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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 54 Mommas (and Me) Share Their Homeschooling Expertise

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling

Alright, y'all, I'm not gonna lie. I've read a lot of homeschooling books.  A.LOT.  And while they were all very well-written and while I gleaned much from most of them, they each were penned by ONE author with ONE perspective and ONE homeschooling approach making it difficult to see the large spectrum of homeschooling possibilities. (This post contains affiliate links.)

When I was first starting out, I read a few Homeschooling 101 books.  Later, I desperately needed the Help!-I'm-homeschooling-and-I-just-had-a-baby type.  Then, I started adding those harder-to-find niche' type books that dealt with homeschooling boys or homeschooling on a tight budget.  In this current season of homeschooling, I appreciate those books that offer practical tips for teaching specific subjects...the ones I'm not always the most comfortable tackling {ahem!}.  

While I COULD continue to add book after book to my collection...seeking to fill all the gaps and cover all the bases, I'd much prefer to have ONE go-to resources that spans a multitude of ages and stages of homeschooling.  One that will grow with the needs of my homeschool.  

I'm so proud to be able to say that I've not only found a book that meets that lofty goal, but I helped write it!

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling

The Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas

Written by 55 experienced homeschooling moms from around the globe, The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a jam-packed, all-in-one resource that covers just about every possible unique homeschooling situation imaginable.  

Need a resource you can rely on when you have a question like the following:
  • How do I keep my babies and toddlers occupied while I'm teaching my older children?
  • How can I encourage my child to be a more independent learner?
  • What do I do with my struggling learner?
  • Can I homeschool my special needs child?
  • What about my budget? How can I possibly homeschool when curriculum is so expensive?
  • Can I homeschool when I'm a work-at-home mom? or a single mom?
  • Will I really be able to homeschool my mega-sized family?
You'll find helpful answers to these and many more questions in this 560 page eBook.  

In addition, you'll glean useful teaching ideas that will guide you towards schooling outside-of-the-box. Did you know that it's possible to teach an engaging lesson while using...
  • postage stamps
  • LEGO bricks
  • American Girl dolls
  • and even video games?
It sure is!  But the ideas don't stop there.  
There are 103 different topics covered within the pages of this homeschooling-momma-must-have.  Check out the table of contents to see why The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a resource that will follow you throughout the entire length of your homeschooling journey.

I'm excited to join together with so many expert, homeschooling mommas in order to support you in your call to "train up a child."  We have linked arms and are ready to share our stories and experiences.

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling

To purchase your very own copy

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a digital product available for download in the following formats pdf, mobi, and epub. Your $10.99 purchase gives you access to ALL THREE formats.  The digital download allows you to read on the following devices:
  • computer
  • iPad
  • tablet
  • smart phone
  • laptop
  • any other device that allows you to access pdf, mobi, or epub products
Instantly after you purchase, you will be directed to a link where you can download the eBook immediately.  You will also be sent an email to your Paypal email address that will provide an additional link to download the eBook at a later time.  (This may or may not be sent to your spam folder.  So, if you do not receive an email, please check your SPAM folder.)

For more in information 
or to purchase your very own copy of this fantastic resource from 54 seasoned homeschooling mommas (and me), please head to iHomeschool Network.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep

With summer quickly slipping through my fingers, I have shifted into full-boogie mode.  I've got my game face on and I'm prepping for the coming year.  While I hold fast to my summer days desiring to relish each and every one, I am also committed to using this slower-paced-schedule to ready myself for the fall and all the wonderful learning adventures on the horizon.

Here's a brief look at my TOP TEN summertime steps to school time prep.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Technically, my prep for the coming school year happens the year before...mid spring when I do the following:

  1. Determine a skeletal curriculum plan.
  2. Prepare a shopping list.
  3. Purchase the core of my curriculum at my state's annual homeschool convention.
Assuming that I've started the summer with these first three items checked off my list, I can officially go into summertime prep mode.  

1.  I create an annual portfolio of last year's work. (First week in June)

While school is still fresh in my mind, I set aside the first week(s) of summer vacation to prepare our annual portfolio.  With our year neatly compiled in a new binder, I feel a sense of closure to WHAT WAS and can begin to formulate plans for WHAT WILL BE.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

2.  I order any last minute curriculum items. (June)

After our portfolio is complete, I try to do very little school related planning for the rest of the month of June.  My brain and sanity demand a break.  And so, with the exception of ordering any last minute curriculum items that I was not able to/chose not to purchase at the annual convention, I turn "school mode" off for an entire month.  (I'm a little behind on this one THIS year.  But, only because I'm holding out to see if my remaining BIG TICKET PURCHASE miraculously gets a significant price reduction closer to fall.  Admittedly, this is wishful thinking and I need to just take a deep breath and fork over the cash. But, stranger things have happened.)

