Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part II)

Two weeks ago, I covered the first three things I’ve found helpful in large family homeschooling, and today I’m covering the last four. 🙂

Identify who needs the most help, and schedule it.

Along with independence and check-ins, sometimes students just need direct teaching.  Especially first-graders and below.  Or in later grades, they may need help with particular subjects, or help to get started for the day with particular subjects.  I make a list of “with Mommy” needs, and then I make a block schedule so that those “with Mommy” times don’t overlap.  I don’t plan to teach the first grader how to read as I simultaneously make sure the fourth grader is understanding her grammar lesson!  It’s important to plan ahead on this, so that we don’t end up, indeed, in the middle of phonics, and an older student is unable to move forward because they need my assistance.

I think of our schedule blocks in one of three distinct ways: either totally independent, semi-independent, or with Mommy.  I match up the “totally independent” times with a single “with Mommy” time, but it’s usually okay to have many of them working semi-independently at the same time, so I schedule those together.  For example, math.  Even first graders can “independently” work through math problems, and even twelfth graders are sometimes going to need some pointers.  So we all do math at the same time, and I bounce around from one to the next as they need me.  I’m there.

The key thing is to use your time carefully, and plan ahead.

Do things together.

Every day, we have a “circle time” (or some families call it “morning time”), which seems to work best for us perched in the middle of the morning—so it’s kind of a break—and we do some subjects together, or partly together.  We work on a hymn.  We do exercise.  We read the Bible.  And then the lower grammar stage kids and I do history together, while the upper grammar kid reads her version (a more advanced version, but the same historical topic) nearby.  They also do science in large groups, and sometimes literature can branch across multiple grades.  Basically, if something can be combined, and then worked at slightly different levels / with slightly different expectations, then that’s a big time-saver.  If all of my school-age kids were doing completely difference science, history, phys ed, and so on… it would be chaotic.  It’s a lot easier to have a unified subject and then do different testing options, different essay assignments, etc. per grade level.

Notably, this has limits.  It doesn’t work for all subjects—grammar, math, spelling, etc.—just the more subjective ones, and even those, it will probably reach a limit of usefulness around high school.  But for the younger grades, it’s a good way to save energy, keep our focus, and build sibling relationships while we’re at it.  Also—this is how homeschooling groupwork is possible!  Working in groups is a great feature of traditional schooling, and in homeschooling, it’s further enhanced by being able to reach across grade levels.  It also provides opportunities for those top tiers on Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, as older students can begin to think about how to explain and formulate things to younger students, or even invent fun projects to help the younger ones understand better—a process which fosters their own understanding in a very natural way.

Farm things out.

Homeschoolers are often quick to encourage one another that if you can’t teach a subject (like high school math or science), find someone who can.  And a huge proportion of homeschoolers do that.  But it has a special benefit to large families—it frees up our time!  For the past couple of years, my kids have been doing a science class through videoconferencing.  I’m perfectly capable of teaching elementary science, but… it was hard to find the time to teach the lesson, much less do the experiments and lapbooks, etc.  Now they have a videoconference session every week with a real teacher who actually walks them through the experiments and expounds on the lesson.  They have a quiz at the end of the week that requires them to have read and understood not only the chapter, but also the “classroom” lesson on the subject.  They know how to do the experiments from her demonstration well enough that they can do it without my help!  It’s awesome.

There are also in-person classes—piano lessons being the only one our kids currently do outside the house—but there are also much less interactive but equally useful ways to “farm things out”: DVD lessons, websites, apps, etc.  I was writing spelling words on our board for about twenty minutes a day before I realized… man, I bet someone videotaped this.  And, sure enough, the company had a DVD!  Twenty minutes saved—and that was just one student.  Now three of them are doing the same kind of spelling, so I’m saving an hour a day by using the DVD.  Flashcards are another good example of something that took so much teacher time and is done just as well, or better, by using a website.  Preschool is something that is not necessarily accomplished in a busy large family house, but… there are whole DVDs of preschool programs!  Our fifth child dutifully did about two hours of “preschool” via a sort of one-way videoconferencing type of thing every single day through 150 lessons.  We also “farm out” typing, and sometimes phonics reinforcement (Reading Eggs and Headsprout).

