Summer Skills Maintenance

LouisasummerworkSummer time, and our kids’ brains go on vacation. At least, that is what it seems like when we start up school again in the fall!

I have always been amazed that math textbooks are written so that the time period of September through Christmas vacation is “review” to try to help the children remember all the skills they forgot over the summer! As a homeschooler, if you finish a Saxon Math book mid-year you can go immediately into the next Saxon Math book at around lesson 40 and never miss a beat because lessons 1-39 do not teach any new concepts but just review the previous math book. You can get ahead fast in math this way, if you don’t take big breaks of summer forgetfulness!

So, instead of letting those brains veg all summer, how about a daily bite-size? Just enough to keep skills sharp!

This is how my friend Kathy runs her summer homeschool. When summer begins, Kathy makes “Summer Packets”. These are just a few pages stapled together and put in a folder with the child’s name on it. Every morning her children come after chores and breakfast and get their Summer Packet. The work is fun, can be done totally independently without Mom, and takes about 20 minutes. Each packet has a short page of math review, an English page, and some project page that sends them off on a science experiment or nature collection. The children also do their daily free reading. This way the 3 R’s are covered. Kathy buys workbooks and rips the pages out to staple into her Summer Packets. When school starts again, their skills have been maintained, and she can jump right in where they left off. Summer no longer takes a big toll.

AmmonsChartAt my house, I make each child a chart that must be checked off daily. Louisa’s chart has a column for each of these ‘daily do-‘s”: Chores, Scriptures, Journal, Math (10 problems), Piano, Secret Service, and Free Reading. (She has a lot because she is older and used to this system. If you are just starting out, 3 or 4 items on their charts are enough!) I ask each child what is important to them to set as a summer goal, and we add those items too. (I make myself a chart also, and stick it right up on the wall by the kids, so they see I am working on goals every day too).

Each day, before any kind of play, the charts must be complete and checked off. This is just as much a means of keeping me, their mother, on track as it is training them to do some daily maintenance! It is amazing the difference you will see in your kids if you do a little every day!


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Feed Creativity!

Summer time—the academic pressure is off! Whew! Now some really important learning can happen: creativity! From a monetary standpoint, the value of a creative mind is priceless. Every businessman and inventor yearns for more of this precious element! It is not something that can really be taught in school, either—but you can foster creativity in your home.

Here are some ideas to feed your family’s creativity:


My son Ammon (15)

1) Be creative cooks

This is hard for me to do (because I tend to be thrifty and efficient) but it has been amazing when I “let go” and let the kids combine ingredients and spice things up the way they prefer. My only rule is you have to clean up, and eat what you make.

My son Nathan invented and named a family favorite dish, “Yummy Turkey Bolitos” when he was about 10 years old. He even made a chant/song about it, and printed and illustrated his recipe. I would have never been creative enough to try all the combinations he did! Basically, he baked potatoes and banana squash. Then he scooped out the cooked potato and squash and whipped it with a mixer, adding a little milk and lots of savory spices (salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, parsley, marjoram, oregano, etc.). Then he scooped the golden mixture back into the potatoes and topped them with cheese. They don’t contain any turkey (in spite of the name), but they are definitely yummy.

Louisa makes the most gourmet, exotic scrambled eggs. I am afraid to ask what is in them, but they are always highly seasoned and delicious. I have the inkling that she just opens up the spice cupboard and grabs whatever she sees!

As I’ve loosened up on letting my kids experiment in the kitchen, I have seen their creativity expand and their confidence grow!

costumes2) Dress up

We all express ourselves creatively every day just by choosing what we will wear. Moms can allow a lot of freedom in this department and let children experiment with many ways to dress, combining outfits from their own wardrobes. (I do reserve the right to give final approval before going to church or out in public if their outfits are too unconventional—we want to serve as modest, good examples and not be distracting or attention-getting with the way we dress!)

Besides getting dressed each day, there is dress-up play—another chance to be creative! Keep your eyes open for fancy or unique clothes, shoes, accessories and wigs from yard sales or a thrift shop. They are well worth the price in creative dress-up! We have a pair of full length metallic silver gloves in our dress-up box, and they have served to create robot-looking arms, a glamorous accessory for an evening gown, surgeon’s gloves, and much more over the years. Seems every child can think of a new use for those silver gloves!

When Ammon was just a little guy, he wore a tiger suit—complete with headpiece and tail—every single day for months on end. I learned that tigers can do their math and their chores just as well as people!


