Category Archives: Back to School Homeschool

TJ’s Homeschool Center

I’ve been busy updating and reorganizing the TJ Homeschool Center site and here’s a look at some of the new/updated offerings:

Recent Posts:
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in 1. TJ Alerts/News, Back to School Homeschool, Homeschool Management


TJ’s Back to Homeschool Resource Kit

I have expanded on my earlier post of Back to School Homeschool Preparation and made it into a little “kit” of information and links to helpful resources.

Download TJ’s Back to Homeschool Resource Kit (18 pages) from the TJ Homeschool Center:


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Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool


School Supply Lists

A few lists I made up……

Master School Supply List (for homeschool teacher/teacher) (2006)

Student School Supply List (2011)

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool, School Supplies


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Interacting with Literature Homeschool Teacher Cheat Sheet

If you are putting together your own reading curriculum (or want to take a more active role for reading class or beef up your assignments), I think you’ll find this “cheat sheet” handy.

It is a sheet I made up to help us analyze the fictional literature we read. It’s a table of general discussion or journal prompts arranged by elements of literature (plot, characters, setting, theme, and 10  others,), you can pull it out and use it as a discussion aid or to assign work.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool, Planning & Instructional Time Savers, Reading/Literature


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Back to School Homeschool– Setting Up Your Own Homeschool Reading Program

Back to School – Setting Up Your Own Homeschool Reading Program

Are you struggling to put together your own reading curriculum for your homeschool? TJ offers some tips and advice for the frugal/freebie homeschooler for getting started from scratch.


The task of creating a reading curriculum for your homeschool students may seem daunting, but it really doesn’t have to be. Here is what I do to put together our homeschool reading curriculum.


1.   Ask myself: “What is my purpose for teaching reading?”

(When I speak of reading curriculum, I am speaking of a course of study for students who are pretty fluent readers and ready to begin examining literature, approximately 2nd – 12th grades).


Are you simply trying to put together a reading curriculum because that is what is done in schools? If so, it’s likely that your students won’t get very much out of it other than just having the satisfaction of having gone through the motions to feel as if their education is equal to what they would have received in public schooling.


Without a purpose, how will you know what materials to select? How will you know what to teach?


So, it is imperative, for effective instruction (and peace of mind) that we establish our personal goals.  Some of my goals are:


-to expose my kids to a variety of literature that they may encounter in the real world so that they can understand it and use it effectively.


-to help prepare my kids for academic testing by exposing them to literature found on those tests as well as to literary elements that they may be questioned about


-to use literature to expose my children to life and living, human nature, and history


-to help my kids acquire new knowledge through reading expository materials on a variety of subjects


Knowing your reasons for teaching can help you select your reading material more effectively and help you make your plans more effectively.


2.   Decide concepts/skills you need to teach/provide instruction in

For me, the basic skills that I seek to teach are comprehension skills and literary elements as well as improving fluency. For these, for example,  I have used free reading skills workbooks that I have found online such as  the McGraw Hill Reading Treasures Workbooks, (available for Grades 1-6).


In addition, you can look up curriculum maps or scope and sequences for lists of reading skills. Then, you can find worksheets to help teach/reinforce these concepts.


Again, these resources are geared for the frugal/freebie homeschooler. If you can purchase workbooks, that can open up a lot more convenient/readymade resources.


3.   Select your reading material

I take a more untraditional approach to selecting my reading materials. I primarily use reading selections from state standardized released tests. I like to use these because they provide a very nice variety of fiction and nonfiction, short selections on subjects that are of interest to kids their ages. These selections also include several comprehension and reading skills questions at the end. I go through several years’ worth of tests, extract the reading passages and then put them the together in one file.

 (you can see my standardized test label here at the blog for links to standardized released tests, and I have posted a few lists of reading selections here under “reading” as well)

In addition, I google online for “grade x reading passages.”  Some of the places I have found great reading passages are: (Grades 1-5)

ICRMS (Grades 3-5)

The above resources are for the freebie/non library user. If you can purchase books or have library access, you can google “grade x reading lists” and find out selections that are typically used in schools.


For formal reading, I primarily use shorter texts instead of novels and just let my kids read novels for pleasure. Sometimes, we use free study guides I find online if we decide to use a novel for formal studies. I got more encouragement/validation for this approach that I was already using when I came across the trade book entitled “Less Is More Teaching Literature With Short Texts — Grades 6-12


4.   Schedule the readings and work

1. I work up a basic weekly schedule to follow week by week. 

Day 1: Reading skills workbook or worksheets; fluency practice through repeated readings

Days 2 and 3: Reading passage 1; fluency practice through repeated readings, if time permits

Days 4 and 5: Reading passage 2; fluency practice through repeated readings, if time permits


(alternatively, you can assign a reading skills workbook page each day instead of just one day) in addition to any reading passages. If I follow a workbook, I just do it in the order it comes, but then try to draw out any of those reading workbook skills from our reading passages.


