Organized Chaos: Our Homeschool Library

I have always loved books. When I was in the fourth grade, I recall walking through the hallway at Ocean Crest Elementary to the library and passing by a table strewn with books marked discard. I spent my entire recess browsing the titles and selecting several to call my own.

A few of the titles were old textbooks and I would drag these from home to school for weeks. In my mind I was the teacher; I’d play school in the library during noon recess.

Homeschool Library

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To this day I can not resist a used book sale. My kids have to drag me past the shelves of donated books and discards each time we visit our public library. I love finding classics and it pains me to find titles I have loved tossed away. My favorite discovery, however, are old biology textbooks. “You’ve lost it, Mum,” my daughter will say in her best British accent. “We have no space for more books.”

We’ve been gradually downsizing. When we first started homeschooling in 2007, we lived in a 2000 square foot home. Today, our home is just under 1600. Not a tiny house by any means but everything indeed has its place. I spent a couple of days prior to our move purging our library – I sold much of the homeschool curriculum and donated what didn’t sell.

I am delighted that the iHomeschool Network decided to hold a linkup sharing a peek at the bookshelves of several homeschooling families, because our recent move has enabled us to not only purge but also organize our collection of books. . I was excited to work with our whole crew to share our shelves.

When we were house hunting and found this house, I knew immediately that what was likely intended as a pantry would become our library. In addition to the majority of my books, this is also where many of our manipulatives and homeschool resources are stored. My scrapbooks, our high school yearbooks, and my genealogy notebooks are also home here. You’ll also find boxes of philatelic material and our  nature outing gear on the floor in the corner.

As you can see in the video, I’ve attempted to organize the shelves to a degree. The materials I access most regularly are on the shelves that are accessible upon entering. The scrapbooks and materials utilized less regularly tucked in the back.

Games are lightweight so I’ve opted to put them up top, leaving the floor for our baskets – where the materials we use on a daily basis are organized. While everything might look orderly today, the library does tend to get cluttered as we have the habit of piling things up in there to give the appearance of order outside it.

Our Homeschool Library

We no longer have a dedicated office. Thus our desktop computer is in one corner of the master bedroom. Just to the left is my husband’s bookshelf (pictured upper left) which also provides storage space for printer paper, ink, and software.

In the living room, a shelf displays field guides, binoculars, our photobooks, and a few jars of sand, shells, and other mementos from our travels (pictured upper right). The shelves pictured on the bottom of the collage showcase Jeffrey’s (left) and Geneva’s (right) own collections.


You can tell in just a glance that Jeffrey is not as avid a reader as his sister. He loves audio books though, which we borrow from the library, Audible, or  Overdrive.

We use Goodreads to keep track of what we’ve read, and, sometimes, what we’re in the process of reading. I definitely would love to invite you to follow us!

Eva

Patrick

Geneva

Organized Chaos: OThe bloggers at iHomeschool Network are showing off our bookshelves and our book organization methods. Take a peek into our madness. 

Finding Our Groove with an Online Homeschool Planner

I had been using a paper and pencil planner since we first began homeschooling. In fact, I was using a paper and pencil planner before I even considered homeschooling. Planning weekly lessons and unit studies in my spiral planner was what I had grown accustomed to since I first began my professional teaching career.

Over the years I’d tried a few online planners but I had never found one that had all the components I desired. These planners were rigid in what view options they provided. I wasn’t able to slide everything forward if we missed a day due to illness or an unexpected detour. I grew skeptical.

Recently, my life took a dramatic turn. We recently made the decision to move back to Oregon. In doing so, our financial situation changed and I thus have returned to working outside the home. I am teaching again in the public schools and as such, I found that my planning system was not working. I needed to find a way to better communicate with my own children what was expected of them.

Finding Our Groove with an Online Homeschool Planner by Homeschool Planet @EvaVarga.netI received a subscription to Homeschool Planet and compensation for my time in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own.

 

I had been hearing a lot of good things about Homeschool Planet. When the opportunity arose to review the program, I knew it was time. Perhaps this was the system that would work for us.

