Category Archives: Homeschool

Ivey League Learning: Apps for English Language Arts

Someone asked me recently about the apps that I use with our kids. This week I’ll be sharing some of our favorites by category. You’ll notice that while I love a free app, I’m also not afraid to spend a little money for a good app. What are some of your favorite apps? We’d love to know!

Today’s list is of our favorite ELA apps for elementary and preschool kids.

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Toontastic (Free with option for paid upgrade) – This app allows you to create your own cartoon! We have laughed and laughed and laughed over this one. You can use the backgrounds and characters that are provided or you can draw your own. Remember how we used to play with felt boards? This is similar except it records you playing with it so that you see the characters moving and you narrating the story. You can go back and add music as well. I love to hear all the imaginative stories my kids come up with!

Mad Libs (Free) – Exactly what you think it is. Perfect for learning the parts of speech, and usually good for a laugh.

This Week’s Words ($3.99) – I rarely spend more than $2 on a kid’s app, so it has to come highly recommended. This one was great because you could put in your own words and you can set up accounts for each of your children. Then they log in and practice the words. After they pass the first two practice levels, it gives a spelling test.

Endless Alphabet* (Free) – This is the overall favorite app for all of my kids. And, admittedly, I kinda sorta like it as well. You move the letters around into the correct spot and as you move each one it makes it’s own sound. Once you have all of the letters in place, it acts out the word. Not only do you have letter recognition and letter sounds, but also vocabulary. And these aren’t words like CAT or DOG, but words like BELCH (the one I hear most often) and GARGANTUAN. When they hear the music start up, they all flock to the ipad.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.14.36 AMRocket Speller* (Free) – This app is similar to Endless Alphabet, but with a completely different word set. There are levels and as you complete stages, you get to build rockets.


Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App ($5.99) – This app was on sale when I bought it, but we really love it. The kids laugh and laugh at Pigeon’s silly antics and the Mo Willems shows you how to draw Pigeon. Funny and interactive app.

Coming Up Tomorrow: Apps for Math, Science, and Social Studies
Later This Week: Spacial Thinking Apps, Just for Fun Apps, Apps for Toddlers

The thing about field trips…

My kids seem to miss two things about ‘real’ school: the playground and field trips. But here’s the deal with homeschool field trips. We take them all the time; my kids just don’t realize it. Grocery store. Post Office. The hardware store. The nursery (plant, not baby). When we go to those places, we talk about how they work, why they’re important, and sometimes even things like supply and demand, marketing, and such. But my kids don’t think of these as field trips. Their friends in ‘real’ school go to places like the aquarium and to the strawberry patch and the pizza place. Luckily, Georgia Cyber Academy offers some really great ‘real’ field trips that we love! We’ve been to see the Atlanta Symphony, the Museum of Arts and Sciences, several local historical sites, the Children’s Museum, and more. (Next week we’re going to The Rock Ranch! But…there are still things that they hear friends talk about and wish they could do. And if it’s something that I can make happen, I try to do it! We know the people who own our local Mellow Mushroom and with one quick message, we had that ball rolling. We were to be at the store at 10:45, enough time to get our cook on before the lunch crowd got there. The first thing we did was tour the whole store. The owner took us through the whole store, showing us where they store all the food and how they prep and how they clean. I must say I was very impressed with how many fresh ingredients they use and how few pre-packaged items. The only things that I saw that weren’t cut fresh on site were olives and pineapple. Mr. David told us all about how one person types the order in on one computer and it prints out a ticket for the kitchen. We even got to see him change out one of the bags on the soda machine.
But the best part was making their very own Mellow Mushroom pizza. He taught them how to press out the dough, stretch it, and shape it. They put on gloves and put on the sauce and toppings just like a real employee. After a few minutes in the oven, they learned about how to butter the crust and add some cheese for that special MM touch. We all had such a great time. Thanks, Mr. David!
After we finished up with lunch, we took a break at our favorite playground before heading to Kroger. There we met Mr. Gladden, who took us all through the store. We even got to peek behind the counter of Starbucks! We saw the meat slicer at work in the deli, learned about how produce gets to the store and where it comes from, the difference between organic and regular foods, and more. The kids loved looking at the live lobsters, but my favorite part of the whole tour came at the end.
Did you know that when you walk into a Kroger store there is a heat sensor that counts how many people are coming in. Based on that count and a fancy formula that someone really smart designed, the computers can calculate how many check out lanes need to be open. On the screens you can see 3 circles. The first circle shows how many lanes should be open right now. The second circle shows how many lanes are currently active. And the last circle tells the employees how many lanes need to be open in the next 30 minutes. (I’m pretty sure I throw those numbers off because I tend to be a lingerer in the grocery store if I don’t have the kids with me. If I have them, we fly through like a speeding bullet.)

