5 Tips for Handling Homeschooling During Busy Season of Life

The first time I really consciously remember being overly busy was December of my senior year in high school. Unfortunately, from that time onward, overfilling my schedule has become a way of life for me. While I’ve never been inclined to laziness, it really wasn’t until well into adulthood that I realized busyness can be just as much a sin as sloth. We are entering what for many people is the busiest time of year. How can you keep up with your homeschooling this coming month? Do any of these work for your personality and life circumstances?

1. Take time off
You may not have this option if your child is part of a formal distance learning option, but if your kids are young, it’s not the end of the world to just stop homeschooling for even a few weeks. Some families plan their school year around times they know they’ll be busy. While I’ve never read any educational research that proves there is an optimal number of hours or days you should homeschool, I think of 180 days per year as adequate. On the other hand, much longer than a month off is rarely good educationally for a child even though US schools typically have long summer vacations.

2. Focus on the most important things
When you don’t have time to do all your subjects, stick with the basics. Everyday read, write, and do math even if it’s just a little. On super busy days, if your child copied out one verse from the Japanese Bible, read in English for 20 minutes, did one day’s worth in Daily Grams, and did one math exercise in Daily Word Problems, you could hit the basics in one hour and call it a school day.

3. Incorporate holiday activities into your curriculum
If you plan to take a break from formal study to bake cookies all day, let your kids do all the math (i.e. If we want to give cookies to 18 people, how many cookies do we need to bake? How much flour and sugar will we need and how many eggs? How much will all this cost? etc.) When you read a Christmas story to your kids, let them take turns reading aloud whether it’s one word, one page, or one chapter depending on their age. Have your kids write thank-you notes for any gifts they might receive or write a note of encouragement on Christmas or New Years cards. The whole idea of education is to equip kids for life, so don’t be too concerned if it’s not super formal.

4. Simplify Christmas
Traditions are great for family bonding, but they can quickly become too expensive or time-consuming if you let them rule your life. It can still be a tradition if you don’t do it every year. You might put some activities on a two- or three-year rotation. Don’t hesitate to eliminate any activity that isn’t really meeting your goals. You can ask yourself 1) Does this fit our time and money budget? 2) Does this bring joy to enough people to make it worth the energy spent? 3) If we don’t do this this year, what will happen? 4) Is this the thing we most want to do this year?

5. Rotate your neglect
Since I’m always juggling a lot of activities, I keep things going by intentionally rotating my neglect. Sometimes I purposefully don’t give my usual attention to housework, making all my food from scratch, keeping up with correspondence, exercising, etc. The key is to not neglect the same thing all the time so things don’t get completely out of hand. I would even tell my kids that I was in a busy season and wouldn’t have as much time for them the next day, but the day after that, I’d stay home. Kids can understand if you keep your word and really intentionally schedule them in.

Taking Stock

This seems like a good time of year to take stock of how your school year is coming along. A quick way to do this is to ask yourself a few questions: 

1) Are you consistently covering the most important subjects? 
In the younger grades, are you specifically touching on reading, writing, and math every school day? These are the foundational skills for most learning. All of us get busy and don’t get to everything we’d like to do. That’s understandable. We just need to be sure we aren’t neglecting the most important things or consistently neglecting one subject. 

I’m always juggling more than I can really handle. I survive and thrive when I rotate my neglect. When (not “if”!) I neglect one area of my life, I try to do it intentionally and make myself get back to it before too much time passes. Before you get too far into the school year, now would be a good time to make some adjustments if needed.

2) Are you enjoying homeschooling?
Most every endeavor has it’s good days and bad days. That’s to be expected. However, if you or your kids are starting to dread homeschooling, it’s time to try to discover the problem. Is your schedule too busy? Is your curriculum not a good fit? Are your expectations for your kids and yourself too high or too low? Do you have good health habits like getting adequate sleep, eating healthy food, and getting adequate exercise?  Do you need more support (i.e. dividing up household chores differently, getting more books, or having more opportunities to talk to someone about your homeschooling?) Do you need more variety? Are you and your kids lonely? Are you making your personal walk with the Lord a priority which in turn empowers every area of your life including your teaching?

3) Are you fostering a love of learning?
After learning to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds,
learning to love learning is foundational to all a child’s education. When you take time to read a book or learn something new yourself and then convey to your child the joy that brings you, you are setting the stage for helping your child love learning too. Conveying joy in learning a new way to do something, wonder at how things work, or any honest reaction like anger towards injustices in the world, make a difference. If you focus on being a learner yourself and not just a teacher, you will teach your kids much more than the subjects you’re covering.

To be honest, one of the most stifling things about high school is that your child will likely have to spend more time studying things that don’t really interest him. That’s tough, but this does prepare students for life. In taking required subjects, they may discover aspects of certain subjects they didn’t know could be so interesting. They are also learning discipline--because we all have things in life we have to do that we don’t really want to. Just try to be sure they are also always studying something that interests them, even if it’s pursuing something non-academic like a hobby.

