twenty one + more homeschool musings

This week I plan on spending some time with the many homeschooling books and resources I have accumulated over the past 4 years or more.  Homeschooling has been something I have wanted to do since well before we even had children.  I have never wavered from that decision, but that does not mean I am not slightly intimidated by it.

We have a pretty great and active homeschooling group in our area that continues to grow and grow.  What I love about it is that we all have different styles, practices, and ideas.  We have artists and homesteaders, former dental hygienists, and former teachers; there is Waldorf and Montessori, project based, and unschooling.  We all have different strengths and that is important.

The more I read about unschooling, the more I feel pulled in that direction.  That being said I was conventionally schooled and struggle a little bit with the level of trust that it requires.  I strongly believe that children have an innate yearning to learn and that when it is done at their pace and in accordance with their interests it can be magic.

Our plan, thus far, is to do a combination of homeschooling and unschooling.  I am sure many hardcore unschoolers would argue that isn’t unschooling at all, but to each their own.  I think when I say unschooling most people get their hackles up thinking it is irresponsible or neglectful, but I define it as placing topics and learning opportunities in the child’s path and following their lead to facilitate their learning. We will use the Ontario Curriculum as a guideline for where we should be focusing our attention and to know what skills they will very likely have by the end of that time frame.  Our goal is to hold ourselves loosely to these guidelines and be patient where we are behind and celebrate where we are excelling.  Instead of having really formal learning sessions I prefer the idea of passive learning though daily objects and activities.  We hope to arrive at the same destination by taking side roads, short cuts and long cuts, and of course by enjoying some unscheduled tangents.  In Ontario, they have introduced full day kindergarten starting at the age of 4 which has been controversial to say the least.  If we were sending Poppy to school, she would be starting in September 2013 at the age of 4.5 and Silas would begin in September 2014.

Poppy has known her colours, numbers and letters since about 18 months, but her speech was very slow to come.  Silas on the other hand, has very little interest in letters and numbers, knows his colours, and he has had a crazy vocabulary beginning before he was 1.  One of my favourite sentences he said was at about 18 months: “I’m’a go outside now.  Where’s mine yellow shoes is?”.  Poppy’s first real sentence came when she was about 2 years and 3 months: “Chicken eggs all gone.”  They each have their own strengths and they both continue to make progress.

Science and geography and even math don’t worry me half as much as teaching them the important and life changing art of reading.  I have no memory of learning how to read, so it seems like such an abstract thing to teach and learn.  I have recently picked up a few varied resources to help me learn how to effectively teach it to them when they are ready.  My worry is not that they will not learn it, but that I will not be able to teach it when the time arrives.  The books I have, specifically focused on reading, writing and a little math include: Learning Essentials by the Canadian Curriculum Press (purchased at Costco); Teaching Writing in Kindergarten by Randee Bergen; The New Kindergarten by Constance J. Leuenberger; ABC fun + 123 by Shirley Erwee.  I will take what I feel will be best from each of these and use what the kids seem to enjoy most.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the Oak Meadow Curriculum (Grade 1) with one of our homeschool mamas and loved how they taught math in the form of memorable stories.  I felt that it would be a great and effective way to learn math when the interest bubbles up.

I think I am a perfect fit for homeschooling because I feel my learning style was never quite suited to the way school does it and I struggled because of that.  I learn best from interesting stories, enthusiasm, interest, and from doing.  Fractions never really made sense until I started baking and cooking, building things myself, and cutting my own real pies.  I think I will be teaching many things over the years that never quite clicked for me back in the day and will have some “Aha moments” of my own in the process.

Children are in school for many hours per day, but I have talked with homeschooled kids, homeschooling moms, and even teachers who admit that the amount of learning done in the classroom could be accomplished in much less time at home.  They can then follow their own interests in whatever direction they see fit with the rest of their days.  In my mind this is the very best of both worlds.