I do find kids don’t learn as well remotely as they do in-person, so I try to keep it fairly limited to either things that are super interactive (videoconferencing) or strictly drillwork (typing, math facts, spelling), and I try to follow-up regularly and make sure what I think is happening is actually happening, and useful.

Pick curricula carefully.

There have been many times when I have looked at a curriculum and thought, wow, that looks great, but will absolutely not work for us!  Some of the things I started out with–A Beka K5, Teacher-Led, for an example—are just far too teacher-intensive and time-consuming to be tenable now that I have older students.  I find something that has worksheets for review rather than oral drills for review works better, simply because it allows me to move on to another student.  Much homeschool curriculum is written with the expectation that you’re going to have hours to work one-on-one with your student.  And in large families, of course, we simply don’t.

So sometimes classroom material works better, especially classroom material that was designed for a one-room schoolhouse.  In addition to, you know, actually old curriculum like McGuffey and Webster, there are many Amish and Mennonite schools that actually still operate that way and produce curriculum that is designed for brief teacher explanations followed by independent student work for reinforcement and expansion.  These pretty much universally work well for us, although they are not always necessarily what we want—the math, for example, starts to turn into consumer math rather than college-bound math once you get into high school.  Still, many of the subjects are very useful.

In short, the main thing to watch out for is that some curricula that is written expressly for homeschoolers incorporates a lot of teacher time because it anticipates one-on-one interaction continually.  So it is something I have learned to watch out for right at the beginning—a curriculum may be fantastic and get excellent reviews, and yet be simply beyond our grasp.

Now, though, a caveat: some teacher-intense curriculum is worth it.  I tried doing The Logic of English a couple of years ago, decided it was waaaaaay too teacher intense, and set it aside.  But I came back to it, eventually, because my more independent-working curriculum was just simply not working with my son, and I was spending more time trying to get him to be independent than I would have if I had just stuck with the teacher-intense curriculum!  It’s also possible to modify curricula so that they are more independent.  So, I really don’t mean that this is a “rule” so much as something to be aware of—whenever I sit down to evaluate a new curriculum (or even to consider how an old one is working for us), I take careful note of how much time it will demand from me and how it will fit into our schedule and schooling method.

 

Value: wisdom.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part I)

This year feels different than ever before.  I have finally realized: I am not limitless! 😉

I am a second-generation homeschooler—and an only child.  My mom was an amazing teacher and it seemed like we did everything.

Life as a larger family has meant my kids have many advantages in the form of their built-in siblings that I didn’t have as a kid.  They learn many things.  They can do group work, and big projects.  Sometimes they learn something better by explaining it to a younger sibling.  Sometimes they can learn by each others’ insights.  Many, many advantages.

And yet: I am a teacher of many, our own little one-room-schoolhouse environment, while my own student experience was with a 1:1 teacher-student ratio.  I cannot teach the way my mother taught.

Here are the first two of six guiding points that I continually come back to as I homeschool our kiddos (currently 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, and preschool).

Foster independence.

Homeschooling preschool through first grade takes a lot of teacher time.  There’s no way around it!  Kids can’t read directions until they can… you know, read.  But as a mommy when I have seven kids nine-and-under wandering around, I can’t take two hours for each kid one-on-one to do their school.  Not if I still want to sleep, or to feed anybody dinner!  So, from the very beginning, this is a major priority: work towards independent learning.  Initially, this is impossible.  With some kids, it remains impossible for longer than others!  But it is something I consciously have in the back of my mind at all times, and I try to encourage them to try to do it yourself before asking me for help.  If they ask me for help—“did you read the lesson?” “did you read the directions?” “did you try to do it?”  Important questions!  I also give them rewards and incentives.  And also, “I will gladly help you, but I want you to try  it by yourself first.  I want to see you try.”  Magic words.

