Archive for Homeschooling

Real Housewives of E2S: 11:40 AM

Yes, why don’t we go ahead and pull out every type of math manipulative game we own and play with them all at once while all of our schoolbooks and art supplies are still out, especially while your brother has a building project in progress and the electrician is coming to work in this kitchen in 20 minutes.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of this great idea myself!

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Mid-Year Homeschool Retrospective

This is not a homeschool blog, but some of our readers have been asking how homeschooling is going.  After posting about my plans for this year back in August, I thought I’d give you a peek into how things are going now, rather than saving it for the end of the school year, when we’re all burned out and sick of everything!

This year, my third child started Kindergarten, and I’ve noticed a huge shift in both my responsibilities and our family dynamics.  Last year, I was able to have the two little girls entertain each other while I knocked out school with the big kids.  This year, the three year old is left without a playmate.  For the first couple months of school, I felt like I’d jumped from homeschooling two to four.  J wanted to sit at the table with us and “do school” with us all morning, too.  Her presence was an added distraction to the big kids and just made everything take longer.  I’ve played around with a few different solutions, from having the big kids take turns doing their schoolwork while the other plays with the toddler, to plugging the toddler (and the kindergartner, when she’s done) into Sesame Street for a couple of hours, to doing all the fun history/science/read aloud stuff all morning and then keeping the big kids at the table all afternoon to do their math/grammar/spelling while the little girls play.  Each option has had its pros and cons, but in general, I’ve been encouraged to note that J has learned to be more self-sufficient in her play this fall/winter.  There have been several days recently where I’m halfway through a heavy morning of schoolwork with the big kids, only to realize that I haven’t seen J since breakfast since she’s making a blanket fort or playing with duplos downstairs or sitting under the table quietly cutting up little pieces of paper for confetti.  Also, I ordered an Ivy Kids subscription for my kindergartner, and whenever we get those boxes in the mail, all three of my girls will happily spend hours and hours doing all the math/early literacy/crafty activities with little or no direction from me.  I got my son caught up in spelling at long last because the girls were busy with the Ivy Kids kit centered around Jan Brett’s The Hat the last week before Christmas break.  I’ll probably continue to use a combination of those strategies with my little one until we get a foster child this spring, at which point I have no idea what will happen!

With my oldest in fourth grade, I’ve felt the shift from finishing school in the morning to having to do schoolwork into the afternoon.  For me, this really has made me adjust my mindset from homemaker-who-happens-to-teach-my-kids to full-time-homeschool-teacher who has to use the same tricks working moms do to get grocery shopping, cooking, and housecleaning done.  My shopping has streamlined to Amazon Prime for all household items and the grocery store for fresh foods.  It’s not necessarily the most cost effective, but I don’t have the time to go to Target anymore (and haven’t been there in months).  I’m using the crockpot a lot, and my cooking is mostly limited to tried-and-true recipes I can do in my sleep rather than fiddling around trying something new.  My house is not very clean on a given day.

I mentioned this summer that I wanted to do more reading aloud with my kids.  That has worked with moderate success when I write it down in my lesson plans.  We’ve read three big novels together this fall, and the kids really enjoyed them.  But we’re nowhere near the hour+ a day of reading aloud that I aspire to.  When I’ve tried to start our morning with read alouds, the kids love it, but we get very little other schoolwork done.  My kids are at their best between 8-11 am, and everything after that is really a struggle.  Some days it’s worth it to read–we read The Door in the Wall in about three mornings–but some days I really feel like math and grammar and spelling matter more.  I could talk a lot more about why it’s not happening in the afternoons and evenings, but basically, I have prioritized other things (housework, my own reading/internet time/etc) over reading aloud, and I’m readjusting my priorities in the new year to enable us to read aloud more.

One other thing I’m learning about is how much my kids can do on their own.  After our car accident over Thanksgiving weekend that sent my husband and me to the ER in a helicopter, I was nearly bedridden for almost two weeks.  Just as my sore muscles and bruises healed, I got bulldozed by a horrible cold and spent an entire day unable to talk or swallow without pain.  During that time, we actually managed to get a decent amount of schoolwork done.  I mentioned that my son’s math, writing, and Latin books require minimal parent teaching–I just grade and answer questions–and we did a bit of grammar and let the spelling and French slide.  They watched David Macauley’s excellent Cathedral documentary for history and some deep-sea documentaries for science.  My 2nd grader did all of her copywork and handwriting work, I did grammar (orally) with her from bed, she practiced math flashcards, and we used a marker board to do spelling once or twice.  My kindergartner practiced handwriting and did some math activity sheets.  They listened to a lot of audiobooks and played legos.  We were in crisis mode, and I don’t think they’re in a position to educate themselves completely, but it was encouraging to know that this past month was not a total wash academically.  And when you walk away with no broken bones from an accident that should have killed you and your spouse, you’re just inclined to snuggle and read and play together, anyway.

