Easy summer learning

This week I’m thinking about what school our kids will be doing this summer, besides yard work, and hanging out with friends, and summer jobs. For years we took summers entirely off school, and I have to admit that way still sounds appealing. But then I remember about the math-forgetting, and the wandering around bored, and I return to the conclusion that mixing just a little school in with all the down-time works best for us.

One of our teens will be reviewing algebra in hopes of acing the COMPASS and being able to skip one college math class. Another is planning on studying for the Psychology CLEP.  Two other teens will be putting in a little time each day studying Spanish.  As for the youngest two, it will be multiplication and division all the way.

Our current third grader is just at the age where not having her math facts down cold is slowing her down. I’ve had her write down the facts over and over, and do some work with flash cards, but still any math fact higher than the 5’s takes a LONG time to answer. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, a fellow homeschooling mom of 7, she said, “Oh, you ought to try Reflex. My kids love it!”

reflex math

Reflex is a web-based math fact fluency system that uses a variety of games and rewards to teach kids, and to get them to like math in the process. Your child begins by creating an avatar (a computer picture of them) whose features and clothing they get to choose. The program then starts with a simple game to assess what facts your child knows, then customizes the learning experience to focus on facts that your child still needs to learn. As kids progress in their learning, they can unlock new games which keeps things interesting. They also earn points to spend on clothing and accessories for their avatar. My 9 and 11 year old daughters LOVE it, and have been begging to spend time learning their math facts on Reflex.

Reflex offers a free 2-week trial, so that you can see how their product works and if it is interesting to your child. My first plan was to let my daughter just do it for the free two weeks. But she enjoyed it so much (and still had so much to master) that I went ahead and bought it. A one year subscription for one child is $35. I’m planning to make this be my 9 year old’s math curriculum for the summer. She is thrilled to be doing something fun on the computer, and I’m thrilled that she’s finally learning her math facts. The only down side I’ve found is since the program customizes to what a child knows and doesn’t know, two children can’t share one profile. You have to buy each child an individual seat. But other than that, this is a great software program and my kids are thrilled that I listened to my friend’s recommendation!

Do you do summer enrichment with your kids or do you take summers entirely off school?

Oh, and before I forget to share it, here’s me and my clan yesterday. Everyone was home– and smiling– all at the same time! Be still, my heart….
With all 10 kids  :)


*Reflex gave me a free subscription for my second daughter in exchange for blogging about this program.

Finding time for rest

We are in our last push to get school done for the year.  Half the kids have already finished their math.  All but one are done writing.  My two high-schoolers taking college classes are finishing up last projects and gearing up for finals. The teens are down to their last two chapters of chemistry, and because I’m feeling tired, I’ve decreed we will be reading and answering the review questions, but won’t take those last two chapter tests.  They’re delighted.

It is a busy time, but one where a slower pace is just around the corner. I am so looking forward to it.  We’ve had a good productive year, one where in wanting to get things finished with my senior who’s graduating, we’ve all worked harder than usual.  I’ve especially seen gains in writing skills, which is a great thing.

Some of our precious Sunday visitors

Though productivity is a great thing, it can also be overdone.  This year I’ve felt the need for more rest than we tend to get on the weekend.  Saturdays are often slower-paced.  But Sundays are very busy — filled with grandbabies and visiting kids.  It is a wonderful kind of busy —  I am so very blessed.  But it isn’t quite rest.  Two year old boys move fast, ya know!  And feeding two meals to a crowd is busy even when I do a lot of the cooking on Saturday, and have kids doing the cleanup after meals.

So this summer and continuing into the next school year  we’re trying something new.  We are making Monday a day of rest.  No agenda, no activities.  The kids can sleep in  –that’s one of the things they want more of — and we can all have time just to hang out, read and relax and maybe even play games.

Thanks to homeschooling, we have the flexibility to give this a try, and I’m hoping it’s just what we need.  How does the pace of life feel in your family right now?  Do you feel like you get enough down time?  What do you do for rest when things get busy?

