How We Homeschool

Friday, September 30, 2016

Homeschool High School English for FREE!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources, but it will get you started in putting together your own homeschool program for high school language arts.  Just add in novels from the library for an almost free course of study.  Most of these can be downloaded as a pdf.

Homeschool High School English for FREE! at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Free High School Writing Resources

501 Writing Prompts includes not only extensive writing prompt lists for persuasive, expository, narrative, and literary response essays, but also grading rubrics and numerous essay models that demonstrate excellent, good, mediocre, and even awful prompt responses.  There’s enough material here to last you all four years of high school.  This 100+ page pdf is free to download.

Mix it up a bit by adding in some of these Visual Writing Prompts.  In addition to high school level prompts, there are also middle school and upper level elementary writing exercises on the same site.  When you click on a prompt, it opens up the image---perfect for use on a tablet or other mobile device.

Here’s a big list of Journal Writing Prompts, complete with a grading rubric.  These would also be appropriate for middle school.  I don’t grade journals or require them, but if you have a student who is allergic to writing, this might help get him started.

Have a budding novelist on your hands?  You can download a free workbook from NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program that will take your high schooler through the process of developing their characters, setting, plot, etc.  There are also elementary and middle school versions available.  If your student wants to pursue creative writing, consider having her participate in the National Novel Writing Month this November.

Free High School Literature Guides

Penguin offers an extensive list of free, downloadable teaching guides for high school level literature.  Included are many of Shakespeare’s works, well-known classics, and also some nonfiction selections.

The Classic Stage Company produces a new, free to download illustrated guide to one of Shakespeare’s plays each year.  They have 7 available so far, including Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.  These are very well done.

Glencoe has an alphabetical list of their free to download lit guides here.  Some of these are more suitable for middle school, but some definitely appropriate for high school.

Free High School Grammar Workbooks (and More)

McGraw-Hill has  a number of teacher resources for language arts on their website.  You’ll find grammar, composition, spelling, vocabulary (including Greek and Latin roots), and more.  For each category, there is a separate workbook for each grade level, grades 6-12.  Just click on the little + sign on each subheading to expand the list and see what is available.  These are downloadable pdfs.

Got younger kids, too?

Check out my post on Homeschooling the Primary Grades (K-3) for Free and Free 3rd & 4th Grade Grammar and Spelling!

If you like the free resources in this post, please share on FB, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Organizing Our Homeschool Days With Multiple Kids

Last month I talked about how I’ve organized our homeschool learning materials and space.  Today I’d like to talk about how I’ve organized our homeschool days.  With four kids, ages 7 to 16, it takes a bit of finagling to make sure everyone gets their share of Mom’s attention and that everyone is having a happy, productive time.  This is how we do it.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Over the weekend I prepare a list of what each child will be doing the following week.

Simple is best.  You’ll notice that each list really is just a list, without times attached to it or an overabundance of explanations.  I have my own list that shows me in a two page spread what the three younger children will be doing this week.  I include things like doctor’s appointments, outside classes, etc.  Each child has his/her own list.  The 11th grader follows his own list, the middles have theirs to refer to and the 2nd grader’s list is for me to refer to.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Download this year’s planning/assignment sheets here.

David’s (11th grade) list lays out what he needs to accomplish during the week. 

Much of what my high schooler does would be termed “self study,” but he also has a couple of video/computer courses.  Every Friday he and I will sit down and discuss his literature and philosophy readings.  He has a log to keep track of what he accomplishes and how much time he spends on it.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Peter (5th) and Mary (7th) each have a chart that shows them what we we be doing together each day and what their independent assignments are for the week. 

They have places to check off what they have finished and what day they did it on.  Skills like math and English they work on every day, but we rotate through social studies, science, health, art, and music.  I’ll describe that a little more when I outline our routine.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Emma’s chart is a copy of the first page of my 2-page spread for the 3 youngers. 

I keep this in her file box so I can easily refer to it when I am working with her.  This saves me from carrying around my own binder from room to room and gives me a paper record of what she did this week to add to her portfolio.

Each child has their own box of materials.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

These are the things they use every week and need ready access to.  Having their own box gives them a place to put things away and gives them an easy way to cart their things to another room in the house if they want to.  My teen has a milk crate he keep under his desk in his room.  The youngers have file boxes with lids that have handles.

