Finding Our Late Elementary & Transition Years Homeschool Groove

Today I'm posting at Simple Homeschool our day in the life, my recording a "typical" homeschool day in our home. In that post I describe the day from 9:00 am till 7:00 pm. My plan was to fill in the rest of the day here - the early morning hours specifically.

I don't know what happened. Instead of a nice little post I wrote a monster. Sometimes I just can't help myself.

I haven't talked about our homeschool routine and plans for a while and it all just came tumbling out. I really do love to talk homeschool. You'll have to see the end of this post (it's wicked long) for the early morning part that was to be the extent of this post.

Our Yearly Schedule

This month is the start of our winter school term. What do I mean by school term? To make record keeping easier and also because I like seasonal rhythms I divide the year into Winter, Spring/Summer and Fall "school terms".

This doesn't mean we are doing school stuff during this whole time. Fall is typically a great time to get down to business, our bodies and minds seem to like that after summer. As we near the end of fall though we're ready for a long break to celebrate Christmas.

January is a natural time of new beginnings so we pick up our morning school routine and stay pretty focused till we tire mid-winter and need a break. Then we try to get back at it (to varying degrees of success) till the awakening of the earth in spring.

Spring/Summer are bunched together because school is very on again, off again during these warmer months. There's spring gardening and the warming days that calls us back outdoors for long periods of time during the day. Spring is a great nature study time!

When we've had our fill, after about a month or so, we return to a revised morning school schedule. Then hot summer weather beckons and we mix it up again. School, beach, farm, backpacking. We roll with it.

Last summer, because we had taken a long break for moving and the kids were antsy for some routine (being bored, teary, irritable, uninspired, and not getting along very well are some good indicators that more structure is needed) we did a morning school routine throughout most of June and July.

August was a break for our trip out west while the kids enjoyed a couple weeks alone with their grandparents. September was back at it till we started to pack in October for our second move of the year.

November we moved (and were sick) and got settled in our current home. December was our usual month long holiday break. Time to craft, make gifts, enjoy the season. We love that time together.

Planning for The Season

January it was time to get back to our school groove. Thankfully we hadn't reached the bored, teary, irritable and uninspired stage yet! But we were getting close. Celine especially needing some "scholarly activities" to sink her teeth into.

I did a big evaluation and planning session last summer, after our move. Taking stock of where each of the kids were at in their learning, what they needed from me, resources I needed to buy etc.

Because our past winter and spring was so focused on moving (renovations, downsizing, packing, leaving the country) I didn't have much time to think about homeschooling during that time so my summer planning session was fairly intense. It took me a couple weeks and I kept reading, planning and tweaking throughout the summer.

Another factor in the intensity of that summer planning session is that Celine is transitioning between childhood and young adulthood.

If you are familiar with Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning (one of my all time favorite homeschooling "manuals" and the model I most closely identify with to describe how we homeschool) Celine is in the Transition to Scholar phase. Having been solidly grounded in Core and Love of Learning the girl is ready to fly (and somedays not!) and my oh my it is an exciting and scary time for mama who is trying to figure this all out!

I scheduled the last few days of December to "wrap my brain around the homeschool plans for winter". It was time to revisit my planning from last summer. To evaluate what did and didn't work during our summer and fall schooling and to make plans for the coming winter months.

It never occurred to me to leave the house to make these plans. The kids are old enough and quite independent during the day that I can have uninterrupted work periods.

But I hadn't accounted for post-holiday mess. The boxes of Christmas decorations in the works of being packed up. The wet winter wear dripping on the floor. The empty fridge.


All of them. Especially in our small living space.

To quote Madeline L'Engle:

The sight of a meal's worth of dirty dishes, pots, and pans makes me want to run in the other direction. Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from the everybody - away from all these people I love most in the world - in order to regain a sense of proportion.

Oh yes, Madeline. I understand.

So on a very wintery morning in late December I packed up a rubbermaid storage bin with all our school books (not that many really), my school binder, my "what we're learning this week" masters and planning notes from last summer, fresh notepaper, my new fountain pen, pencils, and highlighters.

I also grabbed some cash for tea and lunch and drove into town to spend the morning at the coffee shop. The coffee shop that makes a mean panini sandwich for lunch also. Yum.

What the kids did at home with their dad during that time - I don't know. I just know my time, sans household distractions, was very productive.

I highly recommend this activity. I only recall having an out-of-house (sounds kind of like out of body) planning session one other time. I think I will make this the new norm, especially since Damien is home and there is really no reason why I can't leave the house for a few hours by myself.

Out of that wintery morning planning session came the following plans for each of our children.

Our Winter Homeschool Plans:


Writing - Establish a weekly writing discipline, done together with mom (this is not an assignment for Celine, these are writing projects done with me). Following general guidelines from The Writer's Jungle we are working towards a once a month writing project. Copywork once a week. Mad Libs with family.

World Study - The Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation and Famous Men Of The Renaissance & Reformation. (I bristle a bit at the Men part but perhaps we can do independent research on the women). The Greenleaf guide includes geography, vocabulary and discussion questions. These will be the base for a lot of Celine's self-directed work.  

Update: Greenleaf was too prescriptive for us. We went back to our usual routine of complete interest led world study, which means our geography, vocabulary and discussion were based on whatever Céline was reading and watching at the time.

I plan to supplement her history reading with titles from All Through the Ages. Just found this amazing book last summer. Highly recommend. Celine will read current events with a weekly check-in at Youngzine. Free online documentaries (the kids watch these once every couple weeks) will supplement the Greenleaf materials and be interest-led.