There is, however, an important balance here: I have to be available for questions, and make it crystal clear to them that I am available for questions.  Otherwise, you end up with empty workbooks and, “but, Mommy, I didn’t understand and you were busy!”  Ask me how I know! 😉

Independent learning is a great skill to have, so I have no regrets trying to impart it to our children… but there’s a balance.  It does take attention to see how children are reacting to independence.  How responsible are they with their work?  With remembering to ask questions when they need to?  Do they need pushed toward more independence, or do they need reminded to stay in close?  Most importantly, how does the child deal relationally with independence?  We have some children who really benefit from quality time—whose learning ability absolutely skyrockets when they are sitting next to us one-on-one.  It’s important to notice that and be intentional about that quality time to make sure it still happens.

It’s also good to consider the best way to implement a specific curriculum for independence.  Sometimes all the instructions are right there in the lesson for the pupil to read, and they really only need help if they don’t understand something (more on this in part 2!)… other times they might need some real, dedicated instruction before setting out on their own part of the learning quest.

Plan check-ins.

When you’ve got kids learning independently, there is one area that is bound to turn into trouble: they can get off-track, and you can miss it.  Sometimes kids won’t tell you they don’t understand, and plow ahead anyway.  Sometimes they think they understand, so they go on.  Sometimes they’re doing fantastic, but would still benefit from you noticing it and encouraging them!

So it is necessary to check in.  Every subject, every kid.  Regularly.  What it looks like may be wildly different from one kid to the next: with our oldest (who excels at independence and enjoys it), I mostly only check her output, that is to say, I read the papers she writes, and for many of her subjects, I make sure she does the quizzes/tests and I check them, myself.  I mostly don’t check her daily work.  She is motivated and capable and, importantly, she usually does actually come to me and ask questions if she isn’t sure she’s understanding something correctly.  So it’s rare that she gets off-track.  With her younger siblings, depending on the subject and the kid, I may check the quizzes (most of our subjects have a quiz every week or so), or I may actually check every single day’s work so I can provide more immediate feedback.  Worst-case scenario, they get to sit next to me at the school table and I keep a sneaky eye on them through the entire subject (or even the entire school day).

It varies.  But regular check-ins are essential.  Think about how often each child needs a check-in, and on what subjects, and actually write it on your calendar, unless you’re relying on a periodic check like quizzes.  Not only do regular check-ins prevent your school year from getting seriously off-track, but they teach accountability: your child knows they are going to be called to account for what they have done.  This also teaches them responsibility and honesty—sometimes the hard way!  If I find out someone has been shirking their work, and not for a good reason, they make it up… specifically, they make it up at a time that they would have otherwise been free… on the weekend, in the evenings, etc.  I try to be kind about it (no missing exciting outings or guests) but also insistent enough that it is a drag that they don’t want to repeat again.  Or I’ll remove other privileges (like computer time) until they get their work caught back up to where it should have been.

Importantly, regular check-ins also help make sure I am aware of how they are doing.  What is their learning style? How are they coping with this new curriculum?  What is not working?  How can we fix problems and make everything run more smoothly?  It’s a chance to sit back, give them my full attention, and see what I might need to be doing differently.

Coming in Part II…

In two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be coming back to this subject to add four more things that I’ve found crucial to large-family homeschooling… including thoughts on choosing curriculum, knowing our kids, spending quality family time together… and other things.

Homeschooling

A Guiding Verse for Homeschool

Julie / October 8, 2015

There is one verse in the Bible that has become very central this year to the way we do homeschool—Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Here it is in context (vv. 9-14):

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

There are many other verses, of course; Deuteronomy 6:7, for instance, is at the very forefront as well, but Ecclesiastes 12:12 cuts against homeschooling “culture” in general.  “School” is not about amassing the most knowledge or meeting lofty academic goals.  Nor is it about pursuing our own passions or teaching kids to love learning.

