Tips for the Brand New Homeschooler

So you’re planning to start home educating your child this fall? Welcome to the world of the homeschool parent! *high five* I don’t know what brought you here – maybe you’ve got a kindergartener who can read but can’t sit still and don’t want to subject her to a classroom of “be quiets” and “sit downs!” Or maybe you’re pulling out your 5th grader because he hates everything to do with learning and it breaks your heart. Maybe your child has learning requirements their school can’t – or won’t – accommodate. Maybe you’re just fed up with the toxic social situation your middle schooler is dealing with and feel her stress level (and yours) would reduce coming home to learn. In any case, you’ve taken the step into the unfamiliar and are wondering what comes next.

Get That Legal Stuff Taken Care of

You’ve probably already looked into this, but if your haven’t, you’ll want to soon. No one wants to be in that awkward situation of being afraid to go out with your kids during regular school hours for fear of random truancy reports! Look into your local homeschool regulations, and figure out what you need to comply. Local homeschool support groups or just a local homeschool friend can help you out enormously with this. If you don’t know anyone, go ahead and ask on a local homeschool Facebook page or Yahoo group. We’re generally a pretty friendly bunch that tries to help out newbies.

Do Your Research

Take a few weeks to explore the major approaches to home education. Websites abound, including forums, Facebook pages, curriculum vendors’ websites, Pinterest boards, and of course myriad blogs.  Google terms like Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Montessori along with “homeschooling” and you’ll find plenty of information to get you started. It can be overwhelming, its true, but if you can get an overview of styles most likely one or two will appeal to you and strike a chord – “THIS is what I want my kids education to look like!” And then you can go deep into whatever chose philosophy with books and curriculum vendors’ pages, as well as more specialized websites.

Start Out with a Plan, But Be Flexible

I started out homeschooling with an everything-in-the-box curriculum from Sonlight. It was great – literature based, all planned out, lots of fun. Having everything planned out but still flexible was exactly what I needed as a homeschool newb – I wasn’t even sure what all this should look like.  Even though I went through a chunk of early childhood education classes in college, I wasn’t clear on how to schedule and manage our days. I look at Sonlight as my training wheels. I felt security knowing that it was a well planned out curriculum by people who knew what they were doing. Once I got a good sense of it, I began to branch out. In later years I took what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I wanted to add, and began to put together my own program. But those first two years of using Sonlight really helped me to build confidence and find what worked for me and my kids. Another approach is to think in terms of subjects and put together a plan from there – find individual math, grammar, writing, spelling, handwriting, history, literature and science programs. I now use the book The Well Trained Mind heavily in my planning, and its really not much harder to plan than a box curriculum to plan. Whatever you use, consider your first year or so to be a learning period – it can take some time to find what works best.

Don’t Go Crazy Overboard

Maybe its just me, but when I go through homeschool resources I start to lose touch with reality a bit. Sure, I think – we can do Spanish….and Latin….and LEGO Robotics….and Rhetoric….and that amazing looking class on underwater pottery! Yes! YES! Then I remember the many times I have introduced an awesome new subject or activity only to have it fall with a thud because it was just Start with your basics – Math, Language Arts, History/Social Studies, and Science are usually the core subjects. Art, Music, P.E., and various electives should be added in, but thoughtfully and realistically. Not every subject has to have a classroom-like lesson. Art for us usually consists of me introducing various art mediums (watercolor, pastels, clay, etc) and looking thoughtfully and discussing beautiful works of art. Fun, low-stress, and easy to fit into a laid back afternoon.

Start Looking For Your Tribe

Join local support groups (check for links of off state organizations, yahoo groups, facebook groups and groups). Go to whatever meetings you can find – just to check it out. Check out local co-ops and social groups. As in anything, you won’t click with everyone. Some groups will rub you the wrong way, but hopefully you’ll find a few families that you and your kids click with. Maybe you’ll find a group to play at the park with, a co-op, or even an experienced homeschooler that can field some questions and offer encouragement.

Reconsider Household Routines

Homeschooling really is a lifestyle. Your day will look pretty different from your neighbor whose kids leave at 8:30 am and come home at 3 pm. In some ways this is great – no rushing around in the morning packing lunches and signing permission slips, no nights of homework. But you will have your kids at home with you. All day. If you’re starting homeschooling from the beginning with your Kindergartener, or you already have young kids at home, this won’t be a big deal, but if you’re going from no kids (or just a few) at home to everyone suddenly, I can imagine it might be a shock to the  system. Be open to adjusting housekeeping expectations and planning when your will be out of the house alone (when your spouse is home? or hiring an afternoon babysitter?). Just knowing that these will require adjustment can be comforting during the transition.

