Monday, May 23, 2016

Tips for Successful Homeschooling

I started homeschooling about ten years ago, so I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work for our family. Everyone’s situation is different, but I’ve decided to share the following tips, which will hopefully give you some ideas to implement in your own homeschool. We have a large family and will be up to four students in the upcoming school year, but the following tips could apply to any sized homeschool:

Stay Organized With Binders

Each of my homeschooled children has his or her own binder. I select quality binders with built in zip compartments for pencils, and the binders themselves zip for containing any loose books. Keeping just about everything in these binders makes it easy for the kids to take their work on the road when we travel or just have errands to run. It also allows me to check all of their work at once or quickly have someone move to another work station. I also have my own binder for myself as the teacher, and there is another binder for answer keys. The ACE School of tomorrow curriculum that we use is perfect for our binder system. We use a heavy duty three-hole punch that is designed for punching through 30 pages, and it works well for hole punching the ACE “PACES,” which have around 25 to 50 pages each.

My Desk--Notice my heavy duty three-hole punch and the student binders. 

Stick with the Same Curriculum

I mainly use the ACE School of Tomorrow curriculum. I am very familiar with it, because I went to a private ACE school from second through ninth grade. I’ve also used it for several years in my own homeschool with five different students. I’ve become an expert on it, and my kids prefer it over other systems. The fact that the curriculum is broken down into 12 workbooks per subject per year allows the convenient option of purchasing it by the quarter instead of all at once. The ACE curriculum is geared toward independent work, so it works best for students who enjoy doing most of their schoolwork on their own.

We use the A Beka curriculum for K-4, K-5, and sometimes first and second grade. This curriculum is great for students and parents that want/need more interaction during the school day. It can also be adapted to the binder system to a point, since perforated pages can be removed from the work books and placed into binders. At the higher grade levels, there are thicker textbooks, which would need to be left at home or carried in a backpack when taking schooling on the road. Most of the families in our homeschooling group use A Beka, so it gives us moms something to talk about during the P.E. class.

Join a Group

My kids really look forward to their P.E. class, which meets once every two weeks. It’s free, and it’s close to our house, so we still have time for academics when we get home. While the kids do P.E., the moms have a chance to chat about the various challenges of homeschooling. There’s also a field trip every month, which is more often than most traditional schools have field trips. The social life that a homeschool group provides is important for the kids as well as the moms.

In the area where we used to live, most active homeschooling groups cost money or met several miles away, so we feel very blessed to be a part of the perfect homeschooling group. Find something local and affordable, or perhaps get together with a homeschooling friend or neighbor and start up your own group.

Start your Own Home Library

Studies show that children do better academically when there are plenty of books in the home. Some homeschooling families implement a library day, but I prefer to purchase books online. This way we don’t have to worry about finding misplaced books by a particular day, and the kids can go back and read their favorite books again and again.

The Ingredients of a Successful Homeschool

Building a home library, keeping workbooks organized, and familiarizing yourself with a tried and true curriculum will help to simplify your routine. Whichever curriculum you use will become easier to administer as you and your students gain experience with it, which is why I don’t recommend switching too often. Being part of a group of likeminded families will provide friends for you and your children and will serve as a support group for you as a homeschooling mom. Most importantly, do what works best for your own unique family.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Making Time For Work As a Stay at Home Mom

Carving Out Time Alone

For the last couple of weeks, I've been writing off and on throughout the day, but I really want to start limiting my content mill work to early mornings when the kids are still in bed. While I'm writing those content mill articles, I tend to feel agitated when interrupted. For one thing, the subjects I've had to write about lately aren't that fun. For another, I find myself checking the time while I do them and then working as fast as I can to prove I'm getting a decent hourly rate.

Staying Present

Most of my day is dedicated to quality time with my family, and of course, housework. That said, I don't mind doing a little bit of light work on the computer when I'm in the same room as my kids--like writing this blog post. Because right now, I'm present. I'm sitting in the living room with my four youngest children. I know that the bathtub is filling up for the first of three baths that need to happen tonight. I know that my teenage daughter is crocheting a blanket and updating me on her progress after each row. I'm taking part in their conversations. Maybe if I get a better paying gig writing about more interesting topics, I'll be able to write my paid articles at this same relaxed pace.

I'm learning that there are two different work modes:

1. Staying Present While Doing Enjoyable Work

2. Going into Isolation For More Unpleasant Tasks

When I tell myself that I'm going to stay present and that there isn't any time limit, I'm able to relax while accomplishing at least a little bit of work. There will be time later for more difficult projects--like early in the morning or some afternoon when my husband is home and ready to "clock on" with the kids.

