curriculum

A Little More Information about Our High School Curriculum

A Little More Information about Our High School Curriculum

Answers to your questions about our new high school curriculum. (Feel free to ask more questions in the comments!)

We Were Wrong: This Curriculum Isn’t Secular

We Were Wrong: This Curriculum Isn’t Secular

A while back, we reviewed a curriculum called Sassafras Science in the magazine. Our curriculum reviewer was so excited about it—and who could blame her? It sounded awesome: Science built around storytelling, with a narrative that introduces key science concepts through the adventures of the story’s main characters. Our reviewer enjoyed it, her kids loved it, and it seemed like a great program for secular homeschoolers to check out. Except, as it turns out, it isn’t secular.

One of our missions here at home/school/life is to connect our readers with the very best secular homeschool resources. Sometimes, that isn’t as easy as it sounds—particularly with science materials. In this case, HSL recommended a science program that describes itself as neutral science. (“Neutral science” is a weird term that’s being used in homeschool circles to describe science that gives religious philosophy equal space with objective data, implying—problematically—that both have equal scientific value.) The volume our reviewer looked at didn't raise any red flags for her, and her review didn't raise any red flags for me. But that’s the problem: Non-secular science isn’t always immediately recognizable, but it’s our job to dig deeper. In this case, I didn’t dig deep enough. It’s my error, and I’m sorry.

In the fall issue, we’ll be discussing ways we can all recognize non-secular science when it’s not clearly identified as such—something that will help all of us find the resources we want. And here at home/school/life, we’ll continue to focus exclusively on secular resources and to apologize when we get it wrong.

Sincerely,
Amy


At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 3rd Grade

He also took his first official standardized test (I gave it to him at the table in the art room).

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.

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.

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.

 

History

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.

 

Math

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.

 

Language Arts

Ecce Romani Book 1 and 2 Combined (Latin Edition)
By David M. Tafe, Ron Palma, Carol Esler

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. 

George and Martha
By James Marshall

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.

 

Science

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

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. 

 

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.

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.


Should You Break Up with Your Curriculum?

You put a lot of effort — and sometimes, a lot of money — into choosing the right curriculum, so it’s not always easy to let one go. But sometimes moving on is the right thing. Here are a few tips to help you figure out whether it’s time to say adios to a curriculum that isn’t working for your homeschool.  PHOTO: Death to Stock Photos

You put a lot of effort — and sometimes, a lot of money — into choosing the right curriculum, so it’s not always easy to let one go. But sometimes moving on is the right thing. Here are a few tips to help you figure out whether it’s time to say adios to a curriculum that isn’t working for your homeschool.

Consider your timing. Maybe the curriculum is great — just not right now. Your child might not be academically or emotionally ready for a particular curriculum—in which case, putting it back on the shelf for a few months or years may be all you need to get the perfect fit. 

Tweak the assignments. If a curriculum has too much writing or too few hands-on activities, you can easily change some of the writing assignments to oral presentations or add a few experiments. An okay curriculum can become a great one with a few strategic tweaks. But if your tweaks end up rebuilding the curriculum from scratch, you might be better off letting that curriculum go and forging your own path. 

Use it as a guide. If you like the content a particular curriculum covers but not its methods, you can always use the syllabus as a starting point to create your own curriculum. Similarly, if you love a curriculum’s method but wish it covered different topics, you can use its methods to inspire your own curricular creations. 

Recoup your loss. If a curriculum doesn’t work, don’t let it glare at you from your schoolroom shelves. Resell it, and use the money to invest in a program that you love. Chances are, that not-right-for-you curriculum is perfect for another family, so you’ll be helping someone out and getting rid of a problem in one swoop. 

This was part of our Problem: Solved feature in the winter 2015 issue of HSL, along with other ideas for teaching math when you hate math, writing your own curriculum, getting organized for high school, and more.


Resources for Studying the Supreme Court

Resources for Studying the Supreme Court

With elections finally behind us, many will shift their attention toward the next Supreme Court nomination. It is the perfect time to expand our families’ understanding of this important institution. I’ve got two great resources to help get you started—Our Supreme Court, A History with 14 Activities by Richard Panchyk, written for grade levels 5 and up and Jeffry D. Stock’s Supreme Court Decision: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Court Cases, written for grades 7 to 12. 

Our Supreme Court is part of the fabulous “For Kids” series published by the Chicago Review Press. Divided into eight chapters, author Richard Panchyk introduces readers to such topics as the founding of the courts, free speech and freedom of religion, civil rights, criminal justice, and regulation of business and property rights. Presenting Supreme Court cases chronologically, Panchyk demonstrates the ways that U.S. court opinions have evolved over time.

