Shelli shares the resources she’s been using in her own homeschool this year.
One time an acquaintance I know (who doesn’t homeschool her kids) told me that she imagined the homeschooling life to be very relaxing, and she thought that we would have lots of time during our days to do whatever we wanted. [Can we add a laugh track here?]
On one hand, I think homeschooling is pretty awesome because we’re in charge of our time, and there is a freedom in this. However, to say it’s always relaxing or that we can do whatever we want is a myth. As my children get older, and as they become more dedicated to certain interests, I have found our free time shrinking. I look back with nostalgia on those days when I had a toddler and 1st grader. We had fun doing easy activities, going on playdates, and exploring nature and storybooks. Although it’s very hard work to take care of small children, the work I did with them wasn’t hard, and I got to pick what we did!
This past year I had a 4th grader and a 1st grader, and it was a great year, but it was different from past years. It felt more academic and regimented. This was mostly because my 4th grader has been devoting himself to learning classical piano in a competitive way. This is his thing, and he wants to do it. It’s been an awesome journey for all of us, but relaxing? With lots of free time? Nope.
With this in mind, I thought I’d write what my daily schedule looked like this year—the whole day. Although, it makes me feel a little exposed to write about this. Parents can be so judgmental, and simply writing a list doesn’t give you the real picture of our daily life.
Keep in mind that no two days are the same. Three days a week I took one of my sons to an appointment or two. Some days we would take a break from something or everything! At least once a month we’d have a play date. Weekends were free. Next year, our schedule may change. Our days are always in flux, but in general, this is our daily routine. It’s a routine that has developed to work around our obligations as well as our personal interests. For the most part, it is fun! But it’s also a lot of work!
The times listed are approximate start times, but we’re often running late on everything!
7:30ish a.m. I wake up. Read news, yoga, check e-mail, sometimes write.
8:30-9:00 a.m. Boys wake up. I fix them breakfast and eat with them. I may put laundry in. Do some dishes. We get dressed. Boys will play before we transition to lesson time.
10:00 a.m. Begin morning lessons. I try to read aloud to both boys for about 30 minutes. Then my 10-year-old works on math, grammar, music theory, etc. My 7-year-old gets to play while 10-year-old does one-on-one lessons with me. We usually do this until lunchtime.
12:00-12:30 p.m. Lunch time. Boys play while I make lunch. My husband joins us while we watch part of a nature, history, or science documentary. (He works from home.)
1:00-1:30 p.m. Clean up dishes. Boys help sweep & clear dishes. More “transitional” play.
1:30 p.m. Husband sits with my 10-year-old while he practices piano for at least an hour, sometimes more. I go upstairs to do one-on-one lessons with my 7-year-old. We do math, reading, handwriting, a science book readaloud, play games, and read about birds.
2:30 or 3:00 p.m. Whew. We’re all tired now. The boys watch a kids’ program and then play games on their digital tablets and/or computer. This is my 1~1.5 hours of free time when I might do any of the following: take a walk, nap, cook, bake, write, check social media, clean, more laundry (always laundry). I tend to rotate these activities and do what seems most pressing at the time.
4:00 p.m. Boys finish playing games and the 10-year-old will go outside to play. 7-year-old either plays inside with his toys or goes outside. If I haven’t already, I need to start thinking about dinner, but I usually put this off. I prefer to sit on the front porch and watch the boys play. Or I putter in the garden.
4:30 p.m. This is the time that my 7-year-old likes to practice piano. I sit and listen and/or run back and forth to kitchen while cooking dinner.
5:00 or 5:30 p.m. Dinner. Lately we’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation together. This show starts lots of great conversations!
6:00 or 6:30 p.m. I do the dishes. Boys help clean up. More play.
6:30 or 7:00 p.m. My 10-year-old practices piano again for another hour. My husband is his audience again, and many times, I am too. But I usually go off with the 7-year-old to either play a game, sketch together or paint…. whatever he wants to do.
7:30 or 8:00p.m. Boys take showers & get ready for bed.
8:30-9:00p.m. Boys watch gaming YouTube videos. Eat snacks. I take my shower and get ready for bed. Then I curl up in bed and watch something on Masterpiece Theatre.
9:30ish p.m. Boys clean up and go upstairs. I read books to them. Daddy talks with them about their day.
10:15 p.m. Lights out for the boys. I retreat to my bed to read a book!
11:00 p.m. Lights out for me!
Does anyone else’s schedule resemble mine? Let’s commiserate/celebrate together!
Summer can have a mind of its own, so I know that making a firm agenda for these hot months is futile. Still, past summers have proved that we benefit from a little structure in our days. So I do a few homeschool lessons during the summer, and I also make summertime my time for planning, record-keeping, and cleaning up for a new year. While I do these “administrative” things, my boys have extra time to play, so that makes them happy.
First, I keep our homeschool lessons light. This year, I decided to only do Spanish and readalouds during our morning lesson time. I’ve struggled to include a foreign language in our homeschool in the past, so by putting away almost everything else for now, it’s easy to do one Spanish lesson per day. (I’m trying out Calico Spanish Level A right now, and I’ll let you know how we like it!) I also have a number of books that I never get around to reading to the boys during the winter months, so now is my chance.
It’s great to take a long time to plan and think about what I want to do with the boys in the fall. I have some new curricula to try out, and instead of feeling like I have to read through it all and understand how to use it right away, I have all summer to peruse it. I use my time wisely by going through my curricula (old and new) about once a week until I’ve looked at everything and made my plans. I’m very excited to begin exploring the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive DVD courses this summer. I hope that they may be a good fit for my son beginning in the fall.
The biggest project I undertake every summer is our record keeping. By law, I have to write progress reports for both my boys, but since it’s for our eyes only, I consider it more of a keepsake. I write a list of every subject, and under each heading, I use bullet points to list all the curriculum, books, field trips, and classes that my boys have completed that year. Then, since I’m a photographer, I create a slideshow of the photographs from our homeschool year. My boys love watching the slideshow because they’ve usually forgotten what they were doing at the beginning of the year!
I’m not talking about cleaning my house when I talk about cleaning up our homeschool, although the de-cluttering I do definitely benefits the house. First, I go through homeschool supplies and books and get rid of the things I don’t think we’ll need anymore. (I give good stuff to charity and throw away the rest.) I also like to go through anything the boys may have built or made that year, and I ask them what they want to keep and throw away. This year, I did a deep purge of craft supplies and the recyclables that my eldest son used to use to make things with. He just isn’t into building anymore, and his younger brother is more into drawing and painting. So I have made more room for paints and paper.
