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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reflections on The 3rd Year Of Homeschooling

Truthfully, this year was the hardest. I had a second grader, a Kindergartener, a 4 year old and a 2 year old in the background wreaking havoc.

Jude dropped his morning nap about 8 weeks into the school year. Somedays I plopped him in front of the TV (but when I did that the others would whine and moan about the desperate unfairness of life) other days I would stick him in the bathtub and let him splash until the floor was covered in an inch of water and his fingers looked like peach pits.  On the hardest days I was in tears from his two year old antics by 9am.

Back in August my second grader still stumbled over simple letter blends and could hardly read. Motivating him was a Herculean task. On bad days (there were plenty) I thought I was damaging them. On the days when I was tempted to quit it all (probably five or six if I'm honest) and send my kids to the (delightful, wonderful, amazing) school that is literally a stone's throw away from our house, I reflected on my Why in starting down this crazy road and pondered if it still applied given the chaos.

Our Why of homeschooling is to prolong these fleeting years of play, to give our kids extended time to foster their primary relationships at this age (with parents, siblings and extended family) and to develop a love of learning that springs from the delight of discovery, not the compulsion of drudgery.

This Why reminds me to say yes to stomping in puddles and racing boats down the gutters instead of insisting on the day's spelling lesson. This Why says no (for now) to Parent's Morning Out or homeschool co-op groups. This Why says yes to a trip to the beach to see GranAnn during the school week and an impromptu sleepover on a Tuesday night with Gigi and Pops. This Why whispers, "let it go..." when I want to push another math lesson in place of an hour of Lego building.

So yes, school this year looked like role play for hours as each kid fought for the part they wanted, plot lines were debated and accepted, costumes were carefully selected and action commenced.

School looked like was an impromptu tour of the mayor's office and a discussion of local government when we went to get a permit for a garage sale one day.

It looked like my second grader's math practice to determine whether he had enough money saved up for a Pokemon book .

School happened on the beach in late November, finding treasures and seeing math and God's perfection all around us.

It showed up when brother and sister used their bodies as canvases and cracked eggs and read recipes and baked their own birthday cake. 

Looking back I see what couldn't be contained in those tidy 45 minute blocks at the dining room table. More often than not our learning came unexpectedly and in forms that took me by surprise- like a seed our lessons would lay dormant for weeks and then seemingly without cause spring up overnight and send out joyful shoots in wild and unpredictable directions.

It's only when I forget my Why that the How seems insurmountable and the chaos engulfs me. When I look back I can see that the Why expressed itself in the How and we were all better because of it.


Lately a lot of you have asked about the How: so for those of you that want the nitty gritty, I've broken it down by subject below for your reading pleasure.

(And for those of you who don't care about the How - thanks for reading!)

We have always used a combination of curricula as opposed to turnkey, all-in-one program like Sonlight or an online academy. I am not an expert by ANY means, my knowledge is limited to my experience in the past 3 years and with 2 early elementary students, so take everything I say with that very large caveat.

We have used Singapore Math for the past 2 years. In Kindergarten my oldest used Math-U-See, but teaching it never felt intuitive, so I switched in first grade and definitely prefer it. Math is the one subject you probably NEED to have a curriculum for unless you have an advanced degree in teaching mathematics. Sequence is critical in laying a foundation for later mathematics. Elijah is right on grade level, having just finished up their 2nd book and Brit is a bit ahead, having started on her 1st grade curriculum this Spring.

I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my Kindergartener and it took her from a basic knowledge of the alphabet and some letter sounds in August to reading on a second grade level by April. I chose it because I had very little knowledge of how to teach phonics and this helped me understand the process myself. Once she finished the curriculum she began choosing progressively harder library reads and is now reading simple chapter books (Magic Tree House series are a favorite) She was FAR easier to teach than her older brother, which I think is more a function of the way she is wired than the curriculum I used. She probably would have had similar results had she used Abeka (what my oldest used in Kindergarten) but I switched over because I understood the methods in Teach Your Child to Read better - which I think is KEY. If you don't like what you're using, it's going to be hard to get your kids excited about it.

