Meal Planning for Homeschool Families

We are all set to start our new homeschool year towards the end of this week — I am super excited, my kids maybe not quite as much;).

Want to see our plans for this year? Click here!

We spent some time this week getting ready for our new year. It is super important to me to try to be as organized as I can this year, because we have so much going on….among other things:

Sports — sooo many sports & outside classes – I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it does mean we need to be quite organized to get stuff done!

Home construction — we started adding some bedroom space over the summer (and by “we”, I mean the people we hired) and while I was hoping it would be over and done before we started school, it — isn’t. So we will be homeschooling to the tune of drywall sanding and nail guns.

My new job — I’m so excited to be joining the staff at Brave Writer this fall! I’m teaching The Writer’s Jungle Online class.

So anyway, back to the organization. I did a whole bunch of stuff this week to get myself feeling ready. Or, more ready anyway. Here, I’m going to share my meal plan for the whole month of September!

Yes, really. At the risk of sounding like a total braggart, I am so gosh-darn impressed with myself for doing this.

Meal planning is my nemesis. With six people in the house and crazy-busy schedules, planning our meals is a must, but it’s a real pain to do every week. I had the idea of just doing it once a month and having it done. I got the kids involved and assigned them a couple nights to cook, too.

I assigned “themes” for each day of the week, based on what we’ll be doing. Then, I just plugged in some matching meals on a printable calendar page and had the kids fill in their nights. We used erasable pens so we can adjust as necessary, because obviously, plans will change!

FYI, I adore these erasable pens — they have totally changed my life.

 

So here are the themes we came up with and what we’re going to make!

  • Monday ~ My oldest (who happens to be vegetarian!) will cook
    • Pineapple tofu fried rice
    • Tofu tikka masala
    • Chickpea cauliflower gyros
  • Tuesday — Quick sandwich or pasta night
    • Turkey, cranberry, stuffing sandwiches
    • Eggplant or meatball subs
    • Lasagna (made ahead and popped in the fridge)
    • Fettucine-Broccoli Alfredo
  • Wednesday  — Crockpot (mostly) chili 
  • Thursday — Take along dinner (My youngest has a late gymnastics practice, so I got her a thermos and plan to make something she can take along with her)
  • Friday — My boys will cook
  • Saturday — Burgers-on-the-grill
  • Sunday — Sunday dinner
    • Grilled pizza
    • Grilled brats/sausages
    • Homemade lobster rolls
    • Thanksgiving-in-the-smoker ~ we smoke a turkey breast, then serve with fixings

One other thing I did — I put the meal plan in a folder and added in print-outs of any online recipes. I hate trying to follow a recipe from my phone!

So, that’s it! A whole month of meals planned in under an hour!

The IKEA Raskog Cart for Homeschooling

I picked up a Raskog cart on one of last year’s IKEA jaunts. I am pretty much in love with this little cart! For the first few months it lived in our laundry room holding detergent and bleach and other not-so-exciting-but-necessary-stuff. One day I was dragging books out of our home library to start our homeschool day, and it occurred to me that  wheels would make the job a heck of a lot easier and more fun. So the little cart moved into our library and now I use it to store the books I need to work with the kids each day.

Every morning I wheel this baby out to the kitchen, where it is central to everything we are doing. We are very much a “homeschool all over the place family” but I tend to center operations in the kitchen. I originally thought I would store supplies like pencils, erasers, scissors and such plus books on this cart, but we have a lot of books so there is not enough space. On my next trip to IKEA, I am planning to get my Raskog a sibling and use her to store those sorts of things.

I use this cart for the books I need most days and the contents switch up as we finish books and start others. Each kiddo also has a crate of independent materials. So the cart is really for the subjects I do with them. I arrange the contents in roughly the order we work each day. I start the day with my youngest and the top shelf holds:

 

Going down a shelf, my older kiddos do much more work independently, so their shelves are shared.

On the middle shelf, I have:

 

Then, on the bottom shelf I have:

DSC_0048

I honestly could not do without my little cart….and as a plus, it is just too cute. The only thing I am sad about is that I really wanted to get a blue one, but they were out of stock and it seems they don’t make a blue Raskog anymore. This color is the red/brown and I like it, but I have my fingers crossed there will be another fun and different color by the time I make it back to IKEA.

