2020 has certainly turned out differently than I had expected, but homeschooling carries on. :) This post will detail our curriculum and resources for the 2020-2021 school year.
Character Comes First
"one may cultivate his mere intellectuality till he becomes the brilliant center of the world's admiration, if such were possible; but you cannot call him educated if he is vicious, if his anger in uncontrollable, if he is a drunkard or a glutton, if he is stubborn, if he is unconscientious, if he is irreverent, if he is spiritually blind, if he is selfish, if he is dead to the appeals of human want or suffering."
Education is much more than academic learning; it involves our emotional and spiritual development as well. Without the development of good character, a person may certainly be knowledgeable and could even become an expert in their field of knowledge, and yet they would be missing the central core of what it really means to be educated.
Teaching my children to be honest, responsible, kind people is more important than the acquisition of academic knowledge, so I focus quite a bit of my efforts on character development. Household responsibilities, discussion of character during read-alouds, service within our community, and relationship development are just some of the ways I focus on character development.
An important part of giving my kids a love of learning is encouraging them to pursue their own interests. One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is that my children have as much time as desired to follow their passions. I'm supporting my children's current interests as follows.
My kids are partners in a small chicken egg business. They work together to take care of the chickens daily, and each earn a small amount of money for every dozen of eggs that are sold. Owning their own business has given my kids the opportunity to learn much about raising and caring for animals, handling and saving money, profit vs. loss, the value of hard work, perseverance, and long-term commitments. They're becoming experts in management of the flock, and they make the hard decisions about keeping their business viable throughout the productive and unproductive egg laying years of their hens.
13-year-old daughter Alina
As Alina prepares to move into self-directed Scholar Phase, she has periods of time where she is very focused on achieving specific goals, and other periods of time when she is content to float along in daily life. For instance, last semester she decided to undertake a Reading Challenge wherein she read 22 classic books in four months. Then, over the summer, she decided to take it easy and not set any large goals.
I have to remember that both of these are totally okay and normal during the transition into Scholar Phase. I have to remind myself not to push or force my own educational agenda onto Alina. I am supporting her during this time of growth and change by continuing to let her "own" her education and learning goals.
Alina's primary interests have been changing over the last couple years. Her current primary interests are dragons, Dungeons and Dragons game, and history. I support these interests through:
Giving her plenty of time and materials for drawing and creating dragons,
Being willing to schedule times for our whole family to play Dungeons and Dragons together (I have a hard time slowing down for the several hours it takes to play this game, so I have to be purposeful in making sure I facilitate this), and
Giving Alina exposure to more people and places from history through read-alouds and chapter books.
10-year-old son Ian
Ian has had a lifelong passionate interest in cars and other wheeled vehicles, tools, and machines. More recently, his interests in dogs and cooking have been increasing. I support these interests through:
Including a focus on inventors and inventions in our history studies,
Teaching him how to cook new foods,
Making sure he has plenty of books about dogs, vehicles, and machines to read.
I do not push my children academically (been there, done that, ahem, burnout!), but I do purposely give them exposure to plenty of academic subjects and pursuits. My kids are not required to do school; nonetheless, they love engaging with our different curriculum options. You can see an overview of our current daily homeschool routine here.
Literature is foundational to our homeschool. It gives us exposure to different cultures and values, allows us to "walk a mile" in others' shoes, and facilitates important discussions that lead to character growth.
