Online Classes – Communicating with Teachers

My kids have taken, and are taking, some online classes. We love Landry Academy, Coursera, and other providers. 

One skill I wanted my kids to learn with the online class is how to appropriately communicate with an instructor/teacher. I know this will come up on college, so I want them to practice now. So far my kids have needed to ask for help on assignments, clarify assignment requirements, ask about grades and much more. In these emails I wanted them to be clear, polite, respectful, and purposeful. I was happy to help them at the beginning of their online careers, but after a few emails I wanted them to handle it themselves. 

Thankfully, as my kids were in the throes of learning these skills a friend sent me a link to a GREAT article. The article, from a college professor, is entitled How to Email Your Professor to Get a Response. It’s a must read for any student, but most definitely for online students. We’ve actually printed out the graphic and the kids use it as a guide for every email to their teachers. Now I can be nearly hands-off and know the kids are communicating clearly and respectfully on their own. I hope you and your kids find it as helpful as we have!


Homeschooling High School – Coursera and Other Options

As I start planning Big’s second year of high school, I am starting to think outside of the box more. There are some areas where we need some reinforcement, and others where she needs a jet pack and a maybe a parachute. One area I really want to shore up is writing. We’ve done a couple levels of IEW, an online course through Landry Academy, and other bits of instruction, but I want her to be STRONG. Math is easy for me to implement and grade, but writing is not. For that reason writing will be our major emphasis this upcoming year.

One short course she is taking toward this goal is the Adventures in Writing course through Stanford. It’s free, fun, and short. Big thinks it would be more effective for a younger crowd, but she is enjoying it. Unfortunately, it’s about writing, but doesn’t actually HAVE any writing assignments. It’s about a week long course and a good way to break up some early spring blahs. Reviewing the basics is almost always a good thing, and this course did it quickly and in a fun way.

I am also planning on signing Big up for the Coursera Academic English: Writing Specialization courses. This specialization is a set of  4 courses and capstone project. I’m not super sure what it all means, but I think it’ll be more rigorous than anything I can do locally. I am planning on having her work through the summer (you know, spring optimism and all), and then using any unfinished portions for her fall writing course. I think it should take about 6 months to complete. There is a fee for this series, though I am a little confused about how it works. I thought I read online it was $10/month or $50 total, but today I was reading $50/month. Honestly, $50 a month is pretty steep, so I am enrolling Big in the first course (for free – not an “enrolled” course) to get a feel for it, and then decide if we’re going to use it as a full course and pay the full enrollment fee. I have no idea if they run sales, but it might be worth watching over the summer.


For an art credit Big wanted to take the Photography Basics and Beyond: From Smartphone to DSLR specialization series. Again, with this being our first go at Coursera, (she’ll start this one Monday after the ACT), we decided to enroll in the first class ($79) and see how it goes. If it’s a good fit, we’ll continue on with the 4 fill courses and capstone. She really wants to improve her photography for the fall robotics season, so I think this will be a great series for her.

I know there are lots of other courses out there: Edx, MIT OpenCourseware, etc. and I am hoping to explore those throughout the summer and see how they might fit into our school planning.

How about you? Have you or your kids used Coursera or any other cool online platform?

5 Reasons Homeschooling Teens is AWESOME

It’s the time of year when all the kids are headed back to school. It’s exciting for everyone – though in talking with local friends many are a little trepidatious about teaching high schoolers at home. I TOTALLY get it. My oldest is a freshman this year. I have a tiny pinkie toe in the trenches of “homeschooling high schoolers”.


So, I am more writing this to the moms of younger kids who, when they look ahead, they get a little freaked out. They see these big, sometimes hairy, sometimes smelly, adult-looking people and worry. “I can’t do that!” resonates in their heads. “We’ll homeschool to middle school, and then send them to school for high school.” “I can’t do those upper level classes….”


Please, don’t make plans now for your kid’s future. Maybe a brick and mortar school is what they, and you, will need. But I beg you not to get yourself psyched out, get your hearts set on sending them to the local schools, or mentally draw any finish lines to homeschooling. I am here to share with you that teaching older kids is a JOY and … yup… it’s even more fun than nature walks and finger painting!


Older kids are way MORE INTERESTING to have discussions with! They have ideas and opinions. They can process both what they read, and the world around them, and on great days – scripture along with it all. It’s awesome. They become so much more interesting to teach when comprehension is about ideas and conclusions and connections more than, “John flew the plane where?”.  I’m at the stage now where I have to accept that my kids have their own ideas. My job is becoming more of a mentor, a guide, a partner – and it’s COOL!

Older kids are HELPFUL. Yes, you have to train them. (And for mine, I still have to check and make sure everything is being done.) But, they [can be trained to] have initiative. They help. They can mow lawns and do dishes and clean up after themselves. They can find things, and clean up their own school books, and if they lose stuff – they have to deal with it. I’m not saying make your kids martyrs. By no means. I am saying that art is FUN again. Baking is a JOY. The daily working of family life can be smooth with older kids.

