Fall homeschool planning.


So, next fall we will, Lord willing, begin our first foray into 1) official, state-registered homeschooling, and 2) first grade.  And so I am attempting to make sure that we are covering all our bases, and covering them well!  Because I am expecting to be greatly pregnant by the time we begin, and have a newborn halfway through the year, I am trying to do as much planning ahead as I possibly can.  I have my lesson plans broken down to the weekly level for the entire year, and am beginning to work through which specific activities we’ll do.  I am planning for a long winter break from Thanksgiving through New Years, because I’m sure otherwise school will fall apart then anyway until we settle into the routine of a new baby.  That long break also means that we are beginning in August, and running through the end of May.  When our year isn’t planning to be interrupted by a newborn, I would ideally like to plan 9-week terms separated by substantial multi-week breaks and run year-round.  But this year, I think we need one big fat break in the middle instead.

Our core curriculum, although it is treated as more of “dessert” at the early stages, is Tapestry of Grace.  This is a classical curriculum, in four yearly cores, which repeat three times each throughout the schooling experience, covering a multitude of subjects from history, social studies, English, composition, philosophy, government, rhetoric, and geography.  The first year, which we are doing at lower grammar level, is the Ancient World.  The thing I am most excited about is that all students, regardless of age, are centered around the same basic part of history every week, while the activities, expectations, and reading and writing assignments are tailored to each student’s individual level. So, for instance, one week the lower grammar child may be learning about the geography of Egypt and the importance of the Nile to the local economy, building pyramids and making Egyptian headdresses, while the rhetoric-level teenager may be writing a 10-page essay analyzing the intricacies of the ancient Egyptian religion and its influence on later philosophy.  I think this is a great opportunity for larger families to maintain a lot of cohesion while also meeting each child’s academic needs, and I am excited to see how it plays out as the years go on!  I am intending to repeat this year almost exactly in four years with E2, rather than E1, in the student role (while E1 would have moved on to an upper grammar approach to the material), so in addition to trying to make meticulous plans beforehand, I am going to try to keep detailed notes and lists as we go along.  I will say, the books seem a little ambitious with only a first-grader and a kindergartener; I am expecting it to go a little haphazardly, but then of course the next time around we will use the same books except then we will have a 2nd grader and 3rd grader as well, Lord willing, because by the time the cycle repeats, even if E1 is moved on to upper grammar, the younger ones will still all be lower grammar.  So I’m definitely looking at this year as a low-stress test drive of the material and the course structure.

For science, I honestly didn’t agonize over the decision very much.  I’ve looked at many lower-grade science curricula, and they all seem incredibly similar.  This one is MacMillian/McGraw-Hill, 2nd grade (because we’ve already been doing “first grade” for quite some time—early science is easy and our kids love science!), and I picked it because it was incredibly affordable (widely available used), and has a good website with lots of supplementary videos, and is simply structured with review questions and suggested experiments all right within the text.  I am planning to keep our kids “together” for science in at least pairs, which seems doable to me because the high school sciences don’t necessarily have to go in order, so we can simply reshuffle partners around as necessary to make sure everyone gets the right curriculum at the right grade level.

For math, we are continuing into Singapore Primary Mathematics 1A and 1B for E1, and Singapore Essential Math Kindergarten A and B for R.  I like Singapore, and so do the kids!  From what I’ve read, it is pretty well leveled with Saxon, so I am intending at this point to switch to Saxon once we are out of early elementary… or not.

For phonics/reading, I have not been able to “plan” it very well, because it has seemed like more of a brain development issue than a textbook/teachable issue.  With that said, I have been pretty pleased with EPS Primary Phonics, and we worked through the K book last year and are currently working through the 1 book, so I am hoping to begin the 2 book by fall and begin, at some point (probably earlier than fall), the K book with R.  We also use lots of supplementary materials, games, and computer programs.  Once such which was recently recommended is Phonics Pathways, which I’m going to try to draw all the kids into.

Lastly, preschool… L will be our youngest-yet “preschooler,” and my plan so that I can actually teach the girls is to assemble a number of “busy boxes” for him so that when I need him distracted, he can sit at the table and work on his schooltime-only special exciting activity/toy.  I am expecting that with both Tapestry and science, he can sit with us as we read together and even do his own semblance of many of the activities—not necessarily to absorb any of the learning, but at least for distraction purposes.  So it will be more when we are doing the “seatwork” of math and reading that I will be trying to distract him with his busy boxes, and hopefully at some point in the year he can begin his own workbooks.  We have had good experiences with the Rod & Staff Preschool Workbooks, which are by far the most well-suited to very young children that I have ever come across.