I also store away the binders with last year’s work, progress reports and everything else we finished. While I try to let go of things, I probably keep a lot more than I need. But there’s always time to declutter again next summer or the summer after that.
What is homeschooling like during the summer for you? Do you take a break from everything, or do you homeschool year-round?
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 9th grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 9th grader. (You can see what 7th grade and 8th grade looked like for us in the archives, and you can see my high school planning post here.)
So first things first: We survived our first year homeschooling high school! In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s been one of our most enjoyable homeschool years to date. I felt like we were trying to strike a difficult balance—I wanted to make things academic enough to prepare her for a competitive college (in case that’s what she decides to do) without giving up the fun parts of homeschooling that make the experience worthwhile. Overall, I think we succeeded reasonably well.
U.S. History and Literature
We did this as a sort of combination class, but I did go through the steps (they’re not difficult) to get my syllabus approved by the College Board so that we could call the history part AP U.S. History on her syllabus. For our spine, we used a pretty traditional textbook, The American Pageant. I am not a fan of textbooks generally speaking, but it helped to have the whole class outlined in one book. We supplemented with tons of books (if people are interested, I can do a 9th grade book list in a future post—Edited: I wrote one!), some of which we read together and some of which we read separately.
The big challenge with history — for us, anyway — was following such a specific timeline. We are year-round, as-we-go homeschoolers, so we’re used to taking our time with things. Having to cover a set amount of material within a set timeframe was a new thing for us and not always easy — we’d sometimes have to keep moving, even though we wanted to spend more time on something. (We kept a list of things we want to return to this summer, but it’s not the same.) We also did several practice tests and essays to prepare for the AP test this spring, something else we wouldn’t usually do. My daughter did well on her practice tests and said she felt good about the exam, but whatever score she ends up with, I think working toward a focused goal on a focused timeline was a good experience for her — but I definitely wouldn’t want every class to feel this narrow!
For literature, we worked our way through the Norton Anthology of American Literature (the condensed, two-volume 8th edition) and read a range of novels, from Hawthorne to Faulkner. (Favorite: The Great Gatsby. Least favorite: The Red Badge of Courage.) Our interest here was in what, specifically, made this literature American, and reading it as we studied U.S. History really helped with that, I think. Literature is always one of our favorite classes, and we did most of the readings together as readalouds. (We love readalouds.) We did read a lot of novels by white men this year, but I’m actually proud of that fact: We’ve done such a good job keeping a diverse reading list that we had to catch up on some classics this year.
We’d typically work on history three-ish days a week, reading a chapter in The American Pageant and working up a list of short-answer questions as we read. There are lots of online resources for this book, so we’d usually check our list of questions against one online to see how they compared. We do annotated reading, so we mark the text as we go, making notes, highlighting important terms, dates, and people, and summarizing key points as we’re reading. Each night, my daughter would use her annotated book to copy notes down into her history notebook — she enjoyed this part because she got to make her notebook pages aesthetically pleasing, and writing things down is almost always helpful for remembering them. We also made notecards for important people, terms, and events so that we could review them — we’d pull them out after dinner or when we were waiting at the doctor’s office or something, and flip through them together. And we’d do a three-question quiz for each other each week and grade it according to the AP test rubric— I feel like grading my answers was as helpful for her as writing her own. We’d read related books — sometimes together, sometimes separately — to broaden and deepen our understanding of different topics and to make sure our class included women and people of color in a meaningful way.
We read together every day, so literature is part of our daily routine. I have never found a literature curriculum that I really like, so I didn’t even try with high school — I knew I would be making it up myself. We read aloud together every day, but with the amount of reading we did, we also had to read on our own to keep up. Again, we do annotated reading, so we mark up our books for discussion as we go. (This does mean that we’re often reading books or parts of books twice—once together out loud and again to annotate. I’m a big believer in rereading, so this is fine with me.) We had a particular theme this year — what makes something American literature? — so that was the thread running through all our conversations. As usual, we wrote several short essays throughout the class and one large (25-page) research paper at the end of the class. We also continued our family poetry tradition by memorizing a poem every week or so — we focused on works by poets from the United States.
As far as the AP test goes, whatever her score ends up being, I think it was a good experience for us. We did have to call around to find a spot for her to take the test, which got a little stressful (though now I have a great place for future AP test-taking!), and we took two full practice tests before the actual test, which felt very school-y. She said she felt pretty confident coming out of the test, and she scored well on the practice tests, so at least I can feel like she was well-prepared. This is probably the first of a few AP classes that we’ll do for high school, so we can apply all the practical things we learned this year to future classes.
If you read the spring issue, you know all about how we put together our Studio Ghibli-themed comparative literature class, in which we watched Studio Ghibli’s adaptations of books, including The Secret World of Arrietty (an adapatation of The Borrowers), Tales from Earthsea (an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea), Howl's Moving Castle (an adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle), and When Marnie Was There (an adaptation of When Marnie Was There), and compared them to the books. This was probably our favorite class.
I’ve mentioned how sad I was when my daughter decided to trade Latin (which we’d done together since 3rd grade) for Japanese, but it’s awesome that she was so excited about something none of us really knew anything about. At first I thought we might be able to piece it together with an online program and a good textbook, but that did not prove successful, so we ended up hiring a native Japanese speaker for twice-a-week one-on-one lessons. This was not cheap, but it has been totally worth it — my daughter has learned a lot, and I have someone I can ask when a question comes up. (That was the hardest part of introducing something I really don’t know to our homeschool — not having someone to ask my stupid questions!) The books we ended up using were Japanese From Zero and the Genki textbook. My daughter’s not fluent or anything, but it’s helping her make sense of anime and manga in their original forms, which was one of her big goals, so I say it’s a win. We’ll be sticking to this plan for next year.
Schedule-wise, we used a similar pattern to the one we used when we were studying Latin: We make vocabulary flashcards and review them about three times a week. (My daughter loved making these because she got to write Japanese characters.) She’d study a chapter in the book with her tutor, then work on the exercises between sessions and go over her work with her tutor at their second session. About once a month, we’d all watch a Japanese movie with subtitles together — I am not sure this actually helped with her Japanese study, but it was a fun way to connect the rest of the family to her studies.
I did nothing for math this year, and it was wonderful — Jason did it all, and he did it brilliantly. (If you are in Atlanta, he teaches a few classes, and I am not the only person who raves about his high school math teaching ability!) He has his own curriculum that he uses, but it’s basically a spiral approach that reinforces middle school concepts that kids might not have totally grasped while moving kids into high school math. He mixes up algebra, geometry, and trig, so that you’re always working on something new and on something that feels familiar, so he builds his student’s math confidence and skills at the same time. I was worried that it might not work for our daughter, but it’s been terrific. (And not that we are obsessed with test scores, but her math SAT score took a huge jump this spring.)
