Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families

Practical HomeschoolingHooray! Finally, after years of living only in my head, my very first e-book is complete and officially releases on Monday. It’s called Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families and is chock full of my best tips for doable homeschooling (translate: ideas that won’t make mom nutty trying to do them).

I think every mom benefits when she has at least a little time for things she enjoys doing.  But to find that time, we need to work smart at homeschooling–otherwise it can very easily take up the whole day.  And that’s not good for parents or kids.

It can be tricky to find the right balance– the place where you’re getting enough school done to keep everyone moving forward, but not so obsessed with homeschool perfection that nobody’s happy.  A huge goal of this book is to help you find that happy place for your family.

What’s in the book?

In Practical Homeschooling, I’ll talk you through selecting curriculum that works for you and share my favorites, including lots of ideas that don’t cost a penny. You’ll learn about homeschooling short-cuts, games for little ones, tips for teaching essay-writing, ways to encourage resistant learners, and even how to create a high school transcript.  And along the way, you’ll hear more of my family’s homeschooling story.

What if my kids are in school?

This book also contains tips useful for non-homeschooling families.  There are homework helps, ideas for choosing books to suit your kids’ reading level, and lots of tips easily applicable to summer enrichment.

Here’s the link for pre-ordering.  Order between now and Monday, and you’ll get a special sale price.  So grab it now!

Share, please?

Will you take a moment and click the buttons below to share this post on facebook  or  on Pinterest ? Thanks so much for any help you can give me getting the word out!

P.S.– Here’s a special deal just for my readers. 

Order this week and share about it on social media, and I will send you a sample transcript — just like the one I’ve prepared for my five kids who’ve already graduated.  You can fill it in (and modify it) to use for your own children during the high school years.  To get the freebie, email me at, put transcript in the subject line, and tell me where you shared about the book.  I will get that sample headed your way!



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Homeschooling Resources

Tried and true homeschooling resources

When talking with a group of mommas about homeschooling at the Joy for the Journey adoption retreat last month, I promised them a post sharing some of my favorite homeschooling resources.  Here’s that list.  Most are ones I’ve used.  Some I mention because they are highly recommended by other homeschooling moms. Some of them are even my favorite price–free!


  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons– I used this with several of my kids and liked it.
  • ABC Snacks — This is a free preschool phonics game that looks like fun.
  • How To Teach Phonics-This book is free on kindle.
  • Sound Bytes Reading- This resource is highly recommended for older reluctant readers and ESL students.
  • Phonics Pathways- This book has lots of great recommendations on amazon.
  • Bob Books- These books are some of my absolute favorites for the very beginning stages of reading.
  • Starfall — This is an online phonics learning website that I used with my youngest daughter, complete with lots of games
  • Owl at Home– This is one of my absolute FAVORITE books for 1st-2nd grade.  So funny.


  • Calculation Nation — a free math learning website
  • Horizons Mathematics – I use this math for K-3.  It is bright and interesting, and moves kids along quickly.
  • Saxon Math- For many years I used this math starting in 4th grade. Good series, but not a fave of my kids who struggle with math.
  •   Teaching Textbooks — computer-based math programs from 3rd grade through Algebra 2.  We used Saxon math for years, but in the past years have switched most of our kids to this math.  Excellent, though not as acccelerated as Saxon.
  • Life of Fred – story-book math–highly recommended by friends of mine as excellent for kids who want a more language-based approach to math




  • Seterra — This is a great free geography learning resource that my younger girls use and enjoy.




  • Duolingo —This is a great little language learning website that offers 14 different languages.
  • Fluenz: Learn Spanish– My kids use this excellent program, but it is pretty spendy.  It is also available in Mandarin, Italian, and French.



  • The Way They Learn– I think that figuring out our kids’ learning styles is helpful info for every parent, not just homeschoolers.
  • The Well-Trained Mind– Many moms LOVE this style of teaching.  I love the idea of it, but in its entirety it is too labor-intensive for me.  Whether or not you decide to take this exact path, it’s worth the read to glean what parts of the system might be a fit for your family.
  • Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers–This is an excellent discussion of the importance of relationship-building with kids, a hugely important factor in successful homeschooling.
  • The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind- I can’t recommend this book highly enough for helping kids move past stress toward emotional regulation.  This is especially on point for kids with special needs and trauma backgrounds, but it is useful for navigating melt-down moments with all kids.






This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click through and order any of the amazon products, I will receive a few cents from Amazon.  This helps support all the free content here at Owlhaven, but doesn’t add a cent to your cost.  I’d love for you to add your own homeschool resources in the comments section so that this resource can be even better. And as always, I really appreciate pins, likes, and shares.  Thanks for your support!



