Working The Plan: January 23-28, 2017

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Monday:

This week is already off to a different start since the toddler woke up with a fever this morning…

Thankfully my lessons for co-op were all planned and ready and one of the other teachers was able to cover my classes.

It was a very different feeling to drop the four older children off and come home with the toddler!

She did sleep for about 45 minutes and I was able to print some of next week’s Biology lesson for co-op and spend about thirty minutes cleaning in the basement.

Meals This Week:

I am really happy with my menu plan! I’ve planned out several months, with a few goals in mind:

  • Use the crockpot on co-op day (Monday) so that dinner is half cooked when we get home around 1. This frees me up at evening chore time to do a few things to set us up for the rest of the school week
  • Have the Little Boys (7 and 4.5) help with cooking dinner on Tuesdays while the older two are at choir. I’ve planned meals that have components that they can cook or give major assistance on, and I try to plan my day to have extra time to have them in the kitchen with me
  • On Wednesdays one of the older two cooks dinner. Main dish and a couple of sides. My goal here is to have each of them develop a repertoire of meals that they know how to cook from start to finish.
  • Thursdays we eat “creatively recombined meals” (leftovers!). I try to leave the fridge clear for S since he cooks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

January’s menu looks like this:

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Tasks To Accomplish:

I try to keep this to 10-15 distinct items, as that seems to be what’s actually doable…

  1. Make sure we do our Four Rooms a Day Cleaning Rotation! We’ve slipped a bit on this since Christmas and I need to make sure we really are doing the tasks and I’m really inspecting them!
  2. Clean the basement: it got rather messy over the break and I need to pack up a bunch of stuff that is just being scattered instead of used. I made some progress on that today but I need to do another 2-3 thirty minute stints down there
  3. Cut out Mouse’s dress for Irish Dance
  4. Make a CD for French practice
  5. Finish doing the printing for the next couple of weeks of school and co-op
  6. Write discussion questions for Middle School Sunday School/CCD
  7. Email my mother
  8. Think about a rotation for snacks and breakfasts- the children are always wanting to eat something and I’m somewhat out of ideas
  9. Finish one book from my reading list- probably the one on Montessori for Parents
  10. Write three blog posts for the Home Educators Association of Virginia blog
  11. Work on teaching Bull how to do blog graphics
  12. Have Buggle take apart a chair that I need to fix
  13. Email someone about participating in their upcoming series of articles on special needs topics
  14.  Fill in the blank…
  15. Fill in one more blank!

School:

The big two will finish their French book this week, except for the end of book review. We’ll put that off for six weeks or so and concentrate on learning the vocabulary and grammar really well, using the CD that accompanies the book.

Bull has hit the point in reading and phonics where we can double up on lessons without his comprehension suffering. He also has only 36 lessons left in his MEP and is eager to finish as he has been given a choice of doing Life of Fred or Khan Academy for the rest of the school year.

The weather is supposed to be crummy- ice, sleet, wet snow, and cold so I expect we will do some extra lessons to free up the days of nicer weather!

That’s it for me!

What do you have planned and will you accomplish it?

Play along in the comments or on Facebook!

 

 

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Binders for Morning Time

This school year we’ve started having Morning Time several days a week as a way to start our day. I had read about the concept but hadn’t really seen how to use it in our homeschool until I realized that it could be the place for all of the “little” things that tend to fall off of the end of the school day (or get pushed off by fussy toddlers and preschoolers).

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What are those things?

Catechism and Religious Instruction

History Maps

Music and Hymn Study

Memory Work

Handwriting and Copywork

None of these are long lessons, in fact, with the exception of map work they are merely ten or fifteen minutes long. They do require a number of different sets of material though so I needed to find a way to keep things organized without needing to have a bunch of school materials downstairs.

Enter the “Morning Time Binder”!

The big kids have had three ring binders with pockets and zippers for several years. We’ve usually used them for math, and any subject with worksheets that weren’t bound in a book.

This year I split the math out into it’s own binders (one for each kid) and found that Science and History each needed their own binders too!  The old zipper binders were just sitting in the cupboard and I decided that they would be perfect for our Morning Time work.