I couldn’t not have been a better choice! We LOVE Homeschool Planet. Homeschool Planet has eliminated the stress and anxiety that comes with lesson planning.

My Favorite Homeschool Planet Features

There are many great features to Homeschool Planet. In an effort not to overwhelm you, I will highlight those I like best.

Flexibility

I love the flexibility of the program. I have the choice of using three different calendar views – daily, weekly, or monthly. I can also see everyone’s calendar or narrow the scope to single individuals.

Finding Our Groove with Homeschool Planet @EvaVarga.netIndividualized

As my kiddos approach high school, more and more of their work is done independently. I love that each child has their own login with which they can view and check off their assignments when completed.

Tracking Made Easy

In the elementary school years, I didn’t keep a grade book. As they near high school, it is critical that I begin to do so. Homeschool Planet makes attendance tracking, grading, and transcript creation easy. Currently there is not a way to set up semesters or terms.  Members can, however, print out date specific grade reports.

Finding Our Groove with an Online Homeschool Planner by Homeschool Planet @EvaVarga.netDigest Emails

Perhaps the best feature – in my opinion – are the digest emails that are sent to everyone in the family. The daily digest is essentially a list of the individual’s own schedule, assignments, and chores for the day. This is perfect for my son who needs to be reminded regularly of what he needs to complete! My daughter, on the other hand, prefers the weekly digest.

How I Use the Online Homeschool Planner

One of the great things about the program is the flexibility. Homeschool Planet provides many video tutorials to help you get started with the program. They will walk you through the process of setting up your classes and adding assignments. Once you’ve done that, the true fun begins as you begin to explore the functionality of the program and begin to tweak little things here and there to make it work best for you and your family.

Let me walk you through how I use the Homeschool Planet online planner system:

 

With this online homeschool planner, I can rest knowing that my children are aware of what lessons are expected of them.

Try It Today

Homeschool Planet costs $65 for a 1 year subscription OR $6.95/month. They also provide a FREE 30-trial subscription. Give it a try today. You have nothing to lose!

If you like the product – as I know you will – at the end of the trial month they will convert your trial subscription to a paid-for account and add 365 days to your trial subscription.

Learn more! Click on the link to learn more about Homeschool Planet or follow them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and/or Google+).

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Years ago, we sat down together as a family and composed our family mission statement:

We are committed to being happy and enjoying a more simplified life; and agree to hold ourselves and each other accountable to attitudes and behaviors that support those outcomes.

We revisit our mission statement periodically during our family meetings and are continually striving to live a more balanced, joyful lifestyle. One of the topics that has come up often is our desire as a family to return home to Oregon.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.netOur parents are aging and are in need of our help. We want to be there for them. Though we make trips home regularly – it just isn’t enough. The kids long to have a stronger bond with their grandparents. My husband had thereby been actively seeking work in Oregon over the past year. As a hospital administrator, the opportunities were rare.

In early May, we talked about the possibility of looking at pharmacy positions and stepping away from hospital administration. This would be a huge change for him professionally and a decision he would have to make on his own. I assured him we would stand behind him no matter the path he chose to follow.

A few weeks later, he came home from work one evening and stated, “I’m ready to look at alternatives. I am open to the possibility of returning to pharmacy.” No sooner did he make this decision and he received a phone call from a former colleague who shared that he would be retiring. “Would you like your Pharmacy Director position again?

Coincidentally, we had plans to be in Oregon that weekend and thus he made arrangements to interview. They offered him the job that afternoon and our world was sent spinning.

We debated if this was the right decision for us as a family. My daughter spoke eloquently, “I want the dad I have when we are on vacation. I want you to be present. I think we should try this, Dad. If this doesn’t work, we can try something else.

Stepping down from a career path he had worked so hard for was the bravest thing he could have done. It wasn’t an easy decision yet we have been working towards a more joyful life for years.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Based on our personal journey, our conversations, and our observations, here is a list of the 4 most important things we have done to simplify our life:

1. Eliminate Possessions

Keep Only What Brings You Joy – Too many material possessions complicate our lives to a greater degree than we ever give them credit. They drain our bank account, our energy, and our attention. They keep us from the ones we love and from living a life based on our values.