2. I plot the readings on a yearly week by week plan form.


As you can see, I generally allot two days per passage (again, they are short texts).

I created an “Interacting with Literature Teacher Cheat Sheet” to assist in developing assignments for the reading passages. In general, they read the passage, answer any comprehension questions (if it is from a standardized test) and then have them complete reading journal activities by assigning items from the “Interacting with Literature Teacher Cheat Sheet.” For the kids’ use, I created a basic template of response prompts for them to follow (based upon the “Interacting with Literature Teacher Cheat Sheet”) which is helpful because I often don’t have time to sit down and go over each reading passage in detail with them, so the template helps them explore the passage more on their own and they don’t have to sit waiting for me.


As far as scheduling the readings, you might:


-select two selections from the same genre each week, thus giving the student a chance to reinforce knowledge of elements of that genre as well as to compare them.


-alternate back and forth between fiction and nonfiction (odd weeks fiction, even weeks nonfiction)


-allot the first day of a reading passage for student’s reading of the passage and to respond to prompts for selected literary elements, and then sit down student on the second day and discuss the work (use the “Interacting with Literature Teacher Cheat Sheet” for discussion prompts)  or, if the selection is extremely short, allot just one day per passage.



Extended Activities


-assign creative (lapbooks, projects) or essay assignments that help students explore aspects of the text more (such as subject matter or specific literary elements).


This is a simple to moderate approach to setting up a reading program and can help you get up and running relatively quickly, especially if you have to rely on free resources.  I’ve heard about homeschoolers whose programs range from letting kids simply read all the way up to a more traditional schooling approach complete with reading textbooks, anthologies and workbooks. For me, the method I outlined above has proven to be effective for us and gives me the satisfaction of feeling as if I have provided my kids with a free quality reading curriculum that aids in preparing them for real world reading and academic testing, which are my two primary goals.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool, Reading/Literature


Back to School Homeschool: Math Teaching Tips: Increasing Understanding

Math Teaching Tips: Digging Deeper

Over the years of homeschooling, I have become better and better (I think) at getting out more of math work than the kids just getting the correct answer. I’ve learned techniques to help us dig deeper and check if there is true understanding or whether there was just rote memorization of a process that resulted in a correct answer but may not be of benefit if the process is forgotten in future or cannot be applied/usedeasily if the problem does not fit a certain format.

Below are some techniques or “checks” that I use when I give the kids mental math problems, but I also use for written work.

1.   Does my student understand what he is looking for?

Make sure that your student understands what he is being asked to find. Sometimes the kids may get a wrong answer and then we find out that they didn’t hear the problem correctly or mixed up the numbers. In other cases, they just may not be sure what they need to find. Have student repeat/or restate what they need to find.

2.   Is the answer reasonable?

After your student comes up with an answer, ask them if the answer is reasonable.  Do this before they give you their answer. If they need help or say yes, but it really isn’t, I try to guide them along by telling them to estimate the answer or predict what the answer should look like.


Example 1:   Student is asked to estimate 25 x 37. To check for reasonableness of an answer, I would suggest that student start with 25 x 10, since 10 is a rounded number. 25 x 10 = 250, so then student could compare his answer with that. Then, I would suggest that my student multiply 25 x 40 (but remember that 25 x 10 was 250, so 25×40 would be 4x as large since 40 is 4x as large as 10).


One problem we had recently was 4 ¼ divided by some number = 5. I asked, what should the answer look like?  Well, usually when you divide by a number, your answer is smaller than what you started with. But I pointed out the fact, in this case, the answer is larger.  So, in this case the number we are dividing by would have to be a fraction (less than one)  I had to guide my student with this, but I tried to stress this fact or generalization so it could be applied in the future, in sha Allah.


Try to be consistent with having student check for reasonableness to help student build the habit of learning to automatically do this on their own, in sha Allah.


3.   How did you get your answer?


Have student explain the process they used to get their answer. Do this regardless of whether the problem is incorrect or correct.  Sometimes after my student gives their response, I try to help them revise it to make it more concise.

I may also, then tell them toexplain (as if they were explaining to  someone)how to do a similar problem (in general, regardless of the numbers). This requires that they use math vocabulary that can be applied to any problem (e.g. if you want to tell someone how to multiply ¾ x ¼  you might say, multiply the 3 x 1 and then 4 x 4, but in general (for any problem), you might say, multiply the numerators and then multiply the denominators. Thus now you have an explanation for any such problem.


If student is stuck on a problem, I have them tell me what might their first step be, then what, then what……


4.   Give a related problem to help student see patterns.

After my student has worked out a problem, I might give a related problem to see if they can work out a pattern that can be applied. 


