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I don’t often write about specific curriculum here, mostly because I believe children and parents can thrive together in learning at home regardless of the specific tools they choose. Some homes prefer guides that offer specific directives and concrete helps, while others will find the same guides stifling or unfit. There is room for both on this journey, and there is certainly not a right or wrong way to approach learning. I hope the tools I share here are always understood in this context: do what works for your home and forget the rest.

I also love sharing with other parents that for all the writing I do now, I wasn’t very good at grammar or writing as a child. I always loved reading, but I never really unpacked the structure of language or how to write clear, concise sentences until university. In those years, and later while working at a junior college, I learned to seek out the answers I needed in books or colleagues or the Internet. I hope this is an encouragement to lighten the load as parents: our children don’t have to know everything to become who they will. They simply need the desire to seek it out.

That said, I’ve had several people ask me about our language studies, about the materials we use in our home. Naturally, they’ve changed over the years, based on the kids’ ages or what styles best fit us, but I’ve generally looked for materials that introduce and build grammatical concepts in a beautiful way. Language studies, like maths, can leave a bad taste in ones mouth if reduced to worksheets. I wanted my children to enjoy dimension and color in our studies, the practice of structured skills balanced with art. This year, we have used Kathy Jo DeVore’s English Lessons Through Literature as a foundation for our learning, a curriculum that describes itself as a balance between the thoroughness of classical education and the gentleness of Charlotte Mason. I honestly think it could be applied even more broadly, depending on the home.

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Currently, there are five levels of ELTL, loosely corresponding to grade equivalents, although not restrictive in any way. I’ve used three different levels this year: level one for Olive, level three for Blythe, and level four for Burke. Liam’s language studies evolved this year into Latin studies, but that is a different topic for another day. Each level’s lesson builds around a brief book list, which is used for grammar and writing practice. Each level includes poetry, folk tales or fables, and picture narration around famous artists, but everything loops in a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The lessons are substantial but only three per week, so I typically spread them out over 4-5 days, omitting things that might not work or be necessary for us at the time. Grammar studies begin in level two and diagramming in level three. Both are introduced slowly and gently. Although grammar terms were a part of my children’s copywork this year, I think I may have them create memory cards instead for review of terms, like the parts of speech or the various roles of noun. I’ve realized that long gaps between using new terms in any subject area makes it harder for them to recall in practice.

This year, we’ve created notebooks for our language and history/science studies, a simple three-ring binder that contains each child’s writing and illustrations from the their reading. I began this when my children were little but became discouraged at various points in the follow-through and then eventually stopped altogether. After longing for more art work and color in our school work again, we began building little books sporadically last year and more intentionally this academic year. I’m loving flipping back through their work this year, and I imagine they will one day, too. Jodi Mockabee, an online friend and inspiring homeschool mother, shared more specifics about notebooking in Wild+Free this month. We use many of the same tools and practices. My favorite thing that she does is type and print her children’s narrations for them to hand copy. Genius! For years, I’ve been handwriting their narrations, and this is so much easier.

english_language_through_literature_homeschool-4english_language_literature_homeschool-2OUR CURRENT ROUTINE

We set apart a 90 minute block of time at the back part of our morning for independent language studies. It’s not necessary to take 90 minutes (or even 30 per child), but I like not feeling rushed and making time for read-a-loud with each of them. On lighter days, we don’t require as much time, and that feels like a bonus. No one ever complains about extra free time. Wink. I begin with Olive, since she requires the most help from me, and send the other two off to do their reading and begin their writing for the day. Liam is working on his own independent work during this time. I read aloud to Olive, typically a poem or a fable and a chapter of a book we’re reading together. I may have her narrate to me or she’ll pick out a favorite part/line from the story to copy and illustrate. I move on to time with Blythe and Burke. Depending on the day, I sometimes combine their grammar lessons since they’re close in age, introducing something new and giving them each a chance to write a sentence from their individual reading on one of our chalk walls. We label and diagram together. At different points they’ll each narrate to me their independent reading that day. Sometimes that’s their writing practice, other times we just leave it as an oral narration (a test for comprehension). Sometimes I work through building a brief summary or literary analysis with them individually. Although we have a daily block for language, M/W/F tend to be our heavier days, and significantly lighter on T/R. This is helpful for spreading out work over the course of the week. If we don’t get to all of a lesson on one day, or even skip language altogether in a day. We always have space to make for it elsewhere in the week.

