How to Succeed In Homeschool Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!

Ok, so when I was in middle school, I got to go see a production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying that was being performed in Dallas.  I think that a lot of the humor went over my pre-teen head, but the lead role was being played by none other than the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio.  I just felt super cool getting to be in the same room with such an iconic movie star.

But as we gear up to start another year of homeschool, I’m reminding myself of the lessons we’ve learned along the way and I noticed a theme throughout a lot of them.  Most of the stress we encountered in our first years of homeschooling were just due to misguided efforts.  We were simply trying too hard in all the wrong ways.

Here are 5 ways that you need to stop trying in order to improve your homeschooling experience…

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!Maybe this doesn’t apply to you.  Maybe you truly do love EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. of curriculum you ordered this year.  But maybe, just maybe – there’s something in there that just isn’t working for you.  You know, that one book that makes you cringe a little every time you reach for it.  Or the one that creates friction between you and your little learner each time it opens.

I’m giving you permission to hate it.  I’m even giving you permission to shelve it for the rest of the year (or until you find a suitable alternative).  I know that diving back in to the sea of choices can be overwhelming.  I also know that sometimes you plunked down a nice chunk of change for that book you now despise.  Fear not, you can resell it to someone who might not hate it.  You can take a little time to explore your options.

Even if it means taking a small break from that subject, it’s worth the trouble you’ll save yourself in the long run.  Pressing though a bad curriculum choice is just going to start planting or cultivating those “I hate school!” seeds in both you and your learner.  I don’t know about you, but we try to maintain a more “Learning is awesome!!!” type of atmosphere.  I’d much rather sacrifice a few weeks of (insert crazy-making subject here) than sacrifice an ounce of the positivity that I’ve worked hard to grow.

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!I’ll never forget our first week of first grade. I had so many grand plans and oh-so-much to learn.  I set my alarm for 7:45 AM and hopped out of bed ready to prepare a nice filling breakfast for the kids, walk them through their morning chores, and have lessons started at 8:30 AM sharp!  And for the first day, it was a success.  But here’s the thing – I am not a morning person.  I mean, REALLY not a morning person.  As in, please don’t talk to me for at least 30 minutes after my first cup of coffee… Clearly, “first day of school” adrenaline saved us on Monday, but things quickly went downhill from there.

I was short-tempered, grouchy, and ready for lessons to be over as soon as we started.  Soon, I abandoned the alarm clock and we adopted a much more “organic” schedule in the morning.  None of my kids are naturally early risers and we’re all quite content to have a slow-moving morning that eases us into the day.  So, we wake up when we wake up.  Breakfast is ready when it’s ready.  After morning chores, we sit down at the table for lessons.  Sometimes it’s 9:30, sometimes it’s 11:00.  We have routine and structure, but there was just no need for us to be tied to a clock.

After a leisurely wake up and a strong cup of coffee, I’m much more able to enjoy our learning time and I have the patience to walk through tricky concepts, instead of feeling like a giant ball of stress the whole time.  It was a major improvement for us.

I have a friend who realized that her boys did much better with school if they took it in smaller chunks throughout their day, instead of one-after-another all at once.  Each family has their own quirks and rhythm.  Trial and error are great teachers in this arena.

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!When I started teaching my twins how to read, I had totally arbitrary ideas about what milestones they should be hitting at certain ages based on my knowledge of what 2 or 3 other children had been able to do at that age.  Since I’m so awesome and my kids are so awesome, I just assumed that “anything you can do, we can do better.” Right?  Oh, Sara… Sara, Sara, Sara… Somehow I actually thought that by sheer enthusiasm, there would be no challenge we couldn’t overcome in whatever timeline I thought sounded good.

I’m sorry…  It’s hard to type while laughing this hard…

Y’all.  Developmental milestones are a crucial part of the homeschooling journey – HOWEVER – the windows for normal development in the early education years are HUUUUUUUGGGGEEEE.  Did that stop me from panicking when I saw my arbitrary deadlines flying by? Nope!  This is one of those lessons that I could only learn in hindsight.  Now that my oldest kids are reading independently, I’ve finally let go of the unnecessary pressure I had been putting on myself.

