May 20, 2016

Affordable Homeschool Planner 2016-17

"Any recommendations for an affordable planner that I can use to keep track of doctor appointments for myself and hubby also?"

"I'm trying to find planner sheets and figure out how to plan for schooling year round."

"Does anyone have a really awesome planner that you can print and bind yourself?  I want it to be cute and functional for homeschool, possibly even have a chore chart."

"Looking for a good planner (lots of space for writing) for everything daily."

Any of those sound familiar?  All of them applied to me a few years ago, so I scoured Pinterest and Google and Etsy and all the Facebook groups trying to find the perfect planner.  Most of them were far to fancy for me.  I don't need a menu planner or a budget guide or an address book.  I just wanted something to keep track of my kids' assignments and to mark off attendance and days off.  I also needed a new system for assigning chores to my kids. Nope.  I found nothing.  And I couldn't see the point of spending $20 or more on a planner that I only needed a third of.

What's a homeschooling mama to do?  Create her own, of course!

But I felt like I couldn't be the only one looking for the type of planner I wanted, so over the past couple of years, I decided to share my Simple Homeschool Planner.
 

I'm offering it again this year, but with a couple new features.

HERE'S WHAT'S INCLUDED:

A planner cover page, as you can see in the photo above. A full academic year calendar for marking attendance and planned days off, vacations, and holidays.  Monthly pages by subject, which is where you fill in your lesson plans/assignments for each day.  One month per page, from July 2016 through June 2017.  The pages are color coded, and run Monday through Friday.  Weekly appointment calendar pages, running from July 2016 through June 2017.  Finally, I've included a chore system like I use with my own kids.  Two wheels with spaces for 6 chores each, one wheel for easy chores and one for hard chores.  I'll explain more of that in a bit.


HERE'S HOW IT WORKS:

All pages are in PDF form, except the chore system, which is a MS Word document.  I suggest that you print all your pages in duplex mode (back to back) in order to save paper, but you can do whatever works best for you.

The subjects included are Math, Language Arts, Science, History, Health, Music, Art, Bible, Phys. Ed., Practical Arts, Foreign Language, three Electives, and a Miscellaneous.

Each subject is a separate document, so you can choose to print as many or as few subjects as suit your needs.  Once printed, match up the pages how you like.  Match up all the July pages, then all the August, then September, etc..  Or, include all months of one subject, then all of another, etc.  It's really up to you.  I wanted this planner to be customizable and meet the needs of people with different needs.  The same goes for arranging your appointment calendar pages and your full academic year calendar.  Whatever way you want to arrange your pages is perfect!

For the chore system, you'll see two color wheels labeled "hard" and "easy".  It's a MS Word document, so when you open it there, you'll be able to edit the text for each chore to customize them with your own chores.  I use this system with my own kids, and it blew my mind how much it cut down on the arguments and procrastination that our past systems had caused, because it's fair for everyone.  I have two boys.  They spin the spinner on our chore wheels and get 3 hard and 3 easy chores each.  They spin once a week, so each week they get a new set of chores.  Besides being fair, it also cuts down on the monotony of being stuck with the same chores week after week.  Instructions for assembling the chore system are included with that part of the download.

The least expensive way to bind your pages is with a 3-hole punch and a 3-ring binder.  It can be time consuming but works just fine.  You'll need a 1" to 1 1/2" binder.  I prefer the ones with the clear plastic cover where you can slide your planner cover page in the top opening.

Last year, though, I sent my files off to Staples and had them print and bind my planner.  It was more expensive, but the quality was better, and I didn't have to spend the time assembling it.

So, how can you get your hands on this dream-come-true planner?  I'm glad you asked.

In the past, I've been able to share my planner for FREE, and the response has been amazing!  This year, though, because of the amount of time and work I dedicated to it, I find I need to charge a small fee for download privileges.  I want my planner to be accessible to as many people as possible, and even though it's not free this year, I think you'll find it's still very affordable.  You can have unlimited access to the files for only $5.00 (U.S.).  No catch.  No hoops to jump through.  No annoying spam sent to your Email after the fact.