One of these days I'll go into my office and see how much money I can really make in a four hour stint of researching and writing about mundane topics, but for now, I'm happy to be working on my own blog while spending time with my kids.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Things You'll Learn While Writing for a Content Mill

Writing for a content mill is the quickest way to start earning a few bucks from home with your writing, but at 1.3 cents a word, it’s not very lucrative. If you’re a perfectionist like I am, you’ll find yourself going over an article again and again, which makes for a quality piece but decreases your hourly pay rate.

Necessary Skills

The good news is that you will gain experience as a writer, which will hopefully lead to landing better paying gigs. Writing on your own blog is much different than writing in “AP Style” and to a client’s specifications, but those things are easier than they sound. Including the client’s requested “keywords” in a natural way is pretty much a no brainer that I was nailing from day one, so I won’t even go into that in this post. If you have good grammar and punctuation skills and a knack for wording things, you’ll probably just need to fine tune a few weak areas.

Comma Rules

It was easy for me to adjust to not using the Oxford comma when writing articles for Textbroker, since I had read early on that they had that preference. They just want you to leave off the final comma before the “and” in a series. That was easy enough, but when they gave me feedback on my first five articles, I learned that I was making a few actual comma mistakes, which had to do with coordinating conjunctions, subordinate conjunctions, adverbial clauses, and non-essential clauses. 

Basically, I had a bad habit of not putting a comma before “so” and “which,” which apparently both need one. The word “because” IS NOT preceded by a comma. The exception is when “because” is the first word of a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence. In that case, a comma IS used after the introductory clause. That’s it. I got feedback on five articles that pretty much all said the same thing. And I’ve corrected the problem.

Preferred Format for Articles

I have found that most clients prefer the same general format for articles. They want an introduction, several “subheads,” and a conclusion. I personally prefer to give my conclusion a title as if it was another one of the subheadings. To me, labeling the conclusion with the word “conclusion,” sounds a little too academic for articles written in a more casual tone. But if you don’t give the conclusion any subheading, it will look like it's part of the previous point.
Edited to Add: Apparently, I was wrong about this. I got dinged by another company for using a subhead on my conclusion--another example of a lesson learned.

Research is Time Consuming

Although I can type around 60 w.p.m., it can sometimes take me two hours to finish a 400-word document. I lose a lot of time toggling back and forth to and from the source articles as I write. A possible solution for this would be buying a dual screen computer for my desk or using my phone or a second laptop to reference my sources. I’ve also tried pasting the source information into the top of the page and then deleting it once I’m finished writing my article below it. It doesn’t seem like anything works to speed me up, though, when I'm working on an articles requiring extensive research.

When I write about a subject I’m already knowledgeable about, I work a little faster. The information is flowing from my head, and I’m just typing it up. I go the fastest when I make each section longer than it needs to be during the initial draft. It’s a lot easier to cut things out to make a paragraph more concise than to try to come up with more information later to fluff it up.

I enjoy writing, and at a few more cents per word, any necessary research wouldn't seem as grueling. I just want to feel like I can take my time and produce quality work. Perhaps over time I’ll get faster, but I refuse to sacrifice quality for quantity.

Switching Gears Can Slow You Down

The assignments I’m doing are about random topics and different clients have different specifications, so I’m constantly having to mentally switch gears. Writing posts for the same client for an ongoing blog seems like it would be easier as one could quickly get a feel for the client’s preferred style and become an expert in the particular niche.

Writing for a content mill is a great way to get some constructive criticism and learn more about the business of writing online content. Don’t think of it as working for below minimum wage. Think of it as a free education that will prepare you for bigger and better things—like writing guest posts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review of A Slob Comes Clean

I just wanted to do a quick review of a blog I follow called A Slob Comes Clean by Dana White. I discovered her probably over two years ago, and I really relate to her way of thinking. She has some great ideas about teaching kids to clean, freezer cooking, and more, and her posts are often short and digestible--perfect for busy moms.

Dana's podcasts are great to listen to for motivation while doing housework. I've tried numerous other cleaning podcasts but to no avail--they're all boring or not relatable enough. But hers are very entertaining!

This post struck me funny when I read it yesterday.

We all have our own delusions, don't we?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to Keep your Sanity When Writing for too Cheap

So I made a little over 19 bucks today, and I'm exhausted. The last piece I submitted this afternoon before breaking to make dinner seemed way more valuable than the eight bucks I got paid to write it. I don't mind selling content about mundane subjects like shipping methods or eyelash extensions. But that last post was about a subject I was actually interested in--writing guest blog posts. Now my baby will be out there in cyberspace with somebody else's name on it.  It's been adopted by a less capable parent who won't fully appreciate it...Can you tell it's been a long day?

I'm not complaining though- I'm thankful to be able to work from home, and I'm looking at this as a learning experience. I am using the feedback I am getting, both positive and negative, to hopefully help me grow as a writer.