I keep things like teacher manuals, read alouds, etc. in a file sling by my desk in the kitchen.  Note: this is what it looked like week 1 of the year.  We are six weeks in and it it is not nearly this pretty looking now.  Time to clean up a bit.  Ahem.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


  1. Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsWe begin with prayer.  This might happen at 8:30, 9, 10:15…there is no set time.
  2. Then my oldest disappears and I read our current read aloud to the 3 youngers.
  3. On Mondays, I briefly go over with the two middles what they are doing this week and leave them to it in the kitchen while Emma and I move into the living room to work on her lessons.
  4. Emma does: religion, spelling, reads aloud to me, math (her favorite), and our current Five in a Row study.  We do not do religion or Five in a Row every day.
  5. Meanwhile, Mary works daily on: math (Teaching Textbooks), spelling, and reading comprehension. Each week she will also have history and science reading assignments, history questions to answer, a notebooking page, and any assignments I give her to complete from our working together times.
  6. Peter works daily on: math (Math U See).  If it is a new lesson, he watches the video and then he and I will work on the first lesson page together.  Each week he will also have history and science reading assignments, a history notebooking page, and any additional assignments I give him to complete from our working together times.

Throughout the morning, the kids are free to take any breaks they want/need---the other day they had a Nerf battle.  Ducking outside is frequent in nice weather.  I do not mind as long as their daily work gets done each day and their weekly work gets done by the end of the week.  If something doesn’t get done, we talk about it and maybe readjust things a bit. 

The two middles do try to finish as much weekly stuff as they can early in the week so they have more free time later in the week.  They are also free to work on their assignments before prayer time or later in the evening…whatever works for them.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


I finish with Emma by lunchtime.  During lunch we sometimes have another read aloud.  Currently we are reading a book on the American Revolution.  Then I eat and they have some free time.


I work with the middles on our together study for the day.  Emma tags along if she wants to.  Each day is a different focus: 

  • Monday: Science
  • Tuesday: History
  • Wednesday: Science
  • Thursday: Art
  • Friday is a spare day in case our week has been shifted by life or we just need more time on something.

We also work on our next step in Adventures in Fantasy, which depends entirely upon where we are at.  For the rest of the afternoon, they work on independent work and/or I work work with them individually in any area they need help in.

Every other Tuesday we have a music class we attend in the afternoon.  We have other enrichment things we are participating in various afternoons, usually at 3:30, so we try to be done with everything before then.  The kids are free to knock off for the day if they have completed their daily things and are happy with their weekly progress.  I try to get our together things done early so that they are not being held up by me

Generally, the two youngest are done in early afternoon and the two older children take longer, partly because they have more to do, but also because they choose to manage their time differently.  Peter wants to get his stuff done so he can move onto his own stuff, whereas Mary prefers to mix her own stuff in between things that are assigned.

Every hour or so, throughout the day, my oldest comes downstairs to show me his current painting he’s working on or to argue some philosophical point.

Now, let me talk about what I don’t do…

Because choosing what you will do and won’t do is the key to making things work for you.

I don’t micromanage my kids’ time. 

I don’t micromanage my teen.  I do help David by dividing up his courses so he knows what he needs to complete each week to reach his goals for the year (and they are his goals, for the most part he has selected his courses for this year).  Currently, I type up a list of what he needs to complete each week and he works on those assignments at his own pace, recording what he has completed in a log.  If he doesn’t complete something or he works ahead, no biggie---we just adjust accordingly going forward.  My goal is to transition him to making his own lists by the end of this school year.  But the main point is that he is in charge of his time and how he spends it.  If he wants to build Lego all day, I don’t mind.  He knows he will have to do his coursework some time.

I don’t micromanage my 5th and 7th graders:  Both Peter and Mary have a weekly assignment sheet that lays out for them what their week’s assignments are and what they will be doing with me and with each other during the week.  The together things are scheduled for particular days and have slots in our routine, otherwise it would be a headache to coordinate everyone.  But their independent things are left to their own management.  I will gently remind them that they have things to do if it seems they are goofing off a lot, but I don’t tell them what to do and when to do it.  We embarked on this year with some trepidation…I really didn’t know if they could manage their time wisely…but it is working beautifully.  They both love having control over their own time.  The key here is not to assign too much and not to assign them things that they can’t handle on their own.  I am always there to help if needed.