I read aloud classic books to my children most days. These include both picture books and chapter books with beautiful language, engaging storylines, and memorable characters. Read alouds spark many of our most important discussions about culture and character. Some of our recent read-alouds have included:
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman
Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Wind Boy by Ethel Cook Eliot
Family Audio Books
Periodically, we listen to classic audiobooks as a family in the evenings, and then discuss each book as a family. We may also watch a movie adaptation to compare with the book. This has been a great way to get my husband involved in our homeschooling. Recent family audiobooks include:
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Impossible First by Colin O'Brady
Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maude Montgomery
Little Men by Louisa Mae Alcott
My kids are also allowed to listen to 1-hour per day of audiobooks, usually during our (absolutely-essential) afternoon Quiet Time. Audio books have been a fantastic way to give my kids exposure to a wide variety of classic books without any additional effort from me. Most of the audio books are free downloads from Librivox. Recently, my kids have chosen to listen to:
Chronicles of Narnia series dramatic recording
What's Mine's Mine by George MacDonald
Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll
Makers of Many Things by Eva March Tappan
Insect Adventures by Jean-Henri Fabre
Burgess Animal Books by Thornton Burgess
I help set the stage for reading proficiency by reading-aloud often. This allows me to show my children what a wonderful world is hiding between the pages of books. I also make a point of reading on my own frequently; children naturally emulate their parents, so it is important for them to see me engaging in reading and discussing books as part of my own lifelong education.
My 13-year-old daughter Alina is an advanced reader who has read voraciously since age 5. I don't do anything in particular to help her with reading except make sure she always has plenty of fresh books on-hand to read. I also try to make time to read the books she recommends to me, so we can discuss them together. Currently, Alina is diving deep into the Dragonlance series, Courageous Princess graphic novels, and the Childhood of Famous Americans series.
My 10-year-old son Ian reached his own natural developmental reading age about 1.5 years ago. At that time, he suddenly started learning to read very quickly, and progressed through ~5 reading grade levels in less than a year, almost effortlessly!
Although Ian's reading would have been considered "late" were he in school, thankfully I had learned about the wide range of developmental readiness for reading so that my son did not feel pressured or insecure about his reading progression. Some kids naturally learn to read at very young ages (like my daughter, who was reading Charles Dickens at age 6), but it is totally natural that some kids do not read until later, even until as late as 12 to 14 years old. Knowing about this gave me the confidence and patience to (mostly) relax and wait for Ian's reading journey to unfold.
Now, I can continue to support his natural reading development by making sure to regularly check out new and engaging books from the library, and by making sure there is enough down-time in our schedule during which he can choose to read.
Ian reads in spurts: some weeks he reads every day, then he may go a week or two without reading much at all. I have to remember that this is totally okay, and purposefully leave it up to him to determine when/how much he wants to read. Recently, he's been enjoying the Nameless City graphic novels, Shiloh series, and dog books by Jim Kjelgaard.
Writing, Spelling, and Typing
We don't use a formal curriculum for writing or spelling. Instead, I try to find ways to incorporate writing into our everyday lives, so that the writing my kids do has real meaning rather than being a forced exercise. There is more about writing in our homeschool here.
Some of the current ways in which I encourage writing are:
My children have a few Pen Pals. My children love receiving letters in the mail, so this has been a big motivator for them in practicing their writing semi-regularly.
My kids have email accounts, through which they can communicate with family members. (For security, I set up their email accounts to forward all email they receive to my own email account.)
My kids have recently become interested in writing and typing stories. They write and type their own stories, as well as collaborate on stories. (I have to make sure to be available for the frequent "how do you spell...?" questions.)
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. For more details about how I teach math without a formal curriculum, check out this blog post.
Currently, our favorite resources for math study are:
Sleeping Queens card game, with the addition of a few house rules including being able to get a queen if you can figure out how to make a math equation with all five of your cards,
many other games which incorporate math,
Life of Fred books, which tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university (there is a detailed post about how we use Life of Fred books here),
Individual bank accounts and personal money management,
Flash cards for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and money, and
Mathematicians Are People, Too books, which we are using alongside our history studies
Last year, I started a new pattern of alternating between history one semester and science the next semester. This allows me to dig as deep as we want to into any particular topics, without feeling stressed about trying to fit it all in. Alternating history and science worked so well that we're doing the same this school year.
We use the following a 4-year-cycle for history:
We are currently on Year 4, for the second iteration of this 4-year cycle. Although I like using Story of the World for Ancient and Middles Ages history, I found that it was too focused on wars, beheadings, and conquests for Years 3 and 4.
