This Year’s Curriculum

I know some places have already begun the 21/22 school year but here in Oregon most kids don’t typically get started until after Labor Day, so that will be my plan as well. Of course my approach to school is to never really stop. Throughout the Summer Nathan has continued to do math regularly and has also begun typing practice because he wants to learn to code as well. Nathan is a voracious reader so I don’t assign him books. He has a book journal that he writes the title of ever completed book in and his numbers are always high so I see no need to give him specific reading directions at this point. Though I am always hunting for new books for him because he goes through them so quickly. As we begin the new school year I’ll have books picked out for us to read aloud together where we’ll take turns reading, so that he continues to build his reading aloud skills. Reading aloud well is actually harding than silent reading, and something that many people never really develop. As I discovered in my first college class.

Going into this new school year I’ve switched up a few items we were using, and have decided what areas I feel we need to focus on as Nathan’s core subjects vs. what we’ll do on more of a loop “schedule” or as the fancy takes us. Because he reads so well this will not be an actual subject he has to do. We will be doing math, handwriting and typing, spelling, some language arts/writing. Nathan will be doing mostly 3rd grade level work, but he is only “suppose” to be in the second grade, so there are some thing like writing where I don’t expect him to be at a third grade level. He also likes to creative write his own stories and I don’t want to put a damper on that at this time by forcing too much writing. There will be time for that.

For math Nathan began using the first level of Beast Academy at the beginning of the summer. He is using both the online and physical versions of the curriculum. He really loves it so far. He’s very much a fan of earning stars and rewards through the gamification of things and the online version does this. It also has very good videos that explain new concepts, as well as the comic book style guide books of the beasts doing various math concepts. The approach to math in this program is a lot different than what I learned. There is a lot more logic involved and puzzle/problem solving. I can see the benefit of being able to think of numbers in this way though, so I don’t mind the times where I also have to learn what Nathan is doing in a lesson. I enjoy the opportunity to stretch and train my own brain in new ways. It’s not a good fit for every kid, but we’re liking it a lot, so it’s definitely one to look into further if you’re needing something different in the math arena.

For handwriting Nathan will continue with Handwriting Without Tears, and when he finishes this workbook we’ll probably just do copywork.

For spelling I decided to go with Sequential Spelling. I didn’t want to use a curriculum with spelling included because I am a bit opinionated when it comes to learning to spell. It’s something I actually really enjoy, but I did’t like how it’s presented in most curriculums I looked at, so I decided to separate LA from spelling, and found this curriculum that approaches spelling more purposefully in my opinion. It focuses on word families as well as words within bigger words, and the common prefixes, and suffixes added to these words. This allows the brain to actually train in spelling multiple words together rather than just trying to remember how to spell a word on its own. Lol I don’t know if that makes sense or not. It’s a bit hard to explain. If you want a separate spelling program though I would suggest looking into this one as a possible option. We haven’t actually used it yet though, so I can’t give a review, but I plan to make it fit our needs even if I end up needing to tweak it, but I don’t really foresee that needing to happen.

For Language Arts we’ll just be using a simple workbook. I’ve looked through so many and found them all to be about the same. Like I said I didn’t want one that included spelling so that ruled out quite a few. I decided to just go with an inexpensive workbook. Harcourt fit the bill, and looking through it I think it will be just fine. I also like to add fun things like Mad Libs or Apple to Apples Jr. to keep it a bit more interesting. We have the Usborne Grammar and Punctuation book and Nitty Gritty Grammar that we can use for reference when needed. I also thrifted a newer children’s dictionary, and bought a used children’s thesaurus this year to add to our bookshelves.

This year writing will be a lot more go with the flow or inspired in the moment. I did purchase our first Dart from the Brave Writer’s program that I plan to try out. It’s for the book Charolette’s Web, which is one I’ve been waiting for the right time to read with Nathan. I also hope to include a bit more poetry this year, but we’ll see if we get around to actually writing any of our own. I see it happening, but am not holding myself to it. Nathan is always full of new book ideas, (mostly Minecraft related, but to each his own) and I want to encourage this in him, so I won’t be pushing a ton of writing for now.