On the first day of school…

Julie / September 5, 2012


Oh they are growing up.  This is the first year we are going to really “do school,” in a formal way—we’ve been kind of sporadic up until now, thanks to pregnancy and such major life changes. Smile  But now we’re on!

Ellie is four.  So not legally allowed to begin kindergarten in our state… yes, I actually wrote to the Department of Education and asked!  And that REALLY frustrated me because we’ve been doing kindergarten math texts and first grade science, so what am I supposed to do next year?!?! So I am waiting to formally enroll until next year, and then we’ll just start with first grade. It makes it less stressful, anyway, because if kindergarten doesn’t work out the way I think it will, we still have a whole extra year if we need it.  But my intention is to formally enroll as first grade next fall, if we get through all the state kindergarten standards before then.

We’ve settled on Essential Math Kindergarten A & B by Singapore Math for our math curriculum, which we started working through eight months ago (and then stopped when I found out about six months ago that we wouldn’t be allowed to start kindergarten this year) and will now begin again; and Explode the Code for English/phonics.  We had been doing the preschool Code books but they weren’t very hard and were a bit boring for her, so I bumped her up to book 1.  So far so good!  We’re actually doing the online version now.  There are some other books I am testing out for other English supplemental skills, and we have also been doing the BOB Books, which Ellie has really enjoyed.  We’re also doing Beginning Geography and Everyday Literacy: Science for science.

It was really exciting today (day two) to begin on the online version of Explode the Code and see Ellie actually READING words, all by herself, without hints!  She was typing and spelling and – it was a happy thing to see… just totally basic words and not without mistakes, but it was neat to be kind of removed from the situation a little bit myself and see what she actually knows on  her own, and I was surprised!  She totally hides what she knows until she knows it really, really well, so it’s often hard for me to gauge how well she’s doing.  That said, I can tell she’s going to get bored with the program (at least I think she will) so I need to come up with some kind of reward system.  It gives her virtual “stickers” so it should be easy to translate that to something in the real world.

Rowan is two and wants to do everything her sister does, so she does school too!  Hers is really a mismash of various preschool workbooks, including lots of skill books and the Rod & Staff Pre-K3 workbooks and Pre-K4 workbooks.  The Pre-K3 books, as an aside, are the first textbooks I’ve found at all that are genuinely doable by a two-year-old.  She’s been able to do them for a while.  We’re also going to do the A Beka Pre-K 4 curriculum, which Ellie did not have the patience for at all but I think Rowan will do well.

For both girls we have manipulative/toys (like tangrams, counting objects, letter tiles, etc.) but I tend not to incorporate those into technical “schooltime!” and instead we do them throughout the day.  I want to start doing more science experiments too—we did a little impromptu experiment on displacement this week and it was a ton of fun!  Ellie just soaks it all up and I love explaining how things work.

We do Bible stories and Bible coloring for Bible—all three crayoning munchkins participate.  During the rest of schooltime so far, Liam wanders around and makes messes. Winking smile  I seriously need to figure out what to do with him while I help the girls!

Homeschooling, Printables

Another pre-k printable.

Julie / September 15, 2010
(Note that the pages are out of order on the PDF so that they will print in order after they’re folded.)

So this is probably becoming obvious, but I really like putting together my own little bits of curriculum to use in school with E.  First there was the Twinkle Twinkle Totbook, and now I’m putting together a little series of books to use with sight-words to help E get the general idea of “reading.”  I have the A Beka sets (which both Seth and I learned from as wee ones ourselves!), and while I like them and will definitely use them once we’ve moved on to phonetics, right now they’re too phonics-oriented.  I’m kind of on board with the whole sight-words-first theory–right now I just want her to understand what words are, that they’re composed of letters, and that they tell stories.  Because the A Beka books are oriented towards teaching groups of sounds (and sometimes only sounds), their stories are less cohesive and story-like than E is really interested in, and because they’re aimed at older kids (the ones with real, whole words are K5), they throw a lot of words at you at once.

So I’m making my own, since little books are a very simple project, and this way I can custom-tailor them to E’s interests!  This is the first book.  It’s eight pages, all with illustrations and a “word list” that points out the new words on each page.  If you have a double-sided printer (or a way to figure out which way to flip the pages and when!) then this prints up very nicely on just two pieces of letter-sized paper, plus one for the flashcards.  There are sixteen words, which I think is a very graspable amount for a preschooler.  In future minibooks, I’ll try to keep as many of these words as possible (mainly by keeping the same tenses and sentence constructions) so that the total number of new words will not be as high.

So, that’s my Works for Me Wednesday: I like resorting to my computer instead of combing the homeschool curriculum catalogs!  (And WFMW visitors, please check out the totbook!)  I’m planning to continue making totbooks and obviously to continue my little series of preschool sight-word reading books as well.

