Including Teens: Planning for Their School Year

Including Teens in Planning

If you know me, then you understand how much I  love researching, planning, and organizing – especially in regards to school.  For me, it is more than just a requirement for preparing for another homeschool year.  I actually find it enjoyable! 

As our children have grown, I’ve begun to include them in some of the curriculum selection process.  No, they don’t seem to enjoy it as much as I do.  However, especially as they enter the teenage years, I think it is important for them to be able to have a say in what they will be learning as well as in how they will be learning.

What does this look like?

Starting in middle school, I’ll give them a few options for subjects like history and science as well as seek to somehow include something they are really interested in learning more about. 

For our 6th grade son this year, that involves lots of science – including learning about inventions, reading biographies of famous scientists, and making a science timeline for his history.  It also means making sure he has time during his school day to continue learning how to code with Khan academy.  He is beyond excited for these changes and additions this coming year! 

Our 8th grade daughter loves music.   After looking at curricula, we encouraged her to use her history time this coming school year to study classical composers through biographies and learn about the orchestra and each type of musical instrument.  She also has space in her day to continue practicing her cello and piano, as well as music appreciation.  This is a perfect fit for her this coming year and she is very much looking forward to these aspects in her daily school routine.

For high school students,  it is even more important for them to have a part in the decision making process for each of their subjects.  I explain the graduation requirements, suggest several options, show them online samples, and encourage them to read descriptions in the numerous homeschool catalogs that grace our mailbox. Then, we allow them to attend a homeschool conference with us and to share in the vendor hall experience.  We then talk about the possible positives and negatives of each curricula that they or I are interested in.  In the end, my husband and I are the ones with the final say, but our teens and preteens know that they have had a part in the decision.

It is so encouraging to see the different personalities, passions, and interests that God is developing in each of our children.  By allowing our teens and preteens to participate in  making decisions about THEIR education, we can more easily purchase and plan for curriculum that is tailored to their interests.  This, in turn, causes them to approach their schoolwork with a greater sense of ownership, determination, and satisfaction. 

All of this equals a greater joy in learning!

A Summer Reading Adventure

Summer Reading Adventure

I recently pulled a gem of a book out of our book baskets as I was cleaning out our school room.  My Father’s Dragon is a story I remember our oldest two daughters thoroughly enjoying, but, I had somehow failed to ever share it with our younger kids. After they looked at the cover and quickly glanced through the book, their eyes lit up!  I knew we would have to embark on a summer reading adventure (AKA a boredom buster during the dog days of summer).  Won’t you tag along on our adventure?

My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 1

Print out a map of both islands from the inside cover and an image of Elmer.  Move Elmer as you read and follow him on his adventures!


My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 2

After reading the chapter, grab a paper sack and send the kids on a hunt around the house for items similar to those that Elmer packed for his journey. (We added a stick of gum, lollipop, rubber band, compass, toothbrush and toothpaste, magnifying glass, pocketknife, comb, brush, hair ribbon, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and an apple.)  In each chapter, as Elmer encounters a problem, see if kids can predict which item from his knapsack he will use to form a solution!


My Father’s Dragon: Chapters 3 – 4

Let everyone peel and eat a tangerine (or clementine) as you read these chapters!  Then, let your children try jumping on the ‘rocks’ (paper plates, paper, napkins. etc) to cross from one side of the yard to the other.  Also, have fun figuring out what the mouse is trying to say using this sheet from Glimmersnaps… My Father’s Dragon Mixed Up Talk Sheet .

Rock Hopping

My Father’s Dragon: Chapters 5

After reading the chapter, learn more about gum or read a fun story involving gum such as Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by McCarthy or Lester Fizz: Bubble Gum Artist by Ruth Spiro.  Then, encourage your children to make large tiger faces however they desire.  Once their tigers are complete, cut a small round hole where the tiger’s mouth is.  Let the children insert a balloon.  And, there you have it, a tiger chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles!


My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 6

The fun activity accompanying this chapter comes from Frugal Fun with Boys.  Ahead of time, hard boil an egg for each child and then set it in a bowl filled with dark colored soda for an hour or more.  This will discolor the shells.  After reading, let the children use an old toothbrush and the toothpaste to scrub the egg (reenacting the cleaning of the rhino’s horn).Eggs1Eggs2

My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 7

Want to recreate the lion’s messy mane and then pretty it up?  Have your kids paint a small paper plate to resemble a lion’s face.  Then, they can hole punch all along the outer edge and attach strings of brown and yellow yarn.  Finally, they can braid the strands and attach colorful ribbons.