My son seems to have learned this lesson early in life. His only “toys” are Lego and HO trains. Though they have taken over his room – two tables take up the entire floor space for his Lego city – there is little else other than a book shelf (one shelf is dedicated to Lego – books, catalogs, magazines, and instruction manuals) and his dresser.

Invest the time to remove non-essential possessions from your life. For inspiration, consider reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing On the same note, stop buying things that you don’t need.

Downsize – All the while we have lived in Redding, we have rented our home rather than buying. The repairs, lawn care, and maintenance are someone else’s problem, not ours. As a result, we have had more time to travel and enjoy quality time with one another.

While a rental is not as readily available where we are moving, as we have toured homes and considered purchasing a home again, we have considered only what we need. There are some magnificent homes on the market. As a family of four, we really don’t need a 4 or 5K square foot home.

We selected a home that reminds us a lot of the home we once owned in Bend. It has a slightly smaller footprint but it is enough. Presently it has a lawn, but we’ve decided to move forward with a xeriscaping plan to reduce the need for supplemental water from irrigation and maintenence.

2. Get Organized

A Place for Everything – Assigning a place for each object simplifies life dramatically. As described in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it is a key component in making a space less frustrating and more beautiful.

Streamline your Finances – If debt is holding you captive, reduce it. Do what you need to do to get out from under its weight.

We’ve had just one credit card these past 10 years. We use it for most all our expenses and thereby capitalize on the rewards structure. Most importantly, we pay it off each month.

Relatedly, our vehicles are paid for and we are not encumbered by monthly payments. Our only expenses are our monthly living expenses. We set aside a significant portion of our earnings to a college savings plan, our retirement fund, and of course our vacation savings.

We have only recently discovered Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” and I highly recommend his podcast. I look forward to using his Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money with the kids as we jump into the “Baby Steps” ourselves.

3. Simplify Relationships

Reduce Negative Thoughts – Resentment, bitterness, hate, and jealousy have never improved the quality of life for anyone. Forgive past hurts and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Keep your speech plain and honest. Mean what you say and avoid gossip.

Without going into detail – there have been multiple occasions when others have said hurtful things to me or my husband. On occasion, when I catch myself thinking poorly of that person, I’ll stop and remind myself that it really doesn’t matter. What is important is how I feel about myself.

Strengthen Relationships or Let Them Go – Make the effort to spend time with people you like. Do not waste time keeping up with friends who bring you down or bore you. This applies to work as well. Don’t be afraid to seek out new career options if you are not happy or you don’t feel valued in your present job.

Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Life is too short to get caught up in the drama.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.net4. Slow Down

Screen Time – Television, movies, video games, and technology can rearrange your values. It can dominate your life and have a profound impact on your attitude. When we moved to Redding four years ago, we made the decision to eliminate television from our home. We thereby haven’t had cable for four years and haven’t missed it.

Technology is still a major component of our life, however. It is critical for the kids’ Mandarin lessons and for my work as a blogger.  We try to minimize our screen time and though we can still make improvements in this area, we are getting better at recognizing when it begins to affect our attitude.

Time Commitments – Most of us have filled our days full from beginning to end with time commitments: work, home, kid’s activities, community events, religious endeavors, hobbies… the list goes on. When possible, release yourself from the time commitments that are not in line with your greatest values.

We have had to reevaluate this on a few occasions to avoid burnout (see my earlier post, I Am Not a Soccer Mom: How to Avoid Child Burnout). We try our best to create a balance between extracurricular activities and family life.

Sometimes it requires us to make tough decisions when conflicts arise – Do you want to go to the Junior Olympics (swim meet) or Sons of Norway heritage camp? We allow the kids to make this decision for themselves. We discuss our goals and values openly as a family.

