My last homeschooling update was in the very beginning of this journey, when we were still just figuring out how. Now we’re coming to the end of our second year! And I’m still figuring it out, definitely still learning each day, but I’m happy to share where we are, where we’ve been, and what’s working for us right now. One of the beautiful things about home education is the flexibility and the way it can be customized for each family, each child, and each season of life. (If you’re curious about why we chose homeschooling, I wrote about that here.)
Currently Seth is 7 (+4 months) and in first grade. This year was so full of ups and downs. The adjustment that accompanies adding a third child into the mix is no small thing. The first six months or so after Eaden’s birth in September (and let’s face it—that last month or so of pregnancy, too!), it was basically survival mode. We sometimes skipped days, even weeks, of formal “school”. At times doing just one day of schoolwork in an entire week felt like a victory. I went through times when I felt so much guilt, and so much worry that he’d get “behind” and that we weren’t doing “enough”. I was just. so. tired.
But guess what? They learned a ton anyway. Seth kept progressing in his reading, handwriting, and math skills, even when we we’re spending a lot of time teaching it. His reading fluency astounds me (because it seemed to happen so suddenly) and he got there because he wanted to be able to read things. Handwriting was similar, along with telling time and understanding measurements. Math comes up naturally in our lives on a daily basis. He picks up a ton of science facts simply because he’s curious. Beyond those basic academics, he’s become more capable and independent (he made me scrambled eggs and did the dishes the other day!) and knows so many random and interesting things. He is constantly learning. I understand and appreciate the unschooling, child-led learning philosophy so much better now than I ever did before. Kids will learn, naturally and without force or even much guidance—it actually works! (Here’s a great article I read recently on this topic.) Overall though, we like at least some structure and planning, and I got to the point where I felt ready to return to a school routine. Eaden is 8 months old now, and yes life is constantly still in flux and we still have some sleepless nights and tired days. And I’m working more again, which adds another interesting element to the mix. But we’re doing schoolwork more often, typically four days a week for a couple hours a day, and we’re really enjoying it- which is so important to me!
We’re going to be schooling through the Summer, to keep this momentum going. I’ve been reading about the Waldorf philosophy and I’m feeling so drawn to aspects of that lifestyle and hoping to learn to incorporate some of it into our lives. There is a lot of focus on creativity and beauty, as well as on rhythms (daily, weekly, and seasonal), which I feel we need pretty deeply. I’ve noticed that without any structure we’re too scattered and chaotic, so I want to bring some grounding routine into our days. For preschoolers, the entire “curriculum” is basically stories and songs, and letting them play freely and participate in the life of the home and family. I love that, and am looking forward to applying it with Isaac and eventually Eaden. I’ve learned so much through this series on Waldorf-inspired preschool at home. I’ll share more about all of this (and how I’m approaching preschool with Isaac) once I get a better handle on what I’m doing, but I will say that I’m pretty excited about it! I’m just starting to incorporate a slightly more Waldorf-inspired approach (or maybe Waldorf and Charlotte Mason hybrid) into Seth’s language, history and science lessons by having him create journal pages that are a combination of painting and writing- copy work either from what we’ve read or from his narration as told to me, directly onto an illustration he creates from the material. These will all go into a binder, either laminated or in plastic sleeves, creating a nice record of what he’s learned over time. (I got this wonderful idea from Jodi’s Mockabee‘s recent contribution to a Wild and Free bundle.)
So on to what we’ve been doing this year! Right now, Seth’s Grade 1 work consists of the following:
Brave Writer for language arts and writing
Quiver of Arrows is a literature-based language arts curriculum and we’re loving it! We’re nearly finished with Charlotte’s Web now. I like the way it ties spelling, grammar, literary elements and copywork directly into the text of a really great book. We’re also about to start doing the projects from Jot It Down!, which is a project-based creative writing program.
We also do some memorization, written on our blackboard (door)—poems or verses taken from books such as The Child’s Garden of Verses. Sometimes I just pull out a book of poetry and read, and I’m hoping to create little more of a daily ritual around it. Brave Writer recommends poetry tea times, and I love that idea. It sounds peaceful, but I wonder how it would actually go with my two boys!
