Archive | October, 2012

Starting a Homeschool Co-Op: Getting into the groove

22 Oct

By Renée Gotcher

Last month I wrote a post about starting my own homeschool co-op for the first time — a tween-age Girls Book Club — after my sisters and I addressed the question of co-op schooling in our “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” column. Since that time, our book club co-op has had two more meetings in October and are planning a fictional character costume party at my house on October 31 (rather than a “halloween” party).

Here’s an update on the progress of our new co-op and what I’m learning as the co-op coordinator…


The girls have now finished reading two of the four books in the Secret Keeper Girl fictional series. So far, the girls are really enjoying the books and are very engaged during discussion time. Because we had such a large group of girls (13), we have split them into two groups — one for 9/10-year-olds and another for 11/12-year-olds — and thankfully, another mom in our group volunteered to lead most of the discussions for the “younger” tweens. I am leading discussion for the “older” tweens, and I am writing the discussion questions for both groups.

One of the reasons I chose this series to kick off the book club co-op was because the books already include great discussion questions at the end in a section called “Girl Gab” — making my job as discussion leader much easier! In “Girl Gab,” readers are encouraged to “gab” with their moms about these questions and share what they’ve learned through the story and its characters. I use these provided questions as a starting point and develop more questions on my own, drawing from the input I get from my two tween girls during our own “gab” time before each book club meeting.

In our co-op, moms are reading the books along with their daughters, and the girls are bringing notebooks with the “Girl Gab” discussion questions answered to be prepared for discussion time. Some moms are having their daughters read aloud to them, others are reading the books aloud to their girls, and some moms (myself included) and daughters are reading independently. Because we decided that our mission was primarily social and character development, and the reading was secondary, the variety in reading approaches is perfectly acceptable.

It turned out that within the participating families we had another set of younger girls — four girls ages 6 to 8 — that would be coming with their siblings to the book club, so we decided to have a reading program just for them. This “younger readers” group is reading “In Grandma’s Attic, Book 1” a few chapters at a time, and during their discussion time, the mom leading this group reads aloud before discussion time. This is working out well for their ages and varying reading abilities. So far, they love the book, and they’re getting a chance to warm up to the book club concept.


Coordinating such a large group of moms and girls can be challenging at times. However, the plans we made to split up the co-op responsibilities for the entire semester on a simple chart has been working seamlessly! Each meeting we have four moms splitting up the snack duty, one mom watching the littlest siblings, one mom coordinating clean-up at the end, and the host mom is providing coffee, tea and water. So far, this division of labor has made it possible to feed and entertain all 32 mothers and daughters (and some extra siblings on occasion) without putting too much of a burden on any one co-op member.

Our two October meetings have been hosted by a family who lives in this beautiful log-style home in a scenic, rural part of Castle Rock, and we’ve been blessed with perfect fall weather on our meeting days. The girls have been able to play and snack outside during our social hour, while the moms are getting a break to enjoy our coffee chats relatively kid-free inside the kitchen.

The only logistical problem we’ve had is breaking up the fun at the end of the afternoon. We had planned for an hour of social time and concluding the meetings at 4pm, but so far we have been going until about 4:30pm or later. The girls don’t mind, of course, and in all honesty, I don’t think we moms really mind either. But I am keeping an eye on this to make sure we aren’t inconveniencing any families by going over time, and maybe we’ll just decide to end at 4:30pm in the future when we evaluate our co-op.


I quickly discovered that keeping 13 different families in the loop at all times regarding the logistics and issues of our co-op isn’t as easy as continually sending e-mail updates. Not everyone reads their email every day or downloads attachments right away, and I found myself doing a lot of resending, reminding, and answering the same questions over and over via email. Only a few moms in our co-op are on Facebook, so a Facebook group was not an alternative, and one mom and daughter are not members of my local homeschool support group, so we couldn’t use a private forum on our group’s Web site to communicate in a central place.

