Shelli's son's bird obsession has fueled their homeschool reading list. Here are some of their favorites.
You don't have to rush or totally shift gears to successfully homeschool first grade. Figure out how you want your homeschool to feel, and build your days from there.
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.
“I love the idea of unschooling, but I’m never going to be an unschooler,” says Jennifer Harris. Jenn homeschools her 9-year-old son Ian in a style that she calls Charlotte Mason-ish—“but lately, it’s feeling like all workbooks and dictation and sitting-at-the-desk time, which is too far in the other direction,” Jenn says. Jenn’s been struggling to find a balance between the structure and academics she needs and the fun, laid- back vibe she wants her homeschool to have.
We asked Jenn to track her time over a couple of weeks so that we could get a clearer idea of what a typical day in her homeschool looked like. Jenn was surprised to discover that she and Ian usually spent about two hours a day on school time—“it feels like so much more,” Jenn says. On most days, they’d start school after breakfast, then sit down together at the table to work. Sometimes Ian would read independently, sometimes Jenn would read aloud, but they’d stay at the table, working their way through one subject at a time, until it was time to start lunch. Jenn’s husband, Frank, comes home for lunch every day, so she and Ian hurry to get the table cleaned up and lunch prepared so that they can all enjoy the meal together.
“It’s gotten to the point where school feels like work to both of us,” says Jenn. “I care about staying on top of things academically, but I hate the way our learning process is starting to feel like a job. Is there a way to bring back fun without sacrificing academics?”
Since it was pretty clear that Jenn wasn’t overdoing it time-wise—two to three hours is a reasonable amount of hands-on school time for a third-grader—we decided to focus on the way she was using her time. By spending all their school time at the table and keeping an eye on the clock ticking toward a lunchtime deadline, Jenn and Ian weren’t able to relax into their routine. Here’s how we changed things up:
Moving classes to the afternoon. When I asked Jenn why they were doing all their school work before lunch, she paused and said, “You know what? I don’t even know.” It turns out that afternoons are quiet at the Harris house. Except for a regular Friday park day, Jenn and Ian are hanging out at home in the afternoons. We suggested moving their second hour of school time to the afternoon to make the morning more relaxed. Instead of jumping into their next lesson after handwriting, Ian starts his independent reading and Jenn gets household stuff out of the way until it’s time to prep lunch.
Starting the day with a meeting at the table. Jenn felt like table time was essential to starting their homeschool day. “I need the structure of sitting down in a consistent spot every day and saying okay, now we’re homeschooling,” Jenn says. We suggested that Jenn keep doing this— but instead of spending an entire morning at the table, she and Ian could get the same down-to-business boost from a morning meeting there right after breakfast. While they’re at the table, Ian does his daily copy work and handwriting practice.
Relocate for different subjects. The kitchen table is the best place for Ian to practice handwriting, but his other subjects might benefit from a change of scene. We suggested that Jenn and Ian switch locations each time they move to a new subject: math on the patio, history on the couch, spelling at the desk in Ian’s room, etc. This kind of musical chairs isn’t just a way to transition between subjects—researchers have discovered that students who work on material in different places retain it better than those who sit in the same spot to study every day.
Integrate more reading aloud. Ian’s a strong reader, and Jenn’s been encouraging him to do more independent reading, but since readalouds are one of the things Jenn and Ian like best about homeschooling, we suggested that they bring back the readaloud. (Kids benefit from being read to long after they’re able to finish chapter books on their own, and reading together means you get to learn together—which is one of the best ways to feel like your homeschool is a fun, relaxed place.) We suggested that Jenn and Ian go back to doing book-based subjects, including history and science, as readalouds and letting Ian keep his reading skills sharp with independent reading.
“I didn’t realize such simple changes could make such a big difference, but they really have,” Jenn says when we follow up with her. She and Ian have been implementing their new routine over the past month, and Jenn says everything is working better than she had hoped.
“I think I bought into the idea that when we hit third grade, school should become more school-like,” Jenn says. “And the result was that Ian was learning about the same amount but we were having a lot less fun. I think I needed someone to say ‘Hey, you can teach your kid what he needs to know and still have fun doing it.’”
This column is excerpted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL. Do you need a homeschool makeover? Email us at email@example.com with a description of what’s tripping up your homeschool life, and we may feature your makeover in an upcoming issue.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?