Archive for the ‘Getting Organized’ Category

Clearing Out the Old

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Garage sale

Things have been kind of crazy for me the last few weeks as we get ready to move and start new lives outside the Coast Guard. We’re in the process of buying a house in Oregon, and need to unload a bunch of stuff that we’ve been dragging around with us all of these years.

One thing about moving every four (or so) years in the military is that we tended to keep things that worked for one place because we weren’t sure if we would be able to use them again. That’s why we have salmon fishing poles and crab pots from Alaska, surfboards and snorkels from Hawaii, antiques from Illinois, and a wide variety of tools and equipment for all of our hobbies over the years.

Then there’s the homeschool books and accessories that I’ve accumulated over the past 15 years. I still remember the effort that went into choosing each item, and the days we spent using them. So many memories! I don’t mind passing my treasures on to other homeschooling families who can use them, or at least know what they’re for, so I had a yard sale last weekend, trying hard to advertise to local homeschoolers. I got rid of some stacks and piles, but ended up giving away most of it to Goodwill, where I’m afraid no one will know what to do with these things. Oh well.

Now I have the rest of the house to go through, because we absolutely will not have room for everything in our new house. In many ways, it’s nice to finally have a place to settle, and know for sure what we can and cannot use, and what will match and what doesn’t. If something is genuinely useful and I anticipate really using it in our new home, I’ll keep it. This differs from the usual advice of “Did you use it in the last year?” because our circumstances are always changing, depending on where we live. Now that we know where we’ll be for a while, we can assess just how useful the beach chairs and duck decoys will be.

For the things that are not terribly useful, I’m trying to trust my instincts as I purge. When I look at something, does it make me slump, as in “What am I going to do with this?” Or does it make me smile because it is so “me?” But it’s still a hard process, because “things” can trigger so many memories of loved ones and times we have had. Letting go of books is especially hard for me, because books are like my friends – especially the ones I read over and over as a teenager. Books are such a source of comfort and enjoyment for me, how can I decide which ones get to stay and which ones have to find a new home?

I’ll have to be ruthless with myself and read simple living blogs and quotes every morning for encouragement. I also may not get much blogging done, but I hope to have fresh perspective and renewed purpose when all of this is done!

Getting Things Done When Everything Keeps Getting Undone

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Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Here we are in 2013. This is the time of year when we all look back to take stock of what we have accomplished and renew our plans for the future, right? Does this make you feel giddy or defeated?

Does it feel like you got anything done last year?

This is particularly hard to answer when you have children, no maid, and forgo a fulfilling career to be a homeschooling parent. Life seems to move forward in a blur of activity from morning till night, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing to say “Here’s What I Did!”

Let me help you with that.

Here are my top 5 antidotes for homemakers frustrated with perpetual lack of accomplishment:

Reframe your noble purpose

One of the things that really stuck in my memory back in physics class was the concept of entropy, or the way that nature tends to move from order to disorder in an isolated system. I’ve always thought this concept applied spectacularly well to a household, particularly one with children in it. As a “home maker,” it was always hard to really say what I did or accomplished during the day, other than hold back the forces of entropy. This sounds much more majestic than: washing dishes, folding clothes, cleaning up messes, pulling weeds, changing diapers, cooking meals that are immediately eaten, or any of the other things homemakers routinely do. The problem with housework is that you spend a lot of time re-doing things that keep getting undone. It’s demoralizing.

That’s why you have to reframe the idea of housework in your mind. It is not an exercise in futility – but a vital force weaving order from the void of chaos! How’s THAT for purpose? Looking at it this way helps to put your work in perspective. What you do is valuable and would certainly be noticed if you stopped doing it. Nature depends on us to keep humanity humming along.  I write more about this here.

Do something every day that cannot be undone.

I heard this tip a long time ago and it is so true. Of course, everything will become undone in time, but some things last longer. Create one scrapbook page, organize a drawer, write a page in your journal, draw a picture, purge your children’s outgrown clothes, read a book, plant a tree . . . you get the idea. Give yourself the gift of progress, however small it may be.

Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.