Math - Continuing with Math U See.

Reading - History related, interest-led from our family library and Kindle finds. Family read alouds (mom chosen classics and interest-led reads). Books from Honey for a Teen's Heart- another high recommend.

Bible - Audio Bible with family, scripture memory with mom (Spirit-led and Truth and Grace Memory Book, which includes a catechism). I still want to find a personal devotion book for Celine.

yes that's snow piled on our deck!

Science & Nature Study - The outdoors and interest-led. Free online documentaries. No formal science while we establish a writing and history study practice. Thinking we might start an honest to goodness science curriculum (our first ever) in the spring.

Physical Activity - Outdoors almost every day. Cross country skiing. Walking with mom. Hiking in warmer weather. Community dance this winter?

Computer Programming - Learn Python the Hard Way with dad.

Other - History includes studying art. Handicrafts and sewing will be interest-led. Considering an online craft course if she wants. Continuing to learn hymns with mom.

Laurent & Brienne:

Writing - All About Spelling and Getty Dubay handwriting practice. Copywork once a week. Narration, the kind where mom actually writes what the kids say, will be as the spirit moves us. Our kids are always telling us about what they're learning or interested in. I could never write that all down.

Everyday Writing is very much the focus with these two, haven't yet published my piece on Everyday Writing but it looks a lot like the Jot it Down & Partnership Writing stages (from The Writer's Jungle). The plan is to write together each week with the goal of completing one project each month. Independent writing - Brienne does this all the time. Family Mad Libs.

World Study - Finish The Story of the World, Volume One with activity book. Start The Story of the World, Volume Two. Additional interest-led reading and free online documentaries (the kids watch these once every couple weeks) will supplement Story of The World.

Math - Teaching Textbooks.

Reading & Stories - Both Brienne and Laurent read aloud to me every day. And I read aloud to all the kids before bed. Brienne's readers are pulled from our family library. Laurent is reading to me from the Stone Arch Classic Fiction Graphic Novels and Bob Wright's books published by High Noon Press. Sparkle Stories and other audio books from fill in the gaps.

Bible - Conversations, discussion and reading focus on who Jesus is, as inspired by the teaching timeline laid out in Telling God's Story. Audio Bible with family, scripture memory with mom (Spirit-led and Truth and Grace Memory Book, which includes a catechism).

Science & Nature Study - The outdoors and interest-led. Free online documentaries.

Physical activity - Outdoors almost every day. Cross country skiing. Walking with mom. Hiking in warmer weather. Community dance this winter?

Other - Laurent's art is a daily practice and joy. Working on art commissions and his blog. Handicrafts for both are interest-led. Learning hymns with mom.

A few other resources I have on hand and use sporadically:

I have a few more resources I bought last summer to prepare for our move to a non-English speaking province. I haven't used them yet so haven't included them here.

What we started last summer and are continuing with this winter is the most focused we've been in our homeschool practice. I think that's just natural as the kids get older and given their particular needs.

Celine is ready and wanting more and Laurent needs extra attention with his reading and spelling (I didn't do spelling with Celine). And like I explained in this video post I don't have access to local English resources so I need to plan and have resources on hand, like Story of The World. When Celine was Brienne's age we simply used library books for our history study. 

Although it looks like a lot written out this way, we don't do every one of these elements every day. Some days there is a history focus, other days writing, etc.

Math happens everyday and the kids do it completely independent of me, which is why I switched to Teaching Textbooks for the younger two. You don't have to be a strong reader since the computer talks you through it.

Also, Damien is taking over in certain areas of Celine's learning, specifically computer programming. This was part of our plan in bringing him home - for him to be available as our children need him more during their transition to scholar and scholar years.

Family Bible times happen all together at our midday and evening meal. Reading aloud happens in the evening.

Our Morning Routine:

My post at Simple Homeschool recorded the kids' active learning part of the day (minus our reading together at night). Here's the morning that got it all started.

6:10 I get up. Notice more snow on the ground (yay!). Get my morning glass of water and check my e-mail.

6:30 My internet access goes down (perhaps this is a sign?) so I start planning my daily to-do list instead.

6:45 I set aside my planning for the day and get out my inspirational reading. Funny how I love to read but my morning spiritual discipline feels just like that - a discipline.

7:20 Always a discipline to start, always so difficult to end. Time to make coffee and return to sketching out the day.

I review my notes from my winter term planning session to remind myself what I'm doing today. I know this will be a slow start for all of us so I'm trying to keep the plan doable. My homeschool goals for the day:

  • Meet with my 12 yr old to lay out her week (this is new).
  • Individual math practice (we never stopped this during our break).
  • Mad Libs all together.
  • Handwriting practice for my 9 & 10 yr old.
  • Revisit our scripture memory and choose a new verse.
  • Prepare tomorrow's copywork.
  • History reading and computer programming for my 12 yr old.
  • Evening read aloud time and reading practice for my 9 & 10 yr old (we never stopped this during our break).

That's planned "school" for the day. Tomorrow I'll resume history with the younger two and their spelling lessons. Later this week we'll have a freewrite session and write Christmas thank you notes.

Reality check: no thank you's have been done - we did other writing instead, and we didn't start a new Bible passage till the following week.

And so starts a new day and new season of homeschool for us. And so ends probably my longest post ever at FIMBY.

If you're still with me at this at this point you deserve a prize. No prizes but I will answer questions if you have any (smile).