I don’t even micromanage the 2nd grade, I just help her more.  Emma does most of her things with me at least in the room, but often right by her side.  It’s not possible to help her with her reading fluency without working with her directly.  Yes, I teach her math and read to her and all the things.  I do give her some little tasks to do independently, but I’m always there in case she needs help.  Within a couple more years, I expect she will be much more independent.  But at the same time, she still has a lot of control over her school work.  Today she didn’t want to do Five in a Row.  Ok.  She did want to do 8 pages of math.  Also ok.

I don’t sit with each child every minute that they are working.

But I do sit with them when they need it.

I don’t plan out every educational single thing my kids do.

This is probably a topic for another blog post for the near future, but basically it comes down to this:  I cannot be the conduit for all of my kids’ learning.  This would limit them sooo much.  What I can do is make sure that we work on the foundation together, but ultimately their education is much bigger than what I (or anyone, even a school board) can plan for them.  Therefore, I recognize that much of the learning they do and will continue to do cannot be planned by me.  My goal is to allow them plenty of free time for exploring.

I don’t post a schedule with hours/times on it.

The reason is because I simply cannot plan out things to the minute.  I tried doing it to the hour once and I was behind before lunch time on the first day.  A routine just works better for us. 

I don’t freak when something I thought would get done this week doesn’t get done.

Unless it’s calling the plumber about the copper supply pipe to the sink spraying water all over my basement. 

For the most part, though, it’s easy to do some things next week, next year, or even never.  For the truly necessary things, we continually work on them and make progress.  I try to remember that what I had planned for this particular day, week, or month is arbitrary to some extent.  We will get to it, or we will decide that it wasn’t necessary after all and jettison it.

I don’t plan a lot of fancy projects.

Organizing Our Homeschool Days with Multiple Kids at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI did, once upon a time.  But I found that planning all the projects was becoming too much like micromanaging my kids’ time or planning out all their learning.  It limited them and caused me too much stress!  And…the projects they invent on their own tend to be so much better. 

I do still plan art projects (they tend to be very open-ended, though).  And I do provide resources, materials and free time for the kids to pursue their own projects.  They generally have bits of pieces of those projects all over the house at any given time.

Now, don’t get me wrong---I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing any of these things. 

I did try to micromanage once upon a time.  And I do recognize that a strict schedule can be just what a family needs.  And some children really do need (or want) Mom at their elbow all day, everyday.  Each homeschool is unique and what doesn’t work in mine might be perfect for yours.  But it can be a challenge to coordinate multiple kids at different levels, and I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the things that help our homeschool to run more smoothly simply because I choose not to do them.

What I do do…

I make sure that each child gets one-on-one time with me at least once a week and that I am generally available to help.

For the teen this may really only be once a week (but it is a couple of hours).  For the youngest this is every day for an hour or more.  The middle kids have a mix of independent time, time working one-on-one with Mom, and time working with each other and Mom.  It is important for me to know that if they are struggling, I know about it ASAP so I can help them with their struggles.

I try to maintain a routine. 

The routine gives us a tremendous amount of freedom, because when we stick to it, we are able to work efficiently on the important must-dos and this frees up a lot of time to do the want-to-dos.  Truth be told, the want-to-dos really are as important as the must-dos, but the must-dos are foundational.  If I skip or skimp on them, I neglect my children’s education.  Following the routine makes me do what I need to do, but it also keeps us from frittering away our time on piddling stuff.

Sometimes the routine gets put aside for a life (a special occasion, a doctor’s appointment, a family crisis, or whatever)…but it’s easy to pick it up again.

I keep the routine simple.

Once upon a time I would write what we were doing on the white board each day.  Every single little thing. My kids function better when they know what to expect, and so this gave them a visual record to refer to.  It was also a good way to keep me accountable---if we didn’t get to something I had planned, everyone knew it.  And if we finished early, everyone would know if I tried to tack extra things on (wink).

I don’t write things out on the white board anymore.  Too much writing.  And besides, I need that white board in case a kid wants to write out his math on it or I want to note some important names from the history reading.  Our individual lists work so much better for this, plus the routine is simple enough that I can keep it in my head without taxing my brain too much.

