Although we home school year-round, each summer we scale back our schooling and focus less on structured school activities and subjects. Once August arrives, it is time for us to start our new school year. My children and I all love the fun of new school supplies, new curriculum resources, and new subjects to focus on for the coming year.
Responsibility, Integrity, and CharacterThe subject I focus on the most, the one that I keep forefront in my mind for homeschooling priorities, is my children's character. At their young age, building the foundations of who they are is more important than any math or reading skills. Teaching them to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, honest, and responsible takes the highest priority over all other schooling subjects.
To this aim, our homeschool includes:
- reading-aloud books that illustrate people who have high character
- having frequent discussions about scenarios in books and life, including different choices and what those would lead to
- daily work in the form of chores and responsibilities appropriate to my children's respective ages
Individual InterestsAn important part of developing my children's love of learning is encouraging them to pursue their own interests. I support my children in developing their own interests as follows:
- 8-year-old daughter
- My daughter has her own chicken egg business. After saving up money and demonstrating responsibility by caring for a couple laying hens over a period of a year, she bought chicks last year and has now been selling eggs for about 8 months. My husband and I have invested heavily in her business through providing housing for her chickens, building fenced areas for the chickens to graze in, and myriad other unforeseen chicken-related expenses. This business has been a huge learning opportunity for my daughter, as she has learned how to care for chickens, the value of hard work, decision-making to maximize her profits, and how to handle and save money.
- My daughter tends to have interest in many, many different subject areas. I support these interests by helping her dig into these areas through library books, field trips, and projects. I aim to be flexible enough that I can drop my "plan" when her interest is sparked so we can pursue her interest wholeheartedly.
- 5-year-old son
- Following in his sister's footsteps, my son has decided to start an apple business. Through many months of saving, he saved enough for 3 apple trees, which we have planted and cared for over the last year.
- My son is very interested in machines and gadgets. I am supporting him in this interest by taking him to job sites to observe machines in-action, reading him books about machines, and allowing him to explore the innards of old broken machines and gadgets. As a special surprise, we will also be putting together a V-8 engine kit later this school year.
Academic SubjectsI do not push my children academically, but nonetheless I do give them exposure to plenty of academic subjects and pursuits. You can get a general idea our daily and weekly homeschooling routines here.
My 8-year-old daughter is an advanced reader who reads voraciously, so I no longer do anything in particular to help her with reading.
My 5-year-old son is in the early stages of learning to read, and I find the following resources helpful when he chooses to sit down and do reading lessons (typically a couple times a week).
We don't use a formal writing curriculum. Instead, I encourage my children to write in the following ways:
- I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. This makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.
- Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask me to I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children.
- Whenever we do science experiments (which are discussed below), I give my children the option to write down their hypotheses and observations. The children often want to write their observations themselves, but would like me to write them out first for them to copy or trace.
- Whenever we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write in their Nature Notebooks.
- My children have become Pen Pals with their grandparents (even the grandma who lives close-by). My children love receiving letters in the mail, so this has been the biggest motivator for them in practicing their writing frequently. Most often, I will type the letters for them in an appropriately-sized printing font and then print out the letters for my children to trace.
I am not using a traditional math curriculum for my children. Rather, they are learning math in the context of everyday life, through games, and through math read-alouds.
- Everyday math includes learning math through activities such as:
- baking, which teaches measuring and fractions,
- grocery shopping, including price comparisons and weighing of items, and
- earning money for pulling weeds, then counting their money and saving to buy specific items.
- My children love the following math read-aloud resources:
- Bedtime Math - This series of books is new for us, and looks like a fun way to encourage mathematical thinking. My daughter, especially, loves to learn random facts, so she will get a kick out of reading this book since it includes so many little interesting facts.
- Life of Fred - These books 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). In addition to teaching math, Life of Fred also teaches much more. For instance, we learned about the Orion Nebulae in Life of Fred: Butterflies.
- Sir Cumference books - Sir Cumference books are engaging picture books that cleverly wind mathematical concepts into the stories. For instance, in Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, my children learned about diameter, radius, and circumference in a fun and easy-to-remember way.
- Anno's math books - Anno's books are beautifully illustrated and they show math concepts such as multiplication very clearly. My children especially love Anno's Magic Seeds, and I have found my son practicing to count to large numbers by counting the seeds in this book on several occasions.