One of the most enduring principles of learning, time management, and eating elephants is to break something big into little parts. You may not have time to clean out your whole refrigerator, but perhaps you can just manage the produce drawers. Maybe the next day you’ll have time for one shelf. Don’t keep putting off a job until you have time to do the whole thing, just break it into chunks that fit the time you have. [Note: I do not condone eating elephants – it’s just a metaphor.]

Keep a journal.

You do way more than you think, even if it seems mundane. There are moments of beauty and grace sprinkled throughout your days, and keeping a journal will force you to notice them. You may be driving your kids to baseball practice for the 100th time but today the kids invented a new game in the car of telling stories backwards. Or maybe you struck up a conversation with someone new at the playground or rescued a stray cat or made four jars of sauerkraut. These little things add up to a full life, but if you don’t add them up, you’ll forget where they all went.

Keep learning.

Washing dishes is repetitive, but learning is cumulative. It builds upon itself, broadens your perspective, and engages your curiosity all at the same time. You may be wondering how on earth you would have time to learn anything when you have so much else to do, but this falls under the same category of “Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.” Pick something that interests you, but is challenging – something that will make you grow. If it is a book, read a few pages a day. If it is a musical instrument, practice for 10 minutes a day. If it is a foreign language CD, listen for 10 minutes on the way to the grocery store. Then, make a note of what you learned in your journal each day. At the end of the year, you really will have the satisfaction of a particular accomplishment.

These years when your kids are at home will be gone sooner than you can imagine, and then you will have time to accomplish some of the other goals lingering in the back of your mind. But right now you are doing a very important job. Don’t beat yourself up over days lost to seemingly meaningless logistics. And don’t beat yourself up if your house is a mess either. You are in the midst of a long-term project, nurturing people that will change the world . . . and THAT is an accomplishment to be proud of!

 

photo credit: Bill Stickers -c via photopin cc

Evernote for Busy Homeschooling Parents

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Before I get off the subject of organization for a while, I just wanted to share with you one more techie trick for keeping your sanity.

Evernote.

Heard of it? It’s an application that you can download for free to practically any computer or mobile device. And it helps you remember stuff. You know how difficult it is to keep track of all the various unrelated bits of information that come to you each day, wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra brain to store all of it?

Here’s a lovely video from Digitwirl that explains the benefits:

All you need to do is visit the Evernote website to download. While you’re there, watch some of their videos to show you how to use it and get more ideas. Even though I use Google documents/sites to view my goals, to-do lists, calendar, and other documents, Evernote is a great way to store miscellaneous bits of information, particularly when you are away from your computer.

I was lucky enough to get an iPhone for Christmas, so I’m just now getting a chance to play around with Evernote, but I can already see the potential. My goal is to move away from paper planning as much as possible. Anything repetitive should be digital. But it’s still nice to use notebooks and sketchbooks for journaling, brainstorming, drawing, and other free forms of writing. And, as I mentioned in my last post, I would still use a 3-ring binder for planning my homeschool days if my kids were little. The 3-ring binder with pre-printed forms is meant to be doodled in and journaled in, scribbling notes in whenever you get a chance. It becomes a nice memento all by itself.

But if you just need an extra filing cabinet for your brain, try Evernote.

How to Keep Track of Homeschool AND Life

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Life as a homeschooling mom can feel like a Cirque du Soleil show gone bad. There’s so much to keep track of:  errands, phone calls, laundry, budget, healthy meals, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, cleaning, exercise, helping kids with schoolwork, planning, recording, mothering, and nurturing other relationships. It’s crazy! I don’t know how anybody expects one person to do all this stuff, but somehow we do. I’ve always tried my best to stay organized and get things done. For years, my motto for getting stuff done has been: “Never stop working.” But that’s not very helpful is it? I really don’t work all the time, although sometimes it feels like I do. It would be much worse if I didn’t find a way to keep track of everything.

