Guilt-Free Homeschooling Summer Camp: Homeschool Summer Scheduling

Summer doesn’t have to be either a full-on homeschooling schedule or a completely idle break. Summer is a great time for Mom to do a little planning ahead for the coming school year and think about what could be tweaked to make homeschooling more interesting, more efficient, and generally better for all concerned.

Kids who need some extra time to finish out their year can work through summer while still having a break by doing only half a lesson each day. Reading and math can be practiced without being tedious: read fun stuff; play games that use money or that require score-keeping (let each player keep his own score) or that have questions to be read aloud.

Summer is also useful for the student who wants to get ahead, not just for those who are trying to catch up. When my daughter was nearing her senior year of Homeschool High, she was planning to take a class at the Community College in the Fall to supplement her homeschool classes. Not knowing how much work that course would require, she spent the summer getting other classes out of the way. She read through an entire history textbook (a big, fat one), just so she wouldn’t have to deal with that class during the coming year while doing homeschool and college at the same time.

Maybe you’d like to try adding a few more supplemental activities. Maybe you’ve been intrigued by some unschooling ideas. Maybe your kids need a break from the formal curriculum. Maybe you’d like to indulge in an activity during the summer break that deserves more time than you could spare during your regular schedule. Maybe you’ve been thinking about a specific field trip that would work better in summer weather than from Fall through Spring. Maybe you or your students have a special interest that could be explored for a day or a week during summer break.

Explore some new ideas in the articles below and brainstorm the what-if’s of how your homeschool schedule might be different. Whatever your interests, remember that summer is an opportunity for learning, not a reason to stress yourselves out by doing too much.

The Value of Supplemental Activities
The Importance of Play in Education
“Stealth Learning” Through Free Play
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
A Day Without Lessons
Homeschooling the Neighborhood

Read the entire GFHS Summer Camp series:
Homeschool Mommy Summer Camp
Homeschool Summer Camp FUN!
Homeschool Summer Reading Activities
Homeschool Summer Scheduling
Encouragement Around the Campfire

Surviving the Mid-Year Slump

What is getting you down right now? The “We’re Only Halfway Through This School Year” blues? The “This Book Isn’t Working Any More” blahs? Or is it the “After-Christmas and No One Wants to Work” wall? Maybe you’ve been hit by the “Pestilence Apocalypse”? A suitable subtitle for this article might be “Stuck in the Middle with You,” since this is the time of year when homeschooling tends to take on a kids v. mom perspective. We want to turn that around to its proper alignment of us v. the books, proving to the kids that mom really is on their side in this educational endeavor.

Step One, get serious about what you want to learn. More than just getting serious, it’s time to get realistic about expectations. If your plans for the year were so incredibly lofty that your students have barely even completed the introduction to the material at the mid-year point, it’s time for some reevaluating. Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with having lofty goals, as long as you have the means to accomplish them. However, no one can run a 26-mile marathon in 4 minutes. You can make it your goal to run that full marathon or have the goal to run a mile in four minutes, but you can’t have it both ways, especially since either of those goals is still a lot of work!

When it comes to schoolwork, remember that publishers sell all-in-one products that cover a wide variety of needs, which is why teachers rarely use an entire book. (I’ll say rarely just in case there is a class out there somewhere that regularly completes every book from first chapter to last, but I haven’t seen it done yet, except by a few over-achieving homeschooling families who quickly burned out and then wondered why.) Therefore, don’t guilt yourself into thinking that just because the publisher included all those chapters in this book, that must mean that you must push your students to complete every one of them. Absolutely not! This now means that you and your students can browse through the rest of the book, deciding which chapters look the most interesting, which ones are repetitive or boring and can be skipped, and which ones might be included if you have enough time. Textbooks are the least efficient method for learning anything, since someone else had to pick and choose what would be included and what would be ignored. Biographies, autobiographies, journals, and first-hand-account histories give a much more accurate (and more interesting) portrayal of any topic, as far as books go (I like hands-on methods even better). Conquering the books puts you back in control of the lessons. Maybe you decide to skip the chapter on bugs that would have taken several days to go through, and instead you and your students spend an afternoon exploring everything you can find about bugs online. The intensity of the learning is what’s important, not the time involved. (More on this in Step Three)

Step Two, don’t let a schedule bog you down in unnecessary work. If a student gets it, let him move on. A wise mom once said, “If my kid knows how to start a sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period, why should I frustrate him by making him do 12 more lessons of starting a sentence with a capital letter and ending it with a period???” I regularly gave my kids a pep talk, reminding them that if they would take their time and get everything correct the first time, they wouldn’t have to go back over it again and again. Giving them incentive to pay closer attention made them more diligent at their work. By all means, stick with the child until he understands a concept, but once he’s definitely got it, let him move on.