High school science is really hard to homeschool — there’s just not a lot of good stuff out there. I wanted something that’s more rigorous than “oh, hey, here are these fun experiments,” but also something that still had lots of hands-on experiments (that I could swing in a reasonably equipped home laboratory) and that really explained scientific ideas. This year, we used Holt’s Physical Science, and while it was fine, it wasn’t earthshakingly great, and I ended up doing a ridiculous amount of supplemental book and lab hunting. Physical science covers a wide range of topics (from the laws of motion to geology), so tracking down good books and labs took a ton of research. It was worth the effort, though.
We did roughly a lesson a week, usually reading the text as a kind of orientation and then following up with a more engaging book about the topic at hand. We did an experiment for each topic, keeping a lab notebook for lab reports. (We’ve progressed beyond worksheets, so we just broke down the sections in her notebook so that she could give each section as much space as she wanted.) We usually did our experiments during the weekend, which was a time when I knew we could set up, perform, and clean up a lab without anyone having to get stressed out. (My daughter didn’t love this, so we’ll try something different in the fall.) As with history, she did annotated readings and transferred notes to her science notebook every day.
She also did a science fair project — none of our groups does a science fair, so it was really just her doing a project, but it sounds more fun to call it a science fair project. She had to come up with a question and a hypothesis, figure out a way to test it, and present her results. She really enjoyed this — I definitely want to incorporate more projects like this into her high school experience. (Maybe I can get a proper fair going at Jason’s school this year—it would be more fun to do this as a group, I think.)
What I think of as “actual hands-on class time” took up more time this year, which I guess isn’t really surprising. My daughter found time to take a couple of Craftsy drawing classes (one was great and one was so-so — read the reviews before you sign up!), and she continued with her guitar lessons and worked on several crochet projects. She joined me and her 3rd grade brother for nature journaling occasionally, but it was definitely not a frequent occurrence this year. (That was a little sad for me, but she really did have a lot going on.)
As far as scheduling goes, we stuck (mostly) to our regular routine, which means my daughter started schoolwork whenever she woke up and felt ready—usually around 11 a.m. We’d work together for a few hours (usually about three), and she’d also do a couple of hours of work on her own, usually after the rest of us went to bed, which is when she likes to work. She did go to Jason’s math lab on Tuesdays and Fridays, so she had to wake up early on those days, and we did set the alarm for the one SAT practice test she took this year so that we could more accurately reflect the test conditions. Because our schedule is loose, there’s no compelling reason to implement an early morning start time, and my daughter really likes sleeping in. We’d sit down on Sunday evening and talk through the week ahead — what our schedule looked like, what we wanted to accomplish, any looming deadlines, etc. — and review the previous week together. My daughter kept up with her own schedule and deadlines — last year, there was a big learning curve with that, but this year, all went smoothly. Her transcript came together pretty easily, probably because we did so much big picture planning up front.
I think it helped that we’ve been homeschooling for several years now, so we know what works for us. It’s not as hard to plan out the year or figure out the right resources because we have a clear idea of what we want: We’re very bookish, and my daughter learns best through reading and writing, so we tend to build our year around those things. (That also happens to be how I learn best, so I got lucky there.) We like to go for depth rather than breadth, so we’re likely to build a framework that allows us to focus on a few specific areas instead of trying to recreate a survey class. I feel like we tried a lot of different things over the years to figure out what worked best for us, and now we kind of get to reap the rewards of those efforts, which is kind of nice.
I was nervous about homeschooling high school, but this ended up being such a great year — I think we both really enjoyed it once we figured out how to make it work. (The Japanese thing was hard to get sorted!) One of my big goals was not to lose the fun, relaxed spirit that I think is one of the best parts of homeschooling for us, and I think we managed that, even though the workload for both of us definitely increased. The work we did last year to prep for high school — working on papers, practicing taking notes, setting concrete goals for classes, adding more to our to-do list — definitely helped make the transition easier. I highly recommend building some of those skills before you get to the classes that require you to use them on a regular basis. I would say my two big lessons from this year were 1.) get help if you need it — you probably can’t teach everything, and 2.) don’t get so bogged down by details that you lose sight of what you want the big picture for your homeschool to be. Wrapping my head around homeschooling high school was a little scary, but I’m so glad we took the plunge. It’s so much fun.
I’ve gotten a few emails about this, so here’s an annotated list of what I read with my 3rd grader this year. (Here’s what we used for curriculum if you want more context.) My son is not in love with reading, so we read most of these together. We always start the day with a readaloud, readalouds figure largely into our learning routine, and we have a bedtime readaloud, so it looks like a longer list than it actually feels like. I’m including books we read as part of our studies and books we read together for fun, but I’m not including textbooks.
Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Just what you'd expect from a Streatfeild book: A family with a small budget and big dreams finds success, this time on the tennis courts.
Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg
This book about the science and history of chocolate was so much fun to read—and it gave us an excuse to kick off the year with a chocolate taste test, so that was a pretty big plus.
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
My son checked this out of the library so many times that I bought him his own copy. He thought it was hilarious.
George and Martha by James Marshall
I don't worry about reading levels, so I was just thrilled that my son had found a book he was interested in reading. But I think this little collection of short stories is so witty and charming, it should really be on more reading lists. We both loved it. (How did I miss it as a kid?)
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
Fun readaloud about a boy who loves to spin tall tales.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I almost didn't read this with my son because we've read it before, but I really do want to encourage my children to be rereaders as well as readers. Reading it again actually turned out to be great—my son's such a better reader now, and he really got into the story and the vocabulary. (*BYL)
No Flying in the House by Betty Brock
Because we will read any story if it has a magical dog in it. (This one is really cute, though.)
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
I love these little poetry collections, and we really enjoyed reading Emily Dickinson together. I'm always kind of torn about explanatory prefaces to poetry, which I think can give people the idea that there's a right way to read something, but these are really well done and do a good job pointing out things to look for without implying that they're the only things to look for, if that makes sense. My son picked several of her nature poems for his weekly recitations this year. (*BYL)
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I guess it's not just magical dogs—we'll read any book about dogs, period. This one is full of interesting talking points.
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg
I don't remember why we started looking at Jackson Pollack paintings (probably somebody made a mess painting?), but we had a whole Pollack period earlier this year. This biography was really cool, and I love that it used Pollack's own words.
Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Ben Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson
I've always loved this book—the story of Franklin and, by extension, the early history of the United States told from a mouse's perspective—but my son was not impressed. Getting through this was a struggle. (*BYL)
Wolf Story by William McCleery
I love, love, love this book, and I was so glad my son loved it, too.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Really, pretty much a perfect book. I lured him in with Sideways Arithmetic (because he'll read anything about math), but this was one of his favorite books. I sometimes catch him rereading it. (I also sometimes catch his big sister rereading it. And me. I reread it, too.)
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski
Lenski does a great job here giving a balanced, nuanced, and (mostly) historically accurate view of Seneca life through the eyes of a (real) girl who was adopted by the Seneca after her family was killed by one of their raids. It's kind of heartening to think that it was published in the 1940s. (*BYL)
The BFG by Roald Dahl
I was pretty sure we'd done this one as a readaloud already, but he must have been too little to remember. It's never bad to go back to Roald Dahl, though, and we had to read it before we watched the movie!
Frindle by Andrew Clements
My son gave this five out of five stars.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Fudge's mayhem both delighted and stressed out my not-at-all-mayhem-inclined son. He wanted to read the next book immediately.
Superfudge by Judy Blume
Squids Will Be Squids by Jon Scieszka
My son is always looking for excuses to put this book on our reading list. I don't mind.
The Worm by Elise Gravel
We love the Disgusting Critters series! For science this year, we did several worm-related projects, and this was a fun book to go along with them.
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George
We listened to this as an audiobook. It's never really been my favorite book, but my son enjoyed it more than I ever have. (*BYL)
The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns
Such a fun book! A triangle decides he wants to add some extra angles in this light introduction to basic polygons.
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Silly fun. Cauliflower!
A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
I thought this one would be a slam dunk since he loved Frindle so much, but he never really got into it. (*BYL)
What's New? The Zoo: A Zippy History of Zoos by Kathleen Krull
I found this on a list of recommended science books, and it turned out to so interesting. It's a history of zoos, from ancient Sumeria and China to the modern day.
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dr. Dominic Walliman
We would have checked this one out just for the title, but it turned out to be a pretty engaging book about space.
Math-terpieces by Greg Tang
Somehow we missed this Greg Tang book, so we were pleased to discover it. If you have a kid who loves math, definitely put all of Tang's books on your library list.
Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
I snagged this for Black History Month, and it's great for that, too, but honestly, its message of creating change through nonviolence was just what I wanted my kids to have right now.
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume
Sadly, not a hit. Sheila just couldn't live up to the Peter/Fudge/Tootsie legacy.
The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton
Eyewitness Explorer: Nature Ranger
I had almost forgotten about this book (which I guess is the point of book lists in the first place). It was great! It had really fun hands-on nature activities, like building a moth trap and making your own rainbow.
G Is for Googol by David M. Schwartz
We both loved this witty math primer. ("W" is for "When are we ever gonna use this stuff, anyway?")
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
I remembered this book from my own elementary school days as being kind of depressing and slow, and rereading it did not change my perspective. We didn't actually finish it. (*BYL)
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
My son loved guessing the solutions to the mysteries. In fact, he liked this book so much, he went on to check out all the books in the series that our library has in its collection.
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
I love when you learn something new from a book! I did not know about the Green Book, a book that told African American travelers in the 1950s which restaurants, gas stations, etc., on major routes weren't racist.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes
This is pretty much classic historical fiction about the Revolutionary War. (*BYL)
Magnificent Minds: 16 Pioneering Women in Science and Medicine by Pendred Noyce
This was such a cool book—it included new information about women in science we already knew (I did not know that Florence Nightingale was one of the pioneers in using statistics as a tool for public health) and information about women we were almost totally unfamiliar with.
Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
My son became really interested in infections when our homeschool group got hit hard by a bug this winter, and I picked up this book about one of the most notorious infections of all time at the library. This was a pleasantly complex book that went into the science of pathology but also the legal and social issues at the center of her case. Really interesting!
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Lovely picture book—a nice accompaniment to nature journaling.
George vs. George: The American Revolution Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer
This book was a great tool for stimulating conversation about perspective—it's always important and interesting to look at who is telling a story and what biases they might be bringing to the telling. Plus you can make people listen to the Hamilton soundtrack when you are reading it. (*BYL)
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
Not a hit—I think the love story was just not interesting to my son. (*BYL)
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Laugh-out-loud hilarious. Like Squids Will Be Squids, this book really inspired my son to make up his own stories.
Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neuschwander
My son will read pretty much any book about math and any book about mummies, so it wasn't surprising when he grabbed this at the library.
11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill
Fun, funny, absolutely terrific book about the scientific method.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
A classic. “It is not in doing what you like, but in liking what you do that is the secret of happiness.”
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
My son was completely captivated by Sam's adventures living in the wilderness. (*BYL)
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
We didn't plan on this as a follow-up to Typhoid Mary, but they actually went really well together—and I think the connection made my son much more engaged with this book than he might have been otherwise. (*BYL)
Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren
Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe
This was one of my daughter's favorite books, so she was thrilled when her brother loved it, too. But really, a story about a vegetarian vampire bunny rabbit kinda sells itself.
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Lovely science picture book.
The Wonderful Adventure of Nils by Selma Lagerlof
A quirky Swedish tale of tiny boy who explores the world riding on the back of goose written by a Nobel Prize-winning author.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
We've read bits and pieces, of course, but this is the first time we read this cover-to-cover together. Not the last, though, I bet.
Dogku by Andrew Clements
Dogs + haiku. If there was ever a literary sure thing for my 3rd grader, this is it.
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
Terrific science book—I love that it includes real telescopic images.
Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
I found this book when I was looking for something about the food web for our nature studies.
The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky
One of our favorite collections of silly poetry.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
I love this book, which is a little like A Series of Unfortunate Events (though it was written long before that)—two orphans must survive an evil governess in alternate England where wolves roam the countryside. (*BYL)
The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe
Continuing the Bunnicula saga. This series is definitely one of our readaloud faves.
Nothing But the Truth by Avi
Probably like everyone else, we've been talking a lot about politics this year, and this book added to the conversation in some interesting ways. It's about a conflict between a student and teacher that spirals out of control with a little help from the media, and it's almost guaranteed to trigger some interesting discussion.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark
Ada Lovelace is so cool. (I was reading the Colors of Madeleine books on my own when we read this, and since Lovelace and her dad play a role in those books, it was fun to read more about her here.
Karlson on the Roof by Astrid Lindgren
A fun readaloud from the creator of Pippi Longstocking.
Calico Bush by Rachel Field
We picked this up during our conversation about indentured servants in the colonial world—it's one of those subjects that really comes to life with a living book.
Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson
A great nature journal read.
