A Bit of Our Backstory…
Homeschool. Some love it, some hate, and for some the very word triggers an epidemic meltdown (yes, I used to be part of this camp). Honestly, it’s one of those things that I used to swear, I WOULD NEVER DO. Absolutely, never. I was not built to be a stay at home mom, (again – actually thought I’d never end up married, let alone with children) – but I digress and that is another post. I’m not the Suzy Homemaker type, truly. Nonetheless, I am their mama, and that alone qualifies me uniquely to encourage their growth in their academic journey. I know what makes them tick, how to encourage them, love them, gently correct them (or not so gently sometimes), and walk them through problem solving better than any stranger they will meet. This is not a diss to teachers, I actually have a huge heart for them and wish our school systems would honor them and value them so much more than they do. When we began our journey I found myself adjusting to life as a mother of two, considering filing bankruptcy–guys, we were broke, and trying to figure out what we were doing with our lives. When I left the fashion industry, I quite literally had a nervous breakdown, re-triggering my PTSD, and was in the worst mental health of my life. So of course, this seemed like the perfect time to homeschool. We pulled T out of his private Christian school, and set course for homeschooling. What we didn’t realize at the time, was just how much sense this decision actually made for our lives. This was one of many decisions that we made that year that forever changed the trajectory of our lives. Mainly being: what does our ideal life look like and what do we need to do to get there? Homeschooling would radically change our finances, and more importantly allow us the freedom to travel and grow as a family the way we truly desired.
Where We Are Now…
So, as we move into our fourth year of homeschooling, I thought it time to share what works for us, some realistic reminders, and a handy dandy list of resources that help keep me sane.
This year T will be entering third grade, and P will begin Pre-K3. This being my first year actually “schooling” two, well..that too is probably an entirely different post, I had to remind myself of one of the most important reasons I started:
I know them best and there is no rush.
Our goal is and will always be to create an environment that encourages curiosity, research, individual opinion, and confidence. We want the kids to come to their own conclusions and be versed in how to arrive there. To feel comfortable expressing themselves, and how or why the arrived at their conclusions. For us, this includes our faith, but not just recitation of scripture, moreso the opportunity to see, feel, and hear what living out our beliefs looks like. Ultimately, to provide them the resources to develop a Biblical worldview.
A simple breakdown of what our week looks like:
- Monday and Tuesday – We focus on History, Art, Music, Latin, and Science. (See below for for our curriculum choices). I’ve found several curriculums that gave high level outlines with an amount of time to spend on each category…that didn’t work for us. That’s the freedom of homeschooling though, right? Sometimes concepts didn’t require the 30 minutes suggested, so remember – those time limits are just that, SUGGESTIONS. On the other hand, the outlines of what exactly to cover were perfect.
- History – We split this over both days working through one chapter at a time from our textbook. Our history curriculum also covers geography. What I love about it, is that you can make it as robust or minimal as you like, and with it being a four volume set, it repeats every four years, so you are building on the knowledge of the prior session. Our curriculum also includes reading lists and suggested reference books for more in depth and sometimes more illustrated articles on whichever topic of study we are focusing on. One chapter a week will have you going just slightly passed a 36 week school year. Or if you opt to to you own history study, one major timeline event a week works well.
- Science – Honestly, we haven’t found our groove with this topic. Our first year we did more nature study alongside kids level encyclopedia research. For second grade we had an actual curriculum with weekly breakdowns, experiments and suggested reading, and we were just not fans. It felt bulky and a bit chaotic. For third grade, we are going with a new curriculum that provides base reading material for each topic along with experiments and suggested reading materials. It looks neat and tidy the way we like it, while not overwhelming with tests, quizzes and intense memorization. Usually Mondays are spent introducing the topic, the new vocabulary, and any key figures. While Tuesdays are spent more hands on with the topic whether it is diagramming, outdoor exploration, or experiments. Tuesday is also time for reading the suggested material. (Clearly, there is a high emphasis on reading in our school environment). We try to complete one lesson/topic per week.
- Latin – For Latin, we review previous lessons on Mondays, and introduce new words/phrases on Tuesdays with a new lesson.
- Art – Art happens either Monday or Tuesday, but hardly ever both. We start with art history, and move into a related project. We utilize one lesson from our book per week or pick one artist to study.
- Music – Music is the same as art, except there usually isn’t a hands on activity to produce. We study one composer per week and listen to some of his famous works. Usually trying to group composers by era.
- Library – If time allows, we visit the library on Mondays. Or, if you have little ones in tow, make library time line up with toddler story time. (You can thank me later). If Mondays don’t work, we usually go for Wednesdays. Since I place most of the books I want T to read on hold at the beginning of the year, I usually have them on hand when he gets to each corresponding topic. So library days for us focus on 1. understanding how to use the library, 2. ‘entertainment’ or supplemental reading material and 3. the opportunity to bring home more books on whatever topic has really piqued his interest in our studies.