What we’re reading

Books this year

Today I finally got all my planning done for the school year, including who gets the computers at what time, when the teens will be taking their science tests, and which books all the kids will be reading this year.  Our three teens, all juniors, have just one book a month of assigned reading, which they’ll read during the first two weeks of the month, then write about during the second half of the month.  In conjunction with that, we’re working our way through a world view book called The Eternal Argument.  They’re kinda yawning through this one so far, but I at least think it’s interesting.

Our 7th grader has three books a month of assigned reading.  I was going to have her also do some essay writing like she did last year, but after going through the bookshelves upstairs, I realized there are great quantities of wonderful books there that she’s never read. Since she has really taken off with her interest in reading lately, I decided to make it a reading year for her.  Plenty of time to work on more essay-writing for next year. My 4th grader, who still reads best when reading to me, has a book or two a month that we will work through together.

To make the books easier to find, I set all their books for the year together on one shelf. The teens are reading some of the same books, and some fairly deep ones, including the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and few others that are no slouch. One interesting new addition to our library is Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major. It is an uber-practical and irreverent look at selecting a college major that I have really been enjoying reading, and that I thought might give some guidance to the teens who don’t yet have a game plan post high school.We’ll see how it goes.


One other new addition this year for the teens is a College Prep Genius program that we started last week.  It is proving to be absolutely excellent, and while (again) it’s not riveting to the teens, it is exceedingly practical.  Over and over while watching the DVD’s with them, I’ve said, ‘I didn’t know that!’  And these are not the first kids I’ve helped prep for SAT’s.  I think it will offer them some major help on the PSAT in October, and the SAT next year.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

That’s enough for tonight!  I’ll check in with you on Friday and tell you how I’m doing on my grocery savings challenge.

End of summer


I always mourn the end of summer. This one was busier than usual with kids jobs and activities,  but it was still slower-paced than the school year.  I love sleeping in, having time to swim and camp, and just not feeling the press of school assignments.

tent cityOur most recent camping trip included Jared’s girlfriend and a couple of the grandbabies.  Such fun to see them at the place we’ve loved for so many years.  As usual we had a little tent city set up next to our travel trailer. Though there’s lots of sleeping space inside the trailer, most of the kids prefer to have their own space in various tents.  There’s lots of swimming and fishing, plus games with cousins and visiting by the camp fire.


But now that summer is winding down, I’m back to thinking about school.  Last school year we had lots of finishing-up to do with our then-senior, so we hit school pretty hard and got a lot done. The current juniors benefited from that intensity, and also got a lot done, so I’m planning for this school year to be a bit less ambitious.


I’ve never been an unschooler-type mom– I like structure too much. But we’re going to try  taking Mondays off, as I wrote about before. Sleep in, plan only a little. I’ll still have the kids do chores, as well as an hour of reading, but it can be something of their own choosing.


Subjects with our three juniors will include:


Our two younger daughters (4th and 7th) will be doing:


How about you?  Are your kids back at school?  If you’re homeschooling, are you trying anything new?




Also of interest


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Free online resources for school

Free Online Resources for SchoolWith school just getting underway, I thought I’d share some online learning resources that are out there for folks who don’t have a lot of money to spend.  Twenty websites, all free– what a beautiful thing!  If you know of other free online resources for homeschooling or for enrichment learning, please share them in comments, below.  And if you find this post to be helpful, please feel free to pin it so that others can find it.


  • Starfall — an online phonics learning website, complete with lots of games
  • Young Minds — free printable handwriting pages
  • Arcademics– this site combines math learning with the fun of arcade games.
  • Calculation Nation — here’s another math learning website
  • The Teacher’s Corner- offers free printable worksheets
  • Seterra — This is a great free geography learning resource
  • Youtube Primary & Secondary Channel– ] learning videos on scads of topics appropriate for elementary school learners
  • Music Appreciation, Charlotte Mason style- hints on teaching music appreciation to children
  • Patrick Math — this is a website devoted to math tutorials, some on very complex topics
  • Free Rice Grammar- English grammar drills for junior high and high school kids
  • Free Rice Vocabulary– vocabulary drills for kids and teens
  • Free Rice Math — review of pre-algebra skills
  • MOOC—lists classes you can take online for free.  In some cases you may need to pay to earn actual credits.
  • MIT Open Courseware- offers many different college level classes for free
  • Textbook Revolution — has many textbooks available in pdf’s or other forms online for free.  Check here before you buy a spendy book.
  • — free online speed reading course–what college student doesn’t need that?
  • Khan Academy — bills itself as providing a free world-class education for anyone.  Many topics.
  • Duolingo — is a great little language learning website that offers 14 different languages.
  • –offers free sheet music and instruction for a variety of instruments
  • Code Academy — teaches basic beginning computer coding step by step.



