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Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth of homeschooling is this: there is no track. There are various guidelines or expectations provided by the state government, but other than that, the studies and choices in what to do with a day or a year are left to the family. This idea is liberating and, at times, paralyzing. Considering most parents are new to homeschooling when they begin with their own children, it’s natural to look around for the handrails to show us where to begin.

Mark and I have always wanted to foster the enjoyment of learning, even for its own sake. As two idealists with degrees in English Literature, Writing, Philosophy, and European History between us (as well as plenty of foreign language studies), we love ideas and language, cultural arts and people. This seems important for context, in the same way that it is helpful to know when a parent enjoys discussing Euclidean geometry, music, business finance, farming practices, tech development, or home economics. As parents, we set the context and environments for our home, meaning there will be things we naturally impart to our children because of our own interests and experiences. These may take a little intention with books or discussion or experiences to develop, but they happen more organically within the home as an extension of who we are. The contrasting part to that truth is that we each have underdeveloped parts of us and entire bodies of studies that we know very little about––or as a good friend a few years ahead of me once consisely noted, “there will always be holes.” Part of this journey is accepting that I am not responsible for teaching my children everything they need to know about the world. I couldn’t possibly. The greater task is teaching them how to learn (basic fundementals–reading, asking questions, number functions, personal care, etc.) so that when they step into new arenas or interests in life–because they will–they will feel confident in how to start learning.

I mention all of this because I have always wanted the enjoyment of learning to usurp the task of learning. Both are required of course. I have often researched curriculum or books that best suit our famiy goals or the child’s interests. I have created plans and checklists not because everyone should use them but because it is the way I think and lead others, including my children. We set high expectations that our children will work hard at whatever they do, including their school work, but it is my theory that most children or adults fall out of interest with the rigor of learning something new at the point where they stopped understanding and forming connections. When frustration or discouragement are clouding our learning (collectively or with one child in particular), it has always been more fruitful in our home to put aside the plan and find the source of discouragement. Sometimes it has little to do with the task itself. Sometimes that has meant pausing for a day and starting fresh the next day; other times, that has meant tossing a curriculm or plan altogether and beginning with a new path. Sometimes it has looked like perseverance.

For me, keeping “on track,” requires a great deal of intuition, conversations with my children and observations of them. The “track” is always shifting and swerving in direction, but isn’t that true in life, too? We ask them about their interests and challenge them in areas they have natural aptitudes. If they struggle, we come alongside them with support. Our holes have always been in the maths and sciences, so I’ve always looked for stronger, clearer supports in those areas. In maths, we have always followed a curriculum, often looking for tutoring supports as they have gotten older. We complete the curriculum and move on to another level. With science, history, and literature in the grammar school years, we have relied more on literature, discussion, copywork or hands-on projects (illustration, experiments, etc) to learn. Sometimes we’ve used a curriculum to help guide us and other times we’ve simply followed our interests. As my children have entered the high school years, they have followed a science curriculum, but at that point, their own goals are beginning to take clearer shape, too.

I know it’s mid-June, and most every parent in the northern hemisphere has already blocked last school year out of their brain and moved into summer. But I discovered a drafted blog post I wrote in the fall talking about our plans, rhythm, and resources. Don’t ask why I never posted it. But anyway, I’ve tweaked it, more as a reflection of the past year, a broad reflection, to give you a better idea of how our year looked and our favorite resources. I had also begun a Civil War/slavery resource guide in the Spring, based on books our family read this year. Would that be helpful to share, too? Can you tell I’m recovering pace and reflecting right now? Wink. Either way, enjoy!


I have shared here and on Instagram thoughts about doing less in our homeschooling, about not having to accomplish everything in a day, a week, or even a year. I wanted to expand on that thought a bit here, too, as it feels ironic considering we were doing far more this last year than any other. What I mean is I would love to go back in time and assure that young, uncertain mother: it’s okay to not do everything right now. Now that my children are older and the oldest three are confident, independent readers, with my fourth also now entering more fluency, I understand how their capacity for learning has increased and blossomed and how my own has too. We can do more, not from a place of striving to do more and check off subjects, but because their natural capacity and curiosity has grown. For young families on this journey, please don’t belittle the power of quality play time, outdoor exploration, read aloud, and artwork. They take in SO much and all of you will enjoy the learning even more than tons of assigned paper work. Encourage your child’s love of reading as much as possible, as it will be the greatest asset to future learning of any sort as they grow.