At the Ball

Here are a few pictures from the ball that was put on by our local homeschool graduation organization this weekend. It was a fun chance for homeschooled juniors and seniors in our area to dress up, get together, and have a lot of fun doing some traditional folk dancing. Parents and homeschool alumni were welcome as well. A good time was had by all. 🙂
Lindsey Daniel Having Fun Erin Lidya Julia

SAT Essay Tips (news flash: say goodbye to the SAT essay!)


Today I happened across this really interesting article about plans to overhaul the SAT, again.  The last time it was changed in a substantial way was in 2005 when the dreaded ‘essay’ component was added and weighted to be 1/3 of the total value of the test. This part of the SAT gives each student an essay topic and 25 minutes to write an essay on that topic, usually formulated as an argument for or against the statement given in the essay topic.  Understandably, this is a hugely stressful component of the SAT for most high school seniors. Twenty-five minutes is just not long enough to pull together a reasonably coherent essay, even for someone who enjoys writing.

Well,  good news! In Spring 2016 the SAT essay will become OPTIONAL.(Down side– they will be making the SAT compliant with Common Core.  Bah humbug. (Here are some other changes being planned.) Anyway, the essay is being removed because they’ve found it isn’t very indicative of college success anyway.  There’s a much stronger correlation between high school grades and college grades than there is between high school testing and college grades.  There is also a concern that lower-income kids are testing low simply because they don’t have access to the types of SAT coaching that upper-income parents tend to get for their kids.

HOWEVER, if your kid is graduating this year or next, he’ll still need to do that essay.  So how to approach it?

  •  Begin that precious 25 minutes by spending 3 minutes brainstorming all you know about the topic.
  • Quickly choose whether to argue for or against the statement given in the essay prompt.  It doesn’t affect your score which you choose– but it will affect your score if you spend too long debating which side to argue.
  • Then write a brief 5-paragraph essay consisting of an intro, a conclusion and 3 central paragraphs, each with a different sub-point of your argument.
  • If time runs short (as most likely will) it’s okay to skip the third sub-point and go straight to a conclusion.
  • Save a couple minutes at the end to proof-read.

Some additional ideas for higher scores:

  • Memorize a few all-purpose quotes that could fit a variety of situations, so that you can use one in the essay.
  • Begin with an interesting or attention-getting sentence.
  • Write as LONG as possible.  Longer essays almost always get higher scores.
  • Don’t feel like you have to KNOW everything about your topic.  You aren’t getting graded on the accuracy of your facts.
  • Don’t overdo the long words, but do be sure to use a few correctly.

Here are a few articles explaining these types of strategy in greater detail.

The ‘Fast Food’ Essay

11 Tips for a Home Run Essay

Ace the SAT Essay with Time to Spare

Grammar Survival Tips



Homeschooling Q&A


As I was preparing to go to Created for Care this year, I went through some notes from last year and found some of the questions the ladies there asked about homeschooling. I can’t remember how many of these Meghan and I actually answered during our session, but I thought it might be useful to answer them here in case other moms have the same questions.

What curriculum do you use?

We’ve tried a lot of different things over the years– that’s one of the good things about homeschooling. But here’s what’s working for us right now:


How much do you check/correct your kids’ school work?

It can definitely be very time consuming to check kids’ work, especially when you’re homeschooling multiple kids. But I’ve learned and relearned over the years that unless I inspect, I just can’t expect quality work.

To make math checking less tedious, I did switch everyone over to Teaching Textbooks math.  It is taught AND graded by the computer, and I love that.  Even with that, however, I go into the grade book every day, look at kids’ scores, and then have them redo every problem until they get them all right.  My younger girls get their writing checked each day, and everyone reads to me until they each become fluent on their own.

My teens do much of their daily work on their own, but once every couple weeks we do a chemistry test, and also go over the review problems for each chapter with them.  They also write one essay every month.  They do the various steps of essay-writing on their own, but near the end of each month I go over each essay with each teen and talk through any needed edits.  Usually I have to read over an essay at least three times before it passes inspection.


How do you encourage reluctant readers?