You might notice in the picture the notebook that I wrote “Book of Centuries” on. This is basically a book that you make entries in when you learn about something that happened at a particular time in history. These can get very detailed and impressive, but this will be our first one so we’ll just make it super simple. When we read about a historic event, a new person, a new scientific discovery et cetera we will enter it in its proper place on the time line. I think it’s a great idea for beginning to line up what happened when rather than trying to memorize specific dates. I’m actually looking forward to doing this as well. God knows I have no idea where a lot of things fall on the history timeline. You might notice the Story of the World book in the picture as well. I intend to continue using this periodically as time allows. I do enjoy it, and we’ll just make an entry in the Centuries book after reading something new.

I don’t stress about science because we’re all naturally interested in various fields of science, and we learn a lot just as topics come at us in life. Sometimes we’re a bit more purposeful, but other times science just happens. We have a ton of amazing science books in our house. ( I just purchased some new ones which I hope to get around to sharing). We also stop and google when we have a question, which will often lead us down a fascinating rabbit trail of discovery. Nathan’s grandma also sends him and Simon science subscription boxes which are a fun way to add science in. Nathan’s is MelScience Kids, and Simon gets Little Passports.

There is more we’ll be doing, but that’s the main stuff right there. We’re a homeschooling family where both mom and dad love to learn new things too, so learning is a big part of day to day life. We’ll probably do some foreign language stuff like Spanish and ASL because I’m interested in these things and I include the boys in what I do. Nathan will likely do more computer learning with daddy, and I do hope to get him in piano lessons at some point, but with the pandemic it hasn’t happened yet.

So this is what our homeschool year will look like as we start out. It’s bound to change a little. Our homeschool is very fluid. I also will not do all of these things every day. The core will normally happen every day, but some days are just hard and school needs to be on the lighter side. Some days we get an opportunity to do something fun and different, so we set school aside for the day and do that. Some days we’ll play more games or watch a documentary. Some days we may decide we need cookies, and so to the kitchen we’ll go. It’s all learning.

A New Year and Enough

I haven’t written for a while now. Instead of writing my advice on how to be present with your kids and enjoy the holidays, I was busy with my own kids, enjoying ours. The holidays were more tough this year because I just wasn’t feeling Christmas like I usually do, despite all my efforts. Who am I to give advice to others when everything I was doing wasn’t helping me to feel in the holiday mood? So I just chose not to write.

I am a big fan of Christmas, so much so that I even celebrate Christmas in July, but to be honest it never really got to feeling like Christmas to me this year. I still made sure to do all the things we normally do for Christmas. I didn’t let the lack of what I was feeling affect how my kids experienced their Christmas. We never really do a big gathering so that wasn’t missing for us this year. We did advent every night, and focused on the light, and had plenty of fun as a family, playing games and watching some movies. Now it’s over and we’re all preparing to begin a new year.

Obviously this past year has sucked for most people, and I truly hope this next year holds more good news for us all. I am not going to dwell on the craptastic that was this past year though. I’m just thankful to have come through it mostly unscathed. The reality is though, that at the stroke of midnight nothing actually changes. BUT the new year always holds new hopes. I hope this next year is better than the last. I hope this for everyone. The new year is also guaranteed to come with struggles of it’s own; that is life in a fallen world. I will live in hope though, and the actions I choose to take can help. I’m more of a realist than an optimist, but I am also a realist that knows I do have some power over my life. I cannot control the world around me, but I can chose where my focus lies, where energy goes, and where I place my hope. I can look at this next year and decide how I want to begin it even if I cannot see where it will head.