Of course, we are just young pups in this long journey, but these are our goals and ideas today.  I am so grateful that homeschooling is a viable option for us in this great country.  I am grateful that we can live quite well on one income despite our debts and bills. I am grateful that we can ease into our day and it is me who gets to learn along side our children.  I am grateful for a very local and vibrant community of homeschoolers despite how remote we are.  I am grateful for endless internet resources and that I can connect and pull from even more blogs and blog readers such as your lovely selves.

It has been a constant struggle for me to find a rhythm that works for us, but I am going to try again.  It all feels a bit frantic still as the kids are on completely opposite sleeping schedules so we start off kilter.  My ideal day would look something like this:

6am – everyone up – breakfast and coffee all together

7am – brush teeth, showers, get dressed, brush hair, make beds, quick tidy of rooms

8am – 9am – free play, snuggles, quietly ease into the day

9am – outside time or yoga for cold and rainy days

9:45 -10:30 – free play

10:30 – snack time

11:00 – free play while I prepare  lunch

12:00 – lunch time

12:30 – story time, finger plays, singing, etc

1pm – movie time (Silas will often fall asleep at this time)

2pm – drawing, letters, numbers, colours, art, painting, craft, play dough, workbooks if interested

3pm – baking with mama (muffins, bagels, pitas, bread, cookies, etc) or more outside time

4pm – movie, free play, etc while I prepare supper

5pm – Mike home, eat supper

5:30pm –  clean up, dishes, wipe tables and counters, tidy kitchen

6pm – bath

6:30 – Daddy time -chasing, hiding, squealing, reading fun books on the iPad.  Mama can crochet or blog

7pm – Evening snack and brush teeth

7:30 – If Silas did not nap, he will be ready for bed now.

Poppy free play or movie while Daddy practices the guitar (or works from home)

8:30 – Reading with Poppy (and Silas if he is still awake) – A chapter book like Little House or other classics

9pm ’till we crash pm – guitar, crochet, blog, watch tv, etc.

 

The truth is, the days are long and there are  a lot of hours to fill.  I feel guilty every time I write down tv time, but in order to do this alone everyday and make all of our meals from scratch it is necessary to keep the kids from climbing the counters.  I try to involve them where possible of course, but sometimes I just need/want to do it alone.  We don’t have cable, but we have Netflix and many movies and programs on DVD.  The favourites include The Magic School Bus, Go, Diego, Go, Sesame Street, Scarytown Mysteries, and Poppy enjoys the BBC animal shows and has taken quite an interest in the planet and Universe shows as well.  They say any TV is bad TV, but they also told me I would have difficulty bonding with and breastfeeding my c-section babies so I tend to follow my gut on this one.  They do learn from and interact with these shows.  I am working on letting go of the TV guilt because I am doing this alone so many hours of the day without a car and I need breaks that can give me the patience I need to make it through the week.
We are also planning at least one day during the work week in which we head out to friends’ houses,  into town, or have friends in for the better part of a day for play, crafts, and food.
What do or did your homeschooling days look like when your kids were preschool age?  What resources were your favourites?  Anything you’d like to share or add to the discussion?  Feel free to share!
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18 Comments

  1. Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm by Molly Makes Do | Permalink

    i understand your guilt with the tv – but we’re in the same situation it does help me get a better dinner made and certain chores done around my house and I hate to admit it – but my sons language skills have increased since we added sesame street in the mix. He’s a reluctant talker (for an almost 2 year old, though he has a large understood vocab), but every time we watch “elmo” he starts parroting back phrases and letters. It’s just a give and take.

  2. Posted January 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm by Brittany | Permalink

    i think that tv is fine, honestly. i just think it’s about how much time and more importantly, WHAT they’re being allowed to watch, you know?
    i really admire you for doing this too. i wanted to do the same, and ended up changing my plans because of health issues. i send my son to school and it’s sort of my break where i can take care of myself. =/ it sometimes makes me feel a little guilty.
    keep me posted on your homeschool adventures. i love reading about it!

