making math meaningful for teens

Making Math Meaningful for Teens: Practical Homeschool Advice

Spending time with teens to make math relevant to them now can help them build strong math competencies to achieve success later. So how can parents engage their teens in math-focused activities that both can enjoy? Here are tips to help you capture your teen’s interest and make math meaningful in many ways, through encouragement, entertainment and empowerment.


10 Tips to Get Kids Outside and Active

Summer is here and it’s a great time for families with children to spend time outdoors and together.  The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization providing mental health and special education services to children ages 5-14 in the greater Washington, DC area, offers tips to help families.


6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Feeding Your Kids “Kid Food”

“Most food is kid-friendly. Kids just need to learn how to eat it,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Kids who are taught healthy eating habits, which include eating a variety of healthy foods, will be far better off now and in the long run. They will be learning healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”


Activities to Encourage Creativeness in Children

It is true that all children have the potential to be creative in his or her own aspect. However, this particular potential that they come with may get stifled if their creativity is not properly nurtured and stimulated.There are several activities for kids which will help to develop a sense of creativity in your children.

Click on the link to reach more.

the 4 components of really good writing

The Four Components of Really Good Writing

This is a guest post by Jennifer Courtney.

the 4 components of really good writing

Is our entire civilization in danger because of our impoverished language? Is text speak a sign that we are losing the ability to construct and communicate complex ideas through written language? In a philosophy class, I led a group of high school students to come up with a thorough definition of man (as in mankind). After thinking, discussing, reading, wrestling with ideas, and refining, we came up with something like this: “Man is a rational being made up of mind, body, and soul which uses language to communicate.” Communicating our ideas through written and spoken language is one of the important differences between man and the animals. (For fun sometime, ask a committed Darwinist about the evolution of language.)

If language is a distinctive characteristic of humans, then should we not be concerned about preserving it? My teenage son often mocks me because I continue to use complete sentences, full spelling, and accurate punctuation in my overly long text messages. I continue to claim that effective communication is a hallmark of civilization and that the reduction to three-letter mystical abbreviations is a sign of its demise.

Add to these changes the fact that social media has sharply reduced the length of our communications, which makes it impossible to communicate complex ideas through these media. I constantly have to revise my Facebook statuses because I have used too many characters. This summer, my colleagues and I were joking about our attempt to Tweet quotes from David Hicks (author of Norms & Nobility) and Tracy Lee Simmons (author of Climbing Parnassus). Like Saint Paul, it takes both of these authors an entire page to communicate a single complex thought. There is just no way to break it up into a sound-byte for Twitter.

I recently read that students have been using PowerPoint presentations to deliver book reports. The principal was impressed with the graphic presentations designed by these eighth-grade students until a school media specialist pointed out that the “book reports” contained an average of seventy-seven words. It is difficult to conceive how the students could have thought much about the characters in the novels or the lessons that the characters learned, much less about how to apply those lessons to their own lives.

My own education was influenced by what we would now consider to be a primitive technology. During my junior and senior years in high school, my school (the largest public high school in my state) installed a state-of-the-art writing lab. At least once a week, English students paraded into the lab. We typed our papers into the computers and received back printouts on tractor-feed paper. The printouts gave us four different critiques to use in writing our final essays. Looking back, I am amused that we did not simply save the money, stay in the classroom, and exchange papers with one another for feedback.

So, how can we reclaim the dying art of good writing? I believe there area few simple skills that we can recover from previous generations to train our children to communicate complex ideas well to those around them. First, our students need to read voraciously. Reading quality literature builds vocabulary,trains the brain to recognize, and later to write, complex sentences, and provides a storehouse of experiences and ideas about which to write. Second, our students must learn grammar. It is difficult for them to write a complex sentence if they do not know what a complex sentence is. Third, we must train them to think carefully about issues and ideas. Finally, they can wrestle these ideas onto paper often.