As my youngest starts her first official year of school with us this fall, she will reap the benefits of a relaxed mommy who can work with her at whatever pace she needs to be able to master the content in an enjoyable way.

So, while I’m not advising that you ignore all milestones, I gently suggest that you make sure you’re not putting undue stress on you and your kiddo for no real reason.  And when you finally see them making developmental leaps in their own time, you will be overflowing with pride (while breathing a huge sigh of relief.) 😉

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!You may be your child’s only teacher but you are NOT their only resource.  I spent far too long feeling like we were only “doing school” if I was right in the middle of it.  If you are schooling a 5 year old, that may be appropriate.  But I have often found that my children are just as successful (if not more!) when I get them started on something and then leave them be.  If I’m feeling productive, I’ll go wash the dishes or fold some laundry.  If I’m feeling stressed, I’ll browse Pinterest.  The bottom line is – they can learn without you.  Repeat after me: They – can – learn – without – you.

Here’s a perfect example.  Last year, I was really struggling with finding a successful approach to helping one child progress with her reading.  It was becoming one of those tedious, stressful parts of our day and I knew we needed a change.  I found a brilliant app that incorporated all of the elements that we were struggling to fit into our time together and did so in a way that she was excited to use it.  We switched from working on reading one on one 5 days a week, to having just one session together each week while she worked with the app independently everyday.

Her fluency skyrocketed. My stress level dropped.  Everyone wins.

Another example is the way we started listening to audio books via  While our family read alouds had been one of my favorite parts of the day previously, this past year I have struggled with chronic illness and my symptoms were making it hard to complete the amount of reading we were used to.  I grudgingly started to play audio books on the days when I felt really crummy but it didn’t take long before I realized how well my kids were responding to them.  They were absorbing the content well and willing to listen to far more than I could read out loud in one sitting.  By incorporating audio books, we have far surpassed our reading goal for the year and discovered that we have some serious auditory learners on our hands.

Just because you can do something on your own, doesn’t mean you have to.  There are so many resources out there – take advantage of them!

How to Succeed in Homeschool Without Really Trying - 5 ways to stop trying so hard and start enjoying your homeschool!I’m going to be honest here.  I didn’t take any of the photos in this post.  I’m a photographer by trade and totally could have, but I didn’t.  They’re stock photos.  I say this because we are constantly bombarded by snippets of people’s lives online and I want you to remember that nothing is ever exactly as it seems.  My sink is full of dishes and if you showed up to use my bathroom, I’d be embarrassed right now.

Stop trying to make every day and every activity “pinterest worthy”.  It doesn’t matter how good something looks on Instagram if your kids remember it as the time that Mommy was really stressed. I love to document our schooling journey from time to time but I’ve learned to make a real effort not to let that get it the way of the journey itself.  If I find myself snapping at someone because I’m too focused on that perfect shot, I put the camera away.

The most common source of stress is unmet expectations.  If homeschooling is stressing you out, take a step back and see if any of that stress is coming from feeling like you haven’t met the expectations of others.  In the end, just remember that it’s going to be your children’s opinion of your homeschooling that matters most.


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Free Early Reader E-books

click here to download

These little e-books are perfect for early readers who need to build some confidence.  With lots of rhymes and visual cues, your little ones will love reading about rat, cat, and bear in these silly picture books.  Load them onto your ipad or iphone (you can even put them into your kindle app!) for your little reader today.

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

Where is cat? is a silly story full of visual cues to help with the bigger words.  When your little reader finds the cat in places like a bucket of popcorn or riding a banana, giggles are sure to abound!

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

Pat’s Cat is full of rhymes and really reinforces the -at family of words (cat, rat, hat, mat, sat).  Little readers LOVE to see what happens when Cat and Rat finally meet up at the end…

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

Bear is a series of rhymes with visual cues.  Just wait until you see “dressed-up-like-a-bunny” bear!

