Homeschooling Right and Wrong List

This year’s math workbooks are officially recycled (it’s becoming quite a happy tradition in our house), and I have this need to list some things about this homeschool year that I might have done right and things I still need to work on.

Right: I switched from Ambleside Online to Five in a Row for my youngest daughter, and changed her attitude from “I hate school” to “let’s do school!”

I decided to read from Exodus and Luke for Bible class, having the kids tell the passage back to me. No curriculum, no fuss, just the Bible and us.

I did not force my oldest two to continue Spelling-You-See when we finished their workbooks mid-year. I like the curriculum, but they were burned out. So we did some free Bible spelling sheets from Garden of Praise. That went well.

I gave my son a geography workbook. Common core approved (and I’m anti-common core). It’s basically what I would call busy work. He loved it and does it on his own time. He has plans to finish it this summer.

We did plenty of art projects, some inspired by our own ideas and some following the directions of our lovely art instruction video series, Home Art Studio.

I persevered with out-loud readings (at least three a week). My middle daughter has improved her reading big-time since the beginning of the year. My youngest has also improved and is at a more advanced stage than her sister was last year at this time.

We read tons of books this year, and we enjoyed them. I read the entire Little House series out loud for the second time (upon request) and now we are in the middle of the Anne of Green Gables series. I read Robin Hood for the second time. I read Where the Red Fern Grows. And more. Lots more. We love stories.

Wow, this is really encouraging. But now I’m going to start the Wrong list, not to discourage, but to clarify what I need to do better next year.

Wrong: I frequently got too frustrated with my middle daughter’s inability to subtract. It’s not that she can’t subtract; she simply gets overwhelmed by all those numbers on the page. Patience, patience. If I stand next to her and guide her through the problems, she can handle it.

I’d like to have a more exact start time for school. Flexibility is a beauty of homeschooling, but my mornings seemed so up-in-the-air, and the children flung themselves into playing so I wouldn’t make them start school yet.

I need to combine history (so all three kids study the same thing) and forget about English history for a few years (or forever). Why on earth did I ever think Island Story was a good idea? I never learned that stuff and I was perfectly fine. In fact, I am still unlearned, and I have a hard time discussing it with my son because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Seems like a waste, although my son liked it better than I did.

I trusted Ambleside Online too much, and I got discouraged by the AO leaders who insisted things must be done such-and-such a way. We crammed in too many readings and I tried too hard to force them to narrate every reading. As a result, we didn’t enjoy some things and learned to hate narration. I think I won’t even say the word narration anymore. The N word.

Science. Well, I don’t know if this is wrong or not, but I was pretty lackadaisical toward science. We did it when the Spirit moved me. I should probably be more conscientious about that.

Nature study. We didn’t even try to keep a journal this year, and my youngest daughter missed that. I should be more conscientious about this, too.

That’s all for now. If you have read to the bottom of this post, then I hope it was helpful or interesting. Mostly, it was helpful and interesting for me. Sometimes I have to write stuff out to understand what I’m thinking.

Praise for Five in a Row

This is the time of year to evaluate our little homeschools. The best thing I’ve done this year: use Five in a Row for my six-year-old daughter. I decided to use Volume 2 since Volume 1 included many picture books we were already familiar with, and Volume 2 only included three or four that we were familiar with. For twenty weeks my daughter and I have delved deep into twenty lovely picture books. I liked them all, she liked them all, and we are both happy to say that we are doing it again next fall! With Volume 3, probably.

Did we learn anything? Sure! Five in a Row acquaints us with history, geography, relationship issues, science topics, art (lots of different things about art, such as cross-hatching and perspective), even math. Plus, we learn a bit about authors and illustrators, how books are made, ideas behind stories, truth and fantasy, research, and writing techniques. That sounds like a lot for a six-year-old, but because it is all done through the medium of a picture book, and because I got to pick and choose the subjects that we discuss each day, and because I get to make it as laid-back and cozy as we like it, then the learning comes naturally. We have loved the little Friday habit we have of standing on a kitchen chair and sticking the story-disk of the week on our world map. Interesting how the stories stack up on the US east coast and the European west coast. I plan on doing a little ceremony next week of taking the story-disks off the map and pasting them on a chart I made of the books (I copied and pasted the book cover images off Amazon).

Is this a costly curriculum? Not at all! I bought the teacher’s manual used. As for the picture books, I already owned three of them, and the rest we checked out of the library. If it wasn’t in the library’s system, I requested an Interlibrary Loan, which the librarians were happy to assist me with. In one case, the librarian even bought the book for the library so I could check it out! She says I have good taste in children’s literature.

I’ve enjoyed having a special curriculum for my youngest daughter, and my other daughter has enjoyed listening to it as well:) Sometimes my nine-year-old son would listen, and definitely he read the library books by himself, but his learning type is very different from my girls, so it goes to show that different people need different curriculum approaches. I am so glad I decided to try out Five in a Row.

Two Books

I’m reading my youngest daughter a book about a dog named Three Names, so I decided to name this post Two Books.

First is a book I haven’t read yet, but I’m seeing it everywhere! It must be that I need to read it. It’s called Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. It’s an old book, so I’m not sure why I’m seeing it pop up all over lately. Has anyone read it and enjoyed it?