  3. Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm by Michelle | Permalink

    I recommend The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading. It was fantastic. I have a copy I could send to you.
    Another thought: If my 9 year old was up at 6am she would be fast asleep by 7pm for sure. That seems like a looooooooooong time for little ones to be awake. I find the earlier my girl goes to bed the better she sleeps. :)

    • Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm by erin | Permalink

      I have not heard of that book! Will have to look into it for sure :)
      Yes, it would be ideal if she would go to sleep earlier, but she has always been this way. She would be up until 12 or 1 and then sleep for up to 8 hours as a newborn! Silas has always gone to sleep easily, but wakes a lot in the night. We have tried on many many occasions to get her on a more toddler-like schedule only to be completely frustrated when she tosses and turns in a dark room until 10 or even 11 at night…She tends to be a night owl and sleeps in, but I hope that trying to get her up earlier will slowly shift her inner clock. The good thing is that she is a complete dream and never gets grumpy or over tired. She also stopped napping at 18 months just before Silas was born. If she gets a nap in the car (it almost never happens, even on long car rides) she is up tossing and turning even later than us! It is crazy. Silas is the exact opposite and needs a nap or cuddle/quiet time, but has been trying to give it up too. He gets crazy when he needs sleep and goes to sleep within minutes of putting him down .

  4. Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm by Ally | Permalink

    Hi there! Thank you for this post, it’s nice to see/hear how your day flows.
    Right now we’re loosely using the Oak Meadow Kindergarten Curriculum for our 5 year old. I try to stretch it out over the week, but we are going through it quickly. I also “unschool” with her, but am not rigid with either. We also go to our local library twice a week. That’s our only real outing in the winter. (It’s cold here in Winnipeg!) We don’t have a TV, but use sparkle stories. They have been a huge help in giving me a break or a little time to get meals made/house cleaned/knitting done. Maybe not in that order though….

  5. Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm by Kim | Permalink

    We are a homeschooling family, I actually prefer the term life learning family :) My little guy is only four, so really our days are filled with play, nature walks, singing, arts and crafts, baking, etc. I am drawn to the Waldorf philosophy so we do use that as a guide in our home. I too like you love the way they teach reading.

    We knew this was our path before our little man was born, but it was more of a school at home that I pictured back then. Now, with all the reading and research I have done, that just doesn’t fit with who we are.

    I am excited for the journey and can’t see where it will take us.

    I read a great book you might like Homeschooling our Children Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee, really cemented our journey of letting our man show us the way.

    • Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm by erin | Permalink

      I have heard of that book and keep meaning to pick it up!
      Thanks for sharing!
      e.

  6. Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm by Katharine | Permalink

    My kids are all night owls so our day is shifted quite a bit. Seeing the whites of eight little eyes before nine o’clock is a rarity and I’m just fine with that. We take advantage by getting my husband off to work early so as to maximize the time they are all home and awake together.

    I’m Unschooling with a newly minted ten year old, a seven and a half year old, a very nearly five year old and a 12 month old these days and I haven’t doubt that Unschooling is the right choice for us. That said I, like you, think that Unschooling purists might not recognize our math books and writing prompts as strictly kosher but then didn’t we avoid school in part to avoid those kinds of judgements.

    My older two have taught themselves to read (both around seven years of age) and the third is as engaged in language an storytelling as they were at his age which I’m reading as a good sign.

    Unschooling allows us the flexibly to split our time between Toronto and our home in the woods in such a nice way. Right now we are mon-wed in Toronto runnin to harp and piano, cello and karate and playing with friends then we retreat for four days into the woods with no plans, no schedules and no where to be. These days we focus on following our interests and building sense of family. Ten years in I’d say these kids have a strong sense of empathy, infinite patience for younger children and a real ability to get interested in something, seek out the supplies and give it a go. All great life skills. Unschooling is an act of faith for sure but isn’t conventional school? At least here you’ll see the change first hand as it happens. That is worth it all for sure.

    • Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm by erin | Permalink

      I only have two thus far, but they are one opposite sleep patterns…part of me wonders if I should try to change Poppy to a more toddler like sleep time or if I should just let her be since she is not grumpy or demanding at night as sleeps in happily. It isn’t like we have to wake and rush out of the house for anything pressing anyway.
      I love hearing from people who have been doing this much longer than us and hearing of the successes!
      Where in the woods do you retreat to?
      As the kids get older and our finances allow for a little more wiggle room we will be doing more outside of the house, but home seems most welcome right now.
      And yes, you’re right, school is also a leap of faith; just a more easily accepted one! Thanks for that perspective!
      Warmly,
      e

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm by Katharine | Permalink

        We’re over your way, but farther east.

        I’ve never been a an of messing with the sleep of children. Sleep when you’re tired, wake when you’re ready. How else do you learn what your body needs? I will almost always protect the sleep of a small child, however they choose it but as mine get older we talk more about expectations (it seems like this is happenenong on all fronts these days) and how we can best prepare for the day by resting appropriately, etc.

        Did your parents ever tell you to go to bed when you just weren’t ready? Have you tried it with your kids? Worst nights ever! We guide ours to the bedroom around nine o’clock for fame reading and a cuddle then it’s transition time 10 to 15 minutes then personal lights only for reading after that. The three older ones go to bed together but the little one can’t read and taps out pretty soon then the middle one and the oldest finally turns off her light around 11:30. To each his own I guess.

  7. Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm by michele | Permalink

    A few thoughts from a mama who homeschooled her kids and now has a 21 year old and a 17 year old: I remember the worry about ‘deschooling’. It’s hard to do your thing with your kids and have other kids ‘accomplishing’ this intense curriculum from the school system. You are always watching and comparing. Nervous that your vision just might not work. What we decided to do was to concentrate on literacy and numeracy and then let the ‘curriculum’ flow from the child and not from the Ontario Curriculum. Who says that a child should study butterflies in grade one and explorers in grade 3! Remember John Holt’s theory of natural learning. My son was obsessed with the Romanov’s and Faberge eggs. This led to James Bond films and Apple products. Now he sells Jaguars! Man, he knows a LOT about luxury. Go figure. My daughter loved photography and blogging and VOILA she’ s actually going to teach a course this year at Haliburton School of The Arts on blogging! She’s only seventeen. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!! I wish that I worried less and relaxed more. Honestly. And as far as tv is concerned. It’s GREAT! It gives YOU a break and is wonderful for the kids too! Imagine not getting to watch tv when you were a kid. That would be sad. Some of my best memories are curling up and watching Little House on the Prairie. You are doing a great job! Congratulations! I am SO happy that I chose to homeschool. And my kids are too!

    • Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm by erin | Permalink

      Michele! So glad to hear from you!
      I completely agree! I don’t want to use the curriculum for subject matter so much as skills and milestones to watch for and encourage.
      I had no idea Astrid would be doing that! That is incredible.
      It always help me relax a bit when I hear the success stories from those who have already walked this way. Your words “You ARE enough.” have stuck with me ever since that day we met at your home.
      I have fond memories of tv watching too and don’t think it does the harm everyone says it does…A patient is pretty important in everyone’s lives and memories too and TV can provide that especially for those of us in the woods!
      I think I am getting frustrated with the lack of structured stuff we can do at these young ages…I am hearing about fun activities people are doing with their grade one children and I feel like I should be doing more. The truth is that they are young and not there yet. I look forward to those days where I can feel more productive and useful, but wish I could shake the guilt and just enjoy each and every second of these young days!
      Thanks so much! We would love to get together with you guys again sometime!
      e.

  8. Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm by dre | Permalink

    Welcome to your homeschooling journey! It’s gonna be a ride. 😀 But so worth it.