Preparing For a New Homeschool Year

While we haven’t technically finished up last school year ~ looking at my two olders who still have several math lessons to go ~ I am definitely thinking about next year and trying to squeeze in a bit of planning time each day.

Here are the things I am hoping to get accomplished in the next few weeks:

  • Finalize basic curriculum plans for each child
  • Consider online classes for my oldest – I’m thinking about Bravewriter
  • Decide on a family art and music plan for the upcoming year
  • Place curriculum orders
  • Plan for and sign up for extracurricular activities
  • Create a 36-week plan for each child 
  • Order a teacher planner and fill out the first week ~ I love Plum Paper for this
  • Set up my working teacher binder
  • Order student planners ~ possibly from Plum Paper as well?
  • Submit samples and plans to school district for review
  • Check supplies – pencils, binders, notebook paper, etc. and make a shopping list
  • Purchase art and lab supplies needed for whole year
  • Clean off school shelves, file all papers, store or toss curriculum, restock for a new year
  • Pre-read Sonlight Core 300 history & literature 
  • Deep clean the house – I always want to do this and usually don’t get very far, so we’ll see!
  • Plan Five in a Row for the year
  • Read some inspiring books
  • Plan a routine for next school year – how our days & week might (ideally) look
  • Set up a fall meal plan – meal planning takes me too much time; I’d like to try to do it ahead
  • Update chore chart 
  • Update (by which I mean start!) high school transcript for my rising 11th grader

In addition to these things, I really need to get in gear about late highschool/college. I keep putting this off and really just need to put my head down and get going. So be expecting a second list detailing my checklist for that…after I research, talk to Grace, and wrap my brain around things a bit. I keep telling myself no one said this would be easy!

Thanks for visiting!

My Homeschool Command Center

A.K.A. the kitchen counter! I have been setting up this little “command center” for myself each homeschool morning, and I thought it would be fun to share. I claimed the end of our kitchen counter peninsula as my spot. It’s right near the dining table where the kids do seatwork and just a few steps from the living room where most of our reading happens, plus it’s in the kitchen where we usually do science experiments and messy activities. So it’s a nice central location where I can keep everything I need for the day.

Here’s what I keep here:

  • A box of tissues – Because someone always has a cold lately!
  • A glass of water – I try to fill one up each morning, otherwise I forget to drink. 
  • A timer – This comes in handy if someone has a cooking project or science experiment.
  • Sharpened pencils – I sharpen a bunch each evening – no more hunting for pencils!
  • My cell phone – I keep the landline ringer off during school hours to minimize distractions, but I keep my cell on for my husband. 
  • A big mug of tea – I like to use a travel mug so it doesn’t get cold!
  • Our chore chart & a dry-erase marker – So I can keep track of what needs doing. 
  • My planner – I often leave this open, so I have a spot to quickly jot down to-do’s and notes about various things as they occur to me. 
Not shown are our language arts and math work crates, which I keep just in front of the counter. 
 I feel much more organized and professional since I started setting up my little command center each morning. Something about laying everything out helps me get my brain in gear for the day!

Our Language Arts Block

Last week I shared our current homeschool routine. Today I am going to share what we do during our language arts block. We start our day with our math block, which I posted about last time. In actual practice though,  the language arts block and math block blend into each other, because my younger three are all using Teaching Textbooks this year and need to take turns on the computer.  So while someone is doing math, the other two are working on language arts. My oldest does math and language arts on her own schedule, so this post only applies to my younger three.

Before we start,  I get out our math crate and our language arts crate. I keep all of our math supplies in one crate and all of our language arts supplies in another crate. No more I couldn’t find my spelling book, so I couldn’t do it! I tell you, it is amazing how often those spelling books got misplaced last year.

So I get out the crates and take everything out of them that I hope to do that day and pile it up on the table.

Then, I just work through the pile with whoever isn’t doing math.  Our language arts block includes  handwriting, grammar, spelling, and our writing program. Some things they do independently, some they do semi-independently, and some are more teacher-intensive.