This summer, I joined a group of my colleagues at Leigh Bortins’ home for a writing week. Prior to the meeting, we each selected a topic and did a bit of research. We then spent the week together divided into quiet times of reading, reflecting, and writing, interspersed with discussion and editing. Across the course of the week, we all remembered a lot about the craft of writing. One of the most important things we recalled was that there are four relatively distinct stages that must be completed by writers of all ages.

The first is that there must be an input of knowledge. Because we planned the week about six months in advance, each of us had read several books about our topic before we convened. Each participant had taken careful notes on the topics so that we had compiled a large file of ideas before coming together. For any writer, this is an important step.

Our students input ideas by reading and by memorizing. They need a ready storehouse of quality information. According to Greek mythology, writers, poets, and musicians were inspired by the muses. Interestingly, the mother of the muses was memory.

Our children need a rich storehouse of facts, poems, and stories to draw upon when they write. I was delighted the other day when one of my students compared Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to the movie Valkyrie in which German officers attempted to assassinate Hitler. His understanding of both has been enriched, and he can communicate the complex comparison of these two historical events to others in his next essay.

After gaining ideas, it is important to refine them through group discussion. Each morning during our writer’s retreat, we gathered to discuss our topics. We added the knowledge from our research to the new ideas from our discussions and began to truly understand the ideas about which we were writing. I have taught a Shakespeare course for three years, and every time I teach the course I learn something new about his plays because I have the chance to discuss them with a new group of students. Have your children read great literature and discuss it around the dinner table with the whole family. Form a book club and have them discuss great books together with friends. Teens particularly enjoy the time with good food, good friends, and good conversation.

After students have had a chance to read great books and refine their ideas through discussion, it is time to communicate their ideas through writing, a process that requires some struggle and a lot of discipline. I have had a lot of time to think about study skills lately as I have been taking Henle Latin Second Year alongside some very bright high school students. The primary lesson for me has been that thinking clearly and expressing oneself well require hard work. This is just as true in Algebra as it is in Chemistry or Latin or writing.

During our writing retreat this summer, the research and discussion steps were easy and pleasurable. The hard work began as we each sat down to write. After we spent two days working almost all day on our drafts, we exchanged them with one another. Then, we incorporated one another’s suggestions into our final drafts. Students should practice the art of composing a good sentence, then crafting a quality paragraph, and finally of designing a full-blown essay or research paper.

It is hard work to effectively communicate complex ideas to a reader, but it is a most important discipline if we seek to turn others toward wisdom and toward an appreciation of what is true and good and beautiful. We must know the Truth,learn to articulate Truth well, and present it in a way that is irresistibly compelling to others.

Jennifer Courtney and her husband have been homeschooling classically since 2003. She currently serves as the Director of Training and Development for Classical Conversations. She is the co-author of the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards series and of the book Classical, Christian Education Made Approachable. Jennifer writes for the Classical Conversations Writer’s Circle as well as a variety of homeschool and other education websites and magazines. She and her husband Tim live in Oklahoma, where they home educate their four children.


  1. This research was cited in Trelease, Jim. TheRead-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition, New York:Penguin Books, 2006, p. 154.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

get scholarship ivy league schools

How to Get Scholarships to Ivy League Schools

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Hartley.

get scholarship ivy league schools

College tuition has increased almost 500% over the last twenty years, causing many families to conclude that a college degree is out of reach. While the sticker shock can be intimidating at first, there are many ways to approach the process strategically and intentionally so that the student ends up with options that are optimal and affordable. The first step in knowing how to tackle college funding is to understand the various “buckets” of money available to students: the Need Bucket and Merit Bucket. Colleges usually have funds available in each of these categories and can pull from one or both when putting together a student’s aid package. Knowing which colleges offer the most generous aid and which bucket they favor is critical when choosing the colleges to pursue for admission.