Consider Deschooling

Whatever educational approach resonates with you, if you are pulling a child out of regular school you might want to consider a period nondirected, discovery based learning . This is commonly called “deschooling,” and the idea is that it allows your child to calibrate themselves to the rhythm of learning out of an institution by allowing them the time to explore their own interests, no strings attached. We do this for at least 2 months out of the year (we call it summer break, hah!), but it seems to be particularly cathartic for older students who have developed negative associations with learning.  You can read more about deschooling here.

Much luck in the coming school year! Sending your virtual hugs and cups of coffee (and maybe glasses of wine if that’s more your style). 🙂 It will be an exciting year!


5 (Possibly Unexpected) Things I Use Everyday to Homeschool

Its would come at no surprise that we use lots of living books and  lots of art supplies in our day to day home learning adventure. But here are a few a little more off the beaten path resources that I’ve come to rely upon…

1) Split page journals


These are like regular notebooks or composition books, but provide a large space for drawing.
I started using them years ago for my oldest daughter’s copy work, since she loves drawing and could be compelled to do just about anything if drawing was also involved. Since then we have begun to use the format for nearly every subject – each kid has history, science, and copy work notebooks. I like the narrow ruled Bienfang note sketch books for science and history notebooks (more room to draw) and the Mead primary journals for copy work (more explicit handwriting guides). After reading our daily selections in history and science and hearing narrations, I have them record a response to the day’s reading in their notebooks. Often this is just a picture with a sentence (or few, depending on their age). This solved the reporting  issue I had with my Charlotte Mason approach – I have provide work samples for subjects that the primary work comes from reading and narration, which is a bit tricky to show. Their notebooks provide an easy, low key way to show what we are doing, and gives my art loving kids a creative outlet built into their days.I also find that if we don’t do official art that week, I still have plenty of artwork to show, and its nice to have everything contained in one space. I also love the somewhat Waldorf element it lends to their work – they are in a way creating their own textbooks.

2) Primary Handwriting Dry Erase Boards

Like this. I use it everyday for writing out passages that we do for copywork. The handwriting guide style helps me make sure I’m writing out in (nearly) perfect form, and is easy to reuse everyday. I do like to use wet erase instead of dry erase markers though, since with dry erase my careful printing can come off on little misplaced fingers.I use a second board to write out weekly spelling words to copy out daily, or various other passages we might be memorizing and copying.

3)  Singapore Math Videos from Khan Academy

My oldest is using (among other things) Singapore Math 3a right now, and I was thrilled to find that Khan Academy has a series of explanation videos for it. Although the videos don’t exactly match up to the workbook sequence (or maybe they do in a way I haven’t quite deciphered), they are proving useful, and are free! I hope they continue to add on for more of the series.

4) Play Away Books

These are mp3 player pre-loaded with books and extremely easy to use. Even my 4 year old can work them with a little help. Although I use this more for quiet time entertainment than school work, I have found a few that I could use as a lazy (or exhausted or vocal-resting) mom’s helpers for our daily read aloud novels. A few I’ve gotten I’ve used for school work from the library have been The Princess and the Goblin, The Jungle Book, and The Hobbit. Even though I also frequently check out traditional books on cd, these just make things easier, as they only require a set of headphones for individual listening. They would be too expensive for me to buy individually, but if your library doesn’t offer these, definitely suggest them to your librarians!

4) Home Science Adventures Kits

Microscope Explorations Unit

My husband (the physics professor) is extremely into hands-on science activities, to a point where I was overwhelmed with my lack of ability to fit in enough said hands on activities to meet his or my science-devouring children’t expectations. My hands, or really my brain, is pretty exhausted after our everyday work, and beyond a weekly experiment (which is more than a lot of people do, right?!?!) I had a hard time providing enough. These kits have come to the rescue! They include really well written guiding worksheets to follow as well as everything you need to do the experiments  The best thing (aside from never having to hunt for a length of wire or rubber ball) is that they are (at least for my 6 and 8 year old) able to be done independently. That being the case, they are easy to use as a child supervised science exploration activity. I.e, it can be done with mom in a hammock, reading. Score! Of course you could also probably use it as your main science curriculum – there’s lots to do and plenty of opportunity for living book supplementation.