Simply click on the PayPal button below to make your one-time payment of $5.00.  Once your payment is processed, you'll be sent a link to the files, located on Google Drive, which you can access as often as you need.  Your link will be sent to the Email address associated with your PayPal account.



If you would like to get an idea of what the planner looks like, you can check out last year's free planner.  Keep in mind that the chore system and the appointment calendar are new this year, so you won't see those.

I hope you love this planner.  It has been perfect for me and meets my needs in a way no other planner I've ever looked at could.  If you don't want or need anything fancy but crave something functional, then this planner is for you!

As always, please do comment below with what you think of the planner and with any questions you may have.

Enjoy!



May 12, 2016

Mistakes New Home Schoolers Make: Part II

LET THE SCHOOL DISTRICT CALL THE SHOTS

This goes hand in hand with my first post on meeting with the superintendent and begs the same advice: DON'T DO IT!!!

States vary widely in how much paperwork is required for home schooling.  Some states require nothing. Others, like my home state of New York, require paperwork be submitted several times throughout the year.

For those of us in states that require paperwork of some kind,  I advocate for becoming intimately familiar with your state's home education regulations.  At some point, your school is bound to ask for more than you are required to give.  On the surface, that doesn't seem like a big deal.  And just giving them what they ask for seems like the easiest thing to do, so you don't have to worry about them hassling you.

A big reason many people choose to home school is because of the amount of control the government has over their kids. We want less government involvement in our lives.  We want to decide for ourselves what our kids should learn, when they should learn it, and in what way they should learn it.  We don't want our kids lives stored in a government database.

If we want to continue to home school our way without the schools and government stepping in, then we need to offer them no more than what we are required.  

 
Imagine if:

You're driving down the highway at a speed of 55mph where the speed limit is posted as 55mph.  You get pulled over by a police officer.  He says he clocked you going 55mph, and he's going to write you a ticket for speeding, because the town you're driving through would really like it if people drive 40mph. 

Would you not argue?  Would you not take it to court and plead your case to the judge, citing that the law allows you to drive 55mph, so you are not required to drive less than that?  Of course you would.  Because it doesn't matter what the town you drove through wants people to do.  What matters is what the law says, and unless and until that law is changed, you have the right to drive 55mph through that town.

I cannot think of a single legitimate reason why a person would acquiesce to driving 40mph and simply accept the ticket the police officer hands you without question.

The same holds true in homeschooling. 

In New York State, this is what is required:

Letter of Intent (LOI) - a simple, one paragraph letter stating that you intend to home school your child, naming the school year and grade level of said child.  Nothing more; nothing less.  I've seen many parents say that their school told them they need to come in to meet with the Superintendent (or any other school official) to discuss this.  You do NOT.  Other parents have said the school told them they have to come to the school to "sign out" their child and fill out some paperwork.  You do NOT.  A one paragraph letter.  That is all you are required to do.

Individual Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) - this can be as simple or as complex as you desire, but here is all the state requires:  your child's name, age, and grade level; ONE of the following four things - either a list of syllabi, a list of curriculum materials, a list of textbooks, OR a plan of instruction - for each required subject; the four dates you've chosen to submit your quarterly reports, evenly spaced throughout the year; the names of who will be teaching your child (yourself, and any tutors you've contracted).  That's it.  You do not need to list out every single book you'll be using and describe every single thing you'll be teaching with how many hours a day you'll spend on each one.  Your IHIP can be covered in a single paragraph.  If your school asks for more details, you do NOT need to provide them.  My school district sends us a packet after they receive our LOI with their own IHIP form they suggest we fill out and return to them.  I toss it in the garbage.  You are under no obligation to fill out any forms your school requests of you.

Attendance records - yes, you are required to keep a record of your child's attendance.  NYS requires 180 days of instruction (900 hours in grades k-6 and 990 hours in grades 7-12).  You are NOT, however, required to turn in your attendance records, UNLESS your school asks for it.  Just keep it on hand.