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  • Natalie

    Natalie on Jan. 11, 2012, 5:59 a.m.

    Yes, I made it to the end and quite enjoyed your post. I also read your post at simple homeschool. Both gave me a feeling of reassurance and excitement about this homeschool path our family has begun. I love how individualized your plan is.

    My children are still quite young. The eldest of the three is turning five soon. My days are spent cleaning, cleaning and cleaning some more. Can you direct me to any of your writings/advice for what to do in the young years?

    Please pass on a compliment to the person who is working on the stitchery. Beautiful!


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 11:25 a.m.

      That would be Celine. Learning With Littles is what life looked like with toddlers in my home. I didn't blog then so I took a look back to that time and wrote what we did do during those years. As the kids grew out of that stage and into early elementary homeschool looked like this.  That's my writing that covers the early years. But there's a lot of posts on Homeschool Help also.


  • Beth Wagenius

    Beth Wagenius on Jan. 11, 2012, 11:50 a.m.

    this post brings back so many memories. Planning homeschool routines was always so enjoyable to me. To see it all written out on paper and organized. I loved it. I sort of miss it somedays. :)


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 11:53 a.m.

      I didn't know you were a homeschooling mom Beth. Maybe you mentioned it somewhere but I missed it. I do like the planning also. I'm not so great with always following through but that's why we evaluate at the end of the season and adjust our expectations accordingly for the next!


  • Natalia

    Natalia on Jan. 11, 2012, 12:13 p.m.

    Wonderful post! It is really great to read where people are at and how they plan. We are at the start of a new school year and new approach, so this is a valuable read for me. One thing I am struggling a little with is structure - how much, when to change, what kind of timescales. So this post has been a help. And it is always great to see what a family with children a bit older than mine are doing so as to get ideas as to what we are coming up to.


  • Heather

    Heather on Jan. 11, 2012, 12:22 p.m.

    I love the long posts! And all of this information is wonderful! My kids are still in the very beginning stages of homeschooling, being almost 4 and 2, but I love to hear about all the challenges and plans for others. It helps me wrap my head around what I will need to do down the line. I love your idea of getting away for a few hours to plan. I really need to do that. I have a "hobby night" each week, but find that when I am in the house I am always pulled back to the babes when there is a breakdown. Maybe I should try to get out more... :-)


  • Suyai

    Suyai on Jan. 11, 2012, 12:48 p.m.

    I really enjoy your blog. Sometimes for me the most difficult part is getting out of bed early and also getting to bed early! Any tips or ideas? What time do you aim to go to bed?

    Also, do your kids watch any TV at all? Or movies? Can you reccommend a few ones, hopefully for younger children too?

    Thanks! Shalom and blessings.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 2:37 p.m.

      Suyai, I'm not sure how old your children are but when I had littles I did not rise early. I talked about that a bit in this recent post. This is something actually quite near to my heart - encouraging mothers with young children, who are struggling with the realities of that season of motherhood. I am writing a post right now with ideas for filling your well during that very intense time of mothering.  I'm not sure if that's the case with you but if it is, I have a post coming where I talk about mornings with little ones. Personally, it was unrealistic for me to rise early when I was getting up through the night for years and years. Currently I go to bed around 9:30 and without littles in the house I sleep a solid 8 hours. I could never have gotten up early when my children were little. They were not good sleepers. We don't watch TV and haven't now for years. I talk about what we did with our young children and TV in this post - Learning with Littles. In those days it was 1/2 hour of morning PBS. Movies, if you mean entertainment type we do those once/week as a family. The kids watch documentaries once every couple weeks. Unfortunately, I don't have much to recommend. I haven't kept a list through the years.  I do have a list of current media in our home on my sidebar under read~listen~watch. These are not necessarily appropriate or interesting for young ones though.


      • Suyai

        Suyai on Jan. 11, 2012, 5:22 p.m.

        Thank you so much for your reply, I've been reading your blog for just a few weeks, so I'm quite "new" to it, so the links are great.

        My son is 4 years old and planning to have another one hopefully in the next year. :)

        One last question, which is your favourite story pack in Sparkle Stories? They look fun but can't decide which one!

        Shalom. xx


        • renee

          renee on Jan. 14, 2012, 10:46 p.m.

          Suyai, We are still on the old monthly subscription which includes:

          Sparkle Saturdays 

          Martin & Sylvia


          So Many Fairies

          The kids like all of them for different reasons. 


  • sara

    sara on Jan. 11, 2012, 1 p.m.

    Hi Renee, Do you have specific sources for free online documentaries? We used to have a netflix subscription which we cancelled (and there were lots of documnetaries there), but I hadn't considered that I could find them for free. Also, that is a beautiful embroidery in the middle photo! Last, but not least, thanks for sharing all this.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 2:28 p.m.

      No specific source to recommend. Now that we live in Canada we dropped our netflix subscription.  I google free online documentaries and go from there.


      • Stacey

        Stacey on Jan. 11, 2012, 2:51 p.m.

        Oh! What province? We're in Ontario....


        • Melissa

          Melissa on Jan. 11, 2012, 6:09 p.m.

          This suggestion may not be age appropriate for you, yet, but someone reading the blog may be able to use it. An idea for online documentaries...try the National Film Board site. While some clips and services are available for a fee, there are many, many documentaries and films available. Free, except for the cost for your internet service. In addition to 'regular' films etc., they also have an education section on the site, complete with downloadable study guides etc. Aside from that, there is the Kids' Movies channel on the site


        • renee

          renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 7:12 p.m.



