Kindergarten is fun. We might play games, foster make-believe time, spend hours at the park, read books, sing songs, or any number of activities that feels easy to plan and implement. Around 1st grade, however, many of us need to register our homeschools with the government. Now, it feels real. Now is when we become not just parents, but also—really, officially—teachers.
Can we really do this? Yes, we can.
First grade actually is not the year you need to stress about getting that perfect curriculum, or determining exactly what style of homeschooling you like best, or figuring out how you are going to juggle school with a toddler and a baby. Rest assured, the main work of first graders is still playing and exploring.
Researchers have learned that children learn self-regulation through make-believe. That is, they learn the skills to control their emotions, learn new things, and delay gratification, which will be more essential to learning in the long run. Susan Engel, senior lecturer in psychology at Williams College, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times: “Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play—from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games—can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective, and thinking of alternate solutions.”
It’s not that you shouldn’t start doing your homework about curricula, if you want to use a curriculum, or evaluating different homeschool philosophies, but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. Don’t get caught up in the worry of how, what, and when of homeschooling right now. If you enter homeschooling with a sense of adventure and curiosity (just like your kids!), you will find that all those things tend to work themselves out.
If you find a curriculum that you fall in love with, try it. But remember that all children develop differently. If you love it but your child doesn’t, it may mean that you need to wait another year. Or, you might want to experiment with other resources. There are plenty of free and inexpensive materials out there. You might want to exhaust these—especially the library—before making a big purchase.
Chances are, if you do this, you will:
- 1) learn more about your student (is nature her thing? would that nature-based curriculum be the ticket?),
- 2) learn how your student learns (is he more of a visual learner or hands-on?),
- and 3) get a feel for what works for you. (Do you need something that does the planning for you, or is it easier for you to piece together some curriculum of your own?)
You don’t have to stick to a curriculum if your child balks at it. While you want to foster good habits, you need to pay attention to your child’s reactions so that you start to understand when he really needs more time—a little growth and maturity can go a long way—or when he might just be stubborn. If your child is in tears, it’s probably wise to pack the lessons away for a while. You will see a big difference in the reaction of child who can do the lesson but just doesn’t want to. That usually means some complaining and sulking on his part and some nudging on your part, but not tears or a loss of spirit. If a child can do the lesson, but he absolutely hates it—so much so that he’s losing his enjoyment of learning—you might want to reconsider your tactics, too.
The bottom line is that school should not cause tears, and you want to remember why you decided to homeschool in the first place. You can get creative. You don’t have to stick with any curriculum or method if it doesn’t seem right for you or your child.
COURSE OF STUDY
Before you consult one of those all-encompassing “What Your 1st Grader Should Know” lists, sit down and make a list of what you believe to be the most important elements of a well-rounded education. It may include subjects, such as the most influential artists of our time, and your priorities, such as to learn at his own pace or having plenty of time to move around and play.
As you learn more about educational philosophies and what interests your child, your list might change, but it is an important tool to refer to throughout your homeschooling journey. It will help you keep from getting steered in the wrong direction when, say, you hear the local school is teaching xyz in your daughter’s grade, and you realize you haven’t even touched on that subject. Or when your friend’s child loves a cool class, but your son isn’t interested at all. Your list will remind you what is important. It will remind you that while you can’t cover everything, you are covering the things that matter.
When you consult a course of study for 1st grade, such as the thorough lists on World Book’s website, take a look at the lists for 2nd grade and 3rd grade, too. You’ll find that while some concepts are added in each grade, many are repeated. So if your child just doesn’t get skip counting in first grade, don’t fret—skip counting is on the 2nd grade list, too. And, of course, these lists should be taken with a grain of salt. Talk to a seasoned unschooler, and you’ll find that most children will learn everything they need to know as they need to know it.
Before you get overwhelmed by the lists and go out and buy an expensive curriculum that is supposed to cover everything, challenge yourself to make the library your main homeschool resource. (If you don’t live near a good library, be sure to find out if your state has an interlibrary loan.) Let your child pick any books he wants, but keep a list of your picks, too. In the 1st grade, you might want to find books on these topics:
• literature—Any storybook goes
• math—Yes, there are storybooks for math!
• holidays—find books to read to help you learn about the history and how different people celebrate
• animals and their habitats
• plants and how a seed grows
• the water cycle
• the planets
• science experiments for kids
This is not an exhaustive list, but if you get in the habit of going to the library and showing your children how to use it, the world will open up to them—and you.
You might find lists are burdensome, or you might find them a helpful guide. Either way is OK. The bottom line is don’t worry about it, especially in the first grade. Do you want your child’s education to be about checking off a bunch of boxes, or do you want it to be about exploration and fostering a love of learning?
Experiment with schedules, resources, and take the time to get to know your child and different ways of homeschooling. After all, in first grade, you have a long way until graduation.
This article is excerpted from the summer 2015 issue of HSL.