Now for homeschooling, since this is a homeschool blog. We have taken a little holiday break, which has included plenty of games (lots of math happening here) and lots of reading. I plan to get back into the swing of things come January after we celebrate my youngest’s birthday. If you read my last blog, you know I think of myself as a “skeleton” schooler. I have a general structure or outline of the things I want to focus on, or make sure we cover, and then everything is pretty fluid from there. Before I start up a regular schooling schedule again, I will sit down and make a list of the things I want to be doing for the next little bit of time. Like scissor work for both my boys ( an area of weakness for them both) and how I want to move forward with teaching my youngest to read or my oldest to begin writing more. I will take a look at math and see how it’s going for us, and if there is anything I want to change up. I’m planning to start a English word roots curriculum, so I’ll prep that, and that’s it. We’ll just get back into the swing of things. We’ll do some school most days, and we play, and we’ll enjoy our Winter while we anticipate Spring.

Remember, school does not have to be overly complicated. In my opinion, learning shouldn’t cause stress until you get to college. Hahah then the stress is inevitable I think. Do not think you need to do all the things. Do not think just because Susie McHomeschool’s kids are doing this or that, that means yours should be too. I suggest you take the opportunity of a new year to evaluate what matters to you, what your kids are really needing during this time, then make adjustments accordingly. Mostly I just suggest you stop watching people’s lives that make you feel like your life is somehow less, or that you are not doing enough. I’m sure we’ve all been sucked into that social media emotional trap. This year I want to make sure to acknowledge said trap and side step it. I am not those other moms and neither are you. There are things I am not capable of doing, wether it’s financial, physical, emotional and even geographical reasons. There are things my kids will and do miss out on. That’s normal. Not all kids will live the same kind of life. My kids are mine, and they’ll live the life I can give them. Your kids are yours and they’ll live the lives you can give them. That is enough. You enough. If nothing else, I hope you go into this near year knowing and hopefully also believing that you are enough.

Happy New Year to all and happy homeschooling

Steph

Skeleton Schooling

There are many different “methods” or schools of thought when it comes to teaching our children. Different schools, teachers and parents will be drawn toward the various methods, and do their best to implement them for their students. Some of the popular ones out there are Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Classical, and even Unschooling, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Personally I fall into the “eclectic” camp. I’ve read up on all these ways of teaching, but I cannot fully jive with any of them. Thankfully, I do not need to. For my boys I have taken what I believe will work best for them from these various schools of thought, and put together my own way of schooling. I thought this Halloween season would be a fun time to mention it because I like to refer to it as “Skeleton Schooling.”

I do not like complicated things. I also I’m not a giant fan of being told what is the “right” way to do something. So I have taken what I have learned from reading, and my own homeschooled background, and formed a way to go about my boys’ education that is simple, yet I believe strong. I focus on what I believe are the most absolute basics, and most important focuses for their current stages. These are the things I believe are the most necessary and valuable for holding up everything else they will learn for the rest of their lives. I view these things as the “bones” of their education as students and human beings. There are various parts to education, and all are important for a strong, healthy, intelligent person, but it all starts with a good framework; a skeleton if you will.

I am an avid learner; a true student at heart, and I adore learning about new things. There are SO many things I could add to our homeschool; so many subjects we could cover that I think would be very interesting. Even with how much I love to learn though, I know that for us, too many subjects and activities would easily upset our equilibrium. I may be a forever student at heart, but I am also easily overwhelmed. Knowing this about myself, I cannot make our homeschool too much. Especially not in these early years. These years where my children are young (preschool and second(ish) grade) I want to just focus on the skeleton subjects, so that as they grow we are able to add on some of the other wonderful areas of learning without one or all of us crumbling under the pressure. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever do more than the basics. I just mean that I don’t let anything else weigh our homeschooling down. If we feel like studying something, or an opportunity for learning presents itself, then we will totally jump on it. This happens all the time because life is full of its own unscheduled learning. At this time focusing on just a skeleton of subjects allows us plenty of time for the extras without the stress of needing to get through a list of “must learn” subjects.

