Afterschooling: an update

A few of you have asked how our afterschooling was going. Specifically, some of you were wondering how crazy I’d be to expect my kiddo to get excited about doing more school after a full day in the classroom. I don’t blame you.

If you’re wondering, afterschooling is just what it sounds like: school, after school. Basically, it’s a good compromise for families who don’t feel led to do straight-up homeschooling, but still want to do a bit of stuff after your kids are back home. I jokingly call it “Homeschool Lite.”

The short answer as to how it’s going: yes, it’s taken a bit to get our groove back into this, and yes, during the first week of school I thought this was a crazy idea. But now that we’re finding our fall routine, it’s going well, for two main reasons.

1. I’ve flexed on my idea of what afterschooling “should” look like.

Here’s what I mean when I say we afterschool: we casually learn and talk together about stuff, we read more in depth as we’re interested, and we keep it fun. My kids probably don’t know that we’re doing any sort of school at all. You probably do something similar without calling it anything official.

My daughter is tired after a full day of school; the last thing she wants to do is sit at the table and do worksheets or math drills. So we keep it simple, short, and laid-back with these main tools:

Story of the World

Several times a week, we listen to one story from Story of the World. We have the CDs in the car and as we’re driving around, and we repeat the same two minute (or so) story. Then we talk about it. As interest arises, we pick up a book on the topic during our weekly library visit.

This isn’t work for us, it’s fun. We love history, and I adore SOTW’s approach to telling accurate history in a storytelling format. We’ve had all sorts of fascinating conversations about Cleopatra, the Roman Empire, and the Maori people in New Zealand.

First Language Lessons

Even though I love Tate’s school, I do miss the classical method with which we approached our homeschooling. So to make sure she’s getting a good foundation in English grammar, we subtly, casually work through First Language Lessons in conversation.

This text is more for me than anything; it gives me a checklist of sorts to remind me what to review with her. So as we go about our day, I’ll ask her: “Please tell me all the pronouns,” and she’ll rattle off “I, she, my, mine, you, your, yours…” and so on. This takes around five to ten minutes daily.


Math is Tate’s weaker subject (as is mine), so DreamBox has worked really well for us. It feels like playing computer games because it is computer games. Through magical algorithms and probably unicorns (I’m telling you, I’m not mathy), this program adjusts as your child progresses.

It provides games based on the math skills your child needs, and parents have a dashboard where they can see progress. It’s pretty great. Reed (our 4-year-old) loves it, too.

Read, read, and read some more

We keep our books our front and center in the living room, and we go to the library often. Reading is a normal part of our everyday life around here. Nothing fancy or complicated, this afterschooling, is it?

Note: One reason we’re able to afterschool is because Tate’s teacher has a low-homework policy (one of the main reasons we felt led to this school!). As a second grader, she has a max of 15 minutes of homework each night, it’s always related to something she learned that day in class (so it’s review, not new material), it’s never busy work, and there’s never homework over the weekend. And then she also keeps a reading log, where she has to read at least 15 minutes a night (which we easily do twice that amount regardless). Pretty great.

2. I keep it organized.

I think this works for us because it doesn’t feel schooly to the kids, and one of the reasons it doesn’t is because I do my darndest to stay organized on my end. I keep all the books and paperwork I need in one place, and when I need to check on our progress, I know just where to go (it’s all at my desk).

The kind people at Martha Stewart sent me samples of her new line of office supplies, and they’ve worked great so far. I keep both our afterschooling and my kids’ school papers in one place, and what can I say?, because it’s pretty, I just keep it all out.

(Also? It must be said: I don’t normally keep four copies of my book at arm’s reach. They’re being mailed out to a few people, and I just now found them in our garage. Promise. The irony doesn’t escape me.)

