Subjects

      This is what the day-to-day looks like at Whimselthwaite.  These are some of our experiences, first published on our blog, childrenintheappletree.  A description of the details of our curriculum is organized in these blog posts by subject.  Click on a subject below to jump to it, or simply keep scrolling.

(Or, skip these details and learn more about our campus...)

Writing

Writing:

Our Curriculum

“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation... Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My children are young, and our writing curriculum has been ... well, messy.  I look at all the schoolchildren who loathe writing and wonder what went wrong.  I think most of the time the problem is that they were asked to do too much too soon.  They are taught that writing is a physical, quantifiable act, and that their thoughts don't matter nearly so much as their technique and whether they filled the quota.  I am wary of overly formulaic writing courses.   I want them to learn the rules, yes--but more importantly I want them to know that 

they can break the rules.  

So our focus in grades K-3 has been lenient.  At this stage, I find 

narration

 to be perfectly acceptable.  They narrate their history reports to me while I type, for example. 

 Asking a five-year-old to compose creative prose with perfect grammar, style, punctuation, spelling, and handwriting while holding still and holding a pencil correctly is a recipe for overwhelming frustration.  My goal is to make the physical parts easy, then the spelling, then the grammar ... and then we can worry about productivity.  Expression doesn't need to wait-- I can think of creative ways to help them out until they're ready to do it on their own.  Here was our plan for writing this year:

Essentially, we practice handwriting (cursive), write letters to friends, take on a modest number of creative-writing exercises, and study spelling and grammar through a course called 

Logic of English

.   

Logic of English

I use a scripted textbook and student workbook for spelling.  It is easy to use with a bookmark at your own pace.  [A.] isn't quite ready for Essentials yet, so I may try their Foundations program.  

The course appeals to me because you are not memorizing lists of words, you are memorizing spelling rules with the ultimate goal of understanding 

why

 words are spelled the way they are.  For example, Rule 1 states that "C always softens to /s/ when followed by E, I, or Y.  Otherwise, C says /k/."

 I recommend 

this 40-minute intro video

 if you are interested in this rational systematic approach to language arts.  (If you click the settings button, you can listen in chipmunk speed.)  We are going through it very slowly.  The textbook is a one-time purchase that will keep me busy for several years.  

Above: Trying to remember the rubber-band trick for pencil grips, and failing.  It did pique her interest, though!

Handwriting

I recommend avoiding pencil and paper for a good long while.  You can practice letter formation with motor skills from the shoulder and elbow, not from the hands.  This way they can learn the shapes, without being chained to a desk.  

A lowercase A

Cursive in watercolor.  For free printable lined paper, click 

here.

Even in Kindergarten, we practiced handwriting with other mediums such a salt box, sand, a stick in the snow, a leg in the air while lying on our backs, a flashlight, a magic wand, shaving cream, sandpaper flashcards, and  ... 

... pudding.  

When my kids each started writing on paper to spite me, I hunkered down and began instructing.  

We use 

the Rhythm of Handwriting

, and we learn cursive first.  

Here's why

:

"1.  It is less fine-motor skill intensive.

2.    All the lowercase letters begin in the same place on the baseline.

3.    Spacing within and between words and controlled.

4.    By lifting the pencil between words, the beginning and ending of words is emphasized.

5.    It is difficult to reverse letters such as b's and d's."

6.    It is faster.

7.    A person, ought to know the proper way to write a love letter.

(Yeah, yeah, I'll teach them to type, too.)

[C.] was about 6 years old when I switched from manuscript to cursive.  These two sample pictures of her handwriting were taken around the same time:

(Found on her bedroom door.  I appreciated the warning ...)

Cursive sample, age 6.

Now, at age 7, her handwriting is as good or better than mine and faster than than her manuscript.  

Creative Writing

We have been using Writing Strands, but I don't love it as much as I did when I was a kid.  I'm looking for something better.  We plan to give IEW a try, but on the condition that we also take frequent breaks from their method and write freely.  

[C.]

 and 

[A.]

 both wrote, illustrated, and published their own books last year.  

We've got a long way to go, and a lot to learn.  [C.] really likes writing haiku poetry.  Here's one of her poems:

The wolf

Wind howld nicely

and got caught in a

wolfs fur it howld

scary

Journaling

I would really like to add this to our routine in the future.  I am able to write one sentence in my own journal, but corralling the kids for theirs was too much to take on this year.  

Letter Writing

This happened every week, perhaps because we moved last summer and miss all our friends so much!  It was a really easy way to get my kids writing a little bit without any pressure for quality. 

Reviewing our year so far, it's clear to me that we could do better.  I anticipate that we will spend more time and effort working on writing when they are a little older.  

Science

Science

Our Curriculum

"The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped.  His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air.  Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass.  I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight.  The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest.  The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there."

--Annie Dillard, 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Hunting fireflies

Overview

I divide our science curricula according to the seasons.  In Autumn, we focus on nature studies.  Once it turns cold enough that we 

want 

to be inside, we grab a textbook, conduct some experiments, and look at other science subjects in a more traditional way.  In Spring, we go outside again, finishing the school year with nature studies.  My priority is to teach them how 

see

, and I believe that that starts with seeing the world around us.

They are good at it, ever so much more than I am, and they have the rest of their lives to learn science from a computer, or in a laboratory.  While they are little, I want them using their eyes.

Nature Notebooks

Their 

Nature Notebooks

preserve their observations. 

We try to take them with us when we go out into "the field."  I'm not as consistent (or skilled) at bringing our books with us 

as my mom is

, but I'm convinced it's worthwhile!  I keep them packed in our "outing bag," along with pencils or watercolors, and shamelessly lug them around.  

We look nerdy (great way to meet other homeschoolers!), but they learn so much from noticing when they have to write about it, or transpose it into two dimensions with a drawing or painting.

A frog at Todd lake.  We drew a circle around it, indicating life-size, and went back to the spot multiple times throughout the season to compare growth.  We've seen them as tadpoles, and wintering in the mud, so we've almost completed the lifecycle.  I didn't plan this project-- it's just what the kids chose to put on the page.  

Rather than dump money into lab notebooks for our wintertime studies, we continue using the nature notebooks.  I love flipping through them to see their minds and their artwork getting clearer.

Germinating bean seeds as part of a wintertime biology experiment.  They were so morose when I later told them we were going to put one of our seedlings in a dark closet to wait out the week.  

Sometimes we tape seeds or pressed flowers directly in the notebooks.  Once, to help get us oriented to our local mountain peaks, we made a page plotting Bend's panoramic skyline that unfolds to a length of 5 feet.

(This is not my photo, but we used it as a guide.)

Nature Studies

To enrich our nature studies, I check out guidebooks (bird books, tree books, lizard books, insect books, constellation books, wildflower books, scat books, you name it) from the library that we can either bring with us on the trail, or use afterward as reference, just in case we didn't have time to capture what we saw.  In the picture above, [A.] is showing examples of native conifers.  We picked up samples of trees on a hike. At home, I photocopied a helpful chart to identify local trees, and then we practiced counting needles, etc. on our samples.  

I impose very little structure when we do nature studies.  Usually, I just ask them to "do a page," based on something they saw, but they can fill that page up with words or pictures.  I will let them narrate if they prefer.

The covered bridge at Shevlin Park

I've noticed that [C.] looks around more deliberately when she knows we're going to pull out the notebooks. 

[A.] is an investigator already. 

In the woods

I *think* this is Lucky Lake, but I can't really remember. 

Other Resources

We spend about 4-6 hours a week doing science, but we don't do it every day.  We finished 

Science Play

 and I plan on doing it again in a couple years.  (Some of the following projects came from that book.)

An experiment combining art and rainwater.

Experiment involving dirt and ...? 

An exploration of spiderweb engineering.  [C.] swore she replicated the orb weaver's methods.  

A demonstration about ear anatomy

An exploration of bubbles: What makes the best solution?  Why?  What makes the best bubble wand?

 Huge success.  And my kitchen floor was really clean afterward.  

Playing "Pin the Bone on 

Mr. Netter

."

Performing 

The Bone Song

 at Co-op. 

Pendulums!

Raising pink lady butterflies from caterpillars. 

The kids have also really enjoyed attending workshops about birds put on by the Audobon Society, which I love because the teachers are so engaging.  Random tip for locals: there's a kiosk at the Old Mill where you can check out birdwatching binoculars for free.  Sweet.

Simple Machines

Thanks to a generous friend who taught a simple machines class at Co-op, we spend a little time in our schedule building simple machines out of Legos or Duplos.  (

It's a kit.

)  Our homeschool network gets together regularly for Lego playdates at the library, and it's awesome.  [A.] is just getting into it.  

My kids like TED talks, and will often watch them with me.  I just discovered this cool link to 

TED Ed

, which I can 

almost

 pass off as t.v.

Geography

We spend 30 minutes a week working on Geography, which is debatably more of a social study than a science.  Geography was one thing I really liked about 

Classical Conversations

.  In her book, 

The Core

, Leigh Bortins argues that we ought to be learning to draw maps, not just coloring them.  So this year, we started 

Blobbing

.  

I put on some classical or world music, get out scratch paper, rulers, and 

maps

, and draw the world.  At first, my family was appalled at my request.  Overwhelmed.  Distraught.  It's a great opportunity to emphasize the noble grace of mistake-making.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a blob.

Each week, we freehand either the world map or a continent map, while looking at a printed one.  Then, we hide our cheat sheets and free-hand it from memory.  

I love

 doing Geography.  It's liberating.  Suddenly it makes sense why history happened the way it did.  Suddenly my life has more perspective. 

After 4 months, my 7-year-old's best map without a cheat sheet, and her best map with one. 

I've also incorporated review questions from our history map work, to keep things fresh.  

I have a clear vinyl tablecloth on my table, to try to save it from family life.  We slip maps underneath it (here's 

my favorite

) and it enriches our conversations.  The kids love playing "I Spy" while we eat.  (By the way, wet-erase markers work great on clear vinyl.)  The downside is that it makes us want to travel more.  

Last week, my 5-year-old held up a chewed graham cracker and said proudly, "Look!  I made the Arabian Peninsula." 

[C.] looked at her chewed cracker.  "Mine's Madagascar!"  

[G.] held up his and said, "And mine's a crocagator!"

Oregon zoo-- we stared at this guy for 45 minutes.  He moved once.  We were flattered.

More Science

(Okay, I snuck this picture in here just to brag-- no, the kids didn't come with me on my summit to Broken Top.)

This was the day our friends came over to take apart an old computer with us.

  The hard drive was impenetrable, even to 7 toddlers wielding screwdrivers. 

Science (or art? or recess?) in the backyard.

Fossil discovery while exploring a dry riverbed.

"I think a dinosaur spilled his shredded wheat!"

We can handle a little cold weather in the name of Science.

He 

really 

loves throwing rocks into water.  Physicist?  Baseball player?  Dive-bomber?  I think I'll have to wait a bit longer before he can articulate the application for his fascination.

Paul has been crucial to science education at our house.  I love it when he comes along on nature hikes, but he is also great at answering stored-up questions at the dinner table.  

Obsidian.  You should've seen the boulders.

A final Fall excursion before taking a break from nature studies--won't say where.  November, was it?

Winter Curriculum (Biology, for example)

For our wintertime science curricula, I used 

Focus On Elementary Biology

 by Rebecca W. Keller: 

Exploring classification

Does anyone know where I can find Lamprey stickers? :)

I also ordered the accompanying teacher's manual, for the experiments.  Last year, we used the Chemistry book in the series.

A chemistry experiment using taste testing methods to identify acids and bases.

Red cabbage juice

Conclusion: lemon juice is sour.  

I like that she's not afraid to teach real science to young children.  She uses grown-up, juicy terminology, like 

paramecium, 

and 

golgi apparatus.

  I like the sequence in the series: chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, and physics; and I like the idea of circling back around when you're done, in greater depth.  

A challenge from the Chemistry book demonstrating how mixtures (in this case, Legos and river rocks) can be "un-mixed."  It was their idea to submerge them. 

A chemistry demonstration about molecular structure

The main complaint I'd heard about the series was that the books were too short ... but that worked out perfectly for my approach because we spend only a few months on textbook science anyway.  

The colored water experiment from Focus on Biology

That said, my overall impression of this series was .... meh.  They were okay. They're on the right track.  There might be something better.  (I need an excuse to go to a curriculum fair, don't I?)  I'll continue with this series if I can't find anything better, so comment if you've got any ideas.  Overall, they had lots of memorable experiences they aren't likely to forget. 

 Predicting chemical reactions in a 

Focus On ...

 experiment 

Thoughts on next year ...

(A little walk one mile from the center of town.)

Sometimes I'm tempted just to wing it ... just to study specific topics in 

unit study

 fashion ... to pursue with gusto the current family obsession with Red-eyed Tree Frogs, or Redwood ecology, or radiowaves.  Maybe we can just be specific and impulsive and follow the questions ...

...like, "what 

is 

that stuff?" or "maybe that crocodile can lie so still because he has swallowed some stones," or "perhaps we can help out the monarchs if we plant milkweed in our backyard?"

I

 don't know if I'm brave enough yet to discard my comfortable structure and study science this way, but I bet my kids are.

Preschool science?  Here's my 

2013 post

 and 

a video

.

Project Management

Project Management

Our Curriculum

When the kids finish their mathbook for the year, we take them out on a date and leave their siblings behind.  They get to select the restaurant and order anything on the menu.  Getting both Mama and Papa to themselves for a night is a big deal :)  We use the opportunity to interview them about their academic progress.  "How are you liking school? "What is working?  What isn't?  What is your least favorite task?  What are you really interested in right now?  What should we do differently?"  We reiterate the idea that their education is 

their 

responsibility, and as parents we can be a resource to them.  We go over options, including public school.  And we always ask the big question: "Do you want to continue homeschooling, or would you prefer getting your education some other way?"  It is important to me that this be their choice.  

Our date is also a good time to discuss something I call their "Spectacular Project."