It is difficult to discuss the way anyone chooses to educate their children without first acknowledging the temperament of the family members, and also the culture of the home. Some parents are more relaxed and some tend to worry. Some need high structure and others prefer to move on whim. None of us can be all or do it all. Nor do we need to. After the first five years of homeschooling, working to fit several wonderful curriculums into our day and cover all the subjects, I burned out and was even ready to throw in the towel altogether. I didn’t sense any of the creative freedom I had once imagined and prized in homeschooling. I felt boxed in by my plans and our segmented studies. I felt frustrated and grumpy. Exhausted and overwhelmed. Some of this had to do with other stressful circumstances our family was navigating at the time. My children seemed to be happy, but for the first time I wondered whether I actually had the capacity for homeschooling any longer. That was three years ago. We looked at school options for our children again, and once again did not feel peaceful about any of them. Instead I took a less obvious route and ditched almost everything we were doing: our weekly homeschool group with other families, my job tutoring other students, extra-curricular activities, and most formal curriculum. Although I still began the year with some plans and ideas, we paired down to formal lessons in only reading and math for the year and added space and time for more flexible read aloud, art, and outdoor play into our day again. I said no to a lot of my personal work and opportunities (so hard!) and most of my formal plans went out the window. I learned instead to listen to the needs of our home, to listen to my own soul’s needs. Over the course of that initial year, my heart began to grow and I fell in love with homeschooling again.

In the last three years, here’s what I’ve learned about myself and our home: I won’t stick too closely with rote plans, even the best ones. I love the hands-on approach of Montessori, the seasonal attentiveness and artwork/handwork of Waldorf, the literature in Charlotte Mason, and the skeletal strength of classical education––and I’m learning better all the time how to glean the things we love in each area. And of course, never belittle the quality of natural learning.


OUR CURRENT FAMILY RHYTHM

I realize it’s now mid-June, and many homes have already moved into their own summer rhythms, some choosing to put aside their formal learning for a while and others choosing an annual approach. I typically try to get a post of this nature out before the school year instead of near the end, more in sync with all the questions I receive about curriculum and routine, but I figured it might interest to some of you in the coming months as you think about your own home and homeschool. I’m also writing up some ideas and thoughts on our summer, too, since I have received many questions about what summer will look like for our family. So stay tuned.

Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what this last school year would look and feel like, as so much has changed for our home last year. To begin, Mark is now working from home and homeschooling the children in the morning while I work––(inserts: streamers and high fives for so many reasons). Liam just finished a Challenge B course with Classical Conversations at his request the year before for Challenge A, taking a once a week seminar-style class on his own with friends and learning so many new things and skills at home through research, writing, and discussion. The work load has been a big change for our home’s rhythm, but he loves it! My sister and her family recently moved down the street from us and also began homeschooling her younger children, so Olive spends an hour or so in the morning at her house down the street, practicing reading, handwriting, and playing. In the afternoon, her son Shepherd joins all of us for read-aloud, nature study, and mapping. This is a gift for our social seven/eight year olds, and a logistical help to both of us right now. And a few times a month, our family meets with friends for nature school, enrichment projects, field trips, and presentations of our week’s work––a way for them to play with and learn from friends and also share their work. The pace of our days have changed, but it’s good.

Writing this out, it sounds like we do a lot. A whole lot. But we don’t accomplish all of it in a day. Some things might not even happen each week. We have foundational skills each child works through daily, Monday through Thursday: Latin, Logic, and Pre-Algebra for Liam; math, spelling, handwriting, and independent reading for Burke and Blythe, and reading practice, math, and handwriting for Olive. Different books are often read aloud in the morning, afternoon, and before bed because we love it! And that’s it! Everything else [illustration, handwork, grammar, copywork and writing, mapping, nature study] feels like a wonderful bonus, and they cycle through our week in intervals, often only once or twice a week. Also many practices overlap with the other; for instance, the kids will sketch or paint or practice their handwork while I read aloud. We try to read books aloud that tell us about history, people, and different cultures. Those books serve as a springboard for other valuable self-directed activities, too. For younger families, take the pressure off yourself to do or study everything.

With four children spanning age 8 to 13, the skills and needs vary so much. I’ve learned so much about understanding home rhythms from reading about Waldorf and Charlotte Mason guides. Much of it is intuitive, but I’ve found it’s helpful to focus our routine around the energy and pace of our home rather than a particular subject. It is an art I’m still learning. Here’s roughly how our day rhythm was structured this last year, with resources included below.