Prevailing thought among most families is that state schools will be more affordable than private schools because the state schools claim lower tuition than private schools, which may have a sticker price that is twice as high. However, in many instances families will find that their out-of-pocket costs are far less at the private schools, once all merit and need-based aid is factored in. When consulting with a student and his/her parents, I advise that the student start by applying to one or two state schools, just to cover the bases in case no merit or need-based funds are offered. After that, I encourage them to apply to private schools for which they may be eligible for merit scholarships or generous need-based funds. Ultimately, most students end up applying to five to ten schools.

TheMerit Bucket represents funds that come out of the university’s own pockets (endowment) and that are used to recruit students of great academic merit, as determined by exceptional SAT or ACT scores, high class rank or GPA, or exceptional community service or talents in music or the arts. Merit funds are truly based on the student’s merits, not typically factoring in financial need. These scholarships are used as incentives to recruit top students to enroll.

Students can position themselves for these merit scholarships by building a resume throughout high school that shows their passion and commitment to their chosen subjects and interests, community service projects, clubs, arts, etc. Colleges especially favor students who have also demonstrated leadership in their chosen areas of interest. Athletic scholarships are also a form of merit scholarships, but since the process of securing an athletic scholarship is an entirely different process than all other merit scholarships, they are not included as part of this discussion.

Overall, academic merit scholarships are typically offered to students who exceed the average freshman profile with respect to SAT/ACT scores and grade point averages for a given school. Private colleges and universities typically have more generous programs for allocating academic merit scholarships than state schools do. Unlike most state schools, private schools often conduct formal scholarship competitions on campus for students to vie for scholarships, ranging from small merit awards up to full rides that cover tuition, room and board, books, fees, study abroad, and even a laptop. While state colleges and universities certainly have some merit scholarship funds available to offer, those funds are doled out at the discretion of the admissions staff or administration, without an on-campus competition and interviews. Due to the overwhelming number of applicants, a comprehensive merit scholarship competition on campus would be impractical and a logistical nightmare for a large state school.

Even though the methods by which the merit awards are given out can differ between the state schools and private schools, their motives remain the same: to bring in outstanding students. By recruiting above average students, colleges will see increases in their typical freshman profile.

The Need Bucket represents a collection of funds available to students based on the family income and assets. Need-based aid includes federal grants of free money, student loans from federal or private sources, on-campus employment, and even grant money provided out of the school’s own private endowment. Need-based aid is less under the control of the student and has more to do with the family’s income and tax information. Families can maximize how much money they get from this bucket by filing FAFSA promptly each year (as soon after January 1 as possible) at and by candidly sharing any extra financial concerns with the financial aid office of their college. Often, when colleges know more about extenuating family circumstances, they will do more to help.

Very competitive schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. do not typically offer merit scholarships because they believe all of their students are so exceptional that all students would deserve merit scholarships. Those Ivy League schools do not need to use scholarship money to recruit the best and brightest students since they already get those applicants. Instead, the top-ranked schools favor giving exceptionally generous financial aid based solely on financial need. Families who do not qualify for federal grants based on need may still find themselves recipients of generous need-based aid from the selective private schools. For example, a family with an annual income of $60,000 per year may find that they do not qualify for any need-based grants from the government or state school. However, if that same student were admitted to Princeton, he/she would immediately qualify for a Princeton grant that covers full tuition and room and board. Even families with incomes of $120,000 automatically receive school grants to full tuition and 18% of room and board.

It is not just the Ivies that offer such generous need-based aid.Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Duke and Davidson are just a few schools that also generously cover a family’s need. For example, Davidson College, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, is a top-ranked school that has committed to making attendance affordable to all students. Once a student is admitted, the family files the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The government uses that application to generate a Student Aid Report (SAR). That report shows a figure called the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a dollar amount that the government says the family could afford to spend to educate that student. While Davidson’s total cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, etc.) is about $50,000 per year, Davidson charges a family only the amount of their EFC and covers all remaining funds through a grant from the Davidson Trust. No loans are ever included in a student’s aid package. As a result, a student who may go into heavy debt to pay $20,000 to attend a state school could find himself paying little to nothing to graduate debt-free from a selective private school that has a much higher sticker price.

