a herd of worms in the dining room

IMG_4614This 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.

IMG_4627Next 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.

IMG_4630In 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).

IMG_4629For 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.

IMG_4626For 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.

IMG_4628All 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.

IMG_4642For 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.

IMG_4665That’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!




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8 Responses to a herd of worms in the dining room

  1. Hannah Blair says:

    Can you tell me more about what you do for “calendar time” and the “Morning Message”? These are things that we have tried in the past but that I have been unable to bring down to my girls’ level successfully. Any ideas? Thank you so much for writing this blog – it’s a wonderful blend of humor and practical ideas/inspiration!

    • betsy says:

      Hi Hannah, thanks for commenting. I have a big board (it’s more of a peg board than a bulletin board, but it was only $7 at Lowe’s so I made do). On the board I have a laminated calendar grid, I decorate it with a different/seasonal border each month and write the month on top. Each day we talk about what day of the week it is, what month it is, and write the date in the square for that day with dry-erase marker. I have a little spin-dial that shows the season of the year also, we go over that. Then I have a five-day grid with boxes for each day of the week, the girls take turns checking the weather and sticking on the appropriate icon–i.e. “sunny” “windy” etc. On Fridays we graph on a simple box graph the five days of weather that we have recorded (we do one graph for each month). Then I have a moveable/laminated list of the subjects we study that I set up and we talk about what we will do activity-wise that day and in what order. We have a bag of coins and we add one cent for each day of school to another bag labeled “school days”–the person who does this also has to count the current total and change up any coins–such as five pennies to a nickel, or two nickels to a dime, etc. Also we have posted that week’s memory verse and we review previous weeks of verses as time allows. I should have the days of the week and months of the year up and laminated, but I don’t. I hope Harriet doesn’t reach adulthood not being aware that there is a month of May, but we are in serious jeopardy of this at the minute. Oh, and the message is just a few simple sentences that I write on our easel: “Good morning, it’s Monday! Monday starts with “M”. Can you think of other words that start with M?” or “Hello! Before we start this morning, can you turn two somersaults and do five jumping jacks?” Hope this helps/you can tweak it to what you want them to know.

  2. Jennie Baddeley says:

    Awesome! Go you.

  3. Cara says:

    Whoa. I mean, really. Whoa. This is impressive. Yesterday I heard Ruby counting in French to 16. I said to her, “Who taught you that?” She said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Did you learn that from me?” She laughed and said, “Non.” My kids learn things *in spite* of me.

    Although I have taught them to dive under big waves so as not to get pummeled. And how to throw a frisbee that would shatter your knee caps. But that’s all.

    • betsy says:

      Now THOSE are things worth teaching. I so hear your point about how much they learn that we DON’T try and teach them–as in, most things!! It’s both discouraging and encouraging, you know??

  4. Abigail says:

    This was like a walk down memory lane for me. I did many similar things with our oldest daughter, who’s now in 5th grade. Also similar is that she had just turned 6 when our fourth was born. One thing that I have battled is the fizzle-out as the year goes on. It seemed fall was chock full of projects and interesting activities, but by February the projects had dried up and it seemed I had too, resorting to a let’s-just-get-through-the-reading-and-math approach. Usually some re-evaluation and a good break would get us a second wind in the project department around March or so. Committing to some activities in advance for the fizzle out months probably would have helped me out.. or spacing out some of the great ideas I had in fall that I couldn’t wait to get to. Enjoy the ride and keep writing! It’s a joy to read.

    • betsy says:

      I strongly suspect myself of the same fizzle-out pattern, especially once baby arrives. That’s one reason we started so early. But I love your suggestions for how to persevere for the long haul, thank you for taking the time to comment on this!! It’s so good for me to start thinking about it now and trying to plan well for the “it’s-such-a-drag” months!! Keep me accountable, K?!

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