The past school year had its fair share of bumps (unprecedented global pandemic notwithstanding), but we ultimately found some homeschool approaches and programs that worked really well for us. Stay tuned for more blog posts that thoroughly unpack the problem areas and how we pivoted to address those problems. In the meantime, I was thrilled to begin our third year of formal schooling (fourth if you count the year I had a baby and toddler and bumbled through pre-k with my oldest).
We’re four weeks in and I’m loving our choices. Here are our plans for the year and my reasons for our curriculum selections.
Our basic schedule:
8:30-10:30 “Morning School”
10:30-12:00 Snack & Play time
12:00-1:45 “Lunch School”
2:00-3:00 Quiet time
3:00-5:15 Play time
8:30-10:30 “Morning School”
11:00-2:00 Homeschool Co-op
2:30-5:00 Play time
Friday – Field Learning (field trips, big projects, hands on experiences)
MORNING SCHOOL – Literacy & Math
I work one-on-one with each of my three kids during this time giving guided or direct literacy and mathematics instruction.
SECOND GRADER (8 years), approximately 45-60 minutes each morning, Monday through Thursday.
Word Study (10-15 minutes): I love the Words Their Way books. Each week he gets a new set of words from the Word Sorts for Within Word Pattern Spellers book with distinct spelling or pronunciation patterns and he sorts them and writes them in his word study notebook. Then we do speed sorts, alternate word games, etc, the rest of the week. At the end of each unit, usually around 8 weeks, we assess.
First Language Lessons Level 2 (5-10 minutes): This is a short grammar lesson with minimal writing to help kids understand the structure and function of language. This year I’ve chosen to use the memorization passages we were already working on in lieu of the poems the program provided. My son’s strengths are pattern recognition and application as well as memorization, so this program works really well for him.
Writing With Ease Level 2 (10-15 minutes): I’ll be honest that two years ago I wouldn’t have touched this curriculum with a ten-foot pole. I read a great review that articulates the weaknesses well: My HONEST Writing With Ease Review – This Reading Mama. Surprisingly, however, this program has gotten us over some major reluctance in writing. We first tried it out around the middle of last year when things got to our own personal Rubicon on the teaching writing battlefield (because, sadly, that’s what it had become). After research and seeking input from other homeschooling mamas of reluctant boy writers, I bought it. That first week, we both breathed a sigh of relief. Writing was no longer a series of painful battles and he grew leaps and bounds. I’m putting the finishing touches on a blog post about how I am currently navigating the weaknesses in the Writing with Ease program and capitalizing on its strengths.
RightStart Mathematics Level C (20-40 minutes): I continue to be impressed with this curriculum. It teaches conceptual understandings as well as practical strategies that help kids develop fluid mathematical thinking. And my kids have loved all the games.
Independent Reading (30 minutes): My son has been reading early chapter books since he was 5 1/2. He is highly verbal and a strong abstract thinker. He doesn’t need guided reading. He does, however, need to practice reading slowly. He generally tends to be extremely impatient with the development of the story and will speed skim books. Our agreement for this time is that he sets a timer for a minimum of 30 minutes and reads slowly enough to read every word. He regularly chooses to read for longer, but 30 minutes is the requirement.
KINDERGARTENER (6 years), approximately 45 minutes Monday through Wednesday.
Word Study (10 minutes): This is the same program I use for my second grader, but she uses the lists from the Word Sorts for Letter Name Alphabetic Spellers book. There are several assessments that help determine which type of speller your learner is and then select the right starting point and list. Again, I love it. Like her brother, each week she gets a new set of words with distinct spelling or pronunciation patterns and sorts them and writes them in her word study notebook. Her lists are much shorter than her brother’s (~10 words to his 20), and the words and spelling patterns are simpler. I love that this grows with my learners. I will eventually have a kindergartener, a second grader, and a fourth grader using this. The books and lists go all the way up to at least middle school!
Sight Word Practice (3min): She has a stack of sight words we’ve been memorizing from pre-k instruction and we just keep adding to them. She has been working on the Bob Books Kindergarten Sight Words books and words as well as some others from Dolch and Fry. We go through her stack and set aside the words she doesn’t have completely memorized, then we go through those words one more time.
Guided Reading (10-15 min): Each week or two, depending on her fluency with the book, I pull out a new Bob Book Kindergarten Sight Words book and the accompanying sight word cards. We practice the words and she reads the book. The first day is the most difficult. But she reads the book every day and by the end of the second week she reads it to her 4 year old brother and they LOVE it! We also read some other early reader books with sight words, etc. I observe any areas she needs support in and instruct accordingly.
Handwriting Without Tears (5 minutes): We work on a white board and practice the writing pattern, then practice one page in the book.
PRESCHOOLER (4 years), gets about 15-20 minutes of very gentle instruction Monday through Wednesday. My plan for my kids was to not begin any formal schooling until age 6, when we would start each of their kindergarten year. My youngest two children both begged to have school so I started working with them as they demonstrated readiness and then based what we did on their interests. My four year old loves “school” and it’s become a bright spot in my day because it provides us with opportunities for intentional one-on-one time together. When I’m working with his older siblings, he plays, colors, puts puzzles together, etc.