During our second year of homeschooling, I ran across an article written by a admissions chairperson at a prestigious university.  I can't seem to dig it up now, but he was chiding homeschoolers for producing college applications that replicated those of traditional candidates.  He said that the committee wanted to see how homeschoolers are 

different 

than traditional applicants, not how well they can imitate them.  He argued that we have all this extra time, and freedom ... use it to do something spectacular, that public school students can't do.  Anyone can come up with grades and test results. "Show us what you can do 

because

 you homeschool."  

Another article I did find calls this the 

hook

 in a college application, and it's something that homeschoolers tend to be pretty good at.  "A hook is," the author explains, "ironically, something that you are passionate about and engaged in that is outside of school.  Because when you're in a room full of smart people, smart suddenly doesn't matter--interesting is what matters."

Even though college seems so far away, I wanted to make sure we weren't taking our time and freedom for granted.  So each year, the kids design an annual project focusing on something that interests them.  The planning process is important.  I use the opportunity to teach them how to plan for major goals and supporting goals, as well as how to budget time, and type up a little report about their accomplishments.  We don't need to spend a great deal of school time on these, but we do revisit the conversation throughout the year to make sure they are making progress.

"Spectacular" Projects

Costume Design

In 1st grade (age 5), [C.] said that what she like to do best was dress up.  We ran with that and she drafted a plan: 

She wanted to see some real costumes.  Near the end of the school year, Ballet Memphis was performing "Peter Pan."  She read the book in preperation, and we attended the ballet together.  She was on the edge of her seat, and it was interesting to watch that it was indeed the costumes, not the dialogue or the dancing, that most engrossed her.  We talked about how important the costumes were to the story, especially since it was a ballet and the characters needed to be able to move in them.  The mermaid costumes were fascinating.  How do you dance exactly, while wearing a tail?  We got to find out later. 

One of her goals was to "help make the costumes" for a play.  Internship?  She typed up a cover letter and resume and mailed it to the costume designer at Ballet Memphis.

She had a lot of fun creating her resume.  She specifically insisted that the font be "rainbow colored."  I wish I had her courage.   

Bruce Bui caught the spirit of her supplication and she landed her first unpaid internship at a real costume shop.  The day came.  (The internship was only a few hours.)  He gave her a complete tour and explained what his job entailed.  

It was the biggest closet I have ever seen.  A warehouse, really.  He had a remote control to move the racks of clothes around, since there was no way to reach them all.  

He showed her the sewing machines, and how to dye fabric; he dissected a ballet slipper and let her bang it against the wall so she could understand its construction; he flipped a tutu upside down and they inspected the seams to try to figure out why they puff out so much.  He asked her about "Peter Pan" and she shared her love of the Tinkerbell costume she saw at the Orpheum.  That's when he pulled The Tinkerbell Costume off the rack and let her touch it and showed her how the wings and the harness attached.  

The mermaid tails only went over one leg, while the other was camouflaged to blend into the backdrop so the dancers could move in all kinds of ways.  I was very impressed by the attention he gave her, even though there was no compensation for him.  I think it made a powerful impact on her.  He led her to his research library and we were both surprised by how much historical knowledge and academic luster was required for the craft.  She asked him what she should be doing now to prepare for a career in costume design, and he told her to draw.  He showed her his sketchbook, where every costume began and evolved; he was a remarkable artist himself and we could see the design process unfold.  

I never would have thought of this particular field trip on my own.  It only happened because [C.] set some goals and had the grit to dream big. 

At the end of the year she summarized her project in a report:

We have followed this same formula for our other annual projects: write a plan setting goals and identifying supporting goals, carry out the plan, and write an abstract.  It's a bit tricky locking my own ambitions in the closet to allow themselves to explore their way, but I'm always glad I did.

Computer Coding

My son's Kindergarten project arose because what he liked to do best of all was play computer games.  Here is his abstract:

He worked on the project for almost an hour a week.  By the end of the year, he had a context for how computer games are designed and had "written" code for his "own" computer game.  (

Here

 is a link to one of the coding websites he liked.)  

Drawing With Colored Pencil

Colored pencils were the theme for [C.]'s 2nd-Grade Project.  She used YouTube videos for instruction and practiced weekly.  At the end of the year, she repeated one of the YouTube step-by-step videos to see the progress she had made.  One of her goals was to illustrate a book.  Grandma taught her a little bit during visits.  Her final goal was to compete in an art competition.  She entered three pieces in the county fair and won two first-place blue ribbons.  She was so excited to get some feedback on her work.    

(The photo to the right of her face)

(The apple)

(The flower)

She still draws a great deal, and I'm glad that she put in the extra effort while she's young.  

Gymnastics

This year, for his 1st-Grade Project, [A.] wants to focus on preparing for the boys' pre-team gymnastics class.  He decided that he needs to practice more at home in order to accomplish his goal.  

Reading

[C.]'s 3rd-Grade Project centers on reading.  She'll be competing in "Battle of the Books" with some friends from co-op.  She just got into Nancy Drew.  She still needs to read "20 more chapter books" in order to reach her goal.  By then, she'll have read 356 good books.  That's almost as many as her mother :)

Perhaps using the word "spectacular" is too much of an exaggeration.  I don't anticipate getting in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice with these projects.  They're just a theme for the year, one which keeps our eyes open for opportunities to study something more deeply. I simply needed to remind myself to get behind the passion of these kids, to see the bigger picture of their lives, and to let them gain educational value from the things they love innately. 

Reading

Reading:

Our Curriculum

       This subject is a simple one this year, because my 7-year-old is an "independent" reader, my 5-year-old is an "emergent" reader, and my 2-year-old is an "aspiring" reader.  So at the moment, no one is doing the hard work of breaking the code of the sounds that form our written words.  It is hard work: worthy, frustrating, and edifying hard work.  I've learned how important it is not to give up.  This experience taught them how to 

become 

someone.  They had to stretch themselves beyond what they were capable of.  They learned that they 

could

.  

Above: a segment of the 20-ft mural we made with our co-op of 

Harold and the Purple Crayon

        For reading, I wanted to make sure that both my elementary kids are reading to me one-on-one.  My independent reader is also expected to read by herself.  They all read to one another, a thousand times a day.

Read to Me

I continue to have [C.] read to me, despite her fluency, because I noticed her comprehension was dipping after summer break.  She had started skipping over the easy words, leaving out pronouns and prepositions, or just guessing to keep up her speed.  Then it got worse: she started guessing on the difficult words too, with no one impelling her to sound them out.  She had crossed a line where the difficult words she encountered were also new vocabulary words, so she was "reading to learn" rather than just "learning to read."  In response to the hurdle, she lost interest in chapter books and was picking up literature below her interest level.  Hello, Early-Onset 4th-Grade Slump.  Having her read to me, like we used to, with me slowing her down to sound things out or to pay attention to all those little articles, fixed the problem in a couple of weeks.  This week she read most of 

A Wrinkle in Time

 on her own.  (I'm never going to be old enough to read that one, am I?)

Above:  "Why are you taking all those books outside?"

"Oh, we're just going to go around the neighborhood READING to people!"

My son's struggles have been much harder to navigate.  I purposely waited until he was 4 to begin reading lessons, which at the time seemed harsh for a second sibling eager to do all that his older sister was doing.  

Above: This was how I learned to read, and I have loved it for my kids.  You can read the text from a sample lesson 

here

He was ready to learn, although I must stress that it wouldn't have done him any harm to postpone it.  Our lessons were paced to his abilities (we rarely completed a whole lesson in one day), and brief.  He struggled through a few minutes each day, but felt more empowered because of it.  

This is the child who is motivated by games ... thus, the totally unnecessary magnifying glass that nevertheless convinced him to read that day.

By the end of last year, (which I defined as Kindergarten, and the state would have dubbed Pre-K, since he didn't turn 5 till May, and if this is confusing it's because as a homeschooler who would otherwise be redshirting to get an extra year's worth of wiggles, and would therefore be teaching the "Pre-K Plus" grade this year, I get to solve this hilarious social problem by going in the opposite direction and teaching my child with material that is on his level, no matter where his peers are, because he doesn't have to compete: 

he doesn't have to prove himself against 25 kids ranging from a baby 5-year-old still learning how to talk and the 7-year-old who is bored to tears-- he becomes successful because he is met with m

aterial that always challenges him just a little bit, and so he both progresses 

and feels 

that he is excelling, leading to higher self-esteem and greater success, and yes, I read the book Outliers) he was on Lesson 60. 

 (I estimate that this level is equivalent to today's Kindergartner, assessed at the end of the year.)  We were on track for his grade, and advanced for his age.

  His progress had slowed, but I wasn't expecting what happened next.  

We took about 6 weeks off for summer and he forgot everything.  It killed me.  He was in agony over every word.  Was it an attention problem?  A hearing problem?  A dyslexic problem?  Had I started too soon, or too late?  Was I the problem?  One day I explained that we would back up 5 lessons, and if it was too hard, we would keep backing up 5 lessons until we got to a lesson that felt easy.  It didn't feel easy until Lesson 5.  So essentially, we started over.  Whew.  I'm sooo glad we did.  He really needed everything explained a second time.  (Big deal ... that's how I am with math.)  He really needed six more months of extra practice with the basic building blocks.  He just recently passed where his bookmark had been last spring, but the quality of his reading is miles apart.  He can read the whole story without frustration, and the majority of the words are well-known.  He is so much happier when he reads now.  He reads to himself when he thinks I'm not looking.  My point is, don't be afraid to start over.  There's no shame in practice, but there is strength to be found in determination.

And yes, in retrospect, I could have just waited longer to start the lessons, but then we would have missed all that empowerment ...

Rather than tote why I like 

100 Easy Lessons

 so much, ('cause finding something that works for you is not my job:) I'll just give a few basic hints to those already using it:

1.

 There is only one picture per story, and it is crucial that you cover it up with a post-it note until the end of the lesson.  Grab a stack of post-it notes and pre-fill the whole book while you're watching t.v.

2.  When a student reads a word incorrectly, I correct them by stalling my pointing finger and repeating the last sounds that they said correctly, plus the corrected next sound.  They try again, and the process is repeated till they complete the word.  Pretend the word is "incorrectly," and they say "in-surr-ec-tion."  I repeat "/in/-/k/" and they try again: "in-car-cer-a-tion."  I give them one morsel more.  "/in/-/k/-/or/" and they give me "in-cor-rect-ly."  The goal is to let them earn it.   

3.  The lessons can be cut in half nicely by doing all the exercises on one day and reading the story twice the following day.  

4.  I do not use the book's writing exercises, as I prefer to use other resources for writing.

5.  Whenever you can find a "real" book that matches the skills they're working on, that isn't too advanced, save it for a supplement.  I use them as bribes to get a lesson done.  Right now 

Captain Underpants

 is doing all the bribing.   

6. 

Definitely

 take your book to Office Depot (or some printing store) and ask them to spiral bind it.  It would drive me nuts to use it without the ability to fold the book.  

7. Invent games as you go.  See link to 2013 post below.

Sight Word Games

We play games occasionally to reinforce the dolch sight words, but this is minimal.  I hate it when reading programs overemphasize sight words.  It does far more harm than good by debilitating the reader when they come across a strange word.  But occasionally, we play some games to memorize common words he already knows.   

Read to Yourself

My 3rd grader gets about 15-30 minutes to accomplish this task each evening.  She doesn't know it's a task though ... so please don't tell her.  She just thinks I'm letting her stay up late with the lights on.  

For more details about our reading curriculum, you can read 

my 2013

 post on the same subject.  I had a preschooler then.

Physical Education

Physical Education:

Our Curriculum

Since active play is omnipresent in our home, it would feel anticlimactic to have a 

curriculum 

for it.  Moving and learning are constant companions.  A public school teacher would probably be very anxious watching me teach, since my kids are upside down half the time, even during book work.  We play catch while we read ("every time you get to a period, you can throw a bean bag ..."), stand on our heads while we work out arithmetic, and climb rocks while we discuss minerals.

I also frequently take advantage of our available daytime hours to visit public spots that might be crowded after school and on weekends.  I love it when classes are offered during school hours, because it means we can participate in extracurricular activities and still be home for family dinner.

Here is how P.E. fits into our schedule:

It's real life.

It's finding balance.

Active play is even better outside, with a good stick and story fresh in your imagination.

They're kids.  They don't need to be told to lift weights, they do it all on their own. 

I had to include this "caught red-handed" photo because it's a realistic view of the antics my kids are capable of during unstructured play.  Clearly, the older sibling is calling the shots.  That's a monkey backpack (you know, the kind intended for child safety?) suspended from our chin-up bar.  Has the trampoline been placed there to break his fall?  Was the stool an afterthought to increase his potential energy? 

Their gymnastics classes give them some time apart.  

It also gives them practice following directions and being respectful in a group setting.

This was taken at a homeschool skating party over a year ago.

They're so cute and wobbly.

At gymnastics again, six months later.  I don't yet know if this is a passion for them, or if they just have a blast doing it.  We'll see.  

Nature hikes and recreation are built into our routine.  They don't even know what P.E. is.  

We roadschooled (with workbooks and audiobooks and museum stops ...the whole shebang) from Tennessee to Colorado to Canada and back last year.  Being mobile is a major perk to "home"schooling.

[A.] in Canada.  Hiking was an emphatic part of my family life growing up, and I hope my kids still love it when they're old like me.

Swimming lessons taught me a lot about parenting and teaching courage.  

We're the ones at the park or the gardens getting completely soaked.  There's always a change of clothes in the van.  If you are also at the park letting your kids get neck-deep in mud, chances are, I've asked you if you homeschool and already want to be friends.   

The Botanic Gardens was a favorite spot in Memphis.  This cool exhibit begins upstream where misters and speakers stimulate a rainstorm.

Recess may very well look like this.  

We are sentient beings.  Feeling leaves crunch in our hair and listening to insects and absorbing sunlight into our skin may matter more than we can comprehend.   

Learning to walk.

We played frisbee for hours that day.  With a plastic dinner plate.  

A typical winter walk in Memphis.

Hmm. Weighing the pros and cons of putting your feet 

in

 the pond.  

That's

 why he takes his shoes off now.

Pep talk.

Just hanging out at home, developing our vestibular systems.

