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Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?

I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children.  I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and  improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.

When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.

You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.

You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.

Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.

Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.

Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.

You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.

Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.

Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.

Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.

Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill.  Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.

Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.

Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.

OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD

Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.

Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.

The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.

Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.

The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.

 

 

“TEACHING READING AT HOME”

When we first decided to homeschool, I felt intimidated about teaching my children to read. I am an avid reader. My husband is an avid reader. Both of us having university degrees in writing and the liberal arts. Our home is filled with hundreds of books and rich conversation. Why did I feel panicked about teaching reading? Of course, I knew how to read, but I couldn’t remember how I learned. Could I break it down well enough to teach my own children? Nine years later, with three––nearly four––fluent readers, I want to encourage parents of younger children: DON’T BE AFRAID.


What will you talk about? 

During this 60 minute live webinar, I hope to quell fear and doubt, and instead empower parents with tools and skills to help their young children learn and love to read. We’ll also end with time for questions and answers. I will discuss

  • our personal story of reading lessons across four different curriculums and temperaments
  • learning styles
  • developmental/environmental factors that affect reading
  • curriculum: is it necessary?
  • when to seek help
  • personal misunderstandings, discouragement, and frustration on the journey
  • finding a balanced and adapted approach
  • our favorite tools and resources
  • Q+A with audience

This webinar will not offer a didactic step-by-step curriculum, but it will provide many ideas, resources, and tools to implement in your own home.


Who is this for?

This webinar is for anyone

  • interested in helping their children learn to read.
  • feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with reading lessons.
  • curious about our personal journey, style, and methods.
  • beginning homeschooling.

I missed the live webinar. Can I still watch it? 

Yes! Click the link to purchase the recorded webinar.

$18

Notes : Once you have paid for the webinar in Paypal, you must click “return to merchant” at the bottom of the PayPal receipt in order to add your name and email and officially complete registration. Feel free to comment or email with any questions or feedback. Thank you for your support.

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Reading was (and still is) one of the more intimidating parts for me of teaching my children at home.  On one hand, like so many other parents, I want my children to LOVE reading, not just know how to do it. I want them to enjoy the large varieties of stories and characters and ideas within books and, of course, to glimpse the freedom and gift of the written word. As a home-educator (especially if you are new), it doesn’t help the intimidation factor that reading often feels like the litmus test for outsiders looking in, “so  is (____) reading yet?” And of course, we all know or have met the children who are reading Don Quixote or something like it at age three (insert shock and awe). While I’m always impressed by these prodigious children, I have never experienced it. In their four and five year-old years, my own children always seem to be the ones running away from lessons. They say things such as, “do we have to practice reading today?” To those of you facing similar questions, keep at it a little each day. They’ll get there.

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Although there are several wonderful reading programs out there (and if you’re using one that’s working, stick with it!), All About Reading  is one of my favorite resources for so many reasons, including its multi-sensory approach, organized materials, manageable lessons, beginning readers, and pre-made consumable activities. I began using AAR with my oldest daughter, Blythe, when I realized how much she wanted more hands-on activities during her lessons. I ordered level 1 and we both immediately loved it! She loved the paper-cutting, coloring, and gluing mixed in with the more formal reading and decoding–and of course, the sticker chart too!  I, on the other hand, loved how that these activities were already organized and ready to use, that the lessons were manageable in length and easy to follow, and that there were leveled readers which naturally integrated with the lessons.

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Still, perhaps my favorite parts is the word/phonogram card organization, which easily sorts between what has been mastered, what needs review, and what is for future lessons. In other reading programs, I always felt confused about that line separating mastery and review. In this program, we review the same cards each lesson until they can say the word or phonogram without hesitation. Plus, I’m learning the rules and phonograms right alongside my children. I guess, in short, I love that All About Reading has everything I would have wanted to create on my own but don’t always take the time to do. Instead, I follow the simple 20-30 minute lessons! My one criticism is that the program can get pricey, as you have to purchase a new level each year (on average). As with any curriculum there are creative ways to offset these expenses or re-sell when you’re family is finished with it.

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Since moving last spring, I haven’t found a place in our school room for my magnet board–something we’ve always used for our spelling and reading phonogram magnets. Fortunately, I have a moveable alphabet on hand that I have used during the pre-K years with all of my children. The kids have always enjoyed building words and playing with the letters. Right now, we’re using it for our reading and spelling lessons. We use all of the concepts from All About Reading with these wooden letters. The only difference is my girls have to recognize the letter teams on their own, instead of seeing them together on a single magnet. This hasn’t caused any trouble thus far, instead it forces them to recognize associations through repetition, much like words on a book page.