As far as curriculum reviews go, my son HATED Sentence Composition for Elementary School.  This was super disappointing, because I love, love, loved the concept and raved about it to everyone I knew this summer.  We set it aside once his Writing and Rhetoric: Fable book came in.  He enjoys that (though the creative writing assignments take him HOURS to complete), so we’re just sticking with that for writing now.  He and I both love First Language Lessons 4.  We both find sentence diagramming fun and fascinating, and the poetry memorization assignments have been great.  We both continue to enjoy Saxon 6/5 and Beast Academy 4, and I think it helps him to have two different math books–Saxon Mon-Wed and Beast Thurs/Fri–to keep things interesting.  My failure this year was French (he hated it), so I found a local Frenchwoman who teaches beginning French classes out of her home.  The level is more geared to preschool/lower elementary, but I have all four of my kids in a private class once a week.  Their accents are lovely, they’re singing songs and learning all sorts of fun vocab, and they love French again.  My girls are using the tried-and-true curriculum I already had on hand, and Writing With Ease, First Language Lessons, and Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading just work well for us, as do Saxon math and All About Spelling.

I might have mentioned in the past that we’re homeschooling through a charter school that gives us $2600 per child each year to spend on their education.  To homeschool purists, we are not homeschooling, we are legally enrolled in a public charter school.  Practically, however, I select and order all of their curriculum and do 100% of the teaching, meeting once a month with a wonderful, likeminded veteran homeschool mom who works with our charter; I give her a work sample (a math quiz or a geography map or a handwriting page) and discuss our progress, and she signs off on my spending requests, making sure I’m using my funds for education, not something else (though at my kids’ ages, practically everything is educational).  Usually she just encourages me and shares wisdom from her 18 years of experience.  My son has to waste two mornings a year taking the state (common core alligned) testing in the spring, but last year he got “above grade level” in all areas, he now has experience taking standardized tests, and it literally affected nothing else in how I choose to educate.  I still use some Christian curriculum (Bible, some history, and Latin), I just have to pay for that myself.  They pay for the rest of our curriculum and supplies as well as French, art, and ballet classes, museum memberships, educational subscription boxes (Little Passports, Raddish Kids, Ivy Kids), and educational field trips (we’re going to Legoland next month).  This is an option only in California and a couple other states, and we will enthusiastically continue to homeschool this way unless something radically changes in how the government oversees our charter.  We have homeschooled on our own before (in California, you do that by legally declaring yourself a private school) and it worked fine.  Some of you were telling me it sounded too good to be true (and I thought so, too!), but three semesters in, I have yet to find a catch.

Today I hung out with a homeschool friend who is expecting another baby, and we both agreed that while sending our big kids off to school sometimes sounds like it would give us a break, the fact of the matter is that it’s just easier for us at this stage to not have to worry about getting kids dressed and out the door at 7:30, packing lunches, getting homework done while making dinner, etc, etc.  Life is full and crazy in our homes, but it’s the kind of full and crazy that we like.

So there it is–a mid-year report card on our homeschool progress!  If you’re a homeschooler, I’d loved to hear what is working and not working for you this year.  If you’re considering homeschooling and/or have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email (emily@everythingtosomeone.com).

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Homeschool Specifics

Following up on yesterday, I promised to share what curriculum we’ve used for each grade.  Remember, no one is going to do it just like me.  Use what works for your kids!  As a general intro, I am a big proponent of lots of memory work in the early years (when the kids are little sponges–in classical education, we call this “grammar stage”) and limited written work.  Though I’m listing a lot of subjects, we don’t do every subject everyday (many of the minor subjects are once a week or a unit study for a couple weeks once a semester), and a lot of our subjects take 5 minutes to do.  In general, I spend an hour on schoolwork per grade, per day.  So my Kindergartner will have maybe 30 minutes of sit-down time in a morning, my second grader will spend about two hours on schoolwork, and my fourth grader will be spending about four hours per day.  Listening to or reading books doesn’t count toward that time, nor do extracurriculars like art class or ballet.  For PE, the kids have done swimming lessons, play soccer, and run around and ride bikes with the neighbors, or go on family hikes on the weekends.