Homeschooling, Printables

Twinkle, Twinkle “Totbook”

Julie / September 10, 2010

I finally finished my first “totbook,” or lapbook aimed at 2-3 year olds.  I am much more a fan of simply putting all the pieces into a envelope than actually attaching them to folders, but I included little mini-packs to assemble for all the pieces nevertheless.  🙂


It’s based on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Here’s what’s included:

  • Overview / Further Suggestions: a brief description of each activity, and detailed suggestions on tying the study into Bible time.
  • Connect the Colors: Connect the dots worksheet, except for little ones too young to understand sequencing and numerals–simply connect the colored dots instead! A star appears when completed.
  • Can You Count the Stars: a simple card game, with sixteen cards with varying numbers of stars on them. Ask child to identify which card has how many stars, how many stars are on each card, which card has more stars, etc. Includes two cards for each number, so can also do matching.
  • Constellation Connections: a worksheet where students form their own “constellations” by drawing connecting lines between matching letters.
  • Stars and Diamonds: a same/different matching game, these eight cards can each be matched up with a different card by matching either color or shape, but not both! A step more difficult than simple matching.
  • Pin the Stars on the Sky: the child can cut and paste the stars into “outer space” (avoiding the Earth), or the parent can pre-cut. Either way, teaching the concept of boundaries and appropriateness, so that the child puts the stars where they belong not on Earth!
  • Big Star, Little Star: a very simple ordering game. Arrange stars from smallest to largest, or stack from largest to smallest, so that all stars may be seen at once.
  • Twinkle Tracing: improving eye-hand coordination in preparation for writing: a variety of star shapes and sizes for little ones to trace and color.
  • Simple Star Puzzles: two very simple puzzles to cut out, 2″“ and 3-piece, to develop students’ spatial abilities.
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Real Stars: a small book (8 pages) with full-page photographs (mostly from NASA’s archives) and simple scientific facts about stars, from the sun to the universe. Available in two sizes; both print on regular letter-sized paper.
  • Free to use and link to, but do not redistribute online.  Permission is granted to redistribute offline, e.g. within a school, but credit in footer must remain intact.


    School ““ some reflections.

    Julie / September 6, 2010


    “Doing school” has changed our little lives. 

    I’m not being very rigid about it–E is usually very eager (more than I am) for “dool time!” and so I haven’t really needed to push her at all.  Focus, yes, but not push.  Which I guess is a good thing.

    I’m very surprised, though, by how much more attuned I am to what she does and doesn’t know, and how rapidly she is picking things up.  Intentional instruction is definitely making a big difference!  She’s really latched on to the alphabet and goes around pointing out letters even when we’re not in “school” and asks, quite often, what various words / letters / numbers are that she sees.  She also must have picked up a lot more from Blue’s Clues or Dora than I ever would have thought that she would she knows a good number of letters that I haven’t taught her yet.  Conversely, there are some concepts in the “same/different” category of learning that it just blows my mind that she doesn’t understand–but she doesn’t.  I guess this is something we haven’t really run across in our daily lives, that S and I haven’t been pointing out to her.  But, see, formal school means I know this giant gap exists now, and we’ve been working on it together and she’s starting to understand more!

    It is more work than just playing was.  We spend maybe an hour and half or so per day–although a very big part of me likes the “four day schoolweek” and so Fridays occasionally fall by the wayside–usually our time is consecutive, but sometimes it gets split in two pieces.  I’ve started making use of the time after breakfast to get E started on various tasks that work well at our dining room table by herself: tracing, coloring, and critical thinking exercises.  She works on those while I do my morning chores, which works surprisingly well.  So I guess in one way, it’s less work because it definitely adds a lot of structure to our morning, which everyone seems to like.  But it’s a lot more work because I’m having to do a lot of planning and assembling activities that I wasn’t doing before.

    I finally got some giant folders this past week which I divvied out the activities and worksheets into, and another multi-pocket folder which I’m going to use to divide up the activities on the weekend for the upcoming week–based loosely on this modified workbox system.  One folder per day, with maybe some sticky notes for things that don’t fit in the folders.  I did finally get my act together last week enough to sit down and figure out what my formal subjects actually are, what activities fall in the purview of which subjects, and what days I want to focus on each subject. 

    It’ll all work out eventually.  I’m definitely becoming a big proponent of this kind of early schooling, though: it’s beginning to seem like quite a waste of everyone’s mental resources to just coast around PLAYING.

    Homeschooling, Printables

    Pre-K2 printables

    Julie / August 25, 2010

    I just realized that I haven’t explained my new schedule on the blog, so here ’tis: since things seemed to be veering into triteness, so I decided to post Monday-Wednesday-Friday instead, which will give me a small break on the weekends, and at least two days to muse over each post instead of necessarily writing it start-to-finish all in one day.  Hopefully this leads to improvements.  (Not being pregnant also usually leads to improvement, but I can’t do much about that one!)