You need to start by giving kids a good basis in phonics, as well as teaching word attack skills, such as how to break a word into chunks as you’re sounding it out.  I also try to read with kids every day until they get better at reading.  These days only my 3rd grader reads to me, but I had some of my ESL kids read to me well into their teens.  Of course it helps to find books for kids on topics that they truly find interesting. The Shadow Children books intrigued some of my mid-elementary reluctant readers.  But the final (and perhaps most important) thing to remember about learning to read is that kids get competent at wildly different ages.  My first bio son didn’t enjoy reading until he was nearly 10.  My second bio son was a good reader at age 4.  Same environment, same parents.  They were just ready at different times.


What are some of your tips for homeschooling a child with ADD?

One of the reasons I think my one son was nearly 10 before he became a good reader is that he was a very active kid, and didn’t have much patience for sitting still.  I  think that if he’d been in a public school environment, he might have been labeled ADHD in his early elementary years.  But because we were able to homeschool, I was able to give him activity breaks when he needed them, or let him move from the table to the couch and then to the floor to continue working.  Often if I notice a kid seems to be struggling with focus, I will send him or her out to walk the dog, assign three laps around the house, or 5 minutes on the mini-trampoline.  Very active kids often can memorize very well while jumping on a trampoline.

Here are some other posts I’ve written about homeschooling over the years:

Teaching multiple children at once

Homeschooling with preschoolers

Homeschooling older adoptees that first year home

Homeschooling kids for whom English is a second language

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Homeschooling Two-fers

Homeschooling Two-fers

As a momma who’s been homeschooling awhile, I’ve found quite a few ways to streamline things.  Here are some of the ways I make the most of the time I invest in teaching for everyone involved.

Teach some subjects every few years

You know how some college classes are only offered every other year?  We do something similar in our home school. When it comes to high school chemistry and biology, I’d rather teach it as infrequently as possible.  So I routinely clump kids of different ages together in the same class.  Our oldest two daughters (who are two years apart) did biology together one year and chem together another year.  Our next two kids (also 2 years apart) studied both those subjects together as well.  And at the moment four of my kids, plus a friend, are studying chem together. In most cases it really doesn’t matter if you study biology your freshman year or your junior year, as long as it shows up on that high school transcript someplace.  And often kids can help each other out as they plow through a subject together.

Pair several classes

Another place I like to double up is on writing and other subjects. Makes complete sense with literature, right?  But I also often combine handwriting with Bible memory work and essay-writing with history.  This year we are working through American history by having all 6 of our kids write essays about important figures during various time periods of American history. Each month we focus on a different time period.  To squeeze in speech class as well, after those essays are written, I have kids read them to the family at the dinner table.  Reading an essay to your family may not be as stressful as presenting to a group of classmates, but it is definitely a chance to flex those speech-making muscles.

Set pairs of kids up to learn together

This year I discovered a really great free-to-download geography program called Seterra.  It drills kids on cities, states and countries all over the world.  I routinely stick two kids together to on a computer, taking turns.  This does two things.  First, since the program grades you by accuracy and speed, it sets up a fun competition between the two kids playing.  Second, a child can learn during his sister or brother’s turn as well as during his own– and I’ve noticed it is less stressful to learn from sibling’s errors than your own.  🙂  I am delighted with how much geography my kids have learned this year with this program. I do try to keep an eye on what topics the kids pick to learn first, though.  Once my youngest girls spent several days diligently studying the provinces of South Africa. Doubting that was crucial knowledge for age 9 and 11, I suggested they learn all the countries in the world first.  🙂

Capitalize on interests

One final way that I like to double up is when I notice a kid is interested in something and is doing some investigating on his own.  If a teen is interested in becoming a police officer, ask him to investigate common paths to becoming a police officer and write his next report on that topic.  Topics that a kid is already interested in are often painless to investigate further and can still satisfy a teacher’s need to get a few essays written during a semester’s time.

Are you a homeschooler?  What types of things do you combine to make your homeschooling get done more quickly and easily?