OTHER RESOURCES WE’VE LOVED

Punctuation | Eats, Shoots and Leaves:Why Commas Really do Make a Difference by Lynn Truss | A hilarious picture book for children about the purpose of commas. She illustrates the same sentence side-by-side with different comma usage, a helpful visual for adults, too. She also has written a this book for adults or teens about punctuation. Truly, she makes it light and fun to learn about the proper place for all punctuation. Also love: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts! | The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes

Parts of Speech | Any picture book by Brian P. Cleary. They’re silly and simple, and so helpful for clearly recognizing words in their roles, over and over again. I especially appreciate the Adjective and Adverb books, as those two always seem to get jumbled.

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Although it can be challenging to find the time, I really enjoy sharing bits of our homeschooling journey with others here and elsewhere to help encourage and inspire them on their own path. I recently wrote a bit about how we memorize poetry in our home for Babiekins Magazine, which you can now read today, and also have a tutorial for making wildflower seed balls in their current print issue. This month, I also wrote quite a lengthy article on how we are preparing our children for college (and adulthood) for Wild+Free, which you can find in this month’s bundle “Woodland.” Some other bits I’ve written in the last few months that you may find helpful (and linked in one place):

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painted leaves | chalkboard | twine | journal

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Have I told you that yet? While of course I love the entire holiday season (Christmas and New Year’s included), I especially love that Thanksgiving causes me–all of us– to stop and reflect. For one day, instead of looking to our wants and needs and TO DOs, we dwell on what we have, on the relationships we’ve been given, and say “thank you.” I’ve had to refocus my own heart in this way regularly the last two years. As life has seemed to size us down (you can read more about that here), it feels easier to focus on the loss, the lack, the want. Finding ways to say “thank you” in those moments seems harder, like trying to lift your arms on a spinning roller coaster with gravity willing against you. No, giving thanks does not always happen naturally. However, when we intentionally seek ways to be thankful regardless of the circumstances, our hearts always grow. That’s the real gift.

The kids and I began collecting thanks a couple of years ago in a journal. Each day we would pass the book around and write something/someone we were thankful for, things like family members and pillow pets and a new bug we discovered and sunlight and fireworks and ideas such as wisdom. I’m writing in past tense because somewhere in the chaos of the last six months, we stopped. We now do it orally each morning with our read-a-loud time, but I miss having the written record. So in light of the season and trying again to be more intentionally grateful, I have been finding easy ways to begin collecting our thanksgiving again. Here’s a few of my favorites. What about you? How do you cultivate thanksgiving during this season? I would love to hear.

 

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When friends who don’t homeschool first hear that I do, if they don’t immediately respond with the socialization question (which is merely a polite way of saying, “aren’t you afraid your kids are going to be weird/not fit in when they’re older?”), then they usually respond something like,  “Wow, I could never do that; you’re so much [braver, more patient, more creative, etc] than I am.”  Although the latter comments do boost my ego, I figured it’s time for me to deflate the mythos they’re cultivating and tell the truth: I’m really not. I’ve written before how I unexpectedly stumbled into this uncharted world (uncharted for me anyway), but as with most things, the longer I do something, the more I realize how little I actually know about this something — a trend in my DIY parenting style for sure. But “homeschooling” really is such a deceiving term, leading most of us to believe it’s simply school work done at home. But that’s only a part. For our family, it’s better described as an extension of our parenting; thus, education becomes a broader word touching all parts of our lives and the ways the Lord speaks to us through them, whether it’s by spelling, gardening, Latin, learning how to clean up after ourselves, tie our shoes, or love others.  And we are still in the wee stages of learning all these things.