    School is… continuing.  E has some difficulty figuring out how to tell letters apart, which is more frustrating to me than I would like.  I’m trying to teach her what kinds of things to look for to distinguish between them–and oddly, once she knows a letter, she knows it well–but telling things apart and seeing similarities and differences is a skill, I suppose, and I didn’t realize it.  I guess I thought it was like seeing: you just do it!

    We read my favoritest of all favorite childhood books yesterday: The Spider and the Fly, which is a lavishly illustrated version of this poem (the right one).  Part of the way through, E started acting quite scared of the spider and was even saying things like “don’t eat fly!  don’t eat fly!”  I was afraid that she might be thus traumatized by the ending–the spider does indeed eat the fly–but she didn’t seem to mind.  I think the fly ghost might have confused her a little bit, since she probably doesn’t know what the giant stark tombstone the fly ghosts are huddled around even is!  Anyway, it’s a great, great story, and I can’t wait until the kids are old enough to really thoroughly understand it.

    I’m making a new section on the blog (at the top): printables.  I haven’t had as much time to put into these as I’d like–mainly because I’m generally putting them together hurriedly at night after E goes to bed to use them the next day–but I’m hoping as the school year wears on, they’ll get more focused and diverse.  In the meantime, here are two new alphabet sets to trace.  The idea isn’t to learn how to print, but rather to encourage deeper studying of the actual letter formations themselves to enhance recognition.  (I.e., it’s more of a print-based font than a handwriting font.)

    1                         2

    I turned E loose on them today (just the letters she already knows somewhat) with a bright marker and she had a blast!  And it seemed to help her learn to recognize the letters better. The important thing is that two-year olds are GREAT at destroying things like formal workbooks, so I’m finding printables indispensible.  Each one covers the whole alphabet, and then we can toss “˜em when we’re done.

    Homeschooling, Printables, Time Management

    To-dos; homeschool day 1

    Julie / August 23, 2010

    So, here is the revised version of The To-Do List:


    The other one was technically working fine, but as it grew easier to stay in routine (both from building habits and from decreased mess to work with), I decided that it would be wise to try to work in all the little recurring tasks that still need done every once in a while, but which would be overwhelming to try to check every day.  So now the list has two parts: a daily routine, which is repeated all the days of the week and is the main thing that keeps our house in order, a weekly routine, which is more the tasks that only need to be considered once a week and are tackled Monday-Thursday, and a monthly routine, one part of which is tackled every Friday.  

    I’m hoping that the extra routines gradually eliminate any of the mess areas in the house that had heretofore been mostly ignored–like dusting the baseboards. I also formally added mopping to the routine, which wasn’t exactly neglected before, but does require a lot of planning (because it works vastly better without children scampering about).  I still use the principles of different types of cleaning, but I didn’t delineate them in the list because I’ve found myself doing a lot more cleaning-when-the-mess-is-made (which are very short but frequent and unplannable) and a lot less cleaning bigger messes all at once (there aren’t any to clean).



    Here’s a little printable: flash cards for the alphabet, with lowercase and uppercase letters separate, and no “hint” pictures.  So simple, I know, but I haven’t actually found any in store-bought packs without pictures, which is dumb, imho, because my two-year-old gets totally distracted by… distractions.


    We officially started Pre-K2 today.  I wasn’t feeling well, and neither was E, so it was definitely a light day.  We started with some letter flashcards (this was before I made these) and learned our uppercase and lowercase A, then read some books and found the A’s in them. 

    Our formal reading book of the day was The Little Engine that Couldlittlenginethatcould, which is probably my favorite children’s book now that I also had in my own childhood.  I’ve seen it redone a number of times, but I like the original one best.  It’s kind of a two-pronged message, both a Good Samaritan tale and an exhortation to do your best.  Anyway, I really like it, and since we have it, it was an easy addition to our Pre-K2 reading list.  E seemed to like it as well; there were a lot of characters (Humpty Dumpty, dolls, oranges) that she recognized, and she loves trains, so even though it was a pretty long book, she stayed focused the whole time. 

    We played lots of “find the letter” games throughout the day, mostly initiated by E.  Somehow she already knows quite a few letters–I’m not sure how!  Once we get more into the swing of things, I want to get her to work on drawing the letters as well her hand coordination is sadly lacking (compared to an adult’s, anyway!), but I think that it will help her learn the shapes of the letters better, if nothing else.

    I’m also going to start doing sight words with her, but I thought it would be good for her to know a few letters first, so she has something to latch onto in the words to learn to distinguish them.  We hadn’t had much luck with sight words so far.