I enjoy the homeschool community I have found on Instagram. There are so many wonderful parents on there giving their kids full and beautiful educations, but a lot of what I see would be too much for me to handle at this time. Also, I am aware that not all of these parents are doing all of the things. One mom over there is doing all the hikes, and makes the most gorgeous nature journals with her kids. Another mom over there just made a fabulous King Tut mask with her kids as they study Ancient Egypt. This mom does the prettiest handcrafts, and yet still another parent is over there baking all the yummy breads. These things are all good. They are all things I would love to do with my boys, and probably will do at some point during the time I have them in my home. I will not be doing all these things at one time though, and for the most part, other parents are not doing all these things every week either. Remember that.

What is comes down to is being free to make our homeschool work well for my children and myself. I want my boys to be smart, capable and kind, and so I will focus on what I need to do to help them grow as such. This just won’t happen in my home if I try to do all the things. I will be quickly overwhelmed and thus so will my children. So for now I will focus on the “skeleton” of their education. We will do the things that will give them an incredible structure for the rest of their lives to grow on. With a strong foundation or skeleton they will be able to more easily add on subjects as the grow and learn them well.

To form my skeletal school structure (that was an accidental alliteration, but I like it, so there we go) I think about my beliefs and my children individually, and put together a plan based on those things. For our current “skeleton school” I focus on various forms of reading, math, and talking about Jesus. Yes, we do a lot more than these things, but these are the skeleton; the things I know we must excel at in order to have the strongest frame for everything else in life. There are many other subjects that I place high value in learning. Things like handwriting, writing skills, and learning about the world and the stories of the people we share this world with. We do these things regularly, but they are secondary in my system. Focusing on the skeleton keeps the pressure at a minimum for us all, and allows us the freedom to enjoy our learning journey together.

Fires and Homeschool

This has been an insane week. I had planned to start the new school year on the 8th, and technically we did manage this. We did a few lessons and took some First Day of School pictures. Shortly after this though life got crazy. My childhood home is in a community that was threatened by a giant wildfire. As the day progressed the skies became more filled with smoke, and we could tell the situation was worsening. That same night my parents and little sister ended up having to evacuate to my house which is farther away from that particular fire. Two days later we all had to evacuate from my house. We split up, with my parents going to the coast, and my little family went North to Vancouver to stay with some friends who’d graciously opened up their home for us.

Those days were so emotional. Honestly the days are still very emotional. I never feared very much for my own home, but the fire came within a half mile of my childhood home. If the weather and not shifted when it did, it is likely we would have lost it. I feel so grateful that both our homes are safe. Many others do not have that same comfort. I cannot wait to go for a walk in my old neighborhood again, and bask in the thankfulness that fills my heart when I think of how close we came to losing it.

Now we are back home, but living in a horrid cloud of smoke. We supposedly have the worse air in the world. I have lung issues and cannot step outside for even a moment, and even indoors I am struggling. It looks like we’re living in very thick fog that just never clears up. My husband and I play a game of “how well can I see that tree in the distance.” It’s kind of a depressing game. Trying to keep our indoor air clean enough has been a challenge. I’ve never been so aware of the need for fresh air. I think I will probably cry when I step outside again and smell the lovely fresh smell of rain. My kids seem fine thankfully, but putting this concern of air quality on the end of a very rough week, I have become truly overwhelmed. Needless to say, after that first day of school, homeschooling had gone out the window. It’s not at all how I’d pictured the beginning of a new school year. Being greeted by a wild fire is no way to start anything. I don’t recommend it.

One of the beautiful things about homeschooling the way that I do though is that it actually doesn’t matter when or how we start. I don’t have a schedule we have to keep to. There is no way for us to be “behind.” I am able to put school on the shelf until life calms down and I am in a better head space to handle it. I cannot imagine pressuring myself to get schoolwork done while I was in the midst of fearing for my home, and way of life. Thankfully I didn’t have to. I get to pick and choose how and when we school. I was bummed about school because I’d had some fun plans, but those plans will keep. We did some math on Monday this week. We did some math and reading yesterday, and today I hope to add another thing or two. Nathan has already done some reading to me, and he wrote his friend in California a letter. We’ll probably get to some math, but even if we don’t, we’ve done some schooling, and I can count that as enough. Right now it’s definitely enough.