3.  I begin praying for a word from God. (Early June)

Homeschooling is hard. H.A.R.D.  On those hard days, I cling to the TRUTH...a verse in Scripture that God has given me to keep me on this path that He has prepared for me.  Sometimes, the big yellow bus looks mighty appealing, but with the Word ever before me, I square my shoulders, and press on.  So, I start each summer praying for a piece of Truth that God has providentially chosen for my upcoming year.  He gave this one to me a few weeks ago>>

4.  I pack away the old and bring out the new. (First part of July)

I designate a large portion of a day to sort through last year's curriculum.  I toss what needs tossed. Set aside what I plan to resell. And pack away all the rest in a tall storage cabinet or a group of plastic tubs in our basement.  I bring out all of our "new" items including curriculum that was formerly used by another child and will be regurgitated for a sibling AND any brand new curriculum specifically purchased for the coming year.  I organize these into three groups...child-specific materials, group materials, and parent resources. The child-specific materials are packed away in each child's magazine bin, while the other two groups go into the school hutch.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

5.  I do some basic house cleaning of our school areas. (Early-Mid July)

While I try to maintain a semblance of order throughout the school year, clutter happens!  Somewhere in the midst of cleaning out the school books, I clean out the school clutter.  I have the kids help me go through each supply drawer/bin...testing the usability of every item.  If a marker/pen no longer writes well, a crayon is down to nubbin-size, or glue bottles are permanently crusted shut, we toss them and make room for new fall school supplies.  I compile a mental list of what needs to be replaced and convince myself to STICK TO THE LIST!!!  (Perhaps you know about my stationary supply addiction?  It's a sickness that no 12-step program can cure me of. I think I need some kind of accountability partner for these specific aisles of Target.  But, I digress...)  

I also use this time to re-organize my flashcards.  Since I invest in quality flashcards, they all have a specific numeric order...making it easy for even my kids to put the mammoth stacks back to "start mode".  I farm-out this job to my "willing" participant(s)...the ten and under crowd...and start my year with order.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

6.  I form a school year calendar-of-events. (July)

I check past school-year calendars and brainstorm any upcoming events that might fall within the school year in order to formulate a tentative calendar for my year.  I share more about the INs and OUTs of creating a calendar here>>

7.  I schedule my entire school year. (Mid July-August)

I recognize that scheduling an entire school year seems constrictive to some.  But, I prepare my plan with purpose knowing that it is a FLEXIBLE plan and can be revamped as needed.  Here's how I do that>>

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

8.  I sketch out a "daily flow".

As I've mentioned before, I don't make an actual daily schedule with time slots and rigid order.  That's just a bit too unrealistic when you are trying to weave HOME with SCHOOL.  But, I do like to have a skeletal plan to how our day will look...how it will FLOW.  So, I make a list of all the subjects that need to be tackled each day as well as any home tasks that will require my daily attention...such as making meals, putting The Newbie down for a nap, answering emails...and I sort this out into a "penciled in" order of events.  The "penciled in" part is KEY.  I can't assume that a flow plan is going to work until it has been put to the test.  I usually reevaluate this plan after the first week of school. Often, things need to be tweaked.  

9.  I brainstorm First-day-of-school-fun ideas. (End of August)

I want the start of our homeschool year to be a bang, not a fizzle.  In order for that to happen, the first day has to look different than all the rest.  In year's past, I've planned scavenger hunts, wrapped new school supplies in gift wrap, organized special field trips, and much more.  WHY?  Because FIRSTS and LASTS should be monumental not monotonous, in my opinion anyway.  Here's what a typical "first day(s)" looks like in our home>>

10.  I take a big gulp and leap...with a smile.

The call to homeschool has been one of the biggest blessings the Lord has ever given me.  It's a responsibility I don't take lightly.  But, even though I feel like I start each year prepared ON PAPER, there's always a sense of "Can I really do this in real life?"  I've learned to recognize that as a whisper from the Enemy.  So, when summer gives way to fall each year, I hold fast to The Word I was given, hike up my big girl pants, and START.  With much fear and trembling...with a little bit of self-doubt...but with a passion for raising up arrows that God will one day shoot forth into the world for their good and His glory.  

And that brings us to the last week in August...
which for us, marks the BEGINNING.  
The beginning of something great. 
The beginning of something memorable.
The beginning of a new school year.  

It's almost here and I'm currently working on step 7.  I'd better get crackin'!

Need more HOW DO I HOMESCHOOL....FOR REAL tips, be sure to follow my Homeschooling 101 Pinterest Board.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Homeschool Curriculum 2014-2015

Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool} 6th, 3rd, 2nd, Kindergarten, and tot school

Big changes are happening 'round here, folks!
Big changes.