For history/geography/literature we have followed The Story of the World for two years. I ADORE THIS CURRICULUM. I cannot say enough good things about it. (But hey, I'll give it a try...) I love that this curriculum is not ethnocentrically focused on the Western/Christian world and that my children understood the rich history of the civilizations of Africa and Asia before we ever mentioned Columbus and the colonization of the Americas. There is a Judeo-Christian slant (for instance, the story of the Jewish exodus is taught as fact as well as the life of Christ) but my children have learned about the Greek and Roman gods, the five pillars of Islam, Buddha, Confucius and Hinduism alongside these Biblical accounts and know the role of these religions in history far earlier than I did going through school. I have purchased the audio CDs and the activity book and during our lessons my kids would color a picture or a map for our timeline while we listened to the stories. It was SO nice to have someone else doing the lecturing for a change!! Even if you don't homeschool, I think these CDs would be an amazing addition to your car collection (our local library carries all of them). We all enjoy listening to the stories and the kids will beg me to play it just a little longer when we're in the car. Maybe a different option for your next road trip?!

For spelling this year we switched to All About Spelling as I realized my oldest was not intuitively picking up on spelling as his reading progressed and he actually needed to understand the rules that govern the English language. I started my Kindergartener on it alongside of him and they are both mid-way through Book 2 here at the end of our year. For an intuitive reader, it's probably overkill, but for someone like my son who struggles to see words whole it has been wonderful.

For science, I follow the sequence author Susan Wise Bauer lays out in The Well-Trained Mind, which basically studies the sciences in the order man "discovered" them. This year was divided into the study of the natural earth (rocks, biomes, weather, landforms, the ocean, etc) and astronomy. Next year we will move on to physics at the same time Newton comes onto the scene in history. I usually purchase a comprehensive text (like this one or this one) to help guide our initial exploration of subjects within that science, and then we watch YouTube videos, enjoy Magic School Bus episodes, take field trips (this year to Fernbank and a natural cave system) and do as many hands-on experiments and natural observation as we can. This past semester has definitely been harder since the kids haven't been able to experience zero-gravity and we never did make it to an observatory for some serious star-gazing.

The kids also have to do P.E. everyday - skateboarding, bike riding or push-ups/sit-ups/squats on crummy days -which is why they have such great push-ups and plank form at karate class. Elijah  also began music lessons with my dad this year.

If we tackle each of these subjects daily (and it's rare that we do) it would take a maximum of 2 hours to get through everything with Elijah and about an hour to an hour and a half for Britain. Clearly we are not sitting at the dining room table all day every day. If the kids understand their lessons quickly, we move on. If something takes a long time for them to grasp (ahem, reading) we just keep plugging away at it. If we are having a terrible horrible no good kind of day, we stop. We play. We run errands or go to the park and I pray and trust that the Why will take care of the How.

More posts about our homeschool journey:

Year One:  We had a newborn, a 2 year old, a 3.5 year old and a Kindergartener. I freaked out and  put the 5 year old Kindergartener in a hybrid-homeschool program that had him out of the house 2 days a week and had me following pre-set lesson plans 3 days a week at home.

Last Year: I decided I wanted more control (I'm a slow learner, control is an illusion...) so I kept our first grader totally at home and did a bit of pre-schooling here and there with his 4 year old sister while our 3 year old and 18 month old wrecked our home in the background.

Shoot me an email or comment if you have any more questions about the whole thing. I love talking homeschool!


  1. I love every bit of this. You are a great mama!! And enjoy your summer. Like any good teacher, you earned your time off!!💙💙💙

  2. Wow. You are amazing. I appreciate what you say about the difference between your son and daughter when it came to reading being more of how they are wired than any curriculum. My son resists reading and I try not to let it break my heart because I always LOVED it. And I'm a teacher. He's supposed to be a "good" student. �� I'm in awe of what you do!


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