College for high school students

Helping teens get a jump on college
Are you homeschooling a teen who’s anxious to get on with life, and maybe a little impatient with the boundaries of homeschooling? One of the things we’ve done with all of our high school kids is to allow them to take a class or two outside the home during high school.

Driver’s Ed

Driver’s ed has been the first out-of-home class for most of our teens. Yes, we could do some kind of online driver’s ed, or just teach them ourselves. But we feel like the in-class instruction time offered by a driver’s ed class is an easy way for our home-schooled kids to experience a typical classroom setting, and get their first experience dealing with deadlines and assignments given by a teacher other than mom.  Most kids are pretty motivated to pass driver’s ed too, which makes it likely they’ll give it their best effort and have good success.

Foreign Languages

A common first college class for our high school kids has been Spanish.  We always do some introductory language learning at home with a computer program such as Fluenz, and then (usually in their senior year of high school) we sign them up for Spanish at the local community college.  Most colleges have a dual enrollment program for high school students, which allows kids to get college credits for half the cost that it will be after high school.  So far our kids have been well able to handle an introductory Spanish class at the college level. In fact, one of my 15 year old sons with a strong interest in languages is currently excelling in a college Spanish class.

Lab Science

Frog dissectionIf your teen wants to attend a college where lab science from an accredited institution is required for college admission– University of Washington is one such school– consider having him or her take biology or chemistry at your local community college rather than at your local high school.  This allows your teen to meet the college’s admission requirements AND earn college credits at the same time.  Do be sure that your teen has a good base in algebra before attempting college chemistry, however.  It can be a challenging class.


Another great way for kids to get a jump on college while still at home is to take CLEP tests to earn college credits.  Basically you study up in a specific area, such as psychology, algebra, or literature interpretation, then pay $80 to take a test.  Pass the subject area test and you earn the credit you would have earned by sitting in the class for a whole semester.  One of our sons passed the psych CLEP and earned 3 credits before college, which along with his 8 Spanish credits, and 3 English credits (earned via SAT scores)  meant that he hit his first semester of college with 14 college credits already under his belt.  We have a second son who is studying to take the psych CLEP soon.   Some teens have earned the equivalent of several years of college simply by taking CLEP tests, for much less expense than two years of normal college.

Know your teen;  some can take on projects like these with very little supervision, and others may need help breaking down the work into manageable portions and organizing their time to fit in adequate study.  But however little or much guidance your teen needs, I believe that experience like this before college leads to a better organized and better prepared student during college.  And it’s a huge morale boost for teens to be taking such tangible steps toward an independent future.

I’d love a pin if you found this post useful, or would like to remember it for the future.  Thanks!

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Apologia Chemistry (helpful links)

Art credit: classroomclipart.comThis year FIVE of our teens are doing chemistry, four at home, and one at the college level.  At home we are using Apologia’s Exploring Creation With Chemistry. Chemistry isn’t the easiest subject for a lot of kids, so at various points, I’ve been googling videos to explain concepts better.   Then I realized that this list might be handy for other folks teaching chemistry too.  We’re only on chapter four, so I will be adding more links as I need them.  But I wanted to put this out here anyway, in case it might be helpful to you.  Even if you aren’t doing Apologia, you should be able to recognize key terms and find videos that could be useful to you.  I’d LOVE a pin if this looks like something that’d be useful to you or others that you know. Check back every few weeks for updates.  This list will be growing as we work through the book.

 Module #1

Lecture Notes

Study Guide

Significant figures (video)

Module #2

Lecture Notes

Study Guide

Heat equations (video)

Extra calorimeter problems (video)

Module #3

Lecture Notes

More notes and explanations

Study Guide

Info about labs for this chapter

Laws learned in this chapter

 Naming Compounds (video)

Naming Ionic Compounds (video)

Flash Cards

Module #4

Study Guide

Phase change (video)

Experiment: Diffusion (video)

Experiment: Phase change crushing a large can (video)

Balancing Equations-Simple Examples (video)

Balancing Equations- More Complex examples (video)