American Tale Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
Fine but not exactly diverse. (*BYL)
Anno’s Math Games 3
We've loved all the books in this series. Highly recommended if you have a math-y kid.
Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds by Monica Russo
This book was great for nature study. My son was really into have specific activities for nature journaling this year, and this book had some good ideas.
Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling
Don't be fooled by its picture book exterior: This chronicle of the Mississippi River Valley (told from the perspective of a snapping turtle) covers history, biology, anthropology, geology and more.
Butterfly House by Eve Bunting
Another nature journal read—this one was a little mushy-gushy for us.
Dandelions by Eve Bunting
I loved the way this book captured both the vastness and the isolation of pioneer life with a fairly simple story.
Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Probably my son's least favorite Streatfeild, which is a shame because it was the last of the shoes series we hadn't read.
So many Geronimo Stilton books that I am not even going to try to list them individually
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
We loved this picture book about a little girl living the science life (which often involves making messes as she experiments and tests hypotheses).
How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Rosalyn Schanzer
I have read SO MUCH about Lewis and Clark this year (partly because I am currently obsessed with Meriwether Lewis), but this is a good, engaging introduction to their expedition. I liked that it uses excerpts from the explorers' journals. (*BYL)
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
One of my all-time favorite readalouds. Both my kids have memorized "Macavity the Mystery Cat," and we often recite it (dramatically!) when we are stuck in traffic.
Rachel’s Journal by Marissa Moss
This scrapbook-style book about life on the Oregon Trail was a favorite of my daughter's, so I had a copy to pull out for our pioneer studies.
The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days by Mary Cobb
If you are studying pioneer history and enjoy crafty art projects, I cannot recommend this book enough. It explores pioneer history through the quilts people made, and it comes with ideas for paper quilting crafts. Really fun.
Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry
My animal-loving son really enjoyed this book. (*BYL)
Daily Life in a Covered Wagon by Paul Erickson
This book has excerpts from letters and diaries and photos of actual tools and artifacts from wagon trail times. We really enjoyed it, and the specific details were fascinating.
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
Historical fiction based on the life of the author's real life great aunt, a Finnish settler in Washington state at the turn of the 20th century.
Which Way to the Wild West? by Steve Sheinkin
This is pretty typical Sheinkin, and that's always a good thing. I think this would be a great book to read at the start of a pioneer unit study, and it was great for that chunk of our U.S. history study, too.
Razia and the Pesky Presents by Natasha Sharma
Awesome book recommendation that came from a diverse books reading list.
They’re Off! The Story of the Pony Express by Cheryl Harness
We wanted to know more about the Pony Express, so we checked out this book. It was fine—I appreciated that it touched on the political and economic issues at play—but I suspect there might be better books.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl
The Green Book by Jill Paton Walsh
I thought my son would totally dig this book—pioneers on a new planet!—but he just thought it was OK. (*BYL)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
I am pretty much always looking for an excuse to read this.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Such a great book, and it made a really nice counterpoint to Tom Sawyer.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
OK, but I hate Tom Sawyer (the character, not the book) SO MUCH, and I was reading Huckleberry Finn at the same time and just being furious about how TERRIBLE Tom Sawyer is at the end of that book. (*BYL)
The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
More people should read this! It's so funny and charming.
Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements by Deborah Hopkinson
We love cooking together, and I thought this book was a great introduction to why recipes matter.
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman
We'd read this before, but we were happy to read it again. (*BYL)
Poetry for Young People: Walt Whitman
I was surprised by how much my son enjoyed Whitman. Pleasantly surprised but surprised!
Brady by Jean Fritz
Solid historical fiction about the Underground Railroad. (*BYL)
(We homeschool year-round, so I just picked the date I started this list as the cutting-off point.)
(*BYL) : This indicates books that are part of the Build Your Library reading list we used this year
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 3rd grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 3rd grader. (You can see what 1st grade and 2nd grade looked like for us in the archives.)
You would think that having homeschooled 3rd grade before (we pulled our daughter out of school in 2nd grade), homeschooling 3rd grade would be a breeze. You would be wrong. The part where you worry that you’re going to ruin your child’s life because you won’t teach him what he needs to know is mitigated a little by the fact that you didn’t actually ruin anyone’s life last go-round, but all the stuff you figured out by the end of 3rd grade with one child may or may not apply at all to your new 3rd grader. In our case, 3rd grade with my son looked completely different from 3rd grade with my daughter, so we were still figuring everything out as we went.
I’ve read a lot about the “3rd grade transition”—the place where homeschool materials stop being “fun” and start feeling like work. We didn’t really have that problem—maybe because we haven’t really used a lot of traditional materials, so there wasn’t that moment where we opened a book and everything was black-and-white and tons of fine print and we felt like “what happened?” We did shift gears to a little more academic work, though—3rd grade is when I like to start Latin and more thoughtful writing and reading—which had some challenging moments. All in all, though, I’ve enjoyed 3rd grade with my son, and I think he’s enjoyed it, too, which is really one of my big goals for each year.
We started Build Your Library’s 5th grade last year, so we just continued with that this year. (I explain my reasoning here, but it’s really just that I wanted to do U.S. History so that I could sync up readalouds with my daughter’s Georgia history last year and U.S. History this year.) The slower pace worked well for us—I like taking my time with a subject—and we added a bunch of nonfiction books to our reading list. (That’s my one complaint about Build Your Library, which I think is a nice program overall—I’d love to see more nonfiction on the reading list, especially because there’s so much great nonfiction out there.) Before this year, we’ve just done the reading for history—my son had a main lesson book, and sometimes he’d draw pictures as we read, but it was just because he felt like doing it and not something I asked him to do. This year, we’ve tried to be a little more deliberate. I’ve mentioned a few times how I rely on Patricia’s dictation method (if you have a reluctant writer, it will change your life), and we’ve been using that pretty heavily. I’ll say “so what do you think is the important thing about what we just read?,” and he’ll answer, and we’ll talk about, and then together we’ll summarize the main idea in a couple of sentences. I might prompt a little—“So what did a state have to do to get readmitted to the United States after the Civil War?”—but mostly I tried to let him focus on what felt important to him. It helps to know that we’re going to be revisiting these parts of history at least twice more in his educational life—so why not let him be interested in the parts that interest him? I do most of the actual physical writing, but he tells me what to write. It’s working well for us.
We’re still doing Beast Academy, and it’s fine. We loved Miquon Math so much that I’m sure any math we did after it would seem less great by comparison, but Beast Academy works reasonably well for us. I like that it focuses on mathematical thinking and understanding bigger concepts and not just on learning how to deal with one particular kind of problem. My son likes that there are usually some genuinely challenging problems in the mix and, of course, that it comes in comic book format. My daughter would have hated this program, but it’s proven to be a good match for my math- and logic-loving son.