The Words of the Wise

The first thing we’re about, here, is the words of the wise.  Solomon says these are the truths given by one Shepherd.  This isn’t just random wise words, the wisdom of the ages and the sages, but rather, the wisdom of God Himself.  And there’s a promise here, as well—that these sayings are like goads, pushing us to do what we ought, and like nails firmly fixed, of great duration.  This is what we should be studying: true wisdom.  James 3:17:

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Beware of Anything Else

This is huge: if it isn’t wisdom from God, beware.  When we study worldly philosophers—Plato, Socrates, the great men of the Renaissance, those in other religious traditions—do we teach them in a positive light, or do we teach beware?  The Hebrew here carries the connotation of admonishing, specifically, not just be “wary” but actively caution against them, teach, shine the light on the falseness therein.  This is especially relevant when we come to classical education: we must be careful not to lift up these worldly and ultimately inadequate philosophers.  It is one thing to know what they teach, but we must not be caught up in it.  It isn’t Scripture, it isn’t God’s wisdom, and we must teach it and teach against it.  We must remember that even the best philosopher of the world is an enemy of God.

A Weariness of the Flesh

“Much study.”  This is a great temptation of mine, both personally and in teaching.  I love knowledge.  I love reading books and learning new things.  I want the children to know all the things, too.  But, there’s a very selfish angle there, and I think that’s exactly what Solomon is getting at when he says much study is a weariness of the flesh.  It springs from our sinful natures.  At a certain point, a certain approach, studying is a fruit of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.  At a certain point, studying is not “setting your minds on things above,” but it actually begins to detract from that focus, both temporally (we ought to study “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15, not for worldly knowledge) but also in subject matters it can draw us away from God.  We have to be careful of what we study, why we study it, and how much time we’re devoting to studying it.  We are called to prepare for heaven, not to be philosophers much learned in the worldly arts.

The End of the Matter

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  Having affirmed the good and warned against the bad, Solomon offers this final conclusion, and says, this is it.  Fear God, and keep His commandments.  The end, the book is closed, there’s nothing to say beyond that.  This is why we’re here.  This is why we homeschool.  This is is what we homeschool.  This is what we care to have our kids walk away with: fear God, keep His commandments.  Everything we do and teach must be tightly focused on those two things.

Of course, Ecclesiastes 12 just led us straight back to Deuteronomy 6 after all:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Homeschooling, Recommendations

Our School Year, 2015

Julie / August 29, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. (more…)

Homeschooling

New year, except not. :)

Last week marked the end of the girls’ adventure in their current math books, which means by my lights, they’re onto the new grade.  I use math as our metric because 1) it’s the subject we are most behind in; 2) it’s very sequential, you can’t really skip around or ahead if you’re not getting it; and 3) whether it’s going well or hard, it’s about the same amount of work—it takes about 36 weeks regardless.

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So, it’s a new academic year.  It’s also our spring break, which is going to last about three weeks and involve some non-textbook math, a side adventure into a different reading program, a different science program… it’s the season for electives, in other words.

And then we’ll go back to the grind.

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One big decision I made is to go through the curricula as we come to it, rather than adhering to the idea of Fall-to-Spring, and also to not keep the children in sync with each other or even in sync with themselves, subject-wise.  While the girls have both finished their current textbooks and are relatively together in scheduling, L is not finished his current course and I am not planning to begin his “new year” until fall, at which point the girls will be half-way through this year.  In other words, I am trying not to lose my mind, but also trying to let things progress at a natural pace.

My other big decision was to go year-round, which gives a lot more freedom for longer / more frequent breaks, while providing structure continually, and some extra academic time to pursue electives, fill in gaps, and otherwise go off-script.

2nd grade:

Core curricula: Christian Light Reading 200, Singapore Math, R&S Grammar 2, Sequential Spelling, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, typing

DSC07716We are about halfway through Christian Light’s Reading 200 program.  It’s FANTASTIC.  Seriously.  I rave.  You definitely need a fluent reader, but we’ve got that, and there is everything to love about this program.  It’s cheap, has fantastic, deep Christian stories (albeit not Reformed), a great workbook with a good workload and challenging concepts… room for teacher interaction but absolutely not required.  Regular quizzes included help me know she’s really getting the concepts.