Independently they do:

  • Handwriting (James & Rose only, Christopher doesn’t do handwriting anymore)
  • Spelling (for Christopher & James)

Semi-independently they do:

  • Spelling (for Rose, who needs help with some of the reading involved)
  • Grammar (for Christopher & James… I usually need to go over the assignment with them, then be available to help with questions)
  • Writing Strands (for Christopher & James…. I go over the assignment with them, need to be available for questions, and then check in with them when they are done)

With me they do:

  • Writing with Ease (James & Rose)
  • Writing Strands (Rose needs help for the whole assignment)
  • Grammar (I do First Language Lessons with Rose)

So my general routine is to send James to do math, make sure Christopher is working on some language arts that he can do independently or semi-independently, and then do something more teacher-intensive with Rose. Then, I just rotate around through kids and books for the rest of our language arts time. I have been getting better at juggling things, but things do not always run as smoothly as I would like.  I get very frazzled when I am interrupted a lot, so it was important to me to set aside this time for us all to do language arts and math together. It just feels easier to spend a couple of hours first thing on our most intensive subjects, the things the kids are most likely to need help with. It cuts down on interruptions during our independent work/read-aloud blocks which follow.

 When we finish with a book for the day, it gets put back in the crate. It is very motivating to see the pile on the table shrinking and the crate getting filled up again. When all the books are back in, the crate goes back on the shelf until the next day.

My next block post will be about the block of time I spend with Rose right after we finish our language arts work. I’m also working on a post about our row of Night of the Moonjellies, which we are almost finished with.

Till next time!

Routines, Part Two: Our Chore Routines

As I said in my last post, I have been tweaking and updating our routines for this fall. I think of “our routine” as three routines, really. We have our daily routine, our chore routine, and our homeschool routine. This post is about our most recent chore routine. Maybe not the most exciting thing in the world, but very necessary around here. 

Our daily routine includes three major chore times: morning, noon, and evening. I don’t like chores to take up the whole day, and I don’t like feeling as though I am never done.  Having a chore routine pinned to each mealtime helps us spread the workload throughout the day. And when the list is completed, so is that chore time. And that is a really nice feeling!

I slipped our finished chore chart inside a page protector, so we can use dry erase markers to cross things off. I love crossing things off, and the kids seem to enjoy it too. It is encouraging to have a clear visual of your progress. At chore time I put the chart on the kitchen counter and call everyone from wherever they are (probably hiding, to try to avoid work!). My hope is that eventually everyone will get used to referring to the chart to see what needs doing, rather than always asking me. Now whenever someone says “What should I do now?” or “Aren’t we done yet??” I can say, “Check the list – is everything crossed off?”

We have been using our new chore system for about two weeks, and so far so good. We don’t seem to be any quicker at chore time, but it feels more peaceful, and efficiency may come with time. I can hope!

Our chore chart has two parts: first, we have “morning”, “noon”, and “evening” chores. Then, we have chores specific to each day. The kids all have their own color on the chart, so they can see at a glance what they need to take care of.  Rose is pink, Grace is purple, etc. All other chores are in regular black ink, and everyone is expected to help out with them. I tried to photograph the chart, but it just wasn’t coming out well. So just know that I do not do all of these chores by myself. The kids play a major role in keeping things running around here.

Morning Chores
  • Feed and water all animals (the kids rotate who does what)
  • Empty dishwasher & pick up kitchen
  • Set out vitamins/meds
  • Set out breakfast items
  • Quick tidy of downstairs room
  • Wipe down bathrooms
  • Sweep downstairs
  • Start laundry
  • Clean up breakfast
  • Tidy up bedrooms and make beds
  • Water plants as needed (once or twice a week)

Noon Chores
  • Check animal water
  • Collect eggs, clean and store, deliver kitchen scraps to chickens
  • Give goats a hay refill & check their mineral salt
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Make lunch
  • Feed puppy
  • Get mail and sort it
  • Work on laundry
  • Tidy house (just a quick tidy)
  • Check if anything needs prepping for dinner (starting crockpot, chopping vegetables, etc..)