In my last post, I talked about getting yourself personally organized, but here I’m going to share with you some of the ways I organized my homeschooling days when my kids were younger. My biggest friend was a 3-ring binder that lived on the dining room table where we spent 80% of our days. In that binder, I kept my journal, reference pages (book lists, homeschool tips, community/extracurricular info), and my planning pages. I had a section for long term planning, with home-made forms like this:

 I made up a grid like this for each half of the year so that I could roughly plan out when we would do certain things. Everything revolved around unit studies, potential field trips, and the activities of our homeschool group. While this grid gave me a nice overview of how things fit together, I used plain old notebook paper to plan out what books we would read for the different subjects, like this:

So, that’s what I keep in my binder for long-range planning. But in the front of the planner, I kept more home-made forms to help me get through the week. I made it so facing pages would cover one week of homeschooling, to-do lists, routines and rudimentary menu planning. I changed the forms as often as I needed to reflect changes in our schedule and only printed out 5 weeks worth at a time.

 

You can see from the hole punches on the sides how these pages faced each other. I purposely left the dates blank in the computer so that I wouldn’t waste paper printing out unnecessary weeks.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what program I used to make these forms, but it was probably MS Word because I didn’t have any fancier software in those days.

Even though I tried to plan ahead, the kids didn’t always like what I had planned, or life got in the way, so I also kept “Learning Logs” to record what we actually did each day. Since my boys usually did the same thing, I kept one log for them, and a separate log for my younger daughter. I printed these in landscape mode for my binder, but I’m showing you an abbreviated example turned right-side-up to make it easier to see:

These homemade forms worked great for me when the kids were little, but when my oldest entered 7th grade, and we moved to a state with stricter homeschool requirements, I started playing around with “Homeschool Tracker” on the computer to do my planning. In some ways it was easier, but it was far less forgiving or fun to use. When I switched to a Mac computer, I couldn’t find any homeschool software for that platform so I’ve been making my own. I’m still a big fan of 3-ring binders, but when you need to record grades, assemble transcripts and compute GPA for older kids, it’s kind of nice to have it all on the computer.

Techie Trick for Getting Your Act Together

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In my ideal world, I would have a cozy little office all to myself with inspiring pictures on the wall, roomy bookshelves, and a private corkboard for posting goals and reminders. It might look something like this:

 

Image from InspireBohemia.blogspot.com

But, I don’t have space for my own office yet, so I need to borrow a corner of the living room, next to the drum set and our bulging family bookshelves. It’s hard to feel like it’s really my own space, so in the past, I confined all my thoughts and inspiration to various notebooks and planners. The problem was . . . I felt scattered. It seemed like all the bits I needed were spread out, and easily forgotten. I’ve also been trying to get away from a big heavy planner because it usually doesn’t meet my needs and I end up wasting paper.

So, a few months ago, I had an inspiration, and have been very pleased with my solution: Google. Again. I know I must sound like a paid spokesman for Google, but I’m just really excited about what I’ve learned. Now that I know what is possible with a few free applications, I can’t stop thinking of new ways to use them.

So here’s what I did. I made my own personal Google web site that is only visible to me. For info on how to do this, check out the following video:

On the home page, I posted my daily routines for different days of the week. I had figured these out earlier as a way to accomplish all the things I needed to do during the week, but kept forgetting where I had written them. I also posted my affirmations and a short list of the habits I’m trying to develop. I also added a few Google gadgets to automatically rotate inspirational quotes and display a photo slideshow from one of my Picasa albums.

On another page, I posted my goals broken down into: 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, and 90 days. It really is helpful to look at this every day and remember where I’m going.

I also use Google Calendar for all my scheduling now. I have a calendar for home, one for work, one for planned blog posts, and one for tasks. It’s easy to turn these calendars on or off as necessary to see what is coming. I can also share specific calendars with other people if I want to.

I use the task list to jot down random to-do items that pop into my head but I don’t know yet when I will do them. For bigger tasks, with deadlines, I schedule them in my “Task” calendar.