      LionsMane1  LionsMane2

My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 8

Using a magnifying glass, have your children go outside to explore!  Encourage them to look under rocks, on a tree, in the grass, etc.  What did they discover when they looked more closely at nature?  Have them draw one or two things they found.


My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 9

You just can’t read this chapter without letting your kids enjoy a pink lollipop!  After reading, encourage your kids to pretend to be Elmer and design/create a bridge any way they wish.

PinkLollipopsBridgeConstruction2Building the Island

My Father’s Dragon: Chapter 10

Elmer finally meets and rescues the baby dragon!  Celebrate by making and eating blue and yellow stripped cupcakes.  Then, refer to the description of the dragon back in chapter 2 to draw or craft the dragon!

CupcakeMakingBlue&Yellow Cupcakes    Dragon2Tracing   Dragon2Pieces
(printable pieces to trace and cut out onto your own stripped paper)Dragon2DragonPuppet

Our younger kids looked forward to reading My Father’s Dragon and doing the above activities each day.  You could easily make this adventure even more educational by creating a lapbook and/or adding Vocabulary and Discussion Questions for each chapter as well.

And, now we are off to continue our summer reading adventure, learning about Elmer and the dragon, as we read through the next two books in this series…Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland!

Being Intentional

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At the end of a challenging homeschool day, my husband is the first to remind me of our vision for our children’s learning at home…

  • a love for God
  • a love for His Word
  • a love for others
  • and a love for learning
How can I keep that in my thoughts?  How do I keep that focus? 

As a homeschool mom, I see two clear strategies that can assist me in staying focused on our goals.

1) Being intentional in spending time with Jesus…

The first way, and probably most obvious, is to personally stay close to the Good Shepherd.  I need to make sure I am making time to meet with the Lord a priority.  Am I reading my Bible each day and meditating on what He says through His Word? Am I taking time to pray and listen from my Savior?  Am I leaning on Christ and letting Him direct my thinking, words, activities, and day to day?  If I neglect this most important relationship, my vision begins to wane and I can gradually lose the focus of ‘love for God, love for His Word, love for others, and love for learning’ – turning it completely to academics and the stress of trying to do more and more, and entirely missing the heart.   How do I know this?  Well, sadly, it is because it has happened frequently to me along this homeschool journey.  I need a constant reminder to sit quietly and rest, to lean on the One who has called me to this journey, and to abide in His Word.

2) Being intentional in sharing Christ, His Word, and biblical truths with our children…

A second way to attempt to stay focused is to incorporate more of God’s Word and learning through using the Bible during our school days.  When choosing curriculum, I try to look for (or create) resources that are founded on and transmit a biblical worldview.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates,  so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
~Deuteronomy 11:18-21

It’s about being intentional in what we choose to use and do
during these short years we have been given with each of our children.

Some academic areas are easier than others to find materials that meet that criteria.  For example, we have discovered numerous science and history curricula that integrate the Bible and subject matter quite well.  Other areas, however, seem to be lacking and seem much more difficult to integrate.

Can aspects of language arts be taught using the Bible?  Yes!  One example is teaching spelling skills, handwriting, capitalization, spacing, and punctuation using verses of Scripture.  Joyful Heart Spelling Skills uses this method and was developed from a desire to incorporate God’s Word with the learning of spelling skills for early elementary students.  Joyful Heart Spelling Skills focuses on 73 spelling rules, starting with three letter CVC words and gradually builds and progresses with more difficult skills.  Each spelling skill is practiced during the duration of the skill focus through use of copywork, dictation, word sorting, building words, color writing, and a variety of hands on suggestions for forming words using a different medium or practicing the skill in a more hands on way.

Teaching spelling in this manner allows us to gain one more time during the day in which we can intentionally set His Word before our eyes, write it, think about it, and talk about it – enabling us to learn both academically and spiritually.


Want More Information about Joyful Heart Spelling Skills?

Spelling – Bible Copywork and Dictation
Spelling – A Rules Based Approach
Spelling – Build It
Spelling – Write It a Different Way
Spelling – Making it Varied
Spelling – When to Start

To succeed in keeping our focus and vision before us involves being intentional.  Staying close to Christ and in His Word as well as utilizing resources with a biblical emphasis can help us stay the course – instilling a love for God, a love for His Word, a love for others, and a love for learning.