Quarterly reports - four times throughout the school year, you'll need to submit to your school a report of your child's progress.  This is another thing that can be as simple or as complex as you desire.  Your reports must include the number of hours of instruction completed during the quarter, a description of the material covered in each subject, either a grade or a written evaluation of the child's progress in each subject, and a statement that at least 80% of the planned material was covered that quarter (or an explanation for why it wasn't, if that's the case).  All this can be accomplished in one or two paragraphs.

Annual assessment - in grades K-3, you can do the same thing you did for your quarterly reports, except summarize your entire school year rather than just one quarter.  In grades 4-8, however, NYS requires you submit the results of a commercially published norm referenced achievement test, such as the CAT test or the PASS test (there are several others they accept, but those are the most popular), every other year.  You can choose to test every year, if you prefer.  Or you can test in grades 4, 6, and 8.  Or in grades 5 and 8.  Whatever you choose, it must be at least every other year beginning with grade 4, and on the years you choose to forgo testing, you'll need to submit a written narrative in the same manner as your quarterly reports.  For grades 9-12, you must submit test results every year.

That's it.  New York doesn't require anything more than those five items.  If your school district requests anything beyond those items, you do NOT have to provide it.  Become intimately familiar with the state regulations so that when confronted with a difficult school district, you can point them to the regulations and stand your ground in refusing to give and inch, so that they don't ask for a mile.  After all, you wouldn't pay a speeding ticket for driving 40mph in a 55mph zone, would you?

Nothing contained within this blog or this article should be construed as legal advice.  Please consult a lawyer if legal advice is what you are seeking.

May 9, 2016

Mistakes New Home Schoolers Make: Part I

If you are new to home schooling, or are considering home schooling, then you'll likely find your mind riddled with questions.  What curriculum should I use? How many hours a day should we "do school"?  Should I ask my school's Superintendent for advice?  Will I want to wring my kids' necks before our first month of schooling is complete?  (Yes, by the way.  Yes, you will want to wring your kids' necks at least once before you end your home schooling journey.  But, I promise, it's worth the struggle!)

Allow me to answer a few of your questions by addressing some mistakes new home schoolers often make that can have you pulling your hair out in no time.  Trust me; I learned the hard way.

You've made the decision to home school.  You've read over your state regulations.  You've talked with some people who've done it or are doing it.  You think you've got this whole home school thing figured out.  You just want to be sure you've dotted all your I's and crossed all your T's.  What's next?

MEET WITH THE SUPERINTENDENT

Don't do it!  It's tempting, I know.  It's the Superintendent, after all.  He or she knows all things school.  Right?  Wrong!  The Superintendent knows all things PUBLIC school.  Many of them are in the dark when it comes to home education.  But they won't tell you that.  They'll print a copy of the home education regulations, they'll read over them once or twice, and they'll answer your questions as if they're an expert.  This is where you'll run into trouble.

I had the regulations figured out, for the most part.  I just had a few questions about testing, because our first year of homeschooling was also the first year we were required to test.  I knew I could choose who to administer the test, but that the Superintendent could say no to my choice.  Conveniently, I had a friend who happened to teach in our district, and also happened to have been my son's 1st grade teacher, so she knew him well.  I asked her if she'd be willing to administer his test to him.  She said yes.

Enter Superintendent.

She agreed to meet with me.

After much hemming and hawing about the type of test I should use and why they think it's the best one, I told her that we had asked our friend to administer the test to my son, and that we'd probably be using the CAT test (not the one they thought was best).  The Superintendent about came unglued!  She hollered at me, "I don't appreciate you speaking with my employees without going through me first, and I'm not comfortable with you using the services of anyone employed by our district."

Excuse me?

If she were at all familiar with our state regulations, she would not have reacted that way.  In New York, the parents may choose which test to use, which location to test in, and the date and time of the testing, and the Superintendent has no say.  The parents may also choose the person they want to administer the test (no need to be a certified teacher, either).  The only thing the Superintendent can do is either consent or not consent to our choice of person.  He/she cannot dictate who we choose.  Which means that I was well within my rights to ask my friend to administer the test.  Not only that, but it also made sense to ask her before I spoke with our Superintendent, so that I would know whether or not our friend was even willing and able, and so that I could find an alternate person in the case that our friend was not willing or able.

