How in the WORLD do you homeschool FOUR children while telecommuting? Love, patience and a TON of coffee... Just in case you wanted it, here's a glimpse inside Mrs. Kastner's Klass.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wanna know Wednesday....

What's your Christmas break look like this year?

[Kastners:  we are ALL Mom, Dad, and kids off from 12/24 - 1/2... CAN'T wait!]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sometimes homeschooling is HARD

I was thinking yesterday about how in a traditional school setting, the teacher gets "prep periods" (oh how fondly I remember prep periods) and how a janitor comes in at the end of the school day and cleans the classroom (oh what I wouldn't give for a janitor!)...  Last night as I laid my head on my pillow finally dropping into exhausted rest at 11:09 p.m. with cooking class still spread all over the kitchen table, math and language all over the counter, and the after effects of PE swirling about my living room, I thought about how HARD this thing called homeschooling is.  I mean HARD!  School seeps into every pore of your life.  There are NO breaks.  You don't get a janitor or a prep period.

But I guess as they say, "Nothing worth having is free."  And this is SO worthwhile!  Who cares about the cooking class all over the kitchen table?!?!  I got to observe the delight over "eating all the broken ones" first hand!  Who cares about Math and Language all over the counter?!?!  I saw the light bulb flashing BRIGHTLY over Noah's head as we got ready to DIAGRAM SENTENCES (she said in pure awe of the JOY of DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES).  Who cares about the PE tornado that hit the living room?!?!  My kids have the best Tae Kwon Do teacher EVER!  (And they don't have to suffer the horror of the locker room after gym!)

So just like I do with the rest of life... when Homeschooling gets tough I remind myself of the GREAT parts... and then it doesn't seem so tough anymore.

Peace out, peops!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wanna know Wednesday...

I decided to start something new.... Kinda a round table "ish" thing...  On Wednesday's I will post a question, I'd love some feedback from other homeschoolers... So comment PLEASE! Cuz I "Wanna know" what you think/do/plan!  (It's on Wednesdays because I'm all about alliteration).  Here's today's question:

I wanna know - what curriculum you use.

Monday, December 13, 2010

SKIP cards

New thing starting today.

Each student who earned an A on Friday's Book Report earned 5 SKIP cards.

A SKIP card can be used to skip ONE drill-type assignment per day:  blog, math facts, spelling quiz.  Only one SKIP card can be used in a day.  SKIP cards never expire and can be saved as long as desired.  (EVERYONE got 5 SKIP cards this morning.)

We will see how this goes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why homeschooling works

Below are my thoughts on why homeschooling works so well... (my DFL - dear friend Lori, LOVES my analogies so she is gonna LOVE this post!)

I believe that homeschooling is like personal training.  If you have the means, a personal trainer is a GREAT way to get in shape.  This person with a TON of fitness knowledge develops a plan personally tailored for YOU.  Are you thick around the thighs and want to slim down???  a little more cardio is on the menu for you.  Are you struggling with back problems???  ab exercises and back stretching may do the job.  Are you a AVID exerciser whose hit a plateau?  cue the variety of cross training.  Is a personal trainer the only way you can get in shape???  No.  Is a personal trainer affordable, possible, attainable for EVERY person??? No.  But would a personal trainer be beneficial to EVERY person???  YES!

Homeschooling is a lot like that.  If you have the means, desire, and ability, homeschooling is a GREAT way to get an education.  This person who is an expert on YOU (your mom... or dad) develops an educational plan personally tailored for YOU.  Are you a student who HATES to read?  enter book reports on your FAVORITE subject.  Are you a student who struggles with math but loves video games?  here comes a BRAND new computer program that teaches you math while you play.  Are you someone who is OBSESSED with the military?  cue the project on the Marines.  Is homeschooling the only way to get an education??? NO!  Is homeschooling possible for EVERY person??? NO!  But would homeschooling benefit every child??? YES!  As an educator, I really truly do believe that there is not a child out there who wouldn't benefit from at least a little time in a one-on-one (or one-on-four) type educational setting which was PERFECTLY tailored to THEIR specific needs.

