10 Ways to Customize Curriculum and Cut Costs–Part 1

I shared much of this information below during my presentations at conferences during the month of April.   It occurred to me that people are always looking to save money; why not post some thoughts here?   Also, though I find myself jaded with two teens in the house, I forget how many homeschoolers are just beginning with little angels, and looking for simple options that don’t overwhelm them with textbooks.

 To cover my entire presentation content would make this post rival a Hemingway novel, so for this portion, I will cover only those ideas that might be feasible for younger children.


Notebooking is a staple in our home.   The beauty of creating these hand-written pages is that they help children to own their own learning.   Notebooking pages are an excellent way to help a child retain his learning; when children “translate” reading materials into their own “language,” they have to process information and then think about what to write.    And, notebooking can be as inexpensive as the paper that you choose to purchase.   Over the years, we’ve used everything from that “old school” computer paper with the perforations, to purchased notebook paper, to college-ruled notebook paper that eventually lands in a 3-ring binder.   The children have had different preferences as they grow older, and as long as the work is quality, I follow their interests.   Personally, I prefer purchased pages.   With boxes for diagrams and special quotes pages/ bio pages, etc., the kids are forced to think more creatively about how they capture their work.   Here are some of my favoerite sites for purchased pages, and more elaborate “how-tos” on notebooking:



Lapbooks are excellent, especially for hands that learn even more when the kinesthetic (hands-on) component is involved.   Like notebooks, a lapbook can create a lasting keepsake of a child’s work on any subject.    Also like notebooks, a lapbook can be used for just about any subject.   My only caution, based upon my experiences, is that lapbooks take significant preparation time.   The scrapbooker in me loves developing the books and putting them together, but I enter into the prep work knowing that I need to carve out a block of time.    If you choose to indulge, however, here are a couple of sites that I enjoy:
There is also a Lapbooking Yahoo loop (try lapbookinglessons@yahoo.com).   Jimmie Lanley, the Notebooking Fairy, is a tremendous resource within the homeschooling community, and her Squidoo lens on lapbooking does not disappoint.  Lynn over at Eclectic Education is also very skilled in this area.     Finally, Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books (costs about $20 at Amazon, new) is an excellent resource for creative ways to use various book folds.
One question people often ask is, what is the difference between lapbooking and notebooking, and what is the best suggestion for when to do either?    Jimmie does a good job addressing this in her post on lapbooking versus notebooking.
I will confess that I have not made good use of games; my husband tends to lead the kids in that effort.   However, I get the point.    Uno teaches number recognition and colors.   Twister also teaches colors.   You have to spell to play Scrabble; Monopoly helps kids learn the value of a dollar.   Mastering Clue requires analytical skills and critical thinking.   How much of a teacher could Milton Bradley be in your home?   Also, games can be repurposed to teach even more skill sets.
There isn’t much to say here; what is a homeschool without a field trip?    All I can suggest is that field trips don’t have to be to a designated attraction in order to be fun and educational.   Opportunities that are off the beaten path offer a dual benefit.   Because they are not the main attraction, they often are accessible for far less money, and as a rare tourist, the attention is more personalized.
How do you use the Internet in your homeschool?   Do you find it overwhelming?    Do you spend more time than you need on the wrong searches, or on “bunny trails” that take you everywhere but the place you need to go?    Two toolbars exist that take on much of the work of educational searches for you.   Karen and Tiany , respectfully, have done their homework and they’ve covered you, too.    The toolbars feature drop-down menus that contain links to educational video sites, the best of homeschool tools–you can even listen to the radio from the drop-down box!
Homeschool Resource Toolbar
Homeschool Lounge Toolbar
Before this post becomes horrendously long, I’ll stop and begin on the next post with thoughts for customizing curriculum for older students.   I’d love to hear from you, though: in what ways do you customize curriculum and cut your costs?