 An especially interesting feature of this book is its interviews with 35 individuals, each involved in landmark court decisions. These include talks with former Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury James Baker as well as David Boies, lead counsel for Vice President Al Gore in Bush v. Gore (2000). Fourteen unique activity ideas, including making a Supreme Court scrapbook, being a courtroom artist, role playing, and creating a neighborhood zoning map are also included in this book.

The text in Our Supreme Court is substantive and full of detail. This is a resource most suited for students intrinsically motivated to learn more about this subject matter. Panchyk’s book is not another dry text book. Well placed text boxes, interesting photography, engaging writing, and opportunities for student engagement make this an appealing, informative guide.

Written for children 10 to 17, Our Supreme Court could be easily adapted to teach multi-aged learners and would work equally well at home or in a larger group setting. Pancyk’s book retails for $16.95 and is available online and in bookstores. 

    In the opening pages of Jeffrey Stock’s Supreme Court Decisions: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Cases, the author writes that his intention is “to teach students about important Supreme Court cases and to help them to think critically about the major historical decisions that have shaped the development of the United States.”  Supreme Court Decisions is lets students interact with specific landmark cases in order to understand the imprint they have left on the evolution of our legal system.

 Stock does not expect his book to be used as a stand-alone text. For a deeper understanding of the complex legal issues referenced in Supreme Court Decisions, he recommends exploring additional resources. Our Supreme Court would complement Stock’s work nicely.   

    As in Our Supreme Court, cases in Stock’s book are presented in chronological order.  Each of the 14 cases is presented in a single chapter. At the start of each section helpful notes under the headings “Quick Reference” and “Background” are provided for instructors. “Quick Reference” succinctly identifies the issue, the players, the ruling, and the significance of the specific case. The “Background” section provides the instructor with historical context and additional information about the case. Both sections are brief and do not require extensive time for preparation.  

The student section is divided into two parts. Section one provides a fictional vignette or scenario depicting the circumstances surrounding a specific case. Thoughtful discussion questions follow each vignette. Students are asked to identify what major issues need to be settled, discuss the facts as they’ve been presented, and to anticipate the court’s response. 

In Section two of the student section the actual case is presented followed by a write-up of the court’s actual ruling and the aftermath of the decision. Lastly, readers are asked to consider how the particular ruling is still relevant today. 

Ideas for 15 follow-up activities, which can be used with any of the 14 cases presented, are also provided. These include writing a letter to the editor in response to a specific verdict, creating a flow chart that shows how a case wound up in the Supreme Court, making a political cartoon, and creating a television news report that describes a Supreme Court ruling.

Stock’s writing is lean. Adroitly condensing multifaceted concepts and details, he delivers information with a straightforward style that most students will appreciate. Supreme Court Decisions is an extremely flexible resource that suits a variety of learning styles. Depending on your child’s level of interest, you may choose to study all 14 cases and attempt all of the activities. On the other hand, you may simply wish to familiarize your child with a more basic understanding of how the Supreme Court functions. It may be enough to review a small sampling of the cases Stock presents here.  

Supreme Court Decision is 98 pages. It retails for $19.95 and is available online at Prufrock Press and in bookstores.

Homeschooling provides families the chance to explore whatever issues seem most significant at a particular point in time. An extra special bonus is discovering great resources, like the ones I’ve described here, which address these interests and also help our children to better understand the complicated world in which they live.  


At Home with the Editors: 4th Grade and 1st Grade Curriculum

At Home with the Editors: 4th Grade and 1st Grade Curriculum

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.

 

Language Arts

  • 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.

 

 

 

Math

  • 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.

 

Science

  • 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? 


Layers of Learning: A Curriculum for Multiple Ages

Layers of Learning is history-centric, unit study-style curriculum that's great across different age groups

Another school year is about to begin. I can’t wait! For the first time, all three of my children will be homeschooling together. Like many of you, I’m contemplating how to best address my kids’ individual learning styles and interests without breaking the bank buying curriculum. I also know that the lessons and projects we enjoy most tend to be those that we work on together as a family. Both of these factors point to unit studies as an option worth considering.  

Unit studies are a series of activities organized around one theme. Homeschoolers can design their own unit studies or save time by choosing from the enormous range of options that can be purchased. 

