Boring Administrative Information

Themes, Not Subjects

975552AD-D106-46BC-9F52-D6868ADEB61BThis will be my tenth year teaching school at home. TEN YEARS. Honestly, I can’t even believe it. I recently went to a homeschooling conference, and realized that I was in the significant minority. Most of the moms were in their 20’s. Most of those moms had 2.5 kids under 5. Most of them had expensive hair. Only a handful of the moms had kids that were in middle school, let alone high school, and it seemed like many of them had less than 4 kids. I felt old, and tired, and very frumpy. 664B2311-88EC-4795-920B-1AE6FCB92A84But ten years was just barely enough time to hit my stride, and now my oldest is beyond me. I am still hoping to catch up. {although it’s not likely}8d65a1d1-f116-43b1-9433-eb5891043cb3.pngEvery summer, I go over what worked, and what didn’t work the previous year. I try to plan the following year in a way that makes sense with what we have already done, and what fits the best with each kid, and where our family is at. Let me tell you, it is never a perfect match. One thing that I always get annoyed by, is how to structure our areas of study. I have always done them by subject- most likely because I am a product of the school system. We learned in compartments, without any connection between history and math, science and art, geography and language arts. These were all separate subjects, taught by different teachers, who weren’t particularly interested in any subject other than the one they personally taught. AA855913-8241-452D-8124-E912EA0BD256This year, I am throwing subjects out the window, and we are structuring our learning in themes. Many of these themes overlap each other- as described in much of what I have been reading- like a piece of fabric, each area connected and supporting the others, to create “a tapestry of learning” {as Bernie Nebel puts it}.

DB695154-6BFA-4A04-AB1F-8424E7D328CDHere they are.

Communication: Phonics, Reading Fluency, Penmanship, Composition, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Spelling, Grammar, Speech, Literature, Poetry, Notetaking

Values, Purpose, History, and Society: History, Ethics, Etiquette, Philosophy, Church History, Religion, Classics, Law and Politics

Discovering our Planet Earth: Sense of Place, Mapmaking, Earth and Space Sciences, Geography, Astronomy, outdoor skills, exploring

Living, Non-Living, and Human Made Things: Biology, Ecology, Physics, Anthropology, Archeology 

Water Wonders: Hydrology

Physical Forces and Properties: Physics 

Numerical Skills: Mathematics, Reasoning, and Logic

Humanities: Linguistics, Languages, Performing Arts, Musicology, and Visual Arts

323B8059-F323-4FA4-A0BA-788041BDEE14Whew. Basically, we are learning everything, this year.

Many of these areas of study can be easily combined, or done in parallel with each other, which makes the list seem less scary. There is pretty much a humanity for everything, which makes it fun.

139EBCBF-B664-4B32-BFEB-2F33AD5853A0Even as I was typing this list,  I was making changes and clarifying things. Undoubtedly there will be some variance in what actually happens,  from what you have just read. But setting the trajectory, that is important. We ‘have our work cut out for us’, so to speak.

Right now, I am trying to make sure I don’t forget any books in my orders over the next week! Also, I am avoiding the school supply sales, because I tend to go nuts with pencils. and markers, and especially notebooks. 

Enjoying these last golden weeks, Shelley


School Supplies, and Books, Books, BOOKS!

Jacek Yerka 1952 - Polish Surrealist painter - Tutt'Art@ (5)

painting by Jacek Yerka

I have a big spreadsheet for all the books, and some of the supplies that I have planned so far. It is slightly large for the blog format, but I am posting it for those of you who like spreadsheets. (you know who you are, Stiles Brainery)