In my opinion this personal trainer-like quality of homeschooling is why is works SO well.  I just keep trying and trying and trying (not to CRAM the same exact canned lesson into my child's head but) to present learning in a way that makes them WANT it!  I was like that when I was a teacher in the classroom too.  And there are MANY other teachers out there who are like this; however, as I found out the hard way, just ONE year (or even most of one year) under a teacher who is not like this... a teacher who REFUSES to bend her ways to meet a child's needs... can crush a child's spirit and even color his opinion of the whole educational process!

So while I do NOT subscribe to the notion that homeschooling is the right choice for every family and parent, I DO subscribe to the notion that homeschooling would benefit every child if it works for his/her family.

Mkay... I'm gingerly climbing off my soap box now to get started on cleaning my house.  Have a great day everyone!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Curriculum improvements

For our entire homeschooling career thus far, I have been sticking to individualized grade based social studies and science.  It has been mind-numbing and ARDUOUS!  Which is NO FAIR because I LOVE history!  I have a major in history!  Besides diagramming sentences, studying the past is my favorite scholastic activity!

A few weeks ago I decided that we should be doing social studies and science as a GROUP and life has not been the same since! I don't know what took me so long to ditch the book dependence and TEACH my children about COOL STUFF that's happened before or GREAT THINGS that exist in their environment. But I am soooooooooooo glad I stumbled upon this idea!

Right now we are covering the discovery of America.  I plan to wrap that up by T-giving and take a break to read a little historical fiction (Our Strange New Land) to help the kids see what it was like to be a kid when America was being settled.

I'm not sure where we'll go after that.  I think a little geography jaunt.  All I know is my kiddos have retained more about the past in these last two weeks then they ever have before.

Well gotta go now! Hope you have a happy homeschooling day!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Interactive learning REALLY works wonders for us!  Two weeks ago, I decided to change things up a little (AGAIN!).  The kids were fighting me SO hard about doing math facts!  It was driving me NUTS!  I knew they KNEW their math facts, but getting them to put them on paper was like pulling teeth!!!!!  I found this site and one morning instead of having to complete a math facts quiz on paper, they had to do it online as a game.  You know what Jeremiah said to me????  "Mom, math is FUN now!"  WOOHOO!  I did it!!!!!  I got them to stop hating practicing their Math facts!!!  I started an Excel sheet to track their progress and now they BEG me to do math facts!  AMAZE-ZUH-ZING!

So here's a quick list of the online resources we use... some of them require a paid subscription but I'm pretty sure you can try out a demo for free....

phonics - we use Click N Kids... it has been AMAZING!  It is like a video game.  It teaches them phonics.  It tracks their progress compared to other users.  It is GREAT!  They also have Click N Spell but we haven't used that.

spelling - spelling city is AWESOME!  My kids are constantly begging to play Hang Mouse... Ha!  The joke is on them because they are learning their spelling list while playing it!  This site can be used by anyone:  homeschoolers, teachers, students in traditional school.  I recommended it to my friend Lori when she was telling me how grueling it was to study for spelling tests with her son (who's not homeschooled) and they LOVE it!

math - as before mentioned we use the Math Fact Practice.  I've noticed that they have MANY other games at this site, but I have no experience using them yet.

reading - my Aunt has a subscription to RAZ-kids.... I really don't know much about the management of it because I (my kids) have only had experience as users... but the kids really seem to like it.

Hope one of these links helps someone.  If you have any good sites, I'd LOVE for you to share them with us!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


BAH!!!!  I have been SO busy (and sick with a chest cold too)!  Over the past week, one of the BEST parts of homeschooling has reared it's beautiful head several times, so I thought I would address it:  FLEXIBILITY.

