Considering Homeschooling? Ask These Three Questions First

Homeschooling continues to gain more traction and become a viable option for many families in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeschooled children grew by a staggering 61.8% from 2003 to 2012.

We have been homeschooling for a decade and my oldest is now entering high school, but I still remember the feeling of overwhelm at each new stage of homeschooling.

How do you do it with babies?  with toddlers?  with multiple ages?

Can we afford this?  How do I practically schedule the year?  the month?  today?

I noticed that many people who were drawn to the homeschool option just needed a dose of realistic expectations with a bit of encouragement as they pursued the homeschool lifestyle.

With this in mind, I created a simple online course for parents who are considering homeschool.

So, do you have what it takes to homeschool?

This course analyzes the three essential questions to ask before starting the homeschool adventure.

Homeschooling 101 is a course in self-discovery for parents who are interested in the homeschooling option, but just need some insider information to help bring clarity to the decision making process.

I include lectures in short segments so that they easily fit into your busy schedule.  You will benefit from the course handouts that help you dig deeper into each topic and show you areas where you might need to give more attention.

Finally, this course will help you analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of yourself and your kids and see how that fits into a homeschooling style.

As a former public school teacher turned homeschooling mom of five, I want to be a cheerleader for parents who want to homeschool but just need some confidence and practical strategies for getting it all done.

So, if you’d like an insider tour as you explore the homeschool option, jump on over to Homeschooling 101 on and check out my course today!


A {homeschool} Day in the Life of a Middle Schooler

I recently shared my curriculum choices for my three middle schoolers.  A few friends asked to see a sample schedule of how this would all flesh out.  What a great request!  It was helpful for me to map out what a sample day might look like with this particular pile of curriculum.

We are not rigidly structured with certain subjects at specific times.  Rather, our homeschool style is a relaxed and flexible flow (I like to think I’m relaxed and flexible too, but some days that is not so much a reality!)

No two days are ever the same, and if you homeschool, you will probably agree.  So, I’ll share what a typical day {might} look like for my middle schoolers this fall.  Of course, it all remains to be seen, and we might have to change some plans mid-flow.  But that’s okay – we can use the flexibility that comes with homeschooling to make the curriculum work for us, instead of the other way around.

day in the life of... homeschooled middle schooler

{These are sample times only — of course, the earlier the boys get up and “get going” the earlier their day will finish.}

Sample 8th grade schedule

  • 7:00 – 7:30 wake up, breakfast, chores, personal Bible study, instrument practice
  • 9:00 Morning Subjects Together (multi-grades)
  • 10:00 Start independent work until lunchtime

{it MIGHT look like this, but can really be in any order}

12:30 Lunch Break

School day could be done before 4pm.  We don’t have “homework” like traditional schools.  So the rest of the day is technically free.  Of course, we may have scheduled activities, or side jobs, or music lessons to go to.  If the boys start early and work diligently, they could even be done earlier than this.

  • 8:00pm Free Reading (1 hour)

When I wrote out a sample day’s flow, my 7th grader could be done his work by about 3pm, with no homework required.  My 6th grader would finish by 2pm and have the rest of the day for hobbies, play, and free time.

One final thing – I ask the boys each year if they want paper checklists, assignment notebooks, or laminated cards with their schedule, and they still seem to like the cards.

task cards

I simply write a bullet list of daily requirements onto an index card, then “laminate” it with some contact paper.  The boys can use dry erase markers to cross off subjects as they complete them each day.

And in case you’re wondering what the “task folder” is?  It’s a folder that good old mom can put extra work in that is tailored to that child.  It might be states and capitals review sheets, fire safety assignments (required by our state), or a poem to memorize.

This schedule also helps to ensure that I will have some much needed “free time” when the toddler naps and into the afternoon to get all my own tasks done.  I am around all morning to help as needed, but most of the afternoon work can be mainly independent.

Hope this helps!

What about you?  Would a day in the life of your homeschooled middled schooler look much different?  What are your non-negotiables?  Are you more flexible or structured?

I love how we can craft our curriculum choices and styles to fit both mom and kids.  There is no one right way to homeschool.  This is just what works for us right now.  Happy homeschooling!



Homeschool Curriculum for Middle School

I loved having babies.

I loved having toddlers (mostly, although it was quite a blur, and those years of my life are hard to remember!).

I loved teaching my kids how to read.

But this fall, I will have reached my favorite stage in teaching — middle school!  I will not have just one or two, but three boys in that coveted age.

