Do I need a homeschool room and a schedule?

Do I need a homeschool room and a schedule?

There are several ‘first questions’ that new homeschoolers ask, and one of them is:  “Do I need a detailed schedule and a dedicated schoolroom?”

Because of our own school experiences, we picture learning as taking place at a specific time in a special space, requiring one-piece desks, chalkboards, charts, and other schoolish trappings. Some find the idea of doing anything else intimidating and even frightening.

Homeschooling frees our children from classroom constraints and conditioning, and allows us to find our unique learning style.

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Six organization tips for parents and students

Six organization tips for parents and students

When we plan ahead and stay organized, things run much smoother. We know what to do when, we know where to find our things when we want them, stress is lessened and everyone feels more relaxed. 

Mornings spent in a rush looking for shoes, keys, coats, books, pencils, etc. make me feel stressed and cranky, and we feel it in our homeschool. You feel it in yours too.

Looking back, the good habits I acquired at home were incredibly helpful, but my bad habits were difficult to overcome. I knew when I started to homeschool that I needed to teach my kids to prioritize their time and keep track of their stuff. But when to start? 

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Our Foundation for Home Education

Our Foundation for Home Education

You'd think the summer and fall months would be when most families decide to begin homeschooling. After years of writing about homeschooling and being part of a homeschool support group, it became evident that Christmas break is also a popular time for families to remove their kids from public/private school to homeschool.

We were one of those families back in 1996. Seth was doing well in school, but between the complete rejection of phonics instruction, altercations with other kids, and PG-rated movies being viewed during nap time, we became very dissatisfied with his school. So the term "Christmas break" meant more than just a week off school--it was a transition from traditional school to homeschool.

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The Impact of Technology on Our Daily Lives

The Impact of Technology on Our Daily Lives

Many brilliant and creative people have worked over the last few decades to develop digital technology. As with many inventions, the conception and the consequences were years apart, and what was imagined as the possible uses of technology is probably very different from the reality.

So now we have this amazing variety of tools at our disposal. Nearly every house has a computer, and there seems to be a phone in every hand.

As with anything, there are extremes of attitude about technology.

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Ways kids can volunteer

ways kids and families can volunteer

There are many ways families can volunteer and include their children. It starts by being aware of opportunities in your every day life.

Begin exercising a giving spirit where you live, finding out who needs help by getting out in your neighborhood, being friendly and kind. That used to be the norm, but since retro is In, it's OK to do some things the old-fashioned way. 

You will soon discover, whether you are in the city or a suburb, there are neighbors who could use some help.

Maybe there are elderly and disabled folks could use some landscaping, or their homes need minor maintenance like painting, gutter cleaning, or window washing.

Single parents may not have the resources of other families to draw on. Include them in activities like field trips and cook-outs. Gift cards to local department stores and restaurants helps them out financially without it feeling like a handout.

Keep soft, thick socks stuffed with granola bars and water bottles in your car to give to homeless men and women you see while running errands.

Be aware of workers in your area, like the mailman, road construction crews, or garbage disposal workers. Offer them hot coffee in the winter, and popsicles or sports drinks in the summer. 

Start a community garden and share the produce with neighbors and local soup kitchens.

Just keep looking around and your family will find ways to meet the specific needs of people where you live. Learning by doing is the best way for kids to internalize important life lessons.

kids learn by doing

You can go beyond your neighborhood with these ideas:

  • Nursing homes: Kids can bring residents little gifts like quilts, pictures, and books, or sit and listen to their stories. Kids can also read and sing to them. Note on your schedule to regularly send cards and flowers.
  • Project Linus: Make blankets for children who are seriously ill or have experienced a trauma, like a house fire.
  • Hats: There are several kinds of “Hats of Hope” organizations. Some make winter hats for the homeless, while others make soft knitted hats for cancer patients. If you can't find one in your area, start one.
  • Habitat for Humanity: I think everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity. It’s a great way for older kids to learn carpentry skills and teamwork.
  • Food pantries: Local food pantries need donations, but they also need people to load and unload supplies and organize their inventory.
  • Children’s hospitals: Most children’s hospitals allow teens to volunteer in a variety of ways. Look online for a ‘wish list’ of items that are accepted as donations, such as blankets, activity bags, and craft supplies.
  • Service animals: Many service animal agencies have volunteer programs, from visiting to play with the puppies to being involved in socializing and training.
  • Blood donation: Healthy teens and adults can give blood, especially during the summer months when demand is high and the supply is low. Contact your local Red Cross to find a blood drive near you.
  • Donate hair for wigs and hair pieces with Locks of Love.
  • Support local charitable organizations by participating in their fundraising walk-a-thons/marathons.

