Homeschool Encouragement

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Free Ancient and Medieval World Timelines for Notebooking

Looking for an inexpensive, portable timeline to record your history studies?  I originally shared these timelines a few years ago, but the thing about timelines is that they are…dare I say it…timeless? (wink)

Free printable history timelines at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThese are formatted so that they can be easily folded into a binder, but you could also used them for wall timelines that can later be folded and stored when not in use.  Click on the pictures to go to the download links.  You fill find assembly instructions on the Ancient Timeline page---don’t worry, it’s painless and easy to do.

Free Printable Notebook Timelines

Like the timelines? Please pin them or share on Facebook.

What period in history are you studying in your homeschool this year?

Live the Adventure with Heirloom Audio (a review)

Disclosure: Free product was received for review purposes.  All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Heirloom Audio Productions is Christian company that produces action-packed dramas based upon classic stories by George Alfred Henty.  Our family is loving these audio dramas---they have just the right mix of action, heart, and information to keep kids of all ages (and even adults) engaged.  For review purposes, we received copies of  The Dragon and the Raven, Under Drake’s Flag, In Freedom’s Cause, and With Lee in Virginia.  Each story comes as a 2-cd set in a colorful trifold case.  Approximate playing time per drama: 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Live the Adventure with Heirloom Audio Theater a review at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Right now our family is enjoying The Dragon and the Raven, a perfect addition to our studies of the Middle Ages.

G.A. Henty’s The Dragon and the Raven or The Days of King Alfred follows young Edmund as he loses his father in battle to the Danes (viking raiders). His family gone, he eventually comes to befriend and ally himself to the cultured and learned Alfred, king of the Saxons.

Popping the first cd into the player seemed to cast a spell upon all four of my kids, ages 7 to 16.  The boundless bundle of energy stopped bopping up and down, the chatty one stopped talking, and the hard to impress teen said, “This is really good!” 

They sat down for almost an hour in rapt attention and were loathe to turn it off until next time.

What do we like about them?

#1 The production values are exceptional.  Good sound quality.  The music is well done without being overblown.  Good foley work and appropriately placed (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve heard bad foley).  My teen sits quietly and listens, loving every minute, without making any sarcastic comments…if you have a sarcastic teen in your life, you know how much that means.

#2 The voice work is done by some of the best.  I’m going to admit something here---when I was first approached by Heirloom Audio to review these, I was on the fence.  But as soon as I checked out the website and found out that Brian Blessed voices the narrator, G.A. Henty, in all four dramas, both my teen and I were geeking out.  Because Brian Blessed.  My son and I had just recently seen Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, in which Blessed plays Duke Thomas Beaufort of Exeter (my son’s favorite character in the film). 

Blessed is, of course, well known for his Shakespearean work and a tremendous presence on the screen, but he is also a great actor with a great voice.  It is a treat to listen to him narrate these stories.

Dragon also features the voices of John Ryhs-Davies (Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings) and…Sylvester McCoy (perhaps better known now for The Hobbit, but I remember him best as the 7th Doctor Who).  All of the actors and actresses have done an exceptional job---voice work is a very different art from acting in front of a camera and these folks are all artists in their craft.

A few of the other voices you may recognize in the other audio dramas (it’s fun to wait for that wave of recognition):  Sean Astin, Kirk Cameron, Billy Boyd, Jim Weiss…

#3 The writers, directors, producers have done an excellent job converting these stories into radio plays.  They have taken the original materials and have transformed them.  I had not read the original book The Dragon and the Raven.  I downloaded it off of Amazon to give it a quick read through so I could compare it to the audio drama.  Just in the 1st chapter I could see the amount of thought that had gone into creating a sensory experience from the original source material.  This is not simply having the actors read the words off the page.  They really have transformed the original book into something fresh and new.

#4 These audio dramas are perfect over lunch or for a drive to Grandma’s house.  Running time is about 2-1/2 hours, so you can listen a bit at a time or all at once.  It used to be that we just listened to audiobooks in the car, but I’ve recently become enamored of audio dramas.  They are better at drawing in different age groups.  Certainly they don’t replace audiobooks or reading aloud, but the dramas seem particularly suited when you doing something like eating or traveling and need to keep a wide range of ages engaged. 

There’s only  one thing I would suggest to Heirloom to consider for future productions:

I would love to have a transcript of the play.  It’s easy to get caught up in the action (and there is plenty of action) and to lose track of who did what.  Especially if you come back to the story a few days later.  Unlike a book, where you can flip back and see what’s what to refresh your memory, it’s a little harder to do that with audio drama without replaying significant portions.  Our family is a little weird, too---we like to put on captioning when we watch things.  It helps us to catch words that are easy to miss.  Having a transcript to skim through while listening or afterwards would be a great help.

I’ve got a special deal for you.