One day while I was contemplating what I could do to centralize our co-op communication, I received an e-mail from Shutterfly inviting me to set up a “Share” site. I clicked on the link and in about an hour, I had set up a private share site that includes a shared photo album, our events calendar, links to maps for all the host homes (we have had a few moms get lost already), our responsibilities sign-up chart, all the documents we’ve created to use for our co-op, a discussion board, and more! I love that the site automatically emails a weekly update to all our members as well as reminders for every event I’ve posted on our calendar. I can also easily send an email whenever something on the calendar has been updated or I need feedback (like a special snack signup reminder for the upcoming costume party), and all the email messages provide direct links back to those items on our site.

Problem solved, right? Well, almost. Most of the moms have used the new site and are interacting with it for snack info, dates, directions, etc., but a few moms have yet to log in to the site. And even though the auto-generated email reminder went out about this past week’s meeting a few days in advance, one mom missed that reminder and completely forgot about the meeting. We all had a good laugh about it after the fact, recalling how many times we’ve completely botched our own family scheduling.

But it made me realize I couldn’t rely completely on the share site to make sure we’re all on the same page. In our world of smart phones, Facebook, email, cool Web collaboration tools, and information overload, there’s no guarantee that your message is being received by everyone, every time. Since I don’t have time to call and check in with every mom before every meeting, I’m hoping this is just a blip and that for the most part, we’ll keep running smoothly with the help of this share site.

Or maybe I will try texting reminders next time?

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

NGHS Journal: Unexpected gifts on an atypical schooling day

10 Oct

Gotcher Family Homeschool — Day 28 — October 9, 2012

Today was a great homeschooling day. Not because it was “ideal” in terms of schedule, flow, and checking off a lot of boxes on the “to do” list. But God was in charge, and I believe a lot was accomplished today for His greater glory!

We didn’t get off to a great start. The girls decided to have a “slumber party” last night and sleep together in the full-size bottom bunk. Despite many “go to bed” calls from our bedroom, I heard their giggles and voices well past 1:30am. I found out tonight that they were actually up past 3am… Needless to say, everyone was sleepy and we didn’t get going with our day until about 10am.

Because my two youngest girls had Worship Dance class at noon, that didn’t give us much time to accomplish anything before we had to be out the door for the 20-minute drive to class. With this in mind, I told my eldest two that they could independently work on their presentations for tomorrow’s Elementary Presentation Day with our local homeschool group. Breakfast was eaten at the school table today, and somehow I also managed to squeeze in a shower before we were out the door.

But not before I spent at least 15 minutes doing my personal devotion time and bible reading. This has become a non-negotiable for me. No matter how off schedule I am going to be due to sleep issues, missed alarms, or simply not being disciplined enough to wake up early, I spend the first 15-20 minutes of my day filling my mind with God’s truth and talking to Him. I read from a daily devotional downloaded to my iPhone, highlight key scriptures, tap in some personal notes, recite some key verses several times to get memorization started, pray and wait on the Lord.

It might not seem like a very big deal for those who are disciplined in a daily morning devotional hour, but for someone like me who used to jump (literally) out of bed after hitting snooze several times and immediately hit the ground running — and not stop until I hit the sheets exhausted at night — this shift in gears was a huge change that took a lot of retraining.

No longer am I hitting the to-do list with a pit in my stomach that is further exacerbated by the two-plus cups of coffee that I would call “breakfast” and send my day into hyperdrive. Instead, I receive my energy for the day from God’s presence and words of truth, and I rise with a sense of peace and purpose received from time spent in prayer and praise.

I’ve also substituted those two cups of breakfast coffee for an energy-boosting smoothie: Greek yogurt, a banana, and a few ounces of “Blue Goodness” juice quickly whipped together with an immersion hand blender. There’s still some coffee involved after that, but it’s no longer all that sustains me until noon.