If school has become a chore and no one is loving learning in your home, you might need to just take a break and, for one day, have everyone just study what interests them all day long. At supper time, everyone can share what they’ve learned with each other.

Vocabulary development

When my son Joel was a little tyke, I found him with fists in front of his body as if gripping something and bouncing his whole body up and down. He astounded me by saying, "I'm playing with my imaginary pneumatic drill." Thank you, children's author and illustrator Richard Scarry! Poring over books as soon as Joel was old enough to hold one, he developed his vocabulary far beyond anything I expected for a two-year old. As he got older, words cropped up in his conversation that he had obviously read rather than heard because he didn't pronounce them correctly. As a reader he developed into an articulate young man who even now always has a way of choosing precisely the right words to convey a thought. Reading consistently and listening to audiobooks are two great ways to broaden vocabulary. What else can you do to broaden your child's vocabulary?

When talking to young children you need a balance between using words they understand and purposefully inserting words they don't yet know. Reading daily to your child is highly recommended. Books featured in
Sonlight P3/4, Sonlight P4/5, and Five in a Row provide a good balance of familiar and new vocabulary.

What about watching videos? When you listen together and ask questions, you can help your child develop vocabulary, spend quality time together, build confidence, and learn new information. Check out this outstanding video on dialogic questioning to get ideas on how to talk to preschool kids about the videos they watch.

Kindergarten and Primary Grades
The Vocabulary Book Learning & Instruction by Michael F. Graves provides some helpful insights. Graves encourages focusing on about eight target words for kids in kindergarten through second grade for a week. He says kids this age tend to learn words best when stories are read to them with interruptions to provide explanations the first time through and then followed by three days of rereading. Review definitions and read the sentences that include the target words at the end of each day’s instruction. On the fifth day review all the words taught during the week. (Graves, p.19; 51)

All Ages
If I could only make one suggestion about vocabulary, it would be to champion context. We just don't remember things well or at all if we learn random vocabulary words. Learning words from what we've read or heard give us the connections we need to retain them. If you have words you want your child to learn, be sure focus on a word and then list related words that the student already knows and discuss how they fit together. Context is a part of the
Frayer Model. Even adults find the Frayer Model helpful for learning new vocabulary. By the way, context can be in a verbal or written sentence or visual like demonstrating how to amble across the room as opposed to scurrying.

What about using a dictionary? This is difficult for elementary students, but is a good skill to model extensively before you ask your children to do the same. Every time you're not familiar with a word or understand it but are not sure how to explain it, look it up in front of your child and verbalize everything you're thinking. Let's say you come across the word
vicissitude and you're not sure how to explain it.

You could say, "I'm not sure how to explain it so I'll look it up. The dictionary says it's a noun. The first definition is
change in circumstances, fortune, etc. Oh, look. There's a sample sentence. It says, The vicissitudes of life may make a rich person poor. It makes sense to me to say that the changes in life may make a rich person poor. The second definition is similar. Change; variation and the third is regular change. Oh, this is helpful. It says it's from the Latin word vicis which is to turn or change. I'm glad we're studying Latin roots. That can help us remember the meaning of this word."

I love a paper dictionary, but when I need a definition quickly, I just type on my computer "define:" and add the word I want to know. Dictionary.com pronounces the word which is a big help to me as I prepare to read the SAT words for the SSS Spelling Bee.

If you choose to study Latin, that's a great way to develop vocabulary. However, if you don't want to do that, you could still benefit from learning just the most frequently used Greek and Latin roots along with prefixes and suffixes.

I found these guidelines for vocabulary instruction on p. 69 & 70 of Michael F. Graves' book
The Vocabulary Book Learning & Instruction very helpful.
Include both definitional and contextual information
Involve students in active and deep processing of the words
Provide students with multiple exposures to the word.
Review, rehearse, and remind students about the word in various contexts over time.
Involve students in discussions of the word’s meaning.
Spend a significant amount of time on the word.

I started this article by extolling the benefits of reading and listening to develop vocabulary. However, I was very interested to learn from Graves that children learn more vocabulary from books than TV and even listening to adults speak. (p.41) Let's keep our kids supplied with engaging books. And if you want to learn more about vocabulary, you might borrow Graves' book from SSS and read pages 23-32 for word-learning strategies.

Read and Write Everyday

Over the years many SSS families have heard my mantra, Read and Write in English Everyday. This doesn’t mean to write an essay everyday, but to write something. Teaching the craft of writing is helpful, but actually putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard!) is essential for improving writing. A writing notebook is a perfect place to start. Young children can write one word a day and eventually one sentence per day. An upper elementary or middle school student can write a list of favorite somethings, jot down a diary entry, write about a favorite topic, or even copy someone else’s good writing (a poem, Bible verse, or paragraph from a book.)

Check out this site for some quick reading tips for every age preschool to high school.

The goal in teaching writing is to help your child improve. One thing that helps take off pressure is to initially just choose the topic for your child. You can find writing prompts for elementary age kids
here or middle schoolers here.