America Axel Elvis Vegas Shelley Supplies
Math Ray’s Primary $0 Ray’s Primary $0 Strayer-Upton Book 1 $14 Harold Jacobs Geometry $53 Geometry Solutions Manual $35 Scientific Calculator $16
Books 2 & 3 $29
Science BFSU Vol. II $35 BFSU Vol. II $35 BFSU Vol. III $29
Biology II $0
Grammar Reading: McGuffey $0 Harvey’s Elementary Grammar {pdf} $0 Harvey’s Revised Grammar $20 Harvey’s Elementary Key $10
Language Lessons, Evans $0 Elements of English Grammar, Evans {pdf} $0 Harvey’s Revised Key $6
A New English Grammar, Harvey {pdf} $0
Language Arts Get Ready for the Code $4 Get Set/Go for the Code $13 Explode the Code 6-8 $15 Magnetic boards $10
All about Spelling $15 All about Spelling 1 $30 All about Spelling interactive Kit $23
History Story of the world 3 $10 Story of the world 3 $10 Story of the world 3 $10
Great Courses Western Civ $50
Language N/A N/A Latin’s Not So Tough 2 $20 Wheelock’s Latin & workbook $24 Latin’s Not So Tough CD $5
French 1
Art Art Camp Art Camp Art Camp Rendering in Pen and Ink $16
100 flashcards 100 Flashcards Kahn Academy Art History
100 flashcards
Music Elementary Music Elementary Music Elementary Music
Drums with Elvis Piano Violin Orchestra
Violin Drums w/Nick $50/mo PYCO $765
PYP Class Private Lessons Sketchbooks $25/each
Other Elementary Education Elementary Education Leuchtturm Notebooks $20/each
copy paper $20
Home Skills Home Skills $30 for all 3 Home Skills Home Skills
pencils/pens $45
Handwriting Magna-doodle 3-5 Handwriting Guide 3-5 Handwriting Guide Spencerian Penmanship Penmanship copybooks $15
Total:$4 Total: $95 Total: $ 110 + $50/mo Total: $190 + PYCO fees Total: $ 55 Total: $ 175 Total for All: $735(less music classes and fees)

Here are the books and supplies we need to purchase, in list form, for each student.


Get Ready for the Code $4 {phonics and letter formation}


BFSU Vol. II $35 {also used by Elvis}

Reading: BOB $10-$30

Get Set/Go for the Code $13 {phonics and reading}

All about Spelling $15

Story of the world 3 $10 {also used by Elvis}


Strayer-Upton Book 1 $14

Books 2 & 3 $29 {depending on how fast they go}

Harvey’s Elementary Grammar  The PDF is $0, Book is about $10

Explode the Code 6-8 $15 {phonics and vocabulary}

All about Spelling 1 $30

Latin’s Not So Tough 2 $20


Harold Jacobs geometry $53

BFSU Vol. III $29

Harvey’s Revised Grammar $20

Great Courses Western Civ $50

Wheelock’s Latin & workbook $24

Rendering in Pen and Ink $16

Shelley {teacher’s manuals}:

Geometry Solutions Manual $35

Harvey’s Elementary Key $10

Harvey’s Revised Key $6

Supplies and materials:

Scientific Calculator $16

Magnetic boards $10

All about Spelling interactive Kit $23

Latin’s Not So Tough CD $5

Sketchbooks $25/each {X4}

Leuchtturm Notebooks $20/each {X2}

copy paper $20

pencils/pens $45

Penmanship copybooks $15

*If additional books or supplies are needed, I will amend this spreadsheet, and write a new post.

Having some Steven Smith tea, Shelley

A New Year on the Horizon

Over the last few months we have been pushing to finish our work for the 2015-2016 school year. There are about 5 science lessons to go, and a few odds and ends for the younger kids, while Vegas has a full summer of Algebra and Biology to chip away at. At the beginning of this last year, I planned for working through the summer, and I am so glad I did. The stress of finishing everything by June is gone, and an easier pace has allowed for us to go on several unplanned field trips, and work on household skills that might have been pushed aside otherwise.

The natural product of one year ending, is to think about the next year, and to begin planning for it. Having our struggles and successes fresh in mind as I am looking through potential textbooks is key to choosing wisely for each child. I recently read through For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and was struck by how different our American education system is from how a child’s mind actually learns or processes. I was challenged to change my mentality from a segmented, goal oriented, test based plan to a long-range, whole child, preparing for life, holistic approach.

The book that has been the most successful this year with the younger kids has been Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, by Bernard J. Nebel. Because of it’s popularity within our family, I ordered Nebel’s Elementary Education, Creating a Tapestry of Learning, also by the same author. I was surprised to find his philosophy of learning and teaching to be so close to that of Charlotte Mason, who Susan Macaulay writes about in For the Children’s Sake. It was very satisfying to find two seemingly unrelated books that were in complete agreement.