- Wednesday – Field trip outing, library, play date, etc. After two days of schooling, we’ve found that a day off in the middle works well for us. Sometimes we use these days for some ‘light reading’ assignments, but never anything super structured. Most local museums and parks offer homeschool activity days, we’ve found that that usually happen on Wednesdays and trying to do any school work while managing an outing is just too much for us.
- Thursday, and Friday –
- Reading – Structured reading time, usually at least half an hour. Pending age and book we’ve done both read aloud and independent reading. As T has progressed in his reading skills, he now spends at least half an hour reading by himself one of the topically corresponding books from our studies. I still read aloud when it is a classic literature novel that is well beyond his reading ability, but on par for his listening skills.
- Writing – Actual sentence and paragraph composition, as well as language/grammar rules. The early years are composed much more of copywork, this will be our first year focusing more on sentence structure. Usually takes about 30-45 minutes, and we try to cover 2-3 lessons per week.
- Handwriting – We wanted to encourage legible penmanship and cursive penmanship. We started in kindergarten and will be continuing with cursive this year. Our lessons consume about 15-20 minutes of our school day. A few pages from our textbook each day usually has us finishing before Christmas break.
- Math – Pending the topic, this subject can take us anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Amount of lessons is dependent on your book choice, for us we try to accomplish 4-6 lessons each week.
- Exercise and Extracurriculars – And let me preface this by saying, we try to get outside as MUCH as possible. Sometimes this just means nature exploration, and sometimes this is simply enjoying nature. Part of the reason we purchased the house that we’re in now is for our majority wooded lot that the kids can safely roam free in. We even have an outdoor classroom amidst the trees and sometimes that means all we do is nature journal. Just, full disclosure. 🙂
- Family Gym Membership – We love our gym. Childcare drop off is a whopping 3 hours, so it is a nice little reprieve in the afternoons when mama needs a break. There’s also outdoor play areas, indoor track, basketball courts, and tennis.
- Dance – P will be taking dance for a full season this year, and we’ve scheduled that into Friday mornings. For us, that makes it easy for me to give T undivided attention during any trouble areas for the week.
- Soccer – Since T plays for an elite soccer team, he has conditioning and practice three times a week, usually with at least one game on the weekend. Between this and gym time, and walking and playing with our dog, we feel like we are an active enough family that the littles get in lots of physical exercise.
- Archery – While we no longer take an official class, this sport has been great for building focus and perseverance. T still practices regularly and goes to the range to shoot and test. He’s actually a junior olympic archer and we have no idea how or where he gets this skillset from haha, but happy to support him.
- Drums – We’ve asked each of the kids to participate in at least one musical instrument, their choice. T was pursuing violin until last year when we could tell he really lost interest. He’d been asking to take drum lessons for the last two years, so this year we found a program that we’re going to try out and looking forward to it.
- Community Service – One of the biggest reasons we love homeschooling is the flexibility it gives us to serve our community. From trash pick up days, to spending time with elders, to simply showing our neighbors love by baking or cooking something for them. We love that we get to be involved in ways that aren’t always easy to participate in because of school hours.
Our Curriculum Choices…
Keep in mind we’ve only schooled Kindergarten thru Second Grade. For Third Grade, we will be continuing with the same curriculum choices, with respect to third grade level. Rainbow Resource is our go to for ordering yearly school curriculum. They have the lowest prices and largest selection. However, Amazon is always a great go to with fairly comparable prices (some affiliate links are provided below), and in some instances excellent used options as well.
- Preschool – Since T actually was enrolled in a formal school setting for Pre-K 3 and 4, our first year schooling was Kindergarten. Since beginning our journey we also have P, we’ve opted to keep it incredibly light, and playful for the preschool years. We mainly do a lot of play time building, art, and read alouds(see below for a great list of reading resources). Sometimes letter work and number recognition. We did however find The Peaceful Preschool and absolutely love it. It covers all the activities that we try to include in a week’s “work” and you can use it for multiple years. We introduced a few pieces of it last year and will be implementing more portions this year with P. She’s 3 going on 4 in January, and we will use it again next year in its entirety, with her starting Kindergarten work
- Reading – The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading – We loved this book. We started it T’s Kindergarten year and carried it through to first grade. Loved that it was phonics based, uses singing and rhymes to help remember letter sounds, and taught consonant and syllable blends. T was reading at a fourth grade level by the end of the book.
- Handwriting – We use the Zaner Bloser books that coincide with grade level. Pretty straightforward and easy to use.
- Math – We started with Math U See, very hands on and easy to implement Montessori style learning. However, after the second book T wasn’t engaging very well. I let him look over several different math curriculum options for second grade and we landed with Singapore. We will be using their Primary Mathematics series again this year for 3rd grade. For a comprehensive year, you will need workbooks 3A and 3B alongside their corresponding textbooks 3A and 3B.
- Grammar + Language – First Language Lessons, this book followed up nicely to our reading lessons, and literally tells you what to say and ask with your child. We will be using the corresponding third grade level this year and absolutely love how it ties grammar into real life.
- Spelling – Spelling Workout by Modern Curriculum Press. For third grade we will be working through volumes D and E. These books reinforce grammar rules, and are great for independent work. They also work on encouraging proper writing composition.