We started Latin this year, and I’m using the same method I used with my daughter: We use Ecce Romani and just work as far as get into it each year. In the fall, we’ll start over again at the beginning and do the same thing. My son hates writing, so I have him dictate his translations and I write them down—it’s slow going but not unpleasant. We do the exercises the same way, but he does write his own vocabulary cards. Studying Latin is my favorite way to learn English grammar.
We read all the time—mostly readalouds, since my son still isn’t a huge fan of independent reading. (He does read on his own more every year, and I love catching him reading in his room or in the backyard. I’m not sure that pushing him to read more would kill his potential love of learning, but I know that not pushing it seems to be—slowly—working out.) I don’t want to be the book police, but I will admit it was easier to manage this with my daughter, who always read so widely that I never worried whether she was reading junk or literature. It’s harder to be as relaxed with my son—since he’s such a reluctant reader, it’s tempting to force him toward the good stuff. But I remind myself that my goal isn’t for him to make it through a checklist of books but to develop an appreciation for the power and possibility of reading. Only he can decide what books will do that for him.
He did start his own official book log this year—again, he usually dictates, and I do the actual writing. Some of his favorite books-for-fun this year have included George and Martha, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, Frindle, and Peter Pan. And we’ve continued our weekly-ish poetry memorization, which I love and my children tolerate.
We still do our nature journals pretty much every day. This is one subject where I don’t take dictation unless my son specifically asks me to—he’s usually happy drawing what he sees and writing the identifying labels or temperature or whatever. My son has gotten to the point where he likes to feel like there’s some “purpose” to his journaling, so we have projects: Right now, we’re checking the barometer every day and noting different cloud formations. I’m noticing that my son is the first person to pick up on when he’s ready for something more academic or more structured—this fall, he said he wanted his observations to “actually do something,” so we came up with a few projects we could do with our nature journals. (I borrowed some ideas from Handbook of Nature Study, some from Whatever the Weather, and a lot from the Nature Connection workbook.)
We also worked our way through Janice VanCleave's 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, & Incredible Experiments, picking up books to go with experiments as they piqued our interest. Next year, we’ll probably do something a little more organized, but for now, I’m happy to be able to emphasize the scientific method and just follow our interests. I made up a very simple, minimalist lab report form and used my beloved padding compound to make it into a little lab report notepad for him.
Philosophy has been my son’s “favorite class” for a couple of years now. He loved Philosophy for Kids at our homeschool group, and this year we moved on to more structured logic lessons. (Logic is his big philosophical passion right now.) My best friend is a philosopher and one of my son’s favorite people, so we’re kind of spoiled when it comes to philosophy—she does one-on-one lessons with him.
Our schedule has always been a work in progress, but we usually have a pretty consistent rhythm to our days. I don’t plan to start at any particular time—my kids wake up when they wake up (usually around 9 a.m. for my son), have breakfast and what we like to call “morning acclimation.” Then, when he’s ready—which might be at 9:30 or 11:30—he brings me his little stack of things he wants to work on. Usually, it’s history, math, and Latin, and I add whatever readalouds we’re doing together. He tends to be interested in science in bursts and starts: He’ll want to do it every single day for a week or two and then not be interested at all for a couple of weeks. Sometimes he wants to do just math or just philosophy. I try not to dictate what we do and to let him take the lead. (There are definitely days—usually a couple a month—where he just says “Can we do nothing today?” and I say “Sure.” I really don’t worry about that at all—there are definitely times where I want to take a day off, too!) We work together, usually on the couch or on the back porch but sometimes at the table. Some days we’re fast and get a lot done, some days we take a lot of time and end by putting in a bookmark for the next day. Usually two to two and half hours of hands-on, active time like this is a full school day for us.
After lunch, we have our “crafternoon” projects. (I’m usually doing work with his 9th grade sister during this time, too.) My son enjoys soap carving, making art, crochet work, building marble runs, playing chess, and sorting his Pokemon cards, so he might do any of those things. Occasionally he reads, which fills my soul with delight. Often, he plays outside. I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but that makes sense, since this year he’s also been a lot more independent and interested in doing things on his own. My son does not always enjoy working on things like reading and handwriting, but this year, he’s started to appreciate the way that being able to do these things gives him more space to learn independently. There’s nothing dramatic to report with 3rd grade—no huge challenges or confetti-worthy accomplishments—just measured, steady progress. It’s been a good year.
OK, I’m a little late with my winter homeschool update, but that is actually metaphorically sound. This winter has been a challenging homeschool season. I’ve been spoiled for most of our homeschool life by having a super-flexible work schedule and a partner whose schedule allows him to work from home most of the time, too. Now that Jason’s running an actual school, there are days when I have to get up and get dressed and get everyone out of the house before my second cup of coffee kicks in, and it has been an adjustment. These are the seasons when I am glad we homeschool year-round—otherwise, I’d be stressing about whether we were actually doing enough work.
Other than scheduling, this has actually been a lovely season of homeschooling. I was nervous about our first year of homeschooling high school (I might have mentioned it a few times), but now that we’re well into it, I think it’s one of the most satisfying years of homeschooling we’ve had so far. With earlier grades, we’re interested in “what does this mean?” and “why does it matter?” — totally valid, interesting questions. But I love that high school pushes us to also ask “what does that tell us about the world we live in?” and “how does that connect to what else we know?” The hardest part has been Japanese, which my daughter was passionate about studying but which no one in our family has any real knowledge of. I’ll talk more about it in my end-of-the-year wrap-up, but we ended up hiring a tutor and using a combination of GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese and Japanese from Zero for texts. This was good for me: I can’t do it all, and I couldn’t do this. But I don’t have to do it all. It’s a useful reminder. (And our tutor is awesome.)
Having two kids is great because it keeps me from getting overconfident—whatever works with one of them is almost absolutely guaranteed NOT to work with the other one. This year, it’s language arts. Suzanne and I were talking about it on the podcast, but my daughter would write just because she loved writing — she used to play school and write essays for each of the different students, grade them, and have the students revise them. (Gunther, I recall, did only the most slapdash revisions.) My son, on the other hand, would happily embrace any reason not to write. (Recent reasons have included: “This pencil is itchy” and “The lines on the paper distract me.”) We’ve fallen into an uneasy but tentatively effective program, combining Patricia’s brilliant dictation method (I could not homeschool without it) and comic book pages (which he seems to have more patience with), and I’m trying to just take it one day at a time.
