:30.

Having the book lights helps everyone feel like going off to bed doesn't mean they have to go to sleep, even though only the 8-year-old regularly stays up late reading.

And once they are in their rooms, we keep the lights dimmed so I use my book light many evenings to read or work on homeschooling plans. But our book lights require 3 AAA batteries each, which brings me to the next item on my list:

Rechargeable AAA batteries and charger - Before kids, we never used so many AAA batteries! With book lights for everyone, kitchen timers for tracking parts of our strict homeschool schedule and a few educational toys or games that require AAAs, we use and recharge these frequently. I've actually purchased several 12-packs over the years that we've owned them.

Kitchen Timers - I have had these timers for a year and a half and now I can't imagine living without them. They are really handy for monitoring piano practice time as well as keeping me on track for ensuring the short lessons that are essential to our homeschool day.

Ticonderoga Pencils - When I started reading homeschooling blogs, everyone said you had to get these pencils. I'm not one to jump on a bandwagon when it comes to buying something that the kids are constantly getting for free, but I gave them a try and everyone was right. These pencils hold a point and the erasers do not shred after two uses.

Dry erase markers - I tear out the pages of my son's math workbooks from Beast Academy and put them in slip sheets so he can do the work in dry erase markers.

I did this to preserve the workbooks for his siblings, but I've found other benefits. Mistakes can be wiped away and the problem can be started anew when necessary. No red pens required. Plus, writing this way is less straining on the hand for early writers and a bit more fun, especially when you get colored markers.

Post-It Tabs - A small pack of these will continue to last me for years and years. I use them to mark our place in my All About Spelling teachers manual, Beast Academy answer book and other books where bookmarks would easily fall out. They last through many reapplications. I like that I can move it high or low on a page margin to help me find our exact place where we left off in a lesson.

Adhesive paper/shelf liner - My kids love books. They love them so much, that they reread them and take them to bed and lay on them and carry them around.

So I cover our paperback non-consumable lesson books with adhesive paper to protect the covers and hold the book's spines together better for the long term. I keep both Duck and Contact brand papers on hand in different sizes and use whichever fits best.

This technique adds years of life to books, but it does add some cost in my time and the paper, so I use it sparingly. I cover our Beast Academy Guides, Holling C. Holling books, and any paperbacks we use for history.

A small (8") tablet - This was definitely a splurge for our homeschool (we purchased it for less than $190 in 2016) but it has become invaluable to us.

We use Google Play Books and Kindle app to read free living books, construct spelling words using the All About Spelling letter tiles app, and listen to music playlists I've prepared for our composer studies on Spotify. My younger son also uses it to stream free audiobooks via our library's Overdrive subscription. Now that both boys use it for piano lessons and practice sessions on Hoffman Academy, it sees daily use for homeschooling.

Fortunately, all of these things could also be done on a computer, and some could be done on a phone, or just the old-fashioned way--by printing out a bunch of paper or using magnetic letter tiles.

What else?

When back to school season rolls around, I will stock up on super cheap:
  • wide-ruled composition notebooks (for our math scratch work)
  • white glue
  • copy paper for printing and drawing
  • any needed scissors, rulers, or folders
  • art supplies for the little kids like markers or poster paint

And that is about all!

I use some old crates my husband and I took to college to store school books and, of course, we have bookshelves, but besides good books and art supplies and a black and white laser printer, we don't use much more to homeschool. No laminators required here!

What about you? Are there any supplies you use regularly that I didn't include? Any you can definitely live without?

June 11, 2018

3rd-Grade Plans, 2018-2019

This is our second year of doing a full Charlotte Mason style curriculum with short, morning lessons according to a strict timetable on a wide variety of subjects.

This year will include many firsts for me: the first year where I have to document learning for our local school district, the first year with two students doing a full complement of morning lessons, and the first year as a mother of four. Wish me luck!

I have tried to note in [ ] whether I'm using a free book or how much I paid for each of the resources we are using. I am committed to homeschooling with free or really cheap books as part of our journey to be debt-free while living on one income.

This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure to learn more.

Language Arts: Reading/Literature, Spelling, Copywork/Handwriting, Recitation, Latin & Greek Roots

Reading/Literature (3x20min/week , oral narration after each reading)

American Tall Tales by Adrien Stoutenburg [$3.99 on Thriftbooks]
Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes [$1 book sale find!]
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome [$1 book sale find!]
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling [Library or free online]
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson [.25 book sale find!]
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett [Library or free online]
The Heroes; Or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children by Charles Kingsley [free online]

We may or may not get through all these titles over the course of the year. I can always save some for read alouds or next year.