Occasionally good, hard work plays a part in our physical education.  This was the second truckload of dirt the kids and I shoveled into the garden bed we raised.  I was so sore.  Of course, that might be because after every wheelbarrow dump, the kids wanted to take turns riding in the wheelbarrow while begging me to run faster.

More gymnastics photos.

Uncle Riley's not bad either.

Cousins make great rolling companions.  (At Thanksgiving Point, in Utah)

This one was taken in Bend, Oregon, where there are so many beautiful places to swim and run and climb.

Stopping to study toads at a nearby lake.  

We've made some great friends in Bend who like to get just as dirty as we do.

They all claimed that they buried the shoes, and that's why they can't find them.

Nature walk: looking for evidence of porcupines along the river.

In the forest. 

Family bike ride.  

My youngest had some balance issues to overcome relating to health problems he had as an infant.  Playing outside a lot has been wonderful for him. 

With his awesome physical therapist two years ago.

Going to doctor's appointments is 

not easy

 as a homeschool family.  At least these appointments had toys.

[A.] playing on his first real soccer team.  He had a great time.  I put him with his age group, the kindergartners, rather than his grade.

When we are stuck inside, we do this a lot.  I wonder if we should try fencing classes?

Roadschooling in Monterey.  We're the ones at the beach in November getting completely soaked. 

The sledding hill up the road.  That was enough exercise for one day.

Having one child encourage gross motor play with [G.] while I am working with another helps us get our work done.  It turns out music stands are useful for all kinds of things.

Being a parent is even more important than being a teacher, and watching their bodies grow is almost as rewarding as watching their minds grow.

This one is old enough to carry her own water now.  I'm grateful to have my load lightened.  

Park day.

We built a 

fort kit

 out of PVC pipes for Christmas.  This was the day he discovered you can make blow guns out of the pipes and the pom pom balls we use for sensory play.  Our house was a war zone.  Dodging bullets is great exercise ...

 ... as is igloo building.  Contrary to popular belief, we do take snow days:)

Right now, my young children are self-motivated and recreationally-driven when it comes to physical education.  I can imagine circumstances where more structure might be needed, but for now, this is an easy subject to make happen.  

I'm the one that struggles to exercise.  Another mom (and a good one) once told me that if she has to choose between helping her children exercise, and exercising herself, she always chooses the kids.  That is not something to be ashamed of, and it won't last forever.  I'm jealous of my kids sometimes.  This summer I went for a long walk by myself and actually stretched my legs.  I went at my own pace for the first time in 8 years.  It felt amazing.  But for now, walking at their pace is pretty amazing too.

Music

Music

Our Curriculum

The kids have improved 

a lot

 this year because of their viola teacher.  I taught them what little I could, and then finally called up our local music academy.  "I think it's time for a real teacher," I told them, "because we have been practicing every day all summer and 

they are actually getting worse.

"  We ended up with 

an amazing teacher

 who seems to understand my kids in ways I don't.  He's funny, interesting, and kind, but still manages to get them to work hard.  I work harder too.  In fact, he asked me to keep up with them for at least the first year, because having practicing be a family habit helps them learn.   

Figuring out the Twinkles, when we started about 2 years ago. 

This must have been a 1/32 violin.  I rent the instrument through 

Music&Arts

.

Now [C.] has been playing for about 2 years, with 4 months of lessons in Memphis, then a break for the move, and 4 more months of lessons.  [A.] began with me when school started in September, and then started formal lessons in November. I love seeing how they each have different strengths.  [C.] can play with emotion, and having someone join her with an accompaniment gets her even more jazzed up.  [A.] can clap out complicated rhythms like a rock star (well, I guess a drum player would be a better analogy), and can sight read a simple song with accuracy the first time he plays it.  

[C.] is still too small for an actual viola, so we had a 1/16 violin restrung as one.  My strategy is that viola players get more opportunities to play socially because they're in higher demand.  They can always switch to violin later (or another instrument for that matter).

I was not prepared for how much work practicing would be.  I'm very involved as they practice.  They're gradually becoming more independent, but if I left the room they would definitely goof off too much.  This is hard work, especially as they're learning how to hold the instrument and read the notes.  It's a steep learning curve.  I think if we make it a high priority (it's right up there with learning to read) this year, they'll get a taste of what's possible and we can relax about it next year.  I'm also really motivated because I pay for the lessons :)

Teaching them to play an instrument has changed my relationship with each of them.  I have so much respect for what they are capable of.  They are so smart!  I'm in awe.  It's been an emotional journey, since I'm pushing them to admit mistakes and correct mistakes and strain their brains.  But listening to them play; I catch myself enjoying the sound and I love to be surrounded by it.  It is just cool to watch them get better.

(Quick side-note, [G.], the two-year-old doesn't have an instrument his size, but he just "plays" anyway.)  

(Disclaimer: I just realized that this is the only school subject for which I blatantly use bribes.  I keep a little monthly calendar and check off the days they practice.  We set a goal at the beginning of the month for obtaining a certain number of check-marks before the month ends.  As they reached their goals, earning a toy off Amazon (with a price limit), I gradually increased their goals until I was happy with the amount of practice they were doing.  Now they're only allowed to miss 5 days of practice in a month, and on the first we start over.  It's 

almost 

a habit, but I have a hard time on weekends.)

In addition to viola, we include music in a few other ways:

Music Time

This is something I added to our curriculum just for [G.], though we all enjoy it.  For 15 minutes twice a week, we sit down and sing songs together.  It's amusing to see how much the older two get out of it-- I finally have a choir to help me, because unlike our toddler, they know the words.  It improves everyone's memories.  And, [G.] is adorable.  

Over in the Meadow

When I remember a fun action song or fingerplay or recording, I write down the title on a Popsicle stick.  The kids take turns choosing one from one container and then putting it away in another.  In that way, we rotate through.  I have to have four sticks labeled "Drivin' in the Car," though, because that is [G.]'s all-time-favorite.  (For the record, this song was also [C.]'s favorite 

and 

[A.]'s favorite when I did Music Time with them.)  Sometimes I have little props that go with the songs.  We keep all this together in a cupboard.  

Five Little Ducks

We started out with just three songs or so, (that's all they need; they love repetition) but the list has grown and there are still so many out there.  We have some oral stories thrown in as well.  Here is my anthology, if you're interested: (excuse my lack of accreditation, but in my opinion most of these are such oral tradition they would be considered "in the public domain" anyway):

Music Time Songs

  1. She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain (with actions)
  2. Three Blind Mice (we play along with our xylophone)
  3. Billy Goats Gruff (narrate the story with shadow puppets)
  4. 5 Little Speckled Frogs (with stick puppets)
  5. Jesus Said Love Everyone (we pass around a heart-shaped bean bag while we sing.  Big hit.)
  6. Little Seeds (with actions and increasing volume)
  7. Little Red Riding Hood (narrate the story, with hand puppets)
  8. Where is Thumbkin? (I throw in a Vis-a-Vis wet-erase marker and draw little smileys on their fingers.  I've seen really cute finger puppets for this one, but don't own them.)
  9. Sleepy Bunny (with actions, ending with hopping madly around the room)
  10. Beehive (a fingerplay, ending with buzzing and tickling)
  11. Ugly Duckling (a song with felt props to go with it)
  12. There's a Little White Duck (with actions)
  13. This Little Piggie (I guess we should call this a "toe"-play, right?)
  14. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear (with actions)
  15. 5 Little Ducks (with stick puppets)
  16. Don Alfredo Baila (in Spanish, with actions)
  17. If You're Happy and You Know It (with emotion stick puppets)
  18. Trot, Trot, to Grandma's House (a song sung while being bounced on a bigger person's lap)
  19. Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star (with stick puppets that the kids decorated with glitter and I laminated to contain it)
  20. Popcorn Popping (with actions)
  21. Do As I'm Doing (with actions)
  22. Bunny, Fluffy, Bunny (with actions)
  23. Snow is Falling All Around (we throw white pom poms in the air)
  24. Down By the Bay
  25. Skip to My Lou (we play a recording and skip around the house-- sometimes, if they're lucky, I give piggy back rides)
  26. Ring-Around-the Rosies (with actions)
  27. The Ants Go Marching (I pass out a big handful of raisins and they play with them/line them up/gobble them while we sing)
  28. Fire Truck (with actions, and a bell)
  29. Wide-Mouthed Frog (narrated story with felt puppets)
  30. Vivaldi's Spring (I play a recording and we do actions representing the villagers, the bird, the lightening, etc)
  31. La Tarantella (I play a recording while we race around in a weird game of tag involving spider bites that make you dance crazy)
  32. Drivin' in the Car (we pass out round plastic lids or cake pans and drive around the house while playing the recording)
  33. Down By the Banks (the hand-slapping one)
  34. I'm a Mean Old Witch with a Hat (a rhyme, with actions)
  35. Over in the Meadow (by Raffi, with stick puppets)
  36. Itsy Bitsy Spider (fingerplay)
  37. 5 Little Pumpkins (with actions)
  38. 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (with actions
  39. Miss Mary Mack (hand-clapping game)
  40. 5 Little Monkeys Swingin' in a Tree (with actions and a crocodile hand puppet)
  41. Desparado (with actions)
  42. This is the Way the Ladies Ride (while being bounced on a lap)

I have a special anthology that I bring out only at Christmas time, which I won't bother to list.  You get the idea.

Story of the Orchestra 

This is 

a book

 my mom gave me that gives a great historical explanation of classical music.  It came with a CD.  We are working through it in bits.

Classical Music

I love lunchtime freebies!  While I'm cleaning up lunch every day I turn on classical music.  I have two playlists on my phone that I alternate: one is comprised of only Suzuki songs (to aid them in viola [and boy does it help]), and the other is classical music I have selected.  There are some pieces that are well-loved by children, and my children love them too.  They dance and play and goof around whether it's Vivaldi or Beethoven or Prokofiev.  Playing classical music is the kind of effortless thing I would always say I would do, but wouldn't... now we actually 

do

 it, daily, and it's because it belongs to the time I am cleaning up lunch.   

Here are some examples of [C.] and [A.] playing viola during a typical practice routine: 

See what Music looked like at our house 

two years ago

.

Math

Math

Our Curriculum

For math, I use a spiral-approach for our spine, and use other resources as supplements.   

I use a lot of supplements, and the trick is that I skip a proportional number of lessons and worksheets to make room for it.  

I like Saxon Math because it's 

a spiral approach

, the lessons are thorough, the problems are challenging, and it offers lots of practice.  It's a classic.  It's been working great for homeschoolers for 25 years.   

Measuring a line.  In Saxon, concepts are taught initially in a lesson and then problems reviewing that concept keep appearing on the worksheets for a long time, allowing the concept to solidify and become easy.  Eventually, the textbook spirals back and builds upon that concept... like then measuring a line in centimeters after learning how to measure in inches, and then comparing inches to centimeters, etc.

I was one of those homeschool students who switched to Saxon (from a mastery approach) in 6th or 7th grade.  The problems were hard.  The workload seemed massive.  I was getting terrible scores.  The concepts were easy ... baby stuff ... things I'd learned years ago ... but I couldn't remember how to 

do 

them.  I was embarrassed.  

The reason Saxon felt hard, is because I had kinda been cheating.  I would master a new concept, and look over my worksheet of 25 nearly-identical problems repeating that concept 

ad nauseum

.  I didn't have to learn the math.  I could just employ my short term memory for one of the problems and fill in the pattern for the rest.  

Ten lessons later, I had caught up.  I was spending 3 times as much time studying math as I had been using the mastery approach, but I should have been spending more time all along.  I was reviewing now, and therefore keeping everything fresh.  My accuracy improved, and so did my confidence.  Confidence is a big thing when it comes to math.  

Confidently graphing our family's shoes as part of a Saxon lesson.  Papa could probably use a few more.

A lot of parents look at the huge Saxon textbooks and think, "Ew, text.  Why would I do that to my Kindergartner?"  It's important to realize that with the early grades, they aren't even looking at the textbook (that's a script for the teacher).  They are manipulating concrete objects before manipulating numbers on paper.  A lot of other math programs do this as well, but it's something that is important to me and I'm glad Saxon does that.

Playing with pattern blocks during a Saxon lesson.

Saxon uses pennies a lot to develop one to one correspondence, I think because the student can 

hear 

them so well as they clink into the bottom of a cup.

Now that I've given a speech on the merits of a spiral approach, you can laugh at me while I explain all the parts we take out.

Playing "store" during a Saxon math lesson.  The kids can't get enough of this game, especially when I let them use the barcode scanner app on my cell phone.  It beeps when it scans, so they get to pretend they're actually checking out at the register.  Of course, they have to add up the prices themselves, but that's the whole point.

I skip the Meeting Book.  (It's too repetitive, and geared to a classroom setting.)  I don't buy the manipulative kit either.  I skip all the assessments, because I already know how they're doing and which problems are tricky for them.  There, that's getting better.  I skip almost 30 lessons at the beginning of the textbook, because they are refreshers and we don't need them (our summer breaks are shorter for sanity's sake).  I skip duplicate fact sheets, because drilling on a worksheet is awfully mundane, and not as interesting as Khan Academy, or games, or even flashcards.  I skip whole lessons if I'm confident they've already got it down, or if it's the day after Halloween and we have candy to do math with.

"Look Mama! An ABAB pattern ..."

"Challenge problem:  if you wanted to make your candy last for a whole month, how many pieces should you allow yourself to eat each day?"  (Challenge problem answer:  Loads and loads on day 1, and then the stash mysteriously disappears due to poor behavior...)

Reflections on odd and even numbers

After paring Saxon down, (there's still plenty to go around, I promise) I have a cushy schedule to fill up with delectable math supplements.  I prefer this to advancement to the next grade, generally.  Adding depth and complexity and agility is more important to me than racing ahead. 

Singapore Textbook and 

pan balance

Supplement 1: Singapore

Singapore Math

 has been a wonderful companion to Saxon, because it has different strengths.  It is mastery-based, *best of both worlds* so they can have that experience of really digging into a concept and sticking with it until you can accomplish something fancy.  These are good just to have as a reference if they need something explained 

differently

.  I also love them when we need a fresh face to math.  