I know most of you are probably feeling bad for me right now, but I am convinced that this stage is full of possibility.  The boys are moving past the foundational grammar stage of their education, and gaining some increased reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical skills.

homeschool curriculum for middle school

My years in a formal teaching position in the public school were spent with this age group, so I feel quite comfortable here.

I have enjoyed culling an eclectic mix of curriculum to fit my three middle schoolers.  Let me share the list with you, not because it’s perfect, but it might spark some ideas for your own situation.

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information.}


The best decision in our homeschool last year was to chuck the formal reading curriculum, in favor of wild reading, and lots of it!  We gain our structure from this classical reading list, but since a friend shared the Classical Reader website with us, we have been regulars there too.

Grammar and Diagraming instruction continues based on learning styles with each boy.  One is using the Analytical Grammar curriculum.  One son loves the King’s English book, which is color coded and visual.  We also use Daily Grams for short bursts of grammar review.

The best writing curriculum I have found is Writing with Skill by Susan Wise Bauer.  It is designed to be used mainly independently by the student, which is great for mom!  Rubrics are included for grading your child’s work.  My middle schoolers’ writing has improved greatly with this resource.  They are learning things that my high school didn’t teach until that dreaded research paper in twelfth grade.

Spelling has been a hit or miss subject most of our schooling.  I have tried half a dozen different programs and never really was satisfied.  Since finding All About Spelling, we have stayed put quite contentedly.  My kids enjoy it, and their spelling is improving.  It can be passed down from child to child, which makes it great on the budget when schooling several kids.  My rising eighth grader will have completed all its 7 levels, so he will be studying Vocabulary Vine this year.



We will continue with Building Thinking Skills and Mind Benders, both from the Critical Thinking Co.  Our next book will be the Fallacy Detective, which I have not used yet, but it comes highly recommended.  And I think that studying logical reasoning skills will be a fun task during an election year, don’t you?  **Cough, cough** lots of fallacies in reasoning to sniff out this year.  What a skill!



We continue to love BJUP math at every stage.  Complete, spiral, mastery education, with an emphasis on understanding the reasoning behind the math.  From K-5th grade, the books are consumable, and I don’t purchase the teacher’s editions.  For grades 5-7, the texts are not to be written in; rather, the kids do their assignments on their own paper.  So, the book is reusable year after year.  I do purchase the teacher’s manual starting in 6th grade, just for the answer key.

For my eighth grader, we will purchase the DVD curriculum and see how we like it.  That way, the pressure is off of mom in the upper-level math department, and they will get to experience listening to another teacher.



“What Ever Happened to Penny Candy?”

Personal Finance for Middle School by Dave Ramsey



We still love MOH!  This coming year will find us studying volume 4, which includes American history and modern history.  Downloading the audio version as well keeps it interesting.  As we listen to the lessons, the boys are drawing on their timelines.  This curriculum is easy to use for multi-ages.  My older kids will have extra outlining, reading, and reporting requirements.



Answers in Genesis has served us well as a multi-grade science foundation.  We have added the Usborne Science Encylopedia to our curriculum.  This book makes it easy to find relevant videos that relate to each days’ topics.  The boys keep an illustrated science notebook.



We will continue learning catechism with this method.

In addition, our family will try to memorize chapters of the Bible this year, instead of one verse here or there.  Context is so important and healthy when understanding Scripture, so I hope that this endeavor will be very helpful for all of us.  Some friends on Facebook were sharing their own Scripture memorization strategy, and they learned two verses per week until the chapter was memorized.  I think that’s a great place to start!

Bible Commentaries for Children, by Nancy Ganz, have been great resources for understanding the first five books fo the Bible, which can seem very cryptic, especially to kids.  How do they relate to the whole Biblical narrative?  What’s the point of a book like Leviticus, especially to 21st century kids?  These books are written especially with children in mind, and have the goal of pointing everything to Christ.  We will continue on with our study of Numbers.

And finally, the boys and I will read through the book of I John with an inductive study method.  This method is one of the most helpful I have personally used.  It requires more work than simply answering comprehension questions, but it reaps more bounty in the understanding of Scripture.  Find more about this method here.





Art History & Music History as it meshes with our history studies

PA history

Gym class at the YMCA with other homeschoolers

Private music lessons in their instruments


Whew!  I’m eager to jump into this school year.  So much to learn!

What are essentials for your middle school curriculum?  I’d love to take a peek into your homeschool tool box.


Adoption Update: One Year Later

Our Anna Rakeb has been home with us now for a little over a year.  In some ways, it feels like she’s always been here.

