Everyday Life, Homeschooling

How We Homeschool Multiple Grades Together

Raspberry Cordial!

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.

Math Time!

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.

Science in the Ancient World

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. =)

Raspberry Cordial!

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!

Everyday Life, Parenting

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Taking a break from writing about books and book culture in our homes to answer this frequently asked question:

How do you homeschool with little ones always around?

Wait, I should be the one asking this question, right? I’m the new homeschool mom with little kids!  This is our 5th year homeschooling and my brain is finally catching on: “Ohhh. I should know this now…” Up until this point, my answer has been so unhelpful. A shrug and a “some days are better than others!” is all I’ve mustered because (1) I hate to sound like I’ve got it all figured out and (2) I don’t have it all figured out! But I do know this: We want to instill in our children a love of learning, the ability to learn for themselves, and the strength of character that comes through hard work and good relationships. Our ideal for our homeschooling days may be full of warmth and beauty, but the chaos that comes with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers wages war on our ideal. How can this ever work?

This is about what our homeschool life looks like every day. There are crumbs on the floor, a babbling baby at the table, and a conglomeration of papers, pencils, and crayons scattered everywhere. We are all together the whole time, from youngest to oldest, either at the kitchen table or at desks in our schoolroom, like a crazy one-room schoolhouse in 1858. How in this madness do we (a) learn together and (b) still like each other?? How do you homeschool with littles in the mix? I’ve thought and thought about how to answer this question, and I keep coming back to one over-arching practice in our family. I wish it were a quick fix, a busy bag solution or a magic scheduling technique, but it’s nothing very pinnable like that. It’s totally uncool because the word “longsuffering” comes to mind. But let’s leave out “longsuffering” and use the word commitment.” My one answer to homeschooling with Littles is an everyday commitment to practicing togetherness.

So fun and snappy, I know. And what does it even mean? Well, after Day One of my homeschooling career, I realized my ideal of one child doing schoolwork with me while one child played quietly with toys and another napped was never going to happen. That just doesn’t fly in the world of kids under age 5 who have to be touching me/each other all day every day or spontaneously combust. Right away, I could see there would be no separating small children from our schooling. But if these tiny people expected to be included in the homeschooling fun (and they did), they would have to also expect to BEHAVE. No interrupting, no whining, no singing songs that sound strangely similar to Benny and the Jets out of tune incessantly under their breath. I guess the idea became if they wanted to be treated like students, they would have to behave like students. It’s crazy to expect this from a two or three-year-old, right? Maybe, but after weeks of consistent (and sometimes frustrated) training, an amazing thing happened – they behaved. They could sit and listen to our read aloud, they could color and be quiet during history, and a lot of times they could even answer many of the same questions about the lesson that their older sibling(s) could. I was floored.

I’m not really sure in those early days if I had an epiphany about setting schooltime behavior standards or if it just sort of happened out of necessity, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re plunging into homeschooling with little ones in your home, or you’re already wading through it, maybe practicing togetherness—welcoming the younger children into the experience along with setting standards of behavior—could change your days as much as it changed mine. Separating them from our homeschool life certainly didn’t work for me! To make our home the peaceful and loving place I envision it to, I have to keep practicing this togetherness of welcoming the small ones into our school environment.

Crazily enough, now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think having someone like my four-year-old involved actually enriches the experience. For one thing, she is hilarious, and laughing is good for our souls. But more importantly, our family culture being built on shared narratives and histories gives us a lot to talk about and imagine further as we learn it all together. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t set some expectations at the beginning!

So that’s my answer, my one big homeschooling with Littles discovery – if you expect great behavior from them and teach them how to do that…well, some day, it might just happen. =) I realize so much of it has to do with what personalities I’m dealing with and my own upbringing (I was the oldest in a homeschool family). But because it’s worked so great for me, I figured I would give sharing it a shot, and finally give a straight answer to that frequently asked question!