5) A Trampoline

Seriously. Studies have shown that children sitting still for more than 10 minutes start to lose learning capacity. So an easy, centrally located activity-generator is a perfect solution. A mini-trampoline doesn’t take up a ton of space, but gets out a ton of energy. We do of course have to have strict rules for its use: one kid at a time and no hanging on the bar! But we have yet to have anyone injured on it, which for my children is saying something. It amuses me that they treat it like a hamster wheel – hopping on through out the day, bouncing happily for a few minutes and going about their business. I think it helps put them more in control of managing their energy and stimulation levels, which I think is a great step toward independence.

What about you? Any kind of weird standards that you wouldn’t want to homeschool without? I’d love to hear them!

Livng Books Books for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun opportunity to take a little side jaunt from our normal history studies. This week, we’ve been reading about St. Patrick of Ireland, and I thought I’d share some of our favorite books to that end. Sometimes one is overwhelmed with silly, stereotypical representations of Patrick, but these are excellent sources for a mini-study using living books.
by Tomie dePaola
I love this storybook version of St. Patrick’s life. Lovely illustrations, concise prose, and a clear distinction made between the historical life of Patrick and the legends that have been associated with him make for a great introduction to Ireland’s beloved patron saint.
by Cornelia Lehn
St. Patrick’s story is among many tales of missionaries in this compilation of stories. About a five minute read aloud, I like reading this story as well because it emphasizes a bit more about Patrick’s Roman background and fleshes out the circumstances like his pirate capture vividly (although it might be a little much for very sensitive young children – please pre-read).
Saint Fiech, Bishop of Sletty
This roughly 10 page poem describing Patrick’s life  and and work is an original source of many of the stories we know hear of St. Patrick. The Irish, English, and Latin  versions are all included. Being available free on kindle is an added bonus!

Favorite Resources: Jim Weiss Recordings

Have you discovered Jim Weiss’s wonderful recordings? I came to stumble upon them on the Peace Hill Press website, while purchasing resources for our history work. We were studying the ancient Greeks at the time, and the Greek Myths cd we were able to check out at our library became and instant favorite in our house. . We are blessed that our local (fabulous) library has an enormous collection of these recordings, which range from folk tales and mythology, to American history, to classical literature. Since then, hardly a week has gone by that one of these recordings has not been either playing on an mp3 player at rest time or giving everyone something fun and interesting to listen to together in the car.

So my girls and I had an enormous treat last night – we got to see Jim Weiss, storyteller extraordinaire  perform in the flesh at our local library!   Last night you would have thought we were going to see Justin Beiber – if my children knew who he was. One of those moments I’m thrilled to have them woefully out of step with culture, but I digress. When we walked in to sit down front and center (yes, we were first in line to get in), we were thrilled to get to chat with Mr. Weiss – my 6 year old daughter was absolutely star struck. I am still kicking myself for forgetting my camera! But we did buy some recordings that we were able to have signed, so my girls have a souvenir.  I hope it won’t be the last time we see him perform in person! Ok, end of fangirl rant!

Many of these recording have fit wonderfully into our study of history using Story of the World: Volume 1 as a spine.  I have just found a new, really helpful curriculum guide that I now have bookmarked over at the Greathall Productions website. There are a few we missed!  We have especially loved the three Greek myth recordings (She & He is my favorite!) as well as  Tales From Cultures Far and Near. We are currently listening to Julius Caesar and the Story of Rome.

Some of our favorite literature recordings are Tales from the Jungle Book (I let my little ones listen to this while my oldest was reading the actual book independently – this way we could all discuss), Sherlock Holmes for Children (after which everyone begged me to get some of the original books for read aloud), and King  Arthur and his Knights

I hope this helps! Happy listening!

Books for (tiny) Boys

My 2 year old has been getting in on the reading action lately. Usually our routine is to read a book of each child’s choosing both before afternoon quiet time and then again before bed.  With three kids choosing, we rack up some serious time reading time!