One of the best parts of homeschooling is flexibility.  I love having the flexibility to make homeschooling work and fit for THIS family.  For example, last winter when my grandmother took ill and needed care during the daytime, the Kastners just packed up their homeschooling and took it to Oma's twice per week to help care for Gramma Hilly.  Last week, Hannah had an eye doctor appointment.  The Kastners packed their backpacks and headed to the eye doctor.  Upon arrival, we just turned the waiting room into a schoolroom, and no time from school was lost.  Monday, Noah wasn't feeling well (we're all fighting some little bug) and fell asleep just before afternoon classes.  No problem!  He and I just finished up his lessons right before bed.

I <3 having the ability to make our school calendar fit our family's life.  We school most of the way through the summer because a schedule which provides order works best for THIS family.  We take the day off for family birthdays to make them more special.  The amount of time we take off for Christmas and Spring Break varies dependent upon our families needs for that particular year.

I do make sure that flexibility does not equal laxness.  Every year I start out logging the number of hours we school just to make sure we are meeting the DPI's standard, but inevitably I give up pretty quick when I see that we will meet the standard for number of hours required by the DPI sometime in January.

But the flexibility of homeschooling extends far beyond just scheduling.  I love the flexibility to follow every little rabbit trail we encounter because it is something my children are interested in.  We can turn away from our science textbook to follow a spark of interest in the planets and stars, even if it is not covered in that year's curriculum.  In 2008, we dropped all social studies to focus on voting for a President, and the day that President Obama was inaugurated we did NOTHING but delve into the depths of the historic significance of his inauguration.

A part of this flexibility also includes the fact that technically, as a homeschooling family, we NEVER stop learning.  Making cookies becomes a lesson in fractions and following directions.  Filling the water pitcher includes a reminder that healthy living includes drinking more water.  A fight with a sibling turns into a reminder of the golden rule... or a lie told turns into a lesson that, "The Lord hates lying lips."  We learn ALL the time here in the Kastner household which is why homeschooling fits us so well.  Because as many of your know.... the Momma of this clan loves to life her "life as a lesson."

Mkay... well I gotta run!  Today is the day after a day off (the teacher had a medical procedure yesterday) and we need to make sure we stay on track.  Hope you all have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Yeah... I know.  That's not a real word, but it is what I want to talk about today.  How I try to fuse our education with technology for the benefit of my students (children).  I am a believer in immersing children in technology as SOON as possible.  In this day and age of computers, cell phones, PDAs, and laptops, I feel I would be doing my children a disservice by not educating them in technology.  Here are just a few of the ways we have infused our children's lives with technology.  You don't have to agree with them, but I get to share them because this is MY BLOG!  :)

1.  Blogging!!!!  Our children don't journal.  They blog.  This was partly done out of a desire to give them more exposure to technology, but also partly because journal time had become like dipping my earlobe in boiling oil.  They HATED journal time.  They cried through journal time.  They didn't want to write ANYTHING!  It didn't matter if the subject was Power Rangers... It was like pulling teeth to get them to journal!  Now my goal in journaling was NOT about handwriting (we have penmanship for that).  It also wasn't really about sentence structure or grammar (we get PLENTY of that with a momma who's a grammar nazi.)  I needed them to start flexing their creative muscles.  I wanted them to start WRITING... creatively, descriptively, excitedly.  So we started blogs, and so far so good... it is really working for us.  [If you wanna read my children's blogs, you'll have to e-mail me... I have them set up with all sorts of safety precautions to keep creepers away.]  I find that they are growing and developing in their ability to form sentences and they are starting to be able to put the crazy creative things they have in their brains into words through their blogs.