And now for some more fun and snappy side notes I’ve learned to stick with along the way ~

  1. Keep hands busy – drawing, playing with play-doh, building with blocks, or other quiet thing will stretch an attention span beyond your wildest imagination. In fact, some studies show that busy hands make brains learn more easily! My oldest now likes to stay focused while she’s listening to lessons by taking notes, but up until this year, she was sketching or molding dough along with the others.
  2. Take it outside – literally, take all of it outside any chance you get. Little people are happier out of doors. Fact.
  3. Snacks are golden learning opportunities – while many homeschool families do their ‘morning time’ or cultural studies first thing, I find that a 10:00 gather round the table with a snack works best for us. We have a snack, read some poetry or listen to a composer/hymn or study a piece of artwork, do some literature or geography, read a Bible passage, and the whole time the little people are (relatively) happy because they have their little hands busy and bellies full.
  4. When you have a breastfeeding baby, find a favorite educational show. I know, I know, TV is a crutch, but some babies don’t eat well when there’s a lot of action around them. A 20-minute Wild Kratts or Wishbone gives just the right window for giving the baby a good feeding in the mid-morning, hopefully followed by a nap, and that  100% makes the rest of the morning go better.
  5. Share some responsibility – There are some things we just can’t do all together. During these times, we trade responsibility. One child is responsible for keeping the baby happy, while the other student is taught by the parent, and then we trade off. This works best if I set an expectation for how long and why I need one of the kid’s help, so that they can understand the important role they’re playing in our family and so that they don’t get frustrated with being asked to help when they feel like they should be having a break.

Family dynamics are unique and ever changing, but I’m pulling for you as you figure out what works best for your amazing family in your homeschooling journey. And if you have any epiphanies about what works for you, please share!

Parenting, Reviews

For The Children’s Sake

I saw For The Children’s Sake often around my house as I grew up. I remember it clearly Cover art (Penguin Classics Edition/1989; The Illustrated Children's Library Edition/2002): <i>Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy</i> by Jessie Willcox Smith.because the cover illustration is by Jessie Wilcox Smith, who has been my favorite illustrator since I read her version of Little Women. The cover was the only part of the book that interested me until just a couple of months ago, when my mom held it up and asked, “Do you want this book?”

“Is it good?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

Well. To say that “it is good” is an egregious understatement. It is very good. In fact, it is the best book I’ve read on educating children so far. It has already become instrumental in forming my home educating philosophy. And it’s really not only for parents who solely homeschool, but for anyone who has children or works with children.

For the Children's SakeIn For The Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Maculay (daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer) gives a basic of overview of Charlotte Mason’s thinking on what children need. She has ideas that go far beyond the three R’s. Here’s my favorite: Children are actually little people.

Some of you are going, “…and?” Yes, this seems like it should be very obvious, but it seems like children are so often treated like their intellectual skills are nonexistent.  I recently had a conversation with a someone whose granddaughter’s teacher told her that her granddaughter is so smart. She told this grandmother, “I couldn’t believe I was actually having a conversation with a six-year-old!” I’m sure most of you already are well aware of how conversational six-year-olds are.

Another one of my favorite Charlotte Mason points is that children do not desire or need “twaddle.” What is “twaddle?” You know those books that say things like, “I see Spot. Spot is brown. Spot has a tail”…those books? Well, those may serve some purposes, but mostly they are twaddle. Maculay points out that Mason is right when she says children need “living books,” books that will capture their imaginations and live on in their minds after the story is over. These are the kinds of books that will instill a love of learning and literature in children.

Another highlight of the book is the importance of reaching out to the heart and soul of a child. Education is not about just feeding children’s brains knowledge. They need to play. They need to be surrounded by nature as often as possible. And above all, they need to know love and a sense of being well cared for. This isn’t an environment that can only be found in homeschooling environments, but it is a far cry from most public schools. Because the majority of our nation’s children are in public school, it becomes even more important for parents to take their role in their children’s fully rounded education very seriously. I currently have my children at home with me, but I can see how important it may someday be for me to guard their time at home from educational TV, computer games, and whatever else may seem good but cannot replace the real-ness of experiencing the world around them. I also need to be more proactive, even now when my kids are always at home, about looking into their faces and truly listening to their thoughts. We can all get so preoccupied with our own activities. Mason believed children need to know that their value is inherent because they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and are “image bearers,” in body, mind, and soul.

There’s a lot more to this book, but those are the highlights for me on this read-through. It will be a book I’ll return to as my children grow. Charlotte Mason is a pretty popular person these days in home education circles. Maculay published this book about her ideas before Mason came back into vogue. There is a ton of resources for people who want to delve deeper into the Charlotte Mason method (which I’m not entirely sure Charlotte Mason actually invented…it’s more based on her ideas, if I’m not mistaken). Whatever you and your children do in the education realm, the questions Maculay raises and the ideas she presents in For The Children’s Sake are well worth considering.

If you’ve read it, post a comment! I’d love to know what you think. 



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