Classical Conversations

“Sure, but what is it that you actually do everyday?” Much like our children, no two days look exactly the same (although at some point I will record one or two of our days to give an example), but there are some constants in all of our flexibility.  I follow a classical model of education doused with inspiration from the Waldorf and Montessori approaches. For the last three years, we have met with a local Classical Conversations community once a week. There, our kids meet in classrooms of 8 kids with a tutor who introduces them to their memory work for the week, mostly through singing or a fun rhyme. The parents stay in the classrooms and participate with their kids and tutor, where we also learn new things much of the time (wink).  CC really has been such a wonderful constant for our family; in addition to the kids’ weekly presentations in front of their classes, science experiments, and fine art projects, they are learning other practical skills like walking in a line and raising their hand when they need to share something with the larger group (things we don’t do at home). So part of our mornings at home or in the car, we review our CC memory work: facts in history, English grammar,math, Latin, geography, Bible passages, and a historical timeline.

 How that Translates to OUR Home

Reading really is the backdrop of our home-school. We read everything from the comics to novels to biographies to picture books to news articles to history and science encyclopedias. We read aloud. We read silently, sometimes alone and other times side-by-side. We try to discuss some elements of at least one, usually brief, narrative each day (characters, setting, conflict/problem, climax, resolution, and something the story might be trying to teach us), which is actually much simpler than it sounds: “Who’s in the story?Where does it take place? What problem does this character(s) have? Is there a surprise in the story? A place where the story/character changes? How is the problemeventually resolved; is it resolved? What is this story saying to us? Is it trying to teach us something?” Even Olive can participate in this activity. And now that the boys are reading larger chapter books on their own, I try to have the same sort of discussion with them after they’ve finished. This way I can check their comprehension of the story, and they can practice narration skills and identifying the “skeleton” of a story (although they don’t yet recognize that’s what they’re doing). Plus, sharing in their enjoyment of a book just makes me giddy.

I structure very few “lessons” for the kids: only spelling, handwriting, and math, for the most part. It’s seems too stressful otherwise, especially with little Olive’s limited attention span and longing to create her own activity. We begin each morning all together (with my cup of coffee) reading the Bible, sharing what we’re thankful for on that morning, and of course, prayer. Because you know, I need it: prayer coupled with thanksgiving. Then we fill the rest of our day with poetry memorization, history and science readings (usually while building Legos or creating play-dough sculptures), spelling lessons, dress-up, reading & reading games, drawing or painting, math, plenty of outdoor play, hand/writing, eating, emailing, and eventually having to clean it all up again. It feels about like that, only louder and messier, as each of these things overlaps the other.

The “Prepared Environment”

I repurposed one of our bedrooms two years ago to design a “prepared environment,” as Maria Montessori refers to it, the place where each of the kids can initiate their own activities and learning, the place where we spend most of our mornings now.

Early Childhood Resources I Recommend

I could go on about the logistics of our day, but that may be as boring for you to read as it is to write. Besides, if you’re still reading, I’m quite impressed. I never have been one for monotony. But I did want to share a few of my favorite resources for teaching young children. Resources that are valuable for ALL families with young children, not just home-schoolers. (And just to clarify, I’m not receiving anything for suggesting these to you.)

Nurturing Competent Communicators (1 hour long audio by Andrew Pudewa)

Reading Comprehension from Seuss to Socrates (1 hour long audio by Adam Andrews)

Teaching the Classics (by Adam Andrews) A more expanded seminar than the audio above. He teaches you how to discuss literature with your kids, regardless of their age. If you’re at all intimidated about discussing literature, this is worth looking into, even for your own enjoyment and education!

Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization –(by Andrew Pudewa; these are the sample pages at the beginning of the book. To purchase or listen to sample audio, go here.)

Handwriting Without Tears (K-5) / Get Set For School (3-4 year olds) : I LOVE this program! It’s a multi-sensory approach to learning handwriting and early math skills. They have several demo videos on their website to help you use their products, too. The workbooks have plenty of repetition with pictures to color along the way; older levels include more copy-work and dictation.