With one child launching into middle school and another child just beginning the journey in kindergarten...not to mention the two other boys pressing forward in elementary and the toddler who prides himself in running-at-the-speed-of-sound..., I've officially hit a stage of homeschooling that requires evolution.  

Evolution of technique.
Evolution of schedule.
And for the sake of momma-sanity, evolution of core curriculum.  

With a huge gulp, I said "so long" to a history curriculum that we have absolutely loved for the past five years, and welcomed change.  (This post contains affiliate links.)

Some day I'd love to expound on the many reasons that I shelved TruthQuest and replaced it with Tapestry of Grace.  But for now...for the uber curious...the short answer is that I needed a curriculum that would not only WORK for a wide rage of learners, but CAPTIVATE them all and allow us to remain somewhat cohesive in our studies.  I needed a curriculum that would allow my kindergartener to learn about the same topic as his 6th grade sister but at his own level and pace.  Looking down the road a few years, I knew I needed a curriculum that would accommodate for an 8 year learning span (the total number of years between Sweetie Pea and The Newbie).  I'm hoping that I've found that in TOG...but, for now, the verdict's still out.

I'm excited to be able to share my 2014-2015 curriculum choices with you.  Today, I'll only be sharing those titles that we will all be doing collectively during our GROUP LEARNING.  In the coming days, I'll share what each child will be using for their individual lessons in grammar, spelling, math, etc.  I have highlighted any NEW items in pink.  These are books or resources that we have never used before and so, I can not vouch for their quality or usability.  

Morning "circle time"

This year, for our start-the-day-together basket we will be focusing on learning hymns and sign language. We will be using the following resources.  
  • weekly memory verse- These are intentionally selected and placed in our family verse pack.  We make it a goal to practice the week's verse each school-day during morning circle time and at night after supper. (7x a week)
  • Manners Made Easy for Families- (4x a week)
  • Hymns for a Kid's Heart- It saddens me that so few young people today know any of the foundational hymns of the faith.  While my children know many already, I hope to introduce them to many more this year as well as recount the stories BEHIND the hymns.  (one chapter 1x month)
  • a hymnal- I plan to teach a new hymn each week. (4x a week)
  • a homemade song book that contains dozens and dozens of kid's praise type songs (4x a week)
  • Hero Tales volume 1- My kids love missionary stories. So, I've had my eye on this book for about four years.  I'm excited to finally be able to enjoy it with them. I will read a page or two of a chapter each day in hopes of getting through an entire chapter each week.  (4x a week)
  • various sign language books we get at the library- Ever since Sweetie Pea did a presentation on sign language for one of her independent projects, our whole family has been a bit intrigued by sign language.  Throughout the summer, we learned a sign or two every few days.  And even began memorizing some of our weekly verses in sign. (This is a painstaking process, but well worth it as it really helps us to set the verse to memory.)  I hope to continue learning a few signs each week in the upcoming school year.  (4x a week)


At the end of the last school year, as is my habit, I took a family poll.  I wanted our science choices for 2014-2015 to be delight-directed and so, I needed to uncover the scientific passions of each of my children.  Although many ideas were tossed around, two stood out above the rest and were clear family favorites.  I have taken these two topics and have formulated homespun units for each.  (2x a week)
  • Dinosaurs from a Creation perspective- We will study this for the first third of the year using lots of living literature, creation-based books (I'll be sure to list those later.), a documentary, and a dinosaur fossils kit
  • Machines/Robotics-We will study this for the last two thirds of the year using a combination of living literature style biographies/non-fiction books and a simple and powered machine set by Lego Education. 


Tapestry of Grace is a classical curriculum that combines history, church history, geography, vocabulary, and writing.  I'm still exploring the HOWs and WHATs of the curriculum, but know that we will start where we left off in our timeline last year.  At the end of our first unit, I will reassess and decide whether we will continue into the next phases of history with TOG or head back to what we know and love...TruthQuest.  (4x a week)

  • Tapestry of Grace, Year 1, Unit 4 Rome- At this point, I plan to split our learning into three different areas of focus.  Twice a week, we will center our learning on history.  One day a week, we will look at church history.  And the final day, we will focus on geography and extra projects. 
  • History notebook- I'm not sure how this is going to look yet, but we are no strangers to notebooking and look forward to creating a year-long Tapestry of Grace history notebook.
  • Family timeline


Last year, we veered off of the beaten art-time path quite often...scrapping my original plan for a fun youtube tutorial or pinterest project.  I've decided to continue with that plan and dub this year as the year of ORGANIC ART.  I will be pulling projects from the following resources to make a tentative plan, but will deviate to PLAN B whenever the notion strikes.  (1x a week)

Phy. Ed.

