We officially withdrew the boys from their school two weeks
ago, so we’re committed to homeschooling now!
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months talking to
homeschooling friends, signing up for online groups and local co-ops, and trying
to wrap my head around the various homeschooling philosophies and curriculum
choices. At this point, I think I’m pretty settled on what we’ll start with
this fall (and I’ve paid for most of the books, so I’d better not make any huge
changes), but for a while I was changing plans completely a couple times a
week. At least I knew I shouldn’t buy anything until I stuck with it more than
a couple days.
At first, I thought I would enroll Peter in the state’s
online public school. Leo isn’t 7 yet, the age when Minnesotans are required to
enroll kids somewhere, so I thought he could tag along for Peter’s science,
social studies, art, and music and nobody would care. I’d find his own math and
language arts programs. But the more I learned about the online school, it felt
like it required too much computer time without enough flexibility.
A friend told me about Five in A Row’s unit studies and I
thought that might work for Leo. I loved the book selections but it seemed to
demand more creative preparation than I was hoping for (although there are tons
of blogs with examples out there).
Then I read about the Robinson Curriculum. It’s a
self-teaching program where kids do one Saxon math lesson, write for an hour,
and read high-quality historical books for two hours. That’s it. I borrowed the
CD set from Bearing Blog’s Erin. Then I got scared off by teaching kids to
write via the McGuffey readers they include and the whole program seemed sort
of bad-weird. But I took away from it the plan to focus on math facts for Leo
and do Saxon math and to read a lot of good books.
At that point, I began having the kids do XtraMath.org math
fact drilling online most days. It’s 10 minutes at the most, free, and ad-free.
Peter finished addition and is almost through subtraction and Leo has made good
progress on addition.
I borrowed a bunch of homeschool conference CDs and Andrew
Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing was a prominent speaker.
IEW provides a video series that teaches parents a method for teaching kids how
to write, along with years of various lessons plans if desired. One of its big
selling points is that it shows kids how to get past the “eek, it’s a blank
page to fill” point that is a problem for both Peter and Leo. I initially
thought I’d get the planned out 3rd-5th grade series for
Peter and get the basic k-2nd program for Leo and skip the video series for the
I began talking to people about history programs and finding
things with the Catholic worldview seemed to be an issue. I was pretty turned
off by Catholic homeschool-in-a-box programs that use Catholic readers,
Catholic spellers, etc etc, but that didn’t mean I wanted to use a history
program that was “Yay!! Reformation!!” since evangelical Christian materials
seem to be the most easily obtained curricula. Somewhere I heard about RC
History’s Connecting with History program and I’ve been sold on it ever since.
It’s a 4 year cycle of Old Testament times/63BC – 1066 AD/Medieval-Renaissance/Modern
Times that allows families with a range of kid ages to study the same information
at various levels. It was created by a Catholic family here in the metro area
but is used nationally. I decided to start with the first millennium AD set
because Leo spent a lot of time studying ancient Egypt last year and I don’t
know a lot about the early Church years so I thought I could get more out of it
too. Instead of using a text book, the program is set up as a unit study with
gobs of good books. I had way too much fun making a spreadsheet of the books’
retail costs, which were available used, and which were at the library. The age
ranges are set for k-2nd, 3rd-5th, 6th-8th,
and 9th-12th and I’ll be using a combination of the lower
two levels. I thought the youngest one was mostly picture books, but it’s not
exactly. I think for our core reading, I’ll stick to the beginner/k-2nd
books but have the grammar/3rd-5th books available for
Once I decided to do Connecting with History (CWH), I
wondered whether I could connect the IEW approach into it. That would mean
using CWH texts as starting blocks for the writing instead of the ones IEW
provides. I decided to get the video series instead of the specific 3rd
grade plans and k-2nd program and do a low-key version of it with
both boys. I expect I’ll let Leo do a lot of it orally and then write out the
final versions as copywork.
IEW recommends the Phonetic Zoo spelling program for kids
Peter’s age and All About Spelling for younger kids. I like the fact that
neither one is a here’s-your-word-list-memorize-them-by-Friday sort of thing.
PZ is done via CD, with phonetic rhymes to make connections. The words are
listened to every day and after the child gets 100% twice in a row, they move
to the next lesson. Peter tested into the middle school level easily. Leo
almost tested into the 3rd grade PZ level but he gives up easily on
things he thinks are difficult and I wasn’t sure if PZ’s approach would
discourage him, so I decided to use All About Spelling, which uses
manipulatives and can avoid writing altogether if we want. He’ll likely zip
through the first few levels this year but that sounds better than struggling.