I do my best to create a healthy balance; often setting aside personal goals (marathon training) and choosing to work on only one or two at a time. I want my children to be lifelong readers and to develop their music and language skills daily. I thereby try to model this as often as possible – setting aside 30 minutes each day to work on my own language skills, conversing with those who are fluent, and reading for leisurely and self-improvement regularly.

~ ~ ~

We are excited to return to Oregon, to return to the community in which my husband and I grew up and began our professional careers. We will be surrounded by family and childhood friends. Yet our move will be bittersweet.

It is always difficult to say good-bye. We will miss the friends we have made here in California. We will cherish the memories we have made.

Our move back to the Oregon coast will come with its own challenges. The population is significantly smaller, and likewise the homeschool community. It will take some getting used to – as with most things. Yet, we welcome the change.

How to Plan a Homeschool Art Show

As I had done a few years ago in Central Oregon, I recently coordinated an art show for the local homeschool community.  I highly recommend this to anyone interested in art and connected to community of children – whether through the home, charter, public, or private school circles.  There is truly little work required on the part of the coordinator and the students and families get so much out of the experience.

The first thing I do is reserve a space to display the art.  Ideally, this is a public space that is free to non-profit use.  I used the public library which has a large conference room with tables, chairs, and presentation equipment (pull-down screen, podium, etc.) available.  I elected to allot a four hour window for the show as the conference room at our library is not a secure area.  In the future, it was suggested that I make arrangements with the librarian to have the students’ work on display for a full week in another part of the library (perhaps in a display case) so that more people would have an opportunity to enjoy it.

Once the date was nailed down, I created a flier and registration form that I posted on our local homeschool board.   To encourage the kids to try something new, they were allowed to submit up to three pieces of art, but each must be from a different medium.  In addition, I required that the work be relatively recent (within two years).   Each family was asked for a $5 registration fee to cover the cost of prizes.  In the future however, I think I will seek out donations from local art supply stores, online retailers, and even other local artists to make the event more accessible to all.

I also notified the local newspaper and community magazines, inviting the public to come out and enjoy the students’ work.  The kids, in turn, invited extended family, friends, and teachers.  Everyone was given an opportunity to vote for their favorite pieces – one vote for the 8 & under age group and one vote for 9 & older age group.  This year, there were only 14 participants so I used only two age divisions.  If there are more participants in the future, I would consider using more divisions.  At the conclusion of the day, the votes were tallied and winners (those receiving the most votes) were announced.

The greatest thing about the show was the fascination the kids, parents, and community shared with the students’ work.  Everyone was blown away by their skill and creativity.  Many were taking notes and asking questions about technique.  The kids were so proud of their work and delighted in sharing it with others – with friends and even strangers.  It was indeed of inspiration and recognition.

[Admin Note ~ This year, the show was open to only homeschool students.  Next year, I may consider including a division for parents.]

How to Plan Your Own Science & Art Show

I realized early in the year that our homeschool community was lacking a Science Fair so … I took it upon myself to organize one.  Knowing that not everyone would feel comfortable doing a traditional science fair project, particularly since a fair hadn’t been available for years, I thought a companion Art Show would entice additional participants.  I was so right!

It was relatively easy … and the impact was huge.  There was a tremendous number of participants and everyone was so enthusiastic.  I know there may be a need in other communities so I thought I would share here how I pulled it all together.

Planning a Homeschool Science Fair & Art Show

Step One

Essentially, I first reserved a space …  for me, the choice was easy, our Sons of Norway lodge.  During the work week, the lodge is used very little.  I thereby selected a date in April to allow much of the school year for work our our projects.  Though an evening would have been ideal for all parents and even extended family to attend, I wanted to keep the cost to a minimum.  It is my guess that finding a suitable location would be the most difficult step involved.  Here are some locations to consider in your area:

  • A local fraternal lodge like Sons of Norway, IOOF, Lions, VFW Hall, etc.
  • The city library
  • A church
  • A public school (non-profits are generally allowed use of the facilities after school hours)
  • Hotel conference rooms (I haven’t checked into this option, but it seems logical and they may even offer a discount – doesn’t hurt to ask)
  • A common house within a subdivision – though I believe one would have to be a member

