Start honing critical thinking skills early with a philosophy curriculum designed for elementary-age kids.
Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.
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?
Over steaming pots of tea, my oldest son and I have had great fun working through David A. White’s book Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything. (See my review in the winter issue of home/school/life.). So much fun, in fact, that I just had to check out the author’s sequel, The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids.
Anyone lucky enough to spend their days among children knows that young people are inquisitive and imaginative bold thinkers. Kids are natural born philosophers. For this reason, experts encourage the practice of exposing students to philosophy early on. Even an introductory understanding of the subject helps cultivate important skills used in developing critical thinking, appreciating cultural differences, considering other viewpoints, and growing one’s self-awareness.
White, a professor of philosophy with loads of teaching experience, breathes life into the ideas of some of history’s greatest thinkers. If you are already familiar with White’s popular work, Philosophy for Kids, you’ll notice the format in The Examined Life differs dramatically. This is a teacher’s guide. It is written for educators and is not intended to be used by students independently. Prior experience with Philosophy for Kids, while complementary, is certainly not necessary.
In this follow-up work, the author digs deeper encouraging readers to consider some of life’s most meaningful, as well as abstract, questions. Feminism, social justice, technology, freedom, and society are among the topics he explores.
The Examined Life is divided into three parts. “Kids and Philosophy,” the book’s first section, contains a collection of 10 readings—a series of passages from primary source selections, which are followed by questions, discussion, commentary, and analysis. Based on his own experience teaching this material, White anticipates and shares the questions students are most likely to raise as they delve deep into discussion. In most cases, links are provided so that those motivated to do so can read the philosophers’ complete texts online. An especially useful feature of this section is its suggestions for integrating the presented topics with lessons in science, social studies, and language arts courses.
“Education as Applied Philosophy,” part two of the book, is where this resource sparkles most. This portion of White’s book is likely to appeal to homeschoolers who have an inherent love of hands-on engagement and real life application of information.
Four discussions intended to enhance student’ abilities in critical thinking, drawing, language acquisition, and music are accompanied by innovative, sophisticated project ideas that bring the book’s material to life.
Part three, “A Philosophical Postlude” is a series of theoretical discussions that are presented in order to understand the relationship between educational theory and instruction. Here, special emphasis is placed on teaching gifted learners.
Although not specifically written for homeschoolers, The Examined Life could be easily adapted to suit the needs of one student or many and would also work well with older children in a co-op setting. To fully utilize this resource, advanced preparation on the part of the parent is necessary. The Examined Life is intended for Grades 6 to 12 and was written with gifted learners in mind. However, this is not a book exclusively for gifted children. Success using this material will rely largely on a student’s level of interest in the subject matter along with their ability to handle abstract materials.
If you used Philosophy for Kids with a younger child and it went well, you will want to get your hands on a copy of The Examined Life at some point too. However, as there is a significant difference in approach and style in this second book, it may be helpful to let some time pass to ensure that your younger child is ready for the level of materials found in The Examined Life.
The Examined Life is a unique resource designed to develop students’ critical thinking. The lessons it contains are likely to ignite curiosity and lead to lively discussions in your homeschool. I can’t wait to get started on this with my son!