He did it.  Now he knows exactly how many 

Unifex cubes

 his "so-soft" weighs.

Their workbooks are prettier (some are in full color) and switching to Singapore for a few weeks can give them a second wind.  Their workbooks are good if you would rather avoid worksheets, but still want to habituate them to the occasional page of problems.  Maybe you're going on a road trip and want something they can do independently.  My favorite Singapore resource is their 

Intensive Practice

 workbooks, designed to give you interesting and challenging problems once you already grasp the basic concepts.  

I've been putting one of the "challenge problems" up on the board each week for each of them.  It's a chance to pass on the great feeling of 

solving

 a problem, rather than simply 

doing

 a problem.

Supplement 2: Flashcards

I mentioned that I skip some fact sheets.  I make this up by playing a flashcard game at the end of the year (after they finish their mathbooks and we burn them in effigy), that we call "

Break My Record

."

Basically, I use a box-full of laminated fact flashcards and drill them with a timer, keeping track of their "record-breaking times."  The following year, they have to break those records-- they have to be even faster.  Even an adult can benefit from drilling 17 minus 9 as quickly as possible, and it's fun.  They beg to do it in the middle of the school year.  Saxon teaches facts in families (like all the doubles [such as 12+12] together), and I drill them in those families with a grand cumulative finale of "all the facts you've learned so far."  I'm a fan of competing against yourself. I spend a few minutes a day for about a week playing "Break my Record," but this is the only time we drill for speed.  

Here

 is an article explaining why.  I also love what it says about making mistakes: "We now know that making math mistakes grows your brain.  MRI scans of people taking math tests find that every time the test-taker makes a mistake, a synapse fires in their brain.  There are actually two possible synapses; the first one comes from people making a mistake, and the second one comes from noticing they've made a mistake." 

Supplement 3: Math-U-See

I don't have this curriculum, but I borrowed my mom's old manipulatives, and they're awesome.  We use them as needed to explain concepts concretely.

Supplement 4: Khan Academy

What a 

cool, free resource

!  While I don't rely on this for math (too much screen time), it's perfect for those occasional days when they're fighting the very idea of school and I need to trick them into it.

Supplement 5: Games

A simple printable math game for numeral recognition. 

I'm really glad I made the decision this year to take one day a week playing math games instead of learning lessons and solving problems.  It's a sacrifice, but I believe it pulls it's own weight.  We play board games and card games; most of the time they're real games, but they certainly teach real math.  

Clue teaches logic, Chutes and Ladders teaches subtraction, Sorry teaches one-to-one correspondence, Battleship teaches graphing, War teaches number sense, Life teaches place value, and Monopoly teaches you how be the dictator of a small country.  We've often come to a lesson and my kids will say, "Oh, I already know how to do that from playing ________."  I love game day. 

Supplement 6: Tasks

I just discovered 

this link

 to "visual, engaging math tasks" this week, so I can't say I've explored the idea long, but I really liked the day we spent doing it.  They're math puzzles, essentially, and they're creative, and challenging, and group-oriented.  My dad would love them :)

Here's 

another link

 to more math tasks.  I'm excited to try these.   

Supplement 7: Euclid

I wouldn't be a 

Johnnie

 without a little Euclidean geometry thrown in the mix, would I?  Here lies the beauty of math.  I don't do much yet, I just put it in our environment.  A proposition is discreetly placed on the board once a week.  They ask about it, and maybe copy the diagram.  Maybe I play a 

demonstration

 in the background while we work, to pique interest.  And just maybe, on Pi Day, it leads to a hike around 

Hole-in-the-Ground

, a circular maar volcano, with a diameter of 1.0 miles and a circumference of Pi-miles.  

Math is beautiful.

Literature

Grandma's garden signpost, crafted by my brother Isaac and his wife Rochelle :)

Literature

Our Curriculum

Literature is home to me.  I am the third child of seven, and my parents began homeschooling officially when I was about three years old.  Books were not just a part of life, they were the exciting part, the enchanting part ... the cozy part.  My dad is a great storyteller and I remember all of us clambering for his lap and laughing at his voices.  

Just as I used to beg for another episode of my dad's invented "Microscopic Mike and Macroscopic Max," my kids beg Paul for a "Spookville." (A series of stories he can make up on the spot, while accompanying it on the guitar ... now that's talent :)  My m

om read to us throughout the day, and as adults, we still love to hear her read to us.  She is a wonderful curator; we were surrounded by beautiful books to read.  When I began reading independently, I remember wandering around my family's library at bedtime, in search of my next adventure.  My older siblings would earnestly recommend their favorites, a pastime I bestowed upon those that followed me.  "Here," said my older brother handing me a golden copy of something Tolkien,

 even though I was only seven.  "This one has magic spells in it."  I think I actually believed that reading that book would conjure magical creatures in my bedroom closet. 

I remember running out of ideas one day at the public library, and my mother handing me a list of medal winners.  "Look for this sticker," she said.  "These ones are usually pretty good."  I was young enough that I still did everything she asked me to.  (I did, didn't I?)  I loved reading those books.  It's even better to read them to my children.  In fact, this is my favorite part of being a mother.  

"A childhood without books--that would be no childhood.  That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy."

--Astrid Lindgren

We are on our 3rd copy of 

Jimmy Zangwow's Out-Of-This-World-Moon-Pie Adventure

by Toni DiTerlizzi

We study literature in our homeschool by reading aloud (Storytime), going to the library, working on book report projects inspired by what we've read, and learning poetry by heart.  

Reading-Aloud

Storytime is an hour of cuddling up with blankets and me reading aloud.  The older kids read to me one-on-one at other times.  In a few years, when they are fluent, I'll let them read during family storytime.  Our tradition is that when I call "storytime!" the first one to bring me their choice gets to have their pick read soonest.  We read a lot of picture books and chapter books.  We take turns choosing, and I get a turn too.  They are exposed to a broad range of books-- books with enough depth to interest me, both more advanced and less advanced than their reading level.   They are allowed to play quietly, as long as they are listening.  

Field Trips to the Library

I reserve a crateful of library books several days before we go to the library, which counts as schoolwork.  They browse for their own selections as well, so overall our plunder usually has something good in it.  I'm grateful for my librarians ...  

Our library is full of beautiful toys.  [G.] and I go to Storytime for the songs and the sitting practice while the older children browse or play educational games on the computers.  

After our last trip, [A.] couldn't wait to start reading one of his books, attempting to walk and sound out new vocabulary as we treacherously made our way to the car.  [G.], my two-year-old, took on the challenge and stuck his nose in a picture book about elephants, muttering to himself while walking, trailing along behind his big brother.  They both read themselves into and across the street without a sideways glance.  We must have been quite a sight.

(Above: This field trip was really exceptional: we went to a Shakespeare play performed by homeschoolers [four of whom were my kids' babysitters].  The actors did an incredible job and my kids sat for the entire play, rolling with laughter.)

I've been compiling a book list, an anthology of classics, family favorites, non-fiction, medal winners, contemporary bestsellers, Mensa selections, recommendations from our history curriculum, and Goodreads top picks.  These are just the good ones.  We vote on how many stars to give a book, and don't add it to the list unless it has earned least three stars.  It is carefully curated:)  Five stars means the book 

changed 

us.  

So here's my book list, because every blog post needs a freebie, right?  Not so fast though.  I want my list to be really good, right?  So I'm not going to release the list until it's been tested by all three of my kids.  You'll have to wait for the older grades.  These are my recommendations for nursery school:

Homeschool Book List for Pre-K2

For fun, I keep a record of our favorite books on 

goodreads.com

, and every once in awhile, print out their shelves as thumbnails:

Storytime usually quiets us, and although my kids never have fallen asleep (darn it), sometimes I do!  If I am having a stressful day, I drop the routine and just read stories.  By the end, I've found courage.  I remember why I love my kids so much, and what kind of a teacher I want to be.  I get to think about what we're learning, and ponder the mysteries of childhood.  The rest of the day never seems as daunting after retelling the story of St. George and the dragon.

Our hour-long storytimes are my favorite, but we also read for about 15 minutes at bedtime and listen to audiobooks in the car. (

This

 book was excellent as an audiobook, read by Tim Curry and recommended to me by a wonderful homeschool mom.) It adds up to a lot, although life just isn't long enough to read everything I want read.  

Book Reports

We have done some fun book reports this year with Grandma and all our homeschooling cousins over the webcam.  It was awesome to see all my brilliant nieces and nephews show off their hard work.  We practiced presentation skills, and asking questions, ... and listening.  A good friend and inspirational homeschooler shared 

this list

 of "alternative" book report ideas with me.  Here's an example of one of their book reports:

You guessed it: 

Little House on the Prairie

Often, a book simply moves us to take action ...  

 ...like making 

soup from a stone

 for dinner.  (Our soup stone is several batches old now, and tasting better all the time.) 

... or playing with old-fashioned rag curlers.

Poetry

Lunchtime is an easy way to sneak in some school subjects.  While we're munching away, we do memory work.  Meals with my kids involve a lot of fetching and mopping and begging and spilling and spreading and chopping and pouring and setting and clearing.  My hands are constantly busy and I don't expect to get a chance to sit down while I eat.  But ... my mind is available.  I can't open a book, because that would get spilled on, and I couldn't get through a sentence without being interrupted.  It is the perfect time to learn poetry by heart, however.  I've chosen to focus on poetry, but I also include factual songs (like the kind packed with science vocab).  Really, you could use this time to memorize anything.   We keep an index card file by the table to give ourselves hints if we forget.  Everyday we recite the new poem we're working on, and add an additional line.  Then we review using 

this review system

 for memory work.  (This link was passed along to me from an awesome homeschooling friend's blog, who writes about their memory work 

here

, and also in 

this

 post, where she details their using recitation cards to make memory work fun.  While you're chasing my links around in infinite loops, you may as well read her entire blog, because it's excellent and I have learned 

so much

 from this fantastic family.)   

We've only been doing this for a year, but my hope is that with consistency, what we are learning will 

really

 stick.  I finally found 

a great list

 of poems for children, which I think could keep us busy far longer than the few years in which they are children.

I haven't gone as far with memorization as the  Classical Conversations method suggests, being satisfied with poetry.  (I have certain imperious hesitations about their interpretation of the grammar stage ... I'll get over it eventually.)  That said, children are going to be memorizing something, whether it's a jingle from a television commercial or the theme song to a cartoon, so why not give them something worth remembering?  The poems I have memorized became very valuable to me at certain times of my life, maddening times, when my mind needed something to chew on to distract it from pain (yup, I recite poetry while in labor: 

"twas brillig, and the slithy toves"

), or from boredom, (on a treadmill: "

he rode between the barleysheaves, the sun came dazzling thro' the leaves, and flamed upon the brazen greaves,

) or from insanity (rocking a baby in a dark nursery, desperate for sleep: "

And smale fowles maken melodye that slepen al the night with open ye"

).  I've used the few lines I know to capture the attention of a child's wandering mind ("

I caught this morning, morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in his riding")

, or sometimes just to put a feeling of exhilaration to words as I crest a mountain peak ("

the leaping greenly spirits of trees")

.  Facts?  My kids can look up facts.  Knowledge is cheap.  It is accessible.  It will blare in their ears, so much that their spirits will beg to be left alone.  Knowledge is noisy.  But poetry is the music of words, and I want it to have a resting place in their hearts, not just in their minds.   

Following is a rough recording of my kids reciting "The Tyger" by William Blake.  (Don't let [C.] fool you--I've never seen her 

less

 animated than in this video.  I asked her afterwards why she was so somber and she said she felt like it "fit the mysteriousness" of the poem.) 

One day [C.] came home from Co-op announcing that she had learned the first three letters of the Greek Alphabet.  We turned on 

this you tube song

; I wish I'd had it my freshman year.  We listened to it 3 times, and she had the whole thing down.  [A.] memorized it too, and after belting it out at viola lessons, their teacher commented gently that you can tell we homeschool.  [G.] requests this song more than any other, although he still thinks every 4th letter is 

epsilon.  

They memorize useful things all the time.  Adding it to our card file will remind us to maintain those memories.

I'm lucky I have kids with whom to share my love of words.  These are the real joys of life.  

After being caught red-handed reading to himself, I asked my youngest: 

"Hey!  What's your favorite book?"

I look at that face and I'm at a loss for words.

History

History

Our Curriculum

Our history curriculum is simple and straightforward.  It starts with a story, involves everyone in a project, and then ends with narration.  I don't care if they memorize the details, but I do want them to have living experiences.  I want them to ask themselves, "would I have done that?"  We use 

Story of the World

, by Susan Wise Bauer:

This is the text comprising our spine.  (There's also an audio version available.)  I have really liked her literary supplement lists, even though our library doesn't always have the books she suggests.  There are so many wonderful picture books about history, it just makes sense to check them out while you're learning it chronologically.  We also use the activity book:

I enjoyed the first activity in Volume I.  In the text, Bauer introduces the concept of archaeology, and that people leave traces of themselves behind them, written and unwritten, that tell stories.  So we went to the sandbox at the park, and excavated, theorizing about the people who left these things behind and what their civilization might have been like.  

"They used tools!" my kids said excitedly, "and they could read and write!"  

We usually do the map work from the Activity Book, (and integrate it into our geography studies), the review questions, and a couple of the projects.

  I pace it according to how interested we are, which is why we're only 1/4 of the way through the book and 3/4 of the way through the school year.  Speed doesn't matter here.  I would, however, recommend starting with Volume 1.  It is easy to adapt to the age level(s) you need, and a good subject to learn with a group.  Some projects require supplies, so it never hurts to glance ahead at the next couple projects each time you put the book away.  We skip it if we're not interested, or if we don't have the resources.  

An easy crown project.  

The projects include things like recipes, costumes, acting out battles, coloring pages, paper models, games, and pottery.  

Pretending to be Celtic warriors.

You could of course skip the activity book and just internet for projects.

A "Moorish battle encampment.")

It all seems to be working, because when my 5-year-old saw Tom Hanks's transformation in the movie "Castaway,"

(Not my image.  Stole it from 

this person

, who probably also stole it.)