We do a four day week since we attend Community Bible Study every Thursday.  It’s a full “classroom” morning with teachers other than mom, the kids doing the pledge, Bible memory work, games, crafts, their own Bible study on the same topic the adults are studying, recess, and snack.  After CBS, we always go have a picnic lunch at the park with friends and spend a good couple of hours playing outside with two to twelve other families.  By the time we get home, we’re too tired to do much formal school, so I don’t plan much. We do a 36 week school year and take the summer off.  We do history, Bible, science, and fine arts all together.  For clarity, I’ll put down what we did with our oldest for each of those areas, as the younger ones just came along and do whatever he is doing in those joint subjects.  We’ll rotate back around in another couple years and repeat it all so that the little ones get it again.

Every year, I’ve used this really basic daily planner to plot out our school year, one for each kid.  For subjects like history or science where we want to do specific things in specific weeks, I write that down at the beginning of the year for the whole school year.  For subjects like spelling or math where we just do the next lesson each day, we wait and jot down what page we did.  The kids and I like checking off boxes when we finish subjects, and a quick glance at the kids’ planners can help me determine when we’re done for the day.  Thanks to my planners, I can look back and tell you what we did on any given day in our homeschool (or if we took the day off or went on a field trip).  I’m always intending to keep track of what books we read in a given day or week or school year, but we read too many.

 

Fourth Grade

Bible: continuing to memorize the gospel of Mark (chapters 8 and 9), CBS study on Daniel and Revelation

History: Middle Ages and Renaissance using Veritas Press’ Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, Story of the World Vol 2: The Middle Ages, and tons of historical fiction, biographies, and Dover coloring books

Language Arts: All About Spelling 4, First Language Lessons 4, Writing and Rhetoric: Fable, Sentence Composition for Elementary School

Math: Saxon 6/5, Beast Academy 4

Latin: Latina Christiana

Science: Oceans theme using a Magic School Bus Oceans activity guide, a membership to the Aquarium of the Pacific, several ocean life documentaries, and Dover ocean life coloring books.  We’ll also be reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

French: my old junior high textbook (Dis Moi!), DuoLingo, and Mango French, as well as watching Jacques Tati movies in French, but I’d like to get him into a class to practice conversational skills

Music: We’ll be spending the fall semester studying about medieval music and musicians, using materials from my neighbor who is a music professor.=)

Art: T is in a weekly art class where he has been working in pastels and will be shortly moving into watercolors.

Art History: We’ll be spending the spring semester studying Leonardo Da Vinci and visiting all of the art museums in LA that have Renaissance art on display

Geography: an old geography workbook (a hand me down from our babysitter’s family), probably just a page once a week

 

Third Grade

Bible: gospel of Mark (7 and 8), CBS study on the minor prophets

History: Greece and Rome using Veritas Press’ New Testament, Greece and Rome and Story of the World Vol 1: Ancient Times

Geography: maps of the areas we’re studying using Story of the World’s activity guides

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 3, All About Spelling 3, First Language Lessons 3

Math: Saxon 5/4, Beast Academy 3

Latin: Prima Latina

Science: Astronomy using Real Science 4 Kids Astronomy, various books and documentaries on astronomy, and Dover coloring books

French: DuoLingo and Mango French on the computer, watching classic French movies like The Red Balloon and White Mane.

Music: studied Handel, Schumann, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms using First Discovery Kids Music (only so-so), The Story of _____ in Words and Music series (excellent), and Opal Wheeler biographies

Typing: BBC Dance Mat Typing online

 

Second Grade (our second time through!)

Bible: gospel of Mark (5 and 6), CBS study on Mark

History: Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia using Veritas Press’ Old Testament and Ancient Egypt and Story of the World 1: Ancient Times

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 2, First Language Lessons 2, All About Spelling 2, Classically Cursive

Math: Saxon 3 (E is working at grade level with math, but T and S are a year ahead)

Latin: Song School Latin, Getting Started With Latin

Science: Physics using The Way Things Work tv series and simple machine experiments.