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:: learning :: phonetic, multi-sensory approach to reading

:: time :: 20-30 min, 4 days/week

:: matierials :: AAR materials, magnetic board or moveable alphabet

:: lesson :: I meet one-on-one with each of my children for their reading lessons (one of the reasons I can at times be inconsistent).  Where we meet depends on what we’re doing that day. Both of the girls enjoy snuggling and often want to meet on one of our beds. We just bring the moveable alphabet with us (as shown). I follow through the directions written in the manual, usually beginning with reviewing old phonograms and words and then reviewing a previous concept. Then I introduce the new material. Sometimes we finish the step within the 20-30 minute window, if not, we return to the same spot the following day. I find shorter lessons are better for everyone involved. ;)

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With our move last month, two important wedding weekends, and the arm-length list of TO DOs in our new place, our homeschool routine has been shuffled and eclectic. I’ll tell you more about that soon, but today I’m sharing another one of our simple homeschooling lessons, an easy introduction to color theory for young children.

lesson //  an introduction to color theory using watercolor and literature  (30+ minutes)

materials used //

    • primary watercolors
    • watercolor paper
    • paint brushes
    • cup of water
    • paint pallette
    • Mouse Paint  by Ellen Stoll Walsh
    • color wheel (not pictured)

description //

To begin, I hand Mouse Paint to my seven year-old daughter, Blythe, and ask her to read it aloud to us. Olive, my newly five year-old, sits next to her at the table and listens to one of her favorite stories. I listen to Blythe read, helping her with inflection, and set up the supplies for painting. When Blythe finishes reading, I ask Olive to retell what happened in the story. I ask both girls if they remember the first three colors in the paint cans. I term them primary. We then talk about what happens when the mice play in the paint. I ask them to recall what new colors the mice create by mixing the primary colors. We term them secondary.

We talk for a bit about all the variations of red, blue, and yellow. (e.g. Do you see blue outside? Where? Are those blues the same? How are they different?) We do the same with the secondary colors.

I give each of the girls a palette of  primary colors, leaving empty spaces between for mixing. I set the water and all of the paint brushes in front of them, reminding them not to mix every color and to rinse their brushes well. I let them mix their own secondary colors, asking them questions such as, “what happens to the orange when you add more yellow than red?” or “How could you make this green more like the shade of our grass?” They each paint a couple of pictures, and by this point, the boys have joined, too. When they’re finished, we set their art aside to dry, and clean up.   Easy peasy and such a delight for all of us. 

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When I first began homeschooling, all of my children were young pre-readers, but of course, if I began working with one child, the others often insisted they have “work” to do as well. This perhaps was the hardest transition for me since obviously I couldn’t help each of them at once, and none of them were old enough to work independently yet. This part has shifted and evolved each year for our family, but one thing I have really loved through the years are folder games. A dear friend was teaching 1st grade at the time and introduced the idea to me. So I began hunting for activities that would be easy to appease my independent pre-readers that could easily be put away when they were finished. I have several of them that I have assembled and keep in a folder box in a cubby. (I printed and laminated my games because I knew so many children would use them. It’s not necessary though.) When they want, the kids pull the box out and begin the game. Here’s one of the days I used Olive’s initiation of a weather matching folder game for an impromptu lesson on weather.

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{lesson}

introduction to different types of weather and vocabulary about weather (15-20 minutes)

 

{materials used}

+ weather matching folder game (or these weather nomenclature cards for older kids)

+ What Will the Weather Be

 

{description}

Olive pulls out the folder game box while I’m working with the older kids. She selects the weather matching activity and begins to pull out the pieces. Intuitively, she begins spreading out the pieces (something all pre-schoolers enjoy!) and realizes they have matches. While she is doing this I quickly grab one of the books we own on weather–I adore this entire science series, by the way. I finish helping the older kids and tell them I’ll be working with Olive for a bit. They’re welcome to join in when the finish. Blythe does. We go through and discuss the weather labels on the cards. Olive then sits in my lap and we read What the Weather Will Be. Some of the information is too specific for Olive, but Blythe enjoys it. We discuss some of the new words together and Olive picks up her cards and puts the folders away.