My favorite bit is the vertical files, making it easy to store our stuff in a simple magazine holder on my desk. My kids’ school sends stuff via a folder in their backpacks, so when they get home, my kids put their folder in this holder. I know to look at stuff, sign what’s necessary, and put it back in the folder to return to school. The kids then grab their folders each night as they collect their backpacks.

I also love the chalkboard labels, and I write on them with a wet erase chalk marker.

So this is cool… Martha Stewart is offering my readers a 40% off coupon for any of her home office products. It’s good at any Staples store, valid until December 31, 2012! Download and enjoy.

I’m not sure if we’ll always afterschool, of course, but so far, this system is going well. It’s so much easier to keep it low-key yet intentional when I’m organized with our stuff. I’ll be honest—I feel like we’re enjoying the best of both worlds.

Our family’s educational philosophy and approach is year-at-a-time, kid-at-a-time. I don’t doubt that we’ll homeschool again down the road, so by afterschooling, I feel like we’ve kept a toe in both arenas.

Have you ever tried afterschooling? What’s worked for you? And even if you don’t, how do you keep your school stuff organized?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I love that you shared this, right now, today of all days. I just pulled out SOTW and our
    languages lessons from our homeschool days last year and will begin doing after schooling tomorrow. Two of my kids come home with zero homework (I’m hoping that it is just because school started last week) and my youngest comes home with busy work….ugh. We’re tweaking things and adding a bit more to supplement.

    I love the way that you’ve organized things, I think I just may put that coupon to good work when I head to Bend tomorrow! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. The pronouns thing is a great call – I grew up in public schools, and I learned pronouns for the first time in French (it was my college major).
    As to the books in your garage – ha! 🙂

  3. Just have to suggest for the math stuff. It’s free. And tracks progress. And covers all kinds of advanced math stuff. In fact, I have my own account.

  4. This is a great way to spend quality time with your kids after school. We LOVED Story of the World. I think reading it is a great way to add cultural literacy to your kids’ school day without them knowing it!

    Never did after school myself. I’ve home schooled every year, but I don’t discard the possibility that one of my kids could end up in public school at some point. I also like the “year-at-a-time, kid-at-a-time” approach.

  5. I have never heard of dream box before I am going to pin it to my homeschooling board on pinterest. I use a lot of your tips in my homeschooling day, as I have a child who is just slower to pick things up than most, so I look for creative ways to squeeze in a bit more schooling into their day without them knowing it. So like you we listen to history or classic stories on car trips, and they play educational games on the computer or i-touch. I leave books everywhere with great pictures and facts that I often catch them browsing through. It works as slowly the one that is behind is starting to show signs of catching up.

  6. I love your picture of Tate reading out of an Usborne book! Living in Ireland, we have access to the entire Usborne collection of books, since they are published in the UK. It is probably one of my favorite things about living here. Right now, my 4-year old and I are reading out of the Usborne Phonics Stories series. He loves them, and it is a great introduction to reading. Win-win!

  7. The usbourne books are great! We love all the lift the flap ones here about castles, under the sea, different historical periods etc.
    I’m going to check on Stories of the World so thanks for the tip!

  8. I really love seeing how you make it all work. Mine is not yet officially school age (almost five). But I feel like we do a lot of the same things for preschool. I have to be organized , and if I am organized we can do a lot of learning in a casual way. If I’m not organized..well… 🙂

  9. I was wondering how it was going. Glad it seems to be going well. I also find that casual learning happens much more easily when there’s organization involved.

  10. Thanks for the update! I’d like to work a few of those things into our daily life as well.

    Any chance Martha Stewart could provide a coupon for Canadian Staples as well?

    • I’m glad you asked Ellen 😀 I was just wondering the same thing.

      Our first grade teacher just sent home the home reading assignments yesterday and its all online and tracks their progress! Its super cool! Yesterday my daughter read 3 books when she really only needed to read the one. I love this! She can do that on her own while I get supper ready and then we can read other books together at night. Right now we are reading Sisters Eight. What a fun series!!