So every morning, I take five minutes to review my affirmations, habits, goals and the daily routine in my private Google site. Then I check my calendars to see what must be done for the day. All the lists I used to keep in my planner such as books to read, stuff to research, household info, etc. are now in Google docs inside a folder called “Organizing Me.” So whenever I come across a book that begs to be read, I jot it down quickly on the appropriate list. The nice thing about Google is that I can reach it anywhere I have an Internet connection and don’t have to worry about synching my laptop with my desktop with my iPhone, etc. It’s kind of like unlimited planner space without having to pack around a big heavy book.

Having said that, I still believe in notebooks and journals for creative thinking. When I am brainstorming, mind-mapping, or journaling, I still like to use an old fashioned spiral and journal notebook. It’s much easier to scribble, draw, and be expressive with just a pen and paper than a keyboard. But for things I want to refer to again and again, I like having it consolidated in one place.

I’m very happy with how this is all working for my personal organization. I don’t have much need to organize homeschool plans these days, but in my next posts I’ll show you some of the ways I kept that organized over my many years of homeschooling.

Pause and Reflect

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This time between Christmas and New Year’s Day has always been one of my favorite times of the year, because I relish the idea of a fresh start. When I was a teenager, I used to thoroughly clean my room, rearrange things and make new posters for my wall. Of course, at the time, I lived five miles down a snow-packed dirt road in the prairie and had nothing better to do. But even now, though I have no time to deep clean my drawers and alphabetize my music collection, I still like the chance to make myself better. I don’t really do “Resolutions,” but I like to make a plan of action. After reflecting and journaling about where I am now, I plan out what I will do in the year ahead.

It’s important to really take stock of where you have been before planning where you need to go. This is true not only for your personal development, but for your homeschool and family life as well. So before you rush into any plans for the next semester, take this time to pause and reflect. Catch up on your record-keeping. Write some journal entries. If you haven’t been keeping records, you may find it difficult to remember where the time went, but pull out your calendar and family photos and try to recall the achievements or big moments of the year. Ask your kids for help because they will probably remember different things than you will.

Sit down with each child (older kids can do this themselves) and write about the following:

What were my favorite things to do this year?
What did I learn how to do?
What are the three most interesting things I learned about this year?
What am I most proud of?
If I could change anything, what would it be?
What three things am I most thankful for?
What do I want to learn more about next year?
What do I want to learn how to do next year?

Instead of writing down these answers, you could also do a video interview with each child. What a keepsake that would be!

Another exercise you might try with your kids is mindmapping. Have them draw a picture of themselves in the middle of a piece of paper, and start writing down random thoughts and memories about the past year. There is no need to put things in any order, or remember every last thing, just brainstorm. Their thoughts might surprise you.

Once you have collected input from your kids, pull out a notebook or keyboard and do your own homeschool brainstorming:

Describe what is working. What do you love about homeschooling?
Describe what is not working. What do you dislike about homeschooling? Is it something you can live with, or do you really need to change something?
Describe your home atmosphere. Does it reflect the true interests and values of family members? Are people happy at home? Is there anything you would like to improve?
Everyone has habits, good and bad. What are some good habits you have developed or maintained this year, not just for yourself, but for the family as a whole? Did you stick to a budget? Start recycling? Stop drinking sodas? Give everyone a collective pat on the back. Then list some bad habits that you would like to change.

Very often the act of reflective writing will unleash new thoughts, old worries, and ideas for the future. Just let them come. Write it all down. Don’t try to edit yourself or stick to a format. Switch to big bold letters when you feel the urge. This is catharsis time, so don’t be afraid to get it all out there. And you don’t need to do all of this at once, perhaps a little bit per day.

You may also want to use this time to get caught up on some scrapbooking for your homeschool. I found a few links about this here:

http://www.knowledgequestmaps.com/To-Notebook-Lapbook-or-Scrapbook.html

http://eclectichomeschool.org/articles/article.asp?articleid=23

http://www.crosswalk.com/family/homeschool/record-your-end-of-school-year-accomplishments-part-1-11604210.html

For those of you who don’t already make homeschool scrapbooks or yearbooks, I’ll be sharing a series of posts about this in January, but until then, consider taking some more pictures. In fact, now is an excellent time to take pictures of the things you want to change, so you can have before and after photos! Messy dining room table? Collapsing homeschool shelves? Chaotic craft closet? Scowling child? Junk food in the pantry? Later this year when you’ve fixed those things, you can take pictures of the new improved versions.