8:00 am | THE MORNING TABLE a nurtured beginning

We do our best to begin at a consistent time in the morning, although it does flex a bit. We eat a simple breakfast together, read 1-2 chapters of the Bible together, practice memory work, and pray together. We try to bless our children into the day, briefly speaking something true and encouraging over them. I hope this beginning to our day will happen more often outdoors as the days begin to cool off. It always seems easier to wake up outdoors.

8:30 am | MORNING RHYTHM  focus + independence

maths, logic, independent reading and read aloud (emphasis: 19th century history and literature), spelling, handwriting, play

For our home, it has always turned out well to begin with the work that requires the most focus and attention. After a full night’s sleep, our brains tend to be most alert. Coffee can help make up the difference for the adults. Wink. Young children and toddlers tend to be more calm and happy, too, making it easier to carve out a small window for a brief reading or math lesson with an older child or for self-directed play/learning. As mentioned, Mark leads this part of the day right now. They do not necessarily keep with a rigid schedule for the morning, although they tend to begin with math and carve out generous time mid-morning for read aloud in the backyard. In the morning this year, we read books aloud about or written in the 19th century––i.e., Of Courage Undaunted about Lewis and Clark; SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War about friendship and the war of 1812, Frankenstein, and more about Commodore Perry, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, and several books surrounding the Civil War this last Spring.

Burke and Blythe also have a mixture of assigned and self-selected independent reading covering the same time period, which they find time for at some point in the morning, often while Mark is working through a Logic lesson with Liam. Burke and Blythe are also responsible to read aloud to Olive a bit each day, a way for them to practice their own intonation and storytelling and also connect with their younger sister. All of our children struggle with spelling––don’t ask why––so it’s something we try to practice a bit each day.

We give each of our children a lot of flexibility in how they work through their more intensive morning work, but we strongly encourage each to respect one another’s work and to pay attention to what others are doing when you enter a space. At age eight, Olive has the least amount of independent work, so we encourage her to self-directed play, handwork, or art while she waits for a playmate. She also spends an hour or so at my sister’s each morning for a reading lesson with her cousin and free play, which is such a gift for her social self. Throughout the day, we encourage a lot of play, and when Mark or I notice any of the kids struggling to focus, we tend to send them outdoors to romp around a bit, to get their heart pumping and lungs breathing deeply.

NOON   | THE RESTING TABLE an intentional pause

We keep meals easy at lunch, often sandwiches or leftovers or bento-style, and everyone makes their own. At this time I try to wrap up whatever I’ve been working on and swap roles with Mark. We try to clean up from the morning, although that doesn’t often happen, and also save texting and emailing for this time.

1:00 pm | AFTERNOON RHYTHM  exploration + expression

read aloud of children’s classics and the Holling books, handwork, map work, painting, nature study, grammar, writing, Latin, play

After lunch, there’s always a different sort of energy, more erratic and noisy, so we save the more expressive and active learning for this time. Since our home is no longer a napping home (insert: tears), we try to help the kids notice when they need quiet or a break from the crowd. Mark built a few tables for Liam’s party, and we moved one inside to replace the old preschool sized table before it. I keep a pile of our favorite illustrated nature books there with a wooden tote of colored pencils and paint brushes and a stack of thick cardstock nearby on the shelf. We don’t have much formal nature study, so I encourage them to flip through the books and sketch/paint whatever interests them while I read aloud ( The Wind and the Willows, Dicken’s A Christmas CarolLittle Women, or books from the library). On the charmed weather days, we’ll take the wooden tote and nature books to the backyard to sprawl out on blankets, using a slab of plywood for a desk surface. The kids might also carve wood or weave during this time, too.

One day a week, instead of The Wind and the Willows, we read a bit of a Holling C. Holling book, using the book and this study as a guide through US geography. We read and mapped Paddle-to-the-Sea , Tree in the Trail, Minn of the Mississippi, and Seabird. It was wonderful! Several people have asked me about the maps we used, and I highly recommend them. I didn’t purchase them at first because of the expense and also the want for my children to create their own maps, but I changed my mind in the first few weeks and am so pleased! They’re beautiful and large enough for all age groups. And my kids love mapping!

