Thursday, June 3, 2010

How we juggle our home school (+ intro to Busy Bee Binders!)

It's hard to believe I am now officially home schooling two children. Of course, our approach to home education starts at birth, but with a 5 year old and 7 year old- we are "officially schooling" in the eyes of the state.

I am often asked how I manage to juggling home schooling with three kiddos and one on the way, and whether I anticipate difficulties once this little bean arrives.

Relaxed Year 'Round Education

I've always been a "roll with the punches" sort of gal when it comes to home schooling. Some of you may recall, when we first began, we leaned more toward unschooling, and even though we've added more structure to our education, I still have that unschooling attitude.

So what if we miss a day here or there. It's okay to take a week off. It's alright if we don't get everything accomplished!

It's probably easier for me to have this attitude because we home school year 'round. We don't take a summer break. I personally don't see the sense in it. Why take a break from learning for 2-3 months? So much knowledge can be lost during that time, or at the very least, becomes fuzzy. Keeping the home schooling rolling throughout the year helps us accomplish what we need to eat year and stay focused, but still take breaks when we, say, are aching for some time at the beach or need to take a break for a week or two for various reasons. (Being able to take time off and not worry about our home school schedule while Merikalyn was in the hospital, and once she was out and recovering, was great. We could focus on her needs without worrying about catching up.)

This is one aspect of our home schooling that really keeps me from getting overwhelmed and frustrated. If a day starts out poorly- the dog barfs everywhere, my toddler spills my coffee all over the carpet, and nothing seems to be going right... we can slow things down, relax, and get done what we can without stressing about it. If it's a beautiful day and a friend invites us out to the park for a playdate, we can set aside our lessons and go for it.

That way we never feel like we're missing out on all the "good stuff", but, by the end of the year, we've almost always met all of our home schooling goals.
Busy Bee Binders

I recently came up with this idea. I'm sure many moms do similar things, but it's simplicity really appeals to me. As our family (and our home school) expands, I find that I need my children to be a little more independent. I can't always sit down with them and help them through every single worksheet and lesson.

Of course, there are some things I need to sit down and help them with, especially when we're introducing a new lesson or concept. But, my five and seven year old can do a lot of things on their own if it's organized in a way that works for them.

That's when the idea of Busy Bee Binders came to me. The internet has a wealth of free printables- and it's a shame not to put them to use. I printed out a bunch of different worksheets for each child (my toddler, my kindergartener, and my second grader) in a range of age appropriate subjects. I also made quite a few worksheets myself.

Then, I put them all in page protectors. I absolutely hate wasting all that paper- and it seems to me school can certainly waste a lot of paper. (I just think about all the worksheets and whatnot I had in public school! Paper overload!)

My husband absolutely hates having all these sheets of paper floating around the house. One way we have cut back on the paper is by using chalkboards and dry erase boards for doodling, copy work, and so on. But sometimes, you need to write on a worksheet- and page protectors are great "dry erase stand-ins".

Dry erase markers can be used on most page protectors, and simply wiped off. (The kids wipe off their work after I check it- the longer it stays on, the harder it is to get off by simply wiping it. If it doesn't wipe off, you can use a swab of alcohol or dry erase spray solution.)

The best part about the Busy Bee Binders is that they can keep working at the same worksheets until they really understand what they are doing- until they really have it down. When they are done, the worksheet can be removed and replaced. Old worksheets are placed in a worksheet drawer for someone else to use, or immediately placed in someone else's Busy Bee Binder.

These are great for preschoolers. Keagan loves to doodle all over his. I've put stickers and colored some of his pages bright (because I'm out of colored printer ink and too cheap to buy more) so they draw his attention. He has alphabet pages for the letter K, matching games, simple counting pages, color and shape pages, animal pages, food and body pages, tracing pages, and even a couple pages showing our state and pictures of our state bird, flower, etc. There are also a few different activity pages thrown in for him.

I do try to sit down with him and go through his book at least once a day, but he loves to get it out and go through it on his own as well. This helps me get things done around the house, and I imagine that it will help once the baby arrives too.

If you can, print a bunch of pages and old some back to "refresh" things and keep your toddlers interested. Dollar Tree has a lot of workbooks that are great for kids of all ages. You can rip out the pages and put them in page protectors as well.

It helps to be really organized- which I know most home schooling families struggle with. It takes time to figure out a system that works for you. These Busy Bee Binders help me stay organized. Their work is (mostly) in one place. I don't have to pull out a dozen books and worksheets from here and there.

I have always loved the Montessori method- but the whole tray thing? Well, it's a great idea except I don't have space for all the shelves. Trays take up too much space.

The Busy Bee Binder is a nod at the Montessori method in that all this education and fun is available to them, and they can pick it up any time they want and work on what they'd like.

[FYI- I use plastic baskets instead of trays because, first of all, they take up less space, and secondly, they are easy for kids to remove, carry around to a "good comfy spot", and easy to pack back up and put away. See examples below of how we have organized our daughter's toys in her room.]

