Friday, August 1, 2014

Workbox System for our Charlotte Mason Style Homeschool

As I was researching ways to make our homeschooling days run a bit smoother, I came across the idea of using workboxes.  This was such a great idea!  But, I do not have the budget or space to have a huge rolly cart with drawers for each subject, and one cart for every one of my children.  Still, I was intrigued by the idea of having the kids be accountable for what they need to complete for the day.  So, the search continued!

I kept looking into different examples of workboxes and finally was inspired to come up with my own way of utilizing the workbox system in a way that would fit our needs and our budget.  We have used this system in the last few weeks of school last year and our days did run smoother, the kids enjoyed it, and I did not have to dictate every single thing they needed to do throughout the day.  It has kept them on task and instead of me feeling like I am running a three ring circus.  I know they are doing what they are supposed be doing and I am enjoying their ability to work together and take charge of their school day.

So, in each file I put the work that needs to be done at that time along with a post-it of the specifics.  For example, "Read one chapter then narrate to Mom.", or "Read one chapter as a family."

If we have to do things as a family, the kids know to communicate with each other to see how long they will be so that they can do their family readings together.  If they need me for dictation or narration, they would wait until I am done with their sibling, or move on to something in their box that they can do independently.

Our number grid has 16 spots and I make sure that ALL of them are filled!  This is not only for school work, as we don't go through that many subjects a day, but this also includes chores, educational game time, music practice, computer time, hadicraft time, anything you want them to do throughout the day.

In the evening time or early morning, I will fill the crates in the order in which I want the subjects to go through the day.  I use my CM style Weekly Schedule along with my lesson plans for the day and it only takes a few minutes to set up the day's work for the kids.  Then it's set-it and forget-it!  The kids know to go through all their numbers and I can see what they have done and what needs to be done.  Also, saves me from them constantly asking what they need to do next.

Here is the breakdown of how I put together the box:

Crate - These I had just laying around the house
Hanging File Folders - I found a huge pack of these at the thrift store.
Velcro Dots - I found a 16 pack of these at our 99 cents store.
Hooks for Number Grid - I also found these at the 99 cents store
Pencil Holders - The ones that I used are from IKEA, I bought them years ago and never used them
Number Grid - FREE printable here. I didn't use all the days of the week, I only printed one per child
Numbers - FREE printable here, but it only goes up to 12, so I hand wrote the rest.

I laminated the number grid and numbers, but it could also work if you print them on cardstock.

I have uploaded a video on my YouTube channel, walking you through the workbox system. Please like, comment and subscribe of you found it useful!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Virtual Summer Science Camp Week 2: Bristle Bots

This is a project I would have never thought of on my own, so I am so grateful to have found the Virtual Summer Science Camp on YouTube.

Bristle bots are and easy and frugal way to introduce electronics to your kids.  The kids and I watched several YouTubes on how to make one, and I looked up a few online and on Instructables.

My plan was to stop by the dollar store to get the toothbrushes and then go to Radio Shack to pick up the vibrating motors, but while at the dollar store we spotted electric toothbrushes that had vibrating motors in them.  So we ended up getting those, paying $1 for the toothbrush, motor, and AA battery.  Not bad!

Here is what you need for the Bristle Bots:

  • Vibrating Motor
  • Toothbrush Head (we needed 2 per bot)
  • Double Stick Tape
  • Electrical Tape
  • Wires (we used 12 gauge)
  • Battery

Here is how we put the Bristle Bots together:

You can make tracks for them.  My kids ended up using them to paint with and that was a fun activity.  This is a great introduction to electronics and circuits!  Fun for the littles and the big kids too!


Monday, June 9, 2014

Virtual Summer Science Camp Week 1: Soda Bottle Rocket Launcher

This week the kids and I participated in a Virtual STEAM Summer Science Camp on my YouTube channel.  This week's project theme was rockets, so we did a little research and came up with a project we wanted to do and share.

First, we decorated our empty soda bottle to look like a rocket.  I made a template for a fin and the kids cut some out of cardboard and taped them onto the bottle.  Next, I made a cone shape out of some cardstock and that got taped to the top of our rocket.

They then started to spray paint their rocket and added some more paint detail with acrylic paint.

Now for the launcher!  I just Googled how to make a launcher and found a design online.  Here is a link to the PDF: How to Make a Soda Bottle Rocket Launcher

I went with this design because it seemed easy enough to make and gather supplies for.  I got all the PVC, connectors, and PVC cement at the hardware store for about $12, and the tire valve stem at the auto parts store was $4 for two of them.  My son cut all the PVC himself and was able to follow the directions on his own to cement all the connectors on.  We used a 3/8" drill bit to drill a hole for the valve stem and ended up having to add some plumbers tape on the male adapter that the soda bottle fits onto just to make sure there were no leaks and that we had a good tight seal.