Ask questions and talk about the topic first to help your child think about what to write. Model and teach him/her how to use a
graphic organizer to plan out the flow.

If you wonder what reasonable expectations are for your child, check out these anchor papers at
Write Source. There are samples of writing for each grade level. These are edited finished products written by ordinary kids (not the best writers or the worst.)

Some of my favorite books to help kids improve their writing are the listed below. They are all available through SSS if you prefer not to order them directly.

Write about Me and Write about My World by Elsie S. Wilmerding. These are perfect for the beginning writer. Each page can be completed in one session and includes drawing as well as writing.

Just Write This series of three books works well for elementary students.

Daily Grams Daily Grams has a book for each grade listed below (with a slightly different name for the grade 2 book.) This series is one of the most effective and efficient books I’ve ever come across for teaching the mechanics of writing. It takes about ten minutes a day for students to copy the sentences and make capitalization, punctuation, and grammar corrections. Each day the student also combines two or three sentences into one more complex sentence. This is valuable for all students, but especially for those learning English as an additional language. The student workbook is not needed. I believe much of the value of the series is copying sentences in a notebook and having the child check his/her own work.
Daily Guided Teaching and Review for grade two
Daily Grams Grade Three
Daily Grams Grade Four
Daily Grams Grade Five
Daily Grams Grade Six
Daily Grams Grade Seven
Daily Grams Junior & Senior High
If your child is not catching onto the concepts using
Daily Grams, then they may benefit from the more detailed teaching found in Easy Grammar books.

Growing a writer takes time. The first step is to just write...preferably a little bit everyday!

Physically Fit Homeschoolers

Physically Fit Homeschoolers

How can you help your homeschooled children keep physically fit? Try these…

• If you live within a few hours of CAJ, why not join us for our SSS Sports Day.

• Have family competitions (some activities against each other and other activities together against your own family records). Keep a list of records.
-Who can do the most pushups? (Over the years this has been an ongoing competition between Jeannie Johnson’s husband and son.)
-Who can hang on a hanging bar the longest?
-Who can jump the most times with a jumprope without messing up?
-What’s the most number of successful frisbee throws your family can do?
-How many badminton volleys can your family accomplish?

• Do exercise routines with an exercise DVD

• Do exercises along with the NHK routines on TV

• Go bowling (it’s cheaper during the day when others are at work or school)

• Take lessons–swimming, tennis, karate, kendo, ballet, etc.

• Join a community sports team

• Take family walks/hikes

• Play balloon volleyball (a fun indoor activity on a rainy day)

• Go skiing or snowboarding

• Play the Wii. This home video game by Ninetendo uses a wireless controller. You watch the screen and do all the body movements as if you were playing sports like: ping pong, bowling, hulahoop, skiing, tennis, golf, baseball, boxing, or snowboarding. I’m not a video game person at all, but this is a wholesome sweat-creating way to play games even when you are alone.

• Check out the options at your city sports center. Ours has ping pong, swimming, rock climbing, kendo, aerobics and other options.

• Go to
Round One and for a reasonable fee, for three hours you can play to your heart’s content–badminton, basketball, several forms of tennis, ping pong, roller skating (traditional and inline), swimming, frisbeee, archery, soccer, volleyball, batting cage, bowling, and fishing. And during the third hour while the kids are still working out, mom can check out the massage chairs. There are over 80 centers all over Japan in Saitama, Tokyo, Shizuoka, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagano, Ishikawa, etc. Go to www.round1.co.jp and click on the green house in the left column to find out if there is a center near you.

• Plan a family program using
We Win! This is a complete non-competitive physical education program for the entire family. The book is available in our SSS library in the curriculum section.

Homeschool Family Fitness Test Manual by Bruce Whitney is a complete curriculum guide for children who are prekindergarten through high school age. Dr. Whitney, who received his Ph.D. in kinesiology, has written the best book I’ve seen for homeschool PE. He has included lesson planning ideas, ways to inspire your child, exercises, lots of games, technique checklists for specific sports skills, and various charts. While some ideas would be hard to use with only one child, there are plenty that do work and he gives ideas for modifying games to work with only a few children. This book recommended by Sonlight is in the SSS library.

• Teach your kids sports skills using
Teaching Kids to Play by Chet Murphy. This book gives step by step instructions for teaching the skills necessary for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, tumbling, and volleyball. The book is available for loan from the SSS library.

YMCA Youth Fitness Test Manual This book gives information about how to give five tests including a one-mile run and curl-ups. Charts tell you what range is acceptable for boys and girls at different ages. This could be used to track your child’s physical development year by year elementary age through high school. The book is available for loan from the SSS library.

• Other books you could borrow from SSS to plan elementary age activities include
Elementary Teacher’s Handbook of Indoor and Outdoor Games by Art Kamiya, Ready-to-Use P.C. Activities for Grades K-2 by Maxwell and Joanne Landy, and A Good Apple Idea Book for Teachers of Grades 1-6 called P.E. Curriculum Guide.