Cutting Practice: When I asked my son what he most wanted to do in school, he declared “Cutting with scissors!” Fine motor skills development seemed like a really great way to spend a few minutes a day! Hands down, my kids’ favorite has been this Cut & Paste Activity Book
Letters: My four year old really wants to learn his letters so I’m following this approach: Teaching Letter Recognition – what order to introduce letters (howweelearn.com) and introducing a new letter every week or so, not moving on to the next letter until he feels comfortable with the one we most recently learned. Sara from howweelearn.com gives some great ideas in her video embedded in this post, so be sure to watch it! It’s well-worth your time.
- We practice the letter sounds with phonics cards from This Reading Mama: MEGA Pack of FREE Phonics Cards (thisreadingmama.com)
- He loves using the dab a dot paint pens to find all the Upper and Lower Case letters (thismeasuredmom.com)
- And he has so much fun finding and coloring these Alphabet Look & Find Hidden Picture Puzzles (teacherspayteachers.com Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures)
- He also can get really into finding and tracing the lower case and upper case letters on this Letter Board (etsy.com Fishers and Craft store). He’ll often fill in the letters he is learning with beads or pom poms.
- Another fun thing he looks forward to each week is eating foods that begin with the letter we are learning. He then draws and colors a picture of that food and we tape it under the alphabet banner that is hanging up in our school room.
- Now that he’s learned the first four letters of his name, we’ll take a week to play games like memory match with upper and lower case letters, etc., until he knows them really well.
Math Lessons for a Living Education: Level K: I was saving this book for next school year when he’d be in homeschool pre-k. But again, the kid keeps asking me for more school and has been disappointed with the fact that he is not getting to learn more or do more activities. So, this week I added math to what we do together during “Morning School.” It’s listed as kindergarten level, but many reviews said it was more appropriate for preschool/pre-k and I wholly agree with those reviews after using it with my then five-year-old last year. Every time I’d crack out the “fish book” for my daughter, my four-year-old (at the time he was three), would drop everything he was doing and run to sit in my lap. They both LOVE this program and my four-year-old was beyond thrilled when I told him we could do a little bit this year. It’s gentle, full of stories and colorful pages and just about perfect for preschool or pre-k learners. It’s intended to be a consumable, but I didn’t let my daughter write in it last year. She used her finger or a stylus or we put a plastic page over the activity and she used a dry erase marker.
LUNCH SCHOOL – History, Science, Literature
My kids call the content we feast on while enjoying our afternoon meal “Lunch School.” We all look forward to this time. We follow a literature-based approach for both history and science. Basically, read a bit and discuss deeply each day. The older two have a science and history notebook that they illustrate and label ideas, information, and concepts we are studying. (Annnnnnd because they both have them, my four-year-old, – who declared on our first day of school in an offended voice, “Where is my notebook?!?” – now has one too.) Age-appropriate expectations are in place for what they each draw and write. Here’s what we use:
Beautiful Feet Early American History: It took me two years to take a chance on this curriculum and I’m already a huge fan after only 4 weeks. I love literature-based programs because I think it more closely parallels how adult learners research or explore new topics. My hope is that our kids will become fascinated with history and learn to think like historians and I think there’s more space for us to do that via a literature-based program rather than through a text-book/worksheet heavy program. I also love how easy it is to insert my own essential questions into the discussion questions already provided. We’ve really enjoyed the recommended video clips available online as well as “rabbit trail” suggestions for further reading. This program has a teacher guide and 24 accompanying non-fiction and fiction picture books. I bought the teacher guide and the 11 of the 24 of the books that were not already available from our local library system. All three of my kids have enjoyed the books and the discussions thus far! When we finish this whole study, I’ll do a full review.
Science/Nature Study: I take a topic-inspired, concept-based, experientially heavy approach. I love following my kids’ interests or the seasons or amazing field trip opportunities or even topics they are investigating in their homeschool co-op science classes. We read a non-fiction picture book (or a few chapters from a longer one) then we discuss them using essential questions I’ve developed. I also try to set up a nature exploration corner full of related library books, wall hangings, and tools to inspire and aid them in investigating on their own.
Literature: This is a purposeful time of reading well-written, engaging books, and discussing them. I use questions and games I’ve developed based on content and activities I’ve taken from Harvey Daniels’ Literature Discussion and Ruth Culham’s 6+1 Traits of Writing books. These help us zero in on the craft of writing and appreciate the skill of the authors we are enjoying.
I’m so thrilled with how our year has begun. As I develop tools that are helpful for our learning, I’ll come back here with posts to share them. I hope you’ll try them and give me your feedback. My heart is that every homeschooling parent experience excitement and joy and satisfaction in teaching their children. And that every learner has days filled with meaningful, absorbing, engaging intellectual activity, powerful hands-on experiences, and satisfying personal growth that energizes them to learn more. Let’s take all the steps we can in that direction this year!