Keep it Accessible

I think this is key in our method of home education. Obviously, there are some things you don't want to keep accessible to little kiddos- like scissors or permanent markers (or markers, period). But, keeping plenty of books and activities available to them whenever they are ready to dig in is a great way to encourage education. We want our children to take the initiative to learn- and these skills will follow them throughout life.

As you saw in my last entry (showing our living room and home schooling area), we have little tables with stools set up, plus an easel (which chalkboard on one side and dry erase on the other). We also have a bin of coloring books available- and the kids are welcome to color any time they want. Keagan has had this "luxury" available to him since he was a baby, and I personally have noticed a difference in his "handwriting" skills, compared to my oldest two children. Because he can pick up a pencil or crayon and doodle on scratch paper or coloring books at any time, he is much more relaxed with his hand movements.

There are also flash cards (ABCs, math, etc) and games (Bingo, Guess Who?, card games, etc) available to the kiddos.

Of course, there may be things you want to limit. For example, we limit the use of the Nintendo DS. Otherwise, the kids would be on it ALL the time (and arguing over whose turn it is), and nothing would ever get done. It also makes a great reward for getting things accomplished- whether it's helping around the house, cleaning your room, or something like that.

Crafts and projects are also limited. Without a limit, the children would go through our huge stash in a few days. Besides, many of them require the use of scissors, glue, or paint which means I do need to keep a watchful eye on them.

But, I do have crafts which don't require much attention on my part- which are great for when I have lots of cleaning to do, or for when the baby arrives.

Keeping Toddlers Busy

Remember, your toddler just wants to be included. With two older siblings, Keagan does not want to be treated like a baby. He wants to do what they are doing. That's why the Busy Bee Binder works so well with him. I also keep blocks, chunky beads (and thick string), puzzles, and other fun age-appropriate activites available to him. Sure, he might not be able to do them all perfectly (like puzzles), but he likes to play around with them anyway.

And, sometimes, I just pull out a bunch of blankets and make him a tent to play in. Everything seems a bit more fun when done under a homemade tent. :)

Keagan, surrounded by things that keep him busy!

Bead play (found this set at the Dollar Tree, btw!)

Most of all- be prayerful about your homeschool. Ask your husband if he can think of a better way to organize or schedule. Allow God to guide you through it. We all know that it's not just the juggling of curriculum and schedule that causes frustration- its planning out the schedule and choosing the curriculum that works best that can really make your head spin! God is interested in those details as well!


-One of my faves recommended They do indeed have quite a few educational printables. (I think it's under the Parents "tab")
-TLS is one of my favorite sites- I print out A LOT of stuff from there. (
-Enchanted Learning has a lot of freebies and a great deal of educational information- some of it is NOT free, though, which bums me out.
-First School has a lot of great printables for preschool and kindergarten.


Anonymous said...

Gotta love those adorable pictures! And I love that you mentioned bathing homeschool in prayer.
You and your readers might enjoy my article on "Keeping Little Ones Busy" that first appeared in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Here is the link: I also hope you'll drop by and visit me at where I blog about homepreschooling/homeschooling.

Waterdreamer said...

I TOTALLY agree with the page protector/Dry Erase markers. I pull all Wesley's workbooks apart and hole punch them and then place them in a binder. In the pouch on the front cover of the binder I slip a page protector and clip a marker.
I also agree with homeschooling year round. It gives you the freedom to take time off when needed and your kids dont fall in the same trap as public schoolers about losing there skills over the summer!
Best wishes

Tim and Melissa said...

First of all, I LOVE all the new updates on your blog! I get so excited when I see you've updated again!

I, too, am a fan of the whole 'binders and page protectors' concept. So much more practical! And a huge THANKS for all the links you so helpfully provided...I've added some to my favorites!

I really wish TX and WI weren't so far apart...I'd love to have a mom like you to get together with!

Anonymous said...


Jocelyn P said...

I am really excited that you are busy blogging ;) I love reading your life. You are an inspiration. I love the homeschooling stuff. I am not a homeschooling mom, I feel very drawn to it. I share your blog with anyone I know that I think of while reading your words. I really like all the stuff for toddlers b/c I didn't even know what I was missing out on until I saw all of your ideas. Thanks!! God bless you and your family :)

Louisiana Momma said...

the busy bee books are what I need - for both my daughter that is 10 and my boys that are 4.. I can't tell you how often one of them are standing there staring at me - wasting precious time - waiting for me to finish with one of the other kids..this would be perfect.. I need to get more organized like you :-)

Anonymous said...

I totally love your Busy Bee Binders! And I'm totally stealing that idea! ;o)

I swing by off and on and have for years but now that we're "officially" homeschooling I think I'll be back more often. ;o)

After a bad first year of Kindergarten to get Daddy to be on our side, we're finally doing it. yeah!