I have so many big thoughts and feelings about homeschool this year that it was a challenge to get words put down, but I think I finally did!
To start, this year we will have a third grader, a first grader, and a preschooler. While we now have the added variable of a fourth child, we also have the advantage of being in our fourth year homeschooling! If I could sum it all up I think I would say that this dynamic has made the good days really good, and the bad days awfully long. (Sort of like one of those looping bad dreams?) I have really had to work on reminding myself that the moments of chaos will come, but they do not have to rule our day.
When I first started asking people about homeschooling, a lot of moms said things like “Oh, it’s different every year.” When I first heard that I just couldn’t understand what people meant! It sounded so inconsistent and honestly, kind of stressful! Something new each year? How could I ever manage that?
I think I understand what they mean now! It is because homeschool is people-centered (instead of curriculum or standards-centered) that we can morph and change with the times and seasons of our families. Each year of our homeschool has had a different emphasis and atmosphere. I have learned to look forward to that. We choose not to be married to one method or another, but hold it all loosely and trust that still, small voice inside. Seasonal change is written on the human heart because He works in times and seasons.
At first I felt really sad that we would be emerging from the sweet, simple early years into the elementary ones. But I can see how this season will have joys of it’s own; the girls are really ready to ask questions, engage in creative projects and and read independently. Reading has opened up a whole new world of possibilities!
The Kind Kingdom
I have said in the past that I “macro plan” because I don’t like to be too bogged down in details! I have never used a full curriculum before. In the past few years I have just used book lists (from the Peaceful Preschool, Ambleside and BookShark) and let my kids lead the way with their interests.
This year our planning is done for us! We are using a literature-and project-based curriculum called the Kind Kingdom.
We decided to do this for various reasons, one being that my oldest daughter (now eight) has asked for more projects in our homeschool. I looked into writing my own unit studies, but there was no need to do that after seeing what the Peaceful Press had to offer. Because the structure and style of this curriculum almost perfectly mirrors what we are already doing, it saves me work and decision-making instead of giving us a lot of irrelevant things to do (which has been my experience with curriculum in the past!) I take the schedule of books and activities and manipulate them to fit our schedule and abilities for that week.
We are immersing ourselves in the history of Europe from the Middle Ages through the Cold War. The Kind Kingdom uses the Chronicles of Narnia as a spine along with well-written picture books, art, baking, and crafts. Rather than a curriculum that emphasizes checklists and standards, this a multi-subject guide to exploring European history. It will cover language arts, science, history, literature and Bible.
Throughout the year we will read the entire Chronicle of Narnia series, which we are enjoying together on audio while we do our daily chore time. My girls have especially liked creating progressive maps of Europe and making their own historical timeline. One of the things I love about The Peaceful Press is how it combines the best of many homeschool philosophies: Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf and Classical!
The author is a mom of seven who has a great value for play-based learning and seasoned taste in literature. The guide is designed with families in mind, so it can be used children of multiple ages.
I wrote quite a lot about math last year in my annual homeschool blog post. THANK YOU, to those of you who told me about Math U See! It is a perfect combination of workbook and manipulative work for us. The math blocks have been so helpful in demonstrating concepts to my hands-on learner. Meanwhile, my first-grader who is strong in mental math can choose to skip all that and just zoom her way through the workbook.
When we started to run into some of the concepts that tripped us up last year (solving for the unknown), I popped in the DVD of the teacher. I think I went from wanting to cry of frustration to wanting to cry of relief! (How is it that I am nearly 37 years old and math still makes me cry?) I can do a lot of things but I do not have words to explain “school math,” as June says.
We put both of the girls in the same level (Alpha) so they can work together. My oldest needs more time when it comes to the skill-building areas of school. Making sure she has a positive experience with learning in these early years takes priority over rigor, which I believe will come later for her.
Both of my girls have made progress in their reading fluency this summer. There was no special activity or curriculum for this! My method is to leave lots of great reading material around the house and to be a mean, boring mom by limiting TV and not permitting devices.
As a supplement, we are continuing to use Explode the Code workbooks and the phonics flash cards. They are already reading far beyond the phonics rules in the books, but I think the reinforcement is important and ensures we aren’t missing any foundational concepts. The workbooks are good practice and simple enough for them to do independently. I put both girls in the same level but my first-grader loves it so much that we let her move ahead as fast as she wants to.
Charlotte Mason’s method of copy work along with oral and written narration has worked well for us and we will continue to use it this year with the Kind Kingdom! Narration covers handwriting, spelling and grammar. It takes the place of your typical classroom worksheet. Most of all, it encourages children to form their own opinions about what we have read. I like to think of it as the building blocks to writing!
Written narration is one of the hardest activities for my girls to do, so we split it up into two parts. We produce one a week. On the first day they come up with a topic and draw a picture to illustrate it. (They can choose anything from our readings that week.) The next day I help them write it out. Sometimes I let my first-grader dictate her narration to me and then copy what I have written down.
