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Fall Homeschool Bucket List

It’s almost Fall here in Texas.  It’s that time of the year when we Texans start compulsively checking the 10 day weather forecast for that first 89 degree high along with a 50% chance of rain.  The autumnal equinox means little to us.  It’s all about that first real cold front.  While we impatiently await the return of fall, I’ve put together a little fall homeschool bucket list of sorts.

Since we homeschool our children, we really have a lot of freedom.  Some times during the year, the weather gets so nice that you just have to take advantage of that freedom…at least a little!  But, alas!  We have to make sure we get our work done, too!  We’ve been cooped up in the house quite a bit because of the dangerously hot conditions.  So, we are really anxious to get out and enjoy some nice fall weather!  Here’s my little fall homeschool bucket list of activities to celebrate the return of fall, but also get some learning done in the meantime.

So, what are some good ways to take advantage of the change of seasons in your homeschool?

A Fall Homeschool Bucket List

1. Plan a fall-themed unit study.

Make one yourself, or find one online.  A quick web search will pull up plenty of options.  Some are free, others will cost a few dollars, but it’s a great option if you just don’t have time to create something of your own.  

T is for turkey, P is for pumpkin…there are plenty of phonics games you can play.  Count leaves for some math time.  Head outside and do some plant identification for science.  The possibilities are endless!

2. Use fall-themed notebooking pages.

As luck would have it, I have some you can download for free.  Print them out, use them for your family.

Using themed pages really helps us get in the mood for fall, even if the weather hasn’t quite gotten there yet.  These pages would work wonderfully to learn about the history of Halloween and the first Thanksgiving as well!

Click here to download your free Fall-themed notebooking pages.

3. Take school outside for the day.

The sun is shining, there’s a soft, cool breeze blowing.  You know full well that no one is going to pay attention to their work while they look out the window, longing to be outside.  So, pack up your books, grab a blanket to sit on, and sprawl out on the lawn for lessons.  The fresh air works wonders for keeping the mind focused!

4. Take a nature walk.

What better way can you think of to celebrate the arrival of Fall than taking everyone on a nature walk?  Collect some leaves, watch some insects busily preparing for the coming of winter.  Enjoy the beautiful weather.  You don’t have to go far…your backyard is probably teeming with life you never take the time to notice!  Have everyone slow down, and take a look at the world around you.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

5. Learn a little plant biology.

Why do leaves change color in the fall?  Why do they lose them?  For that matter, why does that cedar tree get to keep its needles?  Do a little research project as a family and find out the answers to all those fall-related pressing questions.  This one is easy to adjust for different age levels, too.  Your preschoolers will enjoy making the collection (on your nature walk!), and you can turn it into a full-blown biology research project on photosynthesis for your middle or high schoolers.

6. Plant a fall garden.

Turnips, broccoli, carrots…lots of things grow wonderfully in the fall.  Make a little fall garden.  Learn all about root vegetables.  You can even make observations about growth.  Keep a lab notebook and take measurements.  When the project is done, you’ll have a nice little salad!

7. Make some leaf rubbings.

Ah, the classic fall art project!  It brings back memories of my own childhood!  This is the kind of project that even the smallest of your pupils can enjoy.  Plus, the mess is minimal…definitely my kind of art project!  Just gather several different kinds of leaves (on your nature walk, remember?), then put them under a sheet of paper on a hard, flat surface.  Turn a crayon on its side and rub back and forth.  The results really are quite nice.

8. Make a Thanksgiving tree.

You can approach this one several different ways.  You can use sticks that you may find out in your yard, or you can make a paper tree on your wall.  Then, use leaf shaped cutouts, to write (or draw a picture of) something that you are grateful for each morning.  You could even cut around your leaf rubbings and use them for the leaves on the tree.

9. Keep your eyes to the skies for birds that migrate.

This is the time of year you will start seeing all kinds of migratory animals moving around.  One afternoon, why not grab a blanket and find a nice spot on the grass to spread it out and watch for birds.  