For example, we had a problem of 5 percent of 80. Once they got the answer, I asked them what 20 percent would be, what 40 percent is. I try to get them to see that 20 percent is 4 times 5 percent and that they could just multiply their initial answer by 4 and then to get 40 percent, multiply the initial answer by 8.  I also teach them to identify what 10 percent of a number is and then use that to find what is asked if it is a multiple or factor of 10 (5 percent,  20 percent, 60 percent, etc. I think that doing this consistently builds up their ability to find easy percents like this faster.


5.   Make the problem simpler.

One of my famous lines is to “make the problem simpler” before they get into calculations. So, for example, if they are dividing 40/20, I tell them to take off the zeroes and then they have 4/2.  Whenever I have them make the problem simpler, I try to make sure that they understand what is going on (that taking off the zeroes is like dividing both by 10). In another problem, they might have 1000/25. In this, I suggest a “tricky” shortcut and they have to be sure to correct for this.  So I say, take off one zero and now I have 100/25 which is 4 and they have to remember to put the zero back on on top and thus adding a 0 to end of their answer of 4 to get 40.

If the problem was 7 x 1/7, I would remind student to use the multiplication shortcut by cancelling out the 7s as they could think of the problem as 7/1 x 1/7 so we have 7 x 1/(1 x 7) but they can rearrange it so that 7 x 1/ (7 x1) and the 7s cancel out to make 1 and they are left with 1 x 1 = 1.


6.   I’m stuck!

When doing written work, when one of the kids doesn’t understand what to do, he writes “don’t understand.” I have started to ask him to write specifically what it is he doesn’t understand or how he is stuck. In this way, I can get him toattempt to go past the “looking at the problem and drawing a blank stage and just moving on.” 


7.   Perimeter and Area problems

In our review work (I use NC’s Week by Week Essentials regularly) they are often asked to find perimeter or area. I noticed that they would get the two mixed up (i.e. find perimeter when they needed to find area). In other cases, they would simply find the area of say a rectangle pool but what was asked was the area of a walkway around the pool. So, I told them, for any perimeter or area problem to ALWAYS do the following:

  1. Draw a picture
  2. Write a formula

and I kept drilling this simple routine into their heads each time and Alhamdulillah, now, they draw a picture and write a formula pretty automatically and their work of this type is more accurate now.


8.   Make a plan

In general, I now see how helpful it was back in school when my math teachers would have us write out the following for each problem:


  1. Find: (What I am asked to find)
  2. Given: (What I know)
  3. Steps:


Sometimes, I have the kids write up a little paragraph on the steps of how they solve a general problem (such as how to determine if a number is odd or even). For my kids that are not as skilled in expressing themselves well in writing, I might provide a frame:


How To Tell If a Number is Odd or Even

Numbers can be ____________________ or _________________. Here is how to tell if a number is _____________ or _______________.  A number is _____________ if __________________________. For example, _______ is __________ because _______________________________. A number is  _____________ if ____________________________. The number ______________ is ____________ because ___________________________. Now, you know how to tell if any number is ___________________ or ___________________.




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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool, Math: Teaching Tips



Here are a few tips for organizing for a new school year.

Create/Find and Organize Administrative Papers

Set up a binder or other storage system and make/gather all administrative papers and plans

  1. Create school year calendar with breaks and quarters/semesters, etc.
  2. Create a course of study (list of classes and books/resources)for each student for the year
  3. Plan out each class for each student for the school year against the school year calendar(i.e. make a syllabus/schedule of lessons)
  4. Collect/make needed teacher admin papers such as attendance logs, grading sheets, etc and file; keep master copies in a designated place such as a binder.
  5. Set up student organizers (weekly or daily assignment sheets, calendars, reference papers, charts, checklists, reading logs, etc); make/find necessary papers for organizer

(I currently use presentation books –books with page protectors preattached)

Set Procedures/Routines

  1. Create a daily household schedule and post it in study area
  2. Set up a school schedule routine:
    1. Set school start and end times
    2. Designate breaks times (bathroom, water, snacks etc)
  3. Set up guidelines for work to be submitted:
    1. Headings on papers (establish a format)
    2. Expected format of work itself (i.e. fold paper in half, don’t write in margins, number the pages, neatness, how to show final math answers, etc.)
  4. Set up procedure for submission and return of “homework”/Class work
    1. When  and where should homework/classwork be turned in
    2. Where to pick up after graded/reviewed
  5. Establish Make-up work policies
  6. Set consequences for not completing work 

Set Up Classroom/study area

  1. Set expectations/rules for study/class time (Make poster to hang in study area) and review with student(s)
  2. Post daily class schedule in classroom
  3. Set up study/class area (let kids help)

                                         i.    student desks or personal study areas

                                       ii.    walls/bulletin board displays

                                      iii.    supply area

  1. Obtain student’s personal supplies and distribute
  2. Set up any centers (stationary or portable (file folder center, for example or a science center)


To build enthusiasm for the new year, take kids shopping for clothes and school supplies and let them set up their backpacks/school supply pouches, etc.




Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Back to School Homeschool, Homeschool Management