Spelling (3x10min/week)

All About Spelling Level 3 (continue from near the beginning of the book where we left off last year)
All About Spelling Level 4 (we'll begin if we happen to complete level 3)

To cut costs, I buy the teacher's manuals for about $10-14 each and make my own cards to use with them.

I know this is not how Charlotte Mason would have taught spelling, but I like giving my son an exposure to phonics through this program. I don't think spelling is a necessary subject at this age but it really working for us right now and it allows me to do dictation with him in an intentional way without any more planning on my part.

Copywork/Handwriting (4x10min/week)

My Book of Writing Words: Learning about Consonants and Vowels (Kumon Workbooks)
He will complete about 1 page from this book a day until we finish it, along with a line of cursive copywork.

Once we finish this book, we will switch to doing only longer cursive copywork, which he copies in a primary notebook from a current poem or song we are learning.

It is a small amount of writing daily, but it must be his best work! I have seen amazing improvement with this small amount of consistent practice.

Recitation (3x10min/week)

Each 6-week half term he works on reciting beautifully (often memorizing) 2 poems and 1 passage. I pick 1 poem and the passage and he picks the other poem with my approval.

You can see last year's Recitation and Memorization Pieces here.

Poetry (Listen to the same poem read aloud every day for a week at morning time)

Focus on a different poet each term:

  • Emily Dickenson
  • Walter de la Mare
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson

Latin & Greek Roots (daily at morning time)

English from the Roots Up Flashcards
We review a card every day working through the roots meaning and definitions of English words that contain that root.

I haven't included a conversational foreign language in our homeschool at this time because it is going to be a doozy for me. But I'm starting to warm up to the idea. I expect that we may add German after I wrap my head around having 4 children! 

Social Studies: History and Geography

History (3x30min/week, oral narration after each reading, plus related mapwork that I keyed to the readings)

Geography (3x10min/week, oral narration after each reading, plus related mapwork that I keyed to the readings)

  • Marco Polo: His Travels and Adventures by George Makepeace Towle [Printed Ambleside Online's free version]
  • The Guyot Geographical Reader and Primer: A Series of Journeys Round the World By Arnold Henry Guyot [free online]
We'll be alternating between these two texts throughout the year.

Mathematics: Math, Number, Geometry

Note: None of my math choices are conventional in the CM community and from what I've read they are not at all how Charlotte Mason would have done mathematics or arithmetic or geometry. However, we do use short lessons and narration. Most importantly, these choices work for us at this time for this child.

Math (4x30min/week, dictated narration after each lesson which I record in our math notebook (we use one of these)

Beast Academy 4B (finish from last year)
Beast Academy 4C
Beast Academy 4D

These volumes were kindly purchased by a grandparent for our math-loving son. I tear up the workbooks and place the pages in slip sheets. My son completes them with a dry erase marker so they can be saved for his younger siblings. 

Beast Academy is a deep and broad program that explores multiple strands of mathematical understanding as discussed in Adding It Up. It is challenging choice for my son who has already completed Life of Fred and Khan Academy through 4th grade for "fun" while in first grade.

Number (1x25min/week, dictated narration after each lesson which I record in a math notebook)

For lack of a better term, I call this "number," but it consists of working through Gattegno's Mathematics Textbook 1 using Cuisenaire rods.

Geometry (1x10min/week, dictated narration after each lesson which I record in a math notebook)

I don't love Khan Academy for geometry. However, our regular math curriculum does a great job at covering geometry as well, and Khan Academy is free and easy to implement, so it works for now!

Science: Natural History, Special Studies, Nature Notebooking

Natural History (3x10min/week, oral narration after each reading)
Ebooks are read using my small android tablet. Printed books seem to be retained better, but the ebooks are so amazing that I think they are worth it.

Special Studies (1x20min/week, oral narration after each reading)

I chose the following topics for the year:

Term 1: Wildflowers & Seeds / Birds & Spiders
Term 2: Shells and Marine Life / Birds at the Seashore [in preparation for a few weeks at the beach]
Term 3: Wildflowers & Trees / Insects

I used the rotation found on Sabbath Mood Homeschool to come up with this list.

Right now, our special study for each term involves a weekly time devoted to reading about the topic through books I've selected. I also choose additional books on the topic to read during our morning time.