Effective, daily communication requires a working knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and so on, and handling personal finances every day requires a working knowledge of basic math, so I taught those daily. Skills that will be used every day as an adult should be studied and practiced every day as a student, but Google and “Siri” can now supply quick answers for just about anything else that is not needed on a daily basis.

Step Three, get away from the books more often, which does not mean to stop learning. If your students have been learning how to multiply fractions, let them put that knowledge into practical practice by tripling their favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Make them and bake them, or freeze little balls of cookie dough for a quick-to-bake treat another day, but measuring, mixing, and tasting will prove whether or not they did their math correctly (and since it’s a yummy treat, they will be extra careful to get it right, because no one wants to eat cookies with too much salt in them!). Now pick another cookie recipe and double or triple it for more fraction practice. (Bonus tip: freeze some baked cookies in grab-and-go bags for your next field trip day!)

Watch movies related to literature or history as another pleasant diversion from the printed pages, one that can impart basic themes in a quick but memorable way. My teenaged son enjoyed reading books more if he knew what to expect from the story, so we fell into the method of watching the video first, so that he could learn the plot twists and who was connected to whom, and then he wouldn’t lose interest while reading through the book at a much slower pace. There was one day when we rented an action-adventure-movie-made-from-a-book, only to find out that Jane Eyre had accidentally been slipped into the wrong case, the one we had just brought home. He watched it anyway, so as not to lose his allotted video-watching time and ended up knowing the story of Jane Eyre, a book/movie he would never have chosen on his own.

Explore online. Watch a tutorial video. Read a website. Follow a blog. Play a podcast. Find a live webcam. Search for images. Find an out-of-print book in eBook form. Read a review. Zoom in on Google maps’ street-view. Listen to music. Download an app. In this 21st century, electronic age, it’s becoming more and more vital to expand our definition of learning to include paperless forms of information. I can learn a new skill from watching a You Tube tutorial faster than I can find a printed version of the same instruction. And I have. Learning is learning, no matter what the source — it’s not cheating, just because I didn’t learn it from an over-priced, hardback book. A very old but very worthy book that libraries no longer stock can be downloaded as an eBook faster than I can say “for free.” An elderly neighbor can tell personal stories from World War II that will never be written in books, because he was there and lived through it. A great musician no one knows can demonstrate techniques in an online video, reaching students he will never meet. Learning is learning, no matter what the source.

Play games. Board games are an under-appreciated educational resource. If the game isn’t fun, find a better way to play it: drop the score-keeping, loosen up the rules a bit, or add three extra dice to get you around the board faster. Invent your own “house rules” for certain games, such as “Jabberwocky Scrabble,” where any nonsense word is allowed as long as the player can pronounce it and make up a reasonably-acceptable (and probably hysterical) definition for it. Create  “Slumlord Monopoly” by letting each player roll the dice to determine how many properties he can pick from the deck and roll again to see how many houses he can put on them for free, before normal game play begins. Put a simple jigsaw puzzle together upside-down, placing all the pieces face-down on the table. Players will be forced to rely on the shapes of the pieces alone, improving their visual skills.

My kids quickly learned that if they could spend a break playing games together without squabbling, they got to stretch that break into a longer time period — but a frivolous argument would land them right back at the school table for structured lessons. They became very adept at figuring out the rules, solving disputes… and getting along. I called that a Win in every column: they became good problem solvers, they learned how to teach themselves, and mom got more time with fewer interruptions. The lessons still got done, sometimes more quickly because of the lessons learned while playing games: reading the instructions, critical thinking, math practice, and so on. Kids view playing games as just playing, not learning, but the savvy mom knows what lessons are being learned through the playing!

Step Four, schools and colleges create their own special-interest classes, and so can you! Use a child’s unique interest as a mini-class that cuts through the twaddle and gives him a boost in learning something he really enjoys. Maybe Penelope is begging to raise rabbits. Encourage her to do some extensive research first, to guarantee her success, then suggest she enter her future bunnies in the county fair, ensuring her diligence. Stewart wants another bookcase in his bedroom, but he never gets enough time after lessons for woodworking — so turn the project into a lesson by challenging him to design the bookcase, double-check the measurements for accuracy, visit the lumberyard to note the cost of all materials and compare them to the cost of a ready-made bookcase of similar size and quality. His completed bookcase might also make it to the fair, along with the photos of him proudly doing every step. Victoria is bored with her history book, but is intrigued by Abraham Lincoln. Let her have some time away from the traditional books to read his speeches and letters and a biography or two. Listen as she recounts every interesting tidbit, because those are much more exciting than any stuffy book report ever written.