Many of my former clients, who would have gone into substantial debt to attend a local state school, are attending schools such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, Duke, and Davidson for free or for very little cost. The trick to this strategy is simply positioning to be a good candidate for admission. Once admitted, the funding process is typically straightforward. To position for admissions, students must seek out ways to set themselves apart academically and in other areas such as leadership, the arts, community service, and pursuit of their passions. Many of these schools offer admission to less than 10% of their applicants each year, so it is wise for Ivy-hopefuls to cast their net wide by applying to many schools, remembering to have a safety school or two in the mix.

Since my own daughter was a senior this past school year, I am often questioned regarding how her college process went.I welcome the question, because her case exemplifies the points detailed in this article. Even though she was not the valedictorian or a gifted athlete, she excelled in her passion of writing, became editor of the newspaper and literary magazine, earned numerous national writing awards, and learned to master the SAT early on. As a result, she ended up with four full-ride offers to nationally ranked private universities, totaling over $700,000. Of all of her options, we would have ended up paying far more to send her to Clemson University (her state school option), even with about $10,000/year scholarship funds, than we would have spent to send her to her other top choices. Once again, the $50,000/year private schools ended up being far more affordable than the state school, costing half as much.

So, the final message is that families must understand that financial aid can be based on financial need, academic merit,or exceptional talent in the arts or athletics. Families need to bear in mind that they may qualify for need-based aid from the most expensive private schools even though they do not qualify for need-based aid by government standards. Once the financial aid office makes an offer to the family, which includes all need-based and merit-based offers, a family can respond to the financial aid office with additional information that may be factored in to lessen their out-of-pocket expenses. Since there are so many factors at play with respect to the final amount a family will pay for college, it is wise to strategically pursue a variety of options, including state and private institutions, and to make a commitment only after all of the offers are on the table. With hard work and well-informed strategies, students can still get an outstanding education at an affordable price.

Elizabeth Hartley, owner of Scholarship Gold Consulting, funded her entire undergraduate and graduate school education through full merit scholarships and now judges for many privately awarded scholarships in the Southeast.She works with private clients, homeschool associations, foundations, and numerous schools to help students maximize their options for college admissions and funding. To receive her free monthly E-Newsletter or to request that she teach a workshop series in your area, visit

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

homeschool and toddlers

3 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Homeschooling With Toddlers


homeschool and toddlers

Let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

Do you get nervous when it gets really quiet around your house? Do you have to put markers, glue, and other creative art supplies up on a high shelf? Do step stools located in unusual places around the house make you cringe? If you have answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you must have a toddler living in your home. Toddlers are a joy, there is no doubt about that, but they can also create havoc if left alone with nothing productive to do for too long . . . Parenting young children is not exactly easy. Any mother or father can tell you this!

It requires a good deal of consistency, steadfastness, and compassion on the part of the parent. When said parent is also a homeschool mom, it requires an extra dose of creativity, organization, and determination just to juggle your many responsibilities. But these are the very qualities that you bring to the homeschool table anyway, so let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

There are three strategies to use when homeschooling with toddlers in your home:

  1. Keep them busy.
  2. Divide and conquer.
  3. Get creative.

Let’s look at each one, as you will want to employ a combination of these sanity-saving strategies in your home to gain the most enjoyment and satisfaction with both your older and younger children.

Keep Him Busy

Are you ready to start homeschooling your toddler? Guess what? It’s not necessary! He will learn so much just by playing and listening and talking and interacting with his family. If you want to give him a head start in academics, then take the time to read, read, read to your little ones—in the morning, before nap time, and before bed. Additionally, talk to him about what you are doing during the day and let him help you when it is safe to do so. As an example, you can count outloud the number of forks that you will need for the dinner table and then let him put them on.But please, don’t pull out the workbooks just yet! Your toddler will learn far more just from spending time with her family members in attentive conversation and meaningful work and play. However,that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan special activities for her so that she can be part of “school” too.