Older kids are INDEPENDENT. Let me be frank here. I am not one to throw a pile of books at my kids and walk away. That’s not what I am saying. I am saying, that older kids can manage more. For example – this morning I needed to run to Walmart. We were out of TP in the master bath. THIS is an issue for me. And, Walmart is just awful unless it’s about 8 am… The kids had their lists and got to work while I was gone. They had reading, some online classwork, etc. I did math as soon as I got home. This isn’t a habit of mine – but when I need to go I go. Sure, some things are slower (and that may be the new year, too) but it’s not a huge deal to leave a worklist. They’re old enough now I expect (and inspect) that it will be done.

Older kids are FLEXIBLE. I know this isn’t true for every kid, but most older kids are much more flexible. My kids can work at a coffee shop – and actually get something done. They can read in the car – or on an airplane. They can do math later in the day when I can help if I’m busy in the morning. They can sleep in and be productive at night. They travel well. They can manage food and snacks themselves – and clean up. They’re just generally a whole lot easier to work with than little ones.

Older kid’s WORK IS MORE FUN. Ok, apple prints are cool. Teaching a kid to read – that’s a top 5 parenting moment. But EV3 robots… arduino building and programming… real art (with REAL supplies I can steal!)… Bible Bee memory work and Greek word studies… apologetics…geometry… aero… photography… graphic design…  THIS IS REALLY FUN!!! Math is much more fun when it’s algebra than teaching ling division (really).  The material with older kids is just a whole lot more interesting and engaging to teach and to walk alongside with them.


Please, Moms. Don’t freak out. Don’t stop homeschooling because you’re intimidated. Don’t make plans for the future on the basis of fear. Honestly, the water is fine over here. In fact, so far, it’s awesome. I fully realize there are likely sharks nearby (there are ALWAYS sharks in this parenting journey!), but I think we’ll be able to navigate these waters together!!


Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.

Proverbs 31:25

How about you? Do you love homeschooling teens – or do you have little ones and you’re still a little freaked out by future?



It’s THAT time of year… Curriculum Shopping…(Math, Science and History edition)


“March Madness”

Yeah, not basketball – looking ahead to the curriculum picks for the upcoming school year!! It’s nearly convention season and time to research, read reviews, and pray about the upcoming year. For me, it also means beating ideas to death with a local friend and DH (who loves that… not!).

For this edition I’m covering MATH, SCIENCE, and HISTORY ruminations for GRADES 8 and 9. This is by no means a final list, but a chance to walk with me as I toss around ideas for the upcoming year.

AND as I face…

High school.

(I think I am going to vomit.)

Add to the mix that I think this year I’ll have to split the kids up in more than the skills areas. Big wants more challenge, and a little separation. Last night she told me she was “feeling degraded” and “being held back” being paired up in history and science. I’ll admit a bad mom moment…. I laughed. Out loud. Pretty hard. It was hysterical      and very teen melodramatic. But, I did assure her that I hear what she’s saying and it’ll factor into the decisions this year.  I’ll told her we’ll likely split for history and literature, but science we’ll stay connected. I can’t imagine dueling labs…. That makes my head spin.

This is easy for me.329739 We have loved Saxon from grade 7 and up. We use this in conjunction with the Art Reed teaching dvds.032568 I work alongside the kids and teach with Mr. Reed. Next year Big will continue into Saxon Advanced Math, likely at a pace to finish the book at the end of 10th grade. Little will continue into Saxon Algebra 1.791230_w185



389213Again, another easy one. We’ve used BJU Online science for grades 6, 7, and 8. The kids actually begged to go back to it this year. We’ll continue on with BJU into Physical Science in fall… with the lab kit (this one looks much more interesting than from the company I usually order from and is aligned with BJU Physical Science… and field trips. 🙂physcicover





Here, I ruminate. I flip. I flop. I decide. I undecide. I change my mind…


8MSP-lPro – Love it. Have used it for years. Kids love it. I like the idea of American History (again) from a traditional transcript standpoint.
Cons – The next core isn’t exciting me, and 2 cores up is too much, maybe. Or, I do 2 cores – one with Big and one wit Little. Then… $$$. Additionally, the books are a little all over the map for grade level appropriateness (on the core I should pick if I combine), and the kids have read about half of them already.


Pro – Recommended by a reliable friend. Cheaper than most of the history options. Simple to implement. Not too time consuming. I really like the literature list – as it has a good mix of classics and more modern books.
Con – Doesn’t look rigorous enough for me. Essentially a textbook format, which my kids aren’t excited about. Too biased? Two levels will be needed. Honestly, looks dry. Reviews online confirm my concerns.


Veritas Press Self Paced Omnibus:
Pro – Challenging. Thorough. Kids can manage on their own. Great for transcript. Great reads. Deep in bible and theology.
Con – Two levels will be needed. $. I don’t like too much face in the computer screen time, so I have to balance with science and anything else… Too much history? Too reformed? If I go a level lower, will I regret it? Will it be a time vacuum? Is it too classical and not relate-able enough?