Heirloom Audio Productions normally sells each of these cd sets for $29.99, but right now they are offering a very special deal to Homeschooling Hearts & Minds readers!  You can receive 2 copies of a complete set of 4 dramas (oh, that’s a mouthful!)---that is, receive 2 copies EACH of:

The Dragon and the Raven, Under Drake’s Flag, In Freedom’s Cause, and With Lee in Virginia

The Dragon and The Raven Cover Image Under Drake's Flag Cover ImageIn Freedom's Cause Cover ImageWith Lee In Virginia Cover Image

Plus EXTRAS!  Including study guides, mp3 versions, and more!

All at one low price that makes each set about $10.  Perfect to share the cost with another family.  Or give them as gifts (start your Christmas shopping now).  Or even start a listening library at your homeschool co-op.  The discount code should be automatically added when you click, but just in case here it is: HHAM1

Have you listened to any great audio dramas lately?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Organizing Our Homeschool Materials and Learning Space

This post contains affiliate links.

Organizing our homeschool materials and learning space at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI’ve got my books lined up, my routines typed and printed, my binders organized, and my workspace ready!  We’ll be starting our new homeschool year on Monday, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I’ve made some changes to my approach and our set up.  Fingers (and toes) crossed and prayers sent to heaven, hoping that the time I’ve spent in preparation has been time well spent.

Today I’m going to talk about how I’ve organized our learning space and our learning materials.  Let’s start with the space.

A little while back I talked about how I had decommissioned our “school” room.  I’ve also been working on simplifying a bit by removing, donating, and repurposing various things in our home.  We do not have tiny home, but with 6 people living in it (2 of whom are definitely bibliophiles, ahem, yes, I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are at least a few thousand books in this house) and all their things, it can get pretty chaotic. 

I also have this thing about not wanting my home to look like a school.  I don’t even want to be surrounded by books all day (even though I’m one of the bibliophiles).  I know, I’m weird.

I want us to be able do seatwork in the kitchen, but I don’t want my kitchen to be a classroom. 

It’s a kitchen, too, after all.  Having 6 foot high book shelves in there would make me claustrophobic.  I’m not a traditional school-at-homer so having a classroom isn’t my style anyway…but the school book and stuff have to go somewhere, right?

At the same time, having books all over my counter when I’m trying to fix dinner makes me want to pull my hair out, and the daily dash to clear the table in time to serve that dinner has gotten really old.  So, if we were going to use the kitchen for doing math problems and writing notebook pages, I needed to find a way to house everything we needed for those tasks without overwhelming the room.  That involved not just finding homes for school stuff, but also rearranging some of my kitchen stuff and giving away some seldom used accoutrements.  It also involved getting creative with some of the space. 

We have a good-sized, eat-in kitchen, but it takes space to be able seat six at the table and still have room for guests (we don’t have a separate dining room). 

I also don’t want to be tied to a particular room or desk or whatever all day. 

I do need a convenient place to keep our learning materials, and some activities require a table or desk to work at, but the kids and I all move to other parts of the house and outside throughout the day, so my plans need to support that.  I’ll show you in a bit how I encourage mobility.

Our house is old and quirky, but sometimes it seems it was made just for us.   The rooms are a decent size, but there are these odd nooks and crannies---even if your space is smaller, this might give you some ideas.

Here is our learning and eating space right now.

Organizing our homeschool materials and learning space at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

One thing I lacked before (even in the “school” room) was a good work space for myself.

Don’t neglect that.  Really.  My teacher guides were on this shelf, my computer was in that other room, and for some reason I could never find a working dry erase marker.  I spent too much time perched at the kitchen counter and my materials got in the way of food prep.

I really needed my stuff to be all in one place and I needed space to work.

This is a little nook between the wall next to the doorway into the room and our upright freezer.  Here are the measurements so you have an idea of how small it is: 45” wide x 24” deep (that’s the depth of the wall on the left of the desk---the freezer on the right comes out a few inches further):

Homeschool Mom set up for tiny places at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

A Desk for Tiny Places (Amazon affiliate link)I found this great little desk on Amazon with a tiny footprint (2ft wide x 16” deep) and it even came with a padded folding chair.  This was the most expensive part of this project, but I spent birthday money on it (thanks, Mom!).  It’s perfect for a laptop with some extra room to spare and has a pull out keyboard drawer that I can use for writing or grading papers.  Best of all, it fits perfectly in this space.

Hanging on the side of the freezer, I have have hung part of a shoe organizer that I repurposed from our old school room.  This is one of those doobers that is designed to hang on a closet door.  I cut it off so it was only 3 pockets high by 4 pockets wide and hung it using Command hooks. 

Below that I have a file/book sling that I found at our local thrift store on sale for $2.50 (Can you believe it?  My husband asked if they had anymore. I wish!) and a file box purchased new (about $6).  I keep teacher guides and our current read alouds in the sling.  The file box is has hanging files where I store things like printables and my binder.