Voila!! All done and ready to launch!!  Check out our launch below!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Homeschooling Year Round

When I first started homeschooling I never even thought of schooling year round.  I just wanted our schooling to be so much like traditional school that it really never occurred to me to do anything different.

Well, just finishing up our fourth year now and the main reason why I wanted to start schooling year round is that we are home anyway and we do all our learning at home it just feels weird to be home and not learning.

We have taken these last couple of weeks completely off of school and I plan on schooling "light" for the rest of the Summer.  I also want to get some of next year's schoolwork done before baby #4 get here, and she is due one day before the start of our traditional school year calendar.  I want to be prepared for taking some extra time off with the whole family in welcoming our newest addition.

Since we homeschool through a local Charter school we do have certain requirements to adhere to throughout the traditional school year, so  when we are in the Summer mode we get some freedom from all that and just get to do whatever we feel like doing!

This Summer we are participating in a Virtual Summer Science Camp on my YouTube channel, so I look forward to sharing our science experiments with you and hope that you can participate along with us!  Our first experiment will be a soda bottle rocket and launcher.  We will be studying the power of air pressure!  I am heading out to the hardware store today (wish me luck) and I should have the video and post up by the end of this week.

I have already shared what our Weekly Charlotte Mason Schedule looks like and for the Summer I will stick with that same subject schedule, but just not as intense with all the books we will be using throughout the week.  For instance, in History, we usually read 3-4 books per week on that subject and for the Summer I will pare it down to just one or two.

I also hope to do more Nature Studies this Summer since all of our classes are on break, we will have more time for Fun School!  I would love to hear what everyone else does for their Summer Break!


Friday, May 30, 2014

End of the Year Wrap Up

This marks the end of our fourth year of homeschooling!  We are done with 5th, 2nd, and Kindergarten and every year posts new challenges for us and by the end of the year I am amazed at my children's accomplishments.

Kindergarten always makes me nervous because everything is new.  I am always nervous about teaching the kids how to read, but I have never invested into a phonics program.  I just teach them in a way that is natural for me and for them.

With my youngest, we did not teach her the names of the letters at all when she was little, but called the letters by their phonetic sound instead.  This made teaching her how to read so much easier.  For instance, she would see the word BAT and sound out the letters B-A-T, there you go she just read that word.  Teaching her to read was easy-peasy and now she can sound out bigger words on her own just fine.

2nd grade was super easy this year.  I think the only thing my son really struggled with was rounding numbers.  I have no idea why that concept was so hard for him, but we spent time and time again going over it until it finally clicked and I wanted to celebrate with a ticker-tape parade when it did!  He is in 2nd grade, but finished 3rd grade math.

I also have never purchased a math curriculum.  I feel comfortable teaching them on my own and the math programs I have looked into have seemed like more review and not as challenging as I would like them to be.  I may change my tune once we have to get into Algebra!  We just use Khan Academy as a way to keep tack of what they are learning in math.

My 2nd grader has also accomplished being able to sound out words.  This may be an easy concept for most kids, but he has dyslexia, so this is a HUGE milestone for us.  His ability to break apart a word in to syllables has improved thanks to his wonderful tutor and his daily lessons, exercises, and therapy.  He is now confident in reading, something that he wasn't at the beginning of the year.  As a mother and his teacher it makes my heart warm to know that he has not lost a love for reading just because he has to deal with dyslexia.  He has to work twice as hard to achieve what most people would call "normal" results.

5th grade this year was interesting since we just fully implemented the Charlotte Mason method there was a learning curve, not just for me but for the kids too.  The younger ones dealt with the change more easily, but my 5th grader had to re-learn some things from doing things more traditional though our previous years.

Narration was tough for him at first, not so much with the younger kids.  We ended up breaking his readings apart into very small sections and having him narrate one sentence at a time.  He has improved over the year though, but it has not become second nature to him yet.

We are going to have a short break for Summer and start up again with school soon, but I cannot wait as I learn more about Charlotte Mason I want to incorporate her style more into our homeschool.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Our Weekly Schedule Using Ambleside Online

I know this is the time of year when all us homeschoolers are planning and preparing for the next school year.  Actually, I start the planning process sometime around January, but right now is when I start the putting-plans-on-paper stage and I wanted to share how we go about our weekly schedule.

I was sold on the Charlotte Mason method when I heard about how she encouraged short lessons.  Say what!?!  Yes, SHORT lessons!  The idea is to get the kids into the habit of paying attention, and in the beginning it may mean lessons as short as 5-10 minutes.  You will gradually increase the lessons times as their habit of giving their lessons their best attention builds.  But, even an older student would only have 25-30 minute lessons.  If they are giving it their all, they don't need much more time.

