Hello, readers! I hope you’re having a great summer of fun and good books! I’ll be back with some summer reading book reviews on July 15th. Today, I’m addressing the slew of questions I’ve gotten lately about homeschooling.
Schooling choices loom large for parents this year. With the strange kind of world children’s education has been plunged into thanks to a pandemic, all our hot summer days filled with pool splashing and popsicles are tinged with the ever tingling question, “What should we do this fall??” There aren’t any easy answers. Since we’ve been homeschooling for a while now and many parents are considering giving it a try, I’ve received lots of questions about what curriculum we use and how we homeschool multiple grades. The answers to these questions are bound up in each other, so I’ve decided to layout what books and programs we use to homeschool together, from 1st grade to 6th.
But first, a disclaimer! Homeschooling is a work in progress always, and there are very few experts. I am not one of them. The beauty of teaching your own children is knowing them well and making choices based on that knowledge. If you have this freedom to teach your kids at home, whether it be just for one year or for ten, I hope you also feel the freedom to make your family’s needs and culture a top priority in how you go about it. Everything doesn’t have to be mastered in one year. Homeschools aren’t one-size-fits-all, and families are so very unique and give something completely different to the world than the next family. All that being said, I’m happy to share what’s working for us and what we like
We are now homeschooling our 11-year-old, 9-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-year-old. Yes, I’m including the 3-year-old, because we are all together all the time!
For the 2019-20 academic year, I had two goals when it came to curriculum choice: it had to flex for multiple grades and it had to be something I would enjoy using. If the teacher dreads the material, what student wouldn’t? Our school year in 2019-20 was our best yet, so I continued most of the same curriculum for 2020-21.
Math – We have used Horizons since the beginning. I chose this one because of its engaging, colorful workbooks and open-and-go nature (it’s a spiral math curriculum, for anyone wondering). Each child does his or her math lesson at a desk, and Dad, the math teacher, rotates around and helps anyone who needs helping. We start with math because that way Dad can teach it before he goes to work each day.
Language Arts – After a short break, the kids are back at their desks. First-grader Violet pulls out her phonics (Sing, Spell, Read and Write) and does a few pages in her workbook. Then we practice reading together. (Note about the SSRW program – we do the “Off We Go!” book for Kindergarten and don’t start “The Raceway” book until 1st grade). Fourth-grader Isaac and 6th-grader Ella do a literature based program called Brave Writer Arrows that incorporates copywork/handwriting, spelling, grammar, and writing. I like it because I get to co-write it, but that’s my inner English major nerd talking. =) I customize their assignments in this program based on ability and grade level. Last year Isaac also went through a Handwriting Without Tears book to get him writing well in cursive. He really liked it! I would choose that over the Bob Jones handwriting that my oldest did, especially for kids who don’t like to write or have short attention spans.
Cultural Studies – We read a devotional together and then rotate between an artist, composer, hymn, poet, fable/legend, and poem memorization. I have used A Gentle Feast’s Morning Time book, which is beautiful and easy to implement, for four years now. This year, I’ve chosen one art anthology, one poem anthology, and one composer biography collection to work through, because I would like to try more of a survey approach to these subjects instead of just doing a few artists/composers/poets each year. I do highly recommend A Gentle Feast’s booklets if you’re just getting into these types of cultural studies (or some call it a “beauty loop” or “morning time”), for its ease of use and guidance.
Science (2x per week) – We will be using Science in the Scientific Revolution by Jay Wile from the Berean Builders curriculum. We used Science in the Ancient World last year. I was drawn to this curriculum because it introduces science on a historical timeline (I am a history lover, not necessarily a science lover…). Each lesson contains a very doable experiment or illustration that does not require special equipment. Best of all, it is written for many grades to work together! At the end of each lesson, there are assignments broken down for younger students, older students, and oldest students. The target age is Kindergarten to 6th grade, but truly, I am learning so much as an adult from this book! This year I also purchased the new student workbooks for my rising 4th grader and 6th grader to make applications even less confusing.
A note about science: Up until our oldest entered 4th grade, we did a lot of nature science assigned in A Gentle Feast‘s curriculum. We read the Burgess Bird Book, Burgess Animal Book, nature readers, and went through Exploring Nature with Children. We all liked this format for 1-3 grades, but when we reached Form II in the Charlotte Mason style curriculum, we weren’t fans of thes books assigned, and that both science and history were scheduled every single day of the week. The Berean Builders science has been a huge improvement for our family’s schedule and sanity, but I do appreciate and miss the value of nature studies, and plan to get back into Exploring Nature with Children again this year to supplement our other science studies, especially for the benefit of my 1st grader.
History (2 x per week). Oh, how we love history! We read lots of historical books, but our core structure comes from The Story of the World Series. Last year we read The Story of the World, Volume II: The Middle Ages (400-1600), which overlapped with our science time period. We read two chapters a week, and I used the maps and activities in the companion activity book to flesh out the information and include geography in our history lessons; the two subjects are intrinsically linked, anyhow. We also use blank maps for tests and geography quizzes on Seterra.com. We also like these map coloring books. This year, we’ll do more of the same with Volume III and the activity book that contains the maps and other applications.
Literature – I choose various read-alouds based on what I think everyone would like, what history period we’re studying, and what I can match up with the Brave Writer Arrows. Last year we completed Frindle, All-of-a-Kind Family, The Sign of the Beaver, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, Anne of Green Gables, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Usually during this time the kids are sketching or creating something. I never require them to only sit and listen. Modeling clay, sewing, drawing, painting, whatever can be done quietly at the kitchen table or on the living room floor goes! (I count this as “handy craft” time). The littlest plays with whatever she wants as long as it’s quiet. A lot of times, a snack is involved. =)
Foreign language – All three of the kids have a Spanish lesson once a week at our homeschool co-op, and the older two have recently gotten really excited about learning French with the Duolingo app this summer. I picture this being an afternoon thing this school year.
And that’s the bulk of our curriculum guided work! I don’t currently choose “readers” for the kids to read on their own. My oldest two are voracious readers, and I keep an eye on what they read, but I mostly let them choose for themselves. I am thrilled that they both love to read and don’t want to burden their joy with assignments! We have ballet, basketball, and other various sports mixed in throughout the year. Once a week the kids go to a co-op where they do P.E., Spanish, science, art, and literature. My oldest was tutored in art by a family friend last summer, and she is continuing to practice all she learned at home. Seasons of busyness and more intense home-learning come and go. It’s an ever-changing endeavor, and we have found it both rich and rewarding, especially when we take the time to jump in with both feet when a student expresses an interest in a certain topic or new skill.
I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to make homeschooling doable for your family, whether you’re in it for years to come or for this one crazy pandemic year. If you’re looking for further reading, two books that have influenced my homeschooling practices are The Brave Learner and For The Children’s Sake. I’d also highly recommend Teaching from Rest and Honey for a Child’s Heart (this one has awesome book lists!).
See you back here soon for more bookish discussions!