The key to surviving the mid-year slump is to change your methods enough to put the focus back on the learning and not get bogged down in the tedium of the methods themselves. Some families may only need a one-day break from the normal routine; others may need a full week or two of refreshing change; still others may decide to scrap their former routines altogether and adopt the completely new approach as a routine-less routine. The choice is yours, and you’ll know what you want when it starts to work.

See these articles for more slump-busting ideas:

10 Ways to Ease into Homeschooling (great for getting started again after a long break, whether from holidays or illness)

Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup

Redeeming a Disaster Day 

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive 

Applying Learning Styles with Skip-Counting

“Stealth Learning” Through Free Play

Mundanes, Too-days, & Woe-is-me-days

Knowing How to Find the Answer Is the Same as Knowing the Answer 

Troublesome Students

Disrespectful Kids 

Stuck in a Homeschool Rut? 

Holiday Help

December?? Already??? Our gift to you this holiday season is to relieve you of a little more guilt. Since you already have a long to-do list of holiday preparations and a long list of want-to-try-this ideas from our activity suggestions, we will be taking a month off from posting additional Workshop Wednesdays, giving you a chance to catch up. Meanwhile, here are our tried-and-true, never-fail tips for holiday planning, along with links to some of our past articles that can help you enjoy this often stress-filled time of year.

1) Time off before Christmas is more valuable than time off after New Year’s Day. We usually stopped our homeschool lessons about 2 weeks before Christmas, just because we had so many other things we wanted to get done, things that held valuable lessons themselves. Whether cleaning the house, putting up decorations, cooking and baking, or shopping and wrapping gifts, the organizational skills passed along to my children as we worked together were excellent lessons in tackling and accomplishing big jobs. Giving ourselves plenty of time for everything made it all so much more relaxed and enjoyable! We were all more than ready to get back to our normal routine by January 2.

2) If you are running seriously short on time and energy, keep only the most important or most favorite traditions, and skip the others. You can always bring them back another year, and they will be doubly appreciated for their short absence. Take this from the family who scheduled major surgery the week before Christmas… twice: soup can be a very comforting food for Christmas dinner!

3) Spend some time relaxing together as a family during this busy season. You may all collapse on the sofa to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, or Elf on DVD, but you’ll be together, and you’ll be making treasured memories as you quote all your favorite lines in unison.

4) Expect illness to strike and plan ahead for it. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll be rewarded with some delightful bonus days! Make a double batch of something yummy for supper and freeze half to reheat later when you’re too sick or too worn out to cook, and stock up in advance on tissues, juice, and over-the-counter medicines for colds and flu. You may even want to pick up a word-puzzle book, jigsaw puzzle, or other quiet diversion for those sick days, to have it on hand just in case.

See also:
Holidays Are Unit Studies
Holiday Survival Tips for Toxic Family Gatherings
Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions
Top 10 Ways to Salvage an Interrupted Day
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup

We wish you and your families a very blessed Christmas!
— Carolyn Morrison & Jennifer Leonhard

Family Planning (No, Not That Kind)

Planning is vital — but I don’t mean planning every moment of every day, deciding what lessons you will do when or to which organized activities you will deliver your children every day. The most important thing to schedule is your time together as a family. Set aside an evening for a light supper, then watch a family movie together, with plenty of popcorn and apple slices. Plan a family game night and try your hands at Jabberwocky Scrabble (anything goes, but players must pronounce and define each “word” — be prepared for side-splitting laughs) or a similarly fun twist on any other game that’s been gathering too much dust on the shelf. Reserve an entire day for a family outing: take sandwiches, fruit, and a large jug of ice water and head for a park with a lake or nature trails or playground equipment and spend the day disconnecting from everything and everyone else. Block out a weekend on the calendar for a family get-away and then get away from your normal schedule and routine.

Do only what your budget will allow, and trust me when I say that fun doesn’t have to cost anything. We tramped through the woods, stopped to look at the wildflowers, marveled at the tiny fish or tadpoles at the lake’s edge, or dipped our fingers and toes in the chilly water. We watched the clouds for drago-saurs and ele-raffes, skipped rocks on the lakes, and let the ripples on the water mesmerize us until we had forgotten everything else. Take turns playing follow-the-leader around, over, and through all of the swings and slides, take giant steps or silly, head-bobbing, arm-flapping walks round and round the trees, and let yourselves laugh freely and enjoy the company of the people who matter most in this world. Wander through a free museum or turn a lingering trip through an antique store into a spontaneous walk through history.