3) Paint together

You don’t have to be talented in the least to enjoy painting. It is so creative!

I buy watercolor paints (the cheap ones are okay, nice ones are even more exciting) and collect scratch paper (usually computer paper that has been printed on one side and is no longer needed) for our painting times. Set a leaves, shells, or fruit on the table to create a still life. Put on some classical music, and get your brush wet. Look out the window and paint what you see. Look at your sister and paint her eye close-up. Imagine your favorite place and paint it from memory. Do it realistically or with dashes of colors and vague forms, or with dots of paint. Use a fine brush to add details. You aren’t trying to paint a masterpiece—you are just painting for the sheer fun of it, rather like dancing. When you are all “painted out”, you may have 5 or 6 paintings each. Dry these flat, and then use masking tape or sticky tack to arrange your paintings all on your dining room wall for a temporary art gallery. It is fun to look at everyone’s paintings while you eat.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”—Albert Einstein

Have fun being creative!


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An Elective Summer

I hate to stop homeschooling for the summer. Not many of my friends feel the same way, but for me it takes so much momentum to begin again that I’d rather not stop at all. Homeschooling keeps the children in an excellent pattern of waking for scripture study, doing chores, and then getting on with their schoolwork every morning. There is still lots of time in the afternoon to swim, play with friends, and do all the summery things children look forward to.

Besides that, children lose so very much in skills over the summer. All you have to do to prove it to yourself is open a math book. Nearly 1/3 of the entire book is catch-up for what was lost over the summer vacation. I began my little Emily at age 5 in Saxon 1, the first grade book. She sailed along fine and arrived at the end of her book in February when we began Saxon Math 2.  But, I did feel it was wasting my money when nearly half of the Saxon 2 workbook (part 1) was review. We did bits and pieces of the lessons but Emily pronounced them all “too easy!” Math is not her forte so she probably represents most children. What we were faced with is the public school’s need to bring children back up to date that have done no math all summer long. Skills such as math and reading are easily lost if they are not practiced!

This summer my teenage boys are working, so I only have four children at home all day long. We decided to have an “elective” summer. Since this school year was pretty bare maintenance at my house due to pregnancy/birth of my seventh child, we didn’t do much in the way of “fun stuff”. I asked my children what they were interested in learning. Since three of the four children are girls, they chose: sewing, cooking, crafts (photo albums, art projects, stenciling, tole painting, etc.), piano and gardening. We named Monday: Sewing Day. Tuesday is Cooking Day, and so on. The children look forward to each day with great enthusiasm. I find it tricky to get anything done when I have a new baby but knowing that all I have to accomplish is this one thing makes it possible. The house isn’t staying very tidy, but we are spending some great time together learning. On our first Sewing Day, even my little 4 year old Ammon was able to cut out the pattern pieces for his shorts and sewed them up on the sewing machine with my help. I was amazed at what he was capable of doing!  The children were so excited to learn a new skill and have worn their projects proudly and often.

bagels2For Cooking Day, we are learning basic skills such as making bread, tortillas, soups, etc. We also use cooking day to mass produce meals for the freezer to free us up from having to cook dinner on evenings when we’d rather enjoy being outside. A team of children working side by side with mother’s direction can produce 10 casseroles assembly line fashion rather quickly—and it’s fun! Daddy likes to come home from work on Cooking Day because there is always something fresh baked—cookies, cinnamon rolls, or bread. We try new recipes and experiment with favorite recipes to see if we can make them healthier without ruining the taste, a tricky endeavor! Cooking gives children confidence as well as kitchen skills. The other day I was nursing the baby at lunch time and my big children were not home, so Emily (6 years) made lunch all by herself and it was good. She made her choice: vegetable sandwiches, washing and slicing all the fixings herself. Good job!

Each of my children is keeping their own photo albums and we enjoy sitting around the table gluing photos into our books and writing comments and dates by them. We decorate our pages with stickers and fancy writing. It is a fun way to keep memories alive and the children feel proud of their books. This is a good choice of project, because if you don’t get your children to keep up their books, you will find yourself swamped with unlabeled, unidentifiable photos in a few years—I know from experience!