Closing Out Our School Year

At the end of another school year, our kids’ course loads may be slowing down, but my mind is racing with things I need to do for closing out the year.

Closing Out Our Homeschool Year (1)

What’s on my End of the Year ‘To Do’ List?

1) Year End Celebration

Although some may say that I tend to go a wee bit overboard on our first day of school festivities, I prefer a much simpler end of school celebration.  It may be playing in the sprinkler and squirting water guns at each other followed by popsicles or taking everyone out for ice cream and making sure to take time to make a summer bucket list.  Of course, many years, we have also just let the last day quietly slip past and delve straight into summer.

Squirt Gun Fight
Want some fun ideas for commemorating your school year?

2) Required Record Keeping

Each state has different requirements for homeschooling and recordkeeping.  For the end of the year, our state requires us to file student attendance and a final grade or academic progress report.  So, I will be figuring our student’s final grades and registering those online with our accountability group. I also have a paper report card for each child that I save with their portfolio. (See my 3rd ‘to do’, below.)

Homeschool Report Card

Free Printable Homeschool Progress Report

3) Filing Away Student Work

I have a vinyl expanding document file organizer for each child in which I store their first day Growing in Grace Sheets and first day notes, completed compositions, subject area tests, artwork (if it fits), any awards, standardized test scores, their progress report, etc. that I have collected over the course of the school year.  Once all individual coursework is finished, I also gather their completed Daily Progress Sheets, science notebooks, and completed AWANA books.  I also print out a list of curriculum each child used to study content in each subject area. 

After all of these materials are gathered, my task becomes to organize it in manila file folders, label each file, and place them in a bankers box – one box per family per school year. (Some years, the materials have fit a bit more snugly than others!)  I label the outside of the box with the school year and all the kids’ names and grade levels.

Inside the front of each year’s box, I also store a file full of curriculum receipts and expenses procured for anything school related.

Then, I just store these portfolio boxes away in a closet.

Yearly File Box

4) Cleaning and Reshelving

Now, if I wasn’t so obsessed with needing things to be clean and organized, my end of the school year ‘To Do’ list could almost be complete.  =)  However, my kids know that they are not completely done with their school year until their desks and workboxes have been purged and cleaned.  This step is purely for my sanity…and they do it (most with a willing spirit) because they love me. 

While they are cleaning their desk areas, I am reshelving the past year’s curriculum into our school closet (um, and probably reorganizing that closet while I’m in there).

It helps tremendously to have this step finalized before the influx of new curriculum materials arrive!

5) Document Memories

After putting away the old year’s work and materials, everyone starts to breath a little easier and the kids can begin to thoroughly enjoy their summer break.  For me, I have one more important task to accomplish.  I take time to download and organize all of our photos of family learning for the school year.  I then spend a couple hours each day for about a week devoted to reminiscing and creating our homeschool yearbook.  There is so much value in recording and documenting memories from the school year!
Yearbook 4

6) Rest, Reflect, and Pray

Resting.  That can look different for each person.  Some may enjoy just curling up with a good book, swimming, sleeping in, walking, etc.  Me, I simply enjoy having more unscheduled, unhurried time, a time to just ‘be’ with my kids, as well as an opportunity to do a few projects that have been neglected during the course of the school year.

 Reflecting.  Although we do make adjustments as needed throughout the school year, I try to take time to meet one on one with each child at some point shortly after the end of the year to get their final take on their learning experiences from the past school year…

  • What did they think was the most memorable activity from this past school year?
  • Which subject or materials did they enjoy the most / least?
  • What do they think worked well for them? Why?
  • What areas may have felt challenging for them?  Do they have any ideas for how we can make it better?
  • Do they have any interests that they may want to pursue more in the new year?
  • Are there any extra-curricular commitments that they have been faithful to complete that they no longer desire to be a part of?
  • And a final question to reflect on with my husband… Do they have a love for learning and a love for God and His Word? (This one can be answered by reflecting on observations you made during duration of the school year.)


Praying.  This never really stops, does it?  But, it seems that my most focused time of praying for our homeschool is towards the end of one year and before the start of the next.  There are so many decisions to be made and the weight of choosing wisely and providing well for the academic, spiritual, social, and emotional needs of each our children, in my human frailty, can feel quite overwhelming.  I need Christ’s strength, His wisdom, His direction, and the encouragement from His Spirit and His Word to find true peace and rest in Him.