While you’re waiting, make up stories about the cloud shapes moving by.

When you finally see a flock of birds moving by, notice the kinds of sounds they make, and the way they fly by.  Use your observations as a jumping off point for a research project if you like.

10. Start a nature journal.

A nature journal doesn’t have to be fancy.  We just use a $.25 spiral notebook (I stock up on these, though, when they’re on back-to-school specials for $.20 each…we use them for a LOT of things!).  It’s a blank canvas.  Bear likes to draw pictures of things she finds outside.  Once, she found a bunch of snails and had them make trails all over a piece of paper.  She glued the paper inside the spiral.  Then, she wrote all kinds of observations about them on the facing page.  She also writes nature-themed poetry.  It’s quite a collection!  

11. Start a weather journal.

This time of year is famous for its weather changes.  Keep a record of them this year.  It’s fun to look back the following year and watch the differences, too.  Chart the temperature (pick a specific time to record each day), write observations about storms or cold fronts, and note the wind.  Again, you don’t have to be fancy.  A simple spiral will do.  If you want something a little cuter, a web search will return plenty of options!

12. Take an outdoor field trip.

My kids love going to the zoo.  But during the summer, at 105 degrees in the shade, it just ain’t gonna happen!  After that first glorious cold front, however, it’s time to load up and go to all those outdoor spots.  

Don’t forget about historical sights, too.  Here where we live, we’re only about an hour from Washington-on-the-Brazos which is full of our rich Texan history!

I also have a couple spots to see dinosaur fossils, and a cave trip on the radar.  

Do a little digging to find some cool spots in your area.  Lots of places even offer homeschooler discounts, or special homeschool days.  Find out all you can!  It’ll be worth it!

13. Take a trip to see family.

We always take a trip to see my side of the family over the week of Thanksgiving.  It gets us out of the house a little.  It’s also a great time to take advantage of all those cool places the Dallas area (where my family lives) has to offer as well.  

Take advantage of your time with family, too.  Make sure your kids get to hear plenty of embarrassing stories about you as a youngster!  But, also make sure that they hear stories about life when your older family members were growing up too.  It helps bring history to life!  

  • My great-grandparents met during the 1918 Flu epidemic…my great-grandfather’s family was particularly hard-hit.
  • My grandfather hunted a crocodile while he was stationed in New Guinea during World War II.  He was later sent home after experiencing complications from yellow fever.
  • My great uncle trained pilots during World War II.
  • My grandfather’s family were sharecroppers.  His parents had 5 kids, just like we do.

These were real people…my people!  Your kids will never tire of hearing family stories.  Just make sure you’re paying attention, because they will want to hear them over and over!

14. Make a work day to rake up all the leaves in your yard.

Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from working those brain muscles to flex some skeletal muscle instead. Have a family work day to rake up all those leaves in yard. You’re giving your brains a break, enjoying the weather, and practicing some important life skills all at the same time. Just don’t forget to jump in the piles when you’re done!

15. Learn how to make a fall treat together.

Working in the kitchen with small children can try your patience.  But, it can also be a great bonding and teaching experience if you let it.  So roll up those sleeves and find a fall treat to cook all together!

So, what’s on your fall homeschool bucket list?

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Today, I just wanted to write about notebooking, and what a life saver it has been for us in our homeschool!  I was getting increasingly exasperated a couple of years ago with the direction our schooling was going with Bear.  She was (and still is) an incredibly bright child…in fact, that was actually why we didn’t send her to public school in the first place.  She was reading independently before she was five.  I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t…all I did was teach her the basic sounds, she took off from there faster than our phonics program could keep up!  But I digress.