So there you go.

Round One.

Lots more research and prayer and decisions ahead.

Are you in the shopping and praying stage? What do you like for next year?

So, You’re Thinking About Homeschooling – Daily Life

In case you missed the earlier editions – this is the THRID installment in my “So, You’re Thinking About Homeschooling…” series. Basically, this is a few things (in no particular order) that I recently shared with a mom friend thinking of homeschooling. I was guessing there were lots of people searching online for help with the decision to homeschool for the first time, so I hope this helps!

Again… In no particular order… Things that you might need to know or will on if you homeschool….

1. QUIET TIME. This is the great hidden secret of “how do homeschool moms deal with their kids all day long?”. One, we love this life and enjoy their company… And, quiet time. This is a sanity saver for mom and a good things for the kids. In our house, from the time the kids were tiny and nap takers, we’ve have an afternoon quiet time. Babies would nap from 1-3. Then, when they were old enough for sometimes naps – we had quiet time. Quiet time in our house was “book or bed” time. You could nap or read. Period. No toys, games, etc. Books or bed. On the bed. YES, there was some training. YES, it was hard. But it was SO WORTH IT!!!

From 4-6 years old there were lots of nap days (even if the kids SWORE they didn’t need one, LOL!!). As the kids got older they could finish up piano, schoolwork, or read. I would occasionally let them play a quiet game like Legos. Rarely, though. I think this time of quiet was HUGE for me to be able to regroup, straighten the house, take a nap, call a friend, etc. AND the kids learned to fill their own idle time. They don’t need to be entertained every minute of every day. They’re fine being alone. AND, I am convinced this is part of the reason why my kids are such voracious readers. Quiet time. Every day. Seriously a life saver. Even if your kids are middle school or older. (IF they’re older – YOU get a QT in your room. 🙂 )

2. CHORES. This is another tough training one. Basically, with your and your kids home every day your house will be in a state of Saturday. Every day…. All day. Sorry. It’s true. You’ll make and eat three meals a day – so you’ll have lots of dishes. You’ll spread stuff everywhere (or the kids will). You’ll just make messes all day long. If you recognize that beforehand, it might make it less irritating. It might. But – the good part is that you didn’t make the mess alone, so you don’t have to clean it up alone. Train (and it will take training) your kids to do chores. Regular chores – like gathering laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and feeding the dog are so helpful.

This will be a lifesaver for you – and it’s a life skill that every kid needs. You can google “chores for kids” and find a million different ideas and methods. Whatever it takes – involve your kids in the cleaning up process from Day One.

3. SCREENS. This is a very personal family thing – but before you start homeschooling – set hard and fast guidelines for your kids screen time. This is a monster than can take over the hearts and attitudes of your kids. Quickly. In our house, we have VERY limited screen use. This year we, for the first time ever, allowed one 22 minute tv show for the kids before school. They’re middle schoolers and it was done as a motivation to manage their own wake up time, piano practice, and morning chore time. It’s been a HUGE success, BUT I would not allow it before this age. I would not allow younger siblings any tv access during the school day either. Or TV at lunch. It’s a time sucking vacuum and it will quickly derail your day. Computers, video games, etc. all fall in the same category for me. Define it before you start and stick with it.

4. OFFICE HOURS. I talked about this in my other post here, but again, the faster you set a time where school is a must, the easier your life will be. You can always call it a day early – but it’s really hard to break the habit of starting at 10. Set your times. “8-3 is the school day” or whatever works for you.

5. BED TIMES / WAKE UP TIMES. Again, this is a personal thing, but one to consider. We have bed times and get up times. The kids regulate get up times now, but bedtime is around 9-9:30ish. Some days we’ll stay up and read aloud longer – but when we say BED, we mean it. Kids need their rest. They also need a schedule. Stay up until whenever, and wake whenever is neither realistic for life or good health. Get them to bed. Yes, again, it’s a training thing.

6. FOOD. A high protein breakfast with some fruit is a great thing for most moms and kids. A sugary high carb treat – plan for a meltdown. Just saying. 😉

7. EXERCISE. This is a must for you and the kids. Do it alone. Do it together. Indoor, outdoor, gym, whatever. Get some fresh air and exercise on a regular basis. You and the kids. I don’t mean 2 hours of running. Go for a walk. Scooter. Ride a bike. Play catch. Anything. Get some air and Vitamin D. Your days will be so much better for it.

8. MEAL PLANNING. Seriously. This is HUGE for me now. I didn’t do it this past week and I honestly felt a little adrift. Nothing fancy here, but making a list of three meals a day for the week and making sure I have the stuff for it removes so much thinking later that it amazes me. I’m back on the bandwagon for this next week!!

I hope this list, along with the others is helpful. If you have any specific questions – please leave me a comment!!