    • And one for UK Staples who sell the line too?! Pretty please?

      Just starting out on the simpler living experience – have read most of Tsh’s book and am slowly doing bits and pieces and incorporating ideas into our life.

  11. Tsh, I’m so glad to read this. We tried homeschooling last year but it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I do have dreams of starting again in a few years. My daughter goes to school in the afternoon and we’ve kept up our homeschooling routing for the morning and I”m surprised at how much I’m enjoying it! I guess I feel like the pressure is off to do everything “right” and I like the structure that has been imposed on our day (I’m the worst for routines). It’s encouraging to read through someone else’s experiences!

  12. Thanks for the ideas – our after school time is limited but my daughter is always wanting more teaching so these are great tips. I love the dream box but it looks expensive – maybe we’ll try the 14 day trial.

  13. I needed this idea. My kids attend a classical school, but a new curriculum is lacking in a skill I deem foundational. Though my daughter has enough homework, I may try teaching her this foundation in a fun manner after school.

    In keeping kids projects and stuff organized, I included my link to preserving your children’s artwork. Thanks for the post. I needed this today.

  14. ack! I LOVE this idea. I need to read this more. I am not a home schooler, but I still want to be involved in their education!

    I love this so much!

    Can I say that again? Because I totally love it! The one thing that I need to make sure happens is that supper is made and ready to go so that I can purposefully spend time with my girls when they do come home from school!

    • Sure thing! Yes, the way it works best is to keep it purposeful, as you say, and not just busy work because the mom wants to do it. Honestly, everything we’ve done so far is fun, or while we’re doing something else anyway (driving, making dinner, etc.).

  15. card games and mass market games are great for math practice too! triominoes can be played by many ages with tons if math! little kids can do the matching, bigger kids can add their 3 digits, even bigger kids (or adults) can keep score. you could modify this to use multiplication for each triomino too. the card game war is great for comparing numbers or you can play even vs. odd. bigger kids can each flip out two cards and compare sums or products. one more twist for middle school is to make the reds negative numbers and the blacks positive numbers then compare sums or products. this can be fun to do while waiting for dinner in a restraunt too. also check out the new game sumoko fir multiplication practice! math is everywhere. enjoy it!

  16. Thank you so much for these great resources and this was just the push I needed to get things more organized here. My husband and I have a great desire to be teaching our children more than what they’re learning at school and I am quickly realizing that if we are not intentional about this, time gets away from us. As our oldest is almost ready to turn 13, we are seeing this even more clearly. 🙂 I’ve slowly been making book lists for each of the kids and read aloud lists, but haven’t known where else to look for other resources-thank you so much!

  17. We homeschool, but I do fondly recall my own school days and wonder if sometimes my kids are missing some of the “best” of that world. When we first starting homeschooling we lived directly across the street from a lovely elementary school. My kids thought recess was all day, because of the rotating schedule between classes, until I explained that. 🙂 Another “best” of the classroom is the teachers, with wonderful ideas and love for their jobs.

    Sounds like you are keeping it light and meaningful in your afterschooling. Good job.

  18. Thanks for the update. I was wondering how it was going. After you previous post I was interested in after schooling but not sure if it would fit into our lives. This is just another inspiring post to make sure I am being purposeful in my parenting and how we spend our after school time each day.

  19. Thanks for sharing!! We have a low homework school too and while we do some “afterschooling” we are still working out the kinks. They are both tired after school and 3 is my low point in the day too! I love the MS stuff and might have to go get some to organize our afterschool station a little better.
    The math website looks great too!

  20. While we don’t do any official afterschooling, I do feel like I need to supplement their school studies at home. Mostly we focus (informally, of course) on the points their traditional school lacks (contact with the natural world, enjoyment of foreign languages, exposure to classical music, practical life skills). We also go to the library often and I try to load up on books that relate to the themes in their regular classes.