Why do these things need to be scheduled? Because if you don’t schedule time for your family first, your time will be scheduled for you by other people, other groups, or by other activities, and your family’s time together will be vaporized into the mist of a busy life. Family must come first, and it doesn’t count if you are all attending a group activity but participating as individuals instead of as a family unit. If this is a foreign concept to you, dare to try a brand new activity where you and your spouse and your children interact together for the entire time. It may take a while for this new bond to develop to fullness, but there is a unique and lasting experience ahead of you, and family is well worth cultivating.

Top 10 Ways to Salvage an Interrupted Day

You had finally found your homeschooling “groove.” Lessons were zipping along, your students were working like well-oiled machines, and then it happened: something came along that broke that wonderful, systematic rhythm. You may have known it was on the calendar, but that still didn’t prevent it from upsetting your entire homeschooling apple cart. Now you feel as though your students may never regain their previous momentum.

Rather than taking an entire day off, you may be able to salvage the remaining portion of an interrupted day and manage to keep enough of the energy that the interruption is merely an insignificant blip on your radar. Here are several ways to complete “school” when the normal routine has been interrupted by doctor’s appointments, a minor family crisis, a field trip or co-op class, a funeral, or any number of other inconvenient breaks. These measures may also help you get through a bad weather day, a not-feeling-so-well day, or a we-really-overdid-it-yesterday day. (Tip: In the case of a minor family crisis that lands you and your loved ones in the local Emergency Room, try to redeem the experience as an impromptu field trip: encourage observational skills and appropriately timed Q & A sessions about what the medical professionals are doing, so that your students gain knowledge about other career fields along with the immediate medical attention. Plus, it can also help focus children’s minds away from pain, suffering, and generally frightening situations.)

1. Half-Lessons–Scheduled interruptions (such as dentist appointments or well-child check-ups with the doctor) can allow you to plan ahead for a half-day of lessons. Shorten each subject’s work load to a portion of its regular size and zip through your schedule in record time. Your students will know they have covered the usual subjects, and the results of the faster pace can spur your students into working more quickly on “normal” days, too.

2. Consumer Math–Shopping is necessary for every household, so incorporate it into your curriculum by posing price comparisons to your students. Show them how to read the labels for ingredients, size of contents, or any other vital statistics, and then help them compare brands and sizes to determine the best value for your family’s needs. Yes, this can make shopping take longer, so I do not recommend doing this with every item when you are already pressed for time or when you are restocking a nearly bare pantry.

3. Life Skills–Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, ironing shirts, following a recipe for cooking or baking, washing windows, folding the laundry, cleaning out a closet, organizing the kitchen “junk” drawer, or sweeping out the garage–all are vital skills for life that can redeem the productivity of an interrupted school day.

4. Phys-Ed–Let ’em run. Dust off the bicycles, roller blades, baseballs, or jumpropes. Everyone needs a physical break now and then, and younger children need them even more often. The physical exercise relaxes their tired muscles and gives their brains “processing” time. You may be surprised at the creative ideas that are hatched during this “down” time.

5. Snuggle Up & Read Day–Grab your favorite books and head for the sofa. Read to each other or just let each person read his own book, side by side. Snuggle up with warm blankets and thick, warm socks. I love soaking in the warmth from a sunny window when the winter weather is too cold to enjoy venturing outdoors.

6. Craft Day–There is something infinitely satisfying and therapeutic about creating things with your own hands. Whether you make silly masks with paper plates and colored markers or intricately detailed ornaments for your next Christmas tree, the time spent with your children provides an opportunity to talk together, create together, and giggle and laugh together. Check hobby stores for ready-made craft kits if you need help getting started.

7. Cooking or Baking Day–Make an extra-large batch of cookies or soup and freeze the extra for use on your next too-rushed-to-cook day. Dicing onions, celery, or carrots to freeze for future use in soups or casseroles is a time-saver as well as an opportunity to work and talk together with your children.

8. Game Day–Play your favorite board games. Combine the pieces from several games and invent a new game. Don’t keep score, but focus on the aspects of strategy and sportsmanship, instead of on winning and losing. Show lesser-skilled students how to plan ahead and think through their moves to help them strengthen their abilities for next time.

9. Nature Study–Take a walk. Sit under a tree. Watch and listen to the birds. Weed the flower bed. When the disruptions of life have intruded upon the security of your routine, regain control by surrounding yourselves with the peace and solitude of God’s handiwork. It can be even more refreshing than a nap!