This is maybe a superfluous thing, but it’s been so great I want to mention it: For Hanukkah this year, my mom bought the kids bungee chairs. They are awkwardly shaped and look a little silly, but holy cow, these chairs are little miracle workers. My bouncy, can’t-sit-still son can read in one for long stretches of time and my daughter likes bobbing up and down while she’s doing math. Who knew chairs could make such a difference?
What about you? What was your winter homeschool like?
Sometimes I long for what seems like “simpler days.” I get this way whenever I visit an old homestead and wander through its log house and gardens, thinking about how people used to live off the land, and it was so much quieter. At least, I think it must have been quieter without televisions or cars or leaf blowers.
In reality, the past wasn’t simple at all, and it was much worse for many people. While we’re still working out some major “kinks” in the name of progress, and sometimes it feels like we’re taking a step backwards, the present does offer many gadgets that make our lives a little easier. Perhaps I could live without them, but frankly, I don’t want to.
Here’s a list of my favorite gadgets besides my computer. (A computer is just a given, right?) These have become indispensable while staying home full-time to homeschool my boys.
Roku Box :: Every day my family watches documentaries on Netflix, PBS, Amazon Prime or YouTube. The Roku Box gives us easy access to them on our television, and I think we have all become so much smarter by watching TV! We also have fun watching shows like Star Trek or Chopped. Despite the claims that television makes you disconnect, I would argue that we interact and converse over our family TV time just as much as any other part of the day.
Google Home :: This is a new gadget that I got for Christmas. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I’d use it very much, but every morning, it tells me the weather, my appointments for the day and the news. Right now as I’m writing this, I asked it to play me some Miles Davis, and wow, the speakers are great. Earlier today, my seven-year-old asked it what the circumference of the Earth is and then asked what the population of the Earth is as well as several countries. Now when my boys ask me questions, if my arms are elbow deep in dishwater, I can say, “Go ask Google” instead of “Just a minute!” and risk losing their enthusiasm for the question. Indeed, this Google Home has increased our enthusiasm for asking questions. There are many other things it can do too, but if all it does is answer little boys’ questions and bring more jazz into my life, I’d say that it was a well spent hundred bucks.
Crock Pot :: I still have a lot to learn about slow cooking (I’d sure appreciate some more good recipes), but this gadget makes life so much easier. Fill it up with food in the morning, and then bam! Dinner is ready at five. Here’s a couple of good dishes we’ve found so far: a Mississippi Roast and Mexican Lasagna.
Mr. Robot :: We call it “Mr. Robot,” but it’s actually an Anker RoboVac 10. It’s a robotic vacuum cleaner, and yes, it works! In fact, this is my #1 can’t-live-without-gadget. It works great, and when I first began using it, I suddenly knew how housewives must have felt when they received the first washing machine or dishwasher. I tell everyone I know that they won’t regret buying a robotic vacuum, and I especially think that homeschooling moms should have one. You can turn it on while you’re homeschooling. As someone who has pets, two little boys, a (ahem) not-so-neat husband, and we’re all home 24/7, my house needs a lot of sweeping, so I’m extremely grateful for the robotic vacuum. (A bonus feature of the robotic vacuum is that it motivates little boys to pick up their toys!)
These are my must have gadgets. What are yours? And, as an added tip – keep an eye out for sales around the holidays or Mother’s Day. You may find good discounts on these products. Never pay full price!
Note: Unfortunately, Shelli was not paid any money for her glowing reviews of these products.
How’s your new homeschool year going? Here’s a little of what’s happening with us.
- We’ve played a lot of 1775: Rebellion while we were studying the American Revolution, and it was surprisingly fun—kind of like a U.S. history-based version of Risk. I’m a read-and-take-notes kind of student, but my kids really do better when they can fidget a little, so games like this are a great compromise, especially when we’re doing a readaloud or watching a documentary.
- With my high schooler, we’re trying to set clear goals so that we have criteria for evaluating her work for her transcript. This requires a lot of conversation and the ability to shift gears when her goals change, as some of them already have. It’s such a different kind of partnership from what we’re used to, and we’re both figuring it out as we go—it’s not easy to find the balance of knowing when to push a little (because my daughter has always been a kid who sometimes needs a little push) and when to take the passenger seat so that she can find her own way. I think this is a tough balancing act for every parent, but it feels especially challenging now that I am navigating these new high school waters as a homeschool mom.
- We’ve been doing daily(ish) nature journals for a while now, so we’re at the sharpening-our-skills stage of nature journaling. I picked up a copy of The Curious Nature Guide (by Clare Walker Leslie, author of our much-beloved The Nature Connection Workbook), which we’ve been enjoying. I don’t think there’s anything revelatory in it (though I did learn a few things, and it would probably be a good starter guide to nature journaling if you’re new to the habit), but it’s given us lots of new ways to think about and look more closely at the nature in our neighborhood.
- Homeschooling through any move is tricky, and ours, alas, has come with a lot of extra drama. Though we’ve taken plenty of breaks (one of my favorite advantages of year-round homeschooling), but I’ve also been happy to discover that homeschooling gives our days a lovely rhythm that continues even when things are hectic. We’ve shared more than one afternoon tea over a stack of cardboard boxes, and the ritual helps me keep all the craziness a little better in perspective. It’s reminded me of how becoming homeschoolers has changed our family life for the better—even when all my favorite sweaters are in a box that no one can find!
This year, my eldest son enters 4th grade, and my younger son enters 1st grade. Here’s a snapshot of the curriculum resources I’m using with them this year.
- My main goal has always been to read good literature to my boys, which I do regularly, so we’re continuing with that. At the moment, I’m reading The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich to them.
- My 4th grader is dusting off an old, unused Star Wars Brainquest workbook to practice handwriting and spelling. It may say that it’s a 2nd grade workbook, but it’s basically just creative writing prompts, which I am adapting for our needs.
- I am also making him learn how to type this year, and I’m using this free online program. You can also pay a little to have the ads removed, if you prefer.
- My 1st grader is learning how to read. I have used Starfall.com, Star Wars workbooks, and now I’m beginning again in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. (I tried it last year, but he wasn’t quite ready for it yet.)
- My 1st grader is almost finished with his Handwriting Without Tears workbook too.
- My 4th grader refuses to use anything other than the Life of Fred books, which is okay with me. We’ll work through Honey, Ice Cream and Jelly Beans this year, and then I’ll decide if we need to do more.
- I am also working with both boys on memorizing the times tables.
- This is the first year I began a science curriculum with my ten-year-old. He always loved science, and we learned plenty about science through child-led activities in the early years. But I thought it would be a good idea to round that out, so I am using Biology for the Logic Stage by Elemental Science. (This is a secular program.) I’m adapting it for his needs too.