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
~Proverbs 2:6

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
~Romans 15:4

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
~Romans 15:4

7) Start to Formulate a Plan for the New Year

Yes, wrapped up into the process of closing out one school year is the planning for a new one!  As I come across curriculum that I think I want to use with our kids, either for the new school year or at some point in the future, I mark it down, in pencil, so that I don’t forget it.  I like to try to make a curriculum map of sorts for each child (especially as children approach the middle school and high school years).  But, since it is all written in pencil, I can easily change it to reflect our children’s new goals or interests.  The map just helps me to get a big picture overview of our homeschool years and assists me in getting my thoughts organized in one handy spot.

Curriculum Mapping

Free Printable Curriculum Mapping Sheets

Well, that about rounds out my end of year ‘to do’ list.  Now, maybe I can focus on the last few days of school!

Homeschool Yearbooks

Homeschool Yearbooks

IMG_8025In high school, I had the opportunity to work as part of our yearbook staff.  It was before everything went digital.  So, I gained experience taking and developing photos, using gridded paper to design layouts measured in picas and using the rule of thirds, as well as writing copy and captions.  I absolutely loved it!

Quite a few years later, with the birth of our first child, I was able to step back into that realm somewhat with the creating of a first year album and family scrapbooks.  Again, though, it was pre-digital and everything was done on scrapbook pages, utilizing real photos that needed cropped with tools, choosing paper backgrounds, borders, and other embellishments such as buttons and stickers to dress up each page, as well as adding sticker letter headlines and handwritten captions.

Jump forward to starting preschool at home and adding more sweet blessings … My time for having free nights and weekend scrapbooking parties with other mom friends became less and less and the albums came to a screeching halt as my responsibilities increased.  There was just no time available to keep creating albums for our family.

Well, now, all of my photos are digital and are taking up space on my phone and computer.  Rarely do the pictures get printed in order to be displayed in our home and they never get printed to form a memorable scrapbook.  It..just..takes..too..much..time!

But, the photos have not stopped.   I am still constantly taking pictures of our kids. 

And, having a scrapbook or photo album for our family to refer to is still very beneficial!


We now create digital homeschool yearbooks!

Yearbook 4

One of the last things I do as our family wraps up an end of a school year is to make a homeschool yearbook.


  • shared memories

    As a homeschool family, we spend a LOT of time together – singing, reading, playing, and  learning. So much growing and changing is going on each year!   It is important to have a way to help remember these days.  Our kids look at the different homeschool yearbooks made over the years and rehash what they did, where they were, and what they learned.  The shared memories always bring smiles and laughter!

  • a record of the past

    I admit it.  I’m forgetful.  I need a place to remind me of the important events and activities in our busy family’s life.  We record holidays, birthdays, the first day of school, our 100th day celebration, any field trips, co-op experiences, photos of artwork, etc.  We also make sure to capture the everyday learning that is taking place.

  • a sense of accomplishment

    We all know that homeschooling is hard.  We never feel like we are doing enough, being enough, providing enough for our children.  And, we tend to question ourselves (at least I do sometimes) as to whether it is really all worth the time and effort as our days blur together throughout the course of the year. Somehow, seeing the pictures of our children at the end of a long, challenging school year, can be just the thing I need to re-spark the joy of schooling at home as I can visually see the web of learning that was taking place.  It provides a much needed sense of accomplishment – for myself and our kids!

An online photo book editor makes the process of creating a homeschool yearbook so much easier than previous years of doing a book all by hand!  We have been using Shutterfly, but there are other online options available.


You first choose the size of album you desire and select an overall style or theme.  Next, you upload photos.  They can either be preplaced randomly or, if you are like me, you can organize them by page.  Then, the fun begins!  You can choose background patterns and colors, customize your layout, resize and crop images, and insert graphics and text for each spread!  Tinker and polish to your heart’s delight (and perhaps shed a happy tear or two as you see how much your kids are growing). Once you think you are done, you’ll want to carefully edit your text and picture placement.  Then, hit ‘add to cart’ and check out.  (Tip: Always make sure to look for coupon codes and specials before ordering.  They run deals frequently.  So there is no need to pay full price – unless you are in a hurry.) 

We have found the most difficult part is waiting a few days for our package to arrive in the mail! 

Yearbook 1

But, oh, when it does arrive, watch your kids’ faces light up with excitement!IMG_8020

I love observing them pour over the new book each year and watching them bring out all of the others… saying, “I remember when we did that!”, asking questions, and talking about events.

IMG_8027IMG_8026Yearbook 2

It’s a wonderful way to celebrate a year of homeschool learning!

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