This homeschool thing isn’t for wussies, my friends. Cindy, a wise mentor of mine, used to say to me, “The thing about life is that it’s so daily.” That seems to be precisely the case with homeschooling. After Monday one awakens only to find that it is Tuesday.
Since we hoisted the flag of our school (figuratively) on August 11, I have had varied and harried experiences. For several weeks I nurtured a crop (herd? battalion?) of mealworms in the dining room. We’ve exploded volcanoes on the kitchen table and popped balloons covered with paper mâché. I’ve had spiders launched at me, gotten glue in my hair, and twice dropped my phone in fresh paint. But we’ve had school for nearly eight weeks and we’ve learned. I just verified it by asking Harriet. Harriet, who is in pre-school, only recently discovered she is not in pee-school, as she at first thought. In addition to that clarification, she appears to have learned also that, “Baby Moses went into the sea.” So we’ll consider the first eight weeks a success. Learning is taking place.
What am I teaching my oft-bespectacled offspring? I don’t know if this will come out to be a curriculum review, a list of objectives, or random commentary but I am asked this question fairly often so here’s a shot at the answer.
The real planning challenge was to find ways for the girls to work together for as much of the time as possible and yet not push Harriet ahead or hold Norah behind. Another factor influencing my decision is my “make do and mend” motto: I have a strong preference for using what has been given to me or what I can purchase at reasonable cost. It is not that I do not want my children to have an excellent education. (Seriously, who doesn’t want that?) But I am endeavoring to resist the entitlement impulse, that assumes we should always procure the very best. There are many good options in each subject area to choose from. If I can get one for free or at reduced cost, that’s the one I’ll use.
We begin with calendar activities of various sorts. To keep it interesting, I occasionally work in a seasonal craft or two at this time. We’ve done a variety of apple crafts and we’re just beginning on crafts featuring leaves, pumpkins, and other autumnal subjects. We also go over the daily schedule, record and graph the weather, add a penny a day and learn about American coins, and practice memory verses at this time. I write a “Morning Message” on a children’s easel someone gave me and we read that together. Sometimes I have the girls “sign in” and practice writing different letters and numbers.
Next we do Bible time. We are reading the classic Egermeier’s Story Bible together this year, a story a day. Alex and I have lined up memory verses that correspond with what we are learning, one per week. (“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6) The stories are the right depth and length for both of the girls at this time. Please note this book has no real application or comprehension questions, but I invent these as I go and direct the discussion to appropriate application as I am able. I have a book of Bible crafts at the girls’ level and occasionally we do a special craft or project that fits our Bible story. I also collect various illustrations of the stories we read from different works and we view these.
In the past, I worked through Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons with Norah and found it incredibly helpful in teaching her to read. This summer I tested her and found that she was testing consistently at a first-grade reading level. Though I have enjoyed writing my own reading curriculum based on trade books in the past, this is not feasible for me going forward. I also find that pace is a big weakness of mine: I tend to push too hard. So I decided to use Sonlight’s excellent reading program for first grade. I have been very happy with this decision, it is right at Norah’s level and is teaching her grammar, spelling, and phonics along with reading.
I am not following Sonlight’s read-alouds, I still do this part myself. Right now we are reading Charlotte’s Web for read-aloud and it is a highlight in our day. (“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother . . . ) It has taken great self-control for me to resist reading certain works to my children too early, before they can really enter into them and have that magical first experience with the stories that I remember from my own childhood. We began with Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, Virginia Lee Burton, and now finally E. B. White (reading Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web). When this book is concluded, I think we are finally prepared for Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Little House In The Big Woods (which must be read in the winter, it’s like a law).
For writing we are using Handwriting Without Tears. This was the program I really wanted but its price is completely prohibitive. Last year I found it lightly used, with three years’ worth of blank workbooks and all possible manipulatives, on sale on ebay for $80. Norah is doing the Kindergarten book and Harriet the pre-K book. Their work is similar enough to do together, but different enough to challenge each of them.
For math Norah is about half-way through Math-U-See’s primer level, which is about mid-first grade. I teach a new concept only every-other day, leaving the other days for practice, review, enrichment, and exploration. We had to buy a set of math blocks for this curriculum, but the teacher’s manual and workbooks were generously given to me by friends. I have been impressed at how much more easily Norah is learning these things than I expected. Harriet does pre-K workbooks and also plays math games and counting games with Mommy.
All of our science materials were gifts, passed on from other homeschoolers. We are working through a study of God’s world right now, focusing on animals. I took a book called The Complete First Book of Nature and built 12 weeks of daily lessons around its content. We began with three weeks on butterflies and moths, then did a few weeks on insects (thus our herd of worms), and have just launched a unit on birds. Nearly every day we do some form of activity, experiment, or craft in science. Knowing my own tendency to procrastinate on these types of things, I prepped all the crafts and experiments in advance and stored them in drawers. This was the smartest thing I did all summer. I also planned field trips: we’ve managed to actually go on two of the three.
For the first eight weeks of school, we’ve been learning about our future home in social studies. I found a book right at the children’s level full of varied information about the country in southeast Asia to which we plan to move next year (pictured above, title obscured). We have done crafts, cooked and tasted food, put on performances, learned words in another language, and created volcanoes from plaster as we’ve studied this book and this place. It is my hope that it will create a happy expectation for new peoples and new places in the children and that it will form the foundation for lots of learning to come. For weeks 9-16 of this term I have yet to form a plan, I think perhaps we will study our current community.
That’s the overview, for those who have asked. I would love comments and suggestions from you subscribers/readers who are seasoned homeschoolers, or others who are, like me, taking the plunge.
Enjoy your daily today!