Keeping Teens on Track

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In my last post, I talked about keeping kids on track, which is really more about keeping track of what they do. It’s far more effective to let kids direct their own education than it is to hold them to anyone else’s timetable or curriculum. Planning ahead is OK as long as your kids are involved with the planning process. But for older kids and teens, planning ahead is essential.  Again, your kids must be involved with the planning process. They must own it. Everyone is responsible for his or her own education. You play a vital role as academic adviser, counselor and administrator, but you can’t make anybody learn anything. If you want your kids to learn things, it is really more effective to give them control. That means you will have to give up control. There’s no pretending here. If you say,”It’s up to you what you will study, but you need to include ___, ___, ___, ___, and ___,” then your kids are smart enough to know that it really isn’t up to them. You have to be willing to let them skip math or writing or whatever it is, with no guilt trips, and then they will know you are serious about giving them ownership.

Listen to your teens, take them places, find them resources, mentors or classes in subjects they are interested in. Help them find and decipher information about careers and college admissions. Let them work and learn to take care of themselves as much as possible. Give them responsibility, and give them the freedom to learn what they will. This sounds crazy to some people, because the teens they know would sleep all day and play video games all night if given the opportunity. But this is only because the teens don’t think of education as something they do for themselves; they think of it as something done to them. It’s a little bit like the difference between starting your own business and going to work at some indifferent job for a paycheck. People often work much harder for their own businesses than they will for someone else, even if they are conscientious workers, because they OWN it.

So, how do you keep teens on track if they own the track?

First, as I’ve said before, let your kids be involved with the planning. Sit down with them and make a list of the things they want to study. Go to some college websites and print out lists of recommended high school courses, extracurricular activities, and testing requirements (pay attention to homeschool requirements in particular because they may be different from public school applicants). Even if your child is not interested in going to college, it’s helpful for them to know what might be required if they change their mind. If they have some other profession in mind, like the military or a trade, help them find out what type of educational attainments would be expected. Together, make a master plan, in pencil, of your child’s remaining homeschool years. If he or she will need to take two or three years of foreign language to be accepted into a college, it’s better to find out early than it is while you’re filling out applications.  You should also make note of what your state homeschool laws require. Armed with this information, your student should be able to see what they would need to do to move forward, even if they are not interested in a particular subject. When kids are younger, education can be mostly interest-driven, but as they get older, they are able to make choices based on necessity. But that doesn’t mean they have to forgo their interests! The great thing about homeschooling is time and flexibility. There are ways to combine personal interests with “required” courses, so be sure to write down personal interests.

After you’ve made up a rough master plan for the long-term, focus on the year ahead. You can use a unit study or literature based approach again, but frankly, if your kids are planning to go to college, it’s so much easier to make up courses the way other schools do. Then, when you are creating high school transcripts for them, colleges will find it much easier to understand what your kids studied. So, take the to-do items on your student’s list and turn them into courses. When my son wanted to learn about forces, vectors and motion for game design, we made a course called, “Physics for Game Design.” When he wanted to learn about banking, personal finance, and our economic crash, we combined all of those topics in a course called, “Economics.”

Once you have the courses figured out, you need to figure out what resources will be needed. My kids were perfectly happy to have me figure this part out. I love researching books and they usually trust me to pick out something they’ll like. But I always talk to them before ordering anything. When picking out math curriculum, I’ll narrow the field to two or three possibilities, and they will take sample lessons from the different companies to decide which style they prefer. Sometimes, my kids already knew which books they wanted to read, and then we made a course out of those books. One of my sons loves computer programming, and since those books are so expensive (yet impossible to find in any library), he keeps a wish list for his birthday and Christmas. There’s no way I could pick these books out because they make no sense to me, but he does his own research to find the best ones. My other son loves theatre, Shakespeare, mythology and writing so it was easy enough to combine these interests into one course called “Language Arts” and let him pick which books and plays he wanted to read anyway.