What happened after this depended on the day, my energy, and the spirits in the home so it’s hard to write out neatly here. Sometimes we stop after read aloud. Sometimes we go for a walk or to the park. Sometimes we meet up with friends. But I tried to practice writing with the youngest three and my nephew once or twice a week, as it is a foundational skill of expression:

Burke + Blythe | In the fall, one to two days a week, I pulled a couple of sentences from whatever they read that day, dictated one sentence each for them to write on our chalk wall. We parse it together and discuss the parts of speech and jobs of the words. It takes 10-15 minutes. It’s a natural and brief extension to our reading and a preparation for when they begin foreign languages. One afternoon a week, they write a paragraph or two about their reading (any reading). I often help them draft an outline and they write it on their own and I revise it with them. I’m not using a formal curriculum for any of this, but if you prefer one, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature for a gentle approach to language, which I wrote more about here (diagramming begins at level 3). Also, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has a geography-based writing curriculum that compliments the Holling Geography study.

Olive + Shepherd | Two afternoons a week, they copy a couple of sentences from our reading and illustrate it. We tried to organically discuss parts of speech, but I let that go sometime in the fall. We stuck to writing and illustration primarily.

Liam | Liam did much more of his work independently this year. In the afternoon, I quizzed his Latin vocab or checked his translation/parsing, read his writing and helped him think through his composition/research papers. This often times might happen organically during dinner meal-prep or in another setting.

4:00pm | CLEAN-UP

5:00pm | MEAL PREP + PLAY

6:00pm | THE EVENING TABLE unwind + reflect

We each share our best/worst part of the day, and often eat with another family or friends. The kids play afterward and we bathe and have read aloud. We’ve read the entire Wingfeather Saga this last year and loved it! We’re finishing book four this month. I highly recommend it for family read aloud.


RESOURCES

mathSaxon math for all the kids. It’s rote and straightforward, but it works for us. If you have younger children, here’s something I wrote about introducing math concepts without a curriculum. If teaching math overwhelms you, I also recommend Teaching Textbooks as a helpful alternative.

reading lessons | My sister is using All About Reading with the kids, which is wonderful if you or your children love all the activities. Last year I used Reading Lessons Through Literature and loved it. I did fill in the gaps in places where I felt she needed extra practice.

read aloud and independent reading| reading lists from Tapestry of Grace, Ambleside Online, and our own personal love of literature and research

spelling | word lists from Reading Lessons through Literature; also recommend All About Spelling 

geography | Beautiful Feet Books

writing + grammar | taken from reading

nature study | exploration + quality nature books

extras this year | canoe trip, apiary, participated in A Christmas Carol play, seaside daytrip, trip to Gettysburg and Washington DC, flower studies

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Dear mother,

I’ve been thinking lately about the looming school year and also about this oppressive heat, how every living thing seems to wither under it. “And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles,” my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Evidence poem. And I can relate, as a woman, as a parent, as a homeschooling mother. In August, the air will buzz with talk of school supplies and routines again. Beautifully organized school rooms and books and curriculum will appear everywhere again––in our texts, emails, social medias, and blog feeds. Perhaps at this point, you know which books and methods your own family will be working through, or how you will schedule (or un-schedule) your days. Perhaps you feel incredibly confident in your decision to keep you children home and confident in how you want to learn together. Or perhaps you haven’t a clue what lies beyond August or even how you’re going to do it all. Perhaps you doubt your decision and question your ability to teach them at home altogether. Where ever you find yourself on that line, it’s okay. I’ve been there, too. Take a deep breath and be encouraged: you are not alone.

I’ve learned over the years that after surveying what others are doing it is possible to feel at once both inspired and insufficient. I can admire someone else’s space and ideas, while also picking apart my own, wondering what I need to do differently or better. I can feel excitement about our own choices, and yet also question it in the context of other options. So before you open your Pinterest boards or favorite Instagram accounts or talk with friends, do this: make it a quest this month to be gentle with yourself. It is after all something new, and should be treated as such. Regardless of how much previous experience you’ve had on this journey of parenting or homeschooling, you have yet experienced this new one. Some parts will feel familiar, and some will be entirely different. Your circumstances will change, and what wisdom you hold from the past will shift you a little. Your children will also be in a new place, whether practicing school at  home for the first time or learning/experiencing new material or even physical growth and change. But first, before opening your inspirations, open your eyes and heart to see yourself and your home in a fresh way. Open your planner and books, not with someone else’s home in mind, but first with your own. For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your family, your home, your current resources at hand, and give thanks for all of it. What is best for them? What great adventure awaits you this year?