Back to today: We made it to the first of two back-t0-back dance classes, but we were about 10 minutes late. I had sacrificed my post-breakfast coffee to get there on time, so after dropping my 5-year-old Elise off in her class, I swung right back out of the parking lot to the nearest drive-through Starbucks. When I returned to the church where the worship dance classes are held, I settled down in the lobby couches with the other homeschooling moms passing time during the first session of classes while my two eldest got some school reading done.

This week, I was also suited up to participate in a fitness walk that one of the moms offered to lead during the second session of dance classes starting at 1pm. Last week, I had waved off the opportunity so I could get some lesson planning done on my laptop, but when the moms returned sweaty and panting, I realized this wasn’t just a leisurely walk — those mamas got a workout! Today, I couldn’t wait to join in and get some much-needed exercise.

The fitness walk was fabulous! The mother who led it has some experience with leading this style of interval training, so our walk was infused with interval stops of sit-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges, and more — even the infamous fat-burning “burpee” move! Sharing this invigorating workout with other time-crunched homeschooling moms added another layer of support and fun to the experience. I found myself wishing we had dance class twice a week just so I could get another workout in with these inspiring ladies!

Those squeezed-in conversations with other moms in my shoes are such a blessing and a gift. This time, it was sharing ideas on how to get out more with our kids and encourage some family fitness along with all the extracurricular “PE” the kids do through all the wonderful programs out there like CMA’s Worship Dance. It was discussing how we deal with the Halloween “dilemma” in our families and what God has revealed to us personally on this topic. It was laughing about who was sweating more, panting louder and cheating on her push-ups. It was nourishing in all the ways we need to be fed as a community of homeschooling mamas.

After both Elise and my 10-year-old Claire were done with their dance classes, we headed back home for lunch, after-lunch chores, and one more hour of schoolwork before the girls would be “excused” to play outside with the neighbor friends who would be home from school by about that time. Once the girls were outside, I turned to getting all of my “computer” work done: Checking email, updating Facebook for the NextGen Homeschool blog, handling updates for the local homeschool group Web site (which is my board member responsibility), updating our family’s online homeschooling planner/tracker, etc. My awesome chef of a hubby was making chili tonight, so I had extra time to get all my to-do’s accomplished before dinner.

Tonight I was really motivated to clear my plate because it was time for our local homeschool group’s twice-a-month mom’s prayer meeting. This is something new to our group’s calendar, and it has quickly become one of the things I look forward to most every month. It’s informal, open to all, and it’s been awesome to see how God has drawn certain moms consistently to participate in a couple of hours of honest sharing and focused prayer for our families, our group, our community, and more. In just two months, we’ve already seen a lot of answered prayers and God working in miraculous ways through our prayer time.

Although there were just four of us there tonight, I believe God knew exactly who needed to be there and why. We discovered that there were more than a few common themes challenging all four of our families — and that by bringing us together, God revealed His wisdom and solutions throughout our prayer time. God also spoke to me directly through a scriptural truth He had placed on another mom’s heart to share with me. It was so undeniably for me in this very moment in time that I am still in awe of how clearly God chose to speak to me, and it was a message I desperately needed to hear.

Today was a great homeschooling day. Not because of what we did, but because of what HE did. Tonight I am thankful for God’s many, many gracious gifts today. Thankful that He was ever-present with me and my family today. For providing fellowship. Even time for fitness. Lots of fun! Friends. Fruitfulness. Family. Forgiveness. Faith-building. Fear-banishing. Filled hearts. Freedom! Freshness.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” — 2 Cor. 3:18

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: How do you handle household chores while homeschooling?

8 Oct

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is: How do you juggle, balance, and even integrate household chores while homeschooling? Good question! The short answer is, it’s possible to manage your home and stay afloat with the household chores while homeschooling. The long answer is… well, here’s how we each have chosen to tackle it:

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11 1/2, 10 and 5

Household chores and home management have never been an area of “expertise” for me. This is no secret for anyone who knows me well and has popped over to my house unexpectedly.