For those buying unit studies, the Layers of Learning program may be just what you are looking for. Authors Michelle Copher and Karen Loutzenhiser have created a series of unit studies focusing on history, geography, science, and the arts. Their program is designed for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.   

Year One begins in Mesopotamia and ends with a look at the Roman Empire. Year Two continues from the Medieval Period (400 AD) to the Renaissance. Throughout Year Three, students focus on the Age of Exploration and the Colonial period. Year Four, still in development, will focus specifically on the past 200 years. According to the website, it will be completed this year. 

Here’s how it works. Regardless of age, students begin with Year 1 Unit 1. Each unit takes approximately two weeks to complete and contains a wide range of activities and suggested book titles. Students simple pursue the topics, projects, and readings that are of greatest interest. It takes four years to cycle through these materials once. Upon completing the cycle, students return to Year 1 Unit 1 moving on to some of the more challenging materials included in the unit. In other words, students who begin Layers of Learning as first graders would go on to cycle through the full program 2 more times.  

For this review, I looked at the year two-unit one Layers of Learning guide, which focuses on Byzantines, Turkey, Climate and Seasons, and Byzantine Art.  Jam packed with maps, art, and other eye catching visuals, the unit’s pages are not overly text heavy. Throughout the program, additional information is provided in a series of sidebars with headings like “Fabulous Facts” and “Additional Layer.” The “Teacher Tips” provided in the margins are relevant and helpful. “Writing Workshop" boxes contain writing prompts that will appeal to a wide range of age. 

A booklist with recommended readings connected to the unit’s theme is also included. These book suggestions are grouped for readers in grades 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12. 

Layers of Learning has something for everyone. Each unit includes hands-on activities, creative writing projects, science experiments, and art projects that can be adapted to suit a variety of ages and learning styles. 

In the unit that I reviewed, in order to better organize and assimilate information, students are encouraged to reference a Byzantine timeline. Thoughtful points for discussion are provided and include questions such as “Do you think there should be a state church or state religion? What are the pros and cons of religion mingled with government?”  There is an opportunity to play a traditional Byzantine board game, make Byzantine clothing, and to work on Venn diagrams while exploring the similarities and differences between the Romans and Byzantines. 

The geography section of this unit features hands-on map work, a look at Turkish sports, and the opportunity to prepare a Turkish feast, as well as sections on the Turkish flag. 

Opportunities to make a sundial, keep a weather log, and examine the greenhouse effect are just a sampling of the concepts explored in the science section of this unit. Many of the projects are hands-on and will especially appeal to younger learners. 

A study of Byzantine era art is the perfect launch for a study of mosaics, gold leafing, and embroidery. The authors provide innovative project ideas to cultivate appreciation and understanding of these traditional arts.  

Layers of Learning is a fun and flexible program that can simplify the process of teaching multiple ages. It would work equally well with one child. Families may find working through each of the four-year cycles works best for their situation. However, single units, which can be purchased separately, could also be used as a standalone unit or to supplement another curriculum. 

Visit Layers of Learning’s website to purchase PDF downloads of all available units. These downloads can be ordered separately for $4.99 or in bundles for $78.80. Hardcopy versions are also available from selected retailers listed on the website. 

With the new school year comes inevitable change. Whether you are introducing your new kindergartener to the wonderful world of homeschooling, watching your homeschool grow smaller as older children leave the nest, or find yourself somewhere in between, best wishes for the year ahead. I hope you find curriculum that sparks wonder and curiosity, makes your workload lighter, and most of all brings joy. 

Editor's Note: Rebecca's review focuses on the medieval year, which includes secular science, but we've discovered that some of the Layers of Learning curricula include problematic "neutral science." Because of this, we do not recommend using Layers of Learning for your science curriculum. —Amy


7 Great Resources for: Young Chefs

7 Great Resources for: Young Chefs

Want to make cooking a regular part of your homeschool routine? These resources will help your kids get hands-on in the kitchen.

Jot It Down!: A Supportive, Interest-Driven Curriculum for Young Writers

home/school/life reviews Brave Writer's Jot It Down: a hands-on, supportive writing curriculum for homeschoolers

Julie Bogart’s popular Brave Writer resources are favorites among homeschooling families. One enthusiastic mom told me, “Brave Writer is more than a curriculum; it’s also a guide to maximizing all of the joys and rewards that come with the homeschooling lifestyle.” 

I finally had the opportunity to check out Brave Writer for myself, and I’m absolutely hooked! We’ll be using this program in our homeschool this fall, and I can’t wait to get started. 