Admittedly, we do most of our Phy. Ed. requirements in the summer when we sign up for local community-sponsored sport's programs.  But, since we live with arctic temps for over half the year, it's nice to have a sanity-saver plan for getting the wiggles out. (as often as we need to)

Creative Writing

  • Creative Thinking Journal Topics- We will use these as story starters. (1x a week)
  • continue using our homemade creative writing journals

Additional curriculum by grade level
(Coming in the next few weeks...)
6th Grade
3rd Grade
2nd Grade

Curriculums from year's past

Friday, July 25, 2014

Notebooking 101: FAQs of Notebooking

Notebooking 101: FAQs to Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

We've come to the end of our brief look at how to begin notebooking in your homeschool.  I know I have painted in broad strokes.  But if truth be told, the best part about notebooking is that there is no ONE way...or RIGHT way.  Feel free to take the thoughts I've shared these past few days, keep what you think might work for your family, and scrap the rest.  GUILT FREE...knowing that your notebooks will be as unique as the children creating them.  

While I have tried to give a basic outline of what a notebook is and includes, I know there are many who want to know what notebooking looks like in the REAL WORLD OF HOMESCHOOLING. You know...the world of children who don't always want to do their work...of houses with little to no storage space for dozens of 3-ring binders...of toddlers who insist on wiping their peanut butter and jelly hands on the nearly completed notebook page that happens to be sitting on the dining room table. 

What does notebooking look like in THAT world? 

Here's my best answers for these and other REAL WORLD notebooking questions.

Notebooking 101: FAQs to Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

When do you start notebooking?

Don't limit notebooking to just your reading/writing aged kids.  My 3-4 year old preschoolers have each made alphabet notebooks that have served as a way to compile all their completed ABC pages.  As my kids get older (kindergarten-second), they begin forming opinions and an ability to recall specific details about what they have learned.  However, they aren't always physically capable or willing to write large portions of narration on their own.  At this stage, I allow them to dictate their thoughts to me as I write their words down on a notebooking page.  As they mature physically and have more hand-eye coordination for lengthier periods of writing, I write their dictated thoughts down on a dry-erase board (word-for-word as they say it) and instruct them to copy what I have written onto their notebook page.  This simple copywork-style writing helps to gently teach basic writing mechanics (capitalization/punctuation) and spelling.  By around third grade, I expect my children to be able to notebook independently.  I, of course, always look over their work and make grammar/mechanics suggestions when necessarily.  But, other than that, I remain HAND'S OFF.  It's their notebook.  It's their responsibility.

What subjects do you notebook?

While the "correct" answer is that you can notebook for ANY subject, I prefer to keep our notebooking efforts to content-rich subjects like history, science, geography, and creative writing. Somehow notebooking about participial phrases during grammar or algebraic equations in math just doesn't garner the same enthusiasm.

That being said, many folks choose to make an all-in-one notebook with a division for each subject being learned that year...including grammar and math.

Notebooking 101: FAQs to Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

How often do you notebook?

I think the frequency of notebooking varies with the ages, stages, and personalities of individual children.  But, as a general rule of thumb, I think that creative writing type notebooking should be done at least once a week for any age.  Remember, preschoolers can dictate even if they can't write.  Older students...those who can write independently...can be encouraged to write SOMETHING creative every single day.  For all other subjects, I'd recommend the following:  
  • preschool-2nd grade: once a week in one particular subject
  • 3rd-5th: a few times each week in one to two different subjects
  • 6th-8th: once a day but not necessarily always the same subject
  • 9th-12th: in two or three different subjects each day

Where do you store all of the completed notebooks?

Since my preferred notebooks are the small, singular-topic type, I can easily store most of the completed notebooking projects inside a manilla envelope that I tuck into our annual portfolio.  As I have very little shelving space in my tiny, cottage-style house and only three small closets, our annual portfolios and any larger notebooks are stored in plastic storage tubs in our basement with the rest of our currently-not-in-use homeschool materials.  It is not ideal, but it works for the time being.  Thankfully, many of our larger (composition or 3-ring binder size) notebooks have been used from year-to-year and have never had to be put away.  We store them in our homeschool hutch along with all our other in-use books and supplies and refer to them often.  
Notebooking 101: FAQs to Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

What kind of notebook is best for a beginner?

Without question...a nature notebook!  These simple sketch book-style journals, in my opinion, are the easiest...NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY...kind of notebook there is.  While you can certainly do some narration in a nature notebook, most of the pages are filled with sketches, rubbings, and real life samples of nature.  Each of my kids have a nature notebook that he/she began in preschool.  They continue to add to these same notebooks throughout the year and from year to year.  Here's a peek at how we use our nature notebooks NATURALLY.   