  1. Have a special school box for your toddler that he uses only during school time. It may include special crayons to be used during handwriting time, snap cubes to be used during math time, etc.Our special preschool box is filled with individually zip lock-bagged, age-appropriate*supplies and activity ideas, such as these:
  • Puzzles (large and few pieces for little hands)
  • Large nuts and bolts (from the hardware store)*
  • Letter and number magnets (for the refrigerator)
  • Paint brush and water (to be used on cardboard)
  • Small containers with lids (with surprises inside)
  • Yarn and sandpaper (yarn sticks to create designs)
  • Hole-punched cards and shoelaces for sewing
  • Magnets and paper clips or screws*
  • Matching games and card sets
  • Pipe cleaners and pony beads*
  • Paper and crayons*
  • Flashcards
  • Stickers*

*Note: Please use discretion. If your child is going to chew, bite, or swallow something (such as beads or crayons or paper clips), don’t put them in the box! This box is to be set aside for use only during school time so that its contents remain fresh and new for the child.

  1. Offer special high-chair activities during school time. Put shaving cream in a gallon-size zip lock bag and let the child “write” with a finger on it and erase by squishing it around. Offer finger painter play dough. Fill a large, plastic, lidded container with dry beans or split peas and let your child use scoops or measuring cups to pour them from one container to another. Yes, you’ll have to clean up the area later, but it may buy you 30–45 minutes of teaching time with another child.Additional ideas for high-chair time can be found
  1. Put the step stool up to the kitchen sink, close the drain, and run a drizzle of water into the sink along with a little bit of dish soap. Give your child some plastic cups, bowls and spoons to “wash.” He’ll feel glad to know that he is helping with the chores. A turkey baster and soapy water can keep a child entertained for a while too.
  1. Check out book and tape/CD kits from the library. Your toddler can listen to the story through headphones while“reading” the book.
  1. Read aloud to your older children right outside the open bathroom door while your younger child plays in the tub.Or just read in the bathroom. Strange perhaps, but safe!
  1. Make some special toys available during school time only. Rotate these toys so that they are always fresh and interesting.

Divide and Conquer

  1. While working on a specific subject with one older child, have the other older child play with the youngest child in her room. This is a special playtime for the two of them. Then switch for the other sibling to have this special time.
  1. Ask Dad to teach certain subjects. My husband teaches science and logic to the older kids. This frees me up to spend undivided time with my younger children.
  1. Have middle grade students do certain subjects independently. After giving instruction, send them off to work on the assignment on their own.
  1. Hire a homeschool teen (or ask Grandma) to come over and play with the youngest child while you “get serious”with the older children.
  1. Swap school time (or toddler time)with another homeschool mom. For example,you teach a subject to her older kids (along with yours) while she plays with the younger ones. Or vice versa. That way each of you can have uninterrupted school time with your older kids and/or playtime with your younger ones.

Get Creative With School Time

  1. Wait until your toddler’s nap time to work on school subjects with your other children.
  1. Work on some school subjects at night while Dad is home to play with or put the youngest to bed.
  1. Do a fun activity with your toddler before you begin school. This should help her to be more content to play on her own or to listen to books quietly for a while as you give attention to the other children.
  1. Don’t feel like you have to do every subject every day. Combine subjects or possibly double up on some school work on certain days when the baby takes a longer nap or is playing more contentedly.That way, you can do less on other days! For example, combine geography with history, or do a whole week’s worth of science on one day.
  1. Be willing to do some schoolwork on Saturday when Dad is home.
  1. Use smaller amounts of time for school. A block of four hours may not be possible at this time, but 45 minutes to an hour at a time may be doable.
  1. Read aloud during breakfast and lunch (while your youngest child is contentedly eating in his high chair).
  1. Understand that your homeschool day will not look like a classroom day during this season of your family’s life.Maybe it never will. And this is okay! Enjoy this season of your child’s life,knowing that it will not last forever and that you are not alone. Your toddler will be at this stage only for a couple of short years, and the next thing you know, he’ll be in kindergarten. They are only young for such a short time, and it is a precious,precious time. Don’t wish it away!Make every effort to stay flexible with your schedule and your to-do list,as toddlers change from one day to the next. Just when one strategy may be working for your family, he’ll change and you’ll need to try something else to keep the school day flowing. In other words, what worked yesterday might notwork today! Above all, give him lots of hugs and kisses during your school day,which will reassure you both that he is not an interruption but a blessing.