One day was a little rocky because the baby was fussy and needed most of my time and attention, but we did manage to have some short piano lessons. Emily and Ammon learned where middle C is on the piano, and memorized a simple little tune. Julianna got a longer lesson and some songs to practice. Not exactly what Mozart would have done, but at least we are getting started on some long overdue desired topics in homeschool.

thumbnailYou can make each elective topic into a notebook, collecting information as you go along pursuing your interest. Or, use a binder with five dividers—one for each topic. Our sewing notebook contains the children’s measurements, numbers of patterns that worked well with notes of how they had to be adjusted, sale flyers, and pictures from ads of outfits to inspire future sewing projects. We also keep a large zip lock bag containing a square piece of fabric from each project that they sewed so that they will be able to piece a quilt from all their projects someday. I did this when I was a teenager and still enjoy that quilt and the memories of sewing projects, clothes I’ve made.  Over the years, our cooking notebook eventually developed into the Hopkins’ Healthy Home Cooking book that we sell! My son Nathan has collected so much information in his Spanish notebook that it is the size of a dictionary (well, almost!).

Besides these electives, I require my young children to do a math worksheet daily and practice their phonics flashcards or read to me from their readers. Julianna (12), practices typing or piano daily, as well as doing part of a math lesson. These skills have to be kept up. But these things can be easily done in 1/2 hour to an hour and then the fun can begin.

Nathan in his helicopter ( . . . in his dreams!)

Nathan in his helicopter ( . . . in his dreams!)

My teenage boys love juggling, Spanish, fixing engines, and computer animation. My girls enjoy cooking, making up dances and skits, sewing, gardening, and drawing. These are just a few of the things they are interested in learning more about and study with great motivation.

If you want to have an “elective “ summer, start a brainstorm list with your children. Then chose the five things they want to do the most, one for each day of the week. You can pick another five after a month if you want to. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Raising rabbits or chickens
Photo albums
Herb study
First aid
Spanish (or any foreign language)
Playing a musical instrument
Scouting skills
Tropical fish
Knot tying
Singing harmony parts

Have fun!



May I recommend:

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Instant Garden

It’s springtime, and to little ones planting a garden, it may seem those seeds take forever to come up! My kids occasionally poked their finger impatiently into the soil to fish out a pea seed just to make sure it was actually sprouting! We always plant radishes so they get a quick reward for their labor, but it still takes a couple of weeks.

Here’s an instant garden that kids enjoy growing! They can actually see the seeds sprouting, and it only takes a few days until you can eat them on sandwiches instead of lettuce.

Here’s what you need:

*quart jar

*clean nylon stocking

*alfalfa seeds or wheat kernels

Here’s how to grow an “Instant Garden”:

Wash out the jar. You can use a plastic mayonnaise jar or a glass canning quart bottle. Put 1/4 cup of alfalfa seeds or 1 cup wheat kernels into the jar and fill the jar halfway full of tap water. Measure about 4″ down from the toe of a nylon stocking and cut it off. Pull the nylon stocking snugly over the jar opening, securing with a rubber and or a canning lid ring. Let this set on the counter over night.

In the morning, turn the jar upside down and let the water drain out. Fill the jar again with tap water (through the nylon stocking), swirl around to rinse, and then turn the jar upside down to drain. You can rest the jar tilting in your dish drain or in a pan on your counter to make sure all the water drains out.

Morning and evening, rinse and drain your sprout garden again. Or you can do it at every mealtime, if it is easier to remember. Don’t let the jar lay on its side, or water will pool in the jar and mold your seeds. You want to give them a drink and then let them drain completely between rinsing.

Alfalfa sprouts are the most miraculous, as they are so very tiny and they sprout long and turn green and edible in a short time. Kids like the taste and they are fun to put on sandwiches. Store them in the fridge after they have reached 2″ in length to stop growth.

Wheat kernels sprout quickly (2 days) and are sweet and chewy. Eat them before they turn green. As soon as a little white spout is 1/4″-1/2″ long, they are ready. They are a great tuna fish extender.

Yummy and nutritious!

May I recommend:

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Summer Journals

There is so much more to write about in the summer!

Writing in a journal is wonderful in the summer because there is often so much more to write about! Swimming, vacations, gardening, the county fair, church picnics, camping . . . all these topics give my children plenty of writing ideas for their daily journal entries. In the summer, when other schoolwork isn’t demanding, a chance to write is a nice interlude. I like to use the quiet time after lunch, when the littlest children take their naps, as a daily journal writing time for the other children (and myself). If your children have a full and busy summer schedule, this natural break in the day is restful and refreshing.