- Math games are a wonderful, fun way to learn math. When necessary, I modify some of the rules for my son so he can play too. Currently, our favorite math games are:
- Sum Swamp - teaches addition, subtraction, odd and even
- Yahtzee - teaches addition, number recognition, and writing
- Carcassone - teaches skip-counting and strategy
- Milles Borne - teaches addition of larger numbers and an understanding of which numbers are greater
Because I like to have some overarching themes of what we will focus on from year to year, we are using a 4-year cycle for History and Science. (I read about this 4-year-cycle in The Well-Trained Mind; I don't recommend following the overall schooling methodology laid out in The Well-Trained Mind as that is what led us to have total school burnout, but I do still like to use some of the ideas from that book.)
The cycle 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. Being the second child, my son started participating in this cycle before he was school-age, and he is coming right along with us now on our fourth year of the cycle.
- For 4th-grade history, we are studying 1850-present. We are departing from Story of the World (which we loved for 1st and 2nd grade, but which seemed to become too focused on conquests and wars in 3rd grade). Instead, we are using the following read-aloud books:
- We frequently use our beautiful globe to look at the locations of the places we read about in our history lessons, so history lessons become geography lessons as well.
- I also supplement history study with relevant books from the library. I am using All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide to aid in finding books that apply to the topics we are studying.
- In addition to the above-mentioned read-alouds, we are using the audio Story of Classical Music. I love having audio history lessons since they allow us to turn driving-time into learning-time.
Our science studies for the coming year will be centered around Physics, Nature Study, and Gardening.
- For Physics, we are performing science experiments from Physics Experiments for Children and More Mudpies to Magnets. Whenever we do science experiments, my children have the opportunity to record their observations, and we make use of the scientific method by forming hypotheses before each experiment. We also tend to use the experiments from those books as jumping-off points to investigate other phenomena as well.
- Nature Study is an ever-present part of our science studies. It can 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 own yard and 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.We make frequent use of our National Audubon Society Field Guide and Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America in our Nature Study.
- Gardening is an activity that my children truly relish. In our family garden, each child has their own garden plot where they are growing warm-season fruits and vegetables. They are already looking forward to planting cool season plants in a couple months.
Although we don't use specific curricula for many subjects in our homeschool, my children do enjoy having some workbooks to use at their leisure. These are the workbooks they are using for this year:
- Workbooks for 8-year-old daughter
- Horses of the Old West Coloring Book
- 1000 Stickers
- Grand Canyon Plants and Animals Coloring Book (to supplement an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon)
- Dry Erase Cursive Letters
- Animals Sticker Encyclopedia
- A+ Multiplication Workbook
- Cutting and Pasting Paper
- Workbooks for 5-year-old son
Beauty and CreativityI think it is important to focus on beauty and creativity in our home school, so I make time weekly for the following activities.
Once a week, my children and I have Circle Time, where we sing, dance, and read poetry together. Our poetry book is Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). You can read more about our Circle Time here.
Arts and Crafts
I try to make sure that at least once a week my kids have the opportunity to do arts and crafts. Examples include freeform painting, simple sewing projects, and holiday decorations.
Besides the usual construction paper and markers, our arts and crafts supplies for this year include:
- Pelikan Watercolors - These are really vibrant compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past.
- Draw Write Now Book 3: Native Americans, North America, and Pilgrims - Both of my kids love the Draw Write Now books and use them to self-teach drawing.
- Sculpey Modeling Clay - My kids love making their own figurines and toys with Sculpey modeling clay.
- Low-temperature hot glue gun - My daughter uses the low-temp hot glue gun on her own on her own frequently for making crafts.
Earlier this year, I set up an ever-changing art display of 6 pictures for Art Appreciation. Once a week, I change out one picture, and the children and I study it together. Over time, we study the works of different artists. The kids love this, and I love being able to enjoy so many different styles of art in our living room. (Let me know if you want to know more about our Art Appreciation Display.)
In conjunction with Art Appreciation, my children and I are learning about the lives and music of great classical composers. We are working through the Music Masters CD's, which tell the story of each composer as well as demonstrate some of their music. This is a great way for us to make use of driving time, and we are all gaining a great appreciation for classical music.
Play time is hugely important in brain development. Though we do school work throughout the week, I make sure that there is plenty of time for my children to just play every day. Through their play time, they are able to engage their curiosity, develop their creativity, and learn much about how to interact with each other and their environment.