Homeschool Planning: An Overview

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Over the course of our short homeschooling journey thus far, I’ve found that it’s important for me to have our days and weeks planned but flexible. Some people function beautifully with no plan at all, and their kids learn so much that way. I tried that, and found that it leads me to worry that we’re not doing enough and leads the kids into a state of chaos and bickering due to lack of structure. I feel best when I have written down what we will do and have what we’ll need all in one place, but it needs to be planned in a way that allows for last-minute changes and delays. Even though we do follow a curriculum, it’s super important to me that curiosity and interest are still a primary guiding force in our family’s learning, and that freedom and play are a big part our days as well. This is the system I’ve come up with thus far- with ideas borrowed from a few different homeschool moms I follow.

We’re using Adventures in U.S. History from My Father’s World this year as our main curriculum for 2nd grade. It is Classical Education and Charlotte Mason inspired, and uses living books to teach each subject, and it allows for a lot of personalization as far as how to teach and what to use. It’s divided into 34 weeks, and the each week has a primary history/geography topic- basically a unit study. So I bought a box of manila folders and labeled each with the unit number and topic (thanks to my friend Elsie for this idea, as well as the inspiration to use MFW to begin with!). I put the student sheets for that week inside each folder. Then six weeks at a time I take a little chunk of time to sit down and look over what curriculum books will be used for each week, what extra materials will be needed for the activities I want to do, and what books I need to acquire for the book basket (which is one of my favorite things about this curriculum!) I write all of this on the outside of that week’s folder.

I use a Moleskine planner as a record book and lesson planner, and I also purchased some tabbed post-it notes to use with it. There’s a tab for each unit, and I put them each (again 6 weeks at a time) on the week I expect to do that unit but I love that they’re moveable because you know, life happens. On the sticky note itself I make notes of books and materials we’ll use etc. (basically the same things that are on the manila folder).

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Each week, I take time on Sunday to sit down and plan the week. Using pencil, I write in any outings or activities first, then our academics for each day, based mostly on the daily plans from the MFW teacher’s manual. I set up our book basket with the books we’ll be using for the current unit, and I look ahead to the next couple weeks and make sure to place library holds online so I can pick up what we’ll need in time. I get book basket ideas from the back of the MFW teacher’s manual, and from other moms who have blogged their experiences using this curriculum. I stick almost entirely with what’s available within our library system, to keep our costs down as much as possible. I’m so thankful for the library!

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During the week, as we move through our schoolwork each day I go over my pencil planning with a pen as we complete each task. This way, what remains is only what we actually did. I adjust plans if needed according to our progress and the natural flow of things. We didn’t get to that book/lesson/page/project/whatever today? No problem, just erase and move it to tomorrow’s plan. Did more than expected in a subject because Seth was just super into it that day? No problem. Using the sticky notes and labeling them as units rather than weeks allows room for life—a week can be skipped, or one unit spread over two weeks—without messing up all the future plans. This isn’t just to keep things looking orderly; it also prevents me from stressing about the concept of “getting behind”, which is a slippery slope to feeling like a failure as a teacher and mom (yes, dramatic, I know). There’s no such thing as “behind”- there’s just “where we are”. It’s liberating. The only things that are permanent in the book are the ones we’ve actually completed, so it serves as both planner and record book for our school year. I really like to have a way to look back and see what we’ve learned and accomplished.

So that’s pretty much my planning system for homeschool. Those Sunday planning sessions are essential and also involve my personal planner, and I take time to “sync” it with our family google calendar (where Manny and I both put all of our appointments etc.). I also use this time to decide on at least 4-5 dinners to make that week, and make a grocery list for the weekly shopping. I keep track of everything on my phone so it’s always with me, but I really like to write things out on paper—it’s just good for the way my brain works. Every morning, coffee in hand, I sit down with my planners (personal and school) and prepare mentally for the day.

And because I’m asked so much, here is what we’re using this year….

Seth (age 7)- 2nd grade:

History/Geography/Literature: My Father’s World – Adventures in U.S. History, with Beautiful Feet’s Early American History Primary books inserted as book basket picks for their corresponding subject matter, and plenty of other living books for each weekly unit

Language Arts/Literature: Brave Writer’s Quiver of Arrows and Jot it Down writing program; Spelling By Sound and Structure, grade 2

Bible: MFW Adventures ^^

Reading: basically happens organically as he reads aloud to me often as we go through our work. We are alway reviewing and strengthening those skills as I notice things he needs more work on (for instance, long vowels, silent letters, and certain blends). He is basically a fluent reader now though, which has been a giant turning point in the rest of our schooling. He can now read the instructions in his math and spelling books, for example, which means I don’t have to be right there the entire time. He even reads to his brother and then they’re both occupied. It’s life-changing, folks.