For kindergarten students, just a sentence or two on wide (5/8”) lined paper is sufficient. If your child has difficulty forming the letters correctly, you can write his sentence in yellow marker so that he can trace over the letters in a easy-to-hold fat pencil. If he can form his letters correctly most of the time, then just print his dictated sentence on scratch paper for him to copy onto his journal page.
As children develop, they will be gradually advance to creating their own sentences without your help in letter formation or spelling. I provide a spelling dictionary so my children can look up words on their own and thus be independent in writing their own journal entries by 6 or 7 years old. A spelling dic­tionary is simply a small booklet arranged alphabetically with a short list of words most commonly used by beginning writers. There is also room for your student to add other words he uses frequently. This tool can really help a young writer become quite self-reliant. You will always need to go back and help your child correct errors to make journal writing a good learning experience, but as they grow, those errors get less and less frequent. My older children use pencil or erasable pen to write their entries. Erasable pen makes them feel grown up but still allows for mistakes to be corrected.

homeschooling-journalThe lines on the paper are important. Start a 4–5-year-old on early handwriting paper that has 5/8” high spaces and  a dotted half-line. By the time your child is 6 years old, he will be able to write on 5/8” without the dotted half-line. A 7-year-old can write on 1/2” lines. Around 8 years, your child will begin to write cursive rather than print his journal entry. By 10 years old, he can use standard 3/8” wide rule notebook paper. If you want to preserve your children’s writing for years to come, do not choose newsprint writing paper that will yellow and disintegrate before they reach adulthood.

I like to use paper that is blank on the top half of the page for my children under 10 years old, as they enjoy illustrating their writing every day. Older children can write on lined paper and insert blank pages for drawing whenever they want to. We keep our pages in 3-ring binders. I like my children to remove the page that they are writing on because they have better penmanship when they are not struggling to position their hand around the rings in the binder.

To preserve your summer journal, make the covers on cardstock, illustrating and often add their photo on the front cover. Then I take their journal to the print shop and have them bound with a comb or plastic spiral binding, which only costs a few dollars. I put a plastic sheet over the front cover before it is bound if there is a photo there. This makes a very nice book that the children love to show their grandparents when they come.

Even if you do no other schoolwork this summer, do keep those daily journal entries coming. It gives children a regular chance to express themselves, it sharpens and maintains their penmanship skills, it provides a record of their summer adventures, and it exercises their English, grammar and spelling!  A wonderful daily habit!


May I recommend:

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Keeping a Nature Journal

Writing in My Homeschool

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School in Summer?

kid-673584_1280Mothers ask me why some years, we don’t take a break when it comes to homeschooling. I wonder that myself!  I guess the answer is that homeschooling is just regular life at our house. We have done it so very long, that it is part of the routine. It is easy to keep at it and it gives order to every day. Yes, I do ease up a bit in the summer, mostly in the amount of preparation I do as a teacher. During the school year, I feel more desire to really put in some effort to prepare such things as science experiments, unit study lessons and the like. When summer heat and activities arrive, I am more flexible. Some mornings we garden or go to yard sales or do service instead of homeschool. Gardening is a very important subject in our homeschool; a basic life skill!  We get our basic homeschool subjects done every day too. The children do it as automatically as they brush their teeth and say their prayers. This has been part of our daily life since they were infants, and it just continues year round, rain or shine, summer or winter.

When colonial Americans gathered in their one room schoolhouses, they dismissed just as soon as the ground warmed up for planting. They didn’t reconvene until the harvest was stored up in their barns. That is how summer break originated. Although some public schools are on a year-round school schedule, generally Americans still take a summer break, in spite of the fact that very few of the children are helping in the planting and harvesting these days.

If homeschool is part of your routine daily life, what would be the purpose in taking a summer break? We don’t have to copy the public school schedule. In fact, there are good advantages to taking vacation time when the schools are back in session. We like to take field trips or major vacations in May and September, as the rates are low, the crowds gone and the weather is more pleasant than in the dead of summer.


One thing I have avoided by holding year-round homeschool is the much needed period of relearning that occurs after a few month’s absence of study. Take a good look at any textbook and you will find they are geared for summer loss of skills. Saxon Math books spend the first few months of lessons (presumably from school’s starting in September until December) just reteaching and reviewing what was mastered at the end of the last school year and then forgotten over the summer. I find that we can skip 1/3 of each new level’s math book just by continuing math through the summer. My son Ammon was already halfway through Saxon 2 at 5 years old! He isn’t brilliant, we are just persistent. It isn’t hard to get ahead if you go year around.