What if a child doesn't like to write?

I've got one of those.  Actually, I've got two.  But, that doesn't deter me from whippin' out the notebooking supplies.  I just have to always keep in mind that a notebook is PERSONAL.  I have to allow each of my children to recount learned material in his/her own way.  For my daughter, that involves lengthy portions of narration with lots of BIG FLOWERY WORDS.  For my oldest son, it means a few simple labels and many...many...many pictures.  That's OK.  Either way proves competency. Shows mastery. Provides review.

In his typical fashion, landing somewhere in the middle is my middle son who has a lot of words to say but doesn't like the physical act of handwriting.  But, who says a notebook has to be handwritten? While he is still young, I am more than fine writing out his thoughts as he dictates them to me.  If he still clings to his handwriting aversion when he gets a bit older, I will probably encourage him to type out his narrative portions to be cut out and glued into the appropriate places in his notebooks.  Why major on the minors?  A type-written notebook is still a notebook of personal thoughts and reflections, is it not?  

Do you "correct" notebooks?

Generally, there are two camps of notebooking mommas.  Those who use a big red pen to identify mistakes in a child's notebook and those who do not.  I join ranks of the latter.  In my opinion, a notebook should be a child's best effort...no sloppy or shoddy work...final drafts only, please!  But, if mistakes are made in spelling or grammar or whatever, I might point out the errors to my child and discuss with him/her how it SHOULD HAVE BEEN written affording an opportunity for a change to be made if applicable, but I never mark in his/her notebook.  A notebook should stand as a showcase...a finished product...the best of the best for THAT child at THAT grade level.  While it might not be perfect, a notebook will act as a model of progression...a visual reminder of improvement from year to year.  Obviously, the grammar/mechanics used in a first grade notebook will be much-less polished than that of a seventh grade notebook.  Nothing is more deflating to a child who just completed a notebooking masterpiece than to see the markings of a big red pen scribbled all over it.  When reviewing a completed page, praise accurate content and leave the grammar-police badge at the door.   

One last word...

Notebooking has always been a treasured piece of our homeschooling days.  But that's us.  That may or may not be you.  While I think it is a great method and tool for learning, it is one of many great tools. If you have a child who just doesn't seem to get jazzed about making a notebook, dismiss this die-hard notebooking diatribe and find what works best for you and your homeschool.  In other words, don't let notebooking be the hill you die on.  Some kids love it and some kids hate it.  As a momma who still holds a fond place in her heart for the notebook she made in Ms. Isaac's first grade class many...many...many moons ago, it's easy for me to love notebooking and foster a passion for it in my homeschool.  But, as an eclectic-a-la-carte momma, I also know that it takes different strokes for different folks.  Go with grace and find the best method and tools for you and yours even if your choices are light years away from what I'd use.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook {The Unlikely Homeschool}

I recognize that telling someone WHAT to put in her personal notebook is about as ridiculous as telling her what she should write in her personal diary.  It is, after all, PERSONAL.

I also know that every fiery blaze starts with a little spark.  

You may very well have an urge to begin notebooking with your children, but just need a gentle nudge...a spark...to help you know how to begin.  

While this is not an exhaustive list of what one COULD include in a notebook, it will hopefully inspire some new-to-notebooking homeschoolers...giving a small flame to be fanned with your own personal creativity and passion.  

Please note, it is highly unlikely that any ONE notebook will contain all of the items mentioned on this list.  Most notebooks have only a handful of varying items.  Some only contain one type.  Don't try to cram all of these things into your first attempt at notebooking.  Trust me.  DON'T.  Your sanity is worth more than any 3-ring binder!

Consider this list as POTENTIAL...the potential to have many years' worth of notebooking adventures. Start your first notebook with simplicity.  Baby steps.  Then, as you and your children grow more and more comfortable with the process, add on a few more of these or other elements.  

Ok..Ok...enough of the yellow caution tape.  Let's get on with it!

So, here it is.  My list of...

What to include in a notebook

journal entries- giving opinions about what has been learned

maps- identifying key places, travels, wars, weather patterns, etc.

photos- of pertinent people, places, or things 

graphs & charts- displaying a large quantity of information and statistics in an easy-to-read format

Venn diagrams- comparing and contrasting two different things (One of the very first notebooks my two oldest children ever made was a mini book that contained a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting hares and rabbits.)

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook {The Unlikely Homeschool}

drawings/sketches- illustrating the narrative sections of a notebook page


vocabulary words and definitions- listing pertinent new words learned during the study (During a Civil War unit, my daughter made a fascinating vocabulary list for both the North and the South listing colloquial words used at the time and their modern-day counterparts.)

magazine pictures/clippings


calendar pages- showing a record of daily changes of something (My kids are currently keeping a log of daily temperature, cloud patterns, and rainfall in a pull out calendar inside their individual nature notebooks.)