I try very hard to think ahead about something we can observe about our special study while out in nature. I read up on the topic in The Handbook of Nature Study and spend just a few minutes focusing on it while we are out together. I also try to attend local events on our special study, like a wildflower walk at a nature preserve or a guided hike about animals in winter.

Finally, I encourage my son to focus on the special study when he is making daily nature notebook entries. I also set aside one day a week where I expect him to find time to make what we call a weekly nature notebook entry. Usually, he draws something about the topic he has been reading about in his special study and then dictates something about the topic which I record. The rest of the page we fill with random "I wonder . . . " and "I noticed . . ." statements that show me a little of what is on his mind.

Nature Notebooking (daily entries, weekly entries, nature watercolor drawings)

My son is responsible for noticing something from nature and dictating a line or two to my husband or me to write into his nature notebook daily. We still miss a few days a month and that is perfectly fine for us. We do this all year round, 7 days a week.

During weeks where we have lessons, he makes a weekly page leaving room for a drawing and writing about his current special study. Later in the week, he adds an illustration using watercolors.

Morning Time

I select many living science and natural history books as part of our morning time. These titles are not narrated.

Wild + Free Nature Group

New for us this year, we will be participating in a weekly year-round nature meetup at a rural property. The group includes several homeschool families as well as several families with preschool-aged children who intend to homeschool. Right now, everyone is getting to know each other and the property. We'll see how this fits into our special study as time goes on.

Art & Music: Watercolor, Handicrafts, Singing, Artist Study, Composer Study, Music

Watercolor drawing (2x20min/week)

Once a week we use watercolors to draw a specimen that I choose. I try to pick things that the kids are interested in recently or relate to our special studies. Once a week we illustrate something in our nature notebooks or paint a picture based on some of our history or reading books. 

I am going to mix in some drawing lessons based on the lessons in Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes [$1 book sale find!] as well as some drawing with chalk pastels. My son struggles with enjoying this lesson, but I see so much growth in both of us, that we are going to press on with sensitivity and patience.

Handicrafts (2x30min/week)

Once a week, we do handicrafts during our morning lesson time. At this time, I am 100% available for instruction and help. On another day of the week, I have designated a handicraft work session where he is expected to work on his current project or practice the skill he has already been working on with less help from me. He is always able to work on these in his free time as well. 

This year we chose to do:

Term 1: Sloyd using Paper Sloyd: A Handbook for Primary Grades by Ednah Anne Rich
Term 2: Finished up Sloyd gifts for Christmas, then embroidering using this kit.
Term 3: Sewing using Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make by Andria Lisle

We used the same books and materials last year and I was very satisfied with my son's ability to progress and improve in meaningful ways. We'll be deepening skills this year and we may add some other handicraft, like weaving with lucets and wood-carving if I can figure out how to do it well.

Singing (2x10min/week)

I choose folk songs and hymns. I consult Ambleside Online but I do not follow their rotation per se. This year, I selected the following:

The Gypsy Rover
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow)
The Minstrel Boy
If I Had a Hammer
Go Tell Aunt Rhody
Low Bridge--Everybody Down (The Erie Canal)
Let There Be Peace on Earth
Cockles & Mussels (Molly Malone)
Amazing Grace
The Rhyme of the Chivalrous Shark
Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above (Catholic)
Star of the County Down
Turkey in the Straw
Will the Circle Be Unbroken

To learn more about our folk singing and get links to videos of the above songs, check out 15 Folk Songs and Hymns to Learn with Your Children.

Artist Study (1xweek at morning time)

Each term we read about the life of the artist and study 6 pictures by the artist. My son is expected to observe the picture, narrate about it from memory, then we do a picture talk about it. For the rest of the term, I display the print in our family room.

This year we are studying:

Term 1: Turner [Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, $18.95+shipping]
Term 2: Wainsborough [Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, $18.95+shipping]
Term 3: Dali [$3 art book from a Half Priced Books store]

Composer Study (1xweek at morning time)

We read a biography of the composer, which my son narrates.  We also listen to pieces by the composer via a Spotify playlist I've made.

After we finish the composer biography, we listen to the short podcasts on the composer from Classics for Kids. We may also read other picture books or watch short movies as a supplement. The additional items are not narrated.

This year our composers/materials are:

Music (7x15min/week)

Hoffman Acadamy [Not an affiliate link! We just love Hoffman Academy.]