Another good reason for keeping at it all year long is that I never have to re-establish the limits and rules for my children. It keeps fighting and complaining over schoolwork to a minimum. If you know that you are going to write in your school journal every single weekday of the year, there is nothing to grumble about. Whenever I take a little vacation from school, whether it be weeks or just a few days, I find that school is rocky for awhile until the routine settles in again. It must be human nature that whatever is a fun break today is the expected norm tomorrow.

I see neighbor children that really look like they haven’t much to do on those long summer days. They try to think up things that sound fun which often turns into nonstop entertainment (swimming, videos, sleepovers, shopping, etc.) During the school year, they are so overly busy with a full day of classes, bus rides, homework, sports, music lessons, and more that they haven’t time to think. Then it comes to an abrupt halt when summer break arrives and they have trouble filling up their days. To me, summer is the best time for music lessons. There are less demands on my children’s time and they can practice more and concentrate on learning their music better.

hands-216982_1280Summer is also an ideal time to do service, which is easily lost in the shuffle of the busier school schedule of fall and winter. We enjoy cooking up extra food and taking meals to pregnant women, new mothers, or sick people in our neighborhood and ward. My children are learning to garden, cook and serve others at the same time—a great lesson! No one can argue that reading a good book is a treat on a lazy summer day. In spite of wanting to keep a year-round early bedtime, we all manage to stay up later in the summer. I like to use the longer evening daylight hours reading aloud to the whole family.

As adults, we know that a vacation is only fun for so long, and then we yearn to be back to work, doing our daily duties and accomplishing something. Sometimes adults even make a vacation into work, jamming in tours, sightseeing, doing the town, etc. in an attempt to “get something done”. I think children must feel the same way. They truly want to be about the business of learning all year long.

The Robinson Crusoe ReaderIn our family in the summer, we do a modified school day, meaning only the basic academics such as reading, journal writing, math and music practice. For children 9 years and under, I have them read aloud to me. Emily, 8, has been reading two sections every day in The Robinson Crusoe Reader (simplified) out loud to me. We have really enjoyed the fascinating story together and look forward to it. Ammon, 5, reads to me from the Beginning Steps to Reading (phonetic reader) and it is a joy to listen to him. He chooses two stories (one page each) to read to me. They are Bible stories in disguise and we like figuring out which story it is and discussing it. Julianna, 13, reads silently in a classic book of her choice, or in the Pathway readers. She just finished Black Beauty and is working on Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates now. Math consists one Saxon lesson. For the younger ones, I play math games with them or assign them to do a math facts drill for a change some days. Journal writing means a few sentences (with a lot of help) and an illustration from the youngest, and private journal writing that I don’t check for my teenagers. While the older children practice music, I practice phonics with my 5-year-old.

AmmonsChartMy younger children enjoy having a wall chart of their assignments so they can see at a glance what they have to do for school. It makes schoolwork seem more manageable and as they check off each subject, they can see just what is left. I used a piece of butcher paper and wrote each subject next to a blank box. Then I cut up index cards in squares to fit into the blank boxes. On each square, I let my child choose and place a sticker. Then we laminated the chart and the sticker squares. We use tape, velcro or sticky-tack to stick the sticker squares into the box next to the subject as it is completed. I can quickly see who is done with their schoolwork or how much each child has left to do. At the end of school, we move all the sticker squares back to the bottom of the chart.

When public school is about to begin and all the other children in the neighborhood are clamoring about who their teacher is and enjoying wearing their new school clothes, I try to make school a little more special by purchasing some new supplies such as markers, spiral notebooks and pencil boxes. New books also make school feel new and exciting. I often choose this time of year to start a new program, such as a 9 week geography course or a unit on studying the classical music composers. Changes breathe life into school and help my children feel there is something interesting going on in our home school and that they aren’t missing out on anything by not attending public school.

It can be easy to be swooped up in the public school schedule, but I truly find taking the whole summer off only sabotages my home school. Many of my neighbors that have their children in public school during the year make their children do chores, take swimming lessons, etc. in the mornings during the summer, so they are busy too, and we don’t feel antisocial. My children are done by noon and able to play with friends and participate in activities during the afternoons. We flex if there is a morning activity that my children especially want to attend. What I have discovered, though, is that my children can practically accomplish two years worth of academics during one year if they don’t stop for summer break.

Perhaps it is worth considering for your homeschool.


May I recommend:

Bean Teepee

An Elective Summer

Edible Wild Foods Cards

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