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook {The Unlikely Homeschool}

copywork- of applicable Bible verses, famous quotes, poems, portions of historical documents, etc. (We have never used copywork in our notebooks, but hope to in the future as it is a very gentle approach to teaching sentence structure, grammar, and writing mechanics...not to mention a wonderful way to introduce great writings.)

newspaper clippings- of current events, interviews, gallup polls, etc.

book/movie reviews- of books and movies detailing a particular unit of study

creative writing/short stories

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook {The Unlikely Homeschool}

essays- (My third grade and above kids each have a notebook completely dedicated to the final drafts of their writing projects from their BJU English.  They continue to add to this journal throughout the year and from year-to-year.)

nature samples

rubbings- of bark, leaves, state quarters, name placards, famous landmark signs, etc.


ticket stubs- to applicable movies, plays, field trips, special events

Notebooking 101: What to Include in a Notebook {The Unlikely Homeschool}

...and of course
phrases, sentences, paragraphs of learned information in your child's own words.

More on notebooking
Tomorrow, I will be continuing our discussion on notebooking in homeschool.  I hope you'll join me as we consider...

In the meantime, be sure to check out these other helpful links.

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Days of Notebooking 101

5 Days of Notebooking 101 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

A few weeks ago, while lounging on the beach...book in hand, I watched as The Hubs helped my children create an intricate waterway in the sand.  They carved out trenches and poured bucketful after bucketful of water down their man-made path.  Their "river" was complete with tributaries, a flood plain, and a delta.  

At the time, my children had no idea that each of these small sand details added up to big learning. They were just five kids enjoying a sunny day at the beach with dad.  

5 Days of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

On the way home from our adventures in the sun, we began to chat about their "river".  We talked of currents and channels and used BIG words like "headwaters" and "eddy."  

During lunch that day, we continued our conversation and ended up watching a short youtube video about the ever-changing landscape of a river, its vegetation, and its affect on the wildlife that it supports.  

One thing led to another and my older kids grabbed their nature notebooks to begin sketching out THEIR river using the photographs I had snapped earlier that day.  A quick Google image search of river "parts" provided inspiration and further details. 

An adventurous day at the beach. 
A river with all its intricate parts.  

Now both indelibly etched into the minds of my kids because of a simple spiral notebook.

My children will revisit those pages in their nature notebooks in the days to come...revisit them often. They will remember THEIR river and smile.

5 Days of Notebooking 101 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

They will recall all those features we discussed at the beach...and in the car...and around the table.
Because they were given space and time to catalog it all in a notebook.  They were given a chance to rehearse what they had learned in a natural way.  They were given a blank page and an invitation to fill it up!

Notebooking 101

Notebooking has become a wonderful extension to our learning over the years...a tool to organize all our thoughts, opinions, and discoveries.  

Over the next few days, I will be continuing our discussion on notebooking and how it has come to be such an integral part of our homeschool.  I hope you'll join me as we consider...

For more helpful homeschool HOW TOs, be sure to check out the other wonderful posts in the iHomeschool Network Summer Hopscotch.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lego Party

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

Like most tween boys, my oldest son is a Lego fanatic.  So not surprising, when asked how he wanted to celebrate his birthday, he only needed a nano-second to request a Lego-themed bash surrounded by family and friends.

Right about this time, my daughter had been learning to make stop-motion videos with a stop-motion app on our iPad.  I was quick to enlist her services to make an invite to the party which we sent to all the party guests.

Confession time, all!

I love throwing kids parties!  I love the games. I love the crafts. I love the smiling faces of the party guests as they leave with a belly full of cake.

While I'm usually pretty good about planning games and crafts within the party theme,  the "ambience" part of my little shin-digs...when left totally up to me...usually falls a bit flat.  Admittedly, I'm not a decorator.  I tend to delegate that to The Hubs whose artistic eye can find the treasure in every heap of trash.  (He's a picker.  Did I mention that?!)  

So, what's a "decorating's not my thing" momma to do for trimming a party on a shoestring, debt-free budget?  Spend a late night scouring her Pinterest boards for some DIY Lego decor! That's what.

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}


Click on the highlighted titles to see the original ideas on Pinterest. 


My artist-husband jazzed up some square/yellow Dollar Tree plates by using a Sharpie to add Lego mini-fig faces.  I glued some yellow cardstock to the top to make the classic Lego man nubbin.

Gift Bags

A simple circle cutter and some cardstock turned a pack of blue and red gift bags into Lego pieces stuffed with party treats.  