Brave Writer products include both home-based and online learning resources ranging from kindergarten through to high school. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Jot It Down!, a year-long language arts and writing program for children ages 5 to 8.

Bogart encourages parents to cultivate learning environments in which young writers feel comfortable taking creative risks. By establishing a cozy, supportive space to practice reading and writing, she explains, creativity blossoms and an organic love of language evolves.

Jot It Down! opens with fun ideas to help readers create just the right learning atmosphere—light candles while reading poetry, bake brownies, sing, play, and dance. Bogart’s writing is warm and inviting; it is a celebration of the magic moments made possible through homeschooling.

Before the age of five, writes Bogart, children acquire and develop language skills simply by engaging with others. Family and friends listen appreciatively to toddlers offering them gentle feedback and modeling correct grammar patterns. Throughout this stage of learning, instincts guide us as we help our children master verbal communication. 

Writing skills, the author points out, can be developed using the very same painless methods. We enjoy watching young children experiment freely with vocalization and sentence structure. Rarely do we feel a need to edit their words. We recognize this is a valid part of the learning process. Bogart believes that young writers should be encouraged in the same ways. Resist the temptation to pull out a red pen, she urges. Let kids experiment and play with the written word. 

Jot It Down! is divided into three areas of learning: Language Arts, Oral Language, and Writing Projects. Although Bogart offers scheduling suggestions, parents are encouraged to work through the program in a manner that best suits their child. 

 

Language Arts

Handwriting, reading skills, and basic punctuation are introduced in the language arts section. To teach these mechanics, Bogart relies heavily on copy work and dictation. Here it is important to note that parent’s must provide all copy work materials as none are included in this resource. For those unfamiliar with copy work and dictation methods, additional research will be required—a guide to these approaches is not provided in Jot It Down! For information about copy work and dictation, the author suggests referring to Brave Writer publications The Wand or A Quiver of Arrows, which are sold separately and as part of a Jot It Down! bundle

 

Oral Language

Oral language development is an important feature of the Jot It Down! curriculum. Narrating ideas aloud facilitates vocabulary development and helps children develop their “internal writing voice.” Bogart playfully exchanges the term “narration” with “Big Juicy Conversation.” She refers to parents’ transcription as “catching your child in the act of thinking.” Jot It Down! provides ideas to encourage impromptu storytelling as well as worthwhile extension activities that maximize the value of narration activities. 

 

Writing Projects

Ten writing projects are featured in this final section. These projects can be easily simplified or expanded depending on the needs of the child. One writing project per month is recommended, with each project taking four weeks to complete. These hands-on projects are creative and include appealing project themes such as fairy tales, animals, and art appreciation. Activities include topic selection, research, content development, transcribing, revision, assembling, and sharing projects with friends and family. 

 

Jot It Down! is a 79-page digital download that is visually appealing and printer friendly. It is available to purchase online and retails for $39.95.

Jot It Down! is the sort of resource that appeals to all kinds of families. It can be easily modified to suit a variety of learning styles and can be used with multi-aged siblings. Bogart’s writing is full of reassurance and warmth that parents will appreciate. Kids will love the program’s emphasis on joyful learning and creative self-expression. 


31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

Whether you’re putting together a curriculum or just stocking your reading shelves, these books are a great addition to your homeschool writing library.

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy’s 8th Grade

Resources and routines for a relaxed classic homeschool 8th grade

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:

 

History

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.)

 

Latin

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.

 

Math

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.

 

Literature

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.

 

Science

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. 

 

Creative writing

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.


At Home with the Editors: Shelli's 3rd Grade

Shelli's curriculum and resources for her 3rd grade homeschool

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, Shelli's talking about how she homeschooled her 3rd grader this year.

This has been a busy year for my nine-year-old son, and for me, I’m a little in awe with the changes I’ve been seeing in him. He’s becoming more mature and disciplined, yet he’s just as creative as ever.  

Last year, I wrote more about his building projects because he was a “little engineer.” This year he surprised us by becoming interested in playing the piano, and through the year, he’s slowly shifted all his attention to learning about classical music. I don’t think his building tendencies have stopped, but they’re definitely on the back burner for now. His piano playing has become a big part of all our lives, so I’m giving it a heading all to itself! (See below.)

I should also note that this year has shown me how the flexibility in homeschooling is a huge asset. As my son’s interest in piano and classical music took center stage, I was able to let go of some curriculum ideas I had for the year. For example, we have put off foreign language, some Art Fridays, and just general “busyness” that I might have filled our time with, if my son didn’t become so engrossed in his new project. It’s been great to be able to do this, and I feel it’s given me the opportunity to give him what (to me) is more of a priority: time to play and be a kid.