With these books on my mind, I set about carefully reading through different reviews and samples from textbooks in all subjects.  Using the resulting books, I have been putting together a curriculum for the next few years that I hope will serve each child well. The goal being to build a broad structure of thinking, and consequently implementing those subjects into meaningful tools for life. I cannot put it as eloquently as these other authors, but what I can say is, I am excited to be thinking outside of the grade level box.

With that said, next year Vegas will be in 9th grade, Elvis in 4th, Axel in 1st, and Meri in PreK.

By age.

Each child has areas of exellence that surpass that ‘grade level’, as well as areas that they are still working through. Rather than feel pressure to meet certain ‘normal’ levels across the board for each one, I am motivated to use those areas in a complimentary fashion, recognizing that each strength and weakness is part of a unique and wonderful person, who is exactly who they are meant to be.

I am hopeful to steer each child in the direction of mastery and passion that is particular to them, not create a ‘jack of all trades, and a master of none.’

Making extra coffee, Shelley

P.S. My next post will be a school supply and book list.


It’s Not Even November

Boy howdy. When I wrote out my class syllabuses in August, I had no idea how much I would depend on them, and so quickly! At the end of September I checked in with the books to see how we were keeping up and discovered that we were halfway through November’s science lessons, but behind on a few smaller things…like Rules of Civility.

I guess we are training uncivilized scientists.

photo 3-3

To compensate, I made some adjustments to our schedule, {cough, cough} and added more subjects, activities, and household responsibilities. The result? We were drowning in busywork at the midpoint of October, behind in Language Arts, and still, somehow nearly done with December’s allotted science chapters. What was going on? I realized that checking in with the books needed to be much more frequent, like every week.

Columbus Day was the perfect excuse for a ‘teacher in-service’ day, and I spent the afternoon industriously writing out two weeks of lesson plans that looked like a psych ward journal.


We ended up with too much bread in the slicer. {He was asking too many questions and he was asking them too quickly. They were stacking up in my head like loaves in the factory where Uncle Terry works. The factory is a bakery and he operates the slicing machines. And sometimes the slicer is not working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage. I sometimes think of my mind as a machine, but not always as a bread-slicing machine. It makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside it. ~The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time}

We couldn’t keep up.

Back to the drawing board. I revisited the syllabuses yet again, and found that we didn’t actually have to finish out the entire school year by December 31st. How did I miss this the first time? Contrary to what the psych ward lesson plan said, there was room to slow down. We could take more time with supplementing lessons, absorb more, invite friends over, take longer lunches, play, have recess, take walks, and most likely sleep better.

I amended the lesson plan. The new schedule has us finished with October’s work by {gasp!} the end of October. With a sigh of relief, the burden was lifted.

{The load is still a tad heavy, we are reading The Jungle, after all.}


The best part of the week was our ‘Gratefulness Tree’. It is sort of silly, but each leaf has been a fun reminder of all we have to be grateful for, and a challenge to show appreciation for them. Now this is education, am I right? Construction paper and scotch tape?

Writing up a short list of work for tomorrow, Shelley

Administrative Notes

photo 1-8

One of the things that has really been hard for me in the past, has been keeping a good record of what we do here at the Harmon Academy. Last year’s system received a few changes, and so far they seem to be working out well! The boys each have a three-ring binder that holds their completed work, and I have an administrative binder. This holds lesson plans for each week, completed daily work checklists {which provide an accurate account of what actually happens each day, not what I planned would happen}, and any handouts or reference materials that I collect for future lessons. The admin binder has thirty sections in it, ten for subjects, ten for students and records, and one for each month of the school year {10}. The boys binders are simply divided up into subjects that they are taking. Whew. I bet you all were just itching to hear about my binders.

photo 3-6

Guess what is more exciting than that? Report cards. Automated grading spreadsheets. Classroom expectation contracts. Syllabuses. {this makes me think of Shirley Temple singing about hippopotamuses}

photo 4-6

It has been eight years since I first pulled Vegas out of public school, and I finally think I’ve figured some of this stuff out. The end of this school year will show how well all my attempts organization worked. The goal for me as ‘administrator’ is to be keeping a close eye on student progress, meeting curriculum mileposts, matching or exceeding state standards, and having a work record to prove it.

photo 1-10

Going to bed BEFORE 2am, Shelley