I work hard to make sure that I don’t give them more than they can reasonably handle.

This usually means that I figure out the work load that I think they can reasonably handle and then I reduce it by a good bit.  I have this incurable optimism about how much can be done in a day.  Sure, you can work nonstop for a day, but you can’t do it every. single. day.  And what would be the point if you did?  That’s not what we’re living for.

At the same time, growth requires challenge.  There’s this subtle balance to be maintained between keeping them challenged and not overwhelming them.  I admit that I often miss the mark, which is why it is so important to check in with them regularly to see how things are going.

How do you organize your homeschool days?

Leave me a comment!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies---Add Some Yum to Homeschool Geology

Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies---Add Some Yum to Homeschool Geology at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsWe’re currently studying the rock cycle in our homeschool and just learned about the different types of igneous rock.  I came up with this idea for making Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies to add some fun.  It was such a hit that I thought I’d share.

Igneous comes from the Latin ignis, meaning fire, and igneous rocks are formed from magma.  There are two main types of igneous rocks:

Intrusive rocks cool below the earth’s surface.  An example would be granite.

GraniteSample of granite, intrusive igneous rock

Extrusive rocks are formed from lava that cools above the earth’s surface. So, technically they are volcanic rocks. Some of these rocks cool very quickly and are smooth and hard, like obsidian (also known as volcanic glass).  But other volcanic rocks, like pumice, are very lightweight with an almost foamy appearance and are easy to crush.  Isn’t it amazing how these two types of come from the same place (the heart of a volcano) and yet look completely different from each other?

Snowflake ObsidianSample of snowflake obsidian, extrusive igneous rock


PumiceSample of pumice, extrusive igneous rock

I am using Considering God’s Creation as a guide for my middle kids’ science studies this year. One of the activities that was suggested to illustrate the difference between pumice and obsidian was to take some eggs whites (smooth and glassy looking like obsidian) and beating them into whipped egg whites (lightweight and foamy like pumice).

But why go to all that trouble to beat egg whites if you can take a few extra steps and make…

Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies….

aka Coconut Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies?

Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies---Add Some Yum to Homeschool Geology at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

They do look just like rocks, don’t they? 

I promise, they taste pretty good.  They have a slightly chewy texture from the coconut, but the meringue gives it the airy crumbly texture of well…pumice. 

Note: this recipe is adapted from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, but the original inspiration came from my fond remembrance of the chocolate chip meringue cookies my grandma used to make.


  • 1 c granulated white sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c shredded coconut
  • 1 c mini chocolate chips

Extrusive Igneous Rock Cookies---Add Some Yum to Homeschool Geology at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Add egg whites and salt to medium to large mixing bowl.  Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.  I used a stand mixer, but a hand mixer will work.  An egg whisk will also work if you have a strong arm.

3. Slowly pour in the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites.  The original recipe says to sift the sugar first---I did not find this necessary, but you could sift the sugar if you need an extra kid job.

4.  Once the sugar is beaten in, stop the mixer and remove it from the stand.  Gently fold in the coconut and then the mini chocolate chips just until they are even distributed.

5. Drop the batter by spoonfuls onto the parchment lined baking sheets.  The original recipe specified teaspoonfuls and also said we would get about 50 cookies.  We actually got 27 cookies, so our spoonfuls were obviously much larger.  It worked fine.

6. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until very lightly browned and firm to the touch (careful---they will have a crisp exterior, but if you push too hard they will crush).  30 minutes was perfect for our bigger cookies, so if yours are smaller, you may want to try less time and keep an eye on them.

7. Transfer to cooling racks to cool.  I recommend allowing these to cool completely before sampling.

This is a great baking project to do with kids. 

You can have a child separate the eggs.  Another child measure out the sugar.  Another child carefully pour the sugar into the bowl while it mixes. And all the children scoop the batter onto the cookie sheets.  You get the idea.

Are you studying rocks in your homeschool?  Be sure to pin this for later.

Here’s a neat interactive at Mineralogy4Kids for identifying rocks that you find on your nature walks.

And for fun, here’s a picture of another lava rock:

Aztec Lavasample of aztec lava, extrusive igneous rock


What fun science projects have you done lately?