Well, here it is! The post where I tell you guys what materials and curriculum we are using for first grade. We have dropped things I was just sure we would love, while picking up some unexpected additions. Charlotte Mason is still the main theme, but we have incorporated some other methods too. Our plan has been ever-evolving, as we follow the natural rhythms of life and learning.
We ended up really liking our charter school, which I was skeptical about at the start of the year. The key to having it work for us was a flexible teacher who let me take the reigns. He answers question, makes recommendations, and helps me check off the boxes for the charter. Since I can choose all of our curriculum, the documentation is a trade-off I have been willing to make for the $2600 budget we get for books and materials.
This year I have a first-grader and a preschooler. Only my first grade daughter is officially enrolled with the charter school, but my preschooler has been voluntarily schooling right along with us in every subject except for math. (Which she could do, but I’m not ready to teach two kids math yet.) My older girl is my creative, non-traditional learner, while the younger one is going to be my classic by-the-book student.
Here is what we’ve been up to!
I was super unmotivated about teaching this subject because you know, math triggers me and takes me to traumatic events in my past where everyone is doing long division and I’m staring at the green linoleum floor trying not to cry. After reading Ruth Beechick’s book the Three R’s, I decided on a program called Right Start Math. I wanted something interactive, manipulative, and game-based, especially since my daughter’s love language is quality time. It is Montessori-inspired so there are a lot of parts and pieces, which intimidated me at first. However, the hands-on aspect is what makes it a process of discovery instead of just a bunch of confusing facts strung together. I really wish I had learned math this way and I’m pretty embarrassed to admit how many light-bulb moments I have had teaching first grade math! Yes, sometimes I have to “lesson plan” (usually five minutes before we start the lesson), but I haven’t died yet. The guide is very scripted and tells me exactly what to do in a simple/clean visual layout. I really like that it is multi sensory, so that if my daughter doesn’t understand a verbal explanation (and she doesn’t a lot of the time), I can show her with the hands-on materials. With two next year, I doubt I will use this particular curriculum since it requires so much of my one-on-one attention, but we have really enjoyed it this year.
My girl is going to be a later reader than many; in fact, she isn’t reading at all yet and she will be seven in May. She’s very smart, so I know she will get it when she is ready. Reading is a life-long skill that is absolutely essential to her future, and I’m just not willing to ruin the wonder to meet someone else’s standards. I want her to own the process. We are still doing work in this area, but it is a grade level or so down from her peers….which she will never need to know. Our charter school teacher recommended the Explode the Code Workbooks, which has been the perfect solution for us. We started with the earliest possible book, which goes over letter sounds and formation, one letter at a time. We are doing nothing more than single letter letter sounds right now. My preschool age daughter is very verbal and loves to write, so both of my girls are doing these books together.
This is perhaps the area in which I’ve seen the most improvement this year. In the Charlotte Mason method, a laundry list of language arts skills are covered simply by “copy work.” That is, literally copying passages of well-written stories or poetry every day. We have done this many different ways; at times just practicing letters on slates, other times writing cards and letters to family. Recently, my daughter wrote and illustrated her own books. With this approach I can allow her to have creative choices on how she wants to do her writing. I want her to think of writing as a powerful creative, communicative process, instead of a rote, dry exercise. The method we are using at the moment is the Draw Write Now series, which both of my girls really love.
We are doing a “literature-based” approach to school, meaning we do not use textbooks. Instead, we use “living books” (real books, stories, and novels) read aloud to the child. This is a staple of the Charlotte Mason philosophy and one of my favorite things about the way we are doing school. There are really no workbooks, activities or tests in these subjects. In a nutshell, exposure to great books and developing a love of learning is more important than dry facts. The child is required only to orally “narrate” back what was read. I really like the Charlotte Mason approach for literature and history. I got my first grade booklist from the free Charlotte Mason curriculum Ambleside Online. Though the books are all children’s classics, the language is far above what I ever believed my girls could comprehend. I sometimes have to explain things, but their comprehension and attention span has risen considerably over the past few months. Poetry is also something I would have been far too intimidated to incorporate, but we read one poem a day out of some children’s poetry books, and it has become the most exciting portion of our morning time. My girls all love cadence and rhyme, the sillier the better! I never knew what beautiful poetry existed for children. In general, they really love this time where I read aloud the stories in our morning basket. Over the months, we have ended up ditching several “meh” books and incorporated a lot of library picture books in their place.
Next year I will probably pull my booklist from Sonlight’s curriculum (they give you access to their book lists for free) instead of Ambleside. The Ambleside book selections are older classics, which are great, but I was craving some variety! We have read a lot of books off the Sonlight lists just for fun and I think that the literature is just as high quality as what I found on Ambleside, but more varied and engaging.
A note for the OCD ones: at first, I really wanted to plan out our reading schedule to the T. (Of course, I did.) Now that I have done it, I think next year I will be able to chill way out on this and probably enjoy it more. The real point of all the reading aloud is to lay a feast of ideas for the mind. The other goal is that over time their ears become attuned to things like cadence, vocabulary, and complex sentence structures. Next year I’ll probably compile a list of living books for each subject and let it be. I did a lot of planning this year which really helped me get a grid for pacing when starting out, but about halfway through I got a feel for what we were doing and didn’t need it anymore. We have dropped so many books that it doesn’t really matter! Plus, with real books, unfortunately, there’s just no linear progression through subjects like there would be with a textbook. Each book is a different style and length, with varying chapter sizes. Random is fine and good, and a much better reflection of how we naturally learn.