Big thanks to both Kroger and Mellow Mushroom for making arrangements for us to come visit!


Spring Break is Breaking Me

When I first thought about homeschooling our kids, I worried that I would run into a major problem: I would hate it. (Or they would hate it). (Or both).

See, I love my children very, very much. I’m often a hands-on mom. I like to roll in the grass and have races and color the driveway with chalk and play CandyLand and read kid books and make crafts and color and build with Legos. I can be a super fun mom and we do super fun things. But I worried with school that I would turn into a Learning Nazi. I am task-oriented and I am driven by checking things off of my to do list. I’ll push through almost anything to finish checking off a list. And so I worried that with all the lists that come with our curriculum, I would force my need to check off all the things onto my children. I didn’t want that and I’ve been hypervigilant about it (although I’ve failed a time or two).

We quickly fell into a good routine. We started out by having a timed schedule where you only worked on a certain subject until the time was up, much like ‘real’ school (as my kids call it). But as things progressed, I got a little more loosey-goosey about our timeline. I stopped writing out exact times for each class on our To Do Board, and just made a list of things that needed to be accomplished by the day’s end. Sometimes the work was done by lunch. Other times we were still working when Marshall got home. But we all got used to having the list. If one child finishes an activity and I’m working with the other, they know to check the list and see what they can do on their own. (Anything that requires help from Mommy has an asterisk beside it). It works for us. And they’re pretty good about making sure they don’t waste too much time when they think I’m not looking.

Then enter Spring Break. BAH! My children are going wild! You’d think it be great to have free time to just play or read or color, but they’ve lost their stinkin’ minds! As I type this they are all playing together in one room and there are things banging around, lots of shouting, and talk of something exploding. I’m praying that the exploding thing is a Ballistiks toy*. I try to let it all just roll off my back, but they’re driving me insane! My tolerance for crazy is pretty high, but whew! They are wearing me down. We have one main rule in our house: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it. You’d be surprised to see how often that rule is applicable. But there seems to be an all-time high of forgetting that rule around here the past few days, and I’m convinced that the root of that is that without a schedule to guide them, they are doing whatever comes to mind…whether they should or not. (Mostly not).

I don’t really know how to solve this.  I was thinking that maybe I needed to go ahead and plan out something for every minute of every day and try to avoid this schedule-less issue all together, but you know what? They’re kids! They need time to be wild and crazy. They need time to pick what they do. They even need time to be bored. Some of my most creative moments come when I’m completely bored out of my mind. Boredom gives my brain room to roam, and that’s a good thing. I know they need the free time and free space, but how do I control the chaos? How do I nudge them towards positive, constructive play without taking away too much autonomy from them and without going stark-raving mad?

*not an affiliate or sponsored link


Homeschool Lite

There are some days in homeschool when we take a break from our regular lessons. Often that day falls on Friday and we use it to catch up on anything we’ve missed or go out exploring or do something fun. But on weekends that are so full of busy that I’m left spinning on Monday morning, we do Homeschool Lite. (The spelling “lite” has always bothered me, but it’s a key word here. You’ll see why in just a sec.)