- Writing – Writing With Ease is again very straightforward, and if you buy the workbooks, provides a parent script. We opted to use the initial The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease as it allows you to choose your own copy work and covers the first four years of writing technique. We will also be adding in Writing Strands to reinforce our writing development.
- Latin – Song School Latin has been a hit and this was our first year using the program. We opted to include the DVD lessons because that also gave me time to step away, and both of the kiddos were engaged with the content. T absolutely learns through song memorization and this approach has helped him grasp and remember his Latin vocabulary. We keep the CD in the car for review when running errands.
- Art – Artistic Pursuits is an absolute favorite. Not only does it introduce a variety of art styles and techniques, it also includes art history and art study. By far the most inclusive and well rounded art program on the market. If you’re looking for more technique than history or study, Drawing With Children works wonders. We have both and I have no complaints about either. For additional reading we try to buy or borrow from the library a corresponding Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artist book on the correlating artist.
- Music – The Story of the Orchestra is perfect one year study on instruments, orchestra composition, composers, and composer eras and includes CD. We just covered a few pages every week and listened to additional music that related. For bonus here, we also incorporated the correlating Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composer books.
- History – Story of the World (besides art, this is our favorite subject and curriculum). Paired with each volume’s corresponding Activity Book. For third grade we will be starting Vol 3, Early Modern Times. You can preview the Activity Guide here. (We started Vol 1 at first grade). The Activity Book includes suggested correlated reading materials, games, activities, and geography study/mapwork to go along with each event. I love how well laid out everything is.
- Science – This year we are trying Answers in Genesis’s series. The lessons seem well laid out, and easy to follow.
Now in case you are wondering how and why we narrowed down what to choose and how to teach it, I highly recommend this book: The Well Trained Mind. Even if Classical education isn’t your style (which it isn’t 100% ours). I’ve found that this book provides outlines with context for every grade level and every subject. A few other recommended readings: For the Children’s Sake (Charlotte Mason based), The Read Aloud Handbook, and Teaching from Rest. Also, if you haven’t, it’s not school specific, but a great read for growing your children and getting to know them, The Five Love Languages of Children. There are also numerous “school in a box” programs that you can order. Sonlight and Abeka are two very comprehensive kits I know are available (both faith based). There’s also Ambleside Online which follows Charlotte Mason’s school of thought and is mostly free, and broken down by year/grade.
Our Home Reference Library…
Note, you do not NEED all of these, we just like options when it comes to reference books so I’ve included our favorites (and most of them you can purchase used on amazon for pennies to the dollar):
- DK First Encyclopedias – Human Body, Earth Science, Animal, Space
- Usborne Internet Linked Science Encyclopedia
- Handbook of Nature Study
- Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of our Natural World
- Usborne First Encyclopedia of Space
- Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World
- Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia
- Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
- Timechart History of the World
- Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia of World History
- The Children’s Book of Heroes
- The Children’s Book of Virtues
- Dover Coloring Books
- Merriam-Webster’s Children’s Dictionary
Play School and Hands On Goodies
- Wooden Geo Blocks
- Snap Together Counting Cubes
- Tegu Magnetic Building Blocks
- Lincoln Logs
- Handheld Musical Instruments
- Crayons, Colored Pencils, Pencils + Paper
- Target’s Dollar Spot Flash Cards – numbers, colors, shapes, letters
We budget roughly $250 annually for all of our books, supplies, and supplements with an additional $75/month towards supply replenishment, literature options, field trip outings, and extra activities. I believe it can be done for less or more, pending what your budget requirements are. Even without the monthly replenishment, we could easily get by on just our initial $250 investment. Another budget item to consider is conferences. Nearly every learning style has an annual conference, Wild and Free, Charlotte Mason, Great Homeschool Conventions, etc. If you opt to attend one of these, make sure you budget it into your total costs. A “luxury” expense for us also a weekend of solitude for mama before school starts. This can be as simple as camping for a few nights, or in my case, I opt for a weekend in a hotel. I bring all of our books for the upcoming year and peruse them so I know what we will be covering, take time to get an rough idea of what we need to accomplish each week (ie. 3 math lessons, 2 language lessons, etc), place holds on library books we will need for the first few months.
Whew! So that was a lot, I’m happy to break down more specifically what each school year looked like. Keep in mind, Monday & Tuesday work has always been ‘bonus’ work for us. It’s great if we get through it, it’s ok if we don’t. Especially at these early elementary ages. Wednesday thru Friday work is simple, straightforward and truly all you need for a filling school year. We’ve done the very minimal, and we’ve beefed things up when the interest was there. Ultimately, you know your babes best, and will be able to adjust accordingly. Also – that’s simply the beauty of homeschooling. I’m no expert, and we always choose to take it one year at a time, re-evaluating as we go. Lastly, THANK YOU. Thank you for reading, and asking and always encouraging. We love hearing from you, and I can’t believe its taken me this long to spell out what we do!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear about your journey and am happy to answer any questions about ours. Leave your’s in the comments below or email me at dailymenagere (at) gmail (dot) com. Happy schooling