History is so much more than fighting and strife! I want to focus more on beauty, inventions, and discoveries, and so for Years 3 and 4, I prefer to use history "spine" books from Simply Charlotte Mason. Our main history resources for this year will be the following:
Stories of the Nations, Volume 2 - This book is history told in story-form, focusing on the lives of people, rather than memorization of dates and names. It focuses on world history through explorers, scientific discoveries, and empires.
Stories of America, Volume 2 - This collection of stories details USA history from 1850 to the early 2000's. This book also interweaves poetry in alongside the historical stories.
Rand McNally World Wall Map - This beautiful map adorns one of our living room walls and allows us to easily see the regions we are studying.
Replogle Globe - We frequently use our globe to look at the locations of the places we read about in our history lessons, so history lessons become geography lessons as well.
We use a 4-year cycle for Science:
Year 1 - Human Body, Animal Science, Plants
Year 3 - Chemistry
Year 4 - Physics
This year our science studies will focus on Physics and Nature Study. We will start our Physics studies in January 2021 with the following resources:
Exploring the World of Physics, by John Tiner, is a "living book" that discusses Physics through the context of stories about the lives and discoveries of great scientists
Physics Experiments for Children, by Muriel Mandell, is a book of simple physics experiments we can perform at home
Nature Study allows my children to focus their hearts and minds on the beautiful cycles that flow through our outdoor world. When they connect with nature, there is serenity, wonder, and joy. There is more about how we do Nature Study here. We'll be focusing specifically on the following for Nature Study this year:
Fruit and Vegetable Gardening - My kids learn so much through caring for their own plants in our family vegetable garden. Every year, they each select a few types of plants to grow. They help me amend the soil with compost, and then they plant their seeds and nurture their plants until they reach maturity. Harvesting their own fresh produce gives my kids such joy and a sense of accomplishment.
Desert Harvest - This year, we're feeling a call to become better prepared for times of crisis. As such we're going to be learning more about edible desert plants and other ways to find sustenance in our habitat.
Beauty and Creativity
I incorporate beauty and creativity into our home school in the following ways.
Arts and Crafts
I make sure we have plenty of materials on-hand for arts and crafts. In addition to crafts they come up with, I make time to do painting, simple sewing projects, and holiday decorations with my children. Here are some of the resources we currently use for arts and crafts:
The Art of Stone Painting by Bac - This book gives us lots of inspiration for rock painting.
Dover Coloring Books - These detailed coloring books provide us with a simple creative outlet. We especially like using these while listening to audio books.
Kinetic Sand - Kinetic Sand is kinda like sand, except it sticks to itself, never dries out, and is not very messy. My kids have been playing with our Kinetic Sand for years and it still seems like-new! They use it to create bridges, creatures, and freeform shapes.
Pelikan Watercolors - These are not washable, but they are really vibrant compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past.
Low-temperature Hot Glue Gun - My children use the low-temp hot glue gun for making crafts.
Prismacolor Colored Pencils - These high-quality colored pencils were given to my children as a gift, and they are now one of our absolute favorite art supplies. The colors are vibrant and the lead does not break so easily as other brands.
My children's homeschool band class has switched to online private lessons for trumpet and flute during the current situation. Hopefully their in-person class will be able to resume this Fall.
Although we normally like to attend live concerts and plays, since those are all cancelled this year we are instead learning about the lives and music of great classical composers with the Music Masters CD's. These CD's each tell the life story of a classical composer and then play some of their music.
Each December, we have a music and arts focus, culminating in a small family music recital and A Christmas Carol reading on Christmas Eve.
Physical activity is healthy for us all, so I make a point of getting regular physical activity with my kids. Some of our favorite ways to get physical activity together are:
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. Typically, we do the bulk of our schooling in the mornings, leaving the afternoons free for the kids to play, create, and explore.
What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?
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