I grew up as the eldest in a family of eight children, and keeping the house clean was literally a matter of survival. However, our strategy was pretty much “clean up as you go” — and just doing that required nearly constant cleaning. Once we started homeschooling when I was in high school, my mom had more hands on deck to help keep up the house, but we also made a much bigger mess being home together and eating three meals (plus many snacks) at home. All nine of us under one roof all day, and at one point, in one three-bedroom trailer on an under-construction property.

During this time, one of my teen pet peeves was the concept that chores were somehow part of the homeschooling experience: “Learning” to be a homemaker seemed like a fancy label for giving me more work to do because the chores were spinning out of control. If I ever homeschooled my children, I secretly vowed to myself, I would NOT make chores part of our homeschool schedule. School is enrichment time and learning valuable skills, and chores are a necessary drudgery — not an educational experience, my teenage logic told me.

Fast forward more than 25 years, and now I’m the mom homeschooling three daughters with a husband who also works at home. Five of us working and eating all of our meals in the house practically every day. Funny enough, I was still determined to keep my secret vow to myself. My first two years, I tried really hard to save “chores” for the end of the day — after a full day of schoolwork and rushing out to extracurricular or co-op schooling activities outside our home. Trouble is, the last thing anyone wanted to do at the end of a busy day (myself included) is start cleaning up all that was left behind after a day’s download of activity.

So this year I came up with a strategy to keep up with the housework while homeschooling. And yes, we now clean up during the school day! It’s not a perfect plan by any means, but things are much more organized and relatively clean at the end of the day without too much fuss or pulling teeth.

The first idea I decided to implement was chore cards. This is not my genius idea, but I honestly can’t remember where I read/heard about it. Chore cards detail exactly what is expected in each task. For example, the card for “lunch dishes” includes details like, “additional dishes and/or pans handwashed” and “rinse out sink, use scrub brush to remove food, etc. from sink.” I laminated them (which is pretty crafty for me) so they can be checked off daily with erasable markers and reused.

I’ve also assigned each of my girls with a mealtime chore after lunch, a chore in the afternoon (post schoolwork, before free time or neighborhood play, something like cleaning off the school table and sweeping that area), a mealtime chore after dinner, and an evening chore (like straightening up the living room before bed). Then there are once-a-week chores that are done on Saturdays, ideally before free playtime for the day, that include tasks such as “deep” cleaning their bathroom (as deep as 10/11-year-olds can do), and dusting/mopping/wiping down in the living room. Each girl only has two of these chores to accomplish on Saturday, and they should take less than an hour easily. In the end no one should feel like they got stuck cleaning up “all day” — and I’m not left doing all the heavy cleaning myself.

Overall, the chore cards and “divide & conquer” approach has been extremely helpful: It has cut back a lot on the disappointment of discovering a task wasn’t actually done properly once the girls are already outside playing with their friends, and it has kept the chores at a manageable daily/weekly level. I try to be diligent about “signing off” on the chores by going over the checklist with them each time, but sometimes it’s too busy and I don’t have time. Although the follow-through hasn’t been perfect, the chore cards system has still made a huge difference in keeping daily duties under control.

The second step to my plan is using a free online tool called HighScore House so my girls can track their chore completion in an engaging way — and they love using the computer or iPhone to play along. This tool tracks their daily and weekly chores, along with other daily responsibilities (like brushing their teeth twice a day, drinking a full bottle of water, taking their vitamins and making their beds). It’s cute, visual and easy-to-use — even my 5-year-old Elise has mastered it.

The best part is that it also tracks their achievements by converting them into accumulated “stars” that they “bank” and can later cash in for rewards that you predetermine. The rewards I set up include everything from computer time, TV time, and having a friend spend the night, to cash and tangible prizes. I set the values for the rewards, and I made sure there was a balance of things they might want to “cash in” on daily (such as playing on my iPhone or reading on the hammock alone for an hour) as well as save up for (such as cash or a new toy/book).