Evening Chores
  • Feed and water all animals, check on bedding
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Check hummingbird feeders; refill as necessary
  • Get paper
  • Collect eggs, clean and store
  • Finish laundry
  • Tidy house
  • Put away laundry
  • Set table
  • Run vacuum as needed
  • File school papers
  • Meds (just a reminder, if any person or animal is currently on a prescription)

Day-Specific Chores

Most of our day-specific jobs are assigned to the kids. I do my major cleaning on Wednesday afternoons because we are home and I can get a decent 2 hour block of time to work. I follow my old housework loop plan during this time and get done what I can. If I have time, I work on my loop for another hour or so on Saturday, then I just pick up where I left off on the next Wednesday. I linked to the housework loop above, but I don’t work on it every day like I used to, just on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Monday

  • Empty hampers (everyone does their own)
  • Brush dog
  • Look under furniture to find lost dog toys 

Tuesday

  • Clip nails (Yes I need a reminder for this, or some of the will kids end up with claws)
  • Check library records/renew books
  • Sweep back porch
  • Put away all items by staircase

Wednesday

  • Collect empty hangers from bedrooms (everyone does their own)
  • Fill up chicken and duck feeders
  • Brush cat
  • Brush dogs
  • Work on housework loop, two hours or so

Thursday

  • Empty hampers
  • Strip sheets and remake beds (everyone does their own)
  • Vacuum car ( I head over to the free vacuums at the gas station during the kids’ lessons)

Friday

  • Dust kids’ bedrooms (everyone does their own)
  • Make grocery list

Saturday

  • Vacuum kids’ bedrooms (they do their own, I help Rose)
  • Clean animal houses and areas
  • Cut grass
  • Trash day
  • Work on housework loop, one hour or so

Sunday

  • Sweep front porch 
  • Weed a flower bed, if time
  • Plan out week

So that is our current plan, being tweaked all the time, but it’s working fairly well. We are pretty successful with getting most of this list done, but please know that it does not all get done every day! I get done what I can and try not to stress too much about it.

Routines, Part One: Our Daily Routine

I spend some time each summer tweaking and updating our weekly routine, and this year was no different. In fact, this year we need to be more structured than usual because we have so much going on. I have come to the conclusion that we really need to have everything written out, and that we must be organized and purposeful about how we approach our day. I feel a bit misty-eyed for the days when we could just roll out of bed and go about the day haphazardly, but that is just not our reality right now, so routine it is! We actually have three sets of routines. This post is about our general routine, you can see our chore routine and our homeschooling routine by clicking on those links.

Obviously no single routine will work for all families, because every family is so different. This is what works for us right now, but next month or next year it will need tweaking again. We did not need this level of organization when the kids were younger, and we did not need it when the kids were less busy.

This year, I have four homeschoolers…second grade, fifth grade, seventh grade, and ninth grade. The kids have one activity each, but most of their activities meet twice a week. We usually participate in a weekly homeschool group, and probably get together with friends outside of the activities about twice a  month. We have a house and good-sized yard to maintain (or not), and we have goats, chickens, ducks, a cat, a dog, and a new puppy. We also live about 25 minutes away from pretty much everything, so that is a factor in how much time we (don’t) have.

There are lots of things I do, but there are plenty of things I don’t do, and that is what makes life manageable more than anything else.  I don’t do much gardening right now and my vegetable garden is a total wreck. I don’t do much yardwork or lawn maintenance…my husband cuts the grass and we try to have one or two weekends a year where everyone works to clean things up, but other than that we pretty much let things go. I generally take care of errands while the kids are at activities, but I don’t do the grocery shopping (dh does). I don’t spend any time on social media (I know, I’m weird, but it’s just one of those things I chose to let go when time became an issue…I don’t miss it at all.). I don’t throw fancy birthday parties for my kids, and we often decline invitations if they don’t fit in easily with the rest of our life, if we don’t know the family well, or if they only include one child. We aren’t big “playdate” people. We all enjoy cooking, but we save fancy things for special occasions.

 There are plenty of other things I don’t do; those are just some off the top of my head. I would love to do some of the things on my “don’t” list, but I need to be careful about how I spend my time. My tendency is to take on too much and wind up totally frazzled. I make time for homeschooling the kids, exercise and sleep, driving the kids around, my writing, basic household chores, and my own reading (which I do at night or during odd moments). I knit if we watch a movie, otherwise I don’t. I try to keep meals as simple as I can, but we use a lot of fresh vegetables, which take time to prepare.  The older kids each have one night a week to cook dinner for us all, which helps a bit. 

Writing up this routine was a real eye-opener for me, because it forced me to consider how much time I really have in a day and how I want to use that time. It can actually be very freeing to realize that you don’t have time for certain things! Having my routine to refer to keeps me on track throughout the day, but if we have an invitation to meet a friend or the weather is really nice, I am definitely okay with it getting messed up! While I enjoy having a routine, I have no intention of being a slave to it.

