Homeschool overview, Grade 1

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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!

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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.)

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Art
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

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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.

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The Plan: homeschool journey part two

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Ever since announcing our decision to homeschool, so many other parents have expressed a desire to do the same, or at least a curiosity about the whole thing. It’s been pretty awesome to see so many people choosing to educate their children at home. Homeschooling is definitely gaining popularity and becoming a much more “normal” thing to do. The stigmas and misinformation about it are thankfully (gradually) disappearing as well. I’ve been asked about curriculum and materials more than anything else, so I thought I’d share a bit about what we’re planning to do.

As I began to research the “how” of teaching my kids, I found a wonderfully diverse range of philosophies and approaches. One of the very best aspects of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to choose only what works for your family and each individual child, and to change at any point according to their needs. Some families choose one of the many boxed curriculums, with textbooks, workbooks, and lessons plans ready-to-go for each subject and each grade. On the other end of the spectrum, some choose to “unschool”, using no (or very few) formal teaching materials, but rather allowing real life experiences to teach and the child’s own interests to guide them. I knew early on that I would fall somewhere in between. I wanted instruction that fit my kids’ personalities and learning styles, along with generous bits of the unschooling life. I read about various educational philosophies—Maria Montessori, Reggio Emilia, classical education, Charlotte Mason, and many others. I decided to take what works for us from each rather than following any one of them completely. For Seth this year, some of our plan is based on the Charlotte Mason method. She believed in teaching through “living books” and spending a very good deal of time in nature, both of which I love. You can read more about her methods here, and several of aspects of our plan are from CM curriculums found on Ambleside Online and Charlotte Mason Help. Another large part of our homeschool plan is Classical Conversations. I knew from the very first moment of seriously considering homeschool that if we chose to do it, we had to join a group. Seth is a very social child, and thrives on spending time with other kids. He is not even the slightest bit shy, and will go up to any child of practically any age on playground, and ask them to play. If we spend too much time at home without seeing friends, he gets restless and acts out, and then I react, and he reacts to me, etc. Not to mention the bickering with his little brother, which of course I react to as well. It’s not pretty. So a group was a must for us, and I knew several homeschoolers who were involved with Classical Conversations (referred to from now on as CC). I read a bit about the classical model of education (The Well-Trained Mind is a great resource for this), and attended an informational meeting about CC. We decided to try it out this year. We’ll spend each Tuesday morning with the group, basically working through a timeline of history. There is memory work (which we’ll also review at home), and each weekly class includes a science experiment and a fine art lesson. I hear that families in the group often arrange field trips together on other days as well. I’m definitely looking forward to being part of this community, and I know that Seth will enjoy it. We also have a few close friends starting homeschool this year, with kids of similar ages, and we’re planning to help one another and do projects and outings together frequently. I believe in the “village” model of raising children, and I’m convinced that it will be key to our success and happiness in our new homeschooling lifestyle. (side note: a great article I read recently about the village)

So for those interested, this is my basic plan. It is probably going to change and evolve throughout the year. In kindergarten, they are still learning so much through play. Some philosophies instruct parents and teachers not to push a five or six year old into formal reading or math instruction quite yet, but to wait until they come to you asking to learn these. We’ve decided to start (he has already asked me to teach him to read), but we don’t plan to push him if he doesn’t seem ready either. This year will be a lot of learning as we go, but I wanted to have a starting structure of some kind, so here we go!

 

Our Kindergarten Homeschooling Plan

 

Classical Conversations: as I mentioned above, we’ll attend this group once a week. I’m still figuring out how the program will fit into our everyday life, and will probably have a better idea of this once we get started. I expect that we’ll review the weekly memory work somewhat casually throughout the week- there are songs that help them learn the material in a fun way.

Math: We chose the Math-U-See curriculum because it seems to be well-loved and pretty hands-on. Many parents reviewing it online said that using this program with their kids helps them (the parents) understand certain concepts clearly for the first time ever, especially in the older grades. I was always more of an art, language, and history type, so this sounds great to me.

Reading and Phonics: A friend gave me a copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which many families love, so we’re going to see if it works well for Seth. I wanted to supplement this with phonics, so he’s been working through the Hooked On Phonics app on the iPad. We may add more phonics resources later, but it’s a wonderful (and massive!) app and he’s really enjoying it.