This past weekend I was in Dallas, TX for the BlissDom Conference. There’s so much to say about finding my bliss with some of my favorite ladies, but I just can’t get caught up with all that there is to be done! By the time I got home Sunday, I was ready to collapse. Then the wave of pollen attacked me and I’ve been watery-eyed and sniffly since. So Monday morning was just too much for me to handle. I declared it a Homeschool Lite day and we started getting a few things done around here.  I needed to do laundry, make a grocery list, go to the store, wash dishes, and a hundred other little things. And I decided that instead of Homeschool Lite, we’d have a Homeschool Life day. I’d teach them the things they really need to know, like how to plan your meals and shop effectively and make healthy choices. They helped me sort, wash, fold, and put away laundry. They started dinner in the slow cooker. They made bread. They dyed Easter eggs. They were on the ball! We make a pretty great team once we get rolling!

But one of the coolest things we did was make butter.  When the decided to make bread, I figured we might as well make butter, too.  I’d heard it was easy, but I thought it was one of those things that people tell you is easy, but then it really isn’t. But this? This making butter? Super easy (but maybe a little tough on the arms).

Get heavy whipping cream and pour it into a container with a screw on lid.  You want the screw on lid so that it doesn’t accidentally pop open! I’d recently made pimento cheese and had two small pimento jars, so we used those. We also used a small jelly jar. Fill the jar 2/3 of the way full of heavy whipping cream. Close it up tight and shake. And shake. And shake.


For a small container*:
After shaking for about 3 minutes, it’ll start to thicken up a little and be the consistency of pudding.
After 3ish more minutes, it’ll be looking like whipped cream. If you want a little whipped cream, just add a dash of sugar.
After 4ish more minutes of shaking, you’ll see it start to separate into butter and buttermilk.
It’s wild how all of a sudden it happens!  You’re shaking along and then BOOM! It’s a solid!
Drain the buttermilk off (and save it if you’d like) and then add seasonings.
I used a little salt and a little bit of Italian seasoning. Imagine how good it’ll be with fresh herbs this spring!
Let it get firm in the refrigerator and then try not to eat it all at once!
That’s it! Homemade butter in less than 15 minutes! AND you get an arm workout.
I call that a win-win!

*You do the same thing for larger containers, but the times are longer.


We originally planned on having a Dr. Seuss celebration on his actual birthday, but Carter won the derby car race at church and will be doing the state race on Saturday…so we decided it Seuss it up today.


We started out by making Thing 1 and Thing 2 cupcakes like the ones seen on GoGrahamGo blog, which is the brainchild of the wife of one of my childhood friends. I reconnected with Matthew after finding Felicia online. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?

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And then she read and he read and she read some more. He listened and she listened and then she ran away to color. She’s two, so I was surprised she made it as long as she did! (Also? This is one of those moments I regret not grabbing my big girl camera instead of my phone. But…whatcha gonna do?)

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We talked to our red fish and our blue fish. And Asa tried to comb the baby’s hair and made it stand up like she was wearing a BumpIt and we all laughed until we couldn’t breathe. It was one of those moments that starts out with a little snort and barrels into a chorus of guffaws. It was perfect. I love my strange little birds. And I hope they never outgrow Dr. Seuss.

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Give and Get

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I went into their room for something else and noticed his red-rimmed eyes.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
She interjected, “He’s sad because of Valentine’s Day.”
“Because of Valentine’s Day? Why?”
“Because I won’t get to give and get valentines this year,” his voice cracked.
“Because I’m homeschooled.”

I’d never thought about valentines before.
I am always asking if they like homeschool, if they’d rather be in public school.
The answer is almost always yes they like it, unless they think about the new playground at the school.
Yes, we love homeschool, they tell me.
And I believe they do.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t miss some of the “old ways”, the things they did when they went to public school.
The music classes where they learn songs and then sing them at a concert.
Recess on a fancy playground.
And Valentine’s Day.

Unsure of what to say or do, I assured him he’d get at least one valentine, probably more.
Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal to me.
I’ve never put emphasis on it for them, and had this not come up I probably wouldn’t have gotten them anything at all.
I might have made heart shaped pancakes or something.
But now I sit here with his hurt in my hands and I’m fumbling around with how to fix it.

We’ll have a party!” I suggest.
We can invite your friends to come after school and we’ll have snacks and games.
What do you think about that?”
A smile crosses his face and goes up to his eyes.
“Let the planning begin,” he declares.
(He is so my child).