With math, language arts, and history pretty well nailed
down, I was left with the fuzzier subjects. Homeschooling science is goofy.
There are a lot of New Earth homeschoolers and I knew I wasn’t going to go that
direction. My kids do a lot of science exploration on their own and I wasn’t
sure how to best approach science for them. While I was in the midst of this,
Leo got on an atom/molecule kick and was drawing atomic orbitals for hours and
jabbering constantly about electrons. What am I supposed to teach a 6 year old
who already knows this stuff? After talking to homeschooling college friends
(who have even more science degrees than Dan and I do), I got past my weird
hang-up on nature study. I’ve heard nature study mentioned repeatedly before
this summer by homeschooling folks and it always sounded silly to me. But the
more I thought about it, the better an idea it seemed for my kids. Let’s
actually learn about the animals and plants around us – what do they look like,
how do they change through the seasons and over their lifespans? Let’s sit down
for half an hour and really draw them. When I learned about some websites and
books that say more than “go out and draw the robins”, I was willing to try it.
There’s a bird count program all winter that sends us pictures and information
and we’d get to be part of a continent-wide program tracking them. Neat! I also
think it’s hilarious that my FIL, the lover of birds, would likely be quite
helpful, despite his background as a poet, since my dad the physicist is the
one who jumps at the chance to talk science with the boys.
I was fairly willing to gloss over fine art and music at
first until I found Harmony Fine Arts. It’s a curriculum designed by a
homeschooling mom that uses the same history cycle and ties together musicians
and artists from the time periods. The music portion is mostly listening to a
particular composer’s works for a couple weeks at a time. The art part is both
art appreciation and creating works in the style of the artist. That’s set up
well enough that I think I can handle it.
I’ll skip foreign languages and formal phy ed for now.
Ideally we’ll have both boys in fall sports and piano but I’m not sure we’ll
start those in September. Maybe my mom can teach them Spanish at some point,
but I’ll wait until she’s more on board with the homeschooling plan before I
broach that one.
We’ll use the Faith and Life series for catechism – that’s
what their school used so I’m just continuing that. The history program
incorporates Bible readings until the lives of the apostles are done but there
are books on the saints and early Church included after that. I’ve been looking
at approaches to character formation and still need to make some decisions
there. I got the Moti-venture Summer Olympics program to start working on some
self-care and chores this summer.
This past week I’ve moved from curriculum decisions into
purchasing materials and starting to think about how the logistics are going to
work. I think a paper planner won’t be flexible enough. There are detailed
online lesson planning programs available but I’ll probably use some free
printouts and utilize Excel to map out how long things will take. I read
somewhere that it’s best to put down each subject separately and then put them
into a weekly planner one week at a time in case life happens (as it inevitably
will) and the timing gets thrown off.
As the books have begun arriving, it’s been fun to see what
Peter and Leo are interested in. A couple of the stories about Rome have
already been read front to back. Leo took an activity book and started making
his own mosaic. I’ve borrowed library books on determining kids’ learning
styles, suggestions for kids who’d rather jump off the refrigerator than sit
down, an early years Montessori book for Tim who gets mad if I don’t let him
use and empty the dustpan, and Charlotte Mason books.
It seems like almost everyone who doesn’t use a
curriculum-in-a-box utilizes Charlotte Mason ideas to some extent. A lot of her
ideas resonate with me – she encourages living books and she’s the big nature
study enthusiast. I’m sort of intimidated by her approach to language arts –
copywork, narration, and dictation instead of spelling tests, grammar lessons,
essays, etc. She also recommends encouraging the arts and I lean towards
focusing on the 3 R’s. There are whole Charlotte Mason book lists but they
assume a 1st grade kid is an average first grade kid and not advanced
here and behind there. The grade levels can be mixed around but when you add in
the fact that my kids learned something else at school and don’t want to repeat
the same things too soon and it’s easier for me not to base plans on those. We’ll
see whether I lean more that direction after a few months or not. I’ve tried to
read some books based on her philosophy and I really don’t enjoy reading
philosophy so it all starts going over my head after a while.
I think it’s funny that I started off wanting to find a
whole curriculum I could glom onto and I’ve moved to picking and choosing stuff
from all over the place. It feels like a mystery to be solved – what’s going to
work best for MY kids and how to do I get them to want to learn? I feel more
connected to them than I have in a long time.