Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Homeschool Curriculum (for a preschooler and a 1st-grader)

As a follow-on to my post about our homeschool routine, I wanted to share what curriculum we are currently using.  I apologize that this post is so long, but I wanted to get it all down in one post so that those who don't homeschool won't be inundated with irrelevant posts.

Before I began homeschooling in earnest a couple years ago, I researched various schooling and homeschooling methods and philosophies.  While there are some good ideas in each of the different schooling methods, the two methods that really resonate with me are Classical and Charlotte Mason.  My own homeschooling philosophy is largely a combination of these two methods.

My 3-year-old son is doing preschool work and my nearly-6-year-old daughter is in 1st grade. In our few short years of experience, I've learned that flexibility is key to successful homeschooling. Although I planned out our year back in July, I've made a few large changes to our approach as the year has progressed.

Preschool Curriculum for 3-year-old

  • Reading
    • I read picture books aloud to my son at least once a day. A few times a week during this reading time, I will show him specific letters in the book and talk about the phonetic sounds those letters make. 
    • One method I learned from Maria Montessori's writings was to only teach two things at a time. For instance, if you are teaching colors, only show two colors; trying to teach all the colors at the same time can be frustrating for kids whereas just remembering red and yellow is relatively simple for them to do. To apply this concept to reading, I make sure that during any reading session, I emphasize no more than two letters. I also try to pick letters that look very dissimilar, such as A and T for instance.  
    • I try not to interrupt the flow of reading to talk about the letters and their phonetic sounds.  Instead, I talk about them before we read the story, usually focusing on letters on the cover page or first page.  
    • We are also using the Bob Books Alphabet Books to further emphasize letter recognition and phonetic sounds.  My son and his older sister both love these books.
  • Fine Motor Skills
    • About twice a week, I work on fine motor skills with my son. These skills will be necessary once he starts writing. I primarily use Kumon workbooks for teaching fine motor skills. I've used Kumon workbooks for both of my kids, starting when they were two years old. Both of my kids have loved using these books. 
    • Kumon books are great because they use a very gradual progression to teach basic coloring, pencil skills, cutting, and gluing. I love the Kumon workbooks for preschool work; I don't like them at all once they get into grade-school type work as they are too repetitive and suck the fun right out of school. 
    • The following list shows the preschool fine motor skills books I use for my kids when they are 2-3 years old.
  • Free Play
    • In the preschool years, play time is hugely important in brain development.  So, while we do a little school work throughout the week, most of the time my 3-year-old son is just allowed to play.
    • At least once a day (weather allowing), both kids are sent outside to play for 30-60 minutes.  