I’m write. Your wrong. (sic)

It’s nearly 10p.m. and my big kids just got into bed. Carter got a new telescope for his birthday and was excited about looking at the night sky (even if it really was too cloudy to see much at all). We meant to go out after dinner, but decided to wait for the little two to go to bed.  So by the time we made it outside, it was already past bed time and we spent more time outside than we meant to (or than my icicle toes would have liked). This is one of the perks of homeschool for us. If we had to be up and out the door by 7:45 in the morning, I never would have dreamed of letting them stay up so late on a school night. But we had a chance to study the sky while the little kids were in bed and while Daddy was home, so we took it.  (And maybe, just maybe, everyone will sleep a little later in the morning).

This kind of flexibility is one of the main things that I love about homeschool. Get done with a lesson quickly? Either move on to the next lesson or take a break. Struggling with a lesson and just not getting it? Take a break and we’ll come back to it later. See an opportunity on a Saturday that fits in with an upcoming lesson? Do it on Saturday and check it off then. A trip to the doctor/dentist/orthodontist? Ask questions and turn it into a real learning experience. Grocery shopping? Make sure you check the labels and do price comparisons. Reading, comprehension, math, problem solving. Have errands to run? Take your book with you and read in the car.


We are having such a great experience with homeschool that sometimes I want to do a little dance at the end of the day. While other parents are having to help their kid pound through spelling words again, rushing to get everything done before gymnastics or soccer or piano, I’m in the yard reading a book while the kids play. I have to admit that there are moments like those when I get a little smug about our choice. I think, “Ha! I sure am glad I’m not having to do homework like they are.” And low-and-behold I catch myself being a homeschool snob. It’s embarrassing, really. I know better than that. This homeschooling option is a good options for us for now. It may not be a good option for us for always and it isn’t the best option for many people ever. And that’s okay. Ultimately, I don’t care if you homeschool or if you don’t. I don’t care if you think I’m nuts or not. (If you think I’m nuts, chances are I give you plenty of opportunity to prove your point without adding homeschool to the mix). I don’t care if you ask me about what we learn or how our days go. I don’t care if you ask me details of testing and lesson plans and how we deal with the little kids while the big kids work. I usually don’t even mind if you ask me how I do it all. (I don’t have an answer for that, but I don’t mind if you ask). But I do get my panties in a wad when people try to take their preconceived notions about homeschool and try to fit them on my family like a too-tight pair of jeans. My kids are socialized just fine thankyouverymuch. They experience a wide variety of people and of beliefs and ideals and ideas. They learn the same things that they would be learning at a brick and mortar school. We don’t skip the stuff I don’t understand. (I just have to learn it with them). We don’t shelter them from the world (any more than I did when they were in public school). We don’t homeschool to keep them away from worldly influences. We aren’t bible beaters or have any plans to live in a commune with the other hippies or any thing like that. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a super-fervent Christian or living in a commune, if that’s your thing). 

It just makes me sad to see the negative stigma so many people have about homeschool and homeschooled kids and homeschooling parents.  As a homeschooling parent, all I want is for you do to what is right for your family and for me to do what is right for my family. I want both of us to be able to see and appreciate that what works at my house may not work at your house. I want us to be able to celebrate our diversity, not hide behind it. I want us to play nice and not bicker about one way being better than another. I felt the same way when we talk about breastfeeding and co-sleeping and baby-wearing. Oh, Mommy Wars…I’m so weary. Let’s just drop the whole thing and hold hands instead, shall we?

One Hundred Days of Homeschool

Today is our 100th day of school! (Okay, I honestly have no clue how many days we’ve done school, because we often take off Fridays but we sometimes do school work on the weekend and I don’t really keep track of the days. But everyone else is celebrating and it seemed like something fun that the kids always liked and so we’re celebrating.)

The big kids wrote about what they’d do with $100.
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We played a Race to 100 game.
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They drew pictures of what they’d look like at 100 years old.
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We made 100 piece snack.
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We made a list of 100 things we love.
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We picked up 100 (plus some) Legos.
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And I gave them each 100 kisses!
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We’re all still really loving homeschool and have decided to do it again next year.
I don’t know how long we’ll do it, but for now it fits and everyone is happy.
I’m not gonna mess with that!