I was feeling a little depressed holed up in my room a lot of the day writing, but then I walked into my bright and sunny kitchen, surrounded by my children who eagerly placed their burrito orders. The background music was my own custom Pandora station that has almost completely figured out my taste, which lately is "traditional country hymns" with a side of Elvis. I glanced over at my desk and noticed a few forgotten cans of Starbucks Double Shot Espresso that never made it to the fridge. Score! I thought I was out.

Did you catch what the key ingredients are to keeping your sanity while writing for cheap? My sanity break included sunlight, food, time with my family, coffee, and music. And I sing along. Loudly. No, I don't care that that wasn't a complete sentence, because I'm on a break right now.

Yes, writing whatever I want is a much needed break. As a bonus, one of my favorite songs is playing: "Farther along we'll know all about it. Farther along we'll understand why...We'll understand it all by and by."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Leveled Chore Chart for Kids

I always enjoy reading posts about how other moms assign chores, so I thought I'd share what we are currently doing at our house. I have four children still living at home, three of which are school-age and homeschooled. With five of us home during the day, there's a substantial amount of housework. I had been feeling like I do too much of the work myself, and I had gotten into the rut of having the same people help with the same jobs every time. So I decided to implement a new system...

With the latest chore chart, each child is assigned a level based on his or her age. My six year old and four year old are "Level One" workers, and my nine year old and thirteen year old are "Level Twos." Level one chores are of course easier than level two chores and are geared toward younger kids. There are two groups of chores for each level but no name assigned to each group. Instead, each grouping has a job title that can be assigned to either of the kids who are at that particular level. I can change each child's job title from time to time, and everyone will gain more experience by completing different duties. Another benefit is that no one will feel like he or she is getting penalized for being good at a particular task like sweeping floors.

Some of the weekly chores at the bottom are for the adults or are done on the weekend. I mainly included the "Expert/Weekly" section to remind myself of what needs to be done every week. I didn't include cleaning the office as one of the assignable duties, since I might be in there working on a writing assignment during the kids' chore time, and I won't want to be disturbed. They are quietly working on their chores right now as I am writing this post.

Here's what our chart looks like:



Level 1: Organizer
Make bed/Clean bedroom
Pick up living room and hall
Pick up kitchen floor
Straighten kids' bathroom
Organize book shelf
Level 2: Surface Detailer
Make bed/Clean bedroom
Sweep tile areas
Vacuum carpets
Sweep bathrooms
Spot clean carpet or tile areas if needed
Level 1: Cleaner
Make bed/Clean bedroom
Wipe Down tables
Help water outdoor plants
Sweep bark off of walkways
Level 2: Washer
Make bed/Clean bedroom
Empty and reload dishwasher
Clean kitchen 
Do one or two loads of laundry
Make lunch
Weekly/Expert Level
Clean bathrooms
Wash bedding
Water indoor plants
Mow lawns
Pull weeds
Clean out refrigerator
Deep clean kitchen
Clean laundry room
Clean out car

I would love to hear from readers: What kind of chore system works best for your family?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Making Money from Home as a Freelance Writer

My Return to Blogging

I haven't blogged in awhile since I've been pursuing other hobbies lately--not to mention our recent major move back to our home state, but I'm back to writing again, and I'm praying that this time I'll be able to make a decent living at it. So I'm back to posting on this blog which will be a place to discuss my writing adventures mixed in with the usual fun household stuff I like to write about. 

I'm Writing for a Content Mill

It has taken me several days of applying at various websites to figure out what pays and what doesn't, but I am now officially working from home as a freelance writer!  So far, I have found one "content mill" that had a pretty straightforward registration process and seems to have plenty of work. I won't post the name of the company here, because I don't need any competition at this point, but I may give out the information in the future if I am able to secure a better paying gig.

Making a Little Money

I've submitted five small projects over the last couple of days which will pay just over $30. I'm hoping to get faster at researching topics and pounding out articles since my goal is to make $20 per hour. Right now I'm averaging only $5 or $6 per hour while I'm getting the hang of it, but I can't complain since I'm at home with my kids and setting my own schedule.

My Sweet Spot as a Writer

The jobs that I've selected so far have varied in word count, but I'm finding out my ideal assignment is a quick 400 word piece with an introduction, a few subtopics, and a conclusion. If I'm even mildly interested in the topic that makes it that much easier.

It's All in the Editing

The fun and time consuming part of writing online content isn't the part where I quickly type up a bunch of information. The art isn't so much in what I write--it's in what I cut out. I like to think of writing as chiseling away at a large rock and watching it become a sculpture.

Ghost Blogging

Now you might be wondering what a content mill is. Some website owners or bloggers lack the time or ability to write their own content. There are several websites that enable these folks to buy the work of others and pass it off as their own. Think of me as a ghost writer but for websites.