Here is what we’ve accomplished during my son’s third grade:

Language Arts

My son wanted to work on spelling, so we completed Level 1 of All About Spelling, which I thought was a great program. He didn’t particularly like this program, but I think it gave him confidence that he can spell. He is not a child that is going to write anything voluntarily; it’s just not his thing. So we’re moving slowly in this area.

To improve handwriting skills, I have used both Handwriting Without Tears and a calligraphy set.

We are getting ready to do a standardized test, which homeschoolers in my state (Georgia) are required to do in the third grade, so I’m using a test prep book to review, and we’re also using some posters I have to learn the parts of speech. 

We’ve done a lot of reading this year. My son loves reading Calvin and Hobbes, and he’s enjoying reading the Battle Bugs series to himself. A few books I’ve read to him this year include My Father’s Dragon, Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Story of Dr. Doolittle, and On the Shores of Silver Lake among others.

 

Math

Math was a priority for me this year, and I feel we have made great progress in it this year. We completed four more Life of Fred books, which brings us to a total of seven books in that series. Right now, we’re reviewing math in our test prep book.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times tables, and I got him to try to beat his last time. My six-year-old has joined in on the fun too!

You can read about some of the other math games we’ve played this year here.

 

Science

My son loves science, and he’s ahead in this subject, so I haven’t made it a big focus this year. However, he attended a homeschool chemical engineering class during the fall, and everyday we watch nature and science documentaries. This summer we’re going to begin using a middle school level science curriculum, which my son can’t wait to try. I’ll write about that at a later date.

 

Social Studies

I don’t do a lot of formal work in this area because we learn so much through our daily routine. Occasionally we watch history documentaries, and my son keeps up with current events with the New-O-Matic app. I also did a short study this year on the Cherokee Indians because there are so many local attractions in our home state of Georgia with historical references to the Cherokees.

Last year I made a Big History Timeline for our wall that we update whenever we learn something new about history, and we’ve made good use of it.

 

Art

During the fall, my son took a pottery class, and we’ve done some art lessons at home. I usually do art on Fridays, but I let it slide for a while. Now I’m getting back into that routine again. We also visit our local art museum regularly to see new exhibits.

 

Piano

As I mentioned above, this has been my son’s big focus this year. He will have been taking piano lessons for one full year at the end of May! When he started, my husband and I casually said we’d be happy if he lasted one year since music is part of a well-rounded education. We had no idea how far our son would take it! Here’s a more specific list of what we’ve done this year:

 

  • Because our son progressed so quickly in his lessons, we went from a digital piano, to an upright piano, and now to a grand piano! Crazy, I know! But we feel it’s very important he has the right tools to work with to accomplish his goals. We have all enjoyed learning about how a piano works and the different brands of pianos, etc.
  • When we met a piano teacher whose knowledge and focus better matched our son’s goals, and he expressed an interest in working with our son, we took the opportunity to switch teachers. (Though I’ll ever be grateful for his first teacher who helped instill a love of piano playing through her warmth and enthusiasm.)
  • My son has begun studying the great composers. We use Meet the Great Composers, Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, and the Internet.  My son watches many classical performances on YouTube.
  • At two nearby universities, we are able to attend faculty and student recitals for free, and some of the bigger student performances are inexpensive to attend, so my son has attended 10 performances this year!

 

What are some of your favorite curriculum, resources and accomplishments that you have made this year?


How We Plan to Homeschool High School

Homeschooling High School: How to figure out what classes you should teach

So this is happening, y’all: This fall, my homeschooled daughter starts high school—and we’re planning to homeschool all the way to graduation.

We’ve always tried to leave the decision about whether to continue homeschooling up to our kids—as long as they’re actively engaged in their learning, it’s their call whether to keep homeschooling or look at a more traditional school environment. There was definitely part of me that hoped, as we visited hybrid schools and Montessori high schools over the past couple of years, that my daughter would want to continue homeschooling, but apparently there was also an equally sized part of me that hoped she’d find a school she loved, because when she made her decision, I had a little bit of a panic attack. High school is scary, and the stakes feel really high. It’s definitely taken me some time to get comfortable with the idea, and if you’re in the same boat, I think it’s important to give yourself that time. Freak out. Panic. Spin your wheels. Get it out of your system so that you can focus because once you do, homeschooling high school is not that different from any other grade.

