Nature study doesn't have to be a fancy, complicated thing. These simple strategies make it easy to add a little nature time to your everyday 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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?