Both the chore cards and HighScore House have made chores more manageable, easier to delegate, and even fun at times! I remember the first day we used HighScore House, Elise woke me up and started rattling off all she’d already accomplished before I was even out of bed. Now that’s progress!

One thing I am still trying to do is instill a sense of personal pride in keeping their own rooms clean. Although the public side of our house is relatively tidy these days, the bedrooms have been a challenge to maintain. Truthfully, one bedroom in particular — belonging to my two youngest, one who is a collector of many, many things — continues to be a tornado disaster zone. I’ve tried several systems for organizing for them and have personally cleaned rooms from top to bottom myself every few months, hoping that “this time” they would stay clean. My eldest is getting there and can now be counted on to keep up with her room on her own. For my younger girls, it just hasn’t happened yet.

Ideas, anyone?

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 2)

This question is hard to answer because it seems that in my home things are constantly changing. And I like to tell people that we are a family that truly lives in our home! We are home most of the time, and we eat most of our meals in. Every room gets used and used well!

When we first started homeschooling almost eight years ago, the girls were 10 and 11 — perfect ages for doing chores. I think we spent the first year of “school” learning how to clean, cook, do laundry, etc. Both girls enjoyed cooking and were competent at laundry but dreaded cleaning.

The second year we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with five (sometimes six) people. There wasn’t much to clean, but it always looked messy. After we moved into our new home, the girls were once again assigned chores, and I think I tried everything — from assigning daily and then weekly chores to just randomly handing out chores, from paying a small allowance to not paying, etc. Keeping their rooms and bathrooms clean was beyond my frustration level.

Now both girls have graduated but still live at home. They both work at least 20 hours per week at our donut shop, and Hannah goes to college. Trying to catch them and make them accountable for cleaning is just too much for me. But they have gotten better at keeping their rooms and bathrooms and laundry done. And I think I have found a way to get them to help out that they actually like. They each plan and cook dinner two nights a week, which frees me up to do other things. And honestly, I would rather clean than cook. I would like to get them to clean up the kitchen after they cook because one of them in particular is a messy chef.

As far as my son Joel goes, well that is an issue I have just begun to deal with. He is seven and fully capable of helping out. He has been trash “taker outer” for a while now, and he takes care of our dog, Daisy. But trying to get him to do any actual housework causes a meltdown. In fact, he has claimed several times that he is a boy and therefore shouldn’t have to do these things. Which is funny because when he was younger, he loved to help out — especially with the laundry.

One thing that has helped this year is the little chore/school card that comes in “The Well Planned Day” planner.  I wrote his chores on one side and his school subjects on the other and then laminated it and every day as he finishes something he marks it. If he marks everything on any given day, he gets 5 points, and if he marks everything all week, he gets 50.

The task we are working on now is cleaning his room and doing his own laundry. Then we will focus on his bathroom. The points he is earning are added to his other school points to be used on toys and treats from the prize bucket.

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009: Four daughters ages 13, 12, 10 & 4

Well being pregnant, homeschooling four girls and trying to keep the house clean… Ha ha!

One thing I have done is make a chore chart for each day of the week for each child. The chart includes everything, even the laundry, and at the end of the day, my husband Tony checks that chart to see who did or didn’t do what and handles any necessary discipline. This helps me out a bunch. It’s not a really pretty chart, but it works for now.

Sunday I do the chores (a little more detailed than the girls do), and I have the girls do stuff like wash the dogs, clean the fridge, clean the car, etc. I think now that I’m nesting (I am due with daughter No. 5 in November), chores have been more like bleach water in a bucket and having the girls wash floor boards and ceiling fans, etc.

You would think this means I have a clean house, but most people who come to my house would probably say different. From day to day, it’s a shuffling game with books and piles of laundry on the couch and here and there around the house. Also, the girls’ bathroom is never what I would call clean, but I pick my battles.