... he said, "Hmmm.  He kind of looks like Charlemagne."

(Also not my image.  Stolen from 

here.

)

Studying history gives him a framework on which to hang new ideas.  I can't imagine school without it.  It's the life of our studies, the play.  I love it when my kids interrupt me incredulously with "Wait! Did that really really happen in real life?"  

Alongside using 

Story of the World

, the kids report on what they've learned and we add it to our timeline.

The nice thing about string and paperclips, is that we can add as many events as we like.  The timeline has room to grow.  

While there are a lot of beautiful pre-made timelines out there, I didn't want to spend our time memorizing events that other people think are important.  Instead, I wanted a record of the events my kids were learning about and considered important themselves--things they had experienced.

Charlotte portraying Sacajawea at our Co-op's Wax Museum.  Sacajawea was a childhood heroin of mine, and consequently a chronological and geographical peg, or landmark, on which my brain hangs other information.

When I learn new information, my mind files it next to information I have already cataloged.  I put things in sequence, in context, and the structure builds.  Our timeline is a visual representation of that structure.  I don't add events we haven't learned yet.  

Davy Crockett, of course.  

To [A.], 1200 years may as well be 12 billion-- but he can understand a sequence of historical landmarks, like "Leif Erickson discovered Newfoundland after the Romans, but before airplanes were invented."

(We had to take a few months off from studying ancient civilizations last year because he just really loves WWI aviation.)

Our timeline started with event cards for each of their birthdays.  We added dinosaurs, and Christ.  We add events for influential literature too, when we read it, so they can grasp that Grimms' Fairytales are much, much older than Harry Potter.  

(Dipping homemade candles after reading The Ox-Cart Man)

When it's time to write history reports, I pull each kid over to the computer with me and have them narrate what they remember.  I leave everything in their words, as a tribute to the way primary sources influence how we understand history.  We look up a Wikipedia article on the subject and they browse through it to find an image to include on our timeline card.  

Here are some examples which could be used as a template: 

Timeline Card Template

 .  

I wait until I've got a batch and then print 8 cards to a page (so they'll be small) on cardstock.  The kids are starting to get the hang of placing the cards in the right spot on the timeline.  

These aren't big writing projects ... we only spend a few minutes a week on reports.  I only ask for a sentence or two, but as they get older, they naturally make their narrations longer and more complete.  We'll have space later in life to fill in the details they didn't absorb this time around.

All in all, we spend 2 or 3 hours a week studying history. 

 I haven't incorporated bedtime songs aligned to the period of history we're studying like my mindmap suggests, but only because I haven't compiled a list yet.  

We take advantage of field trips when we can.

Touring manned replicas of the Nina and the Pinta docked in the Mississippi River

At "Bloody Pond," (Shiloh Military Park) where Civil War soldiers, thirsty during the long battle, dragged themselves to the water, staining it with their blood.  Or so the story goes.  My children have vivid memories of this place.

On their own, the kids also dress up.  A lot.  I can tell they're synthesizing. 

(Halloween, 2016)

In fact, they dress up 

so 

much, that I've begun calling our dress-ups "school uniforms."  I guess the old adage of homeschoolers in pajamas doesn't apply to us, since my daughter is far more likely to be doing a math lesson in a princess dress.

Even [G.] enjoys studying history with us, especially if it involves reenacting something.

(Learning about chopsticks during a segment on the Shang dynasty.)

We study history to learn how to make good decisions; to learn how to be brave in the face of persecution, how to be wise at the floodgates of conformity, how to step back and love people even when we don't agree, how take charge when necessary, how to think before we act.  

(Bloody Pond)

More 

History

 from my 2013 post.

For Geography, see

Science

.

Foreign Language

Foreign Language

Our Curriculum

I always wanted bilingual children.  I think that ship may have sailed already, but I'm still trying.  To be fair, I do spend many hours a day teaching English.  Here's 

an interesting podcast

 about how children learn their first language.  I love being the "feedback loops" in my children's linguistic development.  

We're working on Italian as a family this year.  At some point, I would love to switch to Ancient Greek, then to German, then to Spanish, then to Mandarin, and then to French.  Yikes!  This still leaves out Sign Language, Latin, Gaelic, and Tagalog.  The problem is, I really ought to develop a rotation so that we're reviewing and adding complexity.  Any ideas?  Hire a bilingual nanny?  Live abroad?

The good news is, we have so many more resources for learning foreign languages now than when I was growing up.  

For studying Italian, the older two kids use 

Rosetta Stone.

  I think it is excellent, (maybe the best software out there) but it has its limits.  We all wish the user-interface was faster.  I want it to think as fast as I can.  We wish it had grammar rules and explanations linked to every question.  Sometimes we want to know why the correct answer is correct.  It turns out, that even though they are trying to imitate the way small children learn their native tongue, the program's speech recognition is too primitive to understand their tongues, and it is frustrating for a 5-year-old shooting for a perfect score.  Another problem, is that they really need to have some reading and spelling skills at the ready to go very far.  This will be easier in a year or two.  Finally, it's not enough on its own.  We progress much faster when we practice as a family later on in the day, and use other resources to supplement it.

So, at the recommendation of some very smart friends, I have also started using 

Duolingo

.  I love it for its phone application.  I love that it's free.  The interface is clean with little fake points that keep you motivated.  It's addictive.  It's social.  It's fast.  You can connect to friends (I'm Anita380570),

 and discuss grammar points with the community.  My biggest problems with it are that again, children need to be able to read well and spell adequately to use it, and that you have to log out and back in again to be a different user.  If we each had our own device, this would solve that problem.  I suppose we could just use their website, but then I have to monitor them more, etc.

I have also liked 

Memrise 

, another free app that uses some clever memorization techniques.  I haven't tried the kids on this one. 

Finally, I supplement this with a grammar book, read in little snippets to myself at the lunch table.

We've got a long way to go, but everyone is eager to learn.  

And now, a random picture of a spider's web for your enjoyment, because apparently I don't have any pictures of our foreign language curriculum.  

Friendships

Friendships

Our Curriculum

Socialization is not a priority for me.  

Friendships are.  I hope that my childrens' education teaches them how to be good friends.  I hope that they learn to be honest, to be loving listeners, to be kind, and to stand with integrity.

Kids can certainly learn these things in a traditional school setting, but the academic social priority seems to be teaching them 

how to behave in school

.  ("Oddly enough," says 

one homeschooler

, "our kids seem to do just fine with sitting in a classroom or standing in line or being quiet when the need arises.  These don't tend to be skill that take 13 years to acquire.")  As John Taylor Gatto puts it, "school is about learning to wait your turn, however long it takes to come, if ever.  And how to submit with a show of enthusiasm, to the judgement of strangers, even if they are wrong, even if your enthusiasm is phony."

Then I hear stories about lunchtime ... how public "students are not allowed to talk to each other ... there isn't time, because they only have 17 minutes to eat ... and there's a giant gauge on the wall that measures the noise level, and when the arrow points to the red zone, then the whole cafeteria has to eat with their heads down."  I'm not even kidding ... a first grader told me that.  Or I hear how when they are walking to class, they march in a line with their arms folded and aren't allowed to talk or smile (true story).  How they can't ride the bus, because it's too dangerous, and the 4th-graders are dealing meth in the back seat (true story).  Maybe public schools teach social skills in the classroom during all those hours you're sitting in a room with your same-age peers--except you have to raise your hand to speak, and even then, you're speaking to the dictator at the front of the room.  

I'll be the first to admit that there's a whole other side to the argument (isn't that why homeschoolers are so defensive on this issue?).  I once warned a friend that if she took her kids out of school, they 

would 

be weird.  "Yes, but they'll be weird like us!"  True, true.  Not only will they be weird, but they will be statistically more likely to sass their parents!  (Why am I doing this again? ...)  For public students there are some 

wonderful 

teachers and parents who really do teach children how to have beautiful friendships, and who model how to be honest, and loving listeners, and to be kind, and to stand with integrity. They let students have discussions, and there is time for school to be a laboratory of social studies.  

 Probably there are more wonderful teachers and classrooms and social experiences than negative ones.

I just wondered, hey, could I teach these things just as well at home?  As with math, can we use our freedom to learn social skills more efficiently, or perhaps more creatively?

Here's what I list in my 

mind-map

 under the subject "Friendship":

"Friendship.  See also: Playtime, Co-op, Art Academy, Pottery, Gymnastics, Early Childhood Development, Chores, Field Trips, Nature Studies, Fledgling Fun, Ethics, Soccer, Library Storytime, Cousin Reports, Letter Writing, Cooking, and Viola"

I am reminding myself that our lives are full of friendship-building activities.  We arrange playdates with other people, of all types.  My kids are homework-free, which means they are ready to play and out the door the moment "the School Kids" get home.  They spend many, many hours with the wonderful kids in our neighborhood. 

We also get together with homeschool kids, who are available during the day.  One of my favorite years in school when I was a kid was the one where my family (we had 7 children) paired up with another family who had 9 children (or was it 10? :) whose ages generally lined up with ours in pairs.  I had a best friend, and we got together nearly every day and giggled through our work.  Our moms took turns giving amazing lessons (medieval feasts and charleston dances, and the like), and there were plenty of childhood politics to pick up on during unstructured play.

We try to spend one day a week participating in a Co-op, where students learn in a group dynamic, and compare teaching styles, and form friendships that last a lifetime. 

My kids make friends in their community-based classes; in 

art

 classes,  

athletic

 classes, and science classes.

They (or at least my two eldest) get to learn how to care for and teach a younger sibling, and have distinct responsibilities which will leave them better prepared for babysitting later, and dating, and their own future family life.  (I need to make sure my youngest gets similar training ... anyone know how to hire a baby to come stay with us?)

Siblings love each other the most and also fight to the death, so practicing social skills on one another prepares us for future positive relationships and negative ones.  Having been homeschooled till 10th grade, I was never picked on in the playground--but I've definitely been punched in the face :)

We learn to work together; there's no custodian at our school, only a family sharing the load.  We love doing service projects with other homeschoolers (park clean-up, care center visits, water conservation, etc.) and would love to be involved in more of these activities that help us contribute and feel less self-absorbed.  

We frequently meet with other families for 

field trips

, nature studies, and presentations over the internet.

We spend time as a family each week studying 

ethics

 together, a practice we hope to expand.

At viola lessons, my kids are learning how to show respect and follow instructions from their teacher, even when the work is hard.  They get a thrill when he plays alongside them--a prequel to playing socially in an orchestra.

We attend 

library events

 regularly, just to make little friends and gain exposure to circle-time.  

We 

write letters

 to old friends and cook for new ones.

My secret hope is that by spending time together, their siblings will be the ones with whom they are the most honest, and the most loving, and the most kind.  And maybe, for a little longer anyway than otherwise, I'll get to be their bestest friend. 

Field Trips

Field Trips

Our Curriculum

Our field trips are 

interdisciplinary,

 and it's often difficult to differentiate between these and family excursions.  Because of this, we "do school" on the weekends, but we also have recreational outings during school hours.  My schedule sets aside at least about two hours week for a field trip, although I would venture to say we spend much more time than this field-tripping.  We often coordinate our field trips with other homeschool families to build friendships.  Playdates at the park are common.  Any destination is a possibility, since we can always find a way to make our outings educational.  

We love zoos, nature centers, and gardens.

Okapi!!!!

Memphis Zoo

Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha Nebraska

Some random nature center ... I can't remember where.

Memphis Botanic Garden

Memphis Botanic Gardens, TN

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Memphis Botanic Gardens

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Thanksgiving Point, UT

The Secret Garden, Thanksgiving Point, UT

We invested in a museum pass offering 

reciprocity

 to other museums, and went all over the country stopping by as many science museums as we liked.  You can also find reciprocity memberships for zoos, children's museums, and botanic gardens.  

A Science museum somewhere in the Midwest. 

We love historical museums, too.  Especially living history museums.  

In New Mexico, maybe Pecos?

Shiloh National Military Park, TN

Casey Jones Museum, TN

Stones laid by the Confederate army during the Battle of Memphis?

This was a bit of natural history we stumbled upon during a hike:

[A.] has a special fondness for WWI airplanes so an airshow made for a really fun field trip:

I don't want this post to be misleadingly overwhelming.  These pictures cover the last two years, two years where we traveled a lot to hunt for jobs, and two years where we didn't have a pregnancy or an infant to complicate getting out.  I'm enjoying being portable, but it isn't always this easy.  And it isn't always necessary.  

I'm

 often the one who needs to get out, to do something different.  Having an impromptu field trip gives us license to cancel our regularly-scheduled school agenda.  We aren't trying to squeeze it in ... rather it acts as a substitute.  "This counts for math today," I'll announce on the way home from a walk where the dominant conversation was geometry.  

So please don't think we have enough energy to do it all.  We only need enough energy to get out as much as we need.

Many of our field trips are simply picnics:

Nesbit Park, TN

An 

al fresco 

day of book-work at the park

Sometimes we venture only to the mailbox, and sometimes we drive the length of the country: 

Southern CA (Okay, in this case, we only drove the width of the country.  Almost.)

A favorite art museum had some lovely gardens in which to play: 

Dixon Art Gallery, TN

Dixon Art Gallery

Yes, grocery stores do make great field trips, but farmer's markets are more fun ...

Hiking is my way to multitask art, physical exercise, snacktime, and science.

Silver Lake, Utah

Timpanogos Cave, UT (Only 3 miles, but the kids' hardest hike yet and the one by which all other's are measured.)

Farewell Bend Park, Bend, OR

Bend, OR

Bend, OR

Sometimes our field trips are just stopping by the road somewhere, searching for early signs of Autumn.

Did you know there's a movement call Disneyschooling?  This field trip counted as a school day, and my class actively participated in the lessons.  

This was a homeschool swimming field trip (Twin Lakes, OR).  The water was warm enough that day to get neck-deep.  

We keep our ears open for community events, such as festivals or shows that can enrich our schooling.

The Nature Festival, Bend, OR 

Tanning a deer hide to make a buckskin shirt?  I'd call that educational.  Think of all the great literature we can conceptualize now ...