  • Amanda

    Amanda on Jan. 11, 2012, 2:20 p.m.

    What a great post! Thank you for sharing the details, Renee. So timely, considering I spent a good chunk of the evening last night reviewing where my two are, and what we'd done in the last month, and what we should be moving on to. I love all the recommendations, too - can't wait to check out a couple of those titles you mentioned. Thanks!


  • Kika@embracingimperfection

    Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 11, 2012, 4:36 p.m.

    I am excited about your recommendation of "All Through the Ages" - I had never heard of it before but believe it would be helpful for Katia (12 ys). Also, I think I've said so before but, after hearing about it from you, we've set youngzine as the homepage on the kids' laptop which encourages them to stay abreast of current events. My six year old, Ella, LOVES Story of the World, vol 1. She draws as I read aloud and even over Christmas holidays kept pestering me to read it to her :) I plan on writing a post very soon about the joys of teaching grade one again. I will try super hard to not compare myself to your most fabulous writing when I compose that post ;)


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 7:20 p.m.

      All Through The Ages is an amazingly comprehesive literature guide. I wish I had known about it years ago. It would have made finding historical and geographical books easier. Oh well...  I have it now.   


    • Kika@embracingimperfection

      Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 14, 2012, 6:34 p.m.

      All Through the Ages is out of print. There are two sellers listed on but they won't ship to me. I tried a smaller bookstore, in Edmonton, which has done special orders for us in the past but they say they can't get it. And, it is not available through the library system. Any other ideas? Maybe a reader has a copy they don't want?


  • Kika@embracingimperfection

    Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 11, 2012, 4:37 p.m.

    I am excited about your recommendation of "All Through the Ages" - I had never heard of it before but believe it would be helpful for Katia (12 ys). Also, I think I've said so before but, after hearing about it from you, we've set youngzine as the homepage on the kids' laptop which encourages them to stay abreast of current events. My six year old, Ella, LOVES Story of the World, vol 1. She draws as I read aloud and even over Christmas holidays kept pestering me to read it to her :) I plan on writing a post very soon about the joys of teaching grade one again. I will try super hard to not compare myself to your most fabulous writing when I compose that post ;)


    • Kika@embracingimperfection

      Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 11, 2012, 5:54 p.m.

      My comment showed up twice for some reason. I forgot to ask if you have ever watched Drive Thru History DVD's? We've quite enjoyed them. Also, your idea of getting out of the house for planning sounds nice. I have always wondered how moms manage to stay focused, though, in a coffee shop. I wonder if I'd keep getting distracted by people I know coming in.


      • renee

        renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 7:15 p.m.

        Never heard of those. I am not able to get DVD's where I am. Only online, so if they are available online I could maybe access them. Thanks for the recommend. I can stay very focused in a coffee shop but at home it is so hard for me to tune out everything, especially since I'm in the middle of it all.   


  • Jay

    Jay on Jan. 11, 2012, 7:28 p.m.

    At about what age did you begin the computer science curriculum? My son is 10 and, though he is proficient with Lego Mindstorms programming, I'm not sure if he's ready for python.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 11, 2012, 9:09 p.m.

      She just started last fall, when she was twelve. Celine seems uniquely suited for programming. Her mind works that way - sequential and logical. I don't know if our other two will like it. It was her choice to do it. Damien offered to teach and facilitate but it had to be something she wanted to do. And she does. So it works. I love listening to the two of them talk computer geek stuff.


  • Emily

    Emily on Jan. 11, 2012, 10:50 p.m.

    Oh, those days... Homeschool planning was one of my favorite aspects of our homeschooling experience. (Maybe more than the doing part- wincing while I say this) I guess "making plans", scheduling and calendaring, and coming up with possible ideas is one of my life's pleasures.

    And tell Celine that she's got me drooling over that embroidery of hers. So neatly done and making me want to pull out my own (neglected) handwork projects.


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Jan. 12, 2012, 1:18 a.m.

    I've been toying with ideas for the future, and stumbled across the story of the world in a resource catalog my aunt gave me. So, if you are starting volume 2, I take it you like the "curriculum"? Glen and I also started watching a video series for older kids and adults that we are very impressed with. It's called The History of the World, mega-conference collection, and is centered around God's providence and organization of time. Very cool.


  • kelsey

    kelsey on Jan. 12, 2012, 4:18 a.m.

    wonderful post- i love that it is long and comprehensive!!! I hope your site is still around or at least i hope i get time enough to record this stuff for when my littles are at this stage!! I am looking forward to the post you have coming about life as a mom with littles! I find myself struggling on an almost daily basis with just trying to keep up- and get them outside enough while we try to do renos and plan for our next stage of life!! its time for us to move on to a community where we can live more affordably on one income and still have a bit left over for projects and excursions etc!!

    I always enjoy your posts but often dont respond (I often sneak in a few minutes online while nursing the little guy to sleep- good for reading not so good for typing!!!) Trying to cut back online more and more to fit more life in!!

    thanks kelsey


  • Jessica

    Jessica on Jan. 12, 2012, 4:34 a.m.

    I came over from Simple Homeschool - and I greatly enjoyed the long post! I didn't have time to go to all the links, but plan to come back and do so. My children are 6, 8, 10 so we are in or coming into similar places. Your photographs are lovely - your children as well!


  • Kerry

    Kerry on Jan. 12, 2012, 6:59 a.m.