  21. Is Story of the World available for download on iTunes? I can’t seem to find it if it is, but wondered whether I’m missing it.

    • Hmm… I know they have mp3s, but I’m not sure they’re on iTunes. I’ll ask them and will let you know!

    • Just asked… They’ve got the mp3s for sale in their store, but not in iTunes. However, it’s not hard to import mp3s into your iTunes account once you download them onto your computer. However, I think that’s a good idea, and one I’ll pass along to the PHP people! Thanks for asking.

  22. Thanks for the update…I had been wondering how your family was doing with this. We do non-formal, “fun” activities with our kids too (they don’t even know they’re learning, shhhhh!). One of their favorites is when we’re at a restaurant, and they are bored waiting for our food to arrive, we’ll go around the table listing animals that start with each letter of the alphabet (this keeps them entertained for a good 5 minutes, lol).

    Do you just have the computer just set up for Tate, or do your younger ones have any educational games they play on it? We’ve been considering setting up my older son’s old desktop and load it with a handful of age-appropriate educational games or kid-friendly internet sites for our 4 & 5 year olds (ie. Nick Jr, PBS Go, etc.) My 18 yo recently left for the Air Force, and just has his laptop now 🙂

  23. I LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing. When my oldest started public school we talked about wanting to do something additional to give her some enrichment in history and art but I quickly gave up on that idea because she was always so exhausted when she got home! I love these low key ideas. Totally doable!

  24. This is awesome. And very similar to what we’ve been doing. Except we’re doing Homeschool Lite all day long. 😉

  25. Your definition of afterschooling as “Basically, it’s a good compromise for families who don’t feel led to do straight-up homeschooling, but still want to do a bit of stuff after your kids are back home. I jokingly call it ‘Homeschool Lite.'” resonates with me profoundly. I am in awe of homeschoolers, but feel like I just couldn’t cut it. I hope that makes sense. I love this idea of doing a little homeschooling while at the same time having the classroom experience during the day.
    This is my first comment at SimpleMom! 🙂 Very excited about it. I’ve been following you on facebook for a little while (saw that a friend ‘liked’ your page) and have been meaning to read your blog. Well, I finally did so today and I am glad I did. Great information.
    I’ve been meaning to get organized. Thanks for the coupon – it is giving me the inspiration to head out to Staples this afternoon to being my organizing journey.
    Looking forward to tomorrow’s blog entry!

  26. I just wanted to say Thank you!!! Dreambox OMG my son loves it!!! almost 3 hours he was on it! I told him umm dont you think you should take a break from that screen? lol He said No! I love this site!!

    I am thrilled!!
    Thank you for sharing!!

  27. Awesome Tsh! One way we have incorporated FLL into our Afterschooling experience is by listening to the CD in the car. We don’t do any of the paper and pencil work with it; we just listen to the poems, songs, and grammar chants.

    If you follow your “One Bite at A Time” model from your book (which my blog will be reviewing on Sunday, September 30th btw), you could even think about Afterschooling in terms of Most Important Tasks for the week. For kid A, the MIT for the week might be to read a chapter book and discuss it with you. For kid B, the MIT of the week might be to get them inspired with a cool science project etc.

  28. Tsh, I’m very curious about the book your daughter is reading in the picture. My son (3rd grade) is enthralled with Egyptology and very curious about ancient civilizations & world history. I know so very little about any of these subjects. He has several Egyptology books but I’ve been wanting to get him some sort of encyclopedia, similar to what Tate has, but I don’t know one from another. Is this particular book one she and you would recommend? Thanks!

    • It’s this book. Anything from Usborne is great, in my opinion! And Story of the World volume 1 covers Egypt in a lot of detail.

      • Here in the States, Usborne books are published by Educational Development Corp. (EDC Publishing). EDC discontinued sales to Amazon this year so now they are only available through small retailers (limited selection) and independent consultants, such as myself. Usborne specializes in educational non-fiction books for kids that are extremely engaging. If you have boys who are reluctant readers, you should check out the internet linked Discovery series, it’s fabulous!