I didn’t know at the time the impact volunteering would have on my kids, but now I can see the results of their awareness of the world around them, and the people in it who need help. 

Parenting and homeschooling is about much more than teaching kids facts from textbooks; it's about modeling good character, and helping them become everything they are meant to be. Volunteering does both!

This list isn't exhaustive--share information and ideas in the comments about more ways families and kids can volunteer.



Six reasons why kids should volunteer

reasons why kids should volunteer

One of the great advantages of homeschooling is the opportunity to be deeply involved, on a daily basis, in the development of your child's character. And one of the ways we can help them develop compassion and necessary life skills is with volunteering.

First, I have a few things to say about the ways we encourage people to volunteer for a cause or to give to a charitable organization. 

I don't believe in such things as an 'unfair advantage' or 'luck'. There's no need to feel guilty if you have a nice life. When parents work hard to feed, clothe, and shelter their children; they love and nurture them, pushing them to be responsible, caring members of society; they spend time, energy and money to ensure they have a solid education so they can succeed in life--then they are simply being a responsible parent. This should be described as 'a normal family', not 'privilege'.   

Why? Because abject poverty, neglect, and abuse aren't and shouldn't be accepted as normal. Children aren't 'lucky' because their parents don't beat them. They aren't 'privileged' if there's actually nutritious food making it from the fridge to the table. Neglect and abuse are not the norm, and we should never imply a loving home is a magical 'only if you are fortunate' thing.1  

Poverty is a tougher subject, but our society does have ways for families to still provide the basics for themselves and their children through government programs and charitable organizations. And if our goal is to bring families out of poverty and to the place where they can take care of themselves, we surely should not be stigmatizing those who are already there.

Wherever you fall on the socio-economic spectrum, if you are in a place where you can help others, you should. Period. And it is especially important for children to learn compassion and to be contributing members of society, even at a very early age. If you wait until they are teens to start encouraging them to be aware of the needs of others, that horse may be out of the corral and roaming the prairies in Montana.

Parents often focus on sheltering their children from harsh realities—which is a good thing, until that sheltering removes them so far from society that they are unprepared when the real world smacks them upside the head. Kids can handle knowing about sickness, starvation, and violence in the world, especially if we are teaching them how to make a difference.

So enough with the prologue--here are several compelling reasons why everyone, especially children, should volunteer for a cause that benefits those in need:   

To make a difference.  

Everything you do for others makes a difference. The butterfly effect of showing kindness, helping someone change their circumstances, or relieving suffering, even for a little while, is a valuable lesson for children and a touch of grace in the life of someone who desperately needs it. If God watches over sparrows, surely we should be teaching our children to make a difference when and where they can.  

And there's nothing wrong with making our communities a nicer place to live. If we want to raise our children in a society where people are willing to invest in improving the health and well-being of others, then we need to invest in our communities.

Stories in the media sometimes make us feel like we have to be doing something amazing for it to matter, but to the person who you have helped, the smallest gesture of kindness and generosity may be the most amazing thing they've ever experienced. That's who we are doing this for, after all--not to be in a viral video. Right? 

To learn about the world.  

Volunteering offers a wealth of opportunities for children and adults to explore their abilities and talents, maybe discovering some they were not aware of. Children can learn social skills and future job skills, not the least of which are teamwork and a work ethic.  

Children can also learn about how charitable agencies and organizations work; how the founders were inspired to fill a need, how they obtain funding, what the IRC 501(c)(3) designation means, and why others want to volunteer for a particular cause. This is all information children can apply to their growing understanding of the real world, and their place in it.

To learn about the specific needs in your community.  

Many of us live in a rather homogeneous world by default. We are busy with family and work and church and activities, seeing the same people day in and day out. However, learning about cultural and ethnic diversity is important. Seeing the world from other perspectives enriches all of us.

Even more essential is for children to understand that regardless of our differences, we are still united by our human experience. Grief and joy feel the same no matter what your socio-economic or ethnic background. Our differences should not automatically cause fear or spark antagonism. It's part of the maturing process to seek to understand rather than ignore, dismiss or intimidate.  

kindness valuable lesson for children

It's the responsible thing to do. 