 

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Whew! I know it’s been pretty quiet in this space as of late. As I’ve mentioned before, this transition has been harder than we all anticipated. During the last two months, we’ve really focused on forming and finding the new rhythms for our combined household, and they are forming. We started our school routine in the beginning of August this year, and more recently, we began our school year with our local Classical Conversations group. Again, I’ve begun recording snippets of our days to share with you. Here’s another recent “preschool” learning time. Although Blythe (6) is beyond this level, she often wants to help teach the younger children–one of my favorite things about homeschooling. She remembers the handwriting songs and strokes from her early years and loves encouraging/helping Olive and Shepherd with theirs. I love watching each of my children mature in this way, learning to give and receive in various roles, at once student and teacher, leader and follower. It’s such a gift.

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{lesson}

writing the letter “B”  (15 – 30 minutes)

{materials used}

+ sandpaper letters (or the HWT version)

+ roll-a-dough letters

+ slate chalkboard

+ chalk bits (or regular chalk broken into smaller pieces for smaller hands)

+ sponge cubes (or kitchen sponges cut into small cubes)

+ alphabet poster (not shown)

{description}

We sing the alphabet together, pointing to each letter on the alphabet poster as we go. We return to the letter “B” saying the name and sound together. I ask them to find something in the room that starts with the /b/ sound. Although they don’t always get this part, they always enjoy trying.

I then lay out a few of the sandpaper letters and have them find the letter B. When they pick it up, I ask them what strokes they see (HWT only has four strokes: big line, little line, big curve, little curve). They each have a turn to trace the sandpaper letter with their finger.

I ask them to pull out their fingers for sky writing and ask, “where do we start our letters (another HWT song)?” “At the top!” They squeal. We sky-write “big line down, frog jump to the top, little curve, little curve.” We repeat a few more times and then begin independent activities: the roll-a-dough letters for one and the chalkboard (with chalk and sponges) for the other. Blythe helps Olive roll the playdough to form each letter stroke for “B,” while I set Shepherd up for what HWT calls “wet-dry-try.” I write a capital B on the mini-chalkboard, speaking each of the strokes as I write them. He then will trace this same letter THREE times: once with a wet sponge, then with a dry sponge, and then finally with his own piece of chalk. Each child works through their activity a few times and then we switch.

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In every case, the remedy is to take action. Get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it.
– Miguel de Cervantes

When I first stumbled into homeschooling, my dear friend Amy introduced me to Handwriting Without Tears’ products and songs, something she had used for years working as an OT in local elementary schools. I’m forever grateful as it has provided a common thread for all of my children to share and has taught me how to teach my children handwriting. Naturally, I now want to pass on these tools we’ve loved so much to help other young homeschooling families on their own journeys. That said,  I know the HWT website can be difficult to sort through. So instead of just referencing the sources, I’ve shown the real products we’ve used (and enjoyed) in our home the last five years with the appropriate links for the website. In our home, I store all of the non-jarred items in the top section of the photo in that clear plastic bin (from IKEA); this makes for quick access during our mornings and easy storage when we put it away. The bin also helps make the tools more portable to grab if we’re heading out-of-town or more likely — to the backyard.

{things to note}

+ I forgot to include the I Know my Numbers booklet Blythe is coloring in the first picture. This give kids extra work with writing and understanding numbers.

+ The HWT crayons and chalk bits are not necessary, as you could use alternative ones from a store. Their tiny size and the double-sided crayon is what makes those products unique.

+ They also make Touch & Flip alphabet cards (not pictured or linked because I already had sandpaper letters).

+ The teacher’s guide has changed since I purchased my own, so the picture in the link won’t match the image above.

+ If you can’t afford to buy everything at once, start with the wood pieces, laminated wood piece cards, chalkboard, Mat Man book, and the student book. I often make copies of the student book, so they can work on a letter more than one day.

+ Pay attention to the videos on the product pages. Each one will give you a sample lesson using that particular product — so helpful if you have no experience using this curriculum.

Good luck!

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If you’re new to homeschooling or trying to figure out where to start with your 3-5 year old (beyond play), two of my very favorite curriculums are Handwriting Without Tears (handwriting and literacy) and All About Reading (reading, phonetic/phonemic awareness, comprehension, and puppets!) .  Both programs use a multi-sensory approach to learning language (ideal for this age group and beyond), meaning your children practice and learn language with all of their senses (and often their whole body). Also, both programs offer teacher manuals, ideal if you’re intimidated about homeschooling and prefer a more directed approach to education — BUT if you prefer to simply offer your children quality materials to play with and introduce more indirectly (child-led learning), they both offer several quality products all of my children enjoy.