Nature Festival

Children learn a lot from going places and seeing things.  We enjoy "doing school" this way.   It broadens our world, and in turn we bring what we have learned at home, out into it.    

(See the lizard?)

Early Childhood Development

Early Childhood Development

Our Curriculum

"Early Childhood Development" is curriculum-code for "learn by teaching your little brother."  Teaching someone else is a fantastic way to solidify knowledge and skills.  When you teach, you learn the topic in more depth, you learn more about your own weaknesses and strengths, you learn that people are different and incredible, and you learn how to help and encourage others.  

That would be the 

idealistic

 reason I assign my 7 and 5 year-olds periods of time throughout the day to teach my 2-year-old.  The 

pragmatic

 reason is that I needed to find a way to keep him busy so I can work individually with the others.  

We don't do this because he needs the academic instruction--he's only two!  We do it because without it, he would be on top of us.  

( ... or he would be getting into mischief, leaving tracks behind him.)

The first two years of homeschooling with him were like this:

(Tummy time during a Saxon Math lesson involving pennies and place-value).

Eventually, he got more difficult (proportionally, I would guess, to the time saved with fewer feedings and fewer diaper changes), but usually our school manipulatives were interesting enough to entertain him. 

(A pattern-block math lesson is trickier with a six-month-old.  I guess this is my equivalent to a timed-test.)

By the time he turned two, it had gotten really hard for me to hold him off long enough to get through a lesson.  So I made a list of age-appropriate school activities (think pre-preschool) and prepared as much as I could so they were easy to implement on the spot.   

The activities divide easily into four categories, based on their location in my schoolroom: "Gross Motor," "Sensory Bins," "Activity Drawers," and "Activity Boxes."  

Gross Motor activities

 are suggestions, such as balancing or jumping games, that I typed up onto slips of paper for the kids to choose. 

(Quick logistical note: I should use a big jar instead of ziplocks)

For our sensory bins, I simply found some buckets, and wandered around the house (and one craft store) finding interesting things to put in them. 

The color-coded days of the week labels are to help me rotate the boxes evenly, but aren't really necessary.

(This was the day sensory bins were born at our house.  I handed him some wooden cubes to keep him busy and added the empty bucket.  Bingo!  20 free minutes.)

We tried making our own cloud dough (moon sand), and the kids had a blast.  By the way, if you ever want to make 

a swimming pool

 of moon sand, all you need is one 50 lb. bag of flour, and 8-11 20 oz. bottles of baby oil.  You know, in case you ever need a kiddie pool worth of moon sand.  You might.  

The problem with homemade moon sand is that it's still messy enough you probably want to do it outside.  So I bought a little bit of kinetic sand for inside.  It cleans up so nicely they can dump it all over the carpet, collect it again, and not even need to wash their hands afterward.  It feels amazing.  My kids love hunting for pennies in it.  

Marbles have been great for sensory activities.  We also use pom poms, beans, a toy catapult, dried noodles, fake worms, kitchen utensils, jingle bells, fish nets, hulled millet, poker chips, Legos, and playdough in our sensory bins.  I skipped over the ideas for wet sensory bins, since I am not supervising these activities while they are happening inside during a cold winter.  They are meant to be self-directed.  

Sensory bins are [G.]'s favorite development activities.

My older kids also do "Activity Drawers" with [G.], named such because he has his own seat at the desk with a set of drawers, and that's where I keep these supplies.  

One activity goes in each drawer (things like a coloring book, a puzzle, a pair of scissors with scratch paper, stickers, a gluing crafts, and geoboards), and he is encouraged to open one a day.  Sitting at the desk makes him feel like he's doing school along with the rest of us.  

(These are geoboards, usually used for geometry lessons, but also useful for fine motor practice.  He's concentrating really hard.  Grownups forget that when kids play, they think of it as work, although it is always completely voluntary.  I ought to be more like them.)

Finally, the kids do "Activity Boxes" with [G.].  I may have gone overboard with the number of toddler activities ... can you tell I was really nervous about doing school with a 2 year old?

Scrapbooking boxes are a wonderful size for this sort of thing.  I used what I had already, with an emphasis on fine motor skills.  Here's what I have in my boxes:

1. Sensory blocks 

2. My well-loved picture file (laminated pictures of animals and volcanoes and waterfalls and such to encourage verbal skills and storytelling)

3. Sign language flashcards

4. Toy cars, dice, and 

the parking lot game

.  This has been a family favorite.

5. 

Do-a-dot markers

, and paper

6. Lacing bead toys and lacing cards

7. Pipe cleaners, and odds and ends

8. A felt quiet book (thanks, Rochelle and Grandma!)

9. A felt story

10.  A maze puzzle

My 2-year-old really does enjoy this buddy system.  I'm proud of the other kids too, for stepping up to the plate and learning to teach creatively.  I help them transition in and out of the activity, but otherwise I am hands-off, helping the other older student. 

This, along with a little music time with me, a little storytime me, lots of English development, and helping the rest of us with projects comprises my PreK2's schooling this year.  

I need to disclaim that while our routine schedules as many as four childhood development activities a day, if he doesn't want to, or if he is otherwise occupied, we skip it.  

Sometimes I have a huge mess to clean up when we're done, but that just might be a necessary evil.  Besides, he would have made a huge mess anyway, because he's two.

I was happily surprised by how much my older kids got out of these activities.  It turns out that after 45 minutes of math, even a 3rd-grader might need to sift sand through her fingers for awhile, or smash playdough with a mallet.  It gives them a mental break and reconnects them to the physical world.  It obliterates their own pent-up performance expectations, and places them in a context where they are 

good

 at the answers, experts even, and no one is asking them questions, in fact, it's not about them at all, it's about helping someone else.  When the task is not to build the puzzle themselves, but to help [G.] build it, they become gentler, more patient, more compassionate.

Computer Skills

Computer Skills

Our Curriculum

Guess what-- we don't need a course to teach computer skills.  We own a computer and if left to themselves this is what my kids would do ALL DAY LONG:

Now you know that we're really a bunch of zombies.  Or at least normal.  

We type up reports in a word processor (together) and research topics as needed.  When they are fluent in their handwriting, I'll allow them to learn to type.  But they're still not getting the password.  Because this is what they would do ALL DAY LONG:

I don't think we would thrive as unschoolers, as much as I'd like to.  We just don't have the self-discipline.

They get too much screen-time as it is.  Hand my two-year-old an iPad, even though we don't own one, and I'll bet he could figure it out and change your password before you know it.  Technology has it's own incentive to be user-friendly; I don't imagine we'll be that far behind if we exercise restraint during our early years when our brains are still adjusting to the physical world.  I think I'd be furious if my kids went to public school and came home with free Chromebooks and a mandate to do all their homework on them.

My high horse doesn't mean I'm against computer literacy.  They ought to know how to navigate (and compete) in the modern world.  We'll likely take computer-based courses at some point.  Maybe their interests will lead them deeper into technology, and I will humbly assist.  They'll learn how to use a search engine, I promise.  Once they've learned moderation and self-control.  Technology is awesome, and useful, and educational, and entertaining, but my generation is a very poor model for how to balance technology with human life.  We're addicted.  The next generation will be smarter.  They'll know when to unplug. 

Well, maybe.

Cooking

Cooking

Our Curriculum

We decided a long time ago that we wanted our children to leave home knowing how to cook 10 meals (I think I left home knowing how to cook 10 different kinds of cookies, plus Hamburger Helper.  Hmmm.  I could have been a little more responsible, even though my parents gave me ample opportunity to learn.)  Wouldn't it be nice if our kids could make a dinner with ease, before venturing out on their own? 

To this end, I decided to include cooking in our studies.

We love it as a math supplement.  And as a chemistry supplement.

They get a lot of practice and experience just being at home while we cook.  They'll often ask to help, and they're becoming more independent all the time.   

My policy for snacks is to try to eat fruits or vegetables at these times, as we are more likely to eat 

healthy foods

 when we're hungry and there aren't other options.  It also makes meals less stressful for me, because I know they're getting in some useful foods in between.  My oldest has a high metabolism and having a little snack between work sessions really helps her learn.

I offer the challenge, to pick a fruit or vegetable, but they are often left with deciding what we'll eat.  That way, they get practice making healthy choices.  They also help prepare it.  I believe in teaching kids how to 

manage risks

, so they are chopping and simmering right alongside me.  

Making Stone Soup

Sometimes cooking projects are a natural extension of our other schoolwork, like baking "Viking Bread" to go with an history segment, or baking gingerbread boys, to go with something we read.  

(Don't you love how decorating cookies moves swiftly from an art form to "well, I really ought to find a way to maximize the number of toppings that will fit on my ration of cookies ...")

Making blueberry syrup to go with 

Blueberries for Sal

[C.] invented this recipe from vegetables and herbs found in the backyard:

She calls it "Onion Soup."  Very crunchy.

We've also embarked on cooking projects for entrepreneurial reasons:

Making No-Bake Cookies to sell to neighbors.

Our cookbooks, however, are the most deliberate way we teach cooking.  Every other Wednesday, one of the older two kids (ages 7 and 5) makes dinner for the family.  That's only once a month for each of them, so they consider it special time.  They are responsible for as much of the meal as they are capable.  They read the recipe, and I allow mistakes.  They also choose their recipes (their favorites from our family collection.)  Once we collect 10 recipes (I store them in page protectors and a cheap pocket folder), we'll make them over again.  In ten years, I imagine they'll know the recipes almost by heart.  Upgrading recipes to ones they prefer is fine.  So far, my kids have learned how to make barbecue ribs, and sushi, and waffles, broccoli casserole, and chimichangas ... and the list keeps growing.  They are always so proud to serve dinner to the family.  I admit, I have some pretty big helpers.    

Chores

Chores

Our Curriculum

To de-mystify why I count "chores" as an academic subject, first relieve yourself of the image that my 10 children are milking cows and chopping wood all day, and that their contribution actually makes our home cleaner.  (It doesn't.... 

and

 it takes much longer than doing the chores myself, just like at everyone else's house.)

But.  Children should be comfortable with basic household labor.  It doesn't seem modern, or necessary--which is why we end up with doctorates don't know how to make a batch of cupcakes and college students who pay someone else to wash their laundry.

My kids are better behaved, more balanced, and more responsible after enduring some chores.  Here's how we fit it in:

Last semester, I had them doing chores in the middle of the day, to break up our book work.  Nightmare.  My middle child would get too distracted, and his 15 minutes of work would take 

hours.

New Plan.  

We moved the personal chores (like make your bed, get dressed, and brush your teeth) to the very beginning of the day.  They do these independently while I check email and clean up breakfast.  

After each meal or snack, they are not excused until they've cleared "their items," which means they clear a number of items corresponding to the number of years they are old.  

Then we do a 10-minute Tidy (set a Timer and "clean the whole house") in the evening.  I love the way the family walk-through encourages accountability.  They realize; "oh, I guess I dumped that out today,"  or "whoops, I never put that back," and "geez, we really can clean the whole house in 10 minutes if we do it every night."  I liked the new plan.  

I thought [A.] would respond better to this more impulsive, cooperative approach to chores.  

It almost worked.  There's nothing stopping him from just groaning in the corner while his sister picks up the slack.

New Plan.

When our school year ends, I'm returning to our charted, task-oriented approach, where each individual will be responsible for a finite number of specific chores.  Wish me luck.  I call it an "intensive summer course" and they have few other responsibilities during summer break. 

As far as specific chores go, I've based ours on the list of age-appropriate chores for children on 

this website

.

During summer break, my older two are responsible for:

Gathering the trash

Folding the towels 

Matching the socks

Emptying the dishwasher

Weeding the garden

Raking the leaves

Fetching the mail

Peeling potatoes or carrots

Making salad

Replacing the toilet paper

Washing windows

Scrubbing fingerprints off walls

Putting away toys

Putting away clean clothes

Picking up dirty clothes

Setting the table

Throwing trash away

I just hope that the time we spend encouraging them to clean up after themselves and to contribute to the family will make them happier, more self-reliant adults with a solid respect for work done with their own hands.  

Art

Art:

Our Curriculum

In our homeschool, our strategy for art is not so much to treat it as its own subject, but to incorporate it into as many subjects as possible.  

Many of our art projects only happened because they were tangential to something else we were learning.  I push snooze on my "but-that's-going-to-make-a-huge-mess" mom alarm.  Between developing fine-motor skills, synthesizing knowledge, or simply inviting more happiness into our lives, I can almost always justifying taking time for art.  

This impromptu painting session, for example. began because I was making a math game requiring homemade dice.  I had extra wooden cubes, and willing helpers.  

We rediscovered why mixing primary colors 

ad nauseum 

yields brown, predicted the 2-dimensional geometrical shapes that would result from various 3-dimensional "brushes", problem-solved how to paint the 6th side of a cube when all the other sides were still wet, and delighted in getting our hands dirty.  

Keeping art supplies accessible helps.  Clean-up took just a few minutes and it brought colors and smiles into our day.    

Because I have [at least] one child who 

really 

loves art, we have reserved some time in our routine to make sure it happens: 

[C.] takes an art class and a pottery class with other homeschoolers in the community.  It is a good way to make friends who share her passion. 

That's a turtle, from her pottery class.

She discovered the pottery wheel and couldn't wait to eat out of the bowl she made.

Occasionally we have a day that is normally scheduled with something like co-op, but we have the day off.  Rather than fill those "days off" with our normal routine, we bring out sewing projects, study fine art from old art books, or experiment with polymer clay.  

The Civil War era dress [C.] is sewing, which will surely be too small by the time we finish it.  

Illustrating the book [C.] published turned out to be a big job.  "I'm never going to draw a hummingbird again," she grumbled, after 24 illustrations of a hummingbird. 

The time we spend in nature usually inspires an art project.

This was a field trip to an art museum.  Museums tend to be friendly to homeschoolers.  Children make such candid art analysts with their acute observation skills; I have blinders on compared to them.  I have so much fun museum-schooling with my kids, I would strongly consider moving to Paris or London or the Smithsonian and doing nothing else. 

