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.

Teaching a Child to Read

I have taught many children to read, and it is such an exciting thing to see the understanding of how to read really click in a child’s brain. I even get a little thrill of excitement when I see complete strangers sharing on social media videos of their children beginning to “get it.” This post is not about how to teach reading though. I have plenty of thoughts and ideas to share on that, but not today. This post is a little bit of the conversation I had with my husband the other day about ‘when’ a child should begin learning to read.

Now remember that this is a homeschool blog, so I’m talking mainly from the point of view of a homeschooler. In the homeschool world there are various schools of thought on when children should begin lessons, and what those lessons look like or consist of. There are academically heavier ideals, and there are more wild and free types. There are those that think formal lessons shouldn’t begin until at least age six, and then there are those that have full curriculums for their three year olds. And of course you’ve got those whose opinions fall somewhere in between these. I am one of the latter I suppose. I don’t think a small child should be expected to sit and do formal lessons that are workbook heavy or such. I also cannot say that I think a child shouldn’t begin learning how to read or do other more academically challenging things until the age of six. What I do believe is that a child should be read to A LOT, and given the opportunity to learn whatever is up next for them to learn. I don’t view learning in grades or levels, or even ages. There are paths followed to learn things, and a child should learn whatever is next on their path. Learning is sequential. In order to be successful, a child must learn things, be it reading or math etc., in the right order. The age of a child doesn’t matter. The ability of a child is what matters. Every child is different and you just can’t think that what is best for one child is best for every child. Each child should be considered individually when it comes to something like learning to read, and given opportunities to show where they are on their own path to being a reader.

Look at this picture of my son. He just turned six and a half and is devouring chapter books left and right. He has a notebook in which he likes to keep track of his completed books. In the month of January he read twenty books to himself. He will walk into a room to do something but end up distracted because he saw a book. This happens multiple times a day. He also loves to read all the Minecraft books he can get his hands on, most of those books are informative and not stories. I’ll also walk in a room to find him on the couch reading through one of the many beautiful science books we have sprinkled throughout the house. A few weeks ago I started allowing him to read in bed for a little bit, and you’d have thought I told him we were going to Disneyland or something. I look at my son and I think, what if I hadn’t given him the opportunity to learn to read until he turned six? He loves to read, and had I not given him the opportunity to learn when I did, then he wouldn’t be able to do this thing that he loves so much right now.

Kids learn to read at all different ages. Some kids get it at three, while it doesn’t click for other kids until they are older than ten. The age of a child is not so much my point though. My point is that kids should be exposed to learning to read at a young age so that if they are a child is ready at a younger age then they’ll get that gift early, and if they’re not ready then it’s also fine because there doesn’t need to be any pressure put on them to actually learn. It’s just there as an option if they are ready and able. And from how I see it, this is how just about all education should be approached. I don’t think little kids should be kept from doing seat work because some actual love to do it, but there is also no need for them to HAVE to do the seat work. Most littles don’t enjoy it, but I know some that do, and how sad to not give them the chance to do educational things that they’ll enjoy. I cannot agree with the idea of keeping a child from doing something just because a method, or the age listed on a box says they aren’t ready yet. Look at your child as an individual and judge for yourself what your child is ready for.

Ultimately what we want for our children is a good relationship with books. I have yet to come across a parent that doesn’t want their child to be a reader. We all know that the more a child reads that better they are likely to do in life in general. And those of us parents who are readers ourselves, we want our children to know the wonder and love that we have for books. Regardless of when your child masters reading, let the stories happen. Read to your kids of all ages. It’s one of the greatest gifts you’ll give both them and yourself.

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.

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

You’ve Always Been Their Teacher

The comment I probably see most often when it comes to homeschooling, (besides “socialization”) is parents feeling like they aren’t qualified to teach their kids. It seems as if some parents are worried that they themselves won’t have the skill needed to teach their children things. I think I understand where these thoughts are coming from. I mean people go to school for many years to study how to teach kids, but that isn’t the whole story. Teachers are trained in how to teach a CLASSROOM of kids. Yes, teachers have hopefully been taught the different learning styles, and given plenty of hands on experience in implementing different methods, but the reality of teaching a classroom of children is very different than teaching your own children in your home. If a teacher has learned about various learning styles, that doesn’t mean they are able to bring that experience to the classroom. Teachers are required to maintain order and teach to the learning styles that best accomplish that order. They are not free to teach to the need of every child, or give children the individual attention so many kids actually need to learn well.

Now step into the homeschool “classroom” and notice that it is not a classroom at all. There is no class. Just your own children. Parents homeschooling their children do not need the classroom training that teachers go to school for. Even parents with multiple children, in various learning levels do not need special training. All it takes is some trial and error to figure out what works best for you family, and how your kids best learn. And you don’t have to figure these things out right away either. This is your family, and you can try things out and change things up as much as you need until you find what works.

It is my strong opinion though that the biggest reason you don’t need a certification to be your child’s teacher is because the moment that child was given to you, you became their teacher. A parent is the first teacher a child will ever have, and that is the way God designed it. How many things have parents taught their children by the time they turn four!? SO many things! To walk and to talk. To use a spoon, a toilet, and a toothbrush. We teach our kids to catch a ball, to ride their bikes, or to jump rope. That is only to name a few physical skills that the average child is taught by their parents, but what about the more complicated things like social etiquette or moral virtues. Society can easily testify to how hard it is to teach morals. It seems some people never learn them, but involved and caring parents are doing their best to teach their children to be good people. And keep in mind that being good does not come natural to any of us. It is an up hill climb for every person. Granted some people are better at climbing that hill than others, but we all climb it. Good parents teach their children how to climb that hill. As parents continue to climb the hill themselves, they teach their kids what they know, and help them along their own journey. This is the essence of teaching; example and support. It is the same in all forms of teaching.