Many people considering the adoption process wonder if they could love a child that was not born to them.  I wondered the same thing — everyone does!  But I am here to tell you that, yes, most definitely, you will learn to love this child just like any other child that comes into your family!

adoption quote

Some people shy away from adoption because they think that their biological children might have a hard time with it.  Maybe they will feel slighted, or loved a little less, they imagine.

I can’t speak for every family, but even though our four boys went into this adoption with a little fear and trepidation, now that we are one year in, we can say that it has been a blessing for each one of us!

When the boys talk about their futures, most of them now include the snippet… “and I’m going to adopt…” which just makes me smile at the ripple effects 🙂

So, if God is opening your eyes to the needs of the fatherless in this country or around the world, say YES with a heart of faith, knowing that it will be a wonderful experience for each one in your family to love another with the love that God has given you.

Recently I asked the boys a few questions about their experiences with having a little sister join the family through adoption.  Thought you might enjoy a little sneak peek into their minds.

adoption quote 2

Mom:  Did you know what adoption was before we adopted?

Boys: No

Getting a kid

Yes – taking kids into your family that the parents gave them up or died

Yes – God adopting us into His family


Mom:  Did you have any fears?

Excited that she was from a different country

That she would be ugly


That she would be all pink


Mom:  What did you think it would be like to have a sister?

All pink & stuff

Pink princesses and barbies; if I can prevent that, then she would be more normal – like you, mom


Mom:  How has Anna changed our family?

Everybody crowds around her

Made it a little more cute and happy

We had to buy more girly stuff

She steals all our stuff


Mom:  Do you love her?

Yes (while sitting on the rocking chair with her)

Yes!  Of course



Mom:  How has adoption changed you, your view of people of different races or cultures?

Makes me appreciate other cultures more


Mom:  Do you want to adopt someday?


If I have all of one (gender), then I’ll adopt the other


Mom:  What does adoption teach you about God?

That we were chosen into God’s family

That God loves everyone

That God adopts us into his family


Mom:  What do you remember about God’s provision for the money to adopt Anna?

We had a $2000 fee and people gave us money.


That He loves us

People are watching after us and helping

one year in

How Our Homeschool Reading Time Has Been Revolutionized

Homeschool reading time

One of the best changes in our homeschool curriculum, routine, and philosophy this year has been in the area of reading.  I wish I could turn the clock back and implement these ideas years ago.  My strong and interested readers have grown, as well as my reluctant reader.  My sanity has been saved in this area and it has been easy on the budget!

Three items have contributed to this reading revolution.  Let me unveil them and then I’ll explain.

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information.}

Read “The Book Whisperer”


If you haven’t read this book yet, put it on your list.  If you are a parent (homeschool or not), “The Book Whisperer” is helpful in forming a reading philosophy for your family.  It also provides encouragement and will equip you for the practical side of follow-through.

The author’s basic philosophy is that every child can be a reader, but you have to model it authentically and give space and time to pursue it.  

We used to follow the traditional school model of graded reading books, worksheets, and book reports.  Reading was just a subject to get through as fast as you could and there wasn’t much enjoyment in it.  When classic literature was included in reading books, many times the story was abridged or dumbed down.  

Now we have embraced a reading culture in our home more than ever.  Hubby and I always have several books going at a time.  But how do you pass that on to your kids?  Give them the time in their schedule to read and enjoy it!  Require grade-level timeless literature but also allow them to find what they enjoy.

homeschool reading

My history loving son conquered a book about the 1001 top battles of all time.  And it was nearly 1000 pages!  But it was fun for him.  Another boy loves cats and for his “fun reading time” he dives into the Warrior Cat series.

After I tossed the grade-level reading textbooks (that, by the way, cost a pretty penny!), I had to find a great resource for required school reading for each child.

Find a Reading List

For this, our homeschool has turned to this classical reading list organized by grade level.  We are able to borrow some of these titles from our library, while others have been purchased and added to our bookshelf for younger siblings.

homeschool reading

Buy a timer for each child

And finally, the biggest change in our homeschool reading culture has been the freedom to linger longer in our favorite books.  Who doesn’t love to be required to lounge on the couch in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and just read for a whole hour?  And this is school?  Oh yes!  

If my children can become better readers by reading several hours a day, and if my children can learn to love learning, and if my children can embrace their natural curiosity and interests, they will be lifelong learners!

homeschool reading curriculum

So, instead of zipping through a “story” in a reading textbook, we have minimum time standards for Reading List titles and Free Reading time.  (I have looked to “The Well Trained Mind” for great guidelines in organizing our school day with time suggestions per grade level.)