My biggest issue is keeping my front yard from looking like a “redneck mess” — LOL! That’s not easy considering my husband was rebuilding his transmission on the front porch last month. And you would be surprised how fast four girls can junk up the front yard with their toys, random tree branches, etc.

We also have two cats and two large dogs, a castle-size dog house in our backyard (the girls painted it lime green), and, to my dismay, a guinea pig who attracts flies when his cage is ignored for longer than one day. So yes, I have full hands. However, I would really like my girls to not only learn to read, write, and do math, but to understand the value of life skills as well. So keeping them involved in the household responsibilities is very important to me.

And really, at the end of the day, if my pillowcase and sheets are clean, that’s all that really matters to me!

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)

Housework and homeschooling? Is it seriously possible to juggle both? Yes and no.

If you are expecting to have the same house you had or imagined you would have when your kids left the house for six hours a day, you may be striving for the unattainable. However, keeping a home picked up, basically organized and hygienically clean is a more realistic goal when you’re homeschooling.

Before I became a mom — and at homeschooling mom at that — my forte was creating merchandising plans for a large international retailer. So basically, my job was telling the stores where to put stuff and make it all look pretty. I haven’t lost that love, so if you came to my house, you might see shadows of what my vision was under the piles of books, dish-filled sink and dust-caked walls (no, it’s not that bad — but close). However, today I am challenged with a small space (two bedrooms, one bath) and a lot going on in that space every day as I homeschool my young son and daughter.

I’d say on average I get the kitchen floor swept three times a day, other rooms swept once maybe (we have hardwood floors everywhere), “piles” moved from one place to another, trash off the counters, table wiped down for schoolwork, dishes loaded and unloaded, and maybe a pathway cleared from the door to the couch on a daily basis. Then about once a week when my kids are in a good groove of playing outside, I clean the bathroom from top to bottom. And on another day while watching an educational video with the kids, I’ll actually fold clothes. Then in the evening, we all put those piles of clothes away before bedtime. Once a week (or every two weeks), I take a whole morning with the kids just to clean their room and pull it back together. This includes tasks such as dusting, floor mopping, vacuuming couches and even working through their piles of paper to file or throw out.

I save weekends for when my husband and I together can tag team. Then if things really get out of hand around the house, I might ditch our weeknight bible study to stay home alone and just pull the living room back together. You get the idea… Housecleaning tasks are never completed all at once (unless we are preparing for a party, and even then, there a lot of doors that are kept closed).

I’m a list maker, and I’ve made and tried to follow a dozen routines. But just like with homeschooling, housework falls into the moment-by-moment category, asking for God’s help to decide what are the more important tasks to accomplish for the day, versus just being driven by the urgent.

A few tips that have worked for me, as in they help me feel like I’m moving forward in homemaking and not falling behind, are:

  • Less toys — less things in general. Keep only the most precious or educational ones. If it’s not used weekly, store it.
  • Find a place for everything. If it doesn’t have one, give it away or sell it.
  • Use time-saving cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes for the bathroom and a Swiffer mop, Swiffer toilet bowl scrubber and Swiffer duster. Yes, making your own cleaners is a beautiful idea, and one day may come to fruition once you have your routine down or the kids move out. But in the meantime, saving time can save your sanity.
  • Talk to your husband about what chores he can help with if he’s willing to.
  • Baskets, baskets, baskets. I think you can never have enough. IKEA is my best friend — I even spend my birthday money there.
  • Consolidate all those piles into one place, that way when you are looking for something before you’ve had time to file it in the RIGHT place, you only have to look in one location — not all over the house.
  • Think small. When you are in a room, try and take at least one, if not more, items with you to drop off in the next room where it belongs. Or clear off one counter-top space of clutter in the 10 minutes you have. Try doing a little in little increments every day, instead of taking on a lot with the non-existent time you will never have while homeschooling.


How do you handle household chores while homeschooling? Have you developed any helpful or time-saving systems that really work in your home that you would like to share with us? Or are you frustrated and need some encouragement? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

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