This is the core of our homeschool lessons, i.e. those formal lessons that I plan for my boys. However, our day doesn’t end there. My eldest son is studying classical piano, theory and music history because this is his major interest right now. My younger son is learning about birds. As a family, we watch documentaries everyday, and sometimes I throw in lessons on art and civics too. Learning never really ends in this house! The curriculum is just a supplement. ☺
What are your favorite curriculum resources?
In the past, at the beginning of each year, I have sat down at my computer and made a rough schedule for our homeschool lessons. Although I’m not your ultra-organized homeschool mom, I have found that doing some pre-planning helps me from becoming overwhelmed. Even though I often veered off from this schedule, it was very helpful in those early morning hours before my brain turned on to look at this schedule and think, “Ah-ha. It’s math and spelling today.” Although I didn’t do every subject everyday, we did manage to get everything done in a week.
When I sat down to do that this year, I realized it’s a very different year. The boys are getting older, and there’s more work to do. The boys have more things they want to do too. Between that and our outside appointments, I could not figure out a way to get all our lessons done in one week.
Then I remembered what my friend Dawn Smith said when I interviewed her for home/school/life magazine’s Our Way department in the Spring 2014 issue. She said her family didn’t have a set schedule, but instead they had “an order of things.” They set goals for what they wanted to accomplish in a day, and sometimes they didn’t get to everything, but that was okay.
With everything we want to accomplish this year, I have decided to try “an order of things” as well. But I’m not thinking in terms of one day. Instead, I listed those subjects and activities we want to accomplish on a piece of paper that I keep right on my desk. In the mornings, I refer to it and decide what we’ll work on that day. In a sense, I’m simply rotating through the list, and it may take us a week and a half to get through all of it. But that’s okay.
It’s never been my purpose to try to get through a curriculum in a set amount of time. I want our days to be productive, but I don’t want to rush, and I don’t want to give up the memory-making activities for hard-core academics. I want the boys to take as much time as they need to understand a concept, and I want us to be able to achieve all our goals.
By implementing “an order of things,” it’ll be easier for me to not only rotate through math, science, and language arts, I can also rotate in days spent outside, creative activities, and the projects that the boys come up with. But I can also listen to that voice inside my head that might say, “You really need to keep working on this.” Just as I veered off my well-made schedules in the past, I can choose to make something a priority that we do everyday, or I can put it back into the rotation.
How do you decide what to work on each day in your homeschool?
When I first began to homeschool, I did a small “graduation” for my son’s Kindergarten year because so many other people were doing something similar, but after I did it, that somehow felt wrong. I think a graduation should come at the very end of one’s education. But I still wanted to mark the end of our year so that the boys could see that they were progressing and accomplishing good things. That’s when I decided to do an end-of-the-year review where I’d simply showcase everything we had done that year.
I consider July the end of our school year, but I don’t worry about finishing the curriculum we’re using. While we do finish some items, there are many resources I just put a bookmark in and start where we left off in September. Also, on the official paperwork, I say our school year is from September 1 – August 31. By law, my boys are supposed to have 180 days of school each year during that time. I know I go over that amount, especially when you consider how full of learning our daily lives are.
Most of the work I do to mark the end of the year is quiet work I have to do by myself at my computer. This year, I’ve been hard pressed to work up the motivation to do this, but I am slowly getting it done!
First, I create a progress report for each of my boys. This is required by law in our state of Georgia. Briefly, this is how I do it:
On a piece of paper I list and make each area of study a heading. Under each heading, I create bullet points and list all the applicable curriculum my boys have completed (if we haven’t finished something, I note the pages we’ve completed); apps they’ve used; field trips; library books read on that subject; projects; outside classes, if any; and summer camps that support that area of study.
I also make comments on their progress such as: “The nine-year-old’s reading skills have greatly improved this year.” “The six-year-old is showing a growing interest in math.”
By law, I have to teach reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, so I always list those, but since I don’t have to show this progress report to anybody, I consider it a keepsake, and I list the other things I’m teaching too: art, Spanish, and physical education. I also make a separate heading for my boys’ major projects that year. For example, this year my son has been learning how to play the piano and also studying the composers and listening to a lot of classical music. So I made a heading where I can go in-depth on this topic.
The progress report is usually about two pages long and once I’m finished, I print it out and put it into a 3-ring binder, which I call their portfolios. I make these binders at the beginning of a year, and I put any documentation I have about their school year into it, such as brochures to museums we’ve visited or the programs to the classical concerts we’ve attended. I also keep our daily work charts in the binder as well.
After the progress report is complete, it’s time to start on the fun ritual I do every year, and that is make a slideshow of all our photos from that year. I’m a photographer, so I take lots of photographs of our field trips and the boys’ projects and everything else. (Though, I have to admit, I got lazy this year and mostly used my phone camera!)
Making a slideshow with hundreds of photos and several video clips is quite a chore. That’s why I have not yet completed this year’s slideshow. Last year, my husband helped me by adding music to it. Once we’re done, however, we put it on a DVD and we can send it to the boys’ grandparents. They love it!
We actually love sitting down to watch it too. The boys are delighted to see photos of projects that by now they’ve forgotten about! (Sometimes this review inspires them to go back and work more on something!) If we took a vacation or had relatives visit us during the year, I include those photos too. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s worth the effort to have our photos in an accessible place and not lost somewhere on an external drive!
When it comes time to watch the slideshow (which is usually in late July or – ahem – maybe mid-August this year), I gather our curriculum, portfolios and major projects the boys have been working on that year, and I lay them out on a table. I take a photo of the boys standing in front of their work, and (in lieu of a report card), I give them a certificate of completion for that year and sometimes a small gift (something educational that will help them with a project). Then we watch the slideshow.
And that’s it. That’s our end-of-the-year ritual.
After this, we take some time off in August because it’s time to celebrate both my boys’ birthdays. They are three years apart, but their birthdays are exactly one week apart. (I didn’t plan it that way!) Then in early September, we start our new school year, continuing what we didn’t finish and/or sometimes getting out some shiny new curriculum. I do nothing special to mark the first day of school. I think our end-of-year ritual + birthday celebrations are quite enough!
Writing down my end-year-old work makes it seem like a lot, but I assure you, except for making that @#$%! slideshow, it’s not too time-consuming. ;)
If you’re interested in seeing examples of some of the print-outs I mentioned in this post, they are available as free downloads on my personal blog.
What do you do to mark the end of your homeschool year, or do you mark the beginning of the year? Or both?
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 8th grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)
If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?
We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:
Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.
My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)
Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.
We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.
We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.
We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions.
My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.
My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.
Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.
As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)
Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.