I was really struggling with getting a handle on this subject, until I embraced my unschooling side. I am letting the girls lead by their interest, with no particular agenda. It’s not the organized, linear thing I had in mind, but it’s working beautifully. The key to unschooling is being willing to expose a child to new ideas and facilitate interests with books, time, and materials. In other words, science is no longer a subject I worry about checking off a list, but something that just happens through the course of our week. It has been a delight. Personally I love it and think that science is the ideal subject for unschooling!
I had planned to do the classic Charlotte Mason method of nature journaling for science, but we didn’t end up liking it. We started the year using a nature-based curriculum which was lovely, but a different subject every week wasn’t giving us the time we wanted to dig into a subject. Plus, the things my daughter wants to learn about are not easily observed in nature; at least not in our immediate locale. (Volcanoes, earthquakes, sharks, ocean life). Our charter school teacher encouraged us to study whatever we were interested in and to do some hands-on projects when we could.
Most surprisingly, my kids are literally glued to books that give them dry, straight facts about their science questions. Our best learning tool for science has turned out to be children’s non-fiction section of the library! This would seem boring to me, and is the opposite of what Charlotte Mason would recommend. But seeing them devour these books has really proven to me the power of interest-led learning. Every few weeks I ask my daughter what she wants to learn about and then I do some research and reserve the recommended books. Often, we just go into the children’s non fiction section and start pulling things that look interesting! This is fun because everyone gets to pick what they want to learn about. They really own those books! We have several parallel interests going, sharks and sea life being the longest-running theme. Most recently, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has risen to the top of our interests, and we are feeding this by using our charter funds to order a subscription to Kiwi Crate, some robotics, and a set of motorized K’nex.
I also set up little hands-on projects or experiments every couple of weeks or so, like the bird habitat we are putting in our back yard. (They may or may not be related to what we are reading.) Somehow, the learning opportunities come, and the connections get made without me having to control every step. In a way, it’s like I’m laying a feast of science, much like I do with our morning basket. We also go out into nature weekly and occasionally journal as the girls’ interest leads. We had a field trip to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which was very exciting and ignited lots of new interests. I can really see science being a big part our homeschool culture in the future!
This is what we do first thing before anything else. For Bible we are memorizing scripture (I like to do longer passages that we build on progressively) and reading a daily story out of our Egermeier’s Storybook Bible. We also read a page every day from a children’s theology book called The Ology. My kids really love this, especially the Bible stories with the illustrations.
This year we’ve worked hard to create an environment at home that intentionally fosters play and open-ended discovery. My girls’ favorite play includes legos (they are LEGO MANIACS), outdoor play (riding bikes or in the mud kitchen), and art…lots of art! I consider this creative, child-led time “school.” Most of their afternoons are spent at the dining room table making a creative disaster of some sort or another. The fruit that has really come out of this time has been an interest in STEM. My daughter has been attempting to construct simple machines in her free time, which is something I never would have known she wanted to do if it hadn’t been for our free afternoons!
WHAT I LEARNED
I think the biggest things I have learned about planning and curriculum are:
1.) Learning doesn’t have to be as linear and organized as I thought.
2.) Curriculum is your servant, not your master.
3.) Curriculum is not mysterious. In general, K-2 materials give kids the same basic subject matter, just in different formats. It all boils down to the same broad ideas; letter sounds, blends, counting, and awareness of simple concepts like “past” and “present.” Etcetera. Etcetera…with lots of overlap between grade levels.
That is our loosely held plan for first grade! I put a master resource list with links to everything I mentioned in this post, for quick scanning…and because I’m THAT WAY. (I tried to dial it down, and be casual; I could not.) Next I’ll have a post about our weekly and daily routines! Enjoy!
CHARLOTTE MASON/UNSCHOOLING RESOURCES
Small Beginnings, A Homeschool Starter Guide for the Early Years, by Rachael Alsbury and Kate Heinemeyer
For the Children’s Sake, by Susan Shaeffer Macaulay
The Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola
How Children Learn, by John Holt
The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick
Explode the Code series
Memoria Press Phonics Flash Cards
Draw Write Now series (with workbook)
Chalk Full of Design slate
A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Child’s Book of Poems, by Guyo Fujikawa
Now We are Six, by A.A. Milne
When We Were Very Young, by A.A. Milne
Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling
The Blue Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang
The Aesop for Children, by Milo Winter
Fifty Famous Stories Retold, by James Baldwin
Benjamin Franklin, by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire
Pocahontas, by by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire
George Washington, by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire
Buffalo Bill, by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire
Paddle-to-the-Sea, by H.C. Holling
Home Geography for Primary Grades, by C.C. Long
James Herriot’s Animal Stories
The children’s non-fiction section of the library. One great author to look for is Gail Gibbons.
Egermeier’s Storybook Bible
The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, by Marty Machowski