Going into high school, we have two big goals. The first: We do not want to lose all the things we love about homeschooling just because we’re keeping serious transcripts. I’m not willing to give up lazy mornings and readalouds and afternoons of crafting and conversation in exchange for workbooks and homework. Our second goal, which may seem contradictory, is to make sure we cover the bases so that my daughter can do whatever she wants college-wise after she graduates. Since she’s not sure whether she wants to be an astronomer or a You Tuber or a graphic designer when she grows up, covering our bases should keep us busy!

To keep things simple, we’re making sure to cover these bases, which most liberal arts schools seem to be looking for, over the next four years:

  • 4 years of English
  • 2 years of a foreign language
  • 3 years of mathematics
  • 2 years of a laboratory science 
  • 2 years of a social science

Some of these classes we’ll do as proper classes; others may happen more organically as part of our regular homeschool lives. My job is going to be to keep up with what we’re doing and write everything down so that when the time comes to make that official transcript, I have all the information I need and then some.

As usual, my daughter and I had our annual planning meeting, exchanging ideas and book lists for 9th grade over chai lattes at our neighborhood coffee joint. As has become our way over the past two or three years, she led the conversation, and while I may have double-checked our academic requirements list a few times, I let her lead. Here’s what we’ve landed on for her first year of high school:

  • Japanese. After six years of Latin, my daughter wants to try something new, so we’re giving Japanese a whirl. I’m not sure yet what resource we’re going to use for this—I’m sure as heck not going to try to teach it myself—so finding a good beginner Japanese class will be my summer project. (Suggestions welcome!)
  • U.S. history and literature. My idea is to teach a U.S. history class that prepares my daughter to take the AP U.S. History test, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll likely use my battered old Norton Anthology of American Literature as the spine for the literature part of our class.
  • Comparative literature: Studio Ghibli’s adaptations. This class was my daughter’s idea, and I think it’s genius: We’ll read books (Howl’s Moving Castle, When Marnie Was There, The Borrowers, etc.) and then watch Studio Ghibli’s film adaptations of them, looking for similarities and differences and thinking about what they mean.
  • Physical science. I’m not sure what resource to use for this either. Good secular high school science is hard to find. 
  • Math. Now that our daughter is in high school, Jason is taking over her math lessons. He’s kind of famous in our homeschool circles for what I call his “kitchen sink” approach to math—he’ll cover a hodgepodge of algebra and geometry over the next two years, and then our daughter can decide if she wants to try something like trig or calculus. 
  • Etc:. We’ll continue our Craftsy crafting adventures with a more advanced crochet class for amigurumi makers—my daughter is hooked. (No pun intended!) She'll also join her littler brother and me for art and nature study when she wants to, and she'll continue with her music practice. She'll also still memorize a poem every week or so. She'll also take one of our online classes this fall—probably history or philosophy, but she mentioned that statistics and probability sounded interesting, too.

As you can tell, we’re covering our bases by ticking off items in our goal list, but we’re still doing things in a way that allows my daughter to plot her own educational course. I’m sure we’ll hit bumps and roadblocks, that we’ll need to course-correct along the way, and that I’ll forget something really, really important until it’s almost too late, but that’s par for the course with homeschooling. 

What about you? Are you homeschooling high school? How is your planning shaping up?


Related Posts

At Home with the Editors: Amy’s 2nd Grade

Roundup of resources, curriculum, and organization for homeschooling 2nd grade. #homeschool

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 2nd 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 2nd grader. (You can see what 1st grade looked like for us here.)

This was a crazy year for us—I broke both my ankles (taking the trash to the curb, if you can believe it) and spent most of the fall pretty much incapacitated. We’ve always relied pretty heavily on readalouds in our homeschool, but I’ve never been more thankful for them than I was this fall. I had lots of big plans for 2nd grade, but I ended up simplifying a lot. And you know what? It all turned out fine. I was a little anxious that we’d have to spend 3rd grade playing catch-up, but we’re actually a little ahead of where I hoped we’d be—which, I remind myself all the time, is a completely arbitrary place anyway and not a real educational checkpoint. 

 

History

Because we veer toward classical homeschooling (I always call it Classical, Dude-style because we require many snacks, are easily distracted by interesting stuff, and very occasionally go to the grocery store in our pajamas), history is the subject that we build our year around. My daughter and I loved Story of the World and used it all the way through, but in the interest of simplifying this year, I picked up the 5th grade Build Your Library curriculum. (I wanted to do U.S. history this year because my 8th grader tackled our state history—it works best for me when their history studies match up.) Build Your Library was great—the living book recommendations were spot-on, and my son enjoyed most of them. In fact, the book lists were such a good fit for him that I’m thinking of sticking with Build Your Library for history next year. 