He watches a lesson and/or practices at least 15 minutes a day, but often longer by choice. The program includes piano theory, sight reading, and solfege, and my son loves it. The songs are timeless classics that I don't mind hearing over and over and the younger children delight in singing them as well. Mr. Hoffman also has a "method" and you can read more about it here

Physical Education

AYSO Soccer (Fall and Spring)
Ice Skating Lessons (Winter)
Swimming Lessons (Summer)
Hikes, bike rides, and walks around town often, especially in spring, summer, and fall

You can see last year's plans here: 2nd-Grade Plans, 2017-2018.
And here is his brother's First-Grade Plans, 2018-2019.

Check out my Planning page for even more plans, lists, and logistics.

June 4, 2018

What We're Reading: June Edition

What a month! We celebrated our oldest's 8th birthday and welcomed his baby brother one day later. Big brother Peter was there to watch his birth, cut his cord, and help weigh him. It was a very special day.

Even with all the excitement, reading aloud continues. Daddy picked up morning time and lunchtime read alouds where I left off. Our slower schedule as we adjust to a new baby leaves plenty of time for picture books.

This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure to learn more.


This month we began to prepare in earnest for a local Shakespeare in the Park performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream by swapping out our poems for a few well-known passages or monologues. These familiar touchstones really help my boys keep focused during the performance, leading to more enjoyment! We read the following every day for one week at morning time:

Oberon and Puck, Act 3, Scene 2 from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Bottom's Dream from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
More Strange Than True, Theseus' Speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
When We Were Children by Frederick E. Weatherly

If you want to see more poems that we enjoy, check out Poetry to Read Aloud.

Morning Time

We finished the following books at morning time this month:

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
Air by Irving and Ruth Adler
I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis
A Midsummer Night's Dream Graphic Novel by Nel Yomtov (Author),‎ Berenice Muniz (Illustrator)
The Elevator Family by Douglas Evans
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (Free Google Books illustrated edition)
Among the Night People by Clara Dillingham Pierson (Free Google Books illustrated edition; more free nature lore books here.)
Seals and Walruses by Louis Darling [Part of my $5 book sale haul]
Hurricanes by Dean Galiano
Cactus in the Desert by Phyllis S. Busch
The Goat Lady by Jane Bregoli [Part of my $5 book sale haul]
Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac

We've also been reading at morning time, and will continue to read slowly for some time:
The Aesop for Children illustrated by Milo Winter
The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

To see even more books we've enjoyed at morning time, check the Morning Time page.

Lunch-time Read Alouds

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit (finished)
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (finished)
Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli (started) [Part of my $5 book sale haul]
Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter (started)

Night Book

My husband has been reading to the kids:
Ember Falls by S.D. Smith 

Free Reading

The 8-year-old has enjoyed extra reading time now that school lessons are done for the term. He received several boxed sets of books for his birthday and it has been great to have him happily occupied as our days have slowed down to allow rest and bonding for the whole family with baby Harry.

He has been reading:

The Trials of Apollo Book Three The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan
Bulging Box of Books (Horrible Science) by Nick Arnold (Yes, all of them!)
It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie H. Harris
Horrible Geography Collection 12 Books Box Gift Set by Anita Ganeri
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

With the younger children

We've been reading (among many other titles):

D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire
Feelings by Aliki
Zathura by Chris van Allsburg
Curious George Flies a Kite by H.A. Rey & Margret Rey
Diogenes by M.D. Usher
Harry and the Lady Next Door by Gene Zion
A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik
I'll Save You Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
Crab Moon by Ruth Horowitz
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

I've been reading

Leading up to the birth of baby Harry I was focused on finishing several library books, but as his birth day approached, I had very little desire to read. Now that he is here, I still don't have a strong appetite for reading. I'd rather stare at him all day! That being said, I did treat myself to borrowing the 3rd book in the N.K. Jemisin trilogy from the library. And I've been enjoying Swallows and Amazons for the first time. 

Swallows and Amazons is a book I selected for my 3rd grade reading plans for next year. I'll hopefully find the time to preread several more of the books I've included in our lesson plans before we start up term 1 on July 22. 

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin    
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

I'm also slowly re-reading Home Education by Charlotte Mason with an in-person reading group.

These are most of the books we've been reading outside of our formal lessons. You can see the ones we use during school time at 2nd Grade Plans 2017-2018.

Past Months:

Read any good books lately?