10. Video Day–Watch a favorite movie. Watch a new movie. Watch an old movie. Use technology to your advantage and pause the movie at strategic moments to discuss why the characters act the way they do or discuss how the plot would have changed if a key character had chosen another option at a crucial point.

Life Happens. I repeat that often to explain what has disrupted my formerly-planned day. When Life happens to your schedule, use it to your advantage to teach valuable life lessons. And remind yourself that children sitting in orderly rows in a sterile classroom are missing out on the inevitable spontaneity that is Life.

For further encouragement on the topic of interrupted days, missed lessons, and messed-up schedules, see:
A Day Without Lessons,
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup, and
Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions

Guilt-Free Homeschooling Means Freedom

How is Guilt-Free Homeschooling different from other homeschooling philosophies? Guilt-Free Homeschooling focuses on what works for your family, not what anyone else may be doing. Guilt-Free Homeschooling is all about finding success, making homeschooling work for your family, and producing admirable students. Here are the top 10 ways that Guilt-Free Homeschooling will bring freedom, success, and encouragement to your homeschool.

  1. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to homeschool for the reasons you choose and the freedom to set your own priorities and the goals that you want your family to achieve through homeschooling.
  2. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to draw closer together as a family, supporting, encouraging, and enjoying each other.
  3. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to ignore what the “Homeschool Joneses” claim to be doing and the freedom to use the methods and materials that enable your children to learn quickly, thoroughly, and efficiently.
  4. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to start and end your school year and your vacations and breaks when you choose.
  5. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to sleep late and only do lessons after lunch, if that is what works for your family, or to rise early and get all your lessons completed before noon, if that is what works for your family.
  6. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to have a 2-hour lunch break or 5 recesses per day or 3 snack breaks or do lessons in your pajamas or read stories all day, if that is what works for your family.
  7. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to take an occasional day off from structured lessons for the enjoyment of life and family.
  8. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to leave the house during the day, because education happens everywhere and all the time.
  9. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to do only the group activities that interest your family and/or stay home from any activity day if you want or need to do so.
  10. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to take your lessons on the road and let school happen wherever you are, if that is what works for your family.

Guilt-Free Homeschooling is comfortable, it’s relaxed, it meets your needs, and it fits your family’s lifestyle. Welcome to a new way of homeschooling: Homeschooling… Guilt-Free.

10 Ways to Ease into Homeschooling

(For Your 1st Year or Any Year)

1. Do any simple craft project together. Don’t obsess about neatness: have fun. Make decorations for a “Family Friday Feast” party and kick off your new school year with a celebration.

2. Read aloud to your children, even if it’s only for one week of the summer or for a short period each day. Pick a short, simple book or use fun poetry. Be expressive! Use different voices for each character. Take turns and let the children read, too. Listen to an audio book as an alternative.

3. Take your children for a walk each day. Keep it short, if desired. Focus on everyday sights you usually overlook. Use this time to get into the routine of discussing simple things together.

4. Use the hot summer days to hide in the air conditioning and learn italic handwriting, read and write silly poetry, read a stack of books from the library (even picture books), do a jigsaw puzzle, or play every board game you own at least once.

5. Visit a museum, zoo, or other “field trip.” Follow up with a time of family discussion about each person’s favorite points and new discoveries.

6. Hold a “Cooking Marathon Day” to make some basic meal components ahead and freeze them for use on busy homeschool days. Make a huge batch of cookies and freeze them in small packages for quick treats in the car on field trip days.

7. Hold a “Game Day” and let each child select a favorite game, and everyone plays together, rotating through the selections. Relax, laugh and get silly, and enjoy each other’s company.

8. Hold a “Family Conference” to discuss what each member expects from homeschooling. Let each express his hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. This time of open sharing will reveal some new things you had not thought of trying and some other things you may want to avoid. (I had not realized how traumatizing a teacher’s red pencil had become to my formerly public schooled child until she shared, so I then began marking her papers with other, happier colors.)

9. Back-to-school shopping–even homeschoolers enjoy a few new items. Find some new containers for homeschool storage, art materials, or just some fun pencils and notebooks. Purchase a special reference book, wall map, or other useful learning aid for the whole family. If your students have left public or private school to begin homeschooling, allow them to choose some things that were not allowed for use in their last classroom (Trapper binders, mechanical pencils, colored-ink pens).

10. Begin classes with only one subject per day for each student. After a week, add a second subject; week three, add two more subjects. Continue until you are up to your full schedule.