Module #5

Flash Cards

Decomposition reactions (video)

Combustion Reactions (video)

Combustion Reactions (practice problems)

Combustion Reactions (more practice)

Mole Concept (video)

Module #6

Stoichiometry (video #1)

Stoichiometry (video #2)

Stoichiometry (video #3)

Limiting reactants (video)

Flash Cards

Module #7

Atomic Structure (video)

Energy, Frequency and Wavelength example problems (video #1)

Energy, Frequency and Wavelength example problems (video #2)

Frequency/Wavelength example problem (with cool way to rearrange equations)


Module #8


Drawing Lewis Structures

More on Lewis Structures

Module #9

Study Guide

Important Polyatomic Ions

Module #10

Acid Base Reactions (youtube)


Module #11

For Those About to Dissolve: We Solute You (music video)

Molarity vs Molality

Calculating molality

Freezing point depression (video)

Study Guide

Module #12

Experiment: Gas Phase Reaction (video)

Formulas and Laws



Potential Energy Diagrams (video)



Rate Equations (video)


Chemical Equilibrium (video)


Oxidation/Reduction Reactions (video)


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Have kids who like to draw? (‘See the Light’ Art DVD Giveaway)

This week we had craft day at our church– a homeschooling coop with a bunch of friends.There are usually 20-25 kids — some teens, a few toddlers and preschoolers, but most of the kids are probably in the 5-12 age range.  Moms each take turns being in charge of the craft, and we don’t really expect anything huge or involved.  But when it’s your turn, you always want to do something that is enjoyable for all, which can be tricky with that broad an age span.

I was in charge this month, and decided to go with an art project that I’d seen online.  This cartooning video is part of a whole series of DVD art classes designed for homeschooling families.  I watched it ahead of time, and decided to show about 25 minutes of the 70 minute video.  This was the first time our group had done anything quite like that, but it ended up working really well.

Cartoon veggiesThe teacher steps kids through the art in a really doable way.  For example, she began by showing kids how to make different kinds of cartoon eyes, noses, and mouths in a collection on a sheet of scrap paper.  It was all very simple and non-intimidating for folks not sure of their drawing ability, but varied enough to also intrigue the kids who did like to draw.  Then she showed how to cartoonize shapes of vegetable using a mix of the features that she’d already shown the kids how to draw.

Not every kid adored the activity, but at any given moment during the 25 minute drawing session, a good 75% of the kids were happily engaged, which in a group that diverse I consider a big success.  The preschoolers ended up being happy mostly coloring and drawing free-form, but several of the 5 year old kiddos were able to follow along and do some interesting faces with the instruction of the DVD.  I’m looking forward to showing the rest of the video to my kids at home.

Now, the fun part:  I am giving away  a cartooning DVD to one of you!  All you have to do is comment below and tell me a bit about your family and art.  Do you enjoy drawing or does it intimidate you?  What about your kids?  Who do you think would enjoy this video most at your house? For a second entry, you may share this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, or you may ‘like’ See The Light on Facebook. I will choose a winner early next week.

Homeschool Planning This Year

simple handwriting page

Since we did school well into June this year, we’re not beginning our school year until mid-September.  But as usual, something about August gets me thinking about our plans for the year.  This year I’ll be teaching 6 kids– one senior, three sophomores, a 6th grader and a third grader.

Here’s what school looks like for our kids this year:


~Teaching Textbooks Geometry for all the teens, with at least some of them moving into Algebra 2 later in the year.

~TT Math 7 for my 6th grader

~TT Math 3  for my 3rd grader, as well as lots of practice on multiplication

After being a die-hard Saxon mom for years, I am now a complete and total convert to Teaching Textbooks.  This math is taught via computer lectures, graded by the computer AND can be used by multiple kids at the same time, with each child having a separate grade book!  That makes it a huge friend to a mom of many.  Best of all, the friendly lecture-guy doesn’t mind repeating the same explanation 3 times to 4 different kids, whereas a mom can get a bit frayed around the edges after the second or third go-round. Brilliant, wonderful stuff.  The kids will be doing at least one lesson a day of math each.