Art: Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools, and I’m also about to order Draw Paint Print Like the Great Artists

Spanish: Teach Them Spanish!, taught primarily by their grandma who is a native speaker

Math: Math MammothMaking Math Meaningful

Science: MFW Adventures^^- uses Usbourne science books covering various topics throughout the year; Exploring Nature With Children (which also includes poetry and art study- I love this!), and the Wild Explorer’s Club

Isaac (age 4)- Preschool:

Isaac’s days are still mostly play (which is truly the best way for him to learn a his age), but he has a couple or preschool-level workbooks we’ve been given, and he pulls them out (always his own idea) and traces letters, colors etc. sometimes while Seth is doing schoolwork. I want him to enjoy everything school-related that he encounters, so I never push it on him or even really ask him to do anything academic.
I just started reading The Homegrown Preschooler, and I love it so far. I can tell it’s going to give me a ton of ideas for intentional (super fun) things to do with him this year. I actually may end up getting the corresponding curriculum, A Year of Playing Skillfully, which I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about.
I also read aloud to him nearly every day, and it’s one of the most important things (arguably the most important) anyone can do to teach a preschooler. We love Where the Wild Things Are, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, anything from Robert McCloskey, and the list goes on and on. I pick up new books from the library just about every week. I always go armed with my list of titles and call numbers, many of which I jot down from Honey for a Child’s Heart and Give Your Child the World.

Well that’s pretty much my planning post you guys! I’m already working on my next one, about the structure and rhythm of our homeschool days, so let me know what you’d like to know about that!

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August 1 was the official start of our schoolyear. Cheese!
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Our Homeschool Life: June

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life skills

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our group now has our plot at a local community garden, which we started clearing out and will be planting seeds in this week.

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lessons in the value of hard work

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we finished Charlotte’s Web and the corresponding language arts lessons, and then watched the movie!

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our wild + free group!

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nature play

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keeping cool with beach days

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Frog and Toad! Seth’s reading fluency has been increasing dramatically–it’s so much fun to watch!

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an introduction to photography with a simple film camera. additional lessons in self control (because you only have 12 shots) and patience (because now we wait for processing)!

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we’re now in our interim month between 1st and 2nd grade, so besides plenty of Summer fun, we’re diving in and finishing our study of the solar system and space exploration. one day we read the book Starry Messenger by Peter Sis to learn all about Galileo!

I’m about to jump into planning out Seth’s second grade year. In an interesting turn of events, I decided to use a new curriculum, My Father’s World. This year we’ll be using their “Adventures in U.S. History” for our history, literature, science, and Bible. We’ll incorporate our early American history Beautiful Feet Books, and will continue with Brave Writer language arts, and Math Mammoth (supplemented with Khan Academy and waldorf math work). This is going to be my first year really doing more serious advanced planning, but I’m doing it in a way that still allows us a lot of flexibility. I’ll share my methods here in a future post.

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What We’re Reading

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May 2016 will go down in our family history as the month that Seth fell in love with reading. Before, he saw it more as work and rarely chose to try it outside of our school time. But all of a sudden something clicked and he has been enjoying it, and therefore getting substantially more adept at it very quickly. As a lifelong lover of books, this brings me so much joy. He turned 7 in February. I have no idea what the expected timeline is for reading in public schools. I’ve made a point of not really paying attention to it, because I know that there is so much evidence that early reading in no way leads to any advantage later, and in fact is likely to lead to more academic problems and less interest in reading for pleasure in later years. I knew that he would start when he was truly ready, since I provided plenty of material and opportunity. Seeing that actually happen, and seeing him choose to sit down with a book in his own free time, makes me so proud of us both. He is my first homeschooler after all- sort of my guinea pig- so it’s so nice to see that what we’re doing is working in a tangible, academic sort of way.