Step Two

The next thing I did was inform the homeschool community of the date (determined by the reservation of the space).  This was easy … I simply posted it on our Yahoo board.  In doing so, I also asked for volunteers to help with the following areas:

  • Snacks (just a couple of moms to bring refreshments and snacks)
  • Greeter (someone to check in participants at the door upon arrival, and direct them to the appropriate table to display their work)
  • Prep & Clean-up (one – two parents to help set-up the tables just prior to the start and to help break down the tables and clean-up afterwards)

Step Three

I created a registration form and posted it on the Yahoo board.  The form included a statement of my vision (what I hoped we could achieve – essentially an opportunity to share our projects and thereby glean inspiration from one another), a statement of liability release (I didn’t want anyone liable for a damaged project or piece of art), and rules / regulations (limitations to project size, limitations on subject matter and/or objectionable content or materials).

For a $5 entry fee, each participant was allowed to enter up to three pieces of artwork (different media) and one science project.  The money was used to pay for the lodge rental, cover the cost of printing participation certificates, the prizes and the snacks.

Those who wished to participate were required to fill out the registration form and get it to me within 2 weeks of the event.  This allowed me time to print the certificates and purchase the awards.

Step Four

I set up an automatic reminder in the Yahoo system to encourage procrastinators to get their forms submitted.  In this way, the Science Fair & Art Show was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  As the date of the show drew near, I called the parents who had volunteered to help and discussed any particulars (time to meet for set-up, reimbursement for snacks, etc.).

The Fine Points

To determine winners (1st – 3rd place), the students were given slips of paper and were asked to write down the name (or entry #) of their favorite projects.  Each child was allowed to vote once for a science project and once for an art project.  The votes were tallied and the project with the most votes received the prize for first place, a $20 gift card.  Second place received $10 and third place received $5.

I had originally planned for judges to interact with participants (particularly for the science projects) – to inquire about their scientific process, etc. but somehow or another, there was some miscommunication and the two judges I had previously spoken with failed to show.  Ah well.

Celebrate

The show was a spectacular success! There were so many participants and guests (many homeschool families and friends came to the event simply to observe) – that I determined two separate times (or days) would be necessary to alleviate crowding when we do it again next year.

In retrospect, I would also require participants to arrive an hour (or more) prior to the start of the show to set up their projects and for  judging to take place.  Though I didn’t intend for official judging for awards to take place – I wanted it to be low-key and relaxed – I thought some feedback from real scientists would have been beneficial.

Getting Organized … Again

We spent a little time organizing our notebooks today as they’ve been in disarray.  We even printed out coordinated covers for each using clip art from Phillip Martin.  Each of the kiddos have multiple notebooks … blue for Buddy and red for Sweetie.

 

Presently, we use a different notebook for each grade level K-4.  These notebooks contains four sections each:  Spelling & Grammar, Writing, Reading Log, and Math & Logic.  However, this may change depending upon how much written work they produce as we progress.

We use a different notebook for each historical period that we study: Ancients  (5000 B.C. – A.D. 400), Medieval – early Renaissance  (400 – 1600) Late Renaissance – early modern  (1600 – 1850), and Modern  (1850 – present).  Relatedly, each child also has a separate notebook for their Book of Centuries, Art & Music and The 50 States.

We also use a different notebook for each field of science.  The Life-Science notebook (first grade) has three divisions: Animals, Plants and The Human Body.  The Earth-Science notebook has two divisions: The Earth and Sky & Space.  The Physical-Science notebook has three divisions:  Simple Machines, Force & Motion, and Electricity & Magnetism.  The Chemistry notebook has two divisions:  Definitions and Experiments.

It is a system that works for us.  We probably don’t need to keep all our work but it’s a fun way to look back and see how their skills have progressed.  My assumption is that come 5-8 grade, the K-4 work will be discarded.  We’ll see.