 

Organization:

Each binder got a set of tabs:

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These are really nice ones- heavy duty plastic, with a clear page so that it’s easy to see what’s in each section.

Hymn is the songs we are learning this year, all pre-printed and in order. I also have a set in my binder.

Saints is a short biography with a coloring page for half a dozen saints I want the children to learn about this year. As they are colored we take them out and put them into the appropriate section of their History binders (divided by quarter century).

Copywork is their handwriting. This year is Bull’s First Communion Year so everyone is copying out the Baltimore Catechism for First Communion. They write a page every day while I read from our religious studies books for the year.

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Chant is a coloring book for learning Gregorian Chant. We haven’t made much progress with this yet, but it will be taking a more prominent spot in the routine once we finish some other subjects.

Memory is a collection of poems that I printed and they are memorizing.

The children illustrate the poems as an aid to memorization.

The children illustrate the poems as an aid to memorization.

The binders stay in a drawer in the dining room, along with our read aloud books. The children all know that they are supposed to come to the table after breakfast is cleared away with pencils and their binders, ready to work together.

I bring my own binder, some activities for the toddler and preschooler, and our maps for the week. While the first 45 minutes of school is not always peaceful due to attitudes and sometimes hard to settle little ones, the binders mean that the children who are ready to be diligent know what to do next if I am occupied.

Morning Time has given us a wonderful opportunity to learn to work as a group, for the good of all.

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The Busy Toddler and the Sensory Bin

Lately we’ve been doing school around the dining room table instead of in the schoolroom. We begin around the table with our Morning Time stuff – decade of the Rosary, copywork while I read from one of the books we’re studying for Catechism, Memory Work and Recitation, Maps for History, and whatever hymn we’re learning.

This resulted in the bin being put away!

This resulted in the bin being put away!

 

Often by the time we’ve gotten through that first forty minutes the busy toddler has settled herself to some occupation and as I’m not comfortable with her being downstairs by herself it seems easier to just send the children to get their books from upstairs and keep working where we are.

One of the occupations that Daisy really enjoys right now is her “sensory bin”. It’s nothing fancy. A large, plastic bin that I put some kind of material in that’s fun to scoop and pour. I include a bunch of empty cups from yogurt, some spoons, and a handful of small toys.

 

Better use of the sensory bin.

Better use of the sensory bin.

A few weeks ago I had a couple of boxes of cornflakes that had been opened but never eaten before the weather turned cold. Into the bin they went to be scooped, tasted, crushed and stirred. I included a selection of small earth moving trucks and Daisy and Jack were quite happy to spend a good bit of time moving “rocks” around the bin.

 

 

Of course, sensory bins can really make a mess!

I have a few tricks for keeping things reasonably under control:

  • Put the bin on the floor in the middle of a full size cotton sheet. The material that ends up on the sheet can just be dumped back in
  • Be very firm about throwing, flinging etc. – I typically give one reminder and then put the bin away for the day. Usually that kind of play means she’s begun to lose interest anyway.
  • Sitting in the bin is also not allowed.  The materials tend to stick to her clothes and end up all over the house.
  • Keep the materials to things like beans, rice, etc. which don’t tend to stick to her hands. When she’s bigger I’ll probably give her flour and rolled oats to play in but right now she doesn’t have the motor control to keep from spilling them on the sheet and then tracking them around.
  • Have her help clean up the spills, it’s part of the learning process!

With these guidelines in place I can generally count on the bin keeping her busy for twenty minutes or so, which is just enough time for me to teach someone bigger a lesson.

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Sick Days (or how to keep things going while nursing the sickies)

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This is a sick Bull. He spent two days this week lying on the couch completely out of energy and loudness.

It was so very quiet around here!

I must admit I enjoyed the quiet and calm, but I would have wished for another cause.

Anyway…

I started thinking about how I handle sick days, especially when Buggle succumbed as well and I was without two of my main helpers at once!