As Seasons Change

There is something about school supplies that excites me. I know I am not alone in this. I have to fight to keep myself from buying new crayons every year, especially since I typically have several unopened boxes from the previous year. There is just something wonderful about fresh crayons, and you never know when you may need a new box right? The few new supplies we actually needed were purchased and have been waiting in a bag these many weeks to be cracked open on the first day of school. After patiently waiting, that day is just about here.

We technically never stopped doing school work. I find it much less stressful to school to some degree all year round, and since I don’t live in a state that requires I track hours and days, I am free to do this. I believe it also helps to keep up with skills like math all the time. This way nothing is ever forgotten, and we can just always be moving forward, instead of needing to stop and relearn something. That being said, I plan to officially begin Nathan’s first year of second grade this coming week. I also plan to be more intentional about doing educational play with Simon, and we’ll call it preschool. I have been collecting new supplies, learning games and activities, and plan to make up a big shared basket of all the items to give the boys on our first day. I’ve purchased a few new books (I can never have too many) and I have scored some awesome thrifted finds in games and such that I will also be adding into the basket. I’m excited for the new year, and the basket of new (or new to us) fun things will help the boys also be excited. I’ve never done this before, but I love to put together fun baskets of things, and thought that this year I’d take the opportunity to do it.

As we approach the new school year I am ruminating on what I want and hope for it to feel and look like. Not just the goals I’d like to accomplish, but what I want the atmosphere in our home to be, and what memories I hope to make. I adore Fall and the anticipation and enjoyment of the holiday season. I want to wrap our homeschool in the wonderful coziness of it all. I’m excited for the ideas I have come up with to make memories with my boys as we all learn together.

I know this school year is going to be harder than normal for most people. Whether kids are attending in person school, online classes, or officially being homeschooled, I realize that for many this school year has added stress and worry to most lives. I know that I am fortunate homeschooling has always been my plan, so this year isn’t really different where the schooling bit is concerned. I am very thankful that in this change of season, I can be heading into it with some excited anticipation. I encourage you to find yourself a moment of quiet to think of what you would like to find in this new season for your family. As we hunker down for the colder months, how can you bring a feeling of peace and coziness into your home when the world around you is in turmoil? Yes, for many this coming season is going to be difficult, but as a parent, I hope that you can find a way to make your home a place of security and comfort for yourselves and your children. I think this year more than any other, the need to make a “hygge” environment in our homes is so important. If you’re not familiar with that term do a quick search to find out all the loveliness it entails.

To me, homeschooling is not just about getting our kids educated. It’s about having a culture in my home of learning and togetherness. The Fall and Winter seasons seem to have an innate togetherness about them because we are indoors and well, together, so I feel like they provide a great opportunity to families. We can help add to this though by being purposeful about our time together. Here are a few ideas if you need a little help to get started:

  • Pick out a new game or two to be played as a family, or pull out some games that haven’t been touched in a while.
  • Plan family movie nights, and maybe even attempt making popcorn from scratch.
  • Pick out a family read aloud.
  • Attempt learning a new indoor hobby together like a hand craft or drawing.
  • Sit down with a cookbook together and write a list of new meals to try, or new desserts to make, and attempt one a week, but do it together.
  • Make your home cozy by bringing out the warm blankets, throw up some twinkle lights, or put out some candles.
  • Buy a few new teas and have a tasting time. Or any new foods!

These are just a few of the ideas that I am planning to implement this coming season, but really the possibilities are vast. This new season will have its challenges for everyone. Life is challenging us all right now. You can go into this next season with some simple plans and dreams though. You can view these coming months as an opportunity to make good memories with your children. You will only get one chance at this year with them, and yes it has been a kinda sucky year so far for most, but you can make some good memories with your children in this next season. Those will be a lot of what they remember of this year. They’ll remember how they were helped to feel safe, and loved in their home, and the best way for kids to have this feeling is simply by spending quality time with them.