Enter the simple digital timer.  We have several floating around our house.  Grab a timer, your current book, and cuddle on the couch for the next hour, able to enjoy reading.  It’s not a task anymore!  We all love the change.  And it’s great for mom — do you know what happens when four boys are quietly reading for several hours each a day?  Yeah, I can hear myself think 🙂

Now, maybe your kids don’t need timers.  My oldest reads much more than his required time each day.  But for some of the others, it helps with responsibility.

It may seem simple — a new reading outlook, a great book list and freedom to enjoy reading?  Yes!  This is the best change we have made in our homeschool.

Visit my pinterest board for more great book lists!

Christmas Past & Christmas Present

Last year our 15-month-old spent Christmas in an Ethiopian orphanage.  She didn’t even know we were pursuing her adoption.

But a few months later, we travelled to Addis Ababa and adopted her as our daughter!  What a whirlwind trip!

This year we will enjoy Christmas through the eyes of our newly adopted 2-year-old!  What fun 🙂

Easy DIY Christmas Blocks Gift

‘Twas the week before Christmas and I was a tiny bit miffed

Trying to come up with a last minute gift!

Does this describe you?  Here’s a fun DIY that is simple and quick.

DIY Christmas blocks

I love my little Christmas blocks.  I have some for during the rest of the year too that I can tuck on ledges or shelves with a few inspirational words to catch my eye during the day.

These are tiny blocks — like the kind you would find in a Jenga game.  But grouped together, they make a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

easy DIY Christmas blocks gift

This is a great craft for kids to make for their teachers or grandparents!

{Affiliate links are included in this tutorial, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase.}

Here’s how to make these adorable Christmas blocks in no time at all.

easy DIY Christmas blocks gift

Yes, these blocks are the size of Jenga blocks, but I wouldn’t recommend buying an official Jenga game, or you will have “Jenga” carved into your pieces.

Instead, you can buy a cheaper no-name brand of the same game here or here.  And if you shop with Amazon Prime, these can be on your door step in only two days!

With about 48 blocks in each game, you can make dozens of these gifts from one set.

easy DIY Christmas blocks gift

Now paint your blocks.  This step is so relaxing!  Get the kids involved and start painting.  I just use Apple Barrel paints which cost about 50 cents each at Walmart.  Or if you’re in a pinch, you can get them here at a higher cost.

easy DIY Christmas blocks gift

If you have some stamping supplies lying around, now’s the time to put them to good use.  Have you ever stamped or embossed on wood?  Why not?  It works just like it would on paper.

Use an embossing stamp pad to stamp your word onto the wood block.

Immediately cover the wet stamped mark with embossing powder.  Dump the excess powder off your wood block.

Using a heat tool, carefully set the embossing powder.

You’re done!  Wasn’t that easy?

easy DIY Christmas blocks gift

This is a cost effective gift and one that you can make assembly-line-style to save time.

Even if you have to buy all the supplies for this project, each three-block set will only cost you about $3.22!  The price just goes down from there if you own any of the supplies already.

Happy crafting!  Check out my Pinterest DIY Gift Idea board for more projects.




furniture up cycle: TV cabinet into armoire

For many years we used a pine armoire to house our TV.

armoire upcycle

When we upgraded to a larger flat screen TV that no longer fit in our armoire, I wanted to find a use for this piece of furniture.  I hate to throw things away if I don’t have to.

furniture up cycle TV cabinet to armoire

Well, it was a good thing we held on to this armoire.  The room we decided to use for a bedroom for our daughter has no closets.  Enter the up cycled armoire.

furniture up cycle TV cabinet to armoire

We loved it in raw pine back in the day, but it was due for a facelift.  So, painted in white and distressed, it matches her thrifted Jenny Lind bed frame.

furniture up cycle TV cabinet to armoire


All it took to convert this piece into a useable closet for our daughter’s room was a clothing rod.  Hubby attached it with a block of scrap wood on each side of the rod for further durability.

furniture up cycle TV cabinet to armoire

Since little girl’s dresses are so short, it is working just fine right now with extra room at the bottom for baskets of linens and such.

So if you’re looking for extra clothing storage (or crafting storage, toy storage, game storage, kitchen storage!), look no further than your local thrift store or yard sale and pick up one of these “old” armoires.  Sure, you might not put a TV in them anymore, but you might be able to pick one up for cheap and give it a new life.

furniture up cycle TV cabinet to armoire

Great on the budget.  Super cute.  Love to prevent needless waste.  And create a personal piece that works for you.