What is teaching reading or arithmetic compared to instilling virtues in our children? A walk in the park comparatively. There is no box curriculum that can really help you raise your children to be good people. Sure there are books and some “guides”, but it’s the continual lesson called “life” where a child learns all the most important things. Keep all this in mind if you are one of these parents questioning your own ability to teach your children academic subjects.

We can also be thankful that when it comes to homeschooling there are so many resources out there to help you teach your child anything. You are not on your own. You don’t have to feel like you know how to teach a child to read or the steps to carrying out a new math concept. There is help for everything. Making the decision to homeschool does not mean that you are now on your own, thrown into the homeschool pool to figure out how to swim. There are communities for support and help, and most curriculums explain how to teach a subject. Not to mention we live in a world with the internet! We didn’t have the amazing tool of the internet when I was a homeschooling kid, and I am still so thankful that I now have it as a homeschooling mom. It is an endless resource for learning just about anything!

Ultimately the most important thing that you as your child’s teacher must bring to the table is a desire within yourself to also learn. You will not know how to do everything your child will need to learn, but it isn’t hard to find out how. My children often ask me questions I don’t know the answers to, but I love when this happens because then we get to learn together. One of the best bits about homeschooling is how much I get to learn right along with my kids. I think this ‘togetherness’ in learning actually helps our children learn all the better, and instills in them the oh so important lesson that life is meant for learning; that even adults should be continuing to learn. That is my main goal in homeschooling my kids; that they will leave my home still loving to learn and always wanting to. If that happens, and I am confident it will, then I will have been a great teacher.

Why “Gradient Homeschool”

To start off this blog I want to share why I chose the name “Gradient Homeschool.” I wanted a word that expressed the ease, and the natural progression of learning. I asked a couple family members to brainstorm with me, and the word ‘gradient’ came out, as in ‘color gradient.’ Picture in your mind the gradual increase in a spectrum of color. How colors move nearly imperceptibly from one shade into another, going from light to dark. But you can’t tell where the actual change takes place. It happens over time until suddenly it’s another color, and you notice the difference. My boys have a light that has a color changing rotation. While we sit and watch it, it is changing, and we’re trying to guess what color it’s going to be next. Sometimes we get it right, but some of the time the change is so gradual that it is too hard to tell until the transformation is complete. I say complete, but it’s never fully complete. The light continues its cycle from one color into another, into another, and so it is with education. The growth of a child’s knowledge and understanding is gradual and often times, not even perceptible until one day, it suddenly is. A knew concept is finally understood. A new skill is finally acquired.

Children follow a gradient path as they grow. Going from one stage, smoothly into another, and then another. Sometimes it will seem to us that a child just jumps from one of these stages into the next; that they suddenly can do something, but that’s never the case. There is preparation, practice, and unnoticeable learning that takes place inside a child before they grasp some new ability. Take learning to walk for instance. A baby has so many days of practice pulling themselves up, standing holding onto something, falling down, standing solo, and falling down some more. Then finally steps happen, and some more falling, a few more steps, and suddenly they’re walkers! But that baby didn’t just go from crawling to walking. There was a learning gradient they followed. The process from crawling to walking is a bit more perceptible than some other gradients of learning, but you can see my point. Learning flows from one stage into another, and does not just take place in these stages alone. Honesty I don’t much care for using the word “stages” when it comes to learning. To me it seems too cut and dry; too boxy. Kids and education do not fit into nice and neat little boxes. Both are too complicated and complex for boxes. But a beautiful color gradient of learning; that is an educational concept I can visualize and get behind. 

The notion of how a color gradient blends the colors, also goes to support my idea of how life and learning blend together. The two go hand in hand. As a homeschooler, there is no start and stop to the educational process.. We don’t learn 8am-3pm Monday through Friday, September through June, with breaks on weekends and holidays. We learn always, and should always be ready to learn. Homeschoolers don’t juxtapose “home” and “school” because they are one and the same, just as living and learning should be. Life grows, and the truest form of growing, is learning. If you are not learning, then you are not growing, and if you aren’t growing then are you really living?

This isn’t to say that those who go to a brick and mortar school are not really living. Don’t misunderstand me. What I’m saying is that for the homeschooled child, their learning is allowed more gradiency. It flows from one thing into the next. This is why it isn’t uncommon for a homeschooled child to struggle when asked what grade level they are in. For many homeschoolers they are not in a set level, but typically somewhere in between levels in various subjects. My son would have been in kindergarten this past school year had I sent him. But when asked what grade he is in I cannot say kindergarten because he is somewhere in-between kindergarten and 2nd grade in just about every academic subject. Yet his physical skills like riding a bike or brushing his teeth are a bit lacking for what would be considered most “normal” for his age. My son’s learning is on a gradient. In some things it’s a lighter shade, in others he’s already an obviously new color. Our lives are on a beautiful color gradient. Our learned skills blend for one shade into another, and into yet another. It’s forever and it’s beautiful, and it’s woven together into all areas of our lives. This is a Gradient Homeschool; a gradient life.