Category Archives: educating your children

7 Quick Takes To Get Your Home School Year Moving

7 tips to help get your home school year off to a good start
Everyone’s headed back to school according to social media posts and commercial advertisers. Back packs and curriculum, lunch boxes and lesson planners, parents are gearing up for another year of educational progress. As for us, we’re year-rounders so just when everyone else is shifting out of park, we’re kicking into second gear. But no matter what your schedule choice, it is a good time to do a systems check.

Here are seven quick takes to help you keep your engines running smoothly.

School Room VS. the Dining Room Table

#1 My social media feeds are filled with snapshots of beautiful school rooms, filled with learning centers, educational posters and inviting seats. School rooms can be a great place to keep and organize your books and learning tools, as well as, a good way to structure your child’s day (school happens in here, play happens outside of here, etc.) However, you should keep in mind a separate room is not a requirement for success and for some it may be a hindrance. 

We’ve always schooled at the dining room table (which is centrally located) because I found, with little ones toddling about, it was easier to make sure the preschoolers were in clear sight and had ready access to their play area. Of course, this means we have to pull out and put away our school books each day. To make the movement of books easier, every child has his/her own school box with their current grade books inside. When deciding what works for you, consider what ages you need to monitor and which household chores will require your attention during the day, than select the location that works best for everyone.

Shop ’til You Drop?

#2 Browse through a catalog or educational book dealer and you’ll be overwhelmed by the available choices from colorfully illustrated science books to laminated posters of the life cycle of a frog. If there’s money in your bank account, you’ll probably be tempted to shop ’til you drop. You’ll just have to try that book your girlfriend recommended for grammar and doesn’t that math manipulative look like fun. I’ve been there and done that, only my bank account forced me to restrain myself sometimes more than I wanted.

 Now with twelve plus years of home schooling on my resume, I have to admit the basics are the better deal. Think about it, little Dick and Jane were just as equipped educationally (in some cases better equipped when compared to today’s youth) and they didn’t require fancy new books and educational toys to absorb their reading, writing and arithmetic. Keep it simple, stick to a solid foundation of thorough basics and resist the temptation to buy into every new idea if the old one worked well. I remember in my Catholic grammar school there were lovely, decorated bulletin boards lining the hallways, but I can’t remember that those pretty pictures actually taught me anything of importance. In contrast, I did learn plenty from the information in those well-worn textbooks (I also learned to treat things with greater care because our supplies weren’t disposable).

Just the Right Price = Free

Okay, I’m dating myself with this picture
#3 Utilize free resources as much as possible. Make sure your family has a library card and visit regularly. Why buy when you can borrow? To this end, be careful in allowing your children on the internet. While it can be a wonderful tool to learning, it requires vigilant parental supervision.
#4 On the free front, my husband was able to find a good number of classics for “free” on paperback swap. You earn credits for free books by offering your used books for free (which is a great way to help clean out your overflowing book shelves). The book offerer pays the cost of media mail only. E-book readers also offer lots of free material, but again be careful that your kids aren’t able to access the internet via their reader without parental controls.

Learning All the Time

#5 Never forget that learning is a constant process so sweet Susie is learning all day long, not just when seated at a desk. Include her in the daily chores as part of her school day. Let her help make lunch, fold laundry and read to a younger sibling. 

How better to learn real life skills and religious lessons than by putting ideas into action? The Corporal Works of Mercy are an abstract for little ones until you have Bobby dress the baby and then point out that he has just clothed the naked. As Julie makes piles of laundry for each family member, you might tell her that she’s classifying items like in science. The point is if you are having an off day and you didn’t finish that whole page of math, Timmy and Tammy didn’t miss out on a whole day of learning. In days of old, parents understood this concept. Great minds were formed at the hips of their fathers and mothers; they still are.

Train Good Communicators

#6 My children tend to be outgoing and I think it’s an important skill to learn: how to communicate and navigate in the wide world. From the time they are little, I push them to engage others when appropriate (and safe). For example, have your younger child select an item from the store. Have him count out his own money, decide if he can afford the item, hand the money to the cashier and politely thank the checkout person for the change. If they can’t find a book in the library, have them ask the librarian for help, etc. I also make my kids write thank you notes which has become somewhat of a dying art, but is still no less important. 

Obviously, some people are introverts, but we will all need to navigate through life, so teach your children these skills from the beginning. On a confessional note, I have a child who hates to ask for help, so I had to quite literally force him to call the home school counselor on occasion. It was well worth the effort because now as a young adult he is able to handle his own affairs.

Teach Them to Love

#7 If you love your children and model that love daily, you are succeeding. There are too many people in the world suffering from lack of love, but your children will not be in that group. And in loving them, you are teaching them to love which will change the world one person at a time.

So whether today is the first day of your school year or your 31st day, take heart and know you are capable of preparing your offspring to succeed. It doesn’t require bundles of expensive books or a vast array of flashy, new tools to educate a young mind. It only takes a loving, thoughtful teacher who inspires a love for learning.

Home school 101: Tips and Tricks of the Trade

easy ideas for home schoolers
Stumbling through files on my computer, I happened upon some notes I’d written for a talk on home schooling. While I’ve got twelve plus years on the job, know that I’m not a doppelganger for Mrs. VonTrapp, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two about what works in Brelinskyville.

  1. Without rehashing old posts, I have to say first and foremost that you need to prayerful discern God’s plan for your child’s education. Home schooling is my vocation. You need to discover if it’s yours as well. Days will come when you’ll second-guess your ability to endure one more minute as the ringleader of your 24/7 school house and knowing that you’re doing God’s work will give you the grace to continue the task.
  1. home school tipsEncourage your children to read, read, read. There are books on every imaginable topic, so if you can read, you can learn anything. An old friend’s daughter called home from college and thanked her parents for encouraging her to become an avid reader. She explained that college courses consisted of mostly textbook reading and so she had an advantage over some of her classmates, who didn’t like to read. 