All About Spelling Another multi-sensory approach, with tons of repetition; I LOVE it! She’s recently developed a complimentary reading program, but I haven’t tried it out. I’m sure it’s also wonderful.

Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer Here she explains the value and know-how to building a confident young writer. If you are homeschooling, she has workbooks that compliment if you don’t feel comfortable selecting your own texts.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons There are several wonderful reading programs out there. My kids enjoyed this one the most and it had some of the least amount of preparation for me — that I can always get behind.

Take It To Your Seat Phonics Centers This book comes with pre-made folder games, you cut out and glue to a manilla folder. All the games are self-check. These games are very helpful when you have multiple little ones at the same time, plus they reinforce the skills their already learning through reading and spelling.

Montessori for Everyone A website full of beautiful, colorful printables in all sorts of subjects.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: Preschool Years (by Elizabeth Hainstock) She gives you some very practical, easy-to-follow ways to apply Montessori theory at home with little ones.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions (or comments), please feel free to leave them in the comments section! I

That’s right folks: I’m back. I can hardly believe SIX MONTHS have past since I’ve last posted. Older, wiser parents regularly state, “it all goes by so fast.” I nod at them out of habit, as my Charlie Brown-like huddle of children (complete with Blythe’s blankie dragging on the floor behind her) run by me squealing, laughing, fighting, needing — I turn and think, really? But now I know. As I look at the masthead with its new spring blooms, since fully flourished and now withering under the unbearable Texas heat, I know: Life really is a vapor. But I’ve still found myself paralyzed by where to begin, sauntering by the computer every now and again, staring, only to walk away again — too much to say, too little time.  But this morning, as the kids and I were reading about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics (far less complex than it sounds) and learning about the painstaking process of carving out stone for the sake of written word or record, we discussed some of the reasons we each value writing, and I thought, “Write! These days are worth remembering!” I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget having to wash 8 loads of laundry in a day or the inevitability of lost shoes the minute you need to walk out the door — 20 minutes later than intended — but our little family has experienced too many important things in the last six months that, sadly, will soon be lost to the oblivion referred to as Past. I feel compelled to write, to remember. I also shamefully plummeted my camera from the kitchen counter to its death on the floor this summer, and since I have a very basic cell phone sans camera — one friend recently exclaimed, “oh! that phone is real? I thought it was a toy.” I have no backup. Prepare yourself for diminishing photos for a while. Sad, I know.

Here’s a post I wrote our first warmish day at the end of February (and for some reason, never posted). It’s funny to see the kids’ pale Winter skin, now covered with Summer.

Mark and I almost moved to Scotland several years ago. We visited Glasgow in 2002 sometime in the middle of March, immediately greeted with heavy-laden clouds, cold rain, and lush, gorgeous countryside. The sun came out the next day. And the next day. And the next — an anomaly by Scottish standards. As Mark and I walked the cobblestone streets dressed in our winter gear (as it was still in the 40s) relishing the antiquity and beauty of this city, we noticed several people around us embracing the sun in tank tops, skirts, or shorts. What?! These brave souls scoffed at the cold winter air, inviting spring regardless of the temperature.

Our winter this year has felt similar:  dreary, wet, cold. So last month, when the sun revealed itself for the first time in several weeks (it’s an anomaly by Texas standards to go that long without the sun), I watched as my kids stripped off their clothes, put on their bathing suits, filled up the mud pit that they created in the backyard, and scoffed at Winter as they danced like children of the sun. Welcome, Spring.

This same week, three sweet girls from Uganda (traveling with the Mwangaza children’s choir) came to stay with us. For several days we played, ate, sang, and danced with them, learning about their life in Africa and witnessing the bravery of these young girls, who left their families for a year to travel and testify to Jesus through song and dance. In spite of Olive’s first ear infection and Burke’s funny, but awkward, argument with us that we had mistaken and they (the girls) were in fact boys (due to their haircuts), we loved sharing our lives temporarily with Deborah, Rebekah, and Lanette. Due to the frantic nature of their stay and our life, I only have a couple of pictures.