I will repeat again to you what I have to regularly tell myself: it is impossible to do everything, but it is possible to do a few things really well. Like most everything else, this is simpler written on paper than it is practiced. I spent my first few years of homeschooling trying to do everything, organizing elaborate lesson plans and fully scheduled days, and I can assure you it left me exhausted and buried with the feeling of not measuring up. I felt inconsistent, because I tried to have a school experience at home. It took me a few years to realize although order and some structure is really good for our home, I needed some time untethered. So I encourage you, regardless of your curriculum choice or love of schedules: leave some blank space in your day, or as stated again in Evidence, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” If you are a planner and prefer to label different hours in your day (raises hand), reserve and label one part of each day as “the unimaginable” and everyone in your home might be happier.

I know there are more things to say to you on these topics, more that I have also been processing about this new year that are still forming. But I will give you a hint of my educational philosophy here in a simple list, not because yours should be the same, but to share the ways that homeschooling (and planning) ought to be simplified and allowed room to breathe:

pray and read together

read, write, and draw/paint a little something everyday

practice with numbers

play outside

work with your hands

talk about ideas and happenings in the world

leave some room for the unimaginable

When I feel overwhelmed or like our week or plans are too full, I will return here to this list, and to these words that although written to you are also written to myself. Perhaps you will remember this letter, too, not for the list above, but simply to remember you’re not alone, to remember to be gentle with yourself and your children, to remember the freedom of unwritten scripts on this journey is joy, not enslavement. I will leave you with one final thought from this same poem, “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–your life–what would do for you?” The year is fresh, and there is still so much enchantment in this adventure. How will this one look for you?

Warmest wishes,

Bethany

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I have always appreciated the simplicity of Thanksgiving, how much and how little it requires of me all at once. On one hand it is an elaborate meal, one many families take great care to celebrate with foods, people, and activities that feel meaningful to them, often handed down generationally. On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a cultural history, a connection to our country’s blended origins and a celebration of choice, of perseverance, of courage, and belief. I want my children to remember this holiday holding both parts.

As typical by this part in semester, our school routine is beginning to fall out and we’re all ready for the holiday break, BUT I’m trying to do a little school work this week to hold what little momentum we have until we pause for Christmas. I’ve scaled our work way down though. The kids will do a little math and reading each day, but we have already and will continue to spend some time doing a few other projects appropriate for the season, projects I’m quite excited about: candle-making, leaf projects, writing our gratitudes, and reading/writing/illustrating around The First Thanksgiving, a picture book from one of my favorite children’s writers Jean Craighead George. I love the more balanced perspective of this book for younger ages, that courage and hardship didn’t just belong to the Pilgrims.  It feels honest and yet approachable for a family read. If you’re interested, I recently wrote some more about how I use this book and why I return to it every year, which you can now read on the Babiekins blog

 

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When I first began homeschooling, I always imagined learning fundamentals of math, language, science, and history in a playful and artful way. At that time, my oldest really struggled with writing-and-paper approaches to learning, and although we still included this aspect in our structured learning time, it worked best when I balanced these periods with stories, art projects, or outdoor/indoor play. These less structured lessons also helped me to include my three younger children, too. I should note here, so you don’t begin imagining a perfect world over here: my son (and my other children now) still balked at some of our more routine work, but mixing our days with play and art did create sweet incentives for the more challenging work.

At some point in the tumble of life and moving (twice in one year) last year, I lost the more artful aspect of our learning together. With so many other logistical things to finish around our home, I relied more on simple book lessons to work through our basics and then would release my children to their own whim. Our formal routine had reduced to reading and daily math, so I could make sure they were covered, and a ton of free play and self-directed learning. On a side note, if you’re new to homeschooling or even parenthood, be generous with yourself, your children, and your goals during this journey. As in nature, the rhythms within your home will have variegated seasons over the years, and each one will offer you something special to learn just the same, if you pay attention. Where ever you are, receive every bit and aim to be present.

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Over the last year, I’ve been re-evaluating the way we learn together at home and have adjusted a few details to include more artful expression and play, more dress-up and making, more discussion and room for independent pace of work. It’s certainly not a perfect science or formula. Some days, our routine seems to work well, in spite of the mess and distractions, and other days feel simply disastrous. But I’m learning as a parent to receive and enjoy those days, too, even if just to remember, tomorrow is new.