As far as how we do this, I wanted them to use colored pencils and watercolors in a Waldorf style, because it really is such beautiful combination of mediums! However, um, no one except me was really getting into this (mixed mediums, and such). So this year I got an enormous case of brush-tip markers that come out only for narrations. Voila. This has been the game-changer in making note-booking appealing! When they have finished, they get to go over their writing with black felt-tip markers (who wouldn’t like that?)
I have visions of us nature journaling outdoors together this year, but we have yet to make that happen regularly! Getting outside of our yard on a regular basis with a new baby in tow is so depleting that I have just removed that pressure from myself! This is not our year. Maybe next year won’t be either; but I know the tides of homeschool will eventually shift and my nature journaling dreams will materialize in the right season! For now, we are just following the nature studies in the Kind Kingdom. We copy pages from books like Farm Anatomy and Nature Anatomy as our weekly journaling activity. (We have done clouds, soil and honeybees so far!)
Kiwi Crate will once again be providing our STEM learning, which has been invaluable to my oldest, as this is where she really shines. She devours the Kiwi crates as soon as they arrive! She totally understands the construction and the scientific concepts on her own, which I believe is a special advantage of her dyslexic mind.
A lot of people want to know about preschool, or how to start school with a very young child. I think the best preschool is just life at home. Steady routines, reading aloud, creative play, and outdoor exploration is exactly what a child needs most!
June is four this year, so she is technically in preschool. We have done no formal learning with her, but since our learning is very literature and home-centered she can be involved in almost all aspects at her own level. She has absorbed so much of what we do that she mimics reading and tries to write her letters and numbers. She likes to notebook with us, which makes for the cutest, funniest collection of “schoolwork.” When she gets bored she will go off and play with dolls or blocks. I won’t be surprised if she teaches her self to read like Libby did!
For a parent who feels their child is ready for some focused daily learning time, I recommend The Peaceful Preschool (written by the same author who wrote the Kind Kingdom.) It is play and literature-based with a fun emphasis on letters of the alphabet. We actually used it for fun in the year that would have been Kindergarten for K.K.
This fall we are doing swim team for my oldest and piano for my middle daughter. Our youngest will be doing swim lessons as her special activity. I try to keep these seasonal and low-commitment. Everyone gets to pick one thing. I am also facilitating a local Wild and Free group, so we will be having regular meet-ups and some field trips with them this year! We are able to work these in on Fridays and in the afternoons.
Last year we could do an actual schedule, which was really nice! I liked knowing that everything I needed to accomplish in a day had a special time set aside for that activity. It took about five nano-seconds for me to realize that would not work for us this year. Babies (especially my son) are not what you call predictable!
I went back to what has worked for me in the past when having little kids on various eating and sleeping schedules: a daily checklist that I can be flexible with. The most important thing for me to do in this season is to think ahead for the week and create a list of what needs to be done. Then I try to remove as much distraction as possible and really focus on home. Our days have a very loose rhythm; sometimes school is done by 10am, and other times we may not get to some things until before bed time. My mantra right now is “do the next right thing.” We really guard mornings from activities or errands, so that helps a lot. As long as I’m focused and remain open-minded I can usually do everything I need to in a day. I homeschool and do housework while baby-wearing a lot!
Often when the subject of homeschool comes up in conversation, it can be weird. “I could never do that.” Or, “I’m just not that kind of mom that can be with my kids all day.” In these conversations, I always validate those feelings. I have felt the same way. I want to be very careful not to transfer my own convictions about home education onto someone else, as that can turn into a judgement or a heavy burden for someone who is not called to do it. It often is hard, chaotic, messy, sanity-challenging and mundane to be with my kids 24/7. Certainly it is not always perfect or precious. (Sometimes it is, and then I #documentit.)
I will say this: if you have a desire to home educate, please don’t let fear stop you. We don’t homeschool because our lives are perfect or more special than anyone else’s. I certainly don’t do it because I’m a teacher-y, sensory bin mom (though sometimes I do bust out the kinetic sand…it has it’s place!) I am learning as I go. My desire to home educate comes down to a passion about home being the center of culture. Rather than just a place to eat and sleep, I want our home to be a center of creative of life and activity. I want to be making culture rather than simply absorbing it or relegating it to an outside institution. That conviction drives me to do things that are sometimes uncomfortable and outside of convention! (I also hate pick-up and drop-off and homework packets…so there’s that…)
While homeschooling is a privilege, it is a hidden work that requires sacrifice. But for us it has been a sacrifice worth making.
I’m excited to see what this year holds for us! If you like this post and you want to see what we have done in previous years, here are the links to those!
First Grade and Preschool
Second Grade and Kindergarten
A Tour of our Homeschool Space