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

I like books is also full of rhymes that help little readers out.  Free Early Reader E-books!!!Free Early Reader E-books!!!

…and who can resist this sweet little guy at the end???

Free Early Reader E-books!!!

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DIY Paint By Number

I dreamt this project up in the spring, when visions of super fun “summer school” projects danced in my head.  Honestly, I feared that this one might be a bit too ambitious and it would forever live in the “wouldn’t if be cool if…” file inside my brain.  Guys, not only did we do it, but it was WAY easier than I expected!  So please, I beg you, forge ahead and do this with your kids.  We all learned so much, had tons of fun, and are all super proud of our collaborative effort.

***One disclaimer – this project will require a few moments of making freestyle, creative decisions.  If you’re the type of person that likes to cook exactly by the recipe, this might not be for you.  But I promise it does not actually require you to be an artist.  You can do it!***

Ready? Let’s do this…

Step one: Open your photo in Photoshop. (I’m sure you can do this in other programs, but I’ve got three kids to homeschool and I can’t go look them all up right now.)

Step two: Select “Filter” from the top menu and then “Filter Gallery” from the drop down.  Find “Cutout” under “Artistic”.  You’ll get this.  Play around with those three sliders on this side until you get a look that you like.  (Try setting the “Number of Levels” at the highest number and then slide around the other two.)

Step three: Here’s the version we ended up working with for ours. If you haven’t already procured a canvas, do so now.  Choose whatever size you want.  Then have your final image printed in that exact size.  Here’s the thing… DON’T have it printed on photo paper.  The next step involves tracing and carbon paper, so a heavy weight paper is just going to make your life harder.  We live in Asia, so I took mine to a place that prints giant light weight menu banners, but I’m sure Staples or Office Max has a suitable option.  It can even be black and white if you want.  You just need something to trace.

Step four: I didn’t take pictures of the actual tracing because I really didn’t expect it to work so well.  At this point in the project, I still kind of expected to toss the whole idea out the window.  But all I did was lay sheets of carbon paper (that blue stuff that transfers it’s ink when you press on it) down all over the canvas, then lay my printed (non-photo paper) image on top of the carbon paper and tape it at the edges to keep it all from moving.

Then I took a ball point pen and started tracing.  Again, I expected it to be super tedious and hard and STILL thought I might throw in the towel.  But I plunged ahead and it really went pretty quickly.  Just put on your favorite Pandora station and have a cold beverage or some chocolate nearby.

The whole time, I was sure that the weight of my hand was smudging blue ink everywhere or that I wasn’t pressing hard enough.  But you can’t really lift it to check until you’re done.  So I pressed on and then held my breath when I took it all off.  IT WORKED!!!! It worked perfectly!

Step five: Start painting!  I knew upfront that I wanted to give my kids free reign in some areas, so I bought a bunch of fun colors and decided we’d start with the “grass” area.  This way I could learn what they were good at and what was more of a challenge for them without feeling too stressed about everything being just right.

Step six: Here’s where the freestyle creative decisions come in.  This isn’t an exact science.  There are probably going to be some lines that look a little wonky or areas where it’s just too fussy to figure out exactly what three shades of blue are going on.  So I’m going to give you my official permission… Those lines you traced? You may paint over them.  Those colors in your original image? You may change them.  It’s really going to be ok.  And guess what?  If you hate it, you can paint over it again later.  We did.  More than once.

I cannot encourage you to do this project enough.  The kids (ages 7, 7, & 4) are SO PROUD of the work they did.  They each got to work on it for about 15 minutes at a time during our summer school days and it took us about a month.  I spent a few evenings working on the sections that involved small and important details in order to make us recognizable, but honestly, they did a lot of the work themselves and the longer we worked on it, the more capable I realized they were with the right instruction.

They enjoyed it so much that this fall we’re going to do self-portraits!  They’re excited to get a canvas of their own this time and I’m excited to have such an amazing time capsule of this season of life.