 Now my youngest is insisting on  choosing his *own* book for reading times too, and I thought I’d share some of his current favorites in case you need some library list inspiration for your little one. Of course, these are books tiny girls could certainly love, too – it just so happens my tiny one right now is a boy, and I do notice a bit of – shall we say? – masculine flair in his preferences.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime
Bob Shea
Simple, fun, and inter-actable (ROAR!), this story’s hero little Dinosaur takes on all kind of challenges. Piles of leaves, big slides, talking grown-ups… and the biggest challenge of all, bedtime! Its like they’ve been to our house, weird.

Little Blue Truck
Alice Schertle / Jill McElmurry
This book was given to us by my sweet Aunt Marti during our beach trip a month ago, and my 2 year old is still begging multiple readings of it daily. So many elements of a great early reading book – written in charming verse, lots of fun onamonapia, farm animals, vehicles, action / consequence (what happens when big Dump is rude?), team work, and even (though I admit it reads melodramatic) redemption. 
See, now you have to read it to find out how someone could really find  a board book redemptive. 🙂
Meeow and the Little Chairs
Sebastien Braun

This was one that one of my kids picked at the library that I was honestly was kind of “meh” about at first, but its proven entertaining. There are colors to point out, animal sounds to make, and my favorite – imaginative play is encouraged. I can also see this being a fun book for a beginner reader because the text is huge and fairly simple.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

Of course you know about TVHC – how could you not? If you’re like me you got three copies of the board book alone during your first child’s babyhood. It has been such an enduring favorite around here that I made my little guy’s 2nd birthday cake an homage to the Caterpillar:

(the eyes bore into your soul… or not)

But I couldn’t have a list of books for little ones without it.

I’d love to know – what are your favorite books for tiny readers?

Incorporating Poetry Into Your Home School

Read Alouds

First and easiest step – find yourself a good poetry compilation and use it frequently for read aloud time. I personally love A Child’s Anthology of Poetry, which my husband bought several years ago as a non-picture book read aloud that he could easily read to the kids in short chunks. It has become an invaluable resource for us and really lots of fun for adult reading. The poems are not “children’s poetry” in the sense that they were written with children as the primary audience, but were chosen as poems that will resonate with children but also provide a strong baseline familiarity with the major body of poetic literature.  Its a broad and diverse collection,  appropriate for a range of developmental levels. I most likely wouldn’t read “The Raven” to a five year old for example, but the variety certainly gives a nice scope to the collection. On that note, my husband once read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to my oldest daughter at 5 years old, and while I was horrified that she was going to have nightmares, she actually did enjoy it and seemed to comprehend a lot more than I would have expected.  Treat poetry reading as fun reading – please don’t belabor the process by trying to unpack heavy meaning from the poems. Of course it can be fun to wonder out loud what happened in the poem, or are there times when you feel like that poem describes? Just don’t turn what should be light and fun into a lecture at this point. A few other excellent compilations: Favorite Poems of Childhood and The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury.

Copy Work
Oh copy work, you are my favorite “kill two birds with one stone” trick – or in this case three or four birds. Copy work  improves handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary, while also giving children the opportunity to slow down and absorb the words they are writing. I initially ran into the idea of copy work while reading Charlotte Mason’s books on education, and have seen it put to use in a structured way in First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind, a book I use heavily for Language Arts. There is really no need to follow a set regime though – right now we are on summer break, which for us is like “homeschool lite” – math facts, reading, read alouds, and a bit of writing and copywork. I just find a good poem and write it out carefully in cursive for my 7 year old (who is  just starting writing script) and have her copy it a few lines a day, or however she would like to do it at her own pace. Often by the time she has copied it, she has a good appreciation for the poem and sometimes has already started to memorize it a bit. Which leads me to…

You don’t have to be Classical or Charlotte Mason inspired to benefit from poetry recitation. Forgive me if I go a little Anne of Green Gables on you, but there is a certain simple joy in being able to call up verse from memory. Young children will even spontaneously memorize their picture books without even trying. All it takes really is re-reading the poem several times over the course of a week and reviewing now and then. When a poem is mastered, we will usually make a big deal out of the child reciting for Dad, and also reciting for the video camera to delight the gradparents (or really more likely make them think that I’m really weird and trying to have little Anne of Green Gables children – but whatever).