    "(being bored, teary, irritable, uninspired, and not getting along very well are some good indicators that more structure is needed)"

    This is exactly where we're at after a long break, and we're struggling. The kids seem to be fighting me on this. Any tips on how to get them on board? I know they need some structure, but anything I try to present is met with groans and complaints.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 10:57 a.m.

      Firstly, structure time, not content. For example, our days are structured with certain wake up times and bedtimes, chore and meal times, a morning school time, afternoon play, projects & exercise, evening reading, etc... Start with structuring the day.  Then if it's school they complain about make sure it's not because the material is uninteresting or uninspiring to them or presented in a way that is too difficult for them. There are parts of our school routine my kids don't like as much as others and they "superficially" groan about it (because I'm infringing on their time I suppose) but at the end of the day they look back and feel good about their day.  Also, the kids love certain things I do with them, Mad Libs for example and story of the world and they know I only do that in the morning school block. Math used to cause Laurent problems and he would complain about our school structure in general because of this. So I changed his curriculum to be more accommodating to his learning style and it's much better now. This took some sluething because kids need help identifying the source of their frustration and in learning how to express that.  I hestitate to say "do this thing" to get your kids motivated because there might be a root cause that is not being addressed.  At some point also, there is the "I'm an adult, have lived longer and know that what you need is a bit of structure" even if your kids don't know it. But I hesitate here also because some people use this mentality to make their kids do all kinds of things that I think are counterproductive to the learning process.  After a long break though I suggest starting slow and with the pieces your children love the most. Another tip for future, keep up with your math practice during long breaks. This has really helped us and works good because they do their math independent of me.


      • Kerry

        Kerry on Jan. 20, 2012, 11:54 p.m.

        Thank you so much for your response. It turns out I was pushing it a bit. All I really needed to do was pay a little more attention. In some way they knew they needed "more" I just needed to wait for the cues from them on when and how much. Everyone seems so much happier now.


  • Spalva

    Spalva on Jan. 12, 2012, 7:47 a.m.

    I've been enjoying your blog these days as I struggle through massive jetlag, read getting up at 4 am.

    I have a sixth grader, so enjoyed the details about Celine's work. This year this daughter is in an international preK-12 IB school while homeschooling in French (because she requested it -- she's French/American, lives in Lithuania, but will most likely live in France most of her life). Currently, she studies English, Lithuanian, German and French. So, obviously, I noticed the lack of a foreign language Celine's curriculum. :-) What are your plans concerning French? I'm sure you've got it all planned out for the whole family and have a post queued up already!

    Thanks for the link to youngzine, my sixth grader thanked me for it and signed up straight away to write some reviews.

    She is also pretty into programming and such -- also seems to have a knack for it. She is on a robotics team, for which she does most of the programming; they recently won a big tournament in Budapest. She has a great teacher who gives them some really interesting programming challenges.

    My challenge is getting my family that precious outdoor time.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 10:34 a.m.

      No post queued up. We plan to learn French by living in a French speaking province. I'd like to start a conversation partner type learning experience for the kids but that's about all for this winter. I'm wanting to take some language classes to get me started and we'll go from there. 


      • Spalva

        Spalva on Jan. 12, 2012, 2:39 p.m.

        That sounds good! I have no intention of sounding patronizing by my question, just so you know. Could I just tell you that, from experience, this is the long, hard road way of learning a language. My girls easily absorb the local language of where we are at any given time, in the sense that they quickly recognize it and learn some words, but it takes years, in this way, to have an actual conversation (and the girls have classes!). We need to get into some art classes or sports lessons or something, I think. We just never find the time! :-)


        • renee

          renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 5:03 p.m.

          I didn't think you were being patronizing (smile). Call me a bad homeschooler, but graduating our kids with a second language is not high on my priority list. Actually we don't have a "these are the academics our children should know" list. It's so dependant and who they are and what they want to do with their lives. People reading this might shriek, "what about college?". Don't kids need to know A, B or C (fill in with algebra, second language, whatever).  We strongly feel that if it is our children's intention to go to college, they will apply themselves to learning what they need to know to meet that goal in their high school years. But we aren't forcing or rushing second languages in the early or middle schooling years. (I bring the college thing into the discussion because I know many people think the goal of of elementary and secondary education is to go to college. We don't. We think the goal is both broader and more individual than that.) I am excited about the opportunity to learn (at least the basics) French by living in a different culture and that's our only second language instruction right now, which is what I was trying to say in my first comment. I don't have any specific goals or plans in this regard. We are still focused on our basic elementary goals for the younger two - reading, writing, math and in helping Celine transition from elementary to scholar. Which is a long process, not an overnight thing at all.  Clear as mud?


  • Stacey

    Stacey on Jan. 12, 2012, 12:19 p.m.

    Quick question for you...Do you connect handwriting practice with copywork? Not sure whether to be critical of small inconsistencies with letter formation when critiquing copywork and/or creative writing. My son is disliking handwriting practice as a whole and I'm concerned that we might be stifling creative writing skills by being too persnickety. Thoughts?


    • Kika@embracingimperfection

      Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 12, 2012, 3:38 p.m.