French: DuoLingo, Little Pim French videos, (pretty babyish, but they’re free streaming on amazon prime), First Thousand Words in French book with mom

Music: Intro to Mozart, Chopin, Purcell, and Debussy using biographies, CDs, and attending a concert!

Art History: Studied the Impressionists and visited several of the LA art museums to see their paintings in person.

Typing: BBC Dance Mat typing online

Geography: Evan-Moor daily geography pages, once a week

 

First Grade

Bible: gospel of Mark (3 and 4), CBS Study

Social Studies: we spent a month at a time reading books about and making notebooks about the countries where we support missionaries.

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 1, First Language Lessons 1, All About Spelling 1, finish Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading (we didn’t start spelling until we finished phonics, as they’re essentially approaching the same subject from opposite directions)

Math: Saxon 2 (or in E’s case, 1)

Science: Anatomy using My Body book (reproducible pages of various organs sized to put on a kids’ outline) and Bill Nye videos on various body parts

French: French for Little Boys/French for Little Girls coloring books, Little Pim French videos

Music: read about the orchestra and studied Peter and the Wolf, The Seasons, and Pictures at an Exhibition

Art History: Discovering Great Artists and artist biography videos

 

Kindergarten (Our third time around!  Ideally, only 3 days a week)

Bible: gospel of Mark (1 and 2)

Social Studies: memorized order of US Presidents using flashcards from the Target dollar spot, memorized States and Capitals using the Geography songs CDs

Language Arts: Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading, Zaner-Bloser handwriting

Math: Saxon 1 (at half speed if, like for our second child, the concepts don’t click right away)

Read millions of quality books aloud.  Play and move around as much as possible.

 

Preschool (only when the little ones are asking to “do school” with the big kids, I just mainly keep these on hand to occupy them during our school time)

Bible: My ABC Bible verses

Social Studies: geography map puzzles

Language Arts: Target dollar spot handwriting books to trace letters, alphabet puzzles

Math: legos and duplos, Tangoes Jr., puzzles

Read millions of quality books aloud.

Encourage lots of open-ended imaginative play with dress-up clothes, play kitchen, wooden blocks, etc.

 

Note: I’ve used our amazon affiliate links on most of the items above, so if you happen to want to order any of them, we get a small percentage if you click through and order from our link.  It helps offset the cost of hosting this blog.  Certainly there are plenty of other places where you can get most of these things (and I bought most of them used myself).

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Avoiding Burn-out as a Homeschooling, Stay-at-Home Mom

I’m working on a list of all the resources we use to homeschool each year, but I realized there was a big something I didn’t talk about yesterday: burnout.  As a second generation homeschooler, I’ve seen a ton of moms nose dive a couple years into homeschooling.  They try so hard to do everything perfectly, then when kids are sassy and math books aren’t completed, they blame themselves for not being good enough.  They feel like total failures when they stick their kids in school, and many even enter the workforce because they feel that the only way to justify staying home with school-age kids is to be homeschooling them, and if you’re not, you need to “earn your keep.”  And of course I know a lot of stay-at-home moms who are trying to be SuperMom and are just burning out of being home.

Not all of us struggle with burnout to the same degree.  I love being home with my kids, even when they’re crazy, my husband is totally and completely supportive of my desire to be a homemaker, and I taught in a classroom before having kids, so homeschooling comes naturally to me.  Of course I have my Jonah Days like everyone else, but instead of fantasizing about putting the kids in school and heading back to work (which doesn’t sound appealing to me even when the five year old has spilled milk all over the living room rug), I just let them trash the house and curl up with a 19th century novel for a day or two until we regain our equanimity.  BUT…I think I’ve also been able to steer clear of some big pitfalls that usually lead to burnout.

First of all, we don’t try to replicate a classroom here at home.  I have the confidence to do this because of being a second generation homeschooler, but a lot of my friends struggle with thinking it’s okay to “only” spend an hour of one-on-one formal school time with their 1st grader and let her play and read the rest of the day.  Believe me, speaking as a former classroom teacher, even five minutes of one-on-one time per subject is more than your kid would be getting in the classroom unless he is way behind.  Your time with your child (or even a few kids) is so much more efficient than their public schooled friends are getting.  You don’t have to spend seven hours a day “doing school” to give your child an excellent education.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m really opposed to sitting kids at desks for hours a day, and while it is of course a good idea to teach your children to sit still for a developmentally appropriate amount of time, this can be accomplished at the sidelines of their sister’s ballet class, in the living room during family worship time before bed, in church (our fidgety 9 year old son has been sitting through the entire 90 minute worship service with us for years), on field trips, etc.  School skills like learning to wait in line can be learned at the grocery store checkout or outside the bathrooms at a baseball game.  Personal responsibility can be taught by requiring your child to keep their room clean, fold their own laundry, bring their own water bottles in the car on park days, and bring their sports equipment to practice.