Singapore Math is still working wonderfully for us.  I will say I decided with five children in the pipeline, that manipulatives might not be such a bad investment, and so I’ve been collecting them over the past year, and they really help make math a lot more fun.  I plan to do a post on that.  I also really like Math Mammoth and I use it to provide extra practice / extra explanation of difficult concepts, and I can see myself possibly switching to MM entirely once I’m confident I have a good grasp of the path-to-Saxon-54 that I’m doing for the first three grades.  Right now I feel like with Singapore, I know we’re on track. But MM is very similar and would be cheaper, once I have more confidence in the subjects and level of mastery expected at each grade level.

Rod & Staff Grammar is also… exciting.  It’s a non-consumable textbook, cheap, solid, great mastery/spiral balance.  But the best part is they teach kindness and truth as an essential part of grammar.  I will say the exercises are a lot of work for someone who doesn’t have a great grasp of handwriting, and so I will sometimes let her do it out loud or a subset of problems.  The years after 2nd grade have workbooks, which will make it easier for her.

DSC07530Sequential Spelling is awesome.  It would work really well for multiple students, even ones slightly off in grade.  We are starting at the beginning, so I can’t speak for starting mid-stream, but I see her spelling improving so much from this program.

We are still doing Tapestry of Grace and Apologia Science—I reluctantly ordered the lab kit this next year, because I have trouble handling the prep for the non-core subjects with all the children.

We are also doing typing and math flash cards (via xtramath, which I extremely recommend and is free).  Ideally we would finish addition/subtraction in first grade and do multiplication/division facts in second grade, but I found xtramath too late for that to be true this year.

1st grade:

Core curricula: phonics (variety; Christian Light), Singapore Math 1A/1B, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, Headsprout

DSC06420I honestly feel like I’m still feeling out the best path to reading fluently.  I am a big fan of Headsprout.  So much of reading seems like a developmental thing more so than a taught thing.  I’ve talked a lot previously about the different things we do, so I’m not going to rehash them.  I will say I’m doing things a bit different in K now, and hoping that will lead to a more well-defined 1st grade DSC06408reading program with child 3.  That said, I am currently giving a good shot with Christian Light Reading 100 in addition to my regular mish-mash and I am hopeful that that will be a good track for us.  The thing I really like about it (besides the fact that I like the 2nd grade curriculum) is that the workbooks only cover a couple of weeks so it is easy to do just part of the curriculum and only buy for the next child what you actually need, instead of having to buy a whole new workbook.  CLE is also extremely affordable.

Singapore Math 1A/1B – this program is challenging, numbers to 100, double-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, money, time, measurement… it’s work. :)  It also seems to work, though!

Grammar and Spelling we follow along with older sibling.  Same with science and history.

Xtramath – addition and subtraction flashcards.

Kindergarten:

Core curricula: Christian Light Kindergarten II, Singapore Essential Math A&B, Handwriting Without Tears, Reading Eggs

DSC07093Child 3 has been doing a much more carefully-defined preschool program than his sisters, and so I’m intending to transition him into Christian Light’s Kindergarten II program (and Singapore Math’s Kindergarten Essential Math, which is on track) in the fall.  Then that program transitions into a learning-to-read program which eventually transitions into the Reading program that I like so much.  I’m not sure how all that is going to go, but I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting it. :)  At this point I have a good grasp of what needs to happen in kindergarten, I’m just still working out the best way to get there while managing older children and preschoolers at the same time.