      I hope you don't mind if I share my experience here. My son, now 15, used to detest writing...when he was in early elementary he'd cry if he had to write anything. His hand cramped, he was and still is a poor speller, he just hated the entire process. The first thing that helped was totally separating developing writing skills (as in penmanship or spelling) from creative writing. The second is that he learned to type in grade two-three which caused an enormous leap in terms of how much he could enjoy creative writing. But finally, in early junior high I made a big shift in my approach to his writing. I gave him content control for his creative writing - basically said, "write about whatever you actually care about" and away he went. He wrote, at that time, about Sonic the Hedgehog or favorite video games but slowly evolved until he began writing a novel! He is, today, a strong and talented writer.

      We had a Canadian author come run two writing workshops for our homeschool group- several years ago now- and he told the kids that he almost failed highschool English and that he is still a horrible speller.... but that is why he has an editor. That greatly encouraged my son and others. The point is, you can be a talented writer and not be great at spelling or penmanship. I strongly encourage separating these objectives in homeschooling.

      Your son may not be having the same issues mine did so I hope this comment wasn't entirely irrelevant.


      • renee

        renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 5:15 p.m.

        Thank you Kika. I totally agree.  For example, someone criticized (I deleted it) Brienne's spelling her personal journals. The ones I posted on the blog a while back. Her spelling or lack of spelling skills are a totally separate issue from expressing yourself in words. The goal, as I see it, is to unlock the words in our children and encourage them to express what they know. And to learn how to express that well. Penmanship, spelling, grammar etc. are skills that we learn along the way and will help us to get our point across but the real genius are the ideas themselves and the personal voice and experience you bring to your writing - those things that make it come alive and compelling to read. Blah, blah, blah. I could go on and on and I don't want to start a big writing discussion here. I have posts coming about that! The Bravewriter materials (I linked to it in the post) support this philosophy and I am using their materials as a guide this year.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

      See my comment below under Kika's input. Wanted to add... I do not critique my children's creative writing, unless they ask. For me that means, their journal entries, their personal writing, stuff they write to each other, etc... Honestly that covers a lot of our writing with the younger two. We don't do writing assignments. If they are sending e-mails and communicating with other people they often ask for my help in getting the spelling and grammar correct because they want it be right. They also know what good writing sounds like and their internal word compass points them in this direction. They'll say "this doesn't sound right" and then we edit. I guess it depends on what we call creative writing. I like to think all our writing is creative (smile). With the younger two, handwriting practice and copywork is where I explicitly teach penmanship and limited amounts of grammar, we do this twice a week. Handwriting in their books once, copywork once. Not much.  My kids like penmanship practice because we keep it limited in terms of time and they are aesthetically inclined. They like artsy, beautiful things! And I encourage this.  I would say if your son is giving you resistance and disliking something it's good to dig for the root causes and address those. Is it cramped hands? Is it your critiquing? Writing is very vulnerable - for all of us. No one wants to have their work torn apart. Is it just too much in one week?  I have some writing posts in the works that help address what you ask (from my experience, I'm not a writing instructor). Also, I really do love the Bravewriter stuff. I recommend it. But mostly I recommend a chill approach to writing with young kids. It should be fun and enjoyable. Writing should involve feel good emotions. Feeling good about themselves, feeling good about their writing voice. Feeling good about sitting with you and writing. I must stop now. I have lunch to make for my family.    


  • Donna

    Donna on Jan. 12, 2012, 7:10 p.m.

    I love hearing your story and how you individualized your kids plans. I only have one, and I just posted what an ideal day for us looks like. My daughter is 5 and we still have a very teacher directed schooling happening. At what age does that transition over to a little more child directed where I can step back and school from the kitchen sink? Also how did you get into your goal planning? I just have all the information in my head I am not great at putting that down on paper or transferring it to real goals.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 12, 2012, 8:46 p.m.

      Donna, For elementary education I believe in child-directed learning supplemented with building foundational skills & knowledge. This is the time for the love of learning to grow deep roots. When my kids were five we didn't do sit down formal stuff, there was no teacher-directed "school" at this age. It was reading aloud, nature, play and crafts. It looked like this. As they got older it transitioned to this. And now we transition again.  I don't do much from the kitchen sink (though I get what you're saying and there is more independence for me now that the kids are older), except maybe have discussions. Those we have all the time about all manner of things. Even though they can do it mostly on their own, I still step in to help with math, as needed.  Formal early years education, if you choose that route, is necessarily parent/teacher-intense - which is one reason we didn't do it. I preferred to be in nature, reading aloud, teaching homemaking skills and slowing introducing academic skills as the need and desire grew in my children.  My husband taught Celine to read and started the other two on that path also. Please see Homeschool Help for my reading posts. Reading - aloud and instruction - has always been very hands-on and remains so to this day.  I am available for homeschool coaching to help you with both your goal planning and to discuss child directed learning, what that looks like and how that might work in your own home. If you're interested (smile).  


  • Cari

    Cari on Jan. 12, 2012, 11:28 p.m.

    Thanks Renee.

    Clearly, many of us not only made it through the post but soaked in every word! I for one gleaned several new things from your day at the coffee shop. I love the current event news site (that was news to me) as well as the resource All Through the Ages. Great finds.

    We're back in the swing here too - just spent the early afternoon with my big girl in the kitchen.

    While this is a bit off topic, this is my question for you. Do you have an easy Miso recipe posted somewhere in which the end result does not taste fishy or too spicy? I love the idea of making miso for lunch, but not sure what sort of paste to purchase and what ingredients to add to draw the girls in on this healthy lunch.

    Thanks ahead of time. Cari


  • renee

    renee on Jan. 13, 2012, 11:38 a.m.