  • Let some things go- for me that’s mostly laundry since Bull handles the washing and drying and we can afford to get a bit behind with that job but not with the dishwasher and kitchen counters which are Buggle’s responsibility. After two days I have four or five loads to run, fold and put away but the boys are feeling better and if we all tackle it it won’t take long.
  • Keep the sick person resting as much as possible- I move them from couch, to recliner, to bed and give them plenty of comfy blankets and pillows to lean on. They can drowse or read (or sometimes watch a show or play a game on the Kindle if they’ve been sick for many days and are too bored to rest but too sick to get up and about)
  • Encourage the other children to offer kindnesses- being a bit quieter so the sick kid can rest, giving them a special animal to snuggle, bringing them books to read, or drinks and snacks as appropriate. Serving as they would like to be served.
  • Everyone picks up a bit of the sick person’s slack- this is a good chance to see if a child is ready to be promoted to a different set of responsibilities by giving them a practice run
  • Keep things running as close to normally as possible for the rest of the crew- I’m always tempted to let things all go slack when one kid is sick, but we all really do better if I relax the schedule slightly but try to keep things moving for the rest of the children. Anything that requires all the children gets put aside but otherwise we just continue with lessons and the sick child either listens and learns or spends time reading and resting.
  • Reading- Since much of our history work at this point consists of reading biographies, histories, and historical novels I encourage sick children to work on the week’s history reading assignment. For one thing they tend to stay more cheerful if they don’t have sick days filled with entertainment and self gratification and for another their willingness and ability to read history is a good gauge of how sick they are.
  • “If you are well enough to play, you are well enough to work.”- I learned this from my sister and it’s a great test. When the sick kid is feeling well enough to abandon the couch, I give an easy job as a test of their ability to be off the couch and get along with others, follow rules and so on. If they set up a loud wailing and whining or drag through the task, I know they aren’t really ready to get up and send them back for more rest.

Altogether I keep things as simple as possible and figure we’ll sort out the messes that accumulate around the edges once all my helpers are back up to their regular energy levels.

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The Tasks That Smooth My Days

“Tis the season of activities! Lessons, co-op, soccer for two, dance for four, church, Sunday School…. I’m tired just typing the list! The busyness of the schedule feels chaotic and the days spin by on their own until I don’t know which end is up. Somehow I need to bring sanity to it all.

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Sanity has to start with me. When the children are whirling through the house unsettledly, I can’t calm things effectively unless I am calm and settled myself. So I make a point of taking the 5-10 minutes I need to settle my own spirit. I let everyone stay and extra fifteen minutes in their quiet time spaces so I can have an afternoon cup of tea and I try hard to place things around the house to remind me to parent calmly and gently.

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Some times of day are harder. Lunch time, the end of afternoon playtime, when we transition from outdoors to in and play to work, the evening when tired, hungry toddlers and preschoolers can no longer cope…these times act as triggers for yelling, fussing, tantruming, and impatience for Mom and children alike. Here I need to be intentional and proactive.

I write the afternoon’s jobs on the board before I call the children in. I try to make sure they’ve at least eaten an apple sometime between lunch and afternoon jobs. I plan to keep the grumpiest children close by and let service dispel the self-centered disappointment over the end of playtime.

 

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I work ahead too, trying to do some chunk of my housework or dinner prep at times when the children are happily occupied. Often this means that dinner prep is done in spurts, a bit while I’m making lunch (meat taken out to thaw or something put in the crockpot), another little bit while I’m making my afternoon cup of tea (it’s amazing how much I can do in the seven minutes it takes the kettle to boil!).

I’ve let go of the concept of working at a large task until it’s done. For one thing that method doesn’t work well with my highly distractible brain, and for another I rarely get more than twenty minutes to work at something. Instead I keep a running list of projects and pick a couple to work on each day.  Ten-twenty minutes of concentrated work can actually accomplish quite a lot and I don’t feel as if my task is never ending.

I keep a running “to-do” list and remind myself that it is a RUNNING list. I expect to cross off a few things and add a few things and that’s OK. Some weeks I cross off a great number of small tasks and some weeks….I don’t, but having the list frees me from having to remember all that needs to be done.

I try hard to notice the moments of calm, even when they only last for sixty seconds and to point them out to the children. If we don’t recognize calmness and peace, then we don’t know what we are working towards and I find it all too easy for the chaos moments to run right over the peaceful ones, obliterating them from our memories.

These practical steps and intentional attitude adjustments keep us going, and little by little we reclaim the crazy moments as moments of living fully.