An Aspiring "How To" on Multiple Kids, Multiple Ages

How do you homeschool with multiple ages of children in the house?   How do you spend time with each one?   I’ve seen this question a lot in the Homeschool Lounge recently, and I thought that, since this is the time of year when several parents pull their children out of traditional schools in the attempt to salvage some of the academic year, I might share what works in our home and solicit some thoughts about what works in others’ homes.   I don’t pretend to be an expert on handling multiple ages, but my own testimony is that we’ve always had to deal with this reality in our home.  When we began, our children were 8, 5, and I’d just given birth to our youngest.  I don’t know what it is like not to homeschool children of multiple ages. 


Because of their abilities and interests, I’ve been able to teach the older two together for a number of years.    We sat as a threesome for history, science, and reading, among other subjects.   This has been a tremendous building block for a real friendship to form between them, over and beyond the familial relationship that has to exist.   Of course, they have their squabbles like typical siblings, but they also genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together.    Next year will be the first year that, because of where they are in their studies (one high schooler, one middle schooler, and one elementary schooler), I will have three separate sets of plans.  Yes, I’m already praying.


One of the best ideas I’d seen early in our journey was to establish learning corners in various areas of the house. When our youngest was a toddler, I had an area near the kitchen table, our elementary school (I say that because the older two have now moved into the dining room and the youngest considers the kitchen her domain), that was full of learning toys, games, puzzles, blocks, etc. for little hands.   That way, the toddler had something to do while I worked with the older ones, and she was still getting "schooled" while the others worked at their own pace.   I’ve seen this idea expanded upon with corners that are music-oriented (keyboards, xylophones, books on composers, etc.), science/discovery corners, art and craft corners (paint, markers, paper, etc.).   Also, another word of wisdom: when establishing learning corners, don’t forget the garage—that’s a space, too.   As a final thought here, fully stocking each “center” can take years and need not be a cause of overspending and certainly not a source of debt.


Another blessing for us that I’ve shared before is the willingness of the older kids to take a break and help the youngest with her work.   This takes a load off Mom and again, allows the kids the opportunity to bond in a different way.    I often tell the oldest that being able to teach a subject is a true test of understanding the subject.     When it’s not too much of a distraction for them, I have no problem with the kids helping one another with math, using each other as sounding boards, or reading to the youngest.    Sometimes they even work on science projects as a group, like yesterday when everybody got involved in the Skittles scavenger hunt, a lesson in animal camouflage.    In summary, we used a basket to hide Skittles among paper, much of it brightly colored like the Skittles themselves.   The kids had 2 minutes each to find as many Skittles as they could.   (Getting to eat the “prey” afterward was a great incentive!)       I take no creative credit; this was one of the first experiments in Jeannie Fulbright’s Zoology 3 text—neat stuff.

Finally, several years back, I heard something in a homeschool conference that I didn’t understand immediately, but thank God that the Holy Spirit brought it back to my remembrance as comfort and encouragement, especially this year.   As homeschooling parents, we won’t be able to focus on every kid, every year.   As a new homeschooling mom, I found myself baffled and even a bit put off at that comment, but now I see the wisdom of it.   With smaller ones like preschoolers, it won’t hurt if formal school happens later rather than sooner.   Personally, I was always amazed at how much our youngest picked up just by being near the table—Latin prayers, science experiments, and reading comprehension, to name a few accomplishments.   Look at what are your goals for each kid, who’s struggling in a given area, and who can work independently, etc. As an example, in our household, our girls, 13-1/2 and 5, need for more help this year for different reasons. Our 10-1/2-year-old son is cruising. I still check on him and spend 1-on-1 time, but I spend a lot more time with the girls.   I believe wholeheartedly in rearing kids toward self-sufficiency, and I relish every minute of them not needing me (though I still enjoy our time together—smile).


Again, I don’t pretend to be the expert on this, but I thought that it is definitely a conversation worth having, and worth sharing in order to help someone who’s struggling in this area.    If nothing else, it reminds me that I need to clean out the kitchen area learning center designed for the youngest.   God bless.