As is often the case with bright children, she had trouble sometimes applying herself to what I was trying to teach her.  When she was younger, she loved doing workbooks…strange child, I know.  So, I had kind of tried to encourage her by using workbooks early on.  But, as she got past the point of learning the basics, her love for workbooks began to wane…but I was stuck in an educational rut.  Plus, workbooks are so easy…as the teacher, I didn’t really even have to think about it.  We’d just open our workbook, read our lesson, then I’d set Bear free to complete the independent portion of the lesson.

But Bear hated it.  She didn’t jump up and yell, “YAY!” when I said “Time for lessons!” anymore.  Instead I got a groan and “Right now?  Couldn’t we do it later?”  It had become drudgery.  Even worse, Lizard was picking up on Bear’s attitude and adopting it as her own.  Now I had to fight 2 kids every day to get started with school.  Where had that little girl who looked forward to school time gone?

I started looking at different curriculum options.  I needed something that gave me a little structure, so that I could make sure we were covering everything.  Bear needed something that allowed her to use that creative nature she was so blessed with.

Enter notebooking. We can use it with pretty much any subject or curriculum we choose to use. Click To Tweet

Enter notebooking.  We can use it with pretty much any subject or curriculum we choose to use.  We use it most in science and history, but I know some folks use notebooking for pretty much everything.  

Bear reads her assignment for the day.  We have a discussion about it.  The time our discussion takes really varies.  We talk about any words or phrases that she didn’t understand, then I make sure they show up in her vocabulary work for the week!  In history, in particular, we often discuss why it’s important to our lives today.  Why do the things some dead guy did 400 years ago impact our lives after all that time?  We don’t skip our discussion time.  It’s critical for comprehension!

Then, after we’ve discussed what she’s read, I hand her a notebooking sheet.  Sometimes I give her a very specific assignment, but sometimes I leave the assignment very open-ended.  She writes about what she’s learned, and illustrates it in some way.  It’s that simple.  It’s always interesting to see what part of each lesson has really resonated with her each day, too.  She loves that she gets to draw during history, and she really takes pride in her work (both the writing and the drawing).  I love that she’s actually learning her history!  It’s a win-win for us both.  Plus, at the end of every year, we’ll always have something to come back to…a record that reminds us both of what she’s done in the past.

Here’s a free printable for your personal use.  There are 12 different general use notebooking pages in this free pack.  You can use them for any subject you want.  All I ask is that you don’t sell them, or share them.  If you want to share them with someone, send them here to this post to get their copy!  Thanks!

General Notebooking pages

General Notebooking Pages

Do you use notebooking in your homeschool? 


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My kids are weird...and why I'm ok with it

My kids are weird.  

Whew!  I got that out of the way!  I love my kids.  They’re really, really good kids!  My kids just aren’t normal kids.  At least they aren’t normal based on today’s standards.  A hundred years ago I’m sure they would have been normal, run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter kids.  But not anymore.  My kids are weird.  But, I’m okay with that.  I might even encourage it.  They have seen more and understand more about real life in their few short years than many adults.

You see, my kids are country kids.

I grew up in town.  No…not in town, in the city.  I grew up in Dallas.  Well, in the rough, tough, suburbs of the northeastern corner of Dallas county, anyway (please take note of the sarcasm dripping off that statement!).  Dallas…it’s currently the ninth largest city in the United States, the fourth largest metro area in the United States.  That is, according to Wikipedia, anyway.  My grandfather’s (my mom’s dad) family were sharecroppers.  My grandmother (my dad’s mom) grew up on a farm.  I visited my great-grandparents’ farm a couple times per year until they died…I was in elementary school.  My uncle and his family lived in a rural area north of Dallas for a while.  I visited them every once in a while.  More importantly, I heard all his stories…about the chickens, and dogs, and coyotes.  I might have been a city girl, but I knew all about “country” stuff.  I was sure I had experience.

But I had no idea.

Did you know that meat doesn’t actually appear in the refrigerated section at the grocery store through some sort of magical process?  I didn’t.  Well, when I actually thought about it, I did.  But, like most people, I never had to think about it.