Volunteering is part of making your community a better place to live. We all want safe, friendly neighborhoods. But this doesn't happen without some involvement in that community, and we can all contribute to making our neighborhoods more peaceful and welcoming places: 

  • Improving the cleanliness and order of in your community's appearance, in theory, contributes to making it safer as well. 
  • Supporting education encourages others to educate themselves, offering them the opportunity to change their circumstances. Tutoring, or giving free reading, music, and art lessons is the "teach a man to fish" form of volunteerism. 
  • Relieving suffering when and where you can is the humane thing to do, and it may surprise you just how much suffering is taking place right around the corner from where you live. Opportunities to give abound, from food pantries to making blankets and hats to blood donation. 
  • Compassion and kindness are contagious, and we should never underestimate the influence volunteering can have on others, motivating them to volunteer as well.  

 It's part of being a healthy, well-rounded person.  

Volunteering helps develop characteristics such as empathy, humility, teamwork, and self esteem. Many volunteer opportunities help children develop a work ethic, and nothing beats the feeling of camaraderie when you team up with others for something truly important.  

Children need to learn that sometimes people fall on hard times because of things beyond their control--physical or mental illness, natural disaster, technological advances or an economic downturn resulting in the loss of a job, accidents, etc. In other words, it could happen to anyone, even you. We need to get away the usual stereotypes of the poor and disabled as being 'other' and somehow deserving of their difficulties. 

It's OK to teach kids that it feels good to do good, and being a caring, unselfish person is its own reward. Encourage your kids experience the pleasure of giving. 

Learn about commitment and citizenship.  

I'm not one for forcing kids to commit to things like music lessons or sports. They can try it, and if it's not their thing, I'm fine with them trying something else. However, volunteering should be a serious commitment, and not a hobby. Kids can learn some things about obligation and sacrifice by giving their time, money, and energy to a cause beyond their own self interest. 

It's also good to learn how to build relationship skills with people who are outside of your circle of friends and family. Many of the people you will meet—other volunteers as well as those you help--share the same goals and interests you have. Kids can be inspired by the example of others, especially with the dearth of healthy role models in today's celebrity-obsessed society. Children may also find themselves humbled by the courage and endurance in the people they are helping.

So are you convinced? Maybe now you are wondering about how kids can volunteer at a young age. That's the next post.

How much structure does your homeschool need?

homeschool structure room schedule calendar routine

How do we organize our homeschool without being too restrictive?  

How do we give kids freedom to learn while ensuring they are making progress? 


Structure is necessary. Just like your skeleton provides both a framework and flexibility, your homeschool must have some purposeful design to be productive and responsive to your family's needs. 

Your homeschoolers need goals to direct their efforts. Plans are the steps they need to take to reach their goals. Schedules and the organization of space and learning materials clear the path. 

Without structure children can become confused and distracted. Kids need a certain amount of predictability to feel safe and secure, and plans can provide confidence and calm. Time spent looking for books and supplies is time that could have been spent learning.

A schedule ensures that necessary things are done first. Acquiring and exercising skills such as:

  • reading
  • writing
  • speaking
  • math computation and concepts
  • and critical thinking

are essential for understanding and interacting with the world around them. 

Children also require guidance to learn how to prioritize. They need to know how to follow instructions, follow through and finish tasks, and earn privileges by meeting age-appropriate responsibilities. 

Too much structure is confining and rigid, like a body cast. We feel like we need the structure of the traditional age-graded classroom because that's what we've always known. Our country spends enormous amounts of time, money, and effort on crafting national education standards. 

But let me explain why you don't need to worry about national age-graded standards: they are only helpful if you want to compare your children to 50 million other kids for the purpose of accountability to government and qualifying for funding. Unless this description fits you, don't worry about national standards. They are arbitrary anyway. Just focus on your child's particular needs and provide the structure to fulfill them. 

homeschool meet family needs schedules standards


Freedom allows your kids to feed their natural curiosity. When children are excited, they are also invested, and will  stay focused on the things they are interested in for long periods of time. 

Without some freedom injected into your homeschool, kids can feel restricted for reasons they don't understand, and punished with expectations that don't fit their abilities or interests.  

Although we consider ourselves sophisticated adults, our thinking on education is a bit like this:

School is child at desk with nose in book. School is good. More school is more gooder, so kids need to be at desk with nose in book as much as possible.

Kids interpret freedom as a reward. Independent learning gives them a sense of power over their education, their life, and their future. If children enjoy learning in freedom, they will forever connect learning with pleasure.

Freedom allows children the luxury of exploring, experiencing, and reflecting. When they confirm something by their own observations and discoveries, they feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It's simple positive reinforcement. 

However, too much freedom is as frustrating as too little, which brings us full circle back to structure.

Homeschool parent - you have the freedom to find the balance that fits your children.

Do you have questions about structuring your homeschool? Share them in the comments -