Organzing teacher materials at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Here’s a peep at my binder.  I have a year calendar with our homeschool year blocked out.  I can use this to mark days/weeks off for holidays, etc.  The post it notes and needed supplies/prep for the coming week.  Then my planner is a two page spread for the week that shows me at a glance what my 3 younger children are doing (My high schooler has his own planning pages. ).  The other sections are for storing things like our history reading schedule, etc.

Teacher binder at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Teacher binder at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Teacher binder at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Middle Ages read along for Story of the World at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


I do not plan out every minute of every day.  I don’t even plan out every week.  My goal is to establish a routine and to make it easy to do the next thing.  So these lists you see---they are not set in stone, but they are made to be manageable.  I guesstimated how much time I would like to spend on a given unit and worked around that.  I’ve planned a 32 week year for our content curricula (skills are separate)knowing that we can then take breaks between units and still accomplish what we want to accomplish this year.  If you are familiar with Story of the World, you’ll notice that I haven’t even scheduled the whole book.  I don’t plan to cover the whole book---I’ll talk more about how I planned out our year in another post.

Let’s take a look at how I’ve organized the kids’ school things. 

Every box, shelf, etc, in this set up was something we already owned (some things were repurposed from another part of the house).

Organizing our homeschool at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Aside: See the little witch on the top shelf?  Peter designed and stitch her from felt over the summer---I’m thinking about making her our mascot for the year.

I’m going to focus primarily upon the things for our formal lessons here, but you’ll notice there are also bins with art supplies and such also---my kids have ready access to these materials all the time.  My kids also draw like crazy, so there is also access to paper, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, etc.  Math manipulatives and games are to the right.

Our materials for the year are on the bottom shelf. In the half milk crates from left to right: history/lit, 2nd grade reading, and Five in a Row.  These are the books that will be cycled out of the milk crates and into “play.”

Organizing our homeschool at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Much as I would like to have the entire year here, this is just for the fall.  I had to compromise, because fitting everything here just wasn’t going to work without higher book shelves.  The spring materials are waiting in the wings (stacked in milk crates in the old school room).

Each of the three younger kids has a file box.  These are the materials in “play” (currently in use).  That hanging basket has books that the two middle kids share.

Keeping student materials neat and portable at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Let’s peek into Mary’s box.

Keeping student work neat and accessible using hanging files at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Each of my kids is colored coded, so if I see a binder with a green spine, I know it belongs to Mary.  They like being color coded---it makes it easier for them to find their own stuff.  They also like having their own boxes.

You’ll notice that I have hanging folders in the boxes---these keeps the materials (especially flimsy spiral bound notebooks, paper backs, and smaller books) from slipping down into the box and getting bent up or hidden from view.  I can also put in file folders with printables and things like DVDs and manipulatives.

When the child pulls something out, everything stays where it belongs without slumping over.  Let’s peek into Peter’s box a minute and you’ll better see how this system can keep odd shaped things organized:

Small things don't get lost with hanging files at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Each kid has a pouch (you can see his blue on on the left) with things like pencils, ruler, pens, etc.  His Math U See DVD and fractions manipulatives are in a folder to the right. 

The other thing about these boxes:  the lids keep out dust and the handles on the lids make them portable.

Let’s go back to Mary’s box…I want to give you a peek inside her binder.

The binder has her assignment sheets and also gives her a place to put work that doesn’t have a different home (notebook, workbook, etc.).  The assignment sheets show her what she will be doing this week.  There are things we do together, but there also things she will do independently.  As she is entering 7th grade, there is a fair amount she does on her own (with help from Mom if she needs it, of course).  She gets to decide when she does the independent things.

Student Assignment sheets at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Notice how some of the day boxes are grayed out for our all together stuff and things she does with her brother.  This shows her that we do those things on certain days of the week.  All together things without any grayed out boxes are everyday things.  For her independent work, some things are done every day (like math) and then other things she has particular assignments to complete during the week and she can choose what days she does them on.

The assignment sheets keep me honest.  When she has done everything she was assigned to do, she is done, no ifs, ands, or buts.   I’ll talk more about how and why  I use assignment sheets another time. 

Note: All the assignment sheets I am using this year are a modified version of the free set I posted last weekSubscribe to get access to the editable versions.

Let’s peek into Emma and Mommy’s box.

Organizing teaching materials at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Emma is entering 2nd grade and most of her  homeschool lessons require mom.  This box is a bit stuffed, but that’s because it’s got everything in it that I do with Emma, including my teacher guides.   I wanted to have everything in one place so I can just pick it up and go into another room when the other kids are working in the kitchen.

Organizing teaching materials at Homeschooling Hearts & Mind

And that’s our set up this year.  The teen has his own crate of stuff in his bedroom and his own personal planning sheets.

How do you organize your homeschool materials?

I’d love to see pictures---leave us a link in the comments!


Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  Affiliate links add no fees to your purchase, but they can help to support this blog.  I am only an affiliate for companies whose products I use myself.  Thank you for supporting Homeschooling Hearts & Minds.