Easy summer learning

This week I’m thinking about what school our kids will be doing this summer, besides yard work, and hanging out with friends, and summer jobs. For years we took summers entirely off school, and I have to admit that way still sounds appealing. But then I remember about the math-forgetting, and the wandering around bored, and I return to the conclusion that mixing just a little school in with all the down-time works best for us.

One of our teens will be reviewing algebra in hopes of acing the COMPASS and being able to skip one college math class. Another is planning on studying for the Psychology CLEP.  Two other teens will be putting in a little time each day studying Spanish.  As for the youngest two, it will be multiplication and division all the way.

Our current third grader is just at the age where not having her math facts down cold is slowing her down. I’ve had her write down the facts over and over, and do some work with flash cards, but still any math fact higher than the 5’s takes a LONG time to answer. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, a fellow homeschooling mom of 7, she said, “Oh, you ought to try Reflex. My kids love it!”

reflex math

Reflex is a web-based math fact fluency system that uses a variety of games and rewards to teach kids, and to get them to like math in the process. Your child begins by creating an avatar (a computer picture of them) whose features and clothing they get to choose. The program then starts with a simple game to assess what facts your child knows, then customizes the learning experience to focus on facts that your child still needs to learn. As kids progress in their learning, they can unlock new games which keeps things interesting. They also earn points to spend on clothing and accessories for their avatar. My 9 and 11 year old daughters LOVE it, and have been begging to spend time learning their math facts on Reflex.

Reflex offers a free 2-week trial, so that you can see how their product works and if it is interesting to your child. My first plan was to let my daughter just do it for the free two weeks. But she enjoyed it so much (and still had so much to master) that I went ahead and bought it. A one year subscription for one child is $35. I’m planning to make this be my 9 year old’s math curriculum for the summer. She is thrilled to be doing something fun on the computer, and I’m thrilled that she’s finally learning her math facts. The only down side I’ve found is since the program customizes to what a child knows and doesn’t know, two children can’t share one profile. You have to buy each child an individual seat. But other than that, this is a great software program and my kids are thrilled that I listened to my friend’s recommendation!

Do you do summer enrichment with your kids or do you take summers entirely off school?

Oh, and before I forget to share it, here’s me and my clan yesterday. Everyone was home– and smiling– all at the same time! Be still, my heart….
With all 10 kids  :)


*Reflex gave me a free subscription for my second daughter in exchange for blogging about this program.

Finding time for rest

We are in our last push to get school done for the year.  Half the kids have already finished their math.  All but one are done writing.  My two high-schoolers taking college classes are finishing up last projects and gearing up for finals. The teens are down to their last two chapters of chemistry, and because I’m feeling tired, I’ve decreed we will be reading and answering the review questions, but won’t take those last two chapter tests.  They’re delighted.

It is a busy time, but one where a slower pace is just around the corner. I am so looking forward to it.  We’ve had a good productive year, one where in wanting to get things finished with my senior who’s graduating, we’ve all worked harder than usual.  I’ve especially seen gains in writing skills, which is a great thing.

Some of our precious Sunday visitors

Though productivity is a great thing, it can also be overdone.  This year I’ve felt the need for more rest than we tend to get on the weekend.  Saturdays are often slower-paced.  But Sundays are very busy — filled with grandbabies and visiting kids.  It is a wonderful kind of busy —  I am so very blessed.  But it isn’t quite rest.  Two year old boys move fast, ya know!  And feeding two meals to a crowd is busy even when I do a lot of the cooking on Saturday, and have kids doing the cleanup after meals.

So this summer and continuing into the next school year  we’re trying something new.  We are making Monday a day of rest.  No agenda, no activities.  The kids can sleep in  –that’s one of the things they want more of — and we can all have time just to hang out, read and relax and maybe even play games.

Thanks to homeschooling, we have the flexibility to give this a try, and I’m hoping it’s just what we need.  How does the pace of life feel in your family right now?  Do you feel like you get enough down time?  What do you do for rest when things get busy?

At the Ball

Here are a few pictures from the ball that was put on by our local homeschool graduation organization this weekend. It was a fun chance for homeschooled juniors and seniors in our area to dress up, get together, and have a lot of fun doing some traditional folk dancing. Parents and homeschool alumni were welcome as well. A good time was had by all. :)
Lindsey Daniel Having Fun Erin Lidya Julia

SAT Essay Tips (news flash: say goodbye to the SAT essay!)


Today I happened across this really interesting article about plans to overhaul the SAT, again.  The last time it was changed in a substantial way was in 2005 when the dreaded ‘essay’ component was added and weighted to be 1/3 of the total value of the test. This part of the SAT gives each student an essay topic and 25 minutes to write an essay on that topic, usually formulated as an argument for or against the statement given in the essay topic.  Understandably, this is a hugely stressful component of the SAT for most high school seniors. Twenty-five minutes is just not long enough to pull together a reasonably coherent essay, even for someone who enjoys writing.