    Cari, I shared our miso soup recipe this summer here. Doesn't taste fishy or spicy at all. Maybe seaweedy - but my kids like that. You could remove that wakame if you like. All you really need is a good miso paste.


  • Charity

    Charity on Jan. 14, 2012, 4:09 a.m.

    Renee, I loved this post! I am not quite "there" because my children are so much younger, but I recently re-evaluated our day and implemented something I have never used before....a schedule and a check list. I am not a checklist kind of person; I appreciate spontaneity and hate feeling bound to a schedule and a checklist. My children (at least the older two) seem to thrive on a schedule and LOVE their checklists. I gave them a weekly list of what I wanted them to accomplish before breakfast....after breakfast but before lunch, etc. I no longer have to ask them to do their chores. They get up and they have taken ownership over their tasks. I love this! They get to their tasks and enjoy doing them. I also appreciated your comment about lack of structure = cranky children (I am paraphrasing). I have noticed that in my kiddos and again have found giving them a bit of a schedule has really helped. They know what is expected of them (what little "formal" school I do with them...although I am doing much more with Kaylynn this year because she has asked for it). I think sometimes it gets very easy for me to think that I need to manage everything which takes away a lot of learning opportunities from my littles. I have noticed in the past few weeks (since we started this new "schedule") that they have shown so much more responsibility, AND we haven't had as many cranky days. I always appreciate your posts and store them in the back of my mind for when my little ones are a bit older. Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us!


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 14, 2012, 12:33 p.m.

      Charity, You know what's funny - Celine doesn't particularly like checklists, Brienne loves them and Laurent is kind of ambivalent. He likes routines but he usually just wants to know the next thing, not a long list of next things, "first we'll do math, then you do lego, then we'll do spelling, then we'll do reading etc..." I love checklists and they help me. But I'm trying to figure out the best system for helping Celine manage her time when she's such a different kind of time management person than myself. I appreciate spontaneity also - when it fits in my schedule. Ha, Ha!!


  • Rana

    Rana on Jan. 14, 2012, 6:02 a.m.

    Renee, I have been following you and your family for a while and you have always given such great info to use and think about. I consider you one of my "Homeschool Mama Mentors". This post is most appreciated. I have been going through my evaluation of the past few months also and what we are going to be doing for the winter months.

    I can't wait to look at these sites you share. I'm really interested in the Teaching Text Books website and All About Spelling. I'm really looking forward to your posts on writing.

    I am in the process of reading Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, I hope that this will help me have a better sense of where I want to be with the kids and after that I might be sending you an email about coaching.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 14, 2012, 12:21 p.m.

      Thank you Rana. Wow, I feel a little nervous when I read comments like these because wow, people read and value my opinion and make potential decisions for their own families based on my recommendations. And that is humbling and scary (it's fine to mess up my kids! -ha, ha but I sure don't want to mess up anyone else!!) Comments like yours keep me on the straight and narrow in terms of being honest, real and only recommending things I really do believe in.  Anyway, do contact me if you're interested in coaching. I would LOVE to talk to you. I'd actually just love to meet you!


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Jan. 14, 2012, 5:58 p.m.

    Very interesting post, Renee. I would love to read another post on how the children respond to this, how you adjust, if they cooperate or whine or complain when you tell them it is time to do some school work, chores, etc. We both know that when it is laid out like this, it sounds great and perfect, but how is it in real life? Love, Catxx


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 14, 2012, 6:22 p.m.

      Of course they whine and complain (though not lots), just like I grumble sometimes when I have to set aside my writing, or come in from skiing to cook or whatever. Like when my son has to put aside his legos to do his math. I don't think I've ever said otherwise, and if I've given a false impression I don't mean to, but my kids are not always naturally motivated to do chores, or morning school routine, get outdoors for weekend hikes, etc. Neither am I! There is a difference between "I don't want to do this because I don't want to do what you say mom" and "I don't want to do this because it's uninspiring, unmotivating, above my comprehension, boring, simply too difficult, I don't understand" etc. The first attitude we don't tolerate in our home and haven't since the children were little. And I'm not going into parenting littles because that's just not the scope of this blog. The second is where I dig deep and work to resolve their learning issues and difficulties. You don't want to do math? Why? And I dig and question and search for answers. You don't feel like finishing the work we laid out the beginning of the week? Why is that? Was it too much? Is the required reading not well written?  There is a difference between disobedience (refusing to do chores, which frankly my children don't do - refuse that is) and being uninspired by the work. And often being uninspired leads to disobedience.  I am not a task master but there are certain things that need to be done to run a household and for us to all get along together - both maintenance issues and relational (like being kind). Those are the non-negotiables in our home and have been firm boundaries since the beginning. Equally as non-negotiable is freedom for learning and growing within those boundaries. Our children have a lot of learning freedom and they also know that I will not make them sit through boring "learning". I truly value inspired learning and I am seeking that always in their education and if they grumble for a while about something we are doing I take that to heart and consider how I might change course. But usually those grumbles don't last long because I am seeking solutions fairly quickly if they are out of sorts with our school routine. I had one more thought. Often children struggle with transition and the kids will grumble about "oh, do I have to stop this activity right now" but once they get through the first 5 minutes of the new thing they're fine. That's when I know it's not a deeper issue to deal with. But if there is struggle day after day through the whole activity then I have to dig to the root causes.  I hope that makes sense. 


  • Roxy Schow

    Roxy Schow on Jan. 15, 2012, 2:57 a.m.