Handwriting: We’ll do Charlotte Mason-style copywork, starting with going through the alphabet in upper and lower case (he did this in preschool but I want to review it), and then moving on to copying out short poems, etc.

Art & Music: This is, of course, one of the things I’m most looking forward to. In CC they do visual art lessons half the year, and then learn to play tin whistles during the other half. On other days, I plan to incorporate a lot of art into our lives. The boys already enjoy painting and drawing, but I want introduce various new materials (clay, pastels, etc.) We’ll talk about and experience the work of famous artists and composers, and probably choose projects that tie in with that. Pinterest is full of wonderful art ideas, so I know it will be a valuable resource.

Foreign language: My husband’s family is Cuban, most of them fluent in Spanish. My mother-in-law will be helping us learn to speak it, and we’ll work on it together at home in between). It’s been a goal of mine for quite some time now, and I’m excited to learn alongside my kids. It’s already clear that their pronunciation will be more authentic than mine!

Science: A huge part of our science work will be just spending time outdoors- hopefully every day- and doing what Charlotte Mason referred to as “nature study”. Allowing children to explore and notice the details teaches them so much about the world. I’ve purchased laminated pocket field guides as well as a larger Audubon guide to Florida wildlife, to help us identify what we see. Seth and I have little sketchbooks which will serve as nature journals, to sketch and record our discoveries and collect pressed flowers, etc. We’ll also study science in somewhat informal “units”, based on interest. For instance, my husband loves astronomy and this has rubbed off on Seth, so we’ll spend some time learning in-depth about space, searching the library for books and documentaries, going on a field trip to a planetarium, taking the telescope out to a field at night, etc. Other units this year might include weather, or specific animals of interest, etc. For now, I won’t plan these in advance but will choose them together as we go along.

Literature and Poetry: We will spend time every day reading aloud- I think this is one of the most important aspects of any homeschool. We’ve built a small collection of staples for the home, including Aesop’s Fables, a Mother Goose collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and a collection of classic fairy tales. Much of other material will come from our weekly library trips. I’ll use Ambleside’s recommended book list as a guide, because it’s full of wonderful classics that I want the kids to be exposed to anyway. I’ll ask Seth to tell stories back to me in his own words, and sometimes draw a scene from what we read (CM refers to this as narration). We will likely use some of our poems as copywork as we go along.

Life Skills and Family Values: Another thing that is so important to me is that my kids learn to help maintain our home and carry out daily age-appropriate responsibilities, help care for the garden, and learn useful real-life skills as they grow. Kind of like nonstop home-ec class ;) We’ll also read from the Bible together daily, memorize a short verse each week, and look for ways to help others and give to our community.

After typing all of this out, it seems like a lot. I have no idea if we’ll find it’s way too structured, or not enough. As I said, I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go.

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For keeping track of it all, as well as to have a record of what we did, I wanted some kind of planner. Kristin Rogers’ Little House Homeschooling blog has been a great source of information and inspiration to me, and she so generously provided a PDF download of her basic homeschool planning pages. I customized this according to our subjects, etc. (shown above), and added some pages of my own in the back (some lines pages fro recording the books we read and the special trips and activities we do, an outline of all our planned resources/curriculum). The chalkboard quote cover page (photo at top of post), as well as several reference pages printed in the back of the book, are from A Simple Homeschool Planner. I made the whole thing into a PDF with 50 of the weekly planning pages, and had it printed at FedEx Office for about $25.

As for Isaac, who turned 2 in March, we will sort of be doing preschool at home. He’ll be around for so much of what we do with Seth- music and art, stories read aloud, nature study, etc. I plan to prepare some basic activities and materials specifically for him, based on Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies. I love “real” materials: non-plastic, tangible items: wood, stone, and cloth; small but functional tools to learn to carry out actual tasks with, etc. There are so many awesome Montessori activities in this book, which I found at the library and immediately decided to purchase.

And finally, some of my favorite sources of homeschool inspiration:

The Little House Homeschool Blog
Simple Homeschool
The Wild & Free Conference

And some awesome homeschool moms on Instagram:

@tiffanyruda
@lifeographer
@ainsl3y
@woodsermom
@cloisteredaway
@kirstenrickert
@kristinrogers

 

 

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