Once the courses and resources are figured out, it really helps to break everything down into a schedule, either by day or week. How much of each resource/book will you need to cover? If certain courses are required, such as Geometry or American Government, it helps to look at your state curriculum standards (look online) to see what skills or topics students are expected to learn in these courses. If required courses are less defined, such as “Social Studies” or “Fine Arts,” then you can be more flexible when deciding what to include in each course. Figure out what could realistically be accomplished in one week for each course. Or, even better, let your student figure it out. This could be done on notebook paper, any of those downloadable planning forms, or homeschool planning software.

Here’s where the “Keeping Teens on Track” really comes into play. If your students have been involved with planning their own courses, and assigning lessons for each week, it should be up to them to mark off when items are completed. They need to have access to these plans, to be able to see what is ahead and how much more needs to be done. Some courses we did together because it was more fun that way. We would take turns reading aloud, watch documentaries, and have long discussions about the subject at hand. For other courses, like math, they would get in the habit of doing it at a certain time, and then we would all grade their assignments afterward. I made it clear to my kids that I wasn’t going to bug them about getting stuff done, but they asked me to help remind them. Plus we had so many conversations throughout the day about stuff they were reading or doing that it seemed to naturally keep them going.

It seems counterintuitive, but I found that the more I backed off my kids, the more responsible they became. Sometimes, they wouldn’t do math for days because they were more interested in finishing a series of books or a new video game. But then they would do two assignments in a day or work on the weekend to get caught up. When they started taking courses at our local community college, I didn’t help them at all. They would come home and tell me about what they were doing, but they never had trouble adjusting to a classroom environment or more formal homework assignments. In fact, they did very well.

If you have given your teens freedom, but they still don’t seem to be doing anything constructive, try to reconsider what you believe is constructive. If they are playing video games all day, play with them and see what it is all about. Be patient and listen to your kids, without judgement. Expect them to work and take care of themselves as much as possible. Do things with them, get them out of the house, help them find mentors and volunteer opportunities. They won’t be able to resist learning and growing – but it might not look like what you were expecting. It will be better.

Using Mind Maps to Get Your Head Straight

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Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do? Do you homeschool your kids? Work from home? Volunteer? Take care of the house? Grow your own food? Run bazillions of errands? Workout? Have a social life?

Me too. My husband knows better than to come home and say, “So what did you do all day?” It’s an innocent enough question, but the part that gets me is that little word “all” in front of “day.” It implies a long empty span of glorious time, when in fact my day seems to last all of 90 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep again. The better question is, “So what did you do today?” Most of the time, I barely know what to say because I’ve done so many little things that keep everything rolling forward. It’s like pushing 14 marbles up a hill all at the same time. I’ve read the time management books and the getting organized books and I’ve tweaked my routine hundreds of times over the years, but it all comes down to priorities. I would have more time if I dropped some things, but I’m holding out for some reason. And I’m doing OK. Do you want to know what helps?

When my marbles are scattered all over the place, I like to gather them up by journaling and/or a mindmap. A mindmap is a nifty way to jostle your brain by linking words or ideas together into more or less a web of connections. Here’s one I made recently to pull together all the marbles I’m pushing up the hill right now:

The idea is to start in the middle with one central idea and then start making branches. I’ve used this for goal-setting, brainstorming, outlining, and recording things that I want to remember. For related items, a simple list works fine, but when you’re dealing with lots of unrelated items, creating a mindmap is oddly liberating. For more ideas, just search for images of mindmaps on the Internet. You’ll see that some people like to draw pictures, shapes, and fancy arrows from one thing to the next. Every mindmap seems to be as unique as the person who made it, like a signature or a self-portrait.

Give it a try. You may not add any more minutes to your day, but it will help your head feel better.

Use Google Docs to Make Homeschooling Cooler

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My son Aengus loves a lot of techie things, but Google probably tops his list. His dream is to work there someday, but until then, he likes to stay on top of all their latest developments and explain it all to me. So, I cannot take credit for learning to use Google Documents – it was all his idea. It didn’t matter to me whether my kids wrote with a keyboard or a quill pen, I was always just happy to see some writing. But then Aengus tricked me into seeing the wonders of Google.