Now get your Hobby Lobby coupon and GO!

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How to turn any photo into a DIY paint by number canvas - awesome tutorial!!!

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DIY watercolor, silhouette, photoshop tutorial, diy tutorial, diy watercolor tutorial

DIY Watercolor Silhouettes

My kids have recently been on a watercolor tear. I just love the way they cover the whole paper in colors using an absolutely reckless amount of water so they all blend and bleed together. I’ve been meaning to jump on the old school silhouette bandwagon for ages now thanks to Pinterest but I couldn’t decide exactly what spin to put on it. I noticed a few masterpieces laying around this week that gave me an idea…

DIY watercolor, silhouette, photoshop tutorial, diy tutorial, diy watercolor tutorial

Even I was a little impressed with the overall coolness of the finished product. But no need to be jealous, just make your own! Here are the basic steps… Start with a photo of your kids profile. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but there are a few important things to remember… -make sure that the entire outline of their face and head has a plain wall behind it, but it doesn’t matter if there are things on the wall around them -you’ll get the best results if the child is in focus -if your child has dark hair, photograph them on a light wall for better contrast Ok, got it? Here we go… Open your photo in Photoshop. step1See? Stuff on the wall, but it’s no problem because the outline of her whole head is on a plain background. Use the Magic Wand tool to select your child. step2Make sure to use a really big brush. (After you select the Magic Wand tool, you’ll be able to see whether the brush is set to a tiny circle or a giant one, you can adjust the size at the top left in that box with a number under a circle.) My brush was big enough to cover her ear and the hair around it, that was enough that with one click, the magic wand did the rest of the work for me. If it only selects a portion, you can keep clicking around until it adds all the rest. Then click Refine Edge to get the pop up window pictured above. Drag the Smooth slider all the way to the right. It will show you a preview by removing the rest of the background and only showing what is selected with the Magic Wand. Click ok and it will show you the background again. ***Don’t do any other fiddling between the previous step and the next! You should only have one layer and your child should be selected at this point.*** Next, click the “New Layer” box, then click the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” box and choose “Solid Color…” at the top of the list. step3 If you’re good at following instructions, it should look like this now. If it doesn’t, I recommend starting over from the top before you get totally confused and frustrated. Like I tell my kids, “Making mistakes is just a sign that you’re learning something new.” Got it now? Alright, let’s get rid of that background now. Select the “Background” layer (that’s the photo you started with) and then click the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” box and choose solid color again. step4Now pat yourself on the back! You are dangerously close to the coolest part. You can change the color of the background later, so don’t worry your pretty little head about that just now. (Get it, pretty little head? We’re making silhouettes… which are pretty, little heads…) Click “File” then “Place…” and select the photo of the painting that you want to use. step5If you can’t see your painting, or you can only see your painting, then your layers are just in a different order. It doesn’t really matter at this point. While that big X is on the screen, it means you can resize your placed layer. Grab a corner, hold down shift and drag it until it’s big enough to fill in the silhouette. You can also place your arrow outside the bounds of the image and click and drag to rotate the image if you need to. When you’re done, hit enter. No worries, you can always use “Edit>Free Transform” to resize and rotate again later if you want. Here’s where the real magic happens. Move the painting layer to the top. (Just click and drag it in the layers palette on the right.) Then click “Layer>Create Clipping Mask”. step6You still with me? The clipping mask allows the layer to only show within the bounds of the shape you “clipped” it to. You can now select the painting layer and use Free Transform to resize and rotate again to get it just how you like. Now just add the finishing touches… step7Crop the image to the size that you want and add some cool text. The possibilities are endless here! If you get hung up on any of the individual steps, it turns out that Google and YouTube are both masters at Photoshop. 🙂 Just search “photoshop free transform” or “photoshop clipping mask”, etc… and you should get all the help you need. So go make your kid paint something, or scavenge through the piles of art you have stashed somewhere and get to it!

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