10 Things That Make Homeschool Hard

Yesterday I wrote about the things we love about homeschool, but I can assure you that it’s not all sunshine and roses around here. Here are some of the struggles that we’ve met so far:

1. Other people – From the very first moment I publicly admitted that I was thinking of homeschooling, I was met with a barrage of opinions – some positive, some negative and it seemed like the negative ones were/are really negative. There were, honestly, some people who I knew would disagree with our choice, but were still people I genuinely admire and care about and so I sought them out to hear what they had to say. For various reasons, I trusted that what they would say and that they would say it in a fair and kind way. And that’s exactly what happened with those specific people. But there were still a lot of people who offered their unrequested opinion and for the most part,  they were/are very bold in stating their disapproval. I can certainly see why so many homeschooling families are defensive. (And to answer the ever-present question: No, I don’t worry about socialization.)
(I must also say that our extended family has been very, very supportive, which I think is a big part of our success.)

2. The littles – The little kiddos have a very hard time understanding that the bigs are at home, but not available. I have special toys and books that are only for school time, and that holds their interest sometimes. I occasionally let them watch a special show on TV while I work with the big two. Sometimes I give them snacks to distract them. But trying to let them play together? Bah! Those two are like oil and water! There are many days when I feel like I’m a referee I have discovered, however, that if I let them play together for a short period of time and split them up before the bickering starts, I can keep them content for longer. When I split them up, I let them play independently in their rooms. That took some getting used to, especially for the baby who is convinced that our whole family was created to serve her. 🙂

3. Too much togetherness – My children are al.ways.with me. There is both good and bad here. I love being around to experience so much with them. I love watching them learn. I love that there are spontaneous cuddle sessions. But I also struggle with just wanting a few minutes to myself or not being touched all.the.time. Oh. And it’d be nice to pee alone at least once a day.

4. Balance – I think this must be parenting’s hardest facet. Trying to figure out how much to expect of them and how much to expect of me. Trying to decide at what point you stop school and just play. Trying to pick between things that need to be done and things you want to do. It really is every parent’s problem, I know. But sometimes it seems even bigger when we’re all here all the time. Like laundry and dishes and such. You’d think that with all of us here all day long, we’d eventually get the clothes put away. Not so much. But we’re trying. And it’s better than it used to be.

5. Organization – It takes a fair amount of planning and organization to keep things running smoothly for us. That may not be true for all homeschool families, but I know without a daily agenda, we’d just ramble through the day. I have roller carts for each student and their binders and books and papers are stacked up in the order that they’ll need them. The dry erase board has everyone’s daily To Do list and we check off one thing at a time. But that means that I always have to be one step ahead of them, and given my personality that sometimes means I’m getting tomorrow’s lessons prepped at 2am. I tried doing it as a batch on Sunday night, but taking it day-by-day has worked out so much better for us.

6. Worry – I worry, worry, worry about missing something. What if I don’t teach something critical? What if I teach something incorrectly? What if this whole homeschool thing ends up hurting them academically in the future? What if? What if? What if? Luckily Marshall is the master un-what-if-er, and he usually talks me down off the ledge when I get frustrated and/or weepy. He’s good like that.

7. Screen time – I’ve always been a bit of a stickler for limiting screen time at home. When they are with friends or grandparents or babysitters I don’t worry about it, but at home I like to keep control of the remote, iPods, and iPad. But with so much school work being online and extra games and learning tools online, I’ve really had to loosen up about it. I’ve had to be careful to not go the other way, actually! When they sit down and start playing a game (even an educational one), I tend to lose track of time and it’s bad for everyone. And I begin to justify it as ‘learning’ when really I’m just enjoying the down time. (I’m not saying all screen time is bad, but trying to figure out how much of what is still hard for me.)

8. Struggles – The hardest part to me so far is when they don’t get it, when they don’t understand. When I feel like I’ve explained it every way I know how and we’re still getting no where. It’s hard for me to not get frustrated with myself. It’s hard for me to not get frustrated with them. It’s just no fun. It has honestly only happened a few times, but when I see that blank stare coming back at me, I know we’ve got to back up and re-think it. And whew! That can wear a momma out!