Here’s how it started. For the last year, Aengus has been “turning in” all of his writing assignments on Google Docs (short for “Documents”), which was working fine. But I didn’t really get it. For me, the only difference between Google Docs and emailing a copy was that the document was stored somewhere else in case your hard drive crashed. Recently however, Aengus needed to write an essay for a scholarship application, so he wrote it up on his laptop and called downstairs to ask me to take a look at it on Google Docs. I was already signed in to my gmail account so I switched over to Documents view and saw his essay there at the top of my list, already enabled to share with me. I started reading it and noticed an insistent message on the top right side of my screen: “Hi Mom.” “Oh – how cute,” I thought as I searched for a way to reply: “Hi Aengus.”

Then he wrote back, “What do you think? I’m still working on the last paragraph.”

I wrote: “What was the essay supposed to be about?”

He promptly copied/pasted the requirements into the message sidebar.

And so it went. I made a suggestion or asked questions, and he responded immediately. I could even see his cursor and the words being typed as he fixed things. The essay was taking shape right before my eyes.

Aha . . . that’s how to use Google docs. It’s collaborative! I get it now. And it doesn’t matter that he uses Windows and I have a Mac. We don’t have to use the same software for me to make edits.

Later, he showed me how I could have left comments at specific areas in the text if we weren’t chatting live, and how Google keeps a history of changes made to any document, and how cool it is that any number of people could see or edit documents without emailing it back and forth.

Now we even share a spreadsheet to track changes to another project we are working on. I’m asking my older son Jesse to move the science fiction novel he’s writing to Google docs so that he doesn’t have to email me the whole document when I ask to read it. It’s so cool!

I may be late to the game, but at least I got this far, and I plan to learn more. If you want to learn more too, here’s some quick videos to get you started:


Capture Your Homeschooling in Photos

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We all tend to take photos of our kids at holidays or on vacation. Scrapbookers and social media devotees take many more. But how many of you are taking pictures of your homeschooling routine? It’s OK to take a few traditional shots of the kids sitting at the table with a textbook, but that gets boring fast. Homeschooling is not school-at-home; it’s a way of life. Taking pictures is s-o-o-o important. Even if you don’t use any curriculum per se, you are busy doing things all day. And you won’t remember what you did. Trust me on this.

YOU WON’T REMEMBER. But journaling and taking pictures will help bring it all back. Looking back at the end of the year, you will be amazed at what you did. Put it all together in a scrapbook and you will have a visual memory for a lifetime.

Here are ten photos you should take for each of your kids:

  • Favorite reading spots.  Do your kids like to read outside on a blanket? In a tree? In front of the woodstove? Catch them in their favorite spot (preferably when they are not looking).
  • Bedroom in all its messy glory. Children’s bedrooms change over time in very personal ways that reflect passing interests. What toys are scattered about? What posters are on the walls? Take new pictures every year.
  • Picture of bookshelf.  For the same reasons that bedrooms express personality, a child’s bookshelf or shelves will show what he or she is interested in. Plus, taking pictures of those books, knick-knacks, photos, and other treasures is a great way to hang on to those things without actually hanging on to them.
  • Child’s portrait next to a stack of curriculum or library books – not just any books of course, but books he or she is actually using. This can be very cute if you try different poses and angles. Get creative!
  • Something your child does NOT like. In this case, it would be math.
  • Let your child take some pictures of “homeschooling” to see what he or she comes up with.
  • Science experiments or projects – these can be difficult to explain in words, but pictures with captions look great in a learning log.
  • Art projects – take pictures of the process as well as the end product. Zoom in your child’s expression when they are in the “zone” and don’t know you are looking at them.
  • Other people – coaches, music teachers, homeschool group, friends, neighbors, church members. Our worlds are full of wonderful people that we don’t think to take pictures of.
  • Have someone take pictures of you reading to them, playing games, exploring, crafting, etc. Don’t be shy. Someday you will want to remember these times, and your kids will want to see you in the picture too (and laugh at your goofy clothes and hairstyle).