Planning a new homeschool year. (K & 3rd)
I've been meaning to write this post since sometime in August I think. I want so much to blog consistently. I also want to draw and paint daily, read many books, learn about medical herbs, and play my ukulele. And about a hundred other things. But we only get a finite measure of time, and one person simply cannot do everything. This is probably another post all it's own, but I digress.
We began school again on August 7th, and so far the new school year has been both sweet and challenging. Occupying a toddler, working with a very headstrong, spirited, energetic 5 year old, while bringing in somewhat more rigorous academics for the 8 year old... well, it's a delicate balance. I do have some help, for which I'm incredibly grateful. Eaden (who will be two next month) often spends time with her grandma for a few hours two or three days a week while I work with the boys. When she is here during school time, I either wait until nap time to do the things that require my full attention, or I set her up with activities while we work. Coloring, water beads, and play dough will hold her attention for a little while usually.
We have a loose structure to our days. It's not an hour-to-hour schedule that will cause stress if we deviate—I've learned that those don't work well for me or my kids. We enjoy freedom and spontaniety. This just gives some predictability and consistency to our days.
Each morning I wake up at about 5:30. I spend that early morning time reading, praying and writing—preparing my heart and mind for a new day. This time makes an incredible difference in my patience and sanity and has deepened my spiritual life significantly.
The kids wake up between 6:30 and 7 now that daylight savings time ended (the struggle is real, am I right parents?), and most of the time we're ready to begin our school day by about 8:30.
We start with morning time. We sing together, little Waldorf-inspired songs and classic hymns. We pray for our day and for the specific needs of people we know. We are using the book The Ology for Biblical studies this year, as guided by our Playful Pioneers curriculum (see below). Then we review memory work, and some days we might listen to a piece by Bach, or discuss a Rembrandt painting (our current composer and artist for the Fall term).
We move into our other work, often in no particular order. I keep a plan for the week in my own Moleskine planner (in pencil, because life happens), and each day either first thing in the morning or sometime late the day before, I write out in Seth's notebook exactly what he'll need to do for the day, with a little checkbox beside each assignment. He gets so much satisfaction checking things off as he completes them, and it lets him know exactly what to expect for the day and how much more there is to do. His notebook is just a simple composition book. This method is described in more detail here.
Most of the time we are finished with bulk of our work by lunch time, leaving only independent reading, science, Spanish, and/or art for the afternoon.
I'm frequently asked what we use, and what our curriculum looks like. Here's the basic plan:
Classical Conversations- We have joined a local community, and attend the co-op each Monday. They learn memory work in the areas of history, English grammar, math, Latin, geography and science. We practice this throughout the week during our morning time.
Playful Pioneers- We are using this wonderful curriculum written by the lovely Jennifer Pepito, which is based around the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. We're currently reading Little House in the Big Woods, after finishing Farmer Boy a couple weeks ago. With each chapter they do a narration (oral, written, and/or illustrated). There are also other books recommended that tie into the subject matter of the story, using it to teach science and history, as well as simple project ideas such as candle making, planting seeds, weaving and needle felting with wool.
Nature Study- Each Friday we join our local Wild + Free nature group for some time exploring outdoors. We go to beaches and hiking trails, and during the school year we follow the weekly themes in Exploring Nature with Children. I usually try to pull a book or two to read at home that corresponds with the week's subject as well. On Friday afternoons I encourage the boys to draw and write in their nature journals about what we've seen on our adventures.
The Living Library- This is a not a curriculum or program, but the books we're getting from it are quickly becoming essential to our school days. The original Children's Preservation Library was started in Michigan, and about a year ago the founder, Michelle, moved to our area and started the Living Learning Library right here in Palm Beach County. She has stocked it with beautiful books, rich in content and very engaging. We've read books in the areas of history, geography, science and art that correlate with the things we're learning in our studies. I'm looking forward to delving more into this resource, and building more of our curriculum around it as I learn.
