This was our first “official” year of homeschooling. I say “official” because I think children are homeschooling (and everywhere-else-schooling) from the day they’re born. Just think about everything a baby learns in the first two years of her life – language, mobility, relationships, cause and effect! We don’t sit down with workbooks and flashcards to make her learn all of this stuff. Our kids are born hungry for knowledge, wanting to understand and glory in the world around them. To say this was the first year we did “learning” in our house would be absurd. It is, however, the first year we had to tell anyone in an official capacity that we were in the process of teaching our children at home. So in that sense, this was “Year 1.”
I get asked a lot of questions about the curriculum we use – not because I’m an experienced home educator who has graduated successful human beings, but because I’m a serious book junkie. We have bookshelf upon bookshelf in our home, and we are still running out of space. Part of the reason we homeschool is just so I can buy All. The. Books. and say it’s “for school” and not feel guilty about it.
Also, for background, I am not a purist of any home educating philosophy. I love and agree with Charlotte Mason the most, but I can’t say that I do everything “the Charlotte Mason way,” (nor do I plan to). In truth, we combine a little classical, a little Waldorf, a little PBS kids, and a little fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. It’s not perfect, but it’s been a pretty wonderful ride.
When we started school this past fall, my oldest was already reading well, which definitely affected what our first year looked like because we didn’t have to spend time on phonics or anything like that. We’ve used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for both of our boys and have LOVED it. We don’t do the handwriting section at the end of each lesson because I think writing skills develop much later than the skills necessary for reading. Since we skip the writing section, now that my second son is working his way through the book, a lesson usually takes us anywhere from 10-20 minutes. That’s barely even a blip in our day.
Oh morning time, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It’s the backbone of our homeschooling. I very intentionally don’t put a lot in our schedule in order to protect our morning time. Most mornings we gather for breakfast sometime between 7:30 and 8:30. We have a fairly hearty breakfast and tea almost every morning. Once I’ve finished my food, I use the time while my kids’ mouths and hands are busy finishing their breakfast to read aloud. I do our Bible reading for the day and then read some poetry and a chapter from our current read-aloud. This year we read The Horse and His Boy and King Arthur and His Knights (as well as hundreds of pictures books). We’re currently working our way through The Usborne Book of Greek Myths. After I finish reading, we practice the hymn we’re learning. Sometimes we do a picture study, too – this year we did John Constable and Jean Francois Millet. After we finish up morning time, the boys clean off the table and vacuum around it. Then if they’ve finished all their other chores, they’re free to play until 10ish when they have to report back for their other assignments. That’s when my oldest usually does math and his other book work.
Math was a hard subject for us to find the right fit. We started out using Christian Liberty Press, but my son hated it – it’s very drill-based and repetitive. He was bored, and I can’t say I blame him. So we switched to Abeka math. It was much more colorful and engaging, but it had absolutely no instruction with it. I am very much an “I can do math, but don’t ask me to explain it to you” kind of mom. So that quickly deteriorated when we hit the whole place value thing. I could not for the life of me explain place value in any terms that made sense to my 6 year old. After talking to two dear homeschooling mama friends whose husbands are both math professors and being told that they both use Math-U-See for their kids, I bought the curriculum. It was pricier than what we had been using, so I was very nervous. But goodness has it been worth it! It’s clear and tactile and very much less rote than anything we’d tried before. My son loves it! He powered through the first book in a matter of months and is already a third of the way through the first grade book – and this from a boy who previously hated math. I highly recommend it!
HANDWRITING and LANGUAGE ARTS
We used Handwriting Without Tears this year. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. My son’s writing isn’t beautiful, but it’s generally legible, so I guess that’s something? But let me just say, the title is a lie. There were tears over handwriting. Oh yes, indeed. Many six-year-old tears. What can I say? Apparently a page of writing practice is the equivalent to having your nails pulled out.
Once my son finished his kindergarten work last month, we went ahead and started first grade. We homeschool year-round (meaning we essentially homeschool all year except fall, because I love fall and want to revel in it rather than doing school). All that the move up to first grade really entailed for my son was having a new math book and doing some spelling. We’ve been using Christian Liberty Press’s spelling book and like it so far. We also have the Abeka first grade grammar book, but we don’t use it very much. We occasionally do a page that seems significant – alphabetizing, punctuation, that sort of thing. But most of it is busy-work covering things kids pick up just from having a lot of interaction with the written word through good books. I’m really interested in adding dictation into our school routine, but we will see how that goes.
Last summer there was a sale on the Story of the World books online, so I bought the whole set of main texts and the first audio book. This year we did Volume 1 – Ancient History. It was fabulous. I learned nearly as much as my boys did. The four-year-old loved it too and took part in almost everything we did. We barely even cracked open the main text because the audio recording is EXCEPTIONAL. Jim Weiss is the reader, and he is fantastic. We’ve started collecting his other audio recordings because we love his reading so much. A couple months into the school year, I got tired of hunting for activities on Pinterest to match our current lessons, and I bought the activity book for Story of the World, Ancient History, and I’m so glad I did. It has some fun (but occasionally complicated) crafts and activities. But it also had coloring pages and, best of all, a suggested readings list for each chapter. Charlotte Mason is all about using living books, so being able to get quality picture and chapter books to go along with what we were studying was something I really appreciated.
We were very laid back in the science department. We followed along with some of Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Sedon. We live on a farm and spend lots of time hiking as a family, as well. We mainly just read lots of books about insects and animals and seasons and anything else that strikes our fancy and work on our Nature Journals. My kids have become avidly attentive to detail when we’re out in nature thanks to our nature walks and journaling. This past weekend we spent an afternoon playing in a nearby river, where my boys found a clam, crawdads, tadpoles, minnows, and wildflowers. My oldest, of his own volition, brought along his nature journal and pencils and a book of nature identification and, without any prompting, spent the car ride home sketching and labeling things he’d observed. I was so excited! One of the things I desire most for my kids is that they’d have curious minds and the delight and discipline to pursue things that spark their imagination!
In the past, we’ve just gone through Bible story books one chapter at a time. This year, though, I felt the need to start introducing some of the core tennets of the faith to my oldest. We used The Ology for our main Bible curriculum this year. I really liked it. The lessons are concise but not shallow. They cover deep topics in a very accessible way. The book itself is a bit more reformed in theology then I am, so we skipped a couple lessons, but otherwise went through all of it and agreed with it.
As I’m looking at the list, I realize it sounds like we were disciplined and organized. We were, and we weren’t. I don’t think we EVER did school five days a week. Usually three or four days. Our school days aren’t long or agonizing. The book work takes very little time, as longs as there’s no whining and procrastinating. (I have a low whining tolerance, so complaining about your school work in our house will get another lesson added to your work for the day. Not much whining about school happens anymore). The rest of our schooling – all of the non-book-work – is so enjoyable it hardly feels like school. Reading stories and great non-fiction, singing songs, practicing piano, going for walks, painting – all of these things are just beautiful parts of a rich life.
I think the use of rhythms instead of a rigid schedule really helped us live into the moments and get things accomplished with much less stress. If we started school at 11 or didn’t do anything official until the afternoon even, it didn’t really matter, because we could go with the flow. We had our general goal for what order we wanted things to get done, but if life got in the way (as it often does) it was easier to take it all in stride and keep going without letting guilt and frustration mount using general rhythms instead of being hung up on a rigid time schedule.
This first year was humbling and stretching and rich and fun and engaging and exhausting and all manner of other things. I’m incredibly grateful I get to share my days learning with my little goobers!