  29. My second grader has too much homework for me to “afterschool”, but since she is required to read at least 15 minutes from a book of her (read: my) choice, it is very easy for me to ask her to “read a little bit more”. I love math, so I do spend time with her every day on math and math facts. She also takes guitar lessons, so daily practice is a must. My fifth grader son has less homework so I give him more work. Khan Academy ( is, in my opinion, the best online site for math (and now also for computer science) education

  30. Tsh I love your tips on after schooling. Even though I am not a mom … (yet) I like reading about parents’ experiences. Lets say I am afraid of messing things up and I try to learn as much as possible from the experiences that moms like you share so generously. I also recognised a “fear” of math when it comes to kids and sometimes even parents, this is why I am in the process of starting my own business which is planning to make math into a game. One of my ideas is to try and provide parents with ideas of games they could play with their children that would reinforce what the kids have learned in school. I would love to hear more about your experince with teaching math and the problems you face when it comes to math after schooling. Would you be interested in writing a guest post on the ThoughtBox blog describing your 3 main challenges when it comes to math education?

  31. I know your post is about after-schooling – which I do some of with my kids. We always work on Math flashcards, spelling and of course, reading…
    But what I had to stop to mention is that I LOVE the vertical file folders!! I may have a new desk accessory shortly!! 🙂

  32. Just wanted to mention, in case y’all hadn’t already considered it, to talk with your child’s teacher about your afterschooling. I’m a SAHM/homeschooler now, but before kids, I was a classroom teacher and I would have LOVED any/all of my parents to do this–and I would have waived the “other” homework requirement. I considered homework a tool for parents to experience what their littles were learning, but this is SO much better. Just my two cents!

  33. I love this post and can’t wait to get started on afterschooling, but shhhh….don’t tell my kids. Thanks for the resources!!

  34. I’m so glad it’s all going well. Kaia misses Tate at CC but I’m really glad this has worked well for both of you. We are big fans of SOTW and First Language Lessons and your day sounds a lot like ours. I’ve always thought a library card and some free time can provide the most stellar of educations. Oh, and I have those chalkboard labels from Martha and I swear, I just wanna label everything, they’re so cute.

  35. Hi Tsh!
    What does SOTW stand for?

  36. We love Dreambox! Have used it for a couple years now. 😀

  37. Thank you for this update… please keep them coming! 🙂 We checked out The Story of the World at our library and my first grader is completely fascinated. I look forward to going through all four volumes. Thanks so much for the great recommendation.

  38. Must tell you that, yesterday I got the Martha Stewart magazine file that you featured above! Immediately put it to use. Oh how much I <3 it!! Thank you for the coupon. 🙂

  39. Thanks for this…I am a former teacher who is now staying at home with my 3 year old son and am encouraged to do more “fun” learning after reading your posts and similar ones on other sites you have featured. Thanks, Tsh!

    I went to Staples yesterday to pick up a couple of the Martha Stewart Products and they said that the coupon I printed from this post was not a valid coupon. They wouldn’t accept it. 🙁 Has anyone else had problems using their coupon?

  40. This, and yes, during the first week of school I thought this was a crazy idea.

  41. At my school (I’m a teacher) we did away with homework and encouraged “home learning” which is similar to your afterschooling. Students were encouraged to do what they wanted for fun after school. Many were creative- building something out of toilet paper rolls, aluminum foil, rubberbands, etc… , many cooked, drew, made or played games, wrote stories. Students then brought many of their creations in to share which then motivated others to do something similar at home. We talked about what the kids were reading at home and they often shared about their book with a partner. Some teachers even had a homelearning wall in the class which highlighted projects done at home. It did take some convincing for parents to get on board (after we got rid of HW) but the kids loved it and I really feel they chose to do things they were interested.

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