What about fruits and vegetables?  Most people grow beans for some sort of science project in elementary school, but that’s the end of food production…they rarely think of it again.  Many folks never think about the work that goes into producing enough for your family to eat for an entire year.  I know I didn’t…but my kids do. 

We moved out here, and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  I had no idea what I was getting our kids into.  I’m glad we did it.  Our kids are better off because of it.  But, our kids are most definitely weird.

Our kids eat their vegetables.

Gasp!  That one little fact probably makes them weird all on its own!  They don’t usually even complain about it…as long as no one did anything silly to the vegetables, you know, like cooking them.  They prefer them straight out of the garden (see number 8 on this list).  I don’t think we even managed to get any of our peas into the house this year.  The kids ate them straight off the plants for “outside snacks”, as Monkey called them.

Now, don’t try cooking their precious vegetables…that is ill-advised.  Don’t try to heat up canned peas and tell my kids to eat them because you’ve heard they like peas.  They will look at you like a cow looking at a new gate…and then absolutely refuse to eat whatever it is you just served them (it certainly wasn’t peas!).  Cooked carrots?  Forget it!

Our kids are homeschooled.

This is probably why they don’t realize that our family is a little bit different than most.  They get plenty of time to play with other kids, don’t get me wrong.  But, they’re not around the same set of other kids every single day like they would be at school.  We teach the things that we feel are important, not what the state tells us to teach.  We set high standards for what they learn.  

Most preschoolers learn about farm animals from picture books.  Our kids don’t just learn how to point them out in a book.  They learned that cows are huge.  They know that big brown one ain’t a cow…and not to mess with him.  There’s a difference between a cow and a heifer, and my four year old can tell you all about it.  Eggs come from hens, not from roosters, and even my 2 year old knows how to tell the difference.  Pigs really do enjoy a good wallow in the mud, and if there is no mud available, they will make their own!  Our kids know all about farm animals, and they know how to treat them, and how to behave around them.

Our kids pull their weight

Now, some of them weigh more than others, and we certainly make allowances for that.  But our kids have to work.  Most of the time, they actually enjoy it!  When I say it’s time to clean our bathroom, Bear jumps up and says, “Ooh!  I’ll clean the potty!”  No, I’m not making that up.  I actually did it myself this past week, and she honestly got upset with me.  There are certainly household chores they don’t enjoy, like cleaning up their rooms, but they are learning to do them anyway…like it or not.

All the kids have a blast helping their daddy with his work outside.  They go with him nearly every night to lock up the chicken coops and pull water for all the animals.  They help as much as they can.  When Daddy is out planting the gardens, the kids are right there helping him out.  They help pick the vegetables once the plants start producing, too.  Once the vegetables are picked, they help wash and sort it as well.  They know what goes into making the food they eat, and they probably have a better appetite for it!

Our kids understand that death is part of life.

This made me a little uncomfortable at first, but our kids have a very healthy view of death.  Without death, there is no life.  They understand where their food comes from.  They feed their food apple cores…our latest set of pigs recently went to the freezer, but we sure went through a lot of apples while they were living in the barn.  Our children know where the pigs are, they understand…but they aren’t upset by it.  It’s just part of life.  We take care of our animals, and when the time comes, our animals take care of us.

Many kids find a lot of blood and gore in video games.  Fascination with these types of things, while often disturbing to adults, is (to a certain degree) part of healthy development.  Our children don’t need video games…they’ve seen their dad slaughter chickens to feed his family.  It’s certainly not a pleasant task, but in our lives, it’s a necessary task.  Our kids understand that, and they’re blessed with an understanding that these animals have fulfilled their purpose.