    I homeschooled/unschooled my kids until this last year when they both chose to go into the new arts charter school so that they can pursue their respective artistic loves (they are 14 and 13 now). So, I got to have the experience that many homeschooling parents worry about of finding out EXACTLY how their kids’ unschooling educations measure up to public school. The answer? I wasted A LOT of years worrying for nothing. For realz. I could kick myself. They’re doing great, and their teachers love that they know how to think for themselves and articulate those thoughts.

    If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be to unschool from the beginning. We started out very schooly—all Well-Trained Mind and shit, and it backfired hard (the kids started to hate everything to do with ‘learning’), and it took a long time to recover from. It’s not that it’s a bad system, it’s that it matched my personality, not theirs. And homeschooling is not for the parent, it’s for the kids—but it can be hard to remember that in the midst of anxiety. Unschooling doesn’t mean you don’t have any structure or goals. It does mean that you lighten up and follow the flow and find creative ways of learning. It’s a state of mind, not “letting them do whatever they want”. Although sometimes it really is letting them do whatever they want, and sometimes that’s exactly the right thing to do.

    Books I wish I’d known about from the beginning:

    Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves, Alison McKee

    If you like the idea of teaching concepts through stories, then I highly recommend a series called The Life of Fred for mathematics and arithmetic (lifeoffredmath.com)

    If your kiddos need a different style or framework, we really, really, really liked Learn Math Fast by J.K. Mergens (learnmathfastbooks.com). This is a system that I only found last year (it’s not well-known–at least in our area), and I actually almost cried because it was the type of system I always wanted but could never find.

    Phonics Pathways by Dolores Hiskes. The best, most visually clean book I found on teaching reading. Loved it. Very simple. Worked great.

    Spelling Power, by Beverly Adams-Gordon. This one book will teach them spelling all the way through. Simple, 15 minutes a day, uses immediate feedback and reinforcements for retention.

    Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Eliot. We found this last year and loved it over the boring grammar workbooks. It explains grammar clearly and humorously. Then you can just make up your own exercises if you want.

    The one thing we did take from The Well-Trained Mind was teaching history from the beginning in continuum. That was an awesome experience. The Usborne Book of World History was a great springboard to use to start a lesson and then go find books from the library.

    And I think I’ve written more than enough, lol. Can you tell that I miss my kids now that they’re at school?

    • Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm by erin | Permalink

      This is amazing! I think I know we will be more than fine, but I am kind of chomping at the bit to get started with the big learning that my parent brain envisions while they are still very young. I feel like our days are aimless and chaotic, but I don’t think it is anything unusual for the ages. We do lots of open ended crafts because that is when they seem happiest and I am less frustrated…it just makes me feel lazy 😉
      These are great book recommendations! I have only heard of the first one and have been wanting to pick it up for some time now! Will definitely be checking out the others this afternoon!
      Thank you so much telling us your successes and advice. It is oh so appreciated!
      Warmly,
      e.

  9. Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:16 am by Amanda | Permalink

    My kids are in the same age range as yours, so I am interested in what others have to say about kindergarten, but I do want to recommend the Montessori at Home ebook by John Bowman (with materials bundle.) It is for preschoolers, but has been a lifesaver for me. It has so many great ideas and resources. It also has a great approach to learning to read along with printable materials. You should check it out!

  10. Posted February 1, 2013 at 8:39 am by Willow | Permalink

    hey erin,
    a good book for ideas for teaching reading is john holt’s “learning all the time”. all his books would probably be inspirational for you if you are interested in the unschooling path. alison mckee talks about him a lot in her book and she and her husband were largely inspired by his thoughts on education. and her book is lovely. i ordered it through the inter-library loan program in our little northern ontario town here and they didn’t have any trouble finding it. i think you will really appreciate the honesty in her writing. happy homeshooling adventures!!

    • Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:24 am by erin | Permalink

      I have read a bit of his stuff and will look into getting her book through the library as it is out of print now :(
      Thanks so much!
      e.
      P.S. Where do you live?

      • Posted February 3, 2013 at 11:56 am by willow | Permalink

        i live up north of huntsville in a little town called burk’s falls.

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