 

Math

We’re still using Miquon Math, which my son has adored. He’s finishing up the last book, and I’m not sure what we’ll do next—maybe Beast Academy? Math is the easiest subject with my son—he’s always excited to work on it and Miquon’s approach seems to work really well for him. I’m sad there aren’t more advanced Miquon materials.

 

Langauge Arts

If you follow the blog, you know that my son’t reading (or lack thereof) has been stressing me out all year. We don’t do any formal reading or language arts—we read a lot together (favorites this year have included Sees Behind Trees, Heidi, Farmer Boy, the Melendy Quartet, By the Great Horn Spoon, and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France), and writing comes up naturally. My son likes to write little books about Minecraft or Pokemon or his birds versus pigs baseball tournament series—he dictates to me, I write things down, and we talk here and there about why there’s a comma or a new paragraph. (This is really Patricia’s method, and she describes it much better than I ever could.) He memorizes a new poem every week or so for our Friday recitations. He’s also reading on his own, which I try as hard as I can not to make a big thing out of. But when I come out of my creative writing class and see him reading in the backseat of the car or when I peek in his room in the morning and he’s reading in bed, my heart swells with hope.

 

Philosophy

This is my son’s third year taking Philosophy for Kids at our local homeschool group. (It’s taught by Shelly Denkinger, whom I convinced to teach How to Think Like a Philosopher for our summer class lineup.) This year, the kids have been creating their own logic game, and they’ve gotten really into it. Philosophy has been such a great class for my son—he’s a super-rational kid, and this class has given him the tools to express, explain, and defend his ideas and opinions. Class is definitely his favorite part of the week.

 

Science

Our daily nature journal is still the biggest part of my son’s science, though we’ve done a few one-off experiments here and there as something came up that we were interested in exploring. (The most popular was probably our chocolate chip cookie experiment, in which we tested variations—with baking powder, with brown sugar, with butter, etc.—of the classic recipe to discover which we liked best.) It’s really cool to see my son’t nature journal evolve over the past year as his observations have gotten more precise and interesting. We also worked our way, pretty casually, through a couple of the My Pals Are Here science workbooks, but that was mainly because I bought them when we first started homeschooling my daughter and never used them, so I was kind of determined to see them used. They were a little more school-y than we usually are, but my son enjoyed them in small doses.

 

Art 

We followed Build Your Library’s recommendation and worked our way through Great American Artists for Kids: Hands-On Art Experiences in the Styles of Great American Masters. We also do a little finger-knitting, soap carving, simple sewing, and/or beeswax modeling in what we like to call the “crafternoon.”

 

Our schedule tends to be pretty loose. My son and I usually start school after he has breakfast and checks his Animal Crossing town—this might be 8:30 a.m. or it might be closer to noon. We always start with a readaloud, then dive into history, but from there, it can vary quite a bit. We might get really engrossed in history and stay focused on that for a couple of hours, or we might spend a few minutes in every subject, or we might decide to watch a documentary on some rabbit-trail topic we’ve discovered. Ideally, we do a little history, a little math, our nature journals, and our readaloud every day, but I don’t worry if we don’t tick all the boxes. Some days, my son clearly has no interest in anything school-related, and we take those days off. At some point, he probably needs to power through something he doesn’t particularly enjoy, but I don’t think a few days off in 2nd grade is going to make him unfit for the adult world when he’s ready to enter it. Whatever work we end up doing usually lasts two to three hours. After we break for lunch (which my children are responsible for getting for themselves most days), we spend the afternoon working on our creative projects, and then he’s free to do whatever he wants. Sometimes that is non-stop video games. Sometimes it’s building a fort in the backyard, or playing with Legos, or doing logic puzzles, or coloring, or organizing his Pokemon cards, or watching Phineas and Ferb. He almost always helps me with dinner prep, and we try to all eat dinner at the table together and spend the evening having some family time—watching a show together (we were all hooked on Masterchef Junior) or playing a board game (Wildcraft is still our favorite).

One thing I’ve noticed—reading aside—is that I don’t worry about 2nd grade nearly as much this second time around. Second grade was the year we pulled our daughter out of school to homeschool—almost seven years ago now—and I had no idea what I was doing. I agonized over every decision and woke up in the middle of the night so many times convinced I’d totally screwed something up. It’s nice to realize that I’ve learned that a lot of gaps fill themselves, that things tend to come together in their own time so that waiting is almost always better than pushing forward, that you really can build a pretty solid educational foundation on readalouds and playtime. It’s not so much that I know what I’m doing better now—but I think I understand that it’s okay not to have any idea what I’m doing and to trust that—together—we’ll get where we need to go. In our own good time.