Specific Literary Devices / Unit Studies
I taught an introduction to poetry class to kindergardners (yes, kindergartners) in our homeschool co-op a few years back. It was a little nuts, I admit, but I had a great time and the kids seemed to enjoy it and really get into many of the activities I had them do.  In a circle-time set up, I read the poem out loud to the group with enthusiasm, then very briefly discussed one major literary device that the poem used. I touched on vocabulary words that would be especially obscure,  and for some of the poems included a brief picture study to help illustrate the vocabulary. Then of course we did a hands on activity (usually some kind of craft) rounding everything out. For example, we made little styrofoam boats when we studied “There is No Frigate like a Book,” and acted out a cozy house scene complete with having animal crackers and cocoa when reading “Animal Crackers.” You could easily build a poetry unit study at home using the same model. Here are some of the poems I used, and what I emphasized:

The Owl and the Pussycat” Edward Lear – nonsense words

“There Is No Frigate Like a Book” Emily Dickinson – simile

maggie and milly and molly and may”   e.e. cummings – descriptive language

Macavity: The Mystery Cat” T.S. Eliot – narrative poem

Animal Crackers”  Christopher Moreley – rhyming

Something Told the Wild Geese”  Rachel Field – loud / soft

“The Children’s Hour”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – point of view

Poet Unit Study
Another idea is to focus on one particular poet. I have not done this in a structured way yet, although we have read several poems by the same author and commented a little (like, “oh, I love the way that Christina Rosetti writes about nature!” – but not much beyond that). At this point in my kids’ education, I prefer to focus on the language of the poems themselves over the author, but I can see focusing on the poets as an interesting tie-in to history, or as an interest-led project. An older student might enjoy reading biographies of poets, and could practice expository writing discussing a particular poet’s style and literary contribution. I think for most students, this can happily wait until middle to upper grades.

I hope this has given you some ideas to easily introduce your students to the delights of poetry! Happy reading!

Princess Books For Moms Who Hate Princesses

Okay, maybe hate is a bit too strong a word – more of a mental eyeroll. After having two sweet little girls who love princesses with no prompting from Mom whatsoever,  my chosen defense to the superficial aspects of princess mania has become good princess books. This was a bit challenging at first, as the overt “princess books” that I found that outwardly poked fun at the whole princess genre were a bit too pushy and snarky for me. I don’t want to make fun of my girls, and I didn’t find those anti-princess books terribly well written. But over the years though happy library browsing accident, we’ve come across several excellent books that center around princesses who display courage, kindness, intelligence, compassion, and self sacrifice – all those things I want my daughter to admire over great hair and a tiny waist.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale 
John Steptoe

Mufaro has two daughters – both considered to be the most beautiful around. Although they are both lovely in form and face, the two sisters vary widely in their attitudes. One is hard-working and compassionate, the other is vain and cruel. As they journey to meet the prince, their true natures will become clear to their potential bridegroom. This book has been a wonderful jumping off point into the discussion of, “what makes someone beautiful?”

The Rough-Face Girl
Rafe Martin / David Shannon
Based on a Native American folk tale, this beautifully told, haunting story centers around a young girl spurned by her cruel older sisters. She is forced to tend the fire, resulting in disfiguring scars covering her face and body. In her village lives a powerful invisible being, who will only marry the woman who can see him. Its a wonderful story of bravery, determination, and authenticity that ends with cheer-out-loud redemption.

The Egyptian Cinderella  
Shirley Climo / Ruth Heller
The story of Rodopis, a Greek slave girl in Egypt, is considered the earliest Cinderella story. Its thought to have been originally recorded in the 1st century BCE by the Greek historian Strabo. I think that if you take the fluffy Disney filter away from the the Cinderella story, you are left with a core that emphasizes perseverance through difficult circumstances and true moral fiber winning in the end. This retelling we found  through Veritas Press and used it with our study of Ancient Egypt as corresponding literature and it was a favorite! 

Tomie dePaola
Another lovely Cinderella story, this one based in Mexico. 
I love how the Cinderella story translates and relates to so many cultures. 
 Tomie dePaola’s iconic illustrations and excellent storytelling shines as always. 

Jane Ray
This original story centers around the youngest and least impressive princess of her family who it turns out is the one who bravely and willingly sacrifices to save her people when her kingdom’s need is most dire. The illustrations bring to mind a lovely mythical Persian feel.

Okay, so while this story really centers more on the princes seeking her hand than on the princess, I would include because the princess in question shows wisdom and follows her heart over superficial trappings. Its also one of my four year old son’s favorites, so its got that boy appeal too. 🙂
I know there have to be many more out there –
Any suggestions would be appreciated!