The understanding of death gained by our children through their involvement in food production also prepares them for the death of loved ones as well.  They aren’t frightened of the concept of death and they understand what it means.  That means we can intelligently discuss our beliefs about what happens to people after death on earth.  My Granddad (their great-granddad) recently passed away after a year of confinement to a nursing home due to dementia and a hip injury.  When we told the kids about it, they were able to process the information.  Of course they were sad, especially Bear who remembered what he was like before his dementia got really bad.  But, since they already understood death, it allowed us to concentrate on the life that comes after death.  Without death, there can be no life.

So, there you have it.  My kids are weird.  But, I wouldn’t have it any other way!


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Awesome Life Friday


Well, this is the time of year when most homeschooling families start to decide what worked this past year and what we need to change.  Our family works on a bit of a different schedule than most (one of the great things about homeschooling is that we have the option to run on whatever schedule we want), and we just took a couple weeks off while I took a little maternity leave.  So, here’s what curriculum we’re currently using with all of the kids…well, all of the kids who are old enough to “do school” anyway.

Bear

Bear is working on many different grade levels in various subjects.  But, since she is currently 8 years old, we usually just say she is in the second grade.  It makes less confusion for most people we talk to!

      • Reading – We don’t have any specific reading program.  Bear reads pretty much anything she can get her hands on.  We are currently using the books from Catholic Heritage Curricula‘s Reading Comprehension program.  Right now she is reading the Father Brown Reader.  She reads a chapter, then narrates back what she reads.  Once or twice a week, I have her write down her narration.  We also use Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare, which is in the public domain.  We follow the same procedure for that book as we do for the Father Brown Reader.  She also narrates her history reading selections each week.
      • Memorization – We use The Harp and Laurel Wreath, and  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare  for our memory selections.
      • Grammar – We just recently started using Fix It! Grammar (we’re starting with Book 1: The Nose Tree) from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  I am very happy with it so far.  It is all review at the moment, but I wanted to start at the beginning of the series for continuity’s sake.  Bear has really been enjoying it as well.  The lessons are pretty short, so she really likes that.  Plus, she waits with anticipation to find out what will happen in the story next week.  Fix It! Grammar consists of a sentence each day to fix.  The students are presented with a set of grammar rules each week.  They must then fix a sentence each day.  Each week they must remember to continue fixing the previous weeks’ rules as well as the rule for that week.  A vocabulary word is presented with each day’s sentence as well.  The student must look up and write the definition each day.  So, by the end of the week, the student has learned four new vocabulary words. 
      • Writing – We also recently began using Fables, Myths, and Fairy Tales Writing Lessons from IEW.  We are both enjoying this curriculum as well so far.  We are only in Unit 1, but it really touches on some skills that were seriously lacking previously in Bear’s schooling.
      • Spelling – We are using the free curriculum from K12 Reader.  I’m thinking we may go back to the My Catholic Speller series from Catholic Heritage Curricula next year.  There’s nothing wrong with the material from K12 Reader, and I certainly like the price!  But, I don’t feel like it gives us any cohesiveness.
      • Math – Ah, the bain of our existence!  I have yet to find a curriculum that I really like or that Bear enjoys.  We’ve tried a few things, like Math Mammoth and Life of Fred.  The Life of Fred story just didn’t really engage Bear.  Math Mammoth seems fairly complete, but it was essentially just worksheet after worksheet.  We’re currently using the first book in the Strayer Upton Practical Arithmetics series.  It’s a good, solid foundation in basic arithmetic, with lots of practice problems.  But, it doesn’t provide me with much assistance for explaining mathematical concepts (which would be nice, since math is not one of my gifts).  I’m still not completely happy with it, but for some reason, we keep coming back to it.  Someday, we’ll find the math program that is right for us.  Right now, however, we are really enjoying Times Tales.  Bear had been struggling to memorize all of her multiplication facts.  But, since we started using this program a week ago, she seems to finally be getting them down!