Pre-K:

Core curricula: R&S ABCDEF series, Handwriting Without Tears, Starfall, Before the Code

DSC07548(This is where child 3 still is until Fall or so.)  We have transitioned into separate math (Rod and Staff) and English (Before the Code) books, which I feel is good, challenging prep for Kindergarten.  He also does handwriting (Handwriting Without Tears).  Right now I am loving this spot as a transition out of “preschool” and into something that’s really directionally preparing for Kindergarten proper.  We seem to spend about six months in pre-K.  It really is a transition to full, proper school.  Assignments are still really short (maybe 30 minutes total per day) but there’s the expectation there.  It also begins to build on itself rather than just meeting the child where they’re at, to begin sequential knowledge for the first time and increase skills.

Preschool:

Core curricula: R&S “About Three” preschool series, Horizons Preschool for Threes, Horizons Preschool

Child 4 is just beginning on this stage.  I feel like I have a good system here.  There are kind of three sub-levels I set in my head:

  1. We begin with Rod & Staff’s “About Three” books (learning tracing skills, to sit still, to match, etc.)
  2. Then move into Horizon’s “Preschool for 3s” (learning colors, to follow directions, to count)
  3. And finally Horizon’s “Preschool” book (which is essentially Pre-4 or so)

Horizon’s Preschool book is about on level with the Rod and Staff ABCDEF series which I use in Pre-K, but much more colorful and fun / less work / less prep, as well as having a large mixture of subjects in one book.  We seem to spend about a year and a half in preschool.  At first it’s very spotty and student-directed and by the end it’s an expectation and regular, if still very short, assignments.

Also important to note that this stage is not about finishing books.  Most of these books you can start in the middle and so I just pass them on child to child and buy new ones when the old ones are full, not finished by one child.  I move them along according to their stage, not based on completion.

Homeschooling

Homeschool, week 6, randomness and solutions.

Julie / September 6, 2013

I have learned so much in the past month.  I had all these ideas and so many things that didn’t entirely pan out the way I thought they would.  I have a great urge to try to spit it all back out in an organized post so that others might not make the same mistakes that I did, but then I realize in my next thought that there are still ten million things I don’t know, and everything is incoherent (hello, pregnancy brain, I love to blame you!) anyway.

Nevertheless.  A dear friend chronicles her life in blogging with lots of pictures.  So here are lots of pictures from this very week of ours.

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Lesson first: Daddies are great.  (Okay, I already knew that, but this is a new context.)  We did school on Labor Day.  Seth was intrigued with what we were doing, so we drafted him into helping us build our Mesopotamian ziggurat.  I would have never, ever, in a million years come up with such a good resemblance!

 

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Lesson two: Visuals are great.  Specifically, the alphabet here, which is hanging over our dining room doorway, has been a great help.  It helps the children remember which letter is which and which sound goes with which letters, and it gives them a lot of confidence in “guessing” answers for our various phonics games.  We also have a vowel chart which we refer to daily as well.  Actually, I pretty much have our walls plastered with things we’re working on, and I take them down and replace them as we move through our studies.

 

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Lesson three: nameplates really work!  I printed these up TOTALLY just for fun.  I’m not sure whose fun I was thinking of; it makes it look more like a school, right?  But I thought they’d get ripped up and destroyed in a week.  Instead, they’ve actually been great resources that the kids actually USE.  Both girls have the worst time remembering how to make numerals, in particular, and they actually refer to the itty-bitty (but right in front of them) print on this during their math lessons.  They’ve also noticeably improved their handwriting, especially of their names, from referring to the plate.  Now I just feel dumb for having thought nameplates were merely classroom decorations!

DSC06048Lesson four: a brainless (overwhelmed) Mommy needs a real preschool curriculum.  I had vague notions of throwing something together for L as we went along, matching (vaguely) whatever the girls were working on.  You can guess how that story went—it didn’t!  Thankfully I had ordered a copy of Horizons Preschool for Threes way back in mid-summer, and they finally released it and mailed it to us, and to my great surprise, I actually really like it!  It is reasonably affordable (like $30 or less?), covers all subjects, and really is designed for beginning three-year-olds.  And it’s just about all I can handle, myself, to sit down with him and work through it.  It could be a good jump-off point for a mom with more time to devote to preschooling (I think the teacher’s guide has lots of extra activities), but I needed something really simple (for me) that was also reasonably well-rounded to build all the essential preschool skills. So we literally just sit down together and work through the day’s worksheets. Preschool for Threes is a perfect fit for us. L also follows along with phonics, and often science and history lessons as well, and we do extra math with manipulatives. And the girls actually enjoy “teaching” him things like counting and adding, and he actually learns from them sometimes!