1st Grade Curriculum for (nearly) 6-year-old

  • Reading 
    • Reading has been my top homeschool priority in Kindergarten and now 1st grade. This means that, on a hectic week when all of our plans fall away, I make sure reading still gets done. Reading is the only subject that is "studied" 5 days a week in our 1st grade. When we started 1st grade back in August, my daughter was already reading fairly well.  (I'll talk more about how I taught my daughter to read in a future post.  For now, you may find my list of Favorite Resources for Teaching Reading helpful.)  
    • For the first half of 1st grade, our reading lessons looked like this:
      • My daughter would choose what to read from a small stack of books I set out.  These were initially early reader books and Progressive Phonics books, progressing up to chapter books such as Magic Treehouse books.
      • She would read aloud to me for 20 minutes every morning.
      • After she finished reading, I would read to her for 20 minutes.  This was a great motivator for my daughter. 
    • My daughter's reading skills blossomed so much during the first half of the year that she is now reading at a 5th-to-7th grade reading level. So for the second half of 1st grade, I have restructured her reading lessons to look like this:
      • Four days a week, my daughter chooses what to read from a small stack of books on the couch.  These may include topic books that relate to our current history and science lessons as well as full-length fiction books such as Doctor Dolittle and Dealing With Dragons.
      • She sits quietly and reads by herself for 30 minutes. Often, she will continue reading for another 20-30 minutes after the timer has gone off, but I have to watch out to not let her read for too long (else she won't have any interest in doing any more school work or even play for the day, but will just read and read.)
      • I pre-read all the books my daughter reads, so she and I will often discuss the books she is reading throughout the week. This is a great way for me to assess whether she is comprehending the books she is reading.
      • One day a week, my daughter reads aloud to me from a full-length book OR she reads picture books to her brother (I just make sure the picture books she reads to him are somewhat challenging and have great writing, such as The Leaf Men. You can see a video of her reading to her brother here.)
    • My daughter always has access to plenty of books to read in her free time, some of which are below her reading level and some of which are the same ones she reads for her daily lessons. She often chooses to read for the duration of our daily quiet time in the afternoon (which is about 2 hours long). 
  • Writing 
    • My daughter does handwriting practice at least 3 times a week. I don't use a specific writing curriculum.  Rather, I make custom pages for her each day based on her interests. There are tons of writing workbooks out there, but I find that my daughter stays motivated if I customize her writing practice to whatever she's interested in at the time. For instance, I may write out a favorite quote from a book she's reading, or even let her dictate a letter or story that she'd like to write (if it is long, then she can work on half of it one day and the other half the next day).  
    • My daughter really likes cursive writing and asked to learn it, so she typically practices cursive two days a week.  I either print something from the computer or hand-write it out, and then my daughter traces the words and letters. 
    • Once a week, she practices printing.  My daughter got fairly proficient at printing during kindergarten (when she would trace the words and letters), so for 1st grade printing, I write/type out the words and then she copies the words herself. Or, we play a game where we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter uses a chart of words to know how to spell the words she wants to write.
    • I use several free fonts to create the writing sheets on the computer.  Print Clearly is the font I used when she was still learning to print.  For cursive, I use Learning Curve font.
  • Math
    • We do formal math lessons 3 times a week, and I also work in random math things at other times (like weighing food at the grocery store, looking at price tags, measuring for baking, etc). 
    • We started the year using Singapore Math curriculum. We followed it for the first couple months of 1st grade, but then I noticed that my daughter was getting less and less interested in doing her math work. I don't want math to seem like drudgery, so I took this as a cue that it was time to change what we were doing. So now we play math games and read math books instead of following the Singapore Math curriculum.  The result is that my daughter now loves math!
    • We play math games twice a week. 
      • Card games
        • Addition or Subtraction War is a great way to learn math facts without having to do lots of worksheets.
        • 21 (also known as Blackjack) is a great way for kids to learn addition and strategy as they try to reach 21 without going over.  Both of my kids love to play this game, which they call the "Hit Me" game (since that is what you say when you want another card).  I've made this game even better for teaching a real understanding of what the numbers mean by using a number line. (I made a number line on the wall using painter's tape and a permanent marker.)  We each select a colored token (which are really poker chips) and with some masking tape we show how many we have on our cards.  As we get more cards, we move our tokens along the number line.  This way it is easy to tell how close we are to 21 and also to see what happens when we bust (and go past 21).    
      • Dice games
        • Yahtzee is great for teaching addition and number recognition.
        • First to 100 is a game for teaching addition and visual knowledge of numbers up to one hundred. Each player rolls two dice and adds them together.  Using a hundred chart, each player colors or crosses out the number they rolled.  First to reach 100 wins. (This game can be played in reverse to learn subtraction by calling it First to 0.)
      • Monopoly is a great game for teaching larger numbers and the concepts of buying/selling. Since it can be such a long game, I typically limit the game to one hour long and we each start the game with two properties.
    • Once a week, I read aloud a math book. 
      • Life of Fred is a series of math books that tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university.  The chapters are nice and short, and the end of each chapter gives a chance for us to practice math from the chapter (which we usually do on a lap-size dry erase board). Both of my kids love hearing about Fred. I think it is awesome that this book series actually goes up all the way through Calculus! 
      • Even though she didn't like doing the worksheets on a regular basis, my daughter still loves for me to read from the Singapore Math textbooks and work through them with her.  She actually takes these books to bed with her in the evening frequently to read them on her own.
    • Once every week or two, my daughter gets to do Khan Academy for math (which is free and has short arithmetic demonstration videos and a chance to try her own arithmetic).
    • Once or twice a month if I am too busy to play math games (such as on Cleaning Day), I will pull out a few math worksheets (either the Singapore Math worksheets, or free worksheets from Enchanted Learning).  My daughter doesn't mind doing math worksheets so long as she isn't required to do them very often.
  • History and Science
    • We use the methodology outlined in The Well-Trained Mind for history and science.  There is a four-year cycle that starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time.
    • We study history once or twice a week. For 1st grade history, we are using Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times as our history backbone, and then reading lots of applicable books from the library as a supplement. 