Why I Homeschool

Like many homeschooling parents, the reasons I have for choosing to homeschool my children are many and varied. I care that I am the one choosing what they learn and when. I like that I know my children are safe at home, and I’m not having to worry about them being bullied or some such awfulness. I like that I can teach them about my beliefs, that Christ can be a part of the conversation, and the wonder of His creation can be a part of their education. These are all significant reasons for why I homeschool, but ultimately I think most of my biggest “whys” for choosing to homeschool are summed up in one word. Time.

Homeschooling my children will give us all more time. It gives my whole family more freedom with time because we are not being held to a public school schedule. We can do things when and how we see fit because our schedule is our own to make and change. There is no rush out of the door in the morning, we can plan to do things whenever we please, and we don’t have to work family time around weekends and holidays. Our time is ours alone and it’s free.

Homeschooling also gives me more time with my kids to enjoy them as they grow. Both my boys are still young, but already I’m shocked with how old they are. Childhood is fleeting. I cannot imagine sending my kids away for six plus hours a day. That adds up to so much time that I wouldn’t be with them; so much of their childhoods I would miss. Instead, I get to be there for nearly all of it, and I get to be the one teaching them, witnessing their every accomplishment, and storing away all the memories with them in my heart to cherish for the rest of my life. This gift of time during their childhoods is probably one of the greatest gifts I will ever be be given.

Choosing to homeschool gives my kids more time to just be kids. They will have definite book learning time, but so much learning happens apart from structured study times. Learning takes place in the everyday aspects of life. They have time to play and discover and enjoy their freedom and childhoods themselves. As parents we only have so many years with children in our homes, but children also only have those few years to be kids. Childhood is short for both parents and children, and I want them to enjoy this time as much as I myself want to enjoy this time with them.

Last be certainly not least, homeschooling gives them the time they need to grow and learn at their own pace, where they won’t be held back or sped up according to the crowd they are placed in. My kids are able to learn and grow as they need both emotionally and academically. I am better able to protect my boys from things that they are not emotionally ready for, and am with them to help ease their way into some of the more emotional aspects of life. They won’t have to grow up too soon based on what they are exposed to outside of my home. I know some might think this is being too protective, but I think that’s ridiculous. It is not my goal to raise emotionally tough kids, but to raise emotionally strong and understanding kids, and to me there is a big difference.

Academically this time is theirs. There are no other kids they need to keep up with or slow down for. There is no busy work or projects to waste their time on. My boys are able to become interested in something and give it all the focus and time they want because there aren’t any set rules of having to cover this or that topic by a certain date, or do this or that subject at this time of day. I may make some plans for subjects I want to get done in a day, but these are basically just core subjects, and I’m not too bothered missing them every now and then to let the boys continue it a self given project that they are absorb in. For example, the other day my oldest got enthralled by the idea of making a Minecraft Dungeons mobs handbook. He planned it all out and spent hours pasting cut out pictures in a book. Little was he aware that he was learning. He did so much handwriting while labeling the characters and now knows how to spell the word “new” because he wrote it so many times. I obviously knew this was fabulous handwriting practice that I didn’t have to nag him to do, and he did pages of it! I quickly shelved any plans I’d had for lessons that day (though I was pleased that math practice had happened before the idea for this book was sparked). More important and lasting learning will take place in the tasks they set for themselves than the things I will plan for them. We are in no hurry. We’ll always get to the things I feel are important to learn, but I also don’t have to cut short what their minds and imaginations are entrenched in just to hold my own schedule.

These are all examples of the extra freedom of time my family has been given with the choice we’ve made to homeschool. I was homeschooled, and always knew I wanted to homeschool my own kids one day. As a kid myself, and later as a young adult, I didn’t understand how large the gift of time would be for my family though. Once I became a mom I better grasped how fleeting time was, and how quickly my babies were growing. With each stage passed, and each outgrown article of clothing I cull from their dresser drawers, I am remind that my time with them is short. Every day I am grateful for this extra time I’ve been given. So very grateful.

A page from Nathan’s Minecraft project