If you’re wanting to add more play and art to your learning experience, begin with an area that feels most natural in your own routine. For our family, studies in science and history have been the most natural place to begin again. This year, we’ve been creating body books about the systems in our bodies, and are also just beginning books about the natural world, too–one for animal life and one for plant life. Obviously, we don’t use each of them all the time, but the idea is to create a place to begin cataloguing the various lessons we’re learning along our way.

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At the beginning of this year, we received a yearly subscription to the Opposite of Far’s Endangered Animal Mask Club. This has been a small and simple way to intertwine our learning about the animal world, writing, and art together. Each month the kids receive one new mask and information card featuring a specific endangered animal. We check out books from the library or use our Animal Encyclopedia or new favorite picture book, Animalium, to see more images and read more about the animal. Because we have an entire month, we have plenty of time to create several types of lessons or play experiences from them. Here’s a few ideas we’ve tried or plan to try with our mask club:

READ / Read the included card and any library books together. Learn about the animal’s environment and the reasons for their endangerment. Is there any way we can help?

DIFFERENTIATE / Study picture books and the illustrated card together. Discuss colors, shapes, and sizes of the animal. Are they always the same? How are they similar or different from other members of their family?

PLAY / Use the masks for pretend play. Re-create animal environments with sheets, furniture, or cardboard boxes. Even your older children will enjoy this. Give them some of the harder details, such a painting or cutting paper for a backdrop. My kids often do this on their own, especially when a new mask arrives or when the days are rainy and keep us indoors like here.

DRAW or PAINT / Take time to draw and paint your animal within its habitat. Refer to color and shape again and how you might mix paints to create the colors you need. If your children are young or struggle with drawing, try to find drawing books at your library that might show step-by-step instructions. We really like the Draw Write Now series, which also includes a few sentences to use for copywork with early writers. Some of the more rare endangered animals will be harder to find a drawing book. Consider how you might break down the strokes for your child to copy from you.

WRITE /Discuss what you’ve read about your endangered animal together. Help your older children find the main ideas: Where do they live? What do they look like? Why are they endangered? How can we help? Older children and advanced writers can write their own sentences and paragraphs, whereas younger children and those who find writing a more difficult skill might benefit from copying a few sentences they dictate to you (from what they learned).

For our family, I love using these animal masks as a simple way to encourage more pretend play and to inspire our own animal books. In busier months, we may have only used one or two of these, using them more for simple play around the house. You might find a ways to use them differently–or even for a birthday party or a gift. Either way, what a fun way to learn together about some beautiful animals that are currently struggling for survival.

For any of you interested in trying any of the Opposite of Far products, Jessica Near, the OOF founder, is offering 15%OFF any purchase using the code ENDANGERED. If you purchase a (6 or 12 month) subscription, you’ll also receive the Polar Bear mask and card for free. Regardless, I hope these ideas inspire some new ways to incorporate the arts and play into your learning at home.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own, and thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

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I’m so excited to announce I will be speaking at WILD + FREE, a beautiful homeschooling conference in Virginia Beach September 19-21. I will sharing a bit more about our homeschooling journey right alongside several other inspiring mothers.  It will be a time to intentionally connect with other mothers and be encouraged through the various experience and stages of this journey. All women are welcome, whether you currently homeschool or simply want to hear more from women who do. You can find more information and register here. I hope to see you there.

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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

 

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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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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.

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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.

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Normally, we spend our Spring Breaks visiting friends or family out-of-town and filling our days with fun, atypical activities. Not this year. This year, we cleaned out and organized (most of) our home to list on the housing market. Mark spent several of his days off from teaching buried in research for a paper he’s trying to have published this semester, and by Thursday of last week, all I could manage to say was, “this goes down as the worst Spring Break ever.” Sorry kids.

BUT then Friday came, and friends invited me and the kids out for a day trip to a state park (complete with a living farm). Of course, we gratefully joined them. I needed to leave my home and to be outdoors with friends. We all did for that matter. So thank you, friends, for taking us with you on your visit to the pioneer’s life, for softening the blow of hard circumstances, and for ending our Spring Break on a bright note — an afternoon filled with washboards and gardens and animals and handmade wooden tools and laughter and sun.  I’m so thankful for you.