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Finding His Conscience

Lately the four year old, Jack, has been becoming very distraught when told he did something naughty. There have been tears and tantrums, and throwing toys over consequences like sitting for four minutes that he used to just calmly do.

We’ve had a fair number of new things lately so I thought he was reacting to those. Several mornings of doing stuff that doesn’t involve “his best Mama” was stretching him (as I intended it too) and I thought he was just a bit emotional. Certainly his declarations of “I’m just a boy who needs his mama.” would seem to indicate some self- recognition that he needed to anchor himself. Or did it?

Today was grey and cold so I lit candles on the mantel in the living room. Wide, stable pillars that will burn for hours, well up out of the reach of little hands. This is normal for fall and winter here, and I don’t even recall that I said anything to him about not touching other than to remind everyone not to leave a stool or chair where Daisy could climb up and touch (I’m not even sure she’s noticed them, actually).

After supper Jack came into the kitchen and informed me in a proud but sheepish way that he “could touch fire and not be burned”.

“Did you mess with the candles?”

“Yes.”

“That was very naughty and you will have to sit for a long time. ” (which means six minutes instead of four, plenty long to him!”)

Oh, the heartbroken wailing!

I knew he was low on sleep after a long weekend so I asked if he needed to go to bed instead?

“Yes.”

So I carried him up and calmed him down so I could “hear about his day” and at that point I suddenly understood.

He’s reached the beginning of being accountable for his actions. His conscience had told him not to touch, he’d touched anyway and now he felt like his relationship with Mama was all messed up!

So we talked. I explained what his conscience was and how when he did things his conscience told him not to, he then was upset because he knew he’d been naughty and his relationship was messed up. We talked about asking for forgiveness and about how right now he’s just accountable to me and Papa but that in a few years he’ll be big enough to also understand how naughtiness breaks his relationship with God and then he’ll be big enough to go to confession.

I’m not sure how much he got, but he was a much happier boy after apologizing and being forgiven and came down and sat nicely for his minutes with his conscience clear!

 

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Three Soups…One Ham Bone!

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It must be fall. All of a sudden, we are eating soup again, and the oven is doing double duty as a house heater and cooking device (I will confess to having turned on the heat for an hour or two a couple of times).

I’ve been shopping at Aldi lately, and the other week bought one of their bone-in, smoked, hams.  These are a good deal for us, and I’ve been putting it to many uses.

The day after I bought it I sliced the meat from the bone and put together three bags of slices for sandwiches or frying. Two went into the freezer and one into the fridge to be used for the week’s sandwiches (I pack lunches for everyone on co-op day and on gym day so that we can eat in the car on the way home and not end up with starving, cranky, children). I also put the bone in the freezer for later use, along with a bag of scraps that weren’t really good for sandwiches.

This week I pulled out the bone and put it in the crockpot to turn into broth on Tuesday morning.

S had cooked a quart and a half of white beans over the weekend and put them in the fridge, so for supper on Tuesday night we had ham and white bean soup, with the broth and the little bits of meat that had fallen off the bone during the day. I used about a pint and a half of the beans along with the ham broth, some dried fried onions (like the kind that go on top of green bean casserole) that had been hanging out in the pantry for a while (because I was TOTALLY out of actual onions) and seasoned the pot with salt, pepper, Spanish smoked paprika, Chipotle, Ancho, and a dash of Cayenne to make a dish that was warm with a hint of smoke and spice. A pot of soup and a baking sheet of rolls made a lovely meal.

I put more water on the ham bone and simmered it overnight to provide more broth for Butternut Squash Soup.

This required cooking two butternut squashes (rinse them off, poke holes in them, and put them on a tray in the oven at 450 until they are soft (about an hour). Let cool, peel, discard seeds and mash.)

The squash went into the pot along with the ham broth (about a quart), the rest of the white beans, Oregano, smoked Paprika, dried fried onions, parsley, Chipotle, and Cayenne.  I was out of roll dough so we had a pan of biscuits instead and not a scrap of food was left.

Back the bone went into the pot, along with some bits of fat from the ham I had pulled for sandwiches. I made another batch of broth and S started some more beans, little red kidneys instead of white beans for some variety!