Well,  good news! In Spring 2016 the SAT essay will become OPTIONAL.(Down side– they will be making the SAT compliant with Common Core.  Bah humbug. (Here are some other changes being planned.) Anyway, the essay is being removed because they’ve found it isn’t very indicative of college success anyway.  There’s a much stronger correlation between high school grades and college grades than there is between high school testing and college grades.  There is also a concern that lower-income kids are testing low simply because they don’t have access to the types of SAT coaching that upper-income parents tend to get for their kids.

HOWEVER, if your kid is graduating this year or next, he’ll still need to do that essay.  So how to approach it?

  •  Begin that precious 25 minutes by spending 3 minutes brainstorming all you know about the topic.
  • Quickly choose whether to argue for or against the statement given in the essay prompt.  It doesn’t affect your score which you choose– but it will affect your score if you spend too long debating which side to argue.
  • Then write a brief 5-paragraph essay consisting of an intro, a conclusion and 3 central paragraphs, each with a different sub-point of your argument.
  • If time runs short (as most likely will) it’s okay to skip the third sub-point and go straight to a conclusion.
  • Save a couple minutes at the end to proof-read.

Some additional ideas for higher scores:

  • Memorize a few all-purpose quotes that could fit a variety of situations, so that you can use one in the essay.
  • Begin with an interesting or attention-getting sentence.
  • Write as LONG as possible.  Longer essays almost always get higher scores.
  • Don’t feel like you have to KNOW everything about your topic.  You aren’t getting graded on the accuracy of your facts.
  • Don’t overdo the long words, but do be sure to use a few correctly.

Here are a few articles explaining these types of strategy in greater detail.

The ‘Fast Food’ Essay

11 Tips for a Home Run Essay

Ace the SAT Essay with Time to Spare

Grammar Survival Tips



Homeschooling Q&A


As I was preparing to go to Created for Care this year, I went through some notes from last year and found some of the questions the ladies there asked about homeschooling. I can’t remember how many of these Meghan and I actually answered during our session, but I thought it might be useful to answer them here in case other moms have the same questions.

What curriculum do you use?

We’ve tried a lot of different things over the years– that’s one of the good things about homeschooling. But here’s what’s working for us right now:


How much do you check/correct your kids’ school work?

It can definitely be very time consuming to check kids’ work, especially when you’re homeschooling multiple kids. But I’ve learned and relearned over the years that unless I inspect, I just can’t expect quality work.

To make math checking less tedious, I did switch everyone over to Teaching Textbooks math.  It is taught AND graded by the computer, and I love that.  Even with that, however, I go into the grade book every day, look at kids’ scores, and then have them redo every problem until they get them all right.  My younger girls get their writing checked each day, and everyone reads to me until they each become fluent on their own.

My teens do much of their daily work on their own, but once every couple weeks we do a chemistry test, and also go over the review problems for each chapter with them.  They also write one essay every month.  They do the various steps of essay-writing on their own, but near the end of each month I go over each essay with each teen and talk through any needed edits.  Usually I have to read over an essay at least three times before it passes inspection.


How do you encourage reluctant readers?

You need to start by giving kids a good basis in phonics, as well as teaching word attack skills, such as how to break a word into chunks as you’re sounding it out.  I also try to read with kids every day until they get better at reading.  These days only my 3rd grader reads to me, but I had some of my ESL kids read to me well into their teens.  Of course it helps to find books for kids on topics that they truly find interesting. The Shadow Children books intrigued some of my mid-elementary reluctant readers.  But the final (and perhaps most important) thing to remember about learning to read is that kids get competent at wildly different ages.  My first bio son didn’t enjoy reading until he was nearly 10.  My second bio son was a good reader at age 4.  Same environment, same parents.  They were just ready at different times.


What are some of your tips for homeschooling a child with ADD?

One of the reasons I think my one son was nearly 10 before he became a good reader is that he was a very active kid, and didn’t have much patience for sitting still.  I  think that if he’d been in a public school environment, he might have been labeled ADHD in his early elementary years.  But because we were able to homeschool, I was able to give him activity breaks when he needed them, or let him move from the table to the couch and then to the floor to continue working.  Often if I notice a kid seems to be struggling with focus, I will send him or her out to walk the dog, assign three laps around the house, or 5 minutes on the mini-trampoline.  Very active kids often can memorize very well while jumping on a trampoline.

Here are some other posts I’ve written about homeschooling over the years:

Teaching multiple children at once

Homeschooling with preschoolers

Homeschooling older adoptees that first year home

Homeschooling kids for whom English is a second language

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