Secondly, we are really selective about our out-of-the house activities.  Susan Wise Bauer (my homeschooling hero) has a really good little video talking about co-ops and why she doesn’t recommend them very often.  I wholeheartedly agree about this.  Almost all of my local homeschool friends participate in Classical Conversations, the hottest fad in homeschool circles today, but I see them spending so much of their precious time and energy preparing for tutoring areas outside of their expertise (just in order to afford their kids’ tuition) and giving up a whole school day each week to expose their kids to subject matter that I easily cover with mine at home during the course of our normal school day.  I can’t tell you how many friends have been fried by co-ops over the years, and CC (or similar co-ops) would not be a wise choice for my family.  On the other hand, I’ve found a local Community Bible Study branch that has a thriving homeschool contingent, tons of supportive, like-minded women, excellent teaching, and the accountability I need to be in the Word regularly.  That day out of the school week is totally worth it for us.  We tried some extracurricular PE and Science classes a few years back that were pretty much a waste of time for our kids, so now we just address those needs through sports (swimming, soccer, or ballet) and field trips with other like-minded families.  Plenty of home days are necessary for our little homeschool of two extroverts (my oldest daughter and me) and three introverts (the other kids) to maintain our equilibrium.

Third, I try to make my expectations realistic.  I have to remind myself that the school year is not going to go exactly how I’d planned, that we might not get to the last five lessons in the math book, that someone is suddenly going to decide he hates French after loving it for three years, that we’ll hit a month-long slump in the spring, and that by the end of the school year, we will all just be counting down the days until we can take a break from it all.  Having been a classroom teacher, I can attest that all these things happen to kids in public and private schools, too, and teachers look forward to summer just as much as homeschool moms.  This year I am trying to be proactive about that by planning to finish some of our formal subjects early and planning lots of fun activities (and field trips and documentaries) for April and May.  One of my main goals in homeschooling is to teach my children to love learning.  My mom totally succeeded in this with me, and while I’m sure there were plenty of days when I was crying as she made me finish a math test or whining because she required me to write something in cursive, what I remember from my childhood were the books we read aloud and discussed together, her letting me spend a whole year delving into my passion of Native Americans and pioneers (probably sparked by reading the Little House books), and the way learning and discussing what we’re reading is just a part of my family life, even today.  Because I’m a type-A perfectionist, I do have planners that I’m currently filling with lessons plans for each of my kids, but I also try to remember that education is a life thing, not a check-the-boxes thing.  (But stay tuned tomorrow for the boxes we check.)

One last thing that I learned from my mom and tell all my struggling friends is that this is a lifestyle that needs to be taken year by year and kid by kid.  We’ll make mistakes, and we’ll wish we’d made them on plastic kids, not flesh-and-blood ones, but over 13 years of formal education, it will likely be okay, especially if we’re persevering with the hard work of parenting (regardless of where our kids are sitting at 9 am on a Monday morning).  My brothers and I did a combination of Christian school, public school, and homeschooling, depending on what my parents thought each of us needed each year.  It takes so much of the pressure off of me to know from experience that there is no one perfect way to raise kids.  There may be times, due to family stress, health issues, pregnancy, or whatever, that we won’t be able to do our ideal schooling plan.  As I look ahead to fostering and adoption, I realize that I may be outsourcing a lot more than I’d like in the next year or two, and while that’s a bummer, there will be positive aspects that I can’t imagine right now with our relatively quiet life of four biological children.  Even Susan Wise Bauer talks about how for some kids, a classroom setting may be better at some point (I believe she was speaking of one of her teenage sons), in case you needed a homeschool guru to give you permission to reconsider your plans.  I tell young moms that if your school situation isn’t working for your family or your particular child, it’s not admitting failure to try something else.

 

If you’re a homeschooling veteran, what have been the best ways you’ve combated burnout?  If you’re considering homeschooling, what seems most daunting to you?

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