Lego Jars

I lined a handful of Lego-filled Mason jars down the center of the table.  I had planned to also sprinkle some Legos around the jars, but my library-table-turned-dining-room-table is super narrow and was getting a bit too crowded for any more bling.


Super Boy was VERY specific about how he wanted me to make his cake.  He wanted a 2 x 3 brick. Red.  So that's what he got.
Red cake.
2 rows of 3 pegs.

This was just a 9 x 13 sheet cake.  I cut the cake in half and then sandwiched the two pieces together with some frosting.  The pegs were made by cutting super huge marshmallows in half and painting them with a water/food-dye wash.  In case you are wondering, I did not let anyone eat the marshmallows.  I think all that dye and fluff would have put them all into sugar shock!


Pass the decor off to Pinterest, but leave the game-planning to me!  It's my favorite part of organizing a kid's party.  Here's a quick look at our fun.

Tallest tower

After splitting the party guests into two teams, I dumped a bucket of Duplo blocks in the middle of the room.  The teams had one minute to build the tallest tower they could.  The team with the tallest, free-standing tower at the end of one minute won.  (While many of the kids wanted to just add height onto their tower, a few engineer-minded ones realized the need to also add depth for stability.  As a homeschool momma, this game was fascinating to watch!)

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

Classic "How Many?" Game

Ok...ok...I did borrow this one from Pinterest.  But, who doesn't love the old "how many things in a jar" game.  (In case you are wondering, there were exactly 253 Lego pieces in this giant Mason jar. The winning guess was 250.)

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

We took a brief pause to fill our bellies...

Lego Party Games and Decorations {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Then, it was on to...

Lego Find & Match

During our pre-party prep, I had The Hubs place a handful of very distinct Lego pieces onto a Lego mat.  He also found several EXACT matches to these pieces...some of the mat pieces had several duplicate matches while others had only one match.  He tossed all of these matches into a big bin of random Legos.

At the party, he showed the party guests the Lego mat filled with the previously selected Legos while I handed each guest a plastic cup.  I dumped the bin of Legos out onto the carpet and spread the pieces around the room.  On my "go", the game players had to find as many EXACT matches as they could and place them in their cups.  The person who collected the most pieces that matched those on the Lego mat won! Since two of the pieces on the mat only had ONE match in the entire tub of Legos, we awarded the finder of each of those pieces an extra 5 points to be added to his/her final total.  

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

Lego Car Race

Since the floor was already covered with random Legos, it was really easy to transition into this car race game.

During our prep, we had previously gathered some core car building parts...wheels, small flat mats, mounts, etc.  We placed these in one part of the room and allowed the kids to use these to make the base of a car.  They, then, had five minutes to add the "scattered about the room" Legos to their base to create a one-of-a-kind racing car.

Once all the cars were complete, we took them outside where The Hubs volunteered to hold an old rain gutter on his shoulder to act as a racing chute.  One at a time, the party guests lined their cars up in the gutter.  Each car was released and rolled down and out of the gutter onto the sidewalk.  The player whose car rolled the farthest down the sidewalk won.

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

Lego Picker-upper

Even after the creation of all those racing cars, there was still an enormous heap of Legos scattered all over my living room floor.  The final game of the morning took care of that in a flash.

I handed each party guest a cup and a plastic straw.  On my "go", they each had to pick up as many Legos as they could and drop them into their cup.  They could only touch the Legos with the tip of their straw.  By squeezing the straw into the holes on the back of the pieces, the kids were able to pick up one piece at a time.  The person with the most Legos in their cup at the end of the "clean up" won.  

Lego Party Games and decoration Ideas {The unlikely Homeschool}

With a little help from my Lego Love Pinterest Board, this party was Lego-tastic! (Yep...just totally made up a new word!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

After reading about WHY you should be notebooking and seeing a few examples of the many different kinds of notebooks your children can create under your encouragement, you might be wondering...

Great!  But, how do I get started? What does my child need in order to notebook?  and where do I get it?

The truth is, notebooking really IS just as simple as writing in a notebook.  While there are many flashy elements you can use to enhance a notebook, don't feel pressured into taking out a line of credit in order to pay for them all.  (This post contains affiliate links.)

A notebook and a pencil.  That's all you REALLY need.  

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

If you are looking to add some "jazz hands" to your notebooking pages or just wanting the experience to be more user-friendly, there are many great resources and tools that I'd recommend.  

Basic Notebooking Supplies

Here's a quick list of basic supplies that are great to have on hand for ANY kind of notebooking.  We keep most of these in an antique milk crate turned art caddy that sits right next to our dining room table. I've found that if your supplies are not easily accessible, notebooking becomes a drudge.  The hassle of dragging out all the supplies will deter you from scheduling it into your day. By having them all within arm's reach, you can quickly transition into notebook mode within seconds!