Note:  if you buy Teaching Textbooks used, make sure you are buying the editions that actually include computer grading.  First editions of TT algebra and geometry still have to be graded by a person.  That’s certainly not the end of the world for some folks, but for the big bucks this program costs– $180 per level– I want computer grading.


Last year our teens finished Apologia Biology.  This year we’re moving on to Apologia’s Exploring Creation With Chemistry.  Experiments mostly require simple household items, which makes it comepletely doable, while also doing a good job describing chemistry in an understandable way.  We will cover one lesson every two weeks, and will be meeting with a friend each week to do experiments and tests.  This should keep us on track to get the book done by the end of the school year.  Our elementary age girls will watch the older kids do experiments, but I’m not planning any science specifically for them this year.  (They need more focus on language arts this year.)


Spanish will be covered by everyone 6th grade and up using Fluenz Spanish. Kids will do a lesson a day.


This year I am doing a combined American History for all 6 of the kids. The books we’ll read are Exploring American History  and In God We Trust: Stories of Faith in American History.  Both books are written at a fairly easy reading level, and tell stories of important characters in American history.  I’m planning on having the kids do some notebooking  as we read about various characters, which hopefully will help kids stay engaged as we read.  We’ll also work on a timeline, adding various events to the timeline as we read.  We’ll probably do history two days a week.


This year everyone’s writing assignments are going to be related to American history.  I plan to assign essays on different characters  and events in different eras, working gradually through all of American history.  For example, September writing assignments will be about early explorers in America. October will cover early settlers, and so on through the months.  The teens will be writing essays in the range of 3-5 pages, each one about a different person or event, and the younger girls will write a few paragraphs.  I’m also planning to have the kids read their essays to dad at dinner one night at the end of the month.  (Speech class, right?)

One resource that I am considering using this year is Grammarly.com.  Copy and paste a writing sample into Grammarly, and it automatically does a  grammar check, as well as looking for errors in spelling and punctuation.  It even spots plagiarism.  For a mom like me, or anyone who is  helping multiple teens analyze their writing, this could really be a good help.  This would also be a fabulous help for college students needing to do one last check on their work before sending it off to the professor.


Our two youngest girls will be working through Sequential Spelling to help them get a better understanding of some basic spelling rules.  They’ll also do a page or two of cursive writing each day.  The above picture shows one easy way to practice handwriting once kids learn to form each letter.


I have a teen booklist  that the big kids are working through gradually, checking books off the list as they complete them.  And I’m always on the lookout to expand our library with worthwhile additions. Most of our kids are solid readers by now, and will do most of their reading on their own. I ask everyone to read an hour a day. But anyone who needs more practice will be reading at least part of their above assignments to me.  My 8 year old will read to me every day.


Looking at the long list above, I will probably only be able to cover geography lightly– perhaps one day a week.  I want to have kids do some notebooking about this topic as well.  Because we’re covering American History this year, I’ll probably focus on American geography as well, so the subjects will hang together.  Just for fun, I may offer some kind of a cash bonus to kids who are able to learn the capitols of all the states.  Here are some links I found:


For art, we have a homeschool art/craft coop once a month with friends. I’m also excited to try out a cartooning project from See The Light  that I just heard about.  I’m working on pulling together a related giveaway for you one day soon, so stay tuned!



Along with all the other topics, we will be reading the Bible every morning at the breakfast table.  Last year we read Psalms and Proverbs.  Right now at bedtime John is working through the Old Testament with them.  So I thought at breakfast we could go through the New Testament, a couple chapters a day.  We usually go around the table reading a few verses each.  Then when the chapters are read, we each choose a favorite verse and tell why we chose it.  We’re also going to memorize Psalm 19: 7-14.


I still have to put together a daily schedule, mapping out the time of day that each subject will happen. Here’s one we did a previous year. With 6 kids,  3 computers, and multiple subjects being done on computers, it takes a bit of engineering to get everyone the computer time they need!  I’ll show you that plan when I get it pulled together.



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