Second is a book my son and I are reading, Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. We both had our misgivings before we began this book, but now my son begs to read it more often than I have it on the school schedule. I think he likes the hunting in it. We are not a hunting family, and he has a soft spot for animals anyway, so this may be as close as he gets to actual hunting. I like the book because I have no idea what is going to happen. It’s a survival story, but it also contains an element of revenge and upholding one’s honor. The main protector of the children has died, and now what? I don’t know yet. Maybe my son will ask for an extra chapter tomorrow.


When I Was Young In The Mountains

When I was young in the mountains, we sat on the porch swing in the evenings, and Grandfather sharpened my pencils with his pocketknife. Grandmother sometimes shelled beans and sometimes braided my hair. The dogs lay around us, and the stars sparkled in the sky.

— from When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Diane Goode (1982)

This beautiful picture book is very calming with its rhythmical repetition, its mellow pictures, and its description of a simple, old-fashioned mountain life. The theme of contentment builds through the pages, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about contentment before.* It’s refreshing and thought-provoking at the same time.

My youngest daughter and I read this book as part of our Five In A Row curriculum this week. We made a graph, counting different things in the illustrations. We talked about contentment, but my little talk seemed completely insignificant. The book speaks for itself. We looked at pictures of the Appalachian Mountains, and that was lovely. Did you know there are Green Mountains and White Mountains? We ran across a picture of a Mohican longhouse, and that was interesting. We also talked about food and good nutrition, making a placemat to remind my snacky daughter that vegetables and fruit are important, too. My daughter enjoyed the picture of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, who looked alike. She’d cover up the bun in Mrs. Crawford’s hair and say, “Now she’s Mr. Crawford.” Such lovely, happy people in this book.

*I’ve  just now thought of another book about contentment: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. But that was a bull. It’s easier for a bull to be content than a person.


School All Day Long

Sometimes I think I don’t do enough school in my homeschool. Those are the days when we’ve done all the subjects we need to do in two hours or so. I shouldn’t worry, though. It all evens out. There come days when we do schoolwork all day long. Today, for instance, we began with our normal schedule of schoolwork. I planned on staying home all day, so I decided to work on a fun project we had prepped for a couple weeks ago. This project involved cutting apart paper bags and taping them into large sheets of paper, then tracing my kids on the paper, then cutting out the outlines. Then came the fun/educational part for the kids. They cut out the various words and phrases and sentences they dictated to me a couple weeks ago (things about themselves) and glued them all over their paper bag bodies. Then we hung them up on the walls. Then we read some more of Little Town on the Prairie (We love Almanzo! We love to hate Nellie Oleson!). At some point I had to make supper and feed the calves and cats. We looked at the clouds outside (cirrus, we think) for our new science unit study about clouds. Afterward we came back to the book and the body art. They read the words and acted out the different things (silly! wild! wiggly! sensitive… how do I act sensitive? My son says, “Easy, I’ll punch you and you’ll be sensitive to it.”) We did normal getting-ready-for-bed things. They were still interacting with their fun school project. But then they got too wild and silly and wiggly and I had to put them to bed. But hey! It was a good day.

The Meadows

The Meadows by William Langson Lathrop, 1897
The Meadows by William Langson Lathrop, 1897

This artist is from Illinois, which explains why the landscape is familiar and home-like to me. Illinois isn’t very far off from Wisconsin. In its sparseness I find comfort. It is simple, not too bright to dazzle me, and not too dark to sadden me. I like the puddles and the straight horizon. I like the two tall trees on the fenceline. I even like the cows, probably because they are just two cows and don’t seem to be the most important thing here.

What is important? If you don’t mind, I’d like to tie in some homeschooling thoughts here. What is important is the stretch of meadow, the expanse to walk through. It is important to have puddles to splash in, and equally important to have dry spots interspersed so you don’t always have to be in the water. Like school, this expanse is regular enough to not be scary and rugged enough to provide special experiences. There is a gate to head toward. There are some things around to attract your attention when you get bored with the puddles. But most of all, the education is the whole expanse you walk through. There’s that gate, but no brick path with arrows. There’s the fence, but lots of space. There are slow, chewing creatures around, and maybe in my metaphor, they are like me, the teacher, and mostly I just watch the student and moo at him occasionally, keep my eye on him, walk toward a new clump of meadow and see if he will follow me there.

I am often more rigid than that, but lately, I’ve been feeling like that meadow-approach is better than other approaches.

Living in the Present with Children

Probably all mothers of young children hear this saying: “Enjoy them while you can. They grow up so quickly.”

I’m here to remind myself that I am enjoying them. I am living with them. I take care of them. I don’t cart them off to daycare to let someone else be with them most of the day. I don’t even bus them off to school. I teach them myself! We have lots of cuddle time on the couch as I read countless pages of books to them. We have good times all year round.

I am living in the present with my children, day by day, moment by moment. We live in phases, and this is the phase for enjoying the children at home. In some other, future phase I suppose I’ll be enjoying some extra time to myself.

Perhaps those older people hinting that I’m not doing enough to enjoy my children are actually being wistful. They wish they could relive a past phase. Perhaps they should enjoy their present time, a time to sit back and reflect. It’s not too easy to reflect in the middle of a busy homeschooling day:) All these phases of our lives have good aspects and bad ones.

As I end this post, I am reminded of a spiritual truth: God only gives us the grace to get through the things that actually happen. He gives us grace for each moment of our lives as they unfold. An alternate life in my imagination is not something God gives grace to live. That’s a good reminder for me to be present and be mindful of what God has actually blessed me with.