2.  Curriculum on the puter... we do some of our subjects on the computer with interactive software/websites.  In fact, we learn to read using an interactive online website (Click N Read).  Click N Read has a video game like quality, and it REALLY gets my kids attention (except Elijah who wails and whines about having to do ANYTHING independently... AHHHHH!)  It is GREAT for younger kids too.  Hannah LOVES it and is learning to read by doing Click N Read this year.  We also use a site called RAZ Kids, where the kids read books, earn tokens, and buy virtual prizes in a game room.  In the past we have used, spelling city, and in the future, I plan to keep my eyes and ears open for more things to work into my curriculum.  Because whenever they do these programs their lessons are two-fold:  reading and computers... spelling and computers... I LOVE killing two birds with one stone :)

3.  Controversial technology!  I fear I may stir up a little controversy with this next heading, but I'm laying it ALL out there today!  We use Facebook and texting and I see them as educational.  Several years ago, we allowed Noah to get a Facebook account so he could play Scrabble with us.  We were VERY careful about setting up appropriate blocks, and we carefully monitor his inbox and friend requests, but Scrabble is VERY educational and I need ANYTHING I can get to motivate Noah in the area of Language Arts (as that is NOT his favorite subject).  Finally, texting... oh texting... so many parents feel it is the devil.  I am not of that opinion.  We have a cell phone for the kids, and they text with it FREQUENTLY.  I have found this to have REALLY improved their spelling and their tech saaviness.  In FACT, we are ALREADY to the point that when I am struggling with an electronic device, I have to say, "NOAH!  Can you come help me figure out this _______?"  I have found texting to be something they are INTERESTED in so I have chosen to use it and make it work for me.

Again, I hope it goes without saying that I monitor my kids CAREFULLY with regards to the Internet.  I employ appropriate safeguards, and I am nosy, nosy, NOSY when it comes to EVERYTHING they are doing online or anything they are texting.  But I guess this is part of the reason I homeschool in the first place... so I can make my children's education about THEM and their interests in order to help them EXCEL and be the best they can be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

First day of school... a Kastner holiday

Well this was our third "First Day of School" as homeschoolers.  The First Day of School has been a bit of an enigma for me.  All of my life I have gotten teary eyed when the school supply displays went up at Target.  In fact, the first year we were married was the first year EVER that I didn't have a First Day of School.  We were living in Denver, and I had NOT gotten a teaching job as we had hoped.  I remember calling John from the Back-to-School aisle at Target.  I was BAWLING because I didn't have a class to teach that year.  But try as I may, I had thus far been unsuccessful at instilling that same excitement in the Kastner Kids.  They just were NOT enthused about the First Day of School.

See it is a bit hard to get excited about "going back to school" when you homeschool.  First of all the Kastners homeschool nearly year round.  So summer break for us is only about 3 or 4 weeks long each year.  This year the kids were barely used to sleeping in and lounging around when school time returned.  Second of all, when you homeschool you don't get the excitement of getting to "see your friends again."  You live with your classmates, and their newness has LONG worn off.  There are no new school clothes or lunch boxes, and not even that many new school supplies in our homeschool.  (Now lest you start to mourn too much for the Kastners, let me assure you that there are MANY benefits to homeschooling that they take FULL advantage of... but that is for another blog.)  It is just the First Day of School can be a bit run of the mill when you're a homeschooler.

So I finally did it!  This year I figured out a way to bring a little excitement to it, and while no one was exactly doing cartwheels, there was MUCH more enthusiasm and FAR less whining than in previous years.  Wanna know what we did?

1st Day of School fireworks
We turned the First Day of School into a holiday for the Kastners.  Breakfast was a special treat:  toaster waffles; lunch too:  TV dinners.  There were prizes for good attitudes, and a special kids' choice dinner.  I baked a cake.  They even got presents!  (a brand new bag of socks each)  Finally, we ended the day with fireworks!  It was definitely a GREAT day, and this year FINALLY mom's enthusiasm was contagious.


Five great moments in homeschooling today:
1.  Jeremiah uttering, "I can't believe I'm starting 4th grade math."  "I can't believe I'm starting 4th grade language."  "I can't believe I'm starting 4th grade (every single subject)."
2.  The sweet cadence of the rhythm of our routine.
3.  Hannah finished an ENTIRE worksheet INDEPENDENTLY!
4.  Elijah FINALLY did his click n kids.
5.  Noah did not whine once about school and only complained when writing his blog, and in his defense I told him to be HONEST about the first day of school.
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