Okay, okay…I’ve been thinking for a long time and I simply cannot come up with two more things. I’m sure there are other things that came up and I forgot about or will come up later, but we are all loving homeschool so much that the negatives don’t even come onto our radar. Sure, there are days that I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. And there are days that I think “Good LORD, what have I done?” And there are days when I just want to slam the book shut and walk away. But you know what? When that happens, we have the flexibility to close the book and go outside and play or change subjects or read or sing or have a dance party or make cookies or whatever we want to do and we do it and things seem a little better. And if we still aren’t at a place where I feel like we can get back to our studies, we just hit pause until the next day.

So homeschool isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for us. And I’m not sure how long it will last, but I’m sure that the things we’re learning and the memories we’re making will last a lifetime. And that, friends? Is what my heart-gut dreamed of all along.

10 Things We Love About Homeschool

1. Daily flexibility – We start when we start and finish when we finish. We often will do morning work, eat lunch and take a big break (and sometimes a nap), and then finish our school day well after traditional school hours. And if we don’t finish everything today, we’ll catch up tomorrow. We’ve actually structured our weeks so that Friday is a catch-all day. Anything that we’re behind on or anything we missed gets done on Friday. If we get all of our work done by Thursday night, Friday is a completely lazy-daisy day! (Those are my favorites!)

2. Overall flexibility – We need a day off? We take a day off.  An opportunity pops up to take a trip or visit someone? We can do it. We have time to do a project with Daddy on the weekend? We can count that towards our learning hours, too! I was able to take special trips with each of the big kids that never would have worked if we’d been in a traditional school setting.

3. Pace – Carter is in 2nd grade. Lydia is in 1st. Both of them are ahead of schedule for at least one subject. Once they finish all their grade-level work, they can go ahead and start on the  next level!

4. Fund Raisers – None! I don’t have to feel guilty about asking people to buy overpriced stuff that none of us really need anyway.

5. School Politics – There are certainly things I care about (see also: Amendment 1) because I believe that public education is very important and the best option for many, many children, and I imagine that we will re-enter the brick-and-mortar public school system at some point, BUT that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the nyey-nyeying and blah-blah-blah that goes on locally. We are zoned for a great school (which we loved) and a nice district, but still…there are always things that make you want to beat your head against the wall.

6. Variety – We aren’t chained to one location. We have been known to pack up all our stuff and do school at the playground or park. We use mundane chores (like grocery shopping or even cleaning the house) as learning opportunities. Twice now we’ve been in the middle of studying something and I realize I’m not explaining it well and we hop in the car and go on a field trip.

7. Family time – When my kids were in a traditional school setting, mornings were horrible. Lots of crying and whining and complaining. Lots and lots. From them and me. Our mornings now aren’t perfect (I’m SO not a morning person), but I can’t remember the last time there was an all-out morning meltdown. (Those were fairly common for my sleep-loving Lydia the past few years.) And then afternoon pick up would often interfere with naps and everyone would be tired and grumpy. When they’d come in, I’d want them to start on homework; they would just want to play. And I’d have an internal debate about giving them a break after a long day at school versus having to do homework later in the evening. And then by the time it was time to make dinner, we were all grouchy and miserable because either I’d pushed them to do homework and they were dragging it out or I’d let them have the break and now struggled to get them started. Blech! Now our afternoons and evenings are a lot smoother and more comfortable. When Marshall gets home, I’m not (as often) frustrated and haggled as I have been known to be. (There are still moments, I assure you! But overall it is much, much better!)

8. Pants optional. (You knew I had to mention that, right? Because it’s totally awesome!)

9. Nap Time (or Quiet Time) – If we need it, we take it. The big kids rarely need to take naps, but I do! 🙂 We most often use that time for reading. Sometimes the little kids and I nap while they read. Sometimes the littles nap while we read together. Sometimes I get things done around the house while they read aloud to me. I’ve discovered that a little downtime in the middle of the day does wonders for what we manage to get accomplished in the afternoon!
Same subject, different thought process: If the littles are sleeping, I don’t have to wake them up to go get in car-rider-pick-up line. That is a HUGE blessing!

10. No homework!