    • our hallway history timeline
      • Each week, we read a chapter from Story of the World as well as one or two picture books/fairy tales that compliment the ancient culture we are studying.  I have chosen to deviate slightly from the order presented in Story of the World (which is chronological but therefore jumps around a bit from place to place); rather, we are studying one ancient civilization at a time so we can really immerse ourselves in each ancient culture for a month or so.
      • We also use the Story of the World Activity Book that gives lots of ideas for projects and crafts that can compliment the history lessons, as well as lists of other books that correspond to each chapter in Story of the World.
      • I made a history timeline in our hallway, where we can keep track of important people and events as we go. This helps to create an overall understanding of what was happening around the world at different times in history.
    • We study science once or twice a week. For 1st grade science, we are focusing on animal science, the human body, and plant science.  
      • A great idea from Charlotte Mason was to use stories to teach rather than text books. This allows the child to really engage with the material in a real way, as they imagine the story happening.  
      • In the first half of 1st grade, we studied animals. There is a set of wonderful stories from the early 1900's by Clara Pierson. These stories interweave facts about animals, plants, and insects with nice stories, most of which have a moral lesson as well (similar to Aesop's fables). We often chose one animal or insect from each story and learned more by either reading topic books from the library or watching short videos on the internet.
      • In the second half of 1st grade, we are learning about plants through gardening. This is something that gets reinforced each year when we plant our seeds, watch them grow, harvest the fruits of our labor, and then watch the plants die as the weather changes.
      • We are also focusing on the human body this semester. Every week or two, we learn about a new part of the human body, and we are making a life-size model that we add to as we go.I find that I am most pleased with old books for teaching about the human body.  The more recent human body encyclopedia-type books are too graphic intense for my taste, and I don't like that there is no narrative which carries over from one page to the next.   Some of my favorite books for teaching about the human body are:
      • Twice a month, we do nature study.  This is another aspect of Charlotte Mason's schooling philosophy that I really like.  Nature study for us may be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons.  We also take nature walks, looking at the flora and fauna in our neighborhood as well as the nearby desert landscape. Each of us has a nature notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter. At this age, I still help my daughter with writing in her notebook by writing down the words she wants in the notebook, and then letting her trace the letters (and this would count as a writing lesson too).   
  • Virtues
    • Because I think that learning to be a kind, respectful, and diligent person is just as important as learning to read and write, I am teaching our kids about virtues. Once or twice a month, I write up a page listing a virtue for us all to work on. This paper includes a definition of the virtue, plus some examples of how each person in our family can put the virtue into practice. For instance, one month we focused on the virtue of compassion.  The examples of putting compassion into practice included giving my daughter a hug when she is having a hard time, and being quiet and calm when Daddy arrives home after a rough day at work. Some of the virtues we will work on this year are:
      • Compassion
      • Fairness
      • Faith
      • Honesty
      • Patience
      • Gratitude
  • Art
    • At least once a week, my daughter gets to work on art projects.  Sometimes, these projects are as simple as freeform painting, and other times they are full-blown craft projects.  
    • Once or twice a month, we have a family drawing class. This is a great activity for our whole family, and I've been amazed to see that even I can learn how to draw well!  We are using Drawing with Children to guide our family drawing classes. 
All told, this seems like a lot of work.  But, in reality, we are done with school work each day by around noon. This leaves us plenty of time for a daily quiet time as well as free play time for the kids.

Do you have any favorite curriculum options to share?


robyn said...

Thanks for sharing! I especially appreciate the book links. I'm right behind you with a 5 yr old boy and this really helps me come up with my own plan. Please keep posting about great books you find!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the details. I really appreciated the information. I shared with a couple other moms.

Kelly said...

Thank you, this is SUPER AWESOME and perfect timing!!! I so appreciate you :)

Brooke said...

I don't homeschool, but I enjoyed your suggestions. I kept a note of them to supplement some of the work my daughter does at school and to prepare for summer enrichment.

Lori K. Johnson said...

Wow, I am so impressed with you! You are doing such an awesome job with your children - thank you for sharing this. I know of a few Moms who will be truly be blessed with the forward ;-)

Elizabeth said...

You might enjoy herbalrootszine.com for some of your nature study. We sure do!

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks Elizabeth.

Kathryn said...

I feel I have discovered an on line "kindred spirit". I could read your blog all night! Amazed at how much we share in common and also inspired to learn more about some of the topics on which you write, I had to smile when I saw mention of Dr. Ben Carson via your virtues link above. LOVE him. We do much of the same curricula you do, but one suggestion for math - have you looked into Right Start by Dr. Joan Cotter? It follows much of the same philosophy as Singapore, but with an emphasis on math games and very few worksheets, especially for the younger years. Your daughter (and you too) may enjoy it.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Kathryn,
It's great to "meet" you and I'm glad you are finding much you relate to on this blog. I will look further into Right Start for math, as it sounds great based on what you've said.

Michellerobin1979 said...

Thank you for introducing me to the Life of Fred books. My son is 6.5 and is a math guy already. I think he will get a kick out of these books. Now if I could find something to turn him onto reading.

Cant wait to see more of your homeschooling posts.

Jessica said...

We *love* Life of Fred and Story of the World. I'm not a home schooler but a school supplementer, and these have been fun ways to add education without it seeming like more school.

We're on Cats in Life of Fred, reading a bit aloud at night before bed each night. I'm going to have to slow down or start over at the end of this one as the math is becoming too challenging for my first grader.

Story of the World we bought on audio and listen to in the car. More than once, we've sat in the driveway to finish a chapter, and we're all learning from it. Way to use that wasted time driving from place to place! :) We also like math music to learn addition facts.

Are you on the Well Trained Mind message boards? If you're not, you should be! :)

Sarah Smith said...

We, too, will start re-reading LoF soon until we get a bit old and ready for more advanced math. What music are you using for learning addition facts?

I love the idea of using the audio version of Story of the World in the car! I think we'll try that for 2nd grade.

I'm not a poster on the Well Trained Mind message boards, but I do often peruse the forums for information.

Unknown said...

Amazing so great love khan academy this will be a great addition for my 3 girls!

Kidbux Blog said...

Hello there, Kumon’s learning method takes students through a structured programme involving specially developed worksheets. Kumon constantly evaluates and revises the worksheets of all its programmes to ensure there is nothing hindering smooth progress. More info at: