Thursday, August 29, 2013

A New School Year!

We're halfway through our second week of "official" school and things are going well. I was a little nervous about this year honestly, since my older son is being added to as an official student (kindergarten), and even though we don't do a whole lot of structured stuff for K, I wasn't sure how things would go. Probably the best analogy for homeschooling several children is spinning plates - you start one kid with something, get them spinning, then go start another, then come back and check the first -ok, they're fine, now go start the third kid...and so on. Its a bit exhausting, but with a sense of humor its totally do-able. And really all this is during the individual work portion of our day - those subjects like math and language arts that, because even though they are close in age, they are on different levels, so we don't do together as a family. Subjects we work on together are my favorite - history, science, literature / Shakespeare, art, music, and nature study. They involve relaxed cuddling on couches, narration, and discussion, projects and experiments.

Because I know it can be fun and helpful to see what others are working on, I'll list out what we're planning on doing this year. Warning: if you a not a homeschooler it will be long and probably boring. Maybe even boring if you are a homeschooler, I promise nothing. :)

So in general, my approach is inspired by the philosophy Charlotte Mason, but I use  The Well Trained Mind heavily for our overall structure, and really like materials published by Peace Hill Press for history and language arts. Mason's philosophy of education resonates strongly with my goals and vision for my children's education, and I also find it incredibly practical and a pleasurable way to learn and teach. Whenever possible I like to use interesting, conversational, whole books (referred to as "living books," by Mason). Frequently the way this works for history and science is to use a book that covers a topic broadly as a spine - we read it most weeks, and I use it to plan the overall structure of our study - and supplementing a variety of other interesting books as appropriate. We use our library a lot to supplement, but I usually end up buying books along the way as well.  I am not vehemently anti workbook, but like books, I think care should be taken to find the very best quality, and look for those that do not talk down to the child or waste their time unnecessarily.


It looks like we do a ton of math, but really its a balance. I love Math-U-See's extremely concrete approach, and Singapore Math's mental math and challenging word problems. Beast Academy is a new addition, and I'm intending it more as a math enrichment for my oldest.

(everyone - various levels)

(everyone - various levels)

Beast Academy 
(3rd grader - 3a)

for review and drill:
Math Is Fun math facts practice- I love this free online drill site - I have tried many, but this one is set up just right that it really helps them build automaticity.

Splash Math (iPad app) - we have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, and I would try the Kindergarten level but it is not supported on my 1st generation iPad. They are about $10, which is expensive to me for an app, but have absolutely been worth the money. Fun and motivating, and excellent review.

Language Arts

First Language Lessons ( everyone at various levels - 2 lessons/ week)

Writing With Ease (2nd and 3rd graders - 4 lessons / week)

Explode the Code (2nd and 3rd  graders - 2 lessons/week)

Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (Kindergartner - daily)

Bob Books (Kindergartner - daily)

English from the Roots Up (3rd grader - to be determined)

Prepared Dictation exercises from Spelling Wisdom (once a week - 3rd grader)

D'Nealian Handwriting for everyone as needed


My 2nd and 3rd grader are both accelerated readers, and read pretty voraciously for pleasure. I try to guide them toward high quality books using various literature review books and book lists, but since sometimes the books they choose for pleasure reading aren't sufficiently pushing their abilities, they always have an assigned independent reading book that they are to read for about 30 minutes during schoolwork time. We check in together a few times a week for them to chat with me about what's happening, and they have book journals to record the books they read and their responses. My 3rd grader is interested in starting a blog, so we might incorporate some book reviews into that. I choose assigned independent reading from books I think they would like and that would provide sufficient challenge. My 3rd grader is currently assigned The Secret Garden and my 2nd grader is reading James and the Giant Peach.

For my two little guys, in addition to just reading out loud lots, we're using Five In a Row (volume 3) because I was able to borrow it and the literature set for the year. Its the first time I've used the program at home (though I used Before Five in a Row with a homeschool co-op preschool class I co-taught last year) and I don't know yet to what extent I'll do the supplementary activities, so we'll see. In two weeks of reading the books though, I've liked the book choices, and I'm impressed by how much they really do seem to enjoy reading the same book five times over.

For Shakespeare we read one story a week from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit.

For poetry we will be reading and memorizing Christina Rosetti's poetry. A CM friend of mine and I are planning on taking turns hosting a recitation day once a month or so where our kids plan to give the recitations they've been practicing, plus have an excuse for cupcakes.

Everyone also listens together as I or my husband read to them right before bed - right now I'm reading The Little Princess and when Dr. Horrible is around, he's been reading The Hobbit or a compilation of early 20th century sci-fi short stories (no, most of them are not getting them, but Daddy reading is a treat that they hang in there for). Since he frequently works late, this arrangement works out well for us.


We are on the second year of our four year history cycle, and will be studying the Middle Ages. We will be using The Story of the World again, and I'm already excited to be doing volume 2 of the series. Flipping through I think it will be interesting and that even I will learn a lot, as it covers the Medieval period all over the world - I really only have much exposure to Europe in this age. As we did the last two years (we took two years to go through volume 1, we just kept getting side tracked by lots of corresponding reading!), we'll use the Story of the World book as our spine, and supplement other books collected from the library. I love the activity books that go along with this series - they include map work, coloring pages, activities, reading lists, and projects.  We also rely heavily on referencing our Usborne Encyclopedia of World History. The kids have history notebooks that they record responses to what they are learning, and we also find places we are studying on our big mark-able world map, and keep a book of centuries (or timeline in a book).


We follow the four year science cycles recommended in  The Well Trained Mind, and this year we are on Earth Science and Astronomy. We've done it a little out of order in the past, doing Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in the past 3 years, so I'm looking forward to something totally different. I've gotten the Real Science 4 Kids Geology and Astronomy books to use as spines, but I also have ordered DK First Earth Encyclopedia (for the little guys) and Smithsonian Earth (for my extremely science oriented and inquisitive 3rd grader) to serve as either heavy supplements (meaning we refer to them pretty much weekly) or they might end up being spines if needed. I never know with the RS4K books - sometimes they're great but not meaty enough on their own.  I'm planning on using the experiments in the Real Science 4 Kids teacher book, but might also use some of the plans from the Geological Society of America and other online resources if the RS4K experiments turn out, well, lame. The kids also have science notebooks and also a separate nature journal for our nature study walks.


We use a memory box system to memorize scripture, and I cheat a bit by using passages that are set to music on Seeds Family Worship cds, so its pretty easy.  We just review our memory box everyday when we start our combined subjects. I also am teaching them the Shorter Catechism using a simplified version and just reviewing a few of the questions daily. In the past I've just read bible stories from various children's bible versions (my favorites are The Jesus Storybook Bible and Read Aloud Bible Stories), but lately my oldest has started reading her own bible on her own, and I wanted to start something a bit more structured, so I've ordered the first Telling God's Story book (again from Peace Hill Press - I thought there's a good chance I'll like it, given my track record).


We will add this in a bit later, as the school year progresses. My idea would be to work out having a tutor, but I'm not sure if funding will allow that. I have Song School Spanish, which I might try again (we only did a few lessons - it sort of fizzled out last year when I tried it).

Art / Picture Study

We are continuing on with Artistic Pursuits, which I love for many reasons, but partly because I find that it combines picture study (art appreciation) with hands on art activities. We are still on the K-3 book and still not nearly done! Its a bit expensive upfront, but a good value as its spread over several years.


My older girls are continuing their violin and piano lessons, respectively. We do hymn studies maybe twice a month, and otherwise incorporate music appreciation into our everyday listening.


Does frisbee playing at the park count? Check! Seriously, the kids are outside everyday, riding bikes, doing yoga and barre exercises along with me, and generally running around everyday. But this year we're also adding in a group P.E. class for homeschoolers the meets at a local park. Some things are easier to learn and more fun in a group!


We try to get all of our academic work done in the morning, so the afternoons can be free for independent play, pleasure reading, and hand crafts. Handicrafts Charlotte Mason style are any practical, hands-on activity that produces something of value. This year my girls want to learn to sew, so we are working our way through Sewing School. Its all hand sewing, which buys me some more time to get my act together with my demon possessed sewing machine...

Painting, modeling with clay, typing, computer programming, knitting, cooking, baking, scrapbooking, and organizing are all projects they work on for handicrafts. Usually we try to focus on one area for a month or so, but frequently the projects get sprinkled through the week and picked up here and there. It keeps everything interesting!

Whew, there it is. Looking forward to an interesting year of plate spinning! I hope this might provide some ideas for those putting together their curriculum for the year!


  1. I sure wish we still lived close to each other. We decided not to send Joshua to preschool and to go ahead and start homeschooling this year. I'm really really keeping it super simple...focusing mostly on reading lots and doing the Ordinary Parents Guide with him. But thinking about next year feels overwhelming, I have to admit :). What are you budgeting each year for homeschooling...if you don't mind my asking...

    I miss you sweet friend!

    1. Hi Shannon! Sorry I have not checked back on this for a while and missed your comment.. I'm going to msg on facebook, but to follow up here....he is still a bit young for the OPG, so don't be discouraged if its slow going. The best thing at this point is to be reading out loud - it really does amazing things for them from an early age. The Read Aloud Handbook is a great motivator for me, and has great book lists as well to take to the library. As far as budget, we are doing a independent study charter school, so we actually get some funding we can use for our curriculum, so I'm not exactly sure what I spend. I obviously try out a lot more options than I would otherwise (like 3 different math texts! what? I actually have added a fourth - Math Mammoth - but what I do is we have been switching things monthly). I use that for our math and science and consumable stuff like Language Arts book, but I buy all of our own books, since I like to keep them. Its hard to say exactly how much I spend for that reason, although I know our previous budget was always around $1000 a year, which always seemed generous to me (although we had little kids, and we don't use big pre-packaged curriculum for the most part - that gets pricey fast). I know for Preschool/ I usually just bought individual books - for Kindergartner I used a Sonlight Core.