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Lesson five: children love maps.  Not the preschooler, who I think doesn’t understand what maps even are, but I have a modern map of the whole world hanging on one wall, and on the other wall, we tape up multiple maps of the area we’re actually studying—Mesopotamia here.  We compare the maps, remember where we are, where Florida is (this gives them some concept of distance, because they know how long that drive is!), so they know where we are studying.  And they can also compare to other places we’ve studied; they quickly recognized the Nile on their Mesopotamia map, and it opens the door for talking about ancient trade routes and other things.

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Lesson six: planning is… enlightening.  Really I could say much more emphatically that planning is the root of all success in homeschool or something like that, except that I know it isn’t true for everybody. :)  But, trying to balance THREE children’s schooldays, when none of them are independent learners… I figured out in about week two that a vague plan or even a weekly sketch was just not nearly sufficient.  This is what we’ve ended up with—those blocks of lessons are for one week.  And that is terribly, terribly abbreviated.  Behind those lines are actual plans, links, projects… this is just what I need to remember what page to turn to.

The really amazing thing is that all this planning actually saves me time.  Week one and two, I had my weekly list of things to accomplish, and then when we’re all sitting there actually doing school, I had to keep double-checking and calculating which part we had to accomplish that day in order to get through our week plan.  It took a lot of time and stress, right in the middle of the school day when I couldn’t afford it!  Now I just look at my sheet, open the books, and literally check it off as we go.  We’ve been getting more done, more projects, more subjects, and finishing our day about an hour earlier.  Seriously!  I cannot believe how much time I was wasting scrambling throughout the day.

How do I plan?  Like this:

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Homeschool Planet is the awesomest homeschool planner ever.  It’s new.  It’s a little rough around the edges (just came out of beta).  It’s a little bit expensive.  But… it’s totally worth it.  I tried planning on paper for two weeks.  In the amount of time it took me to plan one week on paper, I can do at least half a semester on here, and best of all, I can plan ahead as I have time to do it. And I can plan per subject rather than per week.  That really helps with continuity.  And in execution, this saves me HOURS each week. No exaggeration.  I have tried lots and lots of planners and this was the first one that was powerful enough but also quick/simple enough. RECOMMEND.

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Lesson seven: kids like to plan, too.  This is our “into our brains” chart for a week.  Every week I put a new one up.  The stickers match our subjects, and when they complete a subject, they put the sticker in the right block, and throughout the week it completes a path—and at the end of the path is an increasingly-small reward.  It works.  Seriously.  It’s like magic.  Even the subjects they hate (*handwriting*), they know it’s just a sticker on the chart and then they will move on.

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Lesson eight: projects and games are really helpful.  Above, the girls hold leaves from their nature walk looking for monocots and dicots to put in their botany notebook, and are standing in front of the remnants of a phonics game that we’d played earlier in the morning (every right answer and you move the correct worm an inch closer to the apple).  I hate projects.  As a student, I was not the one who wanted to go out and experience it for myself if I could just read about it in a book.  And as a teacher… projects are CHAOS. Seriously. Every time you do “fun,” you are inviting chaos into your home. :)  But… it turns out they remember things better.  They have fun.  The silliest little game or a run out to the back yard to fetch some moss, and they get a boost of energy that will last them ‘till lunchtime.  It’s great.  It requires a lot of planning, but, again—worth it.

So.  There’s my homeschool randomness, for anyone who’s curious what we do all day, how it works, with three littles and a baby and a pregnant, perpetually exhausted, brain-deficient Mommy. 🙂