What is your favorite TV cabinet up-cycle?

Jesus Tree for Advent

What a wonderful time of the year to focus our hearts on God’s story — more specifically the upper story.  We live in the lower story and easily get distracted by the tinsel and bright lights.

Jesus Tree advent 

But since Christ came that first Christmas, we know God will keep His promises and Christ will come again.  And during this season of Advent, of celebrating His birth, we look with anticipation to Christmas Future.

jesus tree for advent

A helpful practice for the whole family during this special season is to focus on the significance of the names of Jesus.

Did you know that in the Old and New Testaments, it is possible to find over 100 names and titles for Christ?

jesus tree for advent

Using a Jesus Tree can be a helpful visual for everyone in the family.

This is an easy DIY project that can be started at any time leading up to Christmas day.  No need to run to the store, just use what you have on hand.  Let the kids help.

jesus tree for advent

First, gather branches from the yard and put them in a recycled jar.

Find some extra Christmas ornaments or make your own from paper.

Jesus Tree advent 

Add one name and the Scripture reference to each ornament.  If you learn about one each day until Christmas, you will need 24.  You could do more or less, and don’t worry about starting too late!  Just do something.

I used this Names of Jesus unit study to create my ornaments.

Jesus Tree advent 

Each day we hang one new ornament on the tree.

We keep it simple by reading the Scripture and discussing one new name each day.

Jesus Tree advent 

The Jesus Tree has been a useful tool to help our family to focus on Christ during the Advent season.

What do you do in your house during Advent?


selling on etsy: tools & supplies, shipping & storage

{You can find my other Selling on Etsy posts here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3}

etsy series - tools supplies shipping and storage options @

When I first started researching what I would need to be an Etsy seller, I was imagining lots of expenses for silly things like bubble wrap and cardboard boxes!

Have no fear, you don’t need to spend your resources on boxes if you don’t want to.

selling on etsy

{look at that adorable toddler in a box… how did she get in this post?!}  🙂

I want to share my favorite tips about Tools & Supplies, Shipping & Storage when selling on Etsy.

selling on etsy -- supplies

Tools & Supplies

First of all, totally get amazon prime membership if you don’t have it already.  It’s a lifesaver and you get a great supply of boxes to reuse.

Have your friends and family save boxes, bubble wrap, air pockets, brown paper or newspapers for you, and you will have a free supply of shipping materials.  I just print off a “recycled packaging materials” label that includes my logo and stick it on the box.  Upcycling is part of being a good resource manager.

selling on etsy

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy for full details.}


Many people have questions about shipping when they  consider being an Etsy seller.  The customer pays for shipping.  That’s good news — but you also need to be prepared.

USPS shipping calculator is your friend.  Input weight and box sizes for accurate shipping quotes.  Buy your postage online.  You can even schedule a package pick-up.  You can ask my hubby what a blessing it was when we finally figured out that he didn’t need to traipse into our local post office each day with my shipments.

Make sure you have a reliable postage scale.  I started with a cheap kitchen scale and worked up to a digital scale.

After you buy your postage online, you can easily print it with a DYMO label printer.  This printer is not a necessity, but it’s a great investment.  I sold on etsy for several years by printing out my postage on computer paper, then taping it on the box.  But if your sales end up increasing you will want to upgrade.  This label printer has been a huge time-saver.  And it prints thermally, so your label’s information won’t rub off during shipment (don’t ask me how I know this the hard way!)


selling on etsy -- shipping & storage

Storage has always been an issue for me.  For several years, my etsy storage was mingled in our basement with our family storage.  It was crazy!  I wrote on my boxes what the contents were, so when an item sold, I had to go search for the right box.  Terrible system.

I now have a bunch of space solely for my etsy boxes. But my best shipping system is not necessarily having a lot of space — it’s having an inventory list.

selling on etsy -- storage --

Next to each of my listings on etsy, in the title section, I have a letter and/or number label.  That tells me where to find the box in my storage.  

Each box is numbered 001-180, plus many in between like B014 (back shelf 14th box) or C003 (center storage 3rd box).  Do whatever system works for you, but if you’re going to have more than a dozen items waiting to sell and ship, please develop a system!  I really wish I could go back in time and enlighten myself.  

Setting up a shop and adding your first listings can be tackled in a few hours.  If you’ve thought about starting an etsy shop, go for it!  The risk is really actually small.  And you never know — it might take off better than you thought.  Message me if you’d like a link for 40 free listings.