I too have been reading much more than I used to. I’ve made a habit of reaching for a book instead of turning on Netflix during my evening “chill time”, and this not only feeding my mind and filling my thoughts with such great things that are affecting my life in wonderful ways, but it’s also been so good for my sleep patterns. I’d heard for years that screen use in the last hour or two before bed negatively affects your sleep, but actually experiencing it has been so interesting. Last night Manny and I watched Game of Thrones together, and I had trouble falling asleep for the first time all week.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the books we’ve been enjoying lately, because I know I always love hearing what others are reading.

me:

One thing that has always been true about me is that I can’t just read one book at a time. Maybe it’s some sort of reader ADD? There are just so many interesting books, that any trip to the library (or to Amazon.com) leads to multiple books at once. But each eventually gets its time in the spotlight.
My main squeeze over the past week has been The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover // This book has been so timely and so, so good for me. It’s about health, and connected living, and doing the things that are good for you and make you happiest and most balanced. Which is so necessary because it means more to give to those who need us. I’ll probably write a whole post about this book eventually.
And now I’m about halfway through Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert // Creativity beyond fear—need I say more. I love Elizabeth Gilbert.
And these, I’m gradually making my way through, picking them up here and there for short bouts of inspiration:
Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
How to Be a Wildflower by Katie Daisy // lovely visual inspiration
The Parent’s Tao Te Ching by William Martin // I read a page or two at a time for some quick conscious parenting inspiration. It’s so full of widsom.
and
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle // One of my favorite authors of all time, writing about faith and art. I’ve been reading this little by little as a devotional of sorts.

 

homeschool and family read alouds (for Seth, age 7 and Isaac, age 4):

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman // a beautifully illustrated guide to nature
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White // our language arts and literature book at the moment, guided by Brave Writer
The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook by Clare Walker Leslie // a great month-by-month guide to observing nature
The Action of Subtraction by Brian P. Cleary // I love this “Math is Categorical” series for bringing math concepts and funny poetry together. Seth enjoys them and they make a great supplement to our math. We found them at the library.
Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late by Laura Overdeck // Another way to add some fun to math, and encourage critical and mathematical thinking. We do one of the word problems together every week or so.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey // this was a childhood favorite of mine—I love McCloskey!
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
(countless other picture books get pulled from our shelves daily, but these are some recent favorites)

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seth (age 7):

Frog and Toad Together
by Arnold Lobel
The Solar System by Emily Bone
A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik
Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff
The Magic Tree House (book 4) by Mary Pope Osbourne

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What are you and your kids reading right now?

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Explorations in Nature Journaling

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When we started homeschooling and began to research the Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that nature study and nature journaling were going to be a big part of our homeschool life. Spending time outdoors, paying close attention to the amazing beauty around us and learning the names of our finds, and using art to record it all while also practicing handwriting… it seemed a perfect and important part of the experiential, hands-on curriculum I was forming.

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I gave Seth a small notebook to record his finds and we began paying more attention to the world around us. I was so excited for all that he’d learn from these experiences, but I had absolutely no idea how much I would get from it myself. I always loved art, and used to spend a significant amount of my free time as a child and teen painting and drawing. But along the way I got busy, and often frustrated by my efforts. I turned to the camera as my primary means of artistic expression. So when I pulled out my watercolors and purchased a little watercolor journal, I was mostly doing so to encourage Seth and sketch alongside him. But I fell in love. My prior frustration and perfectionism fell away because it was simply a field journal and didn’t have to be perfect. I was reminded why I’ve always loved to paint, and got excited about learning about the amazing creatures and plants surrounding us. The process of documenting our outdoor adventures has become so therapeutic for me and I look forward to that time spent with my paints and field guides and this little book. I’m doing it regardless of whether Seth is in the mood or not (because, as a five year old boy, he’s definitely not always in the mood), but I’m certain that my passion for it will rub off on him and his brother at least a bit. Already, they are asking for their paints and art supplies more frequently.

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My Materials

My sketchbook of choice: Strathmore Visual Journal 140lb
For more official paintings (which I’m doing much more of as a result of this love ignited by nature journaling), I love Arches Aquarelle blocks
I have been using the same very inexpensive set of tube walercolors that I’ve had since college, but I’m so excited to have just purchased this simple set from Winsor Newton. Learning to mix any color from just a few is one of the most important skills in watercolor. This set is wonderful because it’s small enough to go with me anywhere.
My brushes are a mix- some were my mom’s and could easily be older than me. When I purchase a new brush I like to do so in person rather than ordering online so I can see and feel it. My most-used brush at the moment is a size 3 round brush made by Grumbacher.
My pencils are all Faber-Castle but I’m really not very picky- any art pencils will do. My favorite pens are Micron- they are really amazing. I use the tiny 005 for details and fine lines, the 01 for slightly heavier lines, and the 03 for writing.
Field Guides: I love the laminated pocket guides made by Quick Reference Publishing (I found many at Barnes & Noble that are specific to our area.) We also have and love the Audubon Guide to Florida.

