Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January is the new September. It is.

We're on Christmas break right now. We ended school at home on Wednesday, December 18th; the 19th and 20th were our last co-op days. We return to co-op this Thursday and resume school at home next Monday. As I always do on Christmas break, I'm using this time to tweak our schedule and curriculum as needed.

My friend Tiffany will tell you I frequently say "January is the new September". This is the perfect time to make changes to your homeschool. Got curriculum that just isn't working? Ditch it now. Are you absolutely, thoroughly wiped out at the end of the school? It may be time to revamp your schedule. Worried because your school year started slow, picked up a little steam but began sputtering again around the holidays? Take a few days to chart the next semester. Preparation may be the boost you need.

By now, you should know if a curriculum or text is working--for both you and your student. The best instruction for your child will be the one that perfectly joins his learning style to your teaching ability. That should be the main criteria. If a 20 year old text you picked up at a thrift store works better than the new book you've seen reviewed on a dozen homeschool sites, the thrift store tome is the one you use.

I've seen parents reluctant to part with a curriculum because it cost a small fortune and they fear discarding it will be a waste of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Slogging onward with no success not only represents a waste of money, but a waste of time--as the child won't retain the material and you will end up re-teaching the subject later. Trust me, I know.

A few years ago, it seemed everyone was jumping on the Latin foreign language bandwagon. We did, too. A certain curriculum was declared the best thing going and several of my friends purchased it and we followed suite.

It was awful. I don't mean it was a good curriculum that just didn't work for us, I mean it was truly awful. When my girls (the oldest was in middle school at the time) began picking out errors on the DVD, I dropped it. I wasn't concerned that the text, workbook and DVD combined cost nearly $100. My girls dreaded that class and we ended up skipping foreign language for a while as I researched other options.

I found another Latin program and we began in February of the following year. By the time the school term ended in June, the girls had made a lot of progress. The reason? When you find the right curriculum you will make up the lost time.  (By the way, the program we switched to was Visual Latin. Get a free trial at the website).

We worked across the summer to catch up and started the second session in September of the next school year.

Sometimes you may need to switch a curriculum for other reasons. We used Mystery of History for a time. My girls loved it, so did I. I learned things from that text I didn't learn in school. The timeline: brilliant. The multi-level teaching schematic: awesome.

Problem was, I didn't have time for the prep and supplementary work it required. I'm a freelance writer and at the time, I was on assignment with two periodicals. We switched to a textbook for the next year. My older daughter took an online class that combined literature with history and has fulfilled those credit requirements. Grace has told me she'd like to return to Mystery of History when she begins high school in two years and we will.

I'm happy with the curriculum we're currently using. I've mentioned them here.

Our schedule may change this time around. The 16 year old is job-hunting. Her dad and I have agreed she can work a few hours on two days: Thursdays and Saturdays. We may need to move her Thursday classes earlier in the week.

What I'm doing this week is reviewing each book, marking the table of contents with the changes I need to make, searching online resources (Khan Academy, YouTube, PBS, et al) for information that will supplement what they are learning. I'm making sure I've got Beth's work graded and keeping an eye on her transcript. I keep all of this information in my planner, which is really a multi-subject spiral notebook. Classy, I know.

Those books you bought that no longer work for you--sell them. There are websites aplenty where homeschooling parents buy and sell both new and used curriculum. I've purchased and sold on If you live in the Hampton Roads area, drop by the Moore Expressions homeschool store in Virginia Beach. Cherrie and staff are more than willing to point you in the right direction curriculum-wise and offer assistance with other homeschooling issues. Find them here.

Take some to review your school and be brave enough to make the changes needed to ensure your student's success. Let's finish this school year strong.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Homemade hand soap

If you're like me, you're concerned about both the cost and the ingredients of some personal and household cleaning products. The ingredient list on shampoos, make-up and lotions are way long with odd sounding, harmful chemicals. Not good.

The thought that everything that I put on my skin is actually absorbed into my body makes me a bit nervous. Same thing with the products we use to clean our homes. My eyes water at the mention of Pine Sol. My mother-in-law uses it to clean. I think her ratio is a gallon of Pine Sol to two tablespoons of water. ONE WHIFF and I get a horrific, hours-long headache. I'm not exaggerating. I dropped by on one of her cleaning-day Thursdays, caught a whiff, immediately left but still spent the rest of the day in bed with my head pounding. Ugh.

I've discovered you can make your own personal and household cleaning products that work just as well  as what you purchase in stores. The cost savings are huge- often pennies on the dollar. When you factor in the safety, going the DIY route makes perfect sense.

I've made my own laundry detergent for a couple of years but I'm saving that for another post. Today we're discussing liquid hand soap- the kind you keep on the bathroom sink. It seemed like I was constantly buying the stuff. Well, no more. 

Start here:

Begin with a bar of soap. I don't like the perfumes and dyes used in most soap, so I use Ivory. You can always add a few drops of essential oil at the end if you prefer a scent. A castile soap can also be used. Some of those are already scented. Grate the soap. I used the side of grater with the large slicers. If you don't have a grater, use a knife with a large/sharp enough blade for a thin chop. The soap has to melt and the thinner the slice, the quicker that part of the job. NOTE: This is the grater I use when making laundry detergent. You'll need a separate one for cooking.
This is what you'll end up with:
Add four cups of water to a large pot and bring it to a low boil. Reduce the heat and slowly stir in the grated soap. Stir regularly for about five or six minutes. It'll look like nothing at all is happening. Try not to fall asleep.
As soon as all the soap flakes are dissolved, remove the pan from the stove. It won't look like soap at all. It actually looks like the cloudy dishwater after a load of dishes, just without the bits of food you didn't scrape off the plate. There may or may not be a bubble or two trying to form. You'll actually read over this post thinking you've skipped a step. You haven't. This is now mine looked:

Remove the pan from the heat. I covered mine, reminded the kids not to toss it out, and distracted myself with the half million other things I had going on at the moment.
Half an hour later, it was a bit more cloudy but still thin. I checked it occasionally; seemed nothing was happening. I wondered if I'd need to throw this out and begin again. I watched part of a movie then went to bed. This is what I found the next day: 
It was thick, white and gel-like, but couldn't be poured into a soap dispenser. I put the pan back on the stove with minimal heat--I used the #2 setting.
I slowly poured in water- about half a cup, while stirring the glob. One minute in, I got this:
The consistency was right, but there were still lumps. Another quarter cup or so of water and more stirring. It was breaking down nicely. Notice that I've removed it from the heat at this point.
Bubbles!  More stirring, a bit more water before the lumps were gone and it could be poured.
I got my funnel and jars.
I poured some in my bathroom decanter and the rest into an empty plastic bottle that I'll keep in the cabinet for refill. This is where you'll add scent if desired. I stirred in two drops of castile soap before I starting pouring. This stuff is natural and has a nice smell. It's also potent- a little will do a lot. Use your own judgement when it comes to essential oils but remember a little goes a long way.
That old orange juice bottle holds 56 ounces, the decanter holds 8. For less than $1 (the Ivory soap came in a bundle of three and cost $1.99), I have half a gallon of hand soap.
 On my bathroom cleaning days when I straightening out the cabinet, I make sure to give the big bottle a shake.
Two things: There's a chance the soap wouldn't have gotten thick/lumpy had I not gone to bed before pouring. It could also mean that I should add a more water in the beginning.  I'll try both the next time. Still, I'm satisfied with my first attempt. It's been three days and it still works like a charm.