What about you? What did your homeschool life look like this year?


Exploring Nature with Children: A Hands-On Nature Study Curriculum for Homeschoolers

This hands-on nature study curriculum is perfect for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers or anyone who wants to add a little nature study to the curriculum. #homeschool

Spring has sprung. My young sons wake up earlier now, anxious to get outside for great big adventures. This time of year dandelion hunting, playtime in the mud, bike riding, and tree climbing fill our days. I am in awe of all of the learning opportunities nature conjures up for us.

The chance to accommodate and encourage our children’s love of nature is one of the many perks of homeschooling. Nature books are a much loved keystone on many homeschoolers bookshelves, and so I’m pleased to have stumbled upon Lynn Seddon’s treasure Exploring Nature with Children. 

Exploring Nature with Children is a curriculum chock-full of ideas to take thoughtful learners through a full year of nature studies. Well organized and comprehensive, Seddon’s program takes the work out of lesson planning, ensuring that families have time to get outdoors and play in the dirt. 

Seddon opens with tips for making nature studies a homeschooling focal point. Making and maintaining nature journals and keeping a nature display table indoors are two rewarding activities kids (and grownup) of all ages can enjoy. Seddon provides helpful ideas to make these ideas come to life. 

Exploring Nature with Children provides 48 weeks of themed and guided nature study. Seddon’s program will help to develop your family’s appreciation of nature a well as to provide a scientific context for your child’s observations. 

The chance to accommodate and encourage our children’s love of nature is one of the many perks of homeschooling.

Although Exploring Nature with Children is designed to work well as a stand-alone resource, Seddon encourages using it in conjunction with one of my all-time favorites, Anna Botsford Comstack’s Handbook of Nature Study. This would be a particularly worthwhile choice for those using the curriculum with older children. 

Each section of Exploring Nature with Children is designed to take students through one week of nature study. Seddon opens each section with a theme. Our family worked through a March unit on birds. The section opens with an informative paragraph about the behavior of nesting birds in early springtime. 

Next up is a guided nature walk. Here Seddon suggests details to be on the lookout for during a walk in the wild. My sons and I loved the challenge of watching for birds at work building nests. We also kept an eye open for nesting materials. To find nests off the beaten path, Seddon suggests looking at tree tops with binoculars, carefully examining the woodland floor, and observing holes in the trunks of trees. Seddon encourages readers to spend time afterwards sketching and jotting down observations in their nature journal.

For those wishing to learn more, Seddon suggests readings in The Handbook of Nature Study as well as correlating page numbers to provide more in-depth information about the week’s theme. A themed book list also accompanies each weekly lesson. Whether you choose to use these books or not is optional. Recommended non-fiction, fiction, and biography titles are provided for a range of ages. Even in my rural library, most of the recommended titles were easy to locate. My family enjoyed starting out the day reading books from this list. 

A poem and a piece of art relating to the theme of the week are included in each unit as well. Families can incorporate these features into a learning plan however they like. Keep in mind that the suggested artwork itself is not included in Seddon’s book. Rather, she provides the name of the artist and of the painting. A simple internet search will provide prints of all of these works.  

Innovative extension activities to help delve deeper into the week’s theme follow next. As my family worked through March activities we enjoyed gifting the birds with small piles of nest-making materials such as twigs and grass. We left these near our bird feeders. Using a field guide we located local birds and researched their nesting patterns. Seddon also suggests creating a map of the nests in your area to put inside of nature journals. The extension activities throughout the book are wonderfully varied, original, hands-on, and substantive. 

Living waaaaay up north means we need to tweak the book’s calendar schedule for our uses. In April, for instance, we worked through the March sections of the book. It may take readers a little time to sync up with the author’s schedule; however, once this adjustment is made there should not be any difficulty. 

Exploring Nature with Children will work best for those living in regions with somewhat dramatic seasonal changes. Also, the author assumes readers have access to landscapes that provide opportunities to observe, touch, and interact with nature.

Exploring Nature With Children is only available as a PDF. The PDF download costs $15 and can be purchased from the author’s website.

Nature is the perfect classroom. Kids of all ages can find inspiration, information, joy, and satisfaction from time spent learning outdoors. Happy spring!