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My Process

I only sometimes sketch right there on the spot. I’d really like to do so more often, but my current season of life involves chasing a 2 year old, so I usually snap photos with my phone of things I want to journal later—along with collecting things like leaves, rocks, shells, and flowers to press.

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I start by sketching with pencil, getting the basic lines and shapes. I usually have a basic rough idea in my mind of how my page will end up, which items I want to draw, etc. I cross-reference my phone images with my field guides and often the internet as well, and in the process I learn interesting facts about each thing, it’s scientific name and common name, and those things go into the journal as well. When everything is done in pencil, I go over it with my micron pens and erase the pencil lines. Once in a while I’ll paint first and add in details with the pens later, but usually I prefer the prior method. When I’m painting, I begin with the lightest colors and then layer in the deeper ones.

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While at Wild & Free recently, one mama mentioned that her boys don’t have the patience for very much art journaling, but they love to recreate some of their nature finds with clay. I thought it was such a great idea, and definitely one I’d like to try!

We’ve been incorporating art in other ways as well, and my goal is to weave it into many different subjects. There are so many ways to tie art into science, geography, history, literature, and the list goes on. I really believe that they’ll learn more and internalize what they’re learning better if they exercise creativity while learning it. Seth always seems much more interested when we do. When we were discussing the the axial skeleton in science, he drew a skeleton (looking at a library book for reference) and labeled the bones we’d been talking about.

I will have to post an update soon, because already I’m seeing our methods shifting into something much more experiential and less workbook-based. And as a result, we’re both enjoying homeschool so much more!

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Homeschooling: the first few weeks

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It’s been almost four weeks since we started homeschooling, which seems so crazy to me. Parenting makes time go by quickly, but it seems even faster now. Our normal days don’t feel rushed or overly complicated; we’re able to take time to just be. That part is really good. It was important to me from the start of this journey, to give room for slowness and create an environment of simplicity. I feel like kids will learn more, naturally, if they are not rushed around in a flurry of scheduled activities. When we do add those in, we’ll do so very intentionally. My sense of being busy right comes mostly from work and learning to balance working from home with teaching at home. I’m taking it one day at a time, managing my time, prioritizing my family, and recognizing daily that I cannot do this on my own strength. There have been so many little things that have affirmed that we’re on the right path, and for that I’m so thankful.

Right now, our only weekly commitment is CC (Classical Conversations), which has been so much more a blessing than I ever expected. Our group is so diverse, with families in basically every different stage and philosophy. The backbone of it—the classical education model—makes so much sense. Seth is making new friends (who are such respectful, kind kids), and he’s constantly asking me if it’s Tuesday yet- even on Wednesdays.

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We have definitely had bumps in the road. Most days have tested my patience considerably. (Though not more so than all of our days during the summer. Being on my own for 12 hours with 2- and 5-year old boys is exhausting!) My friend Tiffany always refers to homeschooling as “parenting on steroids” and I have to 100% agree. You’re in the thick of it all day, every day. But the rewards—the connections with your kids, the knowledge that you’re pouring into them in such a real way, the act of learning and exploring together—are simply the best.

Seth was pretty resistant to “doing school” for the first weeks, and only very recently has gotten more into it. We added the Explode the Code phonics workbook, and it’s working beautifully for him. Each lesson has a page that involves reading full (simple) sentences, and he always wants to skip ahead to that part. His pride in being able to read them on his own is so awesome to see and gets me excited to be on this journey. I’m learning to gauge what works best for him. We have to do formal learning first thing in the morning, and he only lasts so long. I noticed very early on to watch for his cues that he can’t sit any longer, and stop then before either of us have a chance to get frustrated.

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My favorite things so far have been reading to them aloud and doing nature walks/keeping a nature journal (which has really taken on a life of its own for me- I’ll do a post about it soon). I think we’re finding a rhythm of sorts. I don’t expect it to ever be easy (it is parenting, after all), but I do think we’ll find a bit more balance. It’s becoming our new normal. I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

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