This is a guest post by Terri Johnson. Terri Johnson, along with her husband Todd, founded Knowledge Quest, Inc., publisher of history and geography materials. Knowledge Quest is well known for producing mapping programs such as Map Trek and Time Trek, as well as timelines, historical biographies, geography curriculum, software, and even mobile apps. Visit Knowledge Quest at .

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Homeschool Tool Box

Your Homeschool Toolbox

Homeschool Tool Box

A Toolbox of Strategies to Balance Home Life, Home School, and Home Business

Time is our most priceless resource. It’s the one thing we can’t get any more of. No one will ever have more than twenty-four hours in a day . . . but some people use their time much more efficiently and effectively than others. Learning how to protect and prioritize your time will help you be a good steward, which will equip you to accomplish your most important goals.

In twenty-six years as an entrepreneur and fifteen as a homeschooling mom (the last eleven as a single mom), I’ve identified seven strategies for making the most of our time so that we can live balanced, peaceful lives.

FREEDOM is an acronym for these tools: Focus, Reflect, Educate, Eliminate, Dream, Organize, and Multitask.time management


Figure out what only you can do, and then prioritize those things. Mom, only you can nurse your baby, but someone else can change his diapers. Only you can write your book (unless you hire a ghostwriter), but someone else can process and ship orders.

Focus requires self-discipline, which can be a challenge for entrepreneurs. Without the built-in accountability of reporting to an employer, we have to avoid the temptation to abuse our freedom. Plan your priorities, and then implement them. Meet challenges with action, not avoidance.


Zig Ziglar says there are “two sure ways to fail: think and never do, or do and never think.” Reflection forces you to be honest with yourself, so it helps you identify what you should do and evaluate how well you’re accomplishing your goals. Schedule time at the end of each week, month, and year to look back and plan ahead.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions. If this is hard for you, you may need a coach or accountability partner to help you. It’s easy to be blind to things in our own lives that someone else could readily identify. When coaching clients one on one, I sometimes realize I need to remind myself of the very advice I’m giving to them!


Nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “The most successful people in life are generally those who have the best information.” Keep up with developments in your industry. Encounter new ideas and try new strategies. No matter what business you’re in, you need to study marketing. You can learn through reading books, blogs, and online articles; taking home study courses; working with a coach or mentor; and attending teleseminars, webinars, and conferences.

Educating yourself is part of operating your business. Don’t feel that you’re not working when you’re learning new things. Just don’t let education become an excuse for avoiding action. Implement what you learn.


Make time for what you need to focus on by eliminating activities that don’t support your goals and priorities. Evaluate your business activities and quit (or outsource) the least profitable ones. Edit your belongings as well as your activities.

If something can’t be eliminated, often someone else can do it instead of you. Delegate household tasks to children, and look for ways to involve them in your business. Participation in a homeschool co-op allows you to delegate part of your children’s education to others while you retain primary responsibility.

Delegate interruptions to the answering machine and voice mail. Many household and business tasks can be outsourced to independent contractors, including lawn care, housecleaning, piano lessons, order fulfillment for your home business, accounting, website design, and much more.

Other people will respect your time only as much as you do. Learn to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to the best. Remember that opportunity does not equal obligation.


Several years ago, a dear friend encouraged our mastermind team to answer three important questions. I include this “Big Dream” exercise in my time management course and assign it to my coaching clients: (1) What would I be doing if nothing stood in my way? (2) What stands in my way? (3) What do I need to do to achieve my goals? Pondering these questions opens our minds to possibilities we might not otherwise consider because the first question makes us ignore limitations, and the other questions help us figure out how to overcome them.