I just started fully implementing the Charlotte Mason style at the beginning of this year and at first I set a timer and did 15 minute lessons all day.  Now, I don't set a timer for each subject as I have a feel for how long the lessons should be, but I do set a timer for when the kids read on their own.  Right now I have my 10 year old reading 10 minutes then narrating, and my 8 year old gets 5 minutes then narration.  This goes for every subject that requires reading and narration throughout the day.

Putting our daily schedule together took a lot of thought and I am really happy about how it came out.  We have been sticking to this schedule all year long.  One of the things I read about the CM method was to vary the subjects throughout the day, alternating the parts of the brain being worked and moving from one subject to the next won't tire the child's mind.  We used to take breaks in between subjects, now we cruise on through.  Again, I used the subjects listed on the Ambleside Online Curriculum as a guide.

Click to download PDF
Now, it may look like and ambitious list, and it is, but we are able to do most of what is listed on here in as little as 4 hours of schooling.  We also don't get to every subject on the list, and that is my fault.  I simply have not prepared for all the weekly subjects, so that is one of my goals for next school year.  I really want to be prepared and hit all of our weekly subjects, hymn study and Plutarch always seem to make it to the back burner and I just can't seem to get them off.  We were doing a weekly nature study with a couple of other CM families in the beginning of this school year, but after the winter we have not got back on track with those, and that is another goal of mine for this fall.

I have already shared how we do our Bible Studies, and am looking forward to sharing a little about every subject we cover over our school week.  I also recently started implementing workboxes into our homeschool routine, so look for that in an upcoming blog post and video on my YouTube channel .


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Our Bible Study: The Charlotte Mason Way

I love teaching in the Charlotte Mason style and respect her so much as an educator because she put a priority on the spiritual lives of the children she instructed as she herself was a follower of Christ.  She wanted parents (educators) to not just teach Bible, but lead the children to fall in love with the Word of God and that is what I want to create for my kids.

First off, we start our day off with breakfast and Bible.  We begin my going through our Scripture Memory Box.  All the elements in the box are available through Simply Charlotte Mason for free.  We downloaded the King James Version for our memory work.  As with living books, Charlotte Mason didn't want kids to have a diluted version of the Bible, nothing paraphrased or watered down.  Children can understand the Bible wholly by itself and the Word, undiluted,  is so much more interesting to them. We have since done away with our Bible "story" books and the kids enjoy navigating through the Bible on their own.

Download all the elements for this box at Simply Charlotte Mason

Since we are Christians that have been moved by the Holy Spirit to understand more fully our Hebrew Roots, we then move on to our Torah portion for the day.  It is just something that we felt moved to do as we try to make our walk with God as close to Christ's example for us.  We read through the passages posted for the week at

Finally, we move on to our Ambleside schedule for the day.  I love that Ambleside incorporates both Old and New Testament for the kids to study.  Ambleside schedules whole parables, broken down over a few days of verses.  My 5th grader will read his passages on his own and I will read aloud to our 2nd grader and Kindergartner, then we narrate together what was read.  

The following are a passages from Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling series, Home Education:
Bible Recitations-  The learning by the heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young, six or seven.  It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell why and and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit; but the learning of the parable of the Prodigal son, for example, should not be laid upon them as a burden.  the whole parable should be read to them in a way to bring its beauty and tenderness; and then, day by day, the teacher should recite a short passage, perhaps two or three verses, saying it over some three or four times until the children think they know it.  Then, but not before, let them recite the passage.  Next day the children will recite what they have already learned, and so on, until they area able to say the whole parable.  (Mason vol.1 pg 254)
Method of Bible Lessons- The method of such lessons is very simple.  Read aloud to the children a few verses covering if possible, an episode.  Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression.  Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible.  It is curious how readily they catch the rhythm of the majestic and simple Bible English.  Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism.  Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without much personal application. (Mason vol.1 pg 252)

Ambleside Online has the whole Charlotte Mason series on there site here.  It is also available for Amazon Kindle for as low as 99 cents per volume.  I really love the first volume, Home Education and that is what I keep referring to as I plan out how to tackle each subject.

Here is a video from my YouTube Channel, just talking about our Bible Study!


Friday, May 2, 2014

Living Books and Narration: Charlotte Mason Basics

What I love about Charlotte Mason's style of teaching is that she understood that children are whole persons, and we should teach them full intellectual content without watering it down or dumbing it down for them. Their libraries should be filled with great literature and all that they are exposed to should be twaddle-free.  Living Books are the best way for children to learn information.