    Hi, Renee! I loved your post! :) So enjoyed hearing about your day, your planning (I wanted to run out and plan something when I read about your day at the cafe!) It's just so fun to read about the entire process from different perspectives.

    We've got some awesome things starting at our house as a result of your little coaching session in December. Thanks so much and thanks for sharing posts like these - it helps me see that what I am thinking in my mind can totally play out in the real world. This whole journey is so darn exciting I am totally giddy some days!

    Also loved reading the comments about the creative writing. I share the same philosophy when it comes to children and writing and loved the posts centered around Brienne's journals. :)


  • Kika@embracingimperfection

    Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 17, 2012, 7:02 p.m.

    Another (late) question: I've been re-reading this post and the part of it at Simple Homeschool in order to try and see how much time you are blocking for your personal work of writing/blog. It seems that from about 7:30-9:30 and again 1:40-3:15 (at least on this day) you were focused on your blog/writing, for a total of about 3.5 hs/day. Would you say this is fairly accurate? Are you blocking specific regular times for this work? Are there are other large chunks of time devoted to your work that are not accounted for on this "typical day in the life"?


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 17, 2012, 8:13 p.m.

      That's a great question. I would say 3.5 hrs/day during the weekday is average yes. My writing time is "sacred" in terms of a fixed time - everyday. The rest of it is variable but usually falls into early afternoon 1:45-2:30 most typically. I like a big block of afternoon time for exercising, home management activities, stuff with the kids etc.. before I have to cook supper (usually at 5pm). Then I often do a bit of blog related work after supper (that's usually when I do photos) before shutting down my computer stuff. It usually works out to about 3.5 hours a day. These times happen to correspond to when the kids do their chores and morning routine, Damien cleans up lunch with the kids and then cleans up supper with the kids. That's how I've managed to work this time into my day - having Damien and the kids help more in the kitchen (smile).  I respond to e-mails and comments often during my early morning e-mail time (right after I get up). I also write on Saturday mornings and work for an extra 2 hours later in the day. Saturdays are usually kitchen chores and writing/coaching/blogging related work for me. That's what works for now and it will change no doubt with the season, as all things do.  Now the trick is to start earning some more money from all this work (smile). 


  • Laura

    Laura on Jan. 18, 2012, 1:08 p.m.

    Renee, I always enjoy reading such posts. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the Brave Writer book/curriculum or even thoughts on "The Complete Writer". Writing is the area that needs the most work right now in my children's education. I have looked at the Brave Writer site often, but it is quite expensive to me, so I hesitate. I have even considered enrolling my children in one of her classes, but it would take a chunk of our homeschooling fund for this next year. Thanks for any thoughts you can share on Brave Writer, The Complete Writer or any other helpful source.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 18, 2012, 3:11 p.m.

      I don't have time to respond to that right now and we're new to it so I don't have a complete opinion formed yet but I love her philosophy and premise. You're right, it does seem expensive. I plan to go through the book, implement some stuff this winter season and then assess a future online class, but only when Ceine is ready to commit to something like that. I don't know how old your kids are Laura but I don't think a material like  The Writer's Jungle is necessary for littles or elementary kids. But I'll be writing all about that soon (smile).


    • Kika@embracingimperfection

      Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 18, 2012, 4:02 p.m.

      Hi Laura, since I've used Bravewriter classes I thought I'd offer my opinion. Have you checked out the blog portion of the site? Just by going through the archives (Julie rarely posts these days) I gleaned tons of helpful information related to my attitude in teaching writing and also practical ideas (like having a tea/poetry time each week and many other ideas that worked out very fun for my kids and I). I also had other ideas of my my own that I continued to implement but, again, greatly benefited by reading through her blog posts. Last year, my oldest (he was 14) took the online expository essay class - highschool level- and it was fabulous. Well worth the money even in terms of building his confidence in his own abilities. We had also purchased, the year before that, the "Help for Highschool" curriculum but since I have issues with following someone else's curriculum ( I get bored very quickly) it didn't get used much. The online class was different in that he had fixed class times and was accountable to his instructor - and, by the way, he even liked that experience... having the opportunity to have teachers besides mom :)

      I definitely plan on having my middle child take that writing course when she is around grade nine but would also plan on paying for an online course next year for her(grade 8/13ys). It was a huge chunk of our funds but honestly worth it.


      • renee

        renee on Jan. 18, 2012, 7:10 p.m.

        Thank you Kika for sharing your insight. I found it helpful also! I totally hear you. I simply cannot follow a curriculum to save my life. It just bores me so much. And an uninspired mama does not inspire the kiddos. So I just pick and choose what inspires us and go with that.  What I like about having The Writer's Jungle on paper (as the purchased product) is that I don't have to be at the computer. I do get tired of sitting here. And I'm a very visual, note taking learner. So I highlight, write notes in the margins and I feel that actual process helps me to better internalize the philosophy.  Thanks again for your thoughts. You have added significantly to the discussion here and I really appreciate it friend. 


  • IrieMomma

    IrieMomma on July 2, 2012, 7:27 p.m.

    Just for reference, could you please tell me the ages of each of the children during the year of this plan?



    • renee

      renee on July 2, 2012, 7:43 p.m.

      Sure! 12, 11 and 9. This is the most structured our homeschool has ever been and honestly, it  didn't play out all that structured in the end. I used these "subjects" as guidelines, the direction to move in, not as  "must check these off the list every day". Our lives are just too fluid (almost in constant flux) to keep to a rigid learning routine so my big lesson this winter and spring was learning to just go with it.  You can read about that here.


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