Setting big goals spurs us to accomplish more instead of slogging along through a boring smallness. Get out of your comfort zone. If your goals don’t scare you a bit, you’re probably not dreaming big enough. Of course, if you have a new baby or a serious illness in the family, that’s not the time for stretching yourself any further. But normally, you need to stretch and grow. Don’t wait for “some day” to do what matters most. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”


When your physical possessions are not organized, they cause frustration and steal your time. My main rule: A place for everything, and everything in its place.

In order to organize your time wisely, you have to know where it’s currently being invested. Just as you track expenses to plan a financial budget, track your activities to plan a time budget. Write down what you do every half-hour, and then evaluate your time log after a week or a month. See if you’re spending too much time on some things, neglecting important things, doing things you could eliminate, or overlooking opportunities to get things done.

Once you know how you’re using your time, you can plan how to use it better. I use seven planning tools: Big Dream, Yearly Goals, Monthly Priorities, Weekly Plans, Daily Tasks, Running To-Do List, and Stop-Doing List. When we build our lives around short-term tasks, we focus on the urgent to the neglect of the important. Start with a Big Dream for your life and build your yearly goals around that. Then you can plan each month, week, and day in alignment with that long-term vision.


Multitasking has gotten a bad rap lately. Some say that if you can multitask while you are doing something, it’s not worth your time; in business, this might indicate tasks you can outsource. Others claim that multitasking undermines focus and is inefficient; in some circumstances, that can be true.

Used judiciously, however, multitasking can buy you time to focus on your priorities. It helps you do more with your twenty-four hours and trains you to use small blocks of time efficiently. Introducing new math concepts requires focus, but you can quiz your child on spelling or multiplication facts while preparing dinner. Fold a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher while talking on the phone. Listen to educational CDs in the car or while going for a walk.

Use Your Tools Wisely

These tools are not listed sequentially, but they all work together. Dreaming helps you identify your focus, and eliminating helps you maintain it. Organizing helps you eliminate, and multitasking frees up time to reflect, educate, and dream.

When you use these tools wisely, you won’t be paralyzed by what you can’t do. You’ll begin to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality, and you’ll enjoy a more productive and balanced life.

Mary Jo Tate has been educating her four sons at home since 1997. A book coach and international editor, she helps entrepreneurs and speakers author books . . . whether or not they can write ( ). She is the author of How Do You Do It All? Balancing Family Life and Home Business in the Real World ( ), Get Started as a Freelance Editor ( ), and Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. She blogs about books at .

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.


16 Mistakes Weary Homeschool Moms Make



The baby will not stop crying,your toddler is fighting with the preschooler, your second-grader refuses to work on anything without you, the fourth-grader asked permission to go to the bathroom an hour ago, you’re late getting your sixth-grader to dance class, and your husband wants to know what’s for dinner. These are the days we just want to go back to bed, the days we lash out in anger or dissolve into tears or wonder why we ever thought homeschooling was a good idea. Every homeschool mom has times when she is weary of it all, even with an only child.

By the grace of God, these days usually pass. But make these mistakes and a bad day can become serious burnout, threatening the future of your homeschool. Avoid them and you can be happily homeschooling again much sooner.

  1. Neglecting Devotional Time

The number-one reason we moms become overwhelmed is because we’ve become self-sufficient Christians. We weren’t designed to do all things in our own strength but rather in His strength. Even with babies, late nights, and busyness, we must treat time in prayer and the Word like it’s as vital as eating. It absolutely is!

  1. Not Leaning on Your Husband

We are called to be our husband’s help meets, but our husbands are also called to care for us. How often my husband has rightly pointed out that I’m doing too many of the wrong things—like making a meal for a new mom when I had just had a baby myself! Pray that God would speak through your husband to encourage and guide you.