     

  • Coupon Code PARTNER20 for 20% OFF Times Tales Products

  •  
    • Science – We found Mr. Q Classic Science, Life Science curriculum.  He gives the Life Science away as a free download on his website.  We are really enjoying it so far.  The text is interspersed with funny little comments, that Bear enjoys reading.  The content seems pretty solid.  The elementary series also contains Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physical Science.  Each of the other books in the series are $50 each for a PDF download.  It’s a little pricey, but he usually offers the titles for half price every January.
    • History – We are currently working through (slowly) The Old World and America by Philip J. Furlong.  We also use Catholic Schoolhouse to add a little more detail for each time period.  I spend a lot of time pulling resources together for history.  We use a lot of library books and books from the public domain that I can download.  My husband likes to see a history quiz with short answer questions every week, so we use the discussion questions from The Old World and America quite a bit.  Bear narrates the reading selection every day, and at least once a week, she writes it out.  It really helps the information to sink in!
    • Religion – We’ve been using the Religion for Young Catholics curriculum series from Seton.  Bear likes it.  I like it alright, but some days it feels like she is just reading a page and filling in some blanks.  I’m not sure she’s really internalizing the information that is being presented.  I think we may try to go back to the Faith and Life series next year.
    • Spanish – We’ve been working through Learn Spanish With Grace.  Bear enjoys all of the songs.  I’m not sure she’s really internalizing a lot of the Spanish, but it’s a nice, gentle introduction.  When we’re done with this curriculum, I think we’re going to find something a little more intensive.  I have my eye on a couple of different programs, so I’ll have to make a choice soon.
    • Music – Bear is learning to play the piano.  I am using the Bastien Piano Basics series.  I learned piano using this series many years ago.  So, I’m familiar with the curriculum.  I can use my old books, which have notes from my piano teacher.  We’re still in the first level.

 

Lizard

Lizard is also working on a couple of different grade levels, but, we generally say she’s in Kindergarten.

    • Reading – We are currently using Bigger Stories for Little Folks from Catholic Heritage Curricula.  Bear went through this series, too when she was first learning to read.  The youngest son in the book, Greg, keeps the reader quite entertained with his antics.  The stories are precious, and have our Faith woven into them as well.  It’s great for reading practice.  That said, it doesn’t really contain enough phonics practice for my taste, even though the description of the curriculum claims to have phonics tied into the lessons.  We add a phonics curriculum as well.
    • Phonics – We just finished Phonics for Young Catholics 1 curriculum from Seton.  We are taking a break from that series to have a little light-hearted fun with Explode the Code
    • Spelling – Again, we are using the curriculum from K12 Reader, but planning on moving back to the My Catholic Speller series next year
    • Math – We are working through a workbook that we received free from my aunt, who is a former elementary school teacher.  It came with a teacher’s manual, which is nice to have on hand in case I need to think of a different way to explain a concept.  It’s called Mathematics Today, but I’m guessing it’s probably out of print!
    • Handwriting – We are using Seton’s Handwriting for Young Catholics 1.  We both like this program, so I think we’ll probably be using it for quite some time to come.

 

Monkey

Monkey is just starting out with his schooling.  Right now, we’re focusing on the basics.  He’s busy learning his alphabet sounds, and learning how to count and recognize his numbers.

  • Phonics Sound City Phonics is a great beginning phonics curriculum.  The best part is that it’s free!  You can go to the website, and download all the materials you need and print it out as you need it.  Each letter sound is introduced with a funny story that Monkey really enjoys.  It really helps him to remember the sound each letter makes.
  • Math – Right now, we’re not doing anything formal.  I print out number recognition sheets from various places around the internet for us to do together.  We also use counters, or buttons, or animal crackers to practice counting, and to play around with the concept of addition and subtraction.

 

So, what curriculum do you use and really enjoy?  If you haven’t decided yet what you’re going to use for next year, here’s a few charts I use to help me weigh all the pros and cons (and budget) for each curriculum item I consider.  Try them out…they’re free!  See how it works for you!

 

Curriculum by Supplier

 Curriculum by Subject

 Curriculum by Student