We really enjoyed seeing the art show in the county fair.  As part of her "Spectacular 1st-Grade Project" last year, [C.] entered three pieces into the contest.  (She was given free entry to the fair, and won some cash prizes.  It turned out to be quite lucrative-- and contagious.)

[G.] finding an opportunity for art at a nature festival.

Our history spine, Story of the World, offers an abundance of art projects.  This was our attempt to reproduce some Ajanta frescos with paint on plaster.  The kids remember history lessons so much better if they have a tactile experience to go with it.  Side note on supplies: those blue medical trays win the prize for my favorite art supply.  I use them ALL THE TIME.  Paul recycled them from a medical company that was throwing them out.  Seriously, find someone to donate these to your cause.  They make anything possible.  

Studying architecture tangential to a history lesson on the rise of Islam.

Co-op saved Valentine's Day.  They each got to make their own mailboxes and valentines to exchange.

This art project ended up teaching a lot about economics and was a hard lesson to swallow.  At our garage sale, I told her that she could keep 100% of the profit from selling something she made herself.  So naturally, she set the price for $60.  Yikes.  She stood in front of our driveway for 6 hours, long after we closed up shop, ignoring our subtle suggestions to lower her price based on the market demand.  She wouldn't budge.  

I allow the kids to color or doodle while I read aloud.  Some people can listen better if their hands are busy.  A very cool homeschooling friend, whose kids were all talented artists, gave us 

this

 doodle book.  Parts of the illustrations are left blank with silly prompts so that the artist has space to be creative.

[C.]'s new coloring book.  Side note: my second favorite art supply is our set of 

Prismacolor pencils

.  They have so much more potential than a regular colored pencil.  They are off-limits to The Toddler. 

I have a feeling that soggy painting didn't make it into our permanent collection.

Neither did this very large, creepy chalk mural, which [C.] insisted we save for months and months.  I actually love it.  It reminds me of a 

Stephen Gammell

I'm glad our lives are full of artistic messes.   I want my kids to have a relationship with beauty.  I want them to be able to examine themselves through art.  

I hope they know they are 

creators

.

My 

2013 post 

on Art.

Curating a Homeschool Routine and Curriculum (Overview)

Curating a Homeschool Routine and Curriculum

This overview shows how we select our subjects and budget our time.  I revisit this process at the beginning of each school year.  How do you pull it all together?  This is how I wrap my mind around the whole project of homeschooling.  Once you've realized 

why

 you want your kids taught at home, this is the next decision, the 

how.

  When someone asks me "what curriculum do you use?", it is the long answer.  Sometimes pieces of it may indeed come out of a box, but it doesn't have to.  It comes out of a bag, I suppose, flexible and expansive, the woven fabric by which we define ourselves as learners.

Step One:  Watch your child play.

Hold on a second-- maybe I need a step zero. This would be a good time to file your paperwork with the school district, before you forget.  Check the 

laws

; jump through the hoops.  Get it over with, because this is the easy part, but it's not the fun part.  There.  Put a stamp on it, and now you're legal.  Move on to the fun part.  

Step One:  Watch your child play.

Ask yourself some questions.  

Are they happy?  

What makes them the happiest?  

What are they afraid of?  

What are they creating?  

What are they really good at?  

Do they struggle in a particular area?  Could you approach it differently somehow?  

What do you love to learn, and how can you share that (not in order to replicate yourself, but to let your passion be contagious)?  

Far into the future, if someone were to ask them what they learned from their parents, what they cherish--what would you want them to say?  

What are the most important things to learn?  

Is there some way you can give them a magical childhood and an education at the same time?  

Reflecting on who they really are gives you the cornerstone for a curriculum.  

Don't be afraid to have different answers for different children.  

Don't be afraid to linger on this step for as long as necessary (especially if you're transitioning from public school-- we call that a 

deprogramming period

).  When something isn't working, this is the drawing board I return to.  Here are some of the observations about my own children that have evolved into a specialized curriculum:

  • [C.] learns by teaching.  She loves to lead, partly because her peers are a laboratory for testing what she's learning.  Social learning experiences will engage her.  
  • [A.] has a knack for music theory.
  • I want them to know that I love them.
  • [C.] thinks she hates math worksheets, but when I add a timer, she eats it up.  Play math games.
  • [A.]'s mind can handle more advanced math than his motor skills, so worksheets hold him back.  Allow him to answer problems orally in the meantime, but incorporate fine-motor-skill play to help him develop.
  • I want them to love learning, not dread it.
  • [G.] loved storytime before he was born.  
  • Reading wonderful books is one of the best ways to study anything.  I love to read to them, and can easily be passionate about words.
  • When they're in the woods, they sing.  Spend time in the woods.
  • [C.] is motivated by praise.  Can I teach her to find praise from within?
  • [A.] is motivated by imagination.  Remember to have a sense of humor and to turn work into play.  Better yet, teach him how to turn work into play himself.
  • I want them to have academic courage; to know that they can put their mind to anything.  Avoid outsourcing every subject, but instead instill research skills, a sprightly sense of pursuit, and an opportunistic resolve to call upon and work beside experts.  Be a "hackschooler".  (Thank you Logan LaPlante)
  • [C.] is really good at memorizing.  Use this for good, not for evil.
  • [A.] is really good at battle strategies.  And we have an ever-growing armory in the dress-up box.  There's my approach to history.

The point here is to start the process by following the child.     

Step Two: Draw a map and prioritize 

Mind-mapping

Grab a piece of paper, or 

this awesome, free mind-mapping tool

, and map out which subjects you would like to study.  Arrange similar subjects together, so you can see how they reinforce one another.  "Reading," for example, can be a main branch, while "going to the library together" can twig from there.   

Highlight the ones that are truly important to you, which you meditated over earlier.  This year, I highlighted storytime, reading lessons for [A.], cursive, creative writing for [C.], independent reading for [C.], history, viola lessons, Saxon math lessons, and nature studies.  They are what I felt we really needed to concentrate on.  On your map, note how you'll approach each subject, the titles of resources you plan on using, and which students will participate.  Later, you can add-in how often the subject is studied (i.e. daily, for 30 minutes.)  At first glance, my map looks absurdly complicated, but this exercise is weirdly reassuring.  I only gained one or two new subjects each year, but have included educational elements that were already integrated into our lifestyle, such as bedtime stories and cooking.  It's that moment you gather all your pocket change together and realize you have several dollars worth in coins.  They're already learning so much!  We just want to be sure we're making time for what's most important.  Utilize branches to help you visualize gaps.  Here's a simpler map, as if my oldest was a young preschooler:

I can look at that and think, that's enough.  We're doing fine.  Maybe you structure your map more classically, like this:

Or, maybe try using a hackschooling model:

My main branches, or subjects, are 

Literature

Writing

Reading

Art

P.E.

, Ethics, 

Project Management

Computer Skills

Field Trips

Friendships

History

Math

Science

Music

Early Childhood Development

Foreign Language

Cooking

Co-op

, and 

Chores

.  

I was about to show you a Common Core example, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to put themselves through that, so, sorry.  

I wouldn't over-complicate this by turning it into a master syllabus, "aligning it," or scheduling chapters in textbooks.  I am not talking about the kind of mapping school teachers are required to do:

Yikes!  That is 

not necessary

 in a homeschool setting, because you're not turning this in.  You don't have to compare students.  You have the freedom to take your time if your child is "behind" in something.  You're just getting subjects down on paper and determining resources so you can see what it adds up to.  

Choosing Resources

So, you've prioritized your subjects-- how do you select your resources?  Sometimes non-homeschooling moms look at me with wide eyes because they think I am designing my own curriculum from scratch, staying up late every night scripting my lessons for the next day.  I'm not.  (All my prep. work between school days can be accomplished in the five minutes it takes me to reload their responsibility charts)  That 

would 

be a lot of work.  And there are loads of people who have already done it for me.  I take advantage of their labor and find it at a discount.  

I'm curating rather than creating.

  Now before you start Googling things like "homeschool spelling curriculum," pause to ask yourself how a given subject is best taught.  For example, what history lessons do you remember most?  The one where your class dressed up in togas and reenacted the assassination of Julius Caesar?  Because you pretended for a moment that you were someone else, and it made that person come alive, right? There are clues in the lessons that stuck with you.  They tell you what kinds of resources work best.  I can trace all of my pre-high school study of grammar back to one short booklet, read in one week in the 7th-grade.  It was a breeze!  I hadn't needed to spend years memorizing the definition of a gerund.  I learned grammar best by reading a lot of fiction, not by keeping pace with a language arts curriculum.  I take this to heart when shopping for resources.  

A memorable introduction to the Union and Confederate armies at Shiloh

There are other ways to make your selections count.  Search for reviews.  Homeschoolers 

love

 to write reviews.  Shop for used items (except for "consumables," like workbooks, which are usually better purchased new).  Read 

homeschooling methodology books

, or websites (

an example

another example

) to narrow down your choices (but not to limit how you define yourself.)  Join a local online community, and meet others that inspire you.  Find out what they use.  I happen to really enjoy this conversation, and I don't think it will ever get old.  We're an opinionated crowd that can't wait to share.  Try going to a convention or curriculum fair.

I have a personal rule that has saved me a fortune.  I'm not allowed to buy the next book until I'm nearly done with the one I'm using.  (Assuming, of course, that it is working well.)  It is extremely probable that I will change my mind or find something exciting and never use the more advanced book I bought.  There is 

so 

much out there.  Resources go way beyond books.  The local Audobon Society teaches free classes.  There's that nature trail five minutes away.  The library offers free lectures.  The next door neighbor can immerse them in a foreign language while you rake her leaves.  My backyard is littered with math-manipulatives and science projects that can be reused as art media.

Graphing--with resources we had on hand

Schedule vs. Routine

I have tried to be a schedule-person, but with practice I find that I am not.  

I am a 

routine-

person.

  It means that I like to get everything done 

in order

, but I prefer not to have the stress of getting them done 

on-time

.  I'm swapping punctuality for flexibility.  This is reflected both in our daily reality and our annual reality.  If we don't finish our art project by 3 pm or our history book by June 15th, it's no big deal.  We can roll it over and go at our own pace.  That said, I do like to generally stay on grade-level with math.  I try to make sure I'm about halfway through the book when I'm halfway through the year, and adjust as necessary.  How do I keep track of which lesson I'm on if I don't make a syllabus?  I use a 

bookmark

.  

If you are a schedule-person, this might feel a little tenuous to you.  That's fine!  Celebrate!  You're a schedule-person!  Take some extra prep. time before the school year begins and schedule your lessons.  There are some beautiful benefits to being a schedule-person, like knowing you'll be reading 

Call of the Wild

 in the 1st half of February so you can schedule a dog-sledding field trip to go with it.  Many of my favorite homeschooling mentors are self-proclaimed schedule-people, and it works fabulously. (If you don't have a mentor like this, you can borrow 

one of mine

.) 

I'm not at the other end of the spectrum either.  My map may look overwhelming, too organized ...even when you adjust for a margin of flexibility.  Maybe you are an anti-schedule person.  You are drawn to natural learning.  You are opportunistic.  You are good at following your child and embracing educational moments when they come your way.  There are beautiful benefits to homeschooling without a routine.  Like feeling the freedom to spend the rest of the day building a catapult, or designing a labyrinth, or learning Morse code, because you read about it and it caught your whim.  

By the way, you can be a schedule person and an anti-schedule person, all on the same day.  Chances are, one of your kids will be your opposite, so you might as well know how to do both.

The chore chart that didn't work, because we have two anti-schedule people in the family.

Step Three: Schedule (just to see if it fits)

Don't worry, we don't keep to this rigidly.  Even though I am not a schedule-person, once I have my map telling me what I 

want

 to accomplish, I plug everything into a schedule to see what I am 

actually capable

 of accomplishing.  It never all fits.  Not even close.  But I would rather realize this on my own than figure it out with the kids as casualties.  

I use Google Calendar for this, because it syncs to my phone, community events, and because I can look at more than one calendar simultaneously.  My students each appear in different colors.  It allows me to seize more opportunities to teach multiple children at the same time.  

This works the same whether I have only one child:

Or seven children:

With this tool, you can multitask like a robot.  I'm not adding every single event, just repeating it (chores, for example, repeat daily, and music lessons repeat weekly.)  I can then copy that event to another student's calendar.  "Sorry, buddy, you get to do chores too."  I love using Google Calendar because I can customize how I want my events to repeat.  For example, I want to attend Library Storytime every other week until June, and I want a pop-up reminder that morning, and on the alternating off-weeks, I want to do book reports instead, and I want to invite Grandma.  The events are searchable (say, how many more math lessons do we have left before summer?).  You can add details (like chapter numbers, if you're a schedule-person, or google maps and contact info, if you know you'll get in the car for that field trip without having time to find out where it's located.)  Past events remain in the calendar. (Aha! Now you have automatic attendance records.  I stick to the plan, more or less, and if something unexpected cancels school for the day, I delete it.  It's easy to determine whether we're meeting our state's quota of instructional days.)  

With a few exceptions, I find it convenient to 

make each week match

.  So each Monday has the same routine, and each Tuesday, and so on.  If you want an even easier agenda, make each day match.  This would be a good choice with very small children.  We were willing to make ours more complicated for variety.  If the last day of the month falls on a school day, we call it a 

Jubilee Day

, and the kids get to pick their own educational subjects.   

Jubilee Day

It's a bit overwhelming to get my map to fit on a calendar, so I use this process:

  1. Add appointment events first, like pottery classes, Karate, physical therapy, etc.
  2. Jot down a mental list of which subjects can be studied all together (like history) and which can be done independently (like a math worksheet, or studying a foreign language on a computer)
  3. Fill in what the siblings are doing during the appointment events.  Until this year, my youngest just joined in. (By the way, "Baby Years" are special homeschooling years.  Mom gets to break as many rules as she wants, because everyone is learning so much about parenting.  You also get to take A LOT of short and unpredictable recesses.)   Now my youngest is two, and too young for preschool, but too old to stay out of the way.  I use the buddy system to engage him with sensory play when I want individual time with another student.  This is the great secret to multiple-level homeschooling.  (Geez, I think it's hard and I only have three kids.) We have learned to survive!  I will go into more detail in the post "Early Childhood Development."  
  4. Place your priority subjects in the the choicest spots.  For many, that's the first slot of the day.  If you are lucky enough to have a naptime, (not you, ha ha, the baby) use it ferociously.  Last year, I did our daily tasks in the same order each day.  That is, reading lesson always came after breakfast, viola practice was always last, etc.  At the semester break I flipped the agenda upside down and noticed that their favorite subjects became their least favorite, and vice versa.  Interesting.  This year, although it's more complicated, I mixed it up a little to avoid the ruts.  It evens things out.
  5. You don't have to study everything daily.  I like spending at least two hours on Nature Studies, for example, so we just do it two or three times a week.  
  6. Lastly, fill in the cracks with everything that's left.  If it doesn't fit in the suitcase, leave it behind.
  7. Decide what time school "ends."  I used to just let it drag on and on until the kids were done.  Dinner felt neglected.  Now we have a goal, coinciding with when their friends come home, and I incentivize the timely completion of school with allowing privileges such as computer games.  I also motivate them with the misnomer "homework," which in our case means, "if you don't do this now, (or at least by 3:00,) while I am here supportively helping you, you'll have to figure out how to do it all by yourself.  In the meantime, the rest of us will move on with our lives."  So far that has worked every time.  Sometimes I can tell a child needs more compassion that that, because they are truly struggling.  We take a break with that task, surge ahead with our routine, and come back to it later in the day with renewed courage.  
  8. Keep an "empty shelf."  After all, when are you going to make dinner... answer your messages... go to the bathroom?  You'll be glad you did.

An example of the "buddy system"

I just discovered clipboards last month.  We get any worksheets out of the way on clipboards during siblings' lessons.  It frees us up at home to do more projects.  While [C.] is at her art class, I take [A.] and [G.] to a park.  [G.] plays and [A.] flies through his cursive practice and a math worksheet so he can play too.  He is more efficient, and we also get sunshine and exercise.  Last week, he found a stick and practiced his cursive in the snow.  Then we walked for miles along the river and through the dog park while I made up math questions about what we saw.

An example of clipboard schooling with one child, while at the park with a 2nd child, during a 3rd child's art class

Harmon Park

Now for some rules about events:

  • For each time block, include both the transitional time it takes to get into a subject, and the clean-up time it takes after.  Or you will go crazy.  For example, from the time I call my son for his reading lesson, to the time I call my daughter for her next task, 30 minutes will likely transpire.  The first 8 minutes were spent getting him to sit down, because he has a leaky creative attention and needs a lot of redirecting.  I spend 2 minutes pulling out a sensory bin for [C.] to use in occupying the toddler.  5 Minutes are spent "warming up"; I am finally able to get [A.] to look at the first word and sound it out.   I am then interrupted for the next 8 minutes because [G.] is potty training and needs yet another bath.  I spontaneously think of a crazy game we've never tried before and [A.] becomes super-focused, for 5 minutes, when he zips through 120 more words in one breath, completing the lesson.  We have 2 minutes to go, which are spent putting away the reading book and helping [C.] and [G.] clean up the sensory bin.

The fact that only 10 minutes out of 30 were spent learning the subject is not one to bemoan.  He was focused on something difficult for 10 minutes!  He's five, and that's 

wonderful

.  He deserves to play outside after that.  It's enough.  How much individual attention do you think a public 1st-grade teacher gives each of their 23.1 students in a school day of 6.64 hours?  Each student would get 

17 minutes

 of his teacher's attention, 

if 

there were no breaks, no group lessons, and no interruptions.  So couple these 10 productive minutes of reading with 10 minutes of some other subject, and you're already at an advantage when it comes to one-on-one time.  Even when I'm not comparing our productivity to the public standard, I still feel like my son's 10 minutes is commensurate to his age.  He reinforces the new material he has learned through active play.  I happen to have strong opinions about the educational merits of unstructured 

playtime

, if you haven't guessed by now.

That's my only rule.  Give yourself 

plenty

 of time for each event.  Don't forget travel time, snack time, and an extra long lunch so you can sneak in some dishes and laundry.  I have learned that if I don't at least start a load of laundry in the morning, change it once at lunchtime, put away the food, rinse the dishes, and wipe the table, we can't tread water with the housework and we end up going under.  We can't function on less.  Obviously, it would be nice if we got beyond these basics, but school comes first.  Your minimum may be different than mine.  Whatever it is, make space for it in that schedule.  You want to be realistic and have a fighting chance at sanity.  

Step Four: Share the Routine

Turn the "schedule" into a chart your kids can understand.  Last year, our chart was simpler which allowed us to memorize it after about two weeks.  We never even had to look at it.  It is helpful to get started though.  

Click here to print out a basic chart

Click here to to edit and print out responsibility cards

I bought hundreds of business card-sized laminating pouches a few years ago (on Amazon) and velcro dots (on Amazon).  This way I can physically remove the card from the chart during school, so they can easily see what they have left to accomplish. 

My kids like the tactile reinforcement they receive when they take a completed task off the chart, ripping the velcro apart. I also laminate the charts, hole-punch them, and put them on book rings like a calendar.  Someday, if my kids are ever mature enough to have devices, we can skip the chart because they will be able to access the calendar themselves.  When I notice that a child has taken the initiative and completed a task independently, I make a big deal over it.  "Whoa!  You did that all by yourself?  Let's put a sticker on it so that next time you see it, you remember that it's something you don't need me for."  Bingo.  Next week maybe they surprise me at breakfast with the announcement that they're already half done.  

Step Five:  Organizing Your Space

Eh, I'm not going to dwell on this, because you are probably doing just fine already.  The most important feature in a homeschool room 

is the floor

.  Seriously, we use it all the time.  For everything.  If you've got a floor, you're set to go.

But, homeschooling is messy, right? The advice I repeat to myself is 

to keep things where you use them

.  Our pencils are kept on the desk.  Our library books are next to the bean bag chair.  Our shelves are full of countable objects that I can grab easily to demonstrate mathematical concepts.  Our outing bag remains packed, ready for the wild.  Our musical instruments are hanging on the wall, just begging to be played.  That awful reading curriculum that was pushed on me with the yucky comprehension questions?  It's deep in storage.  And now, groomed photos showing what my schoolroom looked like that one time it was clean:   

This is our desk.  A kitchen table works just fine.  After falling in love with 

this one

 from "Confessions of a Homeschooler," three years ago and daydreaming about it ever since, I was finally able to make it happen.  (Thank you, Paul!)  I followed the blog's instructions to find the right IKEA pieces, only differing in that I went with a different color to match the bookshelves I already had, and used brackets underneath instead of pegboard.  The kids helped my husband put it together.  It's awesome.  We each get a set of drawers, a chair to wiggle in, and desk space to have multiple open books in front of us.  

 I can assist three kids at once, theoretically.  

The drawers can function as 

a workbox system

, where one task/subject is kept in each.  We even crawl under the desk during lessons, quite frequently, anytime we read something that mentions a cave.  

It's not a bad thing that the schoolroom doesn't stay tidy for long.  When it is tidied, it's awfully inviting.  By the time I've put the vacuum away someone has started a new project.  I'm learning to take it as a compliment.

We don't have a 

playroom

, because the toys stay out of the schoolroom.  (Consequently, we don't have a functioning family room, because it's full of toys, but ah, well--those are the choices we've made.)  Despite the ban on toys, this room is full of play.  It is where my school toys go :).   The toddler keeps busy designing his own art forms, playing with math-manipulatives, and dumping board games out on the floor.

In an effort to be more 

Montessori

, we have activity boxes and sensory bins pre-filled with educational objects he can use on his own or with a buddy.

Sensory Bins are kept in the closet, released with permission only.  

I

n an effort to be more 

Waldorf, 

we keep natural objects handy.  I never would have imagined the variety of applications for the things we have kept in jars and bowls.  We use them, for history, science, writing, math, fine motor practice, art ... because they are there, not because I had planned to use them.  There are beads, marbles, paperclips, pennies, seashells, brads, tiny rubber crocodiles, toy bugs, buttons, clothespins, googly eyes, unifix cubes, book report ideas, base-ten blocks, dried beans, wooden cubes, felt numerals, playing cards, river rocks, homemade phonogram bean bags, feathers, bouncy balls, sticks, and pine-cones

.  In case you're wondering, it 

was

 messy for the first few weeks.  We did eventually learn the wisdom of cleaning up as we move along.  Even the two year old. 

See all that dust?  Proof that this is an honest picture.

Shoe organizers for supplies we use often: no-brainer.  They're just not allowed to get down the superglue, or the glitter, without asking me first.  These are often used during their leisure time.  

Yes, I really do need 11 separate containers of Elmer's glue.  My favorite pockets?  Definitely scissors.  And 

mechanical 

"Mom" pencils.  And whiteboard markers.

I couldn't afford organizers, but I had lots of cardboard boxes!  No regrets.  This is where we keep everything else: art supplies, the hole punch, scotch tape ... things we don't use every day.  I can reach all this from my desk without standing up.

So, that's the schoolroom.  However, don't think we spend 7 hours a day in there.  The rest of our home is an extension of it, because we're parents teaching the whole child.  So we study in the music room, and conduct experiments in the kitchen.  

We read on the front porch, and on the beanbag next to the fire. 

 We watch YouTube videos on the computer, and finger-paint in the laundry room.  

When we tire of our little schoolhouse, we leave.  We study in the community.  We're at the library, the museum, the art studio, the ocean ...

Hooray, for my first mudroom.  One of 

my biggest 

fears about homeschooling is that my kids seem to have a really hard time wearing shoes.  And getting in the car on time.  Hence, the mud-closet; with shoes, socks, snow clothes, backpacks, and "outing snacks" (if we keep portable food in the kitchen, we eat them too freely).  This year, I decided to pack an outing bag that is more comprehensive than my smaller diaper bag.  If we've just got one quick stop, I bring the diaper bag.  If we're going to be gone long enough to need a snack, or if we're going to be spending time in nature, I bring the outing bag.  Along with water, my ERGO carrier, bear spray, and a first aid kit, it is also pre-packed with watercolors, colored pencils, nature notebooks, spare clothing, and field guides.  The easier it is to get out, the more likely it is that we'll go.  I have the example of my awesome mother to thank for this one.  (Well, to be honest, all my good ideas were hers first.) 

Our 

other

 schoolroom

Step 6: Don't Take Your Routine Too Seriously

Just have fun.  Take departures from the schedule to fit the family's needs or just to combat monotony.  Sometimes I notice we're dredging along and I make spontaneous changes:  "let's do things backwards today," or, "let's skip ____", or "it's nice outside--let's do school 

al fresco, 

in the fresh air!" 

An 

al fresco

 Day

Appendix

Summing It Up

After I schedule my routine, I go back to my mind map and add duration and frequency to each subject.  This isn't necessary.  I was just curious.  If I add up each subject for a week, estimating how she spends her leisure time, and create a hypothetical "average school day," this is how my 3rd-grader spends her waking hours Monday through Friday:

Playtime and Experiential Learning 

If we finish a task early, I call recess.  I love saying that ... "okay, we're done 15 minutes early ... go play."  Sometimes we're in the mood to race ahead so our school day ends early.  Time to play is 

really

 important.  This is one typical day for my 3rd grader:  

She has a 30 minutes of recess at 8:00, 30 minutes of recess during snacktime, and 75 minutes of recess during lunchtime.  That's 1.75 hours of recess on Thursdays, all before we "let out" at 3:00.  But, that's only if she 

dawdles, 

because I've built dawdling into the schedule.  If she's efficient, she gains an extra 1.25 hours of earned unstructured playtime.  This is what her day would look like then:

         7:15-7:30      Chores

         7:30-7:45      Viola Practice

         7:45-8:30       Recess

         8:30-8:45       English

         8:45-9:00       Recess

         9:00-9:15       Early Childhood Development

         9:15-10:00     Recess (& snack)

        10:00-10:30    Math

        10:45-11:00    Early Childhood Development

        11:00-1:00      Recess (& lunch)

           1:00-3:00     Art Academy (with friends)

She gets in a few other subjects (cursive, math, chores, reading, and storytime) at night or while [A.] is at gymnastics, equivalent to the public schooler's "homework."  In total: 3 hours of recess during school, a free afternoon, and including our evening routine, 5.5 hours of efficient, productive work.

Contrast this to my nephew's [public] school day:

No recess, other than the 23 minutes reserved for lunch.  

Fortunately, my nephew has awesome parents who put pressure on his school, resulting in a healthier schedule.   

As homeschoolers, we get to make another division beyond distinguishing recess from book-work.  I'm going to call it 

"Experiential Learning."

  If we read up on photosynthesis and then conduct an experiment, the experiment part is experiential learning.  Cooking ribs for dinner to "practice being a grown-up" is experiential.  Holding worms, painting the kitchen cabinets, mastering a back-handspring, teaching a younger sibling how to count, or following-up on a resume is learning by doing.  It is active, it is tactile, it is 

real

.

Book-work is not bad, as it can also be creative.  It isn't necessarily passive, either.  Drawing a map or writing a story or using a computer is book-work because they're sitting when they do it.  

Early book-work

My purpose for the division between book-work and experiential learning is both to ensure that my children are spending enough of their childhood 

moving

 and also to help them better retain the knowledge they are gaining. 

[C.]'s "Average Day" would be divided like this:

That's how I like it: plenty of play, an abundance of experiential learning, a little bit of book-work.  

"Book-Work"

"Experiential Learning"

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

Aristotle

Smelling Like Dirt

Our theme for this year, hanging in the schoolroom, is a quotation by Margaret Atwood: 

"in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." 

At the dinner table on our first day we discussed how we are in the spring of our lives and what we want to accomplish with our time.  We are getting our hands dirty.  I hope that this education stays with them--that it gets under their fingernails.  

I hope that they remember the way it felt, and the way it smelled.  

I hope that at the end of it, they can stand up, stretch, and taste what they've cultivated.  

Grown in our backyard

To see my 2013 post on this subject, 

click here