  1. Keeping an Erratic Sleep Schedule

One of the blessings of homeschooling is a flexible schedule. That blessing can become a curse, however, when we don’t sleep at roughly the same time each day. Immune suppression, irritability, and poor functioning result, even with the same amount of sleep. Use an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed on time.

  1. Too Many Outside Activities

Another blessing of homeschooling is the variety of opportunities for our families to participate in. Again, this blessing can become a serious source of stress one activity to another. If we don’t cut back and focus on homeschooling, illness will make the choice for us.

  1. Unrealistic School Schedule

If you’re new to homeschooling or perfectionistic, you may have expectations of your homeschool that no one could meet. If you show your ideal schedule to a happy veteran homeschooler and she laughs, you’ll know you need to get real. Assume every lesson will take twice as long as you think, and you’ll end up with the margin you need.

  1. Abandoning Routine

Doing too much is a common source of weariness, but the answer isn’t to give up your routine altogether. Without structure, your house and schooling will quickly plunge into chaos. Keep your basic routine intact and adopt a more relaxed attitude so that you and your children feel less pressure.

  1. Not Having Children Do Chores

Whether it’s because you’re too particular about the house or because you think it’s too much bother, failing to expect children to do chores is a fast track to burnout.This is a subject that must be parent directed. A great resource for training is Managers of Their Chores.

  1. Neglecting to Discipline

When we’re weary, it’s easy to let the kids get away with not doing their work or other bad behavior. Failing to discipline will only give us more grief long-term.Planning consequences for certain infractions in advance can help. Try the If-Then Chart from Doorposts.

  1. Not Utilizing Social Support

My friends who have their children in parochial schools help and support one another. How much more does a homeschooling mother need encouragement? Be sure to include in your weekly schedule time that allows you to talk with moms you can relate to.

  1. Too Little Exercise

When we’re tired, the last thing we feel like doing is exercising. Yet, it’s the key to having the energy we need to accomplish all we have to do. Exercise combined with proper nutrition reduces the risk of illness and most chronic diseases. Can you really afford not to exercise? You can benefit from as little as 15 minutes a day of vigorous activity.

  1. Misusing Substances

Fatigue can trick us into thinking we’re hungry, when actually those unneeded calories will only make us feel even more sluggish. Chronic use of caffeine and sleeping pills only masks symptoms and negatively impacts health in the long run. If you avoid making mistakes 1–10, you will find you no longer need your food or drug of choice.

  1. No Time for Other Pursuits

Over-commitment can prompt us to demand even more of ourselves in service to our families and others. The truth is that we will accomplish more if we take some time to pursue a hobby we love. Choose an activity for which your efforts will be praised—and have fun!

  1. No Limits on Free Time

While a little time for Mom is a good thing, unlimited time is not. Our hobbies and social activities can begin to spillover into time that should be reserved for school and our husbands. Set a timer and ask a Godly friend to hold you accountable for wise use of your free time.

  1. Not Planning Ahead

When you don’t have a plan for schooling,meals, or outside responsibilities,you’re going to be stressed and others will be too. Schedule time to plan the upcoming week and each evening, review your agenda for the next day.

  1. Eliminating Fun

We can punish our children and ourselves for not being disciplined by removing the optional, enjoyable activities in our homeschools. This is a mistake!Don’t try to make up for months of lack-luster schooling in a week. Maintain a reasonable pace, including time for what you all love, and you’ll be back on track more quickly.

  1. Not Asking for Help

God alone can provide the help we each need, but He chooses to give us the gift of participating in the helping. I enjoyed counseling others as a Christian psychologist, but I really love it when fellow homeschool moms ask me for help. Be honest with someone you trust about where you’re struggling, and ask for prayer and counsel.


“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Dr. Melanie Wilson is a Christian psychologist and mother of six who happily left her career thirteen years ago to heed God’s call to homeschool. She is the author of So You’re Not Wonder Woman?and has written a free meal-planning survival guide for weary moms available at her blog, Psychowith6.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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