My intention was to be prepared in advance, to save time, and to streamline the process.  Our Superintendent, however, didn't see it that way.  She thought I was usurping her authority when, in fact, she was usurping her own authority, because she didn't have an understanding of our state's home education regulations.

It took several written letters between her and me, as well as the threat of bringing in a home education lawyer and taking the matter to the school board, before she finally relented.  I don't think she realized she was in the wrong even after I showed her the regulations that supported my stance, but it was the end of the school year, and I think she was just plain tired.  Turns out, she resigned that summer.  I don't know if our interactions had anything to do with that decision, but I do know that we haven't had any difficulties with the two Superintendents we've had since, neither of which did I ever meet with to discuss home school related issues.  I learned my lesson.

While it might seem like a good idea to meet with your Superintendent, either because you think they might know the regulations, or because you want to establish a good rapport with them, it's probably in your best interest to skip that meeting.  Instead, becoming intimately familiar with your state regulations.  Get to know other home schooling parents who have been doing it for a while and can help you understand the requirements, whether in person or via social media.  Research.  Google is your friend here just as much as it is in finding curriculum.

One of the best resources I've found for learning the ropes as a new home schooler, and even as a seasoned one, is Facebook.  In particular, a group called Crossing Over to Homeschooling.  It's meant for new home schoolers to find home school resources as well as answers to their questions.

A good resource for help in understanding your state's regulations is the Home School Legal Defense Association's (HSLDA) website.  In my dealings with our superintendent, I turned to HSLDA's articles several times.  Often just the mention of them is enough to keep a school district from giving you a hard time when they are trying to usurp their authority regarding the regulations.

Don't worry!  It sounds daunting, but if you familiarize yourself with your regulations and find resources to draw from in helping you understand and utilize those regulations, you will have no trouble navigating this journey called home schooling.  I wish you luck!

May 5, 2016

Biology: Anatomy & Physiology - Home School Co-op Dissection Class


My kids and I participate in a local co-op for homeschoolers.  Each semester, parents are required to teach a class.  For some bizarre reason that I have yet to figure out, I chose to teach a dissection class.  (My gag reflex is strong!)  Over the semester, we dissected a worm, a grasshopper, and a frog.

We started by comparing and contrasting both the lives and the anatomies of these animals.  For our last class, though, I didn't have anything planned.


My class helper contacted me a couple days before class saying she'd been in touch with a retired biology professor from our local State College, and she'd agreed to visit our class to do a demonstration.  I had no idea what she would show us.  Okay, I was downright terrified!  How fresh would her specimen be?  I was positive I couldn't handle dissecting fresh roadkill (which was offered to her by my helper - yikes!)


Our guest brought with her a preserved feral cat.  I'm not gonna lie.  It was difficult.  I had a lump in my throat the whole time.  One student had to leave the room.  The teacher who uses the room after our class came in and sprayed air freshener when we were finished.  It was gross.


But, it was also fascinating and educational.  And I video recorded the whole thing!


Our guest taught the students the appropriate terms to use and showed them how the anatomy of all mammals - including humans - is similar.


If you have a student interested in this sort of thing, you'll want to show them this video.  If you have a weak stomach, though, you may want to hand them your computer and walk away.  Enjoy!



December 3, 2015

A Day in the Life: A Homeschool Family Vlog Day

We decided to try something new.  This past Monday, I carried my video camera around with me all day and made a video log (vlog) of our day, which I posted to YouTube.  The boys had fun being part of it.  I think we're going to try to make it a regular thing.  I just need to make sure the boys don't catch me on camera sitting around in my PJs!


If you enjoyed this peek into our lives, stick around!  Follow me here on the blog, then head over to YouTube and subscribe to our channel.  All comments are welcome as well.  Have a great day!