Last night’s supper was: ham broth, red beans, finely chopped ham, a can of corn, the last of the fried onions, and spices (cumin, rosemary, parsley, chipotle, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper).

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Along with it I made cornbread, pouring a drizzle of local maple syrup over it when I took it out of the oven. The soup came out a bit spicier than I had intended so the children added milk to their servings to back the heat off a bit.

The ham bone is completely used up at this point. The marrow disintegrated into the broth and I’ve thrown the bone away. I’m pretty pleased though, three meals with an average cost of >$10 is awfully nice when feeding this crowd!

 

 

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Free Time or Free For All?

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Free time is an enormous benefit if homeschooling. Play and creative endeavor help make children well rounded and are an important part of the “whole child” approach to education. By providing ample free time I am giving my children the chance to use their knowledge, to experiment with activities and with their reactions to things working or not working and to grow. Most of the time free time is a wonderful gift and a treasure.

Sometimes though, free time can become a source of conflict, boredom, and discontent. It can really be counter-productive to character formation as the children come to see free time as their right and all other uses of time (lessons or chores) as annoying intrusions. Bad attitudes develop and mom is left wondering what is going on.

Often the children are also feeling frustrated with their available time as they try to decide what they should do, or drift aimlessly about the house and yard without settling to some play or creative endeavor.

One of the things I desire to teach my children is the wise use of time, and I find that a relatively easy thing to do during school hours or at chore-time. Then lessons and chores are complete and I turn them loose expecting them to make good use of their free time but without offering the guidance necessary to help them use their time wisely and feel within themselves that they have used it wisely. When I see the evidence of a poor use of time in bad attitudes I correctly identify free time as being part of the problem, but instead of offering training I often just cut back on free time or give other consequences.

How do I guide the children into using time well, while still keeping free time an open ended block of time to learn, explore and play?

First of all, I have to model it. When I sit in front of the computer or spend my afternoon on Facebook , or even reading an actual book, I am not showing the children how I discipline myself  to enjoy the things I enjoy but not let them become a huge focus of my life.  When I grumble about having to clean the house or cook supper when I would rather please myself I should not be surprised when they also grumble when asked to put their pleasures aside and serve and love the family.

Secondly, I need to instruct the children on the dangers of too much of a good thing. Around here we talk about “brain candy” a good bit; the books and games that we enjoy but which don’t engage us in ways that help us grow. These activities are like candy for our minds and spirits. A moderate amount is good, but too much gives a mental and/or spiritual stomachache (which generally shows itself as a bad attitude or a diminished ability to do good work)

Thirdly I find that having more frequent but shorter periods of free time is better than a whole afternoon to do whatever they want. Following times of sitting and doing things alone with times of being active and together also helps considerably. So “nap time” only lasts an hour and a half, and the half hour afterwards is spent running and playing outside. Those two hours of free time are followed by a time of working on some household project together, then another little block of free time, followed by evening chores. If evening chores are finished before supper, there may be more free time, but that time is clearly the natural reward of hard work and so tends to be appreciated and used well.

I do give some guidelines for the use of free time- giving options that include creativity or nonfiction reading most days for “nap time” as that helps keep the children from focusing only on their own pleasures.

Finally I try hard to notice and comment on the good uses of time that I see and the good transitions from free time to lessons or chores. This is difficult for me as I am very much focused on accomplishing the goals for the day and have to make myself stop and admire the creations or say something to the child bustling at jobs.

Slowly I am seeing an improvement in the use of time and the attitudes that go along with our various activities. My hope is that as habits are built of creativity and productivity and holding time precious that the children will grow to neither squander or hoard it but instead spend it freely doing the things they have been created and called to do.

 

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Five Ways to Help Struggling Writers

We’ve all had it happen. Your students enthusiastically read the material but when it comes time to write about what they’ve read, there are blank stares, sighs, dawdling, and sometimes tears! What happened?

Last night while they were supposed to be clearing the table they couldn’t stop telling Dad all about the discovery of the importance of sterile fields in medicine…

“Can you believe it? People thought that meat just spontaneously grew maggots!”

Put a piece of paper in front of them and give them a sharp pencil and suddenly they can’t remember a thing!