What is a Living Book?  

A Living Book is one that is basically an what I like to call an anti-textbook.  It is written by one author who poured their time, talent, research and passion into composing a timeless piece of work.

The biggest difference I have seen in utilizing Living Books instead of textbooks is in our history selection.  These historical figures are now vivid characters in the minds of my children and they understand not only the facts that happened throughout this persons life, but also the type of person they were; compassionate, brave, arrogant, noble, whatever it is, they get the characteristics of who that person was and how our history was affected by who they were.

Living Books and Narration are used throughout different subjects in the Charlotte Mason style and that is why it is a basis for a Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Where Do I Find Living Books?

We use Ambleside Online Curriculum for our schooling so, that is where we find all our book lists for the different grades we are in.  If you go to their website, the book lists by grade are on the left column, and when we first started to dabble in Charlotte Mason style we only got books from the Free Reading list.

Simply Charlotte Mason also has a great list of living books too.  If you use their Bookfinder you can search by subject, or by grade level.

Peace Hill Press' Story of the World is one our favorite history books and the also have other supplements that would coincide with CM style teaching.

Queen Homeschool Supplies also bases their products on a CM style.

What is Narration?

Narration is simply the telling back of a reading.  That reading can be something they read on their own or something that was read aloud to them.  In any case, if a child can read or listen to a reading, understand it enough to put it into their own words, then essentially teach back what they learned from that reading, that is the most genuine test of true knowledge.  They know it enough to teach it.

With my older son who does most of his reading on his own, when he narrates and the little ones are around they too get a mini lesson on what he just learned.  They will get pre-exposed to something they will learn about later on, and I just love that.

Charlotte Mason suggests that required narration doesn't begin until the child is 6 years old, but before that if they wish to narrate by all means let them.  Developing this oral narration is the basis of creating a great writer, but before we can learn to put sentences together while writing we need to develop their oral language.

The following is an excerpt from Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling series Volume 1: Home Education:
The Art of Narrating
Children Narrate by Nature - Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education.  A creative fiat calls it forth.  'Let him narrate'; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease.  This amazing gift with wich normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education. (Mason Vol.1 pg 232) 
Here is the video from my YouTube Channel on Living Books and Narration.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Let Me Introduce Myself

Hi, my name is Ann and I am a homeschooling mom of 3 with one happy little blessing due this August.  This is our fourth year of homeschooling and for the very first time I feel like we finally got things running smoothly and I would like to share how we implement the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling and also how we use Ambleside Online Curriculum.

I currently have a 5th and 2nd grader along with a Kindergartener.  For the 5th and 2nd grader, we follow Ambleside Online Years 5 and 2.  My little one in kindergarten does reading and math on her own, but then joins us in Year 2 for the rest of the subjects.  Ambleside Online is my very favorite resource and it's all free. A bit overwhelming at first but I hope to give a step-by-step of at least what we go through.

We live in California and homeschool through a Charter School.  Homeschooling through a charter has its up sides and down.  First of all, we go through this particular charter because it allows us to have instructional funds that we spend on curriculum, supplies, and services like tutoring and music classes. We meet with our ES (educational specialist) every 15 to 20 school days. She pretty much is the liason between the school and us. She will collect attendance and learning records each meeting, writing benchmarks every quarter, samples every semester, assess the kids in the beginning of the year and once towards the end. 

My kids are still required to take the state test, but this year we did exercise our right to opt out as I am not a fan of the whole Common Core movement. Our school stated that they would have to take a written alternative which would be on campus (45 mins away from us) and 4 days out of the week. I agreed and they ended up not administering the test at all this year. Bonus!

I really just wanted to share about our experience with the Charlotte Mason method and hope to help anyone interested in Charlotte Mason because the application of her methods are pretty vague and I hope to clear up some of that confusion and to simplify the seemingly overwhelming task of putting together a curriculum using Ambleside Online.  I understand this style is not going to be for every homeschool and for every student, it just works really well with our family and I understand how overwhelming the task may seem at first, but after implementing it more fully this year it has been the most enjoyable year of homeschooling and my kids have learned so much.  It really is a gentle art of teaching and I can't wait to share more with you!

First off, these are my favorite Charlotte Mason websites:
We follow the Ambleside program almost to a tee and I have found many enriching resources from Simply Charlotte Mason.

If you would like to read more about Charlotte Mason, she did publish a 6 volume Original Homeschooling series that I got for, like, 99 cents each on Amazon Kindle.  It is not an easy read so the following are kind of her ideas condensed and written in a way that is easier to understand.
In my next post I will give a quick guide to how we implement the Charlotte Mason Method for each subject in our homeschool routine.

Here is my official vlog introduction as well! Enjoy!