    Honestly, I’m not very picky about what my kids read and I don’t have the time to preview their choices, so I’ve tried hard to teach them to recognize what isn’t appropriate. On more than one occasion, they’ve brought me a book and pointed out a “bad” word and they’ve agreed not to read it further. I’m okay with silly books for my younger kids, the boys especially, because for me the goal is to get them to enjoy reading and want to read more. Remember reading can lead to better vocabulary and spelling skills as well.

  1. Stick to a schedule. Children thrive on schedules and households are generally less stressful when everyone knows what to expect. I find it helpful at times to post the schedule, especially if I’ve made a change. This also prepares our children to be able to self-direct their studies as they get older and prepares them for schedules in the workplace.
  1. Flexibility is essential if you’d like to retain your sanity (or at least some portion of it), especially if your running a large household. As important as a schedule is, I think it is equally valuable to learn to make changes when needed. When we’ve had a baby, I’ve made a point to not get too attached to a hard and fast schedule for naps and breastfeeding. I nursed on demand and allowed my little one to sleep in my arms wherever we were and that philosophy carried over into all of our days. So, if the opportunity for a play date suddenly presents itself or a fabulous field trip is proposed, we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the blessing and make up the leftover work throughout the rest of the week. 

    I never “school” on the weekends, but occasionally when necessary I’ll add an extra week to our planners for the purpose of getting caught up. Perhaps, this is more of a personal preference, but I find it helpful to teach my kids to be able to “go with the flow” without falling apart.

  1. nurture your marriage while home schooling your childrenRemember to nurture and protect your marriage. When our children were little, we instituted Daddy and Mama Time which began at 8:00pm. I hold this time as sacred for both my own peace of mind and for my marriage. All of our children must go to their bedrooms at that time. The older kids are free to quietly play a game, read a book, chat with each other or study, but that must take place in their bedroom. It really helps to have this time to look forward to each day and it allows dad and mom the opportunity to focus on one another. There are days when 8:00pm can’t come soon enough! I think this also establishes a boundary for the children because they come to understand that dad and mom have a separate relationship (as opposed to just being dad and mom). A strong marriage makes for a stronger family which makes home schooling easier.

  2. Keep the house tidy and get dressed every day. While I wish that my house looked like those in Better Homes and Gardens, it doesn’t. Throughout the years and with the addition of children, I’ve had to become more Mary than Martha (and that is a HARD lesson). With that said, there are days when the beds don’t get made until lunchtime and there are school books still strewn on the table at 5:00pm. 

    Teach yourself and the children to tidy up throughout the day, so the house can be generally in order by the time dad gets home. For example, after you take a shower take the extra minute to hang the towels up neatly and pick up any stray items from around the sink. This way when you visit the restroom later, you won’t feel overwhelmed by “another mess.” Obviously, the house needs some serious cleaning, too, but I find it easier to pick one day a week for scrubbing and dusting. 

    Just as a tidy looking house helps to bring about a feeling of tranquility (just tune out the screaming children from this vision), a tidy looking mom will help motivate everyone. You are a teacher, an organizer, a motivational speaker, and a counselor, so look the part. Yes, the baby’s spit up may be on your shoulder and your pumps were traded in for flip flops, but you should still start every day by getting dressed, brushing your hair, etc. My grandmother and mother always “put their faces on” and “fix their hair” which is a good way to force yourself to look in the mirror for a few minutes every morning and recognize that you are beautiful and that you are YOU and not “just mom.”

  1. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw is out or give it a rest. Maybe you’ve tried to implement a suggested schedule in your house and it just isn’t working; by all means, stop and find what works for YOUR family.

    Does that grammar book that worked wonders for your son, work as well for your daughter? If not, don’t be afraid to shelf it and try another route. I used to get up and stay up at 6:00am. For a time it was a great blessing, but then life changed and my needs changed and getting up that early led me to feeling tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I decided to give that schedule and myself a rest by sleeping until 7:00. 

    Throughout the years, I’ve implemented many chart/reward systems, and they usually start out well. My kids have seen behavior charts, time charts, consequence charts, privilege charts, chore chart, enough charts that they should be aces if they are ever called upon to give some big graphic presentation to a future employer. Oh, and that’s not to mention the ticket, treat and time reward systems that I’ve offered. In time, these become less effective because the novelty has worn off or the goal was reached, then it is time to give it a rest. 


  1. Consistency is key. Most parents spend a lot of time seeking the magic trick to get their kids to behave. We buy books and listen to tapes, hoping to garner the secrets to success. Dr. Ray Guarendi tells us wisely that consistency is the real key. Really, no matter what the lesson we’re trying to teach, we need to be consistent if we want the lesson to “stick.” Unfortunately, the child’s brain doesn’t come with settings, so it may require mom to consistently say “Clean up your room” one million times or more rightly to say “clean up your room” and then consistently enforce a set consequence if it isn’t done.

  1. Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don’t over-extend yourself with too many commitments or extracurriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS.

  1. living your faith with your children in the home

    Lastly, live your faith in plain sight and love your children in the moment. All the lectures and book-work in the world won’t go as far as your example will (which your kids will be studying at every moment). Remember, this time with your children (while it may seem endless on the difficult days) will pass by before you know it, leaving you a clean house and an empty school table. Tomorrow they’ll be heading out the door to fulfill their own vocations, so enjoy this time and know that your sacrifices of time, self and sanity won’t have been in vain.