In short, both of these programs easily adapt to whatever style of education you choose for you home. I’m somewhere in the middle, often borrowing ideas from several different styles and programs and adapting them to our family style. I’ve always loved the Montessori approach to education, especially for young children who are so eager to learn and work independently — “I can do it by myself!” If you’re interested in Montessori at home, this book is simple to read and follow. I’ll link to Montessori materials I use in addition to these program. They are not necessary, but I/my children love using them.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to show little glimpses of our homeschool here to help encourage/inspire other families.  Here’s one of last week’s morning activities with my daughter Olive (4) and nephew Shepherd (3). We are practicing the sounds of E.

{materials}

{description}

We pull out my box of HWT materials. The kids are excited and immediately begin pulling out the wood pieces. Olive grabs the small container with our sandpaper letters from the shelf. I open the alphabet poster . We sing the alphabet together, pointing to each letter as we go. I ask them what letters we’ve already talked about (A-D); I point and they tell me the names and sounds. I place the A-E sandpaper letters on the floor, scrambled; Olive puts them in order while Shepherd watches.

I ask them what letter comes next in the song, “E”! So I make sure they have the right wood piece to build E: one big line, three little lines. I pull out the capital letter card and we look at the picture of the E. I trace it with my finger — “one big line with one little line at the top, one little line in the middle, one little line on the bottom.” They build their letters on the floor. I ask them if their E looks like the E on the letter card. They make adjustments. I congratulate them for making an E! We then sing the Leap Frog song for E, “E says /eh/, E says /eh/, every letter makes a sound, E says /eh/.”

I ask them to get their pointer finger ready for writing E. Where do we start our letters? At the top! (We sing the HWT song, “Where Do You Start Your Letters?”) I dictate the strokes and they trace their E wood pieces. ” We start at the top with a big line down. Now, frog-jump back to the top. Make a little line at the top. Jump to the middle. Make a little line. Now to the bottom. Make a little line.” They repeat a few times. Again, big hoorays, “you made an E with your fingers!” “What does E say? “/eh/”

“Now let’s read a short story about elephants. Elephant starts with /eh/ E.” We read the three page story a couple of times. And then they’re ready to play outside, so we clean up our materials (throwing the pieces back in the box and returning it to the shelf). This took about 20-30 minutes.


Olive’s crying right now. For the second time, I’ve returned her to her bed for rest, a quiet both of us need. I’ve seen this phase out of daytime sleep on the horizon for a while; she is three after all. Although the boys had long given up naps at her age, they quickly adapted to quieting themselves during rest time, happy to spend 1-2 hours in their beds studying the images in books they couldn’t yet read and wielding their own tales through pictures. Blythe took a little longer, but now also has learned to enjoy this peaceful part of our early to mid-afternoon. Olive, my busy toddler (is that even an adequate description?) has been harder, naturally. At this point, I can tell this “rest” feels withholding and prohibitive to her; I offer her reassurance of our need of rest and solicit her trust. Although my words often fall dead, she usually concedes, slowing down enough to either fall asleep or find her slower rhythm. We’re working on it.

When the older kids were younger (toddlers and preschoolers) it was easy to prioritize this restorative part of the day; plus we always had a baby around forcing us to slow down for naps. But as they’ve gotten older and days and school-work seem more demanding, I’ve noticed myself letting this quiet slip away, burned up in the bright, needy day. Of course the five of us spend a lot of time together and for the most part enjoy our together-ness, but we require rest from each other, space for ourselves individually, to go inside ourselves without having to answer to the other or worry about sharing space or things. Ok. My kids would never articulate this, but I notice on days we don’t separate, more bickering and whining ensues, and I’m more irritable too. Honestly, as much as I want for my children to understand words, numbers, and various forms of beauty and nature, I want them to learn to enter quiet, to practice muffling the noise — people, work, media– demanding us. To hear themselves. To hear God. What does this look like? For our family right now, it means at least an hour a day: 30 minutes of reading quietly, 30 minutes of quiet activity (Legos, painting, drawing, puzzles, writing, being outdoors, etc.). The only guidelines: you cannot interrupt another. To some of you this may seem ridiculous or strict, but the goal is to teach them the value of quiet, something I’m still learning myself, to give space to the thoughts, creations, sounds often lost to day. And so I also practice quieting my soul right alongside them, leaving my TO DOs (and various medias) in order to find rest.

How do you and/or your family find quiet and rest?