  • pencils & erasers
  • colored pencils
  • pencil sharpeners
  • glue sticks
  • scissors
  • tape
  • markers
  • stapler
  • a notebook of some kind (3-ring binder, spiral, composition, steno, journal, home-made booklet)

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Additional Notebooking supplies


I prefer the ones with the pockets so that any loose items that are being worked on can be stored in the pocket until they are permanently attached in the notebook.  
These are helpful for preventing weighty/heavily embellished pages from tearing away from a binder.
I prefer the colored ones for creating lapbooks because they are just prettier to look at than the plain cream colored versions.
These are an inexpensive way to create sections to a composition style notebook.
Use these to protect art work or 3-dimensional pages.
These are great for holding projects, mini books, brochures, etc. and can be inserted into just about any 3-ring binder.
Cardstock is essential for creating mini-books or adding flaps, tabs, or envelopes to a traditional page. The heavy-weight paper is more durable than standard sheets.  
These are great for adhering memorabilia, nature elements, souvenirs, etc. to a page.

stamps, stickers, embellishments

My children have never wanted to add these to their notebooks, but many children do.

double sided tape

It makes for a cleaner, more polished looking page.
Use these to make moveable parts (circle charts, tabs, fact fans) on a traditional page.

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking

Helpful Notebooking tools

The following is a list of tools that make the process of notebooking a bit easier.

clipboard box

Clipboards provide a sturdy writing surface for when you happen to be outside or on the go.  I prefer the clipboard box over the a standard clipboard because you can store basic notebooking supplies inside of them creating a "desk on the go".  Little ones tend to get frustrated if all of their supplies are inside a backpack and have to be dug out individually.  
Often times, I have my younger children dictate their narration for me to write down on a dry erase board.  They can, then, copy it word-for-word into their notebook ensuring proper spelling and punctuation.  

google images

I, almost always, find a picture of what my children are wanting to draw in their notbeooks by using a google image search.  Children, especially those who do not like to draw, are bound to feel more confident and have more success in recreating a picture if they have a sample with which to copy.  

a paper cutter

This is a MUST HAVE if you want your child to make a fact fan or mini book. Little hands rarely have the precision necessary to cut straight lines to exact measurements.


Science, nature, and travel magazines can be torn apart and used to provide colorful photographs/illustrations to an otherwise black and white page.  We often pick up free/discarded magazines in the FREE bins at our local library when we are working on a particular notebooking project.  

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

primary journals

While traditional composition notebooks are great for older students, I prefer the primary versions for my younger kids.  These modified comp books provide learning-to-write/primary lines for writing the narration as well as a large blank space on each page for creating an illustration.  

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Notebooking Resources

Admittedly, filling an empty notebook can be a daunting task for a young child.  Staring at a blank white page can be intimidating and leave a chid with an "I don't know how to start" kind of feeling. Some children...and mommas...have more success with a little bit of direction.  Here is a list of on-line resources that offer pre-fabricated, already put together notebooking and lapbooking packs for a variety of subjects to help get you started. Some of these sources are free while others require a one-time membership fee or purchase price.  (Click on the title of each site to be directed right to it.)

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Homeschool Share Lapbooks

This is a wonderful site filled with free printable lapbook kits for hundreds of different topics and units. They are all categorized by age range but with a little tweaking, can all be used for multiple levels.  

Notebooking Pages

Many of the units on this site can be ordered a la carte style, but I prefer the lifetime membership plan. A lifetime membership gives you access to hundreds of notebooking pages about particular topics as well as many generic pages to be adapted to any topic of your choosing.  There is also a "create your own page" illustrator tool which allows you to create your own custom page.  I love this site because it offers a wide range of pages about the same topic so that multi-age households can all be notebooking the same information at many different levels.  

Notebooking 101: Helpful Tools of Notebooking {The Unlikely Homeschool}

A Journey Through Learning

Order complete ready-to-fill-in notebooking and lapbooking units for a variety of different themes and topics.  Each unit is individually priced making it easy to order a last minute pack if needed.

The Notebook Fairy

This a great HOW TO notebooking site to get you started.  You can also find hundreds of FREE printable notebook pages as well as links to other free pages around the web.  

The Notebook Nook

This site offers both FREE notebooking pages as well as units that can be purchased for a small fee.  

The Crafty Classroom

This site offers a limited amount of downloadable pages.  Most are geared more towards lower elementary kids but ALL are free.  

Donna Young

Print out generic/all-purpose notebooking pages for FREE.  

More on notebooking

Over the next few weeks, I will be continuing our discussion on notebooking in homeschool.  I hope you'll join me as we consider...

In the meantime, be sure to check out these other helpful links.


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