The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading for reading and phonics
Along with early readers from the library and our own collection. Some of his favorites have been the Piggy and Elephant series, Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad, the Little Bear series, and Bob Books.
Math Mammoth for math
We also play math games—Seth is loving 4-Way Countdown right now—and he learns and practices so much math in everyday life, through clocks, money, measuring, and counting in various situations. I purchased the Loving Living Math e-book recently and am hoping to learn more ways to bring math conversations into our daily lives. In our Waldorf circle times, I’m planning to teach skip-counting songs to help prepare for teaching multiplication. Overall, I want them to see math as fun, interesting and relevant, which is something I never really experienced as a child.
Science Lapbooks from Elemental Science for science
We’re currently working through the solar system, and will likely move into a long and involved study of plants after this, along with medicinal herbs, foraging, and gardening. I can’t wait, and will definitely post about it once we’re there!
We also do nature study for science. In late 2014 I started a local nature homeschool group, “Wild + Free South Florida”, and we meet weekly. Much of what we do is free play, but always in natural areas, and the kids are constantly finding and studying animals, bugs, birds, rocks, plants, etc. They learn through being immersed in nature, and from each other. Sometimes we will then further research a specific thing we saw, and draw it in our nature journals at home. The boys are also part of the Wild Explorers Club, and work through assignments and earn badges, which they absolutely love.
Speaking of Wild + Free, I can’t stress enough what an amazing source of information, encouragement, and inspiration the international W+F community has been for in homeschooling. I’m so grateful!
Beautiful Feet Books – Early American History Primary, for history
This is a great history curriculum based entirely on wonderful, engaging literature rather than dry textbooks. I’ve always preferred learning history this way, through the perspective of a person living in that time period, so this immediately drew me. We’ve started with the first half of the Early American History pack and are gradually making our way through. Sometimes I revise or skip certain questions in the teaching guide to better fit my worldview, but the books themselves are great.
Teach Them Spanish, grade 1 for foreign language
My mother-in-law, whose first language is Spanish, works with Seth each week. We bought this book so she’d have a guide on what to work on. Isaac picks some of it up as well, through observation and in everyday communication with my husband’s grandmother who only speaks Spanish. We’re incredibly lucky that our kids get to spend time native speakers, which is truly the best way to learn a language!
Our days are full of art. They have free access to almost all art supplies, which can be messy but leads to a lot of child-led creativity. They cut, paste, fold, paint, and draw.
We also attend a pottery class each week, so beautifully taught by my friend Lani of Avenue Pottery (I photographed her gorgeous pieces for her website!). Seth has developed quite a talent for the wheel, and I love it too! Now we’re hoping to have one of our own someday.
Seth asked for a loom for his birthday after seeing some giant ones in a fiber arts shop in Asheville this winter, so we purchased a wooden lap loom for him. He’s still working on his first piece—he’ll work for an hour or two one day and then let it sit for a couple weeks before picking it up again, but he really enjoys it and focuses so acutely when he’s working. He also loves to finger knit, and has his own balls of yarn that he frequently pulls out to make chains with. He really wants to learn to crochet and keeps asking me to teach him, so we’ll likely attempt that soon
As I look through this list, it’s really only part of the picture of what homeschooling is for us. The curriculums and books we use are only a small part of what we do. Most of the time, our kids play. They play at home and outdoors, with toys and sticks, household objects and cardboard boxes. They imagine whole worlds and stories to play out. They are enjoying being children, and it is beautiful. They play, and they also observe us, their parents, as we work and care for them and the baby and our home. They help with cooking and cleaning, and are gradually becoming able to do those things on their own. They ask me literally two thousand questions a day. When I don’t know the answer, we look it up together. Sometimes an entire day of school will be focused on something Seth asked about—we ditch everything else and follow his interest (because we retain best what we’re actually interested in learning anyway). And then they play some more. And in the process, they are learning incredibly valuable things that no school curriculum could ever teach them.