I use Excel for making up this routine; days of the week went across the top and half-hour time slots went down the left hand side. I used color coding to shade the boxes and to add a little interest.

The color coding doesn’t really show up in the photo, but I used:

  • Gray for chores, personal care, exercise, meal prep, and meals…. the backbone of our routine
  • Light blue for time set aside for homeschooling
  • Green for classes and outside commitments – green for go! The text for outside commitments is bright red so I can’t miss it
  • Purple for writing time

First I plugged in the green – all of our classes, lessons, group meetings, picking up the farm share…stuff that is fixed every week. Some of these are still a bit up in the air right now, but I just did the best I could. We have a busy year planned, but I am hoping that all of the kids’ lessons will fit on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, with Friday for homeschool group and/or library trips. I am trying very hard to keep Monday and Wednesday free, because I find that I really need a couple of days each week to just stay home! I have also started trying to schedule any appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to protect my two free days.

Next I plugged in the gray – the backbone of our routine. I usually exercise, shower, and do a few chores before starting lessons, and the kids have chores as well. Around noon we have another chore time to take care of animals, switch over laundry, sort the mail, make lunch, and do a quick clean up. We also have an evening chore time to do more animal care, clean up the house, finish laundry, get dinner going, etc. Our chore routines are not simple with so many people helping and so many animals, so I made a separate chart just for chores. My hope is that this master list of chores will encourage everyone to work more independently and more quickly, without constantly asking what to do next.  Chore routines will be in a separate post.

Next up the blue – our lesson times. This year I have 8:30-2:30 set aside for our lessons, though Friday will be a shorter day, ending around 11:30. Our lesson time has it’s own routine, which I will share another day. I listed “corrections” under our homeschool slot to remind myself to work on correcting the kids’ papers as I have free time between lessons. Much better than having to deal with a pile at the end of the day.

And finally the purple – my writing time.  I try to set aside a few hours to write each week – sometimes for this blog, sometimes for other projects. My goal is ten hours per week; so far I have seven hours plugged in between our free afternoons and evenings when we are home – the kids play video games with their Dad some evenings and I use that time to write.Update: I had to cut back on this. I still write in the evenings whenever possible, but anything beyond that just depends on the day. So really, I am spending more like 5 hours a week on this. As the kids get older, I hope I will be able to fit more in.

I’m going to share our general routine here, because I always find it helpful to see how other people set up their day…but please know that the times are very approximate…we are not slaves to the clock here. I do find it helpful to attach times to the routine at first, so I can judge how long things might take. It also helps me be more realistic about how much we can fit into each day.

General Routine

  • 6:30 a.m. Up, dress, walk dogs, breakfast, shower & dress, start chores when done (kids up by 7:30 for breakfast & chores).
  • 8:30 a.m. School starts with our math block – James will do his math on the computer first (I have three kids using Teaching Textbooks), while I finish up some basic chores and help Rose get ready. Minimizing distractions is key!
  • 12:00 p.m. – Time for noon chores…primarily making lunch.  As the kids reach a good stopping place, they are expected to help out. We usually have a lunchtime subject too; this year it will be Art of Argument.
  • 1:00-2:30 p.m.- Finish up homeschooling for the day, everyone help tidy up.
  • 3:00-4:30 p.m. – Outside activities or a bit of yoga for me, followed by either some office time to take care of phone calls, emails, research, etc. or time for housework (usually on Wednesday)
  • 4:30 -5:45 p.m. – Dinner prep and evening chores if we are home, otherwise this gets pushed to later. The kids are expected to  help until the bulk of the work is done, and if it’s not their night to cook they then have free time while I finish making dinner.
  • 6:00 p.m. – Dinner, followed by cleanup, video games with Dad, writing time for me, then dessert & bed for the kids. Two days a week dinner is at 7, because of activities. The kids are usually in their rooms by 9 at the latest, then we have an hour or so to read or watch television in relative peace. The older kids stay up and read in their room for awhile, but Rose is usually asleep by 9.

    Of course, this all looks nice and tidy on paper; the reality will be different! But I try to think of the routine as something to strive towards, a way to make sure we are organizing our day efficiently for both work and play, and most importantly, an honest assessment of what can actually fit into each day.