Don’t give up.  Learning to write is complicated and feels overwhelming to many children.  Take your time, be patient and they will learn who to takes the words out of their heads and put them on paper.

Here are a few things I find to help with that process:

1. Start with dictation early. Even preschoolers love to tell stories, so have them tell you a few sentences. Write the sentences as they speak. You can have them draw illustrations and you can point out certain words, or the capitals and punctuation, but the really important thing is to get them telling things in order.

2. Don’t expect an early elementary aged student (1st-4th or 5th grade) to be able to think of what to say, write, and remember how to spell, punctuate etc. all at once. Keep letting them dictate to you, with you writing for the first couple of years. At some point you can transition to writing what they dictate on the blackboard and having them copy it into their books.

Dictation from the older two for their history notebooks. The teacher clearly needs lines drawn on the board!

Dictation from the older two for their history notebooks. The teacher clearly needs lines drawn on the board!

3. Write often, even if it’s just a couple of sentences. Each morning the children have to write a few sentences about the history they read the day before. Sometimes this turns into a couple of paragraphs, sometimes it’s just a brief highlight. History is a subject we do across grades so the second grader dictates to me and the fifth and sixth graders write their own sentences.

4. Provide a word bank. I find this particularly helpful for science writing or for history when there are unfamiliar names or other vocabulary. Having to stop to figure out spelling interrupts the flow of thought, so simplifying that by providing the words that might be tricky keeps the words coming.

Word bank for science on ways to defend oneself against bacteria.

Word bank for science on ways to defend oneself against bacteria.

 

5. Ask leading questions to get the ideas flowing. Good questions lead to good writing because they make the writing more interesting. Instead of asking “Who did you read about?” ask “Why was Louis Pasteur’s work important to the study of bacteria? or How did he prove that germs caused diseases?” Why and How questions tend to be more interesting that simply retelling the facts and a higher level of interest helps the students to want to write and explain.

Above all, be patient. Let your students know that writing is important to you, and that it is something that you will help them develop and grow into. Use your judgement about grading. It is sometimes better to give a student a “well done for effort” with some gentle corrections on usage, than to give a grade that makes them feel their hard work was pointless.

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Mom Has A School Uniform Too!

6:00 am

Sitting on the bed, drinking a cup of tea, and thinking about the plan for the day.

I woke the children up a few minutes ago and now Buggle, stumbles past on the way to the bathroom where he left his school pants last night.

School pants?

He’s homeschooled, isn’t he?

Yes, but the children wear uniforms on school days, during school hours.

Navy blue or khaki bottoms (pants for the boys, and these wonderful uniform skirts with built in shorts for Mouse!) and a polo shirt, or a cotton button down shirt or blouse.

 

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We’ve done it for a few years now. Actually, as I look back through the archives it seems we’ve been wearing school uniforms since Jack was a baby! It helps everyone to be focused on lessons as our primary work for the day. It cuts down on the “what do I wear?” questions in the morning which helps our morning dressing and chores to run more smoothly. We run less laundry as school uniforms can generally be worn for a couple of days in a row, and play clothes can be grubby (and therefore worn for a couple of days) since we don’t wear them anywhere that looking clean and tidy matters.

Errand running gets school uniforms as we are much less likely to get questions when the children look like they are supposed to be in school (I wonder if people just assume that we are coming from a doctor’s appointment or if it’s just that school children in uniforms during the day is such a normal sight here that my children sort of fade into the background? (if that’s the case it’s the only time they ever do!!).

Extra curricular activities get school uniforms too (which means that today Buggle took his pants off at noon and ran them through the laundry so he had a clean pair of pants for choir practice this evening, as he only has one pair right now due to an tripping and ripping out the knees on the other pair last week) since dressing neatly shows respect for the teacher and classmates of your chosen activity.

This year I’m joining them in a “mom uniform”!

I stumbled across a couple of skirts in khaki and blue at the thrift store the other day, and I have polos and button down shirts. So now I put on my skirt and top every morning and am “dressed for school”. My clothing shows that I am ready to get down to business and that I respect my students and our mutual task of learning.

When school is over I often change into jeans, although some days I stay in a skirt if we are going to go out for some reason.

What about you? What are the things that you do to show that lessons and learning are important “work times”?

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