My high-energy, headstrong five-year-old has been pretty resistant to the idea of schoolwork. After a week or so of him really fighting me about it, I backed off considerably and told him I wouldn't make him do anything he doesn't want to do. Within minutes of my saying that, he looked for his phonics workbook and did a few pages. That's simply who Isaac is. So I'm learning to work with him in the way he needs, and not push him beyond the point of frustration. Many educational philosophies recommend not even starting formal school until after the age of six or even seven, and I've often had to remind myself not to compare what we're doing to anyone around us. I've made it my goal to make school fun for him, first and foremost, this year.
Besides participating (when he chooses to) in Playful Pioneers, he has been working in an Explode the Code workbook for phonics, reading and handwriting. He finished the one we were using, and I decided to move from there into working through each letter of the alphabet week by week using the Peaceful Preschool curriculum as a guide for accompanying library books and activities. We purchased this curriculum last year and he wasn't interested, but now it's just right for where he is, and I'm confident that it's setting the stage well for him to learn to read. He thrives on plenty of tactile and sensory play, like drawing letters in salt or forming them with play dough, and hunting around the house for things that start with the letter of the week.
For math, a few days a week we're using ShillerMath book one. Most days all of his "work" totals about 20 minutes or less, and then he's "done" and free to play or engage in whatever he chooses, though we also spend time reading picture books aloud, and he loves painting and joining in any science or art project we do together.
Seth (Grade 3):
History: We're continuing with Beautiful Feet Books' Early American History Primary, and will likely move into another BFB literature pack when we're done with this one. I absolutely love using great books to teach history. The books we've read are so engaging and have really brought the stories to life. I've learned so much right alongside him. It's also working beautifully that this year in Classical Conversations we're in Cycle 3, which focuses on American history, so the sentences we're memorizing each week are directly relating to the books we're reading at home. We've also started getting wonderful living books each week from the Living Library, and they're supplementing it all so beautifully.
Language Arts: We're doing language arts in the Charlotte Mason style. Narration is the heart of this. Everything we read, in every subject, he tells back to me in some form. Usually one narration per day is a written narration, at times accompanied by an illustration. Seth loves to draw and paint, so he really enjoys expressing himself this way. Through writing his narration, he is working on composition, handwriting, spelling, reading comprehension and grammar. His other narrations for the day can be told to me aloud. We struggled with this last year, but now he often goes into so much detail that one narration can take quite a while. (My son is quite a talker!)
Handwriting: This year Seth is learning cursive. I've always felt it to be of value, and Seth actually really wanted to learn it! Apparently most schools no longer teach this, but just recently I learned that becoming fluent in cursive can actually help ideas flow more freely as one writes, and also decreases hand fatigue since you're not lifting the pen so often between letters. I found Jenny Phillips' handwriting (level 4), which is a great combination of practicing and perfecting print handwriting while teaching beginning cursive. My child who once despised handwriting is now eagerly completing these lessons.
Math: We are happily continuing with ShillerMath. Seth recently finished book 2. We got "behind" last year, but as we picked it up this school year I found that most lessons were too easy for him and he was growing bored with it. We were able to speed things up a bit, skipping the things he's mastered, and using the intermittent review tests to show me which lessons he actually needed to be taught. Now book 3 is right on track for where he is, teaching new concepts like multiplication, division, and fractions, which has been exciting for him.
We also read math story books aloud at times, and work through a fun word problem or logic puzzle here and there in morning time. (Some sources: the Sir Cumference books, Blockhead: the Life of Fibonacci, and Bedtime Math.)
Science: So far this year we've done a little bit of science through Playful Pioneers, in our Classical Conversations co-op, and through nature study. We're studying the human body in CC and at home through books from the living library.
Spanish: We live right next door to my in-laws, who are Cuban and fluent in Spanish. The boys work on some Spanish with their grandma, and have also started using Rosetta Stone at home on the computer.
So that is what we're doing, in a nutshell. It looks like a lot written out here, but really it flows well and isn't an overwhelming amount each day. For now, it's working well for our family. As I've learned over the last few years, things may well be entirely different a year from now, and that's completely okay!